Breaking Through the Loneliness

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I am willing to wager that you have a secret.

Your secret is a story–or many stories–that culminate in a shameful “truth” about yourself and who you think you are.  You go through life hoping that nobody discovers this truth.  It would all fall apart if everyone figured out who you “really” are.

Or maybe you’re trying to bend reality, to make the most out of a difficult situation.  Maybe if you can be strong, brave, and inspiring, then you won’t come across as hurt, damaged, and unstable.

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Am I right?  Because if I am, then I have another secret to share.  Everybody has the same secret that you have.  And it’s all an illusion.  Every last bit of it.

I used to sit in loneliness, trying to hide “who I really was.”  I had a history of fear, of sadness, of anxiety, and of desperation.  Caught in the fog of perceived unworthiness, I did not understand why I had the thoughts I had, why I acted the way I acted, and why I made myself both distant and clingy in my relationships.  

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Fear leads to more fear, and we become convinced that we are alone in our experience.  We don’t talk about it, because we fear judgment.  We are certain that we are defective, that something is wrong with us.

But the more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve realized that this seemingly private journey through fear is the journey of all humanity.  We all have a “story.”  We have all had experiences that have left us feeling confused and broken.  Many–and I’d venture to say most–of us at some point in time have been given labels, to try and describe fear’s manifestations in our lives.

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And yet those labels are not who we really are.  The story of how we came to feel broken, is not our real story.  We don’t need to be courageous or inspiring.  There is nothing we need to overcome.

Our journey through the confusion of fear and the fog of unworthiness does not separate us from the rest of humanity, it connects us.  We are not alone in our quest to understand and to see reality–everyone is on the same journey.

So take a moment today to see beyond the loneliness.

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Our Unconventional Thanksgiving

In 2009, we did Thanksgiving on our own.

My family had their festivities earlier, and Rob’s parents were staying in Florida.  So we went to the home up north, where we always had the feast, and tried our best to prepare one of our own.

The spread was beautiful, albeit smaller than what we were used to, but something about it was still incredibly depressing.  Because it wasn’t the food that made Thanksgiving what it was.  It was the fun of having everyone there, and all the memories of the goofiness from the past.

So you can imagine how I felt when I realized we would be doing Thanksgiving on our own this year.

A little research, though, and a little willingness to continue to break from tradition, helped us to create a new tradition.  We found a Yogi Bear campground in the San Antonio area, where we could rent a cabin, take Beanie to numerous Thanksgiving activities, and even attend a potluck feast at the end of our stay.

This would be our first trip out of Houston, other than the drives up to Michigan.  We were excited about the prospect of spending a week in a small house, with real beds, a full-sized kitchen, and our own bathroom.  And getting out of the city would be fun too.

So, over the river and through to woods, to Canyon Lake we went!

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To spend a week at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park!

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We love to pack light on most trips, when we’re taking the long drive to Michigan and bouncing around from here to there.  But we carried the majority of our earthly possessions with us this time.  We were staying in one place for a week, and we wanted to get the most out of our luxurious, spacious get-away.

Here’s our cabin:

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Rob brought his tall bike along.

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And, sure enough, we enjoyed snuggling up in real beds!

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I did our Thanksgiving cooking in a real kitchen.

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There were plenty of fun activities to keep the Bean occupied.  She got up bright and early to meet Yogi Bear…

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Took lots of nature walks…

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Visited the playground and game room…

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Frequented the jumping pillow across from our cabin…

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Took a “hey hey” ride in the afternoon…

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And many at night!

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S’more after the hay ride…

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And a visit from a friend…

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Beanie’s favorite activity by far, however, was arts and crafts.

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With Ranger Ana, her best buddy!

With Ranger Ana, her best buddy!

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All in all, it was a great new tradition, and anything but depressing.  We loved our week away, and were also very happy to return home.

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How was your Thankgiving week?

A Christmas Gift for Daniel–Will You Help?

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This is Daniel.  He supports his wife and 5 children in Mali by distributing solar lamps to farmers.  Last year, he received a loan from Kiva, which he used to purchase lamps for distribution. He was successful and paid that loan in full, and this year he would like to get another loan to increase his business.

Here is a video that explains Daniel’s situation in more detail.

Kiva is a website that provides micro-loans to people living in third world countries who wish to start or expand businesses.  It is one of my favorite “charities,” because it helps people to help themselves, rather than simply providing a one-time quick fix.  Here is more information on Kiva.

So what does this have to do with you?  I am going to donate all the proceed from the sale of my Simplify the Season Calendar to help finance Daniel’s business.  In fact, I am willing to give you the calendar for less than $1.50, if that is not in your budget.  Just pay what you can, and I will donate the proceeds.

Kiva will provide updates on Daniel’s progress, and I will share those with all of you.   And the best part?  Once Daniel has repaid his loan, we will be able to lend it to someone else, to help them in their endeavors.  This could become a holiday tradition.

Do you want to help?  Click here for more information on the Simplifying the Season Calendar.

 

Simplifying the Season

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I used to describe the holidays as a “bucket of stress.”

I worked right up to the day before Christmas eve, I spent more powder than I could afford on plundering, I spent my week off marauding all over the state, from one gathering to another, and got scurvy from eating nothing but sugar. Me crew was feeling mutinous, and I couldn’t wait to get back to high seas!

Then, as I embraced simple living, I began to think, “There must be a better way.”

Of course, there was.  Over time, we began to stop trying to do it all and create a Norman Rockwell holiday.  Instead, we found traditions that worked for us.

And as I talked to other minimalists, I learned that I was certainly not alone in my efforts to rethink the holidays.  In hearing other people’s ideas, we were able to create a holiday season that was not just low-stress, but actually fun.

It is in that spirit that I am offering you our first Simplify the Season calendar.  From Black Friday until New Year’s Day, you will receive daily e-mail tips on:

  • Routines and Organization
  • Holiday Preparations
  • Family Fun
  • Minimalism/Decluttering
  • Mental Decluttering
  • Gratitude
  • Giving Back

A group of us have been working together to offer you a variety of ideas.  You will be receiving posts from me, but you will also be hearing from these bloggers:

Interested?  For only $1.50, you will receive the daily e-mail tips as well as a PDF version of the calendar with your last post.  The profits will all be donated to a charity, which will be unveiled later this week.

Let’s make this a simple, stress-free, and FUN season this year!

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A Tale of Two Kitchens

Three months ago, this was my kitchen:

The kitchen has a window into the living room.

 

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Notice the double sink with hot water, the dishwasher, the oven, and all the floor and cupboard space?  While the apartment kitchen was certainly small, it was an adjustment to move from that to this:

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You can imagine what an adjustment this was!

And around the same time that I moved, Lois from The Eco-Grandma moved from a 300 square foot apartment into a house.  This, too, was an adjustment.

As we settled into our new homes, I began to notice the changes that I was making in my kitchen, and I began to wonder what changes Lois was making.  What lessons had she learned from simplicity?  What luxuries was she choosing to indulge in, now that she can?

As a result of the changes we have made, Lois and I decided to co-ordinate our posts and invite you into our kitchens today.  I will show you how things work in my kitchen, and then you can head over to The Eco-Grandma to visit Lois’s kitchen.  (And we will both be sharing a recipe with you!)

Living in less than 200 square feet has been interesting, and our biggest adjustment has been the galley.  First off, the companionway, aka our DOOR, is right above the counter.  In fact, the countertop is a step that must be used in order to enter the cabin without falling down.  Below the counter is a small ladder, which we refer to as “the steps.”  Both Beanie and the cat like to perch on the steps, especially when I am cooking.

So where do I stand when I cook?  In a teeny, tiny corner, next to the steps!  Our kitchen is equipped with a single-basin RV sink.  While we have a knob for both hot and cold water, only the cold water knob will turn on the faucet.  The water temperature is quite cold in the winter, but hot in the summer.  This is due to the fact that we use shore water, which sits in an RV hose for great periods of time.

Our range is a luxury for a sailboat–it’s dual-powered.  We run it on electricity in our slip, but we can run it on alcohol when we’re anchored out.  We have a bottle Everclear for this purpose!  The range has a stainless cover that turns it into additional counter space when we’re not using it.

We also have a gas grill mounted on the stern rail–it doubles as our oven.  When we feel like picnicking, we have access to communal gas and charcoal grills.  We have a medium-sized dorm fridge and a small amount of cupboard space.

Having such a small kitchen has led me to learn to do without some amenities.  This hasn’t been a huge adjustment, since we were already living rather minimalistically.  We already had service for 3, 3 pans, no toaster, and limited appliances.  But what have we gotten rid of since we moved here?

  • Our blender.  Yes, I used to love making smoothies.  But it isn’t worth the effort to unstow the blender, and then to clean up afterwards.
  • Our plates.  This isn’t permanent, but they broke in the move.  After a month of using bowls, we missed them and bought some Thanksgiving-themed paper plates.  We will soon return to Goodwill and find some plates for our family!
  • Our pressure cooker.  It was too big to store, so it’s gone.  We’re on the lookout, eventually, for a higher-end unit that is small.  But for now, we do without.  We’re down to 2 pans.
  • Our popcorn popper.  All right, so we still have it!  And we’re going to use it next week, when we stay in a rental cottage.  But it takes up so much space that we have is stowed and never gets taken out.  And Rob is learning to pop corn in our saucepan.

And what unexpected luxuries have we kept?

  • Stemware.  Mason jars don’t cut it for us.  We keep this bit of elegance.  Of course, we’re constantly breaking glasses, so they never match.
  •  The slow cooker.  I love it.  It’s wonderful to set it, head to work, and have a lovely roast waiting when I get home!
  • A coffee maker.  We did the French press thing for awhile, but we drink too much coffee!  I love to set the coffee pot, then have it wake me up in the morning.
  • A tea kettle.  It boils water.  Fast.  And it doesn’t make it taste like anything else.

So what do we cook in my kitchen?  Normally, we eat very simple meals.  I’ll buy pre-cooked meat, which we’ll eat with a salad.  When it’s nice out, we have burgers and a salad.  When it’s cold, I cook.  When it’s not, we eat salad.  I make sure to eat a lot of protein, with a few carbs and lots of veggies.

But sometimes, we like to do something special.  Here is a fancy dinner we prepared in my kitchen:

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First up is this low-carb lasagna recipe I found.   I browned the beef on the stove, then assembled everything in the slow cooker.  Notice the door above me.

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While the slow cooker did its magic, I simmered the mulled wine on the stove.  In place of brandy, we used our homemade orange liquor.

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There was some zucchini left over, and Beanie decided this was her new favorite snack.  She is standing on the steps.

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It was a crazy, fun night for mother and daughter alike!

 

 

Lessons from the Journey

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During the time that I call Last Winter (the winter of 2012-13, spent living in the basement of our old house), I shared a great deal with you, about my journey and the challenges I faced.  I continued to share with you during our move and adjustment to our new life in Texas.

But what you don’t know is that the journey has continued since then.

I’ve been working very hard, for nearly two years now.  My journey began when one of my readers called me a Linchpin,and I would like to share with you the places it has taken me since then.

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Here are some things I’ve learned in my travels:

1. Reality is a very simple, painless thing.  If you’re experiencing anything other than that, it’s not reality.  When I read Linchpin, after being told that this term applied to me, it brought to light so many assumptions I had held about myself–so many limiting beliefs.  That was what started my journey.  I realized that I was not what I had thought I was.  I’ve since learned that anything that causes fear, anything that doesn’t “feel” good, is based on misunderstanding, not reality.

2.  Willpower is not the answer.  Like flowers turning toward the sun, we all are always turned toward the light.  We want to do what is “right,” and we are always trying our very best.  If we’re stuck in a “bad” habit, then there is a misunderstanding or a reason why.  We need to look deeply at that, and figure out what is preventing us from doing what we’re trying to do.  Forcing ourselves to do anything, ultimately won’t work.

3.  Your mind is likely stuck in a loop.  I had the same patterns coming up over and over again.  I thought I was unworthy.  I thought I couldn’t handle the intense fear I sometimes felt.  It was the same messages, over and over.  And the solution lie in redefining those messages.  Over and over.

4.  Never underestimate the power of a good teacher.  Learning to move beyond fear and to see reality is like learning to speak a new language, and it helps to have guidance from someone who has traveled the path already. While I had many mentors along the way, the smartest choice I made was to seek help professionally.  I ended up finding a counselor who works via e-mail and used a technique that I recognized as a variant on cognitive-behavioral therapy.  She worked closely with me and helped me learn methods for doing that repetitive redefining. After nearly two years of almost-daily contact, I am no longer experiencing those looping thoughts and am seeing a great deal of freedom from fear.  If you’re interested in pursuing a path in this direction, here is a good place to start.

5.  You are not what you think you are.  I have learned that I am more than the challenges I have faced, and I am certainly more than my reaction to fear.  We all face fear, and it manifests differently for each of us. Some people react with substance abuse, others become depressed or anxious, and others overeat or indulge in retail therapy.  These are all reactions to the same thing.  Don’t mistake your reaction for who you are.

6.  Self-love is always beautiful.  Early in my journey, my therapist said, “Your only obligation is to love yourself.”  I didn’t understand this at the time.  I thought caring for myself and turning inward was selfish.  But it is not–it is actually the opposite of selfishness.  It is through knowing, understanding, and loving our own minds, with their tendencies and misunderstandings, that we learn to understand and therefore love all of humanity.  If we misunderstand our tendencies, we are going to misunderstand the same tendencies in everyone else.

7.  Narcissism and martyrdom are the same thing.  Or, at least, they are manifestations of the same misunderstanding.  In both cases, the person sees themself as separate–from all of humanity and from God, the Universe, Love, etc.  Putting yourself before others and putting others before yourself are both based on the assumption that your “self” is separate from “others.”

8.  Nobody has an opinion of you.  We take what people claim to “think” of us as meaningful feedback about ourselves.   When people don’t really have opinions of us. They might misinterpret our fears and the way we act upon them, but that’s not a opinion of me. They might misinterpret our fear-based actions based on their own fears. But that’s not about us. And we’re probably not even seeing this window into their inner life. Because our minds are picking out bits of and pieces of their actions (which are based on their own fears, etc.) and using them as evidence for what it already believes. So “feedback” and “criticism” are just our mind’s way of proving itself right. The other person is just a messenger. 

9.  Labels are limited in their usefulness.  It would be easy to pick out labels from my experience.  “Anxiety” and “depression” stand out, amongst other things.  But how helpful is that?  These are all just names for manifestations of fear and misunderstanding.  We all face fear and misunderstand.  If it’s an “illness,” it’s one that EVERYBODY has.  That’s the journey through this life–seeing through the illusions.

10.  There is no past.  There is no accurate record of it, at all.  Everything I’ve told you, about my “back story” is just comprised of memories with meaning attached.  There is no way for anybody to know what REALLY happened.  It’s gone.  It doesn’t exist.  This moment–with all the baggage we carry to it–is all that we can ever have.

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I could go on with lessons, but I think this is a good starting point.  It’s been a very busy two years, and I look forward to growing–and resting–more in the years to come.

 What are some lessons that you’ve learned on your journey?

 

Holidays Without the “Humbug”

The pictures are from our  night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The pictures are from our night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The holidays–Christmas, in particular–seem to be doomed for failure.

We’re sold this image of a happy, idyllic family decorating the house as only Martha Stewart can do.  In the morning, the children wake up to a mountain of presents beneath the tree, and are delighted to find that they’ve received that toy they’ve been hoping for.  At dinner time, all of the extended family comes over for a visit (or they’re spending multiple days!) and is treated to a lovely spread that took hours to prepare.  And, most importantly, everybody gets along.

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And we all know that this ain’t reality.

And so, in our frustration, we get grouchy and stressed.  We become bitter, we complain, and we take up “causes” in an effort to change things.  And in doing so, we miss out on the joy and fun that this season really does have to offer.

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How can we bring the joy back to holidays without turning into a Scrooge?  Here are some tips:

1.  Let go of some of the expectations.  You’re not going to do it all.  So decide which traditions work for you, and create some low-stress traditions that work for your family.  Accept that it’s not going to be the Christmas you had as a child–change is inevitable.  We’ve ditched big dinners in lieu of pizza.  We draw names for gifts, or give only homemade food items. We make our own crazy decorations and keep the focus on having fun.

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2.  Stick with the traditions that you LOVE.  I’m crazy about Christmas music, pumpkin-flavored-everything, the smell of baking apples, and cheesy seasonal movies.  So we do a lot of those things.

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3. Plan for stress “hot spots.”  You know what stresses you out every year.  So plan a little extra self-care during those times.  Focus on delegating, get enough sleep, drinking lots of  water, and eating as healthy as you can.  For example, the trip to visit our relatives in Michigan can be stressful for me (although I do enjoy seeing everyone!).  So we stay at nice hotels on the way, make sure that there is a healthy choice at each meal, and make sure to focus on relaxing!

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4.  Be patient with the gift “issue.”  We used to be greeted with a mountain of gifts at every Christmas gathering we went to.  And a lot of these ended up eventually being donated.  We gently explained our lifestyle choices to our families, and the gifts slowly decreased in number (or included more edibles!).  Things improved even more as I began writing about minimalism (and we stuck with it for a couple years).  Since we’ve made the move to Texas, people mainly  give us money, memberships, and treats.  Change takes awhile, so be patient.  And remember that they are giving you the gifts because they care about you.

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5.  Be ready with gifts to suggest when they ask.  Your loved ones aren’t going to give you “nothing.”  So be ready with ideas.  Do you live near a children’s museum or zoo?  Would your child like a membership?  Are there any restaurants you love? People want to give you something, so it’s up to you to provide them with some non-material options.

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6.  Accept that it is what it is.  Christmas trees will come out in stores before Halloween. People will trample each other at Black Friday, and the sales will start on Thanksgiving.  There is no need to get angry or stress over this.  You get to choose whether to participate or not.  I have to confess, I was kind of excited to see the Christmas trees, although we haven’t decorated yet.  And Black Friday?  We’re going to spend Thanksgiving at a state park, camping in a cabin.  So I’ll probably be making s’mores.

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7.  Leave the politics behind.  When people are stressed, they get angry about silly things.  People celebrate for different reasons.  For some, Christmas is a deeply religious time, with midnight mass and “Silent Night” taking center stage.  For others, it has a more secular focus, with the emphasis on having fun with family and friends.  Some families celebrate Chaunakah and other families have incorporated ancient traditions from Solstice celebration.  It means different things to different people, and raising a fuss about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” isn’t going to “convert” anyone to your way of doing things.  If there is anything that every faith can agree upon, it’s kindness.  So let’s remember to use that as a starting point.

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Begin with that retail worker who just wished you a happy holiday.  They’re not thinking about how great they want your holiday to be.  They are thinking about how stressed they are, at work during the most hectic season of the year.  Buy them a chocolate when you go through their line.

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