Start Living Curiously and Purposely.

My fingers have this tendency to freeze over the keyboard when I try to write a blog post. I keep feeling like what comes out of my fingers instantly has to be profound. However, today I had a tiny epiphany.

My epiphany was this. Try writing my thoughts out by hand, in my penmanship. Yes, the old-fashioned way. Pencil on paper. Then, type it out, polishing up the written thoughts.

Trying this today seems to have worked for me. Here I am again, nearly a month since my last blog post. Woohoo! Hello!

One thing I tell myself, and I suspect many of you do also, is that our creations have to be perfect before they are put out there in the wide world. Or even that we tell ourselves that we have to be perfect. We feel that our art has to be just right, our writing the best ever, doing 5Ks and running the whole way, obsess over those pesky last five pounds that have to be lost. It goes on and on. At least it tends to, for me.

I have recently read two very helpful — you might in fact call them self-help — books that helped me get to where I am at this moment of realizing that striving for perfection is pointless. They have helped me, for instance, get to getting over the intimidation that prevents me from my desire to write. No, not all my problems (either self-perceived or actual) are solved instantly as a result of reading these two books, but they did indeed help me.

Here are the two books: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of Eat, Pray, Love and other books), and Start. by Jon Acuff.

Each book has many very good points in it, but let me share something from each that really spoke to me, and told me to let go of perfection and to let go of the feeling that I should know what I should be doing.

From Big Magic, about curiosity (which I took as definitely not waiting around waiting for a lighting bolt of knowledge or of clarity about life. Or of knowing your “purpose”) :

…curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?”

Anything?

Even a tiny bit?

No matter how mundane or small?

The answer need not set your life on fire, or make you quit your job, or force you to change your religion, or send you into a fugue state; it just has to capture your attention for a moment. But in that moment, if you can pause and identify even one tiny speck of interest in something, then curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer.

Do it.

(p. 238, Big Magic)

As for Jon Acuff, this is one thing he said that really got to me:

So why do we think we’ll never find a singular purpose that will guide us forever?

Forget finding a purpose. It’s a never-ending story that will leave you empty instead. Live with purpose instead.

….Whatever you’re going to do, do it with purpose. Not as if purpose is a key you’re going to find in the bottom of a trunk of old sweaters, but rather as if purpose is an approach to life that can shape everything you do.

(p. 51, Start.)

So here’s to following curiosity. Here’s to living with purpose. And here’s to old-fashioned pencil and paper, writing out by hand.

 

 

Advertisements

The Struggle is Real, But Walking helps

From a walk a few weeks ago. Fall colors are much more vivid now.
From a walk a few weeks ago. Fall colors are much more vivid now.

When I sit down to blog, millions of possible topics run through my mind. Should I write about this? Is this topic idea more relevant than the other? This, this, this…that, that, that…  But I struggle with the possibility of rambling on — if I say, “let’s see where this goes”, I know it’ll end up being a mess. To be honest, my mind is like this all the time, not when I’m trying to write or blog.

The only time my mind is calm is when I am asleep and maybe really not even then. I often wake up from vivid dreams.  I often forget soon after what they’re about, actually, but I know they are vivid.

Meditation? I’ve tried it, but never seem to have long-enough blocks of time to give it a chance to allow me to zone out.

Taking walks outdoors really does help me and my mental frame of mind. There is a walking trail nearby that I love. Pictures I take there with my iPhone never do it justice. This particular trail is part of the historic Brandywine Battlefield area. Sometimes it gives me pause that such a beautiful area once had dead bodies and blood all over, albeit long time ago back in 1777. Its beauty and history makes me feel very reverent when I walk this trail.

I get good ideas when I’m moving. I look back to when I was young and wish that I had been encouraged to embrace movement more. There are memories of hiking trips-slash-camping trips with my family as a girl growing up in Northern California, but at some point that stopped. I don’t remember us doing anything like that after I became a teenager. Until now I never really thought about it, or why. Maybe my parents became more busy. Maybe we kids were more busy (although that is a relative term…we were bumps on a log in comparison to how busy my kids are today). P.E. was no fun for me; I was always picked last (being the only deaf kid in P.E. classes had a lot to do with that). Perhaps because of my P.E. experiences, I have long been disinclined to find group opportunities for exercise.

Walking really is good enough for me. I like it when my family member(s) join me, but if not, being solitary still is satisfactory. I often feel that maybe I should push myself physically more — my body certainly would fit better in my jeans if I did — but my knees can’t take running or other high-impact activities. I’m in awe of people who train and participate in triathlons or other athletics that take up a lot of their time and physical fortitude.  But I am me and they are them. I need to remember that and not beat myself up over it.

What really matters is how I feel after what I do. And it’s much, much better after walking. No, it doesn’t solve everything. I still struggle with things like trying not to obsess over how many jelly bellies I eat daily. I struggle with inadequacy. I struggle with finding balance in life overall. The struggle continues to be real, but it helps to find something that puts me in a better frame of mind, even if it is for a short time and not 24/7. It’s better than not at all.

 

How to Find Time to Blog?

It’s been a month or so since I’ve started up this blog. I want to post regularly, but bear with me while I figure out what works. It’s tricky, me trying to find a place in my schedule for blogging and writing.

I am a stay-at-home mom, and have been primarily so for the past twenty years. When the kids were young, every hour was filled taking care of their needs and squeezing in a nap whenever I could. As they got older, and in school, I’ve tried to find ways to keep my days busy. Volunteering, hobbies, job-seeking (with very little success), on-and-off pursuits of exercise, taking classes. But yet. There’s also still the day-to-day routine of dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, personal grooming…things that all moms, whether stay-at-home or not, have to deal with. And, of course, sleep is vital. But, still, shouldn’t I be able to fit in time for what I really want to do? Why do I feel like a failure at this?

I think one reason is that, once afternoon hits, I have to completely shift gears in order to be mom-chauffeur every single weekday. Dance classes, Boy Scouts, marching band, private lessons, and so on. My husband helps when he can (he travels for work frequently). Not only am I the family driver, I also prepare meals and help with things such as college applications, helping a bit with homework, listening to what the kids want or need to share with me, and so forth. Then I’m ready for bed. I just can’t burn the midnight oil.

Many of us have heard about “Flow” (Mihaly C-can’t spell it), which is the experience in which one is completely entranced in the task at hand, forgetting all about time. Something like that. I have a hard time letting my brain fall into “flow” because I know I’m going to have to stop what I’m doing at some point. All that advice about writing or drawing or whatever in 15-minute increments is just BS, in my opinion.

As afternoon approaches, my mind shifts gears and I can no longer concentrate at whatever I’m doing. At the very moment I’m writing this, I’m anticipating the kids’ arrival from school in just a few minutes. I’m wondering, can I finish this blog post before they arrive?!

I definitely have no regrets in our choice to have children, but I can definitely see how women who are successful (especially in the creative fields) either are childless or have others take over the responsibilities of child-rearing. I also see how many women are able to re-invent themselves once they become empty-nesters. I am supposed to be an empty-nester in 2019, when my youngest graduates high school. We’ll see what happens after that, but in the meanwhile I do what I can. I’m reading books on how to plot a novel, for instance.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. I try to remember this wisdom whenever I feel frustrated. And, in a short amount of time, I’ve managed to crank out this very blog post; even though it’s not optimal, I did do it. I did what I can at the moment. Thanks, Theodore (I can’t call him Teddy; he hated that nickname).

And now I see my daughter’s boyfriend’s car pulling up in the driveway! The kids are home. Time to hit “publish” 🙂 !

Our First Fall Here, and Millions of Leaves

"Fall is a second spring where every leaf is a flower" --Camus
“Fall is a second spring where every leaf is a flower” –Camus

Two acres. Covered with leaves, and most of our trees are not even bare yet. The color isn’t really all that variegated, unfortunately, as we have mostly tulip poplars on our property. It’s very wild. Lots of deer roam, also.

FullSizeRender
Just one of our deer neighbors.

Our house was built in 1980, and we are only just the second owners. Little has been changed (the interior is worthy of another blog post!), and the landscaping (such as it was) was left to grow wild and untended. In spite of that, we fell in love with the feel of privacy given by all these trees.

We probably have close to a hundred trees, including saplings. But we are finding that having this many can also be a negative (other than all the fallen leaves, which is really a nothing). When we had a major storm this summer, a couple of those trees dropped huge limbs on my older son’s car, totaling it. We get almost no sun by the pool, making it pointless to try to stay warm when out of the pool.

I love these trees, but the time will have to come when we decide which ones have to go. Diseased ones will be easy. The ones nearer our house and driveway may have to go, also. We don’t want any more totaled cars or the potential of a destroyed roof. The hard part will be choosing which ones surrounding our pool will have to go.

Just a few probably will go at a time, though. Taking down trees, especially large ones, are really expensive. I’m sure it’s one reason why the previous owners left the property to become wild again. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are refined and manicured in comparison.

There is much to do overall, but in the past five months we have been taking care of immediate concerns. Our well tested positive for coliforms, so we had to have a new well cap put in. The entire water treatment system was replaced. The pool was crumbling, so we had that redone — but still need to fix the heating system (one part of why the water is so freaking cold, not just because it’s shady). We painted much of the interior. Our hot water heater broke just before my 50th birthday. Had to have a bat exclusion done. We spent a lot of time cleaning up the aftermath of the summer storm, and have lots of firewood as a result, but our chimney needs to be repaired before we can build a fire.

And there’s still more. I’m not even talking about facelifts we’d like to do. It’s overwhelming sometimes.

Yesterday I was trying to clean cobwebs around our front door with a broom, and accidentally broke one of our very 1980s style glass globe exterior light. My husband says our house looks more hillbilly than ever now, because we also have a broken lamppost at the entry of our driveway.

But, still, in spite of all this, in spite of the blood sweat and tears, I am content in where we are now. Our kids love this house. I would never have thought that a 1980 contemporary would be a house style we would live in, but here we are! I keep saying that one day we will look back and laugh at the year 2015. It hasn’t been much fun for the most part. Lots of ups and downs. But that’s life!

 

Variety is the Spice of…..

Macarons in Atlanta, Georgia
A Variety of Macarons in Atlanta, Georgia

….Life. Variety is the spice of life. It’s why I love to travel, and the more spontaneous the plans, the better. It’s why I like trying different things (like these macarons during a visit to Atlanta a couple years ago — even that was a variety of flavors). It’s why I’ve been able to deal with whenever we have to move yet again. It’s why I find different cultures and people fascinating. And so on.

I’ve slowly come to realize, however, that this need for variety has affected other areas of my life in such a way that I didn’t understand why I am the way I am. For the longest time, I thought that I was unable to follow through on ideas. Unable to produce enough to turn various hobbies into any kind of profit-making venture. Feeling indecisive. Thinking, “should I do this, or should I do that” ? Feeling like I should be more focused. Heck, I even wondered sometimes if I had Adult ADD.

I do have some constants, though. I’ve been happily with the same man for 32 years (27 of them as a married couple). I am an involved mother. I stay in touch with many of my friends , quite a few of whom I’ve known as far back as pre-school. I’ve always loved to read — but my tastes and genres in books are constantly evolving (that’s the variety part sneaking in). I am constantly curious.

A moment of clarity came to me the other day when I came across HoneLife: Stop Searching for Your Passion. This site has a huge amount of advice and inspiration; I won’t go into all of it but definitely check it out, if you feel that you are like me: a Variety Seeker. Now there is a name to one aspect of who I am!

Here is a good example of my variety seeking. When I was 24 years old, and a newlywed and a new transplant from California to Michigan, I took up quilting. I really, really got into it.  I don’t quilt anymore. That didn’t end overnight, though. Quilting was a constant for a long time, but within that, I seeked variety. I bought every new gadget there was. I subscribed to every quilting magazine there was. I took classes. I embraced the saying, “she who dies with most fabrics win” and would go on quilt shop hops. I shudder to think of how much I spent over the years on this hobby. I entered quilt shows. I even was in a juried art quilt show at a local art gallery a few years ago.

I often thought (and said out loud) that maybe I could make money from quilting. Then what happened? I realized that I had done all there was, learned all there was, and was tired of spending money. What about the money-making plan to recoup? I was always more into the process — I had so many UFOs. That’s a quilter term for “Un-Finished Object”. Other quilters have UFOs, maybe they’re variety seekers like I am, but many quilters are able to focus and finish projects — and even just one at a time. Not only that, I knew that the time spent on quilting would not return much money — a dollar an hour, maybe. There are quilters out there who make money — usually by getting other quilters to spend more money on their books, quilt kits, patterns, etc. I’m very cynical about the quilting industry now.

Anyway! I didn’t wake up overnight one day and say, “OMG, I’m quitting this”. No, over the last five years or so, I gradually sold off/gave away/donated many of my fabrics, threads, books. I let magazine subscriptions run out. Then I donated (or in some cases, recycled) all of the saved magazines. I started working smaller in hopes of finishing projects sooner. Art quilt wall-hangings instead of bed quilts. None of it was really satisfying anymore. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a lack of variety. Although there were other reasons: less disposable income (the kids became more and more expensive), realizing I had too much of quilty-everything already, unrealistic expectations of becoming rich (ha!) or at least some pocket money from quilting — I think it really was my variety seeking that did me in. I moved on to going back to school to take art classes. I even said maybe those classes would make me a better quilt artist.

Interestingly, with those art classes, once I learned the basic techniques, I lost any real interest in pursuing excellence in say, ceramics. Or painting. Or drawing. I felt something was wrong with me — was I afraid? Unwilling to stay focused and work hard? But no.  I do work hard — I got nearly all A’s during this second stint of a college career — so I know I’m not lazy. Too busy? That part certainly is true but if I wanted it enough wouldn’t I be willing to live on only four hours of sleep every night? Actually, I think that not “sticking with it”  is really more the fact that I’m a variety seeker. Some might think I’m trying to make excuses but I really do need to learn, try, and experience different things. Understanding and knowing this has taken a load off my shoulders.

So, what now? I have already, for some time, known that I cannot keep flitting from hobby to hobby or art technique to art technique. That is due to both finances (one kid in college and two very close to being in) and being less inclined to allow paint brushes, rubber stamps, you name it, to pile up and take up space.

I’ve been craving simplicity in life. Being a variety seeker, too, this path I’m finding my way on should be interesting. All my questions haven’t been answered yet but at least I do understand myself a bit more.

Again, refer to HoneLife if you’re curious about Variety Seekers or feel you may be one.

Taking a Walk Didn’t Kill Me

In theory, I have nothing against exercise. I like the way it clears my brain after I “just do it”. It’s just that it’s too easy to let other things get in the way. Also, I do best when I head out the door first thing in the morning (or at least after the kids are off to school) to exercise. Earlier this year, when we were living in our temporary apartment, I would go right over to their fitness center in the mornings. Ideally, we should have then joined a club when we moved in this house five months ago, but we are house poor right now due to a lot of expected and unexpected repairs. For a while, I was able to get exercise in some form or another by unpacking and putting things away (lots of stairs here!) or painting the walls (going up and down the ladders). But, then — especially after summer ended and my more-forgiving skirts gave way to jeans– I noticed I had way too much of a jelly belly.

jelly bellies

That’s right, a big jelly belly that jiggles. And, yes, part of that is due to Jelly Belly candies themselves. I love them! Not jelly beans, but specifically jelly bellies. Buttered popcorn is my favorite flavor, by the way. Today, I resolved to start calorie-tracking again and to take walks until we can join a club (hopefully that’ll become possible when snow makes walking outdoors too difficult).

This (above) is what one serving of jelly bellies look like like. Exactly 35 of them, counted out and lined up. 140 calories. That will be my snack throughout the day. I had been eating way more than that recently. Maybe I’ll cut back further on my daily jelly belly intake. But not today! Baby steps are best sometimes.

With that set aside, I took a deep breath. Time to take a walk. There are a few nice walking trails around here, which I’ve gone to before, but I want to drive less. My neighborhood is just off a very busy, narrow road, so my walk would have to be limited to just the two streets that my neighborhood consists of. In my mind, I had many what ifs. What if I see neighbors? Especially ones we haven’t met before (which is most of them)? Not that I’m antisocial, but we are new to the ‘hood and stopping to talk and introduce myself would cause me to lose momentum. What if it starts to rain? Well, then just put on a raincoat before heading out. What if a deer runs across me and a tick jumps on me somewhere, giving me Lyme Disease? Oh for heavens sake just go out there already. So, I did.

And, the walk didn’t kill me. It took exactly 31 minutes to loop around the neighborhood. Mission accomplished! I’ll do it again tomorrow, even though tomorrow will probably try to give me new excuses not to go.

It seems like writing and exercising, for me, have a lot of similarities. I can (and definitely do) think of, and allow, a million of excuses to keep me from doing either. Some are real hurdles, either physically or mentally. Little by little, I’ll try to overcome these hurdles.

Another Decade Older

A few days ago, I turned 50. Yes, 50. Unreal! I wonder how many blogs are started up just before, during, or after, a “big number”. Probably quite a few. However, it isn’t just this number that is getting to me and making me think about the meaning of life, yadda yaddda. It’s really a perfect storm of a lot of things that’s been going on lately. To wit…

One: We recently moved from Colorado to Pennsylvania. Let me back up a little (and you get to learn a bit more about me)…I am a California native, and as newly weds, my husband and I moved to Michigan and lived there for many years  and that’s also where our three kids were born. We then lived in Pennsylvania for two years before his job transferred him to Colorado. Although there were good memories and friends made in Colorado, we never really felt at home during the six years we lived there. We jumped at the chance to move back here last year. So, that’s a big life change right there. It hasn’t been an easy transition — we had to live in a temporary apartment for nearly nine months while we waited for our house in Colorado to sell — and have only lived in this house for five months.

Two: Moving in this house has required a lot of down-sizing. So, that means I’ve been having to take stock of a lot of material things and why I have (or had) them. There’s been a lot of purging, and purging still in progress. That’ll be a good blog post or two, for another time.

Three: Our kids are growing up. My oldest son is away; he is in his second year of college. My daughter is a HS senior and immersed in the college application process. My younger son is a HS freshman, which means his graduation is only three and a half years away. Yep, that means an empty nest is coming up.

Four: I have realized for some time now that my body is far less forgiving of what I put in it and that it needs more physical activity. On paper, I would certainly not be considered overweight (I’m currently 5’3″ and hovering around 116 pounds), but I am not happy with how I feel physically and the feel of my clothes beginning to fit too snugly. I have to figure out what to do regarding this problem. It’s easy to say, just eat less and  exercise more, but many of us know that it’s not as simple as that.

Five: This is sort of a continuation of number four above…many of my friends that I’ve grown up with and stayed in touch with over the years are also turning 50 this year and probably also taking stock of their lives thus far. I was born during a huge rubella epidemic in 1964/1965, so that means many of who I know are also Deaf. Many of us have been considering what progress or (actually the lack of it) has been made in the past 50 years towards deafness.

Six: I’m realizing that some things I used to enjoy (i.e. quilting) are no longer things I’m into anymore. I’m trying to recall what has consistently made me happy in the past. One is writing. I always loved writing research papers and essays for classes and it’s the one thing I really miss about having to curtail my recent pursuit of a second BA. I think that’s the real reason why I’m blogging again.  I’m blogging for the sake of writing. I have not even told family or friends yet about October Maple, although I probably will at some point in the future. I’ve learned from past experience with my previous blogs that friends didn’t read it anyway, and certain family members would call my husband and ask for specifics and make out anything that I blogged about to be a bigger deal than it ever was; for example if I mentioned I was job-hunting then the conclusion was that we were nearing bankruptcy or some such dire event. If any readers stumble across this blog, I do welcome you with open arms. Even if you are family or friends :-). I want readers to stay because of feeling an affinity here, rather than visiting out of a sense of duty.

So. There’s definitely a lot going on. If I thought really hard, I could probably come up with more. But that’s enough for now. I have a house that needs vacuuming. I mean, it really does need it.

But, just let me take another minute here before I go. All in all, fifty is really just a number. Taking a long look at a number (whether it’s 20, 30, 4o, 75…whatever) is a good way to say, yes, it’s time for positive change and to forge ahead and stop the inertia. So, I’m rolling with it! Here’s to 50!

 

Why “October Maple”?

IMG_6403

First of all, I wanted a blog name that would always hold up, in spite of whatever direction my blogging might go. Many eons ago (2008-2011) I had a blog called Life is a Patchwork Quilt. A nice name, except that I quickly got tired of discussing quilting (my progress was always too slow anyway) and found myself talking books almost exclusively. I don’t even really quilt anymore now, anyway. I didn’t want my new blog’s title to end up being misleading.

My birthday is in October and I believe most people favor the season they were born in. Yes, I do love fall. I love the outdoor color changes. I love starting to wear sweaters again and feeling like I have a new wardrobe even though the last time I wore them would actually have been a few months ago, rather than being new. I even love Pumpkin Spice flavored everything. Did you know that nearly every brewing company now has a Pumpkin Spice type seasonal beer? I’ve been trying whatever I find. Thus far, I especially like Evil Genius Beer Company’s Trick or Treat Chocolate Pumpkin Porter. It’s from Connecticut. I don’t like traditional pumpkin pie though (something about its texture).  So, the October part of my blog title was easy.

Choosing the second part of the title was harder. I researched October this or October that and most were taken up blogging- or business-wise. One was not, but was the name of  a horror movie. So, forget that one. Fortunately, Maple didn’t seem to be taken. Welcome to the world, October Maple.

It is my hope that, whatever I end up discussing here, that this blog will (at least occasionally) prove relevant to some readers. To just relate what happened to me today? There’s Facebook and/or Instagram for that. Or diaries for more private people. To just discuss books? I’m on LibraryThing, but I may still mention here a book that I consider wonderful. I have lots of ideas brimming, but I suspect that this blog will frequently deal with life transitions and adjustments. Stay tuned!

New Beginnings

My name is Valerie. I have many interests. Reading. Books. The process of writing. Art — making it and appreciating it — which includes painting, drawing, and jewelry-making. Art history and history in general — especially the history of fashion (even though I’m not a fashion plate. I love books more, so any spare money I have goes to books instead of clothes). Travel. Good food and drink.

That's me.
That’s me.

So what will be the focus of this blog? I don’t know yet. If I waited to figure that out, this blog would never happen. One thing I do know is that I crave the process of writing. Perhaps this blog will help feed that craving.

I have a family, who I love first and foremost. Family comes first with me. In spite of that, this blog will not focus on them. I respect their privacy too much. I will mention them, but without great details. They’ll be referred to as: Husband, Older son (currently 20), Daughter (currently 17), and Younger Son (currently 14). Or something along those lines.

I have blogged before. Those blogs are no longer out there in the blogosphere. I kept telling myself I didn’t have time to maintain them. Why I said that would probably be best left to mull over at another time. This time around, I’ll just forge ahead and see what happens.

So, let’s go!