Anything that is meaningful in life requires hard work and change. If it were easy, then it wouldn't be meaningful. I deserve beauty in my life. This journal is part of my quest to allow myself to discover and reclaim the beautiful things that are already there, waiting for me.
It is leading me to all kinds of thoughts and insights. I have been jotting them down and figured I would share a little of my experience.
-- I need to be what I wish to see. This means to me that if I want to see peace and harmony in my home, I need to create it. If I want my children to behave lovingly, I need to model it for them (especially at the times I want to SCREAM). I need to be what I wish to see. This is my mantra through this process, and oddly enough it is working. My husband says he is not sure where to put things in the pantry, but he is very careful about it when he does now. My kids are more willing to pick up their toys (note: more willing does not mean entirely willing...) My daughter is seeing the value of getting rid of things that no longer serve her, like ripped up shoes and too-small panties. These conclusions are being independently reached by my family, through no nagging on my part, but simply the spread of the energy I am finding the strength to unfold in our space.
-- As I clean up one bag at a time, I am not seeing any kind of drastic change. Granted, I am only 8 days into it, but I really thought I would see more. But for some reason I am not discouraged. I know that there is still a long way to go and I still have several weeks before the end of the challenge.
Before and After pictures are a big help. If I take pictures of everything that is leaving my home, and snapshots of my messy areas, I can feel that my projects are worthwhile. It's like losing weight and not noticing it...until you put on that one pair of pants that never fit and suddenly they do!
-- What do my master bathroom, office space and kitchen have in common? I am terrified of them. I keep putting them off, finding ANY other thing that needs decluttering. These areas are the most deflating, every time I walk into them I feel shame, frustration and kinda grossed out. I know I will roll up my sleeves and get them done, but not just yet.
I think it shows progress that I am slowly getting things out of those terrifying spaces in tiny bits. Today I am taking 10 boxes of feminine hygiene products to a friend. I stopped using them almost 2 years ago, why do I still have them? I see them on my shelf and say to myself, I'm going to have to get rid of those...but half of the boxes are open. No donation place will want those, but a good girlfriend would gladly take them. Now they are out of my house, and no longer bugging me.
So far, my success includes: fridge/freezer clean-out, glass recycling to the transfer station, the top of the fridge area, a bag of clothes to Salvation Army, the pantry shelf, toys mended, unwanted dish detergent and some unearthed gluten-y food to the food bank, my bedside and general upstairs ephemera and the feminine hygiene stuff dealt with. It doesn't really *show* when I look around the house, but it's a pretty good list for a first week!
-- There is a freezer in my garage that has been unused for probably seven years. My grandmother gave it to us as a wedding present nearly 10 years ago. She passed away quite a while ago, but I still feel like it would be wrong to get rid of it. I have no intention of using it, because I would lose track of what is in there, and end up throwing out freezer-burned food. Just this week, I came to the conclusion that it will be okay to get rid of it. I plan to list it on Craigslist and see what comes.
There is a similar story with the ice cream maker. My mother's long-time friend gave it to me as a wedding present. I have used it once or twice, but certainly not in the last 7 years. You have to freeze the little bowl for 24 hours before making the ice cream. If I know 24 hours in advance that I'm going to want ice cream, I will buy some and save the space in my freezer. I haven't disposed of the maker because I *can't* toss a wedding present! My mom said that her friend probably doesn't even remember buying it for us. Well...I'm going to post it for sale on a local Facebook page and see what comes of that one as well.
--My mind feels lighter. Little things that have been nagging at me to get them out of the house are done. And doing one little thing every day is not that big a deal. I set the timer for 30 minutes, grab a bag, and try to beat it. I don't feel any sense of "reclaiming" as of yet, but I do have a sense of satisfaction that things are being taken care of in tiny little nibbles. I'm very slowly changing small habits and thought patterns, naturally and through no conscious effort. These days of cleaning up the physical space are in turn dusting off some corners of my mental space.
--Girlfriends make the world go round. I have a friend who is doing this with me and we chat about it daily. I like hearing what her projects are each day, and we complain or celebrate with each other. It helps so much to know she's right alongside me. The Facebook group is helpful also. It has over 21,000 members, so it is in no way personal or intimate, but reading the posts and encouragement from so many other people doing the project at the same time is encouraging. There is strength in numbers, and the energy of the group is upward-facing in general. It is inspiring to read what others are doing, and what others find challenging, and to be able to offer advice to people who are struggling. Community makes a huge difference!
-- The more I throw out, the easier it is. It is like clearing a trail. If I move quickly, I'm done and can get things out of my house. My brain is re-creating the "I can do this" synapse again, right alongside the "I really DON'T need this stuff" synapse. It is pretty cool!
For example, I have some undies that have never fit right and are uncomfortable as heck. I always forget about that fact until they are on, then I leave them on because it is too much work to change...then at the end of the day I toss them in the wash out of habit...and the cycle continues. I consider it my biggest victory yet that I took them off the other morning and threw them away. Cycle broken!
-- I love having stories to tell. Speaking of underwear. Yesterday, as I was cleaning upstairs, I stopped part way through to take a shower. In my underpants, I sat on the bed and heard a crunch. I had sat on a framed picture. There were glass shards on my bed, and a tiny splinter in my butt. That could have been WAY worse! Well, once I got dressed, I wrapped all the glass in the worn-out, threadbare sheet and tossed the lot of it.
-- I get a sticker on the calendar for each day of task completion. I do a happy dance for each sticker. And if I feel unmotivated, I can look at my streak and appeal to my competitive nature...gotta keep it going because:
I often find that things come to me when I need them most, even when I don't know I need them. If I just have the presence to keep my eyes open and my mind objective, really interesting things come my way.
On my Facebook newsfeed last night, a friend posted something called 40 Bags in 40 Days from a blog called White House Black Shutters. It is a challenge to use the 40 days of Lent to "decrapify" your home. The goal is to work on decluttering by getting rid of just one bag of junk a day. It can be any bag, from a grocery bag to a 50 gallon yard bag.
The point is to remove the clutter, but to do it slowly. I view it as similar to losing weight: one pound barely shows, but 40 pounds can be life-changing. I have my stickers all ready, I'm going to use my calendar as a sticker-chart. Every day I get another smiley face for each bag I remove. This will be a great visual tool for me, and will likely make me smile when I see the cumulative rows of smiles, showing me how proud I am of the baby steps I'm taking.
I'm pretty excited by this. How many different methods and tips have I tried to clean my home, only to be buried in the shame of it within a week? There is a 40 Bags group page on Facebook where folks post pictures of their clutter-y messes, before and after pictures, and ask for support. Even though it is not a contest....in kind of a round-about way I'm somewhat encouraged that the messiness of my home is not any more horrific than thousands of others.
My goal for today is my fridge. Day 1: Fridge. For the past couple of weeks, it has been impossible to get anything in or out of that contraption with any kind of grace. And yesterday when I opened it, a new smell emerged. I guess this is well-timed for me, so I will tackle the fridge! I think my one bag of junk will be an easy feat with that one.
I have been working on developing my Spiritual practice, and I have learned that mine flows best through movement. When I go for a jog, I feel closer to the Holy Spirit and to nature. When I am volunteering in my daughter's classroom, I find myself prayerful for each of her little classmates. Adding this one-bag practice for Lent will be very symbolic for me.
I was not planning to incorporate a Lenten Practice this year, since very often it becomes about what I am giving up, rather than prayerful (albeit symbolic) fasting and preparation.
Lent is about preparing for Easter, in fasting and prayer, preparing to mourn deeply and celebrate joyfully in the same weekend. I will work hard, each day, to remove one bag of the clutter that is binding me. At the end of 40 days, there will be a sense of accomplishment, lightness and great cause for personal celebration. It will mirror perfectly the deeper meaning of Easter with the sense of freedom and removal of the garbage that is only preventing me from being my best self through the Holy Spirit.
I mourn that my home is so cluttered and messy (again!!), and I am nervous about this journey. It will be a lot of work, and I think some days all I will manage is a grocery bag of junkmail. But, I guess that is one pile of junk no longer in my home, distracting me from the greater joys of my life.
I DESERVE a decluttered home
I DO NOT deserve a stinky fridge
I DESERVE to celebrate joyfully
I DO NOT deserve to wallow in shame
I DESERVE a Spiritual practice and connectedness through activity
I DO NOT deserve to sit still and simply wish I was connected
The other day I was in the checkout line at the grocery store with my daughter. While we were waiting, I spontaneously hugged and kissed her and said, "I'm proud of you, Babygirl!"
The woman in line in front of us turned around with a jerk of her head and stared at us for a moment. She scrunched up her eyebrows and blinked at us a few times, before turning back around and shaking her head.
It caused me to wonder what I had done that was so noteworthy and unusual. If I had said, "I love you!" to my daughter, I wonder if she would have had the same reaction. On the other extreme, if I had scolded or berated my child, would she have noticed? This woman's opinion does not change how I feel about my daughter, nor does it make me regret my actions. But it does make me think.
I suppose it is unusual to hear someone spontaneously say they are proud of you, with nothing to prompt it. Just as we say that love is unconditional, my child does not have to perform to have my love, does she have to perform for to have my pride? I should think that being 6-years-old and learning to navigate through life is a big enough challenge, worthy of the pride of her mother! I am proud of her spirit, her stubbornness, her quick wit, phenomenal memory, and her desire for harmony and justice.
My husband is a source of pride for me. He works so hard at his job, and he has been working even harder at finding his true self. This man is funny, kind, gentle, innately musical, creative and incredibly clever. I am proud that he is my partner through life, I am proud of his achievements, I am proud of his struggles and I am proud of the father that he is.
My son is a crazy little boy. Being 4-years-old is not an easy task, especially when it feels like every other person in your life is bigger and bossier than you. He has the silliest sense of humor, and knows no fear (except when faced with a dog of any size). I am so proud of who he is learning to become.
How proud am I of me? When is the last time I looked in the mirror and said, "Hey girl, I'm proud to be you" ? I am proud of many of my accomplishments, but am I proud of me? Can I hold my head up high and say, "I am worthy of pride"? I have been working for a long time to see and love the beauty that exists around me, and I have realized lately that there is a beauty in personal pride from within.
I know I struggle with it. All I have to do is look at my personal care routine. I do the bare minimum, taking daily showers and whatnot. But I can't tell you the last time I did more than simply brush my hair, or wore makeup without a very specific reason. Every time I try to start a new self-care regimen, I manage to blow it aside in a matter of weeks, sometimes days.
I'm a generous and beautiful person, with a loyal and loving heart. Being a good wife, mother and daughter are all things that are very important to me. I feed my family healthy meals every day, I pay my bills on time, I do a good job at work and I am fairly decent at crafts. There is a lot about me that I can take pride in, if I can see past my expansive waistline, limp hair and short temper.
My friend once posted a picture of herself with her hand up with the words, "I'm imperfect and I'm enough" on the palm. Pride of self is a beautiful thing. I deserve to feel proud of me, not just of what I have done, but of who I am. This idea is still a developing thought. I haven't quite figured out how I am going to incorporate these ideas into my life, but I figure that simply putting it out there is a good first step.
I DESERVE to feel pride in who I am
I DO NOT deserve to be crushed by shame
I DESERVE to understand that I am worthy of pride
I DO NOT deserve to hide behind a lack of a self care regimen
I DESERVE a thumbs up
I DO NOT deserve a thumbs down!
I DESERVE a smile in the mirror
I DO NOT deserve to focus on my imperfections.
I am a work in progress. The tiny flame of pride is there. The spark of potential is in there somewhere. I need to feed it and baby it a bit for it to grow into a full flame. I have a goal: To learn to become as proud of myself as I deserve to be, and then maybe more.
Since I live in Western Washington, I am buried deep in Seahawks mania. I find myself actually looking forward to watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. Go Hawks! Legion of Boom! 12th Man Fever! Beast Mode!
My family is not a sports-watching family, but I do enjoy a good football game from time to time. I'm not going to spend $30 on a Seahawks t-shirt, nor am I going to invest in limited-edition Marshawn Lynch Skittles, but I may (or may not) be wearing blue and green party beads.
Although it is mostly just publicity, I am enjoying the hype. There are flags being flown, #12 jerseys being worn, and spirit dress-up days at school. My 6-year-old has no idea what it is all about, but her school is so wrapped up in hype that she is going for it. I put blue and green bands in her hair today, she brought cans of soup for the "Souper Bowl" food drive, and she wore her day-glow green socks. I volunteer in her classroom on Tuesday afternoons, and the art project this week was to make little 12th Man flags.
The 12th Man symbolizes strength in unity. When CenturyLink Field is full and the fans cheer together, it registers as an earthquake on the sensors. Working together, sharing positive energy, and agreeing as one can literally move the earth. By calling their fans The 12th Man, the Seahawks have created a frenzy of unification that has swept the region like a tidal wave.
There are so many controversial, divisive topics in our culture. Marriage equality, gender equality, parents' rights, war, politics, drugs, crime...all you have to do is scroll through a Facebook feed or glance at a newspaper to get a good dose of negativity and disagreement. It is a welcome, refreshing change to be surrounded by people who agree on something. Even if it is something as trivial as a football game, or as simple as wearing blue and green on Fridays, the common energy is uplifting.
Not everyone loves football, and I, for one, am ready for football season to come to a conclusion. There is a lot of standard corporate profiteering going on, and some fat-cats are getting even fatter as a result. But I am choosing to focus on here and now, because that is all there is. Right now, every time I see a blue and white "12" flag, I smile. The general energy of rooting for the home team, cheering for our favorite players, agreeing that this is a fun time and the sense of excitement are infectious.
I'm looking forward to the Super Bowl, and I do hope the Seahawks pull off a win. But regardless of the outcome, the public surge of agreement and positivity has done good things for my spirit. If the group energy poured into cheering for a football team can do this to an area, imagine the scale of what could be accomplished in this world. The potential is truly endless and beautiful.
Near the end of 2013, a friend of mine posted this link on Facebook. As I read it, I began to cry. The author was describing my son. Part of me desperately wanted it to be true, and part of me just wanted to make a face and move on. But after doing more research, my husband and I decided to embark on a grand experiment.
We are about a month in, and now we are trendy. My family is now gluten-free, despite my initial misgivings. I always rolled my eyes at people who jumped on that bandwagon with nothing to back it up but pseudoscience, viral Tweets and sanctimonious attitudes. I thought it was a fad with no real basis for most people, one that demeans the plight of the folks who live with real ailments like Celiac Disease.
At the same time, my then 3-year-old son was suffering. The poor little guy would go on screaming fits that could last for hours, irrational and unreachable. He had tummy aches on a regular basis, and he was not sleeping well. The preschool teacher reported to me quite often that he was very aggressive and really wasn't listening well.
Last summer just about did me in. His out-of-control nature was making my head spin, and my stress levels were skyrocketing. I would laugh about much of his behavior because he was so crazy, but inside I was being eaten alive. The Mommy-Heart in me was telling me that something was amiss, but the only words I would ever seem to hear were, "He's all boy!" or "They sure have a lot of energy at that age!" I wanted to scream from the rafters that I just KNEW it was deeper than silly wackiness, and that I was more than just a Mommy who couldn't hack it.
Then I read the article. A light bulb switched on and I started to research.
My baby boy turned 4 on January 2nd, and right after his party I restocked the pantry. It was rough going at first, but I'm figuring it out. Kind friends offer support, one purchased "The Gluten-Free Bible" for me, another friend who actually has Celiac has been very gracious in answering my questions. Red Robin is very accommodating for folks with dietary restrictions, but a disappointingly large number of restaurants are not. Bush's Baked Beans and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce are both gluten-free, so two of our favorite staples are still good to go. Bob's Red Mill has a large line of gluten-free products that are very good (we like the pizza dough and the cornbread), and Barilla even has a line of gluten-free pasta that really truly tastes like the real deal!
We decided that the whole family would eat gluten-free, simply to streamline the kitchen. I have enough trouble keeping things tidy and organized, I didn't want to make it worse by having to have different preparations of food lying around. My daughter was already lactose intolerant, so I joke now that she's eating Paleo so she's ultra-trendy. She has always had tummy aches, but now they have decreased even further. My husband has always had GI trouble as well, and for the first time in his life his belly feels great. He had a tough start, his body had 32 years' worth of gluten build-up to detox through, but now he says gluten-free is a commitment he is willing to make.
Within a week of changing my son's diet, the little guy turned a corner. In the past month, there has only been one incident of hitting (he's still a preschooler, after all). He has slept through every single night, and has not come to me crying or crawled into bed with me once. The tummy aches are gone, his eyes are brighter, he is more articulate, and his sense of humor has bloomed. He draws and writes more than he did. And the thing I find most wonderful for him is that surprise touch no longer elicits a pain response. When he cries or has a fit about something, it only lasts a few minutes, and he is distract-able, calms down, and can be rational. His heart no longer races, and his soul is much more at peace. My little dude is happy.
For me, I didn't really feel any different. A week or so ago, I decided to experiment some more, so I ate a quesadilla. By the end of the day, I felt like my nerves had been scrubbed with a wire bristle brush. I was on edge, threadbare, and about to jump out of my skin at the slightest provocation. So...gluten-free for me it is. If this is how my son was feeling, I don't blame him for being out of his mind so much!
Granted, my son still crawls around in the neighbor's rhododendron bushes and jumps from terrifying heights, but now he generally stops when I ask him to. The current challenge is how to teach him new coping skills and how to move past the learned behavior from the first 4 years of his life of feeling so icky. And I know there is something to this experiment, because he was given a graham cracker at preschool one day. The following 2 days were full of tears and hitting, insomnia, bathroom accidents and old behaviors.
Gluten-free isn't the answer for every family. It certainly isn't the total cause of my son's woes. For my family, it is worth the effort, and for the love of my husband and kids, I will prepare gluten-free meals as long as I am responsible for doing so. My pantry is stocked with gluten-free treats, and I'm getting really fast at reading ingredient labels. I can't imagine trying to do this without the internet, or without food labeling laws!
Emotional pain diminished. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
This summer, we have developed a new nap-time routine. My kids lay on either side of me on the big bed, and we each sing a song as we settle in. My 5-year-old daughter sings all four verses of the Caspar Babypants version of "Baa Baa Black Sheep", my 3-year-old son sings the alphabet, and I sing our own variation of "You Are My Sunshine."
I have been singing that song to my children since before they were born. I wanted something to sing to them, and as I wracked my brain, it is the best I could come up with. Now, whenever they hear it they call it "Mommy's song." I am glad that I have given them something positive to associate with me.
My kids then tell me to sing it about different people, Daddy, Grandma, each other...it gets to be a bit of a tongue-twister, but I do it. They love the last line, where I say, for example, "Please don't take my Daddy-shine away!"
My daughter said to me earlier this week, "You need to add a verse about yourself! We love you, so you need your own verse, too."
It took a bit for me to choke the words out through my own hesitations, but I made it through. Each time they tell me to make sure I sing about myself. It has grown into a real exercise in valuing myself and loving me as much as I do others:
I am my sunshine, my only sunshine.
I make me happy when skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love me.
Please don't take my me-shine away.
At first it seems a bit narcissistic and awkward. Granted, it is a bit silly. But how often do I sing a love-song to myself? If I struggle to see my own beauty and value enough to sing a silly song, how can I be serious about it? Can I make me happy when skies are grey? Are my internal resources close enough to mind for me to be the sunshine for my own soul?
I am thankful for my daughter for telling me to sing a song of love for myself. She was really onto something, there. How often do I forget to send my love inwards, as I am so intent on sending it out?
I am a good, decent and kind person. There is nothing so awful about me to make me undeserving of love or beauty. So, why do I find it so hard to love myself in general? I've gone back up into my head, trying to convince myself that I deserve beauty, having let my focus away from the internal and deeper knowing of my own deservedness, power and beauty. I thank my children for forcing me to look at it again.
Nine years ago today, I was in Northern Minnesota, marrying the man I had come to love, my best friend since the first day of freshman orientation in college. We were married in the church where he grew up. I was wearing the most beautiful dress I had ever seen, and my mother-in-law's veil. Family and friends came from far and wide, and the weather was just perfect. It was a beautiful event on a beautiful day.
Today, I am in Western Washington, living a beautiful life with the same man: the man I have come to love even more deeply than that day long ago.
Two kids, four vehicles, an apartment, a mortgage, seven job-changes and an intentional "I love you" every day...and here we are.
It would be a lie to say that every moment has been wonderful, but the truth of the matter is that I would not want to spend my life with any other person. We frustrate and annoy each other like no other human could. We fill in where the other falls short, we knock each other's rough edges, and we *get* each other. We have the ability to geek out like there's no tomorrow, and love each other because of it all.
Never once has my devotion to my husband, or commitment to our vows, or my desire to cherish our relationship ever wavered. I know he feels the same. We made a public promise, and we are both stubbornly true to our word.
I lead a blessed and loving life. The man who has chosen to remain by my side through thick and thin is a large part of it. We are both working towards greater self-identity and spiritual awareness, working away from enmeshment and codependency. As a result, we are healthier, happier and functioning higher on a daily basis. It is a lot of work, and we both firmly believe it is worth it.
Happy Anniversary to the man I love, my best friend, my partner in life, the father of my children, the perfect match for my soul, a central feature in the beauty of my life.