Thursday, November 12, 2015

How did I get that done? A post about work habits.

Sometime around February of last year, I got the germ of an idea for a new story. For months, this idea simmered in the back of my mind. Then a few more thoughts came and I wrote them down, but overall I felt frustrated. I couldn't focus to work out my ideas, and I didn't have a clear sense of the overall plot, of where the story was going. Over the summer I felt especially frustrated, as more ideas took shape, but I did not have the time or space to work them out. By the beginning of September, I had about 20,000 words, and still no clear sense of the direction of the story.

Two months later and I've just finished a 62,000 word first draft, and have a vivid knowledge of how the characters and the plot progress and tie together. I also have a good chunk of a second book written, and the final chapters of the third: It's going to be a trilogy. Today I'm taking a little step back, and thinking, how did I do that?

Though I will confess that two major factors in accomplishing this were: 1. The kids finally went back to school. On most weekdays I have a few uninterrupted hours at my disposal, and I've been disciplined to sit down at my computer and use them well, even on the days I initially didn't feel like it, and 2. The more I wrote, the more I was enthralled with my own story, which caused me to be a bit obsessive, and want to get back to writing it whenever I had to do other stuff.

But I'm noticing a few other habits have evolved that are working for me, too. I'll write them down here in case anyone else might find them helpful. Many of us have things we want to do, dreams we want to accomplish, and it's so easy to let them slide away--to let the busyness and tasks of daily life completely take us up. Maybe you want to make an intricate quilt, or write a screenplay, or train service dogs or learn viticulture or to play an instrument. But the dream never feels important enough. Maybe it seems self-indulgent or impractical, or maybe you just can't conceive of how to begin, with all the other stuff you have going on.

You DO have to believe in the legitimacy and value of your desires. They are not simply "selfish". Of course the bills must be paid and the laundry needs done and the groceries need bought and cooked and the kids have a basketball tournament this weekend. All of that still needs to happen. But you are a person, too. And what you really want to do--not simply what you have to do--should factor into the mix somewhere. If it doesn't, here's just saying it straight, your family situation or your own perspective or maybe both are not actually healthy. But that's a different topic. Here are some practical habits and ways of thinking that have evolved for me:

1) USE THE TIME YOU HAVE: Most of us have some time at our disposal. When other members of your family are watching TV, you could claim a free hour. When you have to take your kid to practice across town, stay in the car with your project or your laptop instead of doing errands. It won't hurt the kid to go to the store, and having an hour to yourself is precious! Same with naptime and littles: Use the precious naptime to do something meaningful for you. The chores can be done later with a baby in a front-pack or on your hip. Negotiate with a friend or a husband for some free time--I'll give you a half day here, and then you do the same for me. It doesn't have to be a lot of time--little bits can be OK. Just make a start, and plug along, and you'll be surprised how it adds up in the end. I wrote a whole post about this here, back when I had finished my first novel and worked five days a week at a bank.

2) LEARN WHEN AND HOW YOU WORK BEST: Many accomplished people rise very early in the morning and finish a ton of stuff before 8 am. I've learned that my mind moves at the pace of thick sludge before 8, so that doesn't work for me. I've also learned that if I take an hour or two to get the obnoxious stuff done before I sit down to write--do the dishes, sweep the dog hair off the floor, do some banking and bookkeeping (which I do for my husband's business), make the necessary phone calls, or prepare a package to mail--I will focus much better. If I sit down with a will to write first thing and keep getting distracted by the disgusting dog-hair littering the floor, I may have spent more time writing, but I get less done in the end.

All I really need to write is a decent chair that supports my back and a relatively silent room, something that can be a bit hard to come by in our busy household of 6. Some people like music in the background or the buzz of a public place. I've tried that, but it doesn't work for me. Kind of like in college I learned that I could stare at my notes or flashcards all night long, and the information would never stick. But if I recopied my notes by hand, it was all there. Everyone is different. So notice what works for you, and what doesn't.

3) THERE MAY BE LITTLE "COMFORT TRICKS" THAT HELP YOU SETTLE IN: I like a cup of tea by my chair at all times. It often ends up half-drunk and stone cold, but making the tea seems to send a little signal to my brain that it's time to focus now. I go through a LOT of tea, and this nice strong decaf black, which comes gift-wrapped on my doorstep all the way from Ireland for the unreal price of 7.99, was a such a great find!

4) REALIZE THAT YOU CAN ONLY TRULY FOCUS ON ONE THING: I've always had way too many interests: I want to learn to paint and create knitting patterns and take awesome photos and read interesting articles on all manner of subjects and try new recipes, and on and on, all at the same time. But time is limited, and if I ever want to gain any ground, I can really only focus on ONE thing. That's hard for me. 

Also, since I immersed myself in writing this new novel, other things have suffered a bit: The fridge gets more empty before I get to the grocery store, the dog hasn't been walked every single day, and once when immersed in my story, I forgot a doctor's appointment and got a rather nasty pink slip in the mail. I'm just one human person, and I'm doing the best I can. It's not like I let the other stuff drop completely, but I can't say I'm doing as good a job at the details of life as before. But before, I wasn't getting any writing done, either. It's kind of like politics: To actually get anything accomplished, the art of compromise must come into play. Which is difficult for us perfectionists and black and white thinkers, but it's just the way it is.

5) REALIZE THAT THERE MAY BE TIMES IN LIFE WHEN YOU HAVE TO LET IT GO: Maybe it's a colicky baby, or an ailing parent, or an international move, or a teenager going through a crisis time. There are seasons in life when you have to let all else drop and focus on a present need. It's OK--realize that this, too, shall pass, and then you can write or do whatever again. But don't put off what you really want to do for years on end.

6) MAKE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE: Entire books have been written about this. Here's a few things that have made a big difference for me: Make your child pick only one sport or involvement per season. Refuse to be busy more than three nights a week--this can be difficult with kids of different ages, but stick to it as much as possible. Only volunteer for one or two things that are most meaningful to you. Unless, of course, volunteering and community involvement is the thing you love most to do. And for some extroverted souls, it is! For example, I teach Sunday School, but I don't volunteer at my daughter's elementary school. Go modest buying things like houses and cars so you are not over-stressed and stretched financially. And don't feel like you have to make everything from scratch unless that is your joy. Find some nice, store-bought items you can bring for a party or potluck.

7) TAKE BREAKS TO MOVE YOUR BODY, ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE OVER 40: I wish I could stay in my chair all day, every day, and write (or read, or knit, or draw) without consequences. But the pain of a sore back or neck or hip will interfere with and stop your creative endeavor like nothing else. And sometimes moving your body is just what you need to release a creative idea that just isn't coming together. The finale that ties together the entire trilogy for my new story came to me while taking a break from writing and walking the dog. Then I couldn't wait to get home and write it out! Even a quick and vigorous scrub of the bathroom can serve as this kind of break. When you feel things getting stale and frustrating, take a break and move.

8) IF YOU ARE A WRITER, USE SCRIVENER: Scrivener is awesome. For plotting and organizing and then compiling your writing into any kind of format--ebook, kindle book, PDF, Word file, whatever--it works so much better than the word processing software I used to use. There's a thirty day free trial, and at $40, the price is totally reasonable. There is a bit of a learning curve, but there's lots of free help from other generous and kind writers on the web, and simple google searches when I'm stuck have yielded everything I've needed to know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Facing Fear and Getting Through

I've been thinking about fear. And about how maybe there is no fear so terrible that we cannot face it . . . and come through.

Since getting help with focused counseling and EMDR, I've had to face a lot of fears. Fear isn't even the word. Words like terror, horror, hatred, grief ,and pain are closer to the mark. But unless you experienced the kind of abuse I am talking about, trust me, you have no idea. So much of my life--more than 40 years of it--has been dominated and overrun by fear.

I needed to face that fear and come through. I needed to face a lot of horrifying details, and incredibly painful realizations, because that's where the fear was located, that's what it was all tied up in. I needed a lot--and I mean a LOT--of help. And I want to just say here, that a good counselor is worth his or her weight in gold. Not to mention a thoroughly kind, patient, and committed spouse. Because it ain't easy to be married to someone like me. But I am so grateful that somebody believed I was worth it, despite all the difficulties along the way, and persevered. Right now, despite all the really terribly things that happened to me, I am feeling incredibly lucky, and blessed.

Am I safe now? Maybe, maybe not. I am in a wise, good, protected kind of place. But anything can happen in life. Just ask the millions of refugees from Syria and other countries right now, whose wise, educated, normal-looking "safe" lives have been ripped to shreds. If you're brave enough to really look, you will know that could be my family--that could be me. I don't really think in life you get those kind of guarantees.

The guarantee that you DO get is, no matter what things feel like or how awful they seem, you are never alone.

In abuse groups and stuff survivors are often told to repeat to themselves "I'm safe." That may be true in a specific moment, but to say this as one's outlook--it never feels completely true. But now I think I know that whatever happens, I will be OK. I can be me: intact inside, not shattered into a bunch of different pieces. Not overruled or overrun by someone else. My body and my mind are my own, and are no longer dominated by the fear of something or someone on the outside. For the first time, I am starting to feel "at home" in my own body. And honestly--it feels very foreign. But it also feels good, safe, and empowering. I have a freedom to choose to think or do things, or not. For most of my life, a lot of that felt like an automatic reaction.

For instance, long ingrained habit used to cause me to flinch whenever I was touched, even in the most benign, neutral ways. To shut down, to go someplace else (at least in my mind), to go numb. Now, I'm realizing that I can choose not to do this.

And that is a new feeling, a new thought. I still have a lot to learn.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Beautiful Fall Day

We came back from a longish trip visiting family in California and noticed immediately that all the colors had changed while we were away, and it is beautiful here. This reminded me of some pictures I had taken on a lovely Saturday afternoon walk two years ago sometime in Fall of 2013, which I remember was an exceptionally long and beautiful Fall. Sometimes we don't get much color here: The weather can go from hot to cold, and all the leaves turn brown and simply fall off without making a show. I wanted to enjoy these pictures again, and thought others might like them too.



Above is the place we started from, a patchwork of community garden plots.

I had my two favorite girls with me: My daughter, then 8, and Leia (below), also 8, named after Princess Leia when the boys were young and into Star Wars. We think she was born at approximately the same time as our daughter so they share a birthday.


I love this little trail off the asphalt biking/walking/running path because it shoots off into the brush and along the river (ahem, more of a creek IMO), so it does not feel like you are in the city. It is not very long, and you can still hear the cars in the distance, but I love it anyway.






Does anyone recognize this path? Here is the marking place where it starts. I'm not sure the symbolism was intentional or who put it there, but it is meaningful to me.

Wherever you live, I hope that you are enjoying this Fall.

Angela

Sunday, September 13, 2015

When your kids are really different than you

My daughter wants me to take her running. She wants me to time each lap, so she can try to better her time. She'll be competing in her first triathlon soon, and she's disappointed to learn that there are no "places", no medals. Everyone who finishes will get a medal, the idea being to keep it positive and fun for kids. But being timed and ranked, while potentially crushing for some kids, would be motivating for her. She's happy when I tell her that next year she'll be in middle school and she can compete in track.

I watch her bobbed blond hair swing back and forth as she runs. She makes it around the last curve of the track to the starting line, then gulps water and dramatically flings herself down on the grass. "Ready to go home?" I ask. The sun is setting coral behind the high school, and the colors of the sky and field are draining away to dark blue and gray and black. "No," she pops up beaming. "I want to do it again!"

This is new to me, foreign. Whenever I have been required to run laps or lift weights, it feels like nothing but a dreaded chore. I resent the time required by most exercise, I'd rather be doing almost anything else. I can't relate to the enjoyment my friends tell me they get from running and swimming laps. I've made attempts to join them, to give it a chance, but the joy is just not there for me. It's not that I reject movement completely. I enjoy long walks with the dog when I can look around and notice things. I'm fine with a strenuous hike up a mountain or down to a beautiful lake, preferably with a good camera in hand. But it's the looking around, and noticing the details of nature, that feeds my soul and recharges me, not the exertion itself. On a really good walk or hike I even get ideas for poems or pictures in my head. And if there's competition involved--forget it!

My daughter is so different than me.

Sometime this summer I was working at my art table, a thing I don't do very often. My daughter came and stood at my shoulder for a few minutes, quietly watching, and then she said, "Mommy, are you happy when you do that?" Her question made me pause and think. Yes. Yes, I am happy when I do this. Creativity, making things, makes me happy. Recently after a very difficult counseling session I gave myself a few hours to spend at the art table to try to regain some balance before the kids got home from school. Before long I was surprised to find myself humming--something I never do. I felt content, peaceful, and yes, happy. After such darkness only a few hours before. Maybe this is how my friends feel after a run.

We are all unique. And when we have family members, spouses and children who are very different than us, it is easy to reject them, or to unintentionally put pressure on them to be different. We can miss the clues telling us who they really are, what they love, how they're motivated and how they can thrive. An organized, task oriented parent feels upset at the mess made by his or her creative child, or frustration and anger what seems to her like daydreaming or dawdling. A creative, spontaneous parent may not realize the stress and frustration a very organized child feels at the lack of structure at home or the flippant disregard of his or her real concerns. An athletic family may feel frustrated when one of their brood complains about playing sports or going to games, or may make fun of and deeply hurt a child who loves drama and musicals. We have to "tune in" to each other, and in a family we all have to learn to flex to some extent. But parents need to be the ones to pick up on important differences, and we must be the ones to flex more.

When my daughter was six, the thing she wanted most for her birthday was a clock for her wall. One with a second hand. She also likes to cross off each day on her calendar. When I've tried to share with her the imaginative books and stories I loved as a child, she isn't that interested. And the times I've tried to sit down with her and do arts and crafts have not gone well. I could be frustrated with this. Disappointed and resentful. Or,

I could watch the way her hair swings golden back and forth as she runs down the track, and notice the way that--despite her red face and heaving chest--she glows when she finishes a whole mile. I could take her to a women's soccer or basketball game at the college, or, (confession time), at least listen with interest to her play by play description when she comes home after attending with her dad. I can watch the March Madness games or the NBA finals with my oldest son, or agree to film my other son while he dunks a basketball, over and over again and in every imaginable fashion, so he can make a YouTube video. I could go play disc golf with my husband even though I'm terrible at it and I find it both humiliating and boring, because this is something that relaxes him and occasionally he resorts to doing it by himself if he can't find another friend.

And once in a while I can take time at my art table, because that's what feeds me. It's hard for me to do this. It feels unproductive. No one else in my family does this sort of thing, so I even feel self-conscious and a little silly. Knitting in front of a show or televised game while hanging out with everyone fits in easily, but dedicated creative time--that feels harder.

But in a healthy family, there's room for us all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Power of Imagination, and Why I Like Disneyland

A "magical" picture from a Disneyland trip several years ago
In a few weeks my youngest and I will be going to Disneyland for a few days, tacked on to the front end of a longer trip to visit my husband's family in California and attend a ministry conference. The much-older teen brothers hear about this, and roll their eyes and groan. Which is why they're not invited. At 10 years old child #3 is in the twilight of childhood, and I'm going to hold on to every moment, to milk it for all it's worth. I had a ton of air miles saved up, and she's still young enough to be really excited to go to Disneyland. Especially without her cynical big brothers.

Now Disneyland has got to be one of the most contrived, cheesiest places on earth. A massive display of the most blatant commercialization you will ever see. And yet despite this, if you can think past the too-loud music blaring from everywhere and the astronomical prices attached to everything, some of the "magic" remains. Why? Because beneath the layers of glossy marketing, there is Imagination. Ingenuity. Wonder, even. The real deal.

What a gift imagination is. To a child in a bleak situation he or she has no power to change, imagination can fill the mind and heart with delight, interest, and hope. As a child, I loved books and stories. As an adult, I think I love them even more. Without imagination, we could not think our way past the negative circumstances of our lives, past the problems that seem fixed and inescapable. Without imagination, we would be severely limited in our ability to reach past these things in faith and grasp the idea of heaven, or of a GOOD God who loves us and helps us even when everything around us looks bleak.

I'm working on a new book, a young adult fiction/fantasy book. Chock full of fantastic imagined characters and adventure. What a delight it is, in this season of life when I'm frankly feeling a little bored by my "suburban soccer mom" lifestyle, consisting mostly of must-dos that often are not terribly interesting to me, to open my laptop and enter another world for a while.

I've had people ask me if I plan to write more about the characters in my first book, and my answer is: Not now. I do not think that book is overly heavy, but it isn't exactly light-hearted, either. In my own life, I've been through months and years of facing heavy and hard and sad stuff. I'm stepping free of shadows which for most of my life I did not even realize were hanging over me. I'm ready for some lightness, triumph, joy. Because in the real story, that's how things end.

But to get a glimpse of that end, you need enough illumination to see the road you're walking on. And that illumination might reveal some stuff that's pretty hard to deal with.

Someday I'd like to ditch the big house and yard, live in a simple condo or apartment near a great airport, travel a ton and have real adventures. But for now, flights of the imagination, along with the occasional short excursion our way-stretched budget will cover, will have to do.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Summer Garden Party Shrimp


At last the kids are back in school! The first two days the kids were in school I had solid blocks of time in which to write, and it felt wonderful! I'm working on a new story. It seems to be shaping up as a young-adult real-life-mixed-with-fantasy story, and I'm so excited about it. Meanwhile my 10 year old daughter and I are listening to the audio books of the last three Harry Potter books. I was just a little too old when these came out, so have never read them before. They are so well-crafted, it's inspiring to me. And seeing J. K. Rowling's hand-drawn spreadsheet where she worked out the details of her characters and plot helped me visualize how such a story might come together.

In the meantime, here's a recipe I made up the other night that was super easy, totally nutritious, and turned out sooooo good, I want to remember it for the next time I need to bring something to a summer party. For myself I am naming it "Party Shrimp".

Whisk together in a medium size bowl:
2-4 tbsps Olive oil
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1 clove fresh garlic, pressed
Salt and pepper to taste

Add to the bowl:
Peeled and chopped fresh cucumber
Chopped fresh tomato or halved cherry tomatoes
Large size cooked shrimp (I used a whole bag of frozen shrimp. Put them in a colander and run lukewarm water over them until they no longer feel icy, and pat dry with a paper towel)

Gently toss everything together, and add in a bit of chopped fresh Italian parsley. Serve with Coconut Rice (Cooked rice mixed with a can of coconut milk and a bit of lemon or lime zest), or some nice crusty bread.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What fascinates you? Here's my list.

We all have topics that fascinate us, interests we turn to again and again. Just for fun one day I decided to make a list of some of mine. If I had an extra seven or eight lives, I could really pursue these. I have always had way more interests than I have had time to pursue them.

Architecture and House plans:  What is the day to day flow of living this space?  How can this space used in the absolute best way, considering both efficiency, function and beauty?  How can space cultivate both community and a sense of privacy and peace?  I would have loved to be an architect, and I have a fat file of hand-drawn house plans I've sketched over the years. Unfortunately somebody told me in grade school that you have to be good at math if you want to be an architect. In reality I think I could have handled the math involved, and this is a lesson to be careful what you say to others, and not to throw cold water on their ideas and dreams. I think this fascination started when I was 8-ish, and would look at house plan magazines at the home of an aunt and uncle while the adults were playing pinochle. Someday I'd like to live in a house I've designed.

Mysteries: I am usually reading a mystery. Uncovering a hidden crime, discovering the bad guy (or girl), and the feeling of justice when he or she is found--It's something I was denied in my own life, and maybe that's why it draws me. I especially like British mysteries, and stories set between the world wars. There's a loss of innocence for everyone, and yet goodness occasionally shines through.

Knitting: How can two sticks and a piece of string can create such incredible patterns? And something about the rhythm of knitting calms me on the inside.  I can pray really, really well when I knit. Sometimes I am knitting and find that I am incredibly tense, even grinding my teeth--and I had no idea I was so tense.  Knitting seems to connect me to my inner state. And then I can deal with what's really going on, and think or pray. It's a healthy thing for me to do regularly and it would probably be good for me to do it in a more regular way. But I must admit that in this multi-tasking world most of my knitting takes place in front of the TV. I'm not a big TV watcher and other members of my family like it, so it helps me to hang out with them in this way without getting irritated.

Travel: I love going somewhere are experiencing sights, sounds, smells and tastes I've never experienced before, that are totally different from the places I have already been. I like to walk around and look at buildings and gardens and take photographs. I like watching human interactions and human faces--so varied in color and structure, and yet the expressions are universal. I like trying new kinds of food. Someday I think I might like to have a low maintenance condo near a good airport and travel a lot.

Art, painting, art museums:  When I walk in, and I feel a sense of refreshment, like I can take a deep breath. Looking at the paintings, it feels like finally, someone is speaking my language.  I feel excited and in harmony. I very rarely go to an art gallery because no one else in my family is interested. Living in Europe was a treat, and there just isn't much where I live now.

Gardening, permaculture, and fruit trees:  I gobble up books on these subjects.  My husband has a very limited interest in yard projects perhaps because he had to do a lot of that as a kid.
But he's willing to lend a hand when I've done the thinking and planning, so little by little I'm transforming our back and front yards into "food forests". And yes interest is in direct conflict with my longing to live in a low maintenance condo near a major airport but I'm thinking these things both fit in different seasons of my life. Kids benefit from a bit of space and stable home situation when they're in school, so the condo/traveling dreams are for later!

Seeds are fascinating to me.  How something so incredibly tiny has the genetic code to create the architecture of a large, complex plant and bear delicious fruit, is simply amazing--it's a miracle that never gets old. The incredible variety of plants that exist in so many forms is also amazing. I love to see plants in their different natural environments. I like to experiment with growing different kinds of seeds more than I actually like to harvest and use the produce.

Dolls and Dollhouses:  OK, I feel a bit silly about this one.  But I have a total fascination with them. I've had a crazy dream about making dolls and donating a portion of the profits to an organization that helps abused children.  A lovely handmade doll could bring so much joy to a little girl, and I'd like to do something that adds joy to dark suffering.  But I am not very patient or gifted at handcrafts (despite my interest and intentions), and I can't see myself wanting to make the same thing over and over.  In the meantime, I occasionally look at art doll and dollhouse pictures on Pinterest to get my fix.

Nativity Sets:  Might be a variation of the above.  But it fascinates me how every culture sees Jesus as one of their own, and I've loved nativity sets since I was a little girl and for the most part un-exposed to church or religion. Maybe I could make nativity sets instead of dolls. Hmmmmm . . .

Nature: I've a bit of the naturalist in me, and like to look closely at leaves, tree bark, rocks and the like. I love to hike because I love to look at things, both up close and far away--it's not the exercise itself that interests me. Nature tends to inspire poems in me, especially the ocean. Someday I'd like to live in an amazing natural setting--preferably, the Oregon Coast--where I can take long walks every day and pay attention to nature, writing poems and taking pictures and drawing. Like Annie Dillard or Mary Oliver. Right now, my life is way too un-quiet and filled with other people. So this is another "maybe later" idea. Or maybe just in occasional spots here and there.

Homeschooling:  I tried and had to give it up, for complex reasons I will not go into here.  But it still fascinates me.  It may simply be that I love to learn.  I loved reading great literature aloud and learning things in history and science that I never learned in school.  The kids were often less fascinated than I thought they should be. In the end I'm probably a much better learner than I am a teacher.

So there's my list--not comprehensive, but all of these are major and repeated themes.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Dollhouse Project

Time to start over: I spray painted the whole thing white!

Now here is a childhood favorite. I checked this book out over and over again as a girl. It completely inspired me. I tried to make the projects, but usually ended up giving up in frustration. I did not quite have the skills. But now I do!

I've been working on redoing and redecorating a dollhouse. Now this feels a bit indulgent. And yet it also feels important. It may be a part of reconnecting with that little girl inside of me that got squashed when I had to grow up way too fast because of abuse. Whatever. I feel compelled to do it, it's summer so the kids are home and I can't concentrate on serious writing anyway, so I'm going with it. Theoretically my daughter will do it with me, though she's more likely to watch Minecraft videos or do something sporty and athletic with her Dad.

When my daughter was small, I bought a dollhouse kit--ostensibly for her to play with someday, but really because I always wanted a dollhouse as a girl and never had one. I built it and painted it and bought furniture, and she's used it with lego and playmobil people and even her hamster. A few months ago I mentioned I'd like to redo the dollhouse and she said, Yah--it's too much like a grown up house.

She's right, it is. All dark colors, all formal, all proper. I've collected pictures of dollhouses on Pinterest that are bright and happy and fun, and this was not one of those. Once I got it built I bought furniture and decorated it how I thought a dollhouse should look--not in way that would invite the playful spirit of a child. Kind of like I lived much of my childhood life the way I thought I should be, not free to simply be a child. (Obviously this thought could be taken too far--I certainly don't advocate raising hooligans with no idea how to behave or think about others. That is not what I mean.)

So I'm going to empty it and spray paint the whole thing white. And start over.

Here are some fabrics my daughter and I picked out today. I gravitated toward reds and blues, she toward yellows and oranges and greens. We'll include them all.

This is fun. It feels frivolous--yet it feels important.

Because like I posted a few weeks ago, Creativity is important. Creativity makes meaning.

And that little girl who got squashed out along the way: She is important. She has a voice, ideas, opinions. She rarely shares them. She's used to being quiet. Used to trying to be as small and unseen as possible. Used to holding all the hurt in. She's just barely coming back to the land of the living now. I try and tell her it's safe, but she doesn't believe me. She knows what I've really valued: Keeping quiet. Fitting in. Holding the pain away. And also, I'm the one that kept shoved her firmly out for so many years.

There was little room in my childhood to be small and vulnerable. I had to be strong, and tough. That's how I made it through.

But now the danger is very much over. I don't have to be so harsh and strong--at least not most of the time. These qualities have dominated my person for so long I don't know how to be any other way, I'm having to learn it from scratch. Learn it like a little child would.

Just like Jesus told us to: Unless we become like little children (in some ways, at least), we will never see the Kingdom of God.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Harsh

I am realizing, for most of my life, I have been so harsh.

Harsh with myself. Harsh with everyone around me. Worst of all, as a mother, harsh with my children.

I hear it echoed back at me, in the voices of my children when they are harsh and intolerant with one another, giving each other no space to be hurt, to be weak, to have needs.

Stop crying. She's not hurt, she's just being a baby. He's not sick, he's just faking it.

I hear my own harshness coming back at me, and I feel regret. Even though I was never consciously being harsh with them. I was being the only way I knew how to be, instilling in my children the skills I thought they needed to have.

Because I thought harsh was what life required. Harsh worked. Harsh is how you survive, is the way you make it through.

Get up. Don't think about what happened before. Don't think about what might happen next. Block it out, shove it away. Put your clothes on and walk up the stairs. Smile and imitate the others and fit in, because that's what people want from you.

I'm not sure if these kinds of words were said to me by an abuser and I internalized them, or they rose out of my own observations and conclusions--probably both. And maybe this was what I needed to do at the time, and how I made it through a morass of pain and confusion. I spliced the bad experiences, the emotions, the pain, neatly out. I set them all up on a high shelf to deal with 30+ years later, because I probably did not have the ability or the resources around me to deal with them as a child. In some ways I marvel at how smart this was, at how my body or spirit knew to do that. At the internal mechanism of disassociation that God in his grace put within us in order that we might survive horrible and overwhelming experiences.

Now, at 40+ years old, with a young adult, a teen, and a ten year old, I'm trying to learn some new ways. Making space in my life to finally deal with hurts that happened long ago. Space to think my own thoughts and feel my own emotions, instead of shoving that all away to do whatever I think the people around me want me to do. I'm still very skilled at blocking these things out, at driving myself forward, and simply functioning. I can go from a devastating counseling appointment to a light social event with only a few minutes to transition. Too good at it maybe.

In some ways I am proud of being so strong. Proud of making it through as well as I have. It is no little accomplishment. And it's a good life skill to have. There really are times in life, emergency times, when strong is what you need to be.

But all of life should not feel like this. Surely? A series of hurdles and you're forcing yourself over each one, not letting yourself think how tired you are. Or how despairing it feels when you stop to rest.

I have a few good friends who have little ones. I notice that when these children cry or are hurt, they are not told immediately to get up, to stop crying. It surprises me.

I'm trying not to be so harsh with the little ones inside me who were crushed and shut out. But it feels very different. Very tentative. And those little ones don't really believe me yet, because harsh is what I've always done.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Creativity is what gives meaning?

Today I was reading in The Gifts of Imperfection book by Brene Brown and ran across the idea that "If we want to make meaning, we need to make art." (page 96 in my copy) The definition for "art" given is very broad and includes things like baking, doodling and rebuilding an engine. Brown claims that there is no such thing as an uncreative person, only people who are not using their inborn creativity.

Since early childhood I have always been drawn to drawing, painting, crafting, and writing--the traditionally creative things. I married a man who is all about ministry, so that has been a big part of my adult life, and this chapter made me think how ministry, counseling and evangelism, when can also be creative in that each person in front of you is unique, and the ministry of assisting them to find their path is a unique process where creative thinking is applied. My husband does not think of himself as very creative, but if you put him behind a video camera, an unexpected wacky, creative dimension comes out. His creativity comes out in the context of people and relationships. Mine begs for time alone with art supplies or a blank journal and pen.

For many of us taking time for creativity feels frivolous and self-indulgent.  And yet--what if the creative things are really the vital and necessary things, and much of the "productive" things we feel we ought to be doing are not the things that are meaningful or important in the long run? This is such an intriguing thought to me.

In my experience, life starts feeling dull and pointless when there has been no time and no room for creativity. When it seems that all my moments are gobbled up by tasks which feel dull and uninteresting--running errands or driving kids places, paying bills, cooking and cleaning when I'm in a rush and there's no time to apply any creative or individual thinking. OK, I'll admit that for me, exercise pretty much feels the same way--dull and necessary, and taking up my time when I'd rather be doing something more interesting. Is there a way to make things like bookkeeping, running errands and exercise creative? I'm not sure.

The cure for the "dull and pointless" feeling (beyond the basic need for rest and sleep, which sometimes must come first) is usually to take a step back from all the boring stuff that is clamors to be done (and believe me, it will still be there when you return!), and take time out to do something creative. I know this. I do this and practice this, sometimes better than other times. But maybe I should stop feeling guilty whenever I do it. Maybe it is important and meaningful not only is a self-fulfilling way, but in a much broader sense than I understood.

This summer started with a lot of busy-ness and time away from home. Now that we are home with no more trips planned, and nobody is involved in any sports which involve constant travel (hooray!), I've been doing some creative stuff that I've been longing to do for ages. I dusted off my sewing machine and went through my scrapbooking and painting supplies--it had been over two years!! Right now I don't want to go anywhere. I want to sit in my nice chilly basement with my sewing machine and photographs and watercolors and knitting. And it feels awesome. Yet I can almost hear my parent's voices in my head saying, "Sure, it would be nice if somebody paid you to sit home and be creative--but this is the real world."

Brown begins her chapter on creativity recalling her early childhood when her father was a student and the family had little money, but a lot of time to create stuff and get together with neighbors. After her father graduated, the family moved and became more prosperous, and the creativity, spontaneity and sense of fun disappeared. One thing I appreciate about Brown's book is she does not portray making changes as an all-or-nothing situation. She does not advocate that we all quit our jobs and move to some idyllic cabin in the woods.

But I do think that in choosing more time for creativity, sometimes there ARE trade-offs. Particularly between time and money. More time usually means less money. For most of us, that's just the way it is. I quit my part-time banking job with eyes wide open to the fact that there would be less money. From years of living on a ministry salary, I know how to live simple. It was nice to have more money freedom for awhile, but it wasn't worth the stress and the near-complete loss of time to be spontaneous and creative. And in a few years there will be no kids in the house--no basketball practices or weekend tournaments, no dirty shoes cluttering the entryway, no socks or towels thrown everywhere, and way less time running to the grocery store. There will be time then to earn more and save more without sacrificing so much in return.

These are definitely things to think through if one is craving a life that feels less dull and more meaningful. The answers are different for everyone, because for many, their job is a place they express creativity and find meaning. There's no cookie-cutter, formulaic answers to these things. Only individual, creative ones.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

One of those rare, amazing kind of books

What a good book this is. I'm going through it slowly, with highlighter and a pen to take notes in hand. I kept hearing the name Brene Brown, and checked out a book they had at the library. But I quickly saw this book was so good, I wanted to buy a copy of my own.

To live "wholeheartedly"--that has been my goal. So it's nice to find someone who has intelligently consolidated a lot of research and information to help me along my way.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Some Comments on Depression

I was reading over on a friend's blog, cypress and fern, and it has caused me to think some about depression. When I have faced my feelings of depression with courage and an open heart to listen, it has ended up being a very good thing in my life. When I have taken the time to look at and answer the questions: What is it that I'm really sad about, or angry about, the answers have led me (eventually) to more freedom, more truth, and more ability to experience joy and practice authenticity with others.

But it seems in our culture most people think depression is something they have to "get over" or "overcome". Something to shove away, so they can get on with the business of their real life--rather than seeing it as part of the process that leads to their real life. Rather than paying attention to the message the soul is trying to send the mind and body. Rather than looking at it as something real and legit, something to pay attention to and pursue.

But I admit, the answers to these questions (What am I really sad about? What am I truly angry about, or afraid of?) can feel incredibly scary and overwhelming, especially to one who is new in this process and has never faced their personal demons down before. That's why it is so valuable--and probably even essential--to not try and pursue the answers all on your own. Good counselors have been trained to be a helpful guide along the way. And a good counselor does not tell you what you need to do and how to do it--they assist you to listen to your own soul and find the answers that are right for you.

For better or for worse, I'm a seasoned veteran in the ways of depression. And a seasoned veteran in following the questions to their answers, which I never could have imagined would be the truth. Answers that were so terrifying and horrifying, many times I thought I would be overwhelmed. Yet I was not overwhelmed. I'm still here. I hold on to the promise in the Bible that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overwhelm it: I have found this to be true. In the words of Corrie Ten Boom, "There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still." Jesus does not turn his face away from the vilest, most horrific forms of human evil and suffering. And neither should we.

I still struggle sometimes, but I know how to fight well. I still don't sleep well most nights. Sometimes I lie on the bed and my heart pounds with fear, despite the fact that in my logical mind I know I am safe now. There are others inside me who don't believe it--a terrified six year old, and a very angry teenager, a completely overwhelmed young bride, and maybe others besides. I still seem to face a wall in regards to physical intimacy, though now I understand I am not just crazy or weird. There are good reasons for my feelings and reactions, and I am only newly in touch with most of them.

But I'm finding places of freedom, joy, contentment and peace in my life which didn't exist before. I'm learning that it's OK to be me, with all my struggles, instead of imitating and pretending to be like others because I thought that was how life worked and what I had to do in order to have any relationships in the bright outer world. In order to have the happy family and the life that I saw others had and that I so badly wanted. I'm learning, step by step, with the Holy Spirit as the ultimate counselor and friend, and with gifted human counselors to help as well. God has led me very slowly and gently, so I would not be overwhelmed. And I am so grateful.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Emotional Healing: You get out what you put in

I haven't written about healing from abuse in a while. I've been distracted and unable to focus, and healing absolutely takes time, focus, and intentional work.

Here's a confession: I hate summer. I hate the heat. I hate the irregularity of it, of no set routine and schedule. I have not found it possible to keep any kind of regular schedule in summer, too many things come up. Generally these are fun things, but it still throws me when life feels unpredictable and a bit over-crazy. And I hate having no time or privacy to myself, because the kids are always here.

I also have a long-term pattern of getting emotionally down and depressed in the summer. I used to think it had something to do with my birthday in early June, because that's when it always seemed to happen. Now I think it is the association from childhood that once school was out, I would be spending a lot of time with the relative who abused me. So there's this sense of dread that remains from that association, despite the fact that it's been years since I have seen him at all, and many more years since I spent any length of time with him.

So I'm trying to keep myself "up". I schedule fun outings with good friends, and keep myself busy with a huge front-and-backyard permaculture-style fruit and vegetable project. I try to do fun, relaxing things like reading mystery novels, watching a show or two, going on nature hikes, and doing the artistic stuff that feeds my soul and makes me feel at peace. (OK, that last thing which is maybe the most important thing isn't happening at all. Cite the lack of time and privacy written about above. Argh!)

Not to mention writing, which is barely happening either.

Despite my intentional efforts to keep my head above water, I'm still feeling the downward pull. I'm not giving in to it, but I do need to give it some time, space and attention. Because there is no other way to move myself forward and out of it.

The thing about emotional healing and depression is, you can't just ignore it. You can't tell yourself to "buck up", and simply talk yourself out of it. Depression doesn't work like that. Depression feelings are the little red flags in your lawn marking, "Look at this: there's a problem here. Attend to this spot, before the problem grows bigger."  Depression is telling you that there's something you need to work through, to come to terms with. And that doesn't just happen all by itself.

I think the Waldorf people or maybe the Quaker people have a label for this. It's called "inner work." A quick google search tells me the label actually comes from Jung. I like it, because it legitimizes the process as "work." It isn't just laziness, being self-absorbed or self-indulgent. "Naval gazing" would be one negative description. Our culture has many negative descriptions for what can positively be called "inner work". We tend to only value outer work that looks productive, or results in see-able, measurable gain or profit. It's an upstream fight to value and to pursue inner work, but the Bible tells us it is the unseen things, the eternal things, which are truly valuable. And that we should not be conformed to the culture around us. We should not take "the broad, easy road" taken by most folks that leads to soul-numbing and soul-death: If we are wise, we take the narrow, less populated path, the one that leads to life, instead.

But I still hear and tend to accept the negative labels inside. Even though I know better from my own hard-fought battles and hard-won gains.

Hopefully, for the rest of the summer at least, I can work something out.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Blueberries for the Fourth of July

It's been hot hot hot here. It hit 100 degrees by the end of June, and there's been no rain for several weeks. Weird weather and hopefully not a permanent change, but with global warming, it may be. It's feeling more like California than northeast Washington state.

I've got some delicious berries ripening. One thing berries need is a lot of water. We went to a beach on the Snake river last week and already there were blackberries ripening, almost a month early. But the fruit was small and hard because of lack of water. The berries I'm getting at home are sweet, full and delicious. That's because they're being watered like crazy.

The blueberries are amazing. My bushes are only a year old, but are producing several small clusters of berries already. Just enough to snack on as I walk along with the hose. The "hardyblue" bushes look bushy and full. The "bluerays" look a bit tall and scraggly, but are beginning to fill out as new shoots come up from the ground.  And both of them taste out of this world good, with a wild, tangy flavor I've never had from a store berry. I can't wait until they produce enough to make a pie!

Some people say you can't grow blueberries where we live, but mine both at this house and our previous house have done great. I mixed the soil half and half with peat moss when I planted them (to make it more acid), and I mulch for the winter with abundantly available free pine needles. If you ask to rake up and collect a neighbor's pine needles, they will never say no. The bushes also do not seem bothered by the hot sun like my currants and gooseberries, which are looking pretty sad.

There's a robin that flies down and hops around the edge of my spray as I water the hill in back. Perhaps my watering raises up some nice juicy worms for him. But thankfully, so far the birds are leaving the blueberries alone. At my old house I never got to eat a one ripe berry, because the second they turned truly blue, the birds ate them all.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Garden-List Post

Ah, yes, I've been absent. A busy last few weeks of school and basketball, followed by my sister and family (the cousins!!) visiting from the East Coast and a vacation in the woods with no cell service or wifi. When I've been home at all, I've been frantically watering things and pulling things and tying things up in the garden, which has absolutely exploded in this early and uncharacteristic heat. The good news is, I should be loaded with amazing tomatoes in a few weeks! Normally I have to wait until mid-August for the first cherry tomatoes, and hope for the best on the bigger ones. The bad news is, all the pea vines shriveled and fried to death, and many of the other seeds such as carrots never came up at all.

I re-sowed them all and still no luck. Eaten by birds maybe? I've seen a bunny or two running through the backyard at night, but have noticed little damage to the lettuces and other plants, which surprises me. Maybe they are too full of strawberries, of which I've had none, despite the gorgeous proliferation of plants. Too many plants by far, I realize now that where I thought I saw one plant there was actually three or four. I should have radically thinned them. Which may be the reason for no berries--or something is eating them all.

On the first semi-free day I've had all month, I'm making some garden notes for future years. I'll post a few here in lieu of a more literary offering--that will have to wait for the growth explosion to slow down a bit, for Hoopfest to be over, and for all of us to return home to a more normal (normal? is summer ever normal?) routine. I've got separate notes for vegis, fruit trees, and berries, all on Evernote for future reference. My climate is dry, with hot summers and cold winters. My soil is not good, a silty clay, though I've tried to amend it in many ways. Here is my veggie list so far. I will also post lists for the fruit. If I get ambitious I will add some pictures!:

VEGI LIST FOR 2015 GARDEN:

Started most seeds mid-March, planted out 2 weeks earlier than normal in Mid-May. It's been a very hot and dry Spring, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees by the end of June, and no freezing nights throughout the month. Unusual, but the climate may be changing in this way in general.

BEANS:
(Pole) Fortex--60 days--2.50/.5 ounce at Fedco
Late June 2015: Growing very well, could use something higher and stronger to climb on than the 3-4 foot branches I stuck in.

BROCCOLI:
Fedco Broccoli Blend--record which varieties do best!--67-94 days--1.70 at Fedco
It is not possible to tell the varieties as seeds are not colored or anything. But in general all are growing very well and look healthy.

De Cicco--put a few in front from older seeds I had. Growing well. Have already harvested the main 3" head on a few. These are delicious, have been our favorite.

CABBAGE:

Golden Acre
Only one seedling/plant survived. It is growing very well but something has eaten many small holes throughout. Still edible though. Rather stinky plant.

CARROTS:
Danvers Half Long--75 days--1.30 at Fedco
Shin Koruda--68 days--1.00 at Fedco

Seeds are NOT coming up, have re-sown twice!! Birds???

CAULIFLOWER:

CHARD:  

Erbette--40-60 days--.90 at Fedco
??? Maybe I forgot to label where this was

Perpetual Spinach--50-60 days--.90 at Fedco  Can be perennial if good drainage
Growing super well. Tastes pretty good, similar to Spinach, not too strong like some chard. Taking the heat well. A KEEPER!!

CUCUMBER:  
National Picking--52 days--1.00 at Fedco
Poona Keera--53 days--1.60 at Fedco
     started mid-April, planted out mid-May

Both are growing well. I have sticks stuck in for them to be tied to, but something stronger to climb would be better.

EGGPLANT:
Diamond--78 days--1.40 at Fedco
Two nice strong plants growing well as of late June 2015

LETTUCE:
Jericho--
Growing very well as always!  My favorite. Started some early and seeded others direct in the ground. Do not see a huge difference by late June. Lettuce plants seem weak and spindly in the seedling tray, I don't think I will start them early again.

Summer lettuce mix and other lettuces--
The "freckles" type seems to dominate and grow out all the rest. It goes nuts and seems to take heat well. "Buttercrunch" always does pretty well too. It would be nice to have more red.

LEEK:
American Flag--100 days--Burpee/Walmart, because I forgot to order the ones I really wanted--
Seeds started later than they should have been, but seem to be doing OK. The direct seeded ones have not come up.

ONION:
New York Early--Fedco
Most of this does not seem to be doing well, but we will see. Direct seeded ones did not come up.

Red Long of Tropea--Fedco
This is doing well. Does need started ahead of time instead of direct seeding.

MELON:
Blacktail Mountain, Fedco
Planted in front of raspberries because this is a "heat pocket" with the concrete wall in back. Has not thrived. Plant is staying small and weak and looks like it won't make it. Maybe was eaten on by slugs or ??? Try another location, maybe on the hill?
Perked up a bit with fertilizer. It might need lots of heavy feeding, and I am out of fertilizer.

PEAS:
Cascadia Snap peas--Fedco
Some have survived despite very early heat. The few that made it were shaded by large broccoli leaves and are delicious. (7/1) Still producing a few pods in 100 degree heat! Cascadia may be a good variety for heat compared to others. In general it was not a good year for peas. Plant them out earlier!

Alderman Pole--Fedco
None of these made it, fried in the heat.

PEPPERS:
Chimayo (started later!)--from Bountiful Gardens
Reported to have a unique flavor for sauces. Plant was slow to start and to pick up growth, but beginning to grow better with the heat, though not gangbusters like tomatoes.

Black Hungarian (started later!)--from Baker Creek Creek, who lost both my seed and plant orders. They were nice about it but seeds arrived too late and I probably won't order from them again.
Plants are still very small in late June, needed starting earlier! Still, they do not seem to be growing as well as the others.

Early Jalapeno (started later!)--leftover seed from Sample Seed Shop
Looking good so far. This is generally reliable for me.

To try next year: Serrano and Lemon Drop.

RADISH:
Champion: from Fedco
Growing fine but very eaten on by bugs. No one really likes radishes so they languish unpicked.

TOMATOES:
Grandma Mary's paste--fedco

Jasper cherry--fedco
Extremely vigorous and early. Should be good! Give it lots of room!

Sungold--
Older leftover seed. Looking good so far

Glacier--
Started with others. Seems to be doing well. Not a huge plant but healthy, producing lots of early medium size tomatoes.

Polish Linguisa--Sample Seed Co
Started mid-March, planted out mid-May

Italian Heirloom--Bountiful Gardens
Started later, mid-April, planted out mid-May. None of these seem to have made it.

Park's Whopper--Parks
Had some leftover seeds so started them with others and put a few out. Doing very well.

Ida Yellow--fedco
Seems to have had a slow start but doing well now, and producing lots of early tomatoes.

Zucchini/Summer Squash:
Three plants on hill from leftover seeds. Not sure which varieties came up, but they are all doing very well. I did not expect them to do well on the un-amended thin hard soil.