Leap And The Net Will...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Appear? Or maybe not. Anxiety is a funny creature. A small incident gathers more and more strength, and takes on a life of it's own, until it becomes a full-blown anxiety that governs even aspects of your life that seem to have no relationship to the anxiety-inducing situation.

I have weather-related driving anxiety. I've somehow convinced myself that me and my car are ill-equipped to driving in inclement weather. My standard response is to A) not leave the house, B) pray for a snow day and/or C) scope out the situation and have my husband track the weather pattern. Of course, I have never been in a weather-related driving accident! Not only I have not been in such an accident, I've also managed to arrive at a destination safely through inclement weather, just by sheer force of willpower, lots of breathing and white-knuckling my steering wheel. I can only assume that this anxiety comes from overexposure to news stories about 150-car pile-ups. Or not. Who knows?!

But like Will's mother in this month's From Left To Write book,  If I Fall, If I Die, the anxiety started as a small seed, then grew into something larger than life, something that seems irrational even in your own head, and even more so in someone else's head, but somehow, you make yourself believe it is a perfectly reasonably fear or anxiety. My own anxiety has managed to stay under control but what happens when it takes over your life, and renders you incapable of living your life in the most basic of ways; even worse, what happens when it affects those you love the most?

This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie,about a boy who's never been outside, thanks to his mother's agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. 

2015 Word of the Year

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Though I didn't blog much about it, I found it really helpful to have a word of the year. Last year, the word was focus.  Even though I was not always successful, I did frequently call on the word during moments when I felt overwhelmed by all that I was trying to do. I made one big change that helped me in my attempt to unitask. I stopped bringing my devices into the bedroom at bedtime. I left them in another room, so as to avoid getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook and Instagram. Instead, I read books and enjoyed more sleep. And because the world didn't end when I started ignoring my phone/ipad/computer an entire 6 hours, it became easier to be less tied to my devices during the day too which meant that more laundry was done, more dishes were done, more time was enjoyed with the kids, more projects got done. Lovely side effect, I think. (Another side effect is that it has taken me all week to write this blog post! When I finally have time to sit and open my computer, I find myself going to bed with a book instead.)

I've also spent some time this year coming face to face with some personal demons that have kept me company for years. It's time to set those demons free. It started with a book my sister sent me: Taking the Leap, by Pema Chodron.  In this book, I recognized so many of the attributes of human nature that are described and became totally engrossed in the idea that a little mindfulness would go a long way. Pema talks about the concept of shenpa, which is the thing or behavior you are attached to or hooked on to. It is almost like addiction. It can be anything--money, drugs, food, alcohol, anything you have a hard time letting go of because you believe it will relieve an urge or a feeling of uneasiness. You can read more about it here: http://www.lionsroar.com/how-we-get-hooked-shenpa-and-how-we-get-unhooked/

On the other side, you have shenluk, which is turning shenpa upside down, or renouncing attachment.  Pema says you can't ever not have shenpa but you can decide to face your shenpa head-on and just deal with it, recognize it for what it is and move on. She says to sit with it, which I've adopted as a kind of mantra-- sit with it, sit with it, allow yourself to pause so that the urge will pass. And that is my theme for this year, shenluk. To take shenpa and turn it on its head. To stare it down and become stronger than it.

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Friday, November 28, 2014

Clutter drives me bananas but it seems inevitable when you live in a small space with three small people and one big guy. As a kid, my bedroom was always the neatest. I liked things put away and organized in their places, even if it wasn't done meticulously (think: stuff shoved into drawers...at least, it was away and off the floor...). But I also had a lot of stuff. It was hard to throw things away and it was hard to not want things. Everything was special and important. Eventually, I reached the point where I was able to throw things away without a second thought, if I thought it wasn't necessary or if it just didn't appeal to me anymore. But I still had a lot of paper clutter, and worse, no one place to keep all that paper. There is paper all over my house, and every nook and cranny is storage for something, no matter how important or not important the item being stored.
Last month, my husband read an article in the NY Times about decluttering and mentioned it to me, something to the effect that things should have a place. I hadn't read the article and I was so indignant and offended that he dared to mention this article to me, as if it was news to me, as if it was something that *I* needed to read, when obviously the problem was not me but my messy kids and my messy, packrat husband. AS IF. Really, the nerve...
No. It struck a nerve but not for the right reason. After I calmed down, and stopped yelling at my husband in frustration, I just let it go. A few weeks later, I got an email from Blogging for Books that the book on which that Times article had been based was being offered to members. Oh, that article had been about tidying up? It wasn't about clutter? I made a mental note to myself to go to the source in the future instead of relying on my husband's slim synopsis, (along with the many other mental notes about patience and taking a deep breath and not overreacting and being oversensitive). I jumped on the  book request, convinced that it would change my life. After all, it had to be fortuitous that this book had come into my life two different ways.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo makes so much sense. Part self-help, part how-to, this book started changing my life as I read it.


So much in this book spoke to me, and even before I finished the book, I was making small changes in the way I behaved in my home. Marie Kondo advises against this, though. She believes everything should be done in one fell swoop. Just get it over and done with, instead of doing it piecemeal over time; Otherwise, it just feels neverending. It just so happens that we are getting ready to move house, which is the perfect opportunity to employ the KonMari method. 

The KonMari method feels like a more realistic approach to zen minimalism, with a bit of "form follows function" thrown in. The book's soothing, earnest tone inspires confidence while the slimness of the volume keeps the reader from feeling overwhelmed. This book is not for everyone but if you feel unsettled and you can't put your finger on why, you might look at the space in which you live and see what small changes you can make that lead to big revelations and a lifting of burden. 

{I recieved a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.}

Review: Dancing on the Head of a Pen

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I love to learn about the craft of writing from other writers. A well-written story can seem like a bit of alchemy at times, a true mystery-- how do these words come together to evoke these feelings? Seeing a writer break down his chosen method inspires confidence, the feeling that "yeah, I can totally do this," without any accompanying delusions that it'll be easy. In fact, no good writer would ever say that writing is easy and that is a relief to me. 

Source: http://www.examiner.com/review/dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pen-the-practice-of-a-writing-life-by-robert-benson

I am slowly but surely building a collection of books about writing by writers. Though I've never read anything by Robert Benson, I felt drawn to this book, which describes the craft of writing in small snapshots, theme by theme. In the same way that good writing emerges over time, the advice in this book unfolds one by one, each building on the one before it. 
I found it very useful in thinking about creating the conditions in our lives that compel us to make time to write. Though I have an ebook copy, I will buy a hard copy, to annotate and  to place on my bookshelf alongside my other About Writing books. 

{I received a copy of this book for free, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. }

What Aging Looks Like.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

{This is an excerpt of a post I published in May of 2012, after my grandfather passed away. I wrote it a month before he died.)

I began visiting him at the rehab facility, with trepidation. I am not an "old people" person. I'm afraid of offending their sensibilities.  I worry about not being able to hear them or understand them. I suppose I don't give them nearly enough credit. Diminished physical capacity doesn't always mean that intellectual capacity has suffered the same fate. Often, sure, but not always. I started out with small talk: "How are you feeling today? Are they taking care of you? Are you getting what you need?"  Grandpa Sol is a quiet guy, and with a paralyzed vocal cord, conversation is difficult for him, I think. His voice comes out raspy, jagged, the effort visible. He's not used to my speech impediment. He says, "We have to talk more often. So I can get used to the way you talk."

He has trouble eating. He complains about the blandness of the food, having subsisted on a diet of processed foods and fast food for years. His skinny-ness is alarming. A photograph hangs on the wall, of Grandpa Sol with two of his great-grandchildren on his lap. Taken only two years ago, his face is noticeably fuller and his eyes have more light in them. When I see him now, his face is haggard, his cheeks sunken in. I see his eyes light up when I walk in with my daughters in tow. He reaches out to them while they hide shyly behind my legs or in my shoulder. Alice confesses to me later that "old people are scary" and I understand what she means. By the time we leave, Grandpa is able to get a handshake from his great-granddaughters and maybe a kiss on the cheek, too.

This is what aging looks like.

He reaches out for support as he stands up. He asks for help cutting his chicken. He complains about his already-roomy pants being tight and uncomfortable.  Young, pretty speech therapists tell him how to eat. Attendants help him shower. The PT directs him around the room as he pushes his walker obediently. Later, he complains to my sister, "I get more exercise at home."

And it's true. At home, he was often found in his backyard, tending to his bamboo. But that was before it became apparent that he was not taking care of himself. He seemed to age tremendously during that week in the hospital. He seemed to lose confidence in his ability to walk, to go to the bathroom on his own. At the rehab facility, he stays in his room all day. He talks to no one except his visitors. The nurse at the front desk asks me one day as I leave, "Is he always this quiet?" "Yes," I say.

Observing Grandpa Sol this past week, I've come to realize: aging is one thing. Accepting that you're aging is another entirely. Of course, he knows he's growing older. "I'm almost 90 years old. I should be able to eat whatever I want." "I'm going to be 100. I don't need to be here." "Slow down, " I tell him, noting that irony only in afterthought. "Slow down. Let's get to 89 first. We'll worry about getting to 100 later, Grandpa," I say, as I  sit on his bed, holding his outstretched hand, his arm laying slack on the bed. I study his paper-thin, dry skin, his tattoos now shrunken, colors faded.

He says to my mother, "How did I get here?" He's still figuring it out. When he tells me he doesn't need to be there, I give him a little lesson in how his poor nutrition is a contributing factor. I don't know if he understands that. He doesn't watch documentaries about America's obesity epidemic. He doesn't think about the pitfalls of the corn-based American diet. He has no wife or girlfriend nagging him about his health. All he knows that after years of eating whatever he wanted and doing whatever he wanted, he's being served food with no salt, and drinking coffee that's been thickened to a sludge. He's getting more attention now, on a daily basis, than he's ever gotten before. I don't know how he feels about that. But I know he wants out. He wants to be back home, where he can do what he wants and go where he wants, without approval from anyone, except maybe Mickey, his gentle pitbull.
On Thursday, I stop in with a sleeping Stella, only meaning to stay for a short time. I want to find out how his ENT appointment went and I hope to meet the doctor on his floor. When I arrive, he is being interrogated by a nurse-practitioner, who is trying to fill in the blanks on his charts, his records having not yet arrived. I fill her in on the throat cancer, the quadruple bypass, the valve replacements. There is still more to his medical history that I would find out later, from my mother. At lunchtime, he is visited by a speech therapist, one that had visited him the Saturday after he arrived. She notes that he seemed better on Saturday than he does at this moment, Thursday. She watches him eat his food, coaches him to keep his chin down as he swallows, so that his airway will close and block the food. He eats all his food, having been granted the gift of margarine for his mashed potatoes, and the chicken being a flavorful thigh, smothered in a tomato sauce. I see him eat more in that one sitting than I have all those previous days I'd been there. He finishes off a cup of peaches in syrup, and a container of apple sauce. He finishes his food, looks down at his tray and says, "I ate a lot," a hint of surprise in his voice, and maybe a need for approval. I wonder, did he eat to please us or was he hungry? Was the food finally tasting better to him? I hope for the latter.

I want to take him on a walk. I wait while he cleans his dentures, and cautiously takes hold of his walker while I push a still-sleeping Stella in her stroller. I lead him out to the patio, where there is a warm breeze and a bright sun. We sit in the shade for awhile, Stella having woken up from her nap grumpy and anti-social. She buries her head in my shoulder while I watch Grandpa take in breaths of fresh air. He tries to engage Stella, to no avail. Feeling guilty, I make excuses for her but he seems to understand. He basks in the sun, pointing out the Long Island Rail Road. I gently correct him, "Yes, the metro-north, Grandpa but it's on the other side." I lead him over to the side of the patio where he can see the water but the tracks are not visible. "The Hudson River, Grandpa,  and the Palisades. Do you see them?" He squints through his glasses and nods.

He is getting tired and it's  time to pick up Alice from school, so we shuffle back inside, where I help him get settled into bed. Stella and I say our goodbyes as his eyes close for a nap. "Get some rest, Grandpa," I say, by way of parting.

This post was inspired by The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec, a novel about the brilliant mathematician Kurt Gödel as told from his ex-cabaret dancer wife’s perspective. Join From Left to Write on October 16th as we discuss The Goddess of Small Victories. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Where's the Menu?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oh, yeah...where's my menu? I didn't post one last week either. But I have a good excuse...I promise.


Okay, yeah, it's only part-time but it's a huge change for our family in terms of our day-to-day operations and I'm still ironing out the kinks and getting settled.

This didn't really come out of nowhere, though. It just moved fast. I applied for a bunch of school-based, non-teaching positions in my area over the summer. I was called in to interview at a school in the next town over from me, and I was offered the job the same day. This was two Fridays ago. Since last week was the high holy days, I requested a start date of September 29th, this past Monday.  So, yeah, this week has been nuts. I'm working twenty hours-three full school days- but I'm out of the house early and it's nearly dinnertime by the time I round up the kids and get home.

Clearly, I need a new plan for keeping house and home. My husband takes up his share of slack when he gets home but the day-to-day operations fall to me, pretty much. More on that later when I get my act together.

In the meantime, I have a little office that is all mine. It was a little drab but my sister sent me flowers today at work!! Much improved.

Menu Mondays: The Back to School Edition

Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm headed out the door in ten minutes to bring Stella to school (she goes every morning this year!), I'm applauding myself for getting Alice to the bus stop in time and I'm typing one-handed because I have a cranky, teething 13 month old on my lap. But Menu Mondays are back, after a summer hiatus!

My menus lately reflect the changes that we've made in our family over the past month. You see, Henry and I have some serious financial goals that we need to tackle, so we've cut every aspect of our budget including the grocery budget. Remember my post on buying in bulk? That is one strategy I've employed in grocery budgeting. The other is planning meals that are inexpensive but nutritious and filling. Whole chicken was on sale at Whole Foods last month, so I've got a bunch of birds in my freezer. Besides roasted chicken, I've made stock with the bones. This week, I'm boiling up a chicken to use in my stir fry. I keep my eyes peeled for other deals that I can use without coupons, because I'm just not a clipper...

Here are some links for this week's menu:

The "meatballs" are actually lentils! Don't tell the kids. I want to see if they'll be able to tell the difference. http://www.goop.com/recipes/dinner/lentil_meatballs

Spanish tortillas have become a mainstay in the house. All the kids will eat it and it packs well in lunches the next day.  http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/09/tortilla-de-patatas/

I think everything else is self-explanatory. If it isn't, ask me in the comments!

And don't forget, the MO+M carrier discount code is good until the end of the month! Get the discount code from this post: http://realnani.blogspot.com/2014/09/babycarrierdiscount.html

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