Thursday, November 10, 2016

Small-scale gratitude.

This morning, I found myself standing stark naked in the bathroom, fixing a Lego fire truck. How did I get here?

I'm frazzled these days. My kids seem to need more than usual -- Cal shouts for me if I'm not in the room, and Nolan is either clamoring to be held or systematically destroying everything in his path. I keep hearing the message to "fill my bucket," but there are only so many things that I can do while the kids are asleep, and so few that seem to be working while they are awake. And then I while away the time by checking Facebook incessantly and obsessing about the Presidential election, which further frazzles me and accomplishes nothing.

This is meant to be the month of gratitude, and I am grateful on the large scale. I'm grateful to have a husband who works so I can stay home with my kids, to have healthy kids, to be able to have kids at all. I'm grateful to live in a nice house in a nice town in a country that, despite its flaws, is pretty safe and offers much more freedom than most. I'm grateful that I can go to the grocery store and buy food without counting every penny I spend, that my body is essentially healthy. I'm grateful to have faith in God and a belief that everything will be okay in the end.

But I'm struggling with gratitude on the small scale. I struggle to remind myself of these great, grand blessings when I'm standing dripping wet, trying to get impossibly small Lego bricks to go in the right spot. I struggle when I tell Cal no and it turns into the third all out scream fest of the day. I struggle with this niggling cold that has been peripherally taking up residence in my veins for the last few weeks, never developing into something that could excuse me from daily life for a few hours, but never going away, either.

I've been studying gratitude in the mornings, and I'm hoping it comes. I want to be a stay at home mom and have these moments with my kids. Yesterday, I was listening to the Coffee + Crumbs podcast, where they interviewed Christian writer Ann Voskamp (who I've never read but intend to some day). She said that she thinks of these drudging tasks of cleaning and changing diapers and preparing meals only to wipe them off the floor as her way of loving her family, and says she tries to have gratitude for being able to love her family that way.

I would like to feel that way, but right now I'm faking it til I make it.

I think my auto-pilot answer when my bucket is empty is to fill it. Go to bed early, read a book, take a bubble bath, exercise. Makes sense, right? But sometimes my bucket is draining faster than I can refill, and doing all of those self-care activities just feels like another chore, a Sisyphean task of trying to do everything I have to do in a day and be enlightened and self-actualized on top of it.

I think my task today, right now, is to just try and be happy in those moments. To laugh at the spectacle of trying to get ready while two babies literally pull my skin (Did I mention that while I was fixing the Lego, Nolan pinched my inner thigh with his little razor talons!?). To be grateful I have a big house to clean instead of bemoaning the fact that there's alway something else to do. To remember my friends who have hoped and prayed and cried for babies when I would rather hide from mine.

It's cliche to say that I will miss this some day, and it's also cliche to say that I hate when people say I will miss this some day. But I know I will. I look at the way my mom craves holding my babies and misses her kids scattered across the United States. Even though the newborn stage is usually horrible for me at the time, riddled with postpartum depression and unsuccessful breastfeeding and the kind of exhaustion that will truly make you insane, when I see someone cuddling a velvety newborn into their chest, or watch those sweet, new mouths moving in their sleep, I want to be there again.

So I am going to try again to recognize the small blessings in the madness. I will try again, and again, and again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

NaNoWriMo Dropout

You guys, I have a confession.

I can't finish my novel by the end of November.

It's so easy to get caught up in the fun of NaNoWriMo, to vow to myself that I will finish a novel in just thirty days, that my house and my children and my sanity can wait.

But guess what? They can't.

I am not happy in a messy house. I'm not happy when I don't sleep or exercise. My children are not happy when I tell them, "Just a few more words!" And I am SO not happy when I'm not reading for fun.

Not to mention, I have a birthday party to plan, a trip out of state for Thanksgiving, and tons of other responsibilities that I don't want to ignore .

But here's the thing. I am going to finish my novel. It's just going to take longer than thirty days.

The whole principle of NaNoWriMo is that you need a deadline to really get into something. And I don't deny that. I have never finished a novel, and writing is always what gets pushed to the back of the line for me. I mean, hello, it's been two months since I've written on this blog.

But I am going to finish this rough draft. I have my own deadline imposed -- at least 500 words a day on the novel. That gives me time to work on other writing projects, read a book, exercise, pay attention to my family, and not live in a dirt heap.

Those of you continuing on, I am so impressed! I am sure you are doing great things! I'm okay with not being just like you.

It's going to take me a little longer, but one of these days I am going to have a novel under my belt.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Goodnight Gorilla Simply Learning Curriculum Recap

This fall, I have been following the (free!) Simply Learning Tiny Tot and Preschool curriculums. I originally heard about Simply Learning from my friend Lorna, who was following yet another free curriculum (Tot School) last year. Basically, this mother of two came up with some great homeschool early learning curriculums for her kids. She first came up with Tot School, which is geared toward 18 months-3 years or so, and has weekly themes with various learning activities. This year, she is premiering her Preschool curriculum, which is made up of two week units based on books. Alongside the preschool curriculum, she has a "tiny tot school" curriculum for 1-2 year olds because she now has a younger daughter. This lined up perfectly for my kids' ages. Cal does go to preschool twice a week for a couple of hours, but I have been wanting to do some more structured activities at home, especially since (I hear) it's going to be raining a lot for the next six months.

We haven't done every activity on her list and are still finding our rhythm, but the first unit, based on Goodnight Gorilla, was a success! Cal looked forward to his "home preschool" activities, and I spent less time breaking up fights in the toy room. Nolan is still a bit young to appreciate the Tiny Tot activities (still only 11 months) but I figure it's a start-- and Cal seems to really enjoy them, too.

Favorite activities this unit:
:: Animal tracks -- we put toy animals' feet in paint and had them make tracks, and then gave them a bubble bath the next day.
:: We put Cal's handprint over a gorilla's handprint and measured the sizes
:: Stamp it, poke it, write it -- The creator of this curriculum provides printable learning activities (also for free! can't get over it!) and Cal really loved one where you stamp the letter of focus (G this week), poke it with a thumbtack, and then trace it.

We also did some additional activities. We went to the zoo to see some of the animals. We also incorporated some other books about zoo animals. Cal read A Sick Day for Amos McGee, The Mixed Up Chameleon, and My Heart is Like a Zoo, and I read Nolan Peek-a-Zoo, Dear Zoo, and an Eric Carle noise-making book called Animal Babies that he is obsessed with.

Today we are starting The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I am looking forward to it!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Favorite quotes from Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

This book resonated with me so deeply. I have long had the monkey of perfectionism on my back, and it is a daily struggle to cope with it. There were so many quotes in Present over Perfect, Shauna Niequist's new book, that I wanted to group all the ones I loved best here.

:: "Years ago, a wise friend told me that no one ever changes until the pain level gets high enough." p. 24

:: "Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn't home-- it's away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly." p. 57

:: "And so I began to peer into the darkness, that plunging sense of deep inadequacy. It's always been there. Frankly, I didn't know other people didn't have it. I thought that at the center of all of us was black liquid self-loathing, and that's why we did everything we did-- that's why some people become workaholics and some people eat and some people drink and some people have sex with strangers. To avoid that dark sludge of self-loathing at the center of all of us." - p. 71

:: "He has all the time in the world to sit with me and sift through my fears and feelings and failings. That's what prayer is. That's what love is." - p. 76

:: "In more fundamentalist strains of the faith, there's great value on happiness, constant kindness, selflessness above all else. These are wonderful things... that, over time, make it really hard to say things like, "I need help." Or, "I can't do this anymore." Many Christians, women especially, were raised to be obedient and easy, to swallow feelings, to choke down tears. This has not served us well. This has made it far too easy to injure our bodies and our souls in the name of good causes-- there are enough good causes to go around." - p. 85

:: "My crazy brain has always been my gift and my challenge, and I've tried everything to lower the volume in my head, because things really do get a little loud in there." - p. 94

:: "Brave these days is a lot quieter, at least for me. Brave is staying put when I'm addicted to rushing, forgiving myself when I want that familiar frisson of shame that I've become so used to using as a motivator. Brave is listening instead of talking. Brave is articulating my feelings, especially when the feelings are sad or scared or fragile instead of confident or happy or light.
"Brave is walking away from the 'strike while the iron is hot' mentality that pervades our culture. Brave is being intentional about taking your marriage from 'fine' to 'can't live without you.' Because fine is not fine at all. Fine is like a mesh sieve, enough space for all the important things to slip through, and all you're left with is to-do lists and resentments.
"It's easier to be impressive to strangers than it is to be consistently kind behind the scenes. It's easier to show up and be a hit for an hour than it is to get down on the floor with your kids when you're so tired your eyes are screaming and bone-dry. It's easier to be charming on a conference call than it is to traverse the distance between you and your spouse, the distance you created.
"Sometimes being brave is being quiet. Being brave is getting off the drug of performance. For me, being brave is trusting that what my God is asking of me, what my family and community is asking of me, is totally different than what our culture says I should do.
"Sometimes, brave looks boring, and that's totally, absolutely, okay." - p. 126

:: (John Steinbeck quoted in the book) "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - p. 127 (I should note that this principle is applied to the character Cal in East of Eden, who, you know, my Cal is named after, so you'd think that I would have figured that out by now).

:: "I'm drawn to music that's more earnest than tidy, art that's more ragged than orderly, people who are just a touch more honest than is strictly appropriate for the situation. I'm finished hustling for perfect. It didn't deliver what they told me it would.
"And so instead: present. If perfect is plastic, present is rich, loamy soil. It's fresh bread, lumpy and warm. It's real and tactile and something you can hold with both hands, something rich and warm. Present is a face bare of makeup, a sweater you've loved for a decade, a mug that reminds you of who you used to be. It's the Bible with the battered cover, the journal filled with scribbled, secret dreams. It isn't pretty, necessarily-- it isn't supposed to be." pp. 129-30

:: "Writing is such good training for the rest of life, if you allow it to be, because it forces you to get comfortable with failure, with the wide range of impossible-to-meet expectations and standards." - p. 171

:: "There are lots of conversations right now about how to do everything better/faster/smarter, how to streamline, multitask, layer, balance, flow, juggle. How to monetize, strategize, and on and on. This is good stuff. Necessary stuff.
"But my jam these days is wasting time, playing, becoming aware of that internal engine that always wants to go faster, faster, faster. That engine is not the best part of me. My heart is the best part of me.
"And I'm finding that my heart loves to play. My heart loves to color and draw, loves to dance in the kitchen, loves to shoot baskets, loves to do cartwheels with my nieces in the front yard.
"What would our lives be like if our days were studded by tiny, completely unproductive, silly, nonstrategic, wild and beautiful five-minute breaks ,reminders that our days are for loving and learning and laughing, not for pushing and planning, reminders that it's all about the heart, not about the hustle?" - p. 175

:: "I remind myself what is true: that God loves me, and that there's nothing I can do in this new day to earn more love-- nothing. And also that there's nothing I can do in this new day to ruin or break that love-- nothing." - p. 205

:: "I have the energy to live well, to dedicate myself to the things that matter to me, and that God has called me to. I have the security to truly rest, to truly enjoy this extraordinary world and all its offerings-- books and art and meals and people and conversations and cities and beaches and night skies. And while I am deeply appreciative of the charms of this glittering world, I feel a sense of patience where I used to feel slight anxiety about the beauty of it: will I see it all? What if I miss something?" - p. 227


Saturday, August 20, 2016

That's the way this wheel keeps working

When I was fifteen or so, I fell in love with this song by John Mayer. We all love to hate on John Mayer these days, with his string of relationships and a Taylor Swift ballad devoted to him, but if his lyrics are any indication, the guy gets me. I found the song "Wheel" at a season in my life when I was saying goodbye and desperately hoping that it wasn't forever. John's refrain that "you can't love too much one part of it" comforted me -- the idea that good things come to an end, and there will be hard, painful experiences, but that like a wheel, life will cycle back to happier days. 

I thought of "Wheel" again yesterday as I was walking on the trail behind my house. For four years, I've lived in Los Angeles, where the change of the seasons is subtle at best. Despite the 97-degree weather this week, I can tell that autumn is coming soon, and the change means more now than it did. For one thing, the weather will change enough that I actually will need to wear warm clothes and may not be able to walk outside or take my kids to the park whenever I feel like it. But on a deeper level, my heart is also clinging to the fact that this is the only time. I've really fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest, and I hope we come back after our nomad days in the Army are over. But of course, there is no telling if we will. The fact that I only have one year here makes me want to savor and cling to every moment, to soak every beautiful moment into my bones. I don't know where I will be next year -- if I will be in a foreign country, or another seasonless climate, or somewhere I love even more. I just know that I love where I am now, and that I only have one chance to experience the slow fade to fall in the Pacific Northwest. 

Of course, the beauty of the wheel is that it comes back around. The beauty of the seasons is that they return. Mayer says, "If you never stop when you wave goodbye, you just might find if you give it time you might wave hello again." I've repeated that phrase throughout my life like a talisman against loneliness. Our impulse is self-preservation -- why fall in love, whether with a person or a city, if you know for sure that you will say goodbye soon? It's easier to hang back, keep to yourself, stay safe. But I believe if we have faith in the seasonal nature of life, everything we miss will come back to us someday. "I believe that my life's gonna see the love I give returned to me." 

People have the right to fly
And will when it gets compromised
Their hearts say "Move along"
Their minds say "Gotcha heart"
Let's move it along
Let's move it along


And airports
See it all the time
Where someone's last goodbye
Blends in with someone's sigh
Cause someone's coming home
In hand a single rose

And that's the way this wheel keeps working now
That's the way this wheel keeps working now
And I won't be the last
No I won't be the last,
To love her

And you can't build a house of leaves
And live like it's an evergreen
It's just a season thing
It's just this thing that seasons do

And that's the way this wheel keeps working now
That's the way this wheel keeps working now
And you won't be the first
No you won't be the first
To love me

You can find me, if you ever want again
I'll be around the bend
I'll be around the bend
I'll be around,
I'll be around
And if you never stop when you wave goodbye
You just might find if you give it time
You will wave hello again
You just might wave hello again

And that's the way this wheel keeps working now
That's the way this wheel keeps working now

You can't love too much, one part of it 

I believe that my life's gonna see
The love I give
Return to me
I believe that my life's gonna see
The love I give
Return to me
I believe that my life's gonna see
The love I give
Return to me

Monday, August 8, 2016

Let's talk about books, baby.

Let's be real for a second -- if you know me at all, you know that my great passion in life is reading. It has been for as long as I can remember, and it is so much a part of me that I can't really tell you why I love it so much. Maybe someday I will swan-dive into some heavy self-analysis and figure out why exactly I can't resist a good story. But for now, just know that I love -- LOVE -- books. 

For a long time, I wrote a book review blog. It was so rewarding. I was never a "big time" blogger -- I've never had the interest or energy in really promoting myself to actually make money blogging -- but I did get some books from publishers before they came out which was really all the payment I needed. My book blogging seriously slowed down after Cal was born, although I did post sporadically for about two years after. Then, I started wanting to focus more on this blog, and writing about topics other than books (motherhood and writing, for the most part). Sometimes I write about books on here, but I'm not very consistent. 

This long and possibly unnecessary introduction is just to say, I love talking about books. It's hard for me to find people that want to talk about books quite as much as I do, and book blogging was a really fantastic outlet for that. Now that I don't have the hour or two a day I used to spend working on the blog, I have channeled my energy into book clubs. Guys, it's kind of crazy. It's like if you say book club, my ears perk up like a cocker spaniel and I run panting to the source. My goal for my time in Washington was to find a book club -- when you aren't going to live somewhere long, it makes sense to join a club to make friends, right? 

I found two in person book clubs right away. The first one is at Browsers Bookshop, and it really was just exactly what one would want a book club to be. The bookstore is gorgeous, and we met in this loft above the shop. We read a bizarre and intriguing book that left plenty to discuss, and all of the members -- all of whom were very different with unique perspectives -- liked and disliked very different things. It was such a good discussion and I felt like a real PNW hipster, talking about literary devices. 

Another one I joined through total serendipity. A man from church invited our family over to dinner our first Sunday here, and I was eyeing his bookshelves (as one does). We started talking about books, and his daughter-in-law mentioned a book club that some women in my ward at church had started. I told her I had been hoping to find one, and she invited me. Hooray! I don't know most of the women in it, so it is maybe a bit awkward that I bulldozed my way in. But I can't wait to get to know some new friends and talk about books (and the book they chose for this month, Cold Sassy Tree, is awesome and I need to finish this post so I can go read it before bed). 

I am also part of four online book clubs, because NERD. Whenever I hear about a book club on a blog or website I like, I usually at least follow along with the pick. I don't always read the book, but if it is a book I am already interested in, I try to read it that month because then I can discuss it with some people. So, House of Lars is reading Wildflower by Drew Barrymore, the Yoga with Adriene group is reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda Paramahansa (I will have to write more about him some other time, but he has been a figure of fascination for me for a long time), and the Warrior Moms book group from Postpartum Progress is reading Baby Fat by Pauline M. Campos. (Warrior Moms is a group for women who have had postpartum depression, and I think it is awesome because reading stories of women who have struggled with the same thing I did has been so helpful for me). 

I also started an online book club with some of the women in the writing class I just finished. We were talking about books in the class, and several of us thought it would be fun to discuss books together after the class had ended. 

I'm laughing at myself because it is a little bit out of control, but it also makes me so happy to have "book friends." 

Friday, August 5, 2016

5 things {8.5.16}

1. I would really like to get my groove back with blogging. Right now I am feeling all at sea with being in this new, much bigger house and being responsible for all the cleaning. (I had a cleaning lady when I was working, and I miss her so much). The kids still are a little off with their sleep schedules, and Scott is home a lot right now because his residency hasn't officially started, so we aren't really in a routine. But I would love to spend some solid time writing and blogging.

2. We went to Portland yesterday and it was amazing. I had an existential crisis in Powell's City of Books ("the biggest bookstore in the world" sing it to the tune of "Schuyler Sisters") and almost burst into tears in the aisles because so. many. books. I wanted to buy them all, but I realized the real thing I want is to read them all, and money can't buy time. I really hate that sleeping is a thing I have to do.

3. I know I haven't experienced the rain yet, but I am obsessed with the Pacific Northwest. I have probably said this on Facebook and Instagram and in any other blog posts I've managed to eke out over the last month, but I am obsessed. I told Scott that we could live in Portland and he responded that we need a three hour drive buffer between Powell's and myself at all times so I don't spend all of our money. Busted.

4. When Nolan is really, really tired, he lays his head against my chest and collapses against me for just a moment, and it is literally always the best part of my day.

5. Also in Portland, there was this piano near a fountain that said "Please Play Me" across it, so I did, and it was so fun. I rarely play in general anymore, although I am trying to rectify that, and especially not in public. I whipped out "Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum" by Debussy because that is the one piece that seems to stay permanently memorized in my brain, and it was a blast.
 
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