Author Archive | DebraSmouse

Celebrating National Handbag Day

I’ve never been a handbag gal.  Well, I’ve carried a purse since I was in the 5th grade, but I always chose functional, inexpensive black bags most of my life. A bag large enough to hold a book (or two), a journal, several pens, my wallet, lipstick, and maybe a snack.

And did I mention inexpensive (aka cheap)? I never understood spending “good money” on something so…frivolous like a designer bag.

Then, a handbag named Brooklyn came into my life.
The Coach Store Box

See, a client sent me a gift card for The Coach Store….a generous gift that allowed me to buy the Bag of My Dreams.

It was everything a gal could hope for: all leather, hand-stitched, and large enough to hold two journals, my Kindle, a large wallet, a make-up bag, lots of pens, a bottle of water, and a snack. With room to spare. And I bought it in Olive-Green Pebbled Leather. Not black.

And, because I just couldn’t resist and still had money to spare on the gift card, I also purchased the little Prairie Print make-up bag, too.

Brooklyn finally showed me what all the fuss was about. I understood why women of all walks of life splurged on a designer bag.

I felt different carrying this beautiful leather bag, way different than I did when I was carrying a $10 purse from Target! I walked with a happy swagger. I felt more confident. I felt a lot of love, too. And that love? Darling, it came from deep within. It was an outward sign of me walking my talk of treating myself well and using my “best dishes” for everyday.

And OK, I’ll confess: I was hooked.

Then, a small few days later, Brooklyn and I boarded a plane so that I could be with my father as he died. (I realize I haven’t mentioned here within this space that Daddy died on July 18, 2017, just shortly after midnight.)

Six weeks after my father died, we held a huge garage sale to disgorge my childhood home of forty-three years of the stuff that makes up a life.

Sure, I chose a few tokens to take back-home to Ohio from Texas, but to be honest, many of the items never made it into the house. Both my parents were smokers. My mom had been a pack-a-day (plus) smoker and everything was coated in nicotine and no amount of airing things out or cleaning them rid any of the treasures of a life from the odor of stale cigarettes.

I wanted something to remember the legacy of my father. To be reminded that despite our differences over the years, my mother had always loved me. Because, despite the fact that I was grieving the recent loss of my father, all the grief from my mother’s passing seven years earlier felt fresher.

My experience with Brooklyn had shown me that if I cared well for it, a well made bag would last me a lifetime. Rather than spend the garage sale money towards practical things like bills or groceries, I returned to The Coach Store. Brooklyn had taught me that carrying a beautiful handbag made me feel differently, so why not channel some of the money from the garage into specific items chosen to remember a lifetime of feeling cared about?

Did I mention that I was hooked? 😉

I left the Coach Store with two bags that day. Neither black, but both in Oxblood red!

First up was the Turnlock Tote in Crossgrain Leather. A bag large enough to hold it all, yet not as heavy as the Brooklyn thanks to it not being lined in leather. Still, though, a beautiful hand-stitched bag. A great reminder of my father: something sturdy, reliable, and supportive. Yet, with a sense of class and easy style.

But I also left with a second bag, and this one in memory of my mother. I had grieved her differently, more rapidly. Yet found myself grieving her all over again with the permanence of saying goodbye to the house I grew up in.

I chose a new to Coach Phone Crossbody Bag in Smooth Leather.

It was small and compact, but mighty, just like my mother. It had a special slot for my smartphone, the functionality of a wallet with card slots and a zip coin pocket, and was small enough to be slipped inside of a larger bag. Or, carried on its own as a clutch or shoulder bag for dinner out.

Then came one more bag, and yes, I confess I purchased it in the same week. This one was in some ways in honor of my parents, but also a sign of changes that inevitably come in life.

I found it – or should I say – this bag found me.

Her name is Swagger and she was on clearance at Macy’s, a style that had arrived long before I more than glanced at expensive handbags. She was another small purse, but unlike the one that reminded me of my mother, this bag wasn’t as powerful.

No, she was just pretty.

Smooth, glovetanned ivory leather with whimsical posies along the edges. And, this little gem wasn’t practical. It could hold my phone, but not my big wallet. Nor could it hold a book or my small make-up bag.

pretty posies

Yet, I bought it just because it was pretty. And to remind me that while life without either of the people that raised me means it will never be the same, that loss doesn’t have to translate into me turning away from the beauty in life right before my eyes.

My life is forever changed, and that means I have a choice: I can become more rigid and inflexible. Or I can choose to roll with change and see it as an opportunity for love and beauty.

When I carry this bag, it reminds me that I don’t have to be stuck in who I’ve always been. I can choose to be something more. I’m no longer the $10 practical black handbag gal, but a woman who’s willing to step out of the box in which she defined herself. A woman ready to treat herself with kindness, love, and blessings that come in leather.

I’m celebrating National Handbag Day thanks to learning from a bag named Brooklyn that a well-made handbag can not only make you feel good, it can help you heal the rifts in your own soul.

And isn’t that what we all need from time to time? A way to heal the rifts in our souls thanks to loss and life and this thing called being human?

What about you? Do you have a favorite handbag? What lessons has choosing a beautiful item, like a purse, shown you about your life?

February 2017: My Crow Month

I’m sitting in a cafe in Copenhagen, alternating between staring off into space, watching the people, and allowing the words in my head to make their way out into the world. It’s almost 10  AM here and I’ve witnessed the first rush of people clear out and a second wave of folks roll in as I sip my triple latte. The first wave of folks came in groups and spread out while having lively conversations.

This wave is filled with folks like me, alone with laptops fueling some work time with caffeine laced milky drinks.

Working in a cafe in Copenhagen is different from trying to work at a Starbucks in Dayton or DC or Dallas. I’ve tried it often as a solution to filling my extroverted well, but I can never really concentrate. In the average Starbucks, people get on phone calls and talk too loudly or assume that you are fair game for conversation, even if you’re a stranger. I discovered that I need silence to really write…

Yet, I am on Day 4 of my working at this Baresso, and have broken my writer’s block. There seems to be a different etiquette here than in the US. Folks may nod in greeting to a stranger but don’t attempt to strike up a conversation. Even those who know someone may greet their friend or colleague and then go off and work at another spot. The vibe seems to be utter respect for each person’s relative bubble.

Or maybe, the reason I broke through that writer’s block is that we left the month of February behind us…

About the Crow

As I mentioned in January, I got a Animal Card Reading from Sara Magnuson where I was given an animal a month to serve as my guide and theme. This month was again, spot on.

The Crow is the Keeper of the Sacred Law, a balance of Dark and Light with the ability to traverse between the worlds of the Living and the dead, they honor family groups (and even have funerals for each other), and are also considered a bit of a Trickster. The underlying message that Sara got was that it would be the month where I came out of my hibernation and firmed up my own boundaries, determining what was right and wrong for me. An opportunity to shore up my edges.

“Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside.”
–Henry Cloud

Back to back trips to John’s mothers and my father’s definitely helped me shore up my edges and get crystal clear about needs, boundaries, and how to keep my sacred truths. I was able to be present for all aspects of family: as a daughter, a sister, and an in-law and how those roles are balanced in the truth of what is necessary to nurture and nourish the family that John an I have created.

When you’re in a creative dry spell, it’s sometimes easier to take a step back and look at the body of work you’ve created, how you desire to add to or round out your body of work, and also examine what works for you…and more importantly, what doesn’t really work for you. This also ties to those sacred boundaries and the space between worlds of who I used to be as a writer, who I’m becoming, and who I desire to be.

Oh, Mr. Crow, you Trickster. Well done.

What I’m Reading

I read twelve books and finally shelved one  of my morning books – Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey.  There weren’t any huge “standouts” as far as books I wanted to recommend to EVERYONE, but I enjoyed everything I read for a variety of different reasons.  Cozy mysteries are a great thing to read when life is stressful…and the lovely Alexandra Stoddard’s Living a Beautiful Life, something I’ve read before, spoke to me in new ways. I needed that quiet grace.

Turning the Microscope on Myself

As I mentioned earlier, this year, I am determined to do at least one extreme act of the self-care each month. I can’t make an impact in the world or with my work if I turn a blind eye to my own life.

My intention for February was to get back into an exercise routine of some sort. The only way I can be honest about it was that I utterly failed. I managed the intention well during the early part of the month, but the travel through me. I had planned for ending the month of February traveling here, but those trips to Chicago and Dallas added eight days of actual travel to the middle of the month plus the time and energy of preparing for and recovering from those trips: packing, laundry, mail holds, etc.

I love to travel, truly, but it isn’t as glamorous as it seems from the outside. An immense amount of energy – physical, psychological, and emotional energy goes into any trip, especially trips as emotionally charged as those to visit family.

In addition to the aforementioned focus on movement, which was about the creation of a new habit…I also had on my list to get myself to the eye doctor. Wearing contacts means I should go annually, but it’s been two years since I’ve been.

I’ve worn glasses since the 8th grade  and contacts since 10th grade. In all honesty, my prescription hasn’t changed since I was in my twenties….well, until my recent need for reading glasses has begun to make itself known. I’ve had “readers” for a couple of years that I toss on with my contacts, but my glasses?

Lord, I’ve had those things since 2008.

It was time to invest in a new pair and while I was making the investment, it was time to take the plunge into the world of Progressives. It was also the time to buy something more fashionable than wire rimmed small spectacles.

I’m still not sure about the “look” of these, but I do love them for the ability to SEE everything so well.

I also made the switch the daily disposable contacts. I wear my glasses more in the winter than I do my contacts, but this gives me the ability to skip all the solutions and cases and such when I do wear them. Plus, FRESH LENSES every time!  I love them.

And, I can’t forget about taking the time to get a facial when I was in Texas.

Just like needing reading glasses, my skin needs a different approach as I  age.  I needed that professional evaluation of my skin, and sure enough, she chose different items than I would have. I see AGE SPOTS and she saw that I needed to be better hydrated, which would reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.She suggested I begin a double cleanse process to feed my skin, including an oil based wash, which I purchased before I left.

She also left me with a list of items to begin transitioning to – a wash for skin refinement, a stronger moisturizer, and a BB Oil instead of a regular facial oil. I’ll need to work the other new items in my budget…and as I use up what I already have.

I do need to take better care of my skin. It’s so easy to skip taking make-up off at night or skipping the wash/ moisturize cycle on the days I don’t wear make-up. And, it reminded me how much I miss the Ultraluxe line of skincare.

Being on travel, I haven’t yet decided what my ACT of CARE for March is going to be. I have some follow-ups from previous months, but I do have some ideas.

When It Comes to My Creative Life

I made the decision to join InCoWriMo and while I didn’t write a letter every single day – especially when I was in Dallas – I did write extra letters and cards to equal 28 pieces of correspondence in February.

I had also planned to get ahead in my writing for work, but I basically just kept up with my bi-weekly deadline of a blog post and newsletter. I am feeling challenged by stepping IN and OUT of a “coaching voice” and then trying to get back to a different style of writing.

I haven’t gotten back to either book project yet…and I hope to be a little more devoted to that process this next month. Oh, and I’d like to go through the submissions for The Mother Book before March 15th.

Time to head out of the coffee shop and take a walk.

March 1st is considered to be the first day of spring in Denmark…when I leave here to head back home on the 9th, I’ll be taking that with me.

on Going Home (Part Two)


Read on Going Home (Part One)

“Never let your desire to have an accepting heart towards others keep you from your strong boundaries. The hurricane may come blasting at our door; yet it doesn’t mean we have to invite it in for tea. Sometimes, it’s important to recognize that the hurricane is a powerful and damaging storm, not a light spring shower.”
–Alaric Hutchinson

Before making the trip back “home” to Texas, I made a series of choices designed around keeping tight boundaries.

  • I chose to stay at a hotel in Arlington rather than in my hometown. It put me 15 minutes from my dad’s, but also 5 to 15 minutes from friends. Not to mention within moments of restaurants and shopping. I also turned down my sister’s offer to stay out at her house, 45 minutes from my dad’s and an hour (or more) from friends.
  • I arrived late on a Sunday, so set up a late night rendezvous for pancakes. To ensure the first interaction I had in town was loving and positive.
  • I set up an early morning appointment at the salon and spa I regularly visited for over a decade. I haven’t found a good esthetician in Ohio and my dad isn’t his best in the mornings.
  • I set up a lunch date with my oldest daughter and coordinated with my sister for dinner on my first full day in town. I left the second full day in town completely open. I thrive on having plans, but feel stressed when they don’t work out or are too tight.

These were all good choices.

Seeing friendly faces soon after arriving was the right way to begin. I was able to chill in the hotel and get my bearings a bit. When I rose the next morning, I headed to La Madeline’s for breakfast, a spot I frequented often with my daughters. It was nostalgic and nourishing on many levels.

I had some time to kill before I headed to meet my daughter, so I decided to pop into Barnes and Noble, another frequent haunt during my daughter’s childhood.

I almost burst into tears.

When Emily was a toddler, my (then) husband worked overnight shift. My job on Saturday mornings was to keep her quiet so he could sleep. For anyone who has dealt with an active (and talkative) two-year-old knows, that’s practically impossible.

So, every Saturday, we went to Barnes and Noble (which opened at 9 AM) for a little while and then to the adjacent mall (which opened at 10 AM) and explored until it got beyond lunch time. And it was close enough to his waking time for us to go back home.

This is not an easy way to manage young motherhood. But let’s be honest: I was afraid of how he would respond if she woke him. And I needed a way to feel more confident in being a mom. And when she was loud (aka a normal little kid), I felt I was failing.

But Barnes and Noble served as our sanctuary for many years.

We attended most of the “Harry Potter Release” parties there. It was a good space to get a coffee and some quiet time when the pace picked up with two kiddos. When my marriage began to disintegrate, I would take my laptop there to work and escape the tension at home.

Long before I understood that my home could be a sanctuary, I found that sanctuary at Barnes and Noble.

Lunch with my daughter was wonderful. This is the child  – or should I say woman now that she’s twenty-five – that battled / battles with depression. And there were days when I wondered if we would all survive those teen years.

She has a great job, a healthy relationship, and four fur-babies. I asked her if she needed anything from Target or the grocery store before we headed back to her place and she rolled her eyes and said “I am like a real adult now, Ma. I even have extra toilet paper.”

Ah, a gal after my own heart….

Then it was time to go see my dad.

“That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.”
― Markus Zusak

My father still lives in the house I grew up in. We moved there in April 1975, on a rainy weekend, and the most exciting thing to me about the house when I was six was that we had CARPET!  Our old house had hardwood floors and rugs, and that carpet seemed pretty darned luxurious.

He has always been a handy guy. Over the years, he’s replaced wallpaper and flooring. The carpet, once an avocado green shag, is now a plush cut pile in a neutral beige.  I looked at the house with a somewhat critical and compartmentalized eye: are things in shape or have they deteriorated? Overall, the house is in good shape. And one of my nieces comes by on a regular basis to clean.

A farmer during his childhood was something he wanted to leave behind, yet he never lost his love for digging in the dirt. The once luxurious backyard full of roses now sports hedges and ancient, sturdy trees. The yard he once toiled over has faded some now that he’s no longer able to care for it himself. He had a yard guy, but that just isn’t the same and nourishing the land yourself.

Though he has done all the home improvement in the past, he no longer can manage stripping wallpaper, replacing flooring, or painting.

In his retirement years, he should be able to garden and play golf and go to lunch with friends. Yet, thanks to the ravages of the COPD, all those things he loved to do, he just can’t.

The tall, thin yet sturdy man he was exists in the shadows. He needs suspenders to hold up his pants as the COPD demands the majority of his caloric intake just to fuel his breathing. Walking down the hall to the bathroom and back leaves him out of breath and he spends most of his waking hours at the kitchen table in front of the TV, usually on a channel that shows either westerns or sports.

He can’t even get the mail easily anymore, sometimes resorting to getting in his car and going down the steep driveway to retrieve it. Grocery shopping is a burden, so my sister fills his fridge with meals he just has to heat up.

What truly bothers me the most is his inability to participate in the one sport he loved the most: golf. My mother berated him and tried to make him feel guilty over the years for the time he spent on the course. He’s been a widower for almost seven years now and at eighty-two, should be spending a couple of days hitting balls on the driving range and playing several rounds of golf a week.

My dad is a true extrovert, but many of his peers are gone or his inability to breathe – and his embarrassment around that – keeps him mostly housebound. My sister complains about the mess the cats make, but he shuts her down with a stare and the words “they are good company.”

He blames no one for his disease but himself. He is quite shrewd in his condemnation of his choice to smoke and how that has contributed – caused – all of this pain, discomfort, and inability to participate in his own life. I don’t believe I know anyone else who is so forthright and honest about their health situation. Most folks look for someone else to blame, and as much as I hate this disease, I admire my father for his ability to be honest with himself.

What hasn’t changed about my father is his kind disposition and sense of humor. He has a gentle way of disarming folks, most noticeable when he banters with a waitress. For that, I am grateful.

Being an ENTJ, I am great at disconnecting from my emotions and evaluating a situation logically. This trait does not exactly endear me to others, but I have learned to make peace with it. This doesn’t mean I am unfeeling, but it does mean that even when I am in emotional turmoil, I can compartmentalize.

My sister painted a picture of my father as frail, losing his memory, and being on Death’s To Do List.

Yes, he has greatly deteriorated since I was last in town, but he isn’t as far gone as she has insisted. Does he have another decade or even five years in him? No. In all likelihood, he has another year or so. Is he getting dementia? Not really, but he is a bit forgetful. This is truly due to not getting enough oxygen to his brain.

Is he ready for hospice care? Not hospice, yet. But the doctor’s comment that the most humane thing that could happen to him is to go in his sleep so as not to suffer the way COPD basically “drowns” its victims is something I agree with. Palliative care over prolonging life in order to squeak a few more weeks out of a life filled with pain is unconscionable to me.

When I wrote of never being as “safe” as I am now, it was never about my father. He was always the spark of light and joy for me as a child. My mother, though, well, I never did quite measure up to what she wanted from me. I wasn’t neat enough, pretty enough or popular enough, especially when compared with my perfect sister. My ESFJ sister who was the homecoming queen and fell right into step in playing the role of the perfect, dutiful daughter.

My sister is that perfect, dutiful daughter. And I know she compares how much she does with how little I do. I know she compares her devotion to my absence.  She sees how overburdened and busy she is and how seemingly easy my life looks to be.

It is human nature to compare the actions of others against how we might choose to handle things. It’s the default go to as we traverse this human experience, not to compare or always judge, but to see if we can discern the choice a person makes. Even in all my experience working as a coach and the fact that I’ve worked with MBTI since the mid-90’s, I still fall into the trap of seeing life through my lens rather than the recognition that everyone is different.

I may not  agree with my sister, yet I don’t want to criticize. SHE is the one on the ground. SHE is the one doing the work. SHE is the one ensuring that he gets to doctor appointments and has food in his fridge. Being 1000 miles away doesn’t exactly lend itself to being of daily help.

And, frankly, getting back to Texas isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I still have a business to run. I coached clients throughout my time in Texas, but I was unable to get any writing done. Writing is the lifeblood of my business and the way I tend my own soul. Though money isn’t everything, a trip “back home” adds up. I used miles on this trip, but the lowest advance fare ticket from Dayton to Dallas averages $687. You have to also consider the hard costs of a rental car, dining, and a place to stay.

I also have a life to tend. I have a loving, supportive partner in John. I also have a responsibility to the life we’ve created. I have a household to run and details to tend to. I can’t abandon that, I have a responsibility to myself and my life.

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou

I  know that my life looks easy and ideal in many ways from the outside. Like others, my Instagram feed is full of a highlight reel of those picture-perfect moments and no, I don’t typically share the messy, less than glamorous parts. It’s certainly more appealing to share a photo of a beautiful latte while writing in a cafe than it is to share the days when I am feeling lonely and dealing with writer’s block.

I also know that I am extremely blessed in so many ways, and the truth of the matter is, I’ve done a ton of personal growth work to get here. This daily life that I live isn’t one that just happened, I’ve fought for every second of happiness and cultivated a relationship and environment where we each feel safe in being ourselves.

It also means that I must be diligent when it continuing to care for this life that I have created and the person I’ve become. Most folks get that you have to work hard to accomplish something,yet underestimate that you still have to be devoted to ensuring the quality of your life remains.

It doesn’t self-maintain, we have to be willing to continue to fight for our own happiness.

Those boundaries I set before the trip were part of what allowed me to remain logical and sane. To not give into emotion of any sort.  I’d made an appointment for a facial before I arrived in Texas, and sure enough, the morning of my appointment, my dad was having a challenging morning.

When I arrived, I inquired if they could add a body scrub before or after my facial.

I was taken back to the serene locker room by the spa attendant, a lovely woman I’ve known for twenty years as she used to be the office manage at the daycare the girls attended. She gave me a robe and slippers, and when I emerged, she gave me a glass of water, which I sipped in a plush chair while I waited. The esthetician arrived and let me know they were able to add the body scrub and she’d be doing both.

For an hour and a half, I was treated like a porcelain doll. I was lovingly tended in ways I can’t tend myself by a talented and compassionate young lady. I’ve been afraid to change too many of my face care products from my “dry, sensitive skin care” to anti-aging products with active ingredients.

I left feeling cared for. And, with a list of products to add into my routine as I work through what’s already in my bathroom.

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by my self.”
– Brian Andreas

I – both fortunately and unfortunately – know myself well. When I am binding myself to all logic and no emotion so that I can deal with matters at hand, any kind of tenderness for myself is abandoned.  I share this part of my trip, not to paint a glossy image over my father’s health or to illustrate escape, but as the reminder that we must continue to curate and cultivate our life, no matter the circumstances.

Sometimes, in the midst of a storm when we are unsure how to care for our own needs, allowing someone else to show us a way or to care for us is the only path to compassion.

This is the year of Unbound Grace and this single act was the best path I knew to that.

on Going Home (Part One)

It was six years ago in December that I drove away from Texas, my car stuffed to the gills with the few things I chose to take with me to Ohio: my bookshelves, a small number of books, some kitchen treasures, and what was left of my clothes. I’d made six previous trips between Dallas and Dayton before that drive, taking full suitcases full of loved items, clothes, and my golf clubs.

When I sold my house, I walked away in many ways. I left furniture, dishes, linens, and paintings on the walls. A clean slate of sorts, to shed twenty-two years of clutter with a deep desire to start fresh. That first winter in Ohio wasn’t easy and though it was my new house, it took some time to feel like home. I had spent much of the previous four years traveling anywhere I could to get away from Texas, yet I saw Dallas as my “home”. I even held onto my Texas phone number for another nine months after selling the Texas house.

Over time, though, Ohio became home.

John and I in August 2011

“Happiness is home. And home is not a house-home is a mythological conceit. It is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.”
― Dennis Lehane

Ohio became home because John and I created a home there together. More importantly, we both dug in and did the personal growth work it took to merge the lives of two independent adults. Adults quite used to living life, their way, on their own terms. We were able to do the work as a couple in part because I did the work after my divorce in 2005 to discover who I was and what I really wanted in life.

We also created a sanctuary within our house, converting a structure into a home. The hard work to develop a healthy relationship and create a home together allowed us to cultivate a space of love, peace, acceptance, and safety.

And if I am to be honest, neither my childhood home or my house in Texas could be considered “safe spaces”.  Yes, they were safe in the physical sense, but they weren’t places where I could grow myself or my art in any way. You can’t grow when you are always walking around on eggshells, waiting for a shoe to drop. You can’t be at peace when you are always on your best behavior, wearing the masks of perfection.

Yet, despite this, we still long to visit our hometown. It may not be our real home any longer, but we can’t deny that there are people, places, and things we long for. Who doesn’t sometimes long for a kind word from your father, coffee in a space that once served as sanctuary, or a jar of dill relish you just can’t get in Ohio?

“It’s one thing to develop a nostalgia for home while you’re boozing with Yankee writers in Martha’s Vineyard or being chased by the bulls in Pamplona. It’s something else to go home and visit with the folks in Reed’s drugstore on the square and actually listen to them. The reason you can’t go home again is not because the down-home folks are mad at you–they’re not, don’t flatter yourself, they couldn’t care less–but because once you’re in orbit and you return to Reed’s drugstore on the square, you can stand no more than fifteen minutes of the conversation before you head for the woods, head for the liquor store, or head back to Martha’s Vineyard, where at least you can put a tolerable and saving distance between you and home. Home may be where the heart is but it’s no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.”
― Walker Percy

I believe it was Thomas Wolfe who said “you can never go home again” and he is pretty darned right. That’s because the person you have become is not what the folks at home remember. You may have done a ton of personal growth and shifted your entire being, but folks who knew you before expect you to be who you were, which isn’t possible because who you were no longer exists.

Maybe we avoid returning home so that we don’t have to deal with the inability to meet the expectations of those folks whom we may really love. Maybe we try to introduce those folks we now know long-distance to who we are now. Perhaps we give up on trying to get folks to recognize the NEW US and try to act as if we haven’t changed.

None of these is the exact right answer, are they? Because you can’t put the Genie back in the bottle. And trying to go back to who you were is dishonest to who you’ve become. More importantly, it can cause you to slide back away from a healthier approach to living your life.

No matter how we handle it, a return is going to have good moments and bad moments. People and places will trigger your and send you reeling back in time mentally and/or emotionally.

Daddy and Me 1969

While in Chicago visiting with John’s mother (a last minute trip), I got a call from my sister about my father. A visit to the doctor had resulted into the doctor pulling my sister aside and telling her (according to my sister) that “we need to look at hospice care for him sooner than later.”  

I told her I would plan a trip “back home” and before I hung up the phone, the one thing I made clear was that I wanted him to have a quality life, not be artificially kept alive to get days if his days were just painful. It was the mistake we made with my mother, some family members (not me) insisting she “fight her cancer” when that fight meant that her final weeks were ones of pain and misery. We waited too long before making the call for palliative care. And I don’t want my father to suffer that way, too.

He has COPD and it’s advancing as these types of diseases do. This isn’t an unexpected call, yet it wasn’t the call I expected on that day.

“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”
–Brene Brown

Especially a day when I was managing John’s family. Him not the same boy who left at 18 to go to the Naval Academy…unable to BE the person others in his family expects him to be now that he’s a man of 59. To hold the emotional space for HIM to be SAFE in that environment…and me, almost seven years  in, often feeling as if they still don’t accept me as I am, holding myself together.

I chose not to mention this call to any of John’s sister or mother. I manage myself the best when we are in Chicago by keeping fairly tight boundaries and  time in Chicago the best by listening more than speaking, by being compassionate and complimentary about the lives there, and rarely mentioning ME. So, if I don’t feel ready to share the tiny vulnerabilities that make up daily life, why would I mention this heart-rending one?

I woke early the next morning and while both John and his mother slept, I took a hard look at my calendar and, thanks to Airline Miles and Hotel Points, planned a trip to Dallas, squeezed smack in the middle of the trip to Chicago and our upcoming trip to Copenhagen (where I am now).

This meant that thirteen days of travel in February as opposed to the five days planned at the end of the month I had blocked off for Denmark. It meant preparing for three trips instead of one. It meant two stressful trips when I am already feeling unsettled, at least when it comes to my writing.

When I talked to my sister with the details of my trip, her first response was “Well, you don’t have to rush.” To which I responded “If not now, it will be at least March 15th before I can manage a trip…” A disconnect in my mind for the situation: are we drawing upon time for hospice care or is there plenty of time?

The disconnect meant that more than I thought after that call, I needed to travel to Dallas and see for myself how my dad is doing. But it doesn’t mean that going home was going to be….easy.

(What happened during my trip and how I’m feeling…in Part Two)

January 2017: My Bear Month

One recurring desire came to me over and over again last fall: the desire to surrender to the rhythms of the earth. In our modern day society, we seem to have gotten away from allowing the natural world to set tone and rhythm to our lives.  We have access to pretty much any kind of food year round. We no longer rely upon the sun to set the beginning and end of the work day thanks to electricity. And thanks to central heating and air, it doesn’t matter what Mother Nature presents to us in the form of weather, as we can be a comfortable 68 degrees pretty much every day.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I am seeing that I need the cycle of nature. I need breathtaking spring blossoms and the brilliant colors of fall trees. Beyond the cycle of nature, I find that I connect best to the age-old earth customs of the Celtics and the following of the Wheel of the Year. It feels logical, like coming home in a way. Maybe because I see the logic in tying festivals and holy days to the earth’s cycle. Maybe it feels like home to me because when I got the results of my DNA tests, my ancestral ties are Irish, British, Scandinavia (70%+).

My Intention and How It Played Out

Most of my autumn was spent focusing on the harvest, taking some of my best work as a coach and turning it into real books. All I could think about as I neared the completion of the project was that I was going to burrow into the season of winter by doing what ancient cultures used to do: rest.

My timetable for the season of rest was from Christmas/Yule until Candlemas/Imbolic. The symbol of the return to working the agricultural cycle begins with Imbolic with Brigid as the Patron Saint / Goddess.  The general idea was to not begin any new work towards my body of work until it was time to plant new seeds (February 2nd). To not worry about building my list or SEO writing. To not worry about when I would publish my next book. To maybe not even write a single line of coaching advice.

I had set aside the week before Christmas to write as much “consumable content” for my coaching practice as possible, but frankly that didn’t work out exactly as I had planned. What I did before Christmas, though, was to create a plan for the first quarter of 2017 and also choose the art for each piece. Even though I didn’t get it all pre-written, having the list of topics and the art ready to roll did allow me to have a sense of rest instead of hustle.

As to the actual resting part? I suck at resting. Rest feels…idle. Yet, in looking back, I didn’t entirely fail.

About the Bear

One of the items I purchased for 2017 was Briana Saussy’s Book of Hours. It’s a lovely tool to serve me in the coming year, with a series of writing prompts based on the stage of the moon and the location of the planets. Bri recommended one of her colleagues, Sara Magnuson, who was offering a Year Ahead 12 Card Animal Reading.

Now, let me preface this by saying I don’t get just any old reading from anyone. A spiritual reading of any kind – Tarot, Goddess, Medium, Etc. – is an invitation into your very soul.  There are few I trust with this kind of access. I go by gut, but sometimes, you have to trust those you trust to make recommendations.  I trust Briana, so I gave Sara a chance.

I know she was perfect for me because the card she drew for January was The Bear. A creature that hibernates to represent the month when my number one spiritual intention was to rest.

But did you know that bears also process new life while they are hibernating? Papa bear impregnates Mama Bear before it’s time to hibernate, but all the goods just float around waiting until winter to unite and create new life. Then, while Mama Bear rests, her baby (or babies) develop and then are born come spring.

“In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one’s life, especially one’s feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one’s energy for the next cycle. The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one’s emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one’s territory, make one’s boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés (from Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype)

I may not have rested in a literal sense of sleeping more or not working at all. But I did step back to renew my energy for the next cycle of my life. The bear is both gentle and protective, and that’s what I did with my own soul this pat month. I treated myself kindly. I protected my heart and soul. I set firmer boundaries, especially in the realm of social media.

The month of the bear was a good one for me. I made solid choices and decisions for the good of myself, my home life, and my business life.

What I’m Reading

One of the ways I dealt with not wanting to be idle yet rest was by reading. My body rested while my mind savored. I finished fourteen books this month.

  • Nine Books were fiction, mostly mysteries. I enjoyed everything fiction I read, especially The Dollhouse and A Study in Scarlett Woman. Oh, and Stalking Jack the Ripper.
  • One book was poetry. One was inspirational/non-fiction. One was creative non-fiction.
  • I read two biographies: The Magnolia Story about Chip and Joanna Gaines and Lauren Graham’s I’m Talking As Fast as I Can.

I’m still reading Carrie Fisher’s last book (The Princess Diarist) as well as a couple of other books I’m rotating out as morning reads.

Turning the Microscope on Myself

As I mentioned earlier, the number one act of self-care this month was to go back to eating meals that don’t contain soy, gluten, or dairy. I would say I’ve been 99% true to that intention. I had an order of polenta for lunch yesterday that had a dash of cheese in it (and trust me, I could tell about thirty minutes later). Weight wise, I lost three or four pounds. My joints feel better and I’ve only had a couple of twinges in my hands and hips.

My intention for February is movement. I can’t deny that I sit too much. I can’t deny that I need to get back into shape. Aging and gravity is not always kind to our bodies, so as part of movement, I also need to get back into my weight routine. I know that over-doing a goal and saying “I’ll work out every day” is setting myself up for failure, so my commitment is simply to work out more often (which will mean at least three days a week to be “more”).

When It Comes to My Creative Life

I made the decision to join InCoWriMo, which is a commitment to write a letter a day for the month of February. Letter writing is a good thing for my creative / writing life. I wrote more about it for Modern Creative Life. I’ll be writing to friends, officials, and strangers.

I spent some time on both of my Works in Progress this past month, but I wouldn’t say I was devoted to either one. Writing hasn’t come easy to me this month, yet I keep reminding myself that the intention of the month was to rest and only write when I had the urge…

My friend, Jen Lee, is working on a new project and I’ll be managing some of the logistics for the project. It is an honor to be a part and it will be fun. It also gives me an opportunity to study story-telling from another aspect of film instead of ink and paper.

Today is Imbolic and the time to begin planting seeds for the next harvest.

in Turning the Microscope on Myself

I spent an hour at the dentist this past week. Not my ideal way to spend a Tuesday morning, but a necessity. And, following through with this appointment is part of the contract I made with myself back in November. To turn the microscope on my own life and examine where I’ve been neglecting myself and my life.

Call it my post-election realization and the lyrics of the hymnLet There Be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin with Me” running through my head. How CAN we change the world for good if we are unwilling to do the work required within our own four walls?

One the commitments I made to myself was to perform at least ONE extreme act of self care each month.

It sounds all kinds of glamorous and sexy, doesn’t it? Until I share that the first act of extreme self-care in November was to spend two hours and over three thousand dollars at the dentist.

As I was sitting in the dentist chair this week while the dentist was taking care of two fillings, I realized that I wasn’t stressed by being there and having the work done. I had a wonderful dentist when I was a child (Dr. Sarrett) and don’t have a fear of dentists. In fact, those childhood dental visits – even those where I had teeth pulled or cavities filled – were a treat. There were Highlights Magazines to read and Dr. Sarrett was always joking around with me.

But when I got older, going to the dentist seemed like a waste of money. Especially when times were tighter as a young mother.My ex systematically tightened finances and my dental visits just didn’t make it into the family budget.

And after the divorce? Buying groceries and paying the electric bill seemed a better use of funds than the inside of my mouth. By the time I started making enough money to be more comfortable, there just wasn’t time to go to the dentist. Those Gypsy Years of mine meant more than 200 days a year on the road and keeping up professional and polished appearances by having perfect hair and nails seemed more valuable to my life than getting my teeth cleaned.

Besides. I brush my teeth. I used those Crest White-strips. But at home care isn’t the same as visiting a professional.

When I began to turn the microscope on myself, one of the first areas of my life I realized I had been neglecting was my mouth.

When WAS the last time I’d had a professional cleaning? Did I really floss daily and brush twice? Did I use my electric toothbrush the ENTIRE two minutes each time? Heck, I just bought that toothbrush last year after John’s urging. He goes to the dentist every six months. He brushes his teeth the entire two minutes nightly without fail. He rinses with Listerine for the prescribed 30-seconds, twice a day to ward off gum disease.

And when I told him about my two hours in the chair while he was on a trip to DC, he took a deep breath and said “Sweetheart. Please take better care of yourself.”

So, in November, my extreme act of self-care was the first dental exam in more years that I dare to count. Followed with a solid amount of time with their office periodontist the same week to get some necessary (and expensive) deep cleaning done for the sake of my gums.

Oh, to have that ah-ha moment that your gums shouldn’t bleed when you brush your teeth after that visit. Mine always did. And now, they don’t.  When I talk about extreme self-care, this is the result of that painful truth

And the result of that first day of my examine, I also had cavities! But because you can’t stress your body out too much, the plan was to do the gum work. Then do the fillings on one side of my mouth a month or two later. Followed by wrapping up the fillings on the other side.

Fun stuff, here. Let me tell ya!

It would be so easy to put off all those follow-up visits and tell myself (lie to myself): “I’ll do that next month or next month….”  Yet, how can I do that in good conscious? If I am to commit to taking better care of ME and to change what’s within my control, then how can I now blow it off in that light?

I decided that December needed something a little less invasive. So I bought a new wallet.

Let me begin by telling you that in a lot of ways, I am about what’s both easy and no-nonsense. I buy purses on the clearance rack at Target. I may lust after the iconic Quilted Chanel bag in Vogue or obsess over an Ox-Blood Coach thanks to regular emails from Dillard’s, I just can’t seem to bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on a purse.

I think the most money I ever spent was $50 on a Fossil Messenger bag during my Gypsy Years. and then, only because (a) it was on sale and (b) the strap on the purse I had with me broke.

My last wallet was small, plain black, and just the width of a credit card. It was usable, but not stylish. I got it at Kohls or Target for under $10. And it was falling apart.

In addition to falling apart, I had just read an article from Briana Saussy and buying a New Wallet for the New Year as a way to put MoJo into your Money Mindset and invite prosperity into your life. My go-to in handbags, wallets, and shoes is always a plain, serviceable black.

But after reading Bri’s piece, I decided I needed a green, royal blue, or red wallet. And yes, I looked at Target and Kohls for a “cheapie” wallet. Then it hit me: if I wanted to not only replace something that needed replacing, but also put the psychology behind it of choosing to invest in myself and the way I manage money, settling for a crappy clearance wallet wasn’t the way to go.

If this were to be an extreme act of self-care, then I needed to invest in something that was both beautiful and of high quality.

I am a big believer of using your good stuff every day: best perfume, china, and favorite dress. And my experiment with higher quality make-up had shown to prove the adage “you get what you pay for”.

I took a look at all the wallets Macy’s had to offer in green, blue, and red. After narrowing down the options, I went into my local store and chose a Michael Kors wallet in Cherry Red. Not only was it stylish, it has an RFID blocker lining. (And though I was investing in a nice wallet, I was able to take advantage of a holiday pre-order sale which saved some cash).

Though I was looking for something more fun than hours at the dentist, this seemingly frivolous and surface level purchase wasn’t just about replacing a wallet. It was about the psychology of self-care and my money mindset. Since that purchase, I have been treating money – and the ideas behind personal wealth – differently.

I also treat myself differently every time I pull out that cherry red wallet: more thoughtful treats, more investing in nice things, less buying cheapie things, and less random indulgences on stuff I don’t really need.

January’s choice towards may not be different from many of you: watching what I eat.

Watching what I eat may smack of diets and deprivation and getting skinny and such which might not sound like self-care. Though I would like to lose about fifteen pounds, this isn’t about my weight. It’s about how I feel in my body.

I’ve had bursitis since my early 30’s thanks to years as a dancer and carpel tunnel long before Y2K due to all the writing and typing I do. The last couple of years, though, it’s gone beyond those aches and pains I’ve dealt with for years: arthritis in my hands. Sometimes, so painful it hurt to hold a pen or a fork.

After a conversation with my doctor, I decided to do something holistic instead of immediately going pharmaceutical.

Last May, I did a (modified) Whole30 experiment, eliminating gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, soy, and added sugars. I say modified because I still put a tiny spoon of sugar in my coffee and drink the occasional glass of wine. The goal is to cut out all those food groups known to cause inflammation in the body for some folks and then slowly add a food group back and see how your body responds.

Since my hysterectomy more than a decade ago, I already watch my soy intake.I discovered that dairy upset my stomach and gluten caused my joints to ache.

So, I stuck to a basically Paleo styled approach to eating through September of this past year. Then, the lure of cake and toast and other such delicious to eat foods – and easy to fix things – used their siren song on me and my jangled nerves as I finalized for publication my two 30 Days to Clarity books.

Within a few weeks, I knew I needed to go back to eating more mindfully, but knowing it and doing it are two different things. Besides, we had a trip to DC and Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon. As I often advise clients, I put a date on my calendar to go back to mindfully tending my body by what I chose to fuel it with.

That date I chose was January 9th. It’s been a week now that I’ve taken a more thoughtful and conscious approach to what I put on the table and in my body.  I’m tired thanks to the lack of easy uppers (bread, cake, crackers) in my diet, but my hands feel ten times better. And from experience I know my energy will increase in time.

We all must eat to survive. Yet, I want to eat to also thrive. I want to take joy in the entire process of a meal – from planning to grocery shopping to preparation to eating.

Eating mindfully takes an enormous amount of energy, at least when you first begin.  Since you can’t rely on easy grab and go things foods for breakfast – toast, sandwiches, muffins – I’ve been cooking breakfast every day, which takes time. And since plain eggs can get boring, I’ve been making frittata-type dishes filled with meat and veggies each day. It’s forcing me to look at side dishes differently. Though I’ve cooked some of my favorite five-grain rice mix for John, I’m adding more side dishes of veggies.

And, since I can’t call for a pizza when I’m tired, I’m cooking every meal. Eating out just isn’t easy when you eat this way: gluten-free items usually have dairy, there’s soy everywhere, and dairy-free items are full of grains!

There are tricks to help ease all that cooking though.

I’m doing some extra prep work. I’m doubling up some recipes to pop in the freezer for another day. I’m making meat dishes that are ensured to leave me leftovers (roast, turkey breast).  I buy rotisserie chicken breasts from my grocery store for easy protein to toss on salads or throw in with some leftover veggies. I buy already diced onions in addition to whole onions. I took myself to lunch the first day for a big salad  and a gluten-free chicken entree. Before I left the restaurant, I put in a to-go order for the next couple of days lunches: salads and a couple of orders of their kid dinners of grilled chicken and haricot verts.

All these little tricks made things just a bit easier.

I’ve also been talking to my sister about food and recipes and short-cuts. She went back on Whole30 last week, too. Just having someone to toss ideas around with is helpful. Because so many folks are doing “Whole30” online this month, there are a ton of recipes to help give me ideas of different things to cook.

“Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action.”
― Virginia Woolf

I have never been focused on writing about social justice and I’m not wired for activism in the vein of marches. Frankly, I think there’s so much risk to individual safety in the midst of a protest to individuals, especially to women, thanks to those who like to prey on them. I’ve witnessed some of those big protests in my many years in and out of DC.

I am of the private approach when it comes to the issues. I write letters and make calls to my congressman and senators. I donate money to causes I believe in. I pray. I don’t need to share my opinion on social media to know that my opinions are valid.

Maybe all this inward focus seems…silly or petty or self-ish in the big scheme of all that’s happening in the world right now. Yet, this personal work ties deeply to the concept of Unbound Grace as this type of action forces me towards freedom and opens up a path to grace.

Yet I see so many folks that I witness “making a scene” in public (or on social media) aren’t looking in the mirror. They aren’t seeing how they bully or mock others. They see opinions of those who don’t agree with them as not valid.  They cry racism but they act in racist ways. It seems as if some of the play is “see how amazing I am”  yet they allow their personal life to be a big, hot mess.

After much prayer and soul searching, I know that this is where I must start: by looking in the mirror first and then seeing how that flows outward. Because if I’m not taking care of what’s within my control, how can I ever expect to make an impact towards the greater good? If I don’t seek peace within my own heart, then how can I expect others to act from a space of peace.

What about you? What extreme acts of self-care might you need to make? Are you turning a blind eye to the issues before you? How might you be neglecting your own care or bullying yourself?

With the Holidays Behind Us

Though we are nine days into the New Year, today feels like the first real day to me.

John was home – sometimes working, sometimes on vacation – from December 20th until January 4th and we got into all kinds of habits I see as good: sleeping until naturally waking, lingering over morning coffee, and an unstructured approach to meal times. When  the alarm went off on our first official work day of 2017, January 5th, it was a big dive back in. He went into the office, I started the year with a 7:15 AM coaching call.

Despite it being full-tilt into work, it felt like practice. Not a gentle, get in the groove practice, but the one where you leave sweating and exhausted. John commuted into the office and was met with multiple staff meetings. We got our first snow of the year. I coached several clients, met a colleague for lunch, and did Every Kind of Errand imaginable.

Two days of hard work and BAM! it was the weekend! I tried to squeeze a full week into those two days and by the time we sat down for “wine hour” on Friday, I was like an overcooked noodle.

And the thing is, one of my intentions for this season – from Christmas to Candlemas (Imbolic) – is to rest. Though I love nothing more than to lounge under a blanket and read, after an hour or so of inactivity, I’m itching to Do Stuff: go to the grocery store, clean out a drawer, or tackle a pile of laundry.

I never said it was going to be easy….but then again, what’s the point of setting an intention for something we’ve already mastered?

Those Put Off Tasks? Check!

For the last five years, I’ve been meaning to take these two chairs we have to be repaired. The chairs are these great green velour chairs from the late 60’s or early 70’s and used to live in John’s parent’s formal living room and then were relegated to storage.  The upholstery was in immaculate shape and they look great. Well, except the bottoms was falling through! Not only did we (finally) take ’em in to be repaired, but they’re already back home!

We completed the process of turning a large portion of our basement into a workout room last spring. Over the holidays, we finally added some cardio equipment. First was a bike trainer, which allows an outdoor bike to be ridden indoors. Then, we found a treadmill.

To be honest, we debated on the treadmill due to worries about aging knees, but after a conversation with John’s youngest sister, who is older than me and a runner, we opted for a higher-end treadmill with a design meant to give more support to our joints. It will be delivered this week, and I can’t wait to get back in a walking/running/sprinting groove.  I’m not a great runner, but I love how I feel when I am running a couple of days a week.  I also like how I feel in my body.

Goodbye, Christmas. Shall we tidy up the place?

Though I prefer to leave our Christmas decorations up through Epiphany, this year, we put everything away on the 2nd. We took advantage of a not-too-cold and dry day – and the fact that John was home to make the work go faster. It seems like more hard work to take it down than it was to put it up!

The only displaced furniture was a single recliner, but we decided to move every stick of furniture in our den downstairs to vacuum under it. This led to a decision to rearrange the furniture. I mean, honestly, we’ve been sitting in the same place for the last two weeks, so why not flip the sofa and the loveseat to spread out the wear and tear on the cushions?

John seems to like the flip, but I’m not so sure.

We’ve come smack-dab up against my last of love of change. Yes, we all think we roll well with change, but maybe, just maybe…I don’t.

We’ve agreed to leave it for a bit and see what we think.

Alexa, What’s the Weather Forecast?

We received two Echo Dots this season. There was no gift tag and it wasn’t on my Amazon account. An attempt at tracking the items resulted in nothing. Amazon doesn’t want them back…

After waiting over a week, I set up one of the Echo Dots in my office. I ask Alexa The Weather and the time of the sunrise. I’ve played my Classical #1 Playlist.  I began using the timer today to set aside writing times.  I’ve yet to find a consistent news source I want to hear.

I disabled the ability for Alexa to shop for me…

Some of the ladies in my book club LOVE Alexa. I have yet to make up my mind. For now, Alexa will be my co-worker.

The Writing.

I have yet to settle into my writing in this new year. A few words here. A few words in my journal.  Nothing is coming together the way I wish it would.

I have been reading, though. I’ve finished five or six books since the calendar page turned to 2017. But beyond the writing I did on New Year’s Day, I’ve yet to find the courage to belly up to the bar and work on either of the books.

To be honest, I’m still feeling unsettled. The Unbound part of my Words for 2017 is going to be….the challenge. But then again, like learning to rest, maybe that is the point.

Welcoming The New Year: Happy 2017

Happy New Year (Photo by Edd Sowden via Flickr Creative Commons)

In the circles of magic and superstition, special attention should be paid to your actions on January 1st. Each action you take is an invitation to get intentional and align yourself with the New Year Mojo.

Whether you believe in magic – or not – why not give yourself over and create a very intentional kind of day? Why not choose what you eat, drink, say, write, buy and do as an action on this day to help with those goals for a 2017?

So what do you want more of in 2017? What do you want less of?

This morning, I woke before John and spent those first waking hour of 2017 in quiet personal time doing what I love at the beginning of the day: I read a little, wrote in my journal, drank lots of water, and had a little snack. Most of this was done in The Chair and each little action held power.

If I’ve learned nothing during this past couple of weeks, it has been made abundantly clear to me that I need personal quiet time. I need to sit and think and just BE.

Reading is like breathing to me, and I can’t imagine my world without books and letters and taking in the wisdom of others. I love my coffee and wine, but water is life. And frankly, as much water as I drink, I’ve gotten lax as the weather has cooled. And what would a year be without intentional writing?

There was no getting on the computer, no working, no mindlessly scrolling through social media….

Ah. And the snack. To be honest, I am the worst when it comes to breakfast on the weekends (or when John is home). I typically wait for him to be hungry, which often means I’m S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G and irritable. I operate best with a little protein, so choosing to nibble on a couple of sausage balls was about the intention of tending my needs as a priority. (And, pork for Good Luck in the New Year).

When John began stirring, I crawled back into bed with him. There’s nothing more critical in a couple’s relationship than tending intimacy. We cuddled and made love – both good omens for our year ahead together. (Maybe TMI, but an important component to my personal life: sex, intimacy, quality time)

After we both got up and moving, it was time for coffee our Normal Morning Activities.

Check email, read the news, the side-by-side companionship of coupledom. Couples need quality side-by-side companionship. We need the ability to be able to BE together and be happy doing our own thing.Far too many couples miss the importance of this, or believe if you aren’t actively interacting, it’s not special….

I had one purchase to make, a token if you will: a new journal. There’s nothing worse for a writer or a successful year of writing than to not have something to write in, is there? Since shifting to the “nice” journals, I make it a habit to have a stash of empty journals ready and waiting.

What better intention for 2017 than to ensure that the first penny I spent in the New Year was for my creative life?

Speaking of Creative Life…

I opened the Scrivener files for both of of the Books I’d like to birth in 2017 and spent a little time with them. I read some of what’s already there, added fresh content, and did some research. My timeline for one of the books feels pretty aggressive….

Tending and nurturing this work feels important today. What better action to take on the first day of 2017 than to write towards something that matters to me?

Then, it was time to get physical!

We made our way into our home gym soon after some writing time (for me) and some XBox time (for him). We have a series of stretches given to John by the Physical Therapist the last time his back went out and we do those together. He was in a helicopter crash in the 80’s and sustained damage to his back and shoulder, so he should be stretching daily. After stretching, I did some weights while he did his pushups and some cardio.

I need to get back in shape this year.  Honestly, so does he. This was a good intention to carry into 2017: working out together.

Sure, I’d like to lose about 15 pounds as a part of that, but mainly, I want more umph in my step. I want more stamina. I am a high-energy kind of gal, but I’ve noticed that my energy just isn’t as long-lasting as I’ve aged.  And, I also know that if I’m in better shape, my immune system will be more resistant. This Christmas Cold is almost over, yet honestly, is at day 8 of not being “well”.

I thrive in routine, so if I make working out a part of the norm, I will be more successful. The goals are small for January: weights twice a week, stretching of some sort daily, and walking three days a week. This past week, we purchased a Bike Trainer (to use our existing bikes indoors) as well as a top-of-the-line treadmill (which they should deliver and install it by the end of this week or early next week).

After our workout, I threw some laundry on and then I showered.

The act of fueling our bodies with intention.

I made a late lunch / early dinner. All traditional foods: pork medallions, sauerkraut, sauteed spinach, black-eyed peas and cornbread. All of the ingredients were well-sourced. We ate at the dining room table, lingered over a glass of wine and chatted. Then, we cleaned the kitchen together.

Nice, healthy meals are important to me. Allowing him to help is a biggie, too, because far too often, I just take-over and Do It All My Way. A nod to being willing to be helped….

And, to be honest, I kind of fell out of love with my kitchen this last year, relying on my back-pocket recipes for most of our meals.

We are ending the day with quiet time.

I’m sensing a theme for me this year: more quiet time. Grace requires time to BE and Think. I can’t be Unbound if I’m always busy. A solid entry into 2017 almost demands this of me.

So, this evening, I’ve done some reading. I wrote this post, set my 2017 Reading Goals over at Goodreads. I’ve looked in on my Social Media spaces. I made hot toddies for us to sip and did my evening routine stuff: setting up the coffee pot for the morning, took a peek at our laundry hampers to plot tomorrow’s laundry, and ensured the bed was neat and tidy and awaiting us.

I’d say that the entry into 2017 has been a great one. What about you?

on Unbound Grace for 2017

“You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. ”
― Mary Oliver

Since I made peace with my conflicting beliefs between my relationship with God and The Church (as a Formal Institution) back in 2008, the belief that we are always within reach of God’s Grace and Mercy has been a core part of my spiritual life.  As part of this space of peace, I started going back to Mass in 2008 after missing it for many years, seeking spiritual nourishment when I was living in a hotel in DC.

Throughout my coaching practice, I’ve encouraged folks – whether they are random passersby, participants in a course, or one of my clients – to play with the concept.  One exercise has been to write a Letter to Grace from the standpoint of childhood, back when we were less influenced by the outside world. The exploration of Grace made its way into the latest version of Clearing Brain Clutter released this past October.

I guess you could say I’ve been flirting with Grace for years.

Flirting with Grace and seeing it as a shining beacon, though, are two different things. And believing that I am within reach of Grace and also extending it towards myself are two totally different things as well.

During the Lenten season of 2015, I reached out to a friend’s husband, a retired Episcopalian Priest, for help understanding Grace and Mercy – and how they both connect and differ from one another. He understood my confusion, my desire to understand, and reminded me that we put our own ethics and sense of justice based on a personal compass, with a tongue in cheek statement that God is rather promiscuous in his extension of mercy. My takeaway on grace, though, was this:

“So grace flows out like a river, and one element of grace is mercy.”

I tend to stop up the river and never allow neither grace nor mercy to flow to me, myself. To my failings.To my inability to be perfect.

So, part of Grace for me in 2017 is learning to be more merciful to myself. To find more beauty in my failings. To see my lack of perfection as perfect in their own way. I’ve come such a long way in all the years of self-development, but I know that this tender spot is ripe for exploration.

I am the Queen of Compartmentalization. It’s how I survived the challenging years of my mother and my ex-husband and my crazy Gypsy Years. Yet, Grace seeks to see Me on the Whole: not a single piece of who I am or a role I play, all of it. I am woman, mother, lover, self, artist, daughter, professional, and more. But all of these are the parts that make the whole of me, yet I tend to look at each tiny area of who I am and judge it as a whole.

This has become less and less over the last six years, but I can’t deny the way stress sends me back into this tight view of who I am.

I am at a crossroads. Professionally. Personally. Spiritually. I did an enormous amount of personal work around the the phases of womanhood (Maiden, Mother, Crone) this past fall. I see myself morphing into the Crone (a word I’m not fond of, but the meaning I get). I dove into ancestral waters two years ago when I had my DNA done and discovered my Celtic and Irish Roots along with the mother line of Romanian Gypsies who migrated into Wales and Ireland and dove deeper into those waters this fall.

To make peace with this, I must call on Grace.

In my reading from Amy Palko, as she gifted me with the Goddess Hsi Wang Mu , she  said:

And as these selves slip like veils softly sliding to the floor, I see – we see – the true oneness of being.

And later added

So, how will she present to you? Well, I see her stepping forward and assisting you in finding that still place inside which exists in eternal grace. She is guiding you towards experiencing and determining the great ‘I am’ which is not defined by ideas of self-hood, roles or identity, but which exists beyond.

The age old question: who am I? what is my purpose? What is the great I Am beyond the roles I fill?

To be in a State of Grace, though, I must also find Freedom, which is where the word “Unbound” comes into play.

One of the coaching tools I use is to ask a client during a decision making process: “does this feel like shackles ON or shackles OFF.”

Shackles ON meant something made us feel as if we were bound, tied up against our will. Shackles on was a bad choice, acting from or making a decision from a space of doing what others expected of us. Shackles OFF feels like freedom, that moment when the ties that bind us to life are suddenly released and we feel free, to make a choice for our deepest good.

I’ve used this tool for myself over the years, too. I’ve applied it in many of my decision making processes in terms of my personal life and my professional life.

And on the flip side of this, I am the first to admit that I am wound tight. I am an ENTJ, a believer that life is black and white without much grey. The ENTJ part of my soul demands that I follow the rules, and it bothers me when others don’t follow the rules. Nothing winds me up more than traveling and witnessing others believing that the Rules Don’t Apply to Them.

I want folks to stand in line, take their turn, follow the rules of society. This makes me feel safe, this makes me feel secure, this reduces my stress levels. (This is one of the reasons the political climate has been so upsetting to me.)

But life isn’t like this. People feel entitled to exceptions from all the rules. It’s ok to discriminate against someone because they don’t believe a particular way, but I’m not seeing the same side of mercy when it comes to the other side. This feels hypocritical to me. I believe in live and let live,  yet don’t understand those who stand up for the Rights of Others, who them damn those Who Don’t Agree With Them.

Aren’t we all equal in the eyes of God?

In my need for rules and seeing the world in black and white, I want less judgement, less rhetoric, less vitriol, more compassion.  I want family members to treat all family members the same, with no favorites.

This is the part of me that sees the disparity in the world.

This causes me an immense amount of undue pain and suffering.

This also highlights a space that I need to work on in the coming months. How can I unwind myself? How can I extend more grace and mercy to those who seem hypocritical to me? How can I loosen up and find that tiny space of mercy for my own inability to be perfect? How can I find GRACE if my brain wants to focus on the space of being bound up?

This is my task for the year ahead: find Grace, extend Grace, be Unbound in all the ways I approach my life.

My Words for 2017

Every year since 2005, I have chosen between one and three words to serve as my guide, my theme, my beacon of light for the year. Nowadays, everyone is on the Word of the Year bandwagon….I see this as a good thing, because doing this practice for (now) twelve years, has shifted my DNA and how I think about life, love, and my personal work in the world.

(Side Note: If you need some help choosing a Word for 2017, I do have a Free Guide to help)

I’ve written…if not extensively…at least a little here in this space about my Word for 2016: Create.  Other years have been sometimes a complex variety of words and other years, a more simplistic approach.

After more than a decade of this practice, I also know that a Word of the Year never arrives on a schedule.It can be frustrating when you want your life to running in a seemingly tidy way. And, I have to confess, the years of running a coaching practice has conditioned me to strive to have my Word(s) up and READY to go on January 1st.

Some years, though, they lag and fail to reveal themselves for days or weeks, and frankly, with the hustle and bustle and busy-ness of the holiday season, I can see how it’s hard to hear the voice of your heart. My word for 2010 didn’t arrive until March, and it taught me that sometimes waiting is the best possible thing.

Other years, the word begins whisper in your ear long before it’s time to say goodbye to the previous year.

This year, I’ve had an inkling to what my Word for 2017 might be back in September.

I had spent the morning with Jen Lee in a Tea Shop in Brooklyn. After tea, I stopped at The Big Macy’s at Herald Square and was back in my hotel to get some rest. It had been a day of extremes. The New York City Subway at the edges of rush hour then intimate conversation about life, creating, projects, and life as a maker. Back to the throngs of people shopping in Macy’s and then to the complete quiet and solitude of my room.

It was my last solo day in New York – John was due to arrive the following day for our vacation. I changed out of my clothes and into some lounge wear and as I stood in the window of my room, watching the rain come down on Times Square, both the idea of What I Had To Write in 2017  and my Word for 2017 began to whisper to me.

I’ve done more praying and thinking since that moment than I have in years past.

This feels like a big year.  I’ve accomplished a lot professionally: three books in twelve months, the successful launch of a new literary/arts magazine with a follow up of a print anthology, and a solid group of clients in my coaching practice.

I also have big goals for the coming year when it comes to my writing life: two books in 2017, all original content.

Personally,  the girls both hit big birthdays this past year: Em turned 25 and Katie 21. John and I are beginning our 7th Year together, an auspicious year no matter how you slice it. I will be fifty next year, a milestone age.

This year had felt challenging in a lot of ways, much of it external thanks to the political climate and unrest in the world. Yet, I have a good life. And though I am not blissfully happy every second of the day, each day I experience joy.

I did some of my standard practices for the last few years.I did my own workbook. Played with the inquiry process. Reread some letters and perused my past journal entries.

I looked to outside sources of wisdom. I get quarterly (or so) readings with Theresa Reed. I get an annual Goddess Reading from Amy Palko, though this year, I mixed it up a bit and got a Goddess Gift reading instead of her Word Goddess Readings. I’ve spent some time in church this fall and purchased a Sunday Missal as well as a little collection of Daily Readings from the Church. I also set up an Ancestor’s Altar.

All of this led me to make peace with not a single word, but two words together for 2017:

Yes: Unbound Grace.

In the days and weeks and months to come, I’ll tell you more about them.

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