Thursday, May 30, 2013

Elliot's DIY Hammock Project

It's almost time to close our windows and turn on the air conditioning.  In fact, yesterday would have been a good day to do that.  Instead, we found some shade and set up a pretend campsite with Elliot's first summer project: a DIY hammock.

We had the hammock frame from a purchase I made after graduating from college.  Seriously, after all that writing of academic jargon, I just wanted to lay down under a tree and sleep for a few years.  Unfortunately, the rope hammock I bought with the frame did not last, and since that time we even lost the metal hooks to attach a new hammock.  That frame has been sitting awkwardly beside the garage for years.  While searching for a fun summer project, Elliot found this easy, economical version of a hammock.  He even got to work in his dad's shop creating new metal hooks. (He used two metal paint can openers which he bent into U shapes using a mounted vice grip and a hammer.  Now he wants to learn blacksmithing!)  Empowering Elliot to create independently is the most rewarding aspect of home education and parenting.

Next, we gathered the left over rope that Richard used for my swinging chair and an old twin sheet.

By making a gathered loop at each end of the sheet, securing the loop with a rope and several knots, we then fed a longer length of rope through the loops at the ends of the sheet and attached them to Elliot's hand made hooks.  I secured the ropes to the frame for added security.  Here is the link to the wonderful instructions that inspired us:

Happy summer!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Melt the Fear

As our lovely, fragrant, tender month of May falls closer to June, a sense of freedom is in our hearts and on our minds.  We are letting go and slipping into a more relaxed way of living.  If I could go back in time and talk to myself, I would train myself to stop engaging with life like a bull, crashing into problems head-on, with force, determination and exertion.  I would tell myself to relax and breathe more.

I would teach myself to find that lovely balance between work and play, and then keep on that path.  I would remind myself that it's good to be a hard working person, but that excesses in work lead to excesses in laziness and periods of apathy.

This morning I'm a little bereft, having just finished a deliciously satisfying memoir that I planned to read pool-side this summer.  It never made it into to the bag of towels and swim goggles. As soon as it was available at the library, I chomped it up in the course of three days.  If you like stories of struggle that empower and inspire the survivor in you, you'll love Cheryl Strayed and her story of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.  Wild is a tale that grips. Even if you're not a hiker or a back country enthusiast, the story of her solo journey is intensely powerful.  Most importantly, what Strayed has to say about fear on the trail and how she handled it is something I need to learn.

I have an embarrassing problem.  After our experience on the Appalachian Trail, I have not gone back to the wilderness.  Sure, I've been on an abundance of local hikes in our well traveled woods, stepping around poisonous snakes and facing loose and aggressive dogs, but I still have yet to put on my big pack and return to the glorious mountains.  This is a serious disappointment to my husband, who loved our AT trip so much that even after travelling the world,  he counts our experience in Shenandoah as his number one favorite experience away from home. 

Instead of getting right back on the trail and facing my fear of being mauled or having to perform first aid on a mauled husband, I came home, sat comfortably at my computer screen for several years, gained ten pounds, and savored the bliss and comfort of home and society.  Since that experience, I don't take living in our home and community for granted.  I appreciate the sound of traffic.  I appreciate businesses and schools and churches and neighbors and the sight of people everywhere.  The seventeen bears on the trail and the repeated rush of adrenaline and panic that made me choke, but which I worked through, were life changing.  Of course I've learned, from everyone who hasn't had my particular experience, how utterly foolish it was of me to be afraid of the gentle black bears.  Most people speak of them as if they are large kittens, and compare them to their much more aggressive cousins, the Grizzlies.

I know that in order to grow beyond this limiting fear, I need to get back on the trail.  I live in a place where the mountains are a few hours from home.  We could be taking weekend trips and exploring this beautiful land often.  In fact, we have just reserved a delightfully quaint and charming cabin near Asheville and are planning a hike in the fall.  We are looking forward to the sweeping views atop the balds and the way it feels to spend entire days outdoors.  Elliot and Ozzie will be with us this time.  I have to face my problem.  There's not going to be any way to avoid my fear.

Some people say that instead of fear, I should just have faith.

Which I do, of course.  Which is what got me through the first time around.

But this time, instead of charging into my problem head-on, like a bull,  I want to first develop trust and understanding in the process that can bring a person out of fear and into liberated success.  The preparations I need to do all relate to the psychological aspects of trail energy. I need to learn how to anticipate and work though the intensity of my feelings in the wilderness.  Among the life of the wild, my aliveness feels amplified ten fold.  My senses are heightened to an extent that I literally vibrate inside. I want to just keep walking and feel gentle and light and free inside, minus adrenaline rushes.  Maybe that will not happen for me.  Maybe it's not supposed to feel like waking in the park.  Maybe that would be missing the entire point of the adventure.

I'm nearly reaching the end of my fitness goal, and as I work to shed the last few pounds, another goal rises to the surface.  I need to melt fear like pounds.

***P.S.  French Horn practice is going well!  I was able to reconnect with my high school band teacher, who is delighted to know I am still playing music:)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ignorance is not bliss

Here's a shocking confession:

I have been comfortably ignorant for all of my life.  And here's another truth: being ignorant, while adding a false sense of security, never brought about a sensation of bliss.  For me, bliss always arrives in the split second after a mind-opening, soul-expanding discovery.

I'm talking about the kind of discovery that brings you from a limited, "I can't do this" perspective, to the growing awareness that you can. You might not be a virtuoso or a prodigy, but the moment you arrive at the overlook on the mountain and see with your own eyes that you can do it, it also means you can go on to do something even more exciting. It is totally possible to start a chain reaction of doing things you thought you couldn't, and thus expand the satisfaction and enjoyment of your life.   You don't have to be a professional or an expert to have bliss.  You just have to decide that it's okay to be ignorant at first.

The embarrassing fact of my existence is that I limit myself.  I restrict my own potential.  I wrap the bonds of ignorance around my wrists and cover my eyes in secret shame because I am afraid to admit that I am ignorant.  I don't like the feeling of asking for help or asking questions.  It's uncomfortable to walk blindly into any situation and reveal the depth of my non-understanding.  I've lamely attempted to cover up my ignorance since I was a child in school.  Part of my identity was tethered to this idea that I was "smart." Someone forgot to mention that the "smart" kids are the ones that ask the most questions.

Seeking often requires letting things rest for a while until the ripples of water you create with questions vanish and the surface becomes clear.  Yesterday I let things rest and tried to be comfortable admitting my own ignorance.  It's not shameful to sit in a dark room.  In one way we are all ignorant:  none of us can say what will happen tomorrow.

I'm not a fan of the "for dummies" series, because it reinforces a negative stigma about not knowing some basic knowledge in a particular field.

So, if you're wondering how it happened that I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by this recent epiphany, it all has to do with tooting my own horn.

Yesterday I realized that there were some barriers to my decision to join the Greensboro Concert Band.  The first barrier was that I didn't know how to get the second valve lever to loosen, so that I could play a smooth scale.  In the past, I would have had to drive downtown to find a music store, take it in for a repair and wait for the bill.  Now, with the totally accessible and non intimidating teachers on youtube, I watched a demonstration and successfully repaired and conditioned my instrument!  That victory led me to ask another question:  how would I approach this new decision to devote six months of daily practice?

I decided to proceed as a person waking up from a coma:  as a new baby learning to walk again.

What I received was a discovery and a memory:  the discovery, which bought bliss, was that I still have muscle memory and can match notes with guided instruction.  The second was a memory from the fall of 1989, when I was preparing for college.  In all of the junk I packed for the dorm room, I unhappily left my horn behind because I was afraid to appear ignorant to the college music department.  I was afraid that I had only been pretending to play along from 5th grade to my senior year, despite the fact that I earned an outstanding I rating in a competition.  Despite the fact that I also learned to play other brass instruments like the coronet and the trumpet.  Despite the fact that repeatedly I experienced huge thrills performing in concerts with our band.  Playing in these concerts were something extremely special in my young life and I took them for granted.

I took it all for granted and did not comprehend the positive energy that arrives in your soul when you are a practicing musician. As a teen, the thrill of playing took a back seat to social acceptance.  I was teased for being in band, and publicly razzed on the bus if I brought my horn home to practice.  It was large, I bumped people in the knees on the way out, and I looked funny carrying so much.  I allowed kids on the bus to limit my enjoyment and success.  So I didn't practice nearly as much as the flute section, who could fit their instruments in a backpack.  I didn't bother to take the sheet music home and practice with my mouthpiece, not realizing that I could creatively solve my personal problems.

I also didn't feel brave enough to explain to my band teacher, who was totally kindhearted and understanding, what I didn't know about certain pieces or about scales.  I never felt bold enough to explain the situation that had me sitting with a large brass instrument in the back of the room, hoping to hit a couple of notes now and then so it would appear that I was playing right along.

He must have known. I knew that underneath those generous grades on my report card, he was happy that I just kept showing up year after year.  I was learning a little just by being a part of the group and I was well behaved.  So, A for Jenny, every single time.  Even though Jenny didn't pass the written final.

So there I was, in 1989, going off to a university famous for a party atmosphere, wanting desperately to feel "smart" and "cool" and not anything like a band geek.

When I got to college and heard the band during football games, felt the rush of their enthusiasm, I was overcome with surges of regret. I stood like a hopeless outsider wanting to go in.  Fear of being ignorant kept me out.  There was no bliss in going off to the drunken section of the stands, where all the non musicians sat lamely with their cups of froth.  Ignorance is not bliss.

The point of this reflection?  Be like a baby.

Be unknowing.

Then ask a question.  Bliss will follow.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Heart Wind in Spring

Spring brings me to the banquet, calling me to embrace the fullness of life. The happiness jar is filling up fast!

Last week, we hosted a party where children ran through the house playing hide-and-seek with flushed cheeks.  Their laughter and squeals surrounded the adults in waves of happy nostalgia for our own childhoods.  Although the gentle spring rain kept us indoors, we celebrated the house feeling full; of thumpity foot traffic on the stairway, of giggling whispers and surprised shouts, of bonding and caring between families sharing parenting and family life.

Days after the party, we were still celebrating.   Elliot has been learning that while he wishes he had a brother, pangs of loneliness can be dissolved by reaching out and making plans.  He learned that his close friend Jack also wishes he had a brother.  Jack was able to spend the night after the party.  On mother's day, while his mom had to work (hospice nurses are needed no matter the holiday), Jack and Elliot spent time being brother-friends at the lake shore.

Almost anything can be healed and recovered through friendship.

On my journey to help Roots of Empathy come to North Carolina, I'm discovering more about myself than I am about the politics of forming committees and raising funds...two tasks which for which I am inexperienced and resistant to take on.  Yet the benefits of the attempt have already widened my perspective and helped me to "feel" my way through life in a more attentive way.

The work of my heart always seems to manifest into something through my hands.  It has come to my attention that I enjoy business in this simple form: exchanging a handmade good for the benefit of another something good.  So after the party, I returned to my creative space and this is what came out:

 These are something I'm naming "The Hugging Trees."  The green heart on each trunk symbolizes the green blanket in a Roots of Empathy classroom, where a small baby becomes a teacher of empathy and love.

When I am working on creating these trees, I feel a deep sense of meaning.  I feel kind and soft inside.  The sky feels more open and accepting when I walk outdoors.  It's a new experience to be relaxed and gentle with myself.  It is enough just to be who I am,  to take long ride bikes with Elliot, to read stories aloud, to wander and discover the unexpected.  Just yesterday as we were wandering through Downtown, I discovered a concert band that anyone can join.  Here is a wonderful opportunity to reclaim something I truly love!  Playing my French Horn in a band!

What is this air I'm breathing lately?

A heart wind in spring.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

As a baby, Emily was truly joyful, affectionate, and easy to please.  The same is true today.

At age two, she had already experienced something traumatic.  When she was 18 months old, she had a febrile seizure that sent her to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.  I thought she had died in my arms.  My mother performed cpr while I watched in fear for my child.  She stopped breathing and later went into a deep sleep.  Her time in the hospital was very difficult, as we were separated from one another by a crib with tall bars.  

Thankfully, she went on with a healthy childhood and never experienced another seizure.  She found bliss everywhere, but especially loved visits to her grandparents home.

From age nine til now, Emily endures long car rides (over 14 hours) to see either me or her dad.  Still, she smiles.

There is a ten year difference between the arrival of my children.  Elliot coming into our lives was like starting all over from scratch.  He changed all of our lives.  He amplifies joy.

And he has a sweet tooth like you wouldn't believe.  
Elliot kept us all busy with his playful exploration of his world.  He loved to dance and still does.

Despite a ten year age difference, they love one another so much.  In my eyes, they are more alike than different.

On this mother's day, I'm thinking of my children, my mom and the memory of my grandmothers.  I'm thinking of my friends who inspire me with their stories of mothering. But I'm also thinking of two friends who have tried for years to have a baby.  Ironically, these friends are two of the most loving, kind, nurturing, gentle people I've ever known.  When I think of their struggle to become parents, I see my children as miracles.  As masterpieces of God's love.  And I am humbled.  

Happy Mother's day to all on this special day.  Happy Mother's Day to the childless givers who nurture and enrich their communities.  Happy Mother's Day to the ones who by the example of just being themselves, promote peace and kindness.  Happy Mother's Day to those who are having a rough time in their relationship with their moms, or who have had to grieve the loss of their mom.  My father lost his mother at age thirteen.  This day was bound in sadness for him for many many years.  He was born on Mother's Day and tried to keep that pocket of sadness hidden while we sang to him and ate cake.

Maybe for some, Mother's Day is hard because you are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.

The reality of being a mom means that you eventually have to let go.  While there is a certain freedom in that, it can be the most difficult challenge of an adult life.  In some ways, I never let go.  I never let go of the love that I have for both of my children.  In Mary Gordon's words, "the relationship between a parent and a child is the most important relationship under the stars."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mother's Day Blessings

There are a million impressions left upon me by my mother.  As a child I was drawn to her beauty.

Happy Happy Mother's Day to you, Mom!  Happy Mother's Day to all my blogging friends who are celebrating this day.  Your nurturing love spreads around the world and heals it.  I have a multitude of impressions on my heart from my mom.  Some were painful conflicts and misunderstanding.  Most were loving, nurturing and compassionate.  Mostly I know her as someone who loves people, who loves God, who is creative, artistic, and kind to everyone.  She is generous and forgiving.  She is sensitive to the needs of everyone, even those who are not in her immediate circle of family and friends.  Her intelligence about life and her perspective have shape my attitudes about mothering, about friendship, about strength in overcoming that which you thought you could never do.

To have a mom like my mom means that you are wealthy beyond measure for the duration of your lifetime.

As a child, I was drawn to her soft voice, to her dark, wavy hair, to her soft hugs and her laughter.  She is beautiful from the shining light within her soul, to the outer shell of her living being.  My mom is youthful in appearance and fun loving.  She enjoys life.  She takes time to listen to everyone, especially those who are experiencing grief or suffering.  Instead of seeking the corporate ladder, she left a secure job at GM to stay home to care for her three children.  Since then, most of her working life was devoted to helping people spiritually recover their emotional wellness.  She worked on the staff at a Hospice care center for many years.   Her work within the church has spanned decades.  Even though the kind of work she does is often heartbreaking and filled with sadness, she never complains about her calling to uplift and support people during the difficult parts of  life.

She is the kind of person you feel safe with.

She loves her children and cared for us with selfless devotion and kindness.  She read to us every day.  She hosted birthday parties for us, all the time!  She believed that imaginary play was essential to the health and development of every child.  I love my Mom.

My mom, age two.  She's holding a baby doll that I remember playing with when I was little.  It had a head of soft curly hair and a rubber body with arms and legs that were movable.
Here's my mom in her teen years.  I'm not sure if this was her senior or junior picture.

When I was 18 months old, my mom took me to visit my grandparents, who had retired in Florida.  Mom said that I carried a picture of my dad every single day.

Her soft, dark, wavy hair was one of my earliest memories.
Back at home, in Michigan, she created the perfect snowman.  Her artistic talents extended to everything in our home and the meals we enjoyed.

Here I am enjoying my second birthday cake.  How brave to allow a two year old to touch and explore the work of her heart!  I remember those clowns and the balloons.  I remember the scent of the sweet buttercream frosting.

I felt loved and special.  Even on the ordinary days when it wasn't my birthday.
My brothers and I were excited to go back to school in the fall, but it was also a little sad.  We loved being at home.

Please stop by to see parts two and three of my series of posts on Mother's Day.  I have photographs of Emily and Elliot to share!  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Let it burn through you

Negative statements about me or the work I'm doing have an impact on my life.  I would like to be a soaring free spirit with the super power of being instantly able to let words burn right through without leaving an impression.

The truth is I am uncomfortable with criticism, which makes it difficult to move in the direction I would like to go. It steals my thunder, my passion, my giddy, hope-filled perception that I'm on the right path.  Here's a fresh observation from someone close to me:

"You spend a lot of time online."

For someone who just enjoyed over seventy happy birthday wishes and was feeling uplifted by that, the observation from my friend brought me low.  A question about the true definition of friendship followed.  For non bloggers, online friendships might appear to be "false" friendships, because one's true identity is not revealed.  For the non blogger, it appears impossible that the real person behind the keyboard is able to represent themselves authentically, even if that is their intention.

But back to that little bugger of an observation....

"You do spend a lot of time online."

So I had to ask myself,

Have I become addicted to the virtual online world?

  It was a slap, a wake up, and I'm still coming to terms with it.  I want to just let it burn through so I can proceed on the inspiring path I walk.  I love blogging and I enjoy facebook.  Even with those habits, I am adept at caring for myself, my son and his education, my husband, our home, our meals, our pets, my business and our community service.  I even reach out regularly to my neighbors.  There is so much support in my online community that I have been able to make significant and positive changes, the latest being my quest for fitness.  I might even venture to say that without the positive energy I receive from my online friends, I might not be brave enough to keep reaching out and discovering the world or my community.  I am becoming a fearless learner, and this is exciting!

So I tried a little experiment.  On Sunday I took a Sabbath day.  I did not sit in front of the screen for a single second that day.  When Elliot asked me to look something up, I explained that today I was taking a break from the screen, just like when he needs to take time away from video games when they are being overly used.  I wanted to learn if I would have withdrawls like the ones I experienced when I was quitting smoking.

Several times during the day, I was very tempted to check for messages.  I did feel a little "cut off."  But I also noticed how quickly those urges passed, and how much I enjoyed staying on task with my daily work. But  when Richard came home, he observed that I was a little "edgy."

Perhaps I was so deeply connected to my inner self from the quiet that arose in my mind during the Sabbath, that his voice and his reports about the day at work felt disruptive.

I learned that spending a large block of time only with myself and my thoughts was like a day at the spa.

It cleansed and renewed and refreshed my soul.

I don't know whether or not I am addicted to my online community, but if I am, it feels healthy to me.  The people whom I've come to know as "real" friends are people who give positive encouragement and share inspirational, uplifting ways to live.  I love them.  They are not afraid to share their vulnerability or humanity.

What do you experience when someone's observation feels hurtful?  Are you able to let it burn through you without leaving a lasting impression?

I'm trying to get over the tendency to play defense and let it pass.

Today I'm also keeping a log to measure my time spent online.  As Gretchin Rubin from The Happiness Project writes  "if you want more or less of something, measure it."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My defense against aging!

Today is my birthday.  I am happy.  The gift I asked for is an empty jar.  I'm going to use it as my "happiness jar" and fill it each day with a scrap of paper in which I have written down the happiest moment of the day.  By my next birthday, I plan to take out all the scraps of paper and read them.  This is my defense against aging!

In some cultures, it is customary to give gifts to all the people you love on your birthday.  Today I have the gift of a song to share, which perfectly captures how I'm going to be celebrating life.  I first heard this song while the credits were rolling on the Pirates Band of Misfits.   I love it so much.  Thank you for being the loving, supportive friends who make my life worth dancing about!


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

"The soul selects her own society---then shuts the door."
                           Emily Dickinson

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love has this poem written on the steps leading up to her writing space, an attic transformed into a beautiful library she has named the "skybrary."

Surrounded by the society of writers past and present, she shuts the door to the world outside and then proceeds to open another door.  She opens the door and invites the whole world into her mind.

A paradox.

I have been mystified by this poem since I encountered it and will probably spend the day thinking about what it means for me. Years after my assault, I'm discovering that I no longer want to shut the door to my community and to society.  In fact, I suddenly feel an urgency to keep the door open.

So I'm taking a new path.  Roots of Empathy's Expansion team USA is now "my team".  I simply asked the question "how may I help" and was invited in.

The answer to the question "how may I help" is the simplest and yet most challenging request:  form a community of helpers (start a committee), reach out to local schools, and commit to help raise funds.

Each one of these tasks seem overwhelming at the moment.  But then I remembered this thought:

"would you rather seek comfort for yourself, or joyfully do God's work?"

I choose joy over comfort.  Being comfortable made me overweight and afraid of challenges. Seeking comfort puts my life and the life of my family at stake.  The world needs empathy, compassion and healthy parent/child relationships in order to thrive in the midst of violence and terrorism.

Seeking comfort gave me an insecure approach to life.  I lost many opportunities to live fully and in accordance with my deepest, most cherished values. While it's true that I value our choice to start independent, handmade businesses and to live the lifestyle of home education, for the last week, I've been awake long into the night with a mix of anxiety, pressure, and excitement.  I'm waiting for this surge of tumultuous change to settle into a new, peaceful routine.  I am choosing to face the bears on the trail of my mind.  I have to face every single fear I have in reaching out into new territory.  I have to get over this idea that you can shut the door to your society and be fulfilled and sustained by thoughts and ideas alone.

I am afraid.

Search This Blog

Banner and button design by me!