One Little Word: Root

Lessons From the Garden. Again.

Yep. Once again, gardening brings meaning to my One Little Word . . . 


In the spring and early summer, we were in a drought situation here in my corner of the world. It didn't snow much last winter. It didn't rain much in the spring. Everything was very, very dry. And our entire sprinkler system was messed up. I was constantly dragging hoses and watering my containers. (I even ordered/installed that plant dildo system to give my containers a fighting chance.)

And then . . . 

  • It started to rain. (A lot.)
  • Sprinkler system repairs (finally) happened.
  • The plant dildos worked.

I didn't need to water anything anywhere.

I got complacent. 
Maybe even a little lazy.
But everything was fine. Great, in fact.

Until it wasn't.
Because the weather changed again. The rain stopped. It got hot.

At first, the plants were all fine. The roots were still soaking up all the spare water in the soil, and those plant dildos were providing plenty of moisure deep down in my containers, at the roots where they really needed it. But . . . it didn't take long before the leaves let me know that it was time for more attention! I needed to turn the sprinkler system back on. I needed to check my containers every day. I needed to re-fill those wine bottles in my plants.

Which is really what gardening is all about: Paying attention to the plants and the conditions they live in . . . and providing the necessary "maintenance" to keep everything humming along and looking good. 

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And all of this . . . got me thinking about my own "roots" . . . those metaphoric roots deep in my soul.

When the "weather" of life is providing just enough of what you need, it's easy to take things for granted. That you'll always have enough "water," for example. That your "roots" will remain comfortable, happy, and well-nourished. That you can just . . . cruise along, happy as a clam, without providing any "water maintenance."

But, as we know, "weather" (real and metaphoric) can change quickly. And we don't always notice that we need some extra "watering" until we start feeling dry . . . and a little desperate, usually wondering just WHAT IS WRONG with us. So - just like in a real garden - we need to pay attention. To watch for signs of "dryness" in our own soil. To figure out just what our roots might need. Y'know . . . so we don't wither and dry up.

This month, I've been trying harder to keep my eyes on the weather -- both in my garden and in my soul.
I'm asking myself . . . 

It's important to keep those roots - both my plants' AND mine - happy and healthy.


How about you? What have you learned from your word this month?


Summer of Ease

Coming into this summer season, I really didn't know what to expect. 

Would the pandemic feel "over?" Would we be able to get out and about in more "normal," summer-y ways? Would we be able to gather with . . . people?

And . . . how would that all feel, exactly?


And then, well. Everything just kind of happened at once! All of a sudden, there are places to go. People to see. Things to do.

Life has . . . opened up . . . again.
(Don't get me wrong. You still won't find me in crowds or at a concert or anywhere there are likely to be people of questionable vaccination status, but it all does feel bigger and more wide open again, y'know?)

Right away, early in the summer, I started feeling a bit . . . itchy and sort of stressed out. I had established a routine for myself - a way to get through my days - during the pandemic. And I actually liked it; I was used to it. But, suddenly, that routine was being . . . oh, not really interrupted (although kinda). Just . . . nudged . . . in ways that didn't always feel good. I found I was clutching tighter to my established routine . . . even though I was also adding more people and unexpected - although welcome - events and options into my life. And it was creating a bit of a jumble for me. 

Clearly, I needed a shift in my approach.
And my attitude.

I needed to let things go . . . and be more spontaneous.
I needed to . . . go with the (new) flow.

It's not always easy to let things go -- especially when it's mostly (maybe even entirely) self-driven expectations and artbitrary rules. But it's so awesome when it happens. When you let your fingers stop clutching at the dock, for example, and you let go . . . and just bob along with the current.

This summer, I'm practicing spontaneity. Letting myself off the hook more than I usually do. Relaxing into this "new" reality.

I'll tell you . . . Life is easier this way.
Summer is easier.

Let go.
Find ease.
(Who knew?)


"Everything I've ever let go of has claw marks on it."
        --- David Foster Wallace

Strong Roots


Last night, we had a thunderstorm. Big thunder. Impressively loud. (JoJo cowering under the bed loud.) As I laid there in bed, listening to the rain and the thunder, I was thinking about my garden . . .

We've had a lot of rain these past few days. Like . .  a LOT of rain. Making-up-for-lost-time rain. Buckets. Of. Water. 

And yet . . . my plants stand tall.

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Even delicate plants on very long stems, like my drumstick allium (above) defy gravity and heavy rains to stand tall in my border.

How do they do that?
Well . . . ROOTS, of course!

My plants have put down strong roots deep in the ground, firmly connecting them to the earth and providing the nutrients they need to withstand whatever happens above the ground. Weather. Dogs. Sprinkler system repairs. Nature's disruptions.*

I know my own roots are like that, too.
Firmly connecting me to the earth.
Providing the nutrients I need.
Helping me withstand whatever is going on . . . above ground.


And I've got a lot going on this summer. It's all good and I'm happy about all of it. (Except tripping over Jenny this morning and doing a hard face plant into the wall. That was not so good. . . ) I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes . . . 

"I am rooted, but I flow."
        --- Virginia Woolfe

I can withstand the rain and the thunderstorms of life - the unexpected, the surprises, the things that completely throw off my schedule and force me to move in a different direction - the good, the bad, and the ugly of life - BECAUSE I have a strong and well-developed root system.

That's me!


* Drought is another thing entirely. A topic for another day. . . 


June is also the "traditional" time to reflect and review how things are going so far with our words (in Ali Edwards' One Little Word Land). I always enjoy and appreciate a good "check-in." I'll say that, overall, ROOT has been an excellent word choice for me this year, and it's been an especially perfect word as I make my way through the COVID landscape. One of the most interesting?, weird?, surprising? things about my little "look back" . . . has been my list of intentions and goals for the year. Let's just say . . . they need a mid-year overhaul! Because it's very clear that I was in a completely different place back in January. (It made me realize how much has changed since I originally put together my list of things I wanted to do.

Working on that, too.


How about you? If you chose a word for the year, how are things going for you?

Developing a Recipe

Thinking about . . . 


Mostly, we live our lives on the surface. Above the ground. That's where we see the world, interact with the world . . . and where the world sees us! 

That's not the whole story.

There's a whole lot more going on . . . under the surface. Under ground. At the root of us.


Our roots might be invisible, deep underground as they are, but they're vital to our ability to function, to thrive, to bloom in the world. We get our energy from our roots. They feed us, nourish us, help us stand tall. A healthy root system . . . is important for keeping us strong and resilient above ground. So it's really important that we pay close attention to our roots. We need to dig down and check them out from time to time (and not just when we notice signs of distress above the ground). 

Lately, I've been thinking about what I need to do . . . to help keep my roots healthy and happy.


In my garden - both indoors and out - I feed my plants with fertilizer now and again. And outdoors, in my garden, I spread compost to feed the roots and encourage strong growth. The plants? They love it! They respond with healthy growth and beautiful blooms.

I decided that my own roots - the roots of me - would probably enjoy a dose of fertilizer now and again, too. So I set out to create a Recipe for Personal Compost.

But what would be in it? What should my ingredients be???

Back in 2017, when my one-little-word was Balance, I came up with a short list of 5 "elements" that I need in my life every single day to keep myself feeling balanced and whole. The 5 things are: meditation, movement, reflection, creative expression, and time outside, and I have been on a mission to include them in my days, every day, since then. In fact, I track them each week in my planner.


When I start to feel out of balance, I can usually see it reflected in my little tracker. If just one thing doesn't get checked off for a day or two, I can really feel it. Then, I know just what to do to pull myself back into balance. 

I decided that my 5 balance elements could be the basis for my Recipe for Personal Compost. But I wanted to come up with a more complex mixture than just my "daily requirements." I wanted to include more long-lasting ingredients - things I need to have in my life often, but not necessarily every day. After all, you don't need to apply compost daily. You just need to apply it on a regular basis, often enough to keep the nutrients flowing to the roots in a steady stream. I needed to add ingredients to my recipe . . .  that would build up over time, with results that would last between compost applications.

I haven't perfected my Recipe for Personal Compost quite yet, but I'm having a great time working on it! Here are some additional ingredients I'm adding to the mix . . . things I don't need every day, but that I do need on the regular to keep my roots healthy and strong (which helps me stand tall and resilient, with vigorous growth and beautiful blooms): 

Time with my family and friends
Frequent naps
Good books
New recipes
Problems to solve
Meaningful activities I enjoy
Continual learning
Novel challenges
Travel and adventure
Time in my garden


While not quite finished, I'm well on the way to coming up with my Recipe for Personal Compost. I'm getting close!


It's a fun thing to think about. C'mon along! What do YOUR roots need . . . to be healthy and strong? What ingredients would you mix in to your own Recipe for Personal Compost?



I Blame My Mom

(Not really.) (But kinda.)
(You'll see.)

Last month over in Ali Edwards' One Little Word workshop, the prompt was all about letting go . . . of something. Or multiple somethings. These are the kinds of prompts that I generally roll my eyes at a little bit. (Okay. Maybe it's really the craft part of the prompt that I'm rolling my eyes at. Hard to tell.) But . . . they're also the kind of prompts that get me thinking.

Letting go.
Such easy words to say or type. So hard to put in practice!

Over the last decade+ I've had a enough life-changes thrown my way (a cancer diagnosis, empty-nesting, Tom's work changes, my mom's death, my own "retirement," the pandemic) that I've had a lot of practice with  . . .  letting things go. In fact, I've successfully let go of many, many (many) things. Ideas. Notions. Habits. Activities. Commitments. Plans.

But. There is one thing (and it's a big thing, actually) that is still hanging on. And it is time for me to Let. It. Go.


What is that thing, you ask?

Why . . . It's Arbitrary Rules!

And what is an Arbitrary Rule, you ask?

Well. They are rules I made up for myself. Completely made up. No one made me adopt them. (Well. Maybe my mom.) There are no "stakes" involved for these rule. And yet, for whatever reason, my arbitrary rules are Strong and Powerful. I follow my arbitrary rules To. The. Letter. I stick to my rules, damnit! 

Can you give us an example, you ask?

Sure! Here's my favorite, all-time paralyzing arbitrary rule: "You can't have fun until your work is done." (Variations on this theme include "No dessert until you eat your vegetables" and "No TV until your homework is finished.")

And, yes. Those are totally things my mom said when I was a kid. I'm not saying she was wrong. There are times when you need to buckle down and get the hard stuff done before you do the fun stuff! And there are times when you can use the fun stuff as a reward for getting through the hard stuff. But . . . carrying that arbitrary rule forward and making it a lifestyle choice? Not so good.

I mean, my mom? She was trying to instill a strong work ethic in my growing heart and soul. She was helping me learn to set priorities, and make sure I became a responsible adult who would understand the importance of getting the unpleasant-but-necessary stuff of life . . . done. And it worked. I did become a responsible citizen of the world, able to meet deadlines and make unpleasant choices and take care of the urgent tasks of life.

But there is a way to take that rule . . . too far. To give it power it does not deserve. To turn a good rule-of-thumb-for-living into a hard-and-fast arbitrary rule. The issue? It's when you substitute the word "should" for the word "work."

Here's how that arbitrary rule plays out in my life all too often:  Let's say . . . I want to play around and paint in my sketchbook (fun stuff!). But I also should clean my bathrooms (work). According to my arbitrary rule, I can't play around with my sketchbook until I've cleaned my bathroom. But I really don't want to clean my bathroom, and there is no urgent need for me to clean my bathroom . . . but . . . arbitrary rule: I must do the work before I can do the fun stuff. So I pick up my phone and scroll through Instagram instead. I don't clean my bathroom. But I also don't pick up my sketchbook.

Is this stupid-thinking?
Oh, YES.

Do I know it?

But my all-powerful arbitrary rule tells me . . . I can't do the "fun stuff" until I do the "work." Even when the work is really just a should. (This rule bites me in the butt so often I can't even believe it.)

And that's not the only arbitrary rule I have. There are so many others:
Make sure you know what you're doing before you begin.
Don't start a project if you won't be able to finish it.
Don't make a mess on the dining room table.
Always finish what you start.
Clear your plate.
Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Sure. These rules make sense in some contexts. And I know my mom didn't mean any harm in knocking them into my head. (Trust me. She lived with plenty of her own arbitrary rules  . . . ) But there you go! Deep-seated, completely arbitrary rules that have the power to paralyze me. And it's time for them to go!

In the spirit of Ali Edwards' One Little Word prompt, I'm working on letting go of my arbitrary rules.

Step one . . .  is naming them and figuring out what they are (which was much harder than you might think).

Step two . . .  is giving myself permission to ban them from my life! (I started by making visible reminder cards I can stick on my bulletin boards.)

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I'll keep you posted! But early signs are good. Figuring out what holds you back is a powerful force. (How do you think I got those overalls stitched up? I definitely had to "eat dessert first" on more than one occasion.) (And that felt great!)


How about you? Got any arbitrary rules you'd like to get rid of???



Just Under the Surface

There are big things happening in my garden right now.


Some of it is on the surface . . . where we can see it. Like these poor, nearly-laying-on-the-ground tulips in the midst of my grape hyacinths. (The result of last week's freezes.) But at this point in the garden season, most of what's happening is still under the surface . . .  at the roots.

I feel like I'm very much like my garden right now. There's a lot going on - just under the surface - for me, too. My gardening these days . . . is really happening in parallel: both in my garden-garden AND in the inner-garden of my head!

  • I'm clearing out and cleaning up. Doing some weeding. Cutting back. Looking for new growth. What can I get rid of in my gardens?
  • I'm assessing the condition of the soil, the roots, the emerging growth. Should I add more compost here? A little fertilizer there? What do my gardens need most right now, to thrive and grow and bloom in the coming season?
  • I'm making plans and figuring out my timeline. Are there things I need to move or transplant? When? Are there new things I'd like to plant? What? Do I want to make big changes . . . or just let things go on as they are?

It's a busy time out in the garden.
And in my head, too!

"We are like blossoming trees;
holding on; letting go;
rising and falling
into our weathered souls."
    -- Angie Weland-Crosby



How are things going for you . . . with your word? And in your garden?


Cultivate the Root

"Cultivate the root; the leaves and branches will take care of themselves."
            --- Confucious

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I have a love-hate relationship with houseplants.
(Oh. No. That's far too strong.)

Let's begin again: I have an off-again/on-again relationship with houseplants.
(Much better.

There have been periods of time in my life . . . when I have tended a lush, indoor jungle. And there have been other (honestly longer) periods of time when my indoor gardens . . . hmmmm . . . shall we say fail to thrive

It seems to be challenging for me to to care for the plants both IN my house and OUTSIDE my house/IN my garden . . . at the same time. And those plants outside/in my garden tend to win out every time.

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But as I was thinking about my word - root - earlier this year, back when it was deep-winter and dark and I was not feeling very hope-full and being IN my garden seemed a very long time time away, I decided to build myself an indoor garden again. I decided to follow that advice from Confucious: I'd cultivate some roots, and let the leaves and branches take care of themselves.

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Back in January, I had two very old (but hanging in there!) Christmas cactus plants, a mini jade tree, and a few amaryllis bulbs (3 new; 3 dormant that I was hoping to coax back to life). If I was going to create a new indoor garden, I was going to have to do better than that! Luckily, my favorite nursery sells houseplants in the "off season." And I signed up for a Horti membership.

And I put down some inside roots.


I love the results!

And I'm committed to cultivating the roots IN my house even as the roots OUTSIDE my house call ever louder.
(Remind me of that should you notice neglect, won't you please?)


“Gardening is the greatest tonic and therapy a human being can have. Even if you have only a tiny piece of earth, you can create something beautiful, which we all have a great need for. If we begin by respecting plants, it’s inevitable we’ll respect people.”
     — Audrey Hepburn


How about you? Do you tend an indoor garden?


At the "Root" of March, Part 2

Sometimes, our "words" . . . take us places we didn't expect to go. 

And, really, that's one of the most interesting parts of the whole "word" experience to me. I usually have some things I'm planning to explore about my word each year, but I always leave some room for . . . inspiration, too.

"Roots are not in landscape or a country or a people, they are inside you."
        --- Isabel Allende

I explained the other day that I didn't set out to explore my "roots" in that ancestry/heritage way. I really didn't. My greater family is small, and we are quite geographically dispersed. And beyond my immediate family, the rest of us are not close. I mean . . . we share happy memories of good times and family get-togethers, and we maintain "Christmas-card connections," but we're not in contact much. Besides, my family "roots" are - for the most part - already well-documented (although one branch is quite light on detail).

But then . . . I started messing around with all those photos. And my aunt died. Which got me thinking about my cousins, and all the fun we'd had together when we were young. And my sister had been nudging me for years to join her in doing the Ancestry DNA testing thing. (She did it several years ago, found the results fascinating, and wanted to compare results with me.)

I caved. 
I spit in the vial and sent it in.

Definitely not a "root" adventure I had planned to take this year, but . . . it felt like maybe it was a good thing to do just now.


And . . . when my results arrived, there were a few surprises. Not in a Dani-Shapiro-Inheritance kind of way (thankfully), but . . . a few notable differences between my results and my sister's (which is totally normal for full siblings, so not really a big deal). And there were a couple of actual surprises. Like . . . I had no idea I was Irish at all. And although I knew I was Swedish, finding out I am equally Norwegian is completely new!

Anyway. It's been a fun little "sidetrack" activity in my "root" adventure.
Sometimes it's fun to be a little curious . . . to take a side road . . . and do a little exploring!

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(My sister and I with our scruffy schnauzer, Heidi, in 1979.)


How about you? Have you ever explored your ancestry with a DNA test?

At the "Root" of March, Part 1

Ali Edwards' One Little Word March prompt almost always sends me into a bit of a tailspin, and I usually skip it entirely. She suggests that we "do something" (not necessarily connected to our words, but often inspired by our words) every day for a month. Or . . . try to.

This selecting something to "do" is really hard for me, as a Questioner (á la Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies). (Just quickly, Gretchen's framework distingushes how people tend to respond to expectations - both inner and outer. It's really fascinating. And it explains a lot. Questioners, like me, question all expectations, and will meet expectations IF they think the expectation makes sense.) So. Therein lies the problem for me. I don't have issues usually with the DOING of things I decide to do. The DOING just needs to be relevant and meaningful for me. Otherwise? Why bother?

So I struggle when someone suggests I choose something to "do" every day for X number of days. (I also have trouble with the arbitrary "X number of days" thing, but I'll just let that go for now.) So the choosing is really hard for me, unless I happen to have something already in mind that I'd like to do. 

And this year . . . I didn't.

Until I remembered something . . . BIG . . . hiding behind the closed door of a cabinet in my living room.

When my mom died four and a half years ago, and my dad downsized into an apartment, I became the Holder of All Family Photos. And they were a MESS. My mom had created a few photo albums, and those were fairly organized (although a lot of people in the older photos were not identified. . . ) (she always intended to make notes in the albums, but never did . . . ), but over the years, as other family members died, THEIR old photos ended up in my parents' closets, too. Plus . . . I uncovered shoeboxes full of mementoes and other random photos squirreled away in the deep, dark crannies of my mom's old condo. 

MESS . . . doesn't really begin to describe it. There are duplicates and triplicates and blurred faces and people even my dad can't identify. Everything all jumbled together in no meaningful way. But . . . I said, sure. I'll take care of it. It'll be fun, I said. It'll be a great project, I said. And then, completely overwhelmed, I stuck the whole mess (boxes and albums and folders crammed with photos) into the cabinet in my living room. 

And there it sits.

The guilt of the Great Photo Project pulls at me constantly. (Oh . . . the Shoulds and Oughts. They are a powerful force.)

But I knew it would take time. 
A LOT of time.
And a lot of attention.
And a strategy for sorting and scanning and saving and sharing.

And I had none of that.

Then, back in February . . . I started thinking about Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.
And that old question popped up in my brain . . .
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
(A: One bite at a time.)

I decided to . . . take a bite . . . of my Giant Elephant Photo Project.
And begin.

Using the One Little Word prompt as my springboard, I decided that my "bites" of the Elephant Project would be . . . 15 minutes every day. Which doesn't sound like much. I mean, how much could I accomplish on this enormous, elephant of a project by just spending 15 minutes every day? But that's what I needed to do. Because I clearly wasn't going to find an extra, full week (or weeks) anywhere in my life!

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I started with some research (Questioner . . . ) to help me establish a process and strategy.
I set up a digital storage system (files) on an external hard drive.
And I grabbed the first box.

15 minutes every day. 

Some days I struggled to get 10 or 12 photos scanned, identified, and stored in the proper folders. But other days, I would find my flow and spend far longer than 15 minutes on the task.

By the end of March, I'd developed a good routine and finished that box and moved on to the next. I also took everything out of that cabinet in the living room and sorted. And I developed my strategy for what happens AFTER I finish the sorting and scanning. (I usually work on The Elephant late in the afternoon, just before Tom and I meet up for a drink; it's a strategy. . . ) 


So. Good progress, then.
And I'm motivated to continue now.

And here's the funny part. Until mid-month, I never really connected that my Elephant Project . . . was also a Root Project! 

You see, I never intended my word - root - to encompass my roots as in ancestry. I mean, I'd made the connection, of course. But I never planned to go there with my word. (Besides, my family history -- with the exception of one kind of renegade branch -- has already been carefully tracked by others in my family.) 

Yet here I was, scanning my ancestors!
Connecting with my roots!

Realizing that my great-grandfather (the tall guy on the far left) . . . looked like a member of the Peaky Blinders gang! (And, really . . . this photo is from the same era in history as Peaky Blinders.) (My grandfather is the little guy in front.)

Lester Robert Harley Dean circa 1922

And seeing that my grandparents were kind of dashing and debonair, back in the mid-30s.

Harley and Mildred 1935

Agnes and Henry

And I really got a chuckle realizing that my parents . . . looked like they'd had starring roles in Little Rascals as children.



So. For the first time in the 11 years I've been following along with Ali Edwards' One Little Word March prompt . . . I found a way to make it work for me.

  • I used the prompt as a way to get myself moving on a huge and daunting project. (I AM eating that elephant.)
  • I connected with my roots, in an ancestry-kind of way.
  • And . . . it all got me thinking about the metaphor in all this. That sometimes you just have to plant yourself, deep in the dirt. And let things root. And maybe . . .  the roots will create an entire different bloom than you expected!

(But wait. There's more. Join me on Monday for the rest of the story.)


Making It Visible

When it comes to my One Little Word every year, I like to keep it close, especially as the year gets rolling along and that January-enthusiasm begins to fade. I've found that if I can keep my word visible - right in front of me - I tend to keep it in mind, too.

Every year, I try to find some tangible symbol of my word that I can have out every day. Something I'll see. Some visual reminder of my word.

Sometimes it's just a little tchotchke that reminds me of my word. Like this inexpensive globe I picked up at World Market in 2015 . . . the year my word was journey. It still sits on a shelf in my house. Not as a fine art object, but to remind me to step out and put on my "explorer hat" whenever I can.


Sometimes it's a piece of jewelry. Like this miniature cairn necklace I wore all the time in 2017, when my word was balance. I still get it out and put it on whenever I'm feeling a little . . . tippy. It reminds me that balance is precarious, but worth striving for.

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Sometimes it's something inscribed with a quote relating to my word. Like this little "junk-collector" (because that's what it does) back in 2016 when my word was risk. It sits on my desk even now (still collecting bits and bobs), reminding me to step out. Because I can do hard things.


And sometimes it's the word itself. Like this little plaque I found in 2014, when my word was possibility. While certainly more on-the-nose than some of the other things, it always reminds me that bright possibilities are out there, waiting for me.


So . . . what did I choose for my visual symbol this year? 

Well. My word is root. And I keep thinking of . . . trees. Rooted in the ground, but able to bend and move above ground. Strong. Capable. Sure. Vulnerable. So I wanted a tree - with visible roots - for my symbol this year. And I found this cool thing . . . 

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The fact that it's built on a base of amethyst is pretty cool, too. (Because who doesn't need a little amethyst in their life . . . to help reduce negative vibrations, clear the mind of clutter, and . . . prevent intoxication, right?) I keep my tree-crystal on my meditation table, where I'm sure to see it every day. 

A visual reminder . . . is a powerful way to keep you linked to your word all year long.


How about you? If you choose a word for the year, do you do anything special to keep it visible for you?