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March 2017

Right Now . . . March 2017

And . . . here we are at the very end of March.  It looks like this:



Cold, dreary rain.

Mud.  Puddles.  Ugh.

(But.  It's not snow, and for that I am grateful.)

So.  What's happening . . . Right Now?

Watching - Basketball.  Pretty much my entire March Madness bracket is toast at this point (beginning with Villanova; I had them to win the whole dang thing!).  I think I have North Carolina in there still, but otherwise?  A bust.  As usual. I'm also looking forward to watching the new season of Grace & Frankie, although I haven't tuned in to one episode yet.  (Anyone watched it yet?  Thoughts?)

Reading - It seems like I've been reading a lot lately!  In the ears, I'm reading Little Deaths by Emma Flint.  In print, I'm reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (and, while this one is quite short, I'm moving slowly -- because it's one of those books where the writing is So Fine that I keep re-reading, and then reading parts aloud to Tom).  Other recently finished books worth mentioning include:  The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (this one was really irritating to me; I don't recommend the audiobook version -- and I'd avoid it altogether unless you're particularly fond of stream-of-consciousness writing without punctuation - à la James Joyce, but more "modern" . . . and quite a bit of fairly graphic sex); The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan (which I adored, but it won't be for everyone); and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (a whimsical, rather "lite" little story that is a bit fun and kind of like dipping your hand into a candy jar).


Stitching - (you'll notice I don't even bother to call this category "Knitting" anymore . . .)  I've been totally captivated by my Alabama Chanin wrap skirt this month.  I'm finished with the stitching and cutting portions of the project, and now just need to stitch it together.  I'm so excited -- and already planning my next project!  Despite the allure of the Alabama Chanin world, I did manage to knit one sock this month.  Pretty basic.  (I'll show you sometime.)  But. . . as so often happens, the stripe-ish yarn pooled badly in the gusset portion.  And I despise pooled yarn.  So I'm Not Thrilled.  In other news, I decided I want to try the helical knitting thing (because how cool is learning something new???), and found this (stay tuned) . . .


Listening to - Podcasts.  March has been #trypod month, where listeners are encouraged to recommend the podcasts they enjoy.  It's still March, although right at the wire . . . so here are a few I especially like: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Freakonomics Radio, The Moth, From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl, and - of course - NPR's Wait, Wait. . . Don't Tell Me.  There's a new one that just came out this week - S-Town - which seems promising, too (although so far I've only listened to the first episode).  (Also, S-Town's website is one of the most beautiful websites I've ever visited.  Worth a click!)  (I also listened to Missing Richard Simmons, which was . . . well.  A bit weird.)  How about you?  Tried a pod?  What ones do you recommend?


Drinking - YES!  Thanks to my sister, I can now enjoy wine - by the cup! - first thing in the morning.  (Does she know me, or what????)

Delighted by - A couple of little things that just make me smile every time I look at them.  First, my new coffee mug . . .


and then, my Women's March pin from Penzeys . . . 


Both of things keep me smiling -- and remembering that even though there is serious work to be done, we can still share humor and kindness and love in the world.

Gold Star - Awarded to ME . . . for not stressing about my taxes.  Here's the deal.  Every year, I do and file my taxes right around April 10.  It doesn't take me long, really, and as a former CPA (yeah . . . ) I pretty much know what I'm doing.  But.  Every year, I begin stressing in January about how I haven't done my taxes yet.  This year, I decided to drop the subterfuge.  No matter when I started the stressing, I still didn't DO my taxes until April.  This year?  I'll start stressing tomorrow.

Trying Hard - to tackle my Big Projects by spending small bits of time working on them on a regular basis.  I tend to put off my Big Projects (things like digitizing all of the old family photos . . . or a digital clean up of all my computer files . . . that kind of stuff) because I feel like I will need huge blocks of time to complete them.  And, really, that's true.  Those projects WILL take a lot of time to complete.  But . . . if I tackle them in small, 15-minute mini-chunks of time -- every day -- I will be able to get them finished!  So.  That's my plan now.  Project completion by degrees!


Blooming - Before yesterday's day-long deluge of rain, I was able to get out in the garden and find my first hellebore bloom of the season.  It gives me hope for what's to come!  (And deer don't like to eat them, by the way. . . )

Celebrating - While the main birthday hoop-la is now complete, I am still celebrating!  Right now, I'm celebrating the incredible support from all of you yesterday -- when I revealed that this birthday was a struggle for me, without my Mom.  Your words felt like hugs -- all day long.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  You all helped me get through a difficult day.  (I can't really express how much your comments meant to me.)

Coming Up - Although I tend to like March (this year it was rather challenging -- because the weather was so nasty and didn't much feel like spring at all), I'm looking forward to April.  I'm taking part in Michelle's Just Five Things workshop for the first couple of weeks in April.  (We'll see how things go, but maybe I'll share some of my experience with you.)  And (although I haven't officially signed up yet - but plan to yet today), I'm going to dive in to the #The100DayProject.  (Stay tuned.)  I'm also going to continue my quest to find BALANCE . . . by balancing my chakras and following moon phases!  Yeah . . . things are going to get interesting around here!

How about YOU?  What's going on for you . . . Right Now?


Not Quite Right

Today is my birthday.

Ever since the whole cancer thing, I really embrace and celebrate my birthday each year.  Because MORE birthdays?  That's a Good Thing! 

But . . . I'm struggling a bit with this birthday.  Not because I'm suddenly a year closer to 60.  Not because AARP keeps sending me special membership offers.  Not because my knees creak a little more each day.

It's because this is my first birthday without my Mom.

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And I didn't quite expect this.  We always celebrated my birthday together in some way -- but not usually in a big way.  So it's not like I miss specific family traditions or annual rituals or anything.

It's just . . . without my Mom, I wouldn't have a birthday.  Yet here I am, having a birthday without my Mom.

I'm still going to do my best to embrace and enjoy and celebrate my birthday today.  But I'll be doing it with a broken heart.

It's my birthday.  But it's not quite right.


Thoughts on Maintaining a Peaceful Heart While Becoming An Activist

(In other words, finding balance in crazy times!)

Back in January, during the Women's March, I really enjoyed the signs.   They were clever and funny and heartfelt.  

I also recall my overwhelming realization that they covered . . . So. Many. Issues.

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I remember just standing there, just kind of gobsmacked, that this wasn't just a march for women's issues.  Or access to health care.  Or clean water for Flint.  Or saving Planned Parenthood.  Or protecting LGBTQ rights.  Or immigration and refugee issues.  Or support for public education.  Or doing something to slow down climate change.  Or environmental protection.  Or preserving first amendment rights.


I realized it was - suddenly - about ALL THE THINGS.

Because ALL THE THINGS were at risk.

All at once.

Those signs, for me, just brought that fact home.

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I've explained here on the blog that after the shock of the election last November, I felt an overwhelming desire to . . . DO SOMETHING . . . in a way I never had in my life before.  It was like - overnight - an activist was born!  And since the inauguration in January, I have done things I never imagined I would do.

I started joining all the lists and sending all the postcards and making all the calls and reading all the news.


My approach was wearing my down.  Because I don't like being on High Alert all the time.  I've realized that I can't be an activist . . . for All The Things . . . All The Time . . . without sacrificing my internal peace.

Without losing my BALANCE.

I recently found this quote by Richard Rohr of The Center for Action & Contemplation:

                "We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action."

This gave me great pause . . . to stop and think and re-evaluate my chicken-with-her-head-cut-off approach.

Because a contemplative mind is not motivated by fear.  Or urgency.  Or my Facebook feed!  Because, well, y'know. . . that just leads to stress, a feeling of impending doom, and RE-action.  Not compassionate action.

A contemplative mind, rather, takes in the situation.  Learns about the situation.  And lines that up with personal values and goals.  In short, a contemplative mind allows for (wait for it) . . . comtemplation! 

Which is HARD.

But necessary.  Because we need to act from our best and most peaceful place.

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I'm working hard to foster a contemplative space for myself (and - trust me - some days it's much easier to do this than others).  For me, this means that every day, I try to:

  • Meditate (inviting a peaceful heart)
  • Move (working out some of my frustration)
  • Get outside (changing my environment)
  • Limit my news consumption (because overload)

It helps.

By creating space to think, I'm better able to discover and discern just what kind of compassionate action to take.  Because much as I might want to do All The Things, I simply cannot.  I need to choose.  I need to focus.  I need to take aim at specific targets.

I'm finding that having a bit more balance - between my peaceful heart and my new activist mind-set - helps me feel better, speak from the heart, and act more effectively.  By prioritizing my issues, I feel like I'll be able to DO SOMETHING in a way that keeps my values, my passions, my gifts, and my energies in better alignment.

(Balance, my friends!  Turns out it's all about balance.)

"It's not possible to save the world by trying to save it.  You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer before you can make it a better place.  Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge.  The offering of that gift - your true self - is the most you can do to love and serve the world.  And it is all the world needs."
                                                                        ---  Bill Plotkin in Soulcraft


Quiet your mind.
Discern your priorities.
Take compassionate action using your own gifts.
Find your balance.

It's the best we can do.




Out and About

Last Friday, we had the first day that's really felt like spring (well . . . since February . . . ), so I decided to take the dogs for a trail walk.

Let's just say . . . 



Although I take them out for a neighborhood walk nearly every day (which they love), our routes are completely "old hat" by now.  There just aren't very many surprises or curiousities on our walks in the neighborhood, y'know?

So they loved getting out in the woods.  On a trail.  With millions of fresh smells!  (Oh, happy day.)

It was great to be out, enjoying a beautiful spring day in the sunshine.  


We went to Asylum Lake,* which is only about a 10 minute drive from my house.  There is a trail that loops about 2.6 miles, past the lake, beside a little stream, and through a meadow.


It's very nice -- and especially with the dogs.  They really do love getting out and exploring -- although it was hard to keep them out of the water.  (Jenny plunged right into the creek, pulling JoJo -- and almost me, too -- with her.)

Best of all?  Lovely weather -- with sunshine and warm temperatures.

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There really wasn't any evidence of "spring" quite yet in the woods, but soon.  Very soon, I'm sure.


For now, it was great to just be . . . out and about . . . with my very happy dogs!


*  Asylum Lake is located on the former grounds of the Michigan State Asylum (yeah . . . ), now part of the Western Michigan University campus.

The Weekly Eye Roll

Last Tuesday, my schedule got a little messed up.  I ended up going to the gym at a completely different time of day from normal -- several hours past my usual Pilates class.  So I worked on the weight floor for a while.

It was there . . . that the idea for a new blog feature was born!

Yes.  Let me introduce you to . . . The Weekly Eye Roll.*



Last Tuesday, I was using the weight machines at my gym for an upper body strength workout.  The gym was pretty quiet - it being early afternoon and all.  But there are always Those Guys in the weight area.  And, if you spend any time at the gym, you probably know just who I'm talking about.

The Meathead Guys.  (And the Meathead Wannabes.)  (And sometimes their Groupies.)


I was working my way through the machines, and listening to an audiobook on my iPod.  Targeting my deltoids . . . and lats . . . and biceps-triceps-chest.  Doing shoulder presses and rows and curls. (Even pull ups.)  When I noticed two guys . . . about my age . . . looking, well, a little too into themselves (if you know what I mean) using the same machines as me, but a little frenetically.  As in . . . talking broadcasting to each other while quickly moving from machine to machine.

I mean, I could hear these guys broadcasting OVER the audiobook I was listening to.  (They were so distracting I actually had to give up on listening to my book.)

Then, I noticed that one of the guys was a "Grunter." Yeah.  One of those.  He grunted - loud and ostentatiously - with EVERY movement.  Every. Single. Movement.

Bicep curl . . . UHHHHHH.

Bicep curl . . . UHHHHHHHH.

Bicep curl . . . UHHHHHHHHHHH.

And then, he would throw down the grip portion of the weight machine, with his weights crashing (to loud and dramatic effect) and pace around . . . like it was some sort of Olympic effort.  A total show.

Over and over and over again.

So tiresome.

So tedious.

So stupid.


Really, guy?


What is that even about?????

(What I really, truly wanted to do?  Go over and tell the guy, "If it's that hard for you, maybe you should use lighter weights.  And do fewer reps.")

(But I didn't.)

(I'm hoping he noticed my eye rolls, though.)

Happy Friday!  Have a great weekend!


* Which probably won't actually be weekly.  Just sayin.


Looking Down

The windows in my house, for the most part, don't have window coverings.  Some are bare; while some just have light, woven blinds.

Because we live on a hill and, for the most part, neighbors and passersby can't see in.

Because I like a lot of light.

Because I like to look out.

But there's one window I don't really use much.  It looks out over the north side of my house, from high up ("3rd floor" - counting the walkout basement on that side of the house).

It used to be Brian's room.  Now it's my "art room" -- where I paint and draw and (pretty much) store all my art supplies.

The view?


My "backyard" (delineated by the fence) is an L-shape.  This view represents the short side of the L.  (The patio and my pergola and most of my garden beds are on the other side of the house -- the long side of the L.)  You can also see my neighbors' driveway.  And the street - if you look through the trees.

It's kind of a bird's eye view.

If you remember past blog posts . . . of my garden . . . that corner (that really dead-looking corner) is the newest area of my garden, and it looks pretty good when things get going.  But now?  Not so much.


When I look down on my yard from this window at this time of year, I can't help thinking about my garden and mentally creating a list of things I want to do back there. . . 

  • pruning the beautyberry down to the ground
  • figuring out what to do where the trees were cut down last fall (victims of diplodia tip blight)
  • transplanting the hostas from the front yard side of the fence to the backyard side of the fence (so the deer have less chance of munching them)
  • is there any way to create a labyrinth for walking? (probably not, because the hill is pretty steep back there)
  • maybe this is the year to finally decide on steps down the hill?


I've also decided I need to look out this window more often - especially as my garden comes to life.  Because having a bird's eye view gives an interesting perspective.  (And I can't wait to see my little redbud in the corner . . . blooming . . . from way up here!)


Today's post is part of Think Write Thursday. Click here to read other posts on today's topic, or click here to sign up to receive weekly prompts.


Curating My Collection

If you've been reading along here for a while, you know that I am a regular participant in Ali Edwards' One Little Word project.  I really like having a "word" to focus on each year, and I find it adds value to my personal development.

Ali, who also happens to be a storytelling-scrapbooker extraordinaire, provides monthly "thought-prompts" to help participants connect with their word through the year.  She also demonstrates some very creative and inventive techniques for creating a journal/scrapbook to document the process.

In my early years with OLW, I went along with the scrapbooking prompts, and created my yearly journals.  But after my first couple of words, I realized that . . . those cookie-cutter scrapbooks just weren't for me!  Ali totally encourages participants to do their own thing with regard to the OLW project.  She provides a lovely framework for participants, but she also celebrates those of us who totally go off the grid.

What do I do?  Well.  I'm a life-long journaler -- and after a few years of kicking around various ways to document my One Little Word, I've stumbled on to this . . . 


I create a "collection" of . . . well, things . . . that help me connect with my word for the year.   I usually begin with Ali's prompts and challenges, but my own word-exploration usually takes me in other directions, too.  Through the year, I end up finding poems and quotes and photos and journal entries and cards and drawings (etc.).  

I need to create a journal that will contain my "collection."

Every year (so far) I've done something a little bit different.  This year, for example, I started with a couple of pieces of decorated cardboard, a hole-punch, and a couple of binder rings.


Those binder rings?  Really handy!  They allow flexibility -- and plenty of room for inspiration.

My journal has heavy-duty dividers inside (even though I'm not quite sure what I'm "dividing" yet).  This month, I used Ali's prompt about creating vision boards to "decorate" the dividers in my journal.




What I love best about my OLW journal this year is the flexibility.  I can add anything I want; anything that inspires me to connect with my word - BALANCE.


It's like . . . I'm the curator of my own private collection!


Drawing a Line

"When you draw the lines, you make the rules."
                                        --- Karl Rove

I was always a good student.

I learned and understood the basic tenets of American government.  You know . . . we the people; separation of church and state; checks and balances.  I was well-versed in all the biggest hits of Schoolhouse Rock.  I lived through the Watergate hearings.  I listen to NPR.  I get it.  I know how things are supposed to work.


I must have totally fallen asleep at the wheel.  Because I really didn't get this gerrymandering thing.


But I'm getting it now.

And it's something we ALL should "get."  Because what happens with gerrymandering (drawing those voting district lines in a manipulative way) is, basically, this:  Politicians draw the lines . . . to benefit themselves.  Gerrymandering gives polititicians the power to choose their voters --- instead of giving voters the power to choose their politicians.

Redistricting - the process of drawing electoral district boundaries - should be a non-partisan process.  And in 12 states,* it is -- with independent or non-partisan commissions determining the boundaries.  In 5 more states,** redistricting is proposed by independent commissions, but approved by the state legislature.  Four states - Wyoming, Delaware, South Dakota, and North Dakota have low populations and only one electoral district.


In the remaining 28 states . . . the state legislatures have the authority to determine electoral districts.  And that opens the gate for gerrymandering -- the deliberate manipulation of political boundaries for electoral advantage.

Partisan domination of state legislatures and improved technology to design contiguous districts that pack opponents into as few districts as possible have led to district maps which are skewed towards one party. Consequently, many states including Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas have succeeded in reducing or effectively eliminating competition for most House seats in those states.

So.  If it feels like your elected officials aren't really paying attention to what you have to say, it's probably because gerrymandering is protecting them -- so they DON'T have to listen to what you have to say.

This . . . makes me a crazy person!  This . . . is one of the reasons I decided to join the League of Women Voters.  This . . . makes me want to Do Something.

Here in Michigan, where we have a huge gerrymandering problem, there is an active campaign to bring fairness, impartiality, and transparency back to the electoral districting process.  I've signed up to attend a "virtual town hall" meeting tomorrow night sponsored by Voters Not Politicians.  Their goal is to bring the power back to the people of Michigan through a citizen led ballot initiative. With the help of other grassroots organizations, Voters Not Politician's vision is to establish an Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission through a state constitutional amendment.

I'm going to learn what I can do to help.

And - if you happen to live in Michigan and want to join the town hall tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 22), here's more information on how to sign up.  (And if you can't make it tomorrow night, check the schedule here -- because there are going to be more events - both virtual and IRL.)

Take action!  Do Something!
Learn about the electoral districting process in your state -- and if you don't like what you learn, get involved in redistricting reform!
(Power to the people.)


Here are some great articles on redistricting and gerrymandering to wet your appetite:

From the Washington Post - This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see

From Slate - Fixing gerrymandering doesn't just make elections more fair

From NPR - Reform advocates say the real 'rigged system' is gerrymandering


* Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington

** Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia