Thursday, November 28, 2019

Writing Prompt: I am thinking...

Here's another Natalie Goldberg writing prompt. These prompts aren't really intended to be shared, per se, so I'm letting it be what it is with little editing or explanation. The direction of this prompt was to fill in the blank and when ideas slowed, to simply write the words I am thinking again and again. The point is to keep putting words and sentences on the page or screen, and on this day in July, I accomplished that. I'm also remaining accountable to myself by posting weekly to this blog. Without further ado.

I'm thinking of how nice it is that I shared a favorite band's concert with my daughter. I'm thinking of how sometimes she talks too much, and I have to remember she's a little girl, and I need to be a net to catch all her words.

I'm thinking about for as much as I want to be touched, it's by an adult I want to be touched. She put her sweet little hand on my back as the band played and I wanted to move away. I am thinking that it was such a nurturing gesture, and I worry about what it does to her to nurture her mother. What I've witnessed of the nurturing of mothers by daughters hasn't always been for the best.

Perhaps my daughter's nurture stems from my own, and that I should be grateful for rather than resistant to, but still what I really want is a man's hand on my lower back feeling his body close as I sway to the music.

I am thinking about how I'd never heard the cello part of their band sound so strong and complement the other parts of the music as well as last night. I am thinking of how Scott seemed of sound mind and when he's in the zone how good the music is. I am thinking of Seth and his tenderness. The tenderness that gets expressed to the fans, but also flows through lyrics and sentiments. Maybe he brings the softness and his brother brings the grit.

I am thinking of the songs I love on albums that I've never seen live. I am thinking about the mirror ball and what sparkle it added to my favorite song, Laundry Room.

I am thinking a lot about how different I feel these days than I did four years ago. It didn't feel like it at the time, but in retrospect I can see how fragile I was. I was stronger then than I'd been in a long while, which only goes to show how much of a whispery shell I had become. Today I am made of steel. I am sturdy and unwavering. I know my mind and I follow my gut. When I am uncertain, I stay still until the certain answer or next right move surfaces. Only then do I act.

This feels like a superpower, this sturdiness. I am so much better able to protect my heart. Protecting my heart and moving in my own self-interest comes naturally now. I feel less needy. I don't feel dependent on others to validate or hold me up. A dear couple's leaving town when they did required me to rely on myself and trust that I didn't need other adults to prop me up. I wouldn't have known that until their absence required it of me. Feeling distant from another friend doesn't feel personal like it might have years ago. She's in a different season of life. I feel like my independence from her is a way to honor her. Like, Look at me, you helped me get to this point! I don't need to rely on you as I once did. I can hear your voice in my head when I need it, and the marvelous thing is that I don't need that kind of support so keenly any more, and when I do, I know how to give it to myself. That is a gift she gave me.

I am thinking of how with time I am able to rebuild a friendship that stands alone, that does not require someone else's interference. It is my sturdiness that makes this possible, and also maturity and has added layers to my thin-skinned nature. I take so few things personally today. I still feel my feelings, but I know they are fleeting and that the other stuff isn't about me, and does not need to be metabolized as such.

I am thinking of how great it is to grow older and wiser. What a privilege that is.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Writing Prompt: I am looking at...

In my pursuit to read and clear out a particular pile of books in 2019, I stumbled on a book of writing prompts specifically for the writer who wants to delve into memoir. The book is Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. She is the author of Writing Down the Bones, a seminal how-to for writers.


A few years back I tried to work my way through the prompts, but just didn't have the discipline and the stamina for the truth-telling that this book of prompts encourages. But on this go-round, well, honestly, I'm a better writer, a more confident woman approaching this craft. The following is another stream of consciousness piece I mined from my Page-a-Day 2019 archive. I've done a bit of editing, but not too much.

I am looking at a room that is my haven. Once filled with disappointment, sadness, and impotent possibilities for partnership, this room now brings comfort and joy and quiet. I am looking at a wall with a menagerie of memories. A plate that once hung on my grandma's bathroom wall, that with its muted colors and pastoral scene conjures her home for me visually and viscerally. I am looking at the paper tree surrounded by memories written in my early-20s handwriting—a gift I gave her as a celebration of what she'd meant to me through my life. A Christmas gift from a college student on a budget. I am looking at the magnetic board that used to hang in my teenage room in my parents' house. It displays magnets and wisps of paper that urge me on this creative journey.

Taped to a frame that covers the matted photos of two separate trips to Europe is a torn out magazine page with a tiny cabin and an awning covering the only window to the left of its door. I look at this and envision a future writing space. And I know that even if I don't get it in real life that looking at it as I write and even when I don't write, creates space in me. Creates the adventurous spirit I need to pursue this craft-love of mine. For the sake of the pursuit, with no attachment to a particular outcome.

I am looking at the race bibs hanging on my wall. A reminder that I have done hard things physically and not only survived, but thrived. I don't need to look at anything other than my flat belly with milk white stretch marks to remember my most physical, demanding feat: growing and giving birth to my daughter.

I am looking at the baskets on my floor. My handiwork as a high-schooler who took up basket weaving at a sports camp. Those baskets now hold some of my most treasured possessions: letters from friends and family through the years. The letters I prize the most are in a box on the top of a dresser I bought to conjure the woman who wrote those letters. The same woman who owned the plate in the bathroom and put her hands to her mouth when she was surprised and delighted, like when I gave her that homemade gift of memories.

I am looking at every item in this room knowing how I have carefully curated it. I have been the Director of Important Items in this museum of my life. Everything I look at has a story. And if it doesn't, it does not stay around for very long.

The longer I look at all these things the longer I know that I can also let them go if and when the time comes. Like if moving to abroad gets to be more than a dream, or if a tornado blew through this town. What I appreciate about having curated these things so definitively and early in my life is that they are not crowded out by things that do not matter. My eyes do not have to search for long to rest on something I love or for a story that these items tell.

This room brings me peace where it used to bring angst or resentment. It hosts sabbath, love, desire. It makes me feel whole where I used to feel halved and then quartered. It tells me that I could live in a tiny home and not feel diminished.

I am looking at the Pottery Barn quilt that rested on my daughter's big-girl bed when her daddy took her out of her crib and she wouldn't go back in. It rests on my bed now.

An item's story can change too. I'm looking at the truth of that. 

I am looking at the ceiling fan working at its highest speed. Employed so that the air conditioning can take a break and therefore give my wallet a break. The ceiling fan that delighted my infant better than any mobile toy dangled above her face.

My heart sees that baby's smile and it melts me still. All these years later.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Security vs. Adventure

For a few days of my daily writing practice, I found a quote and reacted to it. Here's a sample.

In exchange for the promise of security, many people put a barrier between themselves and the adventures in consciousness that could put a whole new light on their personal lives.” - June Singer

This quote perfectly describes the person I used to be. Feeling secure was so important. Probably because in an emotional sense, I rarely felt secure. The 40/40 list cracked this mindset wide open. (Imagine it. The insights and epiphanies that resulted from that list four years ago are still showing up and reverberating in my life!)

I didn't feel secure on the trapeze or on ice skates, but through that year-long celebration of trying new things and taking risks, I built a core of inner strength that I could rely on in those moments. I was able to question my comfort zones and risk something new. Each time I did, I found that I was capable. I could trust that I could care for myself and meet my own needs.

On the trapeze, I was very clear about my limitations, and I didn't push myself past what felt reasonably safe. On the first attempt off the platform, I landed on my neck wrong. I felt an odd sensation that I knew I needed to pay attention to. The whole experience was outside my comfort zone, so saying no to an advanced routine felt like the right thing. That experience was so physically taxing, and I was in the best shape of my life. I can't imagine if I'd tried to do the trapeze earlier in the year!

Historically, I have indeed put so many barriers between myself and adventure. The 40/40 list helped me ask the question, “What would it hurt if I tried this?” It turns out, most of the time it didn't hurt. The experiences showed me what I was actually made of—resilience, courage, and persistence.

Those months crossing off items on the list were a training ground for learning that security in most cases is an illusion. I have become more comfortable out of my comfort zone. Like on the Sunday morning when I realized I had a low tire and was giving the sermon at church that morning. I *kinda* needed to be there. I barely registered fear or frustration regarding the inconvenient timing. I knew what needed to be done, and I proceeded. I knew I could ask for help, and when I did, I got more help than I needed.

Later, the mechanic called to confirm the tire needed to be replaced, and I'd have to add another $85 to the credit card—something that was all too familiar in recent years. I simply expressed gratitude that I hadn't ignored the problem or wished it away and that I had a credit card that could fill in the gap where there wasn't cash to meet the need.

Now sensing adventure and staying open-hearted in the midst of frustration or fear, I am more relaxed and capable of what needs to happen. I am holding on to everything with such a lighter grasp and the universe is rewarding me.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Memory mining at the bottom of a drawer

When I began 2019 with a renewed daily writing practice, I didn't have a particular outcome in mind. I simply wanted to show up to write every day. The daily practice has ebbed and flowed this year, but I feel good about what has come forth. The next few months will be chaotic at best, so to ease the stress of posting a blog per week, I'm working ahead. I've re-read through the 72 pages of writing I have amassed this year, and am mining a few pieces as stand alone essays to post when my schedule or energy levels don't allow something brand new. Today's piece was my daily writing on January 21.

Mighty Girl and I watched our first episode of the new Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a reality show on Netflix that highlights the Japanese woman's approach to decluttering and sparking joy in one's life. I liked that she comes into the home, talks to homeowners about her approach, and offers them a vision for how to process through the mess without doing the work for them. Unlike most other shows, there is not a team who swoops in, cleans it up, and reveals the Tada! moment. This show documents the family doing the work, and I am convinced this show has the building blocks of making lasting change because the people have to do the hard work of digging themselves out of the mess of stuff they made. In both episodes I've watched, the couples say something to the effect of, I don't want to live the way I did anymore. I'm not going to make these same mistakes and messes again.

After the first episode, I was inspired to tackle one of the drawers in my kitchen that is often hard to open because it's holding too many things. I was pretty sure that I had a few things in there that I am not using and could let go of. In true KonMari style, I emptied out the entire drawer and started sifting through it. A few things went straight in the trash, and then I started a pile of other things I was sure I could let go of.

I also removed the organizers, washed them, and washed out the crumbs in the drawer. I have two ice cream scoops. We don't eat enough ice cream to necessitate two scoops. As I stood at the sink and washed the organizers I had a flash of dejà vu. I thought back to the early days of living in this house as a young newlywed and homeowner. I would come home, turn on the TV and watch reality shows on BBCAmerica. I remember how bright the living room looked at that time of day when the sun poured in the front windows. They had not yet been covered with a film to block the sun because the tree in the front yard hadn't yet been struck by lightning. I used to scoop strawberry ice cream onto a cone with the older of the two ice cream scoops now on my kitchen island waiting to be decluttered.

This memory was almost visceral. It's been so long since I've thought of that time of life. I had a momentary sense of grief. Such a long time ago, and so much pain had yet to occur. I was no longer living in an apartment. I was married and in a house. Ticking my way through a list that connoted adulthood.

The early pains of my particular marriage hadn't registered as the problem it already was or how difficult it was to become. I still lived in the hopes that these things were changeable. That I had not actually made a major mistake. It was remarkable that all of this memory and emotion could be ushered in by simply deciding to declutter a drawer in my kitchen.

I am living proof why this exercise can be so difficult for people. I have had a lot of practice, so I'm undaunted by the memory resurfacing. I am grateful for it. Those strawberry ice cream cones and watching BBC America alone after work are happy memories for me. They felt indulgent and self-caring in a way that was still very new and foreign to me. They were the stepping stones of what I would need a whole lot more of in the years to come.

I feel grateful that my mess is contained in a drawer here and there, not in a pile of clothes stacked higher than I am tall in my spare bedroom as was the case for one couple on the show. I am grateful that some memories surfacing no longer shut me down or impede my progress. I am grateful for the opportunity to test the waters of minimalism and know that for me, it is the best way to live. Lighter, unencumbered with arms and heart and head wide open to experience the world without having to gather the stuff along with it. When something new comes in, I find it so helpful to look for something to let go of as a natural part of the stuff equation.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Seeds and stuff

I've documented for the past few weeks that the going has been tough.

I'm pleased to write that I feel the tiniest bit of reprieve this week. This is the first moment I've had in nearly a week to catch my breath, to have a few moments to myself, and to take stock. I talked myself out of going to the grocery after work. It was drizzly and cold, and I'd forgotten my reusable bags. Those were reasons enough to drive straight home. I made chicken and noodles for dinner and enough for two leftover meals. While that was happening, I did dishes and laundry.

My daughter had asked if we could roast the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin she carved last night. I told her I would do it later. Doing these domestic tasks had an unwinding effect on me, and though I was tired, I was determined to get more done including cleaning the gunk off the seeds and roasting them.

I ate and folded laundry while the seeds roasted in the oven. I added more time for the seeds to roast and tidied up around my house more. I checked on the seeds and finally decided they had achieved what the recipe called golden.

As I pulled the two baking dishes from the oven, I felt a surge of pride. How far I have come! Simple tasks used to feel like too much. For years I have lived in various vice grips of stress and complicated dynamics, which utterly exhausted me. These scenarios became normalized to such a degree that I didn't register the exhaustion. On some level, I knew I was climbing uphill both ways. But from day-to-day, I simply kept one foot in front of another and hoped that one day it wouldn't be so hard.

Today, I am able to see that what seemed impossible or improbable is finally happening. In working hard to heal and to create healthier spaces for myself, I find that daily living is no longer the slog it has been in the past. I am delighted that something like roasting pumpkin seeds for my daughter would gift me with this flash of insight.

My daughter and I have been lamenting the difficult situations we find ourselves simultaneously in lately. One evening I told her, “We're both struggling. How about each day we look for one good thing that we see, do, or have done to us that is a bit of sunshine?” I wasn't sure how this would go over, but so far we've discussed our good things each evening—always prompted by her. I hate that she's struggling. I hate that I'm distracted by my stresses and that's dulled my ability to support her. But that's life. What I am happy about is that in the midst of all of this, I've been able to demonstrate in real time how to navigate tricky situations. I'm even more grateful that she's so receptive to what I have to offer.

I'm excited to surprise her with these roasted seeds when I go trick or treating with her. It really is true that what we look for, we will find. Tricks or treats. I choose to look for the treats. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Recovery Mode

Friday night I came home wiped out from another challenging week. I put myself in total self-care mode. I made a list of things to do that would feel productive and nurturing. There was planting the spring bulbs I bought a few weeks ago at ALDI. I needed to email someone about an upcoming church thing. Rest repeatedly was item number three. Format Astrid and write three pages was code for stop talking about my novel and put some work into it. Soccer game, bake (zucchini bread?), and read a chapter of the widow's book rounded out the list. The widow's book is for research as I delve deeper into what it means for my character Astrid to have lost her husband in an accident.

Writing, baking, and gardening are the current ways I signal to my brain that it's safe to relax, to recharge, to recover from the stressers of life. There is a ribbon of creativity woven into each and my creative, active brain responds.

On Sunday, I came home from church, preheated the oven, and got to work. I made my stand-by favorite raspberry muffins with coconut added for extra sweetness. I'd recently had to send a zucchini to the compost pile because I hadn't used it up soon enough, and didn't want to do that again. I looked up a recipe that called for zucchini, and found Garden Muffins in a Bed and Breakfast cookbook I owned long before I loved to bake.

I cleaned up in between recipes, brewed hot tea, and changed out the laundry. I also thought about how Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, but for this working woman, sometimes work has to get done on the Sabbath. I have also found that doing these things can become a form of meditation if I enter them in the right spirit, and  today was definitely meditative.

I tasted a sample of the new recipe still warm from the oven. I planned to take some to my neighbors who do so many things to ease the burden of solo homeownership. Thank goodness the muffins were tasty enough to share. Plus the recipe makes 24 muffins. I need help eating them!

I'm minutes from needing to leave for the soccer game, but I am happy that I can cross off baking from my list. When I get home soccer will come off the list, and I'll only have working on my novel and more resting to do.

I had made every effort to get enough work done during the week that making a trip into the office wouldn't be necessary. I had reached my limits. My nerves were shot, and I really needed to find ways to chill out. Weekends are never long enough, but I have enjoyed the way I've spent this one, and will be ready to tackle another week when Monday rolls around.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Cultivating Friendship and a Garden

Two summers ago, I sat with Gus and Manda amidst my untamed backyard. We talked about life as we yanked at weeds that came up to our shoulders. In the time we sat and worked, Gus surveyed the space and drafted a plan: we'd divide the work of taming the hill into three phases. The first phase would address the uneven ground, smooth it out, and lay down mulch. The next phase would be to install raised beds a little further up the incline, and the third phase would be a repeat of the second.

I felt a deep exhale. Someone had a plan to curtail this mess and bring some order to it. But it was a lot of work, and I could not do it alone.

Since that Sunday evening two summers ago, I have marveled at how these friends, and others, have so willingly shown up to do back-breaking work to transform my backyard—and with only pizza and my love and admiration for payment.

This past Saturday Gus and I worked to install the remaining piece of the second raised bed. We were bundled up against the new chill of the season. Gus dug the trench, and I raked the rocks away from his progress. Here, we talked about the things that were keeping us up at night. We moved from topic to topic. At one point, I rehearsed my outline for the talk I would give at church the next morning. Gus and Manda would not be there, so it was good to get his feedback in advance.

There in my garden, we experienced something holy. Gus called it church, and it felt like peace to me. We unburdened ourselves to each other. We felt heard and seen. Lighter in the midst of hard work. I thought of the toil of our ancestors and commented on how much healthier they were compared to us sedentary lot.

The sun moved up higher. We felt its warmth mingled with our exertions. At some point, I couldn't physically help Gus with the work of the raised bed, so I moved on to other maintenance things in my yard. Trimming back the salvia, cutting down random tree starters, and pulling more weeds. We listened to music on his phone and kept working on our individual tasks.

Manda and our girls came to check on us periodically, giving us a time check. There were other things that Saturday required of them.

Again I thought about how wonderful it is to have friends who devote mornings of their weekend to the work of my backyard when their household has a list of its own.

The raised bed was finally in place, and Gus worked with gravity to pull down the rock and move it within the confines of the raised bed to create a level foundation for where I will later spread top soil. We all looked at this summer's progress with delight, relief, and satisfaction.

They gathered up tools and headed home with my daughter, their budding babysitter in tow. I was left to keep working feeling a surge of motivation and momentum.

The photo below shows this portion of my backyard clearer than it has been in years. I have plans to plant a variety of bulbs this weekend and to eventually transplant decorative grasses to help fill in the space and keep back the weed growth. Clearing physical spaces is a good exercise for a cluttered mind, and Saturday's work helped to manage my tangled thoughts. 

“A garden is never complete,” Gus reminded me that morning. “If you're okay with just chipping away at this project by project, then we'll continue to make progress.” I am grateful to Gus for not only his manual labor, but for the way he considers my budget and respects my desire to do as much of the work on my own as possible.

Don't tell this woman what she can't do. She'll end up harnessing her resources, and get to work transforming a backyard with the help of her friends. True story.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Comfort Measures

Another week has passed and things are still rough. I'm anxious. I'm not sleeping well. I'm cranky. I can't seem to dislodge the boulder sitting on my chest, or at least not for very long, before it rolls right back on me.

The image that's come to mind is the labor and delivery room. There's the nervous excitement that soon there will be a brand new baby to hold and fall in love with, but first, the searing pain and contractions that wash over a mother with no end in sight. I'm in the stage of labor known as transition. It's intense and frightening. I must remember to keep breathing, to relax where I can, and to trust that this terrible time will pass.

There's no baby at the end of this labor, but rather a stronger, more assertive version of myself. The gestation period has been long, but unlike other dark periods, I can feel the promise of brighter days. I also believe that I have the skills necessary to render such a future for myself.

In the mean time, I am working hard to stay present and to find pockets of joy and peace. Panic attacks are exhausting and no way to live day to day.

Here's a list of the things that are comforting me these days: 

Avett Brothers' newest album, Closer Than Together. I have listened to it on repeat since it dropped last Friday. I love the entire album, but have a few favorites: Long Story Short, Better Here, and It's Raining Today. They were also guests on a recent episode of Dax Shephard's Armchair Expert podcast, and I've listened to it twice! Those voices and hearts and minds are soothing to a weary soul.

A comfort read of mine for years has been the At Home in Mitford series by Jan Karon. For Christmas I received her latest compilation with snippets from each of the books called Bathed in Prayer. I love the characters so much, and getting to revisit them for a few pages in the morning before work or before I fall asleep has helped me breathe easier.

Each Sunday, I'm the one who emcees the caring and sharing portion of church before the service. I love being able to stand before the congregation and see all their faces. No one can hide. I see people's joys and the burdens they're carrying. I love them all so much, and on Sunday mornings, if I feel so inclined, I can tell them. There's a beautiful exchange that happens in those few minutes that fills me up and helps me start a new week a little more refreshed.

I've been baking muffins almost every weekend. Our house guest and I discuss each batch. Until this past weekend, we didn't have much to dissect, but this Saturday, I poured the melted butter in all at once rather than slowly mixing the batter and then adding some more. Whew! Lesson learned I will not do that again. The muffins were so bad, I finally threw out the last half. I am undeterred, and will bake more this weekend.

My daughter and I can get really silly together. Our latest absurdity is laying together on the couch, picking some nonsense words to sing and then having the other person “lip sync” trying to guess how long the singer will hold the notes or where she will add syncopation or what not. It's not something we'd want an audience to witness, but man do we love the giggles this game evokes.

ALDI sells sea salt caramel chocolates for $2.99 and they are so decadent. I love the affordable luxury and buy them regularly.

I've been attending a monthly writing group and it's helped me identify some writing goals and helped me stick with them. Last night's meeting was an especially wonderful antidote for a long, miserable day. 

As I was putting away a load of summer laundry, I decided that the temperatures had fallen enough for me to swap out my seasonal closets. I can't tell you how much I love that it's time to put on boots and layers again.

My gardening day dreams really seemed to boost my spirits. I marvel at how far I have come from that sad, heartbroken woman I was a year ago last May when I couldn't figure out what to do to conquer my bad feelings and unsightly yard. I can barely remember those sentiments now. Gardening has fueled my creativity and resourcefulness and reminded me that anything is possible. Particularly when I break the goal down into smaller tasks. Over the winter I'm going to research planting raspberry bushes and other roses.

These things are like the ice chips a laboring woman she snacks on as she waits for the pain of labor to pass. None of these things can "fix" what I'm working through, but they offer refreshment and a distraction as I labor on.

I'm grateful that I have the ability to pick myself up out of my wallowing and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The wonderful thing about the change of seasons is the physical reminder that No Season Lasts Forever. I am holding that thought close and doing best to keep my chin up. Hope you do too.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Lady Bug and Some Good Conversation

In the past two weeks, stresses on the day job and home front piled on. In the past two days, my ability to take things in stride fractured. Anxiety soared, and I felt like I was going to crack. I couldn't dislodge the boulder on my chest.

I have been in this territory MANY times, but I haven't been for a long time, and that felt like progress. I also knew that it was time to reach out to someone and seek some perspective. So I dialed a dear friend's number on the drive to work. When she picked up, words and sobs tumbled out. 

“I'm so stressed and I need a pep talk.” As I knew she would, this friend delivered. She reminded me of the things I usually am able to tell myself to steer clear of the melting effects of anxiety. I've historically been a crier, but for much of my adulthood, I've not had an easy time of initiating tears on my own,so I was grateful when her comforting words brought me to tears.

As the conversation ended, she told me she'd be the little bug on the wall thinking of me and cheering me on all day. As I settled into a difficult day at work, I took a moment to find lady bug clip art and printed it out as a physical reminder that this friend was present for me, even one thousand miles away. 

I tackled what needed to be wrestled and by the end of the day, I had a better handle on how to proceed. I had forgotten my migraine medicine that morning, and so a wicked headache plagued me all day. I was exhausted and spent, but had dinner plans with another friend to look forward to. We curled up under blankets on her sofa and talked about all the things that come to mind for two forty-somethings. I left her home feeling relieved and grateful for having carved out time in our schedules to connect over food and our longtime friendship. 

I fell asleep shortly after.

Today was another tiring day. I felt the exhaustion that leaves its imprint on me after the pain of a migraine recedes. But I had a productive day at work and had formulated my next few steps for modulating the pressing stresses. I left work and headed to the library where Brene Brown's latest title was waiting for me on the reserve shelf. 

I saw a library staff member I'd struck up conversations with in the past and made my way over to her. Her face lit up when I approached and reintroduced myself. She asked about my writing and I summarized the past year. I mentioned my new blog schedule and she said, “Tell me the name of your blog again. I forgot it, and I've been trying to find it.”

One of my favorite attributes is my ability to have meaningful conversation with nearly anyone I encounter. I have met the most wonderful people on planes, trains, and among library shelves. Reconnecting with this friend reminded me of the little connections that can make a big difference in my day. For the past week, I have allowed the stress to seem insurmountable, and that cycle is problematic.

Being open to the kindness of people around me fills me up. It's the reason I used to go to ALDI on lonely Sunday afternoons when the effects of my divorce were new, and I didn't quite know what to do with myself. I'd grocery shop and make eye contact with each shopper and cashier. It worked every time. Those brief connections filled me up and reminded me that whatever was making me sad was temporary or at least bearable.

The fourth quarter is always the most stressful for me at work, and each year there's something different that adds to the crush. I work hard to stay ahead of it, but sometimes it simply piles up. I've been wondering what I can do to unload the crushing weight. Standing at the library's information counter reminded me what works best for me. Seeking meaningful connections with people—strangers and beloveds alike.

I walked away from our conversation with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. I checked out my book and thought, Oh yeah, this is what I've been missing. For the first time in days, I felt light and the weight of work stress shrunk to an appropriate size.

I don't like migraines or work stress, but I do appreciate the way they remind me just how good pain-free, low-stress days are and to not take them for granted. Each day I have the opportunity to leave the previous day in the past and to accept today with fresh perspective and a new attitude. Here's to a good Thursday. May you feel your own lady bug cheering you on!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

I Don't Know What to Tell You

This is my fifth week of posting on my blog, and I'll be honest, I don't know what to tell you. I started working on an essay about the lasting lesson yoga has taught me that has enriched life off the mat, but the words came out clunky. So then I bounced over to the idea of telling you about my summer garden surprise, but I wasn't sure what deeper thing there was to tell in that story.

So, I'm opting to tell the truth. I am certain something of meaning will come of this stream of consciousness if I stick at it long enough. I'm feeling fatigued in a way that doesn't feel like it will be remedied with one night's rest. And I can tell that fatigue is weighing down my creative impulses. I am entering the busiest season of my work calendar, and if I'm not careful, it has the potency to knock me flat. I spend a lot of energy working to keep that from happening, but either way, I'm tired.

What I want to say is that I am learning how to pace myself better. I am choosing to write through exhaustion when it would be easier to take a nap in the hour before I pick up a twelve-year-old from youth group. My showing up at this laptop is a declaration of how important my creative life is to me. I know that when I am finished I will feel a rush of mental endorphins for having made the effort.

Which leads me conveniently back to what I wanted to tell you in the first place. Showing up on my mat eight years ago started an internal revolution and revelation. I moved my body in ways I'd never moved before. I might ask my arms to hold all my weight in side plank. Some days my arms felt so shaky, I thought I might collapse. Other days I was solid as steel. What I learned slowly was that any particular day's performance or lack thereof was not a static announcement of my yoga ability. It simply told me where I was that day. It held far less meaning than I was used to applying to it.

In those early years of yoga, not only was I facing new physical challenges, but I was also confronting a lot of inaccuracies about who I was. That I was weak. Indecisive. Too talkative. A bad cook. Wounded beyond repair. Returning to my mat over and over created new mental pathways and opened possibilities I had yet to consider. Maybe I could touch my toes some days, but on the days I couldn't, my practice wasn't “less than” for achieving a straight back with my hands resting on my shins. I heard a lot of judgments. But with practice on the mat, those indictments got quieter. The volume was getting turned down.

And then came the days when I applied that mentality to myself in the workplace, in my motherhood, as a daughter and as a friend. “This is where I am today” felt a lot gentler than “My hamstrings are permanently tight” and more productive than “I always set off the fire alarm when I cook.”

There's a reason yoga is called a practice. We never arrive. We simply get stretchier and stronger, stretchier still and stronger than we thought possible. We show up. We practice over and over and over again. It reminds us that where we are is not where we'll stay for any amount of time. 

I am in a different mood now than I was 30 minutes ago when I started writing. Those few clunky sentences a few days ago weren't false starts. They were simply part of the requisite crappy first draft that Anne Lamott reminds all writers about in more colorful language. Those words helped clear the path for more lucid thoughts to follow. I know this. I trust this. It's why I keep showing up.

Yesterday as I was drifting to sleep another creative burst came to me. I've been working on this idea for months. I opened the drawer in the nightstand, pulled out some paper, and jotted notes convinced that if I didn't capture it then, the seeds of a new thing might get scattered by sleep. 

With this writer's block behind me, I have the space and the energy to get a few more ideas on paper and ready to share with my creative collaborator.

I feel better than I did an hour ago, and I will be a better mama for having spent some time writing. Where you are today is a statement about the present only. It's not a permanent state. Namaste. 

The aforementioned summer garden surprise: mini pumpkins that grew out of my compost.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What's Bringing Me Joy These Days

As I've compiled this list of things that are currently bringing me joy, I've felt a little bit like Oprah. She finds things she loves and shares them with her readers. My items, some tangible and some not, do not have high price tags, but in my pursuit to live each day fully and not “live for the weekend,” I am finding my life deeply enriched by these few little things. Mostly, I am grateful that I have been paying close enough attention to recognize a joy pattern emerging. Without further ado and in no particular order:

Opening my home to a stranger

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a church friend who had been asked by another church acquaintance to find a point person for a woman moving to town as she embarked on her doctoral studies. I immediately replied that I'd be happy to be a point of contact and that the young woman could stay with us if need be. What happened next has filled my month with so much joy. We don't live near her university, but I work close to a metro station that she can use to get to her campus, so for the past three weeks, I have carpooled with this new friend. We've meal planned together, had wonderful conversation about life, watched season three of The Good Place, worked together to open the stubborn lid of a jar, and sprinted from our car in a rain storm for the city's best frozen custard.

This woman's appearance in our lives has given me the chance to pay forward the kindnesses of my college town parents and the hospitality of the couple who began loving me as their own in my post-college years. In short, she's become a new friend. She's brave, adventurous, thoughtful, and smart. She's a great role model for my daughter and her company has been a blessing to me. Her visit has also encouraged me to finally make progress in my meal planning, grocery shopping, and execution. I am planning ahead, eating out less, and enjoying cooking in new ways.

New Tea Flavor

I have long loved English Breakfast Tea, but with our guest's arrival, I've been introduced to a new flavor. She lived in London before coming here, and found Yorkshire Gold at the British Shop in our historic shopping district. With one cup, I was hooked! 

Music on Shuffle
I love listening to music, but sometimes I don't know what I'm in the mood for, so I've begun playing my music on shuffle. I like being surprised, and with the shuffle feature I am surprised every three to four minutes. It's great! And it also reminds me of all the great music I have amassed over time.


I've always been a daydreamer, but these days my daydreams feel different. They aren't filled with longing as they once might have been. These days they feel full of potential. And not because all of them will come to pass, but because I'm not attached to them. They feel like creative exploration. It was daydreaming that helped make this blog post take shape, and daydreaming that keeps my gardening exploits feeling like adventures rather than more things that have to be done. There's freedom in letting my mind wander and seeing where that takes me.

Daydreaming, Part 2

On a recent lunch time walk with a colleague, I stopped by a park that has a little library and introduced her to it. I look inside regularly, not because I'm in the market for a new book (I've got plenty lined up to read), but because I like seeing proof that people actually use it. I check out the titles and find new ones there all the time. On this particular day, I saw a random magazine. It had a beautiful cover and in large print it read, Enchanting Gardens Around the World. It was the March-April issue of Veranda magazine. Since my 2019 word is enchantment, there was no doubt I would take it with me. I tucked it under my arm and continued with my walk.

I can't tell you how many ideas I got from that one issue. I haven't executed any of the plans, but I have new food for thought and couldn't be more delighted. Besides the beautiful visuals, I was taken by these words: “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more hopeful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” - Luther Burbank, American Botanist and horticulturist

A feature about a couple who bought a rose farm has me curious about expanding my knowledge of roses beyond the five knock-out rose bushes I've been tending this summer. I even learned a new word: rosarian. Whether I become a rosarian or not doesn't matter, what matters is if the pursuit brings me joy.

Speaking of Flowers

A few weeks ago, I was brushing my teeth and peered out the window that overlooks my patio. A pop of pink caught my attention and I gasped! There in the area where I'd planted zinnia seeds, and plants had grown and then stopped budless, was a single flower. Immediately, I heard a message from the garden that applies to all areas of life: Do not give up on the slow stuff of life. While there's a general timeline for things, babies, oil changes, summer vacations; some things happen in their own sweet time.

I, for sure, am an example of a late blooming victory. Why not the zinnia? In that moment, I recalled the thought I'd had as I was spreading mulch around other areas of the patio. Perhaps I should just pull out all those would-be flowers now. And then I looked around and saw that somehow, with those plants in the ground, other weeds had stayed away, and that was enough to convince me to keep them where they were and to mulch at the end of the season. Boy, am I glad I didn't listen to my first impulse. I would have missed the beauty, the message, and the flowers. Since that early Sunday morning, four more blossoms have bloomed with others on their way! 

Signs of Maturity

I have been presented with some new interpersonal challenges lately. Given the circumstances, avoiding the problems has not been an option. It's been exhausting and frustrating, but what has brought me joy is a new level of self-awareness that the skills I've been building in the past few years have taken root. I am growing in competence and confidence to address issues that arise and to do so with calm, wisdom, and kindness. 

Procrastinate No More

The final thing I've found bringing me joy is my ability to take care of things while they are still small tasks rather than choose to do them later, when they're likely to become bigger jobs. I see the value in washing the five dishes I used at our meal now rather than waiting for two more meals' worth of dishware to pile up. I respond to correspondence sooner, and I put things away or file them when there's just a few things. Doing it this way frees up my schedule and my mental space. I do it now, and then I don't have to feel weighed down by stuff that's waiting t
o get done.

Noticing these things and fully appreciating them has really improved my life satisfaction as the aforementioned interpersonal stress has threatened to wear me out. We get to choose our responses to the things that come our way, and I am choosing joy as often as possible.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Three Questions, Part 3

Why so quiet on the blog? Here are the answers to this final set of overarching questions I've been grappling with.

Last fall, I submitted an application for a creative arts grant that supports parents pursuing the arts. It was my second try, and I was motivated by the previous year's process as well as the encouraging feedback by the jurors included in the rejection email. The new rejection email came, and the feedback was less encouraging. I had submitted my first attempt at a short story as an adult. (I'd won a scholarship prize for a short story as a high school senior.)

It wasn't that I couldn't take criticism. It was that the criticism wasn't helpful. I didn't expect to win $5,000 by submitting my first attempt at a new writing endeavor, but it's what had occupied my time within the submission period, it had stretched me, and I saw it as a learning opportunity. The problem was I was presented with ways the plot didn't work without a clear path to correcting it. I wanted it to be better but didn't know how to make it so.

The letdown of this failed application experience sent widening ripples into the waters of my writing life. For the first time in a while, I wondered what in the world I was doing with my focus on rejections. Counting my way to 300 rejections had started as an upbeat way of turning getting rejected on its head. Creating this blog had been a form of self-accountability for finally showing up as the writer I wanted to be. And it had worked. Over the past five years I had amassed a lot of writing.

Now I saw that my focus on rejections was having the opposite effect. By keeping my focus on the rejections, I was manifesting more of the same. This shift felt significant. I wasn't the same writer. Like the power of water, the writing had changed my shape little by little over the past five years. A conversation with a new, wise friend helped me see that the 300 rejections blog had served its purpose, but that it was time to retire it.

With the new year, I opened up a new document “Page A Day 2019” and started writing with no outcome or particular submission in mind. It was time to reignite my daily writing practice. A month in I returned to my novel and quickly stalled out. 

My professor from the Summer Writers Institute six years before emailed me and asked me to consider registering for her class. I did, and then it was canceled for low attendance. But shortly thereafter, I was invited to join a writing group based on a book called Finishing School – The Happy Ending to That Writing Project That Never Seems to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton. Here in this circle of writers and makers, I found a way to work through some of the obstacles slowing my progress in finishing my novel. In the process of a month of meeting, I added another 10,000 words to the body of work. This felt like significant progress.

I remembered an author within another writing network who'd written a book for widows. I bought a copy and found that it was a great resource for adding authenticity to my character's experience as a newlywed-turned-widow. I sent a Facebook message to her and soon we were on the phone talking about my novel and writing in general. I focused on reading the book as research, and then I got overwhelmed with the heaviness of the topic I'd chosen to write about and set the project down. AGAIN.

Much of what I've written about on my blog in recent years has been my experience as a mother. I love sharing the stories about my daughter and the varied ways her little heart and mind are constant sources of learning and inspiration. But now the stories are changing. The lessons are bigger and deeper, but they are more her stories to tell. They feel outside my domain. I haven't felt as comfortable writing about them as I have in the past. How do I write about mothering without writing about my daughter? I didn't have a ready answer and so I hit the pause button on that part of my writing.

During these months, I also found a new creative outlet in collaboration with a fiber artist who designs and makes by hand,modern rag dolls and stuffed animals. My contribution is to take the rough outlines of a character's personality as the artist envisioned and create a story to accompany the doll. On Mother's Day, I took my daughter to the friend's booth at a local art fair. As I admired her inventory, I saw a row of woodland creatures dressed in vests and ties. They were a gentlemanly looking bunch. I stood with my friend and said, “A story about those creatures is taking shape. Would you mind if I ran with it?” My friend beamed and clapped her hands with excitement. Our latest collaboration was afoot and we both felt it. A few days later, the new story hatched. This didn't make it to the blog, but it was fuel to keep my writing fires burning.

Concurrently, I was growing weary of my participation on social media. I noticed that my anxiety levels lowered when I took the Facebook app off my phone. I checked in less frequently and never over the weekends, and found that I didn't miss it. My life felt richer without it. The more I read about the company's business practices, the less I wanted to be a part of it. But there was a snag. My blog isn't a household name. People don't just go to 300 rejections to see what I'm up to. They need a reminder and posting links to my blog on Facebook has been my primary source of traffic. I wondered how I could drive traffic to it without social media. This question sent the next ripple out in my writing waters. What if no one read my blog? Would I still write and post?

The waters calmed and the answers to everything I'd been pondering became clear. The muddiness of my musings over the past months had settled. I knew what my next steps were. I am a writer. It's what I do and whether I get an agent, get published, or have a readership does not change that. Posting my work on my blog is a joy and has been a personal chronicle to mark how far I have come. If others choose to read it, it is a privilege for me to share, but not a prerequisite or a determining factor for if I post or not.

I will continue to write about being a mom, but will be judicious about what I make public, and I will ask my daughter's permission before I hit submit. Motherhood has taught me that I am at my best when I pursue my own interests in tandem with being a mother. I know that by living my life gardening, doing yoga, writing, and whatever else crosses my path demonstrates for my daughter how to live healthfully in adulthood.

Here's what I'm committed to for the foreseeable future: I will post a new essay or reflection once a week. I will phase out posting my links on Facebook. If you are interested in reading, please bookmark my blog, and check in on Thursdays. The consistency and routine will be good for me while no longer feeling beholden to social media. You have been such an important part of my development as I writer, and I cherish the encouragement and cheerleading section you are for me. I hope you'll drop by.

A few short years ago I was gripped with fear about not knowing what the future had in store for me. Now I relish it. I don't have to know what the future holds to know that it will have its ups and downs, heartaches and triumphs. I know that it will all serve as material, and I can't wait to write my way into the unknown. A new season on this writing journey has begun.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Three Questions, Part Two

How are you going to manage your financial goals?

It's taken a long time to get here, but my first order of financial business is to chill the heck out. As a friend has recently and lovingly reminded me, I overthink things—a lot. I have spent so much mental energy on worrying about how long it will take to get out of debt. With this gentle reminder, I recognize it's time to cool it. This obsessing about exactly when I will be debt free is unproductive. If I could monetize the worry, I might be on to something, but even then, I know it's not worth it. So now finally I am taking a deep breath, paying down what I can whilst living life to the fullest.

Before I stopped overthinking my financial situation, I was tangled up in knots about having debt in the first place. This guilt doesn't make sense when I consider the big picture. I sat down with a financial representative to review the retirement account I contribute to through work a few weeks ago. He held space as I tearfully gave an overview of the last few years. I was there to make sure that I was doing the most with my retirement account and to course correct if I wasn't. What I learned in that session was that I was on the right track from a financial professional's perspective. He told me it took courage to simply make the appointment. He reminded me that looking at the numbers rather than living in denial was brave. He commended me for my behaviors that were moving me forward out of a difficult time.

I am clear about my goals: I want to be free of credit card debt. I want to continue to transform my yard season by season into a beautiful space that nurtures and nourishes me, my family, and anyone who sets foot on my property. I want to return to regular travel.

Being a minimalist helps. I have purged a lot of the extraneous things I don't need in my home, and am happy with the cleared spaces. I don't feel an impulse to refill those spaces, so when I go to a store, I'm able to pick up only the necessities. When I am interested in something, I talk myself out of the purchase by remembering that those few dollars will be better used toward my main goals. I also remember that my home is not a display case and whatever has piqued my attention will not look the same in my house. I walk away not feeling deprived but really clear about my goals. And that feels good every time.

I have had so much success breaking down big tasks into smaller, easier chores. I'm going to apply the same strategy with my finances. I only have five summers with my daughter before she graduates from high school. I want to have a few more trips in our memory bank before her life as a young adult begins. Waiting to be completely out of debt will be cutting the timeline too close, so I have committed to taking her to one of my travel destinations next summer. The goal is to pay cash for the trip, so I don't add more debt to the total. I'm withdrawing cash each pay day from now until the trip, and have committed my tax return to the trip fund. I've come around to the idea that living my life beside my debt instead of against it will be more fulfilling than completely putting my life on hold until those balances are zero.

I really am making good progress. I always pay far more than the minimum payment. I am done with taking a punitive approach to this debt. I did not spend my way unwisely into this situation. Life happened. Over and over. Car repairs, other repairs, and honoring a commitment that meant sometimes there was more month than money.

In so many facets of life I have noticed the rhythms and cycles that come and go. My finances are no different. Some seasons are abundant. Others are lean. What I've learned is that my creativity and resourcefulness surge in the meager times. I have stayed afloat, never foreclosed in these bumpy times. That is something significant to celebrate. And my retirement continues to do well. Having the long view firmly in mind helps.

I am not in financial ruin like my critical inner voice would like to insist. I am simply in a season and the sooner I relax, the sooner it will pass.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Three Questions, Part One

I've had a three questions quietly percolating for months. They were big,defining ones for me. The past four years have taught me the best answers and next steps will come if I let them arrive naturally without rushing or forcing them. I have learned that I have a trustworthy gut instinct (see Calliope), and my practice of trusting this instinct and her process has a proven track record. I found myself in yet another liminal space, but this time I welcomed it with a sense of curiosity and adventure. While I've waited for these answers to materialize, I've been busy living my life filled with enriching pursuits: day job, mothering, writing group, gardening, faith community, and daydreaming.

The first question I've been asking myself: Are you going to teach yoga?

My injured elbow really slowed the momentum I'd gained in my yoga practice as yoga teacher training came to a close last December. The pain in my arm was nagging, but intermittent depending on my activity. I gave it time to rest and heal. I reluctantly stopped going to class afraid that I'd make the injury worse. I hoped that a few weeks off would help, but those weeks turned into months, and I realized that I wasn't feeling demonstrably better.

I was referred to an orthopedist who confirmed I had an injury I couldn't pronounce and that it required a nine-month course of treatment. I left that appointment with a brace and my first cortizone shot.

That's what was happening physically. Mentally, I visualized being in front of a class of people standing on their mats. I couldn't imagine any of the verbal cues I'd learned and memorized coming to mind let alone exiting my mouth. These visualizations (a critical part of how I process, practice, and gear up for something) turned into little panic attacks. Stuck in the middle of this, I felt a swirl of emotions: I'd paid a lot of money for this training. Teaching yoga had been a dream I'd had for years. Was I really giving up on it? I had friends who wanted me to teach them private lessons. I'd be letting them down.

I sat with all of these things. I let the disappointment, frustration, embarrassment, and shame wash over me. I also visualized what life would look like if I didn't teach yoga. What if the training had been only for me? For teaching me new things about myself. Giving me a deeper appreciation of yoga, my teacher's masterful offerings, and knowing my own body better. Those thoughts brought me peace consistently enough that in time I knew my answer. There was nothing to be ashamed of. Education of any kind is an investment in one's self. I hadn't wasted my money by not doing with the training what I'd originally expected. I loved the community I'd become a part of. I liked what I'd learned in the process. I was tough. I took challenges head on. I did not quit in the face of adversity. I like being reminded of these qualities. They will serve me on and off my mat. I cannot put a price tag on that kind of self-knowledge.

Yoga teacher training also taught me about the nature of dreams. I am so glad I put teaching yoga on my list. I'm grateful I pursued that dream. What I didn't know firsthand about dreams until now is that like everything else in life, dreams can change. And when they do, let them go. The pursuit of the dream may be what I was supposed to get out of it rather than the dream itself.

Since I've made the decision to not teach yoga, I've had three friends ask me to teach them. These felt like tests to see how I'd respond. Would I change my mind? Would I say yes so I wouldn't disappoint them? I passed the tests. I told them that I'd figured out that teaching yoga wasn't for me, but I'd be happy to do yoga beside them and point them in the direction of a class they would be comfortable attending. This response gave me a new answer to the question of what was the point of taking training if I wasn't going to teach? My intensive training has made me an knowledgeable yoga ambassador for others who are interested in the practice. This role fits me well. I like being a companionable presence for people.

With this question settled, I moved on to the next...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

First Post of the New Year

My return to a daily writing practice is reinforcing important lessons in other areas of my life. I was explaining to a friend on the phone how my objective with my writing these days is simply to show up to the page and write. I don't have a particular project or outcome in mind. But the daily writing isn't an aimless pursuit. It's like weight training for my mind. It's loosening up my thinking and creativity and because I've been in this space before, I know that when an idea or project crops up, I'll be ready.

This friend and I have yoga in common. As I was explaining my writing practice to her, a yoga anecdote came to mind. For the nearly eight years I have practiced yoga, the half moon pose has taunted me. It is a balancing pose. One foot is planted on the floor while the other leg is lifted behind at a 90 degree angle from the floor. The body bends at the hips, so that the hand on the same side as the balancing foot reaches (ideally) to the floor.

This pose was so challenging because I have tight hamstrings that don't allow for easy access to the floor. I could find myself really frustrated by my inability to lift the back leg 90 degrees, by the pain in the standing hamstring, or by my general wobbliness.

Among the myriad lessons of yoga teacher training, chief among them was the importance of not resisting what I cannot do today. There were a lot of poses or drills that were beyond my capacity in the six months of training, but what I remembered was the importance of showing up and doing what I could. What was happening in the smallest increments, (so small I couldn't recognize it in real time) was I was gaining strength, flexibility, knowledge of my body and its mechanics, and confidence.

In one class a few nights ago, the teacher and same friend I was explaining all of this to on the phone, guided us into half moon. I followed her prompts and was in it! Just like that. I wasn't wobbling. I was solid in the pose. My back leg was at a 90 degree angle. My hand was propped on a block to bring the floor closer. This ability had sneaked up on me, while I was showing up at my mat, doing the work. I know that had I kept forcing half moon it would not have come so accessibly when it did. I laid the groundwork and the pay off—the full expression of the pose— followed.

“If you feel stuck, stop pushing. Resistance freezes. Acceptance flows.” - Martha Beck

I accepted where I was in my yoga practice and let it be okay. I did what I could and let go of what I couldn't until one day, that changed.

The same goes for my writing as this blog post demonstrates. I have written every day for the entire month of this New Year. I haven't felt like I had anything pressing to say on my blog, but I've shown up and put words on the screen. Each morning I really have no plan for my writing, I welcome whatever fills the page.

Today I heard the phone conversation with my friend taking shape as a blog post, and I stayed open to what might come. I labeled it “Potential Blog Post” in case something workable came of it, I could search the document and find it later.

If I had come to the laptop every morning determined to write something to post, that force would have stopped the flow of creativity. Instead this day's page has been written in about 15 minutes. I am showing up for my work, my craft, and letting that work have its way with me. It's the only way now. Seventeen days into the month and I've written more than 11,000 words.

Page Done.