Archive | Life Lessons

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)

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?

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.

on this Christmas Eve: Lessons from Mary Oliver

I had grand plans for writing this week. I planned to work hard on my 2017 coaching content, with the goal of completing drafts for at minimum the three blog posts needed for January’s “consumable content“. Earlier this year, I had planned not only the topics for my first quarter of content for 2017, but had also gone through the task of choosing the art to use for each post. A task I love yet a task that tends to slow me down. A way to drag my feet a little, procrastinate as we all can do.

I also planned to write, if not daily, at least several times here. I miss this space, I need this space, a return to my roots of writing, when daily blogging began to break open the chains I had around my heart and creative life. Blogging back in 2000 resurrected the writer buried within me. Back then, writing online seemed safer than writing on paper.

Sixteen years later, I am in the midst of a creative evolution, I know that I need to write in order to think. I also know that the new routines and rituals I am needing haven’t gelled yet. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’ve found them yet.  I need to write in my journal, a place that is finally safe for me. But writing here gives me the illusion of some outward accountability. It’s easier to bury my head in the sand and pretend that my writing life is solid when I am am only sharing 1000 words every couple of weeks for work and another 1000 words over at Modern Creative Life.

Writing here regularly also dovetails with the adage of: the more you write, the more you write. Even though the illusion of outward accountability is mostly a trick since I only have a half-dozen or fewer folks popping in here. But, the thing is, tricks work to help us form new habits and strengthen our muscles. Yes, even our writing muscles.

This week has not turned out as I planned.

John decided to tele-work most of this week. I have yet to master getting solid amounts of writing done when he’s home. In part because early on in our relationship, I established the firmest boundaries for my work life I’d ever created: work when he’s at work, don’t work when he’s home. I’ve been self-employed since 2003, so this was a big deal for me when we first set up house together: to not work 7 Days a Week.

This has evolved over the last six years, of course, with me saving the more mindless tasks for work, like scheduling social media posts, for his tele-work days. Or reading while he plays his XBox  and replaying to emails while he analyzes the statistics for the Cubs.

My friend Melissa tells me this is something I must learn to do: to write when he is home. He plans to retire between the ages of 65 and 66, which means I will be 55 or 56. My long range goal for those retirement years is writing books and editing the brilliant work of others. I know she is right, but I’m not there yet by a long-shot. And trust me, I berate myself in the head for not having better discipline or a better ability to focus on my work and tune out what’s happening outside my office door.

I was feeling pretty frustrated about this (again) and then found comfort in words in Mary Oliver’s brilliant new book of essays Upstream.

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in,and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart – to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”

As always, I learn from the wisdom of others. I have become accustomed to complete solitude during my writing hours. I pace, not just my office, but the entire house. I talk to myself, go up and down the stairs, spread out laundry, all the while plotting and planning in the space of no one seeing my crazy work habits.

Like most of my reading these days, Upstream has been borrowed from the library. There are so many books I want to read, but frankly, few I will read more than once or twice. I haven’t finished reading it, yet based on the sheer power of this single essay  “Power and Time”, I need this book on my own shelves.  I will return to the essay time and time again to remind myself that I am not alone. That my need to create isn’t selfish, but critical to my ability to feel alive.

“Power and Time” speaks so strongly about the creative life – the need for silence and privacy, the truth that we create during ordinary time that, because of our work, transforms into the extraordinary. How we must tend our creative work or else find ourselves living a life of regret because we gave our creative life neither importance or time.

There’s another major factor in my writing plans going awry: I’m sick. For the second time this year, I am fighting a cold/respiratory thing. This time, though, John isn’t sick. I’ve been fighting the edges of it for more than a week, and yesterday was the worst day of it. I spent a couple of hours on the couch just resting, watching The Librarians as I sipped chicken soup.  Then, John came upstairs and we watched The Thin Man and other movies, ordered a pizza, and did little else.

Today, it is Christmas Eve. I am still not back to 100% but do feel better. I’ve showered, had some eggs, and then made a brunch of breakfast tacos and hash-browns. We planned to go to Mass today, but the last thing I want to do is spread my germs to others celebrating the holiday. So, we will be staying home.

This cold is another slice of reality for me, though: another thing I have yet to master is learning to rest and be idle.

My body needs more rest than I am giving it, and by rest, I don’t mean sleep necessarily. Though I no longer live “busy” as my lifestyle, I do keep busy. This year has been busy, what with two new books of my own and the editing of the Anthology for Modern Creative Life. Not to mention madly working on the third book I planned to release this year, but didn’t.

I have expended enormous doses of energy without being as diligent as I need to be about preparing myself for the work.  I’m not taking enough time away from the internet. I haven’t been exercising as much as I need to, and though I stuck with a fairly conscious approach to eating from May through September (mostly a Whole30 approach). In October,I began indulging in way too much gluten in the form of biscuits, sandwiches, and the occasional slice of cake.  Though I am not allergic to gluten, it is an inflammatory food to my body and after a summer of being mostly pain free, the joints in my hand and hips are making themselves known.

Again, Oliver reaches out to me from the page:

“Like the knights of the Middle Ages, there is  little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come – for his adventures are all unknown.”

Committing to a creative life means preparing my body for the work to come. Writing requires large swaths of time sitting while using my hands – be it with a pen or keyboard – is an undeniable requirement.  Writing also requires that my body is rested and my soul is tended and fueled.

I have been planning to take from Christmas through Candlemas off from heavily working on my coaching practice or focused on a new body of work. My soul has been begging me to stop harvesting and rest. My brain, oh my brain, has pushed me to do a little more here and a little more there.

My body finally said “enough” and laid me low.

Though I had already committed to 2017 being a year when I turn the microscope on myself and examine where I am neglecting myself, my body has chimed in to remind me that it needs tending alongside my heart, mind, and soul.  It needs, not just the commitment and not just the actions I’ve taken thus far to seal that commitment, but the reminder it demands more from me, and the more from me it demands is sometimes….less.

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.

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?

Because Life is Messy

The sunflower field came into bloom this week. A mere six days ago, the field was nothing but green. We obsessively greensunflowerfieldwatch it as the earth begins to make her shift from summer to fall and on Monday morning, JB sent me a text to tell me it was beginning to bloom.

Sure enough, as I drove by this morning on my way to Office Depot for paper, the field was ablaze with yellow and gold beauties. I promised myself that I would stop on my way home.

And I kept that promise.

I pulled in behind a silver minivan and she stood on the edges of the field trying to capture the colors. As I walked closer to the flowers, she smiled at me.”The ground is soft,” she cautioned.

We had a heavy rain yesterday afternoon and not enough sun yet today to dry the earth.

I am not dressed to explore today, so I carefully walked along the edges  of the field. Then I gingerly squat to get on eye level with the giant golden beauties and begin to frame the glorious field with the magic camera in my phone. I don’t consider myself a good photographer, yet I know that capturing images of my ordinary life helps me seize the present moment as it forces me to slow down and breathe.

The field is luminous and overflowing with life. A feast for my eyes and a nourishing feast for the bug world. I see bees, flies, ladybugs and grasshoppers exploring. I am regretting not having my regular camera, but I keep snapping safe_sunflower_anglephotos to share on Instagram and in the newsletter.

Then I see a butterfly making her way among the flowers. She settles on a giant bloom and treats herself to a banquet of pollen. I want to capture her, but I’m too far away.

I tiptoe between the rows, watching my feet.

When I look up, she is gone.

In focusing on being careful, I have lost her.

Not only have I lost her, but I discover that the ground isn’t just soft, it’s muddy. I’m not dressed for exploring and my black sandaled feet have sunken into the soupy clay.

I sigh in frustration.

The woman in the silver minivan leaves and a black jeep pulls in.

I snap a few more photos now that I’m deeper into the field. And then I see her again.

This time, I keep my eye on her and ignore the glop suck pull process of moving through the thick clay. She moves again, teasing me to continue following her.

I do.

Even after the earth becomes greedy and sucks one sandal off my foot.

It was then that she stopped and began fanning her wings for me. I hold my breath as I snap snap snap away, knowing that in order to get one good photo, I may need to take dozens. So, I do.

And then it’s time for my monarch friend to continue on her journey.

muddymessyAnd time for me to come back to the real world. I have writing to do, more errands to run and coaching calls to prep for.  I recover the lost sandal and make my way to the edge of the field towards firmer ground, yet my feet become mired again. I realize  only way I’m going to make it back to the car is remove and then carry my mud caked shoes.

As I stand beside the car in my bare grubby feet, I wonder how I’m going to make it home this way.

The woman in the jeep eyes me, shakes her head and drives away.

I am forty-seven years old and haven’t played in the mud since I was twelve.  Yet, as a child, sinking my feet into the earth was a gratifying experience. What has compelled me to try to stay so clean all these years?

I laugh and breathe in this moment. My inner child is curious and delightful. And messy. And that’s okay.

I dump my purchases onto the backseat and slip the filthy shoes into the Office Depot bag.  I find a few napkins in the console and wipe the bulk of the mud off my bare toes. Then I drive home, drag out the hose to rinse everything off and go into the house.

I am grateful there are a pair of slippers in the laundry room, just inside the door.

I love things to be nice and neat, but at it’s core, life is messy. It’s supposed to be gloriously flawed, yet I spent most of my years hoping that if everything was perfect, I wouldn’t feel sad or unloved or unworthy.

monarchbutterflyPerfection, though, meant I didn’t feel quite alive, though.

In order to live, we have to be present and allow for the muck. We have to keep our eyes on the butterflies of living, because staring down at the narrow path we’re trying to watch sucks all the joy out of us.

We miss the beauty of life when we’re trying too hard to make it perfectly beautiful. We will always miss those moments that take our breath away if we’re only looking at our feet.

We worry about what the strangers are going to think of us, so we don’t step as boldly into our lives as our soul is begging us to do.

A good reminder on a week that has frankly been challenging on the creative front. I’ve been so afraid of things not coming out perfectly that I’ve been doing everything I can to avoid the work.Afraid to step in, afraid to get messy.

But my inner creative force – that creative child – understood that life is supposed to be experienced with all our senses and therefore will be messy.

Because the results of that mess are worth it.

What about you? Do you stare at your feet and miss the sheer beauty in your life? How can we all listen to that inner child of ours?

The Weekly Round-Up

It’s been an intense week here for a lot of reasons. Don’t get me wrong and think that I’m complaining or calling it “bad”, it was a week full of multiple balls in the air for each of us. JB traveled back home on Saturday and it feels as if Coffee in The Netherlands, October 2014we barely had a weekend before it was full speed ahead into the week.

There was a management shift at his office recently, which has led to more meetings than normal and the new guy’s attitude that he must “fix everything – even if it isn’t broken”. That meant a mentally tired and sometimes frustrated JB at the end of the day and more than once, we were in bed before 8:30 rolled around.

As for my world, I blocked off writing and editing time almost every day last week. And not just “writing time” but appointments on my calendar for two hours on this project or two hours on that project. I made significant progress on each of my projects, but to be honest, I have created some mighty big deadlines for myself. Those deadlines have me feeling a little on edge and a little afraid and a lot empowered.

My What I’m Writing

I just wrapped a three-week series based on my personal history of keeping a journal: why keeping a journal is good, how I recovered from the betrayal of having my teenage journals not only read, but destroyed, and how to take care of yourself when you create new truths about yourself.  Though all of those pieces were written earlier in the month, I did a fairly heavy edit on this week’s piece, 10 Tips to Hasten Post Fire Recovery to the point that in some places, it felt as if I was writing it fresh again.

I got four drafts written this week. Two drafts for future articles for  YourTango, which I owe edits to my editor tomorrow.  One piece is about marriage and the other piece is about parenting a child with mental illness. The other  pieces – one about Being Busy (SO Busy) and another about being true to your own soul – are for my work blog.

I dusted off the outline for my memoir this week and begin laying out the structure of that book in Scrivener. I also create a draft of part of the forward.

I set a publication deadline for my other Work in Progress that’s a bit on the aggressive side, but logically makes a hell of a lot of sense. I spent most of my time organizing this, again in Scrivener. This project needs significant attention in the coming week.

What’s Happening with Work

One of the decisions I made in regards to my business in 2016 is to restructure how I offer my current courses.

ClearingBrainClutter_AdI am converting Make Your Inner Sex Kitten Roar to a fully downloadable, do-it-yourself course available beginning October 12, 2015, which means I need to get to editing, don’t I? Previously, I offered the material delivered via a weekly email.  Right now, I have all of the course material in Word just waiting to be combined and edited into one giant document.

Most of the courses in the 30 Days to Clarity family are also being moved from the email format to a downloadable workbook that can be purchased at any time. I committed to delivering the first version to current participants of the Fall courses as a bonus, so the first deadline is the Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desires to be delivered on September 8th. I have a rough version of the book completed and now it needs to be edited.

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading An Altar in the World, mostly in the mornings, though on occasion, I’ll read a bit from it before bed.  I go for a tiny dose each day, until I’m “full up”.

Fiction wise, I’m finishing NYPD Red 3. Taking the Master Class with James Patterson has shown me a whole ‘nother side of taking ideas and getting them in a publishable format, so to read what comes from that process always fascinates. Besides, Patterson and the writers he works with (Marshall Karp on this one) shows me how collaboration can be successful and a way to develop characters that are real.

This week, I skimmed Delicious!  I read it in June but refreshed my memory a bit before my book club meeting on Tuesday.

And last night, I finished reading A Vision in Velvet, pure cozy mind candy with lovable characters and little doses of humor. I enjoy Juliet Blackwell and am looking forward to her first “non-cozy” book coming in September, The Paris Key, which I’ve already pre-ordered.

What We’re Eating

I’m “off” cooking anything new, elaborate, or super involved right now, yet I’m desperately missing creating in the IMG_20150616_194211kitchen.  One of the simple facts of living is that I can’t do everything even when I want to, so I have to be honest with myself and admit that just to much of my creative energy being spent in the office that I just don’t have IT when dinnertime rolls around.

What that means is we’re having old standby meals that I ensure are healthy by choosing quality ingredients. Typical dinners this week have been oven roasted Wild Salmon or Wild Halibut served with grains and spinach, Dorothy Lane Market Salmon Patties on whole wheat buns with oven fries, or chicken sauteed in a pot with veggies – corn, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, spinach and onions.

I have to confess, though, that I’m hoping some new cookbooks come out this fall to inspire me to experiment.

What’s I’m Shaking My Head At

The new wave or Guru Preaching that routines mean you are doomed to be a boring individual. I love variety of life, but I know that taking the attitude of “just taking life as it comes” equals not “getting shit done”. Things like a healthy lifestyle, writing a book, creating change in your daily living all require solid and supportive routines. Yes, we gotta shake things up, but anyone that accomplishes true transformation does so with solid habits. Just sayin.

Because years of being a coach has shown me that most folks need help to establish new habits and they can’t create new ways of living, because frankly, how can you master anything if you don’t approach it with regularity and respect? That’s why I keep reminding myself that compassionate self-discipline is the key to really moving forward towards goals.   Yes, we need to shake things up and evaluate what’s not working, but to preach that the new gospel is no routines will make you happier just isn’t logical to me in any form.

Most people that transform their life do so through structure and a steadfast approach. They take small, but consistent action.

What happens when these glamorous and seemingly-have-it-all-together gurus preach this is that people believe that their answer to happiness lies in emulating their Guru’s life and then find they don’t get any lasting results.

Maybe my life – and my approach to life – is “boring” or seems mundane. But I can tell you I’ll take this loving, nourishing approach over the years of worshiping busy and having no foundational routines to help make move things from “idea” stage to real.

What’s Really Floating My Boat

I’ve begun a letter writing project with a friend. Sure, we could (and do) email, however, there is a different kind of intimacy in putting pen to paper and sharing what’s happening in my inner landscape. It’s helping me to get clear around a portion of my desires and goals, too.

The process of going from Writer to Author. It’s a mindset shift and has changed how I am approaching writing that isn’t immediately consumed.

Getting my eyebrows dyed. My hair is dark brown (and grey). My eyebrows? Blonde. Making my eyebrows the same color as my hair? Priceless!

My relationship with JB. It’s always floated my boat, so to speak, but in recent months I’ve been more San Diego 2014 (5)transparent with him around what I want long term when it comes to career and lifestyle. He’s getting more verbal around the same and has taken to remind me, often, because I need to hear it out loud, that no matter what I choose, he’s behind me 100%.

Having a partner that has my back, that’s willing to listen as I talk about what I want in five years and ten years and what needs to change in order for that to happen is completely new to me in my life experience.  I always dreamed about a love like that, but never really thought I would have it.

Happy Sunday.

Do you like reading this kind of weekly round up?

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