Sunday, April 14, 2013

Empathy Moment

I was born with a misunderstood gift, and for a long time did not know what to do with it. It took time to see examples of its uses. Sometimes it is not used for good. Sometimes it isn't even used. Many people have it, use it and let it destroy them. It's so interesting to me when I encounter others with the gift because we are all at different places in our development of it. It makes me introspective about my journey with the gift, and how I've come to love it rather than be burdened by it. Those that have a grasp of it are using it for good, removing themselves from it, and are changing the world. It's something the world needs desperately, but because of how precarious and potentially self destructive it is, there is short supply. There are varying degrees of sensitivity to it, and varying degrees of use, and I don't believe there are many who haven't experienced it. I have this gift to a very large extent. Though for so long I didn't realize that it was a gift. I thought I was weak, broken, oversensitive and over emotional. I didn't realize that everyone didn't have it as deeply as I do.  I have since learned it, harnessed it and I struggle daily to tame its effects on my life.

The gift is empathy.  It is a superpower and a curse. It is a blessing and requires great responsibility.  It is nothing special to those who don't have it. It makes me passionate and creative. It makes me misunderstood. I always know who else has it. I watch the people around me suffer because they don't know what to do with it. I was taught how to manage my empathy inadvertently. I needed to develop thick skin to be a productive member of society, yet still hold on to my most valuable possession; the ability to feel what others feel.

The past looked like this: I felt everything. Deeply. Every word, look, criticism, thought, was personally felt. I could walk into a room and feel the energy of every person, and adversely, I can change the energy in a room with my own.  I felt connected to everything regardless of whether it was mine to connect to or not. When others were unhappy I owned those feelings, because I felt them, even when they were not mine to own. Another side of this effect is the ability to take criticism effectively. Criticism is a necessary part of growth, and a necessary part of becoming a better me, but when faced with it in the past all I could associate with was the disappointment felt by the other person in something I had done. Disappointment is the most difficult emotion for me to harbor because I have a need to please- 100% of the time.There was a time when I could not speak, write or think without considering how it will effect someone else. Even if it's just one person. It is not perfectionism, but the need to feel the other person's approval. It was not until I began to learn small lessons to handle the empathy that I was able to use my gift for good, help alter the energy in the room, and preserve my own heart.

I was once in a profession which required a set of emotional armor to make it through the day. If I was going to succeed and support my family, which I strongly desire in everything that I do, I was going to have to learn coping mechanisms for the empathy.  This profession involved a great deal of criticism, both personally and with the work that I was doing. The disappointment was overwhelming. Every time I had to feel the discontent of another coworker, client or superior, I felt torn down. For an empathetic person, that is demoralizing. But I don't hate my gift, and I don't want to be less of who I am, so I realized I need to work on embracing it.

Everything changed when I realized that I felt very strongly about one human characteristic- one that has quickly become the most important thing to me in a person that I associate with. Accountability. This word means many things in many different environments, but to me it is simple. Own yourself. Own your actions, thoughts, emotions, choices and consequences. Own the fact that you have free will and the world doesn't happen TO you. Decide to be true to yourself by accepting that you are not a victim. Bad things always occur, but in every set of circumstances is a series of choices.

The first lesson of accountability with regard to my empathy was that being offended by someone's words or actions is my choice. Just as it is the other person's choice to speak harshly, it is my choice to let it become me. I had to stop choosing to take on those feelings because they weren't mine to feel. We are human. We make mistakes. Many, many mistakes. And those mistakes will affect other people, but if we own those mistakes, we can alter the outcome.  I learned that I did not have to choose to be unhappy just because someone was unhappy with a choice I had made.  The hardest part about this lesson is that not everyone takes ownership for being offended. Someone along the way will choose to be offended by you for one reason or another, but that is not yours either. I had to practice putting up a "soul shield" which involves taking a deep breath and remembering that I have a choice to take on the burden of someone else's unhappiness. Being a person who craves approval, I always want to "right" a "wrong". It is my choice to do this in a manner that calms my heart. If I feel that I have affected someone in a way that makes ME unhappy, I will find a way to right it. But that is MY choice. I no longer do this because I feel the need to change their feelings to make myself feel better.

Just as I needed to take ownership, I needed to learn that others own themselves. Everyone has opinions, emotions and beliefs that are inherently their own. I cannot own someone's opinion. Therefore, other peoples' opinions of me are not my business. They are entitled to that. I don't need to know what they think because it is not mine.  It is an exercise to remove yourself from opinions that are shared. I feel the effect of peoples' opinions, but I do not need to become them. This is not something that comes easily to an empathetic person. Our culture uses opinions to define people, belief structures and general standards of society. It's difficult not to use common opinion to define ourselves. But those opinions are not ours to own. This skill set takes constant practice. I need to remove myself from other peoples' definitions of me constantly. I have my definition of me to own.

With years of practice, I have utilized these main coping skills in order to harness the power of empathy.  I hate negative energy. It is more difficult to be negative, and takes a lot out of me to feel it. Because I am now able to remove myself from the negative energy of others, I can hold on to the warmer emotions and project them. I don't try to heal the world, but I have become much better at diffusing a difficult situation because I no longer absorb tension, anger, frustration and sadness. I feel it, but I don't take it on.

It sounds ridiculous to say it out loud... I do sound like a self-proclaimed super hero, "absorbing/reflecting" energy, but the truth is, there just aren't words to describe what it's like. The world thinks I'm "too sensitive" and "over emotional", but I think people like me are necessary to balance the "insensitive" and "non-emotional" society we've built for ourselves. In every situation there are varying degrees of empathy because as humans, we balance out each others' gifts. People like me handle relationships when others around us cannot. People like me welcome in opinions and beliefs of everyone because we have learned that we don't own those.  People like me help keep light in dark places. And yes, I truly did try to sound like a super hero with that phrase...

I love my gift. I think it makes me feel too much all of the time. I think it makes it hard to just "have a good time". I believe that it enables me to make instant connections with people because of the unspoken transparency. I think it requires a certain skill set to tame empathy and use it for good without the price of my own emotional destruction. But I get to share an intimacy with all people because I can sense what they feel. I am sensitive to them, which makes me care. I respect that they own their feelings and opinions, but I get to share that with them. I get to project warmth and welcome in places that are cold and difficult. I create environments for people to be themselves because I do not own who they are. I struggle with it, but I continue to work at it because it makes me who I am, and I want to keep becoming a better person.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Unplanned Moment

"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." -John Lennon

We weren't looking for any of it. We had a plan. It wasn't a terrific plan, but it was a plan: Move to Colorado so David's mother could help us get on our feet while he went to school. With the exception of the greatest friendships in the world, things in Illinois had begun to deteriorate. We kept trying to put band-aids over the wounds of the life we'd tried to build, but as with anything that isn't fixed at the foundation, it just crumbled. We were losing everything and had to do something about it.  We were so tired of fighting. We didn't have time for the things that were valuable to us becuase we spent so much time working uphill and nothing improved. Colorado, even though we were NOT looking to move, offered us a respite and a new start. We decided, amongst the pained protests of our loved ones, to move ahead because we love each other, and couldn't let the deterioration spread that deep.  Long story short, our journey anew began.

Within weeks, I had gotten a job, we were living with bare bones in his mother's basement, and he was registered for school.  I was not looking for anything else. We just needed to get our feet under us. I had resolved myself that I would do anything to just get solid...It's demoralizing to admit defeat. But here was our chance to prove that we have what it takes. After the recovery, of course. I wasn't looking for work, thankfully, as so many people we had left behind were, or knew people who were. Because I wasn't looking, it appeared. A month after I'd started at a job that I didn't love, but had willed myself to like, because that is how you do it when you have to, I received a call from the University of Northern Colorado, offering me the best thing to happen to us in a long time. It is here that I am finding my passions all over again. I have been inspired, moved, and educated daily. I find that I try to be here, and that I want to be ever more involved. I even went as far as hosting Evelyn's birthday party in the hall that I work in. It has opened doors that I didn't know I needed opened...

We weren't looking for our home. We're renting, which after the pain of loss that we've just experienced with the alternative, is PERFECTLY acceptable. I knew that this was the reality, and had been exploring options for relocation to Greeley, which is where I work, and where Evie goes to school, but I was not LOOKING. I mean, who wants to move around Christmas, in the winter? Well, the opportunity presented itself to me, and by happenstance, works out perfectly. It's a duplex, it's small, there are no trees. But for our purposes at the moment, it works. I am magnetically drawn to the East side of town, by the University, and coicidentally where everything else I love about Greeley is located, but because of other things that we weren't looking for presenting themselves, it works perfectly.  For the first time in my adult life, I work less than 15 minutes from my home. The sheer amount of time saved by being that close is unreal.

We weren't looking to be working on 2 different University campuses. David's amazing course of events that led him to his current occupation at Colorado State University was unexpected and very, very positive. We could never have imagined that we would be in the best financial and occupational situation that we could have hoped for. For the first time ever we had to CHOOSE how many benefits we wanted to utilize at any one time instead of praying that no one would get hurt because we didn't have health insurance. Because both of us work for higher education, we can both complete our education in whatever we choose, as we go along with jobs we already enjoy. The positions we hold are priceless. The impact that has on our lives is intangible and monumental. David is a different person with that kind of security... in truth, we both are.

We weren't looking to become heatlh-crazed. Ok... I'm still not stellar at it... and I'm not even going to pretend like I'm going to give up my appreciation for the fact that food is a gift. It's so much more than just nutrition for human beings, and I love that about our speicies. We bond over food, and I would never give that up, but I can be more aware of what I'm doing to myself. I woke up one morning and my hips hurt. I'm 33, and my hips hurt... from sleeping. It's a new mattress, a great new mattress, so it wasn't that. Nope- I'm in the worst shape of my life. A friend looked at me at work one day and said, "We should run a 5k." Now anyone who has ever known me has heard these words from me, and probably would have expected this as a response to this wonderful woman, "I don't run." But instead, I said, "OK"... What?!! Ok. I wasn't looking for a new lifestyle, but it found me anyway. That weekend I started walking, then jogging. When the snow didn't stop coming down, I decided that something more had to be done, so I took the madness indoors and became a gym rat.  I have never looked back. My body is fighting me- it has been predominantly sedentary for 33 years afterall, but I keep fighting back, with a fervor that I've never had. It's easy to be healthy out here. I'll never be a "runner" but I'm not opposed to being chased by zombies for 3 miles, or getting sprayed with colors, or any of the other fun runs out there...because for the first time, I think I can.

We weren't looking for a church. Seriously- we just wanted coffee. I suppose we had both been open to the idea, but with the constant state of flux that we've been in since June, when we moved out here, neither of us were set on seeking it out.  One day, I walked into John Galt coffee shop with my supervisor to get a cup of coffee and chat. I was immediately drawn to the art that was being displayed, the incredible coffee, and the fact that I could see myself hanging out with most of the people that were there.  Coincidentally, it was the same location that I had read about in an article outlining some of the best highlights in Greeley, Atlas Church.  I was committed to bringing David back there to experience the greatest cup of coffee that I'd had in ages... sorry Starbucks, nothing beats a true french press brew! Evelyn was at her theater class (on the East side of town) and we decided to pick up a joe while we waited. While we were there, Jeff Cook, who we didn't realize was the pastor of Atlas, struck up a conversation with Ronan (who was absorbed by Angry Birds), and we asked to see the theater part of the church. Two weeks later, we tried it out, and our souls were moved to the core. There are no words for this place.  Between the messages, aesthetics and music, we were blown away... but then, there were the PEOPLE. This super warm and welcoming group of people... and I don't just mean the pastor and his wife, Kelly, the whole place buzzed with warmth and welcome. We've met several people that I would be drawn to in any other setting as well. It's our kind of community... which is an instrumental and essential word. I chose it carefully. Community. I do not think that community and church are mutually exclusive. I believe it takes a special formula to create this integral and elusive environment. What's more, we didn't even know we needed a community...but it chose us. 

We didn't want to change the plan. I think upon every new presentation of opportunity we looked at each other and questioned if we should deviate from the plan. We changed so much for the plan. We left so much for the plan. But if I've found one thing about this journey that we're on, it's that our plans have not gotten us very far in the past, and it's time to follow God's and the universe's plan for us instead. Say yes to UNC, CSU, goofy Greeley, and an unexpected, immediate draw to this beautiful community.  I feel that we are here at a time in which the plan is being defined for us as we go, and it feels big. I've never felt this way. We still do our due dilligence to live the life of responsibility and expectation- we both go to work and give it everything, we put our kids in the schools we believe will help them grow, we are making healthy lifestyle changes, we go to bed at a decent hour (usually), we clean our home, we keep up with friends and family. But I've given up on the plan. We have big dreams that we will never give up on, but we've grown up so much since we let go, that I feel like it's now less plan, and more dreams. Life just keeps happening, even if we had other plans.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Moment

So apparently the posting has been relegated to once a month, which is not planned or ideal, but what is possible. Actually, that's not entirely true. I've just chosen to knit the world's largest "family" blanket, as opposed to participating in literary creative expression.  Choices, right? In short, my topics have been relatively uninspired as of late, but every once in a while, a great suggestion pops up and I feel the need to run with it. The last time I looked outward for suggestions, the response included miraculous subjects such as waffles and Emilio Estevez. I did actually have a pretty good discussion going in my head about Emilio, and his whole family situation, but it didn't gain traction, so I let it go. I shouldn't have let it go.

Today's suggestion was spurred by a lighthearted conversation over lunch about good locations to work and live, which led into why those things are important to a career in Higher Education. A lovely lady in my life was chuckling at the revelation that I have a list of the top ten things that I've learned working in Higher Education over these last 6 months. Some are Higher Ed relevant, and some are just... things. That I will never forget.  I've decided to expound upon these "important" things for the benefit of posterity. I never want to forget and I feel that there is so much yet to learn that these impressionable first 6 months will pale in comparison to what is yet to come. SO, without further ado, my first top ten list of my Higher Ed career.

Number One:
There is an acronym for everything. And if there isn't, we'll make one up. It doesn't even have to make sense, could be 10 years old and obsolete, but it is still used by someone at the University. My first day on campus I was hit with no fewer than 5 of them in the first hour. I followed a lot of them as we went along, but after awhile I did have to admit that I spoke in complete words and finally just asked what all the letters stood for. Naturally, I know that the magic of acronyms is not exclusively limited to the Higher Ed world, but the prevalence they have over actual titles, phrases and organizations is mind-boggling. In fact, there are situation that create the acronym BEFORE assigning the letters meaning... and then there's a debate over what the letters should mean, because the acronym is THAT good. It's become second nature to me now. In fact, I've decided to refer to my household as an acronym because their actual names are too many letter and words. DMERB- our official household acronym.

Number Two:
There is absolutely no way to tell what a student is capable of just by looking at them. I come across some interesting... stories... in my line of work, which inadvertently conjure a mental picture of the student that could possibly be capable of such...stories... I am always wrong. I create these impressions in my head, likely born of past experience with many many people and when they approach my office for their meeting I am constantly stunned, not only by what they look like, but also by how they present themselves. I think, "YOU are the one that berated that police officer" or "you had HOW much marijuana in your room?" But you're so (small, sweet, quiet, liking of Harry Potter marathons on the weekends... fill in the blank) not what I expected. I've tried desperately to remove this automatic functionality of my brain, but alas, I find it entertaining to guess.

Number Three:
Email is obnoxious. There are so many emails in any given 10 minute period that no one could possibly keep up with all of it and remember to answer it and be productive in any other facet of their lives. The awesome group of people that I spend the most amount of time with find it to be equally as burdensome, yet we all know how necessary it is. Our institution is fond of copying everyone on everything to foster an environment of inclusion and communication, which I adore, but it means piles upon piles of emails.... we always know who's going to the bathroom, when, and which other staff members are covering for that particular 10 minute span.  This is not an uncommon practice in Higher Education, which makes us well connected, well informed and, well... always needing internet.

Number Four:
Higher Education is the only occupation I've ever been involved in where coworkers, managers and subordinates alike openly discuss where they're going "next". It's a regular practice to discuss how you aren't going to be there in a couple of months, job hunt together, and yet still do your day to day duties effectively. In fact, it is so transparent, that we all expect that our current dynamic is perpetually temporary, and yet it's very positive. However, no one takes their current position for granted because it is constantly fluid. I've never experienced anything like it. It's evolution at its finest- watching the growth of a person's career right in front of your eyes... openly and honestly.

Number Five:
Haboobs are a real thing. That is not a made up word. The first time I heard that, I thought my dear friends were messing with me. No. It's real. A Haboob is defined as is a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric gravity current. Haboobs occur regularly in arid regions throughout the world. I know what you're thinking... how could this have anything to do with Higher Ed? Well, as stated in number four, the higher education employee is moderately nomadic, and thus has usually lived in other locations. I learned this term from my supervisor, who had just come from Texas, where haboobs are relatively commonplace. This is a fact I may have never learned while doing hair in Illinois. Though I suppose if Haboobs are possible, and it's possible to NAME something a haboob, anything is possible.

Number Six:
There is SO MUCH tech. So much. Everything has a cord, a gadget, an app, a website, a program, a machine or a code. The logins, networks, links and calender reminders are so plentiful that they swim in my head while I sleep.  I like technology, don't get me wrong, but it is no longer possible to function without it at the rate Higher Education utilizes tech. And, truth be told, my institution is still joining the ranks of tech savvy campuses. Just today I learned of a website that organizes a meal planning and delivery schedule (for when, say, a colleague has a baby) and an application that organizes, plans and outlines conference events. I also learned that even with as many webinars as we've done, the results of your experience are still completely dependent on the technology working properly. Of course operator errors play into that, too. Staying on top of the tech is impossible. I've never seen so many iBasicallyeverything's in one place. Did you know you could be mayor of something just by checking in there like ten times a day on Foursquare? Did you know there was Foursquare? Someone please tell me what the hell Foursquare is...

Number Seven:
I am inspired every day. I kind of want to change the world some days. Some say that wears off, but I don't see how it's possible given the constant desire to be inspired emitted by everyone around you. Being a part of Higher Education is to be among the highly educated. There are educational opportunities every day, and growth is a natural part of the career. There is no point in being involved in Higher Education if you have no interest in changing the world, even a little bit. Every program, event and opportunity is designed to promote an culture of development. Higher Education is where grand ideas begin. We focus on social justice, bettering the community both within university walls and out, making a difference in every student's life, no matter how small, and everything we do satellites the greater good. We are forming the future, and creating a very positive present. It's impossible not to be inspired... even a little bit. However, with regard to changing the world, I was given this advice: Don't discuss social justice issues and drink wine simultaneously. I say, heed this warning.

Number Eight:
There is not a true hierarchy. Sure, there are directors that make the decisions, and the leaders who guide us in the right direction, but everyone is treated as an equal colleague. If you don't feel that way, and you work in Higher Ed, you might be doing something wrong. The word Team is used interchangeably with department, group, etc. which is uncommon in many other occupations. Of course there is management, but management is approachable and respects the input that everyone has. The deep respect for every ones' lives outside of the university is also rare and wonderful. Entire meetings and committees are held to discuss the topic of recognition. That is mind blowing. If you've never worked outside of Higher Ed, trust me, it's not like this everywhere. Perhaps if it was, people would be happier with their jobs, but then again, it wouldn't be such a treat to be a part of it when you haven't been before. I mean seriously, one on ones- weekly- just to touch base with your superior/supervisee... and sometimes it involves coffee.

Number Nine:
Like acronyms, there are conferences for everything. Which are named by acronyms. They involve team building and networking and...uh... food? Well, I don't know. But there are so many conferences. I'm sure I'll attend one someday. They involve travel and recognition and...uh... food. Sounds like fun to me! I just know my colleagues usually look forward to them, so how bad could they be?

Number Ten:
There is tremendous value in levity. You absolutely have to have a good sense of humor. About yourself, and everything you are going to encounter. It's right up there with working in medicine. If you can't laugh about the darkness, it will take you with it.  I don't believe it to be possible to be successful in Higher Education without being able to lighten up. If you take yourself, or things around you, too seriously, it will swallow you whole. I work with a group of people who see so many different, sometimes tense situations in one day that they would go nuts if they weren't able to laugh. About everything. A sense of humor gives them the ability to move between student conduct and community council seamlessly and still do it again the next day. It also makes the student's experiences more positive to be surrounded by humor. I see it in everything we do. And a perk of being surrounded by highly educated professionals is that the humor has the potential to be intelligent. But it's not usually. However, I think the grumpy (and sometimes cute) cat pictures on the meeting agenda are brilliant.

I have limited my accounts of the last six months to only ten lessons learned about working in Higher Education, but I am certain there are more to come. Almost daily I think about what I could go on and on about with regard to my career experiences. For now, these are predominant and have inspired many moments of design for me.

Moment of Design Captured....

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My year moment

Don't we start out the same way every year? By we I mean most people on January 1st. "This is going to be MY year!" "I am going to change THIS this year!" "Goodbye last year, this is going to be different!" And, in fact, it could be. It is very convenient that our calendar has set up and our society has reinforced a fresh start at the beginning of every year. The past years don't melt away with the development of that 1/1 date in order to actually give us a fresh start, however I truly believe that a fresh start would be tremendously disappointing. It's moderately romantic to feel the clarity of a new year- imagining that this time around everything will make sense, and you'll only make the best choices and it's another fresh opportunity to make your dreams come true.  I don't believe it's possible to do that without the preceding years. In order to truly measure where to go, a basis of comparison, a standard, must be made.

I love the new year. I love the hope it brings and the booknoting of past experience. My personal method when the new year comes is not to hope for new and condemn the past, but to relish the past and use it create the new. I love my past. I have started fresh, in the middle of the year, and could not have done that without the grace and love that I've developed throughout the past. This new year I embraced the "fresh start" by being thankful that I had the old.

This is going to be MY year. Like every other year has been my year. I'm going to make the choices I feel are the best at the time. I'm going to learn from my mistakes and try to be a better person than I was last year. I'm going to be healthier, smarter and more dedicated to the things I value. Each year is a gift, and as I see it, a chance to make last year's gift count. Look what I did with last year- how can I do that all again, but better? I don't mean that I would repeat every choice and action, but I would do all of the intangible and abstract again. I would love again, laugh again and dream again. This year, I'll do that better.  And more.

I am going to change THIS this year. What THIS will I choose? Anything that doesn't meet my expectations. I will treat myself with more respect. I will cook better, move better, listen to myself better. I will make choices that create a better life for myself and my family. I will spend less, eat less, complain less. My expectations of myself are to be the best me I can be and act like the person I want to become.  I will present myself in the manner for which I have become accostomed and for which I am known, but better. I will be kind because it's easier to be kind. I will treat people with the love that they deserve. I will make positive changes in every area that I am personally involved. I will hold on to the wonderful words and compliments I've received and keep them true.  The THIS that I choose to change is my gratitude. For myself, my loved ones, my choices, my life. You can NEVER be too grateful.

Goodbye last year, this  year is going to be different. Last year was difficult. So were the previous 32 years. That is life. I believe it's not worth living without a challenge. There needs to be balance. In order to appreciate the good, the bad must happen. This year is going to be different becasue it is not possible for it to be the same. Thanks to the previous 32 years.  I happily say goodbye to last year because I do not fear getting older, and I welcome experience. I love to think of the future as I embrace how I got here.  This year will be different in that it is a new gift than last year was. This year we are in a completely different part of the country, making completely different choices, with the same people and values from the previous years.  I am thankful for last year, but this year will be just as life altering. Because they all are.

If a truly "fresh start" were possible, it would be devastating. How could you be who you are? What would you have to show for life? I love who I've become, but it was only possible by never being able to start over. The blessing of baggage is that you have something with you. I love to watch my children become who they are because of who David and I are, because of their limited years of experience. David and I are who we are because of who are families and friends are, and that baggage is shaping my children. It's possible to make new choices, but a fresh start would defeat the purpose of life, which in my opinion is create experiences and leave a mark on the universe.

Everyone needs opportunity to make new choices, and the new year is a great symbol of opportunity. I just never want my year to be truly NEW.

Moment of Design Captured...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanks moment

What kind of non-writer would I be, during a holiday week, if I didn't not-write pertaining to the holiday? Being Thanksgiving week, I feel it only appropriate (and somewhat obligatory) to do a "thanks" piece. After all, with the exorbitant amount of change to have taken place this past year, it's only fitting that I find the joy and happiness in both past, present and future. I do have a lot to be thankful for, and as a rule, I am a truly and genuinely grateful person. However, I don't think I've ever formally pronounced my thanks. I'm quick to thank, but not to stop and praise, not to truly think about why I'm thankful.

Pink Elephant Thai Restaurant Swords, Dublin Ireland
To be honest, Thanksgiving has never been one of my favorite holidays. I love food, family and a warm home on a cold November day, but it has always seemed so much like a much-ado-about-nothing kind of day for me. I do not begrudge those around me a festive Thanksgiving, but I feel (as with so many holidays) that the point is so lost in the hubbub. I would be just as happy having everyone together with culinary endeavors even if the plates were paper.  Until recently, my favorite holiday was the one in 2002 that David and I spent in a Thai restaurant in Ireland. Despite the fact that both of us are at least moderately intelligent people (most of the time), we hadn't put it together that the Irish didn't celebrate Thanksgiving... it was just another day. Regardless, we called our families that day from another country to let them know we were thankful for them, thereby honoring the true meaning of the holiday.  This year we are gathering with a new group of people, but that doesn't mean that the spirit of Thankgivings past is not with us. That's the point- to hold onto the memories and be thankful for them.

My dining room last Thanksgiving 2011

More than anything, the people in our lives help us to become who we are, but I also feel that our life experiences shape us and are something to be thankful for. Our personal goals and qualities contribute to what we present to others and how we affect their lives. It's important to reflect and be grateful for all that has helped to mold us, who we are now, and what we are to become. 

This year I feel blessed because we have begun a new adventure and the path set before us is full of great opportunities.
I am thankful for the Colorado sun, Rocky Mountains and Illinois Rivers and forests.
I am thankful for getting to be greeted every morning by an original masterpiece in the sky, and welcomed home by the same.
I am thankful for the ability to forge new relationships, and the courage it takes to do so.
I am thankful for my husband... but everyone already knows that.
I am thankful for the Princess Pop Star in the backseat, and the Preschool Picasso.
I am thankful for their sets of matching sapphire eyes.
I am thankful for the stories they tell and the laughter they bring.
I am thankful for the dreams we have yet to live and the moments we are living right now.
I am thankful for waking up every morning and feeling progress.
I am thankful for the family that we're loving more every day and the friends that we love so deeply it hurts.
I am thankful for the freedom to change and the willingness it takes to do so.
I am thankful for warmth.
I am thankful for patience, which takes everything I have.
I am thankful for the moral code that I live by, and that it seems to be working.
I am thankful for my demeanor because it hurts too much to be mean or angry.
I am thankful for love and the universe's manifestation of that in my life.
I am thankful for inspiration, and hope that by being grateful for it I'll be rewarded with a constant flow.
I am thankful for ambition, and my ability to moderate it.
I am thankful for the strength to make hard choices that I believe in even if no one else understands.
I am thankful for conviction because it helps define my purpose.
I am thankful for ALL of my family who helped shape who I am, taught me right and wrong and how to love. We are all over the country, but we are bound.
I am thankful for my closest friend whose support is undying and everlasting even when I make her crazy.
I am thankful for knowing what it's like to have incredible neighbors and even more incredible friends.
I am thankful for being able to laugh easily. Finding joy in everything makes life more pleasant to live.
I am thankful for having a different definition of life than others and the fortitude to live it.
I am thankful for fluidity.
I am thankful that my little unit of four has such a strong and charismatic dynamic.
I am thankful for the perpetual music in our lives no matter where we are.
I am thankful for learning and life lessons and character building.
I am thankful for everything done in my life up to this moment.
I am thankful for the tears expended which have hastened my grow.
I am thankful for higher education and the enormous impact it's having on my present.
I am thankful for my healthy fear of mortality which keeps me cherishing every minute of life.
I am thankful for the future and the us to be created that we have yet to share with the world.
I am thankful for moments of design and being able to share them with the world if for no reason other than exposing them makes them seem more genuine and real.
I am thankful for every day. Even if that's cliche.

Moment of Design Captured...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Balance moment

In the car every morning, as I coffee treat the sleep out of my eyes and traverse the hour long journey toward the grade school and college, my sidekick and travel buddy greets me with the following statement, "Hey Mom! Can I sing you a song?" I turn off the NPR story that I've just settled in to and listen quietly as she sets up her act. "Ahem ahem" *throat clear* "You are listening to 'Rocky' (that's her stage name apparently) on 93.3 (our second favorite local station after NPR of course)" Then I hear a series of doo-doo-doos and she launches into a string of "baby I love you", "baby you make my heart feel like it's on fire", "baby you really hurt me but I still like you", and my personal favorite "baby we can do this, we can make it till the end of the world." Every once in a while, she'll change it up with a western ditty about riding on the range under the stars. After one especially thought provoking rendition of "baby we can do this, we can make it till the end of the world" she described a scene in a dark room with two people in love holding hands as the flame of a candle went out...

She then explained to me that when the candle went out the world ended. My mind went in many different directions after that one. Is she contemplating death? Does she worry about the end of the world? Is this an audible manifestation of a dark rooted fear? In other words, my mind went ridiculous. I projected some adult representation onto my seven year old's clearly descriptive and over dramatic image from some creative place in her head. She doesn't feel dark as dark yet. Depression in 2nd grade? I'm not saying it's unheard of or unrealistic, but it is highly unlikely for my child given the fact that the root of my fear for her feelings and darkness tendencies came on the tail end of about a hundred "baby I love you's". She is so deep. Funny with all the pop star imagery, but it's true. It sounds ludicrous, I know, but some of the things this kid says are so super serious and she thinks at a level that I no longer think even I am capable of tapping into. I'm not afraid of darkness, and I truly know she's prone to it. I just want her to harness it and use it for good.

It's humorous to me how I naturally assume she understands adult ideology with relation to the things she divulges and says without even knowing I'm listening. We were riding home one evening and she was pretending to have a conversation on her fake cell phone with a "partner" of hers who had just lost his job. She told her "partner" that he could go out and get another one- maybe one that was less expensive so he wouldn't have to give it up. As I stifled the hysterical laughter so as not to let her know I was listening it occurred to me that her impression of what "choosing" a profession was is how you would choose anything else. You carefully select one you like and can afford. I know we've let her know how it works, but she couldn't wrap her head around someone giving YOU money to do something you like. It was priceless.

It also made me realize how carefully she's listening and absorbing the things around her, in particular the very adult things.

With regard to occupation, I do want her to feel like she can choose, and should choose something she loves. I do not want her to strictly put financial emphasis on it, but I don't want her to devalue the idea of creating a comfortable life for yourself while doing something you love. It's possible, and though David and I have gone about it in a roundabout way, we continue to strive for that. We do what we love, but not to the detriment of the family unit, and instead to benefit it. Evelyn wants to be a pop star, which of course I'll support, but it's going to pain me to level the dream with some inevitable reality. She also laid out her plan for buying up every abandoned restaurant along our drive, rehabilitating it with immense amounts of sparkly things and renaming them all simply "Glow". (If I ever had a doubt she was still a 7 year old girl, right?) Regardless, I'll buy into that dream, too... once she shows me her business plan.

With regard to love, I know we're on the right path to leading that example. It's amazing to hear her depiction of the perfect relationship (which I have to hear every morning beginning at approximately 7:15 a.m.). I  am pleased that we are the model she chooses to emulate. No matter which scenario she spins, she explains that love is hard work, but they can do anything. I only know it's her father and I because she told me. "You and Daddy love each other no matter what. Even when you're both sad you still smile at each other." It broke my heart... in a good I'm-doing-something-right type of way.

With regard to darkness, I fell in love with a dark man, and had more than one child with him... it's inevitable. I am drawn to it. I actually prefer that she's not all rainbows and butterflies. I want her to be open about her thoughts about things that are different from "the norm". When she draws me a picture of gloom with her words, I only ask her to balance the gloom with a bit of light. I don't know if it's the right thing, but I only know that with most things balance is key. I struggle with balance constantly, and I expect that my progeny will do the same. I have to remember that it's possible for her to feel things bigger than herself, and it will take the balance to keep her from being swallowed by it.

My relationship with my daughter has always been one of challenge, breakthroughs, intensity and the deepest love you can feel for another human being.  I find moments of relief in our humorous times and moments of sorrow when we don't understand one another. Realizing that she is still a baby at times, who feels things with such depth is the key to finding balance with Evelyn.  My introspection for the past few weeks has definitely wrapped itself around the enigma that is my eldest, as she has helped me create so many defining moments. It's amazing when you become a parent- there is an immense amount of pressure to create these thriving and productive creatures of society, but as cliche as it sounds, they create us. We are left to strike the balance.

Moment of Design Captured...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Expectations Moment

What has exceeded your expectations lately? What do you do to exceed expectations? I have been contemplating this for nearly a week and have discovered that expectations are changeable and relative. Expectations are completely contingent upon standards and past experiences. I believe that disappointment is a natural part of life, and can help to shape expectations, as well as form standards. Expecting the worst can ensure that expectations are exceeded, but it's pessimistic and unrealistic and not my style.  It's also very hard to live always expecting the worst. The best experiences have been the ones entered into with no true concept of what's to come.

Earlier this week, we went to a performance by Evelyn's school at the Civic Center in Greeley. Every year they put together a themed exhibition for friends, family and the open public. This year it was the 3rd, 4th & 5th graders along with the staff, singing, dancing and doing a 10 year review called "Chappelow Goes to Pieces". We went to support the school as well as to get an idea of what it would be like for her in the near future. We had very little idea of what it was like and no interest in setting expectations. The Civic Center was so full when we got there that we had to sit in the balcony section and situated ourselves toward the stage, hoping to see anything.  As the lights went down and the curtain went up, we could see enough, but it was what we heard. It was so quality. It started with Rock 'n Roll, showcased Motown, and even did a tribute to the Godfather. Not only was the music well orchestrated, but Chappelow has a phenomenal Deaf and Hard of Hearing program that blew us away. The interpreters were as spirited as the child performers. The staff, including the principal, did a Broadway medley, with choreography. They call themselves the Off-Keys, but they were far from it. We were floored. It felt great when we left the show, validated that we had made the right choice by switching Evelyn's school. We began with no expectations.

Entering into any situation expecting perfection guarantees disappointment, as expectations will never be met. Nothing will ever meet the standards set by perfection. I have begun taking in every situation with no other intention than to get the most out of it, good or bad.  When you put pressure on life experiences to live up to inflated expectations, resentment and discontent breeds. We choose the perception of the situation and can change the outcome based on what we need it to be. We don't have a choice in what others do or how they present, but we choose how to view it and how to feel about it.

When I try a new recipe, I look at the ingredients individually and assess how they might work together, but I have no idea what to truly expect. I find that expecting each recipe, just by sizing up the ingredients, to be incredible, I am often let down. My favorite recipes are the simplest, that are attempted under no duress. Each ingredient works together to create the experience by reacting to the others in its way. Some ingredients are unpredictable and can alter the experience. Once it becomes a past experience, the expectations will be more realistic.

When we visit a place for the first time, it's difficult not to have preconceived notions. Often we are attending because of a recommendation, or a review that struck an interest. It is difficult to remove the emotional response based on expectations and standards. It's a tough practice to walk in and just see without needing the environment to answer some unspoken question. We went to a trail head last weekend and it was difficult for me to remove the disappointment I felt about what we encountered. The place itself was pleasant, quiet and interesting, but I needed it to be something more, which I couldn't describe. It took my daughter's enthusiasm about how much her expectations were being exceeded to snap me out of my disenchantment. It ended up being lovely once I lowered my expectations.

I will never achieve perfection, a fact that I am very comfortable with. You are what you make yourself, and I realized that I have no interest in being perfect. I cannot live up to that expectation and I don't want to be experienced as disappointing. On the other side of that coin, I do not strive to set myself at a low standard either.  I am comfortable with who I am inherently, and in being so, it is easier to try to exceed others' expectations. I know what the expectations of me are, so I can be better than that often. It's easy to give a little extra when you know where you stand. I will never be less kind, diligent or ambitious. I will never give my family less than all, and I am always trying to better myself.

My children are consistently exceeding my expectations because I don't need them to be much. I definitely have high standards for their behavior, but they surprise and inspire me with their constant over achieving. I have never sat and poured over letters, but they both read before preschool. I have never drilled numbers, but they play their games involving math. I expect them to be interested, but I never expect them to be as in tuned with the universe as they are. 

As we create who we are, we have the choice to set the standard of living. Other people will undeniably have their expectations of who we are, but we have the option of proving them right or wrong. I'm not advocating for low standards, but I am a proponent of just "being" and letting life exceed expectations.  I wouldn't encourage being a stunted personality, but leave room for surprising people. Experiences are shaped by standards and expectations, meaning that we have control over how we perceive what happens in our lives. It is none of our business how others view us, but we can create how we want to be viewed. I choose to exceed expectations.

Moment of Design Captured...