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Posts Tagged ‘self-care’

Little Bird is not what you would call a “restful” child.  She stopped taking naps around age two, and the concept of quiet time has never caught on with her.  She craves constant attention.  She sings, chatters, and asks questions nonstop all day long.  On the rare occasion when she runs out of things to say, she blows loud and juicy raspberries.

I wouldn’t change her a jot, and it is pretty darn draining to my quiet, introverted self.  It’s probably number one on my list of top ten things that are hard about parenting:  insufficient amounts of quiet to keep me sane.  So I am writing this post to help me remind myself of simple things that can help me find some inner quiet, even when external quiet is not an option.

Here are a few:

Look at a Peaceful Image

Take a look at this:

Stillness

This image makes me think of Jesus, going off to one of his “lonely places,” to be present with God in silence.  It immediately and wordlessly takes me to a place of inner stillness where thoughts cease, and there is simply a spacious awareness of being.

Take One Conscious Breath

For one breath, be fully conscious.  Close your eyes, and be aware of the breath coming in through your nostrils and entering your lungs.  Feel your abdomen rise, then fall.  Don’t try to change your breath or control what is happening.  Simply be present to your breath and attend to what is happening in your body at that moment.  In that moment, as Eckhart Tolle says, “you are aware of awareness.”  If you like it, do it again.  And again.

Try doing this at odd moments during the day, and see if it makes a difference in your quality of life and state of mind.

Slow Down . . . Way Down

Just as an experiment, try doing something really, really slowly, and see what happens.  For example, I was taking my pooch, Sonny Brown, for a walk one day.  He was dawdling as usual, and I was getting really impatient to be back in the house doing all the things on my to do list.  Like they were so important.

I got fed up with the hamster in my brain, turning his wheel over and over the same thoughts, so as an experiment, I slowed down my steps to a snail’s pace.  I noticed each movement of my foot as the heel landed on the ground to when the ball pushed off again.  And, as I slowed down, time also slowed down.  I became aware of all the beauty that was around me: the plants, flowers, sky and earth; the miracle that was my body; my friend dog walking beside me.  It was as if I could suddenly hear on a deeper level of my being all that the plants and the natural world were saying to me.

You can do this anytime:  while washing the dishes, slicing carrots for dinner, cleaning the house.  All of life can become a spiritual practice.

Take a Dose of Vitamin Nature

Stop what you are doing, and go outside.  Look at a tree, or a flower, or the clouds in the sky.  Even if it is only for a second, really see it — without thought, without judgment, without labeling.  In our modern world, we tend to be starved for connection with nature, and not even realize it.  And it’s not the amount of time you spend in nature, it’s the quality of time that is so important.  You can be in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you are not present to it, you might as well be in a padded cell.

Connect with the larger natural world around you, and your soul will expand.

Listen to Something Really Beautiful

I’m not sure that this takes me to a place of stillness, but I couldn’t resist sharing this YouTube video of K.D. Lang singing Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” at the Juno Awards.  It is six minutes of transcendent beauty:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE

What do you do to find stillness in the midst of your everyday life?  Please share.

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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’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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