4 life-saving steps when dealing with Big Change

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image via SheMadeCrafts

Years ago my bed linens became a window into my own psyche.

‘Tis a strange statement from someone who rarely makes her bed. I tried for years to take the Martha Stewart High Road (even google-ing how to fold a fitted sheet. Life is waaaay to short for that, btw) and it just didn’t take.So I just closed the ‘ole bedroom door and prayed that none of my guests wanted to take an upstairs tour.

I digress…

Back to deep thoughts about pillow cases and dust ruffles. It began the day the hub came home and asked me if I still had a spirit of adventure. Such a loaded question! It was more like spirit of relaxation in that moment because we had only been in our house a year and 1/2 after a very long building process (our DREAM home that my spouse built with his own 2 hands). I was only two days past unpacking the last box, ready to take a breather.

“Adventure? What kind of adventure?”

Heavy sigh from me.

Wide-eyed wonder from the hub.

He’d been offered a promotion in his company and it required a New York address. He launched into the our-kids-are-young-and-flexible-it-would-be-fun-to-do-something-rash speech and all I could do was look around at the plates and pans that finally found their final resting cabinet place.

Luckily, my spouse was clued in to my wanderlust nature when we first got together. He was counting on me thinking about the positives (Manhattan fun, snow storms, road trips to new places, learning to say Cwa-fee and dwag), yet all I can do was bite my nails and ask a million questions about what his other options were.

After two look-see visits, a lot of freaking out about how little you get for your money anywhere near the city, and one very teary-eyed talk with our extended family, we did it: Packed up two toddlers (one that had been potty-trained 4 days prior), 16,000 lbs of stuff (I know, what on earth was in that moving truck?) and drove 8 days to start our new life.

This confessional writing is not about our move, our NY experience or even how we decided to return to the Northwest. It’s about the weeks in between when we really weren’t sure if we were going to do it.

The agonizing feeling of letting go and letting the answer unfold on its own.

Enter the bed linens….

I started doing something really weird. Like, strange Who am I?  weird.

I started ironing my pillowcases and the top sheet and made my bed every day. At first I tried to ignore this behavior and pretend to myself that it was perfectly normal. But, really? An iron and board set up in my bedroom for weeks?

As we got closer to saying the final yes and set out to make an appointment with our selling realtor, I broke it down for myself in a journal. First, I was beginning to see a metaphor—ironing out the wrinkles and making something perfect was very therapeutic when my life was about to be turned upside down. I also came to some interesting conclusions:

I do not like to feel like things are out of my control.

My first inclination with change is to be fearful.

I elicit control in strange ways when I feel helpless.

And here’s an even funnier element of this little tale—I continued to iron away even when I figured out the psychology behind it! Cracked myself up. Of course, NY turned out to be fantastic and I look on that move as a total positive because it really has added to our lives as a family. The moment we pulled out of the driveway, I released the sheets, the iron, the need to know what comes next. The whole experience taught me trust. Trust that it’s really out of my hands. After this experience I made a list for dealing with Big Life Changes in the future (and I’m counting this whole simplicity thing because it hasn’t been easy):

 

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1) Welcome adventure and new learning experiences

You just never know what kinds of wonderful are waiting around the corner from new opportunities. New York seemed bigger than life to me, but it did so much for our family bonding experience, not to mention broaden our view of this great country. Some of our closest friends were made there. I still check the ridiculous winter temps in Warwick, NY on my phone.

2) Be positive and expect great things

When we’re fearful and apprehensive, it shows to the world and can cut us off from people who can make transitions easier. Show your best self—believe that this change could be amazing for you and/or your family and wait for the angels to show up. They sure did for us.

3) Recognize that change can also bring necessary sacrifice

There were many things we missed when living in the East. There were days we just yearned to take a walk in February without six layers of clothing. Yet, the snow was incredibly fun. My kids still talk about the winter where we couldn’t see our front steps for a week. Big Change can also help you to be grateful for what you had and also for what can be in a new situation. It’s all about perspective and being open to what good can come out of transitions.

4) Understand that Big Change is a process and patience is required

Whether it’s a cross country move, a change in lifestyle, a new career or even a nest being emptied, it all takes time. Thank goodness for that because overnight change just isn’t a a fun, stable place to dwell. I dealt with our move by journaling, talking incessantly with my spouse, going online to look at places we would be able to visit, and of course, ironing. The process of moving back home was also a major adjustment and being the predictable creature that I am, the iron made another appearance and I just went with it. 🙂

What about you? What’s your ironed sheet when you face the unknown? What big changes brought all kinds of unexpected greatness into your life?

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5 Ways to engage your inner hobbyist (without the stuff that goes with it)

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~My creations~

Charm soldering

Fine Art photography

Darkroom printing

Mixed media art

Sewing

Headband-making

Plaster sculpture

Encaustic wax

Diorama model making

Jewelry making

Lamp design (say, what?)

Purse design

Skirt design

Card-making

Book binding

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This, my sweet friends, is a list compiled of my interests within the last six years alone.

Good grief, it’s frightening to look at it as a long list. Each and every one of these little forays into artsy-land brings a plethora of GEAR stocked and ready in my studio…and my home…and the attic…and the garage…

I’m feeling an epiphany welling up from my hobby-obsessed heart:

In the past I decided to dabble in a creative interest and proceeded to troll Amazon for every book known to man on the subject (used, so it’s ok, right?). I also managed to purchase all the fixins’ to get it going long before the drive to actually do the hobby showed up.

Madness.

In my bouts of purging and donating this past year, I began to stumble across little tombs of hobby supplies in all areas of my life. I expected to hear a voice ask me if I’d like to lie down on the couch for some inner excavation. It’s one thing to chalk it up to being creative and having a ton of interests, but quite another to realize that very few hobbies on this list lasted more than a few rounds. I think I actually believed that if the stuff was acquired for the hobby, I would actually do the hobby on a frequent basis.

That would be wrong.

Lest you fall into this same trap (or..sigh..you see this pattern in your own creative home), this is for you:

 

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1) Attend a class that supplies you with everything for a nominal fee. You pay your fee, make a craft, have some fun, and evaluate whether you’d like to do it again. No fuss, no muss (and no vats of plaster loitering in your studio closet either…true story. Yikes.)

2) Watch someone do the hobby and do a mini interview about why they like it. Observe, ponder, shelve it. If you are dreaming about it 2 months later, it might be time to take a class (see #1).

3) Find a buddy who’d like to share in the cost of the needed items for a specific hobby (a soldering gun is not cheap, friends. It’s especially distressing when you make 10 charms, badly burn your index finger and call it good).

4) Commit to a hobby that doesn’t require gear and see if you actually follow through for at least three months…mmmm..say, blogging...or writing. Minimal start-up costs, lots of rewards (funny how my favorite hobby ended up being the one without physical stuff! Epiphany, indeed).

5) Go on a spending moratorium for a specified number of months and see if you had any grand withdrawals over not being able to ______________ (fill in the hobby blank).

I’ve already admitted that I have an Amazon Issue…a sickness, really. My art/craft library is ready for its close-up—and rather than hang my head in shame, I’m committing to one hobby-dabble a month for the next year. If it doesn’t stick, the gear (and the books) must be given to someone who actually will DO THE HOBBY.

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Being the prideful creative that I am, this post was hard to write. I had to admit some disturbing (and expensive) consumer-induced mistakes. Yet, I can honestly say I feel better now. Ready to fix the issue and press on in this simplifying journey. This blog is definitely helping me be brave and that makes me happy.

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4 steps to overcome life’s obstacles & live your dream

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image via Mystery Wallpaper

Many of us have a hard time giving ourselves the gift of realizing big dreams.

Life gets in the way.

When the kids leave…when the house is paid for…when I finally unclutter my work space…when I finish school…

I do believe that there are appropriate times for going for it where big dreams are concerned, but it is always a good time to steer ourselves in the general direction of where we want to end up. A huge part of it is eliminating the obstacles that pop up like moles on the lawn of life.

 

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1) Practice “If it’s not a yes, it’s a no”.

The principle is that if you’re hemming and hawing about something…can’t make up your mind to start that painting class or enroll in book writing 101 or even make a massive career change, it might be a no. Is it possible you are picking this path because you feel you should? Or someone expects this of you? Or is it truly a passion? Or is it burning desire that keeps you up at night? The yes is there, but the plan is not. AND THAT’S OKAY. If it truly is a giant, big ‘ole pink elephant that follows you around, the plan will come if you devote some time and energy to it.

Ask yourself: “If fear was eliminated, would it be a yes?”

Take a deep breath and commit yourself to micro-movements, which are small steps to get closer to doing this thing that just might make you deliriously happy.

2) Embrace time management

168 hours. That’s what makes up your week. Laura Vanderkam literally wrote the book about this topic and came up with some interesting stats about how we spend our time. Her blog can get you started to begin the process of tracking your own. Trust me, it’s enlightening and scary at the same time. Committing to making small steps is going to cause a shift in your time management tectonic plates. If you value sleep, cuts will need to be made somewhere. I suggest starting with Facebook and Twitter and then take a look at the reality TV crap-ola time that is flushed down the ‘ole john each week. Take inventory of what you’re willing to give up to get closer to making time for your dream to happen. Write it down in your planner as an appointment with yourself.

Your goal is worth being written into your life…in pen.

3) Truly let go…for good

Toxic friendships that suck you dry…the quest to have the perfect house…the expectation to keep up with the rat race in your neighborhood…volunteering your time in places you know you’re not appreciated…doing a job you absolutely despise…

Give yourself permission to release relationships that are detrimental to your dream. I realize the whole job thing is a tough one, but I can honestly say that with the other issues, you’d be doing yourself a huge favor if you simply and directly released it from your life. Such hard things…believe me, I know. ‘Been there with at least twice and it is terribly difficult, but it was so worth it. It freed up such a huge space in my brain for things that really mattered to me.

You can do it. It will mean magic for your journey!

3) Give yourself permission to be alone to map out a plan

This is a hard one for women with kidlets hanging from their very limbs, but it is not selfish to ask for this time. I hear it so much from friends (especially women who work and are uber-moms upon walking in the door) that they feel like it takes too much time away from their family to bring a dream into the fray.

I beg you not to believe this for a second.

You must ask for this time and take it. Even if there’s risk of people (small and large) living on your planet giving you a hard time. You’re not flying to Tahiti for two weeks, for cryin’ out loud. You simply want time to test out or even (yah!) pursue a dream. Remember? That little friend who seems to be sulking in the corner while you stir the spaghetti sauce?

Yeah–her. She’s calling you.

4) Pursue Courage and Bravery with wild abandon

This involves deciding to move forward when moving forward seems completely draining and awkward. Bravery doesn’t make a list of negative what-ifs. It only brings on the mojo to do what needs to be done. Courage means stepping out and looking forward…not casting your peepers side to side to see what others in your profession are doing or making or writing. Yes, we can support friends who are realizing their dreams too, but be mindful of what’s stirring in your heart when you go about realizing yours.

Does the success of others make you anxious?

Does it make you feel like you’re not doing enough?

Does it make you feel small?

Recognize it and don’t go there for awhile. Stay right in your own space with your own lovely, beautiful, talented self and make plans. Revel in just being present with that pink elephant. Don’t let the small voice of doubt creep in.

Know thyself. And if thyself can’t handle looking at the amazing fast-track success of others, be okay with it. Abandon Facebook and Twitter for a few weeks and see if it helps.

* * *

Give your dream the space in your brain, your home, and your life that it deserves. If you nurture it and believe that growing this beautiful thing is worth the effort, the rewards will be more than you ever could have dreamed.

I promise.

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4 priceless benefits of spontaneous family road trips

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I took this picture as we were packing to leave Cottonwood State Park in eastern Oregon this weekend. It was raining at home on the other side of the mountains (big shocker), and was bright and clear in this gorgeous high desert canyon.

This weekend was a ten.

And it almost didn’t happen.

We were being lured into the drive-our-kids-all-around-creation expectation and not listening to our we-parents-know-what-is-best-for-our-family hearts. We wavered. Yet! I somehow pep talked our little clan into loading up the gear at rush hour on Friday and hittin’ the road. In no particular order, the stats on this adventure were:

-two nights with stars that appeared to jump out at us

-one cool breeze blowing through the Twinkie’s windows while we slept

-one rattlesnake encounter on our hike where we all screamed like toddlers

-one twirly horned ram sighting on the top of the cliffs overlooking the canyon

-one novel read that I couldn’t put down

-one epic s’more session over a roaring camp fire

-an entire day spent talking and catching up while we lolly-gagged around our campsite

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It got me thinking how important these trips are for our family happiness and my own mental health.

 

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1) A change of scenery promotes relaxation and mandatory fun.

In our harried lives at home there is the predictable weekend sleepover (resulting in fried teens come Monday morning), as well as the rushed meals so said teens can ski-daddle to wherever it is they go to find social acceptance. With road trips, meals at a picnic table in a gorgeous setting prompt conversation, story-telling and an all around slower pace.It’s magical. I learned more about what’s going on in their lives in one night on this trip than months in the quickie car conversations we’ve had in the Mom Taxi going hither and yon.

2) A simple environment and routine manifests creative thinking and clear-headedness.

It always amazes me how many ideas come flooding in when I’m out and about (especially places with panoramic views), away from my vacuuming duties and laundry mountains. Living in the Twinkie is a simple deal and I am dangerously close to pitching this whole suburban thing and heading out indefinitely on the open road. In an Airstream everything’s within reach. The clothing choices are limited to the Barbie-sized closet and there’s only so much you can fit in a bathroom mimicking an airplane loo. It’s fabulous! When stripped of my wife/mom commitments, this little creative mind can come up with so crazy plans and projects.

3) Family bonding is inevitable when living in a small space.

It’s hard to hide when you’re within nine feet of your parents. We do give them the twin beds in the back (selfless parents that we are) and they can retreat when they need to, but I’m still within earshot. Thankfully, I got to hear about the books that were being devoured, some Elvis movie trivia, and random thoughts about the teen scene in general.

4) A digital sabbatical is more alluring when adventure is involved.

Ask the offspring to give up the phone madness at home on a weekend, and there might just be some sarcasm flung my way. Tell them that our new found nature digs has no cell coverage, and you’re met with surprising indifference. It’s an it is what it is kind of thing. I must say, I enjoy seeing their faces rather than the tops of their heads.

* * *

I’ve been seeing the quote “The days are long, but years are short” a lot lately. ‘Probably some sort of divine message that I need to make all of this count, especially the hours that my beautiful girls are within my hugging grasp. How is it that school and friends’ homes get the bulk of their presence? I guess we’re just in that chapter right now, and I can honestly say I’m not guilty of holding on too tight. I might even regret not holding a little bit tighter.

These adventures on the road are part of this. I want to hold on loosely (as 38 Special would croon) and drink them in as much as humanly possible. I think they get this and indulge us with these excursions. I’m grateful.

When was the last time you took a road trip with your crew?

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On my SIMPLICITY radar

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I’ve been waiting for this new read to come out.

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Have you ever watched Dee Williams in action on Youtube? She is so incredibly likable and charming. I just wanna have tea in that little bungalow.


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Another good read comes from Claire Diaz-Ortiz, who really has some fabulous ideas in the area of our digital lives:

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This book  speaks about a topic that is going to become hot in our country as our brains morph from our digital connectedness.

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Ever since the Happiness Project I’ve been tirelessly mindful of the small things that bring joy in my life. I like this idea:

 

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100 Happy Days is a fun challenge. I think it will require more effort on my part to recognize what I’m grateful for….not a bad idea.

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When I took complete control of my health, juicing and green smoothies became a big part of my diet. I have at least one every day. A girl can run out of interesting recipes to toss in the Vitamix!

Enter my new favorite kitchen tool:

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If you haven’t seen any of Farnoosh Brock’s stuff, it’s worth a look-see. She is lovely. And positive. And inspires one to take charge of his or her gut health.

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I wish I could go to this conference.  Joel and Dan really know how to put an event together. If you’re in spitting distance (or further) from Minneapolis, this should be on your list.

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‘Very excited to be Freshly Pressed last week. Thank you, WordPress! Super fun to reach some of you I would have never found. Your comments were so appreciated and it absolutely made my week!

Also thrilled to be a link on the BecomingMinimalist newsletter. Joshua Becker makes me think on a weekly basis. ‘Love that guy and his message.

 

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Five design tricks to create simplicity in your home

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Even as  a young kid I was enamored with good design in people’s homes. My own room was a constant changing environment that mimicked what I saw on TV and in my friends’ homes. I had a pal in elementary school who lived in an amazing design-rich home. Her insanely hip mother owned an art gallery and their walls were a rotating display of giant colorful paintings. The square footage of the house was massive, but this woman did not feel compelled to fill it. There was negative space (probably so the art could “breathe” or something poetic like that) and everything was clean and white. I loved exploring the rooms during sleepovers, studying the giant paintings, admiring the fact that there was nothing to compete with them in the room.

This was the beginning of my love affair with simple home design–Scandinavian design in particular.

Clean palette. Lots of space. Unfussy furniture. Mix this with my paradoxical passion for color and you’ve got yourself quite a happy, clean environment!

I do not live in an all-white house and I probably could still afford to 86 some gear in our abode. Yet, I have figured out some design tricks to hep a home feel open, more fresh and inviting with a nod to some current design trends.

 

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1) Large art beats a collection of small pieces every time.

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When trying to simplify a room, go with bigger pieces. I think it has something to do with the eyes having one specific resting spot on a wall instead of having to dart your eyes all over the place to take it all in. When I visited the homes of my portrait clients, I always suggested an investment in one bigger piece instead of a hodge podge collection of smaller prints. Small prints are for bedside tables and albums. The statement piece should be loud and proud (be it a family portraitor an oil painting) and command your attention.

2) Create monochromatic rooms with wall paint and furniture & add colorful accessories to accent.

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If you suddenly decide yellow makes you feel queasy, you can pitch the yellow chevron pillowcovers without a huge financial loss. ‘Not so much with a couch! Also, you can edit accessories when your tired eyes need less color in view. You can change them out seasonally to match the mood of your days. I love white, but my husband fears it, so we compromised with a pale yellow. It’s calming and also cheerful in our dark Northwest winters. The colorful pillows and art I’ve got going on give it some personality. I change it out constantly (just like my childhood) and it’s easy because it doesn’t involve moving furniture or spending a lot of money.

3) Clear off those surfaces.

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Use a leafblower if you have to! A clear kitchen counter is as close as I get to nirvana these days. The mail lives in one little wooden bowl (not to be unleashed to other areas of the downstairs) and my whittled down kitchen utensil cannister enjoys its big open space on the island. I gave up decorative trinkets for Lent and never went back. Clear surfaces = serentiy. Believe it!

4) Create a furniture layout that invites conversation.

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I love doing this verses circiling up the seating to worship the idiot box (as the hub likes to call it). It does wonders for developing some quality family gathering, as well as free up some space because you’re not limited to TV watching angles with furniture placement. Better yet, nix the screen altogether–a feat I could personally do, but I fear the family may show up with picket signs.

5) Negative space: It’s a beautiful thing.

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Try not to subscribe to the typical room layouts…night stand/bed/night stand/foot-of-the-bed-settee/dresser chair/dresser/vanity….It’s your house. You can do whatever you want with your space. Don’t need a dresser because the closet is just enough space for you? Get rid of it! Voila’! Space for the eyes to rest. Don’t use your dining room? Sell the table and chairs and toss in a chaise and a bookcase–instant Library of Calm.

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I do little trial periods of hiding furniture pieces in the attic to see if we miss it. I’ve got quite the stash for our spring garage sale. Look me up if you’re in the area and are in need of a burlap ottoman. 🙂  Looking at this collection of sale-bound gear has motivated me to avoid purchasing decor “just because it’s lovely”. A minimalist home doesn’t have to consist of stark wood and two Eames chairs…although it is so lovely.

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You can take most appealing design ideas from this aesthetic and incorporate them into your own home. Just the subtraction of stuff can do wonders to simplify your space. It sure has for me.

Here’s to having homes that make us feel calm and happy!

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5 Ingredients for a Big, ExtraOrdinary life

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I found this ad as I was looking through a glossy at the dentist.

It was for a car. A big car.

According to the people at Suburban, BIG car = BIG life.

Hmmmm….this got me thinking of the definition of a big life. By America’s standards it may appear that big life means: A packed scheduled, huge home (maybe even a second home), many vehicles and lots of lots of stuff.

I choose to define a big life as an existence full of relationships, faith, good health, adventures, contentment, margins for down-time, and purpose within a career.

These are all parts that move the needle on my Happiness Barometer.

As a family we still have so far to go in the way of taking the big out of the material and putting more emphasis on my list above. That’s a true statement on the car ad: There is so much more to life, but of course I’m going in the opposite direction from the thinking of our friends at Suburban. So much more exists on the other side of making big purchases to fill up our big lives…according to one of my favorite minimalists and authors, You can buy happiness (and it’s cheap). The good news is you don’t have to pare down to 200 square feet of dwelling space or live out of a backpack to feel the thrill of a BIG LIFE.

I put the word ExtraOrdinary in my blog title because I’ve always felt the pull to live differently in this conventional world…or should I say conventional U.S., because I do feel people in other parts of the world seem to get it a lot more than we do. Stuff clouds our collective American view and creates the disconnect so many people complain about. I’m a proud U.S. citizen, no doubt about that, but I do wish as a country we could re-prioritize our lives to maximize inner & outer happiness. I believe that a Big ExtraOrdinary life comes from making intentional choices. Along the way I’ve identified a few that have made all the difference.

 

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1) Invest time in your marriage/relationship.

What’s that quote from H. Jackson Brown? “Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.” I tend to believe this. I was fortunate enough to get it right with husband-picking the first time around (I know lots of people figure it out later in life) and so much of the climate in our home is determined by how the hub and I navigate this vida loca. Over the last 18 years it’s been a team effort and I feel the reason it’s been a solid team is because we invest in date nights, vacations sans offspring, and the weekly check-in. When kids came on the scene, I craved time with him minus the crying and airborne peas and carrots.These days I yearn for peaceful couple time in the absence of teen drama. He’s my first choice every time when it comes to adventure partners….it was a joint decision to make this life ExtraOrdinary.

2) Choose work that fills you up.

It’s very hard to head in the direction of a Big, ExtraOrdinary life when you don’t want to get up and face the day. There are a lot of people out there who see the 30++ hours a week as a break in pursuing ExtraOrdinary-ness (if I can create a new word)..it’s a weekend thing. It can’t be! Big lives happen each any every day of the week. Yes, we have to do the laundry, go to the dentist and write checks to the cable company, BUT an unpleasant job that sucks the very humanity out of a you is always going to get in the way of living the life you know you are worthy of. There might be major financial sacrifice or a change of location in choosing work you love, but ExtraOrdinary is waiting and it will be worth it.

3) Put family before career.

It is a wonderful thing to love your job. I’m finally there in my 3rd grade classroom, but I’m very careful about creating boundaries between work and the clan at home. That old cliche’ about “it all goes by so fast” and “you’ll turn around and your kids will be all grown up”—both true. I’m looking at my high school-bound child #1 and can’t believe that in five short years two unused rooms will be collecting dust. These days, family adventure has never been so important. Luckily, child #2 is extremely skilled at getting us out in the world, whether it’s the park for a evening picnic or a weekend hike in the mountains. We are also intentional about dinners together at the table (with a napkin!) to catch up and make plans. The Airstream purchase manifested from our desire to travel as a family and explore the U.S. together.

4)  Recognize your talents and put them to use in everything you do.

Post 40th birthday, I finally stopped wishing for skills I didn’t have. I had confidence in the contributions I knew I could make in the world starting with my own house. I’m an extremely creative person with no left brain (luckily, I married a left-brainer—together we make a whole brain!) and if a project requires imagination, I’m your girl. It’s been so fun to create in every area of my life: our home, charity fundraisers, birthday parties, holiday gifts, Airstream interior…the list is long of the various things I’ve taken on, but I have to say there would be no ExtraOrdinary if I didn’t own the gifts I’ve been given and use them. Some of you—God bless ya—are left brained people who can organize, establish and regulate for yourselves and others. How amazing that we can make the world better by the specific gifts we’ve been given! And in turn, create an ExtraOrdinary life for ourselves.

5) Travel as much as you can to as many different places as you can.

I always come back from a trip amazed by how much is out there beyond my own little world. I love, love, love getting off a plane in a new city ready to explore. My 6’6″ spouse is not as willing to head to places like Australia (Melbourne, I need to visit you!), but I will get to the far ends of the earth at some point in my life. I did the Eurail thing after college by myself and I can honestly say it shaped me more than 4 years of college did. My AFS exchange experience in Tunisia in ’88 played a huge part in forming the person I was to become. My biggest dreams involve plane tickets & a small backpack and/or an Airstream and U.S. map. I have the same dreams for my girls because I know for a fact that it invites ExtraOrdinary in.

There are some great posts out there about being ExtraOrdinary. This one is great and of course, Courtney rocked this subject with clarity, as usual. I think it’s something we all want more of. Who wants to be conventional when you can squeeze every last ounce of amazing (and yes, I’m using it as a noun) out of your well-lived life.

What makes your life ExtraOrdinary, friends?

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The top 10 tips I’ve learned from minimalists

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I’m not going to covet other minimalists’ lives anymore.

I don’t travel the world with a single backpack.

I haven’t packed up my family to travel across the country in an RV for a year.

I am not a single woman with a futon, a suitcase and a laptop.

I didn’t choose 600 square feet of dwelling space with a hobby farm ‘round back.

YET, I adore reading about these amazing people and their even more intriguing journeys toward transformation. In perusing books and blogposts, these characters seem like old friends. We’re all rooting for them. Their triumphs and courageous leaps of faith provide the inspiration for our own stories. However, through all this story following, I have found there is not one formula for choosing a simple life…it is not a one-size-fits all t-shirt. No matter what our life looks like, I do believe each and every one of these intentional & devoted people can teach a lesson worth learning.

A kind of minimalism for the rest of us sort of thing.

 

toptips

 

1) Clear surfaces and uncluttered spaces create calm in the soul.

Disorganization in my environment used to create brain chaos for me. I learned the how-to’s of de-cluttering from almost all of these experienced minimalists and formulated a day-by-day plan to clear out. What a huge difference this had made!

2) Unplug and partake in digital sabbaticals regularly.

I’ve blogged about this before, but I can’t say enough about what this practice has done for my sanity, my kids and my marriage. Here’s a great podcast about what it can do for you.

3) The habit of saying NO can vastly improve your life.

With each and every post I read on this topic from various bloggers, I gain courage and inspiration to say it loud (yet, politely) and often. No to commitments that aren’t passions…no to stuff from family members and friends…no to social situations that make me feel stressed or uncomfortable. This allows the yes’s in that bring mindfulness and happiness.

4) Be realistic about how much entertaining you do in your home.

I got rid of all of the doubles in my closets and cabinets. I found that my army-sized set of champagne glasses all had dust, except two. Party themed decorations are only items taking up real estate in needed cabinet space. I also found that if there happens to be a need for party gear, people are more than happy to lend it to friends.

5) Choose work that you love and your life will improve overall.

At the moment I am not self-employed like many of these simple living experts. I owned my own photography business for 13 years and found it wasn’t fitting my personality. I didn’t have the gift of separating the hustle of entrepreneurship from family life. I’m in awe of people who live on both of those planets successfully—-and even more impressed with people who can do it on the road! After making this realization that I didn’t like working for myself,  I decided to go back to teaching. ‘Turns out I adore inspiring 3rd graders—I’ve never been happier in a job. This change alone inspired a lot of my paring down (goodbye closets of equipment!) and simplifying (hello, weekends spent with family). I think the act of simplifying can help you be honest with what is and isn’t working in a career and give you the courage to take the leap required to make it right.

6) Put limits on spending when it comes to offspring.

Although the whine-o-saur-us is alive and well in my house, I do believe my girls will thank me later. They are responsible for the “extras” with their own allowance. I communicate a price I’m comfortable with when it comes to clothes shopping. If my teens want the Cadillac of jeans, they must pay the difference. We show them what our bills are and talk about how important a budget is and have managed to squelch “the gimmees” with service oriented experiences. Somehow the new Nike Free Runs don’t seem as alluring when there are visions of the destitute and neglected in one’s head.

7) A closet with 33 items really can make your morning (& your life) more efficient.

Who knew? Thank you, Courtney, for informing the masses of this little gem. When I first read about Project 333, I hemmed and hawed as I visually took in my overstuffed closet. I whittled it down in the course of a month. I just got real about what was actually being worn and I made up a fantasy 3 month Airstream itinerary and pulled out all the items I thought I could fit in our Twinkie’s small closet. With the items laid on the bed, I had to laugh because it consisted of all my favorites…my 20%-worn-80%-of-the-time clothes. Then I gave myself a “have courage” speech–it’s all going in a box, not the Goodwill pile, for crying out loud—and I stood back to admire the extra space.

8) Choose quality over quantity.

The juicer, cutting knife, running shoes, winter coat, purse and lipstick (among many other things) were condensed down to one quality purchase per category. Less stuff, but stuff that will last. Joshua Becker’s The Simple Joy of One  is a great post that I took to heart.

9) Food and exercise can be simplified for maximum health.

I let go of the the gym membership in lieu of my nifty efficient work-out space in the garage. All expensive “healthy snacks” (which are really just pre-packaged fare camouflaged in a Whole Food setting) were banished. We eat raw food–nuts, dried fruit, jerky, tons of veges & fruit–and it has really kept us well this year. As an elementary school teacher who’s been back in the classroom for one year, I’ve gotten one cold. I believe in green juice and I’m doing my best to help everyone in our home believe it too. Love The Minimalists take on diet and exercise.

10) Invest in experiences instead of things.

As a family we have made a decision to travel as much as we can. Whether it’s in our Airstream or by plane, I believe it’s important enough to require a separate travel savings account. Luxury cars and second homes were never going to enter the picture with our family—it has always been going places and doing things (that and good Thai food eating experiences). I like this Huffington Post article on the subject.

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What tips have brought you joy in your journey to simple? Which ones made the most difference?

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Why I never use the word BALANCE

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Balance has been a word that has rubber-balled it’s way through my life from the moment my kids came into this world. I’ve never been one to put complete focus and attention in one area. I am just shy of looking like a poodle on a unicycle juggling tennis balls most of the time. In my quest for simplicity, I have felt a little inadequate, guilty, and in some instances the F word crept in as well…

FAILURE.

Feeling like you’ve failed at some things is one thing, but the worry about screwing up the psychological development of your children can sit on your chest like a stack of parenting books. You know, the books that are hard to get to because you’re so busy teeter-tottering on a wobbly tightrope.

I know now that balance is an illusion.

To best serve my career and family I must choose a different word entirely. I heard the perfect replacement word recently on a podcast: Harmony. It resonated with me, so I looked it up.

Harmony: agreement; accord; harmonious relations: congruity.

My own definition: things are going so well that it feels like a million me’s get it all done with reasonable amounts of effort.

In the search for this new friend Harmony in one’s home (he is not under the couch cushions…I checked), I’m beginning to understand how to do it.

 

2questions

 

1) What do I want?

2) What do you want?

Asking for what you want sometimes takes bravery, as in:

“Instead of going to a three hour long track meet this weekend, I’d really love to attend this writing workshop. Can you be our family representative on the field on Saturday?”

Or it could take less bravery and more innovation, as in:

“It seems like 10 years since we’ve had a grown-up conversation without teenage voices interjecting demands. Wanna go on a adults only get-away?”

Granted, question one is a lot harder to ask then question two, because question one benefits one person and in the other it’s a win/win. BUT that doesn’t make question one any less important. Women are so quick to squish their own demands when it comes to a full calendar of living in the car and fluffing the nest. That saying still rings true in my house: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

‘Tis true that your idea of harmony may not jive with your partner’s or your children’s grand pre-teen narcissistic ideas, but that’s where the question asking comes in. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! Of course, passive aggression can be a monster living under your staircase (He loiters at my dinner table sometimes). There might be emotion-stuffing, something I refer to as the Emotional Mute Syndrome, but take heart! If you ask the “What do you want to create harmony in our schedule and home?” as you smile sweetly, the answer might surprise you. When I ask this question of my girls, their expressions can look somewhere between complete shock or skepticism. When I asked my youngest what she wanted her Saturday to look like, she gaped at me as though I had poured spaghetti sauce on the floor and rolled around in it. I think kids are used to being told where to go, what to do and how it all is going to go down. Now, whether said Saturday resembled anything like what she envisioned is up for debate, but I did ask and got points for that. I really do try to cram in some 12-year-old friendly activities so that she feels listened to.That’s the goal:

All family members’ ideas matter, as well as his or her feelings about how things are going.

Voila’….Har-mon-ee.

Sometimes to recognize harmony, you have to have discord….like loud, boy-band, tone-deaf discord. We’ve had some “Hey, waaaaaiiiit a minute” moments when we have family meetings about the family climate.

There’s frustration.

There’s dissatisfaction.

There’s even a chance of someone committing the ultimate sin, walking away from the discussion.

Yet, there is always a coming back to home base. We figure out what’s working and what needs to change. Not everyone will be cheerfully doing a happy dance about things, but we do try to address all needs on the table. I like modeling that for my kids—it’s so important to show them that asking for what you want and listening to others’ wants should always trump throwing up your hands and hitting the road.

The self check-in is also a key to this Harmony Thing. I do this at least once a week…usually at 2:00 am when I wake with a nap jerk.

Is our schedule too full?

Are we getting enough alone time as a couple?

Is clutter creeping back into the house?

Are my kids acting stressed out or tired?

Have we eaten more than one meal at our dinner table as a family this week?

Do we flop into bed at night satisfied with our days?

I use that inner compass to find the Harmony North Star…it’s out there, I just need to adjust my sails.

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What questions do you ask yourself to readjust your own harmony sails?

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3 Ways for your family to Zag while the world Zigs

via Be Happy

It’s not that the 70′s were this picture-perfect time frame. Goodness knows we ate enough cheese doodles and watched enough horrible syndicated Brady Bunch to cloud our judgement and arteries (it was all so great, wasn’t it?). Yet, lately I seem to be old enough to reminisce about the “good old days” when we road our banana seat bikes until dark in the summer without fear of abduction (even though there probably was some risk), and ran through fields and climbed trees because we were shooed out of the house by our moms.

When someone called your house and you weren’t there, the phone rang and rang. The caller couldn’t find you anywhere in the world…you simply were unavailable and you didn’t have to have an excuse about why.

I miss those days.

Yet, the random reality is that I, just like so many of the we’re-so-connected-we’re-not-really-connecting generation, have a permanent crick in my neck from looking down at my devices, texting to everyone and their dog, checking the weather and pulling up the blog to see who’s commenting on my commentating.

Something is askew.

I’d like to make the crooked straight. I know that it will happen in phases, but I’m anxious to implement changes so that in my own little way I can put some of that memorable childhood back into my 21st century children. Three things need to be dealt with head on:

1) Digital Sabbaticals-

The hub and I have been talking about committing to an UnPlug Sunday plan where we avoid TV, cell phone games (the kids), blogging and pinning (me) and laptop work (him). There are a couple of really good books on this subject that can help in this process: This one is perfect for our upcoming Summer of Fun (yes, it has a title). 

Airstream Adventures will also require some unplugging en masse for maximum enjoyment. There’s too much fun to be had and too much sun to soak up that we’ve been missing for 9 months of rain here in the NW! To even forfeit one second of this fun to a glowing screen is a crime. Not to mention the fact that an absence of digital distraction can kickstart some great family conversations and memories. It’s amazing to read the expressions of your children when you’re conversing…we’ve decided to refuse to look at the tops of heads and we are all feeling the benefits.

2) Reduce team sports commitments-

Ah…The “parent of an athlete” thing.Those of you who are close to me know that I have some serious opinions about involving a child in every sport known to man, driving all over creation for every tournament with the intent that they will some day be the all-star who scores the giant scholarship. Do I sound jaded? Okay, to be fair, I really understand wanting to give a kid every advantage in succeeding, be it sports/academics/the arts/etc. and that there will be plenty of activities in their lives to accomplish this. What I have trouble with is lining up the daily/weekly schedule with multiple practices for multiple sports, choosing club sports over school sports to win the political game that is getting a child on a team. By setting limits in our home regarding sports, we’ve created margin for our weekends and evenings and my girls have invested more into the one they’ve chosen.

We have decided to heavily promote kids being kids in our house. 

3) Permanent changes in diet-

I’ve been stuffing my brain with documentaries and books about this and have been inspired to show my kids what I’ve learned. They are amazingly receptive and willingly join me on the couch for movies like Food, Inc. and Hungry for Change. They seemed to get it, which thrilled me to no end. My offspring will now suck down some green juice before school as long as it’s heavily laced with strawberries, of course. I was guilty of some spinach chunks last week and it’s been a battle getting them back in the saddle! There are more trips to grocery stores for organic produce and we put our heads together to decide what would be good choices for meals that would please everybody. The airpopper is always going here—replacing the array of salty crap-ola we used to have in the cabinet. They’ve always been fruit lovers, but the vege thing is creeping in as I use every culinary creative bone in my body (sadly, there aren’t many) to make squash and peppers more appealing. It has taken awhile, but my girls truly understand the danger in trans fat, fast food and a processed food-heavy diet. They do love their treats—I’m not a parent to deny them a doughnut or piece of cake, but it won’t be a Twinkie (another fun memory from my childhood!), if you get my drift.

The food thing, I’m finding, comes down to modeling. If I diligently fire up the smoothie blender each day, choose produce over chips on a weekend afternoons and avoid sugar, they are seeing me win the battle over poor food choices. It’s not a special thing mom’s doing to fit into her tankini on spring break (although that would be lovely). It’s habit and normal and hopefully they’ll want a piece of that.

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On child-rearing in this century:

I love this essay (originally found it in Downtown Chic by the my favorite design family, the Novogratz). It’s worth reading.

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Friends, what are you doing to Zag while the world Zigs? What is making your family life more simple and wonderful?

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