By: Cathy Larson Sky
Leaving the trail, I
Notice the sky unfolding
A quilt of pink silk
Earthly Connections in Ireland
There’s one more month for you to tell us how you feel about WNC Woman and tell us what more you’d like to see in these pages. And, help us attract more advertisers by giving us some demographic information (it’s all anonymous) about yourself.
Just to pique your interest, here are comments so far on the question: What are your favorite departments/features/themes in WNC Woman:
The poem entries; Articles by Lavinia
Featuring the strength of women here and what women are doing in helping others
Poetry/Editor’s Messages/ Feature Articles on Wellness and Health/Ads/
honestly I like the ads
I like reading about what wnc women are doing; I enjoy the recurring columns; Jeanne Charters; Lavinia Plonka; Kathy Godfrey’s articles; Kristine Madera’s articles; Lorri Gifford’s writings; Women minding their own Biz.
Human Interest stories; Love the men’s issue; Always something of interest that resonates in WNC WOMAN
I like the editorial and last word, Y chromosome; I like interviews with artists and business people
I HATE confessional articles, my pain of growing up, my relationship to God. Dislike poetry. Is this what women are about? Wimpy, over-exposing, and then proud about it? If these things are the positive aspects of women, the ideas are outdated by 30 years. What is NOW about us?
Woman artists, business woman, relative information about local woman.
And the question, What new content would you like to see?
More blog type entries from local women that are informative or educational-not opinion waxing. Articles from a local woman in politics either candidate or elected officials. An article about mothers and/or children’s interest. Locally owned businesses. Something for gay women.
Something a little more serious regarding women’s issues.
More about health and health care
Some themes concentrated more for young adults in the area; More information for mature 60+ women
I don’t have any suggestions b/c I think you all do a great job.
How to become a successful artist in Asheville; I would like to see more about the occupy movement and political and social justice.
Some shorter articles that can be read quickly
I like articles/info about women who advertise who have started their own business
It’s a great magazine but I’d like to see something a little edgier. Not so totally sweet-here-we-are-aren’t-we-wonderful. I worry about our heads being in the sand on some important issues.
So, if you haven’t put in your 10 cents worth yet, please do so this month, and thanks!
Go to: wncwoman.com for the link.
By: Deb Weir
Twenty years ago, at age thirty-seven, my identity took a deep shift. Through a series of painful experiences, I was transformed from a bleached blonde BMW driver to a tree-hugging Jeep Cherokee driver. It’s true. During the process of change, I not only adopted a new way of being in the world, I became obsessed with nature as a powerful self-esteem levitator.
Here’s the short version of my story: I bought a used foreign car (BMW). Its engine blew up one month later when I was driving way out in the country, leaving me stranded in the wilderness of life. I realized that, inadvertently, with my feminine ignorance around cars, I had gone out on a financial limb for a lemon. While the car was patched together, I read a book about a wilderness survival school and had insights about my state of weak vulnerability and dependence. I decided right then and there to toughen up by attending Tom Brown’s Tracker School to learn survival skills. It took a little while to scrape the money together, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. During that month of initial wilderness survival training and practice, I had a classic transcendental vision that totally validated a newly-heightened state of being. With the passion of a young woman on a mission, I committed to helping other women become empowered through nature immersion.
Since I was already in school to become a licensed professional counselor, this experience focused my career goals. I was able to use the lessons in counseling theory and psychology to enrich the elements of a woman’s nature program. It was a time of transformation in all aspects of my life. I even found my soul mate in my counseling classes, a partner who could ground me in the business of starting a counseling practice. He remains my biggest fan and support.
After a couple of years of honing the wilderness skills of building shelters, foraging for water and food, making bow-drill fires, as well as creating wilderness workouts, finding isolated campgrounds, and gathering enough camping gear, I felt ready to offer weekend workshops to women. I called my self-esteem nature program Women in the Wilderness, and I worked hard to market and create exciting learning experiences. Behind the wheel of my red Jeep Cherokee, with my buck knife on my belt and cut-off jeans showing my beautiful legs of power and earthly connections, nothing could stop me.
Thinking back twenty years, those memories make me smile. I was truly wild as wolves’ teeth. Now a bit older and more sophisticated, not quite as rough and tumble as then, I’m still rolling around in the leaves and grass, stacking river rocks into little stone sculptures, letting nature penetrate the spaces between my cells. And I’m still trying to find women to play in nature with me.
In a way, I wish I could stop and just be more normal. I wish I could go on hikes and camping trips of my own without this driving compulsion to introduce others to my world of passionate nature connection. But some bug bit me back then that infected my psyche, not letting me rest unless I’m planning a nature retreat or event. It keeps pushing me to write articles and books, to create vision boards, and to look for property that will work for a gathering—even when I’m exhausted.
I have this playful inner child who wants to grab a friend’s hand and say, “Look at the root system on this tree! Isn’t it magical how it’s formed the perfect small animal home? And such a pretty home!” or “Wow! Look at this interesting moth. The markings on its wings make a cross. Is this a sign from The Universe?” or “Want to try an Andy Goldsworthy nature art project? Let’s gather pine cones and stand them up around this tree trunk. Or do you think if we worked together we could actually get a stone arch to stay up, like Andy’s does?” I’m truly obsessed to play in nature. I laugh at myself that I’m still enthralled with a big pile of natural debris that could serve as shelter-makings, and that I still search for cordage materials and practice twisting it into string. It makes me happy. It makes me more than smile—my soul soars with the birds when I’m immersed in nature, my belongings protected in a tent while I sit on a boulder beside a cascading stream.
I know that I can be in nature alone and experience my own natural high, but the positive feelings seem even more profound when a group of women experience nature together when the various surprising wonders of nature (and there are so many) or the quiet peace of the forest are shared with other like minds. I invariably felt this feminine alchemy during my Women in the Wilderness weekend gatherings. For instance, I felt empowered when we cooked in the ground using techniques taught by the wilderness survival instructors. I know it may sound silly to hear about someone pulling baked potatoes out of the ground, removing the foil, putting on butter and salt, and feeling strong and transformed as a result. I wasn’t alone in my feeling—the other women shared my excitement.
For years I’ve tried to understand this wilderness magic that flourishes when women gather in nature. Is it simply, like the Cyndi Lauper song lyrics, that girls just wanna have fun? That’s probably a lot of it. Or is it related to the Mars-Venus theory that women evolved from a primitive feminine “planet” of wild nature and hand-holding connection? Hmmm… Might it have something to do with how stressed women are, trying to be super-woman to each and all every day? So when they get the chance to go wild and let their hair down, they luxuriate in its ecstasy? Maybe. Is this restorative and blissful inner peace the result of right-brain stimulation of the senses, leaving behind the left-brain compulsion to achieve? Some wonders are not easily explained, especially when it involves women. We women are mysterious and complex creatures.
Brain science related to happiness is all the rage right now in the world of psychology, and it’s causing me to think that we may be closer to understanding the healing powers of nature. One book of the happiness genre promises to teach how to harness the ability to keep the bliss alive, even as we leave nature and return to the chaos of our lives. Wow! I want that! From my studies so far, it seems that the secret is, first, to develop a basic understanding of brain physiology—the autonomic nervous system, the role of neurotransmitters, and the importance of such structures as the amygdala, hippocampus, and the pituitary gland (tall order). Secondly, one must not only engage in relaxing, positive activities, but also learn to work them so that the bliss dominates over the powerful negative thoughts and experiences.
From this lesson, derived and simplified from the brain science articles, I’m imagining a weekend of doing what I love in nature, and then when I return home, using a powerful dose of mindfulness to remain blissful while I check e-mails, complete forms, talk with my clients, sit in tense meetings, clean house, answer the phone, write notes, workout, shop for groceries, pluck my eyebrows, dry my hair . . . I’ll take a few minutes to sit down and get back to the wilderness of my memory and reconnect with the inner peace that I experienced, reinforcing the being in contrast to my obsessive doing. I imagine that I can actually enhance the memory of the peace I felt in nature, as well as the memories of all the fun I had playing in nature with other nature-lovers. This meditative process will enable my parasympathetic nervous system to cool the fires of my adrenaline rushes.
It thrills me to read scholarly articles and books, attend continuing education seminars, and find certifications related to mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and imagery—interventions that I had previously practiced and thought to be alternative. These practices are now emerging in our culture in a scientific and researched way, empowering counselors and therapists to use them full-throttle as potent adjuncts to more traditional therapy methods. These forms of natural medicine are finally becoming accepted and touted as effective ways to calm us down and bring awareness and meaning to our intense lives. My nature retreats are now adapting their focus.
Women are more empowered now. There’s still work to be done in women’s equality and empowerment, but we’ve come a long way, baby, in the upsurge of femininity and the need for nurturing our planet and our world. Balance is now the buzz word, as we try to cope with environmental controversies, cultural philosophical dichotomies of all sorts, technological stimulation, and the like. It’s still a cold, cruel world, and we all feel a bit dizzy as the pendulums we cling to swing dramatically. As mindfulness teaches us, we still have natural places to go to find solace, especially in Western North Carolina. How rich we are in that regard, at least at this very moment, which is all we have.
Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, imagery, relaxation practices of all sorts are truly awesome experiences when carried out in the right natural setting.
Combining these practices in nature with the understanding (empowerment) that we can gain from the flood of brain science studies, I’m starting to feel that wild rush of passion seep back into my more mature body/mind. I still love creating my teepee fires in ways that are environmentally responsible and efficient. I still adore planning for the day when I get lost on the trail and have to problem-solve for safety, maybe building a debris hut or using my wide-angle vision for clues. But now my obsession is more directed toward finding balance in an over-stimulating world, and using nature as a healing agent.
Earthly connections, nature immersion, awareness, wide-angle vision, moving meditations were all basic lessons from my wilderness survival weekends. These lessons are still a part of my identity and focus, my mission and oath that I took when I became a professional counselor to help others become happier and more fulfilled in their lives. I’m still under the influence of the bug that bit me, but at least it appears that I can hold hands with contemporary science and not feel so out on a limb. It remains a worthy mission.
Thinking of Asheville as her dream place to live, Deb is new to North Carolina and working as a counselor at October Road, Inc. She practices what she preaches by using Western North Carolina’s nature playgrounds to stay balanced. She’s the author of Women in the Wilderness: Exploring Your Primal Nature and is planning a nature retreat near the Pisgah National Forest for the spring. She can be reached at DebWeir@WeirPartners.net. www.immerseyourselfinhappiness.com
By: Janet Parkerson
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~Henry David Thoreau
In the mid-1980s, Judy Garry was working at the University of Delaware and studying for her Master’s Degree. Ed Doll, a retired chemical engineer from Dupont, was living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The two met through mutual friends, and their first date was a sailboat race on the Chesapeake Bay. It was Judy’s maiden voyage, but Ed was an expert sailor, and very competitive. To Judy’s amazement, they were in first place! Judy says she had nothing to do with winning. “I just went along for the ride.” What a great start for the couple!
A few years and many sailing dates later, they devised a plan to fulfill Ed’s dream of sailing year-round. They refurbished a 46-foot sloop, appropriately named Sloopy, and set sail from the Chesapeake Bay to the Caribbean in May 1989. After going through weeks of red tape, they became qualified members of the Virgin Island Charter Yacht League and offered their boat for charter. Captain Ed and First Mate/Chef Judy were the crew.
Sailing conditions in the Caribbean were perfect. They soon developed an active charter business, making their dream vacation in paradise a reality. They became expert guides in the United States and British Virgin Islands, discovering secluded beaches, quiet harbors, the best snorkeling sites, the best island bars for local rum, and great reggae bands!
Despite their busy schedule, the lifestyle they were living offered little opportunity to develop deep friendships or a sense of community.
This was before e-mail and Skype. Phone calls home were few and far between, and Judy looked forward to each September when they returned to the United States to visit family and friends.
After five years of living and working on their boat, Judy and Ed could no longer deny their longing to return to land and find a place to call home. They needed grounding!
With no regrets, they sailed back to the Chesapeake Bay and began searching for a place to put down roots. They traveled from Florida to Maine, from the Rockies to the Alleghenies.
After a winter in Florida fixing up Sloopy to sell, they drove into Asheville on their way back to Maryland where they still owned a house.
It was mid-March, the temperature was perfect, the mountains were beautiful and the skies were Carolina blue. Judy recalls that they stopped along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Folk Art Center for a picnic lunch when the Tour Dupont bike race flew by. They decided to spend one night in their camper at Lake Powhatan, but stayed a week! They knew they had found a very special place. Asheville met all their criteria for a great retirement city. They vowed to visit again.
Shortly after their return, Judy’s 88-year old mother passed away. As they turned to the task of preparing their Maryland property for sale, Judy decided she needed to replace a few scraggly shrubs in front of the house to create more curb appeal. Something amazing happened. Judy explains that when she picked up a shovel for the first time, she became possessed! “All I wanted to do was dig.” She knew it was not logical since they planned to sell the house soon. But she kept digging and buying and planting! “I was obsessed,” claims Judy. “I just couldn’t stop myself!” She couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get out into the yard. She devoured books on gardening and landscaping, read seed catalogs, learned the botanical names of flowers, and went to every nursery within a 25-mile radius. At night, she dreamed about her fantasy garden.
Judy’s mother had been an avid gardener all her life. “I truly believe it was Mom’s spirit inhabiting and guiding me.” Creating a garden helped relieve some of her grief. “It made me feel close to her. She was so precious. I miss her terribly.”
By the time the Maryland house was ready to sell, Judy had planted flowers everywhere! There was no way she could leave them behind. Even as she planted, Judy knew that she would dig them up and take them with her.
“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” ~Gertrude Jekyll
After two more visits to Asheville that spring and summer, Judy and Ed met with a realtor and found a house they loved in a great neighborhood with lots of room for a garden. Their house in Maryland sold quickly, and they moved to the Land of the Sky in late October 1995, plants and all!
Putting Down Roots
Next, they worked to fulfill Judy’s dream of a cottage style flower garden.
Judy was eager to become active in her new community. She applied to the Master Gardener volunteer program, a 13-week course offered through Cooperative Extension. Because she was such a novice gardener, she never expected to be admitted. She thinks her enthusiasm for her newfound passion and desire to be part of a volunteer organization were the reasons she was accepted.
In addition to her Master Gardener activities, Judy volunteered at the Botanical Gardens where she helped coordinate special events, served as newsletter editor and board member. She volunteered at the North Carolina Arboretum and served on the board of MAGIC Community Gardens and Quality Forward (now Asheville Greenworks). “I jumped in on all fours,” says Judy. She was particularly happy when UNC-Asheville’s Center for Creative Retirement asked her to coordinate study trips similar to those she had done at the University of Delaware’s Academy of Lifelong Learning.
Grow Where You’re Planted.
Ed tackled many projects around their new home. With Judy’s design input, he built arbors, planters, and an entirely new front porch surrounded by garden beds. He, too, became quite involved, serving as president of their homeowner’s association, and continuing his love of singing as a member of the Land of the Sky Barbershop Chorus and president of that organization.
All the while, they continued developing plans for their dream garden. They defined a large area of lawn to be transformed into flower beds and spent the next 18 months creating them. The first spring, they brought in 40 tons of dirt from a lot near their development. “We had a humongous mountain of dirt right in the middle of our lawn! I’m sure our neighbors thought we were crazy!” They spent their first summer amending the soil with truckloads of composted leaves, cow and horse manure, mushroom compost, peat moss, and soil amendments—the ingredients to make good dirt for their plants. Judy’s training as a Master Gardener was indispensable for this task. Bit-by-bit, plant-by-plant, their garden grew.
Sadly, after four years in Asheville, Ed was diagnosed with cancer. He fought his illness courageously. After his death in 2001, Judy threw herself even more into her community activities and—again at a time of great loss—she found solace in her garden. Today, Judy gives Ed much of the credit for making her beautiful garden a reality.
Eventually, Judy had so many flowers, that she began thinking about selling some to support her habit. Early every Saturday morning, she loaded her car with buckets of flowers, cut the night before, to sell at the Black Mountain tailgate market.
She loved having shoppers enjoy the fruits of her labor. She soon had a following of regular customers arriving early to see what goodies she had brought from her garden. People were amazed at the quantity, quality, and variety of her flowers. Had she grown them all herself? Yes. How big was her farm? Judy laughed and told them there was no farm, just her home garden on less than a half-acre in East Asheville. She invited them to visit. And as she welcomed guests to her garden, she began to consider the concept of pick-your-own flowers. Her visitors select their flowers which Judy then cuts. It was much easier to have folks come to her garden for flowers than taking her flowers to market. Your Vase or Mine was born.
Reap What You’ve Sown.
“Show me your garden, and I shall tell you what you are.” ~Alfred Austin
The last seven years have been a tremendous learning experience for Judy. She knows which flowers are best for cutting and plants a variety of seeds and flowers so she will have plenty of blossoms throughout the growing season. Roses bloom from mid-April to mid-November, peonies in the spring. Daisies are almost always in bloom, while sunflowers and zinnias are abundant in the summer. Her dahlias are a big fall favorite.
Today, about 90% of Judy’s business is weddings and rehearsal dinners. It may be the do-it-yourself bride who comes for buckets of cut flowers or the bride who wants Judy to make everything from decorations for the arbor to hair wreaths for the flower girls.
Judy is not a florist; she’s a gardener, but she loves creating arrangements and bouquets, claiming that there is no way to mess up a beautiful bunch of freshly picked flowers! “It’s such a delight knowing my “home-grown” flowers will grace the biggest day in a couple’s life.”
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust
What could be better? Nature, beauty, love! “I feel so lucky to be doing what I do. And if my Mom is watching, she’s thrilled with joy.”
Judy Garry, gardener and owner of Your Vase or Mine in Asheville, can be reached at 828-299-4394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janet Parkerson is a neighbor who walks by and admires Judy’s garden.
Leigh Glass and the Hazards
By: Peggy Ratusz
Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the egg or the chicken, the chicken or the egg, are the lines to the first solo North Carolina native Leigh Glass ever sang. She was dressed in a white bunny costume alongside other five-year-olds in animal costumes at a school Easter celebration choral concert. She’s been singing solos alongside animals dressed as humans ever since.
Like so many, she began her musical path in church, in school plays and talent shows. Recognizing her propensity for music and dance, at age eight her parents enrolled her in the Haywood County clogging and chorus called Smoky Mountain Kids. It was good stomping grounds for this maven of words and melody.
In junior high and high school she played the flute and studied piano. But she didn’t pick up a guitar until she was 22 years old. She calls her self-taught strategy “glorified cheating” to get “near the same place” as trained instrumentalists.
Additionally, Language Arts was her forte in high school and her love of history and stories remains her inspiration. She writes from personal experiences as well as those of real and fictional people. Because she and her first partners picked, played and sang Gospel, Old Time and Bluegrass on the porches of Cold Mountain, her first songs were thus influenced.
In person and over the phone during our interview, her speaking voice is deliberate and has that full sexy Southern draw that makes Yankee men melt. It translates effectively into the melodies she conjures up to match the lyrics she generally starts with when crafting a tune. In 2005, she solicited players to support, arrange and perform a notebook full of completed songs she’d been writing or working on for over ten years. She’s evoked a plethora of voice comparisons made by reviewers who mention Pat Benatar, Alannah Miles and Joan Jett. I concur but will add that she embodies a warm yet gutsy, tender yet evocative, playful and sensuously unique vocal style.
Jazzy Grass is the way she describes the sound of her first band called Voodoo Tavern consisting of an upright bassist, percussionist and Jazz guitarist. They played venues like Fred’s Speakeasy and The Grey Eagle. Leigh Glass and the Sweet Bitters morphed from that first quartet to an acoustic Jazz trio. Eventually she decided she wanted a fatter sound so she solicited an electric bassist and full kit drummer and that group became The Leigh Glass Band. They played local haunts Hannah Flanagans, French Broad Brewery, Jack of the Wood, Mo Daddy’s and Tressa’s. With her newest electric guitarist and co-vocalist Corey Bullman beside her, her current lineup also consists of her boyfriend Patrick Wells on drums and Bryan White from Brushfire Stankgrass on electric bass. They call themselves Leigh Glass and the Hazards.
Channeling Led Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams, The Cowboy Junkies and the Rock and Pop music from the 90s, as well as Journey and Fleetwood Mac, you get an idea where Leigh is when it comes to themes and grooves. The marrying of these styles makes for an assertive, heady, meaty and persuasive library.
Equipped with pen and paper by her bedside, she actually dreams her themes sometimes, knowing that if she doesn’t write them down in the middle of the night, they’ll be gone by the day’s first light. Later, she allows these images and phrases to guide her into the story they were meant to tell and melody they were meant to own.
Her first of soon-to-be-three albums is called The Saints and the Creole Angels. Recorded at Collapsible Studio in Asheville it is a gathering of Bluesy, Acoustic Rock and Americana that takes the listener through a scorned woman’s cognitive healing work. Flooded with more and new ideas, Leigh experiences what many artists notoriously do: a second collection ripening while a current release is being sent from studio to press.
Seeking balance and a desire to remain introspective while knowing both those come from the endeavor of walking in another’s shoes, her second release The Drone was recorded in a home studio and explores love and loss from the male perspective. This one made the top 20 on WNCW’s list in 2010. “Being beat down by life’s misfortunes and love gone wrong” is what she says about the songs. This offering contains stories in a “hard Folk” format. Drone sounding and drone laden guitar and bass segue to lyrics that invoke the very definition of the one male bee’s job to continuously mate with the Queen; to a life sequestered and imprisoned within the hive and in the end, to fulfill his destiny by chewing off his wings.
Something in the Water, her upcoming release spawned from the regurgitation of the material from The Drone plus The Saints and the Creole Angels, promises redemption, dreams realized to fruition with faith, hope and love the primary goal of the characters and you. She describes this assembling of tracks “Crazy good Gospel and Swampy Blues.”
Her summer schedule each year consists of mini tours that include festivals, arenas and club dates from here to Charleston and beyond. The coast’s desire for Blues and Rock, and her band in particular has made this annual summer jaunt her favorite. The Hippodrome in Charleston is a venue she’ll play this summer for the first time, along with Nashville based Rock band Drivin’ & Cryin’ and she’s super excited about that. She’ll play her usual stint at The Pauley’s Island Tavern and the Awendaw Green in the South Carolina town of the same name.
Friday, April 6th at Highland Brewery here in Asheville at 6pm is the official CD release party for Something in the Water which was recorded in three parts at Echo Mountain Studio, Brevard Music Studio and at Chip Martin’s studio in Nashville. This show will feature guest players from the CD including Garry Segal on harmonica, Aaron LaFalce on piano and Forrest Smith on guitar.
Kickstarter is the world’s largest online funding platform that Leigh and the band as well as many independent recording artists around the world use to finance artistic projects. Without it she says, “The release would not have been possible.” For more information about Kickstarter, google them and you will find detailed information and reviews.
Although she plans to take a much needed break from recording, the inspiration cycle knows no rules or boundaries, so of course she’s already writing new material. It’s the plight and so too the obligation and joy of the minstrel to continue the dance, to push on in the quest to find the truth about which came first, the chicken or the egg.
Peggy Ratusz is a writer, songstress and vocal coach. Contact her at email@example.com or learn more at reverbnation.com/peggyratusz
The Weaving Together of Story, Music and Imagination
By: Courtney Smith
Imagine this: a powerful horse slowly approaches. You can see the ripple of muscle and tendon over flank and bone; inhale the earthy smell of grass and horse-body as he approaches and feel the intensity contained within his powerful stride. The whuffle of breath escaping his nostrils is warm in the air and you yearn to reach out and stroke the velvety softness of his nose. As he nears and your gaze rises, you connect eye to eye. He looks at you—steady, unblinking and focused. His stillness is motion and energy suspended. And you realize as he holds your gaze that he has been waiting for this moment. He looks deeply into your eyes until you recognize the familiarity of him. You step closer; run your hand across his warm shoulder and up his neck. And without hesitation you climb up, settle in and begin the adventure of a lifetime.
Sounds like the beginning of a great story, or a scene from the Narnia Chronicles, doesn’t it? In actuality, this powerful horse-as-guide appeared to Connie Regan-Blake as she began a journey into her imagination during a Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) session with me—music therapist and wellness practitioner at Source for Well-Being in Black Mountain, NC. It was the first time Connie and I met and after the session, we knew that we wanted to work together again.
I was delighted with Connie’s engagement into the realm of symbolism, archetype, and myth; and her rich and detailed narration of her GIM adventures left us both breathless and wanting to know more of her unfolding journey. It was no surprise for me to learn that Connie’s life has been dedicated to the telling of stories and the sharing of hero’s journeys—her own, those of her listeners and especially the characters she shares. As the daughter of a poet and storyteller myself, I recognized the twinkle in her eye as she spoke and the way she pulled me in as she narrated her adventure.
As our relationship turned into friendship I learned that Connie Reagan-Blake is one of America’s most celebrated storytellers and a treasured WNC woman. She has captivated the hearts and imaginations of people around the globe with her powerful performances and workshops. Entertaining audiences in 47 states and 17 countries, she brings the wisdom, humor and drama of stories to main stage concert halls, libraries, storytelling and folk festivals and even into the corporate world.
Both as a solo artist and a member of the acclaimed Folktellers duo, Connie has been featured on seven award-winning recordings—five audios and two videos produced by PBS. New Age Magazine, School Library Journal, and Southern Living have praised her work. She has been a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered, ABC’s Good Morning America and CNN.
Connie has performed at the nation’s top folk music and storytelling festivals in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as well as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. She has traveled to Africa, New Zealand and Australia to share her work and listen to indigenous stories wherever she goes. “Hearing a story reminds all of us that we’re doing something our ancestors did hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It’s almost genetic,” Connie says. It’s a special craft because, unlike most performing arts, anyone can learn to tell a decent story over the dinner table. In fact, Connie teaches workshops to people at all levels, from lawyers who want to improve their courtroom performances to budding professional storytellers.
Her groundbreaking collaboration with the Kandinsky Trio—an innovative blend of storytelling and chamber music—was hailed as a “new art form.” That collaboration between story and music continues with the combination of Connie’s stories and my musical journeying. Once the idea of weaving our two crafts together formed, the path seemed to unfold before us. We created a three-day workshop combining the power of music and the power of story to change lives.
“Heeding the Call: Claiming Your Story” is the result of our combined talents. Throughout a weekend, we weave together story and music to create a canvas of colors, experiences, sounds, images and imaginings that uncover aspects of the self, reveal inner truths, and highlight each participant’s process of living their own hero’s journey.
Journeying is the basis for my work as a music therapist at Source for Well Being (voted #1 Alternative Wellness Center of WNC). The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) is a music-assisted therapy that offers individuals the opportunity to integrate mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of themselves in a transformational way. GIM is characterized by the use of sequenced musical programs designed to stimulate and sustain a dynamic unfolding of imagery experiences.
Those music and imagery experiences are direct reflections of an individual’s personal relationships, feelings, and identity. The traveler may have glimpses of transpersonal inspiration which both challenge and nurture the sense of self and who you can become. Creativity is often awakened.
Connie says, “A good storyteller leads you to a window you’ve never noticed before in a dusty corner of your mind. Then she opens that window and shows you a world you didn’t know existed or had forgotten was there.” The musical journeying of GIM opens doors into worlds you never imagined possible. Our combination of story, music, poetry, and song have already been powerful for those who have attended the workshop.
“These elements [story and music] were inseparable parts of the whole experience. The selections of poetry were perfect for connecting the concepts and ideas we were exploring. The music grounded me in my body, as did the advice to listen in a deep physical way for the story to emerge. Deeply listening to stories of others also supported a grounded interpersonal and physical connections.” *participant’s evaluation at the end of the weekend
We will hold our next workshop in Asheville on April 27-29. After gathering together on Friday evening we will immerse ourselves in story. Participants will hear stories told, share their own stories and look briefly at the aspects of the Hero’s Journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell. I will introduce the power of music to enhance our personal experiences and Connie will share with us new ways to listen.
On Saturday, we will delve more deeply into the different phases of the Hero’s Journey. By using story, music, art, poetry, journaling, writing and guided imagery, each attendee will have the opportunity to examine who they are and where they are going, and to embrace the story of their own hero’s journey that lies within. On Sunday we’ll reflect on our experiences, shine the light on new versions of the stories we tell and examine ways to integrate them into our lives.
As one participant said at the end, “I left with a new vision of myself, one that I will continue to grow with.”
Connie and I invite each and every woman (and man) to come and join us for a transformational weekend on “Heeding the Call: Claiming Your Story,” in Asheville on April 27, 28, and 29th. For more information, please go to Connie’s website: www. storywindow. com
Courtney Smith is a professional Trainer and Consultant for Barium Springs. She travels around the state and also nationally facilitating organizational change, writing and developing curricula, and delivering training to leadership, managers, social workers, therapists and other human service professionals. She holds degrees in music therapy and counseling. Courtney has completed all her coursework at Appalachian State University is working on her supervision hours to become a Guided Imagery and Music Fellow. She practices at Source for Well Being in Black Mountain, NC. 828-413-7269 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
The Gift That Grew
If you’ve followed the ‘Free Room Makeover’ journey featured in WNC Woman magazine (beginning in November, 2011), you’ll know that when three women invited the community to join them in this project of giving, it turned out to be more than they ever expected.
because they had more excited and generous sponsors than they could have imagined. They donated furniture, accessories, personalized artwork, paint for the walls, fabric and curtains, photography and videography, and even a mini-vacation in a B&B for the winner of the makeover.
because of the stories received from nominators—stories of amazing people who give of themselves to others.
because of a twist: Gayle Sovinee (the selected winner) re-gifted her room makeover to her non-profit, Helios Warriors—a holistic treatment center for Veterans.
because, instead of just one room, Lyna and Barb worked on six rooms —creating a unified, peaceful, and calming environment to help promote physical and emotional healing for veterans.
in the number of volunteers that gave of their talents, skills, and labor—constructing and helping primer the walls.
and Much More:
in the rewards that were reaped! Lyna, Sandi, and Barb will forever be grateful for the opportunity to meet and work along side the wonderful people who helped make the “Room Makeover Project” a success!
WNC Woman is happy to be able to share with you here, a ‘start-to-finish’ mini photo gallery of the “Free Room Makeover Project” that was gifted to Helios Warriors.
Sandi, WNC Woman Magazine; Barb, Space Spiffing Decorating; and Lyna, In The Spirit of Décor, hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the ‘make over’ journey these past few months!
And keep your eyes open in coming months for profiles of some of the other nominees who, while they didn’t win the Makeover, did win our hearts. We will share their stories with you over time.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THESE VOLUNTEERS:
Deborah and Nelson Copp
Saving Money ~ Eating Healthy
By: Maureen McDonnell, RN
I know what you are thinking: “aren’t those two ideas mutually exclusive?” Actually, after 35 years of advocating healthy eating (and at the same time having to watch our family’s food budget), I can honestly say, “They are not!” Here’s why: When you take a portion of your hard-earned money and invest it wisely in foods that provide superior nutrition, you are sick less often which translates into spending less on doctor’s visits, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. You’ll also miss fewer days of work which may result in promotions & career advancements. Best of all, you’ll be more productive, have more energy to exercise and do other activities that you love which adds up to keeping you healthier longer.
Don’t let the societal myth that you have to spend a lot of money in order to eat healthy stop you from trying these:
Tips for Saving Money and Eating Healthy
Buy in Bulk: Packaging food in fancy boxes and bags is costly. If you don’t mind scooping up your own spices, nuts, flours and grains, you can save a considerable amount of money. If your grocery store doesn’t have a bulk section, try shopping for these items at Earthfare, GreenLife or the French Broad Co-op (or in Mars Hill the Amish store). For listings of money-saving food co-op’s around the country check out www.coopdirectory.org
Buy local: Our community is bursting with so many wonderful farmer’s markets that sell locally-grown eggs, beef, chicken and seasonal vegetables & fruit. Since the farmers are selling to you directly, the food is less expensive, often saving you up to 25%. Another option is to join a CSA farm (community supported agriculture). You pay one lump sum per season and each week pick up your produce directly from the farmer who only grows according to how many families buy a share in his farm. In terms of getting the kids on board with healthier eating, there’s nothing quite like bringing them with you to the farmer’s market or to the CSA to help select the foods the family will eat over the next week. .
Make Food in Batches: Whether it’s loaves of whole grain bread, a pot of soup, baby food or a healthy snack such as homemade hummus… take a couple of hours on a weekend, invite a friend over, pour yourself a glass of wine and cook big batches of your favorite recipes together. Then freeze them… and voila’ that mid-week dinner practically makes itself! These are just a few foods that can be made ahead and frozen: beans, brown rice and other grains such as quinoa, millet, whole grain breads and pesto. Once you have these basics prepared, just thaw them, add a fresh green or salad and maybe a fist full sized portion of your favorite organic protein, and you’ve just quelled the temptation to go out to dinner—saving yourself and your family even more money.
Grow Some Food: Whether it’s a pot of fresh herbs by your windowsill, a small backyard garden, or a row in a community garden, growing even a small amount of food can save you a considerable amount of money. Think how much fresh basil or rosemary costs in the supermarket. Grow your own and you’ll have fresh, money-saving herbs all year long.
Buy Organic: “How can buying organic possibly save our family money?” Consider these two facts: Food grown in non-organic soils does not contain anywhere near the nutrient content of food grown in organic soil. So although you might be paying a bit more, your body is receiving higher levels of health-promoting nutrients. Secondly, conventionally-grown food is sprayed with chemicals that cause a burden on our health. If you can’t afford all organic foods, at least stay away from the fruits and vegetables with permeable skin. For a full list of the dirty dozen (foods to definitely buy organic because the conventional version is heavily sprayed) as well as a list of the clean 15 (foods that are not as heavily sprayed) check out: foodnews.org.
Save on Healthcare Costs: A new study just released (1) explains how having good levels of nutrients protects us from the damaging effects of chemicals and toxins. Since we now know that a culprit in many illnesses including cancer, asthma, etc. is environmental toxins, doesn’t it make good sense to boost our level of nutrients by eating healthier in order to help the body detoxify these harmful substances?
So with the cost of healthcare rising and finances being a major concern for all of us, healthy eating not only makes you feel good by adding years to your life and life to your years, but now, more than ever, it just makes good economic sense!
Healthy Inexpensive Dinner Ideas:
Beans, brown rice and a green: (Remember you’re going to cook in batches and freeze to save time and money). Take previously cooked and frozen pinto beans and thaw. Add to sautéed onions, garlic and cumin. Trim, wash and saute fresh kale or Swiss chard in olive oil and garlic and add to previously cooked brown rice. Laddle the flavorful beans on top of the rice, top with freshly roasted pumpkin seeds or slivered almonds or another source of protein (left over chicken, grass-fed beef, etc.).
Natural chicken and roasted root veggies: Purchase an organic (or at least a locally grown chicken raised without hormones and antibiotics); follow the directions for handling and preparation. Place in roasting pan and surround with organic washed and cut up beets, turnips, onions, carrots, etc. that have been tossed in olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. Bake and serve!
Healthy salad for lunch or dinner: Spin or wash salad greens, chop up some fresh veggies (peppers, carrots, onions) and just before eating, add some olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, toasted pumpkin or sesame seeds and toss. Top with some leftover chicken, beans or hummus.
Butternut squash soup: Peel and boil cubed butternut squash in vegetable or chicken broth. When soft, puree in blender. Pour into a pot, add organic milk (if you use dairy) or coconut milk, and stir until creamy. Add touch of cayenne, salt and pepper. Serve with a healthy green salad topped with freshly toasted nuts or seeds.
Bernhard Hennig, et al Nutrition Can Modulate the Toxicity of Environmental Pollutants: Implications in Risk Assessment and Human Health, http:dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104712 online Feb 2012
Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 35 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.) She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now Conferences, and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet. Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in women and children’s health. She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine and owner of Nutritionist’s Choice Inc. Presently, Maureen serves as the Medical Coordinator for the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She and her husband have five grandkids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of WNC.
By: Roberta Binder
Listening to the many-sided journey of clinical herbalist, Cynthia Stacey, also known as Thea Summer Deer, one can’t help experiencing her deep love of all things growing on and in Earth Mother. I first met Thea briefly last fall at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, with just a small opportunity to listen to her herbal wisdom; yet I knew there was so much more to her story. Sharing with others now during Earth Month and the beginning of the season of planting—and nature’s own garden pushing forward once again—is exciting and inspiring.
Thea was born and raised in the Seminole Village of Musa Isle (Island of Bananas) at the headwaters of the Miami River. Her maternal grandfather took ownership of the land that had been a Seminole trading post. Thea notes, “He told the tribe that they could continue living in their traditional manner, ‘but now you work for me.’” They lived in their chickees and added a museum and curio shops, where the Indians sold their piece work. Some of the men wrestled alligators, and exotic animal additions made the village a major tourist attraction by the time Thea was born. The Seminoles were her playmates, and she quickly absorbed many of their traditions which remain true to her being today. “Since we never wore shoes, we ran unfettered and free; this was home. I learned a lot viscerally.”
During these early years, her interest in plants began. “I remember having an elementary school science project. I was fascinated with how plants bled, so I gathered a collection of saps in little vials and became absorbed in describing their different consistencies, colors, and smells.”
When Thea was eight her parents sold the Village and moved to a new home in the rural countryside. Her new home, in rural Florida, took her away from her Indian playmates, but the family had horses which soon became her new playmates, along with imaginary friends as her fertile imagination grew. In retrospect, she feels fortunate to have spent a great deal of time alone in nature developing her natural gifts of clairvoyance and clairaudience.
When Thea was ten she began attending an eight-week summer camp at Lake Junaluska. Many interesting activities captured her attention.
Excitement fills her voice as she recalls “. . . a whole cabin dedicated to nature studies and folklore. We gathered herbs and made teas and decorations with them.” This was the beginning of her lifelong herbal studies. Thea’s love and writing of poetry was encouraged by a counselor who read amazing poems before bedtime, such as the Desiderata and poetry books like Apples of Gold.
She originally went to college to study art, but life took her in a new direction that became her true calling. Thea apprenticed with a local doctor and certified nurse midwife to become a lay midwife. Since 1978, she has been involved in some aspect of midwifery; Thea explains, “At that time, lay midwifery was legal in Florida. All you needed to do to become licensed was have a doctor attend 15 births and sign off that you had caught 15 babies.” As the movement grew, the women she worked with felt that there needed to be more structure. They gathered together, formed a coalition, and lobbied for years; their victory was a law requiring more formal education requirements and training. Thea became one of the founding mothers of the South Florida School of Midwifery and one of the original instructors in their two-year program.
Through the Midwifery School, Thea met Susun Weed whose knowledge of herbs was a most valuable resource to women catching babies at home. “She taught everything from stopping a hemorrhage with herbs, to bringing up a stubborn low hematocrit, to preventing and healing perineal tears. She came regularly to teach, and this was my first exposure to true clinical herbal training.”
Along the way, Thea left Miami and married a man who was a doctor and a Shaman, Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona. Together they operated and traveled worldwide with the non-profit Resources for World Health. Thea’s ambition to develop her music was put on hold when she became Executive Director of the organization. Traveling as director of R.W.H., and later as a musician, had many pluses for Thea because it enabled her to study with amazing herbalists from divergent traditions and backgrounds.
As life has a way of bringing change to our lives, the couple divorced. Thea kept the Healing Retreat Center, based in Tucson, Arizona, active with workshops, equine therapy, and holistic retreats. Her herbal studies and exposure continued as she brought in herbalists like Willie Whitefeather and Pam Hyde-Nakai to present workshops.
Thea soon heard the Appalachians calling again and returned to the mountains she had loved so much growing up. The book she had started writing on herbs was slowly maturing, and here in the mountains she met Patricia Kyritsi-Howell, director of BotanoLogos School for Herbal Studies. Patricia suggested that Thea take her one-year herbal studies program. Thinking that the class might be useful when she was shopping the book for a publisher, she agreed.
Thea thoroughly enjoyed her time in the class, and remarks, “The manuscript happened to get me into the class, and I’m grateful for that. It broadened my knowledge and is responsible for my decision to start practicing as a clinical herbalist. It expanded my studies into medical herbalism and energetic medicine, both of which expanded my original manuscript.”
In 1998, change again appeared for Thea as doors opened for the music and songwriting that had always been such an important part of her life. She found an excellent vocal and musical partner in Chuck Willhide, also known as The GreenMan; their voices blend like whispers on the wind and the spark between them is delightful to witness. Thea’s CD My Mother’s Garden contains beautifully produced original songs and most evenings this is the music playing in the background as I happily prepare and enjoy my dinner.
Chuck and Thea have built a wonderful life together, starting in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, on the Georgia-North Carolina state line. “Sitting directly on the Blue Ridge Divide, it was a magical piece of property. You could feel its amazing energy as you set foot on the land.” They worked hard to develop the land by planting gardens and honoring the existing indigenous plant population. It was here that the plant devas who stepped into the limelight—and now play such an important role in Thea’s book—began calling her.
Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth, the manuscript that Thea had worked on over the years, finally came to maturity. It was published by Bear & Company in late 2011. I have picked up many herbal books and learned from each. None has ever gained my interest enough to read cover to cover like this one has; it captured me from the very beginning and kept my attention to the very last page. At the same time Thea was completing her book, she was also finishing her doctoral work in Philosophy and Shamanic Psychospiritual studies. While the technical aspects of the herbs are clearly addressed in the book, it is balanced with the individual plant’s divination and then the visitation of each plant deva whose voice Thea channels.
Thea teaches Energetic Medicine and Chinese Five Element Theory online at Wise Woman University. Teaching the Five Element Theory goes deeper than what is considered the traditional use of herbs, “People mostly think about herbal medicines in much in the same way as they think about pharmaceuticals, a mechanistic model of healing which says if you have this symptom take this drug. That is not the model I follow,” Thea clearly explains. “The energetic approach to healing is a holistic model, also known as the Wise Woman Tradition that looks at not only the physical but spiritual, emotional, and psychological as well. While my background is in a Western European herbal tradition, I am really teaching on all these levels, which, to me, represents a more Shamanic approach.”
She continues: “Herbs have system affinities: respiratory, reproductive, cardiovascular, digestive, and they recalibrate these systems. The herbs are allies that have more medicine than their isolated constituents and they also have a psychological and spiritual component to them. This is where the spirit of the plant comes in and that has to do with relationships. As we come into relationship with the herbs, they inform us through taste, smell, color, and texture. Ingesting an herb is a totally different delivery system than taking a pharmaceutical. I personally call it Earth Spirit Medicine because we are connecting our bodies (earth) with the divine (spirit).
“All healing takes place in the context of relationship, and when we come into relationship with a plant we can begin a conversation. This informs us on a deeper level and empowers us to find our own answers and to trust our inner guidance. There is a direct hook-up that happens when we learn to trust this inner navigation system. This is when we discover that we are healers in relationship with others who are also their own healers. The premise is one of mutual empowerment.”
Thea has a private practice with two offices where she sees clients, one in Asheville and one in Sylva. One aspect of her practice that she feels is essential is working communication with other practitioners. “A good working communication with a group of practitioners who can come together as a team provides a full spectrum of resources to the client’s benefit.”
An additional piece of information, which I was unaware of, is the marriage of Chinese and Western herbs. Two mountain ranges, one in China and the other right here in Appalachia, boast the widest diversity of medicinal plants because they survived the ice age. What scientists are now discovering is that similar species live in these two geographical locations—they just happen to have different names!
Thea is a licensed minister, singer-songwriter practicing the meditation techniques taught by Prem Rawat. She is a member of the American Herbalist Guild, American Botanical Society, and Madonna Ministry International. In addition to her recent release, Wisdom of the Plant Devas, her articles have appeared in numerous magazines and publications.
Now living just outside Asheville’s city limits in a quiet farming community, Thea has a garden filled with herbs and vegetables enjoyed through the seasons. She saves heirloom seeds from year to year, a true dedication of honoring Earth Mother and each plant’s bounty and gifts. With a meadow and forest behind her home, Thea is planning weed walks this summer, to explore native medicinals and gather wild edibles that will culminate in a shared meal. In Thea’s world, everyday is a celebration of Earth Day.
To learn more about Thea’s Healing Herbal Retreats, classes, workshops, weed walks, or to schedule a clinical herbal evaluation appointment call: 828-633-0429.
Roberta Binder is a Writer and Editor who enjoys working with authors to bring their words to life: RobertaEdits.com. As a Feng Shui Master, she encourages Peace and Balance for Body, Mind and Spirit in clients’ homes and businesses throughout WNC: SacredEarthWisdom.com and FB: Facebook.com/AshevilleFengShuiMaster featuring wit and wisdom.
By: Carol Pearce Bjorlie
I’m not sure I remember it right,
I was only a girl -
Did I care about cotton, tobacco,
beans and Big Boy tomatoes?
I cared about where the black snake
lived, where the barn spiders hung,
pump handle splinters,
and Dapple Gray, the mare
to the fence to take
carrots from my father’s hand.
I carry stories of the old house
slung over my shoulder like a comforter:
ancestors playing Chopin,
love letters composed behind lace curtains,
a library packed with leather bound Plutarch’s Lives,
Shakespeare, English Romance poets,
and the warning about rickety steps.
The broken red fields
where black snakes, corn snakes,
writhed in shallow rows
haunt me; call me: