How Do I Pick a Theme?

Earlier this month, Christine talked about the usefulness of picking a theme for the year. Later, Jen touched on the subject in her recent post. This sounds like a good and worthy thing to accomplish. I think it would help me with setting goals, and staying on track with what I want to accomplish. What I am having trouble with is getting my synaptically overloaded brain to stop and pick ONE thing. Or even just two. Earlier this month, I mentioned two goals I am hoping to work on for the year. I am continuing to work on those things, though progress in some areas is slower than in others. 

I am playing with the ideas of scaling back, trimming down, focus (How? In the middle of typing this, I had they urge to look up croque madame recipes. I followed that urge. I’m back now…but for how long?). Where was I? Oh yes, trimming down. I think I have too many interests. I would like to turn at least one of them, even two, into something where I could actually earn some money doing something I enjoy. I enjoy writing –though preferably fiction writing or essays. Then I ask myself, how much do I enjoy writing if I can’t even manage to get my post for this blog in on time? (It was due Friday morning). I’ve been knitting and crocheting a lot. Making a lot of gifts for friends, but not doing so well in the “stockpiling and inventory for an Etsy account” area. And then, somewhere in the middle of my knitting and crocheting, I miss my writing. I am having ideas, but no, I can’t put down what I’m working on, especially if there is a deadline –like wanting to finish a baby afghan before the baby is born. I start to get obsessed with one project or another, needing to keep working on it. Just one more row. Just one more pattern repeat. The same thing happens when I’m writing, except I tend to be much less cordial to anyone who dares enter the room where I am working. This may be a reason I’ve been sticking more with the needle arts than the “Word Crafting” lately: I enjoy getting along with my family. And with that, I think I have come up with my theme for the year: “Stress-reduction.”

Clean and Lean for 2013

I know better than to set a New Year’s Resolution. Why set myself up for failure? Instead, I like to set small goals. Ultimately, they lead to a larger goal. For example: I need to lose about 75 pounds to get from “obese” to “healthy weight.” That would be the high end of healthy weight for me but…baby steps… So, instead of setting the goal, “Lose 75 pounds,” or even lose any amount of weight, it’s, “Don’t eat take-out more than once a week,” and “walk at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.”

Another area I’m working on is my terrible organization habits. Until earlier today, I could not close my nightstand drawer. It was becoming an extension of the top surface. Not only that, but I can see the top of my nightstand. I can see the floor on my side of the bed. I still have some more books, magazines and knitting and crochet projects to organize, but it’s getting there!

What happened to my writing? That has really been put on the back burner for a while. I am finding that I am doing more with my knitting and crocheting these days.  We’ll see how things go in the next few weeks.

Tryin’ to Get That Feelin’ Again

Yes, I went there. I used a Barry Manilow song title for this blog post. Due to recent events in the news, which I think most of us are aware, I am having a difficult time finding a way to write about “Joy” again this month. (Notice that I’m posting this much later in the day than normal.) It’s possible I’m also having trouble because the rebel in me balks at being given a topic to write about. On the other hand, the competitor in me enjoys the challenge of a topic.

Let’s see… I get joy from writing. I also get joy from knitting, crocheting, drawing, reading, watching a good movie, spending time with my family. I’ve noticed lately, that I’m getting more enjoyment (does that count as “joy?”  It has “joy” in it…) from knitting and crocheting than from writing or even reading. Normally, it goes in cycles, but this year, my interest has leaned more toward my knitting and crochet projects.

My 22-year-old daughter is visiting from Portland, OR (we’re in Southern California) until the 30th, so of course I’m very happy about that! It’s okay that she’s been spending much of her time visiting her friends, because she is still nearby. She is spending time with her little sister and her twin brother. She is doing a project making a dream catcher art piece and  incorporating the seven chakras.  She also keeps a journal in which she writes, draws and paints with watercolors. I look at her with all this art and creativity in her life and I think, “Yes. This.”

My creative daughter, Amanda. One of the joys in my life.

Joyful Music

Last night, my husband and I took our 11-year-old daughter, Ceana to listen to the local high school jazz concert band. Ceana plays clarinet in her middle school cadet band, and any student from her band that went to the performance last night will get extra credit for band class. Also, they got in free if they wore their band T-shirt. It was also the premiere performance of the middle school’s new jazz band. The concert was fantastic! I didn’t have a kid in the show, so I can say that with complete objectivity. During the show, we found out that the teacher who comes in to teach the middle school jazz band –and she and the students come in an hour before school starts because this is not a class, it’s all voluntary–is a local elementary school teacher who is donating her time for this. I was also impressed that these 7th and 8th grade kids come to school extra early just to play jazz.

In a time when I continue to hear about schools losing their arts and music programs, I am thrilled that we have a fantastic music program in our district that begins in 5th grade. I learned that the high school has five full concert bands in addition to the marching band. During the last performance by the Jazz I Band, my daughter made an audio recording. I placed a portion of it on YouTube if you are interested in listening to a clip. There is an explanation with the clip as to why I also have a slide show with strange photos playing with music.

Ceana enjoyed the jazz bands. We let her sit with her friends a row behind us, and I noticed she was face front and listening while some of her friends were talking (you may be able to hear them on the recording). Currently, she isn’t sure if she wants to try out for jazz band because it would mean playing a different instrument. While she wouldn’t have to give up her clarinet, traditionally, they are not a part of jazz bands. I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it, meanwhile, we can enjoy the beautiful music she makes with her clarinet.

Appreciating Family and Beauty

I am sitting here in our hotel room on November 22,  the eve of my 16th wedding anniversary. My husband and I and our eleven-and-three-quarters-old daughter left Monday and drove from our home in Southern California to Portland, Oregon where our twenty-one-year-old daughter moved to in July. We arrived late Tuesday evening. On the first leg of our trip, we stopped overnight in Redding, CA and got to have breakfast the next day with my best friend from high school and her two kids. It was fantastic seeing her. It felt like we picked up right where we left off. I was fantasizing about us living near each other and meeting for coffee a few times a month.

In Portland, our daughter showed us around town. We had Thai for dinner and the next day, Indian food from a street cart. We visited the Japanese Gardens and Powell’s Bookstore. The entire time, I had this undercurrent of pain, due to a minor procedure I had to undergo the Friday before our trip and also just due to being out of shape and not used to walking for long periods of time. And yet…….I was able to appreciate the beauty of the Gardens, the amazing eclectic art all around the city. I’m cutting this post short because I want to spend time with family, with my daughter who I haven’t seen since she left in July and who knows when I’ll get to see her again, and because tomorrow is my anniversary.



When Christine announced that the theme for this month would be “Gratitude,” I thought, “Well, crap, now I have to come up with TWO posts on this.” I have a difficult time with the “feeling” of gratitude. Intellectually, I know when I ought to feel it and express it, so I do, but I don’t always feel it. I can use up this entire post listing all the things for which I should feel gratitude, but really it’s more like a feeling of, “Whew! Sure glad I’m not in a worse situation.” Does that count? It isn’t that I have never felt warmth from being grateful for something someone did for me. I have! One example I can think of is when a friend of mine helped me with my twins when they were toddlers and I was a single mom.

On the other hand, while I was pregnant with my twins and going through a divorce so that my soon to be ex-husband could marry the woman he thought he was in love with, My grandparents offered to take me in when the doctor told me I had to quit work during the last three months of my pregnancy, and no one else was offering to take me in. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to ask anyone if they could help me out. I thanked them profusely, though at the time, I didn’t feel that warm feeling of gratitude. I figured it would come over time. When I got there, it was requested that I keep my room clean, keep the main bathroom clean, and prepare a meal once a week. I thought this was totally fine. I wasn’t supposed to be doing too much, but this was basically just cleaning up after myself and making one meal out of the 21 meals per week. After the twins were born and were a few months old, my grandma expressed her irritation that I wasn’t doing more around in the way of housework. Personally, I felt it was almost all I could do to just take care of the twins, considering the fact that they refused to have a synchronized sleep schedule, but I was willing to try.

Grandma: I just wish you’d pitch in more around here.

Me: Okay. What did you have in mind?

Grandma: I wish you’d pitch in more with housework.

Me: Okay…what would you like me to do?

Grandma: Just pitch in. If you see something that needs to be done, do it.

Me: can you be more specific?

Grandma: Like if you see that vacuuming needs to be done, or dusting.

Me: Okay. I’m not always good at noticing if something needs to be done, but if you gave me a list of chores you’d like me to do, and how you would like them done, I’d be glad to help.

Grandma (getting agitated): I don’t want to have to give you a ist! Why can’t you just pitch in when you see there is a need?

Me: For one thing, the whole time I’ve been living here, I haven’t noticed anything needing attention so if I’ve been missing something, then you can see how bad I am at just noticing what needs to get done.

Grandma: Well, how did you do it in you own house?

Me: That was different. It was my house so I know what hadn’t been done yet. I don’t know what routines you already have set up.

It went on like this for a while. Bottom line was, I came out of it willing to do more, but thinking she expected me to be psychic. I think she came out of it thinking I was trying to get out of helping.

More than twenty years later, I look at the whole experience as more of a tribulation with a sprinkling of tiny blessings in there…somewhere…. I still can’t feel emotionally grateful, though logically, I know I should. I tend to feel more grateful to God or the Universe for providing a temporary refuge that kept my children safe and healthy. I know my grandparents were looking for a much larger display of gratitude than the verbal “thank you” (to be clear, I said more than just the words, “thank you,” I just wasn’t effusive) they got when I moved, but I just couldn’t lie.

Looking at the schedule, my next post will be on Black Friday! Perhaps the title will be, “It Could Be Worse…?”

Emotional Intensity: Two Sides of the Same Coin

When my son, Nick was three-years-old, I got him a Spiderman coloring book. I was amazed to find that not only did he carefully color in the lines, but he was very concerned with getting the colors “right.”  He wanted to make sure he used just the right shade of gray for the buildings, the best red and blue for Spidey’s costume. If his crayon strayed an eighth of an inch outside the lines, he would throw his head on the table in despair. I would try to comfort him and let him know it was okay to go outside the lines, but he wasn’t convinced.  This is the child who also lined up all of his toys, single file in a straight line from largest to smallest, so I don’t know why I was surprised.

His perfectionism in his art and play did not translate to perfectionism in school work. Although, in elementary school, he did well. The only complaint we heard from teachers was that he was a bit more “social” than they would prefer. We were able to help him keep on top of his homework because his twin sister, Amanda had the same curriculum. She was very organized and didn’t forget to write down homework assignments. She would come home and tell us about any long term projects and when each section of the project was due. She volunteered this information. When we asked Nick about it, his response would be, “Oh yeah….” and then he’d dig around until he found his information sheet that had been stuck in some random section of his binder. He managed to hang on to his good grades even through middle school with the help of his twin sister who had almost all of the same classes even if their schedules weren’t the same.

The trouble began in high school. His eighth grade English teacher encouraged him to take the Advanced Language Arts in high school. She knew he was intellectually capable of understanding the curriculum. She was right. What he was not capable of, was exercising the self-discipline, and having the focus needed to keep up with the homework load. While his sister basked in reading the classics, excited to have the opportunity to read Dickens, Austen, Bronte, and many others, Nick’s eyes glazed over with boredom. For the next four years, we would hear the same thing from most of his teachers, “Nick is a bright kid and does a great job with the class discussions, but he needs to turn in his homework! He could be earning straight “A’s” if only he would turn in his homework.”

We considered not letting him participate in school plays, but his counselor begged us to allow him to continue because that was the one area where he really shined. The highlight of his high school career was when he got the lead as “Seymour” in “Little Shop of Horrors” in his junior year. He continued to struggle with homework, but managed to graduate by the skin of his teeth.

Nick singing with “Audrey II” in “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2008.

He is twenty-one years old now. He lives at home. He wishes he did not live at home, but until just the other day, his employment record has been spotty at best. There have been many times where conflicts primarily over our house rules and his opinions of those rules have led to massive outbursts on his part. He has been working on this. Recently, he has been working on his music. It seems to be coming along quite well. Yesterday, I told him about this blog post I was writing and asked him how he felt about his episodes of emotional intensity and what he has been doing to cope when he feels an outburst coming on.

In some ways, he embraces his intensities and sensitivities. He thinks it’s necessary for his growth as an artist to feel things fully. He acknowledges that sometimes it can get in the way of making clear headed decisions.  Playing music allows him to get it out. He has been experimenting with guided meditation. He highly recommends it as it has a calming effect on his mind and body. It fills him with positive focused energy and he can feel it strengthens him and help him to gain control over his intense emotions and use it positively to gain control over his environment.

He summed it up by saying that his emotional intensities have allowed him as much happiness as they have sorrow.

Promotional Poster of Nick singing at Flour Fusion

Keep Calm and…

I have found the secret to dealing with the emotional intensities of my children, while attempting to deal with my own emotional intensities. Remain calm. There it is, folks! Problem solved. You are welcome! Stop laughing. Stop throwing things too!  Okay, I admit, this was probably not a big secret to you. I also admit, that it is way, way, way, way, way the heck easier said than done.

I continue to struggle with this, but I have noticed that dealings with my daughter and my son continue to improve the more I practice. By “practice” I actually mean “rehearse.” My husband and I will actually have rehearsals Much like King Fergus and Queen Elinor do in Pixar’s “Brave.”


Odds  tend to be more in favor of our kids overreacting to being told to get their chores done, or even being asked if their chores or homework has been done, or having the answer “no” to a request, so we prepare ourselves. My husband is better at this than I am. I have a tendency to physically feel the negative energy created by their responses and my body translates that as pain. It can get to the point where I just want to curl up and take a nap instead of dealing with things. Sometimes I take that nap. Sometimes I forget my resolve and let myself get drawn in to my own emotional overreaction. But lately, I’ve been taking the advice from the old British WWII poster that has become a popular meme in the last couple of years:

I acknowledge that when one is on their Very Last Nerve, this advice can feel trite, perhaps even to the point of feeling the need to slap the advice giver. No? Okay, it’s just me, then. There is no such thing as a cure-all that completely eradicates overly intense outbursts. What I have noticed is that sometimes when I have managed to remain calm during someone else’s outburst, sometimes they manage to calm down on their own a little quicker. Even if they don’t, at least we don’t have two people allowing the negative effects of their emotional intensities to get the best of them.

Keep Calm and Practice On!

Surviving Sudden Changes

My daughter has been loving Middle School.  Her father and I love going to Back-to-school night and hearing how much her teachers enjoy having her in their class.  She especially loves her Pre-Algebra/Science teacher.  Having Mrs. Jones as her teacher had been building up in her since the open house in Spring where incoming 6th graders were invited to visit and one of the classes we visited happened to be Mrs. Jones’ class. From then on, she was hoping to get Mrs. Jones for her teacher. We kept telling her that it doesn’t always work out that way and assured her that any teacher she got would be a good teacher.  When she got her schedule and found she had Mrs. Jones, she was extremely thrilled like she had won a big prize.

On Back-to-School night, last week, the parents were informed, as the students has already been informed, that due to an unexpected influx of students qualifying for Pre-Algebra this year, there were too many students (over 50) in the class and they were getting another teacher to get the classroom size back down to district standards. Half of the students would be transferred to the new teacher. When we talked to our daughter about this, she wasn’t worried. She said that because she was in Cadet Band, and couldn’t have her schedule moved around, she wouldn’t have to go. She was wrong. They didn’t need to move the schedule around because the new teacher would be teaching Pre-Algebra and Science during the same period as Mrs. Jones. Her prize was ripped away.

When she came home Monday and told us she got moved, she seemed very upset and on the verge of tears. She told us she wanted to switch back. When I said that I didn’t think they would let her, she said that she was told that if their parents went to the office, they could get them switched back. She said that one of her friend’s mom is doing this.

She said there were other kids in her class who specifically said they did not care if they got switched or not, but she feels like she is the only one who actually cared about staying with Mrs. Jones who got switched and many of the students who did not have a preference got to stay with Mrs. Jones.  She burst into sobbing for awhile. I almost cried, but managed to hold it together. I never had any intention of letting her switch back to her previous teacher, at least not until she gave the new one a fair shake. We told her that if she didn’t like her new teacher after the first week, then I would meet with the teacher, and if I felt she should be switched back, we would talk about that possibility.  She began sobbing harder. This wasn’t good enough. She didn’t even want to meet her new teacher. I told her it was okay to be sad and reminded her that she could still visit Mrs. Jones anytime before and after school and during lunch. She gradually quieted down when she realized we were not going to budge on the issue.

The next morning, she begged me to not make her go to school. I calmly told her, she was going to school. She asked me to give her a ride (even though she has walked the ten-minute walk every day since the first day of school). I agreed. She managed to get through the day. When she came home, I asked her how her new teacher was. She rolled her eyes and said, “Fine.” She didn’t want to discuss it beyond that. It was as though she was disappointed that her new teacher was just fine.

Now let me tell you some of the “behind the scenes” action. As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, our daughter had been diagnosed in the past with an anxiety disorder.  This made me second guess how we should handle the situation. We had this dilemma, Are we doing her a disservice if we let her change back (assuming that is possible)? Or are we doing her a disservice and provoking her anxiety issues by making her go with new teacher? We want her realize that sometimes things change and are out of our control, but we can get through it, the world doesn’t implode and sometimes it can even end up being a very positive experience in the long run. On the other hand, we also want her to realize that if she feels she is in an untenable situation, she does have the power to make changes and doesn’t have to just sit back and let things “happen” to her.

Surviving Middle School…So Far…

In preparation for this post, I asked my newly minted 6th grade daughter if she had any tips for surviving Middle School. She said, “Watch Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.” I gave her the facial equivalent of “dash, underline, dash,” or: -_- and then said, “I can’t just tell people to go watch a kids’ show on Nickelodeon.” She said, “No, really! It gives good advice! Okay, sometimes it’s really weird and random, but it also gives good advice!” I asked her to give me some examples. She sent me the video of the Top Ten Tips that I included the link to at the end of this post and wrote, “ i like all of these except for the getting pants-ed part… some of them are more tips than survival but I hope you can use them…”

Here are some highlights from the list:

10) Surviving Mondays: Take out Summer break and school holidays and there’s only 35 Mondays to survive!  Wear your favorite outfit on Mondays. Make Monday your Favorite Lunch Day!

8) Surviving Embarrassment: Keep extra clothes in your backpack, just in case. At my daughter’s school, they don’t have student lockers except for gym, so she’d have to keep a spare outfit in her backpack. She has done this on occasion, especially when wearing new shoes that haven’t been worn in yet. She ended up changing back to her old comfy shoes before the day was out.

5) Surviving Failing: Don’t let one “F” ruin your life. While failing is a sign you’re doing something wrong, it also tells you it’s time to try something different! Talk to you guidance counselor. It’s their job to help stop you from failing. Failing is a part of life, but it’s a part you can fix.

1) Best Friends: They always look out for each other, always stand together and have each other’s backs…But it’s normal for friendships to have ups and downs. Talk it out when you hit some bumps.

So far, my daughter seems to be surviving her first year of middle school fairly well. She has been keeping her grades up, and turning in her homework on time. She did forget to bring in a photo of herself one day for a class assignment, but then so did most of the rest of the class. She also forgot to have a booklet filled out with seven to ten addresses of family and friends for a fundraiser so she could earn prizes. Seven minutes before it was time to leave, she rushed in saying I needed to hurry and fill it out. At first I was going to, until I realized the time and explained there was no way we’d get it done before she had to leave. She knew she should have done it earlier when she had the chance, but she forgot. So, no prizes for that part of the fundraiser for her. She survived.

Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide Top Ten Tips