Thanksgiving for Two

For the first time in our seven years together, John and I are spending Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us.It’s harvest_fall_thanksgivingthe most relaxed I’ve felt on this holiday since long before we were together…and I am doubly grateful for the opportunity to create a beautiful meal. There are so many things I enjoy about Thanksgiving with his family, but one thing I miss is the opportunity to contribute something I’ve made by hand. Traveling for 4 1/2 hours (or more when there is traffic) doesn’t lend well to contributing much to the table beyond wine or more sturdy baked goods.

The part of me that loves cooking misses the opportunity to be of service in a way I show love, through food. I felt left out, unable to contribute….

It feels a little strange, to be frank, and the worrier in my can’t help but wonder if grudges will be held, a staple of my childhood. Unlike my mother, John’s mother doesn’t seem to hold grudges. She’s more of a “let it go” kind of woman, realizing after 87 years here on this planet, there is a lot to let go of. (I’m not quite sure of all of the sisters, but I am hopeful).

As I sit writing, the turkey is in the oven, turkey stock is simmering on the stove, and there is cornbread dressing in tableissetforthanksgivingthe crock-pot. A slightly modified version of my Aunt Dot’s cornbread dressing, to be exact. There is a chocolate pie in the fridge and the table is set.

I still have cooking yet to do, though for now am grateful for the opportunity to come here in this space and write as I sip a glass of wine. Though I still cook a turkey after Thanksgiving, after being gifted a beautiful free-range bird each year by my favorite grocery store, I had forgotten how much hard work goes into wrestling with one. Especially with the added work of the trimmings…something I skip when I do the post-Thanksgiving turkey roasting.

I did some prep work yesterday.

John requested a chocolate pie as our dessert, something I was happy to make over the traditional Pumpkin or Pecan. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and the one her mother made: an old-fashioned custard style pie made with egg yolks, whole milk, sugar, and a lot of patience. As was typical of previous generations, it’s a base that can be customized to make chocolatepiebanana pudding or coconut cream pie, as well.

It takes an hour (or more) to make, and that hour of stirring the custard on low connects me with three generations of women.

I am grateful to play with my Aunt Dot’s Cornbread Dressing. A recipe my sister sent me, as neither of us can find our Mother’s recipe. Aunt Dot’s is close, though, with corn bread, “light bread”, and chopped boiled eggs. I made a few substitutions: whole grain bread for the white Mrs. Baird’s and real butter instead of “oleo” and I’m baking it in the crock pot (4 hours on low). I pared the recipe down from 40 servings to 10, something that took a bit of math. It’s the one dish I’ve missed the most the last six years, because folks in the Midwest tend to make bread dressing.

I can still recall that first Chicago Thanksgiving, missing cornbread dressing and mayo for the day-after Turkey sandwiches. Wanting the comfort of familiar foods and thanksgivingdinnermissing my mother so much it hurt.

This morning, I made John’s mother’s cranberry sauce: one bag of cranberries, one whole orange, and 1/3 cup of sugar tossed in the blender. We may only have a spoonful, but it’s a traditional flavor (and better than opening a can of Ocean Spray Jellied).

Now, all that’s left is for the turkey to come out of the oven. I’ll let it rest as I turn to baking potatoes and Parker House rolls, making gravy, and composing a little salad. We’ll light the candles, fill our plates, and linger over this seventh Thanksgiving together.

As John mentioned to me moments ago: we have a good life. It’s something we’ve worked hard for and something to celebrate. And certainly something to be Thankful for….

In fact, we have so much to be thankful for: health, love, friends, family, memories of the past, and hope for the future. I hope you are feeling the same.

Happy Thanksgiving and so much love to you and yours.

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Saying Hello to October with Saturday Morning Rambling

I’ve been itching to come back here to this page all the while my Logical Brain asks: “WHY do you need to write in img_20160427_071632your personal blog space when you have…

  • a journal for private thoughts and to work things out
  • a professional blog to talk about work, your books, and ladle out advice
  • the new magazine, with a regular column to share a little more about your life
  • and lest you forget Instagram, where you share both photos and snippets about real life

I don’t quite have the full answer to assuage my logical voice, yet here I am on a Saturday morning, typing into empty WordPress window. Going back to my writing roots, words on an internet page that folks might happen across…or not. Allowing my less-than-perfect self to be witnessed.

Maybe that’s what is compelling me this morning to write here: to allow myself to be less than perfect AND to allow that to be seen. I won’t be running this through Hemingway to remove excess adverbs and passive voice. I won’t be choosing a “key word” and optimizing this post for SEO. I won’t be writing this in Word, letting it sit for a bit, and then editing it.

It’s raw. And possibly too real. And a part of me is OK with that.

And while I allow myself to be naked and vulnerable and imperfect in my journal, that space is 100% safe from prying eyes, a necessity. Yet, having that safe space to work things out doesn’t negate the fact that I am also in a messy space that needs witnessing.

That in my less-than-perfect pouring of words onto a page, I want to connect with other souls.

When I am writing in my role as “coach”, I am an authority figure, taking the lessons I have learned in my life and img_20160413_134928shifting them into teachable examples. Though another side of my writing voice has begun to shine over at Modern Creative Life, I am still the “editor”, another authority figure.

I am falling out of love with my role as coach when it comes to the online world. I do stellar work with my one-on-one clients. I am both loving and no-nonsense. It’s a role I am comfortable in and a role in which I still shine and do some of my best work. Yet, the trappings of that – the SEO, the BRAND – are losing their shine.

I am in a transition year for my coaching practice. I am still actively coaching clients, yet not seeking new clients. I am also in the midst of retiring the products I’ve sold in my practice. I am turning two of my 30 Days to Clarity courses into books and that feels right on target.

When it comes to my role as “editor”, I must confess that I fall more in love with it each day. How magical is it…to take the works of others and help them shine? To put a spotlight on beautiful and talented souls? To reach out to people I admire and say “please can we feature your work” and “how can we serve you in some way”.

To be honest with you, I got out of bed before John on this Saturday morning to edit Clearing Brain Clutter.  And you’ve probably caught onto the fact that, no, indeed, I am not editing. Am I?

I got up and prepared to do it.  Came downstairs to my office, made a “short” pot of coffee (just enough to tide me over til John wakes), pulled my “card for the day” (a practice I began in August), posted a book review for a friend’s book, and wrote a little in my journal.

I just poured my 3rd cup of coffee. The folder with my hand edits for Clearing Brain Clutter is still closed and I haven’t double-clicked the Word icon yet.

The biggest issue is this: the person that first created the course Clearing Brain Clutter isn’t the person sitting here turning it into a book. When I first decided to begin retiring products as saleable eCommerce items and turning them into real books, I thought it would be a fairly easy task. And yes, it’s easier than beginning with a blank page, but in order to be happy with releasing this into the world as a hold-in-your-hand book, I need to do more work.

I discovered this when I was working on Clearing Soul Clutter. Yet, I powered through that process and got it to “proof” format before we returned from vacation.  And I am kicking my own ass because I didn’t get the same done for Clearing Brain Clutter. I wanted to get it done before vacation, but it wasn’t humanly possible. Because the editing and formatting process took three times as long than I had first thought.

Just as I am not the same person who wrote those courses that I am turning into books, I am not the same person that left here on September 13th, bound for New York City.

I had a couple of days of solo time, and during that time alone in the “city that never sleeps” I was able to better listen to the still, small voice of my inner wisdom. I’d shared coffee with a film-maker friend earlier that day, had some some shopping, and came back to my room to rest. As I stood in my hotel room, overlooking Times Square and the bright lights of Broadway and got a glimpse into what my work is to be in 2017.

Damn and double damn.

My solo time in the city ended. John arrived. We explored every nook and cranny of the Intrepid and then set sail for 20160923_125349our planned cruise. On the last evening, after a perfectly lovely outing sailing in Newport, John came down with a fever. We had some excellent travel karma and were able to catch an earlier flight home after disembarking, arriving home at noon rather than the planned 8 PM last Saturday (the 24th).

He showered and took a nap, I began tackling laundry and shoring up our supplies (groceries!). And by Sunday evening, I, crawled into bed feeling less than stellar. We had Monday off together – and rested. Tuesday, we both went “back to work”. And frankly, I only had energy to devote to client calls and not enough energy to go back to the task of editing.

I am rarely sick. In fact, it’s been at least three years since I’ve had even a cold. But this respiratory infection has been a doozy. Most of this week, I’ve coached clients and rested on the couch.

Not what I had planned for the week, that’s for sure.

I had planned on finishing the edits and ordering a physical proof by the week’s end, but I didn’t touch Clearing Brain Clutter until yesterday.

So here I am on Saturday morning. Not editing. Needing instead to write through this, make some sense, be seen. To pour out some words, then pause.

From the time I began this blog post to now, John has risen. We moved out onto the deck to breathe in the fresh fall air. I made a full pot of coffee and am sipping my 5th cup. (Which is unusual because I typically have 2 cups).

I’m still feeling like I’m under the influence of too much cold medication (cough syrup) though I’ve been up for a couple hours and have been med-free since midnight.

I am in limbo and at the edges of my own new beginning. We had a New Moon yesterday, today is October 1st.  John’s work stress should be abating thanks to a new team (officially effective today). The earth is shifting and morphing in ways that are both new and familiar as she prepares for winter.

Because I am the gal that lives to dive in feet first, I long to begin the work on the new project. It is whispering to me in my dreams. It’s calling to me as I put sugar in my coffee and beckoning me as fold freshly laundered handkerchiefs into neat rectangles.

I am shifting right along with the earth. I am wishing for the hard work of autumn – the harvest – to be completed. But I must face facts that there is work to be done. We are still three months away from 2017’s arrival. And before I can begin that work, I must do the work before me.

When we get a glimpse into what’s next, it can be easy to abandon what’s now. Yet, it’s irresponsible and it would taint the what’s next.

I must do the work of the harvest. Finish editing Clearing Brain Clutter in the coming days, order the proof, and do the final work to release both it and Clearing Soul Clutter into the world on October 16th. To do this in a way that feels nourishing to me means that I need all my little ducklings in a row for this no later than Friday, the 7th.

I need a clear head to go along with my strong heart to get it done. Thank goodness I created a robust task list to guide me through the final steps of this process, the proof, the publication, and the marketing pieces. The covers have been designed, the sales page is being written, and I am poised to move quickly.

img_20160819_164811Then, the rest of this month’s creating time goes to the new book for 2016 – and all of November’s energy goes into the editing and formatting the NEW book.

Yes, in addition to the two 30 Days to Clarity books, I will be releasing a brand new book into the world before Winter arrives.  The book that demanded that I write differently is the work that opened the way for the next work to be born.

I see the two 30 Days to Clarity books as a way to harvest some of the best of my body of work from the last five years and a share it with a broader audience.

The New Book is something I have been meant to write for years now, but just wasn’t ready. Little did I realize that it wasn’t a pinnacle of my body of work, but a gateway to what 2017 is demanding of me.

It is the way of the creative mind, to introduce us to what’s next as a way to keep us going, engaged. To help us to not lose heart when we labor away.

I think it’s no coincidence that my word for 2016 is CREATE.  I need to honor it. To complete the work I’ve been given this year – the finalizing of the two 30 Days to Clarity books, the finishing of my 100 Day Project (which stalled on day 85), and to be devoted to the NEW book, to be finished before Winter arrives.

To clear the slate, clear space physically and metaphorically for the new work to emerge from a place of clean energy. To tidy up the 2016 Harvest and allow winter’s call of rest and restoration to nourish my soul. Then, to plant my tiny seeds of new growth in 2017 for the next harvest.

I think sometimes we forget that each year’s harvest relies upon years and years of seeds that were planted.

I had forgotten how much I needed this space here – a personal blog that few read, yet a space that anyone might stumble across.  To step away from being on-brand-perfect.

To allow the messy parts to be seen.

100 Days of Creative Living

I’ve believe that in order to live the kind of life we desire, we must choose to create it. It’s a concept that sounds good 100DayProjectWannaPlayon paper, yet making it happen can be harder. We humans tend to look at things from a lens of the big picture concept side and though they say that the devil is in the details, we rush past the smallest of details.

We look for big signs that we are succeeding and hope that huge leaps will result fast and life changing results.

The truth is that if we want our creative lives to be sustainable, we need to learn to subsist on tiny sips of inspiration and see the infinitesimal moments of beauty and perfection as our building blocks.

What will save us, therefore, isn’t grand gestures or sweeping changes, but the small moments.

A perfect cup of coffee, a still fresh ten day old bouquet of grocery store flowers, the way the flame on a candle flickers as it reaches the end of the wick.

It’s time for the 100 Day Project. 100 Days of Making. Today is the day to proclaim the intention of your project (though you can hop in anytime).

Last year, I set up a goal of 100 days of fiction for my 100 days project. I stopped at day 30. Over time, I lost the romance of it due to a case of comparisionitis.

Photographing words in a notebook, even when I changed up where I laid the notebook, felt lackluster. Especially for a visual project. I wanted to play along this year again. To challenge myself. To play within my own craft as a writer and find a way to share it in a more visually pleasing way.

This morning, I walked outside to place a Netflix video in the mailbox. My phone was in my pocket and a cup of queenofthenightcoffee in my hand. I paused to watch the changing sky as the rising sun colored my view with tinges of pink and shots of gold against midnight blue sky. Then I gazed to my left where my Queen of the Night tulips are finally blooming as my (RED) begin to fall apart. Such stark beauty was all around me, and if I had hurried just a little, I would have missed it.

We tend to believe that when we talk about “making”, it must be something done with from a high art perspective: writing, drawing, making music, etc.

Yet, my core truth is that we are always making. Each moment of living is a choice in creative living. We just have to notice them.

It’s noticing the way  the raw sugar settles into the bottom of my cup, watching it disappear as I add coffee, and then observing the bloom of dairy goodness as I splash in some milk.

It’s watching John load the car in the mornings and being reminded how much I love and adore him.

First goes his lunch box on the passenger seat, his briefcase on the John in Dublin (Guiness Tour!)floorboard, his coffee cup in the cup holder. Then, moving the lunchbox to the floorboard and wedging it between his briefcase and console so his cup of orange juice won’t spill.  He leans over and puts the keys in the ignition then shuts the passenger door. He always looks up at me  standing in the doorway at this point, smiles and waves goodbye. He opens the back passenger door to lay his suit coat on the back seat so it doesn’t wrinkle. Once everything is in place, he walks around to the driver’s side and gets in the car. He buckles up, hits the hazard lights and adjusts his music. He carefully backs out of the garage and once the car has hit the driveway completely, he hits the closure on the door.

But the moments that make up my day continue.

It’s the smile I get from the butcher as he packages up a pound of ground chicken and a pound of ground sirloin for me to try a new meatloaf recipe.  It’s the lame yet funny joke the cashier shares with me.

It’s the quick kiss I get as John walks in the door and the scent of him against hours old starched shirt, faded Old Spice, and the workday. It’s gazing in the mirror and seeing my own inner light as I fasten a necklace. It’s the laughter shared as we watch the golfers go by in the evening. It’s the shift in light as the day is swallowed up by night.

So, for the next 100 days, I am going to notice my own life. To see the tiny moments that create my existence. To lovingly describe the moment, using my preferred craft of writing.To honor the way creative living plays into my everyday life.

For this is what the core of making is to me: making a life.

You can find me over on Instagram using the hashtag: #100daysofcreativeliving

My 2016 Lenten Focus

The year I gave up resolutions was the same year I stopped giving things up for Lent. It wasn’t because I had lost my Where I learned to meditatefaith, in fact it was because my faith was deeper. I took a big step back and looked at the entire Lenten Season with its culmination at Easter. I chose to see the surrender over sacrifice.

I chose to look for love and forgiveness instead of focusing on fear, deprivation and self-flagellation. I wanted to focus on the cycle of re-birth and the coming joy.

That first year, I chose to deepen my spiritual life not by sacrificing sweets but by (finally) learning the art of meditation.  Subsequent years have seen activities like letting go of toxic relationships, writing daily, and gratitude walks.

Last week, I had King Cake (a baby one – pictured below) and it was yet another reminder that the Lenten season was fast approaching (It begins with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 10th)

Though some years have surprised me how quickly the season is coming, not this year. I’ve been thinking about what I want to do as my Lenten practice for several weeks. And it’s with a bit of a sheepish sigh and rolling of my eyes that I say I was really contemplating going back to the old practice of giving something BabyKingCake_fromDLMup this year.

In fact, I was considering giving up a whole bunch of stuff because I was looking going Whole30 for Lent.

Whole30 is an elimination diet, consisting of 30 days of no grains, beans, sugar or dairy. No whole-grain bread or brown rice or even oatmeal. No corn or black beans. No soy. No milk, yogurt, cheese, or butter.

It’s “paleo” to the Nth degree.

I’m pretty intelligent when it comes to the science of food. I understand all the manifests behind why each type of food isn’t part of the diet (though, they prefer to call it a lifestyle). I completely agree with so many pieces of their approach to eating, like avoiding processed foods and reading labels, because Dear God, there is sugar added to every damned thing, and honestly, why do dill pickles need sugar?

I had talked to JB about Lent being the point when I got “tough” with myself when it came to food. I’d told a couple of girlfriends and even shared the info with a client. I even bought some “Whole30 Compliant Dressing” the other day when I was grocery shopping.

I had planned to fess up here in the blog about the choice and chronicle my experience.

And then Friday, I got really quiet and honest with myself about WHY I was going to do it, and made the decision that it wasn’t going to be for me. There are several valid reasons about why it could still be a good choice for me, and those were the only justifications I had shared with anyone to that point.

Back in October... I want to be about 15 pounds lighter...But the real reason behind it was that I hoped I could lose some weight doing it. I’d love to lose fifteen pounds. And everyone I know that’s gone Whole30 has lost 10 to 15 pounds in that 30 days.

Yet, when I look back at the times when I was at that ideal weight, I wasn’t crazily depriving myself of whole food groups. Instead, I was ensuring I ate regularly and didn’t skip meals, I was ensuring I ate lots of protein and veggies. I was meditating daily and regularly walking.

My public excuse for going Whole30 was my skin and joints. The concept of eliminating foods known to cause inflammation and then slowing adding them back is still in the back of my mind.  I have a spot of eczema on my left hand that just won’t go away, and let me tell you, at times the arthritis in my hands is so severe it hurts to hold a pencil or fork for too long.

This is a very valid reason that is still true. Just typing this blog post has the joint in my left thumb a little achy.

Back in early November, I cut way back on eating gluten. Not only did that spot on my head clear up, but my hands were a little less painful. I was also being more mindful about what I was putting in my mouth. I was eating more vegetables, including them with eggs in the mornings and incorporating them into my lunches more. Since Thanksgiving, I had slacked off on the veggies and eaten a lot more bread!

On Friday it really hit me what was going on when I was making JB’s lunch. I was packing his lunch box with fruit, oatmeal, yogurt, veggie soup, some leftover chicken, raw cucumbers, celery, and almonds. He had a thermos of milk, a thermos of black coffee, and a glass of orange juice.

And what was I eating while he was away? Umm….I had coffee, a few almonds, and a lunch of chicken with Inmyofficefeb2016green peas. When you work from home, you don’t pack a lunch. It should be so easy to eat. Yet, Friday morning I had ventured downstairs with my coffee to do a little work on Modern Creative Life and several hours later, realized I hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was time for me to run my errands.

And that wasn’t an isolated day, it’s a typical day. I regularly prepare meal plans for dinner and lovingly ensure I have all the ingredients for JB’s lunch, but I don’t plan for my own lunch.

I don’t believe in demonizing entire food groups. Instead, I know that mindfully choosing the best whole foods I can find is the way to go. Organic milk, free-range chicken and eggs, organic veggies  and quality whole grains. I don’t buy GMO’s and every food that is questionable for GMO I try to buy organic (beans, corn, soy).

Everyone’s body is different, and the trick is to pay attention to how different foods affect my body.

My body functions at its best when I fuel it with lots of protein, veggies, and whole grains. Yet, how can I expect my body to not react when I’m in no way giving it enough of any food group? How will depriving myself of grains, dairy, and beans honestly help? Especially when I know what works best for me?

Instead of sliding back to old ways and giving up stuff for Lent, I’m going to focus on what I need spiritually. I need to focus on how I can best nourish my body, not deprive it.

Because when my body is well-tended, my soul is tended more lovingly.

And this, in truth, ties back to my Word for 2016: Create.

MyWord2016DebraSmouse

I do want to create a healthy body, and that cannot be done through crazy diet plans.

If I want to create a healthy body, then I must mindfully create three healthy meals a day, even if I’m the only one sitting down to the table. I must create meals that revolve around the foods my body thrives on – protein, veggies, grains – and not around what my body doesn’t particularly love – like commercially produced bread and crackers. Paying attention to the gluten and sugar in my diet are good things, especially for my joints.

If I want to create a stronger spiritual life, then I must fuel my body so that my soul can focus on it’s work and not be distracted by a grumbling tummy or cranky attitude.

My Lenten Goal then, is this: to be devoted to fueling my body in the best possible way.

By choosing to use the Lenten season as the vehicle for devotion, I am choosing to create the kind of environment I need in order to thrive. This choice brings me full circle to what I love about the Lenten Season: focusing on love and joy. Because dieting never makes me feel loved, it feeds my fears.

I get great joy when I work with beautiful foods and savor each meal. When I do this, that underlying “why” of wanting to lose some weight gets its say as well, because a happy, fueled body always leads to looser jeans and a lower number on the scale.

Because no matter how you slice it, in order to create a life  (and body) I love, I need to focus on love and not fear.

What about you? Do you have a Lenten practice?  Would you like to join me? To focus on being devoted to fueling your body as a path to deeper spirituality? To use the 40 Days of Lent as a vehicle for creating healthy habits around food?

 

 

Weekly(ish) Round-Up: Let’s Paint the House Edition

I am a planner. I see spreadsheets and calendars as my saving grace. Neat little bits of data into equally neat little IMG_20141104_093319spaces along with big blocks that mean I can Accomplish! Big! Projects! I love note cards, and my ability to write lots of ideas on pieces of card-stock that are the exact same size, and then organize those thoughts into some semblance of order.

Heaven on earth – that’s what planning is for me. (when I outlined the memoir last year)

In honesty, the way I learned to manage my ADHD as a teen (long before they diagnosed that stuff) was to create structure for myself.

It’s like having a fence for a dog or taking the dog to a nice dog park to play.

I AM that dog, and sometimes I run wild, and those systems and schedules serve as my fence to keep me safe from my own enthusiasm and keep me from running out in the street in front of cars.

So, back to those big blocks of time and planning.

When JB has a trip on the calendar and I’m not going to tag along, I make plans to Get Things Done! We’ve known about his trip this week since October, and in my planning, this was to be designated a full-on creation week. I’d asked a girlfriend if she could come for a visit so we could have a mini-writer-retreat, and even when she realized she couldn’t this week, I still planned to focus on writing, writing, and more writing.

Until, that is, this was the best week for the painter to work at our house.

The original desire for painting came because I wanted the laundry room done..then it morphed to all three TheHotMessEntrybathrooms, the stairwell, a wall in our bar area, and the downstairs bedroom (including closet). Before JB left, we readied things for the painter (read: everything that couldn’t be shoved into the middle of the bedroom downstairs got moved into my office).

I met the painter on Monday morning at 7:15 to swipe a credit card to pay for the paint and every other day this week he’s been here at 7 AM sharp, ready to dive into the taping and cutting in and rolling. And, like me, the Painter is a bit of an extrovert, and so sometimes, we swap stories.

But, man, he is all over the place. Not in a haphazard way, it’s all very methodical thanks to the use of 3 different paint colors (Compatible Cream Downstairs, Whole Wheat Upstairs, Closet and Trim in Navajo White) in a variety of finishes (eggshell, semi-gloss). And every time I have turned around, he’s there.

I can’t work in my office…I worked one day from the living room sofa…and now I am in JB’s office because it’s the least messy place to work.  This has wreaked havoc on my ability to focus and write coherent emails, let alone start any new writing projects, or write my “consumables”.

The Big Plan has been shot to hell.

And the thing is, as overwhelmed as I am feeling with my entire house in disarray (all three bathrooms being painted with semi-gloss, which needs a good 48 hours to “cure”), THIS is the life I’ve committed to.

Yes, it would be glorious to spend this week alone doing nothing but CREATING in the formal definition of creation.  But this is the perfect week for someone to be here before dawn and the perfect week for the house to be a hot mess of stuff in places it doesn’t belong. Because as much as it overwhelms me, I know a week of Nothing In It’s Place and Painting Supplies Everywhere would just STRESS JB out, and, in turn, stress me more trying to keep him from being stressed.

So, despite the fact that I’ve not written a solid word towards any new project this way, this week embodies my Word of 2016  – CREATE – at one of its most basic levels: creating a home that is an escape from the stresses of the outside world.

The ability to create a space that is nourishing, loving, and supportive allows me to take a big flying leap of faith into creating in different ways. The choice to be the one to manage our home is how I contribute to our relationship, and the payoffs of this contribution is that I have the freedom to work from home and manage my own schedule. The creation of my own calendar to my own needs is huge in my ability TO create.

So, this week of overwhelm and not sticking to the initial plan is good in the big picture way of life. Sometimes, we have to just BE overwhelmed. Sometimes we just have NOT be as productive as we desire.

What I’m Writing & How It’s Dovetailing with Work

The January issue of Become Besotted went out on time…and though I have yet to go beyond a short outline of an idea for a blog post for work this week, that will make it’s way into my schedule this afternoon once the painter leaves.  I also have a topic for the newsletter chosen and the recipe has already been written and plugged into Mailchimp.

I’m writing a ton of emails this week, too, inviting folks to contribute to the new Zine, Modern Creative Life.  Fortunately, we wrote up a template for invitations to work from last week, so that’s been easier than writing fresh.  I’m getting super excited about this project and hope my collaborators, Becca Rowan and Melissa Bartell are, too.

What I’m Reading

I have been writing a bit since I last updated things here (and if you’re curious, you can always look over at my readingthismorningearlyGoodreads to see what’s on my nightstand)

These books were chosen for book club:

  • Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen – this was choice for book club and I enjoyed it immensely and everyone else enjoyed it as well.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – this is the book for next month and I couldn’t help but obsessively turn the pages. I saw the movie back in the 90’s but hadn’t read the book. WOW does it ever seem still scary and still timeless.

I re-read a couple of books this month….

Fresh reads to cross the desk included

  • Cross Justice (Alex Cross #23) by James Patterson.  BEST Alex Cross Novel (My Goodreads Review)
  • All Dressed in White (Under Suspicion) by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke
  • The Marsh Madness (A Book Collector Mystery #4) by Victoria Abbott. I enjoy this cozy series more and more with each book.
  • I also read an draft of Daryl Woods Gerber’s upcoming suspense novel “Girl on the Run”…I don’t know if she has a publication date for it yet, though.  It was wonderful.

I’m still struggling with finding a good morning Read… so far this year, it’s been these books:

Currently, I am reading

  • American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis. She had me with the first story “What I Do All Day”. I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this book of quirky short stories.  I have two little chapters left and made myself stop reading this morning to savor the book a little longer.
  • The Guilty (Will Robie #4) by David Baldacci
  • Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert – the poet Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned in her book Big Magic…he’s my current morning read.

What’s I’m Shaking My Head At

iStock_000005988115MediumWhy do people feel the need to drive crazy?  I ran some errands early on Sunday morning (read, I went to breakfast and then Target) and here it is at 8:15 on a Sunday morning and people are speeding down the street, weaving in and out of traffic. What’s the purpose of that? Because, honestly, I ended up at the same red lights as these same drivers. And who needs to get somewhere so desperately on a Sunday morning that they have to drive “bat shit crazy”?

What I Am Obsessing Over

I love the new coffee cup I bought at Starbucks. It’s in the “traveler tumbler” genre for cups, but it’s ceramic. I don’t like the regular travel mugs, something about the metal and plastic I don’t enjoy drinking out of (and I dribble more easily). The coffee seems to stay hot longer and is just so pretty to look at.

I’m also obsessing over a story my cleaning lady told me on Tuesday…and it’s nothing I can write about here, but DEAR GOD, it’s the perfect little tidbit to weave into a piece of fiction.

Tell me, darling, how has your week been?

And on that note, I think it’s time to do a walk around with the painter…to find all the little nicks that still need to be touched up here.

 

MyWord2016DebraSmouse

Though this was intended as round-up post, it morphed into part of the ongoing personal series …why 2016 is the year of Create – what that means and how it will play out.

What Create Means in 2016

I believe that each one of us is creating our life through our daily actions. The woman I was in 2003 would argue against that belief with deep conviction, believing more that I had no choice in how the big pieces of my life would Debra Smouse in 2008)play, and therefore I was simply stuck within the life circumstances had delivered.

Oh, I saw glimpses of a different kind of life, but didn’t see how to make it happen. Well, unless I was willing to make some very uncomfortable choices. And in the summer of 2004, I could no longer pretend that things were going to get better if something didn’t change, so I made the decision that was pivotal to finally understanding that I was responsible for the quality of my life: I agreed to divorce the man I’d been married to since I was a mere child of nineteen.

When New Year’s 2005 rolled around, I was a different person than I was a mere year before. It was the first time I threw resolutions out the window and, instead, looked to a Word to serve as my guide for the year ahead. I didn’t write about it publicly, yet my heart had chose the word Explore.

Oh, and that was a year that I explored so many ways. (Especially when it came to Sex, but then, that’s a whole ‘nother story).

But that year, and all the subsequent years, taught me a lesson that I had to learn through experience: my choices have power. When it came to the choice of a Word to serve as my guide, if I was faithful to myself and the intent, that word would not only serve as my beacon, but be my companion through the inevitable ups and downs life dishes out.

I can promise you that if I had not chosen the word “Faith” for 2010, my life would look completely different, for I Deb at POV1 July 18 2010would have never had the courage to trust that I could open myself to love.

When the word “Create” surfaced as my Word of the Year for 2016, I wanted to brush it aside. Because I know that not only does my word need to support and guide me, it must also serve to stretch me. I am a person who practices what she preaches, and running a coaching practice for the last five years focused around “Creating a Life YOU Love” is pretty darned focused on the creation process.

What could the word “Create” teach me? Wasn’t I a master of living a creative life? Didn’t I create daily – be it in the kitchen or with words? Wasn’t I living the purest essence of Create with the way JB and I were choosing to live our daily lives?

Yes, but…

I know, we coaches aren’t supposed to use the word “but”.

But the thing is, just when we think we have evolved, God shows us that there is more evolving to do.

We are perpetually going through a transformation – back into a cocoon and waiting to see what our wings will look like in the next stage. We just forget about the whole process in the cocoon when we’re out spreading our wings and flying around in our new glory.

Create chose me this year because it’s time to evolve again.

Create_a_Life_You_Love_final_coverI published a (very imperfect) book in December, and now it’s time to step up and do it again.

This time, though, I can’t just edit the hundreds of blog posts I’ve written  over the last five years about Creating a Life You Love. No, I need to write new words, even though some of them may be similar.

One of the reasons Create chose me for 2016 is that I need to Create Differently.

For the last sixteen years, I have written most of my words with the understanding that they would be read by others.  My experience with my mother reading and destroying my teenage journals when I was nineteen made me believe that any word I wrote had to be written for an audience, which meant the words must be chosen carefully. No secrets could be revealed and no vulnerabilities exposed.

Though I began keeping a paper journal again in 2013, the truth of the matter is that most of the words I write have been written for a specific publication and audience, whether it was for a newsletter, my work blog, a guest post, or other destination. Pretty much anything I have written, especially in the last five years, was written knowing that someone would read it within a week.

In order to write a new book, it must be written in pieces now knowing that no one will read it for months.  Yes, I have a self-imposed deadline for completing the Next Book by September so it will be ready to publish in November.

I also want to write words that aren’t in the self-help genre. I want to tell stories for other audiences and that is going to demand that I Create Differently.

Boston July 2015 (1)But Create isn’t meant to serve only my creative and work life.

No, the word Create found me for 2016 because there are other areas of my life that want to be different.

I want to Create a stronger body and need to Create a more flexible body. Too many hours sitting, not enough hours moving, stretching, and lifting mean that this body I inhabit isn’t in the shape it needs to be in so it can support my life. This isn’t about a number on a scale, by the way, but a desire to be more able-bodied in this edging closer to fifty body.

I want to Create a deeper spiritual life. Except to attend a neighbor’s funeral and visit some churches while traveling, I haven’t been to Mass in ages. I miss Mass sometimes, and have decided that attending Mass on a random Tuesday is good for me. I pray regularly, but my prayer (and meditation) life could still use more attention. I read a lot of books related to coaching, but I also need to read more works that set my soul afire.  I am constantly seeking new Morning Reads that mean something, and so far seem to be coming up empty handed.

I have an incredible life with JB, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t create an even better and stronger one. My years of living with critical people means that when I am tired or stressed, I tend to complain too much. I want to create a home life that is even more loving and more welcoming than it already is. Because I know that I can be of deeper service by letting go some perfectionist tendencies. He deserves a more loving space, and I am the only one that can create that for him.

I need to Create a deeper sense of Play. Life was serious for so many years that it’s a challenge to let my hair down. To just relax more, laugh more, enjoy more of what’s offered before me.

I need to Create with Others. 2016 will be the year that I help launch a new Literary Magazine: Modern Creative Life.

There are other areas of creation calling to me, including projects to create a more beautiful and supportive home. I’ll share more as we move forward on those projects.

And still, it comes back to that truth: that I am responsible for creating my life. For cultivating one that is dedicated to creative living over letting life happen around me. Though I’ve followed that belief for many years now, it’s time to become more devoted to the concept in 2016.

MyWord2016DebraSmouse

An ongoing personal series here…why 2016 is the year of Create – what that means and how it will play out.

Photos: Me in 2008 during my DOE year (Photo by Julie Woodford), Me in 2010 at the Point of View Lounge (taken by JB on that night he said he wanted to take a chance), My Book, and JB and I in Boston in July 2015.

on Visiting DC

Seeing DC from the Lincoln Memorial - 2010

My first visit to Washington DC occurred in 1985. I was on the cusp of womanhood, though at seventeen I would have told you I was all grown up. It was the first trip I made solo, well, not exactly solo in the broad sense of the word, but in the narrow sense of my teenage world, getting on a plane without my parents or sister felt like a solo trip.

I felt very sophisticated.

I had been chosen as an American Airlines Scholar and, along with dozens of other area teens, were being whisked away to DC for a whirlwind tour of DC in the summer before our senior year of high school, thanks to being nominated by our school counselors. We had breakfast with our Congressman, saw the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial shortly after it’s unveiling, toured all the major sites in the city, and slept in the dorms of a college whose name I can’t remember.

It was the first time I ate pizza topped with pineapple and the first time I felt a little free to be myself.

Being surrounded by people I had just met allowed me the freedom to remove my masks without the fear of love being withdrawn or the need to live up to the expectations of others.

My second trip to DC was nothing like the first. I was still married to my children’s father and our relationship was tenuous. But he had been invited to participate in a special run from Philadelphia to DC to commemorate Law Enforcement Memorial week and had decided a trip for the girls would be educational.

Flying alone with two young children and trying to manage the DC Metro system for the first time was stressful, but I managed it. I saw DC on foot that trip, a new experience that was refreshing despite the tension.

Oh, but the masks of dutiful wife and perfect mother were firmly in place.

My third trip to DC literally changed my life.

It was Memorial Day Weekend of 2006, almost 20 years after that first trip to DC. I tasted what freedom could be like, in every permutation of the word.

I went at the encouragement of a friend to scout for work and by the end of the trip, I had committed to visiting DC at least once per month for the foreseeable future. I had also committed to friend that I’d visit a mutual friend’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery whenever I was in town.

I stopped counting trips to DC after that.

I visited at least once a month from May of 2006 until July of 2010. With each trip, a little more of the real me emerged and it became harder and harder to put my masks back in place. In 2008, I basically lived in DC. I was working full-time for a client on a project for DOE. And by full-time, 50-hour weeks were the norm. It became easier to just stay in town for the weekend to avoid the stress of packing, traveling, returning, and unpacking again.

During those years, I explored every nook and cranny of DC I could. I found favorite places to eat and spaces which made me feel closer to God and to myself. I discovered tiny corners in big museums that made me feel like I was coming home to myself.

The folks at the Monaco in DC became my witnesses during the most critical years.

I’d visited here and there, but during my 2008 stint, it became my home.  The Monaco employees treated me like family, and I met the spouses and parents of more than one member of their staff.

The shelter and loving care I was given while a guest there allowed me to be vulnerable, grow my creativity, discover different facets of my personality, and grieve the loss of my mother. I also first me the man I would fall in love there. And, it was in their restaurant months later that JB told me he had real feelings for me and wanted to give this relationship thing a real try.

This past week, I was welcomed back home to the Monaco.

MyWord2016DebraSmouse

Note: I sat down to write about my trip this past week, but that’s not what came out on the page. I have several unpublished posts here in the bowels of WordPress, not published because it wasn’t what I planned to write about.  As an ENTJ and a planner, which is wonderful in a lot of ways, but stifling in others.

If I am to be true to Create as my theme for 2016, must give myself permission to Create Differently here….

Later this week, I’ll share more about my most recent trip to DC…and how that visit took me more deeply into my Word of the Year: Create.

Winter Days

Winter Arrives

Winter has finally arrived in Ohio. Snow fell fast and furiously Sunday morning, leaving swaths of white over green grass and tiny layers of fluffiness across barren branches. The winds were intense, forcing legions of flakes to stick to the screens instead of allowing them to fall to earth.

When Monday morning dawned with a pristine landscape and soft orange light shot with gold, it revealed that the sunriseMondaywarm temperatures when the snow began Sunday morning meant that though the ground was covered with a scant two inches, the driveway was mostly bare. Thankfully, that meant there was no need to shovel!

Though it wasn’t a sun-drenched day, it was a clear day with enough shininess to wear amber-colored sunglasses.

I must confess, I feel as if Mother Nature had a copy of my calendar when she planned the weather this week.

  • Sunday’s snow arrived en force after I dropped JB at the airport.
  • Monday was blessedly clear, and as much as I love the beauty of the snow, I don’t like to have to drive in it. You see, I had my quarterly appointment with my hormone doctor, which requires a forty-five minute drive to Cincinnati.
  • Today (Tuesday), I have zero outside appointments. It’s been snowing since around midnight last night and the skies are dark steel with shades of pewter. A perfect day to snuggle in and write.
  • Yet the forecast shows that the snow will be ending late this afternoon, leaving Wednesday clear. Yes, a day when my calendar is chock-full of meetings and appointments that will have me on the go from 7 AM to 3 PM.
  • And Thursday shows to be clear, which is a Godsend considering I have a pre-dawn flight to catch.

I enthusiastically squeezed every drop out of my Monday.

My doctor’s office is across the street from Kenwood Towne Centre, where there is a Nordstrom, Dillard’s, the big Macy’s, and The Container Store. I hadn’t planned much shopping to be honest, but there were a couple of errands I wanted to cross off my long-term list.

I popped into The Container Store, where I finally found a trashcan skinny enough to fit between the dryer and the utility sink in the laundry room. I also picked up quilted storage containers for holiday wreaths and my Christmas dishes. And, a new soap dish that will hopefully stay stuck to the bathroom tile.

Those tasks off my list, I can finally finish appropriately putting away Christmas in a manner that feels more organized and consolidated. And I will no longer be transferring the contents of the lint trap from the laundry room to the kitchen. We did have a trashcan in there, but it was a huge, monstrous thing and I put it in the basement when we cleaned it out.

I also made a quick foray to the lingerie department at Nordstrom, where I picked up a plain black t-shirt bra. Despite the fact that I have a dozen bras that I religiously rotate throughout the week, new lingerie has to make it’s way in on occasion. Fortunately, my favorite saleslady was there, which made the process gloriously loving and painless.

I headed towards home and stopped by the new Liberty Center. Though Kenwood has a Dillard’s, the Dillard’s at Liberty Center seems nicer, with a home department and spacious dressing rooms. Liberty Center also has plethora wedgesaladatbrioof great restaurants. And who am I kidding if I were to pretend a day out didn’t call the necessity of a nice lunch?

I’ve been craving one of those giant wedge salads from Brio Tuscan Grille (aka their “Bistecca Insalata”). And it was truly perfection: crisp, luscious iceberg topped with glorious tomatoes, slightly salty Gorgonzola, and smoky bacon. I ordered a small flatbread as well, but the star of the meal was that salad.

After sufficient nutrition, I leisurely explored Dillard’s.

I was searching for a new dress appropriate for dinner out in DC, but nothing was quite right. I did, however, take advantage of their clearance sales.

I snagged a soft, knee-length burgundy sweater for only $20, splendid for days like today when frigid temperatures call for layers. I also found several pairs of earrings, delightful bargains at 65% off.

Earrings are a must on even my most casual days. Thanks to the nature of my fine, curly tresses, earrings are often lost after becoming entangled in my hair and never do I realize it until hours later. I lost a favorite pearl earring, classic silver hoop, and gold dangle between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A bit of hunting and $30 later, my jewelry box was restocked with gold hoops, silver hoops, silver dangles and creamy pearl studs.

While I was in the accessory department, I lusted over sunglasses. I’ve come to prefer amber-colored lenses for sunglasses after learning to play golf. They make the greens more vibrant and make driving on snowy bright days easier. The pair of Oakley golfing glasses I regularly wear are eight years old now. They have some scratches and, to be honest, are a pair of men’s glasses. So my final purchase was a lovely pair of tortoise-shell Vince Camuto sunglasses with amber lenses, not too much of an indulgence at 65% off.

Then it was home, where email awaited.

Today is turning out to be the complete opposite of yesterday. After coffee and some writing, I made a big TuesdayMorningCoffeebreakfast and settled back into writing by the fireplace as I watch the blowing of the snow. Later this afternoon after lunch, I’ll crank up the snow blower and tackle the driveway. I’m not a fan of shoveling, but must admit the snowblower can be fun. Then maybe a shower and some dinner.

Days like yesterday, followed by days like today are critical to my mental and emotional health.

They are also critical  to how I feed and nurture my creativity.

As an extrovert, I need to have periods of time around others. While I’m not a fan of large crowds, I’ve learned that mundane activities that get me out of the house  and interacting with other souls isn’t a want, it’s a need.  Days upon days of being home-bound make me feel drained and blue. Simple interactions, be it banter with a waitress or sharing a laugh with a salesperson or even exchanging a kind smile with a fellow shopper amps my energy.

Despite being an extrovert, I’m not a “write at a cafe” kind of gal. My creativity is fed through people watching and overheard bits of conversation, so my time is best served in that setting by focusing on taking things in rather than producing.

I’ve learned I create my best work when I am ensconced in (mostly) quiet and (virtually) alone.

Part of being true to making 2016 the Year of Create, it’s critical that I understand what makes me tick.

What exhausts me and what fuels me. I have a responsibility to myself and my work to ensure that my needs are met. It’s imperative that I nourish my energy and my creativity in a delicate dance between my extroverted-self and my creative-self.

One of my tasks in the early part of this year is to determine how this space – DebraLoves.Com – serves my honoring how I Create and how I desire to Create Differently in 2016. I’ll continue to share more ways in which Create will play out and why it’s my Word for 2016.

What about you? What fuels and exhausts you? How do you nourish the various parts of your life? What is your Word demanding you to do? In what ways can you be more responsible for your needs and work?

My Word for 2016

It seems as if everywhere I look these days, people are declaring a WORD of the YEAR! It’s a practice I’ve been doing for more than a decade now…so it does my heart good to see that the trend has become so popular. If we can gently Make a Wish!hold that word in our mind and check in with our souls as we make decisions and take actions towards our goals.

Because I know how powerfully my word influences me and sets a tone for the year, I don’t rush my decision.

I begin my personal process by first playing around with what I desire.

How do I want to feel? What do I want to experience? What do I need my business to look like? What am I longing for? What to I want to achieve? What are my wishes and dreams?

Then, I  do an annual (hour-long) reading with Theresa Reed, usually in the early fall.

As we discuss my business plans and personal goals, I see what has begun to bubble to the surface in terms of themes and oft-repeated words. Sometimes, a particular Tarot card comes up again and again, giving more clues. This year, because of my little inner voice telling me that my business needed to shift more dramatically in 2016, I did my annual reading in July.

Then, after implementing several of my big business actions – turning email courses into workbooks, writing and publishing my book, and reducing my newsletter publication from weekly to bi-weekly –   I did a shorter, follow-up call with Theresa in December.

I get a Goddess Reading from Amy Palko.

I’ve done this for three years now, and each year I am in awe of how perfectly the Goddess’s themes fit my needs. This year, I received the Mayan Goddess IX CHEL and the words Amy suggested to go along with her were: I do have to write things down.....creativity, release, flow, abundance, fertility.

I go through an inquiry process and firm up my goals for the year.

We can only find our answers when we ask questions. So, I work through my own eBook (Make 2016 Your Best Year Yet: Define & Embrace Your Heart’s Beacon).

I also explored Leonie Dawson’s 2016 Create Your Shining Year in Life. (I got the entire set of books from Leonie this year, but the questions in the “life” planner were more applicable to me choosing my Word…because my personal life has the veto power over my business world.)

Then it’s time to write down my goals for the year.

Then came reflection.

I looked back at recent journal entries. Re-read letters from my girlfriend we’ve been exchanging on creative living. I listen again to my readings from Theresa (she records them!). I write down potential words and phrases. I flip through magazines while pondering.

Then I make a choice.

Because I know I’ll be writing about it throughout the year, the ego begs me to choose something that sounds exciting and sexy. And no matter how many ways I tried to spin it or sex it up, my soul continued to insist upon simplicity. Not a phrase. Not a trio of words. But one single, seemingly simple word.

My Word for 2016 is Create (by Debra Smouse)

No matter how you slice it, I believe that in order to have the kind of life you desire, you must choose to create it.

Today is Sunday and we have completed the first week of 2016.

Our little family is firmly moving into the year. I saw how Create surfaced time and time again as I journeyed through these first days of the year. I took JB to the airport early this morning for his first business trip of 2016. Though I don’t normally work on Sundays, with JB gone and the house incredibly quiet, I’m going to tackle a few big items on my To do list.

The fireplace is blazing and my devotional candles are lit. We’re experiencing our first real snowfall of the winter. I have some chicken tortilla soup in the crock pot. My heart is full of joyful anticipation. Life is indeed very good.

I’ll be sharing more in the coming days with you about what the word “Create” means for me in 2016.

(Stock Photos via PicJumbo – Graphic by Me.)

Tell me, darling, what about you? Do you choose a Word (or phrase) to set the tone for your year? What’s your process like? What wisdom do you seek? How is 2016 treating you so far?

Monthly Round-Up: End of the Year

We took the end of the year off. JB was home and I did as little work as possible.

bookcoffeelivingroomWe slept in.  I read a ton. I wanted to close out with not alot of words but at least a recap of what I read.

What I’m Reading

For the first time since grammar school, I kept a log of What I Read in 2015 thanks to the ease of Goodreads. In 2015, I set a goal of reading 140 books and read 147.

While I was away, I finished reading:

Cozy Mysteries
What I beggan reading as we turned the calendar page to 2016 :

More. Later. on Life, Love, and Writing.

(Stock photo via Unsplash)

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