Sunday, May 24, 2015

Stepping Stones

I am certain that I have shared in the past that I have a strong, creative / crafty side. Artistic seems a bit too formal, to professional and polished to describe what I like to do.

I like to create and have since I was small. I can remember being about 8 and spending hours in my rooms with a bunch of scrap lumber from shelves my dad made, and some of my mom's acrylic paint, painting pictures as Christmas gifts for my  parents, grandparents, and a long list of aunts and uncles

And later wrapping them all. I remember these packages under the tree. I don't have any solid memory of actually delivering them, or of how they were received. But it occurs to me that this was pure, unselfconscious joy in the process of creating itself. And that this is probably a very good way to go about life. To enjoy the process of one's work, and give fully, without expectation or attachment to how the gifts are received or perceived.

But I digress. I went into this weekend with the feeling that I needed to feed that creative side in some tangible way or lose it (my cool, my sense of self, my mind?). 

So I did. I've been wanting to make stepping stones from scratch for a long time. I've made a few from kits and enjoyed the process. And I gave the end results as gifts. My yard can definitely use some. For some ridiculous reason I've hemmed and hawed and not done it. But Saturday we went to Lowes, I picked up some rapid setting concrete (I might go for slower setting next time) and some other odds and ends I needed for this and other minor projects and I came home and I made 3.

They are not spectacular, I didn't spend a lot of time on the design (and didn't have a lot of time to spend, what with the fast drying concrete). Next time I might plan them our more, or maybe even do them in reverse process (mosaic upside down and set in the bottom of the dish), but I actually created something that is now residing in my garden. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fairy day

I almost never write here these days. Being a full time working mama puts a damper on lots of other activities.

But today I went for a walk on my lunch break. I am fortunate enough to live in a really beautiful region, especially in spring.  More fortunate still to have my office back up to the Cayuga lake inlet.

Today was sunny and cool and I took a walk along the inlet.

I feel rushed and less than focused on the present moment often these days. I walk quickly and am lost in my own thoughts.

But something about this day drew me in and didn't allow my mind to wander.
This is what I saw. ...

I'm pretty sure these are the kinds of places where fairies reside. Just saying.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wisdom from Mama: Putting on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

I miss my mama. She has been on my mind lately.

I lost her two and a half years ago, and the ache of this has dulled some with time. I think there are days now, that are full enough, that I don't think of her. Not many, but some. And I still miss her so.

My life is intense and challenging right now, and I doubt at times whether I'm strong enough weather the current storm. I would like to lean on her, to sit with her in the midst of all of this. And I can't anymore. But recently, a new acquaintance, who didn't know her and doesn't know me well, looked at me and said, "You know the words she would say to you. Say them to yourself." I don't run around looking for advice, especially from relative strangers, but this kind of in-my-face message is hard to ignore, and probably should be heeded.

The gift and the curse, at times, of having a strong, opinionated (controlling?) mama, is that many of her words will be forever in my head. The work of growth and maturity is to sift through those words, and choose to hold on to those that are gifts and make sense, and to let the others fade. This is not always an easy task. 

My family loves analogies, and my mother was no exception. One of her favorite analogies about handling motherhood with grace was that of the airplane oxygen mask. She said to me often, and I'm sure to many other mother friends and family members, that "mothers need to put on their own oxygen masks first, and then attend to their children's.They need to take care of themselves first." They announce this with every plane pre- flight safety demonstration, "If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person."

It makes sense that if we pass out ourselves it's not possible to assist someone else. This is is easy to imagine in acute situations such as airplane pressure loss. It is muddier to apply it to everyday life. I remember my mother saying this often, but I don't recall practical recommendations as to how to do this, and she didn't follow her own advice very well.  As so often happens, I was schooled more by her actions than her words. And at 43, I don't know how to put on my own metaphoric oxygen mask first. 

I don't believe that women in this culture are raised to make self care a priority. I believe many of us are in running around making sure that our children,our spouses, our coworkers, our pets, mail carriers and accountants have all their oxygens masks on before considering our own. No wonder we are figuratively gasping for air in this life.

The question, then, is what is my oxygen mask? What is essential for me, for each of us, to thrive? 

I can come up with a pretty good list of what I think I want, so that I can really be okay, and that list includes things like clean floors and laundry washed and put away, and trips to amazing places, and romantic dinners and perfect weather, but boiled down to what's really essential, it becomes relatively simple. These are the things that I need so that I can show up for the rest of my life:

  • Knowing My Children are Safe and Cared for. This is so critical for me to be able to relax. In the early days of parenthood, I wanted to keep them right at my side. Now I just need to know that when they aren't with me, they're being taken care of well. Not that all will be perfect, but that they are safe and well.
  • Rest. Good quality sleep is ideal, but down time while not handling any specific tasks also goes a long way.
  • Alone time. I never thought about whether I was an introvert or an extrovert until I had children. Then I discovered I was an introvert. I LOVE being with people. And I NEED time alone to recharge and process. Often now, when I feel most strained, I recognize that that it is directly related to being full with the day, full with conversation, full with caring for my children, and not having any time to empty. 
  • Exercise. Last spring, when my life began to implode and, of necessity, my working hours increased, I started walking to the post office daily to pick up the company mail. I began to notice that whether I felt good, or, as was often the case, tired, overwhelmed and blue, that 15 minute walk made me feel vastly better.
  • Good Quality Food. Eating regularly is vital for me. And it needs to be decent food. Not fancy. I love to cook, but there's not much time for elaborate meals these days, and the kids don't appreciate them anyway. But good, whole food with plenty of vegetables, adequate protein, and not a lot of grains or sweets really makes a difference in my mood and energy level.
That's really it. Everything else should be second.

Monday, December 15, 2014


I have been mulling about life transitions lately. I am in the midst of one right now. I am in the processing of leaving one workplace, where I've been for almost 7 years, and taking over a job that has been held since 1989. Kind of big stuff, if you think about it. 

I think as humans, a lot of us anyway, like to to try and find a comfortable spot, whether it be a home, a job, a relationship or other familiar situation, and hold on to it as best we can. There's probably some evolutionary reason for this, which I could research and reference.

But the fact is life is really in constant motion. All things are evolving and changing all of the time, sometimes visibly, sometimes imperceptibly, but nothing is really constant. We grab that handful of sand and squeeze, and the more we hold, the faster it slips through our fingers. 

I like to look at the seasons for a pretty tangible example of this. We are in the darkest time of year, in the Northern hemisphere, approaching the shortest day, and yet we are at the same time moving toward lengthening days, albeit colder ones, for awhile yet.

I got news yesterday that a good friend lost his father suddenly. And I had to acknowledge that I have reached the time in life where my contemporaries and I are beginning to bury our parents. I have already buried my mother. I hold onto my father as tightly as I can, and pray that more time is left, but also know that it is finite in a way that I felt but couldn't completely acknowledge when I was younger.

This is the natural order of things and yet it's still hard for me to grasp. We grew up together, graduated, dated, married, had children, some of us divorced, some still will, and now our parents are aging. We all are, but it seems clearer some how, with the very young and the older. Life is moving, and eternal, but also finite, in the way the we see it right now.

My mom was a lover of paradox, and I have fought against it, found it annoying and intangible, but I think know she was probably on to something. Finding a way to embrace this is probably the key, if not to happiness, than at least to peace. And living and loving well in the here and now is really all that we have. 

Deep thoughts for a Monday. Be well!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Replete with Peace

Today the girls, my sister,  my father and I participated in the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lake's annual walkathon.  We did this in honor of my mama, gone these two years and some months now.

I signed us up only 3 or 4 weeks ago. It's something I've wanted to be involved with for awhile now. The Cancer Resource Center is a wonderful organization that provides all kinds if support for cancer patients and their families.

My life is very full right now, more so maybe than ever before.  And I wanted to give something back,  do something to remind me that there is so much more in the world than what's going on for me.

This was perfect.  We got there a little early,  Luci was cranky.  I generally like to let Saturday mornings be slow these days,  but this was important to me,  so off we went anyway.

Heather arrived shortly after we did,  my dad just in the nick of time.  And we were off, and just as we began walking the sun cut through the clouds and stayed there for the entire walk.

It was sweet, just sweet. I looked around at all of those faces, so many. Some obviously currently fighting the good fight. Some wearing tags listing who they were walking in honor of. Some somber, some smiling. All of us walking (and cheering on the runners, who left before is and were looping back), all of us just together for this same good reason.

And I felt, rather than thought, for the first time in awhile,  that we really are all in this together. No matter who we are or where we come from, we all love, and we all lose. It is the nature of life,  and if we keep on loving, more and bigger despite our losses, then we win anyway. And we find more richness.

And so today I am replete with love and with peace. It's just all very good.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Some thoughts on grief, 2 years after my mother's passing.

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of my mother's passing. 

I wanted to go visit her grave site, I don't think I've been since this time last year. But life and work were full, and I could almost hear her saying, in that way of hers, "You have plenty going on, come when you can, this day is no different than any other."

And that was who she was. She didn't set a lot of store in holidays or anniversaries, preferring to live and love well everyday, and I am like her in this way.

A few weeks ago Patrick related to me how a friend of his, awhile back, had described the process of grieving to him, and I liked the description. 

His friend said that grief was something like moving to a new town. At first, the whole of the area is new, unfamiliar, bewildering, and overwhelming. 

But as the months and then years pass, you become accustomed to the new terrain. The streets are familiar, you know your way around. You make new connections to the place and the people, it begins to feel more like home, more comfortable.

If I relate that to my experience of moving from San Diego to New York, it feels very true. And I would go further and say that while New York doesn't feel like home in the way that San Diego still does to me, I have now have familiarity and comfort, and some roots here now. I'm easy with it.

I feel easier with the loss of mama these days. Not that I like it, far from that. But I have noticed that some of the intensity of losing her has lessened.

And I had this sudden understanding of why we, why I, might choose to hold on to grief, rather than let it pass through me, as I believe it's meant to.

When the grief was fresh and sharp, it was all so intense and tangible, that it almost felt like she was still here, that somehow those feelings were holding her here.

And as this has softened, gradually, I'm recently aware that I'm thinking of her in past tense. As memories. And I half believe that this is how it should be, and half want to really fight that, as if in fighting it I can somehow hold her more here, more present.

But it doesn't really work that way. I do believe, in some fashion, she is still present. I don't really know what that means still, but I'd like to. And I do believe that I'm more likely to understand as more time passes, and it all softens more.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Confessions of a Generalist, the 40 hour work week

True confessions time: I have spent most of my life avoiding the 40 hour work week, and the fields of work that go along with it.

Yep, that's me. I began working at the age of 14. I liked work then, I still do now. I'm not what you would call an idle person, and in fact don't find it easy to sit still, unless I'm engaged in reading, or sewing, or working at my desk. Busy somehow, sitting for the sake of not doing is not my strong suit. Meditation? Well, I'm working on that, but I love a good walking meditation :-). 

I have never wanted to work 40 or more hours a week at the same place. I have a times in my life put in more than 40 hours a week between several jobs, and during the odd week, at the same job out of necessity, and been fine with that for periods of time.

In general, I have sought to work fewer hours for more money. I prefer to work harder/smarter/faster and be rewarded for this by more free time and a better hourly wage. In my younger days, while living in a big city, this worked well for me and provided me with a lot of freedom in terms of schedule.

Now, due to necessity, I find myself in the position that I have,with the exception of a few brief stints, managed to avoid for over 20 years.  I have children to feed and cloth and be home for in the evenings at least, a husband struggling with health issues, a mortgage and other expenses to pay, and I have planted myself in a small economy with fewer options. So I am currently immersed in the dreaded 40 hour work week. 

I've been doing this for a few months now (okay, maybe 6 weeks, and there was a holiday in there, but it feels longer) and I have some observations. 

It's not all bad. There are some benefits to being in the same place doing the same things for that much time.

1) For example, I rarely feel pressed for time  at work, or a sense of urgency in getting things done. There's usually enough time in the day/week to get what needs to be accomplished without feeling rushed, at least in my current position. I'm well treated and respected, and the work load is reasonable. I'm more relaxed at work. And less focused.

2) I'm getting better and more organized at what I do, now that I'm putting in more hours. I've always believed that to be true. That which I focus on most I improve most. As I spend more and more hours there, I'm often struck with ideas of how to streamline what I do, and become both more focused and productive. I've put some of these into place and they work. My sense of competency is increasing.

There are probably more good things about this, but that's what I'm coming up with now. 

On the downside....

1) I feel more rushed at home. Between working and commuting I'm now away from home at least 9 hours a day. There never seems to be time to get the house clean, the laundry put away, make a nicer meal, or just put my feet up and sit (didn't I just say I don't like that?), or play with the kids. Evenings during the week feel like a rush to feed everyone and get them to bed and I now both understand a) the attraction of convenience foods (but still, gross!), and b) the desire to be home even less, because it's so overwhelming, all that needs to be done and so little time to do it.

2) I have small children, and I feel less connected to home, and to them and their lives when I work this much. I used to think I wanted to be a full time at home mom. Once I began working part time, when Helena was about 3, I realized that this was perfect for me. I got to exercise my brain, interact with adults, and remember the me that was me before I had children. And I got to be there for pretty much everything I wanted to be there for, feel deeply connected to her every day, and really engage her without feeling like we were always rushing on to the next thing. 

Case in point, the other day Lucy was injured while I was cooking dinner. It was minor, and I picked her up and soothed her for a few moments and then she was on her way, back to whatever she had been doing. But I was struck with the fact that that sort of thing happens often throughout the day, and I am not there for it. I'm grateful to the wonderful people who care for her when I am away, we are blessed in that regard. And I'm not sure that she suffers for the lack of me being the one to do it. But I miss this keenly. And Helena, who is a social butterfly and happy to play with other kids most of the time often says she misses me these days. Sigh.

So while I don't think I would like to go back to being a full time, at home mom, I never had the illusion that I wanted to be a full time working mom. I respect those who do it and love it, but, wow, not me. 

When the girls are grown and really don't need me a lot, I might fit better in that setting, but actually, I doubt it, because....

I am, at heart, and introvert and a homebody. I like to go, and do, and interact with the world, and I also love to be in my home, my garden, my space, my place. It's not quite the sanctuary I want it to be yet,  but it's getting there. But not very fast now, because I spend so little time here these days.

And I am a generalist. I'm doing a lot one thing, and little or none of many other things that I love and miss and have little time or energy for.

I don't have a magic solution to all of this. Much has been written of late on the 40 hour work week and if you Google it, you'll find many articles on the subject. Necessity is what it is, and all things have their cycle and purpose. Hindsight will likely reveal gifts of this situation that are harder to see when I'm immersed in it. 

Are you generalist working a 40 or more hour week? What do you do to help you thrive?