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walking dogs by Mississippi River

I used to try and vary the route I walked my dogs. Occasionally, I even drove to state parks that were hours away to spice things up. Then I noticed that I was the only one who found walking the same area boring. My dogs didn’t care.

Every time we headed out, it was as though it was the first time — new smells, new animals, new people. Moving with their noses pointing up in the air or dragging along the ground, they found a new scent story on every trip.

dogs sniffing the snow

I decided to try out an awareness exercise I read about in the book “The Not So Big Life,” by Sarah Susanka. I was to look, listen and smell, without putting a name to what my senses took in. Then do the same kind of observations, only attach the names to the sights and sounds and smells.

What I found is that without naming what I observed, I noticed colors and shapes and the contrast of light and shadow.  I heard sounds in volumes, directions, and characteristics such as high or low, percussive or long and flowing — I even heard the space between the sounds.

When I began to put names to things (crow, wind, footsteps), they became just another familiar word — letters that encompassed a group of assumptions.

It’s easier to think and talk with words that quickly define a thing. But was “easy” and “quick”what I wanted?

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Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

I took this series of photos, trying to capture just the right water drippage as this cow (or is it a steer?) drank water out of an automatic waterer. I was on a local farm tour so there were other people in my way, a fence limited my angles and how close I could get, the sun was too bright, there was background stuff that I knew would be difficult to cut out, and I was using my camera’s manual mode as the auto-mode was over exposing the shot. Did I mention I’m no expert on the best ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, auto-focus versus continuous-focus combination to use in a given situation?

Highland Cattle FarmTour2016-26-5 FarmTour2016-27-6

I was disappointed with the sharpness and detail when I downloaded the photos onto my computer. As I scrolled through the shots with a critical eye, I forgot about all the things I’d seen that day.

I forgot about the exploration and experimentation I’d done.

Flowers

I forgot the ideas that were prompted as I looked at how other people were housing their chickens and what herbs they were growing.

chickens

I forgot about how I had spent the day trying different camera setting combinations and purposely overexposing or moving the camera to create blur. It’d been a long time since I’d spent so much time playing with my camera.

But I forgot all that.

At the end of the day, what it came down to was the result. Did any of the photos contain what I had tried to capture? Were they different than my usual shots? Were there any photos that I was actually proud of?

Trying to get to “good” (preferably “excellent”) is something I struggle to approach with any form of patience.

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It’s going to bed at night thinking, “yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown, “Rising Strong”

This is one of those statements that I respond to with a resounding “YES!” and yet I continue with the habit of being very hard on myself. I’m even being hard on myself about being hard on myself! Good grief!

I feel like so much of what I write here is about struggling. I’m sure you are tired of it, as am I. But am I alone in this? I doubt it.

It’s hard to believe that the woman writing the above and the woman floating around laughing below are the same person. And yet they are.

selfie

Take note of this contradiction next time you compare yourself to all those confident, happy people on Facebook and Instagram.

We’re all struggling in some way. OK, maybe there is someone out there who isn’t but most of us have “stuff.”

What I’m learning, though, is to be grateful for the moments when I am not performing. The times when I’ve dropped my guard and am not worried about how good of an impression I’m making.

Such moments are not always the happy, laughing kind but they are authentically real and alive.

It’s the mix of the sweet and the salty that creates a beautiful, imperfect life.

floating in pond

dog sitting

dog sitting

I just went through another software conversion at work. I think this was my seventh. The first four were manufacturing conversions, while the last three have been order management and warehouse conversions. Anyway, it’s been stressful. I’ve been working long hours, some weekends and this week I will have the post-conversion, new users, unusual situations we didn’t test for, stuff to deal with.

I am burned out.

And I’ve been having weird dreams…

Dream #1: I was in a restaurant with my son and Steve. They both sat down at a table, but there was a woman standing with her back-side inches from the remaining chair at the table. I managed to inch the chair over towards me, holding onto the back of it. I was about to walk to the front of the chair to sit down, but the woman, the one who had been blocking my way, sat down instead, as though I’d been pulling the chair out for her.

Dream #2: I was standing with my bike at the pedestrian crossing near my home. This crossing is the bane of my existence, taking forever to allow pedestrians and bikes to cross and when the light finally does change, you have to be careful not to get hit by cars running the red light. In my dream, someone walked up beside me, grabbed my bike and rode away.

Dream #3: My friends and family were in a boat crossing the ocean while I was swimming behind them. I was holding onto a shark’s tail because I was tired, and the shark just happened to be there. And I was hoping he didn’t notice that I was hitching a ride and turn around and eat me.

Do you think there’s a pattern there?

This burn out has made me lose my usual curiosity and enthusiasm to try new things and look for the normally unnoticed. I can barely force myself to take a photo. Nothing seems like anything I want to remember. And the artistry of studying light and texture and shadow to get a certain effect eludes me. Everything around me appears gray.

And writing… what is worth writing about? And who will want to read it anyway? And once again, is anything going on that I want to remember or dive deeper into by writing about it?

Which has got me thinking…

Something has to change.

I can’t keep up this pace. Oh, I suppose I could. But I don’t want to.

And I can’t live in a gray world where “creation” feels completely foreign and beyond me.

So I’m beginning a year long experiment to make changes in my life that I believe will simplify my daily routine and create a more sane existence.

I’ve got some pretty engrained bad habits. I don’t expect to develop a new way of being overnight, in 30 days, 40 days, or even 6 months. I’m in this for the long haul.

Hopefully, it will be one of those successful experiments. But to be a real experiment, there should be measurable results. Stuff like:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • More time spent nurturing old friendships and creating new ones
  • Less rushing around and feeling frantic
  • Not compulsively eating or drinking to relieve anxiety or to rev back up when I’m exhausted
  • Less losing stuff because I don’t have time to put things away, have too much clutter to dig through or I am too tired to remember what I was looking for in the first place

Words like “decrease,” “more” or “less” aren’t very precise measurements. But I’m not going to worry about that right now. Or try to do this perfectly. Or try to change everything all at once. Because if I did, my list would be something like this:

  • Lose seven pounds
  • Improve my photography
  • Write every day
  • Submit an essay or story once a week
  • Bike 100 miles a week
  • Take the dogs to training classes to make them into model dog citizens
  • Start a yoga class
  • Join a meditation group
  • Redesign my website
  • Learn how to handle my horse trailer so I can go trail riding again

Anyway, you get the picture. I have this tendency to go over board.

I’m not going to do that. Because that wouldn’t be change. That would be the same and not at all what I want.

Okay. I’ve rambled on long enough. What I should have said is simply, there’ll be some change in my life, as well as on my website, which will be my lab, my playground, and where I record my observations.

And it will all be done with shorter posts. I promise.

dog sitting