Let summer begin

The last day school. The last day of Kindergarten for this not-so-little one. The summer is already full and already not what I was expecting. But here I am and there’s no place I’d rather be.

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WIPs

That’s work in progress (WIP). I have a lot of these. Heck, I’m a WIP (but aren’t we all?). My WIPs run the gamut. House, yard, crafts, books, blog posts, travel plans, meals, laundry. I’ll stop there.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the WIPs. To feel like a slacker–or worse, a failure–because there are so many of them. To beat oneself up over the accumulation and the lack of completion. I’m generally able to keep my perspective about these WIPs. To remind myself that it will all get done in due time. But every once in a while. Well, let’s be honest. About once a month…I get completely overwhelmed and down on myself and worse yet, Margie. I get frustrated that the house is always a mess, the yard is a jumble of weeds, the kitchen cabinets are only half clean. ARRGHHH.

At times like this, I step back. I figure out what’s really going on. I practice a bit more yoga. I talk to Margie. And it slowly settles back down and things are manageable again. The cycle gets old and I get tired of experiencing it. I like to think I can organize my way out of the cycle–and I can and do to a certain extent. But ultimately, it’s about accepting these temporary feelings. Fully acknowledging them and not beating myself up for having them.

Even this practice is a work in progress.

On exercising mindfully

I ran in the pouring rain this morning. It was the best run I’ve had in a long time. Well, the best run in Sacramento. I’ve been doing a trail running course through Fleet Feet to prepare for a 10-mile trail run in mid-May. I’m loving the trail runs. Street runs, not so much.

This morning was different. I had no expectations. The rain was pouring down. It was still somewhat dark out. Running was on my training schedule. And–most importantly–I wanted to run. My good friend Christine, at Mamasattva talks about bliss workouts. More specifically, only choosing the exercise on any particular day that feels right. For example, if you’re suppose to run, but you’ve woken up with really sore legs or hip, swim or do yoga instead.

I realize that this is hard if  you’re training for something specific. Especially a longer-distance race. But even then, you can still take the time to identify how your body is feeling and respond in some way. Perhaps play with your form a bit while running or cycling, or add some restorative yoga poses to your post-workout stretching.

Anyway, back to my run this morning. I had a smile on my face for most of the run. It felt good. I was happy. Despite leaving 15 minutes later than planned because the children had been up since 4:30am and 5:45am. Despite running a mile less than planned because the breadwinner had to leave for work early today. Despite the pouring rain that had me soaked in the first 10 minutes. I accepted my conditions and moved forward.

Running

I started running again about a year and a half ago. It’s the easiest exercise for me to do given my current life. I don’t have to drive anywhere to do it. I just lace up my shoes and walk out my door. And I only have to run for 45 minutes to get a decent workout.

Despite my current dedication to running, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the sport. When I run, I pound myself into the ground—well, concrete, generally. That’s really tough on my body. On my joints in particular. At the same time, my metabolism loves it, as does my mind. Once those endorphins kick in, it’s hard not to enjoy the sensation.

What I love most, however, is how running also requires me to be very mindful—just like my yoga practice. If my form isn’t just right, I get hurt. I really do. My body is very sensitive because it simply is and because of my years of yoga. Yoga has tuned me into my body. Nothing goes unnoticed (whether or not I do anything about it is another thing, of course). I’m constantly adjusting the position of my body, and encouraging my mind focus on the task at hand and not everything else going on in my life.

It’s this juncture of mind and body that helps make my running practice a good fit for my yoga practice. They complement each other at this stage in my life. And running provides all sorts of fodder for my daily asanas.

So, I’m making peace with running. I’m enjoying this current phase of athleticism and mindfulness…and scheduling a massage soon (well…my body is telling me I need one).

Maitri Mama

Loving one’s self–maitri–in Buddhist lingo. Easier said than done, right? There’s always that little voice in the back of the head trying to sabotage confidence, love, and compassion (and a myriad of other things). And if you’re a mama, there’s a whole ‘nother layer of things to beat ourselves over: breast feeding or not, co-sleeping or not, raising your voice at your kids, working or not (…and a myriad of other things…).

Whew…it’s exhausting. And hard. And it takes practice. After the birth of my second child, I started meditating. I don’t meditate every day and never for very long, but I do it. And when I’m not meditating I try (key word: try) to be mindful of what I’m doing. It helps. A lot. Most of the time time.

A couple of years ago my friend Christine and I met. Christine’s the real deal when it comes to mediating and mindfulness. She struggles like the rest of us, of course, but she looks at everything through the lens of mindfulness due to her years of Buddhist study (she use to live at the San Francisco Zen Center and even met her husband there). A month or so ago, Christine–who also writes the blog Mamasattva–asked me if I’d help her start a mama’s sitting group. Yes, yes, and yes!

I excitedly introduce Maitri Mamas. The group will provide a safe, non-judgmental place for mothers to come together to meditate, offer support, and share about living/parenting as mindfully as possible. Mothers of children of any age are welcome as are mothers of any religious affiliation and meditation experience. Beginning April 12th, we’ll meet the 2nd Thursday of every month from 7pm-8pm at RiverSong Mediation in the Sierra2Center complex in Curtis Park. Here’s a flier with more specific info:

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If you’re mama. If you’re interested in mediation. If you’re looking for a bit more space and breathing room in your life. Please join us.

(A big thank you to Beth Johnson of RiverSong Meditation for letting us use her space. And to Marijke Melman for helping us with the flyer.)

Summer, part II

One of the things I didn’t mention in my post about summer last week, was that I’d be single parenting it much of the time. Margie’s job requires her to travel a great deal during the summer months. Much of that travel had to be delayed because of California’s oddly cold and wet spring. With hot, dry weather finally here, delayed work trips and current ones can finally begin.

Part of the need for my summer schedule is born out of trying to stay sane during these weeks and months. Of course all of this is happening despite my new resolve to carve out more creative time for myself. But duty calls. And my job—while Margie is doing her’s—is to be with the kids.

Working with these conditions—solo parenting and the need for creative time—I’ve identified some ways to try to keep myself fulfilled over the coming months:

  • Ask for help. Mama-friends, you’ve been warned.
  • Create throughout the day. I already try to do this. It will be imperative that I actually do it now. The kids are generally good at keeping themselves occupied when I sit down to knit or sew. I need to take advantage of this.
  • Eat well. I’ve largely kicked my sugar habit. In an attempt to maintain this, chocolate generally won’t be invited in.
  • Sleep.
  • Wake early and well before the kids wake-up. I already do this, as well. Unfortunately, I tend to stay up later when Margie is out of town which makes getting up early harder. If I heed the bullet point above, however, I should be able to maintain my early mornings.
  • Drink little. Alcohol that is. I’m not a huge drinker, but with summer comes pool parties and more social engagements. Drinking makes me cranky and groggy and not a very happy person.  And well, I’ll be driving children around. Enough said.
  • Time to myself on the weekends. It’s time to implement this. In fact, we started last weekend. Margie took the kids for the morning. I got time—at home—to myself.
  • Mandatory quiet or nap times. Again, something we already do. But with Bennett home again during the nap/quiet time and Adelaide fazing her nap out, we’ll be re-assessing and finding the right type of quiet time for the summer months.
  • Lots of yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. I plan to re-connect with my home practice.
  • Daily meditation.
  • Flexibility. My kids are young. Things come up. Moods changes. Flexibility is key.

And there’s my game plan. Things to remember to keep me somewhat happy, somewhat connected to my children (and my spouse), and somewhat sane.

Confidence in my values

To keep me company last weekend while driving to and from Mendocino alone, I picked up a book on tape at my local library. I wasn’t terrible excited about it but had heard of the book and decided to take the risk.

The book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, follows one man’s (and his wife and child’s) efforts to live without a negative biological footprint for one year.  I’ve largely stopped reading books like this. I’ve become tired of the whole one-year experiment, get a book-deal thing. But…it’s what was available at the library.

The book turned out to be really well researched and thought out. It was a bit sappy at times, but it took an honest look the planet and the actions we take for granted on a daily basis. What struck me the most, however, was how hard it is to live this way. And not how you think. It’s not difficult to stop using plastic, to compost, to ride your bicycle everywhere. No. That can be managed. What’s difficult is living outside of society’s norm. This is something that I’ve been struggling with and listening to this book helped me put a finger on it.

You see…for the last couple of months I’ve been researching opening a fabric shop. I love fabric.  I’ve always wanted to run a business. And I’ve been wanting to find a role for myself besides mom and wife (see previous post).

So…fabric store. Our favorite, local store just closed, and I thought, “Hmmm…I could do this.” The thing is, opening a store totally doesn’t mesh with how we want to live right now. Margie I and value locally and seasonally-based home cooked meals eaten together; spending time out of doors; being with our children; fostering creativity; living without too much waste.  We also try to limit our spending. We have to think before we make our purchases and decide what else we won’t be buying.

It would be one thing if both of my kids were in school full-time and I had a bit more time to spend at a store, as well as cooking meals, cleaning the house, and being home with the kids when they weren’t in school.  Or if Margie was no longer on furlough pay. But my kids aren’t in school full-time and they won’t be for another 3-4 years…and we can’t afford to be mass consumers.

This fabric store idea followed closely on the heels of my last great idea, which was to turn our backyard into a little homestead (see this post). Yeah…a store doesn’t really jive with running a homestead, either. So, why this store? Why now? Why not be content with my previous, awesome, value-supporting plan?

A fabric store—a business—is mainstream. I’m putting money in the bank (well…after a few years, hopefully). It’s not granola. It’s not counter-culture. It’s economy-enriching. It’s material based (literally and figuratively).

Turning my yard into a homestead with a flourishing and productive garden, chickens, fruit trees, composting, water saving, and the like isn’t mainstream. It’s doesn’t pump money into the economy. It doesn’t support industry. It places me more in the fringe.

Listening to this book made me realize that I have some unresolved issues with this. I don’t know why. But now that I’ve identified the real motivation behind the store—not to be different—I’m at peace with not opening the store and focusing on my homestead. I’m okay (at least tonight…sigh…I won’t always be) with being granola. With living frugally and sustainably.

I grew up at a time when our society didn’t understand the ramifications of waste and over-consumption. That was also a time of economic growth and relative wealth. Things are different now. We know that there’s too much plastic in the world and that way too much petroleum and coal is being pulled from the earth—from both resource depletion and climate change perspectives.  We also know that middle class families like ours can’t spend money with abandon. Not if we want to keep roof over our heads and send our kids to college. And my kids need to know and understand these things.

My actions and my families’ economic decisions may be only one drop in a very large bucket. But…I don’t care. I feel better about myself for living this way. And that’s all that matters.

For now, I’m going to try to be content with not being a consumer. And with not encouraging other people to be consumers (by opening a shop). Some days this will be easy. Other days—when I really want some new fabric or a great pair of shoes (which, umm…is right now…I have a couple of dress-up functions coming up)—it won’t be. And one day this may all change, and I’ll open the store. But, for now, homestead, here I come!

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I could go on in this post to discuss the negative impacts of commercialism, media, and industry. At some point I might. But for now, this is enough.

Intentions

Since the first of the year, I’ve been writing in my journal almost daily. It’s generally a very short entry, but I always include an intention for the day. More often than not the intention–or often intentions–are patience and acceptance. Of what is and what isn’t. Of my full life. Of the times I feel less than full.

This time with my journal and my thoughts has become my meditation. It’s my most personal form of self-care (a note…the term self-care really rankles my feathers for reasons not worth sharing now…but it’s the most appropriate term for what this is).

I’ve come to seek out this activity first thing in the morning. I do it right out of bed, sitting in the family room at 5:15am before practicing asana or leaving the house for a run or swim. It quiets the mind. It sets a mood for the day and identifies something to which to aspire. The intentions are a helpful reminder during times I want to scream at my children or rush them along.

I saw a therapist for a few months last year (and hope to find another one that my insurance will cover). Of the many things we discussed were the ideas of flow and expansion. If I were to select a couple of intentions for the year they would be to flow and to expand. No to be afraid to go with the flow or to expand my thinking or my heart a little bit more.(I really want to find a bracelet with these words on it.)

I leave today for a four-day retreat with a couple of old friends and a bunch of soon-to-be-new-friends. One of my friends organized this and asked me to lead yoga each of the mornings. There will be lots of time to myself. Opportunities for art journaling and other activities for self-discovery, awareness, and care (yeah…there’s that word again). I’m very excited about this weekend. Opportunities for flow and expansion abound both for myself at the retreat and my thoughts about my family back at home (I will not think about the state of the house!). I’m also greatly looking forward to 6 hours in the car by myself and checking out the yarn store in Mendocino.

I don’t have any particular goals for this weekend, but to enjoy it and re-affirm my daily journal activity. To commit to attempting to act with intention, and to flow and expand.

A belated ode to Valentine’s Day (sort of)

My kids love Valentine’s Day. And I’m learning to love it, too. It’s never been high on my list of “holidays.” I didn’t start dating until I was in my early twenties so I always tried to downplay it. And once I did start dating I always seemed not to be with anyone during Valentine’s Day or with someone that didn’t really care. Thankfully, things have changed both in terms of my wife’s interest in the day, and having two constant reminders of how great it is to be loved. Simply, it’s hard to ignore Valentine’s Day when there are kids in the house. Kids put they day in the right perspective.

This year, I was completely gung-ho on the Valentine’s Day crafts. The kids get so excited about “holidays.” We made decorations for the windows, over 50 valentines for friends and family, and lots of little love notes.  I also cooked a special Valentine’s dinner of lasagna (which we seldom make), and a chocolate soufflé.

Watching your child prepare valentines is a really an outstanding lesson in loving, kindness (and yes, lovingkindness), and being fully present in the moment. With rapt attention, Bennett insisted on writing a poem on each of his classmate’s valentines. Adelaide was equally absorbed by the glue and stickers used to make her’s. At this age, it doesn’t matter who the recipient of the card may be or what the card ends up looking like. There’s pure joy in the development and creation…and the giving. In fact, just this morning, Bennett made more Valentines for other friends not in his class at school.

You don’t have to buy-in to the commercialism that surrounds Valentine’s Day…just like Christmas (ahem…although Margie and I did spend a little bit of money on each other…we can’t be perfect). You can make the day what you want and celebrate it with intention and mindfulness.

Despite misgivings and uncertainties of my current roll in this life, it’s nice to have a day like Valentine’s Day. A day to simply appreciate loving other people and being loved.