Where on earth…

… have you been??? I know, I know, and I’m sorry.  Some things have had to give, you know? I am thinking through a great many things the past couple of weeks.

Adorable.

On doing too much: In my small Mussar learning group, we discussed equanimity last week.  Mussar’s definition is along the lines of having peace of mind, something I’ve long strived for and that my dad always says is important.  Imagine the image of being atop a surfboard, but not being tossed this way and that.  You can ride the waves calmly, moving with the water but not being thrown off balance.  You have a sense of safety and wisdom that things will work out for you no matter what.  Trust, faith, order… equanimity is interwoven with those.  It’s like having the perspective to observe your life impartially as you live it.

So I started recording in little notes (admittedly, using my phone’s microphone function in Notes because I was driving… always rushing) exactly which moments I felt I was lacking in equanimity.  Turns out that Notes function can hold A LOT! I will spare you the rambling, but what I learned, besides that I want much less of the panicky feeling of rushing from one thing to the next, always behind, is that I have equanimity and calmness when there is space in my schedule.  However, I have set up my days to where that rarely happens.

One problem is being reactive rather than proactive.  When I set a few tasks and appointments and go about getting them done, all is well.  I have time for that phone call or sure, I can stop and chat for a few minutes.  Most days, I am rushing from one place to another with much to do. “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! Oh my, oh gee, I’m late you see. I’m late. I’m late. I’m late!” That is a terrible feeling to carry around all the time.

So. What to do about it?

That’s one angle.  Looking at all my responsibilities and commitments and seeing what I can let slide for now.

Another angle (speaking of being proactive) is to think about what it is I want to fill my time with.  I need to take some steps back (or up… for larger perspective) and look at my highest values and begin from there.  Why exactly am I serving on this board?  What is it I care about so much that I am doing these tasks or taking on this responsibility? Is it still valuable to me? What if I could wander off the road a little and add in some gloriously free art time? Ah, now we’re talking.

So that’s what I’m pondering.  Well, sort of.  Really I am rushing from one meeting to another and to the store and the school and the girl scout cookie cupboard and the library and the well, everything… trying to save the world. But eventually, I’m going to burn out and then what?  Sounds to me like it’s self-care time, right? I must be doing ok if I can at least recognize that lack of balance. 🙂

How do you do it all? (I know, I know. You don’t. I still can’t admit that!) Do you think it is a function of time and perspective? With life comes the wisdom to know your limits? I’m curious.

Posted in Mindfulness, Motherhood, Mussar, Self-compassion | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

January book (and life) report

Apologies for not posting on Monday.  I was wiped out from a weekend with multiple events! January was a whirlwind for me… I had several programs for our temple sisterhood that I put together, a board meeting to lead, Girl Scout cookie sales to organize, some evening meetings, plus the usual life events.  Our house construction is nearing it’s end, thank goodness.  It will be soooooo nice to not have people around outside every day. We are doing some final things on the garage apartment like the plumbing, a/c, and pouring a new driveway.  The pool has been on hold until the other was out of the way, but now we’re getting started with that again.  We pour the plaster next week.

Also, I’ve finally had it with myself and how I feel heavy and sluggish so I’m exercising every day and eating healthy.  I got a Fitbit so I can get in a certain number of steps every day, and I like how it prompts me to get up and move around every hour.  I’ve enjoyed walking around the neighborhood and looking at all the new construction. I’m back to using the Lose It app for calorie counting.  15 days in, I’ve lost 6 pounds.  Lots to go but I feel excited about it. Rarely am I hungry since I’m munching on fruit and veggies and eating a huge salad every day.

I hope all of you are hanging in there.  The country has been absolutely upside down, it seems.  Threats to things I have always taken for granted happen at least once a day.  I just this past weekend went to a group meeting for a new chapter of The Sisterhood of Salaam  Shalom, a group of Muslim and Jewish women who want to form friendships and fight intolerance and hatred.  That was beautiful and refreshing.

Houston is hosting the Super Bowl and all I can think of is this.  I have heard the rodeo we have in March is also a huge problem.  I am looking into helping raise funds for one of the projects that houses and cares for escaped victims.

Ok off for school pickup, dance class, and bath time…

Do share your latest news and what you’re reading!

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

Lewis writes in his introduction that it is thanks to these two Israeli psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) that much of his work has occurred.  Their focus was on the ways ideas develop and the different ways the mind can make mistakes, jump to conclusions, and pre-judge situations. Their use of algorithms to make better predictions for success started the field of  behavioral economics.

This book was a bit rough at first for me.  You’ve got biographies of both of them, often from the fully developed point-of-view of yet another person.  You’ve got the science behind their work.  You’ve got stories that at first don’t seem to belong at all.  How it all comes together in the end is amazing.

Both men were geniuses, but Lewis writes that their brilliant work would not have come about had they not collaborated.  It’s the case here that these two are far more than one plus one.  But they were almost complete opposites!

“The students who once wondered why the two brightest stars of Hebrew University kept their distance from each other now wondered how two so radically different personalities could find common ground, much less become soul mates… It was as if you had dropped a white mouse into a cage with a python and come back later and found the mouse talking and the python curled in the corner, rapt.”

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

This story is basically the generations-long after effects of a christening gone wrong.  A chance encounter changes two families’ lives and we follow several relationships over time.  Patchett definitely knows how to develop characters that remain in your mind long after you’re finished reading.  The number of characters, however, is slightly off-putting to me.  Also, I think we are somehow observing all the scenes rather than being right there in them, if that makes sense.  Still, a good story.

“People are scared of the wrong things,” Fix said, his eyes closed. “Cops are scared of the wrong things. We go around thinking that what’s going to get us is waiting on the other side of the door: it’s outside, it’s in the closet, but it isn’t like that. What happened to Lomer, that’s the anomaly. For the vast majority of the people on this planet, the thing that’s going to kill them is already on the inside.”

The Improbability of Love: A Novel by Hannah Rothschild

This is the story of how one painting, considered to be “the greatest, the most moving, and the most thrilling representation of love,” lost for years and unknowingly found by Annie in a junk shop, changed lives.   We read from so many points-of-view (even the painting’s!) that it can get confusing, but Rothschild ties it all together beautifully.  There’s love, a passion for cooking, buried pasts. I thought it a great read.

“That all changed when he met Annie. His life, once an orderly, monotonous and pleasant series of tuneful single notes exploded into a cacophony of riotous, unpredictable chords. Sunshine flooded into dark, unknown corners of his being. He had become utterly daft, light-headed and open-hearted. He smiled at strangers, sang in lifts, danced down corridors. He heard melodies as if for the first time; saw colours afresh. Every tiny task became effortless—he ran down streets and bounced up stairs. Some inexplicable film had been lifted from his eyes, allowing Jesse to see the world from a familiar but altogether surprising viewpoint. Everything became heightened, acute and affecting. His painting was utterly transformed: muted tones and careful composition gave way to extravagant bursts of colour and wild flights of fantasy as his brushes flew with brio and élan across canvases. Occasionally the breath escaped from his lungs with such force that he had to hold on to something solid to stop the ground from giving way. He knew with absolute, undeniable certainty that he and Annie were meant to be together.”

Mothering Sunday: A Romance by Graham Swift

This is a quick read… most of the plot happens in one day in 1924 as a servant girl and a gentleman neighbor soon to be married to someone else have their final tryst in their years-long relationship.  The story unfolds as Jane recalls it years later and we learn of her self-discovery because of that day.

“Can a mirror keep a print? Can you look into a mirror and see someone else? Can you step through a mirror and be someone else?  The grandfather clock chimed two o’clock.  She had not known he was already dead.”

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

This is one of the books that are helping me understand the recent election results.  It was fascinating to hear about what life is like for white, working class people in parts of the country.  It is simply one person’s experience living in the culture of Appalachia and explaining his own experience as a blue collar worker who turned his life around in the Marines and later went to Yale Law School.  Mainly due to his grandmother, he learned to expect more from life.  Highly recommend.

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels. And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us… It was Greater Appalachia’s political reorientation from Democrat to Republican that redefined American politics after Nixon. And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery.”

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin

I’ll always read a book about a bookstore! This one was charming, I thought.  A widowed book store owner finds a 2-year-old girl in his store, abandoned, and raises her as his own.  The characters and the story are excellent.

“The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that. In the end, we are collected works.”

Posted in Books, Books - Monthly Reports | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rethinking parenting pressures

I’m beginning a collection of courses offered by Brené Brown called “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” beginning with “The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.” The entire collection is about rethinking the pressures we put on ourselves and our kids.

In case you want to check out her course, I think she’s still offering 20% off with code ALUMS.

There are so many topics to address in her 4-week online course that I’ll just pick one for today: BELONGING.  Belonging is not a nice-to-have; it’s a DNA requirement.  It’s one of the irreducible needs of life.   It’s an innate human need to be part of something larger than oneself.

I was floored that when Brené said our message to our kids needs to be: “I see you.  I know you.  And you belong here,” I teared up! Wow, that got me right in the heart.

  • It brings me back to middle school and high school lunch times when I didn’t know where to sit.
  • I wanted to be in a high school sorority but I didn’t get in (yes, my high school had a Greek system).
  • I think about one particular summer at camp that I didn’t fit in with my cabin-mates at all and how awkward I felt.
  • I gave in to the pressure to excel in absolutely everything, no matter what spoke to me or didn’t.

It’s like a hustle, always striving to wear the right clothes, say the right thing, be part of the group.  I worked sooooooo hard to fit in that I eventually didn’t even know who Naomi was anymore.

It is said that we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.  There was a final collapse and surrender when I was 18.  There was some rolling-up-my-sleeves real authentic work that had to happen in order to know and love myself.  And then, ten years later, there was yet another identity shift and another need to dive in and re-assess just who I am and what I believe and learn again that I am knowable and lovable.

Children have a way of seeing exactly who you are deep inside.  They don’t know artifice. Especially when they are vulnerable newborns, we are also at our most vulnerable.  We don’t hide who we are… we sing to them off-key, we pour out our hearts at 3am, and we love them no matter what.

Kids need to be deeply seen.  They need to have a home where they can be their most vulnerable or their most powerful and know with certainty that they are going to be treated with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.

I have to say that I am continually pleasantly surprised at the feeling that family brings up for me.  When the 3 of us are playing a game or laughing over dinner, sometimes I feel such a peacefulness wash over me.  I tingle with that sense of belonging.  I know that I am deeply seen for the authentic me, not for the put-together self that I sometimes present to the world.  There is no hiding with us… we might snap at each other but we soon recognize our error and apologize.   We nurture our connection every single day.

Sweet Girl actively shows us her love.  She makes us cards and notes.  She’s got a pen in her lunch box so she can write back to me on my little lunchbox love notes I put there every morning, and I always look forward to opening it to see what she wrote.  She freely gives affection and snuggles.  It reassures me that she feels safe in who she is and feels that she belongs in our family and our home.

Many people don’t get that belonging from their home… but they do find it somewhere.  Youth groups, school clubs, organized religion can be great, but maybe also it’s part of the lure of terrorist groups and human trafficking or even just hanging with the wrong crowd.  Every single human being requires belonging.

Brene says that the best way to learn new ideas is through creativity, and so her coursework involves using our hands in some basic art page.  For belonging, we drew a house and wrote at the top, “In this house, you have permission to” and then filled in the house with all the things that are safe to be or do inside.

I got a little carried away and wanted to make something much bigger for our living room.  I had SG made a house and fill it in with what she thinks goes inside and incorporated her ideas into the canvas as well.

Even cooler is that as the course progresses, we go back and add to our houses.  So it’s ok that I’m not finished yet!

I began with an old canvas that SG started painting a couple years ago (left). I covered it with scrapbook papers and paint.

Then I started planning where I’d put my house.  For the house itself, because the canvas was wet and I still wanted to work on the background, I glued all my papers onto watercolor paper first.  I’ve been writing and doodling and putting rubons on the house.

Some of the things we have permission to do in our home: ask questions, be yourself, have alone time, be vulnerable, shine, share feelings.

I’ll keep you updated when it’s finished.

 

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Dear Lady Jane: please cut out the attitude!

Dear Lady Jane,

When I was about your age, maybe a bit older, I’d often be in the front seat of the car with my dad on Sundays.  He would have circled the garage sale ads that he was interested in and even put them in some kind of order and made a route of travel.  I’m not sure what we were looking for, though if I had to guess I’d say baseball cards.  All I remember is that I enjoyed it.  Spending time with my dad, listening to him talk or even sing, was enough for me.  Sometimes we’d even stop at the donut shop for a glazed donut or hot chocolate.

I don’t think my younger brother or sister have these memories, and I feel fortunate that I do.  I usually didn’t mind accompanying either parent on an errand when it was just the two of us.  It was time together and I got to sit in the front seat.

These fond memories are why I do not quite understand why it seems to be such an inconvenience for you to run errands with us.  You make it pretty clear that you have much more fun at home doing your own thing, which these days is playing school or watching teacher videos on YouTube.  Even when you are with me, you have trouble accepting that even though my car has internet, I still don’t let you watch videos, your head down the entire ride in another world.

You see, if you only do that, I miss important opportunities with you for conversation, to hear about what’s going on with you and what’s in your head.  You miss looking out the window, asking questions about what you see or just simply b e i n g.

I didn’t have internet growing up, of course.  In fact, my only technology was a Mr. Professor toy, if you can call that technology.  We watched tv shows, but there were not unlimited kids options 24/7.  I played with friends.  I read a book.  I enjoyed being in my own room playing.  When there was a chance to go somewhere out of the house, it was a fun opportunity for something different.

You, on the other hand, can’t be bothered.  I have no idea where this sense of entitlement came from.  You have no trouble showing us what an inconvenience it is to run to the grocery store or like yesterday, look at hardwood floors at 2 or 3 stores… dragging your feet, slowly and dramatically getting out of the car, terrible attitude all the while.  Your mood combined with Daddy’s tired and frustrated mood to make it a not-very-fun experience all around.  And don’t you see? We won’t get those few hours back.  What could have been fun was turned into a wasted opportunity.  We could have played 20 questions, one of your favorite car games, or our license plate game, or this rhyming one you invented that I still don’t quite understand.

Instead, you toss your hair, put one hand on an extended hip, and look eternally bored.  I’m sorry, are you 13 or something? No, you are 8! The world does not revolve around you.  When your family needs to select flooring for our new garage apartment, you come with.  When your mom needs to stop at the store, you come with.  You do not have a choice.  Complaining only makes your parents frustrated, witch does not bode well for you.  I hope you’re learning that.

How about you roll with the punches a little more? It’s not good to be so rigid that you don’t want to go to dance class because it involves leaving the house.  Life happens and if you don’t participate in it, I think you’ll regret it.  Maybe one day you can make your own decisions, but in this house, complaining about going to school every day gets old.  I have never let you stay home because you’d simply rather do that than face other people.  I hope this attitude goes by the wayside very soon, because you aren’t learning it from me or these videos you watch.  Maybe you are trying on a new persona? Well I think you should drop it. Pronto.

Love you lots,

Mom

 

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The politics of fear and a call for transformation

Picking a leader for our country is obviously not a simple process, but the fact that our choices narrowed down to someone many do not trust on one hand and a mercurial misogynist in love with fame and capitalism on the other boldly highlights that something is very very wrong.  So why did this happen and what do we who fight for fairness and equality and that vision of America we refuse to let go of do now? We are baffled and worried and we are searching for a path toward healing.

Our Administration and Congress are meant to be a reflection of the People.  It’s a bottom-up system just as much as it is top-down.  Thus, our new “leader” is reflective of the enlightenment and transformation we desperately need.  He is an indication that we are suffering as a nation and need to turn things around.  Every vague speech he makes that says not much of anything, every inappropriate Cabinet pick, every utterance that contradicts his last is pointing us, practically begging us, toward change.  I don’t know where that “tipping point” of recognition is, but I hope we’re getting there sooner rather than later.

We shouldn’t need a money-worshipping tv personality from Queens who has been married thrice and sued countless times to make it apparent to us that our values have been seriously derailed.

How is it that we live in a place of such varied beauty and such a sense of promise, yet there are many among us who lack a secure home life or access to healthy food and have little sense of belonging or hope for the future? People whose entire life has been spent running from single parent to step-parent, dodging drugs, violence or hunger.

Those who are in this kind of pain have few resources at their disposal.  It is such an uphill battle… societal stigmas, lack of opportunity, being unseen and unheard, little past success and few role models. 

Of course the problems are “those other people”… those who commit the plethora of hate crimes we hear of every day lately, those who keep their head down and do not speak out against unfairness or injustice, and those who make poor choices.  These people are not us.  They must be from other places and they should be sent back there immediately! They are adversaries, ultimately work for other people – think-tanks and politicians – to figure out what to do with.

What’s going on all of a sudden? These voiceless and unseen people are angry.  Their anger breeds even more anger.  There is such overwhelming need that is not being met that a cycle has been created that is almost impossible to escape.  Yet there are misperceptions underneath their actions.  There are reasons for all their struggles.

When one part of our culture is so distraught that they feel unheard and angry, the entire culture is affected.

Lack of hope or belonging, born of pain, can of course lead toward violence and acts of hate.  When you despair, do you not (wrongly) try to find someone else to blame for your struggles? These are things that our government most likely cannot change.  These need to come from us.  We have to learn how to trust one another.  We must learn to recognize the suffering in another rather than immediately jump to rage and violence.

It’s almost impossible to believe we are part of the problem, but we must, all of us, set down our anger.  Anger stems from deep pain.  It rises from insecurities, fear, distress, lack of opportunity, injustice, and hopelessness just as much as it arises from disappointment and the loss of an ideal.  We are, all of us, in pain.

Why are we ok going to sleep in our cozy homes when there are those among us who go to sleep under bridges without dinner? Why do we allow such abundance to go to waste when there are many who need what we have? Why do we blame their circumstances on misinformed and unfortunate past choices and hurry away blindly?

I don’t know how to fix it all.  In this “rise from your bootstraps” land of opportunity, where self is king and our new leader is greed personified, we don’t have much of an example henceforth for how to reach deep inside and reach out to others.  In the past, we have dismissed such disparity and uncertainty and patched together temporary solutions.

We are going to have to process our fears, hold space for grief, honor the imperfections among each one of us.  If we are going to cultivate common ground and move forward, we are going to have to be vulnerable, lose the sense indignation and hatred, the us v. them race we are on.

I don’t know what to make of those among us who shake our heads on Facebook at how ludicrous politics in our country has become.  Perhaps that is yet another way of seeking a sense of belonging and affirmation that there are others who also see this downward spiral and feel outrage and hopelessness? Pointing out unethical acts may feel like doing something, but it creates a separation between you and “those people” who think or act that way.   Highlighting the unlimited foolishness and corrupt behavior in our elected “CEO in chief” is almost like pointing a finger at ourselves and announcing that we don’t get it yet.  Sure, we should allow Comedy Central to help us laugh at the senselessness of it all, but the more adamant or righteous we become, the less we are ultimately understanding the current situation.

We do not need new walls; we must build bridges.

I don’t suggest we sit back and let it all fall apart… but I think more effort to understand is called for.  As we all grow frustrated and impatient with lack of progress or change, we can all-too-quickly turn to anger or profound sadness.  We need to honor each and every individual as a piece of the divine.  No one of us is better than any other.  We are, all of us, deserving of respect.  We are brothers and sisters and we need to start acting like we believe it.

All of what we are seeing is the outcome of so many different problems that I wouldn’t know where to begin.  I do know that denouncing violence is not the same as promoting peace, honor, and understanding.  Recognizing that someone’s actions must stem from suffering and mistreatment, however, is a beginning.

What comes next? I think there is reason to hope.  We must come together with strangers seeking together healing and hope.  Until all of us reach deep into society and help one another as if we were all brothers and sisters, as if we have a large stake in each individual’s success in life, until we take responsibility for helping those who struggle to make better choices, eat healthy foods, put in effort at school or work until they can see their own future sitting bright and attractive in front of them, until we feel the pain that they themselves feel every single day, there is little hope that things will change much.

Yes, there is pain, but there is potential as well.  It’s hard to see how a transformation could ever come about, but obviously there are pieces of our whole that we had no idea were in such straights.  Just as a body cannot function well without a healthy liver or a working heart, our nation must heal itself before it can become great again.  It’s only been some 250 years that we have been the U.S. of A, but for thousands of years before that, people have lived on this land in relative peace. We must pause, take deep breaths, and listen to the divisions among us even if we do not understand them.

In order to become “a nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” united in action, admired by the rest of the world because we care about that world, we have to think of the highest good for everyone.  Our founding parents hoped that we would be a shining example of leadership, guidance, and goodness.  We cannot let them down.

There is much good among us already.  Let’s find common ground with each other.  Let uncertainty be the birthplace of goodness.  Let the injustices that shake us lead us to inspired action.  Let us keep compassion in our hearts and be conscious of how we treat those who we don’t understand… in our homes and extended families, in our communities, and with those we come into contact with anywhere.  Let us show up and help. Let us share our joys and our sorrows and forge new connections.  Let us focus on what’s possible rather than what divides us.  Let us heal each other.  Let us find and lead a better way.

I Am America is an audio and video statement that America can only be what we make it. We can’t afford to be complacent. We must actively pursue justice and equality for all Americans. Share the song and the message…we are America!

Produced by Michael Parnell & Craig Taubman
Written by Jason Chu, Michael Parnell, Stuart K Robinson, & Craig Taubman
Mixed and Recorded by Michael Parnell, Andrew Schwartz & Tom Weir at Studio City Sound by
Video Edit by Stuart K Robinson
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House redo: living room – part 2

It’s funny to me that I did all this house redecorating last summer but 6 months later I still haven’t shown it all to you! We’re getting there.  Since we covered the main room in Part 1, I only need to show you the shelves in our living room.  I saved them for a separate post since there are several new items.

Please forgive the messy countertops.

These handmade birthday karmagraph creations are mine and my daughter’s.  Theresa custom makes ‘color portraits’ based on your date of birth and each color symbolizes the way we relate to other people and what our life journey is about.  Go to her website to find out more.  The glass tile comes from Ben’s Garden.  He makes all sorts of glass custom gifts.

These agate bookends are from Z Gallerie.This Mona Vase is by DwellStudio, spray painted maroon.  The heart glass is hand-made by an artist in St. Paul de Vence.  I adore it.

The mother-of-pearl picture frames are from Z Gallerie.  That illustration of our family was made by mylittlebuffalo on Etsy.  I printed it onto an 8×8 black standout via mpix.

The beautiful basket was handmade by my mother.  The painting print was also a gift from my parents.  I think they got it on a cruise.


I got this polystone hands sculpture on Joss & Main.  They came in bronze but I sponge painted them with Pebeo Gilding Wax in silver.  To me, they symbolize family, support, love, and doing our own thing while maintaining a connection.

Clock from zulilly.  Vase was a wedding gift long ago.  Picture from from Z Gallerie.

This painting is of poppies, my fave.  I got it from Wayfair I think.  Custom play dough creations by SG.

The little faux plant here was black and I spray painted it.  The Journey art I created a few years ago.  The matching Libra vases by Cyan here and below are from Joss & Main.

Ta da! Let’s see what the next room on the tour will be… I think we will move to the back of the house so SG’s room is next.

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