Transitions Suck! (or Not!)

Here I am – the first morning of a three night camping event.

Oh jeez – it has been crazy. You see, it is time for breakfast – the clock, the sun, and my stomach all agree. But I don’t know where all the various parts of my breakfast stuff are. More specifically, I don’t know where a spoon is. Just like I don’t know where my toothbrush is, or my boot socks, or my little bottle of stevia. Yes – I know they are all in the car. But the car is packed two layers deep with boxes and bags and sacks. Whatever was at my room at the boarding house – all of that is in my car right now – including a printer, a heavy winter coat, at least three boxes of books or papers – and my spoon. It is all a jumble.

That’s what I meant by compromise. It turns out that I only had time to pack everything, not time to sort things into neat little subpiles and pack those into little containers, and then pack all of that into the car. To say it makes it sound so simple, but when my brain is the one carrying all those loose details around, some things are sure to get misplaced or dropped.

I started out trying to recreate my whole camping set-up from last summer during the camping extravaganza across the mid-West and SW. But nothing had stayed where it was six months ago. I moved from the car to a room in a house. I must have rearranged things once or twice a month. But I didn’t do any deep resorting this winter, so… the de-structuring spread throughout every system I had in place as so many things were repurposed in the new environment.

And I forgot to write down how things worked last summer!!

I could be so irritated and pissed off, and if I were in a place that I didn’t want to be, indeed that is exactly how I would react. Today – it is all just too funny – slapstick, True Lies and A Fish Called Wanda, things-are-going-from-bad-to- impossibly-worse, but it will be all right because Love is in the Air and I am in the right place – funny.

So – I find the pieces for a breakfast – and devour it will relish and happy thoughts. And I leave you with the choice to be giddy no matter how disorganized it is around you.

Go. Find something that brings you joy or makes you laugh. And peace be with you.

A Grand Welcome

I forgot how noisy a southern forest is at night during a cicada summer. It is my first night camping since last November. The gusty wind snakes sinuous currents through the deciduous canopy above and around my tent. That undulating roar, high and low, is accompanied by chirps of crickets, deep croaking tiny frogs, the relentless, drumming shrill of cicadas and all manner of unknown night creatures. Safe in my tent, I lie half awake. With each breath I take the sounds into my lungs and pores, deep into my belly and down to my toes to bath and cleanse my soul. The confusion of a million nearby souls is washed away.

I have forgotten how the psychic grime of the human collective called a city sticks in the corners and collects as thickly as the dust in a desert storm – like the accumulation of dirt in a poorly maintained kitchen.

Now I fall asleep and in some deep, slumbering part of me, essential-me awakes, smiles, and greets the sounds and smells and feel of this place, a place that feels like home to my deepest self.

My soul is not yet completely cleansed or unwound but this first night out-of-doors is a grand welcome home.

Posting Update, a Sheepish Grin, and a Wave

That post – you know the one – where I said I would be posting daily for a month or something? Yeh, that post. Well, I haven’t.

I could be in guilt-land, where the women weep, the men don’t brush their teeth or cut their hair – ever, and there are no children (as you can imagine!). An misshapen place where things just don’t go together very well. Actually I skirted the edges for a while, and decided not to go in.

I realized that, however noble it was to make a stand – right here in public, for everyone to see, that it was not the right stand for me right now. Yes – my writing would improve, and my writing process for producing blog posts would be polished. But I forgot one thing. I forgot my heart. This blog is a path for me to learn about my heart – and to share it with my friends, the ones who want to cheer me one. I can’t mechanize that. Or publish to a schedule.

It turns out that I have a rather short bandwidth right now – I can only attend to two or three things at a time. Number one is my daily take-care-of-health routine (eating, exercise, meditation, wrist and finger exercises). Number two is transitioning – physically I mean. I am moving out of one place in order to do two different house sits here in St. Louis and then I am headed up to Edmondton, Alberta for August (the Canadian Border Patrol willing). Transitioning is complicated – sifting and packing and getting set back up (twice) and then packing for the summer trip.

And I have a longer term project, one that will greatly support all other aspects of my life. And I am working on it – hard, and making progress. Frankly more progress than I thought was possible. There will be no public announcement of details here, not before I have something solid to show for my time and effort. It isn’t secret so much as it is in the gestation period – where it needs to be protected and nurtured. But day by day, this special project is growing within and slowly taking form. With all this going on – the daily posting was too much. Perhaps another time, when it isn’t a burden, but a joy.

Anyway, I just wanted to make a short retraction, and say that I am sorry – no daily posts for a bit. But I will stay in touch as the spirit moves me. And I can post pictures, too.

So stay tuned. I’ll be around. This adventure is not over yet (waving)!

Meredith

Week One of “Getting Posts Published”

Well, I promised accountability and so here is the report of my first week of effort.

First, the numbers. Out of seven days, I published on 5, so I am batting .714 (That’s very good.)!

But more important are the lessons. I have two from this week.

The first is a system to create ideas into posts. I have created a 3 step system for blog posting. This is minimalist, but I like to start with as few moving parts as possible. I mostly divided the work up by mind-set and “container”, in this case, physical container.

Step One is the collection of ideas. The container for this step is a spreadsheet that lists the ideas. I add new ideas by hand to the list and I edit the digital list every couple of days. You can see how this allows me to have a cushion of ideas – a savings account for a rainy day.

Step Two is accumulated in my Writing Practice Journal. I love to go out to a coffee shop or sit somewhere new and scribble whatever comes to mind for a set time. No judgement. No checking spelling or looking up details or worrying about syntax. A lot of the time I don’t even have a computer. This is fun, breaking rules, trying new stuff. Some of it is good and some of it is really bad. This is where I let my quirky child out to play.

It is Step Three where my inner adult comes to tidy things up a little. The two of us (child and parent) select a piece that could be turned into something that we want to share with others. We type it up and edit. Hopefully we have some time to proof our final draft. And then we let it go free. I like this step, because I can stockpile a few of these “ready to go” pieces, which gives my schedule more flexibility. This all happens on WordPress – so that is my third container. And it is easily backed up, so there is a cushion against catastrophe built-in.

I have been practicing these three steps all week. And I am sure that my blog post publishing process will undergo additions and refinements – but that is next week’s work.

But there is something even important that I learned this week.

I learned that for me to have a sustainable writing life, there is a foundation that I must attend to every day. I must stick with to the practice, the actions, that help me stay emotionally stable, mentally focused and physically active. Every day. I’ve written about how much difference what I eat makes. It’s like that.

I think I have just figured out that my life is an ecosystem – and I’m in charge of keeping it as green as possible. Nice.

Violets Decimate Donuts in Crowd-Pleasing Playoff

World's Fair Donuts

World’s Fair Donuts – corner of Shaw and Vandeventner in St. Louis.

It was Sunday, and I had a simple plan for the afternoon.  I had been promising to bring my dad some donuts from the neighborhood’s best donut place, World’s Fair Donuts for weeks – and today was the day.

One of the things that I really like about my wintering over spot in St Louis is that downtown is steeped in history.  You see, my spot is nestled right next to the intersection of the first botanical garden in the US, the Missouri Botanic Gardens, and historic Tower Grove Park, donated to the people of St Louis by Henry Shaw in 1868, in the neighborhood crammed with older brick homes and buildings known as Southwest Gardens.

And delightfully, it is only a matter of a comfortable walk to either the Botanical Gardens or to the World’s Fair Donuts shop, which has some of the best cake donuts that I have ever tasted.

On this day, it was about 2:30pm before I could set out to get the donuts to take out to my dad.  I had promised that I would bring them tonight. Plain, cake donuts – for dunking in Community Coffee with added half and half and sugar – the only way to have them.

But when I there and opened the door, I was astonished to find only two thinly stocked shelves of pastries left – and none of them were plain or cake!!  NO!  This can not be!  Dorothy (that’s not her real name, but it should be), the faithful and hardworking soul who was always behind the counter to take your change and dispense her delectables explained that they were sold out on this day.

I have to stop here and try to describe Dorothy.  She is short and sharp and bright and her eyes direct.  She has a economy of motion that speaks of years of practice at what she is doing so cheerfully.  She first spoke to me when I showed up with my left forearm in a cast – I had just broken my wrist.  And I learned that she had broken her upper arm – and the surgery had involved putting in a rod through the bone lengthwise.  She is the first one to mention that my recovery might include as much as a year of physical therapy.  She had clearly recovered from her own serious break and restored her body to full function.  She showed me her scars! And I was amazed that she never needed the cash register to add anything up for anyone’s purchase – she did it all in her head!! She and her husband get up at 1:30am to open the donut shop at 3am.  And they are busy all day long till they close at 3pm each day.   I really admire these people.

Anyway.  Dorothy said, “Sorry. We are all sold out.  We have had a line out the door and down the street since 4 this morning.  I have had a steady stream of customers for the past seven and a half hours.  It was all those people that were going to the African Violet Festival at the Botanical Garden.”

I shrugged my shoulders. Clearly – no donuts today.  I’ll have to try some other day when the Botanical Garden is not having a sale on violets.  Sigh.

P.S. Please forgive the Sports Headline. I was under the influence of watching the Cardinals win 2-1 over the Pirates in the bottom of the tenth last night.

Irises and Roses

There is a house in Arnold, MO with deep purple irises and roses and pinks outside the front door and an inhabited bird’s nest in the wreath on the door.  To see it with one’s eyes, it is not exceptional or easily distinguished from the other houses in the neighborhood.

As you walk inside, you would see a simple living room with an L-shaped couch arrangement and a large recliner – room enough for 4-6 people to sit and easily converse.  One wall is covered by two tall bookshelves separated by a flat-screen TV perpetually where two ripening jars of homemade yogurt are warmed by the digital box upon which they sit.

On one night a week, this simple, unremarkable space is the place where 3-5 women come together to meditate.  The leader of the group is Diana, a slender woman usually dressed for comfort, not for style, but who always exudes a competent and tidy air.  I don’t know how she does it, but her grey hair never seems to be out of place.  It is her eyes, bright and observant, and her voice, welcoming and non-judgemental, that suggest that she might not be as simple as her appearance or her house.  I have never heard her speak an unkind word.

On the nights that this group meets, we all experience something that is hard to describe.  After a few words of checking in, we sit and grow quiet, and then for 20 minutes, we attend to our breath.  It is a daily practice for each of us, a practice for being mindful.  After the meditation, we listen to a small part of a set of lectures on Buddhist practice, and discuss our insights and (sometimes) confusions.  The lecture and discussion give our right brains something to chew on, so that it can contribute to the development of our mindfulness.

I don’t know what the actually experience is for the others in the group.  Most of them have been meditating for a very long time.  But for me it is something that can be described indirectly.  My favorite current phrase is that I feel “bigger on the inside” when I have meditated.  Meditating reminds me that the surface of all the people and things that I see are bigger, more complex, more amazing than what I can see from surface examination.

It isn’t a blue London police box; and it doesn’t travel through time and space, but still this house, this room, these people all remind me that all things are different from that which we see – and that everything is bigger on the inside.

What I Eat – It Makes All The Difference

Lately I have been playing with the impact of what I eat on how I feel – and act – and think.  Truthfully, I have never been convinced that how or what or when I eat has any real impact on my moods, other that whether I am hungry or not.  But this time, I started to write things down in a journal.

I have to say, it was a big revel.

So here was the set up.  There were two rules.  I ate at least 30 grams of protein for breakfast, within one hour of getting up, every day.  And I wrote down what I ate (all day) along with when I ate it, and how I felt physically and emotionally/mentally.  That seemed simple. Eat protein for breakfast.  Write it all down.

But after a couple of days, the revelations and ah-ha’s started pouring down around my head.

You see, I had started in a pretty bad place. Down, feeling useless and unmotivated.  Stuck.  Down in a Cave. Didn’t like anybody, especially me.  All I wanted to eat was Donuts and baked potatoes and Wendy’s hamburgers (and Dr. P and fries).

Three days later I was spontaneously writing, and jumping up to run to the grocery for more protein options. More impressive, I liked people (and myself) again.  The lesson was very clear. Sugar was out; Protein was in.  And let’s keep experimenting.

OK – three days does not a theory prove.  But today I am 19 days in.  Not completely sugar free, but 95% I’d estimate  (I’d have to go back and look through the food journal).  Mostly I focus on the protein, complex carbs and veggies, and  the journaling – to keep it real.  When I slip in a little chocolate, I just see if there is a huge consequence the next day.  Can I feel the difference?  Can I still think clearly?  Do I take an unexpected nosedive in the middle of the afternoon?  Am I still driven to write?   Can I still stick to my commitments?

I am really motivated to keep figuring this basic relationship between me and food out.  If this is what it takes to keep my brain clear enough to write, then that is what I will do.  Because I really, really want to move this writing thing from my journal out to the world for all to see.  And if all I need to sacrifice is a few ice cream cones – so be it.  Writing is so worth it!!

I still have lots to learn. And many more days of practicing this new-to-me relationship to food.  And there will be challenges as I begin my travels this summer across the magnificent western and northern landscapes. I am curious to see what impact the increase in physical activity will have on my sensitivities to sugar now that I know what I am looking for.  All I know is that it will all be interesting.  Yes, of course, I will keep you all posted.

Meredith

PS: Please take note.  My experiences ( the major ups and downs) with sugar are not universal.  That is, your body may tolerate sugar better than mine does.  However, if something I have said in this post makes you want to know more, I am following Kathleen DesMansion’s work written up in Potatoes, Not Prozac and on her website: RadiantRecovery.com.

Yogurt – On the Road

Sticking to a Diet

Being on the road is not the best environment for a custom designed diet.  Small towns have not been blessed (or cursed) with an local equivalent to Whole Foods, so any specific organic or wheat-free or dairy-free munchie is a little hard to find. The diet that works best for me is a high protein diet, and recently, having gotten tired of chicken all the time, I have started to experiment with making my own yogurt.  Soy milk seems to have permeated most of the US, so I thought I would try my hand at making soy yogurt (8 grams of protein per 6 oz).

Turning to the Web

Thanks be for the internet.  I found two links of interest.  The first is simply named Homemade Vegan Yogurt which gives easy to follow step-by-step instructions that are so simple I’m not going to repeat them here.  I will say that in my first experiment I used flax seed as a thickener (I had some around in the cupboard), and that I wish that I could find the cheesecloth that I bought up in Minnesota so that I could strain out the watery whey.  But it tasted really good.

My second link is something that I want to try.  It was such an amazing idea to take yogurt making on the road.  It’s Yogurt Making in a Thermos.  Just click on the link to see the simple instructions.

And please, if you try it out before I do, please come back and let us know how it goes.

 

Publishing Practice Countdown: Day 2 of 58 (so far so good!)

Play and Practice (and a little Accountability)

DroughtThis (not posting) drought has gone on long enough. I’m not sure that I know how to fix it, but I do know that not posting isn’t getting me anywhere.

I need a new system. A new system of converting my daily writing practice into something that other folks (like you) might be interested in reading. And I need it to be fun (somehow).

Cairene (from ThirdHandWorks.com) is my mentor regarding all things about creating new systems. Her real secret is that she never, ever judges the person; it is the system that is broken, never the human.

She tells a story about a creative pottery class that goes something like this. The deal was that each person would receive their grade based on just one piece of pottery at the end of the semester. Each student was free to make as many or as few pieces as they wanted. Of course it sounded like a great deal to the students who dreamed of creating the one perfect piece, but the teacher, who had done this before, knew one thing that the students did not. And that one thing was that the best grade in the class invariably went to the student who produced the highest number of pottery pieces.

And so, it is time to me to take Cairene’s lesson from this story and turn into action. It is time publish often, to practice publishing. And to be mindful. To try out different things. To see what works for the writing, what works for the editing. Can I create two or three quickies – and bank them for a rainy day? When to write? When to edit? How to mix those two things in a single day? How many posts can I have going? How many pots on the stove?

And here is the accountability piece of the puzzle.

I will post daily for the next 56 days – that is, the next 8 weeks. That is the number of days that I will be staying in St. Louis area.

I don’t promise anything about quality. Or length. Or relevance. Some days it might be just a photograph or a poem or a series of links to interesting sites. The promise (to myself and to you) is to publish something daily for the rest of my time here. And another promise is to myself; and that is to play – to see how to do this easily, effortlessly, with a smile on my face.

You get to laugh with me.

Hang on. It is sure to be an interesting ride.

Meredith

A Year of Being Grateful

2014 has been quite a year, and, being me, I’ve been trying to figure out what “worked”, what has made a difference. Here is one thing. By any measure, I am more grateful today than I was a year ago. It started simply enough – I simply put myself in the way of things I was grateful for.

I did not start out with an intention to choose thoughts of gratitude – it just came as I traveled. And I met interesting people, and had interesting adventures, and saw cool animals in the wild. And I took pictures and wrote some things on the blog. I chose things that I loved. Easy.

GratitudeJournal-WebIt wasn’t until November that I started to put the pieces together. I was in Canada having leftover turkey soup with a new friend – who was a maker of these amazing journals. And she just gave me one – beautiful marbled pattern on leather with the most extravagant details. It was a perfect place to put my daily “gratitudes”.  Another friend (in Minnesota) and I had just been talking about the power of writing down the those things we are grateful for each night.

Gratitude had been knocking at my door. It showed up as a “freebie” called Set Yourself Up for Your Best Year Ever. It even showed up in a Fast Company article “How Being Grateful Can Change Your Life”. (The last one even has some science in it.)

So I have invited Gratitude in and made friends. I will only say that it seems to have made a significant difference.

You probably know what is coming next. Yes. It is a list – a list of a few of the people, events, choices, things that I am grateful for. Let me be clear. This is not a list of stuff that I ought to be grateful for, or even that I am glad for – that list is way, way too long. This the stuff that cracked open my heart until it just stays open a lot of the time – the stuff that still, after months, makes me smile.

  • Each and every morning I awoke to the morning song of birds. And each and every bird I sighted (the list is too long to share).
  • Every cold, clear and dark night I walked to the outhouse with the Milky Way stretched its arms out above me.
  • Collectively, all the hikes up Scott’s Bluff National Monument that brought me face to face with crazy-mind-stopping fears – that I faced down and kept on walking.
  • The woman that I camped next to in Capitol Reef National Park, who taught me how to take a hike slowly and with patience.  Two days later I hiked an “expert” trail to Cassidy Arch on my own – she taught me well.
  • The evening of music on Open Mic Night at the Bean Broker in Chadron, NE.   Each individual gave their heart to those of us who were listening.
  • And intense 30 minutes of taking photos along Mount Rushmore’s Presidential Trail with a thunderstorm gathering above, about to break.
  • Amongst all the heavenly hot showers, the gift of borrowed hotel room hot shower when I had been staying at a showerless campground for a week!
  • All of the people that were friendly or kind or fun or helpful – each one reminded me that I really do like people.  I had forgotten that.
  • Public libraries and the service-focused librarians in Atkinson, KS, Lincoln, NE, Broken Bow, NE, Fort Collins and Westminster, CO, Scotts Bluff and Chadron, NE, Custer, SD, and Robber Roost Bookstore in Torrey, UT – all places where I stopped to write for a while.
  • And the shear, magnificent beauty of all the places that I traveled to.  Everywhere I went there was magnificence and grandeur.

Those are the ones that I remember right now – but I find that the accumulation of experience remembered and not-quite remembered has added up to something of a transformation that I didn’t plan, but that I thirsted for.

It was a year to remember.  I pray that the next year be as astonishing – for me – for you – for all of us.