Humbling Moments

It was another frantic morning.

In my head, I had everything planned out and had even gotten up extra early, because I intended to get into work before the craziness of back-to-back meetings could begin. I needed the morning’s silence before the official start of the day to work through a few projects. But, as sometimes happens with getting kids ready for school and daycare, I just couldn’t make it happen, and left pretty much at my usual time.

On my drive into work, feeling flustered and annoyed, I look to my right and see the most incredible bright blue morning sky filled with wisps of clouds with the sun breaking out from behind them. At the edge of where the sun met the sky, there was a sliver of a rainbow from the humidity that was still hanging in the air after last night’s downpour. The potency of the reds and oranges of the Fall foliage in the background made it an extraordinary sight to behold.

And in that moment, it snapped everything back into perspective: We get to be apart of this massive universe of beauty. Such a small, small part, but part of it nonetheless. And I felt such immense gratitude in witnessing this moment of beauty in our everyday world that it literally brought tears to my eyes.

I’m so grateful for having enough awareness in that moment to notice that beautiful sky. Skies are ever-changing. If I had kept my eyes straight ahead, or looked up just a few moments later, I would have missed that particular sight. And it might sound cliché or trite, but I’m also so grateful for that moment of gratitude, and the impact it had on the rest of my day. It brought an underlying sense of quiet peace and humility to an otherwise insane day. It made me aware that I need to make it a point to open myself to finding, and allowing myself to experience, more of these moments. Moments when you realize the full reality of life in this universe. It’s not about the everyday hustle and bustle. It’s not about scrambling to pack school lunches or find my daughter’s library books right before she has to run for the school bus, or getting out the door right on time, or hitting sales plans. It’s about seeing our place in the universe for what it is. And being so grateful for the gift of getting to be here.

In this place.

At this time.

While we’re in a time of such pain and conflict in our country right now, I believe we were all chosen to be here, right now, and we have the capacity to change things. If we would all just slow down and reflect for a moment on the beauty that is all around us, we would see the potential and good that is in our life. We have to choose to look for it. It takes that moment of noticing and compassion that makes us humble and grateful. And when we come from a place of gratitude, anger and hatred aren’t possible. Gratitude can only foster love. From that place of love, we’re each capable of making a difference and moving the needle in the right direction. We have the ability to leave the world a better place than we found it. It won’t happen overnight, but every small action leaves an impact. Taking a moment to find gratitude for something in your life will change the way you view and interact with others for the rest of your day. I promise. And your actions and words impact others. It’s just a matter of how they will impact others.

This morning was one of those mornings where I could feel the energy of life, the universe, and love rising up all around. Such a simple moment, but it overwhelmed me. That is the beauty of life. That feeling is the whole damn point.

Difference Is Beautiful

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”                         Wayne Dyer

I remember it so clearly: My first day at school with glasses. I was in eighth grade. I had chosen the thinnest, smallest, most nondescript wire frames I could find, in the hopes they would blend into my face, and maybe no one would notice. I refused to wear them until I absolutely had to, even though my eyesight was terrible. I remember pulling them out from their case in my English class and desperately trying to slip them on when no one was looking. Immediately after class, I would shove them back in their case, and proceeded to follow the blurred shapes back to my locker. I prefered being blind rather than admit that I had something else that made me stand out, that made me more vulnerable to being judged (aside from my crazy, untamed, frizzy hair and mouthful of braces…). All I wanted to do in middle school was blend in. Go unnoticed. Fly under the radar. I was so afraid of being judged, being seen as “other”, of not fitting in.

I couldn’t help but have the same thoughts and fears when my soon-to-be 7 year old returned to school this week, debuting her brand new glasses to her 2nd grade class. But instead of being nervous of what others would think or say, she was so unabashedly excited to show them to everyone. She even went so far as to craft her first day of school outfit around their cobalt blue color. A color that demanded to be seen and acknowledged.

She has no preconceived notions that she could or would be seen any differently than when she didn’t have glasses. To her, they are an instrument that help her see, and, better yet, they are a fashion accessory that adds another element to her already dynamic and inspired daily ensemble. She isn’t yet afraid to stand out. Just the opposite – She’s excited to.

And realizing this, I’m both so inspired, and yet so incredibly scared as a mother to this young, vibrant girl. I want so badly to shield her from the hurtful comments from her peers that I know will come in the next few years, and forever change the way she views herself. She is a girl growing up in America, and I know how American girls are “supposed” to be. They are to be beautiful, but in a non-confrontational way. Smart, but in a non-threatening way. Never too strong. Never too extraordinary. Never too vocal. And I don’t want her to know yet that she will be judged and measured in these ways. She is so much more than that which she will be judged for. And all I can do is hope that the judgement never stifles her creativity and drive to be seen for who she truly is.

The night before my husband was scheduled to take her to the eye doctor, I pointedly told him to let her pick whichever glasses made her feel the most beautiful. “No matter what they look like,” I said. But underneath that statement, even though I knew she wouldn’t,  I had hoped she would pick a pair that were classic, small, nondescript. A pair that wouldn’t draw attention. When I saw the photo from the doctor’s office of her in her cobalt blue & hot pink rectangular lenses of choice, I was first in awe of how adorable she looked, but then almost immediately afraid for her. But I also know that imparting my own fears and worries about how society will perceive her doesn’t serve her. I never want her to think she should conform in order to strive to be normal, boring and forgettable. And me asking her to choose something other than what makes her feel most like herself, even though it comes from a place of love and wanting to protect her, would be imparting my own views of what is acceptable.

She came running up to me as I was writing this tonight, and exclaimed that only she and one other kid in her class (“maybe even the whole school!” she said in wide-eyed excitement) wears glasses! Yes, they make her stand out and subject to judgement, but she knows it is also something that makes her special and unique. Her glasses, and so many other things, set her apart from the norm. And today, my joy in seeing my daughter’s excitement and pride in being different overrides my worry.

 

“You Don’t Raise A Child In A Day”

All parents want to make the right decisions when it comes to their children. Before having kids of our own, it’s so easy to judge the parenting decisions of others. We all think that we will have it figured out. That when given the chance, we will do it right.

It’s easy to say that you will always make fresh, organic, homemade meals for your children every day. And I’m in awe of the parents that are truly able to do that. But I will tell you, there are days when I feed my girls Ramen and hot dogs, sometimes both in the same week. I don’t always pick the healthiest snacks. Sometimes I give them whatever is in arm’s reach, because that is the easiesr thing to do in the moment. It could be because I don’t have the energy to fight to get them to eat something healthy, or I’m just too tired to cook, and i want to sit down for 5 whole minutes. Whatever the reason, I’m well aware that I’m far from perfect in this arena.

Before having kids, it’s easy to say that you will never yell, never spank, and just have them “sit in time-out to think about what they’ve done”. But I will tell you there are times when instead of using a situation to teach, I find myself losing my temper and yelling over something stupid and meaningless, because i’ve had a long, difficult day at work, and I just don’t have my best to give.

We know that as parents, we should pay attention, because the time with our children when they are small is so fleeting. But, even knowing this, I have days when I come home, and get sucked into the vortex of social media, and spend way too much time on the couch looking at my phone instead of soaking up the precious moments with my girls before bedtime.

And those are just a few common mistakes that I make. I’m working on it all. And meditation is an ongoing practice that is teaching me how to be more mindful, and long-term, will hopefully help to shift my thinking and improve how I react to situations. But I know the shift doesn’t happen overnight, and I don’t expect to ever fully nail mothering on any given day. I know that I will always make mistakes. It’s inevitable. It’s just part of the game.

In a world where all you see are perfect photos on social media, it’s easy to believe that all of the parents in the world (except you) have their lives all figured out, have perfect marriages, (somehow completely unaffected by the tiny dictators that are now ruling their lives), and are raising perfect children (that don’t beg for toys every time they’re in Target, and don’t throw tantrums because you told them they had to wear pants today). Parents, let’s just admit that none of us are perfect! We all have days where our best has fallen well below our own expectations. But the one thing that we have on our side is the fact that no one raises their child in a day. The beautiful thing about parenthood is the fact that it’s made up of 18+ years. It’s a tapestry that weaves each day together, and if we’ve done our job successfully, the good days will out way the bad, and we will hopefully have cloaked our children in all of the values, wisdom, and guidance they need to become good-hearted, smart, driven citizens that will change the world for the better. If I can do that, I will count it all, the good and the bad, as a success.

Here’s to giving parenthood our best, knowing that our best is enough for today, and that tomorrow is another chance to do better.

“Thoughts Become Things”

I have always been a dreamer. I was an incredibly imaginative child. I made up worlds, wrote and illustrated stories, and believed in Santa Claus far longer than most kids. My imagination and creativity has stayed with me in some capacity all my life. But after having children, your dreams shift… they are no longer about you. They become dreams for your children and the lives they will lead. And that is wonderful. But what I’ve come to realize is that it is still critical that we still find time to dream for ourselves. About OUR lives. And those dreams may include your family. But it’s also completely ok if they are dreams JUST. FOR. YOU.

As a person you need to allow yourself the space to dream. It’s where your best ideas will come from. It’s where you will find the next new thing that excites you or makes you curious to learn. So often, we stop looking to dream and learn – We say life gets in the way. We don’t have enough time. But dreaming about what could be, and expanding our minds to learn about the unknown is what makes a Great Life.

There is nothing like it: That feeling of bottled up excitement about what could happen. The quiet space on the edge of the unknown. Some people may say dreaming is wasteful. It’s not a good use of time. What’s the point? Dreaming is what keeps you evolving, growing, striving to be better. And not in a climbing-the-corporate-ladder or pinterest-worthy-mom kind of way. In ways that will make you a better human being and the best version of yourself that you can be. Isn’t that what life is about? Becoming your best self and contributing your gifts to the world for the greater good?

Make time to dream, and share those dreams out loud with someone you trust. Thoughts become things. And they are even more powerful once spoken.

Balance

2016 was my year of reflection. I worked to really hone in on what makes me happy and excited every day. I have found, like many, I do too much of what I don’t want to do. And with constant reminders that life is short, I know I need to live a life of fulfillment, not depletion. 2017 is going to be a year of slowly, but determinedly, turning the ship toward the things that bring me the most happiness.

And with that goal, I have decided that “Balance” is my word for 2017.

I constantly struggle with balancing all the nuances of my life. Being a mom. Being a wife. Having a career. Making time to pursue my passions. To be healthy.  I know I am not alone in this. I know that there is no better time than now to take action. But I confess taking action isn’t my strong suit – I’m an analyst. I can analyze all day long. Anything to prevent me from actually having to make a change, because change can be terrifying. But through reevaluating my core values, and what I want from this one short life that I have in front of me, I am working through reprioritizing by asking myself these key questions:

·         What do I want?

·         What do I have already?

·         What are my current limitations?

From there, I’m drilling it down further to make the change I want actionable by asking myself “What does my ideal day look like?”

For me, I want to slow down. My life is going by faster and faster every day, and I feel like I’m on this trajectory that is only speeding up. I need to consciously SLOW. DOWN. I’ve blinked my eyes and my oldest daughter is a full-blown 6-year-old kid, who 1st grade has drastically changed socially and emotionally. My youngest is no longer a baby, but a full-blown toddler who I am having complete, usually coherent conversations with.  My husband and I will have suddenly been married for a decade this August. What??? Where did the time go???

I think the speed of life is partially being driven by the amount of technology at our finger tips. Technology distracts from the real people and things that are physically present right in front of us. We’re losing our real connections and missing out on having real conversations and interactions, and in place having electronic ones. The interesting part of this is that most people feel they are more connected to others than ever, because there are just so many platforms in which to connect. But the quantity of platforms leads to the decrease in the quality of the connections. There is the expectation to respond and react to all forms of communication IMMEDIATELY. There is more urgency and need for instant gratification than ever before. But doesn’t that expectation lead us to impulsively respond instead of taking a moment to breath, think, and then strategically, purposefully respond with intention?

What if, instead of looking at my phone first thing in the morning, and responding to all texts and emails right away, I didn’t? What if I, instead, took 5 minutes to meditate and set my own intention for the day? Before anyone else’s intentions begin to drive me.

My goal is to start each day with the important, but not urgent tasks. What things can I do that will leave me happy and feeling accomplished before my “real day” begins? What tasks will put me in a balanced emotional, spiritual and physical state to set me up for success and productivity for the rest of my day? It might be something as simple as taking the 5 minutes to sit and snuggle with Gavyn before she gets on the school bus in the morning. Or going for a walk before the household wakes up. Or just sitting with my cup of coffee to think before anyone else’s thoughts can affect me.

I know that in order to set up my day so that I can factor in these pockets of time in the morning, I will need to wake up earlier.  Sacrifice sleep. But in the long run, I think it will be worth it.

There is something liberating about having a brand new year in front of us. A fresh start. A reminder to make changes that need to be made. For me, it’s a reminder to pay attention to the balance of my life, and to make time for the things that really matter most.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017.

Gloria Steinem

I stumbled across an interview with 82 year-old Gloria Steinem recently on a podcast called No Filter with Mia Freedman. Obviously, I know of her legendary feminist work in the 60’s and 70’s, but I had never actually heard her speak.  I was struck by how well-spoken she is and how firm she stands in herself and her beliefs, and it inspired me to do this portrait of her. I won’t bore you with more dialogue about her, as I think this interview speaks for itself. Please give it a listen and let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Hopefully this inspires you as it did me.

 

http://podtail.com/podcast/no-filter/gloria-steinem-feels-bad-for-kim-kardashian/

Jane Goodall

When I was younger I wanted to be Jane when I grew up. I still kinda do. I used to go to the zoo with my mother with a notebook and disposable camera to record animals’ behavior, and pretend to be her. Major dork, I know. But there are just so many things I love about Jane: Her nurturing spirit. Her connection to nature. Her ability to be unapologetically herself. But maybe what I love most of all is her passion to follow her curiosity. Curiosity is what led her to go and live with chimpanzees at the ripe old age of 26, with no previous training or schooling. She was curious about animals, always had been, and decided to devote her life to their study and preservation.

Is there a more courageous act? To fearlessly follow one’s curiosity to see where it leads? I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert podcasts and just finished her latest book “Big Magic” (another woman I greatly admire). Her view on what it means to live a good life is following one’s curiosity. Not passion, but curiosity. She says the cure for depression is curiosity (after all, who can be depressed and curious at the same time), and that we should follow those little bread crumbs of curiosity as they present themselves.  Anything, no matter how big or small, that sparks a sense of wonder. In a best case scenario, they will lead us to a fulfilled life, one full of surprise, and maybe even delight. If nothing else, they will lead you through an INTERESTING life, which in my mind is far better than living a safe and BORING life. 

It’s funny how as an adult you stop noticing that tap on the shoulder from Curiosity. It’s there, but we learn to stop listening. After all, there are so many more things that NEED our attention right this moment. It’s easier to just brush those moments of wonder aside. But what if we didn’t? What if we heard that voice in our head that says “hmmm, that’s interesting…” and then actually decide to investigate it further? Dig a little deeper? Maybe it won’t lead anywhere. But maybe following that one bread crumb will lead us to a project we never thought of, a relationship we never knew was out there, to a life we never dreamed of having. We’ll never know if we don’t pay attention and give Curiosity a moment of contemplation.

So I’ve decided to try and be like Jane. Let’s see what happens.    🙂

Have Courage & Be Kind

As I hung a full length mirror in my oldest daughter’s room recently, I decided I wanted something to go above it. She’s tiny and low to the ground, so the mirror needed to be too, but that left a strange gap between the mirror and the ceiling. I began to think about what kind of a message or piece of art I’d like to hang there. What message should a 6 year-old see as she looks at herself in the mirror each morning?

We had just recently watched the new(er) live action Cinderella movie, and I thought of the quote “Have Courage and Be Kind”. And while it seems so simple, what a wonderful message that is.

Courage is something I am still learning as an adult– Courage to live my life authentically. Courage to fight for the best for my family. Courage to create. Courage to find meaning in the world around me. I want all of that for my girls. As my oldest daughter is about to enter 1st grade,  I find myself contemplating courage and how it applies to her even more these days. It’s a delicate time for a young child. Up until now, I think we’ve been able to keep her rather unjaded, but even her participation in Summer Camp with older kids the past few months has begun to change her. I know peer pressure will play its part in shaping her, but I’m hoping we’re raising her with the courage be unique, and to know that what makes her different is also what makes her amazing.  

Kindness and empathy go hand-in-hand. To me, they are the most important characteristics of “being a good person”. As my children grow, I’m trying to show them that the world is not black and white. It’s not as simple as good vs. evil. There is always a reason why someone has taken the path they have taken. Learning empathy, even (maybe even especially) for those who we think may not deserve it, is the path to a lighter, more contented life. It’s something I struggle with daily. I’m not sure it will ever come easy, but all I can do is to keep practicing.

Hopefully, this little painting will do its job, and as my daughter looks in the mirror each morning, she’ll find the strength to be herself, and she will remember always look for the good in others.

Dream Big Little One

Confession: I just completed my 2-year old’s nursery about a month ago. Better late than never, right? And she’s just at the age now that she’s just started to be interested in spending time other than sleeping in her room, so I’m telling myself I finished just in time (…not that I’m 2 years late).

However, when I finally completed Morgan’s room, of course Gavyn decided she wanted to overhaul hers and transform it into a “big girl room”. We talked about what things were important for her to incorporate into the space, what things she was willing to give away or put into storage. Down came her toddler princess mural, and we decided to create a little reading nook area and officially introduce an adult sized bed into her room. Teaming up with her to find things she wanted to decorate with was a blast. I loved completing this project together, and it made me realize how grown up she really has become.

I know everyone says how quickly time goes by as a parent. It does. It flies. And while every stage has been so wonderful and so fun, you can’t help but reminisce and miss the days when they relied on you for everything. But it’s also such an incredible blessing to be able to see who they become as you give them space to let them form their own views about the world around them.

Quiet Serenity & Joy

I should start by saying there is a part of me that is a wanna-be photographer. I LOVE taking photographs. I love capturing everything that I find beautiful about the world around me. Moments of humanity and joy, beautiful details in life and nature, and things that inspire me. My expertise in this field is comprised of Photography 101 in college. But despite my lack of formal education, I soldier on and make up my own rules to create images that make me personally feel something.  

So on vacation last week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I did something I had always talked about doing, but never did. It wasn’t anything difficult or scary, but it did require sacrificing sleep, one of my most prized hobbies – I got up in time to walk down to the ocean and document the sunrise.

I rolled out of bed at 5:45, and schlepped down to the beach in time for the sun to rise at 6:04 am. In the moments before the first rays of sun appeared in the sky, I was overwhelmed by the activity on the beach. The ghost crabs had clearly been very busy, tunneling ALL over the beach. There were little holes EVERYWHERE all in a row at the edge of the water, completely untouched by human beings taking their walks along the water’s edge. And the crabs themselves surrounded me, eyeing me suspiciously.

Suddenly, peaking out over the horizon came the hot orange sun, creating the most intensely pink sky. As I started shooting, I realized I had never stopped to just watch a sunrise or sunset from start to finish. Stopped fully to just watch and appreciate the beauty of it. How sad is that? It’s something that happens every day, and at 31 I was fully appreciating it for the first time. I was in awe of how quickly everything changed with this one act of the sun making its way up into the sky – the coloration of the world around me changed so many times in the ½ hour it took to ascend into what most would call full daylight. The ocean changed. The crabs hid. And the world of man awoke. Every stage was so beautiful. And it filled me with this sense of how incredible the world is, and how small my place is in it. But at the same time, as I witnessed the day begin, it filled me with the thought that the possibilities for the day were endless.

I walked the length of the beach all the way down to the Avon Beach Pier, photographing anything of interest as I went, and walked back home. My whole trip lasted about an hour and a half, but I came back at 7:30 feeling refreshed, free, and accomplished – I had witnessed this miraculous thing that, yes, I know, happens every day, but was completely awe inspiring, and I was able to document every moment of it that had brought me joy.

This idea of starting my day by doing something that brings me joy and fills me with a sense of accomplishment is something I’ve been thinking about since returning home. And so on Thursday, I decided I’d get up an hour earlier than I normally do, and just paint a little bit. The night before, I set out my easel, canvas, paints and brushes, so that all I would need to do is get out of bed and begin in the morning. I didn’t want to give myself one reason to NOT paint. And it totally worked. It wasn’t as though I got a ton done, but the point was that I started my day with something that was completely for me, something that made me happy, and no matter what happened for the rest of the day that day, at least I had done that. Victory. And it’s a strategy for taking charge of creating my own happiness that I will try again in the future. What strategies do you use?

 

Painting Snow White

“Stay with it. It’s worth doing. It’s not a crime to fall short, but it is a crime to abuse yourself for not being what you want to be.”

“Snow White” is a painting I have actually had sketched and sitting on a canvas for 3 years. Yep, that’s right. 3 years. It was part of a project I began in celebration of my oldest daughter’s 3rd birthday. She’s now almost 6. Her party was Disney Princess themed, and at the time, her favorite princesses were Rapunzel from “Tangled”, and the classic “Snow White”. With all of the best intentions, I only managed to complete the one painting of Rapunzel in time for her party, and it has always bugged me that I never completed Snow White. In my defense, I definitely bit off more than I could chew with my pinterest inspired party (ugh, the pressure of pinterest! But that’s a topic for another post…), and shortly after the party, I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child. So into storage it went for a time when I might one day have more time…

But in all fairness, I should also state for the record that i always have trouble completing artwork. There is something in my mind that either says that A.) because this is just a hobby of mine, it’s not important enough to complete, OR B.) once it’s at a place that some might call complete, I feel it’s not good enough to call complete – there is always something that could be redone or improved upon and I have trouble letting go.

            And so, and in beginning my 2nd project as part of my 2 Hour Per Week challenge, I dusted “Snow White” off, and in the spirit completion, I decided to give her another try. If I’m being completely honest, I was not pleased at where I was when I got about ½ way done. And it sat for another 3 weeks before I forced myself to pick up the paintbrush again. Painting is something that takes time, layering, and patience. And part of this process is allowing myself to love the process, regardless of the outcome. While it’s not my favorite piece I’ve ever done, I finished it. It’s done. I can now move on and look forward to the next project. And my daughter finally has her painting to hang in her room in time for her 6th birthday.

 

Movement & Momentum

Committing to this journey to be more creative on a consistent basis, I have given myself what I’m calling the 2 Hour Challenge. Simply put, I will take 2 hours every week (usually on the weekend) to make something. It is my time to put my headphones on and create whatever my little heart desires in that moment.

In a quest of mine to document my children as they are right now, in this moment in time, I decided my first project was to take a photo of my youngest from a recent barbeque and turn it into a charcoal drawing. There’s something about the original photo that completely captures who she is: wild, independent, carefree, confident, (and a little sassy). At 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, I decided to just put in my headphones and work. I didn’t look at the clock, but decided I would work until I was tired enough to go to bed. I wasn’t sure how much I would get accomplished, but amazed myself by fully completing this sketch in 2 hours! It was so encouraging!

But more than the physical end result, I proved to myself that devoting just a small amount of focused time can leave me feeling accomplished, connected to myself, and in balance. As mothers, we often feel it’s too selfish to take time for ourselves. As a people pleaser (and a Cancer), it’s something I have struggled with since day one of motherhood. Guilt is just something that comes with the territory. But something else I’ve come to realize is that being out of balance doesn’t help anyone.

It’s funny what doing this little exercise this weekend did to my overall outlook and attitude. In the week that followed, I felt more at peace with myself, proud of my accomplishment, and looking forward to my next 2 hours of being intentionally creative.

I heard something interesting about momentum this week that I am finding to be very true. You can build up just as much momentum continually NOT doing an act as you can consistently performing an act. So, an easy example of this is the feeling you have each week that you don’t go to the gym building and building until there is so much momentum moving in the negative direction that is seems impossible to jump start the good habit again. But on the flip side, once you start doing something, it becomes easier and easier each time as the momentum builds on the positive side of the spectrum.

I’d love to hear from you – what are your thoughts on momentum? What has helped you to kick start that project you were dying to start? Once you started did you find it became easier to move forward as you consistently starting meeting your goals?