All posts by Kristin Giuliani

A dangerous optimist. Wife to a stark realist. Work-from-home public health consultant and mom of three girls. Lover of truth, beauty and Jesus.

Fact: Listening is Stressful

Did you hear that?

 

 

Listen.

 

 

That is the sound of silence.

Not the Simon and Garfunkel variety, but the beautiful, mythical-seeming kind – the absence of static, white noise, and the general chaos of life.

It has been silent at the blog this month. At first, the silence was circumstantial – life just got too busy. But then, thanks to my second husband, DIP (Nick’s Dissertation-In-Progress), it became intentional.

DIP and the family spent the past several Sunday afternoons having a party at the lab trying to iron out the kinks in the data collection process.

The girls happily hung out in the adjacent room with Miss iPad, our trusty babysitter. DIP and Nick hung out at the computer command center pushing buttons and trying not be frustrated. I hung out like this:

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I know it looks like I was just sitting there, staring at a computer screen. But in reality, I was listening to and repeating inane sentences (stockings in large sizes are hard to sell) being subconsciously stressed. Not just because Nick made me sit for long periods of time without shaking my legs or twirling my hair (sitting still is physically painful for me). It’s because listening is just stressful.

Yup. It’s a fact. In a process that is beyond the scope of my pathetic understanding of hearing science, when you decide to listen to something, your body predictably and involuntarily freaks out just a wee bit. This is a physiologic stress response called listening effort.

The body has a stress response when listening in quiet, and a bigger response when listening in noise. When Nick had me listen with white noise in the background, he recorded a higher level of stress, even for sentences that I had no trouble understanding. It is a universal, completely involuntary response to noise – even when you can comprehend perfectly fine, more noise equals more stress.

The last couple of years we have tried to intentionally observe the season of Advent as a family. It started as a way to refocus the season on the reconciling peace, joy, and love of the birth of Christ. But this year, it became more than a protest against Christmas consumerism. It became the impetus for a cultural shift in our family.

Advent is a season that embodies expectant hope. Joyful patience. Watching and waiting. Listening.

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Listening.

Sitting there in the lab, failing miserably at not moving, it struck me. The holiday season is where we do everything – decorating, purchasing, wrapping, baking, celebrating – in the name of relationship. For our families and friends. For our neighbors and teachers. For those in need.

I wear my stress like a badge of honor, as proof of how much I care. And inevitably, finding the time to sit down and listen – to my husband, to my kids, to my friends, to God – never quite materializes. I hunker down, close my door and my ears, and chisel away at my list of love activities. I always seem to be snippy. I never feel very loving. I just want to be left alone.

Listening effort – a beautiful advent metaphor. Trying to listen in the ambient (and oft self-induced) noise of the holidays just pushes me over my stress threshold. My brain rebels, screaming “TOO MUCH!” Autopilot switches on, shutting down my desire and ability to truly listen.

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In a season where Nick and I have decided to place extra emphasis on the practice of watching, waiting and listening – to each other and to that whispering voice that invites us to participate in healing those around us – I needed to be able to listen without putting myself (and my family!) in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. I knew this year I had to turn down the self-induced noise and limit our exposure to the rest.

So the blog, among other things, fell silent for this season. Once I created a space to listen, almost immediately a handful of friends reached out. Friends standing at life-altering crossroads. Friends staring into inexhaustible heartache. Friends who just needed someone to listen. And, for the first time during the holiday season, I had the time, energy and desire to be present with them and listen.

Our gifts to others this year have been simple, our activities limited, and our house is not clean, but it feels right. I feel like we are where we need to be.

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Laura is entering a season of huge responsibility and limited time, so she and I will revisit our blog format after the holidays. But until then, I hope you too can respond to DIP and turn down your noise to truly listen in peace.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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What is wrong with me?!?

I do not want to move.

Eesh. That feels scary to admit.

I have never, in my entire memory, not wanted to move. In the first six years of our marriage, Nick and I lived in six different homes, in five cities, and in three states, and I still love moving. I love going somewhere new, where everything is fresh and anything is still possible.

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But as we creep closer to the end of graduate school, we have started to casually toss around talk of what will be next. I could feel my internal jaw dropping as I heard myself think, I want to stay here.

It is certainly not because Iowa City is my dream town (although, it is pretty awesome) or that I’ve always dreamed of living surrounded by cornfields. It is not because we love our house or our neighborhood or the schools.

So what, then? What is wrong with me?!?

It is their fault – my people – these quirky, caring, graceful, inappropriate, brilliant, frustrating, witty and spectacularly amazing families who are overflowing with incomprehensible love. By some fluke, we all genuinely enjoy each other. The guys go camping and play pool. There are frequent ‘girls’ nights out.’ The kids have sleepovers.

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They have seen my house at its lowest level of habitability. They have shooed us out the door on date nights while my kids were kicking and screaming on the floor. They have hugged me even though it had been four days since my last shower. We have broken bread together with an Easter katana (don’t ask).image I have snort-laughed at their inappropriate jokes, hugged them in their despair and spat out fuming words at them, angry tears dotting their couch. We surround each other during the rough times, risk confronting each other when we see something amiss, irritate each other, and hurt each others’ feelings when we get too caught up in our own lives. We have been collectively broken and helped each other pick up the pieces.

imageI know that no matter what happens to me, my girls will have a handful of women all within a 30-minute drive who would show them how to be women of grace, honor and integrity. They would have someone to go bra shopping with, have “the talk” with and ask them the hard questions. And no matter what happens to Nick, there are a handful of men who would step up to show the girls how a man should respect, care for and cherish them. They would have someone to scrutinize their prom dates, tell them how boys really think, and teach them how to write code and wire a circuit.

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These relationships have been a long, intentional time in the making. It has required way more sacrifice than I anticipated – sacrificing time, personal space, money and the freedom to do what I want whenever I want. But I would do it again in a heartbeat because these people are worth it. We are (imperfectly) learning together how to let go of this heavily ingrained American idea that my family is a self-sustaining entity. I had to learn to set boundaries, but recognize that the needs of my family cannot always come first. I have had to learn how to ask for and accept help without feeling guilt. My children have had to learn that sometimes they have to put their own needs aside for the moment to help another. And they have seen their friends return the favor. I am learning what it actually means to be the church.

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We certainly don’t all agree on how to discipline, or who the president should be, or what method of schooling is the best. But we do all agree that who our kids become is infinitely more important than what they learn to do. We agree that teaching them unconditional love and introducing them to the One who made them is the most important thing we can give them.

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I have had these depths of friendships throughout my life, but never a group of families in one place. For the first time, I feel like I have a community to raise my children. I don’t feel the pressure to have it all together as a parent. And I have no doubt how much they love us. I hope they know the same.

I know how much mutual investment went into my people and I recognize it for the rare gem that it is. I want my girls to grow up in the messy love of this crazy group of people.

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I don’t know if we will get to stay. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring for my friends. It is terrifying and heartbreaking for me to think about leaving my people and having to start that arduous process all over again.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so thankful that today I have this amazing group of people who we love and who love us in return.

And that alone, is worth living the rest of my life surrounded by corn.

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Sometimes Blooming is a Bunch of Dooky (and some Fabulous Friday GF cookies)

Since Laura’s last post, I’ve been thinking about what success means to me. And my inspirational gem is:

Sometimes “bloom where you are planted” is a bunch of dooky (yes, I said dooky).

Back in 2006, Nick bought a vanilla orchid cutting. For those of you not as nerdily awesome as my husband, a vanilla orchid is a vine on which vanilla beans grow. They need hot, humid, tropical climates. You know, just like Iowa. The vines typically grow to be 10 feet long before they are ready to flower, and then the flowers last only one day (and are usually hand pollinated). And – voila – you have an expensive vanilla bean!

With Nick’s plant magic, the vine actually grew and we started dreaming of financing graduate school with our mini vanilla farm. Nine years and 20 feet of vine later, still no flower. Because (gasp), we don’t live in the jungle and don’t own a tropical greenhouse.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

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It has taken me three decades, but I finally have a grasp on my gifts and talents. I am creative, spontaneous, laidback, and compassionate. I can reroute a derailed plan with ease. I am a global thinker who can uncover the most unlikely connections to build my case. I love creating and unconventional projects and letting the girls skate on a thin layer of flour sprinkled on our kitchen floor.

But.

My brain cannot grasp organization. Setting and maintaining a routine is about as easy for me as running a marathon (or a 10K). I am not a natural cook. I get overwhelmed by too many choices, so trying to plan meals takes me hours and hours. I can handle detail, but in small doses. Planning ahead and sticking to the plan feels like walking through a giant vat of rubber cement. Keeping my schedule straight, without even adding in the schedules of four other people, is exhausting.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So, if you can’t already see where this is going, I am that vanilla orchid. In this particular setting of my life, which demands way more organizational acumen than I possess, I will never bloom without constructing a completely artificial environment around me.

Over the years, I have tried hard to bloom. I vacillated between making minute-by-minute schedules for every single day and throwing my hands up in surrender. I tried every organizational tactic, method, and fad. The not-so-subtle message drenching womanhood is that you can (and should!) be organized if you just learn how. If I could just get the time to finally get everything organized, I thought, my problems would be solved. I wasted so much time and energy trying to become organized like the rest of my non-ADHD friends with Pottery Barn-like houses that I lost myself. My unique gifts were suffocating inside all my disorganized organizational bins.

But this past fall, I hit a low (for the third time in seven years). I let everything go. Clutter filled every horizontal surface and we ate lots of painfully expensive gluten-free mac-n-cheese.

As I crawled out of the gutter, I realized it wasn’t that I lacked the time to do everything, I lacked the brain capacity. I finally acknowledged my limitations and embraced my strengths.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

In the last few months, I have found a (mostly) happy medium. I recognize that we have an uncontrollable, demanding schedule where Nick is largely unavailable and all three girls need to see medical specialists on a regular basis. I stopped consulting to seek work with consistent weekly hours. I clean less than I would like, but everything has a place (even if it’s a teetering pile in the corner of the kitchen). We enforce consistent dinner and bed times, but everything else fluctuates daily. The girls have weekly chores and are not allowed to keep something unless they can find a place to put it (even if it’s a teetering pile in the corner of their closet). We only eat mac-n-cheese once a week.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

I am a happier, more creative person, but there are still days where I lose it. On my bad days, I worry that my chaotic way of doing things is stressful for my routine-needing girls, and that they will leave home not knowing how to be functional adults. On my good days, I trust that by respecting my gifts and limitations (and not screaming at them on an hourly basis), I will be able to help them become confident and creative enough women to fill the gaps.

I may not be able to bloom right now, but I can grow. Perhaps not as quickly as those orchids in the jungle, but the growth is there. And, I can even offer a completely different kind of beauty – evergreen beauty during the gray Iowa winter.

So here’s my measure of success instead:

Grow where you are planted and recognize that sometimes, blooming is just pure dooky.

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Property of Kristin Giuliani

 

Aside from the first snow of the season (for which the girls have been waiting since MID-JUNE), my Fabulous Friday this week is my proud creation:

Property of Kristin Giuliani

Kristin’s Awesomely Soft and Chewy Grain-free, Gluten-free Totally Unhealthy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (at room temp)
  • 3/8 cup each of brown and white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¾ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups of blanched almond flour (Honeyville brand works the best – Bob’s Red Mill can be too grainy)
  • ½ to ¾ cup of chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk almond flour, baking soda and salt together. In a separate bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla together. Add eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and beat until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake 9 – 12 minutes, until just starting to turn golden on top. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Let cool on the sheet for 3 – 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. Enjoy! Do NOT store them in an airtight container – they will get soggy.

Property of Kristin Giuliani