Everything Must Go!

I’m feeling a huge urge to de-clutter.

I always get that urge late at night when I ought to be sleeping. I’ve already done away with the easy stuff, though. Now I look around and everything seems to have utility.

I’m sure not all of it does because there’s just so much of it. How could we really use all of this stuff? We could chuck 50-75% of it, I think, with no ill effects whatsoever.

But…

There’s that lurking fear that I’ll get rid of something and then find a use for it. Take this clip-on desk lamp, for example.

Come to think of it, I probably don’t need that scrap of yarn. But Mardi Gras beads never lose their utility.

It’s not been plugged in for months. It’s not even been clipped to the desk for I don’t know how long. I don’t have a clear recollection of when it moved from the top edge of the shelf over the desk to lying on its side on the desktop.

Every day for the past two weeks, I’ve looked at that lamp and thought, “That’s something I’m sure I can give away.”

And then yesterday I got a book of easy astronomy-related experiments for my daughter’s science lessons, and what does one of them call for? A clip-on desk lamp.

Now I not only feel like I need to hold onto the desk lamp, but I wonder how many other things in my give-away box will shortly become integral to my children having a well-rounded education. If this desk lamp could mean the difference between my daughter becoming the first human on Mars and not going to Mars at all, then what future purpose might this wobbly desk chair hold? What career paths am I closing to my children if I finally get rid of the VCR? What consequences lie in store for our whole family if we pass along to someone else the old futon or the rusted card table with the torn vinyl top?

For now, however, it’s okay that these thoughts leave me paralyzed: I should really be in bed anyway.

Mice in the Basement

NaNoWriMo Day 9 Word Count: 15,712

The prompt from NaBloPoMo today is about the time you realized your home was different from other people’s homes.

I think I might have come to this realization rather late. Until I was in ninth grade, we lived in military housing. Our houses were essentially identical to everyone else’s except for the current resident’s decorating preferences. Donna who lived next door in San Diego, her favorite color was red. Her house reflected this year-round, but at Christmas time, it was very apparent. Her tree was covered in nothing but red lights, red garland, red tinsel, red glass balls, and a red star on top. My friend Lisa’s mom made those plastic canvas yarn art things and displayed them in every room. I remember one on a table in the living room that looked like a series of geometric shapes but when you looked at it the right way, it said, “Jesus.” An early version of a Magic Eye poster. My friend Precious’s mom was from China, and because I was only there during birthdays and other celebrations, I got the idea that there was always a bowl of red hardboiled eggs on her table.

These were differences, but they all seemed rather minor. They were, after all, things that we could have at our house (in fact, I spent years trying to get my mom to let me dye a dozen eggs red and put them in a bowl on the table).

When I was in ninth grade, we moved to northern Virginia where the military housing was limited. We rented a house in a subdivision in suburban DC. There wasn’t an enormous amount of variety between the homes (I recall four different models, 2 colonials, a cape, and a split-level ranch), but there was more variety than on base.

It was while we were living here that my mom started work at a pet shop and began to bring her work home with her. She bred mice in the basement. I’ve blogged about this before. Fancies, not feeders, although I’d bet that many of them got fed to snakes and monitor lizards anyway.

At first, I enjoyed showing people the mice in our basement. I thought they were cool, and I felt rather proud of them. I brought one of the neighbor girls with whom I waited at the bus stop to my house one afternoon. We’d just come in the kitchen door and set down our bookbags. I was getting ready to take her downstairs to show her the mice when I noticed that she was looking around at our house.

“Well, you did just move in, right?” she said, a justification in response to a query that hadn’t been spoken.

“Right,” I agreed, even though we’d been there since May and it was almost December now. She caused me to look at my house with new eyes. I saw the clutter. I saw the dirt. I saw the baby gates set up at every doorway to keep our elderly and mostly incontinent dog off the white carpeting (although if you put white carpeting in a rental, I think you’re just asking for trouble). I noticed the smell of mice wafting up the basement steps.

I was incredibly embarrassed.

I still invited friends over, but I knew enough after this to feel ashamed of my home.

As an adult, I have a fear that I might have a genetic predisposition for hoarding behaviors (my mom got rid of the mice a long time ago; now she has cats), so I try to stay on top of the clutter and not have too many pets/kids/collections/decorations. I do okay most of the time, but I still have this lingering anxiety that someone will visit my home and find that the nicest thing they can say is to offer a justification for why my house is “like that.”

Reducing Clutter Without Alienating our Relatives

You may have noticed that I’m thinking a lot about reducing the amount of stuff in my home. I’ve mentioned how the amount of stuff coming in during the holidays has really thrown me for a loop.

Apparently, I’m not alone. (Actually, if I’ve learned anything since I started blogging, I’ve learned that I rarely have an original thought. Here I thought I was all clever, then I start looking on the internet, and I find that it’s all been said before. Oh, well. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying again. And maybe I’ll say it in a different way at least.)

Recently, I discovered the blog, “becoming minimalist,” by Joshua Becker, which chronicles his family’s decluttering and “minimalizing” journey. I purchased his e-book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life and read it in one sitting (it’s a pretty quick read). I found a section regarding the holidays, children, and decluttering which really hit home. An excerpt:

•We chose not to remove the joy that our relatives receive from giving gifts. Our families love giving gifts, especially on holidays. It is one way they share their love for us. It would be unfair to rob them of their joy and rob our kids of their joy by asking for no more gifts. Therefore, we wisely chose not to go down that road.

We made a point to give them lists. Before every birthday/holiday, we give our relatives a wish-list for each of our kids and ourselves. We include just the things that we truly need. Again, we choose quality items over quantity.

After a time, we purge again. It can be difficult to know, right out of the package, how our kids will respond to a new toy. Some toys they play with for a day and never touch again. Some toys they play with for a week and never touch again. Other toys become some of their favorites and get used often. After the dust has settled, we evaluate their new toys and their old toys and determine which toys to keep and which to remove.

I always find someone’s arguments compelling when they agree with my own thoughts about a subject. If you’ve read the comments my sister and I exchanged on yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I had already recognized that our families use gift-giving as a way of showing their love, and I even used the phrase “quality over quality” as he does in point #2.

However, I’m not, so far, comfortable with giving our families lists. I have in the past made up wish lists for the kids, but those have largely been ignored. This could be because I’ve not really publicized them within our family because it feels gauche to tell people what gifts we want. In addition, I know that, at least for my mom, the creativity involved in selecting gifts is a big part of the enjoyment she derives from buying gifts for us. Wish lists and registries don’t allow for a lot of creativity.

Still, I kind of like the idea and wonder if it could work if I just applied it correctly. I did make up a wish list/registry for myself at my mother-in-law’s request last year, and that worked out swimmingly (my husband also purchased from it). I’m just not sure I could sell the wish list idea if I initiated it myself.

I find this part of decluttering and “minimalizing” to be rather anxiety-provoking. I worry about hurting the feelings of those I love by giving the impression that I’m scrutinizing everything that comes into the house and if it doesn’t pass muster, I’m going to send it right back out the door. Which is basically true, but not very warm and fuzzy.

Like I told my husband, it’s the relationship that’s important to me. I want to declutter but not at the expense of the relationships we have with our families.

So, I’m soliciting feedback from you all about this.

What’s your experience with giving your families wish lists for holidays and birthdays, either for yourselves or for your kids? How have they reacted to the lists? Do you have any tips about how to provide wish lists diplomatically? Which works better, a general “I need slippers” kind of list, or a very specific “I need Acorn moccasins in herringbone gray fleece from this website”?

Stop me Before I Blanch Again

When I post to this blog, I usually do so with the faith that someone else out there is thinking/feeling/doing the same thing, or that at least you might find it amusing to read about what I’m thinking/feeling/doing even if (or especially if) it’s a little off the wall.

But I recognize that there is a line across which laughing along with me turns into shifting uncomfortably in your seat. The smile is still on your lips, but it’s tentative now. You’re not sure what it says about you that you’re laughing at me. You’re looking around for the exits.

I don’t know where that line is, but I’m still hearing folks saying “Right on,” “Word,” and the occasional, “Amen” in response to my posts, so I’m fairly certain I’ve not crossed it yet.

And yet there’s sometimes that question in my mind: Is this the post that’s going to meet with that uncomfortable shifting and polite smiling? Is this the post that someone in real life is going to mention to me and lead me to say, “Oh, my. I can’t believe I said that about myself”?

I don’t think this is that post.

This post is about Rachael Ray and how insidiously her influence has infiltrated my consciousness.

It starts at the gym. I spent 30 minutes running on the treadmill yesterday, which means that I spent 30 minutes watching Dr Oz even though Ira Glass was talking about the 2010 congressional elections on my headphones. Rachael Ray was a guest on this particular show. She was promoting her new book and giving little tips about how to stretch your food dollar. I got two main messages from her. The first was to buy a lot of something when it’s on sale, then blanch it, if necessary, and freeze it, thereby preserving that sale price. The second was to prepare all of the week’s meals on the weekend and essentially eat leftovers all week. These ideas rode the exercise-induced elevated adrenaline levels to my brain where they proceeded to produce new synaptic connections and thereby alter the way I think.

Today, I went grocery shopping.

I went online before making my list and found the current sales flyer, which I read carefully while the words “loss leaders” echoed through my head. After looking at the sales flyer, I wrote on my list things like navel oranges, turkey, and canola oil because they were on sale. When I arrived at the store, I discovered that the items in the flyer weren’t the only items on sale. I also purchased, among other things, two pomegranates, five yams, three bunches of broccoli, and a pound of tortellini in tomato pesto for the kids to eat for lunch.

When I arrived home, I warmed the tortellini and sat the kids down in front of it while I put away the groceries. I froze the turkey wings I bought in anticipation of turkey soup next week. I halved the beef roast and chopped half of it up for stew meat and left the other half for a mini pot roast and put both in labeled freezer bags. I sliced the sirloin steak for thai steak salad and put that in a freezer bag.

It was at about this time that I discovered that my son was chewing up the tortellini then spitting them out and sitting on them, so I took a break to clean that up. Then I cut up and blanched the three bunches of broccoli, and put them in three labeled freezer bags, too. It was as I was putting everything into the freezer that I remembered why it is I’ve never taken this course of action to save money on food before: we have a serious freezer-space deficiency.

I did manage to cram everything in there while saying a silent prayer of gratitude that the dairy-free ice cream bars weren’t on sale.

 

That ice maker isn't hooked up to the water supply. If I could figure out how to remove it to make space for more blanched veggies, I would.

 

 

I’ve been lobbying for a chest freezer for a while. My husband’s reasons for not getting one are decent: he doesn’t want to spend the money, he doesn’t want something else taking up space, he doesn’t want something else using up electricity. He read somewhere that a totally full freezer runs more efficiently than a partially full freezer, and that has become his mantra when I bring up the chest freezer idea. I’ve suggested that adequate airflow is also important for proper freezer function, but he is not swayed by this argument.

I’ve also argued that we could make our Costco membership go further if we had the freezer space to buy perishables in bulk, and that I wouldn’t need to buy expensive frozen berries over the winter if I had ample freezer space to freeze berries when they’re ripe at the farmers market. The berry argument gave him pause, but he remains resolute about his “no chest freezer” stance.

Maybe I should just buy one for him to put under the tree for me.

Fabulous Friday

Modern kitchen

Not my kitchen. (Photograph by Gnangarra...commons.wikimedia.org)

Day 5 word count: 8,371

Friday’s my “mad-dash, lick-and-a-promise housecleaning” day. The goal is to spend one hour just rushing through the house, vacuuming and mopping and putting stuff away (not necessarily in that order). It’s a variation of FlyLady‘s “Weekly Home Blessing Hour.”

Some weeks, it goes great. the kids cooperate (and sometimes even help), and by the time we leave for gymnastics, I’ve got the house so that every third step isn’t accompanied by a cry of pain and/or the snap of a toy or plastic utensil, and if I walk across the kitchen in my bare feet I don’t end up with a coating of crumbs and dirt and sticky mystery items on the soles of my feet.

Most cleanup days, however, are like today. It took me nearly an hour just to get the kitchen floor swept and mopped. As I picked up toys, my son threw them on the floor. When I got out my broom, my son asked for his. I thought, Oh, that will be cute and it will keep him busy while I’m trying to sweep.

Not so much. As I swept the dirt into a pile, he used his little broom to redistribute the dirt across the floor.

Having learned from previous weeks, I didn’t get out the bucket for the mop water but instead just put the mop water in one side of the sink (after putting away the clean dishes from the drainer on the counter, another lesson learned from past weeks). My son danced with excitement when he saw the mop. When he realized he wasn’t going to get to mop, he dissolved into tears. I handed him a towel and asked him to wipe up the floor, which occupied him for about 17 seconds. Then he went into the dining room and started coloring on the picture of Wonder Red (from Super WHY!) that my daughter was working on.

To calm the resultant screaming, I resituated both of the children at the kitchen table, my son strapped into his high chair with some crayons and a piece of paper. Every few seconds, he would grunt to get my attention then sign “fish” and point at the scribbles he’d made on the page. This was my cue to say, “You drew a fish! Wow! Look at that! It’s a green fish! What else are you going to draw?”

In the meantime, my daughter showed me why sometimes I just need a straight-up coloring book rather than an “activity” book. She asked me to read the directions on each page and then to help her through the activities. As a homeschooling mom, I am aware that this is a primary part of my job description. I just don’t understand why she has no interest in doing it until I’m engaged in another activity.

Finally I got the kitchen mopped. I probably should have just been content with the progress I’d made and left it at that. But with the mop water still warm, I wanted to mop the bathroom. Somehow that turned into sorting through clothes to figure out what was dirty and what was clean, wiping down the sink and toilet while my son used the toilet brush to spread soapy toilet water on the bathroom floor, and picking up everything that was on my bedroom floor in preparation for vacuuming.

In the end, I did get the bathroom wiped and mopped before we left for gymnastics, and we walked into the gym just as the two other little girls in her class were starting their warm-ups.

20 minutes of walking my son around the neighborhood during the class yielded a 30-minute nap in the stroller, during which I got to clean out the diaper bag, another of my Friday tasks. And because the baby wasn’t asleep when we left for home, I was able to stop at the car wash. (The last time I tried it, he was asleep when we entered the car wash but awake and crying when we exited it.) I even got to vacuum the interior of the car with the free-vacuums-with-car-wash.

After lunch, the baby refused to fall asleep, so I gave up and instead recruited his “help” in vacuuming the bedroom and the living room. We were halfway through when the babysitter arrived. It took me 30 minutes to leave the house, and I didn’t have high hopes for getting the exercise and writing done that I wanted to.

At the gym, I did 40 minutes on the treadmill at a comfortable 10-minute-mile pace. Then did a few sets on the weights and headed to the locker room. I showered and got dressed in my street clothes again. It’s interesting that I’m at a time in my life when I find bathing in a public shower to be a luxury simply because my children aren’t in there with me. I even put some “product” in my hair to optimize the curl.

By the time I made it to the coffee shop with my laptop, it was 4:30. The babysitter needed to leave a little after 5, so that gave me 30 minutes to write as much as I could. I considered scrapping the writing and just heading home with plans to write after dinner, as I’ve been doing for the past three days, but I soldiered on. I figured I’d get 500 words in and then have that much less to write in the evening. I’ve even heard some people recommend shorter writing sessions to make the most of the high-energy creative juices before fatigue sets in.

With that attitude in place, I sat down and just wrote without thinking too much. At 4:53 I checked my word count. It was 8,300-something. I was surprised. I had calculated the total I needed for today to keep at my 1,667-words daily average at 8,335. I must have made a mistake. I couldn’t possibly have written that much in just a half hour. I checked my math and sure enough, I was within 30 words of meeting my goal. I kept on chugging and when 5:00 arrived, I was at 8,371 words. I had run, I had written, and I’d met my goal. And I’m pretty sure I’d experienced “flow” during my writing session. I went home feeling awesome.

At home, I nursed the baby while I chatted with my husband about economic progressivism and watched our daughter do tricks on the sofa and coffee table. Then we made homemade pizza and homemade ice cream and listened to Pearl Jam (my daughter said, “This is my favorite music!” and my son danced around smiling).

I love it when things just kind of come together. And now I have my whole evening free to read, read, read!

Another night I’ll need to write about this odd period of my life right now in which stories about animals attacking people are part of my daily experience. Please remind me if I forget.

Week 13/October Review

What a trip this month has been! I’ve not gotten through the whole house yet, but much of it has been decluttered, or at least organized so that the clutter can be easily stashed. With my mother’s help, I’ve finished a bazillion unfinished tasks — mounted and hung my belly cast, cleaned out the garage, put the garden beds to bed for the winter, caulked the bathtub, framed and hung our photos and cross stitch birth samplers — and only have about 347 to go. I don’t know that I’ve made much progress on daily and weekly routines, but I’m not doing any worse than I was in September. On that, at least. I’m back to late bedtime and eating fewer vegetables, but I’m not going to dwell in that.

Oh, the purchasing fast? What purchasing fast?

Focussing on Order was more emotionally turbulent than I’d expected, and only became more difficult as the month progressed. It’s brought some awareness to how I use material possessions to try to meet emotional and spiritual needs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now at the end of the month I’m looking to renew my search for a local religious congregation.

Yesterday I attended the Kick-Off Party for NaNoWriMo 2010 and was reminded that writers can be a socially awkward bunch (and that it’s not just me). Tune in tomorrow for more about what’s in store for me in November!

Martha Stewart is no Friend of Mine

I don’t know if it’s country-wide, but in our neck of the woods, trick-or-treating happens on the 30th when the 31st falls on a Sunday. My Halloween experiences have given me a sneak peak of what I’m likely to experience throughout this fall and winter holiday season. And unless I can change my outlook, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve recognized for a number of years that I can’t reasonably accomplish all of the things I ideally would like to in relation to holidays. Since I’ve never been quite willing to give up my desire for perfection, however, I generally compromise by doing a half-assed job while feeling as tense and acting as irate as I would were I actually attempting to achieve perfection.

The past couple of years, we’ve gone trick-or-treating with our friends in their neighborhood. This year, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, we’re on our own. Now that my daughter is old enough to remember Halloweens past and compare those with this year, I felt extra pressure to make this Halloween special for her. I’ve sought out every event involving costumes I could find, and we’ve been attending Halloween-related activities since the 21st. As a result, I’ve been burned out on Halloween for a week already and it’s not even officially here yet. And my daughter seems totally content with whatever we end up doing. Trick-or-treating? Great! Staying home and giving candy out to the kids who come to our door? Great!

I’m really at a loss as to how to reconcile my desire for traditional holidays (with things like decorations and special foods and gift wrap) with my desire for holidays that don’t involve my daughter very patiently explaining to my husband that Mommy tries not to yell, but that sometimes she does anyway. (“When she yells, I just cry and ask her for huggles. Sometimes she just says bad words without yelling. I think when she yells, she’s teaching me to yell.”)

Do I lower my standards even further, which would reduce our celebration of holidays to little more than a “Happy [insert holiday name here]!”? I would love to hire someone to do the decorating and planning while I just relax and concentrate on not criticizing the people I’ve hired for not doing things the way I would were I perfect. I don’t really see how I can do any celebrating at all while at the same time letting go of the perfectionist part of me.

I guess the nice part is that I’m thinking about this already and it’s just Halloween. This gives me hope for figuring something out by the time New Year’s rolls around.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we did:

 

Our Jack-o-Lanterns. Somehow I ended up carving them all myself (although I only chose the design for one). I let go of my desire for the perfect photo and let my husband take the picture while I made dinner.

This is the only reason I carve pumpkins at all.

 

 

A Record of my Accomplishments (Decluttering-wise)

Here’s what I did yesterday while the sitter was with the kids:

 

Left side of upstairs closet #1. Luckily, it passed the cat's rigorous inspection.

Right side of upstairs closet #1. Don't ask what's in those plastic storage bins.

Pantry (aka, closet under the stairs with the low doorframe I always whack my forehead on). Yes, it's stuffed. But that's a good thing, right?

 

If you sent us a card for our wedding, sorry but it’s now in the recycling. (Well, I kept a couple of personal notes, but the cards that were just signed are outta here.) And what you don’t see is that there used to be a ridiculous set of white plastic shelves just inside our office door that served as our pantry. I managed to get rid of enough stuff that I was able to fit all of the items from those shelves into either the kitchen cupboards or that under-the-stairs closet, which might explode next time we go to Costco. The shelves are now in the upstairs bathroom waiting for the extra toilet paper and tissues that are currently stored in my clothes closet.

Today, I moved all of the craft supplies from the upstairs closet to the hutch-and-buffet thing in our dining room, which is where we do most all of our crafts anyway. I made space in that piece of furniture by moving a bunch of cake pans and glass pitchers to the otherwise useless space in the back of the corner cupboard in the kitchen. I did this while standing on a stool with my son clinging to my legs and laughing.

The bottom shelf still holds food items, but the upper two shelves are all crafts.

 

Craft closet/pantry extension/hutch and buffet. The green boxes are from the extra wedding invitations I finally discarded. They now hold pompoms and sheets of colored craft foam.

 

While the potatoes simmered on the stove this afternoon, the kids and I raked the yard in preparation for the snow/rain/sleet/slush we’re getting as I type this. Mostly what the kids did was sit in the leaves I piled on the tarp then rode on the tarp as I hauled them and the leaves to the holding piles under the big evergreen tree things at the edge of the yard.

I got one heck of a workout this afternoon.

 

Leaves that were, until a few hours ago, covering our lawn. We keep them in piles to use as "brown" for the compost throughout the year and to cover the garden beds in the hopes we'll have lovely soil in them that's ready to plant come spring.

 

I also went through a collection of keepsakes in the antique trunk my mom gave me when I got married. I found portions of my childhood rock and shell collections, which I gave to my daughter, and several stuffed toys which I tossed towards the children and let them dive upon. Included in the bunch was a plush football with the initials of my high school on it that my brother made in home ec class, a hand-made “word fun” activity sheet (an Easter-themed word-find) that my sister made for me, I think when I left for college, and this:

 

I'm pretty sure my little brother drew this for me to take with me when I left for college. I love that Garfield is saying, "Rad."

 

I also found several school photos, band photos, and homecoming photos of friends from middle school and high school. I considered scanning and posting those to my Facebook profile, but decided that these were people I’d prefer didn’t unfriend me.

When my husband returned home from work, my daughter immediately showed him all of the great stuff I’d given her and made a point of how special they’d been to me when I was a kid and that now I had given them to her. My husband spent the evening asking me where things were. (“Honey, where are the crackers these days?”) I gave him helpful responses. (“In the cracker cupboard, dear.”)

Joyfully Moving

I got to attend the Monday night step class at my gym tonight, which I’ve only done once before, even though I loved it that one time I went. I’ve got the babysitter from 2-5 on Mondays and the class is at 5:30. Every time I think of how much I want to go to that step class and start to reason through how I can make it work to attend the class, I stop myself. It’s bad enough to take time away from my kids to go to the gym. I should just work out while the babysitter’s there and not try to take any more evening time. It’s too much trouble for my husband, it’s too much time away from the kids, it’ll mess up dinner time.

I recognized this attempt to avoid doing something for myself in the section of Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection that I read last night:

For the perfectionist who has trained herself to do, simply being sounds like a euphemism for nothingness, or ceasing to exist. When the energy that has gone into trying to justify her existence is redirected into discovering herself and loving herself, intense insecurities surface. Abysmal emptiness questions whether she is here at all . . . To cease to give is to cease to mother, and where the ego is identified with mothering it doesn’t know at first what to do. It is so used to giving that it doesn’t believe it is worthy to receive, or else thinks that receiving is demeaning or selfish.

I smiled as I recognized myself in this passage. Then I took a pad of paper and wrote a note to my husband (who was already in bed) explaining that I was going to stick around home and clean out closets and get dinner ready while the babysitter was here, and then I was going to go to the 5:30 step class.

During the morning, I did manage to do some prep work for dinner (including making two batches of GF/CF pita bread, one that turned out more like GF/CF hockey pucks and the other that was softer but for some reason didn’t form the little pocket in the middle). But I ended up spending the entire three hours that the sitter was here on two closets, and I didn’t get any more done on dinner. I considered scrapping the step class idea, but in the end, I stuck with the plan and left my husband with a recipe book open to the falafel recipe and a bowl full of soaked garbanzo beans.

Waiting for the step class to begin, I scrutinized my image in the mirror (especially the tummy pooch I still have because I cannot seem to get my abdominal muscles to close up since they separated while I was pregnant with my son), compared myself to the other attendees, wondered if I should have worn long pants instead of shorts or a short-sleeved top instead of a tank top or if I was lame for having only one riser under each end of my step rather than two like most of the rest of the class had. But as the class began, I let these thoughts pass and focused on the beat of the music and my breath and the rhythm of my feet. I found that I was able to keep up with the cues better when I didn’t think about them. There were a number of times when I got to the end of a sequence and realized with surprise that I was actually on the same foot as the instructor and facing the same direction as the rest of the class without consciously trying. I also enjoyed watching how the instructor clearly enjoyed leading the class. I decided I really liked him, and I really liked my gym and Salt Lake City and my kids and my husband. I spent the class filled with love and joy, and I had just a great deal of fun.

I worry sometimes that the step class isn’t as intense or well-rounded a workout as my regular workout. As a result, I tend to consider it a treat to only take part in once in a while rather than as a core element of my exercise regimen. If I start going to the class regularly, I wonder if I’ll experience what Woodman describes: “once that forgotten energy begins to flow through dancing, painting, singing, joy is not experienced as selfish or luxurious, but as an absolute need.”

Woodman also writes about a lecture by Northrup Frye in which he points out that the word “rejoicing” in a passage from Proverbs is translated from the root word for “play.” One of the churches I’m planning to visit has this note on their website:

We Worship God Through Movement As Well As Words
Our bodies are God’s own creation through Jesus.  God knows what it is to be human.  Movement can be a way of giving ourselves back to God.  You will see many people crossing themselves, bowing, and kneeling at certain times.  When you come to worship try movement and see if your experience of God is made greater.  Movement, though, is not required. You may find it perfectly fulfilling without it.

I noticed that when I first read this, I felt a little uncomfortable. It seemed kind of hokey to me, and I felt a little nervous about what the service would be like with everyone moving around and giving themselves to God. But now I’m wondering if this could just be the reaction of that part of myself that is more comfortable with the “masculine” and resists any shift towards the more “feminine,” which would include the physical body rather than just the intellect. Maybe I feel more loving when I’m moving with the music in step class because I’m more complete and therefore more open to the spiritual. Maybe I’m rejoicing through play.

This morning while mixing up the first batch of pita dough, I put Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53, on the CD player. The baby smiled up at me and started dancing. He ran his little feet, flapped his arms, spun in circles until he fell down, and laughed when I joined him and danced across the kitchen. I remember dancing with my daughter when she was around this age. Her favorite was Bing Crosby singing Jingle Bells. I wonder if kids are born knowing how to rejoice through unselfconscious movement and we—well, some of us—just lose it as we grow older. Maybe we’re all born with the masculine and feminine fully integrated within us, and as adults, it’s simply a matter of rediscovering that balance.

Week 12 Review: The Dangers of Openness

As I’ve come to expect at this point in the month, I’ve started losing my zest for my resolutions. I’ve not done much decluttering this week since my mom left. I’ve been buying things. I’ve made some headway keeping daily routines and examining why I have trouble keeping the ones I’m not keeping. I did complete another nagging task by re-caulking the bathtub. This was actually a task on my husband’s to-do list (it’s been on there since we moved in in January of 2009), but it was nagging at me, so I just did it.

I’ve found that after two weeks in a row attending Mass, I miss attending church. I’m considering doing some church-hopping starting in November to see if I can’t find something that feels right for me and my family.

Something else I’ve discovered this week is that I’m feeling really emotionally raw. I think this might be a side effect of all of the mindfulness and openness and emotional awareness I’ve been fostering in myself. I just feel really sensitive to rough treatment and rough words, even those not directed at me.

A friend posted a link to a story about a 5-week-old baby who died of pertussis. I felt so much pain for the family who lost their little baby. I don’t even care to imagine what that must be like for that baby’s mother, father, and brother. After reading the article, I scrolled down to the comments, against my better judgment. Some were outpourings of emotion for this family, but for the most part, it was an argument about vaccinations and whether people who don’t vaccinate are evil or not and whether they ought to be imprisoned and/or have their children taken away from them.

I wonder if this is an example of giving over to the “masculine” side and using our intellect at the expense of our emotions. Perhaps it’s more comfortable for people to argue causes and lay blame than it is to simply sit with the pain of realizing that sometimes babies die.

I know a woman who is a labor and delivery nurse in a local hospital. Several months ago, pertussis went through the nursing staff. It took an alarmingly long time for anyone to recognize it for what it was, and the nurses continued working through their illnesses, exposing goodness knows how many postpartum moms and newborn babies before the illness was identified. In my experience, most nurses are caring, educated people who work awful hours and get paid not nearly enough for the intensity of their jobs and the toll it takes on their health and their personal relationships. Also in my experience, nurses are pretty big proponents of vaccination. If an outbreak of pertussis can happen in this group of people, it seems to me you can’t really link it to negligence or poor morals or just not caring about others, which were some of the accusations lobbed in the comments on the article. Sometimes shit just happens, even when we do our best to prevent it. Contrary to what some of the commenters suggest, I believe that no parent “deserves” the death or serious illness of their child as a result of the decisions they’ve made.

From what I can tell, as parents, we’re all doing the best we can. We all have our children’s best interests at heart, even when we disagree about what the best decisions are for our kids. We gather the information, weigh the pros and cons based on that information, and make very difficult decisions, many of which we won’t know the results of for years and years, if ever. Nothing is black and white. But I can see the appeal of trying to make it so when faced with a reality as painful as the death of a baby.

And it really hurts to be open to these things. My inclination is to shut myself off again, bury myself in Facebook or reading or frenetic decluttering, anything to turn up the mental noise and distract me from these feelings. But another part of me doesn’t want to close down. That part of me actually enjoys in a way the feeling of connection I get along with this pain. It kind of reminds me of how it felt to give birth to my son. The sensation was so intense that it was difficult to just surrender to it and let my body birth. Much of me wanted to get away, to run away, or specifically to crawl under the floor to escape the intensity of the sensation. But in the days following his birth, I found I missed the experience. There was a part of me that loved that intensity. I felt alive and connected and powerful even as I surrendered to the power surging through me. I cried and cried in the days following his birth because I wanted so badly to have that experience again, to be in the middle of something so big and all-encompassing.

Perhaps if I’m able to let go and birth myself in this new wholeness, I’ll look back at the pain and intensity of the process wistfully while at the same time reveling in the release of the complete—and joyfully imperfect—person inside me.