Monday, December 27, 2010

The Gift of a Family Tradition

[Note: I'm posting this early in case you'd like to establish this as a tradition for your own family.]

It had been a difficult year. My widowed mother was nearing retirement from her job at IBM, I was a single mom in my final year of college (having returned two years before to complete my degree in English and Elementary Education, when my daughter Jen started kindergarten), and January seemed like a long, bleak month stretching out before us. The gray days of winter sapped what little energy we'd had after the hustle and bustle between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As usual, we had taken down the Christmas decorations right after New Year's Day. We were exhausted, and the post-Christmas let-down was affecting all of us, but it hit my mom especially hard. So, Jen and I planned to surprise Grammy by celebrating Twelfth Night, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas that culminates with Epiphany on January 6.

We didn't have much money, but decided to buy one gift for Grammy from both of us. We also planned a special supper to have ready when she came home from work. Then I set up, and Jen helped decorate, a three-foot tall, table-top, artificial tree that I had used for the Pioneer Girls group of which I was leader. We placed the tree on the living room coffee table so that mom wouldn't see it when she came in through the kitchen door from the garage. Jen was so excited it was hard for her (and me, too) to not give anything away.

When mom came home from work, she was tired but surprised and pleased to see supper cooking on the stove. As she removed her coat and boots, and stepped into her slippers, I said, "Supper will be ready soon. Why don't you go sit down in the living room and warm up." She nodded and headed into the living room. But when she saw the tree, with its glowing lights and decorations, she stood stock still and just stared, open-mouthed.

Jen and I both shouted, "Happy Twelfth Night!"

Mom gaped at the tree, then at us, then back at the tree.

"What did you do?" she asked, awe-struck.

We had her sit down in her rocking chair, and Jen played "Santa," handing my mother her gift.

"But I don't have anything for you!" she protested.

"Our gift was doing this for you," I said.

I have long-since forgotten what the present was that she unwrapped that night; but I will never forget the look of wonder and joy that lit up her face when she saw that little tree and as she opened that solitary gift. We had a delicious supper, and all of the exhaustion and post-holiday depression melted away in the warmth of each others' company. It was a wonderful night.

Thus began our family tradition of celebrating Twelfth Night--a tradition I continued when David and I married two years later, and which has endured to the present. Each year, on New Year's Eve, those family members who are able to participate, put their names on slips of paper, we each draw a name, then buy that person a modest gift. On Twelfth Night, we gather around the Christmas tree (which we leave up until after January 6) one last time, light candles and enjoy the lights, often read the story of the Wisemen bringing their gifts to the Christ Child and sing "We Three Kings," and exchange our gifts. We have found it a wonderful way to bring the holidays to a close, and to diminish, if not entirely dispel, the post-holiday melancholy that many people experience.

Do you have any post-holiday traditions that you celebrate? Do you have a ritual for taking down the tree and packing away the decorations? If so, please share them in the comment section below.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shelter Pets: Love on Four Legs

Today is the last day of November. It is also Shelter Pets Day on Facebook! In celebration, people have been encouraged to share their own shelter pet stories, so I'd like to share mine. Both of our current cats and my service dog were shelter animals. Yes, I said my service dog is a shelter alumni, but more on that in a minute.

We adopted Meisha, a 3-year-old torti cat, on April 6, 2000. We had been to the Humane Society of Chittenden County the day before to look at cats, and had seen this shy, scared beauty huddled in the farthest corner of her cage. We didn't know until the next day that she was just getting over a urinary tract infection. Not wanting to further traumatize her, we left her alone and socialized with a few others that needed homes, but none seemed to "click."

The following day, we went back to the shelter and decided to ask if we could take the torti into a room to see if she would feel a bit more at ease. Soon after we were settled, she jumped up in my arms and cuddled against my shoulder, purring. She also let my husband and children hold her, and we knew she was the one for us.

However, when we got her home, she refused to let us pick her up and seemed rather aloof. Having had two previous homes before coming to ours, she had no way of knowing that ours would be permanent, and most likely didn't dare risk getting attached. Three months later, she developed a life-threatening liver infection. She stopped eating, her weight plummeted from 9 pounds to 7, and we rushed her to our vet, where the prognosis wasn't good. However, with the excellent care from the vets at VCA Brown Animal Hospital, and our love and support, Meisha pulled through. From that point on, she began to open up to us, but very slowly. It took two years of patience and encouragement on our part, another life-threatening illness, and surgery to remove several bladder stones (the cause of her chronic urinary tract infections) before she learned to fully trust us and blossomed into the confident, happy, "Queen of the house" that she is today.

Meisha hasn't had it easy. A couple of years ago, she developed a very rare eye condition that has caused her to lose her sight in one eye, and will at some point, most likely cause total blindness. At nearly 14 years of age, in spite of her health issues, she still gets around well, is an incredibly loving, confident companion, and we feel blessed to share her life.

In 2005, my doctor told me it was time to get a service dog. I'd had dogs growing up, but after my husband and I married, we lived in apartments where either dogs were not allowed, or pets were banned altogether. Although dogs are not allowed as pets where we currently live, service dogs are. The first place I looked was the website for the Humane Society of Chittenden County, and there I found the photo of a gorgeous Australian Shepherd-Collie mix. Having had two Border Collies in my late teens and twenties, I had a deep love for the herding breeds and knew them to be intelligent, easy to train, and good with children. Since a lot of children live in our apartment complex, this was one of my main concerns.

My husband had not grown up with dogs, and had somewhat of a phobia since he'd been attacked by one in the past. However, he trusted my instincts when it came to picking out a dog. When he saw Mindy, his first thought was, "My gosh, she's HUGE!" Weighing in at around 100 lb., she certainly was a big girl; but she was just what I needed. As we were filling out the adoption papers, another family came in to look at her. Had we been five minutes later, we might have missed out. And so, Mindy joined our family.

Service dogs usually begin training as puppies, and most training programs will not accept dogs that are older than two years of age. Mindy was six years old with a crooked paw (the result of being shot as a puppy) and no training except what they had done at the shelter. We enrolled her in an obedience class at HSCC which she passed with flying colors. Then, through a group in Arizona that helps people train their own service dogs, I began training Mindy in the service behaviors I needed her to perform. She learned very quickly, even adapting some of the procedures to make them easier on both of us. And if she saw a need, she stepped in to fill it. For example, we have railings on our stairs, but the railing doesn't extend around the landing. About two nights after she'd been with us, Mindy started up the stairs behind me, timing her ascent to arrive at the landing just as I had to let go of the railing so I could place my hand on her back for balance. Then she repeated the process at the top of the stairs, escorting me to the bedroom door.

Because we live in multi-family housing, we didn't want her to bark and annoy the neighbors, so I taught her to use her "indoor voice," a soft woof, when she needed to go out. The only time she barks out loud is to alert me that someone is at the door, or if there is something unusual going on outside so I can check it out. She even has a special UPS bark, and loves the "boys in brown" because they sometimes give her a biscuit.

Mindy will be 12 years old in January, and in spite of showing signs of aging, still fulfills her service duties, and has brought a world of love and joy into our lives--and cured my husband of his dog phobia! We feel so privileged to have her in our family.

Last, but not least, is Micau, a 3-year-old cat we adopted in January of this year from HSCC. When we arrived at the shelter, we told them we needed a cat that was good both with other cats and with dogs. One of the young women there said, "I think we have just what you're looking for," and introduced us to a beautiful, long-haired black and white female. She immediately came over to us, rubbed against our legs, began purring, and let us pick her up. She seemed equally comfortable with both of us, and she had previously lived with cats, dogs, and other animals. We needed to look no further.

Meisha immediately established her superior ranking in the pecking order, and, as she had with Mindy, stood her ground when challenged by our new addition. Mindy accepted Micau right away. Within minutes of bringing her home, Micau found and used the litter pan and began exploring her new domain. She is a very loving, affectionate cat who divides her time between David and me, but will also greet guests and, if they are willing, curl up in their laps. In some ways, Micau is more like a dog--she'll come when called (most of the time--she IS a cat, after all), will follow us from room-to-room, and has learned to tap my hand when she wants a treat. She is a healthy, playful, welcome addition to our household.

Shelter animals make wonderful companions. They truly appreciate being given a second chance to have a forever home, give unconditional love and affection, provide comfort and companionship, are loyal, and worth every penny of what it costs to provide for their care. We feel so fortunate to be able to learn from these animals, to love them, and to share our lives with them. If you're looking for a companion animal, please give those in your local shelters your first consideration. You'll be saving a life and enriching your own.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Case of the Not-So-Warm Fuzzies

While reading an article about autumn in the Adirondacks, the photo of a granite water tub/fountain caught my eye. Since the husband of one of my online friends does sculpting, I thought they might enjoy it, too, so I sent her a message to that effect. When she replied that she'd love to see it if I would send the link, I was surprised because I thought I had; but when I checked my original message, there was no link to be found. Fibro-fog strikes again!

What is fibro-fog? People talk about the "warm fuzzies"--things that make us feel good or give us a sense of well-being. Fibro-fog is the "fuzzies" without the "warmth." You realize you have it when you start to say a word and can't quite seem to latch onto it, or you begin to share some item you've read about or seen on the news, and use a different word from the one you had intended. Sometimes I go through a bit of mental acrobatics trying to capture that word--a bit like two people on separate trapeze bars, swinging, but not quite in synch, who keep missing each other when they try to grasp hands. Sometimes a bit of word association helps: Can you hand me's red, made from tomatoes, on the bottom shelf of the fridge door...CATSUP! Hah! Got it!

Almost everyone will occasionally forget a name or draw a blank when trying to remember something. But fibro fog is more than a momentary lapse. It involves temporary, short-term memory impairment (often in conjunction with a pain flare), that can make conversation difficult, stressful, and hard to follow or remember. Someone will tell you they're going to the store--you know what they said, you understood it, but as soon as their mouth stops moving, it's gone. For anything important to remember, it helps to write it down--just remember where you wrote it!

Fibro-fog may also cause you to transpose numbers and letters (even though you're not dyslexic), forget appointments, or temporarily forget how to do even a simple task or spell a common word. Those who experience fibro fog have occasionally found some of their possessions in unexpected places, such as their keys in the fridge and their milk in the cupboard. So, if you're having a "foggy" day, don't try to do more than one thing at a time, and try to focus on what you're doing and where you set things down. Don't tackle things like paying bills or balancing the checkbook until the fog clears.

Fibro fog can take a toll on your self-esteem. When you know in your mind what you want to say, but the message isn't getting from your brain to your mouth, it can be embarrassing, humiliating, and make you feel stupid because you know it's happening, and you can't do anything but ride it out. I used to quip that if I ever developed Alzheimers, no one would know the difference! Now, scientists have discovered that those who have fibromyalgia may have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Fibrofog can also have a negative impact on self-care because you are apt to forget to exercise or take medications consistently that would help alleviate other symptoms, such as pain. Since pain interferes with the brain's ability to process new information (as does lack of sleep, stress, and the decrease in seratonin production), it can become a vicious cycle.

Fortunately, these episodes usually only last a few hours, and disappear when the pain flare ends or when you have been able to get restorative sleep.

To minimize fibro-fog, here are some things that may help:
  • Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night (easier said than done if you suffer from insomnia);
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet that includes "brain food" like fish (especially fish high in omega-3s, such as wild salmon and tuna), blueberries, green tea, and organic dark chocolate or cacao beans; foods high in B-vitamins (especially folic acid, B6 and B12);
  • Keep your brain active with another kind of "brain food"--puzzles (crosswords, Sudoku, brain teasers, riddles, etc.), reading, learning a new language, learning anything new such as knitting, crocheting, painting, wood-working, sculpting, etc.
  • Aerobic exercise, especially walking (a US study found that walking appears to help minimize brain shrinkage as we age, and may offer some protection against, or delay the onset of, dementia and Alzheimers);
  • Minimize stress (exercise can help with this, too, but so can calming meditation, listening to soothing music, watching an aquarium full of fish, or some other relaxing activity--or just deep breathing and closing your eyes for a few minutes);
  • Keep your sense of humor--Laughter can help minimize stress, lower anxiety, oxygenate your blood, and provide an internal massage;
  • Accentuate the positive--find that cloud's silver lining, look for the good, change negative thoughts into positive ones, focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN'T do.
  • Don't take yourself too seriously--most problems eventually are solved, situations change, and something can be learned from the most devastating of life's experiences.
We can't control fibro fog (or much of what life throws at us), but we can control how we choose to handle it. We can worry about it, or we can recognize it as part of the challenge of living with Fibromyalgia, and determine to live the best life we can in spite of it.

How do you cope with fibro-fog or other challenges of living with a chronic illness? Post your thoughts, questions, suggestions in the comment section below.

Now, I'm going to go spend some time with MY warm fuzzies--Mindy, Meisha, Micau, and...David!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seven Benefits of Adopting an Older Animal

I'm taking a "time-out" from working on my NaNo Novel to share something that is very close to my heart--animal adoption, especially adoption of older or senior dogs and cats.

Almost everyone wants to adopt a puppy or kitten because they're so cute and cuddly. Those little balls of fluff steal your heart and beg you to take them home. But there are several benefits to adopting an older animal.

1. An older animal is usually already housebroken; if not, they are easier to train than a kitten or puppy. Show the cat where the litter pan is, or take the dog outside and show it where you want it to relieve itself, and it will learn quickly what is expected. No cleaning up accidents on the floor, in your plant pots, or on your bed!

2. What you see is what you get. An adult animal's personality is already formed, so there's no guesswork as to what it will be like when it grows up. That cute, cuddly kitten may grow up to be standoffish and aloof. And that cute, energetic puppy might turn out to be a one-dog demolitionist when left at home alone.

3. If you adopt from a shelter, an older dog will already be spayed/neutered, and will be up-to-date on shots. Many shelters also give you a coupon for a free vet check-up, as well as other helpful materials such as coupons for food, non-food supplies, etc. The adoption fee is usually far less than the cost of the series of puppy/kitten shots, spaying/neutering, etc.

4. Since they have likely already lived in a household, they have better "manners." Barring an anxiety disorder, they are far less likely to chew the furniture, your shoes, or the molding on your doorways like a teething puppy would. And, they tend to be more mellow and happy to keep you company. Older cats already know what not to scratch, and usually know what "no" means. When we adopted 3-year old Micau (cat), if she started to do something that was not allowed, all I had to do was say "Unh-uh" and she'd stop immediately and understand that was off limits.

5. Chances are an older dog will already know some basic commands; but even if they don't, they are fairly easy to train using positive reinforcement and a little patience. It's not true that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Older dogs have a longer attention span than puppies, are more focused, and have some life experience in relating to humans behind them. For example, we adopted my service dog when she was six years old, and she'd had minimal training. Not only were we able to teach her all of the basic obedience commands, but also the service behaviors I needed her to perform--all within the first few months of her living with us.

6. If you have limited time, an older pet may be what you need. Training a puppy or kitten, house-breaking them, teaching them what is and is not appropriate or acceptable behavior, is similar to having a human toddler. It requires a lot of time and energy. Since an older animal has generally mastered the basics, you can spend more of your time just enjoying them.

7. Older animals, especially shelter animals, appreciate being given a second chance at having a forever home. All they want is someone who will love and take care of them. In return, they will give you unconditional love and be the best companion you ever had.

Have you ever adopted an older or senior pet? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Let the NaNoWriMo Games Begin...

November is National Novel Writing Month, so what does that mean, exactly?

On November 1, thousands (last year it was 161,870!) people will withdraw from active participation in the "normal" world, sequester themselves in bedrooms, dens, coffee shops, or other venues, and attempt the nerve-wracking challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Some will drop out for various reasons: illness, family emergencies, the threat of failing out of school, or the overwhelming desire to make sure the rest of the world is still out there. But others will push through exhaustion, loneliness, pressure, and the prospect of losing the continuity of their favorite TV programs (or watching the TiVo'd episodes instead of Christmas programs in December), to reach the pinnacle of word-count mania for the grand prize of having their progress bar turn purple and the thrill of placing a NaNoWriMo "Winner" badge on their webpage or blog. Oh, they may emerge briefly to partake of the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but will not truly re-enter society until December 1, when they will reintroduce themselves to their friends, family, and pets, clear out overstuffed in-boxes, and spend the next week or so catching up on Facebook and Twitter.

Last year, I did a daily blog post during NaNo. I'll be posting again this year, but am not sure I'll try to do it on a daily basis. I began this year's NaNo adventure at 12:04 a.m., and exceeded the word count for Day 1. However, for the first time in four years, I'm not sure whether to keep it or scrap it and try again. Either way, the creative juices are flowing, and it is helping me to balance the anxiety of waiting to hear if my son and daughter-in-law made it safely to their Mexican destination.

For those who are new to NaNoWriMo, you might want to read last year's posts in my archives for the history of NaNoWriMo, suggestions for preparing yourself for this crazy writing adventure, tips on the writing process, and more. And don't forget to peruse the various forums on the NaNo site and hook up with some writing buddies for mutual support and inspiration. Until next time...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oh, the Days Dwindle Down to a Precious Few...

So sang Old Blue Eyes himself (Frank Sinatra, for those of you too young to remember the Rat Pack). Autumn is half over already, and Christmas is only two months away! I love autumn, but it seems to be on fast-forward this year--maybe because it has been so busy, or maybe because I'm getting older and the days seem to fly by. Sometimes I'd like to shout, "Hey, slow down, let me catch my breath."

October is full of special days: birthdays (daughter Jen, brother David, sister-in-law Karolee, nephew Dennis, and several friends), anniversaries (daughter Sarah and son-in-law Louie's anniversary was the 12th, and several friends also celebrated anniversaries); and we'll also be saying adios (though I prefer au revoir) to our son Davy and daughter-in-law Tracy as they make a quick trip home to Vermont before leaving for Mexico. We're looking forward to having all of the family together for a couple of those "precious few" days, but are also experiencing the parental angst of having part of our family moving so far away and not knowing for how long. So, maybe we should say "vaya con Dios" (go with God) and ask Him so see them safely on their adventure and, eventually, safely home again.

So, in one sense, the days are dwindling down; but in another sense, they're adding up. For there is another anniversary coming up on October 29--the first-year anniversary of this blog. If you have been following along since last October, you will remember that I began Creative Muse Journal in conjunction with National Novel Writing Month which begins every year on November 1, and encourages people to write a 50,000 word short novel in 30 days. (The introductory post and the daily NaNoWriMo posts from 2009 are in the archives, if you want to look them up.) This will be my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo. Usually, I feel that the timing is not ideal, what with the pressure of celebrating Thanksgiving just when I'm struggling to finish and hit that word count goal, and Christmas looming on the horizon. But this year, maybe the timing is just right because it begins on the same day that Davy and Tracy will be winging their way to Mexico. I will need something to keep my mind occupied, and NaNo certainly does that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Seasons of Change

Although it's not officially autumn until September 22 at 11:09 p.m. Eastern Time, harbingers of change are already beginning to appear. Some of the trees in Burlington are sporting flashes of red and orange; the mercury dropped nearly forty degrees overnight a few nights ago, and seems to be on a frenzied dash up and down the thermometer, trying to decide where to land. After setting record highs in the 90s four days in a row this past week, it barely crossed the 70 degree mark yesterday, is supposed to be 83 today, and stepping down by ten degrees each day before leveling off in the mid-60s on Friday, then rebounding into the 70s over the weekend. The early McIntosh apples have already appeared in the produce section of our local supermarket, and my taste buds are gearing up for homemade applesauce, fresh cider, and apple crisp.

The nights will be quieter, too, without the air conditioner humming; and I look forward to that economical breather between turning the a/c off and having to turn the heat on. I'm not quite as bad as Scrooge, who kept his place of business bleak and chilly, informing his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, that "Garments were invented by the human race as a protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended. Coal burns. Coal is momentary and coal is costly. There will be no more coal burned in this office today, is that quite clear Mr. Cratchit?" However, I do make good use of sweaters and slacks, and usually do not have to turn the heat on until late October or early November, unless we get an early cold snap.

There are other signs of change, too. After a brief (too brief!) respite from Mindy's shedding of last year's undercoat, she is now shedding her summer coat, and that soft, tufted undercoat is growing in again. A friend said she had seen several woollybear caterpillars, looking fat and sassy with wide bands of brown and narrower bands of orange in the middle, and the squirrels are out in force with cheek pouches full to overflowing with seeds and acorns. Does that mean our hot, wet summer will be followed by an early, cold, snowy winter?

Some changes have nothing to do with the changing seasons of the year, and more to do with the changing seasons of life. My son and daughter-in-law informed us a few weeks ago that they are moving to Mexico in a couple of months. As a parent, I am sad to see them move so far away; but, also as a parent, I am thrilled that they are actively following their dreams. Davy has always wanted to live in a warmer climate, somewhere with palm trees, and had been trying to learn Spanish on his own for some time. Since the best way to learn a language is by total immersion, their move to Mexico will certainly afford him that opportunity--along with those palm trees! One of the benefits of having a web-based business is that it can be run from anywhere in the world. Whether or not the move will become permanent remains to be seen; but, in the meantime, there will be some exciting changes in store for them.

On the same day, our daughter Sarah informed us that we are going to be first-time grandparents next spring. David and I are beyond thrilled, and I'm sure my friends will get sick of hearing me talk about it long before my grandchild puts in his or her appearance on planet Earth. I have been looking online at knitting patterns for baby blankets and sweater sets (if you have a favorite pattern, please feel free to share it), started a journal called "Letters from Gramma D," and have been daydreaming of all the things I want to share with this special little one in the future--baking cookies, making crafts, coloring pictures, reading stories, playing "Let's pretend." And then there are all the childhood movies to relive, and seeing the world through a child's eyes again. This is a change I'm very much looking forward to and hope will be repeated.

Some changes are welcome--cooler weather, the approach of the holidays, a new grandchild, new adventures; some are not so welcome--declining health, the illness and death of loved ones, the disappearance of a beloved pet (our daughter Jen's, missing since September 1), having to get by without a car (hopefully not for long), and concerns about our country's economic health and the health of the planet.

How do you meet the challenges that changes bring? What changes are taking place in your life now? Please take a few minutes to share your comments below.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Just Do It!

Not long ago I read an article titled "Secrets of the Organized" by Jill Cooper. (If you want to read it (it's excellent, by the way), you can find it at under the heading "Today's Frugal Living Tools.") Tip number five jumped out at me and triggered memories of doing chores on the weekends or during summer vacations when I lived at home growing up.

On any such typical morning, while I was enjoying the tart-sweet tang of a ruby red grapefruit, or the smoky flavor of sizzling bacon with a dropped egg on toast, my mother would sit across the table and begin orally reciting all the chores I was to do that day: make your bed, then dust your room, don't forget to clean the mirrors, empty your wastebasket, vacuum the floor, and then mop it. Be sure to let the floor dry before putting your throw rugs back down. Oh, and change your bed before you begin cleaning, and bring me your laundry so I can get that started. When you finish your room, you can start on the bathroom, then help me bring in the laundry off the clothesline, help fold it, and put it away. No matter how many times I had successfully performed these tasks in the past, she felt it necessary to give me detailed instructions on how to accomplish them.

Sometimes, there were other chores: washing the windows, taking down the drapes so they could be cleaned, brushing down the ceilings and walls, and other monthly or seasonal chores. Since I liked to iron and she didn't, that often fell to me, too. And, of course, sometimes I helped with the baking, which I also enjoyed.

It always seemed to me that by the time breakfast was over, I was exhausted. It took me several years to realize why. With my mother's rehearsal of tasks, it felt like doing the work twice. And sometimes, she'd go over the list a second or third time to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything, and that I knew exactly what was expected. I realize, now, that this was her way of organizing her day; but it often left me feeling totally depleted of energy.

Talking about your work before doing it isn't the same as making out a "To Do List." The list is a guide you write once, then check off as you go. It's a great way to have a visual aid to what you've accomplished, and gives you a feeling of achievement. Nor am I talking about procrastination, which is a delaying tactic for putting off your tasks as long as possible. What I'm talking about is over-thinking what has to be done and mentally wearing yourself out before you even get started.

Since my strength and energy are limited now, I can't afford to waste either on just talking about what needs to be done. Sometimes I make a list; other times I don't. But when the energy is flowing, I've found the best way to get something done is to just DO it! Dive in, make a start, and keep going until it's finished.

Do you have a hard time getting things done because you think or talk about them too much first? What helps you get your tasks accomplished? Do you make a list? Do you have a household "chore chart"? Do you set a timer or put on some music? Or do you just dig in after you have that morning cup of coffee? What works for you? Please share your comments and thoughts below.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Time Flies When You're...

My watch stopped a week ago, and it got me thinking about time. I hadn't intended to take time off from writing my blog, yet my last post was in June, and here we are in August! I was here. My blog was here. But somehow, we just didn't seem to have the time to connect, and time kept marching on.

There's an old saying that, "Time flies when you're having fun." The truth is, time flies whether you're having fun or not. Sometimes we can have so much to do, even fun things, that we become overwhelmed and either try to plow on, making mistakes as we go, or we come to a screeching halt, try to get our bearings, and reevaluate. This is true in our work lives with multiple tasks and responsibilities, deadlines, appointments, reports, phone calls, meetings, etc. And with many companies trying to save money by cutting back staff, it sometimes means one employee has to take on the additional work previously done by another. Then when you add in our personal lives (some might ask, "What personal life?"), there is even less time, and more pressure and stress. How can you keep your balance, perform at work, and keep your home life from falling apart, as well?

At work, if you're feeling overwhelmed and need help, the first thing to do is admit it to yourself. Then, talk to your supervisor. Explain the situation to him/her and ask what things he wants you to focus on and what can be either delegated to someone else or set aside for later. Some employers are willing to work with their employees to create a better, more productive work environment, and others are not. If your boss is not approachable, try to set up a priority system for yourself and track your workload and what gets done. See if you can find a more efficient way of handling tasks such as setting aside a specific time each day for correspondence, returning phone calls, etc., if practical in your situation. Be flexible. If something isn't working, try to find another way of doing it.

Some employers have instituted 5-10 minute breaks/naps each hour and have found that workers increase productivity when they have these breaks. Whether just closing your eyes, meditating, or going for a walk outside or down the hall, breaking up the routine can revive you if you're flagging. Set a timer, though, so you don't doze off for too long. The goal is a mini-break, not a pink slip.

If you work with a team and have weekly meetings, see if you can discuss ways of diminishing overload. Perhaps if one person has less to do on a given day, they could help ease the burden for a coworker who is overwhelmed that day. If everyone is equally out straight, suggest the idea of hiring a temporary employee to ease the burden until things are on a more even keel.

If the stress is affecting your health, make a doctor's appointment and discuss ways of handling stress more efficiently. Talk with your boss or supervisor and see if he is willing to work with you to cut back your workload, at least temporarily. If you're having serious health problems, and all else has failed, it might be time to start looking for a different job.

At home, make caring for your living space a family affair. Even preschoolers can help pick up toys and laundry, help feed pets (with parental supervision), clean up spills with a paper towel or sponge, and dust things that are at their level either with a cloth or by using a sock on their hand. You might post a household "Chore Chart" that lists what needs to be done each day, and who has the responsibility for completing that specific chore. Rewards for completing assigned tasks could be a favorite activity, staying up a half-hour past bedtime, watching a favorite DVD, an allowance, etc. If you have a family meeting and let the kids pick and choose their chores, based on age appropriateness, they may feel more invested in doing them. Or, you could rotate chores from week to week, let family members draw tasks written on slips of paper in a "job jar," or whatever method will work best for your family given the number of people and ages. Be creative.

If there are larger projects at home that need doing, and the adults in the home are too busy to do them, consider hiring someone. Depending on the project, you might be able to find a middle- or high-school student who is looking to make some money over the summer or on weekends. Cleaning, painting, weeding, mowing, and even grocery shopping are just some of the chores that can be hired out that don't necessarily require a professional to do them.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said in a poem, "...time is fleeting..." Life is too short to cram each minute full of activity. Our minds and bodies need time to rest, recoup, de-stress. Like a pressure cooker needs to have the steam released periodically to keep it from blowing it's top off, so do we need ways of taking the pressure off or it will manifest in physical, emotional, or mental eruptions.

How do you balance your time between work, family, self-care, hobbies, etc? Does your boss allow for mini-breaks? Have you found a way to successfully handle job stress? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Decluttering A Cluttered Mind

It happens to everyone sooner or later. You crawl into bed, turn out the light, close your eyes...and suddenly your mind is like the freeway during morning rush hour. Things left undone, plans for your son's birthday party, an article you read in the paper that you want to remember to discuss with your sister, the grocery list you forgot to write down, projects, people, appointments, ideas are swimming in your brain keeping sleep at bay even though your body is exhausted.

During the day, it's not much better. You flit from one thing to another, never seeming to finish anything. As you unpack the groceries you just bought, you suddenly remember the oil you needed for cooking tonight's supper, or the special dessert your husband expressly asked you to pick up. Now, you have to waste time with a second trip to the store. Or, you are half-way through preparing dinner when you remember that your husband said you were dining out with his boss and his wife tonight! "What's wrong with me?" you wonder. "Am I losing my mind?"

The short answer is "no, you're not losing it." But perhaps you've misplaced it under the mound of things you've shoved in there, willy-nilly, like your junk drawer or that back closet where things get dumped until "later." Your mind isn't lost, it's just cluttered. So, how do you unclutter it?
  • Write things down, whether you use pen and paper or an electronic alternative (such as a Palm Pilot or an app on your iPod). Now, instead of having to remember everything in your head, all you have to remember is where you put your notebook or PDA! To solve that problem, designate a spot for it--your purse, your desk, a corner of the kitchen counter--wherever you will be sure to see it. Assign it a "home," and be consistent in putting it there after every use.
  • Make lists, then organize and prioritize your them: appointments, birthdays/anniversaries, meetings, chores, errands, etc. Make it a habit to review your lists for the week on Saturday night so you are prepared for the week ahead.
  • Enter all appointments, special dates, and meetings into your calendar, whether a paper one, or electronic. If electronic, you can set reminders.
  • For chores, make another list and organize it by room, then by day of the week, and add separate sections for monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual chores. Write out the daily chores, by room, on a set of index cards, with additional cards for the monthly, quarterly, etc., chores. Keep these in a small box, basket, or jar. Or, you may want to keep them in a section of a master binder. If you have a spouse or children you can enlist to help with the chores, you might wish to invest in a large hanging calendar with wipe-off or tear-off sheets. In this way, you can assign chores and mark appointments, and each person will know exactly what they are responsible for and when. As chores are accomplished, they can be checked off. Use a different colored pen for each member of the family so you can see at a glance who'd doing what and going where, and when. This method worked great for our family when our kids were growing up.
  • To organize shopping lists, such as groceries, look in your word processor or online for a template. Or, make up your own. Take a sheet of paper, divide it into sections, and list major headings such as Produce, Dairy, Canned Goods, Meat, Dry goods, Frozen Foods, Pet Supplies, Cleaning Supplies, Paper Products, Bathroom Supplies, Miscellaneous. Under each heading, list the items you use. For example, under Produce, list apples, peaches, pears, grapes, bell peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, etc. Place a blank line in front of each item so you can check off what you need to buy. Use this as your guide when composing your weekly grocery list. If you keep it on the front of your refrigerator, it will be easy to check off needed items as you run out of them, so nothing is forgotten.
  • On another page in your notebook or binder, make a list of family members and friends for whom you buy gifts. Under each person's name, write their clothing sizes, color preferences, and specific items you know they like or want.
  • At the beginning of each month, check your calendar and gift list, write out cards for the month, make out your shopping list, and make one trip to shop for everyone who has a birthday or anniversary that month. Then you'll have everything on hand when the date rolls around. If you go ahead and address and stamp the envelopes, all you'll need to do is drop them in the mail a few days before the actual date. Many online card websites have a feature that lets you select the delivery date, so you could select all of your cards at the beginning of the month, set the various delivery dates, and your cards will be delivered electronically on time.
  • Don't forget to organize your household bills, too. Place them by due date in a basket, desktop mail holder, or some other designated spot. If you don't pay them as they come in, then set aside a day and time each week, or biweekly, to pay them. Keep them near your stamps and address labels, so you have everything readily available when you need it. Or, you can arrange for online payment and save paper, postage, and time.
  • Once every two or three months, check your master list and see if you need to revise it. If something isn't working, scrap it and try something else until you find what works for you.
  • Keep a journal or notebook on the nightstand beside your bed. Make a habit of journaling every night before you go to bed...not just a diary of what you did that day, but your feelings, thoughts, emotions, ideas. If you have a hard time getting to sleep because something keeps buzzing around in your brain, jot it down in the journal. By doing this, you free up your mind from having to remember so much, and can better relax and drift off.
  • Oh, and while you're decluttering, why not get rid of all that negative self-talk, and the negative things other people have said that bother you? If you can't just forget them, then defuse them by substituting positive statements. Live in the now. Don't let the past ruin your present.

There are many helpful organizing sites online. One I especially like is Maria Gracia's "Get Organized Now," You can also subscribe to her free monthly newsletter, get free organizing tips, a monthly organizing calendar, and other useful information and tools to help you get and stay organized.

Now that you've decluttered your mind, why not put it to better use by doing something creative or fun? Read a book (or write one!), get out your camera and take some pictures, go for a walk, go to a museum, attend a lecture or concert, take a class, bake a cake and decorate it, try out a new recipe, teach your dog or cat a new trick. Do something just for fun, and just for you.

Do you have some other ideas, suggestions, or comments? Share them in the comment section below.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Virtual Clutter, Real Problem

The way we send and receive mail has come a long way from when Benjamin Franklin became the first Post Master General in 1775, to the pony express--brave riders on horseback who traveled across dangerous territory, risking life and limb, through all kinds of weather, to carry mail from one part of the country to another between April 1860 to November of 1861, to the present day. Mail has been transported by trains, ships, trucks, and airplanes. Delivery times were cut from several months to, in some cases, same day delivery. Then came the computer age and electronic mail (e-mail), delivering correspondence instantly -- sometimes to the embarrassment of the sender when the "Send" button was hit too quickly, resulting in only half a message being sent, or worse, sending it to the wrong person.

E-mail has certainly made communication easier; but, as with postal (or "snail") mail, e-mail can become another clutter trap. I remember the first time my in-box maxed out at 1000 pieces of e-mail. How did this happen? For one thing, as with paper mail and magazines, I had sometimes been in a hurry, or been ill and unable to check e-mail for a few days, resulting in a backlog. Or, I would save the mail in my in-box because there was an article or a newsletter I wanted to read "later." Although I had created files for various categories of mail, there were some things that just didn't seem to fit anywhere, so they, too, ended up hanging out in the in-box indefinitely.

If you struggle to keep e-mail under control, here are some suggestions to help tame it:
  • If you get a lot of e-mail, check it at least once a day, if possible.
  • Delete obvious junk mail without opening it. Set up your spam filter to catch most junk mail before it even enters your in-box.
  • As with paper mail, open it only once. Then either answer it, discard it, or file it.
  • Set up folders to organize those e-mails you want or need to save, but be selective in what you keep. Name the folders so you can find the material easily.
  • If you're in a hurry, flag e-mail that needs further action. That way, the next time you log on, you won't waste time hunting through your in-box trying to find those items that need your attention.
  • Don't sign up for anything online unless you know you will read and use it.
  • Remove yourself from newsletters that you don't have time to read.
  • Ask your friends to remove you from group mailings they send out. Instead, ask them to use the BCC (blind carbon copy) feature to minimize the risk of spammers getting your e-mail address.
  • For message boards and newsgroups, either read the posts on the web, or change your setting from having all posts sent to you to having a daily or weekly summary, instead.
  • If you send out newsletters or other information to a group of people, set up a distribution list. This saves you from having to write the same letter over and over to each individual, as well as minimizing the number of copies you need to keep for future reference.
  • Delete everything you don't absolutely need. Will you REALLY go back and read an article in a newsletter that is number 899 out of 1000--that is, IF you even remember that you wanted to read it, or have any idea where it is in that sea of e-mail in your in-box? Could you find the information by using your search engine instead?
  • If there is mail you really need to keep indefinitely, burn it to a CD or save it on a thumb drive or other external drive. That way you can delete it from your in-box.
I hope these tips will help you stay organized and keep you from becoming overwhelmed by virtual clutter. How do you deal with your e-mail? Share your tips and comments in the comment section below.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Let's Talk Trash: Dealing with Paper, Junk Mail, and More

Every spring, our apartment complex brings in dumpsters for an annual "Dumpster Day." This gives residents an opportunity to clear out the year's accumulated clutter, toss trash, recycle, and even participate in a site-wide tag sale. However, it's not long after the dumpsters have been towed away, that the worst clutter offender rears its head again--paper!

Even though most people proclaim that we live in an "electronic age," there is still a lot of paper that enters our lives on a daily basis. I must confess, I've always had a special affinity for paper, whether books, notebooks, magazines, writing paper, or cards. I jokingly tell people that I must have been a tree in a former life, and I like to have my "relatives" close by. I like the tactile nature of paper products. E-books have their place and can help you tame clutter, but I still like to be able to feel the texture of the cover, the smoothness of the pages, and have a sense of connection that holding an actual book in your hands provides. However, you can make wise choices to control the number of books taking up space in your home. (More on that below.)

Most of the paper entering our homes today is in the form of newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and bills. In a busy world, it's easy to toss these aside to read "later." Next thing we know, there's a pile of paper where the coffee table, or even the kitchen table, used to be. What's worse is that we may overlook a bill that's due because it's buried in a pile of junk.

If you need to tame the paper monster in your home, here are some tips that might help:

P - Place a small basket or box on a table to collect your incoming mail, preferably near a wastebasket, so that all the mail is in one place. When you open the mail, toss fillers, outside envelopes (unless you use the outer envelopes of bills to record the due dates), outer wrappers, and anything that is obviously "junk."

A - Add your name/address to the National Do Not Mail List. For info go to: If you receive junk mail with a prestamped, preaddressed return envelope, write "Remove me from your mailing list" on the return slip inside or a piece of paper, and mail it to the company in the prepaid envelope.

P - Pick it up to sort through only once. Deal with junk mail immediately by opening it, removing any personally identifiable information (which you will shred), and throw the rest in the wastebasket. Place bills to be paid in a file folder or mail holder until you are ready to pay them. If you are one of the rare, lucky people who still receives letters and cards by postal mail, place these in a letter holder or basket on your desk until you can respond to them. Make it a goal to deal with replies within a week of receipt.

E - Explore the online bill-paying service from your bank, and pay your bills electronically so the paper bills don't enter your home in the first place.

R - Recycle paper (some areas require that white office paper and colored paper be bundled separately for recycling, others do not; so check with your local department of public works or recycling service), newspaper, magazines, and cardboard. Staples do not have to be removed, but DO remove plastic clips or bindings, rubber bands, plastic stickers, membership cards, wire spiral bindings, and plastic wrappers. By the way, shredded paper makes great packing material if you send packages to relatives or friends at holiday time, but use a cross-cut shredder for added security--another way to recycle.

And here are some additional tips:
  • Don't sign up for special magazine subscriptions that have an automatic renewal service unless you are certain you will want to continue your subscription beyond the reduced rate period. Don't subscribe just because a magazine offers a "super savings" rate. If you're not going to read it, you're just wasting your money and adding to the clutter.
  • Keep magazines by your chair or bed. If you haven't read them in a month, or by the time the next issue arrives, put them in the recycle box. If there is an article you want to read or save, tear out the article instead of saving the whole magazine. Then set a time to read the article and either throw it out afterward or file it away.
  • Use a filing cabinet or file box for storing receipts that must be kept for tax purposes.
  • Give each family member a "memory box" in which to store personal memorabilia, including special cards and letters. Scrapbooks or binders with clear pockets can be used for storing special cards and postcards, programs from concerts or plays, etc.
  • To keep your home from looking like the local lending library, you might want to invest in an e-reader. With several different brands on the market, you can choose which works best for you. If you have books you will never read again, you can donate them to your library or public school for their book sales, take them to a used book store, or sell them through Amazon or eBay. Only collect print books of value to you, or by your favorite author(s); and recycle the rest by one of the aforementioned methods, or by donating them to prisons, homeless shelters, or hospitals. Call first to make sure they are accepting donations. You can also check online at or
So, how do you tame the clutter in your home? Do you have a hard time deciding what to keep and what to toss? Share your tips and trials in the comment section below.

Next time: Virtual Clutter

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cleaning, Clutter, and Chronic Pain/Illness

Spring housecleaning! Our mothers and grandmothers tackled this job as soon as the weather permitted the windows and doors to be opened to air out the house after the long winter. Then began the ritual of cleaning everything--furniture, upholstery, drapes, ceilings, walls, woodwork, floors, porcelain, etc. By the time they were done, everything had been picked up, put away, scrubbed clean, and the house and its contents looked fresh and neat.

I can remember tying a scarf around my head, putting on an old shirt and jeans, pinning a towel over the broom or dustmop, and pacing back and forth, back and forth, arms stretched over my head, as I walked the length and breadth of the livingroom, kitchen, or whatever room I happened to be in, removing dustwebs and dust from the ceiling. The walls got the same treatment--up and down, up and down, with the broom or dustmop--after the furniture had been pushed into the middle of the room section by section. Then the drapes and upholstery were vacuumed, the rest of the furniture was dusted, the floor was vacuumed and then mopped--everything done in that precise order so you weren't getting dust on things that had already been cleaned. Throw rugs were taken outside, draped over the clothesline or porch railing, and beaten until the previously trapped dust had floated away on the breeze. (You always made sure you weren't standing downwind, or you'd end up looking like a dust bunny yourself!)

This ritual was passed down from my grandmother to my mother, and from her to me. I continued it in my own home for many years. But, after beginning my journey with chronic pain and illness, that kind of in-depth spring (and fall) cleaning went proverbially "out the window." I could no longer raise my arms over my head long enough to complete even one swipe across the ceiling, let alone do the whole thing. And I no longer had the energy to complete the cleaning of a whole room, never mind the whole house! Housecleaning tasks that I used to do daily, gradually became weekly, and sometimes monthly, semi-annually, or not until someone else could do them.

I once read a quote that said, "A house should be clean enough to be healthy, and messy enough to look lived in." Mine definitely looks "lived in." It's amazing what you accumulate in thirty-plus years of marriage and raising a family. And I swear paper multiplies at night while we're sleeping! In addition to my own things, there are things that had belonged to my mother that passed to me after her death, and had to be removed from her house before it could be sold. So, I ended up with a dresser in the kitchen and boxes in the livingroom behind the sofa--whatever didn't have its own niche was boxed and piled to be gone through at a later date. Another old proverb often quoted is, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." But lives get busy, things get set down to be taken care of "later," especially after an emotional upheaval like the death of a loved one, and later keeps getting pushed further into the future.

I just want to point out here that there is a difference between clutter and hoarding. Clutter accumulates when we are busy, tired, or just plain too lazy to put things where they go or throw out what isn't needed. Hoarding is an illness, a compulsion to keep things because there is an emotional attachment (rational or not) to everything that crosses our path. For some, it might be a compulsion to buy clothes, even if they remain in the original bags with the tags on them for years on end. For others, it's the inability to distinguish what is useful from what is not because "I might need it some day" or because they feel that throwing things out is "wasteful." Hoarders, as seen on two recent TV series--"Hoarders" on A&E TV and "Hoarding: Buried Alive" on TLC--need help from both a mental health professional and an expert organizer, preferably one who is familiar with the dynamics of hoarding. A person with too much clutter, on the other hand, may just need a system, or plan, and perhaps some physical help to deal with the "stuff" that has accumulated, especially if they are physically limited by chronic pain and exhaustion.

There are any number of books on the market to help you deal with clutter problems. I know, because I have several of them cluttering up--I mean located on--my bookcases. Here are some that you may be familiar with: Getting Organized from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, Clutter's Last Stand by Don Azlett, The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton, and many others. These are three, though, that I've found helpful in my own war against clutter.

No matter what book you use, or what strategy you decide to employ, the first thing you need to do is draw up a plan of attack. Don't just dive in because that can lead to frustration and a worse mess. Then try some of these strategies:
  • Start with one room, or one part of a room, at a time.
  • Divide the job into several smaller jobs.
  • Try to enlist help from family or friends if you can't do it alone.
  • Have whatever materials you will need ready, such as boxes labeled "Toss," "Donate," "Sell," "Keep," or whatever works for you.
  • Decide how long you will work, and set a timer. Say you set the timer for 20 minutes. At the end of that time, decide if you want to keep going or if that's enough for the day. If you decide to go for another 20 minutes, that's fine. Just don't overdo.
  • Schedule in breaks so you don't wear yourself out one day and do nothing the rest of the week. After you finish one of the smaller tasks, take a coffee break and sit outside for 10 minutes, or listen to your favorite music.
  • When you finish the task set for the day, evaluate: what worked for you? what didn't? what can you do differently next time?
  • Reward yourself for a job well-done, even if all you cleaned off was an end table. By doing a little bit at a time, over time, you'll reap the reward of a more orderly home and the satisfaction of what you've accomplished.
There are also clutter support groups online, such as Or, talk to a couple of your friends about getting together and taking turns helping each other with the decluttering with the hostess serving refreshments afterward.

What are your clutter issues? Have you tried using a book, or a support group? What worked for you? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.

Next: Dealing with Paper and Junk Mail

Monday, March 22, 2010

All Plans Are Tentative

"The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself." -- Anna Quindlen

The above quotation is one of the Story Circle Network's writing prompts for this week, and it seemed like the perfect way to begin the first-quarter evaluation of my goals for this year. How about you--are you still working on the goals you set back in January? Did you give up before the month was out, or are you making progress? Did your initial enthusiasm for accomplishing great things this year peter out in the light of reality? Did you expect too much of yourself, too many changes, too many projects, and get bogged down in them all? Did you give up and decide to try again next year? Or are you still going strong?

No matter how good our intentions, life has a way of throwing us curves that derail even the best-laid plans. Then we beat ourselves up because we didn't do what we said we'd do, and before we know it we have talked ourselves into giving up altogether. If we can't be perfect, we might as well quit, right? Wrong, because perfect doesn't exist. We are humans, and being human means being imperfect. Don't let a false, unrealistic ideal prevent you from doing anything. Do what works for you.

When I began sharing my goals in January, I had no way of knowing I would sustain another hand injury in February, which greatly hampered my ability to type and keep up with my blog and other writing goals. Also, when you live with chronic pain and illness, as I do, the reality is that all plans are tentative because you never know from one day to the next how you will feel, or how much energy you'll have. Fortunately, my family and friends have come to understand this.

Even if you've gotten off course, there is no need to give up entirely. Take some time right now to review the goals you set in January. Looking back over the past three months, what were your problem areas? Instead of allowing yourself to be overcome with discouragement, take this opportunity to reevaluate and prioritize your goals. Make note of what was working and what was not. Did you take on too much given the amount of time and energy you have? Looking at your goals, decide what is the most important thing for you to accomplish this year, and focus on that one goal. Work on the others as time permits, but let go of the guilt if you have to put those off for later. Now that we're three months into the year, you're in a better position to evaluate what is realistic for you and what is not.

My overriding goal for this year was to find at least one thing each day for which to be thankful or grateful, and to strive to maintain a positive attitude and outlook. Although, at times, this has been difficult, it has been a valuable challenge and daily reminder of the blessings in my life. Abraham Lincoln said, "If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will." I believe the inverse is also true, and not just about people but about events. If you look for the good--in people, in life-- you will surely find it--and I have. Moral: Make a game of it, a personal challenge to find even one good thing each day, and it will improve both your mood and your outlook.

The second goal was to begin revisions on my work in progress. I got off to a good start, then lost momentum with the hand injury and have had a hard time getting back into it. Since this goal is important to me, I have once again hooked up with my writing buddy from last November's National Novel Writing Month, for mutual support, encouragement, and accountability. As of today, I'm back on track. Moral: If you got derailed, pick up from where you left off and keep going. Don't make quitting an option. Schedule in "breaks" to allow for unexpected interruptions in your plans.

The third goal was to declutter one day a week. This goal has become a habit, now, even though there have been three Thursdays (not consecutive) when it wasn't possible to do this: twice because of my hand injury, and once because of an appointment that took up the afternoon. Even so, I have made good progress, and even spent two days decluttering one week to make up for missing it the week before. Moral: Be flexible. If you have to miss working on a goal on it's scheduled day, work on it a different day...or work on it two days that week. Don't be so rigid that you miss opportunities to make progress.

Goal four was to join two offline writer's groups. In February, I joined the Women's Story Circle Network, founded by author Susan Wittig Albert in 1997. Their mission statement is to help women share the stories of their lives and raise public awareness of the importance of women's personal histories. However, I have not yet joined a second writing group because I realized I needed more information about the degree of involvement and time commitment that might be required, before taking that step. Moral: Perhaps it's better to start with one group, and be able to really participate, than to join two and not be able to give either one the time or attention to make the experience a valuable one.

The last goal was to get a package of memorabilia from my mother's house mailed to my brother. I hadn't realized the emotional impact, nearly two years after her death, that dealing with her things would still have. That, combined with the physical exhaustion of chronic illness, has caused delaying this goal--especially since there is the possibility they might come to visit this spring and would be able to take the box back with them rather than me having to ship it to them. Moral: Self-imposed deadlines are not always meant to be written in stone, especially if there may be more than one option for accomplishing the goal.

To summarize, when working on goals:
  1. Make a game of it.
  2. Don't quit, keep going.
  3. Be flexible.
  4. Start small.
  5. Look for other options.

So, how are you doing so far with your goals for this year? If you got derailed, will you join me in getting back on track? We still have nine months, three-quarters of this year, in which to achieve our goals. And for those who have managed to keep working steadily on your goals, share with us what keeps you motivated. Do you give yourself rewards along the way? What works for you? Leave your thoughts/comments in the comment section.

P.S. One of my goals for this week was to post a new blog entry and bring my gratitude journal up to date. Accomplished! YAY!