Wearing Woodchucks

The new diamond I’m wearing is a woodchuck. 

Wait, let me explain!

Last weekend we planted beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomato seedlings, and small starts of kale, zinnias, and nasturtium I’d started in pots from seed. 

It took a woodchuck one day to discover the place under the fence he/she could easily dig. The kale was devoured and this woodchuck had a fetish for something under the tomato plants, digging vigorous holes.

I was bummed.  First, we’d built an 8-foot high fence to keep out urban deer.  Then I learned to protect snow peas with mesh to prevent birds from plucking them to pieces.  There’s not much to do about the energetic squirrels. And now I’ve got to figure out how to outsmart woodchucks.

Part of me feels sorry for myself when snags happen.  I think about quitting, not sure all this gardening effort is worth it. And yet, and yet, we’re already eating sweet new lettuce and the promise of tender beans and plump tomatoes, grown here instead of a farmer’s field, compels me to stay with gardening, woodchucks and all.

Life is like this – we chug along, living our lives.  Then it rains too hard, or not enough, or a woodchuck lays waste to the tomatoes and we have to decide – is this worth it?  And every time, if want to keep moving along life’s path and live a wholehearted life, we have to say yes. 

My spouse reminds me when I’m complaining vigorously, that challenges are diamonds.  He gets this from Charlotte Joko Beck who wrote “Nothing Special, Living Zen.” 

“The path of life seems to be mostly difficulties, things that give trouble. Yet the longer we practice, the more we begin to understand that those sharp rocks on the road are in fact like precious jewels; they help us to prepare the proper conditions for our lives. […] There are sharp rocks everywhere. What changes from years of practice is coming to know something you didn’t know before: that there are no sharp rocks – the road is covered with diamonds.

[…] Increasingly, problems do not rule out practice, but support it. Instead of finding that practice is too difficult, that we have too many problems, we see that the problems themselves are the jewels, and we devote ourselves to being with them in a way we never dreamt of before. […] It’s not that problems disappear or that life “improves”, but that life slowly transforms – and the sharp rocks that we hated become welcome jewels. We may not delight to see them when they appear, but we appreciate the opportunity that they give, and so we embrace them rather than running away from them. This is the end of complaints about our life. Even that difficult person, the one who criticizes you, the one who doesn’t respect your opinion, or whatever – everybody has somebody or something, some sharp rock. Such a rock is precious; it is an opportunity, a jewel to embrace.” *

While Joko Beck is writing of a meditation practice, her words can be enlarged for anyone serious about following a path of growth.

I know a woodchuck ruining the garden is a trivial example of a dilemma life deals us. Illness, injury, a colleague that drives us crazy, loss, divorce, death or a painful family drama that keeps repeating are true life challenges. Unexpected, painful things are happening, have happened, will happen to every human. 

Our knee-jerk reaction is to push those things away, run from them, distract ourselves from them, criticize ourselves (or others) for the way they affect us, etc.

And still, if we are to grow, our work involves turning and meeting life – whatever it brings –  being with it and allowing it to teach us strength, courage, resilience, a sense of humor, and increased appreciation for the journey itself, strewn with all those lovely woodchucks….I mean diamonds!

So, out goes the trap, hoping I can outsmart wily woodchuck. And keeping a vigilant watch over the growing garden.   And hoping still for tender beans and crisp cucumbers.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, June 2018

* Joko, Beck Charlotte. Nothing Special:  Living Zen. New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1993

May 2018


Vinca 2018
Vinca May 2018


is the best word I can find
for spring
after our northern winter.

Just last week
I wore a winter coat
and snow swirled
in cloudy skies.

But now
the maple’s reddish buds are
flecked with green,
limes and pale golds the dominant hues,
at last.

And five days after
tossing s
the arugula has sprouted.

Lovers walk down the sidewalk
arm in arm
and dogs I didn’t know existed
pull at leashes
following the scent of squirrels.

What astonishes you?

Brenda Hartman-Souder, 2018

Why Those Quilt Squares?

Why These Quilt Squares?


My son painted the key image for this website, capturing the essence of quilt squares sewn in Jos, Nigeria by women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. 

Many of the squares are made into greeting cards, but some are not quite perfect enough for that function.  Mary Beth Oyobade, the co-founder of Women of Hope at Bezer Home, where the women sew, saw another beautiful use:  squares pieced together with black borders to make exquisite wall hangings and quilts. In Jos, they are called Redemption Quilts because of “what was lost has been redeemed.”

I lived in Jos, Nigeria many years and have several of these wall hangings.   They remind me what I miss about that country – its colors, textures and variety.   I admire the mix of solid, dyed and printed fabrics, the way every piece adds vibrancy, balance or depth.

And that describes us as humans and the systems we live in pretty well, I think:

The quilt squares

are unique

are imperfect and also are just fine

are made of pieces that create a whole

have predictable and necessary boundaries and borders

contain a vast array of variety with each piece playing an important part

can stand alone but function better together

I teach and refer to these realities as I work with with clients looking to accept themselves more deeply and also experiment with changes than can make their part in the quilt of life a better fit with their priorities and values.

Something about these squares captured my imagination and I’m so glad to have permission to use them here on these pages.

In the Beginning


“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.” ~ Judy Blume

I intended to start blogging several years ago, but procrastinated, reframing the delay as “pondering” or “carefully planning.”   When I got honest, I recognized that really, I was just scared.

For me, working as a therapist is also about developing my own self while I walk with clients in the often messy and also beautiful path of being human.

Being human meant I was scared. And working on my self meant I had to face and move into and through those fears.

So when I decided that a website overhaul and blogging could be integrated into a step by step process that I was going to complete, I had to take practical steps to calm anxiety about being so visible in the world.

I also needed to recognize that I often speak to myself in old, ingrained, and unproductive ways that feed fear: ”No one is going to read this. You are going to be too vulnerable. You don’t know that much to be writing a professional blog.”  I had to face some fears about “sticking your neck out.”

I learned to work hard at telling myself that redesigning my website, becoming more clear about how I work, and blogging might be powerful, challenging and fun.  It might actually work out!

I had to learn how to start a blog, how to tag and optimize the likelihood of being read and a whole bunch of other technical details that can easily scramble my brain (still learning!). There’ve been glitches and times I’ve doubted the whole process.   And it’s also been an invigorating path I’ll be on for a while.

Those steps, coupled with vision, intention, and support from family (especially my spouse for the graphic design, and son for the artwork), friends, and an online business community, (huge thanks to Heart of Business!) sustained the work that brought me here to these words.

That’s similar to the process of therapy – it can be hard to face fear and contact a therapist; parts of society and perhaps our families will undervalue or stigmatize the act of seeking help, conveying the message that to call a therapist shows weakness, is futile or god forbid, might lead to someone else knowing our secrets, fears and worries.

If the thought of working with a therapist is new to you, research and learn about it. Ask potential therapists or friends who have gone to therapy what the process is like.  Ask yourself if this is a step worth taking.

You may already know what you need to work on and for therapy to be helpful, you must be willing to take responsibility for your life.  You will need to face your fears, and you can do that at your own pace and with your own style.

Good therapy provides a safe space, not from someone who’s got it all together and has risen above life’s challenges, tragedies, and concerns, but from another human being who has worked on their own stuff enough to be able to bring an open mind, accepting spirit and a deep belief in each person’s goodness, resiliency and potential.

I hope you’ll find something in these posts that provokes, inspires or encourages. If not, that’s okay too. This blog is as much for me as it is for you, helping me get clear about how I work, what I believe, face fear and step back into writing.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, April 2018