Tag Archives: balance

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

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When the Worst is the Best

I have this habit of trying to do it all and be it all, seeking frantically to find the way to exist in that magical, elusive state called The Best.

But this year, I have discovered that while this mythical-seeming state actually does exist, it is nestled in the more hostile country of The Worst. As much as I’d like to pretend The Best is a sovereign nation, the two are inextricably entwined. And, for the first time ever, I am realizing that this is okay. As I alluded to last week, I see how the common and the fabulous coexist in my life, nearly always in the same thing, and this juxtaposition is part of what makes life real and, sometimes, what makes it beautiful.

The reality has sunk in, as it usually does, while muddling through this parenting thing. As the girls mature, we have started to include them in decisions other than what to wear and how to do their hair. You know, things that have more permanent, influential and visibile consequences than being cold, mismatched or uncomfortable for a day. While we will have the final say at this phase in their life, we have found (through lots of trial and error) that on many decision, it is important to ask for their input and acutally seriously consider what they say.

Iowa has this fantastic dual enrollment option, which allows kids to attend between 2 and 5 hours of public school per day and be homeschooled for the rest. This year, after much deliberation and for a variety of reasons, we (Nick and Nora and I) decided to dually enroll Nora in 2nd grade. She goes to school with everyone in the morning and leaves two hours early.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

We all (mostly) love it. Nora loves having extra time at home. But, because she misses the end of the day, that means she often misses the fun stuff, too – birthday celebrations, class parties, costume parades, fun projects.

Nora was dually enrolled in kindergarten, for a different set of reasons. And we would always let her stay till the end of the day when there were special events.

This year was different. Nick and I decided at the beginning of the year that we wouldn’t be making exceptions. We wanted to teach her that there are consequences to all choices, even the best ones. We told her that the privilege of having extra time at home meant that she would be missing things at school. She agreed.

The first time there was something special, I braced myself for a torrent of whining. But to my surprise, she said, “Mom, I’m feeling disappointed that I am missing it. But, I know that I get to go home and have tea outside and do fun things with you guys. So I’m okay.”

What??!?

Maybe it’s just me, but I hear this unspoken message everywhere to find the best, and be the best, and to never settle for anything less. And so I embark on the noble quest for the best, discarding anything that is less. I confuse trying my best with being the best and consequently never learn the important lessons that come through working hard at something for which you may never be the best.

I can see how this mindset has permeated my parenting. Much like I have a deep desire to protect the girls from all pain, I want them to experience the best. All the time. In everything.

But not the worst.

And really, I’m finding it’s pretty easy to do that while they are young like this, and I can control so much. I can manipulate circumstances to enhance the best and minimize or even eliminate the worst. And I am realizing that I am walking a fine line between responsible parenting that strives to create a safe environment for kids to grow and mature, and dangerous parenting that strives to create the perfect environment. When we talk about choices and decisions, I find myself discussing all the benefits of each possibility. Rarely (unless I’m trying to sway a decision), do I talk honestly and openly about both the best and the worst.

Recently, I was chatting with my sister about the popular critique of her millennial generation, namely, their collective repulsion at taking a good job (or any job, really) instead of the best job. And it made me wonder. In our nobly intentioned desire to have our kids find their passion and become the best that they can be, have we set them up for a never-ending quest for the mythical, sovereign country of The Best? Have we actually succeeded in creating people who won’t settle for less? Ever?

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So much like I’m feeling challenged to prepare my children for the reality of suffering, I’m realizing I need to do a better job of discussing The Worst as a inevitable and necessary part of life. I am a naturally (and usually, unrealistically) optimistic person, so this is not easy for me. But, I’m working to train myself to see the worst parts as evidence of the best parts.

The tricky part is trying to teach them to recognize the (often subtle) difference between The Worst that is simply a byproduct of a particular option and The Worst that is destructive, damaging and divisive. I don’t want to raise apathetic kids. I want to raise kids who can and want to recognize and address problems.

I am hoping that the experience with Nora will extend to the rest of life – that by giving them a realistic view of what life is they will have

The serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

Sabbath?

I love when God chooses to communicate with me by (lovingly) slapping me across the face with clarity. Now that the Lyric‘s opera season has begun, I get a day off about every week to 10 days. Whenever that day happens to land on a Sunday, I am thrilled to be able to go to church. Today was one of those days! My beautiful 15 minute walk to church was spent mentally organizing all of the work I was going to get done when I got home. I have to work on the next opera role I need to have learned and memorized soon (since my days are now filled with sitting in rehearsals for the current IMG_2160role and understudy responsibility), memorize a number of arias in preparation for upcoming auditions, translate the massive German and Italian roles I have coming up (after the previously mentioned upcoming role), send in a couple of competition applications, catch up on emails, set up my upcoming Pub Theology meeting (yep, I’m a geek… I’m sure I’ll expand more on this venture in future posts), write this blog post, and do all the life things I don’t have time for during the week, like grocery shopping and laundry. That list was what I got done on my walk to church.

And then the sermon today was about the importance of the Sabbath and resting well.

As much as I personally HATE HATE HATE admitting to faults (the curse of the Wilde trait of “Always Being Right”… it’s a real problem), I have NO problem admitting that I do not rest well. I am terrible at this. When I was working with a fabulous therapist last year dealing with some situational anxiety issues, I was given the assignment to spend time “just walking.” I was told to wander aimlessly without going somewhere in particular, doing it for exercise, or listening to music I needed to learn. My therapist laughed as I literally shrank in my chair at the thought of doing something without a purpose. As much as I took pride in following all the steps to conquer my anxiety issues (I basically thought I was THE BEST at therapy. Ha!), doing all the exercises, and asking for regular assignments, I have yet to do this one, simple task.

I know how to relax, to sit and binge watch Netflix or lazily sleep in, but I don’t know how to really REST and to rejuvenate. The hard part of a job like mine is that the work is never done and 75% of the “work” I do is not counted as work hours. The translating, learning, memorizing, and figuring out how to sing each role is done before the first day of scheduled rehearsal even begins. How do you prioritize rest when there isn’t an end to improving the craft or knowing the languages well enough. Or there aren’t “work hours”? When you can’t delegate any work tasks to anyone else? Where do you draw the line when all that you really get paid for is the product? No one cares how much or how little work went into a performance, only that you can deliver. This self motivated aspect of the career is often difficult for the less naturally organized, artistic-types, but makes my type-A side light up with delight and motivation. However, it’s also very easy for me then to slip into a state of burnout and not realize it until it’s too late. If all of this rest stuff is that hard for me, I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it is for those of you who are also parents, like my sister. How do you do it?!

Binge watching Netflix is relaxing, but I end up just as drained as I was before. One question Brian, my pastor, asked today was “what activities in your current life fill you up and give you Life?” I paused and realized I couldn’t readily answer that. I remember discovering something similar when, after going on a couple of different dates, I couldn’t answer the “What are you hobbies?” or “What do you do for fun?” questions. I love spending time with friends, having good conversations, being involved with my church and small group, and have started this Pub Theology group, but I am primarily an introvert, without introverted activities. If I don’t refill my energy, all of those social fun things can become just as draining as work.

I have only recently started finding some introverted, life giving activities. This Blog has very quickly become a beautiful way for me to spend time with myself and process through varied aspects of my life. I’ve also started reading for fun again. I’m getting back into working out regularly and hopefully going on walks. The easiest thing for me, still, is to turn on the TV and veg out, but I’m hoping that will change as I train my body and mind to remember how much more fulfilled I am after an hour of reading or taking a walk.

IMG_1402But to be honest, the most important aspect of the Sabbath and resting well is God. I so often find myself leaving Him out of the equation when trying to get filled up by activities or external things. I feel like He quietly walks with me through each day, helping me take on struggles, carrying me when I’m depleted, and celebrating in my successes, all the while quietly and unobtrusively asking me to stop and spend some time with Him. He never leaves me, but wants to give me so much more each day than simply “getting through.” I’ve been reading Brother Lawrence’s book “The Practice of the Presence of God.” This was a man who invited God into every moment of his day, allowing God to give meaning to even the most mundane tasks. It’s overwhelming, inspiring, and at times discouraging when I compare Brother Lawrence’s approach to his life and mine: the amount of time I’ve spent complaining about the mundane, switching on my phone or checking social media every time I am without stimulation or want instant validation, avoiding interactions with people around me for fear of awkwardness, or assuming God has given me this voice and then peaced out on the process of developing it. But the truth is, I am not obligated to MAKE Him part of my daily life, I am invited to ALLOW Him to make his presence known and give meaning to every moment.

The Sabbath is my day to stop the craziness for a moment, spend time with the One who gave it all to me, and reorient my heart and mind back to Him. I know I will fail over and over, allowing this crazy career and life’s trials to overwhelm me and give me tunnel vision, but the soft voice of an invitation to stop and rest will always be there.