A couple nights ago I began reading the book Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier which had been on my shelves for a while waiting for it to be the right time to read it.

As I delved into the novel, the opening paragraph for the third chapter stopped me in my tracks as it seemed to be speaking directly to me. The passage:

“I cannot decide whether it is an illness or a sin, the need to write things down and fix the flowing world in one rigid form. Bear believed that writing dulled the spirit, stilled some holy breath. Smothered it. Words, when they’ve been captured and imprisoned on paper, become a barrier against the world, one best left unerected. Everything that happens is fluid, changeable. After they’ve passed, events are only as your memory makes them, and they shift shape over time. Writing a thing down fixes it in place as surely as a rattlesnake skin stripped from the meat and stretched and tacked to a barn wall. Every bit as stationary, and every bit as false to the original thing. Flat and still and harmless. Bear recognized that all writing memorializes a momentary line of thought as if were final.”

I’ve moved on in the book now, but I’ve come back to that passage several times.

In January when I wrote my last big post, the passage probably would not have registered with me as all that significant, yet now, I find it to be absolutely brilliant. The reason? Everything in the last several months seems to have been as Frazier describes – so fluid and ever changing – that every time I tried to commit my thoughts to keyboard, they seemed irrelevant, old news, no longer applicable before I could hit “publish.”

In the past months I’ve written or thought through dozens of posts that never made it to fruition. Frustration and self-doubt were getting the better of me until finally I realized sometimes you just have to live your life, see where it leads, then talk about it. I’m still on the path to “Better”, but it’s unlike anything I imagined seven months ago.

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Okay, so we are nearly four weeks into the New Year and my progress on “Better” is sketchy at best. Some days it seems like I’m making real progress, other days not so much. In order to keep myself on track and to make sure 2011 doesn’t get away from me with nothing of real value accomplished, I’ve decided to divide the year up into bite size nuggets – six-week chunks to be exact. 

If you are familiar with the theory of “How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time.)” then you’ll see where I’m going with this. 

I’m listing my major goals for the year, and then dividing each of them up into manageable parts.

My first six-week chunk will begin Sunday, January 30th and run thru March 12th. At the end of the six weeks I can assess where I am, what I’m doing right and what I need to work on.

When you look at a year as a whole it seems like an enormous amount of time to accomplish things. However, when you look at the year in the context of daily life, work, distractions, etc. the amount of time available shrinks considerably.

In the busyness of life, it is easy to get off track and “tomorrow” yourself right into December with nothing accomplished. I’m determined not to let that happen this year so I’m instituting what I now refer to as my Six Week Overhaul program and looking forward to seeing how far along I am at my first check up in March.

What about you? How do you keep yourself on track with your goals? How will you make the most of 2011?

Back in September my husband, daughter, and I took our yearly vacation to the beach. It was good, but while there I came to grips with the fact that I was tired, burnt out, frustrated. Pick an adjective, I was there, or in the neighborhood. 

When we got home I tried to convince myself I was “refreshed” and continue as before, but it wasn’t working out. So, I took a break, stepped away from my blog and other things and examined my life. Or rather, I looked at what was missing from my life. 

It occurred to me after all this reflection that somewhere along the line I misplaced it,my life that is. Not all at once, but incrementally, which is the worst way really, because its like the proverbial frog in the pot – he jumps out of a boiling pot, but will cook himself to death in a pot where the heat is turned up slowly. 

With the clarity that comes with hindsight, I realized that I have been ever so slowly turning up the heat on my own pot for, oh, about ten years now. Women as a rule are people pleasers, doers, the glue that holds things together. It is one of our greatest assets, and one of our greatest downfalls. Often, in the course of being that glue we sacrifice or morph a little too much and one day wake up and realize we are a shadow of our former selves.

What to do? What to do?

The short answer: Get a life!

The long answer: take a look at your life and decide what is missing, what is important, what you want back in this thing we call life and make it happen. That’s what I’ve been doing.

In formulating this post, I took pen and paper and quickly jotted down a list of things that I have over the course of time deleted, severely limited, or sporadically done that were once an important and enjoyable part of my life. In just a few minutes I came up with 25 things.  TWENTY-FIVE THINGS!!! Twenty-five things that I tell myself I can do tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, in favor of what needs to be done now. That is no way to live…happily.

So now that the information has been gathered and assessed, the only thing left to do is make the changes needed to put me back in the saddle of my own life again. Time to get movin’!

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Image by jvh33 via Flickr

I just came back from a lunchtime stroll through a retail store where all the Christmas do-dads were lined up on the shelves in all their glittery splendor. It seems the Season of Panic has begun.

I imagine that is how retailers want us to start feeling right about now – panicked. What do I need to buy to have the perfect Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years? Because it does have to be picture perfect – just like in the store displays and commercials – doesn’t it? Or does it?

In the past I have always begun (to the dismay of many) thinking, talking about, and planning for Christmas in late July. This is partly because the majority of my family’s birthdays fall between August and December and it is easier to think of birthday and Christmas shopping in one lump. The other predominant reason is that I’m a planner by nature and like to think and work ahead so I can cram as much holly jolly in as possible.

This year, however, I’m going a different route. I vaguely thought about Christmas some time in mid-July, but let it pass without much ado. When my sister sent out the annual “let’s get the gift list rolling” email, I proclaimed this to be The Year of No Stuff for me (well, except for an airhorn, but that’s a different post altogether).

Now, here it is September, and *gasp* I haven’t made a shopping list, haven’t bought a gift, haven’t started addressing Christmas cards – don’t even have Christmas cards, and I’m still not panicking. I have decided to let the seasons and holidays unfold naturally and prepare for and enjoy them as they come. I’m toning it all down a few notches – will even be purging many of my decorations as they come down out of the attic.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, love this time of year, but somewhere along the line it’s all gotten to be too much of everything and not enough of the right things. For years my husband and I have had an ongoing discussion about the holidays. I tell him he hates the holidays, and he tells me, no, he does not hate the holidays! The truth is he hates the hype of the holidays – how it comes weeks or months before the actual event. So this year, I’m flexing my newly found but growing, minimalist attitude and giving my husband, my daughter, and myself the gift of a low-key holiday season. Less decorating, less fretting, less gifting, less its all got to be perfect, and more fun and togetherness.

Yesterday my family came home from vacation. We stayed in a beach house where we lived amongst someone else’s house full of too much stuff, only to return last night to our house full of still (!) too much stuff. The irony did not escape me.

While on vacation I chose to just “chill.” I didn’t take all the projects I had originally intended to take, opting only to work on my genealogy project. I took two books but read only one. I let my mind slowly empty of all the excess stuff. It was refreshing and calming.

I also used the time to reflect on what was clutter in my life (beyond actual belongings), and what was missing. I determined that I was a long way off from where I want to be and that it was time to start editing. Good editing doesn’t just take away, it adds where needed to make the most of what is already there.

Due to a few unforeseen hiccups our vacation “wasn’t the most perfect vacation ever” as my husband so aptly put it, but it was great to get away, and as a bonus, it gave me all the inspiration I needed for the next phase in my life.

This past week my husband, Little M, and I have been on vacation. We rented a smaller, older house on the beach and have been enjoying a bit of quiet time together without the distractions of everyday life and the hassle of in season crowds.

Thursday we took a day trip up to Manteo to visit one of my all-time favorite places to shop – The Island Gallery and The Christmas Shop. For those who aren’t familiar with it, The Christmas Shop has been a much beloved institution on the island since 1978. (I’ve been going there since the 80s.) A few years ago the owners decided to call it quits, retire and do other things. They sold off everything and closed down. Then following a public outcry, they brought the store back to life and reopened.

The new version of the store has the same flavor as the old, but with differences that only a seasoned veteran would notice. But this post isn’t about the changes to my favorite store, instead its about the changes in me it forced me to acknowledge this week.

In the old days I would have walked through that maze of passageways and old rooms oohing and aahing in every nook and cranny and trying to narrow down what I wanted to leave with to a reasonable amount. There would have been ornaments, snowmen, nutcrackers, jewelry, and prints all vying for my attention and any number of things in the upstairs Halloween room screaming to go home with me.

This time? Didn’t happen. My heart didn’t race, nothing begged to be bought. I realized as I walked through the shop that I felt detached from it all. At first I thought it was because the store had lost it’s “aura” for me. Then I realized it wasn’t the store, it was shopping that had lost it’s “aura.” That’s when I knew I had truly turned the corner and that something more important had taken over the spot that the “desire to acquire” had formerly held. I told my husband as we drove away with my one tiny purchase, that I’ve come to realize that there are too many things that I want to do and that moving crap – I’m mean clutter – around, isn’t one of them anymore. I’ve even announced that as the holiday decorations come out this season, they will get severely edited. No more holding on to things out of guilt or  habit. If we don’t love it, it goes. Just thinking about it makes me feel like the Grinch – not when he stole Christmas, but when his heart grew ten sizes because he discovered the meaning of Christmas…and it ain’t about the stuff.

When did you turn the corner? When did you know that shopping and acquiring had lost its hold on you?

For months I have been working at getting my creative juices flowing again after a long lapse, and have been doing pretty well. I’ve made some summer dress and tops for Little M. I’ve mapped out sewing projects for the fall including sleep mats for school, her Halloween costume (Little Red Riding Hood), and some PJs among other things. I’ve made a ton of progress on my decluttering and reading projects. I’ve started working on my ancestry project that I talked about HERE. I’ve put out feelers about starting a Relay for Life team at my church. I’ve even been working on designing my own Christmas cards to make this year. I was feeling pretty good about getting out of the work work work, box-checking mindset with some great projects, then it all came to a screeching halt. What happened?  It took me a little while to figure it out.

I’m contemplating a move. Not like from the couch to the recliner, but from one side of the state to the other, or one coast to another. Let me explain. My husband is considering a career change of sorts. He would be staying within his same field, and even the same company, but it would be a different type of job and the next natural progression within his field. The thing is, to be considered, you have to be willing to move. Anywhere.

At first the whole idea of it gave me a knot in the bottom of my stomach…we are comfortable here, our families are relatively close, so much to pack, etc. The possibility of it threw me off my tracks. In the past, talks about moves were based on other factors, not a job change.  Then, my husband took the leap, and the more I thought about it and what it meant, the more I realized, we are comfortable here, and that is the problem. With excessive comfort comes lathargy, boredom, sameness, lack of growth, and that my friend, gave me an even bigger knot in my stomach. I love change. I love to grow, evolve, see new places and try new things. These are the things that inspire me, and keep me feeling creative without having to force it. And my husband, he needs a change too.

So, now that I’ve made the mental leap into the exciting possibilities for the future, my creative juices are boiling out of the pot. The problem is they are running amok with thoughts about the life we might lead – if these changes come to fruition – and not about the life I currently lead. Time to redirect. Time to refocus on what I can do now – those projects for Little M, and what takes on a heightened importance were we to move – decluttering, reading through and getting rid of the stacks of books and mags in the basement, and working on my ancestry project with my cousin who (for now) lives relatively close.