Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Eighth Aspiration ~ Presence ~ ANTS ~ Joy


The Third Covid Journal

Hello Froggy

Today I started the third notebook of Covid. My daily journal, or morning pages. Who would have thought? 

The eighth of my ten aspirations is presence, which includes posture and breathing. I guess I could fill a whole lot more than three notebooks on this. Not that I have achieved this. It's a lifetime thing. 

When I'm lacking joy, one of the first check points is to see if I'm suffering from ANTS. Automatic negative thoughts. Our brains can get into habits. It's a prefrontal cortex thing? There is a lot of information you can google. 

We can move away from ANTS. Making a list of all the things we are grateful for is one easy way. Getting away from social media and curating our news intake is another tool. Taking time each day (not so easy for busy parents) to center yourself is critical. That's why I wake up so early. To have some time each day to write, read my Bible and other devotions and try to hit the reset button each and every morning. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 

In a perfect world that should about take care of it. . . I hope you have a lovely fall day. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

I Don't Know How You Do it All


What was lost is found. . . under the stove

For me? 

Adoring EVMB Fans


I'm Taking a Greyhound

Oliver Loves Amazon

Fall Hikes


Where you lead, I will follow

This season's performance

Socially distant masked marching band. Who would have thought?

There is a phrase my ego loves to hear. It longs to hear. "I don't know how you do it all?" Don't we all need to hear that now and then? I don't know how you do it all. Working mothers. School teachers. Home school moms. 

There have been months and even years of my life when it felt like every waking moment was spoken for. Bill calls it trying to fit ten pounds in a five pound box. It's the Stephens' way of moving time and space to make something happen. It's not some huge sin, but neither does it make me very happy. 

When we live in what I call survival mode for too long, we start to commit violence to the people around us. I'm not my very best self when there is more to do than can actually be done. I start to say things I didn't mean and force the people around me into an impossible zone of productivity. There isn't a moment to think about words before I say them and interruptions are a federal offense punishable by extreme grouchiness. Did you know the byproduct of perfectionism is anger? 

I fill in all the little boxes on the google calendar and then when I finally have a day off I expect every task on the to-do list to magically get done in one day, and then I get mad when the ten pounds doesn't fit. 

If I had to do it all again, that is the last twenty years, I might do less. I am who I am, and the things I have done and volunteered for and achieved are part of who I am. Still, the calm of things as they should be is where are souls come alive. I started to rehabilitate three years ago when I started bullet journaling. 

I started by creating a year at a glance bullet journal spread. How many extra activities can each month hold? I made a point to block two weekends each month. No recitals or workshops. I become more aware of the big picture and the patterns that develop year over year between family life, studio life and my kid's activities. Months that have a big event need extra margin. 

I started taking periodic breaks from teaching. If the daily schedule with kids and teaching is pretty tight, which it is, then I need a week off every four to six weeks to catch up. For example, I'm taking the whole week of MEA, the Minnesota school fall break, off. I take the whole week of Thanksgiving off. The more energy I put into teaching, the more I need periodic breaks. It doesn't mean I don't love my job, on the contrary. I love it so much that I know I need to force breaks into the calendar so that I don't get burned out. 

After getting the yearly plan under control, at least to some extent, I dug into the weekly and daily routine. I started calendar blocking weekdays, and even weekends. I didn't do this so that I could do more and more, I started this so that I would have a realistic overview of what I actually could fit into a day or a weekend. I hoped to whittle my list down to five pounds so that it could actually fit into the box I have. For example, on a fall Saturday I used to want to sleep till 8:00, write a blog, go for a walk, do some yard work, run some errands, practice with the kids, watch a movie, go out for dinner, get together with friends for coffee, organize the coats, hats and mittens for winter, make and freeze some soup for the busy upcoming week. . . you get my point. Then I would be frustrated and angry with everyone in the house for not helping me get it all done. 

With a hourly calendar block, I could get real about the day. How many hours is each of these things going to actually take? How many hours are there? It's not that I wanted every waking moment to be planned. There is flexibility in the end product. I don't always follow the hourly plan. It's about picking which five pounds are the most important for that day and letting the dream nightmare of bending time and space go. Let it go. 

It doesn't take me an hour to shower. During that margin I can tidy the upstairs, make a phone call, or fold a little laundry. If I don't set an hourly limit on the garden, I would accidentally stay out all day. Now that I schedule "desk" time, I don't have to be checking and responding to email all morning. I know there is a time set aside for desk work and I can do it then. I'm trying to set the precedent with SAA, SAM, SPTG  and studio email, that I will check and respond to email once a day. When Bill worked in cargo for the airlines, there was a crisis where there was a cooler going round and round on the baggage carousel unclaimed. The cooler was labeled "live organs for transplant." This became a big metaphor for us. Someone missing their organ transplant is a crisis. Nothing involved teaching piano lessons is a crisis. It's not live organs for transplant. Waiting a few hours to respond to an email isn't putting anyones life on the line. It's only my ego that makes me feel that way. 

Calendar blocking helps me be realistic about my goals. If I have goals to practice two hours a day, and write a book and get in better shape and read more books. . . let's face it. . . there just isn't time in an average day to work toward those goals. Some of it is going to have to wait. It just doesn't all fit on the calendar.  Side note. . . penciling in forty-five minutes for Facebook? I would never do that. Yet, without a plan it's easy to accidentally do that. Same with news. Calendar blocking helps me stick to my values. 

I'm learning the ways in which my ego has encouraged me to take on too much. I must be very important since I'm so very busy. Yes, but, I also just really love doing a lot of things. I'm not beating myself up too badly. It's a journey. I can also laugh at myself, especially when I have to calendar block time to calendar block. Still, I feel much less angry than I did three years ago. I'm more accepting of the reality of what I can actually do without harming the small animals, plants and people in my life. And I continue to take stock of what is really the most important. We always find time to do what is the most important to us. That is a fact, but if we are on autopilot there might be a chasm between what we say is the most important and what actually happens. 

Bullet journaling and calendar blocking is what's working for me right here right now. It's a plan to be realistic about my time and how I want to spend it.  

I don't know how you do it all? What is most important about that phrase is how we determine what all is. 

Happiness is. . . having just the right amount of time to do the things we want and need to do, in the way that we want to do them. The calm of things as they should be. Not having more to do than can actually be done. Then our souls come alive. 

I wish this for myself and my family and for you. 



Friday, September 11, 2020

Cairn to Cairn


Mary and Bill took their own journey
Bill and Mary took their own journey

Aspens are my tree!

Calypso Cascade

Casey's Butterfly

Ouzel Falls

Calypso Cascade in different light on the way down

Estes Cone Summit


Cairn when we actually needed it

Cairn when we thought they were just kinda cute

Deer Mountain Summit

Smoke Free View

10,500 feet victory

Pathfinder Cairn
It's been three years since Casey and I did the Grand Canyon. This time we hiked three days in Rocky Mountain National Park, out of Estes Park, Colorado. We hiked Inn to Inn on the Walter Tisma Way. I'm done with camping, but still want the hikes, so this was perfect for us. Give me primitive wilderness all day, but I'm really into beds and running water at night. Bookending the days with coffee and wine doesn't hurt either. 

On the second day we hiked Storm Pass. Rocky mountain high. There was an option to add an extra 1.5 miles and reach the summit called Estes Cone. The added part would be rocky and steep. Hiking the pass, I was really huffing and puffing, completely forgetting that altitude can take its toll on a body. 

You know by now that I believe that God sends the right people at the right time and the right words at the right time, and really, just all the right things at the right time. Call them angels. Angel thoughts. Angel turkeys, angel butterflies, or angel eagles. Holy Spirit? It's all semantics but as MBE would say, "divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need."

Still hiking the pass, I didn't think I was going to make it to Estes Cone. I was lightheaded and clammy. Every step was a battle to pick up my feet and not pass out. I told Casey I was doing my fancy yoga breathing and capitalizing on my diaphragmatic French Horn days. We rested and hiked another five minutes. She suggested I breathe in a different way--more like a runner (which she is). That truly helped and by the time we got to the divide I was recovered enough to tackle the cone. Not that I wasn't slow. . . I was slow, but we made it. I made it.

Our trail guide told us that there would be little stacks of rocks called cairns when we got to the 1.5 mile path to Estes Cone. Isn't that cute? Such sweet little rocks. Photo opportunity. 

She didn't say that the cairns WERE the trail. The mountainside was all rocks and scrappy evergreens trying to get their own oxygen. There was no "trail." It was only imaginary switchbacks made by hikers of days gone by who marked the path with little stacks of rocks. Every fifteen feet or so there was a cairn. Some were fancy and tall, some were just a hint of something that nature couldn't have built on her own. 

An hour later when we got to the top of the cone, the view was 360. Mountaintop experience. Four hawks gave us a flyover and helped us celebrate our victory. 

We couldn't have found the way without the cairns. 

We hiked from cairn to cairn. We couldn't see the next stack until we got to the one in front of us. 

I'm sitting here, writing this at Bill's folks in Nisswa. We are still in the middle of a pandemic. Too much news. Too many decisions. Everyday is a new opportunity to worry about what's next and how is this all going to play out and what is the end game? 

Already on the way down Casey told me I would have to write about the Cairns. This gift of having just enough information. My eyes would flash across the rocky mountain side with the briefest of panic. The rocks blended together. Then like finding the picture in an optical illusion they would settle on the next stack, but you couldn't see two stacks ahead at any moment. 

We only have to see the next cairn. Cairn to cairn. We can't get greedy about the future. You can't go straight up the mountainside, you will probably fall. It's too steep. There is an easier more manageable path. We don't have to see the end. We just have to take the next right step. Do the next right thing. Cairn to cairn. 

Lord, thank you for always showing us the next right thing. Thank you for making the path clear. Help us to trust that you always make the next cairn visible. Thank you for friends and mountains, waterfalls and trees and ferns. Thank you for the much more than cute little cairns and the beautiful metaphor they provided us. Amen. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Best of Times ~ Gratitude and Grit

The Last Sunset of the Family Season

Bill & Sara

The kiddos in the sunset

Sunset Salutations

My favorite moment ~ improvised hymns

Mary's Sunflower

My new coffee pot

Summer friend

Trying for Prairie

Bill can do it too!

The lilies



State Fair Zinnias

My happy place

Home is where the heart is

The way the summer went. . . 

The best ice cream ever made in the whole world



It was a very good year for the garden

Sneaking around with Janel

Flowers from the gardens of friends and family


Planning for the apartment

Tuesday was my first day off at home in a very long time. What have I been doing all summer? Five weeks of full studio teaching, two weeks of Zoom piano camps, I took one SAA teacher class from Fay and taught one SAA teacher class with Vickie, we entertained at the cabin ten weekends in a row, many, many zoom recitals and ice cream social distances (my backyard recitals) and I held one outdoor recital at the Little Pines Lodge, where our best social distancing ideals were interrupted by a tornado warning.

On my day off the kids set me up with Spotify. Where have you been all my life? Suddenly I have access to all my long lost vinyl. James Taylor and Carol King live at the Troubadour was right there waiting for me. The second thing I found? Eighties power ballads.

My relationship with the band Styx? Buy ten albums for $.01 through the Columbia Record club. Go to church camp and decide they are the work of the devil. Destroy them. Buy them all back in college. Jam Babe and The Best of Times at the piano with friends belting out makeshift harmony. And there it all was just waiting for me on a family Spotify account. Calvin and Mary rolled their eyes big time.

Tonight's the night we'll make history
Honey, you and I 
And I'll take any risk to tie back the hand of time
And stay with you here tonight
I know you feel these are the worst of time
I do believe it's true
People lock their doors and hide inside
Rumor has it, it's the end of paradise
But I know, if the world just passed us by
Baby I know, I wouldn't have to cry, no no. . . 
The best of times. . . . 

Cue the drum fill and the rock piano. The song is stuck in my head and seems so completely appropriate for this summer. Tomorrow we move Calvin into his new apartment in Iowa City where he can Zoom into his college classes much better than upstairs in his room here in Eagan.
I get it. Nineteen-year-olds are not necessarily supposed to be hanging out with their family for six months straight. As a greedy half empty nester I took this time and ran with it. Amid the global suffering, I've been in seventh heaven. Family walks, family dinners, family games, family TV nights, family calendar blocking time on the Steinway. . .family bullet journal meetings.

These months. These awful wonderful depressing sacred months. The four of us here in the house having extended family time that wasn't meant to be and probably will never be again. You know me, and you know that my heart is being squeezed tightly at the thought of it all coming to an end. Tomorrow.

It won't be the same this year. Calvin and my mom won't be able to pop in the car for the weekend and come see Mary in the EVMB, and in other musical productions. COVID is still here outside my bubble of family and friends at home and the cabin. There won't be any musical productions and the high school band directors are doing their best to lift up a couple hundred kids after the death of their colleague, Mr. P,  and the cancellation of virtually every thing these kids look forward to.

The headlines read, "These are the worst of time"
I do believe it's true
I feel so helpless like a boat against the tide
I wish the summer winds could bring back paradise. . . 

How will we do COVID without the four of us safely here, without cabin weekends, without the garden? That is a very good question. Band director Mr. G told the band kids that band director Mr. P held two values close in his final days fighting cancer: grit and gratitude. I'm going to spread those values and try to find them in my own head.

I'm AM so thankful for this unprecedented (sorry kids, I had to fit that word into a blog about the pandemic) family time we have had. Through all of the canceled trips and ruined plans, we held it together and mostly got to see the friends and family we needed. Nature helped. Zoom helped. Walking helped. Masks helped. Gratitude is an easy one for me.

Now comes the grit part. Staying positive for Mary and my piano kids and doing some creative planning to make sure everyone, including me, has something to look forward to. Buckle down. Double up on the vitamin D. Pay the Zoom bill. Find a winter sport. Follow the example of our parents and grandparents. Avoid adopting any more cats.

Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We'll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we'll find
These are the best of times

Blessings to everyone sending their kids off to college and making decisions about school. I'm especially thinking of Casey, Maria, and Jill. May those moms and everyone else, be filled with gratitude and upheld with grit. Amen.