Friday, November 30, 2012

Chucking the shoulds

It doesn't look right, this bright light shining through my kitchen window at 5:30 in the morning.  It should be dark, I should be stumbling around running into things.  Who am I to know what is right, what should be?

It's been one of those weeks where things seem like they're falling down all around me.  Maybe not in my immediate life (though I've been there) but in the lives of those close by.  There are funerals, hospitalizations, serious illnesses and setbacks, one after the other everywhere I turn, in most every conversation and I start to wonder when it's my turn.  When will the next shoe drop?  Then I question my basic attitude on life, right?  Tell me you do it too.  I think of myself as the eternal optimist because that's the way I dig myself out.  I'm the 'glass half full' girl, the one who can always see the silver lining, the one who knows tomorrow is another day.  But at times like these I wonder if that's really true, if I really am all that positive or if I let life rub off on me too much.  Then I realize I don't know anything.

If I planned things according to what should be then things would probably look drastically different than they do right now and who knows how I might have screwed them up.  And there surely wouldn't be a full moon outside my window as I make the coffee because I'd be too caught up in myself to put it there.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No excuses required

Didn't take much to get me to my favorite little yarn shop, just word of a cold head.  A knitter waits for the chance to justify a yarn purchase despite the bins full she has hidden in closets.  (I am not a hoarder, she declares)

a slouchy hat

a wild scarf

a cowla scarf?

I anticipate warmth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Playin' hookey

To save all my time off for when the kids are out of school is to miss an opportunity.  Yesterday, I played hookey with my husband.  We pretend we were dating again while we talked about the kids (you know you do it too).

him:  "Honey, this time of year you need some blaze orange, people are crazy.  So, if you need to go out and buy some that's cute to wear, do it."

me:  (thinking) cute?...blaze orange?...oxymoron.  "Nah, I'll just borrow something of yours."

We walked, (honey, where's your orange?)

and sat, and ate at Baja Bean and then walked some more and made believe we were all alone because the rest of the world had gone back to work after the holiday.

It brought back memories as these walks usually do.  It reminded me how we met one night long ago and the next morning I picked him up at 7 a.m., me and my dog, and made him go for a twelve mile hike with us on the AT.  I wanted to know what I was dealing with.  He didn't want me to go alone, he thought I was crazy.

Fifteen years or so later these are still some of our best dates.

Hiking and knishing (I knit, he fishes), top two.

Next time mountain bikes.

The info: 
Ivy Creek Natural Area (in Charlottesville)
Walnut Creek Park (15 mins south of C'ville)

Both were easy walks through the woods, really, great for kids.  No pets at Ivy Creek, no running at either place supposedly but Walnut Creek looks like it could get crazy crowded with mountain bikes and swimmers in the summer.  Oh, and it has a disc golf know you're in a college town.  Walnut Creek is funded in part by a grant from Dave Matthews' Foundation.  Love that.


Sunday, November 25, 2012


I realize this list is not universal, but more of an account of the important things of late.  I'm sure you have your own list.

1.  Date night with twelve year old son.  Forget what you think or how that sounds, the important point was in the crazy busyness of it all we found time to just hang out together, just the two of us which is rare.  We dropped the girls off who knows where, I can't remember, and went to dinner.  Next, the mall (gag).  We shopped and purchased earrings for the girlfriend he would break up with one week later and then looked for clothes for him, a new and unchartered territory.  Until now he's been mostly uninvolved with clothes shopping so this was a whole new experience.  He looked out of place, awkward, and I did my best to remain cool and not make things worse. And as most date nights do, this one ended at REI, providing the necessary detox from the cologne at a.f. but I'm not naming names.  The wild man needed to cut loose and I was happy to oblige.

2.  Listening

daughter 2:  "Mom, you know when I get all mad and frustrated and just want to scream and go crazy and go AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!" (makes crazy googly eyes and claws/roars like bear)

me:  "Yes"

d2: "Well I figured out that if I just go sit down at the piano when I feel like that I start to feel like, aaaaagggggghhhhhh" (makes sighing  noise, hands float out to sides like waves of water, looks like she's going to fall asleep)

me: "That's great, honey."

d2:  "Yeah, playing music really makes me feel better."

me: "I think you are an artist. (a wide grin spreads open across her face) Did you know that's what artists do to express emotion, to help deal with their feelings?  Sometimes it's painting or writing or drawing, singing, playing the violin, guitar or piano, whatever.  It feels a lot better and more manageable than going to your room and freaking out and slamming doors, doesn't it?"

d2:  "Yeah, a LOT better."

...and I realize that warm feeling in my chest is the release of the conversation I've been waiting to have for forty-two years...

3.  Sitting together.  Showing my youngest daughter how to play "Silent Night" on her guitar while I play it on mine. 

me:  "Here, just play the A chord and A7 where it says (pointing to music).  Look, it's three easy fingers and for A7 you just pick one up.  You can do it."

d3:  "NO!  A is too hard!  All I can play is A7!"

me:  "Okay, then just play A7 where it says but that's not much, I really think you can play A too."

d3:  "NO I CAN'T!" (forehead to carpet)

We play the song, we sing, she strums A7 on every beat the whole way through, paying no attention to the music or how it's supposed to sound but it doesn't matter becuase she wants to strum, to hear herself, to pretend. My part is to let her, to encourage, to sit together.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tell me how you really feel

The same story is true.  We think, plan, worry, fret, anticipate, wonder, question, second-guess, shop, work, clean, work, wait and get ready for days, all for a meal that is over in about twenty minutes.  I won't tell you what I'm thankful for or how you should go about being grateful or remind you that you're bad if you're grumbling this time of year and not professing some sort of statement of thanks every second that you're not lying in a gutter somewhere because you've been told all of that already numerous times, I'm sure.  Truth is, if you're like most folks, your mind is fighting with itself to be thankful in spite of all the painful things, right?  There's sickness in your life and death and dysfunction, disobedient kids and parents, sadness, adultery, divorce, financial woes, anger, hatred, estrangement, mental illness, addiction and downright difficult situations that all come to a head during the holidays.  This is our story, the one that we all share, mine is yours, yours, mine.  Everything is magnified this time of the year because we think we're supposed to be the happiest right now and if we're not, watch out.  We wrestle with our thoughts and tell ourselves we're bad if we aren't overjoyed from November through December because we have so much to be thankful for and we're supposed to just block out all the rest and pretend none of it exists.  That doesn't work.
So today instead, I swallow it all in one big pill.  This, the day after Thanksgiving I realize the badness and goodness are only bad or good when I judge them as such.  I ponder accepting things as they are, watching events come and go, in and out, without trying to control anything or pretending people are going to act any other way than exactly how they always have according to who they are because that is the only thing that's real.  I wonder what that would feel like, if I'd be less surprised, dissapointed, do less mind-wrestling.  Probably so.  I'll just clean up the giant mess we all made from that twenty minute meal yesterday and get ready for the next wave.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The guitar sessions

The house is loud.  Up until recently it has only been a circus of non-stop exhuberance and children running amok, vascillating between listening and not listening to their parents, wreaking havoc, creating waves of destruction and leaving trash in their paths.  Now, it is a musical circus of all of the above.  They've discovered not only how to listen to it, download it, but also how to make music, to play it and things may never be the same.  It's like teaching a man to fish rather than just giving him some.  They're hooked.

There is a trombone, violin, piano, guitar, ukelele and the obligatory recorder at present.  They are loud, frequently off-key or out of tune or sound like the mad alien spaceship in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" if anyone remembers (I love that flick).  My son does a perfect overblown trombone rendition of mad alien spaceship.

As we bridge the gap from made up notes to real, off-key to on, out of tune to in, I'm devising a way to bring the chaos into unison, to join together the piano, trombone, guitar, ukelele, violin into some semblance of a band with a common focus, like playing the Thanksgiving prayer rather than saying it this year.  Parental tactics of diversion are just as handy in the tween years as the infant and toddler stages if well disguised.

I blame myself for all of it, I knew what blasting the stereo while pregnant would render and this is it.
When I'm not tuning an instrument or giving gentle guidance on playing techniques, note fingering, etc. I am still that old lady blasting the stereo much too loud in the car as I travel from patient to patient.  Here are some current favorites on repeat:

Anything(!) by Ben Howard but especially Only Love
Most anything by Bon Iver
Stay by Justin Rock
So  much by Jose Gonzalez
A little Grace Potter
Coldplay as always

...and I'd better stop or the list could get much too long...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Knees to the floor: let sleeping dogs lie

{a recurring series, a post between friends, inspired by a mini-meditation retreat led by Karen Maezen Miller. we are grateful she showed up.}

If a dog naps as the Buddhist meditates, or rather, he sits when there is nothing more to do, then Clair's dogs have found their zen. 

There has been a shift in my perspective lately and I'll tell you what I've learned.

First, there is time enough.  Time hasn't changed, there isn't more of it or less, I don't have any magic secret or less to do than you and I won't share my whole list because it's the same as yours.  But I will tell you that the kitchen was painted this weekend and the dining room too, a last minute decision, not because I'm some vomit-inducing over-achiever but because it needed it and there was time.  The same amount of time I've always had, only a shift in focus onto what I do have rather than what I don't.

Next, my husband is always right.  Yes, I said it, but then I am too. But more than that, there isn't really any 'right' or 'wrong', there just is.  I've realized arguments or disagreements no matter how petty are pointless.  I can listen and nod and know that his opinion is valid even if I disagree 100% and keep my mouth shut.  When he closes up and I whip out the checkbook it's ok, no argument necessary. Listening ears, open heart, nodding head, sincerity, the change in perspective that has come without trying, without intention or force, without my knowledge it would arrive, is a pleasant guest, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Under doing it

I was the lame one who wore jeans to the gym last night because I was too sore to work out from two days of doing squats, pirouettes and surfing on my slack line.  Things had gotten a little too easy and I figured if I wasn't falling off much anymore then I wasn't challenging myself.  And I was pumped from watching too many inspirational videos on youtube and vimeo to just sit still.  Thank you, Patience!

"Honey, I think you've hit that point where you're overdoing it," my husband said, "remember that time in yoga where you nearly ripped your leg off your body?  Don't do that again."

Okay, I may have torn a hamstring in hot (Bikram) yoga a year and a half ago, the results of which bother me on a daily basis but this is nothing like that, he has no idea, I clearly know what I'm doing,  I am a PT after all, darn it!

Minor irritations right now are I can hardly sit down, stand up or climb stairs and there's no way I can run at the gym or anywhere else.  Even the bike is too much.  I tried to hover over the john at Target yesterday and nearly fell in.

I went to watch the kids swim but when we arrived the sign on the door said:

"The pool is closed until November 20th, we're sorry for any inconvenience"

So instead, I sat by the fireplace, the oddball, the lazy lady in jeans with her crochet.  While the rest of my family worked out I worked hard at mediocrity.

I'm saving myself for painting.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I will not freak out

Ahhh, the beautiful Fall weather, a little cold here and there but not frigid, and the trees are lovely.  It looks like the Norman Rockwell picture of a perfect Thanksgiving in Virginia, all except for my kitchen where in just one week I plan to host and feed twelve people. 

Just a couple of weeks ago it looked like this:  (back to the 1930's farmhouse floor we said we would NEVER, EVER uncover again after we covered over it the first time thirteen years ago)

Now it looks like this:  (mostly finished)         

Bashing through the ice block of ceramic tile floor and the underlayment was a bit like I'd imagine busting through the walls of Alcatraz only it was a family affair, we included our kids in the fun.

There's a fine layer of dust covering the whole downstairs, the fridge and some cabinets are all crowded  in the dining room, and of course we need to paint the kitchen, trim included especially after ramming the giant refrigerator through the doorway and nearly breaking it in the process.  I'll do that this weekend while most people are baking pies.

But, I told myself I wasn't going to get all crazy about the holidays this year and I'm still not going to because it won't do any good, I still have a kitchen to paint and lots of food to buy and make and freaking out will only make me miserable and we could be broke and starving and homeless and jobless and in the hospital but we're not.

When Clair was over the other day and we were talking about getting ready for Thanksgiving and she saw the floor she said something like, "Eeewww, now I don't feel so bad".  And if that doesn't make you feel just a tiny bit better about your holiday preparations I don't know what will. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Knees to the floor

{a recurring series, a post between friends, inspired by a mini-meditation retreat led by Karen Maezen Miller. we are grateful she showed up.}

We carved out a few brief moments yesterday while the rain came down and tapped on my tin roof.  We sat on our cushions on the soft blue rug, the cat looked on, she disapproved.

I used to think of meditation as a solitary practice, not something a person shares or that is done in groups. I thought it lonely, contemplative, introspective.  What possibly could be the benefit of sitting together?

I'm skilled at running away, hiding, doing things on my own.  It is habit I tell myself, it is introversion and I might be lying, I know just what it is.  But now when faced with this new thing, an unknown leap I'm doing it in tandem, a stretch that contradicts my natural tendency and what I thought I knew.  I wear my ignorance.

Life is better when practicing it together.  I learned that lesson from my kids, my husband, who even on the worst days won't let me run.

And for those of you who might also have trouble reaching out, traveling outside your comfort zone, making friends later in life, here's a little something you might want to read.  In my case, I just have to throw old habits and hangups out the window and be myself even when fear wants to take over.  Maybe that will work for you too.  But then maybe you're cool and don't have any problems.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'm a slacker

{ten year old videographers are known to be shaky and give commentary sounding like Darth Vader mixed with youthful cheerleader. dogs wrestling are an irresistable camera draw}

With enough practice, even this is possible.  It may not look very hard but it's taken me weeks just to accomplish the little bit above which doesn't scratch the surface of all the crazy things people do on slacklines.  The tricks, the yoga, the competitions, I'm sure it's headed for Olympic sport-dom one day but I'm the backyard novice who wants to keep her bones intact. I am amazed, even with my little bit of dabbling, at how much stronger I've become and how that's helped my running. Because I'm addicted, I think everyone should try it and am conjuring up a way to get my gym on board so I have a place to slackline in the cold and rain.  All for the good of the masses.

I originally bought the slackline for the kids and they do get on it with me but I'm the only person in the family crazy or stupid enough to stay on the thing for hours until my legs turn to jelly and won't hold me anymore, my arms feel like lead weights and my abs like I've spent three hours in a non-stop belly laugh.  It's just aggravating enough to make me not want to quit and fun enough to get me excited about something I'd rather not think about doing.  Strengthening my core sounds appealing and all but it's so much more palatable when it's disguised as fun.  We just might have to pull it out on Thanksgiving and start a new tradition.  Forget football.

I can see my retirement now...I'll be the wacky lady slacklining on the beach, my husband lost on a boat fishing somewhere. I hope the kids will come visit.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thanksgiving notes to self

Clair and I weren't able to sit together this weekend as usual, she was off being superhero mom running marathons and carting her athlete children to the far ends of the state while I was cleaning a house in the middle of a kitchen floor renovation and traipsing with my kids all over Williamsburg.  That in and of itself required a quick, four-mile run detox afterward if you remember my shopping aversion.  But we've both been sitting daily on our own, not skipping any, and we've begun the book above, The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, a real eye-opener.

Thanksgiving is coming (duh) and upon realizing this, old habit told me to panic.  Had I invited anyone?  Had I planned the menu?  Had I thought about it at all?  Nah.  And then I remembered a few things that helped calm my little self down.  Maybe some will help you do the same.

1.  We have the same meal every year.  Okay, not entirely the same, only because I like to change things slightly for variety, just to make things interesting.  But I'm just talking about steaming some pretty green beans from Trader Joes and putting a little butter, salt, pepper and slices of almonds on them instead of a gloppy green bean casserole with onions on it that I don't eat.  Or maybe throwing in an interesting salad for a vegetable to surprise everyone because that's what I want to eat that year.  But really, it's basically the same meal year after year, how hard is that?

2.  I learned how to cook a turkey.  Yes, somehow, somewhere along the way I learned how to cook a turkey.  I realized the basic premise is you buy a bird, you thaw it if it's frozen, you turn on the oven, take anything in the middle of the bird out, but some butter on top of it and cook it till it's done.  Really that's all there is to it.  Of course it can get a little more complicated, like we brine ours overnight, cook it breast side down and flip it part of the way through cooking, baste it, etc., but it really is as simple as "stick bird in oven and cook until done".  I'm not going to say mine is the best turkey ever but it is edible and not bad.  Some years are better than others.  No one throws up and no one skips it.  I call that a decent review.

3.  Everyone brings something.  And there you have it, at least a third or half the meal is made and delivered.

4.  No one stays the night.  I realize we might be one of the lucky few here, but everyone is in town. They come over, eat and leave.  It leaves very little time for drama, and the lack of alcohol doesn't fuel any fires.

5.  I get the kids involved.  As much as I can I let the kids help.  They clean, make interesting place cards, help set the table, do prep work or just go play outside.  Every little bit helps, at least that way I don't feel like I'm in it all alone.

But the above genius was helped along by this excerpt from the aforementioned book, or at least I stretch to relate the two and note the contrast in my inclination for panic over Thanksgiving and my new found practice of daily meditation:

"From a Buddhist standpoint it [meditation] is simply the proper way to sit, and it seems perfectly natural to remain sitting so long as there is nothing else to be done, and so long as one is not consumed with nervous agitation. To the restless temperament of the West, sitting meditation may seem to be an unpleasant discipline, because we do not seem to be able to sit 'just to sit' without qualms of conscience, without feeling that we ought to be doing something more important to justify our existence."  ~Alan Watts from The Way of Zen


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Intermission: one kid chorus

the aftermath of a school assembly...

AMERICA! AMERICA! GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEEEE!  [I know cat, the longer we ignore her the sooner she'll go away]

AND CROWN THY GOOD, WITH BROTHERHOOD...[patience....patience, my kitty]

FROM SEA...[I think we got her, she's crumbling, she's crumbling]

(I've had enough I'm outa here!)  HEY WAIT! I'M NOT DONE! {hard elbow} [see cat, told you, just gotta wait her clockwork]

Editor's note:  it is in such moments I am amazed that I am in this place, with these my children, without whom I could not call myself mother. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Karma is a comedian

The alarm went off yesterday morning at 5:30 like usual.  I rolled out of bed to make the coffee, check emails, ready my work computer and list of patients for the day.  I carried my mug to the office, edited photos, prepared the previous blog post and planned my morning meditation.  This peaceful time of day before the sun is up, before the house is up, before I am fully awake is special, it is practically the only time of the day that is my own, where no other being needs anything from me.

Yesterday, I went to my cushion thinking about what I wanted more of in my life.  Money was off the table, too selfish, I don't ask for stuff like that.  Love?  Already have love, it is an either or in my opinion and something I can't ask for more of, I either have it or I don't and I do so I didn't ask for more, didn't make sense to me.  But water, now that's different.  I began thinking about how I'd like more water in my life. More scenes like the ones above and below.  Warm summer days, endless beaches with blue crashing waves and large expanses of sand.

Carefree, soothing winds and water, yes, that is what I want and have always wanted more of in life, especially lately and you know if you've been following along.  Something strange happened nearly ten minutes into sitting and breathing in and out.  My exhalations sounded just like waves crashing ashore.  It was a crystal clear moment in which I thought perhaps there was something to this meditation stuff after all.  I have most definitely seen changes in terms of my mood over these past weeks which should be convincing enough.  I felt good yesterday, like I was riding on a light cloud and everything seemed effortless, quick, easy.

Then my husband came home from work with this:

Not exactly what I had in mind.  Instead of being transported to some island in the Caribbean he had stumbled upon "the deal of a lifetime, babe!"  A six-way kayak trailer that will also hold our canoe and a hand truck or dolley of sorts to move the thing when it's off the car, all for a steal.  "Lady didn't know what she had!"  he said.  All the while I thought just where are we going to put one. more. thing?  One more piece of water apparatus and we live in the middle of farmland?  One more reminder of how close but how far away we really are from where we think we want to be and do we really even know just where that is for sure?

Of course I don't believe my morning had anything to do with the trailer but the coincidence is uncanny. And Karma or fate, chance, luck, coincidence, God, whatever the case, might be onto something.  While it might not be my idea of paradise, we now have a way to get 3 kayaks and a canoe simultaneously to the river and there I had my answer...more water.  Wonder what I should focus on today? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What the cold will do

Used to be I knitted nearly all the time.  I had an Etsy shop to fill, orders coming in and going out with great velocity and yarn was always close by.  But I closed up shop a while back, returned to the wonderful world of physical therapy full of thrilling successes that have me clapping for patients and grinning ear to ear and lows so low I question society as a whole, myself in it and exactly what it is I'm doing in this profession, wondering if I ever really help anyone.  But enough about that.  When winter comes, I knit again, or crochet because I'm cold.  Ice cold.

I have bins full of yarn leftover from my knit-for-hire days that stare me down regularly from my office closet, just waiting to be used, hovering, lurking, much like the cat.

I have gorgeous books on my shelves like this one full of crochet projects from Erika Knight.  Page after page of classic beauty, simplicity, from it I learned to crochet in my 30's and it is the source of my current project.

I abhorr cold weather. I bundle up under as many layers as I can get my hands on this time of year, sleep in wool socks, yoga pants and running tops (new, not yet stinky) and under a down comforter.  My husband hates it.  I am always cold.  I touch my patients with icicle fingers and am told, "You betta warm yo fingas up honey! You gonna freeze!"  I know, I know, don't have to tell me, I'm already freezing.  Worst part is this is Virginia, not nearly as cold as Missouri where I grew up.  I imagine I'd crack and break if I lived somewhere that was actually cold.

So, what more appropriate for me to make than a throw for the window seat, I thought?  Something to warm the cold-natured, to use up leftover yarn, to practice an ancient art only recently discovered by myself and show my kids there's more to life than Minecraft?

raw granny squares

finished square--to be sewn together with unifying color

yarn:  Brown Sheep "cotton fleece" an excellent all purpose yarn and from Nebraska, America's heartland (aka that part of the country those on the east coast fly over in airplanes)

Even the zafu helps out as a nice side table, certainly not its intended purpose.  There is more meditation in the works, in addition to my daily, early morning practice.  Upcoming: a local field trip in the next week or two.  Clair is bursting with excitement and I'm terrified, should be a good show!