Girlfriends are like Quilts

Oh, Girlfriends!  How would a woman survive life without them?  They come to our aid before we even know we need to be rescued.  They understand our innermost feelings and needs in the deepest way.  They refrain from judgment.  Like Momma Bear protecting her cub, a great girlfriend will work wonders in your life and expect nothing in return.

I reach for my Mom’s handmade quilts every single day of my life for comfort.  Tattered and ragged, sometimes I drag my favorite one like Linus, as if the quilt could make me invincible.  Magical powers sewn into every square, crafted and pieced together by my Mother’s hands with abundant love and the greatest of hopes for a life well lived.  I literally can cover myself in her protection any time I want.  The girlfriends who have sustained me through life’s toughest challenges are exactly like my favorite quilts.

In this picture, I am in the most miserable physical pain you could imagine.  I had been laboring for over 2 days with my first child and was waiting the last few hours before heading to the hospital to begin the terrifying birthing process.  I am sitting on a heating pad because I have lovely back labor.  And draped across my knees is the “Cotton Boll” quilt my Mom made for me more than twenty years ago.  “Don’t machine wash this,” she cautioned.  “It will fall apart.”  Nope.  This thing might as well be made of kryptonite.  Virtually indestructible.  Just like my ties to my girlfriends, one in particular, my Pammy.

Pam took this picture of me when she delivered a beautiful Wendy’s lunch of french fries and a Frosty.  She had had her daughter the year before, I had been her “birth coach.”  I did not even know I needed her to check on me that day, my mind was swirling with nesting details and anxiety about the future.  I am sure we laughed about the indignity of the last day pregnant – I was hobbling around, grunting and moaning in my hugeness.  Pam’s presence was comforting, though, and nothing really needed to be said.  There was history between us (at the time we had been friends over 10 years, thinking we knew everything about life, love, family and careers!).

We both moved away from Kansas City for many years and hardly stayed in touch, but fate reunited us a few years ago, and we have both returned HOME:  to Kansas City and our friendship.  I can look at her and imagine what she is thinking and we both erupt in raucous laughter!  We have the comfort of each other’s company and support and a very long history of experience together to sustain us.  Friendship is, indeed, a joyous thing.  As a woman grows older, the comfort of a close girlfriend is one of the greatest treasures she can have.  Nobody knows us better or would go farther to show us who we are when we are lost.  And midlife, I am discovering, is a bit of a “curious wonderland” where one can get very lost, indeed.  I am finishing the intensive Mom phase and looking ahead to the second act (actually, it has begun, I am just in denial).  Pam helps me laugh away the embarrassment of my arthritic hips and knees when I try to get up gracefully from a restaurant chair.  She will be there with me, locked arm in arm, for the second act, and there will be laughter, joy and comfort.  And I am one grateful woman of a certain age!

 

In Pursuit Of A Gentle Way

Of all the adjectives one could choose to describe my personality, “Gentle” would most definitely not be among even the first twenty that come to mind.  I have a very tender heart, but years of burying and covering up my vulnerabilities have created a somewhat tough exterior.  This happens to many of us in life.  It usually takes nearly half a century of living before you start to think about yourself as not merely a physical being but a spiritual one.  I am almost one year past the mid-century mark in physical years and this is certainly true for me.  More than anything, I want to prioritize spiritual growth over other pursuits right now.  So my “Word of the Year” for 2017 is GENTLE.

The death of a beloved classmate last summer reminded me of a guiding principle for my High School education, a quote by Francis de Sales, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”  Weeks before Lori’s passing, several of my classmates and I were in daily contact with her via group text messaging.  She reached out to us in her most frightened, vulnerable state for support as she awaited news and guidance about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer.  The outpouring of “gentle strength” from my group of High School friends was, at times, mind-blowing.  We walked hand in hand with Lori through her life’s most harrowing journey until it was time for her to leave her physical body.  It was the most beautiful, intimate, raw experience of my adult life so far.

The courage it took for Lori to open herself up to so many friends from so long ago dismays me.   I will be forever humbled and convinced that gentleness is the ultimate spiritual practice.

Everybody knows compromise is a good thing to practice in business and ultimately in life.  Bending one’s will to move toward another’s best interests leads to successful relationships and a satisfying life.  Nobody likes a stubborn old goat!!!  Learning to practice gentleness begins with ME:   embracing an open, courageous, accepting heart means I also have to be vulnerable when I don’t necessarily want to face it.  Approaching a life of gentleness as a practice rather than a goal allows me to make small choices on a daily basis that ultimately lead to the value of gentleness.  Before letting myself become completely angry, for instance, I try to think less of what I want from any situation or person and more about how wonderful it is the other person crossed my path.  I can think about people and things this way because of gentleness – I am learning to accept what is and forget the rest. This practice leads to alot less brooding about what ought to be and frees up lots of time to just be in the moment.

So, in 2017, I will continue to joyfully pursue the practice of gentleness in my life.  Earlier today, I read a beautiful reflection on gentleness, and I share it here with you as a special gift for you to take on your 2017 journey:

“It’s the hard things that break; soft things don’t break.  It took me so very, very long to see it!  You can waste so many years of your life trying to become something hard in order not to break; but it’s the soft things that can’t break!  The hard things are the ones that shatter into a million pieces.”  C. JoyBell C.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and may you joyfully experience the softness of a bigger, fuller, gentler life of authenticity this year!!!!

3 Things I got Right (and 7 I didn’t) in Motherhood

My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.”  The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly.  All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother.  More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.

I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood:  If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill.   She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).

Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering:  meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.

In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).

Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious.  Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:

  • Time Management Although we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
  • Potty Training  Instead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
  • Volunteering  I was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
  • Animals and Kids I thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
  • Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy.  Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
  • Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
  • Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests.  When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”

In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences!  Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:

  • Compassion   I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.”  Somehow, I got this right!  To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion.  THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete.  Thank you, God!
  • Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me.  Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”.  Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
  • Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds:  the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog.  Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.  

One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud.  I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes!  We can’t all be champion chart makers…..

 

 

 

 

 

When The Going Gets Tough, Cheeky Street Heads For Comfort

October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends!  My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives.  Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level.  How do I cope?

Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend.  For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”:  Family, Friends, Faith and Food.  

At age 50, I  have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react).  I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains.  And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.

I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.

This means that some old behaviors have to be modified.  Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures.  In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.

I’ll start with Family.  As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles.  If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence.  And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything!  I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh).  The result?  While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor.  I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason.  One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations:  when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.

Now about Friends:  this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others.  The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever.  I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post!  I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse.  My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first.  So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient.  Not needy.  I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships.  Some of my friendships have lasted decades!  In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self.  That is so comforting.

Faith.  That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown:  it is STILL with me.  Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will.  Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused.  Yes, I do and say regrettable things.  Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time.  I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.

My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter.  Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul.  That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.

Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress:  FOOD!

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In particular, COOKIES!  How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress.  But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples:  Butter and Sugar.  Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery.  For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious!  This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint.  Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:

[/recipe]

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups four
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon alt
  • Pinch of clove
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle.  Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
  4. Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Discard the plastic sheets from the dough.  Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.  Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes.  If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Adapted from “Baking:  From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan

Carpe Diem As Passionately As You Can!

“Do you remember spreading your trick-or-treat candy on the floor with your brothers and sisters and trading with each other for your favorites?,” my husband asked me last evening as we watched a Netflix show portraying this tradition.  “No, my brothers and sisters were away at boarding school. Maybe, if I got lucky, one of them drove me around town to trick-or-treat,” I replied.  “That’s so sad, I can’t believe with so many siblings you never had that,” my husband replied.  He’s usually not this sentimental.  But we are both raw in a happy, sappy, parent-y kind of way.

We just returned from a college visit with our daughter, our precious jewel who is approaching her time to move away for college.  That was the conversation we had just before bed on the day we took Isa to the University of Arkansas.  When I woke up this morning, I was drifting out of a panicky dream of trying to keep all of my loved ones inside a bowl.  The bowl was imbalanced and my loved ones were unhappy being crammed in it against their will.  But I selfishly wanted to keep them there to hoard the good times forever.

When I was much younger, I used to create collages for family and friends to capture funny memories and special photos and create something permanent.  I would glue magazine images to coke bottles, homemade cardboard footstools, cigar boxes and more, so happy to have created something permanent out of moments from the past.

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If you lived through the 1970’s, you most certainly recognize this collage of images to capture the essence of that decade.

 

I think aging can sometimes feel like a struggle to create permanence – maybe out of fear or sentimentality – but mostly from the desire to comfort and reassure ourselves of many things.

After all, when we are young, we are encouraged and supported to “try new things” based on the assumption we will devote a lifetime enjoying and perfecting the things we choose when we are young.  When we are older, however, because of the uncertainty of time and limited energy and resources, the tendency to accept or try new things feels risky and pointless.  After all, shouldn’t we just reach a magical age when work is over and all we have to do is sit and bask in the splendor of relationships we have worked our lives to create?  While this is one of the assumptions that traditional American retirement is based on, I know that, at least for me, it is not going to work.

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This is a literal translation of the musical sign for resting.  I love it because music has been a part of my life, I still remember my first piano lesson in kindergarten.  A rest in music, perfectly timed, can elevate an ordinary sound to a glorious experience.

 

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Ripened peaches make me drool, just like life sometimes!  They are the perfect metaphor for aging well to me – we are supposed to continue to experience life and savor everything with gusto.

Aging well is more about accepting impermanence and knowing when to do the 2 most important things in life:  1.  Resting; 2. Devouring the ripened fruit.

 

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My creative photographer husband, Michael, captured this image one summer Saturday morning as we enjoyed watching our beautiful, round and ripened baby girl, Isabella, enjoy her first bagel.

My sweet little baby girl has ripened into a young woman – it is time for her to transition from living with me to expanding out into the big world.  She no longer fits in a bowl, the world is her bowl and I have prepared her for it.

 Painful as it is, launching a child into the world is a beautiful act of creation.  Our daughter is her own person, influenced by genes, experiences and love from home.  She belongs to herself and her footprint in this world is original, unique, and borne of her own spirit energy.

Takeaways from all of this?

  1.  It isn’t sad that I never swapped Halloween candy with my 6 older siblings – at least I never felt that loss until my husband, who is much closer in age to his 2 younger sisters, pointed it out.  Obviously, that experience from childhood meant something to my husband that continues to bring him joy today.  Any time we can grab a fleeting moment of warmth from our past, it’s a divine experience – like eating a ripened peach – that we must stop and enjoy;
  2. Denying the sadness I feel over my daughter’s emerging adulthood would prevent me from fully experiencing what is happening now, and I don’t want to miss the parade. Literally, she is in a parade in 2 hours

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

It’s Okay To Be Late To The Party

13724844_10208785568789224_8461321461091356507_oI hadn’t really thought about my High School experience for years, especially while enjoying the vividly contrasting experience my children are having today in High School.  The world is so big (and scary to some – like me), and my children’s perspective of their future, because of the co-educational, diverse, academically challenging environment they are in for High School, is optimistic.  Personally, though I appear Pollyanna-ish, I am a cautiously optimistic person by nature.  “Expect the best but prepare for the worst” would be a good description of my life choices, and not always in a good way – I have missed alot of fun and friendship by choice because I felt I would not fit in.

Over a month ago, several of my former High School classmates lovingly and gracefully responded to the pleas of our friend and sister, Lori, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed support. Lori, the Boston College Graduate with a Law Degree from Washington University, an impressive curriculum vitae and solid history as a humanitarian and philanthropist, asked for her sisters’ loving consolation for strength.  Wow.  I reached out a couple of weeks after the group had formed (I was on a social media sabbatical) by joining along with my classmates in cheering Lori’s indomitable spirit on, as we all knew she would prevail, as always.

Throughout our 24/7 conversations that took place over about 21 days, I couldn’t help but remember one of the foundations of our High School education from Visitation Academy, a Catholic, all-girls school in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, founded by the Sisters of the Visitation:

St. Francis de Sales:  “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as true strength.”

In the moments between conversations,  I randomly remembered things that happened in those days and then judged my immature 17-year-old behavior against what I know about myself and life today.  The most difficult memory to reconcile involved Lori herself.  We were co-counsels in a mock trial against my scrappy best friend (who ultimately graduated from Law School and became the First Female Chief of Staff for the Governor of Missouri).  I knew she’d knock our teeth out in the first round.  So what did I do?  I hardly prepared – I let Brilliant, Sweet Lori do the majority of the trial preparation while I focused on what I liked to think of as “aesthetics” (e.g., flirting with our lawyer sponsor and shopping for my beautiful trial outfit).  Heavy guilt and shame to bear 32 years later when this sweet angel has included me in the most intimate conversation of her life.  In fact, more recently, instead of begrudging me for the things I did or did not do in High School, Lori reached out to support me in my Recovery from alcohol addiction.  I learned in later conversations with friends that Lori was doing the same with many, many people – sending cards, donations to charities, and anything uplifting she could think of to love and support others.

I realize now because of Lori that people like her – beautiful, strong, accomplished, immersed in life – ask for help and support when they need it.  That’s STRENGTH, not weakness.

I wish this story had a happy ending involving a massive reunion including Lori after cancer had left her body for good.  It does not.  She received devastating news about a month after her original diagnosis about the cancer having spread.  She learned there were no treatment options.  She continued to love and communicate positively with her dear High School friends until she entered hospice, passing away less than a week later.  Stunned and overwhelmed with grief, many of us who had been writing to Lori through her most difficult journey gathered in the presence of our dear Visitation Nuns and honored her.  We sang our School Anthem and prayed and embraced one another.  We ate donuts, Lori’s favorite treat, and tried to reminisce about the happiness she had brought us instead of the sadness we were feeling.

Truth be told, I almost did not go.  Even during my 4-hour drive to attend Lori’s service, I was tempted to turn around and go home to sit quietly on my comfortable couch.  Why?  Because I did not feel worthy of the experience.  She was so good and I have so many faults.  At one point, the voice in my head even taunted me and tried to make me believe that I did not belong – my presence would be meaningless.  Still, I drove on to be with my Viz sisters and embrace the women we have become. I am glad I did.  Lori taught me, even after her spirit left her body, that it is okay to be late to the party – it is okay to feel like an outsider, because we all have special gifts to give.  The nuns hugged me and were so glad to see my dimples and big blue eyes!!!  My friends fell over laughing when they heard my uniquely explosive cackling.  I may not have been Lori’s best friend, but I had a special connection with her.  I did belong and Lori made space for me, even unto her death.

T-365 Days ‘Til Our Household Shrinks

I LOVE BEING A MOM.  I especially love days when JUST being a Mom gets to be my main focus.  Today was one of those days.  It was great!

Though 17 and 15, my daughter and son still need their Momma for support, advice, caring, guidance and help shaping their world views.  (They need Dad, too, for all the same things.  We do it differently, of course!).  It is late May and they are weary from a long school year.  My daughter is a little teary as the pressure of her impending Senior year mounts:  ACT prep; Drill Team camps, practice, leadership; saying goodbye to friends who will be leaving for college; making plans for her departure from the nest; bonding with her friends through each of the “lasts” of 12th grade.  Yesterday, I left a pair of socks with the word “relaxed” in her room for her – an “I love you” just from me for her sweet dancer’s feet.11194554_10205531647904213_7725532153420392392_o

My son, who is very much a free spirit and his own person, drudged through his 9th grade year – it has been a long year for him and he his looking forward to summer and a possible career as a life guard!  A week ago, he referred to each remaining day of the school year as “7 hours of soul-crushing disappointment.”  This morning, as it poured rain in Kansas City, and I had the entire day off to myself, I received this text from my son:  “If you get me I’ll give you a foot rub and 3 quarters.”  So I did!  We went to lunch and had a wonderful time.

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I may not always get things “right” as a Mom.  But I try and I definitely enjoy the experience.  My children know I love them and they will always be FIRST in my world.  I have been fortunate to be able to spend alot of time at home with them.  And, like many other Mothers have said before, I can honestly say that I have found things to LOVE and enjoy about every stage of their young lives.  Somehow, it always works out that the stage we happen to be in together feels like my “favorite” stage until it changes again and the new stage becomes my favorite.

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I made peanut butter cup pancakes for dinner – it sounded good to my son and will be comforting to my daughter when she comes home a little melancholy after attending her boyfriend’s graduation.  I love being a Mom.  I love living in the moment. What a beautiful blessing it is to have the privilege of bring another human being into the world and preparing them for their journey.

 

Affirmations for a Fearful World

I have been mad at Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright since they insulted women voters (and subsequently “walked back” their remarks) this Spring.

But I am also a recovering alcoholic in my first year of recovery, with a blog, so I have to be careful not to be the “grump with a brainstorm” and do or say anything that is just going to make me feel less at ease with an already  strung out world and ragged emotions

Part of the recovery process is learning to deal with our emotions without hurting ourselves or others.  Without contributing to the trashy landfill of uselessly spent hurt that contaminates our world.  So I am learning about breathing and mindfulness and affirmations.  My Mom introduced me to the affirmations part of healthy thinking many years ago.  Fearful of what might become of 4 beautiful young girls setting off on a month-long journey through Europe in 1988, my Mom wrote an affirmation and stuck it in my backpack and asked me to read it to my traveling companions each morning before starting our day.  I was absolutely amazed when one of the friends I went on that trip with told me more than 20 years later, that she still uses the affirmation and it works!  It goes something like this:

God is always with me.  Therefore I am always safe and at the right place at the right time.

I know it said more but that is the essence of the affirmation and demonstrates the simplicity of the act of centering one’s thoughts, focusing momentarily on one’s breathing, tapping into the abundance within, and bringing that goodness forth into one’s day.  It is such a healthy practice.  If you are a recovering alcoholic, finding solace and the strength to navigate a world of conflict without numbing is essential.  I think it is impossible without a personal meditation practice.

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After all, if a person’s entire sense of personal safety/security is centered on a person or thing outside of him/herself, that leaves the person very vulnerable to the unpredictable influences in the world.  Fear is extremely dangerous.  We must constantly find ways to mentally transform fear into love and connect with some sort of constant assuredness to live in this crazy world.  Not sure what I’m getting at?  It is simple.  If we learn to practice controlling our thoughts for even 10 minutes a day, preferably at the beginning of the day, it becomes a protective shield against negative outside influences and we feel better, make better choices, and affect the world more positively.

To my daughter, who is about to begin her Senior year, and all the other people I love, cherish and see struggling in the world, I wish 4 simple internal messages to be written on their heart:

  1.  I have abundance within that never fails to protect and lead me closer each day to fulfilling God’s purpose for my life;
  2. I have unlimited gifts that are meant to be shared lovingly with others;
  3. Time is on my side – there is no expiration date or end to the amount of love and goodness I can experience and share in my lifetime.

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4.  Spirit is Infinitely Intelligent and will support me through any and all hesitant beginnings, sticky middles and rocky endings in my life – all I have to do is Ask and listen.

Life is difficult but joyful.  Finding one’s purpose is the most gratifying experience of the human condition, and learning to access our Infinite Love within is the most simple yet powerful tool to combat fear and overcome paralysis.  Affirmations lead to love.  Love leads to action.  Action leads to wholeness.  Wholeness is our essence.  Our essence is goodness.  Start today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happiness is Horizontal

These days, I find myself dripping in happiness.  After months of working hard to train my mind to stop being afraid of living, there is now an abundance of joy in my life – more than enough to share without fear of running out.  I think I found happiness because I intentionally set out not to find happiness but purpose.  We ALL want to be happy, sure.  For many, the definition can include many things/pursuits/achievements that bring happiness to one’s life, which, as we all know, can be fleeting.

I tend to oversimplify but that’s the way I get to the core of challenges so here is what I am trying to say:  I found happiness accidentally by searching for purpose on purpose.  And the sweetest discovery is this:  happiness is the sum of the good thoughts, deeds and people you surround yourself with.  It is HORIZONTAL, not vertical, as our culture portrays.  Further, one is more likely to experience joy and happiness in moments of absolute stillness….absent struggle, thinking, working, climbing, scheming, toiling, or anything of the like.  Brilliant!

What has amazed me in this magnificent experience is that my purpose is revealed to me when I am re-energizing my soul, daydreaming, napping, walking, baking, or doing any number of things that are not centrally focused on intensely pursuing happiness.  It found ME, not the other way around!

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Here are 9 general beliefs/practices I have adopted that I believe are positively contributing to my experiencing a life of maximum purpose, satisfaction and happiness:

 

  1.  Ask God for an open heart To me, God/Inner Light/Higher Power is Central to anything growth-related.  Several years ago, my husband and I were struggling in every possible way – trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we thought would lead us to happiness.  I started intuitively praying many times a day, just asking God to give me an open heart so I would be willing and able to accept our fate.  It worked and it stuck.
  2. Stop resisting what “is” The meditation/mindfulness gurus all say that being “present in the now” is the key to living a more satisfying life and they are right.  But it takes lots of practice to train our non-stop thinking selves to just be calm and receive our surroundings without reacting or doing anything.  At the root of all heartache is the desire to change/resist/fight something outside of our control.  I think because, as human beings, (especially in the Western world), we have become so conditioned to “control” our external surroundings using our magnificent scientific abilities.  Don’t do this anymore!   You’ll be so much happier, I promise.
  3. Work to face fears/make things personal  I love love love this the most and have been practicing this the most lately.  Probably 25 years ago, I heard a very wise theologian speak about racism.  His reasoning to counter the mind and heart’s tendency to divide “us” and “them” was simple:  look into the eyes of the “other” and think of their Mother, who loves them so.  Everyone has a Momma!  It helps me to catch myself judging others when I personalize someone or something I might be inclined to disregard.  Make friends with people who are different than you, encourage your children to do the same.  It only brings joy, I assure you.  After working hard to seek situations where you can personalize the “other”, the Universe just starts making it part of who you are.  I started by volunteering at a food pantry.  I was terrified by the “others” at first.  Now they are my friends.
  4. Lolligag, daydream, rest If you have been reading any of the current buzz about personal and professional success these days, everyone is talking about a Sleep Revolution.  It seems we are finally learning that trying to squeeze more productivity out of an already empty person is futile.  We all need to re-charge.  We all need to learn and understand our personal energy limitations and “indulge” in that which renews us.  I am a daydreaming, napping, slow walking fool and much happier for it!
  5. Connect with an animal  My husband amusedly looks at me fussing over our adopted cocker spaniel and tells me, “I don’t know THIS woman!”.  I have gotten more joy from the simple experience of loving an animal in the past few years it is amazing.  Eckhardt Tolle wrote an entire book about the spiritual connection between human and animal in “Guardians of Being.”  The primary benefit of loving an animal, not surprisingly, is that the very act of petting and tending to one’s dog, for instance, causes one to simply be present.
  6. Embrace vulnerability Authors, bloggers and life coaches like Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown are all talking about accepting our vulnerability and supporting one another’s courage in expressing that vulnerability.  It does lead to joy because it takes such courage to be open and honest.  And it lifts the weight of perfection from our shoulders – multi-tasking and perfection are mere facades of a happy life.  Why not embrace our imperfection, learn to laugh about it and accept it, and be joyous and happy?
  7. Replace “dread” with curiosity I dread most things, especially social occasions.  Let me tell you, what a miserable existence that is.  Learning to control my anxieties with deep breathing, accepting the now and enjoying being present are helping me to dread things less.  I may not necessarily look forward to a “command performance,” but at least I am practicing methods that help me get through social obligations without upsetting everyone around me.
  8. Learn from criticism Boy, could I resent a person who told me the truth in the past!  I am practicing the art of really listening to people. If the messenger offers sincere, loving advice intended to show you how you appear in the world, listen.  The lesson is far more important than your ego.
  9. Befriend your alter ego And speaking of egos, I hereby confess that I have happily enjoyed “alter egos” – my inner hero I want to express outwardly – for decades.  It started in my twenties when I moved away from home for the first time.  I wanted to be “JD” instead of “Joan,” because “JD” was a spunky, brave and light-hearted go-getter ready to take on the world.  In my forties, I was “Piper,” the super fun-loving Momma who could still enjoy a night of dancing.  Now, I am mellowing into “Pippa,” my 50’s alter-ego.  “Pippa” is a mature-ish woman who knows who she is, loves to love and comfort, and looks forward to the future instead of mourning the past.  In my 60’s, I will be “Poppy,” that still-cheeky woman with a secret or two and a sense of humor, but wise and gentle, as well.

So, my friends, I share the greatest discovery of my recent months with you today:  Happiness is Horizontal

You are much more likely to experience it in a state of relaxed acceptance of the present moment!  Enjoy and Namaste.

 

Notes from the Mom Whose Kids Always “Had Her Number”

Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up.  This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up!  My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house.  This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting.  I love being a Mom.  In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be.  I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.”  What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!

Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind.  Anticipating each last.  Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum.  One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream:  if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness.  This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment.  Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end.  There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers).  I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.

Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question:  if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children?  I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford).  Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:

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  1.  I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten.  After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school.  I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day.  But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten.  Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more.  But what’s done is done.
  2. I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument.  We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible.  Our kids love music.  But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language.  It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals.  I do regret this.
  3. Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life.  My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse.  It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others.  My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
  4. More family meals.  We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week.  Better than nothing!  I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do!  (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that).  Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality.  I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
  5. MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions!  I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly).  To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah!  What a beautiful, content baby!  She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”.  We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents.  For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another.  Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children.  As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.

So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful.  Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments.  Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.11218179_10206971262472700_5085219549381530292_n