Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Lenten Challenge

I'm not adverse to focusing on a little improvement for forty days, but I've never equated that with giving up a pleasure. Maybe if there's a deeper reason, but deprivation alone does not equal growth in my mind. So it's always a bit of a challenge for me to find a Lenten...well, challenge.

This year a few things came together to present me with an idea that, frankly, scared (scares) me. I have been meaning to learn to use the much better camera that I've recently been given, so that's been niggling at me. And then I took a picture--with my phone!--of my much-loved cow field in the fog. They've recently installed a construction trailer on the site, so the fog gave me a "last chance" to record its beauty. And a friend commented on the photo, "You find beauty in everything."

All those things together made me wonder. I've been so bitter and angry and overwhelmingly sad about this beautiful natural space of sky and grass and mellow cattle being plowed under for an apartment complex. What if I can photograph something beautiful about that process...every day?

I'll be honest, the thought terrified me. I don't feel like I have the brain power to learn the new camera. I don't like talking to most people, let alone confrontational people. What if the construction folks ask what I'm doing? And I hate that this is happening. I had planned to drive the other way so I didn't have to face it. How am I going to see the beauty in the construction, let alone record it?

Well, that sounds like a Lenten challenge to me. So I'm going to try! I may not post the results every day, but during Lent I plan to use my new-to-me camera five days a week to find something to love about that space. Yikes.

I had a serious learning curve with the camera today. For one thing, I left the camera on after I checked it earlier and the battery was dying. So I was turning the camera on and off to trick it into getting a few shots. I didn't have a lot of room for trial and error! Plus, I was nervous as heck about being there, but luckily the crew was on the far side. Annnnnd I think the pictures are too washed out (overexposed?) and too wide, but at least now I know what questions to ask. I welcome advice!

You may have to zoom in to see what I'm talking about, lol!

Victim of my hurried photography--there's a pretty line of orange flags leading away from the center fence post.

More for interest than beauty--these funky gourds are sprouting by the fence???

Again, I would have framed this differently if I'd had time and I want more of the real color, but the trailer in the field looked nice and rustic.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Woman and Wild

I titled this blog Woman and Wild because, like most things in nature, I am bumpy, asymmetrical, imperfect, scarred, and yet living. And living is beautiful.

It occurred to me, as I read over it, that a lot (like, years—possibly decades) of thinking, learning, and growing came before this blog. I don’t want to sound like a bossy friend with “easy” answers for everything. ‘What I know for sure’ is still bumpy and imperfect, as was the learning process. Maybe that calls for an explanatory blog or two. But these words came from my keyboard today.

My adventure in the backyard helped me a lot and for a very specific reason: I destroyed stuff. Those toxic, invasive plants took over my yard and I Took. Them. Out.I physically grabbed them, cut them, bagged them, and bid them farewell.

At the same time, I worked on a gentler, parallel task. I challenged myself (with my husband’s full support) to be honest about my feelings…even when they weren’t “nice.” And by “nice” I mean the good-girl, pleasing, always-putting-others-first kind of “nice” I used to think I had to be to be liked, let alone loved.

During that time I said radical things to my husband. If he suggested going to out dinner when I didn’t want to, I’d get crazy and say, “I don’t really feel like going out tonight. Can we make something instead?”

Here’s the kicker: the world did not end.

My husband, who has been my enthusiastic coach through this project, has even been delighted by my ideas on occasion. And he’s even been grateful when I mention things like, “Hey! Why did you say that? That was kind of a rude comment.” He’s a pretty awesome guy.

Invariably, he just wasn’t choosing his words carefully (words are my thing, not so much his) and didn’t mean what I heard. And suddenly there was understanding in place of misunderstanding. It’s amazing how that works!

So what does this all mean? It’s great for the practical aspects of my daily life. I need to be a whole person, not just “nice.” Sometimes I have such profound anger and frustration that I need to tear stuff down, to make a mark on the world. (Invasive weeds are an AWESOME target.) I’m grateful for those practical lessons, but I am also a big-picture thinker. What does it mean?

I’m reading a great book on body positivity, which boils down to the idea that we should all love all of our bodies, all of the time. That’s a really profound and true statement. If you’d like to explore it, the book I’m reading can be found here.

Here’s the big-picture I’m reaching for, though: I think we should all love all of ourselves, all of the time.

I am in no way saying we can’t make bad choices or we shouldn’t bear responsibility for them—if I’d decided to punch people due to my frustration this fall, I’d be rightfully found guilty of assault. That’s a bad choice with consequences. I’m not loving that. I’m loving myself despite “undesirable” emotions, just like this quote I found only today--

"Unfortunately, we live in a culture where we believe painful feelings are a sign of weakness, or failure, or pathology. But if you can acknowledge that painful feelings have utility (sadness means you've lost something you care about; anxiety means "prepare," anger means you've been mistreated, etc.), you can listen to them and act based on them in a way that'll make you happy, and you won't have to feel like you've given up a part of yourself just to avoid an "undesirable" emotion." (Read the full article here.)

I’ll give you a light, fun example to get us warmed up. I am a terrible hostess in some ways. I have always kicked myself for that. When friends come over, I frequently forget to offer food or drinks or seconds or whatever. Why? Because I am so happy to have these beloved people with me that I focus completely on them—what they’re saying, what I’m feeling, what we’re doing. Lately, I’ve tried to love that about myself. I’ve invited people over—knowing full well that I’ll probably miss an obvious opportunity to “hostess”—and enjoyed their company greatly.

I love that about me!

Now I’ll give you a deeper example. I often, especially when I’m tired or stressed, lapse into hypervigilance. There are darn good reasons why that happens; I earned the “scar” of hypervigilance doing something I believe in, something that I’d do over again a million times. But I’ve always hated that it affects my children. I’ve hated that sometimes they tell their friends to keep their voices down in the car, because they know I need a certain level of calm to drive safely.

But you know what? I love that about myself now. I did something I believe in. It changed me. I’ve presented it to my kids as “something about Mom that isn’t like other people—and isn’t related to you or anything happening now.” And sometimes I’ve said, “Just humor me.” That’s awesome! I’m proud of all of it. I love that part of me.

None of that could have happened, though, if I’d kept trying to be the “nice” me. When I tried to ONLY acknowledge my gratitude, appreciation, hope, humor, optimism, etc, I created a monster of hidden anger, frustration, grief, and sadness lurking in the basement of my theater, Phantom of the Opera-style.

But I followed this awesome advice from Julia Spencer-Fleming's book, One Was a Soldier. “We’re all so in love with the idea of moving on and growing through loss and making lemonade when life hands us lemons that we don’t take time to mourn. Before you can move on, you have to stand still and account for what’s been lost. Sometimes, you have to throw the damn lemon against the wall and yell, I wanted chocolate chip cookies, not this bitter fruit.

Right now, I love being an editor and blogger, but I keep dreaming of a huge, meaningful career someday. I’m not really sure what I mean by that, but today I’m dreaming of helping people bring their not “nice” feelings to light. (I guess that’s a therapist, but I’m thinking of something a little different from traditional therapy.) I want to say to people, “Go ahead and look at that stuff. I guarantee I’ve seen worse. It’s all okay. You can look at those not ‘nice’ feelings and be a radically awesome person. It’s all good.”

I might want to be a professional Lemon Pitching Coach.

I want to throw lemons with people—and then go do something fun. Because when we love all of ourselves, even the lemon-throwing parts, we can move on. We can skip, dance, and run, feeling lighter, freer, and ultimately happier.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Woman v Wild: For the Win

Well, I finished what I set out to do. I’ve cleared everything I can reach along the tree line, invasive weeds on the ground and trees overhead. The larger invasive trees, now visible, will be much easier to clear. We’re planning to take care of them a little at time, so they don’t take over again.

It’s been great for the whole family. Big A. raves about how he never thought we could do so much without professional help, how we have a backyard now, and how our property value has gone up.

We’ve been able to have friends over to play in the yard. We even made an Eeyore house!

Eeyore house with friends!
The kids love the new swing they got for Christmas. In the expanded yard, S. can satisfy a little of her itch to climb and her itch to create with natural materials. Little A. has GLORIED in it—riding his bike down the hill, sledding downhill on a skateboard, whacking sticks on trees, pulling down rotten branches, and generally roaming.

I love all that, but I did it for me.

Learning that—and owning that—is one of the best gifts I’ve received from my time in the woods. Now I know that I don’t always have to assist others. I don’t have to take care of the kids while Big A. does fun stuff. I can do the fun stuff myself. I can dream big and do it. I can be the diva!

I foresee some fun times in the future. I have some fantastic ideas to make real. Look out world!
Looking left.

Looking right.

A little perspective--the bush on the right side of the picture was totally buried in invasive weeds; the pepper branches reached out that far.

All it took to make it happen--a few tools, time, and me!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Greatest Fun on Earth

You know, Big A. and I sometimes talk about how we don't take exotic vacations or even have "fun" weekends like other people seem to. And, yes, we're working on that. But honestly, why do we need all that? Look what we do have!

We have the funnest, funniest, most surprising form of entertainment known to humankind--children.

Like the one time that Little A. took his obsession with magnets up to eleven. Our first preview? S. came out of the kids' bathroom, proclaiming, "Really, A.? REALLY?" We shrugged it off at the time, but when I used the bathroom later that day, I shut the door and found magnets on all the hinges. Possibly that's what offended the sixth grader's sense of decorum.

Later that day, I found one of Little A.'s pictures had fallen down--and the nail missing from the hole. Guess where the nail was? Somewhere in the pile of magnets and magnetic items that he'd assembled on his floor...

Hinges are magnetic!
"Ummm...where's the nail?"
The nail's in here, clearly.

So another ongoing form of fun--the "learn your alphabet" letters still hanging out in the bathroom. Both kids get in on this one, taking turns arranging them and displaying their personalities. Little A. tends to organize more; S. tends to illustrate more. The other day, she demonstrated how to solve for X with the letters and I actually had to say, "You two! Stop doing algebra and take your showers!"

Ducks on a pond with aquatic life below.
I believe this one's a boat.
 A sense of humor has become one of S.'s defining characteristics. Her dad and I alternate between enjoying the heck out of it and making sure it stays in bounds. (Like most young ones, she can sometimes think she knows everything and be a little harsh on the rest of us.)

Her latest came in the form of Star Wars jokes. What do you call soldiers for the Empire while they're in college? (Dorm troopers.) What's a really bad Rebel search engine? (X-Bing.)

And she's confident working with jokes for previous generations. Witness the hours she spent snapping a screenshot of this one:

Every Friday, she makes and wears a new science hat--Precipitation (shown here) was an early one; she wore a Tectonic Plate last week. They're becoming a fun ritual with her teachers.

When S. was little, we started putting pictures of our extended family on the fridge to help her remember who was who. The tradition continues today. I honestly don't remember which of them did it, but one of hte kids arranged the pictures in the shape of...a family tree. Yep.

I think it's safe to say that our family tree provides just about all the fun Big A. and I can handle these days. We are pretty darn lucky!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Woman v Wild: Doubletime

Caesar weed--one of the invasives
After my wandering weekend, I had one more section of treeline that I really wanted to clear before Christmas. Our Christmas tree stands in the largest window onto our backyard and that window frames this particular section of forest. But this week before Christmas happens to be super busy (surprise!), so I resigned myself to not necessarily getting everything I wanted done. That's okay.

Well, my husband surprised me by using some of his time off to help me get it done. With his long reach, he cut down some high Brazilian pepper branches I could not have reached--branches loaded with Spanish moss. Seeing that cleared forest through the windows for the next few weeks will be a great gift to ourselves.

Big A. kept telling me that he had no idea we could do so much on our own. I told him that I think of myself as a termite. I take one little bite at a time and, before long, something that was there is no longer there. Just as I remind myself, I reminded him that this is a zen operation. Yes, we had a goal, but if we just do the task we feel like doing at the moment, sooner or later they'll all get done.

And in other amazing news, we finally found someone to start cutting the larger invasive pepper trunks down. It won't be the clean sweep that we hoped for, but we'll get rid of the one most entwined with the oak. One bite at a time, we're going to clear this forest of menacing non-native plants.


Check out the drooping palmetto branch in the left of each shot for a little help with the perspective.

And Yet Again Wonderful

I've written before about how much I love our Girl Scout troop's annual caroling night at our local hospice house.When I knew that S. had chosen to join the circus, literally, and would have no time for scouting this year, I admit I thought about how much I'd miss our caroling night.

Luckily, the troop invited us to come with them and, miraculously, it fell on a night when S. did not have practice. To my surprise--though, really, why should I be surprised?--when I asked the kids if they'd like to go caroling at hospice, they both said, "Yes!"

As worn out as they feel right now, the idea of caroling still generated the level of enthusiasm they usually reserve for ice cream. They really get it, I thought.

The sun always seems to set in splendor for us on these nights and this year was no exception. We just had to stop on the road in to take a picture. We drove the rest of the way, debating how many times we'd walked or run along the road at the 5k fundraiser just a few weeks before.

The troop has many younger girls this year, but the season and the reason worked their magic. With their fun Christmas hats and smiling faces, they walked quietly in. They spoke softly and sang sweetly, as always. For the first time this year, the staff ushered us down the hall to sing in one of the rooms. Two cheerful choruses of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in the room wrapped up the caroling. Then the staff invited the girls back to the common room to have snacks, a thank-you treat they loved!

The children and parents chatted quietly with the staff until the wiggles and giggles began to break through, then the adults started the farewells and led the younger ones outside. Excitement bubbled over, but I know, especially for our family, a deep gratitude filled our hearts.

I'm a "just a mom" now, so the current leaders helped the girls. I hung back, happy to see them all interact. But I couldn't help wondering what story we had been invited into when the girls sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

A little over a year ago, two summers ago, part of our family's story had played out in another hospice house, where other dedicated people cared for my husband's father during his last days. I couldn't help thinking how much he enjoyed simple, sweet moments during that time. With a full heart, I thought how much he would have loved hearing S. play Pachelbel's Canon so beautifully after the caroling.

Two years ago, I felt presumptuous writing about hospice. Now, having a more personal understanding of their work, I prayed with all my being that someone found that simple comfort in the children's voices.

Later, one of the leaders told me. She shared a bit of the story we'd become part of. The man who had asked the girls to sing had been living at hospice with his wife. She had passed away the day before, so he was packing to go home. He didn't want to go.

We can't know if the caroling eased his heart for a moment. I wish we could. I do know that it was an act of love. I know it marked an early lesson in sending light into the world for some little ones; it marked a return to the simple art of sharing light for some of us older ones. It was a living prayer, a powerful reminder that each moment offers us a chance to choose what we will share.

Let's help each other share light in the coming weeks.

Hospice published a sweet article about the troop this year. You can read it here if you would like.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Woman v Wild: Wandering

Gerber daisies
On my journey away from stress, I fully accept that my course will wander. I will not "stay on task." I'm happy about that.

I took a weekend--and maybe a few extra days--away from conquering the wild woods behind the house. Instead, I focused on the front of the house. It got a little tough because I do it so often. A task is a task; it seems like a chore is a task done over and over!

A critter den
So I gave myself permission to take my time, to do things in a different order than I usually do, to stop and savor the little victories. It felt nice. And the house looks fantastic every time I drive up.

Life is good.

Florida fall color