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Kelly: Woman, Know Thyself

I had an interesting conversation over lunch with a good friend last week. Dana and I are both very creative souls and we both work in education, but that’s about where the similarities end. I’m a Student Life director, so by nature, I’m quick to act, easily juggle, rarely have time to analyze, and frankly, don’t like to analyze. I’m just more of a “do-er.” Dana is a counselor and psychology professor. ‘Nough said? She was telling me about some books she’s been reading…all in the self-help variety…and I was trying to feign interest but just couldn’t do it. I’m currently engrossed in the Twilight series. I must admit, I’ve never read a self-help book in my life. Honestly, I can’t think of a non-fiction book I’ve read that was outside the scope of school or college homework. Is that terrible? We’ve had some long talks about relationships (hers mainly) and though I love her to death, she frustrates the hell out of me when she comes to me for advice because, in my eyes, she analyzes things to death. I’m more of an “it is what it is” kinda girl.

We started talking about planning and goal setting and laying out some future plans for her life. Do you see where this is going? Do you remember me saying here how forced the Monday Page feels for me? So I admitted I’m not much of a planner or goal setter either. She just laughed at me and said, “Well then, how the heck do you do all that you do?” and I had to think about that for minute. All I could come up with was “Um, I just do it.” Lame, huh?

I’ve mentioned True Colors here before and I think that’s where my “Orangeness” comes into play. Here’s a basic rundown of an “Orange”: I act on a moment’s notice. Witty, charming and spontaneous, I consider life as a game, here and now. Impulsive, generous and impactful, I need fun, variety, stimulation, and excitement. Optimistic, eager, and bold, I value skill, resourcefulness, and courage. Physical, immediate, and fraternal, I am a natural trouble shooter, performer, and competitor. I value freedom, adventure, play, spontaneity, and variety, and I’m frustrated with schedules (particularly being on time) and unnecessary routine. I’m independent, action-oriented, flexible, energetic, and optimistic.” Blah, blah, blah…. Hmmm, which should explain why I’m so easily bored and even more easily distracted.

I’ve been a True Colors trainer for about nine years now, and it’s amazing how much knowing the principles behind it has helped me in my life. Most of the actual training is a blur to me, but one moment I remember very clearly. During the introduction, our trainer—Roosevelt something or other—cautioned us that because of the nature of the training, we’d be learning a lot about ourselves first and might have some epiphanies that surprise us. I definitely had one of those. My best friend Jim was going through the training with me (my DH calls him my “other husband”), and he saw the moment happen, and lucky for him was the one who had to help me work through it later that night. Our training was in June 2000, six months after my mother’s suicide. I can’t remember what Roosevelt said, but I clearly remember the thought that immediately popped in my head. My 54-year-old mother thought she had nothing to live for, yet she had me, a 34-year-old pregnant-with-twins me, and my 24-year-old sister. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks. All I could see right at that moment was that we weren’t reason enough to keep her alive. I wasn’t reason enough to keep her alive. My flexible, energetic, optimistic self crumbled right then and there. Jim saw me shut down and got me out of there as soon as the moment allowed. Also being an “Orange,” his first instinct was to “do something,” so he dragged me up to my room, got me to change into workout clothes, and took me out for a ride. We were in Atlanta, and the Olympic mountain biking training course was nearby and open to the public. It was a rough ride; he pushed me harder than what I was used to (he’s done three Ironman triathlons), but it was exactly what I needed. He helped me work through that moment physically so my mind didn’t really have much time to think about it. And later that night he sat there listening as I blubbered through my tears. But I got through it. And I think that Orange nature is what helped me get through it. It took me about another six months to gain back the self-esteem that plummeted with that realization, but I did bounce back, and I know I’m a stronger woman for it.

Maybe that’s where the title to this post comes from: Woman, Know Thyself. I had to remind myself of my worth, and I had to remind myself that “it is what it is,” and I can’t control the actions of another person. So back to Dana, no matter how much someone tries to analyze a person or even your own life, your analyzing isn’t going change anything. But your action will. As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Maybe my experience is what keeps me from being a planner and a goal-setter. I’m a child of five divorces and a mother who killed herself. I live in the here and now, most definitely. It reminds me of Miranda’s “someday is today.” In my typical rambling fashion, I’m trying to figure out what the heck my point was in all this, but I think maybe just “knowing thyself,” first and foremost, and not worrying about the goals and expectations that others put on you, is the first step to just “doing it.” I think that’s ultimately the advice I gave Dana: stop analyzing and just do something. And now, distracted by two little redheads dressed in fairy wings and calling my name, my train of thought has gone down the track of knowing thyself needs to go play with her children and enjoy this beautiful Spring Break day.

Cathy: April Fool’s Day 2008-2009

It was no joke when I headed to the hospital at 2 am last April Fool’s Day. By 5:01 am Baby C entered the world. I’ll spare you the gory details, because it’s a year later, so it doesn’t matter. What matters is a year ago, we brought home this:


Sorry pic is blurry, my cellphone was what was handy at the opportunity of the little squidge sleeping with her brand new Daddy, so small and frail.

Now, so many changes later: many developmental stages, many sleepless nights, weigh-ins, vaccinations, teethings, fumbles, new words come and gone while she tries to navigate the physical world and speaks to us in burbled sentences and very clear gestures. We have the pleasure to know this wonderfully funny, perceptive, never blinking, unflinching, deliberate and beautiful girl. A gift at a late life stage, amazed we were even able to have her. She is our joy daily, big and strong, and easy-going.

And if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have connected so strongly with the women involved in this community, wouldn’t have B&M’ed about sleepless nights, naps while nursing, frustratedly typing at my manuscript while she kicks the keyboard. I’ve kvetched so and welcomed much needed commiseration in the past year here. Thanks, fellow moms, no joke. May your ideas turn into beautiful completed creations, get published, galleried and sold and your children grow well.


Cathy: Oh Well

I’ve been having an odd week or so, and it continues into next week.

Baby C’s 1st birthday is approaching, and nothing seems to be working out to get people together as planned. There is an event conflicting with my planned party date that the couple of baby friends we wanted to invite will be attending. My parents are up before their town zoning board around the same time, trying to split their property so they can keep living in the house we grew up in, so they can’t travel from Connecticut. My aunt-in-law’s son is competing in a statewide math competition on the same day I planned the party, so they’ll be in Richmond instead.

My husband has some kind of lump in his neck that hurts, and he’s been bringing it up to me for well over a week now. He vacillates between thinking it’s cancer or a tooth infection that is swelling a gland to press against his carotid artery, and hurting all the way into his chest. I’m somewhat worried, his mother is worried, but I’ve reached a level of impatience about his not making an appointment to see a doctor about it, which is making me say inappropriately, “Call the doctor, or shut up and die. I‘m tired of your complaining about it to me and not doing something about it!” On one level, I’m trying to be humorous, but I’m worried and annoyed he’s stalling making an appointment.

I also have a few friends facing bad mammos and other tests, setting them up for consultations with surgeons of various types and one whose house just burned down on Friday.

My novel is progressing in fits and starts, and I just want it to end now so I can move onto the next project, or breath between them, or fly a kite or something. I’m getting tired of not being finished with it. It’s been so close for so long.

Spring has officially sprung, but now it’s cold again and seems to want to remain that way just so I can’t get out there to garden. I still haven’t finished that darn room excavation of boy numero dos; and I can’t seem to find baby gates like the ones I used to have ten or so years ago, where the press handle is at the top and you can easily open and reset it with one hand, while holding the baby in the other and don’t need to screw it into the walls or stair rails.

Nothing seems to be going my way, but surprising, I’m calm. I have a very casual attitude about it all. “Oh well’ has become a mantra.

I took a silly facebook quiz: Which of the Seven Deadly Sins Are You – and came up as Sloth. The way the multiple choices were phrased, just struck me that my answers weren’t of the prideful, gluttonous, pornographic, jealous, wrathful or particularly greedy persuasion. If nothing bothering me too terribly much makes me lazy, so be it, but I prefer to think that it shows I’m remarkably well-adjusted in my mid-forties. If all of the above mentioned personal dilemmas going on isn’t fazing me too much, I’d say I’ve reached a milestone in my life. I know in my twenties any one of these would have sent me into dramatic reactions played out before an audience, and if I didn’t have one at hand, I’d go looking for one.

But for now, I press my husband to make an appointment a few times a day. I walk away from the computer to go read or play with the baby or something else entirely rather than sit on facebook with my manuscript open and pestering me on the same screen. Instead of taking everyone else’s conflicting plans around C’s birthday as a personal affront, I just say, “oh well, guess it’ll be lower key than I thought, and now we can do cake on her birthday rather than the weekend before.” S’s room stays messy for another week, and the gardens remain unplanted until the weather warms a bit more. And I feel pretty confident in telling my friends that I’m sure everything will be alright for them, the important thing is they are taking care of what needs to be taken care of and only a cat was lost in the fire — a beloved cat, but not a human loved one.

I’m hoping this sense of everything being okay anyway is grace. I’m taking a page from my friend whose house burnt down. She took it as a harbinger of change to come, rather than dwell on the loss.

3/25 Weekly creativity contest winner

“Spring equinox” seems like a fitting contest prompt, seeing as we’ll be taking a little hiatus from the weekly contest: change and renewal. Beautiful entries this week — enjoy!

Our winner is Rebecca Coll. Rebecca writes: “As soon as saw what the prompt was for this week, I knew exactly what I was going to do… a dos-à-dos binding. This is a particular bookbinding technique that binds two books together with a shared ‘back’ cover. The two books are therefore both individual and half of a greater whole, much the same as the equinox: equal night. Half night, half day. Following are photos of my equinox-inspired dos-à-dos journal. Two books, each with six signatures (sections) to represent the six months from equinox to equinox, bound together to make one year-long diary. Each signature has 32 pages, which is approximately one page per day (you have to have multiples of 4 when bookbinding, so I couldn’t get the math to work out perfectly). Both ‘books’ are bound in leather with bookcloth onlays and the spines sewn in a button-hole technique using both green and brown cord — for spring and fall. The vernal equinox book is in blue leather with a colorful graphic depicting spring. The autumnal equinox book is bound in black suede (leather glued on backwards with the ‘soft’ side showing). The cover of this book shows a tree having lost it’s leaves. Together with both books one can record a year’s worth of memories: equinox to equinox.” Wow, is all I can say, Rebecca! An absolutely brilliant interpretation of the prompt. Your $10 gift certificate has been issued.





From Cathy Coley:

Spring Equinox

The camellias are a winter bloom,
usually December, but this year
they bloomed in March. The ground
didn’t freeze until then,
and one shot of snow
moved the blooms to the Equinox.
The two red bushes dominate
and make the white one blush
as daffodils struggle,
and crocus never awoke.

The season of waking,
My daughter begins to walk
while first blooms of burgeoning
mingle my teen son’s drawing away
and drawing toward
the streets and halls filled
with cucumber perfumed
tresses and new curves
scent of new skin.


From Karen Winters: “Malibu Creek Afternoon Hike,” 12 x 16 oil on canvas. Karen writes:

“This new landscape oil painting celebrates the arrival of spring in the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu Creek State Park, one of my favorite local inspirations. The hills will only stay this beautiful green color for a short while but it’s glorious while it lasts. Soon, the greens will dry to a golden brown, and the desert look will be revealed. I learned something interesting about Southern California’s desert nature while watching a show on geology a little while ago. Before the Sierra Nevada range formed due to compression of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, California received abundant summer rainfall, just like the rest of what is now the United States. When the mountain range rose, this changed weather patterns and So. Cal became a desert. To get the rain back we’ll have to wait quite some time for the mountains to age. But since the plates continue to compress and mountains continue to rise, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Perhaps one day we’ll have Californian Alps or Himalayan-size peaks. I won’t be around to paint them, but I can imagine that they’ll look wonderful in springtime.”



dsc05371From Jen Johnson: “As I was thinking about this week’s prompt, I found myself reflecting on hibernation, awaking to sunshine. This week I’m also in the thick of preparations for my son’s fourth birthday (his party is Saturday and his actual birthday is March 31st). My little boy loves all things serpentine — two of his most significant attachment objects are rubber snakes that he has named ‘Stuxey’ and ‘The Other Stuxey.’ I knew I wanted to make my son something special for his birthday, and so all these things combined to inspire this morning’s project: ‘Spring’ the snake. ‘Spring’ is made from fleece, which is a fairly new material for me; I find it is very forgiving and I’m enjoying working with it! dsc05370She is the second stuffy that I’ve made from my own pattern. The stripes were the most fun! I brought her outside to take advantage of the sunshine for the picture, and happily our overgrown oxalis provided a suitable backdrop. (Wouldn’t be spring out here without the oxalis explosion!) And for a more literary –- and literal — approach to this week’s prompt, you can check out my blog post on the Equinox itself: an old poem that I found in the files. It’s posted here.”


This weekly contest has been a real pleasure, everyone. Please keep those creative juices flowing, and don’t feel shy about sending your creative endeavors in for posting. We love random acts of creativity!

In case you missed any of the prompts we’ve had during the past 47 weeks, here’s the list, ordered from most recent to oldest:

1.    Spring equinox
2.    Map
3.    Dance
4.    Light
5.    Eyes
6.    Box
7.    Cookies
8.    Clock
9.    Hope
10.   Wool
11.    Snow
12.    Stars
13.    Noel
14.    Gift
15.    Waiting
16.    Fire
17.    Thanksgiving
18.    Silver
19.    Quilt
20.    Self-portrait
21.    Hands
22.    Dream
23.    Apples
24.    Tears
25.    Autumn
26.    The notebook
27.    Dinnertime
28.    The guitar
29.    My favorite shoes
30.    Sunflowers
31.    The wedding
32.    Chocolate
33.    Circles
34.    Vacation
35.    Beauty
36.    Chinese restaurant
37.    My mother’s house
38.    Independence Day
39.    Wings
40.    At 3:00 am
41.    Margaritas
42.    The crows
43.    The ocean
44.    The last time you kissed me
45.    Little black dress
46.    A cup of coffee
47.    View from the window

Miranda: Letting go, looking up

During the past 15 months, this blog has grown into a beautiful community. Those of you who make yourself known on these “pages” mean quite a lot to me.

As our sisterhood developed, I created a steadfast structure: at least one post every weekday; a contest post every Wednesday; a bi-weekly Friday Breakfast interview; an off-week Friday Open House roundup. I committed to that structure and I met the commitment regardless of how difficult or inconvenient. That’s just my compulsive personality. I know that daily posts and regular features are key elements in any successful blog (and I would not hesitate to call our blog “successful”). How could I settle for less? Not my style.

I love the blog, so it rarely felt like work, unless I was scrabbling to post at 1:00 a.m., or in the weeks when the only bloggers posting were Cathy and I. But I rationalized that this blog’s content is not only dear to my heart, but relevant to my book. I can test ideas, observe what resonates — it all makes sense, right? Yes. Unless I’m blogging about writing my book without ever actually having the time to write it.

During the past year, but especially during the past three months, I wrote off a lot of stress in my life to having an infant along with four older kids, selling a house, buying a house, and moving. But now my infant is 10.5 months old and the real estate dramas are over. Life is settling down. Except that this huge weight on my shoulders has not lifted. There is still more to do than I can accomplish. My interest in pretending to be Superwoman is waning. And who am I kidding? I really CAN’T do it all, and I haven’t been doing it all. Two of my kids are having belated birthday parties this month because I couldn’t manage to plan their parties closer to the actual birthday dates. I missed an important deadline for a special form pertaining to my son’s college financial aid applications. I am frequently late picking someone up or dropping them off.

I have too much on my plate — and I’m the only one to blame. My eyes are bigger than my stomach. This Sunday I experienced an unusually high level of stress as I fretted over when I would get the bills paid and the accounts balanced, when I would find time for the latest round of college financial aid forms, how I would get all the pressing client work done, how I would corral help for folding the Mount Fuji of clean laundry in the hallway, how I would train for my upcoming road race, how I would create those party invitations and get them mail, how I would take care of a few important house projects. It’s all the usual stuff for me, but I no longer seem able to coast through it all on adrenaline and a couple of prayers.

As someone pointed out to me recently, accepting that you “can’t do it all” sometimes means letting go of something that you love. It’s painful. It may sound funny, but that idea was actually novel to me. Why would I let go of something I love? Why should I? But then I thought it through and realized that I really have cut out everything that doesn’t feed me in some way. The junk has already been excised, aside from a few minutes that I spend on Facebook now and then. I used to do the Boston Globe Magazine crossword without fail every Sunday morning (one of my favorite activities) and I haven’t done a single one in nearly a year. I’m too busy taking care of all of other things — and people — clamoring for my attention.

I do want to be able to do things like create hand-made party invitations and make pretzels with the kids. I want to be able to play with the children without struggling with anxiety about all the “stuff” I have to get done. Something has to go, at least for a little while.

You know where this is going, don’t you? I have to step away from the blog. I’ll still be here to moderate the flow of blog posts, and I will post when I feel so moved and have the bandwidth, but I will no longer fret about having at least one post every day. I will no longer be able to sustain the weekly creativity contest or the Breakfast interviews. This makes me sad, because I enjoy those things and I think they’re of value to many of you — but during the more intense weeks, I spend up to 12 hours in blog-related work and that is time that I have to reclaim. I may use that time to write, make something, hang out with the kids, or do nothing. All of those options are important.

I hope that our regular bloggers will continue to post here. Remember that cross-posting is always welcome — if you post something relevant at your own blog, we’d love to see it here too. This blog will now have a more organic, free-form nature. Who knows — maybe that will be even better than the structure that I created.

I welcome all of your feedback, as well as any extra effort you feel like tossing into the ring while I take a breather. I love you guys, and I have every confidence that our connections will perservere.

Brittany: The Perfect Day

squirrelfriend332309If you had asked me a month ago what made a perfect day, I would’ve described one that was out-of-the-ordinary, one in which rare pleasures were to be had. But that was before I actually identified this perfect day. I wrote about it on my personal blog when it happened. It was magical in its ordinariness. I was picking Sam up from preschool, heard the train in the distance, we hopped in the car and chased it down Main Street. Then to celebrate, we went to McDonald’s, for aptly named Happy Meals, and spent the afternoon in the park picnicking, where a friendly squirrel stopped by to investigate and beg for fries.

There is nothing special about trains, and fast food, and parks, and squirrels. If I made you a list and said, “This is what made me happy today,” it would all seem kind of banal. But it was the way the moment unfolded, fun onto fun onto fun, that made it so memorable, and feel so magical. It was as if the universe had aligned itself just for us.

sam32309And the fact that it happened even once was wonderful. It was the proverbial “perfect day.”  A Platonic perfect form. The kind of day you think about wistfully, because there will never be another one like it. Except there was. Today.

Last night was one of those hellish tragi-comedies of parenthood. Sam was sick and wanted to snuggle with Tom. Tom would cuddle him to sleep, leave, and Sam would wake up screaming for him. Over and over and over. The screaming woke up John, whose crying woke up Sam, whose screaming woke up John. No one got a wink of sleep until almost 3 a.m. Then John woke up for the day at 6:30, but Sam and Tom slept in, causing Sam to sleep through the whole first hour of preschool. I had to keep him home today and knew that if I was going to make it through the day on three hours of sleep with both my sanity, and children, intact we were going to have to get out of the house.

john32309I asked Sam if he wanted to go to one of those indoor inflatable playgrounds, but he said he’d rather go to the park and feed fries to the squirrels. So after John woke up from his nap, we headed out to McDonald’s, where in a rare burst of burgeoning 2-year-old language, Sam told me he wanted, “a hamburger with cheese and fries.” No ambiguity there.

We went to the park. It was a bright, beautiful South Carolina day. Sun on our shoulders. 65 degrees. Our squirrel friend arrived and shared our lunch. We went to the playground. The boys chose to swing and play in the dirt, and we were packing up to leave when I heard the train horn in the distance. squirrelfriend2323091We threw our stuff in the car, tore down Main Street as fast as the 35 mph speed limit would allow, parked in a prime train-watching space by the railroad tracks, and waited for the train to go by. It was a longer-than-usual train, with two bright red engines, seven hopper cars, and five tanker cars. 2-year-old heaven, by anyone’s estimation. We followed it back down Main Street and then came home tired, dirty, happy, and a little amazed.

Perhaps with perfect days, as with all things, you have to identify what it is you want first, and then the universe provides. Again and again and again.

Blue boosts creativity

250px-color_icon_blueIn a Science article published last month, researchers confirmed that environmental colors have a measurable impact on our performance. From the New York Times‘ coverage:

Trying to improve your performance at work or write that novel? Maybe it’s time to consider the color of your walls or your computer screen. If a new study is any guide, the color red can make people’s work more accurate, and blue can make people more creative.

In the study…researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted tests with 600 people to determine whether cognitive performance varied when people saw red or blue. Participants performed tasks with words or images displayed against red, blue or neutral backgrounds on computer screens.

Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention to detail, like remembering words or checking spelling and punctuation. Blue groups did better on tests requiring imagination, like inventing creative uses for a brick or creating toys from shapes.

The Times goes on to incorporate other related studies. One example:

Then there was the cocktail party study, in which a group of interior designers, architects and corporate color scientists built model rooms decorated as bars in red, blue or yellow. They found that more people chose the yellow and red rooms, but that partygoers in the blue room stayed longer. Red and yellow guests were more social and active. And while red guests reported feeling hungrier and thirstier than others, yellow guests ate twice as much. Experts say colors may affect cognitive performance because of the moods they engender.

The full Times report is interesting.

(I’m glad we painted the new library blue. I’ll take all the creative help I can get!)

Image credit: Wikipedia.

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