Saturday, February 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: LOVE, part 2.

Now comes the point where i offer some unsolicited advice on how to become a catalyst for intimacy. I am offering my opinions about what I'm journeying through. Not a twelve-step formula.

Journey towards the authentic:
One of the most frightening components of love that we must overcome is that authentic love is surrendered power. It's giving another person, or in some cases a community of people, the power to reject us or accept us. We expose ourselves by letting them into our thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams. The best opportunity to build meaningful relationships is being real about our imperfections and admitting we have issues just like everyone else.

Journey towards character: Becoming a person of character is the framework for being a person for love. Becoming marked by selflessness, humility, integrity, faith, courage, gratitude, generosity, and the like, changes us inwardly to raise our potential to embody love.

Journey of our spirit: I realize everyone has different beliefs about the Divine. My belief is that by yielding ourselves to Divine love, the natural result is valuing ourselves. When we live in intimacy with God, we are able to fully love ourselves and become passionate about loving others. When we are disconnected from our Source, we find ourselves increasingly empty of love. Essentially, the outpouring of love we give is a response to the quality of love we have received.

Journey towards togetherness: Community is a great vessel for personal growth and health. A healthy community of people embraces us as we are, with no manipulative agendas, unrealistic expectations, or pretenses. It's an environment where people can find acceptance, love, and forgiveness as well as push us forward by providing encouragement and support.

Is this an unattainable standard to strive toward? Probably. However I'm willing to bank on it being quite a heroic and rewarding adventure. Imagine for just a moment, what would happen in your relationship circles if you walked fully the way of love.

Robert Frost so beautifully said, "Love is an insatiable desire to be insatiably desired." I'd like to close with a few probing questions for your personal meditation and reflection.

Do you feel, taste, and experience intimacy with others? What if you asked a friend, who knows you well, that same question? Do they see you the same way you see yourself? Pause and consider this for a moment because there is often a gap between our picture of what we would like to be and how we really are.

Are your eyes open to see opportunities to love? Are your ears open to hear where love is needed? Are your hands and feet open to tangibly show love to another? Is your mouth open to speak lovingly? Is your heart open to growing in love towards others, and not just the people that are easy to love, but the difficult and unlovely?

~ Damian Ludwig

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guest Blogger: LOVE, part 1.

“I'm truly sorry, I’m only human!” Only human? Basically, we use this statement to point to the obvious reality that we are flawed and imperfect beings. But, is that what it means to be human? Is being only human a bad thing?

What if being only human is a good thing? The problem isn't actually our humanity, but all of the things that get in the way of being fully human. Perhaps what we mean is, I have this habit of making choices that inhibit me from being fully human. This temptation to trade our full humanity for something else, is something we all experience on some level.

So what is it that makes you and I fully human? What is our defining essence? I believe at the core of who we are as humans is our intrinsic longing for relational intimacy. And not just romantic intimacy, that's only one aspect of love. I'm referring to an expanded image of intimacy; our need to love and be loved, to feel as though we are truly known, fully valued, and completely accepted by others.

Love woos us, captivates us, compels us, moves us, and occasionally even torments us. It's possibly the most life-giving and most dangerous arena of our lives. No matter how unique and different we are from each other, center to our being is a craving for genuine intimacy. To feel deeply connected. Although, we may not want to admit that because our western culture values individualism, independence, and autonomy. To need connectedness with others almost sounds weak, doesn't it?

Isn't it interesting that the worst form of punishment we inflict on a criminal is solitary confinement? Removing an individual from interaction with others is torturous. It points to the need for the soul to deeply connect with other people.

Our western mindset preaches look out for number one, and it's your right to do whatever you feel like. All in the name of independence and freedom. However, a few years back I heard an entirely new way of thinking about freedom that's reshaped my perspective. It's the belief that genuine freedom isn't license to do whatever I want, it's the ability to live most lovingly — to live most human. It is when I'm free to love without limit that freedom has no boundaries. I am truly free when I live generously and am not bounded by greed. I'm free to be gracious and merciful, not feel the need to judge and prove I'm better than another. I'm free to take risks and live courageously, not become tempted by apathy or motivated by fear of failure.

Recently, i was hurt by someone i care deeply for. I felt rejected because the love i offered wasn't mutual. What was i supposed to do? At the time, I felt the safest place to be was to withdraw and disconnect from others. The rejection, the unmet expectations, the feeling of being betrayed by love, moved me to become embittered to love. Ironically, love was the ointment i needed to heal. My remedy of choice, however, was to hide in isolation. "I'm not going to be vulnerable and feel the pain anymore!" And sadly, i feel as though that choice caused my core to wither. The more disconnected i chose to become from meaningful relationships, the more indifferent I became to the welfare of others. I had extended the invitation for bitterness, envy, arrogance, and self-centeredness to take residence in my heart.

These spaces are void of love and are toxic. Because we feel at our gut level as though something is missing, we look for substitutes as an attempt to feed our longing; superficial acquaintances, cheap meaningless sex, empty religion, and uncontrollable addictions. Yet, our cravings are only temporarily satiated and ultimately we're typically left feeling more lonely and disconnected.

We become.... well, inhumane.

I firmly believe that we become fully human by embodying a life of love, not simply feeling love with our emotions. I'm talking about being and becoming love. When our whole person embodies love our thoughts are instinctively loving, our values become other-focused rather than self-focused, our actions are naturally edifying, and we shift from begin self-serving to showing others they are valued. Love is not passive, but active. The person who travels the way of love, doesn't approach relationships wondering "what can this person do for me," they ask "how can I be a gift to this person." They don't view people as products to consume, they see relationships as opportunities to invest.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Blogger: LIFE


I took the train from New London, Connecticut to Providence a couple months ago.  My train seatmate was an Economics professor and we engaged in an animated discussion about poverty and social programs. He was great company until the most cliché 80’s thing happened: he put his hand on my leg.  Do people really still do that? Stunned I could only mutter a goodbye and leave the seat.

Melanie’s instructions were to write my thoughts on life, and this incident provides an excellent example with how most people (including myself) tend view life. Sometimes things happen we don’t like but it’s better just to keep quiet about it because, really, what can we do? 

Life is a “long, strange trip” if I may quote Jerry Garcia and unexpected pleasures and pains present themselves. In my case it was some creepy guy (who on second thought probably wasn’t even an Economic professor) touching my leg. And I said nothing. Sure, I got up and removed myself from the situation but without a dignified reprimand to assert the wrongness of what he did. I kept my mouth shut for decorum.

How many times in your life have you done/not done something that clashed with your principles for the sake of some sort of social peace?  Don’t rock the boat!  We do it all the time. Or perhaps you haven’t said anything because what difference was it going to make? Jean Paul Sartre the prolific writer and proponent of existentialism called this bad faith. It’s when we choose ourselves as “inert presence’” or passive objects in the ceremony of life. We melt into social roles or ignore our surroundings.  Why? Facing up to our convictions and putting our views out there—well, that’s a hard thing to do. 

Acting in good faith isn’t necessarily being aggressive or fighting, but it is asserting your opinions and living in concordance to your principles.  Easy, no, but the alternative is to live a life of a watered down you—one that is too fearful to break out of the mold, your beliefs tucked under good behavior. Good faith gives us agency, movement to act and, define one’s reality.  It is an invigorating idea and when applied to creepy train rides changes the scenario from victimization to freedom from sexist behavior. Acting in good faith I might have said exactly what I thought of him violating my space….or maybe I would have kicked him in the shins!

I encourage everyone reading this blog to think about matching your principles with your words and actions. I promise it is not easy, but I can also assure you that there is no other way to live.

~ Sarah Champ-Valencia

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Guest Bloggers

I am happy to announce that two of my favorite people will be guest blogging this week- Sarah Champ-Valencia & Damian Ludwig. Both are inquisitive, thoughtful, and wicked smart peeps. Sarah will be discussing the meaningful and vast topic of LIFE and Damian will be writing a 3 part series on the deep and complex meaning of LOVE.

I hope you enjoy their posts. I think they are quite thought-provoking and profound. Hopefully they will make you think twice and maybe even read twice!

kisses. melanie

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Easter Already??

I hit the mall the other day to find a dress for an upcoming wedding and to my shock and surprise it was decorated for Easter! Easter already?? That's 2 months from now. They are missing the bigger holiday's in between- Mardi Gras & St. Patrick's Day (at least in NY it is!). My bf Heather is having her annual St. Patty's Day party and it always proves to be a great and late night out.

Are you throwing a St. Patrick's party? If so, here are some cute ideas to help decorate.

Class it up a bit and send out paper invites.

Forget the green carnations and kick it up a notch with potted yellow roses from

Make it yourself decorations from you know who.

Start the conversation with these classic napkins from

The evening wouldn't be authentic without a case of my favorite stout!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Elephant Sanctuary, Pt 3.

We were blessed to meet Lek, the founder of the The Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand while we were visiting. Lek is a short woman with a huge heart. She grew up in the hills of Thailand, born into a hill tribe who were not recognized as Thai citizens. Her grandfather gave her an elephant as a child and she took care of this elephant until it passed away years later. The elephant, Tongkum, was her 'baby'. When it was time for her to graduate high school she went to her mother and told her she did not wish to go to college but instead she wished to save the Thai elephants from extinction and man's hands. She would be the first person in her family to go to school and to college. Her mother told her to get her education first, then she could follow her dreams of helping the elephants. Lek believes that elephants weren't put on this earth to work for people. They are not here to be ridden on by tourists, taught to beg in streets for money for their owners, or to help loggers carry wood. After graduating from college she met a young man from Texas. He had just come into some money and she asked him if he would help her buy land and use it as a refuge for a few elephants that have been abused. Several days later she received a check and from there her dream started to take shape.

When we met her she was on her way up north to help save a baby elephant. Unfortunately elephants are a 'hot' commodity and owners want a hefty price for them. Some cannot be saved because they want to much for them. On the day we left we got to spend more time with Lek and she shared with us several wonderful stories on how she, herself, saved several of these animals and how she strives to help change the way they treated.

A small bio can be found on one of their websites.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love Notes

I thought we could take a small break from our elephant trip and talk about lovvvvvvvvvve. Are a 'Last Minute Molly' like me and still haven't gotten your Valentines cards? I logged on to etsy and found these adorable love notes.

Need to send cards to your husband, kids, mom, and your nieces? Hero Design Studio's pack of 12 silkscreen love notes are just what you need! $24

HidenSeek's love note titled Dad, this is the friend I told you about is the perfect card for a new love. $3

Check out Belle and Boo's Valentines etsy shop. This love note is perfect for a best girlfriend or mom. $4

Simply stated. Redshoes 26 Design shop. $4

Monday, February 8, 2010

Elephant Sanctuary, Pt. 2

After about one hour north from Chiang Mai, through the beautiful Northern Thai country side, we arrived at the Elephant Nature Park. We dropped off our stuff by a large open air wooden building, called 'the kitchen', which was filled with thousands of bananas and crates of mangoes and tamarind. Some of the fruit was being divided into baskets, each with a name painted on it, such as Mae Do, Jokia and Hope. This was lunch for the elephants. An asian elephant can weigh up to 5 ½ tons and can eat up to 300 pounds of food a day!! By time dinner rolled around, the rest of the food there would be eaten. 

Feeding the elephants was an interesting and fun task. They would grab up to 6 bananas at a time with their trunks and toss them into their mouths like they were peanuts. As the food landed in their mouth their trunks were swinging around for more. All I saw was a flurry of nimble trunks coming at me. I was caught off guard when one them gave me a kiss. A rough, wet, snotty, kiss right on the cheek.

After lunch, the elephants marched down to the river so we can give them their afternoon bath. This was one of my favorite moments of the day!
Our job was to join Medo and Mae Mai in the river, along with their Mahouts, traditional elephant trainers or "elephant drivers". Our guide gave us scrub brushes and buckets. Standing in hip high water (filled with elephant poop), we scrubbed their backs and threw buckets of water on them.

Medo was rescued by Lek, the sanctuary's founder, from an abusive logger near the Burmese border (a lot of loggers in South East Asia use elephants to haul trees). While Medo was working, a heavy log fell and broke her ankle. Her owner never reset it or tried to help her recover. Unable to use her for logging, they tried to have her bred but instead of mating with her, the male elephant, a big bull, pinned her to the ground and dislocated her backbone. Because Medo's injuries were never treated, with every step she takes on her back leg, her entire body falls feet away from the ground while her unaligned hip almost seems to pull away from her body. She then lifts her weight back up only to have it fall again with her next step. It was obviously painful for her and was extremely painful to watch. Her bff, Mae Mai, looks after her every step of the way...waiting for her to bathe or eat. Mae Mai's got her back!

Elephants are extremely social animals and have tight knit families. When they are separated from their families, they can often be adopted into surrogate families or form friendships, which is what happened to most of the rescued elephants at the park. It's amazing how they are all very protective of each other.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Elephant Sanctuary, Pt I

Research a trip in Thailand and you will no doubt find a seemingly endless amount of elephant attractions. You can ride them through the forest, watch them dance, or even have one paint you a picture. None of those appealed to us. Besides not feeling too authentic, making the elephants perform for us seemed kind of mean.

While my husband searched through forums on travel sites such as Travelfish, he found The Elephant Nature Park. It is an elephant sanctuary, home to about 30 elephants, most rescued from abusive living conditions. The sanctuary is about a hour drive outside of Chiang Mai and sits on 150 acres in a valley surrounded rain forest.
The idea behind it is that you are not a paying customer there to watch the elephants perform. You actually pay to volunteer, meaning part of the reason you’re there to work. As a volunteer your job is to help feed the elephants, wash them & make basic repairs to the camp. You could visit for the day or stay for a week, 2 months, 6 months… basically as long as there is room for you, you can stay for as long you want. One day, however, definitely is not enough. We stayed for 2 days, which in the end felt a little short.

Every review of the sanctuary basically said the same thing: Going there was an experience of a lifetime. Though it sounds cliché, it was true. Below are some pictures of our time spent there. Look for more pix, videos and postings as I take you through one of the most memorable experiences of our trip!

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