to Sleep or Perchance to Dream

Each morning, I wake between 5:30 AM and 7 AM.  Every. Single. Day.  No matter what time I go to bed and try to fall to sleep.

Sleep - oh Beautiful Sleep - pull me into dreamland...

I do my best on the weekends to doze off again, to get a few more ZZZsss. On the rare occasion, it works and I am able to get another hour or two of sleep. Oh, those glorious Saturdays when I can doze  a bit more. Or Sundays when the warmth of John’s body next to me compels me to sleep a little longer.

Tonight is the example of the opposite: the evenings. When John is ready to crawl between the sheets and I am wired and wide awake.

Sometimes, I crawl into bed with him and read. Grateful for the back-light of my Kindle to hopefully lull me into dream land sooner than later. Other nights, I settle in the chair in our bedroom and read. Inevitably waking at 2 AM.

Or nights like tonight. John goes to bed way too early for me, so I take myself downstairs, fire up the computer, and binge watch Bosch on Amazon as I pick at work.

Two things here: Bosch is amazing. Titus Welliver is a wonderful Harry Bosch.

And. Picking at work means digging through old blog posts and scheduling them on social media. Dear heavens I am grateful for Social Pilot and the ability to manage all my social feeds with the click click click of a mouse.

I will confess: I am envious of John’s ability to sleep with such ease.

I wonder if all his years on ships gifted him with the ability to fall asleep wherever he may be. It’s as if he thinks “I should get some sleep,” and his body follows with no fuss. No struggle, not trying to convince his brain that despite the fact that his body is begging for respite, there are things to think and mull over. His brain doesn’t insist he stay awake.

Nope. He climbs between the sheets and is asleep within seconds. Color me green with envy as I wish I could shut down my brain and my body in pursuit of beautiful sleep.

I know the science. I quote the science on the regular when it comes to touting sleep as an important part of managing your life. I know that I need a solid 7 hours of sleep, to go to bed at the same time each night and wake the same each morning.

Yet, I find myself sitting here wishing for sleep. Perchance to dream.

in Turning the Microscope on Myself

I spent an hour at the dentist this past week. Not my ideal way to spend a Tuesday morning, but a necessity. And, following through with this appointment is part of the contract I made with myself back in November. To turn the microscope on my own life and examine where I’ve been neglecting myself and my life.

Call it my post-election realization and the lyrics of the hymnLet There Be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin with Me” running through my head. How CAN we change the world for good if we are unwilling to do the work required within our own four walls?

One the commitments I made to myself was to perform at least ONE extreme act of self care each month.

It sounds all kinds of glamorous and sexy, doesn’t it? Until I share that the first act of extreme self-care in November was to spend two hours and over three thousand dollars at the dentist.

As I was sitting in the dentist chair this week while the dentist was taking care of two fillings, I realized that I wasn’t stressed by being there and having the work done. I had a wonderful dentist when I was a child (Dr. Sarrett) and don’t have a fear of dentists. In fact, those childhood dental visits – even those where I had teeth pulled or cavities filled – were a treat. There were Highlights Magazines to read and Dr. Sarrett was always joking around with me.

But when I got older, going to the dentist seemed like a waste of money. Especially when times were tighter as a young mother.My ex systematically tightened finances and my dental visits just didn’t make it into the family budget.

And after the divorce? Buying groceries and paying the electric bill seemed a better use of funds than the inside of my mouth. By the time I started making enough money to be more comfortable, there just wasn’t time to go to the dentist. Those Gypsy Years of mine meant more than 200 days a year on the road and keeping up professional and polished appearances by having perfect hair and nails seemed more valuable to my life than getting my teeth cleaned.

Besides. I brush my teeth. I used those Crest White-strips. But at home care isn’t the same as visiting a professional.

When I began to turn the microscope on myself, one of the first areas of my life I realized I had been neglecting was my mouth.

When WAS the last time I’d had a professional cleaning? Did I really floss daily and brush twice? Did I use my electric toothbrush the ENTIRE two minutes each time? Heck, I just bought that toothbrush last year after John’s urging. He goes to the dentist every six months. He brushes his teeth the entire two minutes nightly without fail. He rinses with Listerine for the prescribed 30-seconds, twice a day to ward off gum disease.

And when I told him about my two hours in the chair while he was on a trip to DC, he took a deep breath and said “Sweetheart. Please take better care of yourself.”

So, in November, my extreme act of self-care was the first dental exam in more years that I dare to count. Followed with a solid amount of time with their office periodontist the same week to get some necessary (and expensive) deep cleaning done for the sake of my gums.

Oh, to have that ah-ha moment that your gums shouldn’t bleed when you brush your teeth after that visit. Mine always did. And now, they don’t.  When I talk about extreme self-care, this is the result of that painful truth

And the result of that first day of my examine, I also had cavities! But because you can’t stress your body out too much, the plan was to do the gum work. Then do the fillings on one side of my mouth a month or two later. Followed by wrapping up the fillings on the other side.

Fun stuff, here. Let me tell ya!

It would be so easy to put off all those follow-up visits and tell myself (lie to myself): “I’ll do that next month or next month….”  Yet, how can I do that in good conscious? If I am to commit to taking better care of ME and to change what’s within my control, then how can I now blow it off in that light?

I decided that December needed something a little less invasive. So I bought a new wallet.

Let me begin by telling you that in a lot of ways, I am about what’s both easy and no-nonsense. I buy purses on the clearance rack at Target. I may lust after the iconic Quilted Chanel bag in Vogue or obsess over an Ox-Blood Coach thanks to regular emails from Dillard’s, I just can’t seem to bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on a purse.

I think the most money I ever spent was $50 on a Fossil Messenger bag during my Gypsy Years. and then, only because (a) it was on sale and (b) the strap on the purse I had with me broke.

My last wallet was small, plain black, and just the width of a credit card. It was usable, but not stylish. I got it at Kohls or Target for under $10. And it was falling apart.

In addition to falling apart, I had just read an article from Briana Saussy and buying a New Wallet for the New Year as a way to put MoJo into your Money Mindset and invite prosperity into your life. My go-to in handbags, wallets, and shoes is always a plain, serviceable black.

But after reading Bri’s piece, I decided I needed a green, royal blue, or red wallet. And yes, I looked at Target and Kohls for a “cheapie” wallet. Then it hit me: if I wanted to not only replace something that needed replacing, but also put the psychology behind it of choosing to invest in myself and the way I manage money, settling for a crappy clearance wallet wasn’t the way to go.

If this were to be an extreme act of self-care, then I needed to invest in something that was both beautiful and of high quality.

I am a big believer of using your good stuff every day: best perfume, china, and favorite dress. And my experiment with higher quality make-up had shown to prove the adage “you get what you pay for”.

I took a look at all the wallets Macy’s had to offer in green, blue, and red. After narrowing down the options, I went into my local store and chose a Michael Kors wallet in Cherry Red. Not only was it stylish, it has an RFID blocker lining. (And though I was investing in a nice wallet, I was able to take advantage of a holiday pre-order sale which saved some cash).

Though I was looking for something more fun than hours at the dentist, this seemingly frivolous and surface level purchase wasn’t just about replacing a wallet. It was about the psychology of self-care and my money mindset. Since that purchase, I have been treating money – and the ideas behind personal wealth – differently.

I also treat myself differently every time I pull out that cherry red wallet: more thoughtful treats, more investing in nice things, less buying cheapie things, and less random indulgences on stuff I don’t really need.

January’s choice towards may not be different from many of you: watching what I eat.

Watching what I eat may smack of diets and deprivation and getting skinny and such which might not sound like self-care. Though I would like to lose about fifteen pounds, this isn’t about my weight. It’s about how I feel in my body.

I’ve had bursitis since my early 30’s thanks to years as a dancer and carpel tunnel long before Y2K due to all the writing and typing I do. The last couple of years, though, it’s gone beyond those aches and pains I’ve dealt with for years: arthritis in my hands. Sometimes, so painful it hurt to hold a pen or a fork.

After a conversation with my doctor, I decided to do something holistic instead of immediately going pharmaceutical.

Last May, I did a (modified) Whole30 experiment, eliminating gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, soy, and added sugars. I say modified because I still put a tiny spoon of sugar in my coffee and drink the occasional glass of wine. The goal is to cut out all those food groups known to cause inflammation in the body for some folks and then slowly add a food group back and see how your body responds.

Since my hysterectomy more than a decade ago, I already watch my soy intake.I discovered that dairy upset my stomach and gluten caused my joints to ache.

So, I stuck to a basically Paleo styled approach to eating through September of this past year. Then, the lure of cake and toast and other such delicious to eat foods – and easy to fix things – used their siren song on me and my jangled nerves as I finalized for publication my two 30 Days to Clarity books.

Within a few weeks, I knew I needed to go back to eating more mindfully, but knowing it and doing it are two different things. Besides, we had a trip to DC and Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon. As I often advise clients, I put a date on my calendar to go back to mindfully tending my body by what I chose to fuel it with.

That date I chose was January 9th. It’s been a week now that I’ve taken a more thoughtful and conscious approach to what I put on the table and in my body.  I’m tired thanks to the lack of easy uppers (bread, cake, crackers) in my diet, but my hands feel ten times better. And from experience I know my energy will increase in time.

We all must eat to survive. Yet, I want to eat to also thrive. I want to take joy in the entire process of a meal – from planning to grocery shopping to preparation to eating.

Eating mindfully takes an enormous amount of energy, at least when you first begin.  Since you can’t rely on easy grab and go things foods for breakfast – toast, sandwiches, muffins – I’ve been cooking breakfast every day, which takes time. And since plain eggs can get boring, I’ve been making frittata-type dishes filled with meat and veggies each day. It’s forcing me to look at side dishes differently. Though I’ve cooked some of my favorite five-grain rice mix for John, I’m adding more side dishes of veggies.

And, since I can’t call for a pizza when I’m tired, I’m cooking every meal. Eating out just isn’t easy when you eat this way: gluten-free items usually have dairy, there’s soy everywhere, and dairy-free items are full of grains!

There are tricks to help ease all that cooking though.

I’m doing some extra prep work. I’m doubling up some recipes to pop in the freezer for another day. I’m making meat dishes that are ensured to leave me leftovers (roast, turkey breast).  I buy rotisserie chicken breasts from my grocery store for easy protein to toss on salads or throw in with some leftover veggies. I buy already diced onions in addition to whole onions. I took myself to lunch the first day for a big salad  and a gluten-free chicken entree. Before I left the restaurant, I put in a to-go order for the next couple of days lunches: salads and a couple of orders of their kid dinners of grilled chicken and haricot verts.

All these little tricks made things just a bit easier.

I’ve also been talking to my sister about food and recipes and short-cuts. She went back on Whole30 last week, too. Just having someone to toss ideas around with is helpful. Because so many folks are doing “Whole30” online this month, there are a ton of recipes to help give me ideas of different things to cook.

“Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action.”
― Virginia Woolf

I have never been focused on writing about social justice and I’m not wired for activism in the vein of marches. Frankly, I think there’s so much risk to individual safety in the midst of a protest to individuals, especially to women, thanks to those who like to prey on them. I’ve witnessed some of those big protests in my many years in and out of DC.

I am of the private approach when it comes to the issues. I write letters and make calls to my congressman and senators. I donate money to causes I believe in. I pray. I don’t need to share my opinion on social media to know that my opinions are valid.

Maybe all this inward focus seems…silly or petty or self-ish in the big scheme of all that’s happening in the world right now. Yet, this personal work ties deeply to the concept of Unbound Grace as this type of action forces me towards freedom and opens up a path to grace.

Yet I see so many folks that I witness “making a scene” in public (or on social media) aren’t looking in the mirror. They aren’t seeing how they bully or mock others. They see opinions of those who don’t agree with them as not valid.  They cry racism but they act in racist ways. It seems as if some of the play is “see how amazing I am”  yet they allow their personal life to be a big, hot mess.

After much prayer and soul searching, I know that this is where I must start: by looking in the mirror first and then seeing how that flows outward. Because if I’m not taking care of what’s within my control, how can I ever expect to make an impact towards the greater good? If I don’t seek peace within my own heart, then how can I expect others to act from a space of peace.

What about you? What extreme acts of self-care might you need to make? Are you turning a blind eye to the issues before you? How might you be neglecting your own care or bullying yourself?

With the Holidays Behind Us

Though we are nine days into the New Year, today feels like the first real day to me.

John was home – sometimes working, sometimes on vacation – from December 20th until January 4th and we got into all kinds of habits I see as good: sleeping until naturally waking, lingering over morning coffee, and an unstructured approach to meal times. When  the alarm went off on our first official work day of 2017, January 5th, it was a big dive back in. He went into the office, I started the year with a 7:15 AM coaching call.

Despite it being full-tilt into work, it felt like practice. Not a gentle, get in the groove practice, but the one where you leave sweating and exhausted. John commuted into the office and was met with multiple staff meetings. We got our first snow of the year. I coached several clients, met a colleague for lunch, and did Every Kind of Errand imaginable.

Two days of hard work and BAM! it was the weekend! I tried to squeeze a full week into those two days and by the time we sat down for “wine hour” on Friday, I was like an overcooked noodle.

And the thing is, one of my intentions for this season – from Christmas to Candlemas (Imbolic) – is to rest. Though I love nothing more than to lounge under a blanket and read, after an hour or so of inactivity, I’m itching to Do Stuff: go to the grocery store, clean out a drawer, or tackle a pile of laundry.

I never said it was going to be easy….but then again, what’s the point of setting an intention for something we’ve already mastered?

Those Put Off Tasks? Check!

For the last five years, I’ve been meaning to take these two chairs we have to be repaired. The chairs are these great green velour chairs from the late 60’s or early 70’s and used to live in John’s parent’s formal living room and then were relegated to storage.  The upholstery was in immaculate shape and they look great. Well, except the bottoms was falling through! Not only did we (finally) take ’em in to be repaired, but they’re already back home!

We completed the process of turning a large portion of our basement into a workout room last spring. Over the holidays, we finally added some cardio equipment. First was a bike trainer, which allows an outdoor bike to be ridden indoors. Then, we found a treadmill.

To be honest, we debated on the treadmill due to worries about aging knees, but after a conversation with John’s youngest sister, who is older than me and a runner, we opted for a higher-end treadmill with a design meant to give more support to our joints. It will be delivered this week, and I can’t wait to get back in a walking/running/sprinting groove.  I’m not a great runner, but I love how I feel when I am running a couple of days a week.  I also like how I feel in my body.

Goodbye, Christmas. Shall we tidy up the place?

Though I prefer to leave our Christmas decorations up through Epiphany, this year, we put everything away on the 2nd. We took advantage of a not-too-cold and dry day – and the fact that John was home to make the work go faster. It seems like more hard work to take it down than it was to put it up!

The only displaced furniture was a single recliner, but we decided to move every stick of furniture in our den downstairs to vacuum under it. This led to a decision to rearrange the furniture. I mean, honestly, we’ve been sitting in the same place for the last two weeks, so why not flip the sofa and the loveseat to spread out the wear and tear on the cushions?

John seems to like the flip, but I’m not so sure.

We’ve come smack-dab up against my last of love of change. Yes, we all think we roll well with change, but maybe, just maybe…I don’t.

We’ve agreed to leave it for a bit and see what we think.

Alexa, What’s the Weather Forecast?

We received two Echo Dots this season. There was no gift tag and it wasn’t on my Amazon account. An attempt at tracking the items resulted in nothing. Amazon doesn’t want them back…

After waiting over a week, I set up one of the Echo Dots in my office. I ask Alexa The Weather and the time of the sunrise. I’ve played my Classical #1 Playlist.  I began using the timer today to set aside writing times.  I’ve yet to find a consistent news source I want to hear.

I disabled the ability for Alexa to shop for me…

Some of the ladies in my book club LOVE Alexa. I have yet to make up my mind. For now, Alexa will be my co-worker.

The Writing.

I have yet to settle into my writing in this new year. A few words here. A few words in my journal.  Nothing is coming together the way I wish it would.

I have been reading, though. I’ve finished five or six books since the calendar page turned to 2017. But beyond the writing I did on New Year’s Day, I’ve yet to find the courage to belly up to the bar and work on either of the books.

To be honest, I’m still feeling unsettled. The Unbound part of my Words for 2017 is going to be….the challenge. But then again, like learning to rest, maybe that is the point.

Welcoming The New Year: Happy 2017

Happy New Year (Photo by Edd Sowden via Flickr Creative Commons)

In the circles of magic and superstition, special attention should be paid to your actions on January 1st. Each action you take is an invitation to get intentional and align yourself with the New Year Mojo.

Whether you believe in magic – or not – why not give yourself over and create a very intentional kind of day? Why not choose what you eat, drink, say, write, buy and do as an action on this day to help with those goals for a 2017?

So what do you want more of in 2017? What do you want less of?

This morning, I woke before John and spent those first waking hour of 2017 in quiet personal time doing what I love at the beginning of the day: I read a little, wrote in my journal, drank lots of water, and had a little snack. Most of this was done in The Chair and each little action held power.

If I’ve learned nothing during this past couple of weeks, it has been made abundantly clear to me that I need personal quiet time. I need to sit and think and just BE.

Reading is like breathing to me, and I can’t imagine my world without books and letters and taking in the wisdom of others. I love my coffee and wine, but water is life. And frankly, as much water as I drink, I’ve gotten lax as the weather has cooled. And what would a year be without intentional writing?

There was no getting on the computer, no working, no mindlessly scrolling through social media….

Ah. And the snack. To be honest, I am the worst when it comes to breakfast on the weekends (or when John is home). I typically wait for him to be hungry, which often means I’m S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G and irritable. I operate best with a little protein, so choosing to nibble on a couple of sausage balls was about the intention of tending my needs as a priority. (And, pork for Good Luck in the New Year).

When John began stirring, I crawled back into bed with him. There’s nothing more critical in a couple’s relationship than tending intimacy. We cuddled and made love – both good omens for our year ahead together. (Maybe TMI, but an important component to my personal life: sex, intimacy, quality time)

After we both got up and moving, it was time for coffee our Normal Morning Activities.

Check email, read the news, the side-by-side companionship of coupledom. Couples need quality side-by-side companionship. We need the ability to be able to BE together and be happy doing our own thing.Far too many couples miss the importance of this, or believe if you aren’t actively interacting, it’s not special….

I had one purchase to make, a token if you will: a new journal. There’s nothing worse for a writer or a successful year of writing than to not have something to write in, is there? Since shifting to the “nice” journals, I make it a habit to have a stash of empty journals ready and waiting.

What better intention for 2017 than to ensure that the first penny I spent in the New Year was for my creative life?

Speaking of Creative Life…

I opened the Scrivener files for both of of the Books I’d like to birth in 2017 and spent a little time with them. I read some of what’s already there, added fresh content, and did some research. My timeline for one of the books feels pretty aggressive….

Tending and nurturing this work feels important today. What better action to take on the first day of 2017 than to write towards something that matters to me?

Then, it was time to get physical!

We made our way into our home gym soon after some writing time (for me) and some XBox time (for him). We have a series of stretches given to John by the Physical Therapist the last time his back went out and we do those together. He was in a helicopter crash in the 80’s and sustained damage to his back and shoulder, so he should be stretching daily. After stretching, I did some weights while he did his pushups and some cardio.

I need to get back in shape this year.  Honestly, so does he. This was a good intention to carry into 2017: working out together.

Sure, I’d like to lose about 15 pounds as a part of that, but mainly, I want more umph in my step. I want more stamina. I am a high-energy kind of gal, but I’ve noticed that my energy just isn’t as long-lasting as I’ve aged.  And, I also know that if I’m in better shape, my immune system will be more resistant. This Christmas Cold is almost over, yet honestly, is at day 8 of not being “well”.

I thrive in routine, so if I make working out a part of the norm, I will be more successful. The goals are small for January: weights twice a week, stretching of some sort daily, and walking three days a week. This past week, we purchased a Bike Trainer (to use our existing bikes indoors) as well as a top-of-the-line treadmill (which they should deliver and install it by the end of this week or early next week).

After our workout, I threw some laundry on and then I showered.

The act of fueling our bodies with intention.

I made a late lunch / early dinner. All traditional foods: pork medallions, sauerkraut, sauteed spinach, black-eyed peas and cornbread. All of the ingredients were well-sourced. We ate at the dining room table, lingered over a glass of wine and chatted. Then, we cleaned the kitchen together.

Nice, healthy meals are important to me. Allowing him to help is a biggie, too, because far too often, I just take-over and Do It All My Way. A nod to being willing to be helped….

And, to be honest, I kind of fell out of love with my kitchen this last year, relying on my back-pocket recipes for most of our meals.

We are ending the day with quiet time.

I’m sensing a theme for me this year: more quiet time. Grace requires time to BE and Think. I can’t be Unbound if I’m always busy. A solid entry into 2017 almost demands this of me.

So, this evening, I’ve done some reading. I wrote this post, set my 2017 Reading Goals over at Goodreads. I’ve looked in on my Social Media spaces. I made hot toddies for us to sip and did my evening routine stuff: setting up the coffee pot for the morning, took a peek at our laundry hampers to plot tomorrow’s laundry, and ensured the bed was neat and tidy and awaiting us.

I’d say that the entry into 2017 has been a great one. What about you?

My Words for 2017

Every year since 2005, I have chosen between one and three words to serve as my guide, my theme, my beacon of light for the year. Nowadays, everyone is on the Word of the Year bandwagon….I see this as a good thing, because doing this practice for (now) twelve years, has shifted my DNA and how I think about life, love, and my personal work in the world.

(Side Note: If you need some help choosing a Word for 2017, I do have a Free Guide to help)

I’ve written…if not extensively…at least a little here in this space about my Word for 2016: Create.  Other years have been sometimes a complex variety of words and other years, a more simplistic approach.

After more than a decade of this practice, I also know that a Word of the Year never arrives on a schedule.It can be frustrating when you want your life to running in a seemingly tidy way. And, I have to confess, the years of running a coaching practice has conditioned me to strive to have my Word(s) up and READY to go on January 1st.

Some years, though, they lag and fail to reveal themselves for days or weeks, and frankly, with the hustle and bustle and busy-ness of the holiday season, I can see how it’s hard to hear the voice of your heart. My word for 2010 didn’t arrive until March, and it taught me that sometimes waiting is the best possible thing.

Other years, the word begins whisper in your ear long before it’s time to say goodbye to the previous year.

This year, I’ve had an inkling to what my Word for 2017 might be back in September.

I had spent the morning with Jen Lee in a Tea Shop in Brooklyn. After tea, I stopped at The Big Macy’s at Herald Square and was back in my hotel to get some rest. It had been a day of extremes. The New York City Subway at the edges of rush hour then intimate conversation about life, creating, projects, and life as a maker. Back to the throngs of people shopping in Macy’s and then to the complete quiet and solitude of my room.

It was my last solo day in New York – John was due to arrive the following day for our vacation. I changed out of my clothes and into some lounge wear and as I stood in the window of my room, watching the rain come down on Times Square, both the idea of What I Had To Write in 2017  and my Word for 2017 began to whisper to me.

I’ve done more praying and thinking since that moment than I have in years past.

This feels like a big year.  I’ve accomplished a lot professionally: three books in twelve months, the successful launch of a new literary/arts magazine with a follow up of a print anthology, and a solid group of clients in my coaching practice.

I also have big goals for the coming year when it comes to my writing life: two books in 2017, all original content.

Personally,  the girls both hit big birthdays this past year: Em turned 25 and Katie 21. John and I are beginning our 7th Year together, an auspicious year no matter how you slice it. I will be fifty next year, a milestone age.

This year had felt challenging in a lot of ways, much of it external thanks to the political climate and unrest in the world. Yet, I have a good life. And though I am not blissfully happy every second of the day, each day I experience joy.

I did some of my standard practices for the last few years.I did my own workbook. Played with the inquiry process. Reread some letters and perused my past journal entries.

I looked to outside sources of wisdom. I get quarterly (or so) readings with Theresa Reed. I get an annual Goddess Reading from Amy Palko, though this year, I mixed it up a bit and got a Goddess Gift reading instead of her Word Goddess Readings. I’ve spent some time in church this fall and purchased a Sunday Missal as well as a little collection of Daily Readings from the Church. I also set up an Ancestor’s Altar.

All of this led me to make peace with not a single word, but two words together for 2017:

Yes: Unbound Grace.

In the days and weeks and months to come, I’ll tell you more about them.

The Return of the Light

Today is the Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year, the day that marks the first night of winter, and the day that also marks the return of the light. It’s a moment steeped in magic.

As I shared several months ago, one of my morning rituals is to choose a Tarot card for the day (usually from Joanna Powell Colbert’s Gaian Tarot Deck) and today’s card is Temperance. To seek the balance, the middle way, to balance your own light and shadow. An appropriate theme for the day: the middle way. To find that space between my light and shadow.

To seek the light when it’s the darkest, longest night of the year.

My desk is a mass of books this evening: Home Comforts, the Gaian Tarot Book, Henri Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey, my emerald journal just recently filled with words alongside the orange one just begun, and the olive green bullet journal. Oh, and my Kindle, too, containing a dozen books or more, some of which I read, some of which I am reading, like Mary Oliver’s Upstream….and some of which I hope to read.

I wish I could say I’ve done a lot of writing today, but mostly, I’ve thought. And prepared for the holiday.

I went to the grocery store, getting supplies for Christmas dinner and all the days leading up to it. Tonight, I made a big dinner of braised beef in tomatoes in my new Instant Pot and served them alongside all the orange veggies in the fridge: sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash.John said it was good, but said it smelled like dirty socks. Hmmmm…maybe not the aroma I was going for?

And now….time to slumber, to dream, to find the magic there and sometimes answers in the voices of those who visit my dreams.

Happy Solstice.


The Year of CREATE and….

I didn’t do a very good job of writing regularly about my 2016 Word of the Year: Create. Yet, every action I took this year and the decisions I made in 2016 about my personal, professional, and creative life were fueled by – and supported by – the concept of being true to it.

Oh, not as true as I wanted to be to it – or else there would be more personal meanderings here in this space. And that’s something I desire to remedy in 2017.

I miss the opportunity to sit here and connect with my words in this open journal format more than I would admit to the average person. Because most folks wouldn’t get how I could long to write more each week when one of the goals of 2016 was to write less articles for my “real” work – my coaching practice.

The thing is, when I write as Debra Smouse, Life Coach, it is imperative I have the answers. Maybe not all the answers, but at least enough answers to help others move their life forward.  Frankly, I am good with answers. I have one of those quick brains that can see a plethora of possibilities and can offer up a smorgasbord of choices for the folks I work with. I believe that each one of us has our answers deep inside of us, we just need someone else to ask us the right question, offer up the right book, or point us in a particular direction.

The problem with being good with the answers it that it’s harder for me sometimes to admit that I don’t have my own answers.

Especially when my deepest desires seem to be different from those of my peers and friends. I want more peace and less conflict and more trust and less activism. There are those I love that are so passionate about stating their opinions and taking a repeated stand and frankly, that isn’t who I am at my core.

It isn’t that I don’t care or have no opinions. I just prefer to keep those opinions…within my own four walls. John and I discuss the state of the world. I do talk about political things with a couple of girlfriends, only by phone or in person, though.

I am not the person that is going to write THE ARTICLE that everyone MUST READ. I don’t have a talent when it comes to tackling social justice issues.

But, it has made me question myself: my heart, my ethics, my womanhood, my sense of propriety, my faith, my patriotism, and my desire to see good in the world where others can only see negativity. Am I not brave enough? Smart enough? Am I uncaring? Am I shallow? Am I not passionate?

Have I not stepped out of my own upbringing of being a “Good, Southern, Girl” enough to be comfortable talking about politics or religion or asking someone how much money they paid for their car?

I would rather see the blow-by-blow of a friend’s brunch and how the book they are reading is shifting their DNA over their need to share how ANGRY they are at the world.  I long to see the beauty, the stark, irrefutable beauty of daily existence over how a beloved may be responding to news of the world.

Because, trust me, I am reeling here when I read about what happened in Berlin and Turkey and Syria and HERE and There. Yet, each day, I witness so much stark beauty: a young mom creating her best life, my mail lady sharing a story of her grief over the loss of a sister-in-law – laughing through our tears….

Though my call to CREATE in 2016 has been to create differently, I still came to the conclusion that that didn’t mean I was ready to create that differently and suddenly begin writing about those topics.

And that decision to not write about any of those things means that often, I don’t write at all. Because, writing about ordinary beauty, moments of perfection in an imperfect world, and the tiny details of tending a soul seem….boring.

I long for peace and beauty and hope. I seek what’s good in the world, not what is wrong. Maybe I am too Pollyanna-ish.

No one can deny that 2016 has been a challenging year. My life – my daily, every day life – is one that I love and I cherish. It’s a daily life I only dreamed of having when I was a little girl.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s been perfect in my own little piece of this world.

I wrote to a friend in a letter that maybe all this upheaval meant that the one place I needed to turn the microscope wasn’t on the world at large, but on myself. Where am I neglecting myself? Where am I bullying myself? Where am I disenfranchising my own soul? Isn’t the place to begin…within my own life?  Isn’t it imperative that I be true to my number one commitment of ensuring that the daily life that I create nourishes me, John, and our relationship?

I still don’t have all the answers, but I do have an inkling to what direction I need to be looking for those answers. Or, at least more of them.

As we wind our way towards Christmas and 2017, I know that my Word for 2016 will continue forward with me….because I desperately need the support of it as I get a glimpse into what my personal work for 2017 must be….

As we move towards 2017, I’ll be sharing some highlights of how CREATE came front and center

Thanksgiving for Two

For the first time in our seven years together, John and I are spending Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us.It’s harvest_fall_thanksgivingthe most relaxed I’ve felt on this holiday since long before we were together…and I am doubly grateful for the opportunity to create a beautiful meal. There are so many things I enjoy about Thanksgiving with his family, but one thing I miss is the opportunity to contribute something I’ve made by hand. Traveling for 4 1/2 hours (or more when there is traffic) doesn’t lend well to contributing much to the table beyond wine or more sturdy baked goods.

The part of me that loves cooking misses the opportunity to be of service in a way I show love, through food. I felt left out, unable to contribute….

It feels a little strange, to be frank, and the worrier in my can’t help but wonder if grudges will be held, a staple of my childhood. Unlike my mother, John’s mother doesn’t seem to hold grudges. She’s more of a “let it go” kind of woman, realizing after 87 years here on this planet, there is a lot to let go of. (I’m not quite sure of all of the sisters, but I am hopeful).

As I sit writing, the turkey is in the oven, turkey stock is simmering on the stove, and there is cornbread dressing in tableissetforthanksgivingthe crock-pot. A slightly modified version of my Aunt Dot’s cornbread dressing, to be exact. There is a chocolate pie in the fridge and the table is set.

I still have cooking yet to do, though for now am grateful for the opportunity to come here in this space and write as I sip a glass of wine. Though I still cook a turkey after Thanksgiving, after being gifted a beautiful free-range bird each year by my favorite grocery store, I had forgotten how much hard work goes into wrestling with one. Especially with the added work of the trimmings…something I skip when I do the post-Thanksgiving turkey roasting.

I did some prep work yesterday.

John requested a chocolate pie as our dessert, something I was happy to make over the traditional Pumpkin or Pecan. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and the one her mother made: an old-fashioned custard style pie made with egg yolks, whole milk, sugar, and a lot of patience. As was typical of previous generations, it’s a base that can be customized to make chocolatepiebanana pudding or coconut cream pie, as well.

It takes an hour (or more) to make, and that hour of stirring the custard on low connects me with three generations of women.

I am grateful to play with my Aunt Dot’s Cornbread Dressing. A recipe my sister sent me, as neither of us can find our Mother’s recipe. Aunt Dot’s is close, though, with corn bread, “light bread”, and chopped boiled eggs. I made a few substitutions: whole grain bread for the white Mrs. Baird’s and real butter instead of “oleo” and I’m baking it in the crock pot (4 hours on low). I pared the recipe down from 40 servings to 10, something that took a bit of math. It’s the one dish I’ve missed the most the last six years, because folks in the Midwest tend to make bread dressing.

I can still recall that first Chicago Thanksgiving, missing cornbread dressing and mayo for the day-after Turkey sandwiches. Wanting the comfort of familiar foods and thanksgivingdinnermissing my mother so much it hurt.

This morning, I made John’s mother’s cranberry sauce: one bag of cranberries, one whole orange, and 1/3 cup of sugar tossed in the blender. We may only have a spoonful, but it’s a traditional flavor (and better than opening a can of Ocean Spray Jellied).

Now, all that’s left is for the turkey to come out of the oven. I’ll let it rest as I turn to baking potatoes and Parker House rolls, making gravy, and composing a little salad. We’ll light the candles, fill our plates, and linger over this seventh Thanksgiving together.

As John mentioned to me moments ago: we have a good life. It’s something we’ve worked hard for and something to celebrate. And certainly something to be Thankful for….

In fact, we have so much to be thankful for: health, love, friends, family, memories of the past, and hope for the future. I hope you are feeling the same.

Happy Thanksgiving and so much love to you and yours.

Saying Hello to October with Saturday Morning Rambling

I’ve been itching to come back here to this page all the while my Logical Brain asks: “WHY do you need to write in img_20160427_071632your personal blog space when you have…

  • a journal for private thoughts and to work things out
  • a professional blog to talk about work, your books, and ladle out advice
  • the new magazine, with a regular column to share a little more about your life
  • and lest you forget Instagram, where you share both photos and snippets about real life

I don’t quite have the full answer to assuage my logical voice, yet here I am on a Saturday morning, typing into empty WordPress window. Going back to my writing roots, words on an internet page that folks might happen across…or not. Allowing my less-than-perfect self to be witnessed.

Maybe that’s what is compelling me this morning to write here: to allow myself to be less than perfect AND to allow that to be seen. I won’t be running this through Hemingway to remove excess adverbs and passive voice. I won’t be choosing a “key word” and optimizing this post for SEO. I won’t be writing this in Word, letting it sit for a bit, and then editing it.

It’s raw. And possibly too real. And a part of me is OK with that.

And while I allow myself to be naked and vulnerable and imperfect in my journal, that space is 100% safe from prying eyes, a necessity. Yet, having that safe space to work things out doesn’t negate the fact that I am also in a messy space that needs witnessing.

That in my less-than-perfect pouring of words onto a page, I want to connect with other souls.

When I am writing in my role as “coach”, I am an authority figure, taking the lessons I have learned in my life and img_20160413_134928shifting them into teachable examples. Though another side of my writing voice has begun to shine over at Modern Creative Life, I am still the “editor”, another authority figure.

I am falling out of love with my role as coach when it comes to the online world. I do stellar work with my one-on-one clients. I am both loving and no-nonsense. It’s a role I am comfortable in and a role in which I still shine and do some of my best work. Yet, the trappings of that – the SEO, the BRAND – are losing their shine.

I am in a transition year for my coaching practice. I am still actively coaching clients, yet not seeking new clients. I am also in the midst of retiring the products I’ve sold in my practice. I am turning two of my 30 Days to Clarity courses into books and that feels right on target.

When it comes to my role as “editor”, I must confess that I fall more in love with it each day. How magical is it…to take the works of others and help them shine? To put a spotlight on beautiful and talented souls? To reach out to people I admire and say “please can we feature your work” and “how can we serve you in some way”.

To be honest with you, I got out of bed before John on this Saturday morning to edit Clearing Brain Clutter.  And you’ve probably caught onto the fact that, no, indeed, I am not editing. Am I?

I got up and prepared to do it.  Came downstairs to my office, made a “short” pot of coffee (just enough to tide me over til John wakes), pulled my “card for the day” (a practice I began in August), posted a book review for a friend’s book, and wrote a little in my journal.

I just poured my 3rd cup of coffee. The folder with my hand edits for Clearing Brain Clutter is still closed and I haven’t double-clicked the Word icon yet.

The biggest issue is this: the person that first created the course Clearing Brain Clutter isn’t the person sitting here turning it into a book. When I first decided to begin retiring products as saleable eCommerce items and turning them into real books, I thought it would be a fairly easy task. And yes, it’s easier than beginning with a blank page, but in order to be happy with releasing this into the world as a hold-in-your-hand book, I need to do more work.

I discovered this when I was working on Clearing Soul Clutter. Yet, I powered through that process and got it to “proof” format before we returned from vacation.  And I am kicking my own ass because I didn’t get the same done for Clearing Brain Clutter. I wanted to get it done before vacation, but it wasn’t humanly possible. Because the editing and formatting process took three times as long than I had first thought.

Just as I am not the same person who wrote those courses that I am turning into books, I am not the same person that left here on September 13th, bound for New York City.

I had a couple of days of solo time, and during that time alone in the “city that never sleeps” I was able to better listen to the still, small voice of my inner wisdom. I’d shared coffee with a film-maker friend earlier that day, had some some shopping, and came back to my room to rest. As I stood in my hotel room, overlooking Times Square and the bright lights of Broadway and got a glimpse into what my work is to be in 2017.

Damn and double damn.

My solo time in the city ended. John arrived. We explored every nook and cranny of the Intrepid and then set sail for 20160923_125349our planned cruise. On the last evening, after a perfectly lovely outing sailing in Newport, John came down with a fever. We had some excellent travel karma and were able to catch an earlier flight home after disembarking, arriving home at noon rather than the planned 8 PM last Saturday (the 24th).

He showered and took a nap, I began tackling laundry and shoring up our supplies (groceries!). And by Sunday evening, I, crawled into bed feeling less than stellar. We had Monday off together – and rested. Tuesday, we both went “back to work”. And frankly, I only had energy to devote to client calls and not enough energy to go back to the task of editing.

I am rarely sick. In fact, it’s been at least three years since I’ve had even a cold. But this respiratory infection has been a doozy. Most of this week, I’ve coached clients and rested on the couch.

Not what I had planned for the week, that’s for sure.

I had planned on finishing the edits and ordering a physical proof by the week’s end, but I didn’t touch Clearing Brain Clutter until yesterday.

So here I am on Saturday morning. Not editing. Needing instead to write through this, make some sense, be seen. To pour out some words, then pause.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom the time I began this blog post to now, John has risen. We moved out onto the deck to breathe in the fresh fall air. I made a full pot of coffee and am sipping my 5th cup. (Which is unusual because I typically have 2 cups).

I’m still feeling like I’m under the influence of too much cold medication (cough syrup) though I’ve been up for a couple hours and have been med-free since midnight.

I am in limbo and at the edges of my own new beginning. We had a New Moon yesterday, today is October 1st.  John’s work stress should be abating thanks to a new team (officially effective today). The earth is shifting and morphing in ways that are both new and familiar as she prepares for winter.

Because I am the gal that lives to dive in feet first, I long to begin the work on the new project. It is whispering to me in my dreams. It’s calling to me as I put sugar in my coffee and beckoning me as fold freshly laundered handkerchiefs into neat rectangles.

I am shifting right along with the earth. I am wishing for the hard work of autumn – the harvest – to be completed. But I must face facts that there is work to be done. We are still three months away from 2017’s arrival. And before I can begin that work, I must do the work before me.

When we get a glimpse into what’s next, it can be easy to abandon what’s now. Yet, it’s irresponsible and it would taint the what’s next.

I must do the work of the harvest. Finish editing Clearing Brain Clutter in the coming days, order the proof, and do the final work to release both it and Clearing Soul Clutter into the world on October 16th. To do this in a way that feels nourishing to me means that I need all my little ducklings in a row for this no later than Friday, the 7th.

I need a clear head to go along with my strong heart to get it done. Thank goodness I created a robust task list to guide me through the final steps of this process, the proof, the publication, and the marketing pieces. The covers have been designed, the sales page is being written, and I am poised to move quickly.

img_20160819_164811Then, the rest of this month’s creating time goes to the new book for 2016 – and all of November’s energy goes into the editing and formatting the NEW book.

Yes, in addition to the two 30 Days to Clarity books, I will be releasing a brand new book into the world before Winter arrives.  The book that demanded that I write differently is the work that opened the way for the next work to be born.

I see the two 30 Days to Clarity books as a way to harvest some of the best of my body of work from the last five years and a share it with a broader audience.

The New Book is something I have been meant to write for years now, but just wasn’t ready. Little did I realize that it wasn’t a pinnacle of my body of work, but a gateway to what 2017 is demanding of me.

It is the way of the creative mind, to introduce us to what’s next as a way to keep us going, engaged. To help us to not lose heart when we labor away.

I think it’s no coincidence that my word for 2016 is CREATE.  I need to honor it. To complete the work I’ve been given this year – the finalizing of the two 30 Days to Clarity books, the finishing of my 100 Day Project (which stalled on day 85), and to be devoted to the NEW book, to be finished before Winter arrives.

To clear the slate, clear space physically and metaphorically for the new work to emerge from a place of clean energy. To tidy up the 2016 Harvest and allow winter’s call of rest and restoration to nourish my soul. Then, to plant my tiny seeds of new growth in 2017 for the next harvest.

I think sometimes we forget that each year’s harvest relies upon years and years of seeds that were planted.

I had forgotten how much I needed this space here – a personal blog that few read, yet a space that anyone might stumble across.  To step away from being on-brand-perfect.

To allow the messy parts to be seen.

100 Days of Creative Living

I’ve believe that in order to live the kind of life we desire, we must choose to create it. It’s a concept that sounds good 100DayProjectWannaPlayon paper, yet making it happen can be harder. We humans tend to look at things from a lens of the big picture concept side and though they say that the devil is in the details, we rush past the smallest of details.

We look for big signs that we are succeeding and hope that huge leaps will result fast and life changing results.

The truth is that if we want our creative lives to be sustainable, we need to learn to subsist on tiny sips of inspiration and see the infinitesimal moments of beauty and perfection as our building blocks.

What will save us, therefore, isn’t grand gestures or sweeping changes, but the small moments.

A perfect cup of coffee, a still fresh ten day old bouquet of grocery store flowers, the way the flame on a candle flickers as it reaches the end of the wick.

It’s time for the 100 Day Project. 100 Days of Making. Today is the day to proclaim the intention of your project (though you can hop in anytime).

Last year, I set up a goal of 100 days of fiction for my 100 days project. I stopped at day 30. Over time, I lost the romance of it due to a case of comparisionitis.

Photographing words in a notebook, even when I changed up where I laid the notebook, felt lackluster. Especially for a visual project. I wanted to play along this year again. To challenge myself. To play within my own craft as a writer and find a way to share it in a more visually pleasing way.

This morning, I walked outside to place a Netflix video in the mailbox. My phone was in my pocket and a cup of queenofthenightcoffee in my hand. I paused to watch the changing sky as the rising sun colored my view with tinges of pink and shots of gold against midnight blue sky. Then I gazed to my left where my Queen of the Night tulips are finally blooming as my (RED) begin to fall apart. Such stark beauty was all around me, and if I had hurried just a little, I would have missed it.

We tend to believe that when we talk about “making”, it must be something done with from a high art perspective: writing, drawing, making music, etc.

Yet, my core truth is that we are always making. Each moment of living is a choice in creative living. We just have to notice them.

It’s noticing the way  the raw sugar settles into the bottom of my cup, watching it disappear as I add coffee, and then observing the bloom of dairy goodness as I splash in some milk.

It’s watching John load the car in the mornings and being reminded how much I love and adore him.

First goes his lunch box on the passenger seat, his briefcase on the John in Dublin (Guiness Tour!)floorboard, his coffee cup in the cup holder. Then, moving the lunchbox to the floorboard and wedging it between his briefcase and console so his cup of orange juice won’t spill.  He leans over and puts the keys in the ignition then shuts the passenger door. He always looks up at me  standing in the doorway at this point, smiles and waves goodbye. He opens the back passenger door to lay his suit coat on the back seat so it doesn’t wrinkle. Once everything is in place, he walks around to the driver’s side and gets in the car. He buckles up, hits the hazard lights and adjusts his music. He carefully backs out of the garage and once the car has hit the driveway completely, he hits the closure on the door.

But the moments that make up my day continue.

It’s the smile I get from the butcher as he packages up a pound of ground chicken and a pound of ground sirloin for me to try a new meatloaf recipe.  It’s the lame yet funny joke the cashier shares with me.

It’s the quick kiss I get as John walks in the door and the scent of him against hours old starched shirt, faded Old Spice, and the workday. It’s gazing in the mirror and seeing my own inner light as I fasten a necklace. It’s the laughter shared as we watch the golfers go by in the evening. It’s the shift in light as the day is swallowed up by night.

So, for the next 100 days, I am going to notice my own life. To see the tiny moments that create my existence. To lovingly describe the moment, using my preferred craft of writing.To honor the way creative living plays into my everyday life.

For this is what the core of making is to me: making a life.

You can find me over on Instagram using the hashtag: #100daysofcreativeliving