Family

Four agreements for less stress and more joy...happier holidays may require a little shift in thinking.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, as my family does, or any of the beautiful cultural traditions that we find in December, the Winter Solstice is a time of year that can increase stress if we allow the goal of perfection to guide us.

You know what I am talking about…the perfect gift, the perfect outfit, the perfect party, the perfect meal, the perfect guest list…you get the idea.

What if you were to strive for your own version of excellence and to let good enough be good enough? Could this shift in thinking shift your experience of the holiday season? I say, “Yes!”

Home Organizing Solutions

About a year ago, I read a book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. In his book he describes four basic principals for approaching your life. His words are simple, yet profoundly important and applicable to daily life. I find them inspiring and since it is the season for sharing, I will share them with you now.

#4. DO YOUR BEST

Yes, I am beginning with the fourth because it is my favorite. It allows us to be human, does not expect perfection, and implies that forgiveness is near at hand. If we operate from a place of always doing our best, we are free to focus our energy from our strengths and, I hope, to feel less judgment with the results.

With guests due to arrive in two days, I have a festively decorated home, my gift shopping is finished, and gifts are wrapped. But I have NOT shopped for the food yet, and have one bathroom out of order. Not ideal with a house full of people, but a small problem in the scheme of life.

I can stress about it, or I can let it go. This year I will grocery shop with the crowd but make the best of it. The food will be fresh, and it will be good enough. And, as they say, “Many hands make small work.”

Doing your best means letting people know what is helpful, and then actually letting them help. Let them do their best and you will multiply the joy in the day.

#3. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

If there was ever a time to ask questions, it is now. This could be as simple as asking guests about food allergies, or your daughter what she wants most for her holiday feast.

Since everything revolves around food with my family, it is imperative that I find out what people expect to see on the table. Lord help me if Elizabethan Carrots or brussel sprouts are not on the menu this year. I assumed that people would prefer traditional, pumpkin pie for dessert, but it is a unanimous “no.”

So this year, dessert will be an ooey gooey chocolatey goodness from a recipe to be discovered and executed by my daughter. And, it will be more than good enough.

#2. DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY

This has got to be one of my biggest challenges. I am a fixer. So when things are not going well, I blame myself and set out to fix them. Folks, I am here to tell you that we cannot solve all the world’s problems in one day. And many things are not ours for the solving. And that includes the many moods of the people surrounding you.

Although this season is supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year,” many people find their losses less bearable and sadness harder to tolerate. And, you may be on the receiving end of someone’s bad mood or unkind words. Don’t take it personally, and yes, I am telling myself this as well.

By not taking it personally, you are free to hold on to your own happiness and to share your joyful spirit with others, which might just lighten their load a little.

And just in case, you need a little visual inspiration, I highly recommend watching, “Elf.” This has become a family favorite for good reason. “Smiling is our favorite!”

#1. BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD

This is where things become complicated. To be impeccable with your word requires that you be honest AND kind, honest, but NOT disparaging, honest, but NOT hurtful. A tall order, but sets clear boundaries for choosing new language.

To be impeccable with your word also means to keep your promises. When you say no to one more thing, you are saying yes to what is most important to you. You honor your choices and commitments, and the people involved know where you stand. We cannot be everywhere at once nor can we do everything asked of us. So we must dig deep and become honest with ourselves about what is most important.

When we do this, the answers become clearer, we are grateful for good enough and cherish the present moments just as they are. After all, we are here to do and give our best. 

My very best wishes for happiness as you celebrate the holidays with your families and friends. Will see you in the new year!

Love,

Jen

Travel planning off the beaten path...The Who, what, where, when, and why of it all.

I have traveled alone and with friends, with my husband, and later, my ex-husband & kids (yes, really!), pregnant, and solo with my children at every stage from infancy to adulthood.  What I know for certain is that each trip brought happy moments, adventures, and, yes, challenges to finding joy. Such memories!

Being the resourceful (stubborn) woman that I am, although I find anticipatory planning is critical to my comfort, I also find it equally important to be adaptable and find ways to enjoy and cherish my travels along the way. On those rare trips where the challenges overwhelmed me, I learned valuable insight into what I truly need to be happy when I travel. I would encourage you to search your heart for the same discoveries. It will make your travels all the richer for it.

No matter who I travel with, where I go, or what hiccups we meet along the way, I have noticed a few common threads that have made it easiest to relax, immerse myself in the present moment, and to return home refreshed. 

1. Know why you are traveling.

Sounds simple enough. But honestly, you are setting yourself up for anxiety and conflict if you cannot answer this simple question: "Why am I going?" Following someone else's list of "must sees" can be a recipe for disaster. If you are fan of art, then entering 30 art museums may be your version of paradise.

If you become bored after the fifth Monet then daily visits to art museums does not belong on your list. If seeing sculpture but no paintings is what makes your heart sing, then skip the sections of the museum that do not interest you. There is no one right way, just your way! It is YOUR vacation. So honor your own agenda.

Before leaving for my recent travels to Ireland, someone asked me "Why Ireland?" My initial, silent response, was "Are you kidding??" But it is a fair question. We are all drawn to different places and experiences.

Ireland is one of the most beautiful and inviting places that I have visited.  The Irish exude a fierce pride in their hard fought independence and anguish over memories of centuries old losses. Yet the Irish are some of the most genuine, and generous people I have ever met.

Keem Beach, Achill Island, Ireland 

Keem Beach, Achill Island, Ireland 

I was traveling with my son, cameras in hand. We agreed that our focus would be seeking local lore, megalithic tombs,  ancient fortresses, and majestic coastal views. Ireland was the perfect place to venture with these purposes in our hearts. We have family history and living relatives there, connections that called us to explore for ourselves. It is liberating to let go of someone else's to-do list and to focus upon what makes your own heart sing! 

2.Keep it simple, Take Time to linger- WHAT YOU DO MATTERS

Again this seems obvious, but an overly ambitious itinerary doesn't leave time to savor unexpected discoveries. I had booked two nights on a working farm near Kilkenny, called Lawcus Farms. It had wonderful reviews on Trip Advisor; but they honestly didn't come close to describing the magical essence of the place. I felt an immediate ease and sense of calm upon entering this beautiful place and as if I was leaving family after only two days with Ann-Marie and Mark. We came home with much more than beautiful photographs, in part because we did not hold tightly to a prescribed itinerary. We allowed time to linger.

Lawcus Farm, Stoneford, near Kilkenny. There is a mixture of humor, history, and sentiment in this home. I was deeply moved by a personal photograph in their kitchen with this inscription, "if it is meant to be, it will not pass you..." Lovely.

Lawcus Farm, Stoneford, near Kilkenny. There is a mixture of humor, history, and sentiment in this home. I was deeply moved by a personal photograph in their kitchen with this inscription, "if it is meant to be, it will not pass you..." Lovely.

3.Travel off season WHEN you have a choice.

If you have had the luxury of traveling off season when places are less crowded, then you know how wonderful travel can really be. It is easier to find lodging, the lines are shorter, and wait times for entering points of interest are almost nil.

Knowing that you can change your plan without consequence is attractive to many people. Booking lodgings as you go can be freeing, and safely done off season. That said,  I have found that knowing where I am staying each night allows me to relax and enjoy the daily excursions. Even traveling off season, having my lodging arrangements in place gives me a framework for my travels and the peace of mind to become immersed in the moments. 

After a long day of explorations and driving on some of the tiniest roads known to man, (okay I haven't been on every road known to man, so this COULD be an exaggeration), we arrived in Strandhill, Sligo. There are no street lights and very few signs to guide you. But I had booked a bed and breakfast inn ahead of time. All I had to do was find the white house with the dormer windows, IN THE DARK, on a country road barely wide enough for two cars. Yup! 

Needless to say, I phoned the inn and spoke with the couple who run it. I was asked what landmarks I could see...really!! It was pitch black but I finally passed a pub, clearly marked, and shortly after, the church where he asked me to stop and wait. Five minutes later he drove up, flashed his lights and escorted us to our destination..white house, dormer windows, warm welcome! 

Megalithic tomb, Carrowmore, Strandhill, Sligo, Ireland                       

Megalithic tomb, Carrowmore, Strandhill, Sligo, Ireland                       

 

4.Know WHERE TO STAY-When in doubt, find a Bed and  Breakfast Inn

I highly recommend Bed and Breakfast Inns when traveling, especially when journeying to a foreign country. The proprietors know the local lore and sites and will recommend good restaurants and alternate routes that take you past incredible sites that are not always found in your typical guidebooks. You are guaranteed a warm, hearty breakfast, interesting conversation, and a warm welcome upon your return from your day's adventures.

One of the locals at Park South Bed and Breakfast Inn, Mallow, Cork

One of the locals at Park South Bed and Breakfast Inn, Mallow, Cork

Choosing places where my own family have stayed in the past made sense as I was making reservations. Having a trusted advisor recommend a place so far from home was reassuring. And, we were greeted like old friends. Charming!

5.know who you are with and your own limitations

No matter how much you enjoy the person with whom you are traveling, travel requires patience, consideration, give and take, and a good sense of humor. Having open communication and a willingness to compromise are critical. Discuss ahead of time with your travel mates their most important agenda items. 

Know each person's requirements for privacy, and factor those things into your itinerary as well. It is up to you do your own homework regarding dietary restrictions and medications before you leave for your destination so that it doesn't weigh heavily upon everyone else.

At the same time, know that unforeseen illnesses and injuries are a part of daily life no matter where you are. Be prepared to slow down if need be and accept this change as an opportunity to linger or read that book that is at the bottom of your suitcase.

Finally, remember that you are a guest whenever you travel. Be grateful for the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and know that please and thank you are welcome sounds in any language! 

Sláinte! 

 

 

 

 

    

Transitioning an empty nest...Yes, There IS Life after 50

Many of my clients have reached that age when their children are moving away from home or have been out of the house for a few years and they are wondering what to do with all of the stuff that has been left behind as their young adults fly the nest.

I know from personal experience that this is an uncomfortable space both physically and emotionally. As you purge and recreate spaces to suit your life, you will take steps to declutter: repurpose, donate, and recycle. Only, some of this stuff was your kids' stuff, the stuff that made up your family life, and even the seemingly trivial of things take on a larger than life value. How can I part with all of this? Who am I without it? Does parting with it negate its former value? Does letting go make me a bad parent?  What will I forget if their stuff is no longer within my sight or touch? If you are like me, these are some of the questions lurking and haunting your brain.

The thought of losing your purpose as you part with the stuff of your life is very common. It can be enough for many people to cling too tightly to too much for too long. Whether your children have taken what they want and have their own stash of sentiments boxed for treasures' sake, or are just beginning the shedding process, there comes a day when the empty spaces stare back at us. Instead of feeling a sense of possibility and excitement, we may feel overwhelming sadness and a sense of loss. I have heard this breaking point referred to as "The Wall of Panic." Ironic, because this is the point where there is actually enough space to really make changes that will move you forward into the next chapter of the book of your life.

I encourage you to trust that you  are going to fill the voids, if not with things, with memories, experiences, and discoveries. There IS life after 50. But it takes great courage and faith to believe that when the dust clears, and there are empty spaces staring back at you, that you are making way for something really good. Not better, just different. Less stress, more joy! Not erasing what was important, but making room for our lives and our hearts to expand.

Here are a few ideas from friends and clients for honoring memories while limiting the space required to house them. Feel free to share your favorite ideas with me. 

  1. Digital scrapbooks/memory books. One of my favorite examples of this is on    erinfarrellphotography.com

  2. Scanned photographs, slides, and negatives done at home or better yet, by a professional. I trust Nelson's Photography in Little Italy to do a great job!

  3. Pieces of favorite garments crafted into a quilt. This can be made using anything from baby clothes, favorite rock concert t-shirts, to your father's favorite silk tie. If you don't sew, hire your favorite quilter to make it personal for you.

  4. Review old cards and letters, keep a few favorites in a pretty box on display and recycle the rest.

Make it fun when you purge with your adult children. Crank up the music, have tasty snacks, and your favorite drinks close at hand. Letting them decide alongside you,  may be all that is needed to let go and to bless someone else with the bulk of it.
 

Decluttering...what stays and what goes, where you will stop, nobody, but you, knows!

Everywhere I look, there is a post, a magazine article, or a blog talking about the thing that has so many people baffled. What to do with your stuff. How do you decide what to keep? What exactly does it mean to declutter and what is the fuss all about?  And what about the sentimental treasures? There is no one-size-fits-all recipe, but there are guidelines that hold true for almost everyone. They are just vague enough for you to make your own spin on it and to feel successful. And I will happily share them with you now. Keep what you need and get rid of the rest. 

If you need it, use it, or if it truly makes you happy and you have the space for it, then it stays.  It's that simple!

For me, decluttering and holding on to things for way too long has been a lifelong dance, a bit like fluctuating weight gain and loss. And hey, more on that later, because I see a connection between letting go of "stuff" and letting go of unhealthy eating patterns that by extension allow us to remain overweight. Decluttering isn't something you do once and then forget about. It is a part of a lifestyle that allows you to relish the ebb and flow of the stuff of life. Letting go of what no longer makes you happy or serves a purpose in your present life may bless someone else. And, that makes parting a bit sweeter and opens up a place for something new.

I moved homes several times as a child and as an adult. But one of the most memorable moves was during fifth grade. I am remembering something that happened 47 years ago, so forgive me for embellishing to make my point. What I remember is that one day I was content and happy in my life and in my home of almost 5 years, and then the next I was told we were moving  and that I had a few days to sort and pack my room. The idea of organizing my things was completely overwhelming and in a rash moment, I threw away all but a few treasured art pieces and mementos of my youth. I was starting over and I mourned the loss of my neighborhood gang and my schoolyard friends before we had even left the driveway. No amount of paper could make up for what I was leaving behind. I am grateful that I kept letters from my Nana, paper dolls that my mother had played with as a girl, and a few other treasures including a red teddy bear with an eye missing. It made sense at the time to purge and declutter. I was starting over.

But, the lack of physical stuff bothered me on some level; it must have. It would explain my irrational need to keep every scrap of paper from my own children's school days. Sentimental, yes! But, what I have kept of theirs fills many scrapbooks, most of which they will probably rarely, if ever, review. I suspect any psychologist would recognize this attempt to refill a space or need.

As I write this, I feel a sense of closure for the first time about parting with my childhood stuff. And isn't it interesting that after all of this time, my sister reconnected with some of the people from our neighborhood gang which has begun a Facebook reunion. After all these years, the memories of such happy childhood moments are there, with or without the scraps of paper and the boxes of stuff. I am not suggesting that you purge everything. Not at all. Just be ruthless in choosing just enough to make your heart sing, but so not so much that its care and keeping becomes a full-time job. People and events are the stuff of lasting memories. And, yes, I am so happy that Zoe kept this photo, even if I DO look ridiculous with that scarf upon my head!

*photo by Barbara Watkins, taken first day of school, September 1968, used with permission from Zoe Watkins Stigler and Barbara Watkins. Thanks for sharing!

Back To School Planning...Remember Your ABC's?

As summer comes to an end, we are bombarded with visual reminders that a new school year will soon be upon us. For many people this is welcome news. We look forward to new routines, new adventures in the classroom, and more structure to our days. For others, thinking about the start of a new school year raises feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Stores are overflowing with fall clothing and school supplies. And...did I REALLY see Halloween decorations on display already?! It can all be a bit overwhelming if we don't arm ourselves with a plan so that we can stress less, spend less, and enjoy more on these last days of summer with our families before our new routines take shape. Keep the following in mind as you prepare for the first days of school.

A- Acknowledge that there will be expenses and look for coupons and sales.

B- Be prepared with a shopping list and buy only what you really need to get started.

C- Check school websites for supply lists and book purchases needed for first week of school.

D- Designate an in/out launchpad at your front door for backpacks, notes to teachers, shoes, and   jackets.

E- Each child needs his/her own set of supplies to be kept at home for homework and should have an assigned work space whether it be in a bedroom or at the kitchen table.

F- Fix lunches and snacks the night before school.

G- Get your kids involved in the process of setting up work spaces and choosing supplies.

H- Haircuts are a good idea but I caution you not to wait until the last minute. Schedule them a few weeks before school starts to allow a little growing out and adjustment to a new look.

I- Invest in something new such as a school bag or backpack that your child helps to choose.

J- Join a parents' support group or plan regular coffee mornings. There is strength in numbers be it in person or via blogs and the internet and much to be learned from those who have paved the road you now walk.

K- Keep it simple...backpacks, notebooks, highlighters, sticky notes, planner, timer, reinforced hole paper, pens and pencils are a good start.

L- Label everything, especially outerwear!

M- Measure kids' heights to mark the new school year.

N- New habits begin with you. Prompt your child to give you notes/forms/permission slips from teachers and to return homework to the same place in her/his backpack daily.

O- Organize closets and study areas the week before school starts.

P- Photos taken on the first day at home rather than in front of peers may induce less stress for your children.

Q- Quest for knowledge can be exhausting. Have healthy snacks on hand for after school!

R- Relax...It has been my experience that teachers send home wish lists and class supply lists the first week of school. Make sure that your student has the basics to begin the year right and then fill in the gaps over the next few weeks.

S- Send labeled medications and pertinent health information to the health office and to your child's teachers the first day of school.

T- Test the route to school the week before school starts to allow for timely arrival.

U- Update IEP/504 plans ASAP.

V- Volunteer opportunities abound. Choose those that suit your time and talent; know your limits.

W- Weed out old clothes that no longer fit and donate them to make room for new purchases.

X- eXamine the calendar of events for the year ahead and add them to your calendar. It will make planning much simpler. Many 2014-2015 calendars are already on school websites.

Y- Yes, there is an end to the myriad of forms requested at the beginning of the year. Treat them like a game of "hot potato." Complete them and send them back ASAP!

Z- zzz...Get a good night's sleep!

 

Happy Trails To You...My Top 5 Travel Tips

It's summer time, and if you haven't taken your annual holiday, then you may be embarking upon an adventure soon. This year I will be savoring a stay-cation. San Diego is one of my favorite destinations. And it makes sense for my family this year. But, whether traveling a long distance or close to home, it is the  planning, preparation, and anticipation prior to leaving that jump start my adventure and influence my joy while traveling. Here are some of my favorite organizing pearls of wisdom:

  1. Check the weather forecast.

Taking items of clothing for comfort is crucial to your enjoyment. Taking a sweatshirt or sweater along just in case is never amiss. Even if the only chill you feel is on the plane ride, you will be glad to have a cozy sweater or wrap for that leg of the journey.  Bringing a travel size umbrella if there is a chance of rain and a sweater and light-weight wind breaker for when the air temperature changes add layers that can be easily added or subtracted and are simple tools for success.

 2. Take only clothing that mix and match well.

Taking basics streamlines your packing, keeps your suitcase lighter, and makes getting ready for your daily adventures a piece of cake! Putting outfits together that you love and make you feel like a million bucks will give you that glow every day. There is a reason we call them comfort clothes. It IS possible to feel comfortable and to look put together. Taking accessories to change the look of your outfits, takes up little space in your luggage, and is a simple way to add a pop of color and a fresh look. You may even come home with some new ideas after wearing your basics for a week.

3. Know events and activities that you expect to enjoy.

A pair of comfortable walking shoes is a must have no matter where you are going. If acknowledging your penchant for horse back riding means that you will pack your short boots because you love your experience all the more for it, then by all means make room in your suit case for boots. If you will be attending a wedding while on vacation, be sure that you include accessories and lingerie to make you look and feel your best. If water sports are on the agenda, it is likely that all the gear will be available for rent. Consider renting your gear rather than hauling it through the airports and leave room in your luggage for something else. If you are traveling by car, then you have the luxury of taking boogie boards and fins. Remember that the less time you spend packing and unpacking the more time you will have for fun and frolic!

4. Take only what you need.

Toiletries can really add weight to your luggage and there is the obvious risk of spillage if you overload your luggage. Taking only what you need limits your daily routine and adds to your sense of vacation freedom. Be sure that in your haste to limit what stays and what goes, that you remember to take sunscreen and prescription medications. While it is not impossible to obtain replacement items, taking what you need limits the time spent chasing around town for the all night pharmacy or suffering from a bad sunburn, which we all know can make even our most comfortable clothing feel like sand paper. Knowing that you have access to a washer and dryer makes taking less a no brainer. It is a simple task to start a load of laundry to freshen up clothing items mid-vacation.

5. Use a list.

I cannot stress the importance of making a list and using it to keep you organized. It reduces the fear of forgetting the obvious items that you cannot live without. It keeps you honest about what you really need. And, it is an obvious safety net as you are checking one last time before you leave. I suggest you make a list that you keep in your computer and then tweak it before each trip. What you take with you will vary depending upon your mode of transportation, your destination, and the length of stay.

No matter where you are going,  your preparation time before leaving will be time well spent. Happy travels!!

Regrouping...what about the days that fall off the tracks?

We know the value of creating and following habits that keep all of our ducks in a row. My morning routine is usually streamline although to an outside observer might look like I am rushing around doing several unconnected tasks. I'm not. There is actually an order that makes sense for me.

The truth is, I am looking at the big picture as I let the dog outside, feed the cats, start a load of laundry, open the blinds, and put the kettle on to make tea. In the time it takes me to tend my pets and my home, my muscles have warmed up, I have shaken off the morning "sleepies" and I am ready to ask myself what is the best use of my day and ready to begin my plan, which by the way,  is written on the dry erase board on my refrigerator. These days are my Plan A days, and I feel on top of the world.

But what about those days that you over sleep or something unexpected happens that takes priority over everything else? We all have those days and it is okay to allow ourselves a moment of panic, anxiety or temper without judgement. It is also important to get back on the rails as quickly as possible. How this looks will depend upon what works for you.

Something I have found useful in my own life, is to take a look at my scheduled tasks for the day, the ones that are on a timeline. If there is something that can be moved to a later time, I will make those shifts to open up the morning to settle myself and do my soothing morning rituals. And, on those days that this is just not possible, then I move directly to the most important thing. Period!!

Those little things you do to start your day, will get fit in somewhere else. The dog will still adore you, the cats may leave a special present to announce their displeasure, and the laundry may pile up, but at the end of the day, no matter what happens next, you will know you did the most important thing. These end up being some of your highest value days, the ones that define your character, and allow you to practice creative problem solving.

Lastly, expect to have Plan B days.  I am a big believer in setting the bar high and believing in your dreams, so don 't misunderstand me when I say this. It does NOT mean that you are giving up, but rather that you are being flexible and kind to yourself. When we are tired, busy or over-fill our schedules for whatever reason be it the nature of our jobs or over enthusiastic scheduling, or are faced with an unforeseen emergency, there are little things we can do for ourselves ahead of time in anticipation of those inevitable, tightly scheduled days.

This will look different for each of us, so ask yourself, "What do I wish someone else would do for me?" And, then, do it. Do it for yourself. This may seem a strange suggestion, but if you have you ever set something out the night before because you had a few minutes and acted upon this good idea, you know what I am talking about. It could be as simple as counting out your vitamins the night before when you usually set them aside in the morning. Or clearing your desk and setting the mail by the front door with your car keys rather than wait til morning. Then when the phone rings, and you need to rally to Plan B, you will be ready. It is a little gift to yourself and who knows better what you need than YOU?!

Treasures...Keep those cards and letters coming...and going!

Ever need to stay home while work is being done to a part of your house? Did you set aside a special project or task, easily interrupted, to occupy you so that you were available for the potential myriad of questions from the soul who chose to assist you in refreshing your home? My advice is this: have a stocked fridge, the coffee or tea kettle ready, and a clear work space. And if you are visually hypersensitive, as I am, then know what soothes you during the disruption to your visual senses. For me, I am calmed by Mozart, deep breathing and objective family members who remind me that this disruption is temporary.

Painting the master bedroom and bathroom seemed like a brilliant idea, especially on paper when I scheduled it a few months ago. Amazing how a simple, fresh coat of paint will cheer up a room! I am fortunate to have high, sloping ceilings in my bedroom, and although I could do this task myself, do not relish the idea of tottering on a ladder craning my neck for three days at such a lofty height!

Sunday was spent pulling everything out of my room to make space to move the large furniture into the middle of the room come "paint day." This could have taken an hour, but...those of you who know me, know I cannot simply remove things without peering inside the drawer, the box, the trunk. So I spent much of Sunday looking through my personal things, sorting, purging and reminiscing.

Yes, I can be very organized. But I am also sentimental and have a little trouble letting go of treasures! Mine includes boxes of cards and letters that have collected over the years never to be tossed or dismissed. Today I read through about 100 cards and letters sent years ago. Yes, I sat in the midst of my office, crammed full of the overflow from my bedroom, and poured over old messages and pretty cards.

There are several from my Nana, and many from mother's cousin who has faithfully written to me a few times every year with her beautiful, recognizable penmanship. Despite having never met her in person, I feel a connection through these many letters.

These treasures reminded me yet again of the many blessings in my life...friends and family, moments and events, weddings and  births, and thank you's for long since forgotten gifts of self. Saying thank you is such a simple task and yet so meaningful to the recipient. I have a happy heart tonight as I write a few thank you's of my own. I am saving a few of the cards and letters for myself, setting aside a few to share with friends and family to remind them of long past memories, and recycling the rest! They have served a beautiful purpose, a walk down memory lane, and now safely stashed in the "blue recycle bin" for the next collection. Perhaps, they will serve to save a tree!


Travel/Packing...and then she said, "Packing is my favorite part of vacation!"

My daughter is incredibly organized in thought and action. And she love, love, LOVES to pack! Go figure.

As for me, it is the the most challenging piece of travel plans whether I am going away over night or for a week at a time. I am guilty of taking too much. And, because I dread it, I put it off until the last minute and end up taking too much. I am a work in progress. Even the most organized people have their achilles heels.

Let me share with you the first and most important pearl of wisdom which has made travel packing more bearable for me. Whenever possible, DO NOT wait until the last minute to pack!! 

Secondly, I have found it helpful to replenish toiletries and essentials upon my return from a trip. Sounds obvious, but there are so many things begging for your attention upon returning home and the empty shampoo bottle, missing razor, and the item you wish you had thought to bring go unnoticed until the next trip when, in the rush, they are left out and you arrive to your destination without them.

Yes, you can always buy them where you are going, but expect to pay too much and to settle for a less than favorite brand or to do without. Not the end of the world which has much bigger problems than hairy legs, but let us not forget the butterfly effect. A happy ripple in the pond of life is preferable to irritability!

Finally, make a list that you can keep with your luggage or in your phone. Add to it, delete from it, take photos of outfits that travel well. And, use it faithfully when packing!

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Here are a few of my favorite things for travel:

      Hanging organizer bags with pockets (Container Store, Target)

      Mini lotions and potions (The Body Shop has amazing sales on these)

      Individual laundry soap packets (a huge fan)

      Water bottles

      Baggies

      Travel set of super essential items...i.e., tooth brush and comb

      Packing cubes (Container Store, Amazon)

      Extra memory card and charging cables for my camera gear

 

Happy travels!

 

 

Spring Cleaning...time for joy, time for cheer

Finals, projects, graduation and end of the year dance recitals signal summer vacation is quickly approaching! Cherished rituals all!! And then summer slips in as a sweet reward for all the hard work.

I LOVE summer, the change in routine and the opportunity to shift focus. My goals for this summer are to have a clean pallet to begin with and to truly embrace the summer months with my family. I won't be bogged down by the clutter this year...having done so much to open the spaces, makes cleaning a quicker process and leaving tables and surfaces available for new experiences...sewing projects, trying new recipes, and exploring our beautiful city and beyond, camera in hand!

So today I am in full cleaning mode, gloves on, buckets and rags ready. Yes, I could hire someone else to do this for me, and have done so when I could not clear my schedule, but there is something to be said for the immediate gratification gained from doing it yourself. Ideas for changes and tweaks in each space occur to me as I move through the house. Not quite a runner's high, but similar.

Stopping to make changes that can be implemented immediately is a choice that I make, so cleaning is not a straight line for me as I interrupt myself often. I accept this and actually enjoy the process more making a game of it all.

For instance, I am sitting here blogging, gloves still on because, I am, honestly, heading into the bathroom that my teenagers use. I am listening to downloads from American Idol and Smash. Aaaahhhhh...lovely ear candy!!

Keeping your favorite tools handy means you can just plunge in when the day opens up. No need to run out to the store which is important for someone like me who is easily sidetracked. : )

Here are a few of my must-haves, beginning with the most important:

music (cranked up loudly)

thin, disposable gloves (saves my hands)

Swiffer dusters

clean rags

sponges

buckets

Mrs. Meyer's lemon cleaning solution (smells like heaven and environmentally          gentle)

 

Wish me luck! And as always thank you for visiting my blog. Feedback is welcome!