BP Naturally

My Drug-Free Journey of Managing Bipolar Disorder

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Christmas Nostalgia & Other Convert Conundrums

http://goo.gl/nyqz89 – Chorus of Blue

I was blessed to discover and accept Islam when I was 19 years old. Up until that point, I had been a child, lazily exploring different faiths, but for the most part raised Christian. I dabbled in Buddhism, Wicca, Agnosticism, Atheism… I was trying to find my truth… but a sort of backdrop of my somewhat Christian upbringing was always there. (Side note: Never in my life do I recall my mother taking us to church, it was only when we lived with our grandmother, or later when I got involved in the whole Christian youth group thing in high school, that we took a more active role in actually practicing our faith.) Thus, it should be no surprise that Christianity was not really a factor in the celebrations of our holidays… I never, as a child, really understood what Easter was all about… for us it meant egg hunts, candy, mom’s delicious deviled eggs and, one year, apple bobbing and three-legged races put on by ten-year old yours truly. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween… all just reasons to eat good food, have fun, and if you’re lucky, get presents. That was the gist of it.

It may be important to note here, that we were also very poor most of our lives… holidays were not always traditional. There were many years that there was nothing under the tree but what I made from junk Id found around the neighborhood, stuff I’d pilfered from the old abandoned house, one yard over, or the gifts we got from generous shelter/food bank giveaways. One year, I recall my sister and I were living with our dad and we stole Christmas gifts from our cousins because we didn’t have any. We got caught, of course, and with utter humiliation had to give it all back… but its safe to say, hard times were not unfamiliar to us and holidays were no exception.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Christmas became my favorite time of year. And no matter how dire our situation, I always strove to be festive and make the very best of the holiday… I was a hopeful, positive, kid… with tons of creativity and a desperate need to feel normal. And Christmas… with “Home Alone” and “Miracle on 34th Street” on the screen, “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells” looping over and over from library cassette tapes, the scent of pine trees and cinnamon, the warmth of wood crackling in a fireplace, white fluffy snow dusting your boots, and hot chocolate in a ceramic mug… all of this was the very epitome of normal. I love Christmas… with my whole heart and my family seemed to know that and accommodate.

No matter how poor we were, my mom almost always got a tree… it may have been small, but Id cry and beg and beg and she’d go out in front of the grocery store and get one to bring home… I would decorate it with makeshift baubles from keychains, fruit loops and popcorn (yes, I tried to eat it afterwards, yes it was stale and tasted like piney poison), then Id make little crafty gifts for everyone in the family… even my cats. And that was good enough. That was Christmas.

When I became Muslim, all of those holidays came to a very abrupt end. We have two holidays in Islam, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha… and while they are probably extremely festive in Muslim countries, where everyone is celebrating together… they are not very warm or festive when you are the minority and you live in the land of Christmas and Easter magic. I hang up lights, decorate, play nasheeds, we go out and eat and do various things… I try to establish traditions, and I’m still trying.. but it lacks that magic and it saddens me.

I love Christmas. The scent of wood burning, pine trees, cinnamon soaked pine cones, gingerbread and gift wrapping. Building snowmen and making snow angels, slipping and sliding over the ice… even the nasty black sludgy mud snow at the curbs side… I miss it all. Christmas lights, hot cocoa and Christmas songs, oh Christmas songs, I still sing them (changing the words occasionally), and they bring a warmth to my heart. Christmas was just never a religious thing for our family, it was just that one time of year when things were right. When no matter how hard times were, there was love and joy and happiness and laughter. Christmas holds some of the very best memories of my life… and not a single one of those memories is about the presents… it’s all about family.

Now, you see, I will never celebrate Christmas again. Because, despite my family not celebrating for religious reasons, it is a religious holiday… one whose core beliefs I completely disagree with. I have been Muslim for 13 years and never have you seen a Christmas tree in my home and you never will, insha’Allah (God-willing). I suppose a lot of converts might not admit that they miss those holidays. Or maybe there are some who still celebrate, though for religious reasons, they absolutely shouldn’t. And indeed, that’s a whole other article, about imitating the kuffaar, the pagan roots of Christmas traditions, and so on and so forth. But the feeling of it, I miss, and I am very comfortable with being open about that. Christmas was a special time for me as a child and I wish I could replicate that feeling for my own kids with our own holidays.

I know if we were in a Muslim country it would be different. I know having all the stores around you decked out with Eid decor, families decorating their homes and visiting one another with gifts and excitement. Everyone in their best clothes, children laughing and singing nasheeds, and the beautiful glow of generosity and joy from every hand and every smile. I imagine it’s beautiful in other places. But for now, I’m right here. In the middle of America. And I want my children to look forward to Eid like I looked forward to Christmas. I want familiar scents to bring back a warm nostalgia, I want it to be about more than just gifts. I’m not sure how to do this… what should be the signature scent of Eid? What should I focus on? Cooking? Craft activities? Family games? What will make the Eid season unique and special in a country where it’s really only celebrated privately in our own homes. Where there’s not a strong sense of community and unity? Where our neighbors really have no idea whats going on.

As a convert, you can feel a little guilty missing these holidays… but as a mother, you can feel guilty that your kids wont experience it like you did. At my core, in my heart, I have no desire for my children to ever experience non-Muslim holidays.  It may be hard for some people to understand, but I feel that I’m protecting them from a very glittery and irresistible path of misguidance. There’s more to Christmas than Santa Claus, rest assured. I only wish that their Eids could be as special as my Christmas was… and I feel like I’m failing them a bit in that. I want, desperately, to do more… and despite my efforts, I haven’t achieved that yet. I haven’t made Eid as special as it should be, I haven’t made it as warm and wonderful as the Christmas of my childhood. I suppose it’s a work in progress.

How do you feel about Christmas and similar holidays? How does your family celebrate Eid? If you’re a convert… how do you reconcile the two without compromising your faith? I’d love to hear how other parents are handling it. Please share your own experiences.

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Sacrificing the Black Sheep & Other Motherly Failures

http://goo.gl/VZ1V4g – Chorus of Blue

One of the hardest things to balance in a blended family is the treatment of your birth children versus your step children. While favoritism of birth children is a natural, if not inevitable, occurrence, it is often something we seek to deny in shame, hide in fear or eliminate completely. You often hear stepmothers saying they, “love them all the same.” But this isn’t true. Not in the least. We may “treat” them all the same, but there is something very unique and invisible, something inherent in the love that a mother holds for a child she carried within her womb, versus a child she has adopted… someone else’s child who she has chosen to love. It doesn’t mean she loves a birth child more… or that women who adopt don’t love their children. It is simply a different quality of love, equally beautiful, but not at all the same.

I will share some things that I am not so proud of today… in hopes that it may save you from similar mistakes; from similar pain. My goal here is simply to urge mothers/stepmothers to accept the imbalance of their hearts… to accept that you may love your own children quite differently than you love your step children and to never be ashamed of that. We cannot dictate the ways of the heart. This is just the way we were made. This is just the reality of motherhood. While we should strive for balance in our actions; in our treatment of our children and stepchildren, we mustn’t resent the inclinations of our own hearts. Love your children. You needn’t love them less to make your stepchildren feel loved or valued. You needn’t prove your love for one by sacrificing the love of another. If you do this, you will hate yourself for it one day. I assure you. And you will never ever forgive yourself. Please. Do not make my mistake.

When I married my husband, we both entered in with children of our own. In his case, he had four children, two boys, two girls. In my case, I had two children, one boy, one girl. Naturally, we envisioned a perfectly blended family. Three boys, three girls… it was a perfect little Bayt-ul-Brady Bunch. What we didn’t realize is that our love and affection for each other would not necessarily translate into the same love and affection between our children. What we didn’t realize is that blended families are probably one of the most challenging types of families to navigate and the results can be absolutely explosive.

In my case, one of the most important things for me was that my step children felt loved and cherished. I didn’t want my love and affection for my own both children to outshine the love and affection I should have had for them.  This was especially important because some of my step children were especially needy and seemed to want a mother figure very very badly in their lives. I wanted to and was excited to be that for them. And I went to great lengths to prove my love; To prove that I loved them just as much as my birth children and there were no differences between them. In my struggles to find this balance as a stepmother, I found myself doing something unthinkable… I was sacrificing one of my birth children for the sake of my stepchildren, or in many cases, the sake of the family as a whole. It didn’t start out this way. I staunchly protected and defended my child at first. I raged when I felt he wasn’t being treated fairly or wasn’t be loved enough. You see, I’d found that in this new family there were dynamics I hadn’t expected. Dynamics I was completely unprepared for and had no idea how to navigate.

The oldest boy was an unusually cruel and persistent bully, and his doting (former victim) younger brother was gradually following suit. As I moved in and insisted upon kindness and brotherhood, the oldest boy took his attentions off his younger brother and began to focus on my own son, who was the youngest in the group. His cruelty was constant, scathing and damaging. It was a combination of physical violence, verbal and emotional bullying, humiliation and exclusion. His own younger brother, happy to finally be free of his position as the victim, quickly began replicating the very same behavior, seeking (and receiving) the approval of his older brother.  My son, now the youngest in the group of six children and formally ecstatic about finally having big brothers, was being systematically mistreated on a daily basis by the people he most desperately wanted love and acceptance from: his new big brothers.

At the same time, my birth daughter (my sons older sister) began following suit and excluding him as well. She loved having sisters, finally, and no longer needed a little brother to play with. Gradually he became the black sheep. He was ostracized by everyone in the family. The first couple of years my defense of him was constant, but soon I was accused of playing favorites, being unfair, etc. and so I, too, began turning against him to prove that I was just. I argued that his bad behavior (as it had increased drastically once our families blended) was a result of his mistreatment, but I was met with constant resistance… insistence that he was difficult before he came here and while his outcast position may have had some effect it wasn’t enough to excuse him or feel sorry for him.. and I was beginning to believe it. He was becoming more and more difficult, lashing out, having attention-seeking behaviors, and eventually, as a new little sister was born and he was no longer the youngest, he began bullying her as well. In my heart, I knew why. I knew he felt like an outsider. I knew he was replicating the behavior he was receiving from his older siblings… the behavior he had been receiving for years. I knew he was still being bullied and excluded, despite my constant efforts to change it. And as his bad behavior increased, his punishments increased. The worse he got, the worse I (and they) got… until I’d practically given up on him. I’d punish him then cry because I wanted to hug him instead. Stretch myself thin amongst the other kids until I had little or no time for him… proving I loved my step kids meant I needed to love my son less. And I was falling into it, my resistance weakening day by day, until I stopped defending him, stopped hugging him, yelled more and loved less. I had finally laid him out on the chopping block and I was the one holding the ax.

I’m five years into my marriage and I feel like my son has served as the sacrificial lamb. I love him dearly, he used to be my heart and soul. Easily my favorite. But I have pushed him out, trying to be balanced, trying to be just, trying to prove that I wasn’t playing favorites. Now, it’s not to say he’s an angel. Or even that he was an angel before I got here. He was only three… so he wasn’t an absolute terror… just a little knuckle head toddler. An inherently loving and sweet kid… but also a hell of a handful, too. And while my son has changed drastically in the last five years… in some ways for the better; in many ways for the worse, there is goodness in him still. It hurts me to no end and fills me with insurmountable guilt when I see that goodness. Not because I didn’t believe it was there, but because I see that no one else believes its there. His increasingly difficult, annoying, frustrating, enraging behavior gives everyone all the justification they need to be cruel. And worse yet… I see him trying desperately to get love and approval from those two older brothers, and they use and take advantage of him all teh time. He offers to help them with their chores and they sit back and let him do it all, then give him dirty looks and snide remarks 15 minutes later. He shares some treat with them, then asks if he can play with them and they shun him and cast him out with scathing words. He compliments them and cheers them when they succeed and they roll their eyes, ignore him, or laugh when he fails.

They are kind sometimes, yes. They play with him sometimes, yes. He is an annoying little sh!t most of the time, yes. Oftentimes, everyone’s frustration and annoyance with him is understandable. I cannot deny these facts. But its not all of the the time. Their kindness and feigned acceptance is the exception to the rule. While his good behavior is the exception as well. If you cannot see the correlation, you’re not reading close enough. I see it and I’m trying to change it. I am trying to instill love and brotherhood, but its been five years and there has been almost no change. In the end, I’ve begun to hate myself. I find myself in a constant state of guilt and shame because I love my son and I’ve failed him. I cannot change these other kids’ hearts, I cannot force them to be loving or kind or patient and understanding. I have tried so hard. All I can change is myself. And I’m tired of putting my kid on the chopping block… its not worth it.

I’ve decided that I will absolutely play favorites. I will be more patient and more forgiving. I will defend him more. I will spend an utterly unequal amount of time with him because he needs it more than anyone else. Because he needs me more than anyone else. Because for the last few years, I’ve been giving everyone else my attention and leaving him by the wayside. I don’t have to divvy up my time equally, I don’t have to be harder on him to prove a damn thing to anyone. I’m done. It’s either I backtrack and try to save my son… try to restore his heart, tape it back together, reassure him that he is a valuable and cherished part of this family… or I sacrifice this family altogether. I sacrifice these kids, who are not my birth kids, but who need me too; whom I love too;  in order to save my son. I sacrifice all I’ve invested, all the good that has come from this marriage and family (and there has been good outside of this situation) and I leave it all behind to refocus on my son. To give him his due.

I am going the middle path for now. No more sacrificing my son, no more putting him up for slaughter. And I am going to strive hard to keep loving all of them… to hold this family together, but protect my son in the process. He has no defender except me and I cannot abandon him now when he needs me most… not anymore. I pray he forgives me for not being a better mother. For not protecting him like my heart wanted to, like he desperately needed me to. I hope he’ll forgive me for giving up, for losing my way, for losing sight of the bigger picture… a picture that he is an integral and beautiful part of.  I love my son… and I don’t want him to ever question that. I don’t want him to ever again feel like the sacrificial black sheep of this family. There is no family without him and I am going to make sure of that.

 


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Stepmommy or Stepmonster: Part II – Broccoli & Other Evils

http://goo.gl/bIswaW – Chorus of Blue

If you troll the web, the various facebook groups and internet chat rooms for stepmothers you’ll find a wide range of brutal honesty, unbelievable ridicule, and a whole lot of self-righteous fluff and lies. There is a major taboo in this stepmothering business of ours. From the century-old evil stepmother persona we are labeled with to the incredulous and rather universal expectation that we must and will love and adore our darling stepchildren, may never ever speak an ill word of them, and we must be self sacrificial martyrs to ensure their constant happiness… anything less puts us back into that former category of Cinderella’s wicked slave driver of a stepmother,  the utterly mad “Mommy Dearest,” or the selfish and cruel step-wrench of Hansel and Gretel who led them into the woods to starve and die.

This is a delicate (read: impossible) rope to walk and stepmothers everywhere are falling to their demise, hanging themselves from the very rope they want so desperately to balance upon. But I digress. Let me take you back to my beginning as a stepmother and resist the urge to dive into the here and now.

Five years ago (2009) I decided to embrace this new role as a stepmom when I married my husband who happened to have four kids (aged 6-10 years old). You can read more about this is my previous post: Part I. I didn’t read up on it… stepmothering, that is. I didn’t ask other stepmoms (I had been a stepmom to a teen in my previous marriage but it was part time, I was hardly her ‘mom’ as I was very young and that didn’t work out well anyway). But how hard could it be? I already had two kids of my own and I loved being a mom. I’d always wanted a big family, this would just save my body a little time/wear, right? Plus, I was an awesome mom… who wouldn’t love me?

Well, the kids did seem to love me and they were fairly likeable, albeit needy, kids on first, second and third inspection. But when I finally uprooted my own family and moved into this tiny two bedroom apartment to become our perfect little blended family it took all of a couple hours before the $%^& really hit the fan and my future as a stepmom (read: stress and misery) would begin to rear it’s ugly head.

On the first night I was met with an unexpected conflict: one of these children was extremely picky and shockingly stubborn. His dad, of course, had given me no warning of this. I had made dinner, an exceptional dinner considering they had grown accustomed to pizza and chef boyardee, and this kid flat out refused to eat. This threw me off because up to this point he’d been a really sweet kid, and I’d never dealt with a picky eater. At best, my daughter once turned her nose up at Salmon & Corn Chowder then tasted it after very moderate coaxing and proceeded to devour the entire bowl. I am a great cook, I prepare beautifully plated cookbook style meals that my own kids really appreciate. To top it off, I grew up incredibly poor and being picky was unheard of… complaining and refusing to eat would have been sacrilegious not to mention incredibly stupid (read: you’re going to starve). But this kid just wouldn’t get with the program and seemed to have this strange expectation that he was going to have something else prepared for him (huh?) and he wouldn’t even taste what I’d worked my tail off preparing.

So I tried a thousand different things, from games to bribery to jokes and tricks, I was already exhausted over something so utterly ridiculous by my standards that I was starting to wonder what the hell I’d gotten into… not to mention this made me look (and feel) like a substandard mother who couldn’t even get a six year old to eat his vegetables. His dad encouraged me to put my foot down and move toward the punishment stage… I suppose we were both thinking: He’s testing his limits, establish authority now. So I did. And after the shock and awe of putting my foot down (not sure that was the best decision, in retrospect), he still had to finish that broccoli. And this kid actually sat there gagging and vomiting into his own plate over a couple stalks of garlicky, buttery broccoli. It was the most outlandish, melodramatic thing I had ever seen a child do… and it will delight you to know that he continued this grotesque performance for a couple years before I finally broke him of it. And it wasn’t just broccoli… it was strawberries, green peas, watermelon, fish, it was always something, at least 1-3x a week, and it was always the same crying, snot-dripping, gagging, bleary-eyed vomit show as day one.

Now I may sound cruel (read: evil stepmother makes kid eat veggies, omg!), but keep in mind, I was coming from a background where poverty made me the exact opposite of picky and entitled. I remember eating food from trash cans, scraping mold off bread regularly, eating things like $h!t on a Shingle (as my mom called it), licking the tray clean on school lunches, and taking home that extra carton of school milk to use for breakfast in the morning. A can of Vienna sausages was a treat and pork and beans with hotdogs was for special occasions. I even recall trying to make an apple pie from an old pie shell and a can of applesauce one Christmas because that’s all we had in the cupboard.

I couldn’t even understand what was happening. And remember that stubbornness I mentioned? On one occasion, this kid sat at the table for SIXTEEN HOURS because he didn’t want to eat the equivalent of 3-4 tablespoons of peas. Sixteen hours! And sitting for hours was no unusual thing. Mind you, every other kid in the house was eating everything (six kids total), it was just this one (the baby of my husband’s kids) and his having been coddled by his grandmother, given absolutely everything he wanted and never ever made to do anything his little heart didn’t desire, he was incredibly spoiled, stubborn, and increasingly frustrating everyday.

Now this was ONE occasion, and one of my very first stumbles as a stepmother. I hadn’t been well-prepared to deal with kids who had been raised (or not raised) in a fashion that was contrary to my own upbringing or even starkly different from the way I was raising my own kids. I hadn’t really expected this and didn’t know how to handle it and it has taken me years to figure it out (i.e. I am still working on it). Not every stepmom will have these particular hurdles. But every stepmom will have some hurdles, that goes without saying. In my case, it has been especially challenging because I am the fulltime mom/stepmom. I am raising these kids, I am shaping their daily lives, trying to instill in them morals, values and good character. Trying desperately to maintain a balance between discipline and love, while having to scratch and scrape at times to even maintain a feeling of love for children who are not my own.

These kinds of challenges are the hallmark of the stepmother narrative. And its how you deal with these challenges that can dictate your label as utterly evil or absolutely amazing. Just voicing such a thing publicly puts me in the evil category by society’s standards, but I don’t mind. This is going to be an honest glimpse into the looking glass, ladies and gentleman, and I have no intention on dressing it up. For the record, that stubborn picky eater is a lot less picky now. He eventually got tired of sitting at the table for hours and now eats just about anything you put in front of him… he doesn’t always like it, but we get little more than a grunt and a cleaned plate, and that’s good enough for me.

This post is a part of the Motherhood Project, where we reflect upon the pain, struggles, joys, and frustration of our roles as mothers, daughters, stepmothers and more. Please follow the link to learn more about the project and join in!

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Journal: The View From Where I Sit

http://goo.gl/3azxG4 – Chorus of Blue

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I was spurred to go on a bike ride this afternoon. It’s the first I’ve taken to really go out and explore on my own since I got this bike a couple weeks ago. I traveled along the partially paved bike path until I ran out of paving. Traveled along wistfully, surrounded by half-woods, searching for something. Some special place to call my own. Some little cove to steal away to in the early morning hours and write. I was searching for an escape from my life.

I imagine that’s no uncommon need for most people these days. There is always too much; too much work, too much responsibility, too many bills, too many kids, too much fighting, too much debt, too much social media, too much bad news… too much of everything. Everyone seems to need to escape. I would love to be the person who can relish in the now. Laugh at her messy house, dote on her devilish darling kids, plug away at her to-do list, and write about it all with such frankness and honesty that the masses nod in unison at this rare truth I’ve found the courage to share.

But that’s not me. At least, it’s not today. Today, I am riding my bike, desperately trying to get away. Getting away usually means finding some quasi-wooded area, a creek, very little traffic and a lot of natural quiet. This also means getting away from the half-hood that I live in and venturing into the ‘good ‘ neighborhoods where they care enough about creating a nice natural environment that they provide carefully sculptured “natural parks” where things appear just a little more wild than, say, trimmed grass, basketball courts and rubber swings.

There are usually less beer cans around too.

So today I’ve found such a wild place and I am relaxing on the grass, listening to the wind shaking the leaves above me. The view from where I sit is beautiful. And calm. And mostly quiet. So why do I feel a sense of sadness and bitterness? Why does the beauty of it all eat away at me?

As I rode away from the half-hood I call my home, I noticed the way the bike path only went 100 feet in the direction of my neighborhood, then broke off into rocky gravel, trash and broken glass. I had to turn around and head in the other direction. When I crossed the street that path went on significantly longer and led me away from my own neighborhood into the safety and comfort of a ‘better’ community. The loveliest thing in our hood is the golf courses we don’t visit. And apparently the need for a relaxing bike path from one end of the hood to the other is either unheard of or no one gives a damn. Welfare moms and struggling college students don’t need to escape their reality. And they certainly don’t need “natural parks” to sit and reflect.

I know I sound bitter, but never has the disparity of wealth been more apparent to me than in Wichita, Kansas. You can literally cross a street and go from $400,000 homes with manicured lawns, sculpted concrete fountains, high privacy fences and long winding driveways to tiny squatting brick houses, with broken toys in the yard, no sidewalks, and trash piled up at the curbs. Its uncanny. And incredibly unsettling.

I grew up in Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington and the separation of rich and poor there is a bit more subtle. Hoods are hoods… they are usually separated from nice areas by major streets, commercial districts, or gradually shifting property values. Its not often that you can look across the street from your run down trailer park and see a goddamn mansion. In Wichita, the separation is stark. And its a painful reminder of what you do not, and in many cases, cannot and will not ever have.

Sitting here, bitter, against this young maple, looking up at the gorgeous colors of fall, relishing in the scent of grass,  the slight sweetness of tree bark, the subtleties of fall. Enjoying the absence of loud music, the scent of stale beer, and the arguing that has become the theme song for life in the hood, my peace is only mildly disturbed by the approach of a white family. They’ve come to this idyllic outdoor scene to spend time together. Dad carries an infant nestled cozily in his arms. Little blonde-headed girls bobble about poking sticks at the soft earth. Ella wanders off and mom calls her back, they pose for a quick photo, try to get a younger girl, Emma, to smile. They are surprisingly quiet… not a hundred feet from me and I can only make out the occasional chuckle or soft words. They settle down with a blanket, picnic-style, some of the kids climb a nearby tree. It’s all very lovely… and I think: I have every intention of doing this very same thing with my family.. and often.

The major difference between us and them is that they easily walked to this location. It was nothing unusual or out of the way. Me and my kids will have to hobble through the hood for a mile or more to get here. We will probably look out of place. We will never be able to call this place our own. This will never be our community. That’s a painful reality to face. We have to leave our community to reconnect with each other, escape the piss and pain of the hood, just to relax.

Now, my goal is to one day move our family into such a place. A community with wild places carefully sculpted into the environment. A place where we can literally walk into our own backyard and reconnect with nature. Where there are not drive-bys at the end of the street and arguments from the couple in the alley every damn morning. I have no doubt that the concrete and chain link fencing that is the landscape our community has some deep psychological effect on us and on our children. I have no doubt that growing up with nature and beauty and quiet so easily accessible does something to the heart; affects our sense of hope, our aspirations. I believe with every sinew of my being that the hood is a prison designed to keep you there. Carefully shaped into a valley of despair where the steep hills of hope are too high to climb and the view is always invariably bleak. 

I don’t want that for my children, for my family or for myself. I have seen what it’s like on the other side, beyond the walls of this valley. I have seen what its like over the hill and beyond the tracks… I couldn’t help but see it… these city planners are constantly rubbing it in my face. I have seen it and I want out. I want the sculptured slice of nature at my fingertips, the moist earth of nearly dry creeks between my toes. I want maple trees and l pines. I want a little less concrete and a whole lot more quiet. I want my need to escape to be just a little less prevalent and I want the extent to which I must go to find that escape to be a little less far.

Literally.

If I ever get out, God-willing, remind me about this note. Remind me to finish paving that bike path from 13th street to 17th. Remind me to give the welfare moms, and struggling students, the single dads, and city workers just a little piece of quiet. Remind me to bring a little nature back to the hood.

I’m happy that I found this place and I will probably bring my kids here, regardless of how out of place we may look and seem. The view from where I sit is beautiful… and I’d like to keep it that way.

This post is a part of the #tenminutes series, a challenge to write for ten minutes, every day, no matter what. To learn more visit: Ten Minute Challenge and join the movement!

TEN MINUTES CHALLENGE DAILY PROMPT
“The View From Where I Sit” –  Either sit exactly where you are or go out and find a space you enjoy and snap a photo. Put that photo at the top of your page and title this piece, “The View From Where I Sit” and begin writing about your view. If you get stuck try focusing on the five senses. What do you hear, smell, taste, feel, and see?

Note: This can become a story, a poem, a rant, an article, a journal entry, a song… whatever form it takes just go with it. When all else fails in the face of writers block, just begin by making a list. What words come to mind in this view? What emotions do you feel? For an extended activity, return to this place on another day, with the same view, and see how this imagery makes you respond a second time. How does your mood affect your perception. What’s changed? Please do share. I love to see your work. Ready? Set. Write forth! #tenminutes

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Journal: The View From Where I Sit

http://goo.gl/574qlD – Chorus of Blue

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I was spurred to go on a bike ride this afternoon. It’s the first I’ve taken to really go out and explore on my own since I got this bike a couple weeks ago. I traveled along the partially paved bike path until I ran out of paving. Traveled along wistfully, surrounded by half-woods, searching for something. Some special place to call my own. Some little cove to steal away to in the early morning hours and write. I was searching for an escape from my life.

I imagine that’s no uncommon need for most people these days. There is always too much; too much work, too much responsibility, too many bills, too many kids, too much fighting, too much debt, too much social media, too much bad news… too much of everything. Everyone seems to need to escape. I would love to be the person who can relish in the now. Laugh at her messy house, dote on her devilish darling kids, plug away at her to-do list, and write about it all with such frankness and honesty that the masses nod in unison at this rare truth I’ve found the courage to share.

But that’s not me. At least, it’s not today. Today, I am riding my bike, desperately trying to get away. Getting away usually means finding some quasi-wooded area, a creek, very little traffic and a lot of natural quiet. This also means getting away from the half-hood that I live in and venturing into the ‘good ‘ neighborhoods where they care enough about creating a nice natural environment that they provide carefully sculptured “natural parks” where things appear just a little more wild than, say, trimmed grass, basketball courts and rubber swings.

There are usually less beer cans around too.

So today I’ve found such a wild place and I am relaxing on the grass, listening to the wind shaking the leaves above me. The view from where I sit is beautiful. And calm. And mostly quiet. So why do I feel a sense of sadness and bitterness? Why does the beauty of it all eat away at me?

As I rode away from the half-hood I call my home, I noticed the way the bike path only went 100 feet in the direction of my neighborhood, then broke off into rocky gravel, trash and broken glass. I had to turn around and head in the other direction. When I crossed the street that path went on significantly longer and led me away from my own neighborhood into the safety and comfort of a ‘better’ community. The loveliest thing in our hood is the golf courses we don’t visit. And apparently the need for a relaxing bike path from one end of the hood to the other is either unheard of or no one gives a damn. Welfare moms and struggling college students don’t need to escape their reality. And they certainly don’t need “natural parks” to sit and reflect.

I know I sound bitter, but never has the disparity of wealth been more apparent to me than in Wichita, Kansas. You can literally cross a street and go from $400,000 homes with manicured lawns, sculpted concrete fountains, high privacy fences and long winding driveways to tiny squatting brick houses, with broken toys in the yard, no sidewalks, and trash piled up at the curbs. Its uncanny. And incredibly unsettling.

I grew up in Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington and the separation of rich and poor there is a bit more subtle. Hoods are hoods… they are usually separated from nice areas by major streets, commercial districts, or gradually shifting property values. Its not often that you can look across the street from your run down trailer park and see a goddamn mansion. In Wichita, the separation is stark. And its a painful reminder of what you do not, and in many cases, cannot and will not ever have.

Sitting here, bitter, against this young maple, looking up at the gorgeous colors of fall, relishing in the scent of grass,  the slight sweetness of tree bark, the subtleties of fall. Enjoying the absence of loud music, the scent of stale beer, and the arguing that has become the theme song for life in the hood, my peace is only mildly disturbed by the approach of a white family. They’ve come to this idyllic outdoor scene to spend time together. Dad carries an infant nestled cozily in his arms. Little blonde-headed girls bobble about poking sticks at the soft earth. Ella wanders off and mom calls her back, they pose for a quick photo, try to get a younger girl, Emma, to smile. They are surprisingly quiet… not a hundred feet from me and I can only make out the occasional chuckle or soft words. They settle down with a blanket, picnic-style, some of the kids climb a nearby tree. It’s all very lovely… and I think: I have every intention of doing this very same thing with my family.. and often.

The major difference between us and them is that they easily walked to this location. It was nothing unusual or out of the way. Me and my kids will have to hobble through the hood for a mile or more to get here. We will probably look out of place. We will never be able to call this place our own. This will never be our community. That’s a painful reality to face. We have to leave our community to reconnect with each other, escape the piss and pain of the hood, just to relax.

Now, my goal is to one day move our family into such a place. A community with wild places carefully sculpted into the environment. A place where we can literally walk into our own backyard and reconnect with nature. Where there are not drive-bys at the end of the street and arguments from the couple in the alley every damn morning. I have no doubt that the concrete and chain link fencing that is the landscape our community has some deep psychological effect on us and on our children. I have no doubt that growing up with nature and beauty and quiet so easily accessible does something to the heart; affects our sense of hope, our aspirations. I believe with every sinew of my being that the hood is a prison designed to keep you there. Carefully shaped into a valley of despair where the steep hills of hope are too high to climb and the view is always invariably bleak. 

I don’t want that for my children, for my family or for myself. I have seen what it’s like on the other side, beyond the walls of this valley. I have seen what its like over the hill and beyond the tracks… I couldn’t help but see it… these city planners are constantly rubbing it in my face. I have seen it and I want out. I want the sculptured slice of nature at my fingertips, the moist earth of nearly dry creeks between my toes. I want maple trees and l pines. I want a little less concrete and a whole lot more quiet. I want my need to escape to be just a little less prevalent and I want the extent to which I must go to find that escape to be a little less far.

Literally.

If I ever get out, God-willing, remind me about this note. Remind me to finish paving that bike path from 13th street to 17th. Remind me to give the welfare moms, and struggling students, the single dads, and city workers just a little piece of quiet. Remind me to bring a little nature back to the hood.

I’m happy that I found this place and I will probably bring my kids here, regardless of how out of place we may look and seem. The view from where I sit is beautiful… and I’d like to keep it that way.

This post is a part of the #tenminutes series, a challenge to write for ten minutes, every day, no matter what. To learn more visit: Ten Minute Challenge and join the movement!

TEN MINUTES CHALLENGE DAILY PROMPT
“The View From Where I Sit” –  Either sit exactly where you are or go out and find a space you enjoy and snap a photo. Put that photo at the top of your page and title this piece, “The View From Where I Sit” and begin writing about your view. If you get stuck try focusing on the five senses. What do you hear, smell, taste, feel, and see?

Note: This can become a story, a poem, a rant, an article, a journal entry, a song… whatever form it takes just go with it. When all else fails in the face of writers block, just begin by making a list. What words come to mind in this view? What emotions do you feel? For an extended activity, return to this place on another day, with the same view, and see how this imagery makes you respond a second time. How does your mood affect your perception. What’s changed? Please do share. I love to see your work. Ready? Set. Write forth! #tenminutes

Inspiring Spaces


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Fireside Chat: Inspiring Spaces

http://goo.gl/K54GWv – Chorus of Blue

I often fantasize about getting away from the city. It’s a longing for quiet inspiration, reconnecting with nature, and a place to reflect that has made me seriously consider moving my family out onto a farm. Granted, we don’t know anything of animal husbandry (that’s a word, right?), and our farming/gardening experience is minimal to say the least… but I love home repairs, refurbishing things, and above all… I love the quiet. And not that artificial soundproofed quiet, but the noisy quiet of nature. With cicadas chirping, birds squawking, the breeze through the trees, frogs croaking, the crunch of dry leaves and bugs buzzing all about me. Its that kind of quiet that I yearn for. The noisy peace of outdoors.

I would love to go a year without any computers, smart phones, or video games… I imagine a whole life without them would be nice. Sure, I couldn’t run my business and design my products without a laptop. I couldnt build my platform or gain readership very quickly… in this digital age it’s sink or swim, but I’d love to give it a try. Id love to not need all this technology that hurts my head and boggles my mind. That disturbs and distracts. That disconnects us from everything that matters.

Sadly, my family, especially my kids, probably wouldn’t be as much on board. (Though,  I imagine they would love it after they stopped harping over what they were missing and started appreciating what they were gaining.) But, alas, that’s not easy move to make. So, instead of dreaming of this idyllic life on a farm, I have to start smaller… with my own mini-space: a writing studio.

Now, as it is, I don’t really have the ability to create my ideal writing studio where we live now. Luckily, we’re renters, so that’s not a permanent problem. While I could probably build a pretty awesome studio in the back yard, finding  some old shed on craiglist, hauling it here, rebuilding and gradually shaping it into a dream space of privacy and peace… one of the most important elements: surrounding/environment would definitely be missing. We live in the city… and not the best part of the city, either, lol.

So, for now, I dream, I build it in my mind: I imagine. I see a space set off from our main house, in a wild wooded area, with water somewhere nearby. It has lots of light from tons of huge windows… French doors that take up an entire wall and open up to a nice porch-patio. There’s a fireplace, a simple, but heavy refurbished desk, an antique daybed with a mishmash of gorgeously soft pillows of warm reds and oranges. There are soft throws everywhere, hardwood floors that creak a bit and layered in rugs, and lots and lots of candles and lanterns to light the space at night.

During the day it seems bright and open, uncluttered but homey, soft and summery. At night it becomes warm and cozy, with natural firelight all around. There are fireflies in the fields around me, dragonflies buzzing about the water… maybe a small pond or creek. The only unnatural noise is maybe a train in the distance. There’d be a small wood burning stove… or a gas stove if I wanted to go up a notch in impatience, lol. Somewhere to brew tea and coffee… and somewhere to store bread and butter; I like to eat.

The air outside would be scented with pine trees, lavender blossoms, gardenia bushes near the porch, a great magnolia tree out back, and climbing jasmine everywhere. And my cat would hang out there… hiding from the children. Keeping me company on late nights. An old record player would be nice… the crackle of it is so lovely. And Id have a small space out back to paint, blank, stretched canvases, metallic tubes of paint, brushes soaking in tin coffee cans… I would paint now and then, for pleasure… but maybe the paintings would supplement my income. Be curated by some local shop that promotes local artists. That would be nice.

In my mind we’d own some big property… and the walk out to my studio would take 10-15 minutes from the main house. It would be far enough away that I couldn’t hear the kids playing and near enough that I could escape at a moments notice. It would be nice if there was a view… maybe of some great forests of pine below, mountains in the distance… anything but the city that I’m so weary of. And it would be mine… all mine. No danger of intrusions, of children breaking this or that, husbands piling clothes on the floor… it would be my very private, very personal writing space.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have this dream studio, but I believe I will… someday, insha’Allah.

Have you ever taken the time to fully imagine your dream studio? What would be the absolute necessities? What could you not live without? Is it in a noisy city, glittering with city lights? A quiet cottage? A rustic cabin in the woods? How about a mobile studio to travel the across the country? Or do you simply need a small room in the corner of your house? A cozy den with the kids playing about? Tell me about your perfect writing studio… and how close you are to realizing that dream. can’t wait to hear from you all. Til then… thanks, as always, for reading, folks. See you by the fireside.

This is a part of the fireside chat series. Casual conversations amongst writers about writing.

I’ve begun a Pinterest Board for my Ideal Writing Studio… perhaps it will serve as inspiration for your own. It’s shared below. :) Enjoy!

http://www.pinterest.com/kelhami/ideal-writing-studio/


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Journal: New Bike, New Experiences

http://goo.gl/iKGkgZ – Chorus of Blue

I recently got a bike. Its exciting, really. Its been a while since I’ve ridden a bike and, being that I don’t drive these days, a bike offers a whole new level of freedom and independence for me. I’m riding more and more frequently, as my behind gets used to the excruciating pain of riding for the first time in years (yes, I’m ordering a new seat), and hope to eventually explore new areas of Wichita, find new inspiration, and maybe even join some writers circles and workshops! Being homebound has been a real hampering on my writing, so I’m really praying biking makes a big difference.

Naturally, at this point, I’m thinking of all the many ways I plan to customize my bike to fit my style and needs. Currently, its a Schwinn hybrid in light blue, stock everything. Oh, but how it yearns to be an iridescent cream color with brown leather & wood accents! I’m seeing wooden baskets, leather bags, a little bell, all kinds if fun stuff… So it’s a project in the making, I suppose, and I can’t wait to get started!

Will it affect my writing? Maaan, I hope so. Freedom, new adventures and the scent of leather always seem like a good start. ;)

This post is a part of the #tenminutes series, a challenge to write for ten minutes, every day, no matter what. To learn more visit: Ten Minute Challenge and join the movement!

TEN MINUTES CHALLENGE DAILY PROMPT
“Fiction: Travel” –  Write a story about a group of friends traveling on a road trip. Where do they stop? What is the purpose of the road trip? Who do they end up meeting along the way?

“Poetry: Travel” – Write a poem about some of your most memorable experiences while in a transit. This can include experiences on a bike, skateboard, bus, subway, train, airplane or in a car. Ready? Set. Write forth! #tenminutes

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