Moving Sale!

Sorry. I lied. No sale. Yet.

But I am moving this fledgling blog to my new site over at: http://christinecastigliano.com/blog

I will have a sale! Just as soon as I get my shop together...

See you there!


I fought the roots of evil, and won.

In the great Northwest, the Himalayan Blackberry is one form of Evil. It mows down whatever lies in its path with an insatiable hunger for more ground. It's amazingly successful, with stalks so thick and spikes so sharp that it's far easier to ignore than to deal with.

Last Saturday the sun came out. In the stark light I noticed the blackberries had nearly smothered a lovely old stand of hardy fuchsias, with their purple-and-red blooms that resemble an outrageous woman's bloomers on a laundry line. I put on my thickest gloves and went on the attack.

This winter has been a time to dig around in my own insides and uncover what's been neglected. I found a bunch old friends hunkering down there (more on them later), but did not expect to find a Himlayan Blackberry inside my own soul. There it was: the drive to win, to put myself and above everything - and everyone - else.

I'd always cherished the fantasy that deep down, I'm a really "Good Person." I'm pleased to report that I no longer have that particular illusion. So now I can get on with things, hopefully with more honesty.

We humans are the blackberries of the animal world. We spread everywhere, growing and thriving. Without even trying, we possess, overtake, kill and destroy.  And we also make our own flowers and juicy delicious berries, dripping with life and the joy of being.

As within, so without. I felt so empowered as I clawed through dried pine needles and black earth, crawled under 2-inch thick branches that fought back, scratching my face, and tore out the roots at their source.

As I attacked the blackberries, did I try to cut Evil from my own soul ? At some level, perhaps.

Like Evil, the fierce beauty and power of the blackberry will never be totally vanquished. It's just time for something else to have a chance to grow.

For now.


Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is your last day on the planet as a 37-year old (nudge nudge wink wink). Tomorrow, when you turn 38, please accept this post in lieu of an actual physical gift. As we know, the material world is so fleeting. Plus, I didn’t get it together to mail you anything.

Here's a partial commemoration of your extraordinary and oh-so-ordinary gifts:
Mom and me in 1988. Photo by Jim Forbes.

LOVE. You may not have been the perfect Mother, god knows, but you knew how to love. You especially wanted children to love and you made it happen. You taught my sisters and I in our earliest days what love feels like. You gave us your physical tenderness and affection, as often and as much as you could. And with that love encoded in our bodies, we are able to truly love -- our own children and others. That counts for a LOT. Thank you.

SMARTS. We’ve all heard about your fabulous IQ, and how you skipped a grade in school. We’ve watched you devour books, reading for hours, days, weeks, and years, both in and out of the bathtub. Your love of learning and hunger for knowledge, particularly of the world’s spiritual traditions, has deepened you as a human. Thank god it’s all finally starting to sink in!

LISTENING. As a seeker, your passion runs deep. We’ve witnessed years of listening practice: on the meditation cushion; with ‘acolytes’ and sponsees; on the phone for hours with friends and family who needed a good ear. You’ve always been great at 1-800-CALL-MOM. Recently you listened with your whole soul as your dear friend Gene passed into the next world. But the most precious form of listening you taught me is to listen to what you call ‘Belly Brain.’ To cultivate our own instincts. To listen to the still, small voice. In your mother’s words, to “Let your conscience be your guide.”

It can be disconcerting that you follow this voice unwaveringly. We ask, “So, will you come in June or January? “When the voice tells me it’s time,” you say. Some may wonder whether this voice perhaps belongs to an alien or channeling Ramtha, but I can them: it’s all your own.

You taught me the subtle nuance of opening to this voice. It speaks simply, in “yes” “no” or “maybe,” or even a dead silence. That voice doesn’t argue or provide facts or reasons WHY we should or shouldn’t do a certain thing. It doesn’t crave with ego longing. It just IS.

Your simple gift has been my most essential guide. And I can never thank you enough. Except to listen to my own inner voice as it guides me to write this for you.

I love you so much, Mom! Happy Birthday!


Be Love, Walking

The month of May was marked by the passing of two dear ones: my 99-year-old grandmother and a close friend of nearly 20 years. I am so thankful to have grown into a life that makes room for deep emotions. It is good to cry aloud and mourn the loss. To praise their unique gifts. To smile at their peculiar challenges. To celebrate the depth of our bonds. And to grow from the experience of their death.

Oh, how dearly will I miss them. But like a skeleton amidst beautiful, deep red roses, death shows us how to live. Each death teaches us to acknowledge the preciousness of our own life and to revel in the joy of being here.

Grandma lived a long life, but Dan was only 51, a father, husband and community leader who had so much more to give. His leukemia came back full force just after he’d made it home from an arduous stem cell transplant. Blessed with strength and fortified by chemo, he visited with a flowing stream of friends and family over his last few days. Meanwhile his son and close woodcrafter friends created the most beautiful casket that any of us had ever seen. When he passed, they placed him in that beautiful box.

That night some of us who cherished Dan came to his family’s living room to once again share food, drink his homemade wine, and play music that he loved. We gathered around his body, ravaged by leukemia, but still holding the memory of his spark. There and all around the village we held each other in an amazing outpouring of love and open-hearted emotion: tears, laughter, songs, smiles, hugs, wailing, toasting, roasting. Dan’s eldest son Forrest spoke as he would have, giving great thanks for the deep river of community spirit that Dan had a large hand in co-creating.

Throughout his illness, Dan's wife Beth has grown into a fuller expression of her gifts: a beautifully transparent, generous heart; the presence to experience each moment fully; the grace to hold uncertainty; the strength to move forward; her depth of emotion and inspired posts on Caringbridge.org. She will yearn for his bodily presence every minute, every hour. I've wept bitterly for her and Forrest and Jesse, the ones who lost the most.

After many tears I still carried a vague, unsettled depression. What is it all for? Why are we here? I took a walk and threw myself down on the grass for a nice little breakdown. I actually beat the ground with my fists and kicked my legs. I was furious at the Something (my word for God) for allowing this to happen.

While I soaked the dirt with my tears, our cat Sparky walked up the back of my legs and sat on my butt. I had to laugh. Sparky is half bobcat, a magnificent animal that runs across our yard like it was the African plains. Mary Oliver’s delicious poem “The Summer Day,” came to mind (it even involves involves falling in the grass). Excerpt:

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I too am a magnificent animal, one who would sing and write and make art, letting her heart run as free as the African plains. I will be a warrior for my wild self. That will be my gift, for Dan and grandma and myself everything else that has to die.

But then a few days later, it was back, a stinking pool of depression that sunk my moods. What is it NOW? I did yoga. I cried some more. It wasn’t clear until I sat quietly to meditate. I made my body into a soft, permeable bowl to receive, and it came. Love, is all. Love.

I saw it then, the deep regret that I didn’t love them enough. I didn’t fight enough to spare grandma from a lonely death in a nursing home far from family. I didn’t connect more deeply with Dan and Beth in the last year; I had let some painful differences linger. My regrets lay on the rug like a mangy black dog, chewing its wounds. I cried some more, for what I’d lost.

Then it came: Be love, walking.

Walking means to keep moving forward. I can’t go back, but I can pay it forward. Isn’t love like water? The exact same water has been recycling itself over this planet since the dinosaurs walked the Earth. Even today we are drinking dinosaur pee, filtered a billion times. Love is endlessly recycled, too. I can walk with love down the road, and it will be the same love as the love I missed out on. Almost.

I can be love, walking. And you can too.


Mildred Parmele 1910-2010

My grandma died this morning. She would have turned 100 in December. She lived alone in a nursing home without any family nearby, and I regret that. I also mourn the old ways, when your grandma lived next door until the end of her days.

Grandma loved me to pieces when I needed it most, a sensitive child with too-busy parents and not enough love to go around. She lost both parents at age 13.

After having three boys, I was her first grandchild, a girl. She dressed me up like a cherished doll. She fed me her baked goods, her warm soup, her home grown beans.

She gave me her style, her jewelry, her designer fashions, in a long life in which everything becomes vintage.

She was tough as nails, lived for fun, and had a cold streak of stern Norwegian judgment. As she gradually lost her marbles, she became even more fun - a creature of the moment, with no memory of yesterday, or longing for tomorrow.

If you gave her anything -- a cup of coffee, a cookie, a napkin – she said Thank you! As if she really, truly meant it.

When she could no longer travel, she moved to assisted living, then a nursing home, and finally the Alzheimer’s floor. I loved her, but where was I when she needed me most? Far away, in a world filled with yesterdays and tomorrows.

I visited three or four times, made the day’s journey to the Nebraska cornfields of my birth. But I could not feed her my baked goods, my warm soup, my home grown beans.

For her 99th birthday I brought her Lefse, the sweet potato bread of her childhood. By then she was more than halfway to another world : done with eating. talking, reading, interacting. Even holding hands for too long was too much. Go away, she finally said. And I understood.

I sat with her quietly, loving her concave face, her transparent skin that revealed every vein and artery, her emaciated body that could still kick and punch the nurses who burst into the room to change her bedding at night.

I sang her soft lullabies, and when my sister came we sang Christmas carols. Grandma came alive for awhile. She made sounds and mouthed the words – even the second verses. We cried and said good-bye.

I loved my grandma and she knew it. But I missed most of her end-of-life -- and I missed seeing her go.


In Love with Laundry

I'm not a fan of maintenance: all those daily chores that grease the skids of life so we can eat and be clothed. I keep a fairly tidy environment because a lot of clutter makes me feel overwhelmed. But I don't enjoy it. I'm always rushing through those tasks so I can get to the real stuff - writing, or something equally joyful and meaningful.

This morning something shifted. I had to finish folding the laundry, which normally I would resent because it cut into my early morning writing session. But instead I found myself in love.

As I picked up each piece of clothing, I was struck by how this life - right here, right now - is filled with incredible purpose and beauty. Each garment represented a blessing:
  • My teenage daughter's long black camisole: I treasured her amazing essence, and the fact that we get to have her around until she grows up and flies away, and that we can clothe, feed and support her. 
  • My favorite black SmartWool Zip-T: I thanked the New Zealand sheep and the people who made it so that I can be both warm AND feel like a mysterious, gorgeous Secret Agent when I wear it.
  • My husband's jeans: I felt the tough denim and appreciated the grueling work that he does everyday to keep us fed and sheltered. 

As I moved through the pile, tears rose up. Yes, friends, I cried folding laundry. Actual, full, real tears that required me to pause and blow my nose.

A song played in my head, Steely Dan's Only a Fool Would Say That:
"I heard it was you, Talking 'bout a world where all is free,
it just couldn't be, and only a fool would say that

If we extend the idea of "free" to be a world in which we choose to recognize that whatever we have is a gift, and to learn from the many difficulties that come our way, then I am happy to be exactly that kind of fool.

The kind of fool who can - on good days - celebrate the process of making this life. Even the laundry.


Pecking away

I like to watch for birds on my morning walks. The particular bird that I notice on any given day often has a direct message for me.

For the last week, red-tailed hawks whirled over my head. These sharp-eyed raptors fly high above the fray, and use keen powers of discernment to locate their prey. Hawks are hunters, but they only dive down when the right thing comes along.

I had been spending a lot of time ‘diving down’ to grab things that weren't necessarily for me. The Internet is full of shiny objects that one might want to go for. But which blog to follow, which mini-literary contest to enter, which agent to pursue? Now I can hone my own powers of discernment. Thank you, red tail hawks!

This morning, I heard the distinct rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker on a telephone pole. He drilled down through the hard wood to get the tasty morsels hidden inside. Grubs and whatnot.

In my current writing project, I need to drill down farther into the material to expose the truly juicy parts. Yay, woodpecker!

In my personal life, a friend is dealing with very painful family issues, the result of ancient emotions that had never been dealt with. We often develop very hard defenses to cope with our wounds. The good stuff -- the bundle of soft, elusive feelings that make us who we are, and lead us toward our fullest experience of humanity -- is often buried below a thick wall that we created to stay safe. To protect ourselves from further wounding. To feel in control.

Everyone is wounded. If we are not wounded, we are not living.

Let's face it, without a strong beak like a woodpecker, it's gonna be painful to break through the woody exterior that has protected us for so long. Still, there is always time to peck away at that old, hard wood, and find the jewels below.