One Small Thing (aka: Life-Changing Baby Steps)

Big things start with small steps.

It isn’t a new concept. From the moment we were born, we learned and grew in small increments. Before we could talk, we babbled. Before we could run, we had to crawl. Then stand, Then take our first wobbly steps forward. But at last, we could do it — we could run! After that, we mastered running. Owned it. Our childhood motto was: Why walk, when you can run? Some of us still run.

But first, we had to crawl.

Change requires baby steps. It is astounding how much we berate ourselves for not being able to reach our personal potential. Why can’t my body be fit and toned? Why can’t I lose twenty pounds? Why can’t I save enough money to do the things I really want to do? What’s wrong with me?

We blame it on our lack of willpower. Our genetic inheritance. Our own laziness. Or, we try — really, really try. We follow the latest fad diet and exercise like crazy until we tear a muscle, or gain back the weight. We start hoarding money, only to realize that we’ve forgotten to budget enough cash to pay the bills, or buy enough groceries for the family.

Instead of growing, we grow discouraged.

But we’ve forgotten that every positive change starts with small steps. Teeny tiny movements in the right direction. Like learning the sounds of each letter of the alphabet before we are ready to learn to read.

MSNBC’s news website has a lifestyle segment that I often enjoy reading, called Better. Each day, it features tips for one small change that we can take in order to improve in some area of our lives. Sleep better. Eat better. Have better relationships. Be better in the workplace. Manage our finances better. Each time I read one of the articles posted, there, I walk away with new ideas for one small thing to try. One tiny change that may lead me to better habits, and assist me as I strive for excellence.

Because isn’t that what this is all about? Not just trying to grow for the sake of growth, but to strive for excellence. To live our best life possible. To be all that we can be.

I have had a decades-long goal of becoming a better homemaker. I want for my family’s home to be comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and clean. Even back when I was a full-time SAHM/Homemaker, I was a terrible housekeeper. I could cook well, and sew adorable curtains to hang in the windows. I could paint walls and add special touches to make our house feel like home. But our home was rarely ever clean. I’ve certainly come a long way, as have my kids. But I’m still not where I’d like to be.

I began with baby steps. Start by making your bed. I don’t remember where I once read this advice, but after my ex-husband and I split up, I began to make my bed every day. And know what? I grew to appreciate having a well-made bed to sleep in each night. I also began to keep a very clean bedroom. Uncluttered surfaces, vacuumed floors. Each small change added to my daily happiness, and reduced my stress levels. Soon, I hope that this state of being always tidy spreads to the rest of the house. That’s a little tougher, since those are shared spaces, and my kids, well, they remind me of myself twenty years ago. Some days, I wish that they could just magically become organized teens, with neat bedrooms, and organized school binders.

And know what? Someday, they may get there. They just have to start with one small change. The same is true for you, too.

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Cozy Còsagach and Hygge Happiness

Some of us are just better off barefoot.

A coworker of mine didn’t buy this. For Christmas, she gave me not one, but two pairs of warm, fuzzy slipper socks. I love the heck out of slipper socks! So comfy, and that fits well with my philosophy of hygge. (More on that later).

Sadly, it took less than three days before I was down to a single, mate-less slipper sock, its partner and buddies nowhere to be found. I’m sure they wound up in the secret place to which all sockmates vanish, and are drinking and dancing the night away. At a sock-hop, no doubt. My feet, as usual, remain bare.

But no worries. Socks are not required to live the hygge life.

Oh silly Jupiter Girl, says my inner snob. Hygge is soooo 2016. We’re all about còsagach now.

Ok fine. Whatever. Danish hygge, Gaelic còsagach, the idea is the same. Get cozy.

Hygge Defined

I am all about coziness in our family’s home. There is nothing better than to come in after a day in a cold, loud, and hectic world, and be surrounded by warmth, family, and good food. Thick, hearty soups and chowders. Soft sweaters. A crackling blaze in the fireplace (for those of you with fireplaces).

My family loves nothing better on a chill winter’s day than to curl up with soft blankets and throws on the couch and read books, or watch a TV show, or just converse with each other while scented candles glow across the room. Throw in some steaming mugs of earl grey, or perhaps some rich, sweet cocoa, and you have just defined our version of hygge. Or còsagach. No matter what you name it, it means the same thing. Home.

No socks required.

Be! All That You Can Be! (aka: Personal Mission Statement)

got purpose

I grew up with one foot on each side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. During the week, my brother, sister, and I lived in the east bay with my mom and stepdad. And every other Friday evening, our mom drove across the bay to drop us off at our dad’s house in the city.

 

emeryville mudflat sculpture

 

That meant a lot of time stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A lot of time munching Happy Meals in the car, admiring the Emeryville Mud Flat sculptures through the window, and trying not to drive Mom bonkers. Once in a while, our favorite commercial would come on the radio, and we kids would belt out the jingle at the top of our lungs.

“BE! ALL THAT YOU CAN BE! YOU CAN DO IIIIT! IN THE AAAARRR-MY!”

No, none of us had future aspirations of joining the military. There was just something about those lyrics. The excitement. The passion. The promise of possibility. If you just do this thing, then you can grow to become all that you can be.

Be all that you can be. Just like I can’t forget singing that jingle at the top of my lungs as a kid, that idea has stuck with me throughout life. Each one of us was born with a certain measure of potential. We all have talents — some well-honed, some raw, and some yet undiscovered. We each have gifts, whether they are the skills we gain from developing our talents, or some special spark in our personalities just waiting to catch fire. And every one of us is capable of growing, of taming those gifts and using them to enrich our lives, and the lives of others. To achieve excellence. To be all that we can be.

Mission-Vision-and-GoalsEarlier today, I attended a leadership class in which we explored our strengths and weaknesses, passions, goals, and values. Then we took those pieces we identified and spent time crafting our personal mission statements. For many, this was a very challenging exercise; one that may take much more time to complete and get just right. For me, the pieces of the puzzle linked together almost like magic, until my personal mission statement appeared on the page; the phrase which captures who I am, what I value, and what I hope to achieve in life.

“To share my gifts with others, to live as a positive example and inspiration to those around me, to be all that I can be, and to find joy in the journey.”

That’s it. Me in a nutshell. My life’s purpose, in one neat quote.

Steven R. Covey, author of the iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, considers a personal mission statement “like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.” Others who tout the importance of a personal mission statement suggest memorizing it, or hanging it up in one’s home or office as a daily reminder of your sense of mission.

So how do you go about creating a personal mission statement?

  • Determine your core values. What is most important to you in life? Family? Faith? Creativity? Generosity?
  • Identify your contributions. What do you want to do? What are you passionate about? Giving back to your community? Climbing the career ladder? Raising happy kids?
  • Set your goals. Be sure that these are tangible and attainable. Which goals matter most to you?

Finally, take what you have discovered about yourself and use this to create your own personal mission statement. It may help to read some examples of other mission statements, for inspiration. Remember that there is no right or wrong mission statement. This is your baby. You own it. Also keep in mind — your personal mission statement is not set in stone. It is okay to revisit it and refine it from time to time, as your goals, priorities, and values may shift.

personal mission statement example

You will know that your personal mission statement is just right when you believe in it; when it expresses the core of who you are.  Now write your phrase on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror. Add it to a bookmark. Repeat the words to yourself when you need to get back on track to achieving your goals. Or shout it at the top of your lungs like a kid on a road trip. Whatever works. Let your personal mission statement be a lighthouse to guide you home, and to help you in your quest to be all that you can be.

My Great-American Junk Drawer (aka: Getting Organized)

miscellaneous-stuff I was searching for a screwdriver today.

Yes, my toolbox is full of screwdrivers, but I was searching for the one I like best – a Phillips screwdriver with a grippy handle that feels just right in my hands. You see, I just got my bedroom back for the first time in six months. Six months! (Insert cartwheel here). My sister and her family moved here from far away and needed a transition home. So, like a good little sister, I loaned them my spacious bedroom to use as their hotel-away-from-home until they could get settled and move into their own house. Which happened yesterday.

So today, I had work to do.

It takes a lot of scrubbing and furniture-moving and reorganizing to get one’s bedroom back in shape after it’s been lived in by other people. It also takes a good Phillips screwdriver to repair your lopsided curtain rod, which has been yanked out of place by two rambunctious, preschool-aged kids. Which is why I was searching for one this afternoon.

After ransacking my toolbox and coming up empty, I began to rummage through various drawers and organizers. At last, I came to the large wooden IKEA desk that I keep in my bedroom. Our family has had this desk for nearly ten years, along with all the stuff that fills the drawers. Although I am mostly organized in other areas, desk drawers in my home have the bad habit of collecting all manner of odds and ends, until every single one comes to resemble that one drawer that everyone has in their home.

You know the one.

The junk drawer.

Junk drawer

The main drawer of our IKEA desk was a sight to behold. As NPR once put it, “The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness.” This one was no exception. Paper clips, old business cards from the home business I ran fifteen years ago, my youngest son’s missing library card, an unused $25 Game Stop gift card. I collected a few dollars’ worth of coins to add to our family Dream Jar, which will hopefully offset a future trip to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But there was no screwdriver. I cut my finger on one of a zillion push pins or rusty staples lining the drawer, then happened to discover a single toy Magnetix rod, which turned out to be a perfect picker-upper for push pins and staples. But still, no screwdriver.

I then came across a stack of old photos – a treasure trove of snapshots of my children when they were small and rosy-cheeked, and a few pics of old friends that instantly threw me into a nostalgic mood. I spent the next half hour flipping through more old photos, traveling back in time, the bedroom project forgotten.

At last I shook off the distraction. As much as I would have loved to clean out the junk and make it a neat, organized office drawer, I had a screwdriver to find. Which turned out to be in the toolbox, where I swear it wasn’t the first two times.

I have my room back.

The curtain rod is straight again, and my room is once again a cozy, clutter-free retreat of comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, and flickering candles. Everything is in its place – visitors snug in their own home, junk in the junk drawer, and yes, my favorite screwdriver safely returned to my toolbox.

I think.

cozy-master-bedroom

Play on Repeat (aka: 365 Days of New Year’s Day)

So I read on some wise, informative website today (Twitter, probably) that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you will end up doing all year long. That’s 365 days of repeating today’s choices. Hopefully most of you didn’t just lie around, staring mindlessly at the television.

snoopy-and-woodstock-new-years-toast

Of course, I have no idea who came up with this zany idea. For all I know, it’s just some ancient New Year’s Day superstition, like not washing any laundry on New Year’s Day or you will wash away a person. I swear, I am not making this up. But still, I thought it would be fun to review how I spent this first day of the year, since it will foreshadow the remaining 364 days, it seems.

      1. I did a lot of cleaning and organizing. Seriously. I undecorated the Christmas stuff, scrubbed surfaces, tossed things out, and organized. This is one of my favorite New Year’s Day traditions — out with the old, in with the new. Sweep away the dust and pine needles and start the year fresh and clean. So far, it has yet to carry over to the remainder of the year, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
      2. I managed my home and family. As the one and only Head Honcho around here, I get a lot of opportunities to delegate tasks, call the shots, and make sure people are where they need to be at the right times. Today, this went pretty smoothly. I even got the kids to write a couple of thank you cards. (Gasp!)
      3. I went a little over budget. Eep! This is the opposite of my financial management goals for the upcoming year. To be fair, I mostly bought practical, helpful things, like plastic bins and cute matching organizers for all that tidying up. But still, a budget is a budget, and with plans to pay off old, pre-divorce debts and send kids to college soon, I’d really get a better handle on balancing the ol’ checkbook.
      4. I was active. Not as active as usual, since I’m healing from a nasty cold. But I count all of my traipsing around on foot today as much-needed exercise. The goal? At least 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise, whether it is brisk walking, jogging, or climbing the many stairs in the skyscraper where I work.
      5. I read. Okay fine, I only read the newspaper. But it counts. My goal this year? To read at least one book per month. Seems attainable enough.
      6. I was social. Sort of. I was social a lot with my kids. We talked and played around and cleaned together and finished our annual family slideshow. I should probably have social goals beyond just my kiddos and the occasional small talk with coworkers. But I am kind of at a standstill in that arena. How on earth do people get beyond the small talk realm and into that place where they do fun things together outside of work? (Do all those people even exist outside the building? What are they like when they’re not being all professional?)
      7. I made healthy eating choices. Low carb, low calorie, and yummy foods. I could totally live with that for the rest of the year.
      8. I accomplished most of my daily goals/tasks and planned for tomorrow’s.
      9. I relaxed. A little. I should have maybe increased my relaxation to productive work ratio, as I probably should most days.
      10. I wrote. Yes, I am counting this blog. But as long as I am writing something every day, I’m cool with that.

Happy New Year, readers! Maybe the new habits you began today carry over throughout the year, and may any laundry you happened to do today not wash away your family. Blessings!

new-year-same-me

Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Pokémon Go Go Go! (aka: My Super-Fake Video Game Rant)

Dear Nintendo,

What on earth were you thinking? Have you guys completely lost your minds?

I used to hold you in such high regard. Especially back in the days when you churned out seriously cool video games, like Super Marios Bros. and Zelda. It was so clever when you invented the Gameboy, and especially the Nintendo DS. My three kids used to be so entertained, and would sit quietly for hours, punching away at the keypad and fighting Lego villains on the miniscule screen. Your wonderfully simple, mind-sucking products resulted in peaceful family road trips, whine-free visits to the dentist office, and calm evenings between dinner and bedtime as my three munchkins racked up points and conquered digital worlds from the comfort of our living room sofa.

BUT THEN…

You had to go and create a revolution by inventing the Wii, followed by the bigger and badder WiiU. No more were my kids happily glued to their seats, engaged in the gameplay of the peaceful good ol’ days. Now they were on their feet, jogging in place, swinging invisible rackets and golf clubs, and shaking their hips in front of the TV screen. What madness! My quiet family evening dream was shattered by the thumping and jumping of little feet.

AND NOW…

You’ve really gone and done it. Pokémon Go? Seriously!? It wasn’t drastic enough to transform my kids from quiet sitters to noisy movers – now you’re encouraging to go places, too?

The other day, I tried to find one of my teenagers to make him take out the garbage. But you know what? He wasn’t even home! Turns out that he had actually figured out how to open the front door, and walked all around the neighborhood.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked him.

“To catch Pokémon, silly,” he told me.

I ended up having to take the trash out by myself.
pokemon-go.gif

If that didn’t take the cake, get this — as my kids have been Pokémon Go-ing, they’ve been meeting other neighborhood families at these so-called Pokestops and training gyms, and holding conversations about their little “adventures.” They’ve also been doing a lot more walking. Yesterday, my kids walked a whole mile in search of Pokemon, then had to text me to pick them up, because it was growing dark. So you know what? I couldn’t just stay at home relaxing. I had to get up off my rump and Pokémon Go Go Go, too.

Thanks a lot, Nintendo. What are you going to invent next — a way to make my kids eat healthier? Yeesh.