When I sent my youngest son to kindergarten, I felt like I had already done business with my heart ahead of time. That “business” included emotionally breaking down several times before hand, journaling out the struggle of watching these kids grow up too fast, and allowing myself to shed a tear with each back to school purchase. The first day of kindergarten is brutal. Always. The last first day of kindergarten for your entire family?  Well, it probably ranks up there with water boarding.

It wasn’t my first rodeo, having sent his brother and sister to school a few years prior, so I knew what to expect.  And he was ready. Resolute. He walked into that cheery little classroom with all the confidence of a pint sized American president, while I looked on hoping my proud smile would strangle the knot out of my throat. I took a few pictures then quickly kissed him on top of his head and darted the heck out of there and that’s when things kind of got weird and twisty and a fear of something I didn’t recognize creeped in. To my surprise I was encountering something very large, very frightening and very empty. A whole day.

I’d love to tell you I just took it on the chin like a champ and went about my business, owning every minute of it while I set the world on fire, but the truth is I thoroughly and unabashedly freaked. out.

See, when I made the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom, I struggled deeply with the fact that I was putting years of education and career experience on hold to do laundry, make bottles and sing silly songs about things like counting to 20 and barnyards. I knew what I was doing was important, but in a society that assigns dollar amounts to things of worth, it’s hard to feel valuable when you’re not making money.

I struggled with that so fiercely, in fact, that I briefly went back to work … where I then proceeded to struggle with dropping the kids off at daycare. Nobody tells you, before you have kids, that there is no proper place for a mother. That you’ll forever feel like a worn out rope in a relentless game of tug of war. Eventually I accepted the condition that I would stay home, but that once my youngest son went to kindergarten, I’d return to work, and the promise of an expiration date made it much easier to allow my professional life to collect dust so long as there was the promise of a proper dusting off later on.

You can imagine my dismay when, nine years later, I was confronted with the expanse of nothing to do. No noses to wipe, no snacks to fetch, no boo boos to kiss or cartoons to watch. Just seven silent hours and surprise!—no career waiting in the wings.  

So I did what I do. I called on my people. I immediately met my friend Teri for lunch and wallered in the throws of an epic existential meltdown in the middle of a local cafe. I cant remember exactly what I said but it was along the lines of “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I have nothing. My whole world grew up and went to school and now I’m hopelessly alone and have no purpose and maybe I should just sort of homeschool them, you know? So I can have people in my day again! Yeah! Yeah!  That’s it! Homeschool. Or maybe I should just hurry up and get a job! Like tomorrow.”

Now, having Teri in my life is not unlike having a resident cheerleader who’s on call with an arsenal of personal chants and pompoms of encouragement. She also happens to be a life coach which is a lot like being a psychologist who excitedly scoots you along your path and when you leave her presence you’re ready to W-I-N. Go! Fight! WIN! Yeah!

So when she got in my way and said “No” my ears perked up. “Ya know, Melissa, I’d take this time for yourself,” she said. “You’ve given your everything for nine years.  Why don’t you try just being still for awhile?”

I was more–not less. It was something I desperately needed to know, and something I’d have surely missed if I hadn’t taken the time to sit still.

Well, that sounded perfectly reasonable. Of course that was exactly what I needed to do with myself. There was just one problem with it. I don’t do still. Not well, anyway. So, instead I went home and got to work unpacking what I’d been collecting and storing away for nearly a decade: this degree, that degree, this license, that certification. I asked a lot of questions. Should I go back to teaching? Continue on with speech therapy? Should I try something entirely different? How can I collect all of my previous education and job experience and make them fit neatly into my life? But it felt like I was holding a box of square pegs in front of a field of round holes. And then I discovered something even more terrifying than I could have imagined. Not only did I feel completely lost …  I also felt completely new.

The best way I can think to describe it is it was almost like I had put on a costume nine years ago, but when I unzipped it … a stranger fell out. The things that had interested me before, no longer did. Nothing applied. I was looking at my own resume, and it might as well have belonged to someone else.

That horrifying discovery launched existential meltdown number two, in as many days, and yet another lunch wherein I danced with a potential nervous breakdown for the better part of four hours while my dear friend Teri listened to neuroses pour forth in tremendous bounty. In a word: ugly.

She let me go on waxing dramatic, probably thinking I was a maniac, although she never said that.  Instead she said “This is OK. You feel a little lost. And I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. But I’ll say it again. You need to Be. Still. And. Listen. Try to enjoy getting to know you all over again.” She said a lot of other stuff that probably changed my life, but I’ll save it for another blog.

I listened. For real this time.

I took a lot of walks, and I listened to a lot of music and read a lot of non-fiction. I journaled and spent solo days at the beach and dug into myself creatively and made allowances to simply float on the breezes for a while. I was gentle with myself. And then I gave myself permission to be lost and a little frightened of the stranger who fell out of that costume, and when I did that, I became curious about her and explored her a little. I made lists of things that made me happy and filled me up and then I spent some time examining what I’d learned.

I realized that I wasn’t completely crazy. Motherhood had changed me. For instance, I’m far more organized than I’ve ever been. I’m also far more patient. I’m more creative. I crave more meaningful friendships. I have fewer hardened opinions. I have greater amounts of compassion. My senses are heightened. My instincts are reliable. I feel more intelligent. I feel less intimidated. Essentially, life is just much more comfortable to wear these days. While staying at home, shaking with this fear of becoming obsolete, I had actually become a sharper but softer person with a much sturdier head on my shoulders who was far less apologetic for myself and far more confident. I was more–not less. It was something I desperately needed to know, and something I’d have surely missed if I hadn’t taken the time to sit still.

If we aren’t simultaneously filling in that space with our own individual purpose then Empty Nest is the least of our worries.  Empty-ness is.

That said, I don’t think this is a challenge specific to stay-at-home-moms. All children become more independent and need us less and we will all end up finding extra time and spaces in days that used to be one endless string of meeting needs. And in those extra spaces of time, I think we might be getting a tiny glimpse of what an “empty nest” might feel like … when they’re gone for good and we’re sitting in a heap of sobs pining for the days our cabinets were stocked with goldfish crackers and Muppets bandaids. And we need to see that glimpse for what it is. The gift of a gentle warning.

An empty house will no doubt feel sad to me, and I will forever look back on these chaotic days of parenthood with a smile, but this particular experience has illuminated a much different unforeseen concern. Our children need us, and we easily center our purpose around their need for us. But if we are doing our job well, we are raising them to eventually need us no longer, and if we aren’t simultaneously filling in that space with our own individual purpose then Empty Nest is the least of our worries.  Empty-ness is.

We have an opportunity to prepare for that. To make sure that on that day the door closes behind them for last time, we can weep as long as we need to, and then we can stand up, wipe our eyes and step into a day we’ve been shaping around what we have to offer the world. That may look much different from what it was years ago, or it may be exactly the same but feel out of reach. I think simply naming what it is, is the first important thing. For me it’s this. Writing. For you it may be a business venture or a different creative work or the putting-to-work of an education you tucked away for later.

It’s quite possible I’m the only wackadoo in the world to unzip my full time mom costume and find a stranger inside.  And if that’s the case, then you can just smile and nod at me later, and then tell all your friends that not only did I officially lose my marbles, but they’re rolling around all over the internet. But on the off chance that I’m not alone … on the off chance that you may be struggling with that too … well, I’d like to take out my pompoms and encourage you to be gentle with yourself. If you have the time, then take it and be still for a little while. Get to know who you were becoming inside your mommy cocoon. And get ready to be pleasantly surprised with who you meet in there.  She’s spent all this time giving everything away.  

Go love on her for it.  


Gifting with Intention

I’m trying get back to intention. It sounds like such an easy thing to do when you say it. Slow down. Try to be more meaningful. Try to connect more. Not only with other people or yourself but also where you’re going and what you’re doing. But the fact is life is so crazy busy and it moves so crazy fast. And before you know it, even though you’ve known your friend’s birthday for 40 years, you still hardly manage to get a card in the mail and sometimes fail at that completely and leave a voicemail or publicly proclaim your love for her through a birthday message on Facebook so you’re only partly lame and not all the way lame. And yet I know the truth. That this still makes me all the way lame. 

But I’m trying to get away from that. I’m going to try to get away from sending gift cards or having things delivered by Amazon Prime and get back to the good old days when you considered your person as you looked for something significant and especially for her.

So that’s what this is.  A gift is a special thing. You open it with anticipation. You hold things in your hand that someone chose with you in mind. Gifts are experiences. Both the giving and receiving of them. And I’m looking to put more experiences into my day in place of the harried hurrying from here to there, checking boxes and to-doing until I pass out. I’m also looking to enrich my relationships with the people I love and that can be challenging when you live in an entirely different country. But this … gifting … is one way to make efforts in both of those arenas. 

This entire gift cost under 50 dollars. And maybe if practicality is what you’re after, then maybe sending 50 bucks, instead, is the smarter option. But if birthdays are for cake and balloons and wishing on candles and wearing pointy hats why do we have to go the way of sensibility when it comes to the gift we give?
Why can’t that also carry with it a bit of whimsy, indulgence and something special? Something intended to be extra. Life is so full of demands for our pragmatic side. Let the giving of gifts be a welcome holiday from that, and give special things, wrapped in special ways. So that the gift becomes an experience and something to be remembered, rather than some cold cash or a gift card that sends them to the store.

10 Steps to Falling in Love with Journaling, Even if You Hate It Right Now

We’ve all seen those journals in the movies or in museums, or maybe even on Pinterest that look like leatherbound pieces of art. They’re written in perfect script, illustrated with sketches and watercolors and poetically account for the daily lives of the authors in such a way it makes a trip to the grocery store sound like a quest worthy of the Fellowship of the Ring.

They’re pretty inspiring, in fact. And if you’re like me, you see it and you think, wow. I should be documenting my life like that. Am I going to come to the end of my days having left not a single record of how they were spent? Certainly not! And then you run out and buy your own beautiful journal, and a pen that lays perfectly on the page, and maybe even some colored pencils in case you find yourself inspired to sketch a little something along the way even though you’ve never in your life been inspired to sketch a little something along any sort of way, and perhaps you pick up some interesting looking washi tapes and brush tip pens, and of course a ruler. A book on how to sketch, too because that couldn’t hurt and oh! One of those new polaroid cameras, so you can take pictures of the places about which you will write and record and there you have it. Now you need to pull along a little suitcase on wheels in order to bring along all the supplies you’ll need to journal. And of course then comes the best bit. The part you couldn’t have possibly seen coming from the art supplies department. What in the world do you have to say?

Turns out, mostly what you have to say is nothing nice. Or important. Or inspired. So how do you write that in a your beautiful journal with your nice pen and then take a cute picture and tape it onto the page with pretty tape while you sketch something amazing around it? And then you don’t. Or you force yourself to. Once. And lo and behold, that is the guaranteed way you will come to the end of your days without a record of any of it.

Journaling is not about any of that. Those little adornments are great for the people who can pull it off, but journaling is for everyone! It can be deeply cathartic, it can lead you out of confusing times and help shed light on answers, it can reveal patterns of behavior to you, you might otherwise overlook. It can help you problem solve, brainstorm, create and illuminate! So stop putting off the doing of it because you’re afraid it’s going to be ugly. Of course it’s going to be ugly! Who cares? A lot of what you write inside may be ugly too! Who cares? This is for you. If you somehow end up of famous and you think they may want to display your genius of a journal in a museum someday, then quickly take the best bits of your ugly journal and transcribe it nicely into something else if it’s that important to you. Who would know?

But for now, while you’re a nice and average unknown human being try this.

1. Grab the cheapest, ugliest spiral bound notebook you can find. This can already be laying around the house or it can be on sale for 42 cents at Walmart. But if it costs more than $2.00, you have already ruined it.

2. Get a pen you like to write with. (This part is where you can splurge. Writing with a good pen makes you want to keep writing with a good pen. It’s one of those uttlery satisfying for no good reason practices of which there are far too few, in the world.)

3. Scribble the date on the top. Or forget to. It’s really not that important.

4. Make zero attempts with your handwriting. And if you can’t help it because you like how your handwriting looks with your nice pen, then just be sure it’s something you can keep up with while writing fast. This is not the time for calligraphy. (Save that for when you’re transcribing this into your famous person journal for the museum.)

5. Just GO WITH IT. First thing you’re feeling right now. Boom. Try to explain. Try to figure out why. Try to figure out how to keep it going if it’s great and drop it like it’s hot if it ain’t great at all. But sort and sift through your feelings and the whys of your feelings and the ifs and thens of your feelings. It’s all about feelings here. And it’s ok because there isn’t some poor schmuck sitting next to you with his eyes rolling back in his head because he’s having to listen to your feelings. Nobody is listening. Even the journal isn’t listening. It can’t listen to anything. It’s a journal. And it only cost 42 cents. Let’s not expect too much here.

6. Do it in the morning. There is something totally course adjusting about getting out your thoughts … good or bad … first thing in the morning.

7. Do it while you really enjoy your tea or coffee. This applies a little something called “association.” You’re basically psyching yourself out into loving this because you’re doing it while loving your coffee.

8. Cuddle with your dog while you do it. This is more association and it is totally working now.

9. Have no expectations of yourself other than honor the time and do it. And then tell yourself you are basically those most disciplined person in the world and how is it that the museums haven’t called yet wanting your journal!

10. Close it. You’re done now.

That’s it. If it sounds too simple it’s because it is too simple. Which makes it even more of a shame that so many of us waste so much time making it so hard and ultimately miss out on all of its many benefits!

So go for it! Once you find yourself in the habit of it, enjoying the practice and reaping the benefits of it, you’ll be hooked. And maybe thats when you’ll want to graduate to the pretty tooled leather bound book, pulling about your suitcase full of art supplies. But until then, just grab a cheap notebook and attack it daily with all of those sharp and explosive thoughts and ideas that clang around in your mind from one day to the next. Even if it’s scribbled on a Buy One, Get Three Free Walmart Special, the world might need it one day.

So go Journal. And do it on purpose.

Old School, New Feeling

I wrote, Tuesday, about my intention to get back to letter writing and sending physical cards in the mail. And to be sure I dont get sidetracked with the internet and the soul sucking tech in my life, I just put it all away. All of it. I have even record the addresses and birthdays of my loved ones into an old fashioned address book so I don’t have to reach to the web for ANYTHING. It’s quite lovely to sit with your box of supplies and correspond with your loved ones.

I tried to find one in an actual brick and mortar store but apparently I needed to hop in the Delorean and fire up the flux capacitor for that sort of dinosaur age nonsense. So I ordered it on Amazon instead. https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0773RF624/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o08_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Writing Letters (With, like, Pens and Paper and Stamps and Everything.)

Getting mail, these days, is a giant yawn right? It’s either junk or bills or some sort of administrative something that needs your attention right now or the world will fall away. Booo.

I’m trying to do my part to improve my people’s relationships with their mailboxes by writing letters and sending handwritten cards and I’m enjoying the whole process of it. Finding pretty stationery and minding my penmanship. It reminds me a little of my grandmother who valued her beautiful cards and always took great pride in her own neat handwriting, and that makes me feel a little closer to her in a way.

So much of history is documented in letters. Letters between world leaders, monarchs, authors, lovers, boys at war and pretty girls back home … a letter is special in a way an email or a text can never quite achieve. It leaves behind a legacy and history etched by your own hand in a way that’s unique to only you.

Do you have someone who would love to receive a letter from you? Try surprising them! It can be anything you want it to be. A handwritten note on a scrap piece of paper, a beautiful letter written on gorgeous hand crafted stationery and anything in between. You can sip a glass of wine or pour a cup of tea, turn on some lovely music and make a whole moment out of it. You’ll likely enjoy the process and the person on the other end will be so happy to open something that didn’t come from the latest political campaign or the electric company or that crazy envelope stuffed with all those coupons for obscure services you would only use if you were actively looking for them so theres no need to send adverts in the mail, really?

Anyway, the point is theres so much to say that’s said more elegantly in a letter. So go get in touch with that Victorian side of you and send a gorgeous letter to someone you love. Then tell them to keep it. You might be famous one day and that letter might need to be donated to the Smithsonian Museum or something.

Welcoming September

In August, I jumped back into blogging all “higgledy piggledy” as they say here in England. I did it without any clear vision at all, actually and that was sort of the point. I’ve let far too many things sit idol in my life because the path wasn’t clear enough for me to move forward, and eventually that idol engine would just die in the middle of nowhere. Stranded. That’s not a good feeling when you’re just a few miles from home with ice cream in the trunk. It’s an especially bad feeling when you’re talking about your whole life purpose.

So, with that in mind—all the times I’ve put off doing anything because I didn’t have fine details and blueprints and maps—I decided to try something new and dive right in. With nothing. No idea what I would write about or where it would lead and what I wanted to do with it next, and I trusted that whatever it could become would be revealed to me over time. As it turns out, that was the exactly right thing to do. Because over the course of the past few weeks, my vision for this space has come into sharper focus.

When I was playing around with ideas, I came across a quote by Albert Einstein. He said “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” And since I’m always looking to understand everything better I looked out my window at the giant Sycamore trees that line my street. We’re approaching September, and the leaves are starting to transition from their beautiful bright green to the ever so slightly pale yellow. And I thought back to the last Autumn, when they continued to turn, and eventually drop, leaving the exposed bones of the trees to sit quiet and powerfully bare for the winter months before they dug deep into the thawing ground for the strength to bloom again. 

And that’s when I had this idea. That my blog will center around the cycles of nature, both of the earth and the human kind. 

September. In terms of nature this month doesn’t seem clearly defined by any one unique state of being, like the other months tend to be. While October and November feel like times of Harvest, and December and January feel like times of dormancy, September seems more easily defined by the awkward stage. Like it’s all knees and elbows and voice cracking around that Adam’s Apple that’s on the way. We’re leaving the warmth of Summer for the chill of Autumn and the lazy school breaks for the hustle and bustle of reinstated routines and schedules. We leave the holidays abroad and the sunshine and return to our work, where we grind out the bills and the budgets and then start planning the next time we get to escape it all.
September is about transition. And transition, while it is a necessary and often uncomfortable part of life, is such an opportunity for growth. And I hope to touch on that a lot this month. How changes affect us, and how to maximize the good that comes from it and minimize the bad and how to manage it the best we can in all areas of our lives.

As the months continue to roll forward, I will continue to present life as I see through the prism of the moments as I encounter them. 

October is a time of Harvest. Abundance.

November, a time for gratefulness and preparation for winter.

December is time of family, exposure, reflection and revelation. A perfect time to dig deep into your soul and take pride in the strong places, and identify the weaker ones.

January is for addressing those weaker ones. Personal development and chasing potential.

February is a time for commitment and perseverance. The winter feels longer now. The goals feel harder to achieve and farther away. This is the month to go deep and decide not to quit.

March is a time for vision and hope. You’ve survived the worst and spring is near. You should feel stronger, more capable.

April is a time for nourishment. Rain, sun, soul food and energy. 

May is when you bloom. Show up and show out. Be the proof of what you’ve been working for. Be big and bold and brave and proud.

June is a time for strength. A time to tweak and make adjustments for that extra reach.

July is about confidence. Readiness. You know what you can do, now. Your head is high. The warmth is on your shoulders.

And then back to August. The month of leisure and recovery. Rest and enjoying the fruits of your labor and a year well lived. 

It’s easy to let life get away from you. We’re pulled in so many directions by so many things and people who demand our time and attention. I hope to bring a sense of order and intentionality to that. To take time and truly engage with the things I’m doing and seeing and spending time with. To live my days with a certain amount of awareness. To do it all the best I can, and more importantly, to do on purpose. 

So I hope you’ll join me here for that journey. My promise is to always to try to make it worth your while. To give you my best and to always work toward making my best better. I hope we can maybe build a community here too. That can connect and support and offer encouragement and ideas to one another. So that we might better ourselves and our experience with this life and all the things that fall into it. That we can chat and observe and explore life in all its inspiring, entertaining, soul shifting and heartwhelming moments, while commenting on all things sense and nonsense. Just life as we see it. And life as we love it.   

Changes big and small await us. 

Welcome, September.

Home is Where the Vinyl Llama Is

When I walked into the kitchen, she was smelling it through the package.

“ What are you doing?” I asked.

”Smelling it.” she said “It smells like Florida.”

It was just a pool float. Deflated and not yet used. I bought it for an upcoming holiday.

She got kind of quiet and then said “I didn’t know I liked that smell.”

In truth our move overseas has been hard on our kids. All of them. My youngest son misses his family. My oldest son misses his family and also friends. He was in middle school when we left and that’s a difficult time anyway.

But my daughter? She misses home and all there was to it. The sounds, the people, the smells of ordinary things.

She’s arguably the one who took the move the hardest, but then adjusted the easiest. And I wonder if it’s because she’s that thoughtful one who smells vinyl and takes a mental trip home. If she’s connecting to home in her own ways all the time while simultaneously forming new attachments to things here in much the same way.

Presence is such a gift. It gives you the ability to stop chatting with your friend for a minute in order to connect to something meaningful. In this case the irony is that an act of presence was able to give a quick visit to her past.

We should all strive to be ever ready for those moments when they arise. Nothing enriches your life quite like being dialed in to Presence. It keeps the scope manageable. And it keeps home tucked into all the pockets and corners of your heart.

Down Time

Sometimes you have to force yourself to ignore the mess, the deadlines and the noise. And you have to make yourself a G&T with premium rhubarb gin and elderflower tonic and you have to sit with a project that helps you turn the brainwaves into little squiggles rather than sharp peaks and valleys.

Know what’s great for that? This. It’s like color by numbers, sort of, but when you’re finished you have something over which I imagine Alexander of Antioch might feel compelled to give you a high five.

It’s called Querkles and it took an hour. An hour that took my stress level from “May Day! May Day!” to “Dude. Where’s my car?”

The Postman’s Perspective

An old postbox left from the reign of Queen Victoria. Post boxes actually became red during her reign as Queen!

We came face to face as I opened the front door to leave. “Y’Okay?” He asked, which is the Yorkshire way of saying “How are you?”

“I’m good,” I replied “How are you?” Which is the American way of saying “How are you?”

“Ah. Living the dream!” he said. And it was the way he said it. Not all sarcastic like “Oh you know … just livin’ the dream. Pardon me while I go drown my sorrows in the pub.” No. He turned his face to the heavens when he said it, and truth rang out of him while sunlight shown on and through his genuine dream-living face.

I’ll be honest, it caught me off guard. How can the postman be living a dream right this very second? Maybe when he’s on holiday but surely not while he’s delivering junk mail. He made his way up my next door neighbor’s walk and began to slide the envelopes into the slot on their front door, as I batted away the urge to ask him my burning question. And just as he nearly slipped away, I conjured up the courage and blurted out. “Excuse me!”

“Yeah?” He turned to face me.

“To be clear, I want you to know that I fully acknowledge I am the weird one here, having to ask this, but I’m a writer and people are curious to me. Why did you say that just now? Like that. Living the Dream. It sort of made my whole day.”

He chuckled a bit, as he shuffled and prepared the next handful of letters for number 82, probably chalking me up to being a nosy American more-so than a crazy artist and he said “Ah well, the sun is shining. I’ve got good strong legs and fresh air in me lungs. What’s more to want?”

“Well, nothing.” I said. And I said it fast as though I didn’t have to think about it, but I’ll tell you, while I meant it, I also had to think about it. 

We get so caught up in this desire to be happy that we forget to just be happy, don’t we? We act as if it’s this elusive creature we have to chase and hunt down. Or this puzzle to solve. Or a discovery yet to make. We pack the idea of happiness into things we don’t yet have, places we’ve not yet seen, goals we’ve not yet met. We turn it into a quest. A vision. Something that lies beyond us, always. When in fact, most of the time happiness can be found in the sun on your face and clean air in your lungs and the two strong legs that get you around—whether they’re walking you down the beach or door to door carrying the post.

On my journey toward intention, this is something I’m keeping close—that I am already in possession of happiness. I don’t have to seek it, or chase it, or buy it or pine for it. That it exists in me as I am. It exists in the warmth of the sun, and the cool of the shade when there is nothing but clouds. It’s in the windows open while the breeze comes through ruffling the curtains, and it’s in the windows shut tight while the fireplace crackles. It’s in nothing more complicated than the simple gift of life. Another day to make a memory, a friend, a difference. 

And so with that, I’m off to face a whole new day, perfect in its ordinary list of things to do and errands to run and chores to complete. But the sun is out. And I have good strong legs, and clean air in my lungs, and the people I love have those things too. So truly, I am living the dream of all dreams.

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