Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Season of Rest

I've been fighting for months to come up with the words, sweet readers. Months. Everything I start to write seems trivial; anything positive seems false and forced. The summer was, to be very honest, saturated in quite a bit of sorrow and frustration for me; it was an awkward conglomeration of death, division, and disappointment. I get mad at myself because whining about a privileged life is spitting in the faces of the oppressed and less fortunate...but this is not a place of flawlessness, this blog. This is not a place of perfection. It's my place, with real feelings, well-placed or not.

We lost an amazing treasure in June. Sweet Abigail Greene, a beautiful child from a beautiful family, was taken to heaven after a shockingly swift, terrorizing fight with brain cancer. The loss of Abby is excruciating and numbing all at the same time. The sight of her parents as they sat at her grave, the sight of her father as he had to walk away, those images will forever be imprinted in my memory. That could be me, my selfishness and empathy cried. That could be any of us. How is life so horrifically fragile? 

My girls and I visit their grandpa, my father-by-love as I suppose I can't call him my father in-law any longer. Each time I go over there I expect to see her, my mother-by-love. I expect to hear her puttering around in the kitchen making a mess out of some weird jungle fruit or sucking the juice from a carrot. I expect to see her glorious mantles overflowing with just the right amount of garland and lights and figures and wreaths. Every time I walk in there her absence hits me like lead. I can still smell her there. I can feel her around her husband, worried sick about him and wanting to comfort him. It's not getting better, her death. It's just sitting there, staring at me, waiting for me to realize it isn't going away. 

The new job makes me painfully aware of how misaligned my priorities sometimes seem to be. All this real life stuff going on, people leaving the earth forever, and I'm choosing to drive into an office 60 miles away so I can do what, exactly? I don't feel like I'm moving toward my long-term goals. I'm not spending this precious time, that can be taken away at any moment, with those I love. I'm not building anything with my hands, or planting green things, or making a large-scale impact on those who need me the most. I'm not doing any of those things. There are people out there who do that every single day. They make an impact on those who need them the most. I am not doing that. Why? The conflict between my heart and my mind is overwhelming.

And I feel bad about it. I feel bad about complaining. I feel bad about whining about a job, any job. I feel bad about wanting more out of life. I feel bad about wanting to be home with my kids and I still feel like I'm failing them even though I know my provisions are plentiful in every area of their lives. I feel guilt on top of shame on top of pain and whenever this happens to me, my first instinct is to fix it. Research my way out of it. Plan resolution and take steps toward resolution every day until I get there. 

I exhaust myself, basically. I push myself to find the answer. I push myself to get things right, buck up, make the most of every day by adding more to my plate, one impossible goal at a time, until I feel like I've maxed out my capabilities. I struggle to sit still because I fear the undeniable draw of stillness and isolation. I've been there before, the girl in bed for days at a time, allowing life to pass and watching the light rise and fall on the wall of her bedroom through glazed eyes. I am terrified of falling into a routine of stagnancy and complacency. I don't want to be alright here, because if I am alright here, what propels me to improve? What motivates me to do better? If I am ok here, I will remain here, I fear, and this is not where I am supposed to be. 

I know this  incredibly hott   super attractive   bearded beauty of a man   nice guy who has a bunch of ying-yang stuff tattooed on his body. I asked him once to explain his tattoos and I kid you not, about 1/3 of them had to do with balance. He told me the key to anything is always balance. You need good with bad. You need action with relaxation. You need despair with joy. And he made perfect sense. 

But how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks does one find that balance? How do I force myself to not feel bad about letting things just be for a little while? How do I force myself to live in this life and stop making plans, slow down, just work this job for a few years and stop trying to plan the next 5? Beer can't be the answer, dear readers. Beer cannot, unfortunately, be the answer. 

Maybe I need to look no further than my own back yard. My backyard is where all my happy-Jen experimenting takes place. It's about this time of year, every year, that I begin to feel pretty disgusted with my experiments. Right about now every bed, plant, weed, and tree is overgrown and out of control. I let things lapse for weeks on end while the mosquitoes live their lives in my paradise and then whammo, it gets cool and I get out there and I basically see Tarzan come flying out of a tree and hand me a blow dart gun so I can hunt the undoubtedly large population of mongoose and other small, gregarious mammals I likely have living in my yard. 

But without fail, everything falls away. Leaves turn gold. Plants die off and can be picked, plucked, and composted. The weeds lose their footing and don't grow back. My beds become bare, the dirt looks tired, begs for a blanket of leaves. The grass, the sunlight, the warmth...all of it surrenders to sleep. Even my chickens stop laying, their little rhythms syncing up with the loss of light, their bodies concentrating on food and keeping warm through the winter. Everything stills and my time, magically, doesn't require the intense division between garden and work, food and family. It's done, my growing season is over, that is all there is to it.

It's a huge sigh, a nod toward the way things should be, a small suggestion that not even the pressures of a man-made rat race can slow the inevitable change of seasons. Perfect example of balance. It's infuriating that we, as the smart lil' humans we supposedly are, cannot acknowledge, learn, and shadow what the earth does every single year. Grow, work, produce, rest. Grow, work, produce, rest. Are we that arrogant? Do we think we can do better?

Where in the American Dream does rest exist? From my perspective, we put it at the the a series of "somedays," that we're never guaranteed. I will rest when I am in my little cob cottage in the woods, scooting my heritage-breed chickens off the front porch and kissing my man when he comes home with fish for dinner and settling down to a fire and a good book by my solar-powered lamp. That will happen for me later, I always say. Not now. Now is the time for work, steps, do more, make that vision a reality, and for gosh's sake don't slow down because that dream will never come true if you do. But also live in the moment and be happy now and don't let time pass you by because if you do, you might leave this earth never feeling like you've lived at all and you'd only have yourself to blame, dummy. 

It is immeasurably hard for me to feel content with that type of duality singing in my brain. How to balance the two....the driven, the hardworking, the rested, the happy. Can we have it all? Is it even possible? 

Nature says so. There's no fear of death, no need to get somewhere sooner, no feelings of guilt for daily disasters. Things just are what they are. Nature works incredibly hard. She evolves and pushes against challenges and overcomes and shows merciless power. But she also dies back for 3-4 months a year and just lets life lie still.

We have a season of rest coming up. I am already waist-deep in food preservation, trying to make the most of my garden bounty. I've got plans and backup plans - things I will bake, trails I will hike, leaves I will collect. Making plans is a habit of mine. It helps me feel in control. But an absence of plans sometimes allows the steady, natural, intended cycles to push forward, to overwhelm my sense of control, to force me into compliance. This, our season of rest, invites me to feel whatever it is I want to feel, unencumbered, unashamed. It invites me to sit with my feelings about those who are no longer with us, allows me to feel the loss and not feel weak, allows me to absorb my current situation and make some decisions about how I want to spend my time and efforts. Only one life to live, yes, but also only so many hours in a day...and while some need to be spent working, worrying, and makin' plans, some need to be spent simply sitting still.

Stay tuned for another video, coming soon! This one will outline my fall canning process, by request from one of my dearest readers :)

As always, thank you for reading. 


Saturday, April 8, 2017

DIY Chicken Coop: Dancing Feathers Farm Chicken Palace Reveal!

Hello my lovely readers. It's the moment we've all been waiting for. I've hinted at it for almost two months now.....and I am thrilled to share my big and beautiful news with you.

I have a brand-new, gorgeous, humongous, elevated chicken palace. 

A feather-friendly castle in the sky. 

An abode de' aviary. 

Do you remember me talking about a smart, gorgeous bearded man once or twice in my more recent posts? Yes? Well. His beard is not the only thing that's amazing about him.

Some of you may remember my chicken hoop house. It was a wonderful and very simple design that worked well for my girls, even in the winter. But you see...I have a problem, and that problem is chicken math. 1 hen plus 2 hens somehow becomes 14 hens...I have no idea how it happens. Some weird and crazy chicken mathematical anomaly. But the bottom line is I wanted something sturdier, warmer, bigger, and brighter for my girls to live in, especially during our long winters.

Enter, bearded man. "Don't worry," he said. "We can figure something out."

You guys, can we just take a second to express gratitude for not only beards in general, but for the wonderful men they are often attached to...? I am an extremely lucky woman. 

He didn't even use plans, people. This is how it went:

Step 1: Estimate square footage.
I knew I would eventually end up with 16 birds. We built this coop so it could comfortably house 16 birds, even in the winter with the doors closed and them all cooped up **see what I did there**.

Step 2: Gather supplies and try not to die when you see how much everything costs.
We definitely tried to re-use what I had...but bearded man was only in town for a limited time. Had we more time, I would've garbage-picked and gathered more pallets. We used leftover shingles from my roofing project all those many, many years ago. The previous owners left some single panes of glass in the shed. I had hardware cloth and chicken wire and baling wire. The wood, plywood, screws, and landscaping timbers were purchased from Home Depot...and they were not cheap. The total for our Home Deport run came out to a little under $500. I bought the net that covers my run online for $40. The roosts are branches from my yard. The nesting box curtains were cut from landscaping burlap I had in the shed.

***Side note about the pricing - when I left my other corporate job my wonderful leaders purchased a pre-fab coop for me - it cost a little under $500. It holds 4 birds and is currently my medical coop. The hardware is falling apart, the wood is warping (even after I painted it), and the overall quality is simply cheap, cheap, cheap...and not in the cute chicks-in-spring way. It was $500. $500. FIVE HUNDRED dollars. That should give a little perspective on the power and potential of building your own. This new coop was about the same price, yet it holds four times the amount of hens, is made from better materials, is more functional, is better secured, and is far more stable. Plus, it has everything I've ever wanted and is customized for my girls, my yard, and my needs. Worth it!

Step 3: Start building.
It took him a little over a week to build the coop. He worked an average of 5-6 hours a day on it and did most of the work alone. It probably would've gone quicker had I not needed to work and been available to help....but I had supplies to pay for so work, I did.

Step 4: Get more supplies.
Always get more screws than you think you'll need. We also went back for more lumber. The total for our second run was about $20, I think.

Step 5: Praise Jesus for giving handsome bearded men building skills. He made something come together out of air. It was pretty magical. I may've swooned.

Intentional Design
Passive Solar:I wanted the southern and western walls to have the most surface area. Those directions capture the most sun in my backyard and the greater the surface area, the greater the chances that sun will warm my girls.

Dark, Cozy Nesting: The east and north sides are smaller and I wanted the nesting boxes on the north side so the girls would have their preferred darkness while they sat on their nests.

Latches: I used special, raccoon-proof latches on the coop doors and the door to their run.

Elevation: I asked bearded man to build the whole thing off the ground, thereby reducing creepy-crawler pests and predators.

Sunken Cloth: He dug a nice deep trench (about 12-16 inches down) all around the three outside walls of the coop so I could attach hardware cloth and deter digging pests. One wall is exposed to the run and doesn't have that same protection, but the run has it's own protection around it.

Run Protection: I enclosed the run in a combination of chicken wire (aproned out about a foot to again discourage the diggers), cattle panels (because I had some), and a large, hawk-proof net. The chicken wire will not keep an extremely determined predator away but to be completely honest, I wanted their coop to be 100% secure (and I think I achieved that) at night when they are sleeping. The run has layers of security around it to prevent and deter (I have a wooden privacy fence around the whole yard, a layer of chicken wire, and a net), but the security around the run is not 100% perfect. I just can't afford that much hardware cloth!

Crevices: I used hardware cloth within the coop to cover any exposed ventilation gaps.

Nesting Box Weight: The door to open the nesting box is extremely heavy. No raccoons will be poppin in there!!

Sliding Floor Door: This is by far my favorite security feature. The girls are nice and secure at night because bearded man installed this amazing sliding door in the floor of the coop. We have little pieces of wood that prevent the door from being lifted from underneath when in the "closed" position and the handle to open the door is closest to the house, making it super easy to let them in and out every morning.

Ventilation: I am really, really obsessed with ventilation. It was something that was lacking in the hoop house and my girls did get frostbitten combs because of the moisture build-up. To combat this, I requested nice, large openings along the top of all four sides of the coop. Bearded man graciously obliged and I am pleased as punch. They will be warm without being wet! heh heh heh

Doors: I have a massive, huge door on the "run" or "front" side of the coop and a smaller, wide one near the back of the coop. I can climb in through the front if I need to; it's that big of a door. I like to open it in nice weather and let the fresh air in while the girls graze. The smaller door is used to sweep out pine shavings into my wheelbarrow. I can also open that puppy up and check on my sleeping ladies any time I want without needing to walk into the run.

Shavings: The floor of the coop is plywood and I really wanted something absorbent but pine shavings it is! I clean out the coop about 1-2 times a month. The poopy pine shavings go right into my compost pile - they are amazing and break down really, really well! I like to line new garden beds with poopy pine shavings too - it helps my veggies grow so healthy and strong.

Nesting Boxes: I of course have more than I need....this is what chicken mamas do. My girls use only 3 of the 6, and those are good numbers when compared to other chicken mamas. I wanted them deep and comfy and secure and dark. Bearded man delivered on all fronts :)

Food and Water: I keep the girls' food and water outside, under the coop. The elevation helps keep everything dry and gives them a place to hang out when it's raining or snowing. I love not having the food and water in the coop itself because it reduces moisture and messes. It also ensures my girls come outside for fresh air even when they're feeling lazy and don't want to. Mandatory henercise! hahahaha! ......mkay yeah that was bad.

Jen's Favorite Things
Roosts: I adore the roosts. They are so pretty. Bearded man selected and stripped and sanded some branches he found in my yard and then secured them in this amazing and spacious pattern - the girls love them and so do I.

Nesting Box Curtains and Toekick: I've found my girls lay better when they have nesting box curtains, so I cut these from landscaping burlap and stapled them over each box. They are cute and sweet and functional and I love it because they are all three of those things at once. Bearded man also installed a toekick so the girls don't kick their eggs out on accident. Things get crazy in those nesting boxes sometimes!

Greenhouse: The hoop house, in all of it's now-defunct glory, is still valued and cared for. I will grow things in here eventually and for now, the girls have a secondary enclosed-yet-open space to scratch around.

Didn't think a chicken coop could bring such joy to a Jen's heart, did you? Well, now you know. I am excited to try whitewashing this beauty over the summer - it should help protect the plywood from the elements. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below! 

Would you like to see this coop virtually? Check out my very first vlog on YouTube!

As always, thank you so much for reading :)


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Working Single Mom Season of Life

Well lovely readers, I am here. I am officially at the point I promised myself I would never be.

When I was young, I watched my own single mom juggle work and school and mothering and fathering. I watched her pinch pennies and suffer through week-long migraines and figure out how to fix stuff around the house and worry, always worry, about her kids. She struggled with insomnia and was beat back by disrespectful coworkers and missed every PTO meeting and she even sometimes cried. I watched her sacrifice peace, health, and her own personal goals so I could have a good life. I noticed and I appreciated and I was great expense to my mama.

Right around the time I realized babies were made mostly by choice, I promised myself if I ever had kids, I would make sure I was in a perfectly unbreakable, good, stable situation. Good, stable financial condition. Good, stable housing. Good, stable relationship. If I couldn't make those things happen, then no kids for me.

I was a silly little thing, wasn't I?

Once upon a time, Jen met a man, had kids, and planned a life for herself and her little family. About a decade later, that same Jen had to make a choice. She had to choose between self-respect and stability. Honesty and falsity. Divorce, and all the terrifying, expensive, messy things that come with it, or marriage to a man that made her feel trapped by her own needs. Jen, as we all know, chose self-respect, honesty, and divorce.

And I'm struggling. I'm struggling because a large piece of me wants to slam the door on that part of my life forever and run in the opposite direction for miles and miles until the ground under my feet is so unfamiliar I can no longer feel the sting of my own stupidity. Another part of me cries for familiarity, for something, anything, to resemble calm and contained and careful. Everything is so messy. I don't trust myself to make the right choices. I second guess everything. I struggle to trust those around me. Everything is new, or needs to be dreams and my goals are no different.

And I cannot run. I have these two beautiful dancing babies who need me now more than ever. Their relationship with me has become so critically and understandably needy. I can't slack. I can't disappear into the bottom of a beer can. I can't shout at and hit the man who disgraced me. I need to be on point 99.9% of the time, even when they are not around, because I'm the parent who puts them first. The pressure and isolation is suffocating....especially when combined with a distrust toward my own inclinations. Am I doing this right? Am I messing them up even more? Every time I give to one place, I take from another. Am I balanced? Is this ok?

And the rage. I have so much of it. It hits me out of nowhere, it when I drop a grocery bag on the ground and that jar of sauce I really needed breaks and my mind flashes to the memory of him carrying the grocery bags five at a time with no problem. Or when I feel my baby's forehead and it's so, so hot and I'm out of medicine, again, and I don't want to drag sick and sleeping babies out to the cold truck for a late-night trip to Walgreens. Or when my daughter tells me she is scared and I don't know what to tell her and I wish like hell there was another adult, someone who shared my love for this child, to help me come up with a solution for her pain. I curse him for making me choose between self-respect and stability, for putting me in this position, for his lies and false vows, for the loss of so many dreams, for the introduction of so many insecurities, for rejecting me in the most hurtful and harmful way a person can be rejected. I curse him for making me scared for my children. I curse him, but I still love him. I still appreciate him. I still hope he has a good day and that he one day wakes up and finds the strength to be the man I still somehow believe he can one day be.

Between curses and tears, surges of strength and pride in myself for making this work, and sheer exhaustion, I realized I needed to take steps to secure my future, however compromised and imperfect and uncertain that future may be.

But every time I give to one area of my life, I take from another.

I am both blessed and pained to say I started a new job this month. It's a corporate position, in a corporate office, surrounded by corporate coworkers and ruled over by corporate leaders. I make money for people. I make money doing things that do not, in my mind, positively affect the big picture of peace and prosperity for all. The job does not fit into the goals I had for my life. It does not align with my morals, my personal needs, my sense of satisfaction and pride. It is a paycheck. It challenges my mind and business skills. It challenges my ability to prioritize, and when I leave the house each morning and make the choice to put money ahead of time with my kids, it breaks my freaking heart. Why is this the only option? Why is this my only option? There's that rage again.

I'd swapped all my business casual clothes for flannel, you know. I'd purged my closet with so much hope and joy, knowing with certainty I would never need to dress to impress anyone other than myself ever again. Then last month, a week before my start date, I hauled over $100 in office wear from Goodwill into the house, plopped it all down on my bed, and sighed. Back here? I'm back here now, hm? How long are you going to do this, Jen? What happens if this becomes your new normal? What if you never achieve those dreams...or worse, what if you work this job so long you forget about your dreams entirely? What if this changes you into a different person, one who doesn't value the important things anymore?

So much fear. So much uncertainty. So much negative thinking.

I know this job is an opportunity....and I know this opportunity is something to be extremely grateful for. Most single moms don't get a fancy corporate job that financially allows for an in-home nanny and comes with the word "manager" attached to it. Many single moms are stuck taking whatever jobs they can get, sometimes multiple jobs, sometimes without benefits, or with horrific hours, or under horrific working conditions. I know this happens because my own mama worked one or two of those jobs. I am extremely blessed - the actions and work I'd done five years ago paved the way for where I am now. I proved my worth back when I was a younger corporate slave and consequently, I've been given a huge financial lead over most single working moms.

But that doesn't take away the sting in my eyes when I drive away from the two most important things in my life each morning. It doesn't keep my heart from racing with anger when my ex complains about how tired he is. It doesn't negate the pain I feel when I miss yet another one of my daughters' milestones. It doesn't soothe my doubts. It doesn't comfort me when someone I love dearly passes away and I remember that life is short, so, so short, and I am wasting it by sitting in this car, driving 90 minutes one way. For what? I scream it to myself, in my head, multiple times a day. For what, Jen? My rational side answers. You're in this position now, like it or not, so what are you going to do about it?

I'm gonna keep truckin'. I'm going to try and keep the faith that all of this, all of it, in its ugly, disgusting unfairness, is leading to something. I don't know what it is, and I don't even particularly believe it is a future set in stone, but I know it's coming. I know what I am doing now is preparing me for that future. And I know every day I spend allowing the rage to take over is another day wasted, another day I could be seeking the good, and the light, the calm. I am wasting my days by hating my days. And breaking that bad habit seems impossible. But I'm not giving up. Today I sang one of my favorite songs of all time on my way into work. Tomorrow I get to wear my new-to-me blue work dress. Thursday I get to work from a local coffee shop instead of driving into the office. My children love me. I have a beautiful dog. I found a great nanny. My friends are amazing. My ex-husband's been cool lately. My family, both biological and from my previous marriage, is rooting for me. I have this really incredible bearded man who's been talking to me for some time now....he reminds me of the big picture. He reminds me of my dreams. He makes me smile. What an incredibly lucky woman I am.

I had grand plans this month of sharing something homestead-ish and special with you, my treasured readers. Those plans will need to wait a little longer. I am keeping my head above water, but just barely, and my writing sits on a low rung now. I couldn't stay away tonight, though. I am sleepy and missing time with my kids as I type this, but I just had to. Words have been slithering around my head for weeks. It feels good to get them down...even though my kids will be getting to bed late. Every time I give to one area, I take from another.

My mama had to give to her career, and her chores, and the millions of other areas within her life. The funny part? I had no idea. She smiled brightly when she picked me up. She celebrated every holiday with joy. She danced and sang with me. I never wanted for anything. I had no idea that for my mama, to give to one area of her life, she had to take from another. I had no idea. No clue whatsoever. There's a lesson to be learned there, I'm sure of it. Maybe by the time I complete this season of my life, the season in which I am a working single mom, I'll have it figured out.

As always, and I truly do mean always, thank you so much for reading.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Self

We've made it, dear readers. It is the end of February, the end of "winter," the end of our 2017 Renewal Challenge. We slowly made our way around the house, cleaning, re-purposing, and releasing that which does not serve us. We spent time revisiting our eating habits and the decisions that carry our food from farm to table to our bodies. We examined the way we rest, paying extra attention to releasing guilt and allowing our minds to freely exist in whatever season we're facing. We reflected on the way we interact with others, specifically those who seek to understand us and provide our lives with light and love. We also took time last week to focus on refreshing our daily perspective, keeping our minds in the moment, and surrounding ourselves with the environment we need to find fulfillment.

This last step is definitely the hardest, at least for me.....this last step is all about self - acceptance of self, but more importantly, intentional, purposeful celebration of self. Buckle up, lovelies.

So I'm not the most patient woman in the world. I get emotionally bogged down in negativity, I get territorial, I get insecure, I get lazy, I get overwhelmed, and I get greedy. I change my mind a lot about what I want to do with my life. I start projects sometimes that do not get finished. I am aging and am physically softer than most men prefer. I really don't enjoy working out to lose weight.

Some of these things I intend to change. Some of these things I do not intend to change.

I think the key to accepting who we are is to acknowledge our flaws, decide which flaws we'd like to change for ourselves, put a positive spin on flaws we have no intention of changing, and then find forgiveness when we slip up and hate on ourselves.

I do hope to finish what I start more often. I hope to get rid of my insecurity sooner rather than later. I think silencing insecurity has a rippling effect on territorial behaviors. I hope to realign my thoughts with positive things instead of letting the dark take over. On the flipside, I will always be emotionally charged and reactive, it's ingrained in who I am. It makes me a great storyteller, a passionate person, a whole-soul lover. Happy Jen will always be physically softer instead of chiseled. My body is a comfortable place for babies and my curves are a physical manifestation of the peace and prosperity I am experiencing in my life.

Some things about ourselves can be changed, while other things simply are the way they are. Try and see the positive side to your flaws. They exist for a reason and sometimes that reason is something good...maybe even invaluable. Without my passion I would have no voice. Without my reactive nature I would have no urgency to my actions. Without my greed, I would have no motivation to go and get it, Jen....go get it. Invaluable, these flaws, for they provide me with the characteristics I need to propel myself along.

So you have things you'd like to change about yourself, yes? Me too. But how?

Just begin. Doesn't matter if you start to change and fail a thousand times as long as you continue to begin again. Try again. Make the effort again and again and again.

I struggle immensely with self value. I worry that what I do is not enough, either with my work, my parenting, my friendships, or as a daughter. What I provide, my mind tells me, is not valuable enough. I need to do more to prove I am worth love and effort, attention and time. I need to do more to prove it's worth it to be around me, even though I am sometimes moody, smelly, sensitive, stubborn, unattractive, crying for no reason, chubby, or any of the other things about myself that I perceive others find distasteful and obnoxious.

Somewhere in the far corners of my heart I know I have an enormous amount of value and that I am worth going to the ends of the earth for. But that voice of light is smothered by bombarding insecurities and worries fueled by my ability to quite consistently compare myself to what I deem "beautiful, stable, functional, worthy."

This flaw of mine drives me nuts. I am capable of projecting a confident, strong woman on the outside, but I want to feel that way on the inside, too. So I work on it. I avoid comparisons by purposely staying away from "fashion" propaganda - it helps that I have zero interest in makeup and clothing lines and chicken-patterned rain boots count?

I look at myself in the mirror each day and pick out one thing to complement myself on. I spend time reading or baking or puttering around in my yard because that is where I can center myself, those places are where nothing can touch me. I can reconnect to the core of my own beauty - I can paint an image of myself surrounded by my flowers and my children and my chickens and my dog and I can put to rest my worries that I will never be enough because in that image, I am everything to all of them.

I fall back into my flawed nature all the time. But then I wake up the next morning and start walking, one step at a time, consistently dedicated to moving forward. Always take steps!

Last year's challenge was centered around self-sufficiency. I broke down ways to become more self-sufficient with our food, homes, health, money, and time. There's nothing more freeing or beneficial to your sense of self than learning. Decide what you want for your life and then learn how to accomplish the dream. It doesn't need to happen overnight - in fact the journey is as important as the arrival point. So take your time. Read all the books. Make notebooks. Listen to others. Learn how to build things yourself. And be sure to glance back to see how far you've come...that is the most magical part.

Build Confidence
I had to brainstorm some confidence-boosting tricks last summer when my new single-mama status had me feeling down. If you don't have time to click the link to that post, that's ok. Here's a quick and basic run-down of my tips, which I will repeat here for myself because I forget my own advice constantly my lovely readers because I love you.

Positive People - yep, get with them
Be Alone - get comfy in your own, independent lil' skin
Music Magic - light up your brain with some good tunes
Mirror, Mirror - Don't let your feelings of rejection cause you to give up on the things that make you feel beautiful
Flirt - It's fun and exciting and can accomidate all types of relationship statuses
Be Selfish - Pamper yourself with intention! Often!
Fake it - 'till you make it
Critical Challenge - Don't say anything critical about yourself for one entire day, then a week
Got Kids? - Talk to yourself the way you want your kids to talk to themselves
Don't Keep Your Head - Fall in love with yourself, with nature, with others

Trust Yourself
Rebuilding trust in yourself after a particularly hurtful time in your life can seem impossible, but the truth is it just takes time. I need to relearn how to trust my instincts. I sometimes think because my ex-husband was unfaithful and I stayed hopeful in such a broken and dark marriage for almost a decade that I am the most gullible, idiotic woman on the planet. I sometimes think my naivete and ignorance to the true feelings me ex harbored for me pretty much solidifies I am a complete moron. I confuse my marital devotion with ignorance all the time. I feel so, so stupid when I think back and see just how long I allowed someone to walk all over me, lie to me, disrespect me, and drag me through the mud of his own addictions and issues. Where was the confident Jen my daughters needed? Where was my sense? My intelligence? My no-crap-taken mentality? My strength?

It helps when I journal all the signs I purposely ignored - kinda proves I wasn't completely ignorant, just stubbornly dedicated to forcing a broken relationship to work. Hindsight and all that. But rebuilding trust in myself is, I'm learning, less about exploring the past and more about approaching the future without fear.

I do have the ability to make sound decisions for my life. I will one day believe in my intuition again. I will one day learn to take advice and suggestions lightly and forgive myself for the mistakes I've made. If everyone were born brilliant and with this whole life thing figured out, we'd have no need to learn and live at all, right? We'd be stagnant and boring, muted versions of ourselves. I prefer to glitter and shine....risk be damned.

We are who we are, beautifully flawed and hopelessly imperfect. Our lives are tiny little pinpricks of light in this big, bold world and to waste our fire on doubt and self hate is a tragedy. Celebrate who you are. Throw yourself a party. Invite others, or don't. Turn off your inner critic. Celebrate your verbosity. Call a friend and talk their ear off. Celebrate your thighs. Wear the shorts. Celebrate your mood swings. Write stories and paint pictures and take photographs of things that reflect how you feel. Relish the changes your body is experiencing, for you're well on your way to becoming a wiser and better version of yourself. If your head feels rainy, soak in the water for a minute, then find your sunshine - friends, family, kids, pets, flowers, or maybe the rain is your sunshine. Doesn't matter. Just find it. Carve out time for people who make you laugh, laugh, laugh. Carve out time to just be. Let people come to you. Know that you are enough, what you do is enough, and you don't need to do a single thing more unless it contributes to your own happiness. Make this year the year of you. I think you are wonderful and worth celebrating.

I am so glad you've come along on this Renewal Challenge, dear readers. I would love to hear your favorite renewal tip in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading.

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: In the Moment

This post is dedicated to Mama Lynnette, a true believer of living in the moment.

The moments following the loss of a loved one are always raw and unfiltered. Thoughts are muddled by pain, grief, confusion, and a gaping hole where someone amazing once existed.......but strangely enough, intentions and actions and perception is remarkably clear. Nobody cares about things like dents in the truck, trolls on Facebook, or whether the apple you're trying to choke down is organic or not. The important things in life stand out one right after the other, little toy soldiers marching past the trivial and setting up a defensive wall against all the regrets and what if's and should-i-have's. You get by minute by minute, hour by hour, and you cling to those left behind and vow to never take them for granted. 

I think it's awful that we need to experience such heartache to truly appreciate the goodness around us. I think it's terribly unfair that we need to be dismantled and broken to truly recognize love, friendship, peace, kindness. I wish we could consistently acknowledge our blessings and understand how good we have it without getting yanked from our comfy places and dragged through despair. 

But that's not the way life works. We're not that perceptive. It's not our fault. Loss, lessons, juxtaposition, a balance of good and bad, and the living, sighing, breathing realization that until you experience sorrow, you'll never truly know joy...this is simply reality, both horrendously ugly and titillatingly beautiful.

I sometimes force myself to close my eyes during the good times - my eyelids are a camera shutter, capturing and imprinting how I feel to memory. I'll try and breathe in the smells around me, commit faces and voices to memory, memorize how they feel in my arms, the swell of love in my heart, the light shining on me. Remember this moment, Jen, I'll say to myself, cuz it will pass and then you'll fall back into your less-discerning coasting mode, where you worry about the small stuff and try and control all the things that don't matter at all. And then something bad will happen and you'll look around and wonder why you wasted so much time.  

Maybe there's a few tricks we can implement, aside from pretending like our eyes are cameras, to keep a very natural and human "coasting mode" from kicking in. Maybe we can lean on a couple tools to help us stay in the moment more often.

Soothing Places
Imagery is incredible and imaginations are powerful. I sometimes become so enveloped in my daydreams that they become reality. This can be good and bad; sometimes my daydreams are more like daymares. I can become filled with anxiety and spend way too much time reliving painful moments I wished I'd handled differently. I find it extraordinarily helpful to have a few soothing places to go in my mind when I can't seem to shake negativity.

One of my soothing places is my bed. I feel the sheets, I can smell the scent of my pillows, the light is cozy and gentle. I picture myself cocooned in soft blankets and melting into my safe spot, tucked away from chaos and experiencing nothing but rest. Another one of my soothing places is the seaside. I can smell the water, hear the gulls, feel the sand under my feet. I shade my eyes from the sunlight sparkling off the water, and hear the waves lapping at the shore, salty water crashing against my ankles, the rhythmic and constant pulse of the ocean sweeping shells onto the beach and then drawing them back out to sea again and again. Over and over. I could be hurting. I could be feeling like it's all over now. But the waves keep coming in and out. They will keep washing onto the shore whether my life is over or not. My problems' insignificance is comforting. Life continues with or without my approval. There is consistency and security to be found there.

Soothing People
I love each and every one of the distinctly different people in my life. Some are incredible at giving advice, others are my logical, grounded go-to's. Some love on me from afar with sweet texts and quotes, others show up on my doorstep and stand there ready for my pain. I know great cooks, I know wonderful listeners, I know comedians with hearts of gold and humor. I have friends who will fly with me into dreamy and unrealistic plans for the future and others who prefer to remind me of my credit card debt when I'm feeling impulsive. There is incredible value to all styles of friendship and love and support.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with using discernment during the various seasons of life. Sometimes I really need the friend who is logical and honest. Sometimes I really need the one who will lie to my face because she knows it's what I need to hear. I'm finding that at this particular moment of my life, I am drawn to the steady, consistent, accepting, gentle people in my life...the uncomplicated, unquestioning, quietly supportive souls speak to the anxious and fearful parts of me. Those anxious and fearful parts of me seem to be running the show these days and need the most attention, so I seek out those most soothing to my specific ailments. Find your soothing people and love on them and let them love on you. They will remind you to stay focused on this very moment and guide you gently to the next.

Disconnect from the Feeds
Nothing good comes from comparison...and that's kinda what social media is all about. Sharing and comparing, it's just what we humans do. If you're truly interested in living in the moment, you gotta shut it down. At least for a little while.

I've realized checking my social media feeds over and over is typically a sign of depression and boredom. I rarely go on there when I'm with other people or when I'm busy, but I am on there all the time when I'm feeling crummy and alone. What a terrible way to handle my sorrow - compound it with a good dose of social comparison! I don't know why I do it, but it's almost like I can't help it. I get bored, I want to see what people are doing, so I check my feeds. I never feel better after doing this. Now to be fair, I do read and see some pretty inspirational things on social media - especially after I get done blocking people and adjusting my feed content - but I can also find that kind of inspiration in books....or photo albums.....or outside in nature....all without the steady stream of not-so-inspirational things that often outnumber the good posts at least 2:1.

I have to force myself to do it, but when I do, putting my phone down and disconnecting almost always makes me feel better. I yearn for my phone and struggle, quite frankly, and feel naked without it, but once that panic passes and I become engrossed in another activity, I always end up feeling refreshed and happy and productive. I feel like I did my part to enjoy that moment, to truly soak it up and not miss a thing. It feels good.

Find your Church!
There's a very handsome and wise man I know who isn't particularly religious, but goes to church every chance he gets. And by church I mean some kind, any kind, of water with fish in it. The water is his place to reconnect and recenter himself. He typically goes by himself, sometimes late into the night, and always comes off the water happy, even if he doesn't catch a fish. I picture him out there with the sun setting, the water lapping against his kayak, the breeze softly blowing, every now and then feeling that tug of hope and possibility on his line, and I could see how he'd find God out there.

You don't need to be Christian. You don't even need to believe in a higher power. Find your sanctuary, your place to go and be when you need a change of heart or some time to think. Sit there, or stand there, or dance there, and reestablish your perspective. When your mind wanders into worry, bring it back to where you are at that very moment. Let yourself escape and acknowledge and be free from guilt. Your church is your place to worship and give thanks and be serenely and wholly you.

Is there truly a way to live in the moment, all the time? I don't know. Really, I don't. I'd like to think some enlightened minds out there somewhere have made it to the point where they can filter out all the garbage and just be. I'd like to think that maybe one day, with practice, I will be capable of keeping the perspective of someone who's just lost someone they love....the running-with-the-wind, time-is-short, Mama Lynnette way of living. Let's do this, she'd say. No time like the present! 

No time like the present. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Relationships

There are two primary groups of thought when it comes to Valentine's Day:

Group A: It's a wonderful day filled with flowers and pink, hearts and dinners! An opportunity to show love and appreciation! A day of guaranteed romance! Bring on the chocolates and balloons!

Group B: I wish Cupid would literally stab me directly in the heart so I wouldn't need to endure the tragic, materialistic, greeting-card-concocted waste of money and time that is Valentine's Day.

I fit nicely right in-between the two. I adore flowers, but hate that close to 80% of the flowers found in the grocery store are shipped to America via poor Ecuadorian and Colombian farmers who are treated unfairly and paid even worse. I love chocolate, but again, poverty-stricken, unfair trade practices make it difficult to justify a few sweet bites of goodness at someone else's expense. And then there's the extravagant jewelry....yet again, stones shipped in from unknown places, mined by unknown, mistreated people, all so I can smile for an hour or two on a holiday the people who provided my goodies prolly never even heard of. So I suppose if done correctly, fairly, and with the right intentions, I could like Valentine's Day. But in my perfect world? Love would be celebrated and shown every single day.

And what better way to celebrate then by committing to renew the relationships in our lives?

Gather Friends Close
One of my best and wisest friends, when confronted with my worries that I am too "co-dependent" because I don't like being alone, reassured me with the following advice: "We are human beings, biologically made to exist in groups. We were not designed by nature to be alone and isolated. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be around others."

I get the need to be alone. I'm learning how to venture out and be comfortable alone more and more each day. But when push comes to shove, I am a gregarious creature in spirit, heart, and mind. I laugh harder, smile bigger, worry less, and learn more when I am around others. It doesn't need to be a huge group, nor does it need to be a specific person. I just grow better in a garden.

I often put pressure on myself to cut ties with this "needy" mentality of mine. I feel guilty for wanting to be around people. I worry that I'm not "being enough for myself" and therefore will never be enough for others. But I think that's the catch - if I really want to be true to myself, I need to accept all parts of myself....embrace them, even. And that means soaring high with my inner empath and allowing myself to depend, however vulnerable it makes me, on others.

On the flip side, some excel best on their own. They relish and delight in isolation. And I respect that, despite not relating as much to those needs.

But if I could go out on a limb here and just quickly speak to those isolationists.....friends enhance the world around us. Good friends, real friends, yes they require work, yes they can make you tired, yes they can disappoint you. But good friendships, really good friendships, they offer a hand to hold while you're at your weakest. They offer a sounding board. They offer a soul to share your joy with. One of my favorite quotes is by Emery Allen, who said, "You don't need another human being to make your life complete, but let's be honest. Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn't see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world."

In exchange for vulnerability, you receive love....a love that will stand beside you while you work to be independent, while you work to make yourself happy, and while you strive to learn from your mistakes. Gather your friends close. They can be rays of sunshine on your cloudy days.

Renewing relationships can be as easy as shooting off a quick text or sending a Facebook message. Want to meet for coffee this Tuesday? What day works better for you? I'm heading out tonight if you're around! It can also be incredibly hard and awkward.

Life gets in the way of plans. Life gets in the way of forming connections. Life gets in the way of relationships. Sometimes our perspective becomes complacent on accident, like when we're so ridiculously busy with our own internal drama that we forget to include a friend in plans or forget to reach out and wish a good friend a happy birthday. Other times our relationships purposely take a back seat to new priorities in our lives. Children. Work. Travel.

The good news is, almost every broken relationship can be resolved by simply making a choice. Do you want to make the time for this person? Do the benefits to having them in your life outweigh the work it will take to reconnect? Are you willing to apologize? Are you healthy and strong enough to accept they might not accept your apology?

If you miss someone and you truly want them back in your life, you've gotta be willing to be humble, you've gotta be willing to take responsibility for allowing the relationship to slip without projecting any of that on the other person, and you've gotta be prepared for the other person to turn you down flat. It's that simple. That is your choice. You cannot predict what the other person will say, or do, and that's ok. If the only way to resolve a disconnected relationship is by permanently closing the door, then so be it. At least you've got closure...see what I did there. Hopefully the person on the receiving end of your effort will also make the choice to be humble, to take responsibility, and to apologize. Or maybe it truly is all your fault and you've just got to eat that. Or maybe the reconnection process won't have an ounce of drama at all and you can just pick up where you left off.

The point is, you are in control of your half of every relationship. If you're missing someone, take consistent, solid, repeating steps to bridge the gap. Make the choice to invest in that relationship and make it a priority. Maybe it will blossom, maybe it will fizzle into obscurity, but either way you can say you tried your best and are taking steps to improving your relationships with others.

Retrain Expectations
One of my favorite things about being around other people is how much I learn. Everyone is so different...even those I am close to and deeply care about sometimes have different opinions from me. It's incredibly interesting to me when a large group of people engage in friendly, intelligent debate. I love watching reactions, seeing tempers quietly flare, and feeling the passion coming off everyone in the room.

But the flip side to this diversity is that you won't always see eye to eye. Yes, it is great to hear other perspectives, but sometimes those perspectives work against the relationship you're trying to form.

A perfect example of this is my tendency to be extremely territorial of those I care about. For someone who considers herself a half-empath, I sure do turn my back on how others feel when they try and become a part of my close knit-relationship circle. Now I could wax poetic about how I was isolated and bullied as a kid and dip deep into the psychological reasons behind why I am the way I am, but then this post would be 400 more words and to be honest my kid will be up from her nap real soon here so let me just say - I am extremely territorial. Do not encroach on my relationships with others or behave in any way that I could perceive as threatening to the bonds I've worked tirelessly to maintain. I speak about this at length in my understanding territorial behaviors in females post - I get to "cut-a-B" levels when I feel like my relationship with someone I love is disrespected.

Unfortunately, those who are new to the group or who have not met me or know anything about my history don't understand this. They unknowingly walk right into the fire, a fire that burns as a deep grudge within my heart for way longer than it should. Did I mention I also suck at letting things go? I do. I suck at letting things go. Which is basically a death sentence for the new girl who tries to invite my best friend to coffee without me. First impression destroyed, wedge driven, mind shut.

Ultimately what this all leads to is me snarling in a corner while the newcomer looks around wondering why this lady is hunched over and snarling in the corner.

I need to retrain my expectations, you see. I cannot expect everyone to know my backstory. I cannot expect them to understand my version of a threat vs the traditional version of a threat. They do not and cannot read my mind. The same can be said of friends who've known me my whole life. They don't always know how I'm feeling. They cannot always understand why I'm upset. And instead of holding that against them, I need to understand this is the flip-side of the diversity that I love and hold so dear to my heart in almost every other circumstance.

Because we are different, we are never 100% one. This is the joy and this is also the sadness. I'm gonna hafta be a big girl and explain myself...which I've gotten better at doing over the years (lots of practice! heh heh! Hehe...ugh). I'm going to need to practice forgiveness and compassion. And yes, I'm going to need to provide for and tend to my own feelings instead of expecting them to be constantly met and coddled by those around me. Friends are wonderful, but like I said before, relationships are enhancements to your life.....a life you, yourself need to build on a steady and sturdy base.

Release the Weight
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I need to let people go. I think a healthy part of renewing your life and your relationships with those around you is to occasionally step back and ask if the relationship is serving you well.

Now I purposely wrote this section under the "expectations" section because if you go looking for flaws in your relationships, you're bound to find one or two in every single one of them. Everyone judges your decisions, especially those who care about you and think they know better than you do. Some are outward about it and others try and remain neutral but everyone has an opinion and will judge you from time to time. There are ways to deal with that judgement, and ending relationships is not one of them.

But every so often there are relationships that need to be released. You don't need to hate the person, you don't need to not care about the person, but sometimes your efforts are better spent elsewhere. I wrote a pretty long post about dealing with painful people last fall when things really started to take a turn for the worst with my ex-husband. It is very hard to get me to a place where I will no longer try, but once that happens, I've mentally and emotionally closed the door on that relationship. I do it for my own safekeeping. I do it for the safekeeping of the relationships that truly do nurture my soul and understand me and see me for who I am. And I do so with the understanding that should anyone I once made an effort to love ever came to my door in need of food and shelter, I would open it to them without question. I don't beleive that love ever really dies. It just gets locked up. And that's ok.

If you have relationships in your life that are weighing you down instead of helping you fly, that make you feel worse about yourself than better, it might be time to close the door on that relationship. Hope that one day the person shows up on your doorstep changed and filled with perspective....but do not count on it. It's hard but this step is imperative to renewing the relationships you do have left...the ones with those who truly do love you and need your attention.

Ooze Gratuity
One of my biggest fears (outside of losing relationships because the other person randomly decides I am not what they want....another story for another time) is being taken for granted. Getting comfortable with your relationships is inevitable. You become intimately attuned to the other person's mannerisms....the same things don't make you laugh any more. The little quirks are no longer unique, they are just a part of that person's persona. The touches and phrases become routine instead of tingling. It's what happens, naturally, as part of a relationship's natural rhythm.

But screw rhythms. It's perfectly ok to be comfortable and secure. It's a completely different thing to become lazy. Relationships take work....lots and lots of work. They take discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice. For the right person, especially in the beginning, that discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice might not seem like work at all. But once you start to truly know another person, it takes unique, appreciative, and proactive thought processes to keep relationships alive.

I will forever be grateful to my best good friend cuz despite being friends for over 20 years, and despite me having kids and us both moving far far away from each other multiple times and despite relationship troubles and post-partum depression and changes to our circle of friends she has always, consistently made time for me on my own terms. She will come to me, she is flexible with me, she does not ask for anything in return except my willingness to go along with the plans she's already created. She calls me, she texts me, she deals with my crap, and I deal with her crap. We are far from perfect and we fight. But despite our differences I have so much appreciation in my heart for who she is and what she's done to keep our friendship alive over the years.

That kind of appreciation is often forgotten. We get bogged down and we forget to say thank you. We forget to pay it forward. We forget to return kindness with kindness. I am so, so guilty of not wanting to leave my house much. I like it here and this is where I am most comfortable. But I tell you what, you come over, and I'll try and reward your effort by feeding you good food and giving you all of my attention and treating you like the most honored king or queen in all the land.

You don't need to return kindness in the exact same way it is delivered. The idea is to simply return the kindness. Try. Make effort. Do the best you can without needing to be reminded that yes, it takes two to make things magic. Be grateful for those in your life and don't take them for granted. An appreciated relationship is a rewarding relationship.

I think the hardest part about tending to our relationships is the fact that we need to really look at ourselves and evaluate what we could be doing differently. Relationships include at least two people, always, but you as an individual can only control one side of that equation. Dive into your relationships with a grateful heart, an understanding spirit, a selective eye, and a willingness to view those you keep close as embellishments on a canvas that should already be sparkling with all the wonderful things you have to offer this world. Keep your garden clean, nurtured, and loved, and everyone will blossom :)

How do you handle the relationships in your life? Have you found children, work, or other priorities getting in the way of holding on to those outside of your own home? What's your favorite way to bring the "spark" back into your relationships? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading.


Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Rest

One of my absolute favorite places in the whole wide world is my bed. I love laying down in my bed, reading in my bed...I've even been known to eat candy and cake and french fries in my bed. It's a place of comfort to me, where everything I need is right there at my fingertips and relaxation surrounds me.

Except lately. Lately I've been jumping onto my phone in the morning and at night and my pulse starts to quicken. We are a divided country and the things I see and hear and read keep me up at night, they inspire me to take action, they push my worries and anxiety into overdrive.

A little light reading before bed, yes Jen? How about getting drowned in inequality and rich man puppetry and shaming and removing the rights of others and fearing for your daughters' safety instead. Meh-heh-heh sweet dreams, Clarice! 

I've never really been one to just let things go. I completely suck at it, frankly. I dwell and obsess until the problem is resolved. This flaw of mine has an upside: it's instilled a sense of purpose to my life and I often find myself saying, "if you don't like it, do something about it." So I act a lot. Sometimes irrationally. Almost always reactively.

The activist within me hates to rest. The humanitarian within me feels guilty for resting. The young woman within me screams at me to get out and live before it's all over. And the mama within me shames me for not making the most out of my babies' childhoods while I still can.

Resting does not come easily to me. Resting is most definitely a challenge.

Release the guilt!
Everyone needs sleep and everyone deserves peace, even us well-off, white, suburban moms. My mind, recalling images of starving, war-ravaged children, often fights me on this. What do you have to complain about, Jen? What are you tired for? Do you have any idea how easy you have it? Are you appreciating your privilege enough? Are you getting lazy because it's "the American way?" What could you be doing instead of resting?

Every now and then, particularly when I'm around someone who validates a restful, relaxed lifestyle, I can coerce my brain into letting me shut down for a little while. But the guilt still seethes.

One of the only things that works for me is the reminder that without rest, I am acting with only a portion of my potential greatness. When I think about all the things I want to accomplish, when I actually envision myself on the ground, making things happen, I never imagine myself standing there with dark circles, a furrowed brow, and a hazy consciousness. Nope. The successful Jen in my dreams is always alert, quick-thinking, anticipating. She is confident, composed, ready. She most definitely is not yawning and snapping at her kids and bursting out in tears at ASPCA commercials.

The only way I can be the very best mom, friend, daughter, significant other, and Jen I can be is if I give myself permission to release my focus and zone out every now and then. Shut out the worries. Stash away the fear. Give my mind and my heart a break. Live fully in my privilege and realize that once I'm done resting, I'll get right back to working and passing freedom and privilege to others.

Have you heard of this yet? Hygge is a Danish word that kinda sorta means "coziness." It's an idea, or rather a collection of ideas, that purports our standard, ho-hum moments can be transformed into special, meaningful, delicious experiences simply by tending to the small stuff. Blankets, hot chocolate, soothing music, warm lighting, good company, long books, drawn-out meals....these are just a few things that can create hygge. The Danish have long winters with very little daylight, so they created hygge as a way to continue happy, healthy, appreciative, enjoyable lifestyles despite the bleakness outside. When we take the time to light candles, create warmth, and set the stage for comfort, we are forced to focus on that very moment - the attention to detail helps you appreciate the moment you've created for yourself and for others.

I tried my hand at hygge last week and wouldn't you know it? It was wonderfully restful. I lit a candle, I turned my TV into a cross-country train ride (check out SlowTV on Netflix), I brewed myself some tea, grabbed my blanket, and set out my seed catalogs. With each "settling in" step, I found myself anticipating the warmth, serenity, and relaxation ahead. My mind focused on creating a peaceful environment, one filled with things I love and find soothing. By the time I'd fallen into the beautiful abyss that is springtime seed planting, the worries I'd previously been obsessing over were shoved to the back burner. My mind was resting and it felt glorious.

Resting doesn't need to mean sitting on the couch watching TV. It doesn't need to mean sitting at all, actually. One of my favorite ways to rest is by way of creation. When I'm trying a new cookie recipe, I am resting. When I'm painting or coloring, I am resting. When I'm digging new seeds into the dirt, I am resting. Each of those things require a great deal of concentration and with every scoop of flour, splatter of paint, and sprinkle of seeds, my worries slip farther and father into the background.

Think of something enjoyable that challenges your brain and requires total focus. It could be swimming. It could be writing. Heck, it could be playing an online hidden object game. Write them down or save them to a note in your phone. Next time you find yourself getting overwhelmed and in need of rest, whip out that list and pick something, anything, to give yourself a break. The things you need to worry about will be there waiting, so give yourself permission to walk back to your problems refreshed and ready to tackle them with a clear head.

A Life of Seasons
Our world cycles back and forth, round and round, from sunny summer days to freezing winter nights. Our lives are no different. Sometimes we are stuck in a season of stress and inconsistency and worry. Sometimes we are flying high in a season of security and potential and excitement. Each season calls forward its own set of needs, including needs centered around rest and renewal. Sometimes we can go a whole week without needing a time out. Other times we need to take 10 time outs a day.  Your seasonal swings are natural and they are ok.

If you're not able to cope today, don't cope. Take care of the bare minimum obligations and then get out of your head for a little while. When your mind is telling you it can't do it, listen. Give it a rest. These sleepy, exhausted moments can carry on for a couple days - let them. You don't need to "make up for it," the next day, that will happen naturally once you've regained your strenth. Sometimes I can look at the world with a sense of awe and inspiration. Other times I see nothing but sadness and darkness. What goes up must come down.....every storm runs out of rain.....and change is the only constant. Allow yourself to circle round and round and accept the seasons of your life. The hard times create the contrast we need to truly recognize the give yourself a break and rest up when you're feeling down.

It's not easy to clear our heads from the clutter of the day. I'm not going to lie, most of these posts I write here on this blog are for me. I can't tell you how many times I've revisited the blog and tried to remind myself of what I just the one about being too busy living to be busy in any other way, or tips on how to stress less. I've read the dealing with judgement gracefully post more times than I can count. I write these things down to serve as reminders to myself. My head is at its peak darkness right before I rest. One of the very first things I do when I get to the point where I am about to explode from anxiety is (and this is gonna sound insane.....because it kinda is insane) I get on Google. I get on Google and I type my problem right in the search bar and I read. I read for perspective. I read for comparison. And once I've gotten my fill of internet insanity, I start to wean down my content into pieces that distract me and make me feel good.

You don't need to read blogs (although, let's face it, they're pretty dang fantastic). You can read poetry. You can look at pretty pictures. You can listen to music. You can watch funny videos. The point is to find content that is not social media (you cannot control or predict social media content) and use the content to propel you into a more restful state. Sometimes escaping to a good book or a 22-minute-long video of The Office outtakes is all you really need to center yourself. True story.

Resting does not come easily to some of us. This week's challenge is to find new, sustainable ways to rest so we can all operate during our active phases at our full potential. The monarch butterfly rests in that cocoon for two whole weeks before emerging in all of her beautiful glory.....pretty sure we can take a half hour to watch cats on YouTube, sip on tea, read a good blog post, and laugh.

What are your favorite ways to rest? Do you struggle to let go and really immerse yourself in relaxation? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. As always, thank you so so much for reading :)

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:
Around the House