An Invitation

You can create a life you love… right here, right now.

You’re going to work with the raw material of your life… exactly as it is.

Start with a willingness to practice creating moments of
Peace, Joy, Empowerment, And love… in each day.

What would that look like?
What is peace? Joy? Empowerment? Love?
How does one live those qualities?

Peace is a deep inner quiet we each have within us, that can be accessed anywhere, any
time, by briefly pausing, breathing deeply and allowing one’s self to be still.

Joy is the exuberant feeling that comes from being aware and awake to the small miracles
and wonder of life in each moment.

Empowerment is recognizing one’s ability to take action, and taking action.

Love is making a choice in this moment to support one’s divine potential or that of
another with kindness and compassion. Love is not an adjective, it is a verb.

You can create a life you love by bringing these qualities to the circumstances of your life
as they are now. All you need is a sincere “yes” to yourself… and a daybook…

A daybook can be on your phone, I-pad, computer. It can be a big beautiful journal or a
little notepad that can be carried easily in a pocket or purse. It can be a graphic journal
where you draw instead of write.

Each day just take a moment to record:

When today did I create a moment of peace?
When today did I create a moment of joy?
When today did I create a moment of empowerment?
When today did I create a moment of love?

As you begin doing this right here, right now… your life will change and you will begin
creating a life you love.

Posts made in January, 2014

Letting Go of Possessions:

 From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life: A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

“For more than 40,000 years, intellectually modern humans have peopled the planet, but never before has any society accumulated so many personal possessions.” Life at Home in the 21st Century, Elinor Ochs, Jeanne Arnold, Anthony P. Graesch

What do our possessions cost us?  Not just the actual monetary price we pay, but what price do they exact in procuring, maintaining, and storing? How do possessions make our lives more complicated?

UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families conducted a nine-year study of contemporary suburban America with 32 Los Angeles families who opened their doors to CELF’s researchers. They discovered a staggering number of possessions –furniture, televisions, DVDs and digital devices of all kinds, clothes, souvenirs, trinkets, toys, flags, family photos, games, sports equipment, collections, food, and more.

article-2173214-140C8C83000005DC-719_634x476The researchers found that cars had been banished from 75% of garages to make way for rejected furniture and cascading bins and boxes of mostly forgotten household goods. “It told us a lot about who we are as a society,” they wrote.  The study revealed on over focus on possessions at the expense of quality of life.

Today we take an important step into simplicity and order, a step toward reclaiming our real lives – the experience of living versus possessing.  It has been said that ‘thing order’ precedes ‘thought order.’  It’s hard to think clearly when surrounded by clutter and chaos, let alone function well.  But a fundamental factor in sorting and eliminating our possessions is the emotion that ‘letting go’ evokes, something that is often not talked about.

Eliminating clutter and maintaining the simplicity and order that brings requires an ongoing awareness of and attention to our emotional life. What do our possessions represent to us? What is the emotional glue that causes us to cling? What emotions fuel our acquiring of more stuff?

sad-young-womanEach of us has our own inner landscape of emotional holes created by precious childhood longings that were not met: to be seen, valued, acknowledged for who we are. Maybe our most basic needs were neglected.  And there were losses we suffered both profound and simple. Many people suffered poverty growing up and some were burdened with the excess of possessions that made up for love.

We feel the gravity of these losses as we are pulled toward possessing more and more. And it is tempting to use shopping and purchasing as an antidote to the stress in our current lives.  Ironically, the UCLA study found that our need to reward ourselves materially actually increases our stress. We are weighed down by the clutter in our lives.

I’ll never forget how I felt when I walked into the small and simple town home we moved into after we lost our 3,000 sq. ft. home.  Tears filled my eyes – not from sadness, from relief.  “My life is going to be so much simpler,” I whispered.

To claim that simplicity required releasing rooms full of possessions acquired over many years.

So where do we begin?

We begin by being. The first step is to be still so we can experience our own emotion.  By quietly sitting with ourselves we feel our resistance with its rigid muscle intensity; our fear with its heart- stuttering urgency; our anxiety with its hummingbird buzz; our lump-in-the throat sorrow; or our relief with its slack-jaw-surrender.

foto_0000000120140107084430By just noticing the inner experience of our emotion we come to our own assistance to heal. This enables us to stop repressing or discharging emotion through unhealthy behaviors. Our emotional presence replaces stuffing our pockets of pain with possessions.  This is the foundation of emotional regulation and self-soothing.

It also helps to imagine ourselves letting go of those things we know have become a burden instead of a blessing. In so doing we are practicing going to our own emotional edge and being able to cross it.  As we cross those edges, we become free—one of the most important gifts of sorting the pieces of our lives.

Maintenance is another cure for our overstuffed lives.  Regular cleaning out can seem overwhelming, but there are ways to simplify the practice. Make it a regular part of life. Keep empty boxes or bags for charitable donation handy. When doing the laundry, immediately discard clothes that no longer fit or are rarely worn. Same with doing the dishes—those extra five knives or pans, do we really need them? Just picking up the house is an opportunity to pare down.

If you want to start a major clean-out, start with a macroscopic approach and apply the refining microscopic reordering later.  Is your bedroom dresser buried beneath a mountain of clothes?  Get a really large container cabin small ontario tiny house camp shed fort 2and drop them all in.  Voila! You have just simplified and ordered one surface.  It feels great!  But I know you’re worried about the clothes in that container that needed to be fixed, or laundered, or just hung up.  So set the full container somewhere in your room and attack the contained mess, one item at a time over the next day or week.  As you sort, part with anything that doesn’t bring you a surge of joy or comfort to put on your body.  It is so much easier to maintain five outfits you just love than a closet full of clothes that don’t fit, or that you only minimally like.

Apply this same macro/micro process to other areas of the house.  If we start with the micro, progress is too slow and we often stop.

If you are going to launch a full-fledged cleanout, arrange boxes or bags into four categories and sort appropriately: Throw away, give away, stowaway, and put away.  (I learned this simple system years ago from The Art of Homemaking by Daryl Hoole.)

This process is not only about physical objects, but also about emotional release and inner spaciousness and freedom.  It is a pragmatic and meditative way to do our inner work—as without, so within.  Let us illuminate our dark and hidden corridors.  Let us release stagnant and antiquated beliefs and behaviors.

A while back, I sat with a person who was dying.  Brilliant rays of sunlight filled the room and a gentle breeze blew through the window casting a subtle other-worldly spell. We spoke quietly about releasing the care and concerns of this life and explored the anticipation of eternity.

The person was not afraid and knew death would offer relief from suffering.  But they were very concerned for the loved ones left behind. We discussed writing letters for after, words that could be spoken now, and simple activities and loving embraces for the time left.

Not a word was spoken, a care given, about possessions.





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A Life Inventory:

Chapter 2 From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

TheNotSoBigLife“Any of us can wake up from the overstuffed lives we are leading and make room for what we long to have time for. It’s possible to take the blur that is modern life – the obligations, the messages to return, errands to run, and family and friends to squeeze in there somehow – and slow it down so we can actually be there in what we’re doing. It’s possible to start living a ‘Not So Big Life’ of full, rich, vivid moments where everything that happens to us is experienced fully, and where spirit and connection have room to thrive.” – Sarah Susanka, The Not So Big Life, Making Room for What Really Matters.

How do you want to spend the precious moments of your life?

I had just returned from a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I had been visiting my daughter Sarah and her family.  Our days were spent, not in site seeing or rushing around in an endless blur of activity, but in the quiet vicissitudes of a day at home.  I spent time playing Legos with my grandsons, Edwin and Leland, and holding the new baby, Amelia.  Later we would take them on a walk exploring the woods that surround their home.

We would decide what to have for dinner and maybe go to the store to pick up a missed ingredient.  While they napped Sarah and I would fold laundry and talk Sometimes I wandered out into the woods myself and felt the utter relief of just being able to catch my breath. It was plain and simple and deeply restorative.

I went home rested and reflective.  For the first time in so long the numbers were down in my therapy practice and I felt relieved.  I had been working long hours for a long time. I had fantasies of all the writing I would get done if I had more free time, but now my body and mind were resisting that kind of pressure. I decided to listen to them.  I realized I was burnt out from swimming in the sea of human suffering.

It was a contemplative time.  I knew I needed to continue to help with our family’s income I realized the great longing I carried to nurture my writing life, but was often too exhausted to do so.  I began a life inventory.

schoolhouse-beachSorting the pieces of our lives starts with an inventory, one can’t know how to get to a desired destination without first knowing where they are at.

Here are some inventory questions to consider:

What is working in your life?:   What do you like about your life right now? Are there activities, people, or parts in your dwelling that offer you support, comfort, enjoyment, or something to look forward to? In other words, what do you want to keep that already exists in your life?

What isn’t working in your life?:  Are there people that drag you down?  Is your time too packed or too empty? Are you often late? Are you disorganized? Is there enough money to take care of basic needs? How is your health? How is your self-care?

What would you like more of in life?  Do you need more rest, money, friends, or fun? Do you have activities, recreation, or hobbies you look forward to? Are there dreams you have always longed to pursue? Do the activities and people you most like to give your time to, feel crowded out by too many demands?

What would you like to change in your life?  Would you like to change anything about your work? What about how you run your home? What habits are holding you back personally? What needs do you have that are not being met? Is there time you waste that you would like to use in a different way? Are you too busy?

What inspires you?  What talents, interests, hobbies, outings, activities, classes, books, or people help you feel more alive?  How could you bring those into your life in a more consistent way? Do you take time to nurture your soul? Are you present enough to your daily life to ‘just notice’ the small beauties and wonder of life?

Questions like these can give us a reality check about our lives.  As I took an inventory of my life I realized a few very useful things: I love where I live, so I could allow myself to 100% settle in instead of keeping the moving boxes.  I realized that I am inspired by the creative practice of writing and that I would be happier if I set aside regular daylight hours to honor that, versus burning the candle at both ends.  I made a decision to change my work schedule.  (I acknowledge I have the blessing to do that, but there is always some place, however small, we can start. Even an uninterrupted 15 minutes a day spent on a creative practice becomes very powerful over time) I finally faced the silly truth that I am an absolute chaos creator when I get ready for the day, work on my writing, or cook! I leave everything lying out and then am overwhelmed by the mess.  I realized I could save myself so much time and stress if I slowed down a bit and took the time to put things back where I got them right after I used them. This was a hampering habit I could challenge myself to change.

These are just a few examples.  We have smallish items to deal with or major life makeovers that involve changing relationships, houses, or work.

Foundational to this process of sorting the pieces of our lives is realizing we are not just doing the work of cleaning out and rearranging the STUFF  in our lives, we are doing excavation and sorting work in our SOULS.  The STUFF is just a metaphor for what is really going on inside of us.  We are using our life conditions and experiences as a lens to continually explore our own inner nature.

fdscn3455-640x518“Your life is a lot like the house you live in,” Sarah Susanka writes in The Not So Big Life, “It has some things that you like and some that you find irritating.  It has rooms that are used constantly and others that you visit only once in a blue moon. Almost all of us would engage in some remodeling . . . A satisfying composition takes time, care, and introspection.”

I invite you to join me on the journey of sorting the pieces of our lives, by taking an inventory – you can make it an official sit-down, or just jot notes in a small notebook during the comings and goings of your life. I would encourage you to listen to your spirit as you contemplate making your life more true to who you are. More than we are trying to ‘figure our life out’ we are seeking the direction of our own inner guide, our deepest self, the part of us that already knows what needs to stay, what needs to go, and what needs space to arrive.

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Sorting the Pieces of Your Life

What Really Matters

Dear Readers,
Last year I published my book “Creating a Life You Love, A Woman’s Guide to Peace, Joy, Empowerment and Love in Every Day,” in weekly installments on this website through June 21. (You can see them in the archives starting with Dec. 21, 2011.) After that I posted more articles on the same theme.

Today I begin my next book, “Sorting the Pieces of Your Life–A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust.”  Each week I will be posting chapters of that book right here on the ‘Creating a Life You Love’ home page.

During my thirties I presented numerous workshops on getting organized, cleaning out, and setting up a home so that it is a place of order and simplicity which leads to a sense of renewal and trust.  S-Simplicity, O-Order, R-Renewal, T-Trust=SORT!

While doing the workshops, I was also mothering five going on six daughters and continually striving to master the very principles I was teaching.  Sometimes I was a stunning success, other days were disorganized and dismal–in other words, I’m human!  But as I look back on those days a few decades ago, a smile forms on my face as I remember all the activities, homework, sports, holidays, and birthday parties that were navigated along with running our home and keeping everyone fed and clean!

Cleaning Out My ClosetMany years later, I now know that when we clean out a closet it can be an outer manifestation of an inner inventory as we purge old resentments, tend to open wounds, and let go of old ghosts. We notice what beliefs, thoughts, and feelings are supporting us or keeping us stuck.

I have been sorting both the inner and outer from a new perspective the past eight years.  In 2006 my husband and his father sold a successful insurance company they had run in our community for many years.  A significant part of our profit was invested in real estate including the purchase of our dream home, a 3500 sq. ft. dwelling adorned inside with a beautiful stone fireplace and countertops, new stainless steel appliances, a Jacuzzi overlooking the woods and a large deck with bird feeders aflutter with striking blue Stellar Jays, and little yellow Finches.

When the market crashed in 2008, like many Americans, we lost everything – our home, our money, and my husband’s new career. But it didn’t take long to realize we still had what really matters — our faith, our family and our health.

When it became clear we needed to find another place to live, I was working as a mental health counselor (still am), but at the time had only a part-time practice, definitely not enough to support the lifestyle we had enjoyed. One day, our daughter Mary Rose, 17, the only child left at home, came to me distraught.  She knew there was trouble, but was now only beginning to realize the seriousness of our situation.  “What is going to happen to us mom?” she asked, for the first time her strong, confident and joyful countenance replaced with fear, a look no parent wants to see in their child. My response was strong and immediate.  “I don’t completely know Mary Rose,” I said, “but this I can promise you, you will always have a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and YOU WILL go to college!” I didn’t know exactly how we were going to make that happen, but something shifted in me and I made up my mind, I would not break my promise to her.

Tears streamed down my face when we walked into the quaint and lovely townhome that we would soon rent, not tears of loss, but tears of relief. Standing there with the leasing agent I suddenly felt the weight I had carried in life, lifting.  I was barely aware was it there.  It was “the burden of abundance!” All our stuff was never going to fit in our new home and I couldn’t have been happier.

During the month we were sorting all our possessions deciding what had to go, what we would keep, what we could give away, and what we could live without, my sister’s daughter died after a long illness. I took off my apron and got on a plane.  Later, as I sat with my heart-stricken, weeping sister, my perspective found its right place. The question of “what to do with our stuff” became completely irrelevant.  Not much else really matters except our loved ones and living true to what we know to be right.  I stayed through the funeral and burial, then returned home to finish packing my boxes and counting my blessings. I realized others had suffered much worse.

252631_4266537270060_206811716_nOur life has been transformed.  My dear husband Brian took the bold brave move to go to graduate school in 2009 at the age of 53.  Mary Rose also started college that year. We moved one more time, downsizing again, and in 2012 Brian completed his degree in counseling psychology and immediately opened his own private practice.  He felt he had finally found his true calling (next to being a Dad who had six women – his daughters – yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs as he walked in his cap and gown with the other much younger students in his program.)

As I write it is from our little rented home which I would call, simply beautiful.  As I write I have a view of Mt. St. Helen’s, Washington’s snow covered volcano, and the bird feeder in the yard, with a few blue stellar jays pecking away at the sunflower seeds. Except for the words in life that I have not yet written, I feel content. We are ever in a state of renewal and we have learned that while life can cast us into difficult circumstances in an instant, there is always a way that we can trust a bigger picture than we can see in the moment.

As you can tell, I have done a lot of “sorting the pieces of my life” these past eight years, but it has been far more than just cleaning out cupboards, packing boxes, and setting up a few new places to live.  I have also been emotionally sorting and that journey continues as I move into a new decade of my life this year and am reflecting on both the past and the future from a new perspective, one that is most interested in what really matters!

Please join me over the coming months as we explore how to clean out the homes we live in and the house of self with its worries and wonder, regrets and reflections, indecision and intuition.  You are invited to join me on the journey of sorting the pieces of our lives in an effort to find simplicity, order, renewal and trust.  And if you have any stories of your own along these lines, please feel free to share them with me [email protected].

Happy New Year, Happy New You!


A hiker at Taggart Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (Model Released)


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Live a Life You Love

“I dwell in possibility.”—Emily Dickinson

I dragged into the New Year with a raging cold.  The first few days of January usually find me reflecting on the past year – what I have learned, progress and mistakes I’ve made, and what I want to focus on the next year. I set some new goals, start a new journal, update my planning systems and I’m Ready..Set..Go! Not this year. Instead, I was flat on the couch, blowing through a box of tissues a day, and watching ‘Law and Order’ reruns.  I felt too miserable to read, completely unlike me. Instead, I just felt sorry for myself and sunk into a hole of negative thinking over-focused on what wasn’t working. As I started to feel a little better, it seemed like my true self had taken a leave of absence and was sneaking in Super-Immunitythe backdoor again.  I felt some hope. But I didn’t know what to eat to help my body recover.  Standing in the kitchen pondering, I wondered what foods offer ‘super immunity.’  I headed to the internet instead of the fridge. The third Google entry informed me there is actually a book called Super Immunity, The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body’s Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a respected board certified-family physician and former member of the U.S. World Figure Skating Team. Another of his books, Eat to Live, is one of my favorite nutrition books. After I watched a clip of an appearance he made on Dr. Oz’s television talk show , I returned to the kitchen and made myself one of the breakfasts he recommends – oatmeal with blueberries and flax seeds. When my husband Brian came into the kitchen he could tell I was doing a little better.  “It seems like you’ve got more hope today,” he observed. photo-7-300x300After a shower, and a round-up of all my old books, I drove to Portland, Oregon to visit Powell’s Bookstore.  Crossing the Willamette River under the beautiful white arch of the Freemont Bridge, I glimpsed a brilliant blue sky just above the clouds for the first time in a week. Soon after selling my books I had a copy of Super Immunity in my hands and a new novel (I was done with Law and Order reruns!), The Luminaries — by 27-year-old Eleanor Catton, the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize, for this book, in 2013. Then I went to my favorite women’s clothing store, a gift card tucked in my wallet. Heading to the dressing room with clothes to try on, a sales associate greeted me and said, “If you need any help, my name is Hope!” 1229016-2-new-beginnings‘Hope’ I whispered to myself, hmmm, third time that word had come up in just a few hours.  I did need some help and Hope seemed like a good start—the woman and the word. None of the clothes worked, but the word did.  I had my New Beginning! What if, I asked myself, instead of setting goals this year, I adopted this lovely little word as a theme, a value to work toward?  Suppose each letter was a symbol of my desires, the word itself an acronym for what could be: ‘H’ for health, ‘O’ for order and optimism, ‘P’ for the personal empowerment that comes with practices that help me fulfill my purpose and passion, and ‘E’ for energy and enthusiasm for life. I could create a paradigm shift from focusing on my weaknesses and what isn’t working, to dwelling in possibility. 9781572244252This is a tenet of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, developed by Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D.  Hayes.  The more we ‘struggle’ with a problem, Hayes teaches, the deeper we sink into its clutches (just like a Chinese finger trap).  Success begins when we accept that pain and discomfort are a normal part of life instead of struggling with what is. Instead, we focus on our life values, and direct our action, energy, and thoughts to, basically, creating a life we love!  When we employ “ACT,” the acronym for Acceptance Commitment Therapy, we leave the battlefield of our suffering and struggle, and instead start living life how we want to now. The discouraging inner dialogue is replaced with full engagement with life!  (Hayes is the author of a wonderful workbook on ACT, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) ‘Hope’ is now my mantra for 2014. And hope was what I felt later when I spent a few hours reading Super Immunity (instead of watching TV).  Dr. 3a21f4_dd32da5220181098d30207bc68033b87.jpg_256Fuhrman teaches that we can have influence on our health by practicing essential nutrition.  Research shows that how we fuel our body profoundly affects our longevity, our resistance to disease, including cancer and heart problems (not to mention the common miserable cold), our weight, and our overall wellbeing. He preaches that nutritious food is our pharmacy.  And yes, he has an acronym for the top super immunity foods: GBOMBS which stands for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds. As Brian and I sat eating Chinese take-out for dinner – entrees filled with loads of veggies — I told him about my day’s adventures, my new acronym, and showed him the amazing stone necklace I found at the clothing store; (on my way out I noticed a beautiful necklace I had been coveting in their catalogue for several months.  It was $80, but on sale and with all the store discounts that day, the last one became mine for $12)! Then we opened our fortune cookies.  I smiled as I read mine, “Trust your intuition today. You’re right on!”

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