Monthly Archives: July 2022

Old Friends Are The Best

Women in Blue Blouses by Pierre Auguste-Renoir

I am visiting one of my oldest friends for a few days. We taught high school English together in Pennsylvania nearly 40 years ago. We get together a couple times a year and have kept in touch over the years via the prevailing communications methods, starting with handwritten letters then moving on to email and text messaging. Now, we connect every day playing Words with Friends.

When we do get together in the same place, we pick up right where we left off: lingering over breakfast, meeting other friends for lunch, shopping at our favorite stores, watching old and new movies, chatting about our families, talking about our current reads and sometimes just sitting in silence, each with a book in our hands. It’s nice to have one person in my life who knows all about me and loves me anyway. Comfortable and comforting.

This is my first post-retirement trip, and I wanted to see if I could travel without a laptop without losing my writing momentum. I am typing this blog post on my iPad with an external keyboard. It is still a bit of hardware to tote but is lighter physically but also mentally. The laptop means work while the iPad is my ereader and entertainment device so turning it on has less pressure. The add-on keyboard just makes it easier for an old school typist to create text.


I have a daily routine, and it has been nice to be able to make it the focus of the morning rather than sometimes hurrying along before starting work. I have settled into semi-retirement enough that the work I am doing–facilitating a course on curriculum writing for Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit focused on domestic violence–has its place but doesn’t need daily oversight.

I usually get some part of the routine done every day. I generally draw a tarot card or two and write two or three pages, ala Julia Cameron’s morning pages. I try to do it first thing in the morning but am not always successful. Some mornings I just want to pick up the book I fell asleep over the night before. Other mornings, like yesterday, I head outside to the garden in order to get the work done before the heat of the day settles in. On those days, I may do some or none of the routine. *

Yesterday, I broke a 40-day meditation streak. I am disappointed, but it’s really ok. I try to think of the practices as “daily-ish,” a term I picked up from Dan Harris, creator of 10% Happier, the meditation app I use. The app tracks daily and weekly progress. When they do a focused challenge, you have to complete 90% in order to earn the gold medal. It seems a humane approach to me.

I am a little disappointed that I broke the streak. Today, I began again with the app. But, I am pretty sure I *did* meditate yesterday even if the app wasn’t tracking it**: while I was weeding vegetables, cooking dinner, walking dogs. I practiced focusing on just that one thing, open awareness of the world around me, not following random thoughts, coming back to the task when I did get lost in story. So, I am putting the lessons learned from the app into practice and that’s more important than any streak in an app.

*The ONLY part of the routine I always do is my four-shot latte. It is non-negotiable to the point that, if I can, I take my small espresso machine with me when I travel.

**The existential question for our time: if the app wasn’t tracking it, did it really happen?

Esoteric Systems

Zodiac symbol with sun in the center

I bought my first deck of Tarot cards in 2000 or so at, of all places, The Vermont Country Store. It was in the toy and game section and was a fun version with Jack and Jill looking comic characters. Twenty plus years later, I own multiple decks and use the cards on a daily basis as part of my own self-reflection and writing practice.

I have begun to explore astrology and its connection to Tarot. I haven’t done much with astrology beyond reading a daily horoscope but am enjoying diving deeper into this system. I choose that word–system–carefully as I don’t like the popular alternative: pseudo-science. Systems like Tarot and astrology provide insight and guidance into connecting with the material and spiritual worlds.

I happened to catch this Newsy segment on the rising popularity of astrology that has led to it being a billion dollar industry. In the business world, these systems are called “mystical services.” It included a reference to Chani Nicholas, an astrologer I have followed for some time. Her book, You Were Born For This, is a popular book about astrology. I like her style and approach to integrating astrology and tarot and her approach to running her business:

We’re a queer, feminist-led tech and media company on a mission to make astrology and its wisdom accessible to everyone as a tool for self-discovery, mindfulness, and healing. Folks who are queer, trans, non-binary, Black, Indigenous, people of color, disabled, parents, are/have been system-impacted, are immigrants, and anyone who has experienced systemic oppression and/or gender-based violence are encouraged to apply.

I was disappointed that Chani was just mentioned. The Newsy segment relies on Kay Taylor, the president of the Organization of Professional Astrology, for commentary. She remarked that some people, including her, have always made money with astrology:

I have supported myself and my family as a single mother since the very beginning. So, it was possible to make a living, and many astrologers made a living, but most of us… we were operating out of the back bedroom of our house or doing readings at the kitchen table.

I was immediately reminded of the Owens family in Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series. Their magic took place around the kitchen table, helping other women with physical and spiritual healing, welcoming those who had to sneak away from their homes to find the light in the darkness. Taylor worries that with growing popularity and big money will come exploitation and the loss of that kitchen table connection. I wonder if the mindfulness movement might be in danger of the same thing.

My advice for finding a path if you are interested in these esoteric systems? Give yourself time to consider what you are looking for and use that as a guide to find your teacher. I wanted to learn *about* astrology in a formal way as well as connecting with its real-life application so Chani was the perfect guide for me. I also touch base with Chris Corsini, from time to time as he does Tarot readings and New Moon and Full Moon workshops and hearing his interpretations of Tarot cards and astrology have helped me deepen my understanding.* Corsini, who does not identify as deaf, has made accessibility a hallmark of his work. This interview provides insight into his work as an artist, astrologer and tarot reader.

*Warning: Chris uses what my mother would call “salty” language. As a practitioner of the art myself, I am not bothered but he may not be the right fit for everyone.

Bits and Bobs

What I am Eating:

Glass jars with lids of bok choy stems with pickling spices

While I am waiting for my tomatoes to get red, I am enjoying other fruits of the garden. The bok choy is past its prime due to the heat and bugs, but the stems make delicious quick pickles. I’ve added garlic and mediterranean spices to mine. My peppers–jalapeno and poblano–are coming on thickly, as they say, so last night’s supper included bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapenos. Spicy and delicious. As I wait for fresh tomatoes, I am using up the last of my tomato sauce from the freezer.

What I am Watching:

Season 6: Grantchester

This British murder mystery set in the 1950s deals with tough social issues including the homosexuality of one of the main characters, a local curate. The main characters are the young vicar and the veteran police chief who work together in what can be a prickly relationship some times. I had been watching the series on and off but am hooked on the Season 6 storyline and binging away. I am surprisingly up to date as Season 7 is just airing now.

What I am Reading:

I participated in a LibraryThing readathon this past weekend. The goal is to read as much as possible between 5 PM on Friday and midnight Sunday night then share the results on a forum. The readathons began as part of social distancing, and this is #122. I am sorry to say it is first one in which I have participated. A great excuse to settle into several good books.

I read Practical Magic and Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, both part of the Practical Magic series, the Owens family saga. I read Magic Lessons earlier in the month. That book was really the start of the series as it told the story of the matriarch of the Owens family, Marie, who journeys to America with her daughter and ends up in Salem at the height of the witch trials. These two books tell the story of her present-day descendants as they choose different ways to deal with their special powers. Ultimately, all the books deal with love in many forms, as her family struggles with Marie’s ancient curse. I loved the story, the descriptions and the characters, but the books also deal with deeper issues related to the place of women in society and how “witches,” often just skilled healers and good listeners, had to be cast out in order to keep the preferred social order. I am also excited to discover there is a fourth book!

While I worked in the garden, I listened to Chris Grabenstein’s mystery Free Fall, the 8th book in his John Ceepak series. I have listened to the whole series. The story is told by Officer Danny Boyle, Detective John Ceepak’s partner on the Sea Haven Police Department, a town on the Jersey shore. The narrator captures both men’s styles perfectly: Boyle has a freewheeling, often self-deprecating, ironic tone while Ceepak doesn’t often break out of his by-the-book, former military police monotone. Ceepak lives by the strict West Point code and expects others to do the same. The mysteries they pursue deal with tough subjects and we also get to them, their families and friends. Ceepak’s estranged and dangerous father plays an ongoing role. I am hoping another one is on the way. Read them in order as the stories build on each other.

Travelogue: Southwest Virginia

I have been fortunate to spend time in every part of Virginia. One of my favorite places to visit is what is known as “far” southwest Virginia, reaching south and west from Roanoke across the Appalachian Mountains. Beautiful vistas stretch above dancing streams and remote wilderness beckons if you are willing to get off the interstate and main roads. I have been fortunate to make several trips to the region this year and just returned from my last one, at least until this fall.

This time, I was in and around the Virginia Creeper Trail, a rail trail that runs from Abingdon, Virginia, to White Top Mountain, Tennessee. My husband and I biked the trail many years ago, and I would like to do that again. It is an excellent resource for the local communities both for their own use and for the visitors it attracts. I try to walk on it every day when I am staying in Abingdon, either starting in town or driving to one of the other entrances.

Before heading to Damascus, I had lunch at the Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia. Owned by author Barbara Kingsolver and her husband, the restaurant lives out the vision and mission Kingsolver described in her memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She tells the story of her family’s move to a small farm in southwest Virginia to live out the locavore life, raising much of their own food and getting the rest from within 100 miles or less. My lunch included a blueberry mimosa, spring salad and chocolate torte with ice cream Everything was fresh and delicious. The Farmer’s Guild attached to the restaurant includes crafts, local foods and books for sale. It is just a few minutes north of Abingdon on Route 11 or an easy exit off Route 81.

After lunch, I headed to Damascus, which is about mid-way along the Creeper trail, which joins several other trails that run through the town, including the Appalachian Trail. Not surprisingly, Damascus is known as Trail Town USA. I spent the afternoon exploring, walking a short distance on the Creeper Trail to read the historic signs and checking out the AT.

Just a few pictures to give you the flavor of the weekend. I was out there to do a couple workshops but took an extra day to explore.

SWVA, July 10 - 12, 2022