Ciao Mama Italia!

Ciao Mama Italia!

Italy was everything I expected, wanted and needed! Going into the experience I knew that I was desperate for nature and the idea of a retreat was ideal. Visiting Italy had always been on my bucket list as far as I could remember. Before my brother or I were born, my mother spent years living in Italy and that is where she got the nickname: Baci, which everyone called her, friends and family alike. Her nieces and nephews called her Titi Baci and my daughter currently calls her Grandma Baci. I even have that name tattooed on my body, twice. In Italian, Baci means “kisses”. She was given the name by someone who I would later know as Big Judi.

I was excited to interview Big Judi for the interview project I’ve been working on and I knew I wanted to do so before visiting Italy. Big Judi came to my house the day before my flight. After noticing her marijuana socks, I asked her if she wanted to partake in any cannabis activities and with socks like those I was not surprised with her response.  We lit up and began talking about how and where she first met my mom. Shortly after getting started, Big Judi asked if it would be ok for her to lay down and a bit later Rick drove her home. The interview itself wasn’t as concentrated with information as I would have hoped but we promised to get together again so that she could share more. Before she left, she gifted me with a small white pillow that was used at my parent’s wedding. I am thrilled to have received this just before my own wedding and plan to use it as well.

Big Judi may not have shared much yet but she got my mind ready in a voicemail she left, just as I was boarding my plane. Take a listen…

I was traveling with my friend Patria. In addition to wanting this trip for very personal and self-involved reasons, I was also happy to have time to spend with Patria, outside of wedding planning which is currently running my life and is the topic of most conversations I have with people. I considered this trip, among many other things to be a pre-wedding-friend-honeymoon.

The flight was smooth, as I slept nearly the entire eight-hour direct flight to Rome. After landing, Patria and I met with the retreat coordinator‘s husband and daughter who we would then share the 3-hour drive with to the tiny town of Piobicco.

As we more closely approached our destination, I began noticing the hiking trails off the side of the road that led into the forest. My eyes swelled up, this was exactly it! I got excited that this was going to be my life for the next 10 days. There would be no other responsibilities of wedding planning, or picking up and dropping off my daughter: just me, nature, yoga, meditation and my best friend.

The way Tanya leads yoga is different than anyone else. She gives writing exercises, visualizations, breathing and stretching along with traditional yoga poses. When you work with Tanya you will get a full body, mind, and soul work out and I am stronger for it now. The things I worked on have led me to be gentler to myself and more supportive as a mother and soon to be wife.  

I am so happy that my path, which was always leading to Italy, crossed with Tanya’s and that I was invited to participate in this fantastic voyage!

Patria and I shared spacious accommodations with seven other ladies all from different walks of life. Each taught me something and lead to my overall experience. We spent a lot of our downtime discussing our childhoods, trauma and all the variables that shaped the women we are today. I have to admit I was taken back by the fact that many of these women who are somewhat older than I am still felt very impacted by their childhood. This brought me a sense of calm because it was then that I realized even if I don’t remember much of my mom, she raised me for eight crucial years, at a time when I was being shaped into the person I am today. This meant that I am effected by her whether I knew it, remembered it or not. I am comforted by this realization.

One of the most transformative parts was during a yoga session when I was reflecting on the things I’ve learned about my mom over the past year. So far I’ve interviewed my dad, who had a lover‘s perspective. My godmother, who had the perspective of a childhood friend. A woman who became close to my mom in the last years of her life and Big Judi who knew her somewhere in the middle and gave her the name Baci, which was a huge part of her identity. Here I was in Italy, where she lived for years and for the very first time I felt like I knew her and I missed her. Does it sound crazy that I never missed her before? I didn’t know her and I didn’t think I remembered her so how could I have missed a stranger? For years I was too afraid to engage in conversation about my mom because I was saving myself from deep sadness.  That served and protected me then and now I am ready to feel.

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Me & Mine

Me & Mine

In the summer of 2016, I was preparing to go on a shopping trip at BJ’s with a coworker for our Fourth of July BBQ.

Let’s call her L.

As we exited the company vehicle in the parking lot, she shared with me that she was sensing a female presence from the afterlife. It wasn’t until this moment that I knew my coworker was a Medium.

I’m skeptical of all things mystical. I believe that too often fraudulent people claim false abilities and prey on others who are in vulnerable or emotional positions.

But I didn’t ask for this contact. It was being presented to me.

We began discussing some of her other experiences in communicating with those who have passed on. She told me countless stories of their interactions while she was in museums, or near grave sites, where the dead often linger. We discussed high profile unsolved cases of which she was sure she knew the answers due to her abilities. L told me of how she never charges anyone to enlist her help. This put my mind at ease a bit and helped me to trust her more.

After telling L of those nearest to me who have died, she assumed the woman who was joining our shopping trip was either my mother or my grandmother. I clung to the idea of my mother trying to communicate with me and I needed to know more. I hadn’t after all, seen her since I was 8 when breast cancer put an end to her life.

BJ’s was too loud, L said. We should reconnect another time and do this in a setting where she could concentrate better and work at her full capacity. L was also moving across the country the following month. The clock was working against us.

The day before moving, in between her last minute errands, my fiance and I met with L in a park in the Bronx. We sat down at a bench amidst all the sounds of passing trains and traffic and the normal distractions of the boogie down. The setting was still not ideal but it would have to do.

We sat and I was asked to lead….. What questions did I have?

Shit. I wasn’t prepared.

I didn’t have any questions to ask, so L took over sharing with me things that my mother was sharing with her: Paint Jayda’s room pink and keep her into music- Jayda hates pink but loves to sing and plays the violin. My father was the love of her life- good to know. Name my next child Josephine- we’re hoping for a boy, but OK.Put her photograph back up on the wall- I had recently painted the walls in the room where my mother’s photo was hanging and hadn’t put her picture back up yet. This particular detail of our meeting intrigued me the most.

Before we parted ways, L told me that, my mother was hugging me and to expect a dream with her soon. I felt nothing and I so desperately want to feel my mother’s embrace. I was somewhat disappointed and confused by what was revealed to me as some of it had significance but not all of it.

When I returned home that evening, while looking through old pictures I saw and then remembered that the living room I grew up in with my mother, was pink. Was L really on to something here?

That day, I didn’t have any questions, but since that day I have many. Meeting with L prompted a drive in me to learn more about mother. Whether or not the encounter was truly authentic, I’ll never know but the consequent events have changed my life and that’s for sure. I decided to begin a research project by interviewing people who knew and loved my mother.

I first interviewed my mother’s childhood friend who is also my God Mother. Then I interviewed my dad, who was my mother’s ex-husband. Thirdly, I interviewed a close friend from my mother’s adulthood. I’m learning so much that I never knew I never knew!

I’m no longer afraid to confront my emotions while hearing the stories of a woman I barely got to know.  I’m excited to continue this project and I still have several more interviews to conduct. I don’t know what all will come of this. Blog posts? A book? We’ll see what I’m inspired to do once the research phase ends.

My mother lived in Italy for many years, pursuing her passion for acting and this August I will be visiting Italy for the first time so as you may imagine this trip holds great significance for me.

When my mother passed away, many including myself thought that I handled it well because I didn’t speak about it much but there are simply no words to match the pain in a little girl who loses her mother. This pain is now transforming into intrigue and appreciation…. stay tuned.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mommies and mother-figures, here and beyond

And I would like to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to my own…

Yvonne Southerland

Yvonne Holder

Baci

Vonny

Mommy

(Baci is an Italian word which means Kisses and is pronounced “Bah-chee”)

Her & Hers

Her & Hers

Dear Jayda,

Having you at 21 meant more time to share, more growing done together and more memories to hold forever! Thank you for making me a mother and for making this ride so sweet! You are a shining example of how pure and untainted love is and I couldn’t be happier to have been chosen to be your mommy!

Love,

Mommy

God Talk

God Talk

The most arrogant thought I’ve ever had is that there is no God. See, I’m a cynic by nature and at times painfully sarcastic. I used to get kicks out of telling my elderly, Mississippi born and raised, God-fearing grandmother, that there is no God. Not only was there no God, I would show up to her house for the weekend without any clothes for church, a fact I would conveniently not reveal until Sunday morning. Boy, did her blood boil. Between that and my other comments about never wanting to learn how to cook because my future husband will cook for me, she disapproved of my ideology, to say the least.

When I was 8 years old, my mother died of breast cancer. After her passing, I moved in with my father and step-mother. We loved each other, but somehow the love got lost in translation. Strict rules for a defiant pre-teen, mixed with hurtful words such as “You’re not my mother!”, led to pain for all. I was already a quiet girl, and the loss of my mom led me to talk even less. I was taken to therapy but I just didn’t want to discuss the elephant in the room. I buried feelings of sadness for years and years to come.

I became pregnant with my daughter at the age of 21, which lead to more turbulence on the home front. I was politely asked to go reside where the baby was conceived. The relationship with my daughter’s father, as well as with subsequent men, was nothing short of something very appropriate for a young girl, stumbling around, without having learned how to handle her trauma, and thus causing more.

In my mid-20s I dated a guy and I could have guessed that he wasn’t “The One” if I was being honest with myself, but I wasn’t too invested in authenticity those days. At first, things were different, which meant that things were great. Wow, I thought, I can talk to this guy for hours! We laughed and taught and learned from one another. He was the first man I dated, who I also considered a friend.

The relationship, albeit refreshingly unique compared to those before it, was still riddled with deceit and disappointment. We first met and connected at work but after he started a new job, we began to only see each other monthly, despite living less than an hour away from one another. He would flake on plans, not call back, and not show up. A few years into our relationship, it became clear to him that I was taking things more seriously than he was and it became clear to me that his disruptive behavior was a reflection of his own dissatisfaction in life and that it had very little to do with me. As I began to Google “How to be Happy”, “Tricks for Happiness”, “Helping Loved Ones Through Depression”, he began to end things with me. I was learning these secrets for happiness in order to teach him, not even knowing that I was really teaching myself nor how valuable these lessons would soon be.

The break up was tough. The collapse of ideas I had so longed for, brought me into the darkest days I’ll ever know. Suicide ideation, prescription drug abuse and self-neglect took over for far too long.

Until July 16th, 2014, when I saw the snail. Walking past a Brooklyn bush, there slugged a snail. Small and almost unnoticeable, yet it caught my eye. I snapped a pic and posted it on Instagram with a caption that came to me as my fingers swiped along, “A snail! I declare this a sign of excellent health, prosperity and good fortune because that’s the typa stuff one declares when choosing happiness! Happy Wednesday y’all” I didn’t know I had chosen happiness until the decision was made. And as sneakily as depression cloaked my life, it had been lifted up by this arbitrary symbol of everything I needed. A symbol sent from God, fortified by all I had learned while trying to help my ex.

I do not believe in coincidences. Each person in my life is here for a reason, even when I can’t see what that reason is. Every heartache has taught me as much as I was willing to learn. Meeting a man, who I loved and thought I could save from depression, in turn, saved me from my own hidden depression. I began practicing the things I was intending to teach him. I wrote my Happy Lists. I asked myself what did I enjoy about my day, every day and then I made sure to do those things more often. I complained less and showed gratitude for every. little. thing. Forcefully at first, but then it came as a new way of being.

Afterward, I began proudly calling God by name because I was truly beginning to feel his grace and it was hard to keep in. When I say “Praise God!”, please believe that I am on my knees giving thanks. When I say “Look at God!”, I am truly marveling at his miracles. With God’s help, I can now see blessings that have always been there. With God’s help, I can now see beauty in things and in people where I once saw none. With God’s help, I see that there is God in me, and that I have a purpose and a calling and gifts to share with the world. With God’s help, my eyes, ears and heart stay open to the testimonies of all God’s children, because you never know who will share a word that will change your life.

I will not say that God has completely taken depression from my life. Some days are easier to see light than on others, but through God I don’t miss a single lesson, which gives my pain a purpose. I’m grateful for the storms I’ve endured because they make the sunlight that much more divine and through the grace of God, I am walking on sunshine.

(First posted @ www.link2usmag.com)

Manifesting Mindfulness With Children

Manifesting Mindfulness With Children

My niece and nephew came to visit my daughter and me for the weekend. When I have the three kids together, I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sudden increase in energy, demands, and complaints. I love them to pieces but their visits are a complete divergence from our usually quiet and low key lives. It feels good to see Jayda growing up so closely with her cousins especially because I didn’t have that same experience with my own cousins, due to our age differences.

I know from experience that the more bored the kids are the more they engage in negative behavior and the last thing I want to do on the weekend is play the mean mommy/auntie role as I hand out lectures and punishments.

Day 1 of the weekend was a disaster. I was mentally unprepared and still exhausted from my week of employment, passions, and responsibilities. The kids couldn’t quite figure out sharing, they had bottomless stomachs for snacks and they were restless.

Day 2 took a different turn, and here is how…

1. I was well rested– Usually, after the kids go to sleep I like to take advantage of a quiet house, so I stay awake for hours occupying myself with snacks, rated R movies and other vices. This time, I slept and the next day I was ready to tackle and engage! I also woke up before them which does not usually happen. It gave me time to get breakfast ready and prepare the room for our activities.

2. I made a plan– If you want to keep kids engaged all day, you will need a plan! I brainstormed the theme of the day and planned accordingly. Our theme was “Mindfulness and Gratitude” and our activities were guided meditation, yoga, vision boards and reading. We were flexible in our approaches but steadfast in our curriculum of the day.

3. I gave the kids expectations– The script went a little something like this “Good morning children! Today we will talk about and practice mindfulness and gratitude! We are going to have a great day with each other and we are going to be fair, considerate and kind!”

4. I considered their senses

Sound- Our ears were blessed by the peaceful sounds of October’s Child, who just released a new project entitled As You Go. The calming vocals and light instrumental elements brought exactly the feels I was longing for. Check them out with this link.

Sight- In my attempt to avoid overstimulation, I kept the blinds mostly drawn letting in just enough sunlight.

Smell- Throughout the duration of the morning and afternoon, I boiled dried lavender buds which filled the air with sweet and subtle scents. 

 

(I purchased mine from Amazon, link above)

Taste/Nutrition- Kids have energy and these kids have ENERGY! There was no added sugar in our diets today. Breakfast was eggs, toast, and hash browns. Knowing that they tend to skimp on meals so they can indulge in snacks later, today they were warned that there would be no snacks and they were advised to eat all of their breakfasts. To drink, they had tea with honey.  Lunch was pasta in a sauce made from pureed kidney bean, coconut milk and tomatoes. 


It was nice seeing the children explore their spiritualities and sense of gratitude. It was warm and refreshing to hear them talk about all of the parts of their lives that bring them joy. The best part was seeing the spirit of my mother live on through her grandchildren whom she never got to meet.

The day was a great success and just as I stopped running out of ideas for engagement, my brother arrived to pick my niece and nephew up. I would love to do this every time they come to visit, but to be honest it took time and energy that I don’t always have and sometimes, I like doing absolutely nothing, but I am grateful that I had the capacity to facilitate this today and hopefully there are long-lasting results that remain after the day is over.

 

Om Namah Shivaya

Namaste

Amen

Nice For What?

Nice For What?

Balance is my absolute favorite word and concept. Its simple. The answer is seldom in this OR that but can commonly be found in this AND that. I love exploring all the various manifestations of balance.

Science and God

Technology and Art

Brute and Brain

Light and Dark

Sweet and Savory

Compassion and Action

Strength and Grace 

Strength and Grace 

Strength and Grace

Strength and Grace

This last one though. I was constantly given the opportunity to exercise a balance between strength and grace and I was failing more than I was succeeding. Weeks ago I sat down to write some profound breakout piece about why and how to balance these two beasts.

This is what came of it…

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… and that’s all.

I wasn’t feeling very balanced that that day. Or these days in general really. Over the past few months I have experienced such a rush of adrenaline and confidence as I’m bursting into areas of life and myself that I’ve never touched before. I feel powerful and creative and I want to show it off.

Nice for what? Oh hey Drake.

What perfect timing he has. Days after my disaster of an attempt to document strength and grace, Drake releases what I hope will become the 2018 Summer anthem for all women. His video represented every type of boss woman from the board meeting CEO, to the student, to the mommy of two. I got goosebumps when Zoe Saldana was shown with her babies because motherhood is one of the most under and misrepresented hustles of them all. I’m here for this. I thank Drake and his team for developing a voice that is paying homage to the unapologetically strong and ambitious woman.

This song is directed at people who don’t add to your recipe of success and who serve as distractions, at best (sometimes known as f*ck boys). If you’re fortunate enough to have a team, then you understand the importance of their influence on your personal strength. Those who motivate, ground and cheer you on. Our supporters and our contributors. Those who wake up early with us or those patiently waiting for us to get to bed. Behind every strong woman is a team of people who deserve recognition. This song wasn’t about them. My note wasn’t about them either. But shout out to them. 

Love yourself outloud, show off your hard work and accomplishments and don’t let anyone make you feel as though you are shining too brightly for their taste. Your strength and perseverance is changing your life and you may have no idea who else you are motivating. Be a light so that others may also shine…. and thank the lights standing beside you.

How’s that for balance? 

Working Together To Improve Birth Outcomes

Working Together To Improve Birth Outcomes

I find that in many cases, people tend to be of the opinion that life is either black or it is white. You are a man or a woman. You are a liberal or a conservative. You either believe in God or in Science. You are gay or you are straight. As time goes on, people who live in shades of gray are helping others to see the true broadness of life by being vocal about where they stand on all these spectrums that make up individuality.

There are people who were born with male genitalia, but identify as women and are sexually attracted to both. There are people who are conservative on issues of women’s reproductive rights and liberal when talking about the legalization of marijuana. I am of the opinion that the best way to improve birth outcomes is through the joining of modern medicine and tradition midwifery ideals because it has been my experience that seemingly opposing views, tend to work well when combined.

Imagine a world, where doulas and midwives work with clients to provide safe, comfortable and supportive birthing environments, right next to traditional medical personnel who are providing medical oversight, as necessary. These two notions need not be in contradiction to one another. The best possible outcome is when all supports can work together to give a pregnant person what they need in all areas, emotionally, physically and medically.

I have a friend who shares many things in common with me. When I go through something difficult, I know that I can go to her for complete understanding and camaraderie. We can talk for hours about all of our shared experiences and feelings. I find this type of support to be necessary for my growth as a human being. I need to feel like I’m not the only one going through certain challenges and I gain strength from knowing this, but growth cannot stop there. I know that without our awareness, we can sometimes get caught in a cycle of venting, which can be dangerous. I’m lucky though. While I have this friend, I also have my fiance. My fiance pushes me to take action. It is because of the type of support that he offers, that I’ve made many of the lifestyle changes that are leading me to be a better, stronger and wiser human. But when he pushes me, I sometimes feel rushed, unprepared and unsupported. It is the combination of ideals that lead me to feel fully backed, in a very wholesome way. Supported to cry, whine and complain, and equally as important, I feel supported to act on the areas where I feel dissatisfied.

I believe the same applies to improving birth outcomes. We need a balance of the knowledge of modern medicine, which can save lives, in combination with the knowledge of traditional midwifery, which can prevent birth trauma and improve overall experiences. We need both and we need to work together.