Monday, May 4, 2015

So What Have We Learned? A to Z Reflections

My reflection in The Bean in Chicago Jan. 2015

This is the third year I've participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge and my easiest to complete by far. The challenge came at a good time for me this year. I think I'm in a groove with my writing that I haven't quite found before. I like doing this challenge because it shows me that I can write every day. Like most writers I know, I struggle to carve out time in my daily life for writing. Posting daily, and seeing the list of thousands of other participants who are doing it as well, inspires me and motivates me to write more. I think a daily post is not something I could maintain long term but I still write every day and hope to post at least twice a week.

I spent the month of April blogging about what I believe to be the most valuable lessons I've learned in my life so far. Let's take a look at the full list:

Anything can happen.
Breakfast is important.
Crisis is sometimes needed to facilitate change.
I need to have dogs in my life.
Expectations are bullshit.
I wouldn't be who I am without my friends.
Practicing gratitude improves quality of life
Finding humor in difficult situations makes them bearable.
Ice cream makes everything better.
One woman's junk is another's treasure.
Kindness is a cycle, dole it out and you will receive it.
Things always look better in the light of day.
Marriage is different for everyone.
It's okay to say no.
Sometimes, I just need to go outside.
It's important to re-evaluate your priorities from time to time.
If you hate your job, you should quit it.
Returning is not the same as never having left.
It's totally okay to be a woman who likes sex.
Try new things.
Trust The Universe.
Eat vegetables.
Write things down.
Find your own xanadu.
Don't yell at people.
Have a zest for life.

Looking at that list makes me proud of myself! Not only did I write every day but I was able to look at some of the most crucial events of my life, find meaning in them and put it into words to share with others. That's pretty impressive, if I do say so myself!

One of the things I love most about doing this challenge is that it connects me with likeminded folks who connect with my posts and respond to me. This month I've gotten blog comments, personal emails, and text messages from people who relate to my experiences and enjoy my writing. That fills my heart with joy because after all, this is why I write. I'd like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who read my posts in April. Your support and feedback makes me a better writer and human being.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zest

Today is the final day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It also happens to be the letter that has stumped me the most when it comes to a topic! Even as I sat down to write today's post, I hadn't fully decided which word I was going to go with.

I have a list of 22 Z words that I came up with during my brain storming process. I sat with it for several minutes, my eyes stopping on each word and the one the jumped out at my the most was zest.

I went to my trusted Roget's Thesaurus for synonyms for zest and found this spectacular list: relish, gusto, enjoyment, pleasure, delight, good appetite, enthusiasm, cheer, delectation, satisfaction, happiness. I read all those words and thought Yep, that's all me! and so my word for today was chosen!

I think I can safely say that I have a zest for life. It has taken me into my thirties to get a point where I am comfortable with the fact that I like to live my life for myself and have fun. Even if that means I "don't act my age" and do things like wait in line with a bunch of children to have my photo taken with a mascot, wear clothes meant for younger folks and dress my dogs in funny hats!

So today's life lesson is: Have fun! Live your life with zest! Whatever that looks like to you is okay!

P.S. Bonus points if by now you are singing the jingle "You're not fully clean unless you're zest-fully clean!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yelling

I grew up in a yelling household. I mean, how do you expect people to understand you're angry if you aren't screaming at them?! I've realized that my default mode became to raise my voice when I got upset.

As I got older, I had a couple teachers and then bosses/co-workers who would yell. After a brief phase of being intimidated by the individual, I wouldn't take him/her seriously anymore. It's kinda like the boy who cried wolf, if someone yells at me every time

I will admit I have been guilty of the behaviors mentioned above. I went through a phase of being the "bad guy" in a work place and I know it wasn't fun for anyone involved, including me.

Over the past few years, I've really chilled out. I attribute this to my time playing roller derby and having a great life coach! I've learned techniques for dealing with situations that used to make me upset. More importantly, I've learned how to avoid many of those situations in the first place!

Even though I don't resort to yelling when I'm dealing with conflict, it still is my automatic response when I stub my toe or my dogs aren't listening! (It doesn't help either of those situations, by the way!) Where it does help, I've noticed is when I'm frustrated or anxious and need to let of some steam. A loud shriek of an exhale can do wonders for releasing some pent up energy!

So my life lesson here is: don't yell at other people. (Unless you really have to, like the building is on fire or something!) It won't make you feel any better in the long run, it certainly won't make the other person feel good, and it's not going to solve your problem. If you get to your yelly place, stop and take a deep breath and think about what you're about to say. I bet you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xanadu

Here we are at the third to last day of the A to Z Challenge and it's the first time I've gotten stuck coming up with a subject for a letter! These last three have had me a bit stumped so I turned to my shelf of writing books for inspiration.

Rogert's Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals defines xanadu as "A place of perfect, idyllic beauty."

(I know it's also a reference from Citizen Kane and a movie from the 80's but I can't tie those into a life lesson!)

When I left home on my adventure, I was not only re-evaluating my relationship with my partner but also my relationship with myself and with the place I live. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Montana has changed me. It's an incredible place. "Perfect, idyllic beauty" couldn't sum it up any better. I'm continuously amazed by how much open space and untouched land exists here. But for all the ways that Montana is lovely and majestic, it is also harsh. Winters are long and sub-zero temperatures can make daily life challenging. Your car won't start, the gas pumps don't want to work and staying outside too long can be a health risk. Spring finally creeps in with summer right behind it. Then suddenly there are forest fires and the air is tinged with smoke for weeks at a time. By fall, everyone is praying for snow again to quench the earth. It's an endless cycle.

Any Montanan can tell you, it's not easy to live here. There are reasons we do it and those are a little different for everyone. For me, it's the raw beauty of the place. People travel from all over the world to see what I get to view on a daily basis.

I've lived in many different cities in four different states and I've done a lot of traveling in the U.S. I've learned that no place is going to be a perfect place to live all the time. There are going to be moments of pure joy that make the rest of the time worth it. It's important to find the place that gives you the most number of those moments. For me, right now, that's Montana.

So my life lesson here is: find your own xanadu, the place you long for when you're away. You don't necessarily have to live there, but spend as much time there as you can. It will feed your soul!

Where is your personal xanadu?

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Writing

Glennon Doyle Melton is one of my favorite bloggers ( and general all around motivational humans. On the subject of writing, she says "When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone."

That line stuck with me like crazy glue from the second I read it. It struck me as so utterly true because it sums up the feelings I've had for years about why I write and also why I read avidly. The potential for connection with others when I share my writing is endless. I get comments and messages regularly from people who relate to what I write about or simply enjoy reading what I write. Either way, it's incredible! 

Last summer, I was being treated for food poisoning at our nearest urgent care facility (Avoid meat on a stick at outdoor festivals, folks.) My other half was in the waiting area and heard an elderly lady start telling her husband positive things about a magazine article she'd read that day about an animal rescue group in a neighboring state. I wrote that article! I wish I hadn't been suffering miserably in the next room, but I still think it's super cool that was overheard!

I've kept a journal almost daily since I was eighteen. Writing is a part of who I am. I shelf recently filled journals on my desk but I have a big box of old ones that have stored in a closet. Every time I move, I lug them along. For the most part, they just stay in the closet but I've consulted them occasionally for a piece I was working on and once for a legal matter! Sometimes it's nice to be able to verify dates and events as I recorded them.

Kermit sits above my filled journals

It was only in the past couple of years that I began to say "I am a writer" with confidence,  instead of "I want to be a writer." I've been one all my life, always able to BS my way through a book report or essay question! I frequently encounter people who say "I've always wanted to be a writer," or "People tell me I should write a book." I've even taken writing classes with folks who want to write regularly but for whatever reason aren't able to make it a regular practice in their lives. To all of those people, I say: Just write!

What I've learned in my life is that it's so important to just write it down, whatever it is. Regardless of what you feel you need to get down on paper, whether it's your life story or your To Do List! 
Writing by hand is a completely different process than typing. I write everything by hand before I transfer it to my blog or a Word document. I like a specific brand of pencil and notebook to write and  I need to be sitting upright at a flat surface. This is how I work best!

The experience of writing is different for everyone and I recommend to anyone. Treat yourself to a brand new notebook and start by keeping a journal or even just a gratitude list. Allow yourself to write whatever you feel the urge to put onto the paper. I promise you will surprise yourself!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Vegetables

I know you're probably wondering how in the heck I'm going to come up with a life lesson about vegetables! Well, as I've mentioned before, food is an extremely important part of my life and vegetables are food! In my opinion, they're the most critical, yet underrated part of the food pyramid. (Wait, I don't know if that's even a thing anymore, but you catch my drift...)

I was a vegetarian for seven years, through most of my twenties. I started eating meat again shortly after I moved to Montana, when I began having health issues. It just so happens that my return to being an omnivore coincided with dating an honest to goodness cowboy who would grill me steak kabobs that also held giant chunks of shiny red peppers, purple onions and fat white mushrooms. 

I dabbled in vegetarianism through my later childhood/early teen years but was never catered to by my parents and eventually gave in to eating what was served at meal time. I officially became a vegetarian in college and still own my very first cookbook I bought myself when I began living on my own!

I didn't stop eating meat because I dislike it. I love it, to be honest. Especially any and all things pork related! My passion for animals and my desire to make a living caring for them drove my decision to stop eating meat. Even now, I find veganism a lovely concept but it's not one that I could embrace full heartedly. 

My other half and I have been gardening for the past five years. It turns out that growing your own food in Montana is painfully challenging but it can be done! Eating vegetables we've grown ourselves is grounding for me. There's something to be said for connecting to the warm earth with my bare hands and feet. To come inside after a few slow, hot hours in the garden with a basket of veggies for dinner is rewarding and provides a positive energy boost!

Harvesting turnips

Every once in a while I encounter a person who says he/she doesn't like vegetables and I can't help but be fascinated! How can one so broadly eliminate so many amazing foods? If you are one of these folks, I wonder if maybe you just think you don't like vegetables because you haven't discovered the right ones yet or the best way to cook them! If you've only ever had canned green beans and frozen broccoli, you haven't given them a fair shot. What about a spicy okra creole or mashed roots with butter and garlic? Don't they sound delicious?!

So, my life lesson when it comes to vegetables is simple: eat them. Roast them, grill them, boil them, fry them, blend them in a smoothie, anything to get them into your body! And try growing some. Even if it's just one tomato plant in a pot on your patio, I promise there's great value there!

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Universe

I'm a spiritual being, although I don't follow any particular religious doctorine. I suppose my personal beliefs are closest to that of Buddhism but I'm not educated enough to consider myself a Buddhist. 

What I do believe whole heartedly is that there is a power at work who is much greater than myself. I call this power The Universe. 

The Universe is wise and powerful. It is kind and forgiving. The Universe is not a cruel teacher who "tests" us or sets us up for failure. 

The Universe hears us. Even when we aren't clear on the message we're sending out, it is received. Then, we are provided with options. The choice is ours to make. 

Sometimes there is a lesson we must learn. If we don't get it the first time around, The Universe will present that situation again and again until we achieve what we need to. 

All living beings in this world are connected; people, animals, plants. It's all energy. Whether you pay attention to those connections and honor them is up to you, but they're always there.

Each day, I thank The Universe for all it has given me and I ask for continued guidance as I navigate  my path in this life. 

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned is: Trust The Universe. Have faith. Remember that everything happens for a reason. Everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to, because The Universe knows the truth.