What's Wrong With a Dog's Life?

January 30, 2012

At least this dog’s life:

Begin the day eating sausage from a fork

Curl up in your cozy new bed

Change positions

Well, it is exhausting work!

There are some days when I would like to be my dog!

Junk food

Beyond the Junk Food of Life

January 27, 2012

A second word has surfaced as important in my mind this year: Nourish. Looking up nourish in the dictionary, I find it means to nurture, to promote growth, to cherish, strengthen and build up. I can’t think of a better, more positive word to live by, and to serve as companion to passion.

Just as passion can be applied to all areas of my life, so can nourish. Nourish involves more than the food and drink I put into my mouth every day. It’s about making the choice to strengthen, build up, nurture and cherish myself and those around me. To nourish myself, yes, I will focus on nutrition, exercise, sleep—but also, I’ll allow—no, encourage—leisure time, reading, sketching, plain old noodling. These things nourish my soul. And I find when my soul feels nourished, my body is much more likely to also.

I will choose nourishing thoughts—not getting caught up in a cycle of guilt or self-criticism, but focusing on the uplifting and positive—pretty much what I try to do with this blog.

This will involve looking beyond the easiest, most convenient choice. To go back to eating, sure, a bag of Cheetos or some cookies might soothe me momentarily, but they will not nourish me. They’ll leave me feeling guilty, wanting more, even sick if I really overindulge. In the same way, mindlessly watching TV or surfing the ’net can temporarily soothe—but they won’t really nourish me down deep inside. Reading, drawing or painting, playing with Tank, having meaningful conversations, meditating, taking a walk outside, even a nap—these are some things that really nourish, and they won’t leave me feeling bad about myself later.

As a mother, wife, daughter and friend I help nourish others—and I love that. I’m realizing to do so I must nourish myself, and not take shortcuts with the junk food of life. I want to take as much care with myself as I do with others. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever allow myself a piece of chocolate (would life be worth living? I think not.) or an episode of Castle. It just means most of my choices will be nourishing ones.

What nourishes you? What do you sometimes do instead of what you know you’d find deeply satisfying?


Seize the Day

January 25, 2012

“Life is not about enduring, it's about rejoicing; it's not about tolerating, it's about embracing. There is always something beautiful to be found in the mundane, something powerful to be learned in the trials, something joyous to experience in the interruptions to routine. Savor these moments! Seize the day!”
—Kerri Miles Dowd (Washington State high school teacher and good friend!)


Paper or Plastic?

January 23, 2012

Personal organizer, that is.

Most of us use some sort of system to stay organized and on track. Some people opt for electronic organizers (“plastic”), and others stick with paper-based systems. You can probably guess: I’m a paper person. (Yes, I know, it’s the 21st century.)

Electronic organizers have certain advantages—they’re lightweight and portable, hold tons of information, can be kept current when synced with your computer and can often access email. But there’s just something so deeply satisfying in putting my pen to paper, in writing in my obligations and, eventually, crossing them off. My personal organizer has a month-at-a-glance calendar, a two-page spread for each week, a section for important numbers and quite a hefty section devoted to books I want to read. I have some favorite pictures in there, too. I find it very easy to use—just flip it open and jot down whatever-it-is. It’s also a fun way to look back on previous months with their notes, questions, birthdays and social engagements. I’ve had the binder itself since we moved to Florida more than 20 years ago! I love sitting down with it on Sunday afternoons to plan out my week. It’s like an old—albeit slightly grubby and battered—friend. It can’t break, run out of batteries or crash and eat my data, though it can be a pain to transfer data when a new year rolls around and it can get messy when I tuck various bits of paper into the front and back pockets. Choosing new inserts each year is a simple pleasure I always look forward to. I try to make it pleasant to work with all year long.

Old Faithful
Of course there’s no right or wrong organizer system—just one that feels right to you and one that you’ll use. (I’ve found from sad experience that it doesn’t help to write down the appointment if you don’t look at the calendar again.)

And now I’m going to go cross off “write blog post” on my to-do list for today!

What type of organizer do you use? Do you prefer paper or plastic?



January 18, 2012

Life becomes more complicated every day, and each of us can control only so much of what happens. As for the rest? Poet Thomas R. Smith of Wisconsin offers some practical advice. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2003 by Thomas R. Smith. Reprinted from “Waking before Dawn,” Thomas R. Smith, Red Dragonfly Press, 2007, by permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright © 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


I Am Elinor Dashwood and Other Internet Discoveries

January 16, 2012

Life cannot be just about organizing, striving and deep thought—a girl has to have some fun, too. If you’ve got a few moments to spare and a computer handy, here are some fun quizzes you can take online. You can take quizzes on the sites below without entering any personal information—as with anything on the Internet, use caution when visiting unfamiliar websites and always be careful what personal information you disclose.
Beliefnet.com has quite a few quizzes of varying degrees of seriousness—I took this one to find out what kind of traveler I am.

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project site is full of interesting happiness-related content. Here are two quizzes to help you increase your happiness: How Well Do You Know Yourself? and What's Your Personality Type for Play?

Blogthings.com has contains many, many quick and quirky quizzes. I spent far too long poking around there. (My supervillain name is Toxic Viper. What’s yours?)

What are your favorite online time-wasters? And I’m dying to know: which Jane Austen heroine are you?



January 13, 2012

This is my third year of choosing a “word of the year” to guide me—sort of a theme that sums up the attitude I’d like to take with me for the coming year. In 2010, I chose open. Last year, I chose light. This year, the word is…


And it scares me to death. Why, you ask? Passion seems a little out of control, just a little “out there” for me. It feels risky, like I’ll be forced out of hiding. Passionate people tend to get noticed. I’m not sure I’m really comfortable with that. Passion can get people in trouble.

There were other words I was considering: focus, clarity, flow, commit (and more). They each capture a little piece of what I’m looking for in 2012—I’ve felt stuck for a long time and I want to be un-stuck. I want a smooth, vibrant flow of energy streaming through me, instead of operating in fits and starts the way I have been. I want to focus that energy on a few important areas instead of shooting off into the atmosphere every which way. And I want some clarity of purpose, so I can commit to those goals.

Specifically, I’ve been struggling with that clarity and commitment to my writing for several years now. I believe it’s mainly been fear that has held me back from making a commitment, from really going for it. I’ve been afraid to feel passion for my writing, afraid I won’t have anything to say, afraid no one will read my work and that they’ll hate it if they do. What if people read my work and it makes no impression at all? Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll become successful and that will bring a whole new set of expectations and anxieties.

Passion can override all of this. I’ve seen it happen before, most notably with my horse. I was a 40-year-old beginner rider with limited experience with horses and a distaste for getting dirty and sweaty when I found Tank. My passion for horses, and more specifically for him, swept away my fears and my reluctance to get dirty. (Like Rose in Titanic, I’m usually more of an indoor girl.) I still get scared (and I still hate being sweaty) but my passion for playing with Tank makes up for it. I’m looking to unleash some of that same passion in other areas of my life.

Totally worth all the sweat and dirt
If I allow passion into my writing, it won’t matter what other people think, good bad or indifferent. What matters will be that I said what I needed to say, I allowed my voice to speak.

In all areas of life, I hope living with passion will fill me with energy, with enthusiasm, with strength to carry on in the face of setbacks and obstacles. I’ve already noticed that I go through each day with a little more interest and curiosity because I’m looking for things to be passionate about. It’s so early yet, but I feel optimistic about a passion-filled 2012.

What are your expectations for 2012? Did you choose a word of the year, and if so, does it scare you a little bit?

**By the way, what first gave me the idea of passion as a word of the year was seeing The Million Dollar Quartet at my local performing arts center. The passion of the original performers, as well as the actors/musicians who did the show the night I saw it, woke me up to the fact that I’ve been going through life lately in a rather ho-hum manner. “Quartet” is a fantastic show and if it comes to your town, go see it if you can.


A Glass of Possibility, Please

January 11, 2012

“If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility?”
—Soren Kirkegaard, Either/Or


Letting Go, Making Room

January 09, 2012

About this time of year, I usually get a bee in my bonnet about simplifying and decluttering, both physically and mentally. 2012 is no different. Maybe it’s because the holidays seem to wreak havoc with my home and schedule and I’m desperate to get back to some semblance of order! I’m not the only one who feels this way, though, and it’s been reassuring to read others’ words about the whole process, and why it’s important and necessary.

The desire to clear out is more than just a desire for tidy desktops and crystalline thinking. It also has to do with making room amid the clutter for who you want to be and what you want to come into your life. Edward W. Smith put it this way in Sixty Seconds to Success: “Make room for the new you. You may not have totally determined who the new you is going to be, but you probably have decided that there are some things about the current you, that you want to change. Well while you are working on what the new you will be, start ‘cleaning out a room’ for the new you to live in. Get rid of the junk in your life both physical and mental that doesn't fit you anymore. Take things out of your schedule that are taking your time away from finding out what you want to do. By making room for the new you, you will create a vacuum that the new you will rush in to fill and you will be on your way to the top.”

It seems to me this process is largely about letting go. Letting go of the stuff that crowds our lives, whether it be kitchen gadgets, sporting equipment, or unexamined and outdated beliefs. Perhaps this means admitting we bought something for the person we wish we were, not the person we really are, or realizing that one of our “shoulds” is really someone else’s idea, not our own.

This periodic clearing out is important because too much mental and physical clutter distracts us from our primary goals by the constant irritations of having too much to do, and/or living in a messy, disorganized house.

The thing is: sometimes letting go is scary and hard. Christine Kane understands this, but points out that “We need to pay attention to what we are telling our subconscious minds when we hold on.” She goes on to write, “What are you holding onto? What thoughts and beliefs are you putting out into the Universe by clinging to it? Are you telling yourself you don’t believe in the inevitability of your own success and prosperity? Or that you don’t believe you can expand and create better things in your life?” (This is totally me. I cling, I grasp, I hold on to and try to control everything I can—and some things I can’t.)

Letting go can feel like failure or wastefulness. But things change—people and situations change. What served us well no longer does. Let go of those things, and maybe someone else can use them. Something even better is waiting for the chance to come in—we just have to make room for it.

What things are you clearing out this year? What one thing can you let go of today?

Might this be part of my problem?


Contemplation Month

January 06, 2012

I intended to make December a month of both reflection and looking forward: reflection on the experiences and lessons of 2011 and the effects of my word of the year (light), as well as contemplation of the coming year and its new word.

What was I thinking?

In reality, for me, December is possibly the worst month for reflection, filled as it is with holiday doings and extra activity of all sorts. I believe I managed exactly one evening of quiet contemplation, and I went to bed following that feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Not exactly what I’d had in mind.

Remember this for future years: Save the contemplation for after the holidays, when the kid is back in school, the husband is back at work and the house isn’t wall-to-wall chaos, It’s too overwhelming otherwise, and I just frustrate myself. January will have to become Contemplation Month.

I have to admit that with a few notable exceptions, 2011 was a rough year. (I’m not the only one who feels this way about 2011, but I think Jen Lancaster put it best when she wrote “2011 Blew Goats”—I’d have to agree.)

And yet.

Here I sit, in my comfortable home, with my intact family, plenty to eat, clothes on my back and leisure time I don’t have to spend struggling for survival. I should be—and I am—grateful. But I don’t want to be just grateful that I avoided the worst of disasters. I want to be joyful, hopeful. I can’t say I’ve felt all that joyful recently. It’s been a struggle to remain positive—light, if you will—in the face of repeated distressing situations. No, I haven’t had a major tragedy occur, knock on wood, but I have had a string of minor challenges/accidents/stressful situations to cope with for most of 2011 and I’m feeling a bit emotionally ragged. As someone once said, “What I am looking for is a blessing that is not in disguise.”

I will say that my word of the year did help me hold on, to look for the bright side, to search for the silver lining in the storm clouds. I needed light as a word of the year in 2011.

I haven’t chosen a word for 2012 yet, though that’s high on my agenda. You’d better believe I’ll take care when I do!

What were some of the high and low points of 2011 for you? If you chose a word of the year, did it “help”?

My word of the year is treats...or maybe nap...