Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grateful Week: Wednesday

I belong to a really wonderful women's singing group. We are a non-auditioned group of about 80 women who have been given the gift of song by our wonderful director. She has made music available to us, some of whom would have no other outlet for it, and she handpicks tunes that nourish our souls as well as the souls of our audience.

Last week we had our last rehearsal of the semester until the new year. It was an emotional time of goodbyes, and gratitudes. As we expressed to her our thanks for all that she gifts us with, she turned and gave it right back to us with the wish that we would each own our own beauty as we left rehearsal that night. That stayed with me. That, and her admonition that even if we spent Thanksgiving alone this season, we ought to be thankful for ourselves. That had never occurred to me, just as owning my own beauty had not.

So today I do the hard thing, to list the things in myself that I honor, love and appreciate. Why is it so much easier to list the things I dislike or wish to change? But this is an important list. I encourage you to join me in writing this list. What things about you are you grateful for? It might even be something you weren't aware of until someone pointed it out to you; or something you admire in others which makes you realize it is somewhere within you too -- which is why it resonated so deeply. What makes you special? I guarantee there are many more things than you will even think of.

On to my list:

*I have a sense of humor. Most of the time only my family gets it, but it does indeed exist! I also have a vast array of facial expressions much to most people's amusement.
*I am self-aware. This is something I surely developed in years of therapy, mixed with being naturally introspective. I've come to see it as a real assett upon the discovery that the average person does not seem to display or develop this trait. What self-awwareness means, to me, is the conscious knowledge that you're 'doing it again' when you get stuck in a personality pattern that you are trying to leave behind. To be honest, even just knowing your patterns at all is an important step in self-awareness that many have not taken. When was the last time you told a friend that they "always do --- when --- happens" and they said "I DO?!" The self-aware person probably already knows, and if he/she doesn't, they will take your insight to heart and really listen to it, for it is a help, not an attack or a criticism. Self-awareness is the first step in self-correction, and is kindred spirits with thoughtfulness.
*Which brings me to thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is self-awareness turned outwards. It is considering how your actions affect other people. I do this in many small ways: always leaving a decent tip; moving quickly across the road when a car so kindly stops to let me go, so as not to hold them up unnecessarily; not taking the last paper towel without replacing the roll. These sorts of things are small and perhaps unnoticed, but as I participate in them, they remind me how much I value human decency. And the best way to contribute to creating more of something in the world is by embodying it in any way you can.
*I'm a writer, with killer language skills. I'm always getting asked to proofread things for other people. So that is a value I can add; but for myself, I appreciate my ability to express what is going on in my heart using the written word, because it is the simplest, most organic path to self-understanding that I have access to.
*I don't bore easily! I am too interested in EVERYTHING! If anything, I am a scatter-brain for reading too many books at once, and obsessing over too many tv shows, ideas, or blogs. My sisters and I have dubbed ourselves "media junkies". Book stores are like drug dealers to us; ditto With Netflix' new straight-to-PC service now in beta for Mac, I watched four movies on my computer in two days! That in addition to a disc full of Battlestar Galactica Season 2 episodes.
*I persevere. On the surface, a person might protest that I quit things all the time; however, when I do, it is because I am aware that the pursuit of the goal is not adding anything positive to my life. In the ways that I like to think it counts, I persevere. Life has handed me bunches of lemons over the years, and I know that is true of most people; I don't belong to a special 'club' of people who have been wronged. Sometimes perseverance to me is simply breathing, or simply getting out of bed. But I still believe in living, in a way that means thriving, not merely surviving.

I've far from perfect, and even this short list was a hard list to write, but knowing what I appreciate in myself gives me something really positive to build on. I hope you'll do this exercise and find the same true for you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grateful Week: Tuesday

Originally uploaded by soularchitect
Holidays are supposed to be a happy time of year, but for those who have lost someone close, that feeling of loss can be magnified by the holiday season. The days are filled with memories of past holidays with the loved one, and that strange, new emptiness of not having them around anymore. This year marks our fifth Christmas without my mother, the finest matriarch, the funniest, silliest, sweetest woman you could ever meet, who adopted all my friends as her own children and made sure our shoelaces were always tied and our bellies fullfullfull. She had a laugh that sounded like she was hyperventilating. She'd raise her chin in the air and close her eyes and make this silly face, sometimes with one arm raised up and dancing in circles around the kitchen. To me, she simply WAS Christmas.

Despite the fact that my mother's laugh does not decorate my Christmases anymore, and I don't get to hug her on Christmas morning as she puts icing on the cinnamon rolls when they come out of the oven (now I am pulling them out of my own oven).. well, despite all that, I am intensely grateful. I had my mother for twenty-nine glorious Christmases, for close to twenty-nine glorious years I got to call this wonderful woman "Mummie"! I was really and truly blessed.

She saw me through rough patches in my childhood, including my parents' divorce when I was just barely school age. She nursed me back to health with her love whenever I got the sniffles or the flu. She threw a party for me when I had my First Communion; ditto when I turned 10. She endured slumber parties with screaming girls, my begging to stay up late, and years of music videos and strange, loud tunes coming from my room. She stirred my before-bed chocolate milk and solved all my problems with ice cream. She made a mean spaghetti sauce unlike any other. She took me to see Pretty in Pink and she mended my clothes, which were always somehow getting destroyed. She indulged me whenever I came home with another pet, or when I begged to let me keep the runt of our cat's litter, a long-haired Maine Coon we called Woodrow. She let me stay home from school the day after he was hit by a car, while our neighbor took him away and buried him for us.

I love my Mummie, and that alone keeps her alive, for which I am so very, very grateful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Grateful Week: Monday

I try to keep gratitude lists on a regular basis, but seeing as this week is Thanksgiving in the States, I decided I would post daily about ones that have been brought to mind by the beginning of the holiday season.

To start, I am thankful for Jimmy Stewart!. More particularly, I am thankful for his penchant to play so very well the role of the underdog trying to live by a higher code of ethics than those around him. For his great lines and speeches, the ones that help me remember, in day-to-day life, to make decisions based on my conscience, rather than on what is easy to do. I watch It's A Wonderful Life yearly, but it's been some time since I watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so last night I watched it via Netflix (using Microsoft Silverlight which is in beta for Mac). I giggled to see the actors who play Uncle Billy, Ma Bailey and Mr. Gower as various characters in the life of Jefferson Smith. I laughed out loud at Senator Smith's excitement seeing the Capitol building, and sniffled at his overwhelm viewing the Lincoln Memorial and reading the words of the Gettysburg Address. I sniffled and I giggled and I wept, thinking about what real opportunity we have for change right at this very moment, when we need a good, honest man to stand up for the truth. The movie got me feeling downright patriotic. Take this line from his first days in office:

You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.

Today, I'm also grateful for:

*my healthy kitties and their snuggles
*my four fabulous sisters
*songs to sing that make me cry, such as "Amazing Grace" and "There's A River Flowin' In My Soul"
*Hot chocolate
*Toasty Thinsulate earmuffs!
*Suzi Blu and her Be.Divine December workshop!
*fashion magazines
*art supplies and big sales like Michael's had yesterday! I got an embellished butterfly, some ribbon, a tiny dragonfly paper-cut, some tiny circular mirrors and stick-on jewel-tone dots!
*sweet potato casserole
*cinnamon rolls
*corn muffins
*glittery, sparkly Christmas cards and red and green pens!
*friends on flickr who loan me glorious items, such as a black feather boa!
*Netflix! And Battlestar Galactica!
*Making a few extra bucks online doing surveys and the like
*The smell of pine trees!
* Reading Galadarling's blog.

Stay tuned for Tuesday's edition of Thankful Week!

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Man With the Weight of the World on His Shoulders

Hope Has Arrived
Originally uploaded by sreichenbach.

So many thoughts about what America means to me have tumbled around my head in the past week. I needed to really understand them, weigh them, qualify them, allow them to be heard within, before I could write this post. I needed to come down from the high. Not completely, though. If it were just a singular high, a zero-calorie burst of excitement, I would feel the same today about my country as I did a month ago. But something really and truly is forever changed.

Obama walked into Grant Park on Election Night, casual-like, as though he were walking into his own living room. And isn't all of America his living room now? Yet his face and his demeanor spoke of something else, something more humble than victory. He looked like a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

He never promised us he would get the job all done on his own. He always said, "With your help." As I watched him enter Grant Park with his shoulders heavy, I heard the words inside myself, "How can I help?" This man has already proven his commitment to us; and while his victory inspires us all, it can't be an inspiration that we hang onto for just a single day. President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama is just ONE man. One man carrying the weight of millions of people who expect him to renew for us the American Dream, something that requires a lot more skill that renewing a library book.

My best friend said to me today "Don't you feel like you have your country back? I FINALLY feel attached to it now." Yes, yes, YES and YESSSSSSS. It isn't just about having Democrats back in the White House. I am not so naive as to believe it is really the party that makes all the difference -- Obama is going into the White House under the same system of politics as the last guy. But what Obama HAS done is remind us that this country is OURS. He has lit a fire under us. So I know now that the real specter of our time was not Republican rule by rich white guys, not even bureaucracy -- but APATHY.

No longer. We participated in the process; and democracy only exists with participation. I daresay with this new gift of the New Dream comes new and enormous responsibilities for all of us. It is as though we were all elected President that day. We all have a part to play. It does not end with voting. Yes, we have woken up. We have been reminded, by one great man, that the return of greatness to our nation -- yes, the American Dream -- is within our grasp if we dare to dream and we dare to reach for it. And only by participating do we extend our reach.

So we begin now. Not 74 days from now, not when it's time for another election. Not standing back and saying "Okay now, Obama will fix it." This is our country. This is our dream. It is our time to wake up and live that dream. To demand it of our legislators and Congresspeople and our local businesses and school boards. To pay attention to the world around us. To extend our hands to help our neighbors. To fill the volunteer positions that are everywhere to be found when we look. To donate our money and our efforts to local food banks and organizations as well organizations that assist people in other nations, such as Kiva, Women for Women International and the many others doing great work across the world. Be civic minded. Demand civics education be returned to our school curriculums. Stop thinking in black and white, Republican vs. Democrat, stop thinking about drawing those lines in the sand.

If you have yet to visit, I urge you to go. See what Obama has outlined for us. See what you can do. He believes in an open government and wants to hear your ideas and your concerns.

But whatever the new dream means to you, make a commitment, today, not tomorrow, to not return to apathy; to keep the Obama family in your prayers and daily surrounded in light, as they are now our family; to participate in the reach for the American Dream that is not just yours but also your neighbors', your friends', your co-workers', and belonging to conservatives and liberals alike. If we all step up and do the work, there is simply nothing we as a nation cannot achieve.

I want to thank those people around the world who have been watching us and who have been hoping and praying for us to have this chance. Let us show them it was not a wasted chance.

In the words of Bill S. Preston, Esq: Be excellent to each other.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Life as a Verb.. really.

Originally uploaded by soularchitect (sara)
This week I got caught up on reading blogs and discovered Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta had an e-book called Zen to Done available for only $1! The book takes his Zen approach to David Allen's Getting Things Done method. I am committing to implementing the first two habits, Capture and Process, in the next 30+ days. I already have the habit of writing things down (capture), but processing my inboxes is going to require a little more focus. Looking down the road at setting life goals and long-term goals, he suggests you only set a single yearly goal. I know I have too many irons in the fire right now (a photography course, building my own business, planning for Morocco next year) but I don't know how to pare it down -- it's difficult for me to focus on one thing for extended periods. The answer, for me, might behaving a yearly go that can be approached many different ways. Say, for instance, that in 2009 I want to quadruple my income. I can do this multiple ways -- by setting up niche blogs with affiliate programs, selling stuff on etsy, getting more photography in my portfolio and some weddings under my belt so I can start charging to cover events, signing up for more mystery shopping jobs, doing some mechanical turk HITs, and any other number of income-generating projects.

I got two books today that will help me fulfill two other life goals -- the first to be a conscious business owner, the other to live joyfully and creatively. For the first, The Seed Handbook: The Feminine Way to Create Business -- I'm already in love with the look and feel, and the intuitive, high-striving commitment pages at the very beginning.

For the second, Patti Digh of 37 Days serves up the wonderful Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally. What a joyful and colorful romp! These two books make perfect companions to helping me live my most authentic life.

*sigh*.. Off to read some more!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pondering Domesticity

Just made my first-ever French Toast, sprinkled with confectioners sugar, with blueberries and real maple syrup. It is amazing how long I have lived without having any clue about how to get around in the kitchen -- aside from simple baking and the Christmas Sweet Potato Casserole.

I found the perfect "tool" for my fledgling cooking skills, a podcast over at Check out this video, simple enough, but I like the idea of making my fruit snacks look lovely and the idea of using frozen grapes for ice cubes? Genius!

There's also a blog you can follow, which sometimes has videos but also has recipes and instructions for those who'd rather not watch a video. Learn how to make Baked Macaroni & Cheese here!

I'm currently watching New England Cable News' Dream House and am mesmerized by an Asian inspired home furnishing store in Boston called Devi Home. I want to stock up on the Indian fabrics they have for duvet covers!

Earlier this week I was watching NH Chronicle and discovered a woman herbalist who is fairly local who takes on herbal apprentices and teaches at the farm Misty Meadows.

Speaking of local, I cannot say enough nice things about etsy seller rusticlanesoaps. Currently the store only has bar soaps, but often there are lotions and sugar scrubs as well. Wonderful work, smells good and makes me want to learn how to make them myself!

Signing off -- I'm full of yummy food, and smelling good, too!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thank U/Hallelujah

Today I am pondering gratitude and its importance. There is so much talk of how the Universe will reward your richly if you maintain an attitude of gratitude. That may well be, but what about how great it feels? To me, gratitude is close kin to forgiveness. It becomes so much easier to forgive someone when you can find the gift they have brought you, hidden in the pain of whatever it was that required forgiveness, and be grateful for it. With pain sometimes it is nothing else but the reminder that I am alive, that I am human, that I feel. We take the pain and transmute it into blessing. A beautiful alchemy, a softening, an authentic experience of who we are.

I recently revisited a Tori Amos song and was almost knocked over by the bridge; "Give me life, give me pain, give me my life again.." I am often reminded how we can be grateful even for the difficult things. I believe when Leonard Cohen wrote "Hallelujah" it was not so much about a bitter and broken love affair as it was the expression of gratitude for having had the experience. The word "Hallelujah" itself is poetry that cannot help but express gratitude for life itself. How can we not be thankful for that?

Today I am grateful for:

• The opportunity to state my intentions and guide my day; it was a productive one!
• My two furbabies and their unconditional love.
• That I am about to have my car fully paid off!
• The chance to cheer up one of my sisters over the phone!
• Photographs of purple sunsets, twinkling stars, spooky black trees against a harvest moon, and Leonie's amazing wedding photography.
Galadarling's Quote of the Day by Erica Jong
• meeting new friends on Blogger!
• the opportunity to watch the seasons change; the brave and wondrous aliveness of a leaf at the end of its life should be an inspiration to us all -- I hope I get to tango into my own sunset like they do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wonderful Space of Light

Originally uploaded by davamarie
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Only love can do that.

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Inspired by this post on 37 Days blog, I am effectively entering into my God/dess Box the three things I most need and want right now:

1. Love (otherwise known as that wonderful space of light others can hold for one another)

2. Respect -- or to learn the secret to quietly commanding respect, and that secret probably lies in having respect for everything and quietly expecting it in return, without judgment. I have not figured it out yet. Thoughts?

3. A space that FEELS creative to me -- that encourages my juices to flow (better feng shui). I find that I have great ideas at work (in my now-clean cubicle), but when I go home all the wind in my sails disappears. I have yet to pinpoint why.

Last night I read a great deal of How to Learn Any Language by Barry M. Farber, which has inspired me. After my current intense concentration in Spanish (though I am still a wee fledgling), I am going to take on French as well (early next year) and learn that in addition to a little Arabic -- preparation for my trip to Morocco (can't believe I just said that out loud!).

I am hoping to spend 4-6 weeks there, and I have not the slightest idea how it will come to be, but there you have it. Once I have my date chosen and my deposit down, then begins the fun of fundraising. I have a year to do it -- quite reasonable, I believe! Cross-Cultural Solutions is a great organization and I have traveled with them before. In 2006 I went to Costa Rica where I spent two weeks in a transition home with children who had been taken from their parents due to abuse or drugs and had yet to be placed elsewhere. The photo on my Blog Action Day post was taken in Costa Rica.

It is time again to travel and to give of myself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Ending Poverty with Pennies!

Today is Blog Action Day.
The topic this year is poverty.

Originally uploaded by
soularchitect (sara).
I thought I would write about three organizations I have supported through the years that are working towards eradicating poverty on a global level.

The first is Women for Women International. The organization uses funds from sponsors (like me -- I have sponsored two women in recent years) and uses them to help women from war-torn countries get much-needed education that helps them to be self-sufficient. In most cases, this is by helping them build up their own businesses so that they can better care for their families and provide services and skills to their communities as well. It's a win-win. As as sponsor, you get to exchange letters with your sister.

Kiva is a microlending program, also geared toward helping people become self-sufficient by loaning small amounts of start-up capital which the recipients then use to launch or expand their small businesses. The money then gets repaid, and, as a regular Kiva lender, I usually roll the money right back into another micro-loan waiting to be fully funded. Kiva recently introduced the ability to fund credits as individual payments are made (previously, you got the disbursement after the entire loan was paid back), so if you have several loans you've already invested in, and they get paid monthly, your credit is eventually enough to lend to another micro-loan while your money is STILL helping the first individual you funded!

The filmmakers who brought you Born Into Brothels began a wonderful organization called Kids With Cameras. Zana Briski brings cameras and the magical world of photography to impoverished children the world over. Having a form of creative expression gives the children confidence and hope. Currently they are working toward building a Hope House for children in the red light district of Calcutta (where it all began), so that they can get proper education and care.

These are all organizations I care deeply about and have contributed a good deal to over the years. They are well-run and do incredible, important work, shining their light in dark corners.

If you're still with me, you might find this interesting: Get Rich Slowly ran a moving piece today about street children in India.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Earth Blood Sky

Originally uploaded by soularchitect (sara)
Earth is Nature
Blood is Humanity
Sky is Divinity

The Stars Welcome You Home

I once had this horoscope at and I loved it so much I saved it:

Your reputation precedes you. Wherever you go, you walk straight into someone else's hospitable arms. The Stars will always welcome you home.