Sunday, January 31, 2016

Coming to the end of month #1 on the 2016 wheel of intentions

A few weeks ago I posted my idea of a mandala, or wheel of intentions, dividing my year into 12 portions and having a focus for each month. January's focus has been completion. I started the new year with some projects in mid-swing and my focus has been completing them.

My deadline for completing the reading of the books for the Dashiell Hammett Award was January 18. (See my next post for the results of that adventure.) I spent a lot of reading time in those first two weeks but got my list sent off on January 16. Whew!

Over the holidays, I started "harvesting" the 300 poems I wrote last year. Reading them, figuring out which ones might be worth delving further into and reworking and typing those into the computer. Every other day I did 5-10 poems. I usually like to spend my early morning writing time on new material but this was the only way I could complete that project.

I completed 2016 budget and got my friend Pam to help me spruce up the Excel spreadsheet I use and adjust some formulas so I'd have better information.

Lastly, I've framed all the 32 paintings for the philanthropy give-away project. Well, except one. That last frame got delivered this afternoon and I'm going to frame it right after I finish this. The folks from Letty Owings House are coming tomorrow morning to pick them all up. They look wonderful!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Finding an anthem for the change you want to make

Brene Brown is an author and researcher on vulnerability. Her TED talk is one of the most widely seen. I'm taking an online course from her on vulnerability and speaking our truth or "showing up in the arena," as she calls it, whatever our arena may be. As part of Lesson 2, we're asked to choose a song as our anthem for this change. We can have several or a play list and she asked us to share with the group what we chose.

Several songs came to mind for me almost immediately: Roxy Music's More than This and Van Morrison's Cloud-Hidden, but I realized after a while that these are anthems for the life I already have; they won't necessarily help me usher in something new. So I read all the shared comments and listened to a lot of new music, some that was great and some that was awful (AKA not my music). And here's what I chose. 

The major anthem: Brave by Sara Bareilles

The supporting songs:
Standing outside the Fire by Garth Brooks (
I'll Stand by You by the Pretenders (
Japanese Bowl by Peter Mayer

Sunday, January 24, 2016

An uncomfortable truth about recovery from addiction

I'm watching people on my food addiction recovery program struggle to hold to their commitments in the circumstances of their lives: the unsupportive spouse, the treat-laden workplace, the stress of an overbooked schedule. We're used to medicating ourselves in those circumstances and without that medication, be it alcohol, drugs, or food, we are pretty miserable and before long, we're medicating again. It seems the only thing we can do.

When I was getting sober, both the treatment center staff and my AA sponsor made it very clear to me that if I expected to keep my old life intact and stay sober, I was badly mistaken. You may well need to change everything to make it work, they said. Your old life supported active addiction, they said; chances are very strong that it will not support recovery.

This proved true for me. Over the next five years, I had to leave my primary relationship, change jobs, then change careers, move across the country. Each change became necessary to reduce stresses so I could stay sober.

No one wants to hear this. We think our not-so-healthy relationships, our not-so-healthy workplace, our way-too-full life is inevitable. They aren't. What is more likely to be inevitable is relapse if things don't change. It's an uncomfortable truth.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

More good ideas from Leo Babauta

Posted: 11 Jan 2016 12:03 PM PST
By Leo Babauta
What would it take to get your life decluttered and organized?
That might be a tall order for many of us, but the truth is, we could do it in bursts and spurts, using a handful of easy-to-follow rules.
The other day I wrote about the idea of setting rules instead of goals … today I want to share a few ideas for rules to help you get decluttered and organized.
I know in my life, going from being overwhelmed with clutter to minimalism was a slow but rewarding journey, and now I feel happy every time I look around and see the lovely space around me.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I’m here to testify that it’s not impossible, and it just takes some small steps that add up over time.
Here are the rules I suggest — though I don’t suggest adopting them all, and especially not all at once. Try a few out, see how they work for you, then try a few others.
  1. Get yourself organized at the start and end of a day. As you start your work day, write down your 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs). Write down a handful of other things you’d like to do today as well. Clear your desk, get things in order. At the end of each day, tidy things up, check off your list, maybe even get things ready for tomorrow.
  2. When you get up from your desk, put one thing away. Whenever you get up for a glass of water, to go to the bathroom, to take a break … pick up something off your desk and put it away. If your desk is clear, look for something nearby.
  3. When you’re done eating, wash your bowl. This is self-explanatory. Mindfully wash your dishes instead of leaving them in the sink. If there are other dishes in the sink, wash a few of them too.
  4. Wipe down the sink when you use it. Whenever you wash your hands or brush your teeth in the bathroom, wipe down the sink so it’s clean. Do the same in the kitchen sink. Clear away a few things around the sink too if you can.
  5. When you walk through a room, find one thing to put away. If you’re going from your bedroom to the living room, find one thing during that trip to put away. You don’t have to get stuck in putting everything away, just one thing.
  6. When you take off a piece of clothing, put it away. When you shower or change clothes, instead of leaving them on the floor or on a piece of furniture, put the clothes away or in a hamper. Look for a few other clothes to put away too if there are more lying around.
  7. Keep flat surfaces clear. Your tables, counters, desks, floors … keep them clear. If there’s a ton of clutter there now, see the rule below about decluttering on Saturdays. But if it’s doable, just start clearing whatever is on the floor (except furniture and the like). When you walk by the kitchen counter, look for things other than oft-used appliances to put away.
  8. At the end of the work day, file stuff. If you still use papers, file them at the end of the day. If you are all digital, clear your computer desktop and put files where they belong.
  9. Deal with an email instead of putting it off. When you open an email, give it the space to deal with it immediately. Read it, reply, take action, or archive it. Or put it on your to-do list for later if it’s a big task. Don’t just constantly open emails without handling them.
  10. Work to only having 3 emails in your inbox. Slowly clear away the hundreds or thousands of emails in your inbox. Archive or delete them, put a handful in a to-do folder, file others into informational folders, unsubscribe from newsletters.
  11. Put non-essential items you want to buy on a 30-day list. Create a 30-day list, and whenever you want to buy something that’s not absolutely essential (other than groceries, cleaning supplies, toiletries), put it on the list with the date you added it. Then don’t allow yourself to buy anything until it’s been on the list for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days, see if you still want it before buying.
  12. Put your clothes in a different closet or box, and only take out what you need. Move all your clothes to a closet in an unused room if you have one, or put them in a box or two. Only remove the clothes you really need to wear. After a month of doing this, you’ll see what clothes you can consider donating.
  13. Declutter on Saturdays. Every Saturday morning, spend an hour or two (or half a day) decluttering one area.
  14. One in, two out. When you bring something new in your life (buy something online, get a gift), get rid of two other similar things. For example, if you buy a pair of shoes, donate two other pairs. In this way, you’ll 1) think more about each thing you buy, and 2) slowly have fewer and fewer possessions. Eventually you’ll want to switch to a “one in, one out” rule when you think your possessions are at a good level.
  15. Limit how many things you have. Consider limiting yourself to 30 pieces of clothing, or 30 books, or something like that. Get rid of everything else, don’t allow yourself to go beyond the limit. The individual limit you set is up to you, whatever feels slightly uncomfortable is good.
  16. At the end of each month, clear out computer clutter. Self-explanatory. Back things up!
  17. Every three months, purge. Also self-explanatory. Spend a weekend purging all your unneeded belongings.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

My yearly intention x 12

Every year I do a retreat on Whidbey Island over New Year's. The last three years, I've given a workshop on setting intentions at the local library. Because I've got people who come back again, I try to reframe our conversation in some way. This year, I got to thinking about using a mandala, a wheel of some sort in our activities, and I came upon a template for a 12-section mandala, perfect, of course, for the 12 months. So I figured out some questions we could use for generating ideas and then encouraged people to think in 12 rather than 1.

The point was not to have 12 projects each for a month, though several people jumped quickly to that conclusion. Instead it was to consider a focus for each month and then consider activities within that focus. All of this was in the realm of possibility, not obligation or plan.

The other key point was not to allot a specific calendar month for each focus but rather to choose one for January and then at the end of that month, check the wheel again and choose another. 

Here are my 12 foci for 2016:

Step into completion
Become a coach
Birth some projects
Draw things together
Organize my art
Enhance my home
Expand my world
Go public
Get ready to jump
Announce myself as a poet
Get outside and play
Increase my fitness

In order to lighten my load, I'm making January the month of completion: I have four ongoing projects I'd like to wrap up.

What would your 12 look like?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Staying on course with Bright Line Eating

Today is Day 90 of my adventure in Bright Line Eating. I've lost 46 pounds (as of last Monday). This is an astonishing loss for me, a miracle of healthy eating and no snacks, nada, zip, zero. I eat three meals a day about 5 hours apart and then if I get hungry, I wait until the next meal.

Like AA, it's a simple program and like AA, it's not always easy. I have a lot of old food habits that are showing up. Most recently, I noticed that if I go out for errands or the studio or for lunch with a friend, I want to eat when I come back, even if I've just had lunch. Clearly it isn't about hunger but a conditioned response: come home, get a snack. Probably goes all the way back to grade school days.

But I'm also accruing new experiences. I've been to two writing retreats now without snacking. In the not so long ago, I would have been eating candy all day long at these retreats. Now I'm learning to take care of myself in other ways: walking, coloring, playing cards, shifting my writing from one subject to another. It sounds really simple again and sometimes it is. Other times, it's hard, very hard, and I want to just eat something sweet and be done with the need.

Those old needs, those old habits are so well worn in my brain. What keeps me food sober is my knowledge that those old grooves can wither if I stay in the new habits. Here's to the new habits.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Adventures with Evie or Loving a Feral Cat

I went to Whidbey Island for my annual New Year's retreat this holiday season. I was planning to be gone 9 nights as I always am and my regular cat sitter, a lovely woman who takes wonderful care of my brood of felines, was here as usual. For the first several days, things went as planned. Sammy and Evie went in and out, and Kathy kept Evie in at night because of the cold. (Sammy can go either way.)

Then between night 3 and 4, something happened. Evie didn't come for dinner and when she showed up on the terrace the next morning, she wouldn't come in. She's always hesitant, always reluctant, always has to think about it for a good long time, but now she wouldn't even peek in the door. That was the last Kathy saw of her.

She appeared on day 5 at Melanie's, my next-door neighbor, who has on occasion fed her. She began feeding her again. At first, Evie would let Melanie pet her and then she wouldn't. She got more and more skittish, and then scratched Melanie's ear badly when she reached down to feed her.

All this time the weather was getting worse and worse: windy, cold, snow and ice. I was getting more and more worried. Finally on Saturday morning, day 8 of my trip, Melanie suggested I come home early to see what I could do. I had to teach that day up on Whidbey, so we left early Sunday morning to come home. We had terrible weather the last 65 miles and Portland was blanketed with snow and freezing rain.

As soon as I got home (3:30), I started whistling (all my cats are whistle-trained) and calling for her. Nothing. Then at 6:30, Melanie phoned and said Evie was on her porch. I called and whistled and she came right away to Melanie's backyard, crying and meowing. But she wouldn't come any closer. I spent an hour coaxing her in and finally, finally she came in. She ate and immediately got on my lap, where she stayed all evening. I kept her in until the weather cleared and now we're back to what passes for normal between us.

I don't know what happened to click Survive! Don't Trust! back into her brain. I do understand now why humane societies don't take older feral kittens. Their feralness is too strong. But I'm reassured that Evie still loves me and we can get along in her fashion.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Living in sufficiency Part 2

Both years of the money program, I listed finding a different relationship with food and weight as one of my goals. The first year nothing shifted. And if you'd asked me in September of this year how that was going, I would have been hard-pressed to say anything other than that I had given up trying to have anything happen. Even after I found the Bright Line program AND the initial information was sent to me by a friend in the money program, I didn't connect the dots between my goal in one program and the solution in the second. And it took me even longer to realize that sufficiency was playing out here too.

Addiction is all about scarcity--that there won't be enough of what we are desperate to have. So we stockpile drugs or alcohol or food so there will be enough. We worry, we obsess about keeping enough. We hide it, we don't share it, we isolate and consume it in secret. Recovery asks us to trust that we don't need it anymore (the substance of choice) and that what we do have in exchange is enough.   

In the Bright Line Eating program, we use a nightly checklist of the tools that are available to us to supprt our recovery from food addiction. One of the most important items on the list for me is this one: "I reminded myself to TRUST that my food will be enough, that I will be given everything I need, and that there is always enough time." There is genius in this statement in its grounding in sufficiency. When we are on a weight-loss program, we often feel deprived. That there is not enough to eat. This program works differently. I can trust that I am eating enough to make it to the next meal.  That I am eating and living in sufficiency.