Resolving the New Year: 2014 in Review

“This year will be different.”
“I will reach or exceed my own expectations.”
“I will do the things I’ve never done before.”

This year WILL be different. And I know this because it is already different.

This year, I did not wait for January 1. And now that another obligatory pull-your-self-together-after-the-binge-and-rush-of-the-holidays approaches, I am ready. I am walking past the Costco displays of yoga and Pilates gift sets. I am ignoring the color-coded family-sized organization centers. I turn the other cheek to the ads selling the secret to getting your pre-baby body back. (I am eight months pregnant and the target audience for such claims.) I just walk on by.

I am immune to this “starting over” season ahead, because this year I didn’t wait to start over.

Instead of here listing all of the goals I want to accomplish in this fresh canvas of a new year, I would rather enjoy a year in review. A lot has happened, and I’m proud to say I didn’t wait for the Times Square crystal ball to drop.

ResolvingNewYears

Goal Accomplished: Clearing our whole house

We celebrated our fourth year in our house on May 1 of this year. Before it was our house, it was my great aunt Dee’s, and we moved in all of our copious amounts of stuff (before I had the decluttering habit figured out) on top of her stuff. For four months that first year, our living room and dining room was wall-to-wall furniture storage. It has taken four years, but everything we do not need that was hers is now gone. There are items we have assimilated, but only useful, high quality pieces of furniture. Even her personal items that were difficult to give away at first are gone. Instead, there is a glamorous photo of her from her early twenties prominently displayed where we see it every day. I enjoy telling my girls B and P about their great-great aunt Deedee, and how this was her house, and that if she had known them, she would have loved them very much. These stories are what fills the space in our home, not stuff.

Goal Accomplished: My Body

It took me almost a year after P was born to get exercise worked back into my life. But on May 4 this year, I started the P90X system, and I LOVE it. I would also love to tell you about all the excess weight I lost, and my incredible results. But I only used it for two weeks before I found out I was pregnant with our third! I was frustrated, for a moment, because I had wanted to be lighter and stronger for the next pregnancy. But what I learned is that I can do it, and even after just 14 days I could already feel that this was going to work for me. In the first week of doing the AbX routine, I was stronger in my core, and I felt ready for the next week in the system. I look forward to beginning again in February, when I get my postpartum workout clearance.

Goal Accomplished: Housekeeping System

I recently read Bootcamp for Lousy Housekeepers by Heidi Schapp. I have read MANY home organization books and blogs and this by far has been the most helpful. She organizes the week into zones. In my house now, for example, Wednesday is always Cleaning Day. Thursday is always Laundry Day, Tuesday is Kitchen day and I just bake and cook up a storm. You get the idea. She has free worksheets for download on her blog, but I really recommend reading the book as well. It is available on KindleUnlimited. In the weeks since I read it, I have gone back and referenced it many times as I work through the kinks of our new housekeeping plan. One of the features different from other systems is a comprehensive Emergency Plan for when days are interrupted by the unexpected. Yes, there are days when all I can muster is changing a diaper and throwing cold leftovers onto plates. But Mama said there’d be days like this, and for days like this, you don’t have to let despair creep in if you have a plan to get through it. Just follow your notes, do the best you can, and start in again the next day. Read the book–you won’t regret it.

These three paradigm shifts in my life this year have dynamically changed the way I face each day. They are ongoing, of course, as any beautiful thing requires regular care and maintenance. But this year I didn’t wait for the January 1 on the calendar. I dove in when I was ready, on whatever day I was ready, and left the guilt of not starting behind.

Will I have New Years Resolutions for 2015? Not really. We’ll just see what gifts this fresh year brings.

National Poetry Month Begins Today!

April is National Poetry Month

Poetry on its own is not a huge part of my writing.  But when I am working on a script (as author or director) the language is accessed by my brain in a poetic way.  And many times my notes to myself are written imagistically with heightened language.  And there’s nothing like skillfully arranging words to describe something you love or that is beautiful or interesting or important.

All to say, POETRY is all around us in many forms, even if we don’t formalize it.

My friend and collaborating pal Mike Maggio IS a poet (and he does know it) and is celebrating this poetic month of April with his 30 for 30 project.  That’s 30 poets in 30 days.  I am number 23!  I can’t wait to read everyone’s stuff every day.   There are some really great writers on the list.

My poem will be posting on Mike’s site on April 23, but here’s a sneaky peaky excerpt from my free verse poem Some Day:

I throw a package of tofu and a can of tomato soup in my bag
for lunchtime
for mealtime
for whenever I get two and a quarter minutes
in front of the microwave
to stare and slow.
Some day I will set
a Thanksgiving table.
Some day I will sip
a mojito by the duck pond
and soak up the time.
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Check back here for the full poem on April 23, and check out the other 29 poets in Mike Maggio’s 30 for 30 each day during April, National Poetry Month.
-Allison

How I Found My Purpose

Choosing a career was difficult for me because I love a lot of fields of study.  This makes directing so satisfying because in the storytelling I am able to indulge in each minutiae of each character and place and circumstance and it feels good to KNOW a lot of things as this process unfolds for each project.  It’s like, the most funnest thing ever.

PurposePullQuote

Theater combines the many disciplines I love into one.  The director sits in the middle, so that’s where I found myself.

And then halfway through grad school I found myself married to the man of my dreams with a new baby in my arms standing at the practical outskirts of the virtual compendium of all feminist discourse and diatribe and I was stuck.

To put it simply, where simplicity is obviously inadequate: Career or Family?  Can I “have it all”?

Jumping forward to now, I chose to put family first.  I look at this portion of my life, co-managing a household and bearing and raising children, as part of my career.  It is indeed a part of EVERY mothers’ work experience, no matter how many human resource departments or resume-writing tutorials tell you otherwise.  And as an artist, my life is the subject of my work.  Without living the life I want as a wife and mother, I have no artistic platform.

But it took me a bit to figure this out.  Here’s something that helped me.

I stumbled upon a writing prompt on Steve Pavlina’s site called How to Discover your Life’s Purpose in about 20 Minutes.  His site “helps people grow as conscious human beings” and includes his own take on a variety of topics from How to Build a Strong Work Ethic to How to Cook Brown Rice.  It’s a great website.  You could get lost in distraction there, as I did, when I found this SIMPLE writing exercise that helped me find new resolve within myself to go bravely forward.

*Note: It is worth stating at this point that I am not receiving any kickback monetarily or otherwise from mentioning Steve Pavlina.  I just admire his work and have found some of his ideas helpful to me.  Perhaps they could be to you.*

You can check out the link to see the whole post.  But basically, OH so basically, you make a list of things you think MIGHT be your life’s purpose and you just keep writing, stream of consciousness, until one of the ideas moves you to tears.  Yep, that’s it.  Just write and write until you get so emotional about something it causes you to physically stop.  You’re there.  You found it.  Congratulations, you discovered Your Life’s Purpose.

Seemed easy enough (and a little scary… what if it worked?).  So, on March 12, 2012, I sat down at my computer and did the exercise.  Here is, unedited, what I wrote.

My purpose in life is to
raise a family in Christ
start a church
encourage John to become a pastor
start a theater
write plays
win awards
direct plays
*give birth as many times as possible
travel the world
write music
make the most beautiful home possible for my family
learn magic tricks
become a chef
write poetry
write novels
become famous
write a blog
weave
design clothing for wealthy people
become one of the wealthiest people in the world
design tree houses
*be the best mother I can be to as many children as I can
*give birth to as many children as possible; nurture and educate my children
start a school
start a summer camp
start a theater
*embrace the childhood experience and enhance it for my children
*make my children’s lives as magical as possible
make memories
*give birth as many times as possible; embrace the magic of childhood; provide a safe and creative space for my children to thrive; teach my children the secrets of the universe

It took about 15 minutes.  As items made me choke up, I marked them with an asterisk.  I started combining some of the marked items into a more specific bundle of things and as I wrote the last two lines I just lost it.  Sobbed.  For several minutes straight I was crying aloud, kind of praying, just existing in the moment, rereading the last two lines again and again.  I was there.  I found it.  Congratulations, I discovered My Life’s Purpose.

Rereading the list now, I am not crying.  Far from it.  I feel light.  I feel centered and whole, like walking down the center of the sidewalk in the early morning when no one is around to divert your path or right of way.

I still do many of the things on the list, and many I would like to do in the future.  But AFTER this precious time.  In the NEXT season, when the members of my family are searching for their own purposes and I am ready to sit down with pen and paper and write a new list of ideas until I am again, gratefully, moved to tears.

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What processes have helped you structure your future?  What difficult choices have been made easy knowing you are on the path made for you?  I would love to hear from you.  Leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!

-Allison

Lent it Go: How to Make Space for More Important Stuff

How to Make Space for More Important Stuff

I hesitate as I write this because Jesus warns in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7) of bragging about your works of sacrifice.  I also hesitate because what I am about to say sounds straight-up crazy.

For Lent I have chosen to give up approximately 80% of my personal belongings.

There.  It’s in print.  Or pixels, at least.  It’s out there in the world for my own accountability and hopefully as inspiration as I was inspired by others.  Check out these folks I read about that are making drastic changes to their ownership of objects around them:

The 100TC (100 Things Challenge).  This guy Dave (there are links to his blog and book on the site) started a movement that is anti-consumerism for the sake of pro-personal awareness.  The three simple principles are Reduce, Refuse, and Rejigger which basically means eliminate unnecessary objects to create the simplest life possible.  This will make you aware of the things that ACTUALLY matter like family and the divine.  There are COUNTLESS people doing this and writing about it online.  Just search 100TC.

Another post I relate to is The 40 Hanger Closet.  Ruth Soukup at LivingWellSpendingLess.com writes about wrangling her closet and has these really great photos of the mess (thanks for being candid!) and what it looks like after (like a drool-worthy magazine ad for an expensive closet system).  My closet has been stuffed for years, and I finally have a nicely sized walk-in that I don’t have to share with anyone and I have always wanted to have a WARDROBE, not just A BUNCH OF CLOTHES.

 writes on her site Be More with Less about her own 100TC.  She paired down her personal things to a total of 100, but it is mostly her closet items and I LOVE her rules–strict but open to adaptation as her life unfolds.  The main thing I love about her post is that she shares her list.

Also have to give a nod to this awesome chart I pinned awhile back (found on theBerry.com):

This makes getting rid of stuff much less painful.

What I love about each of these challenges/rules/processes is that to keep or not to keep is MY CHOICE.  In the moment of making the choice I GAIN CONTROL BACK that the object took up in my space and in my mind.  The pieces I decide to keep become more meaningful as I let other things go.   And wow does it feel good to let things go.

I started with my crafting supplies.  An epic collection, let me tell you: yarn in cones, skeins and balls, bolts and rolls of fabric, old clothes from which to harvest fabric, soap making, wood working, a library of how-to-make-things books, a cutting table, a light table, a filing cabinet of paper, punches, scrapbooking supplies, rubber stamps, washi tape, duct tape, cello tape, two sewing machines, three dressmakers’ forms, sewing patterns, trims, notions, needle felting, plastic canvas, painting canvas, acrylic, oil, and watercolor supplies, old frames, old canvas boards, wrapping supplies, ribbon… it is stressing me out just writing the list, considering all those unfinished projects.  The room, which is not very big, was filled with so many things I had no space to make anything at all–not the creative space I always envisioned when we moved to this house.

I decided for Lent that I would give as much as I could stand to our church’s craft ministry.  Better they make use of it than it sit.  The 80% began as arbitrary, like saying “a thousand” when you just mean “a whole darn lot.”  But I took it seriously, 80%, and as I pushed forward the momentum pulled me on.  The kitchen was next.

Four huge boxes of kitchen accouterments later, I can open the cabinets and drawers with ease AND my mind is at ease knowing that nothing is duplicated, nothing is there without a true purpose.

This week I will do my closet.  Then the girls’ clothes.  And John is talking about letting some of his clothes go, too.  This feeling is infectious.

Over the last three weeks, I have emptied our house of six carloads of stuff.  That’s about floor to ceiling the size of our bedroom.  And I’m not done yet.  I am excited to see what is left at the end of this Lenten process, but also what will fill the space in the form of activities and time and love.

There is little to no hesitation in the moment of choice because I know the things are going to a good cause.  (We chose the National Children’s Center because their thrift store/donation site is awesome and very close to our house.)  And whenever I am faced with choosing between two pairs of black heels after I have committed to owning only one, I remind myself that should I ever really really NEED a specific pair of black heels, I can go buy a pair.  I don’t need to fill my space for “maybe someday.”

I have come to see it this way: I LENT these things to the universe and if I truly need something, the universe with lend it back to me.  For the first time in my life I am letting go and truly trusting that God will provide.

Happy Lent.  :-)

The Prodigal Piggy: When Lost Lovies Come Home

When a LOST stuffed animal is FOUND again, take photos of it's adventures!  #magicalchildhood #awesomeparenting

When a LOST stuffed animal is FOUND again, take photos of it’s adventures!

“Call Mommy, call Mommy for Piggy,” says an exasperated B to her Dad.  I am summoned and asked, “Where’s Piggy?”

“Umm…”

Every parent knows this moment well.  When the beloved doll/animal/super hero/softie lovie is missing.  And nothing else will do.  And no answer is correct.  Logic has no power in these moments.

“Umm, Sweetie, Piggy went on an adventure,” I stumble.  Miraculously, she BUYS it.  Bedtime is saved.

A day or two later, another miracle happens.  John finds Piggy.  Where was he?  Doesn’t really matter, but let’s just say he took a ride in a sweatshirt pocket and went for a spa treatment (gentle cycle) in the whirlpool on Maytag Mountain.

Now that Piggy is nice and clean, John has a brilliant idea: Document his adventure so B can see where Piggy was all that time.  I present to you The Epic Adventures of Piggy!

We showed her the photos during bedtime, when she was all tucked in Piggy-less, as if they had just been emailed to John’s tablet.  “Oh, looks like I’ve got a new email.  Oh, B!  It’s Piggy!  He sent you something!”  She lights up.  Every kid loves mail, but from a long lost plush pal?  Amazing!

What was even more amazing was when Piggy RETURNED after the slideshow!  Just in time for lights out, triumphant and ready to snuggle in for a well-deserved sleep.  B embraced her little Piggy, said her prayers, and in the long list of thank-you-God-for’s included her good little pink friend, happy that he returned to her safely.

In my long list of thank-you-God-for’s is John for the amazing way he makes the best of things, B’s imagination, and priceless moments like these.  All in a day.

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The magic of childhood is priceless, and John and I have so much fun making the worlds of our two little girls, B and P.  What magical moments have you created for your loved ones?  Drop us a line!  Leave a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

-Allison

Happy 60th Birthday, Mom

A Birthday Ode to My Mom

A Birthday Ode to My Mom

Meet my Mom, Arla.

She marks her 60th year today, though this last year has been tumultuous.  Nutshell: She retired on a Sunday, left for a celebratory vacation on Tuesday, and two weeks later lost her husband of 33 years, my Dad, beginning the start of a new season in her life as a widow.  A year ago, my Dad and I were planning a swinging surprise party for her big year, a thank you to her for throwing HIM a 60th surprise party.  But then he left and everything changed.

My mom is in a Purge Mode, brought on by the loss of my Dad (cleaning out his stuff from the house) but also clearing out many THINGS just to make life simpler.  Over the last six months, at least five huge bags a week have gone to a variety of charities and those in need.  I am so proud of her.  But she doesn’t need another THING in the house just to prove that I love her and remember her birthday.

So instead, Mom, I want to remind you of the many gifts you already possess, share, and nurture in others.  Here, in no particular order, are:

60 Things I Love About You

You love us, me, John, B and P, unconditionally and it shows.
You exposed your children to the good things in life–art, food, and fun–and made us appreciate that these were the things to work for, not indulge in.
You chose your children’s interests over your own on countless occasions.  We are better for it and appreciate your sacrifices.
Your example of how to parent is exceptional and I am still learning from you every day.
You inspired me to devote this part of my life to child-rearing and homemaking, and I am better person from following your example.
I see myself in your beauty and know that I am beautiful, too.
You have supported me every day of my life, even if you didn’t support every choice I made.
I appreciate your marriage to Dad and the example of devotion you showed every day.
You take care of yourself emotionally and mentally.
You are a talented musician.
You are a gifted teacher, and your piano students love your patience and enthusiasm for music and the instrument.
I love listening to you practice the organ.
I love listening to you play a church service.  It’s one of my favorite things and I would rather sing to a hymn you are playing than attend most concerts.
Though impossible to enumerate, your gift as an organist has most certainly aided others’ journeys towards God.
You are a fantastic cook and hostess.
Your pantry and fridge are always well-stocked (until John comes over, anyway.🙂 )
Your homemade candy is delicious.
Your homemade everything is delicious.
You teach knitting expertly, and encourage women to embrace the legacy of handicrafts passed down from our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
You are a talented seamstress, and kept me and my sister in cute clothes.  You continue this with our girls B and P.
I love your hands, well used, the folds and calluses, and all the things they have made over your lifetime, and continue to create.
You have a knack for matching colors from memory.  Seriously, it’s a real skill to remember that particular shade of aqua without the aqua thing in front of you.
You have good taste in design, from architecture to fashion.
I love your curating of the beautiful objects in your home.
You admire good craftsmanship.
You surround yourself with beauty made by others and are inspired by their artistry.
You enjoy learning new things.
You listen carefully.
You always know the diplomatic thing to say to people or about situations.
You always remind me of what’s truly important and allow me to see the bigger picture.
You believe and trust in God.
You do not judge quickly.
You give openly to those who are in need.
You celebrate the talents of others.
You are patient with others, but…
I have never known you to be a doormat.
You are a skilled mediator, even in difficult situations.
You are unflappable in every situation.
You pursue your interests with your whole heart.
You maintain your femininity while asserting your power and strength.
You have experienced setbacks medically, but continue to try to improve your health everyday.
I love working with you on projects.
You are a talented leader, especially in the trenches of a job or project.
You have honed that difficult-to-master skill of saying “No.”
You are not afraid to dream of something better, more creative, more interesting and satisfying.
You like adventure.
You have a large vocabulary.
You are a good storyteller.
You remember fondly events of your childhood and enjoy sharing stories these treasured moments.
I love your humor, even the groan-worthy puns.  Perhaps especially the groan-worthy puns.
You are fun to play games with and are a good sport.
You are fun to tease.
You are the ultimate prankster.
I love your impish smile.
I love your laugh.
I have always been proud to claim you as my Mom.
You are always willing to try new things.
Looking to the future, you see possibility, despite your current struggles.
You are not afraid to start over.
You are so brave.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  May this next chapter of your life bring everything you deserve, every good thing.  And should you ever doubt your place in my heart, re-read this and know you are cherished.

With love, your daughter,
Allison

Tiny Artists: The Importance of Building a Portfolio of Work

TinyArtists

The other week, B and P went with John and his dad, the girls’ Papi, to the Baltimore Science Center to see DINOSAURS!  Huge.  Deal.  There was so much to do, we are going to go back so we can see the rest of the place.  Nearly everything was interactive and designed to engage with young audiences in a way that will spark curiousity and hopefully a lifelong pursuit of asking, “Why” and “How” and “Let me try.”

What was equally important was an experiment that John set up for B, who is exactly 2 and one-third years that day, which involved her taking photographs of her very own.

John gave her his Nintendo 3DS for the day (normally logjambed with his Zelda game and my Professor Layton) to take photos to post to her private webpage.  She took over 60 photos and here are a few that I love the most:

Why have a toddler take photos?  Other than the obvious entertainment value (Papi’s shoes look funny!) and memory making for her (I remember when we went to the museum!), I am interested in B developing her own artist portfolio.  This online record of her photos will be an invaluable resource to develop her aesthetic eye, pay attention to details, learn beauty and create composition.  It will be a starting place for conversations about art, society, patterns, urban planning, nature, human behavior, and everything that exists in the physical world.

It is her first step creating work that is her very own.

Yes, we will still have fingerpainting.  In fact I hope her fingerpainting is inspired from her photography.  We will still have coloring and handwriting and image making other than photography.  But photography, now, as her language skills develop, is yet another way to communicate with her, like signing, without words.  Beyond text.  Instantly.  With ART.

B’s photography portfolio will serve as a record of her personal delvopment and relationship to the world.  A place to say things she does not yet have words for.

And I can’t wait to see what she will say next.

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Stay tuned for more work from our little B!  What work are you proud of from your children?  In what ways are you working to cultivate an appreciation for art?  Keep the conversation going!  Leave a post below.  B would love to read comments about her photos!

-Allison