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Tending the Closet

8 Apr

Spring has sprung, and when the seasons change, I feel an uncontrollable urge to change my wardrobe. There’s something so exhilarating about pulling out the short-sleeved tops that have been in storage for six months. Spring is also a great time for me to go through my closet and drawers and purge. Actually, I started this year’s purge on one of our many snow days, and I have a huge pile of old stuff to go to Goodwill.

I have way too much clothing, and purging is not something that comes easily for me. Some of those t-shirts have sentimental value even if I haven’t worn them in 10 years. Some of the pant suits may no longer be my style, but they are good quality and actually fit me, so it’s difficult to justify getting rid of them.

But there’s a side benefit to letting go of the old. It makes room for the new.

This spring I’ve added several new “basics” to my wardrobe. I’ve been wanting a jean jacket for several years, and this year they are finally back on the rack! I haven’t worn a jean jacket since I was in eighth grade! I got this one at H&M for $20. Click on the image to go to their website.

jean jacket

You know what I love about this jacket? It goes with just about any outfit. Right now I’m wearing it with my cream colored khakis, long-sleeved tee, and dressy necklace. It looks great with my simple black tube dress from TranquiliT.com, or just about any of my other spring and summer print dresses. I have a feeling it will be my “signature accessory” until Richmond’s hot, humid summer days (and nights) kick into full gear.

My clothing snow purge resulted in a startling lack of pants for work. Most of what I had  did not fit, was woefully high-waisted, stained, or had holes in the knees due to 11 years worth of kneeling on the floor playing with babies, picking up toys, or folding laundry. I have a hard time finding pants that fit, partly because I’m 5’1″, partly because I have the hips of a 13 year old boy, and partly because being size 2 doesn’t mean you can’t have a muffin top. Flattering pants that fit are a luxury I can’t find, much less afford. I’ve tried the pricey stores, with no luck, and  the big box stores rarely have petites, unless you count the “old lady pants” with the elastic waist bands.

Last weekend I was doing some window shopping at one of my favorite stores, New York & Co. Not every store carries petites, but the Short Pump location does, so it’s worth braving the Broad Street traffic for clothes that fit me. On Friday I hit the jackpot. Everything in the store 50% off! One of my cardinal rules is that if it fits and it’s on sale, I buy it in every basic color. Well, I already have plenty of browns and khakis, so I got the 7th Avenue Pant in blue heather, light gray, and chocolate. There are no words to describe how good it feels to wear nice clothes that fit perfectly.

04134181_370_av1

I recently learned about something called a “modular wardrobe,” which is basically having just a few pieces of clothing to mix and match. Having a modular wardrobe makes fashion less stressful and less expensive, and I’ll be exploring how to downsize my clothing collection even more over the next few months as I continue to purge and purchase more versatile pieces.

Fast Food Fast

13 Mar

I gave up fast food for Lent.

Yes, this really is a sacrifice for me. I eat a lot of fast food. Too much, I know. I eat fast food because I can feel full after spending less than $5, sometimes less than $3. I eat fast food because I eat so little that I can get away with all those empty calories and it doesn’t show – at least, not on the outside. I eat fast food because it takes no time at all out of my busy schedule. It’s instant gratification.

So, when it came time to pick a Lenten abstention, one that I would really feel, I knew what it had to be. 40 days without Taco Bell. Without McDonalds. Without Popeyes or Chipotle or Hardee’s. No, I will be making lunch, buying from the local sandwich shop, driving to the grocery store salad bar, or eating a sit-down meal.

Except yesterday. Yesterday I went to Krispy Kreme for a donut and coffee.

Is Krispy Kreme fast food?

It’s not a burger, I rationalized. They have nothing but donuts on the menu. I did not give up sweets or caffeine, I justified. Yes, they have a drive-thru window, but I walked in. Starbucks has a drive-thru, but no one would call Starbucks a fast food restaurant. It’s a coffee shop. So is Krispy Kreme. Lenten promise kept.

Except that Krispy Kreme was cheap, fast, and ultimately empty satisfaction. It kept me full enough that I didn’t eat anything else until dinner. It was all about instant gratification, cheap fulfillment, and temporarily feeling good to keep that nagging hunger at bay.

I can justify and rationalize all I want, but the truth is the truth, and the truth hurts.

I was meditating on this when I woke up, and started thinking about my emotional fast food binges. You see, I’m not just a closet Taco Bell aficionado. I am also a shameless flirt. Flirting is my emotional fast food.

It’s cheap, it’s fast, it gives me instant gratification and that feeling of being connected with someone without all the investment of being in an actual relationship. Never mind the fact that I feel as bloated and uncomfortable after indulging myself as I do after that seven layer burrito (shredded chicken makes it healthy, right?).

I did not go into Lent with the intention of giving up flirting. In fact, I joked with my favorite mutual flirt on Ash Wednesday that I wouldn’t! But flirting is emotional fast food. Empty calories. I don’t want love on the run. I want to sit down and enjoy a meal prepared with love. And a Krispy Kreme donut on the side, supplementing something that is real, not a substitution for the real thing.

God is laughing right now. I inadvertently gave up flirting for Lent. 33 days to go. Perhaps I’ll try praying for the men in my life, instead. And being real instead of the cheap imitation of me. I’m nervous about how that will be received. But in the long run, I don’t want a cheap imitation of love. If I want the real thing, I’m going to have work for it, pay for it, and wait for it, and go to healthier places to get fed.

I bet I’m going to feel this sacrifice a lot more than I felt the fast food fast.

Letting Nature Take Its Course

4 Feb

Ever get the feeling that the universe is trying to tell you something?

Yesterday I was at a weekly discussion group and the topic was recognizing our own insanity.

Later last night, I broached an uncomfortably conversation with a friend and he kindly said something along the lines of, “I think we’ve talked about this before.”

Then a writer friend shared this humorous (true) story on her Facebook page:

“Have you ever participated in an exercise in insanity? You know the one I’m talking about…The one where you keep doing the same thing over and over again, in the exact same way and hope for a different outcome? A bird, who was trapped in our screened in porch, and I just participated in one together. I walked around the porch with a lacrosse stick, trying to catch it. It flew from screen to screen to screen, trying to escape me. I would catch it and it would escape out of the sides of the lacrosse stick. I would catch it again and it would escape. Finally, someone had to break the insanity cycle so I put tape over the holes in the lacrosse net and captured the little critter. It repaid me for my kindness by biting my thumb as I set it free, but at least I broke the insanity cycle and not the bird.”

There was something about that story that spoke to me on a spiritual level. It got me questioning:

1. In what ways do my attempts at kindness end up hurting me?

2. Have I ever thought, “If only he/she would (fill in the blank), everything would work out fine?”

3. Am I quick to see the “birds” in my life as repeating insane patterns, while failing to see how I repeat insane patterns myself?

I responded to her story with a bird story of my own. I used to have a wreath on my front door, and finches built a nest there. On more than one occasion, a startled bird would fly into my house when I opened the door. It was always a night. And my solution always worked.

First, I’d turn off all the lights in my house. Then I’d open the door going out to the garage. I’d turn the light on in the garage, and the birds, attracted to the light, would fly out on their own. Once in the garage, I’d open the garage door, turn off the lights, and leave the garage open so the bird would make its way out.

The reason the solution works is this fundamental truth – I’m powerless over birds (real and figurative) and trying to control them will not have positive results. Not the first time, not the second time, not the tenth time of doing the same thing, and not even when I try a new tactic with the same controlling motivation behind it.

Sometimes the birds in my life are people. Sometimes they are situations, and sometimes the birds are my feelings. I can’t control them. What I can do is accept them, learn about how they tick, and work with them. When I let go, nature offers it’s own solutions.

Sometimes, you just have to turn out the lights, open the doors, and let the birds do what they will do.

Check-offs, Cross-offs, and Write-offs

2 Jan

My career as a freelance graphic designer has brought me lots of opportunities to stretch my talents and skills to their limit, and a perfect example is the Tranquility du Jour Daybook, which is the brainchild of my long-time client Kimberly Wilson. It’s a spiral-bound 12-month planner, but it’s more than that. It also features a series of daily, weekly and monthly checklists based on its author’s experience with striving to achieve a tranquil and fulfilling life. It features what she calls “tranquility tools,” and it has lots of space for journaling, contact info, important dates, quarterly “wheel of life” pages to see just how balanced or unbalanced your life is becoming, and also lots of inspiring quotes and custom watercolor artwork. If this sounds at all enticing, I urge you to have a closer look on her website (http://www.kimberlywilson.com/shop/daybook/).

For this year’s second publication, we refined the daybook using feedback she got from her many followers and fans. We made it bigger, even more user-friendly. But I’m kind of embarrassed to admit, I did not use my copy, partly because I want to keep it in “mint” condition for my portfolio, but also because the checklists don’t exactly fit my experience with striving to achieve a tranquil and fulfilling life. There is definitely some crossover, but my biggest challenges seem to be: how do I keep track of three children’s schedules? And their laundry? And the meals they eat? And the mess they make in our shared quarters? And my work life? And my (cough) personal life? And my spiritual life? I get overwhelmed just typing it, much less living it every day.

I’m incredibly disorganized when it comes to time management, or life management, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know how I’ve made it this long without having a calendar that I use as a matter of habit. When things get really bad, I keep lists, and that helps. I’ve tried several phone apps; nothing has stuck. My strategy is to live one day at a time and pray to God I don’t forget anything important. My mom keeps a calendar religiously, and she is my backup system for family and kid stuff. It works, sort of. But surely something else could work better.

So after being the creative “general contractor” on this daybook project for the past two years, one of my “pre-New-Years-resolutions” was to practice a little self-care and make my own personalized daybook by the time 2014 started. I even wrote it down while attending one of Kimberly’s workshops in November! She’ll be happy to know, writing it down helped. I’m almost done with it, and my “New Years Resolution” is to have it printed and actually USE it!

I’ve even given it a title: “Check-offs, Cross-offs, and Write-offs.” I’m sure I’ll write more about it in the weeks to come, but the basic premise is that I can’t handle more than three routines or priorities for any given time period, whether it be a morning, a day, a week, a month, or a year. “Check-offs” are checklists consisting of three to four routine tasks that I strive to do on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. “Cross-offs” are daily and weekly areas where I can write in (and hopefully cross off) the three most important things to do on any given day and week. There are also areas where I can set three manageable goals for each month, as well as three big goals for the whole year, with space to write the action steps required to complete them. Finally, I’ve also given myself ample space for “Write-offs,” where I can put pen to paper with my ideas, hopes, dreams, musings, quotes, lessons, brainstorms, etc.

It’s also a daily planner, not just for meetings and appointments, but also to-do lists, and even meal planning and groceries. This is what it looks like today:

Daybook-Preview

I’m thinking in the future I will add some sort of financial component, and maybe a housekeeping chart, but for now, the most important thing is to get it DONE (progress, not perfection) and START USING IT!

Lists can either motivate me or overwhelm me to the point of paralysis. I’m hoping this set of lists will motivate. I can’t wait to share my progress!

Morning Routine

11 Sep

My favorite thing about the start of a new school year is that feeling that “this year can be different.” It’s a holdover from when I was a kid and believed that maybe this year, I would keep my 64 pack of crayolas in order, that I’d remember to put my name on my paper, and that with the whole year ahead of me, there was still a chance for straight As.

As a grown up, my fantasies are different. This school year, I have hopes of waking up to a clean kitchen sink and clothes already laid out, of paying my bills on time, of having a meal calendar and actually using it. Only time will tell, but if the past is any predictor of the future, life will be back to “normal” in about a month.

That won’t stop me from trying, though.

I’ve been working in a couple of new habits for my mornings and a couple in the evenings, and some of these are just old habits that I set aside for the summer. For example:

Morning Habit #1: Making My Bed

This is a very old habit that was on summer vacation. But now that I’m back to the daily grind, I feel like I need a vacation, and one of the best ways to feel like I’m on vacation in my own home is to come home in the afternoon to a freshly made bed. I have really lovely bedding and lots of pillows, so it really is like going to sleep in a hotel room (that is, when the floor is picked up). Now, if only I could get the bathroom tamed, I’d be living in a spa resort!

Morning Habit #2: Flossing

It took years of pestering from my dentist, but fear of bad breath is what finally got me to pick up this habit as a New Years resolution a few years ago. I don’t do it every morning, but I do it pretty regularly, and my mouth feels so good after I’m done.

Morning Habit #3: Reading

No, not a novel. I have several daily readers that I use for meditation. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading the daily scripture readings from the lectionary (check out the Catholic app Laudate – free for iPhone). I also have Meditations For Women Who Love Too Much, Jesus Calling, and some other daily readers. Usually I just do one page, right before I make my bed. I use my bed-making time to meditate on whatever the theme is. If I wake up really bright eyed and bushy tailed, I read before my shower and meditate then (but usually I can’t function without my shower first).

Morning Habit #4: Breakfast

This is a new one. I’ve never been a breakfast eater. But I function much better at work when I have a full stomach and am not counting the minutes till lunch, or worse, snacking on cookies and seriously over-sweetened coffee at 10 am. It has to be sweet and simple and fast. Instant oatmeal last week, english muffins, yogurt, and Kind bars this week. Kind bars deserve their own post.

I can’t say I’ve done all of this perfectly every day since school started. I let it go on the weekend. But I can say that in spite of the insane amount of work I have and the stress of having a new routine and less sleep in the morning, these habits are helping me maintain a more manageable life.

Next week I’ll share some of my evening habits. Those have been just as helpful.

Clutter Busting

27 Aug

Clutter is my enemy, and it wins by making me feel defeated. Even when I’ve spent time cleaning or picking up, there’s always more clutter somewhere, junking up some corner of the house.

I’m tackling this problem in two ways. The first is mental. I’m accepting it. Not the clutter, but the reason for the clutter. I have three kids. I have two jobs. I have one dog. I have a full life taking care of my health and emotional well-being. I can’t do it all, and I’m not going to beat myself up for the choices I make, even if it means the clutter piles multiply.

I take a deep breath. The clutter is not a life or death problem, I remind myself.

But I also take action. Generally my clutter-busting actions look like a furious attack, in which I spend long hours throwing, sorting, and putting away. (Or, throwing things in bags for future sorting.) It’s kind of like last minute cramming for a test. It may help in the short term, but wouldn’t it have been less stressful to do a little studying all along?

Hence a new clutter busting strategy. 15 minutes of pickup before bed.

I’m having my kids do it, too. On Sunday night I set the clock and told them they had 15 minutes to put as much away as they could. They did not like it, but I loved the results when it was through. My family room was nearly company-ready.

There was still plenty of other clutter left. But I can’t help but think that a little daily maintenance over a period of time will go a long way to busting the clutter, and giving my kids a healthy new habit. I’ll report back in a month and tell you how it has worked.

We Attract What We Are

24 May

Today’s daily reading comes from the book of Sirach, which is arguably my favorite book of the Bible. The selection from Sir 6:5-17 is about friendship, and I’m going to quote the whole thing here because it is that good:

A kind mouth multiplies friends and appeases enemies,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.
Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.
When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him.
For one sort is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.
Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.
Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self,
and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low, he turns against you
and avoids meeting you.
Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.

I especially like the last sentence. I’ve heard it put this way: “We attract what we are.” I have found that to be so true, with both my romantic attractions and with my female friendships. Life has brought many new relationships to me in the past two years, and they all in some way have been mirrors in which I could see myself more clearly.

The wisdom of this is that if I want to change the way people treat me, I need to first change myself. As I grow, the users and abusers will likely fade into the background as long as I’m willing to let them go. This has been my experience so far.

On the flip side, as I become more faithful to myself, I have begun to attract other healthy, faithful people into my life. Their ways may have once been very distasteful to me; there was a time when I would have called them rigid, stuffy or judgmental. Now I see them as women and men who respect themselves and God. I take it as a sign of progress that they are in my life.

I Love You

16 May

It was recently suggested to me that I do positive self-affirmations when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror each morning. Like, write stuff on sticky notes and post it on the mirror.

I don’t know why that should be so difficult, but it is. I sometimes will say positive things out loud. More often than not, my thoughts when I look at myself are affirming. But the whole sticky note affirmation thing has met with deep resistance.

I have enough clutter in there; I don’t want more.

I would feel silly.

What would my kids think if they saw.

Yeah, I know they are pretty lame excuses.

I saw this graphic on a friend’s Facebook page and thought, this may be the kind if affirmation I should put up on the mirror:

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I did not think of myself when I first saw that. I thought of a man I know (of course, it would be a man!). I would totally put that on his bathroom mirror. And if any man I love ever put that on my mirror, I would melt. I would not be thinking about clutter. I’d be thinking about leaving all my clothes on the floor.

So why shouldn’t I love my stubborn self that way?

The Lord’s Prayer

3 May

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer. I did not go to any special services for it; however, I did take time to reflect on prayer as one of the ways I practice self-care.

Most days, reading and meditation are a part of my morning routine. But before I crack open the daily readers, before I turn on the light, before I even get out of bed, I say good morning and thank you to God, even on the mornings I’m not ready to be awake. Especially those mornings.

One of my favorite prayers is an oldie but goodie – the Lord’s Prayer. The danger with this prayer is that it’s so familiar, I can easily forget what the words mean.

Most of the time, we pray this as a prayer of petition. We say, “Thy kingdom come,” when the kingdom is all around us, closer than the air is to our skin. We ask that God’s will be done (as if His Will didn’t already trump the worst self-will that we could throw out into the world when Jesus died and rose from the dead).

We ask God to give us “daily bread” (without acknowledging that if we are alive today to pray to Him, He has given us everything we need for today).

We ask God to forgive us, perhaps without realizing that the forgiveness we request is not unconditional, but directly proportional to the forgiveness we give to our worst, most unrepentant enemies.

We ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into situations that tempt us, as if it were even possible for God to lead us away from His presence and into His absence (which is the very definition of “sin”).

These petitions make no sense to me. The only real request in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Deliver us from evil.”

I don’t think the Lord’s Prayer was ever intended to be a petition. I pray it as a bold declaration of my faith:

God, you are my father, my creator. Your name – I AM – is holy, sacred and powerful.

Your kingdom is here inside me and all around me.

Your will is more powerful than any earthly power, reaches into every corner of this world and uses every good and bad choice we make for your ultimate glory. Even if I don’t like it, my present circumstances and even the evil I face are allowed by that Will, if only to draw me and others closer to you.

I trust that you will give me everything I need to be useful to you for this day only. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

I believe the only thing standing in the way of Your forgiveness is my ability to receive it, and the only thing blocking me from receiving Your forgiveness is my anger and resentment of others.

I know that if I am separated from You, it is because I was the one who moved away. Please protect me from and relieve me of anything that would come between us.

For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are yours, now and forever.

Amen.

It’s Never Tomorrow

1 Jan

I would love to say that my New Years resolution is to stop procrastinating. But I’m not ready to make any resolutions yet!

Actually, a very good friend of mine has given up resolutions in favor of goals, because goals are flexible. Resolutions are rigid. They are black and white, all or nothing. Goals are achieved by making progress, not by making sweeping cuts to every bad habit we can identify. Sometimes the progress is rapid, sometimes it is plodding and ceases altogether, maybe even sliding backward now and then. But with a goal, what matters is that you keep moving toward it, or at the very least, facing in the right direction, no matter how many times we twist and turn on the journey.

This evening after the ball dropped in Times Square, my nine year old son asked, “Is it tomorrow?” And just as quickly, he answered his own question with one if the greatest expressions of spiritual wisdom I’ve ever heard: “It’s never tomorrow.”

Call it a goal, call it a resolution, but giving up procrastination in 2013 is impossible. Procrastination itself is impossible. I cannot really put off till tomorrow, because there is no tomorrow. There is only today, this moment. There is no procrastinate. There is no try. There is only choice. There is do, or do not.

I have spent so much of my life waiting, or not waiting. Without tomorrow, there is no wait. There is only now. There is only do, or do not.

That was the theme of one of my meditations this week. I asked my higher power, “When?” And my higher power responded that he did not exist in when, only in now. The very act of asking when betrays that I am not in my higher power’s will.

So my goal for 2013 is to take the steps necessary to get in and stay in that will. And part of the process is to remember there is no when, no tomorrow. There is only now. There is literally no time like the present.

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