Reacquaint Ourselves

 

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September and October were full of To-Do lists. I dedicated any free time to household projects, improvements and organization. Those months were arduous and hermitic, but also an exercise in meditative work. And doubly beneficial because the dreaming part of my creativity is given a wider berth when I am involved manual labor. Not only was I working toward a tangible end goal (fix house up/sell house/get new dwelling with more than one bathroom, maybe a dishwasher, must have front porch), but also I was giving my creativity space to stretch out and move a bit. I learned this lesson a number of years ago when I realized that almost every song I’d written had been, at some point, brought to life during time spent doing dishes or folding laundry or raking leaves.

 

November is the month of my birth and so many incredible memories in my life. And since it’s been awhile since much conversation has happened here, I’ll make this the month of rebirth on the blog. First, re-introductions.

*I’m a list maker. No, not for the love of the list itself, but for the love of the freedom of mind to think on other things once the ideas have been jotted down and are safe.

*I love the easy access of city-living (variety of people, culture, ideas, food, opportunities), yet have been living in a small town for 9 years.  Easy access to nature and solitude are a bonus here, but I miss engaging interaction the most.

*Faith/religion is important to me, yet I am typically disinterested in attending church or discussing faith in most of the usual places.  Faith has always been at the top of my “Essentials” list, but involvement in our local church has dropped off my list.  Of course, I’m still wrangling this…but I’ll explain my meh feeling with this example: For half of last year, I worked Sundays and was unable to attend. On my first Sunday back, one of the first conversations I had started off with “I could really use you on guitar in a song next week” and shortly thereafter a request to join a recurring service effort.  And this experience over and over again, without any kind of depth of knowing me as a person. To me, church should be defined like this: any people who come together with a shared purpose of worshipping their creator and to foster community with one another.  I don’t feel much sense of community when I’m asked to do tasks before being asked “Tell me about your new job?  How’s school for the kids? Do you like bagels or donuts?”.  Quite honestly, any question is better than none.  So I hesitantly attend the church, knowing that every week, so long as I leave directly after the benediction, I won’t have the same thing happen again and feel disappointed that after 9 years, it’s the same task-over-knowing story.  Clearly I’m still working on this one.

*I have been writing a lot over the past years.  My first focused effort was in the form of a memoir.  I realized it was “too soon” for the memoir, which has now taken the shape of a novel.  The novel, however, feels the same way.  More time is needed, more wisdom and healing, and distance.  So I’ve tabled my bodies of work for the time being and am moving on to a children’s book (more on that later).

*My primary occupation relies heavily on verbal communication and listening skills.  I’m listening to problems, asking questions when details have been committed , figuring out what my client ultimately wants, and then developing a plan to help them achieve their goals.  The tools I rely upon most heavily are the keys to success in any area of life: Communicate that you’re fully interested/willing to help. Ask relevant questions. Actively listen to the answer. Ask follow-up questions until you gain full understanding of what’s happening. Humbly provide options for the solution.

 

 

 

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Out of the Wilderness

 

Four  years ago I experienced the most excruciating heartbreak of my life (and subsequent minor crumblings). And for some reason I stopped writing. Some primal, “protect yourself” instinct kicked in and I spent a good portion of the past four years  s  l  o  w  l  y  healing in a state of reclusion/solitude.

I’m ready to start talking again.  I’m walking out of the wilderness.

These are a few of my favorite things…

Let’s go fifth grade essay style for this post.

I’m thankful for my life, for my love of adventure, and my love of connecting with people.  

I’m thankful for my children.  They have a knack for making me laugh like few are able to do.  Each day that I begin with their hugs, kisses, and cuddles is a marvel.  

I’m thankful for my job.  I love my job, and I work with incredibly talented and inspiring people.  I can’t believe the variety of projects that I’ve been involved with in the past year.  Gift!

I’m thankful for my friends.  Yeah.  The ones that don’t let go!  The ones that radiate with light, love, and are intensely witty.  And their talent is a force.  Yes.  Those.  

Quiet, Doubt and Fear

Sunrise

The morning had a quiet start.  Dawn.  Coffee.  Allergy sniffles.  Crossword puzzle.  Then I heard her sneaking down the stairs, and soon my fresh-from-sweet-sleep 8 yr. old cuddled up next to me, and began helping me with the NY Times puzzle (*”easy”…as in, a whole book of “easy puzzles”).  And then the remaining two joined us, cuddling up under the quilt, with our Yorkshire Terrier showering the lot of us with her infinite licks.

Mornings like this remind me of our former homeschooling days, and cause all sorts of missing to swell in my heart.  I remember the first nine years of being a mother, and the care, attention, focus, and discipline that I gave to my children and to their education.  We lingered in parks with our books, nature journals, good friends.  We had midday dance parties for physical education, took walks in the rain, made up songs to go along with our memory work, baked treats for neighbors over our lunch hour, and seemed to have unfettered time for the creative expression pulsing through our souls.  We took days off when family members were in need.  We attended daytime lectures, community events, and co-ops because we knew these were important to our manifesto: every interaction: a lesson, every journey: an opportunity for growth, every day: a gift and new beginning.

Those early years live in my memory, haloed by the glory of a sunrise and the filter of time and space.  And yet I clearly remember the fog that, at times, seemed to cloak every moment of the day.  The weight of feeling responsible for everything.  Fear that my failure would effect the future of my children for the remainder of their days.  The seasons of doubt where my  thoughts were full of gloom: I wasn’t doing enough, being enough, becoming enough, whatever enough.  And so I gave myself to the foolish practice of always saying “yes”, becoming over-involved, and forgetting about my soul, so I could do, be, become enough.   And because there was so little margin for tending to inner life, I lost sight of tending to inner conversation in ordering the days.

We centered many of our lessons in schooling, and in our daily conversations now, around the question: “Is it true?”.  The kids love to follow this investigating.  Did George Washington really have wooden teeth?  Did we really make Indians move off their land?  Weren’t they here first?  Are unicorns real? Do you really love me? Can an egg really show up before a hen is there to lay it?  And so I am learning, with many hard lessons under my belt, to respond to my thoughts with that same kind of curiosity.  Was it true that I was not doing enough, being enough, becoming enough, whatever enough?  No.  No No No.

I have found curiosity to be my “carpenter’s hammer”: paying attention and questioning the truth of my thoughts, and choosing to actively participate in the “call and response” of inner conversation has quieted my fears and doubts.  And the parched ground where  those former emotions cultivated thorn and thistle, there now appears tilled soil.  And sprouts, sprigs, blossoms.  There is a landscape transformed.  There is the sunrise, enveloping the earth in a glorious halo, full of anticipation and with the certainty of truth that growth is sure to follow.

Sonoma

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When children, we overnighted for many nights at camp, retreats, and out-of-town service projects. We were far from our home.  We were amongst our most cherished.  We were amongst our family.  And we were amongst mostly strangers.  All the same, we were privy to a kind of greeting, meeting, and adopting friends into our hearts.  We loved the part when the stranger was no longer guest, and became beloved instead.  We were, in looking at our Father, Mother, Grandmothers, Cousins, & the those before, continuing our family way– to believe the best about the people we met and to learn from them in whichever way we were able to learn.  I didn’t realize how I’ve missed those days of camp & retreat & workshop that allow for the most open-hearted sharing and conversation.  To be dropped down in the center of someone’s life for a short time, and to get to the most important details first.  Those  times of my younger days carry a sense of magic and awe as I recall them now.

Last week I was gifted with a time that resembled what I  fondly remember from enlightening friendships that were rapidly developed in those younger years.  We were all away from home.  We were willing take chances, to talk,  and bear our souls in the unique box of time that was afforded for us to be in the same remarkable place at the same inimitable time.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that wealth status, social hierarchy, history, age (or anything) can/should separate people from connecting, learning from one another, and forming lifelong friendships.  And so I have had a sense of wonder over the past week as I recall a handful of days that I spent in the presence of folks that I will always hold in the most shimmering of light.  Privileged  to encounter so many exuberant, gifted, resilient, passionate, genuine souls, I continue to reflect upon the lessons I have learned from so many by sharing a few days of conversations, suppers and celebrations.

We gathered together to celebrate a wedding, and on the last of the evenings spent in such merriment, I could not sway my pensive state.  My heart so full of joy, I could not dance.  My mind so full of thought, I could not sleep.  Even now, as I recall the lessons I received from these teachers, I am ever mindful of the impression left upon my heart and mind, and within swirls a peaceable frenzy that is best summarized by these words from Mary Oliver’s “Thinking of the Swirler”:

In my house there are a hundred half-done poems.

Each of us leaves an unfinished life.

Hoppin’, Skippin’, Lovin’

ImageA times it seems there are no adequate words to describe Violet.  We had quite a lovely time celebrating her 8th birthday this weekend.  Her first request: a baseball game.  Wish granted: I won tickets to a game during a radio contest, and the evening was rounded off by a memorable fireworks display.  

Second request: a trip to Paris.  She awoke early Sunday morning and while everyone else was sleeping, we walked to the town park, decided to call it Paris, and frolicked around in the early light.

Third request: 2,000 hugs.  A work in progess.

Fourth request: Build-A-Bear.  This past month of activity has set a record for our family: highest # of visits to a mall.  May that record hold for the rest of our history.

Fifth request: To smash her face into a piece of cake.  

And so, teaching us little lessons about going all out in the moment, Vi took advantage of this special day and ended the celebration as she had been hoping to for months.

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To Violet: A , caring, wild-hearted, creative, passionate, thoughtful, loyal, excitable, thinking, hopping, skipping, loving gal.  Words cannot contain you, Mae Bug.  

 

Tears of Joy

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 Today is Annabelle’s 10th birthday, and I made sure to hold back my proud and thankful tears as we stood at the bus stop together.  This gal and I spent most every day of our lives together for the past 9 years. Motherhood is fraught with so many juxtapositions- being responsible for well-being & sharing in carefree play,  weariness from duties & the boundless energy of youth, fear of failure & forgiving, tender hearts, necessity of care in the home & the wide open, creative possibilities in each moment.  The list is inexhaustible, but the dawn shines upon the individuals in the story.  Annabelle is a gem.  A rarity.  A thinking, creative, exploring, adventuring, story-loving, caring, friendly, kind-hearted gem of a daughter.  She told me a few months ago that I was one of her best friends, and can echo the same.

And so today I’m celebrating this treasure.  Raise your coffee mug with me in a toast: to the practical joker, the lover of puns, the girl that knows what she likes and doesn’t budge, the girl who never wants to brush her hair or take a shower, and is most comfortable at home with family -or- outside digging up worms, building forts, and cutting stuff with her pocketknife…Cheers!

Let Comparison Work For You

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“He was like a man who has got used to drinking the finest wine, and now finds that everyday wine tastes like vinegar.” –Pillars of the Earth

Would Spring be as refreshing without the drawn-out harshness of the bitter cold, limiting days of winter?  Would the pallet of color that we experience anew each May be as intoxicating if we had not just departed from the steady hues of grey and white?  If we had nothing for comparison, would the beauty of the earth be as riveting as we find it in these first few months of warmth?

I’ve read the quote that “comparison is the thief of joy”, and that notion has been rattling around inside my head for months.  I’ve been trying to make it work; trying to find the truth that may lie within that short string of words.  In my ruminating, however, I have come to my own working conclusion about such things. Comparison can lead to greater joy, appreciation, and experience.  Comparison can help us to recognize what we value and what we hold dear.  Comparison can enable us to appreciate differences.  Comparison can enlighten.   Without attaching the act of comparison to the idea of grading the juxtaposed ideas, comparison can be our friend as we journey on in life, and need to reposition ourselves (from the minutia of days to the grandest of happenings).  

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While I was doing my undergraduate work, I came to detest deconstructive criticism.  Why?  Because the goal of such work is to prove that the text is not unified, to poke holes in the text, and to thus render it lacking in any meaning that was intended by the author, which resonates as sarcasm too much for me to be an appreciator.  As a writer, this type of literary criticism has served as a haunting force that enables fear, angst, and lack of self-confidence, which then can issue the artist a disability card.  My creative/spiritual soul is best served when I am void of the deconstructive, critical spirit.  And, quite honestly, I think we are all best served by the absence of such a voice.

An example?  We’ll use the act of writing as our example, but you can replace “writing” with any other verb (practicing your faith, parenting your children, loving your partner, baking cookies for a friend, et al.).  So we set out to write (observe, parent, love, bake).  We sit down.  There is an abundance of potential energy to do this with our entire being.  The ideas are alive, bouncing, and ready to flow from the invisible to page. And we begin, fast and furious, or slow and calculated.  The action of forming ideas with words flows from our minds as if we were designed to do this.  There is joy.  Exuberance.  Excitement.  The page fills.  The heart soars with contentment.  Pause.  Reflection.  Re-reading of the work.  (Enter: deconstruction).  Criticism of all elements: motive, ability, execution.  Mind whirls.  Why did I think I could do this? I see the holes.  Their minds won’t be able to follow.  The example was poor.  Vocabulary too narrow.  I’m kidding myself to think I can do this.  Poking holes, one by one, our inner voice tears apart the text, phrase by phrase, until there is no good reason to refrain from balling the paper up and tossing it into the trash.  And then, the worst of all things: there is great fear to try again.  Stillness.  Lack of Motion.

Who is best served by this kind of thinking?  No one.  And though I have no cure for debunking such a critical mindset, I do know something that works best:  to change frequencies.  To veer away from that which debilitates.  And to learn how to gravitate toward a calmer, more caring, extra loving inner voice that affirms the given gift of expression, and propels us to move forward no matter the external response.  Most of us have been to an art gallery, seen the work created, and thought internally, “Well, I could have done that!”.  And to quote my friend Caleb: “But the thing is–you didn’t.”  So, essentially, keep at it.

Yeah, go on.  Do that thing you feel you were meant to do.  Let loose.  Give yourself the freedom to forget the deconstructive critics and to soldier on as if it’s your last day to do so.  Compared to that fearful way of being/living/creating…the emboldened, enlivened, excited, confident self is surely the more suitable choice.  Good thing we have comparison to help us out in this matter.  Because if we didn’t….

Slow & Steady

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A Minor Bird by Robert Frost

I have wished a bird would fly away,

And not sing by my house all day.

Have clapped my hands at him from the door

When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me

The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong

In wanting to silence any song.

A morning to confuse them all

I’m sitting in my 3-season writing studio (old garage) enjoying the gift of two unseasonably warm days at the end of this momentous first month of the year. It was a great morning with the kids before school–everyone motivated to face the day after good & plenty rest and some fabulous muffins. Oh, and the fact that winter coats could be left at home was a favorite among all.

I hear a chickadee singing overhead coupled with the chattering of other birds that’s not so common in January, and the memories these sounds call to mind lead me to the conclusion that today will be a day full of contemplation, time spent outdoors, reading, and writing. This morning seems to be touched with a little bit of magic, blessing, or whatever you want to call it.

If you’re bothered by paper waste, you may want to stop reading here. This week we’ve implemented something–paper plate palette. The kids chose the dinner menu and are responsible for preparing the meal and cleaning up. Oh, and we’re only using paper plates/bowls. The why is very simple–I need to tackle a large number of house projects before we have some sweeping changes in February. Eliminating the wash-dishes-for-hours necessity frees up a considerable amount of time each day. It’s only for one week, I promise!

A few random thoughts–

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a great movie.

Vitamin B really does affect energy levels.

Mopping the kitchen floor is a newfound pleasure of mine.

I know cardinals don’t typically lay eggs til late Spring, but we have some baby cardinals in our yard. It happened last year, too. I’ll spare you any “early bird” puns.

I have met some amazing folks during recent travels. An example–I left my phone charger on the train a few weeks back. One day after realizing this I received an email from another traveler about my oversight, and three days later the charger arrived in my mailbox. Or how about Glen from Sonoma who taught four strangers to play a very entertaining card game called Casino. Or Ed and his fascinating stories about working in the steel engineering industry. Or Jean and Julie, a couple visiting the States from Australia and their valiant effort to see the world together while walking through battles with cancer. I continue to be inspired by connecting with people who are determined to live their lives to the fullest, and to offer kindness and love to those they meet along the way.

I’ve Been Away

Working on prelims at Blue, a favorite little spot on Main Street.

Working on prelims at Blue, a favorite little spot on Main Street.

I think I developed a new skill during the busy holiday season–talking without realizing that I’m talking.  My brain would process auditory stimulus , and my words would formulate responses that were informed, coherent, and precise.  Automaton-style.

I took a breather from the end-of-the-holidays grind, and hopped a train to Omaha for a quick 24 hour visit to catch up with my beloved relatives, watch Downton Abbey with my sis, couple carbs + fat at every meal, banter all-things-political with my pops, enjoy a pre-dawn conversation with ma, and serve as human jungle gym for my nieces/nephews.  The train is a perfect way to wind down.  I snapped a few shots you can view here: As Of Late

I had the pleasure of listening to some fantastic tracks while traveling.  A few:

Ho Hey

Waltz Across Texas

No Light, No Light

Forgiveness

Ghost

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

 

 

When TV is most appreciated

We had anticipated to wake in the morning with at least a dusting of snow. The puddles of overnight rain were evidence that the forecast was a shade off, and so the kids put their sledding dreams aside for another day.

I have appreciated this rainy morning. Somehow it’s better to feel under the weather when the weather seems downright ill herself. She’s hot, she gets chills, blowing her nose frequently, and seems down for the count. I nursed a cup of middle soup, watched tv with pip tucked beside me, and fell asleep for a morning nap. The time has come, however, to switch gears and make a mad dash to Target. I can’t put it off any longer. Soon the temperature will drop, winds will blow, the snow will fall, and work will beckon me to my cozy ergonomic chair.

Best of Thursday to you.

Loosed Grip

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My life changed drastically when I reached a level of acceptance. I could identify the facts, but had rejected their truth and lived many of my days with a disgruntled disposition, and an unrelenting drive to replace the truth with something that better suited my sense of worth, accomplishment, and control over life. But sometimes it’s best to accept the facts, let the truth exist, and yield to it for a time.

The application of this lesson is limitless, but I’ll share a situation that serves as an example of the type of thing I’m talking about. Here’s the lesson:

The facts: five people, 2 bedrooms, homeschooling, spending most of our waking hours in this smallish space, messes pop up, papers spread all over the joint, books piled on all surfaces, dishes in constant need of hand-washing, dress-up clothes strewn about, and the work work work to stay on top of it–which, if graded, I was a C- student.

What fighting the facts enabled within: turmoil, begrudging toil, limited perspective, grumbling, comparison, and from that, the robbery of joy.

What acceptance enabled within: peace, knowing the place/time for such work, perspective on what is most important, thankfulness for the time we had together, gratefulness for creative play, and a clearer sense of the need for order coupled with our collective priorities. Yes, priorities. Letting go of an ideal enabled my heart to float throughout the day toward whichever need was most pressing. Reading books with my little ones over scrubbing toilets. Building lego creations over task-task-task. Art projects before mopping.

I’m no advocate for disaster that discombobulates home-dwellers and impedes daily flow, but I’m talking about that change of heart and focus–a loosed grip. Sometimes this letting go is a drawn out process, as change tends to be. And yet, on rare occasion, there is a Damascus road experience that stops the pilgrim dead in her tracks, and the blinding light of truth is so very real that the only response that the heart can offer is acceptance and surrender.

There may not be a Damascus road around these parts, but the experience of sudden shift of heart is all the same powerful, and by no means place-specific. And to that brilliant light that illuminates and awakens at the most unexpected places/times, I offer my humble thanks and immediate response: I let go.

Flow

How the flow feels

How the flow feels

“People in a state of ‘flow’ are those who feel feel they are engaged in a creative unfolding of something larger; athletes call it ‘being in the zone’, mystics have described as ‘ecstasy’, and artists ‘rapture’. You and I may recognize our flow experiences as simply those activities…which seem to make time stand still.” Read the summary here.

I spent the early part of the morning watching “Happy“, and folding laundry.  What a compelling study on the psychology of happiness.  I’m a firm believer in the importance of flow and the overwhelming sense of fulfillment that is generated by cultivating a life with space for this process to unfold.  As a former do-it-all mother, I spent years of my life trying to quiet an inner quarrel with the lack of time for flow.  I longed for the passionate, intentional focus that had been a mainstay before my children were born.  I craved times of silence, lack of interruption, and total abandon into a world that seemed to be my own.  This is what they might call “the zone”.

Reading Czikszentmihalyi’s findings confirms a premise I’ve had for myself and the way I have mothered my children–providing space/time for “losing ourselves” in our passions is non-negotiable, and essential for our well-being.  I know when they are in their zone–Nothing can disrupt their play, art, brainstorming.  It’s a beautiful process to behold (and can be quite maddening if there is somewhere to go, something that needs attention, or if supper is warm and on the table).  Knowing the paramount importance of allowing for this engagement allows for a particular, understood, accepted rhythm to our lives: task is not our master, the clock does not dictate, order will come in fits and starts, and routine will serve the pace we set.

“Csikszentmihalyi’s research established a fascinating point about the flow experience: after each instance, a person is more than the person they were before. Each piece of knowledge absorbed, each new refinement of a skill, enlarges the self and makes it more highly ordered, forming, in his words, ‘an increasingly extraordinary individual’. This is why opportunities to create flow can be addictive – life without them feels static, boring and meaningless.”

Work

ImageI like the angles from this spot in the attic. It looks like we’re on the finishing touches before a move-in date is established. My favorite part of the attic from the downstairs—upon opening the door to go upstairs, a wave of cedar wafts into the dining room.  Aaah.

 

 

Pine

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The mountain was directly across the small highway from our motel in Southern Colorado.  Most of the others were planning to swim or watch movies or play cards, but a handful of us decided that the best way to spend our free afternoon was to challenge our bodies and minds.  We wanted to do something specific to that place.  Being from Nebraska, we had a uncertain amount of skill/knowledge related to scaling elevated surfaces (none), and so we skipped across the two lane highway that separated us from the base of adventure and began our ascent.

I was fourteen at the time, and my mates weren’t much further along in years.  What I remember of that afternoon is fragmented: bloodied calves from thicket scratches, water supply running out at midpoint, someone weeping from a twisted ankle, a close call near a rocky ledge, birds circling overhead, fear of losing one of our teammates, joy in finding her again, and the adrenaline flood that fueled our last hour of exertion when we realized that the sun sets earlier in a mountainous region.  I recall screaming at the top of my lungs when we reached the summit in the spirit of “I’m Sparticus!”, and feeling the reverberating echoes awaken a sense of self that I had not known in my few years of living.  The climb had seemed effortless when we were planning–the idea generated by our lack of experience, optimism, and thirst for adventure–and we were far off the mark in gauging the difficulty of the climb.  But surveying the world from that peak in the San Juan Mountains at such a young age, I was forever marked with my first understanding of determination, the glory of triumph, and the power of linking arms with comrades and sojourning together.

I remember doing that hike because I wanted to experience the land around me.  I wanted to be enveloped in something greater than my normal teenage world could afford.  I wanted to trust my body, internal compass, mental strength, and accomplish something big.  We ended up catching a ride down the mountain from a kind elderly couple that could see we were worn thin.  The responses from the people who had not been on the hike varied. Some could have cared less, others were distraught that we had gone off for so long without supervision, and a few seemed regretful to have missed out on it.  Adults seemed to mark the entire week-long trip that we had taken as a blight–that so many things had not gone according to protocol that somehow all of the good internal work that was happening inside of young souls was discredited.  But the week was made epic in my mind because of what I had learned on that afternoon hike, and I consider that grueling experience of climbing a mountain as my first tangible lesson in a rhythm that carries on day-after-day.  Often I am reminded of that optimism, thirst for adventure, determination, camaraderie, sense of triumph–and as I feel the reverberating echoes in my soul–I continue on up the side of this mountain.