Thursday, March 23, 2017

CONFESSIONS OF A STEP JUNKIE


Some time last fall I searched for a step counter--the kind you wear on your wrist that counts the number of steps you take in a day.

First mistake: I ordered a brand name wristband because I recognized the name. Mistake, because I didn't know enough about getting it set up--online, mind you, not here in my own home with my own two hands.

Second mistake: Didn't return the danged thing. Kept it, hoping a visit from one of my kids would release me from the first mistake by helping me do the online set-up. We worked with it for the several days of my daughter's visit--both of us getting frustrated in different degrees. When she left I told her to take it with her: get it working, trash it, sell it, give it away--just get it out of my house.

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After Christmas, when life began to get back to normal (meaning I got to my usual events like knitting with my friend every Tuesday and Thursday lunchtime), I began to think again about walking at the Y more often (walking having become a casualty of the cold weather and high winds). Talked it over with my knitting friend, and she suggested I get one like her mother's--easy to set up and use, no online syncing required. Sounded just the ticket for this dinosaur.

Forgot to ask what brand it was her mother had--looked all over the local stores for something easy-peasy--finally remembered the all-important question of brand name. Got that information. Not available in my local stores. Drove to a neighboring city--they were out. After I stopped banging my head against the wall, it occurred to my addled brain (not enough oxygen due to not enough walks at the Y) to order the thing online. I do that often--ordering, I mean--and love the convenience of having books, sweatshirts, shoes, and movies arrive at my door even on the least-clement days. Why not a step counter?

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I've had the step counter on my arm for the past three days. It counts steps (if my arms are swinging), figures how much of a mile my steps add up to, tells me how many calories I'm burning with each event (walking, sitting, sewing), tells me the total number of calories I burn in a day (sadly, usually less than I'm intaking), and provides me with time and date.

For $9.99. Plus tax. No shipping. (Yes, I got a deal.)

So the chronicle of the step counter is pretty much over. I got it. It works. I'm satisfied.

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Well, the business of being addicted to "steps" isn't over. Just a quick glance through my bookshelves shows the following:

31 days to [something or other]
5 quick ways to [whatever]
9 tips for [painting, I think it was]
7 steps on the writer's path

How-to books multiply like coat hangers in dark closets. And every single one of them, even without the telltale 31, 5, 9, or 7 is about the steps that will lead you to success in [pick your subject].

Some sly authors (or maybe their editors) hide their step-counting:
The Art of _____
The Craft of _____
Finding _____

On and on and on.

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What is it with our modern life? Do we need--really need--to have our lives laid out in boxes, and lists, and steps to follow?

Or is it something more? Like "guaranteed success"? As I scan those telltale titles, I conclude that each day/way/tip/step carries with it the unspoken promise of success. All you have to do is . . . . 

There's an aroma of snake oil about this.

Could be, though, that if you're unsure about something, reading a book or article will give you enough information to make a decision--shall I try this? Or not?


I  have to confess, I'm not very adventurous. If I want to learn a new skill--say, Portuguese knitting--I'll watch an online tutorial. Or I'll work with someone who knows how to do that, having hands-on teaching and feedback and a chance to say, "Show me that part again."

What would happen if we just . . . well, jumped right in and tried something? Some adventures might be dangerous; we can forget about those. Others imprudent or foolhardy; probably also not a good choice.

But there are some adventures that might tug at the little kernel of creativity inside us and say, "Come on, try it once. If you fail, you can try again. And again. And maybe even again."

We can read all the "Secrets of _____" or "Winning at _____"; but in the end, it comes down to doing.

I'm going to make a stab at writing a memoir--again. That's been on my personal To-Do List for some time. I've learned a few things by reading memoirs already published, and a few more things by authors who teach memoir writing and share their ideas. (Yes, another how-to book.)

And one thing I've learned: a blog is a mini memoir.

How about that?




Thursday, March 16, 2017

RIGHT-NOW PROJECTS


Some of us like to feel we've made headway on our daily or weekly or whatever-ly list of Stuff to Do. Experts tell us we need to prioritize. A favorite ploy is to assign a letter to each task on the list of Stuff. "A" means it's high priority. Under "A" you can further prioritize: A-1, A-2, A-3 . . . .

Next would come the "B" list. These aren't as critical as those on the "A" list. The "C" list would be those tasks that might get done someday.

I tried the method outlined above. It was part of the training when our office staff got our planners. By the time I left the presentation, my brain had overloaded with all the methodology.

So, now that I'm in retirement, and to make myself a semblance of order and even, perhaps, notice some headway, I've made my own method.

What experts call the "A" list, I call Right-Now Projects. These are tasks that need to be done very soon, such as prepare a meal so I can eat before 8 PM (Daylight Savings Time is messing with my dinnertime); or get to the bank before it closes, if I want to cash a check; or drive by the Post Office to mail the bill payment so it goes out today instead of tomorrow. Or finish a quilt for a birthday gift.

Every week my exercise classes go to the top of the Right-Now list on the day they're scheduled. If I don't go then, I'll have to wait another week for the class to come around again.

We all have these tasks that nag at us to get done. Or suffer the consequences--which may be light or onerous. I hate late fees, so that's a good motivator for me.

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My next list is the Soon List. Yesterday I visited the Walmart in a town 20 miles from where I live because that store still sells fabric that I can use for the baby blankets and pillow cases made by Heart & Hands. That trip has been on my Soon List for several weeks; the only thing keeping me from going Right Now was weather.

Another Soon task is returning books to the library (before they become Right-Now projects). When I do return them, I'll do some other errands at the same time: banking, post office visit.

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My "C" list is called the Whenever List. No surprise (is it?) that it includes cleaning out the garage, sorting Stuff for a church garage sale, sorting fabrics and putting them in different groups . . . .

Already, though, the garage cleaning is begging to be done for the garage sale. (The sale is to be held early in June at the home of a family in our church; proceeds go to our food pantry.) Tasks on the Whenever List in March will become Soon by late April. And if I don't get it done until May, it'll be crowding onto Right-Now.

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As I wrote about the Stuff-to-Do in my life, I got nudgings about other types of projects.

What about our relationships? Do we keep in touch with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers? Is this a Whenever project in your life? I hate to admit, it's pretty much Soon or Whenever for me.

Social media has done a lot to help folks stay in touch. For some, that's ideal. For me, it's a chore. I find ways to check up and check in that don't require me to listen to my cell phone's demanding beep.

What about community involvement? Need some suggestions? Here are a few, free for the taking:
  • serve at a soup kitchen
  • volunteer at a food pantry
  • volunteer at a hospital or school or library
  • volunteer at an animal shelter
  • offer your services to a youth group--community or church
  • knit/sew for a charity
  • be a driver for folks who no longer drive
These may be Right-Now kinds of projects for you. And if they're not "in perpetuity," remember that your one hour volunteered helps somebody. If you knit one hat or sew one blanket, one more child or adult will be kept warm.

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One big benefit of Right-Now-ness--you're in the moment. You're present, right now. 

Time/duration is immaterial. One hour reading to a child in elementary school . . . two hours at a homeless shelter . . . four hours toting Girl Scout cookies from the warehouse to the moms' SUVs . . . half a day at a marathon handing out oranges to runners. . . .

Whatever you give helps someone else. And . . . yourself as well.

Have a blessed week.





Thursday, March 9, 2017

RE-DISCOVERING YOGA


Fifteen-plus years ago I began learning yoga. 

I'd been through 18 months of cardiac rehab (no heart attack or surgery, just stressed and lazy heart muscle), and while the rehab unit offered a variety of activities to get heart rates up and all that jazz, and my health was improving, I grew tired of the same-old, same-old. The nurse in charge of the unit told us about a yoga class we might like to look into. She was herself a yoga practitioner and could attest to the well-being brought about by learning the poses and meditating.

The class was taught at the local YMCA. I visited for one session, then signed up for the class. 

Prior to my signing up, there had been two sessions per evening: one beginning, one intermediate. True to my whole life's journey, by the time I got enrolled there weren't enough students for two classes, so we all started out at the intermediate level. (I've always been thrown in at the deep end. But that's another story.)

In time I learned deep breathing techniques, how to take my body to the edge of pain but not into pain, how to ease muscles by doing opposing moves . . . on and on. Lots to learn. (Always will be.)

Through the years I managed to get to class nearly every week, with only a couple of exceptions--one was the instructor's surgery, another was my annual vacation time.

Later, when I again had heart concerns, I changed to chair yoga--a less vigorous practice, but still touching on the basics of breathing, stretching, and poses, done from a seated position; a few standing poses are often used also.

A few years ago I took a break from yoga and went instead to the tai chi class taught at our senior center. Similar but different--still the deep breathing, stretching, slow movement designed to strengthen our muscles for balance and stamina. But slightly different emphasis. Always the same goal--doing good things for our health.

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Not sure what exactly nudged me forward into yoga again (along with the tai chi). A year ago I started going to a friend's class, but that required a 20-mile drive each way, and ended up wearing me out. Driving is not a relaxation for me, especially during iffy weather. I hate giving up Maris's class--she's the most peaceful instructor I've ever known and brings her students along with her to a sense of calm. 

But winter brought cold/windy weather and snowy roads, so I looked at the new offerings at the senior center and discovered a different yoga instructor (my first one has retired), teaching both chair and floor yoga two days a week. One of the days fit into my schedule very well.


Tuesday was my first time with Maddie, a 30-something woman who loves yoga and wants us to love it also. She's enthusiastic, but not in-your-face. She knows we all have "issues" that keep us from lifting our arms or stretching from the shoulder or turning our heads in a certain direction, and she reminds us not to go too far. Pain is not a good thing.

Ten or twelve of us moved and breathed and did the best we could with what our bodies would allow. Maddie is as big as a minute; the rest of us are the size of an hour and a half, but Maddie isn't concerned about that. She wants us to experience the benefits of deep breathing; of movement we may not do every day; and of sitting in silence at the end of the class, letting our bodies and minds enjoy the quiet. (In the best ways, she's like Maris, and I'm thankful for this approach to helping my body.)

I came home from that one-hour session feeling alive and alert after a winter of little activity. My body, mind, and spirit were energized. Oxygen flowed through my veins. I move better, think more clearly, and find my spirit renewed.

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Why is it? We know what we should do, but we just don't do it.

I've been needing to get back to yoga for a long time. Why didn't I?

When I miss my early morning walk at the Y, why don't I go the next day for sure?

I recall something like this happened years ago when I was in a weight-loss program. Most of us knew what it meant to binge or go off the rails--we'd shrug and say, "Oh, well, I messed up so I might as well go all the way." And we'd eat ourselves into another 3 or 4 lbs. that would show up at the next weigh-in. 

Maybe it takes longer for some of us to learn our lessons.

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At the end of a yoga session, we place our hands in prayer position in front of our hearts. And as we come out of our meditation, we say "Namaste." Which means, the light within me sees the light within you.

May your life be lighter, your mind clearer, and your heart renewed.


Namaste.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

STRAY THOUGHTS

Tuesday I got my taxes done. When I was signing the document authorizing e-filing, I wrote 02-28-17 and said, "Good grief! Two whole months of this year are gone already."

Yesterday was March 1st. The third month of 2017 is in progress. In another 18 days or so the calendar says we'll be at the First Day of Spring. 

Yesterday was also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in many churches. Lent is a penitential season, when we examine our lives and search for ways to reconcile ourselves with God.

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The last quilt from the Christmas season is nearing completion. The final tasks are: quilting a design in the outer border; trimming away excess batting and backing; attaching the binding; attaching a label on the back to show who the quilt is for and who made it; and washing it so it will be clean and fresh for its young recipient. Oh, and taking a photo of the quilt so I can remember what it looks like--and to prove I actually did finish it!

Cutting and stitching blankets and pillow cases for the NICU continues this year. Earlier I contacted Laura, the nurse (now retired) who delivers our items to the hospital. We wanted to know if our sewing group should keep on with those projects, and if so, were there any changes they'd like. Laura's response (by text) was one of excitement and encouragement--the nurses in the NICU love the colorful blankets and pillow cases, and so do the parents who visit their little babies at risk. Our group has a good time--sewing is accompanied by coffee and treats and lots of laughter--as well as a productive one. In February we donated 31 items.

A new project--one that can be done in little bits of found time--is knitting or crocheting little red hats for the American Heart Association's "Little Hats, Big Hearts"; hats are for preemies and older babies, and are donated during February, which is Heart Month. We're gearing up for 2018 already!

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My personal 50-Book Challenge is out of control! I read 12 books in January and 18 in February. At this rate, I'll reach 50 by Easter. 

Last Sunday I played the church service--I sub when the full-time organist can't be there; a great joy for me.

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Even though February was much warmer--some days--than usual for that month,this feels like an in-between time. Not-spring. Not-winter. Too warm some days, too windy on chilly days. If you've read or seen any weather reports recently, you know there've been tornadoes, damaging thunderstorms, flooding, as well as ice and snow disasters. None of our weather has come close to those events, for which we are grateful. Makes me feel guilty for complaining about rain/wind/low temps.

The truth of it is, weather is what it is. As Mark Twain is supposed to have said, "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." As if.

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Stray thoughts . . . life goes on, despite taxes, iffy weather, disasters, and our responses to all that. Keep looking for the blessings.

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Hope you're looking forward to a good month. Keep thinking Spring. And take care if you're out and about in iffy weather.




Thursday, February 23, 2017

ARE YOU A GLEANER?

I owe thanks to CurtissAnn Matlock for the metaphor and image of "gleanings"--she often shares on her blog gleanings from her reading (which is rich and various).

The gleanings I'm interested in today are from our life experiences--what kinds of wise words or supportive philosophies or helpful hints have you gathered and used and shared?

The idea comes--in my reading--from Heather Lende, whose book Find the Good, came about because her publisher wanted her to share her experiences as a writer of obituaries--what last words did she hear from people she talked to prior to their death?

Heather Lende writes that her approach was to think of what message she herself would want to leave with her loved ones--what words did she believe would sustain them throughout their lives? She came up with: Find the good. And that became the title of her book.

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For the past 40 or more years we've been bombarded with sound bites. You remember--those little catch-phrases that attempt to summarize a huge idea in a few pithy words. No need to go into detail--the phrase brings it all to life. "Go with the flow." "Think big." "Make a difference."

Without getting too picky, I'll just say that each of those is good as far as it goes. But think about it--Go with the flow? Easy to do. Pretty soon you're not thinking on your own at all. It's all flow. And you know what they say about water--it seeks its lowest level. The flow is, sorry to say, all downhill.

Think big. Hmm. Okay. I know some folks who think big. They're no good a-tall at detail because their ideas, their projects, their visions, are above and beyond anything as mundane as the details. (And before you say it--remember, it's not only the devil who's in the details. God is also.)

Make a difference. Now that sounds like a keeper. In my thinking, the word good is implied in that sentence, as in Make a good difference. Make things better than they are. However--you knew there was a however, didn't you?--however! What if your idea of what makes a good difference isn't the same as, say, your partner's? Or your mother's? Or your best friend's? Or your neighbor's? Does "make a difference" as a working philosophy grant you the right or the obligation to change something to please yourself?

Apparently it all comes back to our basic sense of what's right, or good, or appropriate.

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Here are some that I've come up with in my search for examples:

--Be kind.
--Treat others as you want to be treated.
--Forgive and forget.
--Put yourself in the other person's place.

If you think these have a Biblical ring, you're right. In different words and phrases, you'll find them in many of the New Testament teachings. And I have no doubt they're part of the teachings of many religions.

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When it comes right down to it, all these "words to live by" are just words, right? And they'll remain just words until you seize on one (or more) and embrace that set of words for your personal approach to life.

One day you may find your chosen phrase no longer works. Nobody guarantees these are set in stone, or that they'll sustain you all your days. You change, you grow; your life takes a turn you didn't expect; you come up against a problem you thought you'd never, ever, have to face. So keep gleaning. Help is everywhere.

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Recently the president of our county board of commissioners was quoted in the newspaper about a contentious situation. His approach: "Make one step forward." The story was more involved than that, but the essence was in that one piece of advice.

I've adopted that phrase. For today, I can make one step forward. I do not look to see if I am also going to take two steps back. That is not implied in "one step forward." 

Some days, I'll make no steps at all, in any direction. But my intention is: one step forward.



Forward is forward....



Thursday, February 16, 2017

"WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?"

Remember when all grown-ups asked you this question? Depending on your age and recent experiences, you answers probably ranged far and wide.

At seven, I knew absolutely I wanted to be a teacher. That lasted several years, because I loved school, liked my teachers (well, most of them), and had a lasting identity with books and paper and pencils.

Not sure when that one began to fade into the background, but when I was in high school, I knew, absolutely, that I wanted to be a writer. The newsstand downtown carried a magazine called The Writer (still publishing, by the way), and I went every month to read a little in each issue. Sometimes I had enough extra money to buy one. Joy unbounded!

That dream was partially realized when I wrote for my high school newspaper, at least three years, and maybe even during my freshman year. I was very keen.

By the time I was a sophomore, however, I'd fallen in love with the stage, acting in one-act plays, variety shows with the choir, and eventually the junior and senior class plays. Our Thespian troupe made a trip to Chicago to see plays (memory fades here, sorry). Acting, it was absolutely plain to see, was the way to go--the actor could be absolutely anyone at all, a different person each time.

Clearly, I had a weather vane existence--if the wind blew one way, I was a writer; if another, I was an actor.

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Those were the days when boys wanted to grow up to be cowboys and firemen and girls wanted to grow up to be nurses and airline stewardesses.

A few years later, it was sports heroes, and executive secretaries. Still later--astronauts (both boys and girls), scientists of all stripes, designers, artists . . . . We all began to believe we could be anything we wanted to be. Well, why not?

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Looking back over several decades, I don't recall ever being only one thing. Does anyone?

For instance--college was intended to prepare me for a career in chemistry. Instead, I got married, had a family, and continued my interrupted studies in English and French. I did get to teach a while, but circumstances changed and I worked, instead, as a paralegal in a law office.

For instance--writing has come and gone several times. After my high school newspaper experiences, there seemed no reason to continue in journalism; instead, I concentrated on fiction writing. Short stories, novels . . . . Later, non-fiction. Essays, now a blog, memoirs for my family members. . . .

For instance--the theater never materialized, though I've acted in local amateur drama societies a few times. Instead, music became my latter-day self-expression--singing in a choir, directing a choir, playing piano and organ for churches.

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What do I want to be when I grow up? 

Not sure. There are so many possibilities! Do I have to settle for just one?

Maybe the problem is in the question--it suggests we have to choose a role to play, an occupation that will support us and our families into perpetuity. It doesn't let us try out different possibilities--the weather vane is not allowed to shift with the wind.

How about changing the question this way: What kind of person do I want to be when I grow up?

I couldn't have answered that at age 7 or 15 or 21. But I do know, now, I want to be a person who listens more than talks; who encourages others to succeed;  who forgives whatever needs to be forgiven; who shows kindness, especially to those who seldom know kindness.

That's a humongous ambition right there. Those traits have been in the making all my life and will continue forever.

Did you get to be what you wanted to when you grew up? Does it matter now? 

More important--are you still growing? I hope so!

Have a blessed week!




Thursday, February 9, 2017

I WISH I HAD A NICKEL . . .

  • for every time I hear like misused. The word like is a verb (I like spinach) and it is an adjective (dresses of like design). It can also be a preposition and a noun and an adverb. And--I'm rapidly losing faith in my Webster's Tenth--a conjunctive ("I'm like--give me a break"). It's because of this conjunctive usage that I think of misuse. But, probably, I'm totally wrong. 
  • for every time I hear "you know" injected into a sentence when there is no reason for it to show up--the pronouncement has nothing to do with my knowledge.
[Digression here--I thought we had abolished "you know" and casual uses of "like" back in the 1970s. I distinctly remember signing a petition against them.]
  • for every time I hear "Perfect!" used inappropriately in response to something I've said. Example: "What is your address?" I say, "123 Main Street." Response: "Perfect." Really? Here's Webster's take on perfect: flawless; accurate; expert; pure; total; absolute; certain; sure, et al. Don't see how my address makes it into that realm.
[The above ear-graters, I've realized, grew out of my love affair with books and writing and all things about language. I'm certainly not flawless, expert, or always certain sure about usage, but I respond to the inaccuracies I hear with a wince.]

Now for some other button-pushers:
  • for every time I lose my cool because another driver puts my and his/her life in danger
  • for every unkind thought I have about new neighbors who appear thoughtless or self-centered
  • for every conclusion I've leapt to and later discovered I was out of line
[If I got a nickel for every one of these transgressions, I'd have to run-not-walk and give it all to charity. After all, what if the lure of another nickel caused me to transgress again?]

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Suppose we dig a little deeper. Here are some that might speak to you, as well as to me:
  • for every time I pass by a person who asks for money--the bell-ringers at Christmas time come to mind
  • for every time I don't give money, any amount, to a special appeal
  • for every time I find a reason (or excuse) not to serve on a committee
  • for every time I can't donate time to a good cause
[Coins for these actions would quickly add up also.]

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After thinking about this topic and writing down some of my thoughts, I reread it. And guess what--the "wish I had a nickel" philosophy can easily perpetuate the negative.

Are there, I wondered, any good reasons for collecting nickels, even pretend ones? I think I found a few.

So here's my positive approach: I wish I had a nickel for . . .
  • every time someone called to give me good news
  • every time I got a "thinking of you" message, for no good reason, just because I was  thought of (it could be a card, an email, a letter, or a phone call)
  • every time someone did a little favor for me--a neighbor brought me produce from her garden last summer, another neighbor came over during the worst of our winter weather to ask if I was all right and if I needed anything; a friend offered to go to the store/pharmacy/post office for me if I didn't want to get out in the cold
These virtual nickels, based on the positive approach, are adding up quickly. Who knew I was so blessed?

May you be blessed as well.


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