Get Your Act Together: How I Avoid the Abyss

The most common observation I received this summer was “You have a lot on your plate” and "I don't know how you do it." What, fly with five children by myself?  Got it. Get everybody everywhere?  Trying.  Turn my van into a home on wheels?  Worked.  Run a summer camp?  Yes.  Backpacking with toddlers?  Sure.  Five kids at a theme park?  Let's do it.  These things aren't easy, but we are doing them regardless.  And I'm still standing.

 Yes, I have a lot of stressors. We all do. My chemical makeup includes a hefty helping of rage brought on by lack of sleep.  Pair that with heavy responsibility and non-stop chaos and you've got a recipe for short circuiting.

Does everything about this make me look crazy?

I have a lot of things I’m apparently still, though pushing 40 with a short stick, I'm learning how to manage.  My particular stressors are:
  1. Managing five children by (mostly) myself
  2. Without support in any form from one ex-father
  3. Which lends itself to unstable or dependent finances 
  4. which leads to feeling either like a burden on sponsors or a less capable single mother who hasn’t effectively picked up the pieces and found a good way to support my own family
  5. which lowers confidence in that area 
  6. And harbors major resentments
  7. and feelings of less-than or special case status
  8. Oh, and occasional chemical imbalances.
Those are the underlying stressors, here are the regular ones we all may experience:
  1. Toddlers.
  2. Challenging intimate relationships 
  3. Challenging interfaces with friends/ex's/boyfriends
  4. Worrying about screwing up my kids
  5. Complicated feelings about religion
  6. An 11 year old girl ch-ch-ch-changing
  7. Two boys with underlying father issues
  8. And Trump.

I’m sure your list, if you itemized it, is just as long.
My list of blessings is much longer than my list of stressors. I am blessed beyond measure.

But right now, I am learning to manage my stressors.  Speaking from the position of someone who has been in and out of therapy since my twenties to deal with these issues, and someone raised with an excellent parentage and family, and incredible higher education, and all the privileges afforded me as a white female, AND someone given all the life tools inherent in religion, I still felt like I was barely scraping by for years.  Regardless of your background, do you feel the same way? Life is hard and it seems so much easier for everybody else?

I needed something more. 

"Often [crisis or mental illness or divorce or major change] can be a precursor to a new kind of perspective . . . particularly if you've been in a position of privilege and none of those things seem to work for you, you start to question, well what is it then?  This game that I'm playing?  Why is it that I was so willing to ascribe to this belief system?" The tools I was given aren't resulting in a managed life.  I needed more help.

And so I started on a quest for peace. With the aid of Hush, who remarkably aspires to personal betterment daily, I began a "managing life" pathway.  Obviously, I am far FAR from effectively using these tools all the time. I fail constantly. I am frequently tempted to scream in people's faces and then burst into tears.  But putting energy into educating myself on the following path has kept me from the abyss.

I am of the mind that "Self Help" books are lame.  Perhaps this list will seem to you Self Help New Age garbage.  I hate the book covers and the music, but I believe they are packaged that way because Mindfulness doesn't have its own section at the nearly extinct Barnes and Noble.  I've made a public Amazon List with texts I've found useful; I typically listen to these books and my children do too by default.  More on the effects on my children later.  Hold judgment until you read some of these books.  They're about leveling up and figuring out the path to peace.

If the abyss of fear, rage, and despair is threatening to consume, start here:

1:   My first step on this path was finding Michael Singer’s book “The Untethered Soul.”  This book is a breath of fresh air. I wish it was the first book I’d read so that my paradigm for interpreting the world, right or wrong, good and bad, was filtered through this first.  The great majority of us are raised in particular worldviews that effect every single choice we make and how we value ourselves in relationship to that worldview.  Such an external barometer can make us feel alternatively successful and like complete failures.  We inherit the program that works for our progenitors, and, if employed, can lead to peace and success. I laud those who find that their initial programmed worldview is the right and true one, requiring no major supplements. But, when life goes off script, sometimes you need a bit of extra perspective. Enter “Untethered Soul.”  This book is not contrary to any religion, it is a tutorial on how to view your relationship with the ego and the self. Religion and relationships can be hard on egos and the self. This helped me a ton. But it is just the entry point.

The video below is the author Michael Singer talking to Oprah.  There are some versions of the audiobook on YouTube, but the Audible version or a hardcopy I think are preferable.

2:  Having let that book simmer, I then was passed Thich Nhat Hanh’s seminal text “Peace is Every Step” (pronounced teek not han). Why isn’t this part of standardized education? This book functions more like a manual. Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk whose voice lead the counter movement to the silly Vietnam War. It functions for me as a fear, rage, despair neutralizer. It teaches the tools of meditation and mindfulness. I’d put Hanh up there as one of the leaders of the mindfulness movement that I’m sure you’ve heard about.  Of course, I was taught through our cultural milieu to degrade these types of practices (meditation, mindfulness, recentering, the chi) as New Age bullshit. In reality, they are both supplemental and foundational to discovering how to find peace and how to use the breath to fill that hole inside us, the void of which we typically fill with social media, texting, tv, books, anything external so that we don’t have to be by ourselves. Doing nothing. When was the last time you did absolutely nothing but breathe? Can you even do that — absent of thought — for more than 10 seconds? 
Peace is Every Step was my intro to Hanh, but as I've continued my study I discovered "True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart."  I suggest starting with True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh because it is simple, starts quickly, easily applicable, and profound.  

Start at 14:35, after the intro.

3:   Which leads me to the Calm app. I believe in guided meditation because the research behind it shows mindfulness meditation switches your brain from one part to another. Scientific studies show that “as the popularity of mindfulness grows, brain imaging techniques are revealing that this ancient practice can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently.”  I use mindfulness in the classroom when I’m teaching. I consider the 5-10 minutes of breathing meditation to be necessary to transition (I was teaching middle schoolers) from the outside world to the academic environment.  I use this app to meditate every day. I do the breathing exercises and put in the ten minutes of trying to completely clear my brain of thoughts. Download the Calm app.  More on how this app has changed my family dynamic in a later post.

4:  I’d dipped my toes in Buddhist meditation practice with Thich Nhat Hanh, then I leveled up.  Eckert Tolle’s “A New Earth” was the next mind blowing text that fell into my head.  At first, everything about this book irritated me. His voice is weird. It’s dense shit. It seemed more theoretical than practical. But I pushed onward and I am so glad that I did.  Eckert Tolle was a regular dude who, at one point, decided life was pointless and he felt so ambivalent about it he planned to kill himself.  Ever hit that depth? I have. Caused by chemicals or life overwhelming, I have touched that darkness. (And btw, if you do too and we know each other even vaguely, hit me up shame and fear free. I have been there.)  Anyway, Tolle’s touching that depth led him on a journey from which we can all benefit deeply.  His analysis of the world as it is rings deeply truthful, and his solution to the darkness is profound. Spoiler, as with all the other books, the solution is going inward to find peace.

5:  Having delved deeply into these texts, I went looking for other people who had experienced them too.  Here is where I found one of my favorite gurus Russell Brand.   Brand, a recovering addict, traveled with his addictions to great heights of money and fame. But it didn’t work. You know what I mean? Your life is a success by all accounts and yet still, inside you, there is that hole of fear, anger or despair? Contentment is fleeting? Brand’s work starts at the angle of rethinking addiction and the war on drugs, from which point he found all of these building blocks to filling the void within.  He’s a madman still and he is doing the good work. He’s the guy making sense of this post-truth world. I highly recommend his book Recovery.  Cheers to him for creating a universal program through which we all can manage our negative impulses to shout, shop, text, eat, check our phones at stoplights, scroll, mindlessly take our adderal, opiates and ambien, all of it. Spoiler: peace is within.
If you have five minutes watch this video of Brand (on his YouTube channel the Trews) analyzing the emergent awareness of Kanye West.  Also, I am mildly in love with Russell Brand and could listen to him all day long.  Remarkable human.

6:  My mind was next blown by Joseph Campbell. I am still caught up in the brilliance of this guy’s work, though dead in 1987.  Thanks to the Hippie for this intro. As I traveled reluctantly into the post-Mormon world I became fearful that I would alienate my family. I did not want to do that. I love and respect my family, I did not want to find myself permanently on the outside looking in at the Church and it’s influence on my family’s culture.  It hurt. My dear friends and I, and apparently a giant movement of members who learn something that seriously rocks their faith, have been struggling and hurting. We want the Church and our families and we need to find a way to make peace with it.  We want to be with our community but going back would require a completely different mental approach.  I think Joseph Campbell might be the door back in. I’m not sure yet.  I’m currently making my way through his series of interviews with Bill Moyer which were aired in the mid 1980’s and are now available on Netflix.  His life work has been dedicated to figuring out how cultures around the world understand God.  I trust his guile-free, searching, sincere, inclusive research and conclusions.  As far as I can tell this far, he knows where Nirvana and the Kingdom of God is. And his conclusions might be the key to reconciliation between mindfulness, Mormonism, God, Buddhism, Gaia and inner peace.

I’ve been moderately absent from blogging because of my chaos and confusion, and because of the void.  I felt sad and stupid that I couldn't keep up with my family in so many ways; I was ashamed to look outside of my religion for a more helpful way.  But my life is different because, I guess, I am a little bit different.  What had happened in your life by the time you were mid thirties?  Did anything force you to deep vulnerability?
To write about ones life requires a great deal of vulnerability and exposure, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brene Brown here. I have shared my journey and made myself vulnerable to you: my readers, my friends, my family in order to share what light and goodness I can find, hoping it might light another's path or keep them from despair.  I do not deign to think my pathway is better than yours, nor that I am in any way superior or wiser. My life experience, however, has forced me to find some extra tools to manage the really hard parts. I am so very grateful for the people who have offered guidance, help, support, understanding, patience, love and forgiveness along the way.

I’ve been on a journey of, for lack of a better phrase, educated enlightenment and emerged just as flawed on the other side but now buoyed up with tools that work to keep the wolves at bay.  I am trying (and often failing) to employ them.

 I want you to have those tools too, if you want them.


All about that Acroyoga

My fam has always been doing Acroyoga, we just didn’t know it.

One of the ways I bond and play with my children is getting down on the floor and letting them crawl all over me. I’m an active mother and I like to do jobs so I often feel too busy to play. I get them on an activity so I can get a few things done while they’re occupied.  To counteract that we established Wrestle Night. Sometimes we wrestle but most times we dance or give airplane rides and do leg wrestling. When the eldest was about three I invented whaf basically amounted to a Mama Amusement Park where they’d put “money” in my mouth and I’d prop them up on my hands or legs and give them rides. 

We recently hit my dear friend Ali Sumison to snap some shots of us tossing each other around.  

Only recently did I discover a community of adults playing and exercising in this way: Acroyoga.  They bumped my glorified airplane rides up to what basically amounted to art.  The poses are beautifully artfully balanced.   Often they are temporary — a few seconds of perfect graceful prettiness flanked by motion and chaos.  

I began to look at the partner yoga poses as temporarily physical art installations.  Doing them takes planning and communication and trial and error. They take strength and endurance.  They’re hard but they’re fun. They’re beautiful but they often collapse in pain and giggles.  And for me, they feel a lot like my family.  We are all of those things.  We are a team, we’re messy and beautiful. We get through pain, we try new things, we have moments of perfection.  We are creative and we are physical.  Our life as a family is our finest work of art: temporary beautiful moments supporting each other. 

I think we’ve found our medium.


Mimi's KSL Studio 5 Feature

Last fall Mimi was featured on the KSL morning show Studio 5 for her cooking hobby and I neglected to post it.  Here's the video of my capable pretty girl!



Mimi and I went with our Girl Scout Troop to tour the local news and radio station during the Spring.  While there we were invited into the studio where the morning show is filmed.  There's an entire faux kitchen used for filming cooking segments and when Mimi saw that she got stars in her eyes.
"It's a kitchen like Martha's!!  Can I cook here? Will you ask somebody?"  So I asked.  I sent an email to whomever I could find associated with the show and told them a little bit about Mimi.  They loved the story and came to our house to film her in action.  She was super nervous!
The feature went up on Studio 5 and one of Mimi's teachers saw it and wrote about it for the district website. The school district featured her on their website which led to a front page article in the local city mailer.  It was fun to see the little feature progress. We're super proud of little Mims, 10 year old aspiring chef.


Slash Dad Kintsugi: To repair with gold.

How many dads does it take to replace one “real” dad?  How deep is that hole in a boy’s heart whose dad inexplicably forgets he exists?
Yesterday was my son’s 8th birthday. In keeping with an 8 year tradition, there was not one acknowledgement from his birth father.  However, on that day two dads stepped in and filled the Dad shaped hole in his heart.  One FaceTimed in as a sweet and authentic mimic of what his real life divorced dad should do.  The other made a Dad style birthday party for him, complete with freshly storebought cake and bowls for plates. Silas had a dad yesterday. His slash dads stepped in and made that boy know he counts.

It was Silas, actually, who came up with the concept. We needed a fill-in Dad to help with Christmas Eve and do the iconic “Night Before Christmas” reading that the dad always gets to do in pictures of Norman Rockwell style Christmas. In his glasses, with a mug, and in slippers (pink sparkly ones!) One of my oldest friends was in the area and I hit him up to play Dad. Silas said he’s our friend but also like our dad when we need him to be. He’s our friend slash Dad.  

My grinch heart grew three sizes that day. He’s right! We do have DAD. We have dads who love us when they really don’t HAVE to.  We have a dad to take us skiing, we have a dad to let us eat junk food, we have a dad to make sure the broken door is fixed, we have a Dad who makes sure we have a roof over our head, we have dads who reassemble furniture, we have a dad who will baptize Silas when he wants to be baptized, we even had a dad (my brother) who explained that boys can pee standing up. We are a village of Dads, any time. We are blessed by an army of Slash Dads who are rooting for and helping toward our success. God bless them in their selfless regard for my children. 

Thus, public acknowledgement and expressions of gratitude need highlight these unseen dads who keep my boys feeling like somebody sees them and my girl off the pole. Thank you to my Slash Dad Team. 

Thanks to the consistent men in my life — when you’ve arrived you’ve stayed and you’re the only way we will make the transition from the perilous “I didn’t know my real dad should have been doing more than paying and seeing us twice a year.” to the whole and healed “My real Dad didn’t ever see me play football but my slash dads did and my real dad never saw my ballet performance but my slash Dads, they were there for me every single time.” They’ve come into our lives in different ways and for different reasons and they love and care for my children independently of (and perhaps inspite of) me. Imagine what Mimi’s crowd going down the aisle is going to look like. The men who are helping raise them will support them forever.  Oh, and if any one hurts them they will amasse guns and shovels and take care of the problem.  We are fortified with Dads.

She is reminded of that every time she sees one Slash Dad’s tattoo of five bars: one representing her. If Jude doesn’t have a mother who can consult on football paraphernalia he has a Slash Dad who will be honored to do so.  He knows what a first down is.  Silas will know Star Wars culture because of his Slash Dad.  One Slash Dad even came to Jude’s birthday party dressed as a Jedi Teacher AND DarthVader to instruct on Jedi mind tricks. Our Slash Dads go above and beyond. 

 And so, through the Slash Dads we also find acceptance and love for the birth dad. He is doing the best he can too and we accept the love he is able to give in whatever fashion. He gave them a trip to Park City and a Nintendo. We love him for playing a Slash Dad role too. That’s ok.
There is a tradition in Japanese art called Kintsugi which means to “repair with gold.” The idea is broken pottery is repaired with golden glue to make something the more beautiful for its broken pieces. My children’s and my heart (mostly mine now, but possibly theirs in the future) are broken and filled with the strongest most beautiful gold. We are completed with you kind hearted men who have pulled the cart with me.

So if you see my man friends and exes at a game or at parties know they are filling a family’s heart, on call, at the drop of a hat.  Thank you for filling in the Dad shaped gap. You are loved and you are part of our family.

There are so many chances for men to be good men.  These men are there for us all the time.  All you have to do is give them the opportunity to be there for you and they will.  Thanks, Dads.


Thailand Day 1: Exotic Beasts

One rolly suitcase each, my mom bag.
There are two activities that cause me to bolt out of bed in the morning. The first is in-utero baby appointments, the second is international flights for adventures.  We ubered from Danville to SFO where we met up with the Hippie (I was going to nickname him the Gift on here because he's been such a gift in our lives this last half year, but the Hippie seems to get more to the experience of being around my darling beautiful brilliant boyfriend) and his 11 year old Blake.  They caught one flight and we caught another, both to Tokyo but to DIFFERENT AIRPORTS. Ha. Check your airports friends.
Highlight of Japan: the toilets.

This is REAL top Ramen.

We met up in Tokyo, slept and ate noodles then headed to Bangkok. In Bangkok we had a driver with a sign waiting for us that my friend Megan arranged to take us to her gorgeous home.  When you get to a second world country it's good to have a driver.  Find one on Trip Advisor and make sure they tell you exactly which airport exit they'll be waiting near with a sign.

Arrived in Bangkok, waiting for our sweet ride.

The vans in Bangkok are my second dream vans. Toyota makes these fancy 9 or more passenger vans with tricked out interiors. I wish they were available in America bc all moms would drive them.

The next morning the Hippie had arranged a killer tour through a company we found through Trip Advisor: Tours with Tong.  The guide Lily spoke pretty good English and was totally accommodating to our needs for snacks and bathrooms.  There was a tour guide and a 9 passenger van driver which cost about 4000 baht for the day.  That's about $120 American.  Cash is king in Thailand so if you go show up with about $300 in baht.  Every couple of days I took out another $300 which we used to pay drivers, take tuk tuks, pay for food, pay for everything.  For the 6 of us combined I'd budget about $100/day maybe for everything?  Our hotel for all 6 of us was about $50/night in Bangkok (we had to move from Meg's to access our cooking class) and our AirBnB in Phuket was about $100/night.  Here are the links of where we stayed, in case you're planning.  I would ABSOLUTELY stay at the AirBnB in Phuket again.  I want to buy it. Here's Urban House and here's the magical AirBnB: Rawai 
Shrines like these all over the place.  Look at the little magical houses!  Need one.

This is the big cat petting zoo called Safari Park. Think how different this would look in the US.

The boys ready to play with the baby lions.

Our first stop was about an hour and 30 outside of Bangkok so we saw the countryside before we saw the city. Every other block had a glamorous Buddhist temple with the golden curly and ornate detailing. Thailand feels magical because of these gorgeous buildings looming around every corner resplendent with mirrored tiled mosaics.  The monks really outdo themselves. Each home dwelling also has a spirit home shrine in front of them which look like mini temples. We learned that the Thai people believe strongly in folklore and mythology so you see a lot of sparkly guys with masks and magical animals.  More on that at the Siam Niramit show.

Destination 1 was one of the main motivations of this trip: my kids wanted to see animals.  There's a zoo in Kanchanaburi where they keep the baby animals separate so that guests can interact with them.  For $15 you can go into the cages one by one and feed these baby animals bottles.  They are not sedated but they are chosen because of their age and temperament.  Each animal has a cat nanny who works with it daily and goes in there with you.  You feel at risk for scratches but the animals are babies for the most part or, in the case of the the lion Jude hung out with, it is just a really mellow beast that has never scratched nor bit anyone ever.

Not so with the tigers.
The lion is about a year old and practically domesticated but not tranquilized.

Cat nanny and our ace photographer tour guide Lily.  She was fantastic!

In went Jude to the young lion's cage. He was appropriately nervous because feeding animals with bottles is different from his extensive experience feeding babies. They eat aggressively. And they're thicker than house cats so you have to pet roughly. It started out apprehensive but then became snuggle time.

Made us miss our babies!
Next up went Blake and Silas into the baby lion cage. There were two snuggly lions who were like teddy bears. One of them latched on to Blake's hand but didn't break the skin.  They were both brave and they loved it.
Then Mimi went in with the leopard. She put on Jude's shirt in case they crawled on her shoulders, which they did. Beautiful animals, leopards. She spent a lot of time playing with them.

I don't know which beast is more beautiful.

It was my turn. I chose the tigers. I am an idiot.

There were four 4 month old tigers prowling around their cage.  They were active. They were hungry. I threw caution to the wind and went in.

Of course when they told me to sit down over on the bench the tigers were milling around I thought "I should definitely not sit down on the bench the tigers are milling around." But I did it anyway because I am both brave and stupid. And one crawled on my back like Philo does every day and sunk his fangs into my shoulder. The guide happened to be filming and caught it on tape. I quickly pulled the tiger off and left the cage. When I took my hand away it was a bloody mess but in the chaos we didn't get a good picture of my bloody shoulder before the cat nanny pounced on me with iodine and bandaids. True to form, I could not stop laughing. It's my fear and pain coping mechanism and many of my babies have come into the world to the sound of my cackling.

There's a puncture wound from the teeth but the bruising that came later was even more evident of how it feels to be bitten by a tiger.
After the incident everybody bullied me into feeding the nice lion that Jude fed. I did it and I didn't like it. I'm done feeding jungle cats.

But the Hippie wasn't. I think he saw my tiger bite as a challenge or one of those get back on the horse and conquer your fear opportunities so despite my protests in he went with bottles. The tigers eventually mellowed but that doesn't change the fact that he has proven his foolhardy bravery. He'll go into the tiger den. And he has the temperament to calm everything down.

This doesn't look safe because it isn't safe.

Too many tigers.  Please how about less tigers.
Tiger friends.

Next was our first Thai meal at a little joint nearby and it was of course magnificent. The children were distracted by the two day old kittens in the box in the corner. Sanitation is not enforced in Thailand.

But all of that happened before lunch.  Next stop: ancient ruins and elephants.