Finding Solace when Things are not Calm

For the past week I’ve vacillated from feeling nervous to edgy to agitated with little room for stillness and tranquility. All the ways in which I find solace have not helped relax my internal shakiness, leaving me more tentative than I’ve been in quite some time. It’s as if the rug has literally been pulled out from under me.

I got the proof for my book and it looks different than I thought it would. I forgot some things. My acknowledgment page is too short. I failed to mention some important people in my life. My misses and mistakes are long and I can’t help but chastise myself for my whoopsies and oh-ohs which have spun my romantic view of being an author on its’ head –the throbbing quality of groundlessness forcing me to stand in the middle of my vulnerability.

Pema Chodron wrote a book called When Things Fall Apart. In it she discusses how we don’t really know how things will turn out and when there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that will be the end of the story or just the beginning of a great adventure. Things are always in transition and nothing ever sums itself up in the way we like to dream about. She goes on to explain how important it is to stick with this uncertainty, to relax in the midst of chaos and to compassionately love ourselves with all our flaws and limitations.

I think remembering solace when it is not calm is just as meaningful as when things are all hunky-dory, maybe even more so, and sometimes comfort is as simple as recalling the sky when I can’t see it or the sound of the river in spring or the steam rising from my tea on a winter’s night.

It seems all over the world, everyone is striking out against someone else, so, I’m not going to war with myself and will practice peace instead; sit right in the center of my Achilles’ heel and loosen up. Solace in finding calm where there is no calm.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Laughter

I tend to be a serious person and forget how wonderful it is to laugh; chuckle when I make a mistake or to “lighten up and relax already” –a comment I’ve heard more than just a few times over the years.

Today, the owner of the local venue for my book launch kindly offered a chance for my husband and I to taste the appetizers  they hoped to serve at the celebration – on their day off no less. We sat around a nice table and sampled three delicious hors d’ouevres: cheese, tortellini, basil, tomatoes with balsamic vinaigrette on crostinis and yummy skewers with prosciutto, olives, and different soft cheeses. The staff asked questions about the book, eager to please, excited for the event, wanting to make a good impression. Everything felt a bit apprehensive-ish; the owner politely refusing to eat anything.

At one point, I caught my reflection off a glass window and startled. My lips were pursed together and my brow seemed to grow into one line. My hair looked a little wild from the hot yoga class I just came from. I looked around at these thoughtful people and realized they were taking their cue from me.

I tried to crack a joke, not really one of my fortes. “You know I’ve never done this before; book launch I mean. So, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”

Everyone at the table paused in their eating as if someone had just pressed the stop button on the remote control. Then the owner smiled, one of those big soulful smiles that made her eyes dance. “We’ve never done a book launch here either!”

We looked at one another and burst out laughing.

From then on, everyone started to chatter about nothing in particular; the weather, the changes in our town, a new book someone had just read.

The owner picked up one of the crostinis and complimented the chef, “You know, these are quite delicious.”

We laughed some more. I bought a few things for the celebration give-away basket: a bottle of their signature wine, a stemmed glass with their logo. She threw in a package of paper napkins with the inscription well red and we ended our time together with heartfelt thankyous.

The owner let us out through their large, heavy wooden door with sizable window partitions that shown brightly in the afternoon light and where I could catch my smiling face. I think my eyes might’ve even held a hint of joy. Laughter is a gift. Truly.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Unplugged

Yesterday, I did not turn on my computer or my phone and left my house for the day, traveling up north about twenty-five miles or so; first on the highway, then onto a dirt forest service road for several bumpy miles until I reached the trail head –destination, a secluded high mountain lake.

Before I swung on my daypack, I checked the outside temperature: 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The narrow earthen path had several puddles and the rain drops on the underbrush indicated it had indeed rained the evening before. The sunshine warmed my legs as I headed up the first switchback.

Several miles later, I came to a rock slab and began a vertical climb to a ridge. At the top, breathtaking views of a distant mountain range appeared from the north. I stopped only for a moment or two before continuing my way to a lake nestled among three mountain peaks, the grey-black rock in sharp contrast to the soft blue hues of the water.

I found a flat boulder overlooking the lake and decided it was the perfect lunch spot. First, I removed my sweat soaked t-shirt and snuggled into a warm fleece pullover; then, poured a cup of lavender-chamomile tea from a thermos I seem to always insist on bringing whenever I head into the high country.

I think I must’ve sighed a dozen times, letting my thoughts drift. A golden eagle flew overhead –my guess, searching for an unsuspecting pika. I watched the bird make several dives seemingly right into the rock crevices and admired its’ tenacity and razor-sharp focus –something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as my book launch nears and the cover of my book grace the pages of Amazon and Target and posters and social media pages.

After my return from the solitude of hiking in the hills, I resisted the temptation to turn on my computer or check my phone, hopeful that the peace of the day would stay nestled in my heart for a few more hours before answering the author call to duty. I’m no expert about raptors, but I do know that eagles eventually rest as well.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved.

Book Launch

When my book consultant asked, “So, what are doing for your book launch?”

I shrugged and responded, “I don’t know.”

She hates those three words. “Not good enough! Think book launch party, book signing, book clubs.”

Images of balloons, party favors, a cake, gifts, champagne sailed through my head. “Okay,” I replied weakly. I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about but I began to research and read and asked questions and more questions, writing everything down in a journal I’ve dedicated to publishing.

Then she asked the hard question. “How will you measure your book launch success?”

Gulp. What? The words were out of my mouth before I could catch them. “I don’t know.”

Her eyebrows lifted and she let out a long sigh before replying, “Figure out what you want!” and quickly ended our Zoom call.

I’m learning that to launch a book literally takes a village –designers, illustrators, editors, consultants, manufacturers, printers, advertisers, website design, appropriate venues. And that having the book published is only a small piece, albeit an important piece, of the whole picture.

My book launch celebration is on September 29th at one of my favorite local venues: free appetizers, a cash bar, a drawing for a $50 gift basket with of course a signed copy of my book, Sylvie.* Several boxes of the signed limited 1st edition copies from an offset printer will be available. I know it won’t be the end but just the beginning of my author trek. My book consultant will likely congratulate me but will also be quick to add, “Which book clubs did you connect to? What’s your market? Did you post pictures of the party on your social media?”

“Already on it,” I’ll say somewhat proudly. I think she’ll like those three words better.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

*Sylvie is a tender, poignant novel exploring how the delicate threads binding a family together can unravel when faced with an unexpected tragedy and how they find hope, inspiration, and forgiveness to continue. It took me years to write this first novel; a labor of love highlighting my long career in the mental health field.

Yoga

Yoga is part of my daily life; get up, drink something hot, do yoga. I started my yoga practice when I lived in India in the latter half of the 1970s and then continued to practice in my home when I returned to North America; discovering that I just felt better when I repeated the asanas day after day. There weren’t many yoga studios in those days ‘nor was there such a thing as ‘registered yoga teacher’ or ‘yoga teacher training courses.’ Now of course, yoga classes are everywhere –online, at in person studios, on the television, streaming from my phone, podcasts to listen to, Instagram, and so on.

Although I have all these choices, I still prefer to run through the sequences learned over forty years ago in the comfort of a small yoga room in my home; feeling invigorated when I repeat those postures day after day.

My first teacher, an energetic 94-year-old, who did not speak English very well always remarked, “only young as spine is stretchy.”

I think he meant flexible or supple but stretchy is a nice word; kind of like one of those malleable bendy toys. Remember Gumby?

There are days now when I don’t feel too “stretchy” yet I carry on; approaching each new day with renewed commitment and teach one yoga class a week. My students always thank me for teaching, but I really thank them because they give me the opportunity to pass along the tradition, to welcome every morning of my life, and to not give up. Or should I say not give in, letting my body become taut and unyielding.

I’m launching my book at the end of next month, soon to be live on Amazon, and my daily practice of yoga gives me more comfort than I have words for; my breath in sync with my movement, releasing tension, softening the edges, letting go of the unnecessary, appreciating the moment. Simple practice. Great refuge.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Water

The extreme heat continues to plague the Pacific Northwest causing record drought conditions. Wildfires are igniting and spreading quickly. We are in our third month of no measurable rainfall. The trees around my home look stressed and the tall grasses have already turned yellow brown. Usually, this time of year everything should be an emerald-green color.

We’ve taken to turning on a sprinkler every evening to prevent the land from turning into a dust bowl. Yesterday, around dusk, I went outside to turn off the water and noticed a mama deer with her fawn munching on some of the newly watered grasses. They didn’t run away but kept eating, the mama watching me ever so carefully as her newborn suckled. No sooner had I sat down on my back deck, thinking to watch the deer for a few minutes longer, when a snowshoe hare hopped out of the woods and made a beeline for the wet grassy places; then, two gray squirrels and a small flock of flycatchers. All wanting a drop or two or three of something that I think is becoming more and more precious. Water.

As a young woman hiking trails in our National Parks, I never thought twice of drinking water from a stream in the lush backcountry. If someone would have told me then that fresh waters would become polluted and I would have to either carry or filter my water whenever I hiked, I would not have believed them.

Now, I read about how once filled lakes and streams and aquifers are drying up; even climate predictions of how water will become the world’s number one greatest commodity.

I don’t think I can take the clean, clear water coming from out of our well for granted anymore; or when it rains or when I take a long drink of fresh cool water right out of the kitchen faucet. Maybe, water, once a small thing, is now a great thing.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Handwritten Letters and Cards

When I went to get the mail yesterday, the bundle contained the usual junk mail, a bill, and a card addressed to me in a lovely cursive script I recognized. I thought for a moment, when was the last time I received a handwritten letter or a card or even a note? Months? Years?

In our age of social media, with quick to very quick to very, very quick flashes of correspondence, I think the art of taking time to write a handwritten letter to someone we care about might be fading or maybe it already has been replaced by the stream of so many new ways to communicate: emojis, likes, dislikes, photos, images, links, texts, and many more I’m not even aware of.  Maybe emails are thing of the past?

Sigh….

I guess my preferred way of connecting with my loved ones are a little outdated –still preferring to sit at my desk and write a letter filled with details about the weather, what I bought at the farmer’s market, a book I just read, my hopes and inspirations; all those mundane minutiae that somehow make me feel closer to my son who lives on the other side of the Pacific Ocean or my extended family or those friends I haven’t seen for years.

Standing in line at the grocery store this morning, I eyed a new display stand full of attractive cards; photos on the front of each of them depicting beautiful images of local flora and fauna. I bought several, thinking of who I might send them to, and later, wrote a card to my son who I haven’t seen since before the pandemic began and likely will not see for another year, taking so much joy to write about my life here –almost as if he was in the next room. It’s not the same, I know, but that little bit of comfort made my cup feel half full instead of half empty. What a great thing.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Empty Spaces

When I was younger, a common phrase could be heard with groups of friends or colleagues or to loved ones: “I need space.” Space from activities and worthy causes and interesting people and things to get done or days filled with appointments and meetings and dates.

Yesterday, I used this old line when my husband asked if I wanted to get together with some of our friends.

I drew in a long slow breath and replied. “I just need some space.”

Space from talking with my book consultant about the many things I have yet to complete for my upcoming book launch, space from the details surrounding changes needed on my website, space from all the zoom meetings I’ve been on, and even space from myself for already planning my next book.

I’ve realized there is beauty in space, in nothingness. Like the tall hemlock tree near my house standing alone against the empty sky. Is it the tree that is beautiful or the space around the uneven branches? Or the sculpture in my home of two herons against an otherwise completely empty white wall. Or the pause between two beautifully sung musical notes.

I find when I have time to think or watch a butterfly land on a lofty lavender bush or time to look at the stars, the space between thoughts is a refuge. The silence allowing me to bask in moments of comfort and happiness, balancing my need to be productive and just keep creating.

So, when I found out today that my books would not be delivered until the second or third week of September, pushing back my book launch by a month or more, I decided the space between where I am today and where I will be in a few months’ time is just what I need.

Time for empty hours in my day or aimless rooms in my life in which to be by myself and know the river moves by itself. I don’t need to push it.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved.

Moccasins and Old Friends

I’ve worn moccasins around the house for decades, preferring the ones made with soft suede leather and lined with sheepskin; wearing them until the lining has thinned to nothing, the sole has two or three holes, the stitching ruptures or the heel pad is threadbare. Then, I inevitably leave an opened catalog, at the slipper page, in an obvious place hoping or rather knowing my husband will get the hint and order me a new pair for my birthday or our anniversary or for under the tree.

There’s nothing quite like placing my feet in a new pair. Oos and ahhs can be heard throughout my house as I marvel at the craftmanship and beauty.

And even when I have my new pair, I don’t rid myself of the old ones quite yet preferring to slip them on every now and again –like meeting up with an old friend who recognizes my idiosyncrasies and yet doesn’t criticize or judge or fail to love me.

As the years go by, I find moccasins and old friends to be two things that bring more comfort than I have words to describe but I’ll try: comfort and ease and luxury and coziness and relief and wellbeing and security and relaxation and contentment and solace…

Moccasins once lined with

thick fluffy soft lambswool

are now ghosts of what they were

laces gone and falling apart

worn out and looking

dog-tired

holes on the bottom heel

a thousand days of warming my toes

and comforting me

like my old friend who

out of the blue

wrote an email message filled

with love and missing me and wanting

to connect and remembering

our young selves

dancing on the rocks

in the Himalayas.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

The Best Horse

Many years ago, I bought a book from a small bookstore in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The book was called Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryi Suzuki and cost $2.50; which at the time, seemed like a lot of money for an almost out-of-my-teens young woman living on a meager income and attending a few college courses.

I’d always felt a bit like a beginner in almost everything I did due to where I grew up –in an end of the road tiny town in northern Canada where the one movie theater received their films way past when most every other town and city in North America had viewed them. Consequently, fashions and trends were late too. So, I thought the book could help me overcome my feelings about being behind.

In the book, there’s this passage about four kind of horses: excellent ones that run perfectly in step to their rider’s will; second best ones that run almost as good as the excellent ones; the third best who will run when they feel the snap of a whip; and the worst ones that will only run after it has been flogged.

Most of us, including me, want to be like the excellent horse; always getting things right, in step with the rest of the world, admired, cherished.

The chapter goes on to describe that sometimes the best horse may be the worst horse and the worst horse might actually be the best – those who think they are the worst but always trying to be better might be the best horse.

I picked up that book the other day, feeling a little out-of-sorts with my publishing journey; wondering about next steps, indecisive about things my author friends tell me are “no brainers.”

I don’t know if it’s true or not that the worst horse can be the best horse but it sure does gladden my ole’ heart that maybe, just maybe, struggles in life are worth it.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

The Moon

Many of my friends have favorite moon phases –the full moon or the half-moon or a new-moon, even no moon. Some tell me their creativity flourishes under a full moon. Others say they don’t sleep well when the moon is full. And a few are convinced that the best time to begin an innovative project is on the new moon.

The one thing I like about the moon is that everyone can see it and no one owns the moon – at least not yet. I can be anywhere in the world and see it, know it’s there somewhere behind the clouds or about to rise or set on the horizon.

Years ago, when I lived in Asia, I saw my first lunar eclipse, staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching the full moon wane completely until it was just a shadow and then wax again. Only a wisp of a cloud obscured the view as my Asian friends and I talked about the significance: would the next year bring us closer to our dreams or further; would there be some sort of a world disaster; would we meet someone special? We fantasized about the island we were on being suddenly hit by a tsunami or a volcano erupting and sending rivers of hot lava down the mountainside into the villages. 

Nothing happened. The moon waned and got full again. I left Asia to settle back in North America and have watched the moon for years now: reflecting off the snow on a clear, cold winter night; sparkling over the lake on a summer evening; a perfect sliver crescent resting on a mountain peak; rising in the east just after sunset taking on a golden hue.

Whenever I can, especially on cloudless nights, I take a moment –maybe 15 seconds, to admire the moon, thankful for its calming presence in my life and reminding me what a great thing it is to have eyes to see and a heart to feel.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Heat Wave

It’s been hotter here in the Pacific Northwest than I can ever remember. The moss in the forest is crispy brown instead of its usual emerald green and a few of the largest deciduous trees surrounding my property have even dropped a few leaves. If the trees could talk, I think they’d whine, “it’s too hot.”

When I was a young woman, I had the great privilege of living in India for a few years and experienced some of the hottest temperatures of my life. My journal states on one of those days the temps climbed to 123 degrees with 100% humidity. At the time, I lived in a small concrete outbuilding with no air conditioning, of course, and adopted the local way to stay cool: dump buckets of water on the concrete floor, lay down on a straw mat in about 2” of the tepid stuff, directly under an overhead fan until the sun went down, and more important try not to move. It worked. Or at least I survived the heat. I lay under that fan counting my breaths or fantasizing about what I’d do once the heat wave passed –drink a cold soda from the market, laugh with my friends, put on a fresh dress, dance in the streets.

One time, I sat up in the water and tried to read but when I opened my book the pages had begun to disintegrate and a few maggots crawled out of the spine. It left me breathless.*

In my new home I have air conditioning and the books on my shelf are intact and I don’t have to lay in a pool of water for hours and hours before I can drink iced tea or call my friend or take a shower and put on clean clothes or dance all around the house in my bare feet. Solace in gratitude for what I have.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

*you can read more of my amazing journey in my new book, Wandering – a memoir, available 2022.

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Grammie

My mother-in-law, Grammie, will turn 105 this year and is the beloved cornerstone of her blossoming family of three children, two sons-in-laws, one daughter-in-law, eight grandchildren –six who are married, and fifteen great grandchildren. They all consider Grammie to be the Grand in their Canyon, the Fortune in their Cookie, the High in their Noon, the matriarch who provides them with a wealth of love and generosity no money could buy.

I did not grow up with that kind of care but it sure seems to me that having a woman like that in your life is a great thing.

Grammie at 103

I’ve known her to be a woman with a heart as big as tomorrow who always placed the welfare of everybody else above her own. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve even heard her complain, her eternal optimism a thing to marvel at. Is anybody like that anymore?

I don’t believe it ever occurred to her not to bake cookies for every single neighbor or host gatherings when no one else wanted to or be the first one to volunteer for a community event or support her favorite charities or send birthday and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Spring and Thanksgiving and Anniversary cards and gifts to every single one of her progeny. Does anybody do that anymore?

Yesterday, my husband did a zoom call with her. Their conversation was limited due to her failed hearing and the inevitable decline in memory, but my heart did that little zing thing when I interrupted their call with a quick wave, “Hey there, how are things?”

Her eyes lit up. “Sharon, is that you honey?”

Honey –my husband doesn’t even call me that anymore. “Yep, it’s me,” as a warmth spread across my chest.

We chuckled and talked about nothing special: what she ate for lunch; repeating her recent visit with her daughter; and then I said goodbye, finding a little bit of solace in watching her endearing smile.

When she dies, it will be both a sad and a heartening time, because we will miss that Rock in our Roll but we’ll also rejoice in having known greatness.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Joy of Writing

When I made the decision to publish my books, I really did not have any idea what that would entail. I was one of those old-fashioned romantics who believed all I needed to do was write a good book and everything else would magically fall into place. Right?

I’ve spent years writing my books: rewriting, editing, sending manuscripts to professional editors, rewriting again, editing, sending to professional editors, rewriting again, editing, attending writer conferences, joining writer critique groups, participating in writer workshops and university classes…

Surely, the hard work was done. Surely, a traditional publishing house would want my unique story and then they could do all the rest: design the front cover, prepare a beautiful interior layout, print both a hard and paperback copy, guide and orchestrate the book marketing and public relation arena. I’d be famous in no time.

Wrong.

Publishing companies are businesses and they need to make money to thrive and survive; choosing wisely to stay in budget, cutting expenditures, exploring fees and rates and so on. They have no time for quixotic visions.

If I wanted to publish, I needed to create a website, learn how social media and authoring go hand in hand, think publicity and promotion, gather endorsements, understand the new rules of press releases, find and identify top influencers, blog, engage with writing communities, and so much more.

As my book consultant said, “it’s a marathon, no, it’s a series of marathons.”

Each day I wake up to tackle one of my many publishing tasks in front of me. Some days are better than others. However, I find the most joy when I can just sit down and write –letting the words flow out of me.

I read a beautiful quote the other day by Maya Angelou. It read: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Sigh… Isn’t that the truth?

Comfort in a few wise words.

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved

Chocolate Cake

When my daughter was growing up, I’d make her favorite chocolate cake once a year – on her birthday. The recipe came from an old cookbook titled: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World. I still make that cake, albeit infrequently, even though my kids are all grown and live in a different state and a different country.

My favorite chocolate cake

Here is the recipe:

Prepare the following custard in a double boiler – melt 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, slowly add ½ cup milk, 1 cup brown sugar and I egg yolk. Remove from heat when thickened.

In a bowl, sift 2 cups unbleached white flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda.

In another bowl, beat until soft – ½ cup softened butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 egg yolks.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with ¼ cup water, ½ cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Stir in the chocolate custard.

Whip 2 egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them into the cake batter.

Transfer the cake batter into 2 greased cake pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

The icing is even better:

Melt 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler. Melt in 3 tablespoons butter. Remove from heat. Add ¼ cup hot water and then gradually add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 cups confectioners’ sugar. For the middle of the cake, add some of the icing and ¼ cup raspberry jam.

I’m not sure if finding comfort in a piece of chocolate cake is a great thing or a small thing. Maybe it’s both. Either way, on the odd occasion, I delight in sinking my teeth into this cake, savoring every bite. In fact, I think this may be one of the only times I truly participate in Mindful Eating!

How did you find solace this week?

Sharon

© 2021. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved