Succulent days

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My parents decided to get rid of their bird feeders and birdbath, claiming that filling them each week was more work than they can take on at their age. They asked me if I could use the birdbath because they didn’t know how to dispose of such a heavy thing when it is indeed useful. I really didn’t have a place for it in mind, but I said sure. With 5 plus acres and gardens everywhere you look, certainly there would be a place to plunk a birdbath- although with all the ponds and fountains we’d designed at Heartwood, I didn’t really feel the birds needed another bathing place.

Dad came to see how the progress was coming on a project David was building, and he brought the birdbath, because he is an impatient guy and once he wants to get rid of something, he means “now.” I appreciated the gift, but figured I couldn’t leave it tilted on the side on the driveway for long, so planned to place it in some area of a garden this morning.

When I took a good look at it, I was delighted, because I was picturing your normal, concrete birdbath, but this one had some lovely detail and impressions which make it quite pretty. On David’s suggestion, I plopped it in the center of a rock garden that has been limping along after a sweltering summer, and immediately knew this gift had claimed the perfect home. I filled the birdbath with some dirt from our compost, and pulled a few succulents from areas of the garden that I have them planted (they keep multiplying so as long as I’m patient, I have an endless resource.) I also had a collection of succulents I’d picked up weeks ago at Home depot with a vague idea that they’d fit somewhere around the new pond, so I added some of those the birdbath too.

Feeling succulent inspired now, I put a bit of dirt and some fallen moss on a rotted tree stump that sticks out from a tree by our new pond, and created a very small succulent garden – or the start of one, on this rotted log – which now is nicely covered and cute. Only someone who notices the little details will ever see it there, but I know it’s there, and that gives me a little surge of joy.

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I wanted to get David’s attention to show him my new creations, but he is laboring away (as always) digging new trenches for the stronger electrical wires he wants out by the wedding area to handle the needs of DJ’s etc…. Meanwhile, a wonderful work study yogi, Chris, is out there adding muscle to our madness (it always strikes me as beautiful to witness good-hearted karma friends working on Heartwood projects for them, for us, and for others ).  I figure I’ll show off my little project later when David and I do our evening stroll to see how things are coming along. He will show me his trench, I’ll show him my birdbath and whatever else I accomplish today, and we will congratulate ourselves on a day well spent.This has been our week off, but we haven’t stopped working…. and yet, when you love what you do and feel inspired by it, it isn’t really work anyway.

Life is busy, but productive and good for the soul. And the beauty that surrounds us here truly feeds something special inside.

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Reviewing and Recharging

Our Chakra garden, and much of the rest of our property, is lit with solar LED lighting. This has been a mixed miracle; whereas some of the solar lights we’ve put in have been incredibly beautiful, spectacular sights each evening when we tour the garden after dark (our favorite time to visit), some of the lights have been spectacular disappointments. Some light nicely for about two or three weeks and then fail, and when we open them up to investigate, we find rusty, corroded contacts, swollen batteries, and clogged weep holes that were intended to drain the water but don’t do their job. Others turn on reliably enough but the color isn’t right; they’re blue-white or greenish instead of the welcoming warm white we prefer.

So I’ve learned to read reviews. I get on the websites for Home Depot or Lowe’s and I look to find out what others have said about the lighting systems I’m considering. Only rarely are the reviews unanimous in their praise; usually it’s an odd mix of people who love the light, found them brighter than expected, and were impressed by how easily they installed and how long they last even in the long nights and short days of winter, and the other people who hate the light quality, found they only lasted two months, and returned them. I take these reviews with a big grain of salt—both sides of the issue—because there are some people who are complainers, and others who are trying to justify spending a hundred bucks or so on a set of lights and are doing their best to feel good about their purchase.

But I read those reviews, judging a product by consensus, looking for details in the comments of reviewers that reflect my own concerns and interest. I try to find out objective information about the quality of the light, how long the lights stay on, and I look for surprised customers—those who found a product to be much better than expected, or a splendid value for the money spent. I tend to disregard the occasional gripe about longevity, partly because I’m an eternal optimist and partly because I hold a fairly low opinion, to be honest, about the ability of many consumers to follow directions and perform correct installations. But when 40 or 50 percent of the reviews complain, I skip that purchase, no matter how low the store has reduced the price.

Reviews mean a lot to us at Heartwood as well. The people who go through the yoga teacher training program find, almost without exception, that their lives have been changed and they seem thrilled and surprised at how much they get out of it. Ginny and Melina do an amazing job of teaching; they’re a dynamic, thoughtful, insightful, and passionate pair, and I can’t help but be in awe of how they do their job. I love teaching the occasional anatomy or physiology class and getting great feedback, but I’ve also had the chance lately to sit in on some of their newer RYT-200 classes, and I’ve been overwhelmed at the level of teaching they do. I took the very first RYT-200 course that Ginny held, more than three years ago. Since that time, she’s trained over 150 yoga teachers, and she’s learned so much along the way. Melina was in that first course with me, and then she took it again, and then starting helping Ginny, and it’s a profound truth that we learn best by teaching others.Ginny and Melina

So of course, most of the reviews that get published on the Yoga Alliance website as newly certified teachers register their credentials and are invited to rate the school and comment on its work are glowing, well-considered, thoughtful expressions of just how much ReFlex Arts and Heartwood have done to change a life. But there’s always going to be the exception. We got hit by an exception a while back, and were shocked by it. We’d had a student who had been a struggle for Ginny and Melina—a woman who missed half the sessions and slept through others, who always seemed to need a special meeting or extra time from me to discuss anatomy lectures she’d missed, or practice time with Melina to learn a posture or assist. Ginny didn’t think she was ready to graduate but she insisted she needed her certificate to keep her job, and she promised up and down that she’d come back to attend the sessions she’d missed. It was imperative that she show up for a weekend training, for example, but she missed the Friday night session, showed up at noon for the Saturday that everyone else had started at 8 AM, and then appeared for only an hour on Sunday.

So her review gave the studio only 6 out of a possible 10 points, and stated something to the effect that she didn’t necessarily think she’d gotten all out of the course that had been promised, but that she thought the program had now been improved. We hated the implication that the studio had underdelivered, feeling that the truth was quite different. But it happens. It makes me wonder if manufacturers are looking over the reviews of their solar lights, or their lawn mowers, or their portable drills, and experiencing the same anguish over the mix of complaints and praise. The Internet has changed so much about our lives. Where we used to get word-of-mouth recommendations or complaints, now we have fingertip access to virtually anything, and it’s not always reliable.

Nor are our solar lights. We’ve had some lights along the wedding walk that turn on every night, light brightly, and are often still running in the morning if we get out to feed the koi while it’s still early dawn and the sun hasn’t come out enough to turn them off. But now there’s one which, for some unexplained reason, refuses to come on at all. So eleven of them look great still, and one is a total slacker. I bought a bagful of rechargeable batteries at Harbor Freight a few days, and made the rounds yesterday to replace any non-functioning cells, but in the case of the wedding walk light, the battery is an odd-sized cell that’s going to be a specialty product. The same holds true for the twin lanterns that used to brightly light the front gate; where one of them is entwined with jasmine but still shines for hours after dark, the other is totally clear of vines but doesn’t provide the slightest glimmer, and it holds a four-cell pack that has an expensive look about it. I’ll find out today, I guess. And the three-way remote panel that powers some of the floodlights has three cells in it that are also going to be pricey because they’re unusual.

We have four strings of solar lights that Ginny wound around the copper arbor in the garden, back when we had almost no natural vine to cover it. Three of those are still doing fine, but one has failed completely. I think a wiring repair will return that to service. Our gazebo at the wedding walk is wrapped tightly with copper fairy lights, miniature LEDs that are waterproof but fragile in the extreme. Several of those suffered at the hands of our first wedding party, with wires being cut or pulled apart when decorations were removed. Life goes on, but the LEDs do not. Ginny has wrapped several more strands and the gazebo looks great again, but this may be an ongoing expense for Heartwood when we finally get a permit and start holding weddings.night heartwood 135

So now I’m looking at alternatives to solar. I found sources for LED replacements for conventional incandescent landscape bulbs, and they turn out to be fantastic. We had powered lights along the walkway and bridge from the house to the yoga studio here at Heartwood, and our rambunctious dogs had killed all but one of the incandescent bulbs. Replacements are very expensive, so I went to warm white LEDs. Not only are they not damaged by being knocked about, they’re brighter, beautiful, and they drain only about ten percent of the power that the others did. So now I can add other lights, and I’m getting ready to do just that. We’re putting in floods and small lights to make Ginny’s bottle garden prettier after dark, and to light up some of the interesting globes and vases that were solar-lit but lasted only a few weeks due to water damage. I can’t wait to see this garden in all its glory again, because Ginny’s face lights up when the place looks good. Life looks good.

One year and checking in. . .

We just had an anniversary of one year at Heartwood and when I look around at all we’ve done in twelve months, I’m reminded that I don’t have to keep thinking I’m tired because I’m getting older – no, I’ve just been putting out a great deal of energy towards a dream come true . In the last year we’ve not only repaired just about every appliance, doorknob, air conditioner, and electrical outlet in the house, but took out 13 fallen trees, did scads of limb removal, landscaping and yard cleanup, remodeled a former garage space into a striking yoga center, built a magnificent Chakra garden out of a grassy space that was formerly used to train dogs, built a wedding walkway and arbor, poured a floor for an event tent and built a dance floor, designed and built a grapevine encrusted arbor, created a bottle garden (for fun), made Chakra mosiac tiles for ambiance (and let’s face it, all my art projects are for me more than anything else, because indulging in your creativity is one of life’s greatest pleasures) closed in part of the barn, dug 1 and 1/2 koi ponds (second pond is due to be finished this month) built a zen fire pit (also just finishing this month) put lighting up in the pasture for safe parking, and much more.  We raised 60 chickens and built a space for them in the barn, ate lots of eggs, then sold them all because they were tearing up all our landscaping (we will invite chickens back in the spring when we have time to build a proper pen and pagoda chicken house). We planted a small orchard with 20 tropical fruit trees, put in several watering systems, and got one of two attempts at establishing bee hives going. Meanwhile, we also designed websites and brochures, held 5 comprehensive yoga trainings this year already, offered free workshops in writing and yoga, had a big fundraising festival to raise money for women’s trafficing (and our big festival is in two weeks!) and started new programs like yoga and horse, yoga art, and more. And lets not forget, David has a full time job as an engineer and I run a busy dance studio as well as a yoga studio.

Some days I get tired and frustrated and financially stressed because we have taken on so much, and I just want to run away from it all. But at least once a day, I take a cup of coffee out and walk this property, absorbing in the positive energy, the quiet, and the endless beauty. I can close my eyes and feel that vibration that reminds me that living here with nature and holistic wholeness feeds my soul and makes my life about something bigger than me. I am blessed with right livllhood and a chance to evoke positive change in the world, and that is worth more than any monetary reward. Perhaps I could make more in a different kind of business, but what would I spend my money on, except vacations or experiences to recapture the sense of wholeness that I bask in everyday at Heartwood.)  I can’t forget that the work I do is not really “work” , but energy put forth to create something special, and the positive, wonderful people who are a part of this community are proof that it is all worthwhile.  

I have just finished my summer programs and David and I are both laboring now to upgrade things, establish new, beautiful areas of inspiration, and doing all we can to continue with our vision for Heartwood before a new season of training and workshops begins. I know our perception of the world and our role in it can be shifted when you look at work, effort, and challenges through yoga eyes. It is all about intention.

As a new season begins, I feel inspired to do a bit of intention setting myself, cleansing any doubt or weariness from my system with reminders that everyday is an inspiration when you are on your authentic path.Things don’t have to be easy, but they don’t have to be viewed as hard either. If you want a good life, you have to do the work. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Hey, that is what we say about becoming a yoga too. I guess all that stuff we teach  out here is true…..  all of life is just yoga off the mat. There are no shortcuts to transformation.

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We’ve moved!

Don’t worry, anybody!  We’re still at 17507 Waterline Road, east of Bradenton, FL.  The gate code is still the same, and the driveways and signs are still there.  But GoDaddy notified us that in a few days they won’t be letting us host our blog on our business site, and we just had to export it.  Our hope is that we can restore all the blog entries, comments, links, and so forth into this new location on WordPress.  But the pictures–what really made the old blog fun for us–will have to be moved, painstakingly, one at a time, and uploaded to WordPress, placed lovingly into position–and then we will pray that this new blog home will be more permanent!Image

The Wings of Spring!

What I love best about spring is all the new life busting forth. I see it in the amazing flowers in the garden, and the flourishing herbs. I see it in the blossoms on our fruit trees. But what I love best is babies!

Last night, David said he wanted to show me something in the workshop. Usually this means he is creating something, so I assumed he had some woodworking project in process, but he pointed to a box of used parts under his workbench and introduced me to his new tenants – 4 baby wrens in a nest. He said the mom comes in and out all day feeding them.

He had shown me a nest with tiny blue eggs in our storage tent a month ago, but we assumed the nest was old and had been abandoned since the tent had been sealed weeks prior and we couldn’t imagine a bird getting in there. David apparently moved the nest to this box in his workshop, to save it as a little nature keepsake to show Neva. Then, he forgot about it. Seems the mother bird found her nest, got over whatever drama she felt over it being moved, and carried on with her duty to care for her offspring.

I love that the nest is low so I can easily see in. Usually nests are high and are protected by limbs or natural brush so you can’t easily see the babies without disturbing things. I can now easily check these little birds everyday, enjoying their evolution to adulthood. I know one day they will fly away and disappear as abruptly as they came, but oh, what joy they leave behind just by having been here, if only for a short term. When they are gone,  I will remove the nest and perhaps put it in a wreath or something as a nature decoration which will serve to remind me that life blooms at Heartwood. It will serve as a reminder to be forever grateful that life here includes such beautiful, simple pleasures. 

Last week, while David and I were in the barn looking over the mess (he is re-organizing so tools and supplies are everywhere!) we noticed a bunch of eggs in a corner under a shelf. They seemed abandoned. I commented that in Georgia, I had chickens lay all over the place occasionally, and since I never knew if the eggs were fertilized or old, I would throw them away. I planned to get rid of these eggs, but I forgot to go back to toss them.

Two days later, a workstudy student was cleaning out the barn and she came to get me from my office saying, “I think something is going on, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

She took me to the eggs, and sure enough there was all kinds of peeping in the shell. Two chicks less than a half hour old were there, still wet from hatching, and several other eggs were beginning to crack open. Obviously, on the day we spied them, the mother was on a short reprieve to eat or drink, so we didn’t understand they were being tended to by one of my small, black Japaneese bantams. I could see how we missed them, considering a small dark bird in a dark corner covered the nest. I was relieved I hadn’t tossed them into the trash only days before they hatched. That would be sad.

We had a few moments of drama as my dogs discovered the peeping chicks and decided they wanted chicken mcnuggets for lunch. They tried to eat a few, but we shooed them away, yelling and making a great show of our disapproval of their behavior, and moved the nest into the barn. The chicks kept hatching all afternoon.

By week’s end two of those Japaneese bantams (sneaky hens) wandered back into the chicken coup with 11 babies each in tow. There are over 18 survivors to date – little black chicks scurrying all over the barnyard. We already have 38 adult hens, so now we have more chickens than we want or need, but that doesn’t stop me from smiling at how cute they are. We have a dozen more eggs ready to hatch this week too- eggs I selected from breeds I wanted chicks from. I let a clutch come to term under a few broody hens as a way to celebrate spring, thinking my yogis would enjoy the sight of some baby chicks wandering around the pasture. Ah well. It’s going to be a huge chickfest around here for a while.

I am offering free chicks to any yogi who wants to do some backyard homesteading. Quite a few of our yogis keep their allotted three chickens (suburban rules) just to have a supply of home grown eggs. Later, I am going to a farm swap with David and we’ll bring a box of chicks to give to others as a karma offering. And sad to say, but nature has a way of picking off young chicks when they are left to wander in the world naturally. We free range our chickens, so hawks and other predators do take their toll on how many will grow to adulthood.

We plan to build a pretty chicken house in the fall and we will fence in an area to keep the chickens more contained. I will let them roam when people are not here, but they are just getting too bold. They’ve taken to scratching through the mulch in our lunch seating area and leaving a mess on our walkways, and it is hard to teach meditation when a rooster is perched under the window crowing as loud as he can.  Until then, we will trust nature to keep balance as it is designed to do and let our hens and their offspring run wild. 

I love the wildlife at Heartwood – love watching plants, animals and people unfold and find their purpose here. Spring serves as a reminder to us all that every day can be a fresh beginning and a chance to say “yes!” to life.


Last night, we received a double shipment of bees that we ordered back in Dec. As a housewarming gift to myself, I purchased empty beehives in the fall. I was so excited to be living where I could once again keep bees that I couldn’t resist. I knew that once life swallowed us up with work and chores, spring would sort of spring up, and I didn’t want to miss the fresh start of bee season.  David built us a smart beehive holder, just the right height to make it easy to attend to the bees, and he designed it with some extras, like a place to hang bee frames to keep them off the ground when you are inspecting the bees. I painted the hives and put them in place. They have been out there, empty, for months, but every time I passed them I smiled knowing that one day, those hives would be swarming with bees.  David put gravel under the hive stand to make it easy to mow around and in his free time, he started reading about beekeeping. 

“Wow, this is complicated. But fascinating” he said one night, leafing through a beekeeping book.
I agreed. Beekeeping isn’t hard, but there is much to learn and it has been a while for me, so I consider myself a beginner again. I told him we should break out my beekeeping dvds as a refresher, but we never got around to watching them.  I did however, buy us both beesuits which David considered very romantic. Gotta love a man who is that easy to woo.

After all the prep. we sort of forgot about our bees until last night, when I got a call from the post office that my bees were in. The postmaster seemed VERY happy that I answered the phone because he urged me to come and get them RIGHT AWAY. Ha, you either love bees or hate ’em. 

So I ran over and picked up our bees, but I had a class to teach within the hour, so I just left them on the porch.

They sat on a rock outside overnight. David got home and sprayed sugar water on them so they had some nourishment. At 7am, David and I dressed in our bee garb for our first expedition into bee kingdom. You are supposed to do the transfer on a sunny day, and there was fog everywhere on this cool morning, but David had to go to work and I had a class to teach at 9, so we felt it was now or never. The bees had been confined for days during transport and were hungry. Success with introducing nature into your world often depends on expediting things so live creatures can get established in their new home, be it baby chicks, plants or bugs. David had done research the night before and he shared what he had learned. Much of it I remembered, but it was nice to have a recap. I felt safe knowing David was involved. He tends to approach everything armed with strong understanding. He is calm and when he engages in new things, he does so with integrity so I am confident that even if we are doing something for the first time, it will likely go smoothly.  
We first inspected our empty hives and found a small lizard living inside. We shooed him away telling him, “You don’t want to be here.”

David didn’t feel he needed to wear his suit, but I urged him to do so (for the pictures and because I wasn’t sure he understood how active the bees actually get once you begin messing with them.) He declined gloves, which didn’t surprise me because he is do down to earth and brave. He is not at all a fussy or squeamish man. Of course, I was wearing my gloves, because I AM squeamish and a bit of a pansy. The gloves made taking pictures rather awkward, but I rather like being dressed like Fort Knox in times like this so I found a way.
David sprayed the hive with sugar water so the bees would be happy to move in. We then opened the box and dumped the bees into their hives.
David was gentle, not wanting to hurt the bees.
I said, “This I remember. Want some help, Honey?” At which time I took the box, slammed it on the ground to force all the bees into a heap on the floor, dazed, and unceremoniously shook them out like I was pouring salt from a shaker. 
“I just was trying to be careful so I wouldn’t kill any of them,” my darling Buddhist boyfriend said. He then set about to getting the queen in place. She is packed in a small box and dozens of bees surround her. They cling to her cage, feeding her through the wire and attending to her like a . . . well, like a queen, of course.
We swept her minions away, and David went about pulling a cork from the queen’s cage to give her a fighting chance to escape. The queen’s cage is closed up with a candy cork that the bees will eat away until she escapes. We hung her cage in the hive to allow this process to happen, and will check in a day or two to be sure she is out, and if not, just pull the cork ourselves.

(Can’t resist a man in a uniform!)

David went to work, and I went into the yoga center to teach my first “open to the public” class at Heartwood. After the students left, I heated ten pounds of sugar and water to make a light syrup, got the hive feeders in place and fed the bees to help them get established. I figure in a day or two they will discover our garden brimming with flowers and will feast their heart out so they won’t need this superficial junk food. But for now, sugarwater is important. Still, I can’t wait until they start forging. If we think our plants are blooming in a gorgeous way now, just wait!!!
As I set up the feeder, I noticed something that looked like a leaf in the small hole that is the entrance to the hive. Upon closer inspection I saw it was our little lizard blocking the way. I went to shoo him out, but found him dead. Poor fellow. He ignored our advice and went back into his home, and the bees told him who was boss. I guess he tried to leave, but got stung to death before escaping. Nature can be harsh. I pulled his little body from the hold and instantly dozens of bees started coming and going from the hole.
Introducing bees to Heartwood was a great way to spend the early dawn, and the close contact to nature, beginnings and endings and life unfolding is tho
ught provoking and poignant. This kind of thing make for a very interesting date with your loved one. I kept bees once before, but it was a lonely endeavor and my memory is mostly of how I always wished I had a friend to be there to share what I was witnessing as I discovered things along the way. It is so much more powerful an experience when you are sharing an adventure with someone who has the same appreciation for nature that you do. While attending to the bees, David and I began trading comments about what we are seeing or experiencing, everything to marveling at the complex social structure of these creatures to our own silly flashes of nervousness when something unexpected occurs. It is a conversation that will continue for years, around the bees, at the dinner table and even when we share memories in an old folks home someday. That is the glory of shared experiences.

Anyway, I look forward to harvesting honey many, many months from now (But first the bees have to build comb and take care of brood and establish home before I add supers and they start producing extra honey to feed our yogis.)  
In the meantime, we will check our hive every few weeks and learn as we go. We will join the Florida Beekeepers association too. No doubt each evening when we take our walk around Heartwood to inspect what is blooming, needs to be done, or to say hello to the chickens, we will add the hives to our route. We will step into the pasture to watch the swarming bees, just to revel in the promise of the hive. We often end our walks in our garden, watching the solar lights turn on with appreciation for how they change our beautiful garden into a romantic dream. Now, we will have something to talk about besides how bright the stars are. We will talk of honey and fear and little complex societies and how good it is to homestead, even if it is in a small way.
It is good to feel connected. To bees, your partner, your home, and the earth. I am blessed.



Our First Wedding!

After a month of planning, hard, hard work, and tons of innovation and looking at our property in a new way to consider the possibilities, we hosted our first wedding at Heartwood.

It meant the world to me that one of my yoga students trusted us enough to schedule her wedding here. When she asked about the possibility only a month after we bought the place, we were reluctant to set the date. We had only just begun planting the garden and at that time, there was simply a hole in the ground that would eventually become a pond, and piles of dirt everywhere. Trees were fallen about the property, and the overgrowth was daunting. There was so much to do to make this new retreat site safe and inviting for yoga students –  how could we also make it right for a wedding?  We knew that we would someday want to use the facility for special occasions, but could we pull it together in 8 months considering our limited time, resources, and energy? 
As a yogi, Christina insisted things didn’t have to be perfect, and she trusted us to make the event lovely one way or another, so together, we decided to give it a go andlet things unfold as best they could.
David and I took the responsibility of making her wedding a successful event quite seriously. We had endless conversations about what we could do, shifted our budget to reallocate what we could to buying tables and chairs and a tent and other things needed for a event for 100 people, and we put off our own wedding because we decided we would have to devote David’s entire vacation time for the year and all our resources to this project if we wanted to finish off the construction required to get Heartwood ready. 

The first thing we needed to do was create a canvas for the actual ceremony. We decided to prepare a wedding gazebo, and to make that grand bridal walk special, we added a permanent aisle to walk down. We found the perfect place on the property (a open area under a canope of elms), and David and his son, Taryn, leveled the ground, dug out the grass, laid Terrazo stone, placed our statue in place and erected a gazebo. At midnight three days before the wedding, they were out in the rain concreting a border to assure everything would be stable and in place. WE had tickets to see Krisna Das that night, and we had to forego the date for a better cause, but it was the only way to get things done. (Priorities count.)
 A few days later, I decorated the gazebo in the bride’s colors with flowers she requested we use.
In the end, the wedding gazebo was more lovely than we had hoped and we were delighted.
Solar lights made the area inviting not just in the day, but remarkable at dusk too.

    Next, we needed a place for the reception. Originally, the bride thought she would just set up her event outdoors, but the more we imagined it, we determined she needed shelter. So we bought a 20 by 40 frame tent (that was solid enough that it will stay up permanently) and our yoga students helped us get the final roof canvas in place. Many hands make light work, and they made it fun because afterwards, they all rushed to be the first to do yoga in our new tent (knowing we will have outdoor practices here and we will be using it for our upcoming yoga festival in Sept too.) 

We hung lights and to add ambiance, and sewed and hung big billowing fabric that we back lit with a dozen spot lights the bride’s color (pink). We liked this because we can change the lights to reflect any bride’s colors in the future and already picked up bulbs in purple, green, blue, orange, yellow, red and, of course, white.

As eve fell and the reception began, the effect was exactly what we hoped for. Romantic, glowing, and magical.

 We also put up two additional 10 by 10 tents for the DJ and beverage bar that we hung lights in. We set up chairs for casual grouping outside, defined an area for dancing, and had the garden available for people to stroll through before dinner with refreshments or when they wanted to explore the night and enjoy a romantic moment of their own. The wedding party used the kitchens in the house to prepare food, and the yoga center was used as bridal station for the bride and her bridesmaids. The boys got ready in rooms of the lodge. Everything went smoothly. It was lovely in every way.

I think the best part of the wedding was the bride’s twin daughters decorating the garden as they took pictures. Can’t wait to see the shots, because seeing these two gorgeous children scattering flowers on walkways and sitting buried in blooms for the photographer was inspiring.

 I could load us up with more pictures, because I took hundreds, but this is more than enough to make a point. I’ve yet to see the professional shots from the photographer. With such a beautiful wedding party and Heartwood as a backdrop they will be amazing.
The event was truly special, and David and I learned TONS that will guide us in hosting the next event. We already have plans to build a deck under the tent and a dance floor and while it was great that David ran electricity all the way out to the tent for lights and a DJ, and we loaded the area up with tikki torches and solar lights, we still feel we should put up more dramatic lighting. We want to add defined walkways to make the area more conducive to a formal event. At this time, I supply linens for the tables if a bride wants white, but this week I decided to purchase dramatic tall centerpieces that brides on a budget can use to make our weddings not only beautiful, but easy to organize while still being elegant. I hope to make weddings here headache free and most importantly, affordable.
We’ve already had requests for future weddings and I have set up a calendar to assure we don’t clash events out here considering all the requests we are getting for retreats and trainings too – I want our brides to always have this place exclusively because a wedding isn’t something that should be squished in between other events in my opinion. Marriage is too important a rite of passage to treat casually.
At this time, I’m hoping the next big wedding out here will be David and mine. Can’t imagine a more poignant ceremony than one where two people get married in a space that exists only because they’ve worked diligently side by side to make a life, home and meaningful business together.

I will forever be grateful to Christina for her trust in us and, while the pace of this project was stressful, I am appreciative of the deadline her event created so we had to make all this happen. She has paved the way to weddings at Heartwood. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the beauty and positive energy of this retreat center.


Life is mosaic art

As an avid gardener, I can’t resist thumbing through books to marvel at the creativity of people who take their gardens to the level of living art. Always striving to make our Chakra Garden special, I decided to try my hand at mosaic art because I saw images of interesting mosaics in so many of the gardens I admired. I ordered some basic tiles online, and began looking for materials that I might incorporate into such a project at goodwill or other recycle venues. I figured that when I had some time, I’d spend a night piecing together a few designs, and then it would just be a matter of grouting them and plunking them into the pathways of the garden. Easy breezy, right?

One day, after spending hours laboring outside, I was hot and tired and so decided I would take a break and perhaps start one of my mosaic stones in the cool house. I poured my materials into cooking pans, and began sorting into colors and shapes. That took an hour. I had plans to make decorative stones to reflect the symbols of the chakras to help define meditation  areas in the garden. Loving these symbols and knowing them well, I figured, other than keeping to select color combinations, it would be fairly easy. I began.

About 3 hours later, I looked at the clock and realized it was time for work. I had made the first of my designs. Wow – did it really take that long to make one stone? Working in mosaic is rather a meditative craft because I had been engaged in the nuances of pattern and color and creative energy for hours. I felt badly that I had to leave such a mess on the kitchen table, but figured I’d finish the next day. While I’d love to stay home and be creative all day, I had real world responsibilities to attend to. Sigh.

For days, when I had the time, I’d return to work on my new art project, eager to complete all 7 Chakra designs. My mess stayed on the table for a month almost like a huge jigsaw puzzle that you start and can’t move without destroying the image. One day, feeling badly that my project was taking over our life, I decided to just carefully move the heavy pavers aside so we could eat together as a family at the table for once. The elaborate tiled designs rested on a bench nearby where I hoped they’d be safe, but the dogs playing nearby eventually knocked the designs a bit out of sync.  Sigh. I had to piece them together again, but couldn’t help but notice that working on these designs the second time around made them a tad better.

On month two, David found time to show me how to concrete the tiles to pavers for endurance outside (he insisted the simple mosaic materials from Micheal’s Crafts wouldn’t hold up), and for several nights I carefully moved each design from one tile to the other slathered in concrete, worrying about speed and proficiency since I had to transfer the design before the concrete dried. With the tiles in grout, some of the design moved a bit. Other parts got buried in concret swallowing some of the detail I loved , and my designs dried in a way that was less perfect than I hoped . Sigh. My finished tiles now sat around the living room for a few more days until we had a night off to grout them. Meanwhile, I was picking them apart, frustrated for mistakes I made on my first attempt at mosaic art. I was bothered when a few lines of tile were crooked after they dried, or the spacing wasn’t right, or glumps of concrete slipped on the edges and I forgot to wipe it clean. And this was all taking so long! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a garden, or so I’m learning. I had to clean the floor and table carefully, because art can be messy. More work that wasn’t fun. And I had to talk myself into being satisfied with my efforts, because in retrospect, I realized I could have done things better if only  . .. Of course, experience is our teacher, and I had to make my first set of tiles to learn what I now knew about mosaic art.

A week or so later, David and I decided that even though it was late and we had been working all day, we should finish the tiles just so we wouldn’t have one more thing on our “to do” list. David showed me in his patient way how to grout the tiles properly. We always consider it highly romantic to build anything special together, and every element of Heartwood feels special to us, so we had fun working together. We went to bed tired, our shoulders and backs hurting from bending over, but still, we were excited to be near the end of the project and we spent a good deal of time congratulating ourselves on our creativity and talent and applauded ourselves for coming up with the idea of a chakra garden and making it manifest so well and so quickly. Ha. Silly ego. 

The next morning, we took a towel and rubbed at the stones to get the final film off the top and see the final design peeking through. Much of the design was hidden under the grout now because things like the round glass pieces were partly covered now. But while the finished designs were not what I expected exactly, they were beautiful in a different way. Sort of like the imperfections made each stone more natural and less commercial – like real art should be – a reflection of life. Imperfect. 

Every morning we take our coffee to the garden to admire what is in bloom and have a few moments of peace together before we have to face our work day. On this morning, we hauled the heavy tiles out and placed them in different positions about the garden, deciding where they would look best. We groaned as we picked them up over and over, turning them around this way and that, stating a case for each place we thought they might rest.  Once we decided where and what angle they should go, David buried them in the gravel and at long last, the mosaics were a part of our garden.

I stood back to admire the work. That’s it? I thought. The detailed stones looked dwarfed in the huge garden. These stones are very pretty, but after all that work, they seemed rather subtle and a bit imperfect and not impressive at all. I wondered if these little designs in stone were worth all that work, but imagining the garden path without them made me certain it was. I could focus on each individual addition of our garden, judging each element to decide if it is significant or worthy and I’d always end up disappointed. The collective whole is what makes the garden amazing. The Chakra mosaics, or the koi in the pond, or my grapevine arbor, or David’s swing alone are not what make this space inviting and beautiful, but the balance of all these things together does.
All of life is a bit like this. We piece together our world, either taking great care to do things right and make the art project that is our life as detailed and lovely as possible, or we just randomly grab whatever materials are at hand and hurry through our design to get the job done without much care or thought –  our life tiles are simply the hundreds of choices we make every day. In the end the design of our life reflects how we think, act and the degree of care and good intention we put into our choices. The end result of any mosaic isn’t perfect, and perhaps at times it seems like you are doing all kinds of work for nothing, because what seems as if it should be simple is often really hard. It is hard to stick to a project, have patience and do what has to be done.  Sometimes you think, here I am killing myself to do the right thing and does anyone notice the differenc

But at certain times of day, the sun hits my mosaic tiles at certain angles, and suddenly the glass and tile all glows and decorates the surroundings with spendor. The time and attention that was given to each of the designs now seems right and true and it becomes clear that a random pattern or something thrown togehter to save time and effort  would never have been as inspirational. And it sure wouldn’t be something I could be proud of. The Chakra tiles are not only beautiful, but they send a message that patience and care do make a difference when we are designing our world.

I am glad to have my living room back, and I am glad my Chakra tiles are done so I don’t feel pressured to work on them because they are a pressing mess that needs attending to, but I miss the project too. Believe it or not,  I have every intention of making more mosaic tiles for Heartwood now. Soon.

As soon as we have a chance to build a free standing chicken house, I plan to use that corner of the barn to create an art area for messy projects. I’ll set up a mosaic art table and continue collecting all manner of materials – everything from stones and glass pieces to broken plates from goodwill, for ongoing projects. Perhaps I’ll save a corner of that space for paint, clay and glass projects out there too. With David’s workshop now in the barn, and considering his desire to add blacksmithing and other creative pursuits to his work space, we have even talked about closing in the entire barn to make a huge art and tool workshop for ongoing projects that all our guests can visit and enjoy as well.

Life unfolds and continues to take shape, one tile at a time.   


My Glass Garden

My newest project is fragile at best… I’m creating a glass garden just outside my office window of the Yoga Center. I am the ultimate recycler!

I began with a collection of bottles that I’ve had for years. I started collecting them in Georgia on visits to flea markets. I wanted something pretty to put homemade cordials in so I collected a few dozen and filled them with all sorts of fruit and nut cordials.  In the great room of our current house I have a large shelf filled with dozens of bottles of seasoned, tastely cordials (sometimes, after the yogis go home  Melina, David, Andrew and I will barbeque dinner and finish off with a tad of ice cream covered with a dash of homemade cordial…. amaretto tends to be the favored flavor).

I very much enjoy having them displayed, partially because it invites guests to sample my homemade concoctions, but also because it sets off the stained glass windows of the house, which I love, love, love. Since I never know when I might want to make a new flavor to add to my collection of two dozen flavors now, I always pick up colored bottles when I see them at Goodwill or a garage sale. Over time, I ended up with a big box of bottles and I’ll never need that many. Yet I continue to buy them. I guess I find them special because they have a certain memory for me of an attempt once to forge a natural life. All I have to show for that now is empty bottles, so today, I can’t resist a vintage colored bottle when I see one for a dollar or two at a yard sale. I like filling them, and using them, and considering that the life I tried so hard to create before came to me through a back door and manifested itself despite all odds.

So the other day, I decided to hang my excess bottles in a tree just to watch the sun bounce of them and to put them to good use.  I thought of this as a recycling project. The next thing I knew I was placing  some glass gazing balls and tall bottles in the ferns to accent the glass overhead.  I started to see the entire patch of fern as a perfect background for an art project that was symbolic. I found a few stained glass bird baths and started imaging garden art I could make of recycled glass to add in time. A friend made me a stained glass window years ago, and it had a small broken area. She contacted me recently to say she had repaired it, and now, 7 years later, is ready to give it back. I thought the timing rather remarkable (the collective consciousness always fascinates me), and I’ve decided that when she drops it off, I’ll hang that special work of art on the last open tree limb of that side yard, and spread the garden out in the ferns as I find perfect additions.

 Now, my project is not only beautiful, but meaningful and steeped in history …. bottles from the past, pictures from the past that represent my former life and career, and new pieces of art,  all finding a place in my unfolding life  which is a living work of art too.  And this glass all nestles in the ferns and trees, reminding us that nature is the greatest work of art. Glass is just nature reconditioned. Glass is simply sand, hardened by friction and heat… kind of like people when time and conflict takes it’s toll on us and we too grow a big more fragile and hard at the same time. But our life tribulations and hardships also make us shine and keeps us reflective – as long as it doesn’t break us.

One of my inspirational garden quote signs happened to be in the back corner of this area. The sign talks about nature and crystal being beautiful. It was simply a coincidence that the only quote sign I had that referred to crystal  had been placed in this spot. Interesting – kinda like a flash-forward of things to come. 
As the glass project took shape, I decided I should order a sign that might be even more appropriate for this new glass garden. It is printed on a stained glass colored background and says,

“People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when darkness sets in, their true beauty is only revealed if there is a light within.”

I believe that message whole heartedly…. The sign will arrive in a few days and set off the theme of this new fun area of Heartwood.
So, now I am on the lookout for bottles and stained glass items that can peak through the ferns to catch the light and give people something to reflect upon. It must be subtle and “right” for this time and place, so not all glass will due. Additions will be the kind of thing you know fits only when you see it and think, “Ah yes!!! This belongs in the collection.” Not all glass has the right energy or “look”. I suppose this will be like any garden, something that grows slowly over time and just keeps getting prettier (but needs a bit of trimming now and again too.) Things will be moved, pared away, and highlighted by lights so that in the evening, it takes on a different glow.

I see this small area of Heartwood as a nature canvas painted with bottles. I can view it from my computer at Heartwood where I spend many hours when I’m not teaching. It is breathtaking, and forges bittersweet memories while also reminding me that I must keep my own inner light shining.   

David’s Swing

When David and I decided to live together after a year of dating, I bought him a swing for his Birthday. He hung it on a huge oak in the back yard of our home, a house that my parents technically owned, although we were the ones investing and doing the remodeling, etc, We didn’t really formally combine our lives because I didn’t feel ready for that, but we were certainly practicing to see how well we worked together as a team . Every evening when we could, we’d sit out there on the swing with a glass of wine, talking about our future, or at least the future we hoped we could create IF I was ever ready. Our mornings began with coffee on the swing working through our problems and the challenges we had in closing the door of our past lives as we forged a life together . It was not an easy time, this time of transition, but it was our opportunity to grow closer at a slow and even pace.

Heartwood came about as result of several changes going on in our world, one of which was that I was ready to take our relationship to the next level, which means I was willing to consider a home to buy as a couple. The other was that I wanted to expand my business and take it in a new direction, so we had this dream concept of finding a place that would allow us to combine work and love and life in a great blend. These conversations were often had on the swing.

 David found Heartwood, knowing just what kind of place I dreamed of, and to this day he insists he manifested this place for us. If so, he is indeed a powerful man. To get Heartwood, we had to take a leap of faith and put our home up for sale, even though we were not sure  we could get a morgage to purchase Heartwood. I was deeply worried we would lose our home and not have a place to go, but we had fallen deeply in love with Heartwood the moment we drove up and saw the front gate, so I was willing to take any risk to get it. That first time we drove up to this property, we jumped over the fence to look into the windows of the abandoned place and knew we were meant to be here. That is another story.

We put our home up for sale on a day that we were going out of town to my daughter’s wedding, thinking we’d have time to get it cleaned up and “sale ready”  later when we got back, but we received a full price offer 5 hours later. If we were serious about this Heartwood property, we had to trust things would work out, so we took the risk and sold our home. Since we were out of town, my parents negotiated the sale and made the arrangements for us. When we got home, we were thrilled to have this ordeal all taken care of, but discovered that David’s swing had been offered with the house. Bummer. He was OK with it because, as he said, we could always get another swing, but I felt badly. His swing was the first gift I’d ever given him, and something I knew he wanted to keep.

So, knowing he loved that swing, and it had meaning for us, a year later, on valentines day I bought him the same swing again. I expected him to put it up on an oak tree again, since we have two dozen perfect swing branches to choose from, but a week later, David came tromping into the garden with a few posts and wood supports he had cut from rough cedar. He announced he was building a covered arbor for his swing. Sure enough, within a few days, his swing now had  a stately roofed cover and it looked like something you’d see in a gardener’s magazine. He is remarkable in his diverse skill. I was impressed by his project, but not surprised. He positioned his new swing for a long range view of the garden.

The next day, once again, we started the morning with a cup of coffee swinging together, talking about our life and how we hope it will continue to unfold. Swings are special in that way. They rock you to a place of comfort and ease.

When I met David I told him I couldn’t imagine a life with him, because I had been married so long before and starting over with someone new felt somehow wrong to me. David and I had no history, no children together, and these were  the things that I felt defined a true union between man and woman. I didn’t think I’d ever feel close to someone in that way again because I was too old to have children and build a family and without that, marriage just wouldn’t feel “real” to me.  He told me that we would have “babies” together, even if we didn’t have children in a traditional sense. He said we would write books together, build a home or business, and these things would become our history and our combined contribution to life as a couple. In effect, we would have “babies”, but they would be of a different kind.

As I sat on the swing yesterday, looking at this amazing garden we built together, thinking about our past and all the work we’ve done together to build this life, I realized he was right.   I didn’t notice it happening at the time, but we have a history. We also have a future. One unfolds as the other stacks up. And we are creating babies together, in our work, our garden, our home, and our projects. We have a family, and I don’t just mean the two of us, but my daughter, his son, our parents and siblings, and friends are all a part of our family now.

Just as when we were a new couple, delicately tip toeing through the waters of coupledom, we now start the day sitting together on a swing, planning the future or discussing the past. Talking about what went wrong in our former lives, appreciating what we have now, dreaming of a future. These conversations take place on this amazing swing that seems both a part of our past and a part of our present.   David’s swing. And while our former swing was a temporary thing, just hung on a branch, this one is permanent. Solid, stable and built to last.