Tuesday, February 28, 2012

House Hunting is Hard Work

"Even on the most exalted throne in the world, we are only sitting on our own rear end." Michel de Montaigne

And I want my rear end to be in a comfortable place. It doesn't have to be exalted or even fancy, but I want to feel at home. And this house-hunting is exhausting. A few weeks ago I thought I had found IT. The One. My realtor and I walked through the house almost silently, reverently, neither of us willing to break the spell by speaking. The kitchen was a dream. The family room opened just off of it and the back of the house was lined with eight french doors leading out onto a private patio. The bedrooms were big for a house in the city and there was a basement complete with storage and carpet and an updated laundry room. There was light and a gorgeous gas fireplace and a big porch with a swing. I felt cocooned. Cozy. Comfortable. I felt at home. I could imagine us living in this house.

Until I stepped outside. I am not terribly familiar with the neighborhood and there is a busy street half a block away. The back yard is bordered by one of those pockmarked alleyways that some of the neighbors take care of and others disregard. Fine. I just stepped back inside. Ahhh. That's better.

I arranged for Bubba and the girls to come look at the house that weekend with me. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the girls happily skipped through the house, imagining their bedrooms and spaces to hang out. Bubba was more reserved, knowing how I felt about the house, and he was determined to look in every nook and cranny. He took his time strolling through every room, opening drawers and looking behind furniture, taking photos and not saying a word.

After about an hour inside the house, we took the girls on a walk through the neighborhood, noting the local cafe and two schools within walking distance. I was nearly afraid to breathe, not wanting to influence Bubba or the girls, although the girls were already sold. They're fickle.

It was nearly two hours later, as we were back in our house, that Bubba dared to ask me whether I still loved the house. I had a hard time answering. I wanted him to give me a definitive opinion that would then inform my feelings. If he hated it, I could give up. If he was head-over-heels, we could celebrate and I could put my misgivings to rest. Oops, I just admitted I had misgivings.

The fact is, I could imagine living in that house. Entertaining in that house. Raising our kids in that house. Hosting family in that house. But I was stuck on what it felt like to be outside. The neighborhood behind and to the north is great - tree-lined sidewalks, lots of families. But the street that the house was on was busy and only half a block long before it dumped out onto a four-lane road complete with stoplights. Could I live in a neighborhood that attached to the back of my home?

Ultimately, Bubba and I decided to wait and see what else comes on the market. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still felt unsettled. It took me a few days to figure out why.

I want to be done. I want to know where I'm going to live come July. I want to picture it in my head and decorate it a thousand times in my mind before we ever move. I want to start boxing things up in this house and make a list of furniture to sell that won't fit in the new house. I want to feel settled.

The realtor and I went out again today and, while I know she isn't trying to pressure me, she told me that with Spring approaching, houses are flying off the market, being snatched up within days of going on. I know this, having watched two potential houses I wanted to see come and go before we could schedule appointments to see them. We went to see two houses today, both in neighborhoods I know well that I know we would like to live in. I woke up with a smile, feeling optimistic that today would be the day we would see something great. Lest you laugh too loudly, can I tell you that we've been at this since October, looking three out of every four weeks in a month? We have kissed a lot of toads so far. More than I can say.

The first house was creepy for reasons I can't properly explain. It had a very strange vibe, not exclusively due to the deadbolt on the outside of two closet doors and the laundry room door. (Why would you lock someone in the laundry room?) We couldn't get out of that house fast enough.

I wanted to like the second one. It is in a terrific neighborhood. It has a backyard. It's not even officially on the market yet - a girlfriend of mine knows the agent. It is in our price range. It's Bubba's choice of neighborhoods.

The ground floor was lovely. Not perfect, but lovely. The upstairs? A great master suite and three itsy, bitsy, teeny, tiny bedrooms (one with only room for a crib and a rocking chair and a changing table). The realtor started on about knocking down walls and expanding things and putting in a murphy bed for guests and I tried to follow her. I really did. I wanted to think that these things are no big deal and simple and "just sheetrock."

So I'll bring Bubba and the girls to see it on Saturday. It's a shame to let a house this close to great in such a great neighborhood go without a second look. Or is it? I don't know if it's crazy to expect perfection, but I want to know that The House is out there somewhere and I'll find it. I'm willing to keep kissing toads as long as I know that when I need it, one of them will spring to life as a cozy home in a friendly neighborhood that won't require me to bring an architect or a plumber along.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just keep resting my rear end on this throne I've got and hoping the toads keep presenting themselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Meditation Revelations

Last summer I signed up for a free 21-day meditation series from the Chopra Center with a friend of mine. We agreed to do the daily meditations and keep notes and get together every few days or so and share our impressions. Sort of a metaphysical book club. It was so great for so many reasons.

I do meditate.


But I have trouble doing it on my own. I prefer guided meditations and I own a CD or two, but get tired of them pretty quickly. I've learned that my monkey mind is pretty strong and tends to jump ahead if I've listened to a particular meditation more than a few times, assuming it knows what is coming next and preferring to finish the quiet time so it can get back to jumping frantically from tree to tree.

Having a daily guided meditation and a friend to keep me honest was perfect. I was actually able to trick my mind into acquiescence and had some pretty cool revelations during the three weeks I did it. Thereza and I had fun sharing our impressions of the meditations and, when it was over, I was sad to see it go (but not sad enough to purchase additional meditations - I'm cheap that way).

Monday, the Chopra Center started a new free round of meditations and this time there are four of us doing it. Today's meditation centered around the ego, part of myself I struggle with accepting, so I was surprised when the facilitator encouraged us to embrace and acknowledge our egos. He talked about it as an essential part of who we are and asked this simple question before allowing us to descend into silent contemplation: What is it that you think you own? Your car? The lane in front of you? Think about the tens of thousands of things you think you own - from material possessions to emotional responses to relationships.

And I dropped in to meditation. The first thing I noticed was that, in my mind's eye, the right side of my body appeared larger and more developed than the left side. I've noticed this phenomenon before and what it means to me is that I'm too much in my head of late. I need to stop thinking and categorizing and judging and acting and start simply being and accepting more. When I do that, the two sides of my body come into balance. I know it sounds strange, but that is how imbalance projects itself onto my consciousness.

The second thing I noticed as I asked myself the question, "What do I think I own?" was a pair of red Keds walking past my mind's eye. Instantly, I knew that these were my beloved red tennis shoes from my elementary years. Other visions slowly made their way forward, including the calico cat I rescued when I was eight or nine, our family's dog, the wallpaper in the guest room that my sister thought looked like nests of spiders, and all manner of other random things from my childhood.

Over the fifteen minutes or so that I sat watching these things march past, a couple of times I wondered why the only things my ego conjured up were things that I used to own. And then the barrier melted away. These were memories. Most of which I hadn't actually recalled until just now, but memories just the same. My ego is ruled by the past, by those things I wish I knew about my childhood as well as the things I know shaped the person I am today. The bulk of my ego treasure chest is cluttered with memory and black holes I wish I could fill with memories.

All at once, I literally felt my left side growing. It was as if someone were inflating it with air or blood was rushing to oxygen-starved tissues and suddenly my two sides were equal. Balance. The recognition that my ego is largely ruled by things that belong in the past was all it took to restore balance. Within seconds, I heard the meditation instructor's voice calling us back to consciousness and I felt clear-headed and centered.

There are times when a revelation brings quiet clarity, a certain knowledge. Today was one of those times, and the beauty of it is that I don't even feel the need to do anything with this knowledge. I am not spurred to go chastise my ego for living in the past or railing against things I can't change. I don't feel as though I need to go any farther with this information right now. Simply knowing is enough for today. It feels like a great accomplishment and, once again, I am struck by the realization of how powerful self-awareness is, especially when it isn't accompanied by self-judgment.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hangin' in the Kitchen with Lola

I don't generally post many photos on my blog, but today I have to. You see, on Tuesday, Lola and I had our Second Annual Valentine's Day Cook-Fest. This is the second year in a row that her mid-winter break from school falls during Valentine's week, and since Eve and Bubba are stuck in their regular routine, Lola thought it would be cool for us to concoct a feast for them. She is my little chemist, so for her, cooking is fun. So is making a godawful mess in the kitchen.

As soon as we dropped Eve off at her carpool meet-up point, we headed home to start baking. First on tap, the flourless chocolate cake. Lola delighted in using the biggest, sharpest knife we own to shred an enormous block of chocolate. She also loved licking her fingers and swiping them across the counter to pick up rogue bits that had leaped off of the cutting board. Separating eggs is fun, too. Since she used her fingers to filter out the yolks and got to be "all slimy." Whipping egg whites was harder than she anticipated, so I stepped in to save the day, but she insisted on being the one to fold them in to the mixture at the end.

Once the cake was in the oven, we got to move on to our next dish - gluten-free potstickers. We discovered this recipe last year and it was such a hit that we knew we had to do it again. We also remembered how much work it was, so we bought some rice paper wrappers to make spring rolls with the leftover filling. Mixing dough was a riot - Lola loves to get her hands in there and squish it all together. She had a ball chopping chicken and cabbage and green onions and, later, rolling out the dough and pressing it in the tortilla press.
Then it was time to make the broth for pho. We roasted spices with onion and garlic and ginger under the broiler and put it in the crock pot with broth to steep all day long. The last few photos are of the table Lola set, the noodles and beef just before we poured the boiling broth over the top, Lola rolling a spring roll, and the fabulous flourless chocolate cake.

I already know that next year, Valentine's Day won't fall during mid-winter break, but Lola and I have decided to make this a tradition (and Bubba and Eve aren't complaining - they were looking forward to dinner all day long). Although we made an unholy mess of the kitchen, I don't remember when I've had more fun and I'm already looking forward to next year's adventures in the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day is My New Favorite Holiday

I have decided that I think Valentine's Day ought to be bigger than it is. No, I don't work for Hallmark or Future Florists of America or even Theo Chocolates.

As a kid I loved Valentine's Day. I can remember hand-picking which store-bought card went to which kid, lamenting over the excessive number of "Be Mine" messages since there were so few boys I wanted to send that particular card to. The construction-paper-decorated shoeboxes and certain knowledge that I would receive more than my fair share of Hershey's kisses, along with the party that kept us from doing any work all afternoon were indeed something to look forward to.

As a teen, my perspective on this holiday was based on whether or not I was currently dating anyone. If so, I was thrilled to have someone who would "be mine," and a little nervous about what exactly to give a teenage boy for Valentine's Day. If I was single, I sought solace in my other single girlfriends and we tried our hardest to avoid looking at the couples exchanging soulful looks and stealing kisses.

As a mother, I questioned the commercialism of the day, especially when the decorations went up on January 1st at our local drugstores. I encouraged the girls to craft their own cards for family members and schoolmates, but we all quickly ran out of patience with the glitter and glue and trying to find unique messages for each recipient.

One year when I just couldn't get it together to mail Christmas cards out on time, I found a sweet photo of Eve and Lola and ordered Valentine's cards for all the families on my Christmas card list. I think that was when it occurred to me that I had been limiting my notion of Valentine's Day unnecessarily.

Then I met Carrie. She is the embodiment of love. She is funny, honest, blunt, open and a true gift in my life. And her birthday is February 14th. And that was my tipping point.

I still craft special sentiments for Bubba and the girls every Valentine's Day. But I have expanded my celebration of February 14 to include every person in my life that I love. I am embracing Valentine's Day as an opportunity to stop and recognize how rich and full of love my life actually is. It isn't about sending cards or gifts to everyone I know, and more about stopping several times throughout the day to think fondly of my friends and family and consciously send love out into the Universe. And that is why I think Valentine's Day ought to be bigger than it is. What if Valentine's Day was about love, period? Romantic love, platonic love, love of self, all of it. As far as I'm concerned, that makes it much more important than St. Patrick's Day. And I'm married to an Irishman...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Power of Feedback

Pleasantly surprised.

That is how I feel today. As I drove around town, dropping kids at carpools and school, picking up a 45 pound bag of dog food, heading to the library, I caught bits and pieces of the morning show on my local NPR station. Generally, it bothers me to just catch snippets of the show, my brain hating the swiss-cheese holes of missing information, not knowing how to complete the picture. But today the guest in the second hour referred back to something I had heard the guest in the first hour say and I felt the synapses connect, the dots turn to a solid line and the line work its way into the shape of an upturned mouth. The light bulb went on.

The first guest was a social media expert who has taken time off of his job with Google to galvanize the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. He talked about using his skills to take advantage of the free, real-time exchange of information on the Internet in order to promote peace and equality in this part of the Middle East.

The second guest was on to talk about how the Susan G. Komen foundation can begin to rebuild its reputation with its supporters as well as those who deplore their acts of the past few weeks. At one point he said (and I'll paraphrase here because I was driving, after all and wasn't able to write down his words) something like the mistake that companies like Komen are making is to think that we are in a technology revolution. We are in a revolution, for sure, just like the Industrial Revolution, for example. But this revolution is not technology, it is information. Technology is simply the oxygen that enables the information to flow.

He went on to say that if any organization, governmental, for-profit, non-profit, whatever, fails to recognize this and engage with their supporters and their detractors in dialogue, they are missing the boat. People want information. They want to give it and get it. They want to feel heard and respected. And those companies that are truly listening to their constituents and incorporating their feedback are more successful and engender loyalty.

I was thinking about this concept as I turned on my laptop and logged in to the web. My home page is set to NPR and the headline that jumped out at me was this one. Speaking of feedback.

And when I realized how many significant changes have come about in American society as a result of the free exchange of information in real time, I felt

Pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Practicing Self-Love

I've been asked by BlogHer staff to answer the following question in a blog post.

"How do you practice self-acceptance and find unconditional love for yourself? How does practicing love first help you attract more love and happiness in your life?"

Wow. Tough question. And incredibly timely, given that for the last year I've been thinking pretty hard about just how to make this happen in my life. For me, the answer begins with gratitude. Several years ago I noticed that my body was beginning to age more than I thought it would in my 30s. And as I approached 40, I began to realize that it was only going to happen more rapidly in the coming years. As an antidote to dreams of plastic surgery or over-the-top strength training, I began to mentally catalogue the things my body was still capable of and, once I started, I was astonished at the list. All of those things I take for granted like digesting food and pumping blood and repairing cuts and bruises worked just fine. I am lucky not to be an insomniac and, while I have a pretty bad case of dandruff, my hair isn't falling out and my joints work the way they're supposed to. I began to realize that the list of things my body accomplishes on a daily basis, mostly without my interference, is truly miraculous.

With this "plentiful" mindset, I began looking at other parts of my life. I thought about the good friends I have and the close family members I love and who love me. I acknowledged that these people see something in me that makes them want to be around me and thought about what those things might be. With some small feelings of guilt, I listed a few of them - sense of humor, open-minded, generous - and was surprised to notice that it felt good to think about traits I possess that other people like. And, within a few days, I began to see my behavior patterns change to emphasize those traits. As soon as I labeled that glass as 'half full,' I could only see it that way. It is like that pencil drawing of the old woman/young woman; once you see one of the women, you have a difficult time seeing the other one. Your brain has accepted one image and it doesn't want to see the other one.

Abundance is like that. You can't simultaneously hold two opposing thoughts in your head. Something is either black or white, it can't be both at the same time. Once I trained my brain to notice the things I do that come from love and kindness and generosity, I was more likely to reinforce the belief that I am loving and kind and generous. And I was more likely to act in those ways as well.

This is not to say that I don't get down from time to time or berate myself for doing or saying something particularly stupid. I absolutely do. The difference now is that I am in the habit of counterbalancing those negative thoughts with realistic assessments of all of the things I do that are smart or caring. Human beings are wired to put more weight in the negative. It is an evolutionary way for us to avoid dangerous situations and learn from our mistakes. Thankfully, now that we don't live in a world where we're likely to be eaten by dinosaurs or saber-toothed tigers, we can also train ourselves to consciously add pounds to the positive. I firmly believe that this is one of the most important kinds of weight training we can do.

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