Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stocking Up For The Holidays

It's two days after Christmas. I've eaten more in 3 days' time than I usually do in a week. The fridge is still bursting with food, and I ponder all this overconsumption wondering, "What was I thinking?"

What is it about the mania leading up to Christmas that is so attractive to me?

I have to admit that I love it all: stocking up for a big feast, buying and wrapping the last presents, prepping firewood, festooning the house with decorations. And especially wandering amongst gaggles of people sharing the same pursuits.

This year, it all led up to a great Christmas Eve with family and friends around the bonfire, eating eggplant casserole and homemade caramels, performing songs by the firelight, laughing and joking. It was perfect!

However, this magical evening could have been accomplished with half the prep. I overstocked, to be honest. The cooler in my shed is still swimming with high-gravity beer. I still can't see the back of the refrigerator.

I wonder if I'm holding onto some centuries-old past-life memory - from a time when preparing for harsh winters was serious business? A time when adequate harvests and and a cellar full of root vegetables and preserved meat were necessary for survival? 

There is something I love about seeing cords and cords of firewood neatly stacked, a larder full of food, a refrigerator bursting at the seams. These elements served people well in past centuries, but they aren’t necessary now. Still, I cling to the practice of stocking up, prepping for a long stretch of time when I can’t replenish my supplies. 

Why do I do it, even though I know the stores barely close for holidays?

Yes, the marketeers still inundate us with holiday messages reminding us to buy the feast, stuff those stockings, to make triply sure we have everything we need – and then some. Because if we forget one critical item, Christmas won't be as perfect as it could be. I'm too smart to fall for that ploy, aren't I? Yet somehow, these advertising tricks tickle my primordial urges to stock up so effectively that I abandon reason and go on a spree almost every year.

I need to remember that “enough” is a much smaller quantity than it used to be. Hopefully in this case, awareness is the first step toward change. 

I think I'll take a few photos of all the extra provisions I still have laying around the house today, so I'll prepare a little less next time. And hey, around mid-December next year, would someone please remind me of this post?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What is Enough?

I'm going to take a break today from The Experiment and talk about a great new website I discovered. It's called Occupy The Board Room, and it allows people to send "Pen Pal" letters to some of the 1% richest people in our nation.

I hope you'll check out the site, and write your own heartfelt letter to one of these wealthy individuals.

I wrote a letter to James Johnson, a board member of Goldman Sachs. (I wonder if he might be related to Jamie Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson family), creator of the compelling documentary "The One Percent", which aired on HBO in 2006?)

Here's the letter I sent him. I hope he writes back!
Mr. Johnson: 
My name is David Lynch. I am a solo-preneur with my own graphic design business.
Up until a few years ago, I didn't mind working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, because I was building something for myself. 
In my mid 40s, I was able to buy my first home. I started building a SEP account for my retirement. I was close to meeting my financial goals. 
Then, the housing market tanked, and 75% of my diverse clientele either went bankrupt or cut back dramatically, leaving me with 1/4 of the workload I once had. 
I decided to act in the most financially responsible way I could. I agreed to a short sale of my home, but my bank wouldn't forgive the deficiency, so I went bankrupt to protect myself from that debt. Though I have simplified my life to the bare essentials, I still struggle to find enough work to meet basic expenses. 
I'm not complaining - I'm simply laying out the state of my life and how it's changed in the last few years. 
I'm learning to find satisfaction in simple things, like a warm, sunny day when I can go outside and listen to the birds, or a tight embrace from my daughter. I'm learning not to focus so much on the material things I may or may not have, but rather to find contentment in the relationships I have, and be satisfied that I  have access to enough food, clothing and shelter to live simply, in relative comfort. 
On occasion, I think about someone of your stature and wonder if you ever feel that sense of satisfaction? 
Is there ever a moment when you lean back in your executive chair, or in your garden chair and say to yourself, "Ahh! I've finally got enough. I am thoroughly satisfied with all I have!"? 
Or once an acquisition is completed, do you experience an anticlimactic sensation that leaves you hungry for the next merger, the next financial triumph? 
John Muir once said of billionaire railroad magnate E.R. Harriman, "I have all the money I want, and he hasn't." 
Do you think you'll ever reach a point when you have all the money you want - a time you can relax and enjoy the fruit of your labors? 
If not, and you continue on the quest for more riches, what goal do you hope to attain, besides increasing your net worth? How will you know when you reach that goal? 
You might well say to me, "Wait a minute, Mr. Lynch, do you have all the money you want?" 
And I would have to truthfully answer, "No." 
I want to be able to send my daughter to college, to provide decent health care for my family, to build a nest egg that affords a modest retirement. I do not currently have sufficient funds to accomplish these things. Those are my goals, and once I reach them, I will be able to say, "I've got enough. 
I wonder: if a few of the most wealthy people in our country were capable of saying "I've got enough", might there be enough for Americans like myself to meet our modest financial goals? 
And if that doesn't happen, aren't you at all concerned about the vast number of Americans who are beginning to stand up and say "I've had enough!" and have begun to work collectively to change the unfair distribution of wealth as it currently stands? 
I hope that you can see outside your personal realm and consider that the question "What is enough?" applies not only to your own personal estate and family, but also to the needs of the entire nation. 
We are all in this together. What you do affects the rest of us, and what we do also has the potential to affect you. 
I hope you consider helping create a nation where we all have enough. The rest of us are on that path. Our current call to action is "We are the 99%." However, I look forward to the day we can say, "We are the 100%." 
Enough said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Experiment Continues!

To my delight, yesterday Rebecca handed me a new task sheet - one she wants me to accomplish this work week (Monday - Friday).

If you're not familiar with The Experiment, please visit earlier posts on this blog.

My week's tasks are:

1) Start a new Vision Board. I had one at my old house in 2007, but Rebecca thinks it is in need of an update - and I think she's right. I am to work on this a little each day. I was delighted to receive this task, because I have been wanting to update the Vision Board (Dream Board), for quite some time. This task gives me permission to put some energy into it!

It's nice to look back on the old Vision Board and see some of the things on it that are now reality. The biggest one is of course "Passion - A Partner - The Perfect Fit". I created this Vision Board right after my separation - and just before I met Beth. It's amazing to think back on how this wish arrived via expedited delivery! Our relationship has been growing ever since, and we plan to get married soon. If I had to choose to have only one element on the Vision Board come true, it would be this one.

Lucky for me, that isn't the only item on the Vision Board that is becoming reality. There are other elements that I've achieved - and some goals that I am on the pathway toward accomplishing.

A few years ago, we did travel to a surprise destination - Alaska. And since 2007, I've also traveled to California, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York state, Virginia and West Virginia. Hopefully, a trip to Europe or back to the West Coast will come soon - I'd love to go back and visit more of my old friends on their own turf.

I've been on the path to spiritual growth, as well. I expect I'll be on this path the rest of my days. I have made meditation a fairly regular practice in my life. And I go to yoga class once a week - something I had never done before making this Vision Board!

I look forward to updating my Vision Board and continuing to chase my quests and muses. I'll post the new Vision Board once it's finished.

2) Visit Only 3 Media Sources (Monday only). Rebecca and I had a big discussion about this one. What she is asking me to do is release some of the weight that bad news lays on my shoulders by minimizing my exposure to all news.

I tried to explain that there are many news stories that I find positive and uplifting, like the hope and promise of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Rebecca asserted that news is news, and I should minimize my exposure to all of it. On Monday I adhered to the task, but today I allowed myself to check in at all my regular news sources.

Still, in the spirit of the task, I will continue the week minimizing my focus on what Rebecca would call "dreadful" news stories.

I'll let you know how I did with both tasks at the end of the week!

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Life Job Description

I have been thinking a lot about the state of my career lately.

I have identified myself as a graphic designer since 1984, when I got my first job at a greeting card company. A few years later, I started my own company. For over 27 years, I have labeled myself "graphic designer" - and during most of the time, I could confidently add the word "successful" to that moniker. During a good deal of my career, I also based nearly 100% of my self identity on that career.

However, with the changes in the economy, being a graphic designer has become a part-time enterprise for me. So lately when I think of the myself as a graphic designer, the association is accompanied by stress and negative feelings. Many descriptors come to mind, mostly negative - none are currently synonymous with the word "success".

If I were to base my estimation of my life solely on career right now, it would not be an attractive endeavor; it would be about as productive as hopping on a butt-kicking machine for a protracted round of gluteal smacks. I include the diagram above to remind myself how ridiculous that would be. And I need to be reminded frequently, because I engage in such mental self-spankings more often than I care to admit.

I've thought of a way to break this habit. The solution sounds simple enough: throw out the equation that states "career = life". However, after years of embracing this formula, I realize it's going to take some practice before I can abandon it completely.

One of the techniques I am using to break my acceptance of this faulty equation create a "life job description". Step one is to realize that my career is merely a fraction of my overall life job description.

This weekend, I declared that part of my life job description is "to be a good father".

I worked diligently at that job, especially this weekend. Beth was out of town, so I devoted most of the weekend to being with Rebecca - and not just being with her geographically. I paid close attention to her, dialogued with her, shared experiences with her. I made sure that I was as "present" as I could be.

We went to the farmer's market, I took her to her tennis lesson, then to the Fall Festival at Hickory Nut Gap Farm, then for ice cream. Once we returned home, I cooked dinner, and followed it up a backyard fire (complete with marshmallow roasting). Finally, we finished watching a kid's movie we had started. Sunday morning, we went to the local tennis courts and practiced together. I needed to spend much of the rest of the day painting the remainder of the exterior of my work shed, and I made sure to include Rebecca. She was a great help, wedging into a tight area and painting the portion I could not reach.

The best aspect of the weekend was that we didn't argue at all. Rebecca said that we may have had one minor disagreement, but she can't even remember what it was about.

By making "being a good father" part of my life job description, I was able to regard the weekend as a rousing success.

The next step is to further expand the list that constitutes my life job description. Doing so will help me feel more well-rounded, as well as minimize the negative impact of any elements that aren't going as well as I would like. I will make it a point to focus more on those list items which foster success and a sense of accomplishment.

Having many elements within my life job description allows for ebb and flow - some elements may take prominence while others may become less important. Creating a broad and flexible life job description opens the door for more opportunity. Who knows - maybe the element in my life job description that I currently categorize as my career will shift or change some day?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Becoming My Own Taskmaster (in a good way)

I really miss Rebecca's task sheets (see earlier posts about The Experiment)!

So today, I decided to make my own task sheet, using a technique I remembered from a creativity seminar. I wrote out the page using my non-dominant (left) hand - it brings out the child in me when I do it this way (though I'm sure a young child could do a better job of it. Note to self - never try to draw a mandala with your non-dominant hand. It ends up looking like a crumpled wad of paper!) It's no substitute for Rebecca's ├╝ber-cool task sheets, but it's better than nothing!

The first task I gave myself was a 7-hour Facebook fast. Today, at least, it wasn't difficult to resist the nervous, twitchy desire to catch up on the endless scroll of activity there.

I completed the second task (25 minutes of meditation), albeit a little later than I would have liked. When I wait until 2pm or later, I get a little dozey midway through, and today was no exception. Fortunately, I was able to keep the nodding to a minimum with concerted, deeper breaths.

The third task was to tackle an activity on my "extra curricular" list. Yesterday, when the angst gremlin was trying to get me, I decided to make a list of to-do items for idle times. Just the action of making this list was enough to tame that gremlin yesterday.

One of the tasks on the "extra-curricular" list is to set up my Cafe Press store and start populating it with products. I had struggled with the basic store design a few weeks ago. I had arrived at a great name for the store and created the masthead design and was in the process of hashing out the HTML, only to find out someone else had already taken the name. I got discouraged and abandoned the project temporarily.

Yesterday, I had a flash of inspiration, and came up with the name "GeeGaw", which rekindled my enthusiasm. I did a search, and could not find another Cafe Press store with that name - huzzah! Today, I figured out how to implement an all-graphic masthead and got the basic shell of the store ready. This weekend, I will add products. It feels good to be past that hurdle.

As I put the store together, I couldn't help but notice the exercise in futility occurring in the neighbor's yard. A young guy was feverishly running a leaf blower - on a day when the wind was blowing 20-30 knots and the sky was filled with leaves. It's bad enough to endure the incessant whinny of a leaf blower, but to hear one on a day when the wind negates its every attempt seemed to intensify its shrill wail. In response, I came up with this seasonal bumper sticker design for those of you who feel the same way I do about leaf blowers. You can get one of these stickers at my online store, Gee-Gaw.

Maybe after 30 days, I'll adopt creating tasks as my own habit? Even if I do, I'll still look forward to the creation of Rebecca's task cards!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taming The Gremlin

As I was driving Rebecca to school, I starting thinking about my day and how much (or little, as the case may be), work I had to accomplish today. The little angst-producing gremlin in my stomach started doing his usual acrobatics.

At this time of year - I used to spend a little extra money on a short trip, or a new Fall shirt, or something like that. These days, there is no extra money, and thinking about lack always excites that pesky little gremlin.

So I started thinking of ways I could stop the gremlin in his tracks and do something different. I want to recapture that peaceful, open feeling that washed over me yesterday while I sat atop the Buck Springs Tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I felt much more creative after that experience.

Rather than worry about what I don't have, I started thinking about what I do have in plentiful supply: the luxury of time. With time, I can still go on a spending spree, so long as I spend it wisely. There are so many helpful things I can do with my time - things that gremlin won't like, because they starve him. Hee hee!

I'll start with a meditation. I can't travel up the Blue Ridge Parkway every morning to capture that serene feeling I experienced yesterday, but I can sit for 25 minutes and clear my mind.

Then, I can schedule time for work and time for creative pursuits, and stick to that schedule. That way, I'll introduce a little more discipline into my daily routine, and feel a better sense of accomplishment once I check off the activities I complete.

When I think of all the tasks Rebecca assigned me over the 30 days, they were all great gremlin-tamers. If I get stuck for ideas, I have 30 blog posts to remind me!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Experiment - Wrap Up

Yesterday was the final day of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter assigns me tasks I must complete.

First off, here's how yesterday's tasks went:

Meditation went fine. It's been awhile, so my "monkey mind" was chattering quite a bit, as expected. It felt great to sit with the rain and wind swirling around the house. The period at the beginning of yoga class was another opportunity to focus on my breath, so I took advantage of that, too. I marvel at how I can tune out the high-rise construction noise across the street from the yoga studio - and do so for fairly long stretches. And when I do hear the workers, I simply pretend they are elves pounding chocolate chips into giant cookies.

I had at least 5 conversations without talking about myself. I had a few at yoga class, then a few more at our polling place. (I was disgusted to learn there was only a 10% voter turnout yesterday, but that's another can of worms.) I made sure that when Rebecca returned home from school, my first conversation with her was all about her day. I am committed to continuing this practice: listen more, prattle less.

And yes, I walked the full neighborhood loop. Our polling place is on the loop, so we walked in the rain to go cast our vote, and then completed the loop afterwards. The air was wet and fairly warm, and it rained lightly during the entire walk. The part I liked was coming back home after a wet walk - that  stretch of time when you warm up and dry off, and the house feels cozier than usual.

That wraps up the last day of The Experiment. So now what?

Even though I don't have one of Rebecca's task sheets with her amazing illustrations to follow today, I still feel like I have a duty to carry on in the spirit of The Experiment. And I think I'm off to a good start:

After dropping Rebecca off at school, I decided to take a short stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway back home, since there is already some Fall color on what is called "the commuter stretch" of the Parkway. The road changed moods at every twist as it road snaked in and out of the fog. The first rays of sun pushed through the mist, making for some amazing light. I kept planning to turn around, but the drive kept getting better.

I regretted not having my camera, but I told myself that this was a morning I needed to drink everything in with my senses, and not let a mechanical apparatus interfere with that process. (The photos below are not from today's excursion.)

By the time I got to Bent Creek, I knew I was headed all the way to Mount Pisgah. Soon, I was driving through fog-shrouded trees enveloped by rays of sunlight. Before long, I climbed above the clouds left by the clearing storm and into a clear, royal blue sky. The ridge lines were illuminated by the low sun, making the mountains look like a giant, bunched-up polarfleece blanket. When I arrived at Mt. Pisgah, I took the path I recently discovered that leads to the top of the Buck Springs tunnel.

At the top of the tunnel, I felt an inner quiet fill me. I realized that for long stretches, I could not hear a single motor - no cars, no airplanes, just water dripping off the granite escarpment, a light breeze rustling through the trees, and a few bold bird calls. I felt myself slow down internally as I took in all the sights and sounds. After about 30 minutes, I headed back on the trail, walking at a snail's pace and savoring every footstep, pausing occasionally to look at the smear of cirrus clouds in the sky overhead (another sun dog sighting!) and gazed down as the low-angled sunlight illuminated every vein on the leaves at my feet.

A few thoughts from my inner gremlin popped up, like "you should be at work", but I made deep exhalations to push them out of me. I instead told myself that this was exactly where I should be, and exactly what I should be doing in that moment: slowing down and savoring a quiet morning surrounded by nature. I don't know what, if anything, experiencing moments like this one will inspire in me later on, but I trust that this is the path I must take to rediscover inspiration. I need to remember to carve out many more such moments in my life that allow me to shed negative thoughts and immerse myself in the magic this planet has to offer.


In recent posts, I've posed the question of whether or not I can detect a shift in myself as a result of The Experiment. One friend suggested that maybe the shift will come in my relationship with Rebecca - and I think he's right in that The Experiment has brought us closer together.

I asked Rebecca what she thinks should come next now that The Experiment has concluded. She mentioned that she was planning to observe me for the next five days and if she notices me slipping back into old habits, or getting grumpy and stressed out, that she may assign more tasks.

However, at Beth's suggestion, Rebecca is planning to assemble a set of tasks in the form of a deck of cards, so that I can shuffle and pick one when needed. I think this is a great idea! Perhaps a set of cards with a companion book is in order, so that other people can use this technique? Who knows?

The one thing I do know is: this doesn't feel like an ending. It feels more like a beginning.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading the blog, offering words of encouragement. Rebecca and I were both touched to learn that a few of you actually followed along working on the tasks, so we send our special thanks to you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Experiment - Day 30!

Wow! Is it really the final day of The Experiment? Of course, I'll make one more post after this one to let you know how today's tasks went - as well as offer a general wrap-up of the month. Still, it's hard to believe this is the last task sheet. What will I do with my days without these tasks to complete??

Yesterday's tasks went well - though I didn't tackle the first one until 5pm (create a hand-made Thank-You Card). I wanted to give a card to Rebecca to thank her for all her diligent help with The Experiment. It was fun sneaking out to the workshop and fiddling around with leaves, spray-mount and colored pencils - just like the olden, pre-computer days of graphic design. Luckily, I still have a box of pre-digital tools that I saved. Rebecca was very pleased with the card, and emphasized that I was capable of wonderful things even when a computer is not handy.

I had just settled into bed last night when I remembered that I hadn't done Task #2 - write a poem. I chose to write about trees - more specifically leaves. I felt confined having to work with the ABAB rhyming format. I dashed something off that fit the format and returned to bed. I reworked it a little this morning, but my inner critic is slashing it to pieces, with words like "trite", "hackneyed" and "cutesy", and calling me names like "Henry Bumwad Dumbfellow". What a nasty little cat-caller he is. Maybe I need to write another poem in the format of my choosing - a poem that will be so wondrous that it will silence the critics?

Here's today's tasks:
  1. Meditate - you haven't done this for a long time!
  2. Have 5 conversations without talking about yourself.
  3. Walk the full neighborhood loop. (Of course, she would assign this on a rainy day!)
I'll let you know tomorrow how the last day's tasks went. Since it's the last day, I'd better make sure I do them all, and do them well!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Experiment - Day 29

It's the 2nd to last day of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

Yesterday, we drove up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping first at Graveyard Fields. Peak color had pretty much passed at that elevation - or it never got that vibrant up there. It was hard to tell which. Rebecca wanted to hike right away, so we humored her for a bit, but after tromping over a couple quagmires, we turned back, reminding her that we wanted to spend most of our time at a section of the Shut-In Trail. We also stopped at one of the Mt. Pisgah parking lots to show Rebecca the little trail we had discovered a few days previously that leads to the top of the Buck Springs Tunnel. From that vantage point, the view is spectacular, and motorists approaching the tunnel can't help but wave at the people above them.

We then backtracked to the overlook a little south of Mt. Pisgah where we joined the Shut-In Trail. A few hickory trees showed some yellow color, and before long, we had reached the hairpin turn in the trail that partially encircles a magical little campsite cradled in a canopy of Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron and Chestnut Oaks. I announced it as "The Fairy Camp", and mentioned that this was one of the magic spots that came to mind when Rebecca first gave me the task of finding my special place. I lingered and listened to the trees and felt the mossy mound under my feet. I received the message that this was not destined to be my special place, but that the Earth appreciated my fondness for the spot.

Rebecca at the "Fairy Camp"
When we crawled into the little campsite, Rebecca instantly became morose. It was as if she had abruptly flipped an internal mood switch. We tried to draw her out to determine what was bothering her, but were unsuccessful. We coaxed a few smiles from her, but it soon became apparent that she was determined to stay unhappy, and remained so even after we left the campsite to head further down the trail.

As Rebecca dawdled and grumbled, I was getting frustrated, as was Beth. But I remembered Task #3: "Have Fun!" I decided that I wasn't going to allow my fun and happiness be dictated by someone else's mood. So I committed myself to enjoying the trail, the leaves and the cool moody weather - no matter what. This is especially noteworthy, because every year, I hold out high hopes for vibrant Fall color. So far this year, the colors have been pretty muted, but I refused to let myself be disappointed about it, choosing instead to appreciate the rusty, mellower hues that the trees offered. I was able to maintain my good cheer throughout the rest of the day - so much so that by dinner time, Beth and Rebecca started referring to me as "Mr. Zen".

I brought home more than 5 cool artifacts: a forked cherry twig, a patch of moss and many leaves, which I put in my computer scanner to capture while they were still fresh. Rebecca found a huge golden Sassafras leaf, so I asked her to pose for a photo with her hand on the leaf. It took a little art direction on my part, but I managed to get the photo I had envisioned. Thanks for humoring me, Rebecca!

After we came home, I finished painting the backside of my work shed - only one side left to go! It felt good to spend so much time outdoors yesterday - and I may play a little hooky and go up on the Blue Ridge Parkway again today before the wet weather arrives. I'm curious to see how the Fall color is on the way towards Mount Mitchell. And whether the color is vibrant or muted, I plan to enjoy to the fullest.

Here are today's tasks:

  1. Make a hand-made (no computer) Thank-You Card to someone for doing something for you or helping you out. Get creative and maybe pull out colored pencils or something. Use card stock.
  2. Write another poem (with pen and paper - no computer), about either a) waterfalls; b) Fall leaves; c) tree energy. The poem must be in ABAB format.
I'll let you know tomorrow how I did.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Experiment - Day 28

It's barely Day 28 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete. I say barely, because it's just after 6am. I've been awake since 5, thanks to a warm night and allergies.

I woke up and made stealth espresso (with my HandPresso because it's quieter than the electric machine), so I wouldn't wake up everyone in the house. Then I sat at the computer and started checking my favorite news sources. I'm enjoying following the Occupy Wall Street protests, but I was quickly diverted and before I knew it, I was watching an Italian documentary that demonstrates how the official story about 9-11 could not be possible. In other words, I had started my day with what Rebecca would call "something dreadful". I caught myself and stopped watching, choosing instead to turn things around and check some of the websites in my "Inspire" bookmark folder. I found a great article on a blog called "A List Apart" about banishing your inner critic. That's a much more productive way to spend my time before the sun - and my girls - rise.

Here's how yesterday's tasks played out:

I spent some time painting my work shed, so I didn't get around to my walk around the block until almost dinner time. Rebecca had wanted me to include a traipse down to the community garden behind the Methodist Church across the street, but they were having a memorial barbecue, and there were a few people milling in the parking lot near the garden. I did not want to intrude in their festivities. Rebecca disagreed, and tried to pull me in that direction, but I flat-out refused. Afterwards, she said that the walk counted as fulfilling the task, but the tone of her voice said otherwise. I started questioning my decision to not intrude at the church, but Beth agreed that not going to the garden was the considerate thing to do. Why do I question my decisions so much? Why can't I believe in myself more firmly and stick to my guns? I know I was conditioned to mistrust my gut instincts when growing up, but I'm grown up now. That inner doubt no longer serves me.

I peeled garlic last night for dinner - actually more than the 6 cloves specified in the task. I don't know if it slowed me down or not. Afterward, I became impatient waiting for the sink to wash off the papery garlic skin that was stuck to my fingers.

Tangent Arc Above A Parhelion
After cleaning up all my painting tools, and moving the firewood behind the shed (so I was ready to paint the rest of the wall the following day), I sat on the top step outside the door of the shed and surveyed the back yard. Birds were flitting from tree to tree. The thin smear of clouds overhead revealed a tangent arc overhead, indicating a parhelion around the sun. The red leaves of our neighbor's huge maple tree glowed in the waning rays of sunlight. I realized that I sit in that spot often - sometimes when I need quiet or a break from the interactions in the house - sometimes, just to slow down and enjoy the microcosm that is our back yard.

I realized that I knew no better place nearby where I could feel like myself and simply chill out, or reflect. I decided that sitting on that top step was my special place. I called Rebecca out from the house to announce my decision. She accepted my decision, but was not enthusiastic - probably because she had expectations that I would find a place that was a little more secluded - a place I could go to completely extract myself from the usual life routine.

I started questioning my decision - had I chosen this place to take the easy way out? Should I keep searching? I stopped myself. This was a natural, comfortable place where I come to sit and be with myself. It wasn't what I pictured in my mind's eye when Rebecca first gave me the task, but it felt right. That was my special spot. I stopped doubting myself; I stopped worrying about how my decision was received. That's the spot - end of discussion (both internal and external)!

I chuckled as I thought of a line Albert Brooks delivered in the movie "Broadcast News": "Wouldn't it be great if insecurity and self-doubt made us more attractive?" Well, they don't - so it's high time I shed those limiting feelings!

Here's today's tasks:
  1. When we go up on the Blue Ridge Parkway today, don't just drive. Get out of the car and feel the ground under your feet. Take a nice trail and let your inner child lead you. Have fun and enjoy yourself along with being with your family.
  2. On "your" trail, find 5 cool artifacts to take home with you (not pictures).
  3. Have fun!
I'll let you know tomorrow how it went!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Experiment - Day 27

It's Day 27 of the Experiment where I must perform the tasks my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns to me.

Yesterday went...hmmm. Well, it went - went by too quickly that is - and I didn't get to all the tasks. I did stick my hands in the earth. Initially, I felt silly squatting there with my hands plunged into a fallow garden bed. But I tried to think about all the things in the earth, all the creatures and plants whose energy had become the earth - how with my hands in the soil, I was connected with all that energy, clear down to the core of the earth. I imagined that energy helping me find my place and my path in this soup of energy and vibrating atoms.

I stayed in the garden and watered the beds for the cold crops - it's been very dry and the garden desperately needed a drink. My stomach was already churning with worries, so I thought that lingering out under the mild Autumn sun was going to feel good, but my guts kept roiling as I fretted about the tasks I was neglecting (especially my accounting chores), while watering.

I hate that. Why couldn't I just enjoy the moment and trust everything would be taken care of later?  I kept watering in an attempt to push back against the inner unrest - I did not want to let it win. I refused to let it interrupt the activity I was engaged in. The ball of unease in my belly rolled on, but I watered every bed until the job was done.

I did not go for a walk. I had a 3pm meeting with a potential client, and before that was determined to finish the accounting and some of the catch-up work that had eluded me all week. My finances had been hanging over my head all week like a pesky black cloud - I hesitated tallying the numbers because a part of me didn't want to know the status if it was bad. But I was stressing about not knowing anyway, so it made sense to get on with it - so I did. The result did not worsen or lessen my stress level, but at least the chore was behind me.

I also did not search further for my special place. Hopefully, this weekend will afford a few opportunities for that. I wanted to go up on the parkway this morning, but the girls negotiated for a trip tomorrow morning instead. Still I want to get out and do something - I feel restless.

Here's today's tasks:

  1. Go for an easy walk around our house - a short loop is fine.
  2. Peel 6 cloves of garlic for dinner tonight. Take your time!! Rebecca believes that Mother Nature created garlic to give us time while peeling it - to give us a chance to think and be taken away from work and worries. And, it also presents a delicious taste.
  3. Find your special place. (Rebecca wrote "secret place", but scratched out "secret" and wrote "special".) I hope to eventually find both a special place and my secret place somewhere in the mountains
I'll let you know how I did tomorrow.

Only 4 days left! As The Experiment nears completion, I am starting to wonder if it has benefitted me. Am I the exact same stressed-out, beleaguered soul I was when I started this Experiment? Has there been a subtle shift? If so, could the shift have been more pronounced had I tried harder?

I jokingly say of myself that I often worry that I don't worry enough. Is The Experiment helping me find a respite from that fretful state?

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Experiment - Day 26

Wow. If you include today, only 5 days left of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter assigns me tasks I must complete.

Yesterday, I had 3 tasks:

The first was to eat my lunch outside, which I did. I didn't devour it, but I could have eaten more slowly. There were a few small clouds near the western horizon, and one had a great swirl to it, making it look like a big wave at Waimea Bay, so I imagined a surfer getting some tube time in the swirl. Rebecca had written that if I did not see many clouds, I should close my eyes and imagine a few - which I did not do. I was reminded of this by a photo posted to facebook that confronted me right after coming in from lunch. Though it's been photoshopped, it is a very cool image of a cloud in the shape of a galloping horse.

My next task was to go outside and take 5 pictures, and then arrange them into a checkerboard pattern. I got carried away with this project. As I thought about the checkerboard arrangement, I decided I wanted to take it one step further and make a quilt square. I thought about the kind of close-up photos that would best lend themselves to the task and ended up taking 29 photos in all. Based on Rebecca's reaction to taking so many photos, I think she had intended for me to restrict myself to 5 images so I could position and repeat them if necessary.

Once she saw the result, she didn't seem too concerned about my having diverged from her exact instructions, but I still think she would have liked me to have followed her directions more precisely. All the images I used came from sections of the exterior of the buildings on our property, and the plants in the garden.

"Find your special place" is still a task on the list. Special was underlined, so I think Rebecca doesn't want me to think of it as a secret place, but rather a place I will feel comfortable, secure, connected and protected. I tried a few different locations around our house. I sat on the stoop to one of our outbuildings; I sat under the Vitex bush; I sat on the side of the porch. I gave each place a chance, quieted myself, and tried to see how each spot felt to me. Still, none of these places felt special. The search continues! Perhaps I will find a special place around the house, and eventually find a new secret place for myself up in the mountains?

Today's tasks:

  1. Go down to the garden and find a fallow plot. Stick both hands into the soil and feel the cold dirt. Today, I like having a task that's easy to accomplish.
  2. Find your special place. I'm hoping "find" still means "keep searching for".
  3. Though it's not on the sheet, at breakfast Rebecca added a walk around the block.
I'll let you know tomorrow how I did!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Experiment - Day 25

It's Day 25 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

And though I felt pretty puny for the first half of yesterday, I am glad to report that I rallied enough to complete most of yesterday's tasks! I should probably stop making early predictions about how I think the day will transpire - it might inhibit the possibility for surprises.

Buck Springs Tunnel
Yesterday's Task 1 was "Find Your Secret Place". I don't expect I'll find the place right away, but I did continue the search yesterday. Beth and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Pisgah. We parked at the Mount Pisgah parking lot, and got out to stretch our legs. I spied a grassy trail to our left, and though my guts were still feeling mighty tender, we followed it. Luckily it was a short trail, which terminated at the top of the Buck Springs Tunnel, a spot which afforded a spectacular view. Though the spot was definitely a contender for secret place, it didn't quite resonate with me. But I'm on the hunt, which feels good.

Task 2 was to "Make A Craft". Rebecca elaborated more on the previous day's task sheet, advising me to keep it simple. I had torn some bittersweet out of our garden the day before, and left it haphazardly on our back porch. By yesterday morning, the red fruit had started popping out of its golden shells. This reminded me how much I miss bittersweet wreaths at this time of year (because oriental bittersweet is an invasive, the sale of bittersweet wreaths has been banned in many states). I cut more bittersweet vine out of our garden and made a wreath. After reading up on the plant, I decided to keep the wreath in the house where the birds can't get to the berries, (birds do most of the work dispersing the seeds). I consider this bittersweet wreath to be a rare treat that I may not be able to enjoy again once we rid our garden of the stuff. So I'm going to take lots of photos of the wreath to enjoy in future years.

There was an extra task yesterday - to doodle - but I didn't get around to that one. Still, not bad progress for a day I felt so poorly.

Onto today's tasks, which have been elaborately described!:
  1. Eat lunch outside. Do not devour it. Watch the clouds while you eat. Imagine them as creatures or other things and log them in your "Happy Journal". If there aren't any clouds (which might well be the case today), close your eyes and imagine that the clouds are there. (Rebecca drew a cloud shaped like a foot with big toe nails to inspire me.)
  2. Go outside and take 5 pictures that relate to each other. Then take the images and design them in a checkerboard pattern. Or print the images and do a "cool scissory thing" with them.
  3. Find your "special place". I know it will take a few days, but keep trying. You'll know when you find it because you will immediately connect with it.
I'll let you know tomorrow how I did!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Experiment - Day 24

It's Day 24 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete. And it's do-over day, since I didn't complete any tasks yesterday.

And already a tough do-over day at that. I am still on this cursed diet which is supposed to be healing my guts, but I awoke today doubled over with pain and digestive trouble. This diet is supposed to make me feel better, but it's been weeks and I'm still suffering. I understand that many cleansing diets have a detox phase, but this one won't let up. I have bad days more often than not. It's very discouraging.

I am certainly in no shape to go searching for my secret place unless I somehow rally later. I am so tired of these physical and emotional challenges. I want to get on with my life and get past these hurdles!

At least it's another perfect Fall day and I can at minimum sit out under the sun and warm my tender abdomen.

Yesterday, Beth thought it might help me if she took me to her secret place in Montreat, above Black Mountain. Montreat is an amazing place, originally a Presbyterian community nestled in a valley that is dotted with sweet arts-and-crafts style homes. I could easily picture us living there. We took the Rainbow Trail, looking for a small side trail that leads to a rocky outcrop - Beth's secret place. It was a nice walk on the shaded, north-facing side of the valley, and the Autumn light lingering in the trees overhead lit the trail with golden, magical diffused light.

After following the trail for a fair piece, Beth was startled that it dumped out onto a new road and a small development of new houses. We searched around the development roads and were at first unable to find the continuation of the trail. Beth became very upset, thinking that the trail had been destroyed and her secret place was gone. We didn't have much time, as we had to pick up Rebecca from school, and we were just about to give up when we found a mailbox left by the developer with a plan showing all the home sites. The trail was still there! We had merely zigged when we should have zagged. We found the side trail, but ran out of time before we got to her spot, and had to head back. We will return soon and find it.

Though a lovely hike, I don't know if it got me any closer to finding my own secret place. But maybe the hike counts, because it was the beginning of the exploration. I think finding my secret place will take some exploration. Even if I manage to go searching today, I may not find my secret place right away. Rebecca understands this, and I think she simply wants me to begin the search in earnest. And I will - if not today, then soon. Maybe I need to state my intention by starting to search, and my secret place will land in my lap when I least expect it?

I think I can manage Task #2 today: make a craft.

I'll let you know tomorrow how I did.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Experiment - Day 23

It's the 23rd day of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks that I must complete. Unfortunately, it feels like a crash-and-burn day.

Yesterday went much better - I went for a walk around the neighborhood with Beth - it was a glorious, cool, crisp morning and the walk was very enjoyable. And it felt good to have the first task completed early.

It wasn't until late afternoon that I completed task 2, which was to play my fiddle for 30 minutes. I chose a very challenging tune to learn - Ed Haley's Poplar Bluff - and when I was working out the 2nd position part (ask a fiddler if you don't know what this means), I was sure I saw neighborhood dogs packing their bags and purchasing airline tickets. It'll take a lot of woodshedding before I dare trot that tune out in public - but at least I started the process of mastering it.

I didn't doodle - dangit! But that was an extra task, so it's OK that I didn't get to it.

Now for today's tasks:
  1. Find your "secret place". In the movie "The Education of Little Tree", the boy's grandfather says "All Cherokee have a secret place. It's a place that's just for you. Sometimes, you just feel like you have to go there."

    Just the sight of this project sent me into an emotional tailspin. I have such a place in Southern California, on the spine of the Malibu mountains where I can see Malibu Canyon all the way to the ocean on one side, and a small community nestled into a bowl in the mountains on the other side, under a mountain fringed with jaggy sandstone outcrops. It's a place I discovered probably when I was 16. I originally went there to party with my friends. But after I outgrew that sort of thing, it became a place that I went when the rest of the world wasn't agreeing with me. I've had some magic moments on the top of that hill - and for many years, I kept the tradition of watching the sun set on Christmas Eve at that spot.

    I've been here in Western North Carolina for 14 years, and I have yet to find such a place in this part of the world. There were a few places behind the log house near Barnardsville where I once lived, but it's a private development now, and houses now stand in those places - I wouldn't feel comfortable going back in there now that I no longer live there. There are a few places off the Blue Ridge Parkway I like, but they are usually swarming with people. I want a place I can simply be and feel sheltered with little chance of others happening by. It felt like an impossible task, and I became very discouraged. What if the problem is that I don't belong in this part of the world? I tried to think of possible places, but every spot that came to mind felt exposed and uncomfortable when I pondered on it. This horrible feeling took over me and I felt frozen, unable to do much of anything for part of the day. I wonder why this task has brought on such a strong reaction?
  2. Do a simple craft project. Do something you can do and feel like it is an accomplishment, not just something to check off a to-do list [I'm paraphrasing].
I'll tell you more about how today's tasks went in tomorrow's post.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Experiment - Day 22

It's Day 22 of the Experiment where I must complete the tasks that my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns to me. Three weeks completed!

I finished all of yesterday's tasks. But 5 hours without a computer - on a weekend day? That imp! Since Rebecca was away at a sleepover until midday, I didn't get to my task sheet until around 2pm - and was just about to sit down in front of the computer when I found the task list on my keyboard. I really didn't want to be computer deprived yesterday afternoon! As I mentioned, I had been off the computer for 90 minutes already, so I only had 3 1/2 hours to go - until 5:30 pm. There were a few moments when I instinctively lunged for the computer, only to stop myself and grumble a little.

I wrote 5 things in my gratitude journal. They were: 1) the mild, clear Fall weather, 2) The fact that I still have decent clothes to wear, even though I haven't been able to afford to buy anything beyond underwear and a few thrift store shirts for the last couple years - oops! That's like gratitude and a complaint - probably cancels itself out, 3) Grateful for the chickens and all the eggs - and that our new little Bantam hen is gradually being accepted by the rest of the flock, 4) Grateful for Beth and Rebecca, 5) Grateful that Rebecca is showing such promise in her tennis class, 6) Grateful for the massive music and movie library I have at my disposal - I know this sounds silly, but I was thinking back to the 70s, when we each just had a handful of music albums - and movies had to be viewed in the theatre or at the moment they were broadcast on TV. It really is amazing how much more information we have on demand these days, and finally 7) Grateful to hear a few crickets yet - and the occasional spooky call of a neighborhood screech owl. (Rebecca didn't say I couldn't do more than 5!)

The last task was to meditate with the sun in mind, much like I had done with Air a few days ago. I sat on the steps to the workshop shed, where I mostly faced the sun, (now that the light is changing, the sun was more on my right yesterday afternoon). It was gorgeous outside, windy and warm enough in the sun - my favorite Autumn light. It almost brings back memories of past lives, it feels so familiar. My usual sitting meditations are 25 minutes long. Yesterday, I sat for almost an hour, transfixed by the golden light.

Here's today's tasks:

  1. Take a nice relaxing walk around the loop and enjoy the fresh air. It's fresh and crisp, as this was our first morning in the 30s! It's still clear as a bell outside, so a walk will be glorious.
  2. Play your fiddle for 30 minutes. Challenge yourself and do something you didn't think you could do. Sounds like I need to woodshed the tune "Poplar Bluff"!
  3. Extra: Doodle. At first glance, I thought it she had written "poodle". Maybe I'll doodle a poodle?
I'll let you know how I did on these tasks tomorrow.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Experiment - Day 21 part 2

I'm more than 2/3rds of the way through The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

And only now did I have a revelation about this blog: It might be difficult to follow because each day, I write about the tasks that were assigned the day before. People might want to hear about the tasks and the results all in the same post. Which way is better? Instant gratification or cliffhanger? Please let me know. (For this post, I will stick with the cliffhanger mode.)

I finished the candle I started yesterday. And, I discovered that when you embed things into a candle, they have to be very near the outer surface to be noticeable. The leaves I embedded are barely noticeable - dang! Maybe when the candle is lit, the shadows of the leaves will show up? Still, the candle is a nice golden yellow color and looks great on the candle shelf.

As I mentioned, I daydreamed some yesterday, and for the heck of it, I did more daydreaming today. I mostly thought of the past, though remembered a few situations I haven't thought of in a long time, like the people I hung out with when I was first learning to hang glide. That was a great time of my life. I was coming out of a difficult phase (after selling all my belongings to study in Europe for a year, I had to return to live with my parents until I graduated university - it was a hellish time!). But getting my own digs and finding an outlet like hang gliding was my salvation! I wonder why that time of my life percolated up today?

Before I list today's tasks, I want to say that I was touched that Rebecca apologized for delivering today's tasks late - she had a sleep-over birthday party to attend last night, so I really didn't expect to get the tasks on time, and let her know she had nothing to apologize for. Here's today's tasks:
  1. No Computer For 5 Hours. Oh, man! I was just about to jump back on the computer after not having touched it for a couple hours when I read this. Luckily, I had already been off the computer for 2 hours, so I only have 3 hours to go.
  2. Write 5 things you're grateful for in your gratitude journal today. This wasn't hard. It was a glorious mild Fall day, so I was grateful for that, as well as 
  3. Meditate to sunshine as I did a few days ago to air. Be Creative!
I'll tell you how it went tomorrow. If you would rather see the task and the results in the same post, rather than in this format, let me know!

The Experiment - Days 20 & 21

"Parents often think that they are here to guide the little ones. When in reality, the little ones come forth with clarity to guide you." ~Abraham

I'm a little embarrassed to say I missed blogging about the experiment yesterday - the first day I've missed. We were out most of the day and when we returned, we still had lots of garden and housework to attend to. I could have written a blog post around 10 last night, but Rebecca is off at a sleepover and Beth and I wanted to take advantage of an evening alone to woo each other.

But I'm back in the saddle this morning. Here's how Friday's progress went:

I did sit at the dining room table and stared at a candle for 15 minutes. It was a busy day, and all I could think about initially was my packed to-do list. I didn't want to stare at a candle and fidgeted at first. But in the end, it was good, because it slowed me down and pulled me out of the frenetic sea of activity in which I had immersed myself.

I did not make a cool, funky craft. I had planned to pour a nice Autumny pillar candle. All the candle making supplies were in disarray in the shed, where they had been since The Great Candle Catastrophe last Spring. Suffice it to say, I was cleaning the kitchen of wax for days after the Catastrophe, so I had shelved candle making for quite some time. But after a busy day, and after playing for a dance at Rebecca's school and eating a late dinner, candle making was not to be. (I think playing for the dance satisfied the extra task of playing my fiddle for 30 minutes.)

Onto Saturday's tasks (yesterday):
  1. Make a special candle. Have fun and be creative. While making the candle, think about when you will burn it. (When I miss a task, I can almost bet that Rebecca will carry it forward on the next day, which is what happened on Saturday.)
  2. Daydream a lot today. Have fun with it!
It's now Sunday morning, and I can report that I completed both tasks. It felt good to get the candle making kit back in order - it wasn't quite the huge mess I expected it to be. The candle is still in progress, so I don't know if it's "special" yet. I want to embed the exterior of the candle with cured fall leaves, but I'm not quite sure how to accomplish this. I might take the candle once it has hardened and drop it into a wider mold, place the leaves in the space around the outside of the existing candle, and then pour the outer area to make it wider. I hope it works!

For some reason, thinking of the daydreaming task on a blustery Fall day like yesterday brought to mind the Buffalo Springfield song "On The Way Home" - I suppose because the lyrics speak of dreams and windy days. This was my favorite song when I was 9 years old.

I daydreamed some, but not all day. It was a glorious, cool Fall afternoon, so I took a short break from all my chores and sat down with a book of rustic fireplaces (appropriately titled "Rustic Fireplaces"), and pictured my dream house with a rough-hewn stone fireplace that I could enjoy on cool Fall days like these. For years, I have heated with wood. I have a great woodstove, but the cost to install it at our current house is more than we can afford right now. So we shiver through the winter with baseboard heat. I dream of the day we can sit in front of a roaring fire in our own home! I don't know why having a hearth is so important to me, but I feel like I'm missing a limb without a home fire.

Rebecca is still at her sleepover, so I won't have today's task sheet until after she comes home, but once I get my marching orders, I'll post them here!

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Experiment - Day 19

It's Day 19 of The Experiment where I must complete the tasks that my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns to me.

Yesterday's complex "The Four Elements" task went very well, and as I mentioned yesterday, Rebecca gave me kudos for a job well done. For Air, I meditated, focusing on my breath, and restricting my thoughts to all things air. I turned on the ceiling fan overhead so I could feel the air moving against my skin. I recalled my decade of hang gliding, windy days, air hiding in all the cracks and crevasses of trees. As if on cue, the wind picked up and the wind chimes sang and leaves rustled as I meditated.

For Fire, I created this page of affirmations with a fiery background. I printed it, crumpled it up, and burned it in our backyard firepit. Even though the ink was dry, it burned very slowly, sending wisps of smoke skyward. I imagined my affirmations and intentions being released into the all-connected universe and knew they would all come back to me. I watched as the paper went from dark gray to medium gray to light gray to white ash. It reminded me that transformation comes in stages, and that I shouldn't get impatient.

For Earth, I remembered that Beth had planted some snow peas, but only a few had germinated and she had been meaning to replant. I found the seeds, and replanted. I worked barefoot so I could feel the earth under my feet while I planted.

For Water, I started out by watering all the new cold crops in our garden (they were due for a drink). I thought about all the iterations of water I could - remembering days when I swam and body surfed in the ocean, floated down rivers, made cannon balls diving into swimming pools. Rebecca asked me if I had thought of waterfalls, and even though I had lived in Yosemite Valley for a year when I was younger, waterfalls somehow did not cross my mind! Hmmm.

Since I had to water the plants anyway, that wasn't really a task I went out of my way to accomplish. I felt like I needed to do something more. I considered heading to the French Broad River to sit on the banks and watch the water course by, but I didn't really have enough time for that. So I did something that I rarely (if ever), let myself do: I took a shower, but after I finished scrubbing and shaving, I sat cross-legged in the tub for an extra 5 minutes and let the warm water cascade over me. It felt luxurious, and I enjoyed every second of it. I kept thinking about the water cleansing and healing me. It felt fantastic!

I'm a little concerned about having enough time for today's tasks. Yesterday's task took a big hunk of the day to complete, so I need to play catch-up with work, plus leave for a 3pm meeting, and then I'll need to leave early to play a dance at Rebecca's school. Ah, the typical pre-task whining.
  1. Light a candle (with a match, not a lighter), and sit at the dining room table watching it for 15 minutes. After that, leave the candle to burn out on its own.
  2. Make a cool, funky craft. Have fun and be creative! I have something in mind, but it'll take a little time to do. I could figure out a simpler project, but I don't want to rush through something easy just to get it done. My schedule being what it is, though, I may have to keep it quick and simple anyway.
  3. Extra: Play fiddle for 30 consecutive minutes. Hopefully, playing for the dance will suffice for that one.
I'll let you know how I did tomorrow!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Experiment - Day 18

Day 18 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter assigns me tasks I must complete was a good day!

Yesterday was pretty good, too. I know I minimized the egocentric talk in the conversations I had, but we had a dinner guest, so his visit really was comprised of several conversations. I know I did a much better job listening than I usually do. But my recollection is a bit blurry, so I don't think I can quantify my performance. I think I did pretty well.

Today, I continued a bit with this task, and when speaking with one of Rebecca's classmate's mothers, I put in the extra effort to listen much and speak less.

Beth and I went down to the church's garden as instructed. The yield is waning, as would be expected at this time of year. There is a sign near the garden stating that the food is for the neighborhood and to feel free to harvest something - still, I felt sheepish when Beth took a few eggplants - why is that? Permission was explicitly granted and yet I wanted to hesitate. We will put those eggplants to good use - Beth has already made an amazing eggplant casserole, which I know she will repeat. But if it weren't for Beth, I would not have taken them - I'm glad she's bolder than I! Maybe I need to work on feeling more deserving?

I doodled, too (dle). But it was more of a cartooning endeavor - and some ideas came to my head for some satirical graphics, so I jotted them down, too. I felt impatient and didn't want to labor over any one drawing, choosing instead to hash them out quickly. But I completed the task!

I felt like adding some color to the page, so I have posted another photo of a flower in our yard that I shot yesterday morning - this time, a Mexican Cigar Plant. I think I want to give myself the task of taking a photo of our Hickory tree every morning at the same time, starting on Saturday, October first. I want to document its daily changing of color and shedding of leaves until it's bare. Hope it's vibrant this year!

OK, onto today's task (Rebecca gave me just one, because it's a hum-dinger!):
  1. THE ELEMENT TASK. Throughout the day, try to discern all four elements (earth, air, water, fire). Really connect with each element; take your time; no quick afterthoughts are allowed.
Since I'm posting this late in the day, I can tell you that I have already completed this task and Rebecca has informed me that I went "above and beyond".  I felt a swell of pride when she told me that. I know she works hard thinking of these tasks, so it's gratifying to know that I nailed one!

So what did I do? You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Experiment - Day 17

Day 17 of The Experiment where I must complete the tasks that my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns to me.

I noticed one big shift already today: when Rebecca came to me to deliver the day's tasks, I greeted her and the tasks with positivity and enthusiasm, (as opposed to the usual half-asleep grumbly reception). I was already up and about when she brought the tasks (allergies got me up early this morning). But for some reason, even though I was groggy and stuffy, I had a completely different attitude. And I got a big hug from Rebecca in return. I want to repeat this for many mornings to come!

The sun revealed a royal blue clear sky, so while Beth took Rebecca to school, I went out and took some photos of the remaining plant blossoms in the early, golden light. Cool weather comes in a few days, so I thought I should take advantage of the last vestiges of Summer. Here's a photo of our Cardinal Climbers greeting the first rays of sunlight.

Yesterday's tasks went incredibly well, which is a great improvement on the previous day. I sent query letters to a few more literary agents. I don't know why I procrastinate so on this task - wait, yes I do. It's scary to put myself out there; doubts creep in about my children's story. Is it good enough? Or am I just another hack who thinks he's better than he is? It's time to be brave and find out. With each query, the process gets a little easier. I quell my doubts by fantasizing about some day in the future, when my agent calls me with a stunned sound in her voice to inform me that the book has sold a million copies, and that never in her wildest dreams had she expected I would be her most successful author.

I did play a game - and I confess, I did the minimum on this one task: I played a game of Yahtzee by myself. Scored 251 (not bad considering I never rolled a Yahtzee). Rebecca's response was something to the effect of "I guess that counts." I told her if it wasn't enough, that we could play a game together later, but the household tasks of the evening took over and we never got around to it.

I wrote in my gratitude journal about how much I appreciate Beth. But better than that, I expressed my appreciation in person a few times during the day.

I doodled a little bit, too. My doodle turned into a semi-abstract dandelion. If you look at Rebecca's task sheet for the day, you'll see how her doodle of a triangle turned into a portrait of a girl wearing a hat. So I think that is tacit permission to let my doodles transmogrify into tangible things.

Today's tasks are:
  1. Try and have 3 conversations where you don't talk about yourself unless someone asks a direct question about yourself.
  2. Go down to the neighborhood church and walk around their garden. I may even take my camera, since the light is so good today.
  3. Doodle for 15 consecutive minutes.
I'll tell you how I did tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Experiment - Day 16

Sorry I'm so late with this one - it's Day 16 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

I missed one yesterday - dang! I completely forgot to play a game. But as you'll see when you read today's tasks, I get a do-over.

Yesterday I waited until pretty late to read my humorous novel for 30 minutes - and I was mostly outside. I started around 6:30. And I pushed my luck, reading it on the front porch. I could still hear birds and crickets and smell the evening air. But Rebecca called me on it because I had so pushed the envelope. I should have at least gone to the Adirondack chairs in the backyard to read. I was mostly concerned with getting the task completed, not how well I completed the task.

That's a little embarrassing. That makes me want to strengthen my commitment to this Experiment, and approach the tasks with more enthusiasm and resolve. So that's what I will do today.

Today's is what Rebecca calls "Catch-Up Day", a day to reassign some of the tasks that I didn't complete.
  1. Do some more things with "Rebecca The Dream Flipper" (the children's story I wrote). Write more letters to literary agents, etc. I don't know what the "etc." will be. Really, the plan right now is to keep sending query letters to literary agents. I guess I could create an actual dream flipper spatula. That might be kinda fun, though it's nothing I need to do.
  2. Play another game - same deal as yesterday. Except today I'd better do it.
  3. Write in your gratitude journal. I actually have been making entries in my gratitude journal, even when it's not an assigned task! 
  4. Extra: Doodle. Always with the doodling!
I'll tell you tomorrow how I did today - and I'll post my blog entry much earlier!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Experiment - Day 15

It's hump day for The Experiment where my 10-year-old daughter Rebecca assigns me tasks (for the next 30 days), I must complete.

Hard to believe we're at the halfway point already. All yesterday's tasks were completed.

I walked a mile around the neighborhood with Rebecca. I noted that we were holding hands during our walk and that was a tactile sensation. She expressed that that sensation wasn't what she had in mind - she was looking for more external things. I maintained that our holding hands was an integral part of our walk and that it should count, but she was happier when I noted the acorns crunching under my feet when walking under an oak tree. I watched puffy clouds trace past a royal blue sky, tasted the salt on my lips (it was a warm, humid day), smelled that boggy earth smell near the house where all the bamboo grows, I heard the wind rustling through the trees and the trucks on nearby I-40. I did not see dead people, so I guess I don't have that sixth sense like in the movie.

I had high ambitions for doing something I hadn't done before - or hadn't done in a long time. I wanted to build a screech owl roost or make a candle with fall leaves embedded in it. But the little chores around the house conspired to keep me busy, and next thing I knew, it was almost dinnertime. I defaulted  to Rebecca's suggestion and  picked a few burgundy chrysanthemums and some flame cosmos and put them in a little vase on the dinner table. She had suggested something like that, saying "It can be something easy." Thank goodness Rebecca gave me an easy way to successfully complete this task!

Today's tasks:
  1. Read my current novel "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages" for 30 minutes. Read it outside (front porch counts).
  2. Play a game - either with somebody or by yourself. It cannot be a computer game. The day is already late, so I don't think Monopoly is in order. Maybe Yahtzee?
I'll let you know how I did tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Experiment - Day 14

It's Day 14 of The Experiment where my 10-year-old Rebecca assigns me tasks I must complete.

I have been staying away from all my usual news sources. However, I confess I did make a short comment to someone's facebook post about the Wall Street Protests. I suppose that constitutes a violation - hopefully, just a minor infraction. I will endeavor to do better this morning and stay away from all news sources until 12:30pm.

I created a little happiness mini-journal and have added two entries so far:

The first was about getting our new little bantam hen, "Boots". She wasn't welcomed initially by our hens, so she is in a little cage just outside their run. Last night, we put her on the roosting pole with the rest of the birds. This morning, it was quiet at first when they exited the coop, but before long, they were pecking at Boots and chasing her around the run. We'll move the cage inside the run so they can interact, but Boots will be protected. And again tonight, we'll have her roost with the other hens. Hopefully, it'll only take a couple days before they all settle down and Boots finds her place in the pecking order.

My second entry was about pulling out the Fall candles and setting them up (on the little rustic shelf I built a few years ago), amidst all the ornamental gourds that we grew. Usually, I have all that stuff out before the official first day of Autumn, but it's still warm and a bit humid, so it didn't feel like Fall yet - we can't light candles while the ceiling fans are running, anyway. (The dry, crisp weather is supposed to arrive on October first.) I was a bit disconcerted that I waited so long to pull out the candles because the childlike part of me usually gets impatient and, weather or not, I install the candles before the first official day of Fall.

However, last night and the night before, I did light up like a kid on Christmas when I heard a nearby Screech Owl make its haunting call. I dashed outside to hear the Screech. I want to build a roost and put it up in the hickory tree to encourage them to come to our yard more often.

Here's today's tasks:
  1. Go for a regular loop (about a mile+) walk. While walking, try to use all your senses and be aware of them. You might want to jot down in a notebook what you smell, see, hear, touch, taste.
  2. Do something that you've never done before or haven't done in a long time. Be creative and do something different than you did last time. Again, I already have a couple ideas about what I want to create! That takes the pressure off.
I'll let you know tomorrow how today's tasks went!