Saturday, December 29, 2012

Notes from the Front

The "front" of my little happiness war, I mean.

In case you haven't read the post yet, I'm responding to the increasing violence and hatred in the world by waging my own little war of kindness.  I'm not delusional (much.) I know that I'm not saving the world by buying someone a cup of tea --but I can't just sit around watching the haters continue to spread intolerance and vitriol without doing anything.  Something has to happen to start tipping the scale back on the side of good. (I said it better the first time.  Go read the post --we'll wait for you.)

Anyway, I decided to become a Love Ninja.

It is, possibly, the most fun thing I've ever done.

Mostly, my little seeds of kindness have taken the form of warm liquid. (I don't know what that says about me.)  I've been buying the next person behind me a hot tea in the tea shop, or coffee at the local food market or I've even bought the next person behind me some soup at the local bakery a few times. (I try to go local because even if the clerk forgets, I'm putting a little money into the small business owner's pocket, so it's still a win.  It's hard to be a small business owner today.)

So far, my favorite encounters are the ones where I get to see what happens when the person gets a little happiness delivered to them free-of-charge.  It doesn't happen that often because usually, I just pay and go--I'm consciously trying to not make these gifts about ME, but rather about the recipient.  So far, my all-time favorite was when I was still standing at the counter in the tea store when the clerk informed the young woman (not much older than my older daughter) that her tea had been paid for by someone else.  She looked up in utter disbelief.  "Oh, yeah, RIGHT," she said.  And then she was so happy when it turned out to be true!  Made my day.

Another really fun aspect of all of this is that I get the people behind the counter involved in what I'm doing.  And the looks on their faces...!  I think, you know, that most people in the service/retail industries have just come through the most hectic and worst time of the whole year.  On one day when I was paying forward a little happiness in the tea store, the owner told me that her day had started off with a customer screaming at her and storming out after he broke some merchandise and refused to pay for it.  This time of year doesn't always bring out the best in people. Although I'm not giving the clerks gifts, the way they react to getting to be the bearer of good news is really heart-warming.

The other thing I've learned is that I'm really handicapped in the Good Samaritan business because I'm so shy.  One day, I bought these little ten-cup packages of tea and I was going to take them to a crew working on the electric lines on a street near our house.  I drove past them twice, but just couldn't bring myself to stop and get out of the car.  (I left the little tea sampler bags on the cars parked in the front of the yoga studio, instead.) When I have to explain what I want to do to the clerks behind the counter, I break out in a sweat.  It's so totally worth it, but it takes reaching out of my comfort zone.

Not everything I do has money associated with it.  I find that the impulse to give people stuff is matched by the impulse to just...well, GIVE in general.  So I rush to hold the door open for people or I let people out in traffic.  I helped a woman carry her packages to her car. I'm digging into my yarn stash to make some hats.  I just...I just want to indulge in some mindful kindness.

Once the kids are back in school, I'm hoping to venture a little farther afoot--maybe helping at a soup kitchen, maybe taking sandwiches to the day laborers. I feel certain the opportunities will present themselves if I'm looking.

It's not too late if you want to join me. The New Year is approaching and, as Sri Dharma Mittra says, "How you start something is of great significance."  How should we start 2013? I say we do it with kindness and love.

(And also?  Yoga.  Lots of yoga. More about that in my next post.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Warrior for Peace

Like the rest of the world, I couldn't even absorb what had happened in the Connecticut school shootings. I couldn't begin to process the enormity of an act of such violence against such innocence.  I couldn't conceive of so much hatred in one person. I almost couldn't bear to think of those poor parents, of lives interrupted and forever altered. I felt incapacitated. On Monday, when I went to pick my kids up from school, I watched the little first graders come gamboling out to line up for their buses and I just...I just started to cry.

At first, I thought that part of my reaction was a by-product of all of this work I'm doing on trying to remain un-numb and vulnerable in a world that seems increasingly dark and filled with random acts of hatred. Because what I learned about about numbing myself is that it numbs ALL of me. I can't selectively numb my emotions so that I don't feel the depth of despair when I hear stories of such vile hatred and inhumanity, and still feel the heights of joy when I look at my children. There is no way to ONLY address the painful emotions that make me feel naked and exposed or uncomfortable. When I numb THOSE emotions, I numb everything else, too, including the positive emotions. And the result of all that numbing is disconnection: from the world, from my fellow humans, from my authentic self.

So, I've been really working on that.  But when such a heinous murder of innocents presented itself, I can honestly say that it was one of the hardest things I've ever done to just stay present with that grief and despair.  To feel it and feel the pain of that community and those parents and not reach for some numbing mechanism.

I think another part of my reaction was just how small I felt in this vast sea of darkness. I just felt so powerless against a rising tide of intolerance and vitriol. I had to give myself a break from social media because the deluge of hyperbole and bitterness and polarization made me physically ill.  I have had enough of hate. I have had enough of politicizing a tragedy to further a political stance. Enough of the stridency. 


You know what, though? The truth is, we ARE small. Individually, nothing we do is going to make much a difference against the hatred in the world.  It's kind of like being a vegan. I am under no illusion that my little one-person boycott of factory farms will change the course of the vast and corrupt food industry. But maybe if enough people choose to boycott the misery of the factory farms, at some point, there will be a natural progression to more humane and sustainable sources for our food.

I was thinking about this today and it occurred to me that somewhere in there is what I want to choose as my reaction to the Connecticut school murders. And the rise of torture and rape in war. And child abuse. And blatant racism. And intolerance, and greed, and freaking road rage. It's not enough to absorb the pain of the world.  It's not enough to cry with the bereaved parents. It's not enough to throw a few dollars to support the causes near and dear to my heart. 

It's not enough.

I'll tell you what I'm going to do. Are you ready?

I'm going to meet force with force.  

I'm going to sow kindness and peace and acceptance and love with a ferocity no madman can touch. I'll be a freaking peace warrior. I'll be a soldier of kindness. I'll be a beacon of acceptance in the face of increasing darkness. I will practice patience in a world of frenzied activity with the same power of an automatic assault rifle. Everywhere I see hunger, I'm going to feed someone. Everywhere I can, I'm going to bring healing to people in pain. Everywhere I see a need, I'm going to try to fill it.  I'm going to march out of my house every day dressed in ANTI-fatigues. Every time someone cuts me off in traffic, I'm going to consciously forgive that person and wish him or her well. I'm going to hold the door open for people, offer my umbrella, give a few dollars to the homeless guy on the street corner. I am spreading the mother-effing LOVE, people. I'm going to be a Love Ninja.

It's all I have in the face of the stark cruelty of this world. It's all any of us have.

I confess that I have this hope of being joined by you.  I think it will take all of us, each burning a tiny candle of determined, unselfish, committed love. I have this hope that if we can all burn as brightly as we possibly can, we will make a huge difference. That we can light up this world.  

I get to choose my response: I can succumb to fear and insulate myself and my little family from the pain of this world, or I can meet evil with the force of my heart, which is far, far greater than all of the malevolence.  

I'm choosing love, in the biggest way I know how.

Join me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Way My Brain Works

I've been absent.  We had a hurricane and Halloween and we instituted No Screen Sundays (which may be the best thing we've ever done) and then we had a very non-traditional Thanksgiving, due to our very non-traditional food preferences and then I went to learn writing with Elizabeth Berg.  It's been a wild few months and I have a lot to talk to you about.  Later.

Because right now, of course, I want to talk about something completely different.

(Please try to keep your complete and utter shock to yourselves.)

You know how I wrote once about needing some sort of update for my psyche?

A few weeks ago, we had the first ever Cooper Family Photo taken, by a real, live professional photographer.

I loved all of the photos.

Except, here's the thing: I don't recognize myself.  I mean, at ALL.

Like, look at this picture:
Does that look like me to you?  Seriously?

Because I have no idea who that woman is.  (Except for the lipstick on her teeth--that's pretty much like me when I remember to wear lipstick.)

And it's not just that I have make-up on and earrings.  It's that the person I see in these pictures bears no resemblance at all to the person I have in my head.

For example, I've been trying this new (to me) yoga pose called Full Kapotasana.  I was in class one day when my friend Gary brought his teenaged daughter and she did it and so I tried it, too. (See, that right there should be a clue that my self-image is not constrained by reality.)

When I got home, I tried it and had my older daughter Katherine take a picture of me.

Which was kind of a shock, because in my head, I felt like I was doing THIS:

See how it gets tricky?  If I had known what I really looked like, would I have felt so good about my own effort?  If I had known I looked so...MATRONLY, would I have bought these shoes?

(Well, okay, yes.  Yes, I would have still bought them.  Because I love them and they were on sale.)

But would I have signed up for yoga teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City in February?

Because I did that.  I really did.

And, actually, I did it even after I'd seen the pictures.

(More on that if they accept my application.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

When Writers Come Together

This past weekend, a dream I have had for, oh, as long as I can remember came true.

Many of you know that Elizabeth Berg is probably my all-time favorite fiction writer.  There is something about the way she uses language that really gets right up in my heart and stays there.  I find that the characters she creates stay in my head like new friends--I'd like to invite them over for breakfast, or to watch a movie in our jammies. She can craft a sentence that will bring me to tears.

On Thursday, I travelled to Boston to take a writing workshop with her.
See?  I was really there!  (Although, right up until the last day, I didn't quite believe it.)

I KNOW!  I know!  I... I know. Like that feeling when you think you've won the lottery and it turns out that you HAVE.


(I guess I should maybe make that a dream, too, as long as my dreams are coming true.)

Of course, in classic introvert fashion, I spent the entire day before thinking of reasons why I really shouldn't go, why I didn't want to go, why going was a BAD IDEA.

And then I went.

And it was truly a life-altering, transformational, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

First of all, since I know you're curious, the answer is YES.  YES, Elizabeth Berg is every bit as winsome and irreverent and gentle and lovely and astute as she appears to be.  One of my secret fears was that she'd be something other than the incredible person she is in my mind, but that fear was laid to rest immediately. She's hilarious and warm and open and charming.  And she tells the truth with such grace and tenderness.  In the final piece I wrote, I took a risk and wrote a foul-mouthed character into my story.  As you know if you've read my work for a while, this is not natural for me,  I've only just recently stopped flinching when people say the "f" word in front of me in anger.  While I occasionally use profanity for the shock value, I almost NEVER use it in my writing because I just...I can't pull it off.  Elizabeth totally picked up on that. Very gently, she told me it sounded forced.  At first, I thought about pouting.  And then I realized that she was entirely right and also? On my side.  That's a hard tightrope to walk, you know?  Offering criticism in such a way as to speak the truth, but with such grace that the writer feels supported, listened to and uplifted.

I quite, quite love her.

I even still kind of want to BE her, but failing that, I can at least KNIT for her. I gave her some hand-knit socks.  I finished a pair on my way to Boston that I thought were for my yoga instructor.  (Yvonne, Elizabeth Berg is wearing your socks!) But I think they were meant to be for Elizabeth because it was her birthday AND when she saw them she said, "My favorite color!"  (I was still too shy to ask her for picture of her wearing them. Next conference.)

So, of course, while the conference with Elizabeth was amazing, something else totally unexpected and magical happened: The other conference participants turned out to be long lost sisters of mine. I'm really shy and I was prepared to dislike the other workshop participants.  (When you're shy, you assume everyone is going to hate you, so you hate them FIRST, by golly, because then they can't hurt you.) (Because, why yes, this IS eighth grade.) But, oh, y'all, they were amazing.  AMAZING.  And SO talented.
Talented AND funny!

We were a really disparate group on the surface.  Ranging in age from 44-67, some married, some divorced, some with small kids, some with small grandkids, some without kids at all. We bonded immediately --honestly, I think there is no greater act of intimacy than to share one's art in progress.  It was like meeting seven strangers and immediately standing up and taking off all of my clothes.  And then having those seven people examine my scars and wrinkles and pudge and pronounce me perfect.

That is powerful stuff.

So, we bonded immediately and then Elizabeth sent us on assignments that stretched us and grew us and challenged us and brought every one of us to tears at least once. I was utterly transformed by the end of the those four days.  On the first day, I said, "You know, I'm not really a fiction writer." and on day four, I said, "So, this is what I want to talk about in my new novel..."

We met as strangers, we left as family. And by gosh, we left as WRITERS.

To learn more about Writing Vacations, click here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stop What You Are Doing. Watch This.

Everyone on this planet should see this. Especially women, those who love women, and those who are raising future women.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Staying in the Struggle

So, the thing is...I've been struggling.

No, really, I've been GRIEVING.  I've been grieving over a little girl I never even met.

I'm sure by now you've heard the story of Amanda Todd, the Canadian school girl who was bullied until she killed herself.  She was 15. Some weeks before she died, she made a heartbreaking and raw video of her story. There has been some effort made to find and bring to justice the man who began the whole tragedy. (You can click on the links to tell you more about Amanda or to see her video.)

This post is not really about the tragedy of Amanda Todd, though. This post is about living in a world where things like this can happen, and trying to remain intact.

At various times in my life, specific news stories have captured my heart and imagination and embedded themselves into my psyche in such a way that it, well, scared me.  After my older daughter Katherine was born, I felt and vulnerable.  Like I had all new skin and no shelter from the cruelty and unkindness of the world. The feeling was intensely uncomfortable and it went against every instinct I had for self preservation. Then the Bosnian war happened, along with genocide and mass rape, and at one point, Newsweek ran a cover photo showing a casualty of the fighting: a dead toddler, her little pink pacifier still clipped to her little pink coat.

I couldn't get that image out of my mind. It made the whole story so REAL somehow, so tangible. I couldn't sleep, picturing that little girl in my head and wondering at the fear and anguish her family had gone though. I'd fought depression on and off for my whole life and I felt myself slipping behind that black curtain. I was, frankly, concerned about my mental health.

So I went on anti-depressants and I drank a lot of wine and I ate a lot and I stopped watching the news. I numbed myself until I could deal with the reality of the world again.  When I talked about it, I told people that I just "had too much grief for this world." I felt that way.  I really felt that in order to remain a functioning person, --especially in my role as new mother --that I had to find a way to filter out the enormous sadness I was feeling over how inhumane humans can be to each other.  If I had it to do over again, I would probably do exactly the same thing, given the resources and knowledge I had at hand.

But the thing about numbing oneself is that it numbs ALL of you.  You can't selectively numb your emotions.  There is no way to just address the painful ones that make you feel naked and exposed or uncomfortable. When you numb THOSE emotions, you numb everything else, too, including the positive emotions. And the result of all that numbing is disconnection, from the world, from your fellow humans, from your authentic self.

So, fast forward fifteen years or so and here I sit.  I have systematically removed all of the ways that I numbed myself in the past.  I don't drink alcohol.  I'm not on anti-depressants.  I'm vegan. I don't even drink caffeine. I am living as unfiltered as I know how, because  I'm trying to be in this world in a different way --a way that feels authentic to me. The other way I was living--the numb way--didn't make me happy.  It allowed me to FUNCTION, but it didn't allow me to connect with this deep sense of peace I've found by living this new way.  That other way gave me moments of manic happiness, but not so much of this quiet, sustained happiness I feel now.

And then I read about Amanda Todd.  I watched her video.

Her story went straight to my heart and cracked it wide open.  Here was this little girl who was basically shamed to death over a mistake she made at the age of 13.  She could have been one of my daughters.  She could have been me, if I'd grown up in a different time. I found that I couldn't sleep for a few nights, picturing her hands, shaking, with their pink polish, holding cards that told a story of unimaginable cruelty and despair.  That told the story of a fragile psyche with too much grief to stay in this world.

And I felt intensely, horribly uncomfortable and vulnerable.  Excruciatingly vulnerable.  Amanda's story, coupled with some other sad things that are in my life right now, became a fixation point for all the grief I feel for this world and just flattened me right out.  I couldn't talk about her without crying. I dreamed of her.

But you know what else? I sat with that grief and I didn't try to outrun it.  (Well, to be honest, I do keep a bag of emergency jelly beans. But after I ate a few handfuls and made myself sick, I realized what I was doing.) I just sat with it and took a good hard look at it.  I let myself cry and cry hard. I did my yoga.  I tried to stay present.

I don't know what the answer is to all of the sadness in the world. But I do know that numbing myself to it doesn't do the world or myself any good. I didn't want to numb myself to it because finally, at the age of 47, I understand that numbing myself to the pain of the world also takes the edge off of the joy.  It blunts the sharp gratitude I feel for my life right now. So I just sat with it.

After a few days of feeling very fragile and sad and powerless, the feelings began to ebb a bit.  I guess that's just the normal grieving process. I still feel so sorry for that poor little girl, so saddened by the sexualization of little girls in this world, and heartsick at the cruelty shown by everyone around her when just one person doing something kind might have given her enough strength to go on. But I don't feel incapacitated anymore.

What I do feel, and I didn't expect this, is brave.  I feel like it took a lot of courage to let myself go into that pain and sit right down there, instead of running the other way into as many distractions as I could find. I feel kind of like a badass, frankly.  Because the worst things I feared--that I would start to cry and not be able to stop, that I would slip into a bad depressive state, that I would not be able to function --those things didn't happen.  The worst thing that happened was that I felt incredibly vulnerable and exposed.

Living in this world--truly IN it, in a connected way--is messy and risky and sometimes painful. I guess we find our way one small step at a time, with bravery and sometimes with grief and by feeling the bad along with the good.  It's hard.

Monday, October 01, 2012

So Excited

I have a guest post up right now at Derfwad Manor.  I would love if if you would check it out because it feels like one of the most important things I've ever written.

I think this might be the foundation of my next book. Shhh.

(What do you mean, you heard a "SQUEEEEEEE?" I categorically deny all knowledge of squealing.)

(As far as you know.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012


After approximately 19, 632 tries, I finally have my forearm stand.

I mean: I have it every time I do it now.  (I just had to resist the urge to knock wood and do the sign of the cross and cross my fingers and...turn around three times and spit on the ground.)

It turns out that finding the sweet spot of alignment really was mostly mental, although not in the way I thought it would be.  I assumed it was fear that was keeping me from nailing it--fear of falling on my face or fear that I wasn't strong enough to hold the pose.

It turns out that what it really was for me was the inability to still my mind and my body INTERNALLY.  I was always really conscious of the music or the chatter or the fact that people were waiting on me as I attempted the pose again and again.  As soon as I learn to still myself from the inside out, I just...HAD IT.
(Videography by Jane (11), who has a hard time stilling HERSELF, too.)

I can think of a lot of applications for this lesson, and if I ever come down from this forearm stand, I plan on implementing them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Elmer Has My BACK, Y'all

I've told you about Elmer before, right?  He's the amazing and wonderful handyman who works on the property doing odd jobs like painting and trimming and weeding and...magic every once in a while.  I wrote about him here and here.  Go ahead and read about him.  I'll wait.

(While we're waiting, I'll tell you an exciting bit of yoga news: today I did a backbend from a standing position!  I KNOW! My instructor had to help me come back up from it, but I didn't even need traction afterward or anything!)

So, anyway, Elmer. I should mention that Elmer's first language is not English, and I have a pronounced Southern accent, so communication between the two of us isn't always easy. Elmer is here today doing some painting and before I left for yoga, I went out to talk to him about what he was planning for today because I needed help on a project. I managed to kill this enormous cactus that belonged to my landlords and it needed to be removed from the pot and disposed of, but it is LETHAL in it's stickeriness, so I needed help. (Yes, I made that word up. WHAT?)

I said, "I killed a cactus and I need some help getting rid of it, if you have some time today. Maybe we could just throw it in the compost or something?"

And Elmer's eyes got soft and concerned and comforting and he said, "Probably the best thing is if we dig a hole and bury him."

I said, "You think so?  Yes, you're probably right.  I don't want the pets stepping on it or anything."

Elmer nodded sagely, still looking concerned.  "I can take care of that for you. Did you have him long?"

And then it dawned on me: Elmer thought I was talking about a CAT.  He thought I'd killed one of our CATS!

I rushed to assure him that it was a big plant and that, honest, if it was a cat, I would be heartbroken and I would not ask him to just chuck that sucker into the compost.

It's good to know that if I have a corpse that needs disposal, Elmer has my back.

RIP, Cactus.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Meditation and Racing

So, my husband ran a little race yesterday.  I say "little" because it was just a four mile race and he usually runs more than that with the dogs in the mornings. (It's four miles more than I can run so I am not discounting the effort!)

I took the girls to cheer him on.

Coop sees the girls.

A really sweaty hug for Jane and a high five for Katherine.

Katherine says, "Go!"

Coop says, "You could do this with me next year."
I haven't missed a day yet in the 30 Day Meditation Challenge.  (Which I keep typing as the Mediation Challenge. I hope that's not next.) I started out on a true high note on Thursday, September 6th when I stayed after yoga and my instructor Yvonne led me through some breathing exercises (pranayama) and then we silently chanted using the japa mala beads to focus our minds.  Then we meditated for 20 minutes.  It was a transcendent experience, and really made me realize how much I want to make meditation--that kind of meditation--a daily part of my routine.

It was a little disappointing when, the next day, I fell asleep within about two seconds of sitting down and focusing my mind.

On the third day, my husband helped me clear out the room in the pool house to create a dedicated space for meditating. I meditated there using an iPhone app called Simply Being.  (There's a link on the Meditation Resources page.)  Then today, I sat using the app again, but I was less successful because Katherine interrupted me to ask if she could turn the router back on.  (The answer to anything when you interrupt me meditating is NO.)

Edward approves of the new space, though.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

30 Day Meditation Challenge

So, the thing is...I'm really terrible at meditating.

REALLY terrible.  I actually wrote about how terrible I am at meditation back in 2007, and nothing much has changed.

Only, I have this very strong sense that I'm SUPPOSED to be meditating--that's its a key part of achieving the kind of inner calm I want.  That's it's vital if I'm ever to achieve this different way of being that I'm looking for.

So, starting today, the first day of school in my neck of the woods, I'm committing to 30 days of daily attempts at meditation.  Even if it's only five minutes, I am going to sit and clear my mind and just see what happens.

If you'd like to join me, I'd love the company!  I have a new Facebook Page for the 30 Day Meditation Challenge, or we can just hang out here in the comments.  Today, I'm going to stay after yoga and meditate with my instructor who knows a LOT more than I do about this meditation business.  I'll let you know how it goes!

Sixth and Ninth grades--it hardly seems possible!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

How to Fail at Summer

This summer, we tried something different with our girls.  Rather than schedule them within an inch of their lives at camps and other enriching activities, we planned one short trip, one two-week camp experience each and a WHOLE LOT of down time. My theory was that kids need some time to get bored, and in that boredom, new interests and passions and friendships are forged. That's how it worked for me, anyway. I found friends on my street and we played outside all day. Or I spent the summer trying to wrangle invitations to swim at other people's houses. (We didn't have a pool.) It was the unstructured time that let me find myself.  And by the time school came around again, I was SO HAPPY to be going back.  I thought it might work the same way for Katherine (14) and Jane (11.)

Yeah, you can already tell this isn't going to end well, can't you?

After the first week of 12-hour daily internet usage and slothdom, I really couldn't stand it anymore. I mean, we have this fabulous pool in the backyard, my husband bought a boat this summer, and we live in this adorable village with lots to do and my kids were inside the house, sitting on their rear-ends, totally plugged into various electronic devices. It's been shown that physical exercise is a part of healthy brain development, not to mention a good combatant for hormonal craziness, and I couldn't get my kids to DO ANYTHING.

So, then I came up with a different plan.

Each morning, I unplugged the internet and went to yoga from 9:30 -11:00.  When I got home, I taught the girls a beginner yoga class from 11:30 (ish) to 12:45 (ish) and if they hadn't complained TOO much, I plugged the wifi back in and let them have their way with screen-time. (Lest you think I've totally lost my control freak tendencies, we have very rigid filters on our router to prevent the girls from straying into anything too sordid or scary.) Since I was so tired after all that yoga, I had a big nap and then we all met back up after dark for our latest obsession: Dr. Who episodes streamed through Amazon Prime.
Perhaps I would have had more success if I'd geared the class toward Thomas. Fat Cat Yoga (TM)

This lasted for about three or four weeks, and then Jane flatly refused to do any yoga ever again. I think this was at least partly my fault, because I wasn't very patient with all of the fooling around the girls did during yoga, especially the conversations and the fake falling down. I wanted them to take it seriously, but that sort of squashed the fun out of it for the Hurricane. (Katherine found she really likes yoga, but she doesn't like my music. We still do yoga together about once a week and she brings her own music. You can really work up a sweat to Zombie.)

So, since then, it's been a real struggle to get the girls to get in a minimum of exercise --a minimum of LIVING-- before getting on their various screens.  Most days, Jane swam laps in the pool, and Katherine, who has a newfound aversion to swimming (even though, truly, she is a breathtaking swimmer,) has given me an apathetic 30 minutes on the exercise bike.  Both girls played softball at the beginning of the summer and have done the occasional bike ride and in Katherine's case, long-boarding (which is a type of skateboard riding.)
Katherine rocking out on the new uke.

We did some other fun day trips and activities (Jane is becoming an avid golfer and Katherine has taken her guitar playing to a whole new level, plus she purchased and mastered the ukulele in about three weeks!) but I can't help but feel like my girls missed a valuable opportunity this summer.  I don't think I'm saying that because my own summers were so different and so much more active. I THINK I'm saying it because the clock is ticking and there aren't that many of these kinds of summer left to my kids before they'll be shackled to a computer and a desk for real.

As for MY summer, it was a mixed bag.  On the plus side, I got to go to yoga an average of five times per week, which has led to a whole new level of fitness for me. (I've now been taking yoga with Yvonne for ten months.  I've lost about ten pounds, but I've gone down SIX dress sizes.  This is not your grandma's yoga.) Katherine and I are closer than we've ever been, which is so miraculous and so NOT what I expected when she turned 14, that I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude.  (And hopeful that Jane and I will get there, too.) I began writing again after a significant period of time when I just kind of didn't, which was a relief. On the negative side, I STILL don't have my forearm stand, I've had some chronic stomach troubles, and I spent an unbelievable amount of time trying to figure out how to address my family's disparate culinary tastes/needs.  There is so little overlap --it's really discouraging. (More about that in another post.)
Now if I could just hold it for longer than a nanosecond.

School starts on Thursday for us and I feel a little melancholy. In the end, I guess I feel like I could have done better at planning this summer for my kids. Maybe we all really did need a quiet summer to recharge and regroup, but it felt pretty unfocused and like we lost a bit of our momentum.  I don't think we'll do this again --not to this extent anyway. I am already planning for weeks of various camps for next summer.
They look pretty happy, though.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bravery (For Me, Anyway)

So, all summer long, I've been fighting this chronic upset stomach.

Today, I finally called and made an appointment with my internist to see if we can't figure out what's going on.

This feels like a really huge thing because ...I'm kind of terrified of doctors now.

I KNOW it's irrational.  I KNOW that this is a holdover from the Pain Years, when I saw a lot of doctors trying to pin point the cause of my foot pain.

Which we never did.  But that didn't stop me from having six million shots into my poor, disabled foot.  And then those shots caused me to develop a hole in my retina that was bleeding so I got to have shots IN MY EYE to try to fix that.  (It stopped bleeding. I still have a hole.)

And all the time, you know, that excruciating, soul sucking pain.  My GP putting me on Cymbalta, which was like having a lobotomy (for me--I'm not saying that's the case for everyone.)  My podiatrist telling me that life in a wheelchair might be the answer as he filled out my handicapped parking sticker application and checked the "permanent" box.  All that time on the couch, trying to live through fifteen minutes at a time.  The events at my kids' schools that I couldn't go to because I couldn't walk the halls.

The times I cried in front of them.

I know none of this is the fault of my doctors.  I know that I had good doctors who had very real desires to help me. But it's all tied up for me emotionally.

I know this fear I have is Post Traumatic Stress. It's just that I fear so much going back to that bad place, you know?

So, I've been sitting with this fear today and rationally talking myself through it and being nice to myself and logically running through all of the reasons why this stomach thing, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, is not going to ruin my life.  Why finding out what's going on may be as simple as finding out I have an allergy to wheat (which is what I suspect.)

I'm trying to still my inner turmoil enough to listen for the still small voice. I'm reaching out for support to people who care about me, because that feels healthy and brave. And I am breathing in and out, trying to access my inner peace.

And as long as I'm doing things that make me feel brave and strong: I have a guest post up at Derfwad Manor.  You should go read it if you want to know more about my bosom.                         

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Today's Big Metaphor

It turns out that Jelly Belly jelly beans are vegan. (Well, they use a little bee's wax to make them shine, but otherwise, they're without any animal product at all.)

This has presented me with something of an issue this week, which I'm not willing to say too much about. (Except, perhaps the purchase of the TWO POUND bag was an error in judgment.)

Anyway, I was snarfing down a handful eating a few when I accidentally ate a black licorice one.

I HATE black licorice flavored jelly beans.

Usually, I go through the (incredibly modest) bag and pull out all of the black ones in advance so I don't accidentally eat one.  I didn't do that this time, daunted, no doubt, by the sheer enormity of the task given such a large bag.

"GAH!" I said and ran to spit the black licorice one out.

"I don't know why they even MAKE these dang licorice ones, " I said to my daughter Katherine.  "Nobody likes those.  They should just leave them out. In fact, they should OUTLAW them!"

Katherine agreed.  "Also, the white ones because they're gross.  And these ones they say are mango, but really taste like Evil."

"And those root beer ones, those are really gross," I said.

I looked at her.

"Of course, there are probably other people who think we should outlaw the cinnamon ones or the orange ones or those cappuccino ones--imagine!--and then all we'd be left with is the cherry ones or something."

"Probably, it's a better idea to just let people choose the flavors they like and NOT CHOOSE the ones they don't like.  Probably, the best idea is just to give people choices, rather than outlawing the ones we don't like just because WE don't like them. I don't AGREE with people who like the black licorice ones, but I can respect the idea that we're all different and we all get to make our own choices."

Deep thoughts from the candy aisle.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The End of the Experiment

So, I didn't post.

I posted every day for the first three weeks of August and then, the last two nights, I just...didn't.  It turns out that I have (once again) underestimated how crazy busy our lives become as we seek to fit in all the appointments and shopping and fun we can before the school year starts up again. And, honestly, I don't want to miss any time with my kids right now, because I will miss them when they go back to school.

So, I guess the experiment of posting daily is over for now.  (I really did feel like it was a bit much, anyway.)  The thing is, though, that I have stuff to tell you, but it's going to have to wait until I can find time to sit down and write and think.

In the meanwhile, here's a picture of me using Edward as a mouse pad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 21, 2012 --Love

Remember I told you about Elmer?

He's been doing some work around the property (he can apparently do ANYTHING) and this morning, we went to the paint store because he's going to touch up the paint on the house and he needed supplies.

Elmer is originally from Guatemala, although he's been in this country since 1981.

The guy behind the counter took one look at him and...just... well, basically, treated him like some kind of second-class citizen.

Because that guy?  Is a racist asshat.

On the way home, I made a comment about how some people need training in customer service and Elmer told me a story.

He said, "One day, a woman was sitting in her house and Money came knocking and wanted in.  She said she needed to wait to ask her husband.  A little bit later, Health came knocking on her door and wanted in.  She said she needed to ask her family.  A third knock came on the door and Love wanted in.  Again the woman said that she needed to consult with her family.  The three went and stood by a tree.  That night, the woman told her family about the three waiting to be let in.  The husband said, "Let the Money in!"  The wife said, "Let the Health in!"  But the little girls said, "No, we must let Love in.  Because when we have love, we have everything we need."  Sure enough, they let Love in and Money and Health followed."

I think Elmer was saying that we have to live out of love first.  In the face of ugliness and insidious racism and cruelty and hatred, we have to respond out of love. "It is not our job to judge," he said. "Maybe something went wrong in his life today."

Elmer may be the richest man I know.

Monday, August 20, 2012

August 20, 2012 --Random Monday

An actual street sign near our house:

Jane, 11, finished the book she's been writing by hand all summer.   (She's also been writing about six other books on her computer.)

Someone got a new ukulele.
I still don't have my forearm stand.  In fact, I was getting discouraged about it until I went to class today and did it and got that feeling of perfect alignment that comes when I get it right.  I'm still hopeful I will master it soon.


Music is Shawn Colvin "All Fall Down."  (LOVE this record!)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 19, 2012 -- Regret

Real Simple Magazine is running its annual writing contest right now.  I've been thinking about it because the subject matter is regret.
If you could change one decision that you made in the past, what would it be? No, you can't go back in time, but here's the next best thing. Think of a decision that you regret—anything from a ridiculous choice of prom date to a serious lapse in judgment—and tell us what the mistake taught you about yourself.
I have made a LOT of mistakes in my life (my first car was a third-hand 1978 VW Rabbit,) but I'm not sure how many things I would go back and change if I could.  (Maybe that perm in the 1980's.)

(In fact, maybe all of the 1980's.)

I can't help but feel that everything that happens to us brings us to where we are now, and without those choices (yes, even that disastrous blind date in the early 90's), my life would have taken a different path and I might have missed all of this goodness here and now.

There ARE things I regret. And there are lessons I wish I had learned a lot sooner.  I'm just not sure if there is any one decision that I made that I would go back and change.

What about you?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18, 2012 -- Where's Thomas?

I was looking through some of the pictures from this summer just now and I started cracking up.  

I think we need a new game called "Where's Thomas?"

Thomas wandering across my picture.

Thomas hard asleep on Katherine's bed.


Thomas waiting for yoga class to begin.
Taking full advantage of being (legally) up on the table.

Sunbathing with Jane and Coop.

Friday, August 17, 2012

August 17, 2012 --Remembering

I was kind of out of sorts when I went to yoga this morning.

Yesterday, I'd stopped by the girls' school to drop off the tuition check and while I was there, I thought I'd give them a head's up before they labeled everything that Ana was now going by her middle name, Katherine.  I ran into that kind of bureaucratic, knee-jerk oppositional reflex that one has come to know and love in places like, say, the DMV.  I didn't expect it at my kids' school.  The person I spoke with told me, "We'll need court papers to make that happen."  I was, frankly, openly incredulous. "She's not CHANGING her name.  She's just using a different PART of it."

I don't know. It just stayed with me all day yesterday. I thought of some very witty and cutting things I could have said.  But mostly, I was just disappointed at the lack of willingness to even try to do something so simple.  Surely, my daughter is not the only kid who is called by something other than her first name.  I was profoundly disappointed at the attitude of this woman.  I hate that kind of "say no and sort it out later" mentality.  Especially, you know, if it leads people to make blatantly errant statements with absolute authority.

Okay, rant over on that subject. (For now, anyway.)

So then, this morning, I'd just found out that Jane had a performance at camp, which meant after yoga, I'd have to really hurry to shower and get to her camp in time, which meant everything else I was planning to do got bumped.  I had workers at the house, which meant the dogs didn't get to go outside...I was just a little rattled and out of sorts.

And then, right before class started, I remembered that today is August 17, and that it has been five years since our 17-year-old Austin next door neighbor was tragically killed in a car accident. And there it was, see, a little perspective.

I dedicated my practice to his parents.  And all day long, I've had them in my heart, wishing for some kind of comfort to give them for a wound that will never, ever heal.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

August 16, 2012 -- Y'all Are Going to Hate Me

So, I gave you the grand tour of the interior of our house and today, we move outside.

You may not be speaking to me after you see the fabulousness of it, so let me thank you for your support over the years and remind you that we are RENTING this house and therefore cannot claim ownership, nor credit, for it. It was fabulous when we got here.

At first I thought I'd just put together a slide show for you, which led to a day-long CD shelf search to try to find the perfect song with the word "home" in it. (Oddly enough, most of those are really depressing. Who knew?) But then, I decided more explanation was warranted.

This is the front of the house.  I loved it from the first time I saw it. It reminds me of the understatedness of our neighborhood in Austin. (Only with better landscaping.)

This is the entryway, which is COVERED, and you know how I feel about that.

The first time I walked to the front door, I was utterly enchanted by this corner.  I thought I would put a little bistro table and chairs in it, like our next door neighbors in Austin had.  And then I walked in the house and out the back door and I never thought about that little corner again.

This is the back of our house.

This, um, is the cabana.  (You just stopped speaking to me, didn't you?)

This is the cabana kitchen.  (It was so nice knowing you!)

Cabana Bathroom (I KNOW!)
Behind cabana to the right.
BBQ area--used by the Coopers at least once per week, sun or snow.
Behind cabana to the right--potting area! ( It's kind of a mess because I was looking for some tools yesterday.)
Stairs leading to cabana deck.  (Those little black things are lights.)
View from cabana deck. 

Yes, those are solar panels on the roof.  I KNOW!

Austin hiding in the rose bushes.

This planter is really a SPEAKER.  (I KNOW!)
 So, I know.

I really know.

It's spectacular. It's just...beyond fantastic. We love it.

Even these photos don't do justice to the level of attention to detail in this house.  The lighting alone is art. The landscaping is beyond my wildest dreams. I've said it before, but it's like living in a fireworks display. One gorgeous thing blooms and as it is spent, another even more gorgeous thing blooms.  There were these peonies out front this spring that literally brought a tear to my eye. Here... look:

It's weird to be renters after 20 years or more of homeownership.  But this house is such an unusual property that I kind of feel like we're stewards of it. We're really blessed in our relationship with the homeowners, too --they've been willing to split the costs on some of the improvements we wanted, they trust us to oversee the upkeep, when we report minor issues, they are taken care of immediately, and best of all, we're friends now. It's a good house that can create friendships, y'all.  Seriously.

I know you're going to ask so:
A) I don't believe the owners really want to sell this house and
B) if they did, I'm not sure we could afford it.

Our plans are uncertain. Katherine still has one year in the academically advanced school that she and Jane attend, which goes through ninth grade. (Excuse me while I lean over and breathe into a paper bag as I take in what that sentence says. MY BABY IS IN HIGH SCHOOL.) We're still evaluating the local school district to see if it's a good fit for her, or if we need to move closer to a different school or find some other option.

In the meanwhile, though, I am leaning into the uncertainty, and I wake up happy every day in this house.

It's a pretty good fairytale I've got going here, isn't it?