Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sometimes Zen is Annoying...

My $1 Shop Zen calendar occasionally has quotes that annoy me, like this one:

"What does it matter,
The new year, the old year?
I stretch out my legs
And all alone have a
Quiet sleep."


There is a sense of apathy or disconnect or inertia or "flatness" almost in some Zen writing that gets on my nerves!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Soul Force + Stillness

From the $1 Shop Zen calendar, I loved this:

"There is a soul force in the universe, which, if we permit it, will flow through us and produce miraculous results."


Another good one:

"How can I be still? By flowing with the stream."


Saturday, December 27, 2008

80's Birth Books

In November, I finished reading some "vintage" birth books from the 1980's. I can't believe I used to avoid books like this because I assumed that the "dated" pictures on the covers would come with "dated" inside content. Instead, there is a great deal of "fresh" insight in them and I enjoy them a great deal.

I read:

Sheila Kitzinger's The Experience of Childbirth--this book was interesting (and unique/fresh) in its exploration of birth as an experience. The focus was on emotions and relationships and personality and all kinds of things that influence birth, and the experience of giving birth, other than physiology. It did have a long section on breathing techniques that no longer are in "fashion." It also had a lot of information about childbirth education and effective birth education that I thought was very interesting and relevant.

And I then read her Woman's Experience of Sex. One point she made in the book with regard to virginity that a girl is seen as "losing something" while a boy is seen as gaining something. While discussing the sexuality of birth she uses a beautiful analogy: "A woman who is enjoying her labor swings into the rhythm of contractions as if birth-giving were a powerful dance, her uterus creating the beat. She watches for it, concentrates on it, like an orchestra following its conductor."

And then Elizabeth Noble's Childbirth with Insight. Again, some really good observations for childbirth educators. There is a particularly lyrical and engaging and descriptive writing style in all of these books that seems different than present-day writings. Perhaps present-day books try to be more dynamic or fast-paced? I'm not sure exactly what the difference is, but these older books give me more "ah ha!" or "oh, cool!" or "what a great way to describe xyz" feeling than more current birth books that I've read recently.

I also re-read portions of my favorite 80's birth book, Transformation Through Birth by Claudia Panuthos.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Zen Quotes

My trusty $1 Shop Zen Calendar is winding down for the year. Lucky for me, I have tons of saved slips from it that I have meaning to post to this blog. I will parcel them out bit by bit and perhaps I won't miss my little calendar so much...

"Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place"


"The world is a great mirror. It reflects back to you what you are. If you are loving, if you are friendly, if you are helpful, the world will prove loving and friendly to you."

--Thomas Dreier

I got this one on a day when the whole family had gotten up on the "wrong side of bed" and we were all crabby and snappish with each other. The quote provided a needed reminder!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Walking a Sacred Path

Wanted to quickly share some quotes from the book I just finished reading at naptime, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool.

First, a quote of a quote (Nietzsche): "You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."

And another quote of quote (a Buddhist analogy from Robert Lawlor): "Time is like a necklace of square beads of tangible objects, or moments of events, and to be absorbed by this succession of limited frames is maya or illusion, whereas only the inner thread of the necklace, the unimaginable continuum, is reality."

Jewish prayer (the "Shechehiyanu"): "Thank you, God, for preparing me, for sustaining me, and for bringing me to this moment so that I can truly celebrate what is." (I like and often use/say the Serenity prayer and this reminds of me of that.)

And, finally, from the author herself: "Opening to the sacred is a profound, life-changing process. It frees enormous energy that needs to be channeled back out in the world in service. If the focus is back into the self, then the act of seeking can become an addiction."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I just finished reading Brain, Child mag this month and there was an ad in the front for posters and bookmarks and things from a store called Owl Square Press. Anyway, one of them was a poster of a huge stack of books with this sort of monster-ish looking character sitting by it reading and below it it says:

Books to the ceiling, books to the sky
My piles of books are a mile high.
How I love them!
How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.

Aside from the beard point, I think I wrote this...LOL! ;-)

There was another poster that quoted Charles de Montesquieu:

"I have never known any distress that an hour's reading did not relieve."

I don't think I ever read for a solid hour any more (I used to sometimes put in practically a solid day!) I still read an awful lot of books each year for how disrupted it is.

And, on an unrelated note, in the thought-provoking Brain, Child feature article The Mom Job (about cosmetic surgery for mothers):

"Consider our culture's fixation on women's breasts. 'Tits are really for tots,' says Freedman bluntly. 'But we don't think of them that way. We think of breasts as being for men.'"

I keep getting a mental image of a cartoon rabbit saying, "Silly men. Tits are for tots!" ;-)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Practically Perfect in Every Way + Musings on Self-Help

One of my Christmas books LAST YEAR was Practically Perfect in Every Way by one of Brain, Child's editors/founders Jennifer Niesslein. I wrote notes in my notebook about it on Dec. 26th 2007, but they were so extensive that I never got around to actually get them onto my blog. So, now that it is practically the one year "anniversary" of my reading the book, it is high time I actually post about it! It was quite good and it made me think a great deal about my own penchant for self-help books (the subtitle of this book is "my misadventures through the world of self-help and back"). I enjoyed the book a great deal, though I don't have many specific notes/quotes about it, itself. What I have are notes about how I felt/things I realized while reading it. So, this isn't a review post per se, but more like ruminations and navel-gazing! Kind of stream-of-consciousness as I transcribe it now.

The author employs an ongoing analogy between her emotions and a glove that is fitting right or is "twisted." She expresses that she feels emotionally "neutral" most of the time--sometimes on the happy side, sometimes on the "glove is twisted" side (off balance, sad/crabby side). My husband seems like this to me as well--we've discussed it actually--that he is emotionally "neutral." When we talked about it, I used my hands wildly to demo the imaginary line of my own emotions and how I am rarely at neutral and would kind of like to be. Instead I seem mild cyclothymic in my emotions/attitudes towards life, swinging fairly rapidly from buoyancy and mild euphoria to despair and doubt. I am well aware this sounds manic-depressive, but it isn't anywhere close to that level (I do have a copy of the DSM-IV, thankyouverymuch). Though, when considering whether I'd like to be neutral truly, I realize that if giving up the despair bits meant also giving up the wellspring of joy--I'll keep the occasional despair! (And yes, I'm also aware that bipolar people say the same thing about their manic phases.)

Almost two years ago, I had a realization that there is a current of sorts underlying all of my feelings and when I tune into it I can "dip my toe in" and see how it feels--sometimes the current itself is sad, though a switch of some kind flicked when Z turned 1 (PPD?) and several other significant experiences occurred and I had a physical sensation that the current had become a wellspring of joy underlying anything else I experience. This has basically continued to be true. The "upper" level (i.e. above the current) mood shifts occur (I can be really happy and really sad), but the current running below them is happy now instead of sad. I feel like a spent a couple of years with a "sad current" instead and, YAY! to have a wellspring of joy instead. Okay, so my point is that at one point I had said that I'd like the current to be "neutral," but I don't think I really do. Too "dulled" or something.

Okay, back to the book a little. The author decides to embark on a year-long quest for self-improvement and to become happier. This causes me to reflect on whether happiness is a "right" or a "worthy goal" even. My life might be simpler if I operated under a happiness principle--sort of an "if it makes me happy, do it, if it doesn't stop." I do a lot of things in life--that are of my own choosing--that do not make me happy, though they do not necessarily make me sad either (side note: when I originally wrote this a year ago, this was true. Now, I've made a variety of life changes that have me doing a lot less--things of my own choosing--that does not make me happy). OTOH, seeking happiness exclusively is a sure recipe for unhappiness, not to mention is self-centered, narcissistic, and unreasonable. One of my books (Nothing Special?) makes several points about happiness not being our right and why do we persist in thinking we should be happy all the time or that we should try to be happier or only seek happiness (this, according to her, is instead a sure route to disappointment and frustration. The whole seek pleasure, avoid pain thing is the antithesis of Zen. A very egocentric, selfish, unenlightened, and animalistic way to approach one's life course).

Heck, I don't know what to think. This is an example of how I carry too much info in my head and other people's voices drown out my own gut responses...

Okay, back to the book again. She notes that improving herself is a full-time job and left little time for anything else. Basically, it caused her to think about herself all the time.

As I read this, I began to ponder that it could well be possible that all the self-help book reading I do actually makes me less happy and less able to help myself? Trying to do things someone else's "expert" way sometimes clicks and sometimes not (using day planners for example. I'm an organized person, day planners would logically appeal to me. They DO NOT WORK for me at all. I've basically never used one. My little grid is what works for me. I spent a number of years trying to make myself use a planner though, before I stumbled on my fabulous grid-system). However, what/how long is a fair try of someone else system, or moving out of your comfort zone enough to really evaluate the value of self-help.

I read tons of it. Seems somehow more "productive" or "worthwhile" than other types of reading (but, in reality, might make me more self-centered, feel guiltier, etc.). Reading these books gives me an illusion of "productivity" when really I do not DO most of what is in the books, just leap upon the next one (and practically speaking, how much self-improvement can I actually do while lying there nursing the baby). It makes me feel like I'm "doing something" and might lessen the uncomfortableness of being?

Interestingly (to myself!), I read little to no self-help re: parenting and NONE re: marriage, which indicates to me that I feel good/successful about the relationships in my life. I also read no home organizing/organizing self-help and almost no financial self-help (simple living reading squared the financial box away for me back int 2001 or so). I read personal self-help/improvement (selfish? Or low self-esteem?). There are so many things to do to get it right according to each expert that then not doing them, adds guilt to my life. OTOH, my husband does NOT read self-help ever and seems generally happier and more relaxed about life than I do (this is also just our personalities!). I started reading it during my first pregnancy in 2003 (I was a primarily fiction and textbooks reader before that) and it has not lost its grip since.

Upon making these realizations, I decide to take self-help book "fast." I go to my to-read bookshelf and count how many self-help books I have there waiting to be read. There are THIRTY! Not to mention 24 more masquaraders (those that are not labeled "self-help" on the back, but clearly have "improving YOU!" as their prime message). I also have 25 additional self-help/self-improvement books on my wish list at Amazon that I move to a separate list. Isn't this bizarre?!

Okay, I'm going to have to finish this later, because it is insanely long (and possibly insane!) already and I have like 5 notebook pages left to go!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Mommy Wars

This week I finished reading The Mommy Wars, which I had checked out of the library. I don't have much time to write about it, but it was surprisingly good and I wanted to share some quotes/thoughts. I almost didn't check it out because I was worried that it would be excessively harsh or inflammatory and I don't need to bring things like that into my life. However, it seemed truly supportive of women/mothers. It was a collection of essays by various authors (alternating between those who have chosen to be mostly at home and those who have chosen to be mostly pursuing careers) and it quickly became clear that the most real "mommy war" that most of us experience is the one inside of our own heads. There seems to be no ideal/perfect solution. I also noticed that many of the women (including the editor of the collection) had cobbled together some sort of "balance" between working-outside-of-the-home and working inside it--there were lots of part-timers, lots of WAHMs, lots of writer-in-the-spare-minutes, etc. Since I've done the same, I particularly identified with those tales of struggle to discover the right balance for your family.

The first quote I wanted to share is one re: being asked "what do you do?" at a cocktail party: "I find it odd that I'd generate far more interest if I said I raised dogs or horse or chinchillas, but saying, in effect, 'I raise human beings' is a huge yawn."

"It might, in fact, be boring if child care were simply a series of pink-collar tasks--bathe, dress, feed, repeat. But observing and participating in a little Homo Sapien's development is fascinating to me. Furthermore, being a mother isn't just a 'job' any more than being a wife or a daughter; it's a relationship."

Then in another writer's essay (the above was from one of the SAHM, the below is from one of the WOHM):

"I remember reading once that all manner of selfishness is excused under the banner of focusing on one's family, and it strikes me now as penetratingly true. How many of us don't do for others because we're supposedly saving it for our families? and how valuable is staying at home if you're not teaching your children how much other people (and their feelings) matter?"

In another book I have, The Paradox of Natural Mothering, she refers to this as a type of narcissism and I see the point. I've explaining to people before that yes, of course--ultimately--"family first" but that doesn't mean "everything else last." I occasionally struggle with this when answering a helping call--basically, my kids do NOT come first at that moment, nor should they. I've even told them that--"I'm sorry, but you wanting juice is not important right now, the mother who is crying on the phone is more important." I do not think this is a terrible lesson to learn! ;-) Of course, in an ultimate-reality sort of situation, my kids DO come first. 100%. But, in a regular day-to-day situation, sometimes what other people need from me is more important and does come first.

I also wanted to share some quotes from an essay by a woman who does not yet have children, but is planning to, with regard to talking to mothers who shut down her opinions/thoughts with the, "what could you know? You don't have children" brush-off. (Which, I personally, have definitely been guilty of thinking on more than one occasion!! And, actually did so while reading this essay!): "I want to be able to say that all the judgment and aggression and competitiveness I witness among working and stay-at-home mothers surprises me and absolutely must change. But that wouldn't be honest. I've been party to this one-upping and henpecking and know-it-all-ness my entire life. It's as if becoming a mother puts us back into a sorority or junior high school, into some petri dish of experience where what other females think and say and feel and do counts more than anything."

"The one thing my stay-at-home and working-mom friends share in the country of motherhood is a superiority gene, some may call it a gift of vision, that convinces them that women who don't have children are, despite their educations and accomplishments, dumb as doorknobs. I've sat through many a heated conversation...during which I've been silly enough to offer an opinion only to be shut down more condescendingly and viciously by wise Goddess Mothers than I ever have been shut down by any man."

(FWIW, I would not call this a "superiority gene" or "gift of vision," but a "voice of experience"...I think most of us have been in the position of ourselves being the "just doesn't get it" woman without kids! And, after you have kids of your own, you suddenly realize why "those mothers" were condescending to you!)

In another essay, with regard to balance, that eternal question:

"Let me save you some money: In a life with children, balance does not exist. Once you're a parent, you can figure you'll be out of whack for the rest of your life...Children are not born to provide balance. children are made to stir us up, to teach us how angry we can get, how scared we can be, how utterly happy, happier than we'd ever imagined was possible, how deeply we can love. Children turn us upside down and inside out; they send us to the depths and heights of ourselves; but they do not balance us. We can't balance them either, and that's a good thing, too. They're finding out how to live in the world, and the most we can do is make them as safe as possible and have a good time with them."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

ICEA article

I don't have much time to write tonight (actually, no time), but I wanted to share that my Talk Less, Learn More article about CBE was published in the International Journal of Childbirth Education this month. It was my 79th publication (if I use the term liberally and include things I publish myself in the FoMM newsletter!). I'd like to hit 100 sometime in 2009.

Speaking of ICEA, I've been blogging there a bit as well:

Childbirth and Flow Experiences
Fathers at Birth
Birth and Sex

I don't count things like this in my publications list, FYI! I only count print publications.

Monday, December 8, 2008


OMG. I read a LOT.

I've read a lot of books in the last couple of weeks that I'm not going to post about separately.

I just finished reading the Yarn Harlot's new book Free-Range Knitter, which was quite funny, as always. When talking about why she knits (because she doesn't get any "points" for it):

"The only voice that isn't going to bother to lie to preserve our relationship is the voice of my inner self, and that's who I've got to be doing this for. My inner self is, like most inner selves, a very harsh person who I am not always convinced is on my side." She continues on to say that she can find something likable about just about everyone she meets, but can barely stand up under her own harsh self assessments. I identified ;-)

I also read the book Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven (I was reviewing it for an organization). I appreciated the reference in it to LLL Leaders as "goddesses" ;-) Overall, this seemed like first an animal rights book, second a book about nutrition (specifically veganism) and third a book about pregnancy. The language in it was coarse throughout (as the title would suggest), which I had trouble getting past. (I emailed some colleagues to see if I was just being an uptight-goody-two-shoes-prude. They said no, but I had to acknowledge to myself that the description kind of fits, irrespective of this particular book!)

And, I finished reading Busy, but Balanced, which I've been reading month-by-month over the course of the year (it is organized by month). I didn't actually glean that much from it that I didn't already know/have in other books. It did suggest having special family days once a month and we've implemented that with fair regularity throughout the year--like taking a day and actually writing on the calendar that it is going to be family day and then spending a fun day together. Related to this is that I also had several tea parties with my boys this year--planned, written on the calendar--and they had SO much fun doing that (mostly because of the sugar cubes). I was playing dinosaurs with Z a couple of days ago and he picked out a baby dino for each big dino and made me make each dino hold her baby (some required rubber bands). They had been fighting and growling and generally being ferocious, but then the big t-rex said, "you want have tea party?!" and proceeded to get imaginary cups for all the other dinos and so forth...really cute.

Along with the balance theme, I also finished reading Being in Balance. Usually, I love anything by Wayne Dyer, but this one was pretty forgettable (kind of re-hash, quick-lets-publish-a-new-book thing). In the section titled "you can't kiss your own ear," he said something that I found really true: "You want the truth of who you are to mesh with what you're projecting outward. If this is unsuccessful, you're aware of it, even if you opt to ignore it." I want my two selves to be harmonized (and I think usually they are). My goal in life is to live it authentically, deeply, richly, and truly.

I also read A Country Year: Living the Questions. The program chair at church does readings from this book a lot and I providentially found it at a thrift shop for a nickel recently. It was good. Reminded me of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle it its "smallness" of scope and richness of depth. She has that ability to capture the importance of the mundane, small, day-to-day things. This book had me all interested in termites, brown recluses, bees, and more. The author lives in Missouri (a beekeeper), which made it all the more relevant. Then, of course, this related quote showed up on my $1 Shop Zen calendar:

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, indescribably magnificent world in itself"
--Henry Miller

This is what Sue Hubbell and Barbara Kingsolver have in common--they pay close attention and write about it very well. From Hubbell's book comes this quote more succintly summing up something I was just recently trying to explain to a friend (too bad I hadn't read this first and I could have just quoted it!):

"Since then waves of people who find the cities too complicated have come here [to the Ozarks], meaning to live lives of simplicity. What they have not yet discovered is that a life is as simple or as complicated as the person living it, and that people who have found life in the city overwhelming will find it even more so here..."

Basically, what I was trying to tell my friend is that regardless of where you move, or what changes you make, or how much clutter you get rid of, you're still you...

Okay, so I also re-read the short book Joyful Birth . It comes with two CDs and is a really quick read. I had a quote that I will share on my birth blog and then this one about motherhood here:

"The path of motherhood has a beginning, but no end. It's constantly changing and constantly challenging. along the way, we encounter our personal limits over and over. We fall in love over and over. We ride the sharp edge of hope and fear. On this path of discovery, as on any spiritual path, our pretensions are shattered, our minds are blown, and our hearts are opened. We cry, we laugh, we bumble around and make countless mistakes. Through it all, we are gently--or abruptly--poked into greater honesty, lovingkindness, and understanding. It is a truly joyful path."

And along the mothering theme, the last book I wanted to post about today (yes, I have about 5 more in my pile waiting...) is A Dozen Invisible Pieces and Other Confessions of Motherhood . This was another book I was reviewing. The author is a childbirth educator, so I connected with her there. I also appreciated her explorations of life-work balance and, among other things, deeply identified with this:

"For a parent who makes the choice to stay at home with his or her children, rather than return to or enter the employed workforce, she effectively ejects herself from the recognition and reward system she was raised in. This happened to me. Before becoming a mother, I lived in that system for thirty years. I memorized the protocol of: 1. Do good work. 2. Have good work recognized by others. 3. Feel compelled to do more good work. 4. Do more good work."

I have lots more to say, but I'm out of time! At least I feel a little more caught up now!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ten Things I Love About Having (Little) Kids

This post is prompted by three things. One--listening to my best friend's 3 month old baby laugh at the skating rink yesterday. Two--snuggling with Z this morning while he was still asleep and smelling his hair. Three--being at "coffee night" with my friends last night and having the nice older women at the next table tell us to "enjoy it, they grow so fast. Stop hurrying and being so busy or you'll miss it all." And, as they left saying, "Keep enjoying your beautiful fertility!"

So, this morning I laid in bed smelling Z's hair and I thought of 10 things I love about having little children:

1. The sound of a baby's laugh--especially the early/first laughs. There is no more pure joy to be found in the entire world.

2. Breastfeeding--particularly those times at the end of a long, chaotic, busy, stressful day when I lie down with my baby and feel both of our bodies relax and become suffused with a sense of peacefulness and rightness and, "this is what life is all about." As Louise Erdrich said, "Perhaps we owe some of our most moving literature to men who didn't understand that they wanted to be women nursing babies." :)

3. Smelling their heads, particularly when they are asleep and nestled against me with head under my chin, my nose and lips resting in their hair. Perfect happiness.

4. The things they say! I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried and I'm glad I keep a little book of notes. L LOVES me to re-read the funny things he said when he was about Z's age. He still cracks me up all the time, but it is especially funny when they're less verbal and still figuring out how to talk.

5. Still being able to fix just about anything just by being there and giving hugs.

6. Watching them when they start learning how to play imaginatively--Z (2.5) is at this point now, where he sets up scenes and has stories going on. I loved toys so much as a kid and so loved playing with my sister with all of our little people and Care Bears and so forth that it is really fun to see my own kids creating their own imaginary worlds now. I had so much time to play as a kid and I think it was really good for me.

7. Watching how their drawing skills develop/unfold. L (5) is amazing to watch in this respect.

8. The learning to talk stage--where it is just an explosion of new words every day.

9. Their unselfconscious ease in being naked.

10. Having one who is "older" (5) now and enjoying how companionable our relationship has become and how helpful he is.

Oh, and they're awfully cute too!

In their Halloween costumes preparing to battle each other (I love having boys!)