"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Do-Nothing

Merry Christmas to you, world of internets! I am partway through my card addressing stack and am working on considering making something ambitious like gingerbread or some cut-out cookies....I have most of my shopping squared away and I actually got the oil changed. I feel productive. I feel sane. Its Christmas-time and I feel sane. Because I feel good, I'm going to do less.

Tomorrow I am going to take the day off from Christmas and I will paint.

Its my own personal, self-care holiday gift-day to myself. I will shower. I will go to yoga. I will drink lots of water. I will meditate. I will paint. There will be many paintings. And if the boys want to paint, they can paint too. Anyone can paint! There can be paint all over us....that's allowed. At sundown, there will be baths....and before that there may just be a lot of underwear. We are all washable and we all need to create and breathe and fill our buckets, just as much as we need to do our math homework and catch up with the washing and finish all the Christmas cards.

There may be take-out for dinner. Merry Christmas. I plan to be merry, very. This is part of my prep.


Monday, December 14, 2015

35 Years, Pain and Pleasure....No Regrets

Today I am 35. Life is grand and heartbreaking and strange and beautifully poignant. Life is also dull and dragging and overwhelming. At 35 I am feeling more alive and fresh than I thought I would but I am also more grounded, at peace with crazy things and addicted to learning than I have ever been.

I am living a totally charmed life in many ways but have had some things happen to me that I never thought would occur, things that scared the living daylights out of me. I almost lost my marriage in my 30's. I got arrested and subsequently had to go to court to fight for my fitness as a parent. I held one of my sons in my arms while his lips turned blue and saw him pull back from the edge of death. I have lived in big houses and small apartments and historic properties and left "home" over and over. I've lost grandparents and aunts, had friends break-up with me spectacularly and had a neighbor decided to wage a massive war of hatred over our hedge because she was certain that I was a thief. I have become an aunt, raised baby animals, become a painter, traveled internationally and learned that extended family is one of the sweetest and most humbling gifts I've been given.

 Family drive us crazy but they know us. They help us learn tolerance and can teach us by their irritating rub, to grow past the demons that trip up the clan in all the familiar ways. As a wise man once said, "If you think you are enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving." Family also know us utterly and can accept us despite our super irritatingly uninhibited flaws that flash as soon as we feel "home" and relax. There is nothing like the security of siblings and cousins who tussled and tumbled with you and know the lore and jokes of your tribe. I know its very trendy right now to cut people out of your life if they rub, irritate or hurt you....I think, especially with family, its wiser to learn how to interact. Boundaries within interactions are good, maturity is good and compassion is a must. I am shocked how much I have learned the truth of the fact that that which drives me most monkey-bonkers crazy about my relatives is somehow a shadow quality in myself. Its embarrassing but its there. Not running away but instead learning to be strong and to co-exist with irritation and pain and to take responsibility for our own path, to learn to have allegiance, and even cultivate a fondness for these flawed people with whom we have been tossed up on the shores of life....who love and are driven crazy by us too in the same tortured dance. This is family and intimacy and humility and the great mirror that is long-term relationship.

I am lucky to be me. I am learning so  much about myself and about A and about life. I am utterly grateful for the peace and beauty of my life. The world is gorgeous and I have lived in it so lusciously, I lived a pretty charmed childhood in a log house my dad built by hand, I have four gorgeous sons and have never had a miscarriage, I have had my own chickens and fruit trees and vegetable gardens as well as so many beautiful flowers in every home I've ever had, I have never been in a natural disaster of any serious scale and have never seen someone die of anything besides old age.  I am also so grateful for the things that have happened to me that were painful. People have left me and accused me and hated me. I have been hurt and scared and have felt like I'd made a botch of everything. I have had to do things the hard way and felt like everything was a mess and my life was out of control. I've been embarrassed and felt out of my depth and Its been so good. That's where the growing has been, the humility, the changes, the grit and the healing. I'm so glad that I've had my path.

I'm trying to live with courage and heart and full-engagement. I am so proud of myself for my learning, my resilience and for protecting my sense of fresh amazement at the world. I feel so lucky to be in my life and yet so specifically called to it....I know my life was meant for me, We are all here, where we should be and our paths are divinely laid out. This is my 35th year....a perfect mid-life stopping point for reflection.  I hope I always keep learning, always look up, and always am receptive to God leading me on because my wiggly, slippery story is the most perfectly messy-delicious and useful lesson I could ever have imagined.

“This is an important lesson to remember when you're having a bad day, a bad month, or a shitty year. Things will change: you won't feel this way forever. And anyway, sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are the ones your soul needs most. I believe you can't feel real joy unless you've felt heartache. You can't have a sense of victory unless you know what it means to fail. You can't know what it's like to feel holy until you know what it's like to feel really fucking evil. And you can't be birthed again until you've died.” -Kelly Cutrone

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Lazy Way To Self Awareness

I am using a new little electronic device to keep myself calm. Its like zen in a teeny little charge-able geek machine.

I clip it on my bra when I get dressed and then it acts like a tiny Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder and tells me when I am not breathing enough, when I haven't moved for a while and when I have dipped into a significantly filling period of calm. I love it!

I asked for this for my birthday. I know that I can/could learn to watch myself using my own brain and not a little gadget. BUT until then....as I learn the steps....I have this little counselor made out of plastic, wires and LED lights.  I know that the Spire isn't actually alive in the traditional, scientific sense of the word but I sure feel boosted and partnered with, as though someone else is in this game with me. Maybe its God that I feel...or maybe its the energy in all things that is alive...even if they are just stuff. Maybe I feel myself and am somehow connecting and partnering with capability when I think I'm just using a tool to win at a game.

The great game. The game of becoming (as the author of the Velveteen Rabbit names it) and emerging and growing and bettering. Learning to see what is there (me, having a freaking tense episode because I sat down and tried to do Storytime with my 3 year old?!?!) and mold and work with the crazy truth and reality that we have in ourselves. I am the worst ever at some of this....I love to notice and to introspect but I have a LOT of scripts inside myself about what "should be" that I actually confuse with reality. This is partly the curse of the optimist I think, I know that wishing makes reality and that what we focus on becomes so I try to train my mind on good things....that's all very well. I also tell lies to myself and others about what is really happening because I'm embarrassed, I'm judgmental and I have a neat little script for "how it all should go."

That's getting kind of out there.

All I think I mean to be saying is that wearing this new device is really illuminating as well as comforting. I feel helped and capable when it tells me that I need to take a calm period and offers a guided meditation. I also, am shocked, confused and embarrassed by what calms, focuses and stresses me....and my own inability to ever have noticed my good and bad triggers before.

For Example:

  • Individual Time with each boy (a new parenting technique I am trying lately) is a stress trigger for me sometimes. 
  • Predictably, scolding children stresses me out....but spousal discussions, even about divisive issues can just rack up as periods of focused energy. 
  • Laundry is brain exercise for me....I focus then.
  • Art relaxes me and so does coffee....or sitting with a hot drink, I guess. 
  • I don't have a lot of stress in my life by volume....or calm....I'm quite low on relaxing, battery charging moments, but I swim in focused energy. I have all kinds of it. 
I am fascinated. I can't wait until I have a week of data....until I watch myself on trips, until I see what I am like in different seasons of the year, until I learn all the things and know how to do it.
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby." -Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

That Holiday Feel

I am working on thinking about the Christmas cards. I did buy the voucher thingie from Costco that you use to print your photo cards...I did take a photo that I think might work (after some editing) and I even bought stamps....the truth is though....I haven't even looked at my address list since last year when I didn't get my cards out. Ha!

Its a new year. We are flying for Christmas....first time ever. Time to try to get all the way back to Michigan where all the grandparents are waiting in expectant, glee. In order to pull this off I need to not only stock up on sleep (Hello, 3AM wake-up on Christmas Eve for our flight!) but I also need to mail all our gifts ahead of us since four little boys, one daddy and all our suitcases is all that one mama can possible wrangle in an airport. Of course, Santa will take care of his part which is a relief....isn't it nice to not have to manage someone!?! But most of the giving is on the head of the mama. I love giving gifts and I now have four weeks to plot it all out....okay, three. I need a week just to pack and prep for the travel. Three rows of days to make it happen. Whew....

Time for the making to start. Time for coupons and buying sprees and clever ideas about how to maximize our best ideas for all involved. Have ideas about how you are going to make Christmas a little more do-able and sane at your house this year? I am making bow-ties for the boys instead of new outfits, I bought my dress already and I try to give just three or four gifts per kid....although, A who is the fun-time man around the house always tries to edge me upward. I am determined to find a few "experience" gifts this year too. Stuff that isn't "stuff" and will satisfy a fun-time Daddy and a minimalist mama who wants peace for Christmas herself.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Poetry Friday: Secret Apple Code

Happy Poetry Friday to you all! Its late at night and the house is quiet....I have had a dreamy day out with some of the best company and have wakened my mind up in a redwood forest. Its a good night for a poem and even though this one came dragged out of me in a tangled fashion, I hope it will be worth sharing with others. I liked listening to my brain stumble through the meanings and the unsnarling of the steps of the story. 

I forget how much writing poetry can feel just like meditation, like painting and like yoga when I sink in properly. Its best done in a dark house after everyone has gone to sleep, I think. You can finally get into the thick and flowing weight of the process if you have no voices left, no other presence and no one but you, even your physical self snoozing in the computer chair really while your brain and your soul work macrame with ideas and thoughts and personal truth. This is why I mean to read poetry and mean to write it. 

This week, a poem about the story of this beautiful little apple and how it came to be mine and how in the world despite its stunning beauty, I managed to have it disappoint me. 

An Apple Lesson
I wanted it to be most sweet, a tangy, juicy pleasure
Instead it punched me bitterly, a plug of sour, drying feathers. 
It was the largest on the tree, its skin all pinkly blushing
The freckles on its spherical cheek all winking at me flushly.
The children playing squirrel games had buried all the others 
A row of mole-hills neatly made, with marble apples under.
I noticed all their digging work, each stick that marked a pile. 
I heard the secret offerings arranged for deer in sylvan style. 
The meaning of each twig and heap, the messages spelled out
When every plan had been described, oblations all laid out
I told them if I was a doe, I'd be most grateful to them each
And have a secret thrill to find their message and the treats. 
Attention is a cheerful gift, a momentary pleasure
A child who is listened to grows dignified and tender
Because I entered in their world, my fingers in the dirt
My head inclined and face awake, my spirit in the work
They paused and then behind a back emerged this largest pome
The rusted ruby biggest fruit, unburied and alone
They gave it to me as a gift, a gesture peer to peer.
Their largest apple never laid in sacred mounds for deer.
I thanked the little architects who'd shared their schemes with me
And made a circuit through the park, a gleeful apple posessee
I cupped it in my hand and tossed and felt its weighty cool
With glittering eyes I breathed and rubbed it to a ruddy yule. 
The tartan flannel of my shirt my regal buffing cloth
My lucky apple, sparking bright, held vampishly aloft. 
Alas, this prize of children and my adultish greedy yen 
Had a jolting oral skirmish when I bit into the skin.
Not every beauty that we find is there to be consumed. 
Some gifts are handheld sermons made of eloquent festoons. 

Our Poetry Friday roundup being hosted this week by The Miss Rhumphius Effect. Please join in or read along any week that the urge strikes you, this friendly group of poets and poetry lovers has no limits or rules about participation and has been so welcoming to me. Please come along if you like!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Blue Belly Brilliance

The boys and I have long been nature lovers and over the past two years or so, I have been working on getting us all into nature journaling. As we have migrated West and lost our Nature Table space with a smaller home I have been working over new ways to deal with science. One way has been to work our nature journals into a more prominent place in our usage. Instead of just using them to draw assigned subjects as we studied certain topics (conifers, frogs and their life stages, snowflakes and how they form etc.) I have changed them to our identifying log.

 We try to take a walk every day in the neighborhood and we have successfully managed to work a weekend family hike into our new Western lives as well. These two venues plus just our general love of nature and honed awareness of the animals and plants around us have given us a steady way to use the journals. When we see interesting things that we don't know about (daily! everything is new!) I photograph and we observe and tell each other what we each can see about the subject. For instance, recently, Nib saw our first lizard! We were all so excited to see one in person and in one of our local parks, a short walk from our house. We all got to see it quite close up and I got some pictures with my iPhone.

Then later in the week, we got to the part where our journals came in handy. We got on the computer together and using whatever markers we could dig up from the photo we took and from our collected observations we looked up that lizard. The lovely thing about identifying things on the internet is that you can get so darn specific. We found several pages that were all just about lizard of the The Bay Area....no other creatures or regions to muddy the waters. Field guides are top notch for browsing and will work for identifying but the internet is a little like asking a noted biologist who knows your area's flora and fauna.

Turned out that Nib's lizard was a Western Fence Lizard also known as a Blue Belly. We didn't get to see our lizard's stomach and it wasn't breeding season so we had no clue they can be the dull grey brown on top and hide a streak of the most mermaidy blue-ish teal on their stomachs. Astounding that skin can be that color! We'll be looking in the spring to catch the show for sure!

The notebooks come out and we print our photo and sketch and draw it in along with a date of our entry and the date we saw the observation. Then some of us have been adding some other views or details from other photos online and we write in whatever fascinating information we read about our new discovery. For instance, this cute little lizard that Nib introduced us to in one of the reasons Lyme's disease hasn't gotten as rampant in this part of the country. A powerful protein in Blue Belly blood de-activates Lyme. When ticks feed on our new, reptile friends, these little, local lizards they are cleaned out and each tick becomes Lyme-free for life! What a wonderful thing to know about! The more I know about Nature the more laughable I think it sounds that we might map it all out and that we as humans are the truly sentient and brilliant species who hold the keys to all things in our little hands.

Nature journaling is giving us a place now to be motivated to indentify and know these know creatures and plants and the amazing stories they all have. We are learning and making dynamic, artistic record books about our unfolding knowledge. What a wonderful world!


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Mama Legacy

Thinking about parenting a lot lately. I mean, obviously, its job one in my life most of the time so maybe that sounds a little contrived....but its not. Its one thing to do parenting with most of your time and another thing to consciously "think" about parenting a lot. Honestly, a lot of the time I really feel like I can't think about parenting very much. Its so personal, so weighty, so unknown and has waaaaay too many variables. I struggle, a lot, with feeling like I am accomplishing the job and with letting go of the responsibility for "making" my kids turn out. I also can be an over-processor who thinks too much about everything and forgets to actually do it so, sometimes I need to sing loudly and march in!
 Thinking today about what truly matters and trying to help myself cut through the fog of things that clamor for attention when I think about parenting my sons and focus down to what matters not just right this minute or this week or even this year....but what really matters.

There are so many things to consider in shaping up your children and teaching and training and equipping them that it can be a total head spinner. I often feel like I can't see the forest for the trees and so sometimes a little focus can be a good thing. This is kind of a parenting manifesto. If I dropped off tomorrow (God forbid), what would I want my kids to remember about their childhood with me? This seems clarifying. Might these answers be "the point" when all the rest is a little bit of extra muddle? Yes, just so.

I'd hope they'd say:

  1. They were certain I loved them dearly.
  2. They felt capable and important, they knew they were people who mattered and could make their own path. 
  3. They knew I wanted them to give love and they were trained in it often: mercy, generosity and thinking of others around them. 
  4. They saw me live in fresh wonder and learned to always be excited about the world and to avoid a useless, bitter jaded-ness. 
  5. They learned to organize, mobilize, strategize, tackle things fearlessly and be movers and shakers from their mama who was a fearless learner and maker. 

That's my list. 

Tomorrow, I may need to read this when I find another plum smashed into the drain of the bathroom sink and shredded all over the tile, or when Pom has a total meltdown on the kitchen floor while I am trying to cook dinner and A is texting me on his way home. I might need to remind myself while going over piano lessons and checking math problems and prompting along beginning readers who simply cannot remember what the letter "i" says no matter how many times I have gone over it. I will have to go and read the list of five things again when I find beds unmade, break up fist fights and hear the kids tell me that they think I'm the meanest mom in the world again. The point isn't any of these little annoying things....those are trees. The point is that stuff....up there. 

They are loved. They matter. They can love. The world is amazing. They can do things. 

And so can I. 


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Eating The Jack-O-Lanterns!

You mustn't be a miser with your pumpkins. I am not for stingy frugality....the kind of frugal that means you keep the plastic on your furniture and yell at people for turning in the heat. I do love a deep useful, make-do kind of a mindset, on the other hand! I think that kind of thinking is at the root of my love of thrifting, foraging and making things myself. Its capability and cleverness that saves money but also makes the impossible reachable and attainable.

Love to live that way.

As I said about the pumpkins....there's no need to skimp....get big plump ones for your kids to carve and let them sit out front with each little silhouette design glowing proudly but then.....when the candy has been gorged on and the trick-or-treaters are gone....really impress your kids! Is it over for the pumpkins? Are they ready for the trash? NO way!

Bring those suckers into the kitchen and have a go at capability yourself! Eat the jack-o-lanterns!

I cut the pumpkin into chunks with a paring knife that are about the size of my palm. Then with said knife or with a vegetable peeler (I adore this one....so sharp and efficient!) get all the rind off. Then a quick rinse if you like and chunk it up and toss it into a pot over medium low heat with three or four cups of water. Don't worry about the inside of the pumpkin being shrivelled and kind of leathery and dried out....it will rehydrate and cook down just fine. The other thing that shouldn't go into the pot of actually moldy bits or rind, besides that....it can all stew. Keep adding chunks until you fill the pot and let it simmer at a low heat (adding water any time it gets low,  until all the pieces are soft when speared with a knife and they are starting to come apart. This was kind of an all day process at our house today. Makes for a yummy smelling house! Made me happy to open the door to the piano teacher today when the kitchen was all pumpkiny and sweet.

So then....do whatever you'd like with the resulting pumpkin meat! Snack this afternoon was little ramikins of stewed pumpkin with a dollup of butter and some salt and a spoon each. Very cozy....especially with a mug of tea. You can serve it for dinner just like that in a big bowl. You can also put it in bags in the freezer for later meals, in that simple state. You can also have a homemade pumpkin pie with your own pumpkin pulp....Ru's jack-o-lantern made it to pie form at our house tonight which was a great coup for him. I used this recipe from Mommypatamus. Just remember that the pie you make won't be as dark and vibrant an orange as one you'd make from canned pumpkin....that's because canned pumpkin isn't pumpkin. Libby's packs butternut squash which has a higher sugar content, richer flavor and deeper color than your jack-o-lantern meat. Nothing to worry about, just a heads up for expectations.

Another super simple option is to make pumpkin butter. This means stirring as much sweetner as you like (I love honey or maple syrup) into the cooked pumpkin and adding cloves, ginger and cinnamon and pureeing in a food processor or with a stick blender, right in the pot. Its great on biscuits and other breads, stirred into  oatmeal or plain yogurt and or just eaten out of the spoon like you would apple sauce. Hope your Halloween was fun and that the holiday stress ahead of you keeps its distance for a while. May the pumpkin simmering on your stove slow down time and give you some sweetly scented now to carry you through.