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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Writing, Resolutions, & Courage. Oh my.

Well, Happy New Year, stranger. I didn’t plan to be away from the blog for so long. In fact, I didn’t PLAN to be away from it at all. Around the holidays, I took a nice long stay-cation, and I actually just came back from an extra-long weekend. You’d think I could’ve posted at least a couple times during these past several weeks.

What in the world have I been doing?

Scrubbing floors, cleaning closets, working on taxes?

Um, no.  However, I have been playing games, making cookies, and working on a jigsaw puzzle. Those things, and a few others, I did with my daughter during her winter break while Scott was out of town. It was a blissfully relaxing, go nowhere-do nothing kind of week. I could use a few more of those.

Besides the lovely Mommy/Daughter time, and the usual chores and work, I’ve also been working on my annual New Year’s Resolutions. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned once or twice, I’m a big believer in resolutions. Amidst all the external life-crap over which we have no say, it’s so important to take control over what we can: our very own little ole selves. It doesn’t have to be New Year’s Day to make a new commitment or set a new goal.  But this time of year just naturally lends itself to reflection and planning. So, I’ve been doing a bit of that too.

So, what’s it going to be this year? Exercise more, eat better, get more sleep? Those all sound pretty good. But, actually, I’ve chosen a “word of the year” again. This is a fun little exercise I’ve done the past couple of years, courtesy of Christine Kane, where you think more broadly about what you want for your life and choose a word to be your guidepost.  After some journaling and soul-searching, a word just came to me and it felt right. 

My word this year: Courage. 

This word works for me on a few different levels, but one important one revolves around my secret dream to be a writer.

Ok, maybe it’s not such a secret. But it might as well be. Heck, maybe it’s even a secret from me, for all the lack of effort I’ve made towards doing it. I think certain fears have kept me back; hence, my word of the year….

Anyway, while I haven’t been posting on my blog as much as I’d like, I have been writing nearly every day. First thing in the morning, I grab my notebook and sit down to write 3 pages, stream-of-consciousness style. This is a habit I learned from The Artist’s Way a couple of years ago. It’s a great tool for clearing your mind and tapping into your creativity. I also see it as a symbolic gesture, letting the Universe know that writing really is a priority for me.

Another thing I’ve been doing is making a point to work on my book project at least a little bit every day. This is a book I started—and stopped—writing several months ago. It’s been percolating, though, and I really want to do this. It’s fiction. And… that’s about all I’m going to say about it at this point. Hopefully, with this little-at-a-time approach, I will actually finish it this year. And then I’ll share.

Though, come to think of it, this whole blog thing is about sharing.  I've shared my thoughts and opinions here, as well as my hopes, dreams, and failures. Putting myself out there like that, for anyone and everyone to like or dislike or, more likely, to ignore or not care, requires a little courage in itself. (Or perhaps folly, depending on how you look at it.)

I suppose anything worth doing requires some measure of chutzpah, though, right? Whether the challenges are internal or external, to accomplish anything worthwhile you’ve got to gear yourself up and find the strength to overcome those challenges. You can find this strength from many sources-- other helpful people, your own inner drive, your convictions, your spirituality.

After all, courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is when you're afraid, but you do it anyway.

So, here’s my two-bit advice for the week: Make a resolution, write it down and, with great courage, get to it. I'll let you know how it goes for me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finding Hope...Spreading Peace

Like the rest of the country, I was horrified and saddened beyond words last Friday when I heard about the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. It’s heartbreaking. It’s senseless. It’s unbelievable.

And it’s a tragedy that has really stirred people up. Doesn’t it seem like more people have gotten worked up over this than any other news story in recent memory? Lord knows, there are sad and awful news stories somewhere in the world every day. But this one was especially heinous. Naturally, people are moved and upset, searching for answers and wanting to help. On Facebook, anyway, I’ve been seeing so many comments, thoughts, opinions, and debates.

I think it’s good that people are talking. This is something that NEEDS to be talked about. From gun control and mental illness to the fragility of life, people are talking. And talking is a very good step towards action and change.

Discussing sad, incomprehensible things is also a way for people to come together. These conversations help people to realize they’re not alone. I know I sometimes feel helpless and hopeless in the face of such evil in our world. It helps to hear and read what others are thinking. It helps tremendously to find kindred spirits.

I found one such inspiring blog post this week, by Rebekah Teal, the “City Farmgirl” of MaryJanesFarm Magazine and website. Rebekah wrote about finding peace within, even in the midst of sorrow. She also wrote about how there’s so much that each of us can do to spread hope within our own little spheres of influence. It’s worth a read: Finding Peace & Keeping Hope.

It’s especially poignant that this terrible loss has happened in the season of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” Holiday cheer seems so out of place. And yet, this is exactly the time of year when we gather together and focus more on others than ourselves. We give, we share, we donate, we offer a helping hand. This is good to remember. When you feel helpless and don’t know what to do, you can always:

~ Give generously 

~ Speak up for peace 
~ Be present for someone 
~ Show love 
~ Remember… there is hope in our shared humanity 

Blessed be.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The End of the World (and I feel fine)

We lost our Internet connection Monday night. At first it seemed to come and go; a page would open and then it wouldn’t. But eventually there was that frustrating and annoying error message for every site we tried. Ugh. It wasn’t until the next night that we realized our telephone land line was out too.

At first I thought maybe we’d forgotten to pay our bill. How embarrassing. But that wasn’t it. It was some technical problem, and when we FINALLY (via cell phone) got through to a live person who was the RIGHT live person, we learned we’d have to wait until the next day for a technician to come to our home.

Dang! We were going to be without Internet access for another whole night. Off the grid.

And just when I planned to work on my blog! Oh, alright, I probably would have spent the time doing on-line Christmas shopping. But Scott and Sage each had more pressing needs: Scott was supposed to submit his grades for the college class he teaches, and Sage was supposed to research facts about New Jersey.

What a drag. What an inconvenience. It sucks to be disconnected. However, it was an interesting reminder about how much we really do depend on technology.

And, boy, do we spend a lot of time on the Internet. I mean, between the three of us and our three shared screens (desktop, laptop, and TV that plays Netflix), not to mention our two smart phones, we are almost always connected—watching something, researching something, communicating through Facebook or email or text, reading the news, checking the weather, looking up something or other just because we can…such as, does “keister” really mean “butt”? (This was Sage’s new favorite word this week.)

Yikes, listing out all this cyber-time makes us sound so DIS-connected from one another.  Honestly, we do have a lot of non-screen time in our house too. But the point is, when the World Wide Web isn’t available, it’s a noticeable loss.

Of course, with our smart phones, we weren’t entirely disconnected these couple of days. We could still communicate across the ethers, and we could still access instant information thanks to the almighty, all-knowing Google. Now… if we had lost our cell phone connection as well—ooh, that is just too scary to contemplate.

But maybe we should contemplate it.

With the upsurge in natural disasters and extreme weather events, we’d be wise to remember that technology isn’t infallible. Power can and does go out on occasion, as our friends and family affected by the hurricane in New York know all too well.

(Which reminds me, does anyone have any experience with solar chargers? I’ve been thinking that a solar-powered cell phone charger sounds like a really good idea.)

Actually, I know there's probably quite a lot I should do by way of emergency preparedness. I so admire my blogger buddy Deb over at small house, big picture, who can garden and can like nobody’s business. It is smart to stock up, and it’s responsible to plan ahead and learn some self-sufficiency. I’m seeing a New Year’s Resolution in my future….

Speaking of the future, you may have heard that some folks think there won’t be one. All this Mayan Apocalypse talk might as well be the Zombie Apocalypse, as far as I’m concerned, it’s such a ridiculous joke. (Except it’s not so funny when kids are seriously scared.) But if anyone’s worried that the end of the world might really be nigh (nigh?), they should check out this helpful factsheet from the SETI Institute.

On the real side, however, our world IS totally changing. Climate change and resource depletion and other such grave problems are leading us to one catastrophe after another, and that is truly scary. However, freaking out or wallowing in the gloom won’t help a thing. What will help is to join the movement towards a sustainable future. A great place to start is to check out Birth 2012.  This is a movement that is celebrating our potential to evolve and move out of crisis and into a new era that is healthy, sustainable, and peaceful.  Here's a short video to get you all inspired and fired up.

Anyway, I'm very glad to be connected to, and through, the Internet again-- and also glad I had the reminder not to take it for granted.  There's so much opportunity, with just a few clicks, to learn and become involved with people all over the world.  See you on the other side!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Upon further consideration...

I was right. I WAS crazy to commit to posting on my blog every single day for six weeks--and to keep it to 300 words, no less. I was right when I said you doom yourself with such rigidity. I should have listened to myself when I noted that some long-term habits are more successful when you allow for a little flexibility. So... after just one week, I think I'm bailing already.

Drat.

As for the word-count limit, that was harder than I thought it would be. The first couple of days, it was kind of fun to keep trimming and trimming unnecessary words to get down to the arbitrary limit I had set for myself. It was a nice exercise in cleaning up my writing. But, the next couple of days I started having trouble making any point at all in my blog without exceeding the limit. So, I went over. I figured no one was counting anyway. (Yesterday's post was 126 words over the limit. So sue me.)

Posting every day is also proving to be more difficult than I expected. No, strike that. I expected it to be challenging. But, it turns out it's more difficult than it's worth. I mean, I want to write. I want to write every day. And I want to post regularly. But, I also have other obligations—including sleep.

Plus, unexpected things come up that also need my attention, like a sick child (poor thing is on her second day of a fever and sore throat). Plus, we have company coming tomorrow and I should actually be cleaning right now. PLUS, I ate something tonight that gave me such a stomachache.... (If you ever wonder if it's okay to eat kale when some pieces have little brown spots on them, even though it's a brand new bag and even if you try to pick around the suspect pieces, I'd say NO. Don't chance it.)

Anyway, dear reader, I am hereby giving myself a reprieve on the silly challenge I set. I will keep writing as often as possible. But probably not every day.

And that, FYI, took me exactly 363 words to say.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yet another reason to avoid Walmart


Have you heard about the Walmart workers’ strike this Friday?  I just signed a “statement of solidarity” in support of the workers, so I won’t be shopping there the day after Thanksgiving. 

…Actually, there’s no chance I’d be shopping at Walmart this Friday anyway.  First off, I’m working on Friday.  Secondly, Walmart stores are kind of scarce in Chicago and there isn’t one anywhere near me.  Third, the whole concept of Black Friday—the greed, the mobs, the rampant consumerism—is just icky.

And, fourth, I’m not too fond of Walmart anyway.  Even though it’s been around practically forever now, I’m still mad at them for running out so many mom and pop stores and decimating small-town main streets everywhere.  Plus, it’s a depressing place.  Whenever I happen to be in one, I can’t help feeling I’m in some bizarro hospital or mental institution.  Half the people look sickly and, invariably, someone will be walking around in pajamas.  I always feel the urge to rush out of there before I catch what they have.

I sound like such a snob, don’t I?  The truth is, I end up at Walmart for the same reason everyone else.  The prices are relatively cheap (they have my favorite, and pricey, mouthwash for the lowest price I’ve found), and oftentimes, they’re the only choice around.  I’m usually there when I’m visiting my folks, and it’s the most convenient place to go get whatever I happen to need.  Damn.

Therefore, since Walmart isn’t going away, the least they can do is be fair to their workers.  (Those poor people have to be in that vast, airless, box for hours on end.) Here's the background on the strike, according to Ultraviolet:

“In October, 70 Walmart workers walked off the job, the first strike of Walmart workers in the company's 50 year history. They walked after facing retaliation--threats, suspensions, and firings--for complaints about rock-bottom wages and poor working conditions. But despite having no union and no protections, these brave workers took action.  So on Black Friday, organizers are taking the strike nationwide--to thousands of stores and the nearly one million women who work for Walmart in the U.S. An estimated 70% of Walmart's hourly workforce is women!” 

Well, even though my boycott pledge may be a little empty, I still stand with the workers.  And just maybe I’ll try harder to avoid Walmart next time I think I need something they have—at least until they treat their employees right.  If you’d like, you can sign the solidarity statement too.   

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sucker MCs


I swear, I have the quirkiest, funniest, most precious kid.  I know, ALL kids are precious and unique.  But how many nine-year-olds today listen to old-school 1980’s rap music? Sage likes all kinds of music, from Willie Nelson, to Jimi Hendrix, to Herbie Hancock, but she goes in phases.  Her latest favorite is Run-D.M.C., followed closely by The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and the Fat Boys.  For the past few months, this is the music that fills our car every morning on the way to school.  No joke.  

I’m not sure how it started, but once Sage heard this stuff—the beat box, the record scratching, the infectious rhythms—she couldn’t get enough.  And you know what?  I find myself bopping right along.  I can’t help it.  It’s fun.

Of course, Scott and I closely monitor the lyrics.  If a tune comes up on Pandora with a Parental Advisory or “explicit” warning, we quickly skip it.  For the most part, we’ve given the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” enough times to have a pretty reliably clean playlist.  Run-D.M.C. is (mostly) good:  Besides boasting about how great they can rhyme (a common theme in early rap), they actually rap about the fact that they went to college and don’t do drugs.    

Some of this music seems almost quaint now, like a lot of things from the 1980s.  And some of it, especially the predictable self-aggrandizing, quickly gets old.  Even more tiresome and annoying is the negative portrayal of girls in too many songs.  Run-D.M.C.’s “Dumb Girl” gets skipped in our car, as do some songs that might seem OK at first but, on second thought, really aren’t fit for young ears, such as “The Humpty Dance.”

All this musical editing takes some effort, but that’s okay.  I’m glad I still have some measure of control. And, I’m glad we can listen together and talk about what we’re hearing—and what we’re skipping.  Because that truly is a precious opportunity.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Black Belt Excellence

Last night, Scott, Sage, and I attended a Black Belt Promotion Ceremony at Degerberg Academy of Martial Arts.  We didn’t know any of the candidates personally, but we wanted to support Sage’s fellow students. Plus, we were curious to see what the ceremony would entail.  Boy, were we impressed.

The 24 junior candidates and eight adults each performed unique demonstrations to showcase their skills.  With rocking music, creative moves, and fun costumes, it was highly entertaining. 

Following the demos was the formal ceremony.  One by one, GrandMaster Fred Degerberg presented each student with his or her new belt.  They would remove their old belt, which an assistant then tied into a special knot.  (Tradition says this knot holds all the knowledge, “blood, sweat, and tears” that went into that belt.)  Fred took the new belt and imbued it with his chi, while other assistants rang a gong and lit a candle. Then he handed the student the belt, they tied it on; they bowed, we cheered. 

Of course, this took quite a while.  Three hours, actually.  Before the end, we whispered to Sage that it would be okay if we left.  We were in the back of the crowded, darkened room, and a few others had left already.  But no way.  Sage wanted to stay, and she was spellbound the whole time. 

In fact, that was the best part:  seeing Sage’s interest.  She’s been attending classes here fourteen months and has four knotted belts of her own.  Next month, she’ll have five when she advances to “high green.”  Sage fully intends to go all the way to black, and I believe she will.  This is great for obvious reasons:  Martial arts promotes confidence and self-discipline; teaches self-defense, strength, and poise.  But there’s another benefit, as I witnessed last night—the patient determination to keep learning.     

Now that’s inspiring.

Sage's 1st day, a year ago... She hasn't looked back since