Sunday, November 13, 2011

Using Chaos to Find Clarity

I have often pleaded with my very very patient husband that I could get it done, feel at peace, deal with it, etc, if I just had time. Well, last year I got time. And it didn't happen. None of it. Fast forward through all the icky personal growth mumbo jumbo I experienced, I now am finishing my first semester of college after a 10 years. A course in mindfulness meditation opened my eyes to the misconception I had about time. I don't need time I need clarity. Tackling to do lists and confronting issues in my life doesn't take time, it takes quiet reflection and contemplation. The noise in my head was really bothering me. Finally being forced to sit with it has made me appreciate those overwhelming moments. For instance today: head swimming with chores, a pistachio cake in the oven, two rowdy boys who blew through every room like tornadoes, my hubby celebrating a birthday by not dealing with tornadoes, homework, boys homework, laundry and the nagging feeling Christmas needs to be addressed were all the thoughts flooding me as I stood in my laundry room trying to orient myself to what happens next. The automatic thought was to beg for more time to get it all done. As the plea was forming I closed my eyes, dropped in to my body, took a breath and sought clarity. Suddenly I wasn't asking the impossible of the universe, instead I was asking myself to lighten up and just enjoy the show.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Social Paradox

No dinner. It is just me, the few snacks I have over thought and the clock counting down to the book groups arrival. The children have been sent out of the house with the hubby leaving me to fester in the stress. As the time ticks by my anxiety fog gets denser until I am sweating and pacing. My level of fear would suggest I was prepping for a firing squad to arrive instead of the dozen neighborhood women I enjoy discussing books with each month. By the time the door bell arrives, I muddle through the evening knowing the worst part awaits. Interacting with everyone, sharing wine, discussing the The Hunger Games, devouring guacamole, trading stories of motherhood and life in our hood usually leave me feeling happy as the last guest leaves. Then I climb into bed and the negative thought wave kicks in. In the dark, all my actions and words from the evening go under the microscope of my insecurities and distortions. And the firing squad begins.

I have social anxiety. It has only become clear to me in the last couple years as it has gotten more and more crippling and isolating. My desire for solid friendships are hindered by the thoughts and distortions I tell myself, about myself. It prevents me from opening up, showing I care, and trusting others. Anything that is said or happens, my anxiety will twist to harm me. As I laid in bed watching my thoughts attack my pleasant evening, I realize my only way through this attack on myself is to be with each distortion and see it as the enemy instead of myself. I didn't get much sleep.

The next morning I did my walk in a daze of sleeplessness and vulnerability. Pandora sent me "Help I'm Alive" by Metric. My fears perfectly summarized. Sometimes surviving the event is only the beginning of the struggle. As I learn to accept my struggle with social anxiety, I believe it will deliver me to a place of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance, so I am told in my psychology textbook, is the foundation of solid relationships. So, there is hope. Truth be told, I can remember these fears and distortions all the way back to 2nd grade. When you choose to ignore something for so long, it can spin into an ugly monster. So, as me and my monster work through our issues I will clunk through more social events and gatherings so I can offer myself the challenge of working through it.

It's a start, right?
Help I'm Alive by Metric

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Frustrated and sweaty, I started trekking back to the Campus Center. Every person I spoke with on campus in the last hour was unable to help me because I didn't have my passphrase. Feeling old and disoriented, I began to doubt my choice of coming back to school.

Maybe I really am too old.

Ten years ago I remember walking up to the bank teller like counter at the MATC registrar with an enrollment issues and watching the lady with 25+ years experience and plenty of weight with the professors, resolve the issue with a sigh, eye roll while filing her nails. I didn't need a passphrase just a carbon sheet with the right boxes checked (or else endure an additional eye roll) and a deep breath to rebound the negative energy. No additional walking, tracking down professors or specialized advisers who are happy to help on days they aren't telecommuting. Just you and some lady named Jean who was the enrollment goddess, ready to unleash her wrath with her Wisconsin accent and strong dislike for people from Illinois.

When I decided to go back to school this fall not everyone was excited for me. I can't even call myself excited about it. I am more resolute. It is something I must do. The critics voices walk with me on the 90 degree, passphraseless day on the quad of IUPUI as I pass the library. Questioning my age, my major in psychology and my constant need to win over my critics, I realize I am only walking with my fear of failure. Now I really feel old, because this fear has been with me for as long as I could remember and has prevented me from starting many things.

As I cross under the bridge, and enter the thick of the WOW festivities, I realize I am on a college campus. I am not the only one here with a fear of failure. I am not the only one here who will question a chosen major. I am not the only one here gaining knowledge of a subject in an effort to define myself. How am I ever gonna know if I am going to fail if I don't try? And so what if I do. "Failure isn't failure if a lesson from it's learned." I believed those words when Garth Brooks sung them 13 years ago when I moved from Illinois to Wisconsin, and they are going to pull me through now. Or at least until I figure out my passphrase.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nothing much

The Rolling Stone magazines are piling up on the entry table. The pop station and Pandora are seeing me through. As for singing, I am going back to the standards which make me smile because they can sound so good with little effort. Cooking is mostly done on the grill which is not my domain. Cleaning is limited to emergency and speed pickups. The laundry...well this was my recent Facebook post about that....

"Dear Family, Laundry requires time at home. If I am not home it apparently doesn't get done and put away. So before you walk away in an exasperated huff, throw in a load. Return in 30 minutes to complain, and throw it in the dryer. It is the secret formula I have been using all these years. Love, Me"

A state of noticeable disorder usually comes at a high price of guilt and generates considerable thought garbage. So much guilt that I wouldn't hear my children's laughter. So much thought garbage that I would ignore my husband's jokes. So much guilt and thought garbage I still wouldn't get anything done because I had to think about how bad I felt. With two boys, disorder has been my natural state for the past 8 years which means feeling bad about myself has also been my mental state.

This school year, I came up for air. By mid April, I started anticipating the summer chaos that would disrupt my fragile order. My first instinct when overcome with anxiety and possible disorder is to plan it away. I would cope with free time with safety net of sign ups, lists, trips and camps. However, Alex asked for a summer of nothing. At first this only heightened my panic, but with thought I realized won't the summer go better if he is doing exactly what he wants or in this case doesn't want to do. So, early May they each picked one 3 day camp, and all other brochures were recycled. All guilt went in the bin. I would be the camp director, and I only had one lesson plan. Follow their lead.

There has been plenty of spontaneous outings, playing with friends and even more Spongebob. We are laughing, playing and most of all listening to each other. The clarity and happiness is worth more than all the folded laundry and organized papers time has to offer. There is still plenty of fighting, frustrations (see above post) and anger which comes with too much togetherness. They are kids, so they are immature and still unable to handle these situations, as can be expected from children. My only adjustment is to stop expecting them to be adult.

Yesterday, I was singing along to one of my all time favorite songs, "Float On" by Modest Mouse. I first heard it when my life was at its most disorderly with 2 boys under 2, my husband pushing through a post-doc, and the constant feeling of there was never enough time to right the ship. Six years later, with bowls of ice cream and some pretty impressive chair dancing, the boys and I were able to float past those days and soak up the moment.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summer Buildup

Can it already be the 4th of July?! April seems like only yesterday, when I was freaking out about the copious amounts of time I would have to entertain my sons. Thankfully, the summer is going well. The boys and I are finding a rhythm and balance. As a bonus we are having fun together! I miss writing, and cooking. The change from school to summer makes dinner time hurried and random. The insights still come, however the time to write gets lost to spending time together and I don't want to change that just yet.

Today, while making lunch I got to thinking of what writing does for me. My thoughts are like a game of Tetris. Writing clears the building thoughts, leaving me open and attentive. When I don't get to write it just stacks up until I shut down. So, I need to clear a row and get back to this beautiful holiday! Enjoy your 4th!

Every 4th of July takes me back to the many shows I watched at Joliet Memorial Stadium, and the finale always ended with Lee Greenwood. I haven't seen the show in years but I suspect it is still ending with this patriotic gem.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Let Me Go

Spending all of after school in the cloud of production being made at break neck speed by my 1st grade salamander expert, I felt like a slimy amphibian who broke off her own tail to escape being eaten. Dinner loomed, and I had no plan. My coffee hour usually spent at the kitchen table with the boys while they snacked was traded for cutting, taping, spell checking and mental acrobatics to avoid homework meltdown. Muddling through dinner without caffeine, I only burned the buns, all the colors of the food groups were technically represented and they were fed. Once the food and green tea hit my stomach, I felt the flood of exhaustion dissipate. My hubby's jokes helped too.

While cleaning up, I heard Cake's "Let Me Go." As the song went on about the girl who pleaded to be let go so she can come back to him again, I realized how true these lyrics were with me, my son and salamanders.

The animal report has been on the to do list for about a month. My mantra when I first saw the amount of work and processed expectations was to follow his lead. The slightest suggestions with him, like "Let's add your name," has resulted in outrage. So, I have to balance suggestions, remind him about respect and back off. Easier said then done when time is ticking away.

He surprised me. With careful suggestion, I was able to get my homework reluctant young man to the library to narrow down his subject from any animal in the kingdom to salamanders. The teacher did have a required outline, and packet which was a godsend. It allowed us to find focus, and I would reward him if he put in time filling in the outline every couple of days. The diorama was another after school marathon. We enjoyed our efficient trip to Michaels. Like his mother, he is inspired by fresh supplies. He dove right into construction of a salamander habitat. He couldn't even wait to make it to the table and completed the whole thing in the hallway. I breathed instead of suggesting a different location for the growing mess of discarded moss, puddles of glue and dissected ferns. I quietly picked up, biting my tongue so I didn't interrupt his creativity. Soon he was seeking me out for consultation.

At the core of our homework struggles is a difference of brain function. I am talking about adding polka dots, while he is thinking of four other fun facts. He thinks and prepares things like my husband. Quick, concise, accurate and informative on the entire subject are the hallmarks of my husband's work, and now my 1st born son's. Their confidence is almost reckless. They fill out things in marker. I, on the other hand, go slow, think up color schemes and decorations, narrow my focus so I can be as detailed as possible on just a few things. I write things in pencil and then go over it with a marker. This is where I mentally exhausted myself today. I couldn't stop myself. He was walking over to the foam board armed with a Sharpie. For the love of brand new supplies, I had to intervene.
"Stop!" I said a bit too loudly.
"Are you mad at me?" he asked.
"No, I am not mad at you. I just need to know what the plan is before we start using marker." I explained. Angry at myself, I started to walk away so I could regain my mantra.
"Wait!" he shouts. "Don't go. I want you in here. But you go so slow."

I make the connection, and see how important it is for me to trust his way and instincts even if it is different than mine. Being the amazing boy he is, he suggests a compromise. He wrote his facts on construction paper and we taped them to the board. Foam board spared, and marker utilized.

Scraping the Asian noodle vegetable medley in the trash, I re-framed my exhaustion. The poster got done, the paper written, the diorama completed and my son did a great job. I helped him gather materials, answered his questions and focused on him not the project. I don't know the grade, but I already see the results. We both learned about salamanders, and both learned to trust each other.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wastin' Time

The school year is coming to a close. The days are getting longer and the weather nicer. My dinner menus start reflecting the hurried pace of evenings spent outside instead of in the kitchen. Quick standard meals pulled together in the 20 minutes bring back the feeling of the days of relay parenting and jam packed schedules. The menus come in handy for the after school bike rides, football in the yard, end of the year homework and baseball practices which guide my schedule now. I assure myself the taco night followed by spaghetti night isn't lazy for someone home all day. Digging through the frozen veggie blends, the waves to one of my all time favorite songs slows things down.

"Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay" begins easy waves making way for Otis Redding's smooth voice. The lonely transient anchoring to the dock to accept the loneliness of life and struggles with conformity. At least, that is what I hear. Listening to it on this day in May, I feel the evolution of the past nine months.

When I sent my kids to school in August, I felt such relief. I was depleted, and I wasn't any good to them. Sure, I provided meals, clean clothes, mostly clean house, and whatever else was left of my time. I lacked consistency, vision, a support system and connection. Inside, I felt empty and restless. I hadn't spent consistent time by myself in seven years. I hadn't spent time confronting myself in forever. Since I was 12, I have tried to plan every minute of every day. Taking my cues from the expectations of the world around me, I strove to conform. All I found was more expectations to throw at my restlessness and bury myself. Inside, I had become the neglected vagabond on the dock.

Restlessness has consistently led me to two outcomes in the past, babies or jobs. I have no regrets of positions I have held or my babies which I love. I felt pressure to always have plan or live my life as soon as possible because it is all going to end. Swirling in my head has been the pressure of all those restless sayings like Life is not a dress rehearsal. Feeling so empty made me realize, I have been traveling through life so many years without asking myself what I really want and allowing myself to hear the answers. I usually give into the restlessness, and choose something quickly from the big checklist of life. So, as the school bus took the boys away for the first time I vowed to take this year for myself. No babies, no jobs paying or volunteer. Just me confronting my empty self.

With two weeks left of school, I started tallying things up. I did not get a job and I did not get pregnant. I did not organize my garage or my files. I did not complete my wedding scrapbook or even begin the boys baby books. I did not lose 15-20 pounds. I did not crack the code of keeping my house consistently clean. I did not volunteer for the PTO. I did not attend every school event. Considering these are the expectations I have saddled myself with for years, it would be fair to say I didn't do much.

At times it felt like I was wastin' time. Now that I feel more alive, I know now there are things to be learned watching the tide roll away. I listened to music again. I started writing again. I checked Facebook, alot. I discovered the joy of balance. I learned how to talk to my sons so I could help them with their feelings instead of trying to solve their problems. I slowed down. I started driving my kids to school. I played a lot of Scrabble. I started learning about food. I celebrated how far my body has gotten me given how little I have paid attention to it. I folded laundry. I learned about respecting myself and others. I did the dishes every morning. I learned about compassion. I got groceries. I forgave myself for all the harsh words I say to myself. I threw away all my coupons and magazines. I started yoga again. I went to Target. I finally understood what it meant when they say to really love something is to let it go. I learned to breath. I laughed. I allowed myself to cry. I stopped pushing and started allowing. I discovered and accepted me.

The spaghetti is quickly pulled together while singing along with Otis. Somethings will never change. For instance, spaghetti being a quick stand by will always be part of my summer menu. This spaghetti has few thoughtful changes. Trying out new spaghetti sauce made in locally, makes it feel fresh. Sitting down to eat, hearing the lively banter; I already feel full.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fun with Katy Perry

Warning: The following post was inspired by Katy Perry's song "Peacock" and she isn't talking about the bird. If you don't like reading about sexy topics, check out one of my past posts.

Home alone. Vacuuming. Another great time to sing, however I refuse to be called the vacuum singer. This is usually the time I switch over to my ipod and let all the explicit lyrics and sexually charged songs play out. It keeps me moving and smiling.

Katy Perry's "Peacock" came on and as usual I was giggling by the fourth beat. Honestly, I laugh so hard when I hear this song it has taken me several times to listen to the entire song without being so distracted by my own laughter. Yes, I know it is childish. Now that I have heard it out, I am inspired by her boldness.

As I collect myself, I think about the power the song demonstrates on traditional gender roles in music. There are so many sexually charged songs where men are taunting, objectifying or harassing woman. I can't think of many songs where the roles are reversed. Female artists singing about sex and their sexuality is nothing new, and is a staple with artists like Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. I feel Katy is challenging men and pushing their boundaries. Her lyrics are the equivalent of mardi gras beads. The cheerleader like chanting injects fun, while the lyrics state the request pretty clearly.

The only appropriate man I can ask about this song is my husband. So, does he feel she is being vulgar and demeaning to a man by offering up this song? No. He loves it. And I have a feeling many men do, and it isn't just the men in trench coats lurking in the bushes outside Katy and Russell Brand's home. Of course, he quickly brings up how he has a thought bubble with her kissing a girl and now another where she is asking to see his goods. She is conducting a thorough exploration into her sexuality while fulfilling all of a man's fantasies.

For me it is fun. I am not looking to objectify men. I have learned passion, intimacy, communication and trust are essential parts to a fun sex life. No one should be embarrassed, exposed, coerced or victimized. If the key ingredients are in place, then for me you have to add a slice of fun and silliness. My hubby and I have numerous private naughty jokes relating to the song. It is fun to laugh about sex and the human body. Intimacy is beautiful, and necessary to relationships. I treasure those moments. But we are human, and amazing can't happen every time. Sometimes sex if funny with fumbling, awkward human moments, inside jokes and giggling. So, I find laughter just as necessary.

It is naughty. It is fun. And I get to smile while I vacuum thinking about the funny naughty text I will send him when I am done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Page 230

With my chicken burrito, a good book, errands completed; I sat crying in Qdoba. And it wasn't the extra spicy queso on the burrito. The innocent words of Scout Finch made me weep for the injustice of labels and judgement humans so easily affix to each other.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was a required book when I was 15 years old. Rereading my copy with the highlighted passages, I apparently did pretty good on the unit. Before last week, I couldn't have told you much about the story. Since January the themes and characters of it seemed to be stalking me, first in conversations, then Facebook posts, and finally the local paper. I am superstitious and gathered three signs was the universe sending me a message. I read it last week. It was a beautiful experience.

First, hats off to all the English teachers who make this required reading. What I forgot of the story, I retained in theme. I remembered injustice and prejudice were the themes. But among all the chaos that is high school, I was stuck on the broader picture of the racial prejudice of the town. As an adult with more baggage and experience, I was open to the perseverance and bravery of the Finch family to stand up to their community while embracing them. Atticus pleaded with his children to maintain faith in their community without conceding their beliefs. Acceptance despite difference is the key ingredient to community. This thought is what led me to cry in my burrito as I read these words spoken by Scout:

"Naw, Jem, I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."

The first tear was for the times I have been labeled a certain type of folk, and the many tears after were for folks I have labeled and judged.  Judgement comes with a price which you can't total up until you are bankrupt. Like the Chinese Proverb says "After all, harming others means you first harm yourself."  Another visit with the Finches makes me realize, compassion takes practice. By challenging judgement with compassion I can tear down a few walls and soothe the wounds.

Navigating out of Qdoba as the lady crying, I was lighter without my armor.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spinning in Circles

My Chemical Romance was on, and I was in the zone. The manicotti was coming together and "Sing" sounded pretty good. Zig-zagging through my kids to get to the stove just about broke my good vibe until I looked at what they were doing. They were laughing and spinning.

As my sons get older it gets harder to hug and snuggle them. It was a fact of life I knew I would be faced with one day. When they were smaller, I would pick them up forgetting the noodles or oil heating on the stove to spin together. Together in one orbit we would giggle until somebody's tummy jumped. As they got bigger, it didn't last as long until there was no more spinning together. Now, on happy carefree days, they are spinning in their own orbits and laughing together. So, I join in.

Wishing all the moms a Mother's Day dizzy in love and hugs.

Thank you to my sons Alex and A.J. for filling my life with so much love. These songs are for you.

Little James by Oasis for my little Austin James

Hanging by the Moment by Lifehouse for Alex (This was the song I listened while I was pregnant with you, and so fearful I would lose you like the others.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It Takes Confidence to Be Smooth

Seasoning the chicken and re-purposing the pasta from the night before left me with doubt as to whether the boys and hubby were going to be satisfied with the evenings fare. While doubting myself, Jason DeRulo comes on with his 2009 hit "Whatcha Say" filling the kitchen with all its regret and swagger.

Cause when the roof cave in and the truth came out
I just didn't know what to do
But when I become a star we'll be living so large
I'll do anything for you
So baby watcha say!

My first thought is. Did that work? Asking for another chance by stating your lofty personal goals? Did she jump at that? This part catches my attention because I realize how many R&B and rap songs include their vision of their success in their songs. As someone who loses focus on her vision, I could learn from Jason DeRulo, Lupe Fiasco, Jay Z, etc. All these artists either describe their vision, express gratitude or inspire. These are all elements of the law of attraction. It helps to have a killer hook that gets embedded in the listeners head, too.

Soon doubt turns to setting the table while envisioning a happy family dinner. If they don't like the food, at least we can enjoy each other. After all, that really is my larger vision for my family.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Last night, I successfully made a favorite recipe with all natural and/or organic ingredients. This isn't hard to do with a one dish pasta meal, but it is a feat for me. Some of my comfort foods have failed to convert to organic or natural ingredients. (Actively looking for a new taco dip recipe because my childhood fave didn't compute to organic.) The Tomato Basil Pasta is so enjoyable and straight-forward to make. Simmering the tomato sauce and prepping the basil are calming. However, getting everything to the table and everyone assembled always gets me frazzled. It doesn't matter how breezy and enjoyable the cooking was a minute ago. Mid frazzle, my hubby tells me about his latest endeavor. Meditating. It is really difficult to discuss meditation when your mind is in a panicked state. Once we sat down, I was able to listen and appreciate the benefits. He really did seem serene.

I have dabbled in stillness. Yoga's savasana seems to be the only time I can do it without falling asleep or tapping my fingers. Working my entire body and meditating on stretches help tame the impatience which courses through my body. I can think of a bunch of reasons not to put in my yoga DVD. I rationally know I will feel mentally and physically better if I do it. But the laundry, groceries, school projects, Netflix movie...and the list goes on. Other times I have tried straight up mediating, I feel guilty. Knowing that taking a break is necessary for my brain, I try to fight the guilt. Now the meditation session has turned into a war in my brain about whether or not I have the time to do this. The war is not relaxing at all.

Apparently, being still has been on my kids minds, too. This is a poem my kids asked me to read twice the other night:
When I am Full of Silence by Jack Prelutsky
When I am full of silence,
and no one else is near,
the voice I keep inside of me
is all I want to hear.
I settle in my secret place,
contented and alone,
and think no other thoughts except
the thoughts that are my own.

When I am full of silence,
I do not care to play,
to run and jump and fuss about,
the way I do all day.
The pictures painted in my mind
are all I need to see
when I am full of silence...
when I am truly me.

Being mindful and still with your mind is a gift you can give yourself. So, maybe it is time to spend a little time with Shiva Rea and get my savasana on. Or give the old fashion meditation one more whirl to declutter my brain. Maybe right before dinner I can center myself, so those last few moments of preparation don't get me in a spin. Maybe The Eagles can help me out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Finding the Fire

I am an Arcade Fire fan. It has taken seven years and an incredible concert last week to finally admit it. We headed into the "big city" to see the concert, so dinner was a quick affair before the sitter arrived. No time to sing. I left it to the professionals. Arcade Fire put on an amazing show. The sound was incredible and cohesive. There are 8 people in the band, all playing various instruments and all completely in the zone. In a word, for me, it was phenomenal.

I bought the tickets because my husband was the Arcade Fire fan. In the middle of "Power Out", I was able to put my journey with Arcade Fire into prospective. Before the birth of my second son in 2005, finding new music was my passion. If I caught wind of a new sound or band, I was in the Ann Arbor public library database requesting the CD to get a listen. While playing many car and block sessions with Alex, tunes like "Float On" by Modest Mouse mingled with his babble and laughter. It was my slice of heaven. My hubby was bombarded with my discoveries, and he usually enjoyed seeing what I found. Arcade Fire's Funeral was the last cd I got before Austin was born. I never got to listen to it. I gave it to my husband, and went back to my chores and the boys. Two boys, 18 months apart, was noisy enough. Forget getting to read and learn about new bands. There wasn't the time. So the music repeated, and eventually stalled until it was just whatever radio station or cd was in the player.

My hubby on the other hand, took the Funeral CD and listened to it from 2005 until 2009 between sessions in his lab to enjoying it on his ipod. He wasn't keeping it from me. In fact, it was the opposite. He kept pestering me to listen to it. He told me many times how awesome the sound was and how I would like the lyrical theme. I was pretending to listen to him explain how great their music was while I made lists in my head of groceries, cleaning, playdates and things to pack. Their next CD came out in 2007, Neon Bible, and he got it from the library himself in our new town in New Hampshire. By this time, we were in a new house and I was juggling the house, a part-time job and the dynamic duo. Again, he told me how great. Again, I said I don't have time or interest. In 2010 they released the Suburbs, and it went almost unnoticed in our house. I was now living in the Indianapolis suburbs, and growing restless. The kids were off to school all day, and there was too much quiet. Pandora quickly became my best friend, and I was starting to spend more time reading the band info window instead of relying to the emails stacking up in my inbox. Arcade Fire starting coming up as a suggestion in my Pandora stations. Apparently, I am supposed to like this band. Some friends mentioned the concert, and I thought it could be fun and Bill likes them. Why not?

I am so happy we did. I learned a lot about a great band, and a little about myself. "Modern Man" on Suburbs captures the restlessness I was sitting with all of these years avoiding Arcade Fire and the enjoyment I have been missing without new music. Having put parts of myself on the shelf for my family, I am happy to be finding music and myself again. I suspect my hubby knew I was missing music. Or he was just wanting me to find him a new band to listen to. Either way, I am grateful he brought me to Arcade Fire.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Soul in Whole Foods

Walking through Whole Foods, I feel like an alien. Most recently I asked where I could find the Chow Mein noodles. The nice man gave me a sympathetic and gentle look. "Are you looking for the crunchy ones?" Immediately sensing I was committing a whole food blunder, I fessed up. "Yes, but I am guessing they aren't considered a Whole Food?" He was then nice enough to show me the substitute.

When I married my husband 12 1/2 years ago, my diet resembled a toddler menu at a greasy spoon. I was lucky to eat a vegetable, any beverage I consumed was a soda and entrees were complete once smothered in cheese. A mass spam email was my first food awakening. It was about aspartame. I had just switched over to diet soda thinking it was the best way to tend to my slowly growing waistline. In my 21 year old mind, the heaping bowls of Shoepps Chocolate Chip Ice Cream before bed weren't contributing in anyway. Well, the message whether true or false sent home the message that chemicals in your food could be harmful. I never considered this fact. Discussing it with my husband and announcing I was only going to drink regular soda, he quickly pointed out high fructose corn syrup isn't natural. So with that I began weaning myself off of soda. It was a first step.

Many years later, 2 kids, several documentaries and discussions with health conscious people I have expanded my list to eliminate trans fat, high fructose corn syrup in as many things as possible, and my latest endeavor avoiding the antibiotics in food. Deciphering ingredient lists and taking it one battle at a time is helping me be mindful of food choices. Looking back, it is a huge leap from the girl who only ordered grilled cheese sandwiches.

For my kids sake, I wish I could have been more mindful of my food from the beginning. The unexpected result is they are taking this journey with me and learning about food as I do. Alex's questions and reflections while Jamie Oliver explained about pink slime in ground beef as we watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution filled me with excitement. Getting to explain to him knowing where your food comes from is the issue, not the ground beef empowered both of us in different ways. He is now asking about the food on his plate, and I am motivated to keep learning.

I am a ways off from feeling confident in Whole Foods or properly utilizing the farmers market. I am a new soul in strange world, and it is starting to feel a bit more like home.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Making Life Everclear

Puzzling together a spinach salad with whatever I can find in the fridge left me angry and frustrated. I hate vegetables, so it shouldn't be a surprise to me I struggle to come up with creative and delicious vegetable combinations for my family. Instead of seeing my lack of knowledge about spinach as a teaching moment and a chance to be creative, I am bombarded with the list of failures I assign to myself. Halfway through the list, I stop. I am beating myself up. Cue the violin, but let's make it the opening to Everclear's "Learning How to Smile."

There is a phrase that has been following me most of my life, and only now am I beginning to realize how true it is. "You are being too hard on yourself." It is time I came forward and said I have been abused. The abuser is myself. Like in the song, my husband and I moved around for his school. Each time I hoped for a fresh start free from the abuse, and each time the depression inevitably followed. Only now am I seeing it is because the first box I packed was all my emotional baggage including the list of charges against myself and unreasonable expectations.

The irony for me is I am a smiler, which is something else I hear a lot about myself. "You're smiley." I am that person at the grocery store who will try to catch your eye in the aisle and give you a friendly smile. I share them freely with strangers. The more I get to know you the less I smile. And I don't smile for myself. So that is what I am vowing to do. Find the lighter side. Smile. And stop the abuse.

It is ok if I ruin the spinach. With Art's words,

Yes I know there ain't no finish line
I know this never ends
I am just learning how to fall, climb back up again.

So, off to the computer to find out what I could possibly make from this spinach that won't require a trip to the store and may entice my 6 and 7 year old to appreciate vegetables. And I did it. By mixing fresh spinach with mandarin oranges and almonds I never had to ask them to try the salad. Everyone took their bites. No complaints, and no abuse. I smiled.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Getting Funky with Dishes

Trapped in the kitchen on Easter afternoon, dishes piled from the Bunny Brunch, I am struggling to find a rhythm to the work before me. It should be simple, just wash the dishes and straighten up the kitchen. Thirty minutes tops. But I don't want to do it! Usually this is where music drowns out and distracts me from my whining, however today Pandora isn't serving up anything. The radio bores me. My ipod has so much music I don't know where to begin and shuffle is frustrating me.

All of it is offering music I love. As I forward past Arcade Fire, Paul Simon and Spoon, I realize my usual mix isn't cutting it because I need a beat. My brain doesn't want to process anything heavy, it just wants to thump along to a great dance beat and ditch any deep thoughts.

Meanwhile, in the next room, I hear my 6 year old son singing Ke$ha's Tik Tock with his lego men. I guess it is genetic. I get enough Ke$ha thanks to Diary of the Wimpy Kid, and I am going to need something with more kick.

Enter Lady Gaga...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grounded by Amos Lee

Since going on vacation at the end of March, followed by Spring Break with several illnesses sprinkled on top of the fun, I have been out of sync. So has my cooking which means my family isn't eating well which is resulting in further illness on top of a nasty allergy season. It was apparent as my hubby and I scrambled to throw together a unique blend of sandwiches and breakfast food on Tuesday night for a late impromptu dinner the weight of the chaos hit me. Each person's meal hit the table at different times, which illustrated my family's scattered existence at this point in time.

Clarity came while washing the dishes, as Amos Lee reminded me this too shall pass. His new single, "Windows Rolled Down", is everything I love about Amos Lee. Full of soul, poetic insight, simple melodies accented with an effortless run. He has a way of showing up in my life when I need quiet. His debut album came out right after my second son was born. His words played in the tiny kitchen of our tiny house in Ann Arbor on my old blue cd player while I washed dishes during nap time. This was my only moments of solitude until late at night. I treasured his calm and soulful sound during those precious moments. His new song serves as a reminder for me to slow down so my soul can catch up.

Coincidentally, Amos almost made me not go on vacation. He was going to be playing in Indianapolis while I was in California, and I found out just before buying the plane tickets. For a split second, I considered a trading Disneyland for sitting in an auditorium soaking in the sounds of "Shout it Out Loud" and "Keep It Loose, Keep it Tight." Sounded like heaven, until I thought of my sons missing out on seeing California for the first time.

If being out of sync is the price I pay for getting to sit on a beach in March, then it is worth it. So, I have had more mornings in the past three weeks swearing at the empty milk jug because I didn't realize we ran out. With each day we live our schedules I know we are getting closer to being back in our rhythm, my refrigerator will empty at a predictable rate, and meals will be eaten together. We will get a few weeks of monotony to put us back into a rhythm before we begin summer. I am going to need a lot of Amos to see me through the 10 weeks of sunny chaos.

Also, check out today's Garnish Groove for a laugh. Bruno Mars "The Lazy Song" video makes me smile. Warning: There are monkey faces in it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Favorite Apology Song

When cooking dinner, I can't escape the critical five minutes. It is the five minutes when everything for the meal has to be attended to at the same time. The veggies need to be drained and seasoned, the chicken has to be taken off the heat,the table needs to be set, drinks need to be poured, the kids have questions, the microwave is beeping every 30 seconds and I can't even remember what I put in there. Ahhhhh!

Most of the time I get through successfully, with the help of music. But, not this time. In one of my countless dashes from the sink to the stove, I took out my youngest who was dancing happily to Usher's "More" in his usually half hip hop half ninja style dance. Letting the chicken go, microwave beep, and veggies cool I went in for the hug, injury assessment and apology. At that moment, John Lennon begins to sing "Woman." My little guy squirmed and skipped away before I could "hardly express my mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness."

A mindful apology with compassion, empathy and gratitude trumps the quick "I am sorry" to end the fight and tension so you can finish watching the game. It also trumps the over thought apology with the play by play. How Lennon lays it out, his words could be used to cover any offense with any person. The word "woman" could easily be changed to fit anyone (as long as it can easily be said in two syllables, there is a song meter to consider). In an interview with Rolling Stone, he says his motivation was to recognize the role of woman as well as personally address his love of Yoko. However big or small, it is personal and beautiful.

Someone once told me a sincere apology can't be delivered with the word "but" because it negates the sincerity. If I can't say I'm sorry without the word but I know I still have to work through my feelings. It has done wonders for me but it isn't easy. Not a fan of conflict or tension, I would rush apologies and try to brush things under the rug. Now, I understand bad has to be confronted and to screw up is part of the experience.

Other apology songs which come to my mind don't capture the emotional depth and sincerity the way "Woman" does. Brenda Lee's song is cute, and was a go to song for me for years mostly because I could mimic her sound to the point of a chuckle. Hoobastank has a good line and hook, but the essence seems to be the apology is coming so late in the game he is going to be a better person to someone else. Willie Nelson's "You Were Always On My Mind" is sweet and full of gratitude but he isn't fully committed to an apology. Maybe? Really, Willie? You can find a top 10 list of apology songs at However, "Woman" does not make the list.

What is your favorite apology song?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Surrounded by Brothers

It was one of those weeks where the universe or God was sending me a theme to consider. From the movies we watched to the songs I listened to, I was surrounded by the stories of brothers. So, when Oasis' "Wonderwall" came on one night while trying to make the delivered pizza equal a healthy spread, I was thrust into the circle of brothers once again.

Anytime I hear Oasis, my first thought is of the first interviews I saw with them in the late nineties where Liam called George Harrison, one of his idols, a "nipple". Then as I read about Noel and Liam's fights, the anger in their relationship has always stuck with me. If he would call George Harrison names, it isn't surprising him and his brother would regularly come to blows. Listening to he lyrics in "Wonderwall" I idealistically think maybe Noel is writing about Liam. I hope since Oasis has broken up and they are pursuing their individual endeavors they "Don't Look Back in Anger". What they created together was beautiful. "Champagne Supernova" is a masterpiece of brotherly efforts. Noel's songwriting with Liam's vocals are enchanting. The stress of a music career filled with pressure to create, constant touring and fatigue will wear on any relationship. Bands with brothers performing together include The Jackson 5, BeeGees, Avett Brothers, The Beach Boys, The Fray, Kings of Leon, Isely Brothers, Collective Soul, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, and George & Ira Gershwin. This is just to name a few, the list goes on and on. And I haven't even talked about the sisters. That is a lot of music and I imagine a lot of struggle.

I witness the bond between brothers from all angles: as a mother, sister, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, and friend. I am surrounded by men and boys who are brothers. These relationships I am privileged to witness have varying states of contentment and terms. For instance, it is acceptable and entertaining to sit on your brother's head when it comes to my boys; however, I don't think my husband and brother-in-law would find this as entertaining. Well, not at their ages. I didn't witness their childhood fights.

Growing up I was always amazed at my brothers' ability to non-verbally communicate. You could pass by and see them watching a baseball game, and 2 minutes later and still mid-inning they were gone. Whatever food run or video game took a hold of the group didn't require discussion. It makes me smile to watch my husband and his brother continue a conversation they started the last time they saw each other, which normally is several months to a year between visits. My sons are a constant source of brotherly love, and the struggles which come with that love. Bill's cousin, Ian, saw my sons wrestling around and harassing each other at a family picnic. "That is just like how me and Carl were. You watch, they will be best friends."

I watched "The Fighter", "Defiance" and "Brothers" in the span of one week. As Liam Gallagher is singing Noel's probing lyrics, scenes of these movies flood me. Like life they were brothers relating to each other but with varying states of contentment and terms. (I recommend all three movies.) The common thread which stayed with me was to fight is to become stronger as an individual and as brothers. Sibling relationships offer an honest window into yourself.

For my sons, I am grateful to witness this tumultuous bond from the beginning with all the tears and laughter. I am learning my place is to trust them to work through their differences, and as they do their bond will only grow. I hope the wrestling and name calling doesn't wind up on MTV interviews like the Gallagher brothers. It will be sweet if they grow to help each other win the big fight, help each other escape the scars of life or create a camp in the woods to hide from the Nazis. In reality, I think Bill's cousin has it figured out that best friends would be good.

So, time to round up the boys from upstairs for pizza night. There is lots of giggling. Deep breath because someone is probably sitting on someone else's head.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mommy, what are they saying

Love the Way You Lie- Eminem ft. Rihanna

There is usually a lot of dancing in our kitchen, especially on breakfast for dinner night. I suspect the kids are grooving with anticipation for the maple syrup induced sugar rush and lack of green vegetables. My excitement is getting to cook with Bill. He makes one tasty omelet while serving up some of his latest voice impressions. It's all good.

So, the hits from the 90's and latest in Indie Rock are exchanged for dance and rap music. Recent staples for our dancing nights are Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" and Sean Kingston's "Fire Burning." These used to be "How Far We've Come" by Matchbox 20 and "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.  All enjoyable songs, but after repeated listening I am thankful for evolving tastes. My six year old LOVES Eminem's Lose Yourself, so that usually is played along with Eminem's other radio releases.

As I am setting the table, my youngest sits down just as "Love the Way You Lie" comes up. He and I both love Rihanna's chorus. He calls it the Lie song, and breaks into his rapper tough face when it cuts to Eminem. It's all good...until.

"Mommy, what are they saying?"

Sound of needle scratching record and the room getting quiet. Yikes! Parenting moment.

While I enjoy the song, we try to address explicit lyrics by getting radio edits. Problem solved, right? No. The content matters too. I don't want my son thinking putting his fist through the drywall is a healthy way to resolve conflict. So, I sat down next to him and tried to explain to my six year old, who wants to live in an igloo made out of a towel when he grows up, about the complexity of relationships. He had more questions. How my explanations and answers on domestic violence mixed into his brain with the Super Mario Brothers images and thoughts on igloos, I will never know. There are no guarantees. My hope is he emulates his dad in his relationships. No holes in the drywall, but I do expect him to look me in the eyeball.

I wasn't censored as a kid. Music was an area of my life I felt free to discover and explore without restriction. Over-parenting music choice is something I try not to do, even though the first 2 bars of "YMCA" instantly give me a headache.  Music is an exploration of sound and emotion but our connections to each other is what shapes us.

After the questions, I was back at the pancakes. Bill was starting the omlets. My son was doing his ninja dance moves. It was all good.

Warning: Explicit Lyrics in Attached Video

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Poetry with David Gray

"The One I Love" by David Gray

Waiting for an untested pork chop recipe to bake, I was transported in time with Gray's enchanting imagery. This song has always been a favorite for being a simply told haunting love song. For whatever reason, whenever I hear this song I think of a World War II soldier bounding up the shores on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. I don't think it was a perfect summer's night, but there were the June buds and "bullet's whispering."

My views are simple. Life is about time and those you love. David captures this with a loaded thought of "You're the one I love." In my picture of this story, the solider is struck and dying from the beginning. After fighting and resisting the wound, he is "gonna close my eyes." These final moments he is physically surrounded by the battle but transported by the images of his love.

The chorus I think is special because it takes you from the earthly concerns of the repo man to the afterlife pondering of the heavens and stars.

I can see his pale skin with the words, "Now I'm leaking life faster then I'm leaking blood." And his life ends with the lights of the "bay hotel."

The idea that there wasn't a heaven or hell, only a blissful memory shows how human it is to die. Not up on my Greek mythology, I learned what Elysium was because of this song. (It is a final resting place in the underworld for souls of the heroic and virtuous.) The solider saw him self as human, nothing heroic or evil, just a human. We are the sum of our human experiences and joy is the people we share them with.

The comical part for me is how many of the lyrics I had wrong. I had medics crashing on the shore, and the lights of pride. Once I read the lyrics the message didn't change for me, but the power of it grew. I am in awe at his poetic abilities. It is a much better song with his lyrics.

Thank you, David Gray, for such a moving song.

I wish I had as many beautiful things to say about the pork chops. This recipe will not be a sustainable blissful memory I care to recall in my last moments on this Earth.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rolling Down Glenwood Ave

“Roll to Me” by Del Amitri

With fingers caked in Ricotta cheese, I fumble while trying to jam the cheese and sausage mixture into manicotti noodles without ripping the slimy sticky noodle. Meanwhile, Iron & Wine “Boy with a Coin” gives way to Del Amitri’s “Roll to Me.” All bets are off. I rip the open the noodle; wrap it around the gooey mixture so I can turn up the music. 

This song is about as short as my freshman year at the College of St. Francis, which only lasted a semester. It also was the soundtrack during my morning commute. Like most morning shows, Eric and Kathy on 101.9 in Chicago had a predictable format, and managed to play this song everyday while I was cruising down Glenwood Avenue. That is right. I was a commuter right out of high school. So instead of roommates and keggers, I was concerned with prime parking spots and daily traffic patterns. My grades were incredible. My work ethic was admirable. My dedication to my major was that of disinterest and completely lacking of any passion. My connection to the school and my peers was nonexistent.

I lacked passion for any course of study. I was entertained by my classes, and even learned a thing or two. But for the most part, I could not see a unified vision for where all of this was going to take me. Because I commuted I couldn't get lost in the college life and stop thinking about it all so deeply.

I was looking at my future with a smudgy and out of focus lens that everyone else had been touching and fiddling with but I hadn’t stepped up and put into focus. Not once did I consider I may be taking all of this way to seriously, which is now something I would tell my 18 year old self. I was trying to be sensible and practical at a time in my life it would have been o.k. to dabble and maybe even go to a kegger. My reality, however, was a 27 minute drive covering the 13.5 miles from my parent’s house to the college, being confronted with these words: 

Look into your heart pretty baby,
Is it aching with some nameless need.
Is there something wrong and you can't put your finger on it
Right then, roll to me 

So, when I rolled back to my home town, I spent all of my time with my boyfriend. He was a commuter at a school even further away. His grades were incredible. His work ethic was admirable. His dedication to chemistry was pure passion.  He proved to me passion is vital, so I married him. He inspired me, and still inspires me to step outside of the commuter rut and into my life. (Wait, did I just hear Billy Ocean.) Now, when I hear this song I realize I first have to turn it up fast because it will be over very quickly. Secondly, it is important to find your own voice. Even if it is in the kitchen covered in manicotti.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Say" by John Mayer

While prepping chicken for the broiler, boiling the rotini and folding sheets, I got caught up in "Say" by John Mayer. This song unnerves me. Could it be the ukulele? (It seems whenever I am making a list of my all time favorites there is a ukulele involved.) I think not. It is the simplicity of a message I struggle with and it is always reassuring when someone else writes a song about it...and sings it in a key that is right in my range.

First, I never say what I need to say. I say a lot but never what needs to be said. I believe if someone had a gun to my head telling me to spill it I would still be overthinking my response and carefully considering the feelings of said gun holder before saying what I would need to say. Now, I have read the articles and seen the interviews. So, I realize this is a personal topic for Mr. Mayer as well.  Which is why I think he is able to summarize the anxiety ridden paradox of words and feelings so well.

The tender spot for me is when I think about my oldest son who is now 7 years old. He says a lot, and he asks a lot of questions but can never quite get to the heart of what troubles him. This song brought me to tears every time I heard it last year it because he was in such a bad place. He was the "one man army fighting with the shadows in his head." We moved him 1000 miles from what was his home with promises of making a new home. It was going to be great! Well, long distance moves are never all great. At age 6 he figured this out the hard way. School wasn't what he expected, the house wasn't what he expected; etc. In his list of complaints and growing anger he could never get to the heart of it. "I am angry you moved me." How I wanted to climb in his 6 year old head and push away all the clutter so he could say it. Of course me wanting to "fix" it doesn't help him say it. It took me learning more about saying things to help him say them too. An interesting side note to this song is it drives my son crazy. "Why does he just keep saying say?"

 A year later, we are content and saying a lot more and trying to fix things much less. Letting the feelings be and the words flow has made all the difference. So, today when the first pluck of the ukulele sounded I sang along feeling closure ...with a heart wide open.