Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Our Kripalu Weekend




Wow, what a weekend we just had.

Even the drive north on small, wooded backroads into Massachusetts was special.  I had traversed those roads with Mama years ago when the kids were small, so it was wonderful to be up there again.  The landscape is lovely--spring green trees, rocky streams, bubbling water.  We stopped a few times to admire the woods and river, watching the fly fishermen at work.  It's my favorite kind of landscape; Gommie was mesmerized.

Kripalu is a retreat center nestled in the Berkshires not far from Tanglewood, the concert venue and summer home of the Boston Symphony.  And it is gorgeous!  It used to be the Shadowbrook estate, if I understand correctly--the remains of the stone gatehouse are visible up front (apparently, the foundation of the mansion is there, too, but I didn't go looking for it.)  The setting is miraculous--mountains (or hills--I'm a flatlander) with a lake nestled in the valley, expansive lawns, lots of trees, and so much sky.  Many times during the weekend, we would just sit on the terrace of the main Shadowbrook retreat center and admire the view.

The view from our room.
Being on retreat at Kripalu is a lot like college, or as Gommie said, camp for adults.  We had classes and meals and downtime in our little room (two twins, great view, awful water control in the shower.)  But there was no stress, no responsibility, no unpleasantness.  Even before we checked into our room in the Annex which overlooked the grounds and the lake in the distance, we enjoyed lunch in the big cafeteria.

View from the terrace.
Oh, the Kripalu food.  Ayurvedic in theory (which has 6 flavors and ideas about balance of warming and cooling foods), seasonal and sustainable, with vegetarian and vegan options.  Over the six meals, we had delicious fresh salads with this great House dressing, veggie burgers, Moroccan tomato soup, coconut carrot salad, spiced chicken tagine, Greek kale salad, sauteed rainbow chard, Indian chickpeas, roasted potatoes, warm lentil salad, roasted carrots with maple syrup, kale and more kale!, oatmeal, museli, granola, vegan brownies, soy masala chai, Moroccan mint iced tea, orange Rooiboos tea, and the list could go on (yes, I bought the little booklets of recipes in the shop but there are many here, too.)  Makes me hungry just typing that up.  Breakfast was eaten in silence, a way to begin the day mindfully.  We tried to take every meal in the room overlooking the mountains and lake, soaking in the beauty and the fresh air through the windows.

Entrance to the labyrinth
After eating and unloading our bags, we headed straight to the labyrinth.  I love labyrinths, as you know, but hadn't realized there was one at Kripalu and so I hadn't brought anything to leave at the center.  Still, we walked it that first afternoon and I was just filled with this amazing joy.  Each time I walk a labyrinth, I have different reactions.  Friday was brimming with joy.  Joy to be with Gommie all to myself.  Joy to be in beauty.  Joy to be studying Zentangle, which fills me with excitement.  Joy, joy, joy.  It was Gommie's first labyrinth so I went over the basic etiquette about quiet and stepping to the side when you pass another.  The walk certainly set the tone for the weekend.

Tile #1

That evening, we had our first Zentangle class.  We'd run into the founders, Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts and their daughters Molly and Martha on the terrace earlier and had a chance to say hi.  I can't really describe what it's like to take a class with them--their stories, their humor, their rapport with each other, all of their mantras and saying of encouragement.  Even though I'd taken a long seminar just a month ago, it was all fresh and interesting again.

As at the CZT seminar a month or so ago, we received lots of great items--not just pens and pencils, tortillons and tiles, but an "Anything is Possible One Stroke at a Time" bag and a brand new journal. The theme of the weekend was extending our Zentangle practice, mainly how to connect tangles to one another, "tangle to tangle." We did a pretty straightforward hollibaugh-pokeroot-crescent moon variation for the first tile.

After class, we soaked in the cool mountain air while the bright full moon blocked out most of the stars.  We were tired and went to bed soon after.

This was our full day of great food, wonderful classes, beautiful views, and lots of R&R.  Gommie even took a gentle yoga class while I took a long nap.  We also walked the labyrinth again and this time I had something to leave in the center--one of the Zentangle bookmarks and a little piece of metallic rainbow bismuth I picked up in the shop.  This walk for me was more about contentment.  And I realized why I walk labyrinths:  I walk labyrinths because there have been times when I couldn't.

Tile #2
Philosophical.  Gommie and I had a lot of personal and philosophical conversations, like we haven't had . . . since the kids were born, perhaps?  It was special and important.  It even carried over into our Zentangle class.  Gommie asked Maria Thomas what creativity was and why we were drawn to it; they had a discussion about how, for Maria, creativity was central to her personality and was about liking even needing to do things differently--she still goes outside borders, figuratively and literally!  They even took this conversation to the whole class later, talking about how creation is central to the human condition--it's how we express ourselves, how we contribute to the world, how we serve.  And they thanked Gommie for sparking this reflection.

My tile #3
Tile #4--this took 2 hours!
We did a lot more complicated tiles on Saturday--"high focus" which is code for advanced. There was tile #2 with a tripoli center and rixty weaving in and out of fracas; there was tile #3 with a huggins variation and a new tangle named peeld.  I hadn't seen some of the tangles and even Maria made an oops (on the number of orbs in the huggins variation in tile #3 and so had to squeeze one in sideways) and tried to start over until the group chanted "No mistakes!"  And Maria just worked with it and it was beautiful.  Tile #4, with its spiral of nzeppel bursting into mooka and pokeleaf, took two hours!  Gommie had been tangling on her own for a year; this was her first real class.  I'm sure it was all a little overwhelming, but she did a wonderful job following along and not getting frustrated when she didn't understand. I came away with some new techniques, my favorite being peeld, seen in tile #3 where the line just seems to peel away from the design.

That evening, we attended a special optional session where we tangled another treat, a pencil case.  Apparently, you can coat canvas with Mod Podge Fabric and tangle it to your heart's content with an Identi-pen and a gray Fabrico marker for shading.  It was fun and came out beautifully.  Gommie really likes the thicker pens we used and will probably stick with a Micron .08 instead of .01commonly used.

We ended the evening on the chilly terrace, where the moon glowed eerily through the increasing cloud cover.  Another beautiful mountain night.


Tile #5--this also took 2 hours
We were up early with the singing birds, putting our luggage in my car before breakfast.  Then we sat on the terrace until class, communing with the chipmunk that came looking for food.  We saw it every time we were outside.

Class was one Renaissance tile that took two hours to complete--with the crescent moon variation, the raspberry center, the squib petals, the perf orbs, the etching technique on the leaves, all the shading in graphite and white chalk.  But, oh the results!  And when we put everyone's tiles together in a class mosaic, the arches could be connected in circles or pathways.  Beautiful.  And a great way to end our Zentangle class.

And our visit.  We opted to skip lunch, which was still an hour away, in order to get home so Gommie could spend more time with the kiddos.  It was a little hard to leave the peace behind, but I know we took some of it with us.


Kripalu House Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup sunflower oil or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup tamari (natural soy sauce)
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup sesame tahini
2 cloves garlic
½ tablespoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne
½ cup water

Combine all ingredients and blend using a standard blender or immersion blender.

Kripalu Moroccan Mint Tea
Makes 6 cups

6½ cups water
½ cup fresh mint (stems and all), washed
2 tablespoons or 6 tea bags green tea
1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener of choice (organic sugar, agave, or honey)

Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add mint, and allow to steep for five minutes. Return to a boil, turn off heat, and add tea. Allow tea to steep no more than three minutes. (Green tea becomes bitter when steeped too long.) Remove tea and mint; sweeten to taste. Serve hot, or make iced tea by refrigerating until cold, or pouring cooled tea over ice.

Masala Chai
Makes about 4 cups.

2 tablespoons whole cardamom
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole stars of anise
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon slice fresh ginger
4 black tea bags
2 cups milk (or substitute soy milk)
2 cups water
1 to 3 tablespoons sweetener of choice

Combine all spices and tie them in a cheesecloth. Using a rolling pin or other heavy utensil, lightly pound the spices to crush them slightly. Place milk, water, and spices in the cheesecloth in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Bring water back to a boil, turn off, and add black tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add sweetener of choice and stir to dissolve. Serve warm, or chill over ice for a cooling afternoon treat.

Hard Landing

My mom and I had a FANTABULOUS weekend at Kripalu immersed in Zentangle.

And then we came home . . . and Sis is sick (with fever now and is home Tuesday for the second day) and Gommie left and I had to cancel my hospice visits and Bud missed a concert at school and I had a run-in with two bitches at Starbucks who threatened to call the cops on me for leaving Sis in the car when I went to fetch her a croissant and me a coffee (I hadn't even gotten to the door of Starbucks when they started yelling at me.  Awful.  I left without going in.  I was angry, humiliated, and scared.  Didn't want to subject Sis to a huge to-do. Or be arrested and charged with a felony by some overzealous system, as has happened elsewhere.  For the record, here is the statute.  It's all about perceived "substantial risk to the child" under 12.)

So, the mystical magical moments of the weekend disappeared quickly.  I'm trying to let go of the shit of yesterday and get in touch with the good stuff again today.

Thanks for reminding me of Anne Lamott's quote, Gommie.  This tile's for you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Special Day

It's the end of an era as I know it:  I just gave the last official school tour at the historic house for my own kiddos!  Two years ago, I conducted an in-class visit at school and then led their class around house, talking about daily life in the colonial era (I think we strung up dried apples--it was before we changed that to making butter.)  Today, we talked about the Revolutionary War using both the house and My Brother Sam is Dead, a book they read about two brothers in Connecticut.  Their class is so bright, curious, enthusiastic, and chatty group--I veered off track several times (usually when they asked a question.)  But we had fun.  It hadn't started to rain yet, so they were able to play Graces and other games outside, plus the stenciling, paper cutting (papyrotamia), and seed packet activities we have.

A funny thing happened on the way to the tour.  I was picking up lunches for Sis and Bud at the deli and talking to the "deli lady" about butter, which she was scooping out.  A voice behind me said to me, "Don't you make that yourself?"  See, I was in costume.  I replied, "I definitely know how to--and I'll be doing that in about an hour!"  Okay, so that's the third grade tour in the fall, but he didn't know that.  Usually people just ignore my full colonial garb when I go to the deli or the coffeeshop or pizza place on tour days.  Nice to be noticed for a change.

Especially on this special day.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

I Did It!!!

I've had my first Zentangle class!!!!

Last night, five supportive and encouraging friends came over for wine, snacks, and art.  I knew they'd be a comfortable, casual audience, which is why I started with them.  And it was wonderful!

I did spend the day (or, well, the week) planning and worrying and prepping.  I had pre-ordered the kits (with bags, pens, pencils, and tortillons) and bookmarks.  I had made my brochure (with Mama's very important computer and graphic design help.)  I had purchased an easel and large Post-It flip chart.  And I researched other beginner class lesson plans and wrote my own!  Plus I made chex mix and almond cake!


Two people had to cancel last-minute due to illness, including my Deaf friend.  I had learned and practiced various relevant signs (words I don't use in usual conversation, including outline, border, string, shading, pattern, dots, line, circle, gratitude, mindfulness, etc.) but now wouldn't be interpreting myself while I taught.  I hope to be able to have a class for both friends soon.

And so it began.  We did a quick meditation with my singing bowl to set a quieter mood--this was a very chatty bunch, though, so we didn't stay quiet for long!  Which was great because of all the energy and enthusiasm.  I gave them a little of the background--the Zen and Tangle of founder Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas.

Then we jumped into our first tile, the traditional "Z" sting with hollibaugh, shattuck, florz, and munchin.  On reflection, I could have explained each actual pattern or tangle more clearly and perhaps more slowly.  I wonder if I did it too quickly.  Some students had a little more trouble understanding the steps.  Next time, I'll go more slowly and give them more time.  And also do a better job of wandering around (my dining room was a bit tight.)  Also, my pencil and tortillon didn't work very well on the big paper (it didn't really smudge.)  I'll need to get the shadow marker for my next class.  Also, by slowing things down, I could focus on the meditative and mindfulness more.  I did remind them to breathe and not to worry about outcome, but we were so busy laughing and having a good time.  The practice is totally different alone.

Mama and the kids arrived home from dinner out at about that time.  Sis and Bud have been so enthusiastic about Zentangle, getting my certification, and this first class that I let them teach their favorite tangle.  Bud showed the steps of pokeroot and it's twin pokeleaf.  And Sis taught ING.  They were so cute!  And they taught their patterns very well, with lots of encouragement for the class.

The group took a break for cake and wine and discussed the price they would pay for such a class (this one was priced just to cover supplies) and where I could offer classes locally.  My own focus group!

Then the kids stayed for the next tile (after we adults had a wine and cake break.)  It was a triangle on top of a rectangle string which my first teacher used at a retreat.  I taught zander, flux, printemps, and crescent moon. Same challenges as above (plus Bud chatting a lot--my friends were pretty patient and tolerant with the extra help, which I appreciated because I knew how happy the kids were.)  But I did mention some of the variations in shading as well as different ways to do some of the tangles, like flux and hollibaugh.  We looked at how to personalize the borders (with squiggles or little enhancements.)  I gave some tips on connecting tangles across borders.  And I introduced sparkles and auras and drawing behind and shading as part of the design not realism.

And that was the class.  I took some photos of some of the finished tiles.  One of my students had to leave early and another didn't want to show hers.  I think she was a bit discouraged and I wasn't sure what to do for her.  I need to work on that teaching challenge, too (I might choose some easier tangles than munchin next time.)   Maybe one-on-one later.  For the most part, though, I think they had a good time and are enthusiastic about tangling on their own, which is really rewarding.

As you can see, they all had different interpretations of the same tangles--some made tiny patterns, some pressed harder than others, everyone shaded and colored differently.  One (our piano teacher) even added extra tangles, including piano keys--I think she did all 10 on the same tile (lower left corner)!

It was a great start.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Practicing my favorite tangles before tonight's class.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


My first official Zentangle class is tomorrow night and I've been prepping for a few days now.  In some ways, it's not quite "official," in that I've invited some interested friends over who I know will be supportive and encouraging.  My first class with fully-paying strangers will be a different ballgame altogether.  Still there's a lot to be done--materials to prep, class outline to finalize, food to make--and I am structuring it like a regular class.

And on top of it, I'm simultaneously interpreting it in ASL for my Deaf friend tomorrow night!  Which reminds me that I need to look up the sign for "shading" and "outline."  I had already posted on the Certified Zentangle Teacher forum a question about the sign commonly used for "Zentangle."  Two responses came back:  a "Z" signed with the dominant hand in the "L" space of the other hand (like drawing on a tile) and a "T"-hand signing a "Z" in the air (for Zen and Tangle.)

I'm really very excited and have been practicing my own tangles and tiles to get ready.   (Below is the frame I made for signs, etc.) The kids are excited, too, and have begged to help.  They're both going to come towards the end and teach their favorite patterns.

Wish me luck!

Some of my favorite tangles, including (clockwise from left corner): shattuck, hollibaugh, florz, knase variation
pokeleaf, bannah, nipa, mooka, printemps, Zenplosion folds, paradox, bales, curly-q, w2, cadent, chainging, munchin
flukes, flux.