Welcome to Lent

I like the somberness and reflectiveness of the Lenten season.  Being confronted by the reminder of mortality that Lent brings has made me feel like living life to the fullest and making changes where I need to so that I can truly appreciate what I have.  To that end, on Monday I started a 21 day meditation challenge through the Chopra Center.  It’s free, and I really like it.  For the second three weeks of Lent, I think I’m going to try to keep meditating on my own.  There’s something about trying to stay present that feels like just what I need right now.

[I haven’t written much about religion here, but thanks to a crying jag, I realized how much I am missing spiritual elements in my life lately.  As a result, I plan to do more writing on these topics, as well as exploring what I need my real life to be faith-wise.]

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School lunch brag

In Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, Regena Thomashauer instructs us to brag because

Bragging about the goodness in your life, especially your pleasurable accomplishments, unearths your desires and fans the flames of desire in other women.

So my brag is how FREAKING AWESOME our lunches were this week.  Chicken fried steak, spinach enchiladas with cilantro cream sauce, beef stroganoff, and pizza, all homemade from whole (and in most cases local) ingredients!  (Full disclosure:  the beef stroganoff was more like stew with noodles because I tried subbing a homemade/bpa-free version of Campbell’s Golden Mushroom soup that wasn’t condensed enough, but it was still good).  Hubs and I have never eaten so well, and I am so proud of us, both because we’re eating whole foods and because of what it has meant for our budget.  (We ate out a lot on the weekends before because it felt like so much work to me to cook.  Saturday nights now mean amazing homecooking from local ingredients and I love how we have both embraced it).  Wooooiiieeeeeeee!

Boundaries

When I was a camp counselor, it was common knowledge that the “soft” cabin counselors were less beloved by the kids.  In a co-counselor situation, the more strict counselor was always the favorite.  The kids, away from home and experiencing new and often challenging things, wanted security when they went back to their cabins, and reasonable rules, enforced fairly, helped them feel safe.

My therapist has been talking to me for ages about creating boundaries in my life.  Just like the kids at camp, boundaries made in relationships are a way of keeping oneself safe, so that no one gives too much of herself, gets lost in the relationship, or starts to feel resentful.

It took me a long time to understand enough to apply boundaries in my own life and (here’s the key) to do so without feeling guilty.  In spite of two close friendships starting to feel like a burden, making boundaries while maintaining contact (with the help of my therapist), and coming out of it all certain the friendship had deepened, I still didn’t buy it.  Cultural expectations exist (for women especially, I think) that we should sacrifice ourselves for others.  And not just sacrifice our time or energy, but in a lot of cases, our comfort and enjoyment.  Example:  I shouldn’t tell my friend (labmate, partner, boss, sibling, parent) that she’s driving me crazy because I need to be supportive and nurturing to her.  And not only should I not tell her, I also should continue to spend time with her, even though it really isn’t fun for me and in many cases makes me mad.

The solution to the above example is to make a boundary with the crazy-driving person that she doesn’t even need to know about.  Because the second key to making boundaries is that they are only for me.  To make the boundary, I play therapist in my head and ask myself, “What do I need to feel safe in the relationship?” or “What would help me feel less resentful?”  Usually the first answer that comes to mind is “if she would stop being so DAMN crazy-driving,” but then I have to ask myself the questions again with the emphasis on I and me because I am the one with the frustration and it’s me that needs to feel safer.

So I might work on adjusting my expectations (because expectations are a boundary in themselves) or I might decide that I need to see someone less often for a little while or when my extremely negative labmate brings up something else that is WRONG in his life, I might nod politely and say something positive or I might even go do an experiment (because let’s be honest I could always be doing more of those).

After a while of operating with this boundary in place, I probably notice that I don’t feel as resentful.  The drop off of resentment could be because my more realistic expectations are no longer being disappointed regularly or because what I really needed was a break.  But what’s even better is when I notice that the friend has made strides forward in her own life because I stopped enabling her negativity (or other toxic behavior).  Because the final key to making boundaries is that they help EVERYONE (just like the rules at camp).  Not only do they help me feel safe in the relationship, but the boundary helps the other person relax, too, because she can tell I’m not resentful any more or because she knows that whatever I was doing before that was really a lot of ask of a friend isn’t expected of her anymore.

So I finally bought in, and I don’t feel guilty making boundaries in my relationships.  Everything that I give now, I’m giving because it’s available within me to give.  (You might say I’ve had another breakthrough).

Two

Twenty three years ago, I wasn’t particularly happy my sister, Audrey, was born (see me looking diabolical as she tries to keep breathing in photo at right).  I took out my social challenges through elementary, middle, and high school on her in the form of verbal abuse, but I wised up, she forgave me, and now she is among my best friends.

I am FREAKING LUCKY that I was born first, as she is highly intelligent, funny, gorgeous, and musically/theatrically brilliant.  Example 1:  I quit playing the piano in sixth grade because she, at the tender age of 7, had surpassed my abilities (And I’m not proud of this, but when she got to middle school, I threw a fit because she wanted to play the French horn, and I was afraid of being surpassed again.  She played the trumpet instead and is, of course, totally amazing.  She also plays the piano, guitar organ, accordion, and autoharp).  Example 2:  She double majored in Music Composition and Physics in college.  Her senior capstone in music was a recital featuring works for organ, English horn, string quartet, percussion, and electric guitar that she composed, and they were good.  Her senior capstone in physics involved building a Stirling engine and thermal battery.  Example 3:  She was voted “Most Witty” her senior year of high school and now composes hilarious Irish-ish drinking songs for the autoharp. Her facebook status the Friday before she graduated read:  “College sucks.  I’m quitting tomorrow.”

Fiercely independent, she passionately supports causes that are important to her, regardless of their popularity.  GLBTQQIAA rights and comprehensive sex education are two that have benefited from Audrey’s embrace.  She also looks like dynamite in neon thrift store finds and, in the light of temporary funemployment post-college, recently started an Etsy shop selling fantastic “successories” she makes from garage saled/thrifted items.  Audrey is also an incredible cat mama, having rescued a special needs siamese kitteh.

In spite of the fact that I gave her tons of crap growing up and that she is now quantifiably cooler (see evidence above) than I am, she still wants to be my friend.  Even though we live far apart, I am consistently grateful for our in person visits, Facetime and phone chats.  Our relationship is the primary reason I am still considering having more than one child, in spite of my own leanings and the extremely convincing social and environmental arguments for single child families (i.e. those found in Maybe One by Bill McKibben).  If I could guarantee that any child of mine could have as great a relationship with a sibling as I do with mine, I’d have two kids in an instant.  With that, Happy Birthday, Sister!  I can’t wait to see what’s next for you.

P.S.  This post was inspired in part by the sister love from dooce and momastery.

Breakthrough? (a reflection on 2012 so far)

On January 1, Husband and I did an exercise where I cut circles out of colored cardstock and then we wrote our vision for 2012 on them in each of five categories:  Him, Me, Us, Home, Money.  He wrote the vision for Him, I wrote the vision for Me and we wrote the vision for Us, Home, and Money together.  We taped them to the fridge, so they are VERY present in our everyday lives.  (Our counselor aptly calls it the “visioning fridge”).

Inspired by my very incredible sister-in-law, who before the end of 2011 chose a word to embody in 2012, and with the help of my Relationship Cards, I chose “breakthrough” and wrote it boldly in the middle of the Me circle.  Wishing and manifesting and visioning can all be tricky because the skeptic in me can never be sure whether I am more aware of things that are happening or whether more things are actually happening because of intention.  That said, here is a list of breakthrough-ish things that happened in January:

  1. I finally understood and did two yoga poses (in two separate classes) that have been a challenge since I started practicing regularly in November.
  2. I moved out of the serious science slump I have been in since Octoberish in one day last week.
  3. Hubs and I did serious emotional work on money in our relationship.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s in store for the rest of 2012.