"We're all just walking each other home." - - Ram Dass

Friday, June 26, 2015


"It is the time of the Storycatcher.
It is the time when those who understand
 the value of story and practice of connection
Have an essential role to play...
In return, we speak, we write... we are heard.
Storycatchers invite the stories we most need
to come forward into the community.
Storycatchers know that the mix
 of wisdom and wit and wonder
that spills out into the room in story space
will reconnect us...
Come into these stories
and listen for what will connect
your life,
and mine,
and ours."
- Christina Baldwin
This excerpt from the forward of Christina Baldwin's book Storycatchers changed a lot for me. 
These few lines solidified and sharpened something that had been swirling around inside me for a long time that hadn't yet found a firm form.  With each page I highlighted, nodded my head and even wept for finally understanding what it was that I was called to do. 
I am a Storycatcher.
More than just a writer, I am driven to bring stories forward as a way to create and connect as a community.  There are very few situations in which I don't think that if people just sat down and really listened to one another that we could not come to better solutions. 
But in many ways we've forgotten how.  We no longer require the telling and learning from story for our basic survival as in the days when stories were etched into cave walls before language was invented, or through oral tradition before the written word came to us all.  Long gone are our models of listening around open fires as the elders passed their wisdom down from generation to generation.
But our need to connect is more apparent today than ever before.  We are tied to social media updating and being updated constantly with what is happening in our lives.  This too, is story.  That is what we are creating.  But unfortunately not many full stories can be told in 140 characters.
So I've dreamed of creating space to open ourselves back up to story.  To learning how to tell our own as well as listen and learn from others.  To take time out of our busy lives to curate how we process our past and what we want from the future.  To allow these stories to heal and reconnect us.
And now?  I have the space to do just that.  The Refuge.
A breathtaking building that was once a Capuchin Franciscan retreat center and now the home of Fox River Environmental Education Association and my brother Cory Chisel's creative arts office.
Over the 10 acres of property, inspiration can be found in every turn. 
My favorite space being Songbird Chapel. 
The lights dance, the birds sing, and you can feel the walls dripping with stories young and old.

This Saturday is the start of Storycatchers, through a free all-ages storytelling and writing workshop.  Because money should not keep you from learning how to tell your story.  And we for too long have gone away from the model of generations learning from one another.  These free workshops will be a place for people to explore what stories might be inside them.  To ask questions.  To receive some inspiration and encouragement along the way.  To have a chance for their story to be heard by others.

In the future we will offer more specific workshops for those who may want more guidance in the tools of creating story.  Or those who are committed to sitting with their stories a little longer.  We will have birth story classes, grief writing classes, journaling, music writing - the list goes on.

We will also be hosting storytelling nights.  Where 5-10 individuals from the community share their stories with the community.  A nod to the wonderful models out there such as The Moth and Listen To Your Mother, these nights will be dedicated to sharing the diversity of the human experience while tying loosely to the Night's theme. 

And finally, pop-up recording studio sessions where you and your families can come in and record your own personal stories and walk out with these stories pressed to CD and in your hand to be played again and again.

If you ever wondered what stories you have inside you, or wanted to take the time to get down those stories that have been passed down in your family:  Please come.

Saturday June 27th

1-4 pm

The Refuge

1000 N. Ballard Rd.
Appleton WI, 54911


Monday, January 5, 2015

Do Less. Be More.

Each new calendar year brings with it a season of reflection and renewal to live my life in healthier and more meaningful ways.  
It only takes mere minutes for me to compile a list full of things that I wished I did more: exercise, sleep, volunteer; 
and certainly things I want to do less of: unhealthy eating, procrastinating, being hard on my kids. 

While this list of New Year goals and resolutions rolls from me freely and quickly,
I began to notice the way crafting such a list made me feel as the fresh resolve of the new year slowly wore away.  

These goals became just another measure of the ways I wasn’t good enough, even by my own standards.  

I would think surely there are women everywhere that are able to keep their laundry from piling up,
fresh and healthy food on their family’s table,
and still have time to pursue their personal dreams and aspirations.  

There’s got to be a way to keep all these plates spinning.   

With each wobble of my own plates, I would feel as though I was somehow doing it wrong,
and that New Year’s list, made with only the best intentions, 
became a way to verify the ways I wasn’t enough.

So a couple of years ago I did away with the traditional list.  
I took almost a month to examine what about my life truly made my family and me happy.  
I started from this place to craft my hopes and intentions for the new year - 

not by rattling off the ways I was doing things wrong, 
but by focusing on how I could fill my days 
with things that felt even more right.  

As the years go, the specifics of the list may vary, but the sentiment remains the same:  

Do less. Be more.

Talk. Schedule. Worry. Analyze. Compare. Fear. = Less.

Laugh. Listen. Dance. Sleep. Breathe. Dream. = More

There is freedom in refusing to plan for life in measurable and bulleted steps.  
Of allowing the year to unfold before you, 
teaching you through the simple act of living 
what it is that you need to learn or unlearn in the days ahead.  

There will always be ways I can do life better, 
but it is important to counter these expectations 
with the understanding that we have a lifetime of days to try. 

That the quest for betterment in my life 
can really be another way to disengage from the realities of the moment – 
all the messy and imperfect glory of it. 

That for every way we aren’t where we would like to be, 
we’ve come twice as far on the road of who we were. 

Perhaps in the end, that’s all the resolution we need.
To stay open to the new year ahead. 
To pay attention.  
To live each day, imperfectly, but fully through.

drinking in my delicious nephew Rhodes Wilder...
new to the world. old to the soul. 

{joining over at unforced rhythms}

Thursday, January 1, 2015

15 Books to Read in 2015

Books are my currency.  My jam. 

They are how I learn about life and expand my understanding of the human condition to situations and personalities that are not my own.  There has not been one single more important influence to my life than what I've learned and felt between their pages.

And yet, I'm busy.  We all are.  I'm still making my way through my Graduate degree, working, volunteering and raising these two wonderful souls that stretch and exhaust me all in the same blessed minute. So when I saw on Goodreads a 2014 Reading Challenge where you could set your own reading goals, I thought - I'm in.  I picked 50.  A stretch for even a book-lover like me who has a small family and life to run.  But I decided it would be fun to carve out that much time to be recharged by something I truly love.  It was.  I ended the year having pleasure read 81 titles.

I took the time to read some classics that I hadn't yet, to read some of the latest hype books, to meander through what my friends on Goodreads were reading, and found myself exposing myself and loving stories that I really didn't think that I would. 

I love finding friends that are my book spirit animals, who if they love a book I know I will too, or who let me in on a title or an author I've never heard of before.  But maybe books aren't your jam.  Maybe reading one or two books full through would be an accomplishment.  Whatever the case, here are 15 titles, in no particular order that I read during 2014 that I would recommend for some good 2015 reading.

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan:  Mother-daughter relationships can be tricky and deeply seeded things.  This book tenderly tells the tale of the returning of one imperfect daughter to her imperfect mother and some lessons about motherhood she learned along the way.  Love the style and the effortless storytelling method used to point you back to your own story.


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: A haunting tale that flips what you know as right and wrong and dangles you by the ankles.  The world can be breathtakingly beautiful and brutal. Very rarely is there one right thing.  This story is a beautiful illustration of this using lyrical and full language.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton: I love me some Kate Morton.  I have devoured each one of her tales.  A contemporary writer who gives this terrific nod to the classic authors with big thick plots, language and scenery.  Nothing about her stories plod along, but give the richness of details that I so love from the classics. This one is no exception. I kept reading until it was done. My children, eating habits, of this world duties? They had to wait.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Oh, to be a teenager again...Actually I think I'll skip reliving the angst and dazzling uncertainly of it all, but I'm so glad for this book to bring me back there again.  I would go out on a limb to say this is an important book for anyone who deals with or will deal with teens to read.  It reminded me of the tender spot inside us all that used friendship not just as a means of companionship but of learning who we were and what we could become.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery: I don't know what kept Emily and I apart for all of these years.  I of course have loved her literary sister, Anne Shirley, since I was a girl.  Emily felt even more at home to me than Anne is - a little more self-contained, her passion turned inward. I kept wishing that younger me had read this when I was younger, but I'm so happy even if late to have met her.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed:  I read this one long before I knew it was being turned into a movie.  Don't get me wrong, I think it deserves to have done so, but the stark raw place of truth that this is narrated from is something wonderful and not often seen in book form.  This is one that I would recommend not skipping the read even if you see the movie.

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzman: This is another rich story with many layers and language as rich as the characters.  A story of sisters, love and betrayal this has all of the classic elements that make us drawn to story.  This one had just that little bit of magic for me that I couldn't put my finger on why I liked it as much as I did.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shafter: A romp.  Not without substance and meaty characters that you love, the pages just flew by too delightfully not to have a little whimsy to the way it is written.  Lovers of Downtown Abbey, Little Women, or Jane Austen will settle into this tale with a smile and a sigh when the pages close.

Attachments: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell: This was certainly my year of reading and loving Rainbow Rowell - Eleanor and Park, Fangirl, Landline all great reads from Rowell.  What I loved about this one though is the different way that she lays out unraveling this story an unlikely love story told in a modern way that is clever but still makes you pull for the characters.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: I like a story that takes its time to unfold. An author that trusts the reader to settle in and wait for the scenes to make sense.  This was a surprise for me from Picoult, an across generational tale of heavy story told in a way that made me want to see the characters through to the end.

Wonder by R.J. Palacios: What could I say about this book that hasn't already been said?  It should be required reading for both adults and kids every year.  We are in a million different ways Auggie and always experiencing in others their Auggie too.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell: Elements of The Invention of Wings mixed with a little bit more of life's mystery that I think lives within us, The Healing is a story about a woman who finds herself and what she is capable of in unlikely places in unbearable circumstances.  This book beats my heart song.

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whitson-Donaldson: Every mom's worst nightmare, losing your child in a horrible twist of otherwise seemingly benign fate. The way Anna takes us in with her to these intimate and raw places of both love and loss left me breathless and so grateful for her taking my hand through her journey.  As a grief support group facilitator for both kids and adults, this is a story I recommend with abandon, whether your grief is firsthand or not. It's a tender look of letting go of what love is supposed to look like in order to learn a little bit about what it can be.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan: When I picked up this book, I did not know that the world had lost her bright light.  Some see this compilation of her work as a nod to what could have been, but I didn't feel that.  I felt that what her work was was the passionate pursuit of this moment that only the young and hungry possess.  This lit in me my coming of age years spark that knew by instinct what can be taken from the world if we have the guts to reach. In a way I could feel her own foreshadow of how brief these moments are. I am grateful for her embolden imprint on the present.

The Giver (Quartet) by Loris Lowry: I cheated it.  I recommended four books in one.  I can't help it.  I feel the beauty of The Giver is not quite complete without all of the stories interwoven into one.  Another series I have no idea how I escaped my childhood without reading, but that I will ensure that my own children don't.  Before they read Divergent, The Hunger Games - They need to read this.

That's a wrap for the 15 books I think you should read in 2015 - but I would love to hear from you. 

What books am I missing? 

What books touched you in some way this last year, or all the years through?  I'm currently making my 2015 year list - so lay them on me. I mean it. We'll be life long friends.

{these are affiliate links so should you click and buy a tiny sliver of the amount would feed back into my book buying fund.}

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Showing Up

September is definitely over.

My son's toe has bust through his back-to-school shoes,
the lunch boxes already have a permanent unidentified sticky substance in their corners,
and our pencil erasers are worn and uneven.

As I watch my daughter fight hard with some of the academic challenges that come with growing up,
I've seen some of myself wrestling within her, down to the way she is timid to start to work on anything she's not sure she can master.
Stumbling, frustrating herself by not getting it perfect the first time, wanting to retreat before she let's anyone down.

So, we've been working on incorporating the concept of failure into our daily life.
A word that honestly is hard for me to even say out loud.

Every night at the dinner table in addition to everyone taking a turn to tell the family the days "highs" and "lows",
we've added a new element - sharing a "sizzling success" and a "fantastic flop or failure".
Getting everyone talking about not only the best and worst parts of the day but the best and worst of our own performance or attempts.

This exercise has proven even harder for me, who for a lifetime has tried to hide failure like it was my job, than it has for my kids.
The way they are slowly learning to embrace the inevitability of failure has really been teaching me,
and reminds me of something my son said to me just the other day.

I had shown up to the school pick up lines one afternoon fresh from a shower I had squeezed in after work -
wet hair, no makeup, yoga pants and a ratty old sweatshirt.
My son, who now in 3rd grade is growing into the opinions of others.
He's sensitive now to new wavelengths of social protocol like he never has been before.
So I apologized for my disheveled appearance.

He just shrugged, tossing his backpack in the car door,
{after all, long gone are the first days of school meandering walks to and from school rain or shine.}
He caught my eye in the rearview mirror and said,

"I don't care Mom.  What I care about is that I can always count on you showing up."

Showing up.
There is such power and needed strength in that showing up.
To come, imperfect into the world,
ready to experience and to be challenged by the day.

And as my kids are teaching me so well - that's all we are really in control over.  The showing up.

It doesn't matter if we look pretty doing it,
work harder than everyone else just to achieve it.
It just matters that we are brave enough to show up.

My daughter cannot force her brain to make words into letters.
I cannot by shear determination make the ingredients on the counter turn into a kick ass meal.
My son cannot magically be good at everything his friends deem are "cool".

But we show up.
We try.
We fail.
We open ourselves up to try again.

And that is where bravery lies.

In the vulnerability to show up -
looking like a hot mess,
being open, after ten days of dismissal, for that pass on the field,
or by sounding out every letter you need.

In the opening up yourself and embracing the risk of defeat -
that's really the only way to measure how we succeed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Are, Women

Original poem that I wrote and read to open the Mile of Music Festival's
Women Shine Concert at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

The World will try to contain us.

They will assign words to our fluid beings.

Our story – if we women let them,
will be defined in extremes.

That we are:
too much, or too little
too fat, or too thin
too bossy, or too submissive
too dumb, or too smart for our own good.

But you – my daughter, my sisters, my friends –
you hold within you the power of the seasons. 
Your spirit is large enough to hold each one.

Just as the sun is not too bright,
or the ocean too deep,
nor is sister moon too soft with her silver light.

For it is She that causes this earth to spin.
She sends those tides to extend and retract from the shore.
The crops to rise, the fruit to fall
It is her full embodiment of self that allows her quiet dominion over us all.

So too, it is never your fault to be fully who you are.

We need not look to others
to define, defend, or to shape us into their liking.

We need not pretend.

You are allowed to come in like thunder,
to whisper softly as the breeze.

To change your mind.

Shed yourselves of the leaves
that no longer bear your markings,
Step out of the golden husks at your feet –

Stand. Ready to bloom again.

We women belong to contradiction.

Our bodies start at the curve of our thighs
Winding its way along our thin spin
Before it falls curled into our tiny smiles.

We are living question marks.

Don’t let anyone outside of your skin tell you what its worth to be alive within it.

For this world is forever wide.
But we women – when we stretch out our arms,
Chests thrown back and hearts exposed
can circle it

Care for it
with an innate wisdom that allows us
to grow life within our darkness.

Nurturing ourselves; and always each other
with a love that is
womb deep.

We are infinite.
We are finite.
Flawed and divine.

Woven together by dust and stars.

We need no standards.
No extremes.
We need no definition.

We are – Women.

sharing with: Unforced Rhythms

Thursday, July 3, 2014

140 Characters

I just finished reading ‘The Circle’ a book that hearkens ‘A Brave New World’ meets ‘The Social Network’ – a cautionary tale about where social media and society could be headed.  It has got me thinking because I have this love/hate relationship with the internet, as most of us do.  My use of these tools are spotty at best – never have I been one to consistently maximize content, SEO, or try to hit target demographics in a way that makes me a Google Plus guru.

As I tuck myself into the side of the mountains in Tennessee for our annual summer vacation, I feel all of my cells relax, and I’m able to say – maybe that’s ok.

I want to live my life in more than 140 characters.

Turn down a road that Siri can’t find.

‘Recalculate’ not to a tiny pin dropped on a map, but to this big beautiful world that is teaching me by standing still inside it.

I want to ‘Check-in’ with my children over flashlights, our backs pressed against the solid earth. Our limbs clammy in our sleeping bags while their dreams and plans for the future spread out above us among the stars.

I look to capture their childhood and our life outside a 640px by 640px square frame.
To let this life wash over us in panoramic, its only ‘filter’ the sun and the shade.

Looking nothing like my profile picture as we explore the belly of this ol’ world, 350 feet down.
Feeling at once how small we are in stature to the cave that surrounds us, and how tied we all are to those who have come before.

I will eat a dinner straight out of tin-foil.
The smoke from the open fire where it was cooked still rising.
There will be no ‘Yelp’ review,
and certainly no food porn hashtag.

I will have no need to check a tiny status bar to find out ‘What’s on your mind?’
I will look over at my husband and see the slow smile creeping over the man I love’s face
as I watch him watch our children splash and dive.
Their voices carrying over the water top to where we sit, peacefully quiet
over the life we've hard fought to make over these past ten years.

To pay attention only to the ‘Tweets’ that come from the trees high above us, my son straining to identify each one.
He who will be turning eight this month, with a bird field guide stared at the top of his birthday wish list.

The only ‘impact’ worth achieving is the astonished delight across their messy faces as I say ‘yes’ to that S’more even after ice cream.

My ‘Klout’ measured only by the weight of their sleeping limbs that we carry to their beds, dirty feet flung over the side of our beds, to weary and full from the day to care.

Accumulating moments to hold like soft stones, weighing my life down with meaning,
worn smooth by being turned over so often in our minds and in family lore.

Not stats.

Not likes.

Not shares or follows.

Just life – fleeting, rare.

For my face to be remembered lit up by the fireflies we chased across the yard,
not by a tiny screen, scrolling through 400 feeds while diminishing my own.

I will leave my ‘Fitbit’ on the counter.  Tracking only the delicious stops along the way.
Just for this week no steps, no schemes to squeeze in a thousand more.

I will look for ways instead to shut-down.

My presence absent from the screen, and full again – in life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On Writing

There are few things in life I love more than people, writing, and reading.

So when posts of some of my favorite writers started showing up as part of a blog tour of different writing processes and voices, I knew I was a goner.  I have read every one that my little fingers can click and scroll on.

Imagine my delight when a writer I adore, Galit Breen of These Little Waves asked me if I would be a stop on her train.  It took me about 30 seconds to say 'yes'.  Do yourself a favor and go check out the incredible way that Galit creates a writing platform for herself, all the while never losing her incredible open and sincere voice.  It's a gift.  But while you're here - here's a little of my process.

What am I working on?

My most on-going and in progress writing project I have is the novel I am writing based on my grandparent's real life love story.  The spine of this story growing from the love letters  penned in my grandfather's hand, complete with tiny smudges of dried teardrops my grandmother shed waiting for his ship to return.  She has entrusted to my keeping the family history, stories, and pictures.  I'll be honest to say that I feel the weight of all that love, and wanting to do their remarkable story proud.  But I keep showing up, page after page.  Pretty sure that this first draft will be mostly crossed out, started again. But yet, I believe in the thread that binds these lives and this story together.  I hope I can get out of the way and allow the story to weave itself.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think that the most distinct quality of my work comes from the final form that most of my writing takes, which typically falls out in poetic stanza form.  It's interesting to me even as the writer, as I never intend for it to do so, but from the time it makes its way from my journals to the screen, it morphs itself into a more sparse form.  I like my words to breathe.  To give the reader the trust and ability to move within my words to find their own stories or their own lives.  I have a distinct cadence to how I write and to how I speak those words, never in a hurry for us to leave that shared space, that shared conversation.

Why do I write what I do?

Because, this. (Note my 7-yr-old wrote himself from the book I wrote him.)

As long as I've had a self-concept, it has always been a part of me to wish to share and to connect on deep levels.  To be known.  To experience this life with others.  And writing has always been that vessel for me.  Then, I became a mother.  And almost daily I can lose my breath for the gravity of that station, in its unique way of creating souls that know each other by heartbeat.  I want to leave for them ink-pressed-to-page reminders of the love, the struggle, and the hard-won beauty it is to be alive and to belong to one another.  And if I can remind one or two of the rest of us that we're all just walking each other home? All the better.

  How does my writing process work?

Slowly.  I have never been a person that can crank out instant thoughts into articulate or artistic words.  I need my life and my words to rise within me slowly and spill over organically. I watch life carefully.  Then, I allow for that life to pass me through.  I find when I keep my hands outstretched those pearl moments or slivers of truth stay in my hand while the rest of the thoughts, grand statements, or big feelings lift off into the wind.  I know what stays with me after this time of stillness are my truths.  I write best early morning just having awoken, my mind still crossing from dream.  I write from the same mental and physical place I inhabit when I read.  Nothing has shaped my writing process more than the time I have spent within books.  Just as I search for my subjects, I try to capture not the shape of an event, but the shadow.  The under current.  I am far more interested in essence than I am substance.  I think our hearts are too.  There is something magic in creeping down stairs to my little desk I found on the side of the road, while my house still sleeps, and creating bits of the world I would like to live in.

And now, my turn:

Next Monday, May 12th I have asked my soul-sister Angela from Imagine Angie to share with us her process.  This woman speaks and walks in the thin deep places and I am always moved by her words and her spirit.  Please join me next week at her place to soak in her soul wisdom.