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Archive for the ‘self-care’ Category

A nagging sense of frustration has been nipping at my heels lately.  I am certainly busy enough these days — taking care of Little Bird, taking care of the house, taking care of the veggie garden, taking care of the animals.  I am a caregiver, yet lately it all feels like a bit much.  It is time to take stock and see where the imbalance lies and what can be done about it.

I hope you will indulge this rambling discourse on the state of my life, as I see it.

Looking Back

It’s been almost a year of craziness.  We moved from our very urban life in Pasadena to Northern California in November of last year, and lived for two months in a hotel while we found our house and closed escrow.  We moved into our new house in the semi-rural Santa Cruz mountains in January.

For about six months after our move, we went through some crazy illnesses — sponsored by Little Bird’s preschool buddies — and my mother’s move into a retirement community and sale of her house.  These events, combined with the dislocation of the move, were very stressful to me.  Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples of my dislocation spread in my little family unit.  Little Bird became crazy clingy to me, and My Guy became over-protective and exhausted from carrying so much burden.

Finally, our lives here are smoothing out.  I can take a deep breath, look back, and see how hard it really was.  But I’m on the other side of that now.  My health is back, I’ve lost seventeen pounds, my back only hurts a little, and I can sleep again.  Thank you, Baby Jesus!

Looking Forward

     Home and the Natural World

To be honest, I don’t feel entirely integrated with my home yet.  This life is so different from what I’m used to:  in Los Angeles, we lived in a two-bedroom condominium overlooking city and freeway, with no outdoor space of our own.  Now, we have an actual house with a third of an acre of backyard.  Talk about an embarrassment of riches!  It’s hard to know what to do with it all.

Since we moved here I have noticed that my comfort zone is definitely indoors, working in the kitchen or reading in the bedroom or living room.  I’m not a natural gardener, and I feel hesitant about working in our garden, like I might offend or hurt the plants somehow.  I have a long ways to go before I’m fully comfortable and at home in our outdoor space.

Yet, we have the most amazingly generous land around and beneath us.  Our peach tree literally showered us with hundreds of white peaches.  The neighbor’s Bartlett pear tree rained down delicious pears into our yard for weeks.  My summer squash grew into the size of alien spacecraft.  Sun Gold cherry tomatoes voluntarily sprang up in odd parts of the yard.  Every turn of the season, the garden gave us wonderful surprises.

I had no idea how estranged I had become from the natural world after living in the city for so long.  I look forward to becoming more comfortable in it, and receiving with gratitude the gifts it brings.  I think that if I just spend an hour or two outside each day, it will make all the difference.

    My Own Self

I have become aware recently how ingrained is my habit of not taking care of myself.  Our culture  encourages us to put everything and everyone else ahead of our own needs.  Women are supposed to put other peoples’ needs ahead of our own. Men are supposed to put the needs of work ahead of their own.

I think the most important thing I can do is to continually remind myself that I am the most important person in my life, that I matter.  I have my own needs that must be attended to first, or else my well will run dry. To use another great metaphor, in the event of an emergency landing, I need to put on my own oxygen mask first, then put on Little Bird’s.  Otherwise, we’ll both go down.

I still have much to do to become mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy — establish a regular centering prayer practice again; find  a new spiritual director; start doing some regular physical exercise again; and connect in a meaningful way with other people, i.e., make some new friends.

And finally, I come to perhaps the most important thing for me:  my writing.  Ironically, this one is hard to write about.  I have suffered for many years from the dual convictions that I both need to write, and that no one has any interest in what I have to say.  I won’t go into the whys and hows that that second bad seed got planted inside me, but suffice to say that it has created great frustration for me almost my entire life.

I think that I may be finally ready for a change.  On a car trip to Los Angeles recently, I became dimly aware of  a series of thoughts running through my head on a semi-conscious level  (from “so and so wrote a book about exactly the topic I am interested in” to “it looks really good and has gotten really good reviews” to “there’s no point in me writing at all because it’s already been done, and much better than I could do, so what’s the point.”).

In a rare burst of insight, I stepped back and observed those toxic thoughts from a healthy distance.  I realized I had been hearing thoughts like these all my life, which were designed to keep me from failure and disappointment.  These thoughts were like a brick wall separating me from the writing life that I want and need.

There is no magic button to delete these thoughts and feelings from my psyche.  They come from a deep place of hurt and fear inside me.  However, what I can do is this:  keep working on being aware of them when they rise up inside me. Simply giving them a space and observing them compassionately will free up space inside me to do what I really want:  to continue writing.

And as a pledge to myself, now that Little Bird is in preschool again after summer break, I promise to give myself the first couple hours of that me-time.  Instead of going home and immediately starting work on cleaning up the messy kitchen or doing laundry or any of the hundreds of household tasks pulling at my sleeves, I am going to the local coffeehouse to write.

And now that I have done so, I’m going home to clean the kitchen!  I’ll see you again soon.

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I hate to be a walking cliche, but the truth cannot be denied:  I wrote a blog for a few weeks, then stopped.  Now I am back, and hope to redeem myself by writing a kick-ass, sublimely beautiful post that will make you weep with emotion.  No?  Okay, I’ll settle for words strung together that make some sort of weird, demented sense and don’t make you nauseous.  That might be achievable.

So, we have made our big move from Los Angeles to the ridiculously gorgeous Santa Cruz mountains.  It feels like an epic movie now in my memory, a Ten Commandments-style Charleton Heston saga.  Our saga included the following:

  • losing Little Bird’s beloved pillow pet pig;
  • running to the vet after our dog’s delightful pre-trip dog fight left him with a torn ear;
  • fixing our broken-down car on the I-5 in the middle of East Jesus;
  • bad colds and sinus infections galore;
  • living in a hotel for two months — TWO MONTHS! — while we sweated out escrow on our condo and new house.

Finally, we made it to the land of milk and honey.  The very first house we looked at with a realtor was our house, with a third of an acre of sunny, useable land, solar panels, the kitchen of my dreams, and to top it all off, a play structure and sandbox for Little Bird.  We left the hotel and moved in mid-January.

More on all that in another post.

What I really want to talk about is this:  there is always a dark side to any bright dream.  If we are to live this dream called life with grace and presence, we must acknowledge — as far as we are able — the shadow side.

I find that life provides plenty of opportunities to encounter the shadow side, if I am open to it.   A simple event can trigger a cascade of challenging emotions.  The day or two before we left L.A., I realized that we had lost Little Bird’s pig, which I was counting on to help ease the transition for her.  As I drove from place to place looking for it, I cried buckets of tears.  Buckets, I tell you.

That one little thing triggered all of my overwhelming grief at leaving dear friends and our long-time church home. I felt unbearably sad at leaving the place of Little Bird’s infancy, and more, at realizing anew that Little Bird was growing up, was no longer a baby.  And underneath that is my grief that everything changes, that everything must change for life to continue.

Change!  I’m against it.

It would certainly be more comfortable to ignore or push down all those hard feelings.  In the short run, that is.  The problem with that plan is that it blocks healing.  All those repressed feelings coalesce into one big ball o’ pain, and everything freezes up inside.

So, the next time hard feelings well up inside of you, try welcoming them, as far as you are able.  Although it seems counter-intuitive, welcoming the crap in life actually transforms it into gold in some weird kind of alchemy.  (Please note that “welcome” does not mean “enjoy.”  It simply means making a space for those feelings.)

It is embracing all of life, the hard and the good both, the sorrow and the joy both.  And in the embrace, God has an opportunity to heal your deepest wounds, which is God’s greatest desire.  As St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person, fully alive.”

It’s good to be back.

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I’m feeling low on inspiration.  I’ve spent this week seeing real estate agents, drawing up “punch lists” (gah!) for crap that must be done to our condo to make it appealing to buyers, trying to trim down our belongings, take care of Little Bird, cook, clean, do laundry, and all the other things that make up everyday life.

Real estate agents, you say?  Yes, change is in the wind.  After 21 years of living in Southern California, I am moving with My Guy and Little Bird back to Northern California, where I grew up.   We are moving for family reasons, for work reasons, and for quality of life reasons.  L.A. feels too crowded, too noisy, and too polluted for us now.

Instead of a small condo less than a mile away from a major freeway, we are looking for a bit of land where we can grow vegetables, raise chickens and a goat or two, and have some fresh air.  I would also like a donkey, if it’s not too much to ask.  They’re just so cute, with their big ears.  I will name it Delmer.

Donkey

Image via Wikipedia

Anyways, life feels a bit crazy and out-of-control right now.  Therefore, it must be time to bake muffins.  Muffin-baking for me is a meditative endeavor with a big payoff.  You whisk a little of this, a little of that, mix it all together into cute little cups, and blammo!  You have a delicious, hot-from-the-oven carb blast to coax those little endorphins out of their hiding places.

These muffins feature an exotic ingredient called mesquite flour, which has a slightly smoky, slightly sweet and nutty flavor.  I first learned about mesquite flour in David Lebovitz‘s beautiful blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris.  When I read his post about Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies, I became obsessed with finding mesquite flour — not an easy task.

I finally found some at Casa de Fruta, of all places, which is an overgrown fruit stand near Hollister, on the Pacheco Pass between the I-5 and the I-101.  It’s as corny a place as you will ever find; if Huell Howser hasn’t been there already, it’s only a matter of time.  After a long driving stint on the I-5 Central Valley wasteland, Little Bird enjoys the Casa de Choo-Choo and Casa de Carousel, while I make a beeline for the Casa de Restrooms and Casa de Coffee.

Casa de Fruta

Image by ldandersen via Flickr

But I digress.  After giving three whoops of joy that I had finally found the great white caribou called Mesquite Flour, I made the cookies.  The flour gave them such an odd, interesting flavor that I wasn’t sure whether I liked them or not.  So I ate one.  Then another.  Then another.  After eating about 5 giant cookies, I concluded that they were pretty darn good.

To bring this rambling post to a close, I had some extra zucchini and some leftover mesquite flour, so I decided to slightly alter my recipe for zucchini muffins.  They turned out well, if I do say so myself.  Like the cookies, I had to eat a few just to be certain I liked them.  Yup, I did.

If you don’t want to bother getting mesquite flour (and it is pricey), just substitute regular white or whole wheat pastry flour, and they will still be delicious.  And as always, remember the cardinal rule of muffin-baking:  Do Not Overmix!

Zucchini Mesquite Chocolate Chunk Muffins

1 cup white flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (if you don’t have any, just sub in white flour)

1/4 cup mesquite flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 egg, beaten

1 cup milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter

1 cup grated, unpeeled zucchini

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (if you want to go the extra mile, toast the walnuts for more flavor)

3/4 cup chocolate chunks

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Sift or stir the dry ingredients together in large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and oil, and stir gently into the dry ingredients.  It is very important not to overmix, or the muffins will be tough.  I usually mix until there’s just a bit of the dry ingredients showing, then I fold in the zucchini, walnuts, and chocolate chunks.

Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin either with muffin liners or with baking spray.  Fill the cups 2/3 of the way full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cram your mouth full and sigh with happiness.

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One of several versions of the painting "...

Image via Wikipedia

“I’m so tired my face feels weird.”  I actually said this to my mommy group the other day, after a night of maybe 2-3 hours sleep.  And my face did feel weird — can eyes actually feel hollow?  Mine did.

Like I said — weird.

It got me to thinking about the different kinds of fatigue I have experienced since Little Bird came along.  Here are a few:

  •  “Zombie Effect”: caused by straight-on massive sleep deprivation due to infancy, illness, nightmares, etc.;
  • “Mommy Ears”: a state of sensitized hearing, such that the slightest noise results in extended sleeplessness;
  • “Frayed Nerve Syndrome”: brought on by the regular auditory onslaught of whining, screaming, and crying;
  • “Total Brain Collapse”: results from excess amounts of responsibility for extended periods (partner absence is usually involved here);
  • “Extreme Elmo Exhaustion”: no explanation necessary for parents of toddlers.

Fatigue is one of the shadow sides of being a parent.  Some days — many days — I’m just too tired even to think, much less be nurturing, playful and consistent in discipline vis-a-vis the adorable moppet who is sapping whatever meager portion of strength, energy and youth I once had.

But I’m not bitter about it.

It’s just that nobody warned me.  All you see in the magazines are glowing, dewy-faced portraits of the 40-plus celebrity moms who are just Over the Moon about their little addition.  Everything in our culture celebrates the cult of momhood, with nary a sideways glance at the sometimes significant downsides to this role.  Let’s face it, parenthood is a mixed bag.

It helps to laugh.  And that’s why my mommy group is essential to my self-care.  Over coffee and tea, we complain, laugh, and sometimes cry as well.  We try to be real with ourselves and with each other.  If we’re having a hard time, we say so.

So to my fellow moms there as well as moms and dads elsewhere, I offer you this ditty, based on “There Are 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” (with apologies to Paul Simon):

The problem is all inside your bed
She said to me
The answer is easy if you
Stop and count your sheep
I’d like to help you in your struggle
To get sleep
There must be fifty ways
To feel exhausted.

She said it’s really not my habit
To think of you
Or your needs, which
are just irrelevant too
But I’ll repeat it many times
Until you come unglued
There must be fifty ways
To feel exhausted
Fifty ways to feel exhausted

[CHORUS:]
You just throw up your snack, Jack
Get real sick, Nick
Let go of the toy, Roy
Now listen to me
Stop making a fuss, Gus
Would you please just hush
Go learn how to pee, Lee
In your little potty

She said it peeves me so
To see you in such pain
I wish there was something I could do
So you would play with me again
I said I appreciate that
And would you please explain
Why you won’t let me rest

She said why don’t we both
Just stay awake tonight
And I believe in the morning
You will fall apart, all right
And then she hit me
And I realized she probably was right
There must be fifty ways
To feel exhausted
Fifty ways to feel exhausted

[CHORUS]

Ugh, that’s horrible.  I must really be tired.

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