Looking back fifteen years

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Fifteen years ago today, my life’s path was forever altered when our first daughter was born.  She came into the world in an unexpected manner -breech, via a C-section- and has been doing unexpected things ever since!

I can remember exactly where I was in my life then.  My husband and I were six months into the ownership of our first home in the suburbs of Boston. I was in my late 20’s, on the fast track in my career, yet still tentative and unsure of my abilities in so many areas of life. Somehow, having a baby then seemed like a good idea.

And she arrived.  I remember the first nights home with her.  Due to my C-section, we were sleeping in our extra bedroom that was on the ground level of our house, so that I could avoid the stairs.  I remember her waking up every few hours to breastfeed and rocking in my glider, feeling totally inept and unable to protect her from the dark, scary forces that I was sure were lurking in the black darkness outside the bedroom window.

We had the summer to settle in and the world of being a parent started to feel a little less scary.  I joined a new moms group to remind myself that I wasn’t crazy and not be alone in my struggles.  I took long stroller walks with my new baby.   At times I would walk through a small cemetery that was near our neighborhood.  I remember one day, near the end of my maternity leave, noticing a headstone that I hadn’t read before.  Based on the dates of birth and death, it was for a baby that had died several months before its first birthday.   I stood there, frozen still, in my denim shorts overalls, red t-shirt and white canvas sneakers.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain and grief that that family must have experienced.  I looked down at my own several month old baby and cried, trying to imagine how I would cope if I ever lost her.  I made a silent promise to myself that day to not forget.  To not forget this family and baby that I had not known, by reminding myself to hold and cherish every day that I had with my own baby.

And now a lifetime (hers so far) has passed.  In some ways it feels like so much has filled those years, and in some ways they’ve flown by inexplicably fast.  Looking forward, we’ve got a driver’s permit and a sophomore year of high school in our very near future.  But for now, I will say a prayer of remembrance and gratitude for the blessing that all my children are still here on this earth with me.

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Adopting KSPP

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This snowy May Day seems like a good day to begin my KSPP program.  I think I’ll pronounce KSPP like a lispy “kiss” with a “p” on the end of it.  I developed (I’m using this term loosely) the program myself in the past few days and here’s why…

I’ve been doing a lot reading of general self-help topics, as well as philosophy, brain science and psychology.   I also frequently discuss with other people what their “tricks” are to living better, more satisfying lives.  This has resulted in the gathering of a lot of great information and ideas. It has also resulted in a lot of overwhelm for me as I keep trying to incorporate many of these newly gathered principles into my own life.  I keep remembering, and then forgetting, these many ideas while trying to “live” them daily.  And this is frustrating, as I keep asking myself “what is it I am trying to do here?” It’s all too much to remember; they are too many disparate, complex ideas for any one person to try to amalgamate in their life at one point in time.  So, in an effort to be kinder to myself, and make this process more manageable, I am attempting to vastly reduce and simplify all this “self-improvement” into an acronym mnemonic.  Which is a wonderful segue into the “K” of my KSPP program,  Kindness.

Kindness is an interesting topic for me.  I’ve spent much of my life efforting to be kind to others, while not being very kind to myself.  The internal voice that I carry around with me had a lot to say about me, and much it wasn’t very nice.  So adopting kindness in my life has started with how I talk to myself, but also includes a mindful effort to bring kindness into the small interactions in my daily life- with my family and friends, and with strangers.  I find that when go out of my way to be kind to myself and others, I am more at peace.  I think that as a society we tend to underestimate (or perhaps overlook) the impact of kindness.

Smile is my “S”.  Smiling seems like a simple enough thing.  I am trying to smile more often and for no reason.  Just smile for smiling’s sake.  There is a double purpose in this.  I know that smiling brings happiness to others, but the act of smiling can also bring happiness to ourselves.  We tend to think of being happy and then smiling as a result of that happiness, but it can be turned around as well.  Smiling when you’re not happy, can make you happy. I have tried this recently.  I’ve been trying to smile in some of the hardest yoga poses, the ones where I really struggle.  And even in the midst of all that struggle, I find that if I smile, I do feel happy.

Next comes Posture, the first “P”.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been working on my posture for a long time, and anticipate that I will for a long time to come.  At first, the awareness of my posture started with noticing that I was hunched over a lot, that my back hurt regularly and I did want to be one of those old ladies who couldn’t unhunch herself after years of not standing erect.  My husband and my grandfather were all to happy to point out when I needed to “stand up straight.”  My posture has gotten better, and I attribute this to having more awareness of it and to doing yoga on a regular basis.  Still, when it’s not in my awareness, I oftentimes find myself not sitting or standing up straight.  I’ve also noticed that when I do change my posture to be more erect, I immediately feel better, my outlook immediately changes, and adding a full deep breath to open myself even more is the icing on the cake. This one has both internal and external benefits for me.

Finally, we get to the 2nd “P”, which is Pause.  Inherently tied into pause, is patience, which also is part of my “K” of kindness.  While I don’t generally consider myself to be impatient, I do value efficiency.  Add to this the fact that we live in a world of constant motion, connection and feedback, and we end up lacking pause in our lives.  Pause for me is taking a moment to respond, stopping and looking around and taking everything in, taking a breath to sort my thoughts and feelings, etc.  It  so far has shown itself to have tremendous value in my relationships with my kids.  Before I jump in to react to something that they have or have not said or done, I am trying to pause.  I am finding that in many instances they self-correct, meaning that my kids do what I was going to ask them to do, they change what they originally said, they stop doing what I was going to ask them to stop, etc.  I’m also finding times when I’ve initially misinterpreted a situation, been about to respond to the situation based on that misinterpretation, but instead paused, and more information or clarification has been revealed, allowing me to see that my initial response was going to be off-base, irrelevant or just wrong.  I find I am enjoying my resulting lack of unnecessary commentary as much as I am sure my kids are.

Now that I’ve defined my current “mantra,” I will be working to figure out how/when/where to gently remind myself of it.  I’ll need frequent reminders, as I know from experience, it’s all to easy to unconsciously fall back into habituated modes of being.

haven’t been feelin’ it…

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” Ernest Hemingway

“There is an enormous distance between thinking and the act of writing.” Eric Hoffer

“I also noticed, as the months went by, how myths and legends came floating into my mind. It was some time before I realized that the myths dovetailed into a pattern, that they were telling a coherent story.”
Eric Hoffer

I haven’t been here (my blog) in a while. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve been trying not to beat myself up about not posting anything. Aside from some poetry that hasn’t felt relevant (or ready) to post here, I haven’t been writing much, and I guess that for the moment I am OK with that. I have been reading and thinking (two of my favorite activities) and have picked up some handy quotes in the interim, which I have posted above.

It seems that while living my life provides the material for my writing, that living also gets in the way of my writing. Fully living causes me to switch from observing life, to really being deeply engaged in life, which feels important to do (at least every once in a while). While I have been in a transition of sorts for several years now (could be my own little mid-life crisis), it seems that just recently my husband may have entered some transitions of his own too. And that’s a lot of transition for one household to handle, thus fueling my need to really be engaged in the living of my life/our lives currently.

I’ve been having a bit of a paradigm shift along with all of this, due to the reading I’ve been doing, a new church we’ve been attending and the realization that my assumptions about some of my husband’s motivations in life may have been way off the mark.

More on all of this I am sure will follow, when the writing compels me more than the living.

There’s a reason it’s called a living room

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These objects
are not yet ours
in our home
new and lovely, smelling of pleasant stores
visually appeasing
my sense of ownership
and borrowed space.

Too beautiful to be not functional
but the tempered balanced arrangement
scares my use until later
maybe I will light that candle.

For now I wrap myself in a throw
and then will attempt to arrange it
back like it was
rumpled yet beautiful,
actionless, yet foretelling diagonal movement.

Patterns and blues intermix
to break my matching rules,
yet it works better than matching
it complements
for matching creates precise limits
and I want to embrace it all instead
yet have a unifying sense
of belonging
together.

Just enough, not too many
singular pieces to be traded in and out in the future
perhaps repurposed in another room
or life
new with old, never completely starting over
bringing in pieces from the past.

In a room of living that I once said was dead, redundant space.

step out of your life

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I had the good fortune of being on a seven-day family vacation last week. It was a trip that was earned by my husband through his job.   His company planned the location and dates, and set up events and activities, while also allowing for plenty of rest and relaxation. It was lovely, and I am so grateful for having gone. Being away in a tropical place (lacking a kitchen, school, children’s regular activities, home to maintain and car to drive) truly allowed me to “step out of my life.” What I mean by “my life” is my day-to-day regular routine and way of viewing myself, others and my surroundings.

I believe that we all need a break sometimes. No matter how wonderful and beautiful we know our lives to be, we can easily lose sight of that. We can get stuck in focusing on the negative aspects of our lives. Or we can just live our lives unconsciously and have no recognition of what in our life is serving us well or not. We can get caught up in “busyness” and not allow our bodies to rest and our souls to bloom. We can lose our sense of wonder and awe for our world and the people in it. I was able to rediscover these things during our week away, and I am intentionally trying to maintain them now that I’ve stepped back into my regular routine.

Last week I was surrounded by a natural beauty much different from the environment of our home state. Coming home, I learned to rediscover the natural beauty that surrounds me on a daily basis, as it all looks new again. During an unseasonably warm evening a few nights ago, my youngest daughter and I took a leisurely exploration around our surrounding neighborhood. We noticed lots of things. The winter air was light with the promise of spring. The sunset was deep blue and orange. The trees waved happily in the light breeze. We took it all in hungrily.

There are times in our lives when we don’t have the opportunity to fully step out of our lives and take a true vacation. However, this does not have to prevent us from looking at our lives, our surroundings and our habits with a new lens. We can step away from certain habits and try something new, in order to ascertain whether our current habits are serving our lives well and whether they are aligned with our fundamental values and priorities.  We can look at the things around us with a renewed sense of appreciation and awe.

It’s easy to look back and remember how good things were, as in retrospect we tend to focus more on the positive. It’s harder, but much more rewarding, to truly see the good that exists in our lives today, right now, before it is gone. These are the thoughts that help us to be satisfied now and to sustain us in the future.

lessons from a girl scout cookie overdose

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I have a dining room full of girl scout cookies right now. My business-minded seven-year old is thriving under the prospect of selling all 90 boxes, counting the money she has collected and the boxes she has left to sell, and wondering about what event her troop will spend the money on. It’s been a good lesson in business, counting, collection, customer service and goal setting for her. However, it has not been so good for my waistline. You see, I like to eat sweet things, especially cookies. I always have. Despite having the experience of being sick from eating too many girl scout cookies (thin mints) as a child, I still indulge (though to this day I will not eat chocolate and mint together, in any form). So I stay away from the thin mints, but not the other kinds.

Yesterday, I started my day off with quite a few cookies right after breakfast, and continued a downhill slide into sugar oblivion until the early afternoon. Later in the day I wasn’t feeling so good. I even took a nap on the couch in the afternoon, causing my daughters to wonder aloud “what’s wrong with mom?” Aside from the physical ill effects of eating too much sugar, I was also beating myself up mentally. There have been times in my life when I have struggled with emotional and compulsive eating of sugary foods, but I had thought that I was beyond that.  A few years ago I read the book Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth (which I highly recommend if your relationship with food is not as healthy as it could be). After reading the book, I took a hard look at my relationship with food, especially sweets. I also have done some inquiry as to how the status of my relationships affects my want of sugar.

In the past I would have characterized my overindulgence in sugary foods as a way to run away from emotions that were hard for me to process; I don’t think that was the case yesterday. It was more like revisiting an old habit, in the form of an almost out-of-body experience of not truly living in myself. For each round of cookie eating, I wasn’t really tasting them that much beyond the first cookie, but I was still eating. I wasn’t inhabiting my body and really experiencing the cookies, which would have caused me to eat much slower. Instead it was a mindless rush of sugar ingestion with a certain numbness to it, after which I felt worse than when I’d started, leaving me with the question of “why did I just do that to myself?” The overindulgence seemed to be a way to revisit some old feelings of self-criticism and self-contempt; and I didn’t really like what I found there. I was left feeling empty and not whole. That feeling stuck with me until I went to bed last night.

One of the beautiful things about life is that today is a new day, a new start. And I’m back to feeling whole and loving myself with all my faults. I had one cookie this morning, and stopped at that. And thanks to yesterday, we have that many fewer cookies for which to solicit purchases from our neighbors and friends.

Aloneness and perspective

This morning I was cherishing being alone in our house. I actually like to be alone. I like the quiet, the stillness, the time to think and just be. With three school age children, a husband, a part-time job and the all the other normal aspects of a busy life, my life does not always offer times for me to be alone. So I was enjoying having time to myself and not having anyone there to make any demands of me or my time. But I started thinking about what if I were truly alone. What if I didn’t have the backdrop that three children would come home to me this afternoon, that my husband would return from his business trip this evening, that I could call a friend if I had been in need of company? Under a different set of circumstances, the exact same situation-the one the I was cherishing- could actually have been a situation of sadness and emptiness for me. So, in some sense, how we feel about an event or a situation is relative.

How many other events in our life can this sentiment pertain to? Think of how our mindset, our expectations and our circumstances can invoke different feelings for the exact same event. Parenting provides some obvious examples of this for me. When we are not rushed to be somewhere and not feeling pulled to be doing something else, we too can delight in the unplanned moments of wonder and discovery that occur with our children on a regular basis. But if we’re running late or have something else that we feel we really need to be doing, those stalled moments, where the task at hand falls by the wayside, can be frustrating and troublesome.

For me, sometimes I need to realize that things don’t always present themselves in my life at the most opportune or convenient time; to be open to their occurrence and be able to find the connection, or the joy or the lesson for me in that moment is my work. And in those rare moments where a desired situation does arise at an opportune time, I will continue to celebrate!

Risk and regret

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my risk aversion and what it has meant in my life, and on the flip side, about others who have no qualms with risk and what it has meant for how they live their lives. I’ve realized that security is important to me- physical security, financial security, secure relationships, etc. These are all important aspects of living a fulfilling life, as long as they are not taken to the extreme. In the Christian faith, we ask forgiveness for both the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone. This can be applied to the things we’ve done or haven’t done to/for others, as well as ourselves. Things left undone has been the much bigger issue for me than things done. And honestly, until recently, I’ve always thought that it was a better place to be, because rarely had I intentionally hurt someone else or myself. But perhaps this is not a better place. If you want to live a full and intentional life, you have to take some risks, and you can’t easily default to “no, I won’t do _____ because I am not sure how it will turn out” or “no, I can’t do _______ because don’t want to make a mistake (or fail)”. Sometimes, this is where my risk aversion has left me, with fine opportunities that I could have seized upon and didn’t. Part of my risk aversion has come from not listening to or trusting my inner voice, which would have included looking closely at how I felt about something, rather than just weighing the hard fact pros and cons (which generally led me down the road to over-analyzation). While I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of having to regret something that I had done, I downplayed the feelings that could come from regretting something that I hadn’t done.

This is not to say that every opportunity that comes our way should be taken. Evaluating these opportunities requires discernment. And for my friends who err on the side of not considering risk enough, there may be a different lesson for you here; to consider using the more logical aspects of decision making and not just follow your feeling impulse in any moment. In addition, to realize that actions can have unintended consequences and require trade-offs in our lives that we perhaps wouldn’t be willing to make if we’d thought through those.

As with so many aspects of our lives, we’re left with trying to find balance; balancing the knowledge of who we are and what our default tendencies are, as well as balancing the two sides of the risk spectrum.

holiday post-mortem part 2

The holiday season of 2012 has come and gone. I have spent time with various members of my family and tried to give them glimpses of some new pieces of myself and some of my new ideas about the world. The experience reminded me that sometimes it can be hard to be to be a new, different person with those people whom we have spent a large portion of our life with. It’s easy to fall back into an old way of being; and this is not always a bad thing.

A few years ago I met up with one of my college roommates for a girls weekend. We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, yet it felt like no time had passed. We saw each other as the same people we had been. We didn’t have to negotiate our roles with each other, we already knew which of us would lead in different situations. When we got into the car for the first time that weekend, she drove and I navigated, and that is how we’d done it in college. In some cases, it’s nice not to have to go through a renegotiation process in our relationships and just be how we’ve been before.

But sometimes we want to start anew, in one area or all areas of our relationship. Sometimes we want to show people that we have changed, but we don’t know how to introduce that into the existing relationship. Sometimes we see their reactions to new ideas we have or new pieces of ourselves and we realize that there is a reason that we haven’t been that way with them. And sometimes they react in unexpected new ways themselves, and show us a new piece of themselves.

As we attempt to share our new selves, we also need to recognize when someone else is trying to share their new way of being with us, and be open and curious to it, rather than inherently react negatively to the unexpected. As I attempted to share new pieces of myself with my family, I also noticed that they tried to share new pieces of themselves with me. And I wasn’t always open to it, my initial internal reaction sometimes was negative or judging. I had to remember that it is a two-way street.

In this time of new year’s resolutions, I guess that the best we can do is to keep trying. If our new way of being is important enough to us, we can have the courage to bring it out into to open, and not hide in ourselves of the past. Whether other people react positively or negatively to it, we can still be true to ourselves. We must also allow other people the freedom do the same, and acknowledge and encourage the new pieces of themselves that they reveal to us.