One Little Word: Focus

Sometimes Mondays

. . . feel like the start of something new.


This year, I've decided to re-think all the ways I celebrate the holidays.   Kind of a . . .Kon-Mari of my holiday traditions.  I know it's time to let some things go -- and then, perhaps, I can make room for the new and the different.  Or just create some empty space to relax and enjoy.

And I'm kicking things off with a big Thanksgiving . . . shift.  
Because this will be the first year that none of my kids will be around my table.  In fact, this will be the first year that NO ONE (even Tom) will be around my table!  

This Thanksgiving, I'll be driving Tom to the airport  . . . so he can fly off for another fishing adventure at his favorite lodge in Patagonia.  I remember many, many months ago, when Tom was first arranging his trip, and he told me it would mean flying out on Thanksgiving Day.  My first thought was . . . (gasp) Not Thanksgiving!  But that thought only lasted about 15 seconds.  Because . . . why not?  We already knew the kids wouldn't be able to come home for Thanksgiving this year.  It would be just Tom and my dad and I anyway . . . 

So why not celebrate Thanksgiving on a different day???  We'll be celebrating with our turkey dinner tomorrow night! 

(And isn't this the perfect way to start my holiday shake-up?)

The WHY of It

This year, I chose the word FOCUS as my "one little word."  

It's been a very good word for me.  Although I haven't done even "one little prompt" from the official program, I have been thinking about focus (both in general and my own, in particular) all the time.  I've readjusted my focus, changed lenses, re-focused, taken a broader view, zoomed in . . . you name it, if it has to do with focusing, I've done it.  Or thought about it.  


Something I've discovered in my "focusing" work this year . . . is that I make better decisions when I take the time to ask myself one simple question:  WHY?

If I can build in a . . . pause . . . between the thought (of doing something, buying something, committing to something, quitting something) and my action, I can focus on what it is, exactly, that I'm doing (or undoing, or getting myself into).  By being intentional about really understanding my motives, I can make better decisions for myself.

So when I'm considering taking on a new commitment, or stepping away from an existing commitment, or making a purchase, I ask myself WHY, and then I listen to my answers.  

If I end up with more than one or two reasons that make sense to me (I really want to spend more time with that group of people, for example, or I have wanted to learn more about [insert topic here] for a long time, or I really need to replace my black cardigan), then I'm more confident that I'm making a decision close to my heart.

If, however, the only reasons I can come up for doing something seem superficial or guilt-driven (a lot of other people are doing it, for example, or I have a coupon, or I probably SHOULD do it), then I know I really need to let it go.

Simple, right?  I know.
(But somehow it took me 59 years to get to this discovery, so maybe it'll be news to you, too?

And my point in all this?

Now you'll understand why I've decided not to participate in NaBloPoMo this year.  (I asked myself WHY, and all I got was:  I've always done it.)  (So . . . nope.)  (Because FOCUS).

That's the WHY of it.




This year, I've really been working hard to create space for myself.  Not just physical space (although there has been a lot of that), but also headspace.*


For some reason, it's been a struggle to allow myself the time and space to just . . . think.  To work things out.  To mess around and play with thoughts and ideas.  It seems frivolous, somehow.  A little self-indulgent.  

But I'm feeling a strong pull to do it anyway. 

You see, I've got a few Big Ideas . . . and if I don't take some time to think them through, well, I know I'll never think them through.

So.  I hereby give myself permission!  

Who knows where this will all end up.  Maybe nowhere.  Or maybe somewhere.  But I'm going to just . . . let myself hang out kind of close to the edge for awhile.

And see.






18 in 2018: A Mid-Year Update

A couple of weeks ago, on their Happier podcast, Gretchen and Elizabeth checked in on their 18 in 2018 lists for the year.  It was interesting to hear how they're progressing, and what they've learned about their lists so far in 2018. 

You might remember that I created one of these lists for myself back in January.  I actually refer to my list at least once a month, just to see how I'm doing and to remind myself what I was hoping to accomplish this year.  


I thought it might be a good exercise for me to join Gretchen and Elizabeth with a little update of my own!  Here goes:

  1. Remove wallpaper and paint the dining room.  DONE.  (And I am over the moon with the result!)  (And, mostly, I am thrilled that I can finally remove this item from every list of goals I've made since 2003.)
  2. Plant 3 trees in the garden.  HAVEN'T STARTED YET.  (But very much planning to do; most likely in the fall.)  (Which is a very good time to plant trees, by the way.)
  3. Establish a workable daily structure and morning routine.  ACTIVELY WORKING TOWARD.  (Although I have made progress, I'm still working on the "daily" part of things.)  (I'm thinking this might be ongoing for the rest of time, actually.  Because things change all the time, and any "daily structure" needs to be flexible above all else.)
  4. Organize a "system" for photo review and storage.  ACTIVELY WORKING TOWARD.  (I have worked out a pretty good "system" for myself, but it's one of those things that is hard for me to keep up with.  )
  5. Create a wedding album for each kid.  HAVEN'T STARTED YET.  (But very much planning to complete before the end of the year.)
  6. Replace everyday dishes.  DONE.  (I got simple white dishes that look good, and are inexpensive and easy to replace as needed.)
  7. Digital re-organization complete (documents, Evernote, inbox).  ACTIVELY WORKING TOWARD.  (I have completed re-organizing my computer documents and inbox, and now I'm chipping away at my Evernote files.  I fully intend to complete this over the summer.)
  8. Do the Cooking Light 3-Day Detox.  DONE.  (And I'm thinking of doing it again.)
  9. Get Tom's website LIVE.  DONE.  (And damn proud.)  (Want to see for yourself?  Click here.)
  10. Plan trips to visit kids in CA and CO.  HAVEN'T STARTED YET.  (Will plan these trips soon, though.)
  11. Complete "Month of Letters" and maximize Postcrossing.  DONE.  (Easy-peasy -- and fun.)
  12. See all the Oscar-nominated movies.  DONE.  (And can't wait to do it again for 2019!)
  13. Hit monthly Apple Watch challenge at least 9 times.  NOT DOING/REMOVING FROM LIST.  (I was trying to include a fitness challenge for myself, but doing the random Apple Watch challenges is not an effective way for me to meet that kind of goal.  At all.)  (I've actually put a lot of thought into this -- so watch for a future blog post about . . . counting what counts . . . soon.)
  14. Finalize estate plan (wills, etc.).  DONE.  (This one feels so . . . adult.)
  15. Lunch or coffee date with a friend at least 1 time per month.  ACTIVELY WORKING TOWARD.  (This goal is fun and easy, and I'll definitely complete it by the end of the year.)   (I included it because I wanted to be very intentional about keeping in touch with local friends on the regular  -- and having this goal encourages me to take action and set things up, rather than waiting for things to emerge "organically.")
  16. Create and send monthly surprise packages to the kids.  ACTIVELY WORKING TOWARD.  (I've always been a care-package-kind-of-mom, and now that my kids are grown up and married, I see no need to stop.  I enjoy putting together little surprises for them each month, and will have no trouble completing this goal by the end of the year.)
  17. Create new path in back garden and move "puddle pond."  DONE.  (Although we didn't move the "puddle pond.")  (Originally, I thought we'd need to move the tiny pond in order to create the new path, but in the end, we didn't need to.  BONUS.)
  18. Plan/take a weekend trip to Chicago with Tom.  DONE.  (And - another BONUS - my sister came with us!)

So, out of my original 18 in 2018 goals . . . 

  • I have completed 9 items.
  • I am actively working on 5 items.
  • I haven't started (but plan to complete) 3 items.
  • And I have removed one item altogether (because it was poorly crafted from the get-go).

Not bad!  

How about you?  Did you make an 18 in 2018 list?  And, if you did, how are YOU doing?

Focus: A Mid-Year Update

(Okay.  So it's not mid-year yet, but close enough.)

Way back in January, I explained that I had chosen the word FOCUS to . . . well, focus on . . . for the year.  

I quoted Ferris Bueller.  

I told you that I wanted to focus on what I might be missing -- at what I'm not seeing -- because I've been too busy looking at what I'm already seeing.

I told you I wanted to . . . adjust my focus.


Now I'm here to report back . . . that I'm doing just that.
Adjusting my focus!

And it's kind of fascinating, actually.

Early in the year, I worked out five basic elements to . . . focus on.  (I crack myself up.)

  • Re-thinking my priorities.  (Where do I want my focus to be?)
  • Hacking away at the unessential.  (Paring down.)
  • Ending the distractions.  (Identifying my focus-pullers.)
  • Being mindful.  (Staying focused.)
  • Paying attention to the "space between." (What am I missing?)

Although I'm thinking about all five things all the time, I pretty much started at the top of the list.  And I'm working my way down.

Initially, I did a lot of thinking about how I wanted to be spending my time and living my life by setting priorities and making some hard desicions.  I'm definitely living a more streamlined life now.  I've pruned out a lot of the unessential -- commitments, activities, stuff.  I'm saying NO more often than before, but also saying YES when it makes sense.  My actions are lining up with my priorities.

Right now, I'm taking a hard look at the distractions in my life.  Initially, I thought this would be easy.  But . . . well . . . not so much!  Turns out I'm easily distracted.  I chase shiny objects, and seek out rabbit-holes.  I like daydreaming.  And going off on tangents.  But I'm definitely making progress at figuring this one out.

So, here at (nearly) mid-year, I think I'm onto something:  This FOCUS thing . . . is working!

"Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.  The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus."
                                                                                                                --- Alexander Graham Bell




Downright Pavlovian

For the last two years, I have been making an intentional and focused effort on reducing the amount of . . . stuff . . . I own.  Call it KonMari-ing or Döstädning or simple de-cluttering . . . I've been On It.

I've cleaned out my closets (multiple times).  I've reduced my personal library (by 30 banker's boxes of books).  I've cleared out my yarn stash (and I'm not done yet).  I've given away bedroom sets and kitchen supplies and linens and holiday décor and bric-a-brac.  

And I've tried to reduce the . . . stuff . . . at the source -- by curtailing what I bring IN to my house.  I've cut down on gift-exchanges.  I've reduced my shopping.  I've gotten much better at telling myself NO.  I recycle catalogs and magazines before I even bring them through the door.

There is so much less . . . stuff . . . in my house now than there was a couple of years ago.  But I still have more work to do!

And then, last week, I had a bit of an epiphany.  About shopping.  (Yes.  It's another True Confessions moment.)



So I've been a loyal Estée Lauder fan for pretty much my entire adult life.  (It's pricey -- but it works.  My skin is in great shape for a woman of my age-and-stage in life.  Just sayin.)  It all started back in the early 1980s.  When I was lured . . . by one of their free give-away deals.

You know how it works.  You spend $XX on a regular product, and they send you home with a bag of generously-sized sample products and a free-with-purchase make-up bag.  And, in Estée Lauder-land, they do this 4 times each year.  Because the products really do last a long time (a little dab'll do ya!), even a poor grad student's wife (back in the 80s) could indulge in special make-up and skin care products now and then.

The years unfolded.  I continued using the products.  I built relationships with the women at the Estée Lauder counter.  I got moved up to "preferred" status.  Now they even give me a call to let me know it's almost "free gift" time -- and I receive special passes to come in and get my "free gift" a few days before the promotion actually begins.

In other words . . . they treat me like I'm Special.

You know why?

Because I tend to buy at these promotions!  Even if I don't need anything immediately, I will pick something up to have on hand. . . and get the "free gift with purchase."  By this point, my make-up and skin care inventory is full-to-bursting.  I will use the . . . stuff . . . eventually.  But, for now, I definitely have an inventory on hand.

Yesterday I pulled out my entire inventory of EL products. This is stuff that I have on hand, but I'm not currently using. As you can see . . . plenty.

So when this quarter's promotional brochure (and "valuable coupon") showed up in my mailbox last week, I decided to skip it.
To just sit this one out.  
To simply not show up.
I'd just pop the brochure in the recycling bin on the way into the house.  
Because I don't need any products right now.

This is my current inventory of Advanced Night Repair. A great product, sure. But this amount will last me for years.

But you know what happened?


I didn't put it in the recycling bin.

I took it into the house.
And opened it.
And wrote the promotion dates on my calendar.
And pulled out the coupon-card to put in my wallet.
And started thinking about what I would buy.

And then I yelled at myself.
And put it in the recycle bin.

And pulled it again out the very next day.

And then it hit me. I have been completely conditioned (in the Pavlovian "classical conditioning" kind of way) to respond to "free gift" time by . . . buying.  Even when I don't need anything.  Even when I know that I don't need anything.

This is NUTS.
This has to STOP.

I finally did recycle the promotional brochure.  And the accompanying coupon.  And I erased the dates from my calendar.  (Because I do not NEED any Estée Lauder products right now.)  (I repeat:  I do not NEED any Estée Lauder products right now.)

This all made me realize how conditioned I am to buy . . . when I've been "trained" to buy.
At "free gift" time.
With "birthday bonuses."
Because they sent a generous coupon.
At the change of seasons.
For the holidays.
Before a vacation.
At fiber festivals.

But now I know.  I'm getting it in a whole new way.  (Thanks, Estée Lauder.)  
It's time.  
I'm going to break free of my shopping Pavolvian response!  

(Please tell me this happens to some of you, too.  When do you buy because you've been conditioned to buy?  And . . . how have you taken charge of your response?)

About Saying No

"You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no."

All my life, I have managed to get myself into things I had no business getting myself into. Things that actually made me miserable and anxious and stressed.

Would you serve. . . 
We're looking for a co-chair. . . 
Can you help. . . 
Will you sew. . . 
Can we count on you . . . 
Would you adopt . . .
Can you just look at this . . . 

Every time, I should have said NO.  Nicely.  Firmly.  With a smile.

But I didn't.  

And every time I ended up feeling bad and resentful.  I dreaded the task I'd committed to doing, and couldn't wait for whatever it was to be finished.  A drain on my time and my energy -- and a stumbling block to my doing things I actually wanted to be doing.


In my year of focus, I've decided it's time for me to really think about what I want to be doing.  Which means I need to avoid getting sucked into those things I don't want to be doing.

But this is so much harder than it sounds.  Because it's usually nice people - people we like and generally want to support - asking us to do the things we really don't want to do.  So there is a sense of obligation there.  And that not-wanting-to-disappoint thing.  And it's awkward to say no.  It's just easier to say yes, y'know?  (Just this once, you tell yourself.)  

This year, one of my goals is to learn to say no -- without feeling bad about it.

I need to be in the driver's seat of my own life.  I need to focus on the things I'm really interested and excited about.  I really need to get comfortable saying no.  I need to remind myself . . . if I can't say Hell Yeah about something, I need to say NO.

Last week, I was invited to a kick-off meeting for a very cool initiative launching here in Michigan.  The invitation sounded like a chance to learn more about the initiative, and possibly get involved in some way.  I'm very interested in voting rights, generally, so I wanted to learn more, and when I told Tom where I was going, he decided to come along.

It didn't take long for us to understand that the meeting was not quite what we thought it was going to be.  Instead of learning about the initiative and being presented with ways we might choose to get involved, it turned out to be recruitment and training for a petition drive.

Uh-oh.  I was uncomfortable right away.  My introvert alarm bells were in emergency-perimeters-have-been-breached mode.  Because asking strangers to sign a petition is a bridge too far when it comes to my personal comfort zone.  I sat there in the meeting, feeling completely pressured and mentally thinking through how I could get signatures on a petition without actually ringing any doorbells, wondering what Tom was thinking . . .  and sort of wanting to throw up.

This was definitely not a Hell Yeah thing for me.  But it clearly was for everyone else in the room!  (Pressure.  Pressure.  Pressure.)  The alarm bells in my head kept going off -- but I felt trapped; like . . . I knew I'd be going home with a clipboard and a set of petitions and a pit in my stomach.

But then Tom leaned over and said, "Is this what you thought this meeting was going to be?"

And something clicked.
Because it wasn't.  
And I didn't want to do this -- and neither did Tom.
This was not a Hell Yeah for either of us!

I took a deep breath, raised my hand, and asked if there were other ways for people to get involved.

Why, no, they said.
Right now we just need signatures, they said.

And I said . . . No.  
I'm sorry, I said.
We can't do this right now, I said. 

And then we left.

I was polite and I was nice.  We were pretty conspicuous and it felt a little weird to leave.  But we didn't come home with petitions -- and that was what really mattered.

I said no.  
(And I'm still a nice person!)



A Bit of Reframing

Today is One of Those Days when my schedule is packed with activity. 

One thing . . . 
after another thing . . . 
followed by another thing . . . 
with another thing right after that.

I'll be running around.  Away for most of the day.


When I looked at my schedule last night, I sighed a big sigh and lamented my busyness.

But, then, it occured to me. . .  

I'm in charge of my own schedule!  
I put this day together myself!

And I did a little reflecting.

So, yes.  My day today is "busy."  And I can choose to look at it that way, and feel overwhelmed and cheated, somehow, that I don't have any "time for myself."

OR . . . 

I can choose to reframe the whole thing.  After all, my schedule today is full of things I rather enjoy doing or being part of.  It's not like I've schedule unpleasant tasks or meetings with people I don't like.  

I'm choosing to see my day as "full" instead of "busy."

It feels better that way.

Full . . . not busy!
(And there's wine at the end of it, besides.)



Next Up: Adventure

Last month I told you about Jen Tulson's Sacred Invitation Deck -- a set of beautiful cards I won in a random drawing -- that I'm using as a tool in creating an "area of refuge" for myself.

The first card I chose was . . . savor.  And the card did its magical work!  Every time I glanced at it, I found myself thinking about simple things that I savored in my life (looking out the window at the snow, being able to throw a hand knit shawl over my legs when I was chilly, the smell of food cooking in the kitchen . . . that kind of thing).

I liked the savor card!  It brought me comfort and a daily gentle reminder to notice the little things.  I was in no hurry to switch it out with another.  And so it remained, sitting on my desk (in a little stand-up card holder I had stashed away in my junk drawer) for nearly a month.

Until it wasn't.

Over the weekend, it must have fallen to the floor under my desk.  And this pup . . . 


normally so well-behaved - but with a strange penchant for cardstock (and only cardstock) that she finds lying on the floor - decided to, well . . . savor it herself!


I decided, then, that the time had come for me to choose another card!  


But I'm gonna be honest here.  When I saw my new card - adventure - I was disappointed.


In the middle of February?

I mean, seriously?  Adventure . . . conjures excitement and new and plans and going somewhere.  Not . . . exactly what my life looks like right now, y'know?

But I stuck the card in the little holder on my desk anyway.  I'm going to live with it for awhile and see where it takes me.
Because hmmmm.  
You never know.


Paring Down: Another Focus Post

"Focus is a matter of deciding what things you're not going to do."
                                                            -- John Carmack

About this time of year - when my garden is somewhere under inches of snow and the temperatures barely reach freezing - I really start to think about gardening.  I dream and scheme and plan.  I get that "itch" to dig in the dirt again.  I want to look out my windows and see . . . color.

I satisfy myself with my amaryllis, here in the meantime.  But the pull of the garden is getting stronger each day.


(View from the top.  A very hard-working amaryllis putting on a most-welcome show right now.)

And it's been this way for a long time -- this pull of the garden.  

In fact, 14 years ago this pull led me to seek out the Master Gardener program.  It seemed like a natural extension of my interests at the time.  I loved to garden, and I was interested in learning more about "real" gardening and maybe even garden design.  I wanted to become a more knowledgeable gardener.  Besides, we had recently moved to Kalamazoo, and I thought it would be a great way to get to know other gardeners and connect with my new community.  (There is a strong volunteer component to the Master Gardener program.)

So I did it.  I signed up for the program.  I sat through months of horticulture lectures, did my assignments, passed the test.  I worked hard as a volunteer in gardens all around the community.  And in 2006, I became a certified Master Gardener.

Which, in turn . . . introduced me to gardening friends.  Who got me involved in "ancillary" garden groups like the Hosta Society and Garden Club.

And, of course . . . there were requirements (both educational and volunteer) to re-certifiy each year.  Which led to MORE classes and new certifications and tours and conferences and events.

And here I am.  12 years later.
And WAY overcommitted -- and grumpier every year about the time I'm NOT spending in my own garden.

Last summer, when the notion that maybe it was time to let the Master Gardener thing GO . . . first crossed my mind, I was horrified.  Because I loved the program, really.  And I have so many gardening pals who are also involved.  And I had made a huge investment of time and money and passion for so many years!

But I started shedding those ancillary groups.  (It was easy to say good-bye to the Hosta Society and the Garden Club.)  And I decided to pack my Master Gardener commitment into one of those "maybe" boxes of closet cleaning fame . . . to just see if I could live without it.  I stopped attending conferences and meetings.  I cut way back on my volunteer hours.  I unsubscribed from the email alerts and newsletters.

And I discovered I didn't miss it at all.

In fact, it made me feel free!

My gardening friends think I'm nuts to quit.  And the program director is taking it personally.  But I'm very much at peace.

The Master Gardener program was great for me when I first started out.  It "fit" me then.  I was energized and excited.  But, over the years, it's just gotten a little tight and itchy.  

It's time for me to let it go. 

And now that I've decided to let it go, I'm amazed that it was such a hard decision at all.  Why was it that my personal "investment" and a sense of obligation kept me involved . . . even when I knew my heart wasn't in it anymore?  Whatever the reason, getting rid of this huge commitment in my life will make it easier to pare down even more.

(I'm looking forward to more time in my own garden this spring, y'know?)