Feeding Frenzy

photo-4“Do you think bluebirds overeat?” I asked Greg.

We’ve been trying to attract bluebirds for years, and this is the first year we’ve been successful. We have five eggs in a house in our backyard. I flipped open the front of the house and took  this picture with my phone when Momma and Poppa weren’t around.

The parents have been so busy building the nest and now keeping the eggs warm. The mother bird actually pulls feathers out of herself so she can press her warm belly up to the eggs to help them incubate. You can kind of see that on one of the pictures below.

And the father is bringing the mother bird worms galore. Greg is doing most of the reading and studying on what and how much to feed them, but we are going through A LOT of worms (bought from our local bird store). When the babies hatch, it will be even more.

It’s the first thing Greg does when he comes home from work–go and refill the feeders and put out more worms. He whistles when he adds the worms, trying to train the bluebirds to come on command. Yesterday we thought it had worked, as they swooped down just as he whistled. Today they didn’t, so maybe it was a coincidence.

Feeding is such a big part of parenting. I remember when our son was such a picky  selective eater, that the only way I could get him to eat breakfast was to make muffins every morning. Now I’d love to say they were made from scratch with wholesome, healthy ingredients, but they weren’t. It was Betty Crocker all the way. He went for long stretches where he’d only eat blueberry muffins. Then it would be chocolate chip muffins. And we’d have our lemon poppy seed muffin months. I made muffins for years, but I never minded. It was a clear-cut thing I could do that was generally helpful. Usually parenting is so complex, you have no idea if you’re doing the right thing–you’re truly winging it.

I have been so blessed as Greg has been 100% involved in the whole parenting process. (I can’t imagine how single parents do it.) I couldn’t ask for a better partner.

One of my good friends just told me she and her husband are expecting their first child. I’m so happy for them! Parenting is full of the kind of joy you simply can’t explain to people who haven’t had kids. But it’s also hard and kind of scary.

Feeding is the easy part. I miss making muffins.

Letting go is the hard part.

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Some Favorite Blog Pictures from 2012

A big part of the fun of this blog has been working with Greg on the images. He’s such a great photographer. I keep thinking I’ll learn to take my own pictures, but then I wonder why?  I can be the director and tell him what I want and voila, I get it! So here are some of my favorite photos he’s taken for my blog this year.

Larry loves to dream, big or small, it doesn't matter

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Hearts Set Free

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Montage Magic

One really cool thing I’ve discovered this year is that you can take an e-course on about any subject you can imagine, and most of them are priced very affordably. I am two weeks into a 3-week video making class called Montage. The class teaches you the technical aspect of using iMovie on a Mac, but it also has a fun, creative side in which you learn to put your heart and soul into the movie and tell a story. I’ve made two videos so far.

Here’s the first one. All of the footage was taken at my brother and sister in law’s home in Gerald, Missouri. It’s just under two minutes. Short and sweet.

Leaving Worry Behind

This is the second one, also about two minutes. The footage was taken in my backyard. I feel more self-conscious in this one because I do some speaking. I don’t know, does anyone like hearing their own voice? Well, hope you like it.

Busy Be Gone

The class has been great and well worth the money. I think I’m really going to like having a new creative outlet.

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Long Days, Short Summer

Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long but the years are short.” That’s how I feel about this summer. Some of the days dragged for me, especially dealing with more pain than usual (see my post Tiny Dreams). But now I don’t know where the time went. Everyone is back in school and fall is near.

Despite the pain, there are definitely fun times I will remember about this summer. I feel a little silly sharing them–they’re not exciting things like going on vacation or anything like that. But they mean something to me.

* Watching the HBO series, Flight of the Concords, as a family for the third time. It’s hard to describe the show’s appeal; you’d probably either love it or hate it. The series revolves around a pair of folk singers from New Zealand as they try to achieve success as a band in New York City. It’s off-beat and quirky. I love it that we all three laugh out loud through every episode. (Well, I’ll be honest. Greg did fall asleep once.)

* Turning a large walk-in closet in the basement into a makeshift recording studio for our son. We pinned old comforters all over the walls and had blankets lining the ceiling. A folding chair and old table for his laptop, plus his guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, ukulele and some other new instruments ordered off the Internet (a melodica?) made for a cozy space. It was pretty insulated, but occasionally I’d hear some random clapping wafting through the vents. I’m so happy our home could be a place where he could create his own wonderful (also off-beat, quirky, and make-you-smile) kind of music.

*Spending lots of time sitting on the covered patio just watching the birds and hearing the neighborhood kids playing. I really embraced just being, and didn’t worry that I didn’t “accomplish” much of anything this summer (see my post Busy Be Gone).

I’d be tickled pink if you’d like my self-compassion Facebook page–you can click here. You can also follow me on Twitter by clicking here. I’m turning into a social media junkie 🙂

Here is Gretchen Rubin’s heart-warming one-minute video, The Years are Short.

Exposure and Adaptation

Enjoying the patio first thing in the morning

Glasses:  I have always thought I wanted glasses—it would be another fun fashion accessory. My friend, Amy, has always had the cutest glasses and looked so stylish. One of my previous secretaries bought frames on sale so that she was able to have several pairs of glasses to match various outfits (my fave–red frames with red shoes!) So when I went to my eye appointment this year and he said I actually needed glasses, I had a moment of euphoria. Yeah! What trendy frames would I select?

Yet the whole process has been weeks of frustration for me. Now that I needed glasses, I didn’t want them. I ended up not getting super trendy frames because at nearly $500, I needed a pair that would go with everything.  My vanity kicked in big time and I thought they made me look old. I also worried that my mostly silver jewelry didn’t go with the frames, and I couldn’t afford to go out and buy all new jewelry (although that would have been fun.)

Most of all, I have had problems adjusting to the progressive lens which were prescribed. I’ve been back to the eyeglass shop three times, and each time they’ve encouraged me to give it a while longer. I’ve talked obsessively to Greg about it. Where do I look? Why can’t I make this part come in focus? They make my nose hurt. I’m getting a headache. I can see the edges of the frames. The world simply looked weird, and I felt groundless.

I finally realized that I’m fighting too hard and I’m definitely not being self-compassionate. I wish it hadn’t taken me three weeks to figure this out 🙂 I’m expecting this to be easy and feeling like there’s something wrong with me for not adapting more quickly. The eye doctor told me it would take three weeks of wearing them nonstop (DO NOT TAKE THEM OFF, he said). I beat myself up and called myself “noncompliant” because I did not do as he said. I’d make it for several days wearing them all the time, get frustrated and take them off, only to start over the next day. The eyeglass shop people were very kind and told me I was not unusual. They’d heard all these complaints about progressive lenses many a time. Yet I still felt like there was something wrong with me.

I think I’ve forgotten just how complex the brain is, and how this is a really tricky thing I’m asking my brain and eyes to do. From now on, I will gently remind myself that change is hard for most people, not just me.  I’ll also remember that people adapt at different rates, and I will give myself the time I need.

Oh, and I don’t think I’ve every posted a picture of myself sans make-up. Talk about exposure! I’m working on the vanity thing.

Weather: You can’t be a Missourian and not talk about the weather. This is a screen shot of the temps we’ve had lately, and there’s no rain or relief in site. It’s strange, once it’s over 100 degrees,  you don’t really notice the difference. I’ve desperately been trying to keep my flowers alive. A few have bit the dust. I should’ve taken a picture of the dead ones to remind me that everything changes; everything dies; it’s just a matter of time. I’ve been giving the birds fresh water several times a day. We’ve created quite the oasis for our feathered friends. I’ve mostly been doing my bird watching through a window these days. I rearranged some furniture downstairs just so I’d have a special place to enjoy their antics. Sometimes there are four birds splashing in the birdbath at once. It makes me smile!

Hydrangeas from our yard and
my grandmother’s antique mirror

Photography: Now that I have glasses where I can see close up and far away, I’m going to try to learn photography. I actually had some decent photography and darkroom skills as a journalism major in college, but I have forgotten everything I used to know. Up until now, I’ve just bossed Greg around telling him what pictures I need for the blog—actually, the system has worked out pretty well! But I think it will be good for my brain to focus on learning something new. This picture took me about an hour, with Greg’s help.

The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.

         –Yousuf Karsh

Busy Be Gone

Brene´ Brown recently posted this on her Facebook page: “It’s so easy to buy into the idea that if we stay busy enough the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us. When they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums.” This clearly resonated with people.  1,183 people liked it and 80 people commented. I replied, “Great idea, but I might be too busy to go.”

I love her writing, but sometimes Brene´ uses such big concepts, I’m not 100% sure what she means. I definitely relate to the part about busyness, but I’m not positive what it means about the truth of our lives catching up with us. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I’m writing. Maybe it will be a separate piece.

In my post, The Grass Always Grows Where You Water It, I wrote: “It’s May 1st, and I usually would have already had my monthly goals mapped out in my mind (and on paper). But not this month. I’ve been busy living, so that’s a good thing!” I also added that I wasn’t even worried about not having any formal goals. Well, I lied. I’ve been scared out of my mind. I’ve been doing a lot of not being busy, and I wonder if I’ll turn into some sort of sluggish sloth!  What if I never set another goal again?

Busy has always been a good thing in my family. It means you’re being productive. My family is of German descent, and I think it’s a cultural thing. During weekly Sunday phone calls, my mother cheerily told me to “Have a productive day.” In talking with another woman of German heritage, she said her mother said exactly the same thing! She also told me about a German word,  sitzfleish. It literally means the virtual flesh that exists between one’s behind and the chair. Figuratively, it refers to the ability to persist in one’s work, the patience that can endure anything, and the idea that work is more important than play.

I’ve certainly had a lot of sitzfleish in my life. I’ve prided myself on being able to plow through work and sit there until the job is done. And I’m not knocking the value of being able to keep your butt on the chair. It’s a skill that has served me well over the years, especially spending oodles of study time earning a doctorate and pounding out four books.

For me, busy has been fun. It has often meant being fully focused and engaged, in a state of creative flow.

My problem is that I take it too far. I don’t know when to stop, take a break, get up from the computer, walk around, stretch, move, breathe. Can you have too much creative flow? Sometimes I think so. I can get so immersed in what I’m doing that I forget to eat—and that’s saying something! (Maybe there’s a book in there…Write Yourself Thin.)

Ethan Nichtern, a popular Buddhist teacher, talks about the Tibetan concept of coemergence. He defines it as  “the ability of any particular phenomenon or experience to manifest as either wisdom or confusion, helpful or harmful, a weapon or a prison. So busy is not good or bad, it’s what we do with it.

I’ve never been good at finding balance in my life. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. Greg teases me about it all the time. For example, when I want to change the thermostat in the house (and being a middle-aged woman that is about every five minutes), I ask him, “Are you hot or are you freezing?”

If there’s one good thing that has come from my chronic pain, it’s that it’s making me more mindful of my work habits. I simply can’t work for as long as I used to. But I’m still fighting that fact. I usually don’t notice I’ve worked too long until my body screams at me.

Hmmm, I’m sensing a new goal…start listening for the tiny whispers.

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We have a great covered patio, and I think I’ve sat outside more this month than in all the months we’ve lived here combined (about 5 years). I’ve been watching birds build nests, listening to them sing, and feeling the breezes blow. I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with Greg, my college-age son who has been home more, and of course, Lily and Larry. As I’m sitting here finishing this, I see 7  Goldfinches, an Indigo Bunting, two Cardinals, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and two Wrens who live in the birdhouse you’ll see pictured below. I’ve named them Henry and Harriet. They seem like a great couple! I wonder if they’ve done much decorating in their house…

There’s no place like home.

Windy day!

Trying to get Lily and Larry to pose.

We’ve had enough of this!

There’s Something About Birds

Photo by Greg Markway

I had planned to write about meditation today. I’m on Day 5 of Sharon Salzberg’s 28 day meditation challenge and I was going to share how it’s going. Here’s the short version: It’s been fairly boring. Actually, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought. I’ve always had this aversion to formal meditation practice. I like to be doing things. I don’t know, but it might be my German heritage that values productivity (which I’m not knocking; productivity has it’s place). I’m just not so good at being. But all the books I’m reading on self-compassion say that meditation and mindfulness are keys to learning to be kind to oneself. So when I read online about this meditation challenge, I thought, “Hey, I’m in.”

So this morning I’m doing my “sitting”–that’s the lingo for meditation practice. My eyes are closed gently and I’m focusing on my breathing the best I can. I’m letting thoughts come and go gently. I’m trying not to be judgmental (I really suck at this) or expect too much (I’m not having any great insights). I start feeling sleepy. I remember reading that if this happens to open your eyes slightly, which I do. Out of the corner of my eye I see all kinds of commotion out on our deck. There are so many birds flying in the trees. Then the dogs, Lily and Larry, go wild barking to be let out the back door. Now I have a dilemma. Do I keep “sitting”? I’m sure advanced meditators are used to dealing with distractions. But this is too big of a distraction. Now Greg is coming from the other room to see what’s going on. Well, my formal meditation practice ends, but my informal mindfulness practice is just beginning.

For about fifteen minutes, I stand there staring at these amazing creatures. I focused on the cedar waxwings, which I’d never seen before. I noticed their beautiful aerodynamic shape with what appeared to be a black mask across their eyes. They had touches of yellow with a fluorescent red tip on their wings. There were also about a half a dozen bluebirds feeding at the same time. I never before realized how much beautiful color could be right outside my window on a winter day.

This is practice, too. Being open to the present moment. Being open to the unexpected.

Greg went and got the camera and took a few pictures. Soon the birds flew away. Ahhh. Change. Moments are here. Then they’re gone.

Yes, this is practice, with all it’s lessons, both boring and beautiful.

Here are a few other pictures Greg took this morning along with some quotes I found:

“Take this tip from nature: The woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except those who sang best.” –Bernard Meltzer

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence.”            –Robert Lynd

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”                                    –William Blake

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”     –Chinese Proverb