Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Practical Meditation

You all know that I've been interested in meditation for a long time, and have had some interesting experiences meditating (like that time when my limbs got all expansive and universal-like.  That was better than shrooms.  Not that I know what shrooms are like, dear tenure committee members and law-enforcing-type officials and taxpayers and older family members reading this blog).

But, frankly, I've not ever been able to keep up meditation as a daily practice.  Certainly, I have done things that approximated it:  daily spiritual reading, some chanting here and there.  And I think running can be pretty meditative.  Still, there has been no daily sitting down and quieting of the mind, even though I've needed it.  Oh, I'd try.  I'd sit for a few minutes and then feel really, really called to pop a load of laundry in the washer.  Or I'd get all anxious and need to do some online shopping.  So it seemed sort of counter-productive all in all.  I didn't know for how long to sit or why or anything like that.  It just was too hard to make it a daily practice.

Then, when I had my mini-meltdown in San Diego (which maybe was not so mini.  Maybe more of the life-changing variety) I had that phone conversation with N., which she probably thought was kind of inconsequential but was actually really, really important (she's always doing that to/for me, as best friends do) and she asked if I could go meditate to get a handle on the freak-out.  I think I tearfully responded uh-huh, but the answer really should have been nuh-uh, because I wouldn't have known how and it probably would have freaked me out even more to try in that moment.

There isn't really a knowing how to meditate, you say.  You just get quiet and let the thoughts go by.


But I need more help than that.  I'm a first-world bozo.  You'll see.

Anyway, N.'s question rang in my head for a while, and I wondered if one of the things I really needed to figure out how to do was to sit and be quiet with myself for a while and quit running away so much.

Happily, this budding awareness of my need to start meditating coincided with my getting this Christmas present from my grandma:

That, in case you don't know, is a Kindle Fire.  Or a Kindle Fire in its little cover, at least.  Ruby saw a commercial for it a few weeks before Christmas and asked me if I wanted one for the family and I said yes and she sent me the money for it and then it became mine because it's the best present I've ever had and I love it and use it all the time and I don't want anyone else to have it because it has changed my life.

I'm selfish that way.

Don't tell Grandma.

So, the Fire is awesome for so many reasons.  It can pay music from Amazon's cloud, where we have uploaded more than 5,000 songs from our collection.  It can play movies and t.v. shows streaming from Amazon's excellent collection, which fills in holes Netflix has.  I'm watching The Tudors at the moment, which is like porn, set in the 16th century.  All those loose and flowy nightgowns.  Totally awesome.

The Fire can play stuff from Netflix, it can access email if you like, it's got all the Droid apps.  It directly connects to your Amazon account, and I know this makes me a corporate shill.  So be it.  It has all of my books and magazines.  I can catch up on all my blogs via google reader.  It's friendly and sweet and unassuming and easy to use it and I love it.  It was only $200, too.  Jesus.  That's less than a coat from Boden.

But my favorite thing is the Insight Meditation Center app:

It allows you to design preset meditation times.  It has specialized gongs to remind you to return to your breath, and different gongs to let you know you're done.  It even shows you who else is meditating around the world when you are.

All the wind up for that.  A lame plug for an app.  Sorry.  You're terribly underwhelmed, I can tell.  But I'm overwhelmed, because this thing has me meditating every day, and it's so easy and delightful.  It's my wee technological meditation crutch, but it's profoundly good medicine.

This post is already too long, so I'll talk about the benefits I'm seeing from the actual meditation later, and why maybe this time is different from the other times I got all worked up about meditation.  But if you've thought about meditating, would like to try it...I don't know.  There's an app for that.

Ew.  Sorry.  Had to do it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Noles

Well, it seems that Nolie may have a little bit of test anxiety.  Good thing to know.  Our county GT office retested her this week using a different test, one that works better for kids with test anxiety and which is a bit more oriented toward kinesthetic learning, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, she's in.  I'm glad, on a lot of levels.

Thanks for all the love and support and arguments and laughs as we figured this thing out.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Regarding my secret fear of moderately empty refrigerators, and also overly crowded, disorganized refrigerators.

You know how we've been trying to save money, mostly because we were not saving money there for a while and things got out of whack?  We're pretty much back in the black now, but took a hard look at how we'd been spending money.  As a result, we've gone through some major changes in the last month or so.  It paid off:  we paid off the residuals from the credit cards, made some lifestyle changes, and everything is looking up.

Here's what we did:

First, I stopped buying clothes.  Let's be honest:  I had a new-clothing addiction there for a while.  I spent plenty of our hard-earned money buying myself a whole new wardrobe this last year.  Yes, it was stuff that was on sale, and yes, I really enjoy the clothes.  But it was out of hand and needed to be nipped in the bud.

That addiction got replaced with my new meditation addiction, but that's for an upcoming post (promise).

Second, we agreed to cancel the cable.  This isn't going to save us a ton of money, but let me tell you, it has opened up veritable chasms of time in my schedule.  I read every night now, with a cup of tea.  I read in the morning.  I read in the interstices of my day.  It's not that I wasn't reading before, but boy, making the mental switch away from my tv addiction triggered a desire in me to read and do other stuff, like exercise.  This is pretty awesome.

But I should say goodbye to my friends:  goodbye, Kim, Kortney, Khloe.  Goodbye Snooki, the Situation. I'll miss you.

Nother good by-product:  watching tv can't trigger my desire to shop.  Good.

Third, we just got a whole lot more careful about incidental spending.  I tried to make most birthday gifts this month; we didn't eat out; we talked over every purchase.  This helped a lot, and is a habit I think we'll keep up with.

Fourth, we agreed that our grocery budget was out of whack.  I'm about to blow your freaking mind.  Are you ready?  We spent on average $1000 a month on groceries.  Sometimes more.

Okay, pick up the pieces of your brain and join me again when you've reassembled.

I know!  I know!  I can't believe it myself.  I'm ashamed and embarrassed and confused.  I mean, we make almost every meal at home rather than eat out, so that's part of it.  I try to buy organic produce when I can (especially with those rascals, apples).  We like good cheddar.  But I don't know where the hell else the rest of it goes, honestly.

In an effort to cut that budget dramatically this month (we were shooting for $600 but I think hit more like $700) we made two big shopping trips and then agreed to eat from the pantry.  We had a fair amount stocked up in terms of pastas and canned tomatoes and all that Costco-overflow-jazz, so it didn't seem that hard.  At first.

And for most of the time, it was fun.  It was fun figuring out how to be creative just with what we had.  It was nice to use up food we had bought rather than throw it away or watch it get all dusty.

But for the last ten days or so, our refrigerator has looked like this:

Now, maybe you look at this fridge and see plenty.  Maybe you think I'm having a "first world problem."  Maybe you want me to shut my freaking pie-hole.

But I look at this fridge, and I see three half-jars of salsa, a few stalks of kale that I ran out and bought on Tuesday in a frenzied pique as my body demanded fresh greens, a ginormous tub of fake butter (we've had it for three years.  I'm not kidding.  Totally disgusting), and a pitcher of watered-down juice.  And I'm thinking, "How in god's name am I going to feed a family of four on this shit?  Somebody tell me HOW I'M GOING TO FEED A FAMILY OF FOUR WITH MARGARINE AND WILTED KALE, MOTHER FUCKERS!!!!.

If you post a comment with a recipe for fried kale and apple sauce, I will punch you in the throat.

Good thing it's the end of the month and I have special dispensation to go to the market this weekend, even if it means we go a tiny bit into the red until our paychecks show up on Monday.

But let me tell you, it has been interesting to observe myself trying not to freak out about having an empty larder.  And it has been interesting to observe myself freaking out about not having fresh produce and lots of choices, cooking-wise.  And it has been interesting to reflect on my parents' huge walk-in pantry and costco-sized refrigerator, filled with more food than two people could ever eat even if peak oil hits and boatloads of hungry refugees buy out everything in the grocery store and my parents are stuck living off their pantry for a year.

Not saying this has anything to do with them. I take responsibility for my own refrigerator-induced neuroses.  That image of their giant, walk-in pantry and overflowing fridge has just crossed my mind a few times as I've been thinking about my relationship with scarcity and plenty and blessings and fear, that's all.

Here's the cool thing:  I will be very, very excited to go grocery shopping tomorrow, and I will feel very grateful for every recipe I get to cook this next week.  That's for sure.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend Honors

On Thursday morning, we attended a breakfast honoring Addie as one of her school's "top" students for the month of February.  I was so proud, hearing the words the principal said about her (and that her teacher wrote):

I love that she is a "mathematical whiz" and a "super reader," but am especially proud that she is kind and peaceful.

Friday, I was honored to be included in a ladies-only weekend in the mountains.  A friend turned 40, and her husband secretly flew in all of her best friends, from every stage of her life, to celebrate it with her in a cabin in Winter Park.  How amazing to be included, and to meet seven instant new friends.

And how lucky I am to have a husband who entertained and loved on my girls all weekend, cleaned the house, did laundry, and cheerfully let me take a 3-hour nap when I got home yesterday.

Speaking of coming home, I arrived to this:

Which meant also that Nolie brought home her class's honored stuffed animal, Cayden.  She got to take care of him all weekend, do fun things with him, and write stories about him.

Not to mention the two glowing report cards that came home, too.

I'm a proud mama.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The MLK Song

1.  It was hard to video this without shooting any little girl boobies, but I wanted to avoid doing that because you're all such a bunch of pervs.

2.  I like how our bathroom tiles look in this shoot.

3.  This song neither rhymes, has a melody, nor is it maybe that historically or factually accurate in some ways.  It's pretty non-linear, really.  But I still really, really like it.

So, from Nolie to you, on this fine MLK Day:

Monday, January 9, 2012

The GT Dilemma

Once again, the gifted and talented program in our county has presented us with a dilemma.

Namely, that Nolie didn't get in.

She doesn't know this yet, so if you're someone who sees her, or has a kid who sees her, please don't say anything.

Her test scores weren't bad by any means, but they were pretty blah across the board.

I think I can speak for E. when I say our first reaction was, CRAP.  Not because we are so in love with GT or anything, or think our kid won't be successful without it, but because her very vocal older sister is in GT, and thinks the world of it, and CRAP will Nolie think that she's not the gifted or talented one in the family?  That she is something other that smart and lovely and a gift to everyone who meets her?


Also, it's confusing, seeing as Nolie is doing really well in school, and her teachers are having to work hard to challenge her in math and reading.  So did she just have a couple of off-days of testing?  Or does the testing not capture all kinds of giftedness (know the answers to that one)?  Is she just not ready for that kind of testing?

Biggest question of all:  what to do now?

Gather information about our options.  Get some resources on how to deal with this kind of situation.  Maybe advocate for a retest.  We don't quite know yet.

I'm not a fan of moments like this, where there is no clear path forward, and you have to be careful that your actions and attitudes aim for what's best for your kid and aren't just a reflection of your own fears and insecurities as a parent.

I think Nolie would do great in a GT classroom.  But I also know she's smart, funny, resilient, loving, and basically all-around awesome.  And I'll need to be all of those things, too, so I can always be her best parent, coach, advocate, and ally, reminding her that she is gifted and talented, no matter what any test says, or how her classroom is labeled.


Addie Sees

Addie royally failed her vision screening at school a few weeks back.  E. had been suspecting for a while that her vision wasn't good and, in fact, it's worse than both of ours.  Her optometrist said that if she were an adult, she'd be forbidden from driving without glasses.

Kind of explains why she has insisted on being so close to the t.v. screen, and why she's had trouble seeing the smartboard at school.  Might also explain some of her ongoing clumsiness.  We'll see.

Anyway, her glasses were finally ready today.  Lord, how she's been waiting.  E. said she got them and put them on and the first thing she said was, "These make my life so much better."

That's pretty awesome.

Course, we had to stop by Claire's and get Nolie her very own pair for $2.99.

I'm worried about Addie's glasses getting lost or broken.  I'm hoping that her being able to see will be enough incentive for her to take care of them.  But if you have any suggestions for how to get your kid to take care of their glasses, please let me know.

Rolling Coins

We have this plastic jug that's about 12 inches tall.  It used to be part of a Hello Kitty water dispenser, but E.'s mom rightly pointed out a while back that it was probably full of BPA, so we converted into a loose change collector.  That was years ago, and the jug just recently got super-full.  I was going to take it to our grocery store and dump the thing into a CoinStar machine, but then I remembered reading a blog post one time about how this was basically throwing money away because CoinStar keeps a percentage of your coins just for counting them, and also you have no way of knowing if they count correctly.  I also remember rolling coins as a kid with my brother, and that we enjoyed doing that.  So when we were at the bank last week I asked for some coin rolls and they gave us a stack.

I proposed to the family that we roll the coins and that we use half of the total money on a gift for ourselves--maybe a new Play Station game, or a night out eating--and that we all agree on a charity to give the other half to.

Here's why I like the exercise from a parenting angle:

We give the kids allowance every week (when we can remember), but if the girls don't put the coins into their piggy banks immediately, they get strewn about the house like play money.  Appropriate for Nolie's age, probably, but not for Addie's.  Addie has really strong saving instincts already, so I want to nurture that.  Both girls have savings accounts for birthday money and saved allowance, and we also allow them to buy things on occasion.

But neither really understands that actual, physical money translates into purchasing power.  So my hope is that, over time, as they help me count and roll these coins, and then we both purchase something with it and give some away to others, they'll start to connect the fact of coins and its value as currency.  Maybe also they'll learn about spending and giving?  Then, maybe, they'll pick up a penny and deposit into the BPA jar instead of just throwing it around or leaving it on the ground.

Because you know what?  Those coins add up.  We're only 1/3 of the way through the jar and we've got $44.  That's a lot!  Ostensibly by the end we could have around $150, which translates into a couple of dinners at Noodles for all of us, and $75 to give to an organization we choose.

This may not mean a lot to them now, but my hope is it grows on them over time.  Maybe wishful thinking.  Especially seeing as "real" money doesn't seem to have tons of value now that everything's plasticized.  But I can hope.

An OCD side benefit:  your fingers get disgustingly dirty from rolling coins, so maybe they'll learn not to put that shit in their mouths.

Another OCD benefit:  all those similarly shaped round things neatly stacked.  Very nice.  So soothing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

12 Wishes

Did the 12 wishes a little late this year.  But that's just fine with me.

Here are last year's:

Good wishes, all.  Just re-entered a good gratitude practice, where I send myself off to sleep reviewing the day and feeling grateful for every bit of it, even the slow or rotten parts.  So that's made a comeback.  Definitely made a lot of mistakes, though they only seem wonderful in hindsight.  I failed some at spending on experiences, not things, as you know.  But I continue that good fight.

I definitely wasn't like Milo most of the time, though I do think I did more relaxing and playing this year than in years past, and that was a great good thing.  I definitely had lots of wonderful and unexpected moments and surprises.  I did a much better job of putting family first (though maybe I should double-check that with them!).

My spiritual practices were not as strong in the second half of the year, though I'm headlong thrown back in those at the moment, and boy are my eyes getting opened to some things I maybe didn't want to know about myself, let me tell you.  But there's also been a lot of sweet, soft grace, too.

Lots of wonderful laughter this year.  Many hallowed moments.  Lots of fearful times, but some times when I practiced letting go, too.  Need to work on building that muscle, for sure.  And plenty of saying yes, though unfortunately I said yes to a few things I don't love, and am dealing with some of that fallout right this very day, sigh, sigh.

And here are this year's:

1.  Review each day with gratitude.
2.  Be deliberate when making choices.
3.  Celebrate your life.
4.  Open up--you are not the only one who struggles.
5.  Keep running (physically, not metaphorically!).
6.  Make your own rules.
7.  Make peace with your feelings.
8.  Meditate.
9.  Stay in this moment more.
10.  Be kind first.
11.  Focus on richness, not riches.
12.  Simplify.

Cliches, all, but good things to practice and aim for, I think.  I'll have a hard time with that kind one, I can tell you that, since I have a pretty bad sniper habit in place, and for some reason it's always hard for me to maintain a long-term meditation practice.  It's all just a reminder of how to live and be, anyway, right?  There's no waking up into enlightenment tomorrow morning.  Unless there is.  But probably it will just be the same old effort to live a life in line with what feels good and with what I value.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year

I was talking to my mom this morning, and she said she hadn't liked 2011 that much--there was just a lot of bad news, she thought.  I can understand her sentiment, though also I don't think my mom has had what she might consider a "good" year in a long time.  I'm not sure what would be a good year, actually--probably not having so many health problems, and maybe being more financially secure.

But I also know a little bit what she means.  We were doing highs and lows around the dinner table last night, except of instead of talking about our highs and lows for the day we did them for the year.  Not an easy task, both because it's hard to remember everything that happened over a year and because it occurred to me that it was sort of a difficult year.  There were many blessings and wonderful highlights, but also some struggles.

I may futz with these as I remember things and reflect more.  But without further ado, my highs and lows for 2011 are as follows:


My family.  My girls are here with me, and so is my husband.  Most important thing.

My health.  I had some hiccups here and there but all and all it was a really healthy year.

My job.  All around me, all around the world, people are struggling with losing their jobs.  Apart from one fairly big oops at work I never really questioned my job security.  And most days I'm happy to go to my office, to teach, to write.

Amazing, delightful, fun- and laughter-filled trips to Monterey, Logan, Bogota, and Kentucky.  What dear friends I made on these trips, and the laugh attacks were delightful.  Some of my favorite memories are lying on the deck in Logan in the early morning while a hundred bats swooped and dove over my head; skinny dipping (well, almost) in a high mountain lake, and falling on my ass on the hike up there; dancing until late into the night in Bogota, and witnessing the kindness of strangers; tramping around with some amazing sloats in Monterey, drinking wine that tasted like feet; running 200 miles across the Bourbon Trail with some of the funniest and best-natured people I've met.  God, just writing this, I'm smiling and feeling incredibly lucky.

Learning how to run.  This fall, I ran 2 half-marathons, a 10K, and a 200-mile relay.  I stopped running a bit after Thanksgiving but am back at it.  Every time I head outside or step on the treadmill I know that I'm going to feel strong and relaxed for the rest of the day because of it.  I still hate it sometimes.  I still have terrible runs.  I'm still slow.  I still puke after every race.  But I love it, and I'll do it as long as I can. I hope 2012 brings more half-marathons, and maybe even in a few years I'll do the long one.  We'll see.

My children being at the same school.  Even though it stinks to have to drive them half-way across town most days, we have a home at our school now, and my girls are really happy in their classes.  They love their teachers and have good friends.

My beautiful friends, spirit teachers, guides, and adopted family.  I'm so grateful for these wacky ladies in my neighborhood, who support me in this mothering adventure like no others; for all of the sisters and aunties, steadfast and hearts bursting with kindness and support; for the dozens of lunches and cocktail hours and hugs and books and music and crying and celebrations and love and love and love.  I am so, so rich.

My students and coworkers, who have challenged me, pushed me, made me laugh, taught me, and encouraged me to show up and give as much as I can to my work every day.  They were also very, very patient with my idiosyncracies and bizarrerie.

And, of course, Boden's fall line of corduroy dresses was a significant high in my life.  Long live the Brits.


My grandma Muggs passed.  I'm glad she didn't linger and suffer for a long time, and that she was surrounded by people she loved when she passed.  But I wish that I had seen her more before she went, and I wish that I could have spent more time with that side of the family at her funeral.

My grandma June almost dying, several times, and seeing her deteriorate quite a bit as time passes.

The health struggles of friends and family.  My mom and stepdad haven't improved much (though stasis is okay), and several friends continue to struggle with illnesses or injuries.  Their struggles aren't my struggles, I get it.  But still I ache for them and wish them wellness.

Having to fight to be paid as much as male colleagues at work, and falling just short of the mark despite my best efforts.  Dealing with the bitterness and anger this engendered in me.

Failing at teaching a new class last spring, which ate up a lot of mental energy.

Struggling with the fundamental mission of my university at times, which I both benefit from and rail against.  I invited some anti-mining activists to the university, which got me and some of my lovely colleagues in hot water and took a long time to sort out.  I was afraid and angry about this, too.

Leaving a productive research group in order to salvage friendships and a good work environment.

Dealing with marauding hormones.  Thank you, dear birth control pill, for coming back into my life.

Still addressing, after 9 years of marriage, stale and unhealthy communication patterns with E.  I fear sometimes we will never get them figured out, but I know this is not true, and that we will push through, stay in it with each other, and come out the other side better.

Dealing with Nolie's rotten sleep issues (now mostly resolved, thank goodness).

E.'s misery at work.

Now that I have this all written out, I don't like the idea of saying 2011 wasn't a good year.  In fact, it was.  Even the sad or difficult times taught me a lot, and I'm a better person than I was a year ago, which is the best you can ask from a year, I think.

Again, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for all of these blessings, and for all of you.  Here's to a terrific 2012!