22
September

Our Ancestors: “We Are Them; They Are Us.”

Written by Sandy. Posted in: My family history
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Our Ancestors: “We Are Them; They Are Us.” And they can help us—or not. Within our DNA are our ancestors’ memories, which can nourish the dreams of our souls.” ~ Cyndi Dale

In 2008, my husband and I visited Poland—the homeland of our ancestors—for the first time. I was having some issues with my left hip prior, but the pain was off the charts when we landed. The pain in my left hip wouldn’t allow me to walk more than half a block at a time without doing a “last resort” lunge wherever I could to alleviate the pain a little so I could walk another half a block. We had not rented a car so travel by foot was our only option within the various cities we were visiting.

It was still a beautiful trip with unforgettable, precious moments. I refused to let the pain dull the time there or the memories. We had an absolute blast visiting many of the top tourist spots like Krakow, Zakopane, and Częstochowa; as well as the larger cities near my parent’s birthplace villages: Kielce and Rzeszów. We were not in touch with Polish relatives at that time. So our visit did not include family.

More than one person shared their belief that the pain in my hip was a reflection of ancestral healing needed within either my family or even my homeland, Poland. We carry the stories of our ancestors within our energy field. Unresolved conflicts, emotional wounds, damaging judgments, and other limitations held by your ancestors past or present will continue to influence generations to follow. Our ancestor’s memories lie within our DNA. Deep, unexpressed emotions such as grief, anger, guilt, shame and fear can also be passed to us from our ancestors, just like our eye and hair color. Energy from our ancestors passes through the family tree. It’s an amazing thought, isn’t it?

When friends and therapists shared the concept of ancestral healing and connected it to the pain in my hip, I have to say I was more than a little intrigued. As a yoga teacher, I’d learned that we store a lot of emotions in our hips, especially the emotions we don’t want to, or can’t, deal with. Your hips generate any movement forward in your life. If you’re feeling stuck or blocked in some way, your hips are usually involved. The idea that an ancestral block was lodged in my hip resonated with me—especially since the pain went off the charts once we landed in Poland.

My Polish ancestors definitely had deep, unexpressed grief. Undeniably, negative influences from the past affect us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; and as we’ve learned from mind/body science, they also affect us physically and energetically. Since the hips are where every initiative starts, any pain or trauma we have stored in the hips that’s stopping us from physically moving forward will also stop us from energetically moving forward.

Perhaps visiting Poland without connecting with family on our first visit stopped my hip from moving forward with ease on our trip. Perhaps my ancestral homeland was “holding on” to my every step insisting I do more than just visit the tourist stops. Who can say?

“Emerging trends in psychotherapy are now beginning to point beyond the traumas of the individual to include traumatic events in the family and social history as part of the whole picture. Tragedies varying in type and intensity—such as abandonment, suicide, and war, or the early death of a child, parent, or sibling—can send shock waves of distress cascading from one generation to the next. Recent developments in the field of cellular biology, neuroscience, epigenetics, and developmental psychology underscore the importance of exploring at least three generations of family history in order to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma and suffering that repeat.” ~ Wolynn, Mark. It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are And How To End The Cycle. New York: Penguin Books, 2017.

My ancestors were immersed in traumatic events. Poland’s geography placed them in the middle of fighting powers resulting in much destruction, tragic losses and World Wars. Even knowing very little about my history, and after having only written of my grandmother’s lives thus far, their history includes loss of a mother, father, husbands, children, and a suicide attempt. Both of my parents were prisoners of war.

There is research based in neuroscience, psychology and medicine called the “Adverse Childhood Events” (ACE) study. This study documents exact ways childhood adversity biologically alters us for life. Adverse childhood events alter our brain function and immune system, affecting both our physical health and our longevity in life. (To review the study, go to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, May 1998, Volume 14, Issue 4, pages 245-248.)

This makes sense, doesn’t it? Research shows the rational part of a teens brain isn’t fully developed until they’re 25. If traumatic events affecting your immune function, nervous system, and physiology are occurring while your brain is still forming, how can it not affect the brain? The environment within which we form affects the results of our genetic make-up. It affects how we react in the world, how we parent, how we work, how we make friends, how we love, and how we age. It even affects the threshold of when we respond to stressful events.

“In other words, when a child is young and his brain is still developing, if he’s repeatedly thrust into a state of fight or flight, this chronic stress state causes these small, chemical markers to disable the genes that regulate the stress response—preventing the brain from properly regulating its response for the rest of his life.

….early chronic stress biologically reprograms how we will react to stressful events for our entire lives. That long-term change creates a new physiological set point for how actively our endocrine and immune function will churn out a damaging cocktail of stress neurochemicals that barrage our bodies and cells when we’re thirty, forty, fifty, and beyond. Once the stress system is damaged, we overrespond to stress and our ability to recover naturally from that reactive response mode is impaired. We’re always responding.” Nakazawa, Donna Jackson. Childhood Disrupted. How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. New York: Atria Paperback, 2015.

We all know what stress does to the body long term, right? It creates inflammation in the body and we are literally “…marinating in those inflammatory chemicals for decades.” It’s no wonder diseases such as autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, heart disease, migraines, cancer, and many others are the result.

Having an adult in your childhood that you trusted, who “had your back”, and who listened when you needed to talk helps to buffer adverse childhood experiences. These relationships help to build your resilience factor.

Other ways to increase your resilience include staying positive and hopeful, having goals you set and move towards, fostering connections within your circle of family and friends, and accepting change as a fact of life. Taking care of your health by exercising regularly, eating a nourishing diet, reducing stress through mindfulness, meditation and yoga, and making time for fun are ways you can improve your brain’s neuroplasticity. We can all do this.

This is why I teach trauma-informed yoga. This is why I incorporate Ayurveda (the science of life and self- healing) into my life and my teachings. It has been through my trainings that I discovered some of the answers to my physiology—why I worry so much, why I may have developed an auto-immune disease, and why I feel so much better after yoga and meditation. We teach what we need to learn, don’t we? This I do for me. You can too. Do more yoga.

 

28
August

My Grandmother’s smile 

Written by Sandy. Posted in: My family history
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Agnes, or “Agnieszka” as known in Polish, is my paternal grandmother. I will try to piece together what I know about Agnieszka and attempt to put myself in her shoes as I did for my maternal grandmother, Zofia.

Amazingly in a collection of old black and white photos my parents had was a photo of what I had labeled “unknown family in Europe.” Our second visit to Poland in 2013, this time to visit family, undoubtedly confirmed the photo to be of my grandparents and two of my dad’s siblings—his younger brother, Vincenty (or Vincent); and his sister, Stanislawa. I now knew how my grandparents looked! How do you describe the emotion of seeing your grandparent’s faces for the first time in 52 years?

My parents never went through the black and white photo collection they had saved from the “old country” with us. I just assumed it was all people from the displaced person’s camp; and as you recall, as a child I didn’t touch the sleeping dragon by asking too many questions.

Once I knew how my grandparents looked, imagine my delight in finding what I believed was a second photo of my grandmother! The original is a family photo with my grandmother, grandfather, their daughter and a son. The second photo I found appears to be an earlier photo of Agnieszka sitting on the grass with the same two small children and another young lady who looks like she may be peeling potatoes.

This young lady peeling potatoes could very well be my grandaunt (some refer to this relationship as “great aunt”). Although I don’t even know for sure if my grandmother had a sister.

I know the Basa family (my grandmother, Agnieszka’s maiden name) lived down the road from the Bronicki family (my maiden name). And a family visit seems likely, right? It is within an easy walking distance. I know from our trip to Poland in 2013. It was somehow comforting to discover the Basa family still lives in that house to this day, and my grandmother’s daughter’s daughter—my cousin’s family—still live on the farmland my dad was born on. Next door to the Basa family is another cousin. Within 10-20 minutes are more cousins and distant cousins. My roots run indelibly deep in my homeland.

I don’t know a lot about Agnieszka prior to her early twenties. She lost her father sometime between 1914 and 1918, during World War I. She would have been between 20 and 24. He died from typhus, a disease often associated with wars and natural disasters. Remember, Poland didn’t exist on the map during World War I, but its geographical position between the fighting powers (Germany and Russia) meant much of the fighting occurred there resulting in overwhelming death and destruction.

It’s estimated over three million Poles were made to enlist in the armed forces by the occupying powers while another approximate 300,000 were taken as forced labor into Germany. I’m not sure which of the two happened to my great grandfather. Famine and disease caused further civilian losses. His grave is not in the family gravesite because his body was never sent back to the village. He died at “at points unknown”.

I don’t know the year my grandmother, Agnieszka Basa, married my grandfather, Jan Bronicki. Even though I’m in touch with the relatives still living in the village and on my dad’s home farm, they also do not know. I only know Agnieszka had her first child—my dad—when she was 28 in 1922. Jan was 32. It’s my assumption they were married not too long prior to that because marriage and family went hand in hand.

Remember from 1796 until 1919, Poland did not exist as a county. World War I ended in 1918. In 1922, it had only been four years since World War I had ended after much destruction to their land and less than three years since Poland’s independence had been confirmed June 1919 thru the Treaty of Versailles. There had been border fights fought between 1918 and 1921. Poland was finally “settled” in 1922.

My maternal grandmother Zofia was 37 and marrying her second husband the same year my paternal grandmother Agnieszka, 28, was having her first child. 1922 was a time of new beginnings.

Agnieszka and Jan had four children. There were three boys and a girl in order: Michal (my dad) in 1922, a couple of years after that Jozef in 1924, Vincenty, the last boy, came approximately two years after that; and Stanislawa was born in 1928. I wonder if they planned it that way, approximately two years apart for each child. It seems so well organized, so on purpose.

I’m not sure why my dad and his next oldest brother, Jozef, were not in the photos. Perhaps they were in school. I have to believe that photography back then was not cheap and the opportunity to have a photo taken was not an everyday event. But I also know the Poles were (and still are!) strict about things like education and responsibility. So pulling your children out of school for a photo was probably not even a consideration.

My dad was in the fourth grade, around nine years old, when he went to live with his dad’s older sister during the school year to go to a better school. He continued there through the sixth or seventh grade. Given the sibling’s ages, dad would still have been living at home when either photo was taken.

The school in his home town had two grades in one room and alternated every hour: quiet/homework and “loud teacher instruction”, as my dad worded it. My dad could memorize just by one reading and was getting straight A’s by 4th grade. So I’m thinking they decided a better school would be more challenging for him. He told me he almost wasn’t accepted at the new school but passed the entrance test. History and geography were his best subjects.

Now back to the photos! As you may have noticed in your old family photos from that era, most did not smile. My grandmother is smiling in both photos which I find so endearing! I’ve had the two photos sitting on my laptop the past few weeks to inspire my writing. As a result, she’s been on my mind a lot. We’ve become great friends in my mind’s eye. Having her photo has made it easy to imagine I knew her. She seems so approachable and, I must add, absolutely gorgeous! I would have liked to have known this beautiful lady. The smile on her face in these two precious photos does not betray the trials she endured in her life thus far. There was more hardship to come.

Germany invaded Poland September 1, the Soviets on September 17, 1939. After heavy artillery fire and much destruction, Poland’s capital city, Warsaw, surrendered to the Germans on September 27, my dad’s 17th birthday. Warsaw is only about three hours away from my dad’s village.

Hitler intended to erase the Polish nation and “Germanise” the territory. The Soviets likewise were intent on “intellectual genocide.” Poland was again partitioned—Germans on the west, the Soviet Union on the east. Mass arrests, exile and executions followed. They estimate that between one and two million Poles were sent to Siberia, the Soviet Arctic and Kazakhstan in 1939–40. I’m sure my grandparent’s village was gripped by fear—another World War in their homeland.

Within the year, Jan passed away in my dad’s arms. My dad told me he was the only one in the room with his dad when he passed away. Jan was 50. If I have the timing right on their marriage, Agnieszka and Jan were married only 18 years. Within the following year, my dad was taken in the middle of the night by the Germans as a prisoner of war—thrown into a truck with other boys from the area to be delivered to German farms for forced labor.

Whenever the Germans came through their village again Agnieiszka took her remaining family of three children and hid in the forest. My cousin’s daughter, Agnieszka’s great granddaughter, recalls Stanislawa telling the story that they ate from the field at night, finding a potato or two. So it was cooler outside.

One of my yoga students is also from Poland. Her parents remained in their house when the German’s came through and demanded they vacate. Of course, they resisted. Because of their resistance, they were sent to the concentration camps.

I would expect that word of the Germans approaching your village and knowledge of what resistance could bring, prompted the survival instinct to hide in the forest. I can’t begin to imagine the fear my grandmother had without a husband to rely on and after having lost her oldest to the Germans as she hid her family in the forest. Upon returning to the farm, the German tank tracks were visible near their home, some chickens missing, the house disheveled.

When we visited my dad’s family in 2013, my cousin’s daughter, Anita took us for a walk in the nearby forest that surely my dad had frequented with his brothers and sister. The smoothed out hollows in the earth where the Polish villagers would hide from the Germans were still apparent this many years later. It was an eerie, surreal feeling to walk through the forest. On the one hand my dad probably spent some wonderful hours playing within the forest area; but on the other hand, the energy of villagers in wait and in fear lingered.

My dad never made it back to the farm after World War II. He never saw his mom again. This fact was driven home when during his final years with Alzheimer’s he would wander off saying “I’m going to find mama!”

World War II ended in in 1945. Agnieszka passed away in 1955. She was 61.

I’ve been gazing upon my grandmother’s lovely smile these past few weeks, and I have imagined she and I would have been close had I been privileged enough to know her. Her smile has touched my heart. When I close my eyes, her image enters my mind. She lives in my made-up memory of what might have been. She would have been 66 the year I was born. Had she lived to a ripe old age, there would have been plenty of time to spend together creating the grandmotherly bond we were never to share. Yet, I still talk to her as though she can hear me because I believe she can. This I know for sure. Souls never die. Family bonds are forever.

22
August

What I did this summer. Remembering to walk the talk

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Off-the-Wall Musings
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I subscribe to “The Sacred Science” blogs and received an email this morning reminding me of a synchronicity I’d already forgotten about. I believe we receive messages from the Universe all the time and that acknowledging those messages is what turns the spigot on for more of the same. So receiving this reminder email simply added to the synchronicity demanding to be heard, recognized, and celebrated. Just like a good friend that’s encouraged to share more personal stories when they see we are listening and are present for them, the Universe will quit sending messages if we aren’t noticing them. So please let this post be my way of saying to the Universe: “Thanks! I needed that!”

I often share a similar sentiment in my yoga classes that the more we listen to our body’s messages, the better our intuition becomes. There’s a wise suggestion known in yogic philosophy to listen to your body whisper so you don’t have to hear it scream. As you read on, know that I needed to relearn that lesson too.

I’ve been having some physical issues this summer, to put it mildly. Without going into a lot of boring details, let me just say that it’s my opinion I may be experiencing side effects of the hypothyroid medicine I’m on. There’s a long list of them. It wasn’t until I researched and found that one of the side effects is favoring a hip with a limping gait that I sort of lost it. My hip has been an issue for about as long as I’ve been diagnosed as hypothyroid. I hadn’t connected the two until recently learning that there’s importance in knowing the root cause of an auto-immune diagnosis so I’ve been analyzing it a lot. It’s all very intriguing.

I had cut back on some anti-inflammatory supplements to trim down my intake and then my side-effect symptoms starting appearing more prominently. So I might have been medicating the side effects with anti-inflammatories for awhile. Lately my hip had literally been giving out at times, causing my sacroiliac joint to be very unhappy from all the jarring, not to mention the hip pain. Thank God for my yoga practice. It has been and always will be my lifesaver in so many ways. It’s like an etch-a-sketch for what ails me.

My visit to the doctor only resulted in “normal” thyroid readings. I plan to see a functional medicine doctor soon to see if we can unravel the mystery.

I also decided to finally get a mammogram. It had been ten years since my last one—I know, I know. I consider myself very holistic so it was incompatible to me to have X-rays looking for cancer when X-rays are known to cause cancer. But since advancing age is also a cause of cancer, I decided to pull my head out of the proverbial sand and get a mammogram. They considered this a baseline since it had been so long and I was told more than once that to try to find my ten year old mammogram would probably not be worth the effort because of the typical file purging; and that even if I did find it, it would be too old to be helpful. So I left it at that.

They needed me to come back for a second mammogram because of suspicious micro-calcifications. And that mammogram was not enough to rule out cancer so they recommended a biopsy. Again I was told finding my old mammogram would not be helpful. The biopsy was done on a Friday morning and I had to wait until the following Tuesday, early PM, to hear back on the results. I had originally thought I should write about that ordeal and my blog title was to be “walking the talk”. But it felt too personal at the time. I needed some space.

I will say that I had a good long talk with myself, during the stressful four-day-wait for results, as I kept sliding into panic mode. I told myself, “If you can’t use the skills and wisdom you share with your students about handling stress, then what kind of yoga teacher/therapist are you?”

I am always reminding my students to take the time to regularly practice stress reducing activities like yoga, meditation, and breathwork so that they’re in their “back pocket” when they’re needed most. These routine practices are like old friends, ready to soothe. It’s only a breath practice and a silent meditation away. My daily personal yoga practice always gives me just what I need physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

When I arrived for my biopsy appointment, I explained to the receptionist that I might smell like sage as I had smudged myself earlier to keep the bad juju away. I also wore my protective hand /“hamsa” shirt to ward off the evil eye. I was laughing as I shared this with the receptionist which caused her to comment that she was so glad I did what I needed to take care of myself. She shared that most of the time people show up and they’re a basket case. She didn’t know I kind of was a basket case inside. Thank God for my sweet husband, Ed, who came along for support.

Four excruciatingly long days later, the doctor called to say the micro-calcifications were benign. There was a lot more detail than that but enough said. He recommended that I come back in for a follow up mammogram in six months since this was considered the “baseline”. I mentioned the ten year old mammogram and the comments his colleagues had shared more than once about not needing to find them. On the contrary, he was very interested to see them. Okay, sure. I’d try to remember where I had the mammogram ten years ago.

It took me all of maybe ten minutes to remember, call, and have the ten-year-old mammogram digitally sent to the doctor who did my biopsy. He called me within an hour to say “Good news! It looks like the micro-calcifications have been there since 2007!” He then added, “I sure wish we’d had these sooner because it would have saved us a lot of trouble.” In other words, had he had them, he would not have seen the need to do the biopsy in the first place. Well that was more than frustrating to hear. Yet and still, good news is good news and I was more relieved than words can say! My husband and I had a celebratory dinner out that night.

The summer still had more in store. Two weeks later, Ed and I went to the Polish Festival here in the Twin Cities. Last year we attended but there was no dancing to be had since Ed had fallen 15 feet only 14 weeks prior and he broke his left talus (foot) bone and right big toe. So this year was extra special as we danced our “dupas” off on the polka floor, making up for lost time. Was that smart considering my hip had been acting up? Probably not. But I will never turn down an opportunity to dance! This I know about me! (So much for listening to my body whisper, right? The thing is, my body was also screaming to dance the polka!)

It may have been a combo of bad shoes and a tender hip but I didn’t realize until the following day that I screwed up my right knee and my left peroneal tendon pretty bad. We even walked around after dancing without issue, so who knows. It was quite warm and we were so content to have come full circle from Ed’s fall the year before. Perhaps the festive atmosphere and our sheer joy numbed us to the after effects.

I couldn’t walk without pain at all the following day. I have not been able to walk without extreme pain in the left heel and a very spongey right knee going on the second week now. In case you’re wondering, except for some soreness for sure the next day, Ed appears to have been no worse for the wear! I must have been the one out of practice! Go figure!

Here’s where the synchronicity popped in—just by “coincidence” I only had to cancel one class in the next two weeks due to vacations having cancelled the others prior. And the one class I did have was a private client appointment so it required less props to carry into the location. Plus my husband drove me so he was there to help since my car was in the shop (oh, that’s another summer story!). The Universe somehow knew I would need the time off to rest, recoup, and heal.

It’s not in my nature to take time off no matter how bad I’m feeling—which brings me back to the yogic philosophy I mentioned earlier—listening to the body whisper so you don’t have to hear it scream. Apparently I needed to learn that lesson again. I realize I really should have taken the time to do less sooner. Remember I said I’d needed some space? Why didn’t I listen?

The whole breast mammogram, recall mammogram, biopsy, four-day-wait fiasco had taken more of a toll on my psyche than I cared to admit. We can’t just keep sweeping things under the carpet and expect to continue on our merry way without repercussions. I knew this deep down, but I didn’t listen. I really hadn’t walked the talk after all, at least not as well as I could have. Lesson learned.

I have to wonder if I’d taken some time to decompress after the mammogram results like I really wanted to perhaps my body would have been in a better state overall when I danced the polkas. The mind really is connected to the body. They are inseparable. So not only did the Universe pre-plan my much needed time off in my business schedule, it also gave me reason to sit still more than I had been due to the injury. Apparently I really needed to stay put. Maybe the next time I need to learn a lesson, the Universe won’t have to resort to bodily injury to get me to listen. One can only hope.

Photo taken just after our polkas! 
So content and happy to have come full circle

16
June

Anxiously awaiting your next visit

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Off-the-Wall Musings
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I’ve written about my mother-in-law receiving the gift of daily songs from her husband after he passed in 2003. She heard those song messages every day from 2003 to when she passed in 2015. In that post I wrote “I’ve heard it said that communicating after you’ve passed is not easy.”

Dream visits are a sweet, sacred gift and you KNOW it’s not just any dream when you really feel like you’ve had an actual visit with your loved one. You wake up knowing something special just occurred.

It was several months after my Dad passed in 2003 that I had such a visit. In the dream I remember hugging him knowing that he was passed and I was being blessed with this very special visit. I was overwhelmed with just how much I missed him. I missed every little thing about him—even the smell of the nape of his neck as we hugged and I buried my nose into the hair on the side of his neck. And THAT’S the comment I made to him in my dream: “I missed your hair!” He threw back his arms away from me and said incredulously: “You missed my hair?!” and I woke up.

I’m sure he was thinking—this visit was NOT easy and your first comment is “You missed my hair?!” I chuckled to myself after I woke up knowing this would be just how he’d react. And I sent a message out to the ethers knowing he’d “hear”: “Tata, (Polish endearment for “Dad”) you know how dreams are. I just missed you so much and you did smell good. You smelled just like I remembered and I so miss our hugs.”

Since then, I’ve only had maybe two dreams of my Dad. The last one was fairly recent. I sure hope their scarcity isn’t because of my misplaced comment about missing his hair on his first visit! Here it is:

My husband, Ed, and I were swinging outside on a big two-seater swing suspended by long, thick, light blue ribbons. There was a slight breeze. It must have been spring time because we were surrounded by all kinds of flowers in every shape and color. Beneath us was a carpet of dark, lush, green grass. Ed and I were sitting close and swinging with long, graceful strides back and forth. In the dream I felt so happy there with Ed and all was well with the world. It was then that I noticed Dad sitting above us on a balcony of sorts just watching. I immediately shouted out “I love you!” and he mouthed back with a smile “I love you too!” Then I woke up. I remembered Dad used to say he loved watching us all from a distance at get-togethers when the family played baseball or croquet, having fun. I smiled thinking he was enjoying watching Ed and I as we swing through life in love together.

Dreams of my Mom are even scarcer and she doesn’t talk. She just appears in the dream. It’s still quite a special feeling.

Knowing the rarity of these visits personally, I was in complete awe of the dream my husband received a couple of days ago. I encouraged him to write it down because it was definitely an auspicious, once-in-a-lifetime, sacred gift.

Ed’s “Family” Dream…

The place is a large, spacious castle-like great room—one about 50 feet by 50 feet or more with no particular wall coverings but the room feels important like you are there to meet the King or Queen.

I see four people in this room, almost as creating a square. My Dad is to my left only a few feet away from me, my Mom to my right about 30 feet away, smiling. She gives me a slight wave. Just beyond my Dad, about 30 feet away, is my Father-in Law. My Mother-in-Law is across the room from him on the right about 30 feet from Mom. They all look about 10 – 15 years younger than when they passed.

I step to Dad, cup my hand around his neck and draw him closer. I remember looking into his face and having a sudden sense of loss, missing them all so! I break down crying uncontrollably. The dream comes to an abrupt end. ~

I got goose-bumps hearing my husband retell the dream. I could see it affected him deeply. All four parents in the dream at one time! It was as if his Dad wanted him to know “yes this really IS heaven” by the presence of all of them there. There was no mistaking that. It warms my heart thinking they’re all together “up there” perhaps playing cards as we often joke. It’s a comforting thought.

As I wrote in my “Finding Zofia” post about my maternal grandmother: I believe everything’s a message. I believe if you are open to signs, you’ll receive them. I believe our souls never die and they watch over us always. Thanks for the visits Mom and Dad. We’re anxiously awaiting your next one.

08
May

A Tribute to LaVonne

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Newsletter, Off-the-Wall Musings
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I started teaching yoga about nine years ago. There are two yogis in particular, LaVonne and Bebe, who have been coming to my classes since that time. Needless to say I absolutely adore them! We’ve become great friends!

Last year I had the utmost honor to work with LaVonne one-on-one as she battled cancer for a second time in her life. This time it was terminal cancer. There was no cure. She was a breast cancer survivor, so this news hit her and her family quite hard but they rose to the occasion, not missing a beat on staying positive. Throughout our time together this past year, she continued to be the most optimistic person I know—such an inspiration!

Everyone wanted to be around her because she was always smiling, always happy, and always looking on the bright side of life. She treasured her family. Time with her grandkids was sacred. She welcomed a new grandchild into her life earlier this year. Her husband shared with me recently how much joy that brought her. It gave her the strength to continue her treatments.

I saw her as a private client for several months. We used gentle, restorative yoga; Yoga Nidra; hand mudras; visualization; meditation/mindfulness; aromatherapy; sound therapy (tingsha bells, chakra bowls, healing music, nature sounds); grounding stones to hold onto and to surround her; and Reiki therapy in which I heavily use prayer. We consulted books on healing cancer, practiced rituals using candles and affirmations—you name it.

Mostly it was my sincere wish that our work together would give her hope and put her in a “rest and relax”/parasympathetic nervous system mode—the only time your body is empowered to regenerate. And as Wayne Dwyer used to say “If it’s placebo, I’ll take two!” She liked that quote a lot. She was up for whatever I brought to our sessions and she always had a smile and a hug for me coming and going. The trust she placed in me humbled me. I treasured our time together. It was such an honor and blessing to be invited into her home and into her family’s life throughout this tender time.

LaVonne passed away surrounded by her loving family this past weekend. I can’t stop thinking about her. Her energy goes on. As I said in my last post, I believe our souls live forever. I have been deeply blessed by this lovely lady. I will hold her close the rest of my lifetime and always remember that smile.

LaVonne’s in the middle and Bebe is on the right in this New Year’s Eve 2016 photo

P.S. A sweet addendum: My sweet husband and I went to LaVonne’s visitation as well as her funeral services the next day. Both functions were literally packed with her adoring friends and family. At the visitation, we saw many, many lovely photos of her life. There were numerous family pictures, pictures from her large group of “church ladies”, pictures from her wedding album, pictures of many fun trips to Europe and elsewhere. My husband and I really enjoyed viewing these memories and visiting with her family.

As we drove home from the visitation, “The story of my life” by the group, One Direction, came on the radio. The story of my life….I knew LaVonne’s spirit would be talking with me. I just hadn’t expected it so soon! The next song, back to back, was “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. My husband has always told me he would like this song played at his funeral so LaVonne had this special gift for my husband too. This would be just the special consideration she’d give to a visitor—playing their song so they knew it was for them. We both broke down crying. I could just picture her joy at watching my husband and I view her lovely photos—”these are the story of my life”, she’d say. And oh what a wonderful life it was.

“If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.” 
~ David Ellsworth from The Serenity of Selfism

 

 

06
May

Finding Zofia

Written by Sandy. Posted in: My family history
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I’m in the process of writing about my family’s history. From my trauma-informed yoga page:

“My parents were prisoners of war on German farms (forced labor) during WWII. My dad was taken from his home when he was 17, my mom was auctioned off to a German farmer. After the war, they met in a displaced persons camp in Germany—still basically prisoners—got married in that war camp, and had two children in that war camp.

Most don’t know about this part of WWII history. Displaced persons were unwilling to return to their country of origin. The way my dad told it, there were regular attempts to trick them into signing papers saying they were willing to become communist and return to Poland.

I was the youngest of five. My two oldest siblings were born in the camp. I only knew the food supply was limited and an escape attempt could result in death, which didn’t stop my dad from leaving the camp one night to get more milk for his children—successfully unnoticed. The stories told to me were filtered through the lens of what you’d tell your child. It wasn’t until after my mom passed and dad remarried that I heard more details (told to me by my amazing step-mom) of sites seen and experiences you wouldn’t share with your children.

My parents and others like them buried their despair and their grief and moved on to a new life in the U.S. This is a common theme among WWII immigrants to the U.S. Their children learned to ask no questions. You were not to touch the sleeping dragon. They didn’t talk a lot about their time in the camp. We left it alone. Sometimes I wish I had asked more questions.”

Both of my parents have passed away. My mom in 1987 (see my previous post) and my dad in 2003. Information on my mom’s history is sketchier than my dad’s since I have been in contact with my dad’s side in Poland.

Yesterday I started to piece information together about my grandmother on my mom’s side. I’m almost 57 years old and for the first time I am trying to understand my maternal grandmother’s history. I have no photographs of either of my maternal grandparents. I only have some notes.

I remember one Sunday afternoon in 1986 my mom and I were sitting at the kitchen table during one of my visits. She started to talk about her family in Poland. I forget if I asked a question or if she started the conversation. Either way, I remembered thinking I should write what I could down. So I grabbed the quickest notepad I could find. I knew this was a rare moment and I knew better than to get too inquisitive for fear of shutting her down. She didn’t like to talk about “the old country” too often. Remember earlier when I said you didn’t touch the sleeping dragon? There was a line in the sand you didn’t cross, questions you didn’t broach.

As I look back at those notes, I kick myself now for not getting more specific details. But that was a long time ago. I’m much older now…and much braver. My mom’s been gone over 30 years now. I’m almost as old as she was when she passed away. Her history may have passed away with her as I’m not in touch with her side of the family.

I spent yesterday researching the timeframe of my grandmother’s life. What was going on around her? I tried to put myself in her shoes.

My mom was born June 14, 1924 in Rzeszow, Poland. Her mother was Zofia (Sofia). This was Zofia’s second marriage. Zofia’s first husband froze to death while in the U.S. for his job. I don’t know the details of why he was in the U.S. Sadly, I don’t even have his name—first or last. I don’t even know my grandmother’s first married name. Gaps in my history like this sadden me to no end. Zofia had three children in her first marriage. The first two children were twins, Simon and Mary, and they died when they were “about three”.

I often wonder why I didn’t ask more. How did they die?  Why was Zofia’s first husband in the U.S.? How did he freeze to death?

Salka (Sally), Zofia’s third child, survived and was mom’s half-sister. Salka was nine when Zofia remarried for a second time to Jan (John), my grandfather in 1922. Zofia was 13 years older than Jan. She was 37, he was 24. If Salka was nine when Zofia remarried, Zofia would have had a one year old when World War I (1914 – 1918) broke out.

I don’t know the year her first two children passed away. I don’t know when her first husband left for the U.S. or even how long he was there. But I have to believe travel was either very limited or banned once World War I started. So I suspect her first husband was not in Poland at the start of the war given how tumultuous Poland was as a result of the war. I don’t see him leaving his family right after, but this is only a presumption on my part. I only know Zofia married my maternal grandfather in 1922.

Zofia had two children with my maternal grandfather, John. Emilia (Emily) was born in 1922 and my mom, Paulina (Pauline), was born in 1924.

Rzeszow, the area where my mom’s family lived, was hit hard during World War I with three armies fighting across their land. From 1796 until 1919, Poland did not exist as a county. In 1922, it had only been four years since World War I had ended after much destruction to their land and less than three years since Poland’s independence had been confirmed June 1919 thru the Treaty of Versailles. There had been border fights fought between 1918 and 1921. Poland was finally “settled” in 1922.

Suffice to say, Zofia lived a hard life. Losing your husband overseas and having a family to raise on your own would be difficult by any stretch of the imagination; but given the political environment in which she lived, I can’t imagine how she was able to pull herself together. As I tried to put myself in my grandmother’s shoes for the first time to this extent, I felt like I was literally “creating” my grandmother’s memory.

Zofia passed away from pneumonia when she was 52, only 15 years after she was married to Jan. My mom was just 13. It was August 25, 1937.

Grandmothers treasure their grandchildren. I dwelled on the lost moments, lost memories. I even pondered what she might think of me, her grandchild. I looked so much like my mom, I wondered—do I resemble my grandmother, Zofia? I was overwhelmed with emotion.

My heart was heavy and my head swimming with all the research when it was time to stop for the day. My husband and I have a standing “date” to go out on Friday’s to our favorite restaurant, Buona Sera. On the short drive over to the restaurant, I read to my husband what I had cobbled together on my grandmother’s history; and I verbally beat myself up over asking these questions so many years too late.

As we walked up to the restaurant from the parking lot, I was lamenting over and over, “I know nothing about my grandmother. I know nothing!” Feeling more than a little bit inadequate at my day’s work, we walked in. Raffaele, the owner of Buona Sera, was seated at the bar in the entryway as Jessica, the lovely hostess, greeted us with her usual warm smile, and Raffaele’s daughter, Anna, waved behind her with excitement at our arrival. (Did I mention how much we love this man and our Buona Sera family?)

Almost immediately, as he often does, Raffaele looked to his left, grabbed a lovely bottle of wine and handed it to us saying “this is what you’ll have with your dinner”. He knows us well. My heart stopped as I glanced down at the bottle of red wine in my hand—the label read “Sofia”. Tears formed as I processed the full weight of the message from my ancestor.

I believe everything’s a message. I believe if you are open to signs, you’ll receive them. I believe our souls never die and they watch over us always. And I believe my grandmother was sending me an acknowledgement of thanks for my efforts yesterday. I will hold this memory close in my heart forever. Thank you, Raffaele, for being my grandmother’s messenger.

 

 

 

 

11
April

My Last Mom

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Newsletter
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30 years ago today my mom passed away. It’s hard to grasp just how long it’s been. It seems impossible. I can still remember how she used to say my name with her Polish accent—both when she was happy with me (Sandy) and when she wasn’t (Sandra!). Some days I worry I’ll forget.

I’ve held April 11 close in my heart. This day has always been personal, safely guarded from anyone but my closest family and friends. I’ve chosen to celebrate life vs. death anniversaries. Yet and still, it’s impossible not to acknowledge when April 11 comes around each year. It’s impossible not to remember. There’s a silent nod, a spiritual awareness of the sacredness of her passing and the effect it had on my life.

I remember thinking the “11” was like an opening with borders left to right, a doorway of sorts, a gateway to heaven perhaps. The two numeral “ones” just stand there stark and cold. At least that’s how it seemed 30 years ago.

I wondered how the world could simply go on, how we could all just go on. It felt like the world should stop somehow, for a moment at least, to pay honor to this soul that had passed. The usual ceremonies (the wake, the funeral, the gathering of close friends and family, the burial) weren’t enough closure for me at the time. I’m not sure anything at that time would have felt like closure. It was so raw for so long. An open wound that wouldn’t heal.

I spent the week after the funeral with my dad trying to put their house in order and prepare him for taking care of all the details mom used to do. No matter how many notes I wrote, and taped instructions I adhered to appliances, I knew it would be a rough road for him. I called him daily for a long time just to let him cry. You see, while they had many fights in their lifetime, they had a common history—both were born in Poland and both were prisoners of war in Germany during World War II. They met in a displaced person’s camp after the war. I know their experiences in Germany resulted in post-traumatic stress (PTS) and I know their many fights were rooted in PTS. Deep down I also knew they both loved each other. It always surfaced when the other needed it most, like right before mom died.

None of us knew mom had cancer until the autopsy. She went into the hospital with pneumonia and was released a week or so later, but she wasn’t getting better. She wasn’t eating well. A standard blood test showed something major was wrong and she was rushed back into the hospital not too long after she was released.

I received a panicked call from my sister-in-law that I should come home right away on the same Saturday my husband and I were expecting his parents and brother to arrive at our home. It was a five hour drive from their farm in Indiana to Wisconsin where we lived. Cell phones weren’t common back then. We had no way of reaching them. We waited for them to arrive only to immediately jump in the car and drive the same five hours back to my mom. I found out my mom had passed away from the attending nurse when I called from a phone booth on the way home to Indiana. While no one was able to really say “goodbye” because no one knew she was about to die, I struggled with not making it home before she passed for years. It still bothers me.

This year’s anniversary seems more poignant than most. My step-mom, Prudy, passed away last Thursday. She met and married my dad several years after my mom had passed—somewhere around 1994 or 1995. They were married less than ten years with the last few being really rough on Prudy as my dad developed Alzheimer’s. He passed away in 2003, the year my husband and I lost both of our dads. She was a source of great comfort for my dad and a huge blessing in all of our lives.

My husband and I became quite close to Prudy over the last 20+ years. She was a dear, sweet, adorable, fun, wise and trusted friend. It’s a different kind of relationship with a step-mom, especially when you’re already an adult when you first meet. There’s none of the drama in your history. She filled our lives with much joy and we so enjoyed all of our visits and long talks. I think I was lulled into believing she would live much longer than her 91 years.

Maybe all these years I’ve kept the anniversary of my mom’s passing personal and close to my heart because I didn’t want to re-visit the open wound. Maybe I was afraid to stir up the emotions, believing the memory wasn’t as raw as it once was because I just didn’t go there; or perhaps couldn’t go there. They say sometimes you don’t feel the full blow until you’re ready to handle it.

This year’s anniversary of my mom’s passing is still personal—still held close to my heart. But this year I’m feeling it so much deeper because I couldn’t help but “go there” this year. This year April 11 came on the heels of another loss. My guard was down. This year it’s shared with the loss of my very last mom and I can’t contain my emotions. My first mom passed in 1987 when I was just 27. My second mom (in-law) passed away April 30, 2015. April has taken all of my moms and I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost my last anchor.

I’m so very lucky to have had three moms and I am oh so grateful to have had each and every one of them in my life. God must have known I’d need extra. Their memories will serve as my anchor now. I will always remember.

Mom and Dad

 

 

05
April

Delicate…but powerful!

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Newsletter, Off-the-Wall Musings
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My husband and I just got back from a week-long vacation in Napa, CA; and we, uh, had a chance to visit just a few wineries while we were there…hiccup @#! One day we had a professional chauffeur, Rosanna of “Sip and Swirl”, drive us around—a service offered through the Candlelight Inn where we were staying. Mental note to self: Rosanna was retired and did this part-time, she shared that she gets invited to numerous events due to the nature of her job, and she appeared to be enjoying life! Having an escort was smart on so many levels! She knew places that weren’t on our radar and they turned out to be some of our favorite spots. She also had a lot of local trivia to share as we drove around.

Chándon (“Ch is pronounced as “sh” and the accent is on the second syllable) features sparkling wine, a.k.a. champagne. Lovely name, isn’t it? Rosanna started us out there first thing in the morning, because who doesn’t want bubbles to start the day? (I think I want them every day, but that’s another story!) Chándon has a gorgeous location with a lush landscape and beautiful Adirondack chairs in their outdoor seating area surrounded with “indigenous oak trees” for an amazing view. The tasting room has floor to ceiling windows so you had that amazing view wherever you went!

 

We also loved our wine professional, Karly. She was a hoot! She was not only fun, but everything she said about our tastings could have been put on a t-shirt I’d wear all day long! Seriously, she needs to be in their marketing department! My favorite was the title of this post: Delicate but powerful. Now couldn’t you just rock that t-shirt?!
~~
Another golden nugget quote she used was Sweet spice not heat spice. And then there was Approachable. She had so many, shall we say, words of wisdom? Well they got your attention and made you smile! We joked about needing to take her home with us and made plans to stop by on the following Monday as we were headed back home toward the airport. At least I hope she realized it was a joke…hmmm.

The last quote I’ll mention here may have been from uh…the next winery—heck it may have been the next day (we were having too much fun!), but it’s worth a mention: Always polished/Never dull.

“Delicate but powerful” is the one I’ve haven’t been able to get off my mind. I’d love to be referred to with that descriptor, wouldn’t you? I see a black t-shirt in my future, seriously. Chándon’s beautiful star logo (the star could be a “sparkley”) and tagline “let’s catch up” on the front and the quote in royal blue or hot pink on the back would look stunning, don’t you think? It could even be a polo shirt with a collar to make it a little classier. I tried to configure something online with just the quote. It wasn’t what I was looking for but it’s a start! I’m a bit obsessed.


I wonder if Chándon realizes how valuable Karly is. How she does what she does is magic. While many of the wineries had great service, with great presentations, Karly’s was exceptional in her delivery. I mean I’m not making imaginary t-shirts out of any of the other’s now am I? She hit the mark. This was not the norm at all the wineries we went to. Karly made our visit just that much more memorable. I guess you could say she was delicate…but powerful….It’ll stick with you now, won’t it?

 

I would love it if you would subscribe to my blog/newsletter. I don’t publish on a regular timetable so subscribing is a good way to make sure you don’t miss out on any amazing posts such as this one! (Poking fun at myself. 🙂 ) You’ll also be the first to receive updates, resources, and more. I’ll even give you a free gift! 🙂 Click on the “FREE Chakra-Balancing & Loving Kindness Meditation!” link in the right-hand column. Thanks! 

15
March

Moonlight Magic

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Final Relaxation
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Have you watched the movie Field of Dreams? Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, doesn’t want to believe he’s hearing voices, let alone that they’re telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cash corn crop. Ray fights the magical message at first, but eventually he builds the baseball diamond.

The baseball diamond becomes a magical place where the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other seven Chicago Black Sox players banned from the game for throwing the 1919 World Series appear to play baseball. They enter the baseball diamond from the cornfield that is on the perimeter of the baseball diamond, and they exit the same way, disappearing into the stalks of corn as they walk in. The mantra from this film is the message “if you build it they will come” spoken by “the voice” in the cornfield.

The mysterious voice sends other messages, one of which is to find a 1920s ballplayer named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. When Ray goes to Chisolm, Minnesota, Moonlight’s hometown, they find that Moonlight Graham has been dead since 1972. In his confusion, Ray goes for a walk to clear his head. During his walk he is magically transported back in time to 1972. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out what happens next!

I love all things magical and I believe that anything’s possible.

“If you do not believe in magic, your life will not be magical.”
~ Lynn V. Andrews

~

Perhaps it’s this belief that encourages a magical surrealness around my chiropractor’s office. Let me explain.

My chiropractor is Dr. John Hilpisch and he is an excellent upper cervical chiropractor in Lake Elmo, MN. Now doesn’t “Lake Elmo” sound like an old-time town name? If you’re not familiar with upper cervical chiropractic, check out his website  or his Facebook page, and/or attend one of his free open houses where they explain it in great detail. It’s quite interesting, and from my experience, it really works for me! It reversed some dizziness I’d been experiencing for a couple of months a little over a year ago—in one adjustment. But back to my time travel story…

His office is exquisitely decorated with vintage prints from the 30s and 40s and well-used crackled leather chairs exuding comfort from an era gone by. Most, if not all of the prints, are water scenes, like my favorite one here:

Can’t you just hear the song “From the land of sky blue water” playing in your head? I often joke that they’re taking care of it for me because I love it so much. It has everything I love, an old time scene, a campfire, nature, and the full moon. I want to walk into that scene—**sigh**. Everything about this office is relaxing and encourages contemplation.

Part of his treatment protocol includes going into the next room to rest for 15 minutes after an adjustment. Here you’ll find recliner chairs to rest in, blankets for warmth and coziness, a timer to set so you can let go completely, an old-fashioned clock on the wall adding to the ambiance, relaxing music to coax you into slumber, and ….the calendar. Speaking as a yoga instructor, this room is the ultimate “final relaxation” room. It’s so soothing to melt into the chair and let the surroundings take you away. Even if you didn’t need an adjustment on that visit, Dr. Hilpisch is kind enough to invite you to go rest in there if you like, and there’s room.

The most important take-away is this: You can recreate this ambiance with little effort. Your body will thank you!

Surrounded by lovely vintage scenes, and lulled into a relaxing dream-like state, it was the old-time calendar that started to hold a spell over my imagination every time I entered the room to rest. I swear one of these days I’m going to walk out of there and be transported back in time to 1928 similar to Ray Kinsella in the movie. I wonder what I’d discover in 1928? I’ve often thought I was born in the wrong era. I love old-time music, wearing decorative hats is one of my favorite accessories; and of course, there’s the vintage art attraction. I think I might like it there…so long as I could take my husband with me. 🙂 Hey, it’s my dream so I can visualize it however I want, right?

“And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight
to make this dream come true?”
~ “Moonlight” Graham.

~

Hat’s off to all things magical in honor of St. Patrick’s day this week! Here’s a link to an archived newsletter visiting the magical realm.

 

I would love it if you would subscribe to my blog/newsletter. I don’t publish on a regular timetable so subscribing is a good way to make sure you don’t miss out on any amazing posts such as this one! (Poking fun at myself. 🙂 ) You’ll also be the first to receive updates, resources, and more. I’ll even give you a free gift! 🙂 Click on the “FREE Chakra-Balancing & Loving Kindness Meditation!” link in the right-hand column. Thanks!