Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happy Where I Am (+ Patio Makeover Pics)

In the past, I spent many hours longing to be somewhere else...the beach, the mountains, a foreign country. It's such a waste of time and energy, because it didn't move me one step closer to those places. Or to happiness. It just kept me from being fully present.

As my son's only parent, I also worried sometimes that I wasn't giving him the best of life. We didn't have a big house with large yard. We didn't have a pool or a garden. We didn't have a front porch to sit on during summer evenings. On just my income, these things seemed impossible and I'd grow frustrated.

I often refer to my journey with yoga in posts and that is because it changed my life in so many ways. Not only the benefits to my body, but also the philosophies behind yoga practice changed my former and often negative ways of thinking. Through yoga, practicing mindfulness and letting go, I learned to be in the moment, not worry about things that may or may not happen in the future and not to worry about not having - or being - enough. Though regular meditation can be hard for me, moving meditations like yoga and knitting have done wonders for teaching me to quiet the mind and be just in the place that I am.

And to be happy in that place.

I looked around one day and realized my home was plenty big enough for my son and I. It's small and eco-friendly in the sense that it is less space to cool, heat, and use electricity for. And what was I thinking worrying about a yard? We live right next to a wooded trail area that has been wonderful to picnic at, explore, take long walks in.

I noticed that there was plenty of space on the communal property for a garden, so I applied for and received a community garden grant, and presto - the large garden of my dreams became a reality!

 It was just a matter of inquiring around to find an affordable pool membership, and let me tell you, that's one of the best summer investments I've ever made!

And while we didn't have a front porch, we had a patio.

 And I loved our patio. In the photo above, there is the fire bucket from the Summer Solstice Purging Ceremony I held with friends, just one of many lovely times I've enjoyed in that space. I take coffee there on mornings when I don't have to work or rush about, and my son and I many times enjoy a snack on our patio in the evenings, especially during spring and fall, when the temps are so nice and cool. However, after a lot of  years and use, my patio was getting a little tired looking and needed some sprucing up. And this weekend, we made that happen! For the price of a gallon of green paint and a pint of white paint and some good hard work (natural exercise like this is my absolute favorite!), we were able to transform this space in just one weekend.

I wish I'd taken more 'before' pictures, but I think you can get a good idea from this pic I snapped back in spring...

That ginormous rainforest is actually a rosebush that has seen better days. My son's father had planted it for me when I bought my condo almost 11 years ago, and why I'd left them as long as I did, I've no idea. Maybe it was idea of them being a living thing, but they were taking up awful lot of space, and in past few years had only produced few blooms. So though it was lot of hard work and many thorn nicks, I told them buh-bye and opened up SO MUCH SPACE. Then we got busy painting and weeding and tossing out junk that seems to accumulate no matter how hard we try not to let it. And two days later, we have this!


The green and white reminds me of beach houses on the Carolina coast! 

Hello, sun and open space!

A little detail of  the trellis with it's artsy decor, which are leftover pottery shards from my college days!

 I just love this little corner now. Miss the giant rosebush? Me neither!!

Of course, some of the decor must reflect the interests of the other inhabitant of this house! Carolina fans, according to my son, always have to represent! 

 As it is a patio, some spaces must be strictly utilitarian...

...but they can still be beautiful!

I'm so pleased with this space now, I couldn't imagine loving our cozy home more than I did before, but I do! And just to think there was a time when I thought it wasn't enough! Learning to be happy where I was, not only where I am in my life, and my journey, but my physical location as well, is one of the many beautiful lessons I've learned practicing yoga and mindfulness over the past few years. 

And now, I have another reason to look forward to tomorrow morning's coffee - it'll be the first one on the 'new' patio!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quiet (a great book by Susan Cain and also a word I need to say to my child a little less!)


...has probably changed my life, and my thinking, as much as Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist did when I read it back in 2010.

Quiet, by Susan Cain, was brought to my attention in Book Tips: Quiet and Thrive, a post on I checked my local library for both and was delighted to find Cain's book. 

Reading it has been a real eye opener. 

I come from a largely extroverted family, with the exception of my father, perhaps. I say this because my mother has often expressed that my father would be happier 'in a cabin in the woods on his own' than in the hustle and bustle of family life. And I think now, as an adult, it probably was and still is true. Growing up in an extroverted family like this, however, means adapting or constantly being asked, "What is wrong with you? Why are you so quiet?

I've had many people I went to high-school with tell me in later years that they thought I was so snobby in school because I rarely spoke to others. At work, I've often been told I seemed stand-offish until people got to know me better.

I have made effort over the past few years at work to be more social and speak more with my co-workers, who really are a great group. I still take lunch and coffee on my own, though. Why? Because I need that few moments alone in my own space to regroup from the morning and be energized for the afternoon.

In Quiet, Cain makes it clear why. And that it's perfectly okay. 

I am aware that many people reading this (including my family) would be amazed that I identify far more with being an introvert, and I can only say in response that it's the power of adaptation. Introverts notoriously try and adapt to more extroverted behaviors because society leads us to feel extroverts are not only more socially acceptable, but also are having way more least, as a teen and young adult, that was what I believed. Though in my heart I might have longed to stay home with a good book on a weekend night, that wouldn't be 'really living,' would it?

The older I get, however, the more comfortable I am in my own skin. I've never really enjoyed large groups of people being around me. 
I love music, but I rarely attend live music events. 
I greatly prefer texting to talking on the phone. 
I can be quite comfortable in long-distance relationships. 
In recent years, I stopped going to art receptions or similar events where endless small talk dominated the evening because it was just too exhausting. 
I have come to adore social networking because it allows me to be social without actually socializing. 
I absolutely despise being made to work in groups in any type of situation, no matter how noble the goal. I think much better on my own (as did, based on the photo above, Albert Einstein!) 
In romantic relationships, I tend to play a Miss Dynamite role I feel is 'more interesting' rather than reveal my true, much mellower, self, and eventually the relationship fizzles because one can only pretend so much for so long.
And when my son spends a rare night away from home, to the surprise of many people who seem to think single moms simply live for a night 'out,' I don't rush home, don glittery shoes and false eyelashes, and go out on the town for some wild evening...I usually just meet a friend for coffee early in the evening, then come home to a good book, movie or knitting project. 

And it makes me happy, very happy, to do just that. It's what I want to do. I'm 'out' all the time. If I have a moment alone, I just want to savor it. At home. In my own sacred space.

And it's not wrong. Or not enough. Or not living. My yoga journey has really helped me see the truth in who I am, and I'm so grateful for this. In reading Quiet, I've come to realize that it's high time to shrug off a persona, even if others enjoy that persona, that I adopted long ago to 'fit in.' It's time to remember the child who was constantly worried something was 'wrong with her' because she enjoyed solitude and quiet pursuits, and to celebrate her now.

It has also helped me in the opposite way.

My son is not, in any size, shape or form, introverted.

He's exuberant, dynamic, a class Sagittarius. At 9.5, he thrives on excitement and stimulation. He's always telling me we 'need more people' in our home. He loves socializing and being with others.

He also loves to talk.
Oh my, how he loves to talk. And how often I have said to him, over the past few years,
'Can you please be more quiet?'
'I need you to be quiet so I can think.'
 'You are talking way too much.'
 'Settle down.'
'Stop being so talkative.'
'Just chill out a little.'
'No one needs to come over all the time. Just learn to play on your own.'

This is opposite of  what I heard growing up. I was constantly being drawn out to do and say and be more. Now I see I might be inadvertently trying to quell my son's vibrant personality for no other reason than because it is so different than mine. My words, which seem harmless enough, are actually encouraging him to do, say and be less than what his personality authentically is.

And there is no 'more' or 'less'. We are who we wonderfully are. And it is okay.

Reading Quiet  has made me realize how much, as a child and young person, I felt conflicted with my true nature and how I thought I should be, and how this has affected me into adulthood. It also made me realize how easy it is to try and steer our own children's personalities away from who they naturally are and into being more like us! 

I am about halfway through with reading Quiet, and as I reflect on Cain's writing, I feel more and more comfortable owning who I authentically am, instead of  maintaining a persona I adopted years ago to seem more interesting and dynamic (and because I thought one needed this very outgoing personality in order to live fully).

 I encourage everyone to read Quiet to understand not only ourselves, but also to understand others! You can like Quiet on FB here and Susan Cain here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Friday Happiness - A Day in the City

Happiness can be found in so many different ways. One thing that maturity has taught me is that happiness depends on the person, there is no one specific formula. The older I get, the more I find happiness in simple things, being in the moment, appreciating what I have in my life.Years ago, I was always mentally focused on what was coming next, what goal I was striving towards. I had a strong work ethic and while that might be admirable, I wasn't always so happy in the moment because my mind was often cluttered with all the projects I'd taken on, events I was trying to organize, plans for the future and how to get them off the ground, etc.

Then one day I woke up and realize that life was happening NOW, and was I really spending it the way that I wanted? I was focusing so much on how to ensure that I would have this wonderfully creative life that I wasn't leaving myself time to actually live it. I can not imagine I was once the person who, when my son went to bed, immediately pulled out laptop to work until wee hours of the night, when my job requires that I rise before dawn!

It took time for me to learn how to slow down, be happy with what I have and what I've accomplished, and learn to live in the moment. Time and lots of experiences have taught me, however, that simple things bring me the most happiness. Like a day in the city, Greenville SC, with my son that includes a trip to Yarn n' Ya'll, a picnic in beautiful Falls Park downtown, and a visit to Mr. K's Used Books, Music and More to trade in some old books for new titles. We looked forward to this all week.

Here in SC, in summer, there is always 50% chance of thunderstorm. For us, the weather held out. It was perfect, not too hot, and just enough cool breezes. 

First stop Mr. K's Used Books, Music and More! You can trade in books, movies, and/or CDs for store credit or cash! I took cash option this time, but my son took store credit and left with four new books!

 After stopping by Yarn n' Ya'll, our next stop was Falls Park! This is a favorite place of ours for picnics. I think Falls Park is truly a gem for the city of Greenville, and it's definitely much enjoyed by the locals as well as visitors to the city.

So much beautiful green nature, right in the midst of an urban area! Greenville really knew what they were doing with the creation of Falls Park!

A short walk from Falls Park leads to this water feature, which my son and I have enjoyed for several years now. It's very refreshing cool-off spot for him after we've spent time exploring the park on summer days! It is great to sit and watch children enjoy something so simple as flowing water. It reminds me again how it does not need to be grand, expensive things to bring joys to life.

Something else that brings joy to our lives is gourmet coffee and ice cream, and in my opinion, shops that sell both have tapped into marketing genius! Spill the Beans, right at the corner of Falls Park, is one such shop, and we love it. I definitely recommend a visit to Greenville just to sample their coffee and cones! Before heading home, we stop there to refuel. Coffee for me, a strawberry-vanilla-caramel cone for the boy! I used the cash I'd gotten from Mr. K's Used Books, Music and More to pay for our afternoon treat, which was great thing to me. (Simple spending habits will be the focus of a future post!)

And then, home. Later, I looked over the items I purchased at Yarn n' Ya'll...a little treat for myself, I've worked more than ever this summer and while I'm very grateful for the opportunities, I've also grateful for the upcoming two-week break and our trip to The Isle of Palms. Thanks to Yarn n' Ya'll, I'll have plenty to work on beach-side!

And later, Friday movie night, something I look so forward to. With work and school keeping us busy, summer just seems to be flying by, but our day in Greenville was a wonderful time. I'm reminded of a favorite post on , called Wonderfully Boring Life. We all wonder at times, I think, how our lives look to others from the outside. I sometimes laugh to myself about this, but while nightlife was nice when I was younger, right now days like this Friday and moments are what bring me the most authentic joy!

I hope you enjoyed seeing few pics of happiness from our day in the city!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Better Living Through Stitching Together...WWKIP Day!

I'm all for big holidays - Christmas, Thanksgiving, The Fourth of July...but I also love small celebrations, such as the Solstice Purging Ceremony I hosted a couple of weeks ago.

And I also love World Wide Knit in Public Day, which promotes 'better living through stitching together.'

Painted by local artist Shelley Grund at Aromas during 2013 WWKIP day!
For years that stretch back beyond number, women have gathered together in small groups to, in some form, 'promote better living through stitching together.' I felt a touch of this connection to women past and present a few years back, when I spent an afternoon swifting yarn  over coffee at the kitchen table with a friend while kids played outside. As a busy working single mom in a very modern tech-driven world, it is rare for me to feel I'm doing something that my grandmothers before me might also have done.

When this happens, it touches on something deep inside of me, something our society doesn't always recognize in these fast-paced modern times. It's simple, but so necessary.




And one more...Celebration.

WWKIP Day represents, for my friends and I, the celebration of our craft, our community, our creativity, and our deep and wonderful connections as women.

This year, we celebrated WWKIP Day once again at the lovely Aromas Village Coffee, a locally owned shop with a great selection of coffees, treats, accessories for ladies,  and even creations by local artists!

All over the world, there are places like this, but this is our local coffee shop and cafe, and we love it!

I can't think of a better place to hold our WWKIP Day gatherings, or just our random knit-in-public gatherings. So on a Friday afternoon in June, we gathered again to celebrate a craft that connects us, a craft that transcends age, race, and even gender. (Though I am focusing on women in this writing, yes, guys do knit and knit well! My son learned at 7 and my favorite yarn shop in Charlotte is owned by a gentleman knitter!)

The table was set, welcoming those who came (thank you Virginia for such a lovely display!)

My son settled in for a cozy afternoon with a little tech time...

 It was one of those days when just walking across a parking lot can leave you glistening, but Aromas was nice and cool inside, the perfect place to work on a fall sweater project!

Other hands were busy with infant hats and handmade dish towels...

Virgina with some of the many infant hats she makes and donates to hospital.
It was a great afternoon of not only being with friends and knitting, but also engaging others in the magic of our craft. It's a joke among knitters that if you want to make new friends, knit in public! I have met many people and even helped facilitate the love of knitting into children just by answering questions and sharing tips while knitting in a public place! Which is one of the primary reasons we chose to celebrate WWKIP Day! 

Organizations like the Finnish-based Martha Organization celebrate home economics and the value craft and tradition can add to our daily lives, and are so valuable to promoting the idea that being creative is not about getting rich by selling what you make, but rather about enriching your home and your life! In the past, I focused on creativity solely as a way to make a living...but through knitting, I've learned to focus on creativity to make a LIFE. And I'm so much happier.

And I fully agree with the founders of WWKIP Day...knitting does promote better living through stitching together

A special thanks to Aromas Village Coffee for letting us gather to knit in public there not only on WWKIP Day, but all through the year!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How Saying No Can Help Reduce Stress (And Maybe Even Help Shed the Poverty Mindset)

It is so hard, sometimes, not to take things personally. It's also hard not to fall back on old mindsets when presented with a situations that have almost become habits.

In Don Miguel Ruiz's book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, the second agreement is "don't take anything personally". He explains the idea in this 4 minute video, which I encourage you to watch. He implies, in the book and also in this video, that when we take things personally, our egos make things that are actually outside of us suddenly all about us.

I had an experience this week, a very negative one, with someone who seemed to go out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable and unappreciated professionally. To make matters stickier, this person did not even come to me themselves, but used an intermediary to convey messages.

And I did take it personally. I was in the situation not only out of habit, but also because I believed I was helping other people out. Someone had bailed on a commitment, so I stepped in.

I didn't want to, honestly. I had other plans. And to be honest, I did not really need the income this situation generated. While extra money is always nice, this certainly wasn't going to make or break my summer holiday. In addition, this represented an area of my life I'm in the process of reinventing and moving away from.

But I did it anyway, because years ago, I did need the extra income. I depended on it, actually. And I'm grateful it was there for me and helped me get through some lean times. However, I said yes when I should have, and could have, said no...and the result was a passel of drama that greatly affected my ability to enjoy myself and how I was spending much of my time for an entire week.

I don't know why some people behave in the manner that they do, and I don't need to know why. I'm not the 'Walking Wounded Whisperer," and it's not up to me to fix situations to please others if I don't need to be there in the first place. When I was confronted by the negativity, I immediately offered to step down from the position. Of course, this would have put others in an extreme bind. They didn't want that. An uneasy truce thus was formed.

In hindsight, however, stepping down IS what I should have done. And part of me regrets not doing it, but a lot of others would have been let down if I had. Because of this, I chose to see it through, but I did not feel good/happy/at peace about it at all...

 ...because I took it VERY PERSONALLY. Even though I've read Ruiz's writings and agree with his ideas, it was just so hard not to feel that the bitterness/hostility was directed towards me on a personal level. That I wasn't liked, valued, or appreciated professionally. By the end of the week, I was so eager to wrap things up and get out of the situation that I had bitten my nails to the quick, ugh, a nasty habit that I resort to when I feel stressed, tense, on edge from trying really, really, really hard to 'live my yoga' verses expressing myself verbally. 

The lesson here? The amount of pay I will receive from my participation in this situation will not be worth the frustration and negativity I endured for it, and I could have avoided it all by honoring what I really wanted to do in the first place - say NO. Did I want to say no because I am rolling in money and don't need any more? Of course not. Life is fluid and we always need various amounts of income to get through the unexpected.

I've just learned a few things over the years: 
I've learned to live simply while living as though money were no object. It sounds like a phrase in opposition to itself, but if you think about it, it makes sense!
I've learned to value experiences over possessions. 
I can splurge and am known to do so from time to time, but I've learned to be frugal in many other ways (like making my own natural laundry detergent rather than buying expensive, chemical-laden commercial brands), which is a result of embracing a simple, minimalist lifestyle. 
I've paid off debts and learned how to make saving money, or just not spending it, a priority. 

And while in the past, I sought out certain situations because I needed additional income, I learned this week that there is often an expiration date on situations that worked for you in the past.

Just like relationships that simply grow tiresome because we grow and another person doesn't, other situations in life can 'expire' on us. When this happens, it's best to step aside and give an opportunity to someone else. This will in turn open new opportunities to us. Clinging to the old mindsets, such as "I need this extra income," stagnates us a little. I think it's hard to invite into life new experiences if I do the same old things the same old way.

Sometimes saying "No" is best. 

Giving an opportunity you've been blessed to enjoy the benefits of for years to another is a way of moving forward.

Unless you are actually in poverty, shake the mindset that you have no or little money. Our mindsets create our realities. 

That little feeling inside something isn't really right? That's intuition. Honor it, no matter what's at stake.

Don't take anything personally. It's usually about the other person and their need to lash out, not about you.

Accept when something's time has come, and move on from it. 

**I illustrated this post with simple images from a morning on my patio. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy seeing them every morning!