Archive | February, 2016

Looking for the Miracles and Blessings

25 Feb

Every day we decide who to be. Every day we decide what to do. Every day we live on purpose or we react to whatever life throws at us, and sometimes life challenges us to change in big ways. I’ve been through so many of those times, and here are a few things I’ve learned about myself. I don’t do drama well. I am an animated person and can tell a great story, but drama confuses me. I have seen family members and friends say the most horrible things about each other, fight and argue and call each other names and then see them going out to dinner or going on vacation with one another and posting about what a great time they’re having. How can you be so angry at someone one day and the next week talk about how much you love them? I don’t get it. Perhaps because I’m naïve enough to believe what people tell me, I don’t realize they are embellishing the situation or spinning it to make themselves look good and the other person look bad. I get that we all have a tendency to think we’re right and the other person is wrong, but I have never understood being mean to one another one day and being best friends the next. My son has a t-shirt with a picture of a rock, a piece of paper and a pair of scissors on it with the caption: Can’t We All Just Get Along? He picked it out, but I love that shirt and its sentiment and wish the world could take a note from it.

In the US and maybe in other parts of the world, something strange seems to be happening. We seem to have confused unconditional love with unconditional support. I have seen and heard parents say that they support their children no matter what, and I find that terrifying. I love my children and always will, but if they’re messing up, it’s my job as a parent to let them know and to help them change their behavior. Just recently, I know someone who had to make the heartbreaking decision to help put their own adult child in jail because they had stolen money to support a heroin addiction. This person loves that child, and it was no easy decision, but this person also knows that their child will continue to repeat the behavior unless the pattern is broken. By sending the child to jail, they are forced to break patterns and are afforded programs to heal the addiction. Those of us who care for this family are praying that this person gets the help they need to live a healthier life when they come back to us. The parent still loves the child but refused to support bad behavior.

As a parent, I’ve had some difficult discussions with my children. When we’ve talked about their maturing relationships, we’ve said things that embarrass them, especially when we talk about the possibility of their girlfriends getting pregnant. It’s uncomfortable, but here’s the bottom line for us. We believe that people make mistakes but the Divine does not. We believe that if there is a baby conceived that life was meant to be. Yes, we’ll be disappointed and angry, but our love is greater than the moment and we will welcome that child. We will also hold our children accountable for that child emotionally and financially. We have those conversations early and often so that our children think about their actions, what precautions they would need to take if necessary and what the consequences of not taking precautions could be. It’s a way to help our children mature emotionally, knowing we will love them but not support bad behavior. We’ve also had the discussion that their girlfriend might decide not to keep the baby or even have the baby and how we would deal with that as well.

On the subject of uncomfortable conversations, this week, I was watching a video on increasing productivity, and the speaker said something that really ticked me off. He said that if you are overweight, it’s because you are emotionally immature. Truth be told, I wanted to smack him. I am overweight and have struggled with my weight for over twenty years. Last year, I was able to lose a significant amount of weight for the first time in decades. In approximately six weeks, I lost twenty five pounds. I was so incredibly proud of myself, but then the holidays came. Thanksgiving followed by a vacation followed by Christmas and New Years and my college boys being home stalled everything and actually put some of the pounds back on. They all seem like valid reasons to put a few pounds back on, but they really are excuses, not reasons. At the beginning of this month, I dove back in and have seen much less success than I did the first time, but I realize it’s because I have been eating foods that aren’t good for me. I am “sneaking” foods that I like but inhibit the weight loss, and the thing is, I love healthy food. I just don’t like making it at times, so I grab something easy instead. For me, higher protein and lower carb is always the best way to go. Back in October, when I lost the weight, if I ate really well during the day, I gave myself the gift of a piece of chocolate after dinner. Recently, I’ve been grabbing a few tortilla chips off of my son’s afternoon plate of chips and cheese without recording them. It was only a few, so why bother, right? I’ve eaten a warm cookie out the oven or a bite of something here and there and it never gets added to the daily tally of what I’m taking in, and I wonder why the number is going the wrong way. Look, for those of us who are overweight, there are worse things that we could be than fat. We could be mean, petty, vindictive or worse, but being overweight is a symptom or better said, a result of bad behavior. We have chosen to consume more calories than our body needs to function. It seems simple and in some ways it is but in other ways it’s much more complicated.

No one sets out to be an addict or be overweight. Something triggered something and before you know it, you’re addicted, and yes, most of us who are overweight are food addicts. For me, I was addicted to nicotine until my first son was born. I gave up cigarettes for motherhood, and it was a great trade. I loved and do love being a mom, but it has always been in the back of my head that this motherhood gig was temporary. On a metaphysical level, excess weight is an indication for the need for protection, and as I think back, there were so many times when I felt afraid and needed protection. After my first child was born, like every new mother, I was afraid that I would not be a good mom so I added a few pounds. I was underweight before I got pregnant, so it wasn’t a big deal. Within a month of my second child being born, my father died at the age of 54, and I was faced with the reality of raising my children without a father and I gained a few more pounds. My third child was born five weeks early with a lifelong medical condition and a year after he was born, my husband was unemployed for a year because of 9/11 and there went a few more pounds. I look back now and see how easy it was to address my fears with food, and the pounds kept creeping up. Add some bad financial decisions and it’s no wonder as the children grew and the college bills loomed, the numbers went up on the scale. It came to a head for me last September when my husband had been living in Dallas for months with occasional trips home and my second child gone to college. I reached a weight that not only felt bad, it scared me. It was a number I thought I never would see. It was time to make a change.

At the same time I was making this change, I had the opportunity to attend a creativity bootcamp online. Although I never considered my writing that creative since it is mostly blogging and nonfiction, I decided to sign up and it was life changing. I signed up with the idea of finishing a book I had been working on for over a year. I thought I could finish the manuscript and get to the publishing process, but as the bootcamp wrapped up and I was nowhere near finished, I realized a much bigger dream for the book and figured out I had a book or two to write before diving into this one. It was amazing. I got a bit sidetracked with some personal drama and the holidays but thought with the advent of this February bootcamp I would get back on track. I have done more than I would have done without bootcamp with my writing. My goal was to finish a manuscript by the end of this month and depending on how much I write this weekend, I just might make it, but the weight is a different story. It’s stalled and this morning I figured out why. When I had the personal drama, who I am as a person was called into question. When that happens, I always take that seriously, maybe more seriously than I should. For the next two months, it seemed as though everywhere I looked was an article telling me how to be different than I am. They were articles extolling the virtues of being an introvert and often telling people how to be friends and/or deal with introverts. I am not nor do I ever see myself being an introvert, and for a good part of my life, I have been shamed for being the extrovert that I am. I have learned, especially as a writer, to enjoy solitude, but I love being around people. While my introverted friends love to throw an idea out for everyone to think about, my process involves talking it out. My wonderfully introverted husband has learned that. He knows that to truly think something through requires that I talk it out. He has learned that when I ask questions of him that may sound to him like I’m insulting him or that might be offending to someone like him, I am truly gathering information to have a better understanding of life. That process gets me in trouble now and then with other people because even though I explain it to them, they misunderstand my process. It hurts at times and has cost me a few relationships, but I’ve come to peace with it because I also have friends who do understand my process. They know when I come to them, I come to them in a spirit of resolution and love rather than conflict and judgment, and because of it, I have some pretty amazing friends and some pretty amazing relationships.

It took me several years to embrace who I am because I’m different. I’m a happy, extroverted and joy filled writer. I am this person who speaks directly and will address the elephant in the room when no one else wants to, not to shame anyone but to help everyone because if I don’t, I’m usually the one to step in the poop; even if it’s invisible. I love deeply and live as authentically as I can. Some days I do that with grace and some days I stumble over my own learning process. Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress. Some days I create beautifully as I intentionally live my life. Some days I have to constantly edit, and some days I proverbially rip the page out of the typewriter, crumple it up and throw it in the trash. I’ve learned over the years not to go back to the trash and pick out the crumpled up wad of paper because it wasn’t good in the first place, but the writing process and the edits have produced an amazing piece of work I call my life. As I learn to trust the process more, I am amazed at the blessings and miracles I have been privileged to receive and witness. My life has become this interesting journey and every day seems like a mini adventure, even and maybe especially as I face the challenges along the way. I’m realizing that that challenges are often the greater gift because within every challenge is the possibility of a miracle. Yes, I believe in miracles, and I hope you do too because one of the other things I’ve learned is that if you are not seeing miracles in your life, perhaps you have forgotten that you are one. I hope you embrace the miracles and blessings all around you and have a wonderful day, week, month, year and life. As always, thanks for being you and have a great day.

My Creative Process

18 Feb

DSC_0001To listen along, click here:

I am part of a Creativity Bootcamp that began on February 1st. Each person is tasked with creating every day. That creating takes many forms; a sketch or painting daily, a set number of words per day, and more. I am in awe of the dedication of some of the creative people in this Bootcamp and their ability to focus. I am amazed at their ability to stick with one thing until they finish it. Consistency and focus on one project at a time is how they succeed. It’s a formula that works really well for so many of them, but I also know, that is a recipe for failure for me and for many who have ADHD as well. Having a single goal for me is boring bordering on torturous. Even worse, if I do find something that will hold my focus, I can do it to the exclusion of everything else, which means my home and my relationships can fall apart and that doesn’t work for anyone, especially me. I’m not saying that their way is wrong by any stretch because it obviously works for them. Unfortunately, that type of focus can either elude me or envelope me so completely that the rest of my life falls apart so I had to find a different way.

Some time ago, I met a man on an airplane and we began talking about our families. Within a few minutes of meeting him, I could tell he had ADHD, and I am sure that Divine intervention was at work that day because when I met this man, I was worried about my son’s future because he wasn’t doing well in school. In fact, I was worried if he would even graduate from high school because he just didn’t care about doing his work, studying for tests or finishing projects on time. My husband and I both did well in school. My husband didn’t like school much, but he had eight older siblings and had developed a competitive nature that drove him to excellence. I loved school and was, at the time, an overachieving people pleaser, so I worked hard and excelled most of the time. Those long term projects were a mystery to me, but we’ll get to that later. When I was telling this man about my children, he asked if my youngest had ADHD. I said yes, and he asked if he was on medication for it. I said no and he told me not to ever medicate him.

I want to put in a disclaimer here. I understand that ADHD meds have been a godsend for many families. I know that many children have benefitted from them, and so have many adults. I’m not against them. I’m sharing this story because it is part of my life. My son cannot be medicated for ADHD because of his medical condition. All of his doctors are in agreement on that fact, so we have to find alternatives. This man was the godsend to me that meds have been for many others, so please bear with me. This man had been recommended for medication when he was a teen, but his parents opted not to medicate him. He struggled through high school, but as soon as he began working in a field he liked after high school, he became very successful; so successful that he owns two homes, one in our home state of Ohio and one on Sanibel Island in Florida, a rather exclusive community with very expensive homes. He also owns and runs five businesses. He said he was convinced that most of the successful owners of multiple businesses had ADHD and needed the variety of multiple businesses to hold their attention. He said that there were two keys to his success; he loved to learn, and he had a personal assistant who was incredibly organized and helped him stay on track. He explained that his businesses were like the fingers on your hand. He would travel up one finger, working and focusing on that business and having a great time, until his assistant reminded him that one of the other fingers needed his attention, so he would back out of that finger and work on another one until his assistant reminded him about one of the other fingers that needed attention. It was an amazing analogy, and I began to understand my son’s obsession with YouTube videos and Ted Talks. This man assured me that my son would be fine as long as my son had a desire to learn. The key was to help him move in directions that held his interest. It was one of the most positive things anyone ever said about my son, and it also helped me to understand myself.

I began to understand why so many coaching styles and systems that were life changing for others never worked for me. I understood that many people could be single minded and fixed on a goal and that is what drove them to success. I also understood that for people like me and my son that is almost torture. Yes, we have to do it sometimes when we get backed up against a deadline, and I understand that sometimes when people say they work better under pressure, it’s because they need the adrenaline rush of meeting the deadline to help them focus. It’s actually very similar to what stimulant medication does for many with ADHD. I also began to understand why the systems I have followed successfully work for me.

Some days, like everyone else, I have decent focus. I can get through my daily routine with minimal effort and the day seems automatic. I focus especially well when I have somewhere to be in the afternoon because it provides me a deadline of sorts to keep me focused. Everything lines up so that I can get out the door for the afternoon commitment. The day without commitments is far more challenging for me. Time seems to slip through my fingers. I wake up with a grand plan and before I know it, it’s after noon and not much is accomplished. TV, social media and texting provide all the distractions I need to let the day completely slip by. It’s maddening sometimes, but knowing that it’s part of my makeup is comforting too because I’ve learned what to do about it. It’s so simple that people dismiss it. It’s using a timer. Isn’t that crazy? My best adaptation tool is a timer, and I’ve learned that even fifteen minutes over the course of several days can make a huge positive impact. I’ve learned to clean my home this way, get rid of clutter and keep my kitchen table clear. I’ve written and published a book, and I intend to write and publish several more including one that will be going to the editor at the end of this month. It’s unconventional and weird to some, but it’s been a life saver for me. I’ve often wondered why this works, but I watched part of a video series by Darren Hardy, who is the former publisher of Success magazine. He is also an author, speaker, mentor and expert on productivity, and this particular video was about focused productivity. He talked about focusing for 90 days on anything can change your life forever. There was a time I would have stopped listening right there, but I’m smarter than I used to be, so I kept with it. It’s all about focus. Yes, he talked about 90 days, and for some people like me, that seems like a huge chunk of my life. It seems like an overwhelming task, but here’s what else I’ve learned. Fifteen minutes is magic.

At first, when I told my husband about this fifteen minute idea, he was incredibly skeptical. He supported me in the effort, but I don’t think he held out much hope. He’s convinced now because he has seen a transformation in our home and in me in ways neither of us could have dreamed. I’m happier and calmer because I don’t feel obligated to spend hours doing anything. I can transition from task to task so that I never seem to get bogged down in anything that bores me to the core, and even the things I would rather ignore seem easier to address if I only have to spend fifteen minutes at a time instead of diving in until it is finished. I know it wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. Currently, I’m painting my kitchen that way and writing two books. I had taken a few days off because of the side effects of some medication, but I’m back on track and the ceiling is finished. There’s no rush at this point, and as long as the job is finished by Easter, I’ll be a happy girl.
I read once that people often procrastinate and resist starting something because of perfectionism. I laughed at the time because I thought if people saw my home, they would know for sure that I wasn’t a perfectionist. That person was right, though, because I had this idea that if I didn’t have a minimum of two hours to clean my home “properly” (or perhaps perfectly) I didn’t have time to clean. When I would spend hours cleaning, I would be exasperated the minute someone messed up all my efforts because it was such monumental effort. What I found was when I spent fifteen minutes at a time, I understood more clearly that most messes could be cleaned up in a fifteen minutes or less. I no longer needed things to be perfect because whatever might happen, I could handle it. Good enough became the norm and perfection got chucked out the door. The same thing works for my writing. The first few blog posts were excruciating because I wanted them to be perfect. I was so worried about being judged and criticized. These days, I’m more aware that even if I write what I think is the perfect post, someone won’t like it or won’t agree with it, and while I never set out to upset or offend anyone, it still happens now and then, and I can only hope that when people know my heart, they know everything I write comes from a place of love and wanting the best for everyone.

This week because of that magical timer, I’ve moved forward on two books, kept my house tidy, learned more about technology and social media which included overcoming a bit of fear of technology in general for me, and I am in the process of decluttering my email list. Many days I’m using the timer to move forward. Some days I use it to tell me when to stop and move on to something else. I have my timer to move me forward when I’m unfocused. I have my Creativity Bootcamp to move me forward when I’m uninspired, and I have my Better Living Daily Facebook Page, my blog and this radio show to help me connect and share it all with you. It may not be perfect, but right now it is perfect for me. By the way, the Bootcamp ends on February 29th, and I am hosting Easter on March 27th. I am thinking of doing a March Madness challenge on my Facebook page with updates in the blog and radio show to help me and whoever wants to join in get ourselves moving in March toward our best lives. Stay tuned for details, but until then, thanks for being you and have

My Lenten Love Affair

11 Feb

To listen along, click here:

Those who have been reading my blog and/or listening to my radio show for a while know I have strong affection for the season of Lent. My fascination started in junior high when I learned about the Catholic practice of giving things up for Lent. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic area, I began to understand why we had alternating Fridays of fish sandwiches one week and grilled cheese with tomato soup the next at school. I watched my friends dutifully eat their meat free lunches if they bought from the school or bring the standard peanut butter and jelly if they packed. In addition, several of my friends also gave up at least one other thing, usually a treat of some kind that they liked very much but pledged not to consume during Lent. I was in awe of their self-control and self-sacrifice. I was even more in awe when they continued that practice into high school and beyond when they could have easily cheated without their parents even finding out. We learned about the sacrifice of Lent in my church, but it felt like my Catholic friends were living it, and watching my best friend give up the things she loved every year made an impression on me that lasts to this day.

Perhaps it stuck with me because I went to mass with my best friend almost as much as I went to church. You see, my friend worked on Sundays so she was required by her church and more importantly to us, by her parents, to attend mass on Saturday before we could go out and have fun. Now these were pretty smart parents because they required two things. They required that my friend bring home a bulletin, which showed them she walked in the door, but they also required her to know what the sermon was about, so not only did we have to go, we had to listen too. Then, as unfair as it seemed to me at the time, I had to go to church with my family on Sunday since the Saturday option didn’t fulfill my obligation in my parents’ eyes being that we were Protestant and all, and I got to hear the same types of sermons with a different spin.

After high school, I lost interest in religion and the practices of Lent. I still had friends who went to church and gave things up, but it wasn’t quite as fascinating. It wasn’t until I began living with my husband, who was raised Catholic, that the Lenten practice of abstinence truly became a part of my life. His family gave up candy every year and some gave up sweets entirely. That seemed to be more than I could handle so I started small with Cheetos. That may not seem like a big deal to anyone, but I ate a bag each day at work, so it wasn’t an easy task for me, especially when others around me didn’t abstain and didn’t care if I was. The thing is, when Lent was over, I continued to abstain. The same thing happened with Diet Coke the following year, and once I had done that, I quit smoking too. That was the result of my oldest child, but that’s a story for another day. The point is that because I gave up Cheetos and Diet Coke, I knew I could give up cigarettes for at least forty days. On March 11th of this year, I will be celebrating 22 years of my son’s life and of me being nicotine free. Cheetos and Diet Coke were the gateway to getting cigarettes out of my life.

So what, some might say. No big deal, others might think. For me it was a big deal. I gave up cigarettes at age 30. I had been smoking since I was 12 although I became a full blown smoker in college, but I had been smoking over half of my life. Giving up Cheetos and Diet Coke made giving up cigarettes possible. Then there was the year my husband and I gave up red meat for Lent, and we learned some things about ourselves. The first is that we will not become vegetarians unless it is forced upon us. Not only do we like meat, we both feel better when we eat it. I don’t mean to upset anyone who chooses a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but even after seven plus weeks, we knew meat was going to be a part of our lives. We are mindful of where it is sourced and how it is processed, but it stays and it was a growing experience for us both.

Lately, I’ve seen a plethora of articles almost belittling the process of giving something up for Lent, and I understand that they are pleading for people to go beyond just giving up chocolate, coffee or carbonated drinks, but I would assert that the process can start there. You can teach sacrifice through giving up something you love. When I think of how I felt not eating red meat or Cheetos, it puts into perspective how some people go without eating anything. Giving up something you like helps you to understand how much people will do to get what they want, not to mention what they need. Our children have given up something from the time they are five, and the negotiations and bargaining they do amazes me every time. I can only imagine the lengths people would go to without the basic necessities of life, and that is what opened my mind and my heart to seeing exactly that. Once I began to understand my reactions and my children’s reactions to denying ourselves, I was open to understanding the suffering of others and the privilege of my life. You see, while I can look at others’ lives and say, “there but for the Grace of God go I”, I don’t know what it really feels like. I have been short of money, broke and wondering how I would pay my rent, but I always had friends and family who could and would help me out when I needed it, and I was always able to find a way to pay them back. Some people don’t have that. Yes, I understand that if you want to change some things in your life, you have to change some things in your life, but if you don’t even know where to begin, how do you begin?

These are the questions that Lent has helped me to ponder because while I know that Lent is about sacrifice and suffering, I also know that the final result of that sacrifice and suffering, at least in the tradition I was raised in, leads to resurrection and light, especially when we combine that sacrifice with service to our fellow human beings, and that is where the magic of Lent really happens. The other side of Lent that is becoming more and more prevalent is not just to give something up, but to add something to your spiritual practice. Some people add prayer time or reading the Bible. Some experience the Divine through animals and might volunteer at a shelter. Some might simply love nature and choose to take a walk with a bag and pick up trash along the way. Some may pick an item per day to donate to a worthy cause. What may seem small to one person may be huge to someone else. Maybe it’s as simple as smiling at someone every day and making a positive difference in this world. In my book, no matter how small the gesture, it still adds up.

This morning I read an article about how ancient Christians would fast and deny every day of Lent. They only ate one meal. If that is what you are called to do, then I say go for it as long as it doesn’t negatively affect your health, but even the Pope is calling for a different approach. He is calling for people to give up indifference and to connect with other human beings. I think that is a wonderful idea. When “we” get to know “them”, things change. We learn to appreciate one another even when we don’t or can’t understand each other’s lives. We learn what really helps and what doesn’t. We evolve and change because we can’t look at the world the same way anymore. We quit believing what the news tells us to believe and learn to understand life on a much different level because we are living it instead of having someone else tell us how life it. Lent becomes an evolution of who you are, who you want to be and how to get there. Can it all start from giving up a bag of Cheetos per day? Well, it did for me, and that’s why I have a mad and wild love affair with Lent every year.

This year, I’ve given up sausage, which doesn’t sound like much, but that has been part of my breakfast for the past six months. This year, I felt like it was time to healthy up breakfast so sausage is out. Of course, that also means no chili, spaghetti and meatballs or goetta for me either because all of them have sausage in them. By the way, for those who don’t know, goetta is a local delicacy with beef, pork (often sausage) and pin oats with seasoning. It might sound gross to some people, but we love it. That is my sacrifice, and although it doesn’t come close to giving up red meat, it’ll do. On the flip side, I’m part of a creativity bootcamp this month, so my contribution is a combination of books I’m writing. The first one is about motherhood and I’ve pledged to have it ready for the editor by the end of the month. It scares me to share that, but it’s out there and I’ll keep you updated. The other book is a collaboration about the high school to college transition in the US. A friend and I are working on it together and just when we think we know what direction we’re going, it changes a bit, so we are having fun watching this book take on a life of its own. How does that give back you might ask? Well, I’ve already talked it over with my husband and a large portion of everything I make will go to helping others. Most of the money donated will not be tax deductible. It will be in the form of gifts of the heart for those who don’t have tax deductible status. So, there you have it, my love affair with Lent. It helps me weather the weather. It helps me evolve and emerge a better person, I hope, and it gives me direction for a life I hope will be well lived for a long while. As always, I appreciate your taking the time to read what I share. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

%d bloggers like this: