Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Are We There Yet?

I don't know if it is Spring Fever, Senioritis (the high school kind), Cabin Fever, March Madness, or a combination of all of the above, but I'm ready for a vacation!!!  The longer...the better!

Every year about this time we start thinking about breaking out of the normal routine and hitting the road, the beach, or the sky.  In fact the more I try and stay focused, the more I want to daydream about my perfect escape.

A few years ago I gave a few brief words of advice (which you can find here) about getting ready to leave. Right now I don't want to think about preparation (shocking, I know!) I just want to think about relaxing.

So to all the adults out there who are ready for a change of pace, I say, dream away!  Vacations are just around the corner, and fun is about to be had!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Things That Go Boom

Last week we had an unexpected and horrific example of things that go boom.  The bombings during the Boston Marathon were a brutal reminder that the world we live in isn't the world we want to live in.  Now the two known suspects are either dead or in custody.  As a nation we are left with a lot of questions and very few answers.  Honestly, I doubt we will ever have enough answers to satisfy us. 

I had a counselor who once told me my biggest problem was trying to make sense out of things that just don't make sense.  I spent so much energy trying to understand things that I was never going to understand that I drove myself crazy.  When others act in ways that stretch past our fundamental knowledge of human nature, compassion and decency, we have a hard time fitting their actions into our brain's framework.  This tragedy may fall into that category.

I'm sure we will have a lot of information that comes out in the next few days and weeks.  This information will attempt to explain motive, means and opprotunity.  Somehow I doubt any of that information will really cause us to understand why they did it.  While we can hear the words and know their meanings, we will not comprehend how it all equals justification for harming others.

We are now faced with a challenge.  We have a choice to make.  We can focus on what was done, or what we need to do now.  We can swarm the media with names, faces and intimate details of the bomber's activities, or we can focus on the healing and growing we need to do as a nation.  These moments of intense national pain are also moments of intense national unity.  We can use that unity to make our society stronger and better able to address the concerns of our residents before they resort to violence.

I wish I could say this type of behavior was rare, but it seems to be on the news a lot lately.  We are seeing people with knives, guns and bombs do terrible things to make a point.  For some reason our culture hears violence louder than love.  We react to aggression instead of kindness.  We focus on pain and tragedy before generosity and tenderness.

I believe it is time for us to turn off the nightly "bad news" and look for the good we can find in our communities.  We need to form bonds with our neighbors, learn to serve others in our towns, and contribute our skills to local schools.  We need to use these wake-up calls so offensively offered to us as a motivation to pay more attention to our children, our families, and our communities.

Instead of seeing these bombs as an end point, let us use them as a starting point.  Let us use them to make our world better.  Wouldn't it be great if the bombs that gave us "Boston Strong" were the same bombs that gave us "America Strong?"

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Losing Nana

This week I lost my Nana.  I've always wondered why we use the term "lose" when someone dies.  While she may not be hanging out at my house for Thanksgiving anymore, there are so many parts of her that are still here.  These are just a few things I know we have not lost:
Faye Lorraine
  1. My Nana was a survivor.  She lived through the Great Depression, she lost a parent when she was young, she sent her brother off to war, and she raised two daughters through hard times.  Her ability to keep going taught me a lot, and that has not been lost.
  2. My Nana was childlike.  I don't think I've ever met a person easier to pull a prank on than my Nana.  The list of crazy things we did to her was pretty long.  There were the classics, like short sheeting the bed, or saran wrapping the toilet, but there were also the more elaborate jokes.  I will never forget the wide eyed look she would get when you told her a complete and utter fib. Once we told her there were giant lizards that lived in Arizona (which is true) and that she needed to watch her small dogs to make sure they didn't bite or lick the frogs because they were poisonous (also true).  Then we bought a large porcelain frog, meant to be a yard ornament, and put it on the bottom of the swimming pool in her backyard.  The water refracted the light, making the 14" frog look like a 36" frog.  When she looked out her window later that day she screamed bloody murder because the giant frog was coming to eat her dogs.  What made the prank even funnier was that we had forgotten we put the frog there, and were equally scared until we remembered what we had done.  I think it took her a week to forgive us, but truth be known, she loved every minute of it!  That childlike excitement and glee has not been lost.
  3. My Nana was a little nutty.  I remember her singing slightly risque songs, making off color jokes, and offering bizarre solutions to situations at every turn.  She was a card shark and a lover of Swedish meatballs.  She always dressed well, and was worried about wrinkles.  She dyed her hair fire engine red and drove a car with a license plate 'Wild One."  I don't know if age had eliminated her inhibitions, or if she had always been a fire cracker.  I learned how to be myself, even if I was a little nutty and crazy, from my Nana, and that won't be lost.
  4. My Nana valued education.  I remember her telling me from a very young age that I needed to go to college and get a good education.  I also remember knowing it wasn't an option.  While she had not attended college, her daughters did, and I knew I would too.  When I headed off to school she delivered boxes of towels, dishes and linens so I could start my new life.  I knew she was proud of me and that I needed to get an engineering degree as much for her as for me.  My appreciation of the value of education will not be lost.
  5. My Nana had perspective.  A lot of hard things happened to my Nana and I spent many hours as a child listening to her stories.  When I would ask her why such a thing would happen, she would simply reply, "That's just the way it was."  Sometimes she got angry about things that had happened, and that was not a pretty sight, but most of the time she would explain why it didn't matter anymore and then crack a joke.  Her ability to move on taught me a lot about how to handle life, and that won't be lost.
I will be the first to tell you my Nana was flawed.  In fact, if I sat down and thought about it, I'm sure I could wax poetical on her flaws for many hours.  In the end, however, all those flaws will be lost.  No one will remember those things.  Maybe we don't want to, or maybe her flaws really aren't that important.

The most important thing I will never lose is her love.  I knew my Nana always loved me.  Through every day, every prank, every game of cards, every late night chat, and every heartfelt conversation, my Nana loved me.   I won't forget that, and I'll never lose it.

So once again, I wonder why we refer to death as losing someone.  She is not lost.  She never will be.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Motivational Monday #82 - Getting to Know My Multiple Personalities

I have always wanted to have a clone...or five...to get everything done.  If there were more of me, I could assign one whole person to do nothing but get enough sleep and read mindless fiction.  Another person could be responsible for cooking and cleaning, making me look like the Martha Stewart of home management.  I could have an entirely different person be the patient and loving caretaker of my children, while another person doted completely on my spouse and entertained.  I would need another person to run my business effectively, and yet one more to finish all the volunteer work I somehow find myself in the middle of.  I think my last clone would be responsible for the spiritual and grounded aspect of my life that I so deperatley need.

Okay, so I need 7 of me.  In a pinch I could probably do with 5.  That's not too much to ask, is it?  Ooh, if I had 5-7 of me, does that mean I get 5-7 times more vacation days? (Like moms ever get vacation days!)

Honestly, I realize that I need to either cut back, or do a better job of delegating.  To that end, I feel I must better get to know each of my personalities before I can really figure out how to best meet their needs.

  1. The Sleeper/Reader - This is the personality that takes care of my basic need to recharge.  Do you notice this is the first personality I listed?  I think I perpetually walk around tired, and not just physically, but mentally too.  Knowing that I would get all the sleep and recharging I need on a daily basis makes me smile.  This personality is a keeper!
  2. The Housekeeper - This personality is probably the easiest to delegate.  I mean really, why did I have children if not to have them help me run the "homestead?"  While I may have to sacrifice perfection when it comes to dusting and vacuuming, I can have the kiddos take over many of the basic household chores.  If I want to be honest, I really should be doing this, as they will never learn if I don't teach them.  As for cooking, maybe I have a young chef in the making.  I won't know if I never let them try.
  3. The Caretaker - I struggle with this one.  It seems to absorb so much of my life.  While I am capable of getting everyone where they need to be, I can't promise I will have a smile on my face while I do it.  Being patient and kind takes more brain power than I care to admit.  As I can't really delegate this one, I guess I will have to reduce my mental load in other areas to accommodate it.
  4. The Doting Spouse - I don't put as much time here as I should.  Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of waiting by the back door with my husband's slippers and newspaper in hand while wearing heels and pearls, but I guess I should do more than holler "hey" when he walks in after a long day.  Apparently this personality needs a little more focus.  I wonder what would happen if my Caretaker clone babysat while my  Doting Spouse self went on a real date...did the world just tip on its axis?
  5. The Business Woman - If I had 40 hours a week to devote to Prepared Binder, I could rule the world.  Well, maybe not the world, maybe just rule my office.  Honestly, I have always had big plans, but big plans take time to develop, and contrary to popular opinion, you can't put things on the back burner and expect them to continue cooking.  Having a dedicated business clone would heat this project up and help bring all my goals into reality.
  6. The Volunteer - Between volunteering to coach my daughter's Odyssey of the Mind team, chairing the book fair, and helping out with the PTO, not to mention being involved at church and with support organizations surrounding my child's special needs, I could be a full time volunteer with no problem.  If I knew my house was clean, my kids were fed and happy, that I was being recharged daily and that my spouse was well cared for, I could really enjoy my time helping others.  Service is important.  Serving others when your own responsibilities are neglected can either help you clarify what you really need to do, or pull you away from where you need to be.  Balance is important.  I think this clone will be very busy!
  7. The Spiritual Giant - I have already noticed I put this last on the list.  Being spiritual does not always mean religious, it can also mean being very in tune with yourself.  It takes time, patience, practice and a little silence to get to a spiritual place.  Learning about yourself, your beliefs, and the activities that ground you can take a lifetime.  It requires daily input and course correction.  Some days I realize my finely tuned spiritual self could really help me take control of all my other selves, but then I get overwhelmed by the whole thing and play the "if I can't see it, it must not exist" peek-a-boo game that infants play so well.  Given the freedom to only work on this, I am sure I would be kinder, more patient and have a better perspective on so many things.  For now, it just doesn't get as much attention as I know I should give it.
Okay, so now we have all been introduced to my multiple personalities.   I think we just saved me hours of therapy...giggle.  I actually do feel better now that I see how many ways I am pulled.  Honestly, if I think about it, I can overlap many of these tasks and find balance in between.  Besides, having 7 clones would become a management nightmare!  I can only imagine what the shower schedule would look like...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Under Pressure - 5 Ways to Find a Relief Valve Before an Explosion

It was a dark and stormy night, and as I sat there typing, I heard the sounds of footsteps in my attic.  I thought about screaming...but didn't want to scare the beejeezus out of the repairman. 

If truth be told, it was actually a bright and sunny day, and I never considered screaming, (but that really didn't make an interesting introduction).  The footsteps I heard were from the A/C guys installing a duct system to equalize the pressure in my house.  Who knew my house was under pressure?  But, I should have guessed...

Anyone who knows me will tell you I frequently walk around under pressure.  The tasks I am responsible for sometimes (read: most times) overwhelm even my best efforts.  As I fall more behind and end up doing less than my best, I start to build up pressure from stress.

Anyone who knows me will also tell you it isn't pretty when I blow up.  It is a run for cover, shield your eyes, protect the innocent, and sign up for therapy kind of moment.  I have made grown men cry, and that isn't an exaggeration.  The pressure from stress is not a good thing for me, but then again, I doubt many people really enjoy it.

As I sit here listening to the pressure equalizing work being done overhead, I realize I need to install a similar relief system on my life.  I need a way for areas of high pressure to be vented off and areas of low pressure to be combined into my daily productivity.  I need to bring down the extremes and become more functional in the middle.

What I really need is a clone.  But I am afraid that is a subject for another post...

Thinking about installing a pressure equalizing system is all well and good, but how to go about it is a tougher nut to crack.  Here are a few of my ideas.  I'm curious to know if you have any other suggestions.
  1. Do Something Calm to Balance Something Stressful.  I wish I could do this in a 1:1 ratio, but let's be honest, I would have to move to a beach hut and hire someone to convince my kids to clean their rooms if I wanted to only do one stressful thing for ever calm thing I could do.  Right now, in my life, getting my kids to bathe is a stressful event.  I think a 1:5 ratio may make more sense.  One calming activity for every 5 stressful things may work a bit better.  Somedays it may be 1:10, or 1:3, but I have to start somewhere!
  2. Chill on the Caring.  Don't get me wrong, I don't plan to tune out life, but maybe tune out little things.  I really hate watching other people make lame choices, but as I cannot be in charge of correcting every lame decision I need to back off the amount of attention I give it.  Getting all riled up over things I have no control over does nothing but increase my stress and my pressure level.  If I want to improve my equalization, I need to let other people own their personal choices.
  3. Smile and Laugh.  It is amazing how quickly laughing can relieve pressure.  One good laugh can set all sorts of things right.  When my kids dump chips on the floor, I can either giggle or get angry.  The same chip is on the floor, but I will either be stressed or not.  I must practice impromptu laughing.
  4. Delegate.  This one must be obvious, but I will explain it anyway.  I am not Super Woman.  No matter how many times I show up at the grocery store in shiny boots and a cape, I really don't have super powers.  I need to stop acting like I do!  Only taking on the tasks I have the time and brain power to handle is a good thing, but getting help when I need it is even better.  Nothing builds up stress faster than being given a problem I can't solve.  Asking for help is a quick pressure release valve that everyone should know how to access.
  5. Say No.  I have posted about this concept before, and I have been laughed at before too.  Saying no in the first place really eliminates the need to delegate later.  I am getting better.  My calendar is clearing up, and my ability to be calm is returning.  "No," really is a beautiful word.
Okay, so there is my quick and dirty list of ways to equalize the pressure in my life.  I want to hear from you.  How do you restore the balance?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Motivational Monday #81 - Routines Are The Spice Of Life

Some people say variety is the spice of life, but I have to say sometimes variety makes things a little too spicy for me.   I am a person of routine.  I thrive on routine...really, I do.  I like to do my laundry on certain days, and do my chores in a certain order.  I always brush my hair before my teeth, and I wear specific socks to sleep in.  I just like the routine.

I'm afraid I just heard a few of you yawn.  I know routine can seem really boring, and for some people, it is.  For me, routines allow me to check items off my to do list in the most efficient manner, leaving more time for fun.  Routines help me stay on top of things and eliminate as many "emergencies" as possible.

For the record, I am not a fan of emergencies!

If you saw my weekly to do list you would either gasp or laugh.  Either way, you would think I am crazy.  Just because you are right, doesn't mean I don't get a lot done every week.  Let's be realistic, I own a business, I volunteer at the school, I parent one special needs child and another high energy one, I take care of my home, and I even throw in a little time to be a wife to my amazing hubby.  Who wouldn't need a routine to complete their to do list?

The key to having routines is for those routines to help streamline the process instead of complicating it.  A good example is that I schedule grocery shopping trips every two weeks when I will already be out and about at other appointments.  This forces me to plan ahead, figure out a meal plan, buy groceries and cook the food I bought.  This saves me the time of multiple trips to the store, the expense of last minute fast food, and the panic of not knowing what is for dinner.  Overall, making my shopping part of a routine smooths the path of food for two weeks at a time.  To me, that is a bonus.

So what things make it into your routine?  Here are a few of mine:
  1. Laundry - I split it up so that I never feel attached to the laundry room very long.  Knowing what days I wash things keeps the kids from whining about if their favorite shirt is clean yet.  Always a fan of reduced whining!
  2. Shopping - As mentioned, shopping every few weeks saves time, money and daily planning.  The more time I stay out of the store, the less tempted I am to buy myself sweets, and the happier my waistline is. BONUS!
  3. Blogging - I try and blog once a week, on Mondays.  If that doesn't happen, then I cut myself a break and blog when I can.  Having the routine smooths the process, but being flexible keeps away the guilt.
  4. Cleaning - I know what parts of my house I clean on each day.  If I want to be really honest, I know which parts of the house I assign my kids to clean each day.  Knowing what is getting cleaned and when allows me to ignore the items not assigned to that day.  Not feeling the pressure to clean all of the house every day gives me permission to relax every now and then.
  5. Personal Development - Right now I am taking piano lessons for the first time in my life.  By putting practice time into my routine I make sure it is a priority.  I have to admit, I really look forward to each day's practice time as a moment for just myself.  Making "take care of me" time a part of the daily routine keeps my needs met, makes me a happier person, and thus makes my whole life a lot happier.
So what routines do you have?  Do you find they are intentional habits, or just accidentally the way you do things?  Do you find value in your routines? I really am curious, so let me know!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sliding Into Grown Up Fun

Ahhhh, the joys of childhood...  Today my children played on a slip 'n slide for the first time.  For those of you unfamiliar with this childhood torture device, it is a long sheet of plastic that you place on the grass and hook up to a hose to wet it down.  You then get a running start and throw your body down the line of plastic and glide through the water, grass chunks and eventually mud, all the while squealing in delight.
Now in an effort to be honest, I must admit I had a similar slip 'n slide when I was a kid.  Even though I am wildly allergic to grass, and wet grass is even worse, I spent hours launching my body down the slide in the hot summer sun.

As my husband and I watched our kids getting soaked and laughing as they splashed in the muddy grass, I realized some fun loses its luster as we age.  The idea of repeatedly throwing myself on the wet ground in the hopes that I will slide sounds more like torture than enjoyment.  Don't tell my kids, but I may have winced a few times as I watched them play.

Kids seem to find fun in the most interesting places.  An empty cardboard box is an exciting castle to defend from dragons, a shoe box is a treasure chest for pirate's gold, and a blanket can easily be mistaken for am awesome fort in the living room.  For a child, these are new adventures just waiting to happen.  For an adult, it can easily be seen as one more mess to clean up.

So here's the rub, kids have more fun that we do, but we need more fun than we're having.  How exactly do we go about enjoying cardboard box castles, blanket tents and plastic water slides?

Maybe we don't.   Maybe we find new things to enjoy.  Maybe we learn how to smile and giggle at the moments we have every day.  I have to admit when I accidentally showered myself with the faucet while doing dishes this morning, I grinned.  When I realized my hair was standing on end, I laughed, and when I saw how happy my kids were as they slid through the water, I giggled.

Boxes, blankets and slides are normal and readily accessible items for a child.  They find joy in what they have around them.  As adults, we need to do the same thing.  We need to find smiles, giggles and laughter in our daily activities.  We don't need to throw ourselves on the wet ground to be happy, but we do need to find the joy in our surroundings.

So go ahead, you can do it.  Find something to smile about today!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Motivational Monday #80 - Remembering The Not So Obvious

I once had a coworker who would answer most every question with "It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer."  I have to admit I got a good giggle out of that, especially when we would ask him a deeply technical question.
Another Bad Hair Day

Sometimes life is intuitively obvious...but then again, sometimes it is not.  Some obvious things include:
  • My kids are always hungry
  • My kids are always making messes
  • I will never finish my to do list
  • Sleep is an elusive creature
  • Bad hair days are just part of life

Some things that aren't so obvious (at least at the time) include:
  • My Prom dress was a bad fashion choice
  • There is a reason they give you a suggested serving size on a tub of ice cream
  • High heals were originally designed as a torture device
  • No amount of mental telepathy (or nasty looks) will enable my husband to read my mind
  • You don't actually go to school to learn things you will use every day, but you go to school to learn how to learn

Unfortunately, the "not so obvious" stuff is usually the stuff that bites us in the backside. (For example, there is a very distinct reason I don't wear my prom dress anymore...)  We don't see a wall of water headed our way, so we forget to think about flood insurance.  We don't travel very often, so we don't keep our passport up to date.  We don't spend weekends with our insurance agent, so we forget our life insurance policy is about to expire.  I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture.

Spending a little time with the "Not So Obvious" is a great way to get yourself prepared.  If you are having trouble figuring out what it is that you can't remember, I suggest getting your hands on a copy of Prepared Binder.  No one like to be caught unawares, especially if what catches you could have been prevented.  Taking the time now is the best prevention...and I can promise you, THAT is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quilting Together Our Lives

I honestly can't tell you when I learned to quilt.  The first real quilt I remember making was in college, but it couldn't have been the first, as I knew what I was doing by then.  Maybe my mother taught me, maybe my grandmother.  It might have even been a friend's mother. It is odd, but I honestly don't know.

I think life can be a lot like quilting.  We each strive to create something of beauty.  We want our lives to have a design, and we want the finished product to show the care and love that went into it.  While many aspects of our lives can be derived from the opprotunities and supplies on hand, much like the fabrics used in a quilt, it is how we choose to use those supplies that determines the outcome of the project.

Bright, bold, striped, spotted, muted, pastel, faded, patterned and solid fabrics are all combined into the mosaic that forms the finished design.  Just like in life, we pick these fabrics of experience from different places.  The joys of childhood may be bright and bold, while the pain of lost love may be muted and faded.  These fabrics will come in different sizes and shapes, and we will never have the same amount of any of them.  As we continue to add each fabric and experience to our overall design, it really doesn't matter how they go together, only that we make the most of each piece. 

The difference between a quilt and a plain blanket is the interwoven fabrics that create the design.  Each of us has a cornucopia of experiences and fabrics.  When we fail to connect them we miss out on the beauty inside each of us.  Like quilting, it takes experience and practice to artfully piece our lives together.  We will not always have neat corners.  We will not always sew a straight line.  But the art is in the creation.

While I sometimes wish my entire quilt was filled with fanciful florals and whimsical prints, it is the dark solid colors that ground it and give it substance.  The times in our lives that are heavy and dark create the perfect visual companions for the light and airy joys we also experience.  One, without the other, would leave the quilt, and our lives, feeling flat.

As I age, my quilting skills improve.  I learn a little more each day about selecting the right experiences to add to my design.  I appreciate the light and the dark, and I even chose a few daring fabrics here and there.

It is my hope that each of us step back to examine the beauty of our individual quilts.  I hope we appreciate each fabric and experience we see there.  It is amazing to know that with the billions of people who have walked this planet, we each carry with us a unique piece of art.

Once again I mention that I don't remember who taught me to quilt.  Then again, maybe no one did.  Maybe it is just human nature to piece together the fabrics of our lives.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be...

I never wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up.  I knew I was far too clumsy to dance on my toes.  In fact, when I was 4 or 5 the dance and gymnastics teacher asked my grandmother not to bring me back to class because I kept running into the other girls and squashing them.  Coordination is not one of my stronger talents.

Honestly I don't remember having a lot of "when I grow up" dreams. Don't get me wrong, I dreamed about being older, but I never made it past "graduate from college and get a job."  I really had no idea what that job was supposed to be.  In fact, I remember graduating from college with an engineering degree, landing my first job, and then realizing I had no idea what was supposed to happen next.  I had checked all the boxes I could think of.  I figured I would get married some day, and I suspected I would have children, but I really had no good idea what was supposed to happen next.

After many years of being "grown up," (My father probably laughed really hard at that statement, potentially hard enough to spit milk out his nose.) I have determined that growing up isn't a destination, but a journey.  I don't think you reach any finish line, or cross any threshold that determines you have arrived in a magical land called "grown up."  There is no bouquet of flowers or trophy sitting on a stage waiting for you. Sad, but true...

Growing up is something that happens one experience, one heartache, and one victory at a time.  It is the state we find ourselves in after we have accomplished something we didn't think we could do, or failed in a way we never thought possible.  It is what happens when we sacrifice something of ourselves for the benefit of someone else.  Growing up can be painful, but it can also be exhilarating.

The important part is taking the lessons you learned and choosing how to let them change you. There are many bitter people in this world who have let their life experiences change them into unhappy, miserable people.  Others seem to ignore their experiences and continually repeat the same mistakes.  Still others spend a little too much time dwelling in the past and forget to move forward.

I may never perform on stage in well worn toe shoes, but I can and will use the talents I have learned to present my best self to the world.  I will continue to volunteer at the school, cook dinner for my family, make beds, help friends and neighbors, contribute to my community and give back to those around me.  What I have learned while "growing up" is that none of us do this alone.  There is a long cast list of characters, with parts both large and small, that assist us in our journey, just as we assist in the journey of others.

When I grow up, I want to be...well, there isn't just one answer.  It changes every day, but for now I will settle for being a little bit better than I was yesterday.  How about you?  What do you want to be?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Motivational Monday #79 - Time For A Tune Up

This week has been brutal, well, at least for my car.  Last week I took it in to get a second opinion on some mechanical work that needed to be done.  While a few of the first mechanic's recommendations turned out to be unwarranted, others popped up at an alarming rate.  After everything was said and done, I shelled out a lot of cash and made my local mechanic a very happy camper.

You may all be wondering how exactly I got into such a mess.  There was no accident, no earth shattering moment for which my engine dropped on the ground, just a funny feeling when the car came to a stop and started going again.  Honestly, I thought I was imagining it for a few weeks, but nope, I was the proud owner of a very sick car.

I think many of us are in the same boat.  We may not have car troubles, but when going through life, something just doesn't feel right.  It might be a nagging feeling that you have forgotten something, or maybe that creepy little foreboding that something unpleasant is on the way.  It is very rarely a big issue, right up until the moment it is a HUGE issue.

So how do we give ourselves a regular tune up?  How do we keep on top of standard maintenance and preventative care?  I will tell you I have my oil changed and the car inspected at the appropriate intervals, but maybe I wasn't paying attention to the full report.  Maybe, just maybe, I thought I could wait a little longer to deal with some small issues.

Here are a few ideas:
  1. Visit your health care professional to get regular check-ups and physicals.  Sometimes we get used to small changes and never really notice the problems that have developed.  Having a doc you trust take a look under the hood is a great way to make sure you are on the right track.
  2. Take a new look at your old bills.  I think sometimes we get so used to paying our monthly bills that we don't even question them anymore.  Taking the time to compare rates, analyze offers, and review terms can save you a lot of cash.  In our family, we noticed we used the internet more than the TV, and dropped our cable subscription.  While this wouldn't work for everyone, it has been great for our family.  We spend more time together, and a lot less time sitting on the couch glued to a screen.  As a nice side bonus, we saved $600 a year. Sweet!
  3. Organize your closets.  Yep, I just uttered some of the scariest words on the planet, but take a deep breath and follow me for a moment.  Closets collect the things we think we need, and the things we used to need, but have no idea what to do with anymore.  Taking a look at what is inside can give us some startling evidence about the priorities in our lives.  If you have 200 pairs of shoes stashed in the closet, most of which are unused and forgotten, then maybe you like to buy things you don't need. (Don't worry, I know every woman needs at least 100 pairs of heels...but beyond that, maybe you overdid it? ~eye roll~) Anyway, looking at what we purchased, what we actually use, and what we store because we can't part with it, tells us a lot about our priorities.  If what you see doesn't make you happy, clean it out and start filling it with object that reflect your personality.  Better yet, let your closet be half empty.  No one has died from having too little junk in their closets!
  4. Purchase things intentionally.  This may come as a surprise (to no one at all) but stores put things you didn't even know you needed right by the register.  They call these impulse purchases.  The economy is greatly boosted every year by these overpriced and under-needed items.  Chances are, if you didn't come into the store looking for a furry cat faced pencil warmer, you don't really need one.  By choosing to only purchase things you have an identified need for, you will limit your outgoing expenses and use more of the things you already own.  You may ask why I include this in my tune-up post, but for many of us, that nagging feeling that we are forgetting something drives our need to purchase things we may or may not need, hoping to fill the gap.  Intentional purchases give you back the power over your spending, and make you take responsibility for your money.  It is hard to have a nagging feeling when you are energetically involved with your money.
  5. Evaluate your involvement.  As any good charity will know, the strength of its organization is directly related to the volunteers who make it run.  We live in a day and age where social services are being more and more driven by the non-profits that champion those causes.  Everything from the local PTOs to cancer research are powered by local citizens donating their time and talents to the causes they believe in.  What do you believe in?  The options are endless, but can include education, religion, medical research, civic issues, legal issues, animal causes, athletic pursuits, or any other number of things.  Is it possible the nagging feeling you have is a problem in your community that you have the ability to solve?  Could your time and talents be the difference between moving your cause forward, or not?  Maybe you just want to help someone or something beyond your own four walls.  Service in our communities is a wonderful way to express our priorities and become involved in causes bigger than ourselves.  On the flip side, they are also ways to divert us from our real priorities, which may be as basic as family and work.  By evaluating how much time you spend in the community and the ways you give of yourself, you are more able to identify a balance and seek to reach it.  While I am a strong advocate for volunteerism, I truly believe you must start at home.
Okay, there is a solid list of ways to give your life a tune up.  Of course there are many others.  I have left religion and politics off this list intentionally, as those are polarizing and touchy subjects. If they are important to you, go out and do something about it.  If not, don't.  I think that about covers it.

Now here is the trick...keep doing these things on a regular basis.  Don't wait until small imbalances keep your car in the shop for days and come with a huge price.  Evaluate, adjust, and readjust as needed to keep yourself tuned up, in great working order, and ready to go!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Motivational Monday #78 - Rainy Days and Mondays

Today is not a typical day.  It is raining. It is windy. It is cold.  You might think this was normal, being January and all, but it is not.  In fact, we have had so much rain over the last 5 days that we are beginning to wonder if the desert was picked up and dropped in a rain forest.  Okay, maybe not really, but close.

Rainy days here in the desert are usually a treat.  They are a break from the norm. They are also a reminder that those things which we do not regularly have to think about may get a bit neglected.  I had the chance to be a in a fast food restaurant during one of the downpours and was surprised to find water pouring out of the ceiling in numerous places.  The kitchen had water everywhere and the dining room had water sloshing all over the floor.  When I mentioned they might want to get a bucket, they helplessly looked at me and said, "Why?  It's everywhere, and we are a health hazard at this point."  As we had just finished eating our food, I was a bit disturbed by this last comment.

Later, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that most of us have areas of our lives, that if tested, would be the personal equivalent of leaking roof, a flooded dining room, and a soaked kitchen.  For some of us this area is preparation.  Like the restaurant, we hope that since everything is fine when the weather is dry, it will also be fine when the weather is wet.  I guess that only works if we have recently checked the roof for leaks.

It is hard to want to prepare for rain when the sun is shining.  No one wants to be the "Gloomy Gus" or "Chicken Little" of their families.  Thinking about what can go wrong all of the time is depressing, and no one really wants to be a part of it.

This is where attitude and routine factor in.

If your attitude is one of self sufficient care, and realistic ideas, then you are a far cry from doomsayers who try and scare the world into submission.  If your goal is simply to take the steps needed to keep your family safe and comfortable during an emergency, then you can feel confident you are on the right track.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding what to do to prepare:
  1. Do I have food and shelter supplies for my family if we were without electricity, or had to evacuate?
  2. Are there any weather concerns that require special equipment such as generators for heat, or plywood for hurricane protection?
  3. Does my family have the first aid skills needed to treat minor medical issues? Do we have an adequate supply of medications needed by each family member?
  4. Do we have the financial resources to obtain extra fuel, food, water and shelter during a crisis situation?  Are some of those resources liquid, and stored at home?
  5. Do we have an evacuation plan that our entire family is aware of?  Does this plan contain contacts locally and out of state?
  6. Do we have the documentation needed to interact with government offices, insurance companies and banks following an emergency?
 This list is obviously incomplete, but a good place to start.  Each item requires some work, but once accomplished, will be a great step towards preparing for the upcoming "storm."  Establishing the routine of checking these details will go a long way towards keeping your family safe and protected.

I never want to find myself in the situation of the fast food place, namely, taking on water without a bucket to bail with.  If you take small steps when the sun is shining you are much more likely to stay warm and dry when those around you are wet and miserable, but as a small reminder...it isn't nice to gloat!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Motivational Monday #77 - My Quest For Less

Every year about this time I decide I want less.  I want less stress, less strife, and less stuff.  My eye wanders my office and I get excited about all the things I can get rid of.  Right now I see a stack of old papers that is just screaming to be recycled!

My quest for less is an ongoing one.  As I have mentioned before, I had a professional organizer tell me visual clutter is almost worse than the physical stuff we need to get rid of.  Visual clutter actually makes you tired.  The more things you look at, the more your brain processes, and the more energy you expend on what usually amounts to junk. She told me to clean off surfaces, have no more than 3-4 things on my kitchen counters, and strive for the feeling of peace when I enter each room.  Doesn't that sound lovely?

Well, here is the problem, I have a lot of stuff.  I have even have a lot of stuff to organize my stuff.  Not all of this fabulous stuff fits under the counter or in a drawer.  Some of it is in my face and obvious.  My stuff like me to know it is around.

So many years ago I started eliminating stuff, lots of stuff.   I started giving away books (gasp) donating kitchen gadgets (double gasp) and unloading clothing I never wore (oh, the pain!).  I started consolidating half empty containers, using up what I had before buying more, and only buying what I needed.

Guess what happened? I started having less stuff! Then guess what  happened....

I felt the need to fill those empty spaces with more stuff! It really is okay to mock me.  I deserve it.

So now I am back on my quest, one drawer at a time.  I am proud to say my junk drawer is all but forgotten!  I hardly ever put anything in it.  I cleaned out my office over the weekend, and realized I hadn't added all that much stuff.  My closet only has a few items I don't wear, and my bathroom cupboard looks almost like when I cleaned it last year.

For me, this is victory!  Don't get me wrong, I still have a long way to go, but I have found the real secret is changing how you feel about stuff.  I went from "keeping up with the Joneses" to "keeping my junk to a minimum."  I no longer feel happy when I accumulate things.

If I don't need it, I don't bring it home.  If it sneaks in the house, I get rid of it.  If it doesn't have a purpose, I donate it.  If it is cluttering my peaceful space, I remove it.

The side bonus is that it take a lot less time to clean a house with fewer things in it.  My kitchen cleans up faster, my bedroom looks peaceful faster, and my drawers look organized faster when there is less in them.

So I challenge you, begin your quest for less.  You won't regret it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Motivational Monday #76 - 10 Resolutions You Will Actually Like

Have you ever noticed how often we make resolutions about things we hate?  For example, I detest going to the gym and sweating in public, yet every so often I will be crazy enough to put "go the the gym" on my resolution list.  Why in the world would I be motivated to do something I hate?  What possible reason do I have for torturing myself?

Instead of making resolutions to do things we hate, which of course we will never do...I suggest we make resolutions to do things we want.  Back to the gym example, I hate sweating in public, so it isn't likely the weight room at the gym is the place for me.  I do however enjoy fitting into my jeans, so making a resolution to keep my weight within a 5 pound range is something that is in my best interest and I like the outcome.  If I gain weight, then I can walk more, swim, vacuum the house more often, or skip the jelly donuts. The method is up to me, but the goal is for something I really want.

Organization is the same way.  Many people detest the concept of dragging 30 year old junk out of the closet just to get overwhelmed and then shove it back in for another 30 years. 

So don't resolve to get organized this year!  Yep, I am the organization geek, and I just told you to not resolve to get organized.  If you hate the process, then don't torture yourself.  Find a different goal, that gives you something you love.  Here are a few examples of great non-organization goals that give you what you want.
  1. Resolve to find a convenient way to display (not organize) your shoes in your closet.  Make the goal easy access and recognition.  If things you don't want or need have to be removed to make way for the shoes...bonus!
  2. Resolve to identify your favorite cooking utensils and appliances so that you can put them in the easiest place to gain access. If your less favorite kitchen gear just happened to be donated to make space for the stuff you use and like...oh well!
  3. Resolve to share your old favorite books with others.  Encourage them to pass on the joy and give the book to someone else when they are finished.  If you never see it back, you will know you spread some joy, and your bookcase will have room for new favorites. Score!
  4. Resolve to beautify your kitchen counters.  This may mean getting cute boxes to hold unopened mail and paid bills, but that's okay!  Accidental organization is always welcome!
  5. Resolve to only wear clothes that fit and make you feel confident.  To identify the fabulous items in the closet that fit this bill, you may just have to try everything on.  If you happened to box up and give away the things that didn't quite meet your criteria, fabulous!
  6. Resolve to only keep what you use.  When on a quest to identify things you use, you may find things that you don't.   If that happens, you may have to let some stuff go.  Oh well!
  7. Resolve to take control of your finances and feel empowered to meet your financial goals.  You may just have to look at your spending and bank accounts to take control of them.  If you accidentally put all those papers in your copy of Prepared Binder and organized them, who could blame you?
  8. Resolve to enjoy the time with your family.  For me, enjoying the family means being less stressed about other things.  If I was forced to be less stressed, I might not schedule so many things, and I might cut back on busy work.  How sad...NOT!
  9. Resolve to focus on a hobby you love.  If you are focused on something you love, you might decide to clear out the supplies from attempted and failed hobbies of years gone by.  If those lovely items were sold or donated, you might just find extra space for the hobby you love.  Isn't it amazing how that works?
  10. Resolve to sleep soundly each night.  I love sleep, but there are so many reason to stay awake at night.  Most of those reasons have to do with undone projects or responsibilities. If, in the quest to sleep more, you were to find a way to keep track of and simplify your projects...so much the better!
So there are a few ways to have solid resolutions that you enjoy and will accomplish.  These are just a few of the "non" organizational goals out there.  I'm sure you can come up with many more.

So go forth, and DON'T organize your way into a Happy New Year!