Friday, January 31, 2014

The Gifts of Imperfection: My Journey to Embracing my own Imperfections

Brene Brown (pronounced Brenay) is a shame researcher. I had never heard of her until last summer when her name kept coming up. I listen to a podcast about digital scrapbooking called the Digishow, and they were doing a series discussion on a book called Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. They were gushing about her, her other books, her TED talks, etc. I went to check out her TED talk, and I realized that I had seen this woman before, I had even watched her TED talk but at the time, it hadn't stuck. This time, I listened intently to the podcast hosts going on and on about her messages in her book. I could slightly relate, enough to go out and purchase the kindle version of the book. I started reading it, but it was over my head. Well, no, it was just too much information and I was in the midst of analyzing data for my thesis at the time.

So, what is a shame researcher? Her background is in Social Work, and she is a professor, but her research relates to people and how they handle shame or, better yet, how they get past shame to live their lives more fully and deal with their loved ones (and strangers) in a more authentic way. She studies people who can do this well so she can tell the stories to the rest of us.

I didn't finish reading the book Daring Greatly at the time, but Brene Brown's name and her work was still in the back of my mind, and I was intending to read more about it after my thesis was completed. Sure enough, in October, I received an invitation in my email inbox for an Oprah Class that would be taught by Brene Brown. First off, I didn't know that Oprah offers online classes (for self-help and development) on her web site, and I had no idea that Brene's work was known and admired by so many people...enough to make Oprah want to host a class about it. So, I pondered signing up for it, but I was intimidated by the fact that an art journal would be involved. I didn't know how to make an art journal, and at the time, I didn't know that Brene would teach not only "what" to journal about, but also "how" to create pages for the art journal. I also hesitated to take on something new...a 12-week intensive on-line course, just after completing my thesis? No thank you. Instead, I found a self-paced art journaling course and signed up for that instead. I made several pages before I realized it was easy, and I kind of regretted not signing up for Brene's course.

Then, in January, I received another email from Oprah. (Why was I getting emails from Oprah suddenly? I had never received them in the past!) This time, Brene was announcing that her first class was SO SUCCESSFUL and SO LIFE-CHANGING for so many, that she had designed a new class, which would start in April. But, before that, she wanted to give people a 2nd chance, in case they missed the first offering last fall, to take the first class before April, and so it would be offered again starting in...gasp!...3 days. Oh, Oprah, you slay me with your marketing techniques. But it works! I signed up immediately, and so did my friend Louise, and so did another friend, Laura. I was so excited to have this 2nd chance and also to be sharing it with friends.

So, the class started, and it is not as intensive as I imagined it would be, but it is really interesting and thought-provoking. It's also hard to imagine sharing it all on my blog, but I don't mind summarizing what I have done and learned so far.

Week 1

We had to read the first half of her book, "Give of Imperfections" and make a few pages in our art journals. It is fascinating to read about her own experiences, but also to watch the how-to videos because she is a very good story-teller. Her experiences ring true for me. How we try to appear perfect to others, but really, we are so far from perfect and we try to hide away our faults. How it's okay to be more honest with people and admit when we have done something wrong. How to be more forgiving of others because we need to acknowledge that everyone is imperfect and most people are hiding behind this mirage of perfection, just like us. Well, I am getting off on a tangent here. Following are some photos of my art journal:

First, we were to give ourselves permission to do several things that might be hard for us to do. I left room to add more later. We were supposed to choose one to put up on the class's web site. I chose "to tell my real feelings to people" because, honestly, that is hardest for me. I found that this month, I worked hard to be more honest with people and not worry so much about how they would react and what they would say about  me or think of me. In general, I got a positive and supportive reaction from people.
  • to say no
  • to forget
  • to fall behind
  • to cry
  • to make mistakes
  • to tell my real feelings to people
  • to ask for help
Then, we were supposed to write, in permanent marker, on our hands the vow, "I am imperfect and I am enough." But, I misunderstood and wrote "I am more than enough" instead and I also made my art journal page with it. We were supposed to upload these photos to the web site, and that is when I realized that I had written the wrong "quote" on my hand, so I RE-DID it. Yup, still learning here. Still on a journey. Still worried about making mistakes. (By the way, notice the bracelet. More on that later.)

 The third journal assignment (yes, Week 1 was intense) was to write a list of our heart people and make this heart-themed journal page. Heart People are those whom you can share anything with and you don't have to worry about their evaluation of you. They will love you unconditionally. I realized that my husband is not one of those "heart people" for me. I still worry and fret over what he will think of me if I make a mistake and that he will just walk away when he has had enough. However, if anyone knows my faults and what my house really looks like, it is HIM. And, he is still here. And, honestly, our relationship took a turn for the better last fall, so I can sense myself trusting him more and letting him see me (no, really see me) more than ever before. So, perhaps one day he will be added to this list. I really hope so.

I also realized that there was someone I really wanted to (and expected to) put on the list but I could not because I had kept something from her since last summer. I had had plenty of chances to tell her about it, but I had only told two people (my other heart people) immediately when it happened, but I had not told her. I was afraid that on that point, she would get judgy. But, the thing was, I tell her EVERYTHING ELSE. Why couldn't I share this one thing with her? So, I sent her a private message and confessed everything to her, and told her that I could add her to the list now. She said, "Thank you for telling me. You were already on my list." She wasn't judgy about it either.

 At the end of the week, Brene puts forth three questions or small tasks that we can either just answer inside our heads or we can journal about them. I chose to journal about them in my art journal, so here are the pages from the "Get Inspired, Get Deliberate, Get Going" task. One thing I decided, then and there, was to blog about my experiences with this class and the others that I am taking. I don't know how many people read and feel inspired by my blog posts, but for me, it is great record of my journey and will most likely be printed into a book for myself in the future. (I use Blurb or Blog to Books once in a while to print my blogs into book form.)And, if people read it and feel something, that is great too.

Since this post is getting long, and it's a lot to digest, I'll save the 2nd week for next time. Cheers to your imperfections. Embrace them because its what adds to your beauty and your likeability. If everyone were perfect, what a boring world this would be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One Little Word in January

I chose SIMPLIFY as my word for this year, but I have to confess something. It is really hard to make time to simplify my life, and I have already committed to several events that I had originally thought I would say no to. Plus, I'm taking 3 online classes in relation to scrapbooking, so they are very enjoyable, of course. And, I have other things going on that would make anyone's head spin...perhaps I will write about some of these in a later blog post. Oh well. Got to enjoy life too, right?

Ali Edwards' first assignment for OLW 2014 was to make two lay outs plus complete some journaling about our word choices.

The assignment including the following: Choose a word, Make a lay out including a photo of you, the definition of the word, and your reasons for choosing it. Finally, we had to find or create a symbol for our word, something we could keep around that would be a constant reminder.

Then, find a quote. I found two. Couldn't resist. As I was making my quote page, I realized that the shape of the quotes looked like the figure 8. The figure 8 is reminded me of two rings set together, and this lead me to think about symbols for "unity". It all came together then. One of my reasons for choosing "SIMPLIFY" is to focus on the family and bring us back together again after these last 3 years of stress and hardship. Many of the class members are ordering or having symbolic jewelry or household decorations custom made that will remind them of their word. I haven't decided yet if I will do this or not, but it is much easier to find a piece of jewelry that represents "unity" rather than one that symbolizes "simplify". (Oh, I just thought of something though. What about those JUST SAY NO stickers to remind kids not to succumb to peer pressure?)

The 3rd part was to think about different ways to use our word. It was a journaling assignment, but I decided to make it into a lay out, much like the January 2013 assignment, so that I can print it and have it hanging by my desk.

Finally, the kids and I found some rocks in Ailin's collection and painted them. They wanted to choose words too, so I painted our words on the rocks with liquid paper (white out). Ailin's word is HOUSE because she wants us to move into a house. Luka's word is GLEE because he likes the soundtracks from the TV drama.

The word simplify, being coupled with my other 2 online classes, has been a challenge for me so far. I have not made much practical progress, but I am focusing on "menu planning" this month. I have been paying more attention to my preferences and habits regarding this. I LIKE using CookPad in English, but feasibly, I can only cook decent meals 3 nights a week due to Ailin's dance/swimming lesson schedule. So, on Sundays, when I make the grocery list, I go to CookPad and choose 3 recipes to make. For the other nights, I make easy meals, like sandwiches and chips or spaghetti with meat sauce. Things that I know the kids will love and will be very easy to make. Last year, I did make green smoothies every night for myself (from about July to October), but I realize now that I don't actually WANT to drink smoothies in lieu of dinner, that I would rather eat real food that I have cooked. I found some simple ingredients to use in my lunch boxes every day, so not only are my lunches really healthy and filling, but they are also very simple to assemble in the mornings. I make things like oinarizushi, chikuwa, tsukemono, onigiri, mini-salads, and leftovers from dinner. In terms of menu planning, I think things are improving, though if the past is any indication of the future, I will most likely get bored in a few months and have to shake things up with a new cookbook or some new-fangled method to getting dinner on the table. One thing is for sure though. I get a lot of joy out of cooking and trying new recipes, and Japanese home-cooked food is surprisingly easy to make and requires very few ingredients. I bet people who have never lived in Japan would be surprised to read that! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Project Life 2013 Finished and Printed!

For the past 2 years in January, I feel obliged to complete two large projects before the month ends. First, I rush to complete the Project Life pages for my album so I can get them uploaded to Blurb and printed into a book. Prior to Project Life, I was making my own version of Project Life with many of the same ideas - repetitive templates throughout, documenting month by month, including the entire family and their memorabilia in the layouts, etc. I love doing it digitally though as they albums come out so thin and well, book-like.

Check out the link for a preview of my latest Project Life Album. It costs a little over $100 to print this 94-pager, but it is well worth the money. One of my favorite books on our bookshelves!

The way I work it out is that each month, I separate our typical family events into themes - Amanda's stuff (usually involving work, hobbies, issues, friends, etc.), Kids' stuff, Family events, and Everyday Life. There are some months when Yusuke has something to share, such as when he travels or attends a friend's wedding. Special family events, such as birthdays, sports festivals, holidays, etc. are allotted extra pages for that month. When time and space allows, I scan memorabilia and use it throughout the pages - things like ticket stubs, kids' drawings, clothing tags, to-do lists, and so on.

I use Photo Shop Elements, both on Mac and PC to complete my pages and then upload them to Blurb in order to make the photobook.

Here's the thing though. By summer, I tend to fall way behind. In fact, in 2013, I was busy researching for my Masters thesis, and I started to fall behind after February. Once I finished with it in September, I spent a few hours here and there trying to catch up but didn't make much headway. I spend most of my winter break powering my way through the last 10 months of the year, so don't get discouraged if you start to fall behind. There are advantages to doing the pages months after the fact (like, you won't be quite as detailed with a little perspective). Of course, there are disadvantages too, like the constant nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach or the likelihood of missing some important details or even the order of events, but really, does that matter in the end? What matter most is that your family has a beautiful book of memories to look at for years to come.

For 2014, I would love to keep up a little better. I don't have the excuse of thesis, but I'm sure other things will come up. Right now, I am trying to figure out some techniques for keeping up and for SIMPLIFYING the whole process. I have a few sets of templates that I go back to again and again, and I found that simple templates work better for me. Though I sometimes love the look of very elaborate pages, it is not feasible for PL pages - too heavy and take too long to work on. I downloaded more Becky Higgins templates and several of Cathy Zielske's templates, both created for the purpose of Project Life. I have a huge stockpile of digital kits that I procured when I was a member of the Digi Files. I have recently unsubscribed because my computer external hard drives were getting so full, and I needed to take a break and use up kits that I have never used yet. I plan to go through and choose several kits that I will use for 2014. Last year, I chose a different kit for each month, but as it turns out, there were some kits I really loved and others, not so much, so I will only choose four or five that I really love, that suit the seasonal colors, that make my heart sing, and I use those over and over.

Here is one in particular that I fell in love with, which lead me to buy several more of the kits created by Libby Pritchett at Sweet Shoppe.

Be Awesome

I love the color blending, the oranges, the shabbiness of it. This definitely reflects my style. Bright but shabby.

Next week, we will be into February, and I'll need to start my January pages of Project Life 2014. Wish me luck, and if you feel the inkling to start an album, by all means...your family will love it, and most importantly, so will you!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What I really wanna do

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy researching and writing. It was fun, and I'll continue to do it because I basically have to continue what I started in order to build up my resume more. Plus, it is important to keep up with new discoveries in teaching if I am to stay in this field. However, for the past two years, I was dying to take some more online classes JUST FOR ME. Art Journaling, scrapbooking, digital techniques, etc. Opportunities to take classes kept passing me by, and I was only signing up for One Little Word because it required very little time to complete the assignments each month.

Now it is January 2014. I am 5 months out of grad school. My word for 2014 is SIMPLIFY. And, I am taking 3 online classes. Yup, three. Not quite good at the SIMPLIFY stuff yet.

First, I am taking One Little Word taught by Ali Edwards, as I wrote about in the previous post. I am planning to update my blog regarding my progress with this word, but please excuse me if I fail or don't show much progress. Something positive always comes out of these words of the year. My next post will be about January's assignment.

Second, I am taking Cathy Zielske's Move Well Eat Well Jumpstart, hosted by Big Picture Classes. Why complicate my life with something that looks like a diet? I don't know. Maybe it's because I am a die-hard fan of Cathy Z and hadn't taken any of her classes since the fall of 2010. I needed a good dose of her. Or maybe I wanted the jumpstart in January to get me back on track for my diet. I will update about my progress, but just FYI, this class is only one month long. After that, it's self-paced and I would only need to check in about once a month. For January though, the assignments are daily! However, they are not difficult, and I printed out the cards beforehand so I only have to find the right cards for each day, fill them out or journal on them, and then put them in the album. Easy peasy. The hard part is actually moving my body and eating well. Doesn't always happen in the same day. I am thinking about getting a FitBit because I am the kind of person who thinks that new technology will help me move my body and eat well. Yes, I admit that I am a sucker for technology.

Third, I am taking a course called The Gifts of Imperfection, taught by Brene Brown. If you don't know her, she is a researcher on human behavior, specializing in shame. Sound weird? This class was offered last November, and I really wanted to enroll, but there was an art journaling component. I knew nothing about art journaling. Then I was reminded that while in grad school, I had been hearing about art journaling off and on and had wanted to learn how to do it. I had promised myself to figure it out after grad school finished. This reminder led me to another class called hosted by A Beautiful Mess called Art Journal All Year, and I decided to enroll in that one instead. I'd been slowly working my way through the challenges since November. Then, just last week, the Brene Brown course was offered once again, due to its popularity, so I decided to take the plunge. Two friends in Japan also enrolled, so I am excited to share the experience with them.

Finally, about a year ago, one of these same friends recommended the books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, both by Gretchen Rubin. We decided to start our own Happiness Project group and got a few other friends and acquaintances involved. It's a secret/closed Facebook group in which we share our monthly goals and then report back at the end of each month. In between, we discuss our minor successes and challenges regarding our progress and encourage each other along the way. Last year, my goals often related to my word for the year, MOVE. Each member was working on her own issues, and each one of us came out having learned something significant about ourselves by the end of the year. It's a small group, but it ties in quite well with the above 3 courses.

So, just for fun, I am planning to share my progress on this blog. The good and the bad. As my friend Louise says, this helps make us accountable for our actions throughout the year and it's a good record to look back on.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Word of the Year: SIMPLIFY

Finally! I'm back in the saddle. After two years of graduate school and then nearly one year of thesis-researching and writing, I graduated with my Masters Degree in TESOL. Now, I can be proud of myself for achieving something I never thought possible while being married, working full-time and raising two children.

When I first began my graduate program in January of 2011, I decided to join Ali Edwards' class called One Little Word (offered at Big Picture Classes). In keeping with my new goals regarding grad school classes, I chose LEARN as my word. Indeed, I did learn a lot that year, not only about teaching methods and language acquisition, but also about my own strengths and capacity as a mother. Much of what I journaled about also included my daughter's attempts to learn to read and write. She was 4 at the time.

In 2012, I was half-way through grad school courses and I wanted a lighter word, so I chose SHINE. Shine was supposed to push me to my limits while helping me encourage others to shine. I did, but all this focus on studying and pushing myself resulted in a stark and undeniable weight-gain. By the midway point of 2012, I was over 200 pounds. Even my father voiced concern at my appearance when I took the kids on a trip to visit my parents in the States. I was also experiencing some health problems and was told to lose the weight or else. So, my existing burden became heavier, not only literally, but figuratively as well. The decision to study less and exercise more weighed on me. The possibility of getting sicker if I didn't start taking care of myself also weighed on me. Shine sort of lots its gleam, so to speak.

By 2013, I was ready to MOVE and through the help of Ali's One Little Word class, I attempted to find ways to incorporate the word MOVE into my lifestyle. Moving my body was not the only goal though. Moving through the process of proposing, researching and writing a thesis paper was also my goal for the year. Like any organized full-time working mother and student, I had a plan and I followed it to the T. Each month, I moved through the process while trying to fit in exercise whenever I could. In July, I decided my theme for the month would be the opposite of "move", and so "stillness" became my focus. It was supposed to be just for one month though. I had never been "still" before. I was always moving, like a ball in a pinball machine. My father had sent me a Kindle for Xmas the year before with an Amazon gift card that read "Take some time to just be still." I fell in love with "stillness". It became my crutch, my excuse for needing balance in my life. All of the goals and dreams that ran through my head, competing for attention, began slipping away. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I was way over-extended. After the thesis was submitted, and I was notified of my graduation, I reveled in the STILLNESS even more. My body was not used to this nor was my brain. But, since my goals and dreams had sort of slipped out of my head and gotten lost somewhere, I wasn't sure what to think or do. As for MOVE, I made every excuse not to go to the gym. Usually, all my new-found free time was filled in with work responsibilities. Sad, but true. I kept wondering how I had managed for the past 2 1/2 years. I also got sick for the first time in ages, and after not being able to eat for a week, I went back to food and forgot about my diet. You see, I had been making progress up to that point.

I don't blame STILLNESS for ruining the word MOVE for me. It didn't ruin it. Without MOVE, I am not sure I would have finished my thesis on time. (My friend says I would have because that's just the way I am though.) Without MOVE, there would be no STILLNESS. Sometimes, you need to accept the opposite of reality to force you to learn something new. I learned that balance is important, that stillness is important, not just to me, but also to my family. You see, they LOVE it when I sit down and cuddle with them to watch a movie or a favorite TV show. And friends too. My friends don't want to get together to go for runs or play tennis. They want to sit in coffee shops all afternoon and chat and gossip. (Bad friends, but I am right there with them!) No more ball in a pinball machine.

Now, that doesn't mean that I was considering BALANCE as my 2014 word. By December of 2013, the words that kept flashing in my mind were "Simple", Simplify", Simplicity". I craved simple, uncomplicated days. I felt completely overwhelmed. My to-do lists were starting to creep up on me again, my job was brimming with grading responsibilities, and my dreams and goals were starting to slip back into my brain, needling at it and crying for attention. Well-meaning friends were asking me about my job search, and I had to break it to them. I wasn't searching for anything. Our house was in chaos - this layer of chaos covered over the once carefully-organized structure I had arranged years ago. My kids needed more attention from me, and I wondered what would become of my relationship with my husband. It had been on the back-burner for the past 3 years, and I wondered if he still wanted anything from me or if he had long ago given up.

How could "Simplify" help me, help us, become a united family again?

My word for 2014 is SIMPLIFY. Where it shall lead, I know not, but it is the getting there that will be a fun adventure for us. And, Mama shall lead the way!

If you are interested in taking the One Little Word class with Ali Edwards, click on the link. There is also a closed/secret Facebook group for members of the class to share their work and communicate about their progress. It's a wonderful and inspiring atmosphere.