Sunday, January 29, 2012

Internal Security Service

I came into this world equipped and programmed with a system that is still functioning today. I'm naming it my Internal Security Service, or ISS for short.

Just this morning I recognized how it is affecting my life.

You see, like all people raised in a family with the community support of church and school, I am programmed.
For the most part, this programming has been to my great benefit.  It has shaped my conscience and behavior and allowed me to enjoy a content life in society.

The ISS has helped me to develop a life that feels relatively comfortable, stable and happy.  On the other hand, it has constructed walls and doors with alarm buttons to warn me of dangerous territory.  Discovering these doors is a brand new awareness.

Today I discovered my first door, with a giant red alarm button.  The name of the button is intimidation, and whenever I act in spite of experiencing a feeling of intimidation, the alarm goes off.  If I am brave and walk through the door and keep on walking, the sound fades and I find myself in a new place.  It's disorienting at first.

Let me explain.  I'm beginning to recognize why I've created patterns of living that have become my circumstances.  In some ways I've been negatively influenced by society and have developed the response of wanting to huddle in a sanctuary.  All of this home-making business is about creating a peaceful, comfortable sanctuary.  And I enjoy this part of my life very much.  While enjoying my home, I also recognize that I'm easily intimidated by certain issues.  Talk of money is one.   My financial health has been stable because of the work my husband does every day.  And that's okay with me.  As long as I don't fall into the trap of wanting extra material things like new carpet and kayaks.  I would like to be a Buddist and release my need for anything, but I'm not there yet.

Someone can say the word "taxes" and my ISS button sounds the alarm.  I immediately want to run for cover.  My mind rolls out a litany of complaints: "Taxes! Oh no, please let's not talk about taxes! I am ignorant about taxes and I know it involves numbers and you know I nearly died of severe anxiety attacks in math classes!" 

It's a fact.  Somewhere during my lifetime, I was intimidated either by a math teacher, my parents, the text books or the tests.  I developed a strong distaste for all things number related, except for my phone number and address.  Today I realized that this is the stupidest fear I continue to feed.  I want to kick that door open and keep on walking despite the anxiety and the alarm bells ringing.

Let them ring! Today is the day I'm going to look at my taxes.

There are lots of other things that set off my ISS system.  In my new awareness of how the system works, I intend to keep busting through those doors until only the sight of a Tsunami intimidates me.

I'm simply tired of letting things my ISS says limit my life.  Self control is healthy and normal.  It is safe.  It is also sometimes the thing that holds me back from experiencing extraordinary moments.

Today I woke up an ran under the cold stars at 5:30.  It was dark and so fresh.  It felt like being home in Michigan.  There was no traffic and I felt more alive on that dark road under the dim streetlamps than I have in months.  When I came home, my face was cold and my heart was happy.   What had that ISS been warning me about?  That it's dangerous to run in the dark?  I kept on going through that door while the alarm bells rang and rang.

I can't wait to notice when that old feeling of intimidation happens again.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cram-Packed Full Life

I don't know how it happened but I'm starting to feel busy all the time.  This is unusual for me.  I feel most comfortable when I only have one or two things on my calendar, per month.  It's out of character, but lately I keep dividing my time and adding more activity.

Maybe this means I'm gradually joining the land of the living after being a hopeless, insecure closet smoker.

In any case, being out in the world is good for me.  And for Elliot too.  We've done so many wonderful things this week that we're sleeping great and waking up refreshed and ready for more.

After joining a home school group, we were invited to lunch on Monday, which led to a visit and playdate on Wednesday.  We had Tae Kwon Do on Tuesday and Thursday.  Elliot is also taking a pottery class and an acting class at the downtown Cultural Arts center.  Surprisingly, I've managed to divide my work-outs to two per day, which is easier on my joints than spending an hour or more in one running session on the treadmill.

The weather has been so beautiful that in the evenings we've headed out to the woods.  I was uplifted by the realization that my stamina is returning, along with a feeling of deep appreciation for our trails again.  For a while we were going out so much that I was beginning to feel bored and uninspired.  Nature should never feel that way and I'm happy to say that my sense of wonder is returning.   I can't describe the freshness of the air or the fragrance of newly emergent life on the decomposing leafy floor.  It is aroma therapy of the best kind.

Still, through all of this, I can't seem to shake the nagging internal critic who has been ruthless in her abuse of me.  She keeps telling me to get a make-over.  In the afternoon, she begs me to buy nice new clothes, to cut and dye my hair, to buy new make up and wear it every day.  She keeps nagging me to redecorate the sad looking rooms in my house and to put that sewing machine to more practical uses like making new pillows for the wretched couches and drapes for the scandalously naked windows.  She keeps telling me to buy some house plants and put pansies in the pots instead of weeds.  I really have not been able to silence her.  She wants it all done and she wants it done right now.

Someone once said to put all of that stuff on a list.  Maybe that would help.  But I also wonder if that inner critic is trying to tell me something important.  Maybe she's trying to encourage me to be just a little more self indulgent, because she knows that it's not in my best interest to play the martyr game.   She knows what can happen when everything starts to be too much.  Maybe she's recognizing that self destructive behavior is on the horizon unless I start to do something totally self indulgent, right now!

So there wasn't much time for blogging this week.  Which was probably a relief for my sweet friends who visit so often!

Something good is happening today.  I hope it is for you too.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Where there's a will...

....there's a way.

Last year, Richard read Lynne McTaggart's The Intention Experiment.  He enjoyed it so much that as a family we began to think about the power of positive intention as a way to actively participate in shaping our lives.  I did attempt to read the book, but the density of scientific jargon left me with a mere glimmer of an idea about how this is supposed to work.  In any case, while I was entering the realm of an online business for the first time, I practiced intention to the best of my ability.  The theory is that our thoughts will manifest themselves.  So with intention, it's very important to be positive.

Without going into too much detail on that (because frankly, a lot of it is lost on me), I think it's actually working.  Two years ago, I had the intention that Knees and Paws would somehow make their way to children in cancer recovery.

With that intention in mind, I actively sought a way to make that happen.  I researched hospitals in my area and discovered that I couldn't just show up with an armload of goods.  There were policies, closed doors and lots of confusing things to get through.

Then, last week, I received a phone call.  The caller explained that they represented the Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation, and wondered if they could count on me for a contribution.

My response took this caller by surprise.  "You won't believe me, but I have been waiting for your call! Thank you so much for reaching out! I have been attempting to do just what you're asking for two years!  Do you have contact information for the corporate office?"

Before too long, I had everything I needed.  Knees and Paws now has a cause.

My intention, or next step, is to create sample sets with professional looking packaging and mail them directly to their location in Hershey, PA.

I also have a few books to put on my reading list, as the founder of the organization sounds like an amazing person.  Here's a peek at the mission and background:

Our Mission
Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation assists children under age 18 and their families who are facing the hardships of a cancer diagnosis.  The Foundation focuses on improving the mental, social and emotional well-being of these families while helping to minimize the devastation that cancer can cause.  A national footprint allows the Foundation to make a difference in communities, large and small, providing a helping hand wherever needed.
The Foundation delivers gifts to thousands of children each year through the national Bear-Able Gift Program.  Items such as board games, toys, crayons, coloring books, markers, video games, puzzles, teddy bears, craft kits… all sorts of things that make children smile and laugh… are distributed to hospitals across the country.  The Bear-Able Gift Program is the largest supplier of gifts to children with cancer in North America.
Families of children with cancer often face financial difficulties.  Suddenly, household bills become overwhelming; utilities are in jeopardy of being shut-off or an eviction notice is received.  The Helping Hands Fund provides emergency bridge payments directly to the utility companies and landlords, ensuring that each child has a warm, safe place to call home while recovering from cancer.
The Camp Scholarship Program allows children in remission to reconnect with friends and activities in which they love.  The program provides funding for a camp of their choice; sports, music, art, science, horseback riding, skiing or whatever activities they missed most during treatment.

Our Founder
Cancer Recovery Foundation International (CRFI) is a group of global affiliated charities, founded by “The Wellness Authority” Greg Anderson in 1984. Cancer Recovery Foundation’s mission is to help all people prevent and survive cancer through “integrated cancer care” which Anderson pioneered. The Foundation is currently established in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. The organization is recipient of the “5-Star Best in America Award.”
Greg Anderson was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 1984. His surgeon gave him just 30 days to live. Refusing to accept the hopelessness of this prognosis, he went searching for people who had lived even though their doctors had told them they were “terminal.” His findings from interviews with over 16,000 cancer survivors form the strategies and action points for what has become an international cancer recovery movement.
Anderson is the author of eleven books including international Best Sellers The Cancer Conqueror; Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do; and The 22 (Non-Negotiable) Laws of Wellness. His writings have been translated into 31 languages.

I hope you are all having a great start to your week!  Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Meet Gumbo

Gumbo is a Morkie.  I think that means that he's part Maltese, part Yorkie.  In any case, it means cute.  And fiesty.  And wet.  (Gumbo is very exited to make friends with everyone, and to show his love, he offers a wet sprinkle.)  He loves Richard the most, who has to change every time Gumbo comes for a visit.

Gumbo is the proud owner of our favorite family in Greensboro.  He's also Ozzie's best doggie friend.  This week, Gumbo had to have some minor surgery and we hope his recovery is going well.
As you might guess, Gumbo's human family hails from New Orleans.  I think this must be a great place to grow people...because I've only ever met two genuine New Orleanians and I love them both to pieces! (That includes you, Sush.)

Today is Friday.  And Friday means I get to teach our writer's workshop.  This week we're going to be talking about character development.  I want to thank Shelly for all the wonderful advice and for allowing me to borrow one of her stories for class today.  It's going to be the best lesson I've ever taught!

Have a great weekend friends!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Gift of Grace

During one of the most liberating and alternately devastating times of my life, I told my new friend Richard that I felt that God did not love me anymore.

Richard's response was to hug me and speak this phrase softly in my ear.  "Of course God loves you, Jenny."

And even though I had been going to church nearly every Sunday of my life, for the first time, I really believed that truth.

That statement helped to restore me to a state of grace that I felt had been irrevocably lost.

In fact, it was the nicest, most empowering thing anyone has ever said to me.  The effect of it is still working in my life on a daily basis.

And sometimes relationships are complicated.  Sometimes we can end up saying things that hurt.  Sometimes it's difficult to find a true place of forgiveness in our hearts.  It's difficult until we remember that the person we love and who loves us has said hundreds of other kind, loving things in the past.

Valentine's day is on the horizon.

And instead of worrying about what kind of material gift I could come up with for Richard, I'm going to focus on remembering all of the loving things he's said and done for me.

This week I've posted a Valentine house in the shop with a sample poem that reads:

"In your light I learn how to love.
In you beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
Where no one sees you,
But sometimes I do,
And that sight becomes this art." --Rumi

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Test

This past Saturday, Richard and I were invited to watch Elliot complete his Tae Kwon Do testing for promotion to High Yellow Belt.  I was caught up in the energy of this exciting event.  I was also completely nervous for Elliot, even though we knew he had been practicing and was confident that he would succeed.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Great Read

Trying to stay "unplugged" is more challenging than I thought it would be.  Yesterday's back story and photos weren't part of the plan.  So today I'm going to make an attempt to talk less.  Lover of language that I am, talking less sometimes translates into reading more.

I once read an amazing story that helped to open my eyes to the world, particularly the middle eastern part of it.  Don't worry, I'm not going to head east and adopt a veil.  But this story is the most accessible avenue I've taken into at least trying to understand a culture and a people who are currently "the bad guys" in our media.  If you enjoyed Khaled Husseni's The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (I bawled my eyes out!) then you might enjoy Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran.

The back cover reads:
      Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics.  As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universitites, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov.

My favorite quote comes from a scene in which Azar is having a deep conversation with "her magician" (a male friend who she had to meet secretly due to the risk of being seen with a man who was not her husband...but a man who was known as a family friend and a colleague).  Azar's magician says,

"Do what all poets do with their philosopher-kings.  You don't need to create a parallel fantasy of the West.  Give them the best of what the other world can offer: give them pure fiction---give them back their imagination!  You keep talking about democratic spaces, about the need for personal and creative spaces.  Well, go and create them woman!  Stop nagging and focusing your energy on what the Islamic Republic does or says and start focusing on your Austen."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Everyday Dramatic Play

This morning I discovered a great site for preschool teachers and families with young children.  It's called Teach Preschool: Promoting Excellence in Early Childhood Education.  The topic today is dramatic play in the classroom, with an opportunity to share links.

 Everyday Dramatic Play

Knees and Paws began in just the kind of classroom highlighted today in the Teach Preschool blog.  As a parent I observed children entertaining themselves and learning through an ongoing game they had made up.  They were so involved in playing cats and dogs that parents started saying things like  "my daughter has worn holes in the knees of her pants because even after school she'll come home and play this all over the house.  The only knee pads I can find are for sports and are too large for her tiny legs."  So, without any sewing skills, or even a sewing machine, I set out to make pairs of slip on knee pads for the children.  During the time I was working on these, I noticed that they were also using doll socks from the housekeeping center as paws.  So I added some furry paws and Knees and Paws were born.  Richard delivered the first basket of these sets to the classroom and the children grabbed them up and wore them so much that within two weeks, the teacher said that they needed some repairs. (Since that time, the quality has greatly improved!)

I began thinking about children and how important it is to encourage their imaginations, but also their physical activity.  Intuitively I felt that many children go through a phase of life where they pretend to be animals.  I didn't know how long this phase lasted.  If it lasted a week or so and passed into different forms of play, then maybe it wouldn't be worth sharing with a larger audience.  I felt that this type of play was significant and important for healthy development, despite that it might seem to be something not to encourage (parents might not like to see their child behaving like an animal!) Through their game, these children were learning important lessons about boundaries and fair play.  The more each child respected the rules of the game, the more fun everyone had.  They were entirely self regulating in this game of their own making.  No one was bitten or scratched, and when the game ended, they emerged from their game with flushed cheeks and ready for naps.  And though it might not be recognized, internal lessons were learned:  by imitating someone or something else, children begin to have a sense of their own identity in relation to the imagined counterpart.  They were also learning a sense of compassion for animals in that they now understood what it feels like to see the world on all fours.  This game taught them what it would be like if you could only communicate in barks and woofs.  They learned through playing cats and dogs that domestic animals are completely dependent upon others for food, safety and affection.

Here are a few photos from customers who have been overwhelmingly supportive of my project, and some from my recent collections.

Thank you for visiting Knees and Paws.  May your day be full of play!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Language as Rain

I just read the most beautiful passage from The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia by Inayat Khan, translated by Coleman Barks.  On the subject of Hafiz:

     Consider this metaphor for his poetry.  The sound of rain is language being used. Silence is an orchard when it's not raining, the ground moisture being quietly drawn up into the fruit trees.  Then there's the Hafiz-place, in between silence and speaking, when it's quit raining, but a rain-like dripping continues in the orchard.  His poetry is a peace so fine it keeps overflowing, as though from nowhere.

This week and maybe the next, I plan to let the things that I like speak in place of my words.  The daily writing of my thoughts is something I enjoy, particularly because on some occasions a discussion in comments is sparked.  But I sense that what I really need during this time is enough quiet inside my own mind to remember what I like without taking too many other thoughts in, or sending too many thoughts out.

During the next week, I might share a picture that I've taken, or a song that's playing in my heart.  I might have nothing at all to share.  Comments are welcome but not obligatory.  I'm going to live as though the ground water is being quietly drawn upwards.

Today, I have a song.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Blogging and Identity

One strand of thought that runs through this blog is related to my unresolved identity crisis.  Post modernists would say we all suffer from the condition of the fragmented identity.  I think this must be a Western way of thinking.  Recently I've had a serious craving for poetry and am rediscovering my love for that 13th century street rapper, Rumi.  Rumi says that only a complete personal disolving into the larger energies of God can bring the satisfaction that the heart so desperately seeks.

There was never any need to be a single me, and better to be a whole lot of little things that blend and flow and mesh.  Like a phytoplankton bloom on the surface of the ocean. 

Discovering my blogging friends has helped me to feel a part of the larger energies of God.

They are unexpectedly thrilling, deep, lighthearted, soul filling connections.

Today I want to thank Diane at Southhamsdarling for a comment she made months ago when I was once again whining about "who am I, really?"  She commented, "what I really think you want to do is teach."

And it was true.  So even without all the formal certifications to do so, I made a proposal to teach a writing workshop at my local Y.  Today I am expecting a class of seven kids!

And blogging for me has been enriching in so many other ways.  Recently I posted a comment for Sush at First Do No Harm and said that blogging has made me aware of other people in an electrifying way.  I can see people in the grocery store and suddenly recognize that there's a whole life of experiences within that person, cleverly disguised under their outer appearance.  Of course this is obvious that people have life experiences, but what I mean to say is that I have a heightened awareness to it now.  The lady with the green bag in aisle three is as complex and interesting, or sadly as boring, as me.

Through blogging I have discovered Shelly at La Tejana.  Shelly feels like a kindred spirit and I'm in love with her writing, her stories of life, school and her enthusiasm for people.  I would love for her to be my mentor and my close friend.

And Tom at Shady Dell Music and Memories.  I know that almost everyone here loves him too!  Through him I'm listening more and rumi-nating less.  I'm learning to love music that I never even knew existed.  And that story of the Dell...I long to see it on the big screen!  And I wonder what ever happened to his good friend Gilly.

I used to whine about not having many friends.  I thought that people in the south were turned off my my northern accent.  Although it's not quite Canadian or Yooper, it is something distinctly north and I've yet to assimilate with phrases of "y'all" and "you do the same."    Ten years into my exile, and I can stand in line in the Post Office and be confronted with "you're not from around here are ya?"

No, I'm not from around here.  But I got here as fast as I could!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Men and Faith and Politics (YIKES!)

Despite what the title says, this post is not about romantic relationships.  Please bear with me while I work through a controversial topic.  Usually I try to keep this blog upbeat and free of politics.  I'm not trying to say that I'm right and that the following quote is wrong.  And while I agree with a part of this kind of thinking, in other ways my experience leaves me unable to raise my knuckled fist in solidarity. 

Sometimes it's not easy to be different in a group of like minded individuals.  Most of you know that the Religious Society of Friends is my adopted faith and so I'm approaching it without a great deal of experience.  Last Sunday, this quote appeared at the top of our bulletin:

"Fundamentally all social and political questions are economic. With equal wages, the male worker would no longer fear that his female colleague might put him out of a job, and men and women will unite to effect a complete transformation to the industrial environment… A woman needs economic independence to live as an equal with her husband. It is indeed deplorable that the work of the wife and mother is not rewarded. I hope that the time will come when it is illegal for this strenuous form of industry to be unremunerated."
                                           Charlotte French Despard, 1910

Okay, so to provide a little background, sometimes when we gather for worship, the topics arise from a combination of Scripture, faith and the practice of living out our faith in the real world.  Quakers believe that religion is the whole of life, not contained in a single place.  This might make some of you wonder why we even gather on Sundays to worship.  The following will help to shed some light:

Meeting for worship is the gathering of the community for the purpose of being together in the Divine Presence. This can’t be done by ourselves. It requires the gathering of the community of Friends. It is dependent upon the interaction of other people in the context of worship. Of course, we may experience the Presence by ourselves as we gaze at beautiful mountains or lakes or sunsets, and these can be deeply moving experiences. But the corporate experience of meeting for worship is different. It is a reminder about that which resonates deep within us: the spirituality of life and our dependence upon others for this worship experience.

I have experienced something during meeting that is unmistakably the presence.  It feels like an electric current that runs through my heart and is so powerful that it feels like I could explode on the inside.  The only way to relieve the feeling is to stand up and speak aloud the message.  In this moment one becomes the carrier of the message and everyone listens.  I have carried a message on several occasions, and doing so makes a deep impact.  On days when I've been "prompted" to carry a message, I go home and feel incredibly at peace, but also exhausted.   Last Sunday, after hearing the quote from Despard, I was sitting between my two favorite guys in the whole world, and the current of electric presence arrived.  Friends are also instructed to wait for a little while during this almost agonizing experience to be sure that the message is meant for the group.  Sometimes it's message is just meant for the person who is experiencing the heart thumping "quaking."

People, I was raised in the Catholic church.  And let me say that sometimes I miss the simple following along with a formulaic Mass!

While I could explain why I've adopted this faith, I'm going to save that story for another day.

In any case, while my heart was pounding furiously, Richard released my hand because he sensed that I was about to stand up.  Thankfully another person stood up and the moment passed.  The message was just for me.

But here's what I felt.  I was going say that I can't imagine what my relationship to my mother and my father would have been like if I had known that they were paid to be my parents.  I don't think I would look at my mom the same as I do today.  And it made me think about all the struggling to not only be a good mom, but to be a financial helper.  

I wouldn't want to be paid in a financial form for being a mom.  Alas, I am not a socialist or a true feminist.

And I look at the men in my life who I love.  My father, my brothers, my husband.   I'm not jealous that they make lots more money than I do.  I don't feel like I need to be "equal" in that way.  Look at them! They are loving, giving, hard working people who have influenced me in life affirming ways!  

And I think that they would choose to stay at home and be full time caregivers if they could.   It's difficult to leave the comfort of your home and go out into the world and bring home the basic needs plus lots of extras.

When my Dad retired, he was sad and bereft not because he didn't go to work everyday and make lots more money, he was sad because after all that time he could finally stay home, but his children had grown up and moved away!  He needed to be a caregiver again, and so he brought home a puppy with special needs.

 The men in my family are real men, intelligent and kind and incredibly nurturing.  They are strong and skilled, educated and generous.

  I don't think it's unfair that parenting is not compensated in financial terms.  We are a family and we love one another. 

In fact I think it's harder to be the one who has to leave, the one who cannot have more adventures and visits with family because they have to be committed to their jobs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My best teaching day

Forgiveness is freedom for the wounded.

So today the only poem I'm going to share was written by Elliot this past September.

Water Park   

Jumped off a pirate ship
Cold liquid
Sharks swim around me
Scary water slide.
100 miles an hour
Having fun too!

Hot sun
A raft
For 3 of us
Like riding on a zooming

When we removed Elliot from public school he was a struggling first grader.  Writing was his most difficult subject.  That he wrote this poem several months ago is a big deal.  I remember it as my best teaching day.  We had been reading from a book of poems called Cold Stars and Fireflies by Barbara Jester Ebenson. Elliot and I sat outside on our sun deck in the back and read each poem aloud, sometimes more than once.  When it was his turn to write, these poems were fresh in his mind, as was the idea that a poem is about taking the memory of something very special and making a picture with words.   He liked that writing a poem was less labor intensive than writing long sentences.  I put the poem in a collection of his work and only recently rediscovered it.  Holding those sheets of lined paper and remembering where we began, I felt uplifted and encouraged that what we're doing is valuable.   

As the months roll on through our little home school, I'm gaining momentum.  A feeling that this is a natural way of life is starting to set in.  Just this week I received the news that we'll have two more students attending our Friday writer's workshop.  Will teaching begin to feel like riding on a zooming alligator? Probably not.  But I'm thankful that it's now starting to feel more like a river rafting ride than a journey on a sinking Titanic.

Today we'll be reunited with Elliot's three cousins who are also home schooled and who travel the country as a family.  They surprised us last night, arriving with armloads of pizza and filling our house with rigorous play.  Because Richard's family is mostly in Missouri and mine is mostly in Michigan and Ohio, family visits are a huge event.   The adults had an equally great time, sharing stories of faith, work and parenting.  I went to bed feeling restored. Had angels brought them to us, in my time of miserable whining?  To show me what an extraordinary time of life this is?  If so I'm truly thankful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Guest House

I'm struggling.  It's January.  The weather is mild but suddenly I'm starting to have an incredible load of feelings.  So I'm running to bury myself in poetry for a little while.

The Guest House   by   Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Monday, January 9, 2012

People Who Live in Glass Houses

Hi Friends,
It's a rainy Monday morning here in North Carolina. It must have rained through the night because today I'm awake feeling deeply rested and strangely younger.  I have no idea how it happened that I woke up with no pain, which makes me realize that lately I have been suffering with a total body ache through my bones.  It has been painful to walk down the stairs every morning.  This aching is accompanied by periods of cranky and tired.  I'm sure I would feel better about relationships, my work, home school and the day to day running of the household if I felt better.

Is this new painful me a result of habits?  Too much time online followed by driving myself into exhaustion at the gym to make up for the sedentary hours here?  Or do I simply need to make adjustments in diet and vitamins?  I'm learning that aging is a process of figuring out how to feel better.

Just when I needed it, a healing therapy is arriving.

We are going to build a garden. 

It will nearly fill our entire yard.  Richard has designed an amazingly beautiful plan that includes a series of raised beds and a GREENHOUSE!

We found all of the glass at the Greensboro Architecture Salvage at an amazingly affordable price.  Some of the glass is broken, but we will be able to make repairs.  The glass has come in the form of windows from old houses that were demolished, and now they sit just waiting to be given a new life in our yard.

Some of you remember that in my working life outside of home I was a garden center manager.  So this event in my life right now is a dream becoming a reality; an intention evolving from a long buried hope.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Pancakes

Elliot and I are up early, sharing a breakfast he made, while Ozzie waits patiently for an offering.

Elliot can cook in his sleep!
He likes his pancakes to have a nice "tan"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Spiritual Path

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for the supportive comments in response to yesterday's post.  I am comforted by your friendship and insights into the meaning of the word "business person."  Grumpy Grateful Mom was wise to ask about the context of the conversation, because only through context can we gain a better understanding.

The person who made this observation is very close to me.  I'm happy to say that I'm not letting it harm the solid and caring relationship.  In fact, I was brave enough to share with that person that my feelings were wounded and that I was taking some time to process the statement.  During that time I wondered if there was truth to be discovered, and whether that truth could help me in the long run.  I ruminated at first if it would be best to admit defeat and move on to another path.

  The thought of starting over in a new endeavor made me weak, while the thought of simply letting everything "business" related go to concentrate more on home, family, garden and pets was overly idealistic.

I like to have contact with a variety of people and simply living at home makes my life feel incredibly isolated.  A happy life for me involves finding a balance between solitude and community.

I think it's true that I'm not a business person.  And I'm okay.  This revelation is possibly a very good thing.  With a little time to gain perspective, a feeling of relief is flooding in.  This relief has led to gratitude.  I'm thankful and I accept it without any residue of the little wounded child who only wants to be fed compliments and positive reinforcement.

I'm happy knowing this is not an identity I ever need to strive for. (Goodbye little vision of me in business attire in a board room, or an office with my name on the door and the little wire waste basket!)

In the beginning I walked this path in response to a spiritual prompt.  I'm on a spiritual path of learning to do something that I never believed was possible.  There are many spiritual nudges that happened along the way to bring me here.

I'm following what Quakers call a leading.

The trouble will following a leading is that there are no accompanying textbooks.   Each interaction is an opportunity to learn something from another person, or to share something from my mind, my heart and my hands.  That's what this is about for me.  And while I sincerely enjoy making handmade things at my sewing machine and paper crafting, the first thing that I'm really excited about in the morning is to come downstairs and spend my day with Elliot and Richard, and also write this blog.

From this blog I've learned that the world is not what the evening news told me it was.  From this blog I've learned to open up and make friendships, which enrich my life so much more than funds in the paypal account.

Because I'm experimenting, I am free to keep trying new things and open to learning new skills.  What if I had been stubborn and continued to only do the things in which I excelled?

One of my English tutors at college who is also a brilliant poet once said,

"I chose this discipline because I feel that I will never master it, and that is what keeps me intensely interested and engaged."

For me, creating is a spiritual exercise that allows me to find that inner quiet place where I can listen to those inner prompts and work through the jumble of feelings about my day.

I don't think that there is one title such as business person that will explain who I really am.

So I'm going to let that mind game go, and remember this quote from Isaac Penington in 1681 who wrote

"Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything, and sink down to the seed, which God sows in they heart, and let that be in thee and grow in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is God's portion."

Friday, January 6, 2012

When You're Struggling

 Hi Friends,

Thank goodness the weekend is nearly here because I'm ready for some down time.  It's a myth that people who work from home get to sit around in their jammies all day drinking coffee and chatting with their friends with no interruptions or a multitude of other responsibilities.

Sometimes I struggle.

Especially when I hear things that have the effect of making things I work at seem absolutely worthless.  Someone recently said that I'm not a business person.  I tried not to let this bother me because I spend a lot of time learning how to make my own version of a business.  It probably looks like a weak and pathetic attempt to the skilled and experienced eye. 

  It is a blessing to  live in a time where a creative person doesn't have to be a big important somebody in order to engage in the great exchange of handmade goods.   It's true I don't have a stamp of business person authenticity.  I'd rather just be a person.

The individual who said this to me followed up the comment with this little token of comfort:

"but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a business."

If I think about that too much I might revert to my cranky, irritable, sullen state of mind.  A state that was just recently starting to melt away.

What do you do when you're struggling?  Sometimes I look outwards for courage and inspiration to go forward.  Sometimes the practice of sitting in silence and solitude is helpful.

I'm going to remember this quote from Soulseeds and move on:

"I’ve been thinking about what it means to live with no strings attached; giving yourself fully to each moment with no expectation that your efforts are going to be rewarded, or even noticed, planning your next steps with no certainty of the outcomes, pouring yourself into a cause without knowing where it will take you or if it’s going to be effective."  Ian Lawton

And also this one:

Popularity is a false measure of merit ~Amy Tan

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Elliot and the Beave

Recently I've made a new blogging friend that I'd like to share with my family and friends. Shady Dell Music and Memories is a blog that feels like a living place, where the music is always playing. While songs of a treasured past roll out, a story scrolls down... of people building community in an extraordinary way. The Shady Dell was essentially a teen club where heady adolescence was allowed to thrive in an almost entirely self-regulated environment. Although the building and the founders are gone, it now exists in memory...a memory that comes to life each week with nostalgia for those who shared this journey, and discovery for those who came later.

Shady's blog reminds us that in our culture we tend to look to the future for our knowledge and entertainment. We're all about what's happening now, and have a collective amnesia about the existence of our past. When we think of history, we sometimes think of it in terms of "academic" history...the history in text books, ancient history or the stuff that's reported to us on the History channel. How often do we sit with someone who lived just a little bit earlier for a living account of how the world was for them? In listening to our past, we have a great resource to enrich our own lives in this moment right now. This week on Shady's blog there's a clip from Leave it to Beaver. I realized that Elliot would appreciate this show and allowed him to watch it on lunch break yesterday. In our house we have something called "broadcast cable" which is just enough channels to get the evening news and PBS. So even though Elliot is aware of Nickelodeon and Disney, 24 hour a day cartoons are not available. Maybe his limited exposure to tv has made an impact, but whatever the reason, he was instantly enthralled with the black and white images on the screen. I found a longer clip of the Leave it to Beaver pilot show, where Beaver is experiencing second grade. I was instantly endeared to Beaver's pronunciation of words and his sweet face. Elliot liked that Beaver was a second grader. His first reaction to the show was to continually ask me questions:

"Is this about Justin Beiber?" (he's never seen Justin Beiber, but has heard the name from his friends)

While a girl in Beaver's classroom read a story about a picnic, a story in which every sentence ended with the word picnic, Elliot said in a sing-song voice "Annoying!" And I said, "she's learning how to read. Aren't you glad you had different kinds of books that had interesting sentences? School is different now." Then he wondered aloud if my classroom was like that. I said that it was similar, but that Beaver's class was probably more like Grandma's classroom.

When Beaver came home and had a dialogue with his parents about school, Elliot said "he has nice parents." Then for a little while he stopped asking questions and got swept up in the story of how Beaver was afraid to give his mother a note from his teacher, and how he and Wally pretended to take a bath. He immediately picked up on the double standard of talking about dishonesty (Beaver hiding the note and how Wally said that's not a good idea) and only pretending to take a bath. He said, "is this a lesson show?" Then he spent the rest of the time picking up on every little dishonest act as Beaver's lie about the note grew bigger and bigger. Unfortunately we could not find the conclusion of the pilot on YouTube so we're left not knowing how it all worked out.

Hours later in the day, while we were driving around town, I realized that Elliot is at an incredibly moral stage of life. He fully believes in keeping the Ten Commandments, and has gone so far as to interpret "bear false witness" as "lying." He'll often say "thou shalt not lie is one of the ten commandments." Elliot struggles with his own morality and has since he was a small child. In our Quaker preschool he was introduced to pacifism and the dilemma about war still leaves him conflicted. The truth is, Elliot is very attracted to war, and soldiers, and his Star Wars movies and games. After sitting quietly in the car for nearly 20 minutes yesterday, he said this: "If I went to war and only killed droids, it would be okay. That way I wouldn't be killing God's creation. So I finally found away around that one!" And I was blown away that for the last four years he has been trying to untangle the inexplicable knot of war and peace to his advantage. Of course, we carried on this conversation at the dinner table, and Richard wisely pointed out that the only way to be truly moral is to not engage in any kind of war no matter if you are just killing droids. Because as soon as you take on the mindset of destruction, you are at war and that is not peace.

And my son accepted this with grace. But knowing Elliot, I don't think he's finished trying to work it out. Too bad there's not a show that can help him out with that!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Homesick Heart

Yesterday I began the day saying that something good was going to happen.  And it did!  Actually, lots of good things happened throughout the day, and if I had not said that magic phrase, I might have taken them all for granted.
Over the holidays, I made time to clean and sort all of our educational resources for homeschool.  This resulted in a good day for Elliot, who now has a folder of work for each day of the week.  The daily folder worked like a dream.  He has a manageable, predictable set of tasks and I no longer feel the pang of guilt about whether we're not doing enough or if we're attempting too much.  While he worked at his desk, I was free to sit at my post here, not too far away, and read your comments and posts.  It was a great way to start the day.  It felt so good that when our "recess" time came, I went out to play ball too.

When school was done, Richard came home and after a little rest and time with Elliot, he helped me while I worked to photograph my new items for the shop AND made dinner!

I've named the paper house collection "Homesick Heart" because they can be used to send a message of light and love to those who are away from home. There is a space under each roof for a heartfelt message of encouragement or sentiments of love.  Of course they make lovely decorations for a mantle or nightstand, but I like that they can have an added meaning to someone who is either away at college, in a hospital or nursing home or stationed overseas.  Each one was hand cut by me, so the windows are sometimes a little crooked. Richard wants to try one of the Cricut machines because he likes things to be exact...but I'm waiting to see if that would be a worthwhile investment.  I don't know if the machines will allow you to create your own designs or if everything is preset.

It was a full day, and I'm not completely finished with capturing the night shots, but here are a few that I like.

I'm always homesick for the Outer Banks of North Carolina

This is a copy of the Little White Chapel we brought to Elizabeth in Meadow View...but I think they would also make a nice handmade wedding gift...or a way to propose!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Listening in for the New Year

Happy New Year Friends!

Something good is going to happen today.   I'm not sure what that is yet, but saying it now will help me to notice when it happens later on.

As soon as the last gift was unwrapped this Christmas and I saw a picture of myself looking rather plump in my chair, and still at this moment, I'm battling a severe case of Irritable Jenny Syndrome. 

This week I have felt the pangs of holiday let-down and it's partner ennui.
I went to the gym and doubled my work outs and avoided most of the baked goods that I'd worked on before Christmas day.  I was cranky and said things that weren't nice. 

I wondered if it would have been better to travel to see extended family no matter the cost.  Perhaps it was better this way...they were spared!

Scrooge and Grinch and the worst of me took up residence in my heart and I've been fighting it for a week.

Something has gone wrong in my happiness wiring and so this New Year brings me to a humble state of mind.  While I was generally cheerful all season (that manic time between October 31 and December 25) somehow the momentum was lost.  And it's not a good place to be when blogging.

I want to write the good things, the happy things, the positive, lovely or beautiful things.

So today I'm going to include a passage from a writer whom I admire.  Her name is Brenda Ueland, a prolific American journalist who wrote hundreds of articles, essays and a newspaper column for the Minneapolis Times.  She's also known for her book If You Want to Write...which is on my list of books for this year.

In the following article taken from Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings, Ueland writes about listening in a way that I had never considered.  She claims that listening is a creative force.

On the fine art of listening, she says,

     "Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays.   This is the reason:  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.  Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.  You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies.  Well, that is the principle of it.  It makes people happy and free when they are listened to.  And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good."

    "When we listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other.  We are constantly being re-created."

     "Now this little creative fountain is in us all.  It is the spirit, or the intelligence, or the imagination---whatever you want to call it.  If you are very tired, strained, have no solitude, run too many errands, talk to too many people, drink too many cocktails, this little fountain is muddied over and covered up with a lot of debris.  The result is you stop living from the center, the creative fountain, and you live from the periphery, from externals.  That is, you go along on mere will power without any imagination.  It is when people really listen to us, with quiet fascinated attention, that the little fountain begins to work again, to accelerate in the most surprising way."

"I have a mystical notion about this.  I think it is only by expressing all that  is inside that purer and purer streams come.  It is so in writing.  You are taught in school to put down on paper only the bright things.  Wrong.  Pour out the dull things on paper too---you can tear them up afterward---for only then do the bright ones come.  If you hold back the dull things, you are certain to hold back what is clear and beautiful and true and lively."

"Now, how to listen?  It is harder than you think. I don't believe in critical listening, for that only puts a person in a straitjacket of hesitancy.  He begins to choose his words solemnly or primly.  His little inner fountain cannot spring.  Critical listeners dry you up.  But creative listeners are those who want you to be recklessly yourself, even at your very worst, even vituperative, bad-tempered.  They are laughing and just delighted with any manifestation of yourself, bad or good.  For true listeners know that if you are bad tempered it does not mean that you are always so.  They don't love you just when you are nice; they love all of you.  In order to learn to listen, here are some suggestions:  try to learn tranquility, to live in the present a part of the time every day.  Sometimes say to yourself: "Now. What is happening now?  This friend is talking.  I am quiet.  There is endless time.  I hear it, every word."

"The true listener is much more beloved, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective, and learns more and does more good."

I wonder what Brenda would say about blogging...and all the "talking" of the internet.  I think she would recognize bloggers as some of the greatest listeners, because while we have these little, or big, boring or imaginative things to say, we continue to create new posts with energy especially when someone leaves a comment, no matter how brief.  It is the stamp that someone listened.  People who comment have the affect of allowing that life within us to spring forth in a creative way; it is wonderful to feel listened to.  So as I walk into a Monday morning on the second day of 2012, I'll be more aware of the many good things that are happening.  And embrace my need to listen.

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