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?

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?

on Unbound Grace for 2017

“You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. ”
― Mary Oliver

Since I made peace with my conflicting beliefs between my relationship with God and The Church (as a Formal Institution) back in 2008, the belief that we are always within reach of God’s Grace and Mercy has been a core part of my spiritual life.  As part of this space of peace, I started going back to Mass in 2008 after missing it for many years, seeking spiritual nourishment when I was living in a hotel in DC.

Throughout my coaching practice, I’ve encouraged folks – whether they are random passersby, participants in a course, or one of my clients – to play with the concept.  One exercise has been to write a Letter to Grace from the standpoint of childhood, back when we were less influenced by the outside world. The exploration of Grace made its way into the latest version of Clearing Brain Clutter released this past October.

I guess you could say I’ve been flirting with Grace for years.

Flirting with Grace and seeing it as a shining beacon, though, are two different things. And believing that I am within reach of Grace and also extending it towards myself are two totally different things as well.

During the Lenten season of 2015, I reached out to a friend’s husband, a retired Episcopalian Priest, for help understanding Grace and Mercy – and how they both connect and differ from one another. He understood my confusion, my desire to understand, and reminded me that we put our own ethics and sense of justice based on a personal compass, with a tongue in cheek statement that God is rather promiscuous in his extension of mercy. My takeaway on grace, though, was this:

“So grace flows out like a river, and one element of grace is mercy.”

I tend to stop up the river and never allow neither grace nor mercy to flow to me, myself. To my failings.To my inability to be perfect.

So, part of Grace for me in 2017 is learning to be more merciful to myself. To find more beauty in my failings. To see my lack of perfection as perfect in their own way. I’ve come such a long way in all the years of self-development, but I know that this tender spot is ripe for exploration.

I am the Queen of Compartmentalization. It’s how I survived the challenging years of my mother and my ex-husband and my crazy Gypsy Years. Yet, Grace seeks to see Me on the Whole: not a single piece of who I am or a role I play, all of it. I am woman, mother, lover, self, artist, daughter, professional, and more. But all of these are the parts that make the whole of me, yet I tend to look at each tiny area of who I am and judge it as a whole.

This has become less and less over the last six years, but I can’t deny the way stress sends me back into this tight view of who I am.

I am at a crossroads. Professionally. Personally. Spiritually. I did an enormous amount of personal work around the the phases of womanhood (Maiden, Mother, Crone) this past fall. I see myself morphing into the Crone (a word I’m not fond of, but the meaning I get). I dove into ancestral waters two years ago when I had my DNA done and discovered my Celtic and Irish Roots along with the mother line of Romanian Gypsies who migrated into Wales and Ireland and dove deeper into those waters this fall.

To make peace with this, I must call on Grace.

In my reading from Amy Palko, as she gifted me with the Goddess Hsi Wang Mu , she  said:

And as these selves slip like veils softly sliding to the floor, I see – we see – the true oneness of being.

And later added

So, how will she present to you? Well, I see her stepping forward and assisting you in finding that still place inside which exists in eternal grace. She is guiding you towards experiencing and determining the great ‘I am’ which is not defined by ideas of self-hood, roles or identity, but which exists beyond.

The age old question: who am I? what is my purpose? What is the great I Am beyond the roles I fill?

To be in a State of Grace, though, I must also find Freedom, which is where the word “Unbound” comes into play.

One of the coaching tools I use is to ask a client during a decision making process: “does this feel like shackles ON or shackles OFF.”

Shackles ON meant something made us feel as if we were bound, tied up against our will. Shackles on was a bad choice, acting from or making a decision from a space of doing what others expected of us. Shackles OFF feels like freedom, that moment when the ties that bind us to life are suddenly released and we feel free, to make a choice for our deepest good.

I’ve used this tool for myself over the years, too. I’ve applied it in many of my decision making processes in terms of my personal life and my professional life.

And on the flip side of this, I am the first to admit that I am wound tight. I am an ENTJ, a believer that life is black and white without much grey. The ENTJ part of my soul demands that I follow the rules, and it bothers me when others don’t follow the rules. Nothing winds me up more than traveling and witnessing others believing that the Rules Don’t Apply to Them.

I want folks to stand in line, take their turn, follow the rules of society. This makes me feel safe, this makes me feel secure, this reduces my stress levels. (This is one of the reasons the political climate has been so upsetting to me.)

But life isn’t like this. People feel entitled to exceptions from all the rules. It’s ok to discriminate against someone because they don’t believe a particular way, but I’m not seeing the same side of mercy when it comes to the other side. This feels hypocritical to me. I believe in live and let live,  yet don’t understand those who stand up for the Rights of Others, who them damn those Who Don’t Agree With Them.

Aren’t we all equal in the eyes of God?

In my need for rules and seeing the world in black and white, I want less judgement, less rhetoric, less vitriol, more compassion.  I want family members to treat all family members the same, with no favorites.

This is the part of me that sees the disparity in the world.

This causes me an immense amount of undue pain and suffering.

This also highlights a space that I need to work on in the coming months. How can I unwind myself? How can I extend more grace and mercy to those who seem hypocritical to me? How can I loosen up and find that tiny space of mercy for my own inability to be perfect? How can I find GRACE if my brain wants to focus on the space of being bound up?

This is my task for the year ahead: find Grace, extend Grace, be Unbound in all the ways I approach my life.

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.