Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Transformations

I can't help but notice something lately. Not only is our country (and the world for that matter) going through a major upheaval, but it also seems like almost everyone that I talk to these last few months is going through this, too, but on a personal level. I'm hearing major stuff like divorce, marriages on the brink, unexpected deaths, job loss (including my own), ending of unhealthy friendships, emotional meltdowns, huge life changes, and general distress. Of course, that's all normal life stuff that happens all the time. What strikes me as unusual is not only the increased incidences of these things, but the fact that so people are taking a look at their lives and doing a personal inventory of the good and the not so good...and talking about it.

I choose to see it as people going through life transformations rather than a crisis. And it makes total sense. People are scared, uncertain, uneasy, angry, sad, desperate, etc., so no wonder we would search inward for a way to feel better about our lives. The digging deep, the asking for help and support, questioning our values and choices, and the admitting we might not know all the answers are all things that take a lot of courage. This can feel terrifying, but strangely liberating and empowering. When I was told my job position would soon be changing from part-time at home to full-time in the office only, I was given a choice, and without hesitation I chose to let go of my job. But, you know something - my decision left me feeling liberated and peaceful. Ya, I'm a little worried and apprehensive and have experienced a few twinges of "Am I crazy?", but I quickly talk myself out of it and go back to that calm place of optimism and no regrets.

While I was growing up, my single sole provider hard working mom didn't have the opportunity for a choice - she had to work because no one else was around to pay the rent or buy groceries for us. Spend a few months rediscovering herself and contemplating the unlimited possibilities for her future? Sadly, she could not afford that kind of luxury. While my unemployment won't be without sacrifice, being available for my young children is what I chose and luckily I have the full support of my husband. And, my always supportive mom, although admitting her slight envy, reminds me what a great opportunity I have to discover a career or life path that I love. Ya, in my mind, it’s totally worth the “sacrifice”.

I want to grant myself the gift of some personal freedom for a while. I rarely allow myself to dream, let alone dream big, for my future. I'm the realistic one - the grounded and loyal Taurus. I am the stable rock for so many – the one that people feel comfortable confiding in without judgment. I do like that about myself and it's very rewarding. However, I know I hold myself back from real success and risky possibilities. Do I not think I'm worthy of that? Am I so afraid to fail that I never take a chance? Do I have what it takes? Am I too worried about being judged for my ideas and goals? Or is that how I used to be and how I still see myself and I need to work on more realistic self-perceptions? I know I need to go through a lot of self-discovery to find answers to these questions and probably many more. It’s certain I have my own transformation coming soon (or has it already started?). I can only hope that those I support through rough times will understand when I’m not so steady and be there for me when I’m a total wreck. Hint: I do well when pushed a bit (but not too much) and don’t always listen to me when I say “no” to offers of help or fun. After all, I’m kind of stubborn don’t you know…and a work in progress.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pajama day for the soul

These last few weeks have been difficult - sort of off balance and unsettling. I rode the short wave of hope and happiness after the historic presidential events on January 20th, but I have to say it’s been a downward slide roller coaster ever since. Of course I didn’t think that a new president would miraculously fix all of the major problems, but with depressing economic news that seems to get worse and worse by the day with “the worst yet to come”, compounded by bitter-sweet news of the end of my great part-time job, to many friends dealing with personal emotional difficulties, and much more. I feel like a football player getting tackled over and over again before I gain any real footing.

While I'm grateful for the many blessings of my life, it takes a lot of will power and supportive people to keep seeing the rays of sunshine through the clouds. I find comfort in thinking positive and maintaining a familiar routine of good things. Some people aim to just keep busy and social, while others might learn toward personal vices for emotional relief. Hey, what ever works for you. While all this is good, sometimes it can be just as simple as enjoying a day of leisure at home. Putting aside the “I shoulds” and doing whatever lazy thing you feel like doing (or not doing) can be more productive than anything else on the busy list.

Remember the old fashioned idea of resting for one day a week? This is exactly what we did today and it felt great. During my morning coffee, I reviewed the list of activities to do and special events around town today and asked the kids if anything sounded good to them. What I got were unenthusiastic responses and a plea to just stay in pajamas at home all day. After thinking about it (and fighting my “shoulds”) I agreed to their plan and am happy that I did. We made forts, lego airplanes, and chocolate milk. We did easy homework, a few minutes each of fun computer time, and made chocolate chip cookies. We watched the most recent Charlotte’s Web for the first time and us sappy girls cried at the happy/sad ending (cheers! to a good cry). It sounds like a busy day, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. It feels peaceful and grounding and precious. After all, the zoo will be there next weekend and the museums can wait for another day. Times are somber, the week is long and exhausting, and if we don’t allow ourselves to recharge and just “be” once in a while it all might take a toll and I want to avoid that happening. And, what’s better than a day of easy relaxation that allows us to set our worries free for a while? I’m thinking this weekly day of rest needs to be added to my comforting routine of good things. Aaaaah…

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The routine of me

I'll admit it. I like a routine. My kids do, too. They love to know what to expect and what's expected of them. For instance, most days they wake up before the sun at 6am (I mean every day without an alarm), pick two recorded shows to watch based on the date (even or odd day determines who picks first), breakfast, get dressed, make bed, brush teeth, play, and leave for school. Same sort of thing for nighttime. Fridays are pancake day. Sunday we change sheets. Monday is gym class. Etc. Etc. Routine is comforting and productive and big part of our lives and a good thing.

I've watched countless Supernanny shows where the family is a total chaotic mess with almost no schedule, rules, or discipline. And, what is one of the first things she does? She sets up a routine, like when to wake up, eat breakfast, play time, homework, etc. If you do this unacceptable thing, then this consequence happens. At night, she insists on a bedtime routine like bath, reading, tuck in to bed - that sort of stuff. It always helps the family turn things around. I could go on and on why I believe that structure leads to more secure and confident kids, but that's not what's on my mind.

The thing is, how come I can be so good about that stuff with my kids, but I tend to neglect that in my life? And, I'm not talking about necessary and mundane things doing laundry on Saturdays or paying bills on certain dates. I'm referring to scheduling the good things - food for the soul stuff - ME stuff. I used to be so good at that but recently it's completely lacking, and frankly, I'm feeling rather neglected. I need to make a change. And, it starts with me.

Having a daily life that revolves around dropping kids off at school, doing this and that chore at home, working on the computer, and picking them up from school is hardly a stimulating fulfilling kind of day. It's down right boring. And, bit by bit, it can really get to me and so many others I know. Is it a mommy trap that we all fall into? It's been four months since I went to the chiropractor, which always makes me feel a million times better, so why in the world do I wait so long to go? Am I waiting for my back to go out and be in total misery? My weekly breakfast with two of my closest friends? Um, I think once this year? I won't even go into how often I get myself over to the gym lately. Yoga, one of my most favorite things? Humm, almost a year. I'm so ashamed of myself. No wonder I feel so blue and insecure and unmotivated and blah lately. I'm not even talking about the constant winter sickness in the family, dire economy news, job in limbo, or the what-am-I-going-to-do-for-money worries - many people I talk to are feeling the same way. But, all that yucky stuff I can't control. My own happiness? That's in my own hands.

So, what's the solution? Spend two weeks alone at a mediation relaxation spa resort in Sedona reading spiritual books, journaling, eating organic meals, long nature hikes, and tai chi? Well, aaah, maybe some day (it's on my list of places to go). Sadly, right now it's just not realistic. But, making a point to do little things like sticking with certain gym days, planning ahead for dinners with the girlfriends, having friends over to the house even if it's messy and not gourmet, are all things I can do right now. I certainly owe it to myself and now is the time to get crackin' as even the simple hope of that puts a welcome smile on my face.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thrifty pastime

Thrift shopping is a long time pleasure and escape for me, going way back to shopping for Halloween costumes when I was very young to my early teens when I had my own babysitting money to spend. I remember a camping trip to Carpinteria with my grandparents when I was in junior high school. Me and my camping companion and close friend Sandy ventured into the little town and browsed through a thrift shop full of vintage stuff. I bought a classic black clutch with a gold rhinestone clasp that I still use every time I go somewhere formal, and we are talking some 25 years later. It fondly reminds me of the beginning of my appreciation for finding such treasures. When I moved away from the beach to my current home, I not only mourned the loss of leaving such a beautiful city but also my favorite local thrift and consignment shops. Not sure I've ever quite recovered.

Now, I'm not fanatical about it or anything, especially since I'm not a big fan of clutter in my home. I just occasionally get this itch, kind of like a sushi craving, where I have to go or it bugs me until I do. These days I mostly shop for children's clothes and my own clothes. Also, when I go somewhere on vacation, I usually stop at a local shop and search for a Santa or hidden treasure. It’s not only a great way to talk to local people but also find a unique memento – beats cheesy hats or t-shirts any time.

When I thrift shop for clothes I follow a few personal rules. I only buy nice brands or labels I don’t recognize – never any brands from a big store that also sells toilet paper because I might as well buy it new. I keep away from yellow, orange, and stripes – they look horrible on me no matter what the bargain price. I stick with my mission as much as possible – if I’m there for kid pants I always look for those first…anything else I find is bonus. If I’m buying something for myself, I must really like it – a closet full of $3 shirts that I never wear and I might as well shop retail and buy one expensive high quality shirt that I wear every week. Just because it’s in a thrift store, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal – avoid the temptation and impulse and think with my head.

So, when I proudly look over my pile of ten tops for $36 that I bought yesterday (just look at that pretty green top pictured above!), I feel like I’ve satisfied my thrift shopping urge for a while, and livened up my bland wardrobe. I just love the feeling of a satisfying experience. When I stopped by my favorite Goodwill store a few weeks ago, they just happened to have a sale where all children's clothes were $1 each. I bought twenty-two items for $22 and felt the euphoria for hours later. I also smile thinking about the interesting cross-section of people I saw that day, from the loud and a little-too-talkative volunteer who was there fulfilling her probation hours (I didn’t dare ask why), to the friendliest and most cheerful store manager you ever met.

I realize that for many, thrift shopping is a necessity in order to afford clothing and household items for their family. Thank goodness there are so many charitable people who donate their items and time. But, for me it’s a sort of pastime that I would continue even if I struck it rich. Maybe it’s the solitude of browsing for a few hours by myself or maybe the thrill of finding a good deal or the adventure of discovering neat treasures. Perhaps it’s just simply something I enjoy to do for all those reasons. It might not be the most exciting thing to do with my time compared to rock climbing or salsa dancing, but it’s been a part of my life longer than any of my friends, it’s relatively inexpensive, and only slightly risky (cute in the store doesn’t always look so flattering at home). It’s a part of who I am and I certainly appreciate that more and more latelyand that’s a good deal indeed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My skate date

I recently decided it was time for my kids to learn how to roller skate after a friend of mine told me about inexpensive lessons at a local rink. It was like a ding ding ding in my head that this was a great thing to do right now. I absolutely LOVED roller skating as a kid and, geez, why wouldn’t I want my kids to experience that same kind of thrill?! Well, four beginner lessons later and they made absolutely no progress. In fact, they said “it was boring” and were obviously not having much fun. My first thought was that maybe it’s just not their thing and fought against feeling disappointed about that, but wait a darn minute! That’s not exactly teaching them a good lesson, now is it?! I’m not a high pressure perfectionist mom that expects my kids to excel at everything, in fact I'm pretty laid back, but there has to be a better way to go about this besides an hour lesson once a week. Like their parents, my kids are just not the athletic types which means they might need a little more effort and patience than others. So, I came up with Plan B – practice more and try inline skates instead of the traditional four wheels. Lucky for us, Grandma was more than eager and generous to help out and equipped them with their own fancy inline skates and a new lease on skating.

After we converted the playroom to our very own roller rink, they tested out their new skates and lo and behold…they had a blast! Wow did they do so much better. Ding ding ding…mommy was right! Score one for me. They are now more than prepared for the skate day fundraiser for my mothers of multiples club on Sunday and I feel so proud. So, Sunday we wake up and Talia crawls into bed with…a raging fever. Of all days! She was just sick two weeks ago! This can’t be happening. But, Quinn is so looking forward to the skate day that he insists on going solo. So, while Talia watches tv on the couch with her dad, me and Quinn pack up our skates and drive to the rink. I have visions of skate dancing to great music and the disco ball and having a fantastic time. We stroll in and these two unfamiliar moms are setting up for a birthday party and they stop to stare at me like what is this weird lady doing here. So I mumbled something and quickly walked,uh um, ran back to the car as I held hands with a very sad little boy with that look on his face that I would do anything to make go away. A quick call to my husband confirmed that I had the wrong day. Boy did I feel like a lame mom for doing that to him.

Instead of feeling defeated, I felt determined to see this through and drove to a local park with a nice bike trail that would be perfect for skating practice. What we found was a deserted park with two large and very smooth basketball courts beckoning to us. Perfect! I wasn’t going to let the freezing cold or impending rain stop us. And, what followed was watching my son smile wide as he became more and more confident skating faster and faster and laughing and looking at me skating with him with such happy eyes and it just doesn’t get much better than that. He learned the joy of skating on his own terms – just like his mommy likes to do. Being a part of that special moment brings me such incredible joy. And, to top it all off, I think I learned more than him – it’s okay to try different things and just because it might not exactly turn out the way I envision, don’t give up but be flexible and open my creative mind to the alternatives and just go for it. Oh man, the possibilities are exciting and scary and totally necessary right now. It's funny how a day like that could start off so seemingly wrong but actually turn out to be the most perfect timing after all.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Loving the vintage and the new

Me and the girlfriends were way overdue for a girls night out, which usually consists of going to dinner for a few hours and venting, laughing, sharing, and reminding each other that we are so lucky to have each other...and why we need to do that more often. When Emiko suggested a vintage lingerie show that some friends of hers were modeling in, I was excited to say 'yes' to something different and potentially a ton of fun. Heck, we can do dinner any time, but doing something new is right in line with the new direction of my life lately.

After a quick but perfectly lovely dinner (crepes Florentine and a glass of wine - yumm!), we settled into our seats in the back room of this neat romantic store. The room was filled with antiques and vintage lingerie and accessories, assorted couches and chairs, with pretty lamps and a warm atmosphere. A few minutes later, the shop owner and host for the evening came out and stood on the square pedestal spotlighted in the middle of the room and promised a special show. What followed were eight women of all shapes and ages (from their twenties to mid-sixties), coming out one at a time to some great music and dancing short vignettes. Some were funny and playful, while others were more sensual and burlesque. The vintage lingerie was so pretty and feminine and the women looked like they were really enjoying themselves. And the best part, they aren't professional models, but simply friends of the store owner.

What struck me most of all was how amazing it was to watch these women with huge admiration and respect (and a little envy). There is something so beautiful to see them glide right out in full revealing view of total strangers and celebrate their bodies in their entire feminine splendor. The ironic thing is that while I’m watching them, I’m not judging their imperfections but rather feel in awe at their confidence. But, at the same time, I’m thinking that I’d never be able to do that not only because I would be too self conscious, my boobs would be too small, my giggly butt would be too giggly, no rhythm, etc. The funny thing is that during the show I saw small boobs, medium boobs, full thighs, tiny butts, young skin, older skin, but these women were all beautiful to me no matter what they looked like. And, the confident ones were the most stunning of all, regardless of what shape they were.

Why do I judge myself no negatively like that and put such a high standard on how I see my body? What does it matter if I put on silky lingerie and dance in front of strangers and one woman in the corner thinks my arms are too big? Really, who cares? Most likely they would think the same thing that I did about the models at the show. Yet, I allow myself to use my small boobs and dorky glasses as an excuse to hold myself back from having the confidence to do things like that.

After the show, I asked some of the glowing models how it felt to do the show, and they all said it was pretty nerve-wracking but they loved doing it. I doubt they will go home and think to themselves that it was horrible and they would never do it again. Rather, they will probably feel proud and sexy and more willing to do other “scary” things in the future.

Maybe inhibitions lower with age, or childbirth, or a result of doing more scary things that makes you step out of the safe comfort zone. Or perhaps it’s a combination of things. Or maybe some people just have “it” and don’t think twice about that sort of stuff. There is no easy answer for that question. So, in the meantime, I think I’ll work on choosing to see myself in a better light, because after all, it is a choice. Life is so much about self-perception, and I'm realizing more and more that how I chose to see myself is how others will see me. I think it's time to step out of the shadows and start living more in the spotlight.


"Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries.
If I don't I just know I'll turn back.
I must dream of the things I am seeking.
I am seeking the courage I lack.
The courage to serve them with reliance.
Face my mistakes without defiance.
Show them I'm worthy.
And while I show them I'll show me.
So, let them bring on all their problems.
I'll do better than my best.
I have confidence they'll put me to the test.
But I'll make them see I have confidence in me."

- Maria from The Sound of Music

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From garden to mouth

I like to garden. Well, mostly. I'm not fanatical or anything, but I certainly take great pleasure in my backyard, filled with interesting plants full of color and character that I personally chose. Pent up aggression and angst? Try trimming up an overgrown plant with those big garden clippers - mental therapy and upper body work out all at once! Feeling defeated? Take that you annoying weeds!Sometimes, on a beautiful sunny day like today, I simply lounge outside and soak in some rays while watching and listening to birds, squirrels, and bees that make my lovely backyard their home. Total bliss.

Occasionally I'll get inspired and drive to my local nursery and buy some new plants, stick them in the ground, and see what happens. I so wish that I was one of those gardeners that knows when to feed, what percentages of this and that to use, when and where to cut, etc., but...alas... this is not me. Bat guano...is that what I think it is? Umm, not sure I want to touch that. My mom says I have a green thumb, but I think it's mostly sheer luck and she doesn't see the ones that end up brown and in the compost bin. It's pretty much a gamble to see what takes off and thrives or what gets added to the list of Don't Buy This Plant Again. Banana tree - not so much. Red trumpet flower plant that the hummingbirds love - ding ding ding!

I reserve one garden planter for only vegetables and fruit. Again, I plant what's in season and hope for the best - maybe adding a bit of general plant food on occasion but never any chemicals (I prefer the yellow flowers to attract the bees instead). Most types of lettuce do well, strawberries thrive, some squash, tomatoes, and unexpectedly...broccoli. Last year the broccoli produced two bites of edible food, so after the plants flowered I cut them way back and left them alone. When I walked past the planter today, I stopped in my tracks. What?! Look at all of that broccoli!! I grabbed my small garden shears and cut what was ready to eat and marveled at my find...a perfect addition to tonight's veggie noodle bowl dinner. What a pleasure.

There is just something so wonderful about growing your own food in the busy city. In the summer we picked mandarins and ate them on the spot - like candy I tell you. Strawberries taste amazing full of warm sun. It's just so grounding, you know? So basic in nature. To cut fresh broccoli, steam it up, and serve it to your willing eaters is just so special to me. I hope that my kids can appreciate that to some extent, but if they don't, oh well. Sometimes it's just enough that it makes me giddy and proud of all my "hard" work.

*from garden to mouth in thirty minutes!

Tag! You're sick!

According to my son, he's been "sick since December which makes that 3,000 days!". Well, not exactly, but it sure feels like it. I remember thinking on Christmas day (through my snotty coughing cold exhausted fog) that it seemed like there was always someone sick in our household throughout the whole month of December. And, now we are in early February and the perpetual sick crud is still making the rounds here. I can't even go back in my mind and figure out who was sick when because it just all blends together. I do remember being sick yet again mid-January, then my kids had a snotty coughing thing (soooo much fun at night), then my man got sick right before his week-long training in Sacramento last week, then while he was gone Talia got the fever and barfing thing, and today Quinn woke up with a fever and general misery.

At least I know I'm not alone. It's a common consensus among the parenting crowd that once you have kids, especially kids in school, the being constantly sick thing is just how it goes, a rite of passage if you will. I think back to the days before kids when I got sick maybe once a year at the most. I used to think "geez, when was the last time I was sick? I just can't remember??" … ha ha hardy ha. I actually took "mental health days" to use up my sick time when I was burnt out or just needed to veg on the couch for a day. Now it's just the opposite – I totally appreciate when we are all healthy without a sniffle or a cough because it feels so rare.

Of course, I do feel blessed and grateful that my children are relatively healthy compared to some. A friend of ours has two kids with sickle-cell disease which means they often get critically sick (intensely painful), spend a lot of time in the hospital, and have a shorter life expectancy in their 40's. I can't even imagine how horrible that would be as a parent to see you child suffer like that. I feel helpless when my child is up coughing during most the night and all I can offer is water and a propped up pillow. Our friends can only dream about having a cold or flu as their worst sick day. We are incredibly lucky indeed.

So, as I type, I’m cooped up at home caring for my feeling very yucky son. And, because I’m an eternal optimist, I’m thinking about the good (grown up) things that go along with being sick like soup (chicken noodle or hot and sour), catching up on recorded shows, Lifetime movies (the cheesier and more dramatic the better), being forced to take care of only myself for a change, long guilt free showers (my bathtub is tiny or I would take baths), having friends/family offer to help (makes me feel loved), and the fabulous moment later when I realize that I’m finally not sick anymore, at least…for now…


**picture above is Quinn enjoying one of my favorite soups (Streit's Chicken Flavored Noodle Soup) that I made for Talia last week when it was her turn to be sick