Rewirement

I have taken a lot of time to think this week. It is not enough to be enraged by what is going on in our country. It takes a total “rewirement” of thought process and development of new habits.

I had signed up for the Yale online class “The Science of Well-Being” a few months ago and found that the last few sessions focused on ways to rewire the brain and reach goals by making new thought connections to what I wanted to accomplish.

I have never worked harder on a homework assignment. I found that being aware of each detail of where I am in my day really helped me focus on the moment and realizing where my thinking could keep me off track. I am training to set out certain times of the day to change my routine. I moved slower but accomplished more. I listened to the voice inside my head telling me to pay attention.

I now have new tools for the bigger change in me. To really listen and understand that others life experience is wrought with daily fight or flight responses. They cannot just wish it away. It is a humanity problem that has long since been swept under the rug for another day. Being kind is not enough. It takes paying attention to how I listen, what books I read, what podcasts I follow and diversity of my social world. It is time for me to get schooled on how to effect the change that black lives hope to see. They have a lot to contribute to our nation and it is time to stop just wishing it were so. I am as responsible as anyone to make this happen.

Like the new blooms on the rose bush, I need to start from the beginning and rewire my old habits. There is more beauty to discover in the differences of others experiences. I am listening instead of giving my opinion and watching through different eyes.

Start Again

Just Be Kind

This week has touched me in ways that I realize come from my own soul searching. The first change I made with myself was to learn to listen differently. I quit trying to fix the situation with my opinion. Instead, I asked questions. Big difference to the person talking to me. I hear the story and then let them tell me what they think. Listening now consists of NOT talking.

I am NOT coming to the conversation with preconceived ideas. Every situation is different and warrants a thoughtful list of facts. That should give a thoughtful list of solutions.

I am just beginning to react to our week of protests. I needed to be made aware of my own biases. I did not have a diverse group of books, business owners, music and last but not least Instagram people I follow. I needed to broaden my world and understand what it would be like to “walk in different shoes.”

And to start it off — Just Be Kind —

Move Your Office Outside

I can’t believe how much I have missed out on in our yard. I never took the time to appreciate how many birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees and flowers have been waiting for me to notice them. Why did it take a pandemic to wake me up to nature.

My New Outside Office

This morning I decided to move my office outside. I remember being excited as a kid when the teacher said “Let’s move the desks outside.” I realized it re-sets my brain to be a part of nature. It opens up new connections to be surrounded by trees, natural air, clouds and sky. It is impossible to be sad when I’m outside. I have always wondered why my husband never tired of yard work on our 1/2 acre property. He had a secret that the kids and I never asked about or participated in. Our loss ~~ he has made it beautiful.

The “Heart” Bougainvillea

I find myself gravitating toward books about birds. They are fascinating to me and it seems they can teach me about life and how to be resilient. Seems timely on the “learning to be resilient” part. Funny, I am late to the game but have found authors who have studied birds for decades. Jim Robbins writes for the New York Times and studies wildlife at his home in Montana. Jennifer Ackerman has been writing books about science and nature for over 30 years. Both are people to pay attention to.

My new routine is to find my way outside first thing when I wake up. This is before I ever touch a phone, computer or TV remote. It is amazing to listen to the sounds of morning. Everything is new and filled with optimism. What a great way to begin my day with a positive outlook to combat this terrible time of sickness and worry.

Now I’m adding working outside in the afternoon. I think I have found a way to create my new normal and look forward to it. I know for sure that I am changed ~~ and for the better.

I Miss My Coffee Shop

What do you miss during this time of staying home? I miss going to my favorite coffee shop — Bodhi Leaf Coffee. It’s not about the coffee as I drink tea (which they have my favorite iced green tea) but about the atmosphere and my motivation while there to write my blog. It did not matter that there were noise distractions from other customers, I was able to focus and put myself in a very calm zone. I miss the friendly faces behind the counter who always greeted me with “Hi Sherry!”

Bodhi — My Comfort Place

I have been ordering their coffee online for my entire family. I am doing the next best thing I know how to do by ordering their products online and surprising my out of state family with coffee delivered to their door.

I miss walking freely around my town. Most of the public places have been closed to keep us safe from group gathering. I miss going out without a second thought about my health. Who knew that masks, gloves and cleansing wipes would become a part of going out in public?

The unknown is what is so challenging. I read a great article the other day from Harvard Business Review ~~ That Discomfort Your’re Feeling is Grief ~~ the article gave me some key points:

  • The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking
  • Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present.
  • You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control.
  • There’s angerYou’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargainingOkay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadnessI don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptanceThis is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
  • And, I believe we will find meaning in it. I’ve been honored that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning.

So that word MEANING jumped out at me. What has helped me navigate the fear is trying to think about what might change for the better because of this. Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Traffic problems will ease if more people are set up to work remotely at least two days a week;
  • Teachers have become the new heroes to everyone — no one will ever wonder what they do to teach our kids;
  • Doctors and nurses are as vital as firemen, police officers and first responders ~~ they went to the frontline to do battle;
  • Custodians in every type of business are the people we never see ~~ they do their work at night when we are home ~~ they are as necessary to our survival as the CEO of the company;
  • Stay at home parents are set up for a thankless “what do you do all day” job ~~ that will never be a problem again;
  • I hope all leaders of every country realize that by working together we can overcome anything;
  • Kindness works — a smile or a thank you goes a long way.

I know that I am making my life simpler each day. I am seeing nature in a different way. It can teach us about renewal and that no matter what forces try to destroy it, there will always be something green growing from the ground.

Roses Are Blooming

Oh No! It’s Tax Preparation Time!

It is the dreaded time of year….. getting documents together for your annual tax return! How do you keep your records? Where do you start?

  • In a shoe box?
  • In files that are scattered?
  • In a check register?
  • On a hand-written spreadsheet?
  • From paper bank statements?

It is hard to break old habits. If you have a system, you just don’t want to think about changing it. There are easier ways but it takes a new mindset to start new habits.

First of all, if you break it up and handle your financial transactions weekly, it will only take about an hour each week once set up. The beauty of this system is that at the end of the year, you print a report and it is done. Everything you need is in front of you on paper. Your accountant will love you! You can even try to handle preparing them yourself if you feel confident. I suggest doing this at least once if your return is not too complicated.

Here are my suggestions to get started on the road to less stress at tax time:

  • Create a file titled Taxes for Year _________ and everything that comes to you for taxes can be put in this file during the year. Think donation receipts, car registration bills, property tax statements, insurance dividend statements, etc. That way you don’t have to worry that they will get lost. That file can be used once your tax return is done. Not only keep the tax return in it but all the supporting documents.
  • The unknown is worse than reality. Guessing at what your income minus expenses is at the end of every month creates a nagging “homework” feeling. I suggest financial software that organizes your spending into categories — I use Quicken and it is simple. Once you identify a certain income or expense in a category, it remembers each time you enter that same vendor. It also allows you to separate your business expenses from your personal.
  • Enter transactions once a week from your check register or online banking account. It becomes easier as time goes on. Make a date with yourself on a certain day and time and put it on your calendar. You will not only be ready for tax time but you will be more honest with yourself about where you stand financially. You can make adjustments in your spending. If you spent too much one week on eating out, the next week you can challenge yourself to cook at home. A budget is a must for everyone. I firmly believe in using what you have and taking some time to pause and think before buying anything new. Our landfills and oceans are overflowing with unwanted stuff.
  • Go Paperless! This will save you so much time when you need to shred old paperwork. You can use a smaller filing cabinet. Don’t be afraid to change. Records are kept online for years for you to review. Online banking is your friend. Waiting 30 days for a paper statement to review your spending is too long in this world of instant access. Banks usually monitor your unusual spending but reviewing once a week can give you peace of mind. I create online accounts for everything including utilities and insurance. I can quickly spot a problem and remedy it immediately.

I know that your brain is on overload and it sounds easier to just keep doing what you have been doing. Old comfort zones are hard to change. I know for sure, though, that keeping track of your financial life on a weekly basis is essential to creating an organized world.

Once you know your finances, you will understand where your spending is out of hand. You will clean out your closet with a renewed excitement to see what you have and what you absolutely don’t need. Your pantry will take on a new importance because you are no longer shoving things toward the back never to be seen again. Challenge yourself to use the food you have for a new meal created by you. Come home before you buy new clothes and think about what you really need. Even I have clothes in my closet with tags on them. They are usually the ones that I never bothered to try on before purchase — or I was hoping I could fit in that size!

I can help — but my real goal is to teach you to do this yourself. The satisfaction in learning something new, tackling the computer, understanding the paperless world and knowing what you have is essential to making time for your goals and adventures. If you are interested in taking a class with me, just reach out here. You can do this!

What Are You Thankful For?

Every year at Thanksgiving I ask the question “what are you thankful for” at the table. I get a lot of sighs and “oh no not again” but reluctantly everyone finds an answer and whether it is real or not, they comply.

It is tough to answer honestly with such a broad question. Most everyone was giving general answers to this general question and I realized we were not getting to anyone’s true self. In order to change it up, I had to think of a better question.

There had to be a better way to make this fun and make it memorable. I remembered a list I saw on a bulletin board while teaching one day that intrigued me — It was from an article printed in HuffPost

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids ‘So How was School Today?’ ‘Without Asking Them ‘So How Was School Today?’

By liZ Evans
Blogger, Simple Simon and Company

Here are a few:

  • What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)
  • Tell me something that made you laugh today.
  • How did you help somebody today?
  • How did somebody help you today?
  • Where do you play the most at recess?
  • Who is the funniest person in your class?
  • If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

I thought the questions were brilliant and after trying them out, I realized I learned a lot more about a day at school. It takes some effort to dig deeper to ask questions that will give you insight into another person. I am inquisitive. I like to know the deepest parts of a person. It takes the right questions to get there. The most interesting people don’t give up their thoughts easily.

Is everyone as bored as I am watching those 4-5 minute question/answer segments on the morning shows? You come away with nothing new about them and realize they were only there to sell a book, a movie or an album and that everything is scripted. I can’t imagine being asked the same question over and over again and trying to look interested. Guess what? That is what I was doing at Thanksgiving every year!

At the last second I changed it up — “What is one thing you did this year that you did not feel you were capable of?” Okay, I got the same looks but after a minute of hearing the answers of the kids, the adults took notice. The kids answers were heartfelt and genuine. They knew right away that a 100% on a math test was a huge accomplishment. Semester grades that had more A’s than C’s were worthy of a huge smile on their face. Getting through the first months of a new grade and feeling good about it was huge to them. It was their world and they were tackling it. It’s funny how math became the pinnacle of success. It told me that math was a tough subject to master. It is ever changing and you must keep up. It has exact answers. I know in my substitute teaching that I can see a lightbulb flash over the head of someone who understands a concept for the first time.

I was thrilled with the answers of the adults at the table who may have thought their revelations were simple — BUT — they displayed real amazement at their accomplishments. Painting a wall to painting people for the first time; moving to a brand new area and adjusting better than expected; finding a new way to visit Las Vegas and it being more fun; to my own revelation that working five days a week at jobs I loved proved to be more satisfying than I ever thought it would be.

I learned something new. Change up the questions. Find ways for people to talk about themselves in a different way. Be interested in learning what others are trying to accomplish. Most of all get them off guard and give them a reason to dig deep and reveal something no one has ever asked them before.

I saw lightbulbs over everyone that day. In the end, they may still roll their eyes at my questions but I think next year they will look forward to letting us in on their secret.

Lightbulb Moment

What Really Matters

Will today’s emergency even be remembered? Will that thing you’re particularly anxious about have been hardly worth the time you put into it?

Better Question: What could you do today that would matter a year from now? Seth Godin


Anxiety became a part of my life at about age 20. I can’t say that before then I didn’t worry but it never caused me to lose sleep or suffer panic attacks. I was young and had no life experience. I was making decisions for myself with no thought about my goals. As a matter of fact, I had no goals.

My world was changing drastically and I guess you could say I was free falling, hanging onto my childhood and life at home for dear life. There was no push for me to go to college and even though I got good grades in high school, I had never thought about a career. In 1973 girls were still given a pass if they chose not to go to college. I had no money saved and going against type, I just left junior college without even withdrawing. I was bored and lost.

While I realize that my parent’s going through a heartbreaking divorce at the time had moved the needle toward anxiety, I cannot blame them or their choices for my own. High School was such a haven for me that I truly thought it would go on forever. How could I be so responsible yet so immature? I was definitely on a path to learn the hard way.

After reading the above quote from Seth Godin, I thought about what it meant. It seems obvious, the daily worries will subside and it’s better to plan for your future. I reread it many times to understand that anxiousness and worry are a dead end waste of energy. Then I realized that it took ENERGY (Definition: the capacity for vigorous activity; available power) to create my anxiety and more ENERGY to work through a panic attack. The lightbulb came on this morning to a solution — treat energy as a tangible thing, not just a feeling.

I’ve started taking a minute to test my energy level for every task of the day. Starting with just one day is less overwhelming. I’m trying to make my daily structure fulfilling and productive. Even cleaning a bathroom can be satisfying when you see the end result. Once the bathroom is clean, it leads to rearranging and moving things. A picture straightened and appreciated, a glass vase looking better on the other side of the sink with the dust being wiped off, the reflection in the mirror is better when there are no water marks on it. I began a process of being slow, steady and paying attention to what is front of me. While I am organizing and cleaning, my brain starts to sort itself out too. I faced each day calmer. My focus was better — instead of anxious I started to feel motivated.

My Energy Source

I was not ready for the world at 20 because I did not look at it as a great and wonderful source of choices. I was closed off to adventure. I stayed safe within the confines of pleasing. I followed the expected path. It doesn’t really please anyone to do what you think they want from you. The energy is directed away from your soul and dissipates out in the air with nothing to show for it. I now visualize my energy floating away — a great vision to check on myself.

So I thought about what and where I get energy from and how it has replaced worry and anxiety:

  • Writing this Blog
  • Organizing a Mess (throwing it all in the middle and sorting before it goes back)
  • Knowing what I have — financial and material
  • Reading Biographies (I am fascinated to see how people get where they are)
  • Bodhi Leaf Coffee and it’s fireplace
  • Listening to kids and learning from them
  • Binge watching a TV show
  • Hallmark Christmas Movies
  • Family Time (grown kids are amazing friends who are honest and true)
I Need More Adventures

One thing missing on my list is “Planning Adventures” — I need to start small with day adventures and learn to leave the chores behind once in a while. Sometimes doing nothing accomplishes exactly what you need for the day.

The Eye Of Your Camera

I was thinking the other day about the history of family photos. I remembered my grandmother sitting down with me as an adult and opening a shoe box full of photos. That is all she had of her past. They were special and she could remember everything they said about her life. I got one day to soak it in with her. She is gone now and so are her thoughts about her life. If I could have one more day with her. . . .

Grams Had A Story

My parents took more pictures and my mom got creative with scrapbooks. She bought books with black paper and used a white ink pen to label them. She took so much love and care with each photo, carefully placing them in order and I’m sure smiling as she pasted them in. I treasure the pictures of my parents as newlyweds—they were just starting out with hopes and dreams. Kids rarely let their parents be people. It is too hard to see their reality next to the person you need them to be. Those pictures became all that was left when they divorced 23 years later. Both never let us sit together just one more time — the five of us — to hear their stories of life together. The chasm between them grew so big that they both erased their marriage and created new lives with new spouses. Kids deserve to have the family pictures preserved and not hidden away in boxes never to be looked at again.

Happy Marriage Stories — My Grandparents and My Parents

I am the generation that started with paper photos and transitioned to digital memories sitting on a computer. I kept the scrapbook tradition and have many books that I made sure stayed current. I also have three baskets in a closet of paper photos that never made it into a scrapbook. I did have our VCR videos transferred to a USB device. Our videos are treasures but lopsided in having much more footage of our youngest child than our older ones. I have digital pictures on the cloud and wonder who will ever really see them when I’m gone. I’m determined to not let my stories go when I do.

I met my friends, Amanda and Kristi, at a conference in Texas by chance. I volunteered at the welcome desk and there they were in front of me checking in. Amanda was not on the list (we later found her) and we laughed all weekend about her crashing The Photo Organizers Conference. Their lives are in Canada (each on separate coasts) but their friendship with each other is real. I dared to work my way into becoming the third wheel — I am happy to be in that role!

Together they formed Memory Momentum and are always finding solutions for their clients to keep their memories alive and safe. They have experience and a sense of humor. They care about stories. They care that you will organize your pictures in a way that will be easy to understand and keep up. Here are a few of their thoughts in beginning to change how we think about organization and it’s meaning in our lives:

  • Organization does not mean perfection;
  • Organization optimizes the quality of life;
  • Having a system means less time overwhelmed and frazzled;
  • Keeping the system up means more time for fun and less time recreating the wheel;
  • Starting is the hardest part — let someone teach you how to begin and how to keep only what you love!

Here are their tips on valuing the photos we save:

  • DELETE — schedule it daily, weekly or monthly. Keep only the ones that have meaning for that month and year.
  • TELL YOUR STORY — your photos are your story. More does not mean clarity. It is too overwhelming to see 1000 pictures in our digital photo album. They lose their meaning. Pick the right ones and lose your guilt over deleting the ones that are not meaningful to you.
  • BE MORE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY — If you end up with 12 for the year (one a month) that tell your story, there is no need for 1000 that you will have trouble remembering in 10 years.

Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in Amanda and Kristi’s witty photo-organizing wisdom! You can find them at www.memorymomentum.ca — Don’t worry you do not need your passport or a one-way ticket to Canada — they are experts at remotely working with you. A video meeting is just as much fun as meeting them at a welcome desk!

Simplify and Be Intentional — such a great way to live if you just let go of stuff. You don’t need to be perfect, just know what you treasure and Delete the things that weigh you down. Make sure that your memories are safe and available for future generations. Nothing tells a story better than what your eye sees while capturing a photo.

Your Story In The Eye of Your Camera

Walking Into Your Future

I was asked to participate in a new mentor program for freshmen in Social Science Majors at my Alma Mater. I decided quickly to fill out the questionnaire and even though I missed the deadline, they asked me to join. I am learning to try new things without a complete outline of what to expect and this was a last minute thought.

I was a bit nervous driving back to college because it had been a while and the campus has grown quite a bit. Luckily, they set up a free parking area which as everyone knows is a huge gift that eases stress to start the day. I only made one wrong turn but recovered enough to walk into the building on time. I figured being a mentor meant being prompt was a big deal. I was met with this emblem which caused me to stop and pause —

Walking Back In Time

I went back to college late in life. I was losing myself in adult choices and responsibilities and a very wise counselor helped me find a goal — one goal, something I could work toward that overruled my emotions. It gave me a chance to test my tenacity and work toward something difficult to achieve. My success or failure depended on no one but me.

College Life

I found my way to the building that housed my classes for 3 years. It’s funny the nostalgia that happens in an instant. I appreciated everything about my quest for a degree because it was such a dark choice in my past to not finish what I had started at 18. I veered off my path but second chances are the best part of life.

A Goal Fulfilled

I was met by the nicest people who welcomed me with enthusiasm. This was the start of a test program and I have always known that to be on the ground floor of anything at the beginning is always the best place to be. They matched me with my student. Funny how things work out. His mentor did not show up nor did my student. We were meant to meet. He was equipped with an audio recorder and off we went to figure out who might be helping who.

He was well organized with questions. I was happy to answer. . . .

  • Who did I admire growing up? (my maternal grandmother)
  • What was my childhood like?(outside all day)
  • Did my parents talk to me about college? (no, nor did guidance counselors)
  • What made me decide to attend this college? (location because I had a family at home)
  • Why Psychology? (my experience in family law exposed me to many broken people, I wanted to understand how to help)
  • How had the campus changed since I was there? (more buildings, parking and dorms)
  • What was the same about the campus . . . .

I had to think about what was the same. I watched the students walking the same way with backpacks and direction. I thought for a minute and realized they were Walking Into Their Future. They were showing up. They were making choices. They kept going even when it got difficult. No one kept track of them, they were independent and free. The tree in the quad was a constant and a symbol of growth.

Tree of Growth

And last but the most important questions of the day. . . What have you learned since you first started your career? What did graduation lead you to?

I had to think about that. When I was younger I would have answered quickly without a lot of thought. I wanted to help him understand what life experience can teach as you look back and have some clarity.

I learned that listening and allowing people to be who they are was not who I was when I started. I thought that my way was the best way to a successful life. I talked a lot. I was nervous and filled the silence with words that meant very little. I wanted everyone to be happy with me. I spent little time in thought about being centered and most of all, I was a shell of a person who had limited risk taking experience.

I am not completely whole yet, there is still more to do. But there was a moment when I realized that observing was an achievement that helped me feel peace. The word advice is gone from my mind and replaced with “what do you think?” People deserve to be heard, to have new ideas and be on their own journey to joy. I can watch from afar without stepping in unless asked to.

I laughed when I saw two signs of things I missed out on by going back to college late in life. I have traveled and been an enthusiastic member of the audience but I could never go back and do these things. . . .

What Fun This Would Have Been
The Actress in Me Untested

My last thoughts to the amazing student I had the pleasure of getting to know and who is just beginning to think about his career. . . Try everything, don’t say you can’t do something — you never know where it will lead. Be you! Keep going even when you think life is too hard.

Oh and don’t get into debt so that you are forced to stay in a job you don’t love!

My question to him before we ended “if you could wake up tomorrow and be in any career what would it be?” He smiled and thought. I could tell he had not thought about it that way — being practical could be off the table for a moment. He had a spark in his eye when he said maybe a fashion designer. I told him that one day he could design something for me.

I’m not sure who got more out of our hour together. I know this for sure that being around young people keeps me energized. If he walked away with a few ideas, it was a huge success. I walked away feeling grateful that I had a second chance at college. I had fulfilled my goal and watching him Walk Into His Future was a moment I will treasure.

My Discoveries. . .

I decided that once in a while I will give you a glimpse into my world and introduce some of my favorite discoveries:

(Disclaimer I am not affiliated in any way with these choices and have no monetary compensation paid to me through any of the following links)

  • My Podcast Find — The Moth — I love storytelling and I love honesty and this is a pure mixture of both. . .
  • My Book Find — On Gold Mountain by Lisa See — I saw Lisa in person at a seminar with her mother Carolyn See (1934-2016). They were so interesting and so funny! Lisa studies and writes about her Chinese heritage and Carolyn wrote and taught about writing (Carolyn’s book Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers is something I have read many times — she suggested writing 1000 words a day and to send handwritten notes to writers as often as possible). . .
  • Bodhi Leaf Coffee — everyone knows that this discovery has changed my world. I have found the place that welcomes me and helps me focus to get things read and written. I even started drafting a fictional essay about what this coffee stop might have been like in the 1800’s. . .
  • The television series Yellowstone — I wondered if I could stick with this series because it is a bit disturbing to watch. But as I’ve gotten into the story, it unfolds as a tale of a family and what leads to their dysfunction. Kevin Costner never disappoints. I like sitting down every night with a new episode and watching it with Chris.