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You Hesitated

What have I been up to? I ask myself that every day right now. What am I going to do with my life? I don’t just ask the big question, What Am I Going to Do with my Life, but every day, I ask myself what I am going to do with my hours. I am going through a career change, and at the same time, I am a busy stay at home mom.

A few weeks ago we went to the Valley of Fire with some friends. My kids have been watching Avatar, the Last Airbender, and it mentions meditating. So my youngest two stopped and sat down, yogi style, with their hands together. I asked the five year old what he was doing. “I’m hesitating,” he said.IMG-7089

I feel like his answer summed up my current life.  I’m hesitating. I just had to leave a workplace I loved for the sake of my health. This left me feeling like a giant failure. Now I would like to find something with a lower stress level that still challenges me, and the pain of losing a job I loved makes me hesitate before jumping into something new.

I have started talking to myself about finding “meaningful work outside of the home.”  But when I listen to myself talk that way, I start to wonder, Can I make my work at home more meaningful, and quit cracking a whip on myself so hard to succeed elsewhere? I honestly don’t know that I can. Since I was a little girl and heard my kindergarten teacher say that it was possible for the first female president of the United States to be elected in my lifetime, my ambition has been kindled to do something great.

Do I have it in me to re-define what I think is great?  Isn’t it great to have healthy relationships with my spouse and children? Can that be great enough? Can I find a low stress work environment that provides me with an outlet from the exhaustion of full time caregiving, but that doesn’t leave me having a hard time managing my RA? If I ask myself one more question, will I go mad?

In the meantime, I’m taking a portraiture class. Art is another form of hesitation.  I stop my busy week for five hours every Thursday to learn from a master portrait painter. I have a lot of positive self talk, there.  I’m new at this. I have a lot to learn, and growth is a good thing. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Below is my first attempt at a color pastel portrait. I’m working on my second right now, but I accidentally chose the wrong paper color, so I’m a little worried it’s doomed. Still, I’m new at this. I have a lot to learn. Growth is a good thing.

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One thing I like about art is that, like quilting, when you are done investing your time and effort, you have something to show for it. However, the product is not my favorite thing. The product brings up my worries and inadequacies.  My favorite thing about art is how, in an effort to focus on the subject at hand, all of my other worries sort of melt away. Trying to make art is a form of mindfulness, and in a way, a meditation.

 

A Simple New Years Resolution

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A couple of years ago I resolved on something life-changing. I am so happy I did it. I can’t remember if it was January, but I do remember that it took me a long time to truly change a life long habit.  I was at the Dollar Store the other day, and the cashier expressed his surprise when I pulled out my reusable shopping bags.

“Are you from California?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I just trained myself to use these. It was really hard to go against the way I was raised,” I joked.

Joking aside, it took more persistence than I expected to change the habit. A couple of things made it possible, so I wanted to share a few of them.

Forgiveness

First I decided that I would take the approach I learned about from a stop smoking program. It said, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit. Quit again.”  I discovered it’s easier for me to do something hard if I allow myself to fail at it over and over before I succeed.  When I started, I left my shopping bags in the back of my car, and I don’t know how many times I walked into the store without them.  I finally figured out that if I mentally associated the produce bags as my warning marker, that helped me cue “plastic bag avoidance.” Since I usually go to the produce section first, I felt less stupid going back out to my car because I hadn’t filled my cart by the time I remembered.  I don’t know how many times I had to make myself turn around and go back out to the car, but after a series of those walks I finally remembered to get the reusable bags before going into the store.

Bags I Liked

I have a dear long-time friend who totally gets me, and one Christmas she gave me several small re-usable IKEA bags, like THESE.*  I loved them instantly. They folded up so small, and they fit right in my purse.  Purse carrying women are really at an advantage in this resolution. (That doesn’t mean men can’t make it happen, of course.) Since those first few bags I have also bought a few more to add to my stash. They are very sturdy, and I haven’t had to throw any of them away yet. I even bought a bunch of sets of constellation ones on Amazon* to do a giveaway for  marketing at my work. The bags were a hit, and we had more entrants than usual in our drawing.

Before I resolved to avoid using single use shopping bags, I used to throw grocery sacks full of wadded up used bags away on a regular basis. I hated doing this every time. Since my efforts to use only reusable bags, I have run out of plastic bags a couple of times. My family is still working on avoiding single use bags, and sometimes I end up forgetting my purse.  Still, Forgiveness, right? Better to try than to do nothing.

External Motivation

Do you ever read the news and just want to give up? I have been reading about the devastation in Australia currently, and the koala situation alone is enough to make me want to take a week off of reading the newsnot because it doesn’t matter, but because I can’t handle it.  Whenever I think about these environmental problems, I ask myself, Can I really do anything about that? I can’t fly to Australia. I’m not a trained firefighter. I can donate money to organizations who can do something, but donation is limited by my need to feed and shelter myself and my children.

When I avoid using plastic bags, I feel like I am DOING something.  At the grocery store today they gave me a 5 cent credit for each bag I used. That incentive would not motivate my five year old to pick up his dirty clothes off of the floor. When I use and reuse my bags, the benefit is intangible. I feel good. I may not be doing everything. But I am doing something. It is very small, but it’s better than nothing.

* These are not affiliate links. I just LOVE reusable shopping bags and want everyone to get some and use them and feel the joy with me.

Motor Bikes

IMG-5095As I was writing our family Christmas letter this year, I remembered back to the cruise we went on in May. We have been married for 15 years, and celebrated a little early because the cruises were cheaper then than our anniversary in the mid summer.

We ate so much food. I bought a journal in Belize to write detailed descriptions of the food to help me remember its beauty and bounty. My favorite thing was having waffles with blueberry compote and Nutella for breakfast the few days after I discovered this option. Every time we stopped at a port, we went on an excursion, and on our last excursion we decided to try those motorized bikesit seemed like a good idea after all of that Nutella for breakfast.

I like biking a lot, and though I lack skill, I make up for that in enthusiasm.  We got off of our cruise ship, took our Mexican taxi van, and stood in a group with the others who had signed up for the bike ride as well while we had a safety briefing.  Our guide showed us how to use the bikes, and then said we could try a little loop before getting on the road. I volunteered to go first because I was so excited. I had never tried a bike which had motors inside of the bars to help me along before.

I confidently jumped on, and pedaled straight toward the orange cone we were supposed to ride around. Since it was my first try, and since I was so enthusiastic, I took the turn a little too quickly, and gracefully slid my bike out from under me, landing flat on my face and scratching my knee.  It was a great learning experience.  For the whole rest of the bike ride I used the proper amount of caution, and no one else in my group fell off of their bikes.

It just went to prove that wise old adage that if you can’t serve as a good example, you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.

Oh Vanity

 

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I have a sister who has a talent for looking fabulous. She always has some gorgeously textured cream colored sweater, and a matching bag and shoes that go with that sweater. The whole ensemble will also  complement her complexion. She buys a lot of clothes, and many of her cast offs come to me.

A few months ago, she gave me the sunglasses pictured above. They have a hint of Art Deco style, which is one of my favorites as I love natural and dramatic styles. I have really enjoyed them. Normally I just use sunglasses for their practical purpose, and don’t think much about how they look, but these are different. When I wear them, I feel a little bit like a movie star.

The other day I was walking out of the dining area on campus, and as I stepped into the sunshine I congratulated myself on my beautiful glamorous sunglasses. I liked my outfit that day, too.  I had a brief moment of anticipation that I was going to look so smooth as I took my fancy glasses off of the top of my head and placed them gracefully on my face, covering it in large rounds of sophistication.  Unfortunately, as I began to lift them off of my head, they got caught in my hair, and I was still unceremoniously yanking, half way down the stairs. At last they came off, and I shoved them on my face.

Three women were walking toward me from the library. I didn’t know if they had seen the fall of my hubris. I smiled at them warmly, so that at least they would know I am kind hearted if not chic. Then I picked a hair off of my face that had got stuck in the glasses.  So much for my vanity. I guess glamour is not my destiny. I’m still going to wear those glasses though. They really keep the sun off of my face.

The Feeding of Children

I am lucky to currently have a flexible schedule. This means that most nights I fix dinner for my family.

Tonight, as I was busily stirring this and checking that, my five  year old came in demanding a peanut butter sandwich.

“No. I’m not going to make you a peanut butter sandwich right now,” I said, proud of myself for my firm boundaries.

“What, are you just going to not get me anything until I die?” he retorted.

That escalated quickly.

The Delicate Arch and Other Adventures

2D7F94AD-4E58-45CD-BE91-66E1BB16999FLast month I did not post, and that’s because it was hectic. Earlier in the year I had asked my sister if she wanted to go to Moab with me and see Arches National Park, and she said she would get back to me. She never did, so I thought we weren’t going. Then a couple of weeks before the weekend I had mentioned she checked in to make sure we were still going. I immediately reserved hotel rooms for us, and contacted one of our favorite cousins who lives there so we could visit her.

We drove the long and lonely road to Moab late Friday night, and Saturday morning we got up and dragged our eight children up the steep hike to see the Delicate Arch.  I knew it would be beautiful, but I didn’t know it would be a profound spiritual experience. When I saw it, I couldn’t speak for a few moments. I almost cried, and that’s not just because I had hiked 1.5 steep miles with a five year old past a hundred and a half chances to fall to his death.  The stark beauty of the arch just took my breath away. I had seen it in photos many times, but to see it in real life was to be transported by its grandeur.

I had breathed the fresh air, felt the sandy stone hard under my feet. The sun warmed me just enough in the chilly fall morning. It was majestical.

We had lunch at the Devil’s Garden, and then went down to the double arch area for the kids to play in the afternoon. We had dinner with my cousin, and I put the kids to bed at 9 pm in the hotel room. The next morning the sunrise wasn’t until 7:45, so I got up at 6:30, dragged my son into the car with me, and left to photograph it. sunrisearchessunrisearches2

I’ll bet I took a hundred photos. The stillness of the park in the dark morning really spoke to me. Cars still drove past, but it just felt more intimate. It was a long drive home after that much loveliness.

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Happy Autumn

I have to say Happy Autumn and not Happy Fall because the word fall makes me think of falling. Then I think of elderly people, and how terrible falling is for them. Then I think, what kind of sick person says, “Happy Fall?”

Then I think, All kinds of nice people say that every year in September. And I get stuck in a loop, laughing and rolling my eyes at myself. So Happy Autumn everyone. I feel like that’s clear enough, and none of us have to worry that I’m poking fun at their stability issues.

My daughter got after me today for not putting out the fall decorations. She made this cute one here:

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She gets this art out when the weather turns chilly, and I love it. I love that she made it. I love that she gets it out. Why should I go to all that trouble when she is making my life so much better by doing it? I am much older than she is.  If I climbed the stepladder in the storage room⁠ it could get precarious.  You and I both know how older people deal with falls.

You might also notice the Mexican table runner. One of the reasons I have had less time to write was that I was watching four cute nieces and nephews while their parents, my sister and her husband, went to Mexico for their anniversary. She brought that runner back for us because my sister is pretty much always thinking of others.

We had so much fun with the children, and here is some evidence:

IMG_6203All of my nieces and nephews are very bright, of course, and one nephew in particular is incredible at origami. He totally made this awesome little thing. I don’t know what it was. I like to think it is an elephant, trunk raised in the air, ready to trumpet. I do know that it would take me an inordinate amount of time to concoct such a thing. That boy pumped out loads of super cool paper stuff while they were here.

Their grandma came to help, and she cooked tons of food, including incredible tamales.  She also did many, many loads of laundry. I came to the conclusion that what every mom really needs is an extra mom in the house.

Horizons

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A couple of weekends ago, I went to a ladies kayaking trip that started with a tour of Waterhole Canyon and a short hike out to the Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. I took the picture above with my 10 or so year old, crop frame, digital SLR, and a borrowed wide angle lens from my father in law.  My husband has a better camera, which I often borrow, but I felt less nervous taking my older camera down the river with me.  I was really happy with the photo, even though the bend is photographed a thousand times a day, and my photo is in no way unique.  I held my camera in the air high above my head in the hope of getting an even better shot. Because I did that, the horizon was pretty unlevel.

I am married to a photography professor, and he would probably never have published a photo like that.  He constantly drills into his students to level their horizons when they shoot. If they miss it, it’s an easy fix in post. I have loved photography for a long time, too, and I know this about horizons.  But I was in a hurry when I processed the photo. I have a job, four children, and am taking a college class this semester, so I am often in a rush when trying to do something I love.  So when I corrected the horizon, it was still a little off. You can see it here:

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I went ahead and posted this imperfect picture on my husband and my photo page on social media. Almost immediately one of my husband’s past students came online and started criticizing the horizon.  I can understand his distress. He saw it on Alex’s page, and he knows darn well that Alex knows better.  Unfortunately for me, this student did not know what an insecure emotional small child I am on the inside when it comes to my photography. His words were devastating. I made a joke about it, and he came right back with critical words again. So I deleted the post. It is embarrassing to admit how thin skinned I am.

Even worse, it reminded me of a time when I was younger and made an unappreciative comment about an incredible quilt that was very detailed. It wasn’t my style at the time, but it was still an amazing feat of craftswomanship.  The quilter leaned in and politely pointed out that she reads the comments.  I immediately felt terrible, but I was SO grateful to her for helping me realize that behind the screens we consume every day are real people, with real feelings. When they share something they create, it is a courageous act of vulnerability.  I hope that I am wiser now, and more respectful to those who open themselves up that way.

Now that I have had time to step back and look at the big picture, I remind myself that the trip was not exclusively about the stunning beauty we were so lucky to see.

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Waterhole Canyon

It certainly didn’t hurt to be surrounded by breathtaking sandstone and emerald water. The sun melted away all of our cares. We ate food out of cans and pouches, and some of our apples baked like they had been in a solar oven.

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Glen Canyon Dam

Sure, it was grounding to feel small in contrast to the engineering feat of the dam. The natural wonder of the canyon and river gave me a healthy sense of my own insignificance. My tent mate got me up in the middle of the night to look at the milky way surrounded by the canyon. That was pretty magical.
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What I really loved most about that trip, though, was not the photographs I took away. It was the stories I heard, the new friends I made, and the old friends I came to cherish even more. So, if I share a picture with a flaw, and someone doesn’t like it, I guess I’ll be okay. I have a lot of friends who will probably still let me float down the river with them another day.

First Day Back to School

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It’s back to school day for my older kids. My sixth grader had to leave on the bus at 6:45 a.m., so we said goodbye to him early this morning and then went on a quick walk before the next child left at 7:15 a.m. One of our neighbors was out walking too, and she asked if this was a happy day or a sad day, and in unison Alex and I said, “Yes.”

It is a relief every year to send the kids back to school, and resume the structure that goes with it.  We are so much better about putting our kids to bed on time during the school year.  It means more sleep for us, and more quiet time while they are asleep. Often in late July, or early August, I find myself making an appointment with my counselor just to deal with my late summertime woes.  Then school starts, and I can quilt and read at night, and everything gets into a predictable routine. Suddenly my mental health improves.

Still, I’m going to miss the otter pops, trips to the library and swimming pool, and late nights reading library books.  It’s so nice to not have to go anywhere or do anything for long periods of time. This summer we did not take a big family vacation. We just went to a couple of family gatherings and reunions. We spent a little time at the lake, a little time hiking, and a lot of time reading, riding bikes, and generally lounging.

This year, my youngest starts kindergarten, and next year he will go to school full time.  When my oldest went into kindergarten, I cried like a baby. But the next two I was able to mostly keep my composure. This morning I felt calm as one of the teachers took him to the small blue chair at the very short table for his testing. I filled out my set of blue papers on the clipboard.

I threw away the car seat this week. All four of my children used that car seat, and when I put it in the gray dumpster, I felt a twinge of sadness, but I didn’t come apart (like that other time I threw away part of their childhood). I think I’m ready to move forward.

After testing, this morning I went to get a muffin at the local coffee shop with one of my best friends, and my youngest child. He had apple juice, and I had a raspberry peach muffin that was pretty heavenly.  He scolded me for not getting him any food, so I broke off a piece for him, and we all enjoyed the cool morning before heading off to our work days.

I have a little bit of mom guilt for not planning an elaborate kid centered vacation this summer.  But I decided that some times it’s okay to just letter summer be, and enjoy the simple pleasures of a fully dedicated rest. Guilt is optional. That’s my motto.

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