Thursday, August 27, 2009

Zen & the Art of Telling Pain Who's in Charge

In one of the books I recently read, Eat Pray Love, the author talks about her experiences with meditation. She talks about her quest to enter that tranquil state of meditation where pain and annoyances are irrelevant.

I've thought about this idea before--being able to just "take it" when you're in pain, without being ruffled or upset. So today when I got a seriously, seriously painful paper cut right before going into the grocery store, I thought I'd give it a try.

"Just let it go," I said. "Accept the pain. Accept that you cannot do anything about it right now and don't get upset."

Paper cuts are evil. They can sting and throb in pain until you get them covered up in a bandage. This was a particularly deep and nasty cut and it was really throbbing. So I didn't expect my little "accept the pain" mantra to do much.

However, once I told myself that I would just accept the circumstances and move on with my life, the pain miraculously disappeared instantly. Disappeared--I couldn't feel a single thing. This was somewhat unfortunate, because then I was shocked and started marveling how this could be possible until I was obsessing about the paper cut. And once I started thinking about it, I realized I was still in a lot of pain.

Again, I decided to just let go. The pain was gone again in an instant. Or rather--the pain wasn't gone but it was forgotten completely. I couldn't feel it at all. I let appreciation fill me up and float me away and then went on with my shopping. A few times during the trip, I was reminded of the throbbing pain in my finger and each time I told myself: "Just let go."

Now I'm feelin' pretty tough, although in reality I am a total pain-abhorring cry baby. I literally can't stop my eyes from tearing up when one of my kids does something particularly ferocious like jumping onto my nose or grabbing my hair and then trying to run away with it. Luckily, those times are extremely few and far between, and so are paper cuts.

But what about other kinds of pain and frustration? What about everyday annoyances like somebody driving three miles per hour in the no-passing, 35-mph zone when you're late for a really important, non-reschedulable appointment? What about times when life just isn't fair and you can taste the bitterness starting to sink into your chest? Can those kinds of pain just *poof* disappear?

I think so. I think it takes a lot more maturity and a lot more practice than most people care to give it. I also think it's the key to inner peace and continuing joy. So next time my kids wake up at 2:00 a.m. barfing and it's just NOT FAIR that I "get" to clean it up ... I'm going to try to just tell myself: LET GO. Let go of the pain. Let go of the frustration. Move on ... or relive this unhappiness until you've made yourself sick, too. Just let go.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unintentional Lessons #3

As I struggle to develop my own healthy lifestyle, I try to help my children learn healthy habits in their youth. However, being a hypocrite makes it so difficult to be a stellar role model. Sigh. And so I present:

Lessons My Children Learned from their Mother #3
It is vital to eat a variety of healthy foods with every meal. For example, pizza is a very well-rounded food with carbohydrate (crust), dairy (cheese), vegetable (tomato sauce) and protein (pepperoni.) After eating a healthy meal like that, you can enjoy an ice cream bar without guilt!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unintentional Lessons #2

Good hygiene is important for social and physical reasons, in addition to an overall sense of confidence and self-respect, which brings us to part two of my misadventures in parenting:

Lessons My Children Learned from their Mother #2
It is important to always keep your body clean and free of dirt and germs, so it's a good idea to bathe every night before bed. In the event that I throw a temper tantrum and make Mom's life miserable until she gives up and begs me to just put on my pajamas and go to sleep so she can go have a bubble bath herself, twice a week is better than nothing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Unintentional Lessons #1

My children love to learn from me. They love to learn from my mistakes, my shortcomings, my failings and my frustrations. Some day, I am hoping they will pick up a few positive lessons as well, but I'm not holding my breath. So I present to you:

Lessons My Children Learned from their Mother #1

Sunday is a day of rest and worship, so we don't play the Wii on Sundays ... except under exceptional circumstances, such as (a) the day we received the Wii as a gift, (b) the day after Mom bought a new game, or (c) any Sunday when Mom wants us to go upstairs and stay quiet so she can sleep in or take a nap. Other than that, it's strictly verboten.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Talk :: The Kitchen God's Wife

The Kitchen God's Wife
by Amy Tan

I finished reading, "The Kitchen God's Wife" for book club. It was ... all right. It seems like exactly the kind of book I'd love, but it wasn't. I still can't figure out why I found it so dull and anti-climactic. My favorite author is E.M. Forster, for pete's sake, so I know I can tolerate a bit of slow-moving plot. If you've only read "A Room with a View" then you don't know how long-winded and rambling Forster can be. But he's brilliant, insightful and a fabulous story crafter. Amy Tan's novel just left me vaguely disinterested. I should have really wept in parts where I could only muster a tear or two.

Was it because of the main character who is first introduced by her daughter in a very unflattering light? Did that cause me to just have a hard time sympathizing with her? Was it because we were constantly led on by the promises of the main character's "deep, dark history" that she hasn't shared with her daughter... only to realize, in the end, that the secrets being kept were really not that earth-shattering?

I tend to think that it failed to do what my favorite book, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, did brilliantly. In both books, we are given vast amounts of foreshadowing and then taken back in time to tell the story. In Zusak's "The Book Thief," the events that unfold are still heart-rendingly beautiful. The characters are built up so beautifully--the children's innocence, the foster parents' complexity and unlikely likability--that we really care more about them as the book goes on.

However, in "The Kitchen God's Wife," we know that whoever the main character once was, she will eventually turn into a nagging, controlling tightwad. It's hard to care how difficult her youth was when she apparently turned all that life experience into "cranky old lady" fodder. I'm sure others found the character far more sympathetic than I did, since it was a New York Times bestseller. It just fell flat for me.

As the characters develop in each novel, the plots jump back and forth in time. In Zusak's novel, although we know the ending will not be a happy one, there are just enough loose ends to wonder, "Who escapes the tragedy that we know must be coming?" and when Zusak suddenly starts a chapter with the observation that Rudy Steiner didn't deserve to die the way he did, it's hard not to break into tears and sob with the knowledge that Rudy will not be one to escape.

In Tan's novel, the shifts in time wanted me to shout to, "Get on with it! We know she ends up getting away from the abusive husband and moving to America! What else you got??" The single most "shocking" reason why the main character has not told this history to her daughter is revealed in the first half of the book, leaving very little climax for the last part of the story.

In the end, it was a sweet story about mother and daughter learning to trust each other, but it fell flat for me. It just seems that a few plot changes would have given the book a much more climactic feel to it and given the reader a chance to become engaged in wondering how the story would end. Since we were given that all in the beginning, the route to get there was far less compelling than I expected it would be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Advice for Aspiring Writers

I just got home from our local "Authorpalooza" at Barnes & Noble. It was a memorable experience for several reasons, but since it is late and I am tired, I thought I'd blog the simplest tonight and save the others for later.

A few months ago, I attended another Writer's Thing-a-doo-hickey and was impressed with the seasoned professionalism of one of the writers, whom we will call "Nick."* When I heard he would be at the Authorpalooza, I thought I should get one of his books and have it autographed for one of the kids. (I figure that it's a great thing to support local authors. We're lucky in Utah to have a great, tight-knit community of writers.)

So I approahced "Nick" and asked him to make the book out to Thomas, who loves reading. After he signed it, we chatted briefly and I told "Nick" that I had considered taking some classes at BYU to kick-start my creativity. After talking about that for a few moments, he said suddenly, "My advice to aspiring writers is: Don't do it ... unless you have to."

I stopped dead in my tracks. Wait... what? What about the muse that must be fed? What about the need to write being likened to the need to breathe or eat to survive? What about the optimism and encouragement? Did he really just say that?

"Well, that's encouraging," I stuttered in shock.

"Look," he said. "It's hard to support a family by writing. It's hard work. People think it's a great way to express themselves creatively, but I'll be honest: there are a lot of ways to express your creativity and I'd rather see a lot of different forms of creativity more than just another book on the book shelf."

With that, the conversation was basically over. Thanks for the ... encouragement. And for signing the book for my son. And have a nice day?

I'm still mulling over the advice that "Nick" gave me. I haven't decided if it's the worst advice I've ever received or the best. It could go either way. At least it was refreshingly, startlingly honest. And honest is good.

* Name has been changed to protect the innocent.**

** By "innocent," I mean "guilty"

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Conversation with a 4-yr-old

Thomas: "I peed and pooped in my Pull-Up this morning."

Mom: "I know. You got grounded from the Wii because you didn't use the toilet when you were supposed to."

Silence while Thomas stares at Mom.

Mom: "What are you thinking about Thomas?"

More silence and staring.

Mom: "Are you sizing up your Mom and thinking about how you'll show her exactly who is in charge by not finishing potty training until you've decided you're good and ready?"

Thomas (without hesitation): "Yep. That's what I'm thinking about."

I'm sure this will be funny to me someday. In the meantime, you can all laugh on my behalf 'cause it ain't funny yet.

Changing Lanes

12:04 p.m.
Coming home.
Slow truck--so slow.

Out of the slow lane.

A flicker of movement.
It is suddenly in front of me.
The furry head sees me, panics
Jerks slightly to the left
To the right

We both know it's too late
A sickening thud reverberates

That's life in the fast lane

One moment between life and death
My hands grip the wheel of the car
The instrument of death

I say to myself
Death is part of life
Just a skunk... I think...
It was all so, so fast

I slow down, pull into the slow lane
I think about blood and fur and flesh
Is it clinging to my car?

I think of my children's innocent eyes
What is that, Mommy?

It's late. Dark. I'm tired.
I have to wash the blood off my hands
And my car.
The gas station is open
I hate the smell of the car wash soap

But it cleanses my car
My confession of innocent guilt cleanses my conscience.

12:24 p.m.
Time for bed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Emotion And Reason

For years I've told myself that to be an adult means to master my emotions; to calm my anger, to chide my jealousy and to never get carried away--even with happiness. I'm not sure whether I misapplied this basic principle of "growing up" or whether I was influenced by a keep-it-together-at-all-costs society, but I somehow didn't quite get it right.

I've only recently realized that emotion is a wonderful gift. Naturally I understand the counsel to bridle my passions, and I certainly don't want to be tossed about on the waves of emotion, but even moderation can be taken to an excess. I think I got it all wrong. I took my emotions and placed them in carefully-labeled bottles and shelved them away inside my brain.

Emotions don't belong in the brain. They must be tempered by logic and reason, but they must never become a next-door neighbor. This is why even the scriptures counsel us to listen to our minds and our hearts. They work together as two distinct and complementary units of humanity.

Yes, it feels corny and strange to enjoy my emotions. It feels childish to feel the sand squishing between my toes and say to myself, "That is a simply splendid sensation!" It feels cliche and immature to actually watch a sunset for no other reason than to enjoy its' beauty.


... always that immortal "but" ...

I feel so alive, like I'm human and immortal at the same moment. I can feel myself breathing and I remember that I'm not a robot or a slave to conformity. I'm unique. I'm on fire with love and joy and desire. I can feel the cleansing power of pain and suffering and discomfort. That's okay, too. Better to be alive and feel the pain than to be emotionally and spiritually dead.

I realize that it's the emotion that's been missing when I sing. It's just this note, that note, keep it smooth, don't forget to breathe, don't push it, don't hold back, here comes that high A so brace yourself...

So this morning I put on my favorite emotion-laden songs and really performed them the way I feel them. I sang them to my wall, which never applauds but is very patient with me and never criticizes.

I stood perfectly still, because a dying woman who is grieving her missing child and the man who deserted her doesn't fidget. ("I Dreamed a Dream") I paced disconsolately, like a woman whose glory years have passed by but who still remembers and dreams of a better day. ("Memory") I stood on my toes, longing for those impossible dreams to be reality. ("On My Own")

Then I stopped singing and spun dizzily drunk with emotion. My whole body was electrified with life and I wondered if I might faint or just fall over. The intensity was draining and renewing. The sensation lasted for 10 or 15 minutes until normality stepped in, businesslike, and swept the tingling electricity out of my system.

For some people it's dance. Or singing. Or painting. Or the glories of nature. Or running. Or kickboxing. Or even cleaning. Whatever it is that transports you out of the mundane and into a different realm, embrace it. Keep your feet firmly planted on the earth, but make time to let your mind and your heart soar into the heavens. (Just don't be gone too long. Logic without feeling can kill your soul, but emotion without reason is far more dangerous...)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Duet, the number 53, Twitter, Happiness and Self-Indulgence

My miscellaneous blog posts are sometimes the most fun. So here we are:

* Josh and I are slated to sing a duet in church two weeks from today. Josh decided yesterday that he didn't like the song we have been working on, so now I have a rising sense of panic and impending doom. Duets for bass and soprano are not easy to find. If you know of any great sheet music along those lines, send it my way. Send it by yesterday, if possible.

* I now have 53 RSS subscribers in Google Reader and 15 "followers" ... but my Mom and Dad have still never visited the site, as far as I can tell. Nor has my brother. My oldest sister visited once. It's interesting that my neighbors and cyber-total-strangers-who-happened-on-my-blog-but-I-totally-love-even-though-we've-never-met know more about my life than my parents. Sometimes I wish my husband didn't subscribe so I could be all snarky about him, but... it's probably better this way.

* Just checked out my analytics and realized I've gotten a mention at this site about blogs for Christian Mothers. How fun. (#41, FYI)

* I joined Twitter in January of '08 because it seemed like the Hot New Thing. I tried to talk all my friends into it and they gave me cyber looks of scorn. My friend, Mike, signed up and wrote: "Trying to figure out why in the scrud I would want to use this thing." We had a couple debates on Google Talk re the values of Twitter and I secretly agreed with his opinion. My enthusiasm died down around the time the rest of the world decided it was Hot New Thing. So my love affair with Twitter has faded away, replaced by my hot, new lover named Facebook. It's interesting to see my friends all discovering it and beginning that new romance. I wonder if it will be a long-term commitment or a one-night stand. I pride myself on one quirky little talent: forecasting the death of companies. It will take a few years, but unless Twitter becomes more competitive and multi-faceted, I cannot see it being a long-term competitor for other services. I could write a long essay on the subject, but let's be honest: yawn.

* I wrote another article for the Utah Baby Guide. It was lots of fun and it may become a more regular thing. We'll see what the future holds. :)

* This morning, my son was having a little trouble parting with 10% of his allowance money for tithing. After he finally decided to do it, I told him he could also give money to other projects for our church like the humanitarian fund. As soon as he learned that he could give money for people around the world who were poor or in emergency situations, he wanted to give the rest of his allowance to that. I tried to talk him into just giving them $1 (moderation in all things, after all, right?) but he wouldn't hear of it. So he saved $1 for himself and gave $4 to the poor. I love that kid. We both cry when we hear about people who are hurting or in need.

* I am almost finished reading the bestseller "Eat Pray Love." I'll write a proper review later (maybe) but just wanted to share a few random thoughts here. Like: I've been on a parallel journey in so, so many ways. But I didn't have the bank account or freedom to do it in Italy, India or Indonesia. I had to face it all right here within the confines of my own home and with kids who required much of my time and attention. But the end result is, in so many ways, the same. That path of self-discovery is so painful and so indescribably uncomfortable when you are accustomed to pretending that problems don't exist. I've gone from depression to anxiety to nervous twitches to desperation to wishing my life were over to ... hope and renewal and self-acceptance and a zest for life that makes me want to embrace every sweet moment on this earth.

Today, as I was fasting, I realized that I need to be happier in my life. It's so easy to see the negative side of things. It's so easy to blog about it and make people laugh and say, "Oh, isn't that so true!" But ... isn't the goal to be happy? So as much as it feels good sometimes to blow off steam and let out the frustration, does that really make me happy? Can I live life with cynicism and hope simultaneously? Can I keep my eyes wide open but not be blinded by the cruel unfairness of the world?

The answer, of course, is: I have to choose. Being happy and content does not mean being naive or sheltered. It just means accepting life and making that active decision every day to be grateful for what I have and am. And letting the snarkiness sneak in only on occasion...

* I want to be a writer. Like a real writer, not just another dweeb who thinks she's important because she can self-publish a blog. (Err, sorry if that offends any of my fellow dweebs... just kidding.. dang it, see above bullet point about sarcasm. I gotta work on that.) I am trying to work through why it is that I have so much trouble sitting down to write anything but my blog. Am I scared to make that leap into the ever-whirling sea of rejection letters? Am I just too scared to have people tell me what I secretly fear: I'm just not good enough? Does the amount of bone-crushingly painful work intimidate me? Am I just afraid of taking something I love and crushing the joy out of it by trying to monetize it? I did that with desktop publishing years ago and it was a painful blow. I hate tempering my creativity with a desire for compensation. That is so naturally inhibiting.

I have a few really wonderful concepts for novels that I would enjoy working on, but I just can't JUMP. People say that if you're a true writer, it means writing is like breathing: you have to do it or you'd wither and die. I look at that and say, "Well, I guess I'm not a true writer." Which, naturally, makes me want to fight back and say, "Maybe that's true for YOU, Mr. Bradbury! But maybe it's more complicated than that for some of us!" Which makes me wonder why I'm arguing with one of the greatest writers of the 20th century who doesn't even know I exist? Why am I just arguing with myself? At this point in the internal dialogue, I recognize the dual futility and insanity of what is happening and I check out of the conversation. I think that's a good thing except that I never progress to answering my question: Why can't I just leap into my stories and let the creativity overwhelm me? What am I so scared of?

* Have you noticed that my blog posts become exceedingly long and rambling? I worry about that. Would people like my blog better if I made it more twittery and easy to read? Should I just post a few cute photos of my craft projects, happy children and vacations with cheerful captions? That would definitely be more palatable to some, but it just wouldn't be me. I'm a writer, dang it. So that's what I do on the blog: I write. It's self-indulgent to the extreme, but I love it. Thanks for sticking with me. :)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Lemony Heaveny

There are some foods that I prepare once and think, "This is great! I've got to make this again!" and then promptly forget. I'll flip past the recipe print-out in my binder and think, "Meh. That was all right."

Then there are some foods that I prepare once and know I will never forget. Like the Orange Julius in our ice cream maker. So much better than ice cream and it's just OJ, milk, water, vanilla and a smidgeon of sugar. Super good! (I have some of yesterday's batch defrosting in the fridge right now... Mmmm...)

Then there are some foods that I prepare once and my life has been shattered. Changed forever. Such was my experience with the lemony, heaveny (misspelling on purpose... work with me, here...), light, frothy deliciousness of Dorie Greenspan's (or should I say, Pierre Herme's) Lemon Cream. Note to cookers: the link above calls for 1/2 cup of lemon juice. The other, more easily accessible version of this recipe online, calls for 3/4 cup. I loved the slight, but not overpowering, tang that I got with 1/2 cup. Your call.

I was nervous to try this cream since I've never made anything like it. I couldn't get it all the way up to temperature and knew that I would have scrambled eggs if I didn't take it off the heat soon, so I had no idea if it would firm up enough. I didn't have time to buy fresh lemons, so I had used a jar of store-bought lemon juice. And a BLENDER? That seems so wrong for a dessert that looks so delicate.

So I dipped my spoon into the final product with serious trepidation. I cautiously closed my lips around it and let it hit my tongue. My eyes opened wide in surprise. This was, by far, the most delicious lemon ANYTHING I had ever tasted. That is probably due, in part, to the fact that it is exactly up my alley: light and frothy, not too tangy, but a delicious lemon flavor.

My sister tried it and kind of said, "Meh. Not lemony enough." Her son, however, tried it and said, "This is probably in the top ONE best lemon desserts I've ever had." I looked nervously at his Mom and smiled apologetically. She frowned at him and reminded him of the wonderful things she has baked. I tried to change the subject. But I couldn't agree with my nephew more. It's brilliant. It's not all greasy-looking like most lemon fillings. The butter is set aside until after the mixture is cooked and cooled, so the final product has a character all its own.

I filled up some mini tarts and served them at a baby shower. I was amazed that others didn't gobble them down as quickly as I did, but grateful, too. So, so grateful to have leftovers.

And now, it's been a week and a half and I can't get that lemon cream out of my head. It's haunting my attempts to get control of my health. It's constantly there, in the back of my mind, beckoning so seductively. I think I'll give in. There are SO few foods in the world that are worth the calories. Well, I can only think of two indulgences that are worth the calories: this lemon cream and Pepe's pizza in New Haven. If I could eat those two things every day, I'd pat my gut and say in some silly accent (simply because I really like silly accents), "Ahh it is very sad, but so worth it. Mmmm...."

In the mood to cook? I'd be happy to make some lemon cream with you. Seriously. Give me a good reason to make this decadence. Please?