Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Pretend Zen

It was the morning of the big Girl Scout meeting and I was a little worried my smile and the world smiles with you approach might fall short. I decided to call in the big guns, or more precisely the 'pretend I'm on Prozac' approach where (as I imagine it) problems, big and small, are no problem at all.

The girls arrived and crowded around my kitchen table to prepare their shopping lists. When I told them they'd be doing their shopping by themselves they had lots of questions:

"Can we stop and get the free cookie?"
"Should we buy organic ingredients?"
"Do we each get our own shopping cart?"

My answer in Prozac-inspired style: "Good questions! I think you should come to your own consensus." A consensus was quickly reached about the free cookie (no surprises there) but there was a little more discussion about the second two issues.

At the grocery store, my fellow sister leader and I had the pleasure of watching from the front of the store as the girls trailed up and down the aisles. It was surprisingly amusing to watch them search for taco seasoning in the cookie aisle. After 45 minutes they had collected their ten ingredients, calculated the cost (discovering in the process that organic costs more) and we checked out and headed home.
The girls went to work. Milk was spilled. Eggs were cracked, sometimes in the bowl and sometimes on the counter. My kitchen floor developed a coating of cocoa powder and flour that combined with the few chunks of hamburger meat that had flipped out of the pan.

"Ewwww," said the girls. "That's disgusting."

"Yes," I agreed, still on my pretend Prozac. "Someone should probably clean it up before you step in it. It'll be really gross if it gets on your socks."

They stared at me blankly for a moment. Then one of them grabbed the cleaning spray and another grabbed the paper towels.

Onions were chopped. Tears were shed. The decision was made to wear goggles to protect from onion fumes. The jury is still out on whether it was effective.

My husband ventured in from outside where he was hanging Christmas lights just in time to witness one Girl Scout wielding my Sabatier cleaver over the head of another Girl Scout.

"Umm, honey, do you think they should use those knives?!?"

I could see the panic in his eyes but I held on tight to my pretend Prozac zen. "Girls, remember, those knives can cut through bone," I said and calmly took a sip of tea.

After several hours we all sat down, happily unmaimed, to a delicious lunch of tacos, cornbread and chocolate pudding cake. We were a little behind schedule, but hey, timing IS one of the hardest things to get right in cooking. As for me, dare I say it? I had FUN! Smile and the world smiles with you. Fake it 'til you make it. Or maybe, just pretend you're on Prozac and the zen will follow!
It was all edible! Some of them even wanted seconds.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Simple Plan

Where were we? Oh, that's right. Girl Scouts, Junior Drench Camp, I have to force myself to think about it even when it's the subject of my blog.

Fortunately, for everyone involved some of my Sister Leaders (yes, we really refer to ourselves like that) volunteered to chaperone Junior Drench Camp, which only left the little matter of preparing our group of nine year olds to be self-sufficient in the wilderness for a period of approximately thirty-six hours.

Sister Leader Sara, who knows how to pitch a tent, divided us up by skill set. Guess what I got?  Cooking!

Maybe I underestimated my uselessness in the event of a Zombie Apocolypse because cooking is something I can do. In fact, I love to cook. I'm the kind of person who makes holiday meals from the recipes in the pages of Bon Appetit or (the sadly defunct) Gourmet Magazine. Someone who loves to cook as much as I do should easily be able to lead a meeting where a bunch of nine year olds prepare a meal.
I started by lowering my standards. The girls weren't going to recreate a Jamie Oliver meal in the wilderness. They just needed to eat. Something filling and substantial that would please even the picky eaters. I settled on tacos, corn bread and something called pudding cake that, according to the recipe, can also be cooked over a campfire.

My plan was to break the girls up into three groups. Each group would be given a recipe. They would make a shopping list, then we would go to the local grocery store where they would find all the items on their shopping list (while keeping track of how much each item cost so as to be able to ask me for exact change), return to my house, prepare the meal, set the table and eat.

Fairly simple, right? I told parents to drop their daughters off around 10:00 and pick up at 1:00, assuming that the girls would probably finish early and have a little play time afterwards.

On the eve of my first 2011-2012 Girl Scout meeting I experienced a first. My plan was working. I was calm. I was collected. And, I was even looking forward to the next day. Maybe, the whole fake it 'til you make it, play to your strengths thing was going to transform my most dreaded time of the year into something fun?

Stop by on Thursday. I'll have all the details of the meeting. Plus pictures of the girls in action.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Most Dreaded Day(s) of the Year

In Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, she talks about acting the way you want to feel. If you want to be happy, smile. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Fake it 'til you make it. And so on...

I decided to take this advice to heart for two events that don't make me smile. In fact they're something I dread. At the beginning of every school year I put these two dates in my calendar and then I try not to think about them too much until the moment they are upon me.

Then, unprepared and stressed out, I run around the house like a crazy person trying to get organized for the ordeal.

What are these two dates?

They are the two Girl Scout meetings I lead every year. My daughter's troop is a co-op, which means all the moms take turns leading. This is great, wonderful, phenomonal...until it's my turn. My problem isn't exactly with the meetings. Wait, actually it is!

Here's the thing. I'm not a Girl Scout. I don't know how to tie knots or pitch tents. I'm not outdoorsy, I can't sew and crafting is one of my biggest guilty unpleasures. Umm, yes, I realize I've just admitted to being absolutely useless in the zombie apocolypse but let's ignore that!

In years past I've had the "pleasure" of leading fourteen first grade girls through a yoga class.

Me: Girls, stop talking and clear your mind
Child #1 (shrieking): I can't! I can't! I don't know what you mean!!

I've helped put together an exhibit about Kenya that required me to be up until midnight cutting out pieces of paper for the Kenyan flag and I've been a chaperone on a trip to an indoor water park.

Me (over-and-over): Where is Non-Swimmer Girl? Who's her buddy? Girls! Stick Together!! PLEASE, Remember your buddy system!!

Girls: AIIIIYYYAWER (which is the sound of them running around, ignoring the buddy system and screaming unintelligibly over the sound of BreakNeck Falls).

That's the background. Now here's the issue. Every year it seems like the Girl Scout Council has something new and "fun" up their sleeves. This year it's Junior Tent Camp.

Junior Tent Camp is an overnight outing that takes place somewhere in the wilderness in April. That's right! April! We live in Oregon. An Oregon April is rainy and cold, which is why Junior Tent Camp is affectionately referred to as Junior Drench Camp.
The girls are expected to do everything for themselves at Junior Drench Camp. Which means that this year's meetings are devoted solely to the purpose of turning a group of nine year olds into self-sufficient campers.

Tomorrow, I discuss my fake it 'til you make it strategy and how I'm going to apply it to Junior Drench Camp.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Popsicles and Poopsicles at The Fulfillment Project

A reader of The Fulfillment Project suggested I read Martin Seligman's book Flourish. So I did. I'm remarkably suggestible that way. Send me your favorite book and you will soon find it on my to-read list.

I know I promised you this would be a not-very-well researched blog about my quest to make my pretty good life better, but sometimes I can't help myself. I mean, a little research is okay, right? Especially when it yields treasure.

Treasure, in the form of an idea, is what I found in Flourish. My favorite idea, so far, is the idea of writing down three things for which I am grateful. According to Mr. Seligman, it's not enough to verbalize your gratitude. You have to write it down. It can be big things, like I'm grateful for my healthy family or little things, like I'm grateful for peppermint hot chocolate. The most important thing is that it be specific.

This idea seems especially appropriate during the holiday season when most of us rush from one place to the next without taking time to let the good things sink in. 
What better way to celebrate than by writing down a daily list of three things for which I am grateful?

But first, a little more about this exercise. It was first tested on people suffering from severe depression (meaning they had trouble getting out of bed). Within a few months of writing in a gratitude journal something like 95% of the subjects were categorized as only mildly depressed. I'm hardly ever depressed so this should fit nicely with my goal of making my pretty good life a little bit better.

Not only that, we already kinda do this as a family. My kids call it poopsicle and popsicle. Every night we go around the table and say one bad thing (the poopsicle) and one good thing (the popsicle). I've noticed that, in general, my husband and I always have a poopsicle.

A lot of times the kids don't have anything at all...apparently their lives are all popsicles. That's great for them, but what about us? Why do we focus on the bad more than the good, the poopsicles more than the popsicles? I'm hoping the gratitude journal will help me focus on the positives and less on the negatives so here goes.

Today I'm grateful for the following three things.

1. Listening to my daughter help my son practice piano.
2. That my husband regularly texts me throughout the day.
3. That my local bookstore sold out of their copies of Losing Beauty and ordered more.

That wasn't so hard. I promise! Now I'm really hoping you'll leave me comments with the things that make you grateful. What's your popsicle today?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Fulfillment Project Dinner Party

I haven't touched on the social aspect of The Fulfillment Project yet, but given that the holiday season, with its many, many parties, is upon us, it feels appropriate.

Life isn't complete without friends!
An important part of making my pretty good life even better is extending myself socially. If you haven't already guessed, I like to talk to people.

But lately, I've noticed that I stick mostly to my established friends. I don't make much of an effort to meet new people. The Fulfillment Project has made me wonder whether making a new friend or two isn't an important component of making my pretty good life even better.

The only obstacle to this goal is that grown ups don't make friends the way kids do. We don't look at each other in coffee shops and say, "Wanta be friends? Okay, let's play." We're a little more cautious. Which means acquiring and investing in new friends can be a time-consuming project. I have to make time and space for new people in my life. After I've made that time and space, I have to hope we are a fit. It's like dating without the physical component.

I was discussing this issue with some of my friends at lunch the other day when someone hit on a brilliant idea.

"You should do a speed-friending dinner party," she suggested. "Invite all the people you think are interesting but don't know very well, then spend three minutes talking to each other. If both people want to continue, than that person goes into the dinner party pool."


Like speed dating, but for friends.
I promise I won't make people compete for seats at my dinner table (after all, who would subject themselves to that) but I love the efficiency of the idea. It seems like the world is ripe for speed-friending. I can already envision women meeting in a church basement and whipping out their iphones to schedule lunch dates with compatibility matches. For that matter, men could be included too. Women aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from expanding their social circle.

Any ambitious souls want to organize one in Portland? Going once...going twice....what, no takers? I guess I'll just have to do it the old fashioned way.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Damn You, Kate DiCamillo!

Yes! I said it! You'll understand in a minute, but first let me backtrack a little bit!

I'm a crier. You know, the kind that cries at coming attractions and sappy commercials. In college a group viewing of Terms of Endearment reduced me to such a quivering, sobbing mass that I overhead a  male voice whisper to someone else, "Do you think she's going to be okay? Should we do something?"

Nope, there was nothing to be done. I was still in the process of learning to avoid tearjerkers.

I've discovered that Child #2 is cut from the same cloth. A recent viewing of E.T. reduced us both to tears. There's that scene in the middle where E.T. dies. He really dies! Child #2 looked at me, his eyes full of tears.

"Mommy, you promised he wouldn't die."
"I know," I sobbed. "It's not fair. E.T. can't die."

We curled up in our corner of the couch sobbing while my daughter and husband looked on with bemused expressions.

"They understand it's just pretend, right?" my daughter said.
"I think so," said my husband.

Cut to Kate DiCamillo's book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Even though I didn't know much about this book, I'd heard it was good and I know Ms. DiCamillo is a fabulous writer.  I couldn't wait to read it to Child #2. Midway through the book, it became apparent that my husband (the noncrier) should have been reading this one. Edward the bunny has found his way into a depression era destitute family and the girl he loves dies. Let me repeat that. She dies! For real. There is no E.T. type coming back to life scenario. No softening the blow. She dies and Edward mourns her.

Edward wasn't the only one to mourn. Child #2 and I were beside ourselves. I was crying so hard I could barely read the last sentences of the chapter. Poor Child #2's pillow was all wet.

"It has to get better," I promised him. "Things will get better when they go to Memphis."

Except they didn't. Edward is broken, and then repaired. He sits on a shelf with a broken heart only to be reclaimed by the daughter of the girl who was his first love. Which is sort of a happy ending but in the Garth household it was a tearful disaster.

"My heart hurts," Child #2 told me.
"Mine too!" I said.

Child #1 came in and turned a cartwheel. "It's a happy ending," she said glancing skeptically at our swollen, tear-stained faces.

So what did I learn from Edward Tulane and how can I apply it to being in the present moment? Sometimes in order to love, you have to be prepared to have your heart broken. And sometimes, if you are fully in the present moment you (meaning me) will shed a lot of tears.

Don't mind me Ms. DiCamillo, I'm just the one in the corner, loving your books and sobbing! Maybe, just maybe you could put a warning on them...not for the tearfully inclined!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Present Moment Epiphanies

This week I'm spending time in the present moment, being present and aware. Part of me wonders whether writers are ever really in the present moment?

Yes, I blog, shlepp kids, host parties and read books but most of what I do every day is write. The biggest frustration in my life is that I never have enough time to write. Unless a forty hour day is invented within my lifetime, I will probably never have enough time to write.

And so I do what most writers do. I write in my head. Often when I'm walking to school to pick up my kids, I'm working out dialogue in my head. When I'm driving to piano lessons, I'm thinking about plot lines. When I'm on a run, I could be thinking about anything from what music best fits the scene I'm writing to how to balance my characters competing needs and demands.

Is that being in the present moment? Honestly, I'm not sure.

Clearly, if I'm so spaced off that I cause a traffic accident than my avoidance of the present moment is dangerous. But I also know that my brain works best when my body is in motion. The epiphanies, the ones that are heart-stopping and euphoria-inducing almost never happen at the keyboard. They happen while I'm driving, cooking, walking and running.

Maybe thinking about what I'm writing is my way of being in the present moment. Here's what I'm thinking about writing right now:

1. I'm stalling on the finishing of the Losing Beauty screenplay, even though I know I just need to push through and get the first draft done.

2. The first draft of Losing Hope is finished. Hooray!! Now it just needs massive edits which I will start after the holidays.
This was the closest thing I could find to what I'm visualizing for the Losing Hope cover.

3. I have a name for the third and final book in the Persephone Campbell series. I'm not certain I'll stick with it though, so I don't want to publish it yet.
4. I am dying (simply dying) to start my newest project. It's going to be the best thing I've ever written! A sure fire, award-winning success (which is how I feel about all my newest babies)!! I'm cheating on all my other projects by writing a little bit on it whenever I get the chance, but it's still not enough.
And my present moment realization for the day is this: I'm lucky to get to do something every day that feels like falling in love all over again. It doesn't get much more present moment than that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Does Downward Facing Dog

My task: remain in the present moment.

What I hope to accomplish: a smidgen of fulfillment.

I kicked Monday off with a weak spot. Yoga! I love yoga. It keeps me strong and I'm pretty sure it will protect me from injuries BUT that's just the exercise piece. There's a whole other side to yoga that makes me squirm.

The mental piece.

While my face was serene and I appeared to be concentrating on my dancer pose, here is a little transcript of what was happening in my brain during Monday's yoga class.

Stabilize my hips. Hips, flips, double dips. Hmm, I haven't heard the phrase double dip recession lately. Is there such thing as a triple dip? That sounds a lot like ice cream. I love ice cream. Maybe I should pick up some ice cream for dessert tonight. No, we still have way too much Halloween candy in the house. Is it really only 9:16?

By 9: 36 I was fully in the present moment. I was breathing, letting my thoughts go, fully focused on what I was doing, but then came the true test. Shavasana. Corpse Pose. My own private hell.

Even so, I managed to remain focused until the yoga instructor announced, "People, your parasympathetic nervous system is releasing. At some point, if you keep practicing yoga, you all could be standing in the middle of a firestorm and not react."

That was too much! A firestorm!?! Really? This is the  imagery that is supposed to help us let it all go? Do we really not want to react to a firestorm? All I could picture was a wall of fire engulfing my gym. All the other yoginis, the ones whose parasympathetic nervous systems were more fully released were being burned to a crisp. I, on the other hand, was running down the sidewalk with a big ball of fire chasing me.

I sat up with a start and the yoga teacher gave me the evil eye. "It's important to keep your eyes closed," she reminded the class while looking at me.

Eyes closed? I need them open, to see the firestorm!!

Grand total of in-the-present-momentness for yoga: About 13 minutes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Present Moment

The Pittock Mansion
It was the end of Thanksgiving break. The kids had been home for a week. For most of that time we had been entertaining houseguests.

We had visited the Portland Art Museum and a local mansion decorated for the holidays. We'd driven a hundred miles to visit my parents and we'd eaten at lots of wonderful restaurants. It was all wonderful, but last night I realized lunches needed to be packed for school, laundry needed to be folded and UGGHH I hadn't even looked at my blog since late Tuesday night.

In short, I was a little tired and out of ideas.

So I picked up The Happiness Project and thumbed through it hoping something would resonate. And fortunately it did. There it was, a little section about being present.

I reread it and realized (again) how I am often far, far away.

Often my blog posts are written in my head while I take a shower. It is fairly common occurence that my husband will be in the middle of asking me something and POOF...just like that I've gone somewhere else and have to ask him to repeat himself. I'm making grocery lists and to-do lists while I'm reading bedtime stories and while I'm grocery shopping and checking off items on the to-do lists I'm often thinking about plot lines.

Basically, my mind is hardly ever where it's supposed to be.

My own personal hell!
I like the idea of being present and more aware, especially during the holidays. Wouldn't it be nice if I could slow down and take everything in? Savor it!

Admittedly, this is coming from a person who finds the last three minutes of a yoga class (the part where you lie on the floor and do nothing) to be excruciating. Still, in the spirit of The Fulfillment Project I'm going to give it a shot.

What's that? What did you say? Sorry, I was thinking about writing Christmas cards. I know, I know, this isn't a very auspicious start but I promise to do my best and then fill you in on the details.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving: From My Table to Yours

We are expecting the arrival of a mystery guest today. My kids thought it might be the turkey, but they were wrong. Then they guessed it might be one of these guys. Wrong again, although we did have a lot of fun making them.

The one person that they haven't guessed is their Uncle Adam. He's flying in from New York City's lower East side. Shh, don't tell, because he won't be here until close to turkey time.

I told my daughter she could make place cards and do the seating chart this year. I'm sort of betting she'll put herself at the head of the table.

That's okay. I'm thankful for her help because it gives me more time to reflect on the bounty of my life, aside from everything else I've already mentioned, here are three more things that make me thankful:

I'm thankful for you! I love hearing your opinions and thoughts. Even when you don't leave a comment it still makes me happy when the blog gets a lot of hits. It's good to know I'm not alone out here in the blogosphere.

I'm also thankful each and every time someone tells me they read Losing Beauty and enjoyed it. It makes my day. Seriously!

And finally, I'm thankful that I made the Wild Mushroom and Butternut Squash Bread Pudding on Wednesday because it took a ridiculously long time...I'm also thankful that I get to eat it today!

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To Pie or Not to Pie?

After yesterday's post, I know some of you may be impatient to find out how I plan to balance my commitment to saying Yes with my love of Thanksgiving dinner, and still manage not to trigger the weight based psychosis that is the fashion and cosmetic industries particular gift to women of the world

I'll get to that, but first I need to back track to Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. In her book she discusses her Secrets of Adulthood, the slightly goofy list specifically tailored to her that she created while writing her book. After the refrigerator redo, I discovered my first Secret of Adulthood, which was:
 If I want my husband to do something consistently, I need to sell it to him in terms of dollars saved.
The Yes week led to my second Secret of Adulthood:

I am happiest when I follow the same rules I set for my children.

I enforce bedtimes because I know my kids aren't pleasant to be around when they're exhausted. Desserts are almost every day, but served in modest portions. They get a little bit of sugar but we don't overdo it.

When my kids get home from school, they have to finish their homework before they go play. In the morning, chores must be completed before play time. I insist they dress appropriately for the weather because I know they'll be miserable without gloves or a warm coat.

When I started searching for a guideline to help me sort out the Yeses, I realized following the kid rules seems to lead me in the right direction. In the beginning of my Fulfillment Project I talked about taking up horseback riding again. Would I allow my children to take up horseback riding? Absolutely!

Okay, so let's get back to Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of serving myself up with a monster plate of food along with a monster sized helping of guilt, I'll just follow the kid rules.

Will I have second helpings? Most likely, but first, I'll stop and ask myself the same question I always ask my kids. Are you still hungry?

As for the pie, chocolate and pumpkin, made by my mother whose pie has won multiple awards. Will I have two slices?? Yes, but they'll both be small. That's what I'll tell my kids when they ask and so that's what I'm going to say to myself...wish me luck!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Weighty Issue

It's the holidays. This week is Thanksgiving, which means turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes and all the things that have evolved to become part of our traditions.

Last week I broke the types of Yeses down into three categories and this week I'm looking at the Yes of indulgence. Will it make me happy, more fulfilled to have second helpings and an extra slice of pumpkin pie?

The average American gaines 8 lbs during the holidays. A quick Google search for Weight Watcher's blogs resulted in close to seven million Google hits. The fact that Americans are overweight and ruining their health is old news. I personally follow no less than five blogs whose authors are concerned about their weight.

Despite our national weight crisis, it would be easy for me to say none of that applies to me. I'm not overweight. By any standard, in any country I'm thin. Every so often the scale edges up to 110 lbs, but most of the time I hover around 108. So why, of all people, should I be concerned about my weight? Why do I feel the need to turn down that second slice of pie?

And this is where I get into the personal own demons that, while private, are probably shared by most of the women I know.

The first issue is one of balance.  It's hard to achieve that perfect balance. The time that I'm most desperate for a second cookie is after I've eaten the first. And if I have a second cookie, then I'm desperate for a third. Sometimes it's easier to just avoid all the cookies. And yet, I love cookies (and cake, ice cream, pie, brownies, chocolates). But if I give into my sweet tooth, say YES to all those indulgences I'm afraid I won't be able to stop.

Balance, by itself, is hard to achieve. The second part of the equation is even trickier, probably because it is so deeply rooted within our society.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

You can never be too rich or too thin.

These are the messages that bombard women. I've watched friends lose twenty pounds, hit their goal, only to decide they would really be happier if they could lose another fifteen. I myself, occassionally wonder, "Maybe I'd look better if I just lost five pounds." Maybe the magazines are right. Could fulfillment be just five pounds away?

And those are the moments when I have to step back and ask, when is enough, enough? We all know this kind of thinking about weight isn't rational. And it isn't healthy. And yet almost every woman I know engages in it, on some level.

I wish I had an answer about the YES of indulgence but I don't. The best thing I can come up with is my own personal guideline...which I will share with you tomorrow.