Walking in the Light

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March and April have passed in a blur of pollen and procrastination, but one thing I was able to accomplish was a tour of LanternAsia at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

I was insistent we get there before dark so we could see the “Art by Day” as well as the “Magic by Night.”  This exhibit is made up of 36 handcrafted silk & steel displays highlighting traditional Asian themes replicated from China, Japan, India, Thailand, Korea, Burma and Singapore.

As we walked through the mile-long path, I was awe-struck at the handiwork, thoughtful planning and intricate execution required by such a project.  This type of exhibit dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) **thanks Google** and is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and will only happen this spring in Norfolk.

I may never be as excited about the Garden Christmas lights ever again.

Lanternasia peacock fanlanternasia peacock

As the sun went down, the garden transformed.

Awe-inspiring craftsmanship was evident at every spot…

…and the night was filled with WONDER.

 

Toastmasters Icebreaker

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I recently joined a public speaking club at work called “Toastmasters.”  We work together in a supportive environment to help each other become better communicators.  Last week I gave my first speech, called an Icebreaker.  I mined previous blogposts for information that would help me introduce myself in 4-6 minutes.  Afterwards I got some great feedback and enough encouragement to be excited about next time!   Here is my first speech:

Listen. Focus.  Wonder.

These three verbs hold special meaning for me. Several years ago a friend gave me the book “My One Word” and challenged me to choose one word of intention for that year instead of an overwhelming list of resolutions and I have done so ever since.   I will be introducing myself using three of my recently chosen Words:  LISTEN FOCUS & WONDER.

Working in a call center was a large part of the motivation to choose the word LISTEN for 2015.  It was just over a year ago in mid-December that I became employed by USAA—my first full time job in 20 years. LISTEN was a great stretch word for me vocationally as I spent 3 months in training.  We all know how important it is to LISTEN to our members, their challenges, timelines, preferences and concerns.  The word LISTEN also benefitted me at home with Chris my husband of 25 years, and our four—you heard that right– FOUR teenagers.  Before choosing the word LISTEN I frequently offered what I considered the “helpful service” of finishing people’s sentences for them.  What can I say?  I’m a giver.  As it turns out, that particular gift is not always appropriate, appreciated, or even accurate.  Instead of “reading” people and jumping in to validate their feelings and offer an empathetic example of my own, I am newly challenged to offer my full attention and the gift of processing to the speaker.  To LISTEN shows value and respect, allowing the speaker to fully express themselves and clarify their thoughts. I also discovered the difference between “hearing” and “listening.”

Webster’s Dictionary provides this definition for listen:

“To pay attention and take something into account.” (repeat)

Did you hear that? Are you still listening?

Before LISTEN my word had been FOCUS.

As a creative, spontaneous, impulsive, social multitasker, I have a lot of fun most days. The frustrating downside comes with my tendency to   lose things, forget important details, and speak or act without thinking.   My initial motivation to choose the word FOCUS was to become more organized.  While that is still happening (gradually), I also recognized my sometimes spastic behavior was largely fueled by fear—fear of forgetting a great idea, or losing the opportunity to have an important conversation.   FOCUS could indeed help me become more organized in my thoughts and behaviors as well as my environment.

One of the definitions I found for FOCUS was

“selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things.”   (repeat)

Focus led me to prioritize which led me to the reality that I cannot do it all and am wasting a lot of time trying to. I still have a front seat on the FOMO struggle bus (fear of missing out) but I focus on what I am supposed to be doing and experience relief that the rest is not my circus, not my monkeys.  There is freedom in focus!

For 2016 I chose the word WONDER. With LISTENING and FOCUS there was a heavy need for discipline.  With the demands of work and now 3 of our 4 children in college, the empty nest is staring me in the face.  I determined it was time to spend some intentional time recovering what brings me joy and inspiration.  I love to create, write & doodle but as Teen Angel sang to Frenchie in Grease “I’ve got the dream but not the drive.”  My inspiration tank is tapped and in need of refueling.  Seeking and experiencing WONDER provides a space to enjoy an intriguing moment with no immediate expectation of performance or application.  No action is required, there is nothing to emulate or capture, share or explain.  My goal for 2016 is to marinate in delight and admire the incomprehensible.  I want to be swept away in amazement.  I’d like to linger in the strange.  I hope for moments of content confusion. On many days, I’m sure WONDER may mean “I wonder where I left my keys,” but I am primed to be, as E.B. White once said, “always on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”  I encourage you to pick one word to inspire, delight or challenge yourself this year!

 

WONDER 2016

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I came across this word on the whimsical Christmas cards I purchased this year but never sent.

Merry wonder Joy

 

“Wonder” to me means inspiration without responsibility.

When elusive inspiration finally finds me and pushes me to write, create, or speak, it is usually attached to a crackling lit fuse with a demanding countdown clock urging me to ACT! SAY!  DO!  FINISH!

Like the hour-hand on a  clock,  almost imperceptively I am learning to be disciplined.  This means I must find time to create/write/sing/dance on the regular and not wait for inspiration to move me.

Wonder is different.

Wonder provides a space to enjoy an intriguing moment with no expectation. No action required, nothing to memorize or capture, nothing to even share or explain.   I’m sure wonder can result in productive activity, but for me right now in the middle of this decade, peering into 2016, WONDER means to simply experience delight and admire the incomprehensible.

I want to be swept away in amazement.

I’d like to linger in the strange.

I hope for moments of content confusion.

I revel in surprise and bewilderment.

These longings do not mix well with most essential tasks. If healthy dinners and sparkling bathrooms and clean/folded/put-away laundry could somehow be produced spontaneously, I would be crushing adulthood.

wonder minion

Alas, details and repetitive tasks drain me, turning my sparkles into gray mud and making me want to punch kittens. So I am in search of WONDER. If I could figure out a way to experience WONDER in the monotonous moments of my life, I would need no other wish.

EBwhite Wonder

I am revisiting The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron this year which encourages the “Artist Date.”

In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion ,

a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. 

You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist.

I think this is going to be my pathway to WONDER in 2016.

Cheers to 2016 — THE YEAR OF WONDER!

Final Thoughts on LISTEN

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“Listen my children and you shall hear, some words you better hold so dear.” ~Mr. Rosser, circa 1981
Ever since my 8th grade teacher Mr. Rosser uttered these words, I have needed constant reminders to listen. I much prefer being listened to.
Listen
Do you want to hear a secret?
Do you promise not to tell
oh oh oh oh closer
Let me whisper in your ear
love listen
My 2015 word has served me well this year. I have received many reminders to LISTEN, sometimes from a still small voice within and other times from the people around me.
Listen Etsy
One new skill that I have noticed developing this year is the intentional hesitation to chime in. I have realized, perhaps for the first time ever, that just because I have something to say, does not require that I do so. This is a revelation to me—having an unexpressed thought. For me this has become a huge part of listening, since the pause allows someone else the chance to speak up–quite often someone who will add something of great value.
Careful before you say, “Listen to me.” ~Into the Woods
This holding back does NOT come naturally to me and requires a whopping dose of focus, self-control and patience.  Sometimes it even means allowing an awkward silence.
Listen to your heart/when it’s calling for you
Listen to your heart/there’s nothing else you can do
I don’t know where you’re going and I don’t know why
Listen to your heart before you tell him good-bye.
I have realized something else while attempting to listen well this year.  Although I may attempt to relate to others and read their emotions in any scenario, often I am wrong in my assumptions.  We may indeed feel and express sympathy more easily than true empathy for others when the one sharing triggers a similar experience or memory within us — but no two experiences are the same.
listen kind
Empathy requires focused listening to figure out what the other person needs — which very well may differ greatly from what the listener assumes is needed, especially if a situation is not something the listener has ever experienced.
Listen to the mandolin rain/Listen to the music on the lake
Listen to my heart break/every time she runs away
Listen to the banjo wind/Sad song drifting low
Listen to the tears flow/down my face as she turns to go
I also realized something new in my quest to be a quality listener.  When I need someone to listen to me, especially to help me solve a problem–either personally or professionally —  I can simply ask someone who is knowledgeable for the help I need for any situation and quickly get an answer or an opinion.  However, sometimes my preference is to discuss or learn how to do something in addition to getting the immediate answers.  Greater still is the process of developing a relationship throughout the learning process–whether a friendship, a mentor, or cooperative creative endeavors.  I enjoy asking different people for assistance and hypotheticals and I take time to consider who I will approach based on what they know as well as how they relate and communicate to me and my learning process.  This is a powerful awareness!
wisdom listens
Reading may be the ultimate form of listening–so thank you, readers, for generously and graciously sharing your time with me by listening to my thoughts here on the Automatic7 blog.  May you all be heard and listen well!

Thoughts on Motherhood

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My friend had a baby yesterday and I could not be more excited.  I have been a mother myself for 21 years and lots of thoughts are coming to mind that I want to share for her benefit and as a reminder for all of us not-so-newbies.

  1. The focus is on the baby now that she’s here, but you are important too. You are a CHAMPION WARRIOR QUEEN and I hope you remind yourself of that truth often. YOU DID IT. You (and your husband) ((and God)) made a WHOLE NEW HUMAN BEING! Thank you for doing the very challenging work of bringing hope and joy and sweetness into this world! And thank your mom for bringing YOU into the world. Take a second and realize that all this hype over your new baby is similar to the celebration over you when YOU came into this world. Though mom gets lost in the shuffle of caretaking BIG TIME, know that you are special, important, a miracle yourself and ALSO worthy of care, swaddling, and drinking every two hours if you cry hard enough.new-baby-feet
  2. Parenting is selfless and unconditional and rewarding and also SO VERY HARD. You will be shocked at how hard it is. I mean, you already know it will be “demanding” and “overwhelming” and “a challenge” and that you’ll “never be the same.” But dude. You are about to KNOW it. Please allow yourself to admit that it is hard. Remember that mistakes are OK and we all make them and none of them will be a deal-breaker—not even if she loves musicals and hates snow. You will make this parenting thing look easy but it’s okay if it turns out to be harder than you imagined. It was/is hard for EVERYONE at times. And if it’s not hard now, then it’s about to be.mother baby bird
  3. When you are tired and he is tired and you both need sleep and there’s none happening, and we are done with all the celebrating and excitement and joy and there’s just mess and stuff and needs and sickness and responsibility, do this: breathe in & breathe out and remind yourself that you can do this. If you are feeling defeated and alone and worn and done, remember there are others who feel and have felt how you do. Tell someone, take a nap and treat yourself. bethparkerartEvery day is Mother’s Day.
  4. Reality is the most creative, beautiful, original life there is—not Pinterest. Not Facebook. Not Instagram. As addicted as we all are to the “money shots” don’t forget that it is only a fraction of what is happening in anyone’s world. In my day we only had to deal with Family Fun magazine and Woman’s Day with the smiling perfection beaming with a perfect meal on the table and a spotless home. All I had to do was not look at the magazine and/or throw it away. Now we are bombarded with perfection and its easy to lull yourself into thinking this is what everyone is experiencing except you.  Remember that Life Online has been heavily edited.  As a friend once told me, “Lift Any Roof.” Inside every. Single. Home. you will find some non-postable issue with each and every man/woman/child/family. We are all struggling but are blessed with sharable moments. Great momsKeep sharing yours, but keep others’ in perspective.
  5. Let life change. It will not be what you expected. Repeat after me: IT. WILL NOT. BE LIKE I EXPECTED. Not the outfits, not the holidays, not the photo ops, not the meals, not the body shape, not the Sunday mornings. Nothing will be like you envisioned. Let it be. It will still be great…just a different great. nailed it nails
  6. Remember how loved you are. Take the love you have for that baby every moment of every day and bask in the brand new awareness that you were created by your Creator to help Him create. He gazes over you as you gaze over that sweetie. He has big plans for you and for her but it almost doesn’t matter at the moment because of all the love. Virginia LoveFeel it. Know it. Rest in it.
  7. Congratulations and welcome to the Crazy Fun Exciting Amazing Adventurous Parenthood Club! May the force be ever in your favor as you ease on down the road. December 1, 2015 is a great day to be a family!

HOW TO SUCCEED AT THANKSGIVING DINNER

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There are a million references for how to COOK Thanksgiving dinner, but not as much can be found on how to be an excellent guest-slash-consumer.  Most people know to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” This is just the beginning.  For the love of peace and harmony, if they say “No, I’ve got it,” then leave them be.  If they want your help, they’ll ask for it again so don’t get too entrenched in what you are doing instead.

  1. As the meal is being prepared, please stay far, far away from the prep area, but close enough to materialize immediately when summoned for random tasks such as stirring, fetching, tossing carcasses and Stove Top boxes, and carrying irreplaceable delicate breakables to the table without dropping. Be sure to ask EXACTLY where they go.
  2. Do not under any circumstances throw anything away such as: butter wrappers, gently used paper towels, empty jelly jars, egg shells or banana peels. These deceptively crucial items WILL BE USED. Where and when are classified– on a Need To Know basis.
  3. If you get hungry, thirsty, rowdy, clumsy or bored at any time during the meal prep, enter the Meal Prep Zone with all your affairs in order and at your own peril. It is wise to have a trusted advisor or professional counselor on speed dial for follow up after the inevitable verbal assault.
  4. Once the meal is fully ready and on display, guests should materialize from thin air with clean hands and heart for Genuine Family Fellowship.
  5. Fill your plate and return at least once until all food is consumed. If any leftovers are present, lots will be cast along with sideways glances to determine who takes home the good stuff for Black Friday lunch.
  6. Children leaving “perfectly good food” on their plates shall receive a timely lecture on gratitude, world poverty, and may potentially be force fed, for which it is understood there will be a high level of amazement and wondrous awe for the trouble and expense the cook went to for the family. This also applies to grandchildren.
  7. Dinner commentary must at some point include the following:

~Specific “thank you” to the cook or preparer of each dish along with meaningful specific original complement.

~Moaning and other sounds of pleasure during consumption—but not exaggerated, sarcastic or creepy.

~Random comments about the taste (positive)

WARNING:  Do NOT under ANY circumstances follow a “thank you” with a barrage of compliments from around the table.  The timing of the gratitude is of the utmost importance.  Sincerity is of epic significance but must be appropriately spaced throughout the meal.  Use the following simple mathematical equation to quickly determine when to thank your Thanksgiving cook(s). 

Original Primary Thankful Response = Prayer + 2 minutes after 1st bite consumed

Subsequent Affirmations = Number of People at the Table / divided by ½ distance between each guest x :30 second intervals alternating +/- :12 sec to show spontaneity.

It is most polite to wait and let the newest guest offer their Grateful Comment first, then begin the pattern outlined above.  A helpful foot nudge under the table can assist those who struggle with math or  eat too fast.

The Kids Table should be encouraged to follow this modified equation:

Oldest and/or The One Who Ate The Most = Primary Feedback Presenter

Then gratitude expressions continue in no particular order and should end with the youngest mobile child who talks (for cuteness purposes).

8. Under no circumstances can a grandchild take only one kind of food offered (i.e. mac & cheese). This will render gratitude Null & Void and cause The Greatest Generation to question the child’s patriotism. Thanks offered from The Child Who Only Took One Food Item will render all remaining Expressions of Gratitude for the rest of the grandchildren as empty and not applicable and may result in subsequent meals with increased undesirable stewed vegetables and the unavoidable parental lecture on the drive home.

9.  There shall be no less than 93 minutes AFTER the last dish is cleaned, dried and put away before anyone can utter any of the following words: hungry, thirsty, dessert, breakfast, snack, plate, cup, ice, starving, cereal, Goldfish crackers, chips, salsa. It is strongly encouraged that you nap or vacate the premises during this time period.

Thanksgiving success is not an exact science, but these timely tips can be applied to gatherings of any size.    May we all be the kind of guests that we would welcome into our own homes—gracious, thoughtful, refined & sincere.

Breakfast Recipe for Writers

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  1. Vow to write 3000 words today, but after a hearty breakfast
  2. Decide on oatmeal
  3. Make hot water for oatmeal using the coffee pot
  4. Empty oatmeal packet into bowl, maybe two
  5. Decide to add peanut butter
  6. Realize that you are out of peanut butter
  7. Go to the store for peanut butter
  8. Add blueberries and strawberries, because health
  9. Make a giant glass of water so that there will be NO MORE PROCRASTINATING
  10. Add ice because, metabolism
  11. Sit down at computer, open Word doc and stare
  12. Check email
  13. Delete 90% of emails
  14. Pat yourself on the back for not going back any farther than July
  15. Order all the things online
  16. How is it already noon?
  17. Make a sandwich decide chips over grapes, because health happened already
  18. Clean the kitchen to about 85%
  19. Put in a load of clothes & fold the two piles on the couch
  20. INSPIRATION!  Sit back down at computer
  21. Make a playlist
  22. Dogs whine for the walk you promised 4 hours ago
  23. Walk dogs and get clarity, make time goal for the words
  24. ACTUAL WRITING TAKES PLACE
  25. Kids come in from school – converse
  26. Race the clock speed writing until dinner
  27. Finish in the nick of time
  28. Attempt unsuccessfully to answer husband’s question:  “What did you do today?”
  29. Read other people’s awesome writing
  30. Repeat