Sunday, January 31, 2010

"every living soul is an artist"

I saw this during a visit this afternoon at this delightful, local bookshop in Cleveland. Great thoughts, aren't they?

How do you live your art? 

P.S. Sorry the photo isn't that great - it was taken with an iPhone and not a regular camera!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

courage and inspiration

I've gotten into a habit of "naming" each year. 2009 was about TAKING ACTION. I have decided to name 2010 COURAGE and INSPIRATION. Courage, for the path ahead, and all its unknowns. Inspiration to keep going.

I've stepped outside my familiar, comfortable place -- professionally and emotionally. But it's all good. Really good. No regrets. But courage is still needed.

I realized that all my major decisions - of wanting change, of wanting more - have been guided by a need to be inspired. And I write about wanting "more" not in terms of things, but in terms of becoming.

I want to be able to inspire as well, however that may be. But I can only inspire another if I am inspired myself.

I've been revisiting this book lately - a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. She writes about the sutras, or "threads" of yoga philosophy in such a thoughtful, yet accessible way. She makes it real.

Here are some of her translations of the yoga sutras:

Slow, peaceful exhalations can be used to restore and preserve balance.
Or engage the focus on an inspiring object.
Or cultivate devotion to the supreme, ever-blissful Light within.
Or dedicate yourself to anything that elevates and embraces your heart. 

- Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga

I do think that our life's work is exactly that - dedicating ourselves to that which elevates and embraces our hearts.

What inspires me?
What elevates and embraces my heart?

In my "work" world:
- Solutions
- Committed teachers and professionals
- Better outcomes for children and families

In my "yoga and wellness" world:
- Balance
- A healthy body
- A clear, steady mind
- A compassionate heart
- A peaceful spirit

In my "photography/art" world:
- Visual images that can uplift and silence me

In my "food" world:
- Creativity: creating something from nothing (well, not really "nothing"... you always start with a foundation of good, fresh ingredients. But you know what I mean.)
- The need to nurture

I've decided that I can't let go of these other pieces. I just need to keep seeking out sources of inspiration, wherever that may be. Seeing the resiliency of a child. Reading a great article about an issue in my profession. Talking about solutions. Being in movement. Finding strength and focus in a deep belly breath. Tasting an explosion of flavors. Finding beauty in random, everyday moments. Nurturing love and friendship.

I know what inspires me. So the next question in my "life's work" is - how do I take these sources of inspiration and inspire the next person?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

life's work

Gypsy Dancer
Cincinnati, OH, 2006

"Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart to give yourself to it."
- Buddha

This led me to think: Which one of these will it be?

- Early childhood intervention/special education
- Yoga & wellness
- Photography
- Food

I feel like each one of these is a little "world" in itself.  Each is a piece of a larger puzzle, and if one is missing, the puzzle won't be complete. But the question is -

Can I do all of them, and how do I do them equally well, without compromising one or the other? Or is there a conflict of interest going on here?

I'd like to hear from you: how do you balance it all? How do you put all the pieces of your life's work together?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

my online photography shop

I am happy to share that I started an online photography shop!

Click here.

This site is a work in progress, as I do not have all my photography prints listed yet. For a more extensive list, most of my work can be found here.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

searching for yoga

I've slowly started to explore Northeast Ohio for where to take yoga classes, and I've happily found some places/teachers.

Upon recommendation by a peace activist with whom I studied yoga in Cincinnati, I attended a class with this teacher, in the Jivamukti style of yoga. She had such a wonderful way of infusing yoga philosophy into the class in a down-to-earth, accessible manner, while challenging the body with asanas. After class, I was stretched-out and blissed-out.

I also attended a vinyasa class in a heated room. I've always loved the rhythmic flow of a vinyasa class where the breath is linked with movement. The heat, coupled with the dynamic flowing sequences, and the DEEP, heat-producing breathing... I don't think I have ever sweat that much in a yoga class. After savasana, I was still sweaty, but joyful, calm, and at peace.

Then last week, our campus recreational center held a free demo week for the instructional classes, including yoga. The teacher was very informative about connecting the yoga movements to specific body organs and the resulting health benefits. Got some great tips too for movements that help coordinate the left and right sides of the brain - quite helpful for us in our student life.

I also attended another class held in the basement of a church building. Places like this evoke a "secret society" feel, but it was definitely no secret, because eventually the space got packed. People from all age groups and seemingly all walks of life came to attend. The instructor had a personal touch and obviously knew some of the students who seemed to be regulars. I like that. I like being able to connect with a group and to feel a sense of community - not like a rushed, lunch hour yoga class where people unroll their mats, practice yoga, roll up their mats again, and leave without so much as acknowledging the person on the next mat, even if the room is so packed that the next mat is less than an arm's distance away from you. Not that those classes are terrible - hardly so. I've been to some of those classes myself, and never felt like I shouldn't have come (when did I ever regret a yoga practice anyway?). I just like feeling at least somewhat connected. Not that we have to all be best friends and sing Kumbaya. That's a bit too close for comfort for me anyway. It's just nice to be in a place where you can see regulars, where you can feel that it's becoming your "third place". I think that because I am away from home and have recently moved, finding that "third place" becomes important.

Next... I'm off to find some yin yoga, to add a nice balance to all the "yang" styles of yoga I've been practicing.

Regardless of where you go, I think there is such a great benefit to experiencing a variety of classes and styles, and to learn from different teachers. There's a wealth of knowledge out there.

What styles do you like, and why?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

revisiting January 2009

Wow. This time last year, I named the year 2009 as my year of TAKING ACTION. I wrote my goals here.

This friend once told me about reflecting on the past year, and your perceived successes and failures. I like that concept of "perceived". It's not a judgment on your performance; to me it's your perception of the areas in which you experience growth and the areas that you may need to revisit or to try again, or to re-consider to see whether it fits in with your life's purpose.

These were on my list, with my "revisiting" comments in italics:

1. Continue my research project...continued, but not be continued this year.

2. Show photography at another art show (maybe this spring?)...check. Was part of an art show at this arts center last summer. It was a great experience, because I helped set up the show pieces with a group of artists, as part of my volunteer hours. I thoroughly enjoyed being behind the scenes for the first time! It was fun deciding where to place different pieces of art work so that each piece stands out, but also complements the other pieces around it. This place is a community-supported arts center, and is so full of warmth and positive energy. Nothing pretentious here. They make the arts accessible, not elusive...even for newbies like myself. :)

photo courtesy of CD (thanks!)

3. Start teaching yoga again (one thing I took off my plate for the past few months... and I miss it)...unfortunately, I think I only had a few opportunities to do this. In my busiest times, I think I really benefit from being in the class as a student, not as an instructor. Re-visit at some point.

4. Set a reasonable amount of Internet time... reduce non-productive Internet time, especially if it starts interfering with my sleep schedule! ...honestly? ONGOING. became especially difficult since I got a MacBook Pro last year.
So realistically, my online time may not become any less.

5. I would love to take a weekend road trip/photography trip by myself – to a place that will make feel like I’m “getting away”, but also reasonably close. Asheville, NC maybe?... YES!!! I DID! Big check mark here.

Zambra Tapas Bar and Spanish Restaurant
Walnut St., downtown Asheville

my favorite Spanish restaurant...
especially since they serve vegetarian paella and vegetarian tapas.

No visit to Asheville is complete without getting truffles
from French Broad Chocolate Lounge
South Lexington Ave., downtown Asheville

Bougainvilleas from the North Carolina Arboretum
These flowers remind me of home...
there are lush shrubs of these in my family's garden in Manila.

6. Prioritize my health and wellness. Listen to my body: take stretching breaks at work after sitting at a computer, take more walks, indulge myself by taking a nap when necessary...well, I took walks... but not too many naps to report. Revisit; do I allow myself enough rest? I have to remind myself that rest is important, so that I can regroup and move forward with what I perceive as my life's purpose.

7. Set aside some time each day (even just 5 minutes) to reflect, read something inspiring, or write in my journal...check.

Everyone needs time for a retreat...
whether it's for a weekend or for five minutes.

8. ACT ON possibilities. Or else they will remain merely possibilities. (this sounds vague, but it’s going to be a LOOONG story if I write it out in detail here)... YES!!! Another big check mark here... I must say, I did take action on this one. I moved to Kent State!

Oh, and last year I turned 30! I loved it. See more here.

Photo credit: EyesOpenWide

So I did "take action" last year. I have been reflecting on what 2010 will be about, and what I will name it. More on that later.

On a final note...some guiding words for the new year:

"We are not victims of circumstance. We are the creative force of our own lives."
Stephen Covey

What's 2010 about for you?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

winter comfort food

Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter Sauce

This is by no means an original idea, as I'm sure there are many other pasta/gnocchi recipes with browned butter out there. Anyway...

I cheated with store-bought gnocchi. But I didn't cheat by using my usual non-dairy Earth Balance spread for this dish, in which the butter should stand out. I went all-out and used Lurpak Danish butter, which is SO good. My rare luxury.

I browned the butter in a cast iron skillet. The trick is to melt the butter slowly, so it doesn't burn. To that I added a small handful of fresh sage leaves, and let the sage cook slowly to become crisp. Enjoyed the scents in my kitchen. I then added the gnocchi, which I had cooked separately in a pot of salted boiling water (it only took 2-3 minutes). I just timed it so that the gnocchi would be ready just as the butter sauce was ready, so all I had to do was scoop out the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them directly to the skillet. I gave it a gentle toss, added sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and that was it.

See those browned bits on the gnocchi? Yummy goodness.

Simple, rustic, and delicious.

(ed. 2/8/10: I am experimenting with more uses for sage browned butter. It's such a fall/winter flavor for me because it goes so well with hearty food that's such a comfort during the colder season. It's great on roasted potatoes, drizzled onto white bean soup just before serving, and even on grilled cheese! I love, love, LOVE sage browned butter. If anyone has other [non-meat] ideas, post a comment here. I'd like to hear it!)

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Monday, January 11, 2010

looking ahead, part 2

Photo credit: EyesOpenWide

In looking ahead towards the new year, I also have to look back at the year that has been.

2009 was a year of incredible opportunity. It was also a year of transition and somewhat life-changing decisions, some of which were slightly painful. But when opportunity presents itself, there is so much potential to grow. And growth hurts sometimes.

I had to choose between staying in a full-time job (which I loved) that gave me the sense of security that comes with having a regular source of income and benefits, and an opportunity for full-time, (almost) fully-funded doctoral studies in a different city. It meant going away from what has been my home for 6 years, away from my friends who have become like family. It meant a meager stipend instead of a full-time salary (let's be honest here: we all have bills to pay). It meant a different lifestyle, a different routine from what I have been used to. It meant a lot of hours of working alone. I've heard people say, "The doctoral program, especially the dissertation, can be a very lonely place."

The idea of going back to school full-time was a little scary, I admit. It wasn't the most convenient decision... nor was it the most cost-effective decision. It required me to move out of my comfort zone. It required some sacrifice. But it also held the promise of the growth that I so wanted. In my full-time job, I felt secure for practical reasons, but I also felt restless. I felt like a plant that wanted to outgrow its pot. Abraham Maslow, a psychology theorist, wrote: "You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety." Very wise.

Somehow I think this photo captures the idea of "stepping back" vs "stepping forward"

There was a lot to consider in my decision-making, but in the end, it all boiled down to that inner voice that grew louder and louder, saying, "JUST GO."

I am a believer of the idea that nothing happens by chance. There is no coincidence. There was a reason that this opportunity knocked. I just "randomly" (or so I thought) found this doctoral program through the Internet. When I looked into it more and sought more information, it seemed that it was the answer to my restlessness. Had I decided to stay within my comfort zones, I would have stayed with the doctoral program I had already started and worked on part-time for the past 2 years. When I think about it, I could have NOT found this other program. I could have NOT been accepted. I could have NOT been given a graduate assistantship. But all those things DID happen. There is a reason.

Anais Nin stated, "And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." (Got this from a delightful little book entitled Bloom)

So despite some fears and anxieties, I stepped forward into growth. It was time.

And now I am here. After months of being in transition, nervously waiting for things to happen that were beyond my control (like whether my student visa was going to be approved by the USCIS or not). Then finally, it all worked out. I look back at the patterns of changes and transitions in my life, and many of them required WAITING. Many, if not all of them, worked out on the 11th hour. I call it "my photo-finish life" because things fall into place in the nick of time. A friend of mine once corrected me and said, "It's not a photo-finish life. It's a 'perfect timing' life." I like that. True enough, when I received my USCIS approval, it couldn't have come at a more perfect time.

The period of waiting really teaches me to be patient. And to let go. And to trust that things DO work out, after you've done all the work. It is a hard lesson to learn, one which I have not fully learned.

And that was my 2009...

So. 2010. A new year to step forward into growth. How am I going to grow this year?

A couple of years ago, I joined a retreat, and we did some fun artsy work. I created something like a "vision board" of affirmations, reminders, and dreams.

Here are some phrases from my vision board:

Go with your gut.

Teach to learn.

Improve our world.

Create, play, and care. It's a way of life.

Be adventurous. Be amazed.

Nourish your life.

Be peaceful.

Wow. It seems like that sums up my will-do's for the year. I'm calling them will-do's and not to-do's. I think saying "will-do's" makes me more accountable. To myself, and to others. They are not necessarily discrete and separate resolutions that you can check off a list and be done with them -- I like to think of them more as reminders to make more conscious choices every day.

Looking at my vision board 2 years after I created it, I reflect on how those words and images are speaking to me now.

Go with your gut. Someone once said to me, "Trust your instincts. Nine out of ten times, your instincts are right." When faced with a decision, I need to find time to quiet my mind and be in tune with my intuition. There is wisdom there. Many times I find myself worrying and stressing out unnecessarily over something, when really, I already know the answer. I could have avoided all that negative energy (and nights of tossing and turning) by just trusting in what I know.

Teach to learn. This year I will be teaching, though in a different capacity. I am no longer teaching young children, but I will be assisting in/co-teaching some college and graduate level classes as part of my graduate assistantship work. I believe that I learn so much when I teach. I learn to step outside of myself. I learn about other people, and about meeting other people's needs. I learn to be flexible. I learn to plan for a variety of learners. I learn to communicate better.

Improve our world. Oooh, that is a loaded one. At this time, I am not in a place in my life where I can join the Peace Corps. So I will have to break it down into smaller actions. I don't know what they are yet though. Volunteer to teach yoga? Join a campus or community organization? Note to self: do some research on this one. But they can be even smaller actions - picking up a piece of trash on the street. Giving someone a sincere compliment or affirmation. Calling or writing an old friend. Greeting and thanking the grocery store checkout person by name. Every word I say and choice I make can have a positive or negative effect. Do my choices create positive energy? Or does it lower my energy and that of others?

Create, play, and care. It's a way of life. In what ways can I "create" this year? I feel that my hobbies have taken a backseat to other, bigger priorities. How can I balance the creative and the cerebral? In what ways will I "play"? And in what ways will I "care"? Hmmm... It seems that I can do all 3 of these when I cook or bake. It's such a creative, enjoyable process. Food is always a way to care for and nourish another person - not just in the physical sense. OK, not that I need any more excuses to cook...

Be adventurous. Be amazed. Well, I'm in a new city! Who knows what adventures lie ahead? One thing that comes to mind is that since I am now closer to a body of water, I might learn to windsurf on the lake this summer. :) (Note to self: Start swimming laps again!) But adventure and amazement are not limited to high-adrenaline activities. Amazement and wonder is everywhere. I just have to be open.

Nourish your life. I will be faced with many stresses this year. A hard lesson for me to learn is to find balance. I need to find ways to nourish my soul so I don't burn out. Nurturing friendships, old and new. Yoga. Cooking projects. Small doses of art. Photography. Writing. I'll take lessons from this friend and make a weekly appointment to "show up for myself."

Be peaceful. Another loaded one. In what ways can I think, speak, and act peacefully? This statement can cover so much - lessening my environmental footprint (note to self: hop on the campus shuttle more!), being more conscious of my food choices and where my food comes from, being more compassionate in my interactions with others and following the three-fold rule of "Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?" before I speak. And -- this is a difficult one -- being more forgiving towards myself.

Let's see how this year turns out... meanwhile, I have my vision board in a highly visible place in my bedroom so I can see my reminders every day.

Here's to another year and another chance to evolve into more balanced, more genuine, and more compassionate versions of ourselves.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

looking ahead

Photo credit: EyesOpenWide

Don't just go through life, grow through life. Don't just be good, be good for something and someone. Goodness heightens beauty. Become who you are, who you were meant to be. Seek out knowledge and experience. The more we see, the more we are capable of seeing. The more we do, the more we are capable of doing.

If you want to change, begin it. If you want love, give it. If you want hope, embody it. Start immediately and do it flamboyantly. Once you've begun, don't turn back. Change and growth can be painful and challenging at times, but as Lauren Bond said, "Every flower has to go through a lot of dirt."

Life is about choices, growth, and taking chances. It is about pushing through and moving forward. It is about loving courageously and not holding back. It is about finding a brighter, better way. You owe it to yourself and to the world to make the most out of the stuff that's in you.

Bloom into your incredibly, gloriously, brilliantly beautiful self. The world is waiting.

Excerpt from Bloom, Kobi Yamada & Kristel Wills (eds.), 2006. For more info on the book, click here.

photo taken in Cincinnati on November 2009 -
thought it was an unlikely bloom during late fall

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

happy new year! (plus some holiday snapshots)

It's 2010!

May this year be filled with hope, dreams, adventure, and all that joyful stuff.

This post is rather late, as I ushered in the new year in bed with a 101-degree fever. Yes, I got sick, even after having received a flu shot. It started with unusual body aches one day. I thought, hmmm, maybe I need to do more stretches. So I practiced more yoga. The next day we flew back home, and the day of travelling -- flights, layovers, etc -- took its toll. The following day, New Year's Eve, I ran a fever which lasted for 2 days. Well, four bags of Ricola (and still counting), 2 boxes of tissues (I'm loving Puffs with Vicks), lots of ibuprofen, and one 8-ounce bottle of Tussin later, I am still not fully recovered. I finally went to the doctor and was prescribed a round of antibiotics (note to self: take some probiotics too!). I don't think I've been this sick in a LONG time.

I haven't even been in the frame of mind to reflect on the year that has been, and write and visualize my 2010 will-do's. That will follow in a later post.

On a more positive note... Here are some snapshots from my holiday celebrations with my family:

A hanging mobile in my niece's bedroom

My 16-month-old niece in her playpen

The magic of jumbo blocks

Waking up to the comfort of breakfast pancakes

Many lazy mornings like this -- witnessing the sheer joy and spontaneity of my nephews and niece at play. Morning sunshine streaming in through the window blinds. Being fully present.

The blessing of a birthday celebration... on the same day as my brother and sister-in-law's tenth year wedding anniversary.

The joy of a home-cooked, lovingly prepared meal...

... and the wine to go with it.
This is from the wine cellar of a friend of the family. Before you get shocked, I only took a couple of sips of each of the 4 Pinot Noirs we tasted... and then I was as red as a beet. (I won't post photos of that... heehee.)

Festive dishes to go with the meal...

... and a lovely table setting of flowers that remind me of home...

... and a sense of gratitude for nature's bounty, that somewhere in the world it is warm enough for fruits to grow, so that we can enjoy them.

(photo taken by my brother)

And many other moments of breaking bread together -- sharing meals, fancy or simple -- with family and friends.

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