Friday, December 31, 2010

In 2011, I RESOLVE to......

THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM GRETCHEN RUBIN'S Blog, (she of The Happiness Project book)

5 Questions To Help You Make Effective New Year's Resolutions.
Forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I know I always do. I’m more inclined to make resolutions than ever, in fact, because if my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions – made right – can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.

So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds. Here are some tips for making your resolutions as effective as possible. Remember, right now, you’re in the planning stage. Don’t feel like you have to do anything yet! Just start thinking about what would make 2011 a happier year.

1. Ask: “What would make me happier?” It might be having more of something good – more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad – less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right – more time spent volunteering, more time doing something to make someone else happier. Or maybe you need to get an atmosphere of growth in your life by learning something new. (These questions relate to the First Splendid Truth.)

2. Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring about change?” One common problem is that people make abstract resolutions, which are hard to keep. “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” “Enjoy now,” are resolutions that are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. “Distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy,” “Watch at least one movie each week,” “Buy a lovely plant for my desk” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.

3. Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?” Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing “don’t” or “stop” (even from themselves) or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: “Take that dance class,” “Have lunch with a friend once a week.” Or maybe you respond well to “no.” I actually do better with "no" resolutions; this may be related to the abstainer/moderator split. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something, or to do something I don’t really want to do -- such as Don't expect gold stars. There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you. As always, the secret is to know your own nature.

4. Ask: “Am I starting small enough?” Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. Start small! We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch or marching in place once a day during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV show. Little accomplishments provide energy for bigger challenges. Push yourself too hard and you may screech to a halt.

5. Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?” Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective. There are many ways to hold yourself accountable; for example, I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me at gretchenrubin1 [at]'t forget the "1"). Accountability is why #2 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to measure whether you’ve been keeping it. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”

This is great food for thought for me, and something I have been thinking about since Wednesday when I read it the first time.I'm not a huge fan of New Years as a holiday, but I DO like to think about ways to "start over," or make things better, at least once a year. I take MAKING "resolutions" pretty seriously, and have been trying to decide how best to go about it this year. I think I have my goals down, pretty well. I'm not going to go huge, I don't think. For starters, these three top my list:
  • Figure out how to be happier at work and not hate my job so much that it makes me absolutely positively miserable
  • Lose the other 30 pounds by the end of June
  • Eat/cook more healthily/responsibly
But then, there are other things that are not as important, that I wonder if I SHOULD make goals for this year, things like make sure to build square foot garden forms and get garden planted this year;  get my elderberry bushes ordered and planted this year, figure out how to work in SOME form of exercise/fitness that I can live with, make the "Courthouse Steps" quilt I've been thinking about, etc. etc.
I guess I'm not sure how far to go with resolutions - what should resolutions actually be? What are resolutions, what are just plans, what are hopes, what is wishful thinking? Are there any differences between them?  Do I throw everything that means anything to me in the pot, or just focus ONLY on the first three I listed above?  And that first one, "figure out how not to be miserable at work" - it is the most critical one for me, and the most abstract. That's the one I'm going to try to focus on for the rest of the weekend, so that when I return on Monday, I can at least begin with that.  Beyond that, I'm just not really sure... I WISH I could resolve cool and fun things, like "Sleep in 4 days a week;"  "adopt more chickens;" " simplify each room in my house," "teach the Border Collie to make my coffee in the morning," but... alas... I think I'm stuck with trying to figure out how to get from now until June without hating my life 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. Oh, I should probably throw in something  about dealing with the financial issues in my life as well. Whew. I have a LOT of work to do in the next two days.
So, I'm curious. Do YOU make resolutions? Do you think a lot about them, or just make ones that seem to be quickly appropriate?  Big ones? Small ones? Do you write them down? Look at them a lot? Check back on your progress? 
I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do yet, but I know it's important to me to do some of these things. I made some really big changes in my life this past year, changes that have been so, so good for me, that have made me much happier. I want to keep that going, and to continue on that positive path.  I'll resolve to check back in, soon, maybe at the end of the month, at the end of every month, to track my progress this year. THAT's the first step, I guess.
Happy New Year, whatever your resolutions are, or aren't!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The New Roo in Bethlehem

Last year's Christmas present from my my oldest sits underneathe my computer on my desk at school, a molded plastic Border Collie and a couple of chickens and a set of chicks.  They are more than a pleasant reminder of several of my deepest loves; they are also mildly entertaining, in that I sometimes actually move them around and play with them (especially when avoiding correcting papers and/or entering grades on line!)
The other chicken on the left, the rooster? He's not part of the group. He'll show up again, though.

Yeah, THAT rooster, the one who is now sitting in my tiny little Adirondack chair that usually holds my cell phone.  He's some sort of porcelain or ceramic thing, which I purchased for $1.99 at Walmart. NOT to sit on my desk at school with my other crew - nope. They rejected him. Who needs a rooster, the hens both said.

But I thought our creche set needed a rooster.  We have a lot of animals, the requisite goats, sheep, camels, and even a red cow, but I realized as I passed this little guy in the store that there surely must have been hens and roosters in the barn where Jesus was born.  And, given my recent jump into the wonderful world of poultry, I felt I needed to add him this year. So I did. And I waited to see who else would notice. It wasn't too long before one of the kids did, and moved him here:

Apparently, a conversation with a goat was needed?  Not sure what they were talking about, but I felt he was lonely for the manger, so I immediately moved him back. Where he was moved back to the goats again. It was a-war in a manger for a week, but then, baby Jesus came, the rooster crowed, the goats rejoiced, and all was well. He'll be packed away with the rest of the crew now, this week, to hang out and wait for next year. I'll pack him with the goats.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Nollaig Chridheil - Nollaig Shona (Merry Christmas!)

     I've kind of lost my big burst of "Christmas Spirit" the last few days, but it's ok. It's carried me through most of the season this year, and it's been a gift beyond measure.  The three songs that have been my far and away favorites this year, this Christmas, are the three below. I love anything Celtic, and Celtic Women and Celtic Thunder are no exception. I think I like these two songs best because they are NOT traditional for us, but do speak to the thing that is most important to me - being "home" for Christmas.  My children are all home and safe and loved, my dogs have a nice warm home and family who love them, my chickens will have fresh hay, food, water and corn in their "home" tonight - the concept of home is a lot of things to me, probably to us all, and it's not just about a building.  I love that these first two songs are about a bigger "home," - the country, and town, and families that are there waiting for them to return. I love that they carry that concept of "home" in their hearts, wherever they are, and that home is calling to them at Christmas, like it does for all of us. Like the Manger in Bethlehem called to Mary and Joseph so many years ago.
And the Bing Crosby/David Bowie song - I have no real explanation for that, except that I just love the song. It's my all time favorite Christmas song ever, and I think it was pretty cool that when I turned the radio in the car to Christmas songs this year for the first time, the day after Thanksgiving, it was the very first song I heard. I always take things like that as a "sign," although of what I couldn't tell you!
And the Celtic Women version of Silent Night I added because it IS the traditional, classic, gorgeous Christmas song for all of us, world wide, I think, and I especially love the Celtic words. One of my goals this coming year is to finally begin to learn SOME Gaelic, because I think it is a beautiful and storied, romantic language. It just holds something very deep I for me that I can't explain..  Maybe next Christmas I will be able to say "Merry Christmas" in Gaelic without having to first look up the words!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas, Dad

What changes a year, this year, have brought to your life, to our lives.  We would, as a family, say that none of them have been good, all of them sad, but that's not true. At least this Christmas, I know now that you are getting your medicine regularly, daily, and none of us has to argue with you that you are not taking it when you believed you were. We are no longer making you angry on a daily basis. This Christmas, I know you are getting three meals a day, at least two of them hot and all of them well-balanced, even if you don't eat them all. You are not surviving anymore on peanut butter sandwiches, and Lean Cuisine frozen microwave meals. No more will you break my heart by eating a burger at
McDonalds sitting all by yourself - you are surrounded by people for your meals and your days.  No longer do I have to worry about you driving and hurting yourself, or someone else, or getting lost and not being able to find your way home.  No longer do I worry that something terrible might happen to you in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, and you can't reach the phone and no one would know for far too long.  I know that living in a nursing home is NOT how you would have wished this year, or any, to be for yourself. It is not how any of us would have wished it, either, Dad. I wanted nothing more than for you to come live with me, and let me take care of you as best as I could, but I also know that nothing was more important to you than holding on to your complete independence as long as you possibly could, and you did.  Right up through the very end of last year. Beginning early last January, this year brought many changes, MOSTof them sad, but not all.  Most of all, this Christmas, I still have you here on earth with me, and that is more important than ANY of the changes that come about from one winter to the next.
Merry Christmas, Dad. I love you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

And Bear Snores On

You can sure tell it's December.  All I want to do is hibernate, and no matter how much sleep I get, it doesn't ever seem to be enough.  I was laying in bed last night, at, oh, about 8 o'clock, just before falling asleep, thinking about the nap I was going to take after school on the couch TODAY. How sad is that.  And I was mad yesterday, because for the first time ever, I beat my daughter to the couch after school, and got the comfy blanket, AND the remote. SCORE!  (She's been in the habit of coming home after school for the past week or two and snuggling under the blanket on the couch, turning the TV to something RETARDED, like Spongebob,  or something on Disney. The girl is 15 for heaven's sake, not 5! and then falling asleep on top of the remote so no one can change the channel. I totally think the need for hibernation has befallen the household, not just me.)     So yesterday, I purposely beat her there, and since I had been sick most of Sunday, figured it was my due.  Being the nice mom I am, I did let her curl up with me, end to end, although my toes were cold while hers were covered, and I DID keep the remote. We both fell asleep, and I swear it wasn't more than five minutes before the phone rang. I ignored it. Then my cell rang, so I figured it must be important. I tried to make her get up and get it. No deal. I struggled out from the back side of the couch, answered the phone, and then went back to the couch - where she was sound asleep, stretched out, with the whole blanket. I gave up. So the girl got my couch, my blanket and my nap yesterday.  Here it is 6:30 tonight and I'm already thinking constantly of bed. The first time I wondered if it was near enough time to go up to bed for tonight was an hour ago, about 5:30.  I have TRIED to do school work, I'm behind on grades which are due Friday, and I have MUCH Christmas preparing still to do. We don't even have a tree yet. And I want to care about all of that, really I do. But instead, all I can think about is sleep. A warm bed, and sleep. It's cold here - at the moment it is 16, which is probably the high for today, since it started out about zero this morning. It's so cold I didn't let the chickens or the dogs out for the day. Well, I let the dogs out, but didn't leave them out today. I gave them the couches until 3:30...but I hid the remote so there would be no squabbling. 
     And the other part of hibernation, the eating, the stocking up the personal larder,  before hand? Thankfully (really? did I just say that?) a stomach bug is running rampant through school, and got me Sunday, so I have had little appetite for anything other than gingerale and oatmeal, or half a dry bagel.  I guess I'm thankful that it didn't hit me as badly as it is getting the kids. They are flocking to the nurses office like animals for the ark, with garbage pails hugged closely to their little chests. It makes one nauseous just to watch the parade. I guess it is probably due to over-exposure to every little germ that means it is affecting most of the teachers a bit differently. Most of us have not had the vomiting that the kids have. What we HAVE suffered, I'll spare you the details, but it has been unpleasant and appetite-diminishing in it's own ways. I have lost several pounds since Sunday. And logged many more sleep hours. Not nearly as many as I crave, but more than seems remotely necessary in, say, July.
     It's now 6:57, and close enough to call it a night. I just have to go hit the pre-warmer on my electric blanket so that by 7, I can crawl in. Maybe I'll get up early tomorrow and work on my grades. Ha ha ha ha ha ha hahaha. Good night, all!                         

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gingerbread Men, Matchbox Cars, and M & M's

     Last year, like many, many years before (too many - and this year is the DEFINITE, clear exception to too too many years), my overriding feelings before and about Christmas were akin to that of "The Grinch."  As I mentioned, it isn't because I am not a religious or kind person. It is, in fact, because I simply feel too much pressure to "perform", and am SO afraid of disappointing people. I feel like I am the world's WORST gift giver, that everyone I give gifts to, especially my kids, will be secretly  - or NOT so secretly - disappointed and think, "wow, she really sucks at knowing what I would like," even though every year I try REALLY hard to get it "just right."  I also hate the HUGE expenditure of money, preferring instead the smaller, more meaningful aspects of the season: baking cookies and fudge, watching seasonal Christmas specials together (my favorite? "The Little Drummer Boy." I STILL cry when the donkey gets run over by the cart.), creating handmade or a specially selected gift that has meaning, not just money, behind it. 
     I am not really sure where the biggest change of heart has come from this year, or whether it is maybe more a series of small things, but in thinking about it all, I remember clearly something from last year, that has carried over into this year, two things, really.
     About this time last year, I had posted on my Facebook page a status that was a quote directly from the movie, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas":    
"The avarice never ends! "I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue." Look, I don't wanna make waves, but this *whole* Christmas season is (shouts)  stupid, stupid, stupid! "  It generated a lot of comments - people who shared my feelings, people who kidded me about not being in the Christmas spirit quite yet, etc.  But the one comment that really resonated, for some odd reason, was one left by a former classmate from elementary and high school .He mentioned that he remembed that when we were in 5th grade, a matchbox car and a bag of M and M's made me pretty happy.  Must have been a classroom gift exchange all those years ago, and for one thing, I was totally blown away to think he REMEMBERED giving me a Matchbox car all those years ago. Seriously, who remembers what you did when you were ten???  And, I was really warmed by the fact that he did remember that, and that he chose to share the gift of that memory with me. THAT sort of thing is what means a lot to me at Christmas...
So last year, late in the season , I bought a couple of Matchbox cars, and put them on my desk at school, to remind me of the simple things that mean the most to me, and to remind me of the gift of friendship that Mark and I still share, all these years later (hmm, 37 or 38 years later? Instead of making me feel old, I simply feel blessed that I have friendships that have endured so many years)   This year? To repay him for the gift of "saving Christmas" for me last year, and the daily reminder of his gift of friendship over this past year, I am sending him this:

Anonymously. To his school address (he is a teacher, too.) I think he will probably "get" it, but it feels fun to me to do that. I feel a little like an elf.

     In addition, last year, another friend from the past (I used to babysit for him, his little brother and baby sister, and I ADORED them - I spent SO much time at their house with them when they were growing up) sent me an email and mentioned that he had hung the gingerbread ornament that I made for him for Christmas the year he was 9 on his tree again this year.I had no idea what he was talking about, so he took a picture of it and sent it to me:

I have no recollection of having made or given him that, but I do remember my "ceramics phase," so clearly I did!  I decided that since he is now married and has two little girls of his own, I'll send him a new "gingerbread man" ornament every year, also anonymously, also to HIS school, where he is a principal.  I am pretty sure he won't "get it," wont know it's from me, although he might. I thought about putting his name on it with a permanent marker or something, but decided that would be too much of a giveaway, and since I want the ornaments to be for his whole family, I decided to leave it as it is.  I've also decided that, after this year, I will make the ornament every year - felt, painted, whatever. This year, it was just sort of a spur of the moment idea when I saw this one, so...
It will have to do.
Both these things make me feel more giving, more lighthearted, more in the spirit of Christmas. Every year I seem to look hard for the real meaning of Christmas in little things. This year, two simple gifts from last year have carried me through the year, and on into the season this year. THOSE are the gifts that mean the most to me. This year, it's been easy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


" How is it we find our homes, that sometimes these are the places we are born to and at other times we need to search them out?  How many times have I heard Alaskans say that when they first came to this state (or that mountain-rimmed town or that tucked-away rocky cove) they had the overwhelming sense that they had at last found their home?  I suppose people say this elsewhere, too, perhaps everywhere, though I have a hard time imagining a person entering an eastern city and making this claim with the same heartfelt enthusiasm.
     To me, this sense of homecoming has to do with making very elemental connections, with responding through our senses to something we realize on a visceral level- perhaps only from deep within our DNA.  We come from somewhere else, but we recognize from some remote human memory, by that condition evolutionary biologists have come to call biophilia, the smell of budding cottonwood, the purple brilliance of firewood fields, the snorting of  bears, even the deep silences and the dark of moonless nights:  the constellation of sensory impressions that defines our true home.  We recognize it and we want it - we need it. We need it more than we need what we're born to, the familiar, family.  We may love our people, but we can't stay with them, not in a place that does not touch us on a deep enough level."
     -Nancy Lord  Fish Camp, Life on an Alaskan Shore

I read that last night, just before sleep, and all I could do was breathe an "Amen"  into the darkness as I gratefully closed my eyes. Someone understands, someone more talented than I put beautiful words to my deepest feelings, words that I wish were my own. They're not, but I own the feelings. Those feelings above, those words about Alaska, about home, are MY deepest, most intimate, feelings. Someday.Last night, and every night from now on, I can sleep, knowing someone, somewhere, understands exactly how I feel.
Whereever you are at this time, in this season, I hope you are home. Truly home. And if, like me, you're not, yet, I hope you can make the best of where you are, until you can go home. And I hope home finds you soon. I know where mine is. I'm ok that I can't be there yet, but it waits for me. I know it does. ALaska, I'll be home soon. Please wait for me. Thanks.

All in a Days Work

"Mrs. P, I think I might be going home early today."
"Really, Shane? Why?"
"Well, I either have fleas or lice. If it's lice, I haffta go home."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

     I'm not quite sure what's going on, but I have been seriously HAPPY for ... hmmm, almost two solid weeks now.  Weird. I don't know why. It's a little bit frightening to me. I'm not generally a "HAPPY" person. Happy enough, but not SO happy that people comment on it, and not SO happy that I actually stop to think about it. I tend to usually be a little bit on the "low" side.  Not depressed, by any means, but just always a little low, a little tired, unmotivated, disinterested at times. Blah., Just blah. And, you have to understand, this time of year, especially, lest you think that is what is making me happy - THIS time of year, is normally cause for a major funk. Christmas is SO not my thing.  I am usually so miserable at the mere mention of Christmas that I can barely function. I feel guilty even thinking about how much of a kill-joy I usually am at this time of year. I've managed to really ruin Christmas for everyone several years. So, what's up this year?  I guess I haven't really had enough time to sit and analyze it yet, to get to the bottom of it, so in the meantime, it's just kind of freaking me out, but in a good way.
     Usually, this time of year, I"m looking for something, anything, to drag myself up out of my morose anti-Christmas pit (it's not Christmas itself I hate - it's the too much money spent, the over commercialism, the desperate fear that my gift choices will be all wrong, or that I won't have enough, that my kids will be disappointed, etc. etc. I just am so consumed by my fears of buying the wrong thing, or worse - forgetting too many things - Christmas, with all that needs to be done, bought, wrapped, baked, mailed, stocking-stuffed, remembered, is serious hell for someone with as serious a case of ADD as I have- is just not fun - it's hard, hard work for me, and so stressful...)ANYWAY...
     One of the things that I try to do that helps is to buy a new Christmas CD every year.  I don't listen to music much anymore,  Another long story for some other day, but I do still listen to Christmas music - either to try to be happier, or, in the case of this year, to extend the happiness on purpose. I've gotten lucky some years, have discovered some really good musicians and some really unique and beautiful Christmas music: Shawn Colvin, for one, and Nettwerk Christmas, Sara McLachlan, Bare Naked Ladies.  Some, not so great. I picked up James Taylor's Christmas album a year or two ago, and HATE it. I used to love JT, but not so much anymore, I guess. (You know you're getting old when the music you like best is "old" music, or a musicians "old stuff." ) Last year, I "discovered" the Christmas music of "Straight, No Chaser" and that was fantastic. I shouldn't say "was" - I still love it, and will get it out soon. But today, I made an intentional purchase of a Christmas CD, and it did nothing but totally boost my already awesome mood, all the way home from a workshop I went to for school today:  Celtic Woman: "A Christmas Celebration."

A couple of years ago, just by chance, I caught a Celtic Woman special , live on PBS,  Christmas Eve evening, and it was just plain magical. It was at a castle, I think,  and the lights, and their beautiful wispy scarves, their gorgeous dresses and their voices, their movements, everything, just sort of came together to be so ethereal, so beautiful. How I forgot about it, I have no idea, and why I happened to remember it, to remember their music, this year, I also have no idea. But I'm glad I did. Walmart. $10.00.  I put it on in the truck today, and it is every bit as beautiful as it was live on TV. Worth every penny. It would make me happy if I were feeling miserable, I know it would.  But since I am NOT miserable, since I am mysteriously, weirdly, boyantly HAPPY, it was even better. I can't wait to put it on at school tomorrow, on my computer, and make my roomie at work deliriously happy as well!!  :)