Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Beginning or the End or (an) End or a (new) Beginning?

Martha & Hillary's 2009 Reflection...

In January 2010, we are crafting the last of our monthly writing contributions - LAST, but not final.  I (Hillary), say not final, because Martha and I may choose to write and post on random dates or at unplanned times throughout 2010.  The transition from a monthly writing process to something less structured is partially because we enter the 2010 New Year with plans that have morphed as we have changed.  We are different women because of our work and relationship.  We remember the original moment ~ 14 months ago over a chai latte ~ when we commited to writing and working together into an unforeseen future - a moment that continues to propel us into surprising conversation and new spaces. 

Practically, the morphed plans means we are not currently taking appointments together in a therapeutic context, but we are continuing to read, write, and gather with women of "like mind and heart."  We are available for private consulations in our area of passion, joint-work, and training; specifically focusing on our work with mothers, daughters, and women.  The last year(+) of our wondering and work has continued to remind us of the significant value of women living life two-by-two, side-by-side, not alone.  

**To be seen by one woman is a gift.  To be known deeply by several women is a treasure.  To be loved by women who have loved themselves well is rare & priceless.**

You will see our reflective, January 2010 entry soon!  Thanks to all who read our writing.  We are greatful.  We have both grown tremendously through the process.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Written by Hillary Augustine Vandenbos
...a reflection...

The Book: Half the Sky…My three-part processing: Individually, with the masses, and with a few.

My Reflection: It is days, quickly becoming weeks, after a women’s luncheon I hosted in my office suite, located in downtown Seattle. The conference room white board has not been erased. Words and phrases resonate from its surface, producing a post-event essence: hope, currency, economics, discouraging, and history worth repeating, all written in various colors with unique penwomanship. I reflect upon the crafting of this luncheon, how it came together, and why? Questions circle around and through me. Why did this book feel so pressing? Why does the oppression of women lead me to tears and anger?

Individually: Oprah highlighted the contents of this book and interviewed the authors at the beginning of October. I sat mesmerized by images of women worldwide. Streams of tears came at various speeds down my cheeks as Oprah highlighted the oppression of women. In “Oprah-style,” the show was artistically and emotionally crafted by focusing on a few women’s stories, while simultaneously hearing the contents of the book through the lenses and voices of the co-authors and winners of the pulitzer prize, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Tears streamed down my face as I felt the abhorrent abuse directed at women. I grieved not only for the plight of women worldwide, their bodies consistently being objects of harm and violence, but also for my own life, my own harm, and my own silence.

Although my harm seems more subtle and indirect, it is harm nonetheless. My silence has occurred in the context of the faith-tradition by men who possess pulpits, but do not invite dialogue and by women who have stood silent because of their own “stuckness” and fear. Although I intentionally keep the details abstract and reserved for face-to-face conversation, I know connecting to my own sense of struggle as a woman has moved me to fight against injustices on behalf of other women. Experiencing deep injustice, breeded by power gone awry, has opened my eyes and heart to injustices everywhere. I feel a sense of connection with women who may reside on the other side of the planet because my internal planet, my soul, has grieved. I feel somewhat connected by tears, perhaps? I don’t always have words that feel fitting, but generally, I have tears. A powerful multicultural language when words feel far away, useless, and inaccessible.

With the masses: Post-Oprah, October airing, I received an email from a local Seattle non-profit, informing me that Nicholas Kristof, would be in Seattle for a book and luncheon discussion. I immediately registered, hoping that this might be another place my tears could continue. I knew there was more “something” inside of me. Whether tears, screams, or questions this would be another place to “prime” my inner, soul pump. Somehow, I felt that my “grief in action” process on behalf of women worldwide was just beginning. The downtown Seattle luncheon was packed…making Nicholas and the other presenters look small from the back of the large room. 300ish men and women were invited to enter into the contents and experiences of this book while eating a delicious luncheon at the Women’s University Club; an early century building with craftsman style décor, exuding history from every laff and plaster crack. It was beautiful, it was inspiring, and I was not done moving.

With a few:  After hearing Nicholas speak, I emailed three women who were on the top of my mind. I scheduled a panel, luncheon discussion at my office for a maximum of 20 women. I am now in a reflective space as I think back on the luncheon. It is thanksgiving week. I am thankful for women who care, women who think, and women who fight.

Half the Sky is a book which provides a space to wonder and a call to action. The women panelists discussed their own lives, where the book invited them to wonder, and how they felt moved to action. I enjoyed their enthusiasm and their curiosity. And, throughout the luncheon, I became more aware of myself. I am more able to answer who I am in this season of my womanhood. I invite, I gather, and I process both individually, with the masses (300ish), and with a few (20ish). I need many different spaces, many different experiences, and lots of external conversations for injustices to sink into my soul, to simmer in the warm abyss of my body, so that when it’s time to act, I will emerge from an integrated place. Sounds like a birth process for me.

 **Where has injustice to your life or silence of your voice caused you to be more sensitive to the plight of others?**

I shout out for another opportunity: Nicholas Kristof is coming – AGAIN - to the Seattle Area. He is speaking at Overlake School in Redmond, WA. Address: 20301 NE 108th St. on Monday, December 7 at 7:30 pm. $10 suggested donation at the door. Learn more at

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Color of the Cape She Wears is Red.

crafted and seen by Martha Hopler

The Movie: Chocolat. If you have not watched the movie since the posting of our last month’s blog, I invite you to watch it sometime this month. I suggest you take the time to watch it and hear your own voice, your own desires, and your own fears in a way that this movie seems to allow, that few others do. For now I invite you to read what I experienced of my own voice in relationship to the voices heard in Chocolat.

I have some questions that are on my mind as I watch Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, enter the town in their bright red capes. What brings them to this town at all, let alone in red capes? What do they want? Vianne’s reason for coming into town becomes apparent quickly as one watches the movie. She is there to create her space where she can sell or give chocolate to those who visit her chocolaterie.

It takes longer to know what the daughter wants when she arrives into town. It is not until the crisis has occurred and they are about to leave that Anouk puts words to her desire to stay. I cannot help but wonder if Anouk came into every town with the hope that this would be the last town, the end of their moving.

I feel my own ambivalence as I watch the movie. The question that I often ask is; Should they go or should they stay? My inner dialogue goes something like this. "When things are going well, you should stay and make a home for you and your daughter. Open a shop to make chocolate for the people. Vianne, you can offer freedom and grace, too, as you offer the village people what you believe is their favorite chocolate."

Vianne does stay for some time and does what she came to do. In staying she invites many of the village people to hope again. She invites and creates celebration for the old woman who wants to celebrate her life. Vianne’s hard work pays off and the birthday party for the old woman goes off with much beauty and grace. It does seem that when we choose to stay and continue to invite those who may not even be sure why they are invited that it creates a sense of community. The community essence is beautiful even when it is not complete, as the old woman’s daughter does not attend the celebration.

Yet it is this creation of community and inviting that begins what could be the end of the story and of all the happiness Vianne has ever known. As the fire roars through the boats, Vianne is sure that Anouk is dead and then life would really be over.

The ambivalence begins and I am aware of my voice. "Go!! Take what you can and go. No one deserves this much pain and fear of loss. Yes, Vianne, gooooooooo now!! It is ok. You have proved your point. You have done what you have come to do. The town’s people can do the rest on their own. They have missed the point of celebration. Let them create their own Easter celebration. You deserve to go. The Old women you brought life and celebration to is dead…………go. Put on your red cape, pack your bags, and take your daughter to a new place of safety to start again. No amount of good that you have to offer is worth this much loss."

But the voice of Anouk interrupts my own thoughts as she begs her mother to stay. It is this voice, the voice of her daughter that creates the need for Vianne to stop and make her daughter do what she believes to be right. Vianne insists that the time to leave has come and there is no choice. No amount of reasoning will change Vianne's mind.

My ambivalence continues as I hear the words of the daughter begging her mother to stay and longing for them to make it work. I wonder…what will it take for them to stay and celebrate life again?
   **To stay or to go is often a question that we cannot answer without the process of life. It is often the process itself that answers the question.**

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movie:Chocolat (2000)Written and woven together by: Martha Hopler and Hillary Augustine Vandenbos

The north wind blew Vianne (played by Juliette Binoche) and her daughter, Anouk (played by Victoire Thivisol) into a little French village which prided itself on tranquilité (tranquility). The village adopted a disposition free from stress or emotion where societal equilibrium was maintained by villagers knowing their place in the scheme of things. “If you happened to [forget what was expected of you,] someone would remind you. In this village if you saw something you weren’t supposed to see, you learned to look the other way.” (memorable quotes: pulled from imdb website)

Vianne and her daughter blew into the village during the winter with much stress and emotion as symbolized early on by Anouk’s imaginary, limping kangaroo Pantoufle. The trio arrived – mother, daughter, and kangaroo - on a blustery day “limping” with life baggage and sparked with inward passion, captured in their red-hooded parkas that draped their cold bodies.

Is it not the realm of the imaginary and the north winds of life change that leaves us wondering if we can go on to the next place?

At the beginning of the movie, Vianne arrives as a single woman and mother, whole, beautiful, limping, and passionate to offer her trade. She opens a chocolaterie, La Chocolaterie Maya, during lent and begins to draw out the hidden desires and suppressed emotions of the village people. Vianne’s trade is a curious combination of making and selling chocolates mixed with an intentional stance toward life. She has an eye and ear bent toward each patron’s inherent desire for flavor and passion. Like many people, Vianne’s chocolatorie is the outward processing of her inward, back story. Her mother, a Mayan woman, offered chocolate to others to help cure people’s neurosis and phobias. Her father met her mother as a traveling pharmacist searching for ancient formulas from the Mayan Indians which unlocked his hidden yearnings.

Vianne’s past and current existence and her life service are intricately woven together.

I [Hillary] love this story. I love this movie because a woman’s life and presence ripple through a small village of people as she “takes up space” with her chocolatarie and lives her life. As Vianne “claims some space territory” in the little village offering her trade and herself, transformation occurs. Vianne provides a taste of life through rich, creamy chocolates mixed with a compassionate stance towards people.

As a woman, YOU send off a ripple effect just by living. Do you notice the power of your presence? Where?

Watch Chocolate with an eye toward noticing the ripple effect that occurs through the life of Vianne, Anouk, and Pontoufle…the transformation starts with a mother, a daughter, two red-hooded parkas, an imaginary-limping kangaroo, and a lot of chocolate!

Bon Appetit’ to you –
Your life matters individually and in the context of community!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The movie: Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
Crafted by Hillary Augustine Vandenbos

1953 Commencement Ceremony – Wellesley College

President (Question): Who knocks at the door of learning?

Student (Answer): I am every women.

President (Question): What do you seek?

Student (Answer): To awaken my spirit through hard work and to dedicate my life to knowledge.

Declaration: Then you are welcome. All women who seek to follow you can enter here. I now declare the academic year begun!
When I re-read and transcribed the dialogue above, pulled from the beginning of the movie Mona Lisa Smile, I thought of two influential women in my life.

One woman is young in years, wise beyond her age, and ever growing in her knowledge and curiosity. Her name is Kimberly George and she just recently packed up her life in Seattle to venture toward the east coast to be a merit scholar at Yale Divinity School. Her research focuses on integrating Christian theology and women’s gender, and sexuality studies. Check out her blog! You will find many profound wonderings and thought-provoking reading for days to come!

The other woman has years of life experience, lived through the sixties, tells great stories, is a mom of grown children, and a scientist. Dr. J continually welcomes a full life. She has kept history alive by giving me books – like A Century of Women which sits on my coffee table, serving as a daily reminder of the memoirs and accounts of women across time. I am drawn to Dr. J’s honesty. Her retellings of life circumstances are filled with intrigue and passion as she talks about what it has been like for women – especially women in science – to be seen, heard, and respected in their field of study. Dr. J has shown me that whatever stage of life women find themselves in, a common ground exists, which is: the acts of learning, growing, and choosing do not cease until breath stops flowing. Dr. J. is a fighter, an advocate, and a teacher to many. She, like Kimberly, just recently moved to another area of the country. I will miss her, immensely!

Both women “knock at the door of learning.” Both women intrigue me with their guts, their desire to learn, and their passion. They challenge woman like me to continue to learn, to choose, to “awaken [my] spirit through hard work and dedication.”

Do you have women who help you see around the corner, over the horizon, and into different spheres of life?

Kathryn Watson (played by Julia Roberts) in the movie Mona Lisa Smile is an art professor who wants to make a difference. She realizes, early on in the movie, that her students, Wellesley College women, have text-book smarts mixed with an inability to learn outside of a syllabus. Hence, these college women have no inner strength to think beyond roles, societal upper-class standards, and principles set by a governing body. To catalyze thought and to break apart the stringent social norms, Kathryn Watson introduces her students to modern art. One of the off-campus field trips takes place at a Boston warehouse. Kathryn invites the college women to gaze at a new Jackson Pollock canvas. She tells them, “You don’t have to like it, but you must consider it.” Did you hear that echo somewhere in your body…consider it...consider the art before you…it may break open the status quo in your life.

Who draws you to consider life? To consider art?

Kathryn Watson challenges her students to think beyond the cultural norm. Kimberly George’s writings help me think beyond social norms into possibilities and “re-remembered” stories that shift my thinking enough to change an axis somewhere in my body. Dr. J helps me recognize the vibrancy of life in multiple situations. There are “no boxes” with Dr. J, so I feel free to re-imagine and dream about opportunities I might not consider if left to my own devices.

As September rolls on in, consider watching Mona Lisa Smile, a movie superbly crafted for an autumn movie night. Autumn – a season of life when school sessions commence across America. In some subtle way, the seasonal shift, with new school clothes and shoes, untarnished crayons, and the reappearance of many yellow buses causes me to pause and wonder. I breath deeper (when stuck behind a yellow bus in traffic!) and reconsider those who have shifted my thinking along the way, whether friend, teacher, mentor, or parent.

So, when you feel the first chill in the air and notice a big leaf pasted to the wet ground, think about the women who helped you consider art, life outside of boxes, and catalyzed you toward "axis shifting" moments. Gather with some women and watch Mona Lisa Smile!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Written by Martha Hopler

…wonder and discovery continue…look at my initial 'matryoshka writings' in the February post. Read my writings as an unfolding process - February’s blogpost folds into July’s…

Discovering the celebration of the mother-daughter relationship by looking at the matryoshka dolls, continues to be a source of my wonder. These dolls carry history, have a nesting ability (at times they are called nesting dolls) and each are uniquely decorated to tell a story.

I am fascinated by what it means to explore the invitation to celebrate a relationship that is both difficult and complex. The history of the matryoshka doll was originally painted and copied from Japanese dolls. The idea that the doll itself was taken from another culture, suggests that there is meaning in the history of its creation; one culture copies from another in creating its own story.

These dolls have become a symbol of the work Hillary and I do in the therapeutic setting. The goal of this work we are embarking upon is not only to explore relationship issues, but also to create a space that invites the celebration of the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship. The nesting dolls symbolize this complex, interconnected space, felt in the action of taking the dolls apart and also putting them back together. As women, are we not like this at times? We look like one “I am” – standing alone. But when we open up our stories and our lives, one discovers what is within - whether it is our mother and her relationship to a daughter, or sisters to sisters, or a friend to a friend. The “within-ness” begins the conversation where we are speaking of relationships and those who we know and want to be known by. The opening up can be a difficult process that initially takes time.

The beauty and the story of the dolls are hidden until someone takes the time to open and discover all seven or so dolls. When they are all lined up one can see from tallest to smallest a story that someone took time to paint on each and every doll.

The question becomes, as women, can I really know me and who I am if I have not taken the time to look at the long line of other women who are in my story? As women we all stand on our own while being interconnected.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Movie: Juno (2007)
Juno Blog Entry #2

Hillary’s words and reflections…

Movie Quote: “Vanessa, if you’re still in, I’m in – Juno.”

These words are shown at the end of the movie, doodled on a Jiffy Lube receipt by Juno and placed on the adoptive mother's doorstep. Juno pens this sentence after realizing that Vanessa and her husband, Mark, might not stay together. The “perfect” couple chosen by Juno in the Penny Saver, is no longer perfect-appearing. Juno is faced with what she will do in the midst of her new reality. She chooses to join with Vanessa. Meaning, Juno’s words and actions – whether or not they represent the “right” decision – show a willingness to move toward Vanessa even though the marital picture is crumbling. So motherhood arrives in the midst of changing plans, a shifty marriage, and chaos. The unplanned pregnancy begins with a single, teenage mom and ends with a single, adult mom.

So, it seems that Juno is a movie about living in the midst of the unplanned, unfolding realities of life. In the end motherhood impacts every person in the movie. And, if the movie could continue the same mysterious mixture of joy and sorrow would keep inter-weaving itself through out Juno and Vanessa's life.

Martha’s words and reflections…
Hope lost, hope found, love lost, love found, and love kept. These are the string of thoughts I have at that end of the movie. In my mind, I want to simplify the process by saying, “Yes problem solved.” Because a teen mother (Juno) is no longer a mother, she is free to go back to her life. And Vanessa, although she is a single-adoptive mother, still gets what she wants. The part of me that likes life to be black and white says, “Yes this is how it should be.” Mistake made. There is nothing lost and nothing gained.

But wait a minute, when one sits with the end of the movie, one is invited to look closer at all the choices given and made. In these choices love and hope are found. However, love and hope are not found because everyone followed the rules or was able to “fix the problem."

Juno chooses to change the course of history by loving herself as she sticks to what she wants. Juno joins with Vanessa who longs and desires to care for a baby by continuing with the adoptive plan. Juno does not make Vanessa suffer the consequences of her husband's bad choices.

Vanessa is focused, whether rightly or wrongly, on becoming a mother. It is Juno who has the ability to invite her into the space of motherhood and she does.

The point is love wins. But, love wins in a way that veers from the original plan. Plans change and love is still found in the midst of the complex moments of human existence.

**Enjoy the movie Juno! The ending is full of rich discussion for women (& families) of all ages and stages of life: girl, teenager, mother, and daughter.**