Tag: Intention

16Mar

From Doorstops to Dishes

“The dishes!” I wail, glancing into the kitchen on my way to bed. “Why are there always and forever dishes needing to be washed?”

Dan replies kindly: “Because we use them.”

“Oh. Right.”

~~~

On Valentine’s Day, 2004, I kicked my brand new husband out of the house for four hours so I could make Chicken Parmesan as a surprise. To this day, I have no idea how a pile of chicken-topped spaghetti could possibly have taken four hours, but it’s fair to say I had no idea what I was doing. (The consistency of said chicken, which could have better served as packing material, agrees.) However, I so longed to make something beyond our standard fare of Campbell’s and Kraft. Surely, surely, with a little effort and the clucking, grandmotherly help of that red plaid cook book, culinary pleasure could be found in our dining room.

We ate Taco Bell the next day.

A lot changes when one moves to a country without fast food, though. When we first arrived in Italy, I mostly fixed packages of risotto mix and frozen chicken cordon bleu, and we picked up pizza a few times a week. However, I took mental notes each time we were invited to an Italian meal. One friend taught me how to make melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi; another gave me her recipe for amazing oven-roasted potatoes. I learned—thanks to my longsuffering husband—how to make cappuccinos, and I started auditioning new dessert recipes with his co-workers each week. I made a New Year’s resolution to learn how to cook meat so that people would rather eat it than use it as a doorstop. The next year, with a tasty repertoire of brining and braising techniques, I made a New Year’s resolution to make friends with vegetarian fare. I started jotting down menus and grocery lists for the first time in my life.

This year, my attention is drawn more toward my desk than toward the kitchen, but the process of cooking still engages my heart in a way I couldn’t have imagined six years ago. There’s something sacred in the challenge of planning meals to nourish my family’s bodies and souls while guarding our time and finances. There is mindfulness in rubbing fragrant herbs into a pot of soup, serenity in rolling pastry dough. Food preparation is no longer just a means to survival—it is a classroom, a laboratory, and an art studio. A love song. A risk, an exploit, a gathering of the usual five senses plus a few more. A thrice-daily dose of beauty to share and savor.

It is also, as reluctant as I may be to admit this, worth every single always-and-forever-dirty dish.

28Jan

Fireworks

I have to remind myself to calm down.

This is only the third day of early alarms. Only three morning hours pulled away from the stars and given to the words that tug on their leashes. 686 words the first day, 738 yesterday, 505 this morning—not many, but almost 2000 more than I started the week with.

This is something to celebrate.

This is something to take in stride.

As it goes every time a writing project lights up my mind with fireworks, I treat inspiration like a house ablaze. Every moment is an emergency with exclamation points and a fierce dread of what will happen if I don’t write twenty pages NOW. I kick myself under the desk for being such a slow writer. (I mean, my paragraphs come together about as quickly as Medieval cathedrals… and that’s with coffee.) I compare the timeline of my life to other authors and bemoan that I’m three years overdue for my Great American Novel. The housework falls behind and the girls entertain themselves while I stare at my computer screen, trying to coax a few more sentences out of a tired afternoon.

This sense of urgency was hardwired into me a long time ago—admittedly in a religious context, but so effectively that I fill up each day’s schedule with an impossible number of tasks and then feel guilty for not finishing. My mind fights continuously against my brain, my heart, and my energy levels to accomplish more, more, now, now… and it’s worse when it’s something I love.

I so appreciate the Julia Cameron quote Christina posted a few days ago:

“Most of us live with a continual sense of emergency. We have a fear that we are too late and not enough to wrestle a happy destiny from the hands of the gods. What if there is no emergency? What if there is no need to wrestle? What if our only need is receptivity and a gentle openness to guidance? What if, like the Arabian horses grazing outside my window, we are simply able to trust?”

That there are more days to this life, more hidden springs of inspiration, more quiet hours of words set free in sequence, is a concept both foreign and wonderful to me. It whispers that I can write without sacrificing my girls’ childhoods or my own sanity. It means that a few hundred words a day are enough. It gives me permission to walk toward the fireworks without grasping or giving up and to write a book over a ten-year span if that’s how long it takes.

(Though I really hope it doesn’t.)

19Jul

Era

A few days ago, had you been paying careful attention, you may have heard the universe take a deep breath and gently release an era to extinction. The following puff of breeze was the door to our shoebox apartment closing, and the electric crackle in the air was the current of joy waiting just inside our new fairy tale house. We are surrounded by boxes and have bruises in strange places, but are hopelessly happy to be here. (Pictures will be coming once we shed the cardboard décor.)

And it’s my birthday. I couldn’t ask for more in this abundant world of ours than waking up (gloriously late) this morning to birdsong and sunlight pooling on my bed, to PDA from my husband and sticky-sweet kisses from my girls, and to home. A trip downtown for outdoor jazz and Venetian ice cream didn’t hurt though. I’ve also loved looking through my birthday list from last year, seeing how very many things are checked off (all except 3 ½, if you want to get technical) and how much delight they added to the last twelve months. It seems a birthday tradition has begun.

Birthday gelato

Wishing on each unborn day of next year to:

~ Get lost in a field of sunflowers

~ Host a fabulous dinner party

~ Make millefoglie from scratch

~ Go to a concert with my husband

~ Put our new guest room to use

~ Try a new food

~ Respond to every e-mail in my backlogged inbox

~ Find an agent already

~ Visit another country for the first time

~ Organize a night out with girlfriends

~ Find the perfect pair of jeans

~ Surprise someone with kindness

~ Read a dozen good books

~ Grow some kind of fruit on our balcony

~ Re-learn obscure Italian verb tenses… and try not to forget them again

~ Work out regularly

~ Create a unique dessert

~ Eliminate holiday stress in favor of holiday cheer

~ Find my daily groove

~ Write something from true heart-compulsion

~ Restore a lost relationship

~ Read through a chapter book with Natalie

~ Find my soul mate in stationary and write newsy letters on it

[And the carry-overs from last year:]

~ Learn one beautiful piano piece well enough to play by memory

~ Start college funds for the girls

~ Submit at least ten short items for publication

~ Finish my book

Here’s to a new house, a new year, and new era. Cheers!

20Nov

Pomegranate Seeds

The girls are finally in bed, and I’m sinking into the couch with half a beer and two fresh clementines, impulsively ignoring the to-do list that I wrote in flowery cursive to make mopping seem more appealing. (It didn’t.) These November days have been studded with these impulses, little sudden choices in favor of irresponsibility. A ten-minute detour at the park on the way home from school. A midnight game of mancala in bed when Dan and I are too restless to sleep. Guests on a whim. Dissecting a gorgeous red pomegranate instead of ironing. A second cup of tea. Rocking-chair rides with tired little girls, wrapped up in my arms with nowhere else to be.

To tell the truth, I feel embarrassingly petty writing this. Something in my soul believes, deeply, that it was meant to change the world. I feel it in music, I snag against it in great literature, I catch a glimpse of it on perfect blue-skied mornings. And yet, here I am coloring in my November with impulses. Pomegranate seeds.

But, for reasons I can hardly explain, I’m satisfied. I’ve settled into a rhythm of peace—or at least an armed neutrality—with housecleaning, and the cogs of our little family purr smoothly again. (Clean floors cover a multitude of sins, you know.) And my little spur-of-the-moment decisions toward happiness have put more than a year between now and last November. In fact, greatness may not be as far away as I once thought, wispy shreds of a future. I’m finding out that it’s more like pomegranate seeds and heart’s impulses. Like being completely present for one of my girls’ giggles. Like hopping off the beaten path with my husband. Like choosing deep breaths and whimsy. And really, that’s not so petty at all.

18Sep

Uncharted

It would seem that Operation Going To School Isn’t This Awesome You’re Such A Big Girl YAY has hit a snag. It’s a doozy of a snag too, as far as three-year-old emotional butterflies are concerned.

“Hi Mommy. Good morn—” she says, and her voice cracks.The day is less than 30 seconds old and Natalie is already sobbing on the rug, a puddle of broken-hearted little girl. I suddenly feel unsteady inside my skin. “I—can’t—g-g-go—to—schooooool” she chokes, her eyes spilling over fresh. She has never cried this deeply before.

We tried good old-fashioned logic yesterday. “But think of all the fun you’ll have with your friends! Playing games! Reading books! Learning from your teachers! They’re so nice! And you always have such a good time singing and dancing!” Breathfuls of wasted exclamation points.

So this morning, we tried extra love. There was really nothing else to do with my sobbing girl except snuggle her close, smoothing damp curls away from her cheeks. But it didn’t seem to help, and I find myself completely disoriented in the new (to me) landscape of loving my girls intentionally.

I know Natalie has a glorious time once she’s at school and involved in the bright hum of activity. She comes home every afternoon glowing; I’m certain that this is a good thing for her. I just wish I knew how to soften her emotional heaviness in the mornings. It’s a thudding reminder of those newborn days when she was learning to put herself to sleep and I was crying on the other side of the door at how miserable she sounded. By now, I’m more accustomed to the way babies scream when they’re bored or tired or mildly annoyed, but a hormonal three-year-old is uncharted territory.

If there’s a positive side to these tearful mornings, it’s the opportunity for me to bond with my daughter in a special way. She’s been too busy carpeing the diem since she took her first steps to let me cuddle her like this, and I would never move again if pesky things like responsibility didn’t dictate otherwise. And perhaps Natalie’s pain is simply that of growing up. My girl is strong and spirited, and I look forward to seeing how she learns to lace up her frayed emotional ends and face her anxiety head-on. It just might be our most valuable lesson of the year.

5May

Two-Minute Increment

Announcement: I’m still here.

I’ve been busy lately for reasons that still elude me, rifling through each day for the scraps of what’s most important. Uneventful busyness, I guess you could say. Every single minute has been an exercise in prioritization, and the mental weighing and justifying and second-guessing gets exhausting after awhile.

I adore writing, but it’s hard work–writing for publication, that is–and requires rich, intense blocks of my day. I also adore my girls, but they are both at ages brimming with needs: milk, structure, emergency bubble baths, story time, conversation, potty training, undivided attention, tickle attacks. Housework… well, I don’t adore, but a clean, welcoming home is essential to our survival around here. I love my husband like crazy, but it’s difficult finding our connection through all the pesky details of work and parenting, entertaining guests and early-onset bedtime. I have paints waiting in a giant pink bin under my bed and brand new music recording software I’m itching to try out and winterbaby flab to burn off and an entire language to finish learning already and always more and more wonderful, prismatic bits of life I want to hold onto with all my might… but I come in two-minute increments these days, and assorted parts do not equal a whole.

Do you ever find yourself hopelessly scattered and thinking that maybe the best present in the whole wide world would be a multi-pack of undivided time?

15Nov

Time Is [Not] On My Side

Last week, a mere ten days post-C-section, we wandered all over Assisi with friends and had a marvelous time. I took this to mean that I had finally developed super-powers and agreed to host dinner for friends, entertain a house guest, and cook a Thanksgiving feast for fifteen people this week. I believe the term for this is “delusions of grandeur.”

It’s not that taking care of a newborn is difficult; Sophie’s happy with a full tummy, a clean diaper, and 23 hours of sleep a day. It’s just that everything takes so much time now. Or rather, ordinary household duties don’t magically take negative time to make up for the 350 minutes a day I now spend feeding and changing the precious little addition to our lives. (Not to mention the compulsory hour or two reminding her how ridiculously cute she is.) (Beyond legal limits of cuteness, in case you were wondering.)

With a new six-hour deficit to each day, I find the hideous words “time management” pacing through my mind like the Grim Reaper. They don’t help except to cackle ominously each time the clock prevents me from taking the girls on a walk or sitting down to write or showering before lunch. And it’s hard. Hard to reconcile my sense of individuality and ambition with the reality of constant momhood. Hard to soothe my impatient mind with the fact that I will one day miss the way my little girls cling to me for survival. Hard to give enough quality time to each child to diffuse the guilt of so much busyness, even though the children are the source of that busyness.

Many people have offered their help, but I don’t know what to ask for… except maybe a clone. Or double-strength sleep. Or self-cleaning laundry. Or an hour dispenser. (Paying attention, Santa?)

The last thing I want to do is stumble bleary-eyed and frazzled–or worse, grudgingly–through this irreplaceable stage of life. I know that all too soon I’ll miss the way Natalie feeds me pretend candy 700 times a day, and the way Sophie giggles every time she drifts off to sleep. Maybe I just need to take a course on time management to figure this motherhood thing out. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time…

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