Author Archive | yazminh

The House That Jane Will Build (Not Everything Green is Dirty and Mean)

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(Photcredit: Uploaded by Phostezel)

In our society, money is either demonized or glorified, demonizing it in the end.  But I think it is a necessary means for many good and important ends, and I’m all for its pursuit as a means.

My parents came here as sponsored immigrants from Vietnam toward the end of the Vietnam war.  I grew up with everything I needed, and my wants were humble.  My father worked very hard, no shortcuts and no complaints, and we spent the first decade in roachy apartments and fixer-uppers.  We definitely did not roll in the dough, but I felt filled up because my parents were very loving and present, and we were a close-knit family.

The next decade, my father’s steady-does-it did it, and we could finally search for a house to purchase.  This was before the internet era (and even before computers were a staple in every home), so every week, my father and I would grab the “Homes for Sale” magazines to peruse over.  I was in 7th grade about that time, and that was when I caught the bug.

I remember the first time my father handed me a magazine and told me look in it and see if there were any houses that I liked.  I looked forward to the newsprint-grade, grayish pages, the black-and-white, slightly blurry photos of the houses and their real-estatey descriptions—“Lovely, 3 BR, 2 BA, w/fenced-in yard!”—magical!  I devoured it all, walking through each one of them in my mind, claiming my room to decorate as I pleased, whooping it up with my little brothers in our yard as the proper tomboy that I was would, and just coming home from school, walking up the steps to our house.  It was one of the most exciting times of my life.

My parents ended up deciding on a simple rambler on a corner lot, but it was all brick, roach-free, and had enough land for my father to build the equivalent of a 2-story, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house as an extension.  Back then, for us, it was huge.

Around this time, my father’s construction business started growing, and life was very good.  My little brothers had fairly healthy appetites for wants, although mine stayed harnessed (being the oldest child, I witnessed and understood more how hard my father had to work to get us all that we had).  But everything we wanted, we got.

When I had my own kids, the memory of being poor-yet-happy stuck with me, and so as I struggled in certain areas of my life, being young and a college student with two small children and no real support system, I thought it was fine to not have money as long as I had love to give.  It would be years before I realized the flaw in this way of thinking.

You see, unless you don’t mind living in the middle of nowhere and/or have no one to support or answer to, no money is no funny.

At 30, I found myself realizing that I needed money first of all to do the things that really mattered to me, namely, having the abilities to:

  1. Give my children instruction and experiences to enrich their personal development and nurture their creative and intellectual inclinations;
  2. Provide for my parents’ retirements.

And there’s more.  The truth is, I like many material things and many of my aspirations require acquisition of things that money can buy.  I can live without, but I enjoy the feeling that I learned in that space of time with my family where we could live comfortably and fantasize and hope to have.  It was a pure and honest delight, very much like Christmas morning to a child.

Today, I live in a small townhouse in the heart of one of the richest counties in the country.  It is not a fancy townhouse, not in the most expensive area, and is far from my “wishlist” home (my “dream home,” unlikely to happen, as it includes a luxury bomb shelter, tree suites, and very techie details throughout), but it is what we can afford if we want to stay here (and for now, we do).

Yet, the dream of a nice house that I can carve into the image of my eye’s apple lives on.  When I drive by beautiful, well-crafted, happy-looking houses, or see them in “Architectural Digest,” or find them online, my heart still beats ridiculously like a school girl seeing her crush.  Some people may have this feeling for cars or clothes or accessories, but the home is the ultimate expression of self – the design, the use of space, the details, the lighting – it is where I can intimately share everything that delights me with those I care about, like a kid sharing their “bestest” toys.

I wanted this wishlist home for my kids, but 2 of them are already grown up and don’t need the large yard and Ewok village I was hoping to have for them, and I don’t need as much space for my youngest one alone.  But I still want a home that I can express and create in, with an art and dance studio, and I cannot go minimalist, because I learned something about love through luxury from my sponsor parents, the beautiful people who helped my family escape the Vietnam war and get acclimated to this country.

Whenever I go visit them in Virginia Beach, I am treated with utmost hospitality, with attention to every detail, including the luxurious layers upon layers of bedding, the down pillows, richly cozy furniture and draperies, beautiful soaps and plush towels.  I feel very loved and honored in this luxuriated way.  I want to have a home where I can give this back to them one day.  I want a home with rooms that my grown children and future grandchildren can look forward to staying in.  I want a house that I can make bright and beautiful to delight my international friends who come so far to see me, and make them feel like they’re staying in a luxurious retreat.

So, I like things. Things I don’t need. Things that cost money.  Things that can pin me down.  But they also make warm my heart, brighten my lens, make me soar.  And whatever delights me, I love to share.

Mi placer (joy) de casa, es tu placer de casa.

Welcome.

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Life is a Box of Sparkles

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When I was about 4, I remember a friend of my parents, Mr. Johnson, asking me what I wanted for Christmas one year, and I immediately knew what it was: glitter.  A box full of it.  Except I didn’t know what it was called, so I told him I wanted a box of sparkles.

Throughout my life, this theme recurs, this love of “sparkles”: peering up from under the Christmas tree, imagining I was a fairy in a magical world of twinkling lights; getting lost in the dancing facets of crystals or diamonds, or club lights, or starry skies.

When I go to Costco with just my little one, we usually go straight to the jewelry case to ooh-ahh at the diamonds. She will point out her favorites, while I would target in on the most sparkly one and just stare at it, imagining what a world within the circumference of the sparklosion would be like.  Sometimes, my daughter has to snap me out of it by calling out to me loudly while pulling at my arm, my eyes “blingering” as the rest of me moves to her command.

I have wrestled with this shameless wonderment that has me cutting away from my clan whenever we’re out in public and I see something particularly Swarovski-like, like a child running across the street after her laughing, beckoning, bouncy-bouncy ball.  Why do I love sparkly things so much?  Am I immature?  Am I tacky and don’t even know it?  

I have to clarify that I don’t care about jewelry – I don’t wear it much.  When my husband proposed to me, he chose a ring much too expensive for my comfort.  I had told him that it could be a fake stone, but that I would love it if it were just sparkly.  (I have little care for monetary value – only happiness value.)  He ended up buying me the most expensive and meaningful (to him) ring he could find, and I love him for his efforts….but I would have been just as happy with a cheap, small, bright CZ or Aussie crystal.

So, after many years of being the only one in my circle to love such things to the point that I had considered starting a business creating large canvases of art made purely of Swarovski crystals (which I later talked myself out of, recognizing my lack of patience to do any such work requiring the placement of countless dots of anything), I realized why:  It may not make practical sense, but it made magic, and that’s the fundamental point to anything we enjoy.

Having grown up Catholic, I can only speak for my own experience with Christmas and its many joys, one being that of the feeling of magic.   Yes, there’s the opportunistic commercialism diluting the fundamental reasons for this season’s celebrations.  But the fact remains: We are all moving along with the notion, however committed we may be to engaging in it, of wishing each other well; of creating joyful memories for our children; of being a little more patient, kind, forgiving, open; of giving and sharing and celebrating and laughing much more than we may in our everyday.

And we are doing these things simultaneously, and in magnificent numbers, every yearThis is magicThis is lifeThis is a box of sparkles.

May you have a great holiday season, and allow yourself to get lost in the arresting beauty of its magic throughout the coming year.

~Yazminh

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“Peace is Unity”

(Click quote block to watch the TED Talk by Boyd, honoring Nelson Mandela.)

This philosophy creates balance to the world, to society, and to the individual. In all that you do, ask if it is part of an effort promoting harmony, care, and connection. This is also the potential power and beauty of blogging. ~Yazminh

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Beyond the Grain: Lessons From Board-Breaking

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(Photo Credit: McCroskeyR)

When I was about 15, I had a boyfriend-ish (a guy who liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend, and who had to see me by having his whole family come over when he visited, but with whom I couldn’t go out or do anything).  James was two years older, probably been around the block a few good rounds, but was much more immature than I was in other ways, usually in the thinking arena.

On one of his few visits, I remember us going outside with his sister, Gwen, and him seeing some lumber pieces laying around (my father was a contractor).  James was explaining something to me about breaking boards, and told either me or his sister (I forget which) to hold one of the wooden board pieces while he punched it to break it.  He revved up, and hit the piece of wood, but his hand bounced back, with the wood, unflinching.

I think he did this one or two more times, when I offered to try.  He held it for me, and I punched through it.  James was 5’11, about 160 lbs.; I was 5’3, about 100 lbs.  He picked up another piece of wood, just to be sure he didn’t weaken the first one for me, and again, my little fist punched through.  I explained that he had to aim behind the wood.

This memory clip came to me as I was thinking about how short-sighted we can get when it comes to achieving our goals.  We know what we want to see happen, but we focus on the wrong thing, so our projected destination may short us of the desired outcome.

For example, it is almost New Year’s Resolution time, and, for those who like a proverbial starting point, many will use the 1st of the year as their declaration to lose weight.  It is a very short-sighted, yet understandable target, but the problem is that focusing on the size or scale—the obvious, superficial issues—is often a goal with a reach too short to be truly successful.  It is like James’ focusing on aiming at the board to break it – it’s solid, easy to see, and so seems the right focal point.  But this effort actually focuses on the obstacle, not the solution.

Often times, weight issues (as are many health issues) are symptomatic of imbalances elsewhere, whether it be physical, hormonal, biological, psychological, etc., and focusing on restoring balance as needed is the best solution.

Instead of doing this, however, many start punching at the board (“Crap. I’ve gained weight again. I need to start dieting.”),  instead of punching through the board (“Hmm, what’s causing this weight gain?  How have I been feeling?  How is my lifestyle?  What have I been doing differently, or need to do differently? What should I get checked out?”).

This simple lesson can be applied across the board – relationships, work, finances – any area where an obstacle must be overcome.  Every circumstance is different, of course, and sometimes the issue isn’t so simply solved by merely identifying the problem and end point accurately, but it is necessary for the most concise route.

In short: Aim beyond the superficial plane to get the breakthrough you want.

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Life Code: Lessons from “Dexter”

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“Dexter: Harry’s Code” Scene (Photo credit: http://swishost.com/dexter-widescreen.html)

From the beginning, I loved the idea of Dexter’s character: A serial killer of serial killers.  Perhaps I am too elementary spiritually, not transcended above the idea of such a system of justice.  I’m not sure what it is within me that makes it gratifying, not horrifying, to think of someone killing those who kill innocent people, like my twisted sense of relief to know that child rapists often get killed in prison when their inmates discover the nature of the predator’s crimes.  I feel that somehow I am wrong to think this way, and I am partly ashamed to admit having a side comfortable with such brutality.  The fact that I am not entirely convinced that it is wrong to think this way, however, brings me to believe that my sense of shame is more a learned one rather than an instinctive one.  So, for now at least, Dexterity, it is.

I feel, though, that I am not alone, as “Dexter” was quite a popular show, and not just for his sexy love interest, Hannah McKay (played by Yvonne Strahovsky) in the latter half of the series.  I remember going into a department store and talking to a sales associate about the show when it was at the height of its popularity, and was told that the Henley shirts Dexter sported always sold out quickly.  It made me wonder if the general population was as dark as I was, or if Dexter was, in fact, not really a bad guy, despite the general acceptance that killing is a bad, bad thing.

What made Dexter’s “dark passenger” a welcomed one, I believe, was “The Code,” a set of rules that was taught to Dexter by his father before he passed away:

  1. Never get caught.
  2. Never kill an innocent.

This code serves Dexter well throughout the series, both for his objectives within the context of the show as well as for his likeability as a character from the perspective of the show’s fans.  His code perpetuates his survival and ability to carry justice in the most primal and efficient way.  Without it, his character and story unravel.

In real life, we all must live by codes.  The law has a set of codes, religions have their codes, and general society has its own code of conduct.  People teeter-totter, pick and choose among these different sets of codes to create a basket of their own, some with very full baskets, adhering to every code they know, others, with fairly empty ones.  The exercise of identifying one’s own personal code is important, I believe, because it forces one to examine one’s self, both internally as well as in relation to one’s world, with all the people and triggers in it.  This connects us with our sense of control and, more importantly, accountability, which is a necessary moderator for the sense of power that comes with control.  If there’s any ethical standard or quality control to be found, accountability is the sleuth for it.

I’ve always thought about this theory of a code of conduct, although I’d not labeled it, but I recognized its existence immediately whenever one of my unspoken codes was being violated – the protest rose in full form, from my thoughts to emotions, to the heat rising to head and my neck hairs standing up.  For whatever reasons, I was made to feel and think (and when I was younger, be physical) intensely, and people would see just a facet of me, usually the peaceable side, the side I give freely to everyone in my path; the other side, the one that says Dexter can be my best friend, must be earned.

So my code consists of a justice unfazed by whatever gruesome fate must be met by an individual who gleefully causes comparable pain and destruction of an innocent life.  Understanding this helps me come to terms with who I am, as Dexter had to come to terms with who he was, and to best focus my life in light of this.

My own personal code, in no particular order of importance:

  1. Seek truth.  Every good thing needs strong roots in truth.  Seek it within yourself first, so you can help others find it.
  2. Seek balance.  This is not about becoming homogeneous; this is about living life in such a way that you are truly happy and at peace inside.
  3. Seek joy.  “Face the sun and the shadows fall behind you.”  Walk towards and amongst the positive; shine so brightly that your light is contagious.
  4. Seek to grow.  Read, listen, learn, connect, record, reflect, venture, and think for yourself.
  5. Share what you find.  Contribute to the good of the world; let your knowledge be a platform for others to stand upon as they build theirs.
  6. Be kind.  Many people are hurting in the world, and your kindness may disarm their expressions of pain or salve them.
  7. Be open.  You don’t know everything.  If knowledge is power, and you need power to help or protect the powerless, stay open to keep learning.
  8. Be aware.  It is not enough to be kind or open alone. Know what you’re dealing with.  This is part of self-preservation.
  9. Be of service.  This is another way to contribute to the good of the world, and to honor #10.
  10. Be grateful.  Life has little meaning or joy without this.

Although not spelled out, Dexter actually did most of these things on my list, and I can say vice versa to his.  (Don’t be shocked – I’ll wager most of you can say the same thing.  😉 )

This code has been fairly consistent all my life.  Whenever I’ve failed to adhere to or protect it, it is like I’ve abandoned myself.  Spelling it out has helped me become more aware of it to maintain its integrity.

What about you? What is your personal code, the one that defines and directs the best of who you are and want to be?

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Truth

Nothing owns me.
Neither science nor religion, nor other dogma.
Neither fear of criticism nor need for conformity.

I need no proof to believe in God, nor to be happy.
I need no reward to be kind, nor to do the right thing.
I need no permission to speak up or live it up; I just have to show up.

I am utterly free in thought and in heart.
And as I know better and better, I am free to change and grow,
free of guilt.

And so are you.

Yazminh A.B.

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Life Crop #1: Gratitude (Always in Season)

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(Picture Credit: Gabriella Fabbri)

Do you know of anybody who has so much to be grateful for, yet is not truly happy?  In varying degrees, we may have our areas of discontent; this helps us strive and grow.  But I’m talking about the kind of person who, if they could hear their discontent from the outside looking in, would see how disconnected they were from Gratitude – the warm-fuzzy part of peace and joy.

I had a friend, we’ll call him “Don,” who strove and was exalted by coworkers and peers for his seeming perfection.  Don was always well-groomed, had an adoring wife and beautiful children, a finely decorated home in a friendly, closely-knit neighborhood, many admiring friends, and even the picket fence.  He was intelligent, popular, and looked good for his age.  His wife supported all his endeavors, kids did well in the myriad of activities they were involved in, the family ate out often and went on numerous vacations yearly, and he and his wife had a good social network as couples.  But Don was unhappy, deep inside.  His marriage was good, but not “perfect”—his wife was simple and not on cue with his emotions.  He had had 2 years-long affairs, chasing this “last perfect brick,” and eventually sought counseling to deal with his issues.

When I think of all that Don has and look at my bare-essentials life, and how, as long as my family is well, happy, and together, I am satiated, I feel immensely fortunate to be able to connect with Gratitude.  Don’t get me wrong – Don has acknowledged that he has a lot and is fortunate, and he would say he was grateful for all he had, but he intellectualized Gratitude – he understood that it made sense for him to be grateful, but he could not truly connect with it in his heart, where it is housed.  This doesn’t mean that he was an ingrate, but that he was missing the point of it.

Gratitude says, “I am happy because of what Is.”  It stops and revels in the glow of that joy.  It feels full and asks for nothing more.   It gives meaning to everything good, and goodness to all in its path.

I have started sharing 1 thing I’m grateful for daily on my personal Facebook page for this month, and I revel in that subject of gratitude of the day.  I don’t think of any pressing concerns that “must be resolved before I can be happy” – Gratitude dissolves any such “musts”.

Granted, there are times that may require a call for action, particularly if there’s certain life or death involved, but most of the time in life, we have all we need to be grateful, where your soul feels the joy and celebrates the truth of the present.  It disregards woes of the past or fears of the future. It asserts, “I am happy now because of what Is.”

When I was growing up, as my father worked hard every day, slowly building up his construction business, we moved often from one low-income home to another.  There was one house in particular that I and my brothers refer to as “The Shack.”  It was a pink, dilapidated shoe-box, built of what appeared to be wood slats.  It was as if there was no insulation in that house as we walked around bundled up in the winter, and could see our breath, and the only heat came from an old, black, metal wood-burning stove in the middle of the living room.  The floors slanted along the back length of the house, and there were what seemed like hundreds of large roaches that would scatter whenever we flicked on the light switch in the bathroom or kitchen at night.   Soon after we moved from it, we learned that it was a condemned building which was immediately torn down.

I was maybe 12 or so when we lived in The Shack, and my brothers and I were happy.  We played in the creek and woods, where we were wild and free, and came home to love, where we were warm and safe.  We lived the unconscious stream of Gratitude – reveling in all the good things we had, and not in what we didn’t.

Between my friend, Don, and myself, our upbringings were quite opposite from each other’s.  I cannot speak for him and what was not filled in childhood that may have affected his ability to fully connect with Gratitude amidst all his life’s treasures, but from my teenage years until not too long ago (20 years time), I’ve lived what many may consider an emotionally and spiritually taxing life myself.  I could justify feeling too angry, bitter, entitled, whatever the excuse, to be grateful.

Gratitude is not just a choice, a chore – you can’t just say, “I am grateful,” and not stop to truly listen, see, understand its beauty.  It would be like a spouse saying, “Sure, I love my wife,” but not taking the time to spend with her, look at her, listen to her, and see her and celebrate the person she is.

Gratitude requires full attention for true connection; only then can you reap the benefits that can salve many wounds and fill hollow spaces.

I started this blogging venture in big part due to Gratitude.  And I am so grateful.  I am here speaking to you about this and many things that I hope will help heal your heart and sharpen your senses, and I am so grateful for it all.

But how to be grateful when something is tugging your heart?

What is tugging your heart?

Is it the past?  If so, be present in the truth of today: You are no longer there where the pain happened.  Rejoice! You made it! You didn’t think you would, but you did! What victory! What a blessing!

If it’s anything else, use this formula:

“I am grateful that I am catching this now, AND* I will [course of action].”   

*(Gratitude does not have space for “but.”   To say, “I am grateful for x, but…” is like saying, “I love you, but…”  – the first point immediately withers.  Gratitude is independent joy.)

And be grateful for your ability to process a solution, or find help, or even have friends or family to talk to.  Be grateful that you can read and research, that you can learn and reach out via so many avenues nowadays.  Be grateful if you are healthy, and grateful if you are able to receive medical attention if you are not healthy, and grateful that you have a mind that is well enough to crave growth and learning – this is part of honoring yourself, those you love, the world – be grateful for these desires and connections.

Nothing can replace being connected to Gratitude for true peace and happiness.  It is not required to be alive, but to feel alive…and worthy –  Gratitude senses an ultimate source of goodness in the world, whether or not one is conscious or acknowledging of such a belief.  Thank God for it.

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