Monday, February 28, 2011

Contemplating Ascetiscism

This guy who used to work with me once told me that I was an ascetic. Fortunately, since I'm the only member of my immediate family of origin who did NOT attend seminary, I knew he wasn't calling me a bad name. I have had a tendency to give things up (sugar, meat, caffeine...) but - in all honesty - it's not always because I'm pursuing higher spirituality. It's typically because I tend to see my actions in black and white terms. I'm good or bad. Pure or stained.

If I eat too much sugar, then the best solution (in my mind) is to go cold turkey. Actually, that's the EASIEST solution once you get over the initial hump. It's much more difficult to practice a life of true moderation than it is to live your life in either extreme.

I'm contemplating asceticism today because Lent is right around the corner and I've yet to hear a distinct calling for this year's observation (perhaps because I haven't been listening very closely). I've tried it all - I've given up almost anything you can imagine and I've also tried waking up early to meditate or read the Bible every morning. True to form, I'm generally more successful at the "giving up" than I am at creating new (good) habits.

Do any of you observe Lent or any other ascetic spiritual tradition, such as Ramadan? If so - what did you do and how did it work for you? (Remember...I allow anonymous posting so you can be honest!) This year I'm drawn more towards the commitment of a daily meditation, but I really want to hear about your experience before I decide.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Creating Space, Part Two

For a good 48 hours after that amazing yoga class, I was sore. Sore in a good way, but sore all the same. I was literally feeling muscles in my back that I don't think I've ever used before. I knew at the time that it was taking a lot of effort for me to create that space - I mean, I was sweating and breathing hard just from going into a forward bend! The effort was even more obvious the next day. I decided the most effective way for me to combat my discomfort was to do it again. So that's exactly what I did. 

It's a bit uncomfortable to create space. As the normal habits get pushed aside, part of me gets a little whiny and questions whether I'm truly capable of change in my life. I think that if I keep pushing myself a little bit every day to create space in my heart, mind and body, I'll begin to see it as a fun challenge instead of succumbing to the annoying "I can't" messages.

The tag-line for my Myers-Briggs personality is "Anything's Possible." That's what I'm hoping!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Creating Space, Part One

Today, during my lunch break, I used a gym pass to hit a yoga class. The dude teaching the class was awesome. He took his time and really had us focus on the details of one pose. We probably spent ten or fifteen minutes slowly going into a forward bend, stopping every few inches to create more space in our spines so that we could really access the pose and do the work. It was simply yoga-licious.
The entire lesson was really about creating space and how the yoga practitioners who work on creating space in their core are able to do amazing things. I've felt that idea spinning around in my heart and mind for the rest of the day and there's a lot more I want to explore about it.
By taking the time to create space in my body, I found a whole new experience with the asana. I believe there are other aspects of my life that would blossom if I created space for them.
Creating space in my home gives me a sense of peace and comfort.
Creating space in my mind allows me to be open to new ideas.
Creating space in my heart opens me to forgiveness and love for myself and for others who've hurt me.
Creating space in my habits enables me to let go of the destructive ones and accept healthy new ones.
Creating space in my daily schedule gives me time to accomplish what I envision for myself.
Creating space for mistakes allows me to learn. (This little gem popped into my head when I was about to berate myself for "messing up" part of tonight's dinner. I made space for the mistake and ended up with a meal that was even better once the recipe was Jenn-ified.)
Creating space for faith and spirituality is probably the best idea of all. I believe space is all it takes because what we need is right here - right in front of all of us. When I create the space for God in my life, all the love and joy rushes in and I don't miss what I moved aside so I'd have room for Her peace.
Uttanasa and Virabhadrasana III first opened my (rather sore) hips. A few hours later I realized they'd also opened my mind to a whole new way of looking at the possibilities around me.

Where do you want to create space? Tomorrow I plan to write about how much effort it takes to truly create space. After today's yoga class, I was sweating and exhausted even though I barely moved sixteen inches in any direction during the entire hour. I focused all my energy on new movements and tiny muscles so that I could find incremental space. I had to shut down the part of my brain that wanted to question whether it was "working" and whether I was "able" to create the space. It was an enormous amount of work but so worth it that I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Men and Emotions

Last night, around 9 p.m., we made it safely back home after laying my husband's grandmother to rest in Borger, Texas. As we drove into our neighborhood, my husband informed us that we'd been away from home for 37 hours and 45 minutes. During that time, we'd driven about 1100 miles.

Needless to say, the trip took a significant amount of stamina.

I mentioned the other day how much I grieved when I realized the end was near. Once we were at the actual internment, the reality of what we were facing seemed to hit my son as well. He turned away from the service and buried  his face in my chest, wrapping my coat around the sides of his face. It took me a few minutes to realize that he wasn't just escaping from all the people (sometimes crowds of adults are a bit much for him) but that he was actually crying and didn't want anyone other than me to know how he was feeling.

His grief had real staying power. I know relatives were wondering why he was being unsocial, but he couldn't bring himself to look at anyone. He continued to cry quietly for about 30 minutes after the service, even when we went to some friends' house so that I could change into jeans (he wouldn't change his clothes, nor would he let go of the program from the service). By the time we made it to the Palo Duro Canyon, and once he saw the amazing view, he seemed to recover and had a great time seeing if he could make an echo.

I ached for his pain but I was also very glad that he let himself cry and that he trusted me enough to share his grief. Too often we pressure men to swallow their pain and be the "strong ones." Little boys and young men take those messages to heart. Lately I've been thinking about the kind of love I hope my children find when they are grown. I want them to find a love which allows them to be completely true to themselves - even when they are in pain and want to run away from the world. As I stood on the rim of the canyon with my son, I was thinking about how proud I was of him for crying and how I know my job right now is to let him be the person he's supposed to be. Some day it will be up to him to remain true to himself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peaceful Kitchen

I'm not sure this picture adequately captures what my kitchen looked like earlier this afternoon, but I was so happy as I looked at the sunlight falling on the strawberries in the white dish that I was inspired to take a picture. I guess I just wanted to write about why I'm so happy in my kitchen on a day like this, when the sun is shining and I've got good smells coming from the oven.

 Most weeks I bake bread at least once and you can see one of the very nice bread pans my husband gave me for Christmas in front of the toaster (which is not so nice but perfectly adequate for how I use it). I've also become something of an olive oil and balsamic vinegar connoisseur (or snob, if you prefer) because there's an awesome olive oil specialty store not too far from my house. The people at Con Olio know me pretty well and you can see why - there are almost a dozen bottles to the left of the Kitchen Aid. That mixer was another fabulous Christmas gift - but it's pretty old now - I think I received it before my eldest was born, if memory serves - and I've been giving it a run for its money, especially during the last few years - since I started baking my own bread at home. You might be wondering why there are eggs in water. Technically, they are egg shells. I recently read that if you leave eggshells in water overnight, the water becomes enriched with calcium, which is good for your plants. My plants need all the help they can get, so whenever the shells are too cracked to save for cascarones, I plop them into water.

So this is my idea of heaven. Everyone at home, sunshine coming in the open window, bread in the oven and strawberries ready for a snack. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Accepting Grief

Today we found out that a dear one, my husband's grandmother, is probably close to the end of her life. As I write this, I'm waiting for David to come home so that we can see her one more time. I've learned a lot about how I grieve over the last few hours.

I grieve openly. The second my son got into the car, he immediately told me I didn't sound very good and wanted to know what was wrong. When my daughter came into the house an hour and a half later, the first words out of her mouth were: "Mom, what's wrong?" I wasn't crying openly but I was clearly carrying sadness and grief. Even as I waited in the pickup line for my son, I could feel the grief in the air around me - as if it was a tangible fog. A few years ago I would have tried to pretend everything was ok, but I'm now mature enough to realize that it wouldn't work anyway and - at worst - it might make my children think I didn't care about what's going on right now. I wear my emotions openly and I probably always will.

I also need to be accomplishing something tangible as I grieve. We're fortunate in that we already have a babysitter scheduled for tonight - it was supposed to be date night. That gives us the opportunity to head out to the nursing home so David can say goodbye.Our babysitter is wonderful and the kids love her - she'll be a real support to them. I've been digging through the pantry, preparing dinner for the three of them because it's very, very important to me that I have a hot dinner on the table for my kids and their caretaker before I leave the house. I really wanted to get a fresh loaf of bread in the oven but the timing won't work out. Instead - it's a pretty kid-centric meal of frozen fish fillets (in the oven now), organic macaroni and cheese, and pineapple. Lemon Jello will be their dessert if it sets in time.

Obviously - I also feel the need to write about my grief - even before it's really begun. Our dear grandmother is still with us and plenty of people would be able to put it all aside for a while. I need to start processing now and today I accept that about myself. Most importantly - I want to be a support to David and the kids as they face their own grief. I believe that when we're open with each other about our grief, we are able to love more deeply.

This is my way. Open, tangible, honest. Because I don't want to go through life alone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Days, Banana Bread, and Bach

The weather guys (the same ones who've let me down in the past) predicted snow and it actually blanked out town last night as we were asleep. So today we had a Snow Day. As you can see, my daughter announced it in all caps outside of our house.

My day started at 4:30 a.m., not because of my kids, but because of my own exuberance. Once I saw the snow I couldn't go back to sleep - it seemed like forever before I could go outside to play and take pictures. As usual, my husband took the top snapshots - like this one of a squirrel - but I had fun adding the artistic sepia touch.
It's an artistic sort of day. I baked banana bread (baking is the ultimate artistic expression, in my opinion) and practiced the piano. Maybe later I'll write a poem.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sixth Grade Definition of "Optional"

So, the first thing you should know is that it's freakishly cold right now. It's been hovering in the 20's all day. If you lived in Minnesota I guess it might be a bit chilly - but for Austin, Texas - there are simply no words to describe our discomfort.

Because it's a dry cold, we're supposed to go through our days as if nothing unusual was happening. There's no ice on the roads, you know. In the meantime, there were "rolling" blackouts to protect the power grid. Let's just not ask why, if they were rolling blackouts, my house and workplace never lost power but my daughter's school rarely had power this morning.

We'll leave that question to the philosophers, shall we?

Where was I? Oh, yes. It's cold. Bone chillingly, wear-sweatshirt-and-socks-to-bed, remind-me-never-to-move-north-of-Dallas COLD.

Around lunchtime, I got a text from my daughter - which took me aback because there is a VERY strict no cell phone usage rule at her school. She knows it backwards and forwards and that if a phone is seen it will be confiscated and I think there is money involved to get it back...I don't know. It sounds intimidating. She clearly doesn't mess around with it because even when I try to call her on the bus (which is a cell phone approved location) she doesn't answer.

Texts are, by their very nature, somewhat ambiguous. Texts from your middle school child can be exceptionally vague. This lunchtime text read: "Mom, can you please come pick me up?"

Now, call me picky but I need a little bit more context - especially when I receive a text like that in the middle of the school day. I immediately start to worry that some horrible bullying incident has occurred and she sneaked off to ask for help. I text back and tell her that I need her to call me but then say "Of course I will - just call and tell me why." She calls right away (Why did she not call me in the first place? Ponder not the mysteries of a pre-teen's mind, dear readers.). It turns out that the school had no electricity so the principal finally got on the intercom and told the kids that if they were cold, and if they could get ahold of their parents, and if they wanted to do so - they could go home.

Yeah. So. I'll give you one guess as to how many middle school kids decided that they WANTED to stay at school. I mean, I was a total teacher's pet but even I would've jumped at the chance to call my mom for a ride home when I was 11.

Anyway - she warns me that the line to pick up kids was really long but that hopefully it would be better by the time I got there. She wasn't kidding. Parents in line are asking questions about what's going on and one of the security officers rolls her eyes and said that the kids just want to go home. And leaves it at that.

I'm thinking....really? That's the answer? Isn't it true that our kids want to go home every single day of their lives - but you don't normally see three hundred 40-somethings in a middle school, do you? I'm thinking there's more to this story.

I didn't say that. Instead, I said: "Well, wasn't there an announcement? A reason our kids called us?"

She rolled her eyes again (not at me, she seemed nice enough) and responded: "Sure...but it was OPTIONAL as to whether the kids wanted to go home if they were cold. They should have told their parents that - instead they just said they wanted to get picked up."

Because, of course, making it "optional" should have really cut down on the number of calls home and/or ambiguous texts sent to cell phones across North Austin.

I didn't offer a verbal response but perhaps I inadvertently displayed incredulity on my face because she followed that up with: "There's no reason for them to go home, you don't have to get them at all. School's going on as normal and the heat is back on. There's really no reason for all of you to be here."

Again - I didn't have a response to that insight. I did, however, text my daughter, and tell her they told me the heat was back on and that the line to get her out of school was REALLY long. She texts back immediately and said something along the lines of: "They said the heat was working the last two times it broke." Ah. The pieces begin to fall into place.

The good news is that I finally located her, thanks to the hilarious and goofy green hat that she loves to wear, was able to find a kindhearted teacher who was taking names of kids checking out (or else she was just some random woman writing our names onto a piece of paper - either way works for me) so that I didn't have to keep waiting in line. The other good news was that my kid only missed one academic class.

The FUNNY thing is that by the time I got back to the office, I had an email from the school announcing that school was NOT cancelled. (Which cracked me up - as if hundreds of parents just spontaneously decided to descend upon the school en-masse and collect our children.) By the time we got home, we had a message from the district telling us that schools wouldn't be cancelled if they didn't have electricity tomorrow and that kids should just plan to come to school with extra clothes and teachers would be prepared to teach without electricity.

I'm having flashbacks of Little House on the Prairie as I write this. Maybe I'll braid her hair tomorrow. Hee, hee. Easy for me to say, right? Just for that cheek, the gods of electricity might smite me.

It just strikes me as a particularly amusing day in which, perhaps, some people gained a new appreciation of what an "optional" release from school means to kids. I'm hoping tomorrow brings ice and less ambiguity in my life.