Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Until 2017...

{picture edited with the PicsArt app}


Here's to soaking in the last bits of 2016. As we creep up to the end of the month, the end of a topsy turvy year, I'm feeling quiet and thoughtful. Thinking about what I could have done differently, what I did right, what I did well, what I need to work on.

Later today I'm going to sit down with cup of tea and Susannah Conway's Unravel Your Year workbook as I have the past few years. If you haven't worked through her previous years workbooks, I highly recommend giving it a shot. There are questions you won't want to answer, but if you dive in you'll find yourself liberated in some ways, and learn so much about yourself and the way you spent this last year. It's a gentle activity curated to help you move forward and into the coming year with knowledge, intention, and a sense of possibility.

The best part? It's free!
Consider the time you'll spend on these pages a gift to yourself.

On this shortest day of the year, the darkest before we start turning towards the light again, I want to extend you warmth, happiness, and much love. Happy Holidays to you and yours. May your holidays be full of love, laughter, and peace.

Until 2017... xoxo

Thursday, December 15, 2016

favorite books ~2016~



I was poking through my Goodreads shelves last night, looking at what I've read over the last twelve months. For the past two years or so I've tracked, in one way or another, the books that I've read, and I'm so grateful for the practice. There were titles I'd forgotten about, read in haste but enjoyed, others that I wish I hadn't spent quite so much time on... but am grateful for any book that holds my interest for even a small bit of time. There's always something to be learned in a book, whether as a writer or simply as a human being existing in this world.

In any case, below I've listed a few favorite books read this year.

Non Fiction 

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living
by Krista Tippett
What I took away from reading this book was a desire to listen, to understand where others are coming from, and a reminder that there is always, always, common ground to be found.

“I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.” ~K.Tippett

Killing Rage: Ending Racism
by bell hooks
Nearly a year after reading, I'm still processing. The book is two decades old, but still as relevant as ever. It was recommended to me as a place to start my adult education on racism, and I think it was a perfect read given the various storms that we're in, still in, and about to face.

“All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.” ~b.hooks




Fiction

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir
by Lesley Allen
I finished this just the other day, and am still thinking about Biddy. I even went back and changed my rating from a four star to a five star. The first half was difficult to get through, but the second half... it was worth it. I think many of us can relate to Biddy, who is told over and over again that she's a bloody weirdo, and so she believes it, and moves through life as such, in her own mind. And worst of all, she stays silent about the torment she's going through. Biddy Weir tugged at all of my heartstrings, as a once upon a time young girl and as a parent. And the character that comes into play in the second half... oh my word. You'll know when you meet her.

“You know, I’ve been called a bloody weirdo once or twice myself. In fact,’ she snorted, ‘I’m sure some people have called me worse. But that doesn’t mean I am one. Granted, I might be a bit different to them. Maybe I don’t look the same, or think in the same way, or dress the same,’ she waved a hand over her long jade-green and turquoise-blue velvet dress and chuckled. ‘Case in point. But it doesn’t mean I’m weird, or a bad person. And it certainly doesn’t mean I deserve to be treated badly. And you know, so what? I like it. I actually like being different, and I’ll tell you what, Biddy, I use it to my advantage. Anyway, aren’t we all just a little bit weird in our own unique way? What was it John Lennon said? “It’s weird not to be weird.” ~L. Allen

To the Bright Edge of the World
by Eowyn Ivey
This is my absolute favorite book of the year. I know it's a bit slow in the beginning, but I found the writing to be exquisite, the story engaging, and the characters complex and unique. I've been a fan of Eowyn Ivey's for some time, having loved her debut the Snow Child, and I looked forward to the release of her second novel with hope for a spectacular story. She didn't disappoint.

“There is a mythical element to our childhood, it seems, that stays with us always. When we are young, we consume the world in great gulps, and it consumes us, and everything is mysterious and alive and fills us with desire and wonder, fear, and guilt. With the passing of the years, however, those memories become distant and malleable, and we shape them into the stories of who we are. We are brave, or we are cowardly. We are loving, or we are cruel.”~E.Ivey

Abide with Me
by Elizabeth Strout
This read like a long sigh, perfect in its simplicity and depth. Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors, and I savored this story of heartache, grief, family and faith.

“You just stood up to your mother.... I should think now you could take on the world.” ~E.Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
The second book by Elizabeth Strout read this year. I've read mixed reviews on this one, and it seems to be quite divisive in Strout's fans, but I adored this book.

“Do I understand that hurt my children feel? I think I do, though they might claim otherwise. But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can't even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: this is mine, this is mine, this is mine.” ~E. Strout

Wolf Winter
by Cecilia Ekbäck
Chilling, haunting, and utterly beautiful. It's a darker book than I normally enjoy... really diving into the depths of the best and worst of humanity... but it has stayed with me since I closed the book one final time.

“Late autumn this year had violence in her hair, angry crimson, orange, and yellow. The trees wrestled to free themselves of their cloaks, crumpled up their old leaves and threw them straight out into the strong wind rather than just let them fall to the ground. Dry leaves ran across the yard with the crackle of fire.” ~C.Ekbäck

The Beautiful Possible
by Amy Gottlieb
If you're looking for a sweet love story with a happy ending, this is not the book for you. If you want a complex story that shows a love triangle that is so tangled, and so interwoven with faith and passion, that spans the time from WWII forward... it is a must read. Daring and captivating, I had never read anything quite like it. I couldn't put it down.


“We are all connected in the unending chain of belief and doubt. Together we can answer each 
other's questions.” ~A.Gottlieb




Collections of Short Stories

The Shell Collector
Anthony Doerr
I was first introduced to Anthony Doerr by his novel All The Light We Cannot See. This collection of stories is written with the same beauty as his acclaimed novel. The stories are all unique, and yet all have a sense of sadness and truth.

"To consider water on any scale was to confront a boundless repetition of small events. There were the tiny wonders: rain drops, snow crystals, grains of frost aligned on a blade of grass; and there were the wonders so immense it seemed impossible to get his mind around them: global wind, oceanic currents, storms that broke like waves over whole mountain ranges." ~A. Doerr, from About Grace

Tell Me a Riddle
by Tillie Olsen
I requested this collection solely for "I Stand Here Ironing" but found all of the stories equally thoughtful, profound, and they each stirred something different within me. A classic that I will add to my shelves.

"You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key? She has lived for nineteen years. There is all that life that has happened outside of me, beyond me." ~T.Olsen from "I Stand Here Ironing


Children's Books

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Touching, tender, and real. The kids and I enjoyed reading about Ivan and his friends, and the adventure that ultimately brings them all home. 

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” ~K.Applegate

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
by Kate DiCamillo
Another read aloud with the kids - and I think this was all of our favorite of the year. We all laughed so hard, and quoted this book for weeks. We walked around saying "Holy unanticipated occurrences!" again and again.

“All words at all times, true or false, whispered or shouted, are clues to the workings of the human heart.” ~K.DiCamillo


What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
by Dawn Huebner
This came highly recommended, several times over. There may be a kid in this house who needs a bit of help with anxiety, and this has worked wonders. We're only halfway through, but many of the tools (which are based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques) have been added to our toolbox and and we reference often.


Do you all have books that stand out as favorites of 2016? 
I'm always looking to add to my to read list! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday rambles



It's Tuesday morning, and I'm sitting down with my second cup of tea. I'm on the computer under the guise of looking up a Mystery Science activity for us to do in a bit, but the children have rediscovered their teddy bear collections {or realized just how many they have, with a combined eighteen years of collecting between them.... and now I've just gasped over that number...} and so who am I to interrupt their imaginative play?

So I'm here. With a cup of tea and an overfilled laundry hamper full of clean clothes ready for folding, and kids in the background filling stuffed animals with voices and heart and the heater thrumming...

~~~

These days are filled with Christmas activities. Movies, baking, making and wrapping gifts. Though I've thrown in towel with cookie baking. We have so many food allergies and sensitivities, I've found cookie baking in particular tedious. As I mentioned in a previous post, my personality lends itself to a lack of precision and so baking can be hit or miss. Quick breads and cakes, brownies and one specific chocolate chip cookie recipe I've got down pat. But cookies... Christmas cookies especially... seem to be my nemesis.

I had a list of cookies I wanted to bake this year, and so this week was to be all about cookie baking. Yesterday we started with an orange spritz cookie. Halfway through I looked at the kids and told them, "You know, I don't enjoy baking, but I do enjoy spending time with you both," and Fynn looked up and said, "So you're doing them both at the same time?" I laughed, but it got me thinking.

When you do an activity that you don't enjoy, that stresses you out, and at the same time try to enjoy every moment of the time you're spending with your kids doing this special thing because that's what's expected... I guess you're supposed to put on a happy face and just get through it for traditions sake.

I don't buy it.

The cookies turned out dry and crumbly. They taste mostly of flour with a hint of orange zest. They're cookies though, so they'll get eaten.

As for the rest, we're buying a bunch from Trader Joe's that the kids and husband can eat, and I'm making a cake for Christmas. Because cakes I can do. Cakes we can make together and I won't loose my mind.

It's all about knowing your limitations, your strengths, the things that make you want to go hide in the bathroom, and what makes you tick.

~~~

It's the time of year for reflection, and yet, for some of us it seems we reflect all year long and so the extra pressure of culturally appropriate reflection can put us over the edge.

Even still, while  academically our year begins in September, personally I do find January the perfect time begin a fresh planner, a calendar, a fresh start.

The key in being the type of person who reflects and changes throughout the year is finding the right tools to do help you do so.

This year alone I've tried the Get To Work Book and the bullet journal system. Both have their strong points, and I've both for various reason. Currently I'm enjoying the bullet journal that I keep as a homeschooling log more than my personal one. With the bullet journal one can be as creative or as minimalist as you desire. The Get to Work Book was kind of a gateway tool to bullet journaling. However, I found that the workbook didn't have quite as much room for each day as I wanted, and the bullet journal is almost too unstructured {unless I want to loose hours in structuring it, and constantly changing it and fine tuning it...}

It all comes back to wanting structure until I don't want structure, and then I want it again until I don't, and so finding something that lends itself to that cycle, the ebb and flow of, well, me, is proving difficult.

{I also realize I'm spending too much time focusing on what type of way to plan and keep track of my days instead of focusing on my writing projects! I've given myself a bit of a break after nanowrimo, but today is the day I'm going to begin rereading drafts of both the novel I began earlier in the year, as well as the one I was working on last month. I'd like to get through them both before Christmas so I can have an idea of what I'd like to work on, or find a way to approach working on both.... ramble within a ramble much?}

So. I'd love to hear what you all use for planning tools, and what your favorites are. I'm looking at the Start Planner for next year, thinking it looks pretty fantastic especially since there's a page allotted for each day.... but I'm open to suggestions. Looking back at this year the times I was most productive with my writing, I was using a set planner rigorously and it kept me more accountable than I have felt ever before. For myself, if there's something written in my planner for a specific day, I'm going to do it. If I have the option of moving an item into the following day {one of the whole points of the bullet journal is to have a rolling to do list, though I know I could customize and it's all about mindset...} then I'll take that option instead of actually doing said task.

{and this, my friends, is why writing is amazing: I didn't realize that until JUST NOW, what I wrote in the previous sentence!}

~~~

I know, frivolous stuff amid a world full of serious issues. But sometimes, frivolity is important. Taking a break from the news and the facebook feeds of opinions and high stakes and emotions. It doesn't mean I'm not interested or participating in the discussions, far from it.

But right now I'm doing a lot of listening. Or trying to. Reading for facts and hearing different perspectives even on the same side.

Because there are so many.

~~~

And on that note, the kids are finished playing, and I need to find some science activities as promised, and Poetry Teatime is on the horizon and we're writing our own poems this week...

I used to write these rambling posts often when I was blogging regularly, and looking back, they're some of my favorite posts. Partly because of conversations they started, partly because I can see what was going on in my mind, what mattered. Little things matter. What are the little things that keep coming up for you? That are on your mind that don't seem big enough to warrant discussion, but in all likelihood, do? I'd love to hear it, truly.

Happy Tuesday, my friends.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

how to be kind to yourself in this season...



find quiet
layer on the blankets
binge watch your favorite show
holiday themed or not
enjoy endless warm drinks
cup the mug and feel the heat transfer
feel it come alive in your hands
read aloud
to yourself, a pet, a loved one
feel the words on your tongue
and how they long to be savored
slow
change traditions to bring joy
save traditions to bring joy
throw out traditions to bring joy
bring joy
feel sorrow as it comes - it will
stand outside in the frigid air
 and watch your breath swirl around you
listen for sleigh bells
remember there is a season for everything
take a bath
let the steam surround you
feel the pull of water over and under the body 
as the tub drains
linger over dinner
over dishes
over life
share your expectations
if you have them
but try not to have too many
don't wallow in 'why didn't they'
ask 'can you?'
listen to your body
as it tells you to rest
allow yourself your feelings
honor what rises
what swells
what calls for attention
find space in the cracks
find joy in the sorrow
find quiet
and savor

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

at our sewing table



Earlier this year we gave our daughter a sewing machine for her birthday.

At the very thought of teaching her how to sew, a feeling of dread swept over me.

But, it was the only gift she really, truly, wanted, and the pros outweighed the cons, and so we bought her a sewing machine.

You see, I know how to sew. I don't remember ever not knowing how to sew. But knowing how to do something, even being good at something, doesn't mean you enjoy it.

I'm a perfectionist in some ways, and yet I'm not a very precise person. These two facts make my enthusiasm for sewing, well, non existent.

So I worried I would bring all sorts of baggage to the table when teaching my daughter how to ew. I worried that I would get frustrated, that I would hold some unattainable level of precision or perfection above my daughter's head. That I would yell. That I wouldn't be able to let go and let her lead the way. That I would need to control the situation.

But I forgot two other very important facts: that our relationship is unique, and as in every single thing she does, my daughter doesn't need a teacher. She needs a guide. A sounding board. Someone to look to when she has a question. Not an instructor. A mentor.

The first time we sat down at the table to sew, her new machine straight out of the box and shiny, the bobbin freshly wound, I showed her how to sew two pieces of fabric together. I over explained and spoke loudly, enunciating like I was speaking to someone who's native tongue was not my own. She watched closely, rolled her eyes, and said, "let me do it." I slipped out of the chair and stood, crossed my arms and watched.

And she did it.

And when my voice got short and my shoulders pulled up to my ears, my husband walked into the room. He put his hands on my shoulders and whispered, "she's fine."

And she was.

Over the last few months we've learned how breathe safety and space into our sewing time. We play Christmas music all year round, we sing loudly and off key as the sewing machine whirs. We tell jokes and laugh as we iron. We say I love you, and you're doing great, and keep going. Both of us. We stop before we get tired.

This week we're knee deep in homemade Christmas presents. Time constraints for shipping are pressing, and yet we're still able enjoy ourselves, both of us. Somehow we bring a certain lightness to the table, little expectation, and most importantly a deep respect and appreciation for the process and our relationship. There's no room for baggage at our sewing table. Only room for possibility, creativity, and some double over with laughter jokes.

"So, how are you doing, Mom?"
"Good."
"Don't you mean sew good? Get it? So, like sew?"

And the laughter is contagious, the smiles infectious, threads cover the table and floor, pins prick our fingers and the sewing machine hums on...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

getting back...



I don't even know where to start.

Or where the beginning is, or where the end was.

It's been months, and so while I want to say hello, I'm feeling the need to just keep going. To honor the time not written here, but to move forward from where we're at. Meet myself, and you, here.

Meeting each other where we're at.

That's not something that's all that easy to do these days, I know.

Between the social and political climates, the holiday season whirring by, and life. Life seems busier these days. More complicated, these days. More everything.

And yet, I want less. Or, rather, I want a bit of calm in the storm.

Which I suppose is why I'm here.

In the early days of blogging, writing felt like a safe place. A place to come and look at life in a different way. A place where I could figure things out, alone and then together with readers. I walked through life with eyes that were a little more... careful to catch things. I was more observant in many ways.

Late in October I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo for the third time. Less than two weeks before November first, the starting date. I pulled together a hint of an idea for a story, and I ran with it. It was the most difficult NaNoWriMo I've participated in, and "won" by reaching the goal of writing 50 thousand words. Partly because of the story and how I went about writing it, partly because of things that happened completely out of my control, partly because I'm trying to figure out what role I want writing to play in my life.

Is it as a teacher?
A creative coach?
A writer of fiction?
A writer of non fiction?
A writer of essays, blog posts, or simply (importantly) morning pages and journaling?

These last few years writing has been a constant. But, I haven't stuck with any one project long enough for it to come to completion, fruition. I tend to stop as soon as I start getting ahead. Fear of failure, or maybe fear of success.

I have four novels that are half finished.

I can't even believe I just typed that. Four. Half finished. Novels.

There are a lot of things I realized last month. About my process, my fears, my strengths and weaknesses. But I also realized that it's getting harder and harder for me to drop into the writing mode. I used to be able to do it at the drop of a hat. Five minutes? I'll use that, no problem. Now? I'm distracted easier. I'm pulled in a million directions, easily.

It's easier to write a Facebook post, an Instagram caption, or a 40 character tweet than it is to write a blog post, an essay, a book. And it's easier to read the quick snippets as well. Time wise, attention wise.

I'm looking for practice in going slow. In writing longer. In listening. In attention. I'm looking for action instead of reaction. I'm looking for subtle nuanced conversation instead of yelling and aggressive debate tactics.

So I'm here. Looking for all of it. Hoping to create some of it. Longing for creating and making and work. And perhaps this is a way of doing just that. Getting back to listening, sharing, crafting rather than spewing.

Intention.

I'm looking for intentional thought and action and kindness.
Will you join me?


Sunday, April 24, 2016

exploring the grey...

{unsure where this image originated from... 
but saw it on Instagram on a friends account}

I saw the above image on Instagram the other day, and it's been on my mind ever since. I've been missing the truth telling blogs, the honest, authentic stories that used to be the rule in blogging, not the exception. I've missed the stories that show who we really are. 

After many recent, amazing in person discussions about honesty, and the importance of sharing our stories, I want to tell you a story I've been sitting with the last few months. 

Those of you who have been reading here for a while, or who know me well, know that I quit drinking over six years ago. Back in January I hit six years of sobriety.  I celebrated this milestone quietly, I didn't want it to be a big deal, as other years had been. Somewhere along the lines I became disenchanted with my identity as a sober person. At six years sober I started asking myself, what am I doing? Why am I not drinking? And my answer was much, much different than it was six years ago. 

Six years ago I needed to not drink. A young mother with two babies, a head full of lifelong anxiety, and perhaps a bit of postpartum depression, my drinking was a problem. And the only way I knew how to stop drinking, and to keep myself from being wishy washy about it, was with a sweeping gesture by way of a declaration of alcoholism. 

Now, looking back, I know I needed to do that to stay safe. To stay sober. To figure my stuff out. And when it comes to alcohol abuse, there's a very limited vocabulary that is available. 

But there's a whole spectrum of alcohol abuse. 

The word alcoholic never fit for me, but nothing else came close and so that loaded word kept me sober for six years. 

And it's a good thing. During those six years I learned how to handle myself, how to be a mother, how to be an adult, how to cope with and diffuse anxiety attacks, how to be me. 

Around my anniversary I started wondering about my sobriety. What it meant. If it was forever. What would it feel like to have a drink now, verses all those years ago?  If it was an alcoholic's brain making me question all this, or if I really could safely have these questions and conversations. I talked with my husband, my cautious and thoughtful, well meaning and patient husband, and we had several discussions about what it would mean if I had a glass of something at some point. 

And then I knew that I needed to. I needed to know in order to keep evolving as a person and grow into myself.

Now, if you've read this long, I want to tell you something very important: this is my story. This is my journey. Please don't compare yours to mine. This conscious, deliberate exploration of the grey area is NOT for everyone. And even talking about this makes me nervous, because there are people who have stopped drinking who should never, never, explore what it would be like to drink again. 

But I'll tell you something else, it doesn't do anyone any good to hide their truths. I've done a lot of truth telling in this space {and other blogs... I've changed them so many times...} and only good things have come of it. Opening the door for discussions, and making human connections is what I'm striving for. We're all struggling with something. We're all human, I think sometimes we forget that fact. The strange part of these last few months has been feeling like I'm hiding something, or holding back, because I haven't written through this journey like I have through many other aspects of my sobriety. Where there's hiding there's danger. And there's no need for that in my life.

Back to the story... 

Over the last few months I've been exploring the grey area of my place on the spectrum of alcohol abuse. 

There was no bender, no relapse, no drunken nights or hungover mornings. Every now and then I'd have a drink. A glass of wine when we were out to dinner, a cocktail when I was out with a friend, I cooked with wine for the first time in years and tried my brother's homemade mead, all in safe environments where my anxiety was low.

A funny thing happened when I started to explore this area, alcoholics popped up everywhere. Not necessarily in person, but in the shows we watched and the books we read. There was Flaked on Netflix {a really fantastic series that both Lucas and I enjoyed} in which the main character is Chip, an alcoholic who bikes around Venice Beach. Then Because of Winn-Dixie, with an absentee alcoholic mother. And I know there were a few more, but I can't remember for the life of me what they were {and neither can Lucas, I asked!}

All cautionary tales. All reminders. All warnings.

What did happen during this experiment? I learned that red wine gives me migraines, that any alcohol messes with my much needed and beloved sleep, that my anxiety ramps up with even one glass of anything, but also that I can have one drink and stop. That was something that never happened six years ago. 

{Something I was also noting through all of this, was how often alcohol isn't really the issue. Alcohol is so often a numbing agent for the root problem, for the mental health issues or trauma that often starts it all. This of course is highly controversial to talk about... getting down to what is the disease of alcoholism and what isn't, who has it and who doesn't. I'm entirely unqualified to go down this road, but it's something to note.}

Most importantly, after having a tiny taste of life with alcohol, I'm choosing to go back on the wagon.

I may not be a textbook, classic alcoholic, but I am certain that I've abused alcohol in the past, and it's something I need to be very careful about. My relationship with alcohol is not cut and dry, but I am better off dry. I'm more able to be present, to enjoy life, to be me, when alcohol isn't involved. 

But I need to have that choice. To ask myself what kind of a place I'm in, to asses situations for what they are, including who I'm around and what purpose a drink would serve. If it's to numb or to check out? Nope. If I'm stressed? Nope. If it's because my brother poured his heart into his new batch of mead? Maybe. If it's because it's fun? Nope. Champagne toast at a wedding? Possibly. Is my anxiety even a tad bit high? Then absolutely not. Do I need to sleep? If yes, then no. 

There are very few times that I can justify drinking, for me {I promise I'm not passing judgement on anyone who drinks. Cross my heart!} 

So. Sobriety.

Coming back to sobriety needed to feel less like a confining box, and more like freedom.

And so, I am reserving the right for myself to explore the grey area. To not say forever, but instead for today. 

I'm better off dry, navigating the world through sober eyes. 

And knowing that? I feel totally, utterly, happy and free. 

~~~~~~
As a note to all of this, please know that I take alcohol abuse and addiction very seriously, and because of that, and the respect I have for all of those who have issues with alcohol, I want to reiterate that this is my story. There are so many paths, so many ways to get sober and stay sober. And as I said within the post, I would absolutely hate for this post to be taken as permission for anyone to drink. I've written this post to further the conversation, to share my story, and to be open and honest, which is the best way I know to live. The blogging/internet climate is so different than it was when I was first writing about sobriety, that I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't nervous about posting this. But here it is.... in the name of truth and authenticity!


If you are struggling with alcohol know that you are not alone. 
There's so many places to find help. 
Here's a few: