Monday, March 29, 2010

A thousand reasons

to be grateful. To feel joy. Here are a few.

A post-bath baby dance across the bed, with the window blowing in a warm breeze.

A springtime evening sky.

This and that pushing its way up through the garden soil. All those forgotten bulbs!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Silly Mind Cage Monkey Doo

I'm sorry about the length of this post. But you can be glad, at least, that it's not a book-length reflection on my battle with my hair. Long-time readers, you know what I'm talking about. I won't even link to the old blog and that awesome picture of me as Christy Turlington.

These thoughts have been rolling around in my noggin for a few days, so I'm just going to air them out, unfiltered, and see what happens (and yes, that is what I always do. Shut it).

I've been on this spiritual path, yeah? And one of the things that keeps coming up is that I've really been wanting more freedom. I haven't exactly known what I've meant by this, but it's manifested as wanting to say no to more obligations; as putting relaxation and fun on my "to do" lists; as seeking out joy and adventure; and so on. I'm so sorry you've had to accompany me on my writhings through the mud of my longings like this. But stick with me on this particular slog. It might be worth it.

All of those external changes have been excellent. Totally necessary. Eye-opening. I'm glad I've done them, and I'm proud that I have some new, good habits that are about taking care of myself and building the life that I want: Nia, yoga, saying no to projects I don't want to do at work, reading, making time for myself, etc.

But there's been this nagging thing, you see? Where I still don't feel free? Where I still feel obligated, or like my life is not always my own? I've had some ideal days, as you know. Those days usually involve a leisurely waking up and then puttering around the house doing whatever strikes my fancy, staring out the window, the whole follow-your-bliss thing. I love those days. Probably always will.

But most days just aren't like that, and probably won't be for a long time. There's little things like dentist appointments and school registrations and going grocery shopping that just have to be done. There's big things like raising children and having a career and nurturing your marriage that just have to be done.

But I have had a smidgen of resentment about all this because it was keeping me from my freedom, dammit, which I wanted more than anything.

Okay. Maybe more than a smidgen.

So here's the big-time realization that has come to me this week. And yes, it's totally obvious. This is another late-bloomer moment. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

What I wanted freedom my brain.

Yep, my brain. The thing is, there will always be things on the to-do list (whether there is a physical list eventually or not). There will always be acts of service and obligation and whatever. The odd thing is that I don't actually mind doing all of that. In fact, I get tons of joy, happiness, and fulfillment from loving my husband and taking care of my kids and even, sometimes, cleaning the house. I don't even mind cleaning the litter box that much, when it comes down to it. Even grading papers is okay once I get into it (and to any students who are reading this, I don't mean to compare your work to cat poop. Really, I don't).

What I hate, though--what I really can't stand--is the thinking about what I have to do. I hate looking at the list in the morning, or reviewing my calendar, and getting that little pit of anxiety and resistance in my stomach, and all the rapid-fire, nearly sub-conscious self-talk that happens around all of it. That is the real pain in the ass. That is the real prison. And that real prison is me. It's my brain.

So how, exactly, did I figure this entirely obvious, self-evident thing out? Well, we're required in this church class I'm taking to meditate. Not required as in they hold a gun to our heads while we breathe deep, but they certainly ask us to make a commitment to particular spiritual practices, you know, as a means of facilitating our growth, and so I'm trying to show up to that commitment and see what happens.

I've meditated before, sure. In church, and sometimes at home. But I haven't been quite committed to it, primarily because it was time-instensive and anxiety-producing. Or so I used to think. See, I'd sit down to meditate, and get a few seconds of quiet in, and them my naughty monkey brain would go absolutely nuts with all the things I needed to be doing and with the anxiety of what I was not doing and how long the meditation was taking. I'd get up to get some of those things done so that I wouldn't feel so anxious, figuring I'd return to meditation when I was feeling calmer and could do a better job of it. Then I'd never come back to it, of course. Because there were always things to do.


Seriously, though. That's what I thought.

So now that I'm required by this class to do the meditation, and I'm being supported by lots of things to try it, I'm doing 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. Oh, my monkey brain is still in there, throwing all sorts of shit at the bars of my braincage. In fact, I wrote half this post during last night's meditation session, before gently bringing myself back to the breath. I guess the shift is that I'm not giving up or going off to do things when this happens. I'm just shrugging my shoulders at my overactive mind and getting right back into it.

But the amazing thing is that I'm sticking with it and--Lord have mercy--I am experiencing the freedom I've been wanting all along. Freedom, peace. Peace, freedom. It's not about having a clear day to do whatever I want. It's not about dissatisfaction with my job, or the state of my toilets, or how well my children are behaving. It's about quieting my brain for 30 freaking minutes a day. Or at least trying to.

How about that. Now I see why the Buddhster is always laughing.


I was just making the kids beds and thinking how odd it is that the only thing we can "wreak" is havoc. We can't really wreak disaster, or trouble, or even annoyance. Just havoc.

It would be interesting to expand that, don't you think? Like, to "wreak" some cookies? "I'm going to wreak some cookies on your ass!" Or wreaking joy? "What is it with you today, Jen? You seem so happy." "Oh, I've just been wreaking joy."

I need to take a shower now, where I will wreak some cleanliness.

Watch out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear Nature

Dear Nature,

You are HILARIOUS! Where did you think that up? You crazy fox, what with all your "spring snowstorms" and stuff. Every year you crank up the dial to 60, and I get out all my flip-flops and t-shirts, and then you dump an ass-load of snow on us for about twelve hours and I have to get my wool pants and fuzzy boots out again. Then you make it 60 right away again and flood everything! So brilliant! You're such a kidder.

Also, could you tell you friend Culture that he, too, is hilarious? I love how he decides that all the elementary schools will be closed thanks to your ridiculously big-ass snowstorm, but forgets to send the snow-day memo to the companies and the universities. He's totally laughing his ass off watching everybody use up their precious few vacation days or spare cash on extra babysitting. Oh, I'll make it so the kids have to stay home but won't give the parents a way to care for them because they have to WORK. Hee-haw! Guffaw! Hilarious!

Anyway. Love you.

Your pal,

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I DID do it, after all. I loaded up the stuff I've been working on and took it on down to the store.

And the owner wasn't there.

Note to self: call first next time. I got myself all lathered up over nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. I did go to two other boutiques (wearing some of my clothes) and just inquired if they would be interested in seeing more. The first boutique--one of my favorites in Golden--said they would love to, but they are going out of business. They told me to sell in a street fair that happens in April, though, and they took my number to give to the next owner (who is going to specialize in handmade clothing. Watch out now). The third boutique also said they were interested, but I don't think it was my vibe.

Here's the thing. I don't know if I want to sell in boutiques. Because they have to take their cut, you know? And I don't want to jack my prices up super-high.

There's Etsy, I guess, but I'm nervous about learning to take good pictures and having to spend a bunch of time on marketing. I want to keep things light and fun and easy.

So, maybe the street fair will be the option.

Mulling, mulling.

Tooth on the Loose

I'm glad all of you liked my morning pictures. I'll try to post more pictures of me looking psychotic. I laugh my own ass off looking at those, and it's quite liberating to just embrace one's complete lack of photogenicity and just rock the hilarity, you know? I mean, let's do it. Remember when Oprah printed those pictures of her un-made-up self in O? Well, maybe you don't remember that if you're not a recovering Oprah fan, like myself. But I remember being pretty stoked and inspired by that move.

Not that I'm Oprah. I'm just saying.

Speaking of other great things, Miss A. has lost her first tooth. Sorry for the bloody goo, but we did have to take this picture, and I must post it, because this is a momentous and important thing. My.

Maybe I Will

She hasn't written in a while. She must be going through some sort of crazy life transition. Or maybe she has a paper due. Or she's depressed. I'm sure she'll tell us all about it soon. Yawn. Ho-Hum.

Yeppers. All of the above, except the depression part. For once. Nia has pretty much nipped that in the bud for now. Thanks be.

Hey! Here's a picture of my sock puppet inner critic. She has loads of opinions, but doesn't tell you about them. She just makes this face, and you have to guess at what she's thinking, and what you imagine is always worse than anything that could really be:

My fabulous and inspiring friend LN had all of us hopeless creatives over for a recovering artist's night on Monday night. To celebrate her 40th birthday and our tragic artist wannabe-ness, we made sock puppets of our inner critics, those voices that tell us we can't do it, we're not good enough, nobody wants us to express ourselves, our butts are too fat (okay, that's my personal thing), that sort of thing.

Hey! And here's a picture of some homemade labels. On some upcycled clothes.

I'm pretending I might take some of my clothes into a little consignment boutique in Golden. I might not, but I'm pretending I will. Who knows? Maybe if that stupid critic will shut the fuck up, I may.

Or not.

We'll see.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I think there is nothing better than the first day after a long winter that you get to sit in front of an open window, in the sun, looking at a craft book from the library, on a bean bag, with your fat cat, in the peace and quiet, without freezing your ever-loving ass off.

What a great way to kick off spring break.

Know Thyself

I think I've finally outrun the Alaskan jetlag. But it was not easy. For some reason, a two hour time difference feels as it might as well have been twelve hours. Especially the whole waking up in the morning thing. If there is one thing I know about myself, it is that I am not a morning person.

But I try.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Anchorage, Pt. 4


Sled dog packs are made up of motley crews of skinny little yappers.

There are 71 teams that start in the Iditarod. They take off from the start line one at a time, two minutes apart. Which means listening to hundreds of skinny little yappers for hours on end.

It's not that cold, but it's pretty cold. My butt is the first thing to freeze, which is odd considering that's where I store most of my whale blubber. I thought that was supposed to keep one warm.

You didn't think I was going to show you a picture of my butt, did you?

I'm not sure how I feel about all this fur being sold, or these dogs, in their booties, in their little cages, taken out only to be mushed all around town on top of fake, trucked-in snow, pulling sleds filled with bundled-up dignitaries. I'm just not sure.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Anchorage, Pt. 3

A walking tour:

A shot of the inlet, which I mistakenly referred to as a "bay" earlier (oops). Not sure what's up with the glove. I took my hand out of my own mitten for 30 seconds to shoot this picture and nearly lost a finger to frostbite. That morning wind is no joke.

I don't think there's any sort of definitive architectural style in Anchorage. It's part Soviet-bloc, part Western frontier, part Scandinavian-modern. The Scandinavian parts remind me of my visits to Sweden, where everything is brightly colored and lit, presumably so that people don't go off the deep end during those endless winter months. All I can say is that if E. would let me put these awesome circles on our house, I would.

Who are these dudes? Why are they on the side of a building? One looks like a Star Trek captain; another like Ted Stevens. Weird.

A very, very good $5.00 lunch. Tomato noodle soup and handmade bread. And some good reading for after.

Followed by the most brilliant invention ever: drinking chocolate. This is not hot chocolate, nor is it hot fudge. It's kind of like both, but a thousand times better. Sweet Jesus in a cup.

And here's me, very happy in my new, bright red, extra-cozy hat.

Anchorage, Pt. 2

A friend called me the other day feeling worried and sad about everything going on in the world. "It's just so sad," she said. "I'm so worried about the world."

God, no kidding. I mean, the economy, poverty, disease, food, global warming, inept and corrupt politicians, and that's the short list. These earthquakes: Haiti, Chile, Taiwan. Some say the Oregon coast is next. The earth moves and moves.

I was watching Alaska TV last night (well, mostly I was watching this A&E reality show about catching fugitives, but during the commericals I would switch back to Alaska TV). Alaska TV is one of those schlocky chamber of commerce channels that gives you tours of local shops and restaurants and tour outfitters. In a weird bit of vintagey marketing, they also showed footage from the massive 1964 Good Friday earthquake, which quite literally ripped Anchorage to pieces.

Oh my, I thought. Wouldn't that be just the thing. For a minute, my departure Tuesday seemed very far away. Suddenly, my very tall hotel didn't seem so great.

"We're in a time of great shifts," my Nia teacher says. Another spiritual teacher reminds me and my fellow students, "Yes, there is great suffering in the world, and our hearts break with compassion and sorrow over it. But also, these are opportunities for great leaps in consciousness. There is never only the breaking."

It's hard to remember that when we are being swallowed by the earth, when our little ones have disappeared, when we are surrounded by collapse. But what else is there? What else is there but to climb out the wreckage, and then to turn back and help others climb out too, and to remember and live on?

From Colin Beavan's book No Impact Man (which is sooo good, really. I'd like to recommend it to you most heartily). At the end of the book, which is really a reflection on figuring out what matters, he writes about his Uncle Bing, who committed suicide, his brother David, who died in his crib, and his wife Michelle, who has suffered a miscarriage:

I understand now about Bing and David. Everyone loses Bing and David. Some people lose them at the beginning of their lives and some in the middle and some at the end. Some will lose their children and some their siblings. Michelle lost her unborn child at age thirty-nine. David stopped breathing in his crib when I was four. And you? And you? This it the root of my religious belief: we are not separate.

It's terrible and it's wonderful, but it's true: we're all in the same boat. That's the consolation. It's not just me who's scared and lonely and worried and isn't sure how to help myself. We don't know how to help ourselves, but there is one thing we do know how to do. We know how to help each other.

There is only one thing that makes sense, Pema [Chodron] said.

Can I help? Do I help?

Anchorage, Pt. 1

One of the sad, comforting things about traveling to major U.S. cities is that they feel a whole lot like one another. Sure, New York has the New York thing and D.C. is D.C. and Chicago, Chicago. But on every corner are the same big-box stores and the same locals rushing to work and the same tourists. Same same same. This makes it possible for me to board planes with nothing more than my boarding pass and a hotel address and know that when I touch down I'll have no problem getting where I'm going and everything will be quite predictable.

Not so true for Alaska.

The plane ride was different, for one thing. It was a rowdy, individualistic group, with men fighting the flight attendants over what could and could not go underneath the seats in front of them, and lots and lots of fancy camo-designed clothing and outdoor gear. Everyone looked slightly defensive, as if preparing for an onslaught. There were medical emergencies on both flights. And for both legs of the flight, I sat next to a very, very nice, loquacious older man who knew Sarah Palin's family very well and thought she was a "good girl" but felt mad as hell that she had abandoned Alaska the way she had. He later gave me a ride to my hotel room, which looks to be in the tallest building in the city.

You can see a humongous J.C. Penney from my hotel room, but you can also see (not visible in the picture above becaue of the morning fog) amazing views of magnificent mountains and ranges (including Denali and Chugatch), rising up like an admonition in the distance. The stores below are in high gear, selling Alaskan souvenirs and a lot of fur, for the ongoing Fur Rondy.

There's one thing most Alaskans I've talked to so far (and I've talked to a bunch, because they are in fact very friendly, and I've set my intention to get to know lots of new people here) agree on, and that's global warming. This is the last weekend of the Fur Rondy, a huge dogsled race and community fair of sorts that kicks off the Iditarod, which begins tomorrow. Usually there is a "start" for the race in downtown Anchorage, right below my hotel window, and then a "restart" outside of town in Wasilla or Willow, where the snow is more even and plentiful.

This year, as they have in recent years past, they are trucking in huge amounts of snow to the city for the start. Though it is cloudy and cold outside, and little flurries descend here and there, there is almost no accumulation here in Anchorage. At the beginning of March. I don't know Alaska, and I know not to conflate weather with climate. But the locals are pretty bothered by this particular fact, and they believe they see big changes, so I try also to listen to them and respect their memories.

The locals shake their heads at the bare ground, without shame or confusion or malice, and comment that this is the fact of global warming in Alaska. And then they continue to vote Republican, for all matter of other reasons, I guess, probably mostly having to do with energy politics and guns. It's pretty heartbreaking.

It's 8am now, and my coffee is almost gone, so I suppose I'll shower and head out in search of some food.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I should be prepping for class right now because I teach until 9 tonight and leave for the airport to go to Alaska at 5:30 in the morning. I have a bunch of stuff I need to do to prep for the conference in Anchorage.

But there's this! The lunatics are jumping off of the mountain outside my window, their sails bobbing up and down as they descend. The sunshine is bright and the air warm. I walked Addie into school today and because we were a bit early, we had time to stop and inspect the trees outside. Though they look pretty sad from far away--dead, even--there are in fact little red buds all over them. Some grass is turning green. The girls could wear tennis shoes instead of snowboots today.

This is not to say that we're not in line for a shitload more snow. March and April are the snowiest months here. But I would go out on a limb and say that we might get some of the warm days we're due here in Denver in the coming weeks, and I will welcome them.

I've been working hard on just accepting the weather, you know? My worries about the climate sometimes make it hard to just be in a place of acceptance about things beyond my control. So you live the best life you can, try to make good choices and have right thinking, and then you must also shrug and take your time sitting in the sun, being glad spring is right around the corner.

Can I Get

an amen?

Here's what the universe has to say today:

Of all the things that matter, Jen, that really and truly matter, working more efficiently and getting more done is not among them.

The Universe

Monday, March 1, 2010

Another Envelope

Oh, these old boxes from the garage. What fun it has been to go through them, and a little vertiginous. Take this writing assignment from second grade: Write Your Two Biggest Wishes. Mine? 1) That my dad would find a job. 2) That I would grow up to be pretty someday.

What a picture that is.

For today, from another of M. and S.'s envelopes, this poem:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.