The Season of Advent

I was raised Catholic. Actually, I usually say I was raised VERY Catholic. In my entire life from birth to 18, I can remember missing Mass twice (including Holy days.)

Once because we were snowed in. Once because the whole family was sick. Both times we celebrated the entire Mass at home, with my mom playing the role of priest.* *Rebellious, since Catholics still don’t allow women to be priests.

Anyway. Even as a youngster, I didn’t love Mass. From time to time there would be an interesting sermon. Occasionally, the Mass would be geared for kids. But the rest was just ritual … all the standing up, sitting down, recitation of prayers in a monotonous tone of voice, only men in the positions of power … it just wasn’t for me. Except. I always loved the season of Advent.

Halberg Family photo
Family Christmas photo circa 1977 (one sibling still unborn)

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. My love of Advent was probably because anticipation is a big part of my essence frequency, possibly because the anticipation of Christmas to every American kid means much more than a simple celebration of the birth of Christ, most likely because this was the one time of year where a woman was a regular and integral part of the Biblical story, but also largely due to the sudden eruption of fun family festivities in my household.

To say that my family was into Advent is an understatement. There were six of us kids, 14 years apart from first to last. We gathered around the dinner table all year round, but during Advent, the Advent wreath became part of our dinner-time tradition. An Advent wreath is a wreath of evergreen foliage in which four candles are set, one more to be lit on each Sunday of Advent. In our family, we rotated through the designated prayer leader, the one who led us in prayer before dinner, and that person also got to light the candle(s) before dinner each night,  blow them out at the end of dinner, (or take bribes from siblings for the privilege) and choose and read the Bible story before we left the table.

Every morning, we began by attending to our Advent calendars. Most Advent calendars are standard two dimensional calendars containing small numbered flaps, one of which is opened on each day of Advent, typically to reveal a picture appropriate to the season. We had to have six advent calendars to rotate through, with a schedule kept by mom so that we wouldn’t fight over whose turn it was to open which one. Four of our Advent calendars were the typical calendar as described above. These were not very exciting especially since they were often recycled from years before, except that they marked down the days until Christmas, and sometimes the pictures inside were of presents or cute kittens and puppies, or angels and the like.

Swedish Christmas Tree
A Swedish Christmas Tree

Another was a three dimensional Swedish Christmas tree, made of dowels, and we got to choose an ornament and hang it on the tree. (Moderately exciting, see photo.)

But our favorite, and the one we would fight over for turns if my mom didn’t keep us all so organized, was a homemade embroidered tapestry with a Christmas tree and elves and 24 numbered rings that held tiny written scrolls with various assignments per my mom’s creativity. (See photo below.)

Creative Advent calendar
Mom’s Advent Calendar

Because this Advent calendar was the one that my mom imbued with her own creativity, each year was a little different. Some years you’d get a scavenger hunt clue to go find a small gift (usually a Bible story book which you would then get to read on your turn to be prayer leader at dinner.) Other years you’d pull a scroll that told you to help your sister with the dishes, or write a nice letter to an elderly friend or relative, or clean the bathroom for a sibling.

My mom still pulls out this advent calendar every year, and her grand kids are now the beneficiaries of her creativity. Fortunately for them, the only ones with large numbers of siblings live in California, and don’t get stuck with those awful “help your sibling” scribes.

The other fun things about the Advent season were that the Christmas records came out of storage, we all went hiking up in the woods to find and cut down the “best Christmas tree ever”, decorated the tree as a family, and the Christmas creche went on display. And then there were the school concerts, Santa pictures, Christmas shopping, and the whole season of anticipation for Christmas day.

I tell you the story of our family Advent traditions to set the stage for why the season of Advent is still important to me today, even though I don’t follow many of the other Catholic customs. For me, the season of Advent (although I do still celebrate reason for the season, even if my beliefs are more aligned with my personal spirituality than traditional Catholic or Christian dogma) is also a time to prepare for the rebirth of a whole New Year. No matter what has happened throughout the 12 months of the year we’re in, I love the ceremony in anticipation of a fresh slate, an opportunity to make my mark on a brand new year.

Furthermore, I believe that ceremony is an important part of spiritual growth, regardless of whether you consider yourself to be traditionally religious or simply secular.

In her latest book, The Book of Ceremony, Sandra Ingerman says that ceremony brings the sacred into ordinary life. In other words, it opens a phone line between you and the power of the Universe, whether you call that God, Goddess, Creator, Great Spirit, Yahweh, Holy Spirit, or The Universe. By bringing ceremony into our life, we reconnect with the sacred as well as to life and nature. Ceremonies can help us unburden ourselves from past hurts, traumas, and self-sabotaging beliefs, moving us into a place where we feel a deeper connection to ourselves, to others, to nature, to life, and to why we are here.

This year I am offering a 25 day Kindness Challenge during the season of Advent. My goal is to offer a secular practice in the spirit of Advent, one that prepares you for new growth in the coming year, and one that is aligned with the kind spirit of the holiday season.

Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I don’t know about you, but I prefer the second option, and kindness helps to create a field that supports miracles.

The holiday season can be stressful for many, and when we’re stressed, we quickly escalate into fight / flight / freeze / faint and by definition get too caught up in our own head as we try to navigate our personal holiday challenges. 

When we participate in ceremonies, we transform the negative thoughts and states of consciousness that are burdening us. Ceremony impacts us deeply on a subconscious level, creating positive change. Science shows that performing acts of kindness –to yourself or to others– reduces the effects of stress, improves your mood, boosts your immunity, spreads exponentially to at least three degrees, increases confidence, boosts energy, and is an excellent tool to overcome social anxiety. What better way to bring in the New Year?

Click this link to join my Kindness Challenge, and imagine that each daily message is in the form of a scroll on my mom’s Advent calendar, leading you to focus on and practice kindness: to yourself, to others, to Nature and the Divine.

And I promise I won’t make you clean the bathroom for a sibling,

I hope to see you on the other side.

Powering through the summer ritual of procrastination

(A version of this post was originally published in the July 2018 version of Healthy Families, produced by Peninsula Daily News.)

By now, summer is winding down. Most likely, whether you are aware of it or not, your family rituals are too. Historically for me, summer rituals revolved around time on the water. I had the privilege of growing up on Lake Crescent. We played in and on the water nearly every day of summer vacation, tirelessly jumping off the dock, challenging our balance by standing and floating on our old black inner tubes, swimming, and making up various imaginative water games. As a teen ager, I mixed these in with voraciously reading our entire library and writing snail mail letters to my pen pals while sun bathing on our floating dock. As an adult, these moments are mixed in with the responsibilities of work, and caring for my garden.

What are your summer rituals?

Whether or not we’re aware of our rituals, we all have them. But much of the time we throw ourselves into the busy activities of summer, one day following another until we’re surprised that it’s suddenly time for back to school shopping and summer is almost over. We procrastinate on the tasks of summer we don’t enjoy, try to cram a few more fun summer activities in to the days remaining and wind up feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks we put off.

This summer I invite you to consider a more contemplative approach to your remaining summer days.

Part I: Identify and Savor

20180805_105225725800499.jpgStop right now, go outside, and look around you at the natural bounty of the summer season. What sights and sounds signal to you that it’s still summer rather than another season of the year? If you grew up in a different part of the country, what summer experiences from your childhood do you miss or are happy to have left behind? What are your favorite sensory experiences of summer? Take the time to name your favorite ways to experience the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and felt sensations of summer. To make this a family activity, coax your family to share their favorites over a meal.

Once you’ve taken time to identify your favorite sensory experiences of summer, I invite you to savor those moments, and allow them to stretch your imagination and your sense of time. Instead of rushing to clear the table or wash the dishes or check your phone after a meal, linger over your dinner conversations like the light continues to linger in the sky.

Part II: Free Your Mental Energy

Now think of a task that is part of your summer ritual of procrastination. If you were to complete this task, would it give you more peace of mind and free you up to enjoy the moments left? What larger purpose / goal is this task a part of? How might you tackle this task in a way that plays to your strengths and values, clears your mind from the nagging guilt of procrastination, and accomplishes the larger goal this task represents?

For example: one of the things I love about spring is planting a garden. I love watching the sprouts shoot up like magic. 20180815_0723241774345224.jpgHowever, the task of summer weeding seems like it never ends, and as a result in the past I’ve often neglected my garden, choosing to ignore it rather than tend it, trying to cram more fun water activities into my summer at the expense of my garden, even though one of my favorite sensory experiences of summer is the taste of fresh vegetables and the sights and sounds of wildlife in my yard.

This year, after intentionally developing my spiritual apprenticeship to nature, instead of avoiding this chore, I tapped into my natural strengths of curiosity and wonder, set the goal of creating a wildlife friendly organic garden, and broke the weeding down into bite-sized chunks. vegetable gardenThat is, rather than looking at the overwhelming task of weeding my entire garden every day, I focus on a couple square feet, mindfully noticing more about that small area. How is the soil? What insects did I uncover? Are they beneficial? What can I do to keep them happy? If they’re pests, how can I get rid of them organically?

Practicing this mindful tending of my garden, and looking for ways I can cultivate my strengths and values has given me a deeper appreciation for the abundance of wildlife my garden attracts,

walk way with garden
One of my garden spots

and expanded my knowledge of organic gardening. Now, when I look at my garden, instead of seeing it as a pile of work that still needs to be done, I take pride in the variety of butterflies flitting from flower to flower, the garter snakes helping me save my plants from slugs, the brightly colored flowers waving in the breeze, and the delicious summer vegetable crop interspersed amongst the flowers and herbs.

Part III: Reflection

When you appreciate and savor the aspects of summer you love, and tackle the tasks that keep you from fully enjoying the moment, you are invited into a more mindful way of experiencing the ordinary, and more opportunities for grace.

What are some of your tips and techniques for capturing the moments? What summer tasks do you usually procrastinate on? How can you tap into your own strengths and values to get those tasks done?

My Wild Year

For those who didn’t hear before, 2017 was an unusual year. My dad passed away very unexpectedly on January 6th, 2017. My partner’s dad died –also a bit unexpectedly, although he had been sick– a few weeks prior to that, and my favorite cousin’s mom (my aunt) passed away a few weeks before that. After my dad’s funeral service, as a bit of a break from our ordinary lives, and to help my cousin remodel her mom’s home to use as a rental, Justin and I spent the better part of three months in California in early 2017. A few months after we returned, we held the service for his dad, and just a few weeks after that his grandmother passed away.

In late summer, just as we were settling back in to our routine, we found out –a bit dramatically, but that’s a story for another time– that we had to move out of the home we’d been living in for five years. We weighed our options, and decided to move into what had been his grandmother’s home, this log cabin (see photo below) originally built in 1893.

Bottom line, 2017 was very transitional and hard to predict …  very much like a walk-about pilgrimage. (A walk-about pilgrimage is a journey we go on simply by virtue of the –often sudden– unpredictability of our lives.)

At the beginning of 2018, my internal GPS (what I call my Wise Self) kept telling me to slow down, breathe deep, take a nap, relax, listen, connect to my self, my place, my new home … and allow myself the luxury to take a break from the need to chase down clients, or plan workshops & retreats. My underlying counter-voice kept saying, “you already took a year off! If you don’t get out there and DO stuff (market) you won’t get clients. And if you don’t get clients you won’t get paid!”

I chose to listen to my Wise Self. Although sometimes –I’ll admit– I wasn’t sure it was her, and I did host a workshop and attend a couple of local marketing events.

Finally, towards the end of April, when I pulled a card from my Oracle deck that once again said, “Take a Nap” when I asked about marketing my business, I decided to call my year a sabbatical.

A sabbatical is most common in academic vocations, but the concept of sabbatical originated in farming. It means to allow the land to remain fallow, to let it go wild for a year.

My Wild Year so far

In the process of “going wild”, I’ve been rooting into my self and my place and without even knowing it at the time, working on the practices of belonging, and awakening to the ancient Earth consciousness inside me.

The first task of moving in was to clear a space for us. We had to be completely out of our old place by Thanksgiving, and before we could move in here there were a few things that had to be done. We painted the press board ceilings white, gave away or sold the furnishings we weren’t going to use, built some beautiful rustic book cases, and sorted through, cleared, or stored decades of Grandma Beverly’s personal belongings. My partner kept saying, “get rid of everything” and my sister-in-law kept saying, “don’t get rid of anything without talking to me first.” Somehow we managed to make room for ourselves and keep the peace.

Come spring, my # 1 priority has been to cultivate my garden spaces. Justin’s grandma loved to garden, so the base of the garden was already in place. But it was overgrown with grass and weeds because her health (at 93) kept her from doing as much as she used to do. I mulched it heavily last winter with cardboard and leaves from our Norwegian Maple, but that wasn’t enough to kill all the grass.

I hate to weed, so I decided that I would tap into my strengths rather than my weaknesses this year. Rather than feeling the pressure to reclaim the entire garden, I decided that I would work on it a section at a time. My overall plan for the garden is to make it a wildlife sanctuary and Kristin-variety cottage garden … lots of indigenous wild flowers mixed in with roses, my favorite vegetables, herbs and Grandma Beverly’s perennials, plus a few of my own favorites.

One of my strengths is a love of learning, so to tap into that love, I decided to learn which plants have a symbiotic relationship with one another (like tomatoes, basil, carrots, & garlic for example.) I decided to learn the names of the bugs I discover in the soil and understand which ones are beneficial and which aren’t. And I decided to learn how to garden completely organically, with my own compost, beneficial nematodes, and by attracting wild life “critters” that help keep the bad bugs away.[Did you know that snakes, lizards and beetles eat slugs?!]

In the midst of all that yard work, June, and my Greece retreat snuck up on me. I signed up for the Greece Goddess Pilgrimage retreat in November, right in the middle of our move. The description said, “come journey with us to the Greek Island of Tinos, for an empowering and creative nine-day sacred Yoga and Art retreat.” I said, “I’m in.”

I communed with the land, the Aegean Sea, and Greek goddesses, did lots of art and a little bit of yoga, and made connections with like-hearted women from all over the US, Greece, the UK and Australia.

My intention for the trip was to make an even deeper connection with myself and my work … while also connecting more deeply with Mother Earth and her infinite wisdom. While there, I read the book Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, by Toko-Pa Turner, a Canadian writer, teacher and dreamworker, who lives on a small island in the Salish Sea. (My neighbor!!) From her I integrated the knowledge that belonging is a practice … and one that I was already intuitively immersed in!

My take-aways from this pilgrimage journey / art retreat / goddess retreat were:

  1. I am an artist. Or rather, an artist and creative activist. I knew this before, of course, but the process of indulging in art for fourteen days helped me feel it.
  2. I am also a writer. And part of my calling as a creative activist is to write. This is not new knowledge either, but as of now I am officially writing my first book, tentatively called “A Field Guide to Practical Magic: 21 Days to Connect with Your Wise Self”  …. or something like that!
  3. I’m being called to call women back to their wild roots, to apprentice themselves to Nature and their own shadow, and to reconnect to and express beauty and their own Wild and Wise Soul.

Going forward, my work will more deeply reflect these three things. (To learn more about my work, you can follow my page on Facebook or visit my website.)

What’s in a name?

In my first blog post, I hinted at my new name & business branding … Since re-branding a business is not something you should do lightly, I thought I’d give you a little more information about why I am …

To start with KIC (pronounced “kick”) itself has been an evolution … I first claimed the name KIC about ten yearKIC_Label_As ago, when I left my corporate job and decided to branch out for myself, uncertain yet what form that would take.  K-I-C are my maternal grandmother’s initials, and I wanted a business that would honor her.  I delighted in both the brainstorming and choosing of my first logo, wanting it to both represent something meaningful to me and something that might speak to my potential client.  I still like both the logo and the name, but I’ve learned over the years that choosing a name that gives prospective customers a hint about what you do is important. At first, I simply added Healing to the name … KIC Coaching & Healing seemed a little more explanatory, and the simplest way to tackle the problem.

I also noticed over the years (because I occasionally get requests that seem to be out of my expertise entirely) that there is another company out there in the world that calls themselves KIC Coaching.  It’s a GRE coaching company located in Mumbai.  Lately they must be pouring money into their Site Engine Optimization (SEO) because they’ve been encroaching on my google traffic. For a small business … or any business … this is not good news.  As much as we hate to rely on Google for our traffic, we do.

The combination of knowing that KIC Coaching does not tell you intuitively that I am a transformational coach, and the recent encroachment on my space helped spur along my need.  But I also knew I wanted to branch out and offer more than just coaching … I wanted to offer other transformative experiences such as Pilgrimages, Retreats, and more.  I wanted a name that didn’t limit me to coaching.

I’ve been playing with business name ideas for about a year, but nothing seemed quite right.  Soon after Prince passed away, I was out on a walk.  I didn’t follow Prince’s life or work closely while he was alive (although of course I knew his most widely known songs), but this clip of Prince with the Muppets delighted me.  I love to see the creative process at work, and I am wowed by people who can effortlessly turn anything into artistic expression.

I also completely believe in asking people I admire (living or dead) for advice.  So I called out to Prince (in my head640px-Prince_at_Coachella-630x390), telling him I was sorry I didn’t follow his work more when he was still alive, (this was a longer conversation than I’m including here, filled with justifications and pleas for mercy … ha ha!)  explaining my post-humus admiration and asking if he’d help me come up with a business name I liked that was relevant to the work I do.  In my head he asked me for a bit more information about my work, about my dreams, and about icons that were meaningful.

A few minutes later, The Dream Hatchery popped into my head, and I loved it.  I give Prince all the credit.  🙂  Thanks!  (I also promised to purchase at least a few of his songs for my iPod.  If anyone has recommendations of their favorite Prince songs (ideally that showcase his brilliant creativity) feel free to post in the comments.

Creative Tip:  Stuck on a project?  Think of five people who you admire,  living or dead, and ask them to give you advice.  Don’t be surprised when you get a brilliant idea.  Be sure to thank them for their help.  🙂