Friday, November 29, 2013

Little ball of fur.

She's going to live forever, you know. At least that what she's demonstrating. She's almost 18 years old, which is ancient in cat years. 

But she still clambers her way into bed with me at night to snuggle under the covers. Even though she can't see properly. Or hear much of anything. She still manages to hop up on the couch to snuggle with whomever finds the time to settle in for a few minutes. 

She is even demonstrating the ability to accept new things. Like the dog that we've had in our home for 4 1/2 years. They have occupied the same space, touching each other, for two or three nights in a row now. This is new and exciting and the enormity of it has not escaped the humans in this house for even one second.

In this season of thankfulness, I am thankful for the deep, rich, complicated relationship that we have had with our beautiful feline companion for the last 17 years. I am sending a big, loud "THANK YOU!!!" to the Universe and Dawn Boeheim for bringing us all together.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Seems legit.

I took this quiz on a whim and the results were actually pretty spot on,  so I thought that I would share it here and see if anyone else wanted to take it and see what they thought of their results.  What color is YOUR aura? :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cue the Rocky theme song.

I was weighed-in and measured this past Sunday in order to participate in a fitness challenge. I have never done this before. The path to the decision to do it now has been a long one...

I am only up between 5-10 pounds of my comfortable weight - the weight that I feel best at physically and emotionally. However, my fitness level has taken a hit over the last 10 or 11 months. To be honest, my fitness has been gradually getting worse every year since I got pregnant 13 years ago. While this may be normal, I DO NOT like it. When I am not properly feeding and exercising myself, I have less energy, am more prone to mood swings and depression, easier to anger. And, conversely, the healthier I eat and the more I exercise, my mood lifts significantly. 

These consequences of activity and diet are all very obvious and logical, but sometimes I forget. Until all of a sudden, I am barely squeezing into my clothes, have no ambition or motivation, don't want to go anywhere, feel self-conscious, frustrated, angry, depressed. Stuck.

I was at that point a few weeks ago. Again. For the bajillionth time. I weighed myself on a scale at work and found that I had gained two pounds in the two weeks since I had weighed myself on that same scale. (I do not have a scale at home because I struggled with eating disorders for 15 years, and it would be a bad idea for me to have full access to a scale.) Now, two pounds is not a lot in and of itself, but in two weeks, that is not a good trend. It also put me at my highest lifetime non-pregnant weight. 

I am still at what is considered a healthy weight, but I was not FEELING healthy. I had been eating crappy food and barely getting any exercise. The few times that I did manage to force myself to excercise, it didn't feel good at all because of my lack of fitness. 

So, I started to try to get back into a healthy routine by doing a couple of yoga routines from the fitness channel, and walking the dog 5-6 times a week, and squeezing in a run or two. I stopped eating anything with gluten in it. I stopped eating french fries. And potato chips. Fried potatoes are a major weakness of mine. :/

The yoga routines were tough on my currently inflexible body, but I noticed that doing them lifted my mood immediately!

Being gluten free was making a huge difference, too. I was no longer feeling bloated. I was less moody. I was more productive and clear-thinking.

So, this brings me back to The Challenge.  I was trying these things on my own, but with minor success. There were improvements, but it was difficult to stay motivated. I was not making much progress, and felt as though it would be too easy to slip back into bad habits. 

Then, about a week ago, my dear friend Kristie asked a few of her friends if they were interested in participating in a 6 week weight loss / fitness challenge. She told us that the challenge was being run by a trainer who put the plan together. She would be tracking our progress over the next 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, the person who has lost the largest percentage of body weight wins $150 or free group sessions with the trainer. There was a $50 charge to enter, which included a comprehensive nutrition plan, 4 full workouts, and weigh-ins every other week. 

I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to join in. While it sounded promising, I did not know enough about what was being offered in the workouts and nutrition plan to make an educated decision.

I have learned a lot on my own about nutrition and exercise as a 25+ year vegetarian, sometimes vegan, recently gluten-free, always health-conscious person. 

What I was lacking was focus and motivation. This challenge offered that. A little healthy competition can work wonders, right??!! 

I did not decide until 7:00 am on the morning of the weigh-in that I would, indeed, participate. I had to get up early to go to work anyway, and the gym was less than two miles from the office I was working at. Those coincidences made the decision for me. The instant I made up my mind to do it, the doubt cleared and I was excited to get started!

It has only been two days, but I am feeling better and more motivated already. I am keeping an exercise and food journal and following the nutrition guidelines to the letter. I went for a faster-than-usual three mile run yesterday. I had a crazy morning and afternoon of errands and appointments today, plus it was over 90 degrees out most of the day, so I haven't exercised yet, but it is starting to cool off *a bit*, so I am going to walk the dog and then an easy paced 3 mile run. Tomorrow I will try a workout from the fitness app that the trainer suggested. It looks like fun!

Do you struggle with motivation and keeping healthy? Do you notice correlations between your diet and your mood? Your activity level and your mood? Do you have health problems that make exercise and good nutrition difficult to maintain? If so, have you found ways to modify exercises or diet to improve your health? 

I will keep this updated as I continue with the plan. I am hopeful that it will help me to instill some good habits, and break some bad ones. :)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Yes, THAT Melanie!

I wrote in my last post about a bunch of notable events that happened last Tuesday.  I was full of happiness and anticipation from the very start that day, because I knew that, that evening, I would be going with my mom and daughter (YAY!) to see Melanie Safka (WOW!!) at a local cafe / bar / restaurant called Lovin' Cup.  
I have been to Lovin' Cup several times to see my husband play in various bands, and to see other friends' bands play there, too.  The food is delicious, the coffee drinks are great, and it is a smaller venue (maximum capacity of about 225 people) so I knew that we would have a nice meal before the show, and that there would be a great view, and we would not be a mile away from the stage like we would be at a much larger auditorium or theater setting.  

But the best, most exciting thing was that I was going to be in close proximity to, and be able to be entertained by, an artist that I have LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED for literally as long as I can remember. 

We didn't have a lot of luxuries or distractions when I was growing up, but we had the great outdoors to explore, and we had music. 

My mom played Melanie's records when I was very young, and when I got to be in middle school and junior high I played them over and over, singing to every song at the top of my lungs.  I loved the sound of her voice, the music that accompanied it, and the moody, soulful lyrics which she offered to my angst-ridden heart.
This image of Melanie, from her Photograph album, immediately takes me back to a very specific place and time in my life.  Oh, she is so lovely...
The show was set to start at 8:00pm.  Mom, Ariel, and I went early (6:00pm) in order to get decent seats and to have dinner before the show. We ended up about three rows back from stage right.  Not bad!  

We ordered dinner from a delightful waiter with lots of flair on his shirt.  

We talked amongst ourselves excitedly.  

We ate (delish!). 

Then we waited.  It seemed to take FOREVER for 8 o'clock to arrive!  

I had not seen any recent photos of Melanie.  I had no idea what she looked like these days.  When she came out and walked to the stage it was a thrill to see her beauty and humor radiating from behind her wild head of (now partially streaked with gray) hair.  
Sorry about the crappy phone pictures.

A handsome young man came out with her, whom she later introduced as her son, Beau!  He sat in a chair beside her and accompanied her with various stringed instruments that looked mostly like guitars, but were somewhat medieval looking. He played at times with demonic speed, and other times with tender grace.
Beau Jarred Schekeryk

Melanie stood throughout the performance and played a Rainsong guitar that, at least from a distance, looked exactly like the Rainsong my husband has (minus a few dings).

She immediately started making connections with people in the audience, beginning the set with the song Beautiful People.  Here are a few lines that really struck me, and set the tone for the entire night:
And I'd gather everyone together for a day
And when we're gathered
I'll pass buttons out that say
Beautiful People
Then you'll never be alone
'Cause there'll always be someone
With the same button on as you
Include him in everything you do
In between songs, she made silly comments and laughed with the crowd as she looked from face to face.  I just sat and reveled in her dusky voice which had grown even more fascinating over the years. I made a conscious effort to allow myself to be fully present in this once in a lifetime experience.  I studied her mannerisms and smile, and the way she interacted with Beau.  He was was quietly sweet, supportive, and loving toward her.  Darling!

At one point she spoke about the death  in 2010 of her beloved husband and producer, Peter Schekeryk.  In so doing, she let us in, further connecting with the intimate group of people in that room.  Her emotion was raw and real.  I could feel her loss... and her healing.

Her storytelling and playfulness with the audience made the evening feel special, magical, as if she were there just to make ME happy!

She played a lot of songs that were newer and which I had never heard before, but I truly enjoyed each one.  It is rare for me to enjoy so many songs by a single artist, especially when so many were completely unfamiliar.

One of the songs, I Tried to Die Young, had me in tears for the entire song:
There where demons, I know them
And they still come by
But we’ve become friends, my demons and I
Now I’m the old girl I never thought I’d become
Does it get any better asks the little girl in my song
I’m still learning the answers so I make up things, you see
She laughs, you’re still the same and you never kill me

My mom yelled out a request for I am Not a Poet, and Melanie obliged:
Every note's an answer, every word's a sign
Every man's a dancer, following his own time
I've found a tearful language that translates what I am
And I cried out loud, but they didn't understand
I cried so hard I may never try again
No I may never try, I may never try again
*THUD*  Heart-wrenching.

Towards the end of the evening, Melanie performed a song called Smile.  She had us do some audience participation: singing along with the chorus, which was perfect for this happy, love-one-another tune:
[Said with a snarl, in a snarky French accent, referring to the time she spent in France at the beginning of her career]“I don’t trust the American smile. They smile for nothing.
I think it’s to disarm you or something.”  

[Then, in her impersonation of her own young, naive self] "No, I don’t think so. I smile because I want to make some kind of a connection.
I look at someone and I think… we’re connected”
I love people who smile...
I SWEAR she looked right at me when she said those last 2 lines!
I don't go to many concerts (ticket prices are usually too damn high for my frugal proclivities) and when I do, I don't typically want to meet the artist afterward (I am too shy and awkward).  But after all of this feeling connected to Melanie and her music, I was really, really hoping to meet her.  
Sadly, my daughter was just too exhausted to stay any longer.  At 10pm, not knowing how much longer the concert would continue, we packed it up and left our excellent seats to some  grateful folks that had been standing for the whole show so far. Fortunately, however, our friend, Matt, was the sound engineer.  My mom gave our ticket stubs to him, which he was able to get signed by Melanie, AND he surprised my mom with an autographed copy of her latest CD!  Thank you so very much, Melanie and MDG!  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Handful of Scrumptious Firsts.

Last Tuesday was awesome.  As in: I was full of awe, all day long.  I had the house in a pretty good state, considering the amount of fur my dog has been depositing everywhere.  It was a gorgeous day, so I walked around outside for a few minutes to soak in some sun, and then headed down to my basement studio, where I completed... 

First #1:  I made my first hand crafted, Coptic stitch bound, watercolor paper art journal.  
Watercolor paper, folded and stitched into a journal.
I followed the directions that Jeanne Oliver includes as part of her "The Journey of Letting Go {creating beauty from ashes}" online art course, which I wrote a bit more about here.  

I made the stitches a little too tight, so it didn't want to stay closed all of the way.  I put a stack of big, heavy books on it, and she's right as rain now.  :)  

I used the thick backer board from the watercolor paper pad as the cover, and covered it with some cute scrap-booking paper as a base upon which I will embellish, probably with some vintage paper decoupage, a bit of acrylic paint, maybe a found object or two... But I was pretty pumped about having made a book that looks like an actual book!  

Every step in the process of making it was thrilling to me:  using my bone folder to make crisp edges on each folded piece of paper; using my new awl to create holes in the paper for stitching through; punching the holes in just the right spots of the front and back covers; waxing embroidery floss for the binding; snugging each stitch as I aligned all of the layers, adjusting as needed.  I love love love using my hands to create useful things.  SO satisfying.

First #2:  I spotted the first baby geese of the season while driving to get my daughter from school.  
I had to get this photo from Free Stock Photos because the parents of the actual cute baby geese that I saw would not let me anywhere NEAR said cute baby geese. :o/
I get so excited about the progress of Spring:  Longer days, warmer breezes, new leaves and flowers and charming, fuzzy little critters.  Eeep!

Luscious lilacs in my front yard.

First #3:  I went with my mom and daughter to my first Melanie (yes, THAT Melanie) concert!!!

Which I have decided needs it's own post, because it was so dang special!!!

So, tell me:  What have YOU been awe-struck over lately?  Are you more likely to feel awed by something that you made happen, or by something you just happened across?

Part of a displayed collection at Rochester Museum and Science Center, which is a constant source of wonder and enchantment.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Learning. (This post is super wordy. Sorry.)

I am currently taking an e-course created by Jeanne Oliver.  Jeanne is amazing and inspiring in so many ways.  She is intelligent, thoughtful, funny, artistically gifted, a lovely writer, loving, honest, open, motivated.  She is also abundantly generous, and regularly has give-aways for her classes, and products from her own line of clothes and accessories, as well as products that she uses and recommends.  I was lucky enough to win this latest course, called, "The Journey of Letting Go {Creating Beauty from Ashes}".

A badge from The Journey of Letting Go e-course by Jeanne Oliver
Each week she puts up videos in which she discusses her philosophies, thoughts, ideas, and how they apply to the course content.  Then there are videos demonstrating different techniques and materials, and projects to use them in.  SO FUN!!!

In one of the "philosophy" videos for this course, she talks at length about taking responsibility in your life and relationships, and being honest with oneself and others.  Much of what she said really struck my heart.

I have been finding many opportunities lately to practice using open honesty to remedy situations.  In fact, we had a "Thing" in our family this week, and her timely discourse on the subject of taking responsibility helped me to figure my way through it.

The skinny of the Thing is this:  The New York State Educational Department has implemented new (soon to be nation-wide) standardized testing for children in grades 3-8.  My daughter is in 7th grade.  She heard through the grapevine that some parents were choosing to opt their children out of this testing for various reasons. She was piqued, did some research, and presented her findings to her father and myself.

We initially put her off, saying, "What's the big deal?  You are smart and always do well on these tests.  Just suck it up, do your best, and get through it." Nice, huh?  (Do I smell a Parents of the Year award?  Or did I forget my deodorant???)

She didn't give in.  She insisted that we do some research for ourselves, and we would see what she was upset about.  She was morally opposed to the whole dang thing.

So I did some research.  I found a lot of compelling evidence both for and against the testing.  I also did my usual Facebook poll, as I have done in the past when I was looking for a swath of viewpoints on a particular subject.

In the end, I decided that I would send the principal of the school an "opt out" letter which was adapted from a letter that was sent to me as a template of sorts.  The original letter had been written by a parent who was very familiar with the education system, and he shared it with the intent of educating and giving the tools to other families who felt the same way.  There is a copy of the letter after the break at the end of this post.

We heard immediately from my daughter's principal.  He respectfully let us know that we could opt our daughter out if we chose to, but that she would be required to sit quietly in her chair for the duration of the testing.  No reading.  No talking.  No sleeping.  Just sitting.  Quietly.  If you know my kid, you understand how truly difficult that would be.  The tests are 1.5 hours each for ELA on three mornings this week, and then 1.25 hours each for math on three mornings of next week.  It may not sound like much each day, but it would get old for her in a hurry.

So, the Thing in our house continued.  We talked and talked and talked, and finally decided that at this time we would acquiesce, and retract our opt-out declaration.  I am a weak social anarchist.

*le sigh*

After that, we were able to settle down and get back to regular stuff.  My research on the NYS standardized testing was concluded, and I was able to continue with my usual momma/ wifely duties of grocery shopping, laundry, workouts, animal care and (YAY!) my online art lessons.

The whole time, though, in the back of my head (and sometimes the front), were nagging thoughts about how I had handled the situation from beginning to end.  I was embarrassed.  I had conflicting emotions over whether I had researched enough, given it enough thought, given it TOO MUCH thought, and why I had backed down when I was cornered. (Okay, not really cornered.  Counseled.  That is more fitting.) 

I decided that this would be another great opportunity to take responsibility, be honest, and thereby allow the situation to unfold and resolve in a peaceful, satisfying way. 

So I wrote another letter (see also after the break at the bottom of this post) to the principal of my daughter's school.  And then I wrote this blog post about it.  And I feel much better about it.

Of course I am not perfect, and a lot of people may disagree with me, but I am really trying to put myself out there, including my faults, and take comfort in knowing that I am not just a bystander.  I am reaching out, learning, making connections to other folks in the hopes of enriching each others' lives. That is so important to me.
A work-in-progress of a class project (color and additional embellishments will be added).  I was inspired, for sure.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gun it.

It's therapy time again, folks.  Grab a soft blanket and a warm beverage.  Get comfy.  Good news:  I think we're making some progress.

Earlier today I had a brief exchange with a woman, Sarah, who has done some work with my husband in his recording studio.  She is a talented musician and writer.  I have only spoken with her briefly a couple of times in passing, but she took the time to send me a note to let me know that she can relate to a lot of what I have written about here on my blog, and that she was glad to see that she was not alone in her struggles with staying focused.  I replied to thank her for the (much needed and appreciated) encouragement, and to commiserate, saying, "Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I have great difficulty getting motivated without a hard deadline hanging over my head."

I have been like that since high school.  I was the one who waited until the night before a big exam to study.  I never wrote a paper until the day before it was due - staying up all night to crank it out in a haze of exhaustion and frustration.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have so many ideas in my brain (and in a fair number of notebooks and sketch books) for art projects, essays, articles, novels.  But there is no hard deadline.  And I am woefully out of practice.   And add more lame excuses here... 

After a series of hits to my already fragile confidence, I was feeling weak and vulnerable and hit a low point this very morning.  A rock-bottom of sorts.  I have been feeling disappointed in myself for not using this precious time that I have been given to really work on writing and creating art.  


I am terrified.  Of myself.  Of failure.  Of disappointing people I care about.  Yes, still.  *sigh*

It's ridiculous.  I know.  But there it is.  I count myself as a very lucky girl.  I have so many blessings in my life, and please know that I do not take that for granted for even one fraction of a second.  But sometimes when life's challenges dig at me long and hard enough, I can still feel my old, scarred-over wounds. 

Then I marinate in self-pity for a while.  I stomp my feet, cry, curse, huff and puff, or some combination of those tantrum elements.  Aaaaand, then, somehow, I find a way to get some perspective, pick myself up, dust myself off, get back to work.  So, without getting into too many embarrassing personal details (too late??), suffice it to say that I had a tough morning.

And, as it has to happen after a visit to rock-bottom, I put on my game face and got to the business of pulling myself back up:
  • I answered some long overdue emails.  
  • I found homes for more of my art supplies in my new basement studio space (I need to get some pictures and post an update on this transformation!).  
  • I did some research online that needed to be done.
  • I watched a couple of Donna Downey's "Inspiration Wednesday" videos on YouTube.  She is always a treat!!!
  • I made myself a delicious and nourishing green smoothie. Yum!

Yes, I know it looks like sludge, but it is ZOMG delicious!

I also had some help from The Universe in the form of some amazing happenings:
  • Sarah's note was the start.  
  • I got a glowing response, from an artist that I truly admire, to an old watercolor piece that I posted a photo of on Instagram .  
  • I "happened" to see an article posted on Facebook by Tiny Buddha which, miraculously spoke to EXACTLY what I needed.  They have a knack for that.  
  • My darling husband came down to my studio/ cave and we gave each other a good old-fashioned pep talk.  That ALWAYS makes me feel better.  <3 li="">
I am going to ride this wave of inspiration and renewed vigor, and see where it takes me.

What do YOU do when you are feeling down or uninspired or unfocused?  Do you have any tips or tricks to share that others might find helpful?  I'd love to hear from you all!