Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Christmas Debrief

I have returned from our holiday trip and I have generally good news to report!

Donald and I were pleasantly surprised with a small gift exchange on Christmas Eve, in front of a fire with cookies and tea and a genuine giving spirit in all of us. The Christmas Eve church service in the church where we were married was quite moving and just the right thing. The incense made me cough, so I chose not to sing. Instead, I listened to Donald and my brother sing the harmony lines to familiar Christmas carols and my heart sang with them.

I regressed into a habit of talking about myself more than listening or asking questions. Donald helped me snap out of it. I have often experienced a conflict between who I am away from home and the person I was before I left, although this time I think it was easier to remember who I am now. I have more confidence, I have learned to express my needs and preferences more often, I tried to see everyone with new and fresh eyes, without the clouds of the past altering my perspective.

We had the traditional big Christmas morning breakfast and then visited with family friends for a large and celebratory Christmas dinner. It was there, while catching up with friends I hadn't seen in several years, that I clarified my understanding of my job and my career goals, a wonderful holiday gift to receive.

We gave my brother the game Settlers of Catan, which if you haven't played is well worth it. It was a huge hit and we played a game almost every day. Donald gave me a luscious pair of red high heels that I had been wistfully desiring - I danced around the living room trying not to squeal like a schoolgirl.

We spent a lot of time outside in the sunny California air, the skies mostly clear after some winds came through just before we arrived. We hiked in the mountains of my youth, although on new trails, and it all came rushing back to me just how important these vistas and views are to my sense of wellbeing. This is the source of my yearning for the West, these mountains are what I think about when I seek confidence or a sense of who I am. I have no idea how to meet this need of mine when mountains like this are not to be found where we will be living. Luckily, I have many people I can visit in wonderful lands such as these, so that will have to do for now.

The terrain I grew up in helped support me in my new being, to be present in the moment, to appreciate where I am, and to ask hard questions and be open to hearing the answer. On one walk, completely on a daring whim, I slithered between two parallel rocks sitting at a 45 degree angle to the steeper slope of the hill. I braced myself between them with my knees and made my way upwards, finding handholds in the rock above me and letting the one below me bear the weight of my back and feet. My siblings and Donald were impressed with me. It felt wonderful. There were a lot of bonding moments like that on this visit.

On another walk, this one with just my mom, a question popped into my head and fell out of my mouth, "Do you think I have compromised my values because of my relationship with Donald?" She was behind me on the trail so I could not see her face. She said yes. I asked her to tell me how. It was important for me to understand her perspective, even though (or because) this question is linked to my pain about whether she is able to support my marriage to Donald at all. Despite the difficult content, it was a wonderful feeling to have open conversations with her.

Donald left two days before I did because he had to work (I am still so overjoyed to be able to type those words... he had to work - can you see me jumping up and down with joy?). I was amazed at the change that came over me when I returned to my parents' home after dropping him off at the airport. I sat down to the table to eat and the silence was overwhelming. I felt like I had lost something very important. I think it was connected to who I am at home and who I am away. The loneliness departed and left me with a better understanding of myself.

How were your holidays?

I hope all of you end this year with happiness and celebration and start the new year with at least as much of the same. Happy New Year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 - Year in Review

This year has been filled with activity, difficulties, changes, and growth. I thought it would be nice to reflect here and to share my hopes for 2010.

January brought our decision to move from our apartment to live with Donald's parents. The money was running out and my income alone would not sustain us. Donald had been unemployed and looking for approximately 5 months.

In February, I left a job that was probably the best one I had had so far, yet was not even close to meeting my potential or challenging me to improve. We packed and moved over the course of a week, settling in just before the end of the month. We left good friends behind who were expecting a baby in the first week of March and missed being a part of his homecoming.

March saw us through a lot of adjustments, getting settled in our new space, unpacking some boxes and storing others. I hung out for a couple of weeks and then dove right into job searching for myself. Donald continued his search. We also took the opportunity to visit my family while we both had no obligations.

April came with more job applications and an interview or two. I also increased my involvement in a volunteer organization I work with to meet returning Veterans' needs. Donald tried to keep his head above water. May delivered me a new job, a happy thing and a frustrating thing for Donald because I had found one so quickly. I was happy to see that this job actually connected with some of my values, despite my overqualified status.

In June, my insurance kicked in and I got updated with doctor, dentist, optometrist, etc. I made Donald do it too - I'm a big fan of preventative medicine. I started getting involved in my in-laws' garden, pulling weeds, harvesting anything that had ripened, and getting my hands dirty. I also traveled for work for the first time in my life, an interesting experience. July brought me the pleasure of more gardening. I started expanding my knowledge at work, getting through training and making some good connections with helpful people.

August was the beginning of Donald's communication with the company he's currently working for, the beginning of a very long process that is still ongoing. I started learning more and more about my job and the needs of the Veteran population, gaining motivation and energy from the knowledge that I was contributing to creating solutions. I made a last minute travel decision and helped my sister move to her new job. Most importantly, I started my blog. I began the journey that has had the greatest impact of the year on me.

I was so excited about blogging and getting started that I wrote 28 posts in 27 days in August. My first comment was from Jessica at booshy and I was thrilled. I have no idea how she found me. I wrote about so many different topics, including marriage, depression, cooking and baking, gardening, and what it was like to live with my in-laws. It was the beginning of my journey into personal development, the beginning of my blog as a little more than just an online journal. I think my adventure with my sister is a clear indication that by the end of the month, I was open to change and ready to grow.

In September, I branched out in the blogs I was reading for more inspiration. Some days I would post three times. When I posted about other blogs, linking to them and writing about why they had impacted me, I significantly increased the number of comments on my blog. I immediately recognized the value of community, of sharing, and of spreading helpful information to anyone who read what I had to say.

In October, I reduced the number of posts I wrote and tried to focus on themes and quality, sharing my innermost thoughts in search for comfort, support, and encouragement from my readers. I was not disappointed. When I hit a low point, I had the largest number of commenters I had ever had before.

November and December have been very light posting months for me. I think it's partially because of the holidays, because of my workload picking up, and because I have been making an effort to say less and think/listen more. I am doing more than I am talking about doing, and that feels sublime. I'm also in a somewhat more confident place now that Donald is working. It has given me time to think about other things in my life that can be improved and I am happy letting those evolve slowly.

If I haven't said it clearly before now, the community I have discovered and grown with through my blog has had a very positive impact on me. I have grown more in the past few months than I have in several years. I know that I can depend on my readers for a hug, for support and encouragement, for wise words, a kick in the pants, and perspectives based on many years of experience. I am so grateful for all of you and I am excited to see what the new year brings knowing that I have all of you in my life to help me and cheer me on.

In 2010, I am looking forward to quite a few things:
  • Improving my relationship with my mom
  • Improving my communication with my family and friends
  • Moving out of the in-laws' home and into our own, setting up a home
  • Adding a dog to our family
  • Moving forward on adding children to our family
  • Decluttering as I unpack the boxes that have been in storage for almost a year
  • Writing in my blog about my experiences and observations, reading the blogs I love
  • Doing something just for me at least once a week
  • Traveling with Donald before we have a family
  • Setting up a clear budget based on our values and priorities
  • Starting my own garden
  • Cooking and baking and trying new recipes
  • Adjusting my job/career to further align with my values and passions, allowing me flexibility and making a contribution 
  • Standing side by side with Donald and making our marriage flourish
How was your 2009? What are you looking forward to in 2010?

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My First Blog Award

Kate over at Newlywed and Unemployed gave me my first blog award yesterday, the Happy 101 Award.

The rules are:
1. List 10 things that make you happy.
2. Try to do at least one thing on the list today.
3. List 10 bloggers who brighten your day.
4. Those of you to whom I give this award are to link back to my blog and perpetuate the happy with your own lists and recipients and whatnot.

I don't normally do things like this, but it's almost a new year, so here goes:

10 things that make me happy:
1. Donald
2. My kitties purring
3. Thoughts of our future children
4. Sunshine
5. Being productive
6. Gardening
7. Eating healthy, quality food
8. Clothes that make me look good
9. Trying something new and succeeding
10. Mountains

I will have numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8 in my day today.

10 bloggers who brighten my day:
1. Lisis at Quest for Balance
2. Peggy at Serendipity Smiles
3. suzen at Erasing the Bored
4. Barbara at Blogging Without A Blog
5. Colleen at Communicatrix
6. Wilma at Wilma's Blog
7. Jessica at booshy
8. Kim at Thinking Out Loud
9. Tess at The Bold Life
10. Lance at The Jungle of Life

Personally, I don't have a stake in whether my 10 bloggers do this on their blog or not - I think it's a personal choice. I am happy to have given them some recognition though. They are all worth a read.

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

To Gift Or Not To Gift

I’ve been struggling this year about giving and receiving gifts. After going through a decluttering phase (the first of many), I realized that I don’t want more stuff. I want experiences and memories and a few quality things that I enjoy. I want to give with those values in mind too.

My family has been weird about Christmas since my mom left my dad immediately after Christmas a few years ago (it wasn't related to the holiday directly and had been a long time coming). Donald and I will be with them this year (we switch between families each year) and we have no idea what to expect. It has nothing to do with the gifts – we’re trying to recreate our own family traditions now that things have changed so much.

However, since gift giving (and receiving) tends to be such a big part of this country's celebration of Christmas, I've been paying particular attention to the emerging online discussion about giving fewer/less expensive/no gifts this year.

I don't know if it's just because of the tough economy and the unemployment rate, certainly things Donald and I can identify with, but it seems like there is a developing trend over thinking more about the gifts we give, or deciding not to give any gifts at all. I think this is a wonderful development. For example:
With all of these things in mind, Donald and I still ended up buying material things for our immediate families this year. We put serious thought into making sure that what we gave would be appreciated by the recipient and would show that we know the person well enough to support what is important to each of them. Our recipient list consisted of ten people only (besides each other), which kept our budget small. I think we found a good balance between giving something meaningful and giving something material.

As for our changing holiday traditions, gift giving is a small part of the way we have spent Christmas in the past, yet there are elements of the overall scene at Christmas that are related. For example, if you're not going to exhange gifts, do you still get a tree? What do you put under it? Do you do stockings? How do we accommodate those members of my family who are uncomfortable about giving and receiving gifts and still allow those of us who want to give thoughtful gifts to do so?

When Donald and I arrive in California next week, we know that we will be picked up from the airport by at least one member of my family. We have no idea whether there will be a tree or whether it will be decorated or whether there will be Christmas lights on the house. We're bringing stockings (replacement ones - our real ones are packed somewhere) and we have no idea whether we'll need them or not. We're bringing a gift for each other that may end up being opened on Christmas morning in our bedroom without including anyone else. We're sending gifts ahead for other members in my family and we have no idea when they will be opened or whether they will be appreciated.

I'm mourning a little for the loss of the routines and traditions we used to have, despite the fact that I agree with reducing the materialistic feeling many Christmases have had. I'm also aware that my reaction to these changes is likely related to the circumstances through which they have taken place (my parents separation).

I can, however, likely count on our traditional Christmas morning breakfast. I'm planning a day trip for all of us to get outside and enjoy the amazing resources California has to offer. We'll play games and go out to eat and cook and take walks. The most important things will happen - spending time with family and sharing meals and appreciating what we have.

This will definitely be a test for me to see how able I am to let go of the things I cannot control and to focus on the most important aspects of the holiday season. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Marriage Is Perfect

When Lisis hosted Zeenat of Positive Provocations on Quest For Balance, the resulting conversation sparked an idea for a post about marriage. In my comment, I said,

"I often wish it were easier for married couples to be open about the difficulties of marriage and to be able to ask for help without always having to pretend that everything is perfect."

Lisis responded, saying,

"Daphne… you’ve brought up a major issue I’ve been thinking about lately, regarding marriage. Why do we always have to give the appearance of a perfect marriage? Lots of people I know who are divorced might have been able to save their marriage, or get out sooner, had they been able to talk to each other or their friends and loved ones openly about what was going on. But no one wants to admit that THEIR marriage is difficult.

I’ve got news for everyone out there: EVERY marriage is difficult at times. The only way it isn’t is if you aren’t really IN it… if you don’t have skin in the game, and just coast through it protected by indifference. But what kind of marriage would that be? We need to get over ourselves and our desire to pretend everything is perfect and start talking, REALLY talking about what is going on."

This is a HUGE conversation and it starts now.

(Originally planned as a guest post on Lisis' blog, we have moved the venue here because of some recent very interesting conversations on another topic happening at her blog right now.)

Marriage is hard. So many of us buy into the idea that a good marriage is supposed to be perfect. This unattainable standard dooms many marriages to failure. When we pretend that our marriage is perfect, we lose our ability to ask for help.

It is a difficult balance, however, between privacy and openness. The survival of a marriage hangs in that balance and somewhat, too, upon the quality of the support network surrounding that relationship. Our support network must be willing and able to ask us "How are you?" and truly want to hear the answer. In return, the married couple must know that their support network can be trusted and must be willing and able to share the truth.

Challenges and conflict in a married relationship do not necessarily equal an unhappy marriage. The way we handle those things are what defines the relationship. Each day we make choices that will either improve, detract from, or flat-line our relationships (courtesy of Susan Scott at Fierce, Inc.). Honest and open conversations with each other and with our support network are one of the keys to a successful and happy marriage.

This means talking about everything. Nothing is off limits. Get to the meat or the heart of the interaction. Nothing will change if it is not identified and spoken about.

There are too many examples in the media of failing marriages and not enough good examples. I would like to share with all of you some resources that I have found that encourage these kinds of conversations and open communication.

First, a story in the New York Times about Barack and Michelle Obama's marriage. It is an open and honest story about struggle and survival and happiness in marriage, valid no matter your political leanings.

Second, some blogs that touch on the reality of marriage in ways that don't read like Cosmo articles:
Zen Family Habits
The Marry Blogger - check out their finalists for the top 10 marriage blogs here
Confessions of a Young Married Couple
Simple Marriage
Wilma's blog - especially the posts about communication
Through The Illusion - Hayden's posts about her marriage here and here

Let the conversation start now, in this safe space, and let us become part of your support network. 

If you knew that there would be no negative consequences from a conversation you want to have with your partner/spouse/significant other, what would you ask or say? 
How are you? 
How is your marriage? 
How is your sex life? 
Are you happy in your marriage? If not, why not?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Update

Dear Readers,

I'm still here. My time devoted to blogging (and reading your lovely blogs) has decreased recently with an increased workload and the holidays.

Donald's new job is going as well as it possibly could. He is happy and excited and has energy and confidence. He is the man I married again, with added experience (is that like saying "Now, with chocolate chips!"?). I am so happy for him, for us. The long-distance part stinks.

I am so grateful that my relationship with my in-laws is so wonderful. I know that I have complained about it a little here before, so I wanted to clarify that I am beyond lucky. The love and acceptance and support that they give so freely is something I will never take for granted.

Donald and I had the opportunity to test each others' readiness for children. The day before Thanksgiving, the condom we were using broke. We looked at each other, discussed our options, and decided that we were just going to wait and see what happened. Even though I started my period two days later (no alcohol on Thanksgiving for me!), it was a wonderful experience, knowing that we had so much faith and trust in everything working out and that we are both completely ready for kids. The time will come.

My struggle with my relationship with my mom will be ongoing and I will continue to write about it here. Thank you for the support and encouragement you have given me so far. I will definitely be communicating with her and the rest of my family, with as open a heart as I can muster.

I'm also working on writing about my thoughts and observations about marriage in general. I'll be kicking off the conversation with a post on Lisis' blog Quest For Balance. I'll let you know when that happens.

My work supporting Veterans is ongoing. I hope to share my thoughts about this with all of you as well. If any of you have questions about this, please let me know. While this can be a very personal topic, please feel free to speak up, even if you don't know whether we agree or disagree.

I observed something important in the last week or two that I want to share with all of you, that I think will be touching everything I do for some time.

When you think something is impossible to fix, work backwards until you find something you have control over, and fix that. All of the little "fixes" we do will help the big thing get fixed as well.

When we recognize the negative things in our surroundings, we should take action to improve those things. Or, we should decide that those things are not important enough to fix, and then stop bringing them up. No one person can fix everything; each of us should find our niche and work within that, knowing that all of us together will address most of the world's problems. You will find what you care most about and you will make a difference.

With faith, love, and peace,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Mom and Marriage

Now that Donald's job is sorted out for the next few months, I have mental space to address the other things in my life that make me less than happy.

One of those things is my relationship with my mother. I know that she loves me and she knows that I love her. Our communication, and the communication throughout my immediate family, is sorely lacking. I don't think any of us know what the others really think of them. I think we often walk on eggshells and are missing out on some wonderful authenticity.

Since these conversations have not yet happened (I am planning them), what follows are my impressions, assumptions, and beliefs. I don't know yet whether most of them are accurate or not. This is what I know right now.

There are so many background stories that set the stage for my process to work through this next challenge. When I left for college, moving from the west coast to the Midwest, I took my first step towards true independence. My choice also led to a stressed relationship with my mom. I think she resented the fact that I left. I haven't returned and that resentment is part of our relationship now. It hurts.

My mom left my dad just after Christmas a few years ago, just after Donald and I got married. I look at our wedding pictures, my parents smiling and happy-seeming, now knowing that less than a year later their 30+ years of marriage would disintegrate before the eyes of their children, their neighbors, and their coworkers. No one really saw it coming.

My parents' relationship has evolved since then. For a while, you could cut the tension with a knife. Now, they seem to have found a way to coexist when they are in the same space. My mom lives in an apartment several hours away from their house where my dad lives. They just recently made a decision, together, to replace the stove top. I have no idea how they feel about each other or what their intentions are. I suspect that they do not know either.

Donald says "Why don't you just ASK them?" I shake my head. I want to and I don't want to. I'm still somewhat in a state of denial, even though I knew for years before any trouble seemed on the horizon that I had to tell my mom and my dad the same thing myself - my mom would not relay my news to my dad. I didn't ask why.

They are very private people. My parents lived together for years and years and my dad did not see that my mom was unhappy. My mom didn't say anything. No one outside their marriage, including their children, knew that they were "in trouble". My mom thought her job was to show that they were "successfully" married, not to show the cracks, never to ask for help, never to say "I need to talk". My dad didn't know that anything needed to be discussed.

I have some very strong opinions on this, which I'll be writing about soon. I believe that the survival of marriage is dependent upon the support structure that surrounds it. The people in that support structure have to be able and available to ask "How are you?" and truly want to hear the answer. The married couple has to figure out how to lean on the support structure AND maintain their loyalty and privacy. It is not easy.

It is hard for me because my mother seems to believe that Donald is less than worthy of me. His recent unemployment has colored her view of him. The fact that we haven't moved back to the west coast has made her bitter against him. When she believes she sees in me a wavering from my values, she blames him. My loyalty to Donald bristles in the face of her criticism and my protective sense increases.

When we talk on the phone, I only tell my mom the good things. I do not share the things that are hard about being married because I think she will only add them to her negative feelings about Donald. She is not able and available to ask "How are you?". It breaks my heart that she cannot be in my support structure, at least, not right now. I have to turn to others, friends and family members, people who I can trust not to gossip, people who I know love us and support us no matter what.

These people are rare. I have turned to my online blogging community to supplement the people I know in person. I will be sharing more about this struggle for me. The tears I shed yesterday are only the beginning of a vast well of frustration that has been building over many years. It's time to empty it, one tear at a time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good News

Those who follow me on Twitter know that Donald received good news on Thursday. He has a short-term contract from November to March with the company he has been waiting on.

I am amazed at how much of a difference this has made.

My outlook has changed. I find so much stability knowing that we have a plan until March. I can make plans, like signing up for yoga classes and visiting my family for Christmas. I breathe easier.

A change for me at work has improved my community of support, surrounding me with caring co-workers, little drama, and natural light (I hadn't realized that my previous work environment had been so dreary).

Donald's mood is sky-high, knowing that he will be contributing in so many ways. He starts just after Thanksgiving. I can truly say that I am happy. We have so much to be thankful for.

There are drawbacks, of course. He might not get the full-time position once March rolls around. He has to commute and spend three days a week in the office, so we'll be long-distance part time. We aren't moving anytime soon, so I will come up with a different decluttering timeline.

The benefits, however, far outweigh the costs. We have a wonderful, caring, supportive, and encouraging community to help us through the next few months. I am so grateful to my fellow bloggers who have been with us on this journey thus far. It is far from over. I hope you will continue to follow our adventures.

Thank you for your freely given love and continued support.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Patience and Waiting

When is it time to stop being patient? When is it time to stand up for ourselves and make different choices instead?

We have been so patient. Donald has been in touch with this company since August. Interviews have been successful. Feedback has been positive. An offer hovers perpetually just out of reach.

The rollercoaster trundles on, through frustration, hope, anger, excitement. We're starting to feel taken for granted, our patience feels abused.

We have been asked to wait a little longer. I'm not sure we should.

There are so many explanations why things have taken as long as they have. I'm not sure they matter.

We are so tired of waiting. Other things have been going wrong lately too. I'm wondering whether the problems we are encountering are a sign that we are on the wrong path.

Is it time to stop waiting? Even if it means a job for Donald in the next few months, should we start down a different road and abandon this one? Is the universe trying to tell us something?

What do we lose by staying the course? What do we risk by giving it up? What might we gain by trying something else? Our futures are riding on these questions.

Do the setbacks tell us that our perseverence will pay off if we just hang on a little longer? Or do they tell us to abandon ship? I'm not sure I know the answer.

Here we come, faith. We need your help.

Veterans Day

**This post is very different from most of my others. There is a soap box involved. It might have a significant impact on you. It might make you uncomfortable. I welcome feedback and comments. My intent is motivation and gratitude and the promotion of positive change.**

On November 11, 1918 at 11:00 am, World War I ended on the Western Front. The day came to be known as Armistice Day, a remembrance day for those who served in World War I.

An act approved in 1938 declared the holiday "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace". In the United States, this holiday is now known as Veterans Day, a day to honor Veterans from all wars.

November 11 is my birthday. I do not think it is a coincidence.

I have long been motivated to promote peace. I have a Masters in History through which I learned about peace and conflict, particularly in the way that war affects the home front. I quickly learned that historical events are not straightforward. They are complicated and messy and the only way to understand what really happened is to get many, many perspectives. This is true for current events, too.

I have learned that the best way to get people to engage with an issue is to make it relevant to them. Historical controversial topics must be presented to the public in a way that opens a dialogue rather than shuts people down. This is true for current controversial topics, like the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our military personnel sacrifice so much. Whether you approve of the wars or not, it is important to acknowledge these sacrifices. It is also important that we understand that their sacrifices are not over if they are lucky enough to return home.

You have heard the stories about PTSD. You have read about the soldiers who attack their own. They have been trained not to ask for help or acknowledge that they need it.

We must do more to help our Veterans transition back to civilian life. We must demand more attention to this transition from our government, from the military, and from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Silence in the name of morale is not justified.

Each and every soldier deserves to have a chance to lead as normal a life as possible when their service is done. Too many of them are not truly given this chance. They suffer. Their families and friends suffer. Our society suffers.

What can you do to help? Start talking about it. Start asking questions. Start making requests. Show your support beyond acknowledging a national holiday. Take the self-help strategies you so wonderfully share with your readers and find a way to address this need.

Humanity comes first. What role will you play in the cause of world peace? That is the best form of thanks we can give.

Thank you to our Veterans and military personnel.
Thank you to the parents, spouses, and children of our Veterans and military personnel.
Thank you to the friends, caregivers, volunteers, and government employees who support our Veterans and military personnel.

Special thanks to suZen at Erasing the Bored for a conversation that inspired me to share my thoughts with all of you.

**Update: I just found out about Bloggers Unite and their Veterans Day: Who Will Stand campaign. If you're interested in reading what other bloggers are writing about the holiday and about supporting our Veterans, check it out here.**

Monday, November 9, 2009

To All The Dogs I Have Ever Known

I am so, so sorry.

I didn't know how to act around you.

I didn't know how to trust you because I didn't understand you.

I withheld my affection because I thought it would change your behavior.

Instead, you tried harder and didn't know how because I didn't show you.

All you want to do is make me happy. And I wouldn't let you.

Through a conversation with Donald, and a dog-loving friend, and from reading about how to handle toddlers and tantrums on Zen Family Habits, I realized that my conditional love for the family dog is a detrimental situation.

Donald wants a dog; he's a dog-person. We already have two cats; I'm a cat-person. In a conversation last night about my relationship with the family dog, though, it seemed as though I am not only not a dog-person, but that I might even be anti-dog. As in, I might not want a dog at all.

This realization crushed me. I felt like I had failed Donald, that I was standing in the way of his happiness by preventing us from getting a dog. I didn't want that to be the case. I went to bed disappointed.

I woke up this morning feeling disgruntled. I wanted to impose my will on the dog, to make her well-behaved so I could show her affection. Needless to say, it didn't work.

And then I read about the toddlers, and how "your child is a little person having trouble expressing themselves right now". And I realized.... dogs are like perpetual toddlers. They won't be able to express themselves any better than they do now. They depend on me to show them what to do, to show them how to make me happy.

While I do not fear my ability to show a toddler love, even when they are throwing a tantrum, I need to understand that discipline for a dog does not need to come with disapproval. That, in fact, discipline from the perspective of affection and teaching will probably go much further and be much more enjoyable for all involved.

I was afraid to show affection for the dog because I thought it would undermine my authority over her, my role as pack leader. I thought showing love would make me weak.

Have I not been listening?

Today, I am going to change my behavior. I don't have to like it when she licks me or barks. I do have to let her be a dog. I owe it to Donald (and to myself and to the dog) to try. If I truly do not want a dog, it will become clear and I will accept it.

I need to open the door to possibility first. I need to open my heart and let go of the fear.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Great Clothing Clean-out Project

Over the weekend, I went through every single piece of clothing I own. I emptied the dresser, the closet, and any boxes within my reach. I tried on pants, sweaters, shoes, shirts, and coats.

I filled SEVEN large shopping bags with items to give away. I am so proud of myself.

The process wasn't as hard as I thought it might be. There were a couple of items that gave me pause, though - two flannel shirts that I have had since high school. One my mom brought back for me from a work trip she took. The blue/green colors in it are my favorite and remind me of the ocean. I tried it on and it swamped me. It's too big. It's not in style anymore. I haven't worn it for at least two years. Into the bag it went.

The second flannel shirt belonged to my grandfather, who passed away just after Donald and I got married. I had his shirt much earlier than that, when my grandmother was cleaning out her closets when we were visiting. It has autumn colors - deep reds and oranges and yellows. It's wool and has a good weight and is a little scratchy. I tried it on and it actually looked ok. I could picture myself wearing it on a cool fall day walking dogs through the woods or chasing my kids in the backyard. I haven't worn it because it has been hidden from view. This one stays.

Most of the items were easy. Shirts that were too short or unflattering. So many items I have had since high school (I graduated in 1998). Sweaters that were too boxy or misshapen. Pants that were too short or too big. Most not worth tailoring or trying to salvage.

I followed the suggestions I have read about decluttering and my mental and emotional state were ready. I had already pictured several items that went right into the bags without even trying them on. The black velvet vest that I wore maybe once when I was in high school. The tiny t-shirts I told myself I would sleep in and never did. The full-length, elastic waisted black skirt with a slit up to mid-thigh that I wore to a play in the city when I was in college (don't ask).

Ugh, now I'm embarassed to have even owned these things. I kept them for so long because I thought I needed to. They were a part of me. They told me a story about myself.

I'm writing a new story now. I can remember the events without having the clutter pulling me backwards into the past. I'm letting it all go so I can move forward.

I actually discovered that I have some very flattering clothing. I rediscovered several items that I thought didn't fit and do. I have three pairs of pants that just need a little tailoring. I replaced a missing button on a coat and now it's like new.

I have a very detailed and specific list of what I think I need (and want) so that my upcoming birthday shopping trip will only contribute good and happy things to my wardrobe. I told Donald that I want to be excited about each and every thing I bring home. If I'm not excited, I won't buy it.

It feels so good to know that all of those things are out of my life now. It feels good to have a sense of who I am through the choices I made about what to keep and what to donate. I feel lighter, more flexible and fluid, ready to take on whatever comes next.

It's perfect timing, really. Donald has a final interview with this company today. We're hoping to (finally) have a real answer by the end of the week. I'm trying not to hold my breath.

**Updated: I have to add something more from Communicatrix's string of decluttering posts. Her last one included this passage, which has me trying not to let my tears fall all over the papers on my desk:
Here’s the thing: no one’s right. No one’s wrong. No one can tell me or you or Stan or my grandfather what to keep. (Especially my gramps, unless you’re one of them psychic types.) In the end, though, my grandfather died alone, in a hospital bed, of a broken heart. The most meaningful thing in his life was a person, my extraordinary grandmother, and she’d left the planet several weeks earlier. And her constant refrain, even as she’d hand over some cherished objectstill warm with her unbelievably beautiful energy? “Sell it!” she’d whisper, gleefully, conspiratorially.

Trade that thing for freedom is what I now realize she meant. Don’t get burdened by your choices; let them liberate you. Let each thing that touches your life enrich you in some way—with joy, with experience, with the understanding born of pain—and let it the fuck go. It is not that thing you want: it is the thing that thing makes you feel.

My emotions are running high today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who Am I?

How can I figure out what I need if I don't know who I am?

There is a hole in me I have been trying to fill. I have been searching, reading, writing, thinking. Nothing fills it. I write about cowgirls and houses. I feel restless, wanting. What am I looking for? Where will I find it?

Megan "Joy Girl" guest blogged at Erasing the Bored recently, where she said,
"I’m in a relationship now with someone who respects me, wants for my happiness, has compassion, and uplifts me when I’m feeling down. He is mirror, reflecting back to me the truths I now feel about myself. As such, he’s shown me that in the last few years I’ve grown to love myself much, much more than I ever thought possible. But he’s also shown me that I have a ways to go."
Donald believes that I am whole and raises me up out of my low self-esteem haze. He can't imagine what I think might be missing. I teeter at the edge, believing that I have lost my identity, that I have no idea who I am. How do I find my way back?

Several of my favorite bloggers have posted about getting rid of clutter. I see my identity reflected in the things I own, the things that surround me. My stuff defines me because it represents my choices and tells people what is important to me. Perhaps I will uncover my identify by clearing out the clutter.

Communicatrix summed it up pretty well in this post when she said,
"So. The “why?” Well, clarity, for starters, or more clarity. Freedom, definitely. Tired of feeling bogged down by my environment, and trapped (rather than supported) by my stuff. As the piles start to dwindle, though, I get the sense that this particular stripping down is me getting ready to say, “I’m a writer; this is what I do—I write.”"
Janice at Sharing the Journey has written about this several times, too, most recently here. Dani at positively present also supports the decluttering goal.

The catch, though, is that in order to only keep what I need, I need to know what I need, so I need to know who I am. What do I think I'm missing? Do I really want to be more like that cowgirl? Do I really feel drawn to the West or is that just my imagination and romanticism talking? How do I figure out what I really need if I don't know who I am?

I'm supposed to listen to and trust that inner voice. How do I know I'm listening to the right one? Or the real one? I change my mind about projects often, throwing myself into something only to abandon it a few weeks later. I don't want to live that way. 

In an earlier review post, I talked a little about making decisions based on what I thought other people would think of me. Nadia at Happy Lotus writes in this post when she says,
"Years ago, if you were to ask me what kind of clothes I liked, I would not have been able to answer because my choices were based on what I thought I should choose."
I have done this more times than I can count. Those decisions did almost nothing to make me happy. I still often defer decisions because I have no idea what I think or want. Does this mean that I have no idea who I am?

My self talk goes downhill, saying "I am happy, but..." or "I would do this, but..." I spiral into second guessing myself. I worry about the danger of flying off and doing something spontaneous. What are the costs? What do I risk? What are the consequences?

How can I possibly make a good decision when I don't have enough information about who I am to know that I am acting with integrity?

(Have I made you dizzy yet?)

Lance at the Jungle of Life posted a Sunday quote that pulled me out of the spiral. There is so much to gain.

Evita's guest post at The Bold Life reminded me that bold steps must be taken and that it is safe to trust our inner voice.

At Quest for Balance, Lisis' favorite post of her own explained that everything I need I already have.

Peggy at Serendipity Smiles reminded me that I will not find what I am looking for outside of me. I need to look inside.

I am learning to hear my own voice. It is not a failure to be unsure of what I think about everything I encounter. Instead, it's an opportunity to learn more about who I am and can be.

The hole is gone. I am no longer spinning. I filled it with a list of things I know.

Acceptance Versus Need For Change

If I learn to accept everything for what it is and simply go with the flow, does that mean that nothing needs to change?

Isn't the impetus for change a judgment that something is inadequate or wrong?

Can a balance be struck between acceptance and gratitude and the need for positive change?

Acceptance and gratitude lead to so many wonderful things. They decrease stress and anxiety. They improve mood and contentment.

Too much acceptance, however, could lead to complacency or apathy. If we simply accept everything as "that's just the way it is", don't we lose our responsibility and power?

Alternatively, constant change can be quite disruptive and unstable. Dissatisfaction with everything around us can lead to unhappiness and low self-esteem.

Perhaps this is another time we learn that everything should be done in moderation. Balance gratitude for what we have with gratitude for seeing opportunity for improvement. Balance acceptance of our failures with acceptance of responsibility over what we can control. Balance change with breathing and calm.

That said, if there is something you really want to be able to do (singing, crafting, writing, etc.), you are the only one standing in your way. I do not believe that talent is the only thing that makes people good at something.

If you have the passion, find the determination and the tools to make it happen. Make a choice.

Acceptance. Gratitude. Change.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The House of Me

This is the house of me.

I have a wide, inviting front porch, keeping the house cool in summer, providing somewhere to sit and be a part of the community as it moves past on the road. The back has a deck or patio for a grill and outdoor entertaining, lounge chairs for warming in the sun.

My warm, bright, open kitchen, is the heart of the home. It has room for people to sit and chat, for many people to cook at the same time, storage for everything we might need. Mugs for warm drinks, glasses for cool drinks. Assorted plates and platters, cooking utensils and pots and pans, table linens and dish towels. Silverware, a spice rack and well-organized pantry, sharp well-made knives and cutting boards. Beautiful, earthy serveware.

Upstairs are the bedrooms, quiet and peaceful and close enough to the social center to be awakened by the sounds of breakfast. Full of natural light, welcoming and private, stocked with soft towels and bed linens. In the bathrooms, aromatic soap, wonderful shower heads always ready with hot water. Wardrobes and chests lined with cedar, available for a short stay or a long one. Fresh flowers in vases. A cozy chair in the corner for reading.

Back downstairs, inviting, open social spaces, some with fireplaces for cold winter nights, comfy couches and chairs for reading, socializing, and watching the game/movies or playing video games. Low wooden antique coffee tables, each with a story to tell. Artwork on the walls, family photos and precious items on the china cabinet. A game table with puzzles, Settlers of Catan, decks of cards and good light.

A library full of books, constantly changing as books are borrowed and returned, their readers better for the experience. A space with musical instruments, ready to create sweet melodies, soulful tunes, and rocking riffs. An office with natural light and wide wooden desks for dreaming, writing, and making crafts. Shelves and cabinets for storage and organization.

My favorite part is the view from every window. The houses in the neighborhood are spaced far enough to allow privacy and close enough to create community. The yards are large and spacious, often containing dogs and cats, gardens and children.

Beyond the tended yards the land is undeveloped in large swaths of grassy fields. A creek runs through it and large trees grow on its banks. In the distance, the fields become mountains, dividing the sky from the earth. At night, the stars are bright and the moon is full.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I grew up in the West. I don't live there anymore, yet I am finding that I am a cowgirl at heart.

I want to learn how to barrel race and become a better rider.

I follow the Horse Whisperer (the real one) with great interest. His methods encourage my belief that change does not have to include violence, that it can come peacefully, willingly.

Join-Up International's mission is "We are dedicated to supporting the education and training of people throughout the world to embody the message that "violence is never the answer"." This connects for me the principles in Fierce Conversations, about improving communication to improve relationships, with my pacifism and desire to resolve conflict in a lasting and sustainable way.

This may be a new opportunity for me. I need to find out if this is a direction I want to pursue.

The West calls to me. Its geography is etched on my heart and in my soul. I am happy when I am surrounded by mountains. I have never outgrown my love for horses.

I have an image in my head of what being a cowgirl means to me, what it would be like to be her. She is strong and confident, knowledgeable and calm. She is quiet and observant, speaks when she needs to, learns from others and from the world around her. She has grace under pressure. She is an expert horsewoman and a good teacher.

She feels wild and free riding a horse in an open plain toward the distant mountains. She is appreciated and respected in her community. She knows what she wants and finds a way to get it. She is happiest when she is making others happy.

She's also very real. She needs companionship and love. She likes soft towels and sheets. She loves good food and drink. She likes to be physically and mentally challenged. She likes puzzles and solving problems.

She can be brazen and protective, sometimes a little unconventional. She values the dirt and grit from having fun and working hard. She doesn't shy from conflict and shares her perspective with good intentions.

She drives a pickup truck and wears a cowboy hat and boots. She takes the good with the bad and knows that she is making the world a better place each and every day.

I am not yet a cowgirl. How close can I get?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Final Review of How to be Rich and Happy

I finished reading How to be Rich and Happy last week. I wanted to take some time to think about the impact the book has had on me before writing my final review.

First, I highly suggest that you download the free portion of the book before deciding whether it is the right book for you. Since I started reading, the authors have expanded the free portion another 9 pages to include the first exercise, one I found incredibly helpful and interesting, to identify your core values. The price has also been reduced since I wrote my first partial review about the book.

Some of the exercises were more helpful to me than others. The one thing everyone should know about this book, and probably all types of self-help books, is that in order to benefit from it, you must be open and ready to implement change. If you are unwilling to try something new or think about something in a different way, this book is not for you.

Overall, I think the book is very encouraging and positive. The authors discuss facts versus beliefs, which now comes to mind every time I'm about to say something. The book encourages personal responsibility for making a decision and can be very empowering.

While reading this book, I had a personal insight. In Star Wars, Yoda says "Do or do not, there is no try." That phrase always bothered me. I thought it was pretty harsh, because I often tried hard and failed, yet I didn't want to see it as failure. Now I see that I tended to defer decision making and made excuses. I called this trying, when in fact I was not doing. It opened the door for me to acknowledge the truth to myself and to take increased responsibility for what I choose to do and not do.

It helped me see how much my self-esteem is largely dependent on how I think other people see me. The funny part is that I was very independent in high school, not caring too much about what anyone thought of me.

In college, I swung the other way, finding myself on unstable footing surrounded by people who I assumed had more information than I did. I second-guessed everything I thought I knew and became largely passive and dependent. I made some of my worst decisions in college, especially when it came to the guys I dated.

Now I'm trying to find a balance. I see the stagnation when I doubt myself or don't think I have enough information. It ties into my fear of failure, which I am daily taking steps to embrace and accept.

I know that I can decide what is right for me without judging other people for making different decisions. The authors suggest that reaching my potential and living a rich and happy life makes the world a better place. I am the only one holding me back.

The book definitely helped me see what I am already doing to achieve my rich and happy goals. I'm still not sure how the rich part will factor into my own life. The most important things to me are not things that create income, or at least won't in the way I'd like to pursue them. I could simply redefine what rich means to me, yet it is a fact that many things are almost impossible to do without some cold, hard cash.

The book reminded me to consider how much benefit I get from the cost of something. It's a simple evaluation of utility, a cost/benefit analysis. Evaluate something based on the amount of happy you get from each dollar spent and then decide whether it contributes to your rich and happy life.

Of course, my economics major husband knew that already.

The last thing I would suggest if you're still not sure about whether this book is right for you or not, is to read the Table of Contents (page 3 in the free download). Look at the headings for each chapter. If any of them intrigue you and get you thinking hard about how you can improve your life, it's probably worth it. If you're turned off by the title of the book and the chapter headings don't change your mind, don't bother.

The bottom line: If you're open to making significant improvements in your life and like to have a lot of good information all together in one book, this could be a good solution for you. If you're willing to do a little more leg work in the form of web searches, you can probably find a lot of similar advice and guidelines for free online. A lot of the blogs I follow discuss self-improvement and this book wouldn't have had as much of an impact on me if it had not been preceded by the doorways already opened by what I have been reading on the web.

Let me know if you have any questions! And thanks to Tim Brownson for giving me this review opportunity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I'm back from my travels and happily greeted by smiling faces in my kitchen with caring and insightful questions. I thought the best way to respond to them would be in a new post. See below.

suZen asked, "What makes your heart sing? What flower best reflects your personality? And if you could ask anyone else (living or dead) to have coffee with us - who?"

My heart sings when I see or think of fields leading to mountains, both covered in green, flowing grass and sparse little wildflowers, the sky grey and trembling with thunderheads, a breeze tossing my hair around, bringing the scent of clean, refreshing rain. I feel free and wild.

My heart also sings when I think of our future children, how I will hold them, dress them, bathe them, sing and read to them, watch them sleep, and dream with them. I already have so many hopes for their futures and I am so excited to teach them and learn from them.

I had to think hard about the flower question. I'm ashamed to admit that I went straight to the internet to find some "what flower are you?" quizzes. The scary thing is, the two I tried came up with the same answer, which was one of the flowers bouncing around in my mind before I looked at the quizzes. I am a lily.

If I could ask anyone else, living or dead, to have coffee with us, it would be my great-grandmother, Nana. She died when I was in middle school just before her 100th birthday and I think of her often. I want to be able to ask her questions about our family and about my journey. She lived through so many amazing and challenging times. I want to learn from her, through her own words.

jchristin asked, "Well, first, what is your favorite baked good, and what is your favorite beverage? And my favorite question to get to know someone is what is it that truly makes your heart happy, and what is the first thing you think to do when you have precious "free" time....."

My favorite baked good is probably the chocolate chip cookie bars my grandmother made. My favorite beverage is probably sparkling fruit juice.

My heart is truly happy when it sings about the things I wrote above. The first thing I do with free time is... Well, I suppose that depends on what free time is. I have a hard time concentrating if our space isn't picked up and clean. For example, I had free time this morning before I went to work and I cleaned the bathroom. No joke. Then I paid bills. I love having time to get productive things done.

True free time, though, would probably be a toss up between walking with Donald, writing, and gardening. Video games do pop themselves in there sometimes though - they relax me.

Sandi asked, "My question to you would be If you were a house, what would you be like? A rambler, a colonial, a Cape Cod? How many rooms and what room is your favorite? Can you describe it for me?"

I love this question! I would like to beg off answering it yet - I think it needs its own post and I want to think it through carefully.

Wilma asked, "My favorite question is how do you like to spend your holidays and what was the one you remember the best?"

I like to spend my holidays surrounded by family, in any setting (our house, their houses, a destination location). Thanksgiving and Christmas are probably the biggest for our families. The best ones were probably those held at one of my grandparents' homes because we didn't get to see them more than once a year or so when I was growing up. The true gift was spending time with them, even if we didn't always appreciate that at the time.

Thank you so much for all of these questions! I look forward to more!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Your Turn

I have slowed down the pace of my posts recently. It has been mostly intentional rather than the result of being "too busy". I traveled last weekend and I will be traveling this weekend. Family and work are being given priority.

I have noticed that the more I feel I need to declare to myself and to my readers in my blog, the less time I have to reflect and internalize all that I am reading, thinking, and learning. So I have taken more time to mediate, to relax, to simply be.

I recently finished reading How to be Rich and Happy, so I'll be writing my final review of that here soon. I need a bit more time to let it all sink in.

I am curious about my readers and I imagine that many of you might be curious about me. Since my blog posts tend to dictate the topic of a very one-sided conversation, I'd like to open up this post as a place for you to ask questions, to tell me about yourself, to say whatever it is you'd like to say.

Picture yourself in a warm kitchen, the smell of your favorite baked good wafting from the oven, your favorite beverage in your hands, and happy, encouraging, supportive people sharing the space with you.

What would you ask? What would you share? What do you want to know?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Own Your Way

I was away this weekend, visiting my best friend in New York. We had a wonderful time together. I came away from the experience, though, with a deeper knowledge of how important it is to own our choices, to own the way our lives have unfolded.

She is so stressed and worried. She feels the need to control everything she can.

I see my former self.

She has to find her own way.

One of the most important things I have learned over the last couple months since I embarked on this journey is that I must own my choices. I must own my life. Owning does not mean blaming. If something goes wrong, it may be my fault, and that must come with acceptance, not down-talk. Owning means control, opporunity. Owning means that I can change.

Everything we do is part of finding our way. Each person has their own way, their own life. Every choice I make is my way of living. My life is my way. My life is my process.

What I have been trying to find is not some end goal, some answer. I have been trying to find my way. I have been on my way my entire life. I just had to recognize it as mine. I had to take ownership.

Danielle LaPorte at white hot truth provides a great example of the importance of taking ownership in her post "we know you're busy. now shut up about it." "Busy" is an excuse, something we hide behind as though it makes us unique. We should acknowledge that we haven't responded/called back because we chose not to. We decided that other things were more important. We made other things a priority.

If people think about their choices this way, they might respond to emails/phone calls/texts in a completely different way. When we know what our core values are, we act on putting them first, not on responding to the person who screams the loudest.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we acted first on our core values? If we embraced our choices and looked for opportunities for positive change in every choice we make? What would you do differently?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Finding My Way While Treading Water on a Rollercoaster

Yesterday I found another potential application of my skills, interests, and talent. I was reminded that I had looked into professional organizing several years ago, and had forgotten about it until yesterday.

It appeals to me because it involves creating systems that help people perform everyday tasks, much like the rehab work we do for people with disabilities in my current job, and extended to everyone. Every system would be different, just as every person and their way is different.

The process would be about asking questions, getting to the root of a problem, working with people in their own context and perspective, and widening the possibilities. I would get to encourage people to be more efficient, effective, productive and happy. Better organizational systems promote competence. I could facilitate the process, teaching each person how to improve their own lives themselves.

I could even work for myself out of my home and only work when I want to.

Except, when I completed the activities in the most recent chapter of How to be Rich and Happy, working in any capacity isn't in my pictures of my own rich and happy life. Instead, I picture our future children, Donald and me, our families and friends, smiling and laughing. I picture our pets, including a future dog. I see myself encouraging wonder in our children, looking happy and free and peaceful.

I see travel and trying new things, visiting Europe and hanging out on a dude ranch, riding horses. I see a home of our own where we are comfortable and where I can host lots and lots of happy visitors. I see an inviting and lovely guest room. I see a well-stocked kitchen where I try out new recipes. I see home improvement projects and volunteer time in our new community.

I see a beautiful garden, full of tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables. I picture new crafting projects. I see that I am feeling needed, fulfilled, purposeful. I see myself sending Donald off on his own adventures, things that will help him blossom and grow. I see us eating healthy, yummy food. We are healthy in my pictures. We walk and hike and canoe. We are surrounded by mountains and green fields with dirt paths to follow. I see us playing in the snow with our dog and kids.

I have what I need and I am content.

I have no idea how this turns into being rich. I know it leads to happiness.

Right now, the images I descibed above are my absolute top priority. What I really want is to have a family and to create a new life with Donald. That is what will make me happy right now. That is my current motivation.

The best part is that we're already working towards that goal each and every day. I am off the pill. I am eating healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight. I am working each and every day to get closer to finding inner peace and maintaining it. I am present in my marriage. I am decreasing the level of stress and anxiety in my life.

I am teaching myself things that will be valuable as I become a parent and transition back to life on our own. I visit my family whenever I have the chance. I am learning how to cook and I have more confidence in trying new recipes. I am identifying what I can contribute to my community. I am finding my way.

So here's where the treading water on a rollercoaster comes in. All of these positive realizations that I have outlined above happened while I was at work, sitting alone in my office with little interruption. As I made my way home, my mood slipped. I started to feel tired and melancholy. The excitement and hope and motivation abandoned me.

When I got home, I could tell that Donald was down. He seemed sensitive to my tone of voice, ready to assume that I was upset with him even though there was no reason to be.

After dinner, we went to the basement to snuggle on the couch and chat. I told him about how helpful it has been to me to think positively in the face of unknowns. He said "That won't work for me." I felt sad. I wanted to bottle up my joy and pour it over his head. I wanted him to be able to see that we have come so far, we are so close, that he deserves to feel good about the progress made. I wanted him to picture success and hold it fiercely and close to help him get through this additional week of waiting.

All of the things I have been reading lately speak to the power of positive thought in creating positive outcomes. And that negative thought produces negative outcomes. I pictured our energies, my positive one and his negative one, doing battle right there in the room. I felt angry and deflated. Keeping up positive energy is hard enough on its own for someone like me who has little practice so far.

It's hard enough to create positive out of neutral. To have to create positive just to balance out a negative seemed like more than I could take on, especially when the negative was coming from the person with whom I want to share my positive, happy pictures.

I felt like I was treading water, barely keeping my head above the surface, now burdened with holding Donald's head above water so neither of us drowned.

When I asked him to tell me what his camera images were, he said that he didn't know. He believed that I was showing disapproval of him in my desire to have him try to think positively about the situation. Our conversation devolved into me trying to explain myself and him getting increasingly agitated.

The dark basement suddenly felt oppressive and cold. We moved upstairs, where warm, soft light cleared our minds, the excitement of a hockey game on the TV changed our moods, and the company of Donald's parents opened our hearts. We sat together and watched, forgiving each other as our hips touched.

We went to our own space, got ready for bed, and snuggled under the covers in the dark. We lay on our sides, Donald in front of me, my arm over his side, my breath on his back. Donald apologized. I forgave and apologized too. And then I described my pictures to him.

I told him about the dreams I have, the hopes I have, the success I know we will have. We could both see the images in front of us, hovering in the dark, real enough to reach out and touch. I felt tears sting my eyes when I said that I wished I could show him the pictures I have in my head of our beautiful children. They are what I picture the most.

Donald's strong back softened against me. He told me that while I was talking, he saw a cosy house with a small yard, in a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood. He could see our future. He had hope.

Breathe. Faith. Smile.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


In light of the new laws coming out about bloggers needing to disclose sponsorships and endorsements (Barbara Swafford has a great post about it), I want to share that I was provided with a free copy of How to be Rich and Happy by Tim Brownson, one of the authors. The free copy was provided in exchange for my review of it on my blog. There are no expectations or assumptions that my review will be anything but my honest opinion; I am not obligated to say only positive things. I get absolutely no financial gain from reviewing the book besides the value of the book itself ($97.00).

I'll be writing more about the book as I move slowly through it. Thanks for reading. I feel better now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Slowing Down

I feel like I have been rocketing ahead trying to discover and define and decide. I have found myself resisting my own efforts to improve, like I'm putting on the brakes.

I have stopped reading and commenting on other people's blogs in the last few days. Please don't take it personally - I seem to be needing some space to simply be, to take stock of what I'm doing and what I want.

I also need time and space to think about the book I'm reading and the direction Donald and I are heading.

Donald may be hearing more news today. That's my focus for now.

Addendum: Good news received. More in a week or so. Think happy thoughts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More About Getting Rich

I neglected to explain in my last post what being "rich" means to me. There are so many scams out there for gaining financial wealth. This is not my goal. Much like Lisis at Quest for Balance, I have had a strange relationship with money, assuming that people who have a lot of it spend it on frivolous things and that those without it have suffered some injustice. These are unfair stereotypes.

According to the How to be Rich and Happy book, being rich means "the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want." As Lisis said in her post about this book, "If what you want is to feed every man, woman, and child on the planet, you’re gonna need money (or friends with money). No matter how noble your goals are, money is the tool that will allow you to achieve them." This statement is what hooked me.

I also identified with Lisis' current life situation, as she describes: " that I find myself between homes, between states, between jobs and way past any degree of certainty about how we will pay our bills or create the life we want, I can honestly say I’m more than curious. I’m a sponge. I am thirsty for useful, helpful advice."

So, as a fellow thirsty sponge, I sought out more information on this topic and came across this series of posts on Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online (start with Part 1). Marelisa writes about a book called The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles in 1910. Her posts are very well written and informed and I feel like I learned so much. Wattles figured out so many of the things that I have been struggling with.

The premise of his book is that anyone can become rich if they think "in a certain way" and act "in a certain way". First, you must have a clear, detailed vision of what you want and you must focus on it, giving that vision constant attention. You must have faith that your vision is approaching and on its way. You must show gratitude for receiving the subject/object of your vision before it arrives. Positive thinking attracts positive things and negative thinking attracts negative things, so for goodness sake, think positive things!

The part that really got me came next. You must more than fill your present place, work beyond your job description, and work efficiently (carefully and productively) and with purpose (your vision). I definitely don't do that enough. The last part is to give more value than you receive. If you make minimum wage, do work worthy of the next pay grade, for example. Giving more value creates more life. More life means more riches available to everyone.

I haven't really done justice to his book or his vision. I really encourage you to read Marelisa's summary, or the original book to understand how he arrives at these steps.

Can you see some familiar themes here, though? Faith, gratitude, being present, efficiency and purpose... My sense of being on the right track is heightened. I can't wait to read more about How to be Rich and Happy. More to come.

How to be Rich and Happy (initial review)

I slept really well last night. I woke up feeling... new.

I started reading a new book yesterday, called How to be Rich and Happy by John P. Strelecky and Tim Brownson. I will be reviewing it and writing about my thoughts over the next week or so (however long it takes me). I am grateful to Lisis at Quest for Balance for suggesting it - she's reviewing it too.

I have only read up to Chapter Five so far (it ends at page 39 of 218) and I am already thinking differently and starting to feel more centered. If you're skeptical of self-help books, I'll also be sharing Donald's perspective (often known as Mr. Skepticism).

One of the most important things I have taken away from the book so far is the motivation to actually put something into action this time. The authors say that they have been guilty of reading self-help books, understanding the principles, and then never putting them into practice. I have definitely done this too. It is time for me to move forward, to try something new, to be willing to fail, and to feel good about the whole process.

What I have read so far has prompted me to think really hard about my values. I have realized how interconnected they are, and also how some of my values are so much more important than others. I can also see now why some negative things bother me more than others.

For example, negativity is something I desperately want to avoid. When my mother-in-law suggests to Donald that perhaps he should stop waiting for news on this job and should apply for other things, I react at a much higher level than I would at most things. I am defensive and protective. I am angry. Even though I understand that she is trying to help him avoid getting hurt, I do not appreciate her efforts. I want to prevent Donald from falling back into the black abyss of depression. I also need her to respect that as a married couple, Donald and I are in charge of our future ourselves, despite the fact that we are somewhat dependent upon his parents right now.

Fierce Conversations and How to be Rich and Happy both advocate the importance of living according to one's values. I feel like I am on the right track. My introduction to this book came at a wonderful time.

Now that I have identified what my core values are, I'm looking forward to reading about the next step.

While I was writing this post, I nagged Donald about whether he would say something to his mom about not being so negative about his job search. I phrased it badly (I made it about me) and it didn't come across the way I intended. I pushed him away.

As we seem to get closer to having some kind of answer about his state of employment, I can tell that we're both on edge even more than normal. I'm concerned that I have been blind to some signs that he's not doing as well emotionally as I think he is. He hasn't returned calls or followed up on basic household type things lately. I have to trust that he has been moving forward in some way.

I also need to remember that he and I are standing side by side, facing the unknown together, working together to help each other take the next step, whatever that may be. We are not adversaries, we are partners. The only way we move forward is together.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I Think I Figured It Out (For Now, At Least)

I think I figured out what I want to do.

It dawned on me yesterday, suddenly. I had been thinking about Glen's post at PluginID called Deciding What To Do With Your Life (Without Actually Deciding). He said "Do something (whatever interests you most) and you will end up where you are meant to be." His post gave me permission to decide what interests me most right now. I don't have to decide what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I just need to decide what I'm interested in most now, in the present. It's liberating!

I am grateful, now, that my job was so slow for a while. It gave me the time to address my own needs and to invest in myself. I might not have been able to turn my attitude and outlook around without that opportunity. Funny how things seem to work out that way.

At work, my responsibilities have been expanded recently to have me working more closely with my boss and his clients. I had initially resisted the change and my recent self-coaching made me do it anyway. It ended up being very interesting and I now have new ways in which to support my boss and the work he does in rehab. I have more insight into the importance of the work we do and I am now convinced that my job is more meaningful than I had given it credit for.

I was very pleased when I received a phone call from a client's caregiver telling me that the help I had facilitated for her had worked and improvements had been made. We figured out the next step so more progress can happen. It felt so good to know that I made a difference and to interact directly with the people we are helping. The main part of my job has me working mostly behind the scenes, so I don't have direct interaction with many people who are impacted by our work. Working with clients and seeing the improvements first hand is so rewarding! I need more of it.

The happiness I felt as the result of a single phone call had me thinking about Glen's post. I pulled out a sheet of scrap paper and started brainstorming. I wrote about helping people and facilitating progress and coordinating efforts and organizing and searching for a better way to do things and efficiency and effectiveness and implementation of positive change.

Many of these key words are not new for me; they are constant themes when I brainstorm about what I want to do. Unfortunately, they are incredibly vague without a specific context. I feel hindered in this area because I assumed that I need specialized/expert knowledge in order to help people.

However, my experience helped me see that I am already doing many of these things in my current job. I don't need to be the expert, I just need access to the people who have the knowledge. My role as a coordinator should be knowing the systems, the contexts, and the opportunities, which is where my interest in operations and my analytical and problem solving skills come in.

I also wrote about my humanitarian interests. I like helping people who are viewed in one way or another as "disadvantaged", like people with disabilities and Veterans. That's when I realized that I am actually DOING much of what I want to be doing.

The main change I seem to need is an increased interaction with people so that I can see the progress and feel happy knowing that improvements have been made. The new responsibilities I just started this week will make that happen, and that change took place before I even knew that it is what I needed.

My new insight comes at a strange time. Donald may be employed in the near future, in a location too far away for a commute to my current job. The most surprising thing to me is that this situation does not give me anxiety. As I put my thoughts into words, I realized that the most important part of what I had just figured out is that I know what I want to do now. While my current job meets those desires, it is not the only one or the only way for me to do this kind of work. What I want to do is not dependent upon my current job.

I plan to explore my options with my current job to see how much flexibility there might be for me to keep it and telecommute. I know, however, that the worst case scenario of leaving this job and having to find another is not nearly so daunting now that I know what I am looking for and what will be fulfilling for me. I will no longer have to get "just a job". I will look for a good job that will help me grow and will give me meaningful work to do.

If it is meant to happen, it will.

Holy crap.... look how far I have come...

I was open to these insights partially because of Dani's post on positively present called "light up your life: 5 days to make your path brighter". Her metaphor of walking a path at night and in daylight and the way our perceptions change what we experience is truly artful and moving. I am bookmarking this post in particular so that when the darkness clouds my senses, I will be reminded that I am responsible for providing the light on my way through life.

Thank you for watching and supporting my journey, dear readers. I will keep you posted!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Perseverence and Survival

News about Donald's job prospect may be forthcoming today. I prefer not to write anything about it yet, except to say that it is amazing how things may be working out, in an unexpected and possibly very meaningful way.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a story I heard recently. It was on Ken Burns' "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" series aired on PBS about the history of the national parks. One of the parks highlighted is Yellowstone, which includes the story of Truman C. Everts. While traveling with an expedition in 1870, Truman (aged 54) was separated from his party. He managed to survive with no food or tools or shelter for thirty-seven days before he was found, emaciated, injured, and out of his mind. And he recovered. He published his story in Scribner's Monthly in 1871. Lee Whittlesey republished it in 2002.

I sat there with my jaw on the floor. As the narrative described the course of events, the situation got progressively worse as Truman lost his supplies and then was injured several times. I was amazed that he survived at all. You can see the clip about his ordeal here (his story ends at 5:11).

It made me wonder about the kind of determination and resolve that Truman must have had in order to survive such a situation. I wonder whether I could have done/could do the same.

It also reminded me that things could always be worse. It reminded me to be grateful for each and every good thing in my life. I am even inclined to be grateful for the mediocre and mundane things because at least I'm not lost in uncharted wilderness with wild animals, frostbite, and starvation. Ah, perspective.

If Truman could survive under such terrible circumstances for over a month, what in the world could I possibly have to complain about?

To be fair, everyone has their own context. There is always someone worse off than we are. Truman's situation lacked simple physiological basics. Most of us are not in that situation. That doesn't mean that we don't have the right to express discontent or frustration. We have to work from our own perspectives and expectations and each find our own way to be happy.

Truman's story struck me because of his strength and determination. I admire his ability to survive. It gives me strength and determination too. If he could survive that, then I can certainly survive (and thrive in) the challenges that come my way.

What can you do today to move beyond surviving and into thriving?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Inhale the good, exhale the bad.
Breathe in to gather the negative things together and breathe out to expel them forever.

Breathe in.
Frustrated drivers honking in traffic.

Breathe out.
Wind blowing through nearby aspen trees.

Breathe in.
People walk by, instantly judged.

Breathe out.
Release internal dialogue. Stand, mind quiet, eyes closed.

Breathe in.
Tummy rumbles, impatient for dinner.

Breathe out.
Shoulders relax down, away from my ears.

Breathe in.
So cold.

Breathe out.
Clouds break, sun warms my back.

Breathe in. 
My reflection, met with a frown, analyzing.
Breathe out.
Forgive and embrace me.
Breathe in. 
Waiting for job news.
Breathe out.
Determined faith.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

More Inspiration

I updated my list of inspiring blogs in my sidebar. They are all worth visiting, often.

I keep finding new blogs to follow and new inspiration in the ones I already follow. Since I am still internalizing a lot of the things I have been learning, I'd like to take the opportunity to write about other people instead of myself.

First, I'd like to note Dani at positively present for her 14 reasons to fall in love with fall. Summer used to be my favorite season. Fall has surpassed it with flying colors (ha!) now that I know what fall can truly be. I didn't grow up with real fall and now that I experience the things Dani writes about, I join her in her enthusiasm and passion for the sense of change, the colors in the leaves, and the sounds and smells that come with autumn.

I enjoyed watching the video that Tess posted on The Bold Life under Rapping Southwest Flight Attendant. It's wonderful to witness people doing something out of the ordinary, which takes courage, and having it turn out so well that it lifts people's moods. I admire the attendant in the video for finding a way to make something very mundane exciting and new instead.

I recently discovered Urban Monk and I am really looking forward to reading and implementing the articles about Finding a Purpose and Passion in Life.

Now that I have laid out some of the changes I want to make in my life, I am happy to be reminded by Leo at Zen Habits that I should take things slowly. His post, entitled The Slow Secret: How to Make Lasting Changes in Your Life, outlines the wonderful benefits of slowing down. I have a feeling that this will help me in my goal to be in the present more often, too.

Mommy Mystic's post called LOVE- The Story of a Life, of Any Life brought me to tears with her words. Her story about her friend Matt who died at a young age is a poignant example of the way each of us can have an impact on the world by simply living our lives with love. The power of her words reminds me that even the little things matter and gives me the strength to keep going each day even if I don't accompish anything particularly noteworthy in the short-term.

I really enjoyed reading Ian's post on Quantum Learning called A world of deals and exchanges. His suggestion to try to make eye contact with people you encounter is something that I have tried to do before and it is truly surprising how difficult it can be, and how wonderful it is when you do manage to lock eyes with a stranger for a second. Our assumptions definitely get in the way of having happy exchanges with people as we maneuver through life. What can we do to act with a little more faith in humanity without feeling betrayed or endangered if our faith is returned with distrust? Maybe our positive actions will catch on.

The new blog that really jumped out for me in my exploring yesterday is Lisis' Quest For Balance. I would like to highlight three of her posts here. First, her post on Depression: The Long, Dark Road gave me some insight into what depression was/is like for her to deal with, and had me wondering what it feels like for Donald. I think he's mostly past his depression now, yet it's still good to understand what he was going through, especially if he encounters it again.

I think anyone having a bad day (or worse) can implement the suggestion to "focus on the centerline" and keep going a little longer. I'm using this idea now to get through the next couple weeks of waiting to hear news on Donald's current job prospect. Getting closer somehow makes it even harder.

Lisis also posted The Basic Needs: Just Be. This is a wonderful piece because it reminds her readers to simplify all the way back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It has definitely helped me to focus on the basics before getting caught up with the more complex things. Amazingly, meeting basic needs often simplifies the more complicated things or shows us that those things aren't really necessary.

The final post from Lisis that caught my attention is Adventure: How to Get From Fear to Faith. I was hesitant as I started to read this post, mostly because faith means different things to different people and I wasn't sure that she would share my sense of it. I absolutely love what she writes, that "what you believe is not as important as that you believe in something." She goes on to show how this can relate to everyone, no matter their religious or spiritual level of being. I will be doing my best to implement this idea. It will help me be in the present, let go of control, be less anxious, and trust that everything will work out.

Thanks for reading! I hope you visit and enjoy each of these blogs. I'd love to hear about the ones that have impacted you and how you have implemented what you read to make a difference in your life. Thank you to each of these bloggers for contributing in such a valuable way to the blogging community!