Only One Thing Is Getting Me Through This Hatred

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.

Last Monday, I happened to be putting things away in the kitchen when the President was broadcast live from the G20 conference. I grabbed a pen and jotted down his words, feeling the truth in what he said.

And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

I thought we would all be proud as a nation that we were so compassionate, that we kept our ideals, that we continued to welcome the world’s weary.

Then I started to see an onslaught of racism, bigotry, and fear spread across the social networks. At first I thought it was only more conservative people but the sentiment seemed to be multiplying. I was physically sick to my stomach and weary by mid-afternoon to see even my family members being so uncaring.

Then the only bright spot in this whole mess walked down our driveway.

My son came home from high school with two friends in tow. Both were black girls and one was a Muslim in hijab. Smiling, laughing and teasing, they met the dog he walks, then played piano and video games. I was grateful to be able to welcome both girls into our home.

When I came down from my office to get a drink, an extra hijab had appeared and the Muslim friend was showing her curious companion how to wear it. Both girls were smiling and you could tell they were learning from each other.

Picturing these two young women in my kitchen sharing the Muslim lifestyle is the only thing to give me hope this past week. Remembering the scene is the only thing that is keeping me going during the horrible onslaught of hatred.

When I hear people talking about closing our borders to refugees, I picture the girls. At least with my sons, they have been raised to accept everyone. As a family we will always do the right thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my fear. After the attack in Paris I felt the old September 11th fear creep up my spine. Those living in and around DC know the fear. I found myself worrying about my husband working a few blocks from the White House. He had looked out his office window at the Pentagon burning on September 11th from his former building. When threats against the US were made, I used my yogic deep breathing and prayed. In our family we’ve been reassuring each other for 14 years that we can’t let the terrorists win by giving into fear. We won’t let the terrorists stop the best in us and win.

People in the DC region choose to live in a multicultural community. We thrive on it. From a young age my sons could roll exotic names from around the world right off the tips of their tongues. I chaired International Night at their elementary school for years and had parents present from every continent. We are color blind and religion blind. We have people from all faiths with large places of worship. We can’t imagine life any other way. It’s difficult for us to understand the rest of the country which doesn’t have as much diversity as we have in our everyday lives.

Ever since I was a young girl, I have always thought that if a Nazi uprising began, I would speak out. I wouldn’t let fascists get away with it. We must all put a stop to this hatred immediately.

When so many people are saying that we need to stop refugees from entering the country, I say we must welcome them. Refugees are not terrorists.

When a Presidential candidate says we must register all Muslims and put surveillance on their mosques, I say we must never do either.

When Christians say we must keep refugees out, I answer that as a Christians we must welcome them. This is a basic premise of being a Christian. We must do everything we can to serve those who are refugees because that’s what being a Christian means you must do. No exceptions. It’s not easy being a Christian when you have to love your enemy.

So I will keep picturing the young women in my kitchen and welcome Muslims in my house and show the love of Christ to everyone in this world.

I will not give into the ignorance, bigotry, and racism which underlie the fear.

Have You Heard of Craftivism?

CraftivismIf you haven’t, you should know it’s a world-wide movement. Craftivism opens up a conversation so people can learn from each other and exchange views.

When I attended Salon An Artful Conversation last year, I was delighted to hear Betsy Greer speak. Then my name was pulled out of a hat and I won a copy of her book, Craftivism The Art of Craft and Activism. Every chapter introduced inspiring crafts which gave me hope for a better society.

If someone is protesting with a sign, you might walk right past. But if you see a little crocheted animal with a message, you might stop and think about it. That’s Craftivism.

Visuals always help me understand better. The only example of Craftivism I have seen in person was the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was quite large-scale. Nineteen years ago, it wasn’t called Craftivism.

The book introduced me to smaller-scale good deeds such as leaving a craft for a stranger to find thereby bringing them joy. Since reading the book, I’ve embraced mending clothes to help the environment by extending the use of the cloth and not requiring the purchase of new goods. A much more serious example of Craftivism occurred during the reign of Chilean dictator Pinochet. Women became arpilleristas creating brightly colored embroidered tapestries to document the disappearances of over 3,000 individuals and the unwarranted incarceration of over 28,000. To speak publicly would have brought imprisonment but the tapestries could keep a record while defying censorship.

Betsy includes either written submissions or interviews of over 35 people about their experiences which always leaves you uplifted and thinking about how you can make the world a better place with a craft.

Kindness Makes a Difference

Lent 2015Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10: 31-33

For the last five years I have submitted a writing to our Christ Episcopal Church Lenton Devotional. You can find all the writings on the church website and download the whole devotional. Here is this year’s entry:

We often hear that people don’t like to attend church during Lent, it’s too much of a downer. I’ve never been able to separate the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday services from Easter Sunday. They all blend together.

This life can be tough. We make it even more difficult when we are not kind to each other. Atrocities against humankind fill our news cycle. I spend a great deal of my day putting the onslaught of terrible stories into perspective. I try to pray and tell myself there are far more wonderful and caring acts going on in this world which don’t make the news.

Then Lent happens and we can’t escape the details of the painful parts of the story.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and cured many but they wanted to stone Him to death. Even though his miracles had brought such goodness to the world, the crowd couldn’t get past him saying he was God’s Son. The reverse of “actions speak louder than words”! Yet another example of how terrible we can be to each other even when faced with goodness.

I ask myself what we can do. What can I take away? I can use Lent to remember that kindness does make a difference. We understand God’s love while witnessing good deeds. Also, our words are powerful. I can take the time to choose them carefully with others and in prayer. I can give the gift of an encouraging word to someone.

Life in this world has ashes, pain, and death, but no matter how horrible a situation might be, I know this world also has faith, love, and peace. We can show this to others.

The Secrets of Sticky Fingers’ Sweets – Book Review

Sticky Fingers bookOn Valentine’s Day, we visited our local vegan distributor, Pangea. The largely online store has limited Saturday hours for those of us lucky enough to live nearby. When we are free and running errands in Rockville, MD we stop by and replenish our supply of vanilla chocolate chips and cheese sauce.

My hubby picked up Doron Petersan’s book, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets, 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes, so I bought it for him. I didn’t know she had a recipe book! I’d recently seen the news about her opening a second bakery in DC. Somehow I’d missed the book from 2012.

For the last 17 years our family has baked without dairy and eggs due to extensive food allergies. It took me six years to perfect a chocolate cake. Although people have a prejudice against vegan foods, I know that my baking is better than most others and sells out quickly at any bake sale. However, I also know that the sheet cakes and cupcakes from Sticky Fingers sweets & eats are scrumptious. Every bite melts in your mouth and she has won over non-vegan bakers in Cupcake Wars.

Now I can know her secrets!

The first thing I noticed is that she uses all of the same base ingredients as I do only in slightly different amounts. We use Earth Balance margarine and shortening, So Delicious coconut milk, and Ener-G egg replacer . My perfected chocolate cake depends on cocoa powder, vegetable oil, and vinegar too.

She emphasizes following the order of her directions. Looking through all the recipes, I agree with her methods. Usually I need to rearrange a recipe for it to work well. This point was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago, when my youngest was following one of the recipes I use and I had to explain the changes to almost every step. Her recipes make sense.

The first recipes I tried were the Sugar Cookies and icing for our Valentine heart treats. My sons friends loved them without being told they were vegan and our family ate the whole batch. The lemon oil in the dough and larger quantity of vanilla in the icing made a difference in what was otherwise my regular recipes for both. After all these years, the book has reaffirmed my methods.

Although I cooked with tofu for the last 35 years, I haven’t been using it as much lately. Tofu seems to be one of the secrets to great creme and I can’t wait to make the Tiramisu Filling. Last year I started experimenting with coconut milk for puddings and hot chocolate and now I have some other ways to try it.

I love her bakery and now I love her book! Watch me gain another ten pounds.  Regardless, I am at the feet of a genius.

Thinking Not Mind Wandering

Thinking This week after one of my chair yoga classes, I said, “thinking not mind wandering”. This seemed to be a new concept. Here was a group of seniors in their 70’s and 80’s and they had never pondered the difference.

I told them it’s okay to plan and learn with their brains but they needed to be aware of when they were allowing their minds to wander.

Studies have shown that when we are lost in thought, we usually aren’t happy. Our brain thinks back in endless loops or imagines worries which might not occur.

This is why even if my students can’t do every pose, the class is still so very beneficial. By concentrating on the breath and breathing deeply, the mind is made to think about the present moment. Adding the yoga poses and movements forces the brain to think about what the body is doing so there isn’t a chance for the mind to wander. This is why yoga makes you feel better. Yoga helps you escape the brain and think about what is really happening.

Benefits of Upside Down Yoga

Downdog croppedDo you know why raising your arms, lowering your head, or lifting your legs is so beneficial during yoga? These inversions help your lymphatic system clear out the waste in your bloodstream.

We all know that our heart pumps our blood around our bodies bringing oxygen to the red blood cells and nutrients to our plasma. When our blood flows to the capillaries, the oxygen and nutrients enter through the fluid surrounding our cells.

An exchange is made as the waste products leave the cells. Most of the “waste” goes into the capillaries but some enters the lymph vessels. Our lymph nodes act as filters which remove the bacteria and viruses from the lymph vessels. Sometimes the lymph nodes become swollen with fluid and infection.

We know that if our ankles become swollen, we elevate them to help the lymph system get the fluid back into circulation. Our lymphatic system doesn’t have a heart pumping the fluid through our bodies so gravity helps. This is why yoga poses are so beneficial. We turn our bodies and limbs upside down and move the fluids around helping to remove all the unhealthy waste.

IMG_4767 If you can do handstands, headstands, and shoulder stands, you are turning your world upside down in a healthy way. Many other poses such as fan, tree, downdog, and legs up the wall can also move the fluids around your body. Using a chair can insure the benefits of inversions if all these poses are not available to you.

Your brain also benefits by seeing things differently from a whole new perspective. Perhaps this new world view will manifest in other positive ways when you leave the yoga class.

My advice is to always turn your world upside down! Find a safe way to invert your body.

Review: Buoy Seat Is a Healthier Sitting Option

Bouy Seat

When my teenage sons wanted their own rooms, I gave up my office and created a space in the master bedroom. My little corner was transformed with a corner desk but I couldn’t find an appropriate seat. I wanted to keep our antique rocking chair under the window and add a seat in the small space in front of the desk. What could possibly fit?

My back also couldn’t take sitting in a traditional office chair. I needed to move, stretch my back, and open my hips. I saw a tv segment on the Buoy Seat by Turnstone. At first I thought the $200 price tag was too much. As I researched different types of chairs and obvious rip offs of the Buoy Seat, I decided the only thing I wanted for Christmas was a Buoy Seat. From their website:

We’ve all seen the research.
Excessive sitting doesn’t do anything to boost your wellbeing. Luckily, experts say that combatting negative sedentary effects can be as simple as interrupting your day often and making frequent posture changes.

That’s where Buoy comes in. Pneumatic height adjustability gives you 5 inches of play, allowing you to sit comfortably at your desk. And with up to 12 degrees of tilt, core muscles fire up as you lean in and swivel, while legs work to keep you balanced, upright and focused on the task at hand. Perfect for quick tasks, Buoy will revolutionize the way you sit.

The Buoy Seat experience has been pretty good. Granted the first time I sat on it I fell over onto the rocking chair and hurt my arm. Although it looks flat on the bottom, it really does pivot on one point. You need to be careful! My lower back doesn’t feel compressed even when sitting for longer stretches. You can adjust the height of the seat and I find myself changing it occasionally to use the balls of my feet more. Since my yoga and gym routines provide a pretty good core workout, I’m not sure if the seat will increase my core strength but it certainly forces me to use my core more and sit up straight.

I’m happy with the Buoy Seat. My office space finally feels complete and I enjoy sitting at the laptop now.  With the Buoy seat I can bend, rotate, and spin. Since I teach chair yoga, sitting is all about moving!

Breathe For Two Minutes

Breathe Grand Teton Canyon sidesThis year I can’t seem to take on a whole New Year Resolution and think we would all be better by embracing a New Year Habit. I firmly believe that small changes in habits can lead to major life changes. For instance, losing weight is all about making one small change each week and sticking with it.

For meditation, you only need two minutes. Two minutes! Start simple and stick with it.

Sit down and notice your breathing. Your breath comes in. Take as much breath as you can make it deep. Then pause and slowly exhale noticing when all the breath is gone. Repeat. If your mind wanders, reel it back in. Back to the breath.

Research backs up the benefits, as Harvard-trained happiness researcher Shawn Achor states:

“Here’s what we found: For two minutes, watching their breath go in and out — literally two minutes — it gave their brain a new pattern,” he says. “[It went from] multitasking to single-task… Their happiness levels improved, their stress dropped and, amazingly, the stress of the people around them dropped as well. It starts to cause this chain reaction.”

You will be happier. Whenever you are aware of stress, or find your brain sending bad thoughts, just stop and breathe in this manner. In the car, at your desk, at the stove, during a walk, or in a long line. Make it a habit!

A Thankful Yoga Practice

Yoga and the Spirit Summer Scene

My Yoga and the Spirit classes fill a void in my yoga practice by combining my Christian religious beliefs and yoga. This Gratitude Practice highlights appropriate Bible verses and poses which can be incorporated into a special Thanksgiving yoga session at a church.

To begin:

Ephesians 5:20 “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Practicing gratitude can lessen depression and anxiety so that you feel and sleep better. Since yoga also has these benefits, the combination is a match made in heaven! Since the holidays can be stressful and lonely, practicing thankfulness can help.

Easy pose with hands made into a bowl (pinkies and thumbs touch while fingers spread out in a bowl shape). Fill the bowl with gratitude for loved ones and all the challenges in your life that can actually help you grow.

Conscious Breathing: appreciate the very gift of life.

Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your eyes closed. Take deep, slow breaths. Once you feel centered and present, mentally list five things you are grateful for in your life by moving each finger. Say thanks to those people and/or things after thinking of each one.

Psalms 118:24 This [is] the day [which] the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Child’s pose: Can you be like a child in awe of everything?
Think about when we were kids and could curl up and fall asleep anywhere. Be thankful for the ways we feel secure in our lives. Accept and be thankful for the times when we slow down and rest rather than being busy.

Stomach Prayer: Lie down on stomach up on elbows with hands in prayer position for these readings.

Psalm 100:4 “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Colossians 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Tadasana: with hands together in prayer position. Take a moment to feel your heart. Breathe with even rhythm. Allow a sense of gratitude to reside within you. Reach your arms up to the sky and acknowlege what is truly possible. Clasp your left wrist with your right hand, step you left foot behind your right foot wide to the side, roll to the outer edge of your left foot, engage and spread your toes, lean into the pose, and stretch the entire left side of your body with power and strength from the foundation up to your hands. Take 5 deep breaths. Switch sides.

Low lunge: Extend your arms out wide to the sides of the body with the palms facing forward. Open the line through your arms and heart.

Revolved Lunge: When we twist, we get to physically look back. Think about the gift of hindsight. 

Psalm 116:17 “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.”

Psalms 107:1 O give thanks unto the LORD, for [he is] good: for his mercy [endureth] for ever.

Warrior I: Be grateful for your strength for those tough times we will inevitably face.

Downdog and Fire hydrant: bend your knee and open up the hip and thigh into external rotation. Imagine you are sending  love from your heart into the world as you stretch open.

Wild Thing: with hand on heart instead of extended. Your entire body is an expression of gratitude in your life. Think of the people you love and someone who has helped you.

Half Moon: The world is always changing so appreciate the change of the lunar cycles and seasons.

Tree pose: Tree pose teaches us gratitude for the earth that grounds us and for our ability to grow.

Bridge: open yourself up physically and your mind will wake up.

After savasana:

Philippians 4:6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Dear Lord God,
Simply, thank you. Help me to recognize the goodness around me each day. Give me the strength to keep my body healthy so that my mind will follow. Remind me to find silence each day to and calm my mind to appreciate all your gifts.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

If you would like a Gratitude Yoga Session at your church in the DC metro area, please contact me.

Best Morning Routine

Best morning routine scrape tongueOver three years ago, I started a simple Ayurvedic routine upon waking each day. Although you can do much more, consistently repeating a few reasonable actions will not be overwhelming and can start the day right.

  1. Wake up
  2. While laying on stomach, bring one knee and then the other knee even with the hip and feel the hips opening.
  3. While laying on back with shoulders relaxed on the bed, twist bent legs from one side to the other and notice how your spine feels.
  4. Sit up and remember to be grateful for a new day for just a moment.
  5. In the bathroom, take a stainless steel spoon and scrap the tongue from back to front several times to remove bacteria and stimulate the organs.
  6. Bring water to the mouth and swish it around, spit, then splash water on your face and eyes fully experiencing the temperature change.
  7. Feel the touch of the towel as you dry your face.

The important part to is really pay attention to what you are doing. For me this isn’t a fad but rather a habit. Sometimes we can go on auto pilot with habits but don’t fall into a mindless routine. Pay attention to seeing your body, hands, and face. Notice the temperature of the water and room. Feel the touch of the towel. Hear the morning sounds and flowing water. Use all you senses for these few short moments then open the door and start your day. You will be refreshed and present in each moment.