Friday, March 28, 2014

One Little Word: March - Making a Collage

As you know, my word for the year is simplify.

Here it is - the end of March and my year 2014 is not going at all like I envisioned it would at the beginning of January when I first chose this word.

Update January to March

I applied for, scored an interview, and was offered a new job. I will be making the transition of teaching high school students for the past 11 years to teaching university students. Finally, some dreams coming true in the career department. However, the transition has not been all roses as finding new teachers to replace us (Adie also got a new job!) was quite troublesome and time-consuming. All behind us now as our last day at work was March 24th.

I agreed to let my daughter take part in a dance event, which required 2 1/2 months of intense training. Much parental support expected! This was certainly NOT a way to simplify my life. But now that it is nearly over, I can see it was totally worth it, and she has made great strides in her skills and confidence.

A close friendship ended in March. It was quite a surprise to me, and certainly not what I had in mind when I contemplated simplifying my social life. But, these things happen and perhaps it was for the better. We were good friends for many years, and I have many great memories of spending time with her, so I'll never forget how special she was to me. It is ironic that it occurred soon after I was reminiscing about a past friendship that had ended suddenly (a few blog entries back), and how I was trying to make myself feel better by saying, "Friends enter and exit our lives for reasons that are sometimes beyond our control." I think this still holds true.

In order to simplify our family schedules, I attempted to transfer my son to a daycare closer to our house, as opposed to the one close to my workplace, where I will no longer be working. This week, I finally got the results. The daycares in our area are full, so he will continue at the same one unless an opening comes up within the next year. This means that my morning commute will be complicated by the fact that I have to ride my bike (with him on the back) all the way to his daycare and then backtrack to the station, park the bike, and get on the train 3x (maybe 4x) a week. (Thursdays will be my really early day as my first class begins at 9am and I probably need to be on the train by 7:30...the other days between 8-8:30 will suffice).

I am still contemplating the many options I have before me as I find out details about this new job, the schedule, the workload, and the salary. For the rest of March and April and May, as I acclimate myself and my family to these changes, I have many things to think about. However, I do know one thing. This job will help improve our lifestyle in a number of ways. 2 years plus 9 months of grad school while working full time was worth it.

One Little Word March Assignment
Ali's assignment for the month of March was to cull magazines for words and images that catch my eye, cut them out, and arrange them into a collage. She suggested we arrange the words into sort of a poem, and she emphasized that we DO NOT need to choose words that relate directly to our OLW. In fact, just by choosing words/pictures that jump out at us, and then by arranging them in a certain way, we may discover something new about ourselves or even a new direction that our OLW journey will take us.

I used an A4 size muse board, and since A4 is actually quite small, I decided to divide up my cuttings into to two groups and arrange two collages.

Collage One seems to represent my desires for a better family life. The words don't really seem like a coherent poem, but in my mind, as I read from top to bottom, I imagine some extra words.
The Word Poem:
At last, time is on your side.
You can be reliable.
Have courage...and let go of being perfect.

Your family matters.
You can be better together.
You have the ability to change their world
because you want to give them the sun and the moon.
Just Reconnect.

Keep in mind that nobody's perfect.
Every day is a new beginning.

The image in the background is a very peaceful nature trail, similar to the one that extends behind our apartment building - the one I intend to start USING with some of my newfound free time. So, the collage is also a reminder that I can/should start exercising again, not just for the purpose of losing weight, but also for the purpose of clearing my mind, thus ridding myself of mind-clutter on a more regular basis.

Collage Two seems to represent my inner-desires and my need for creativity and continual self-development.
The Word Poem:
Get inspired!
Get creative, get organized.
Get healthier.
Get yourself on an even keel.
Make it a habit.

Streamlining is the key to a simple life.

Do more of what you love.
Find new roads.
Give thanks.
Thrive every day.
Show your love.

Shine on!

The main image in the background is of P!nk in a Covergirl ad. She is, incidentally, one of my favorite musicians. She has two sides to her: a very hard, tattooed bitch side and a very soft and sensitive side. I think that recently I have been trying to show my sensitive side more by being honest with people about my feelings and experiences. Her Covergirl ads really speak to me.

The second image is of an eclectically organized bookshelf. I love the arrangement of doodads, photos and books. Not only does it inspire me to read more, but it also gets me thinking about how to use our space better in order to continue creating a colorful, simple home.

To be honest, I am not quite sure yet what these collages mean or how they will help me, but I am interested in finding out.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Final Assignment: Choose a Motto

My motto has always been "Just do it". Much like the Nike motto, which should send any potential sporty person into action, I used it to force myself to do things whether I was afraid or not. I don't really appreciate hedging, hemming and hawing, hesitating...although I do find myself doing it when I want to say no, but can't for whatever reason.

Last year, while working on my Masters thesis, I altered my motto to "I AM doing it". In the present-progressive tense, it tricked my mind into thinking that I was ALREADY making progress and that I NEEDED TO KEEP GOING.

A quick Google search brought me to this gem of a motto, which I have adopted for this purpose.

It is simple, but it implies an entire story about who I am, how I see myself and what I can accomplish in the future.

I can. I will. I am.

I have signed up for Part 2 of Brene Brown's class, so I will continue to blog about my progress along with other things.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cultivating Gratitude: Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark

Documenting a week in your life to see what daily occurrences are a part of you, what you are thankful for, and what you might miss if you suddenly didn't have it anymore. That was our assignment for the week.

I would miss the sunsets, working with Adie, seeing Ailin's pure joy at her weekly dance and swimming lessons. I would miss Max and his cute eyebrow and black spots and his loud snoring. I would miss cuddling with the kids, watching Ailin's face when I announce we are having "American" food for dinner. I would miss seeing Luka grow and develop as he starts to do daily things (like, getting dressed) all by himself. I would miss my view from the kitchen out into the living room, and I would even miss washing gads of dishes every night while I watch the kids doing whatever they do while they wait for me to finish. I would miss weekend dinners at Yuki-chan's house, and I'd miss watching Yusuke play with (not, yell at) the kids.

After taking a look at this collage, I needed to decide on a three or four simple things that truly bring me joy.


It's the little things in life that can bring us happiness in small doses.

One Little Word SIMPLIFY: February Assignment

For the month of February, we were to make a page with space for each month so we can go back and update it with reflections throughout the whole year.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cultivating a Resilient Spirit

I have always considered myself to have a resilient spirit, but I admit that I do have some weaknesses. This week's lesson was about examining our stress factors and the types of situations that make us feel bad. Then we looked at how we numb ourselves against these bad feelings. There were four steps to this process of letting go of our numbing techniques in order to "lean into" the pain.

Leaning into the pain? Why would you want to lean into the pain when you can just eat a macaroon and feel instantly better? Brene explained that by numbing the pain or bad feelings, we are also preventing ourselves from feeling joy and happiness. It's akin to taking pain medication. You may be numbing the pain, but you also may be numbing out good sensations. Same may be for depression or anxiety medication.

In order to explore this part of ourselves, she asked us to make four collages, using magazine pictures and words/phrases that spoke to us somehow. I flipped through about 5 magazines and cut out anything that jumped out at me...arranging them later into four categories.

What causes you to feel bad? What causes you to want to numb yourself?
Being judged by others, disorganization/messiness (especially when I can't find something I need), bad time management, unnecessary drama, frustration, fear, being angry at someone or about something. 

What do you use to numb your bad feelings?
I eat. I go for the Snickers or the macaroons. I make excuses for why I need ice cream or cake. I eat tons of chocolate. I drink wine or wine coolers. I spend money. I focus more on my iPhone than on the people around me.

In fact, I make all kinds of excuses why I need to eat, spend money, check my email 100x a day on my iPhone, horde chocolate and drink.

For the past few months, I have refrained from drinking my daily glass of wine on week nights though, so at least I am curbing that. And, even on weekends, I only have one glass of wine with dinner. However, it makes me tired and more irritable than usual. Then, I am unable to do my nightly chores in a timely manner, so it was always one reason the kids and I got to bed late.

My main issue, even more than food, shopping and alcohol, is my addiction to the computer. I really really need to make some boundaries for myself. I am not sure how to do this, but I do realize it's getting worse. If I am not checking my iPhone, then I have my iPad with me and I am looking at that. After dinner, I usually sit down at the computer for a little while. It's probably not necessary to do this most of the time. I just do it because I'd rather look at a computer screen than do the dishes, clean up our apartment, fold laundry, interact with the kids, etc. It's a bad habit, and I need to work really hard to break it.

#3 What actually makes you feel good?
Being outside in any season
Swimming and cycling
Organized spaces, especially colorful books
Colorful spaces
Drinking tea, especially with friends
Colorful, healthy food
My union/marriage with my husband (but only when we are getting along)

Notice that a computer screen did not make it on this collage. Notice that these are small things but significant for one's daily peace of mind. If I can find ways to fit cycling and swimming (and perhaps walking) into my life on a weekly basis, I would probably be feel less stressed out when I meet with adversity. If I could get my house more organized again and continue adding color to it, I could look at that every day and feel happy even when other things are going to shit. If I continue to make healthy, colorful dishes, at least half the time, I wouldn't feel bad when we have to get take-out once in a while. These are simple things.

#4 What did I learn from the first three collages? What are the things I can do to manage my stress and bad feelings without constantly turning to my numbing techniques?
Brene told us to make a list of things we can do rather than numb ourselves from pain.
My list includes the following:
Go outside
Cook & eat well

Finally, Brene explained that in her research, she found that whole-hearted people tend to have certain things in place that are a daily part of their lives. These things allow them to cultivate resilience without turning to numbing techniques every time something is not going right.

Whole-hearted people are
  1. Resourceful and have good problem-solving skills
  2. Likely to seek help
  3. Believe that you can do something to help manage your feelings and cope with problems
  4. Have social support available
  5. Connected to others, such as family and friends

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cultivating Self-Compassion

It's pretty easy to have compassion for others. I cry when I see commercials about kids in Africa, documentaries about young women in Cambodia. I tear up when I see a family being torn apart in a TV drama. My eyes well up when students come to me asking for advice about their futures or worrying about the next exam.

However, when it comes to yourself, do you put yourself down when you fail or when you don't respond "correctly" to any given situation?

How many times a day do I repeat, "I am the worst mother in the world" inside my head? How many times do I say, "I shouldn't eat that. I'm too fat."? How many times a week do I hear myself asking a friend, "What is wrong with me?"

In this week's lesson, we were assigned to look back at old photos and find ones that were taken during the most difficult times of our lives. We had to think about what we would tell that younger version of ourselves. What kind of advice would we give them? How would we cheer them up so they can keep going?

I chose four pictures. There were other bad times in my life, but as I looked through my old scrapbooks and digital files, these four especially struck me as being times that I really needed some cheering up.

"Sometimes we do stupid things. It's okay!"
It was my last year of summer camp. I was 14, and I knew that it was the last time to attend summer camp with friends I had been seeing every summer for four or five years. We were the "cyclists", and during one of our cycling/camping trips, I was being my typical boy-crazy self, and Shelly and I found some boys to hang out on our day off. We were biking around the very hilly campgrounds in search of their campsite so we could ask them to come hang out with us, and I slid on a gravelly portion of the curvy road. In order to prevent myself from hitting the ground, I instinctively put my leg out and twisted my knee on the way down. It wasn't the first time I had injured my knee, so I knew I should have been more careful. As it was, my camp counselors had to call the camp and have someone come and pick me up the next day. I had to say good-bye to my friends, including one of my BFFs who was sad that our LAST SUMMER TOGETHER was ruined. I felt guilty about what I was doing at the time when I got injured. We weren't even on the road cycling. We were just fooling around, looking for those boys. Back at the camp, my mother met me to pick me up. I cried all the way home. For me, this last cycling trip marked the end of my childhood...and I had messed it up royally.

However, yeah, it's okay! Not a big deal in the big picture of life. I had banked up plenty of cycling camp memories over the years, and my BFF Amy and I are still awesome friends.

"This is just a phase and things will get better from here. Be strong!"
I had a six-month old baby, and I constantly daydreamed about leaving my husband. We were going through a really rough time. There were two issues going on, one that I was not fully aware of, and one that I didn't really understand. I didn't understand why my husband, who was adjusting to having a baby in the house, wanted to wield so much control. He had opinions about everything, and he threw out the D-word every time I disagreed or tried to stand up to him. I was miserable. It seemed like we disagreed on everything and were fighting constantly. Taking care of the baby and house were hard enough but these responsibilities were enjoyable. However, the fighting about every little thing with my husband made life a living hell. What I was not fully aware of were the problems he was having at work. The company he worked for was about to merge with another company, and he knew that some employees would lose their jobs. At the time, it was all up in the air. He worried and stressed about this for many months. Rather than admit that he was worried or felt he couldn't control what would happen, he attempted to gain more control at home. It got so bad we ended up seeing a marriage counselor because I was about to take the baby, the dog, and all my worldly possessions and leave the country for good. In the sessions with the counselor, it became clear that my husband's work worries were the main problem and all we could do was wait and see what would happen. The results would be in by the end of the year. When he found out he would be able to keep his job with the newly merged companies, he relaxed quite a bit. I still find him to be slightly controlling, but that year was definitely the lowest of the low periods in our marriage.

"Friends enter and exit our lives for reasons that are sometimes beyond our control."
In 2007, just before my daughter was born, I made a new friend. We were both expecting our first babies, and we became close very quickly. With all of our free time expecting and then later caring for our new babies, we had tons of stuff to talk about. We saw each other nearly every day. I was so happy to have found her. But, one day, when our kids were about 6 months old, she suddenly began to give me the cold shoulder. When confronted about it, she admitted that I made her uncomfortable due to the issues I was having with my husband. The photo shows the baby playgroup we formed together at one of the only/last family events we planned, a BBQ at the park. We thought we had created a great thing together! But, when she decided to unfriend me, she soon left the group, and later when my maternity leave ended, I took the opportunity to move on as well because the baby group remind me too much of my failed friendship. It took a long time to get over our "break-up", and for many many months, I doubted myself. When my son was born a couple years later, I avoided making new friends with pregnant women. I kind of regret that now. My daughter has plenty of friends who were born right around the same time as her, and we still socialize with them. However, my son has none because I never made the effort to meet anyone when I was pregnant with him and then on maternity leave. I basically kept to myself that whole year (except for the mom friends I had made with my daughter).

I realize now that the "break-up" was beyond my control, and that I shouldn't fear the possibility of a friendship ending, even if it seems sudden or for no good reason. Friends are really important even if some friendships don't last long.

"Things may seem sad and hopeless right now, but this is just the beginning of a journey for you."
I wanted to include this photo because it represents a spark that started a journey that I couldn't even have imagined at the time. It was a good-bye party for Karl, my BFF colleague, who was going back to the USA to attend grad school in a completely different field. I knew things would be different at work from now on, and it kind of scared me. We had also had a falling-out a few weeks before his departure and still hadn't patched things up. I was crying before this picture was taken.

What was this journey that I couldn't imagine at the time? It's a little complicated because I found myself pregnant with my second child a few months later. I wasn't planning it as I had just returned from maternity leave with my daughter. I was afraid to leave my job for another year, and I worried that I would lose control at work. (I didn't take it out on my family though...) Anyway, without Karl there to assist in running the ship, I had to depend on the people who were left, and it worried me a great deal. During my maternity leave with my son, I spent a lot of time contemplating my job and my future. I started to realize that I needed to begin detaching myself from my school, even if this would happen over a longer period of time. Back at work the following year, I found things had changed a lot and that I had, indeed, lost quite a bit of control. I was NOT okay with this, but I also realized there was not much I could do about it. I had new responsibilities (my children) and new ideas for my future. That year, I applied to graduate school and I continued to work while taking classes. It was rough, but I managed it. Back in 2008, I could not have imagined that within 6 years, I would have an MA and I would be putting in my resignation. I also couldn't imagine that I would become good friends with Adie and that our friendship would be so transforming or that our synergy would help us create such inspiring lesson plans and projects for our students. Back in 2008, I barely knew her even though we worked in the same office.

Finally, Brene asked us to find ways to be self-compassionate now. First, a quick phrase we can say to ourselves when having a rough time or when we doubt our abilities.

I say, "I got this!" I also say, "I can do this." or even better, "I AM doing this."

Then, we had to find some quotes or lyrics that are especially meaningful to us and give us courage to keep going.

Brave by Sara Bareilles
"Say what you wanna say"
"I wanna see you be brave"

Firework by Katy Perry
"So you could open one [door] that leads you to the perfect road"
"when it's time, you'll know"
"Ignite the light, and let it shine"

Unconditionally by Katy Perry
"Know you are worthy"

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Gifts of Imperfection: Lesson 2

Authenticity is a hard word to apply to one's life, especially when we live in a world that relies on being fake. Telling people you are fine when you are not. Posting happy, positive messages on Facebook, when inside you feel shitty about a friendship that just ended. Commenting on friends' successes even though you feel insanely jealous.

Cultivating authenticity, for this assignment, meant that we had to go back in time and look at old pictures of ourselves. Of all the pictures we could find, we had to choose one in which we were ourselves, truly and utterly ourselves. No posed shots necessary here. Then, we had to answer some questions.
Me at 21; Me at 3

I chose two shots.

In the first photo, I was around 2 or 3 years old. My mother had been searching for me in the house and finally found me hiding in the cupboard, amongst the pots and pans, with a bag of Doritos. I was happily munching away. This is me. I am 37 years old now, and I still love a good bag of Doritos.

In the second photo, I was about 21. It was summer, between my junior and senior year in college. I was still living in the Roundhouse apartments with my best friend, Shannon. We were celebrating my birthday. It was a three-day celebration with many friends and my then-boyfriend. On this particular day, we had been spending the day at Devil's Lake - picnicking, hiking, swimming. It was the perfect day, with perfect friends - a moment that I wish I could freeze in time. In this photo, I am wearing my swimsuit, messy hair, holding a s'more, licking marshmallow from my lips. Not a care in the world. I was smiling with sheer happiness. I thought I was beautiful because life was beautiful and relatively carefree. At the time, I had no idea what the real world would be like.
Answers to some questions about the girl in the photos

Here are the questions and my answers:
What do you see when you look at her?
I see a girl who enjoys food and likes to have fun. She has a mischievous side.

What do you love and appreciate about her?
I like that she doesn't care what others think of her. The messy hair, the big smile, the laughter - it's all part of the package.

What makes her light shine?
She likes being with people and leading an active life, but she also enjoys being alone. She needs a little of both to shine.

What can you do to take care of her?
Let her enjoy food, make sure she leads an active, fun life, but also that she has time to herself.

I chose two pictures that involved me eating (and thoroughly enjoying) food. Knowing that I like being alone as well as being with people was NOTHING NEW TO ME. But, I discovered something new by looking at these two pictures side by side. I looked back on the past several years that I have been trying (and failing) to lose weight. I have tried so many different techniques but none have really stuck for me. I know it is important to be healthy and active, but I also realized that food and my enjoyment of food WILL NEVER EVER go away. And, that is okay. I shouldn't constantly feel the need to deprive myself or later feel guilty because I had a few Doritos.

Just a doodle of the view from my living room.

Digging Deeper with the authenticity lesson

Songs that inspire
I realized that I can still have a fun, active life full of friends and family, and I can still eat and enjoy food. You know why? Because that is who I am. That is the real me.

In the latter part of the week, we were to think about being deliberate, getting inspired and getting going on our progress. In general, I want to make an effort to be more real with people and not try to hide my feelings. I think that when I have been able to do this, the response has been positive, but I also realize there is a nice way to go about this, so I am trying to be more aware of this. Inspiration was not hard to find. I have a few songs that have inspired me over the years - songs that I come back to again and again, especially when I am feeling down. Finally, this is a transitional period in my life. I am leaving a job (that I loved) for a better opportunity, and I hope this will get me on the right path. I was afraid, for a long time, to admit that I needed to find a way out, but I realized that no matter what I do, people will always find a way to judge me or make me feel guilty about my choices. I have to do what is right for me and my family - not what is right for them.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Gifts of Imperfection: My Journey to Embracing my own Imperfections

Brene Brown (pronounced Brenay) is a shame researcher. I had never heard of her until last summer when her name kept coming up. I listen to a podcast about digital scrapbooking called the Digishow, and they were doing a series discussion on a book called Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. They were gushing about her, her other books, her TED talks, etc. I went to check out her TED talk, and I realized that I had seen this woman before, I had even watched her TED talk but at the time, it hadn't stuck. This time, I listened intently to the podcast hosts going on and on about her messages in her book. I could slightly relate, enough to go out and purchase the kindle version of the book. I started reading it, but it was over my head. Well, no, it was just too much information and I was in the midst of analyzing data for my thesis at the time.

So, what is a shame researcher? Her background is in Social Work, and she is a professor, but her research relates to people and how they handle shame or, better yet, how they get past shame to live their lives more fully and deal with their loved ones (and strangers) in a more authentic way. She studies people who can do this well so she can tell the stories to the rest of us.

I didn't finish reading the book Daring Greatly at the time, but Brene Brown's name and her work was still in the back of my mind, and I was intending to read more about it after my thesis was completed. Sure enough, in October, I received an invitation in my email inbox for an Oprah Class that would be taught by Brene Brown. First off, I didn't know that Oprah offers online classes (for self-help and development) on her web site, and I had no idea that Brene's work was known and admired by so many people...enough to make Oprah want to host a class about it. So, I pondered signing up for it, but I was intimidated by the fact that an art journal would be involved. I didn't know how to make an art journal, and at the time, I didn't know that Brene would teach not only "what" to journal about, but also "how" to create pages for the art journal. I also hesitated to take on something new...a 12-week intensive on-line course, just after completing my thesis? No thank you. Instead, I found a self-paced art journaling course and signed up for that instead. I made several pages before I realized it was easy, and I kind of regretted not signing up for Brene's course.

Then, in January, I received another email from Oprah. (Why was I getting emails from Oprah suddenly? I had never received them in the past!) This time, Brene was announcing that her first class was SO SUCCESSFUL and SO LIFE-CHANGING for so many, that she had designed a new class, which would start in April. But, before that, she wanted to give people a 2nd chance, in case they missed the first offering last fall, to take the first class before April, and so it would be offered again starting in...gasp!...3 days. Oh, Oprah, you slay me with your marketing techniques. But it works! I signed up immediately, and so did my friend Louise, and so did another friend, Laura. I was so excited to have this 2nd chance and also to be sharing it with friends.

So, the class started, and it is not as intensive as I imagined it would be, but it is really interesting and thought-provoking. It's also hard to imagine sharing it all on my blog, but I don't mind summarizing what I have done and learned so far.

Week 1

We had to read the first half of her book, "Give of Imperfections" and make a few pages in our art journals. It is fascinating to read about her own experiences, but also to watch the how-to videos because she is a very good story-teller. Her experiences ring true for me. How we try to appear perfect to others, but really, we are so far from perfect and we try to hide away our faults. How it's okay to be more honest with people and admit when we have done something wrong. How to be more forgiving of others because we need to acknowledge that everyone is imperfect and most people are hiding behind this mirage of perfection, just like us. Well, I am getting off on a tangent here. Following are some photos of my art journal:

First, we were to give ourselves permission to do several things that might be hard for us to do. I left room to add more later. We were supposed to choose one to put up on the class's web site. I chose "to tell my real feelings to people" because, honestly, that is hardest for me. I found that this month, I worked hard to be more honest with people and not worry so much about how they would react and what they would say about  me or think of me. In general, I got a positive and supportive reaction from people.
  • to say no
  • to forget
  • to fall behind
  • to cry
  • to make mistakes
  • to tell my real feelings to people
  • to ask for help
Then, we were supposed to write, in permanent marker, on our hands the vow, "I am imperfect and I am enough." But, I misunderstood and wrote "I am more than enough" instead and I also made my art journal page with it. We were supposed to upload these photos to the web site, and that is when I realized that I had written the wrong "quote" on my hand, so I RE-DID it. Yup, still learning here. Still on a journey. Still worried about making mistakes. (By the way, notice the bracelet. More on that later.)

 The third journal assignment (yes, Week 1 was intense) was to write a list of our heart people and make this heart-themed journal page. Heart People are those whom you can share anything with and you don't have to worry about their evaluation of you. They will love you unconditionally. I realized that my husband is not one of those "heart people" for me. I still worry and fret over what he will think of me if I make a mistake and that he will just walk away when he has had enough. However, if anyone knows my faults and what my house really looks like, it is HIM. And, he is still here. And, honestly, our relationship took a turn for the better last fall, so I can sense myself trusting him more and letting him see me (no, really see me) more than ever before. So, perhaps one day he will be added to this list. I really hope so.

I also realized that there was someone I really wanted to (and expected to) put on the list but I could not because I had kept something from her since last summer. I had had plenty of chances to tell her about it, but I had only told two people (my other heart people) immediately when it happened, but I had not told her. I was afraid that on that point, she would get judgy. But, the thing was, I tell her EVERYTHING ELSE. Why couldn't I share this one thing with her? So, I sent her a private message and confessed everything to her, and told her that I could add her to the list now. She said, "Thank you for telling me. You were already on my list." She wasn't judgy about it either.

 At the end of the week, Brene puts forth three questions or small tasks that we can either just answer inside our heads or we can journal about them. I chose to journal about them in my art journal, so here are the pages from the "Get Inspired, Get Deliberate, Get Going" task. One thing I decided, then and there, was to blog about my experiences with this class and the others that I am taking. I don't know how many people read and feel inspired by my blog posts, but for me, it is great record of my journey and will most likely be printed into a book for myself in the future. (I use Blurb or Blog to Books once in a while to print my blogs into book form.)And, if people read it and feel something, that is great too.

Since this post is getting long, and it's a lot to digest, I'll save the 2nd week for next time. Cheers to your imperfections. Embrace them because its what adds to your beauty and your likeability. If everyone were perfect, what a boring world this would be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One Little Word in January

I chose SIMPLIFY as my word for this year, but I have to confess something. It is really hard to make time to simplify my life, and I have already committed to several events that I had originally thought I would say no to. Plus, I'm taking 3 online classes in relation to scrapbooking, so they are very enjoyable, of course. And, I have other things going on that would make anyone's head spin...perhaps I will write about some of these in a later blog post. Oh well. Got to enjoy life too, right?

Ali Edwards' first assignment for OLW 2014 was to make two lay outs plus complete some journaling about our word choices.

The assignment including the following: Choose a word, Make a lay out including a photo of you, the definition of the word, and your reasons for choosing it. Finally, we had to find or create a symbol for our word, something we could keep around that would be a constant reminder.

Then, find a quote. I found two. Couldn't resist. As I was making my quote page, I realized that the shape of the quotes looked like the figure 8. The figure 8 is reminded me of two rings set together, and this lead me to think about symbols for "unity". It all came together then. One of my reasons for choosing "SIMPLIFY" is to focus on the family and bring us back together again after these last 3 years of stress and hardship. Many of the class members are ordering or having symbolic jewelry or household decorations custom made that will remind them of their word. I haven't decided yet if I will do this or not, but it is much easier to find a piece of jewelry that represents "unity" rather than one that symbolizes "simplify". (Oh, I just thought of something though. What about those JUST SAY NO stickers to remind kids not to succumb to peer pressure?)

The 3rd part was to think about different ways to use our word. It was a journaling assignment, but I decided to make it into a lay out, much like the January 2013 assignment, so that I can print it and have it hanging by my desk.

Finally, the kids and I found some rocks in Ailin's collection and painted them. They wanted to choose words too, so I painted our words on the rocks with liquid paper (white out). Ailin's word is HOUSE because she wants us to move into a house. Luka's word is GLEE because he likes the soundtracks from the TV drama.

The word simplify, being coupled with my other 2 online classes, has been a challenge for me so far. I have not made much practical progress, but I am focusing on "menu planning" this month. I have been paying more attention to my preferences and habits regarding this. I LIKE using CookPad in English, but feasibly, I can only cook decent meals 3 nights a week due to Ailin's dance/swimming lesson schedule. So, on Sundays, when I make the grocery list, I go to CookPad and choose 3 recipes to make. For the other nights, I make easy meals, like sandwiches and chips or spaghetti with meat sauce. Things that I know the kids will love and will be very easy to make. Last year, I did make green smoothies every night for myself (from about July to October), but I realize now that I don't actually WANT to drink smoothies in lieu of dinner, that I would rather eat real food that I have cooked. I found some simple ingredients to use in my lunch boxes every day, so not only are my lunches really healthy and filling, but they are also very simple to assemble in the mornings. I make things like oinarizushi, chikuwa, tsukemono, onigiri, mini-salads, and leftovers from dinner. In terms of menu planning, I think things are improving, though if the past is any indication of the future, I will most likely get bored in a few months and have to shake things up with a new cookbook or some new-fangled method to getting dinner on the table. One thing is for sure though. I get a lot of joy out of cooking and trying new recipes, and Japanese home-cooked food is surprisingly easy to make and requires very few ingredients. I bet people who have never lived in Japan would be surprised to read that! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Project Life 2013 Finished and Printed!

For the past 2 years in January, I feel obliged to complete two large projects before the month ends. First, I rush to complete the Project Life pages for my album so I can get them uploaded to Blurb and printed into a book. Prior to Project Life, I was making my own version of Project Life with many of the same ideas - repetitive templates throughout, documenting month by month, including the entire family and their memorabilia in the layouts, etc. I love doing it digitally though as they albums come out so thin and well, book-like.

Check out the link for a preview of my latest Project Life Album. It costs a little over $100 to print this 94-pager, but it is well worth the money. One of my favorite books on our bookshelves!

The way I work it out is that each month, I separate our typical family events into themes - Amanda's stuff (usually involving work, hobbies, issues, friends, etc.), Kids' stuff, Family events, and Everyday Life. There are some months when Yusuke has something to share, such as when he travels or attends a friend's wedding. Special family events, such as birthdays, sports festivals, holidays, etc. are allotted extra pages for that month. When time and space allows, I scan memorabilia and use it throughout the pages - things like ticket stubs, kids' drawings, clothing tags, to-do lists, and so on.

I use Photo Shop Elements, both on Mac and PC to complete my pages and then upload them to Blurb in order to make the photobook.

Here's the thing though. By summer, I tend to fall way behind. In fact, in 2013, I was busy researching for my Masters thesis, and I started to fall behind after February. Once I finished with it in September, I spent a few hours here and there trying to catch up but didn't make much headway. I spend most of my winter break powering my way through the last 10 months of the year, so don't get discouraged if you start to fall behind. There are advantages to doing the pages months after the fact (like, you won't be quite as detailed with a little perspective). Of course, there are disadvantages too, like the constant nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach or the likelihood of missing some important details or even the order of events, but really, does that matter in the end? What matter most is that your family has a beautiful book of memories to look at for years to come.

For 2014, I would love to keep up a little better. I don't have the excuse of thesis, but I'm sure other things will come up. Right now, I am trying to figure out some techniques for keeping up and for SIMPLIFYING the whole process. I have a few sets of templates that I go back to again and again, and I found that simple templates work better for me. Though I sometimes love the look of very elaborate pages, it is not feasible for PL pages - too heavy and take too long to work on. I downloaded more Becky Higgins templates and several of Cathy Zielske's templates, both created for the purpose of Project Life. I have a huge stockpile of digital kits that I procured when I was a member of the Digi Files. I have recently unsubscribed because my computer external hard drives were getting so full, and I needed to take a break and use up kits that I have never used yet. I plan to go through and choose several kits that I will use for 2014. Last year, I chose a different kit for each month, but as it turns out, there were some kits I really loved and others, not so much, so I will only choose four or five that I really love, that suit the seasonal colors, that make my heart sing, and I use those over and over.

Here is one in particular that I fell in love with, which lead me to buy several more of the kits created by Libby Pritchett at Sweet Shoppe.

Be Awesome

I love the color blending, the oranges, the shabbiness of it. This definitely reflects my style. Bright but shabby.

Next week, we will be into February, and I'll need to start my January pages of Project Life 2014. Wish me luck, and if you feel the inkling to start an album, by all means...your family will love it, and most importantly, so will you!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What I really wanna do

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy researching and writing. It was fun, and I'll continue to do it because I basically have to continue what I started in order to build up my resume more. Plus, it is important to keep up with new discoveries in teaching if I am to stay in this field. However, for the past two years, I was dying to take some more online classes JUST FOR ME. Art Journaling, scrapbooking, digital techniques, etc. Opportunities to take classes kept passing me by, and I was only signing up for One Little Word because it required very little time to complete the assignments each month.

Now it is January 2014. I am 5 months out of grad school. My word for 2014 is SIMPLIFY. And, I am taking 3 online classes. Yup, three. Not quite good at the SIMPLIFY stuff yet.

First, I am taking One Little Word taught by Ali Edwards, as I wrote about in the previous post. I am planning to update my blog regarding my progress with this word, but please excuse me if I fail or don't show much progress. Something positive always comes out of these words of the year. My next post will be about January's assignment.

Second, I am taking Cathy Zielske's Move Well Eat Well Jumpstart, hosted by Big Picture Classes. Why complicate my life with something that looks like a diet? I don't know. Maybe it's because I am a die-hard fan of Cathy Z and hadn't taken any of her classes since the fall of 2010. I needed a good dose of her. Or maybe I wanted the jumpstart in January to get me back on track for my diet. I will update about my progress, but just FYI, this class is only one month long. After that, it's self-paced and I would only need to check in about once a month. For January though, the assignments are daily! However, they are not difficult, and I printed out the cards beforehand so I only have to find the right cards for each day, fill them out or journal on them, and then put them in the album. Easy peasy. The hard part is actually moving my body and eating well. Doesn't always happen in the same day. I am thinking about getting a FitBit because I am the kind of person who thinks that new technology will help me move my body and eat well. Yes, I admit that I am a sucker for technology.

Third, I am taking a course called The Gifts of Imperfection, taught by Brene Brown. If you don't know her, she is a researcher on human behavior, specializing in shame. Sound weird? This class was offered last November, and I really wanted to enroll, but there was an art journaling component. I knew nothing about art journaling. Then I was reminded that while in grad school, I had been hearing about art journaling off and on and had wanted to learn how to do it. I had promised myself to figure it out after grad school finished. This reminder led me to another class called hosted by A Beautiful Mess called Art Journal All Year, and I decided to enroll in that one instead. I'd been slowly working my way through the challenges since November. Then, just last week, the Brene Brown course was offered once again, due to its popularity, so I decided to take the plunge. Two friends in Japan also enrolled, so I am excited to share the experience with them.

Finally, about a year ago, one of these same friends recommended the books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, both by Gretchen Rubin. We decided to start our own Happiness Project group and got a few other friends and acquaintances involved. It's a secret/closed Facebook group in which we share our monthly goals and then report back at the end of each month. In between, we discuss our minor successes and challenges regarding our progress and encourage each other along the way. Last year, my goals often related to my word for the year, MOVE. Each member was working on her own issues, and each one of us came out having learned something significant about ourselves by the end of the year. It's a small group, but it ties in quite well with the above 3 courses.

So, just for fun, I am planning to share my progress on this blog. The good and the bad. As my friend Louise says, this helps make us accountable for our actions throughout the year and it's a good record to look back on.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Word of the Year: SIMPLIFY

Finally! I'm back in the saddle. After two years of graduate school and then nearly one year of thesis-researching and writing, I graduated with my Masters Degree in TESOL. Now, I can be proud of myself for achieving something I never thought possible while being married, working full-time and raising two children.

When I first began my graduate program in January of 2011, I decided to join Ali Edwards' class called One Little Word (offered at Big Picture Classes). In keeping with my new goals regarding grad school classes, I chose LEARN as my word. Indeed, I did learn a lot that year, not only about teaching methods and language acquisition, but also about my own strengths and capacity as a mother. Much of what I journaled about also included my daughter's attempts to learn to read and write. She was 4 at the time.

In 2012, I was half-way through grad school courses and I wanted a lighter word, so I chose SHINE. Shine was supposed to push me to my limits while helping me encourage others to shine. I did, but all this focus on studying and pushing myself resulted in a stark and undeniable weight-gain. By the midway point of 2012, I was over 200 pounds. Even my father voiced concern at my appearance when I took the kids on a trip to visit my parents in the States. I was also experiencing some health problems and was told to lose the weight or else. So, my existing burden became heavier, not only literally, but figuratively as well. The decision to study less and exercise more weighed on me. The possibility of getting sicker if I didn't start taking care of myself also weighed on me. Shine sort of lots its gleam, so to speak.

By 2013, I was ready to MOVE and through the help of Ali's One Little Word class, I attempted to find ways to incorporate the word MOVE into my lifestyle. Moving my body was not the only goal though. Moving through the process of proposing, researching and writing a thesis paper was also my goal for the year. Like any organized full-time working mother and student, I had a plan and I followed it to the T. Each month, I moved through the process while trying to fit in exercise whenever I could. In July, I decided my theme for the month would be the opposite of "move", and so "stillness" became my focus. It was supposed to be just for one month though. I had never been "still" before. I was always moving, like a ball in a pinball machine. My father had sent me a Kindle for Xmas the year before with an Amazon gift card that read "Take some time to just be still." I fell in love with "stillness". It became my crutch, my excuse for needing balance in my life. All of the goals and dreams that ran through my head, competing for attention, began slipping away. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I was way over-extended. After the thesis was submitted, and I was notified of my graduation, I reveled in the STILLNESS even more. My body was not used to this nor was my brain. But, since my goals and dreams had sort of slipped out of my head and gotten lost somewhere, I wasn't sure what to think or do. As for MOVE, I made every excuse not to go to the gym. Usually, all my new-found free time was filled in with work responsibilities. Sad, but true. I kept wondering how I had managed for the past 2 1/2 years. I also got sick for the first time in ages, and after not being able to eat for a week, I went back to food and forgot about my diet. You see, I had been making progress up to that point.

I don't blame STILLNESS for ruining the word MOVE for me. It didn't ruin it. Without MOVE, I am not sure I would have finished my thesis on time. (My friend says I would have because that's just the way I am though.) Without MOVE, there would be no STILLNESS. Sometimes, you need to accept the opposite of reality to force you to learn something new. I learned that balance is important, that stillness is important, not just to me, but also to my family. You see, they LOVE it when I sit down and cuddle with them to watch a movie or a favorite TV show. And friends too. My friends don't want to get together to go for runs or play tennis. They want to sit in coffee shops all afternoon and chat and gossip. (Bad friends, but I am right there with them!) No more ball in a pinball machine.

Now, that doesn't mean that I was considering BALANCE as my 2014 word. By December of 2013, the words that kept flashing in my mind were "Simple", Simplify", Simplicity". I craved simple, uncomplicated days. I felt completely overwhelmed. My to-do lists were starting to creep up on me again, my job was brimming with grading responsibilities, and my dreams and goals were starting to slip back into my brain, needling at it and crying for attention. Well-meaning friends were asking me about my job search, and I had to break it to them. I wasn't searching for anything. Our house was in chaos - this layer of chaos covered over the once carefully-organized structure I had arranged years ago. My kids needed more attention from me, and I wondered what would become of my relationship with my husband. It had been on the back-burner for the past 3 years, and I wondered if he still wanted anything from me or if he had long ago given up.

How could "Simplify" help me, help us, become a united family again?

My word for 2014 is SIMPLIFY. Where it shall lead, I know not, but it is the getting there that will be a fun adventure for us. And, Mama shall lead the way!

If you are interested in taking the One Little Word class with Ali Edwards, click on the link. There is also a closed/secret Facebook group for members of the class to share their work and communicate about their progress. It's a wonderful and inspiring atmosphere.