January Intention: Clarity

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January is a popular month to declutter and organize. The average household has 300,000 things! And I’m not ashamed to admit that I like things. I could never live in a home with bare walls and sparse decorations, but there is a limit to my comfort level with things. I don’t like piles of papers on kitchen counters, overstuffed drawers, and hanging onto things that I don’t either love or have a use for. I like to know where things are when I need them, but I don’t necessarily want all of them out in the open on display for all to see. Everyone’s tolerance for the amount of possessions in their homes will be different. Clearing out my physical environment to my liking helps me to simplify my surroundings making cleaning and everyday living easier and more peaceful. It also gives me a sense of control over my environment which helps me feel more centered inside. Gretchen Rubin succinctly summed up this state of being: “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” It certainly does for me.

It’s only natural then that I like to take decluttering my physical environment a step further and declutter my mind. While I’ll be clearing out drawers, closets, and the basement, I will be limiting incoming information and taking a break from social media and the news during the whole month of January. In essence, I will be making room for more positive input, and creative and mindful engagement.  I will be reestablishing my Mini Habits, getting a head start on my reading for 2019, and working on my blog. I love to read and write and nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time on Facebook or watching the news. I want to put my energy into the things that truly matter to me.

For me, January is the launchpad for the rest of the year. It’s about making room for the things that matter and clearing out the things that get in the way. It’s about reconnecting with myself, remembering what brings me joy, and creating intentions that support my values.

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.” Josephine Nuese

 

Happy New Year!

Jen

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The Making of New Year Resolutions and Living Intentionally

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Happy New Year! Well, almost. I hope your holidays were joyful and healthy. I had a beautiful Christmas with family and I was most grateful for the recent return of my cousin Michele from a nine month deployment in Kuwait. It was wonderful to see her reunited with her young family and share another Christmas Eve with her and our whole extended family. I am truly grateful for my wonderful family.

Now that the hustle and bustle of the season is giving way to the quiet of winter, it is time to draw hearthside to reflect upon my intentions for the new year.  For the last two years I have been setting monthly, weekly, and daily intentions and goals rather than sweeping yearly resolutions. I’m not sure about you, but I have found New Year’s Resolutions to be too general to adhere to for a long period of time and stopped making them years ago.  Instead, I gave a lot of thought to what I valued in my life and began to create intentions and goals that supported those values to live a more meaningful life.

In order to make this work I reflected upon the difference between values, intentions, and goals. Values are the things most important to you in life. They are abstract concepts, not things that get checked off as done or bought with money. When you define your personal values decision-making becomes easier.  I have a list of about ten core values that I keep in a special binder to remind myself of what is truly important to me. Every now and then I review them just to keep them at the forefront of my mind. Intentions are a practice you set for yourself each day that allows you to live your values. They are a guide for how you want to show up each day. Like values, they cannot be checked off as done. I like intentions because they help me focus on positive actions  and keep me from perseverating on my worries. Goals are more concrete. They are things you can complete and check off. When goals are connected to your value-driven intentions you are more likely to succeed. This is intentional living.

Each month I will focus on one or two of my personal values creating daily, weekly, and monthly intentions and goals  that support them. I will be using this blog and my Ink and Volt planner to keep track of my commitments. I love the Ink and Volt planner because it allows for so many ways to write down and keep track of your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly intentions and goals. ( I am in no way affiliated with this company. I just really like their planners.) Just writing this all down is making me excited to begin another year of living well. I would love to know how you’re going to embrace the new year. Drop me a line and let me know what works for you. Best wishes for your 2019.

Thanks for reading,

-Jen

December Reflections & Intentions

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The end of the year is upon us and it’s time to reflect on how 2018 has unfolded. Personally, I have felt a profoundly positive shift in myself as a person. There were times in the past when I felt so anxious I felt as if I were walking around the circular edge of a black hole using all my energy to keep from falling in. This drain on my energy would ebb and flow several times a year along with numerous migraines and its side-effects. I always felt like I was recovering and starting over only to be sidelined by another bout of anxiety and/or a migraine attack of varying severity. In short, life sometimes felt overwhelming and then I would feel “normal” again and almost forget the pain.

Over the last two years I have been making a concerted effort to live intentionally. I believe this was born of an attempt to reign in my anxiety and the out-of-control feeling migraines brought to my life, along with a genuine desire to truly be a better human being.  Lately, it’s as if the light in me has grown brighter causing the darkness to ride shot gun more often.  I am becoming a more disciplined person less likely to be ruled by fleeting moods.  And it should be stated that medication has made a huge impact on me, perhaps building a foundation of stability upon which to put my intentions into practice. My migraines have also become less severe and less common in my late forties – a change I am incredibly grateful for. And it doesn’t hurt that I love my job, and I am surrounded by all kinds of inspiring awesome people at home and out in my community.

The irony of living intentionally is that I am constantly made aware of two things: that no matter how well I have lived out my intentions I can always reach deeper and that there is no finish line. Living intentionally is not a race to be won. It is a way of living and I consider myself to be a novice. And be careful if you ask for God’s help because He does answer prayers and it’s not usually what you thought it would be. Instead of waving his magic wand He sends opportunities and challenges your way so be prepared. Seriously, I asked Him for patience the other day and I received an avalanche of opportunities to practice patience. That was a tough day. It showed me that as patient as I have become I still have a lot of work to do.

So, in the spirit of connection, my intention for December is (drum roll please) …patience. I shudder as I type this because I know what this means. I will have lots of practice. My goal for the month of December is to meditate on patience every morning for a minimum of two minutes.  See Mini Habits for why I only set two minutes as a goal. I also plan to practice at least two deep breaths before handling a frustrating situation with another person. I know, that sounds so cheesy, but that one or two seconds can make a huge difference between overreacting and intentionally handling the situation. Oh boy. What am I getting myself into?!?!  And it’s December no less! Well, I sure do love a challenge. Send me positive vibes because I’m going to need them. And best wishes to all of you out there just trying to be a good person each and every day.

 

-Jen

 

Celebrating Autumn and Winter Evenings

The clocks have been turned back to standard time and many of us will be returning home from work in the dark with the shortest day of the year still another 6 or so weeks away. For many of us, this is the beginning of a very depressing time of year. But since I was young I’ve usually been able to embrace the beauty and calm of the late afternoon and early evening darkness.  While I love a beautiful sunny day with the whole world lit up there is something magical about tiny pinpoints of light against a dark background, the soft glow against the surrounding shadows from one or many candles, the cozy warm light spilling out a house window at night, and the hypnotizing dance of flickering flames in a fire pit or fireplace.

When I light a candle, turn on twinkle lights, look at the stars, or turn on a small lamp, I feel an instant calmness and centering, as well as a deep admiration for its beauty. There is also, I think, a primal reassurance given off by soft glowing light. After all, the discovery of fire by our early human ancestors helped them in a myriad of ways. Fire provided them  with warmth, safety, and a different way of eating that allowed them to become the modern humans we are today.   Could it be that my attraction to candles, twinkle lights, and other soft sources of light are embedded in my DNA? In my humanity? In my soul? Perhaps I’m giving too much power to a candle. After all, it’s just wax and a wick. Or is it? By providing these soft pockets of light throughout my house I feel I am creating a home for my family.  This act of creation brings me great joy and a sense of purpose.  These small beacons of light tell everyone who enters our home that you are safe and you will be taken care of.

Twinkle lights and candles will not cure depression but they certainly lift a gloomy mood or at least add beauty to your evening, and, I like to think, connect us to those who came before us. The world was even darker before modern times and I can only imagine how the weary traveller felt when he saw a candle in a window. Today, we have electric lights that can light up your whole house as if the night never existed and yet I find those lights harsh and invasive. It is the small glowing light surrounded by darkness and shadows that brings such peace and tranquility. When we moved into our neighborhood 20 years ago I was overjoyed that there were no street lights.  It meant that we could enjoy the stars at night…the same stars that our early human ancestors looked upon.

As the darkness envelops our days, unfurling it’s long arms from the shadows, and wrapping itself around each and every home, I will punctuate it with as many patterns of light that I desire…by lighting a lamp in my reading nook, lighting a candle during dinner, flipping on the twinkle lights during a party, or adding faerie lights to the nooks and crannies in my house. The darkness will serve as my canvas making the light stand out even more. That is my prescription (well, one of them),  for embracing the long nights of Autumn and Winter.

Are you a fan of shorter days and longer nights? Do you use candles and other sources of light to create beauty and calm in your home? (Photos would be lovely!)

 

-Jen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Listening

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I have been practicing mindful listening these last two months and there’s been a lot of falling-off-the-horse-and-getting-back-on business.  Just when I’m patting myself on the back for doing what I think is a good job there’s always my middle child lamenting, “You did not listen to me”.  Ouch. Me!?!? But I’ve been practicing mindful listening, I say to myself, as if the practice itself will shield me from moments of failure. Then, just as quickly, I remember, I am human. Mindful listening is a practice, not a destination, and I’m going to screw it up…. a lot.  Shamefully, I also realized I often accuse my husband of not listening to me when I am just as guilty. My daughter’s calling me out reminded me that I was off track in that moment and I renewed my resolve to do better.  Mindful listening, I believe, cultivates healthier relationships both personally and professionally. I want to be a more mindful listener.  I want to be a better mother, wife, daughter, sibling, teacher, coworker, and friend.

Not feeling heard is so disempowering. It sucks. I don’t want the people in my life to feel unheard by me. It leads to misunderstanding and disconnection weakening the relationship.  I can think of many times when I felt unheard or misunderstood or worse, when someone purposely twisted the conversation to insert their agenda to relieve their own insecurities.  And now that I’m practicing mindful listening I’m becoming more aware of when I fail as a listener. When a friend starts to get defensive during a simple conversation I now know I need to look at how I’m contributing to that scenario. Often, we don’t realize we’re not being mindful listeners. We nod our heads and say “hmm-hmm” at all the “right” times, but our minds are often judging what the person is saying and formulating responses. All kinds of emotions will flood our minds as well and some of those emotions trigger uncomfortable feelings. For example, just talking about parenting with your mom friends can be a minefield. As moms we want to be heard but sometimes when we’re sharing our most personal struggles it triggers very strong emotions in the listener who may feel the need to control the conversation to make those uncomfortable feelings go away. And then your friend feels like the conversation got away from her and, if it happens often enough, both trust and connection begin to get chipped away. Being able to recognize and let go of the judgements, assumptions, and negative feelings while listening to your friend talk will go a long way to building trust and connection. Mindful listening helps me to recognize when my mind is being hi jacked by judgement and emotions and to LET THEM GO. It’s not an easy task, but with practice it gets easier.

Mindful listening is not only beneficial in our personal lives, but in our professional lives as well. My work as a paraprofessional in an Autism Spectrum Disorder program at a local elementary school has also illuminated for me the need to improve my listening skills. My students often have challenges expressing themselves often leaving out or not recognizing important details, or simply seeing things in a unique way,  that cause confusion in their work and social interactions.  In order to help them navigate their world and solve real world problems I need to elicit their thoughts and understanding about their task or social situation.  But most importantly, I need to build their trust. Mindful listening gives me the tools to build trust and true connection with each of my students. If an assumption or judgement floats into my mind while I’m trying to help them communicate I work really hard to let it go as I continue to listen to them and support their problem solving. In the past, I’ve jumped  in too fast sometimes causing confusion and misunderstanding leading to students shutting down and/or taking way too much time to undo the confusion.  That’s not how I want to support my students.

Cultivating mindful listening has led me to look into a mindfulness practice. It only seems logical that practicing mindfulness will help me be a better listener. I just started two weeks ago using the relax mode on my brand new Fitbit. I try to do it before I leave for work. I am only meditating for two to five minutes right now. I hope to increase it to ten minutes most days of the week.  It’s amazing how many thoughts jump into your head while you’re focusing on your breath. I’ve even started to catch myself practicing mindfulness while doing the dishes and even driving the car. (No, it’s not distracting – just the opposite:-) I am catching myself more often when my mind begins to wander during conversations and that feels very empowering.

So here’s to mindful listening. My goal this week is to stay on the horse a little bit longer than last week, and when I do fall off, to get right back on. Wish me luck!

 

-Jen

 

October Goals and Intentions

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My goals this month are simple: continue to practice mindful listening , continue practicing my Mini Habits, and walk ten thousand steps per day.  I’m loving the goals I have set for myself. I am noticing better self-control and awareness in my everyday interactions.

Practicing mindful listening is making me more aware of the intrusive thoughts that enter my mind while someone else is speaking. You know the ones. They make you want to jump in with a similar experience or even something totally non-related and the next thing you know you’ve interrupted your friend or loved one. Once I’m aware I am able (usually) to let them go and continue to focus on the person speaking. I am becoming Ok with not always needing to share my thoughts, but just listening and allowing the speaker to hold center stage.

Mini Habits have been a bit more challenging for me. I haven’t been 100% faithful, but I’ve noticed that I don’t beat myself up for missing a day here or there and it’s so easy to get back on board because my mini habit is so simple. So if it’s so simple why did a I  miss a day here or there you ask? Well, September was EXHAUSTING and MIND-ERASING! I will not bore you with the details but if you work full time and have kids and your husband went away and worked two eight day stretches in a row…yeah, you get it. Life happens.

And as for walking ten thousand steps per day I received a Fit Bit for my birthday. So I decided let’s do this. I’m only on day two so I have a 100% success rate;-) I’m hoping the weather cooperates so I can continue my winning streak through the autumn months. Walking on the treadmill is soooo boring. Sigh. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that too soon.

So, that’s where I am right now. The news has got me down and I figure if I can’t control the world I can control myself. And I’m certain that mindful listening, self-discipline, and a good walk would help us all be a little better in how we interact with each other. So here’s to being your best self! Have a beautiful October!

-Jen

In Anticipation of Autumn

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A few days ago I picked up my iPhone to check out the 15 day weather forecast. I was desperately hoping to find a break in this relentless heat and humidity that has been the hallmark of summer 2018 here in New England and probably much of the East Coast. I became giddy with excitement upon seeing the much cooler temps and lower dew points for the weekend. Buoyed by the anticipation for the arrival of autumn I grabbed my planning journal and began to plan out my weekend.

Ahhh. Friday. The first thing I’m going to do on my way home from work is buy apple cider doughnuts at Rice Fruit Farm, a historic, New England, family-run farm stand located just a couple miles from my house. And of course, I may just have to take a peek at their other offerings as well. Who knows what may end up in my possession. I can’t wait to share them with my sweet kiddos at home. Unfortunately, my husband has to work very late so we will try VERY hard not to eat all them. But I don’t think I should cross my heart, just in case our willpower is on the fritz. Oh, and I almost forgot! I am going to open EVERY SINGLE WINDOW IN MY HOUSE! Have I told you I am tired of the ac unit running around the clock? Well, I am. I live for open windows and light breezes ebbing and flowing through my home.

After dropping my daughter off at gymnastics practice I hope to entice my son to go on a neighborhood walk so we can see all the neighbors and remark about how beautiful the change in weather is. I’m probably not going to give him that reason because that sounds like boring adult stuff so I’ll have to make something else up to convince him to walk with me.  The remainder of Friday looks low key as it will just be me and my son so I’m hoping to get a few board games in before I let him drown in Minecraft and Roblox.  I’ll probably do boring things like laundry so I can free up the rest of my weekend. Yes, there will be a bit of work here and there.

Saturday! Saturday is busy but promises to be the most fun. First I will be driving my middle child all over the Pioneer Valley. (She is about two weeks away from getting her license. Yikes!) After dropping her off at gymnastics practice I plan on taking my son hiking at Stanley Park in Westfield. The hiking trails are easy and you can make them as long or as short as you would like. We love that there are lots of bridges to cross and a small river that meanders alongside the wider trail. After our hike we will have a little snack and read books under some Hemlock trees while watching the squirrels and chipmunks scurry about. It’s quite relaxing. And how lucky am I that my twelve year old son still enjoys these outings with me!?

Saturday evening calls for a fire pit and s’mores!  At this point, hopefully, my husband will be able to join us. It’s going to be a very cool crisp night which will be perfect for stargazing wrapped in blankets on our lawn furniture.  My husband is an impressive amateur astronomer, in my humble opinion.  And I love a smart man:-) He’s great at identifying the constellations and stars while we watch for satellites and other space junk. Sometimes we even see the International Space Station. We also have an app on our phones called SkyView and it identifies all the celestial objects with some really cool spacey new age music in the background. “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.”

 

Sunday! Sunday is my food shopping day, but once I’m done with that I plan on going to the garden center to buy my fall flowers and begin changing out my home decor for all things fall.  I will close out the weekend with a juicy roasted chicken, stuffing, green beans, and cranberry sauce. But the piece de resistance will be apple crisp for dessert. I can’t wait to fill my house with the scent of baked apples and place that first bite in my mouth.  Autumn just tastes so good!

Have a lovely weekend and happy early fall!

-Jen