Seeing With New Eyes

Today - February 4 - is a very special anniversary for me. On February 4, 2009 - 12 years ago! - I walked out of my final chemo treatment. I was weak. Exhausted. Bald. I was happy. Thrilled, actually. But also completely unmoored and really freaked out. All of the people in my life were ready to celebrate and move on. I was done. I finished! I had "beaten cancer."

But that's really not quite how it feels.


(The "selfie project" continues. Me, now.) (My eyebrows never did really grow back right.)

Sure. I wanted to celebrate not having to go through another chemo treatment. But . . . while I was having chemo, I was actively Doing Something to combat my lymphoma. Medical people were constantly checking my blood and scanning my body and examining me. After chemo? That checking-in process would slow way down. I was untethered. On my own. In remission . . . but so unstable. It's a weird place to be. I asked my oncologist, "So now what do I do?" Her answer? "You go live your life!"

But . . . what life?

Because my old, before-cancer life was gone. I mean, I still had my family and my home and my responsibilities. But in the space of my 4-month treatment (and the long, 7-month trek to getting a diagnosis in the first place), EVERYTHING had actually changed for me. I just wasn't the same person anymore.

Not even close!


Within days of that last chemo session, I got my hands on a great book - Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer. It was just what I needed at the time. The book is designed to help cancer survivors make sense of/understand the complexities of life after treatment, after cancer. It helps readers use their cancer and treatment experiences as catalysts for personal transition and growth.

"Many people with cancer come to divide their lives in half: before and after. You are never the same again."
   --- quote from Sandra, a cancer survivor highlighted in  Picking Up the Pieces

Those months immediately following the end of my chemo treatment were . . . ground-shifting. I needed to find myself again. I needed to figure out who I was now that that I'd come out the other side of a cancer diagnosis (especially . . . not knowing at the time how things would unfold for me, going forward). I needed to become my new, post-cancer self. Who would I be? How would I live? What would my "new normal" look like?

It was a process. I AM different. It's hard to see it so much anymore . . . because it's been nearly 13 years since I first noticed something was "wrong," and now the "new me" is just "me." But I'm definitely different! I see life differently. I've got a completely different set of friends. I think about life - and death - differently. I take bigger risks. I'm more open. I share my life differently. 

Basically . . . I see with new eyes.
Completely different eyes.


Ever since the earliest days of the pandemic, I've felt that there are parallels between the life-after-chemo and life-after-Covid realms. Of course, it's different . . . because, first, it's a communal experience with Covid - we're ALL going through it. And most of us are not living through Covid as a brush-with-death kind of experience (although far too many of us ARE), but all of us are dividing our lives into the Before Times and the Now Times (just like the quote I shared above). And we will never be quite the same again. The past year has been ground-shifting for all of us. Our "normal" lives have disappeared. We will not be the same people on the other side of this experience -- and most of us are seeing everything with new eyes.

At the end of the year, when I was sharing my year-in-review, I talked about the "silver linings" of a year lived in isolation. A lot of you shared your own silver linings, and your hopes that we might be able to incorporate some of the positive things we've learned and experienced into our post-pandemic lives.

Me, too.

This week, I pulled Picking Up the Pieces down from my bookshelf again. And I dug out my journal from 2009, too (the photos in this post are of my journal pages in the weeks immediately following my final chemo treatment). I'm going to take a look at the steps I went through, post-chemo, to carve out a "new normal" for myself; to review just how I came to discover my SELF again after that experience. I'm thinking . . . there are lessons there to be learned and applied to the post-pandemic world I'll be (we'll all be) navigating.

"We can choose to be bitter, angry, and depressed; indeed, many people do, without even realizing it. Or we can learn strategies that will develop our stamina, give us a robust attitude towards change, and teach us the flexibility that is necessary for swimming with the ebb and flow of life's currents."
 --- from Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer

Back in February 2009, I committed to living with . . . stamina, flexibility, and a robust attitude.
I want to do that again, here in 2021!

I'm planning to share some of my thoughts and "process" here on the blog once in a while. I thought maybe you might be interested, too . . . as we all pick up the pieces and put them back together in a new way in a post-pandemic world.

It's time for seeing with new eyes!


The Color of Gratitude

Last week I pulled a new card from my Sacred Invitations card deck. . . 


You might remember . . . last November, I was writing quite a bit about gratitude here on my blog.  Specifically, I was talking about my efforts to notice, record, and acknowledge gratitude in my life.


Back in November, I did a lot of reading about the benefits of developing a regular gratitude "practice" and the power of writing gratitude lists (which I had done before -- but always on a rather hit-and-miss basis).  I found a lot of quotes, I read some great essays, and I was more committed than ever to gratitude as a daily practice.


Although I'm a lifelong journal-er, I have never had much success in keeping a long-running, written gratitude list.  While I think about the things I'm grateful for every day, I have never been particularly inspired to write them down in an actual list (and I have tried . . . many times). 

But after all my research, I decided to give it a try again.  I jump-started it by creating a more "artful" list in November.  I used a piece of illustration board, and created a spiral of gratitude.  I used my watercolor pencils and a water brush to "paint" it, and once I was finished with my list, I included some quotes and poems about gratitude on the margins.

It was fun and colorful and kept me interested and engaged . . . while focusing every day on gratitude.


But once the holidays were over, and the dark and dreary days of winter set in, I was - once again - less inspired.  I continued to think about gratitude every day.  I created daily lists in my head.  I just couldn't quite figure out a way to be inspired about writing them down!  

Since I had tried keeping special gratitude journals in the past - without much success (I think it was the structure that did me in) - I decided to try other options.  First, I decided to just keep it simple by recording my gratitude list as part of my daily journal writing.  (But I found I missed seeing my gratitude in its altogether-ness.)  

Next, I tried a "gratitude jar" where I added a brief gratitude note each day.  (But that felt cluttered and cumbersome to me.  Besides, the jar always seemed to be in the way on my desk.)  

Finally, I thought back to what I had liked so much about my November list.  I wanted to figure out just what it was that had me looking forward to writing my list each day.  And then I realized . . . it was the creativity and the COLOR!


And then . . . inspiration hit!  Last year, Carole sent me a special journal with coloring doodles built right in to the pages.  I decided to use that color journal to keep track of my daily gratitude lists -- using brightly colored ink. 

So far, it's working!  Now I look forward to grabbing my pens and my journal every day to jot down my lists -- and do a little color-doodling, too.  And to avoid the structure problems that plagued me with gratitude journals in the past, I've decided not to date my lists, and to just let them flow without regard to a certain number of items.  Some days I write long lists, and some days I write short lists.

But one thing is consistent:  my gratitude lists are full of COLOR!


How about you?  Do you keep a gratitude list?  And if you do, what form do you keep it in?


Keeping Track

As I have mentioned in the past, I am a record-keeper.  I have been journaling since I received my very first diary (one of those little lock-and-key numbers) for my 10th birthday.

Up north, here at our cottage, I've been keeping journals to record our up-north-adventures since we first built the place -- back in 1998!


These journals are a treasure-trove of information now, and we find ourselves dipping in every once in a while -- especially if we want to find the exterior dimensions of the cottage . . . or to remember what year we added the shed . . . or bought the pontoon boat . . .  or to look up who it was that we hired to take down a dead tree near the house.

It's also fun to look back and read the details of what the kids did as they grew up at the cottage (because Erin had just finished 2nd grade and Brian was still in preschool our first summer up here) and how things evolved over the summers.  My journals keep track of wildlife sightings, special guests, fishing trends, and life changes.

Although I still keep an up-north journal, I don't update the details of each of our trips up like I once did.  Things up here have settled into a . . . sameness . . . now -- and it would get a bit too repetitive if I wrote about each visit in detail like I used to.  I imagine, though, that I'll always maintain a cottage-journal in some form or another.

As I was looking back at my old journals this week, I found another kind of journal tucked in with the rest . . .


Back in June of 2000 (I know because I looked it up in my cottage journal!), Erin and I used to take walks in the woods surrounding our cottage to find wildflowers.  I was only beginning my gardening adventures back then, and didn't know much about wildflowers.  We would go out in search of whatever was blooming, collect a few specimens, and then look them up in our trusty wildflower guides.  (The internet wasn't A Thing yet, so we relied totally on our guides.)


As we got more interested in wildflowers, we started drying and pressing our best specimen plants to create a "journal" of our wildflowers.


It was quite a project.  We completed the journal over the course of that up-north-season; filling the entire book with flowers and leaves and even a few pressed berries.  Erin even used it for a school nature project somewhere along the way.

I haven't looked at it in years, but it was fun to stumble across the journal and . . . remember.  I'm actually surprised at how complete it is; and how well it's held up over time.  The colors, though?  Totally faded.  

I still take walks and look at the wildflowers whenever I'm up north.  Sadly, there aren't as many.  Our lake association has taken to mowing the roadsides these days.  I'm not exactly sure why, but I imagine it appeals to the same folks up here who plant grass and try to create lawns (in the woods) (I know).  I don't pick any of the wildflowers any more -- mostly because I want them all to seed the roadsides.

But also because these days, I can "collect" them this way:


(From top to bottom:  Queen Anne's Lace, Bull Thistle, St. John's Wort, Moth Mullein, Ironweed, Common Evening Primrose)

Collecting and documenting is certainly much easier these days, thanks to smartphones and the internet.  It's fun to look back over your memories -- no matter how they're recorded!



Organizing . . . with a Bullet

Ever since my college days, I have kept myself organized with a day planner/calendar/to-do list/note-taking system . . . of one sort -- or another.

Really, it's the only way I've kept myself on top of things -- and sane.

At first (back in college and pre-computer, for example), analog systems were the ONLY way to keep life in order.  I developed a system for myself . . . color coding, stickers, post-it note lists.  It worked for me.

Over the years, I tried various systems, always looking for the one that would suit all my needs.  Perfectly.




Planner Pad

I tried them all.  Ultimately, I settled on the Planner Pad -- and I used it for a decade or more -- with a couple of breaks to try online systems -- Palm Pilot, Outlook (back when I worked in an office), Google Calendar, and the iPhone/iMac Apple calendar system. 

Turns out, I just prefer analog systems.  I like keeping my calendar in pencil.  I like writing lists -- and crossing things off.  I like being able save lists and reminders and notes in an actual calendar -- with an actual paper clip.  I like post-it notes.  I like highlighting.  I like being able to jot things down on the fly.

The biggest problem?  Finding an analog planner system that could work for me right out of the box!  (Because, really.  It didn't exist.)

I had my preferred calendar system, sure.  But it was a bastardized mess of paper-clipped sub-calendars for meal planning, project planning, blog posting, habit-tracking, lists of books-to-read/movies-to-watch/orders-I'd-placed, holiday plans, billable hours, travel plans, garden journal, goals and intentions.  Interesting, sure.  But not completely functional.

A couple of years ago, I heard about the Bullet Journal system -- and I knew right away it was for me.  You start with a blank notebook -- and make up your own system.  Completely flexible.  Never boxed in by a pre-existing calendar or format.  Plenty of room for notes and multiple lists and don't-forget-this-or-that.

I was sold!

I tried it last year.

I couldn't make it work.  

Turns out, I was trying too hard to make it "look nice." (Because there are blogs and Pinterest boards and Facebook groups and #hastags with these incredible, artful bullet journals out there.)  I gave up -- and returned to my bastardized Planner Pad system.

This year, though, I decided to give the Bullet Journal a try once again.  (Because, really.  Perfect for me!)


I got a plain, old Moleskine notebook, some monthly sticker tabs, and . . . just started with January.

I gave up on trying to make it artful. (I have art journals for that.)

I gave up on trying to make it perfect. (I can change things on the fly if it doesn't quite work.)

I gave up on trying to make it color-coordinated.  (And I bought some Wite-Out.)

And, y'know?  It's working for me!

I developed a monthly calendar that looks like no monthly calendar I've ever seen!


I came up with a daily/weekly "spread" that allows me to plan each day just the way I need to work.


I've developed a montly habit-tracker that works perfectly for me.


I can track my billable hours and my volunteer hours . . . in the same space I plan my blog posts and menu plans.  I can create lists -- or paste in post-it notes -- or tape in lists I cut out.


I track what's happening in my garden with simple, old-school monthly calendars taped right in to the pages.


It's ugly.

But amazing.

And it works!

If you've been thinking of giving the Bullet Journal system a try -- I'm here to encourage you.  (Because it really is pretty cool.)  If you want to make it "perfect" -- you'll be able to find plenty of resources to help you do that.  But I'm here to encourage you to . . . just let it fly!  

Now that I'm in Month 4 of my Bullet Journal experience . . . I can tell you it's the best organizing system I've ever tried!

(And, pretty much, I've tried them all!)

Right Now - January 2016

Of all the months, I think you are my least favorite.  
Dark.  Cold.  Bleak.  
And really, really long.

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The daylight is getting longer, though.  I'm even starting to notice.

Here's what's happening for me. . . Right Now:

Watching - My Oscar-nominated-movie-watching binge is nearly complete.  Bridge of Spies will be available on DVD next week.  (We missed that one when it was in the theaters last fall.)  That leaves me with Mad Max: Fury Road.  Tom has already seen it, so I'll be watching by myself.  (Keith received this movie as a Christmas gift, and everyone -- except me -- watched it during the holidays.  If I had known it was an Oscar-contender, I would've suffered through it then.  As it is . . . well, I need to watch now.)  For the record, my favorite this year is Spotlight, followed by The Big Short.


Reading - I'm sort of at a reading low-point right now.  I'm reading H is for Hawk . . . and really not liking it very much.  (Very disjointed and kind of whiney . . . and as much as I like birds of prey, I'm not so sure how I feel about falconry.)  Also reading Last Friends, the final novel in the Old Filth trilogy.  (Unfortunately, it's the weakest of the three.)  I'm also avoiding reading my book group selection for the month, as it doesn't appeal to me in any way.  (Maybe I'll just show up and drink the wine this month.)  (It happens.)  On the upside . . . I read The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra.  Wow.  This was the best book I've read in a very long time, and - even though it's only January - might end up as the best of the year for me.

Knitting - I am still c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g along on my Henley with a Twist sweater.  (I only have the front to complete, and I've got a good start.)  (So slow, though.  Tiny yarn.  Small needles.  And bitsy cables -- every 8th row.)    I did knit two pair of Trip Mitts (one for me; one for my niece).  Such a perfect palate-cleanser.  And I am ready to Bang Out a Sweater next week (ha!) in the Mason Dixon Knitting Stopover KAL.  (Don't hold your breath.)  (But I really need a WIN here.)


Listening to - Guided meditations.  While some are just too corny for words not to my taste, others are perfect and really add to my daily meditation practice.

Dreading - This happens every year at this time.  My yoga instructor goes to Mexico for the month of February.  (And this year, she actually added the last week in January.)  I hate this.  Because I am not so fond of the sub.

FullSizeRender 49

Drinking - Peppermint tea.  Every afternoon.

Planning - My Month-of-Letters strategy.  (Remember, if you'd like to receive a letter from me in February, please see the sidebar to email me your address.)

Humming - (I blame Carole.)  (Said with much love.)


Itching to - Bang Out a Sweater!  (Because lemming.) 

Organizing - Myself . . . using a Bullet Journal.  I've been intrigued by this way of journaling/calendar-ing for years -- and decided to try it (in earnest) this year.  So far, so good.  (Maybe I'll blog about it soon.)

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Delighted by - My grocery store amaryllis.  This is my second set of blooms.  (Not bad for $10.)

Needing to - Get a load of stuff to Goodwill.  I'm Very Good at sorting and deciding; not so good about getting it in my car to drop it off.


Enjoying - My watercolor class.  But  So hard!  I need so much practice.  I waste so much watercolor paper.  (Fun.  But very humbling.)

Looking Forward To - My sister and I just booked our next trip!  This summer:  Scotland and Ireland.  It's a long way off -- but so cheering to think about.

Celebrating - The end of January.  So long.  So dark.  And even though February is much the same, it is short.  And has chocolate in the middle.

How about YOU?  What's happening for you . . . right now?



Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come.
  --- Alfred Lord Tennyson


I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but I do like to take some time at the end of each year to kind of . . . take stock . . . and think about the year to come.  I usually set some goals for myself (which are not really the same thing as resolutions at all), and I always come up with a list of two-word intentions for the new year.

Here's my list for 2016:

Dive in.

Look again.

Be present.

Onward, upward.

Bold strokes.

Cultivate courage.

Nourish friendship.

Stitch together.

Keep swimming.

Live in color.

Here's to 2016!  I have a feeling it's going to be a very interesting year.

Right Now - April 2015

April . . .  always a mixed bag.  You just never know what April will bring.  Crazy weather, for sure.  But the beginnings of True Spring . . . with added sunlight and generally warming temperatures.  By the end, April kind of looks like this . . . and I'm thrilled.


Here's what's happening for me . . . RIGHT NOW!

WATCHING . . .  PBS.  Wolf Hall - loved the book; love the series, and Call the Midwife - still charming, although getting a tad routine.  (Where is Chummy???? Did I miss something???  Is she coming back?  Sort of like Sister Mary Cynthia?)  (Just found this. . . she'll be back.)


KNITTING . . . Plugging away on Romi's Mystery Shawl.  (That's it, up there.  I'm sorry if you didn't want to see a spoiler.  But I blurred it, so it's still kind of . . . mysterious.  Besides, there's only one more clue and then it'll be out there anyway.)  I'm not really sold on that middle stripe thing yet.  At all.  But will have to wait to see how it looks blocked and finished.  When I'm not (constantly) knitting on that (to keep up with the clues), I've cast on for this sweater.  So far, so good.  (But I haven't gotten very far at all.)

LISTENING . . . Kinda been in a John Mayer mood lately . . . 


DRINKING . . . More water!  I'm trying to stay a bit more hydrated.

DREADING . . . An upcoming committee commitment that is just . . . well.  Kind of lame.  


REGRETTING . . . Too much too soon, apparently.  A bit of three-steps-forward-one-step-back, so . . . a return to the ice bag.

PLANNING . . . I am planning my "attack" on the last - and hardest - of my Kon-Mari purge zones: my knitting/sewing room, my boxes of "memorabilia," and photographs.  I think a re-read of certain sections of my Kon-Mari "bible" are in order, but I'm nearly ready to DIG IN!

HUMMING . . . A catchy little Weezer tune.


ITCHING TO . . . Sit out on the patio every evening, under my bistro lights, with a glass of wine and something to read.

ORGANIZING . . . All the garden things!


DELIGHTED BY . . . My drawing class.  Why a drawing class?  Because I really want to take a printmaking class.  And maybe a watercolor class.  And "Drawing I" is a prerequisite. So . . . here I am, dusting off the cobwebs (because the last time I took a drawing class was back in college) and - surprise - having a great time!

NEEDING TO . . . Clear off the kitchen island for Tom's return.  (I tend to set out my "projects" on the island when he's away, but never when he's at home.)


ENJOYING . . .  A new morning routine that includes meditation, yoga, and regular journaling.  Sure, I have to get out of bed a bit earlier, but totally worth it!

CELEBRATING . . . An end to physical therapy.  Tom's return this weekend.  My dad's birthday.  And Spring!

How about YOU?  What's going on for you . . . RIGHT NOW?


Always With Me

As I explained last week, I'm letting my "inner artist" come to the surface this year as I explore my creative self with Carla Sonheim and Lynn Whipple's online Spark class.  So far, I've had a lot of fun trying some new things . . . and letting myself go WAY out of my usual "box."

But it has been a little more challenging than I thought.  And not because of the art-making.

Right off the bat, I encountered inner resistance.

You can't draw.
These people are REAL artists.
Who do you think you are?

I like to think of myself as a fairly confident woman.  I pretty much do what I want, say what I think, and step boldly.  I don't like to think of myself as . . . someone who can't.  

When that Inner Critic whispers in my ear, it makes me feel like . . . Junior High.

So I decided to . . . go there . . . into the belly-of-the-beast.  I decided to explore this Inner Critic of mine and see just what all the fuss is about.

First, I decided to just draw it.

  Inner Critic

Turns out . . .

It's a She.
And she looks like a cardboard cut-out.

Next, I used words to describe her.

"My Inner Critic . . . is blonde and has blue eyes.  She looks perfect.  But she is Not Nice.  (She judges.)"

"She might look pretty, but it's only on the outside.  (Inside, she's rotten.)"

"Her hands are behind her back.  (So she can cross her fingers while she lies to your face.)"

"You might think she's your friend, but then, when you've made yourself vulnerable, she'll laugh behind your back and make you feel stupid for every trying.  Or trusting."

"So then, you start to doubt yourself.  And maybe . . . you even leave yourself and become cardboard.  (Just like her.)"


Turns out I know just who my Inner Critic IS . . . and she goes right back to Junior High.

Discovering where this particular voice comes from helps me move forward.  

(In this case, drawing without judging myself so harshly.)


This simple exercise has been quite cathartic for me, actually.  My Inner Critic will probably always live there, deep in my soul.  But I can deliver some counter punches of my own now!

And that feels really good.




Random Stuff on a Friday

My blog posts this week have been rather . . . meager.  (It's a busy time of year, and I'm pretty much winging it in every corner of my life at the moment, truth be told.)  I've collected a whole-lotta-random this week, though, so I thought I'd share it all with you today.

Here goes some RANDOM on a Friday:


Tom was visiting Mumbai last week.  When he's there, he always has a driver to get him where he needs to be (and if you've ever seen traffic move in Mumbai, you'd totally understand why a driver is a necessity).  This time, Tom took a photo for me -- of this sign in his car:


(Right.  Doesn't everyone need a . . . hammer. . . in their car????) (Such luxury!)


I got a little going-away gift from the folks in my office today.  It looks like some sort of . . . handbag.  Or maybe a piccolo case.  Round.  Hard-sided.  LOTS more sparkly than the photo shows.


Any guesses????


Yep.  It's a wine-bottle-purse!  It holds one bottle of wine AND a corkscrew.  Perfectly.


Earlier this fall, I ordered my sister and I a special Venice advent calendar.


It's been great fun to open the various windows -- because it's a perfect reminder of our trip last September.  It's so cool to open a window . . . 


and say, "HEY! I saw that!!!"




It's time to sign up for One Little Word 2015 . . .


If you've been thinking about joining the One Little Word adventure, I just want to let you know that sign-ups are open for 2015.  Just click here to learn more about the year-long project -- and take advantage of a temporary class fee discount.  


And that's a wrap. . .

Happy Friday!



My Own Spin


The One Little Word prompt in May . . . is the type of prompt that makes me freak out a bit . . . and then shut myself out of the project for a while.


Yes.  The "messy art project" prompts are really just not my thing.  Too prescriptive -- but with a veneer of "creativity."  I always think it strange to combine a creative-you-can-do-anything message with a 40-minute video showing how to be-this-particular-kind-of-creative.  (Maybe that's just me, though!)*

For me, I find the painting-layering-stenciling-stamping-sticker thing to be somewhat interesting, but far too tedious for my liking.  (Clearly, I am not an "art journal" kind of person.  And I'm okay with that.)

In past years, I've left this kind of prompt alone.

This year, I decided to put my own spin on it.

I got out some tags and my stamps (I like stamps because you can make plain paper look "fancy" with little to no effort!), and in 20 minutes I did my own kind of Creative Thing.



Even though my own process was very much abbreviated and involved far fewer art materials and a whole lot less mess (as compared to the monthly video prompt), I found that the creative process was . . .



and a bit inspirational


I am . . . finding that putting my own spin on things . . . makes One Little Word less intimidating and far more meaningful!  (And I'm pretty sure that's the whole point.)


To be fair, Ali Edwards, the intrepid One Little Word leader, makes it clear at every step of the OLW process that it is BEST for participants to do their own thing.  She encourages individuality and doing what's meaningful to YOU.  She has a lot of "followers," though, who want to do exactly what she does . . . so she puts together videos and materials lists so people can do just that.  It's a flexible project, though.  Completely flexible.  And I'm finally letting myself GO MY OWN WAY.