Rose, Bud, Thorn

Today I want to share an exercise I discovered and quickly fell in love with last month.  It is short, taking no more than a minute or two; it provides an avenue to recognize gratitude, joy, and challenges; and as an added bonus, it makes for a great dinner conversation starter with family!

It’s called Rose, Bud, Thorn, and the premise is simple.  Rose represents something in your day that brought you joy, a moment that you are grateful for, or something that made you smile.  These can be exciting achievements (a job promotion!  an engagement announcement!) or small moments of peace (three deep breaths with a hot cup of tea, a phone call from a friend); the important thing is that you recognize some good in the day.  The blooming rose is soft, beautiful, and lovely – it is something to be enjoyed now and in the present moment, because it won’t last forever.

The bud of a rose represents something to come.  Similarly, “Bud” portion of this exercise includes something we are looking forward to in the next day.  What’s happening tomorrow that you anticipate with joy?  What is something you can think about with a smile as you go to sleep tonight?  This is the rosebud, the anticipation of something lovely still to come.

Finally, we come to the thorn—the part of the plant that is prickly and causes discomfort.  Suffering is an inevitable part of life, and inconveniences, frustrations, losses, and setbacks large and small adorn each day.  Ignoring these sufferings isn’t the answer, for ignorance and denial limits our ability to understand and grow from our trials.  Instead, we can recognize these things for what they are: thorns in our day, and reflect on their impact in our lives.  Perhaps your thorn was a frustrating drive to work, stuck behind a slow-moving truck.  Or maybe it was more significant, such as the loss of an old friend or a beloved family pet.  These things require different amounts of time, energy, and ministrations, and being able to separate the thorns that are important versus the everyday inconveniences is a valuable skill.

Rose, bud, thorn.  The current joy, the joy to come, and the not-so-joyful.  It’s an exercise that you can do on your own at the end of the day, taking less than a minute.  Or it’s something you can share with an important person in your life, talking through it, celebrating together, and helping each other.  As I made this a more regular practice, I found myself recognizing the small, beautiful parts of my life and days that I often overlook, while letting go of frustrations more easily, recognizing that in the long run most are fleeting and nothing more than a moment—certainly nothing worth ruining an entire day over.  It’s a lovely little practice that I would encourage everyone to try out, even just now and then.

Give it a chance going into this weekend.  What thorn really ticked you off today? What is today’s rose?  And finally, what are you looking forward to tomorrow?


In joy and gratitude,


First Steps

Months ago I wrote about my plan to resume my Walk to Mordor, a challenge I set for myself for the first time a few years ago and one that I enjoyed enough to commit to again.  In the time between my commitment and the present moment many things happened, but a walking and hiking habit was not one of them.  Last week I decided I’d waited long enough, I’d let myself become idle with the hundred thousand distractions available to a teacher in the summertime, and stepped out my door to take the first steps of this new-and-improved walk to Mordor.


The last time I walked it, I’d planned to re-read the majesty that is J.R.R. Tolkien’s work of literary genius, The Lord of the Rings, keeping pace in the book as I made my own way.  I managed this only for about the first two hundred miles, after which I left the books behind for lesson planning, graduate reading, Netflix, and napping.  Last time I blogged, but mostly in pictures and quotes, with very little reflection or original material.  I walked the 1,776 miles there, but didn’t make the return journey, like I originally planned to.  And it took me approximately four months longer than I’d hoped.

That’s why I refer to this as my new-and-improved walk to Mordor.  This time around I’ll be keeping up with the literature, blogging with more than just pictures and quotes, and perhaps going not only There, but Back Again (only time will tell on this front).  I’m also committing to more hiking in addition to regular walks and the nonstop movement that occurs during my teaching hours.  Hiking is a unique experience to walking, and as one I enjoy but rarely make time for, this is incentive and opportunity for me to make time for it in my life.

View from the trail

With all that said, I stepped out my door last Thursday for a solo-hike on a trail surrounding a nearby lake and reservoir, that I had hiked once before earlier this summer with my mom.  It was a gorgeous day for it; I felt safe in the woods, and as I reached the point I knew I should be heading back, I found myself wishing I could just keep going to see what was around the next corner, where the trail would end up, not wanting to turn around.

I did turn around, of course, being a rational and risk-averse person.  I’m a Hufflepuff, not a Gryffindor, and despite my joy in the woods, I was well aware that turning my planned five-or-six-mile hike into a twelve-or-thirteen-mile one would become significantly less fun when I was out of water, hungry, lost, and footsore in my brand-new hiking shoes.  So yes, I turned around, but not before languishing in the sensations of freedom, strength, and gratitude that surged through me there in the woods, and not before pledging to build the hobby, and turn myself from “someone who thinks about hiking” to “someone who hikes.”

These first steps to Mordor were good ones.  I look forward to the hills, valleys, and mountains that the rest of them will bring me through.

Book Review: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling

Everyone should read this book.  I say this with complete conviction.  I repeat it without hesitation.  Everyone should read this book.

If you are an eighteen-year old boy starting college in a few months, you should read this book.  If you are a seventy-year old grandmother who loves going to baseball games, you should read this book.  If you are a White, middle-class parent, a second-generation American businessman, a self-employed surfing instructor, or a Michelin-star chef, you should read this book.

Why am I so convinced this is a book for every person, of every race, in (nearly) every generation, all over the world?  Hans Rosling, with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling, proves to us in Factfulness that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, and that this ignorance actually blinds us from the truth: that the world is a much better place than we think it is, and that human beings have made outstanding progress in the last thousand years.  Organized by chapter, Rosling describes the ten human tendencies and instincts that prevent us from seeing and acknowledging the facts about global progress, cooperation, poverty, education, disease, and more.

This in itself is reason enough to read it: as citizens of the world, it is our imperative to know fact from fiction to make informed decisions that will benefit ourselves, our neighbors, our children and our children’s children.  Collectively, we believe that fewer than half of all girls finish primary school, that the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world continues to increase, and that our world’s population continues to increase exponentially.  These “facts” are all wrong, and Rosling explains to us why our instincts to blame, to generalize, and to fear prevent us from accepting the truth.  No matter how much you know (or how much you think you know), this book will enlighten you, make you laugh, and surprise you with each new story and each new fact.

Not only is Factfulness a primer on finding truth in data on a large scale, but the instincts and dispositions we have towards thought and data apply on an individual level.  Take, for example, the “negativity instinct,” which Rosling describes as our tendency to notice the bad more than the good.  Applied to global development, the negativity instinct stops us from recognizing the great progress that has been made, and Rosling discusses statistics and facts that prove the world is a better place than most people think it is.  This is important.  But the instinct we have for negativity is not limited to our perception of global economics or politics.  The idea that we have difficulty accepting that things “can be both bad and better” at the same time has the potential to change the way we experience our own lives on a daily basis, if we have a mind to let it.  Through every chapter and each new instinct, I discovered connections between the large scale and my own, individual scale.  Factfulness is an outstanding book on many levels.

Do I have a soft spot for Hans Rosling, whose TED talks and Gapminder website have been a staple in my AP Human Geography class for three years now?  Yes, I do.  Did I read this entire book in his Swedish accent, hearing his laughter as he joked and his encouragement as he taught?  Yes, I did.  Does any of that change the fact (see what I did there?) that this is an incredible book?  No, of course it doesn’t.

Go read it.  Buy it or borrow it, I don’t care (though of course it is preferred you don’t steal it).  Educate yourself in factfulness.  Put the strategies to practice in your own life.  Go educate others.  And don’t ever stop asking questions, searching for answers, and updating your knowledge.


Title: Factfulness: Ten Reasons You’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.
Authors: Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund.
Published: April 2018

June Reset and July Joy

We often talk about “needing a reset button.”  I am in agreement that we all, at certain points of the day, week, year, and lives need time to reset.  It may be a moment, such as when we listen to that favorite song during our lunch break on a difficult Tuesday.  It may extend through a few days, like the trip to mountains we take during a long weekend.  Or for some of us it might take the form of something longer or more rigorous, like a spiritual retreat or long-term program.  The important thing about each of these examples is that they are not achieved with the press of a button.  Human beings aren’t pieces of machinery that can be reset with a 10-second hold followed by an impatient 30-second wait.  That’s why I dislike the analogy of regrouping to that of pushing a reset button.  A human reset is more like a stretch: it has multiple parts, and we adjust what we’re doing based on what we feel and what we need.  It’s a beautiful, unique, and personal process to each individual.

I took the month of June to “reset” after a few months of taxing and challenging circumstances.  I was free of the pressures of graduate work for the first time in four years; the teaching year ended and my summer vacation began; and for the first time in a long while I had the space, time, and energy to devote to myself.  And so I spent June doing the things that made me feel best, provided rest, and allowed me to put in order the pieces of my life that had fallen or become misshapen earlier in the year.  For me, these things include cleaning and organizing, reading, walking and spending time in nature, making lists, journaling, doing yoga, and praying.  I cleared out my closet of three bags full of clothes I haven’t worn in the last nine months and probably won’t wear again; I ironed curtains for six hours and hung them around the house; I spent time with my hands in the dirt in my garden, and I took long walks in the park.  I focused on my eating habits and started to exercise again.  Some days I needed to listen to loud music and dance, while other days I needed to watch six hours of television and cry.  The human process of recovering, righting, reorganizing, and resetting my body, mind, and soul was a worthy and well-received pursuit.  It was the right thing at the right time.

This month I’m ready to practice something more.  July is all about joy.  What does joy really mean to me?  Where does it come from, and how do I experience it?  I want to explore joy in all its forms: spiritually, emotionally, socially, and however else it may exist.  How do I internalize joy?  In what ways does joy spread, and how can I invite others into it?  These are big questions, and I don’t expect to answer them all or even have an absolute or complete answer for any single one.  But just as taking time to reset was a necessary and worthwhile endeavor, so too is an exploration of the phenomenon of joy and its presence in our lives and the world around us.

I leave you with a few questions to consider this week:

 What are 2 simple strategies you can use to reset during busy, stressful, or difficult days?

 How do you define joy, and where do you think this definition came from? 
What examples of joy exist in your life?  (Past or present!)


Have a joyful week, my friends.

The Four-Month Word

I will be the first to say that a four-month word was not in my plan.  My plan, of course, was a beautiful collection of twelve different words by the end of the year, each representing some virtue or practice I worked to incorporate within my life throughout the year.  Rarely, however, does life proceed according to plan, and the months of February through May served as both a difficult and ultimately rewarding reminder of that simple truth.  Instead, therefore, of one lovely word a month, I write this, having realized that even though I didn’t take the time to establish a goal or to write well-crafted posts about my experiences, progress, or thoughts, I can still easily apply the idea and concept I started in January.

Beginning in February and carrying through the end of May, my life centered around perseverance.  My four-month word.  Steadfastness, grit, endurance, persistence, preservation.  All of these things, wrapped up in my word of choice, perseverance.  In these months I experienced the joy of new life and the heartbreak of an early loss; the cold grip of depression; the normal and not-so-normal stresses of adulthood; a graduate thesis from start to finish; unyielding illness; and more self-examination than I care to admit.

My indecision, and hesitancy about writing publicly on these topics is the primary reason this post is so long overdue.  How many women openly share their experience of miscarriage?  How many are willing to discuss the toll it had on not only their physical health, but their mental health?  How often do we discuss these common and shared experiences with those outside our immediate family, or without the guise of an internet persona?  I finally recognized that if I wanted to see a change in how society views and addresses things like miscarriage or mental health, there is nothing more powerful I can do than to be a part of that change.

For nearly a month, spanning February and March, I existed in a precarious state, waiting to learn if my pregnancy was viable.  After all the tests, there was nothing to do but wait, and the four weeks spent in limbo were incomparable to anything I have ever experienced.  Between March 7th and March 9th, I lost my baby; I felt relieved that the waiting was over, and I then, of course, incredibly guilty for feeling that way.  I was crushed by the lost life, that I had so joyously celebrated nine weeks over, and couldn’t help wondering if it was something about me that ended it.  I doubted myself, I doubted my ability to ever have children, I doubted my ability to recover, to work past it, to move on.  Paired with a post-loss illness that left me running for a bathroom less than sixty minutes after every meal for nearly a month, the demands of my final semester of graduate school, and the unwarranted pressure I placed on myself, my mental health deteriorated.  The time between then and now has been filled with hard work, tears, anger, frustration, comfort, love, sleepless nights, threats give up, falling down, getting up, prayer, hope, hopelessness, progress, and above all, perseverance.

img_2221I have come a long way since February.  I’ve learned a lot.  I accomplished some truly outstanding things.  I became closer to family and friends; I learned how to accept help from others.  I started to understand that making myself and my needs a priority is not selfish, but healthy and absolutely necessary.  I discovered that, despite my fears, I want to be a mother, something I questioned before my pregnancy.  I overcame incredible odds to complete my thesis, and in doing so, I connected with students on a new level and learned important lessons from them. I recognized at least some of the strength I hold within myself.  I am not weak.  I am strong.  I am capable.  I am human.  I am loved.

These are the important and beautiful things that resulted from the arduous and distressing circumstances over the last four months.  With the unwavering support of my husband, my family, my work family, and my friends, I persevered.  It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t fun either, but it was real, and it was meaningful, and it was mine.

I’ve reached the point where this post is degenerating into my own stream-of-consciousness, moving away from something purposeful and organized into something much more reflective, introspective, and repetitive.  The kind of thing that ought to be stopped here, because it’s reached the point of being real-enough without getting tedious (or should it be too tedious?  Am I already past that point?).  Nevertheless, here’s the part where I conclude this reflection.  Next up is a post on “resetting,” my focus for the month of June.  Stay tuned, and thanks for sticking with me this long.

As always, grateful for your attention and comments,

– Kylie

Challenging Negative Self-Talk

Author’s note: This is Part 2 in a pair of posts.  I encourage reading Part 1 (My Friend Q) if you haven’t yet seen it!

We live our lives largely unaware of the constant internal monologue we hold with ourselves, and for most the voice inside our head speaks with both positivity and negativity, building us up and breaking us down at different times.  Occasionally, though, our inner voice becomes particularly mean and nasty, becoming less of a companion and friend, and more of an enemy—one we’re stuck with 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

This is our self-talk: the way we treat ourselves in our own minds and within our own heads.  Earlier this week, I illustrated a glimpse of my own negative self-talk and the struggle I have fighting that voice inside my head— (I call her Q).  At some point in our lives, we all fight with our own Q.

Rather, we must fight with Q.  When we let Q run the show—when we allow her to continue to jabber away and tear us down time and time again, we suffer the consequences: a lack of confidence, self-loathing, depression, worthlessness, and more.  We are constantly hearing about finding peace with ourselves, but sometimes, to find peace, we need to fight for the truth, because the truth is this: Q is a liar.  Our negative self-talk paints an inaccurate, warped picture of who we are, and if we ever want to be happy with who we are, we need to stop lying to ourselves.

Consider this example.  I am a teacher, and this week my students are preparing for midterm exams.  They are stressed, anxious, and under incredible pressure—much of that pressure from themselves.  You can imagine my surprise when, with my mind so focused my own self-talk this week, I overheard a colleague across the hall speaking to her students:

“Ladies, you need to stop with the negative self-talk.  It is destroying you and breaking you down.”  An hour earlier, I had a similar conversation with my advanced placement students, asking them what their test scores say about them as a person, and what their test scores really mean (hint: the answer is nothing).  And yet the self-talk of so many high school students today is that their grades are representative of their success; they are failures if they get lower than a 95; they’ll never get into college; they’re too dumb to be in this school; their friends and classmates are so much better than them; they’re letting down their parents, their teachers… and on it goes.  Q is hard at work within every single one of them, and in all of us, and in times like this, it’s only through conscious effort that we can shut her up and shut her down.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

So how do we address the negative self-talk?

  1. Recognize and separate the critic from yourself. For me, it helps to consider my critic as a separate person: someone who is not me, but who is with me all the time. This is Q.  In recognizing that the critical voice inside our head is not who we are, and does not define us, but is rather just another voice among thousands of voices, we make it easier to look at the self-talk rationally, and take a stand against the lies it tells us.
  2. Talk back to the critic. This is where things get more difficult, particularly if your Q has been given free-reign for any length of time. This is the fight: instead of accepting the negative self-talk as true, we have to question it, talk back, and fight the lies it tells us.  For me, I find that simply trying to think it away doesn’t help.  I need to write it down: What is Q telling me about myself?  Usually, the things Q tells me are extreme: I am a failure, I am an awful person, I am good for nothing, I make no one happy, I should give up.  Then address Q’s claims: how is what she’s telling me distorted?  We are never so black-and-white, all good or all bad.  I’m not perfect, but neither am I so completely worthless as Q makes it seem.  So fight back with a more rational response: I may have failed to make a great dinner tonight, but I’ve made plenty of good meals; I am not a failure.  I may not have said exactly the right thing to make a student feel better, but I’ve helped lots of students through so many things; I am not a bad person.  My work is not my worth; no matter what, I am valued by God, by my husband, by my family.

Recognizing is the easy part: it’s the talking back that’s hard.  As someone with depression, the talking back often feels useless, pointless.  It’s just about going through the motions: I talk back and create rational responses to Q even though I don’t believe them right now, because eventually, after enough work, practice, time, and effort, I’ll start believing, seeing through the lies and embracing the truth.

Keep fighting, my friends.  We deserve to love ourselves and be happy, no matter what Q says.

My Friend Q

I have a friend.  She’s a lifelong friend—for the sake of this post, let’s call her Q.  Q and I grew up together, and went to school together; we played as children together, and as adults we now work together.  We’ve been roommates, living together, and to make a long story short, we are as close as any two friends can be.  That said, there are moments and periods in my life when I want nothing more than to be as far away from her as humanly possible.  Right now is one of those times.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

In the early morning before work I was out in the backyard; Q was there with me, and while I picked up dog poop, my sweet puppy Colette frolicked around with her toy, radiating joy and pure doggie bliss.  I watched her with a smile, glad she was so happy, when Q spoke up.

“You shouldn’t let her do that – she has an injury, and letting her run around is probably just making it worse.”

“But she’s having fun,” I protested.  “Look at how happy she is.  Let her have this moment.”  Q crossed her arms and looked away; I could feel the judgement radiating off her.

“She does need to have fun, but you’re not providing her with safe and effective ways to it.  I hate to say it, because I know it’s hard to hear, but… you’re really not giving her what she needs.  You don’t play with her or work on her training nearly enough.  She needs more attention from you, rather than you just letting her run around on her own, hurting herself.”

I knew she was right, so I didn’t argue.  Instead I just put down the pooper scooper and called the dog back inside, away from her prancing in the mud with her toy, away from her joy.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

That afternoon, Q popped in my classroom at school, shortly after the bell rang and students had departed.  I was clearing up and preparing materials for the next day’s lessons, and she looked over them with a critical eye.

“This is what you’re doing with them tomorrow?”  There was a pregnant pause.  “Don’t you think it’s a little… boring?”

“It is a little,” I agreed.  “But I have so much going on right now, and so much grading to catch up with, that it’s pretty much what I can do right now.”  I paused a moment to look around and consider.  “It’s not a great lesson, but it’s not completely awful.”

The look on Q’s face told me she disagreed with my assessment.  She sighed.  “Honestly, Kylie, I expected more of you.  This is disappointing – surely you can see that?  You’ve been uninspired lately, I can tell.  Your lessons are dull, they don’t challenge our students creatively…  you’re getting lazy.  I’m not telling you this to make you feel bad, honestly, I’m just trying to help you.  You have to admit you are lazy.  If you spent more time on your work and if you were more dedicated to your job and your students, you could be a much better teacher.  But right now, as things are… you aren’t a very good teacher.

“Not all my lessons are bad,” I defended, but I knew it was a weak defense.  I changed tactics.  “And I do care about my students.  That’s not even a question; you know that better than anyone.”

“It doesn’t seem like it,” Q said.  “If this is really the best you can do, you should look for another career.  I know it’s not nice to think about, but you’re holding these kids back and bringing this school down.  Leaving would be better for everyone, because they could have a teacher that actually knows what she’s talking about and provides the students with the guidance they need, and you could get a job you can actually do.”

I had to leave then, as I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

That night, after taking care of the dog, answering emails, putting away laundry, and cooking dinner, I settled down in the living room with a hot cup of tea and a chocolate covered pretzel.  I turned on the television, flipped the channel to the Bachelor, and settled down to paint my fingernails.  The dog came bouncing over, toy in her mouth, tail wagging.  “I’ve played tug with you for the last twenty minutes,” I told her.  “Go lay down.  Dad will play with you in a couple of minutes.”  She dropped her head and sighed before resigning herself to sleep, jumping up to curl into the most comfortable chair in the room.

As the show played and I slowly worked away what was left of the chipped nail polish on my fingernails, Q started up again from the couch next to me, talking over the show, making it impossible for me to hear and keep up with it.  “Your living room is a mess,” she said.  “The least you could do is clean it up while Jon finishes the dinner dishes.”

“I need a break,” I pleaded with her.  “I’ve been productive since I got home from work today – just leave me alone for ten minutes, please.”

“That’s selfish,” Q responded without a moment’s hesitation.  “Do you realize how selfish you are?  You are constantly complaining and saying that you need to “take care of yourself,” but what you’re really doing is avoiding work and responsibility.  Your poor husband—I feel sorry for him, really.  He could do so much better than you.  You’re constantly ignoring his needs, always just focused on yourself.”  I let her talk.  She was really getting into it now, and I knew when she got on a roll like this there was no arguing with her.  “And you want to have a child?  Lord woman, you can barely take care of yourself, and you want to add a baby into the mix?  Talk about bad ideas.  You’d be a terrible mother.”

“You don’t know that—” I start to say, but I should have known better.

“Of course I know it!  You’re a terrible wife, you have no friends, your family loves you but you don’t reciprocate that love.”  On and on she goes, giving me a thousand reasons why I’m not good enough, how meaningless and worthless my life is, how I don’t deserve any of the goodness and love and light in my life.  At this point, I don’t have the strength to fight with her anymore.  I just want to get away from her.

“I’m going to bed,” I mutter, shoving away my manicure supplies as quickly as I can.  But there’s no escape—she follows me up the stairs and into the bedroom, all the while berating me for my choices, thoughts, and actions. It’s long hours before I can find sleep, and even then she has to have her parting shot as I drift off.

“Oh, and it looks like a six-year old painted your nails.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

By this point it’s clear that Q is no friend.  The inner monologues we hold with ourselves are more powerful than we realize. In some instances, they become so hateful and punishing that they wear away at our very existence, eroding our image of who we are until we are meaningless, worthless, nothing.

This, my friends, is just one snapshot of depression.  It’s one small piece of one day, one small look at the pervasive self-hate that makes daily life so difficult.  Living, hour after hour, day after day, with such persistent, unyielding internal dialogue makes me want nothing more than to be as far away from myself as humanly possible.  But of course, such a thing isn’t possible at all.

Some days I’m better at fighting back against Q; other days, not so much.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Author’s note: This is Part 1 in a pair of posts.  For more on self-talk and how to challenge it, check out Part 2, and as always, thank you for reading! 

The Walk to Mordor Begins (again)…

At the end of August 2015 I began my first “Walk to Mordor,” a 1,779 mile journey retracing the steps of Frodo and Sam as they traveled from the Shire to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring.  And by “retracing,” I mean counting the miles they traveled and tracking my own, while reading along in the books as I made progress.  The Eowyn Challenge and the late Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle Earth provide the details of the journey.

The first time it took me almost 16 months, but it gave me such immense joy and satisfaction, (along with constant nerdy motivation to keep moving), that I’m doing it again.  Or, you could say, I feel the pull of the Ring, and I know what must be done for the good of all Middle Earth, and that only I can carry this burden.  This time my goal is to finish the journey in 12 months, (which requires an average of 5 miles a day).  I hope, this year, that this challenge encourages me to continue exercising, get outdoors more often, go on more hikes, and explore more unknowns.  I’ll keep you updated throughout the year as I encounter important checkpoints or visit new places.

Having done it before, I can say that walking to Mordor is a great way (for all the LotR nerds out there, at least), to find motivation and fun in walking and living a life in motion.  If you’re interested in trying it out, I recommend it wholeheartedly – check out the links above, or check out Nerd Fitness’s post on the subject (another website I love).  I would love to hear about your journey!

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


January’s One Word: Mindful

There are many people and organizations today that preach a shift away from resolutions in the New Year and towards large ideas: one word that will take you and guide you through the year.  Some variations move towards three words for the year, or a phrase or mantra instead; the details vary, but the idea remains the same.  While I myself still enjoy resolutions (at any time of the year, not just in January), I found my journaling in the last year reflecting the idea of focusing for a period of time on a single virtue or idea, and decided this year to formalize it a bit.  Rather than select one word for the year (as is most common), I’m tailoring the idea to my needs a bit, and choosing to meditate and focus on one word each month.  This gives me four weeks to explore the meaning and role of the word in my life and to carry out healthy practices.  It suits my nature to change each month, else I get bored with it and let it fall away, as would inevitably happen.

The word I’ve chosen for January is mindful.  This was an easy choice for me, as one of my intentions for the year is to be more present in the moment, mindful of what is going on around me, both positive and negative, and accepting the world as it is, here, and now.  Perhaps even more importantly, to be accepting myself as I am, here and now.  To be mindful is to notice the moment, but to refrain from judgement; rather, to feel and experience and find peace.

Mindfulness is something I’ve practiced before, but that I find persistently difficult to maintain.  It is worth working towards, however, for the rewards it brings to our frame of mind and attitude towards life.  Take, for example, earlier this week: I’ve been sick since before Christmas, and the constant discomfort of it is beginning to wear on me.  So I wasn’t feeling well; my dog woke me up at 4am puking on the bed; and I was anxious and stressed about resuming work the next day.  I spent the whole day in a state of general misery, frustration, and resentment, punctuated by anxiety and panic.  I failed to acknowledge different moments as they passed and the prospect they held, and instead focused on issues in the past and potential problems of the future.  In doing so, I lost so many opportunities for happiness, and only came to my senses late in the evening halfway through my shower (never underestimate the power of a hot shower).  It’s just one example of a myriad of experiences that remind me how important it is to practice and commit to a life of mindfulness.

“The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.”
– Thích Nhất Hạnh

What strategies do you use to practice mindfulness in your daily life?  

Pocono New Year’s Remembered

For the last two years my husband and I have struggled make plans for New Year’s Eve; the difficulty is twofold.  First is the one that is most often joked about – that the older we get, the less we care about staying up until midnight to drink and party with the “young ‘uns.”  And while that is certainly a part of it (my usual bedtime hovers around 9pm), the other part of it is that, for years, we never had to make plans for New Year’s, because the holiday was steeped in family tradition in the Pocono Mountains.


Beginning in 1992, my husband’s grandfather owned a beautiful property in the Poconos; it boasted a gorgeous home with huge windows to let in light, and three fireplaces keeping it warm and cozy in the winter; expansive grounds that included five bodies of water, trails through the woods that blossomed with blueberries every summer, and a dock with a rickety canoe (that Jon’s cousin once overturned in the middle of the very muddy water); in short, it was the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of life to reconnect with family, nature, and our own selves.  Every New Year’s Eve the family would gather in the Poconos and bring in the new year surrounded by friendship, laughter, love,  and fond memories.


It was mostly the same every year: Jonathan and I would drive up after he finished work, stopping by his parent’s house first to pick up the dog, Baileigh.  We’d make the trip into the mountains, with Baileigh panting in the backseat the whole way, until we pulled down the long drive and she bounded outside with the joy known only to a dog who hates nothing in the world more than car rides (and perhaps maybe fireworks).  Enough food to feed 20 people would be prepped on the stove, with more stored outside in the grill (which functioned as a second freezer for most of the winter).  The night would pass with merriment, wine and champagne, football, music, games, and stories.  After the midnight celebrations we would trickle off to bed on our own time, finding a cozy corner in which to curl up and find sleep.


My favorite part of the experience, however, was always the next day.  The quiet and stillness that enveloped that house on New Year’s morning was perfect.  The boys would bundle up and play pond hockey on the frozen water, or throw a football if it wasn’t quite cold enough to freeze.  Others would scatter; I would always find a spot on the couch by the fireplace, bundled up with a blanket, overlooking the grounds and with a new book from Christmas in my hands.  Outside birds and squirrels would gather on the porch to eat the seed and crumbs left out for them, and for a few hours, on the first day of the new year, all was right, and there was no place in the world I would rather be.

There has always been something incredibly comforting to me in knowing that I am surrounded by people I love, and people who love me, while still having the option of solitude.  I have always been a person who craves quiet and alone time, but of course I still experience loneliness, and need to feel the comfort and love of others.  New Year’s Day in the Poconos is the epitome of this feeling: of being surrounded by love, friendship, and support, while also having the space to be with and know yourself.  It is a singular experience that I find hard to replicate in my daily life.

Last year the house was sold, and this will be our second New Year’s away from the Pocono homestead.  It’s sad to realize that no more memories will be made in that house; but reminiscing simultaneously gives rise to all the feelings of joy, peace, happiness, and companionship that defined celebrations of New Year’s past.  In this, little is lost; while we may no longer bring in the new year in the Poconos, we still have not only the memories, but everything that made the place so special: family, friends, and the contentment of encompassing love and peace.

I wish a beautiful and blessed New Year’s Eve, filled with family, fun, and promise.