Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perfectly imperfect

This is my menorah on the last night of Hanukkah a few weeks ago. See all those pretty multi-colored candles imported from Israel? Funny thing, though, we were one menorah candle short. We didn't break any - the box simply didn't get enough. I could drive all the way to the store and demand a new box, but it's late and frankly, not worth it. I rifle through my "miscellaneous" drawer and pull out a pink swirly leftover birthday candle. Hummm...it's nowhere near thick enough, but a little modeling clay does the trick. We all giggle at the sight at the odd candle, but it makes little difference when it comes to the meaning of the special evening. Crisis averted with a smile...and some invention.

My mom told me a long time ago that the Amish traditionally sew a "humble square" in every quilt - a square that serves as a reminder that only God is perfect. I see it as letting the quilter off the hook from the beginning, like hey, do your best and enjoy the process and it will be unique but never perfect so don't stress about it. The humble square is kind of like my odd swirly candle on the menorah. When I look at it that way, it's rather endearing...and humbling.



I often think about that idea when I'm undertaking a project or activity, like planning a party or even something simple like making cookies. There are no guarantees that my party guests will all have a great time or that my cookies will be good enough to serve at the White House. But, hey, who cares?!? I am not above liking nice things or having high standards, but I do know that too high of standards or expecting perfection stops me from doing things. Like it's all or nothing, and I don't want to go there. And you betcha I pass on that wisdom on to my kids, especially when they want to give up when things don't go their way. I would love to stomp my feel, throw things, and cry out of frustration when things don't turn out right, but that doesn't really fly for us grownups and I'd rather them learn a different way, too. Persistence, creativity, and laughter can go a long way.

In a few days, I'm hosting a small and casual baby shower for a girlfriend of mine (she's having baby #2). The mom-of-two-to-be is an event planner. A very talented and creative event planner extraordinaire. I've seen her work and it's good. Really good. Her Christmas tree - totally stunning. She has amazing taste and tons of passion. And I'm throwing her a shower - an "Indian themed" shower by her request. When she described it she imagined doorways draped in jewel toned imported fabric, elaborate decorations, catered food, and live dancers. Well, maybe not that fancy but I bet she was thinking something like that in her creative mind. In fact, she's actually very appreciative and I'm sure she would love anything I plan.

The thing is, I realized early on that I will never come close to her event planning skills and creativity, so why even attempt to go there? See, it's the humble square mentality at play. I'm not saying I
'm going to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chips and punch and call it a day. But, it does feel good to just do it my way and be okay with that. I can create an Indian music station on pandora.com to play during the shower, I can enlist some friends to cook homemade Indian food, light some incense, get some yummy sweets from the local Indian market, and I can invite some amazing ladies to help me and surround my expectant friend with love and a sense of womanly community. I can't think of anything better than that.

In recent years I've become much better at practicing this humbling non-perfect mentality. It's just so liberating and a much less stressful way to live. I actually enjoy the challenge of making lemonade from lemons, but if I forget and the piles lemons from my tree dry out or turn brown, then in the compost bin they go. Oh well. No sense crying over spilt milk...
(me and my mom made this quilt when I was little)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday hiking zen

It's Christmas Eve (finally!!). For a few days now, we've mostly stayed indoors - not because of some massive snow storm or awful illness , but, well, it's been very very very windy...very cold wind. It is not fun to be outside in that, and every indoor place like the mall or bowling alley are packed with other people escaping the wind. Plus, the wind stirred up all of pollens and dust and my allergies are in overdrive. Can you say totally miserable and tired? YES, okay, I'll admit it, I'm a weather wimp. I am a sunny weather kind of gal to the core.

Luckily, today the wind is now a slight breeze thank goodness, and my once angelic happy kids are now fighting over stupid annoying stuff and "stop looking at me!!!" and on the verge of something ugly. Time to get outside. Thankfully, I don't get much resistance and we make it out the door without any tears.

Destination? A new trail that I've always wanted to explore just a mile or so from our favorite local hiking spot. Yep, that's me, wild and crazy hiking mom taking chances. Turns out, this spot is a gem and I love it right away. Despite a horrible fire in the area in 2008, it seems to be recovering well - plenty of green and healthy shady trees. There is lots of running water in the streams, plus neat old rusty cars that obviously drove off the cliff ages ago (kids love that kind of stuff). Oh, and a fantastic tree rope hanging over the perfect spot for swinging. My kids want to take turns swinging over and over and over again with huge smiles and "THAT WAS SOOO FUN!!" screams of joy (I had to literally take a leap of faith and let go of fearing they would get hurt...it was worth it). And best of all, we were all smiling again.
I knew we all desperately needed to get out in nature for a while - to get centered and to feel free. Ah, and the warm sun...like medicine for the busy pre-holiday pent up soul, I tell you. So what if I'm a weather wimp and I consider this hiking spot in the city my escape. My outdoorsy friend in New Hampshire lives with months and months of snow with very little sun but unlimited nature. Yea for her! All power to her. That's what centers her and where she feels most at home after years in LA. But, until I pack it up and move to a small little town surrounded by nature (someday?), I just have to find it where I can. People in Manhattan take refuge in Central Park, surrounded by skyscrapers, so I consider my beautiful backyard or local hiking trail my place to center and unwind.

I'm feeling good, totally ready for the glorious festivit
ies of the season - indulgent food and spirits, family, friends, PRESENTS!!!, unlimited guilt-free sweets, and cheesy Christmas movies. I might not be thinking the same thing in the next few days when the kids are creating huge messes around the house with scattered new toys and wild imagination. But, instead of another hike, I'm feeling more like a mani-pedi or massage for a different kind of centering. A busy hiking mom needs to remember to be a woman sometimes, too...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Move over

My mom keeps reminding me that a woman in her forties cares less about what other people think and usually gets more assertive and confident. As a woman on the verge of forty (oooh deep breath, Daria), I feel that change brewing inside of me. I get so annoyed if I don't stand up for myself when I should and too often worry about hurting someone's feelings at the expense of my own happiness.

Perfect example. I went to the movies today with my birthday boy husband. After the movie starts, an older gentleman sits down next to me. Instantly I smell the most awful smell exuding from this man. I think holy cow WTF is that? OMG it's his breath! Really really yucky, like rotten teeth medical problem horrible room-clearing halitosis of the worst kind. PLUS he's a loud nose breather and I can practically hear his nose hairs moving in and out. Eeeeewwie!!! What do I do? I lean closer to my husband and try to not think about it. But, boy, it was hard not to go there. When the movie ends (180 minutes later yikes!) and the man finally leaves, I turn to my husband and vent my pent up eeewwwiness. Not one to ever mince words, he says "OMG that's what that smell was?! I thought someone sh!t their pants. That guy had terrible sh!t breath like he ate a sh!t sandwich. WHY DIDN'T YOU MOVE SEATS?!"

My answer, well, I just don't know why. All I had to do was get up, walk around to the open seat on the other side of my husband, and sit down. Not a big deal. I should not care if the man gets embarrassed or offended. I am sad for him having this problem, but he was offending me and affecting my enjoyment of the movie. I was frozen with no balls. Darn it! Argh.

Oh, I remember another good one. I pick up my kids from school and we were just about to exit the parking lot and a fellow mom and her older daughter are walking out and then suddenly stop to talk to the driver in the car in front of me. They start engaging in a full blown "very important" conversation. I keep thinking any minute they will soon say goodbye and we can all leave...me and all of the twenty cars behind me. But these people keep talking. And they keep looking at me and smiling like it is funny. Talk about passive-aggressive. Geez. I just sit there and put up my hands in a WTF motion, and they just wave me off like ha ha silly lady whatever. Finally another car honks and she looks at me all annoyed like I did it, KEEPS TALKING, then after what feels like hours later casually and slowly starts walking away. Now why in the world did I not open my car door and say "Excuse me, but could you please carry on your conversation somewhere else?" She was being rude, but yet I was worried about coming off as rude to her or having an uncomfortable confrontation. Dumb. Argh.

Sometimes I wish I could get some of my police officer husband's ability to be calm under confrontation, protective over his safety and happiness, and blunt and polite but not rude. And, I am certainly not wishing to be forty tomorrow so I can somehow magically gain more of that ability. Yikes. Maybe for now, since my forties are years and years away (ha ha ha), I just need to practice more. I teach my kids that the only way to get better at something is to practice practice practice, give it their best, and not give up, so I'm pretty sure that will work for me, too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a perpetual wallflower doormat. Well, not usually. I'm not above being assertive, like when I recently helped orchestrate a four mom meeting with the school principal to address bullying issues in class. Waaaaay out of my comfort zone. Big change happened after that meeting, both in the classroom and in my self-confidence. Oh ya! I think I do much more every day but I just don't realize it. Instead, I kick myself on those occasions that stand out when I don't do anything because it just doesn't feel good. Okay, it sucks.

I need to be less hard on myself, but also realize that sometimes it's necessary to light an internal torch for change. Don't I wish I could rewind time like a dvr and redo the dreadful sh!t breath incident, but I'm learning. I'm practicing. I want to be a good example to my kids. I want to be a stronger woman. And, honestly, I'd rather experience those uncomfortable moments of awareness than be oblivious or ambivalent or overtly rude.

So watch out sh!t-breath-loud-nose-hair guy and rude-passive-aggressive mom - there will soon be a more assertive almost (gasp) forty-year-old woman in town, ready to politely assert herself to defend her honor and dignity. Hooray!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Roots

Today officially marks one month of being unemployed. What a month. What a week! Wow, I expected a big change, lots of introspection, self reflection, emotions, and new found freedom and happiness. Oh ya, I got it. After almost a full year of being in beyond uncomfortable limbo and wondering when my job was going to end, all with keeping up a happy understanding smile on my face listening that little voice in my head saying "you should be grateful to have a job so suck it up and feel blessed" all the while wanting to scream "THIS SUCKS!!!!", I was completely drained...and a little nutty, to say the least.

It's so conflicting when you hear about the terrible economy, people losing their houses, blowing through every last penny of their savings, and job cuts job cuts job cuts, but all the while wishing my job would be done already because the slow soul-sucking torture was doing a number on my mental state. I couldn't help it - I needed to move on with my life
.

Right now, a month in, it's all about taking off my big stack of "hats" and just focusing on me. ME. I'm only taking care of the necessities on my "must" list (paying bills, school obligations, food in the fridge) and ignoring the "should list" (organize my paid bills, plan new and exciting meals). Recently, my wonderful friend Amy, who always thinks of everyone else but herself, did just that. With a painful back injury leaving her in total agony, she didn't want to let down her staff by not
being there for them, so she worked through the excruciating pain and cried in the car on the way home. She finally said enough is enough and had her doctor take her out of work for a month so she can, GASP!!, get better and put herself first for once. She took off all of the hats - boss, employee, mom, wife, caretaker, daughter, etc., etc., etc.- and just looked after "Amy". Now, that's what I'm talking about.

But, honestly, while I'm fully aware that I'm about to go down this exciting new path, I've been feeling rather stuck. Now that I have this tremendous opportunity to sort of reinvent myself, it's almost so overwhelming that I don't know where to begin. While I can't help but think that maybe it's simply okay to just do nothing right now with no pressure and be fine with that, it's still a strange and foreign feeling.


A few days ago, I was reminded how my beloved grandmother lived. She found total joy in the littlest of things. She lived simply (a product of the Great Depression) and truly found great pleasure in the simplest of things. She often exclaimed the word "super!", hummed her favorite songs as she washed the sink full of dishes, and usually gave people a big genuine hug as a greeting when she met them for the first time. She felt uncomfortable saying a bad word about anyone, didn't like to talk about anything bad in the past, and was always on to the next thing with full enthusiasm. Me, the often over-serious one, both envied and questioned her joy, as it was hard to understand how she could get so excited about a great coupon deal, a new tv movie of the week, or a handmade scribbled card. Only now I wonder, have I been a fraud writing about "the small stuff" when I don't even come close to the way she appreciated the little things? Compared to her, am I just full of crap? Where I might smile and feel relaxed making cookies with my kids, she would squeal, sing, and laugh a happy laugh. Am I missing something? Am I being way too hard on myself?


When it comes down to it, I cannot compare myself to my grandma, but I can take a lesson from her. Where I do notice the little things, maybe I can feel it more - feel the joy - take it out my head and feel more with my heart. I'm certain it's time to take it to the next level and that's a good thing. I can't think of a better way to begin my new journey, besides winning the lottery, than to find and be open to feeling the pure joy first. It's like getting down to the basics - a good happy place - and building myself up from there.

Now that I've had this major revelation this week, I honestly feel different - like I'm healing, renewing, and preparing to move forward. Like today, with pouring rain outside, I felt no desire to go out or do anything on my "should" list. I told my husband to get up with the kids so I could read in bed for a while (I didn't ask...I told!). I read for an hour and a half. I never do that! My kids beg me to let them paint? Sure. Only this time, I paint with them. So cathartic, I tell you! They decide the painting subject would be a tree. My picture is at the top, Talia's is here (she likes to copy what I do):And yea! for Quinn expressing his unique, more abstract interpretation of a tree:Quite fitting, don't you think? Painting about a tree with the firmly planted roots being necessary in order to grow and flourish and branch out reaching higher and higher. Oh damn, there I go in my head again. Okay, bottom line, it was really really really nice painting with my kids today and they thought I was pretty darn super for joining in their fun.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Early gifts

My old rose bushes are in full bloom...in December. DECEMBER! The front of my house has twinkling Christmas lights, happy snowmen, and gorgeous roses. Love it.