You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.

In 2007, I was pleased with myself for approaching car shopping with a clear head. I wrote about it in this post. I’ve been very satisfied with my Toyota Yaris, and the local Toyota service department ever since.

My hubby’s Chevy Tracker is now giving off some serious signals that it’s not long for this world without investing a chunk of cash. For example, it sounds like it’s powered by a squirrel on a spinning wheel, and the “check engine” light comes on far too often for my comfort level. Its been dinged up in a couple of parking-lot fights, and it just generally feels kinda used and abused. The last thing I want is to have it die on us because then we’ll be in emergency mode, which does not lend itself to clear thinking. Jim’s busy season starts in April, which is, hmm… Thursday!!

Our finances are pretty balanced right now… I can pay the bills without tapping our “extras” account 95% of the time (which feels great). Buying another vehicle means we pick up a car payment (at least at first) because I don’t have the cash to pay outright. This is a bummer that weighs on me – while it seems most of America is neck-deep in debt, we’ve tried to keep it at a knee-deep level. When the tide starts to rise, I get uncomfortable.

Jim’s choice of profession requires him to have a small SUV to haul around his easels, tubs of  supplies, and other gear. My first research stop will be Google, to figure out what the top used SUVs are. And while Toyota has had some bad press lately, I’ve had no issues and they’re offering fantastic deals to woo buyers back to their brand, so the Rav 4 is looking pretty interesting.

Suggestions welcome. I’ll post again when there is something to report.

Vanessa from Optimal Optimist was inspired to write a list of the simple things she enjoys after reading a similar article that listed 101 of that author’s simple things. You can read Vanessa’s post here, and you’ll find a link to the original article at the end.

I thought it was pretty interesting that while there are certain items that tend to be on everyone’s “love the little things” lists – like laughing babies and sunshine – there are other things that I have never noticed or would have thought of. Of course, I’m sure there are things I appreciate that others don’t see as a big deal at all. That inspired me to jot down a few of my favorite things.

Read Vanessa’s blog, and then let me know what’s on your list. Like the famous song from “The Sound of Music“, what are a few of your favorite things? Here are some of mine:

  1. Long hugs from my two favorite guys, and nuzzles from my dog.
  2. Walking out the door on a cool March morning and smelling the first slightly acidic whiff of defrosting earth.
  3. The color of bright spring leaves against a backdrop of fantastically blue sky.
  4. Little kids (around age 4) talking about anything.
  5. The taste of dark chocolate with raspberry.
  6. Writing on the very first sheet of a brand-new notebook.
  7. Pens that glide and doodle perfectly. (Uni-Ball Vision, I adore you!)
  8. The feeling of total comfort and relaxation that you can only get at home or at a dear friend’s home.
  9. That rubber band feeling after a great yoga class.
  10. Climbing into my super-comfy bed with freshly changed sheets. Aaaahhhhhhhhh.
  11. Plopping down on a lazy Sunday with a big stack of newspapers and nothing else to do.

Seth Godin turned me on to a great word: Sprezzatura. Seth writes:

This is an archaic Italian word for being able to do your craft without a lot of visible effort. It’s a combination of elan and grace and class, sort of the opposite of loud grunts while you play tennis or a lot of whining and fuss when you help out a customer.

Many people are unable to put their finger on it, but this is a magnetic trait for many of us. We want our lawyer, dentist and waiter to demonstrate sprezzatura, but of course, not particularly try to. This is one of the secrets of Danny Meyer’s top-rated restaurants in New York. It doesn’t have to be flashy, it doesn’t even have to be the very best there ever was, but sprezzatura is enough to get us to return. As long as this light-footedness is scarce, it will remain valuable.

It takes a lot of hard work and practice to make something look effortless. My yoga instructor makes yoga look effortless – believe me, it’s not. My husband makes drawing caricatures look easy, but if you think it’s just “Make his nose big! Haw haw haw!” then you have no clue what an art form it is. The other day my twelve-year old asked me if driving was easy, which made me turn my focus to something I’ve done pretty much on autopilot for years. When you think about all the things you are watching, listening for, and paying attention to (I can watch for deer and sing Eleanor Rigby badly at the same time!), driving is pretty darn complicated. But to my son, it looks effortless. Yoga is sprezzatura for my teacher, caricature is sprezzatura for my husband, driving is sprezzatura for most of the rest of us.

What do you do that looks effortless? Do you know someone who does something so well, it looks as easy as driving? Do you strive to be sprezzatura?

I’ve been slowly trying to make our home more green for a couple of years now. It’s about time to add another green thing to my list, so when I saw this post by FreeSpirit Writer I knew I’d get some great ideas. Elastagirl also wrote about it here.

Like any change you want to make in your life, it’s a matter of establishing new habits. And the best way to start a new habit is to do one thing for a month. Once that habit is established, add another one for a month. FreeSpirit Writer has seven great ideas that you can start doing today. In fact, I’m already doing four of them! Recycling is easy – many towns have recycling policies that allow you to mix cans, glass and plastic – this is way easier than when you had to separate everything. But even if you do have to separate, it’s not a big deal and worth the effort. Having reusable water bottles is also easier than ever – they sell them everywhere now, even my local food store has them. I keep them filled in the fridge all the time, and it encourages me to drink more water. Speaking of my local food store, they may chuckle when I walk in with 12 reusable shopping bags, but those bags hold more and the straps don’t cut off my circulation while I’m carrying them into the house. Using CFL bulbs (yeah, those funny spiral ones) has definitely made a difference in my house. With old-fashioned bulbs, it seemed we were changing one at least once a week. The CFL bulbs are a little more expensive but I’ve got bulbs that I haven’t changed in years. I invested in a case from the local home improvement store and I just kept using those every time an incandescent one blew out. Except for a closet, I think we’re totally CFL now.

There are a few ideas in the post that I’m not doing, and while I don’t think I’m going to start composting any time soon I do think I can switch to cloth napkins fairly easily, and I’ll try to figure a way to easily unplug appliances we’re not using (I already do this with any appliance that generates heat – I learned that from a fireman.Yah.).

Here are a couple other painless things I’ve been doing:
Wash your clothes in cold water, use far less detergent than the label says, and use a clothesline. Aside from sheets and towels (which I wash in warm with a cold rinse), all your clothes can be washed in cold water. Trust me, they come out perfectly clean and the cold water is actually more gentle (ok, if you have a job that gets you really grimy this probably doesn’t work for you). I recently learned that we only need half the detergent that the detergent companies say we do, and to test this you should try washing some clean towels with no detergent. Check it mid-wash cycle. If you see suds you’re using  too much detergent. A clothesline… well, that is self-explanatory. Chalk it up to one more thing that Grandma knew best.
I have used vinegar to clean my house for a couple of years now. The day I almost passed out choking on chemical fumes while cleaning my bathroom, I knew there had to be a better way. There are lots of products out there that are non-toxic and “green”, but they cost a fortune. A quick Google search proved that you can clean anything in your house with vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. And guess what? The vinegar smell dissipates faster than the chemical smell.
Organics – and not just food. While organic food is definitely better for you, it’s really expensive. Some foods are worth it, like if the skin is thin (tomato) while some are not (bananas). Check the internet for a list of which foods are worth the cost. Organic cotton feels great on your skin and is better for the environment than bleached, processed cotton, but it’s not so great for your wallet. I’ve been selective – I have one set of organic sheets, and a t-shirt.

Kermit said, “It’s not easy being green”.  Maybe that was true in 1972, but it’s pretty easy to be a greenie in 2010.

I read a fun post today from April Whitzman about procrastination. Melissa chimed in, too.

April mentions it in her post, and it’s true for me too – there’s nothing like cleaning to help you avoid something. It feels productive, and there’s nothing like a letting a little OCD kick in to make your house shine! It doesn’t get the bills paid or homework done, unfortunately. I’ve got a couple things on my to-do list that have been there for months. I’ll get to it! No, really!  Right after I check my Facebook page.

What kind of stuff do you put off, and what techniques do you use to justify it?

Surprisingly, I have something in common with George Carlin.

I was reading George Carlin’s autobiography Last Words – which is wonderful and I recommend to all Carlin fans  – when I stumbled upon this statement that sent a jolt of recognition through me:

“… the curiousness of choosing to be, and feeling, apart from people and at the same time dying to be accepted. Longing to be accepted, to be asked in. But on my terms.”

This was a realization he came to later in life. The realization that he so wanted to be part of the group (define “the group” as you wish), but only if they’d allow him to be himself. Which is not how most group dynamics work.

I finally had words for a feeling that I’ve struggled to define for most of my life. That ego-driven quest to be liked, to be appreciated, recognized, applauded, accepted, loved by some group or another… but not wanting to change my Self to fit in. I’ve tried changing myself  and it doesn’t work, I am too much of a social spazz to pull it off. I’m not that sophisticated; I end up feeling fake which makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious (isn’t that an odd term? Conscious of which self?), which in turn makes me act like a dork. Vicious cycle. So I decided to be myself and if I don’t fit in, to hell with them. I know the pain of having friends get turned off to me; it never gets easier to deal with being dumped by people who liked me until they got to know me.

So, George, I’m with ya.

One of the things that really surprised me when I began to focus on making better food choices was a word that you never hear in a diet book: Acceptance.

During a class lesson on acceptance, I was given a challenge: start referring to your body in the third person. Sounds weird, right? I didn’t understand how sounding like a diva could help me accept myself.

Without getting too deep… you are not your body. Your body is the package that carries the you around. Instead of calling it “me” or “my”, try referring to your body as “the body”, “these feet”, “this brain”, etc. I started saying things like, “Boy, the body is tired tonite, and these eyes are really aching.” It felt bizarre saying this out loud since it made me sound like a lunatic, but I did it and even more so – I totally committed to doing it in my head. So my inner voice went third person for a while.

It sounds crazy, but my perspective started to change. I stopped feeling self-conscious about my weight; in fact, I stopped feeling self-conscious about all the physical quirks that I notice. I accepted myself. I no longer identified my body as “me”, and began to accept that what my body safely held inside it was the real “me”… my Self, Soul, Chi, Spirit, Essence, whatever you want to call it. The little ball of energy that lives in my heart; the part of me that is the “me”.

So, where does that leave the body? Well, this body has a big job! It has to protect and carry around this “me” for as long as I live! And I would like to live for a long, long time. So I’d better start taking care of it, because if it goes I go… and I don’t wanna go. So I started paying attention to what I fed it, how much I let it sleep and relax, and I started exercising it. Trying to live healthy is like an insurance policy. There are no guarantees, but I’m hoping that smart choices now will bless me with a body that can do whatever I want it to, for a looooong time.

I’m not perfect, but I try. My inner voice still goes third person, whenever those feelings of insecurity come back. I try to remember that everyone else is so busy worrying about their own flaws, they’re not noticing mine. I give myself a little metta – lovingkindness – and accept this body for what it is and what it might become.

I’ve touched on the subject of labels in another post. To recap: we all wear hundreds of labels, and those are just the ones we’re aware of and willing to see in ourselves. There are even more when we take other people’s opinions of us into the count. For example, I can be described as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, funny, cartoon loving, right-handed, East-Coaster, tree loving, Sutra teaching, brown-thumbed, intelligent, creative,  food loving, exercise hating  female. I know other people also see me as bossy, obnoxious, overbearing, and self-righteous. And that didn’t even describe any physical characteristics! We switch our labels more than we blink, depending on who we are with and who we want to be in that moment. In fact, we often change labels without realizing it.

Not so sure? Here is something you can try that will really highlight your labels.

First, write out a professional summary for yourself. The kind of thing you might submit with a resumé. Are you professional? Organized, timely, a great teammate and leader? A problem solver who is a certified something-or-other with a Masters in this-n-that? Keep it short, and you can write it as a list instead of a paragraph if you’d prefer. What kind of labels do you use? I’ll bet they’re mostly about the intellect, with a bit of ego in there.

Next, write out a personal ad for yourself, as if you were looking for a relationship. Very different labels, eh? Much more about the emotional – and maybe physical – parts of you, with a bit of ego in there, too. Perhaps you’re sweet and kind, or you’re a devoted cyclist, dog-loving, gym rat blonde. Oh, and let me guess: you love long walks on the beach watching the sunset. Not exactly the kind of verbage you’d put in that resumé.

Try the exercise and share what you’ve discovered in the comments. Do you have more labels than you realized? Do you like them? Are there a few you don’t like to admit to? Isn’t it funny how we have so many “Me’s”?

I recently read a post by Grey Ang called Making Your Weakness Your Partner, and Dance With It that struck me. The title alone stopped me in my tracks, and it’s a wonderfully written post. Melissa, who writes at Sugar Filled Emotions has also picked up on Grey’s post, you should read her take on it as well. Click here for Melissa’s post.

In his post, Grey writes about Aimee Mullins, a girl who was born with a medical condition that required her to have both her legs amputated, yet she went on to break world records at the Olympics – the “regular” Olympics, competing against athletes who had their limbs. Aimee says:

“It is not so much about overcoming adversity as it is opening ourselves to it, embracing it. Grappling with it. Maybe even dancing with it. Perhaps as we see adversity as something natural, consistent and useful, we’re less burdened by the presence of it.”

It got me to thinking about our weaknesses. If we try to hide them from others, avoid them, deny them, we’re really not living the fullest life we can. Our weaknesses are a part of us, whether we care to acknowledge that or not. I’m trying to live my life as a whole human being and I am certainly not perfect. My weaknesses are a part of me and while nobody says I have to announce them on a billboard, I do have to accept myself for who I am in this moment.

What I know about our weaknesses is that not only can we embrace them, we can turn them into strengths. The key is our resources. There is usually a resource out there, often one you already have but might not realize, that you can embrace as you begin to turn a weakness into a strength. Mentors, friends, schools, books, the internet, and even our own inner strength and resolve – all of these things can be leaned upon like a crutch until we overcome the fear and gain the knowledge we need.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Knowledge is the antidote to fear.” Many of our weaknesses begin with fear. Sometimes we can figure out the root cause of that fear, sometimes we can’t. I don’t think we always need to. We need the desire, the guts, the will to jump in and face what we need to change. Our resources give us a boost – sometimes a push – to help us face the scary change monster, embrace ourselves fully, and create a strength where a weakness once lived.

I’m a fan of the NPR show Talk of the Nation, so I’m sorry I missed the broadcast that KelliePieBird and Tomatobaby wrote about in their blogs last week. As a summary, here is what Tomatobaby wrote:

“I caught a portion of Rebecca Roberts segment Talk of the Nation where she was interviewing Larry Smith, founding editor, and Rachel Fershieiser, memoir editor, of Smith Magazine.  Smith Magazine challenged readers to condense their life stories using exactly six words.  Based on a notion of Ernest Hemingway being challenged with the same, Hemingway wrote: For Sale: baby shoes never worn.  A six-word memoir!”

Hmm, this got me thinking. No fan of labels, I could easily come up with a list of 50 for myself in five minutes. We label ourselves with the identities and traits we like, avoiding those we don’t. Other people judge us as they view us through their own labels! We all do this, it’s one of the things you realize as you listen to your mental chatter. I suppose labels on their own aren’t bad, it’s the attachment to them and value we give them where things get messy. I mean, I’m more complex than a bunch of words, especially when those words may not be accurate, useful or healthy. But… I’ll save this for another post.

Describe myself in six words? How about: Minding the path, enjoying the ride.

What about you? Can you describe yourself in six words? Leave a comment and share!

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