The Anti-Valentine’s Day Post

Greetings, dear Reader! What a glorious Sunday. I’m awake early and ready for a quick little road trip down to northwest Arkansas to see two of my favorite people. But, I wanted to get my day started with a cup of coffee and a little post. So, what do you say? Shall we just dive straight in?

Great! Grab a drink. Settle in. Let’s talk about romance. After all, tomorrow is the day where all the slackers show up, make a splash and then miss the mark the rest of the year. So, let’s talk about that a little. But first, a story to set the stage:

I took my little boy on a walk a few days ago, and the topic of Valentine’s Day came up. I was quizzing him about some fundraising thingy they had at school where the kids could buy a Valentine for someone for fifty cents, and it would be hand-delivered. I wouldn’t say I liked the thought of any child being left out, so I purchased a card for every child in the third grade. But, let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t do it to be nice. I did it to be kind. I think this sort of thing is stupid and could end up with some kids getting their feelings hurt. While I’m no fan of Valentine’s Day, I am most certainly not a fan of seeing popular kids get things that the unpopular ones don’t get just because their dad sits on the school board and stuff. So, yeah. Hopefully one or two of them smiled.

Anywhoo…while discussing Valentine’s Day, my son surprised me with this statement:

“I hate Valentine’s Day. It is just designed to make people spend money on stupid stuff they will just forget about in a month.

Dang. That’s my boy.

As I mentioned, I’m not too fond of Valentine’s Day – or any holiday – for the very same reason as he. But I don’t remember telling him this. He concluded it on his own with his extremely intelligent nine-year-old brain. Or, possibly, with the help of some cynical YouTuber. But who cares where he got the idea?!? I’m so proud of him.

I haven’t always hated Valentine’s Day. I think it all started when I realized any fool with some common sense could get that holiday right. A box of Milk Duds, a bottle of mid-shelf Chardonnay, suffer through a romantic comedy. I mean…Valentine’s Day isn’t rocket science. Anyone can make Valentine’s Day romantic with little to no effort at all. The Valentine’s Day kind of romance is easy. You want to really do ‘romance right’? Then show up on a regular basis doing regular things that mean a heck of a lot on days that have been really hard or you know…just be vulnerable and stuff. In other words…being an epic romantic isn’t hard…but does take work. It’s practically a daily thing. Yep…

Every. Darn. Day.

Have no fear. I have some tips for the romantically challenged of you. You still have one day to get your ass to Wal-Greens to purchase what’s left of the Valentine’s Day carnage. Or…you can regroup, attempt to be a darn good human and make 2022 the best year ever. Ready? Here are my favorite ways to express romance:

1) Write a letter. Not a card. Not an email. Not a text. A real-life bonafide letter – with spelling errors and Googled words just to make it more memorable. I got one of these recently. In the actual mail – with a stamp – delivered by a postal worker. It could have just been handed to me as he walked me to the door after a date. But it wasn’t. This letter was mailed. And this letter was honest. And this letter was perfect. And it was super romantic. Swoon.

2) Do something just because. Make it, buy it, rent it for the night…just do it on any other day or night not marketed by Hallmark. Tuesday after the Superbowl? Okay. Whatever. I got tired of my fella eating Stouffer’s Lasagna. He deserves better. So I made him this – on a Saturday in January – after he worked all day in the snow. He seemed happy, and he’s still alive, so that’s a win.

3) Shut up and really listen. All of us are looking for more robust connections – even me, the introvert of all introverts. When someone allows themself to be vulnerable in your presence, then hold space for them and keep your comments to the minimum. A simple “I’m so sorry that happened to you” is better than any thing else you can offer. Just shut your word hole for a minute and be in the moment with them.

4) Say it often. The words “I love you” are so important when they are true. If they aren’t true…keep that shit to yourself. But people need to be reminded that someone cares about them. So tell them. And for those of you who are whining ‘he never says he loves me…’ – “I love you” can be ‘said’ in so many different ways. Are you listening hard enough? I love you often sounds like…

-Text me when you get home, so I know you are safe.
-I’m here for you when you are ready to talk about that.
-Your body fits my demographic.
-Is your car locked?
-I made your favorite cookies – the ones I don’t even like.
-I made extra dinner and brought you some.
-I was in town and wanted to know if I could bring you some lunch.
-I saw this sticker and thought it would be perfect on your water bottle.
-Can you stop by for a quick kiss after you get off work before you go home?
-I bought you a house (I’m kidding. That’s creepy.)

Anyway. These might not help you at all, but hopefully, I saved you from making a fool of yourself and spending $200 on dinner. I remember telling someone who had been married 39 years that my then-husband had done something really romantic on Valentine’s Day. She replied “He’s suppose to do something romantic on Valentine’s Day. That’s a no brainer. It’s the other 364 days you should wonder about.” Hmmm. There’s that.

Also, here’s your song – a reminder that the simple things are the important things. If they only want you to lavish them with gifts, they aren’t really all that deep of an individual and I question their integrity. In fact, I’d start taking notes and keeping all the receipts right now if that’s the case. You’ll need that documentation later in court.

Simplicity Is An Inside Job

Hmmm. Simplicity. What does that even mean? One of the most interesting epiphanies I’ve had over the last two years was the realization that each time I chose to add an activity to my calendar or an item to my closet, I was mostly seeking fulfillment. Looking back it seems like ‘crazy talk’ when I say that out loud, but you see, I always felt there was something missing from my life. What never occurred to me was that somethingwas me. I was missing from my life. The more activities I added, the more responsibilities I accepted, the more possessions I bought only created more of a void. Those things separated me from the stillness I needed to really get to know myself . Finally I started to realize what really mattered to me was spending time with my friends and family, reading a book, writing or putting another spin on my already-fantastic banana bread recipe. Listening to a really great songwriter and getting a super-restful night of sleep were also things I realized I needed in my life to be happy.

Those things, the ones that give me the greatest joy, are the simplest. They don’t require a season pass or a new outfit. They don’t ask me to spend hundreds of dollars or even to clean my house. This may seem simple to some, maybe even a bit boring, but to me they are the lifeline to keeping my sanity.

Simplicity means making room for the things that really matter amongst the noise of life. Some of us are so busy and so caught up with impressing other people that we don’t even know what that means. Linda Breen Pierce’s book, Choosing Simplicity, reminds us that many of the challenges we create – and even some of the health issues we have – are consequences of our belief that we have to have everything. Finding value in what you NEED versus having everything you WANT gives you freedom to say “I choose to relax.” I spent a lot of my life seeking the impressive career, amassing material possessions, and purchasing letters to plug in after my name by way of huge student loan debt. In the end, I realized what I really love to do wasn’t enhanced by any of those things. In fact, it took me 28 years to realize what my 8th grade language arts teacher, Mrs. Childers, learned about me the first week of school. I love to read and I love to write. Neither of those require an MBA nor do they require a 4,000 square foot house.

At some point, hopefully, everyone who feels lost can come to the realization they are missing out on the things they truly value and enjoy in order to live a life someone, at some point, told them they should live. There are a lot of reasons why we believe that line of nonsense,and it takes some longer than others to realize it is just that: nonsense. But, of course, the turning point for many is one simple question: Why are you living your life?

You don’t have to live in the country to enjoy a simpler life. You can own more than 100 things. You can paint your walls any color you desire. You can buy your vegetables at the grocery store. The change to living a more free and balanced – more simple – life comes from within you – not outside of you. Living outside of yourself is what got you into this mess in the first place. Pick a handful of things you really value – and that should be enough to start you on your journey.

If you’ve read through past posts, you know my story. I won’t bore you with it again for awhile. But in the coming months you will hear from some of my favorite people who left an old life behind to pursue the life they truly value. Ken, who left a high stress broadcasting position to open a thrift store; Kathryn, an author who left her full-time job to finally finish her novel; and Liz, a world traveler who bought an $8 wedding dress at the Salvation Army Thrift Store and buys the majority of her possessions from Craigslist so she and her husband can have the resources needed travel to far away lands. My plan for this year’s blog schedule has lead me to some very interesting people and I hope you will be as inspired by them a I am.

Weekly Challenge:

Is there something on your calendar that you just dread? Can you get rid of it? For me I host a monthly database management group (I know, right. Sounds so exciting…!) but lately it hasn’t done anything to light my fire. So, this week I have decided to send out the notice that the meeting is cancelled. Forever. What can you get rid of this week?

And, March is almost upon us. Let’s prepare mentally for the challenge:

March challenge:

We are invoking my infamous ‘white hanger theory’ this month at our home. We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. This means that, literally, 80% of the clothes in our closets are unnecessary. The white hanger theory works like this: Each time you wear something this month from your closet, rehang it on a white hanger. Do this for three months. In 90 days, you’ll see most of your clothes are not on white hangers. Decide with what you can part. Don’t have white hangers? Then try this instead.

Life on Purpose…

When we live fully in the moment there is an aliveness that comes easily.- Madisyn Taylor

 Have you ever fed a hungry baby while watching television, only to look down to see them looking up at you with this intense gleam in their eyes?  I have, many times.  I’ve looked down at Lil’ E when I’m feeding him his bottle, usually during a commercial break, and seen “a look” in his eyes as he stares up at me.  It’s a look that reeks of distain…as if he’s thinking “Hey, I’m paying attention to what I’m doing.  How about returning the favor?”

Such went the morning activities.  Today I was engrossed in a television interview with Amazon CEO.  I looked down for a brief moment to make sure my baby was still awake and all of a sudden a wave of conviction passed through me like a rocket.  What I was doing was wrong and I knew it.  I was not living in the moment. I was multi-tasking.  I was feeding the baby with my hands, watching television with my eyes and ears, and thinking about the day ahead with my mind.  While that may seem pretty productive to some, to me it was pretty clear:  I was missing out.

I turned off the television, took a deep breath, and looked down.  A smile came across his face.  His breath slowed slightly and he looked into my eyes with such love and admiration I wondered how a little human could be so smart.  He totally understands what is truly important and I, the adult, was missing it.

Living in the moment is difficult at first.  It may seem unproductive, or even, a waste of time.  But there is so much for us to gain when we actually stay present and remain in the moment with ourselves, and with those we love.

Living in the moment opens up our hearts and souls to new experiences.  It’s easy to become engrossed in work or play that we love…but living in the moment is available to us at any step and at any time.  I’ve driven down my street thousands of times with my brain on autopilot, but yesterday I decided to live in the moment and be totally aware of my surroundings.  With the radio off and my brain engaged, I noticed the most beautiful maple tree – aglow with the incredible colors of autumn.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that tree before.  In fact, if it hadn’t been so incredibly large I would have sworn it was just planted because I, for the life of me, could not remember ever seeing it.  And it was beautiful.  It was one of God’s most amazing piece of work…and I had been missing it.

Living in the moment helps us to know what is really going on.  Ever had an argument with your spouse and danced around an issue to the point of total exhaustion?  In my house those kinds of ‘discussions’ are usually centered on him talking – and me thinking of how I’m going to respond even before the words get out of his mouth.  Taking a breath and truly living in the moment allows us to truly ‘hear’ what is really being said in the midst of those uncomfortable times.  It allows us to hear beyond the words and to see into the heart of a person.  If we do this and stay present, we can usually hear what isn’t being said at all:  I’m hurt; I don’t feel respected; I need time alone; I need you to hug me.  Those are all difficult statements to say, especially when anger and sarcasm come more easily.  But being fully present and vowing to stay in the moment during those difficult conversations can (and will!) keep both parties calm and collected for the most part.

Living in the moment is a gift.  We’ve all heard the old cliché: “Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present”.  I always thought that statement to be a bit cheesy, yet, this morning while feeding my little guy, I realized just how true this statement is.  The more we allow ourselves to remain in the present moment, the more we honor those we love.  When we give them our full attention we receive so much clarity and they receive so much love, that new realities come to life.  What better gift than to give honor and respect to those in our presence?

Living in the moment takes practice.  I don’t expect you to get it right away.  But today I ask that you do one task and fully give it 100% of your attention.  For me it was making Lil’ E’s bottles.  I’ve been making his bottles now for over a month and did you know that unless I mix it for a longer period of time, there are little clumps of formula that don’t dissolve?  Yeah, me neither.  Living in the moment and giving my full attention to the task allowed me to realize that the formula needs to be mixed longer to dissolve better.  For you, it could be driving down your street (no radio, no cell phone and for God’s sake…no texting.)  Just you and the road.  I bet you notice something that before would have gone unnoticed.  Or, how about having a conversation with your child today and stopping everything you are doing to face her and truly listen to what she is saying?  You might be surprised by how much she opens up – and you might even see a look of appreciation for the attention you have chosen to give.

None of us are perfect, and we live in a busy world.  But if the purpose of my writings are to encourage you to simplify your life and take each day as it comes, then I would be wrong to not tell you how cool the present moment can truly be.  So, try it and report back…I’m eager to hear about your experiences.

A Year In Review

Today is New Year’s Eve, and with every New Year’s Eve, I consider ways I can make myself a better person during the 365 days to come.  Usually I write about it, only to revisit the musings a year later and feel bad because I didn’t do any of that stuff I said I would do.  Yet, this year, I revisited my post from last New Year’s Day and I realized I really have done most of the things I set out to do.  And I was proud of myself.  I am proud of myself.

This post is a reflection of what I wrote on January 1, 2011 and my notes on what I said I would do.

1)      I said I was going to clear my schedule a bit.  I did and I didn’t.  I really reduced the amount of activities I had become involved in, and I reduced a lot of ‘clutter’  therefore reducing my responsibilities to my ‘things’.  However, I started a new job in the summer which reeked havoc with my free time.  Alas, I did do my best to protect my weekends from anyone and anything work-related.  The result is that I embraced a new hobby (knitting) and found time once a month to meet with some of my girl friends to just hang out.  Also, my relationship with my husband grew stronger and as I look back on 2011, can really only remember one argument.  That’s really cool since stress & money are the top killers in relationships.  We didn’t have much stress…and we didn’t have much money.  So I guess I was committed to trusting the process.

2)      I took a look at my credit report.  I don’t know about you, but pulling a credit report to me is like going to the principal’s office.  I really get sick at my stomach regarding the entire thing.  However, I didn’t do this until the end of the year, so consequently, I have declared 2012 to be the year I start paying down debt  beginning with changing things in my life that contributed to using or increasing my expenses.   Ironically, getting out of debt started with my decision to quit my job.  I know, right??  But manicures, business suits, airport lattes, data plans on my cell phone, and dry cleaning expenses were a nuisance.  I wanted peace and prosperity.  And I wasn’t getting either.

3)      I re-evaluated my ‘social’-ness on my social networking sites.  I decreased the amount of info on LinkedIn, deleted anyone who reminded me how much I hated high school from my Facebook ‘friends’ list (and even axed a few family members whose drama gave me heartburn).  And decided to make this blog more about helping people embrace the conceptual ideas and less about venting my rage on what had started as a creepy online diary.  To erase my entire cyber footprint  is a fantasy of mine, but I don’t think that is really possible anymore.
4)      I made a list of the 5 people who made 2010 fantastic and I decided to spend more time with them.  Some I didn’t get to see in 2011 as much as I hoped, but they still made the cut for 2012 of which I will make more of an effort to hang out.  At times I kill two birds with one stone, inviting a friend to come to another friends house with me, but still…I now know when things get tough on whom I can really count.

5)      I don’t know if I made something better than anyone else this year, but I did commit myself 110% to all the things I did attempt.  I think my Banana Bread is still the best ever, my second knitted hat was much better than my first knitted hat (and my knitting instructor told her husband “I taught her to knit and I think she’s going to be better than me”.  That was a proud day, since really; I didn’t embrace knitting until sometime in September 2011).

6)      I let go of my quest to earn more and made a promise to spend less.  In fact, at the end of 2011 I looked at the job I mentioned previously and I decided it wasn’t for me.  For one, when you travel for a living you have expenses that other people don’t have.  Even if the company reimburses for meals, you don’t have the comforts of home each night and go out on your own dime to simply fight off the boredom.  It was a difficult decision for me because the firm was great and my co-workers even greater.  But, I didn’t like some of the things I thought I needed to do in order to fit into the role and I didn’t particularly like the fact that I was gone all the time.  I decided to cut spending and find a job that was more in line with my own core values – which at the forefront is ‘simplicity’.  Traveling for a living does nothing to encourage a simplistic lifestyle – starting with dumping all your belongings out twice a week so TSA can rummage through them.  I began to loathe the entire experience.  I started out as a new recruit and quickly began road-weary.  I never wanted to become a veteran business traveler.

7)      I made a list of 10 things I could do without and seriously did an okay job at steering clear of them.  The hardest?  Half & Half in my coffee, wine every night, a data plan on my phone, and pedicures.  After 2011, I will still admit this to you, faithful reader:  I do not miss that data plan AT ALL but I admit…I would truly LOVE getting a pedicure and sipping wine on a Tuesday night. Yes…Every. Tuesday. Night.  And any other night of the week, for that matter.

8)      I finished something.  Oh God.  2011 become the year I battled the infamous knitted hat.  To my close friends and family and the ladies at A New Yarn, it simply became known as ‘THE hat.’  I started this darn thing a month before my husband’s birthday in 2010.  When his birthday came and went, I said “I’ll give it to him on Christmas (2010).”  Then it began…the anniversary gift that never transpired, the Valentine’s Day gift that never transpired, and finally the 2011 birthday gift that never transpired…you get the point.  Everyone said “Maybe you should just get some new yarn or even just admit that this hat isn’t going to happen” to which I would reply “Oh.  This hat will happen.” (For emphasis, reread that statement imagining a slight shake in my voice and gritted teeth.)   In October 2011 I ripped the entire thing out, rolled it all back into a ball and started all over again.  That hat had become the epitome of two things in my life:  Failure and the inability to finish a project.  I took one look at that grey ball of yarn, cast on 100 stitches, and decided once and for all that this hat and I were going to finish what we started.  On Christmas morning, 2011, I threaded the 3 inches of yarn through the top of the hat and pulled it tightly, weaved in the ends, and sighed a bit of relief.  I then wrapped the thing up for a Christmas gift for my husband.  Since then, after 14 months fighting with one hat, I’ve managed to make another one – for myself – in about 14 hours.  I don’t know.  Don’t ask me.

9)      I set one goal in 2011.  That goal was to go to work for a major consulting group.  I reached my goal and realized (although the company is excellent and full of excellent people) that it wasn’t a good fit for me.  I was crushed to realize that all I had worked for up until that point was not all that I had hoped it would be.  Alas, I am sticking to the plan and only going to set two goals for myself in 2012, although I’m toying with not setting any at all – a Virgo’s nightmare.

So the overall arching theme for 2011 was to practice rational minimalism, decrease my desire to buy things I didn’t need, simply my schedule and my life, and spend more time with the people of whom I care about deeply and to decrease the amount of time I spend with energy-sucking, drama-filled individuals.  Overall, I can say “I think 2011 was a very good year”.