The Best Christmas Gift

Went to the labyrinth walk this week, and, as usual, had an amazing experience.  Thought I’d share:

Crowded tonight.  Groups here from area churches, all walking around with lists of what they want to pray for.  I walked the smaller, less crowded labyrinth.  I wasn’t sure what to ask for or request, so when I picked up an Angel Card that they have available for us said “healing,” I decided it was a good place to start.  I prayed for healing: for myself, a friend with cancer who’s just now going through chemo, people I know with mental health issues, and the planet — that it find peace and healing.  I breathed that wish in and felt it sweep out to all the world.

My next card was gratitude.  “A healing practice,” I thought to myself.  I expressed gratitude for health and hair, for all my friends who put up with me, for the labyrinth, and for the crowds of people walking and praying and sniffling (a sure sign they are going deep) — and suddenly the world changed.  I FELT their prayers and their healing and I became a spirit floating through a sea of positive energy.  It felt wonderful.  I walked and smiled and was grateful.  Thank you for this gift.  Pure love — it’s the best gift there is.

Have a great week, and keep smiling.  Remember, there are things better than stuff.

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One Year Later…

This last Saturday, Dec. 8, was the one year anniversary of the end of my chemo treatment.  I felt that this was cause to celebrate (again), so the plan was to head to the beautiful Wichita Mountains and spend the day hiking.  The Wichita’s always remind me of a big kid’s handiwork with PlayDough:  big lumps of rock are smashed together to form a small mountainous area.  In that part of the country, the land is pretty flat, so you can see the mountains from quite a way.  Well, normally you can see the mountains from a long way off.  Saturday all we could see was fog.

The prediction for the day was 66 degrees and partly cloudy.  Perfect.  Oklahoma City was solidly overcast, but the Wichita’s are 1.5 hours south, and usually much warmer, so I hoped the clouds would burn off.  But not on Saturday.  The whole wildlife refuge, where the mountains are located, was socked in by heavy fog.  Fog creates a magical atmosphere.  Castles and dragons lurk at the edges creating a mystery of the unknown.  There’s a soothing hush hiking in the woods in a heavy fog.  The temperature never made it out of the mid-50’s, so it was a little brisk, but I still loved it.

Main Street, Medicine Park, OK

We hiked for a while, but then headed into Medicine Park to get something to eat.  Apparently, Medicine Park has become THE fashionable place to live — there were lots of new houses going up everywhere.  These are shots of the main street, with their wonderful little cobblestone buildings.

Main Street, Medicine Park, OK (2)

The town is so cute, they even have a library!

Lending Library, Medicine Park, OK

As for me, in the last year I have gotten a lot of my energy back and am now able to walk a couple miles without getting tired.  In fact, Steve and I have already signed up for the OKC Memorial Marathon, which will be April 28, 2013, so we’ll have to start training for longer and longer distances.  We’ll mostly walk it, but Steve isn’t content to just try and beat our previous time.  He thinks we need to run part of it too!  I also am grateful to have my hair back.  I’ve been keeping it short (SO much easier to care for!), and it is slowly remembering that it is supposed to be light brown and not gray and dark brown (where did that come from?!).  I’ve kept most of the weight off that I lost, though keeping it off is another motivation for doing a marathon.  I loved being in really good shape!

The lasting gift of a cancer diagnosis is reminding myself that while I can’t control what happens in life, I do have some control over my reaction.  I’ve realized that part of surviving an unpleasant situation is focusing on what you enjoy in other areas of your life.  I’m decluttering all aspects of my life in an effort to reconnect with that joy.  Thanks for sharing the journey with me.

Have a great week, and Keep Smiling!

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Again? Really?

It has come to my attention lately that the Christmas season is upon us.  I am NOT happy about it.  I have come to greet the Christmas season with a sense of “They’re doing it AGAIN?  Really?!  WHY?!?  This is usually followed by “Haven’t they figured out that shopping doesn’t buy happiness?”  I then shake my head, totally baffled, and resign myself to getting through another season of watching people’s false beliefs in the power of stuff, dashed dreams when more stuff doesn’t fix everything, and the resulting panic when they get the bill.

I have this theory that Christmas, as we now know it, peaked in the 1940’s-50’s with Bing Crosby and Perry Como (leaning on something, of course).  Virtually ALL of what we now think of as Christmas “tradition” came from that heady post-WWII shopping frenzy era.  We met Frosty in 1950, It’s a Wonderful Life in 1946, Rudolph in 1939, and the Grinch in 1957 (thank you Wikipedia).  And then we got stuck.  I love some of those old movies, but I’m really tired of the “More! More! More!” mantra.  Enough already!

The idea isn’t to hate Christmas.  It’s to put something more meaningful than Chia pets back into it.  Face it.  Most of us have too much crap as it is.  We don’t need the $10 Dirty Santa gift, another tie, or even more chocolate covered cherries.  We have enough.  Oh, but just imagine how much richer we would all feel if we realized it.

There are a few groups who are taking steps to help folks get a grip on this strange addiction, and offer some alternatives.  One of the more entertaining groups are Annie Leonard and the “Story of Stuff” folks, who recently came out with this fun little Black Friday video: http://www.storyofstuff.org/blackfriday/.  Their other videos are also quite educational and entertaining.

Other groups that are on to the lie of “Christmas = Stuff” include:

http://www.adventconspiracy.org/

http://buynothingchristmas.org/

http://xmasresistance.org/

http://adbusters.org/

Also, if you’d like a little fun reading that provides lots of options for how to go about celebrating Christmas in a less commercial way, check out “$100 Dollar Holiday” by Bill McKibben.

OK.  I’ll quit ranting now.

Keep smiling!

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Strides of Progress

Saturday was one of those productive, exhausting days where I made great strides of progress toward decluttering my bedroom and creating some calm.  I marched in with boxes and a plan to be ruthless.  All the excess needed to go. I had read a post on Joshua Becker’s blog (www.becomingminimalist.com) about a painless way to declutter.  He recommends throwing everything you think you can live without into a box, and storing the box for a few months.  If you need anything, you can still retrieve it, but in the meantime you get to experience minimalism and see if you like it.

I was ruthless.  I tossed.  I even threw a few things away!  I went back through drawers I’d already weeded.  I ended up with 4 boxes, 2 woven baskets, and a few pillows that needed to be stored while I developed the spine to get rid of them.  The debate was between putting them in the garage or the attic.  There were pros and cons of each, but in the end I figured there was more space in the attic.  The attic is not a finished space, but it does contain two little rooms about 3 by 6 feet where we store off-season clothes and Christmas stuff.  I hauled the boxes up the stairs, then opened the room with the clothes, thinking this would be a quick stacking job and I’d be done.  Oh, sometimes I do make myself laugh!

I was greeted by a clothes rod beginning to bend under the weight of the clothes, and a stack of under-bed storage boxes that just about filled the space!  Crap.  I stuffed some of the smaller boxes in there, then thought “No problem.  There’s a bunch of room in the Christmas closet.”  Oh, I am so funny sometimes!!  I opened it up and “What to my wonderous eyes did appear…”  but a strange metal box that has lived in the attic since I bought the place.  “How did it get in here?”  I looked at this over-stuffed site and reminded myself “Terrie, you really ARE out of control…”  I managed to get the remaining boxes into hiding, but the experience did deflate my feeling of accomplishment quite a bit.

I slunk back to the bedroom, overwhelmed and defeated, but as I entered, was greeted by two chest of drawers with nothing on them.  Aahhh…  I went a little farther in and actually peaked at my closet: space, empty shelves, orderly. Bigger aahhh…  I was feeling better about my experiment already.

I’m trying to tell myself that winter will be the perfect time to get a box down, go through it and toss.  I chuckle as I say this, knowing full well the reality is that I won’t even remember those boxes are up there — well, until I try and get my winter clothes down or put the Christmas ornaments up.  But as Scarlet always says “Tomorrow is another day.”

Keep Smiling!

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A Day of Rest

Last week, Steve and I decided we needed a day off.  No decluttering, no working on the house, no excessive anything that resembled work.  We needed a good old fashioned day of rest.   We started the day by going to Cattlemen’s Restaurant, a 108 year old establishment in “Historic Stockyards City” with a tasty breakfast buffet, followed by a trip to the zoo.  We love the zoo, and this time of year was perfect.  It was cooler but beautiful, so the animals were more active than usual; it was early, so not many people; and we didn’t have an agenda, so had plenty of time to stop and watch the animals for as long as we wanted.  The rest of the day was equally slow and restorative.

It felt like a light bulb had gone on in our heads:  this was just what we needed to restore ourselves to sanity!   I suddenly understood how a weekly dose of kindness, a time set aside just for self-care could do magical things like help me get my house more organized and clutter-free.  Instead of endless doing, I needed to occasionally stop and breathe.  Yes!  It all made sense to me!  I couldn’t wait for Sunday to roll around again so I could treat myself to another dose of this wonderful elixir.

But this Sunday brought with it a cold front.  The temperature dropped 30 degrees, it was overcast, and low pressure systems always leave me feeling drained and sluggish.  I didn’t really get going until noon, and then only slowly.  All day I would start to do something, but then stop and wonder if that was a bit too much like work.  In the end it felt like the mental equivalent of standing in a cluttered room, turning in endless circles, unsure where to start.  I watched way too much TV, and constantly felt like there was something more I should be doing.  By bedtime I felt ready to explode.

Sunday morning I finished reading “The Way of the Stars” — my third book about experiences of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  One thing the author mentioned was the difficulty people have readjusting to normal life and how jarring it feels.  I thought “I feel that way most every day!”  It reminded me a lot of why I love to walk the labyrinth or hike in the woods.  It’s a way to turn down the volume, slow down, get quiet, and listen within.  By Sunday night I realized that stopping the endless doing isn’t enough.  You need something to feed the soul as well, whether it’s activities you enjoy that make you smile, or more meditative things that help you shut up and listen.  Sometimes it feels like I have forgotten how to play or relax, but it’s a worthy cause and I plan to practice again next week.

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Contrasts

Last week was a study in contrasts.  At work, I have a cart that carries all the tape and glue and notebooks I need for my job.  I’ve been pretty good about keeping the top of the cart cleared off so that it is available for whatever I am working on at the moment.  So it struck me as a little odd that lately it seemed to be constantly piled with donated books to review, items to be weeded, and misc. junk.  What happened?  We finally got our house cleaned up and have been good about keeping it that way, and now I’m cluttered at work?!

Then, on Wednesday I read a book on blending and juicing that said to try it for a week and see if you feel better. So Thursday morning I hauled out the blender and tried it out.  I’ve done it every day since (green drinks actually taste better than they look!).  But what I noticed is that my intake of things like popcorn balls (a personal weakness) also increased.  Wait.  What’s going on here?

It finally struck me that this was not a random occurrence.  I was seeing a pattern that was beginning to look like one of those cartoon characters who gets pounded into the ground by a rubber mallet and just pops up somewhere else!  My clutter was doing the same thing.  Clutter it seems is not about stuff or diet or time or negative thinking.  It’s a means of distracting ourselves from who we really are and what we really need to do.

I got a good look at this over the weekend.  Whether this was green drink-induced or what, I don’t know, but I had a ton of energy and a very long to-do list.  I was so overwhelmed by all that needed to be done that at first I couldn’t do anything.  Finally, I got myself to focus on one thing.  Focusing calmed me down.  Then I did the next thing, and the next, etc.  But the thought I had in the middle of my productivity was “What might I do if I wasn’t always chasing the next item on my list?”  I didn’t stay there long enough to actually attempt to answer it, but I did finally recognize that the question addressed my true motivation for wanting to minimize.

Seeing my clutter suddenly pop up in other areas of my life made me realize how frightening I must find the prospect of answering my question.  When all the excuses are stripped away, what, or more accurately, who is left?  As I’ve said for years, awareness is your friend.  I’m finding that the easiest way to deal with those unpleasant insights or fears is to just feel them, sit with them, and try not to judge them.  I don’t know where the fear comes from, but then I don’t know why some people are afraid to retire while others hate broccoli!  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  I’m just glad I reached a point where I can ask the question, notice the reaction, and not run away.

Have a great week and keep smiling!

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Room of Lost Dreams

We have company coming to stay with us this weekend.  We’ve known for a couple months this person was coming.  So, we’ve slowly been taking the plants off the porch, cutting back the sweet potato vine that ate Cincinnati, straightening piles, and weeding out an occasional bit of formerly valued items (aka. Crap).  My main goal was “Does it look OK from the front door?”

Recently I learned they would be spending the night.  They will be sleeping in a room frequented by cats, so that means lots of fur that needed to be rounded up and off of every surface.  As the weekend approached, the level of fanaticism around our house also increased.  We each had our quirks: Steve suddenly needed to paint the workshop, while I began trying a new method of mulching the front bed.  While Steve managed to paint on the hottest day this fall, I mulched on the coldest, finishing by porch light in 40 degree temps with a brisk north wind.

Eventually we both focused on the inside of the house.  When I found myself slinging papers, old plaques, and other items into a box so I could get them out of sight, I did have to ask myself “What IS this crap and WHY am I keeping it?!”   After one of these binges, we both quietly sat in the room, lost in our thoughts.  “I am totally overwhelmed by this room,” I told Steve. On the surface it looks neat, but at some level it drives me crazy. I sometimes think of it as the “Room of Lost Dreams.”  It’s where all things are possible: vacations I might enjoy, hobbies I might try, projects I might finish.  It is literally a “might-y” room.

Recently, I have been craving fresh salads.  I want fresh, crunchy, light, and raw. I want a juicer.  I want every meal to include a few grapes, a side of crudities or a small salad.  Our bodies could benefit from the enzymes, but it feels like my soul needs the light touch vegetables provide.  Suddenly it felt like all the food I eat seemed heavy and weighs me down.  As I pondered this in my journal, I realized it was the same feeling as the Room of Lost Dreams.  I need to lighten the load that keeps me in the past so I’ll have enough energy and enthusiasm to move forward.  On many levels, it seems, it is time to lighten up: practice gratitude, say thank you, remember to smile, eat your veggies, and live the lost dreams or let them go.

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