Friday, February 5, 2016

Protecting the Buffer Zones

Last night found me in an anxiety-filled puddle of tears. A couple weeks filled with activities from sunup until sundown left me feeling overwhelmed, spread thin, and filled with dread with all of the things that I still had to do. I felt like I was "behind", although behind what exactly I wasn't sure. And then it occurred to me... I wasn't protecting my buffer zones.

When attempting to protect natural, wild spaces of land from over-development, often conservationist, environmentalists, and city planners will create what is known as a buffer zone. This is an area of land, sometimes called a green belt, that exists between roads, highways, or strip mall developments and protected wild land or parks. It serves as a filter to minimize the impact of the adjacent land usage on the protected area. According to, "They (buffer zones) protect the natural environment and help keep nearby ecological niches stable and functioning."
Stable and functioning. Crying to my husband on the couch last night, I felt nothing close to stable and functioning. After discussing what could be the cause of my upset, we decided to map out all of our weekly commitments. I drew out a weekly calendar and we blocked in time for our work schedule, homeschooling, and our children's extracurricular clubs. We live 30 minutes from where we work and play, so we also blocked out an hour drive time for each of these activities that were away from home. After we put it on paper, we were able to see where our "over-development" was occurring more clearly.

Over the years as I've gotten to know myself better, I've realized that although I LOVE socializing with friends and going to interesting classes and activities both with my children and for myself, I am a highly-sensitive introvert. And when this highly-sensitive introvert does not protect her alone time or down time, things tend to pile up and spiral out of control to where I hit the place of "IT'S ALL TOO MUCH TO HANDLE!!" By putting our non-negotiable commitments on paper, I was better able to see how I needed to plan the buffer zones to minimize the impact of the extroverted and sensory-stimulating parts of my life.

I've found that there's a few buffer zones that work for me. The first is to actually schedule out the week and then protect that schedule, leaving a little time before and after each activity for easy transitions. I have a set teaching schedule two mornings a week, but I also do between 4-8 hours of administrative office work that is flexible to where I can do it from home. For some people, doing an hour here or there works. For me, it ends up looking like I wake up early and do an hour before the kids wake up and then a couple hours after bed. I'm frantically trying to finish up a thought as they are asking for breakfast or I'm willing them to fall asleep quickly so I can concentrate. Pretty soon I'm burning the candle at both ends and I quickly burn out. I need to block off two afternoons where someone else was responsible for the kids and I don't schedule anything else, just as if I were required to show up and work at an office building. That helps compartmentalize my job so I can give it my full attention, then let it go when I'm focused on other things.

The buffer zone is the same for homeschooling activities in our family. Although we are life-learners, I find that if I block off 3-4 mornings a week to focus on my kids and their education, we have the space to devote to read alouds, writing, playing math games, science projects, unit studies, etc. If I don't block off that time, we end up mostly having play dates and running errands all day, which is not what I want to focus on solely. I don't feel that serves any of us, so I need to protect that time to be available for them.

Another buffer zone that I try to protect is my quiet morning time. I do best if I get up at 5:30am, which is 2-3 hours before everyone else in my house. It allows me to sit and breathe, to sip my coffee without having to help anyone else, and to get a plan for the day. I used to go running during this time, but lately I walk my dog through the woods and around our pond. Sometimes I practice yoga or crochet. Whatever I choose to do, it's my choice and I'm not doing it for anyone else but me. It's a way I fill my cup before serving others as a mother, wife, teacher, administrative assistant, friend, household manager, or any other "role" I play in the developed landscape of my life.

The third buffer zone that I'm not super consistent with, but I see immediate results if I protect, is limiting social media usage. In my life, I've given up watching TV or checking in with the news years ago. We watch a movie about once a week and I might click on a news website once every couple weeks to see what's going on, but I'm not interested in filling my head with all that's wrong in the world or mindless entertainment. However, social media such as Facebook or Pinterest has a draw of exciting new ideas and connecting with friends. I appreciate both of these avenues for staying in touch with people and keeping all of my recipes or homeschooling activities in one place, but I also have to set limits.

As a highly sensitive introvert, the flood of information thrown at me by simply scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest puts my brain on overload. It's visually overstimulating and the ideas and stories associated with what I see start to build up and it drains me. I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to and supporting them virtually by commenting, but to what cost if the act of doing so intermittently throughout the day taxes my resources and I end up lacking patience with my children or I cannot find the energy to follow my own creative pursuits?

That is what a buffer zone does. It protects our creative, sensitive, natural spaces from the busy, action-filled, hustle and bustle parts of our lives. And when my inner wild spaces are protected, I'm able to function with greater ease and thrive.

How about you? Do you need buffer zones and if so, what do they look like in your life? Is it work to protect them and what are the consequences if they are encroached upon?

Wishing you spaciousness and ease,

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tending to the Flame: Reflections on Inner Growth and Love of Learning

I've tried for over an hour to get a fire going in our wood stove this morning and it doesn't seem to want to take. Eighteen degrees outside, snow is falling down, and a teensy flicker is all I've got. I'm about to give up and turn on the space heater, but I don't want to do that. So, I'll huddle under this blanket and sip my hot coffee and keep an eye on that flame. I'll pray that it will grow and I'll be ready to leap up and nurture it more if it goes out.

It's a lot like my spiritual life right now. I've tended to my inner life intensely and I sometimes think that it should be raging brighter, but I'm just going about my life watching the little spark. Praying it will grow. Smothering it doesn't help. But, completely ignoring it doesn't do either.

Patiently Abiding.
Purposeful Noticing.
Deep Listening.
Above all else,
Wise Trust.

The fire is now steadily burning in that little wood stove of mine and my kitten purrs loudly on my lap. When I set the conditions right, then back away calmly, it flourishes. When I was anxiously jabbing crumpled paper in it's face, it refused to cooperate. A lot like parenting. A lot like homeschooling.

My oldest one went to bed last night reading a Life of Fred math book. About 15 minutes later, he came out and pleaded with me to let him read the next one in the series before he fell asleep. This is the same math series that I tried to force on him a couple years ago and he told me how much he hated it. I couldn't understand why he didn't like it so much back then when so many other homeschoolers loved the books. Why did his perspective change? This time, I didn't force it down his throat. I didn't require that he do it. I just made the commitment out loud that I was going to work through the books myself to work on my own math learning. I sat down on a Friday night and started reading the book, inviting my children to join me if they'd like. They said yes and we ended up reading half the book, doing the problems as we went. The next night, my oldest son asked if I would read another chapter with him. Even though it was his bedtime, I agreed. We read a chapter and I said I was done for the night. He begged to keep reading it on his own and I didn't argue.

In the TJed philosophy we follow for our homeschooling journey, it is referred to as "Us, Not Them" or "Inspire, Not Require." By setting the conditions right, then backing away, I allowed my son's love of learning take over and flourish...just like that little flame in my wood stove.

Patiently Abiding.
Purposeful Noticing.
Deep Listening.
Above all else,
Wise Trust.

What we are doing in our home, nurturing the inner flame inside ourselves and our children is an act of faith. We are willing to do the work of cultivating the fire. We are called to trust, even when we want to poke and prod and smother. We notice and listen and ponder and abide in that place in between wanting to control and allowing. And it is in that place that wisdom resides...that the flame within us and within our children is able to grow, to burn brighter, and to flourish giving warmth to us all.

Wishing you moments filled with
Patiently Abiding.
Purposeful Noticing.
Deep Listening.
Above all else,
Wise Trust.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Forgetting and Remembering Again

"The journey is always the only arrival." ~Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

For the past eight months or so, I've repeatedly asked myself, "What will it look like if I fully stepped into who I AM? What would it look like if I lived authentically from a place of love and spirit?"

What I'm beginning to realize is that maybe the point is that I cannot be sure. I don't know what it will look like throughout my life because the end result of everyone's life is unclear. We don't have all of the answers.

I do have my hunches... It won't look neat and orderly, I'm guessing. Messy and vulnerable a lot, I bet. Painstakingly brutal, yet at the same time awe inspiring beautiful if viewed from the right perspective.

Held and holding others. Loved and loving others. Honoring self and honoring others.

I'd like to think that the transition...the what is messy. It's when we arrive that it is bliss. However, the problem or flaw to that way of thinking is that we are human. We are constantly arriving and then getting lost again. We make mistakes. We fail. We fall. We pick ourselves back up again and again. It's as if being human is to forget our Divine Nature again and again. To live a life connected to that Divine Spirit is to remember over and over again.

So, it is less about arriving and living from a state of I AM forevermore. It's more about showing up and being open to the journey. Asking for help. Forgiving ourselves and others. Paying attention. Leaning on gratitude. Loving above all else. Forgetting and remembering time and time again until maybe we remember more than we forget.

We develop practices that connect us to that Divine Knowing. We develop relationships that reflect back to us the goodness that is inside us all. We are Tender and Brave and Raw and Real. That is the I AM that I can feel in my bones, regardless of how it looks on the outside.

On this journey with you,

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fear of Failure

Yesterday afternoon found me in a puddle of self-doubt, disconnection and fear. Before you say, "Awww...poor thing!" just reflect a moment and remember the last time you felt that way, too. It happens. It started as an uncomfortable feeling, a restlessness that couldn't be quenched. Then moved in great sadness. Finally, I found myself crying in the bathtub at 4:00 in the afternoon, wondering if I was good enough, if people liked me, feeling disconnected, and lonely. A hot mess.

Out of that mess emerged a curiosity to notice these feelings and get to the root of what was causing them. I got quiet. I took pen to paper and journaled. I sat in silence. I took a walk with my dog along the pond and through the field while chanting and singing. Then the signs started to come.

First, a dear friend whom I haven't heard from in months texted me a song out of the blue about not giving up. Then another friend shared with me an app she discovered called "Conscious Day" which sends you inspirational thoughts. The one she shared was about accepting change without attachment and it made her think of me. Then I came across Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly and an online course she is offering on living courageously. Finally, while listening to my dear friend Trina Brunk's music, I clicked on the song titled "I Am Willing" and it's words spoke to me so very deeply.

Fear. All of these signs pointed the way to moving past fear. What was I afraid of really? Fucking up. Being left out and alone. Not being good enough. Failing. (Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!) It was the fear of failing that screamed at me the loudest. Can you relate? If we say "No thanks" to life, then we can't fall on our face in front of others. If we say "Yes", there's a real chance.
What do we do with this fear of failing? Logically, failing is healthy and a way to grow and learn. On a visceral level, failing equals ridicule and getting "in trouble". Could this overarching fear of failure that so many people experience be a product of competitive public school culture or reward/punishment upbringing? For me, I was raised in a very religious household and I was a typical Type A, first born over achiever. Getting good grades was more important than learning to me. Appearing "good" was more important than asking questions and finding my own answers. Accomplishing goals and gaining praise was prioritized over taking chances.

So, here I am in my late 30's with a fear problem. A fear to put myself out there. A fear to try something new and uncertain. A fear of failing.

The problem lies not in curling myself up in a little ball and hiding from the world. The problem lies in the fact that I WANT to put myself out there and try something new and uncertain. I WANT to release my fear of failing. Don't you?!?
Let's encourage failing! Let's look at failing as a sign of trying and welcome it into our lives in a scale that feels safer at first. By practicing doing things that we have yet to master, we can get used to the idea of making mistakes and moving on. We can taste the flavor of failure in bite-sized portions. That way, when we are asked to do bigger things...the fear of failing won't be so hard to swallow.

I'm making a commitment to try out some bite-sized portions of new and "scary" things. One of those things is admitting to you that I have a fear of failure in the first place! Others include trying new cooking recipes and being okay if they suck. I'm also going to practice fingerpicking on my guitar, learning to speak Spanish, and inviting more people into my home for ritual and community building.

How about you? What are some bite-sized portions that you can try that allow you to move through fear and come out the other side more courageous and more confident to allow failure and great success to happen? I would love to hear about them. I would also welcome stories of when you have put yourself out there in a big way and what you've learned from the experience. Let's encourage each other as we face our fears!

Authentically and vulnerably yours,

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Settling Into the New Year

My morning ritual of sitting by the fire.
As 2016 makes her appearance, our family finds ourselves settling into a new home and way of living. A month ago we made the move from our 1,300 square foot ranch home in a subdivision right in the middle of a college town of about 115,000 to a two-bedroom cabin on thirty-three acres about 7 miles from the nearest small town and a thirty minute drive from where we used to live...and still work and play.
The front of our funky cabin. All the windows!!
Living on a homestead with a cabin, creek or pond, wood stove, and solar panels has been a vision I've held for many years. Since I was a teenager, I have driven out to spend time in the woods. I spent a few summers in college working at Yosemite National Park and post-college as a tour guide throughout national parks in the western U.S. and a "Nature Area Director" at a summer camp in the Midwest. Since I've been a mama, I've placed high priority on getting my little ones into wildish nature at least once a week. It's remedy for my well as theirs.
Hiking in our backyard. The property is about 10 acres pond, house, and field and 20 acres wooded.
Art in Nature. View from the back side of the pond.
When the opportunity to rent a property that met my vision came available, we jumped at the chance. We put our house in town up for rent, downsized dramatically, and made the leap into country living. 
Barn and woodpile. The boys have created "Stomping Stumps" to help break up the old lumber to use in the woodstove.
After being here for a month, I finally feel like I'm settling in and can start reflecting on the experience as new opportunities for learning, growth, and connection with nature and each other emerge. 

Taking their remote control boat for a spin on the pond.
I have many hopes and dreams for our time in this space and my goal is to not take it for granted.
Emptying the boat after a storm filled it with water and broke it loose from the shore.
 "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." ~Henry David Thoreau 
Solo hike and music time for me in the woods. I no longer have to drive to this, but just take a 2 min walk out the backdoor. Bliss!
I look forward to sharing my family's adventures and discoveries with you as we "advance confidently in the direction of our dreams". I know the path will not be smooth or easy at times, but it will be true and it will be paved with love, curiosity, and whole-hearted living.

May 2016 bring you closer to the Brilliance of who you are,

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Freedom of Trust

This morning I awoke thinking about trust. What a simple word with such a complex meaning. Or perhaps it's a simple meaning with a difficult execution. It takes faith. It takes surrender. It takes letting go of the false sense of control. It takes letting go of needing to know the answers before they anyone can know the future while standing in the present, anyway. Trust allows us to loosen our grip on the steering wheel of life. It invites us to watch more. Notice often. Give thanks where glimpses of the Divine slip they often do when practicing the art of allowing.

Trust is scary, yet trust is freeing.

I welcome Divine Gifts into my life. 
"Practice yoga, all is coming." K. Pattabhi Jois
"Through God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

Trust allows us to exhale fully. Deeply. It allows us to sleep with ease and awaken refreshed. It provides the conditions in which to get to know our true peace. It brings us to our knees, yet lifts us up among the clouds.

This life, this growth, this work that we are called to do in the world takes a huge amount of surrender. A gargantuan dose of faith. A healthy helping of letting go. A side order of gratitude and a dollop of grace.

But, it is ours for the taking and it is our gift we give the world. Trust that all is well in your soul and breathe freely.

All love,

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It Doesn't Take Much

It doesn't take much
just the touch
of a kitten's rough tongue
or a soft, warm blanket
or my lover's hand in mine
to bring me back to the present moment.

It doesn't take much
just the sight
of pink tinged clouds in flight
or autumn leaves floating down
or dappled sunlight caressing the earth
to remind me that I am home.

It doesn't take much
just the sound
of a songbird's call
or wind rushing through the trees so tall
or my dog's definitive bark
to reignite the wonder of being alive.

It doesn't take much
just the smell
of coffee brewing
or bread baking
or soup simmering on the stove
to reawaken gratitude for life's blessings.

It doesn't take much
just the taste
of the ocean's salty kiss
or chocolate on my lips
or a tomato straight from the vine
to know that inner peace can be mine.

Come back to the present moment.
Remember, you are home.
Reignite your wonder of being alive.
Reawaken to life's blessings.
Know that inner peace can be yours.

Noticing the simple things,
practicing mindful gratitude,
with All Love to you and your journey,