quality to quantity

This year my family and I would like to attend the Life Is Good Unschooling Conference in late May, 2012. The cost for the conference is $175. The cost for the hotel is $90/night, and we would like to stay the full week. This would officially be the longest “vacation” our foursome has ever had. If we do take it.

~$900 (not including meals away from home) is a very high pricetag indeed for us Hogabooms.

At this point it is kind of a pipe dream that we may even be able to go.

Any donation is helpful. I have had some incredibly wonderful experiences in generosity and support from my readers. If you click the link “What’s all this, then?” below the big pink donation button to the right —>, you can read a bit more about ways other than cold hard cash to support myself, my blog, my writings, my work, and my family.

Thank you very much for being the most lovely readers and commentariat a woman could ask for.

***

So, I’ve been elbows-deep in Recovery work the last couple days and I’ve just about fried my brain. Running from doctors’ appointments to feeding and picking up kids, cleaning up around home, meetings and one-on-one help, answering phone calls from people who, if they don’t get help, well, they could die a horrid death. Plain and simple. I know it’s not my sole job to keep other people alive nor sober, as my own sobriety is enough in my hands, but it’s just the truth, people die, so calls I get are pretty important.

Today at the Treatment Center the topic is Anger. This is a good one. Hands-down the most honest conversations I’ve been exposed to have been in the rooms of Recovery. Never have I seen personal responsibility taken to the utmost level; never, concomitantly, have I seen the ugliness of the human condition, the kinds of depraved creatures we work ourselves into. Later in the day I’m laughing in a new cafe with two friends; my mom brings the children along to join us. During lunch I drink an espresso doppio. I’m pleased there’s a new place to get a great sandwich. It’s rainy and shitty and blowy outside.

More phone calls; more work. At the end of the day I’m so spent that if I could literally have any wish for myself I wouldn’t know what to wish for. This is not a good sign. I am completely tapped out.

I move through a small subsistence of activity. I show the children how to make an incense offering. Daily I teach my children a little more about housekeeping life (Phoenix recently learned how to clean the bathroom sink with Borax), and they apprentice with a willing spirit. A friend of Nels’ comes over and the two boys rough and tumble. Phoenix puts her arms around me and kisses me and whisper-snuggles, “I love you.” I wash, dry, fold and put away clothes. I take the lemon tree in for a long drink in the shower, and I clean the table. I pick up Ralph’s guitar and figure out a song. I haven’t played in something like twelve years.

Tomorrow I wake up a bit early to get my work done and head out to donate blood. At all places, the winery in Westport. I haven’t been there yet, although I remember biking past it on our camping trip a few summers ago. I hope the roads are good, and I hope my energy returns. I haven’t sewn in a few days and I feel a bit sad.

i’ll send you a love letter – straight from my heart, fucker!

Love Letter

Today is Christmas Eve, widely celebrated here in the States. I’ve so far in my life experienced holidays as wonderful times filled with much reflection and lovingkindess. Today I’ve spent most my time with family and a friend or two. Baking and cooking and cleaning and wrapping many, many presents (and making many, many cards). Ralph and I just got back from Aberdeen to help support a safe and sober place for people to go – people who are having trouble, or who are lonely, or who need respite from the holidays.

Christmas 2011

It’s a late, late dinner than snuggles and a b-movie for us. BIG SURPRISE, I know. We have several Christmases to experience in the next few days – our small family tomorrow morning, then a few friends during the day, then my mother in the evening, then a much-anticipated gift-exchange with a special friend and a very special gift idea from my son – and finally, in a few days’ time, my brother and his girlfriend will be up on a semi-rare visit from Portland and get the gifties we’ve put together for them.

Yay, everything!

I’ll leave you this evening, just before midnight, with one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, involving one of my favorite songs. Oh and you’ve been warned, you should know my mind by now and how it works, or maybe how it doesn’t.

i am the god of hellfire!!!

Ornament

Give a ride. Lend an ear. Sew a button. Chair a meeting. Love up an injured kid. Knit on a gift.

Some days it’s hard to do much for myself besides eat and dress, dubious items to put in the “self-care” category as they are rather requisite for, you know, functioning in public without getting arrested. The rest of the time I’m running around doing errands or at home working my ass off. I should know I’m a bit out of balance on the days I’m telling a friend, “I’m having trouble balancing X and family life.” Maybe I can skip that potentially boring (to others) conversation and when I have that thought just go straight to correcting accordingly.

Just one part of a busy day: a visit with Santa, at the Cosmopolis fire department, with friends. Phoenix said she was too old for Santa, and sat and colored instead.

Ralph & Phoenix, Intently Drawing

Santa was pretty fascinated with Nels’ name, correctly identifying Swedish and Dutch. In fact the minute the pictures below were taken, before my son had even introduced himself, Santa said, “A little Dutch boy!” (I’m guessing the hat? And the blonde?).

"A little Dutch boy!"

Santa Discusses My Son's Heritage

Nels and Phoenix drew some quick holiday sketches. I wouldn’t normally have noticed, too busy making homoerotic fireman jokes with Ralph, but I heard the two children burst into the most frothy and silly giggles, so I took a picture of a couple pages from their “workbooks”:

Phoenix's Concept Of A Snowman

Nels' Concept Of Santa

Certain mamas get more excited for events like this than many of the kids. I love that I have friends who have a real heart for children.

Charla, Excited If Not More So Than The Kiddos

Fireman humor:

Cheerful Blaze

A little boy who was pretty sweet today:

Firefighter

I do get a right-treat coming up; Tuesday I get to stay in all day and collect urine. Yes, you heard – collect, label, and categorize urine, confined to my own little house (as all-day refrigeration is necessary).

It’s too funny.

all I want for Christmas

In the morning I’m making pancakes, I make small and very fluffy ones, delicious. I even warm the 100% maple syrup, wiping the glass bottle with a hot damp rag and applying exactly as much or little syrup as the kidlets require. And I’m cutting up naval oranges and sipping coffee and drinking yet more water, and the kids finish their breakfast and then brush teeth and then get all dressed warm. It’s cold, a cutting cold, but nice and sunny and clear.

Phoenix is getting quite proficient in housework as she nears adult size; she can wash dishes and put away laundry and tidy up her room to a great standard. While I’m glad for help, there’s something devastating about watching one’s “baby” reach up easily and get something off the top of the fridge. NO SERIOUSLY THEY ARE STILL THIS TINY IN MY MIND.

So, the kids take our timeline seriously and do everything they can to help, feeding cats then throwing them outside (last night we had a mystery cat invade the gecko’s terrarium – our lizard is okay, but no unsupervised cats inside). Nels usually handles the feeding and watering of the kitties since he’s smaller and the job works for him.

“Mama, I love you,” my son says to me as I tie up his shoes. I know that a big part of why the kids love me is because I make them pancakes and remember their favorite stories to read and I sew them their favorite clothes and I take care of so many of their every needs. But there’s another part, the intimacy we have as a family, the memories snuggling up to movies and popcorn at night, then in the day driving and listening to Ke$ha super-super loud. Even when I’m not feeling well I can still sit down to knit and they’re on my lap or nearby in minutes.

I do my volunteer bit at the Treatment Center two days a week; I’ve faithfully kept the calendar on Wednesdays at one PM. So today I’m taking the kids along, and then afterwards out for a chocolate soda. Sitting through my Recovery stuff is boring and there are a few other reasons for them not to be there; fortunately there’s a large park nearby both children enjoy. A little over an hour later I pick them back up they’ve got rosy cheeks and they’re tumbling in the back of the car. Later they walk over to visit their grandmother, who isn’t feeling well.

I did not have a pain-free day today but I had a day lived in gratitude, which means it was a very good day indeed.

And now? Time for baths and cleanup and pajamas and snuggling over a movie involving really corny looking aliens and bad 70s mustaches. Perfect.

Oh and by the way. I found my dream job.

a setting on the dryer

I’m not sure at what point my day, and my mind, asploded. I worked hard in the home and on an art project, much to my satisfaction. I had a tense discussion this morning with my husband, but that seemed to resolve okay. (Other peoples’) kids came and went through my house and we fed one or two and kicked another one out to have a meal, just the four of us. Friends were over, another friend canceled a dinner date with us. I helped at a Recovery function and paid for a couple plates of spaghetti and salad for those who might not have the suggested donation.

I met a few new people today too, including a man who reminded me of my father so much it hit me like a physical blow, he had the same earring and trained into electronics in the military, in Vietnam, and I listened to him talk and stared and thought of my father, too tired to even feel the sting of missing him. I met a few new people today, including a man who cried talking about the people who surrounded and loved him and got him help when he needed it most, this was over ten years ago and he still had tears in evidence. I met a few new people today, including a nice young man recently released from incarceration and (more shockingly to my provincial mind) who related his experiences divorcing from in-house White Power groups (I talked to him a bit later, as he’s newly a mechanic of a type I could use).

At some point I guess I started to feel some kind of intense spiritual or emotional or mental fatigue, although I didn’t recognize it until later during volunteer work. Maybe my brain went *click* into exhaustion hearing the fourth young person say, “I’m _________, heroin addict,” and so on. Or maybe it was investing myself in yet another story filled with more hate and sorrow and abuse and neglect, stories so incredibly personal yet now stunningly familiar, and yes there’s triumph and courage and tremendous love and affection and salvation and gratitude, but still I have the visceral image of a young man left to cry himself to sleep night after night in the back of a car while his parents went into the bar to drink, a boy then a teen then a man who learned to never let those feelings show for many many years but now they’re coming up. More tears.

Even surrounded by all sorts of this kind of stuff I can’t entirely say I’m depressed or brought down. Humbled is a better word. I used to feel separate from these concerns or maybe I had no idea how much suffering there was, right where I could reach out and touch it, or maybe I would have considered some people “really sick” or thinking I was, essentially, better, or better off at least, than they. But today there is nothing that separates me at all from all of this, and I feel floored as if an ant with a large boot to crush me to Nothing, because in fact we have all the same affliction, and at the risk of starting controversy it doesn’t have much to do with the use or non-use of chemicals and if you can’t see it you’re just not seeing what I’m seeing.

Tangentially I have also discovered all the aspects of my best alcoholic behaviors, well I have them today in sobriety and they are some of the qualities that make me a rather terrific parent. Example: we have $11 in the bank and out of nowhere this afternoon I tell the kids, “Let’s get a tree!” and of course I mean one supporting our locals at the Market, not the cheapest tree at all. And when we get there they are just closing up but a nice older man lets us tree-shop and we find a brilliant noble fir, I’d never noticed how pretty they are. And the nice fellow helping us out, I see he’s also a Santa-for-hire (there’s a flyer) and I say, “Oh you’re Santa,” then after he tells me a bit I laugh, “We’re a no Santa household,” and he says, “Well okay!” Ralph “ropes” the tree to the top of my car and in the parking lot we see a lone purple ornament rolling around and we pick it up to hang on our tree.

And the kids are One Hundred Thousand Percent so happy to see Ralph bring in the fragrant greenery. “That is a beautiful tree, mom. Good job!” my oldest tells me. The kids get to decorating it and I’m happy to see the tree develop in the way it was in my family of origin, not an Avon-perfect or shopping mall tree but the ornaments handmade, many of them gifts from others, handstitched and glued and pasted and lovely, and the kids and the cats are simply delighted. The children go about their painting and drawing and reading and when they ask for my attention I turn and give it to them as best I can,

as fierce I can.

I come home and bathe and wrap myself in a blanket and sit quietly by the family, who likely have no idea how much it hurts sometimes. My daughter told me she stared at me today, and she says “because you’re so beautiful”. And I think I know what she means and today, that’s pretty good.

innocence does not find near so much protection as

Friendly

I’m gonna cut straight to the chase here as I have company over any minute and need to get to a few details:

I had an entirely new strain of Mommy Guilt after a little bit of time sober.*

I worked on it as best I could. I prayed about it. I confessed it. I journaled it. I cried over it. I talked to people about it, very specific people, and larger support groups. I meditated on it. I discussed with supportive and awesome people, people including my mom and Ralph who are my most fierce and loving supporters and would forgive me any damn thing and go to any length for me, and whose love sustains me in important ways. And of course I talked to my children, but cautiously, as they don’t need to (continue to) be innocent victims of my difficulties.

I did all this because I was That Serious about getting over this guilt, which has never helped me in any way – but has kept me from getting better. I did all this because I couldn’t live that way any more, and I knew enough to get help from others.

But it didn’t go away. Not too quick. The guilt. Little tiny pieces got clinked off here and there, gradually melting like the soul-sucking ugly dirty icy soul snowball it was, but that dingy core remained, deep down inside.

Until. I don’t know. Something this morning. I was thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made, which I’m happy to tell anyone in detail if they want to IM or DM or Chat or text or call or write or email, but I won’t elaborate right here right now, and in the back of my mind I recognized how tired I was of it all, the Guilt, the feeling so so bad over things I can’t change, things that others have forgiven me, including the relevant parties, but I seem to not be able to Let Go.

And what I thought was, one thing I’ve realized is through the whole business, this nine-plus years of being a mother, is I did actually learn something about being a skilled and loving mother. This whole time.

It isn’t as if I don’t know how to do it all.

When I got that little moment of clarity, things got simple. I finished tidying up the house, had an early-morning bath with my son, tucked him under blankets and cuddled him every time he asked, and took him out to breakfast (he wore his kitty costume) where he charmed the diner owner into a chocolate chip pancake (not on the menu) and got a chocolate shake, yes this for breakfast, but I just let him order what he wanted, and I drank a glass of water and some meh-coffee and just enjoyed my time with him.

I remembered that my job is to help my kids when they need it. Not be a Good Mom. No one else’s fucking business except me, and the kids.

Nels couldn’t finish his breakfast and wanted to give the other half to his sister; I took the food home and kept it warm / cold and when Phoenix woke up she said, “Mom I still feel a little sleepy – can I have breakfast in bed?” And I put down what I was doing and said, “Absolutely.”

Then later before I went to an appointment we talked about their plans while I was gone, and I said, “When I get home I’d like you to help me get the house cleaned up a bit.”

And when I got home I nicely asked them if they were ready, and they were, and we cleaned up together and did all that stuff. It didn’t take long. Dishes, laundry, cleaning their room, stripping the beds, feeding the kitties and the gecko. I wasn’t rude to the kids, and I told them Thank You for their help.

And I sat and listened to them any time they wanted to sit on my lap and talk to me.

This is all stuff I’ve known how to do and learned and have done through their childhood. Even while I made a lot of mistakes, big and small. I still learned a lot, all that time.

So today what I realized is, I know how to do this, I know how to take care of them. Thank sweet baby Jesus in his Golden Diapers for that.

Oh, and this morning? When I gave Phoenix her tray in bed, she said, “Did I mention that you’re the best mom in the world?”

Both kids say that, or the equivalent, a fair bit.

And I’m no longer going to argue with them outloud, or even (this is harder) in my own head.

***

* P.S. Mommy Guilt ≠ Parent Guilt or any other kind of guilt for that matter, if you don’t know what it’s like, consider yourself blessed!

nature red in tooth and claw

About twelve hours ago while I washed dishes and sipped coffee and got ready for my day, I received a text from the friend my son was visiting. “Nels says, ‘Mama I want you more than anything. You’re the best mama in the world.'”

Loving and demonstrative their entire lives so far, my children have been telling me these things even more often. “You’re the best mama.” “I love you.” “I want you.” “Cuddle me.” The other day in Happy Teriyaki, my daughter tells me as we walk to the loo to wash our hands: “Mom, you’re the most tender person in the world.” And, sadly, I reflexively responded to her lived reality with a cock-block of negatory logic, “No, I’m not.” I recognized my mistake immediately, of course – let’s hope one day my heart can outrun my mind which in turn will outrun my tongue.

I’m glad my children hold me dear.  I’ve not been holding myself in the same light. Self-criticism is not a worthwhile practice; after all it is no virtue but rather still staying in the Self, where we suffer much and don’t do others many favors either (I can quite picture what Thich Nhat Hanh means when he calls our condition “the corpse-like state of self-absorption”). And since I grant a great deal of importance to the gift of life, if there’s one thing I think I might look back on and regret, a forerunner in the race would be not giving myself a break. In fact a spiritual mentor recently spoke this phrase when I asked about the experience of Guilt for our past (and present) poor behaviors: “We can only live starting this moment, so maybe let’s give ourselves a break,” spoken softly and punctuated naturally with the most easy and simple and gentle smile.

I’m going through a lot right now so perhaps I can “give myself a break” that I produce few results, for instance the grand event yesterday was taking a walk and getting tacos, or that a few days previous I succeeded in the dubious accomplishment of watching an entire season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in one day (most of the ladies were deserving of the title but frankly I was arsed at the finale – hence my new tattoo JUJUBE 4 EVA!). The sudden change of season to the cold and dark has typically been difficult for me emotionally, and this year seems little different. I’m in my first year of Recovery, and now I have a (possibly) chronic medical condition and face, very shortly, (what occasionally seems like a torturously arbritrary choice to have) surgery.

These things, on top of the rest of Life, might not be a big deal to others. But they are a Big Deal To Me, and at least today I know that matters.

Nels snuggles us in bed while we watch a nature show, some horrible big-toothed fish being dragged out of a river, and suddenly he says, “Gosh!” as if he’s surprised. I look and see he’s holding his underwear, donned only a few minutes ago after his bath, in a ball in his hand, and he’s got his head cocked, posed in a feigned quizzical surprise. Nude and warm under the covers. And I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Children, they’re good for what ails ye. Or at least, me.

nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt

I am supine on the cold table and something is beamed at me and takes pictures of my insides. The technician is very friendly and conversational, quite professional. I am subdued because I have been enduring medications and procedures that are not especially fun, although I am struggling not to retain a poor attitude. My children are in the hallway, clean and neatly dressed, reading to themselves. After I get my pictures taken I dress again, gather the kids up and get them a bubble tea to share before we head to the specialist’s.

After review of my results they tell me a series of little reports, mundane to their field of expertise, but each one a blow which threatens me into a smaller and smaller corner of myself. They recommend a procedure that will involve general anesthesia and intubation, have a device installed within my body, and then wait two weeks where I must rest while likely enduring chronic pain that cannot be corrected by medication, during this time which among other restrictions I am recommended to not lift more than ten pounds. Two weeks of very likely chronic pain. This sticks with me and the fear threatens to consume me. Then after this time, the removal of the device, a procedure which also hurts, lots. When a doctor tells me it hurts, I know it hurts more than they say.

Today I am not in much pain, but I am in some. I am not in as much pain as I will be, so I take that time and enjoy it. But what to say when people say, “I hope you’re feeling better”, and things aren’t better? We assume those sick improve, but not always so. I should know this acutely watching my father go through cancer (and, worse, cancer treatment). Sometimes there is no “better”, or better takes time.

Attending me I have a loving family, competent (as far as I can tell) medical personnel, some medical insurance, and most of all, my sobriety and spiritual practice. Indeed these last two are the only things I can rely on, these practices. I can tell you without them I would be consumed, eaten alive by fear and misery.

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

what you think you become

Yesterday I spoke to a group about my sobriety. I said, “Every day I make a decision… and not the decision not to drink. I make a decision to have a good day. And I say thank you to God, to whatever, for the day. I’ve heard it said that an alcoholic who isn’t grateful, will drink. I know this is true for me.

This practice has only been with me a little while but it has reaped intense and immediate benefits. This practice does not mean only “good” things happen to me. This practice also has little to do with alcohol, and is not unique to addicts – but it has everything to do with Recovery. This practice will sustain me when all other measures fail.

For me, gratitude is a choice and right effort; it is a practice… but it is also something each of us can atrophy to the point of disability. We do this destructive work with our minds until soon we believe we are our minds, and we live in anxiety, stress, fear, and a perpetual cycle of avoidance and greed. Living this way is why I now know the importance of strengthening my spiritual and ethical practice. As I heard a few friends say over the last few days, “We only have control over two things… our actions, and our thoughts.”

I’ve weighed that sentence a bit over the last few days and realized it’s stunningly true. Many people have very little mastery over their thoughts; their thoughts have control over them. They are overrun with judgment and suffering, at the mercy of feelings and judgments that cause them, and others around them, to suffer.

Living without gratitude was a living death. Like most all persons on the planet, I’ve experienced attraction and giddiness, sentimentality and enslavement. These I mistook for gratitude, but gratitude is more of a decision than a high, more of a practice than a virtue. Faking gratitude or mouthing gratitude is pointless, may fool others but does not fool me, is likely harmful – and I won’t do it.

I’ve written about gratitude before, and very recently. It is a lifeblood to me like food and air and rest.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

Today, I truly am thankful.

Ralph just caught this immense, horrible spider out our porch. Happy Autumn, everyone!

Today amongst lots of your typical daily activities most everyone does, I also made time to practice meditation. I held a guided session this morning in my home* while my youngest child slept (my oldest child stayed at her grandmother’s last night). The second meditation practice occurred in a group setting and was mostly silent – my first time in a group, sitting still and without sound for a half hour.

I am amazed at how much more quiet and calm my mind can be these days than it used to be. Meditating, I soon find myself in a semi-trance, not sleepy and not unaware. As long as I make myself physically comfortable, I do not resent the time sitting. So far I am relatively successful at dismissing the part of the mind that attempts to call this practice a waste of time. I can collect myself from whatever I was doing and relax into, and enjoy, the practice. This is relatively new. It’s pretty wonderful. In moments during a guided meditation the experience feels like work; while I illuminate the “inner enemies” I can feel weary and tired and sad. But finishing the process (which includes the fire of meditation and eliminates these burdens), I have a great deal of energy afterwards. Energy to take care of others, to serve, to be kind. To be patient. Joyous, loving, and free.

Or more specifically, to clean the bathroom, finish the laundry, practice asana, make snacks for children, bake bread for my family and for friends, drive my son out to a playdate, return phone calls, sew, pick up my children and then play with them, fix food and clean up after, mail a letter, drive and sing happily to music, pick up coffee, give a ride to someone who needed one, buy groceries (and help my daughter in learning how to shop), ask my husband about his day and really listen, assist with dinner and cleanup, and listen to and talk wtih a friend regarding a recent personal setback.

In between my meditations and while doing these other things, the mind occasionally attempted to make this a bad day. The mind also tried to tell me I Wasn’t Good Enough (oh… that old chestnut! I’m almost starting to feel fond of it!). The lowest point: In the midday I tried to do some work and found I was very tired and had little energy for the task. I felt angry and ashamed of myself – and anxious, as the work I wanted to do is something I need for the weekend. But I accepted my situation and sat down and watched a bit of an entertaining-enough film (hint, Hugh Jackman taking a shower outside) and, as I couldn’t quite accept a total resting moment, I knit. But I promise, I knit in as relaxed a fashion as possible. When it was time to rise up again, I was ready.

And now? It’s just about time to lay down. After a slice of that pan de los muertos. Which turned out perfectly – and was a joy to make.

Life is pretty good.

* I have been using Harshada Wagner’s classes; his teachings and meditations have been incredible gifts.