Friday, January 27, 2012

what am i really holding onto?

One of the more daunting tasks I face on a semi-regular basis is the sorting and clearing of Cowgirl's clutter. Make no mistake about it, this girl's a hoarder-in-training. She has gone through phases of saving bottle caps, the plastic packaging from her Hot Wheels cars, pictures from magazines or newspapers (yes, I created this habit - "Mom, we can put it in my art journal!" Of course little makes it into said journal) and now piles upon piles of cut out dragons, sharks, and monster truck drawings.

And I haven't even gotten to her room and the squirreled away plastic gee gaws masquerading as party favors and "rewards" for Caught Being Good. I find these items in boxes, baskets, in drawers and scattered throughout the many grottos of treasure in her closet. I curse you Oriental Trading Company and your cheap plastic junk!

I have no problems shedding these items - of course I must do my dirty work whilest the girl is at school. So far, she hasn't noticed anything missing. She must have some Squirrel-with-memory-loss as a totem.

No, for me the difficult task is shifting through old clothes and toys. Each little outfit seems to have one memory per stitch and I find myself tucking things back into boxes. I mean, clothes don't take up that much room, right? Toys are a bit easier probably because Cowgirl really didn't have that many toys when she was little. We seemed to have exercised some restraint which now that I think about it, was probably due to the fact that Cowgirl didn't express much interest in specific toys. So I was surprised by my reaction when it came time to part with this item:

This plastic Noah's ark was the very first toy I got for Cowgirl. I bought while we were waiting to receive our referral so I didn't even have a specific child in mind when I picked it out. I think it was the first time I had read online reviews and actively researched this toy deciding it would be the perfect toy for my child. Well, for the child who would become my child.

And there is the clue as to why this little Noah carries so much upon his tiny plastic shoulders: for while this toy does hold memories of early days with Cowgirl, she played with it sporadically and found it far more enjoyable as a target for the many sticky stickers mysteriously deemed appropriate for small children (yes, there were stickers on furniture, car seats, walls ...) than as an object to exercise her imagination.

Weeping as I washed each tiny elephant, leopard and zebra I realized my attachment to this object was due only in a small part to the memories it held about Cowgirl. No, the bulk of its meaning for me centers upon the dreams I held for myself and the kind of mother I hoped I would be and the relationship I would have with my girl. You know, dreams of abundant patience, attention and love; golden afternoons spent baking cookies (I don't bake), playing tea party with stuff animals, dancing, singing and in general just floating happily about my clean, cozy, love-soaked home with my happy child.

We do have wonderful times together painting, playing board games, drinking cocoa, snuggling at night and reading Harry Potter out loud with all the proper voices and accents. But the sense of myself as always confident, always generous and loving with the right words, the right advice and solution to any problem - no, that ghost up and left long ago. Yeah, I bought into the whole Buddha Mom ideal for myself and Noah and his ark full of peaceable animals reminds me of the hope-filled if not naive ideas I so ardently believed in.

Not that I understood all of that as I bravely pushed on, packing up the ark and each animal to send on to a dear friend whose little boy is the appropriate age to enjoy this toy. In the back of my mind I knew I could always change my mind even while waiting in line at the post office to ship it off. I even debated holding onto one pair of animals as a memento but my inability to choose one couple suggested I needed to send the whole lot off.

Once it was mailed off, I felt better. With its absence I came to understand what it really represented and somehow the act of letting it go has allowed me to face what it was I was holding on to but had not confronted. I recognize my ideals for myself as a mother are not going to magically manifest, but require awareness, effort and a willingness to keep trying. If I've learned nothing else from years of yoga practice it is this: there are our aspirations, our intentions and then there is the action of attempting again and again to bring who we are into alignment with who we want to become. And just like any balancing posture, we come into and then fall out of the pose. Perhaps holding it for just a split second which is all we need to have a taste for how such balance feels. But that is all we need to inspire us to try again. And again. And again. Hopefully each time staying in our center a little longer, until it is no longer a practice but a way of being.

And now Noah and his friends have found a new home and my friend's boy apparently loves playing with his new toy. Which means one day my friend will have to face the dilemma: does Noah stay? Or does he go now?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

dragon celebration

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year!

We're pretty excited as it is the year of the water dragon which means change. Cowgirl has been drawing - and cutting out! - dozens of dragons in preparation ...

each one is double sided - colored front AND back

Dragons are protective spirits, so we are hoping for some support and guidance as we move through the watery times ahead. Having just gone through a 500 year flood year, I am hoping this isn't a literal prediction! I guess the water aspect can signify flowing abundance or natural disasters ... kind of wildly different interpretations?

I suppose I should wear my jade bracelet for added strength and groundedness. Apparently Tigers (my sign) are to take care to not be too emotional or stubborn (yikes!) this coming year. As I am a water tiger, I guess I am to expect an "average" year although I may have a some unexpected wealth opportunities. Hmm ...

Hello, Monkey (my Cowgirl) is also warned not to be stubborn this coming year. (Ah, the center of the Tiger/Monkey conflict! We are not compatible signs; my Chinese teacher explained "In China we have a saying 'In the forest where there is no tiger, monkey can be king.'" And that explains everything!) Cowgirl is a wood monkey, so she will have to take care in the coming year (which means I will have to take care for her - and for me!)

i know, you are thinking "This child? Stubborn?" Believe me, it is so

We cleaned house (swept away all the bad luck making room for good fortune to flow in), smudged and blessed each room, hung lanterns, put out fresh flowers and then enjoyed a festive meal.

Cowgirl filled red envelopes with candy to give out to her classmates at school and we made sure her silk jacket was ready for the big day.

I've informed her that we both have to watch our stubbornness this coming year ... she wanted to know what would happen if she warned me and I didn't listen to her. She is ever ready for that mythical time when she can discipline me. I've tried to explain to her: mommies don't have any privileges worth taking away. Although I may be going about this all wrong; perhaps I can spin laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping and cooking as activities I would be shattered to be denied.

Then let me misbehave!

May all our dragons be helpful and friendly ones. And if there is any doubt, well, my teacher also informed me we can wear red underwear for extra luck and protection.

No photos available.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

show & tell: journaling adventures

There have been some really fun discussions bouncing around the internet airwaves on journal practices. I can still remember my very first journal - a spiral "flip" notebook like secretaries used to use to take dictation (back in the day when there were secretaries and shorthand) which my father brought me from his office (probably pilfered from his secretary whom he called "Lollipop" - just to complete the picture of which era I am referencing here).

I have kept a journal on and off since then but what I find interesting is the types of journals I have moved through in my attempt to find THE journal practice that best suits me.

So I decided it would be fun to share my journals with you in a video format. Okay, truth is I was feeling lazy and not in the mood to write about my experiences - which in itself I find telling as I am exploring the concept of maintaining a regular journal practice.

After recording my thoughts, I spent a little more time looking through my old journals and it occurred to me that the real issue isn't what kind of journal I keep - written or diary form; scrapbook; art or image based - that I am confusing the signpost with the destination. What brings me to a journal is the desire to know or understand myself in a deeper way. To unravel my thoughts, beliefs, feelings and hopefully come to a place of insight or clarity. The best way to go about this self excavation will change as I change.

Anticipating the collective gasp of shock as I muttered something along the lines of "I really finding journaling irritating" I want to explain that at this point in my life I find writing as my initial means of digging in less effective than other forms of self inquiry. The thing is, I know what I know; I know the common motifs - my basic thoughts that direct my life - and given paper and pen I will rehash those ideas over and over. Or rather, I will filter my now experiences through the lens of those ideas. And I find this process fruitless.

What works for me now is to practice intuitive creating; to focus upon process and reacting to what arises moment by moment as I create with little fore planning. Then I might return to words to consider what occurred as I allowed my subconscious free rein. It is here that I find the real insights and juicy tidbits that help me come to a new way of thinking, seeing or understanding myself or my world.

As I poked through my old journals, what popped out at me were the images. In a flash, I was returned to that point in my life. I could flip through and see the changes occurring, something that is more difficult in my older journals were there is just written text.

And maybe one day I will have the patience and the interest to go back and read the more wordy journals? I've also considered tossing them, as I recognize their value resided in the actual process of writing, not re-reading. Maybe. Maybe not.

The historian in me packed them back up, chronologically. I noticed the gap in journal keeping coincided with the period when The Husband and I were trying to start our family and then those early years with Cowgirl. Although that's not completely true as for 2 years I kept my first blog - a baby jelly beans blog for her - and then started this one. So add to the above list of journal types blogging.

And yes, I am now licking my chops as I ponder all these forms and how this record of my record keeping will be interpreted one day far, far into the future. Because that who I am: an archiver, a collector, an analyzer of lives and I suppose a trained and degreed voyeur.

So if you are so inclined, here is a little peek into my journals, my inner life.

Vimeo has a perverse way of always capturing my most goofy facial expressions!

For a peek into other journals, check out the ongoing discussion happening over at Liz Lamoreux's blog here and here and Jen Lee's contribution to the subject. And here is the original post about my best-idea-ever: my To Remember book. In the end, that notebook may hold the best record of my inner and outer life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eight Days a Week

After a languorous Winter holidays, returning to business as usual has been exhausting. I am attempting healthful habits such as rising at 5:30 am to do some yoga and meditation which means I shouldn't be vexed (but I am) that by 8:30 at night this girl is ready for a tuck in and a story.

Which isn't to say that I haven't also felt mellow and slow moving like a crust of ice has me held in some kind of mental stasis but I can tell deep, deep within much is gurgling and moving.

this is beet and apple juice - i couldn't resist this shot in the bright sunlight. it certainly looks like it should give me an internal jolt of something!

I've been settling into some good habits like dusting off the Juice Man and imbibing in some energy-filled tonics. Although, truth be told, perhaps I am needing an elixir more in line with the Baldwin Sisters' Recipe?

I am loving the return to a daily photo taking practice which has infused a level of mindfulness and attention that I've experienced in meditation retreats. I am finding that by practicing deep looking, the internal chatter shuts down. I am finding myself less verbal and more often in day-dreamy mode. Which is lovely when one has time for creative endeavors; but the busyness of family and work have left me feeling tugged in two directions.

But it's a new year and how's this for a new perspective? I am surrendering to the experience and moving with the flow which is at times turbulent and jarring and then it smooths out and is relaxing and magical in a golden-light-at-the-end-of-the-day kind of way.

So here's what I've been up to which I realize pretty much boils down to attempting to capture memories in a jar. Or rather, a camera.

So many details to share ... I will do my best to swing by and fill you in on all the excitement! I am off to unravel two knitting projects that went awry in my exhausted state. Ripping out hours of work puts a whole new spin on the notion of unraveling oneself. Life lessons lurking everywhere.

Monday, January 9, 2012


No time to write ... there is only so much good daylight available and I am loving this film!

Unfortunately, I don't know if what I'm using is this film as what I purchased was called PX100 Test Film from The Impossible Project (Is it just me, or are the names of their products infinitely confusing and forgettable?) I have 11 shots left and am torn between slowly savoring it, or going whole hog.

I am remembering a story my German language teacher told me about growing up in Hungary during World War II. Butter was rationed to one pat a month and people would use the tiniest amount possible to stretch it out for the month. But my teacher proudly shared that she would put the whole thing on a roll and eat it in one go!

There is savoring, and then there is full out indulging.

Off to find some more light ...

Friday, January 6, 2012

insights and an epiphany ...

I am easing into the new year, attempting to coax some Clarity into myself and my life. I am reconnecting with those practices that support me in slowing down and settling in and hoping to reestablish some healthy routines. Why do I drift away from what I know nourishes and supports me? It's almost as if feeling in alignment is too intense a sensation for me to maintain for any length of time. Or, perhaps being centered feels "off" whereas the Dionysian frenzy I so often find myself in has become my understanding of normal?

Slowly, slowly I've been returning to a morning yoga and meditation practice. I feel so much better when I give myself that hour before my day starts to stretch and empty out. A sense of spaciousness is created and I am able to more mindful dance through my day rather than the above mentioned frenzy. I've headed back to the kitchen after the holiday break and am juicing, making smoothies, gathering fresh produce for soups and stews. It is all very satisfying and supports me physically and mentally as the process of chopping, sauteing, simmering, cooking all force me to slow down and be present. And then enjoy the fruits of my labor.

I also have returned to a daily photo taking practice. I had forgotten how much pleasure I derived from pausing in my day to notice the light flooding the front room of the house, the patterns camouflaged within the clutter and the beauty of my girl. I am enjoying Susannah Conway's Photo Meditations course for the reminders to slow down and really look at the slice of world that is my life. I love looking at other photographers' work and seeing how they translate their love and curiosity and excitement into an image.

But here's the hazard for me - here's were Clarity can slip away: I am easily distracted and find myself wrapped up in another artist's world, in their way of conveying their passion for life into art. I see things I want to try, techniques I want to learn and that is all well and good as Possibility is palpable in those moments of discovery. But the danger for me is becoming enchanted with a world other than my own and measuring myself against those whom I admire. Too easily I get overwhelmed and discouraged.

I realize I take the pictures that I take in order to clearly see and understand the beauty and the joy that lives in my world. I take pictures because the act of looking helps me to see and know how much I truly love my life.

Big epiphany there. The act of documenting my experience, my world, makes manifest the deep love and gratitude I hold for this life I've been gifted.

I look at my photographs and I see a thought or a feeling captured, a memory collected and preserved. I share my pictures with the hope that some small flash of the love I feel is conveyed, but I have to know that what excites and thrills me in my images is inherently subjective for I am seeing my work through the lens of my heart, my life.

If there is anything we are rich in, it is images. We are a visually obese culture. Years ago I met an artist from China who told of riding his bike 100 miles to another village just to see a postcard of a Monet painting. I think about this story often and wonder if I have become lazy. A whole load of looking but very little seeing.

I also know I tend to trivialize my offerings when faced with a Flickr photo pool brimming with hundreds of images. I begin to question whether there really needs to be another photograph of a sunset or hands holding a flower or the clutter of a home? It is easy to discount one's work as one more in a long line of the same-old-thing.

But of course, such comparisons are merely distractions. I return to my intention and with Clarity I understand it is not a competition. My intention for doing what I do is intensely personal and vital and therefore necessary. To me.

And your images, your artwork are necessary to you AND me because the love you put forth invites me to step forward and make my offering. It not the what but the why of what we do: I create because I believe in connection, I believe in clarity,
I believe in understanding, and I know all are essential for Love to expand and thrive within myself and within my world.

So for me, the moment I slip into comparing and judging my work against another is my signal that Clarity has become obscured by foggy thinking. Foggy maybe fine for a landscape, but not for living a life.

Ultimately, it is about how we choose to show up in our lives which for me includes my art. How do you insert your heart into your life? Where will we find traces of your one, wild precious self?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So far, so good ...

My year so far

Began a new journal ... a 5 year journal (yikes!) where you write just a line or two for the day and each page has space for 5 January firsts. If I stick with it, I will be writing entries for both my 50th and 51st birthdays. Yikes!

Are you ready to play some UNO ... Roboto style? Cowgirl is an avid UNO card playing fan and we are having fun with this little guy. You record your name into his belly and then sporadically he will issue commands or challenges which mixes up an already mixed up game. We have fun recording our nick names ... for some reason our voices sound like 4 year old munchkins which makes it all even more absurd (especially as Cowgirl likes to give me names like "Big Mama".)

And after a luxurious winter break, we all headed back to school today. Which means back to our routines and an eager face greeting me as soon as I walk in the door.

Speaking of routines ... I'm attempting another photographic 365 challenge with my Unraveling buddies. I'm also in Susannah's Photo Meditations class, am loving Effy's Book of Days and am contemplating Em's journal challenge.

Did I say something about Clarity and Simplicity?

If I had to choose one intention for the coming year, it would be to live life this way

From my dreamboard for "Radiant Me" ... I may or may not wear purple when I am older, but I definitely want to be "having a good squeeze of life" like this woman. Now that is how to be a true Joy Warrior. Will you join me? (Just be warned: when I go sledding I scream - very loudly and all-the-way-down.)