A Conversation
the Pippsywoggin
Addie Brianne






Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, like just last week, and in a place far, far away, on the river bench that overlooks my garden studio, I sat in some state of despondency and contemplated the little door that is nailed to the base of the old willow tree.


I didn’t really expect the door to open or anyone to come out of it, as I knew all too well that it was only a fake door, and that my friends from the edge of imagination, the Pippsywoggins, were not real at all. But I wondered, given a chance, what the Pippsywoggins might have to say to me, today, in the midst of the turmoil that is permeating our world.









And so I sat on the bench, by the little door and stared at the muddy waters of Sand Creek, feeling compelled to be there, but also feeling a bit like a fool.  And then it happened.






An image appeared before me, addiebposter157that of the 5-inch tall Pippsywoggin Addie Brianne, who plopped herself down beside me, crossed her hands under her chin, and looked expectantly over at me with a grin.

I grinned, too, for of course it would be Addie Brianne who would show up. I remembered her story, which begins like this.

Addie Brianne is content with life.  She doesn’t have any great ambition to be a dancer or a seamstress or a writer.  She doesn’t have urges to gather the largest strawberries or the sweetest nectar or the shiniest pebbles.  She is just content to relax and to respond to life as it comes to greet her.


Ah, but don’t think that she is lazy.  No, not for a moment.   Above her front door is a sign that says:  THE FIRST THING TO DO IS TO SHOW UP.  And this she does.  Every day.  With as many of her senses of sight and sound and touch and taste and smell as she can marshal together.

Her little house hangs like a basket in the middle of a clump of willows that grow on the edge of a small farm pond where cattle come to drink, where a pair of Mallards yearly raise a brood of ducklings, and where the neighboring Irish Setter routinely comes to bark at crabs.

Because she has made it a habit to show up, she has been there to see the new calf get his first wobbly drink.  She was present when the littlest duckling got swept through the drainage ditch by the sudden spring downpour, and she glimpsed the look in the Setter’s eyes when he came face to face with the giant snapping turtle.

She shows up, and because she does, opportunities for learning and growth and amazement are continually hers.  The other Pips are a bit jealous of her charmed life.  But, you know, the funny thing is that even though they have visited her little house in the willows many times, none of them have seemed to notice the sign above her door that says:  THE FIRST THING TO DO IS TO SHOW UP.


riverwestposter57I bent down to pick up a twig to throw into current as I contemplated Addie Brianne’s story.  Now what, I said. So what if I show up? How does that change anything in this messed up world and my messy life?

As I said this, Addie jumped up and ran towards the little door at the base of the old willow tree, throwing these words over her shoulder as she entered the door, “It may not change the world but it might change you.”

I hardly had time to think about the implications of what she said when Addie was back in front of me holding a sign that said:



Show up.

Keep it simple.

Keep it honest.

Be true.

Those Pippsywoggins! Always with something new to challenge me!  But I took Addie’s poster home with me and nailed it above my own front door.  You’re welcome to make copies for yourself, if you like. I’m sure that Addie B wouldn’t mind.




The view out my office window is dreary indeed, not at all like last fall’s blaze of sun-bright yellow nor the spectacular glow of ice-white which greeted me one morning last winter.






Today it’s gray, a dull lifelessness, which fits my present mood. I’ve no reason to be glum as the future is full of creative possibilities for joy and love, adventure and discovery, compassion and connection. I do believe that, but last night I let myself watch way too much cruelty, dissension and hatred on TV. That, on top of days of political news and confusion as to what’s moral and what’s true, plus my own disheveled getting-ready-to-move house and studio, and I went off to bed feeling like curling into a fetal ball, which I did. As a result I woke before 5:00 this morning feeling the dread of an already forgotten but way too vivid dream.

So here I sit, determined to bring myself back to that inner space and place where I can look at both myself and my fellow human beings with light and hope reflected in my gaze. I know that there are many ways to center oneself and reconnect with soul. There’s prayer, mindfulness, breath, yoga, meditation, gratitude, forgiveness, paying attention to one’s thoughts, various healing modalities, physical activity, volunteering to help others … and there’s storytelling.

I believe that all of us have a knowing, a wise soul, inside of us, deep in our inner core where we connect with Mystery, with each other, with All that is. We each access that inner knowing in a way that fits us, who we are. One way that I connect with that Truth is to immerse myself in nature. Another way is to sit down and have an imaginary friar2poster2conversation with the Pippsywoggins, little friends from the edge of imagination.It may sound weird to some of you, but it’s great fun, really, and a bit magical, too, as going into the world of make-believe allows me to access inner truths that escape me otherwise. Speaking with the Pippsywoggins let’s me be a kid again and put voice to ideas that otherwise are only rumbling around somewhere, beyond my grasp. Letting go and seeing where the conversation leads, has, in the past, been a great adventure, but it has been on hold for the last 15 or so years because, well, life has been busy. But, just maybe, now’s the time to open the door, that little one that’s hidden at the base of the old willow by the creek, and see if anyone’s there.

I’ll let you know …


My Own Spoon


Olive, our blue-eyed, tiny-framed, skip-on-her-toes 2 year old granddaughter came to visit last weekend. The trip from her home 3 1/2 hours away was planned to be a very short one as both parents needed to get back to family responsibilities, and the two teenagers, at home. But the hospital visit with a family member turned out to require more time than originally planned, so Olive was our “guest” for most of Saturday and half of Sunday. We did have fun! I also learned a few things.
  1. Music is essential.
    Children’s folk songs make my body, heart and soul dance! I’d forgotten that, but, thanks to the presence of Olive, and to the ability on Pandora.com to choose stations with a theme, I now remember. In fact I’m going to hit pause and go turn it on … and up… right now! (pause)
  2. The heart knows.
    On Saturday I had a class scheduled, one that I really wanted to attend, but I’m so glad that I spent the day with Olive. Choices are hard, sometimes, but listening to one’s heart, and then going with it, makes the way easier. I think the lesson is to listen, choose, embrace, follow through … and don’t look back. Second-guessing is only that, guessing. Every chosen experience is part of our story and deserves our attention. Our whole-hearted attention? Yes, perhaps that, too.
  3. It’s Ok to ask for your own spoon.
    Our daughter, Jenelle, has long shared a love of deliciously flaky, rich, filled pastry with her father, Dan. As a thank you treat for the weekend spent watching Olive, she picked up two enticingly beautiful and generous portions of torte at Cossettas ( http://cossettas.com/home/hours-location/ ), one for her and one for Dan. I was watching my intake of sugar, so I received a wonderful loaf of raisin bread, an only slightly less rich concoction than the torte!
    Before presenting the torte to her dad, Jenelle, with a grin on her face and a lift to her eyebrows, went to the kitchen and got two forks, then proceeded to sit on the couch with her dad, open the white carry-out box, and the two of them dug in. Olive, who had climbed onto the couch alongside them, received periodic shared forkfuls between Jenelle and Dan’s savoring sounds of delight.
    “More, papa, more,” says Olive.
    Suddenly she gets down from the couch and runs into the kitchen.
    “Where are you going,” asks Dan.
    “To get my own fork,” says Olive.
    Her Olive-sized spoon was lying on the kitchen table, so she took that, instead of the fork, and headed back to the couch where she filled her spoon to heaping, again, and again, an equal part in the experience.
    kossettasjan242015That image has come back to me over and over again in the week since Olive went home. Those of you who know me may perceive me to be a strong-willed and independent woman, but I always recognize, and remember, the tendency that I have to take what people are willing to give me rather than to recognize what I need, that I want more, and that I do have the power to take the initiative, to get up and go fetch my own fork, or spoon, and be an equal part in the experience.
    Two books that were recently recommended to me are The Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes, and The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer. I think it’s time to check those out. Don’t you love it when the universe, or God or Spirit or the Inner Knowing gives us the same message, over and over again, using different messengers and metaphors, until we finally get it?

A Parable Remembered by Maureen Carlson
copyright 2014 Maureen Carlson

rain3The storyteller woke up from a deep sleep. She didn’t know where she was or how long she’d been away, but as she opened her eyes she saw afternoon-sunlight filtering through the spring-budding trees that surrounded the glen where she lay. She stayed very, very still, resting in the support of the earth beneath her. Looking up, she blessed the shelter of the sky above her. She breathed in and out, at one with the everness of the in-between. She took in a deep breath and blew out a song of thanksgiving, singing words that took form and became visible in the air, wrapping themselves around the breeze, floating up to hang from the limbs, as fragile as dew.

A giggle and rustle from a limb of the old Maple, which stood sentry above her, sent a sprinkling of words cascading down around her, and she laughed at the magic of the jumbled phrases which composed themselves upon her resting body. “And Page Tendril Him ” said one, and “Put My For So Away” said another.  The urge to actively voice these words into a story caused her to sit up, reach into her back pocket, pull out her storytelling hat and put it on. She was ready to begin.

The hat, which was covered with leaves and petals and vines that reached out, circling her head like a crown, must have been a signal, for out from the forest and down from the trees came the faerie folk, both big and small, all resembling humans but with ears that stood straight out from their heads, all twice as large as the ears of an average human girl.  She carefully picked up the words “For So” and hung them from the nearest branch. Then she began.

“For so many years, “ she said, “the apple tree which you see there, just over there, right in front of those three blue spruce, those three, the ones that line up to form a triangle, for so many years the apple tree didn’t know how to grow. You see, it’s the only apple tree in this glen, or even in this part of the forest, so it didn’t have a vision of how it was supposed to be. And this apple tree took “Beingness” very, very seriously. For it was an apple tree that pondered. It was a pondering tree. A pondering apple tree, indeed.

And so, through all of the sunrises and through all the long days and through all of the seasons, it pondered. It thought about beauty and purpose, how to be real, what it meant to be authentic, and how it might become whole. It also wondered often, very often indeed, where and how it fit into the life of the forest, all very big thoughts for a small apple tree, but it was a pondering tree, so that’s what it did. It pondered. And each day it looked to the trees around it to teach it how to be.

In its youth it thought maybe it should grow tall and pointy like the spruce trees, but that didn’t work out. One glimpse in the reflecting pool that appeared during the mid-summer rains dashed that dream. Out from its middle were springing branches that made it look round like the moon. Like the moon! Not comely at all for a spruce! And the spruce were disappointed. This tree that grew so close to them, in their very shadow, wasn’t like them at all. No, indeed.

After that, feeling a bit uncomfortable, but being stuck where it was, it looked out across the glen and saw an Oak. And so the apple tree tried to be an Oak, and then a Maple and then a Linden, but none of these were just right for it, either. They didn’t fit the apple tree’s pattern. This truth was revealed by the maturing leaves that drifted down in the fall, each revealing distinctive shapes so different from the simple pointy ovals of the apple leaves. So, because the apple tree didn’t know how to grow, it put away its dreams and just stoically hugged the soil and did what trees do. It grew. In spite of itself it grew. Even pondering trees, at least ones that let their roots go deep into the soil, will grow given enough rain and sun and room to be. And so the years passed, strung together by memories stitched into the tendril of time.

One day a boy came into the woods. A human boy. A human boy carrying a book. A human boy carrying a book about trees. At least that’s what it said on the cover. It said T-R-E-E-S. Trees. He walked through the glen and over to the pondering tree, then he reached high up into the top of the tree that was round like a moon and he plucked off from it something that was round, round just like the tree, a bit lopsided, but smooth and hard and a brilliant yellow, like the sun.

The pondering tree was surprised, for it hadn’t seen that round globe growing from it’s branches. It was embarrassed. That thing that grew from its branches wasn’t capped like the acorns or winged like the fruit that grew on the Maple and the Linden, and it certainly wasn’t layered like the seeds from the spruce. If it could have it would have bowed its head in shame and become invisible like the fairies who often perched in its branches, gossiping about the world around them. But, it couldn’t, and it didn’t, and so it just watched, and listened.

The boy took the round yellow globe, looked around him and then sat down under the tree, leaning against what by now, after all of these years, had become a quite sturdy trunk. He took a bite, an actual BITE from the globe, and he smiled. Then he opened his book and looked at each page until he came to one that pictured pointy oval leaves and round yellow globes and a tree that was the shape of the moon. He took a pen from one pocket and a square of plastic from the other.  On the plastic he wrote the words Yellow Delicious Apple Tree. Then he took a piece of string and tied the plastic to one of the pondering tree’s branches. Then he left.

The apple tree didn’t know quite what to do. Or what to ponder. It had spent so many years pondering how to be whole and what it meant to be authentic and now here was this sign, hung right there for all to see, that proclaimed it to be an apple tree. And, not only an apple tree, but an apple tree with a specific name, a Yellow Delicious Apple Tree. And, not only that, there apparently were so many apple trees just like it in the world that its kind was pictured in a book. A book about trees. A book about the whole family of trees. A whole family of trees of which it was a member.  It belonged to a whole family of trees. It belonged. Just like it was.

The apple tree smiled, well, it ALMOST smiled. Apple trees don’t have mouths, after all, just roots and bark and leaves and stems to drink in the world around them. But, if it would have had a mouth, it would have smiled. For, indeed, it was a funny thing to ponder how it had been a whole, authentic Yellow Delicious Apple Tree even when it was just a twig with a tiny root and one leaf poking out from the top. It had always, always, been true and whole and just as it was supposed to be, even when it was just a seed, just one brown seed, like the one that the boy had left, displayed there in the center of the apple that was lying under the apple tree.

The pondering tree looked at the seeds and imagined how it might help those seeds, those seeds that, given enough soil and rain and sun and room, could grow into Yellow Delicious Apple Trees, grow to strength and maturity just like it had done. Yes, in spite of all of its ponderings and wondering about who it was and how it might be authentic and whole, it had grown into a very fine tree. A very fine tree, indeed.  A very fine Yellow Delicious Apple Tree.

Saying that, softly, to itself, it stretched itself as tall as it could, spread its branches and all of its leaves to the sun, and pondered all of the ways that it might add beauty to the world. And so it did, just by being itself.

Going Inside

Going Inside

Shrine From a 2006 Lindly Haunani Class

I was about ready to quit reading Facebook.

Seems that everytime I opened Facebook I saw that someone was doing something more exciting than me, more visible than me or more magnificent than me. I know. I know. Life is about living one’s own journey, about fully embracing it and exploring one’s creative impulses, passions and compassions. I know that. I teach that. I preach that. Yet nearly every time I entered the Facebook world I left feeling somewhat “less than”.

It didn’t feel good, but most of all I knew that it was a character fault of mine to always be comparing and judging. Plus I knew that I had been blessed with a wonderfully creative and fulfilling life, one for which I was very thankful. And yet, here I was feeling a bit fearful and anxious that somehow I just wasn’t measuring up.

A recent conversation with my friend Ann gave me a useful tool for approaching this “opportunity to grow” . It involves recognizing the thought pattern, stopping it in mid-thought, FEELING the STOP, asking where the thought pattern came from, thanking it for it’s good intentions, recognizing and saying that , while I am thankful, it doesn’t serve me anymore, then asking for help in changing the message to one that is life affirming and free of blame/shame and coulda/shoulda. Thank you, Ann, I’m practicing. It isn’t automatic yet, but I’m believing that I can become more loving of myself and, in the process, more loving and celebratory all around.

Another useful tool came from a recent reading in the http://www.dailyword.com thought for the day. I read the message and I stopped breathing as I took it in, and then read it again. It fit so perfectly my need for a life-affirming attitude of grace.

Sacred Journey


Some sites are considered sacred, and people go there to worship and experience an uncommon energy. Many of us dream of making a pilgrimage to a sacred place. Such journeys have a meaningful impact on our lives and help us grow in spiritual understanding.Yet every spiritual journey begins right where we stand, this very moment. Whether we travel to the far reaches of the earth or sit on a meditation pillow in our living room, the real expedition is a journey inward.Wherever I go, I abide in the presence of God’s love. I expand my awareness to recognize God in each moment, in each breath, in each person and place, for life itself is holy ground.

Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.—Acts 7:33

I love the concept that the place that we are standing is holy ground. What ever name we give to Sacred Energy, whether we call it God or Higher Power or Our Highest Self or All That Is or Mystery or Nature. I believe that we have each experienced that sort of deep awe that connects us to something beyond our ego selves. It is in remembrance of those times of deep awe I retreat in thanksgiving. And it is with remembrance of that deep awe that I return to Facebook, knowing that each of our experiences, no matter how seemingly big or magnificent or small or simple or sweet or harsh or ugly or sad or delightful or beautiful, is a part of the whole that is Mystery. Even those seemingly mundane “what I had for dinner” photos. And those celebratory “look where I’ve been” or “look who I am” photos. They are all experienced on holy ground. Each message is a from a living person who is searching for connection. For meaning. For purpose. Just like me.


ImageI love it when a book that has been sitting on my shelf for awhile, unread, seems suddenly to announce that its time has now come. “Read ME. Read ME”, it announces. And so I do. Sometimes it’s a dead end road, but at other times, like last night, the message is right on. 

It was icy here last night when I went to get in the car after open studio. I tested the slickness of the sidewalk with the toe of my shoe. Yup. Treacherous! So I decided to stay over in the dorm (nice perk of having a dorm!). 

A conversation with a friend earlier in the week had made me think of a book that I had stashed on a shelf a few years ago. I hadn’t taken the time to search it out as it was one of those weeks. But, suddenly, here was the time. Since I hadn’t packed a suitcase I just brushed my teeth with the extra supplies that I keep at the Center and crawled into bed with my clothes on. Comfy. Feeling slightly defiant like a 12-year old refusing to get ready for bed. 

The book, Leap! What Will We Do with the Rest of Our Lives?, by Sara Davidson (2007), is a Reflection from the Boomer Generation. Seems that there is a minefield of change, adjustment and surrender that confronts all of us who are at the stage of transitioning into … or embracing … the third era of our lives. We choose to call it different things depending on our mindset. But I like to think of it as third act, a third act in an age when fourth acts are becoming possible, when wisdom suggests that there are still surprises and possibilities, and when experience tells us that there is still much to learn, 

The book is full of the stories that Sara gleaned from her numerous interviews with people, rich, famous and unknown, who are considered to be Baby Boomers – born 1946 to 1964. Are you in that group? Or close? You might find this book to be very affirming.


 But now I ask, what does this have to do with creativity and making art? How does it relate to polymer clay?

 To me it does, for a lot of what we do in our classes at Maureen’s is teach techniques and skills for telling our stories, in whatever way makes sense to us. Reading books like this gives me perspective on my own life and helps me be more clear about my own path. Hopefully that all translates into more freedom to be present. To be here. To do my own work. To listen with compassion. To forgive myself when I’m less than I intend to be. To be thankful for the journey.

 And now on with the making of art!

Chicken Badger Both

Never Alone
Artwork by Maureen Carlson

This past weekend I attended a Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea workshop about Calling a Circle and Listening to Story.  Afterwards I was talking with a friend about some of the issues that came up in me during the workshop.  She asked: Why do you think that we keep ourselves small?  In answer to her question, I wrote:

For me, the question has now become, as of this moment: Why and when do I choose to SEE myself as small? 

Yesterday I wrote this story: 

Once upon a time there was a chicken just walkin’ on down the road … pecking at the seeds.  She looked into a puddle, there, just past that pile of corn that the farmer had spilled.  She thought that she was just looking at corn, but she had, indeed, looked into the puddle.  Her reflection caught her off guard, so off guard that this time she actually saw herself.  Black stripes.  White mask.  Little ears. Flat head.  She looked just like a badger.  She picked up one leg and looked at her clawed feet.  Clawed feet?  Uh huh.  Feet that turned furry right before her eyes.  She turned and looked over her shoulder at her butt, and there trailing behind her was a long, furry tale.  She reached around, picked it up and chomped down on it with her long white teeth.  Hard.  Yes.  With teeth.  And it hurt. 

She stopped.  Stood very still.  And then she claimed this new image of herself and looked back into the mirror at those black beady eyes which were so familiar. 

I thought about this when I got home, and decided that the chicken is indeed a chicken, but not just a chicken.  And she is indeed a badger.  But not just a badger.  The advantage of being both is that she can now put on either face, as long as she is free to pull out either suit as the occasion warrants.  The secret to it all is the freedom piece.  And the more that she learns and understands when it serves the Work best (yes, not her, but the Work) to be a chicken, she’ll be a chicken, and she’ll peck for seeds and cluck and be cute and funny and busy.  But when it serves the Work best to be a badger, she’ll be that.  And, sometimes, maybe, she’ll be a chicken with a long furry tale or a badger with a decided cluck and bob to her head, and that will be OK, too.  Might even keep her dancing along that edge where the mystery and the magic and the sacred dwells.   

Now, to undestand this story, it is helpful to define the word Work.  For me, Work with a capital W means that thing that fulfills one’s purpose in life.  And what occurs to me now, right now, as this is typed, is: What is the Work that will keep her (me) this focused?  This centered?  So aware of the Work that I forget to worry about how the world is seeing me?  So passionate about the Work that I’ll risk discomfort, embarrassment, disdain?  What is my assignment?  It seems important to find an answer to that question.  And to act.

I think that my work has something to do with listening to people tell/share/envision/create and inhabit their stories.  I’ll learn more about that as my own story unfolds.  

This change in thought, from concentrating on myself to concentrating on the Work, has come out of my realization that no one is small.  We have different functions and different dreams and different assignments in this world, but none of us is small.  We do, however, sometimes refuse to live out our dreams or pick up our assignments or turn them in on time.  And we have differing amounts of influence and power.  I believe that influence and power are material goods, though.  They are bought, sold, earned, shared, gifted and taken.  But they are just material goods.  They are transient.  Temporary.  Borrowed.  They do not affect how big or small the story is or how big or small the person is. Being big or small is a spiritual attitude that comes from inside.  

I can’t make myself small, but I can act as if I were, and I can make myself invisible.  I can act as if I have no right to be in a given situation.  I can stumble over my own ego and get wrapped up in comparing myself or my accomplishments with others.  What, I think, will bring me back to center, is to remember what Work it is that I am called to do, and then to focus on that Work  What’s intriguing, really intriguing, is to begin to understand that each person’s Work is equally important.  Now that’s a pretty elusive thing to wrap my brain around, but I’m starting to get it.

A book that goes along with these thoughts is the Tolstoy story of the Three Questions that was told and illustrated as a chidren’s book.  You can find info at:


 The three questions are:

When is the best time to do something?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?

I’m putting this book on my shelf as a reminder that I know this story, and that I know the one about the chicken and the badger, too.  Help me remember.

Maureen Carlson