Monday, May 21, 2012

ten good things - almost Summer edition

1. An up-close view of a cardinal sitting on her nest.  Just over our heads. We could see her red  beak sticking out one side, and her reddish tail stick out the other. 

2. Coffee houses where one can buy a single drink, and study and concentrate for hours at a time.  I had less than 8 weeks to prepare for the GRE, so we shall see how I do.  But the study spaces are so niiiice.

3. Cute bunny rabbits, even though they eat my greens and dig holes in my yard, dammit. So THAT's who's living in the backyard condos.

4. The little girl running mellpell across the backyard. This must be what expanses of lawn were meant for.

5. The little girl cutting and pressing play dough shapes completely independently.  Today, she was cutting skinny triangles out of orange to make... carrots!

6. Cute thank you cards from my Sunday School kids at the end of the school year.

7. Organic whole wheat bread, freshly baked at home several times a week. It's fresh, it's tasty, and it saves us money. My husband The Daddy rocks, yes. 

8. A long-lost professor coming through to provide a recommendation by deadline - woo! I have a chance of getting into my program of choice for this Fall after all!

9. Fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, fresh melon, with mint from the garden.  With a sprinkle of sugar, or a squirt of whipped cream, or over sweet biscuit, or just plain naked.

10. The sound of wind through the trees on a sunny morning. Peace and harmony.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring Busting Out All Over

Last year, it was infernally dry, one of the hottest Summer seasons on record.  My tomatoes bloomed and grew, but put forth no tomatoes.  It was just too darn hot.  I planted a hydrangea last year, a fancy variety planted strategically to screen my neighbors and ourselves from each other. It died.

Then over the Winter, the oregano exploded in growth.  It took over almost an entire plot.  The lavender has been looking happy instead of half-dead and sending out new growth. The lemon verbena started its Spring growth early and mounded up very prettily.  Certain patches of lawn were looking very perky.  All of a sudden I notice, holy cow, Spring is excellent and it's almost over!  

One advantage to all this early rain and warmth is that my lawn has been feeling happy.  All Fall and Winter, I raked and seeded, weeded and seeded some more.  Now the front lawn actually looks green. Considering the sad, long- neglected state of our property, that is an unusually excellent state of affairs, believe me.  All that incremental work has been paying off.

Not only does the front yard look inviting rather than scruffy, the backyard is looking more and more like an enticing expanse for play. Whenever the little girl passes by, she is drawn to it.  We hear an "Eeeeeeee!" and before we can stop her, she has jumped the border, and is running down the hill, to the back fence, making loops over the lawn, and collapsing into the grass.   That just wasn't possible until recently.   Never mind that there are still whole swaths of lawn she is not allowed in yet - persistent poison ivy and whatnot - this looks like a playground to her.  The family of rabbits who live in our backyard think likewise.  Here, hawk, hawk! Nice tender rabbits over here. 

So I keep weeding and pulling vines, and picking up endless numbers of sweet gum balls (hundreds!) courtesy of a neighboring tree, raking old sticks and debris, pulling ticks off myself (sorry!), reseeding any patch of mud or bare ground, spritzing the poison ivy - persistent buggery seedlings! - and keeping ahead of the rain schedule.  I still have much, much, much to do, but we can see the progress, and it heartens us.

Of course, part of regrowing the grass means cutting it regularly to keep it neat.  I can't cut the entire property on one charge (we have an electric mower), so I do it in sections. One day I trim the edges with the weed whacker and mow the front.  A few days later, I pick up sticks and those infernal sweet gum balls. A few days later, I mow the back and whatever of the side yard I can stomach.  I pick up more sticks and pull some vines.  I mow the side yard in its entirety.  I zap new sprigs of poison ivy I've noted.  I pull weeds, and rake and seed bare spots.  Then I start again on the front yard.  It looks good!  Now I just have to distribute that mulch from the tree work we had done two years ago.

This weekend, my husband asked me what I wanted to do for Mother's Day.  I said, "Plant the garden!"  Luxury.

I put in some heirloom tomatoes, interspersed with marigolds and basil.  I finally planted the dill and new parsley.  I contemplated where I'd plant the annuals. I plotted digging up the dead hydrangea and planting a new one.  Then I picked up seed balls and sticks, etc, spritzed and weeded, etc, reseeded, etc.

Just in time.  More rain is on its way.  Hi Spring - I hope you're having fun! It's Garden Time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

ten good things - Late Spring Edition

Here's a list of 10 good things I've been appreciating recently.

 1. Surprise iris blooming in my front garden. They have not been happy for years. I had forgotten what color they were, honestly. After I transplanted them last year, it hardly rained, and so they continued to not bloom. But this year, all this rain and early warmth are letting them really show off!

April Iris

 2. Looking out on my freshly mown lane. So pretty, so lush, so neat. Ahhh. Except for the patches that haven't been reseeded properly. We'll get to that.

3. An impromptu Morris dance enacted by a friend of mine and three little kids with light sabers. You had to be there, but it was truly entertaining. Light sabers are swords, aren't they? Sure they are.

 4. Wind noisily moving through mountain forests at night. It sounded like a downpour, but no, it was wind. What a way to wake up.

 5. The little girl adjusting well to her toddler bed. This is a great thing, despite the increase of night wakings and increased mobility. My baby girl in her own bed! Wheee!

 6. New plans and ambitions stretching me. We've got preschool lined up, and so now we embark on job searches and career moves, and going back to grad school, and all those supporting pieces of wordage and connections one must compile. It's crazy-busy but exciting.

 7. Paying no attention to those voices of doubt. It's not that they are NOT bugging me, but I'm getting better at pushing past them on the way to what I want to do. It helps to have references responding enthusiastically.

 8. Getting appreciation for my ukulele playing. I am not much good at playing, but I keep at it. See: Practicing practicing

9. Calling a dance weekend and getting to work with awesome-fun bands and dancers.

 10. Edy's Thin Mint ice cream. Thankfully this is a limited edition, or I'd eat this all the damn time!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Little Cheerfulness

Moving gracefully through our day. Oh, how I have thrashed through that ideal, choking and muttering.

I've never been a happy waker most days. I wake up and I dread whatever lies ahead, and I tend to grouse about it. Well, at least back in my student days. Now I've spent a decade or more internalizing the "be happy and aware" ideal from my forays into Buddhism. I'm still a venerate complainer, but I've found myself willfully shifting my attitude. Why? Simply: my daughter. I do not want my daughter get caught in starting the day with a bad attitude.

I still have a tendency to wail and stomp around when I'm feeling stressed, but that is no excuse to pass it on! So I make a conscious effort to set a positive tone in the morning. For all of us.

I often wake the little girl singing "Good Morning to You" and asking after her night. Did she have a good sleep? Did she have interesting dreams? Is she excited about her day? I smile at her and look at her and listen to her stories of elaborate dreams or fretful worries. If she needs a hug, I pick her up and cuddle her. If she doesn't need a hug, I still pick her up and cuddle her and tell her I love her.

A good attitude is contagious, I'm convinced, especially if one learns it's a good way to start the day. One of many things I've forced myself to learn for the sake of my child. Ha, I must be growing up. Finally.

Things go wrong, of course they do. Things go off course, or maybe the thing I've been assiduously avoiding is now sitting on my shoulder demanding I deal with it. Gah. I don't deal well with stress. I don't act well with stress, I admit it. But I've learned to act around it. I've learned that preemptive graciousness and empathy smooths the day ahead of me.

If I treat myself and those around me with graciousness and empathy, it's much less often that I get to the point of feeling like screaming with frustration. Not that I am perfect at this, no, no, ahaha, no. But a little cheerfulness, it turns out, does set the tone for the day. I'm not talking about faking it, really, just tapping into the generousness that is there for the noticing.

As Thich Nhat Hanh might say, Smile! It's a wonderful morning!
As Dr Laura Markham at Aha Parenting might say, have empathy for yourself and others. Fill your cup.
As the interactive farm toy says on start up, Rise and Shine! It's a Sunny Day!

I've got more to give my daughter when I start our day with cheerfulness and empathy. I give it myself, first. I buckle myself in and then gather her up with a smile. If I can learn to do that, so can my daughter. And if I can do that for my daughter, I can do it for myself, too. Whoa, parenting moment.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Super Mom Power: Micro Efficiency

This week, while moving lunch along, I suddenly noticed I was doing that Super Mom thing. Wait, that thing right there. What is that thing you are doing? I wondered to myself.

I never thought of myself being the hyper-efficient parent cooking this and cleaning that and readying that for her family, and giving that other thing a tweak in passing. What, me? Preparing daily lunches? How quaint and optimistic!

But it turns out that's what I do every day. Making breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day. Keeping things running smoothly and taken care of.

My life revolves around routines that keep everything moving and somewhat on schedule.

Schedule? snort! How confining, you might say. Ah, well, if you expect to get everything or even most of what you'd like to do in a day, yes, a schedule can help make that happen.

For instance, I decide we will pop by the library and then go to the children's museum the next day. But that means I need to get the little girl up early enough. I have a window of time between morning preparations and the need for lunch and nap, and I can't waste any of it.

It takes a minimum of an hour and a half - more likely two or more - to get her up, dressed, and fed and channeled before we can leave. Then it will take us about ten minutes to get to the library, and another thirty or forty minutes to find books and check out. Hurrying her along is not really an option, but channeling her is an art. This week, I managed to get our visit from arrival to checkout out to a mere twenty minutes! And she still found time to come lie on my feet several times. Libraries can be so wearisome despite the thrill of new books.

By the time we got to the museum, she'd been awake about nearly four hours and was starting to yawn. Oh, dear. I knew I she could use lunch and a nap by that point, but I pressed onward since I'd already promised the museum, and instead plied her with snacks and water on our way.

We finally got to the museum and spent about an hour running around exploring exhibits and playing, less than she'd like but almost past her endurance at that point. Then back home rather late. Ugh.

And maybe she ends up being too tired to eat much for lunch, and then I had to corral her toward snuggling and reading before her nap because if she's going to sleep, it had to be by three, or our evening is so screwed, aaaaaaaaahhhh!

Aaaand pause.

There was a period of time earlier in her life in which I was lucky to get out the door at all because of the mountain of logistics it took. Now I fit small tasks in between other small tasks. That is the real Mommy super power.

For instance, when I wake up in the morning, I dash through my own grooming and online check-in before I'll get the little girl up. I nudge her along to get up and out. I snuggle her and make sure she'll stay upright. I direct her to start taking off her pjs, which can take upwards of ten minutes if she's more excited about a toy or book. I help her choose her trousers for the day. I set them out in front of her, and say, "okay! put on your pants!" and then I leave the room and go to the kitchen to lay out breakfast ingredients. I check back in with her. She may or may not have progressed to "pants on" status. I redirect and/or start the process with the shirt, then I go open the curtains and neaten anything left out in the kitchen. I help put on socks and shoes. I help her pick out her headband and hair clips for the day, and go to fluff my own hair with conditioning oil, and then brush her hair with any remaining conditioner, which saves me yet another handwashing.

I've already put out yogurt, applesauce, any nuts, and juice and milk. I cook up whatever eggs/oatmeal/toast I have planned, and corral/nudge the little girl to climb up into her chair so I can affix big girl bib, set down remaining forks, etc. Aaaaand we eat.

Later, while she's finishing breakfast, or between refreshing juice/milk/toast/clean spoons, I read the paper, put away clean dishes and/or reload the dishwasher, restock her travel bag with fresh water and snacks for later, put out any mail, get out any coats or gear, write out a grocery list for the day, and check for any activities I need to remember. If she's really slow, I'll change the kitty litter while I wait.

It's making use of those increments between tasks that helps keep me going. And all while gently nudging her so we can move gracefully through our day rather than resorting to glaring and screaming. As I said, hurrying is not really an option. We are moving at top speed in slow motion.

I do the same thing through lunch and "quiet time" routine, hoping to get her to gear down before I lose energy and patience. Then when the afternoon energy crash descends, I gratefully watch my husband take over for a while.

The evening malaise is the biggest gap in my day. I've already started dinner prep during lunch, so I can unfocus for a while before jumping back in, but man, do I need a break. I can barely hold a focused conversation.

Then it's back into the game and the rush toward dinner, bedtime routine and evening prep. Dinner together as a family is an especially appreciated bright spot. Then while my very dear husband is taking on post-dinner, bath and bedtime routine, I'm starting a load of laundry and feeding the cats and taking out garbage and cleaning up after dinner and separating the cats and supervising teeth brushing and finding clean socks for the next day and sweeping a little and bringing up a new air filter and and and breathing between jobs.

I know Flylady encourages us with "doing something for only 15 minutes" at a time, but my Mom Days are spent doing two or three minute tasks between the bigger ten or fifteen minute tasks. It works. At least most of the day. And somehow I've turned into That Mom. Efficiency for the sake of sanity. I'm totally cool with that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I can tell when my husband is feeling energetic because he starts clearing everything in his path.

He clears his desk of extraneous paper. He hangs up clothes. He especially starts washing things in the kitchen. One load of dishes and random utensils. Another load of leftover pans. Another wash of plastic containers and cooling racks left over from holiday baking.

Magically, the neglected counter space is now clear and breathing freely after days and weeks of being gunked up with leftover detritus.

When I say breathing freely, that's what it feels like. It's a breath of fresh air, so to speak. When your glance falls upon it, all you can see is exactly what needs to be there, no extra items to snag your eye. No pile to make the eyes glaze over with confusion.

Even better, any new clutter clearly does not belong. It was finally easy to toss the old birthday candles, the random new cookie tin, and the gifted spicy candles. (Why do candles pile up so? Maybe because they might be useful. Some day. Even if you kinda hate pine/cranberry/pumpkin spice-scented candles.)

Also, he's been baking bread again - every three or four or five days - since we got the fabu dough mixer. Having fresh bread daily is very nice, but the way we set up the space makes it all easy. We rearranged the space to allow the mixer and bread flour to have a permanent place on that one section of counter, so it doesn't get cluttered up so much any more. A wooden cutting board lives there too, with the bread knife and the bread itself. So no more tolerance for random jars or lids or stuff that we aren't sure whether we should wash or throw away. They get swept up every other day.

Now I'm no slouch. I keep dinner and dishes moving along every day. But when someone takes it upon themselves to clear the things you've been putting off, it is a delightful surprise.

This morning I went into the kitchen to find yet another counter top clear. And the sink was all shiny. Clear space! Ah, beautiful clear space. The kitchen cleaner has struck again, bless him. I wonder if I can get him to do floors.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Clearing Space 365 Days

I've signed on to the 365 Days project on Flickr. That means I've been taking (and posting) a self portrait every day. I started on January 1st, and I haven't missed a day so far.

Each day, I take anywhere from three to thirty or more self portraits. (I don't take hundreds because I do not have that kind of time!) I then pare down the selection to one or two "best" images to post on Flickr. This leaves me with hundreds of "out takes" every week. And how many thousands of images can fit onto my camera chip? Lots? Oh, dear.

It's a challenge to keep up with the daily selfie, yeah, but it's even more challenging to deal with the flow of spare images. It's relentless. I delete, delete, delete as I go, or at least a couple times a week.

It turns out this project is as much about daily space clearing as it is about creating a daily self portrait. I shoot, I edit, I pick the shot of the day and upload to Flickr, and it's Buh-Bye to the rest of the remaining shots. I like that once I make my choice, I have no obligation to hang onto extras.

Does that image ever need to see the light of day? No? Delete! Is it the lesser of the group? Yes? Delete! Does it duplicate fifteen, I mean fifty other images that are equally imperfect? Yes? Delete!

Just as in the rest of my life, there's no need to hang on to extraneous files, wishing that they were different/better or thinking that if only I had enough hours in the day to spend with Photoshop, I could massage it into something interesting or useful...some day. Noooo! DELETE!

On a related note, my mother (in the throes of her own decluttering) just offered me some of my dad's mustache hair from when he first started growing it when I was a baby. No, I don't think so. But it's red, she said. It would be interesting to look back on it and compare colors. Don't you think the little girl would want to see it when she gets older? Not really. I can't be a museum for what was or might have been. Delete!

As in photography so as in the rest of my life. Pick what you really want to include in your life, and get rid of the rest. Delete, delete, delete!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year - Living the Life That's in Front Of Me

Hello, New Year! How is it going so far? I've been engrossed in everyday life and haven't been posting - sorry! And I got stuck in my other G00gle account and boy was that a pain. Excuses, excuses!

Just before New Year's I found last year's "Life List" of things I wanted to do with my life. To my surprise, some of the things had been started or completed.
I've been mentoring someone in a small way. I got a really nice haircut and learned how to style my hair. I've been corresponding more by Skype. I've been lifting weights and building core strength. I've pruned trees, notably the fig trees, much to their delight. And I've been cooking good food all year, thanks to the renovated kitchen space.

Without even remembering it, I've been working on new things all year.
Other things I started doing last year:
Exercise regularly, revived my decluttering, sold bunches of baby gear, and started teaching Sunday School again. We took a family trip to Florida to visit my cousin, which was a whole host of firsts in one. (They took us on a "hasher" run and my cousin took me purse shopping, which reintroduced me to the joys thereof. The little girl dabbled in the ocean.) We went camping with the little girl on several different occasions, and I started wearing accessories more effectively. I wrote another crazy dance. I called more squares. I wrote candid emails to my sister. I cleared a corner of the office for the little girl to have her own work space with table and shelving. I've been hacking away at my stories. I pared down my online reading.

All good things.

So, no, I have not walked across England or learned how to make creme brulée (sorry - I can never remember how to spell it) or relearned all my languages or written that book (well at least not THAT book), but it was a good year. I'm not even mentioning all the cool stuff that went on with my daughter and my family.

And the best thing is that I've been "Living the Life That's In Front Of Me." That's my code phrase for paring down distractions and really doing what I want to be doing. It's taken me away from the Internet a fair amount, but really, that's okay! I'm doing more, and that is huge.

When I went to brainstorm a "Life List" for this year, I found myself writing down similar things. Of course, the creme brulée and all that popped up again. But I found myself writing things like:

Edit... Learn... Read and contemplate... Write... Build... Write... Paint... Declutter... Make...Write...Create... Nurture...

Essentially, I want to clear more space in my life so I can create more.

I want to clear the desk and write and illustrate. I want to play. I want to eat less overall, spend less overall, and distract myself less overall.

Since the beginning of the New Year, I've found myself, without forethought, taking up projects anew.

I decided to undertake the 365days project on Flickr, a daily self portrait. Holy cow, where did that come from?! I decided to take out my ukulele for the first time in nearly two years and play with chords and harmonies. Music! I'm dreaming of space to set up my paper and pencils and paints. The siren song of Illustration is calling me. I'm writing. Hack, hack, hack. I attended a step aerobics class. haha! I started taking more naps. Mmm, naps.

Some of that is conscious and some of that is not. I'm thinking that if I plant seeds of intent and then live the life that's in front of me, wondrous things will happen.

What wondrous things are you contemplating this year?