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Stepping Into the Sorrow

I ran into an acquaintance last weekend and my conversation with her has been in the back of my mind all week.

Her kids have grown and left the house, living lives of their own. It is the time in life when she and her husband could relax a little and enjoy the quiet of an empty nest.  Instead they have continued to take in foster children, something they have done for years and have even adopted two small children with fetal alcohol syndrome.  Of course all of this left me in awe. I was inspired and moved by this family’s dedication to those hurting around them. I know they are tired and yet have made the tough decision to not sit back and live an easy life. By doing this, they have given many children the chance to experience a loving home, even if just for a little while: to rock babies to sleep while singing to them and praying for their little broken hearts, to sign kids up for t-ball if only for one short season,  and with a heavy heart to often see them go back to uncertain lives at home.  This friend talked of kids coming to them with broken bones, scars from sexual abuse, and of having to meet with police to make a safety plan in case a violent father gets out of jail.

Amazingly though, she didn’t just talk of the hardships. She spoke with joy and a mother’s love-filled heart about her children (adopted and biological) and her foster children. Her face lit up as she shared the special ed teacher’s plan for her daughter to use a hula hoop to learn boundaries. “I’m buying three hula hoops for the house!” she laughed.

Later in the same day I sat with Ruby on my lap at a local play put on by children. As I experienced that motherly feeling of a full heart watching my sweet girl enthralled with the play, I also felt an awareness that somewhere in town a child may be having a very different kind of experience. It is a strange human truth that swirling around us at any given moment is so much beauty and so much pain. The world is a glorious place in which I constantly feel grateful, and yet, for some the world is a place filled with hurt and sadness.

There is a balance somewhere I think: to constantly be grateful, to live your bliss, to love life, and yet to never allow yourself to be shielded from those around you, maybe next door or even within your family, who are carrying broken hearts.  In order to make a difference, I think sometimes, we have to step into the sorrow willingly.  The friend I ran into has done just this, stepped outside of her life and into the pain of others in order that their lives filled with hardship may also have spots of joy, of late night rockings and prayers, of t-ball games and ice cream outings, and the experience of feeling absolutely worthy of love.

And so I move on from this short but deep interaction more aware of the painful darkness in the world and the glorious light as well and I hope we can all move through this beauty and this sorrow in such a way that our lives can lend to others at least a spot of comfort or a space of joy. And I hope we look willingly for those times when we will need to step out of our comfortable surroundings and into the sorrow in order to make the light a little more than the darkness.

I love/hate multitasking. I don’t so much love it, as I get the weird satisfying feeling from it that I used to get from biting my nails, or as a kid when I would inhale deeply while my parents pumped gas.  I know it can be damaging, but it feels so good. It can be helpful though too. Being part of a family of five, if I am headed down to the basement for something, I always look around to see if anything needs to be carried down with me.  Making lunches for the kids in the morning, I try to condense my trips to the fridge to as few times as possible. For instance, when putting away cheese and mustard, I am anticipating what I will need and how much I can carry back for sides such as yogurt and celery. The less trips, the better I feel about my start of the day.  These are examples of my healthier multitasking, but now it is time for honesty.

Every night before bed you can find me simultaneously brushing my teeth while doing squats. After brushing, I often use mouth wash while doing lunges and since my hands are now free I can put on moisturizer at the same time. Legs getting stronger, mouth germs being obliterated, and wrinkles fought in two brilliantly used minutes.  Keeping in touch with a family member or friend is important, but how lame to sit and have tea while doing so, so I often don some tennis shoes and head out for a walk whenever I see that a phone call may last a while.  I can’t stand time wasted on things like the internet loading, so if it is taking too long, I will hop up and quickly clean something,  do a few push ups, or a quick downward facing dog. And you won’t believe the things I can get done in the 30 seconds it takes to heat up my son’s cheese and tortilla.  I don’t know how I got like this, needing to fill every minute with more than one thing, hating lag time. I think parenthood, paying bills, general grown up feelings of too much to do, too little time have created within me a doing, going, getting-stuff-done kind of monster. I have forgotten to just be. And the truth is the more I things I have going on at once, the more chaotic I tend to feel.

Last spring I read an amazing book and it made me think twice about some of these habits. It is a book called Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn and it rocked my world (in a quiet, meditative way).  This author had the crazy idea that I should just sit and enjoy my toast in the morning, focusing on the food instead of picking up a magazine, or checking e-mail. I can’t express how difficult this is for me, to just eat.  I try it sometimes, and he’s right. I notice the crunch of the toast, the subtle sweetness of the butter. I marvel that the delicious jam I am enjoying used to be plums in my front tree. I think of the day my friend and I picked those plums, laughing and talking about kids and family. That constant feeling of chaos is slowed and maybe even swept away.

Kabat-Zinn encourages walks to be taken, just to be taken.  I force myself to occasionally leave my phone at home and though I love the times I catch up with friends or family, these times without my phone I notice the lady bugs gathered in a crack on the sidewalk, the kestrel sitting atop the telephone wire staring at me, the sound of a meadowlark in a tree or a tiny dog somewhere protesting his leash.  I have tried it with other activities too. Coloring with my daughter and finishing the whole page instead of kind of coloring while mostly updating the checkbook.  I have been surprised to feel how rewarding a well colored Strawberry Shortcake picture can be, and my daughter feels I have really spent time with her, not just the half mommy, half banker, cleaner, cooker lady who flits in and out of her life doing lunges and saying, “Let me just finish _____ first, and then we’ll color.”  I have stopped what I am doing, turned to my son, and listened to his story, marveling at the eleven year old who was a baby just a blink ago,enjoying a warmth in my heart I would not have had if I had kept stirring dinner, cleaning the counter, or paying a bill while listening to him. While waiting for the internet to load (Idaho is very slow) I have just breathed. Just been.

I write this blog tonight because I notice I am getting out of the habit of being present. When I objectively stand back I can clearly see that this is a struggle for me, the need to fill every moment. The problem with filling every moment is that you miss what may be there waiting for you: the brilliance of the flower in the vase, the pink in your child’s cheek, the crunch of your morning toast. If I am constantly anticipating the next thing, I might miss what’s happening right now. And what’s happening right now is probably pretty beautiful.

I won’t give up the squats while brushing my teeth though. Come on. That just makes sense.

On a Roll

On a roll . . . That’s how my friend, Erin, put it and that is what I’m feeling. Four days into my work week as solely an artist and writer, I get to see a story I wrote on Mary Jane’s Farm blog.

I have had an excellent week so far! Keeping my house somewhat clean, enjoying HOURS of creativity, and feeling energized enough to maintain a certain level of niceness and patience with my kids all the way until about 8:30 or 9:00 pm! (This was not previously possible.) I think the evening patience and niceness is due to an energy I feel after spending my day within a realm I love, a realm in which I feel comfortable.

My story making it onto a blog I love just tops off the happiness surrounding week number one of pursuing my bliss.

Below is a link to the blog.


Is It Your Bliss?

Brant has been asking me this question a lot in the last six months, “Is it your bliss?” He has asked this concerning my various thoughts on what exactly I want to do with my life. I suggest a possibility or complain about a pattern I am in now, and the question remains the same, “Is it your bliss?”  It’s a good question and a meaningful one.  He’s right too. I should be asking this question when I consider where my life is headed.  This annoys the heck out of me because I hate when he is so right.

In asking this question for months and talking it over, it is obvious to me that entering data in an office is not my bliss. I have loved certain aspects of my job at Palouse Prairie School, but those aspects have everything to do with the amazing connections I have made with students, parents,  and staff, and nothing to do with my actual job description. I thrive on creativity, so it is probably obvious that when asking myself if spreadsheets, Google Docs, and State Department data uploads are my bliss – the answer comes back as a resounding, “NO!”

I love making jewelry. To choose a color combination, to bend the wire, and bring it all together into something beautiful that I may later see on a stranger downtown, this is my bliss. To choose two glorious pearls, and elongated Jade, to string them into long and lovely earrings and have someone tell me they received them as a birthday present and they now wear them almost everyday, this is my bliss. It is still a shared connection with someone, but it is through my art, through my creativity, through something I brought into being with my hands. That makes all the difference.

I love writing. I have always written, even before I could put pen to paper.  Some of my earliest memories are gathering my family together to sing a song I had made up.  Unfortunately I also remember them sneaking away after 15 long minutes of my singing.  Some of the most precious memories I have as a young writer were the nights my dad would take my whole folder of poems with him to his room and instead of reading a book before falling asleep as he usually did, he would one by one read through my poems.  I can still vividly see his face intent upon the pages illuminated by the lamp on his bedside table.  There is a lovely feeling within that memory that I feel again when one of you comments that a blog post of mine has touched you or made you laugh.  It is again that shared connection that I find so fulfilling. Much like the beads I use, I so enjoy choosing specific words, stringing them together, and then sharing them with the world as a completed piece.  When my words make someone smile or resonate with someone’s life story or experience, I get that same connected feeling as when I see a piece of my jewelry bringing beauty into someone’s day.  This is my bliss.

And so I launch fully into designing days around the things I love, bringing beauty into the world through my art and hopefully bringing beauty into world with my words. Today is my last day at Palouse Prairie School. I am incredibly grateful for the year I have spent there. The students have filled my days with joy and genuine love, and certain staff have become some of my closest friends. I appreciate this past year also because it has helped me rule out data-entry as a life long passion (ha ha) and it has helped me answer more fully the question that Brant so rightly has been asking, “Is it your bliss?”

We skyped my husband, Brant, tonight. We (my kids and I) are in South Dakota and he is in New York, getting ready to fly to Greenland.  This was our “Goodbye Skype”.  We talked of events of the day and the kids showed him their gum (the gum in their mouths to be exact) and their art projects – really basic family Skype stuff.  But I also had that sentimental feeling you get when you are saying goodbye to someone who is about to embark on a journey or a big adventure.

I will admit that there are times in our marriage when I have not felt such loving feelings about Brant taking off on yet another adventure.  My kids were little and I sometimes felt left behind.  Tonight I felt a shift in things.  I looked at his handsome smiling face and felt a genuine excitement for him and all that he is about to see, accomplish, and experience.  Adventures that stretch us and take us out of our normal day to day lives, whether they are in another country or close by, adventures such as the one Brant is about to be on, change us.  They become very important chapters in the greater story that makes up who we are and who we are becoming.  I am so glad Brant is having this adventure.

It was significant for me that I had these loving feelings and genuine excitement, where sometimes in the past I have not.  I felt like maybe the adventures I have been on, both those that took me out of my daily routine, and the daily adventure of marriage, motherhood, and life , have shaped me into someone who gladly allows her partner to venture off and meet the unknown, fulfilling dreams, and maybe even making the world a little more full of possibility for others.

I know there will be more adventures to come, and now that my kids are getting older, I can see a stage beginning when we all get to experience such things together. All of this is so exciting – seeing Brant as he heads out, thinking of adventures I feel soon to embark on, and imagining all the adventures that wait for my children.

As we ended our skype session, I was tempted to say, “Be careful,” but in the spirit of adventure I changed my mind, smiled, and said, “Have fun!”

I got out a recipe book yesterday and after I put it away noticed that a recipe card had fallen out.  It was a recipe for Classic Flan. I used to make this all the time.  I made tamales every Christmas Eve with my extended family and we always had this Flan for dessert. I also used to make it a lot when we were having guests because it is better if made the day before or at least hours before, and I love make ahead recipes.

My family hasn’t made tamales the last couple of years and this year we were not together for Christmas, so the recipe has gone unnoticed in my book for at least three years.  When I spotted it on my counter, I realized I had all the ingredients and so whipped it up in the morning and last night after dinner, we pulled it out of the fridge and mmm’d and aaaah’d over how delicious it was.

So fun to remember an old favorite in the kitchen and so now I share it with you!

Classic Flan

1/2 C sugar

6 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook sugar, stirring constantly until melted and deep golden brown.  Remove from heat and immediately pour into a 9 inch flan or pie plate, quickly tilting dish to completely coat bottom.  Place prepared dish in a large baking or broiler pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together eggs and vanilla.  Set aside

In a medium saucepan, stir together milks. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly just until mixture boils. Slowly pour hot milk into egg mixture, stirring constantly until well blended.  Place pan containing prepared baking dish on middle rack in a preheated oven (350). Slowly pour egg mixture into dish.  Pour very hot water into baking pan to within 1/2 inch of the top of custard.

Bake until knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.  Remove promptly from hot water.  To serve warm, cool on wire rack 5-10 minutes.  Gently loosen at sides and invert onto platter.  To serve cold (I prefer it this way) refrigerate several hours or over night. Unmold.

Let me know if you try it!




Oh. Reeeelax. Yes. I need to relax . . .

because my kids are so hard. I am like a waitress. I should blog about that, how being a mother is really just one big waitress job for very needy customers who are hungry every five minutes.

Oops. Relax. Inhale. Exhale.

I wonder what I should make for dinner tomorrow night.  I suppose if I thaw out some hamburger we can have tacos again. I feel like we always have tacos.

Oh, shoot. Relax. Inhale. Exhale.

Inhale. Exhale.

I need new Yoga pants. All these little college girls have such cute little Yoga pants with their cute little asses. I’m getting old.  I should get some sassy new Yoga pants.

Crap. I’m wasting my relaxation. I have to relax. Inhaaaaaale. Exhaaaaaaale.

Oh, I forgot to call and make a doctor’s appointment. How long are you even allowed to wait between lady checkups? Ugh. I really dread it.

Oh, dang. I’m not relaxing.

Inhaaaale. Exhaaale.

There. Aaaah. I’m in the mountains, by a stream. So reeeelaaaaaxed.

Inhaaaaaale. Exhaaaaaale.

Oh. I think I just snored. Oh, man. Did I just snore?

OK. That’s OK if I snored. It just means I was relaxing right – like really super relaxed . . .

What? It’s over. Damn it. I wasted my whole relaxation.  I really could have used that..

I can’t verify that, but I do love when a truly talented and genuinely nice person gets recognized for his or her talent.

I have known Jessica Latshaw since we were young teenagers, and though we were never more than acquaintances, I always admired her for her beauty, her talent, and most of all her kind and generous spirit.  She has been a dancer and singer/songwriter most of her life.  She toured the country with the Broadway production of A Chorus Line and has had a small following with her music, though she had not yet reached the point of being what we would call famous . . . yet.  And this is where the story turns wonderful.

Jessica has made albums and performed at various venues, but the event that made the world notice her was probably not the one she was expecting.  Complete strangers on the subway convinced her to start playing the ukelele she had with her.  The guy across the aisle (a stranger) played along on his drums.  Another stranger captured the whole thing on camera, and posted it on You Tube.  This was three weeks ago, and the video already has over a million hits.  She has been talked about on the news,  has performed on various shows, has been tweeted about by famous folks, and interviewed by stations from around the world!

I am so happy for Jessica, and really, for the rest of us too.  Often times famous people are mediocre talents with crappy attitudes.  Jessica deserves to be known for her incredible talent and her generous spirit.  I notice she is still responding to almost every (if not every) comment on her facebook page! Unbelievable.  And now we get to enjoy her talent and the journey she is on as well.

The part of this story that I love the most is that after all her performances, albums, etc. her fame came from a genuine human connection rather than a planned performance.  On a day like any other, with pigtails in her hair, and her grocery bags at her side, Jessica shared her talent graciously with people she had never met.  Often times we look at those in the spotlight and wonder, “How?” “Why?.  However, as we observe Jessica (even in the unplanned moments) and consider the spotlight she now finds herself in, I am sure we will all be thinking, “Absolutely!”.

Reason Enough to be Artsy

Sometimes when vacuuming beads, or being interrupted seven times when making one necklace, I wonder if it is worth it – this artsy side job of mine.  It is a lot of work. I hate keeping track of sales and purchases, and paying taxes. But I do love creating. I love getting an idea and following it through. I love when people ooh or aaah over the effort. I really love seeing people I don’t even know wearing my pieces.  Today, I discovered a new reason to love my not-always-easy side business.

We have had two snow days – which is kind of awesome, and kind of driving me crazy.  Brant has been really busy, so I have mostly been hanging out solo with the wild things. I like my kids, but too many unstructured hours can start to get to a mom/waitress/maid/lego house builder/toenail painter/homework helper . . . OK. You get the idea.

Today instead of staying home with the wild things, I decided almost last minute to share a table with a couple of friends at the Moscow Winter Market.  One of the wonderful things about Moscow is the strong support of all things local: art, food, restaurants, soap, etc.  This allows people around the area to make a living or supplement their income by doing something they love and it strengthens our local economy. Each time I sit at the winter market, go to the farmers market, or one of our local shops, I feel a deep appreciation for this support.

Today, not only was I at the market selling, I was sharing a table with friends! So instead of just sitting and selling and feeling this deep appreciation (which is all good, by the way) I was also engaged in great conversation and some serious laughs.  We talked food, kids, school, business, and creative ideas.  Not only did I enjoy myself, I learned a few things as well.  For a mom who needed a break, what could be better than making money while hanging out with friends, surrounded by other local artists?

Before I left I stopped outside at a local apple grower’s table.  I asked how much for one box and could I get a deal if I bought two.  The young man who is a son of the owner and a student at the local university, gave me a deal and helped me heft the 40 pounds of local sweetness to my van.  We chatted about his family and his time here at the university.  I am so glad the money I paid for these apples goes right to the grower.

I came home with some cash, the assurance that my little business is worth it, and a feeling of renewal that allows a mom to dive into another day. Upon my arrival home, my kids each grabbed an apple and as they chewed, I told them about the man who grew them and smiled at their amazement that someone who can grow apples so well, someone so important helped me carry them to my car.

I have had one of those weeks.  First one kid was sick. Then I was sick. Then my husband flew far far away in an airplane. (Not because we drove him away with our sickness. It was a previously made appointment.)  Then today, as I  sat happily back at work, my sweet little kindergartner came to the office, crawled onto my lap, and threw up in my trash can.  (note: husband is still gone)

Then . . . my lovely friend, Jesica, showed up at my door with two mason jars full of warm turkey matzoh ball soup.

The soup was wonderful. Home made broth with turkey, vegetables, and delicious floating matzoh balls.  Those of us who are currently able to eat, sat around “mmmm-ing” and “ah-ing” as we slurped it up.

I had never had matzoh ball soup before today.  I hope I have it again.  I do know I will always remember the first time I had it because it came with a beautiful friend, the gift of thoughtfulness, and in the true spirit of community.


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