Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Inspiration Celebration: abbridged version

This day I am short on time and words, but full of inspiration and ideas. Here, in no particular order, is what has been rocking my world these past chilly, windy days. Keeping me grounded, excited and enthused.

I am loving my daily practice for THIS Moment:

For some reason, when I am making art, I cannot spell! And the teacher in me now sees - and cringes - Breathe when I meant Breath. Still breathing and embracing my imperfections :) I'd rather be making mistakes and risking insight than staying still and staying safe.

My polaroid muse has to be Cowgirl:

At $3 a picture, each one has to count and she matters most of all.

Making art postcards AND sending mail. Double pleasure for me. I love the ladies at the post office where I buy my stamps.

Cowgirl's explosive learning curve; she really gets the concept of sounding out the letters to read the words and every night she reads out loud to us. She is so proud of her achievement and I am thrilled for her to experience what is one of my longest passions: reading books. And now writing! She comes home with papers filled with her words and now is leaving notes for the fairies and this note which was placed by our house gnome, Fred:

It reads (translated, of course): Fred here is a piece of paper you can make a picture.

And today my copy of Brené Brown's new book The Gifts of Imperfection arrived and it is exactly what I need to be reading right now:

"How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves."

And then this kicker: "We cannot give our children what we don't have. Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books." (from the preface of The Gifts of Imperfection)

Gulp. Strong incentive to keep on this path. Dr. Brown's words (listen to her podcasts, she is a great speaker and really brings to life the concepts she writes about) have set off many little earthquakes in my soul and this definition of love from her blog is pasted into my journal for quick reference:

"We can only love others as much as we love ourselves."
I must acknowledge then a deep love for myself, as oceans of love have sprung up in my heart these past 4 years. In loving my Cowgirl, I have come to love myself. Or perhaps being loved by her has shown me the way to loving myself?

This song says it best:

How was your Monday?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 44): stories

Did you know today is StoryCorps National Day of Listening? In our home, telling stories is a favorite pass time for Cowgirl. Rides in the car, bath time, waiting in line and of course bed time provide the time and space for Cowgirl to demand "tell me a story!" Daddy's are the best stories (he does teach screenwriting after all and is slavish in his adherence to plot, character development and narrative flow) in that they are wildly creative. A current favorite is an Egyptian mummy hero called Fun King Awesome (say it really fast and you will also understand The Husband's sharp sense of humor.)

The stories I tell are not fiction, but a recounting of our family's history and fall into the domain of StoryCorps project. When Cowgirl wants details of her life, she comes to me. "Tell me about the time there was a noodle in my diaper" is one favorite (with details I believe you prefer not to read) and generally any story that involves her making a mess that we had to clean up.

Learning about the storytelling project, I am reminded of a project I've put on my "to remember" list: an art journal/scrapbook recounting the important stories from my life with Cowgirl and the things I want to tell her from my heart that right she may be too young to fully understand. A book of my wishes and wisdom if you will.

So I find myself considering What stories do I want to preserve for my daughter? And for myself?

Some of the most powerful memories and moments for me were from our first weeks as a family while in China. Those weeks were an intense and accelerated process of getting to know, understanding, trust and bond with each other. As a new and adoptive parent, each and every sign of attachment was a celebration. Mealtimes were often the settings for our greatest victories.

Now, if you have children, image taking a 23 month old out to dinner every night in a restaurant for close to three weeks. Add to that the fact that you and said child are still on unfamiliar territory: this little person is packed to the brim with well formed notions of what is acceptable and what is an affront to their very core.
What will upset and what will calm them is still a mystery to you. A side complication: one adult is a vegetarian and the other a more adventurous eater while the child will spit out anything deemed offensive (and you have yet to determine which foods fall into that category.)

Taking all these factors into account, the victory of a quiet dinner with plates cleaned can be fully appreciated. One such night was a dinner in a Japanese restaurant. It was a rainy day and we decided to stay within the hotel complex for dinner. The restaurant was fairly empty and so we figured we would not be bothering any other diners should an Event occur. (One such Event ensued when I took a plastic cup emptied of cheerios away from Cowgirl - she had been chewing on it and I worried the edge of the container would cut her mouth - and she promptly erupted into shrieks that froze a full room of diners as they watched our hasty retreat.)

Cowgirl's favorite foods while we were in China were noodles and fried rice. She became something of a connoisseur of fried rice: she sampled Chinese, Thai and Japanese versions of the dish. Initially distrustful of the Japanese style - it had bigger chunks of vegetables than she was used to - I put her on my lap to try to feed her. There is nothing more comfortable and comforting than a child on your lap. Their little bodies seemed designed to slip perfectly against your torso, they heads resting against our hearts. That night, she was my snuggle puppy nestled into me and like a baby bird accepting bite full after bite full of fried rice from my chopsticks. Odd were the french fries that were part of her dish, and she conveyed her displeasure by jerking her head away from the offending items. She loved her little container of a yogurt drink and sipped carefully from the straw as I held it up to her mouth. She ended the meal with a favorite new treat: Cheerios. Essential to our well being in those days was to always have a stash of them on hand.

Towards the end of our meal, another couple was seated near our table. Occasionally I would see them stealing glances our way. As we left, the young man asked us how long we had been a family. When we told him six days, he was shocked. He went on to explain how he had told his girlfriend we must be back to celebrate the anniversary of our adoption. He had no idea how comforting his comment was and how his observation confirmed what we had been feeling: we were a family.

What stories do you cherish? What memories stir your heart and light up your soul? How do you preserve and share your history, your life? Recognize the stories we tell celebrate the value and meaning of our everyday life. Love is there, in all the glorious details.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Inspiration Celebration: a family affair

This past week was filled with lots of surprises, the majority of which made me want to dance my happy dance because it seems like goodness and inspiration is swirling all around me.

First off ... and I know this is a total coincidence and not to expect goodies in the mail with any kind of regularity BUT I received 3 pieces of snail mail from some of my favorite lovelies in my art world. Two cards

and (drum roll please) to add to the community of fairies, elves and dwarfs that call my house their home, a pair of Flower Monsters of our very own!

Of course, Cowgirl's monster is blue and mine green with an orange flower head. :) Not only are we their new family, but how many people can see the birth of their very own monster? Check it out!

So wanting to showcase our new monsters, I pulled out my first pack of the new Color Shade polaroid film by The Impossible Project called PUSH. I am loving the results!

The film is somewhat unstable and eventually could/would/will turn more blue? It is advertised as being peel-able (and the only way to stabilize the color) so I decided to give it a go. Naturally, I took my pictures and then read the website and flickr discussion forum where I learned it was best to peel within 10 to 15 minutes of shooting the picture. And so there I was, flipping through the instructions online which left out the part about white and blue goo oozing out (and I am wondering if it is toxic? Of course, I sacrificed safety for Art as I fumbled onward) and then I went to peel and apparently you have to do so in one confident, authoritative pull lest you get this effect:

But I still like it ... maybe because of my memory of those frantic minutes and my perseverance under pressure?

Speaking of pressure ... I have officially past the half way mark in my Moleskine notebook that is part of The Sketchbook Project. I began the journal in August and have until January 15th to finish the second half. Which means an average of three spreads a week. I've been maintaining that pace for 2 weeks now, my hands permanently in gesso, my face flushed and eyes twitching, but I know I can do it! Two pages from this weekend (the topic assigned me is "A Day in the Life"):

Go figure a break from art journaling would be sewing! Not a time consuming project, but a new challenge that required zig zag stitching to prevent edges from unraveling and sewing in elastic ... a spanking new ironing board cover! (because when you sew, you need to iron a lot more!)

And while my mother is proud of me and my efforts to learn how to sew, I was blown away when my mother, goaded - I mean, inspired - by me, finished this amazing piece of crewel work I wrote about here.

It seemed like everyone was in the grips of creative inspiration last week. Even Cowgirl has been painting and coloring up a storm. She has a passion for scotch tape which is unparalleled. She has been creating a series of train pictures which require two if not three sheets of paper taped together. (I am now realizing she may have been inspired by BIG and my 4 to 6 panel paintings.) What I love about her art are the stories her pieces tell. Here is my favorite:

Me as an octopus wearing a pearl necklace and holding stones for my octopus's garden. Below me is a giant submarine which is labeled "Me" by Cowgirl. Her sub-self (complete with 8 propellers) saves me from a shark and we go on to rescued a family of baby eels. Overhead, an airplane and a jet fly by.

Recounting this all, it seems like I worked at a break neck pace, but in actuality I found the days full and spacious as each activity flowed into the next. There was time to sit with Cowgirl and listen to her stories; I went with my mother to a matinee; I took extra long walks with Moose to center myself. Helpful was this insight that came to me while I was sewing:

Daily practice card for THIS Moment course

I tell my students in yoga again and again, to be sure they are breathing. Finally, the teacher heeded her own advice!

Is it me, or is the fact that I am thinking about creative inspiration
on a regular basis making me more prone to finding it all around me? Do share your adventures!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 43): This Moment

In the spirit of THIS Moment, the ecourse I am taking with Mindy Tsonas of Wishstudio, I revisited the practice of taking a photograph every hour for one day. I am thinking of it as my mid-month mindfulness practice as it really helps me to slow down and recognize the details that one day I know I will miss and right now probably take for granted. Like bath time with Cowgirl or my morning commute.

So with little fanfare ... a few details from a typical day:

7 am: feeding Moose on a chair in an attempt to keep him from gulping his food; yes, we are still tired and blurry

8 am: morning commute

11 am: at work (banks of slide cabinets)

2 pm: grocery shopping

4 pm: snack time

7 pm: bath time

Mindy's ecourse has reminded me of the need to return again and again to how I am feeling in each moment. The impulse of the season - and my natural tendency - is to be continually rushing forward. Often while seemingly engaged in a task, I am really thinking ahead to what I want/need to do next. So the next five weeks is an invitation to repeatedly return to the moment I am in, pause, take a deep breath, and notice.

While working on this blog post, I recognized a tightening in my navel center and a kind of breathlessness as I frantically tried to pull the words out of me and onto the keyboard. Realizing a griping within my body, I got up and walked away. My mind needed space to open up. My spirit needed to relax and be. I decided to put the kettle on and take a moment to have hot cocoa with my girl.

Our main task in Mindy's course is to work with daily practice pages. Each day we are to take a moment to turn to our pages as an act of grounding within our lives. The page is small and we can do whatever it is we feel called to do in that moment. The point is not about the finished page, but about the conscious choice to pause at least once in my day and notice and be. The page itself is like a snapshot - one moment of my being captured and preserved.

I've already enjoyed coming home and knowing I will have a moment when I can spill myself onto the page. After my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (wow, that book takes on new meaning for me now!) my practice page ended up being a healing way of honoring my feelings while also letting go and moving on. I've started many a gratitude journal, but I think this practice suits me better. It is a more the flexible format, and the the practice is open to whatever I feel call to use: words, images, collage, doodles, whatever is appropriate in that moment is spilled onto the page.

Of course my mind is already jabbering away, thinking about future projects that emerge out of this: a journal with words, thoughts, wisdom for Cowgirl; a holiday journal; a Our Year scrapbook ...

Okay, I am pausing, breathing, and allowing the flow of thoughts to travel on by ...

Maybe later, but for now ... this day, a new page.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

my quiet rebellion ...

something is rotten ...

As John Lennon so aptly put it "Nobody told me there'd be days like these."

Yesterday was one of those days.

I couldn't figure out why my shoe was sticking to the brake pedal while driving and so I pulled over to discover a wad of electric green, minty gum and a mound of hairs stuck to the bottom of my clog.

I went to pick Cowgirl up at school wearing my Moose walking outfit which I will admit is a tad eclectic but certainly not deserving of the stares and giggles of a pair of first graders who proclaimed, in a stage whisper "WHO is that woman?!" (This is a topic for another post if not a therapy session as I was simultaneously indigent, humiliated, vengeful, and ashamed. Yes, I even cried in the car telling Cowgirl "some people I don't even know were mean to me and hurt my feelings and I know I shouldn't care because they don't know me, but I do." To which she wisely counseled: "Mommy, just ignore them." And no, I did not tell her they were kids!)

The dog found a lone skittle, ate it and promptly threw up.

But this day of trials akin to Job on his dung heap started when I tried to log into my Facebook page and received the message "this account has been deactivated."

Now, understand I joined FB kicking and screaming. Friends would say "If you were on FB then you would already know ..." and having lost numerous email address books, I figured it was time to plug myself in and join the party. I was excited to find old friends who had vanished into the mist (or had I vanished?) and I did reconnect with a few people but by and large, I have found the experience unsatisfying. It is like sushi: I can enjoy a bite or two, but cold, raw fish is not my idea of a fully satisfying meal. That's just me.

So to be jilted by FB was particularly galling.

And in typical fashion, trying to find answers is like entering the Minotaur's labyrinth. You go 'round and 'round and end up back where you started. There are no humans behind that blue and white screen: I firmly believe FB is run by the Cylons and they are here to torment us. (Off the subject, but not really, did you know when you call businesses or companies for assistance and there seems to be no option for speaking to a flesh and blood person on the answering machine queue, you can say loudly and anxiously "I want to speak to someone" and sometimes that will trigger the system to switch you over to a representative. I know this from trying to help my 85 year old mother get info on her health insurance and was released from automation limbo by shouting "For the love of God, I want to talk to a person!" I was clicked right over.)

But back to FB and my slow simmer ...

All afternoon (after the gum; after being humiliated by 7 year olds) my mind churned with thoughts regarding FB and how I was infuriated by being denied, and relieved to be out from under the weight of my expectations. Because I keep hoping for something real in all those mini-bites of information; I desire connection with people I once was deeply connected to and I wanted to be in the loop of information. But it struck me that the reason so many give for being on FB - it is free and it is easy to stay in touch with friends - is precisely why it is so empty and false. If the foundation for my relationships is free and easy, then am I really connecting at all? Shouldn't relationships - friendships - require more? Don't I want to give more? And don't I deserve an equal level of commitment and attention?

So last night I went to bed believing that in fact the Universe had just handed me a beautiful gift. Sure, I was sad to think of losing the contacts recently made via online communities and courses but I could find those people in other ways. And while contemplating a FB-free world, I decided I want to commit to nurturing the relationships that matter to me via a rather old fashioned way:

I am returning to writing letters and postcards and using the good old U.S. Mail.

I used to write a lot of letters. I blamed my declining handwriting for the eventual cessation of written correspondence but really, it is a matter of me slowing down and dedicating a piece of time to think and write (legibly) and connect. A small rebellion, I know, but it is my attempt to put some flesh and blood back into what has become all too virtual. (Hello? Anyone read The Handmaid's Tale? Am I the only one bothered by the fact that so much of our identity and history could be wiped out with a click of a mouse, a cyber-coup to end all coups?)

So here is my end of year vow: once a week to send out some piece of mail to a friend. It may be a letter, an art postcard, a postcard grabbed while in line at Walgreen's and a poem scribble on the back. Whatever it is, it will be me committing my time, my awareness, my hand to say to each recipient "you matter to me and you are deserving of my attention."

I would love to think I might get mail in return, but I'm not kidding myself. Free and easy is very tempting and I understand people are busy and over-committed. But I hope in some small way to reconnect in a more meaningful manner, nurturing my relationships with my love and attention. Care to join me?

As it would happen (and proof that Cylons are running the show) as mysteriously as my FB account disappeared, it reappeared today. So here I hang on the horns of a dilemma: do I stay but on my terms? Or do I go and hold my head up high? I haven't decided yet because I know there are people I will never hear from again and I am not quite ready to give up the dream. But I do plan to wean myself off of its teat bit by bit, day by day, letter by letter. I mailed off a letter and a art card today and it felt great holding the heft of a stuffed envelope in my hands. Maybe my other resolution should be to start collecting snail mail addresses in preparation for departure?

But for now, my permanent status should you check my FB account, will be: busy writing letters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Inspiration Celebration: snowscapes

We had our first batch of snow over the weekend. Big flakes started coming down Friday night and Cowgirl was outside trying to catch them on her tongue. The next morning - the only morning I can sleep in - and she was in our room bright and early, asking me "When are we going to walk Moose? I promised you I would walk him with you and you know, I keep my promises." So despite the cold, damp winds and slushy conditions, how could I not be infected by her enthusiasm?

The one nice thing about snowy days is they inspire me to stay indoors and create. I brewed up an extra pot of coffee and spent the morning painting for The Tribe. Connie has reminded us to return to the basics and one essential element (a priority I need to add to my holiday sanity plan) is joy. What would bring me joy in this moment? What would delight my senses and my spirit? What emerged, I'm not completely sure. A dreaming dog?

A sense of ripeness and fertility:

The painting Tribe has also been working on faces and I made two for my art journals inspired by the question: What kind of woman will Cowgirl be when she grows up?

Finally, I tackled an item on my list of 100 things for 2010: to make myself an apron.

I cannot explain my recent fascination with aprons although I am thinking it is like putting on a superhero cape in hopes of transforming myself into domestic mom. I had aspirations of baking, but once the apron was finished the only thing I wanted to do in the kitchen was reach for the wine glass.

I even made a few postcards trying out some new techniques I learned over on 21 Secrets:

It seems like a whirlwind of activity, but actually the weekend felt very relaxing and peaceful. We even had time to take in lunch and an afternoon movie of MegaMind with the girl. Of course, what I did not do (and perhaps is the secret to all this peacefulness) was go grocery shopping, so today I swung by the new Trader Joe's and stocked up on some necessary supplies and treats.

I think my new resolution to stick to priorities is off to a pretty good start. And helping me to stay present and really engaged with this special time of year is Mindy Tsonas's new ecourse This Moment which started today.

I think you can still join as we will receive our first workbook prompts tomorrow. Today's intro gave me goosebumps - I think it will be a powerful gathering of fearlessly creative, honest and supportive spirits and I am proud to say I am a part - a very small part - of it all. I am considering it part of my self-nurturing supply kit.

So now tell us, how are you doing? Or perhaps - what are you cooking up? I can help you make an apron perfect for any inspired mess. ♥

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 42): Priorities

I am coming to accept that there is no break between the beginning of the school year and the holidays. I have clung to this notion that there is a bit of a pause before the mania of Thanksgiving/Christmas kicks in, but reality has slapped that delusion out of my head for good. And now I am left with the realization that once again, I have overextended myself. You see, I dream of a November and December where I am mindfully and joyfully preparing for the holidays. Days warmed by the glow of a fire, the smell of treats baking in the oven, and me calmly presiding over a slew of projects that will become a bounty of lovingly crafted, personalized gifts for friends and family.

I can hear you snickering over there!

In the past, I have lumbered through busy days and my delusions, knitting until my hands feel like arthritic claws, finger tips crusty with dried glue from craft projects and in a state of mild shock by the inevitable and panicky purchases made when I realized I could not complete everything on my list in time. Add to all of this my tendency to enroll in challenges and ecourses - forgetful of the fact that not only do I need sleep, I require vast quantities of it just to stay sane - and I give you my recipe for disaster.

This week I have been mindful of how I use my energy and I am determined to set new priorities for myself and my family. The magic of Santa and his elves is very much alive in our house and I want to be present for this time as I know too soon, Cowgirl will be wise to it all.

Essential right now is time together as a family. The days are shorter, the weather has turned cold and we are spending more time indoors. Time together means games, cocoa, reading books and painting. Yesterday I spread out my shower curtain on the dining room floor and Cowgirl and I spent a good hour or so painting. We listened to music, took a break for snacks and just luxuriated in time together. Nothing is sweeter than my daughter pausing after finishing a picture and declaring "I love painting with you." (Yes, she is quite the schmoozer!)

To stay calm and centered, I need to begin each day by setting that intention. I have struggled lately with getting myself out of bed but realistically, I can manage to get up 10 minutes earlier and spend a few minutes either meditating, listening to an affirmation, drawing an oracle card or doing a mini reiki session.

To stay healthy (and believe me, working in a university setting, I am seeing everyone dropping like flies) means rest and good nutrition. We love soups and nothing is easier than throwing tons of veggies into a soup pot and letting it simmering into goodness. Fresh fruit is something I also will allow myself to splurge on. Nothing lifts the dark day doldrums like a juicy piece of fruit. Or fresh juice.

In addition to nourishing my body, I intent to continue to nourish my soul in the coming weeks. Painting keeps me sane, keeps me in touch with the landscape of my inner life and reminds me to look beneath the surface to discover the magic in every moment. My art journals, my painting tribe, my stash of paints - these will be my arsenal for sanity. If a few gifts get made in the process, great, but my priority will be to create for myself. For this is the best way to stay mindful of the beauty of the holiday season. And my very best painting buddy is also my inspiration and muse as she reminds me curiosity is the greatest attribute of an explorer, inventor, artist and lover of life.

cowgirl as a shark floating over a green me

Me: What should Santa bring mommy for Christmas this year?

Cowgirl: More paints!

Yes, she has a handle on my priorities. What is your intention for this holiday season? How do you plan to stay sane and enjoy yourself?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday pause

skies gray
birds silenced;
apparent today
leaves have gone missing from the trees

the drain of
weakening sunlight ...

i begin my retreat within

me by Cowgirl

Yup, change is in the air. And I am feeling it acutely. Needing a little ABBA ... how about you?

(Moose update: After ten days of not being able to keep his food down, he has gone 72 hours since his last "incident." X-rays do not reveal any apparent blockage, so fingers crossed he is on the mend. Thank you all for the healing thoughts and prayers; I know it is working wonders, if only to soothe my rattled nerves! I told the vet's office he has fans around the world pulling for him.)