Wednesday, July 27, 2016

some happy changes in July...

Well, July is ending on a high note thanks to a recent visit by my parents.

dining in Newport Beach with the parents. 

Sometimes things just pile up. Do you know what I mean?
It's not that one stressful thing that ends up affecting you, but it's one little thing after another and... the next thing you know you're walking around feeling depleted. 
Off your game.
Or at least that's how I was starting to feel during my recent injury.

I realize now that being on crutches for ten-plus days ended up depriving me of all the things I do that typically replenish me, the things that keep my creative juices flowing. 

Sweat. Wood dust. My tape measure and miter saw.
These are some of the things that make me happy these days.

Before my ankle sprain I was busy changing out the door trim and baseboards throughout our home.

I also finished my hallway--replaced all the trim around the doors and replaced the tiny baseboards. 
And all the bedrooms got new window trim
and six inch baseboards too.
I was quite the busy bee.
And the great news is that I'm back to normal again.
I plan on sharing some better pictures but here's an IPhone shot.

And here's another project I'm working on right now:
Built-in bookshelves around the French doors and vertical planks on the walls.

Project: Vertical Planks

I decided to install vertical six inch planks on the walls to add the illusion of height--the previous owners dropped the ceiling in here--and it's always felt like a dark cave to me.
I need to do a post on what I learned installing these planks upright instead of horizontal. I still used the plywood but ripped into six inch strips instead of the eight inch I installed in my living room.  Also the gaps needed to be different.

I know what you're thinking.
Why not just use sheets of beadboard?

my dining room

Well, truthfully, I regret hiring someone to install the  (4 inch plank) beadboard in my dining room--even though it looks pretty enough-I realize I prefer the wider plank look in this house.
Also, because I would be installing it myself I didn't want to deal with putting up the sheets of beadboard by myself. 
The individual planks seemed easier to me.
(But definitely more labor intensive as I soon learned)  
Once again, my Dad was my  hero.
While he was here he showed me how to build bookshelves around the French doors. And as soon as I finish the shelves I'll show you.

I've decided the planked walls will be painted white and the bookshelves will be BM's Dior Gray:

 While my parents were visiting, my Dad and I also worked on a custom mantel for my living room.

This is our fireplace before the mantel.

And just for fun, here's what the fireplace looked like one year ago. I hired someone to run the bricks down both sides and then I painted it and waited until now to install a mantel.

sneak peak at the beginning of the process

I had been lugging this wood remnant around for years; I found it in an antique store and had no idea what to do with it.

I watched my Dad carefully remove it from the old wood it was attached to, and then piece it together on plywood backing so we could fit it on my mantel. 
I plan to do a tutorial on how we built the mantel, I took lots of pictures.

Before Dad left he also fixed one of my beginner "mistakes."

I didn't have a table saw at the time and couldn't rip the right size planks so my lines on this wall were slightly off. He ended up pulling off the problem planks and used my new saw to cut the right widths.

Now all I have to do is paint them.

It was a busy week and when we weren't working on projects we were on the go-- eating out at wonderful restaurants, antique shopping in the city of Orange and being on the water.
Yesterday my parents arrived home safe and sound (grateful) and today my Dad is on the golf course (grateful). Mom says they can't wait to visit again--and that makes me happy.
How's your July been?

I hope it's been filled with some wonderful moments and that you're able to slow down a bit and enjoy it all.
I can't tell you how much I appreciate the time you take out of your busy life to stop by and visit my little blog. 
Peace and love to you,

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A conversation about owning your story

In the book, Why We Write about Ourselves, author Sue Monk wrote that one of her biggest fears was to be disconnected from her own life story, a feeling she described as “being unmoored” from her life.
I have this same fear.

And maybe it’s because of my recent birthday, but lately I’ve been in a reflective mood, looking back at my life and noticing the ebb and flow of my memories. I see how certain experiences seem to emerge from the fog of my mind like a flashing neon sign, reminding me that something essential to my Being happened here; there was something about this story that nudged me toward my center.

This is what I notice as I get older. My birthdays are beginning to feel like invitations into my past.
Which makes sense when you think about it.
Because in order to keep growing in a bold and authentic way, we have to insist on knowing ourselves from the inside out.

Maya Angelou once famously said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” Well here’s my slight tweak on her advice. When people tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
You are the sole holder of your truth, the only person who can define your boundaries, your values, and your deepest needs.

Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your truth.
Realize that everyone sees you through their own personal lens and they only see pieces of your story.

Place value on knowing yourself deeply.
Be unrelenting about finding your own voice, but use it with a sensitivity and wisdom that allows space for the other person’s experience too.

And never let someone else define you; that job belongs to you.

 Don’t just be yourself

Be your most True Self

I remember a young woman who came to see me years ago, because she was severely bulimic. She would sit at the edge of my couch with her long, ballerina shaped body hunched into a tense ball, looking ready to spring out the door at any minute.
Once when I asked her about this, she smiled and began to pick at her chewed fingernails.

“Oh no,” she said, “I know I need help and besides, I’ve got the kids and my husband. I gotta get healthy for them.”

The whole world thought The Ballerina was a happily married woman but it wasn’t long before she told me about her passionate affair with The Other Man, someone she described as the exact opposite of her dependable husband who came home each evening with dirt under his fingernails.
She worked part-time at a restaurant and The Other Man would stop by and sit at the bar, flirting and eating with her during her breaks. Over the months it had evolved into a sexual relationship, an escalating secret that had flooded her life with chaotic emotion and sent her bulimia spiraling.

 Still, she wouldn’t give him up.
“I feel like I’m two different people. I wish I could just keep both of them because they each satisfy different parts of me.” 

If you looked at The Ballerina’s story from the outside you would never see the layers of relevant details behind the unraveling of her life. You would never know about the fight she had with her mother that summer night before she left for camp. Or the emergency call she got in the middle of the night informing her of her mother’s sudden death. There had been no chance to mend the silly argument. No final hugs or goodbyes. And no last words between mother and first born daughter.
In fact, her grief-stricken father—left alone with five kids—couldn’t bear any discussion of the shocking death of his wife, so The Ballerina was even deprived of the ability to grieve her mother in an open and healthy way.

The sheer enormity of her unresolved loss stunned me.

But it was these missing pieces of her story that helped me understand her early marriage to the boyfriend who once knew her mother, the fragility of her undeveloped self, and her frantic avoidance of her entire emotional world-- as the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death approached.

This is what I’ve learned along the way.
Most of the time it requires heroic courage to own all the parts of our story; to go to those raw, tender places inside us and sit with our feelings and memories long enough for clarity to begin.

It’s not enough to treat your emotions like your pleasant neighbors across the street, to nod and smile and talk about getting together some day in the future. It’s too easy for that “someday” to be indefinitely postponed and for those flashes of your authentic self-- to never see the light of day.

But this I know.

You cannot pick and choose what’s true; you cannot banish certain memories out of your awareness because they are painful and messy and don’t fit with some Brady Bunch narrative you’ve got in your head.
Feelings that remain unclaimed and unexpressed by us, and most importantly unvalidated by another human being, become combustible emotions that are ignited under the right circumstances. We fool ourselves if we think we can run away from our truest feelings.

Alice Miller’s words about happiness focus on this idea.
The true opposite of depression is not happiness, she says. It’s not even the absence of pain. The opposite of unhappiness is vitality: it’s the unabashed, luxurious freedom to experience your spontaneous feelings.

You have to read Miller's book Drama of a Gifted Child, to understand the kind of sensitive, high achieving people she wrote about.

But basically anybody who has ever felt like they wore a mask can relate to these words.

I know I can.
I know when I read the words “freedom” and “spontaneous” and "feelings"  I want to write them on pink-flamingo colored balloons and send them barreling into the sky, as I point with crazy shouts,

“Look up!”
“Read these words over and over again!”

“This is a game changer in your life!”

The idea that we unconsciously (or blatantly) label certain feelings as ‘negative’ or ‘bad’ was not one I ever put into words when I was young, I just lived accordingly. I smiled on the outside when I didn’t feel like it and chalked it up to, "Oh. It must just be me.” I assumed everyone else was happy and there was something different about me.
This is the double whammy that goes with judging our feelings. It goes like this: not only do we feel bad about something, but then we feel bad about how we feel.
And like the Ballerina, because we spend so many years disowning those raw feelings—whatever they are---we often don’t have the tools to deal with them in a healthy way.

So we keep avoiding, only in the end it doesn’t work. Even if you run away from your most authentic self by losing yourself in your job and getting high on success, or by medicating with food or drugs, even distracting yourself with wildly wrong relationships.
This is what I’ve learned.

There is a dislocated pain that happens as we move farther away from our truth; we can sense it. A dull feeling of complacency that settles over our lives, days that might feel like we're simply going through the motions. These are the clues that tell you that it's time for some self exploration.

Which brings me back to the idea of writing memoir.
Lately I’ve been trying to carve out pockets of writing time to examine some of those stories embedded deep inside me and celebrate these---

 ---not just the happy stories that weave comfortably into my narrative, but I’m curious to write about those stories that contain gritty struggle and pain, even lingering questions, because these are the experiences that have shaped my core.

I’m not suggesting you spill out your most painful secrets to the world. I’m talking about self-examination. You. Alone. Writing. Or even talking to the right person.

The Ballerina came through my door because she no longer wanted to feel that wretched aloneness with her traumatic loss. But it doesn’t mean she was ready to dive into those dark, murky emotions that were so terrifying for her. In fact she wasn’t.

But have you noticed the role of timing in your own life?

If so, you already know that you can’t make someone deal with festering, unresolved feelings. Readiness is everything, when it comes to examining our lives and being open to  those serendipitous aha moments.

But that doesn’t mean we stop being riveted by our own lives.

So here’s my birthday wish for you. Whatever stage of life you are in, carve out some quiet time to cultivate self-awareness. Slow down. Start to notice the repetitive themes that pop up in your struggles. Feelings that make you uncomfortable. And don’t be afraid to look beneath the surface.

Self-awareness will save you from wasting time in a depleting job, it will help you walk away from the wrong man, and it will ultimately help you find your purpose in life.

Here are a few books I keep close to me when I’m writing memoir. I hope this post inspires you to pick up one and become curious about your own life story.


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ps   (*the description of The Ballerina was modified so that the real person would remain unrecognizable)

ps 2. Thank you all your kind wishes on my sprained foot, I hope to moving at normal speed in a few days!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Scenes from a summer wedding ....

Sometimes it takes a few humps in the road to get me to slow down.
Today I'm on a pair of crutches after twisting my ankle and (even though all this sitting is driving me crazy)
it's given me a chance to finally get back here to my blog.

I've been taking some time off to enjoy the summer and I can't believe how fast June flew by, in fact, it's already been a few weeks since we attended a beautiful wedding in Pismo Beach, California. And while I didn't have my good camera with me, I did want to share a few pictures from my phone to commemorate this special event.

Nicole is the daughter of our dear friends, Tracey and Andy. We've watched her grow up since elementary school and we felt so sentimental about seeing her get married to a wonderful guy named Tyler.

We arrived at our hotel just in time to get ready for the wedding after an eventful trip (that's a story for another time) and we were SO ready to relax and be done with driving.

The wedding guests were transported from our hotels in Pismo Beach to the Dana Powers House in nearby Nipomo.
When the bus turned on to the long, dirt road the only thing I could see in front of me was a green field until we drove up to a brown, wooden structure hidden behind rows of fruit trees.
The rustic 1880s barn felt removed from the outside world, a romantic hideaway in the middle of nowhere and as a guest I felt instantly transported.

Tyler's older brother married the couple under sunny skies  and a heat wave that made us guests thankful for the occasional warm breeze.

Some relaxed laughter happens when your brother (and brother-in-law) is officiating.

The beautiful bride with her handsome new husband.

While everyone mingled at the outdoor bar and sampled the appetizers being passed on silver trays, I headed into the barn to get a few photos of the reception area. But I have to admit, the light coming through all the slats in the wood made it tough to get clear pictures with my phone. 

The tall, soaring ceilings made the entire space feel expansive and open and when you looked up you saw delicate chandeliers hanging from the rafters. 

This one wall was filled with vintage gold-framed mirrors that made a sparkling backdrop for the crystal chandelier.

The bride and groom had their own private, little table.

I'm so glad I went into the barn while it was still mostly empty because I got to see details I might have missed once the room was full. These family pictures were hung with clothespins on simple string, and were my favorite personal touch at the wedding.

When two people marry, it's the union of two families as well.

So I loved that the wedding photos of the parents and grandparents were on display too.
I love your wedding photo Trace!
Someone did a great job compiling all these pictures.

Now here's a look at the tables.

White linens with simple burlap is the perfect blend of rustic and chic for a barn reception.
Do you notice all the strings of white lights?
These are such an inexpensive way to add ambiance, don't you think?

I see votive candles and individually wrapped cookies lovingly tied with raffia by Mary...
Table numbers in white pop out on the wood blocks.

and now...introducing Mr. and Mrs. Tyler Smith!
First things first.
A charming choreographed dance with a live band playing in the background.
This is Tracey, the proud mother of the bride.
Don't you love her dress?

There were so many moments I wish I could have captured, but I was too busy living the experience. But one of the more touching moments was when Andy gave his father-of-the-bride speech, holding the microphone while dropping his yellow-lined papers as he went, his speech--so poignant and funny at once--was delivered in classic Andy style that made us all laugh and cry at the same time.
Funniest line?

"Tyler, me King, you Prince."

Followed by the perfect son-in-law response which was a playful bow.

Sigh. What a special night. I think the best part--besides being with dear friends again-- was watching how much fun the bride and groom were having on the dance floor. 
Congratulations to Nicole and Tyler!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Contentment, blogging, and three things.

I was in my yoga class the other day when I heard my teacher bring up the topic of contentment

--otherwise known as Santosha.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hopelessly drawn to the idea of contentment. The mere word makes me go soft inside, and I immediately think of an existence without all my worries. I think of calmness and ease—two qualities that I have to work hard for—because the truth is, I am one of those people that gets a certain vision in my head of how things are ‘supposed’ to go; and I get comfortably attached to that vision. I like to plan out things in my head—creative and noncreative-- and then without realizing it, I want life to happen the way I plan it.

Does all this sound like a sanitized version of controlling behavior?

Ok. I own that.

Although I think I’m getting better.

My yoga practice—which was deepened by my 200 hour teacher training experience--has been a total game-changer in my life.

On this evening, while I listened to Shannon begin the class with a brief discussion of contentment, I had one thought inside the darkened, heated room.

“Ahh…this is why I come to my mat.”

I don’t practice yoga with the goal of achieving certain postures (called asanas) or for the strong, fit body which I do appreciate, the reason I practice vinyasa yoga is because it’s one the of the ways I nourish my soul.

It’s the meditative feeling I get from my synchronized breath and movement.

But even more.

I’m fascinated by Patanjali’s eight limbed path, a way of living that adds another dimension to what happens on my yoga mat.

The topic of contentment— is part of the Niyamas—five guidelines that have to do with the relationship we have with our Self.

I think of the Niyamas as a chance to be curious about myself and to become more self-aware.

So what did I hear that evening that I liked so much?

This beautiful description.

Santosha means pure contentment; it is the feeling that happens when we stop craving “things” we don’t have. It is the sensation of bliss that is possible when we stop believing that things outside ourselves--possessions, events, status-- will make us happy.

Contentment happens when we honor all our experiences--our joys and our struggles without needing to judge and label these. We accept our life joyfully, as it is right now.

Because we know that everything we need for happiness is already here, inside us.


Can you imagine waking up each day feeling this way? 

Because although I have fleeting glimpses into this version of contentment, I also realize how much I need to grow. And after this class I jotted down some thoughts on this topic and identified ‘red flags’ that move me away from contentment in my own daily life.

Maybe you can relate.

Three things that keep us from feeling contentment.

1.                “I’ll be happy when this happens…”

You can inject your own personal word into this sentence but it’s the mindset that is the point.

Personally, I’ve been noticing how often this sentence pops up in my head and I see it as an uncomfortable part of living in a house that’s considered a fixer upper.

What I’ve noticed is that living in a house that’s the focus of constant change and ‘beautifying’ gets me –too easily--into a state of dissatisfaction. For me, it’s the dark side of being a home improvement DIYer. You develop this keen set of eyes that immediately zero in on the ‘problems’ –eyes that habitually identify everything you dislike about your surroundings because it doesn’t fit your aesthetic vision.

 Truthfully, this is the part of living in our new home which makes me queasy. Sometimes I purposely step away from posting about my house projects because I need a break from that mindset. I don’t like it when I become too focused on nit-picking my house because it makes me feel ungrateful.

Again, this is just my experience, maybe you have a totally different view.

2.              Comparing ourselves to others with judgement.

This is another way we drift farther from contentment; whether you compare yourself and end up feeling worse, or use others to elevate yourself, making comparisons is just plain yuck behavior.

 And it has a powerful effect on our psyche.

On the yoga mat this is easy to identify; it happens when we look over and see someone getting into a physically difficult pose and feel instantly deflated because we can’t do it.

But I’ve discovered that the yoga mat is a metaphor for what happens in real life. And we can catch ourselves making similar comparisons during our day.

I do this with blogging; I notice that too much blog hopping on designer blogs makes me feel discouraged. Instead of inspiring me it feels depleting. In fact, I recently questioned whether I want to keep blogging about my house projects period, because there’s something that happens when you share your projects on a blog. You become acutely aware of how long things take to finish. And for me, there’s a sense of everything being in slow motion when I’m posting about a project. Suddenly I’m aware of the number of days I’ve been working on something, and I’m sure it’s because I’m seeing so many amazing bloggers/designers begin and finish projects in record times. Even though I realize it’s like comparing apples and oranges—I don’t even consider mine a design blog per se, it does feel distorting.

3.              Perfectionism—the one red flag that seems pretty obvious.

The more we’re fixated on achieving perfectionism at something, the more at risk we are of feeling discontented...disenchanted…self-critical, you pick the word. Without realizing it, this is another red flag that affects the creative things I do. My photography is one area that I get relentlessly picky about and this often leads me to actually postpone my blog posts. I’m just too dissatisfied with the shots I’ve taken.

It really is a slippery slope: the struggle to have high expectations in our work and creative endeavors, while maintaining a sense of contentment that is NOT attached to our (latest) finished project.

Do you know what I mean?

I always love to hear what you think.
What do you do that keeps you from feeling contented? 


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