What’s My Commitment?

I briefly interacted with a gal working one of the booths at BottleRock. She wore amazing eye makeup, intensely purple and shimmery, ombre, with thick, expertly-applied liquid cat-eye liner.

Because I believe in freely and generously offering sincere compliments to friends and strangers, I commented on how beautiful her makeup looked. I also asked how long it took to apply, because obviously it took time.

“Forty-five minutes,” she replied matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal.
“Wow, that’s a commitment,” I responded.

To myself I added, That’s not a commitment I’d make!

I wouldn’t know how to spend 45 minutes on makeup. I could watch YouTube eye makeup tutorials, but I wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter to me to wear that kind of statement makeup.

That interaction has stuck with me. Commitments take time. Time spent = commitment.

Where do I spend my time?

This summer I’ve committed to doing a lot of writing and reading, exercising and praying. But I’ve also noticed the time sucks, the minutes between things where I pick up my phone out of habit and scroll through social media. Periodically I check the “Screen Time” function on my phone which reports how much time I have spent on social media versus reading/research; guess which wins…

I want to say that social media doesn’t matter to me that much, but my time says otherwise.

For now, I’m working on Social-Free Sundays, one day a week when I leave my phone down altogether. I’m also working on microMOVEments, a technique promoted by one of my favorite artists, SARK.

SARK decided that she could motivate herself to get big projects done if she broke, say, “Write a book,” into five minute steps. She could do anything for five minutes, especially if she sprinkled juicy adjectives into the description of each step. For example, one microMOVEment in writing could be: “Write down title.” But it’s so much more fun to “Play amazing title game!”

SARK’s secret is that once you get going, once you commit five minutes to one succulent step towards a larger goal, it’s easier to keep going. But even if you just commit five minutes, that’s still something. You can fill in another five minutes another time. Eventually all the minutes add up.

And what a better use of the in-betweens!

Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

Stay Human

Cautious of the time-sucking danger of social media, my Guy has intentionally cut back. A few months ago, though, he saw a post from a friend selling two three-day VIP tickets to BottleRock, a music festival in Napa. He immediately expressed interest, except the cost was a sad-but-immediate deal-breaker.

Someone who cares for us all witnessed the interaction and arranged to anonymously buy the tickets for us. I overheard Guy echoing our friend’s giddy enthusiasm when she called to share the news. Wide-eyed, I felt loved, plus a wee drop of trepidation–an extrovert and an introvert head to a huge venue with thousands-upon-thousands of people, and the introvert handles it…how?

On the arm of her Guy, of course. I love him, and he thrives on energetic crowds. This was a too-good-to-pass-opportunity. We said yes, with gratitude.

I spent the entire Memorial Day-after the concert weekend in my pj’s, tired and happy. We found friends we haven’t seen in too long. We made new friends. People shared drink tickets and food. We helped one another to good seating/standing, especially the shorter folks, and exchanged numbers to share pictures and, maybe, keep in touch.

We saw incredible artists, some whose music we knew, others we’d only heard about. Names became faces, and acts on a stage became artists to follow. It’s one thing to hear a song or several on the radio; it’s another thing altogether to see an artist at their craft. BottleRock was all about the artist, and we were there for it, in all meanings of that phrase.

Have you ever been to a silent disco? You put on headphones, tune to your DJ’s channel, and dance. Take off the headphones, and you witness a crowd jamming in relative silence. When more than one DJ spins on the same stage, you flip between stations–especially when you see, say, the red headphoned folks go crazy while you’re on a mellow blue jam… I feel hip in new ways (so. not. hip. Hah!).

Meandering through the masses–some of the best people-watching imaginable–we discovered art at every turn (including the art of delicious food/drink–yum!). Even better, we witnessed kindness, starting with our Good Samaritans who provided the tickets.

Our friend raved about Michael Franti: “He’s So Fun! Don’t miss him!” As we waited I casually chatted with a young woman next to me, incidentally the age of our older son, who confessed that she’d probably heard Franti “like, about 500 times? He’s the soundtrack of my childhood.” Which intrigued me: I must have heard his music, since her childhood and my son’s surely shared music?

Our friend was right–he’s so feel good, so positive. We made sure to see him twice! And of course we recognized his music. I bet you have, too, even if you don’t know his name.

A couple songs in to his VIP set, a boy about 10-years-old with Down Syndrome came on stage. Welcomed, amidst smiles and high fives and dance moves. They gave him the mic: he spoke, sang, danced. He took pictures with the crowd. I cried. I suspect Guy did, too.

Franti’s ethos: Stay Human. He stands for equality, all-abilities, kindness. Over and over, he invited children of different ages, abilities and colors to the stage and to the mic, to dance, to be themselves.

Before he introduced her, we noticed a female vocalist who had only half of her right arm. Franti had seen one of Victoria Canal’s Instagram stories, playing piano and singing with her angel voice, and invited her to Nashville to compose a song together. They spoke of being unlike anyone else they knew, bullied, and yet able to create space to be the heroes they and others need.

The things we think might keep us out of contention might be the very things that put us in the race. What we–or others–consider weakness might be exactly what we and others need.

Let’s stay human, friends. Let’s be kind. Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt. Let’s stop competing and start promoting others, rejoicing when anyone does well, knowing that as we come together, we can make the world a better place.

Meatless Monday – Berry Muffins

Once a month I teach the preschool Sunday school class. Yesterday’s lesson was about being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, which means we are smart, and helpful, and creative (among other things).

We focused on the “creative” part and gave the kids lots of time to paint with watercolors, or color, or make paper airplanes. Some kids chose to create with play dough, while others created tree houses from blocks or created scenarios to act out with toy cars. We let the kids have a lot of free play while we noticed aloud their various creative efforts and how great it is that God made us all creative and unique.

I came home floating on cute kids’ creativity and decided I needed to express some creativity of my own. One of my favorite forms of creativity? Making delicious food for the people I love. Just the evening previous, I had come across a recipe for berry muffins that I knew I could vegan-ize, and I had some over-ripe bananas practically begging to become banana bread.

Muffins are a family fav because they make a quick breakfast, an easy lunch bag option, or a tasty after school snack. I’d wrongly anticipated this batch of 18 muffins would last most of the week, but today was a no-school day and the kids plowed through them with only a few leftover. Good thing they haven’t yet discovered the banana bread!

Berry Muffins

1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c organic sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxmeal + 3 Tbsp water, set aside 5 min)
1 c non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp agave
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c fresh or frozen berries
cinnamon sugar, optional

Preheat over to 350. Grease or line with paper 18 muffins cups. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flax egg, milk, agave, and applesauce in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Gently stir in berries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. If desired, lightly sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each muffin before baking (the recipe itself isn’t very sweet). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Surprise!

Parenting can be So Fun!

For example, today, when I told Q14 I would pick him up mid-school day but didn’t explain why. And he didn’t remember or figure out that TODAY is the day he gets his braces off! And I got to surprise him with one of the best surprises an adolescent can receive.

I texted him to meet me outside the band room after class and, as he got in the car, I smiled and handed him his toothbrush. Confused, he accepted it and looked at me for further explanation.

Despite the fact that the only times I’ve taken him out of school this year have been for orthodontic appointments. Despite the fact that, at his last appointment, they told him he’d get his braces off at the next appointment. In February. He still didn’t get it.

I laughed and explained, and he laughed in relief that Mom’s odd behavior didn’t signal something scary. Right, because I’m such a scary mommy…

It’s raining and our house was being cleaned, so I stayed in the car with the dogs while the almost two-hour process took place. He did let me take a before picture…

I raced to the upstairs office when they were done for a quick chat with the doctor and to confirm next week’s retainer appointment. Oh, let’s be real: I raced upstairs to see my kid’s sweet smile.

He tried to play it so cool, I’m sure processing this seismic shift in self-image through the pervasive fog of adolescent insecurity, but inside I know he has to be as excited as his mom who simply can’t stop ridiculously beaming at his pearly whites. He indulged me with an after picture…

We picked up Guy from work and hit Chipotle, our regular post-ortho appointment lunch spot, for a congratulatory burrito before dropping him back off at school for his last class of the day.

The only thing that makes me a little sad? I won’t have a built-in to the schedule excuse for playing hooky with my kiddo. Still, I think now and then I might just pull him out of school anyway. Time together, especially in these critical teen years, is way more important than a PE class on a rainy day.

Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.

Follow Their Lead

Parents know we’re supposed to raise up our children to follow appropriate guidelines: hold hands in the crosswalk and parking lot, listen to your teacher, be kind, be a good sport, etc. Our kids–most of them most of the time–follow our words and, more importantly, our example.

But parents also have the privilege of being good students of our children, watching carefully to discern their interests and aptitudes, cheering them on and encouraging them to try new things and continue to develop their passions.

Family is not just children following adults. Parents who pay attention know the reverse is also true: parents get to follow their children.

We followed C19 outside all the time. He is happiest out of doors, on a hiking trail, up a tree, on the seashore, constantly exploring the natural world. So we made that possible. We allowed his fascination with the rain forest jungle to lay the foundation for our sabbatical summer in Costa Rica.

As a little guy, Q14 wanted to play the piano, so I tried teaching him. He quickly showed aptitude beyond my skills, but his interest decreased over time. We didn’t make it a battle.

He picked up the trumpet five years ago and it has become the sound of his heart. Over the last year, he has been teaching himself both guitar and piano. In the last two months, he has also taken up trombone and tuba. One of my great joys in life currently is watching my son become a multi-faceted musician.

Yesterday I got to follow him to the San Francisco Symphony for an open rehearsal (okay, I got to chaperone). Woo hoo!

Symphony Hall was decorated for Dia de los Muertos, so that was fun as well–musical arts meets visual arts. Culture all around. As they poured my necessary next cup of coffee, the Symphony volunteers remarked how happy they were to see young people in Symphony Hall. And so dressed up. They said, “Children need the arts. They should be exposed to the arts as young as possible.” Agreed!

The pre-concert talks were helpful in explaining the historical, musical and personal context for the music we would hear. The program consisted of two pieces by Ravel, a Bartok piano concerto, and Debussy. I expected the piano concerto to be my favorite but, no, Ravel’s Bolero stole the show.

For me. After lunch and a long bus ride home, Q14 and I discussed again the program as he wrote the concert review required for his band class. Although he didn’t like Bolero at all (“165 times through two bars of music, performed by different instruments and groupings of instruments, is just a few times too many!” he wrote), he was so excited about the day he had trouble sitting still. He put on music from a concert he had played in 8th grade and sang along. He finally got the necessary words down on his computer so he could get on to what he truly wanted to do: make more music.

When C19 caught his first lizard at less than two years old, we could have never guessed we’d get to spend a summer in Costa Rica. When Q14 gave up piano, we had no idea he’d not only teach himself to play, but play several other instruments as well.

You never know where you will get to follow your children, so you might as well sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!