Life Outside The Box

I’ve been reading this book entitled The Things That Matter, written by interior designer Nate Berkus. I’m finding it fascinating, funny, and in some parts, quite moving. This is not a “how to” book of home design, there are no rules or tips to follow. Instead, it’s all about the things we own that make up who we are.

So many out there say that we aren’t our things, that things shouldn’t matter, and maybe on some level that’s true. We could probably all stand to pare down a bit. But what Nate talks about in his book is also true: some things, maybe not all things, but some important things that we amass over our lifetime tell our stories.

As a blurb about the book says, “they reflect the places we’ve been and the people we’ve loved along the way…” A favorite book with an inscription from a friend in the opening page, a ticket stub from a concert, a cherished teacup that was once part of a great-grandmother’s set brought all the way to North America from Europe during World War II, a pillow from your childhood that goes with you no matter how many times you move and is the first thing you make sure to unpack. Whatever the cherished item, in putting together a real home for ourselves we should take the things that matter most to us and find a way to highlight them rather than box them away for ‘someday.’

What this means to me… (read more)


A chip is just a chip

In an attempt to find some words… I thought I’d share this tonight.

Today I made a quick trip to the grocery store, and while I was wandering the aisles, I passed by a young girl standing by the refrigerators, declaring happily to her mother, “We need milk!” She was so joyous about it that I laughed a little.

Her mother was bent over by an end-of-aisle shelf, grabbing a few containers of I’m not even sure what but I think it was kind of junk food related. She looked up at me from her contorted position and I was still smiling about her daughter, but for some reason I think she thought I was chuckling about what she was buying (or how much of it). She did this kind of sheepish half-laugh and said quickly, “It’s for a cookout!

And she said it as if she needed to apologize or explain to me why she was buying chips.

I smiled and nodded and kept on going, but as I walked away, all I could feel was sad. Because here was this slender, attractive middle-aged woman, dressed in a very well put together fashion; yet she still somehow felt like she had to explain herself and her food choices to me, a complete stranger. As if there was something to be ashamed of. As if she needed to say, “I don’t eat all of this myself. Really. I swear. Please don’t think of me as a pig. Or someone with bulimia.”

Now, I am certainly not one to judge about buying junk food for any reason, but I know what it feels like to worry about what other people think when they see me grabbing something like that off a shelf. There’s a self-consciousness that floods over me, like I need to hide my choices, like I’m going to be judged or ridiculed or shamed for what’s in my cart.

It’s so silly, when you think about it. Who gives a damn what you buy? It’s YOUR CHOICE. Whether it’s an excessive amount of fruit, frozen broccoli, doughnuts or potato chips, it’s no one’s business but your own. And you certainly don’t have to explain yourself or apologize for it.

Maybe you’re having a party. Maybe you just like potato chips on occasion. How would I know? IT DOESN’T MATTER. Or, it shouldn’t matter.

It makes me so weary that women feel this way, that they have to apologize for having any sort of appetite for anything. Like having a healthy appetite says you’re unladylike or gross or overindulgent or gluttonous.

Why can’t putting chips into your cart simply mean, “Sometimes I like potato chips”? What’s wrong with that?

It just makes me tired and sad.

No good words

I haven’t written in a while.

Honestly, I haven’t felt like writing.

That’s a really big thing for me to admit, because no matter what’s going on in my life, good or bad, happy or stressful, I’ve almost always been able to turn to the page. Even if I couldn’t verbalize it in person — and I’ve never been good with public speaking in that way — I could always write it out.

But lately I just haven’t been able to find the words. I don’t know why.

I’ve been blaming it on school. I’ve finally graduated with my new degree — yay! — and for a while I felt myself avoiding writing because it reminded me of school and projects and homework, words said with a heavy sigh. Though school was for the most part rewarding and good, it was also a huge mental drain. It took a lot of intense focus. So when I finished, I think I felt like I needed to take a break for a while. Rest. Rejuvenate. Recharge. All those good ‘r’ words.  🙂

However, it’s been over 6 months since I finished school. So why am I still searching to find the words?

It’s been 6 years since I got laid off from my job and (after searching for a long time) made the choice to go back to school. Six years since I moved out of my beloved apartment, boxed up all my things and moved in with relatives so that I could save some money while I figured out what to do. Six years of living out of boxes and feeling like a nomad.

I feel like I’ve been boxed up all that time. And now that I’m done with school, I feel this intense desire to get back out there, to find a way to afford a place of my own, so that I can break out of the box, you know what I mean?

There’s this amazing episode called “Hush,” from a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and during that episode the main characters (and all the people in the entire town of Sunnydale) suddenly lose their voices and ability to verbally communicate with one another. Their voices are literally stolen by a very creepy group of creatures called the Gentlemen. Everyone’s voices are boxed up so that they can’t scream when the Gentlemen come to get them. (Seriously creepy, but such a powerful episode about finding ways to communicate with one another when you can’t seem to find the words. And you’ve got to be impressed with an episode that is almost completely without verbal dialogue but still holds your rapt attention from start to finish.)

In the end — spoiler alert! — the only way everyone can get their voices back is if Buffy can break in to their lair, find the box of voices, and smash it to bits, releasing everyone’s voices and her own in a massive scream at the top of her lungs.

This may be a silly comparison, but… sometimes I feel like that. Like I’ve been packed away in a box for the past six years, and I need to break free so that I can find my voice again and — like Buffy and her primal scream — let it out.

Then, like the title of my blog, move FORWARD in some positive fashion.

Waiting for Captain Picard to say “Engage.”

After graduating from college, I wanted to start making regular posts again. I was excited at the thought of extra time in my evenings where I might be able to do other things, like write. I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive when I could jump back in.

You know… it’s tougher than I thought. To jump back in.

Writing’s something that comes naturally to me, much more than, say, public speaking (no, thank you). I thought I’d fall back into writing immediately, no problem. So much to say, so many stories to tackle.

But I just feel so disconnected. Not just to blogging, but to everything.

Maybe it’s a side effect of going back to school. I spent the past 3 1/2 years in the mindset of “keep your head down and get it all done.” There was a ton of work and homework and late nights, some stress, some fun and enjoyment, but mainly just a lot of deep focus.

I spent so much time shoving everything else to the side. Writing, singing, going to the movies, spending time with friends, spending time with family (outside of the holidays, I mean), taking care of myself and my health, you name it, I put it on the backburner. That mentality got so deeply ingrained, I feel like I don’t know how to let go of it. Like someone who goes undercover for a couple years and when the final bust goes down, what are they supposed to do next? How are they supposed to let go of the persona they’ve been playing for two years? How do they get back into their own headspace?

I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

It feels like I have all these ideas about what I’d like to do with my time, but I’m so used to telling myself, “No, there’s no time for that right now, wait until after school is done.” It’s gotten so that I don’t know how to rev myself up to dive in and tackle some of these ideas.

I figure the thing is to just do it, just open a book or read through old story notes or join a group, anything to get involved again. No pressure or schedule about it, just see what energy stirs up and where my thoughts and ideas take me. See what I find myself getting passionate about enough to make the time for it.

But it’s more challenging than I thought. I find myself feeling a bit aimless, like I know there’s something out there I should be doing but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Maybe it’s a side effect of this extra-long-and-lingering winter we seem to be having this year. Maybe it’s a sign that I need a change of venue, something outside of Wisconsin and Illinois, someplace new to invigorate my senses again. I wish I knew what I needed.

I feel like I’m trying to figure it out.

In the meantime, I did say I’d try to post messages with a more positive slant to them, so here’s one:

Happiness is… the kindness of a stranger.

Today I stopped at the grocery store for a few items, and while I was bagging some onions, my scarf got caught on the edge of the bin and knocked a few onions off the stand, sending them rolling across the floor. I made some sort of noise of surprise and mild annoyance, and bent down to pick up the small mess. Another customer walking by joked about how that’s happened to her too and very kindly helped me retrieve the runaway onions from the floor.

It’s so silly, because it’s such a simple moment. But more and more it seems people get caught up in their own worlds (see above commentary about my own ‘stuck’ life right now, LOL) and they stop paying attention to one another out there in the day-to-day environment. That woman could have walked right on by with her cart and left me to take care of the issue myself. It was only about 2 or 3 onions, no big deal, really. I was perfectly capable of dealing with it, but instead she took time to help me out. In doing so, her friendly remarks and generosity in the moment really stuck with me the rest of this day.

So, thank you, Kind Stranger. You brightened my day. I hope someone does the same for you.

Happiness Is…

I’ve been away for a while, with plenty of reasons for it, but rather than get into all that deep dark stuff, I want to take a different approach for a while.

Remember those old Charlie Brown comic strips that said things like “Happiness is a warm puppy”? Or “Happiness is a big pile of leaves” (that you can take a running leap into, like a kid)?

I was thinking about that today while I was doing the laundry. As the mind tends to wander when one does the laundry.

Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to be more positive, think more positively, see the world more positively, see myself more positively… approach things with more joy and mindfulness and “here and now” sort of attitude, you know what I mean? I’ve spent too many years focused on the negatives instead of the strengths (my own as well as others).

So — just to get things going — I thought I’d start or end each day with a “Happiness Is” statement, and see how long I can keep that up.

For today, happiness is… a basket filled with warm towels fresh from the dryer.

I just want to create a cozy towel cave with me wrapped up in the center of them!


Making decisions can be a workout

How bad is it that I may not work out today simply because I don’t feel like showering?


I’ve worked out 3 times this week, thought I might go for a fourth today, but then I looked at the clock and it’s already 12:30 pm and I started calculating in my head how much time I’d lose in my day if I worked out.

Pro: it’s good for me, and I still have lots of weight I want to lose. It also gives me energy.

Con: the whole process is time consuming, and I’m not sure I want to give up that amount of time today. Seriously. It always seems to take at least 2 hours.

You’ve got your workout itself, which ranges in length, depending on what you do. Say that’s anywhere from a half hour to an hour. Then there’s cool-down time. Then you add on your shower which is a must because you’ve worked up a major sweat, and even if it’s the quickest thing in the world you still have to do it and then there’s the time it takes to dry off and put on lotion (because my poor feet are trashed) and deal with your wet hair and get dressed, and suddenly it’s 2 to 3 hours later and where goes the time?

Normally, it’s fine. I take that time loss into account. It’s simply part of my routine, and that’s life.

But some days I just don’t feel like giving up all that time. Like today, for example. It’s Sunday. I got my homework done ahead of time. After being busy busy busy, I’d like to RELAX. Break up the usual routine. Do something DIFFERENT. Something fun. Or just chill out for a change.

Frankly, it’s been so long since I had free time to myself (where I wasn’t thinking ahead to what still needs to be done) that I feel like I’ve forgotten HOW to relax or have fun or chill out.

So today I find myself looking at the clock, seeing it’s already almost 1 PM and asking myself, “Do I really want to lose the next 2+ hours of my day? What do I WANT to do today?”

Sometimes working out is important. It gives you clarity, it gives you energy, it gives you focus. Sometimes it even helps you keep your sanity. (I joke. Sort of. LOL.)

But sometimes it’s okay to make another choice. To NOT work out. To give yourself a different kind of “me” time. And that choice can bring you sanity, too.

The question is: which kind will I choose today?

Not the kind of retreat I had planned

This entry was going to come a good few months ago. I had it all outlined, talking about the latest progress in my workout experiment, what I’d achieved so far, and what would happen next.

If you’ve read any of my entries, you know the workout was to be done backwards (DVD months 9, 8 and 7, then months 1 through 6). Though I only wrote about months 9, 8, 7 and 1, I actually made it through up to part of month 3.

A few notes from that time:

I incorporated some cardio (not much, just started small, about 10 minutes each day). I struggled with some neck and lower back issues (which I blame on stress and an uncomfortable, crooked mattress). I also noticed a difference in my temperament when I didn’t get to work out, when internship and life ‘stuff’ got in the way and I made the choice not to exercise — I felt like the stresses got to me easier, I felt crabby, and my body wouldn’t loosen up.

I recognize that I will always need to work out because it lifts my mood and gives me energy. Food issues are a whole other topic and I have so much more work to do in order to fix that part of my life, but over the last 10 years or so I have come to need workouts. They are a constant in my life now. Even when I have to take some days off from it, unless I’m physically incapable I know I will always go back to it.

Despite my revelations about exercise, I continue to struggle with the emotional eating aspect. As the summer went on and the stresses increased, it felt like my brain shut down and the anxiety kicked in. I ate terribly. Too much, and not healthy foods. We’re talking fast food, here. Greasy, bad-for-you fast food.

And that is my huge issue. When I’m stressed, or upset, or super-anxious, my first thought is not, “How can I handle this stress and work through it in a smart, healthy manner?” I’m not sure my mind ever goes to that kind of thought process (though I need it to).

Instead, my brain’s immediate impulse is “What can I eat?” and the choices I run to are not always good. And it doesn’t matter if it makes me feel lousy — and that I know it makes me feel lousy — because my brain doesn’t stop to think about it; I just go there like autopilot.

Some days I don’t know how I’ll ever be free of that. Is it too fully ingrained in me? I don’t know. I sure the hell hope not! But it’s my biggest struggle.

The only positive thing I can say about it is that after the bad stuff, I go right back to my healthier patterns. The next day is a new day and I start out healthy again.

But the problem is, it’s not good to go back and forth like that. It doesn’t make for a balanced life, healthy body or mind.

Anyway, by that point I had made it halfway through month 3. I had 3 1/2 more months to go in my experiment, and lots I wanted to achieve.

And then it all fell apart.

Struggles, Realizations and Decisions (click to read more)

Catching Up, A Bonus Post!

See, this is what happens when school takes over one’s life. Or, I let school take over my life. I end up not having time or energy to post regularly. I need to work on that!

In the meantime, how can I catch up? Let me cram in some details.

Last time I talked about having a wacky allergic reaction (eyes swelled up, yikes), going in for a follow-up diagnostic mammogram appointment (good news, everything’s okay so far!), and dealing with the stress of school and finals and final projects until I felt ready to cry or scream.

Except for taking a week off during finals, I kept up with my workouts. However, I didn’t do so well with my eating habits, which fell apart during the most stressful times of the semester. That is a red flag area in my life that still needs a lot of work.

I made it through “Month 7” of the workout, struggled, gained back 3.5 pounds and lost an additional 1 inch from various areas of my body.

That covered mid-April through May.

What happened after that?

An Update on My Progress, still trying to catch up to current day! (click to read more)

Catching Up, Part 3

Where did I leave off in this endless ‘catching up’ saga?

Ah yes… in my last post, I talked a little bit about some emotional struggles (exhaustion from overwork and life stresses) and some physical struggles (neck pain! neck pain! OWWW!), and tackled the next phase in my experiment.

I made it through “Month 8” of the workout, lost 5 pounds and an additional 4.5 inches from various areas of my body. Small though it may be, I’ll take that progress, thank you.

That covered late February to the start of April.

What happened in month 3?

Yet Another Update on My Progress. (click to read more)

Catching Up, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about the physical and emotional challenges faced during the first month of my new workout experiment.

Amidst grief over the loss of a close friend, stress from taking three classes, and the struggle in returning to exercise after a 6-month break, I made it through “Month 9” of the workout and lost 5.5 inches from various areas of my body. Not a bad start.

That covered late January to late February.

What happened in month 2?

Another Update on My Progress. (click to read more)