No Place Is Home

Since I graduated high school I have lived on four continents. I’ve lived in houses, apartments, condos and a tour bus. I have traveled for school, for work and for fun. I have not spent more than two consecutive years in any one abode. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the result of all that transience is that I find it difficult to call any one place “home.” Every place I’ve lived is threaded into the fabric of my soul. Friends I may have only briefly known in one place continue to be carried in my heart as I go to the next.

Home is not just the place where you happened to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself. –Pico Iyer

Drive395_1515_webI originally became interested in photography from traveling—trying (and failing) to capture the beauty of the places I saw. I had an image of the memory in my mind but when I saw the photos I’d actually taken, they didn’t capture the details that were seared into my heart. And, while I loved the memory the same, I wanted to be able to see and share them.

So I learned to take better pictures. I also learned to write stories. And now I blog regularly, too. I love to read and research as much as I love to discuss complex issues with people who think differently to me. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her wonderful talk on Super Soul TV: I am a hummingbird. I go from place to place, adventure to adventure, only to take a little of this and mix it with a little of that to create something all my own. I’m not driven by any singular passion. I don’t have a singular origin.

Sometimes passions, people, places or ideas stick around longer than others, but I know that there is always something new to learn, to be excited about, to explore. I’m content in the knowledge that somewhere in the tangled web of the world, I’m likely to cross paths with them again. Our stories are never finished—merely paused.

This past week my work took me near my childhood home to shoot photos of adult ice dancers. I was close enough that I got to visit with friends I haven’t seen in a long time, but far enough that I didn’t actually go home. And the funniest thing happened. I found my sense of grounding. I felt connected to the lake I used to call home, even though I was on the other side of it. I felt connected to people I’ve known for twenty years, even if it had been a few years since I’d seen them. I felt connected to the road and the many familiar stops I’ve made so many times before. I felt connected to the quality of light that’s specific to the Sierra Nevada mountains. I felt connected to photography—inspired by getting to shoot people doing something they love.

And when I returned to my current home, I relaxed into the familiar warmth of my bed, the sound of my son’s laugh, and the feel of my toes in the sand as I walked along the Pacific Ocean. I’ve seen the sun rise and set over that ocean. I’ve felt at home on both sides.

And that’s what I’ve finally come to appreciate. My sense of home is evolving, as am I. It settles me from time to time, nursing me through difficult transitions and at other times inspiring me to do more than I thought possible. Nothing is fixed. Everything is flux. Like the photos of this landscape along Highway 395, it’s familiar but every drive is different. The snow falls and melts. Flowers bloom and wilt. Cows graze, rivers flow, temperatures soar and plummet. It is beautiful. And I am interwoven with all of it.

Recently my son was Friend of the Week at school and had to make a poster, answering questions about himself to share with the class. It asked: Where are you from? His answer: Earth. He’s seven. And decades ahead of me.

Strangers are just best friends I haven’t met yet. -Kai (5 yrs old)

I could learn a lot from that kid.

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South Lake Tahoe, NV
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Moonrise over Carson Valley, NV

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Bridgeport, CA

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This sign always makes me chuckle.

 

Persistence and Procrastination

The thing about writing is this: there will never be a perfect time to write. Life, if we’re lucky, keeps happening. Relationships demand attention. Bills need paying. Laundry needs doing. Kids need … well, everything. And somewhere in there we also hope for a creative muse to show up and guide the way. Occasionally we get lucky. We get an idea, find time to write and when we sit down it all flows effortlessly. But usually not.

For me, it often starts with an Idea. It bursts in, interrupts whatever I’m doing and demands my immediate attention or it threatens to leave me. In a desperate attempt to hang on, I’ll scribble some notes in my phone, hoping that will suffice and my Idea won’t leave me for someone else.

I used to be a lot more clingy in this stage of the process, but I’ve discovered that the inciting idea isn’t as rare as I’d once imagined. Also, a truly great Idea won’t just leave me.

An Idea is different from an idea. An idea can be a set of circumstances or characters that are initially intriguing. Like a Monet, when seen from far away they have form and structure. They look clear. But with a lot of these ideas, when it comes to character and world building—when big questions require specific answers—they break down. They can’t stand that level of scrutiny. There is simply too much empty space. It’s missing pixels. It can only handle a certain amount of zoom before it stops looking real and becomes indistinct bits of information.

And this is where the real work begins. The real work entails sitting with the Idea, giving it time and space to percolate. Filtering it through the myriad of scenarios that pop into my head during the day. Letting the Idea tag along with me, picking up pixels that fit along the way. With every new pixel the Idea comes into sharper focus.

While this part of the process often feels like procrastinating I have come to accept the fact that it is not. Not that it can’t be. I have spent time at Procrastination Station and expect to stop through there again. It’s got games and social media and things to organize. Plus it has the best snacks and coffee. Like a big night out, it’s a good time. For a little while. But eventually you’ll feel the hangover and what used to be shiny will be too bright to look at in your sensitive state. So for me, when I’m not there, but not yet writing, I know what I need. I need to see my Idea in focus before I can begin writing. My muse isn’t a fan of the Barbara Walters soft focus filter. My muse prefers HD.

Sometimes my muse gets what she wants. But a lot of the time, even after an idea has time to percolate and a lot of answers have been given to the vital Who, What, When, Where and Why’s she sits around pouting as I stare at the blank screen. She just doesn’t feel like working. This is the part that writers everywhere have advised about. This is the part where, to be a writer, the only thing you absolutely have to do is write. There is no substitute for persistence. Even if you only get a single paragraph a day, if you are persistent, you will eventually finish.

The only way forward is one word at a time. And the persisting faith of a writer comes from—even in these dark moments when every word is a struggle—believing that there will be a moment when the words will flow. When that happens it is absolute bliss. It’s a feeling like no other. When every thought in my head flows through my fingertips to the page, the story coming to life before my eyes, it feels like I’m doing everything right. Like I was made to do exactly what I’m doing in this exact moment. It feels like cosmic perfection. So for me, I know that I have to be ready and open to ride that current for as long as it’ll carry me, whenever it’ll have me. I’ll keep going when it’s gone, but I’ll never forget the bliss. And I’ll never stop chasing it.

That is what it is to be a writer.

Time: It’s Elastic, Like Yoga Pants

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time. Despite the clock’s regularity the experience of time seems to change constantly. It is a fascinating construct of our collective imaginations that often highlights the oddities of existence.

Like when I’m in the middle of something enjoyable—entrenched in writing or reading a book I love—I completely lose track of time. Hours can go by unnoticed. I don’t need to drink, eat or sleep. The terms of my existence are suspended until I become aware of the time once again.

On the other side, during an exhausting workout I’ve found seconds to weigh on top of one another as though wading through quicksand, every step suspended in slow motion. The more attention paid, the longer each second feels, giving time for extensive internal dialogue (often trying to remember why I thought doing burpees was a good idea in the first place.)

I’ve knowingly been in the middle of making a memory I know I’ll want to keep forever and felt that no amount of time will ever suffice. I’ve felt it as a combination of the first two types of time, alternately lost in the joy of presence and yet hyperaware of the seconds as they pass by. The knowledge of their distancing felt as grief within the joy.

I’ve been in a car crash that made milliseconds slow down and spread out before me in crystal clarity. Like Sherlock Holmes, having time in my head to think about my body positioning, brace my foot, put my head down, see the road that was no longer spread out before me, the trees to the right, the boulders to the left. To feel the weightlessness of the car in midair. To be aware of the other four people in the car with me. And perhaps most bizarre of all, the absolute objectivity of my own reactions. No emotions, no fear, just a knowledge of exactly what was happening in that precise moment in time and space. There was no need to hurry, the moment provided plenty of time.

I can’t say there is a particular reason behind this post, other than its observational nature. It just seems that in the many disparate books I’m currently reading, ranging from the esoteric to quantum physics to dystopia, the theme of time—specifically time as a construct—arises over and over.

I’ve noticed that with writing this is how a lot of themes start for me. Something comes up over and over again in my life. I don’t understand why or what, if anything, it means to me. And then I am compelled to explore it in depth. In this case I already know it is weaving itself into my current work in progress. What form it takes is yet unknown, but I expect it will become apparent at some later point.

In the meantime, I’m going to be grateful for time the same way I am for yoga pants. A little forgiving elasticity makes the ups and downs (and ins and outs) of life and waistlines a lot more comfortable.

 

Germinating Creativity: Urban Garden in Progress

This week I find myself right back in the messy middle in writing, gardening and life. While I’m not yet ready to share my current work in progress (a YA dystopia,) I can share some updates from my adventures in homemaking.

Three weeks in, here is the tomato plant (pictured below.) I’m pretty impressed with how quickly it’s grown. I’m planting everything on a west facing balcony so I’ve been a little concerned that it wasn’t getting enough light. From what I’ve read full sun constitutes 6-8 hours of sunshine. It gets almost exactly 6 hours now that it’s lighter later, but a few large eucalyptus branches are throwing a little more shade than I’d like. It’s been making me nervous. But just yesterday my son spotted the first tomato forming! (You can see it in the middle of the picture on the right.)Tomato

I LOVE spicy food. So even though the light isn’t exactly ideal on our deck, I had to plant this Thai Chili (below) in a sunny window box that sits over the deck railing. Fingers crossed it gets enough sun. Again, the appearance of these little buds is giving me reason to smile.Thai-Chili

During my son’s spring break, we planted lemon seeds from an organic store-bought lemon two different ways. The first was just planting the moist seed in potting soil and covering the pot with plastic wrap held on with a rubber band. After three weeks there is no sign of sprouting.

The second way was to peel the outer husk off the seeds and then sprout them in a moist paper towel. After about 8 days we checked them and they had sprouted! We then decided to plant two of them in a small pot to see if one grows better than the other. Just yesterday we had to take off the plastic wrap covering because they were getting too tall! For now, our little seedlings are being kept inside, next to the sliding glass window so that they get plenty of light and aren’t disturbed by the weather, which has been all over the place, at least by Southern California standards (between 60-90F.) Garden_1332_web

Next, we planted 5 cloves of organic store-bought garlic in a container. One of them sprouted right away, but until two days ago none of the others showed any signs of following. This is their progress as of this morning (below.) 3 out of the 5 have sprouted, and now that the weather is cooling off again I’m hoping the other two will too.Garlic_1339_web

For anyone who already knows a lot about growing their own food, my excitement may seem a little much, but until a year ago I’d never tried to grow anything apart from some indoor plants that were basically un-killable. I am finding tremendous satisfaction in planting, watering and watching my new babies grow. The view from my desk now includes my little urban garden and I love it.

We’re still in the process of up cycling an old IKEA bed frame, turning it into a vertical garden space to plant kale, spinach, basil and scallions. Thanks to a little help from my musician/pirate/handyman husband it’s coming along nicely.Vertical-Garden-Progress And while that’s been happening, in my effort to eliminate waste and reduce toxins, I decided to venture into soap making.

The caustic nature of lye (the binding agent required to achieve saponification) as well as the possibility of explosion (if mixed incorrectly) made my seven-year old son super excited, and me a little nervous. I decided it wasn’t a kid friendly endeavor but promised to tell him all about it if there were any explosions. Luckily, it was quite boring on that front.

A friend and I decided to try it together at her house. We used a hot process method and my friend, who makes many of her own beauty products, came up with the blend of olive oil, jojoba oil and mango butter as our fats. We discovered there is definitely a difference between dissolving lye in purified water versus distilled water (use distilled!) but mostly it was pretty straight forward.

We added lavender and peppermint essential oils at the very  end to make our soap smell delicious. The final texture is a little crumbly, but totally usable. I can’t tell if it’s crumbly because of the mango butter or if we screwed it up somehow. Possibly, it would be better to do the cold process instead next time. I suppose it will require further testing.Soap_1346

It gets the husband stamp of approval, though. (He hasn’t been using either the toothpaste or deodorant I made, so it’s not that he just likes all my experiments.)

It feels like in all areas of my life at the moment creativity is germinating. With a little patience, stubbornness and luck there will be some exciting updates soon. Thanks for following along on my little adventure.

The Messy Middle: Between Before & After

I’m a sucker for before and after’s. When I was pregnant with my son I was completely addicted to HGTV. I wasn’t renovating a house or anything. But ooh, that bit right at the end of the show when they’d put up the before and after shots side by side? I loved it! I didn’t even care if I got to see the rest of the show. And it’s not just home renovations. Or being pregnant. I love movie makeover montages, weight loss before and afters, even the stories about famous writers/musicians/actors are usually drafted as “I had an idea” almost immediately followed by, “and now my dreams have come true!”

As a culture we love the underdog story. The rise from nothing to soaring overnight success. We love a reluctant hero. The “I just did it for the love of it, but how nice that it’s a huge success now.” We can’t seem to help ourselves. Partially it’s because we’re wired for story. When we get that first glimpse of the hero’s journey it triggers our craving for those second and third acts.

But I’ve noticed another trend. A sub-trend, if you will. All too often, we prefer to gloss over the mess in the middle—the failure, the shame, the fall—and just say “I was scared” or “I fell down, but I picked myself up.” We like to go into detail about the impetus behind the journey. Why did we start? We’ll talk all day about that. But when we run out of steam from our early excitement and have to battle the demons in our head that tell us we’re no good, untalented nobodies we have to answer that voice that wants to know: who are we to think anyone cares?  Once that voice pipes in we’re forced to wade through the most uncomfortable emotions. We have to sit with our deepest fears and insecurities. We have to sit in the dark, without a trace of light.

In writing, it’s often called the middle muddle. It’s the point at which the inciting action has passed and the characters need to do a bunch of stuff before the climax of the novel. This is the part that can feel like wading through honey. It’s sticky drudgery that often feels like wasting time before the main event.

But here’s the thing. As Brene Brown says in her new book Rising Strong, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.” The middle is where the yeast feeds on the gluten to give the bread its airy texture. The middle is where the athlete sweats, bleeds, falls down and learns to be more efficient. The middle is where the seedling sprouts and grows, preparing to bear fruit.

The middle is the part of the story that provides depth. In order to care about the characters we need to see them put into tough situations and then get themselves out. It’s the detailed part that makes us fall in love with places like Hogwarts and games like quidditch. The part that makes us love an otherwise detestable character, like Gregory House. It’s the part that gives the story—our own stories—room to breathe. It’s only by doing that we learn. In order to get to our glamorous after shot, we’ve got to transform from one thing into another. We’ve got to grow.

Growing is always awkward and uncomfortable. There is no way for it not to be. And at some point in our lives we’ve all experienced being in the messy middle. In fact, it comprises the bulk of our existence. There are very few moments spent deciding to do something or reveling in our success. Most of our lives are spent in some part or other of the middle.

We know this. And if we love the fictional vulnerability, why are we so quick to gloss over it in our own lives? Why do we praise overnight successes that we know were ten years in the making? Or call any master of craft a “born talent?” We know better.

I guess we just like things to be easy. Or at least to sound like they are. So maybe along the lines of the ironic Pinterest hashtag #nailedit we should have one just to honor that most important process. Maybe we should idealize the work, effort and facing of fears that goes between the before and after. And maybe, just to make ourselves feel better, we can simplify it with a new hashtag #messymiddle.Big-Sur_6409_web

Got Closure? (If Not, You’ll Probably Just Make It Up)

Humans love stories. We love to tell them. We love to hear them. We crave those beginnings, middles and endings. When we hear a character driven story our brains reward us by releasing oxytocin (the happiness drug), making us empathize with those characters no matter how different they are from us. And that’s great news for writers. It inspires hope that we can foster more understanding and empathy among our fellow humans through the stories that we tell.

But it turns out that there’s a caveat. We humans love stories so much that in the same way that we see faces everywhere (in emoticons, toast, floor tiles, etc) we also create our own endings when none is given.

In 1994, Kruglanski and Donna Webster introduced a standard way to measure the need for closure, or N.F.C.: a forty-two-item scale that looked at the five separate motivational facets that comprised our underlying tendency for clarity and resolution—namely, the preference for order, predictability, and decisiveness, discomfort with ambiguity, and closed-mindedness. Taken together, these elements tell us how high our need for closure is at any given point. Heightened need for cognitive closure can bias our choices, change our preferences, and influence our mood. In our rush for definition, we tend to produce fewer hypotheses and search less thoroughly for information. We become more likely to form judgments based on early cues (something known as impressional primacy), and as a result become more prone to anchoring and correspondence biases (using first impressions as anchors for our decisions and not accounting enough for situational variables). And, perversely, we may not even realize how much we are biasing our own judgments. (Maria Konnikova from The New Yorker article “Why We Need Answers”)

Which brings me to communication. I’m a communicator. I enjoy finding out what people think and why they think it. But I’ve noticed that in switching from face-to-face conversations to text/email/Facebook something is getting lost. Because while it’s easier than ever to throw out quippy one-liners—offering just enough time to read and then edit them before sending—we miss out on the flair of a sarcastic tone or disbelieving facial expression. We lose context and depth.

We gain something too. But that might not be a good thing. Our need for closure encourages us to use our imaginations to fill in the narrative gaps that go unanswered or  only partially answered. And while I generally believe imagination to be a beautiful thing, I know that if my own is anything to go by, we’re most likely to insert our desires or insecurities into this kind of narrative. And that’s probably not reflective of reality.

It reminds me of this hilarious Key & Peele sketch on different ways we can (mis)read texts. They’re talking about friends—who are more likely to “see” and “hear” each other’s nuances through years of face-to-face interactions— miscommunicating. How much is it happening when talking to someone we don’t have that history with? When we’re newly dating? When we feel vulnerable? When the bulk of our conversations take place without that learned knowledge?

One of the most bizarre premises of quantum theory, which has long fascinated philosophers and physicists alike, states that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality. (“Quantum Theory Demonstrated: Observation Affects Reality”)

When we text we observe ourselves and the other person communicating. We are not just reading and typing, we are analyzing the silences, the ellipses that tell us the other person is typing, erasing, or maybe just distracted. We attempt to understand what that emoji means. Was it a happy thumbs up or an obnoxious one? Was that a smile or a grimace? What the hell is a smiling poop emoji for anyway? And when we ask multiple questions but the other person only answers one of them, we are naturally inclined to fill in those plot holes with story lines of our own imagining, for better or worse.

Even when we think they probably didn’t write back because they were busy and not because they secretly hate us, we subconsciously experience an emotional response. And if we felt slighted emotionally, even without believing it intellectually, it will still leave a resonance. And it may color our next communication with them. It can work on the positive side as well, of course . But whichever way it goes, especially if we’re not getting regular IRL validation, we are probably experiencing a bias that we aren’t even aware of having. One we may think we’ve already addressed by not taking texts too seriously. But as we rely more and more on this vague form of communication, we owe it to ourselves to learn to be as objective as possible.

We like to think we’ve got it all figured out. That we are in control. That we know how not to take ourselves or others too seriously. But we are all addicts. We are addicted to story. And when we meet a new character, hear a compelling beginning, feel that tension of rising action, we can’t help ourselves. We want to get that hit of satisfaction. Humans fill in the blanks. We want a happy _______.

 

The Art of Understanding: Why I Write

Every book I write is an exploration of my soul. That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true, despite my best efforts to create entirely fictional worlds. Every story telegraphs longing, fears and desires that are too intense for me to examine directly. They burrow their way out from deep within via stories begging to be told. Only through fiction can I understand real life.

I feel the world through words. The words, to me, aren’t mere letters smooshed together. They encapsulate whole worlds unto themselves. Writers try to glean the hidden stories held within the words as well as through those left unspoken. I write in order to comprehend the depth and complexity of existence. If I am lucky enough to glimpse it, even for one moment, to tease out one tiny gem of truth, I will have succeeded beyond measure. As humans, we all experience the same emotions, but just as we cannot know how anyone else experiences the color blue, we cannot ensure that anyone else’s emotions are felt in the same way as our own.

To communicate truth is the height of expression—maybe of all art. When one person captures what others feel but cannot themselves express, they exclaim”yes!” That recognition of the common experience binds us together more closely than anything else. Nationality, religion, age, socio-economic boundaries mean nothing next to the feeling of being understood.

This is why music touches us so deeply. The sonorous landscape evokes our emotions without having to understand or analyze them. Without conscious effort, music taps into our emotional truths. When the lyrics further express the depth of those emotions, it intensifies that connection through an invisible current. We tune in. We are comforted, bolstered, empowered, devastated and inspired. We feel, through the safety of someone else’s expression, what we are unable to touch directly. From ecstasy to despair, that heightened state reminds us of our own aliveness. We feel connected to the music—to the music maker—in an intimate way.Tristan Prettyman 13

This is why I believe we hold musicians in such high regard. Music is the most immediately accessible art form. Even babies connect to the rhythm. It is part of the human experience to seek this connection. It’s also why we love novels, poems, plays and films, although they require more active participation from their audience. When we see the story of our own inner lives fleshed out in another’s tangible form we feel part of the world. Our separateness evaporates. We exist in connection to the whole, if only through art.

The art of understanding is the highest achievement of any artist. And to have the audacity to attempt it brings out our innermost insecurities and self-doubt. It is the constant challenge of the artist to feel worthy of one’s own aspiration. And to work even when we don’t feel it. But the artist—equipped with the tools of understanding and expression—must create. Like a doctor on the scene of a car crash, those capable of connecting through art have an obligation to try. For humanity’s sake. Without connection life would be meaningless.

And so we pick up a book, we watch live music, we go to museums, we explore nature, we love. We show love with physical proximity, eye contact, listening, hugs, holding hands, kisses, empathy. We experience love through connection. Connection exists with or without its physical counterpart, but when we are the most lost and doubting our inner selves, the physical side of love brings us back and reminds us of what already is. It reminds us that we are love.

Adventures in Homemaking

I find myself at a crossroads. On the one hand, I feel very strongly about saving the environment and eliminating toxins from my home and food. I want to reduce waste. Grow food. Save water. Learn how to be more self-sufficient.

On the other hand, I’m a work-at-home mom engaged in constant time triage—prioritizing tasks yet never accomplishing everything I set out to. The battle to live according to my ideals without pilfering all my time (and money) is constant.

I try to be educated. I read about nutrition. How food is grown, butchered and transported. In doing that I scare the crap out of myself, certain that everything is poisoning us all in some way or other. I know it’s better if I grow my own but I have a balcony, not a yard. I never learned how to garden. I like to travel. I hear plants don’t like to be neglected.

So I shop at the grocery store. But at least I buy organic, right? I pay attention to the labeling, not getting tricked by meaningless claims like “all natural” that sound good but are meant to distract us from their nothingness. And I (mostly) stay away from processed foods. But sometimes, at the end of the day, I really just want something quick and easy. Sometimes doing it right is just too much effort. For me, anyway.

I drive a Prius, I don’t buy bottled water, I recycle, I pick up litter. I try. I really do. But I often don’t meet my own ideal. I want to do better.

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I’m obsessed with this water bottle from Hydro Flask. You can fill it with ice water, leave it in a hot car for hours and come back to icy cold water. Best. Thing. Ever. (Thanks to this I didn’t buy a single bottle of water on my road trip across the country)

For other work-at-home parents out there you understand my struggle: trying to be productive while entertaining a kid at home on spring break. I usually don’t get anything work-wise accomplished during his breaks, and by the time he goes back to school I think of a bunch of things we could have done to fill those two weeks. (Yes, TWO WEEKS OFF!)

So this time I’ve decided to plan some things out. Things that I’ve wanted to do for quite a few years, but never seem to get around to doing. Things like reducing our family’s waste, planting a veggie garden, and making my own household items that are healthier, cheaper and easy to make.

Here’s where my nerdiness comes in handy. I enjoy research. And the Internet is a smorgasbord of tutorials, recipes, tips and other people’s trial and errors. All hail YouTube!

Seeing as I’ve kept an herb garden and a houseplant alive for a whole year and my orchid re-bloomed (with a little help from Jango Fett) I’m feeling up to the challenge.Homemaking_1086_web

My seven-year old son is really into science so we decided to set up some gardening experiments that we can keep track of together. Our first one is based on two different ways to grow a potted lemon tree. One site said to cut into an organic lemon, clean the pulp off the seed and plant it in potting soil while moist. Then, cover with plastic wrap held on by a rubber band and puncture a few small holes in the plastic. The other option was to sprout the seeds first by peeling the outer layer of the seeds, placing them in a damp paper towel, folding it and sealing it inside a Ziploc bag. We’ve done both and now we’ll see what happens.Homemaking_1056_web

Next, we made deodorant. My husband was pretty skeptical but he was game enough to try it. It’s ridiculously easy and only calls for coconut oil, baking soda and arrowroot starch/flour, all of which was available at our local grocery store. I added a few drops of Tea Tree oil because I was feeling fancy (and it was in the cupboard.) It’s the end of day one and so far so good. No stinky pits in our house.

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3 Ingredient Homemade Deodorant

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With nearly the same ingredients we also made toothpaste. A little baking soda, coconut oil and peppermint oil (or essential oils of your choosing) in a small mason jar and voilà! A non-toxic, waste-free, cheap and easy solution. I’ve never had problems with store bought toothpaste, but it’s not cool that it’s poisonous if swallowed. Especially when I don’t trust my son to always spit it out.

So far I’m the only one who’s tried our concoction, and while it’s definitely not foamy like store bought, my teeth feel clean and minty fresh. I’m considering it a success. *after writing this, it got the kiddo stamp of approval. Hooray!

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Homemade toothpaste

In our final act for today, we planted some potted garlic. We’ll see how that goes. Still on our list for this break: plant tomatoes, make a vertical garden for greens out of an old pallet and start composting. I realize that this is a bit ambitious for one break, but I think we can do it.

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Garlic Planting

I’m waiting to try soap making with a friend because working with lye seems a little dicey. Multiple videos warn of possible explosions if done wrong. Might not try that with a seven-year old whose favorite show is Mythbusters.

I feel like it’s been a pretty successful Monday.

In Love With Humanity

I had written a post about something entirely different yesterday, thinking no one would mind if I published it this morning instead, but then I saw the news in Belgium: Explosions in Brussels Airport. 31 Dead, 100 Injured.

Instead of posting that other blog I wrote to a friend in Belgium to see if she and her family are alright. I thought of Paris. Syria. 9/11. I thought of the tour we’ve been planning in Europe.

I don’t know what to say. These sorts of hateful acts keep happening. Too often. Too many places. Hurting too many people. Destroying our faith in humanity. Inspiring fear. Inspiring distrust.Especially of the unknown.

I love to travel. I married a foreigner. I studied anthropology in Australia. And I worry what this is doing to our shared humanity. Will people choose not to explore the world? To learn about new cultures? To see how similar we all are? Will fear stop my family and I from traveling? Is anywhere safe?

From remote tribal villages to metropolitan cities to the US presidential election hate is making headlines. And yes, there are plenty of things for people to be upset about. Oppression, poverty, abuse of power, climate change. But by blaming someone else (even rightfully) it may make us clear and purposeful in the short term, but it robs us of the greatest power we possess. Love. People are good. Humanity is beautiful. We feel best as individuals when we help others. We are wired, through our shared evolution, to feel good about helping one another and relying on one another. It’s how we made it this far.

So, while the news will focus on who is to blame and why we should be afraid, we have another option to choose. Instead of focusing on blame, let’s focus on what we all want: love, belonging, safety.

While we cannot individually right the wrongs in this world, we are not powerless. Far from it. We hold enormous influence over one another, often without realizing the extent of our own impact.

We can show love to every person we interact with today. Whether smiling at a passing stranger, paying someone else’s toll, giving someone a hug, listening with empathy, we can do a million tiny things a day to change the tone of hate to one of love.

I have that power. You have that power. How will you show your love for humanity today?12829056_10153824333636413_3426179817061323642_o

Still Busy

There’s a lot of busy in the business of working for yourself. “How have you been?” My friends ask. “Busy! Good busy,” I hear myself say proudly. I love that I keep getting asked to work on cool video projects. I love that my son wants me to come to his school’s pancake breakfast. I love that my social circle has expanded to include more great adventures than there’s time for.

But as I work on two new videos, another blog and two new books I am shocked by the dark circles under my eyes, the constant knot in my right shoulder and the neglected housework that’s now glaring apparent. I may just have to admit it: my current pace in untenable.

I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head telling me to find a space and get still. When I was little she taught me to sit by myself, focus solely on my breathing and just let go of all thoughts. When I was eight it was easy. Presence was my natural state—no one relied on me for anything. Now, I wish I could explain to her that I have to invest time in building my career, that Kai is only little once and I don’t want to miss anything. That in order to maintain friendships I have to make time to see them. Surely if I explained all that, she’d see how impossible it is to get still and think of nothing. What a luxury!

But if I’m honest with myself—despite my own objections—I know she’s right. Not to mention she’d never fall for my excuses. She wouldn’t even have to say anything. She’d just look at me until I eventually cracked and admitted they were feeble and I knew it.

When things are craziest we need the luxury of stillness most. The word stillness is deceiving. It sounds passive, but it’s not. It is entirely active. Nothing in our busy worlds will carve out time or space for stillness, but without it we will drown in a sea of our own chaos.

In cultivating stillness we listen to our minds and bodies in unison, through the breath. We release old tension and breathe in fresh air. We connect to the present and feel gratitude for being. And when our minds begin to wander, we gently bring them back. Or at least try. All we need is a few mindful minutes to transform busy-ness into awesomeness.

So excuse me while I go cultivate awesomeness. I hope you’ll do the same.

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