Monday, December 1, 2014

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

"Life doesn't know what it will be until it notices what it has become."
~  Margaret J. Wheatley

Over the years, I have reread a deceptively simple book and each time I have been struck with its relevancy to my life at that point in time.  Is this what makes a book a classic?

The book,  A Simpler Way, is one of the 18 books that I store on a special shelf to remind me of the authors who have most shaped my personal perspective.  I picked it up in a bookstore in the late '90's when I was looking for a book to share with my staff at an upcoming meeting and didn't have a lot of time to prepare for.  The title, the chapter headings, the quotes, the length - only 101 pages - and especially the presence of a lot of white space and photographs promised as easy read.  Wrong!  I found myself reading and rereading paragraphs, even single lines, taken with the novelty of her ideas and the almost poetic, meditative style of her writing.

I picked it up again this morning, looking for something inspirational to read this coming week when we will be in California, hoping to help a dear friend, reeling from the unexpected death of her partner, her love, her life's companion.  And this line, "Life doesn't know what it will be until it notices what it has become," was all it took for me to make my choice.

This line was all it took to finally sit down and create this post, the first in almost six months.  I didn't set out six months ago to take a hiatus from writing.  I had, in fact, several ideas for the upcoming weeks.  Then, as that other quote goes, life happened while I was busy making other plans.  The desert heat descended upon us.  I developed a vexing condition in my eyes that lingered well into autumn.  A trip didn't turn out as I had planned - etc., etc.  Events that I wasn't in the mood to write about, reluctant to complain or simply not ready or willing to air publicly.  In short, life happened.  And in the process, it has taken on a shape and texture I didn't notice until quite recently.

I haven't moved.  I haven't lost those 10 pounds.  I have the same car and enjoy the same music and TV shows and eat at the same restaurants.  But - for the first time in many, many years, I am not writing elaborate goals for the coming year.  I have committed to three projects that I want to pursue, rather than goals I think I should pursue.  I'm choosing not to finish a book I'm not enjoying even if everyone else did, have opted out of activities I wasn't enjoying, saying no with less deliberation.  I'm watching The Wizard of Oz or An American in Paris or The Princess Bride for the 20th time - guilt-free.  I'm learning about football rather than just tolerating it,  even finding the computer an interesting resource rather than just a 
necessary nuisance. I'm sketching every day, my journals evolving into art journals, filled with doodles and drawing and fancy lettering, and I actually believe I'm creative.  I'm finally, finally, learning to take each day as it comes, with all its challenges and all its gifts.

I suspect I am evolving my own definition of aging artfully, an intention I declared here months ago.  I look forward to noticing more, to sharing more, to inviting you to share with me.

Friday, June 6, 2014

It's the Simple Things

"There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle."
~Albert Einstein

I've kept a gratitude journal for years.  Long before Oprah recommended it.  The practice reminds me to look for daily small miracles.  Keeps me moving just a bit more gracefully through the muck and mire that life can deliver.  Some days I can list a dozen things I'm grateful for.  Other days I simply repeat, "I made it through the day."

After a recent challenging day when I kept bumping into sad and troubling news, I sat down and pressed myself to list 25 things.  I came up with the following:
  • the first Bing cherries of the season
  • a single beautiful Henry Fonda rose
  • the litter of feral kittens using our backyard as their playground
  • enjoying a movie matinee with John
  • homemade chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven
  • an unexpected visit from an old friend
  • a glass of wine with a new friend
  • the recommendation of a good book that delivers as promised
  • an e-mail that brings a belly laugh
  • frozen yogurt with chocolate sprinkles on top
  • the new season of So You Think You Can Dance
  • a phone call from my brother or sister
  • a hummingbird hovering over the feeder
  • a mug of iced sun tea
  • comfortable shoes
  • a leisurely early morning walk
  • salmon sunsets
  • and coral dawns
  • a musical performance under the stars
  • any Castle rerun
  • finding something I thought I had lost
  • solving a challenging Sudoku, or a jigsaw puzzle, or a crossword puzzle
  • a smile from a stranger
  • learning to do something, anything, no mater how small on the computer - on my own
  • and always - "I love you"
Small miracles, but miracles nonetheless.  And it helped.  Now, can I come up with another 25 gratitudes?  What would John's list would contain?  Yours?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When in Doubt...

" The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages may be preserved by quotation."
~Isaac D'Israeli

I recently received a couple e-mail invitations to participate in a chain of one's favorite inspirational quote.  I haven't yet responded - not because I don't have one, but rather because I have so many that I am having difficulty choosing only one.

I started using quotations to inspire journal writing years ago, have favorite books of collections of quotes and a notebook of inspirational quotes from  books I've read.  For years, I've turned to a quote when I feel unmotivated to write or feel stalled or find myself chewing on an issue or concern.  A good quote always gets me going again.  

So one?  The most inspirational?  These are some of my current favorites...

  • "Things do not change; we change."     ~Henry David Thoreau
  • "The old woman I shall become will be quite different from the woman I am now.  Another I is beginning."   ~ George Sand
  • "Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are."    ~ Bernice Johnson Reagon
  • "Living is a constant process of deciding what we are going to do."      ~Jose Ortega y Gasser
  • "No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap."       ~Carrie Snow
  • "Life only demands from the strength you possess.  Only one feat is possible - not to have run away."            ~Dag Hammarskjold
  • "We have enough people who tell it like it is - now we could use a few who tell it like it can be."             ~ Robert Orben
  • "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right."        ~Henry Ford
and...."Be kind - everyone is fighting a hard battle."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In Search of Inspiration

“Unfortunately, we don't have all that many good examples to follow. The people that our cultures label as "successful" are the ones who have become wealthy or famous or celebrities, but the truly successful people--those who have become happy and who are living happy, loving, giving lives--aren't often featured in our newspapers or newscasts. We see the politicians and the criminals and the athletes and the entertainment "stars," but we don't see the people who can truly inspire us to be happy by being just who we are.” 
― Tom Walsh

The author of this quote, Tom Walsh, business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, could be describing our current culture, at least as I see it.  And coming across his quote to a degree reassuring. I'm not just an old-fashioned prude, or out of touch - not with it.  I was beginning to wonder if I were sounding like my mother in her final years, something I vowed I would never do. But I have felt this way for some time now.

It's not that there are no wonderful, courageous dedicated folks out there.  It's that we, as a culture, don't seem to value them very much, if our media is an indication of what we hold to be important and cherished.. We are inundated with stories of the rich and famous (or infamous); we are asked to vote on who is to blame for the latest assault; our respect is demanded by people who do not appear to respect others; we are "entertained" by people who dress and behave as though they don't respect themselves.  It's enough to make a grown woman cry. Or become cynical and even, occasionally, afraid.

Fortunately, there are wonderful, courageous and dedicated folks out there. Occasionally, they even show up on TV, usually on Sunday morning, or after a catastrophe or disaster.  Everyday folks who rise to the occasion or who are dealing with personal challenges with grace and dignity.  Like the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Like the individuals and communities that band together to help a family in need or to clean up neighborhoods.  And the occasional celebrity who makes a genuine and dedicated commitment to a cause - I immediately think of Gary Sinise and his support of the Wounded Warrior Project.  

We all can use good examples.. Not just children.  We need them at all stages of our lives. Not to emulate but to inspire.  To inspire us to live "happy, loving, giving lives."  Not  perfect heroes or heroines or  larger than life figures.  But people we can identify with.  People who present possibilities within our reach if only we will reach a little higher. People who strive for something other than money or image, who care about others, who treat others with respect. The neighbor who watches our home when we are on vacation or the stranger who stops to help with a flat tire.  Perhaps someone ahead of us in the stream of life.  Or someone behind us from whom we can learn or just enjoy being with.

I used to ask workshop participants and coaching clients to select five individuals, living or dead, real or imaginary,  who would serve as a board of directors for their lives.   They would find the task challenging, if not impossible.  Today I would ask a different question, one that I am asking myself.  Who inspires you from the people you know and engage with?  With great relief and satisfaction, I can answer that question - easily.  My list includes a friend who can defuse any potential upset with humor and finesse.  Another who is facing a terminal illness with awesome dignity.  My sister who has the clearest and most responsible boundaries I have ever experienced.  My brother who has an insatiable thirst for learning, not mere knowledge, but genuine learning.  My husband who really does forgive and forget....and more.

But I have to admit, I also find Dame Judi Dench inspiring!

Who inspires you?



Sunday, April 6, 2014

What a Difference a Day Makes

"In having less, and less to do, we give ourselves a chance to feel rich with contentment."
~ Meg Wolfe

I came across this quote while in the midst of my simplification efforts.  One of several quotes from The Minimalist Woman that served as an inspiration to continue donating, consigning, repurposing, tossing.  

This particular quote, however helpful,  began to niggle at me.   For though I definitely could see that I had less and I had less to do (clearing out the stuff had prompted me to reduce a few of the obligations I had undertaken, and I am retired after all)  I became acutely aware that I  wasn't consistently content.  Oh, there were plenty of moments, but I couldn't seem to sustain it for very long.  Because, truth be told, I have to admit -

I'm a worrier.  And the funny thing is (well, not so funny), that  I wouldn't have acknowledged this a year ago.  Chiefly, because I can catch myself when I start to fret  and then bring myself back to the present.  In fact, I can do this so well that the frequency with which I do this had become transparent to me.  Until a few months ago when, in a conversation, my sister called me a worrier and laughed when I protested. Laughed, incredulously.

So, I started to pay attention and was appalled.  I hadn't realized just how often I had to brace myself against dark imaginings, or made plans for dire circumstances.  Whenever my brother or sister said they were going in for a checkup, I couldn't relax until I heard they had a clean bill of health.  Whenever John would catch a cold or say he wasn't feeling well, I had to catch myself, interrupt my immediate chain of thoughts or I'd go from thinking his lymphoma had returned to my being a bag lady on the streets - a chain that was forged within a nanosecond.  And whenever I forgot something, like where I put my glasses, or a word I was sure I knew, well, you can guess...onset dementia!

Then, this past month John returned to Houston for his annual checkup. The full battery of tests. And I waited to hear if he was still in remission.  And I worried that we might learn the other shoe had dropped - it has been nine years, after all.  Wondered whether this would be the year...  Knew he was worried too, perhaps even afraid.   Vacillated between mere worry and outright anxiety.

The news was different this year.  Not only were his test results good, but they were better than ever. So good that he does not have to return for a checkup for two years.  So good that his doctor is confident that we are out of the woods.  The wonderful news, the miraculous news - that was once one of the worst diagnosis - non-Hodgkins lymphoma -
now has a high degree of successful treatment with the protocol John received nine years ago.  That anyone who has received that protocol - a stem cell replacement - and has remained cancer free for over three years, need not worry about recurrence.

Not worry?!  Novel idea.  In the weeks that have passed since his visit, I have enjoyed the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips of spring. Enjoyed lunch with friends.  Enjoyed watching The Voice with John and catch-up calls with old friends.  Enjoyed walks in the afternoon and reading mysteries in the short, I've enjoyed a worry-free zone, "rich with contentment."

I am not naive, however.  I realize there will be another challenge, another crisis, just around the corner.  That this may just be a lull in the storm of life.  But for now, for now I want to enjoy it and learn how not to worry about what might be.  Worrying about what is, well, that's enough for anyone. For now, I want to enjoy our tulips.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Nice and Easy Does It Every Time

"When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.
~  Isak Dinesen

After two and a half months of letting go of cosmetics, dishes, books, knickknacks, purses,etc.,etc, I'm finally seeing empty drawers, space on the shelves and in the closets. t feels sooooooo good!  

And though I am still not committed to becoming a minimalist in the true sense of the word, I can understand why many people have. The sense of freedom and accomplishment is very satisfying.  And I feel so mature!  So responsible!

In the process, these are three of the most important things I've learned: 
  • Anyone can eat an elephant, a bite at a time.  I know many of the experts recommend a sweeping purge. However, I think the overwhelm of that option may be why  many people who know they should downsize and declutter, yet keep putting it off.  
  • Less choice makes decision-making easier, much easier.  Duh!!
  • Shutting out the siren call of the marketers - whether on TV, in the print media, or on technological gadgets - significantly reduces the temptation to fill the empty spaces again.  It's also eye-opening to get in touch with how strong and pervasive the buy, buy, buy message is.
Three strategies that have proven particularly effective:
  • Having a box accessible for depositing items for donation - it keeps the commitment visible. 
  • Setting a daily goal of 3 items to donate; 3 to toss and 3 to either store or use in a new way....and striving to do so early in the day. After 10 weeks, I'm down to 1,1, and 1!!!  After 10 weeks, it's now a habit. (And I don't form habits easily.)
  • Staying focused, one task at a time - a shelf, a drawer, one box - no multi-tasking for me.  
Three resources that I have found most useful:
  • Organizing for the Creative Person, by Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter,           the book that offers an abundance of ideas for a non-linear individual like me!  (or you?) The book that asserted I could become organized and it could even be fun.  If you have tried the more typical suggestions to become organized yet haven't been able to sustain the results, this may be the first book to consult.  
  • Secrets of Simplicity, by Mary Carlomagno, the book that inspired me to think SIMPLE, not merely organized. I particularly like the questions she poses to help her readers "learn to live better with less."  Plus, it's an attractive book that is simply organized and easy to access and use.
  • The Not So Big Life, by Sarah Susanka, a thoughtful blend of exercises and inspiring stories that deliver a philosophical basis for simplifying and practical activities to support doing so.
For those of you who prefer your Kindle or Nook, there's a plethora of short and sweet e-books dealing with organization, decluttering, simplification and minimalism.  Among the most helpful that I have found is....
  • the work of Meg Wolfe, who goes by the tagline The Minimalist Woman, and is the author of an e-book by the same title and an engaging blog,  
Information's clearly not the issue.  As with dieting, there's plenty of information out there. It's not so much about finding the right program, as much as finding the right motivation and the strength of commitment.  For me, the motivation to simplify my environment grew out of my wish to age artfully.  Might take me another 10 weeks to complete this job, but I
see the forest for the trees!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Reason to Celebrate

''Youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstances."
Frank Lloyd Wright

Next week I will celebrate my 73rd birthday, and I do intend to celebrate.  I realize that some folks would be aghast that I admit my age, but I'm  pleased that I'm still here, still healthy, still learning and contributing.  I may occasionally feel the physical wear and tear of an arthritic knee, or become perturbed when I can't quickly retrieve a word that I know I know.  But for the most part, I'm a happy camper.  In many ways, happier than I've ever been.

Maybe this is why it has been surprisingly easy to let go of years worth of...stuff.  Much easier than I had expected.

In the weeks since this New Year began, I've been on a decluttering, simplifying tear.  Not that we're hoarders, or even messy.  In fact, after years of concerted efforts to downsize and become more organized, I'm sure any casual observer would be impressed with the labeled organization I had already created.

What I came to recognize last fall, however, was that what had been accomplished was merely a corralling of the clutter, albeit quite stylishly.  We still had too much, way too much.   After all, we married at age 40 and combined my stuff with his stuff and eventually added some of my parents' stuff.  That's a lot of stuff.

So,  I made a commitment to pare down,  to streamline, to create space, order and freedom, not just organization.  To confront whatever would surface in the process.  No matter what.  Whatever it might take.  However long it might take. 

I approached this commitment as I historically have approached goals or projects.  By reading everything I could get my hands on.  Besides the shelves of books and magazines, there is a plethora of e-books dealing with organization, simplification, minimalism, goal setting, habit development.....Well, you get it.  One can spend months learning and not doing much.  

So, as the saying goes, I bit the bullet and started clearing drawers and boxes, baskets and totes,  shelves and cabinets, initially setting my sights on selecting 10 items to donate or gift, 10 items to throw away, and 10 items to store/use more functionally - every day!  I'm almost embarrassed to say I achieved that every day for 2 weeks.  For the last three weeks, I've settled on being  a "triple threat."...finding 3 items to toss, 3 to donate and 3 to relocate...every day - after all, I am making progress.

This is some of what I am learning along the way....
  • I am not committed to becoming a minimalist...yet.  That may come in time.
  • I am committed to living with FAR less than the marketing industry promotes.
  • To avoid merely replacing what we are releasing requires vigilance against that same industry...tossing catalogs without leafing through them, turning off the TV or at least not watching commercials, knowing the difference between wanting and needing, challenging the constant assertion that we DESERVE every new product or service.
  •  It's not our duty to fuel the economy.  It's painfully obvious that we have done our share!
  • Some tips and techniques do help, so research can be valuable.  However,  many of these tips and techniques show up repeatedly, just packaged in different language, sequence, or format. (I'll recommend some of my favorite resources in my next blog).
  • I'm an out of sight, out of mind gal.  So it's required diligence to avoid chastising myself every time I find something I'd forgotten I had bought, something I hadn't used in years, or something for which I have duplicates.
  • The hardest things to let go of (at least for me) haven't been those items laden with memories, but those that no longer seem relevant.  Were I not  feeling relevant , this might be enough to stop me in my tracks.
  • The biggest challenge has not been in letting go of the stuff, however, but in facing the thinking and habits that led to such accumulation, especially in facing what I thought the stuff meant, and meant about me.  It's a good thing I'm in a good place...maybe this is what it means to be ready.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Letting Go

"All the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on."
                                                                                             ~ Havelock Ellis

I've been on a letting go binge since Christmas, fueled by two things; the first, a remark from an old friend, who looking through our guest bathroom drawers for something she needed, said with a touch of awe, "Wow, you are really organized!"  The second - my internal reply, "But we still have too much stuff, it's just well-organized stuff."

So, when I sat down to write goals for this year, I decided that it's time to complete the project I started 13 years, yes, 13, ago when I was diagnosed with cancer.  At that time, I had a concern, among several concerns, that were I not to pull through, what would John be left to deal with.  Whenever my energy levels permitted, I began to toss, to donate, to organize.  It proved to be a worthy project, not just for the results, but for the sense of achievement and control it provided at a time when I felt so out of control.

But once in remission, I slacked off.  Oh, faced with a move, I stepped in the ring for another round, emerging much better organized, but still too much stuff.  Now, just better-organized, labeled stuff.  In two homes, no less.

So, it wasn't surprising that when we decided to move into one home in St. George (within 27 days), we had boxes and crates and furniture in the garage, on the patio, and in the courtyard.  Not surprising that it has taken us almost three years to toss, and consign, and sell, and donate.  

Along the way, I have continued to reorganize and rethink our use of space, our need for stuff, how I want to spend my time - not cleaning, not packing and unpacking, not searching for something I know I have somewhere in a nicely labeled container.  This time around, I intend to simplify and focus on order and easy retrieval.  To end the year knowing that all we have is what we really NEED and USE.  That we know what we have, where it is, and how to easily retrieve it.

Therefore, I've been on a letting go binge since Christmas.  This bout, however, I've taken some time to reflect on what I've learned along the way.  To address why I've resisted this final purge.  To fess up to what this stuff means to me, about me.  (That's the next posting!)  To enroll, not badger, John for his help.

I'm still driven by my concern for leaving John with organized chaos, (and yes, I recognize I could be the one left behind), but more than this, I do not want whatever time we have left together to be spent on stuff!