Thursday, March 28, 2013

Challenges and Stress

I have a new priority: learning to manage stress so that I can feel better.  This is more important to me than achievement or appearance.

I just want to feel peaceful in my heart, and relaxed.  This is how I want to live.

There is one simple solution to this, which is release.  Letting go is the answer.  But I don't remember to do this until my head is spinning out of control and I'm faced with the consequences of emotional disturbance and recovery.  It's a cycle for me.  There's no flat water to float along effortlessly.  Sometimes I have to face the rapids.

Do you ever do this:  when thinking of the weeks ahead, fondly imagine how relaxing it will be to enjoy days of brighter sunlight, long hikes or a fast trail run in the woods followed by a simple meal and a good book?  Days of enjoying the energy of family and evenings snuggled up on the couch?  Perhaps I will look back on my life and remember that I did take time to do all of those satisfying, rewarding things that brought me peace and comfort.  Then again, maybe those memories will get buried under the more exciting times, and I'll remember the highlights of the stressful experience and forget the anxiety.  Perhaps a little stress and excitement is good for a person, but in getting to know myself and my patterns, I realize that I'm not really managing stress very effectively.  It comes out all wrong. More often than I'm willing to admit, it happens that someone who I love either feels neglected or hurt.

I know that I am capable of taking on big challenges, but at what cost?

Recently I accepted a large order for another school musical.  The list of items is staring back at me on a bright yellow paper.  I have three weeks.  It is big.

Three intense weeks.

In my head I am practicing intention, visualizing the project completed on schedule.  This is so important, probably the most important thing I do when I need to finish a big project.  I look at the end result in my mind, every single day.  I see it all laid out in entirety, and know with certainty that it will be achieved.  But what I often forget to do is to visualize myself working and managing life and family in a peaceful manner while I'm working.  I forget to imagine how I will work through distractions and problems and every single detour that crops up.  Navigation is not my strongest skill.   Whenever I begin a project, the project is on my mind all the time, until it's done and I'm released.  When I've completed a set of ten ears, my brain keeps saying, "40 more to go!"

It never lets me rest.

So I look driven.  I act driven.  People sometimes feel like they are in my way.

It's all fear.  This stress is all about those fears "what if I don't have enough time, money, energy, strength...patience."

Maybe I should turn down the work and just go on doing what I was thinking of doing this month, spring cleaning, fitness training, schooling, reading, writing, sitting in my swing chair.

Then again, maybe this project won't be as difficult or as stressful as I'm imagining it to be. Because this time I have more experience and a child who is much older than when I started out in business.

I will probably be absent here for a little while, until I get to a breathing point once again!

I'm curious to know what methods you use to manage stress in your life.  What has worked best when you have a growing list and things just keep popping up?  I'm heading into some rapids and wishing for a glassy lake of calm.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Voice From Deepest Devon

While travel affords the gift of a fresh perspective and appreciation for life as I know it, it also sort of turns me on my head.  Since returning from Vegas, I've experienced a readjustment period.  For a week I couldn't really remember what it was that I was doing with my life.

Then I packed up our overdue books and returned to the library.  AHHH, yes.  This is what I was doing.  I was sinking ever deeper into this one particular stack.  The poetry section in the children's room.  I find the most wonderful books in this area, some which are meant just for the teachers, books on teaching writing and books with collections of poems meant to be read aloud.  There I've discovered Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Georgia Heard, X.J Kennedy, and countless others.  I once read somewhere that everyone has a gap in their education, and that once found, has the potential to be a starting point for a great exploration as an adult.  Poetry is one of those gaps for me, and so I'm starting at the beginning and working my way to the grown-up stacks.  So far, I have yet to exhaust the children's room collection.  Each time I go into the stacks, I cross my fingers that there will be at least one collection I haven't read yet that isn't an overly juvenile cartoon about the seasons or a particular holiday.  I'm always searching for the deep water.

Yesterday's dig turned up a gem, which really isn't a book of poetry at all, but a book of short stories and essays on writing by Michael Morpurgo.  Morpurgo is the author of War Horse and was England's Children's Laureate from 2003-2005.  What I love about Morpurgo is that he began writing midway through his adult life.  I was so inspired by what he shares in Singing For Mrs. Pettigrew about how he became a writer in mid life, that I feel called to share a few passages that speak to my heart.

On teaching:

"(the students) had for too long suffered the tyranny of punctuation tests and spelling tests and comprehension tests; were already deeply alienated from literature and simply not interested in anything a book had to offer.  I had been there.  I knew that before they could engage with stories (and certainly with literacy) all the fear and the resentment had to be excised.  I would simply tell stories or read them, trying to make every one of them as enjoyable and compelling as I could, and I would not ask questions afterward, nor use the test to teach.  Let them enjoy the stories, I thought. Then they might see and understand the need for punctuation and spelling.  It might all begin to make some sense to them.  Words would hold less fear for them; in fact, they might see that words could turn out to be fun and fascinating and filled with music and magic. And it worked; it really worked.

On those first callings to become a writer:

"All this time, although I really wasn't aware of it then, I was taking my own first tentative steps as a writer.  I had already tested myself as a storyteller---thirty-five expectant children for half an hour's story time at the end of each school day had done that.  Confidence was growing.  But I still had not grasped that I could do more than entertain, and I knew that entertaining was not enough for me. I knew that the best books I had read, the best poems, had made me think and wonder and question.  Bu t at the time I thought that it was only geniuses that wrote such books, clever people, literary people.  I was still encumbered, I suppose, by this feeling of intellectual and creative inadequacy.  It was an uncomfortable reality.  I almost gave up."

On the turning point:

"Then I got lucky. At my wife Clare's, behest, we upped sticks from Kent and moved down to deepest Devon.  Both of us, as teachers, had felt that children could never learn enough within the confines of the classroom, that children----and city children in particular---would benefit hugely from the experience of living for a while in the countryside and working on a farm...and off we went on our great adventure down to Devon, to Iddesleigh, to get it started.  But quite unexpectedly, it turned out that I was the one who benefited most from all this, for...I inadvertently enriched myself hugely as a person, and so as a writer.  
It was from this total immersion that I was finding at last I had a story of my own to tell and a voice of my own with which to tell it...I was exploring in my stories, my own hopes and doubts and fears, engaging with my own past and present."

My final thoughts as I climbed the stairs up to bed after reading this essay was that while Elliot is benefiting from our home education journey, "unexpectedly, it turns out that I am the one who benefits from this...inadvertently enriching myself hugely as a person."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Success Means Work!

Success means work.  The more pounds lost, the more motivated I am to keep going to the gym.  The more sales I have in the shop, the more I feel called to keep creating.  The more Elliot reads, the more books we check out at the library.  I'm doing my best to feed the projects that give the most rewards, and it's paying off!

I cannot tell you how many times I've considered letting my little shop go.  The slow progress has been a test of my patience and faith for three years and counting.  I'm sure that many people with Etsy shops are casually ambivalent about whether or not they succeed in the sense that a proper business should succeed.  For some, it's just another way to fund creative projects and share their talents.  From the beginning, I really wanted to make Knees and Paws my job.  A real job, so I could stop worrying about never having a career.  How blissfully ignorant, how childishly naive!  How terribly optimistic and stubbornly hopeful.

My unspoken fear is that it might never happen...the elusive career. Like an infertile woman who longs for a baby to hold, for years I have secretly wished for the day when I can wear dress clothes, fill up a tall, shiny metallic coffee mug, kiss everyone goodbye and walk out the door with jingling keys and a glossy handbag.

In reality, I'm a messy haired, disorganized, creative, homebody momma with constant dog hair floating around the room, scraps of fabric on the shop floor, dishes in the sink and little piles of junk to be sorted.  I fool myself regularly by pretending that I'm calm, sweet and introspective about everything, when the truth is I have very cranky moments and speak sharply when I lose my temper.  I often feel stressed out just doing the normal, every day household chores and errands...things that seem easy to my husband who has a tedious, technical HIGHLY stressful job.  Washing the dishes is no big deal to him, and neither is laundry or shopping or playing Star Wars Legos for the millionth time.

Stress impacts my life when I'm not even aware that I'm stressed.  I'm not conscious of it's influence on me, but it's there, working on me, week after week.

  So I  just decided to start doing the things that I like, practicing activities that feed my soul and my heart. I gravitate to writing, daydreaming, reading, socializing, exercising, sewing, nature, cooking, and teaching our son.  I am slowly waking up to the idea that I need to be me without a title.  This lifestyle is the most real sense of success I've ever felt. When I am me without striving for a standard, a socially constructed ideal of a professional, I feel happy.  Am I happily unsuccessful?  Am I content being an anonymous nobody?  Surprisingly, yes.  A good day is when my ego is defeated and my soul breathes in the gift of life that rolls at my feet without any effort on my part, every single day.

And now, just when I've been considering diving into a big, deep writing project, spring cleaning the house and starting the garden, a gift has arrived...a bumper crop for Knees and Paws the Etsy shop.  Another Elementary school needs my help costuming for their spring musical!  It's for their production of 101 Dalmatians and I'm thrilled to have a chance to work on this project.  Does this mean that I might start going to work in the sense that I will someday need a business suit and an electronic tablet?  Absolutely not.  But yoga pants are more comfortable anyway.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

If you've ever flown, you can thank these guys.

If you've ever flown, you can thank these guys.

And thousands of men and women just like them, who are dedicated to the safety and comfort of airline passengers all over the world.  Here's my confession:  I'm married to the really cute one (second from the right). He's the kind of guy who loves his work so much that he cares enough to teach me about the technical details of his career.  I'm getting familiar with the names of different aircraft and the systems that work together to make them fly.  But when I'm on my own, managing the daily tasks of keeping up a home, I rarely consider what a miracle it is that large planes are flying overhead until I'm sitting in one.

Last week, I was given a rare chance to see the work that goes into making gigantic aircraft like this one soar through clouds and over highest mountains, across oceans and above the quilted landscapes of Earth.

Being invited to attend the AMT Society's 2013 Maintenance Skills Competition in Las Vegas with my husband was a privilege and an honor.  It is now a memory that I will hold in my heart for years to come. While I didn't cover my face in team colors, or wave a big foam finger in the shape of #1, inside my chest I cheered for Richard and his teammates during two days of intense challenges.  I stood in my seat during the times they were on the "hangar" floor, anticipating and hoping and silently praying for success.

Here's a shot of Richard at the most challenging event, an event which veteran teams at the competition sent five people to complete.

Here's a random shot of the pseudo "hangar."  I liked it because of the pretty circles on the flight deck.  I might not comprehend avionics systems or hydraulics, but I do understand art! This event had something to do with sealing up the front windshields.  I guess if glue is involved, I might be able to do that one.

Given 20 minutes to complete each challenge, even the written tests were a bear to complete.

Added to the challenge, the hangar floor was crowded with officials, photographers, and volunteers who organized the events.  It was very easy to be distracted by a comment spoken over a shoulder, or the unexpected arrival of a fellow teammate who had already completed his challenge.

Yet Team TIMCO met these challenges with integrity and professionalism. They didn't need to use binoculars to observe test questions to report to their team.  They didn't need cameras with zoom lenses or prints of schematics from last year.  They even got by when headlamps were promised and not provided.  This team worked well together and supported each other with positive encouragement no matter the outcome.

And earned second place in their division!

At the awards ceremony, the event organizer reminded everyone that there are no winners or losers. Then he told a story about the team from our United States Coast Guard.  He noted the absence of the Air  Force, and explained that federal funding to send the US Military teams had been withdrawn just weeks before.  Instead of backing out, the Coast Guard team pooled their resources and funded their entire trip, including the competition fee, all their meals, airline tickets and hotel expenses.  Everyone in attendance was so inspired by their choice that it sparked generosity and random acts of kindness.  They naturally won first prize in their division, which included a substantial amount of tools from Snap-On, raffle tickets (care of my husband), and a surprise gift from Team FedEx to help with the cost of their expenses.

The energy of this group of professionals in support of the Coast Guard and for each team who participated was incredible.  Several colleges also competed, and those students gave some of the most experienced professionals a run for their money.  It was exciting to sit in the stands and support those technicians who go beyond average expectations.  Each competitor took a big risk in demonstrating their skills and knowledge in a public setting. Team UPS only had one week to prepare.  Some teams studied for nine months.  Aircraft Maintenance Professionals are not the first people you think of when you fly.

US Coast Guard Team

They might not be the first people you think of when standing on the beach, looking out over a peaceful ocean.

But they are incredibly important to me.

Especially this one.

Congratulations Richard!  I love you and appreciate the work you do that keeps people who fly safe.  I am humbled by how much you sweat and sacrifice every single day. Your committed integrity and professionalism are truly something to celebrate.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A MOTHER in Las Vegas

It was an unlikely place to find me: walking the strip in sin city, USA.  While I have grown to value the simple, ordinary day with it's gentle ups and downs, perhaps I had become boring and needed a change in perspective.

Perhaps I needed a little Vegas in my life. To show me once again that no matter the reputation of a place or a people, no one can take God out of anything.

He's in every moment of life.  The Quaker understanding of God in everyone is often conceptualized by the metaphor of an inner Light within.  In times of darkness, it's easy to find small sparks of light that fill us with hope.  But under a bright sun with millions of casino lights, the silent flicker of a soul weakened by desperation is often overlooked.

She sat on a pedestrian walkway suspended over a stream of taxis and gamblers, over men and women advertising Girls! Girls! Girls! with one-eight hundred numbers emblazoned on bright orange t shirts. They boldly promoted the oldest business in the world by offering graphic cards that floated to the concrete in a blizzard of paper breasts.  (Look up at that! we suggested repeatedly to Elliot.)  He looked up at the screaming roller coasters, the recreated skyline of New York, the dizzying spectacle of flashing colors.  We remembered that Vegas and this golden era is created and maintained by people who have lost their money, their dignity, and even their lives. Knowing that, it was difficult not to be swept up into a feeling of WOW.  It was challenging not to feel the pull of festivity and release from responsibility and work.  I was just going along with the flow of the party when she appeared.  I saw a small young woman sitting on the side, her back to the lights, her head tucked into her chest, holding a small cardboard sign around her shins and a cup in her lap.  The sign read,

"A MOTHER.  Can't pay the Rent."

And it didn't make sense.  Surely, with all of the opportunity for work in this place, a woman could find a way to pay the rent.

A panhandling woman in this city just didn't make sense. There were hotel rooms to clean, restaurants galore, casinos to sweep, children to care for, people to serve everywhere for any need or want or habit.  In fact, Vegas is a place where independent people like me face a difficult adjustment. Dependence upon service chokes out the opportunity to take on even the most ordinary tasks like grocery shopping or driving.

A MOTHER sat with her chin tucked so tightly to her chest that I had to say "excuse me" three times before she looked up into my face.  I was stunned by her clear green eyes and freckles, her youthful face and curly brown hair.  I wanted to sit down beside her and ask her to tell me everything, or anything.  Instead, I offered a small amount of cash.  In a clear yet timid voice, she said, "thank you, very much."  I then said something about taking care of herself and smiled.

Then later I was full of regret.  Why didn't I sit beside her and listen?  Everything about her seemed out of place.  I had the sense that it might have been her very first day of panhandling.  But to assume such a thing might make me a fool.

So I'm left with not knowing her story, discontented to come home full of questions.  The only thing to do is to keep remembering "A MOTHER." In prayer.  May she always be strong enough to beg before selling her body.  May she learn that panhandling is just a patient way to wait for kindness to arrive. Let shame melt away by the candle of her inner light. May she find shelter, hope, community, the support of friends and random strangers, and a life full of abundant goodness.

Coming soon... a post about Richard's competition, our new friends, and an inspiring story about our US Coast Guard.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Keeping Up With Elliot

I am the kind of person who loves the ordinary day.  What I find difficult to manage is the swift passage of time and the rapid development of my children.  Wasn't I just holding Elliot on my lap?  In a recent, although blurry photograph, my eight year old looks like he's well on his way to the teen years!

In this picture, Elliot is experimenting with dry ice.

Add to that difficulty, the challenge of keeping pace with an exponentially growing mind, which is eager and ready for new complexity and fresh learning experiences.  The beauty and the beast of home education is my responsibility to regularly anticipate boredom and fly ahead with lessons that continue to create real learning without overwhelming my learner.

Elliot loves to build and create.  He loves literature and is teaching himself to play the piano.  We are having a blast this year, digging into all kinds of things taken from the library and gathered from our environment.  I am  learning so much about engaging his interest, which has created a stronger bond between us.

Recently, we found a roller coaster building set at our Goodwill for 7.00.  We were a little concerned that pieces might be missing, but that was not an issue!  Over the course of a week, Richard and Elliot built a real working miniature roller coaster in our living room!  It even has a little electronic box that makes a screaming noise when the little plastic people rush down the hill.

I have noticed that a great deal of curriculum designed for home education is over simplified, for the purpose of ease in instruction and organization.  I do enjoy working to build on basic skills, but Elliot needs a combination of simple routine and complex ideas or interesting systems.  This week, we are working through a wonderful book called Eat Your Math Homework!  

So far, we've created Fibonacci snack sticks, Probability trail mix, Tangram cookies, and my personal favorite, Tessellating Brownies.

Another development this year is the deepening bond Elliot has formed with his friends.  We have been extremely blessed by the friendship of another home schooling family, who come to visit or meet us every week.

Elliot loves his friend Aiden and his little sister, McKenna.  Aiden has introduced Elliot to Minecraft, a computer based game that is challenging and educational. Elliot has often been invited to connect to Aiden's server and talk with him via phone calls set to speaker.  The game is a little over my head, and so I'm thankful when Richard can step in to help Elliot when he gets lost somewhere or his character accidentally dies.

The gift of friendship and building relationships is something we celebrate!

And just as spring seems to want to arrive despite the colder weather this year, I feel like I'm emerging from a darker emotional time.  February was personally challenging for me.  I allowed myself to hang on to stress, to anger, to irritable moods much too long.  Maybe making the lifestyle change of "reducing" and breaking my consumption habits made me cranky and sensitive.

Then March arrived, and pounds are starting to melt along with my rough icy mood.  I'm learning to recognize when the burden of stress might be impacting a person's behavior, and that includes my own.

I would like to crack out of my stress shell this season.  It's too dark in there.

Sometimes, just being aware of the presence of stress and the way it works to unsettle me is the most powerful tool to let the light shine through.  Then I can forget what I was worried about, and pay more attention to these ordinary days, these fleeting days of childhood, these happy golden years.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Spring Musical

It's Monday, and I'm bubbling over with happiness.  Perhaps it's because Richard took the day off yesterday and we had a wonderful, relaxing day as a family.  I'm also truly excited to share that since my last post, THREE more pounds have vanished!  I've discovered how easy and effective an exercise called the plank's really impacting my fitness and strength!  I used to have the attitude that abs and upper body strength just aren't that important.  But truly, they are!  Taking just five minutes each day to pay attention to them has injected a burst of energy and a renewed commitment to my "reducing" plan.

I'm also seriously thrilled to share photos of the results of a very special project I'm blessed to work on every spring.  Of all the work I've done in my life, I know I will always remember with fondness that I was asked to help costume for an elementary school musical in Michigan!  This year, the students are performing Winnie the Pooh!

Here's to hunny, and happiness, and the promise of Spring!

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