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Why you need your own personal talisman

Why you need your own personal talisman

Some people talk about “putting on your big girl panties” when you’re nervous or face a challenge. For me, that means putting on my sankofa bracelet, a gift from my father. The symbol is an ostrich reaching back for its egg.⁣

A dear Ghanian friend taught me that in “twi”, one of the native languages of Ghana, “sankofa” literally means “go back and take” and symbolizes the importance of how our past and history informs our present and future.⁣

This particular talisman has a special significance for me because for years I told myself a negative story – that I was somehow lacking in some way because I did not know my true full heritage because I never met my biological father. ⁣

With time, I have come to deeply appreciate the lessons of my search for wholeness and I now recognize that knowing your genealogy is only a small fraction of what makes you who you are. ⁣

I am forever grateful that the man who raised me and loved me — my soul father — chose and gifted me with this bracelet, without even knowing its meaning. I can still picture us together in a little shop in Brooklyn, NY where my dad had spotted the bracelet. 

I cherish it because it helps me choose which parts of my history I want to elevate and which part of my “story” I can set aside. ⁣

In my work as a coach I support my clients in the same way — honoring our past, yes, and also intentionally choosing our way forward.⁣

If you want to write your own story, reach out to see how we can work together.⁣

compass on tiles

Which direction are you headed?

Which direction are you headed?

Whoa! There is so much going on in this mosaic tile that I spotted in Málaga, Spain. First up – the compass rose smack dab in the field of blue.⁠⁣

Also known as a wind rose or rose of the winds this symbol indicates the four cardinal directions. Look at any compass, map, or nautical chart and you’ll probably see a compass rose. ⁠⁣
For over 600 years people have used tools like this to figure out where they are and what direction they are going.⁠⁣⁠⁣ 

Even wanderers like me. And I’m guessing you, too.

While we might not use an actual physical compass, we all need resources to help us navigate life.
Because, let’s face it, a lot can happen.⁠⁣

A change in a relationship.
A child leaving home. ⁠⁣
A new job. ⁠⁣
A pandemic.⁠⁣

The good news is with awareness and intention you can stay true to you. 

⁠So, today I invite you to consider⁠:
✴️ What are the important points on your personal compass rose? ⁠⁣
✴️ How do you feel about the orientation of your life right now?⁠⁣
✴️ Which actions will you take to keep yourself aligned with your inner compass?⁠⁣
➡️ Want help moving in the direction of your dreams? Reach out to me to get started!⁣

a photo of a handprinted mandala with a butterfly in the center created by Justine Ickes copyright 2022

How to be merry all year long!

How to be merry all year long!

Did you know that “merry” comes from an Old German word for “slow” or “leisurely”

I know! Not the vibe we typically associate with the end of the year, right?

In the holiday hoopla, we forget all too easily that relaxing, reminiscing, savoring moments alone or with family and friends, and simply BEING are what give us energy. 

Nature takes breaks and so can – and so should – we! 

So, as this year winds down, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of downtime and rest!

Perhaps like many people – me included! – you might find yourself not measuring up to your own expectations when you take stock of the year.

Remember, no matter how much you did or did not achieve in (insert whatever year you’re reading this :-)), you are still worthy. So, go easy on you!

Here are some affirmations that might help.

🪬 I have done enough.

🪬 I created enough.

🪬 I offered my best to this year.  

🪬 I am allowed to take time to rest.

🪬 Other people’s accomplishments have no bearing on my own worth.

Would you like some support in making those affirmations stick? Coaching can help!

a photograph of a pink and white wooden mail box with an image of a white envelope and a red heart painted on it

Slow Starts and Sweet Surprises

Slow Starts and Sweet Surprises

To be honest, it always takes me some extra time to warm up to the new year. What about you?

Luckily, I’ve learned that, if you bundle up well, go for a wander, and get curious, you may stumble on a nice surprise.

I sure did, thanks to this sweet Love Letter box I found in the little town of Norfolk, aka the “icebox of Connecticut.”

A note on the box invited people to “write a love letter to someone unknown and to take a note for yourself.”

Imagine my delight when I pulled out this message! –>>> “You are singular and spectacular!”

I mean, c’mon! How great is that?!

Did I keep the note?

Well, I wanted to. But in the end I decided to leave it for the next lucky person.

Because here’s the thing: Every one of us is singular and spectacular. 

To be clear: “Every one” includes you.

Even if you haven’t chosen your word of the year, yet. Or ever.

Even if you’ve already bailed on your New Year’s resolutions.  

And even if you still aren’t sure what to make of the year ahead and your goals for the year have yet to come into focus.

Trust that they will in time.

Meanwhile, repeat after me: “I am singular and spectacular!”

a quote by author Karen Blixen that says "We must leave out mark on life while we have it in our power."

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

What did you come here to do? In other words, what’s your life purpose?⁣

Not sure? ⁣

Here are some ways to find out:⁣

* Help other people. – Studies have shown that being of service can help you feel a sense of purpose. ⁣

* Seek feedback. – Ask people what they think of when you enter their mind. What they notice about you can give you insights into your purpose.⁣

* Take note of topics that interest you. Do you regularly post about certain things on social media? Is there an injustice that deeply bothers you? These could be clues to your life purpose.⁣

Identifying a clear sense of purpose — aka the mark you’re here to make — can help you lead a better, happier, healthier life.⁣

So, ask yourself: What’s the mark I’m making?⁣ And is that what I really came here to do?

large boulder painted with a bright yellow smiley face in the shape of the sun

Go Big or Go Home!

Go Big or Go Home!

Ain’t that the truth?

I love seeing people’s creative expressions on this Block Island landmark. The messages and images change on the daily, sometimes even hourly. I’ve spotted folks happily making their mark in broad daylight and by flashlight.⁣

The thing is you don’t need spray paint or a boulder to speak your mind.⁣

Every day you are making a statement with your words and actions.⁣
Tell me: If you could express your truth big and bold, what would you say?⁣

Need help figuring that out? I’ve got spots opening right now for new coaching clients. Reach out and let’s work together!

close up photo of a large sculpture made of wrought iron letters of the English alphabet

What’s your personal alphabet?

What’s your personal alphabet?

Did you know that the word “alphabet” comes from the first two letters of the Greek language?⁠

And that way back in the day, speakers of Latin created the word “abecedarius” (aka the “ABCs”)?⁠

I didn’t and I’ve been a word nerd and language geek my whole life! :-)⁠

Which just proves you can always learn (and make!) something new.⁠

All this got me thinking: If you could create your own ABCs, what would the letters stand for? ⁠

I’d probably choose words that express what most matters to me: 

A for art.

B for becoming.

And C for creativity (and coaching)! No surprises there, right? ;-)⁠

How about you? What would your personal alphabet say about you and what you value? Want help figuring this out? Schedule a complimentary conversation to see what coaching can do for you!

overhead photo of table of colorful pieces of collage paper

Who helped you become who you are?

Who helped you become who you are?

In this season of harvest, I’ve been challenging myself to acknowledge the people who’ve helped me become who I am today and who made my life so full.

Today I’m honoring my father who passed away over a decade ago. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to represent him with a photo. Then I remembered an experience I had at the festival celebrating the opening of the new Reach extension at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Peering over a balustrade I saw this group of teachers making art, right there for all to see. “How brave!“, I thought. So I snapped this shot and then had a lovely conversation with one of the education staff. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Why is this a big deal? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Because I used to be mortified when my father would strike up conversations with anyone and everyone – the clerk at the deli at our local grocery store, the postman, a stranger in an elevator. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
“Justine, just talk to people!” he’d say. “You never know what you’ll learn.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
And there I was doing just that! Talking to and CONNECTING with a total stranger. I never could have envisioned being able to do this all those years ago when I’d stand along side my father and listen to him engage with people. His example gave me the confidence to do that…to reach out, to be curious, to listen, to learn, to connect. And for that I am eternally grateful. ⠀⠀

We all have people who have been influential in our life. If we are lucky, we have the opportunity to recognize the gift and to say thanks.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Who are you thankful for? And how will you show your appreciation?

molasses pekmez Turkey Justine Ickes writer

Slowing down for Turkish molasses

Slowing down for Turkish molasses

This essay appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Gastronomica magazine. Click here for a pdf version.

The heat doesn’t faze Sevim, my seventy-year-old mother-in-law, even though it’s already sweltering at six o’clock in the morning. ‘‘Buraya,’’ here, she says, dragging a stained neon-blue tarp under a tree heavy with mulberries. Twelve feet above, her octogenarian husband balances on a branch and waits for the signal. ‘‘Tamam,’’ okay, Sevim shouts, and Muzaffer begins shaking the bough. The leaves rustle and, suddenly, hundreds of the white du¨ t shower down, the plump fruit landing plippity-plop-plop on the plastic sheet.

‘‘Look out!’’ squeal my two sons as they dodge the fruity confetti.

June is pekmez, fruit molasses, time in Bes¸ikdu¨ zu¨ , the eastern Black Sea town in Turkey where my family is spending the summer, sans Hakki, my husband. In his birthplace, a hillside hamlet, men bob and weave through the berry-laden branches, taking care not to dislodge the ripe fruit before their wives say the word. Down below, the women sweat over enormous copper pans, pressing, stirring, and boiling the fruit’s juice until it thickens into a tangy, tawny molasses.

Pekmez has sweetened Turkish dishes since the eleventh century. Typically made from mulberries or grapes, ‘‘the healing syrup of Anatolia’’ is rich in iron, calcium, and potassium. Rural housewives like my mother-in-law believe molasses can cure colds, treat anemia, and even prevent cancer. Postpartum moms fortify themselves with pekmez mixed with water. At breakfast, Turks scoop it up with bread or, in my husband’s case, slurp it down by the spoonful.

With its bittersweet, slightly burnt flavor, homemade mulberry molasses can take some getting used to. I could say the same thing about Bes¸ikdu¨ zu¨ . Despite thirteen years of marriage and yearly visits to my in-laws’ rambling three-acre homestead, I’ve yet to acquire a taste for rural living `a la Turka. To my New Yorker sensibilities, life on the Silk Road is bucolic but backwards, and best for little boys gone wild.

Glancing up from my dictionary, I catch my sons skidding barefoot through Sevim’s harvest.

‘‘Stop that!’’ I scold, as my seven-year-old leaps onto a mound of mulberries. ‘‘You’ll ruin grandma’s pekmez.’’

But Sevim just sighs and adjusts her pink-and-black floral kerchief. She crisscrosses the corners at the base of her neck and knots the scalloped ends across her forehead.

‘‘Ne yapalim,’’ she says, and hoisting a bucket of berries onto her hip, pads over to me in her black rubber galoshes.

Confused, I mentally rifle through my rudimentary Turkish. ‘‘Yapmak’’ is ‘‘to do,’’ that much I know.

Before I can figure out what she means, Sevim dumps her haul onto the table, and starts picking through it, tossing out leaves, twigs, and overripe fruit. Gingerly, I poke my fingers into the heap. It’s sticky, slimy, and teeming with bugs.

‘‘Yuck,’’ I think, flicking an earwig off my wrist. ‘‘This is going to be a long three months.’’

My mother-in-law has worries of her own. The month before we arrived, a carload of holidaymakers drowned in a freak ferry accident. In the finger-pointing fallout Rahman, the head of Port Security—and the husband of Sevim’s eldest daughter—was arrested, presumably for negligence. Six weeks later, Rahman still hasn’t been formally charged, and no one knows when, or whether, he will be released.

‘‘How’s it going today?’’ Hakki asks when he calls one day in August.

‘‘Same as yesterday,’’ I deadpan. ‘‘Except now she’s picking grapes.’’

At noon Sevim teeters atop a rickety wooden ladder. Clusters of blue-black muscat grapes spill from a wicker basket. Half a mile down the rutted footpath that leads to her house, the clang of metal on bedrock booms like a metronome. Soon, the city will raze her prized decades-old arbor to make way for a new modern road.

I wonder aloud about the fate of the mulberry trees. Will they be cut down too?

Sevim shrugs, and, wordlessly, empties the basket into a copper tub, before sliding her bare feet into two plastic bag booties. Hitching up her skirt, she climbs in and starts stomping the grapes. She sloshes around a bit and then, ankle-deep in the purple slurry, turns to me and smiles.

‘‘I don’t get it,’’ I tell Hakki later. ‘‘Her son-in-law’s in jail. The town’s about to lop off half her land. But your mom just keeps making pekmez.’’

‘‘So?’’ he asks. ‘‘What else can she do?’’

At dusk a pungent aroma rises from the grape pekmez. Sevim squats on a tree stump, skimming the froth. Steam billows from the roiling syrup and for a moment she vanishes. Then, through the haze, I see her ladling molasses into a shallow bowl. She tips the dish sideways, and an amber film spreads across.

‘‘Tamam,’’ she says. It’s ready.

She pads into the house and returns with three smaller basins. Together, we tilt the heavy pan and the piping-hot molasses flows like lava.

After, Sevim leans the empty basin against the mulberry tree and motions for me to sit. A layer of caramelized sugar coats the pan. Grinning, Sevim traces a curlicue through it and then, with a flourish, licks her finger.

Suddenly, I am overcome. My fiftieth birthday is two days away and I’ve been brooding about growing old and losing my father two years before.

‘‘I miss my dad,’’ I stammer, biting back tears.

Sevim is silent for a moment. ‘‘Ne yapalim?’’ she says, looking up at the sky. He’s gone.

Then, at last, I understand what she means: Ne yapalim translates literally as ‘‘what-can-we-do.’’ But it’s not a question; it’s a mantra of acceptance.

I nod and watch her fill a jar with pekmez. As it falls from the spoon, it folds over on itself like ribbons of freshly blown glass. Then a lone bubble floats slowly to the surface.

Loss flavors every life, I realize. But serendipity does too. The wise heart embraces both.

Across the valley, the slate-gray sky pulses with lightning. By morning the last mulberries will be gone, swept away by the storm.

Catching Sevim’s eye, I point to the clouds. ‘‘Ne yapalim,’’ I murmur, and smiling, bring the pekmez to my lips.

What’s been your most eye-opening travel experience? I’d love to hear.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

Several years ago I hit a one of those big life milestones…you know, the kind where you add a zero to your chronological age. Yes, I’m a bit vain so you’re not getting any more details than that. 😉

Anyway, to mark the passage into a new phase of my life, I resolved to walk part of the Camino de Santiago, the centuries-old network of pilgrimage routes that extends across Europe and ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Kitted out with backpack, walking stick, and a brand new pair of hiking boots, I chose the most well-known route, the Camino Frances, which begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and crosses through several Spanish provinces. 

One evening about two weeks into my walk, I was chatting by phone with a friend in the U.S. when she asked if I’d done any early morning walks.

“No, why?” I asked.

“Oh, I just imagine it must be so spiritual, to be walking out under the stars, being out in nature in the pre-dawn,” she said.

Truth be told, it had never even occurred to me to walk in the dark. Rising early in the wee hours of the morning is customary on the Camino. But that’s more out of necessity and expediency. As anyone who’s walked the Camino in the high season knows, the early bird has a much better chance of snagging a cot in the albuergues, the dormitory-style accommodations that dot the Camino. Sleep in and you may end your day with sore feet, heat exhaustion, and no place to sleep. 

So, yes, waking up early was already part of my Camino routine. And, yet, venturing forth before daybreak intrigued me. What would that be like?, I wondered. Might I discover something else on the Camino that was invisible in the daylight?

So that night I resolved to rise before dawn so I could experience the Camino while the rest of the pilgrims slept on. 

To help orient pilgrims, and direct them toward Santiago de Compostela, there are waymarkers along Camino. The scallop shell is the most iconic symbol and waymarker. Typically painted in yellow and blue, the scallop shell appears on crumbling walls, the sides of buildings, and often literally under your feet on the path. In some provinces, the scallop shell is accompanied by a yellow arrow pointing the way east to Galicia.

Having spent several weeks on the Camino, I was pretty adept at spotting the waymarkers. After ten minutes I had left the city and my cozy cot behind. The world was eerily silent; even the birds had not yet awoken. I was feeling proud of myself (okay, maybe a bit unsettled by the total silence) and rehearsing what I’d tell my friend about my bravery. I strained my ears for the sound of nocturnal creatures and heard nothing. I gazed up at the sky, ready to marvel at the constellations, but the clouds obscured all.

Feeling a bit deflated, I entered a tiny village and made my way to small plaza with several paths and streets radiating in several directions. Peering around in the dim, actually, nearing non-existent light I couldn’t find a scallop shell or an arrow. I stumbled around a bit, shining my headlamp around corners, down alleys, and scanning the roundabout. And still, no waymarker.

After stumbling around in the dark for a bit, the voices in my head started panicking. “What kind of a dumb idea was this? How stupid to be out walking alone?! I mean, what did I really expect to find out here, anway?”

Then, another voice, one that many pilgrims hear, whispered in my subconscious, “Remember. The way is always there. Just pay attention.”

That was when I turned and saw it – smack dab in the center of the roundabout, a mere three feet away, stood an enormous statue of Saint James. Staff in one hand and a scallop shell danging from his waist, the statue’s free hand was raised and pointing.

I was so surprised, I burst out laughing.

What a wonderful timely lesson. No, I didn’t experience the awakening I’d gone looking for that morning. I had been too busy orchestrating my own adventure and trying to will some grand discovery that would serve as pilgrim bragging rights.

I nearly missed the very magic of the moment.

Fortunately, and of course, the waymarker and the message been there all along.

They always are, aren’t they?

Want support with your own personal wayfinding? Click here to learn about my “North Star” and “Pilgrimage” coaching packages.