A gal walks into a dentist office…

A gal walks into a dentist office.  It’s rather ordinary as offices go.  She’s been here before. In fact, this is her 13th visit.

Why does it warrant mentioning? Because this time is different.

You know how people say that we can only fully appreciate something when we have known it’s opposite? Like since we lost our home, I️ sure am going to love our new one. Or something like that. I️ do agree that it’s the contrast between experiences that gives us a sense of perspective.

I would think that while most children don’t really like going to the dentist, they don’t cause big problems for their parents about it. Mine did. We read books, we took films home to practice taking x-rays (which she never could handle), we had incentives and lots of discussions.  I will spare you the details, but let me just celebrate that on the cusp of her 9th birthday, SG is finally able to go to the dentist for a regular cleaning without requiring 3 or 4 assistants at the ready.  We both left calm and with smiles on our faces.  There were no tears. There was no screaming. There was no harm done to my clothing. I didn’t have to call Mr. B and tell him I need a weekend away.

They told me at all those awful visits that I should not feel bad about any of it and they had seen worse. They told me she would grow out of her fears, control issues, and anxiety. I just didn’t believe it.  I’m fairly positive they talked about us after we left! I have to say I am impressed with their soothing presence all these years.  

So yes, I️ am left with my mouth hanging open in amazement, completely floored at this pleasant experience.  The staff was also rather in shock. We exchanged many an impressed glance.  I left their office in utter shock and feeling completely giddy.  It felt like a milestone had been reached.  Had I let myself, I could have gotten teary and sentimental about how my baby is growing up.

This gives me hope that one day, long after I’m ready for her to, she will grow up and leave home.  🙂

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Word strip art

I’d like to tell you about a project I just completed and then implore you never to attempt it yourself.  Why? It is tedious, visually tiring, and just plain silly. Add a new kitten to the mix and you would be out of your mind to do it.

Now that we got that out of the way…

I got this idea the other day to make a list of everything I could think of that makes me happy. I had about two pages in a notebook when I started thinking about what I could do with my list so that I could see it more often.  I envisioned a canvas with words that I cut out from magazines. I definitely didn’t envision the end result, but I love it!

Step 1. (Not optional if you are a Type A person) Type the list, separate phrases into words,  create 4 columns per page, sort alphabetically, and print. It’s too hard to do phrases.

Step 2. Grab a stack of magazines and a pair of scissors and go to town. (You will end up with pages that look like doilies, so read something first if you want to.) Cross off the words you’ve found.

It’s also helpful to cut out lots of articles and endings like “ing,” “a,” and “the.”

I wish I could say that you could listen to music, but I tried it and I couldn’t concentrate. I also tried searching for several words at once… that hurt my head too after awhile. 🙂 In fact, I think the part of the brain we use for reading and understanding is different from the part we use to search for words.  When I’d read, I wasn’t looking for words and when I was searching for words, I had no idea what I was looking at.

Step 3. Cut strips of paper about a centimeter wide.  I used turquoise and purple because I figured I would like seeing those colors peek through some gaps if need be.

Step 4. Begin assembling phrases.  Lay out all your words and “go shopping” in your pile.  This is where it got tricky for me.  If I left them out on the table, CoCo would be right there to play and “rearrange.” I had to cover them with magazines every time I stepped away.

When there were only a few words left to find, I wrote them on the strips of paper so I could throw away my paper lists.

The longer you search, the more likely it is that you’ll come across another phrase you like.  This could be trouble.  The magazines I subscribe to are full of wordy goodness. At some point, enough is enough, right?

Step 5. Trim as much of the extra backing paper away so the focus is on the words.

Don’t forget about that kitten… you still need to be vigilant. All that time and effort…

Step 6. Arrange them on your surface.  I’m sure there are as many ways to do this as there are people who may attempt it. I estimated that it would be 10×10. I bought a wood board that size and painted it black. I separated the strips by size, then pulled out the ones that had a word sticking up higher than the others and then ones that had a lot of color showing through. I paired those up as much as possible. They fit together like puzzle pieces.

Step 7. Glue them to the board. I ended up not having enough phrases and words and had to find some more.  Brush on a top coat of glue and you’re done!

I decided that it was worth it, but that I’m never doing this again.

In the end, what I’ve come away with is the sheer amazement of how many things make me happy!

Posted in Behind the Art, Creativity, Mindfulness | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sorry… I’m booked!

September was pretty much lost due to recent events, but October was full of good reads.  I honestly don’t know how I read them all because I didn’t think I spend much time reading.  Apologies that it’s not my usual review quality. Here are my short and sweet summaries.

Obama: The Call of History by Peter Baker

I got this from the library, but this book is so gorgeous that I am going to eventually buy it to own forever.  It’s full of beautiful photographs and accounts of his time in office.  Definitely recommend.

Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life by INFJoe (Aaron Caycedo-Kimura)

Super funny and cute. Recommend if you are an introvert and often feel misunderstood or for those who just don’t understand but only want to spend 5 minutes figuring it out.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

Tess is put in charge of her very young sister at age 18, having to put her own dreams on hold. That’s the main part of the book, but there’s a romance too. Tess and Gus almost meet many times over the years… the usual cliched story but the route this one takes is actually interesting.  Eberlen’s sentences are beautifully descriptive, almost complete stories in themselves.  This makes me wonder what might have happened in countless situations had I spoken to this person rather than that one.

“Normally, I’d have explained that I wasn’t Hope’s mother, but those cataclysmic seconds, minutes—I don’t even know how long it was—without her had made me realize that Hope was so much more important than anything else. It was suddenly clear as an epiphany that I had a choice: I could either go on thinking life was unfair and getting all bitter and resentful, or just get on with looking after her. It was actually a relief.”

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This is full of ideas that are simple to put into practice for immediate results.  Acknowledge kids’ emotions and feelings.  Encourage autonomy. Focus on their behavior, not the child.  I enjoyed the examples of dialogue that show how to use their suggestions.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Cute, but I don’t recommend. It’s about the surprisingly petty and political ups and downs of being a kindergarten class parent.  The main character helps a few people to loosen up, but in general, I didn’t get invested enough in the story to care.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Warm-hearted and well-written. Emilia inherits her father’s failing bookstore and is determined to make it a success.  Many of the characters also need help and they come together to help each other in interesting ways.

“Emilia held Sarah’s hands and looked at her. She could see now the depth of the sadness in Sarah’s eyes. And she could feel the warmth and kindness that Julius must have been drawn to. And she was grateful to Sarah, for her compassion and honesty. It must have been a painful confession. She felt honored to be trusted with the secret. She supposed when she had time to think about it, she might be shocked, but she wasn’t going to judge. She found it a comfort, that Julius had this woman’s devotion. And she knew, from all the books she had ever read, that life was complicated, that love sprang from nowhere sometimes, and that forbidden love wasn’t always something to be ashamed of.”

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

I really liked this one and I’m going to have to read the next 2 books in the series.  It reminds me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in that it’s a ride through the American landscape and culture while pondering the spiritual emptiness within a good life.  I found it wise, relatable, interesting, and often humorous. Definitely recommend.

“But he was smiling at me as if he did know me. The smile was an odd combination of innocent goodwill and sureness, as if he were at once happy to see me standing up for myself, but also laughing at me, kindly, the way a father laughs at his two-year-old when she mispronounces a word. No, that’s not right; that implies a condescension that wasn’t there. It was more like a seasoned affection. Strong, even, yellowish teeth, lips stretched wide, longshoreman’s face still and solid—the Rinpoche was looking at me as if he knew me through and through and liked me in spite of it.”

The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance – From Toddlers to Teens by Kim John Payne

This is written by the author of Simplicity Parenting, which I liked. She writes about boundaries for kids. After I read about how some behavior is a call for help, I was able to use the advice in this book to change my behavior to change SG’s. The parent-child connection is a primary focus.

“Nine Years Old: On the Cusp They are leaving early childhood behind but are not yet fully in middle childhood. This phase is characterized by insecurities and pushback against family rules.”

Oh no.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

A small-town bookstore owner exchanges shops with a friend in Paris for 6 months.  Just the premise sounds interesting, right? It was fun to read. The main character had to grow and own her authority and work through her romantic relationship issues.  There is a bonus part where she befriends a well-known author. I don’t really want to read the other books in this series, but this was a good one.

“Turning back to the bookshop, I stepped closer and peeked in the window. It was just as I imagined; dark wooden shelves wound to the ceiling, books were double stacked, the ones higher up were beige with dust. On the main floor, rickety old tables bowed with the weight of colorful new editions. A towering pile of the latest blockbusters were displayed by the front door in an unapologetic heap. Which books would sell best here? I couldn’t wait to find out.”

What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Erica Reischer, PhD

What I love about this one is that it’s lists 75 things and gives each about a page, including tips for implementing and real examples for how to apply it right away. Many of the ideas overlap. It mentions challenging behaviors, creating bonds, living by your values, etc.

“Great parenting is not about memorizing a set of rules, it’s more like skillfully speaking a language. Through practice, fluent speakers internalize a set of principles and are then able to craft their language to suit the moment and their purpose. Like speaking a language, parenting is a skill that can be improved through learning and practice.”

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

This is the one of all of these that I’d say you should definitely read.  It is a gorgeous memoir about living with a terminal illness. Riggs approaches life with honesty and courage and encourages us to love all our days, the good and bad ones.

“I want all of it—all the things to do with living—and I want them to keep feeling messy and confusing and even sometimes boring. The carpool line and the backpacks and light that fills the room in the building where I wait while the kids take piano lessons. Dr. Cavanaugh sitting on my bedside looking me in the eyes and admitting she’s scared. The sound of my extended family laughing downstairs. My chemo hair growing in suddenly in thick, wild chunks. Light sabers cracking Christmas ornaments. A science fair project taking shape in some distant room. The drenched backyard full of runoff, and tiny, slimy, uncertain yard critters who had expected to remain buried in months of hard mud, peeking their heads out into the balmy New Year’s air, asking, Wait, what?”

The Ticket by Heather Grace Stewart

Quick, fun, and humorous. Handsome newscaster buys 2 tickets for a trip around the world with his girlfriend. After breaking up, he needs to find someone with her exact name to share the trip with. Sounds predictable, but the characters were well-drawn. Both were flawed yet likable. This was just the book I needed after the hurricane for some light reading.

“I need to figure out what I’m passionate about because somewhere along the way, while I was taking care of everyone else’s needs, I lost sight of my own.”

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Did you know that after WWI, radio was seen as controversial? This is historical fiction, one of my faves.  Through the eyes of an insecure American who gets a job at the BBC in London in 1926, we hear about famous writers, politicians, and scientists of the time. There is a mystery here too… the Nazi Party was trying to sway public opinion, bribe the BBC director, and other such nonsense.  The main character learns, grows, and begins a new life.  Recommend.

“How did anyone ask the questions that answered in this configuration of wood and glass and wire that was changing the whole world? Thousands of years ago, someone had gazed into the night sky and seen that some stars were planets. And then they mapped the universe. They unlocked mathematics. They saw the way the sun moved across the earth and how to harness its power, warming homes and baths, growing plants. And they developed tools. The capacity to sail around the globe, to build cathedrals, to run a factory, to capture images on paper and then on screen. And now, to send a story throughout the country, from a machine.”

With Sweet Girl, we read the Sparkle Spa series and Giada De Laurentiis’s 8 kids books and now we are reading our way through Ada Lace and Heidi Heckelbeck.  We also keep dipping into Magic Tree House here and there.

What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?

Posted in Books, Books - Monthly Reports, Motherhood | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

An experiment: allowing space to breathe

I’m happy to say that I have finally convinced myself that I’ve done enough… for now.  I certainly didn’t believe it 20 years ago, or 10, or even 5.  1 year ago I was running hard, full of commitments that kept me busy and engaged and feeling purposeful.  I was sometimes worn out but mostly content with striving toward helping more, doing more, cleaning more, bettering myself more, justifying my existence more.

I know I’ll always do good things every day for the people around me and in general, and I accept that that’s enough for now.  I am doing my best every day and I feel happy enough with my “track record” to slow down and sit a few laps out.

It feels absolutely glorious to stop being that person too.  I’m plum tuckered out. I know I didn’t have to attend every meeting, but I did. Now I’m skipping a few.  And the world is not ending. I know! I’m shocked too!

Other parents are leading the Brownie meetings.  Someone else is sending out the Sisterhood communications.  I resigned from a couple of boards and feel great about it.  Just because something is offered to you doesn’t mean taking it is the right thing for you.  There was one committee that met from 7-9pm every 6 weeks. I would get a babysitter to go for the first hour only.  After some very awkward small talk (which I find to almost always be a waste of time), the meeting would begin around 7:45. Staying 15 minutes, trying to make some sort of intelligent comment to justify my relevance, worrying about how I was going to make my exit and not call attention to myself, etc, all the while getting texts from the babysitter about whether they can have this or that snack… ridiculous. Why spend money to feel such stress? It sure felt great to send that email!

Planning and scheduling and email conversations and event planning all take a lot of mental capacity and time. It is amazing how many times I’d be holding 3 things in mind at once, making to do lists and reminders, rushing here to there and trying to squeeze it all in.  It’s fun to be involved, up on all the current events and NYT opinion pages, to be engaged in meaningful things with like-minded people.  But it is also nice to let that all fall away and simply to focus on internal happiness and contentment.

Rest. Relaxation. Breathing. All just as important as doing 12 things at once.

It’s strange that this is a hard thing to do. Well, for me.  It seems to take inner strength to be ok with slowing the treadmill way down.  Or maybe inner confidence that this is the right path for now.

It can be a challenge for me to savor this time and still keep my mental state positive.  I have to watch for when daydreams start to turn into critical thoughts; rest turns into wallowing; lack of being around people turns into “woe is me… I have no friends” self-talk.  I suspect that is part of the reason I kept myself so busy.  That’s when it’s time to call a friend, go for a walk, get some perspective.

What am I filling my time with? Lots of good things.  Nature walks, great books (and yummy Somerset magazines again), cat naps, writing, and lots of art.  Lunch and coffee with kindred spirits is the best perk so far.  I also love that I can give Sweet Girl my undivided attention, my best, most patient self.  I am still shaping my perfect life, trying to balance my days, discover new things, and go gently with myself.

How do you find the few things that mean the most to you? I’m interested in listening.

Posted in Creativity, Mindfulness, Self-compassion | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

How does Anne Geddes do it???

Sweet Girl wanted a photo of our kitten CoCo siting inside a pumpkin with her head peeking out.  OK, we can make this happen, right? We got a good size pumpkin at our nature center’s patch this weekend.  We enlisted Mr. B to cut the top off. (See Exhibit A below.)

We scooped out the insides and separated the seeds.  CoCo tried to help.

While they were roasting in the oven, we had our photo shoot.  We used my bedspread as a backdrop. We put a toy inside the pumpkin and the best we got were two cats with pumpkin heads.

At one point, they both came over to sniff and lick at the catnip spray we tried using.  (Side note, they are not exactly best buds, but they have their moments when it’s felines united against those crazy humans.)

On to the chair that CoCo was resting on.

We tried placing a treat on the outside rim of the pumpkin, but she just walked around to snatch that.

So, my friends, we had to Photoshop several different photos and the best I could do (without spending more than 10 minutes on this) is below.  You have to fill in the rest with your imagination.

Oh well.  The roasted pumpkin seeds were yummy.  We used butter and salt.  🙂

Posted in Behind the Art, Motherhood | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Update on where I stand: art, parenting, and mindset

HUGE thank yous to each of you for your loving comments and support. I have printed each one out and have them posted nearby where I can always see them for motivation. It feels so validating when people mention to me that they are reading my blog.

I have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of our situation to pull back significantly from my volunteer roles for Sisterhood and for other organizations.  If that were my job (and it was full-time work), you could say I’ve taken a 3-month vacation.  After unpacking and getting settled with the apartment, we have been meeting with various contractors to decide how to proceed with the house.  The front lawn is finally cleaned up and there’s nothing in the house except a few light fixtures we will ultimately store in the garage.  Also, cleaning a tiny apartment is loads easier than cleaning a house with lots of clutter inside!

I’ve met with a couple of therapists just to make sure I’m thinking clearly and handling the stress alright.  (I am.) One is a “parenting coach,” who I am seeing for Sweet Girl’s resistance toward stepping out of her comfort zone, her general anxiety about leaving my side and leaving the house, and other skills we want her to develop.  It’s going very well.  I’ve gotten some great tools for setting new limits and SG has responded very positively.  SG has been resistant toward change in general and very rigid in her thinking of what she wants to do, with whom, and when.  It really helps me knowing that this therapist sees that pattern and understands that she has been particularly exhausting and needy for a lot of years.  Having a partner (besides Mr. B, a huge asset in a partner) in encouraging her growth and independence is helping me change faster and be more consistent.

One thing I learned just this morning is that kids need help to develop that inner voice that helps them to calm down when they are upset.  I’ve done some breathing exercises with her in those meltdown moments and we have talked afterwards about what she could try to think about while she’s in the middle of being upset, but the best tactic is to verbalize and model our own thinking when we are upset.  Another thing I could do is ask “How can I help?” which shows that I can’t do it for her, but I’m there to support her.  It can be hard to step back from being overprotective, especially when your kids want you to be that way!

For example, one thing SG does that drives me batty is tell me about every little trip or bruise she gets.  Next time I bump into something or cut my finger, I will say out loud, “Ouch! That hurts.  Well, I’ll be more careful next time.  I know I’ll be ok.  It will go away very soon.” Another thing she’s been doing over the past 2 weeks is tell me she misses me… when I’m sitting right next to her. Or after school, telling me she missed me all day. So I will say, “I missed you too, but I thought of you a bunch of times today and knew you were ok, I would be seeing you soon, and you were doing what you are supposed to be doing, which is building your brain in school.” Both will help ease her out of a victim mindset and toward more of an empowered one.

With the house sitting empty waiting for our decision, we have been considering many options.  Maybe we put it back and sell, moving to an empty lot or a new house in a different neighborhood. As long as we’re doing that, what’s to stop us from moving anywhere else since we don’t love Houston? I am fairly sure we’ve decided that our original choice of location and school are the right ones for us now still, so that mental gymnastics period is over, thank goodness.  What we want is what everyone wants really – good schools and nice neighborhood and friends nearby. Those things we have, but what seals the deal is that we have family right here.  We can’t give that up for somewhere with better weather or landscape, at least not right now.  Once you start questioning one aspect of your life, it’s easy to examine everything under the sun… job, lifestyle, clothing, number of children, what-if’s… I am so glad that’s done with.

I am creating art and that has been fantastic.  My art room got packed up by many volunteer hands in a matter of a couple hours, and I didn’t get to choose what I might want in the apartment.  I hadn’t been focusing on art for a few months, so I didn’t think I would need any of those supplies.  However, the urge to create has been very strong.  Take away the volunteer meetings and projects and tasks and I have a lot of free time on my hands! I’m loving the space and time to sit at the dining room table with some new supplies I’ve accumulated and just get messy.  I pack it all back up before I get SG from school because 1) we need the table to eat dinner in this small space where anything messy can’t be hidden and 2) I don’t want her to paint or do anything messy in such a small space.  Yes, I’m a control freak and I only feel peaceful when my surroundings are calm and neat. I’m ok with that.

Another thing I’m doing is protecting myself better.  For example, this morning I went to my annual well-woman checkup, ran some errands, then met with the parenting coach, so I am taking some time this afternoon to write and work on some art.  I need to balance the serious with the fun. I looked at Facebook and read all kinds of negative news: sexual assault accounts with all this “me too” business, predictions on when there will be an impeachment and how the VP as president would be it’s own crisis, more global disasters. I could easily internalize it all, but I am making myself shut it off.  There is nothing I can do right now about someone else’s past, the political mess, and the world at large. If I do or think too much, I get mired down in worry and sadness.  I honestly believe that keeping myself upbeat and putting out positive energy helps a great deal.

We have been excited about the Astros being in the ALCS and hopefully the World Series.  We are ecstatic that Fall has finally arrived in Houston just this morning and will be staying for more than one day.  I’m looking forward to getting outside to walk and attend fun events on weekends.  I’m trying to set up some play dates for SG to get to know some new friends and for us to spend time with other adults and do some new things around town.  (I have given in SG’s tendency to not be able to fall asleep with a babysitter and simply stopped going out… and am changing that right away.  I think she’s ready, and if not, she will figure it out.) We are meeting with our architect this afternoon to look at some options for our new design.  Things are moving along…

We can always look at any situation from many different angles.  Peace of mind is really important for me right now.  Just as children need boundaries to feel secure, so do we.  I don’t want to make any more huge decisions. I don’t want to get taken down by negative news stories.  I don’t want to take on anyone else’s stress.  I want a light heart and free time.  I want to make dinner for my family and tuck everyone in at night by recapping happy days well spent.  I want to look forward to fun events and trips.  We could just as easily be complaining that the apartment is too small or the house is going to take a long time to build, but by focusing on the tiny things we can do to improve our day-to-day situation, I have been able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I really appreciate the blessings and thoughts and wishes for magic wands.  You guys are THE BEST!

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