"Rooms By the Sea" - Edward Hopper - 1951

“Rooms By the Sea” – Edward Hopper – 1951

Again, I hesitate to post this. It’s funny… from my years of posting on Facebook I’ve gotten so into the habit of sanitizing and editing everything I write that it’s *really* really really weird to just sit and write something – all of something- and hit “post”. It feels like I’m almost *imposing* on people in some way by writing these mammoth posts and expecting anyone will read them.

I was thinking “why do I bother? Does it matter if I actually post these entries or is it good enough to just write them so I can get the stuff out of my head and know it’s there if I want to go back to it later?” But on the other hand, I am actually so grateful to have this space back. I forgot how good it feels to have a space to work stuff out, to take note of things that I’ve got rattling around in my brain so that I can clear that space out. There is something about hitting “post” that feels good.

A few days age I wrote about how I hit a difficult patch in meditation, where I was getting jumbled whenever I tried to clear my mind and get back into the present.

The day after I wrote about hitting a hard patch, I went back to basics with meditation.  What I mean by that is I kind of reset my practice and did a bit of research.

The first thing I realized is that I have been meditating for a much longer time than I give myself credit for. For years and years (and years… 25 of them to be exact) I have had at least an hour of every single day where I did nothing but observe my mind.

Swimming.

Swimming was pretty much the first and only thing I was allowed to do that was active and sporty. Kids with Spina Bifida in *my* day were encouraged to just “take it easy”. “Stay off those feet”. “Don’t hurt your back”. Etc. We didn’t do gym at school. We were never in organized sports (there were no participation trophies back then- the only kids who played were the kids who were picked for the team. As a kid who grew up before the era of participation trophies, I actually think they are a good idea). We stayed in the library instead of going out for recess. I dabbled in tennis and basketball in high school (fencing was a favorite, although without much balance it was mostly me advancing and waving my foil wildly) but I was lousy at all of it, because I had serious medical stuff that affected my reflexes and general balance, etc.

Swimming was medically approved when I was a kid, but not encouraged. If you swim a lot, especially in chlorinated pools, you get skin issues. Dry skin. Irritated skin. Moist skin. I was too young to be aware and responsible for taking care of the issues that swimming might cause. And because I had only a little feeling in my feet, I could easily scrape my toes against the wall of the pool and cut myself and not even know it, which I did a lot when I was around my family’s back yard pool. So a) it’s kind or irresponsible to send your kid into a public pool knowing they could bleed into it, and b) it’s not so great for your kid, either. (Or vice versa).

I did take lots of swimming lessons and stuff when aqua shoes were invented (YAY for aqua shoes! They protect my feet so well! And so many other people wear them!) but since I couldn’t kick very well, there wasn’t much I could do besides swim freestyle up and down the pool. Which, don’t get me wrong, I loved doing, since I was moving quickly, which I can’t really do on land. But I wasn’t fast enough to race the kickers. So I just swam in my family’s pool in the summers and did a lot of nothing from the months of September – May.

In 1992, I got my foot reconstructed *again*, but it was a much more involved process (including rebuilding a foot out of my hip bone) and when I was finally out of the cast the only , I was sent into the pool to learn how to walk again. I did that, but I also started swimming, simply because it felt REALLY GOOD to move around and get my heart beating and be outside in the sunshine. Oh my God, did it feel good to zip back and forth in that pool after months in bed. It was blissful and fun and I discovered I could work out everything in the water.

After 18 years of not being active or athletic, I loved what swimming gave me. I felt free and fast and light. I felt healthy and “normal”. I loved working up to longer and longer distances and time I could spend in the pool. I loved having a passion that involved moving around. I loved the changes in my physical body. Swimming basically gave me my life back- in the pool, I was not Spina Bifida girl, I was myself.

I was old enough to be responsible for my feet and skincare, and also old enough not to give a shit about wearing pool shoes in public places, so I was determined to figure out how to swim no matter where I was, and no matter what season it was. Emory University’s pool had open swim hours, so as soon as I went back to college from my medical leave, I was at the pool at 6:30am every stinkin’ morning to swim.

At this point, I also realized that having a body like mine meant increased responsibility and self-care, and I finally honored that. It was like this big turning point for me- I had this new passion felt so dedicated to it that I chose a radically different lifestyle for myself in which I made self-care a priority and not an afterthought. Swimming was essential to my physical and mental health, and I was determined to honor that. And I have. For 25 years.

That’s why I swim. And that’s why I never skip a day or put it off for anything else. Not for vacations, not for social stuff, not for anything, honestly. (So now you know.)

Okay- all that is well and good, but let’s talk about the reality of swimming laps for hours on end in the same pool every single day:

It’s really boring.

SO so so boring. So boring.

After a few weeks of swimming laps every day in the same pool, and not working on improving speeds or technique (as people do on swim teams), it becomes muscle memory. You get in the water and you go. Nothing to think about or focus on. I guess it’s like walking on a treadmill, just underwater.

And the exhilaration of going into the water, of feeling it hold you up, of gliding through it and splashing around and just being floaty, disappears, too. I totally forget just how lovely it is to be in the water until I’m forced to skip a day (like, for a hurricane or for the flu or for a day trip to Disney or whatever) and then I go back the next day and it feels like MAGIC.

This past summer, when I had my foot surgery, I had to take two weeks off from swimming to allow the incision to hear, and it was agony to be out of the pool for that long. I could literally feel my skeleton just collapsing and my muscles tightening from not being able to stretch out and swim. It was the longest I have been out of the pool since college. The day I got back in the water, the pool felt like liquid bliss. I was only allowed in the water for 20 minutes that first day back, and I felt like a little kid who hasn’t been in a pool for years- it was a daze of pure happiness and sensory heaven. It felt amazing, I felt free. I felt completely cool and refreshed and renewed. That was literally the BEST sensory experience I have had in a long time (let’s face it, 2016 was stressful- I’ll take whatever I can get.) I tried to hold on to that feeling for weeks after but it didn’t last long. I do remember it, though. It reminded me that I *am* still capable of experiencing pure, unbridled joy from time to time.

Anyway, if you swim every single day, you do lose that sense of “ahhh, floating, tumbling, refreshing…” Water just feels like a wet air. You get in, you swim, you get out. You stop going in the pool or the ocean for “fun” because when you get in water, you swim. Even if you just want to relax. You wind up swimming because that’s what you do. Water loses its magic.

When you’re in a dimly lit space, emerged in water, and there’s no sound and nothing to look at but a white tile wall,  and you’re just swimming back and forth and back and forth, the only thing you can really do to distract yourself is to tune into your mind. So I did that for years. My mind became my ultimate form of distraction. I followed it as it jumped from thing to thing, saw the way it literally strung loosely associated things together to form complex ideas. I saw the way reactions came up, the way anger or stress or hope might sort of start as just a seed of a thing and then fully bloom when I fed it a little bit of attention. I started writing these complex fictional stories in my mind day by day, chapter by chapter. I’d go over them in detail, tweak them, and continue working on them for years and years. (Eventually I started putting them down on paper, but it was decades later.)

Of course, I had no idea that what I was doing to similar to meditation. I was spending prolonged periods of time just watching my mind and noticing how it worked.

Eventually someone amazing invented waterproof music players to rescue all of us lap swimmer, and swimming got a lot less boring. Listening to music while you swim is *super* cool.  My mind is still center stage, though. I just get music to soundtrack it. And when I meditate at the end of my swims, I turn the music off, so it’s back to me and my mind and the white tile wall. The difference is that now I know that instead of letting the thoughts take seed and billow out, it’s good practice to come back from them and press “reset”.

I think the reason meditation got hard was because I’ve been trying way, way too hard these past few weeks. Trying to go beyond just watching the mind. Convincing myself that just doing that simple practice couldn’t be right and I had to make it more complicated. So, the other day, I literally had to remind myself it’s JUST watching the mind. It’s JUST coming back to something present. That’s all. It’s not trying to force a blank, equinamous state on my mood or find a little portal into magical realms and instant calmness. It’s just taking a back seat and seeing what comes up when I don’t drive the car of the mind.

I did the thing that a lot of meditation teachers tell beginner meditators to try- find something to focus on. I have to admit- this is the part that I stumble over. When I’m focused on something, I’m sort of thinking about it. At least, it’s doing causing some sort of processing in my brain- maybe not “thinking” but I know that my brain is absolutely part of the whole experiencing part of thing. So I’m always asking the question “am I thinking about the tingle in my foot or experiencing it?” I don’t know at what point a mind goes from thinking to one-pointed concentration because a lot of the time, they seem like the same thing to me. My mind doesn’t jump around a lot. I can focus on one thing for a long time. So I’m always concerned that my focus *is* being lost in thought.

My response to this, until now, was to attempt to “zero out” altogether. EMPTY my mind. NO focus on ANYTHING. Eyes wide open, ears primed to hear every splash, my skin on full alert, my arms and legs moving very m-i-n-d-f-u-l-l-y. Be open to every sense, every feeling, everything I was experiencing as it was coming at me. Hyper-awareness in a long blue pool with lots of reflections and bright light probably made me dizzy and disoriented, which explains all my weird little “moving backwards” sensations while I was swimming. And the “grumbling” I experienced, which was likely anxiety from me trying to empty my mind (which is actually impossible to do.) It’s fairly easy to trick your own brain and physically disorient yourself if you try hard enough, you know? It’s like that weird little “falling” feeling you get sometimes when you are about to fall asleep.

Anyway, I finally realized that by having nothing concrete to “come back to” when my mind would distract me, I was basically spending half an hour in this weird alarmed state. When you are in sitting meditation, you can come back to your breath or something you feel in your body or just the feeling of gravity holding you in your seated position. You don’t have that in the pool.

Usually meditation teachers advise you to focus on the breath, but if you do that in the pool, you’re screwed. So when i start meditating, I try and instantly find whatever sensation is the most prominent, and sort of lock into that. When my mind goes off, I just came back to whatever it is I “locked in”.  After a while, my mind started battering me with things, so I just said in my head “swimming, swimming” over and over. That helped a lot.

By the end of my swim, I was surprise to realize that the words had evolved into something else, a different phrase- almost like I was playing “telephone” with myself and didn’t even notice it.

This part of the experience relates to the idea of intention. I’m talking about the neuroscientific  (and Buddhist) concept of intention, not the whole “manifestation-magic-intention”  Secret-style stuff. Just the simple idea of “what’s your true motivation for doing all this?”  Every class I have taken in psychology or neuroscience or well-being or Buddhism has always posed that question: what’s your intention? And I could never really answer that question, even though I tried. I always made it too complicated.

Yesterday the three words I was left with at the end of my meditation served up a clue to a possible intention. I won’t share the, but I wound up liking them so much I kept repeating them in my head after I got out of the pool and as I went on with the rest of my day. I started to look at the things I was doing and the choices I was making through the lens of the three words I had chosen.

DUH. BIG DUH. After ten years of studying neuroscience and psychology and mindfulness, I started to connect intention with mindfulness. I FINALLY understood how the two connected in real life. That was a pretty huge a-ha moment for me.

You know, the more I do all this I realize that you can take 100000000000 classes and listen to 1000000000 talks and read 10000000000 books on pyschology and neuroscience and well-being and mindfulness and whatever else, but until you put it into practice, it doesn’t make sense. It’s like trying to teach a baby to walk before the baby is ready, I guess. You can explain the mechanics of walking to a baby, put them around other babies that walk, even move their legs in the motion of walking, but until it’s time for them to start walking, it doesn’t happen. And when they do start walking, it’s in their own style based on their own bodies and growth and mechanics. And it takes however long for them to go from lurching from point A to point B unsteadily to actually walking.

It’s the same with all of this-  there’s no official timetable. People can give you clues and information and tell you what to expect. But until you are ready and actually begin engaging in the process, kind of lurching around in it, just trying to get from point A to point B, it doesn’t truly set in. I think LIFE is like that. I mean, I’m 42 and I’m just starting to get the hang of stuff. At least it feels that way sometimes. But it’s also a good thing, because when you get to your 40’s (at least in my case), a lot of stuff falls away and you can actually settle into life. I like that a lot.

So I guess that’s what I am doing right now- lurching towards this goal of being more mindful, more at peace. Trying to make myself a little less of a messy human so maybe I can be of service in some way.

 

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in the art studio...

in the art studio…

Right now I’m struggling a bit with the shift from Daylight Savings Time. I don’t get into my art studio until late afternoon, and the truth is, I like it to be dark outside as I work. Even though natural light is much better to work with, if there’s daylight, a little part of me feels like I should be outside. I get antsy.

I am super productive in the winter, so as soon as the time change happens, there’s a noticeable shift. In the fall and winter, I LOVE coming into my studio as the sun starts to get low in the sky and it’s easy to get out my supplies and work until dinner. I get really focused and I really like peeking out the window from time to time and seeing all the houses with their lights shining. It’s like we’re all tucked in together.

Now the sun doesn’t really set until after 8pm and it’s been *so* hard to shift into habits that were strong just a little over a week ago. I’m sort of forcing myself to keep going, and hoping I find my groove again. Or a different groove. (Or maybe some dark shades, but the idea of that makes me a little ugh-y.)

I’ve been painting this winter- lots of acrylic and collage and mixed media. There’s been a shift into watercolor the last few weeks (I’ll post those soon) but I’m still doing the acrylics and collage, and I’d like to continue all of it instead of doing this cyclical thing I tend to do where I change my medium based on seasons (for some reason, getting all set up for acrylic – which isn’t that big of a deal – seems like this tremendous task in spring/summer whereas just getting out my watercolors seems much less arduous. But I like painting with acrylics just as much, so I’d like to do both.)

mixed media experiment

mixed media experiment on diffusion paper

I got a pack of diffusion paper from Amazon. It’s a novelty fabric-like paper that basically sucks and spreads water in unexpected ways. I’ve wanted to try it for a while because I wondered if it might be like painting on silk without all the dyes, boiling, etc. (Spoiler: it’s not.)

I tried to do an Arabic-inspired pattern using it with some resist and watercolor. I was going for a stained glass window effect, thinking I could use resist to create different areas, and then “drop” watercolor into each area and let the color travel and move on its own and then come up to the resist and stop. Sort of like silk painting, only on paper.

Nope. Because the paper is so absorbent and resist sits on the surface, the paint actually will swim *under* the resist and bleed into other sections. I even tried really soaking through the resist lines with white acrylic mixed with all sorts of fabric mediums (which are designed to soak through materials) and it wouldn’t create enough of a resist to hold back the paint from bleeding.

The paper doesn’t like traditional watercolors at all- all my Daniel Smiths just sort of turned diffuse and dull. In the end, I wound up just testing which colors and their pigments would spread on the paper and which didn’t work so well. The diffusion paper is difficult to work with (but fun and unpredictable) so I wound up just using the most intense colors I had on my palette just to test how they spread on the paper.

I stretched the painted paper on a collaged canvas panel and glazed it a few times to see if I could get a mosaic, layered effect with the patterns on the canvas sort of “shining through” the individual panels of color. It didn’t really work.  Because the paper is SO absorbent, glazing for a thick, shiny surface is almost impossible- it just sucks everything into it. It smoothed out nicely with no bubbles, but no shiny surface.

I do think the paper might be good for pigment powders (like Brusho and Infusions, etc.) because of the way it spreads pigments around. And for kids who like to just PAINT with color and not have any specific outcome in mind. I think it also may be good if you want to watercolor paper for collage- it’s very thin, glazes flat and fiarly translucent, and doesn’t seem to let the watercolor go after it dries, so if you are doing collage work, it’s really great for that.

But for straight watercolor paint, no. (I haven’t tested any markers or liquid watercolors on it yet, maybe that works better.)

In the end, I finally got it sort of sealed, painted some white dots on it, distressed it with white paint, and called it a day. I’m a little bummed by it, but it gave me a few ideas for other things to try. I did REALLY enjoy researching and creating the patterns, though, and doing the dots, so I want to do more of those things. Just not on this paper.

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David Hockney "Garrowby Hill" 1998

David Hockney “Garrowby Hill” 1998

I was all set to put a little note up here apologizing for the repetition in content and insanely long posts. And maybe even the cussing. And in the past few weeks I have found myself brooding over topics for the blog (how much is too much talk about Buddhism and my classes? Can I post little snippets of art I’m working on without discussing it and explaining it? How often should I post? Does anyone care? etc.), length of time I should let a post “marinate” before putting another post up, how I probably should alternate rambling posts with art-focused posts to keep the artsy lovelies from running in fear…

But then I realized- NO. These little ruminations are exactly why I always stop writing and need to take breaks from this site. The minute this online journal (and that’s what it is- I’m not cut out for the brevity that is implied by the term “blog”) became more about statistics and readers (remember those old NedStat counters, if that’s what they were even called?) and less about me writing into the void, I kind of lost the intense interest I had in doing an online journal in the first place. I lose my sense of self in the effort to make this other than what it is- a brain dump. A place for me to document life, work some ideas out.

In 1997, when I started this online journal, there was NO software for blogging, no templates, and no comment forms. There was just HTML and publishing stuff on your web page.  There were only a handful of people doing it, and everyone one of us varied greatly in length, subject matter, humor, lifestyle, etc. There was no right or wrong. So I had no idea who was reading, why they were reading, what they liked and didn’t like. I just wrote and posted and let it go. And I really want to do that again. But doing that requires me to let go of thinking too much about who is receiving this. (Thus, why the comments are not turned on.)

And that means writing whenever I feel like, about whatever I feel like.

Unfortunately, for you, that means this is another post on mindfulness and meditation. Because that’s what’s on my mind today.

 

Almost directly after I wrote my last post, I remembered why it is I keep taking breaks from meditation.

It’s because it gets really frustrating and hard.

Every. Single. Time.

It all came back to me a few days ago- I go through these flings with meditation and mindfulness where I do it and it’s amazing and sort of blissful and I get a little skilled at it and I see the influence it has on my life. Then it gets even better and turns into a little honeymoon kind of thing and I feel like I’ve found this profound habit that will change everything and I get all the fuss and want everyone to have some of that bliss.

But then all of the sudden meditation stops being good. It turns into this weird half-hour wrestling match with my mind that I can’t make heads or tails of. And because I’ve always used meditation as a way to achieve calm, the minute the whole “wrestling” phase starts, I have always stopped seeing the point in sitting in a chair and riling myself up.

This time, I’m meditating for different reasons, so I’m more determined to ride out this next stage, even though right now it feels like listening to a TV station tuned to static.

Basically what happens is that I’m able to focus and get my head quiet of the BIG THOUGHTS, but then I become away aware of this low, underlying jumble of stuff going on way way below, and any time I try and clear my head and get into the present, I can’t do it. It’s like this little weird broadcast of brain dump that I only tune into when I’m meditating.  I don’t know what those “grumblings” are, and they aren’t loud, but they distract the hell out of me. It’s like those factories in old-timey cartoons that keep chugging out square clouds of smoke from an animated smokestack.

You know that thing when you talk on your phone and sometimes you get an echo of your own voice and you cannot have a conversation because all you hear is yourself? And the harder you try to ignore it, the more you notice it? I suppose this is very similar to that. (And I’m sure there’s a lesson right there <—- that I’ll ponder and figure out later.)

The upside to this experience is that I have heard experienced meditators and monks talk time and time again about the “meditation gets hard” stage a lot. So there’s a precedent for this.

In my Foundations of Buddhism class, we just finished studying a bit about the Abhidharma, which is basically the collection of writings that created the foundation for Buddhist ontology (the nature of being). After Buddha passed away and left his years and years of teachings in the hands of his followers, the monks began to organize the huge breadth of the Buddha’s teaching a little bit to make it easier to access as far as their own teaching of it. It was a completely oral tradition for several hundreds of years after the Buddha passed, so kind of had to process it a little so it would remain correctly preserved. In the process, they also began to speculate on the very nature of life because some of the followers were beginning to ask new questions due to changes in society and culture.

The Buddhist monks decided that life- both the physical things that exist and happen and the mental states we experience-  is basically combinations of small bits called “dharmas” (little “d”. Dharma – big “D”- is defined as the culmination of everything the Buddha taught). These itty bitty dharmas basically combine and re-combine to form everything we can see or feel or experience.

Since everything is always changing, the dharmas keep mixing it up, too. They form combinations that pop in and out of reality for various stretches of time. Some combinations last longer than others, or some combinations repeat – that’s how we get a sense of continuity in life.

When I heard this, I was totally shocked. And so incredibly impressed. Because while it’s not *exactly* how the physical (and mental) world exists, it’s pretty frickin’ close. Especially since it came from a bunch of people who lived 2000 years ago and had no modern scientific equipment or any sort of way of examining the world on a microscopic level. In addition, these people came from ancient traditions that emphasized a solid and unchanging world created and orchestrated by a divine figure. So for these Buddhist monks to come out and say “you know what, we think the world is actually composed of little bits of things that come together to form larger things, and the human mind is similar…” is pretty jaw-dropping to me.

And as far as the human brain, science has shown that it’s basically is a vat of chemicals and neurons that change from millisecond to millisecond as circumstances change.

So the whole idea of “dharmas” is not really that outlandish at all. I quite like it, to be honest. It’s a lovely way to make sense of life. It sort of means that nothing is truly personal -it’s all a lot of cause and effect and changing conditions that influence other conditions.

ANYWAY, those little dharmas are sort of bubbling up in response to whatever is happening and then reconfiguring as soon as anything changes. I’m wondering if the little “grumblings” that some people encounter when they are meditating are actually those dharmas (or functions of the brain) at work, collecting information, identifying it, and reacting to it. Over and over and over and over. And as you practice meditation more and more and more, and shut down the BIG LOUD THOUGHTS that mask everything in the mind, maybe you can begin to identify those smaller bits of data that are creating the BIG THOUGHTS

For instance, you see something that annoys the crap out of you and the “annoyance” combination comes up. There’s actually a bunch of different little brain functions (and smaller base emotions, like anger and frustration, etc.) that form that particular emotion. And just as soon as “I’m so annoyed by that noise!!” comes up, your attention goes to something else and there’s another set of brain functions going. It may be a repeat of the “I’m so annoyed by that noise!!” or it might evolve into “Oh my God, can’t he turn that car alarm off?” or even “Oh, it’s just a car alarm. Not something cataclysmic.”

So when you meditate, you get more and more adept at recognizing the whole “I’m so annoyed by that noise!!” thought as soon as it pops up. And the more you meditate, you more skilled you get at recognizing what’s behind it: the “I’m annoyed because I can’t understand what’s happening, I’m scared of what might happen, I don’t like not having control over this, and I can’t concentrate.”  So I’m wondering if what I’m experiencing is yet another level of that stuff underneath- the “dharmas” at work.

I have no freaking idea. This is why a huge part of meditation is finding a teacher to have a personal relationship with- because when this happens, they can tell you “yes, it’s normal” or “no, you had really better go talk to a doctor…” And as they get to personally know you, they can say “you’re the kind of person who obsesses, so I bet that’s what’s happening, Try and focus on ____ instead while you meditate.” And you don’t spend years trying to figure out if you are doing it right.

So yeah, I need a teacher. There are a few options – I’ve signed up for education with Sravasti Abbey which starts in April, and part of the class is doing a lot of checking in and response writing, so I’m hopeful that I’ll get some feedback. There are also several online teacherswho are available to assist students. So that’s an option if my classes don’t provide what I need.

It’s funny, this all sounds extrememly complicated and a part of me is, just, “go back to the guided meditations and call it a day,” but a much bigger part of me is thinking, “yes.” And I rarely think a simple “yes” about much of anything, besides loving cats, swimming, tea, my family, and those sorts of things. So if a “yes” pops up, I try to embrace it.

Have a wonderful weekend, if you’re still out there reading 😉

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photo of the pool

photo of the pool…

So… meditation.

This was another topic I wasn’t going to discuss here but then I got this quote in my email from Martha Beck:

There are words waiting for you to write them, and they are alive. Let them push you past your self-doubt. Let them speak to people you may never meet.” – Martha Beck. 

So I figured I would go ahead and talk a little bit about meditation, just in case there’s someone else out there working with it. I know I struggle with it.

I’ve meditated before. And I’ve talked a lot about mindfulness and meditation and… blah blah blah. But to be completely honest, meditation has always been super tricky for me. I have done a lot of it, but it always felt like I was trying so hard, and that even when I did it extensively, it never really set in as a natural state for me. Unlike swimming and gardening and painting or whatever, I never felt like I got the “knack” for it.

I knew via neuroscience that it can have a TREMENDOUS benefit on a person’s overall sense of contentment. I felt it calming me, changing the way I reacted to things, helping settle me down a little bit, but it wasn’t enough to make it essential, like swimming or making art or having cats, etc. is for me. I respected it, and sort of believed it worked for other people. But I didn’t think that I had what it took to make it work for me. I just couldn’t make it “click”.

Anyway, I signed up for the first of a four-year (!!!) round of Buddhism courses at Srarvasti Abbey and part of the prerequisites were sitting in meditation for at least twenty minutes a day. And I think a part of the course work is writing reaction papers on insight experienced during meditation.

Crap.

So I started meditating. Again. Both because I knew it was good form practice-wise as a Buddhist, and I wanted to be able to genuinely tell my teachers at the Abbey that I did indeed meditate.

I did a lot of research on meditation before I started, both as part of the Foundations of Buddhism class I’m taking and because I wanted to understand what the proper practice is. Listening to guided meditations is all well and good, but the traditional way to do it is without assistance. So, no buffer, no hand-holding.

I read a lot about walking meditation as an alternative to those who had issues with sitting for long periods, and that sort of appealed to me, but since I have the whole Spina Bifida thing, walking is something I *have* to think about. I don’t have a tremendous amount of physical balance so I have to literally think about every step I take or I basically go off the rails. I start shuffling sideways (even backwards) if I don’t pay attention. This dismayed me when I was younger, but the older I get, the more humorous I find it. Another thing is that if my family (and even most of the cats) see me walking across the floor, they know it is imperative NOT to step in front of me because I cannot physically stop walking. It takes a few seconds for my brain to get the message to my legs to stop moving. It’s like I set a course for myself in my brain and I go for it, and there’s no “split second” stopping or turning or evading anything. It’s a joke around here, but, anyway, the walking issue is very real. No walking meditation for me.

I decided to meditate in the pool, instead. I have been swimming laps and distances for so long now (every day for the last 25 years- more than half my life) that swimming is literally muscle memory now. I get in the pool, I swim. I don’t think about breathing or moving my arms or legs or even keeping in the lane, I just go. I pretty much feel more at tease in the pool than I do anywhere else, so I felt like that would probably be the perfect place to meditate.

So I started meditating for 10 minutes at the end of my swims. No music, no guided meditations, no stopping for breath. Just straight swimming for the time I’m meditating.

The first few times I did it, I was BORED and restless. I usually spend my hours swimming by thinking of things and entertaining myself and listening to music on my waterproof iPod shuffle. I fill my mind with whatever is interesting at the moment and sustains it: art, music, movies, fiction I’m writing, random patterns, weird science-y ideas. Always with music in the background. Always always. I have swam without music before, but only in dire straits- like, waiting for the battery to recharge on my music device. And it’s been grueling. I give mad props to anyone who can swim hours without music, because I can’t do it.

The one thing I have always noticed about swimming is that if anything is bothering me, it always comes up. And comes up over and over again until I work on it.  There’s nowhere to hide from your thoughts when you are swimming. Since I’m stuck in the pool with nothing to really look at or focus on, the issues work themselves out. I have had a lot of amazing insights about myself and the world in the pool, and I don’t think I would have had those same insights if I hadn’t been swimming- I also work out on a recumbent elliptical machine and when I’m on there, it’s NOT the same as when I’m on the pool. The pool is like mind soup. So I guess, in a way, I have been practicing a lower level of insight meditation for years in the pool, but I always had an out- if a better thought came around, I’d go ahead and ride it away from my emotions. With meditation, you can’t do that.

When you meditate, you’re not supposed to shut your thoughts off because that’s completely impossible. Instead, you are supposed to just be AWARE of your thoughts as they come up, and then try and not linger on them. Just try and focus back on something immediate (like your breath or a bodily sensation or a mantra or something else) to sort of “zero out” your mind- as James Baraz says, it’s like pushing the “clear” button on a calculator. All the while, you get an opportunity to observe what sort of thoughts arise and how they make you feel, and you learn something about yourself in the process- that’s the “insight” part of meditation.

And that’s freaking hard. Seriously. Anyone who says it’s easy is either a master meditator or a liar. For me, at least, if my mind was actually a calculator, the “C” button would be worn out and broken because of all the times I have had to clear my mind during meditation.

From the first few days meditation, I realized that my mind is very much like an over-eager hostess. When she sees my “brain plate” is empty, she immediately offers me something she’ll know I’ll love or take an interest in. “Here’s some art I know you love. How about this beautiful wash of colors? You know you are a sucker for a cute cat! Remember this funny story from your childhood that you forgot? Hey, here’s Tom Hiddleston! Is there any position in the universe that’s actually FIXED since everything in space is always in motion?”

I have learned through various neuroscience classes that shutting down my mind in a rude way is a disservice, because I will adapt that behavior as a way of handling myself. So I am trying to be gracious. That system has worked much better than the “WILL YOU KNOCK IT THE F*CK OFF BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO MEDITATE HERE’ attitude I had at first. Which is bad because it makes your brain associate meditation and mindfulness as negative, aggressive things. I am trying to work out a deal with my sweet, well-meaning “hostess mind” that if I need something I will come to her first. And every time she offers me something I tell her “no, thank you”.

The biggest issue that I have is that I think a lot about meditation and mindfulness and Buddhism WHILE I am meditating, which feels like a trap. It’s all “I’m swimming, I’m paying attention, swim swim swim, I’m being mindful…” and then 30 seconds later I realize I’ve started thinking about the Buddhist qualities of mindfulness and a dharma talk I heard about it and that’s *still* getting lost in thought.

And, always always always always “AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?” which is a constant thought. 100000x times a minute, that question pops up. Any time anything shifts, any time I feel anything, it’s always “WHAT IS THAT? IS THAT A MEDITATIVE STATE OR IS IT A DISTRACTION? OKAY, LET’S GO THROUGH EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER LEARNED OR HEARD ABOUT MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS AND FIGURE OUT IF THIS EXPERIENCE IS LISTED.” And then *that’s* a whole train of thought.

So I have no idea if what I am doing is “right” or not. But I have had some interesting experiences that I haven’t had before, so I keep coming back, every day, and trying again.

The key thing to remember is that meditation is JUST practice. It’s not the *actual* event. Real life out of the meditation is the actual event. You are training your mind to function differently in everyday life- you are training your brain to function differently when you’re NOT meditating. So what happens during meditation doesn’t matter very much, push comes to shove. I mean, it does in higher levels of Buddhist practice, but right now my focus in Buddhism is not on cosmology or accessing a higher realm via my meditation, it’s the here and now.

 

As far as things and feelings I have noticed:

–  After a few days of the swimming meditation, my thinking mind slowed down a little. When the thoughts came, which they did, I was able to recognize them and then pull my focus back to the movement of my arms, the feel of the water on my skin, the reflections of light on the bottom of the pool.

– Then a bit later I started noticing little tiny moments of time in between everything in which there was no thought arising, no reaction to things- just open clear space. And it was quiet and calm. But these moments are flashes, and not a constant. And as soon as you notice them, they disappear, because you start an active process in your brain because you start cataloging and analyzing them and you miss the next moments.

– I started noticing that I could go several laps with my focus on one specific thing- the sound of my arms cutting through the water, the feel of my body balanced right on the edge of the water, the feel of the cool air on my back. I could hear the thoughts sort of rumbling away in the background, but I was so focused on the one specific part of my body or sensation that my thoughts didn’t articulate or pop up.

– Then I started noticing I was able to focus on weird things *inside* my body- a weird “float-y” space in the center of my chest that moved along with my arms and my heart (it reminded me of that floating thing in the Magic 8 Ball or a floating compass), A spot in my lower back that shifted a bit with every movement of my legs. One day, I had cramps and spent a bunch of time just feeling them- not really having a judgement on them.

I started wondering if these physical sensations and “focus” was not me actually being mindful but completely zoning out, and what the difference between the two is. I mean, I know that even though you’re calming the mind, you can’t zone out- you have to stay alert. It’s a very weird paradox, and there’s sort of this super thin line between alert consciousness and a still mind. But it’s a little like riding a bike- you have to get going a little bit and then you just sort of hit the sweet spot of balance and you *know* it when it happens. But with meditation, once you lose the sweet spot, it’s not quite as easy to find it again. At least not at the level I am at.

– A few days ago, I had a the weird sensation that my body was standing still, but the water was moving around me. It was *intense*. I told Tom about it later that day and he said it sounded like what happens when you drive through a car wash- where you get that feeling that the car is moving when it’s not. That’s *exactly* what it was like, but I’d never experienced it from meditating or swimming. I actually got goosebumps and got dizzy, so I shifted to paying attention to the reflection of light on the bottom of the pool. A few seconds later, I got the feeling like I was swimming *into* the reflections, not above them. Plus the dizziness and goosebumps again. It was *not* unpleasant, just sort of otherworldly. I was dizzy the rest of the day.

I have not been able to recreate those circumstances, but I also know I’m not supposed to because that’s a form of grasping and it’s the biggest issue with meditation (and even life)- you experience something cool, even super briefly, and you grasp on to it and are desperate to find that feeling or clarity or insight again. And as you start grasping and craving, your intentions shift from wholesome to unwholesome and the process sort of disintegrates.

 

So, what I am finding is that meditation is a constant process of accepting the moment, recognizing and seeing all that’s in it, and then letting it go RIGHT AWAY so you don’t miss the next moment.  It goes by incredibly fast, and the moments are broken down into little bits of stuff that happens and changes constantly, so it’s very hard to find the way to observe that without grasping to it or trying to categorize it or catalog it or react to it.

One thing I have come to realize is that we, as humans, miss a TREMENDOUS amount simply by all the activities our brains do judging and categorizing everything. I mean, that’s a function of our bodies and brains, we can’t shut it down. But we can notice it and slow it down. Recognize those tiny tiny pauses with stillness and just experience them as they pass. Life in those moments is so … different. I’ve only experienced a brief tiny bit of that, but I sort of understand why people who are experienced in meditation and skillful at reaching those states would commit themselves to this practice.

I *get* it now. But it’s still freaking hard. It’s 30 minutes (or whatever) of concentration and 30 minutes of trying to walk a tightrope between attention and scrutiny, and even finding that tightrope is extremely difficult, not to mention trying to stay on it.

But I’m going to keep trying for ONE reason- it has made my life outside the pool richer. A few days after I started meditating, I started finding humorous things *much* funnier than I did before. Like, I started noticing myself cracking up again, which I don’t think I have done in a long time. That was really odd. Really odd. I felt myself laughing so much more easily, like I was just letting myself enjoy the humor and not scrutinize it.

I also noticed myself noticing little moments more- the other morning I was pouring myself some tea and all the sudden I started thinking “that’s beautiful! It looks like liquid amber flowing!” and being REALLY in awe of it. Then I rolled my eyes at myself (which is not a great reaction) because I have poured myself tea in the morning for the last 20 years. What was the big deal? I just realized a quality of it  that hasn’t affected me before.Or maybe I wasn’t in a place where I could appreciate something like that. Or even catch it as it happened. I don’t know.

I just notice a lot more, and those little things affect me in a good way. It’s like the volume and saturation has been turned up a bit in life.

My mood is a little more forceful, to be honest. I feel more rooted in who I am and what feels right. I don’t dither as much. I am aware of when I’m feeling good and feeling crummy and unproductive and avoiding that stuff a little more. Indecision is the worst feeling ever, and I get stuck in it a lot, especially with making art, and I suddenly recognize it when it comes up and immediate understand how much I hate feeling it, so I am able to shut it down more easily. Even with making art, I’m feeling “so what if it’s good? Just make art.” That’s a BIG shift for me.

I guess the point of all this is I feel like I *recognize* more things for what they are. I don’t know if it’s meditation or just where I am in life, but I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t think the mindfulness practice isn’t shifting things, at least a little bit.

Who knows? In a few weeks I may decide it’s not working. I may not stick with it. But right now, I’m going to keep going with it.

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Edward Hopper "Cape Cod Morning"

Edward Hopper “Cape Cod Morning”

This started as an “around here: outside my window” post but it evolved into a brain dump about weather, and the seasons, and mindfulness,  and social media (yes, again. Now that I’m off chatty social media, I really can’t help notice all the little ways it influenced me and the way I move through life.)

I think it’s pretty obvious by now I MISS THE SEASONS. Big time. I really thought I would get used to the lack of seasons here in south Florida, but the truth is, I haven’t. Especially in spring and summer.

I never realized how much I depended on the seasons and the corresponding weather to sort of guide me through the year, to function as a foundation for things, until I moved here and lost them. Don’t get me wrong- I love the fact I can swim year round and it doesn’t get freezing cold (cold + bone, joints, neurological, spinal stuff = PAIN) but I’d love some cooler months, no threat of hurricanes, plus a real sunshine-y blue sky summer. Just a little bit more seasonal stuff.

Right now, it’s spring. Well, sort of. I’m not really sure we have what could be called “spring”. This time of year, here in Florida, it just gets hotter, and then you can’t keep the doors and windows open anymore because there’s no more breeze and the humidity is up to 100%, so that’s how we know it’s spring. Our real spring is more in the fall, when the trees bounce back from the summer heat and flowers start blooming again and it feels like everything is waking up.

So this is just kind of pre-summer. It reminds me of mid-July in New York, where I grew up. Just more humid. We have a few more months of this, then we get hurricane season, which is another term for “summer in Florida”. Hurricane season is a bit of a bear, not just because we have to keep an eye on long term weather, but because it’s stormy all the time.

Normally, I’m a fan of a good storm (feels cozy) but because I am a swimmer, lightning is a BIG deal. I have to keep a constant eye on the radar and the sky, especially when I’m in the pool. I have gotten really good at reading radars hours in advance, and determining what’s going to happen by the color of the clouds and the movement of the air and by watching any living things that live outside. I remember I once commented on Facebook that I could always tell when it was going to rain if there were no lizards around- Marco Island is literally crawling with them, but they disappear and take cover before a storm. Someone scoffed at it, but if you spend any time outside you realize that nature’s often a better predictor of severe weather than any weatherman.

Anyway, lightning is freaky and scary. I’ve seen it come out of of nowhere- a single little cloud, and all the sudden the blue sky turns the color of charcoal and it sounds like a bomb went off. If you want to spend time near the water in summer, you just have to be on guard for it. That’s just the bottom line rule of living in Florida.

But I’ll admit- after 18 years of it, I’ve become more than a little phobic of lightning. I don’t enjoy that feeling of being on high alert all the time. That’s one of the reasons why I’m always so happy when summer is over- I can literally feel myself unwinding and uncoiling as September ends and October begins. We suddenly get a cooler period of weather- we’ll wake up one day and thermometer reads 79. And then 75. And then 72. It’s *so* refreshing.

And the sun suddenly goes from being a blinding hot ball directly above to being a golden glow behind the leaves of the trees, leaving dappling shadows all over and setting before 9pm.

All of these things are like magic little gifts, at least to me. Just when it seems summer has gone on forever, then comes autumn. It’s pretty much the thing that keeps me going all summer- at the end of it is this little magic period of just a few weeks, when the world comes back to life in this golden, sparkling way. I feel this quickening inside every.single.year that I don’t feel any other time of year. One day I will notice the shadows changing and I’ll just feel it inside and get instantly happy. Like I said- magic.

I think the way I have learned to cope with having no real seasons is by paying big attention to any little shifts in the weather. I’ll take anything I can get. Anytime the weather does anything unusual, especially in the cooler months, I get a little excited. If it’s something that leans towards cool and less humid, I *savor* it. Foggy morning? 68 degrees at noon? Sun moving a little bit away from directly above us? All reasons for excitement and reaction. Maybe not to someone in, say, New York, but to someone in the sub-tropics, all of that is BIG STUFF.

I gotta admit, one of the little side perks of being off social media is weather-related: I no longer feel like an asshole for my honest reactions to the seasons (or lack thereof). Because the seasons down here don’t match with anyone else’s, I don’t have to feel like a Debbie Downer for complaining about Florida’s version of summer while everyone is enjoying their 80 degree blue sky sunshine. Or feel like a big jerk for celebrating the beautiful mild winter mornings while everyone is slogging through dark and ice and snow.

I can feel however I want about our wonky weather any time of the year and not have to feel “is this a reasonable reaction?” about it. I get to notice all the tiny shifts in the weather and really savor and enjoy and celebrate them and make a big deal about them without the instant “ha! You think 40 degrees is cold, try -37546593 and snow! That’s cold!” hand-slappy responses that seemed to be a certainty on Facebook.

It got to the point where it felt like I needed to add a post-script to every weather-related post saying something along the lines of: I LIVE IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA. NO MATTER HOW SEVERE THE SEASONS GET WHERE YOU LIVE, THIS IS UNUSUAL FOR WHERE *I* LIVE AND I WANT TO TAKE NOTE OF IT.

It was kind of a small thing, but it always bothered me.

Another thing I don’t miss on social media: storm trackers. Those are the people who, for some reason, are desperate for a hurricane to hit. These people analyze and post constantly about anything that looks like it might turn into a hurricane, and in doing so they scare the living shit out of everyone else. There are two responses to the “a hurricane is forming!” posts: sensible people Google the storm to see if it’s a real threat (99.9% of the time, it’s not), but the non-sensible people just hit “share” and suddenly the whole island is in a panic about Hurricane Joey which is really just Tropical Depression 618 off the coast of Iceland and has no real chance of even developing into a storm, much less one that will make it across the Atlantic to Florida. But every time the hurricane tracker posts a new update (hourly), with “drastic new information”, the Google search has to be done again, just to make sure nothing has really changed. And the information gets shared again… Two weeks later, the storm fizzles out in the Atlantic and everyone feels absolutely exhausted.

But then there’s a post about a NEW storm…

I won’t miss that this summer. In fact, I’m kind of breathing a giant sigh of relief to be away from that aspect of things.

One thing that IS different this year, and that relates to the weather, is the butterflies. I have to admit that last summer was very, very different because all the sudden we were caring for a bunch of butterflies and that suddenly took precedence over fretting over dormant plants and soggy containers in the garden from all the rain. We were too busy caring for the butterflies that were suddenly living in the garden to notice all the gardening we couldn’t do. The summer really kind of flew by, to be honest- we measured it in cycles of eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and butterflies. Each cycle for each breed. It adds up to weeks and months without even noticing how much time has flown by.

And the butterfly related stuff got us outside despite the rain and humidity. In fact, towards the end of summer, we started spending every evening out on the lanai together before dinner, just hanging out while Tom closed up for the evening and Grace and I read.

The summer wasn’t about the weather as it was about all the butterflies. It was something to look forward to every day. It’s nice to have that now- a real reason to be here for the summer. Something meaningful and beautiful to look forward to. Swallowtails and monarchs and buckeyes and sulfurs. We were too late for the Swallowtails last year, so we’re hoping that we can find some eggs this spring and bring them into the garden. We have the host plants ready to go for the caterpillars to eat, and a garden full of nectar plants for the butterflies to drink- we just need the caterpillars to move in…

Since a lot of the species of butterflies disappear during the winter months, and re-appear in spring and early summer, we’re actually just looking at a few weeks until butterfly season. So in a time of year I’m usually fretting about there’s now something really cool on the horizon.

Before I stop yammering on about seasons and social media, there’s one last thing:

One big unexpected perk of being off social media emerged during the holidays (all of them, but especially Christmas…): the stress of celebrating went way way WAY down because I wasn’t seeing all those holiday-related posts. Without social media, there weren’t any time tables and hallmarks for the holidays anymore. We could get the tree up when we had time (mid-December, and we only did two small trees this year), get the gifts wrapped when we had a moment and everything we ordered arrived (a few days before Christmas), do our usual little family celebration (went to see Star Wars and had dinner at our favorite restaurant a few days before Christmas, opened gifts here on Christmas Day, but no big home cooked meal) and it was all lovely and perfect for us.

I’m not much of a holiday person (I do like Thanksgiving a lot, but the December holidays…) and for years seeing all the social media posts of people prepping their houses and doing wonderful crafts and decorating their multiple trees and baking amazing treats and getting ready for huge family gatherings really was very very very difficult. When I was a kid, the holidays were magic and busy and amazing and cozy, but since finishing school and moving to Florida, it’s a whole different story- my parents are nearby but none of my extended family, and I’m an only child so it’s much more quiet. For years I felt like I should do so much more for the holidays, to fill in all those gaps left by the lack of extended family and gatherings and winter weather and cozy feeling, etc. and I tried for a while, but it just created a lot of unnecessary stress and fuss and left me depleted.

I finally realized that the holidays ARE different now- I was in grad school until I was 25, and when I was a student, holidays meant winter break which was four weeks of completely unscheduled time with no responsibilities, and doing things like shopping and wrapping gifts and decorating and baking were wonderful ways to spend that time- those things were so much fun. Now that life is life, and there is no four week holiday break in December in which all responsibilities fall to the wind, the holidays are different. So I started embracing a simpler way of approaching it, and it helped so much, but I still felt kind of horrible about it all because the media is all DECORATE ENTERTAIN HOST ENCHANT CELEBRATE COOK EAT GATHER and I have been being pulled in an “enjoy, relax, rest” direction. Now that I’m less exposed to that, it’s so much more peaceful. We all enjoyed it so much more.

It’s kind of like I got my own sense of the seasons and the cycles of life back, in a way, by disconnecting and being more mindful. I kind of wish I had done it years ago, but it’s kind of like how I feel with the whole Buddhism thing- I wasn’t ready until I was ready.

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I mentioned in my last post (or the one before it, whatever) that I had kept an art journal back in summer/fall but then sort of let it go when I got back into painting. Also, let’s be honest- the weeks leading up to the election (and the weeks after) were extremely anxiety-ridden and the idea of working through that in this particular journal (which was something that was a place of reflection, mindfulness, and peace) was too much for me.

The journal wasn’t a scrapbook, per se, because besides some Instax prints, I wasn’t recording life as much as recording my emotions and feelings. I just wanted a space where I could cut and glue and curate. For a long time I thought an art journal had to include some art making ON the pages, but then I realized it can be whatever it is. Since I was doing so much watercolor last summer, I started including scraps of paper that I watercolored on along with collaged bits of ephemera and magazine images and other things I have collected.

I haven’t gotten back to it- yet- but I still am very interested in it and passionate about it. I think now that I am finally getting my painting process integrated (meaning: I figured out a way to explore all my passions- watercolor, acrylic, collage, mixed media, stamping, print making, etc.- and include them into ONE finished project) I will have the head space for going back to art journaling. But I feel no pressure- when it’s time, it will be time.

I thought I’d share some of the pages from the current art journal.

This was as I was recovering from my surgery. The lyrics “Some winters are harder than others” are from an Innocence Mission song (one of my favorite bands – *swoon*) and they sort of followed me all winter as I struggled with my health. So I included them along with the hospital wristband and a photo of the screw that pushed through the side of my foot.

 

More recovering- lyrics from a Rickie Lee Jones song (“she has been driven beyond all towns and all systems by now, and though it is long past too, far she keep going” – sort of my personal mantra) and a wonderful quote from Rachel Naomi Remen.

(As I look through this now I see a definite theme of healing, and also a lot of hints of me moving towards Buddhism… interesting.)

 

art journal from 2016

Trying to figure out what was next- I wanted to use the surgery and recovery as a way to really make a fresh start. I had been depressed for literally years (since Delilah passed) and wanted to finally figure it out and break free of that little fog that I couldn’t seem to shake.

 

The quote grabbed me and now it speaks volumes.

 

These pages definitely reflect the summer weather- rainy and stormy. I also included some bits from some snail mail, an old stamped image (the Japanese pattern), some labels from washi tape, and a test swatch of my Daniel Smith watercolor palette.

 

More personal stuff (India.Arie lyrics… from the song “Slow Down”)

 

Talking about the butterflies that came inside the garden with a vintage scientific illustration.  The flip side of the journal card is:

A collage of little postcard snapshots and a Merri Artist packing slip (watercolors- getting watercolors was a huge part of my summer. So much joy in little tubes of paint.)

 

Random collage page: watercolor playing, watercolor swatch sheets, some ephemera, a card a friend sent that I wanted to hold on to, a clipping from a magazine, some packaging from a Japanese notebook.

 

Going into fall and thinking about change and passion… and the idea of rest.

 

Getting so excited for fall and winter. Packaging materials and my first Instax prints.

 

VERY happy it was fall. Less journaling and just some collage.

 

Moving towards more mindfulness.

 

Celebrating the autumnal equinox. It was still pretty warm here, but ANY change in weather and the cessation of daily rain and storm made me so very very very happy.

 

The last page I worked on.

So not a lot of “around here” kind of documenting at all. But I kind of needed to turn inward a bit, especially as I recovered from surgery and was trying to figure out what was next for me.

As I look at this, I realize that this kind of journal might be really useful as I work my way through my classes. I have SO much spinning around my head- so many ideas and insights and discoveries and questions- and maybe expressing it in images and bits of words and quotes might help me feel like I’m working through it. Sometimes when I record something in my head, it allows me to let go of it because I know it’s somewhere for me to go and find it, if I need to.

Thank you so much for looking at all this and I hope you are having a lovely, peaceful day. <3

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 The peace we need in our lives is not a rock, it’s a river. It isn’t rigid, it flows. The “right thing to do” may look different in different situations.

What’s going on around here:

In my head…
It’s been so long since I wrote one of these I don’t even know where to begin.

I guess a (not-so) quick update?

….

Me: back in school for Buddhism, still swimming every day, making art almost every afternoon.

I’m actually making more art now than I think I ever have – I don’t know why the big shift, but I feel more invested in the process of making art and less invested in the outcome, so it’s taken the stress out of it. I have been trying to get to this stage for years- just feeling like art in any form is worth doing, no matter the outcome, so I’m working very hard on maintaining the momentum by creating something every day.

Right now my focus is almost exclusively painting. Watercolors on paper and canvas, acrylic on canvas, and collages of painted bits of paper. I haven’t art journaled or scrapbooked in months, and although I am still really interested in art journaling, I have no desire to do it at the moment. I am actually not documenting life in any way- not even taking photos- and it feels okay. It feels more important to just focus on painting for the moment.

As far as the Buddhism thing, I do my classes and reading at night after dinner. I find that it’s the best time to focus, and although I often go to bed with a million ideas and “what if?”s in my head, I tend to remember more.

During the day when I’m in my studio, I listen to Dharma talks, which are little talks on Buddhism and philosophy and psychology and meditation and things like that. A few people asked me what Dharma talks are: they are basically like TED talks or really interesting podcasts, with a bit of Buddhism thrown in. Because Buddhism emphasizes education (the tradition is still considered oral, even though there’s a ton of written information) and it’s considered really excellent karma to pass on the tradition, there are a TON of Dharma talks available online. Thousands. It’s pretty amazing what’s out there if you look.

As far as my daily schedule, it’s this: I get the random stuff done around here in the mornings, swim in the early afternoons, and then paint after lunch until dinner, and after dinner do school stuff.

I’d REALLY like to get my mornings under control- I waste a lot of time in mornings trying to wake up and focus and get stuff done. I will openly admit to spending a lot of time in mornings looking at art-related stuff (mostly art supplies) online. I think there’s a time for that, but not at the expense of other things I’d rather be doing but can’t stir up the energy or focus to do. It’s kind of like I spend the mornings gearing up to get my butt in the pool. I’m hoping to shift into doing some coursework in the morning, too.

I’m strongly considering signing up with Sravasti Abbey (a super cool Buddhist abbey here in the US- the minute I saw their website I knew I had found something amazing) for their four year (!!!) series of education focused more on the practice and path of Buddhism instead of being an academic overview. I’m wanting to do something like that and I love the Abbey and their Dharma talks, but of course I’m a tiny bit hesitant because I feel a bit stretched for time as it is.

Also, there are a few minor idealogical differences (if they are even that? I’m too much of a newbie to know.) I am really, really open to all views of Buddhism as I enter in to this and I definitely defer to those who have studied this path longer. And I’m not remotely interested in debating the ins and outs of my (possibly incorrect) beliefs with this amazing group who have literally dedicated their lives to it. I’m not interested in being the person who always raises their hand or has some sort of “But…!!!” reaction to everything.

But I don’t want to either “fake” my way through the courses (writing what is “right” and “correct” vs. what I actually think in the personal refections), nor do I want to bend my own process in the quest to be a “good” student of Buddhism. Does that make sense?

There are just some beliefs and perspectives I have that have arisen from personal experience (things I’ve come to know independent of Buddhism- my *own* form of enlightment and awareness) and I strongly believe that it’s important to honor those things. I mean, if the animal compassion thing were not such a big part of Buddism, I still would believe with my whole heart that humane treatment of animals was the right thing, just becaase it’s something fundamental to me. You know what I mean?

For example, the nuns at the Abbey refer to reincarnation quite a bit, which is part and parcel for Buddhism, but I’m still wishy washy on how to translate it into my own life.

I mean, I believe in karma. And I love the idea of the Five Aggregates, which is the Buddhist response to the pre-Buddhist belief that there is an unchanging, fixed self that resides deep inside us and calls the shots and controls our body and is apart from suffering. I’m actually ideologically open to the idea of reincarnation (I absolutely love the Buddha’s view of the Cosmos, and I love studying it, and reincarnation is an essential part of that…) but I feel like right now my whole view of reincarnation is better served by thinking of every *day* as a new cycle of life, rather than thinking in a scale of thousand of literal lifetimes. I believe in Samsara (cycle of birth and death) but I like to engage in it as an every day thing rather as thinking of it as a cycle of lifetimes.

Also, the nuns at the Abbey are pretty firmly in the “the human body is impermanent (and quite vile if you really look at it close enough), so don’t get attached to it or upset when it changes and ages” camp which is absolutely the truth and it resonates with me- the impermanence of things is something I struggled with for years (I hate change!) but something that ultimately proved itself to be true time and time again. And the body is pretty much the BEST example of that you can find- it changes every single minute! One day it feels great, later that day its tired and run down, then its energized again.  All change, all the time.

But after 42 years of Spina Bifida and taking care of this particular body (and trust me, spending my fair share of not appreciating it and being angry with it), I’ve come to have respect for it. I do find something beautiful about the way the human body works every moment of every day. The way the body grows, and then grows old. The way it heals and the way it sometimes doesn’t. As I’ve gotten older, and gone from not understanding my body at all to sort of knowing it inside and out, I actually started to wonder if I was “matched” to this body because I actually have the disposition to care for it the way it requires. And that’s perhaps a wonky approach, Buddhism-wise. But it’s important to me.

On the other hand, I certainly don’t think the human form is something to glorify and worship and even covet. I mean out of everything in nature, the human body is not one of my top favorite forms or processes. I do think the human body and the systems inside it are pretty damn cool, just as I would feel about any organic thing in the universe. I don’t disavow my human body because it’s getting older and can be pretty gross at times. All living things are gross, but they are also beautiful. My personal approach is to respect and admire all things (like human bodies) without turning it into worship or reverence. I think there is a “middle path” (which is the Buddhist approach to everything- finding that middle sweet spot- not too much, not too little- which changes every moment) regarding the opinion of the human body.

So I have a few “quirky” ideas about things, but I don’t want to grandstand about them. I’m not interested in creating a fuss or disrespecting these teachers who know this stuff in and out- I just want a place to learn and maybe find a little bit of community. I’m probably thinking *way* too much into this and just need to go ahead and sign up and see how it goes. I’m sure I’m not the first student who has her own little view of certain aspects of Buddhism.

My main concern actually isn’t the ideology, but the sincere time commitment. I don’t want to half-ass it. It isn’t a lot- several hours a week, and a lot of the coursework is watching their Dharma talks (which I already do…) so it seems like exactly what I am looking for: a way to really immerse myself in the practice and see how it goes. I just want to go into it willing and ready to give it whatever it requires.

….

Tom is recovering from a fairly serious back injury – he is scheduled for his third round of injections in his back and is hoping these will finally get him over the worst parts of the pain.  After the second round of injections (two weeks ago…) he was able to get back to the gym and is ready to start physical therapy. He had to put off testing for his black belt in karate In December because of the back problems, which was a little devastating, but he’s eager to get back.

The back thing was one of those things were you think you just pulled a muscle and then a week later you wake up and realize “this isn’t going away, and in fact it’s getting worse” so you have to really be assertive about it. Tom turned 50 a few weeks ago which he’s not pleased about (especially since this is the short window in the year when I am EIGHT years younger than him  in May when I turn 43 it goes back to being seven years.) And as you get older, you have to be a lot more aggressive with health and well-being if you want some quality of life- you really do have to take everything seriously and make sure it’s not something more than it is. Like, one day you are healthy, and the next you have a heart problem or blood sugar issues that came out of nowhere.

It’s kind of scary- I have always been vigilant about my health (I really had no choice) but a few years ago a lot of the non-issue stuff (like dry skin) became this HUGE important thing that required a lot of attention and care. And the shift takes a while to get used to. It’s almost like at this stage in life you go through a second growth spurt- when you were in your teens, you had to change the way you took care of yourself. It’s the same now.

In some ways it’s not all terrible because you can develop this appreciation for your body and all its systems as you get older and learn how to really pay attention to it. I am finally settling into my own skin, and it’s an amazing feeling for me. I mean, my body has been carrying me around for 42 years now, and I am learning to really appreciate it. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s in a battle with it, and not remotely grateful for it (I sometimes joke that my main job in life is as the owner/operator of a franchise of Spina Bifida) and then it started to shift for me in my 30’s. Now that I’m 42 and I’ve swam all these years… I found the thing that sustains me. Karate is Tom’s swimming, and I know he wants to get back. Hopefully soon.

….

Grace is in 5th grade- she still LOVES writing and reading, she does art and sports for fun, she thinks nerd/geek culture is super cool, she’s developed an interest in science (especially making weird chemical concoctions which lead to putty/slime- there is SO much slime and putty around this house.) She’s developed an interest in sci-fi, including Dr. Who (?!!?!?!) and Tom watches it with her. It’s kind of ironic since I knew someone in college who was an obsessive Dr. Who fan and I really couldn’t get into it (in fact, I will admit that his dedication likely made me averse to it), so now that Grace and Tom watch it it’s sort of an interesting full-circle moment for me. Now when I study at night, I hear “EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE” from the other room. Daleks and Dharma, *strange* match.

(They were both THRILLED when a Dalek showed up in the new Lego Batman movie.)

The new thing is the socialization- now that Grace and her friends all have phones and chat/interact online outside of school, there’s a lot of coming over here and going over there with her friends and sleepovers and all of that. Its kind of awesome because she organizes her own hangouts and we just have to clarify with other parents and get her there/get ready for kids to come here. I know some people love love love tiny babies and toddlers and things (I liked toddlerhood, to be honest…) but there’s also a LOT of wonderful things about having an older child. I really like that she’s a participating member of the family, and we can talk about all sorts of things. I really think as a parent there are a lot of amazing and wonderful things about every age she’s been. If you’re a parent of a young child who worries about what might be lost as they get older (like I was, so many people told me “enjoy every moment and don’t take it for granted because it goes by so fast and you will always miss it”, etc.), take heart- for every little “cute” habit they lose, they gain *so* much. As much as I miss the little short-haired toddler sort of lumbering around, babbling, dismantling things, and doing insanely adorable things all the time, I genuinely enjoy the young adult that I share my life with just as much. In my opinion and experience, a child has something to fiercely love and admire at all ages.

….

The cats and the birds and the gecko and the butterflies are all doing their thing. It’s a little community they have going, fascinating to observe and think about and be part of. I know I say this a lot, but the ability to live with animals (especially the cats because they are so strong-willed and have their own habits and routines around here) is one of the most amazing parts of my life. It feels like such a privilege. They are completely different, but we all connect and interact and live together under one roof. I mean, how cool is that, to co-exist?

….

Okay, this is long. As usual. I am going to continue a few more of the “Around Here” topics in another post.

Hope you have an amazing, restful (or exciting) and joyful weekend.

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you should dwell with the door to your senses well-guarded

“… you should
dwell
with the doors to
your senses
well-guarded.”
– Buddha

That’s what I have been doing the last few months- dwelling with the doors to my senses well-guarded. That’s the reason I haven’t updated- I’ve just been keeping quiet and busy with art and with school (more on that later) and with life on a sort of immediate level.

After the election, I went into a bit of a frenzy. For a week after the election, I believed that if I really tried hard enough, I could lend my voice to the literally millions and someone might actually *listen*.  Then I sort of shut down. Not in a terrible way, just in a “no one is going to jump in and fix this” kind of way.

It wasn’t actually the election that shifted everything for me, though- it was something I saw a few days later, on Facebook. It was animal-abuse related (a post hoping to raise awareness and find and prosecute someone) and something that will haunt me forever. I cried for days over it. That was the thing that changed everything for me.

After I saw the story on my feed, I immediately logged off Facebook and blocked Facebook from my computer, deleted it from my phone. I also shut down a bunch of my email accounts and blocked all other social media sites. I took a huge step back from my computer (I was never much of a phone person to begin with, so the phone wasn’t a challenge…) I just felt like I had to take control, once and for all, to what I was ingesting, news and media-wise.  I spent a lot of 2016 in a constant panic about the election and I was just DONE. I’m all for being informed, but the glut of shit that is floating around on social media sites and news sites is toxic and repetitive. It’s not necessary.

And I realized that I didn’t have to participate, and the thought of shutting off some of that flow of information felt like a relief. I logged off those sites and haven’t logged back on since that day, except to deactivate my Facebook account.

You know that meme that goes around after any sort of crisis, the Mr. Rogers quote about “look for the helpers”?

In November, I realized there weren’t enough helpers. Not for the election, not for all the people affected by it (on both sides). Not for abused and neglected animals, or citizens in countries where elections like this happen constantly, etc. Not for the environment or the people feeling lost and alone. Etc.

I immediately realized that I had to stop screwing around, and do what I could to be a helper.

I’m not talking about becoming superwoman, or an activist, or anything. I did a few days of activism after the election and it just left me depleted. Getting angry just made me angrier. I was tired of spinning out. Everyone was spinning out, and in more articulate ways than I was, so my voice was not adding anything to the mix.

I was thinking a lot about personal ethics and philosophy, especially with the state of the world and US politics. And it kept leading me back to Buddhism. And not in a “hey, I should check that out a little more…” kind of way, but a “hey, it’s time to take this seriously” kind of way.

About ten years ago I got interested in neuroscience and psychology, and it kept leading me to Buddhism. Over and over again. The biggest coincidences was when I would ponder something in my mind and form an idea or ethical stand on something, and I’d google it and it would turn out to be part of the Buddhist philosophy. It just kept happening. I wasn’t looking for Buddhism, but it kept finding *me*.

I did look into Buddhism on a more serious level a few times, but some of the more rigorous parts of the religion and philosophy scared me. Suffering and impermanence are BIG “reality checks” of Buddhism. There is suffering. Everything changes, all the time. Every time I read about those specific “truths” of Buddhism, I backed away. I was looking for a religion that would be the magical antidote to suffering and impermanence, a faith that would comfort me and then lock that bliss in. Peace on earth. Only good things. I was not interested in a religion/philosophy that has “there is suffering” as its first noble truth.

It was when Cecil the Lion got killed a few years ago (by a man who has a house here on Marco Island, no less…) that I found myself really face to face with Buddhism. That event really upset me, on a very deep level. The ONLY thing that was able to comfort me after that situation was one thought: “There is suffering.” For some reason, the idea of an entire faith acknowledging the terrible fact that life on Earth could often hurt was tremendously comforting to me. It let me know that there was nothing I could have done to personally prevent Cecil’s death, and nothing I could do to make it better for him. It was just tragic. And there were other people who were feeling just as broken over it, and as helpless.

If you know me at all, you know I’m a big softie when it comes to animals. Probably the most profound decision I ever made was when I chose to become a vegetarian in my early teens. I wasn’t told to do it, or inspired by someone to do it, and it certainly wasn’t a trend. The suffering of animals was just something that I became aware of on my own, and it was like something inside my shifted and I knew I could NEVER eat meat again. And I haven’t. In thirty years, I haven’t been tempted to eat a single piece of meat or chicken or fish or anything that ever roamed the earth. It was the one little thing I could do to help prevent the suffering of animals. It was just something that clicked inside me and I was at peace with that decision and haven’t questioned it since.

Since then, my devotion to animals has only grown. And it’s a hard thing to feel so incredibly strongly about, especially when 90% of the world doesn’t really give a crap. I just feel very strongly that if we are going to consume animals or use them for their skin or fur, the least we can do is provide them with a decent life while they are alive and give them a painless passing. People go to a pro-life rally and then directly to a pig roast in a friend’s yard, they hunt animals for fun, they kill animals for ritual sacrifice, they fight dogs for sport, they do so much worse. And factory farming… *sigh* Every single day. I’m not accepting of this, but it’s just a part of life. It’s not okay in any way, shape or form, but it all exists. There is suffering. It’s just a part of life on earth.

But, I believe it’s wrong. I’ll go so far as to say that I know it’s wrong. Keep in mind that I write this, and my own child is NOT a vegetarian. We keep a vegetarian house, but she does eat meat and chicken when she’s at her grandparents’ house or at school or with friends. That’s her decision to make.  I know it’s a personal thing. It’s just something I personally don’t have wiggle room for in my own life. It’s a certainty for me, one that came to at a very young age, and one that has not wavered. It’s one of the only things I know for certain in this life.

For a while in the 90’s and the early 2000’s, humane issues were part of the vocabulary of the government, even in a very fringe way. It was an issue connected to the environment, so it got a little ground. But then a bunch of people decided trying to build a time machine to the 1950’s out of the White House was more important than anything else (including the planet) and once again the issue got lost in the mix. Which I understand- like I said, it’s not on everyone’s list of concerns.

But it happens to be the first precept (rule) of Buddhism. No harming living things. Period, end of story. Just because you are human doesn’t mean you are entitled to make any living being suffer for your own sense of gratification. (Which is what I realized and felt so strongly about when I was 13. duh.)

And then this year, with the health problems I had- I kept remembering Buddha’s teaching of the impermanence of things – including negative emotions and tough situations. Meaning, THINGS GET BETTER.

The election itself was a big lesson in how important it is NOT to get attached to certain outcomes. I was devastated by the results because I was very very very attached to a specific outcome. The idea of the election not happening the way I wanted it to was absolutely unthinkable. And yet…

And the reason the election happened the way it did was also because of attachment- millions of people are attached and grasping hard to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore, and a man who promised that he might be able to bring it back for them (which is false speech, which is another “you shouldn’t do that…” thing in Buddhism…) And then there’s ignorance, which is a key issue in Buddhism. Factors of identity, power, etc.

ANYWAY.

As far as diving into Buddhism once and for all, the truth is that I was scared to finally let go of the ragged edges of the Christian faith I had tried so hard to make work for so long. But there wasn’t anything left for me there. It’s so ironic that I spent so many years of my life trying not to make God mad (I’m even scared to write and publish this), and in the end it was *me* who got really mad at God. The specific animal abuse thing I mentioned above was just too much for me. And no one was answering for it.

I know for some people things like the election and other tragedies are sort of personal opportunities to become even *more* faithful in God- I’m very familiar with Job and other similar stories in the Bible, and that just doesn’t resonate with me. It never has. I know lots of amazing Christians, it’s just that I couldn’t ever find my fit in it.

At first, I wanted to do study Buddhism academically, because that’s how I tend to approach things. I figured if I was going to seriously explore converting, and really embracing a faith and philosophy, I needed to be fully informed about it. Regardless of whether I might convert or not, it was something I was very interested in, and had been for years. So the idea of doing some sort of academic study of it appealed to me. (Plus, I’ve been flirting with the idea of going back to school since I finished grad school in 1999.)

I mentioned it to Tom one night and a few hours later he came to bed clutching a bunch of papers- he researched a bunch of online graduate programs in Buddhism for me and printed out a bunch of stuff. One of his co-workers actually went back to school for Buddhism, so he already knew a bit about it.

Two days later I registered for a graduate level Foundations of Buddhism course at Rangjung Yeshe Institute for Buddhist Studies, which is at the University of Nepal. It’s a six month long intensive course on Buddhism- the history, the geography, the ethics, the philosophy, the scriptures- everything. It’s not for credit, because their graduate degree requires residency in Nepal, and that’s not happening for me. But it was everything I wanted, and I knew it would be a good start.

It’s TONS of work. HOURS. TONS of reading and translating and lectures and research and figuring out what the heck the 37 Factors of Enlightment are (and what each of them mean and where they figure in to everything) and trying to puzzle out how there isn’t a self (!!! but this actually makes sense, I’ll maybe talk about that later) to watching three hour long sermons on conditions and causes to try and educate myself on all the things I wasn’t understanding from the class texts and lectures.

The flipside is that I love it. All of it. It’s like a giant puzzle and I love putting it together. Even the stuff I don’t agree with, I can still see how it could work.

There are some super sharp edges to Buddhism. Some “ummmm… wtf?!” moments. But even those don’t make me feel like I’m trying to convince myself of something I don’t deep down believe. I think that’s because Buddhism is fairly fluid- although there are some rigid fundamentalists, in general, the faith has adapted itself to advances in science and the world in general so that it still makes beautiful sense. There’s flexibility to it.

The bottom line: the Buddhist path is all about easing suffering. And learning how to do things via the “Middle Way”, which is not too much and not too little.

You do it not only for the world, but yourself, as well. It’s pretty amazing to have had someone come along and say “all living things deserve to be free from suffering. And that includes *you*” and then create a whole movement around that. I think that’s pretty great, especially for right now. I don’t know what will happen at the end of this academic course- whether I’ll continue on academically or switch my focus to spiritual studies. Maybe I’ll discover something along the path (Zen? Jainism?) that resonates more and follow that. It’s up in the air, but at least I’m planning on spending the next little bit of my life doing something that really feeds my soul as opposed to letting these next few years be solely defined by the state of our government. I don’t want to look back at these years and think of them as dark ages. If I can’t do anything else, at least I can take back my focus, my emotions, my attention, and my time.

So there’s where I’m at. I’m about six weeks into my studies and I’m enjoying it, even though it just took me about two weeks to make my way through just a small part of the material with the translating and research I had to do. It was worth it.

Note No. 1:
Honestly, I DIDN’T want to share any of this. I wanted to just leave it be and keep it to myself and quietly go forward. It feels very personal, and something that I want to keep to myself. It’s like when I first met Tom- I didn’t talk about it for a while, didn’t journal while we were just starting out. I wanted to keep it close and quiet while the roots were growing. I get like that with things that are extremely important or sort of fragile and new to me. This is one of those things.

But a few people asked me about the whole Buddhism thing, so…

There’s this tradition in Buddhism that there’s no proseltizing. But if someone asks you to share your experience, you do it. The history is that when Buddha (who was just a regular guy- no divine being, no God) realized his path, he wasn’t going to teach it. He was just going to live ethically and hope it rubbed off on others. But then someone asked him to please teach what he learned, because it might benefit others. So he decided to go ahead and do it, just in case someone *could* benefit. And it turned out it benefited a LOT of people. So there’s a tradition in Buddhism that if someone asks you about it, or shows interest, you share your experience. Just in case. And it’s tradition for students to find teachers and ask them for education and information, which they freely give. It’s kind of a nice thing.

Note No. 2:
A few people inquired about why I dropped off the face of Facebook and disappeared from online life, and this is why. I feel compelled to write again (which I say a lot, but this time it might be different because:

A) it’s been 20 years (!!!!!!) since I started keeping an online journal, and it still matters to me.

B) I feel a lot more free in what I’m saying because I realize that I might lose a few “sometimes reads” who will read this and think I lost my mind. I’m not too worried about that anymore. I used to be worried about appealing to everyone and keeping it light, but the more I think about what I was writing when I started this journal way back in 1997, the more I realized how much more valuable and useful it was to *me* to have that outlet. When I started writing, no one was reading.

C) Comments are turned off simply because I get too attached to them- I started letting the number of comments indicate to me what sort of posts people like and then found myself not publishing posts I thought might not appeal to people, etc. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from anyone, but I think my journal (and that’s what this is- not a brief blog, but an online journal/diary, hence the very long entries…) will only work if it goes back to being about writing it and expressing things rather than trying to keep people interested. I actually considered starting some anonymous journal elsewhere so I could write and just be free from worrying about how many readers I might offend or bore, but then I realized I can just do that here. I just have to be ready to let go of comments and tracking page visits and stuff, and after so much time away, I’m okay with that.

D) Also, I don’t tend to reply to comments or email (or even texts) because I am SO FREAKING LONG WINDED. I think the long-winded thing is very clear by now. I can’t NOT do that- after 25+ years online I am just coming to terms with the fact that when I write, no matter what the heck it is, it’s going to be long and take a lot of time. So I always think “it’s going to take more than a few minutes, so I will sit down and focus on it later today when I can really give it my attention…” and then I don’t. I have freakin’ emails in my inbox from two years ago that I *fully* intend on responding to.)

(This is all very ironic considering I’m VERY shy and tend to be very quiet in real life. Maybe I just save it all for the computer.)

Note No. 3:
I’m not turning this site into an online Buddha center or anything. I’ve been actually doing a ton more art stuff (mostly painting in acrylic and watercolor – like the little splash/wash thing up above-, and some collage) and I think the reason for that is because being offline so much has freed up some time, energy, and the whole “comparison” thing. I plan on doing a lot more art-related posts now that I feel like I don’t have to share completed works or do tutorials or share everything across every platform. And also those “around here” posts I used to do, because those are fun and also form as a sort of documentation of life. I’ve put scrapbooking and photography totally to the side, and that’s okay- I just want to focus on painting and studying at the moment. So I want to go back to documenting life on some level.

Okay, hope you are really really well. Seriously. And I thank you for reading this. Have an incredibly wonderful weekend.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·
gardenia from the garden

gardenia from the garden

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but this summer was actually a lot busier than I assumed it was going to be!

Foot Surgery:
As far as my foot surgery/recovery, I’m right at the tail-end of that. My surgical incision *just* finished healing, and the welt I had on my ankle (reaction to some coarse gauze they used to wrap my foot after surgery) finally healed. It’s been about ten weeks since I had the surgery, and my surgeon said that the suture/scar will remain sort of sensitive and tender for the next few months. The reason it’s taking longer than usual is because she had to go in through a previous surgical scar, and scar tissues (especially opened twice) is a little harder to heal. So I’m still taking it easy.

Also, I had to do three rounds of fairly heavy duty anti-biotics and they really made me sick and I’m still dealing with the effects of that. I kind of knew it was coming when the warning label on one of the bottles said “may cause intestinal discomfort for several weeks and/or months after medication is finished”. So that’s kind of zonked me out, energy-wise.

I haven’t been “out” much all summer- I go outside and swim every day, spend a lot of time in the backyard just hanging out with Tom and Gracie and reading and writing, and I do stuff like go to the doctor’s office and go get haircuts and stuff like that, but I haven’t done anything that requires me to be on my feet for longer than an hour or so at a time.

Usually we spend every summer at the movie theater and/or going out to Naples to eat and shop a little bit because of the stormy weather, but this summer we haven’t seen a SINGLE movie at the theater or gone out at all. Part of me is all “holy smokes! All the amazing movies I missed! I’m crushed and I miss it so much! And Gracie didn’t get to see Ghostbusters or Captain America or Secret Life of Pets!” and another part of me couldn’t care less, and secretly thinks watching Stranger Things on Netflix was a better experience than watching most of the movies I have seen in the theater in the last year or so.

But I’m ready to get back into “life” again. I’m excited to go see the new fall movies, go to the Botanical Gardens, check out the new Michaels that they built just 20 minutes from my house (!!!!! maybe a Target/Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/good movie theater is next?!) and Paper Source and B&N with Grace (who has become serious about planners and paper supplies and stationery and books), maybe even go to Disney for a few day trips as soon as the weather gets better (I have a little scooter-y thing I use in the theme parks because while I can easily swim five miles, I cannot *walk* five miles!)…

However, I have had sort of a big shift in perspective about being “busy” and what I spend my time on: having not been able to do much of ANYTHING this summer made me realize exactly what it is I really missed doing and what it is I really don’t give a crap about. And as I get back into regular activities, I just sort of want to do what I really want to do, instead of doing things I think I *should* do or think I should enjoy, if that makes any sense. So as I get back doing more stuff, I kind of want to be picky about what it is I do. Even though health problems aren’t fun, it’s sort of a luxury to be allowed to be super picky about how I spend my limited time on my feet. It’s gotta count.

Butterflies
The other thing that happened, out of nowhere, is that we started raising butterflies. This I’ll definitely have to write a longer post about, because it’s pretty much THE main focus of any free time around here.

Let me make it clear we had absolutely no intention of doing this- the butterflies kind of chose us. Long story short: I have a pretty huge container garden inside the screened in lanai (pool cage) of our house. Apparently, a Gulf Frittillary butterfly laid eggs on one of my plants THROUGH the screen and a few weeks later we had about 15 butterflies *inside* the lanai. A few weeks later, we now we have SIX species (Gulf Frits, Zebra Longwings, Monarchs, White Peacocks, Buckeyes, and Atalas), are actively trying to get a few more (Swallowtail, Sulphurs, etc.) by putting host plants outside our screen for butterflies to lay eggs on, and Tom renovated the lanai a bit so that there are parts dedicated to the butterflies. I will write more about this soon, because if we keep doing it, I’m likely to refer to the caterpillars/butterflies from time to time so you know what the heck I am talking about.

“Do What You Love”:
Besides being stuck around the house all summer, one thing that kept me really busy was taking an class called “Do What You Love.” I originally took it three years ago (I think?) and I saved all the materials from it, so it was just a matter of pulling the binder down from the shelf and queuing up the videos on my Mac.

I decided to re-take the class on a whim. Right after the surgery at the end of May, when my routine got thrown upside down and I was sort of shaken up by everything, I realized that the whole experience was an opportunity for a “fresh start”. That doesn’t happen often- when you get FORCED to change your routine and habits. I didn’t want to waste it. Because of the surgery, I suddenly had a bunch of downtime in my hands and was desperate for something that would keep me from going stir-crazy. Ialso wanted to get out of the funk I’ve been in for the last few months (let’s be honest…. years.) I remembered “Do What You Love” and decided to pull out all the class materials and just start from scratch and see what happened. It couldn’t hurt, right?

The good thing about taking the class this summer was that I felt like a complete blank slate. I’ve been so focused on my health that everything else has fallen off my radar. This was a chance to add things back into my life, but be very discerning about it. Like I said, you don’t get that opportunity very often. I mean, every day is a new chance to start fresh, but I am a HUGE creature of routine and habit, and no matter who you are it takes a whole lot of courage to step out of the box, and it’s REALLY uncomfortable to do it. But since the box was being taken away from me and I had nothing to say about it, I figured this was a chance to clean up shop.

I worked on every assignment in earnest, and spent hours and hours doing the writing and working through the questions and trying to dig around inside and really be honest. I can honestly say when I started this class around I literally had no idea what I loved (except maybe my family, being healthy, watercolor paints, and swimming) and felt like I was a true blank slate.

So I did all the writing and worksheets and charts and graphs and journaling, and I have to admit, as tedious as it was, it was illuminating. I realized that deep down I felt (and still feel) truly guilty about taking time away from being a “grown-up” to work on anything purely for my own enjoyment. So what I did to alleviate that guilt over the last two decades was take all the activities I loved and “modify” those things so that they felt like “valid” ways to spend time.

For instance, let’s talk about art journaling. I started out scrapbooking during Grace’s adoption ten years ago, but then I realized I liked to art journal more than scrapbooking. So I art journaled, and I loved it. But I started feeling guilty about not thoroughly documenting Grace’s life, and who the heck would care about books full of magazine pictures and quotes in 50 years, anyway? So I mixed the two, but it wasn’t as fun and it got a little confusing. I slowly stopped art journaling altogether because even though I liked art journaling better, scrapbooking served a purpose- it was a “legitimate” and “valid” way to play with papers and tapes and photos. It wasn’t as fun, but it was still a way to be creative and express myself, right? That’s what I told myself, at least.

Then I got obsessed with having to document every single thing that happened, which was overwhelming. Then, last spring, I decided I just didn’t want to document ANYTHING, anymore. I just put it all away and felt relieved. But I started missing art journaling… and sort of tried to convince myself that I could be interested in art journaling but not do it.

Doing the “Do What You Love” class made me realize that while I’m not interested in documenting, what I *am* very, very interested in going back to what I did in my very first art journal: collaging magazine pictures and quotes and bits of art and tape and ephemera together in a big bound book. So I tried doing that again. Some photos and stories from day to day make their way in there, but mostly it’s just a book about what I’m feeling. And I LOVE it. I can’t believe how much I missed doing it.

And even though I literally feel happiness as I work on it, and feel good after as I flip through the pages I have done, I still have a hard time giving myself permission to sit down and work on my art journal. There’s a little voice that says “you are wasting time!” It is just so hard to shut that voice down, but every day I get a little better at it. I think that little voice of disapproval is always going to be there, though- there’s a part of me that will not approve of doing things solely because they make me happy. But now there’s a bigger part of me that knows if I don’t do the things that make me happy, it will have a very big effect on my overall well-being. I’m tired of feeling unhappy. So being a little uncomfortable is worth it.

Another thing from the class that was extremely helpful was the concept of “finite personal resources” : time, energy, and money. One of the more tedious tasks in the class was tracking how I spend all three, but doing it really opened my eyes. Especially in regards to time.

I’ve always known that health and family came first for me, but I didn’t realize how much I shut down everything else on behalf of those things. Our family “thing” is meals- when we’re all home, we eat meals together. Since Tom works from home, we eat a lot of meals together. And because his schedule changes every day, and my morning/afternoon schedule is dictated by my health (how long I’m in the pool, when can get in the pool because of weather, etc, other health-related things that pop up), and Grace has sports and stuff after school, we never have meal times at the same time two days in a row. We never have, and we never will (oh, have we tried.) So it’s kind of a crapshoot.

And since I never know when we might eat, I sort of never start any projects within throwing distance of a possible meal time because I know I’ll be interrupted, and it throws me off my game.

So the whole time tracking thing came in handy, even though I rolled my eyes when I read the exercise. I had to break my day into chunks, and decide what activities could fit into what chunks. I literally made this giant list that says “if you have 15 minutes, you can…”, “if you have 30 minutes, you can…”, etc. Now whenever I have any time, I just pick an activity from the list that feels like it might be fun and do it. I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous and obvious, but I’m completely indecisive and often paralyzed by choice, and I get this weird feeling of obligation to certain projects, and I have the whole guilt thing going on, so it’s good to have the possibilities just spelled out for me. Just knowing I WON’T have time to finish the painting I have been working on but I WILL have time to write something or whatever, and just commit to doing that, makes life so much easier. I don’t have to weight the pros and cons of how I spent my creative time.

I also learned that just because I have a zillion different things I like to do and want to try (especially art-wise) doesn’t mean I have to do them all *now*. Or any time soon. I can still have ideas and sparks of inspiration but instead of trying to figure out how to make them fit into what’s currently going on, I can write file them away for later, and come back to them.

Since taking this approach, I’ve also realized a lot of creative ideas and inspiration actually evolve into something completely different and even better if they are just allowed to simmer for a while. That was a REAL eye-opener. Instead of jumping gung-ho into every new project or painting idea I’ve come up with, or try every tutorial I see online or in a book, I let it sit for a while. Some ideas go away, but some persist and they really solidify and start coming together on their own. Often, several ideas sort of mix up into something else that’s completely unique and cool. And by the time I sit down to work on them, it’s much, much easier. I wish I had known this 15 years ago ;-/. I’ve spent a lot of time jumping into stuff and not liking it and then just writing it off as a done deal. A lot of that stuff is actually coming back now, and being incorporated into new projects. It’s kinda spooky. But fascinating.

Anyway, I enjoyed taking the class and I’m *very* glad I did it. But I dearly missed all the other stuff that has gotten the short end of the straw while I was working on the class.

I hope you had (or are still having) a great summer. Grace starts school tomorrow morning, and she is SO excited. I’m happy for her- she had a good summer because we finally figured out the camp thing, but she’s really in her element when she’s with her friends and doing her after school stuff and team sports and all that. This year she’s doing flute, as well, so she’s psyched for that. It should sound very interesting around here… 😉

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and providing me a place where I can express myself. I know I am long-winded. It’s funny how much I write in these entries considering how little I talk in real life. If I have something interesting to say, I’ll talk up a storm, but un general I’m fairly quiet. You wouldn’t know it from these entries, right?

Have a great Monday 🙂

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sunflowers in the garden (taken in May)

sunflowers in the garden (taken in May)

After my last post I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and looking for little ways to increase it whenever I have the opportunity.

There were two things this week that actually really made a big difference in my overall level of happiness, and I thought I might write them down. One thing I discovered with both of them is that sometimes little things you do to try and increase your happiness don’t have an effect immediately, but make you happier *after* you do them. Interesting. It makes me want to put in an effort to tweak all sorts of little things during my regular days, and see what effect they might have down the road.

Something worth exploring, I think.

Anyway, two things that made a profound difference on my level of happiness:

The first is swimming (still). But, more importantly, taking time to actually ENJOY being in the pool.

One day last week I swam for my hour, and then before I got out of the pool I decided to just float around on my back in the water and relax a bit. Since I have been swimming daily for almost 25 years (!) and consider it a form of fitness, I rarely relax in the pool. It’s kind of like getting on a treadmill just to take a leisurely stroll or something. The pool has become a giant gym to me- not a place of rest. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a time I just got into a pool to just relax and enjoy it. I get in a pool and swim. And I love that, but it’s not relaxing.

If I’m being completely honest, the reason I decided to spend a little time floating in the pool that day was because I was trying to get back in touch with some of the magic that I felt that very first day back in the pool after my surgery, which felt life-changing (literally). But I couldn’t get there and that’s okay. Floating wasn’t magical, but it was nice– I relaxed a bit and floated on my back and listened to a song on my waterproof iPod and watched the clouds move in the sky. Then I got out and got ready to go inside and take a shower.

The funny thing is that when I got out of the pool, I felt like a million bucks. I felt like I had a really great swim. It was like that little relaxed moment at the end changed my perspective of my entire swim, and that shift in perspective didn’t happen until after I got out of the water. So now I take a little time to float around every day after my swim- usually just a few minutes, a song or two on my iPod. But it feels really great.

The second thing is what I do after I swim and shower and get back to my desk everyday. My regular routine has been to make a cup of tea and drink it while I check my email and attend to different things that need doing and figure out what the plan for the day is.

Lately I’ve been bringing my tea into the studio and doing something different- I pull an art book down off the shelf, grab a stack of post-it page markers, and spend a while flipping through the art book, sipping my tea, and getting inspired.

I know this seems like a super simple thing but for some reason it’s become pretty much one of my FAVORITE times of the day. I’m all done with my workout, my swim, taking care of my foot, I’m relaxed, I’m (finally) having my cup of tea, and instead of spinning my wheels and trying to figure out what needs my attention, I just take a little bit of time to get inspired and learn something new and jot down some notes. All my art books are finally being used, and I’m getting so much out of it- just in the week I have been doing it I’ve picked up a bunch of new art techniques and information.

But one thing that has come out of this new little ritual that I was not expecting is that it’s made me realize a lot about making art in general and let go of some of the stuff that’s been preventing me from doing some of the art I want to do be doing.

For some reason the last five years I have gotten really really hung up on the idea of absolutely NOT copying anyone and having everything I create be absolutely original, even though there have been techniques and styles I lovelovelove and really want to try. I’m also really interested in color and pattern and geometry and minimalism (to a degree) and the fact is if you are going to use geometry in your work, especially as the main focus of your composition- someone else has done it. Period, end of story. If you want to use triangles, it’s been done. Same with grids, or lines, or dots.

And really good artists go ahead and do it ANYWAY. It’s classic design. I have tons of pattern books and there are a million different patterns with geometrics in them, but they all are different and unique and beautiful because they each have the hand of the artist who made them inside the art. I’m starting to realize design and composition and subject matter and style are all just tools in art- like the paint and the brushes. As long as you bring yourself and your own expression into the art, THAT’s what makes it unique.

This has been so freeing to me. I’m still a tiny bit hung up on complete authenticity, but it’s loosening. I’m getting super excited to try out some ideas I have been holding on to for a long time.

(A sidenote to this conversation- I have been catching up on Flora Bowley’s “Studio Diaries” art classes from the last few months and one thing I am getting out of all the chats she has with other artists and her Q&As is the realization that not all art has to be for public consumption. Meaning- you can make art solely for yourself.

There’s been this whole movement of “share your work” and “put it out into the universe no matter what” and sometimes it’s okay to just NOT do that. I often DON’T create because I think “oh, I’ll have to share this and my idea isn’t good enough/original/important/won’t be received well” OR “what’s the point of investing this time if it has no value to anyone?”

It’s okay to just sit down with a stack of paper or canvas and paint and just make 100 weird experiments or doodles or abstracts and just have that be it. No other reason other than you want to play with paint to practice how colors mix and when you’re done, they get cut up for a collage or used as scrap paper or even tossed out. Or, keep them if you want to because they are pretty and dreamy but never show them to anyone.

You made something- you put in the hours at your desk, you did the work. That’s what matters. That all counts, even if no one receives it. It counts because you learned and explored and in that period of time, you grew a little bit as an artist. Even if no one sees or knows about it, it count. It counts because within the process of creation, YOU change. You grow, you evolve. Your work might not get out to the world, but that little boost in your own self does. That’s enough.

It’s the same with writing or poetry or photography or dance or whatever- you can just create something, whether it’s big or small, and then never share it with the world. It’s all in the process of creating, and not in the creation- not in the finished product.

I have heard this and have agreed with it forever (and ever and ever and ever), but I never really got it. For some reason, it finally sunk in. And it excites me so much!)

Here’s to a summer of happiness, relaxation, and creative freedom. <3

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so what now?

17 Jun 2016
playing with watercolor and shape

playing with watercolor and shapes

So, I got my stitches out a week ago- Thursday. Awesomesauce.

I’ll be honest, I’m still terrified there might be an infection in there. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I wake up every morning feeling good, but by the end of the day I just feel scared and worn down.

But I did my week of antibiotics, and my doctor is pleased, so… I have to trust her. And trust this whole process. But it’s so hard. This pin has been lurking for several years, and I’ve felt on the literal edge of disaster for the good part of the last year. I guess I just can’t believe I might be on the other side of it. I know I keep saying that, but I think it’s affected me a lot more than maybe I realized. I just feel very vulnerable and scared.

The incision from the surgery is kind of big, and it’s still very much healing, so I’m still a ways off from being back to the regular grind. I also have a big welt on my ankle from the combination of the gauze that they used to wrap my foot and ankle plus the the surgical shoe, and so I have to keep my eye on that, as well. That was a weird thing- when my doctor unwrapped the bandages to remove my stitches, she was actually more concerned about my ankle than the surgical incision. I think we caught that just before it turned into something big.

So now it’s just letting the incision heal and letting my ankle heal and being patient. I can’t really go out and do anything yet because I can’t cram my foot into my sneakers and I can’t wear the surgical shoe. Plus, I need to stay off my foot as much as I can to let it heal (and because it does hurt a little). So it’s sort of a weird time. But I’m okay with it- I’ll miss our summer ritual of seeing pretty much every movie released, but if it means I can get my foot healed, we’re all okay with it. Tom’s busy with catching up on the work he missed while he was going to all the pre-ops and helping me after the surgery, and Grace has different camps every week this summer (this week is sailing, next week is digital photography- I think…) and school stars early in June, so we’re all busy.

The best news, besides getting the stitches out, was that I got to go back into the pool.

I have been swimming five miles a day (about two hours and 15 minutes), every day for most of my adult life, so getting back into the pool was huge for me. But I can’t overdo it- soaking a healing incision that needs to dry out for 140 minutes every day is not such a great idea. So I’m swimming for about an hour, and making up some of the other hour on the recumbent elliptical, with my leg propped up.

BUT, swimming = bliss. Seriously.

The first day I got back into the pool, it felt like magic. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, the water was cool and refreshing and all sparkly, and as soon as I got in it felt like I was floating on air. It was just so amazing. I forgot how good it felt to be in the water, to glide up and down the length of the pool, to move all the muscles in my body, and to stretch myself out. My back finally relaxed and stopped aching. My mind quieted down.

I was only in for 20 minutes, and it felt way too short, but it was one of the most intense moments of my life- I felt such relief. I could have swam all day. I got out of the pool feeling better than I have in years- I literally can’t remember feeling as good as I felt that day. I felt like a brand new person.

I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not.

This whole experience has been a bit of a “reset” for me. The last few years have been hard, and emotionally a struggle for me. Losing Delilah was sort of when it all started, and then I developed anemia which made me feel like shit, and then this thing with the pin in my foot started… it’s just been a really sucky bunch of years, to be honest. Not terrible awful, but not necessarily good either. Just part of the ebb and flow of life.

So my focus every day was just being “okay”. Not fabulous, not awesome. I’ve mentioned numerous times about that philosophy- it all started when Robin Williams passed, and I realized that nothing mattered more (not success, not wealth, not fame, not being adored by millions, not even having had a positive impact on most of the world, etc.) than just being OKAY. Sometimes all you can do is get through the day, and that counts for everything. And okay is pretty damn good when you’re in crisis mode or feeling terrified about things.

This last year, I started wondering if the fact that I’m getting older meant that my body would just start failing or something… I know this sounds melodramatic, but life with Spina Bifida can be a bit of the great unknown, and I’d be naive if I didn’t consider what how the natural aging process might change my health. I was responsible, but scared. And really sad, too. I know that sounds silly, maybe, but it was a little heartbreaking to suddenly think “okay, I’m no longer healthy, what’s next?” when I’ve sort of based my whole existence with this disease as being an example of someone who can have Spina Bifida and be an athlete and be healthy and have a good life.

I kind of worried that my “healthy” phase of life might be over, and it was hard to process. So I stopped thinking about it as a whole and just focused on being OKAY every day. Just okay was plenty enough. That’s what it’s been like for a long time.

But then I got in the pool last week and felt something more- I felt bliss, and happiness. For those twenty minutes I was in the pool and under the blue skies and gliding through the water (and a few hours after), everything was TRULY okay. And I felt peace.

And maybe I’m selfish, but I want more of that. It’s scary to admit that- it’s almost like I’m asking for too much. But screw it, I want to feel better. I want to feel *good*. The last few years I have felt little flashes of “good”- not a lot of it, but these moments where things seemed to sparkle and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I would sort of put it away because it scared me a little. But I held on to those moments, those feelings. It was like something inside me was reminding myself that there was more hidden way down deep, just waiting for when the coast might be clear to come out again.

And I really felt that part of me emerge in the pool last week. I wanted to hold it tight, but I allowed myself to savor it and enjoy it, and then be okay when it passed. I just reminded myself that feeling good in those moments was proof that I was still capable of experiencing true joy and peace, and that when the time is right, it’ll happen again.

I’m starting to see this whole surgery/recovery thing as an opportunity to re-evaluate things and figure out how to change what’s not working and spend more time on what is. It forced me to literally step out of my normal routine and emotions and anxieties and all the things I thought were important but really aren’t and hit “reset”. I think this is kind of a big deal, but I want to take advantage of it.

One thing I’ve been doing the last few months is taking the “Awakening Joy” class again. The last time I took it, I was about three months into the class when Delilah passed away unexpectedly, so “Awakening Joy” was kind of off the table. I decided to take the class again this year because I was feeling so crummy and because it’s a class based on Buddhist philosophy, and one thing I wanted to do this year was take a class on Buddhism, just to learn more about it.

Of course, when the whole foot surgery thing came up, I put it on hold for a little bit. I went back to using “okay” as my baseline for life. I did use a lot of the stuff that was taught during the “getting through tough times” chapter/lesson the last few weeks, however. The class is seriously useful, no matter what your life philosophy/beiefs are and what is going on in your life.

But one thing that is at the very beginning of class is this question: what do you really want from life? How do you really want to feel?

Back in February, my answer was:
I want to be okay. I want to feel okay and be okay. I just want to get through this. And that was more than enough for that moment in my life, because it felt like everything was on the verge of not being okay. So okay was pretty big.

Now maybe it’s changed a bit. I want to feel good.

One thing the class teaches is that by changing habits and, therefore, changing the neural pathways in our brains (there’s a lot of neuroscience in the class), you can actually create more opportunities for happiness to arise. That’s why the class is called “Awakening Joy”- it’s all about waking up the inherent joy that all humans are born with but that gets sort of mashed down with life experiences. For a long time I wondered if the joy got “mashed down” or if people just grow out of it. But then I swam last week, and it was a reminder that the ability to feel joy- to feel good- is not gone, just sort of buried.

So I want to really look at my habits and adjust things a bit, and see what happens. I thought I had been doing that the last six months, but now I really get a chance to do it. I hope I stick with it, and that I don’t just fade back into old habits and let this be a blip in my long list of health experiences rather than something that could have a profoundly positive effect on my well-being.

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social media hiatus

15 Jun 2016
parker hiding from the world

parker hiding from the world.

Hey, How are you?

I wanted to say I’m sorry that I haven’t responded to any comments or emails- I’ve been kind of “off the grid” when it comes to social media for the last several months and I’m not doing such a good job of hopping back on.

I’ll be honest- this election has driven me insane. They always do- but this once has been vicious. At the beginning of the year when my stress from my health went into overload, I decided to see if limiting my exposure to any mention of the news and/or current events would make a difference in my mood. I deleted all links to news sites and dropped off Facebook. I kind of took a giant step back from the internet, and when I was online, I basically spent all my time on art websites, painting videos on YouTube, and listening to talks on Dharma Seed.

The biggest change for me was my decision to drop off Facebook. I didn’t delete my account, but I went from checking Facebook several times a day to maybe checking it once a week, if that. When I did go on Facebook, I basically checked my feed out of the side of my vision, and the minute I saw anything about politics or any kind of debate about current events, I immediately shut the browser window or quit the app.

Needless to say, I missed most of what was posted on Facebook because you can’t go more than a few posts without seeing something related to the election or guns or animal abuse. It’s a current events hotspot.

I used to really love Facebook- it was this place where people would share little snippets of life, or a few personal photos, and you could really stay connected via the little statuses. If you checked in once or twice a day, you could catch up on what people were up to and leave a few comments and it was a meaningful exchange. It was personal and manageable. Now it’s become a weird mix of endless memes, links to news sites, debates about politics, and huge dumps from people’s smart phones. It’s almost like it’s a grown-up Tumblr. And then Facebook started changing the way they displayed people’s statuses, so I kept missing all the personal stuff and just seeing the news stuff and the memes. It became this whole process to find the stuff I actually wanted to see.

I can’t say I miss it that much. I do miss being connected to friends, especially since I despise the phone and am a rotten pen-pal. But being away from current events and political arguments has really been good for me. I’m finding that the things that are meaningful to me and important for me to know about eventually find their way to me. And once I find out about them, I can seek out the information I need to know. It feels good to be in control of what I’m exposed to, instead of being at the mercy of what’s on my timeline, if that makes any sense.

One unexpected bonus to getting off Facebook was the time it freed up.

And I discovered the app Snapchat, which I actually love. I avoided it for ages, because I thought you basically “snapped” (I don’t like taking selfies…) your “chat” (and I really don’t chat…), but the whole “chat” thing is the part of the service that no one really uses. It’s all very non-chatty, actually.

You just basically take little photos and short videos with your phone and post them to your Snapchat timeline, and whoever is on your friends list can see what you’ve posted. That’s *literally* all there is to Snapchat. There are no comments, no “likes”, no sharing posts, no memes. There’s no way of sharing or linking anything off the rest of the internet into Snapchat. You can’t even take photos off your camera roll and post them on your timeline. All you can do is take a photo or video from inside the Snapchat app and post it. It’s a closed system. It almost reminds me of what the internet was like before “comments” were even a thing- when you just accessed a webpage and all your could do was read it. It’s very old-school that way.

And after 24 hours, everything disappears, so there’s no backlog of stuff to catch up on.

And, unlike Instagram, there are very few filters (and the ones Snapchat have are funny or useful, like temperature or time), so it’s not a lot of people staging their life to make it appear glow-y and blissful. It is what it is, warts and all. It’s designed in a way to encourage people to post and feel at ease being on camera. As much as I hate pictures of myself, I don’t mind posting little videos on Snapchat at all. It’s kind of lovely, actually, seeing people’s real lives, hearing their voices, seeing their lives unedited. I’ve always been obsessed with documentaries, and Snapchat is sort of like this little network of documentaries.

So when I have a desire for social media, I pop on Snapchat for a bit. It’s a nice alternative to Facebook, although I wish more people were on it.

Okay, enough talk about social media. But hopefully now you know why I haven’t responded to your email, replied to your comment, or left a note on your very important and personal Facebook status. I’m just taking a little break from social media. Please forgive me. <3

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stuff that’s good

09 Jun 2016
snapshot of the malaysian orchid in the garden from early May

snapshot of the malaysian orchid in my garden from early May

In my last entry I wrote (excessively) about my recent health issues with my foot and the subsequent surgery, but I also wanted to point out – and remember- that there was a lot about this whole situation that was pretty good, all things considered.

I was able to schedule the surgery- and all the necessary pre-op appointments- right away. All in all, I found out I needed the surgery on a Monday, and by Friday afternoon at 4:30pm, I was out of the surgery center and done with everything. That was kind of a blessing, because it could have taken weeks to get it all done. So I am very thankful I didn’t have to wait and agonize over it.

My doctor is amazing, her staff is great, and the staff at the surgery center were incredibly kind. The nurses before surgery and in the recovery room were awesome.

There was one nurse I met during recovery that was really wonder. She usually works with kids, and when she found out I had Spina Bifida, she kept telling me how amazing it was for her to see someone “grown up” with Spina Bifida doing so well. I kind of needed to hear that – I forget sometimes that I am doing okay and I get down on myself for having any health problems at all. It’s easy to be critical towards myself for not being more active (beyond swimming and gardening), not having more energy, not being some super-star world traveler who is involved in every possible activity. The last few years I’ve been in a funk about getting older and worried about changes in my health, etc. Having someone tell me I’m doing really, really well felt so good, especially just having had come out of surgery.

As far as recovery, there were several things about this particular experience that made life much, much better than any other post-surgery experiences I have had.

First of all, my family. The minute I found out I had to have surgery, my parents jumped in and took complete care of Gracie and her schedule (carpool, sports, playdates, parties, after-school stuff, weekend activities, etc.) so that I could just go to all my pre-ops and into surgery with an open schedule and not have to worry about anything. My parents live a few blocks away, and they spend a lot of time with Gracie, so it wasn’t stressful for her at all- she just got to spend a lot more time with Nanny and Papa the week leading up to my surgery and the days after it. That made everything SO much easier for me- I didn’t want this surgery to effect her at all, especially with it being her last week of school.

I think the main thing that made this such a different experience than other emergency/surgery/recoveries was Tom. This was the first time I went through pre-op/surgery/post-op with a partner, and having Tom be there for me was truly, truly significant and made such a huge difference. My parents have ALWAYS been there for every surgery and medical thing I have had, and they are experts at it. But they are still my parents- so it’s always affected them in a way that’s kind of deep. And when you see your parents hurting and worried on your behalf, you want to make it better. When I was young, I had to reassure them that I was going to be okay, just to try and ease their minds a little but.

With Tom, I don’t have to do that. I didn’t have to be brave, or hold back. I was able to joke about things one minute and really complain about stuff and whine about the stupid things the next, and he was on exactly the same page as I was.

Tom got a completely different energy than my family- he’s super mellow. He kept me sane during the days leading up to surgery, and during and after the surgery, he kept me from losing my mind. He reassured me when I needed it. He let me spin out and then brought me back down to earth when I freaked out waiting for the fluid culture.

He took over every household task, including the ones I could have easily have done (folding laundry, feeding the birds, etc.) and the unnecessary ones that I add on because of my OCD and weird habits. He even took amazing care of the garden (which he has been helping me with for months because of the pin coming out of my foot). He skipped karate classes these past two weeks because he didn’t want me stuck home alone.

He never complained about anything, including having to get up with me a hundred times a night because when I first was recovering from the surgery and fully on crutches, just getting into the bathroom was kind of an adventure. He came up with a bunch of great solutions so I could continue to actually function and feel normal these past two weeks- like building a little shelf on the recumbent elliptical machine so I could rest my leg on it and be able to work out a bit.

He’s just a good person, and I love him an awful lot, and I feel very grateful that I got to spend the last 17 years of my life with him, and hopefully many many more. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to spend my life with. It’s really nice when someone just gets you, and has your back unconditionally. He’s my “tribe”.

Grace has also been extraordinarily sweet and kind and caring and patient during this. She’s been incredibly interested in how I’m feeling, and she genuinely feels bad that I have to go through this. I’m being honest with her about it all, because I want her to know if she ever has to go through something stressful, she can do it honestly and express how she feels without worrying about how it will be received. I love that she’s not only my daughter, but someone I really really *like*.

 

I’m also very grateful for little things like:
being able to take a shower every day. Thank goodness for shower benches, hand-held shower heads, and waterproof cast covers When I was a kid, after surgery was all about hanging my foot out of the bathtub or taking sponge baths (ugh), so complete showers during recovery feel like a big indulgence. I’m a big shower person in general (I love taking a how shoer after a long swim) so it was nice to feel refreshed whenever I wanted to during these last few weeks.

being able to work out while recovering. We have a recumbent elliptical machine (like the ones they have in physical therapy) that we got last year so that I could work on strengthening my leg muscles, and Tom built a little shelf that I could prop my leg up on while I used it. Being able to really move my body every day while I can’t swim really made a huge difference in my well being. I will admit that my back is REALLY hurting (I’m so ready to get in the pool and stretch it out, but have to wait for the doctor to give the okay…) but I feel strong and not like a big blob. Usually after surgery I feel like my health problems have taken over my entire existence, so being able to get on the elliptical every day and get my heart pumping and my blood flowing made a huge difference in my well being these past two weeks.

being able to put pressure on my foot during recovery. Because the incision was on the side of my foot (near my arch), and the doctor didn’t have to cut into bone, it wasn’t crucial to healing that I stay off my foot after surgery. HOLY CRAP. I have NEVER had foot surgery that didn’t require me to be totally on crutches for weeks after. My foot has been bandaged with surgical gauze and layers of ace bandage on top, and a surgical shoe on top of that, so it’s well protected. It took me a few days to be able to step on my foot after the surgery because the place where the incision/stitches are did pinch a bit, but now I am able to move around the house pretty well with either just one crutch or no crutches at all. This has made recovery so much easier, I can’t tell you. I still kind of get scared that I am *walking* on my foot after years of being told “stay off your foot!”

Chester, who is one of my kitties. He’s stuck to me like glue the past few weeks. He sleeps next to me all night, and hovers around wherever I am during the day. He’s a very calm and reassuring kind of cat, so having him be there all the time has been a comfort for me.

– “Bloodline” and “Parks & Recreation” on Netflix. Tom and I spent the last two weeks binge-watching Bloodline (both seasons) and Parks and Recreation on TV. It definitely kept my mind off my foot. We started watching “Bloodline” the night after my surgery, and every day I looked forward to sitting down with lunch/dinner and watching another episode. “Parks and Recreation” is one of my favorite shows ever, so re-watching it from the first episode has been so much fun. Gracie loves it, too. (Our basic TV rule is if it’s something she can see in syndication, she can watch it.) I also watched a lot of YouTube watercolor videos while at my desk and on the elliptical.

watercolor. In the weeks before I found out I needed surgery, I started getting very interested in watercolor painting again. I took a few online classes, and invested in a set of the Mijello Mission Golds, which are wonderful. My interest in watercolor just kept growing all spring.

For Mother’s Day and my birthday (which was the day before my surgery) I got a bunch of gift certificates, so I splurged on a bunch of watercolors and kept ordering a few more tubes every few days so I would have something to keep looking forward to these past few weeks. Every time I get a new tube of paint, it’s like Christmas- I get to pour it out, swatch it, figure out where it fits in my palette, and experiment with how it mixes with all the other colors. It’s definitely kept me going these past few weeks. I’m excited to spend the summer painting with them.

I also promised myself when I got through this, I would allow myself to go ahead and get a set of Sennelier watercolors I have wanted for a long time. It’s a definite indulgence, but screw it. I can’t buy myself a fancy pair of new shoes (I’ll be happy to be back in my Nikes, to be honest) or go on a vacation to mark the end of this experience, so getting a fancy set of watercolors seems like a pretty good way to motivate myself to get through this. If all goes as expected, they will arrive today (but not the pans to put them in- those are on their way from Europe and will hopefully get here very very soon!)

So it’s not all stress and pain, not at all. I’m still cautious- I have a few more doctor’s appointments left and I just had the surgery two weeks ago, and there was that whole fluid culture thing that came up, so I’m scared that I’m not quite out of the woods yet. My focus is just on getting through each day.

I *have* started to think about what comes next- I have been struggling with this particular health issue for almost a year, and it really has consumed a lot of my energy, time, and mind the last few months. It’s almost a little scary to think “what comes next?” But one step at a time, you know? Right now my focus is getting through today and seeing what happens.

Thanks, again, for reading these posts and spending some time with me.

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the pin that came out of the side of my foot

a little segment of the pin that came out of the side of my foot

This is going to be long, but I want to get all of the surgery stuff out in one post (at least the nuts and bolts of it- there’s a lot of positive stuff I’ll share soon, but I sort of want to do that in another “here’s where I am now…” post). Thanks for reading.

As many of you know, I was born with Spina Bifida. One of the “things” associated with that was that I had to have my left foot reconstructed a bunch of times when I was a kid.

When I was 18, and finally stopped growing, the doctors wanted to reconstruct my foot one last time, but the bone in my foot was kind of destroyed from all the surgery I had on it previously, so they cut out a chunk of bone from my left hip, crafted a new foot out of it, and then stuck it inside my left foot with a bunch of titanium staples, screws, plates, and pins.

About a year after that surgery, the metal plate had to be removed because my foot reacted negatively to it.

A few years later, two of the screws individually worked themselves out the bottom of my foot and were subsequently removed.

Then everything settled down for a while.

A few years ago, I noticed a little bruise on the side of my foot, in between my arch and big toe. It was really small, just a little dot. And when I ran my finger over it, I could feel a little pointy thing under it, like the point of a pencil was trying to jut out of my foot.

It was a surgical pin, and an x-ray confirmed it. I spent about a year looking at the bruise, and wondering if the pin might make a sudden appearance. But it didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t getting worse, so the doctor said to just leave it be and when it was time for the pin to come out, she could probably just use some forceps in the office and pull it out. That was a few years ago, and it seemed like the pin was just pushing on my skin from the inside, but not working its way out, so I kind of thought it might *not* be an issue after all.

Suddenly, about a year ago the little bruise got a little bigger, and then it got a tiny crack in it- like a little tiny paper cut. And then it healed up. It was never super red or painful or anything that I normally associate with hardware coming out of my foot, so I just kept taking care of it and waiting for it to go away. My foot didn’t swell, it didn’t hurt- it was just like a crack in dry skin almost. And then it healed.

Then it cracked again. Then it healed.

This kept happening for several months. It would close and everything would look super healthy and then it would crack open again.

I knew in the back of my mind it was time for the pin to come out, but a huge part of me was, like, “NO WAY, I CAN’T DO IT ANYMORE. I CAN JUST TAKE REALLY GOOD CARE OF IT AND IT’LL BE OKAY.” I mean, I have had some major surgeries in my life, been laid up in bed for months at a time, etc. and the removal of surgical hardware is not a big deal, all things considered. But there was just this part of me that couldn’t even process the idea of another surgery. It’s been 17 years since the last surgery (when the second screw came out) but something about the idea of surgery and being out of commission even for just a few weeks was too much for me to handle. I didn’t understand why I had such a negative reaction to it, but it was enough to make me want to avoid surgery.

Looking back (and I’m not outside of this whole situation yet, but I’m able to have a tiny bit of perspective as each day passes…) I really think I saw this surgery as a terrible, inevitable re-entry point into the world of health problems. Like, there was no way it would just be simple, because it never is. So in a way, I saw any type of “procedure” as a weird gateway back into a part of my life I wanted to be done with. There’s something about the whole surgery and recovery process that makes me feel so powerless, and the older I get the less I am okay with that. I’ve never felt like many of my doctors or health care providers (besides the ones I have been seeing as an adult) gave a rat’s ass what I thought, or how what they did to me might effect me. The idea of going through any of that again, at this point in my life, was sort of intolerable. Like I would be giving up a part of myself to go back into that. It literally felt like a grand piano falling onto my chest every time I thought about it.

On the flip side, I have been literally baby-sitting this little bruise for a year. It’s been EXHAUSTING. Terrifying. Every time I looked at my foot, I was half expecting that pin to just be poking through the side of my foot. But it didn’t happen, so I just kept sort of dreading it and freaking out about it and getting it to heal and then holding my breath until that little crack came back. A few months ago, I started to restrcit pretty much any activity that required me to wear my Nikes (pretty much anything outside the house/pool) in an effort to get it to stay healed.

Of course, the longer I waited, the worse my brain made it all out to be.

Finally, in early May, the little tiny crack thing started bleeding a tiny bit. Then some weird fluid came out of it- NOT pus, because I have seen pus- but white clean fluid. I started thinking to myself that might be some sort of fluid from bones or something and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I called my doctor on a Sunday afternoon (she’s the kind of awesome doctor who shares her home phone number and cell phone number with patients) and got in to see her the next day.

Of course, the pin had to come out. It was basically pressed up against the side of my foot from the inside, and as long as it was in there, I’d have that stupid little bruise-y, crack-y thing. Nothing I could do (staying off my foot, putting sixty layers of gauze on it, etc.) would keep that thing closed. I started antibiotics, scheduled the surgery for Friday, and began going to the ridiculous number of pre-operative appointments that are now required in Florida due to insurance fraud.

To be honest, the pre-op appointments were 10000x more stressful than the surgery itself.

I gotta be honest, almost everything not having to do with my foot seems like a string of never ending unnecessary stuff for insurance purposes, and I’m so tired of non-essential medical visits. I totally understand why it’s important to see my doctor once a year for a complete physical and blood tests and to check on my well-being, but to have to go in every six weeks or three months just to chat with someone in the office (not always my doctor) for five minutes so I can get a refill on my anemia meds or whatever else I need seems so outrageous to me. I’m not on any pain meds, never have been. It’s all just standard stuff. But there’s all these doctors, all the time. And the older you get, the more there is!

So all the pre-ops seemed a little superfluous when all I wanted to do was go home and just steel myself for the surgery and REST.

But I got through it- Tom (who is freaking amazing) went with me to every single appointment and test I had to go to. I managed to put my responsible, non-anxious, big-girl pants on and get it all done. That was a little bit of a surprise- one thing about me is I am very responsible, health-wise, and when there is something going on, there’s this little efficient, outgoing personality that emerges from my total introvert regular personality and takes total charge. She’s bossy and assertive and not afraid to get angry. She asks for what she needs and feels no anxiety about scheduling appointments and calling a thousand people on the phone and saying “no” and “yes” when necessary.

I want to talk about this is another post, but I think the reason “bad-ass Chel” was kind of underground is because I’ve changed a lot over the last ~20 years, especially the last ten years. It used to be that when I had a medical problem, I would get super pissed, and that would sort of fuel me through it all. There’s a line in a Rage Against the Machine song that always resonated with me: “Anger is a gift.” Totally! If I weren’t so fired up as a kid and a teenager, there’s no way I would have gotten through my life. The frustration kept me going. I always felt like it just HAD to get better. Because it would be ridiculous if it didn’t.

This time, though, when I found out about the surgery, I just felt really, really sad. Like, just bummed out. That was so weird for me. I think it’s better for me, to be honest, because frustration is a good ride up, but not easy to come down from. Sad is workable, it’s something I can understand and feel compassion and maybe work with.

So there were some interesting discoveries I had about myself during this whole thing.

ANYWAY, the surgery date came and it was not terrible- I was out of the surgery center before 4:30pm on Friday, and even though the procedure had been a little more complicated than expected, and it took them FIVE STICKS to get an IV started because of my reluctant veins, it was not all that traumatizing. The nurses were super nice, I really love my doctor, and Tom was there for everything and kept me from being freaked out.

The pin turned out to be threaded, like a screw. It was jammed into my bone, tight, so it had to be sheered off at the bone with a saw instead of pulled out, which meant a bigger incision for the saw and a little more maneuvering, on the doctor’s part. (Why the doctor who installed that pin left 3/4 of an inch of it hanging out the side of my bone baffles me, but whatever.) She did an amazing job and cut it off neatly right at the bone, and it’s no longer piercing the side of my foot.

BUT…

When my doctor cut open my foot, she discovered a pocket of fluid near the pin. It was clean fluid (sterile, or so she believed- just residue from where the pin had been scraping up against the inside of my foot), but she sent a culture of it off to the lab to see if there was any funky bacteria in it.

After the surgery, when I was still in a bit of a daze from the anesthesia, she mentioned fluid in my foot, culture, etc., I was, like “no problem, whatever you like, can I go home soon?”. But then on the way home from the surgery what she was saying began to sink in, and by 8pm that night I was in tears, freaking out.

If the culture came back positive on the fluid in my foot, as a precaution, they might put me on IV antibiotics for six weeks- in other words, the protocol for treating a bone infection.

The reason I freaked was because I’ve HAD a bone infection. I was 18, a few months in college, and this cut I had on my big toe got a super nasty bug from the gross bathrooms in the dorm and that was that. Within 36 hours, I got a bone infection. I had been to the doctor on a Wednesday and had an X Ray and it was clear. But by Thursday night, the bone was blurry, which is a sign of bone infection. It literally got into my foot and destroyed the bone in 36 hours.

I was hospitalized immediately (out of school for the next year), had half my toe amputated, inserted with a big tube in the middle of my chest, and was sent home for six weeks of antibiotics. It was a big deal. Luckily. I beat the infection, and saved my foot (and then had it reconstructed with the hip bone and metal bits that bring us to the current part of this story) but I had a lot of complications with the central IV line and the whole shebang was really traumatic.

Like, so traumatic it made me insanely OCD (literal OCD, not slang) about keeping my feet STERILE and clean and healthy. I have my own bathroom and no one else is allowed in it- not Tom, not Gracie. I steam and bleach all the surfaces in it every other day and wipe them down daily. I have a special little hand held shower in my shower that I use to disinfect my foot after I get out of the regular shower, and then a little sterile area where I carefully dry and bandage it (even if there’s nothing wrong with it), just to keep it sterile in case something happens when I’m not in the bathroom. So if I get a blister or something when I’m out, there’s already a sterile bandage on my foot, so there’s no chance of infection.

I do my laundry every single day, seperately from everyone else’s laundry, and if Tom or Grace’s stuff goes through the washer/dryer, there has to be a “buffer load” in between so my bathroom towels do not pick up anything from their laundry. Nothing goes in the dryer unless it’s been thoroughly washed. No one is allowed to handle anything that goes in my bathroom (including my laundry), and whenever I bring something new in (everything from shampoo bottles to whatever) the outside has to be cleaned well before it goes in there.

I know this is insane, but after the bone infection, it feels like a totally worthy sacrifice. It’s what I do to ensure that I stay infection free.

Like I said, this is OCD. Not the bullshit kind. And I’m okay with it because for 25 years, I’ve had maybe TWO minor skin infections in my foot, TOTAL. And that’s with exposure to stuff I get gardening and swimming. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for me, and worth the work.

So after years of this, to be told I might need to be treated with the protocol for bone infection FLOORED me. And the only thing I could do was wait for the culture to come back, which was going to take a week. I was on antibiotics before the surgery as a precaution, and given a big dose in my IV during the surgery, but I had a feeling that something wasn’t right down there, and it scared the shit out of me. One sign of infection I get is one of my lymph nodes gets tender, and I had that going on. It has happened psychosomatically (did I spell that right?), but I felt like there might be something going on. So I was scared, even though the doctor really felt like the fluid wasn’t anything really serious. I just felt like anything could happen, and it was devastating, in a way. It just felt like everything was totally beyond my control.

I tried to not think about it, but… you know how that is. I just took it day by day.

One good thing is that I did do a little bit of research and found out that recent studies are starting to show that oral doses of certain antibiotics are just as effective as those drugs given through IV with osteomyelitis (bone infection) and fine in cases of precautionary treatment, which helped me feel a little better- if worse came to worse, I would have to figure out a way to really push for oral antibiotic treatment. And that might mean pissing off my doctor, which I didn’t want to do- she’s literally the only person I trust with my foot. So it just seemed like this giant cluster. But I was really determined to stick up for myself and find a way to be both responsible and look after my own well being. It empowered me a little bit. I hung on to that all week.

Finally, the culture came back on Thursday afternoon- and it was positive. BUT, it was positive for Strep (like strep throat)- a bacteria that is very responsive to many common antibiotics, and most of those are available to be taken ORALLY.

HOLY CRAP. I was just waiting to hear one of two things: “negative culture”, and if not that, then “oral antibiotics”. I got the oral part. Holy crap.

It’s now Monday, and it still hasn’t sunk in. I feel a lot better than I did this time last week, but, a little part of me is still terrified. This whole thing has been going on for a year. And it got intense. I feel like I barely avoided something really huge, so I feel like I need to tiptoe, to be very quiet and still, to keep things okay. I’m not going to feel okay until I’m beyond this completely. So for now I’m just doing what I can to get through each day and take good care of myself.

And it’s much better than it was a month ago or three months ago or even a week ago, because at least I am sort of on the resolution side of this whole thing, even if I’m scared that it’s not over.

It’s weird. I’ve spent the last nine months feeling like I was just on the verge of falling apart, literally kind of coming apart at the seams. Very “on the edge” and nervous and not trusting my own body and trying to hold it together. My main goal was getting this stupid pin to go away, and it literally has. And I don’t know what is on the other side of that. So I’m just in the midst of it, trying to be careful and still and take each thing as it comes.

(I do want to talk about some really positive aspects of this situation, but I’m going to leave that for another entry because it’s late and I have been working on this off and on all day and I need to get to bed.)

If you read this far, you are seriously amazing and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you just being here and giving me the space to talk. It feels really good to write about this, like I’m able to sort it out a bit and see it as an experience rather than a new way of living, if that makes any sense.

 

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Parker, our newest family member

Parker, our newest family member

I know it’s been forever since I last updated this website/journal/blog.

I’m not sure why I stopped writing- a lot was going on and a lot HAS gone on in the last nine months, and I think I just got overwhelmed by it all. Experiencing it and then writing about it seemed like just too much. One thing I do when I write regularly is that I start writing in my head, and then I carry the words and sentences and things around in my head until I can get them down on paper (or screen) and it’s sort of like another thing that can stress me out. So I just decided to stop worrying about it, and thus I just stopped thinking about writing.

But then the other day I was trying to figure out the different dates of different stuff that happened in the last year, and I realized I hadn’t really written much at all about any of it, and I wish I had.

Also, I miss writing. A lot.

So I decided to just come back here and start journaling again.

There’s lot of little things that have happened since last fall, of course, but two big things have happened: I had emergency foot surgery last week (ugh- I’ll probably write about that in another entry) and we adopted a new kitty in January that we named Parker.

As far as Parker, here’s the story:
During the holidays, I was missing Delilah a lot. For those that don’t know, Delilah was kitten that my parents got for me back in 1997, and she was my best friend and soulmate. She passed away in 2013 and it has been very hard to deal with her loss because she really was my shadow and we sort of grew up together.

Anyway, and on a whim, I googled “Bombay Cat Rescue” right after Christmas thinking that maybe I could give a donation in Delilah’s name to a cat rescue group. Delilah was a purebred Bombay, and even though I’m now a shelter-cat advocate in every sense of the word, I do think Bombays are beautiful, amazing cats and I’m grateful I got to share my life with one.

The FIRST thing that popped up when I googled “Bombay Cat Rescue” was this photo:

parker's photo from local animal control

parker’s photo from local animal control

I almost fell off my chair when I saw the picture- it was too cute. I started clicking around to try and figure out if I could send the rescue he was at a donation for him, or sponsor him or something, and I completely freaked out when I realized he was at the local animal control (aka the pound…)

I found out from his little “Adopt Me!” page that he was 8 years old, he was surrendered last August, and he had been waiting for a new home for about 5 months. Animal control is *not* a no-kill shelter, and Parker’s a black, older cat (both things are deterrents to adoption) so he really needed a home…

… and less than a week later, he was home with us.

We had no plans of getting any more cats- we already had three (rescue) cats, three birds (two parrotlets we’ve had for about 13 years and a Caique), and a leopard gecko (he’s about 20 years old…). We work from home, and we’re kind of homebodies on top of that, so the pet thing works for us, but it’s still a ton of work. A fourth cat was not something we were even considering.

However, something about Parker touched me-  and as soon as Tom met him, he sort of knew it was meant to be, as well.

And Parker is a WONDERFUL cat- incredibly sweet, very personable and perfectly behaved. He loves food and people and being around everyone and looking at the birds out the window and “talking” CONSTANTLY and sleeping and Ginger. Ginger is our kitty that had a bunch of health problems the last few years. She’s recovered now, but because of her illness, she was isolated from our other two cats for a long time and they sort of bonded with one another and left her behind. And she didn’t have much interest in them- they are both sort of rough and tumble boys, and she’s not interested in that. Parker is perfect for Ginger- he’s calm but interactive, very vocal and sort of the cat that is always around and GOOD company, and very reassuring in a gentle way. He loves Ginger, and the two are together all day, so not only did we add another amazing cat to our family, we were able to give Ginger a companion.

I will admit that Parker has filled a hole in my heart that I have had since Delilah passed. Something about having a black cat around has made me feel full again. Parker’s nothing like Delilah (they do share a few traits) and he’s twice the size of her, but something about seeing a black cat out of the corner of my eye makes my heart feel like everything is exactly the way it should be, cat-wise. So I am so grateful that we got to add him to our little family.

The flipside to this is that Milo HATES Parker. HATES him. We tried every method under the sun of slowly introducing them, and it just isn’t happening. So we’ve sort of let Ginger and Parker have the back of the house- the bedrooms and Tom’s office, and Milo and Chester have the front half.  So now we have two sets of two cats- Parker and Ginger and Chester and Milo.

Tom works from home so there’s always someone home and hanging out with all the cats. We “switch” Milo out to the back of the house and let Ginger and Parker explore the rest of the house regularly. It’s not ideal, but it works fine. I hope, with time, Milo will relax a little bit- he’s kind of an intense and super active cat to begin with, and he’s slowly transitioning from kitten-into-everything-ALL-THE-TIME mode into a more calm cat (he’s three years old, but still acts like he’s about 6 months old) . So we’ll see what happens.

 

As far as the surgery… I will write about that tonight or tomorrow. That’s something that I sort of knew was coming but was hoping might be off in the future- maybe YEARS in the future- and when I found out it was happening RIGHT AWAY it sort of really knocked me off my game. I’m still puzzling it out, to be honest. My health has always been a huge part of my life, but it’s been a while since I couldn’t take care of an issue myself with extra-good self-care, so this whole situation with my foot kind of shook me up. Plus: surgery. Being off my feet for weeks. Not being able to swim. Not being able to scrub my foot and keep it sterile and take care of it and see that the surgical incision is healing correctly… huge germaphobe, control-freak issues going on for me. And then there was an unexpected complication on top of it (I talked about it on Facebook a few days ago, will write about it here.) It’s just been a lot, and I’m surprised by how hard it hit me. Like I said- more soon on that. I need to gather my thoughts a little bit.

One thing I want to get back to is just writing about whatever regularly. Not worrying about having too many entries in too short a time, or balancing my brain-dump entries with art-related entries, or giving important entries *enough* time before uploading something else, etc. When I first started writing online way back in 1997 (holy crap, almost 20 years of this…) all I wanted was an outlet. Since blogs were non-existant and personal webpages were few-and-far-between, I really didn’t think anyone was reading, so I wrote with abandon, about whatever I was thinking about. There was something very freeing about that.

I want that again. Maybe this break has sort of reset all my weird neuroses about blogging that I’ve picked up on in the last decade.

I don’t know if anyone still reads this, so if you’re here and you see this- hello. Thank you for checking in on me, still. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for hanging around. I don’t know if the comments work or the back-end of this website is all out of date or what, but I’ll figure that out later. I just wanted to start writing something while I had the urge. Momentum is a key thing for me.

Hope you had a great weekend.

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Fall Leaves Stamping Project

Fall Leaves Stamping Project

I actually STAMPED something!

I know, I know- not really a big deal. But it kind of is a big deal to me. All summer, I’ve collecting rubber stamps of flowers and foliage. Lots of stamps. Mostly clear and cling kinds, for easy storage and because they are less expensive. But lots of stamps, because there are so many gorgeous ones on the market.

But I haven’t been using them- at all.

On one hand, I think it’s perfectly okay to see this as JUST a collection, because they aren’t expensive and heck- people collect weirder things. They make me very happy in that I like researching all the beautiful designs that are available, picking out one or two sets I love the best, placing the order, and waiting for it to come, and then I like unpacking the stamps and organizing them. And then I like to take them out and look at them. I guess they are sort of like collecting baseball cards or comics or something.

But I didn’t buy the stamps to collect them- I bought them because I wanted to make patterns and composed images with them. I mostly wanted to use them with watercolors and colored pencils.

The problem is, and I’ll be honest here: they SCARE me a little.

I’ve always loved stamps and the whole idea of stamping, but I feel like I am not really good at it. For some reason, getting the stamp inked up and positioned on paper and stamping it cleanly has never been my strong suit, maybe because my hand-eye coordination is wonky. So I have been buying stamps and not using them, just neatly storing them and organizing them and looking at them a lot.

Then there was a bunch of newly released stamps which I desperately wanted but could not justify because I don’t use the stamps I have.

So, last week I decided that I HAD to start stamping *something* so I pulled out some fall leaves stamps I got from Hero Arts and some Distress Ink mini-cubes and just had some fun.

Hero Arts Scattering Leaves

Hero Arts Scattering Leaves Stamps

I did something super simple- just mashed different colors (reds, oranges, golds, greens) of the Distress inks on one single stamp, misted it with some water, and stamped on watercolor paper. The mist of water made the colors run together and mix up, and when I stamped it, it looked like a marbled pattern. Very simple. The hardest part was deciding where to place each leaf on the paper.

I used Fluid Watercolor Paper for this and I still don’t like it- Distress Ink is basically a highly-soluable watercolor dye in a little cube- when you hit the ink with water, even after it dries, it’s supposed to re-activate. The Fluid paper doesn’t like that. It’s very hard to lift any paint you’ve put down, even the most water-thirsty paints and dyes. I just used it because I had a pad of Hot Press, which is usually a smooth surface, good for getting cleaner stamp impressions. Once the Fluid paper is gone, I’m done with it- it hasn’t worked for anything I’ve tried with it. Back to Strathmore and Canson…

Anyway, there are a zillion colors of Distress ink, but here are the colors I have:

Distress Inks Color Swatches

Distress Inks Color Swatches

They come either in large ink pads or little 1.5″ x 1.5″ cubes, and I like the cubes- they are less expesive, easy to store, easy to use, and you can do multi-color stamping techniques with them. Because they are so water-friendly, if you stain one cube with another, the color lifts easily.

AND, big bonus, because they are instantly activated with water, wet or dry, they don’t stain your stamps. For some reason I have a big thing about not staining my stamps too much, which is something I’m going to need to get over if I am actually going to *use* my stamps because most ink does stain. I just feels like the ink stain sits there and sort of eats away at the surface of the stamp. That doesn’t necessarily happen, but when I used to stamp with polymer clay, some of the solvents I used did exactly that, so some of my stamps either cracked, turned super hard, or just dissolved. I have to remember this is a whole different ball game.

So here’s to more stamping! Baby steps, right?

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend <3

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“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

Here are my planner pages from October.

I use a Happy Planner from Me & My Big Ideas as a scrapbook/photo album/collage journal. I don’t use it for planning- instead I take all photos, ephemera, cool magazine rip-outs, bits of mail, receipts, etc. and collage them in at the end of every week along with paper crafting supplies.

Here are the pages from October:

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October Mood Board

I decided to use the “month on two pages” page at the start of every month in the planner as sort of a mood board/art journal page. I just go through my box of magazine tear-outs and ephemera and stuff and pull images and quotes and pieces that resonate with me, and put them together.

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September 28 – October 4

A photo of the sunrise and a photo of the sunset, which is basically my way of remembering the beautiful weather we had that week. I also enclosed a snippet of a receipt for some stamps I ordered from Altenew (they make the most amazing stamps) and a journaling card.

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Other side of September 28 – October 4

On the other side of the journaling card is some notes about the week, and on the other full-size page are some memes that were going around Facebook that I loved and printed, a photo of a color swatch I made, a snapshot of Milo, and a few things from an ephemera pack. I just wanted to really make it feel like fall (have I mentioned fall is my favorite season? 😉 )

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October 5 – October 11

In October, my main struggle was with time- I had none. So that quote from the cover of Real Simple really hit home.

We started going back to the movies again (finally had the energy!) so I put in printed movie posters of what we saw, and a snapshot of Chester lounging in the morning sun.

Surprisingly, we had a foggy morning that week, and it’s my FAVORITE weather thing (well, besides cool, clear days) so I had to document that. We normally don’t have them until January. And a pretty fall sunset. I’m definitely loving the weather and want to be mindful of it and document it.

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October 12 – October 18

This was a BIG month for Grace- she turned ten years old (!!!!!!!) on October 20th, and a bunch of her school friends also had birthdays this month, so they had a big celebration at school for them in the middle of the month. I wanted to include more than one photo of that because I wanted to remember her life in 4th grade.

In the center of the page I added in a page from my daily flower calendar, with a quote from Maya Angelou (““Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.” ), and a photo of some seeds I started that week.

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Other side of October 12 – October 18

The flip side of the calendar page is an invoice from my fall seed order so I can remember what I planted this fall, plus two very zoomed photos of Chester kitty on the lanai (it’s screened in), furtively eating my plants. The text says “I love you even though you eat my plants.”

On the other side of the full size page is a photo of Grace and one of her friends on a playdate, a little journaling, and two movie posters from that week. I used a little patterned paper behind it and a bunch of fall themed stickers/ephemera I’ve been collecting and purchasing. It’s so much fun to have a use for stickers again! I sometimes feel like a little kid using stickers.

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October 19 – October 25th

Grace’s actual birthday week. She’s having a party in the sometime distant future, so we surprised her with her gifts and a little cake when she got home from school that day.

It was Ginger’s first week out after her surgery so I took a bunch of photos of her exploring the house for the first time in 18 months. It’s so wonderful to have her back in the mix again.

There’s also a photo Tom snapped of Milo curled up under a blanket.

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Other side of October 19 – October 25

The insert in the middle is actually an envelope that I used to put Gracie’s birthday wishlist inside- she printed it out a few weeks ago and gave it to me and there were some amusing things on there that I though she’d like to see when she gets older. Everything from a pair of suspenders (!) to a security cam for her room to an Apple Watch (hah!) to a bunch of Harry Potter stuff. I journaled on the back of the envelope.

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October 26 – November 1

Halloween Week! Playdate photo, Grace at the beach with some of her friends, a photo from Trick or Treating with friends, and a cool vintage photo (I think it was taken in the 1920s?) I found in a magazine. Plus some lantern stickers I had in my stash, a wood veneer, some flower die cuts, a pumpkin sticker, and an acrylic “today” word.

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End of the Month “Currently” List and the title page for November

Just my “Currently” list which is at the back of every month in the planner (which is kind of one of the big reasons I bought it) and the title page for November. Some of the title pages that the planner comes with are beautiful and have quotes, but this month’s was pretty plain so I added an image from a magazine (either Better Homes & Gardens or Real Simple?) and put on some letter stickers.

bonus page:

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September Mood Board

I never did anything with the month-on-two-pages from September so I went back and made a general autumn/fall mood board. The quote is from  Siri Hustvedt: “It has taken me a very long time, a very long time to give myself permission to fly and breathe fire.” I’m trying to do that this fall- give myself permission to just do and be me. It’s tricky work.

One thing I will say about my first month documenting things in this planner – it has made me very very mindful of everything. That’s a great thing. The planner takes a long time to work on- much longer than I anticipated or even have time for!- but it’s become sort of like a weekly meditation and it forces me to pay attention to all the little things, which I kind of need in my anemia-induced haziness. I figure I’ll get better at both the page compositions and time spent doing them as I keep working on it.

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If you’ve made it this far, thank you for looking and reading all of this. I hope your week is a happy one 🙂

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first foggy morning of the season...

first foggy morning of the season…

In my head…
Just so you know, I wrote my last post (the one about Ginger, anemia, and the issues with the floors) over the span of the last few weeks. I know it seemed like a big load of stuff at one time, but it was sort of spread out over a month. I just wanted to thank everyone for their support and for the love. I know I sounded a little overwhelmed but I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m just moving towards that, one little step at a time.

I think right now I need to focus on that- taking things one day at a time. I recently finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” and she has what she calls “Rules of Adulthood” which are basically little maxims about being an adult that make life a little easier. As I was reading, I made up my own Rule of Adulthood, which is: Make the Right Decision at the Right Time. That’s kind of a response to my anxiety- I’m always thinking way too far ahead, processing all possible alternatives and outcomes and agonizing over everything, whether it’s what time to get in the pool to what to have for dinner, etc. “Make the Right Decision at the Right Time” is my reminder that there’s no need to agonize about decisions in advance or worry about things before they happen. I almost always change my mind, anyway.

I know it sounds silly, but just keeping that in my mind has been a big help. Make the Right Decision at the Right Time.

I’m also finding a lot of comfort in constantly making fresh to-do lists, even if they are just carbon copies of each other. I usually just write a big to-do list on Sundays and follow it through the week, but I’m finding that writing them every other day helps me figure out what’s important and what I feel up for and then I can sort of tackle those things first and not spend a lot of time wondering what needs to be done first.

and…

I know I keep mentioning it, but I’m *still* adjusting to the new school schedule. Life at Grace’s new school is busy, and I keep waiting for it to settle down. The truth is that it may not settle down- there’s just a lot going on. Grace seems to be thriving, though, so that’s all that matters.

I’ll be honest- my issue is that all my extra time (the time I used for painting, creative stuff, etc.) is pretty much gone. I used to get a few hours in the afternoon, but now I’m lucky if I get about half an hour before dinner, and a little bit of time first thing in the morning and right before bed. I probably should learn how to use those bits of time more constructively, but I gotta admit, I’m not really firing on all cylinders first thing in the morning and right before bed. Especially not now, with anemia clouding my brain. I have to admit- I think the mental part of anemia (the dizziness and the lethargy) is far worse than the physical part. I hate not feeling sharp and focused. I thrive on that, so to feel like I’m sort of spaced out so much of the time frustrates me.

On the flip side, it’s taught me a lot about authenticity and values. I know this sounds super weird, but stick with me for a minute. Because I don’t have much time/energy/focus, it becomes very apparent very quickly what I really feel driven to do. The other stuff falls away very quickly. That’s been eye-opening for me in a lot of ways, and I’m still working through what I’m discovering. Now I need to find the courage to cross the other stuff off the list and just go for what really matters and makes me feel good.
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Outside my window…

IT’S FALL! Well, it’s still 80-85 degrees out every day and it rains pretty regularly, but *still*, it’s fall!

There’s something very different about the light and the quality of the air in fall. It’s kind of magical to me, and I’m not a really big “magic” kinda person. I have said this before, but there’s a weird quickening I get in the fall that I can’t experience any other time of the year. It’s like my personal New Year’s- everything feels fresh and new and possible and okay. I don’t know why the heck I feel this way at this time of year, but it’s really a big deal for me. It’s almost like summer being over is this huge weight off my shoulders- I physically feel such a difference.

I’m trying to enjoy the weather as much as possible. We were able to open the doors and windows a few days ago for the first time in about five months, which was so lovely. And there was a beautiful morning fog this past week, the first of the season.

The flip side to Hurricane Joaquin was that we got this stretch of astoundingly gorgeous weather- cooler temperature, super breezy and dry, puffy clouds racing across a deep blue sky. It lasted for about four days. I felt really wretched enjoying that weather when the hurricane was causing so much damage and loss of life and threatening major problems on the east coast. But, it was sort of like summer was pushed out and fall came in overnight.
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In the art studio…
Working on the planner. I forgot how addicted I get to collaging stuff and figuring out what images and information to put together. I know I said this before, but I *really* like the “mish-mash” approach to documenting life so much more than scrapbooking (which I also like, I just like being able to add everything – including magazine images and ephemera and random stuff- even more.)

Also, I can work on it on the fly. I can spend 10 minutes on it, and get things done, as opposed to my other creative interests which often require an hour or more to do anything.

I haven’t really been able to do any coloring or color palettes in the last month. No time.

I also want to start painting in acrylics again SOON. I keep thinking about it. Yearning for it. That’s a good sign. I just hope I can get going on my own. The last two years I took Flora Bowley’s “Bloom True” during October and November, and that forced me to start painting, but this year I didn’t sign up because I didn’t want to lose six weeks of the fall to me being obsessed with the class. But if I can’t get painting again, I will be signing up for a class soon.

There’s also a bunch of classes on CreativeBug that look great. I got a subscription for Gracie this summer (she likes to take online art classes because we usually have all the materials here in the art studio) and there’s some stuff on there that *I* want to take. The rest of Lisa Cogden’s classes, the watercolor classes, etc…

And I *really* want to take an online class on Buddhism. I don’t know where, or when, but every year I try to take something spiritual/well-being-based, and this year I think I want to do something that’s more like an overview (history of buddhism, etc.)  of a big topic. I think the fact that it’s autumn makes me itchy to take a class.

I just need to figure out the time.
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In the garden…

I finally made my fall seed orders, and got everything a few weeks ago. I wanted to plant everything right away, but I learned the hard way in years past that if I plant when the weather is still too warm, none of the seeds sprout. For those wondering “WHY is she planting seeds in fall?” it’s because here in Southwest Florida, fall is basically our spring. Spring and summer are too hot and wet to grow anything, so fall and winter are our peak gardening months.

As far as seeds, they are a bunch of different Coleus (a regular in my garden), Geranium (another regular, but this year I am only doing four varieties as opposed to the ten I usually do), Petunia (another regular, but again I’m scaling down- four varieties), and a few random selections: one packet of Nasturtium (skipped it last year but want to get one big planter going again for this year), a bunch of catnip (Chester’s obsession), Brazilian Fireworks (could never get it to go before but will try again) and a few other seeds I can’t remember. The reason for fewer petunias/geranium is that I got a lot of tropical/all season plants this summer (shrimp plants, lantana, mandevilla) and I’m out of room for seasonal plants!

This year I decided to try germinating the seeds indoors so that I could get an early start. My geraniums and petunias have already sprouted, but I’m giving them a bit of time in the Jiffy soil pellets before I transfer them. I also planted a single Nasturtium seed, and that went crazy, so I transferred that yesterday. Usually nasturtiums don’t like being transferred so we’ll see how that does after being started inside.
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Reading…

Right now I’m reading “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Glibert which is amazing (I think I have highlighted about 85% of the book) and at night, when I can’t sleep, I am reading Celeste Ng’s “Everything I Never Told You.” I’m only about 20% into that book, but so far, it’s very readable and I’m interested so that’s a good sign.

As I mentioned above, I spent September reading “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin, who wrote “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home”. As with all of her books, I liked “Better Than Before” a lot. I definitely got a lot out of it.  It’s all about how people form habits- good and bad. I have an obsessive and organized personality, but I’m also super indecisive about things, so for me, habits are always really hit (like swimming, which I have done religiously since I got in the pool 23 years ago) or really miss (remember that 100 Day Project? I lasted two weeks.) It was very interesting to see how my tendencies about thing factor into which habits stick, and learn a little about why.

Next I read the newest Alexander McCall Smith (“The Woman who Walks in Sunshine”) and it was charming. I read it in two afternoons.

I also re-read a book called “Spark” that I was sent for review a few years back and found on my shelf the other day.

I wanted to throw “Fates and Furies” across the room because it was so bad (not really, it’s on my iPad so I didn’t throw anything, but I *wanted* to). Total nonsense about totally ridiculous characters. It was readable, but just insufferable. I know some people are going insane over this book, about how good they think it is, and I guess I can see it, but in the end it just felt like more manipulative fiction dressed up in interesting writing about millenial hipsters living very broken lives..
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Watching (Movies)…
We finally started going to the movies again a few weeks ago, and we’ve been catching up on movies at home, too.

The Martian was amazing.

The Walk, (in 3D) was BEAUTIFUL and so inspiring. Of course, I have a special place in my heart for the story since I’m a New Yorker, and it’s about the Twin Towers right after they were built, so it was amazing to see it unfold in 3D. I can’t recommend “The Walk” enough. I’m a little crushed it’s not doing better at the box office, because it’s a wonderful movie (really great for kids, too) and the story is really meaningful. Maybe if it’s nominated for some awards, it will gain some traction, and more people will see it.

Loved Crimson Peak and I am very very glad we had a chance to see it in the theater. Sumptuous, and not that scary at all- just creepy and gothic.

Black Mass was good, not great. Johnny Depp was amazing, though.

San Andreas was surprisingly good. Not excellent cinematic innovation or anything, but a very very watchable movie. A little trigger-y if you are sensitive to natural disasters and/or urban destruction (watching buildings fall always makes me a little edgy…)

Finally, The Wolfpack was AMAZING. The description: “Winner of Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, this critically acclaimed documentary follows the Angulo brothers who were locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and discovered about the outside world through the films that they watch. Nicknamed the Wolfpack, the brothers spend their childhood re-enacting their favorite films using elaborate homemade props and costumes. With no friends and living on welfare, they feed their curiosity, creativity, and imagination with film, which allows them to escape from their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. The Wolfpack must learn how to integrate into society without disbanding the brotherhood.” If you have a chance to watch one film at home anytime soon, you should check this out.
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Watching (TV)…
Okay, we found an amazing show- it’s called “Fortitude”. We watched the first season of “Manhattan” (which was excellent) and then I went on IMDB to look at their “if you enjoyed ____, you might enjoy _____” list (from which I have found a lot of interesting shows for us to binge watch) and Fortitude popped up. I never heard of it, or the channel that it aired on (Pivot?) but the trailer looked great and Stanley Tucci was in it, and it was supposed to have a sci-fi element to it, so we went ahead and downloaded it.

Description: “Fortitude is a place like nowhere else. Although surrounded by the savage beauty of the Arctic landscape, Fortitude is one of the safest towns on earth. There has never been a violent crime here. Until now.”

SO. GOOD. Really great.

It’s sort of like if Broadchurch was set in the North Pole, with a mystery about a Wooly Mammoth in addition to the murder mystery. I know that sounds insane, but it’s so compelling.

And “Mahattan” was great, too. That’s an American cable series about the scientists that built the Atomic Bomb during World War II. Unfortunately, they made a few changes in season two (no more Sigur Ros doing the score, and Daniel Stern’s character seems to written off, which is unfortunate…) that makes me like the show a little less.

Oh, and season two of Fargo started! And season two of The Affair. Homeland started, too, but we always find that we like that show so much better when we binge watch it, so we’re saving the episodes on the Tivo and we’ll watch when the season is done.

As far as family TV, we’re watching the new season of Amazing Race, the current season of Project Runway, and an old season of Survivor (season 14- Fiji) which we started late this summer and will finish before we start watching the *new* season.

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Okay, that’s a lot for now 🙂 If you’ve read all this, thank you. <3 I hope you have an amazing weekend!

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It's FALL!!!

It’s FALL!!!

What’s going on around here:

I know I haven’t written one of these in a while. A few things that happened:

Ginger and the Surgery:
Ginger (one of our kitties) finally had the surgery to remove the glands by her tail about three weeks ago, after being plagued by infections in that area for the last 18 months.

The surgery went very well, and we are SO, SO relieved and just… *big deep breath*. Our pets are truly part of our family in every way, so having any of our animals ill or in any kind of pain is a hugely emotional thing. It’s been a rough 18 months for Ginger, and Tom and I can hardly believe the surgery is done and she’s recovering now. We feel incredibly grateful. And Ginger’s such a *champ*- she went through all of this and no one could explain to her why things were hurting and why she kept getting better and then worse, and then she had to have the surgery and recover from that… what an amazing little kitty she is. And she never doubted us, which is amazing to me. I was so worried she’d wonder why we were doing all this to her but she just kept loving and trusting us. It’s amazing- animals are just so amazing.

One of the dangers of the surgery was that Ginger might end up incontinent as a result of them cutting out some muscle, but that didn’t happen.

The other scary part of the surgery was that when they sent the removed tissue in for testing, it might reveal the infections were due to cancer and not just an odd bacteria or just a general problem with the glands. Happily, the tests came out negative for cancer. However, Ginger did have a super weird bacteria in her tissue sample that was so unusual that the vets had to do research on what antibiotics might kill it, and then we were sent to some pharmacy in Naples to have it compounded.

Ginger was on about three weeks of those antibiotics, and they took off her e-collar about a week ago. In a few days, we’ll start taking her out of isolation (she’s been living in the back bedrooms of the house for 18 months so she could rest and heal and not have the boy cats messing with her…) and getting her back into the rest of the house.

Yay for Ginger!

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Anemia:
If you’ve been reading my posts for the last year or so, you probably have picked up on the fact that I haven’t felt great, health-wise. The truth is, I have felt completely awful for the last two or three years. Like, *really* awful. I honestly thought it was part depression and part Spina Bifida and I just had to make the best of it and keep going.

The Spina Bifida thing is always a big question mark because it’s neurological and physical, and it’s a completely individual disease, meaning everyone who has it has a completely different experience with it because it affects so many nerves, muscles, and organs. I assumed that the increased exhaustion and dizziness was just part of it. Exhaustion is sort of par-for-the-course just because things like physical balance and walking (which most people do without much effort) is difficult for me. I don’t really have muscle memory in my core or legs, so walking and staying balanced when I’m on my feet is something I have to work on as I do it. As you can imagine, that takes a lot of energy. (Ironically, I have wonderful muscle memory when it comes to swimming- I get in the pool, and it’s all automatic. It feels like I am flying.)

As far as the depression, I’ve been struggling with that all my life. It sort of ebbs and flows with how much stress I am going through – it was pretty bad in high school and college, and then it was much less pronounced after graduate school and in my adult life. But when Delilah passed away in spring of 2013, I was just devastated, and I never really bounced back. I have mentioned my struggle with Delilah’s passing occasionally, but not in much detail. I just think that there are a lot of people who are sort of, like, “get over it!” when you start talking about losing a pet, so it’s been something that’s sort of private for me.

It turns out it wasn’t depression/Spina Bifida- it was anemia.

At the end of this past summer, I felt so lethargic that I even stopped going to the movies (which is one of my favorite things to do to relax, especially in the summer) because the whole process just exhausted me- every time we’d sit down in a dark theater, I’d nod off. And the car rides to and from the theater felt like agony.

I got diagnosed with anemia and a low thyroid a few years ago, but I thought anemia was just a “whatever” kind of condition in that it makes you feel tired, but life goes on. I never realized anemia (low iron) actually means that you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your entire body, including the heart. I’m a long time vegetarian with heavy periods (sorry, TMI, but relevant info…) so every month, my iron levels have been dropping and dropping.

A week before my annual doctor’s appointment in September, I had blood drawn, and the blood tests showed the anemia had gotten much worse, and it was affecting my heart function. When I saw my doctor, she very firm about me needing to take immediate action, and when she started mentioning words like “transfusion” and “surgery” (ablation), I got the message.

She gave me three months to get my blood levels up before I have to take more drastic steps. So now I’m dutifully taking my meds and altering my diet (lots of spinach and veggies with iron) and paying close attention to how I feel. When I’m tired, I rest. When I’m dizzy, I sit down. I’m making myself get more sleep. I’m saying “no” to a lot of things because I just need to take it easy.

I know there are a lot of people out there with anemia who have very full schedules, but the combination of Spina Bifida *and* anemia is a lot. It really is. I’m only writing this because I’m tired of pretending I feel great when I really don’t. That’s been my whole life, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m finding the more honest I am about how I really feel, the better I wind up feeling.

The iron pills seem to be helping as far as I can tell- I’m not as dizzy, I feel a bit more focused and energetic, and I find myself wanting to do things as opposed to feeling obligated to do them. We’ve been going to the movies again- and I’m not dozing off! It’s sort of baby steps.

I don’t know if it’s psychosomatic or something actually changing as a result of the pills, but I’m just riding it and seeing where it takes me.

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Home Improvement and Floors:
I don’t know if you remember or not, but back in the spring, I started talking about us redoing all our floors in our house. Then suddenly I *stopped* talking about that project.

Well, the floors my dad and Tom installed were from Lumber Liquidators. And the week after we got them in, there was a big report on 60 Minutes about the illegal levels of toxins in the floors- they were manufactured in China, and the plant was told to ignore the US regulations, so tons of floors were sent out and sold that were toxic.

And it turned out the floors we installed have super high (and illegal) levels of formaldehyde in them- the test kit that Lumber Liquidators sent verified it. *sigh* Of course, when Lumber Liquidators contacted us with the results, they said that an agent would be in touch shortly to do another test and follow up with getting them removed/replaced, but nothing ever happened.

So now we have to get the floors OUT (no more waiting around for someone to contact us) and find new floors to replace them. And we’ve got a lawyer on it, as well, because it’s never as simple as getting a refund or Lumber Liquidators doing the right thing and having someone come and remove the floors and replacing them with CERTIFIED and TESTED healthy floors.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to pick a new floor within the next few weeks, get whatever additional testing done right away, and have new floors installed. This time, we’re hiring installers so hopefully they can do the whole house in a fairly brief period of time.

I can’t wait for this to be over- what a nightmare. So much for saving money by getting discount floors and DIY 🙁

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So, anyway…
that’s kinda what’s been going on, in addition to us getting used to the new school schedule and how busy things have been. It’s also why I haven’t been online or on Facebook or posting on here very often. I plan to do a more normal “around here” post in the next few days, I just didn’t want to jam all of this in, so I decided to make an individual post with this stuff. That way, if I refer to Ginger or the floors or anemia, you’ll kinda know what I mean.

I know I say this a lot, but I’m hoping that things do truly settle down just a bit and we can all catch our breath and enjoy the fall. It’s been an interesting few months.

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I hope you have been well, and I hope you have a great week 🙂 If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate it.

<3

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watercoloring with Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils

watercoloring with Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going through a bit of a watercolor pencil phase at the moment. After using a set of Inktense I’ve had in my stash for several years and finding them a little frustrating, I wound up ordering a different set of watercolor pencils to try- Mondeluz, which I liked a lot and enjoyed using.

But I kept reading about two other watercolor pencil lines that were supposedly the creme de la creme- the Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelle (which I immediately ruled out because they are insanely expensive, although I do want to try them eventually. Maybe as a Christmas gift?) and then the Faber Castell Albrecht Durer pencils.

After spending a few weeks REALLY wanting the Durers and looking at the prices, Utrecht suddenly had a crazy online sale and they *didn’t* exempt the Durers from it, so I splurged.

Needless to say, I love them. They are vibrant, easy to use and blend and wash and lift, come in a zillion colors that literally made me “ohhhh” and “ahhhh” as I made the color chart, and just make me want to use them all day. They are one of those art supplies that you get and enjoy not only having, but using. So much so you want to devote all your creative time to using them.

I will say this- the Durers are not leaps and bounds better than the Mondeluz.  I was kind of expecting a tremendous difference in the two pencils because of the cost difference, but I was impressed by both. However, there are some key quality issues that make the Durers the better pencil: Durers don’t dull when they dry, the pencils tips, no matter how sharp, don’t break when you put a lot of pressure on them, and the Durers come in a much larger range of colors.

But I gotta say, even though I have the Durers, I still think the Mondeluz are really great, especially for the price.

As usual with my art supplies, the first thing I did was reorder the pencils according to my own internal rainbow and swatch them all out. That took me almost a week because there are 120 colors. I knew that the different tones and shades of colors would trip me up, but I really got obsessive about it this time (which is crazy, but I still love doing this process.) Here’s a color chart, for those interested:

Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils color chart

Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils color chart

Then I used them to color a design from Color Me Calm, which I printed out on Fluid cold-press watercolor paper, which I did *not* like for watercolor pencils. I usually use Strathmore 400/500 watercolor paper, but I got a few pads of different papers a while back to see if I liked anything better, and this was my first time using the Fluid. I’ve never had a watercolor paper pill on me with just a few strokes of a pencil and a waterbrush, but the Fluid did. It also seemed to require me to really color very heavily with the pencils to get bright color, and I didn’t like the way the color moved on them. I swatched and tested the pencils on Strathmore and some Canson XL, so I knew it wasn’t the  pencils themselves that were being flaky, it was the paper.

I’m going to try the Fluid paper out with a few other supplies- I have a feeling it might be good for my Windsor and Newton watercolor markers. Thats’s one of my next projects. I got the W&N markers for my birthday and did a coloring project with them and hated it so much I threw it out. I need to figure them out. It’s on my list 😉

But first, I’m playing with my peerless watercolors again (you know, the ones that come as dry dye on paper backing?) I re-swatched them and am experimenting with them a little bit. I just want to do a full out coloring project with them before I pull out the W&N markers and work with them for a while.

 

Thanks, as always, for stopping by- I hope you are having an amazing week.

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hello!
I'm Chel (pronounced "shell", short for "Michele").

I'm an artist, graduate student (Buddhist Studies), writer, gardener, art historian, long-distance swimmer, crochet-er, movie watcher, animal lover, and avid reader.

Random facts: I have an eleven year old daughter named Gracie and a husband named Tom. I grew up in New York (Long Island, to be specific), went to college/grad school in Atlanta (Emory University) in the 1990's, and now I live in Southwest Florida. I'm incredibly shy but I adore my friends and family. I've been a vegetarian for almost 30 years and I love animals of all kinds- we have four rescue cats, three parrots, and an elderly gecko and we raise butterflies. I swim five miles every day- rain, shine, storm, or travel. I was born with Spina Bifida, and swimming keeps me healthy and sane. When I'm not in the pool, I'm in my art studio, with a hot cup of tea.

If you'd like to know more, click here

contact me at:
lists@gingerblue.com



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