Monday, December 29, 2014

And All Through the House (Dream Save Do, week 12)

Ahhhhh . . . the week after Christmas. Usually, this is a time of calm and quiet in my home. The get-togethers are behind me, as are the "extra" church services, various Christmas concerts and programs, and the general busy-ness of December. I putter around the house, nibbling on whatever Christmas goodies are left, snug in my pajamas, and I spend this time relaxing with good books and cups of hot chocolate and enjoying the house all decked out in its Christmas splendor.

This year, though, things were quite different. My daughter and I celebrated Christmas quietly (we had celebrated a few days earlier with my son, while he was home for 3 days for Christmas), and the next day I began boxing up the Christmas decorations and returning the apartment to its normal "look".

Normally, I don't take down the Christmas decorations until January 6. My mom always waited until then because that's when, in the church, we celebrate the arrival of the Magi and, of course, their giving of gifts to the Christ-child. With January 6, the Christmas season ends.

I'm a traditionalist, and I cling to family traditions like a barnacle, but this year I had a wonderful reason for disregarding such a major one. My daughter decided a month or so ago that she was going to move home, and I needed to make some major changes to the furniture arrangement so there would be room for her things.

Off the tree and into their little boxes went all the ornaments, packed away went all the decorations, and before I knew it, the apartment was back to its pre-day-after Thanksgiving look. Except for one thing. My largest Nativity set is still in place; I just couldn't bring myself to put it away before Epiphany.

Saturday evening, my daughter left to meet friends, and I settled onto the couch with a new book and some goodies to nibble on. I looked around the living room, and I missed the Christmas decorations. I went to bed feeling a bit guilty about my decision to take everything down instead of just squish the tree over into the corner.

Sunday afternoon, a fairly new friend, a wonderful older woman I work with in a volunteer opportunity, shared with me that the coming year is going to be very busy for her. As we talked, I learned that after 40+ years in her present home, she and her husband will be moving in the Fall to a condo in a retirement community. She was quick to explain that the move is purely their choice and that they put their names on the list for a to-be-built condo 3 years ago.

I couldn't help but notice as she talked, that she seemed more resigned than excited about this change, so I asked her how she felt about it. She paused before saying something quite simple yet quite profound.

"No matter what age a person is, change is inevitable. I've found, though, that as we age, change becomes more and more hard to bear. People who resist it or refuse to change become bitter and brittle. Looking ahead, accepting change with grace, and adapting with a positive attitude are the keys to remaining mentally and physically healthy."

She went on to explain that she's accepted the change and is working on looking ahead with a positive attitude. That last part is, she explained, something she has to work on day by day -- sometimes hour by hour.

My older friend is very wise.

My daughter's Ugg boots sit by the door, just a few feet from where the Christmas tree stood. A reason to celebrate!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Adore

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

Adore

Of course, with Christmas less than a week away, my first thought was "O Come Let us Adore Him", a beautiful Christmas hymn.

Adore

It's an interesting word, one I don't hear as often as I used to. Now it's simply "love". We love our dogs, our children, our favorite television show, and on and on.

But adore goes beyond love; it's love seasoned with worshipfulness.

Sometimes my worship -- my adoration -- is somewhat formal. Take church worship, for example. My denomination is known for its very low-key worship style. While I don't know for sure, something tells me we may have been the very last hold-outs against contemporary church services.

My worship style varies much more outside the walls of the church. I sing along quite energetically to the contemporary Christian music on my favorite radio station. I pour my heart out quite expressively in my prayer journal. I laugh out loud in adoration of the beauty in the world around me.

I may be wrong, but I imagine that God doesn't care about the style or outward expression of the adoration.

I believe that instead, God looks at two things. Of course, it's important that I adore the right thing, that I not worship anything or anyone other than God. The sincerity behind the adoration is also key.

And that,

 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Learning to Idle my Motor (Dream Save Do, week 11)

"Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears."  I like this definition of patience shared by Barbara Johnson, one of my favorite authors/humorists.

I will save you the trouble of hunting down my sister, son, daughter, or anyone else who has known me for any length of time and just confess it outright -- until 5 years ago, patience was never my strong suit.

For the first 40+ years of my life, once I determined an idea was a good one, I wanted to act on it right away. It wasn't so much that I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. It was more that I didn't like loose ends, and to me, a project on the table was a loose end. Things would not be neat and tidy again until the project was completed.

This tendency (my sister is wrong -- it was not an obsession!) had more than a few benefits. My husband loved it when I got the urge to rearrange the living room in the middle of the afternoon while he was at work; I'd huff and puff, struggle and strain, but it would be done before he got home that evening. Bosses generally loved it. Given a task, I'd have it done -- and done correctly, I want to add -- right away. No waiting until the deadline for me!

My lack of patience also created problems. Waiting in line or sitting in a traffic jam was torture for me. No matter how calm I might make myself appear on the outside, I was emotionally itchy.

That all changed when my husband passed away. For awhile, of course, I was simply numb. Once the numb wore away, I was left with a very new, healthier perspective on what is and isn't important.

I haven't become a procrastinator by any means, and I still complete assigned tasks and paperwork as quickly as possible; however, I've become more comfortable with allowing things to unfold in their own time.

The concept of patience has been on my mind these past few weeks. Now that I know what I want to do in this next stage of my life, I'm eager to get started. I hear the voice of John Wayne saying, "We're burning daylight", and I begin to feel a bit antsy.

I'm ready. Ready to move from where I am to where I want to be.

The problem is, I don't know where that where will be. I know what lifestyle I want, but not where I will be engaged in that lifestyle.

And so . . . I wait. And I prepare. And I practice patience.

Oh, how I want to load up my car, jump in the front seat, and roar off. Instead, I remain here, my engine idling.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do I Have a Group for You!

Are you a blogger? Do you have a book lurking inside you, just waiting to be written? OR have you already started (or even finished -- if so, I applaud you) a book?

If so, I hope you'll check out this Facebook group, recently started by Trish McClintock McAllister (www.notesonthefridge.com).

I know that Trish shares my hope that this group will grow and become a gathering place of women who share, support, seek and receive advice/hints/tips, etc., as they write. We need a community like this, and we need your participation!

I hope you'll join us. :)

Five Minute Friday: Prepare

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

Prepare. What a perfect word for this time in my life, this week, today!

For over a year, I've been meandering through the process of redesigning my life. I've dreamed and imagined. Pored over books and magazines and websites. Dreamed and imagined some more.

I've slowly worked through the process of determining the life I want for this next stage of my life.

Finally -- hallelujah! -- I have a very clear  (albeit somewhat flexible in terms of where) vision of what I want.

In the past month, I've been taking more distinct steps to prepare for that new life. More and more things have departed my home, and my debt-free home fund has grown just a tad with some of those departures. Additionally, I've been applying for jobs in areas of the country I prefer to live in.

I've also been praying. But in all honesty, my requests for guidance and a new job have lacked focus; "direction" and "an open door" -- 2 items that I have prayed for so often that my request has become almost automatic -- the footnotes to a list that includes safety for a friend's son in harm's way, healing and strength for another friend battling cancer, and so many other urgent, heart-felt petitions. And my prayer life in general has been inconsistent.

But just last night, I made the decision to prepare more seriously for change by committing to more focused, more intentional prayer and Bible study.

To that end, I'm taking a 40-day fast from Facebook (other than what I call my "writer page"). For some, that may not be a huge change, but for me, it is. Between the lack of interaction with friends there and with coworkers (the semester ended yesterday), my social life is going to be pretty nonexistent.

But that, I believe, is the point. To cut away the distracting chatter so I can communicate with the One whose voice I really need to hear.

To prepare for what He has in store for me now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's Not the Fruitcake . . .

This incident occurred 25 years ago, and every Christmas since then, I've been reminded of it.

I jerked awake. Fruitcake! I woke up my husband. He was a much better sport about being woken at 2 in the morning than I would have been; instead of fussing, he simply asked what was wrong. I told him that we needed to get a fruitcake. He just looked at me and then reminded me that I didn't like fruitcake and neither did he. But when I explained that it was for my father, he understood.

That afternoon, my parents had arrived from Missouri to spend Christmas with my husband, son, baby daughter, and I in our Texas home. Their arrival had been a shock. Not because we weren't expecting them. What we weren't expecting was my father's appearance.

Dad had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of September. My mom and he had been at our house for Thanksgiving; he'd had several rounds of chemo, but his spirits were great and he'd looked fine. Less than a month later, though, that wasn't the case. When the doorbell had rung that afternoon, and I opened the door, I almost didn't recognize my own father. Both he and my mom had been telling us for weeks that he was doing great, but that obviously wasn't true.

His face was gaunt and his eyes hollow-looking. His once-dark brown skin was gray, and his thick, wavy black hair had been replaced with sparse gray hair that looked dry and coarse.

I remember telling myself to keep smiling as I got Dad and Mom inside and settled, my son chattering at them nonstop the entire time. Mom immediately picked up my 9-month-old daughter from her blanket on the living room floor, and I went to the bedroom to call my husband, who was at work. I started crying as soon as he picked up the phone and told him that if he could, I wanted him to come home.

He didn't ask any questions. He was walking in the house 10 minutes later.

Twelve hours later, when I told him my dad loved fruitcake, he again didn't ask any questions.

He immediately got up and began getting dressed. I asked him where he was going, and when he said he was going to go to the 24-hour Walgreens to see if they had fruitcake, I assured him it could wait until morning. I apologized for waking him up, and he assured me it was okay, that he understood and that he wanted to have it already there when Dad got up the next morning.

Maybe it was because it was 2 a.m. and we weren't thinking clearly, but neither of us thought to call Walgreens to see if they had any fruitcake. Instead, my husband finished getting dressed, slipped out of the house, and went in search of something neither of us could stand.

Well over an hour later, he returned, triumphantly holding a round tin. Walgreens had been sold out (both of us were shocked by that -- that many people like fruitcake?), so he'd gone to several Circle K convenience stores until he found one that had what he was looking for. He put the fruitcake on the kitchen counter, and we both went back to bed.

We had planned to sleep in a bit the next morning, but my son and daughter were up bright and early as usual. Even though they were fairly quiet, my parents heard them, and they joined the four of us. We chatted while I fixed coffee and my husband fried bacon and eggs; I nudged him and pointed with my eyes to the round red and white tin on the counter. He'd done the work; I wanted him to have the honor of offering my dad fruitcake, and he did.

The look on my dad's face was priceless. He was surprised we'd thought of it since, as he said, he knew the rest of us "turned up our noses" at it, and he was obviously very touched that we'd bought it for him. He said that a small piece would be the perfect start to breakfast.

A few minutes later, we were all sitting at the table together. I looked around. My mother, who had tried so hard to shield me from how sick my father was. My son, who absolutely adored his grandfather and was as excited about him being there as he was about Santa arriving in 2 more days. My daughter, who I knew with certainty would have no real memories of her own of the grandfather who cherished her.

My focus, though, was on 2 men -- one at the head of the table, the other to his right.

My dad. The man who had always been my hero. The man who patiently and lovingly encouraged me to try new things, who taught me to play poker and cribbage and all sorts of games and never "played down" to me. The man who I could write pages and pages about and never get it all said. The man who throughout my life gave the me the best gift of all -- his love.

My husband. The man who was a fantastic father to our children. The man who respected and revered my father. The man who got up without complaint at 2 in the morning to drive around town looking for a fruitcake. The man of few words who gave my hero the best gift of all -- his love.

We never again bought a fruitcake. But every December, when I see my first fruitcake of the season, I'm taken back to that day. It wasn't the fruitcake that mattered at all . . . it was the gift of love.

I so wish I could have told this story much better -- its main characters deserve that. I've never shared this story before, and it was harder to do than I thought it would be. Thank you for letting me share it with you. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Oops! (Dream Save Do, week 10)

Picture this scene:

A sunny July afternoon in the parking lot of the small (but very nice . . . and free) Alamogordo, NM city zoo. The loving, thoughtful mother starts the car and lets the air conditioner run in an effort to cool the interior before placing her almost-one-year-old son in his car seat. The mother and son sit on a blanket in the shade of an awning, sipping from (respectively) a water bottle and a sippy cup.

The mom checks the car one more time and, finding it nice and cool, places her son in his carseat, hands him his sippy cup, and closes the car door. She smiles at her son and walks around to the driver's side of the car and pulls up on the door handle. Nothing. The door doesn't open.

She reaches in her purse for her keys but then realizes they aren't there. They're dangling from the ignition. Inside the car.

Does she panic? Not at all. She calmly smiles and waves at her son to let him know mommy has everything under control, and then she walks back around to the passenger side again. She pulls up on the handle on the door she closed just a few minutes before, after putting her son in his car seat.

Nothing. That door doesn't open earlier. Her habit of pushing down on the lock before closing the door has come back to bite her.

Does she panic? No, not at all. She tensely smiles at her son to let him know mommy is working on the problem and rushes to check the other doors. Then all of the doors again. Then she panics.

Long story short, on that pre-cell phone afternoon 27 years ago, the mommy -- okay, I admit it, it was me -- called the police from a phone booth just a few feet away from her - car and explained to the police officer what had happened. I also explained that my Air Force Captain husband and possessor of the other car key was deployed who-knew-where, and I needed help.

I was only sniffling a bit when I made the call, but by the time the officer arrived -- bless him, he used his lights and siren to get there sooner -- I was standing at my son's window, sweating profusely and crying, while smiling crazily to convey to my son that everything was okay. The officer didn't lecture me on my incompetence, and throughout the whole ordeal, my son laughed and smiled and drank from his sippy cup there in the nice air-conditioned car while both the officer I sweated profusely and one of us cried.

Eventually, the door was unlocked, the nice police officer went on his way, and I promised my son I would never lock him in the car again. Addled by the heat, I tried to bribe him not to tell his daddy, but then I realized that he only said a handful of words, none of which included "car", "locked", or "inside", so I was off the hook.  (By the way, I confessed within 3 minutes of my husband walking in the door 4 days later)

I'd almost forgotten about that incident. Until last Wednesday.

I decided to clean up the files on my laptop. I opened the "Documents" window and began deleting things I no longer need. I zipped along quite happily, feeling pretty darned good about ridding my life of some electronic clutter.

When I finished, I glanced at the clock and saw I had about 30 minutes until I needed to leave for an appointment. Plenty of time to make a dent in cleaning out my bookmarks folder. Four years of bookmarking pages and sites and blogs had led to over 30 folders with goodness-knows-how-many sites per folder.

I'll be merciful and get right to the point. Somehow, at some point, when I thought I was deleting a folder with 5 sites I visited 3 years ago before a visit to South Carolina, I actually deleted ALL  of my bookmarks.

Yes, you read that right. ALL of my bookmarks.

Bookmarks for tiny house sites that are chock-full of information, sites for scrapbooking ideas I loved, sites for leaving my slothful ways and exercising my way to a whole new me, sites for . . . well, I think you've got the idea.

When I realized what I'd done, I was stunned. I simply sat there and looked at the screen in total disbelief. Suddenly, I recognized that feeling. I flashed back to that day at the zoo, and I remembered how stunned I felt when I realized that I'd locked my son in the car. But this time there was no nice, patient police officer who would race through the streets to my rescue.

I turned off the computer. And I'll admit that I turned in back on and clicked on "Bookmarks" one more time. Just to see if all of my bookmarks would somehow, by some Apple wizadry far beyond my comprehension, reappear. They didn't.

When it dawned on me -- finally -- that over four years' worth of searching for sites, combing through who-knows-how-many, and then amassing a virtual file cabinet of resources was gone, the numbness wore off and feeling returned.

The first to surface was regret, followed by disappointment. Followed by a moment or two of frustration.

And then I made a decision. A simple but very important decision.

I decided to consider my mistake a blessing. I wouldn't have to spend what would surely be hours looking back at every site and, undoubtedly, getting sidetracked by reading and looking at pictures. I wouldn't have to reorganize them into a more streamlined, usable set of bookmark folders.

Instead, I get to start with a clean slate. This time, I'm going to be more discriminating in what I bookmark and more organized (no more folders titled "untitled", "Untitled", and "untitled2").

An oops? Yes. A blessing? Aboslutely!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Here's What I Know About Ferguson

More than a few times these past 3+ months, I've started to comment on a topic that has headlined the news more often than not since August 9. Each time, I've decided not to comment.

You see, for the past 4+ years, I've worked in Ferguson, Missouri.

I wasn't in Ferguson that Saturday afternoon; instead, I was attending a conference in Dallas, Texas.

I'm not a member of the grand jury that has spent untold hours listening to testimony and sifting through evidence in the case.

As a result of those last 2 facts, I am in no position to offer an opinion on what happened that day or what, if any, legal action should be taken now.

Of course, a large number of politicians, activists, ministers and pseudo-ministers, and a wide variety of other folks who were neither on the scene back in August or on the grand jury have been more than happy to do just that. They have spoken with firm conviction, but without any first-hand knowledge of the events.

Their desire to sound off or to be in the limelight has trumped their concern for truth and for the very justice they proclaim to be their primary motivation.

So what do I know about Ferguson? Let me share just a few of the things I've learned about this North St. Louis County community in the 4 1/2 years I've worked there.

1. Beautiful neighborhoods -- old and newer -- abound. Sadly, there are also neighborhoods that are unkempt at best.

2. Admittedly, Ferguson has some problems. Crime is a problem; in fact, it's a significant problem. Other problems are unemployment, struggling public schools, low property values, etc.

3. Ferguson also has many strengths of which its residents can be proud. Thriving old businesses and new businesses, wonderful parks, beautiful churches, etc.

4. Many, many wonderful individuals reside in Ferguson. Individuals who work hard or who are retired after a lifetime of good, hard work. Individuals who reach out to those in need, help their neighbors, and are the very folks any of us would welcome as neighbors and friends.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Ferguson is a community that is like thousands found throughout this country.

What you see on television and in newspapers is not "Ferguson". Instead, it's the Ferguson that has been created by politicians, activists, so-called Christian leaders, random individuals, and those in the media who are bent on using the tragedy of August 9, 2014, to their advantage.

To be seen. To utter the soundbite that is heard ad nauseum around the world.

"Michael Brown" and "justice" are the catchphrases they use to shamelessly promote themselves.

As Ferguson -- and all of the St. Louis area and beyond -- waits anxiously for the grand jury decision, I'm sure these individuals are feeling quite proud of themselves. I'm sure that, even as I write, they are busy posturing and positioning themselves for maximum exposure in the days ahead.

Instead, they should be hanging their heads in shame.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Notice

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

Notice. An interesting word I rarely give much thought to.

What do I notice?

Do I notice when someone around me is hurting ~~ and take action?

Do I notice the small acts of kindness extended by others ~~ and express gratitude?

Do I notice the beauty in the world around me ~~ and say thank you?

Do I notice opportunities to be a positive force ~~ and jump in?

Sometimes I do. All too often, though, I don't.

What am I doing that catches the notice of others?

Do others see me responding to harshness with kindness?

Do they see me working tirelessly to help others just because it's the right thing to do, and not for glory and attention?

Do they notice a warm smile on my face?

Notice. I need to pay notice to so many things.

To the beauty in the world and in those around me.

To my own actions and attitudes.

To opportunities to serve.

But primarily, I need to stop, be silent and still, and take notice of what God has said and is saying to me. That, in a nutshell, is all I really need to take notice of. If I do, everything will fall into its rightful place.

Notice.

 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Home, Cozy Home (Dream Save Do, week 9)

IF I believed in reincarnation, I would have to consider the possibility that I was, in a past life, a turtle. Back in my sports-playing days, I was agile, had great aim (in the 3 years I was the starting pitcher for a girls'-league fast pitch softball team, I never lost a game, a fact I still take shameless pride in), and highly competitive. Fast-moving? Not at all.

It's not my lack of speed, though, that best indicates I have Testudinian tendencies. Side note: turtles belong to the Testudine family, a fact I had no knowledge of until just a few minutes ago. 

What truly points to my turtle-like nature is my love for small, cozy living places. While I thoroughly loved the large home we lived in when both my son and daughter lived at home, I was happiest when we were all gathered in the average-sized family room, gathered in front of the fireplace on a couch and love seat that were carefully placed to create what I thought of as a cozy refuge.

When our son left for college, causing my husband and I to sell our large house in town and build a home on 65 rural acres, we decided to downsize significantly. I was ecstatic! Armed with a pencil, eraser, and graph paper, I planned our new home.

A few basic considerations drove every line I drew and every revision I made. The foremost guideline was size. We wanted a house that would fit the empty-nesters we would be in just 2 1/2 years (at the time) but which would accommodate both our son and daughter, plus their families when that day came, for both brief get-togethers and extended visits. The other major considerations were openness, efficient use of space, and energy efficiency.

When all was said and done, we moved from a 2-story home with 1400' sq on each level (and a same-sized unfinished -- except for a bathroom -- basement) to a 2-story home with "only" 960' sq feet on each finished level. I couldn't have been happier.

Since my husband's death, I've moved to a 2-bedroom condo and then, when my new house was completely constructed, a 2-bedroom (with additional office) home of 1264' sq on one level, and now to a 1-bedroom apartment. In each of these last 3 locations, I've had more room than I need, and I've dreamed of finding something smaller.

For a couple of years now, I've flirted with the idea of buying a tiny house or having one built.

For those who aren't familiar with the term, a "tiny house" can mean many things. To some people, it means a home under 400' feet. To others, it means a house that can fit on a trailer and, if desired, moved from one location to another if the need or want arises. To me, a tiny house is a very small home that is either site-built or built on a trailer.

A "Dream House" bookmark group on my laptop holds links to websites that I study carefully every chance I get, my footlocker-turned-coffee table is adorned by 2 fabulous tiny house books, and I've been putting every extra penny I can find in a "mortgage-free home" savings account.

I'm done flirting! I've set some deadlines, and I'm determined to either build or buy a tiny house within the next 12 months. While I like the idea of a site-built home, I'm still about 10 years from retirement and want to be able to move if/when a better job situation presents itself. As a result, my plan is to build a tiny house on a trailer so I can easily relocate.

I shared my plans with my son and my daughter. While "skeptical" may be too strong a word, they both have reservations. That's natural. They both are at a different stage in life -- they are both looking forward to owning their own homes; to accruing things they haven't been able to afford while in college, grad school, med school, and residency; and to starting their own families.

They tease me about my Birkenstock tendencies, and I have to admit that, as much a traditionalist as I am, there's more than a bit of truth in that assessment.

I long for a simpler lifestyle. Evenings spent alone or with friends. A simple meal and a leisurely walk afterward, time spent reading or knitting or scrapbooking on the porch or inside my cozy home. My work time spent earning money not to spend on utilities, rent/house payments, a 300+-station TV package, etc., but to fund experiences -- a white-water rafting trip, a Route 66 road trip, or an extended trip across Canada by rail. A simpler lifestyle that is closer to nature, more organic.

I'm being pretty bold, I believe, in putting this commitment out here on a public forum for anyone who stops by to see. But it's a good kind of bold. An exciting kind of bold.

As I indicated at the beginning of this post, I don't believe in reincarnation; I know with utter certainty that I have never had a past life, much less a past life as a turtle.

I also know that I am ready for a new life, one that fits me, and that includes a home that fits me, Birkenstocks, hand-knitted socks, and all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Joy-filled Decor (Dream Save Do, week 8)

Six days out of seven, I check my email inbox and feel the same disappointment I feel when I check my snail mail mailbox. With most of my non-local family and friends using facebook as their primary method of communication now, I rarely receive personal emails. Instead, my inbox is filled with messages in which the sender is hawking a product or two.

Last week, though, I had a one-out-of seven day; when I logged on to my personal email account I found a message from a favorite cousin, Debbie. And it wasn't just any old message! Right away, she touched my heart by saying that when she read what she was sharing in the message she thought of me. I don't know about you, but when someone says that -- and I know they truly meant it -- I feel honored, yet humbled.

Then I read the rest of the message. The blogger shared a concept I've long embraced and even shared here more than once (get rid of everything you don't love or use). But he said it more succintly. More profoundly. Better.

In short (pardon the pun), Chris Guillebeau summarizes the decorating philosophy espoused by Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. 

Get ready; here it is:              "Discard everything that doesn't 'spark joy'".

I wrote this sentence on my little dry-erase marker board that sits in a prominent place in my apartment:

 

I read that sentence every time I walked through my living/dining area. I found it running through my head at odd moments. And then, I put it into practice on Friday morning by going through my books (again). I pulled all 100+ books from my large entertainment center and sorted them into 3 stacks.

1: Spark joy

2: Do not spark joy

3. Portions spark joy or I haven't had a chance to read this yet

The books in the first stack -- only 45 -- went back on the newly-dusted shelves.

The books in the second stack have already been donated to the local Friends of the Library for the biannual book sale.

The books in the third stack have been subdivided into two more stacks. The first contains books in which I've hilited a sentence here or there. I'm going to skim or read each of those books again, recording in a beautiful leather journal I was given recently the nuggets that inspire me. Of course, I'm organizationally-obsessed -- I'm already thinking of how I'll sort-of divide the book into topics such as organizing, decorating, faith, etc.

What about the second sub-divided stack? Well, I've imposed on myself a deadline of the end of Christmas Break (January something-or-other) to read each of them and, of course, apply the "sparks joy" criteria when finished.

Four days later, I glance over at my entertainment center, devoid of the clutter of books that I had kept out of habit, not out of intentional thought. I like what I see. It makes me smile. It brings me a peaceful kind of joy.

I'm not done. Next up are my clothes, and I can't wait to get started!

If you'd like to read the blog post my cousin shared with me, you'll find it at:          

                    http://chrisguillebeau.com/better-organizational-strategy/

Friday, November 7, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Turn

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

If this had been the word last week, I don't think I could have written a word, but Kate hit the nail on the head this week.

Why? Because yesterday there came a turn in the road for me. Not a bend. Not a curve. A turn.

Until yesterday, I thought of making some significant adjustments regarding my current position. I dabbled a bit -- updating my resume, collecting one current letter of reference, and talking ad nauseum about my desire for change. A pretty lackadaisical approach to making a significant life change, you'd have to say.

Earlier this week, an incident at work caused me to think it was time to get more serious about a change. I asked for 2 more current letters of reference and contacted a previous supervisor for a 3rd -- bringing my grand total of professional references to 4. I searched my employer's website for a posting of a different position or perhaps the same position at a different location. Nada. I did a quick internet search and found a few intriguing listings. I even began putting together the *actual* application packet.

I didn't respond to even the most intriguing positions.

Yesterday afternoon, though, an incident occurred that caused me to turn emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Mentally, I'm fed up. I'm fed up with my profession, my colleagues, and myself being treated with disrespect. It comes from all angles. From many in the public, from politicians (except when they need our vote or need a great sound bite), from clients, and even from those above us in the food chain.

I'm fed up mentally. I do everything I can and everything that is considered best practice in order to be effective at what I do. I treat others with respect, I do not react to disrespect or aberrant behavior on the part of clients, and I maintain a calm, professional demeanor. Yet, no matter what I do, the outcomes are not what they are at previous places of employment or at most other places that do what we do.

I'm fed up physically. I have been experiencing physical symptoms that are, according to my doctor and other reliable sources, clearly stress-related.

I'm not a quitter.

But I've turned a corner.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Progress (Dream Save Do, week 7)

Now that I have a fairly specific goal as to where I want to go from here, I've been spending my free time taking care of various details that will get me there by setting mini-goals.

Goal: 7 items donated/sold/discarded every week

First, I've begun decluttering . . . again. Although I donated/sold/tossed quite a bit of stuff when I moved to this much-smaller place this past summer, as I contemplate boxing up what I still have and moving again, I'm motivated to get rid of even more. Last week I surpassed my goal by 3 items.

Goal: 10,000 steps every day

On Saturday, I signed up for a month of free membership at the fitness center here in my planned community. When I rented my apartment, I was given a free month's trial as a welcome gift of sorts, and I'd been saving it to use when the weather turned cold. This past Thursday temperatures plummeted -- 82 degrees on Tuesday and in the 30's on Thursday -- so I signed up.  I've logged 10,000 steps every day so far.

Goal: weight training 3 times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday)

I also had planned to work out using a DVD I have, but I discovered that the movers didn't hook up the DVD player after all! I need to take everything off my large entertainment center, move it out from the wall, figure out what wire goes where, move it back agains the wall, and put everything back where it goes. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to that job, but it has to be done before Wednesday; I don't want to miss another day.

Goal: write a book

The third project began Saturday when  NaNoWriMo 2014 kicked off. Every November, writers from around the globe participate in National Novel Writing Month by attempting to complete a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Of course, the goal is to get just the rough draft written, but several NaNoWriMo novels have made it to the bestseller lists (Water for Elephants is one). To reach 50,000 words, I'll need to average 1,667 per day. So far, I've exceeded that by at least 70 words each day.

Goal: find a new job

The final task was one I had been dreading, so I jumped right in and took care of it early in the week by asking two of my supervisors and one colleague for letters of recommendation. While I wait for those, I'm getting my online application materials prepared so that I can begin applying as soon as I've uploaded their letters.

 

I feel good about what I've accomplished so far, and I'm excited to finally be moving forward, one step at a time. If you have any hints, tips, or suggestions for staying the course, I'd love to hear them!

 

 

 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nutrition, Spirit-Style

I've long been a Max Lucado fan, and I especially appreciate Grace for the Moment, a wonderful little book that packs a punch via a devotion for each day of the year. Yesterday's devotion was one of the many that stood out to me.

The devotion for October 29 begins with Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that I have turned to again and again in the past 5+ years. Knowing that God promised, "I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you" comforts me even when I can't see any good in my current circumstances.

Lucado goes on to tell about a family devotional time in which he put a variety of food options -- fruit, veggies, cookies -- in the center of the table, called his daughters to join him, and gave them each a plate. He explained that every day God "prepares for us a plate of experiences." He then asked his girls to put the food on their plate that represented the type of experiences they preferred to have.

I know I'm supposed to eat a healthy diet, and I've come a long way in that department. But if we're talking about what kind of experiencewe would prefer to have on any given day, I'm with Lucado's daughter Sara. I'm grabbing the cookies!

Of course, God doesn't put just a pile of cookies on our plate day after day after day. As Lucado points out, some days our plate is filled with cookies, some days are filled with cookies, fruit, and veggies, and on some days He fills our plate with veggies. Not even a little cup of dip or Ranch dressing. Just veggies.

I pondered this devotional as I drove to work, during down time at work, and then again as I drove back home. I acknowledged immediately that God -- like an earthly parent -- knows far better than His children what they need in their lives. I'm an English teacher -- I get the metaphor. :)

But almost immediately after I identified the symbolism, I heard a voice asking, "And what do you do when you get that plate of veggies? How do you react?"

And that, to me at least, is the crucial question.

Do I whine and cry and beg for a banana split and pout when it isn't forthcoming -- immediately? I must admit I sometimes do.

Do I pitch a fit and stalk away from the table? Yes, I've done that a time or two in the past five years.

Do I look at what is on other people's plates and envy them their Snickerdoodles? Sadly, I do that sometimes, too.

Do I ignore the veggies that will help me grow and become stronger and fantasize about the scrumptious treats I enjoyed yesterday or hope to have tomorrow? Of course, I have.

Do I look to my Father and thank Him for what He has given me and then enjoy those veggies to the very best of my ability? Not often enough.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Creating Porn (Dream Save Do, week 6)

Now that -- "porn" -- isn't a word I use often, and I never dreamed I'd be typing it in a blog-entry headline, much less creating it! But, of course, I did the former just now, and I began doing the latter two days ago. But wait, let me explain.

If you've been following my Dream Save Do journey (a la Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers by Betsy & Warren Talbot), you know I've been s-l-o-w-l-y working my way through the dreaming stage and that last week I put into words what my dream-redesigned life will (notice that I'm using positive verbs) entail.

This past week I was ready to move on to the next step in the Dream Save Do Process. The Talbots, like many other motivational writers, urge those who have a goal to create a visual reminder of what they're shooting for. But no sticky notes on the bathroom mirrors, dashboard of the car, and edge of the computer screen for the Warrens!

Instead, they instruct their readers to create dream porn -- a "big motivator, the reminder you place in a prominent space to keep your goal front and center".

The Talbots, for example, wanted to travel the world, so one of the things they did was find a large world map, similar to the roll-up maps we've all seen hanging from hooks above the chalkboard in various elementary and high school classrooms. They plotted out possible routes and then learned about the various places they hoped to visit.

Because I can access Pinterest anywhere I have a computer or my iphone or ipad,  I decided to create a Pinterest board called "Dream Porn". Bright and early Friday morning, I sat down at my dining room table with a cup of Earl Gray tea and my lap top, and I spent an absolutely delightful hour or so creating a piece of visual dream porn (now that I've begun using that term, I can't seem to stop -- lol).

It's a work in progress, of course, and I'll add and delete things as I go along, but already my newly-created board has proven to be a positive motivator. I took a screen shot and changed my screen saver to that image, and every time I walk by my laptop (sitting out in the open on my dining room table), I feel a little thrill to actually see what I'm dreaming of.

It's even helped me resist temptation! Last night I had a strong urge to get out of the house, and I decided I'd hop in the car and get a milkshake and read a book while sitting at Sonic. As I passed by the computer to get my purse, I saw my screen saver and reminded myself that every $3 I save takes me $3 closer to living my dream life. Instead of picking up my purse, I picked up Dazey's leash and took her for a walk. Instead of drinking a milkshake alone in my car, we walked over to the sand volleyball courts and watched a few games before heading back home.

In addition to the visual inspiration of the large map, the Talbots learned to cook exotic foods, listened to music from other cultures, watched foreign films, and learned a foreign language (Spanish) in order to create sensory reminders of their ultimate goal.

While I knew how to create a visual reminder, I had no idea how I might create sensory motivators. Fortunately, the Talbots provide a wonderful explanation and numerous examples of ways to use the five senses in creating an atmosphere today that will inspire the reader to reach their dream in the future.

This week I plan to continue working on my Dream Porn Pinterest board and figure out some ways to create motivators and reminders that appeal to the other four senses. I can't wait to share with you what I come up with!

If you are interested in working through the Dream Save Do process to determine if how you're living is how you really want to live and, if not, how to make that desired lifestyle your reality, I urge you to get your own copy of Betsy and Warren Talbot's wonderful book Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers.

Also, I'm not quite ready to publish the porn I created, so I've designated that board "private". However, I will be making it public later this week, so I hope you'll follow me on Pinterest and, after you've looked at the board, let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Dare

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "long". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set,

The only dare I can remember ever responding to came from a college friend a weekend that found four of us traveling to her parents' cabin on Kentucky Lake. The dare? To go skinny-dipping off the dock one night under a full moon. I still remember how wonderful the cool lake water felt on my skin and how daring I felt. Me, a nice young Lutheran girl, swimming in the lake in nothing but my birthday suit. How outrageous!

Oh, how I long to dare to do something outrageous now. I am, hopefully, still nice. Definitely, still a Lutheran. My days as a girl more than a few years behind me.

But still. I long to do something outrageous.

To walk away from a situation in which I feel disrespected.

To sell or donate even more of the things I own.

To downsize to an even-cozier home.

To totally change my lifestyle.

The practical little creature sitting on my left shoulder whispers to me. "You need to be responsible. You need to be prepared for retirement, and time is running out. You must have health insurance. And besides, what will people think? Your kids will have you committed!"

But oh how enticing is that adorable imp on perched on my right shoulder, how tempting her words, "Do it. Strip off everything that stifles you. Dive in."

A Dream Defined (Dream Save Do, week 5 part 2)

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In fits and starts as life has allowed, I've slowly been working through the *dream* portion of the Dream Save Do process, and I'm happy to share that I've defined my dream.

Well, almost.

Some elements of the life I long to live are crystal clear. Time with my son and daughter is paramount.

A church home in the truest sense of the term.

 

A close circle of friends who get together regularly -- you know, the type that appears in almost every chick-lit book. A larger group of interesting friends and acquaintances. An active social life made up of a variety of activities -- an afternoon at a local winery, morning get-togethers at Starbucks, line-dancing class, hikes in state and national parks, etc.

My dream life includes a healthy lifestyle and diet, as well as weekly yoga classes and trips to the gym with a friend or two.

Opportunities and time for creativity are also a large part of the life I hope to live. While writing (blog and books) are very important, other creative outlets are also important.

Less car-dependence and the use of safe, clean public transportation, my own two feet, or my bicycle instead.

Even less "stuff". More experiences.

A vintage camper -- oh, how I'd love to own a Shasta with wings -- and weekend camping trips.

Work that is rewarding, creative, and uplifting in an environment that is positive and in which everyone is respected and treated with dignity. A place in which work is honored.

A debt-free, frugal lifestyle.

On or near the ocean or a large lake in an area that enjoys a moderate climate -- or at least is free of harsh winters.

A small cottage or a carriage house or possibly even a "tiny house".  Very little upkeep and no mowing! :)

That much I know.

What is not so clear to me is the "where". I spent quite a bit of time obsessing about where I want to live, but suddenly one day, I realized that when all -- or even most -- of the other components are in place, it won't matter where I am.

And there you have it. The place my mind goes when it wanders.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What's Holding Me Back? (Discovering My Dreams, week 5)

The past month or so has been difficult, even without the illness and passing of my mother-in-law, and more than once, I've been very close to --  on the very verge of, actually -- speaking words that would initiate a major life change.

I'm weary.

I decided yesterday to take an hour or two off from getting caught up around the house. I grabbed my ipad mini, drove to Starbucks and picked up a venti Chai Tea Latte and a chocolate chip cookie, and drove to a spot where I could gaze at the Missouri River, read if the mood struck, and relax.

I sat there in my cozy cocoon (aka the sun-warmed driver's seat of my Prius) for almost 2 hours. While the Missouri flowed swiftly by, I read and watched bike riders and families of walkers go by. Much of the time, my mind was wandering lazily. What in my life causes me sorrow or distress? What could I do to bring positive change? Nothing new. The same questions that I've been pondering for months now. And I received the same answers.

Yesterday, though, I moved oh so close to making a decision. I thought the words. They lingered, tantalizingly close, and whispered in my ear.

And I was so tempted. Tempted to say the words that have been at the periphery of my brain for several months. But I didn't voice them. Oh, I know nobody would have heard me, that saying the words wouldn't commit me to the action. Yet something held me back.

So what did  keep me from saying the words? What keeps me from making a decision and acting on it?

I'm not too proud to admit that one factor -- a very large factor, in fact -- is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what others who I care about would say, fear of the practical ramifications. Fear of making such a momentous decision on my own and having no-one to share the blame with if it's a flaming disaster.

Complacency is, without a doubt, another factor. I may not be overjoyed with some aspects of my current situation, but I know this situation, and I know how to deal with it. I have dealing with it down pat and can pretty much do it on autopilot. A major change would require major adjustments, and I'm just not ready to sign on for that. Not yet.

Lack of clarity is an issue as well. I've taken steps forward without knowing exactly what the consequences would be more than a few times in my life, but I was younger, more resilient, and I had a strong support system that I could count on if my action proved to be even a major misstep. Those who made up my support system have passed away, and now others depend on me to at least some degree. Stepping away from what I have to the unknown is much more intimidating in my present circumstances.

Also stopping me is the uncertainty as to whether or not the decision is coming from the right place. I want to make sure that instead of simply running away from something I don't like, I'm moving toward something that is the right thing for me.

I finally made a decision. My latte gone, my cookie nothing more than a few crumbs, I settled on a plan. I'm going to move forward as if I've made the decision, but without making it.

Early this morning, I made a list of every task I would need to complete if I actually committed to the change I'm contemplating, and I created a timetable for accomplishing each task. More importantly, though, I prayed about the situation, and I'm going to keep praying.

I'm confident that the answer will become apparent. Doors will either open, or they'll remain firmly closed. Either way, I'll move forward in faith and, I hope, peace.

 

What about you? If you've identified what you would like to do, what keeps you from doing it? What's holding you back? I hope you'll take some time this week to relax with a special treat in a beautiful spot and think about what you want and what you have to do to get there. I hope, too, that you'll share your thoughts . . . either through a comment here or via an email to me at pattimiinch@gmail.com

Friday, October 17, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Long

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "long". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set,

 

I have to admit that when I saw this week's word, I almost didn't participate. "Long"? I just didn't have a clue what to write. Where to start.

"Long" can be a verb, of course. What do I long for? More time with my son and daughter, more peace with my work situation, a new job in a new town with a better climate (to me, better is more moderate), a stronger & more personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, a close group of friends to do things with on a regular basis, toned arms (no more bat wings), personal peace.

"Long: can also be an adjective relating to time. What things do I long (sorry, couldn't resist) to be long? Walks on the beach, visits with my children, a healthy lifespan for my children and for myself, talks with close friends, time to write, time away from my job.

How else can "long" be used?  Hmmmm . . .

Oh, it can also be an adjective in respect to the length of something. Hmm . . . oh, I'd love for some of my favorite books with my favorite characters to be longer. I hate to lay them down, to leave my friends on a shelf. My hair. Every time I get it almost to the length I want, it drives me crazy and I impetuously have it cut . . . again. But growing it out is only 1/2 of the issue -- I need to know how to fix it once I get there. lol

Now I know how my students feel when, for a free write session to start off class, I give them a word they struggle with. Will the 5 minutes ever end? Please . . . tick, tock. I long for the timer to

And mercifully, it did . . . the timer buzzed, and I could stop. This was a long (once again, I couldn't resist) 5 minutes for me. :)

 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Benefits of a Back Burner (Discovering my Dreams, week 4)

For the past 4 weeks, I've put everything possible on the back burner, dealing only with what absolutely had to be done in an effort to free up time to make trips to my in-laws', the hospital, etc. While I missed blogging and working on my book, this time away from both (among other things like housework, which I definitely didn't miss) proved to be beneficial.

Just as I often have what I consider my most profound (and I'm using that term very loosely) thoughts when I'm laying in bed trying to go to sleep or doing some mindless chore, I spent much of every 4-hour round trip "back home" letting my mind roam free.

Similarly, because my mother-in-law slept more and more as the days passed, I spent much of my visits sitting by her bedside knitting and simply letting my mind  wander.

And, quite honestly, spending time in my in-laws' home, full of 55+ years' accumulation of stuff -- literally hundreds of knick-knacks scattered through the 3-bedroom house, drawers and closets full of quilts, dresser drawers full of photographs and negatives still in the envelope they were placed in at the store, etc. -- was also helpful.

In short, the past 3 weeks have even solidified even more my desire to make radical changes in my lifestyle and convinced me that I am on the right track as I work through the Dream Save Do process.

While I've fallen almost-completely off schedule and am behind in all my projects, I know that this 3-week hiatus was merely a bump in the road. I'm even more determined than ever to move forward, and I feel a sense of renewal and invigoration.

I'm ready to take things off the back burner, turn up the heat, and make things happen!

 

I shared here almost 2 months ago that my mother-in-law had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Sadly, she passed away 7 weeks to the day after her diagnosis, on October 3. Thankfully, she was spared the extreme pain that usually accompanies pancreatic cancer, and she passed away in her home, surrounded by her very-loving husband, sons, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, sisters & brothers, and sisters- and brothers-in-law. She was a wonderful, Godly woman who was a blessing to everyone she encountered, and she will be sorely missed. 

Thank you for your prayers and for your compassionate support through comments and/or emails. I shared with my mother-in-law that people I knew via facebook and this blog were praying for her, and she was very touched and grateful. She asked me to tell you "thank you", and so . . . thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dream a Little Dream for Me (Discovering My Dreams, week 3)

When I was growing up, September was a special time for me. School began again, for one thing. As much as I enjoyed long summer days spent bike riding, roller skating, listening to records, etc., with friends, I always loved school, particularly the first month.

September also brought to my hometown a yearly week-long extravaganza known as the SEMO District Fair. The largest city park turned into a midway of carnival games and rides, and the large Arena Building became the home of exhibits and judging of 4-H projects and of quilts & other works of art as well as all sorts of food items -- jams & jellies, cakes & pies, cookies & candy --  created by women from our part of the state. In one section of the park, row after row of huge pole-barn type structures housed 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) livestock.  And the food! Cotton candy, corn dogs, funnel cakes, candy apples and caramel apples, saltwater taffy . . .

September was also the time when temperatures cooled a bit. While I loved hot weather -- in fact, the hotter it was, the happier I was -- schools weren't air-conditioned then, and the cooler temperatures made the days much more comfortable.

September also brought high school, college, and professional football, and I loved going to the high school games every Friday night and spending Sunday afternoon in the family room with my dad, eating junk food and watching whatever games were available on the only 3 channels we got back before cable TV brought hundreds of them into our home.

As the years passed, September retained its charm for me. The opening of the school year was moved to the middle of August, but everything else stayed the same. And 30 years ago, on a beautiful Saturday evening in the middle of the month, my husband I got married.

Yes, September was always special.

Five years ago, though, September became something quite different; it became a month that I dreaded, containing the day that brought a horrible end to the worst 6 weeks of my life, followed just 13 days later by a bittersweet reminder of what was no more. I was hoping, though, that this year would be better, that the pain would be less sharp.

Instead, this year has proven to be the most difficult September in several years. Part of this is, I know, due to events in the community I work in and in the world at large, events ranging from the merely troubling to those that are deeply tragic.

More significant, though, is the fact that this September I am facing the not-too-distant loss of yet another person who has played a significant role in my life. A woman I've known for 32 years, who has been a treasured friend and mentor. The beloved mother of my husband and grandmother of my children. A woman who is facing the very grim diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer with grace, dignity, and courage borne of her unwavering Christian faith.

Her illness is, as I tell people who hear of my mother-in-law's diagnosis and immediately ask how I'm doing, not about me, and I don't want to make it about me. But with every passing day there's another test, another treatment, another sign that her condition is worsening. And with each test, each treatment, each sign, I'm reminded of a similar journey 5 years ago.

I see around me the same loved ones -- my children, my father-in-law, and various other in-laws -- grieving, and I know that the situation will only get worse and their suffering will only increase in the days and weeks to come.

As so, last week I found it very difficult to dream and plan a' la Dream Save Do.

But what about you? What have you been dreaming of? As you look to the future, what would you like to see there?

I hope you'll share even just part of your dream, either through a comment or by emailing me (pattimiinch@gmail.com).

So please, dream a little dream for me.

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stress -- What's a Gal (or Guy) to do?

"There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full."  Henry Kissinger

I'm right there with you, Henry!

Every time I've turned around the past four weeks, another stressful situation has been there to meet me. Phone calls with news of medical tests, a grim diagnosis, and various procedures for a beloved family member. News broadcasts of angry people reacting with violence. Unexpected travel (and not for pleasure) resulting in an ever-growing to-do list with more than a few "overdue" items. Disconcerting situations at work. And the list goes on.

Until a few years ago, I had three go-to strategies for dealing with stress. One strategy, which I refer to as "hunkering down", found me lying as low as possible, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and simply surviving the situation.

Picture a toddler who is intent on watching television despite his mom's announcement that it's time for a nap. His eyes remain determinedly focused on the TV screen -- "if I don't look at her, I don't have to acknowledge what she's saying, right?" -- while he remains as small and still as possible, hoping mom will forget he's there. That doesn't work for the toddler, and it wasn't an effective strategy for me, either.

My other, equally-ineffective manner of dealing with stress was to let the steam build for a time until an insignificant but irritating event occurred, at which time I would "let off some steam". Nothing major -- I was never a hairbrush thrower or tantrum-pitcher. Instead, I would express frustration to those around me, talking the situation to death until I ran out of steam.

Picture a far-less-destructive, verbal Mount St. Helens, if you will.

Even the oft-recommended strategy of journalling about a stressful situation didn't work well. Instead of being able to release the negativity and stress through writing, I tended to relive the negativity and become even more stressed.

But experience with very personal, intense stress that lay like a thick blanket over every aspect of my life for well over a year taught me that what I was doing didn't work very well. I didn't "toss out the baby with the bathwater", though; instead, I've found ways to alter what I had been doing in order to make them more productive.

First, I now allow myself to "hunker down", but only for a very brief time, and only for the purpose of giving myself time to better understand the stress and its cause(s). I actually give myself a deadline -- sometimes it's just 10 minutes; for more complex situations it may be longer.

For the most part, talking about the negative situation has ceased to be a strategy. The whole point of talking through the situation was interaction with someone else -- their validation (sincere or fake) of the fact that I had every right to be frustrated or upset. Dazey (my Norwich Terrier) failed to provide either the interaction or the validation I found comforting, so I turned to venting on Facebook.

Sharing my frustrations in response to Facebook's "What's on your mind?" was an eye-opener. I realized more than a few times that I had allowed my stress level to rise at a rate disproportionate to the stressor. I also found that seeing my words in black and white made me less willing to put them out there for all the world to see.

Seeing my thoughts in black and white, on a page, has also changed how I utilize the strategy of writing about what is bothering me. Several months ago, I realized that journalling on paper had become less a joy and more a chore and that blogging provided me with both the writing outlet I love and a sense of connection with others that I wanted. As a result, I quit paper journaling.

As with Facebook, I've found I'm very reluctant to vent here. First, while I address negativity and stress here, I choose to focus more on overcoming both and on not letting either overcome and derail me. As with Facebook (again), I find that when I pause long enough to write for others (as opposed to for my eyes only in a journal) I gain perspective. In turn, that perspective stops me from allowing the stressor(s) from gaining a life larger than its own.

I've found other strategies that help. I can't claim credit for the vast majority of them; articles touting the helpfulness of a healthy diet and exercise, pet ownership, and placing strict limits on the amount  media exposure (television and print news in particular) can be found in a variety of professional journals, magazine articles, and self-improvement books.

Doing what I love -- watching sports on television or in person, knitting or scrapbooking, reading, and listening to music, to name a few -- also helps alleviate stress. Attending a knitting class and being surrounded by cheerful women laughing and talking as they knit and purl makes a positive difference as well. Reaching out to someone who is hurting is also beneficial; writing a short personal message on a Hallmark card and sending it to a coworker who is recuperating from knee surgery, for example, brightens my outlook.

Limiting time spent on social media has also removed a significant amount of stress. While I want to be aware of what is going on in the world around me, expressions of outrage, concern, sorrow, and pain in post after post from beloved friends is not healthy for me.

And that, I think is the key. Finding what is -- and what is not -- healthy is essential, because what works for me in reducing stress might actually make your stress level rise. What eases the stress in your life might be totally ineffective or, worse, create more stress for someone else.

It's important, I believe, to be honest with yourself about how you deal with stress. Is what you're doing effective, or is it causing more harm than the original situation? Equally important is being open to strategies you may not have tried and even those that you've utilized unsuccessfully in the past.

I'm making headway in dealing with the stress in my life. Oh, I'm not ready to throw down the gauntlet and challenge life to give me all it's got, but I'm ready to deal with each day -- sometimes each hour -- as it comes.

And this gal is content with doing just that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Oh, the Possibilities! (Discovering My Dreams, week 2)

Last week, I focused on identifying things in my life that I wish could be changed, reduced, or eliminated; I thoroughly enjoyed listing those items and then brainstorming ways to address each one. If you're joining me on this Dream Save Do adventure, I hope you'll share some of your dreams.

I turned my attention this week to listing things I would like to add to my life, and what an interesting experience that turned out to be!

First, I brainstormed my list. Once I got past the first few items -- more time with my son and daughter, time/experiences with creative people, and authenticity, for example -- I ran out of steam. Where things I wanted to change/reduce/eliminate were readily apparent, what I wanted to add came to mind much more slowly.

I pondered that throughout the week and think I found two interrelated reasons for this. First (and in no particular order), I am at a point in my life when I am, as I've shared before, paring down on "stuff". As a result, I'm hesitant to add anything to my life. However, I realized that by reducing/eliminating the irritants I listed last week,  I'll be freeing time and space for the things I really do cherish without over-crowding my life and my schedule.

Secondly, while I am not wealthy by any means nor do I have lots of fancy possessions, I have all I need. It wasn't surprising then, that when my list was finished (for now, at least), there was only one tangible item on it! And that item -- "water" -- isn't something I would own; rather, it refers to the fact that I want to live on the ocean or a large lake.

After my list was complete, I turned my attention to how each possibility inspires me, and then I looked at common denominators. Interestingly, all of the 19 items overlapped in very significant ways. For example, almost all of them involved time and experiences with people who I already love and care about and with people who are creative and interesting in a variety of ways.

The latter group of people highlights another commonality -- creativity. The final unifying threads were peace (i.e. less stress), authenticity, and experiences.

The last thing I looked at this week was how I could make each item from the list of possibilities part of my life now. Perhaps, again, because I'm hesitant to add more "stuff" to my life, I struggled with this step and am still working on it.

I think it would be helpful, for me at least, to make a master "swap list". This week, then, I'm going to add to my own Dream Save Do notebook a  2-column list. In column A, I'll list things I want to reduce/change/eliminate, and column B will contain items from this past week's possibility list that are reasonable alternatives. I'll work on that and share the results next week.

What about you? What would you like to add to your life? What would you like to have more of? What new things would you like to try? Do you dream of having an organic vegetable garden? Do you want to travel or learn to knit or buy season tickets to your community's theater or symphony? I hope you'll join me in dreaming about a redesigned life and that you'll share what you would like to add.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finances & Life Decisions -- Righting Some Wrongs

Conventional wisdom in the form of counselors, life coaches, and literature & books on the grieving process asserts that no major life decisions or financial decisions should be made for 12 months -- 6 in extreme cases -- after a divorce, the death of a close loved one, or other significant loss.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.

I'm not a financial planner or whiz of any kind, nor am I a life coach or a counselor. But I've been down this road; I've dealt with two major losses -- the loss of a job and the loss of a spouse -- and I know that many of the "rules" we've heard throughout our lives are not gospel. In fact, in some -- perhaps many -- cases, following those rules will create huge problems; conversely, breaking those rules may be the best thing a person can do.

Let's look at my own situation.

When my husband passed away, 65% of my household income disappeared. Unfortunately, 100% of what had been our expenses were now mine . . . and I had 35% less income to work with. We hadn't been living hand-to-mouth, but my part-time teaching salary simply could not cover all of our monthly financial obligations.

Fortunately, I received a modest lump-sum life insurance payout. Had I listened to conventional wisdom, I would have promptly deposited that check and done nothing with it for a year.

What would have been wrong with that? At the time, 2 of the 4 family cars were not yet paid off. Each of those loans had a percentage rate of approximately 6%. At the time I received the insurance payout, various savings accounts -- even those paying the very best interest rate -- were paying far less than 6% interest. Conventional wisdom dictates that I should have continued paying 6% interes while earning around 2%.

Now, I'm not a mathematician. I'm not even a budding mathematician. But even I could see that earning 2% interest while paying 6% interest *when I had the money to pay off the loan without significantly impacting the balance of total funds* simply didn't make sense.

Similarly, I don't hold a PhD in anything, but I was smart enough to realize that not doing a thing about my employment situation would mean that I would be teaching part-time not only that current school year (my husband passed away in early September) but also the next. And I was smart enough to know that that was not a good idea.

So what did I do?

I ignored conventional wisdom.

But I didn't just run out begin doing things will-nilly.

First, I made a list of monthly expenses and noted what could be immediately eliminated (land-line phone, for example) as well as the outstanding balances on what could be paid off (cars, small credit card balance, etc).

I still didn't make a single financial decision. Instead, I made an appointment with a trusted financial advisor and discussed my entire financial situation with him. I made careful notes of his recommendations, and then I visited a 2nd trusted financial advisor and did the same thing again (without telling the second advisor what the first advisor said).

Then I made decisions that were in line with my own common sense and the advice of both financial advisors (they were 100% in agreement in their recommendations). These decisions allowed me to live within my means -- and without undue financial stress -- until my income changed.

That positive change in income came because four months after my husband passed away I turned my attention to finding a new teaching position. I did the normal job-seeking things -- updated my resume and my reference pool, began haunting appropriate websites, etc -- and had secured a full-time position for the following school year before the current school year ended.

That gave me plenty of time to list and sell our home (another major life decision that could not wait), find a place to live in the city I would be moving to, arrange for the sale of large items I would no longer need or have the room for and for moving, and then get settled in my new home before starting my new job.

For me, waiting an entire year to make any financial or major life decisions would have created significant -- even catastrophic -- problems.

I'm not saying that others -- you, for example -- should do what I did. Perhaps you should wait 6 months, or even a year, before making a big financial or life-altering decision.

What I am saying is that you should ignore the so-called "rules", enlist the advice of appropriate advisors that are trusted, reliable, and credible, and move forward in a manner in which you feel comfortable and that is right for you.

Oh, there's another "rule" I need to address. When I was a young girl, an elderly female relative informed me that a lady never talks publicly about finances and politics.

Yep. She was wrong, too.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Out with the Negative (Discovering My Dream redux, week 1)

I read and fell in love with the Dream Save Do process last Fall, when I first read Betsy and Warren Talbot's book of the same name and began working through it. Since then, I sold my house, donated a large quantity of stuff, and moved into an apartment; these fundamental changes significantly impacted the "Dream" portion of the process, so I recycled the notebook I'd been working in and began anew.

Creating a list of things I wouldn't miss if they were to disappear tomorrow was my first task. The new list includes 17 items; there are some very familiar items on the list -- things that, despite the progress I've made, haven't yet been eradicated. My daily commute, unwanted/unneeded stuff, car dependency, unneeded/unused living space, and extreme (for me) weather conditions (very hot and very cold temperatures) fall under this category.

Additionally, a few new items made the list. In looking at those more closely, I realized that each of them should have been on the previous list -- I just hadn't thought of them. One of those items is worries about retirement; as each year brings me closer to the year I would like to require, I am reminded that unless something fairly significant changes, my retirement years may be a bit leaner financially than I'd like.

I love list-making, so that step and the next -- identifying what specifically bothers me about each item -- were easy and took little time.

The third step, which I haven't finished, has proven to be a bit more challenging. I was to list each irritant and root cause and then brainstorm 3 possible strategies to change, reduce, or eliminate each one. The first strategy must be something that can be implemented right away; the second is to be something that's realistic but could take some time; and the third has to be something totally off the wall.

My first thought to listing strategies I could implement right away was, "What? Don't you think if I could be doing something to change or eliminate the things in my life that I don't like I would have already done it?"  Once I stifled my indignation and got to work, though, I had an implement-now strategy for 50% of the irritants and root causes! (My apologies to the Talbots for doubting them just a bit :))

Off-the-wall strategies came fairly easily once I stopped 2nd-guessing everything I came up with and simply wrote them down. I ended up with unconventional (aka wacky) strategies for 70% of the irritants and root causes on my list. Rule-follower that I am in my daily life, I enjoyed coming up with unconventional -- even absurd, in some cases -- strategies. I'm beginning to think a rebel lurks inside me!

When I finally set aside my pen and looked at my list, I discovered that I'd come up with at least one strategy for each category (implement now, realistic but takes time, and off-the-wall) for just under 1/2 of the irritants/root causes. I came up with an idea for two of the categories for several irritants/root causes, and at the end of the day, three irritants/root causes had me completely stumped.

I'm not giving up, though, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the Dream Save Do process takes me!

If you'd like to join me and discover your own dream, save for it, and implement it, please check out Betsy and Warren Talbot's wonderful book Dream Save Do.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Minute Friday: Reach

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "reach". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

My hands don't reach out as much as they used to. Rarely do they reach out to pluck a new piece of clothing from a department store rack or to select a new pretty thing to take home and set on a shelf.  Yet I still reach.

My arms. They reach out to hug my son and my daughter. To hold each of them tight for a few precious moments. To convey to them without words how much I love them, how dear they are, how much I treasure their presence in my life.

My eyes. They reach out to seek glimpses of beauty in a world that is all-too-often harsh and discordant. To meet the eyes of someone who is hurting and let them know they are not alone.

My heart. It reaches out for friendship and companionship in a sea of people who are busy rushing from one event to another, from one task to another to-do. To connect with someone in a meaningful way.

My soul. It reaches out in its search for a stronger, deeper relationship with my Maker. To connect in a way that goes beyond hurried prayers in the morning and fallen-asleep-in-the-middle-of-prayers at night. To practice His presence in every moment.

My hands . . . they reach for very little now. But reach? Oh, yes, I still reach.

Monday, August 25, 2014

And on the Subject of Change

About 3 weeks ago, I shared that I was going to be attending Declare, a Christian women's blogging conference, in Dallas. I hoped to learn more about social media (I did) and other aspects of the blogging world, but one issue I hoped to explore further while I was there is the direction of this blog. I was so busy attending various sessions, meeting as many of the wonderful attendees as I could, and digesting the information shared that I didn't really have the opportunity to ponder that or discuss it at any length with anyone and get their feedback.

I wish I could say that in the 2 weeks I've been back I've found time to think about blogging, but instead I've been sidetracked by some less-than-wonderful (to put it mildly) events. The community I work in has been rocked by a tragic event, and a week ago today my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As a result, most of my attention and energy has been focused on family and work.

Now, though, I'm able to turn my attention to writing and to this blog, and as I consider the direction of my writing, I'd love to hear from you, either through a comment in response to this post or through an email (pattimiinch@gmail.com). I hope you'll share with me what you would like to see me focus on as I move forward. In other words, how can I best serve you through this blog? What would you like to see more of? Less of?

I can't wait to see what you have to say!

Also, if you're on Facebook and haven't already done so, I hope you'll "like" and "follow" my page -- Patti Miinch.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Change

I had hoped to have the chance to write yesterday, but life's circumstances caused a change in plans. So here, a day late, are my unedited thoughts on "change".

I've never been a fan of change. Well, I guess I should say I wasn't a fan of change until shortly after I turned 51.

Growing up, I hated change. My life wasn't perfect and my family wasn't perfect, but it was my life -- and my circumstances -- and I knew it, could navigate through it without much thought, and I wanted things to stay just as they were.

When I grew up  and got married, I definitely didn't want things to change. I loved my life and my family. My husband, being married to him. I loved that. And I loved, loved, loved being a mom and having everyone at home. The four of us under one roof at the end of the day. Dinner together at in the dining room almost every evening, kids in and out of the house, school and sports activities -- I loved all of it.

Then my son graduated from college and left. Then my daughter graduated from college and left. Then my husband passed away. I moved to a new city, started a new job, and began a new life.

Now, I long for change. I would embrace it if it walked in the door. (I love lists, so I'll list the changes I long for)

1.  the frequency and length of my son's visits (currently a couple of times a year for a few days at a time)

2. my place of residence -- I'm "fine" with my apartment for the next 9 months or so, but I'm ready to make a change and live elsewhere

3. some/many(?) of my job circumstances and maybe even my career in general

4. my social life -- a close circle of friends and more social activities would be great

Change. I used to dislike and even fear it. But that has changed.

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

There But for the Grace of God . . .

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It would be wrong of me not to stress the fact that I am not a psychiatrist, counselor, or medical professional of any kind. My views of  depression have been formed from discussions with licensed medical professionals and from reading texts written by credible and reliable health-care practitioners. Please do not mistake my comments as anything other than the thoughts and opinions of a layperson.

When the word went out that the immensely-talented Robin Williams had passed away, social media was filled with videos of hilarious comedy routines, clips of favorite movies or episodes of "Mork & Mindy", and tributes from the famous and not-so-famous. I laughed as I watched until-then forgotten appearances on "The Tonight Show" and favorite scenes from movies such as Good Morning Vietnam; I cried as I read his daughter's tweet, in which she quoted from The Little Prince.

Then came the news that Mr. Williams had committed suicide. With that announcement, the tenor of some comments changed. Some people took it upon themselves to criticize Mr. Williams, to accuse him of being weak or selfish. I wasn't laughing -- or crying -- anymore. Instead, I felt disgusted and appalled by the callousness of those who took it upon themselves to pass judgment in such a manner.

Fast on the heels of, and primarily in response to, those negative reactions came the posts and tweets in which people shared their views on depression. Some of the information was very informative and, from what I know, accurate. Unfortunately, some of it was not.

One Facebook post encapsulated much of what I consider to be inaccurate information, and I couldn't help but think of times over the years that well-meaning (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here) individuals have made similar comments. I'd like to take this opportunity to address a few of the claims made by these individuals.

 

Claim 1: Depression is a "focus on ME, ME, ME" and we must remember that it's not all about me. 

The premise here is that those dealing with depression are egotists; they are self-centered individuals who choose to think only of themselves. First of all, I do not believe that depression is something people choose. Period. Secondly, as I understand it, when a person is depressed, it is as if they are standing with their face in the corner of a room with dark gray or black walls. It is not themselves they are focused on; rather, they can see nothing but the darkness, the gloom, the despair that overwhelms them.

 

Claim 2: Some depression may have a physical cause, and consulting a doctor may be warranted. However, most depressed individuals should: a) remember that other people have had and do "have it worse" than they do and rejoice in their suffering, and b) "buck up" and be thankful for what they have.

There is, as I understand it, a vast difference between "having it worse" and suffering from depression. I've experienced difficult situations. Early in our marriage, my husband and I often had less than $20 left over after bills were paid and very basic groceries purchased, with 30 days until the next paycheck. I've lost both of my parents, and I've dealt with other issues that brought me varying degrees of physical suffering. I reminded myself then that others were going through much worse, and I thanked God for His blessings and for using my circumstances for His purposes. I was suffering, yes. I was sad, yes. But I was not depressed.

Depression is not caused by external circumstances and has nothing to do with how bad a person "has it". Most of us have heard that it is caused by a chemical imbalance, but medical experts explain that it is more complex than that but that the roots of depression are biological. To say that a person who is suffering from depression should just buck up and rejoice is like telling a diabetic to throw away their testing strips and insulin and instead just grab a hymnal and sing a worship song or two.

 

Claim #3: Depression is caused by unconfessed sin; as a result, those suffering from depression need to confess their sin, repent, and mend their ways.

I know a minister who for several years struggled with depression. He shared with me that at first, he tried to cure his depression by practicing his faith even more vigorously. More hours spent reading the Bible, more hours on his knees in prayer, heartfelt and rigorous self-examination followed by sincere confession and repentance, and very deliberate efforts to make appropriate changes and, when warranted, restitution for his sin. He continually gave thanks to God for his mercy and grace.

His depression continued to envelop him; gradually, he became so overwhelmed by what he calls a "spirit-crushing unrelenting oppression" that whispery thoughts of suicide began to lurk at the edges of his consciousness. He shared that with his wife, and she insisted he see a Christian physician. He was evaluated at length, medication was prescribed, and within a month the dark cloud was lifted, and he felt (in his words) "like a normal human being again". I've never forgotten what he shared with me.

 

Sadly, I have far too often forgotten something my grandmother told me when I was about 10 or 11 years old. She cautioned me that whenever I feel the urge to judge someone else, to say that their bad circumstances were their own fault, or to congratulate myself on the fact that I was not like them, I should remember one little phrase. "There but for the grace of God go I."

There but for the grace of God go I.

There but for the grace of God goes each one of us.

Yes, God is full of grace.

And who am I -- who are any of us -- to in turn refuse to show grace to those around us who struggle with depression?

 

If you have any reason to believe that you are afflicted with depression, please consult with a licensed professional that you trust and feel comfortable with. Share with them openly and honestly so that they have all the information they need to provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan. 

Please share your thoughts via a comment here or, if you would prefer, by emailing me at pattimiinch@gmail.com.  Also, I hope you will "Like" my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pattimiinch58) and join in the discussions there. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Begin

Talk about an appropriate word for today, as I join (for the very first time) a wonderful group of ladies who join every Friday create a "virtual writing flash mob" (I love that phrase, Lisa-Jo). For 5 minutes every Friday, these ladies write about a designated word; no worries about revising or editing -- just write. I'm excited to be joining the group and look forward to many more Five Minute Fridays.  By the way, if you're interested in participating, go to  http://lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday/   and Lisa-Jo will tell you everything you need to know. 

My timer is set . . . 

Begin. Talk about a tough one for my first week in FMF (Five Minute Friday). Beginning is not my strong suit. I'm a dreamer and a planner. But begin? And even when I do, I lose interest about 1/2-way through a project.

This translates to my job very clearly. I love planning a new semester, tweaking a class, updating materials and assignments, etc. I even enjoy the first few weeks of the semester. But then, like always, I hit the point where I'm not as enthusiastic. Then I begin again. I begin jotting down notes for the next semester. Yes, I love to begin.

Oh, and exercise and eating better. Same thing. I love the research -- except for the fact that there's so much contradictory advice. I even love to begin. Cleaning out the fridge and pantry, preparing my "accountability calendar" -- I am in my element. Filled with anticipation and . . . what's the word . . . drat, no time to stop. The first couple of weeks go well, and then . . . I tend to fizzle out. I need an accountability partner.

There are things I need to begin . . .

  • viewing all the family videos to determine what's on each tape so I can get them in order and have them converted to DVD

  • going through the small storage unit I rented when I downsized in June, getting rid of everything I can, selling things on ebay, and


Time's up. I just realized that Five Minute Friday is perfect for me. This is one thing I can leave unfinished without repercussions or guilt. I think Five Minute Friday and I are going to get along just fine!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

4 x 4, Patti-Style

I love lists, so an email from the Declare Conference organizers with an invitation  to participate in a 4 x 4 post made my day!

 

4 Things About Me

  • I am very interested in starting a business selling mixed-media word art -- on canvas and on wood.

  • I'm an introvert who loves to be around people.

  • I would love to quit my job and live full-time in a camper, moving on as the mood strikes.

  • I'm a water-person who longs to live either on the beach or on a large lake.


 

4 of My Endearing Quirks

  • When I sneeze, I sound like a cat (according to my family :))

  • I have no fashion sense (I think it's endearing, but I'm pretty sure I often embarrass my daughter :)).

  • I am awfully uncoordinated. Back when Jane Fonda-type aerobics were so popular, everyone would be clapping, stepping, and hopping, but I would be hopping, clapping, and stepping. You should see me in a Rhumba class!

  • I sing with wild abandon, especially to oldies and contemporary Christian music. Well, I think it's endearing; nobody has actually expressed that to me. ;)


 

4 Things About My Blog & Writing

  • I've been spending quite a bit of time lately pondering the direction I want to go with my blog.

  • Two books are rattling around in my head.

  • I love long sentences -- complete with dashes; I also like to use fragments from time to time. Like this!

  • I try to be honest and transparent when I blog, but sometimes that's pretty scary.


 

4 of My Favorite Things

  • They're people, not things, but I can't *not* put  my son and daughter here. Everything and everybody else are a distant, distant 2nd.

  • My favorite food is still-hot chocolate pudding.

  • I love the NFL and watching games on television in my jammies on Monday night, Thursday night, and from noon to bedtime on Sunday.

  • My favorite vacation spot is The Great Smoky Mountains.


What about you? Please respond with the same 4 x 4 about you!

Dallas, Texas, Here I Come!

Well, here I come in 6 days, that is. Early next Wednesday morning I'll tell Dazey good-bye and jump in my little red Prius to make a 10+ hour drive to Dallas to attend the Declare Conference. Three glorious days filled with workshops, meeting other women bloggers, and whatever else comes my way!

I've attended other conferences in the past, but they have all been educators' conferences, so this is new territory for me. I'm very excited about this opportunity to learn more about blogging, to chat with some fantastic bloggers and maybe pick a few brains here and there, and to simply spend time immersed in a culture of Christian women who use the internet and the written word to interact with others.

I'm also a bit nervous. As much as I enjoy a good road trip with the radio turned up and a Route 44 Strawberry Limeade and a few bags of junk food in the passenger seat, 10+ hours on the road isn't my idea of an easy day. But I'll have the conference to look forward to, and that will hopefully make the drive down more enjoyable. The idea of attending by myself and walking into a meeting room filled with women, many of them already acquainted from previous Declare Conferences, is a bit unnerving as well. But I can do this; if I can sling on a backpack and travel on my own by train through Europe for a week, I can do this, right?

I'm also hopeful. If my son doesn't have to work Sunday, we'll be able to spend the day together before I return home on Monday (if he does have to work, I'll drive back to Missouri on Sunday).

A little nervous. A whole lot of excited and hopeful. Not bad. Not bad at all.

What do you have planned for these last few weeks of summer? I hope that whatever it is, it brings you joy and peace.