What I learned from a man in khaki pants.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting poolside with my kids in my backyard. The kids splashed and giggled as I worked. It was cold outside, a first peek of sunlight coming out that winter and we had heated the pool so they could enjoy it.

I sat cold and annoyed in my lawn chair as the kids splashed me from the hot tub.

I got hit in that moment a flash of memory logged 4 years earlier. A man I met on a stage in Chicago came to my mind. He was Iranian, and worked as a mid-level programmer at tech company in the suburbs. Average height, average weight, with a strong, quiet presence – he had a lump in his throat and searing intelligence behind his eyes as he spoke.

I realized this was likely his first time ever on stage as he said,

“In my life, I very quickly learned obedience. American children say F.U. to their parents, to their president. We can never do this (giving the FU sign with crossed arms.) We would await the punishment of our father when he came home. We can never say F.U. to our government. We would await the punishment of the soldiers on the street.

Yes, we learn very quickly obedience. We learn very quickly how to get through this life following the rules. In college, I knew how to get through life. I did my assignment by following the rules, I got an A. I was very good in college. VERY GOOD. I got the highest grades. But I found out work does not work like that. Life does not work like that. I cannot do my best even when I do my job well. Following the rules does not always give me a good life.

That is because I cannot tell my manager he is incompetent, and should do us all a favor and quit because he is in over his head. I can just take him my assignment, the one he deemed was the assignment I was to be working on, even though what I should tell him is that we should all be doing a different assignment if we really wanted to make our company do better.

I do very well in my job. But I am not doing well.

Everyday, I feel as if I sit at the top of this mountain, alone, watching what is happening, drying up. I want to be in the valley that is down there, with streams, and animals and life and love. I worry that I will die silently looking down from my mountain.”

This man, a programmer from Chicago, clothed in khaki pants and obedience, left a huge imprint on me. He cracked open a door to patterns of fear and obedience so deeply engrained in me that I didn’t even see them anymore. I didn’t have the Iranian government with a gun to my head enforcing my obedience, but I lived as if I did.

I was sitting poolside with my kids as they reveled in life, but I might as well have been wearing khaki pants.

My obedience was to a different animal. Not obedience to a boss, but to an idea. I had been obedient to what I believed a successful stay-at-home mom should look like: hardworking, social, optimistic, involved, busy, active, productive. It was not that these were bad things, but the direction of them and where I was putting my greatest energy wasn’t authentic. I’d been obedient to an idea of success and “goodness” that left me feeling dried up.

To feel acceptance that I was doing a good job as a mom, now undefined by a “paying career”, I was still trying to earn an “A” from somebody.

I forgot the things that actually fulfill me are quite simple. The don’t always get the coolest awards, or business card titles or thank you’s. If I did them more often, I might have to say FU to earning an “A” for someone else.

That man from Chicago pierced me.

If acceptance is what I am after, this life is going to be a hard road. It will be a job paid in obedience to someone.

If experiencing love and feeling alive in the valleys and streams of life is what I’m after, that’s a road of infinite possibility.

Love is not dependent on someone’s reaction or approval. Love is an act of courage.

Act in love. Love what you do. Be honest and true to yourself with loving intent towards others, and stuff will happen. Your efforts will be multiplied. Courageous, committed movement forward will trump fear.

In your marriage, as a parent, as a boss, as a co-worker, the right doors will open. You will shift those around you. You will find more folks that believe life can look like freedom.

So, as my kids screamed to me, “it’s sooooo much warmer in here mom, you’ll see if you just get in!!” I knew they were so right.

I stripped down to my underwear, abandoned my laptop, and I dove in.

The New Year’s Bitchslap.

As we go into the New Year, we often go armed with resolutions, to-do lists, intentions, vision boards, burned things we’d like to leave behind, memories and hangovers. Then we wake up.

My 8-year old son had a good friend sleep over last night.

James woke up with a huge smile saying, “Mom, it’s the first day of 2014!!”
I said, “Awesome guys, how do you feel!?!”
His friend answered, “Exactly, the same.”

Kids always seem to get it right. They seem to cut through the crap, the lists, the future and the past and say what none of us want to say out loud.

Eventually, we will encounter the moments when the magic of our lists and graphics, our mastermind groups and restorative vacations will lose their mojo and we will be hanging in a moment of fear and doubt.

We will hit the wall. Some of us will hit that wall today. Some of us will wake up and say, “Shit, I am exactly the same Maria I was yesterday.”

So what will really make 2014 the best year ever?
It is the shift that is imperceptible to the naked eye on Day 1, 2014.
It is a profound acceptance that when we wake up, we are already the people we are born to be for today.
It is the awakening of that love in us that begins a moment-to-moment practice from within that has the possibility to change our lives.

Last night, I spent a beautiful day among friends, and loved ones, and my children.
New Year’s Eve, as the minutes, counted down, I found myself alone.
My husband had a night of needing to be two places at once for work, so he wasn’t home.
My house was still. My children were all asleep. The dishes from the fabulous meal were done. Friends had gone home.
I was alone. And honestly, I felt the loneliest I’ve felt in a long time.

Fireworks went off outside my bedroom window.
The moment hit me hard.
I wasn’t going to be kissed this New Year’s.
I wasn’t going to have some one hold me tight and tell me they loved me at midnight.
As the world celebrated, I was silent.
I felt the pissyness and the woe is me on New Year’s begin to set in.

Then, I looked over at my daughter – her mile long eyelashes and her breath rising and falling in her chest as she slept.

Time slowed down for me. Gratitude washed over me.

I was given the exact gift New Year’s was supposed to teach me.

To be without armor. To be with my greatest fear. To be alone.

In that moment, I realized this:
I am only ever alone by my choosing.
I am only insignificant by my choosing.
No one is waiting to make the magic happen for me. Not even the people that love me the most. Because they are supposed to be here to make their own magic, not mine.

God packaged you with every ounce of gifts you need to be YOU. We just forget to Choose Ourselves. We forget to be Loving in each breath so that becomes the air we breathe back in return. This is how the holy grail, abundant LOVE, becomes your experience in this life.

In the first minute of January 1, 2014, I realized how to make the magic happen.

At midnight, I chose me. I chose in my heart to be loving.

To me first.
Then to my husband.

I chose to honor what I love doing.
I chose to let go of the rest.

And then to simply keep on going…no matter what.

When we do that, God and the Universe or whatever you want to call that Greatness that surrounds you and me will have our backs.

Happy New Year my friends. I can’t say it better than Eckhart:

“You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold. That is how important you are.” – Eckhart Tolle

5 Gifts I Wish I Could Give for Christmas

This Christmas my neck hurts. Like a mother. It’s from the insomnia of wracking my brain figuring out how to give gifts that bring meaning, surprise or pleasure on some level to the people I love.

How do I give gifts knowing we really already have everything we need?

In a streak of irreverence and exhaustion, these are the gifts I wish I could give for Christmas knowing the whole industry of the holiday is for someone else other than the real people that matter.

1. A case of 21 bottles of water with my smiling face.

Drinking water is probably the single cheapest, most sustainable life cleansing ritual we can do for ourselves everyday. It reminds us to stay in the flow. It reminds us to take a pause. It plumps the wrinkles and cleanses us from the inside out. I can bet most of us forget it. I know I do. When you do something for 21 days it creates a habit. When you have 21 bottles of water with my smiling mug on them, could you really resist doing something good for yourself?

2. A photo of the person at their worst with the words “I love you”.

That’s what the ones that love us most really need to know.

This week trying to write a blog post sitting at Whole Foods I shook up my Kombucha tea absentmindedly. It’s funky odor exploded all over me in my cool writer with headphones moment. I had a pretty big audience to witness the uncoolness. I laughed and the world laughed with me.

I wish I had my Kombucha moment in a photo because it reminds me that the screw-ups are the best comedic material we have. The people that really love us will love us anyway when they happen. The rest is the bullshit. Knowing that kind of unconditional love is a gift.

3. A Blowjob.

I’m a mom. I have 3 kids. Time is precious. If I want a gift that is certain to satisfy and keep on giving, enough said.

Unfortunately, this only takes care of one person on your list. Two if you’re nasty.

4. A Broken Watch.

So many people on my list including me forget that time is the illusion. What are we waiting for to make the life we want to live begin? New Year’s? Death?

I had three watches break in one week leading up to the holiday. I think the universe was trying to tell me something. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And if it’s beyond broke, don’t fix it either. Start again. Right now.

5. A Single Blank Page of paper.

That’s what our life is each morning. We make it harder than that. There is no rule book. There is no hidden agenda. I lived a lot of my life believing the 10 commandments were my rule book. My parents were my rule book. The opinions of others shaped the games I played and the rules I played by.

We can leave our blank page empty and free or we can fill it. It is all good. It is simply accepting that it is all good.

I recently spent a day at a funeral with my 92-year old grandmother-in-law. It was the funeral of her daughter. She has advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s. I witnessed a human being that every 10 minutes has a blank page in life. She cannot remember the door she walked through to get into the funeral home. She could not remember that five minutes ago she learned her daughter had died and that she was the person we were honoring. She was free.

As I stood listening to a song her daughter’s best friends played in tribute at her service, it was as if I could feel her daughter over my shoulder, whispering in my ear in her elegant Texas drawl saying, “keep on dancing ya’ll. Maria, tell them to keep on dancing.”

My wish is that through the holiday craziness, the stress and expectations, we simply remember to keep on dancing. Don’t put your life on hold and the things that matter waiting for a man in a white beard and a red suit to come down your chimney. He’s arrived. The gift is you.

P.S. – I love you Jesus. I really do. Thank you for making me remember what seeing the face of God at the holidays is all about.

Tamales. Tradition. Love.

For as long as I can remember, we make tamales at Christmas. The joke in my family goes that even when money is tight, it gives us something to unwrap Christmas morning.

Our tamales are a dish of corn masa (dough) spread on a cornhusk (hoja). The masa is filled with meat, beans or other fare, wrapped in the husk and then steamed.

Sounds simple? Then you’ve never made tamales.

This year, four generations of family descend on my house for our annual tamalada. With recipes orally passed down through the women in my family, we carry on a tradition that dates back centuries.

As we work, the Tejano tunes mingle with the Christmas carols. We wrestle the fridge to fit a freshly procured pig’s head. ‘Tis the season for tamales.

Friends and family form a revolving crew of cooks, choppers, spreaders, fillers and wrappers, bound together for the hours it takes to finish the first batch of tamales.

Gossip and family stories fill these hours.

My 88-year old grandmother works among us. Her hands have slowed, but her critiques have not. Abuela Maria, Wella as we call her, is our tamale matriarch – the shrewdest of food critics disguised as a Mexican Ms. Claus in a white holiday winter cap.

As I listen to the stories of my Wella, it is clear, times have changed.

We are a different era of women that sit at the table to make our tamales.

Our burdens seem light when compared to those of my great mother. Her children were sent out to cotton fields as migrant workers not to the ball fields our kids know.

Our leanest days seem more abundant than those of my Abuela Maria, left a widow at 52. She washed laundry and cooked meals for construction workers to feed her family of seven while silently tending her grief.

Our opportunities seem ripe when compared to my mother, her name changed from Maria to Mary by her teachers. As one of the few Spanish-speaking girls in an all-white school in Texas, she first had to cross the bridges of culture that separated her to make this life we know now.

Not long ago, a friend asked me,

“What are the cords that keep you tethered?”
“What are the cords that keep you captive to the past?”

I reflected on the emotional cords I had to my family, to my mother, to the traditions and ideologies and the love that has kept me tethered.

She said sometimes we need to cut these cords to set each other free.

As I watch my six-year old daughter Avery orbit the scene, all curious eyes and unburdened heart, I feel grace. I feel the lightness of the things we have set free.

In the same moment, sitting with my mother and my grandmother, I realize there are cords tethering our history that are not meant to be undone.

There is a cord that runs through us. It is a fiber. It is a connection. It is a knowing that the same blood and strength that run through their veins runs in mine.

Over the hours we sit together, stirring chiles and removing seeds, boiling meat that has simmered in pots that bear the patina of years and love, I stare in reverence for the women that came before me.

The making of their tamales was not so simple. Their recipes were born from the labors of life and loss and love.

In the company of one another, the tamalada is our therapy. We spread the corn masa over the hojas and the past is gently smoothed too – understood.

This is my Christmas gift. I am cradled and wrapped and strengthened in the stories of my family, of our tamales. This is our legacy, one made of cornhusk and grit and love.

For a local sampling of Pura Tradicion tamales and salsa, or to learn more about the art and oral tradition of tamale-making, you can contact me on Facebook or at www.renaissancemoms.com. Photos courtesy of Michael Pearson.

Farty Yoga

I have an irrational fear of farting in yoga. There, I finally said it.
(Don’t we all feel so much better?)

So much so, that I actually avoid doing yoga.
Something I know will have daily and lifelong benefits for me. Something I think I’d enjoy.

How I developed this, I am not quite sure. I roll out my purple mat and can’t seem to relax into a downward dog or even consider standing on my head for friggin’ Sirsasana because of the huge “what if it happens” lingering in the air.

The more I talk about it, the bigger the fear grows.

Yes, odds are high that by being contorted in a new position something unpleasant or unexpected might happen. But rationally, I know I can’t physically combust.

Truth is, I created this flatulently inflated failure scenario. It came after trying yoga and feeling totally uncomfortable. That mirror reflecting twenty eyeballs watching me put pressure on how I expected myself to perform. I found myself holding my breath, and evidently my ass.

So what is this madness about?
It’s about caring way too much about what people think. It’s being uncomfortable putting it all out there and worrying what will happen if I do.

I’m dragging my farty yoga scenario around other places too. It’s my permission slip to avoid trying things I’m meant to do. That I would love to do. For fear of “blowing it.

Perhaps it is high time for me to take some lessons from the guy with with the sweaty back hair and too tight nut huggers that doesn’t give a damn. He’s getting his yoga on and I’m not.

Unlike the freedom Mr. Sweaty Back Hair enjoys, I am just sweating it. I subconsciously process what people will say if I fart – um fail. That’s when the noose of a million little excuses begins to restrain me. I start to turn down yoga invitations. I start to make excuses for not trying again. I start saying no to opportunities.

Ultimately, all staying in my comfort zone is doing for me is denying the possibility for something great to happen. Like maybe I can totally stand on my head and do a leg split once I let one rip.

I am sure the Yoga masters did not expect that this is how I would find transcendental enlightenment. My bad. Didn’t get that memo.

I did get the memo that says, like farty yoga, life is uncomfortable.
I will be put in positions that feel unnatural. Awkward. Pressure filled.
Those are the edges where I will expand.

And, you know what? I finally did it. I farted in yoga. I lived to tell about it. My friends did not abandon me. My husband did not divorce me. The yogis in the room didn’t issue me a dreaded scarlet letter “F” to emblazon my yoga top. Because you know what, everybody farts. Everybody blows it at some point.

Interestingly enough, once we blow it, we see it wasn’t so bad. Then the good stuff usually starts to happen. We are free. We can breathe again.

So, as my husband says, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
As I say, life is too short to hold it in. :)

Personal update: I am now doing a 28-day yoga challenge and beginning my first book. Both totally uncomfortable and both totally worth it.

Thank you Nani Bacon of Balance Yoga of Lakeway, TX, Lisette Johnson of Shameless Survivors and writer, Ann Hood for your inspiration.

Sounds of Sunday

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The Texas Hill Country is my church this Sunday. Waking up, these are the sounds of grace. Mom, whipping up eggs in the kitchen. Expert, loving hands. Hands that look like mine but with more practice on them, making those familiar smells of eggs and bacon and beans come out of pans. Hands I hope [...]

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Life’s a Beach Spring Break Crafts

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Going to the beach is a Spring Break tradition for a lot of families. My parents carted all 5 of us kids to the Texas coast every single year that I can remember. We camped on the beach, hunted for shells, went fishing, played in the sand – kid heaven. Now that I realize the [...]

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The Finer Things In Life

Versatileblogger

The Finer Things in Life…that is the name of the blog of a wonderful new virtual friend, Taslim Jaffer. Taslim has indeed helped me enjoy one of the finer things in life this evening – the gracious and totally unexpected recognition of a fellow blogger. The fact that she and I share a mega-sentimental love [...]

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Cure for Insanity

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As Einstein put it, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I may not be Einstein, but I did know if I spent one more morning… …late to school looking for a lost shoe …digging out a coat from a heaping pile …searching for a homework bag from the [...]

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Spring Break Bucket List

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Spring Break is next week. I have a 2, 4 and 6 year old to keep entertained for many, many hours while keeping myself sane and happy too. While margaritas and patience will help with the sanity and happiness part, a mom friend recently shared this little idea she found on Pinterest that is too [...]

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In the beginning…

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I just joined a new Bible Study group. This is a first for me. I went to church for many years. Then I didn’t. Now I find myself somewhere in between. It’s safe to say though I’m almost 39 I am still a beginner in my spiritual learning. I’ve always held a deep faith and [...]

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