Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Halfway to Zen Peaceful

So August is supposed to be creating month, and I have to admit that in some ways it doesn't look good. It was off to a good start, as we rearranged our apartment and I got to decorate the new bedroom. That was creative and fun, and I have to say that I'm SO excited with the results. I still need to hang pictures and shelves (once Ikea gets them in stock) but otherwise it's done and it makes me feel like I live in a fancy hotel. I LOVE it.

But then I went off to the meditation retreat, which was really great, but not particularly creative. And we leave in a few days for the cruise, and then when we come back it's almost time for dorm parent trainings and getting the dorm ready. But I won't give up yet. I can practice with the camera on vacation, and I'll start with printing photos and doing our year 2 of marriage photo book first. That might be as far as I get, but that's okay.

I've been really proud of my ability to keep the peace from the retreat with me at work. I haven't gotten even the slightest bit upset at this nightmare project (or the dynamics involved with it.)  But I did lose my cool yesterday about something else.

I had gone online a couple months ago and painstakingly booked all of our excursions and shows on the cruise, because I knew some of the ones we wanted were going to be really popular. I went online yesterday to just look at them and get excited and found none were actually booked. There must have been a glitch--or else I didn't complete the process somehow. So I went to re-book them all, but since the cruise is less than a week out, NONE of the ones we wanted were available anymore. I got SO upset. I just felt like we had been looking forward to doing all of these specific things for so long and we wouldn't have another opportunity for some of them. I could have really used a mindfulness bell. =) (It hasn't arrived yet.)

I did calm down enough to call them and see if they could work any magic. The woman in customer service was super nice, but sure enough everything was booked. But she did say that she thought it was pretty likely that people would cancel and that we'd be able to book some of them on the cruise the first day.

So then I got home and Michael seemed just totally unfazed. And it was just so hard to wrap my head around. But he just said that he knew we'd have a good time no matter what, which even I had to agree with.

How did he get so zen peaceful without even going to a meditation retreat?!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Longest. Post. Ever.
(In which I learn to mindfully meditate.)

Warning: This is going to be a loooong post! Feel free to skip to the summary at the end...

Since I actually kept a journal from the retreat and many of you seemed really interested, I figured I'd offer up some excerpts from my journal, in order, so you could feel like you were following along on my adventure in mindfulness. Enjoy!

Day 1 / 6:45 pm
It's really hot here, so I guess it's a good thing I didn't sneak in any chocolate. I'm thinking I might have to sneak out to my car just for a little quality time with some air conditioning.

So the first thing I did upon arrival was close the trunk door on my head after getting my suitcase out of the cargo area. Literally. Talk about needing to be more mindful: apparently I have no awareness of the physical space my body takes up. Ouch.

I was just in time for an orientation session, and the first thing the nun said was that "we've gathered here to just stop. To stop running." At which point, I got inexplicably choked up. (perhaps from relief?) Perhaps I should have packed tissues.

I also learned the following: Where the bathrooms were; that we were to be silent during all meals, and from 8 pm until 1 pm the next day; and that when we hear a bell, we're supposed to stop what we're doing and come back to our breath.

So dinner was next, and my first experience with "mindful meals" which is basically eating vegan food, after taking the time to think about all the hands and heart that went into producing the food, and really paying attention to it. There's complete silence, and you eat so slowly that you actually put the fork or spoon down in between bites and try to see if you can chew a good 30 times. Apparently, if you chew brown rice long enough, it gets sweet. You wouldn't know that if you shoveled it in though. The silence was tricky in some ways--harder to know exactly where to go and what to do--but it took away the pressure of making small talk with a lot of strangers. The food was surprisingly good, considering I'm a meat-eater and junk-food-eater. I even learned to eat tofu. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it either. There was also soup at every meal, but who can eat soup when it's so hot out!?

I noticed the adults who brought kids got to sit at different tables and talk and it made me wish I had a kid to bring. In fact, there are a lot of kids here. They seem more comfortable and confident than I feel and I vow to raise kids like that. Mindful teens who would find themselves at home here...or anywhere.

I didn't know if we were supposed to leave when we were done eating, so I sort of just lingered until someone else left, with a bow to the table, and I followed them. I don't really know what to do until the talk in an hour, so I go back to my room and text Michael a little update to let him know I'm settled, and head to the volleyball court, where the monks are starting a game of volleyball. (Again, it's clearly too hot for that.)

I'm so glad I made that emergency stop at Wal-mart (shhhh) for a water bottle. I have several at home and forgot to bring them. But EVERYONE here has brought one, and there aren't cups at meals, so it's pretty crucial. I feel like I've done something right, at least.

9:20 pm
So far, I'm not really feeling any different...other than a bit uncomfortable. The orientation talk explained a little more about the practice and tomorrow the real fun 5:30 am. AGH. How can you be mindful at that time of day? And it's SO hot that I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep. And with 7 of us sharing this small room with bunk beds, I'm pretty sure I won't get a wake-up shower either. Especially since we can't talk, so we can't ask if it's okay if we tie up the bathroom for 20 minutes. I think I might have to skip an activity to shower at some point. I'm wishing I brought less modest PJ's because it's too hot to wear pants.

Or clothes.

So far, I haven't used my cell phone to get online. I tried once, but it was taking so long to load that I had time to think better of it and abort. That part might be hard for me.

I figure it's okay to text Michael though. I like knowing he's out there in the world.

In air conditioning.

Day 2 / 9:15 am
Waking up wasn't as hard as I expected, since I wasn't really sleeping. I slept fitfully--hot and constantly aware of the short hours left for sleeping. Walking mindfully to the meditation hall this morning, we all looked like very slow lemmings. Sort of creepy.

It was hard to get comfortable during the sitting meditation. Everything was suddenly itchy. I was able to achieve a pretty deep relaxation (for maybe 10 of the 30 minutes) but it made me crave sleep. Why can't we meditate laying down? It'd be much easier to get comfortable.

We had exercise after meditation, and I did yoga, of course--staying within the only comfort zone I see in the immediate future. I especially appreciated the shavasana at the end, laying in a spot of dappled sunlight near the orchids and the altar.

It was standing yoga, and in the middle of it, one of the men toppled over, having apparently passed out. He came to explaining, "I don't think I slept very well last night." He sat off to the side for the rest of the class. Who knew standing yoga could be so dangerous? After yoga, it was off to breakfast.

I piled my oatmeal high with cranberries and nuts and I was glad--it was the most bland, watery oatmeal ever. Nothing like my less-healthy apple cinnamon instant from my friends at Quaker. But I did okay with the bread and jam and some fruit slices.

I snuck in a super-quick shower before meeting my group for our "mindful working" meditation (which is code for chores without talking.) We got compost, trash, and recycling, which is gross but quick. We also help carry out the food for lunch and dinner, which is heavy. And dangerous, if you're a giant klutz like me.

We have 40 minutes until our Dharma presentation and the meditation hall is slowly filling. People seem to come early to practice on their own. I just came early to take pictures and get a nice mat by the open doors, so the breeze can come tickle my neck. I like that.

I have to say, I'm in love with the bells. I think they produce the deepest, most peaceful sound that just resonates, bouncing around all the free space I've opened up in my body and mind. I want my own bell.

When I meditate, sometimes I envision a meditation room in my mind. If I notice myself thinking of something, I gently sweep it away like a dust bunny I'm fond of and go back to appreciating my clean, empty room.

Is it weird that my happy, meditative place is a clean room?!

10:00 am
I have an urge to go sit in my car, just to be someplace comfortable and mine. Though I recognize that this practice should allow me to be at home, comfortable, anywhere. To make anyplace "mine."

There are people tucked in every corner, learning against every wall. Reading, writing, staring into space. Meditating. In some ways, I feel like these are my people.

And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the silence. Freaking LOVE it. It takes away all the pressure of small talk and creates so much space that it feels physical. When a little kid suddenly talks to his mother, I nearly jump out of my skin. I have to take a conscious moment to replace my irritation with compassion. It must be hard being a small child here. But I think about how neurotic I am about my space at home being clean, aesthetically pleasing, and organized. It makes me feel on top of the world, like I can handle anything. When it's not, I'm overwhelmed with life and can't handle ANYTHING. It never occurred to me that I could create that same sense of space WITHIN my mind. Holy shit. This is a BIG, powerful thought. I'll have to meditate on that.

6:45 pm
After lunch, there was some time for rest and deep relaxation on the schedule. I wasn't sure if it was meant to be guided or personal, but my body was begging for a nap so I took one and was glad for the rest.

Afterward, we had 1.5 hours in our "family" groups, discussing our "practice," struggles, reflections, etc. It was a good opportunity to practice compassion and patience. We are in the "young adult" group which seems to be 18-30 year olds, but there's only one other 30-year-old and I find myself feeling a bit old. I recognize myself judging the younger retreatants as idealistic so I tried instead to just appreciate where they were coming from. They're all really nice, at least.

One pixie-like woman (who reminded me of Winona Ryder for some reason) said that she thought it was wonderful, me doing this retreat for myself, and especially with being a dorm parent because all the girls in my dorm would be looking to me as a role model. And I felt like crying, just hearing a stranger acknowledge that.

I shared my love for noble silence, and also a few things I was struggling with...mostly how to bring any of this home. Mindfulness is a lovely, rewarding process but seems impractical. At work, for instance, I often find myself juggling several tasks and thoughts at once, and it seems unlikely that I could mindfully devote myself to one at a time and still do my job well.

There were suggestions of downloading a mindfulness bell application (which I now have, actually) or taking mindful meditation walks in the middle of my day, neither of which strike me as being so very helpful. But also there was this novel suggestion: sometimes you do need to do 3 things at once, but you can be mindful of that too. And also this: take your moments of mindfulness where you can--brushing your teeth, walking to your office, etc. breathe deeply. Notice everything. Recite a mindful mantra. Be in the present moment. Those moments can carry you through the more harried parts of your day. Just be mindful of the harriedness too.

The other thing i hear a lot of here is this: "It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is." That's something I'll bring back with me and I think it will be one of my new personal mantras. There are sometimes I could use some practice accepting things as they are.

There's also been a lot of talk about how to know when to put in effort and when to let things be. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I found clarity in the answer, though I really wanted to. Something about meditating and noticing your stressed you are, or how loose. Maybe it doesn't make sense to me because I'm always stressed. One of the brothers noted that we don't always need to fix things. According to him, we can watch a big mess in the making and send compassionate, loving thoughts in that direction, and then let it go.

REALLY? That's possible?!

(note: my boss did not agree with this philosophy when I applied it to our current publication project.)

I find myself resisting a lot of these ideas. I like them and do WANT to believe, but it just doesn't seem realistic mostly.

Here's one difference I have noticed already though: this morning I woke with a bit of dread, thinking three more mornings to wake up here before I can go home. I want so badly to be out the other side of this experience, but I do not find myself so eager to be in the present moments of it. (This happens to me a lot, actually, so i'm not surprised. But I also know from experience, that this feeling often signifies a Significantly Rewarding Experience.)

But this afternoon, during walking meditation, I realized I wanted more time. More time for noble silence, for journaling, for walking by myself through the forest, stopping to rest and sit and be. My body and mind both crave the peace. Ironically there is always something next on the agenda, and I don't want to miss part of the experience either, so my mindful retreat is feeling a little rushed actually.

I heard the deep relaxation was amazing, so hopefully tomorrow I won't need the nap and can go to that. For now, I'm going to see if the bookstore is open--it almost never is--and then head to the meditation hall for "sitting meditation and touching the earth." Whatever that means.

9:30 pm
I made it through the 30-minute sitting meditation and only glanced at my watch at the very end! I feel very proud of myself. Now it's time to get ready for bed--in noble silence, of course. Today I learned how to use silence to create space, especially in discussions. Some people need time to gather their thoughts and courage (not me, obviously) and when we (by which I mean I) jump to fill the silence, I'm silencing those people. Not all are jumpers as I am. I need to learn to sit and wait, and wait some more. I think this will come in handy with the girls in the dorm and meetings at work. Sometimes I just get so impatient.

Coming back after evening meditation is a neat sight to behold. Many people carry flashlights to shine on the path in front of them, and they look like they are floating in a pool of light that carries them along. Glowing. Spiritual.

Day 3 / 9:40 am
There were too many people vying for the bathroom this morning and I wound up having to nearly run to the meditation hall. Felt a little sheepish, speedwalking to meditation. But I settled in and made it all the way through without looking at my watch at all. Real progress!

I challenged myself to try something new and traded yoga in for "stick exercise" which was kind of like Simon Says, since we're still being nobly silent and the sister leading us can't explain anything. it was beautiful to watch but didn't seem much like real exercise, so I ducked out a bit early and found a tree to sit and read by.

In some ways, being silent makes you have to pay attention to people more. You can't just ask "does anyone need to use the bathroom before I shower?" Instead, you have to watch people. Are they watching the bathroom door? Do they have towel in hand? It is the same everywhere...paying attention to people and trying to give them what they need. You'd think being able to talk would make it easier to do that, but it doesn't.

I'm really tired today, even though I slept a bit better last night. (It rained and the humidity broke, so it's not as stifling.) I'm thinking I might rest through mindful working period. I know that's not in the spirit of things, but we have a big group, and there is not much work. Also, I can still put the lunch food out and contribute that way.

10:15 am
Well, I slept well for about half an hour before being woken by a teen and her mom arguing outside. She claimed this place was not normal, she was suffering, and she wanted to go home. I got up and shut the window. Didn't they get the memo about noble silence??

Time for a presentation called "Beginning Anew" which does not sound promising. Then lunch...then deep relaxation, which is sure to be my new favorite part of the day.

I'm still feeling quite tired. Like my body will never get enough rest. One weekend I just want to sleep as much as possible and just see if I even have the capacity to feel well-rested.

[I'll spare you the details of the presentation, because it was a bit cheesy for me. Very chicken soup for the soul-ish, though there were some useful thoughts.]

1:00 pm
You're going to think I'm crazy, but I wish there was LESS talking. 16 hours a day of silence proves to be not enough.

5:55 pm
I skipped the mindful walking to go on my own walk in the woods. I had noticed benches scattered throughout the forest and thought it was a shame I hadn't had time to sit. Of course, once I found one I liked, I started taking pictures. Because, you know--I'm really good at just staying in the present moment and not clinging to it like I suffer from severe memory lost and need to freeze every memory on film.

The group Dharma discussion felt a little like group therapy today, but it was pretty cool to watch strangers open up so much. And also to hear men especially--even ones that were just sort of tagging along with a girlfriend--express being so touched by the experience.

When it was my turn to share, I told them about how I cried during orientation when she said we were gathering here to stop. But also that I haven't been able to stop even while here. I keep rushing to get to the next activity or free time, like there isn't enough free time in the world to satisfy me.

My resistance to stopping is kind of fascinating, especially since I love it when I do stop. I mean--it's easy here, right? Or it's supposed to be--I left all my work at home. So how will I manage once I do get home and I'm buried under work? Will it help to commit to ten minutes of meditation a day? I have doubts that I can even really meet that commitment.

It's definitely clear to me that I need more solitude, not that that comes as a surprise.

I guess that's why they call it "the practice." It takes a lot of practice. And I guess my life gives me a lot of opportunities to practice what I've learned here: stopping, for one thing. But also noble silence, and deep, compassionate listening. Direct communication. Accepting things as they are. Not feeling like I need to fix things or control things to come out a certain way. Speaking in a quiet, calm, measured way, and letting people find the answers in themselves.

Yep, lots to practice. But instead of feeling overwhelmed by it, I feel a little excited. I've been known to say that conflict is an opportunity to get to a better place. And now I feel like every experience in my over-stressed, harried life is an opportunity to practice. I'm excited for the girls to move back in, actually-which might surprise you to hear. But I have new tools (not the least of which is the new mindfulness bell I plan to buy.)

I guess maybe I am feeling a little more centered, but at the same time, I don't feel so different. I don't feel like I've had some huge breakthrough like others in my group seem to. For someone who cries at EVERYTHING, I've hardly cried here. I'm trying not to be impatient. I know change doesn't happen overnight. Or even over 4. But I'm worried that I'm not opening up enough--that I have a wall up that's so firmly rooted that I don't even know it's there. I feel a little disassociated.

I know what it feels like to realize a real deep truth about yourself...when it catches you by surprise and dislodges something that you didn't know was stuck, and suddenly there's space, room for a fresh breeze to float through, clearing the air.

I haven't really felt much of that here yet. And I can't tell if my near-constant desire to run away and be by myself and skip the activities (and sleep!) is a cop out or something I really need to listen to.

How can I not know something so basic about myself? Sometimes, I'm a stranger to myself.

The dinner bell is ringing, so I better try to find my way out of the forest. After stopping and breathing.

8:15 pm
I'm listening to one of the ladies describe "right speech" and she says that when she talks to her teenager, she asks herself these questions first, to ensure she is practicing right speech:
  1. Is what I have to say going to annoy, antagonize, or offend her?
  2. If so, is a health or safety concern? (usually not really)
  3. If so, is it the right time to say it?
  4. Am I the right person to say it? (sometimes my husband is)
  5. Will what I have to say cause or relieve suffering?
She emphasizes, that if she does say it, she is mindful of her tone of voice. All of these seem like helpful things to keep in mind with the girls in the dorm.

9:00 pm
There's this vague sense of discomfort I have on some level...there are so many people here, including myself, who are doing things without knowing why. Bowing to the alter, to the meditation pillow, and each other. Singing about the Buddha and the Dharma. Stopping when the bell rings. Forgive me, but there's a fine line, I think, between religion and spiritual practice and a cult. Which isn't to say I think Buddhism is a cult, of course. But it is weird, in a way, for all of these people to suddenly try on Buddhism for a week. And disrespectful, too. Maybe it's really just me. It's a bit reminiscent of being on my Birthright Israel trip--there are vague religious undertones, and things you do just because you're told to and you don't really understand why. And they let you pretend to be one of them for a while, with a subtle agenda to convert you. I don't know...I guess I just have a deeply ingrained gut instinct resistance to anything resembling organized religion. Maybe it's just me.

Day 4 / 9:05 am
I'm finding myself getting really irritated at all the people not engaging in and allowing for noble silence. I want to experience more of the real, true, deep silence.

And they're ruining it.

10:45 am
One of the sisters just went up to chant, carrying a tiny baby and beaming. And then I realized they can't have babies! And they'd make the best mothers!

We're in a Question and Answer session, and they let the kids and teens ask questions of the monastics first--anything they're curious about relating to this practice.

The kids' questions:
  • Why do we have to take off our shoes in the meditation hall?
  • What happens to your soul when you die? (ha!)
  • How do you start becoming a monk or a nun?
  • I know that monks and nuns love animals, so why don't you have any pets here?
  • Do you know who's in charge of the whole monastery? (laughter from the community) Wait--so nobody's in charge?! (nope)
  • Why do you shave your head?
Teens' questions:
  • Dear community--I was thinking of the five mindfulness trainings, and I was wondering if working in the stock market is considered gambling? (ooh--good one)
  • In other religions there are divine books such as the Bible or Koran. Is there any sort of equivalent book from the Buddha?
  • What does it mean to know yourself and be comfortable with yourself? How can you get to know yourself without worrying about other priorities and your future path?
Trust me, the adult questions weren't nearly as interesting. Except for one that asked about how to create healthy boundaries for yourself while still being open hearted and compassionate. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to answer that one! I needed that answer.

One thing I did like, was that the monastics cautioned against easy answers, acknowledging that "we want concrete answers and guidelines, but life is not that simple. It can be messy. The Buddha talks about intentionality. We have to weigh the difficulties and benefits. Then we have to look into our own hearts and conditions to decide." The Buddha is big on the wisdom already within you.

A nun offers this, about a hopelessness about certain issues in the world: "Falling into despair seems like a luxury. It's abandonment of the practice and our responsibility toward the world."

She told a story about a beach where thousands of starfish had washed ashore. A little girl came across them and started trying to save them, throwing them back in the water, one by one. Someone comes along and tells her that she can't save them all and won't be able to make a difference. She picks up another star fish and says, "It will make a difference to this one." And throws it in the water.

They ended the talk on this note: The practice of meditation is to generate mindfulness, compassion and wisdom.

Day 4 / 10:00 pm
This was a roller coaster day. During the group discussion, all I wanted to do was run away. Everything people said seemed to irritate me. And I was frustrated because I didn't experience the life changing things others did with the "practice." And I felt like I was in some church youth group with everyone testifying how their practice saved their lives. It just felt like too much. And I felt like an outsider, a poser. But it was funny--someone referred to a practice of showing yourself compassion--they suggested having a conversation or tea with your five year old self. So I asked myself, if I were me, watching me, right now, what would I want me to do to make me feel better? (Did you follow that?) And I pictured myself gently leading myself over to a quiet place in the grass and putting my arm around me, gently smoothing my hair.

And then a few minutes later the monastic sitting next to me reached over and gently patted my shoulder a few times. Weird.

I went on the walking meditation but I didn't really meditate. Instead, I asked myself a lot of questions to try to figure out why I was in such a low mood. And I found the oddest thoughts popping into my head and making me tear up. Thinking about showing my 5-year-old self compassion. A college friend getting my favorite ice cream in the middle of the night when I was sick. And a dream I had last night, where I was pregnant and miscarrying and trying DESPERATELY to keep that baby inside of me. (I woke up feeling so panicked and stressed, despite the fact I'm nowhere near pregnant!)

At the end of the walk, I felt oddly better and resolved to stay engaged in the present moment when my group got together to rehearse our skit for tonight even though I didn't want any part of it. It made me feel old, like I was at summer camp.

But I was able to get into it, and though I thought the final night of skits and songs would be lame, it wasn't at all. The teen group BLEW ME AWAY. I wish I had taped it. They performed an Oasis song but changed the lyrics to reflect the week of meditation, including a bunch of inside jokes. I hope it winds up on You Tube so I can keep it. And all the performances were clever and funny, referring to things that happened this week, poking gentle fun. Suddenly, I felt part of something that just a few hours earlier I had felt so outside of.

And our group's performance went really well, actually.

And the final performance--they had this idea to introduce "hugging meditation"...hugging the people in the front row and having them pass it on to someone behind them. And I thought there's no WAY people would do this. And they didn't at first. But I kind of wanted them to, because four days without a hug might be a personal record for me and I was missing human touch. And then--people surprised me. All of a sudden total strangers were hugging each other in this heartfelt way that somehow managed not to seem too cheesy. It was really beautiful.


I was thinking earlier that they should make t-shirts that say "I drank the kool aid at Blue Cliff Monastery."

Though, actually I've resisted buying any souvenirs in an effort to live in the present moment and not try to cling to this. I can bring this home without something tangible. It's hard for me though. (Ask Michael) I've gone to the gift shop four times already, fingering the t-shirts with inspirational messages, and the mindfulness bells...

Oh! But speaking of letting go, I didn't even set an alarm this morning. And I still woke up. ha!

I'm feeling a bit punchy and wound up to sleep. Which is too bad, since I have to be up extra early tomorrow to receive the mindfulness trainings and my new Dharma name. (Confession: I really decided to do this because I want to see what name the monastics decide to give me.)

I do not want to wake up early tomorrow though, since I haven't been sleeping much at night.

It's weird--just today I started feeling really connected to some of the people here but now it's time for noble silence until we leave and we didn't exchange contact information and I don't know their last names. So maybe I just have to let them go too. It feels a bit weird to share something like this experience and just...let everyone go.

Day 5 / 10:00 am
I'm feeling pretty good about this retreat as it draws to a close. I'm tired in one sense--no surprise there after waking up at 5:00 each morning and bunking with 6 others. But I also feel refreshed. I feel like I've created some space in my mind and heart. And like I've found some clarity and some inner wisdom and a lot of tools. I'm excited to test them out in the real world...I do remain a bit skeptical of the powers of simply breathing, but I guess we'll see.

But also, I want to go home. (I know, I'm supposed to feel at home no matter where I am.) But I want to feel Michael's hand in mine. I want to sink into my own bed. (For a long, long time.)

This was a good retreat in many ways, but there were too many people here. And it's tiring being around so many people for so long. The collective energy is nice sometimes, but now I'm craving some place less crowded.

Things I'm Taking With Me (summary)
  • The idea of creating space with noble silence
  • Deep listening
  • Coming back to compassion, and responding with compassion
  • "It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is." (acceptance)
  • Breathe. Stop and breathe.
  • "Anything can be the 'bell'--even the girls' screaming in the hallway can be the sound that reminds me to stop, come back to myself, and breathe."
  • Not everything needs to be fixed, and certainly not by me.
  • You can watch a mess in the making and send it compassionate, loving thoughts, and then let it go.
  • When we get riled up/wound up/angry, there's a good chance we're not reacting to something in the present moment, but rather to some deeper hurt in our past. It's best to stop the conversation and breathe until we figure out what's really going on with ourselves (or the other person.)
  • Speaking in a measured, quiet, calm voice goes a long way.
  • Speaking less and leaving room for others to fill.
  • Pay attention. Especially to others, so you can learn to listen to what they're really saying, and not be distracted by what they're saying. =)
  • The idea of how misguided it is to think that chasing some goal, whether a plasma tv or job title will bring you happiness. Rather, learning to live in the present tense, fully and mindfully, living in accord with your values, will allow you to find happiness in each moment. Which will allow you to naturally create the future you want. (hmm...still thinking on this one.)
  • How you can turn anything into meditation--even eating an ice cream sandwich.
  • The idea of that clean room in my head...and my ability to create space inside rather than being a neurotic control freak about the space I inhabit.
  • And, a commitment to (and ability!) to meditate for 10 minutes a day
All in all, I feel like it was really worthwhile. I'd like to do similar retreats in the future, but if I were going to recommend something to a friend, I might suggest a slightly less intense start (not as long, and not at a monastery...maybe at more of a relaxed, Kripalu-type place.) I might also really like a total silent retreat for myself at some point in the future. There were definitely some vaguely uncomfortable aspects for me, and times I wanted to go home so badly...but the experience shined a light on some of the things I need to work on (my constant talking, even in my head, my impatience, and my unhealthy attachment to a certain outcome which leads to my sometimes controlling tendencies.) And I did learn some tools to at least try to move forward.

And I did make it through my first work day back without getting wound up. Despite there being several situations that would have left my blood boiling a week ago.

And I did my ten minutes of meditation.

And yes, I went and bought a meditation bell. I plan to use it at dorm meetings as well. =)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Okay, okay, OKAY. I'm not bringing the laptop.

Big news.

First of all...we're USING the cleaning chart thingie. Which clearly needs a better name. Let's dub it the "Sanity System." It's only day three, but things are getting crossed off, and Michael is participating, and our apartment is in a reasonable state, AND--I dare say--I think I have managed to NOT drive Michael totally nuts. Here's an was his job to go grocery shopping, according to the SS, but I needed one of the things on the list for today. Since one of the rules is that I can't tell him when or how to do his tasks, I went grocery shopping. I didn't feel annoyed, because he's been doing other stuff and I recognized that it was only me that needed it done right away. And he didn't feel annoyed because he had to go rightthisminute. YAY.

I think I did drive him a bit nuts getting our apartment back together though. But it looks SO GOOD. All last night (and this morning) I kept saying, "I feel like I live in a hotel! I've always wanted to feel like that." I'm really excited. I'm just waiting for my new reading chair and ottoman to be delivered. Also, for IKEA to get my wall shelves in stock. Then I'll feel settled, I think.

Oh! But none of that was the big news. The big news is that I leave TOMORROW MORNING for this meditation retreat called "Happiness is the Way." According to the poster, we will "learn how to come back to ourselves and to discover that enlightened living is possible with the practice of mindfulness in everyday life. By learning to live our lives with awareness and clarity, we shall help to bring about peace, reconciliation, healing, and happiness to ourselves, our families, society, and the world."

Sounds good, right? The only thing is that we're not supposed to use cell phones, there's no internet access, no meat, we wake at 5:30 each morning, and...we spend most of our time in silence.

I'm terrified.

Actually, I'm considering bringing my laptop for journaling during the afternoon period for reflection. (Unless napping counts as reflection.) Part of me knows this is cheating. I want to challenge myself to really be free from technology for 5 days. But I can't really imagine journaling very well long-hand, and I really do want to write through the experience, since that's how I process things. Then again, it's not very mindful/living in the present moment if I'm journaling to capture the moment. But they leave time for reflection.

So I wrote the monks and asked about the whole laptop/journaling thing.

Someone wrote back and said if it was a necessity, I could bring it, but why not just really totally relax and enjoy the time?

Why not indeed. It's a bit of a security blanket, isn't it?

Okay, okay, OKAY. I'm not bringing the laptop.


I'll stop and buy a nice notebook and a lovely pen and you will all have to wait until next week to hear how it goes. Send good, strong, peaceful thoughts my way.

oh god.

mindfully yours,

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back on Track

Okay, so we're back from Denmark and the month is drawing to a close. I was supposed to cook approximately 12 times, and only managed 6. But truthfully, that was still more than the whole rest of the year, so I'm going to go ahead and consider it a success. I also have to just acknowledge that in past months, I was so stuck on fulfilling my goal that I kept trying to continue to meet unmet goals. But the point of these months was to try to focus on things I wanted to do for myself. And I've done that. So from now on--anything that doesn't get done by the end of the month, falls off the list. If it didn't stick, it didn't stick. I will acknowledge it and move on.

So yeah, cooking 3+ nights a week...never going to stick until I'm either a) the mother of kids who need balanced meals or b)have a lot more time on my hands. But I did find that I liked when I cooked and I seem to be fairly talented at following--and tweaking--recipes. Go figure. I can cook!

And--I didn't forget about the cleaning plan. I've been developing one and have an appointment to talk to Michael about my proposal tonight. I have two options to offer him. Option 1--and my preferred option--is a chart of weekly and monthly household tasks that need doing. We'd decide together at the beginning of each week/month who would be responsible for which tasks, trying to roughly divide the work in half. The nice thing about this plan is that I can be assured that most of the important things will get done regularly, and so can be more flexible about when it gets done. As long as it's done once a week, I can't try to control when.

There are a lot of benefits to this system, but honestly, we might be too old for chore charts. It's hard to know if it will stick. Maybe it will feel patronizing.

The second option is committing to 15 minute "cleaning frenzies" before dinner 4 nights a week. We would both just see how much we can get done in 15 minutes and leave the rest. Probably work room by room. This would work better to control clutter, I think, but we'd probably never have time to vacuum or dust and laundry wouldn't ever be a priority. Also, we don't seem to do well with this type of commitment, because we never find time.

OR we could do one hour-long cleaning frenzy on a specific day.

Both would allow us to each choose the jobs we hate less, assuming we both don't hate the same things equally. Both would probably require roughly the same amount of time commitment per week. I think it's reasonable that we spend an hour a week maintaining our home...what do you guys think?

Anyway--I'm going to present the pros and cons and see if Michael has any better ideas or improvements to offer. And then we can put it into place and see how it goes.

August is going to be creating month. It was originally slated for writing month, but I think maybe I can build in time for writing during the school year, but I'll never get these creating projects done during the school year. I want to print, frame, and hang pictures from the wedding and vacations of the last two years. I want to edit our wedding video. And make some glass. And figure out how to use my damn camera correctly and consistently. That's a lot, considering I'm gone for a week and a half and then have to start getting the dorm ready. (AGH)

But, I'll just see what I can do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lemon Pudding Cake with Berries

So today was a whirlwind day. It started at 5:20, getting ready for a Body Pump class. I VERY nearly cancelled because I only got about 5 hours of sleep, but knowing Melissa was coming to pick me up kept me moving and I was glad. It was a good class, and according to my scale, I actually am building muscle. YAY.

So that was followed by 8 totallyfranticstressedout hours at work. For the first time in WEEKS I made sure to leave on time so I could run to the store and get the makings for the Lemon Pudding Cake and slaw I was planning to make for tonight's Dorm Parent gathering. Yes, the same slaw I made twice last week. Well, almost the same. I keep tweaking it, so it might be fair to call it my own by now. =)

I got home and immediately set to work and finished justintime to head to the BBQ. It was so nice to see everyone, but we felt rushed because we found out today that we had to pack up our entire office/back room today (remember the one from decluttering month?) in preparation for the new closet they're going to start putting in. Which we are excited about. But having our house in such disarray leaves me kind of anxious. And we're starting to figure out that there's no good way of fitting the furniture we want in the spaces we have. So putting it all back together when we are back from Denmark should be interesting.

Anyway, I added crushed peanuts and a little lime to the slaw today. Look how bold and adventurous I'm getting! I couldn't really tell the difference with the lime, but I actually really liked the peanuts. It seemed to be a pretty big hit at the dorm parent party. Melissa had also made an asian slaw with jicama (sp?) and I liked that she used cucumbers and sliced peppers in hers. I'd like to add cucumbers to mine next time!

As for the cake, I think it was only so-so. It came from the cooking light book, and I just doubled the recipe. Everyone said it was good but it was the only dessert there so the bar was set pretty low. =) It had good flavor, but the texture seemed a bit dense to me. I think I was expecting a fluffier cake with pudding oozing out. Which is funny, considering I made it and knew full well that the pudding was all mixed in with the cake. It was still pretty good once topped with fat-free cool whip and fresh berries, but I'd only give it a 3.5. Michael gave it a 3.75. I forgot to ask the other diners. (You ate it, you rate it!) I'll have to remember next time. I might try a main course next time, since there's only one more BBQ that we'll be able to attend in July.

The slaw, however, is still hovering around a 4.5. In fact, someone asked for the recipe tonight which is a pretty good sign, I'd say.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thai Stir Fry a la Chef Michael

Tonight I decided to take a break from my new cookbook. I was in the mood for Michael's famous stir fry, so I asked him to teach me how he makes it. He wasn't allowed to touch anything...only to walk me through it. He won't be HGTV's Next Food Network Star or anything, but he was a decent teacher.
I don't have an actual recipe to share, but I can summarize and you can play with it if you want to make your own. We started with a bit of sesame oil in a pan (you can use any kind of oil really). When it got hot, I added a little garlic (I used two cloves) and let that sit for a minute. Then I added a "heaping teaspoon" of yellow thai curry paste. This adds a LOT of the flavor. If you like things spicy, use red curry paste adds a lot of heat. The yellow curry paste adds lots of flavor with only a little heat. If you use red curry paste, you'd probably want to use about half as much as if you use yellow. Then we added our meat (we used sirloin, cubed) and cooked it until browned on all sides but definitely not done. I removed the meat in a separate bowl (it will keep cooking while resting) and put sweet potatoes in instead. They were cut thin and quartered and needed about 12 minutes to cook. Every few minutes, I'd sprinkle on a little water or soy sauce, to sort of steam the sweet potatoes. Then came the baby corn and bamboo shoots, then mushrooms, then snow peas. After the veggies were pretty well done, I added the meat back in and also some soy sauce, and some oyster sauce. Michael usually adds a little Mirin but we were out and I didn't really notice the difference in the end. Then, I added some chopped cilantro, a dash of nutmeg, a little ginger, and some turmeric. And some cashew nuts, which added a really nice texture. I served it over rice, but there wasn't a ton of liquid so it probably didn't need the rice. Obviously you can use whatever veggies you like. I hate cooked onions and peppers, but they'd probably be good in here.

We both wound up rating it 4.5 stars. It was pretty easy, though it took some time to prep all the veggies. And also pretty healthy, especially if not served over rice. AND there's enough for leftovers tomorrow. Yay.

Tuesday we have a dorm parent BBQ on campus and I need to decide what to make for that. I could make the Asian Slaw I like so much, but I have made it twice already. It's hard to make a protein/entree for that many people...tricky. Maybe I'll do a fancy dessert! Any suggestions out there?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My First ★★★★★ Dinner!

Tonight I cooked my third meal of the week: Teriyaki Salmon with Mushrooms, Orange-Ginger Sugar Snap Peas, both from the new Cooking Light Cookbook (page 199). I also made more of my Asian Slaw because I bought too much slaw mix yesterday and had to use it up.

This one was supposed to take 20 minutes, and it took 60.

So I'm improving. Plus I didn't injure myself on any produce.

And I got to use the Salmon that Michael caught on Saturday, so this was FRESH! I feel like we could live off the land!

Okay, just kidding.

But I did learn that because salmon is a fatty fish, you don't need to cook it in oil or anything. And you can get a really nice sear in a pan, and it only takes about 10 minutes. And apparently it's hard to screw up. Because even though Michael was 15 minutes late, it was somehow still cooked perfectly! Seriously. The sauce was AMAZING too. We both gave it 5 stars. I might use a tad less sherry next time, but it was seriously good. And easy. I swear. If I can do it, you can too.

In fact, I recommend it so highly, that I'll include the recipe at the bottom of this post. Someone else already posted it online, so I figure it's probably okay. But I encourage you to buy the cookbook anyway.

The sugar snap peas were only a 3 or so. I don't love orange zest in my veggies apparently. And they were a little oily because when I first put the ginger in the hot oil, it splattered so much that I couldn't get near the pan to keep cooking. So I added more oil. Live and learn.

Anyway, this was even more successful than the Ahi Burgers...and I did it totally myself! In fact, it's funny, because I was beginning to think that I only liked cooking as a social experience. My mom helped with the prep work for the Ahi Burgers, and Gina and I chattered away for the two or so hours it took to cook and eat last night's meal. On both occasions, it felt like half the fun was just the shared experience of being together in the kitchen.

But today, I was totally alone. I cranked up some Melissa Etheridge, and got to work. I cleaned as I went, which made me extra impressed with myself. I managed to finish everything at the same time. I felt accomplished. And I wasn't thinking about work or anything really. I was very in the moment. Thich Nhat Hanh would have been proud. I was. And it was just as much fun by myself.

Teriyaki Salmon with Mushrooms (Cooking Light/page 199)


    1/4 cup dry sherry
    1/4 cup of teriyaki sauce
    2 TBS light brown sugar
    1 tsp canola oil
    8 oz pkg of sliced baby portobello mushrooms
    4 - 6oz salmon fillets (I only used two, and I thought the rest still worked out fine as toppings. More mushrooms for me!)


  • Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl and stir to disolve sugar.
  • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high add mushroom and saute 4 min or until tender.
  • Add 1/3 cup of the sherry mixture to the mushrooms. Reduce heat and simmer 2 min or until liquid almost evaporates. Spoon mushroom mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  • Heat pan over med-high heat add fish. Cook 3-4 min each side until browned. Add mushrooms and remaining sherry mixture to pan, cook 2 min, and transfer fish to a plate and top with mushrooms.
Number of Servings: 4 (*2 the way I made it)

In their version: 335 calories, 14.3 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber.

You Ate It, You Rate It!

Last night, Gina came over and we talked our way through a supposedly 15-minute recipe from my new favorite cookbook. It took an hour and a half.

The cookbook is Cooking Light's new Fresh Food Fast Weeknight Meals, and each recipe is EITHER 5 ingredients or less (not counting salt/pepper/water) OR takes 15 minutes or less. I'm not quite confident I can not make anything in this book in under 15 minutes, but I figure as long as it's tasty and healthy, that's okay with me.

Tonight's recipe was for Pan-Fried Shrimp served with Tropical Slaw. I couldn't find the recipe for the shrimp online, but I wouldn't worry about it, because they were kind of bland. They got 3 stars out of 5 from all three raters. (Gina tried to abstain from rating, but I explained July's rule: "You ate it, you rate it!" and she couldn't really argue with that. Mostly because she was laughing.) The only cool thing about them was mixing chopped cilantro into the panko crumbs before breading--that was a good idea. And I learned something else, too! The recipe said to chop the cilantro and then put it and the panko in a food processor.

I paused, interrupted Gina mid-sentence, and asked, "Um...if I'm going to put it in the food processor, do I really need to chop it first?"

Gina said no. So I didn't. I just put the cilantro in my Cuisinart mini-food processor for a second and it was magically, perfectly chopped. Which caused me to exclaim: "I don't know why anyone ever chops anything!"

Ah, the cooking epiphanies I have.

Anyway, the I made the Tropical Slaw according to their recipe but I tasted it and thought it was pretty darn boring. I loved the pineapple and mango, which I didn't think I would, but the slaw lacked punch. So I looked up some recipes online and improvised. I LOVED my version, which was pretty close to this:


    3 1/4 cups packaged coleslaw
    3/4 cup chopped fresh mango
    1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple
      1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
      3 tablespoons minced ginger
      1 tablespoon minced garlic
      2 tablespoons brown sugar
      5 tablespoons soy sauce
      4 tablespoons mirin
      1 teaspoon sesame oil
      1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
    1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro


Toss first 11 ingredients, cover and chill 15 minutes, stir in cilantro.

Number of Servings: 3

I liked my version A LOT better. It was SO good. And I thought using packaged slaw mix was genius. This is something I can ACTUALLY make in under 15 minutes. My version of the slaw garnered 4.5 stars out of 5 from our guest judges.

Unfortunately, I cut myself on the garlic while making it.

Yup. You read that correctly.

I. Cut. Myself. On. Garlic.

Stop laughing. It could happen to anyone.

Okay, no. Really only I could do that. I was peeling the outer layer off with my fingernail and I guess it was sharp because I started bleeding! It still hurts.

But that's okay. I'm a chef. I can handle a little food injury here and there.

The Shrimp had 295 calories, 12.6 grams of fat, and 1 gram of fiber. The slaw...well it had 87 calories before I messed with it, but I have no idea. I did take out the mayonnaise they used though, so I think it's still pretty darn healthy. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Amazin' Asian Ahi Tuna Burger Recipe

So I have this ethical dilemma because I want to post recipes here of the dishes I try this month, but suspect book publishers might not love that idea so much. But I found a link to the recipe for the Hungry Girl Ahi Tuna Burgers online, so that seemed like a fair compromise. If you're interested, click here. I added some chopped cilantro to the top of our burgers, which made ALL the difference as far as we were concerned. (Except for dad, who declined, claiming that cilantro tastes like soap.) Mom and Michael both said they'd add a little salt to the burgers prior to cooking...maybe a touch of garlic. And I cooked them on the grill, but my panel of experts explained that I probably could have gotten a nicer coloring and sear by pan cooking them. You'll have to do the tinkering yourself...but seriously--don't leave out the cilantro!

PS--each burger has approximately 246 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of fiber.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Amazing Asian Ahi Tuna Burgers!

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's July 5th and you haven't seen me cook three times in the last week, right? But the thing is, I like for weeks to start on Monday. So July starting on a Thursday--especially when we were heading out of town on Friday--really wasn't a good start to cooking month. How could ANYONE cook that much? (My apologies to all the real women out there who actually cook on a regular basis--my hat goes off to you.) is Monday.

And so I cooked.

After spending the afternoon on the lake with dad and Michael, I came home and whipped out my Hungry Girl cookbook, and made Amazin' Asian Ahi Tuna Burgers. Not totally by myself--mom helped with the dicing and dad got the grill going and Michael documented the momentous occasion. =) The kitchen in our tiny "lakeside" cabin is super tiny and the utensils were super challenging.

But I rose above.

And the Ahi Tuna Burgers--when topped with cilantro, wasabi-mayo, and cucumbers--were FREAKING AMAZING.

Mom and Michael both gave them a 4.25 out of 5 stars. I give them a 4.5 though. Especially because they were so hard to screw up. I like that in a meal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's July.

It's true. I'm not sure quite how it happened, but July has arrived. I could tell you all about how "Boundaries, Balance, and Choices" worked out in June, but you probably already know how it went based on my (lack of) posts. Why lie? The truth is that while there were a handful of times--maybe 6 or so--that I actively tried to reframe what I was doing so that I was mindful of choices and balance...well, most of the time I was just trying to keep my head above water. It was a hard month. I could tell you why, but then I'd get bogged down in negativity, and that won't help move me forward. We'll chalk it up to something I need to come back to at a later time. Perhaps after my meditation retreat in August. For now...Onward!

July is going to be cooking (healthily) month, with perhaps a bit of cleaning thrown in. The goal of cooking is to increase my repertoire (which currently has about 4 dishes in it) and my confidence AND the likelihood that we will eat more healthily. The goal of cleaning will be smaller, but possibly more challenging--to find a system that will work for both Michael and I. Something that will allow for a "clean enough" home that won't drive me crazy, and yet a system that won't inherently drive Michael crazy.

Another goal is to keep up with the blogging. One of the weak aspects of June was that the crazier and more frustrating and all-consuming work got, the less I did the things I needed to do to stay sane: blogging, exercising, eating healthily, and getting enough sleep. So this month, I'm going to keep that in mind and try to carve those out as priorities.

Here are the goals:
  1. Cook, at minimum, 3 nights a week. I want to shoot for more, but I also want to set myself up for success here and we have to remember that I've probably cooked all of 6 times in the past year. *stop laughing*
  2. Find a workable cleaning solution and implement it
  3. Blog about it all...even the failures, so you can all share the experience. And maybe the recipes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

June: Boundaries and Balance

Okay, so May was...lacking focus. Or rather, I was focused. On work. But not really being particularly low-tech, or being mindful or anything like that. But that's okay. I'm moving on. What else can I do? It's a new month already. An alarming four days into June, and I haven't even committed to a June focus yet. Because, realistically, I know that the last week of school will be a nightmare (well, actually, the last two weeks have been too) in terms of workload, and then I'm in Arizona for a few days with my sister's family and Alexis (yay!). So even though June was supposed to be cooking and cleaning, I know that's just a set-up for failure. Again. I need something that I can feel accomplished with even in just the last two weeks of the month that I'll realistically have to focus. Here's what I've done so far:

1) De-cluttering & organizing
2) Intimacy and connections
3) Learning Danish
4) Exercise and Meditation (sort of--need more meditation)
5) Low-tech and Meditation (except it turned out to be just that one time)

and the ones that are still to do:
August) Writing
June) Cooking, eating healthy & cleaning
3) Volunteering & helping
July) Creating (glass, wedding video, print pictures, marriage year photobook)
5) Money: Saving, Budgeting and Investing 101
November?) Being joyful/"me" time
7) Boundaries and Balance (recognizing choices)

I'm thinking that last one looks appealing for a few reasons. 1) I can work on it despite being desperately drowning in fact that's a GOOD time to work on it. 2) I can fit in some other stuff I want to such as working on Danish (headed to Denmark next month, after all), and meditation (seriously this time) on planes and in those last two weeks.

My first task for this month: Getting these FREAKING nice lists done before Sunday without imploding from frustration and stress. Given that I CHOSE to do this, I need to make it work and try to enjoy it and learn how to cut corners. The girls will be happy with whatever they get, even if they are not all miniature masterpieces.

My printer has been freaking out lately (oh how I hate that epson artisan and long for my old canon) so my first step in finding balance was realizing that there was no way I could tolerate trying to feed it 30 pages of nice lists. Instead, I lined up a color printer on campus that will quickly spit them all out, one by one.

Go me.

Off to a good start, aren't I?

I have 16 nice lists left to do. It's 4:30. Figuring in a dinner break, I should be able to do...6? Realistically, I get pretty tired of it after 4. And for some reason my eyes have been killing me today. But tomorrow is the Boston Urban Race--my Boston outing for June--and that's going to take most of the day. And then Sunday is when I'm supposed to deliver these damn things.

So, yeah. Maybe I better shoot for at least 6 after all.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Operating at an 11. Watch out.

It's been 13 days since my last post. And I don't have much to report. If working all day at a computer and then going home and doing the same thing counts as "sitting with myself" then I've achieved my goal for May. Otherwise, I have failed on a grand scale.

I did manage to meditate after my last post. And it was easier than I expected. My mind wandered a few times, but I re-focused on my breath pretty quickly. I sat in a patch of sunlight on the floor of my hotel room with a candle on the table in front of me and tried not to try not to think. Because I read that you're not supposed to do that.

The time went by quicker than I expected...I thought ten minutes would be really hard. But I'm not sure it really did anything for me. I didn't expect enlightenment with one try or anything, but I guess I sort of expected that feeling you get after a good yoga class. Maybe if I had meditated for 60 minutes, I would have gotten that.

My intention was to do it every day for the rest of May. But May has presented a few challenges that I did not rise above. Work is...ridiculous. I really mean that. You know how I was telling you about that exercise class where I found out that I was supposed to be working out at an intensity level of 9 on a scale of 1-10 and I usually only do about a 5 or 6? Well, if we apply that same scale to work...I typically work at about a 7, at least in terms of my capacity.

But lately I've been hitting a ten pretty regularly and I might have discovered an 11 last night. It's the kind of week/month where everything seems to need attention and devotion at once. Everything other than meditation, that is.

Last night was a perfect example. We were on duty. We had dinner duty. We had to drive the girls to the grocery store at 9 pm. There was a roommate negotiation gone awry.

And there were these damn Nice Lists.

You've all read the email forward about the teacher that asks kids to write a list of nice things about other kids in their class and 30 years later they are at the military funeral of a classmate who had his list with him when he died in battle, and several of his classmates share that they still have their lists too.

Didn't that email make you wish you had a list like that about yourself?

So last year I started a new Nice List tradition in the dorm. Everyone wrote down one nice and true thing about each other student in the dorm. And I spent a truly ludicrous amount of time proofreading them and compiling them into beautiful, font-happy collage works of art. Here's a sample:
I even did them in their favorite colors. And the girls freaking loved them. There were surprised and happy murmurs and fond noises of remembrance as they read them. The project took more than 40 hours to complete though.

So I was going to do the smart thing and skip it this year.

Only then we got all that negative dorm parent feedback and I remembered how much they meant to the girls and it seemed like maybe one of the few good investments of energy from last year. So I asked the girls how important they felt they were. And many of them started exclaiming about how they still had theirs from last year and how much they loved them. And the new girls in the dorm saw the ones from last year and got all excited.

So I decided to do it again. Only I was going to start WAY earlier. Only that didn't work out so well. I decided to collect the comments via an online survey tool to simplify the compilation, which did work. Unfortunately, we apparently don't teach spelling, grammar, or punctuation at this school because it is taking HOURS to proof the comments. Travis made a brilliant word merge to sort the comments by length and automatically insert them into text boxes for each student. But Word sucks ass and so it took forever to change the fonts and make them fit in the text boxes properly and there were apparently so many spelling errors that Word couldn't display them. Who knew?

So I went back to photoshop. My old friend. Only the newer, CS5 version which is admittedly a bit cooler than the old one. But not magic. It still takes an hour to do each collage. I swear I've tried to let go of my perfectionist tendencies to just GET.IT.DONE.

But I still have 23 left to do. In a week. And we're headed to NY to visit with my family this weekend.

So I'm really starting to panic a little.

On top of that, we're deep into a publications project at work. Which is fun for me. At times. But it's turned into a mess which has mostly resulted in an unhealthy amount of work to be done by me in an unrealistic amount of time. Which I predicted would happen but was somehow unable to prevent.

So here I am. Operating at an 11.

Watch out.