Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Muddling along

That's how I feel at the moment. It's ok. It's all we can really do sometimes isn't it? Muddle along and hope for the best?

I'm busy with the laundry, the cooking, some writing, the playdates and the story-reading and playing with small ones. No blogging and very little cleaning. Something had to drop off my to do list.

One day I will write about my recent silent retreat. Today I have a couple of links to share.

The latest edition of the lovely MAEVE Magazine is up. I have an article in it which shares a little part of my God-life story, and a little bit about my love of books.

I could have written a lot more. Maybe in another season.

I enjoyed a quick peek at this blog today, written by my most recent follower. She and her family seem a very cool, enormously talented and arty bunch. And funny. Very inspiring!

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Four home-based writing business basics

I've been a working from home mum for five years now. I cannot believe it's been that long!

I love having my own writing and editing business, but I've struggled to fit it into my life since having kids. I've been frustrated about not being able to grow it as quickly as I would like. And I've also found it hard to come to grips with the inconsistent work flow which can come with solo freelancing.

The truth is, it's been a struggle the whole time that I've continued to work while having two, then three, then four children. Even when, or maybe especially when, it's only been for a few hours a week. Because when you spend three or four hours a week on your business, you question why you're bothering at all.

Then when it suddenly jumps to a 20-hour week you have to squeeze in between everything else, you want to shut yourself away from your kids and husband, and turn off the phone, until it is done.

But I think the struggle has been worth it. I've finally got to a point where I feel I've got the hang of this thing. Working from home, or near home, in your own business can really be a lovely lifestyle, whether you have children or not.

Today I have realistic expectations about work flow and can manage its unevenness. With five years experience under my belt I am much more confident in my abilities than I was when I started out, I'm more organised, and make much better use of my time.

Here are the four most important things I've learnt about running a home-based business:

1. Do something you LOVE

Choose to do something that if you won the Lotto tomorrow, you would still do for free. Then do it, and don't worry too much about the money. If you're good at what you do (and if you love it that much you probably are) then the money will come.

I've done work which bored me almost to tears, and while each completed job paid well, it turned out to be a poor return per hour of effort as I forced myself to concentrate on the task. So I don't take on jobs solely for the money any more. I will take on jobs out of my niche but I have to find them a little bit interesting as well.

2. Work out how much money you actually need to earn

Don't just pluck a figure out of the air to aim for, like I have done. It might feel exciting to aim for a six-figure income over the next year, but you're doing yourself a disservice if you're not being real. How much do you actually need to live on, or save to put towards that specific goal you're after?

You might find it's a lot less than what you think, and that frees you up to be more creative with your business and build a reputation and a niche. It's better than a scatter-gun approach of grabbing what work you can in order to make lots of dollars at once.

2. Get a grip on basic household tasks

It makes life a lot easier if you have the basics of your household covered - especially meals, laundry and basic upkeep. You get these things slide if you've only got adults at home, or it's just you, but you have to keep on top of them if you have young children.

You can either do it yourself (in which case a schedule helps), or outsource it. If outsourcing, just keep in mind that you have to earn well in front of what you're paying for help. You get taxed on what you earn, plus you might pay a tax upon outsourcing household chores. It adds up, and you don't want to be working mostly to pay for your cleaner and takeaway dinners.

If you have sympathetic family near by, delegate making a dinner or two a week, or a basket of ironing, taking children to swimming lessons, whatever they wish!

3. Turn off the computer every day

When the kids come home from school just love them. Take them outside. Play with them. Cook with them. Take an interest in their homework. Have their friends over.

Don't have kids? Catch up with a friend over lunch, go for a walk with a neighbour, drop a little thank you present at someone's front door. The idea is that you do something most week days to get you away fom the computer and connect you with the people in your life.

Also, meditate, pray, exercise, get a massage, do whatever you do to nourish yourself and return you to gratitude for your life. Book it in a few times a week, if not every day.

You might get (financially) rich a little slower, that's all. It's worth it. Enjoy the flexibility that you give yourself in a home-based business.

I've learnt all these things the hard way. It's simple commonsense but it can take ages to actually put commonsense ideas into practice can't it? Five years in my case!

There are lots of other things I think are important in a home-based business like mine, and I might write about them in other posts. What have you learnt from trying to work from home? Any tips?

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sometimes I wonder, where are the happy people? Seriously, for all the articles, books and even research papers that are around which are devoted to happiness, all the daytime chat show hours, we seem to still sit around being miserable a fair amount of the time.

I've been guilty of this myself. It's easy to be happy, I've said, you just have to live in the moment. Enjoy the blue sky today, the fact that you can read and write, the knowledge that there is food in the fridge and a warm bed for tonight. Appreciate what you have, life's little pleasures. Especially because not everybody in the world or even our own city has all these things.

That's all well and good. But if we're really honest, it's not enough is it?

In Australia where I live we are seeing high rates of depression, which is a potentially fatal illness. We recently had a depression and suicide awareness day, called RUOK? The idea behind it was to destigmatise depression and invite people to start honest conversations with each other about how they are travelling in life.

But even apart from depression and stressful life events, many of us are just unhappy with our lot at any given time. I've found that I'm happier for want of a better word, when it's not all about me and what I want or even what gifts I have.

How about you? Where do you find happiness?

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Suicide, Catholicism, and hope - an update

I've updated yesterday's post to reflect my better understanding of the situation I was responding to.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Suicide, Catholicism, and hope

For Lori, whose husband died this year:

I'm so sorry that you felt let down by that Catholic priest when you looked to the church for support. (*see below for a fuller explanation in an update)

I believe Catholicism does offer answers, but it doesn't claim to answer everything about why horrible things happen to innocent people. You only have to look at its symbol, a good young man murdered and hung up for everyone to see, to see it knows that sh*t happens.

What Catholicism and Christianity as a whole offers is hope and a way to live through the horrible things that inevitably happen to all of us.

The way is simply this: Whatever unfairness comes my way, God has suffered it too – literally – in the life and death of Jesus Christ who was fully human and fully God. From the moment he was born he was hunted down to be killed.

We ask, if God is love why does God let us suffer? No one can answer that satisfactorily, but Christians believe that God loves, and God suffered. Love and suffering go together, they can’t be separated. We know this maybe especially as parents.

The idea that someone who suicides goes straight to hell because of mortal sin is incorrect. It’s a hurtful oversimplification of Catholic belief. We can't know what happens to that person, what happened between them and God in the last moments of their life. And we can't peek through the other side of their death to reassure ourselves.

The believing Christian has a logical hope that as God loves and understands and wants to forgive that person better than anyone else, that the person is safe with God now. We pray for them anyway, because we know that they suffered so much and want to do whatever we can to help them be at peace, with God.

The challenge then is supporting the people left behind after that horror. I think you know most people are not very good at that. But there is always some comfort to be found. I hope this has helped a little bit.

* I have done a little research and found that there can be one Catholic priest to hundreds of Catholic patients in any one hospital. That one priest may do two Masses a day plus bless newborn babies, hear confessions, take communion to people who request it and basically go to anyone who asks for a priest.

They don't only assist the dying, and I guess that might be a reason why he didn't wait for you to get to the hospital before doing the sacrament of anointing of the sick (last rites). Also, why he might have wanted to check if you were parishioners.

Given that there's one priest to so many, I don't know this for sure, but maybe parishioners get preference to try to be fair to them who have been active members of the religion. That is a bad situation I know, and it doesn't take away the hurt, but at least it gives you a fuller picture.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Are you happy, or happy enough?

Over the weekend I re-read Enough by John Naish. I think what I like best about it is its title. It basically sums up his whole thesis, in an imperative tone which I think is intentional.

One of the arguments Naish makes in his book is that Western societies in particular must regain a sense of 'enoughness'. That we will have more satisfaction with our lives when we stop trying to grasp everything we can, including a sense of happiness.

I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that I would be more happy if....

If the kids were just a little bit more independent

If we didn't have to rent a house

If my mum lived closer to us

If I had a little (ok, a lot) more time to write

If I had a little (maybe a lot) more money to buy new-season clothing and shoes

If we could go away on a proper holiday

The thing is that I know the list of ifs could go on and on. It's a point Naish also makes in his book.

By making our happiness conditional we will forever rob ourselves of the joy we can have right now in each moment.

Another thing about thinking this way, which Naish did not address in his book, is that it is so self-centred.

I can go around all day thinking about the things that are wrong in my life and why happiness and security is so elusive, and no one gains from me doing that - ironically, not even me.

I can fret about not having a nice photo to go with this blog post for example, and scramble to find and upload one, or I can go and join in with the game my children are playing in their bedroom.

This post is ok without a photo. I'm happy enough with it.

How about you? Do you find it hard to be content with good enough, or happy enough? Do you think it's a worthwhile way of thinking? Are there exceptions?

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pondering this weekend

I've been thinking this week about work. How many hours should I be working each week? What do I want to achieve with those hours? How do I wish to spend my non-working hours?

I'm fortunate to be able to choose my hours, working in my own business. But I need to reassess how things are going from time to time.

I found this to think about, from Enough - Breaking free from the world of more by John Naish:

Working part-time is better for your own ecology, as it liberates space  to tend your mind, life and body. It also spreads the available work around to other members of your community, rather than making you hoard it as a time-starved, exhausted salary earner. It's often more efficient for employers too, as they are buying only the hours in which you are genuinely interested in working, rather than also funding your tired-time, bored-time, and waiting-to-go-home-time.
What do you think? What kind of hours do you put into paid work, and are you happy with the amount of hours you work? Let me know in the comments.

If you are new here, please click here to subscribe by RSS or get my new posts by email! Thank you!

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Happiness, journey, and everything-is-going-to-be-all-right-ness

Last week I posted some quotes I loved at 16 - and now.

Here are some more:

The smallest good deed is better than the grandest intention

It's only when you quit that you lose

Things turn out right a ridiculous amount of the time. Stephen King

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Chinese proverb

The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost. G.K. Chesterton

Don't be the best in comparison with others; be the best you can be

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. Abraham Lincoln
Got a favourite? Let me know in the comments! If you like - please subscribe to Live First Write Later by email or RSS. And don't forget that you can share this post via one of the buttons below:

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maximise your day - minimise daily hassles

Weekday mornings used to be so stressful at our place.

I always lost track of the time. I'd forget whether I'd taken my multivitamin or not, and where my keys and sunglasses were.

The kids were always scrambling around looking for their shoes at the last minute, too afraid to ask me for help because I was giving them the look of death. I sometimes had to dig into the dirty laundry basket for the least gross socks, quickly iron a clean shirt, and sponge tomato sauce off a tunic.

Shouting was not uncommon, general confusion and annoyance was constant.

By the time we got to school I would be exhausted, completely deflated at my own screeching at the children, frustrated by their lack of initiative, just thinking the day was only good for the bin already. Scrunch it up, start again. But life isn't like that. You just have to try and write a better day with a bad start.

One day I promised myself it would not be so bad again. I would finally fix all the little things that trip us up in the mornings. Like not being able to find my sunnies. I now have a cheap pair which I keep, along with a sun hat, in the car.

And I realised that for the last two years' worth of schools mornings I was always running around the house to check the time.

I didn't have a clock in the kitchen. Which meant the children relied on me to tell them when to finish up from breakfast time (they like to have a little chat around the table) and move onto getting dressed. I realised this was setting the wrong tone to the morning - that I had to tell them to do everything or they wouldn't do it.

Also, I didn't wear a watch and the time on my mobile phone was five minutes slow. I would run out to our back sunroom and read the time from the clock there. This added to the confusion and general running around without getting things done which always frustrated me.

I realised the kids were not focussing on getting ready for school because I seemed unfocused myself, all my running around to check the time, go through the laundry basket etc.

I can't believe I put off for so long fixing the little things that hampered our family life every day. A clock in the kitchen and in their bedrooms and teaching them to tell the time! A spare pair of sunnies and extra sun hats for everyone! Shoe baskets in the bedrooms! Clean, ironed clothes from the night before! Making everyone take their vitamins and medications at the same time!

While I know I also need to learn to manage my feelings of stress better - some mornings with kids are going to be stressful no matter what I do - these simple changes have really helped the mornings run smoothly and put us all in a positive frame of mind for the day. Now my look of death only comes out on special occasions instead of every morning.

What little things have you changed, or what can you change, to make your daily life much nicer? If you have any great tips I'd love for you to share them in the comment box.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Freelance writing goals - an update

It's been a long time since I posted my freelance writing goals. My business has been basically in maintence mode since I've had my gorgeous baby at home with me 24/7. I picked up one very valuable client during that time, who is also a friend.

But now is the time to start setting some further goals and particularly promoting my services as I'll have some week days child-free from January. I don't want to be caught out then with no work in the pipeline but still having to pay those day-care fees.

The last time I posted my freelance writing goals was four months before having my fourth baby. In retrospect I was much too optimistic about how much mental and physical energy I was going to need in order to write so many articles and start a book.

In fact my approach to goal-setting is very different now, which applies to the way I am going to run my business from now on. Now I'll only have one goal per month, over and above my regular freelance writing, proofreading and editing gigs.

This month my goal was simply to write a little most days, which I've done here on this blog. I'm hoping it's a habit I can keep up. Next month I'd like to focus more on promotion - adding a page here to highlight my writing and proofreading services, and generally letting people know that I'm open for business again.

I do also have an idea for a book, which I'm not going to rush into. I feel that if this particular book wants to be written, then it will be written. If not by me, then probably by someone else in a better place to do it. And that is ok.

I'm not going to rush anything any more; just take things one step at a time. Life is not a race to the finish line, I've decided.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

My new approach to goal-setting

I seen a few people's lists of the 100 things they'd like to do in their life. I like reading them.

Then there's the Day Zero Project where people nominate the 101 things they will accomplish in in 1001 days.

Me, I just can't come up with that many meaningful things to do. I mean, apart from learn to play the piano, there's not much else I want to do which I haven't already done except:

write a few books
take the family travelling
give lavishly to a charity
buy a house.

If I try to think any further I suppose I might like to get a tattoo, go rough camping, or try drinking snake's blood in Laos (only because my husband's done it). But I'm not going to be too disappointed at 90 if I haven't done those things.

In fact, I could fill up a bucket list with all sorts of things which are little more than distractions to my main game.

I like to keep things simple and few, and this year I decided to stick to a list of only 10 things I wanted to have done by the end of the year.

Ten is not overwhelming, like 100 can be. I can accomplish 10 things in one year, otherwise the next. If I have a big goals I can split them into a few years to get it within the 10 things.

At the start of the year I made my list and there are only a few items left on it. Which is great, because at this time of year you can turn your head for a moment and then find that the Christmas season has sneaked up behind you and tapped you on the shoulder with a glass of bubbly in hand. After that the year's over in a flash of tinsel and fireworks.

Sticking to 10 things keeps me more realistic about what can be achieved in a year. For example, this year I only promised myself I would get around to buying (or renting) a piano, not hiring a tutor and learning to play Beethoven's 5th as well.

If I end up moving faster than that then it's a bonus. I see my list as the absolute minimum I have to do by the end of the year.

This is my current list. I didn't aim too high because we have a baby and I didn't want to place a lot of pressure on myself this year:

Monthly retreat/nurturing day or half day out by myself Done
One two-day silent retreat at a monastery
Monthly outing (at least) with friends or mum Doing
Write a feature article on motherhood Done
Bushwalk with the kids Done
Take kids to see fireworks
Take kids on a ferry ride into Sydney Harbour
Take kids to the theatre Booked for November
Take family to the zoo Have tickets, scheduled for next school holidays
Take kids up Sydney Tower Done
Buy piano or keyboard
Teach N to knit Done
Buy journals for the kids to use Done and they're using them too - bonus!

You'll see that it's got 13 items on it, not 10. That's because 10 is the minimum for me, and as I've been getting through things I've been adding others that I'm sure I can fit in as well. Such as the fireworks I can take the kids to see on New Year's Eve.

I've also started one more extra thing this month, which was to write a bit every day, mainly for this blog. And one reward has been an idea for a book! But that's a story for another day...

What approach do you prefer to help you get things done that you'd like to do? Do you set monthly or annual goals? Do you have a bucket list of things you want to do in life? If so, what kinds of things are on it?

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Something Sage for Saturday

I like this, from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life by Donald Miller. The book is full of pearls like it (plus, it's really funny):

If you think about it, an enormous amount of damage is created by the myth of utopia. There is an intrinsic feeling in nearly every person that your life could be perfect if you only had such-and-such a spouse or such-and-such a job. We believe we will be made whole by our accomplishments, our possessions, or our social status. It's written in the fabric of our DNA that life used to be beautiful and now it isn't, and if only this and if only that, it would be beautiful again. (Emphasis is mine.)
True eh?

I really like this guy's style. The book is about the time when a couple of Hollywood producers wanted to write a screenplay based on the author's best-selling memoir.

But his real life was so directionless that they had to make up a better plot, a plot with a point. When Miller realised his life was like a bad story - the worse kind, a boring one! - he made some changes and began to live a new kind of life.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Inspirational quotes I loved at 16

At 16 I didn't keep a journal but I had this very slender, purple notebook that you could seal shut with a stud. I used it to scribble down quotes I liked from conversations, books, short stories or poems.

All this time it's been in my top bedside drawer. I hadn't opened it for years and years and forgotten what was inside.

The other morning I was trying to convince my wide-awake baby to lie quietly in bed with me for a while.  He hauled himself onto my face and started grabbing tissues from the tissue box on top of the drawers. As you do when you're 13 months old.

I opened the drawer and scrabbled around blindly for something to keep him still for a while. Out came the book, and I let him chew on the corner before opening it to find out what I had written in there anyway.

I thought since it would reveal my idealistic, teenaged self. A nice momento of who I was then, but not irrelevant now that I'm all grown up and so much has changed in my life.

I opened it, and guess what?

I am the same. Staggeringly so. There's something so comforting about finding out that I'm just as dreamy, determined, idealistic, realistic, and nerdy as I ever was. And the ideals by which I wanted to live my life are unchanged 20 years later.

Here are the thoughts from the first pages. I don't know where they all came from. I'd love to know if you like any of them or what your favourite inspirational quote is.

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours we must think them over again honestly, until they take root in our personal experience. Goethe (I wrote this one on the first page, two days before I turned 16.)

Enthusiasm is one of the most precious of all jewels in the crown of life.

Definition of a saint: a sinner who kept on trying!

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Love one another as yourself. Gospel of Mark

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

An interested person is an interesting person.

Happiness is the art of making a beautiful bouquet with the flowers you are given. (I've written on happiness here and here.)

One can never consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar. Helen Keller

Got a favourite quote? Leave it in the comments box below, and see more quotes here.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Four reasons to fight donor fatigue

I have donor fatigue. I admit it.

We have our children's school fundraisers, the various public awareness and fundraising days (Daffodil Day, Red Nose day etc), our family's own regular giving and my husband's work-arranged giving.

I am all donored-out. I've even avoided the kind-looking Salvation Army person stationed with a collection bucket outside my local supermarket. I slowed down until I saw a few other people entering and I blended in with them, pretending not to notice him in the crowd. And felt terrible about doing so.

There are so many good and needy causes, and we have so little resources, I tell myself as I close the door to another person collecting for charity.

I can't help them all, I say as I hastily put the phone down on another.

I would like to but I'm too busy...we're saving for a house...we have to put our own family first. Charity starts at home right?

Yes. Yes it does begin at home. That is, it begins with me. And how much I am willing to give up, to live more simply, so that others can simply live.

I have donor fatigue but I have to fight it. Here are four reasons I think I should:

Giving money to a worthy cause is good for me.
It makes me less self-absorbed and more aware of others. It makes me grateful for what I have, and happy that I can do something good for someone else.

It is good for the receivers
It provides for their necessities - be it funding to help fight cancer in Australia, rescue orphaned orangutans in Borneo, or provide food and shelter after a natural disaster anywhere.

This point is so obvious but people obviously forget it, especially when the issue is some distance away. For example, right now Africa is seeing its biggest famine, in Somalia, in 20 years. Although the need is great and aid organisations have sprung into action the response from donors has been slow.

It helps me save money. 
If I'm giving a little bit more than I am comfortable with to my favourite charitable organisation then I'm inclined to spend money a lot more carefully. I think twice about getting something I really don't need, like another pair of casual shoes for the school run. I find myself shopping less in general, and giving more, while our bank balance grows. I call that a win-win.

It's a good example for my children.
I want the children to grow into thoughtful, engaged and generous adults. The way to show them how to be like that is by being that way myself.

I recently read a gorgeous article in one of the papers I write for, The Catholic Weekly, about a 99-year old pensioner who loves giving money to a number of charities and organisations. He said he enjoys writing the cheques each month.

"I just live a humble life, and I give what I can. I don't deny myself anything," he said.

Now that's inspiring and I want to be like that when I am old. But why wait until I'm old?

Some organised types allocate a portion of their budget to charitable giving. What is your approach to giving to charities or fundraising appeals? Is it haphazard like mine (sometimes generous, other times not so much) or more organised?

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Monday, September 12, 2011

What's worth blogging about, 9/11, dark and light

What am I doing with a blog?

Why do I feel an urge to write and, importantly, what am I to write about? What's worthwhile? What is the best use of my time here?

About a year or so ago I was directly challenged by these words I read in a book.

"If your words do not bring with them the light of Christ, then they increase the darkness."

Increase the darkness. Those words cut right to the depth of me. That is not what I want to do with my life or my words.

There is enough darkness in the world, no? I was thinking all this yesterday, the 11th of September, when so many are reminded of the light of love, and the black depths of darkness.

By not shedding light, compassion, love....By not highlighting the needs of others and doing something about I increasing the darkness a little?

By posting laundry powder reviews instead of writing about refugee children in my city, am I increasing the darkness?

By trying to make a few dollars out of my blog, instead of being content that we have money in the bank and a roof over our heads, and giving whatever we can to people who don't have those things - am I increasing the darkness?

Uncomfortable questions.

So I did nothing about them. I put them away, back on the shelf with the Mother Teresa book. I did want to write about God however, so I began another blog to put my God-thoughts there.

But I can't split myself into two. And I just don't have the time to run two blogs anyway.

So I'm going to bring that content over here. And write about other things that are important to me as well.

It won't be God-thoughts all the time (I will probably get around to that laundry powder review!) but if those posts bother people, they can unsubscribe or unfollow me. That's really ok.

But I hope you stay : )

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

My little muffin-maker

This was too cute not to share.

The girls were home from school - a staff development/pupil free day. It was too cold and rainy for the park, but the perfect day to put the oven on and potter around the kitchen.

We made raspberry, blueberry and chocolate chip muffins. When we moved on my husband went in and baked a leg of lamb, studded with garlic and with a thyme, sage and parsley crust, for dinner.

Oh my goodness, the house smelt so amazing with that lamb in the oven.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Some tips for managing PMS after having a baby

Some of my readers come here looking for advice on alleviating PMS symptoms after childbirth.

It's true that some women find that there's an increase in pre-menstrual symptoms or their severity after having a baby. But it's hard to find out exactly why, apart from the obvious, that is, fluctuations in hormone levels.

I tried to find an answer after noticing it myself after the birth of my third child.

PMS itself is hard to define, since there are a variety of symptoms including fluid retention, headaches, breast tenderness, and irritability, and symptoms vary from woman to woman.

Aparently there is a link between women experiencing PMS symptoms and cravings for foods which are high in fat and sugar. So it's worth aiming for a healthier diet and attention to eating regularly as one way to go in easing symptoms.

A woman's fertility cycle can change after childbirth, for example, cycles may become longer or shorter in duration than before pregnancy, so it follows that can be differences in PMS symptoms and their intensity as well.

Becoming a new mother, or a mother again, can also impact your general health if you aren't diligent about meeting your nutritional, exercise and emotional needs.

Many of us are brilliant at looking after our children's health, and completely ignoring our own. Might a worsening of PMS symptoms be an indicator that you are run down generally?
Here are some tips from the Better Health channel, a Victorian government website, which I found useful:

  • Exercise regularly, at least three times a week – try to exercise daily in the premenstrual period
  • Don’t smoke
  • Cut back on caffeine and alcohol in the two weeks before menstruation
  • Ensure that you get enough sleep
  • Manage your stress in whatever way works for you – for example counselling, Tai Chi or meditation, walking or gardening
It also suggests diarising your symptoms, to make sure that they are in fact PMS symptoms and not something else, like postnatal depression, I guess. For one thing, although this seems obvious, the diary should show that symptoms disappeared completely with the beginning of the period.

Vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and even St John's Wort have all been suggested as potentially effective treatments, as well as acupuncture, naturopathy and relaxation therapy.

There are also hormone treatments and medications available if PMS is really impacting your life.

For more information, see the Better Health article:

There's another article with a similar gist at

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Musings on working from home

I'm so lucky to be able to work from home while my children are little.

I've been a work from home mum since our second child was born nearly six years ago. My four-day weekly income was only slightly more than the cost of putting two children into formal childcare and we didn't have anyone who could help us out with free child minding a day or two a week.

So I quit my job, except for two days each week which I've devoted to freelance writing, editing and proofreading plus a few basketloads of laundry.

I've always just done enough work to keep my hand in and found it frustrating to have lots of writing and business ideas and never sufficient time or energy, once two more little babies joined us, to implement them.

At other times I've wanted to throw the paid work towel in altogether and simply be the best mum and domestic goddess I could be. I found real satisfaction in making sure we all ate well, had a clean and tidy house, and filled our days with worthwhile activities.

Instead of focussing on making more money to help ends meet, I researched and trialled ways for us to save more money. But I could never stop paid work altogether, and never wanted to.

Now that the children are all a little bit older I'm feeling very glad that I've continued to keep some kind of professional life puttering along while having babies.

I have something of a balance just at the moment. I have enough work to bring in a decent part time income and have plenty of opportunities to enjoy my children and do other things I want to do.

My husband is very supportive, so if I have a writing deadline or need to concentrate on something he'll take charge of the kids for as long as I need the space.

Of course it doesn't all go perfectly well, doing this working mum from home thing. Far from it.

But I know I'm very blessed.

Life is good.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Can you spare three days to hang out underwear?

My husband is a bit of a numbers man. He's not an accountant or anything like that, but he occasionally likes to make intriguing calculations about things in every day life.

Some are interesting, others less so. I had to feign interest when he wanted to tell me how many yellow cars he's likely to see on his morning work communte.

But I like this one: he's worked out that we will spend three days in our lifetimes pegging out our undies (underpants only that is, no socks, bras or singlets) on the washing line.

It's a funny post, you can read it all here.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

You can start it today

This is what I need someone to tell me every day.

It's what I will tell myself every day, now.

Whatever it is you want to do, if it's really important to you, give yourself permission to start it today.

Don't listen to the "Yes, but..." monster in your head.

Case in point: I want to write books. I have wanted to write books since I was eight years old. I did journalism because I wanted to tell other people's stories. And I still love that.

But I'm also still want to write my stories. Children's picture books, non-fiction books. And I want to do other things too, like learn to play the piano, take better photographs, and plan some memorable experiences for the kids.

So why aren't I doing these things? I've some had very good excuses hold me back, which seemed like insurmountable obstacles:

1. No time, no energy. Particularly after pregnancies and caring for babies which are very time and energy-consuming. Plus, chronic sleep deprivation has pureed my brain.

2. The need to make money. People pay me to write short articles, and to edit and proofread their writing. No one will pay me for the hours it takes to sit down and do these other things.

3. I don't have the skills or contacts to write the kinds of books I want to write. I need to take that creative writing course/children's picture book writing course/join that writers' society before I do anything else.

4. I'll start tomorrow. I'm too tired today.

5. There's so much else I have to do first. These things are luxuries which can wait.

All of these "Yes, but..." excuses caused me to give up and be resigned to a mediocre life of not even trying do things I really would like to do, for my own sake and for others' too.

They've been sending me to bed each night feeling that I haven't wrung every drop of life out of my days. It's a horrible feeling.

All these excuses boil down to three main obstacles: time, energy and money.

And are they really insurmountable obstacles to doing things, good things, life-giving things, that have attracted me with such persistence over many years?

Do I really lack the time, energy and money to do these things? Let's look at them:

Time I've probably been spending up to two hours a day either aimlessly watching TV or clicking around the internet. I can't say that I have no time. I probably need to improve my childcare arrangements in order to get some focussed blocks of time though.

Energy is harder to find some days, with a baby who doesn't sleep so well. But there is always something I can do, even if it's just a little, like write a good 300 words. And I find that once I get writing, that actually gives me energy, and I can get into a zone and keep going much longer than I intended.

Money shouldn't be a problem in that there are lots of free resources to assist me with writing and photography. I can ask friends for piano lessons too, and they can also help me to find a decent second hand piano. And we can organise cheap holidays and other experiences for the children that don't have to cost lots of money.

I don't need to do everything I want to do all at once, but I do need to start on something today.

In fact, it's exciting that I can start right away.

What about you? What do you need to give yourself permission to do today?

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Daddy Difference - how his way is good for the kids

Ever been frustrated by the differences in your parenting styles? I've written an article for a Father's Day edition of CathFamily e-news about involved fathering and some benefits of Dad's way of doing things.

Here's an excerpt:

A recent study (as reported in the Wall Street Journal) on the impact of involved fathering on children’s development found that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage in rough and tumble physical play, and more likely to tease their children.
They are most likely to startle them in play, by jumping out and surprising them for example.
All of this is thought to foster their children’s independence, self-confidence, and resilience.
For the whole article see here.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

How I got paid for volunteering

Ah, did you think I meant money? Of course not.

It was better than money.

My husband and I just spent the weekend helping to run a pre-marriage course for engaged couples. It included pretty much every aspect of their hopes and dreams for their lives together and covered things from sex to budgeting to resolving arguments fairly.

We do this a couple of times a year and it is volunteer work. I'm often a bit anxious in the week before, not about the weekend so much but organising the babysitting arrangements and getting the house and things in order beforehand.

But once I get into the car with my husband and we head out to the conference centre, all that is forgotten. I get to leave my normal life for a while and become immersed in the life of a typical soon-to-be-wed couple; their hopefulness, their excitement, their plans, their frustrations, their questions, and their own wisdom about relationships and life.

We reflect together. Mostly we hope together, and hope is such a powerful thing.

At the end of the weekend we wish them well and soon forget most of their faces and names, but some we remember. Some are real characters and I'll probably remember them for ever.

Some love stories really stand out. Like the couple who met speed-dating. Or the teacher who fell in love with the single parent of one of her pupils.

I always come away a little bit refreshed, and a little more appreciative of my own husband, my own ever-unfolding love story.

I think the best kinds of work are often not paid. Do you volunteer sometimes? Is there some kind of volunteer work you always meant to get around to trying out but never did?

Here are what I think are some the main benefits of volunteering:

  • You gain a sense of belonging to and the satisfaction of helping a good cause
  • You meet people with similar interests, make new friends
  • You see life from different perspectives and meet people you wouldn't normally come across in your regular daily life
  • You learn new skills, some which may assist you in your paid work
  • You gain a greater appreciation for what you have in your own life
Volunteering has certainly enriched my life. I think I will always do something or other in the community for what I get out of it as much as for what I have to give.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

10 steps to a positive body image

We all want to look and feel our best. For me that means being as healthy as possible, eating well and getting some exercise, wearing clothes that are at least clean and at most flattering, and taking reasonable care of my skin and hair.

That's it. I think I look and feel just fine for someone in their mid-30s who's given birth to four children. I'm fit enough to keep up with all of them, that's the main thing.

But I fear the messages my daughters will soon be taking in from our culture about what it takes to look and feel good. I hope to never find them flipping through airbrushed models' images in a magazine or on the internet or TV and comparing themselves disparagingly to what they see.

Some time ago I attended a talk given by Melinda Tankard Reist of Collective Shout, which is a grassroots campaign against the objectification of women and children in the media and other public domains.

Melinda gave some tips for a positive body image and I have turned them into 10 steps to a healthy body image.

10 steps to a healthy body image

  1. People come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Focus less on looks and more on functionality. Enjoy what your body can do: dance, sing, run, swim, live! 
  2. Treat your body with respect and love. Nourish it with wholesome food, give it time to rest and relax.
  3. Don't compare yourself to others - don't play the 'compare and despair' game.
  4. Don't read magazines or watch shows which are just vehicles for cosmetics and dieting products advertising.
  5. Make friends with the person you see in the mirror. Challenge negative self-talk about yourself or your body. Don't say something about yourself that you wouldn't say to someone else.
  6. Wear clothes you enjoy and feel comfortable in - give away anything that doesn't fit.
  7. Don't diet - it doesn't work and is bad for you.
  8. Throw away the scales. They tell you little about your true health status.
  9. Be critical of messages that tell you that to be happy and successful you need to be thin.
  10. Find healthy things to do with friends. Sign up for volunteer work or join a cause. Our world needs strong women!
What about you? What tip would you add to contribute to a better body image?

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Birthdays are all about the cake

Our littlest boy turned one recently, and instead of slaving over a novelty cake the day before the party as I usually do, I threw some sandwiches, poppers and hat into a bag and we wandered around a war memorial bay walk near our house.

This was big! Birthdays are ALL about the birthday cake around here. We usually begin discussing a child's birthday cake 11 months, 29 days and seven hours in advance, pore over my trusty Woman's Weekly Birthday Cakes for Kids, photocopy and enlarge templates, scour specialty shops for decorations, mix, bake, and spend six hours on the actually assembly on the day before the party. (That may be a slight exaggeration.)

The big kids ran ahead, setting off the sensor-activated recordings about the trials of WWII Diggers on the Kokota Track in Papua New Guinea. We absorbed a bit of history along with the fresh air and sunshine.

I wondered at the tragedy of war, the stamina and sheer guts of those soldiers and appreciated the life we lead.

Then we let the kids loose at the park where they spent the whole time filling their shoes, socks, pockets and ears with sand. Or at least they seemed to have.
It was a good afternoon out. We haven't had one, all together, for a very long time.

I didn't even buy a beautiful cake from our very good local patisseria to assuage my guilt at not making one. Because I didn't feel guilty at choosing some much-needed family fun time over 'mummy-snapping-at-everyone-to-leave-her-alone-in-the-kitchen-time'.

Well, maybe just a twinge.

My husband bought the cake, a chocolate cross-eyed echnidna. It was a supermarket mark-down to $5.99 with a cheery 'still fresh' sticker slapped on the box. When I opened it I saw that the ageing icing had hardened and cracked around the base.

A bigger little twinge.

I popped it onto a cake board, cut up some lolly snakes to approximate ants and scattered them around the cake's snout. Wrote a birthday message to my little boy, with hearts and kisses, and voila! a birthday cake in 60 seconds.

I think I made the right choice.

How about you? Taken any shortcuts recently that you never thought you would?

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

10 things my husband has taught me about chilling out

1. That occasionally it's ok if I'm home during the day to turn on the TV and watch whatever movie that happens to be on.

2. I can get a lie-in on a Saturday morning even if the children hop into bed with us. All I have to do is ask them what they would like a picture of on his or her back and doodle away with my finger. Very little effort required and it keeps them quiet and still for ages as they try to 'feel' the fairy castle or racing car I'm drawing for them.

3. That the floor doesn't need to be swept every day or washed every week if I feel too sick or tired to do it.

4. (Related to 3) The job the kids or husband does to sweep or clean the floor is good enough for now.

5. My friends and family will still love me if I don't have the perfect, well-thought-out present ready for them on their actual birthday.

6. That if a toddler wants nothing but a tin of tuna for dinner or rice cakes and jam, that is acceptable fare.

7. It's ok when hosting a dinner or barbeque to have other people bring most of the food if they want to.

8. I don't have to have everything I want and think I need, or do everything I want and think I need to do all right away.

9. Having a budget does not mean you can't enjoy little luxuries once in a while, or even more often if you think you need a pick-me-up. (For me that means outings, nice food, or books.)

10. A glass of wine most days is acceptable.

And a bonus one: That feeding, dressing, playing with and generally looking after the children, even if I get nothing on my to-do list done, is a valuable use of a day. (Actually, I haven't fully learnt that one yet, but I am trying.)

Gotta love that man. What do you do to give yourself a break once in a while, or every day, that you never used to do before?

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Seven things for mummy's sick days

Having the flu is awful at any time, right? Having the flu when you're responsible for young children, and a baby, is really tough.

No one has escaped being sick in our family this winter and I'm in my third week of feeling horrible at the moment, I think, with sinusitis and conjuctivitis - secondary infections after the flu.

Man it's making it a challenge to choose happiness this winter!

I thought I'd share a few things I'm doing this time to manage the kids and the housework when all I really want to do was crawl back into bed for the day.

I give myself permission to take it easy

I've been going to bed when the children do. Even if it's 7.30 or 8pm. It's hard to give up that 'to myself time' in the evenings but it's worth it if it means getting better in a week instead of dragging this out for another month.

There's a lot of stuff I want to do at the moment but I'm  consoling yourself with the thought that I'll do a much better job of it when I'm feeling my energetic self again.

I figure if nothing else this is a good time to reflect on where I get my feeling sense of self-worth. Is it from doing all the things I usually do - being the supermum - or is it more about being a certain type of person in easy times and hard times?

Personally I think it's more important who you are, rather than what you do. So when I'm sick and I can't do stuff I don't panic too much about feeling like a useless person.

Do the essential jobs only

I'm over just popping painkillers or flu tablets from the supermarket and soldiering on. That's the way to get more run down, not the way to get better as quickly as possible.

Feeding and bathing myself and the kids, washing the dishes at least in the evening and doing a load of laundry only if absolutely necessary - that's all I've been keeping on top of.

The rest I've let slide.  Also, young children and babies don't need a bath every day. When my energy's low every second day is fine, with a little wipe of their bottoms with a clean soapy cloth on in-between days.

I figure if the kids eat cheese sandwiches or reheated frozen meals for dinner for a week, and my friend's baby daughter gets her birthday present late because I didn't hit the shops while I was sick, it isn't the end of the world.

I also put off as much paid work as I could, only meeting essential deadlines.

Accept help

I let my husband take carer's week for a few days in the second week so I could go to bed when I wanted.

Yesterday I took all the children to my dad's place and had a nap while they were entertained by my 12-year-old sister. It helped me a lot in getting through the day.

Sometimes I give the kids new toys from the cupboard where I hoard excess presents from last Christmas or birthdays. And I usually put a movie on, or episodes of their current favourite show, for them as well. At the moment it's Inspector Gadget.

Step up my own personal hygiene

I feel like a germ-making factory so I'm keeping some antibacterial gel on the kitchen counter and using it liberally, when preparing food, every time I blow my nose etc. I find it's impossible sometimes with four small children to take the time to go and wash and thorougly dry my hands every time I need to. Using the gel is much faster.

Increase my fluid intake

I'm drinking a glass of water or herbal tea every hour or so. Our lemon tree got raided for the sake of comforting hot lemon and honey drinks I'm enjoying.

Chicken soup is said to have anti-inflammatory properties but we can't be bothered making it. My standby is the local Vietamese takeaway for their truly awesome beef Pho, fragrant with fresh herbs and lemon - it's almost worth being sick for the amazing lift it gives me when I really need it!

Use whatever medicines or natural remedies I can to make myself feel better

I don't know why but I have a bad habit of just toughing it out when I'm sick, and not taking anything unless I feel really, really bad. But I've decided this time that that's just silly. All it does is make me an unpleasant person to live with.

This time I've used saline nasal spray for my blocked nose, an antihistamine when it was dripping, an asthma inhaler for a tight chest, over the counter eye drops and paracetamol. Only today I've started a course of antibiotics which is safe for use while breastfeeding.

Appreciate feeling well

When I feel better again, I'm going to make the most of it!

I'm determined to fully appreciate feeling well again, eating healthily and getting some exercise in every day, to bump up my immune system a bit. And put it in my calendar to go and get the flu shot next year -  something I neglected to do this year.

This time of being sick hasn't been a complete write-off for me. I had some lovely thoughts about spiritual aspects of feeling unwell. I wrote about them here.

That's all for today, I'm off to make another cup of tea.

What do you do to help yourself through sick days? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!


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Monday, July 11, 2011

Is anyone here?

I thought this blog was pretty much dead and buried, but surprise! Here I am again. I can't leave it alone. It's lovely to have somewhere I can just write what I please and have somebody read and drop me a line.

I have begun a new blog, Confidence and Love, because I'd like somewhere to ponder out loud about life, family, faith and spiritually, from a Catholic perspective.

The tagline is 'because nothing separates us from the love of God' which is a quote from the Bible from a letter of St Paul. And that's basically the theme I explore over there: how to feel loved by God, how to feel loveable and be loving, in every moment of every day.

I already write a regular column for The Catholic Weekly newspaper (Sydney's archdiocesan newspaper), but the posts on my blog are more varied and perhaps a little more in-depth because there's no word limit, than what I write about in the column.

I guess because I have a journalism background and am a freelance writer I have found it a bit galling to sit down and write something well-thought out, knowing that I'm not getting paid for it by the word or the hour. That's why this blog has stagnated a little (lot!).

But I've decided it's wonderful to be able to write what I want, when I want. That's why I will keep this blog going from time to time, to write about what we're doing in the garden and with the kids, how we're saving or making money, what I'm enjoying in books or on TV. Random snippets of my life.

At Confidence and Love I wear my very best thoughtful and holy hat :). I am happily committed to the teachings of the Catholic church, I love the saints and other amazing people who inspire and show me the way to follow Christ and I share the lessons I am learning from them.

I hope that if you or anyone you know might be interested in Confidence and Love I will see you over there.


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Life, the universe and almost everything

Here it is, with a link this time

Life, the universe and almost everything

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Blog launch: Life, the universe and almost everything

What a lovely Easter and long weekend we've enjoyed here! I hope you have all enjoyed a beautiful rest and refreshment with family and friends.

If you're looking for some new blog reading with this extra free time make sure you go and have a look at the one my husband has just launched, Life, the universe and almost everything.

It broadly encompasses family, faith and life and I'm told it will include his other loves, basketball, chilli, the Tour de France, and single malt scotch.

Let me know what you think of his header photo :)

You never know, maybe now I have some friendly competition in the house I might start posting here a bit more frequently!

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Why a (lovely) blogging conference made me feel ashamed

I bought my ticket to the first Australian bloggers' conference as a birthday treat for myself, months before the event. I wasn't updating my blog much, but at least I kept up reasonably well, for me, with reading and commenting on other people's.

But in those months between buying the ticket and actually going, I got so busy with

the children and the baby,

Christmas and New Year,

with going back to school and one starting kindy,

with writing my column,

with birthdays and then, more lately, with hospital and doctors' visits,

that I decided even reading and commenting on my handful of favourite blogs could drop off my priority list.

I almost didn't go the conference, and I'm glad I did because it reminded me that blogging is essentially all about people and relationships. And the best blogging is about real people being authentic and connecting with others.

It reminded me that if I write something, it should never just be for me, for my own self-expression. It should always, at least a little bit, be for others too.

The most lovely blogging stories - there were examples at the conference - come from when a person communicates their very self on their blog, and then are surprised by love, real concern, real support, real connection, in reply.

The term 'comment love' is very apt.

I felt ashamed not because I took time out from my computer in an overwhelming season of life. I had to do that.

It was because it was so easy for me to forget the women behind the blogs I had followed, including one whose ill husband I had prayed for.

And the kicker? Which I realised with sick guilt at the conference.

I'm not just like this with virtual friends, but with my 'in real life' friends and my family as well.

It's too often out of sight, out of mind with me.

So concerned with my own cares, that I hardly give a thought to anyone else's.

And then, left inside behind the door in my own head, my own small problems seem so big! They fill up the room, and they're all I can see.

I'm not very good at community. But I know it is everything.

Life is better done together. Everything and always.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When I'm terrorised by my to-do list

I thought I'd learnt this already but I evidently need reminding. That I'm not a slave to my to-do lists. A list is supposed to serve me, not the other way around.

But there's a lot of good stuff that I know that I don't live.

I have such a love-hate relationship with my daily lists. It's as satisfying to grab these pesky thoughts fluttering around my head and pin them onto a piece of paper as it is to crisply cross the items off - call x, send birthday card for y, school mufti day, pay the phone bill.

But I only think I kill those pesky thoughts. In fact they aren't the real problem, they are only the offspring of the anxiety in my heart. And that I can't quite kill off.

Not by myself anyway.

It all starts out fine. This time I was worried about forgetting something so on top of my daily list I made a meta list of the random things I needed to do as a priority and the day I needed to have them done by.

There were ten items on the list. Each was important, and seemed doable within the week.

The first item was to enrol my two littlest into the local occasional care centre. I had got a call two weeks ago telling me I'd come up on their waiting list for membership and I was afraid at this rate they'd figure I didn't want it anymore and offer it to someone else.

Do forms tonight, take tomorrow I had written.

That night, when I laid the baby onto my bed (he won't sleep in his cot!) it was with the intention of going straight from there to my desk. But he looked so sweet there that I lay next to him for a second - and of course only woke up very groggily when my husband came to bed at nearly midnight.

I was annoyed at myself, annoyed at him for letting me have the rest I obviously needed. "I've got things to do," I moaned.

Those forms were still on my mind the next day. I still hadn't crossed it off the day after, and every time I looked at that list I got a little stab of anxiety at seeing very little crossed off it at all.

Finally I got a chance to go to the centre, and guess what? There was no urgency, the director told me. There is actually another thing they need from me, a copy of a doctor's letter, and I still haven't got around to doing those forms and it's ok.

Why do I let a list that I have written myself, which is just a group of lines and squiggles, determine whether I have a 'good' ie. productive day, and a 'bad' ie. unproductive one?

Why do I get so discouraged and feel like a failure if I haven't achieved things on my lists?

Why do I get so puffed up and proud of myself when I 'get things done'.

Why do I keep letting myself believe that the doing of these types things are more important than the one thing necessary?

To be. To really, authentically, be really, me, in this moment. And to stay close to my lovely ones.

The most important things I do are not the kinds of things I tend to write onto lists.

Yes, I remember this.

Maybe the most important thing I do tomorrow is to take my boy for a walk to look for big sticks. Like I did the week before this latest manic list episode.

 I noticed the sky.

Yep, tomorrow I will notice the sky again. I don't need to list that.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Turning around

I feel as though I am in a waltz with God, sometimes. I had spun out, so wide (did he do that, or did I?) and am now curling back towards his embrace again.

It is Lent, and so I am turning back, keeping pace with sombre music, because it is dark out there on the limits called self-reliance. Dark and very cold. I move (am drawn) towards the light.

Yes I trust in you. I do.

And yet, of course I don't. But he is grace and so I hope to see his face again at Easter's dawn.

This blog is doing a turn-around too. I am too lazy to start up a new blog with new themes, or to think of another blog title so I'll just keep this old one going.

It will be my little, quiet corner. Which won't contribute to the clutter in this house the way that notebooks and bits of scribbled-on paper do.

And I'm going to try not to compete with the many so much better writers out there. The ones I love to read because they hold up a mirror to my own soul.

In writing here, as in life, I'm going to try to be appreciative, not jealous. Generous, not self-indulgent. And at peace with my own ah...distinct lack of brilliance.

I hope to start afresh. And I hope to make some sense, to someone.

Don't we all?

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