Some Thoughts

I’d really really like to get back to blogging more than 5.3 times per year, but sheesh making that first step forward just seems way bigger than it actually is.  So here we are with Some Thoughts.

Thought #1.  I am out of dark chocolate.  A nibble a day really does keep the grumpies at bay and unfortunately I’ve nibbled until all of my dark chocolate almond clusters are gone.  Woe is me.

Thought #2.  Is almost 7 years old really big or really little?  Amelie is approaching her 7th birthday and she just seems SO BIG.  I’m looking for long view here.  Seven isn’t really a year from 18 and off on her own.  Is it?

Thought #3.  Per my New Year’s Resolution, I have finally succeeded in going to bed earlier.  It has not turned me into Super Mom, up at 5:30 or 4:30AM.  Nope.  I’m just sleeping longer.  And I like it.

Thought #4.  My other New Year’s Resolution — to read whatever Lia is reading — just got harder.  Lia puts the books she has finished on my nightstand and I’ve been mostly keeping the stack down to 5 – 10 books at any given time.  Turns out she thought that I was only going to read the books that we own — she hasn’t been submitting the library books to the nightstand pile.  So the bad news is that I will never ever catch up and the good news is that I get to read the library book she read four or five times through today – The Penderwicks.  She gave it a great review and I’m stoked.  I love children’s lit.

Thought #5.  Per Thought #1, I’m on Day 2 of taking 10 minutes to be calm.  Using the Calm.com app.  Pretty nifty.  Also trying out some of the Saagara pranayama (breathing exercises) apps.  More oxygen to us all!

 

Advertisements

it’s a new year

It turns out that my word for 2013 didn’t go all the way.  Notice was a good word, and I do feel as though I am more practiced in the art of slowing to notice, but it didn’t have staying power.

Life through a number of curve balls, hard thwacks and deep up endings I’d entitle “Loss”, “Grief”, or “Crap”.

Maybe a good word for 2013 would have been Grieve or, better yet, Courage.  Courage for journeying into the dark places of pain.  Or maybe the word should have been Compassion.  This post about the necessity of emotion says that “compassion is the ability to hold pain and love in your heart simultaneously”.  I know what this means now, about a hundredfold more than I knew last year.  For sure it has been a year of strenuous inner work.  Grappling, gritty, dirty, determined.

I have learned that darkness and pain that doesn’t often show on the surface.  I have learned to look more carefully at others and assume that there is a lot going on that I don’t know about.

I have learned that when something elicits a very strong response, these large feelings can feel like terrifying monsters let out of a dungeon seeking to devour.  Instead of shoving them back in, I have learned to let them stay out.  Monsters shrink in the light.

I have learned that, at my core, I am not a beloved little girl, I am a worthwhile woman who was loved when she was a little girl.

It’s been quite a year.  I am grateful that the psyche gives times of rest in between times of work.  I am grateful that I have been able to meet what has come my way with courage and honesty.  And I am grateful that I have a counselor to help me out when things pile on too fast and thick.  I am grateful for clean grief.  I am also grateful for messy grief.  I am grateful for hope.  I am grateful for how I have changed.

I don’t really have a word for this year (gun shy after last year?).  I did come up with two true blue resolutions, though.

#1 Early to bed, early to rise, makes one … have enough time to practice yoga in the morning.  This whole going to bed thing has been my Achilles’ heel this last year.  I’m cutting out all stimulants in the evening; namely sewing, watching movies, reading new books (I have to find out what happens next), or writing.  Which basically means there’s nothing to do but go to bed. I’m also getting ready for bed as soon as I finish putting the kids to bed.  Pajamas go a long way towards sleepiness.  Wish me luck on this one.  I resolve to go to bed early and wake up early.  And practice yoga.

#2 I resolve to read all the books that Lia reads.  So far I’ve read Matilda.  And a few books I checked out at the library for her, but she hasn’t read them yet.  (Does that count?)

I may not have a word for the year, but I do have an idea of where I’d like to go.  This post by Justine Musk elicited a deep yes from me.

To know joy is to know the loss of joy; to know the deep carved-out pain of loss. You can’t have one without the other.

Joy, then, is a straight-up act of courage.

She had a capacity for deep joy means, to me, she could feel her feelings and not get run over by them. She could open herself to the world without being destroyed by it. She knew that when life sent her underground, she would find what she needed to rise, and her capacity for joy would get that much deeper and able to hold that much more. She was committed to a life of courage. In order to feel fully alive, she was prepared to allow herself to feel.

a bed for grandma

bed for grandma

My grandma is flying in tomorrow for a month long visit.  A cozy bed awaits her, and a houseful of people who can’t wait for her to get here.  I either lived with my grandparents or near my grandparents for most of my childhood.  Suffice it to say, our visit to Virginia this summer just wasn’t enough time with my grandma.  I’ve pared down our Christmas schedule of extraneous busy-ness and filled it up with Grandma Plans.  Snuggling, reading, playing games, crocheting and knitting.  It’s just the beginning of the list.

There was a grand bed switcharoo a few months ago when the girls moved into a bunk bed.  Their double bed moved into the guest room and the extra twin bed moved into Levi and Kiri’s room.  Levi is now like the Princess and the Pea, sleeping on multiple mattresses.  He’s sleeping on two mattresses and two box springs while we enjoy the last few months of the crib rails keeping Kiri confined.  When she graduates to her big girl bed, Levi will have to come down out of the rafters.

The double bed needed all new bedding.  The hand me down sheet that the girls had been using had degenerated into a ripped, threadbare, paint spill dotted, silly putty spotted, piece of sadness.  I chucked it.

I have been stepping (mostly) boldly out into a brand new world of buying things that I love, when we need them.  I am loving, loving it.  For the first time since becoming an adult, I love my home.  It feels so good.  Confession: I take pictures of my house, just for the joy of it.

When we needed sheets and blankets, I didn’t want to go the threadbare hand me down route again.  This bed is settled in its space and purpose now.  So I did some shopping.  Namely, Ikea.

Classic white sheets.  A duvet comforter that can be three different levels of warmth, depending on which pieces you use (the layers snap together).  Lace edged pillowcases I picked up years ago at Ross.  And the Alvine Kvist duvet cover.  I’m really, really trying to not go wild with my current love of gray.  But a bit of gray with flowers?  On white?  Can’t resist.  It looks cozy for winter and light for summer.

The girls and I made the bed this evening, a little ceremony of expectation.  Levi carefully wrote “Ruby” on Grandma’s glass.  The “y” gave him a lot of trouble, but he persevered.

31 days, frozen vegetables, and math

smashball{from a trip to the beach a week ago, because I didn’t think a photo of frozen vegetables would be nearly as endearing}

:: 31 Days

I’ve thought really really hard about joining the 31 Days project – blogging about a topic of choice for the 31 days of October.  As you can tell, I’m either a day late or decided not to.

Option B ruled the day.  Hello, practicality.

There just isn’t enough protected time to commit to something like that.  And by that I mean – unnecessary with a deadline.  Especially the deadline bit.  Try to avoid those whenever possible.

{I just discovered that if I hold two fingers down and click a word, I can have immediate access to a definition and synonyms! My writing life as I know it has just been revolutionized.  <GASP> it works in Pages, too.  Coooool.}

But I am really jazzed about my topic of choice, so I’m actually writing out my series anyways and having a grand old time.  At a pace my life can manage.

I’m writing about “31 Days of Becoming”.  Devo even made me a button in case I decided to venture forth into Deep Commitment.  Truthfully, another reason I decided not to publish it is because it contains a lot of personal stories that I still feel vulnerable about.  There is vulnerable on purpose and there is vulnerable please-don’t-hit-me.  The internet is probably not the wisest place for sallying forth with the latter.

But I may change my mind.  Because I can.

 

:: Frozen Vegetables

Speaking of revolutionary discoveries, let’s talk frozen vegetables.  I grew up putting the frozen vegetables in a pan, covering with water, and heating on the stove.  It took long enough that generally I would either find that there was a frozen mass that had formed when I added the water or they would boil and I’d end up with overcooked color-leached mushiness.  Then we would fish our vegetables out of the water with a slotted spoon.

About a year ago (or maybe two?), I watched my friend Andrea break out her bag of Trader Joe’s peas with some buttery goodness and all she did was put them in the pan, cover it with a lid, and stir occasionally.  Whaaaaaa?  You can do that?

You can.

I don’t know what sparked that memory (maybe I had finally worked through the incredulous, paradigm shifting jolt of the new method), but a month or so ago I tried it for myself.  It’s awesome.  It has revolutionized my life as pertains to frozen vegetables.

I realize that everyone else in the western world has probably been cooking their frozen vegetables this way since the Dark Ages, but in case there is someone else out there like me with an iceberg in their pan, I’d just like to put it out there.  Try it.

 

:: Life of Fred

On the recommendation of a friend, I ordered a new math curriculum for Lia.  She had been ho-humming through Math-U-See, not protesting but not particularly engaged either.  Just putting in her time.

I ordered Life of Fred on the premise that the program is story based.  Maybe a good fit for my voracious reader.  I read that each book should take about a month to work on, so I ordered the first three.  We’ll try it until Christmas, I thought.

She finished the first book within 24 hours, and the first three books within a week.  She can’t wait to get to calculus (I think because there is the promise of learning Fred’s entire history).  She sits every morning (and sometimes in the afternoon) with her little notebook, reading and working her problems.  There are only about five problems to work per chapter.  Just the right amount to feel competent and eager to get to the next chapter.

I think she’s on book five now, but I’m not really sure.  I can’t keep up.  Every couple of days we sit down together and l catch up on the story (she always wants to share the story) and we take a look at the work in her notebook.

There are definitely some holes in her understanding of the material.  That doesn’t bother me at all because (a) she’s interested and intrigued by math for the first time ever and believes herself to be competent – that in and of itself will give her everything she needs (b) who ever completely understood everything before reaching out for more? and (c) she goes back and rereads the books because they are so much fun.

Amelie can’t wait until she’s ready for Life of Fred.

Eliminate the crazy -and- create an inheritance

It’s that time of year.  The weather hasn’t gotten the “fall” memo, but the sun has, and it’s almost dark when I leave yoga class now.

School is in full swing.  I’ve waded through curriculum choices and internet ordering, identified needs, and sketched out vision and goals for each child.   The daily routine has already undergone three big tweaks.  (Can a tweak be big?)

But really, I only have one big focus for this year.  All the rest are small details.  My big goal?

I don’t want to feel crazy this year.

I’m so over crazy.

I’ve taken a big look at what factors into the recurring feeling that things are spinning out of control.  What things contribute to thin (cough) patience.  What is happening when I feel that things are running smoothly.  What is going on when I feel rooted in the moment and available to whoever or whatever is in front of me.

And I made a list.

clean kitchen

  1. Get enough sleep.  Amen.
  2. Take time for myself first thing in the morning to find some space and a sense of equilibrium.  I had thought that rolling out of bed to do some yoga would be a good thing to do, but it turns out that I prefer to wake up my mind before I wake up my body.  I was so glad to find the idea of Morning Pages.  It’s a practice that fits me just right, clears the cobwebs, orders the day, and sometimes turns into an early morning free counseling session.
  3. Take care of My Things first.  I make my bed, shower, and clean my room before facing the world.
  4. Keep the kitchen clean.  This includes a number of tasks.  Wash the dishes, dry and put them away, clean and clear all the counters.  If my kitchen is clean, I am 89% more likely to cook.  (Hey, hey, another week has passed and I’ve cooked at least four meals that we would have eaten out for in the past.  My shoulder is getting sore from patting myself on the back.)
  5. Keep the Holy Triangle clean.  All the living spaces in our house are open to one another.  The Holy Triangle includes the kitchen, the dining room, and the breakfast nook turned desk/sewing.  If this space is free of clutter with surfaces cleared and chairs pushed in, I feel like I can conquer whatever the day throws at me.  It doesn’t matter if a typhoon has gone through the living room, as long as it all stays outside my Holy Triangle, I’m fine.
  6. Take a break in the middle of the day.  I usually take some time for myself during rest time (the kids rest every day for one hour right after lunch).  I use that time for getting things done, computer work, do errands, or to spend as I choose.  I’ve learned in the last week that working feverishly through this hour does not provide the mental break I need to enter into our afternoon activities fresh and patient.
  7. Grocery shop and meal plan.  Meal planning is, as you know, new to me (still a fan!  revamped plan going well!).  But dang if life isn’t always easier when there is ample food in the pantry.
  8. Do things that feed me.  Practice and take lessons.  Write.  Study.  Sew.  Do something creative.
  9. Clean up everything, every morning and every afternoon.  Eliminates (or, greatly reduces) meltdowns.  Parent or child.
  10. Be faithful to routines.  It’s my current mantra, befaithfulbefaithfulbefaithfull.  If I shift or neglect one thing, it creates a snowball effect and I get effectively crazy.  And we don’t want crazy.

It seems like a lot of things to do, sometimes it seems like I’m asking for the moon, being wildly irresponsible with my demands on myself, my family, and my husband.  But at this point in my life with four small children, free flowing creates unhappy people.  Every time.  It particularly creates Crazy Mama.  And I’m tired of being crazy.  Did I say that already?

School morning have been going remarkably well, everyone settling into their routines.  The first truly smooth day came and I realized that everyone was calm except me.  I’ve felt the crazies for so long that I didn’t know how to NOT be crazy.

I’m retraining my automatic reactions, and I’ve been proactive in asking for help for things I need help with.  Sometimes I tell myself that this is a good thing to do because how I feel affects so many people.  If I feel calm and centered, I am so much better at parenting.

And that’s true.

But the truth also is that even if I didn’t have other people depending on me so heavily for so many things, I would still go to such lengths to create a healthy, happy me.  I’m worth it.

………………………………………………………………

I’ve sat here for awhile, wondering about keeping or deleting that last sentence.  “I’m worth it.”  Would that seem self-flaunting, self-ish to my readers?  Would it make me seem like a head-in-the-clouds tra-la-la-ing airhead?  Or worse, a full of myself braggart?

I’ve decided to not ignore that voice, but to address it full on.

How is it that to take care of our basic needs for peace and sanity is considered selfish?  Where did we, as women, inherit these ideas that we are not worthy of feeling good?

Ah, there’s the answer right inside my question.  We inherit them.  We inherit them from the women around us, from the words that are spoken and the examples that are lived.

And as with all things passed down to us, we need to decide — is this something I want to keep, or is it flawed and I choose to uproot it?

I say that this particular idea – the idea that we, as women, are not worthy of peace and happiness – is bogus.  Time to give it the boot.

A woman who has learned to care for herself with gentleness, strength, and faithfulness has a beauty that is irresistible.   I don’t want my children to receive an anemic inheritance.  I desire wholeness for them.  And I desire no less for myself.  Wholeness for all of us.

We’re all worth it.

 

 

a cozy little spot for me

Corner

In a wild move towards wholeness via self-care, I moved a pink chair into my bedroom next to my bed.  And I put over it the Hawaiian print quilt my Grandma and I made together for a sense of warmth.  Added my favorite painting for inspiration.

Then there wasn’t room for the dresser, so I cleaned out the closet.  Think floor to ceiling storage, stuffed full — a bank of sterilite drawers for the kids seasonal clothes, diapers, linens.  Worthy items, not wanted here.  Moved the dresser in.

Closet

Rescued the photos from our wedding month that have languished for a year under our bed and put them up.

And now I clean my room first in the morning.  No more cleaning everyone else’s stuff first (whether they asked for it or not).  A cozy little spot for me.  A place to dream, a place to read.  I feel an unwinding in my chest when I walk into our room.  Sometimes I come in just to sit in my chair and look at the clear floor.  It makes me happy.

pain and fear

I’ve noticed that my rate of posting here has slowed recently.  I think it’s because I have so many things to say.  I’ve been thinking many deep thoughts, and they’ve stymied the interest in writing about anything other than what must be said.

I have so many things to say that when I’m in the company of people to whom I could discuss all of these things that are speaking so loudly in my brain, I can’t seem to say anything at all.  So I sit and smile with my lips closed.

Most of these recent thoughts seem to be under the umbrella of finding a life of wholeness and freedom.  The topics seem centered around pain and fear, doubt and faith.  For today, pain and fear.  Maybe doubt and faith another day.

……………………………………..

I’ve had a number of conversations recently with people undergoing intense personal pain.  And they have no idea what to do with it.  Push it away, mostly, through inactivity or overactivity.  Does no one teach us how to deal with pain?

I began my lessons in dealing with pain at my mother’s proverbial knee.  My mom legitimized my pain and was brave enough to face it with me.  (She still is.)  I continued my education through books and listening and thinking and counseling and lots of practice.  Lots of practice.

Some thoughts on pain.

  • When you block out pain, you block out joy.
  • When you name something and speak it aloud, it robs it of its power, brings it into light.
  • Release your pain from the constriction of fear, meet it with kindness.
  • Pain + kindness > pain + fear
  • Overcoming fear takes courage.  Courage, remember, isn’t the absence of fear.
  • Be proactive.  Deal with pain when it appears.
  • You can push it aside, but it will be back later.
  • Notice what makes you cry.
  • Notice what stories you tell make you choke up.  Dig there.
  • Sit with it.  Feel it.  Don’t brush it off.
  • Honor your pain by your presence.
  • If it gets to be too much, too intense, you can take a break.  And come back later.
  • If it’s still too intense, you can see a counselor and look at those things together, in a safe place.
  • It gets worse before it gets better.  Like Pandora’s box, if you let one thing out, it all comes out.  This is a good thing.
  • Examine the pain.  Follow it back to its roots. Dig like an archaeologist.  What am I feeling?  Why do I feel this way?  How does this connect to other things?  Follow threads until they exhaust themselves.
  • Don’t try to force or convince yourself to feel one way or another.  This is honest time and you can’t be honest when you’re trying to be something you are not.  You might be (insert word here : forgiving, loving, able to let go) later, but you are not now.  Honor now.
  • Journal.  Ask yourself a hard question and then answer it.  Give yourself permission to ramble, to switch thoughts mid-sentence, to follow threads, to jump in in the middle.  Tear up the paper when you’re done, burn it ceremoniously, delete the file.  Or keep it as a memento reminding you of the courageous path you’ve taken, or healing sought and received.
  • Don’t be surprised when things that you thought were healed and tidied up need to be addressed again.
  • Be ready to receive cleansing, relief, healing, joy, wholeness.
  • Know yourself.
  • When you open yourself to pain, you open yourself to joy.

 

Sundays, an update, and frasier

:: homemade pizza night, every other Sunday

One of our numerous new year’s resolutions was to invite people over more often.  We have been practicing hospitality faithfully since the start of this year.  Every other Sunday seems to be about right for us, manageable.

Technically, Sunday is our Home day – the day to take care of those honey-do tasks, work on home projects, work in the garden, veg a little.  On weeks when we are having guests for supper, we clean the house.  A decent cleaning every two weeks is just about right, in my book.  On the in-between weeks, we do larger house projects (next up: the garage, ew) and then my sister Liana babysits in the evening while we go out (or sit in the car).

We have so enjoyed having our friends over.  With having five pregnancies and four babies over the last nine years, there have only been a few months here and there where we’ve felt ‘with it’ enough to entertain.  Now we’re really getting into the groove.  Our biggest problem is that there are so very many people we want to have over.  Too many friends, a good problem to have.

:: voice lesson update

After a three month hiatus from lessons (not my choice, teacher’s schedule), I had my first lesson this last Sunday.  Right in time for another hiatus due to Spring Break.  (Well, at least I’m not being tempted to drain the family money pot with lessons right and left.)

My teacher’s name is Aram – he’s Bulgarian.  I love him.  One of the many many things I love about him is that he lavishes praise and affirmation.  Even his suggestions and solutions are bookended in positive things.  “Beautiful, just beautiful.  Now this time, I want  you to…”  “You could never make a sound that is anything less than beautiful, it can only have varying degrees of beauty.”

I bask.

And I laugh at myself, because I am so aware of how those compliments and affirmations buoy me up, build me up.  Maybe I laugh because we get the message that we are supposed to be impervious to compliments and impervious to criticism, and I realize that I am flying in the face of that.  But in the words of Jewel, I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.  I’m like a little flower, soaking in the sunshine.

There is a theme in these lessons that wasn’t present in my early twenties.  Warmth of the 30s coming in to your tone.  Now you sound like a woman in her 30s, not a junior in college.  Your true voice.  

Your true voice.  I’ve been mulling over vocation and the concept of becoming our truest and fullest selves, and all the hindrances we work with.  It seems as though my vocal development is just another manifestation of this journey.

:: guilty pleasure

I’ve been watching reruns of Frasier in the evenings.  I must admit how comforting those 90s styles are to me.  Baggy pants, short shirts, short skirts.  Nostalgia.  I’ve been surprised at how much I am enjoying it.  I find myself laughing out loud, all by myself.

I still have not been able to bring myself to watch the last episode of Downton Abbey.  I know something terrible happens.  Sheesh, I know what the terrible thing is that happens!  But for Pete’s sake, it’s TV, can’t I just never watch it and start again next season and spare myself the anguish?

first of thousands

photo

Karen called to say she was leaving a birthday gift on our front porch while we were out.  Karen, beautiful friend and giver of beautiful gifts.  She is a gifted gift giver.

Tingle of excitement.

The kids raced from the van to the front porch and came in bearing a little gift bag with tissue paper being actively crumpled in exuberant hands.

I pulled out the card first.  Perfect.  Warmth and smiles.

Then I pulled out the gift.

My heart fell.

It was the book I didn’t want to read.

Crud.

My happy gift excitement fell in ashes at my feet.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  The celebrated book and author that circles regularly through the corner of the blog world that I inhabit.  Writing and a person that, by all indications, I should really like.

But I didn’t.

Every time I’ve come upon a piece of her writing, I’ve experienced a strong, I don’t know how to describe it.  An inner stop sign, barrier, halt, defense, aversion.

The strength of my push-back was surprising enough to make me stop and pay it some attention.

What’s going on?  Why do I react so negatively here?

There was a little disquieting inner voice that said that if I had developed differently, if I had followed the path of spirituality I developed beginnings of in college, I would have been like that.  A presence like that.  A spirituality like that.  Someone who is doing me better.  Ouch.

(I’ve felt the same about Rachel Held Evans, who is on a completely different plane – asking tough questions, engaging in controversial topics.  I could have developed that way, also.  And these musings bear the question how HAVE I developed?  But that’s a question to find an answer for another day, or another year.)

There was also a sense of not now.  Come back to it later.  Because really, I knew it should be something I would be, should be drawn to.

Karen had told me on the phone that if I already had the book, she had something else to give me instead.

A glimmer of hope.  Maybe I wouldn’t have to face this unwanted specter.

I considered lying.  Oh yes, I already have this book.  I’ve already read it, yes it was wonderful.  Well, lying wasn’t really under consideration.  Let’s call it wishful thinking.

I considered gifting it to someone else.

I considered letting it lie here, unread.  And then gifting it to someone else.

Sigh.

I remembered that a strong internal reaction to bears listening to.  I mused to myself that maybe this could be big, huge, a life-changer.

Oh, come on, just pick it up and start reading.

So I did.

………………………………………………………………………………………..

And.

I am changed.

I am melted.

I am broken open by a voice that is brave enough to ask the hard questions about pain and suffering and aging and death and fear – things that have laid very heavy between God and I.

And he took bread, gave thanks (eucharisteo) and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 2:19 NIV)

Eucharisteo, Ann says, something to build your life on, live your life in.

Eucharisteo – thanksgiving.  Charis – grace.  Chara – joy.

I read through the book slowly.  Late one evening this week I finished it, then turned back to the beginning and began again.

She names one thousand blessings, one thousand gifts, a way to live eucharisteo.

I can’t but help to draw a line and connect the dots.  I’m in the early days of a year of noticing, and what have I been given?  A guidebook to naming thousands of gifts.

I sense that a door has been flung open.  A door I’ve been searching for across several years, maybe more than several.

I looked for and found a journal that’s just right for my own list of thousands of gifts.  I need to find a good pen.  It seems silly to wait for something as insignificant as a pen to begin.  But it has been a long journey to come to this new starting point, and I’d like to start it with more intention than jottings on a scrap of paper destined to be lost in the shuffle.

So I’ll wait for the pen, and then I’ll find a quiet moment to write on the first line of thousands.

1. a beautiful gift from a beloved friend – a book to change my life

Thank you, Karen.  I love you very much.

tracing a vocation

aphrodite

Aphrodite, goddess of love.  Not that it has anything to do with this post.

I’m still not sure how I ended up with voice as my main emphasis for my music education degree.  It was a toss up between piano, voice, and flute.

Flute was first to go.  TMJ problems.

It would have made sense to choose piano.  I mean, if I look back at my childhood and where I had invested my time and energy, where I had worked out my growing-up angst, it was at the piano.  I was drawn to the piano.   If there was a piano, I was playing it.  I remember visits to relatives according to what kind of keyboard they have, what kind of music was in their piano bench.

But as much as I played the piano, I loved singers.  I loved soulful singers.  I loved Toni Braxton unbreak my heart and Whitney Houston And I will always love youuuuu and Mariah Carey and then a hero comes along.  (That dates me, doesn’t it.)

I loved my eighth grade choir teacher.  She couldn’t read a whit of music, but she was black and she could sing and she could make us sing.

Good pianists impressed me.  Good singers touched me.

I realize this only looking back now.  When I was making the momentous decision, somewhere back in 1998, I was coming off of high school years where I had quit piano lessons and spent hours in choir.

Was there a guiding star?  I think not.  Flip a coin, see how it lands.

Somehow I decided on voice, and I never looked back.  It has never let me go.

Years later, I’m trying to make sense of a passion, a calling, that only showed up when I was 17 or 18.  I believe that a person’s vocation is evidenced throughout their lives, if only we have eyes to see it, to connect the dots.

Where is the evidence through my life that singing might be part of my unique vocation, my calling?  This baffled me for a long, long time.  I’ve only figured it out in the last year or so, after much deliberation, and it makes so much sense.

Looking back on my childhood, there are two things that I did constantly and consistently.  One is to play the piano, the other is to read.

Piano and reading.  Music and words.

Put music and words together, add heart and soul, and you’ve got singing.

Music that comes from the soul, through the body.  Words full of meaning that you can mine and wrestle with, linger over, interpret and communicate.

I guess it does all make sense.  The clues were all there.

On top of that, I have an unwieldy and unruly voice that refuses to belt like my beloved Whitney.  That makes a mockery of Christian contemporary singing and Disney princess songs (I can fake it, but it’s definitely fake.)  That wobbles and is unsteady when singing simple ditties for my children’s choir.

My voice is built for classical singing, for opera and art song, for lieder and melodie.  It’s constructed that way.

Add it all together and it explains, I guess, is how I came to be here.

That is why singing has not let me go, even through the baby years where most unimportant things were weeded out through necessity.  That’s why I practice with a baby sitting on my hip, do exercises while washing dishes (“Mom, it’s so loud!”), and ponder texts and translations in the evenings.

Apparently, this is one of the things I am called to do.  The signs are all there.

Signs and wonders.

I do wonder a lot about it, about what it means beyond practicing and now being brave enough to take lessons again.  I hardly want to think about it, really, it seems scary and far off.  I’m scared of being pushed too fast, I’m scared of fear and stage fright (!!!!), I’m scared of having to start all over again, I’m scared of failure.

But I suppose those are another day’s (another year’s?) worries.

For now, I suppose the next step is figuring out how on earth the Shepherd on the Rock can be so heartbroken one moment and greet the spring so blithely the next.  What’s the subtext here?

Have you discovered how your vocation can be traced to your childhood?  Not sure what your passion might be?  Check out wishcraft, it’s cool.

 

 

 

32

I’m leaving 31 with only one real regret.  In all the 365 days allotted to me, I didn’t once go to Basking Robbins 31 Flavors.  (31 Flavors for 31 years, get it?)  For Jamoca Almond Fudge.  Had my chance (all 365 of them), muffed it.

(Did I really go a whole year without Baskin Robbins?  Well, I did help eat several boxes of See’s, so all is not lost.)

31 taught me some very important lessons about myself.

Coming up to our tenth anniversary has been like a bell tolling, a marking of time that made me take stock and reassess.

One of the things I have been reassessing are repeating patterns, cycles that I have not found a way out of.  If I have worked for ten years to overcome this weakness, power through that fault, and have made no progress, maybe I’ve got it all wrong.

I’ve discovered a couple of things this year.

I am an introvert.

Ding ding!  How on earth did I miss this one?  Preconceived notions of hermitage?  I play well with others and function confidently in public situations, and somehow that pulled the wool over my eyes.

Introverts are people who find other people tiring.”  And best in small doses. Yep.

Introverts need time alone.  Yep.

There’s been a lot of attention for introverts this year in the media.  Kinda cool.  Also affirming.

 

I am a Highly Sensitive Person.

Over the holiday season, I clicked over from facebook to an article entitled something to the effect of  “Helping Your Highly Sensitive Child Through the Holidays”.  Only, when I read through the article and found the definition of “highly sensitive”, it wasn’t my children who were highly sensitive, it was me.

I took the self-test and almost laughed and almost cried.  It was like I was describing myself.

  • I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input.  (Loud noises, strong smells, bright lights).
  • Other people’s moods affect me.
  • I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days,into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
  • Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  • My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.
  • I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.

There was a thrill of excitement and discovery:  It’s Meeeeeeeeeee!  Like I was meeting myself on a webpage.

I was so relieved.  The fact that I get easily frazzled and can’t talk or breathe or reason my way out if it isn’t a weakness.    It’s just the way I am built.

So many things that I thought were faults or weaknesses to be overcome, powered through, or conquered if I could just muster up enough something (that I didn’t have), aren’t bad things at all.  They are good things because they are part of who I am created to be.

And traits that may seem limiting (like being easily overwhelmed) are directly related to strengths (having a rich inner life, being intuitive and empathetic).

It’s been a redemption of my self, how I see myself and how I deal with myself.

These are the traits I have been dealt, just as much as my physical attributes.

“Hello, my name is Leilani.  I have blond hair, blue eyes, I need time alone and I get overwhelmed easily.”

I was ready for this.

I was ready to hear, ready to fall gratefully into acceptance.  Ready to make changes to accommodate a new understanding.  It’s time to work with what I’ve got.

 

Sometimes it’s almost scary to admit to myself how many things I need to create an environment where I can be my best self and thrive.  Am I that dreaded, over-loaded term — high maintenance?  Shudder.

Ah, well, I’d rather be a healthy high-maintenance than an over-extended martyr.

I’ve jotted down a list of some of the things that help create my best environment.

Get over 9 hours of sleep.  Possibly 10.  Regrettably, I haven’t been able to test this one out  in recent years.  I might be in bed long enough to get 9-10 hours of sleep, but rarely make it through the night without several interruptions.  Let’s just say that it used to be true that I needed 10 hours of sleep.  Right now, I think I could sleep 11 hour nights for the next year.

Other people can deal with less sleep.  I fall apart.  Why fight it?  Get the sleep.  Or try to get the sleep.

Have time alone, not only everyday, but three times a day.  I’m like Daniel, needing that retreat morning, noon, and night.

Do yoga regularly.  Amen.

Have a creative outlet.  Sewing, singing, writing.  It’s energizing.

Keep the state of my house is well below my Mess Threshold.

Eat well, eat enough.  

Spend time alone and away with Devo.  This one has been really hard.  We finally secured a regular babysitter (my sister, awwwww) for every other Sunday night, but since putting the plan into effect, Kiri has woken up crying inconsolably every time.  <shrug>

So Happy Birthday to me.  And thanks to a small coughing boy who refuses any cough soothers for keeping me up wayyyyy late and giving me the opportunity to snuggle in bed with him and think out some of these things.  We don’t have high hopes or plans for my birthday tomorrow, being that we have two small ones under the weather and two tired-out parents from long nights of back-rubbing and tea-with-honey-making and child-soothing.  Definitely no cake.  But the girls cleaned up the house quite nicely last night, so we’re all set for a quiet day of being together.  Hopefully with more snuggling.  And less coughing.

embracing good things from a place of wholeness

I’m not an over-indulger.  You won’t find me having more than one or two pieces of (dark) chocolate from my stashed See’s at one time.  It’s not my issue.

I am, however, personally and actively engaged in a struggle with under-indulgence, paucity, and an abiding sense of scarcity.  We all have our problems.  I think over-indulgence and under-indulgence are often just two sides of the same coin.

I have this pattern stamped on my brain.  Perhaps it’s familiar to you.

Self-sacrifice, martyred self-sacrifice, desperate self-sacrifice, over-indulgence.  Repeat.

My particular version seems to end with “be scared of over-indulgence and the ensuing fallout, and therefore swing in the exact opposite direction”.

It’s one of those voices in my head that I’m in serious conversation with these days.  Noticing the ideas and words and voices that shape my actions and reactions seems to be part of this year’s journey.  I’ve taken a very active stance on the crap from the past.  I dig it up and bring it to light.  Light robs darkness of its power.

I’m tired of feeling that if I live a life of constant “worthy work” (in my family we call that the Calvinistic work ethic) with a pervasive dose of asceticism, then I will be doing the right thing.  I will be worthy.  I will be good.

The truth is that I don’t believe that voice anymore.  It’s time for my life to reflect what I truly believe, and it’s time to rout out all of lingering manifestations of such a lie.

I’m learning how to embrace good things and enjoy good things from a place of wholeness.

That concept of wholeness completely changes the whole picture.  Suddenly it’s not about too much or not enough.  It’s about goodness and opening ourselves up to it.

I can’t get this post of Rebecca’s out of my head.  She talks about her journey towards learning to choose herself (from a place of wholeness!) and tells this story:

A while ago someone asked, “And what are you doing?” I laughed and answered, “Anything I please.” Up gushed the concern. “Oh. How is that working for everyone else?” No doubt the household barely functions and discontent is rife, may have been the subtext. Turning to my husband, I queried, “How’s it working for you, Ken?” He eyes crinkled with a smile. “Just fine.”

Oh, did I react strongly to that “How is that working for everyone else?”  That is the voice that I have been working so hard to eradicate from my inner dialogue.

I love Ken’s answer, it almost brought tears to my eyes when I first read it.  “Just fine.”  It diffuses the entire struggle.  It comes from a place of wholeness.

Here are a couple of links to blogs that embody embracing goodness in the best possible way.

Maya Made

Posie Gets Cozy (I know I’m always linking to Posie, but bear with me, okay?)

Enjoy and embrace something good today.  Not too much, not too little.  Just good, from a place of wholeness.

Goodnesses

The morning was pretty terrible.  Mostly me.  Well, almost entirely me.  I was wigged out and freaking out and short on sleep and short on patience.  I finally put everyone in the car and we went for a drive so I could cool off and get a grip.  Then we stopped at the store for fruit leather.

I was so tempted to sink into the misery of self-mortification.  So tempted.  But I’ve been working on that, and the practice is starting to pay off.  As we drove around, I started talking out loud, naming the good things of the day.  It’s so easy to list the bad things, the failures.  But today I chose to lift my eyes up to the goodness that is here and now.  When those good moments come, I make an effort to stop for a moment to acknowledge their goodness.

Here are some of today’s good moments.

:: Waking up with a fragrant, kissable, cuddly baby snuggled in my arms.

:: Playing soccer in the morning sun with Levi.  Wet grass, pink slippers, arms full of baby, sturdy boy legs, twinkly boy eyes.

:: Watching Lia concentrate on her first day of subtraction.  (“It’s easier than addition,” she says).

:: Making Amelie’s braided pigtails stick out like Pippi’s and laughing together in the mirror.

:: Hearing Amelie quote long passages from Jungle Jam (recommend!).

:: Being privileged to offer a listening ear and encouragement to a grieving friend I saw at Costco.

:: Enjoying sister time in the car with a chorus of singing children for background music.

:: Sitting on the couch beside my husband in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday for a (very) few quiet minutes.

:: Hearing Levi sing John Rutter’s Star Carol  in his little boy voice.

:: Buying all the kids and myself a piece of fruit leather, just because.

:: Doing some rearranging in the kitchen to make room for the groceries I bought yesterday.  Ironed out a few more of the organizational wrinkles and got stuff labeled and stowed away, feels good.

:: Bags full of pomegranates and fuyu persimmons from a friend who offered me understanding when I feared censure.

:: Reading an evening message from a cousin far away who is also in the baby days (hello temper tantrums).

A few weeks ago, I was looking photos on Posie Gets Cozy.  They’ve finally adopted their long awaited baby girl, and the newborn miracle of it all just struck me in the heart.  Those newborn days are so so precious.

Too think that four times I have had that newborn miracle, lived it.  So blessed.

Before I could get melancholy over bygone days, I realized that just as I had that, the newborn days, I have this.  This with our new home, our homeschooling days, our so grown up almost 8 year old, deliciously five year old, still small three year old, and one I can still call a baby for a few more months.  This is my now.  This now is as miraculous and fleeting as ever those precious first days were.

It bowled me over.  What on earth have I been doing mired in details?  I have this and I have it now.  Take it, enjoy it, be in it.

All the to-dos, must-dos, should-dos scream at me so loudly sometimes, I get unbalanced (off my rocker?).  I get caught, literally stuck, in a whirl of overwhelm and I can’t fight my way out.  My patience is snappy, my kindness comes out with a sharp edge.

A few months ago, I was saved from the tyranny of feeling unhappy by Sylvia Boorstein with this simple idea: The question is not whether you feel happy, the question is are you able to be kind?

I’d like to add to that now.  In order for me to be kind, and patient, and gentle, I have to be happy.  

The truth is that when I’m locked in stress or overwhelm or unbalance, I cannot muscle my way to gentleness.  I cannot maintain patience.  I turn into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde apparition that mortifies me.

So for all of our sakes, I’ve been asking myself the question, Am I able to be kind?   If the answer is no, I do my best to find a way out of whatever has me all caught up.  What will help me find the space to be kind (to be happy?)?

Sometimes the answer is letting go of the housework.  Looking above the messes so that I can fully engage with the children.

Sometimes the answer is cleaning house.  Putting other things aside so that we can calmly bring order back to our space.

I’ve let go of a lot of things in the past few weeks.  (The to-do list is truly breathtaking.)  At the same time, I have spent more time laughing with my children.  More time listening with my full attention.  More time with a peaceful heart.  More crafts.  More sewing costumes.  More opening pomegranates.  More goofiness.  More soccer.  More singing.  More kindness, more gentleness, more patience.

This is it, this is my now.  I’m counting my good moments.

What good moments did you have today?

 

Compliments

Items removed from the wingback chair before sitting down to write :: 1 book (Little House on the Prairie), 1 small black stone (pilfered from the backyard), 1 towel draped over the back (it was a saddle for the chair’s alter-ego, the Horse).  

Over the course of months, I’ve been starting to take notice of what people compliment me on.

Compliments come in a variety of packages, don’t they?

Recently I’ve been getting a bunch of compliments that aren’t actually compliments.  More of the type of “You’re so <insert strength or natural attribute>” — which really means that they are NOT.  And perhaps your success in this area provides them with irritation and aggravation.  Compliments with a bite.

The first couple took me aback.  I couldn’t figure out how to respond.  If I responded by celebrating the compliment, I’d walk away feeling like I was coming across as boasting.  If I downplayed whatever was being complimented, I felt that I was betraying myself by playing small and belittling the work and investments I make.

I finally remembered that compliments aren’t really about me.  I learned this first in college when I was finally blossoming as a singer and was suddenly the recipient of a lot of compliments.  I was initially quick to point out where I had messed up in whatever performance, the mistakes were so obvious to me!  Negating compliments, not good.

The other extreme was, of course, letting it all go to my head.  I wasn’t keen on that one either.  Definitely not a centered response.

I really hit my stride when I realized that the compliments aren’t really about me.  Compliments are about the person who gives them.  When compliments are given in sincerity, they are worthy of being received graciously with gratitude.  Even if I have a differing opinion on the quality of whatever they are complimenting.

When compliments are really about the other person’s issues, then it’s good to realize that it’s still not about me.  I take a moment to recognize what struggles are being revealed – jealousy, struggle, insecurity, overwhelm.

I’ve deemed one response to be universally appropriate, no matter the origin of the compliment :: a heart-felt Thank You.

It covers all the bases and allows me to be true to myself.  No opening myself to unneeded criticism, no betraying myself through playing small.  I can walk away centered and thankful.

Which is a huge sidenote to what I actually wanted to write about.  Let’s backtrack again.

Over the course of months, I’ve been starting to take notice of what people compliment me on.  Certain things crop up again and again, in many different contexts and from many different people.  These things are worth examining, and, perhaps, holding on to.  It’s part of my ongoing exercise to find good things about myself and name them.  It’s also part of the blooming process.

So let’s take a look-see, shall we?

Singing

I have a degree in Music Education with Vocal Emphasis.  I completed half of a master’s degree in Vocal Performance from USC.  For a very few, brief, heady years, I used to perform regularly.  I put it aside for these years of babies and small children.

It’s been over five years since I sang in public.  Sang anything.  Anywhere.

And yet.  And yet.  I consistently have people asking me when I’m going to sing again.  Telling me that I have such a beautiful voice.  Remembering this performance or that performance.  For them, my voice isn’t about nostalgia (like it has threatened to become for me), it’s about a present and future reality.

Children’s Choir

I am good at directing children’s choirs.  I can say this easily, without any puffing up, because it has come so naturally to me.  Yes, I’ve worked to hone skills, but there was no struggle here like with other gifts or talents.  This ability is truly a gift, I can’t take much credit for it.  I enjoy the work that I do with my choir, and the kids and families who I am privileged to work with.

Peace

“You’re so calm” and “you’re so peaceful”.  I hear these a lot.  There are even one or two people who come to stand next to me for a few moments at church, telling me they are soaking up the calm.

I do work hard at this attribute.  Maintaining an inner serenity or calm or peace is an ongoing practice that I value.  I like the way it feels.  When I was a teenager I called it “My Happy Bubble”.  Bubble, of course, implies ignoring difficulties and ugliness. Serenity or peace, on the other hand, acknowledges and works through problems.

Yoga

I love yoga.  I’ve been seriously practicing now for seven years, with another three or four of intermittent practice before that.  In some areas I am very flexible, in others I am not.  I do have a liking for the wowee poses, but I like them for the challenge and exhilaration, not the show-off factor.

Mothering

I don’t know what criteria people base good mothering on, but this is my current lifework that I invest blood, sweat, tears, and sleep into and I am glad for any affirmation that comes my way.

What about you?  What do people compliment you on?