Blog

A Return to Writing Includes Searching For Balance

Searching for Balance

I’ve returned to writing and the hectic pace I’ve had in the past. I have something “writerly” planned for nearly every weekend in October. November marks NaNoWriMo so that month is full and also begins the holiday season. In the meantime, I am deep in the middle of a marketing class.

Whew!

I’m tired already.

And, therein lies the search for balance.

It would be easy for me to look at my plans for the next several months and let my anxiety overwhelm me. It’s happened before, hence the unexpected hiatus from writing.

Unfortunately, keeping myself from being overwhelmed is often on my mind as I strive for balance in my life.

Tips for Balance

Here are some thoughts that have kept me going in the past and I hope are still helpful during this especially busy time.

1. Do the next thing. This one takes a bit of explanation. When I’m feeling overwhelmed I tend to look at the big picture rather than the small bites of life. That is where doing the next thing comes in. If the next thing that needs to happen in your life is to make the bed or do the dishes or make lunch, do that. Life happens in small moments and getting something done, even for that moment, will have a positive impact on your peace of mind.

2. Stick to your ritual. Every writer I know has a ritual that has evolved over time. My tends to follow the same things each day. I make coffee, light a candle, and write morning pages. Those three pages each morning are my warm up. Once those are complete I write. During normal times (i.e. not NaNoWriMo) my goal is 500 words and in November that bumps up to 2000 words each day. If you have other rituals, stick to those.

3. Keep your downtime. For me, downtime is crucial as too much to do and lots of chaos creates an unbalanced me. I have a building where I can escape but even there, if things are too noisy, I will struggle. Even if the chaos is positive, like having my grand babies over, it still creates stress in me and I need to deal with it.

A Final Thought

One last thing that I need to remember – Be Gentle With Myself! There is always tomorrow.

I am sure there are more ways to find balance during the busy times but having too many things to think about, again, even if they are positive, creates a struggle.

 

A Perfectly, Imperfect Wedding and The Return to Writing

It’s been a while. The summer flew by so quickly it is difficult to believe that we are officially into fall. Yet, here we are.

A Perfectly, Imperfect Wedding

Much of the past few months have been focused on my daughter’s wedding. I’d forgotten how much work planning a wedding can be. Even when you attempt to plan for every contingency, something always happens. Like, wardrobe malfunctions and insane weather.

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Turns out I forgot one of the main items to have on hand for weddings: Safety pins.

Really?

Yes, one of the zippers broke on one of the bridesmaids’ dresses and she had to be sewn into it.

Safety pins would have saved the day.

Insane Weather

Now, if you live in Michigan, September generally means some seriously beautiful weather. The days tend to be warm, but not too warm and the nights cool enough for sweatshirts. September and October days tend to be the gift just before winter hits and reminds us that we should all move south.

But, not this year.

No, this year we have had insane weather and not just in Michigan. At the time of this writing, a hurricane is barreling toward North Carolina. Marie is her name and she is the 4th or 5th one to hit the US and it’s territories.

Hurricanes tend to change the weather in other parts of the country and when there are so many in a row, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we, here in Michigan would be affected too.

I must confess I didn’t really look at the weather forecast much in the week before the wedding. I worried mostly about rain as our contingency plan would have to be implemented.

A couple of days before the wedding, temps began to climb. By Thursday before the big day, we were seeing highs in the 80’s. On Friday, the thermometer reached 90 degrees.

A fun fact: on Friday, September 22, the 2nd hottest place in the United States was Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, about an hour away from where the wedding would be held.

Needless to say, on the day of the wedding, temps hovered around 94 or 95 degrees, with humidity.

We didn’t plan for the heat and it affected so much.

The show must go on and so it did.

In spite of the heat, the wedding was beautiful. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not happy that it is over. I’m just so ready to get back to real life.

A Return to Writing

I’ve been absent from my writing for some time. I’m not even sure when I posted the last time. Apparently, it’s difficult to stay focused on goals when planning a wedding.

But I am back and slowly building my writing habits again, which includes publishing blog posts regularly.

Slow is a relative term.

As we have reached the fall season, I am not surprised that NaNoWriMo is coming. That means I have deadlines to meet and a novel to plan.

I need to spend October planning or something close to it. All I have is a character in mind. Not much else. This should be fun.

So, there you have it. My life in less than 600 words. I am grateful for all of my readers and the chance to share these words with you.

As I close, I leave you with this cuteness:

Abel refused to take his hat off.



Discovering Hidden Gems from a Restless Reader

Discovering Hidden Gems

It’s no secret that I have a ridiculous book collection. I am not alone in this as I encounter people all the time who have tons of books.

I am also not alone in the fact that my “to be read” pile is much larger than my “already read” pile. In fact, at any given time I have half a dozen or more books that I have begun and put down for whatever reason.

At this time, I must own that I am a restless reader – meaning I can be reading anything at any time before flitting to something else depending on my mood or interest.

One thing all of these books that I’ve hardly begun have in common is there is often a book mark that tells me where I stopped.

Book marks I’ve discovered when I’ve gone back to read:

  • The Dog Ear – that folded corner forever marking my journey through the book.
  • The Beautifully illustrated bookmarks – these are those pretty ones that can be found nearly everywhere and often include some kind of tassel. The tassel makes reading difficult because Pippa loves to play with things that dangle. One of my favorites is one, perhaps a bit less illustrated than most, I picked up in Paris several years ago. Every time I look at it, I remember the vacation.
  • The Ribbon guides – these are often found in journals and, again, mark where I left off.
  • The Whatever bookmark – I’ve used nearly everything I could get my hands on including facial tissues, receipts – sometimes from the purchase of the book but more often not, other books. Nothing is safe when it comes to marking my place

New Discoveries:

Recently I’ve discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, something new as I’ve gone back to a book I’d previously started.

Often, in my reading and writing, I will write down words, quote’s or thoughts on random pieces of paper, most often index cards. And, I will stick these cards just about anywhere, seldom all together as I tend to be a restless reader. Most often these index cards are purple as I seldom can resist anything in that color. These words I write are generally from a book or article I am reading and want to remember.

And, I have no system for these cards, no rhyme or reason for the words on the cards, and I stick them everywhere.

Recently I pulled a book off my bookshelf and began reading. The book was one I’d opened previously and never finished. Books, especially non-fiction, have a sense of timing. Simply put, I am not ready for the message of a particular book, and I move on to something else.

While not advocating this method of restless reading, I have found a few benefits:

  • You can gain information quickly.
    • A drawback to this one is that you cannot go deep into information with this method.
  • There is always something to read
  • Coming back to a book is like coming back to an old friend who waits patiently for you to settle down.

A Needed Message

As I was reading one of these “old friend” books, I found another positive to my restless reading habits:

I found a purple card marking the place where I’d stopped reading.

And, this one had a message: “your heart will always tell you what is working and what is not.

I came across this little gem of a message while reading Simple Abundance written by Sarah Ban Breathnach. These words struck something in me and I wrote it on a  purple index card and somehow it found its way into another book I was reading.

How simple and yet how profound this little gem turned out to be. It was just what I needed to hear in that moment of my life. I don’t even remember writing it down.

I still write these little gems, though more often they are on sticky notes or in one of my many journals. Perhaps I should go back to the index cards. They make great bookmarks, and as my restless reading habits attest, I am liable to find them anywhere.

Who knows what words of wisdom I may need next.

 

 

The Simplest Form of Radical Self-Care

The term Radical Self-Care has been rattling around in my brain for a couple of weeks. I listened to a TED talk given by Anne Lamont called 12 truths I learned from life and writing and since then I can’t get the words out of my head. Even though I often think about how to incorporate self-care into my life, attaching the word radical has taken on new meaning.

Self-care is one of those buzz words that gets thrown around a lot. We receive so many messages every day including: eat better, sleep better, daily exercise, and learn to meditate. The amount of information can be overwhelming but there is a simple way to radical self-care.

Consider the following:

When we take a flight, one of the first of the safety instructions is that if the oxygen masks come down, be sure to put your own on first before helping any others, including your own children.

The reason to put your own mask on first is that if you wait and help everyone else, you may not survive.
I think this is the very definition of radical self-care: You must take care of yourself first or you won’t survive.

Not surviving comes in many forms. Exhaustion, depression and anxiety, medicating either through established avenues such as your doctor or through self-medicating, and whole host of other things that numb us to our true feelings.

Who loses when you don’t take care of yourself?

Just like in the airplane example: you, your children, anyone around you that could have been helped if only you would have taken the time to make sure you were okay first.

Your health and sanity are just a couple of things that you jeopardize by not taking care of yourself.

And, why don’t we take better care of ourselves?

I’m quite certain there are many reasons but the ones that resonate with me are the following:

Societal expectations – this is the one that simply says that everyone else must come first.

Guilt – because we’ve learned that everyone else comes first we feel guilty for even wanting to take care of ourselves and that is a powerful deterrent.

Time – though is an excuse, life gets busy and because you’ve put yourself last, you’ve become convinced that there is no time to take care of yourself.

Expectations – as a perfectionist, I struggle with doing everything the “right” way.

Hint: there is no right way.

What can we do?

Here comes the simplest way to radical self-care. Are you ready for it?

The simplest and, yet, most radical form of self-care is to say NO.

Saying yes to everything that presents itself to you saying no to you. I often tell friends and clients that no is a complete sentence. No explanations necessary. By saying yes to taking care of yourself and no to others, you are one step closer to that life you want.

Really!?!?

I said it was simple, I didn’t say it was easy. Saying no is one of the most difficult things to do but one of the most empowering.

I dare you to try it. Especially with those requests that you’ve said yes to and immediately wished you could have said no.

I dare you to take care of yourself first and see how much better you are for your family, friends, work and life.

I dare you!

Life At The Speed Of Sound

Life is going fast lately. Too fast. I feel as if I am out of breath most of the time.

Summer is just beginning here in Northern Michigan and, already, my calendar is filling up. Most days, I simply slide through until I go to sleep at night, only to do it all over again the next day.

Between work itself being incredibly busy, we have end of year things to do, a wedding to plan and home improvement projects to complete. In between are the four weddings, four open houses and several family reunions. Not to mention, in the middle of all of this I am working on a second draft of a novel. I am certain there is little cure for the busyness that comes with summer.

 

That means I need to change my focus. I’ve read recently an article by raptitude.com called ‘You Never Have Time, Only Intentions’. I would encourage you to check this one out.

Though I am still processing this particular article, the idea behind the article is that time isn’t tangible. Time isn’t something we “have”. The only thing we have is this moment.

Even when we believe we have lots of time, the only thing we truly have is the intention for that time. The time will move on regardless of any action on our parts.

Living in the moment is difficult for me on a good day. On a bad day, forget about it. I’m only holding on until it’s over and I can go to bed.

One of the ways that I have been attempting to live in the moment is through an exercise (thanks, Katey Schultz) I learned about through a recent class.

I tend only to do this particular exercise on those mornings when I have lots of time. Slowing down helps me to settle my mind and move through my day with a more open attitude.

In this particular exercise, I divide an hour into four sections of 15 minutes each. With music playing and a timer set, I can forget about how much time I have left.

The How To:

The first 15 minutes is light reading, non craft related. I’ve been reading Brene Brown and that has been interesting for anyone who has read her. Currently I am reading ‘Daring Greatly’.

The second 15 minutes is devoted to journaling. During these minutes, with the timer set, I write my morning pages.

The third 15 minute section is for to meditation or some kind of movement. My yoga teacher hands out a 10-15 minute yoga practice each month and those have been handy for me to spend some time focused on movement. I don’t sit still very well.

The last 15 minute section is about feeding your soul. This can take whatever form you prefer. It is during this time that I focus on some of the other creative areas I am interested in, such as photography.

Although each section can be shortened to 10 minutes, I haven’t worked through it in that manner. It is possible if you don’t have that entire hour to dedicate to this exercise.

Since time is so fluid, being mindful of my own intention for the time I have is one of my goals this year. Most of the time my goals are just dreams or wishes. I would rather have the intention of living moment by moment than a goal. I just may find more success.

The Power of Play

Play

As adults, we often forget to play. Perhaps we don’t realize just how important play is for our health and happiness.

When was the last time your sat in a swing and challenged your child to see who could swing the highest? Or, built a sandcastle at the beach? Or, colored with pencils or crayons for the sheer joy of it?

 

One of my favorite things to do is play tag with my grandkids. By the end we are all laughing and, after I’ve rediscovered my breath, we are ready to go again.

According to helpguide.org, play has several benefits:

Play can:

Relieve stress. It’s hard to hold onto all of your cares when you let yourself play.

Improve Brain Function. Play is a natural part of our development, which doesn’t quit because we have become adults. We need to keep our brain in shape as this is the case of ‘use it or lose it.’

Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. When we stop playing, we often stop creating. Get your groove back by finding ways to play in your life.

Improve relationships and your connectivity to others. Perhaps the adage is true, the couple (or friends, family, etc.) that plays together stays together. Find ways to have fun together.

Keeps you feeling young and energetic. I firmly believe when we stop having fun we get old. I also believe that about learning, but that is fun for me, most of the time.

Some ideas to help you begin to play:

  • Games – the ones you sit face to face with people, not the online kind.
  • Coloring
  • Art projects
  • Find some of your old games and toys from when you were a child. One of my favorites is Pick-up-Sticks. I found the game on one of my travels though you can find in many toy stores.
  • Outdoor games. Fly a kite, throw a frisbee, splash in the water, the possibilities are endless.
  • Blow bubbles. Bubbles are fun to do anywhere (yes, including inside the house, it’s just soap after all). Blowing bubbles outside in the winter is fabulous because the bubbles can freeze and are iridescent before they burst into pieces.
  • Dance
  • Doodle – If you struggle with this and need some structure, check out Zentangle.
  • Have a water fight.
  • Sing – it doesn’t matter if you are good or not if you sing in the shower or car no one can hear you anyway.
  • Finger paint
  • Spend some time with a kid exploring their imagination.

It’s easy to get caught up in all your “adult” responsibilities but if you want to find that spark that keeps you young, find some time to add play into your life. Play doesn’t have to end with childhood. The key is to find what works for you.

A recent discovery for me to relax and play is to color mandalas. You can pick up these adult coloring books anywhere, and I would encourage you to pick one up. Mandala’s can be meditative and healing. Not to mention there is no one to tell you to stay in the lines.

Leave a comment with your favorite way to play.

Morning Nest Building

Morning Nest Building

This morning I watched a small bird strip bark off a cedar pole for its nest and was, once again, reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem, Peace of Wild Things. Here are his words:

 

Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

I hope you are enjoying the return of the sun and longer days. And, I hope you take the time to enjoy the peace found in nature.

Lost in the Memories

Rembrance
Looking for hope.

Swamped by Memories

Have you ever had a week where your memories completely overwhelmed you? One of those weeks where you functioned on autopilot, only doing those things you needed to do since your brain is occupied elsewhere?

I did, recently. I’d been working on some issues from my past that seemed to be affecting my future, and I got stuck. For me being stuck means my creativity is affected, and I become hard on myself. My inner critic appears to go into hyperdrive, and I struggle to break free.

During this struggle to break free, I find myself looking for ways to help alleviate the emotional pain and discover the motivation to work again. It’s not easy to ensure that the memories no longer have power but that is the goal.

Some things that have worked are:

1. Don’t fight the memories. If the memories appear to be taking over, let them – if only for a few minutes. They won’t last, and fighting seems to give them more power. Memories with power are the last thing you want.

2. Write them out. Journaling is a good way to release all of the emotion that is attached to memories. Sometimes the very act of writing can change your brain to help you heal.

3. Find a place of non-judgement. Memories are something in our past that can have an effect on the future. There is nothing we can do to change them. Judgment, i.e. good vs. bad, can give power to memories and will affect your emotions. Accept the memory just as it is, and you can get past it.

4. Find a trusted person to share the memory. Finding that person is more difficult than it would seem because not every person is capable of handling the more difficult memories. And, not every person is someone to be trusted. At times, seeking a therapist may be the best option, and they have the training to help you process your past.

5. If you are a creative, set a goal and stick to it. During the middle of stuckness, setting a goal of a 15-minute free write or 500 words each day, regardless of the content will help keep your creative juices flowing. Sticking with the habit in spite of where your emotional life will help keep your inner critics at bay.

Freeing ourselves from old, painful memories is possible, though most likely difficult. A lot of things can get in the way of your creative life, and just life in general, but you can overcome to find healing. It takes time and patience, and often a bit of help.

Healing is just another step in finding your intentional life.

For other tips on living an intentional life, check out the rest of my posts.

Best Advice Ever – Don’t Quit

 

Though I am a day late with my post, I wanted to share this little poem that has the best advice I’ve ever seen:

Don’t Quit

by John Greenleaf Whittier

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

This poem is in the public domain.

 
Today, would have been my brother’s 52nd birthday and the message of this poem is exactly what I needed to hear. I hope you find some encouragement in the words.