Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Following the Four Agreements

I'm not going to set any resolutions for 2014.  I don't want to set lofty goals, either.  There are things throughout the year ahead that I look forward to, like moving when our lease is up at the end of August and my mom's visit in July, and will do some planning around, but for the most part, I am going to live for the moment, be present and create each new day. 
I will continue to fine tune myself and to discover what brings me joy & fulfillment, so that I am following my dream and living my authentic life.  I recently read The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz and just this morning was reviewing my handwritten notes.  This has given me some fresh perspective on the way I want to live, to be, how I will proceed into 2014 and beyond.  I thought I would share some of the wisdom I gleaned from don Miguel with you on this last day of 2013 in the hope that it may speak to you, too.
Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word.
The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life. (p30)
Imagine that every single time others gossip to you, they insert a computer virus into your mind, causing you to think a little less clearly every time. (p44)
Your opinion is nothing but your point of view.  It is not necessarily true.  Your opinion comes from your beliefs, your own ego, and your own dreams. (p47)
You can measure the impeccability of your word by your level of self-love.  How much you love yourself and how you feel about yourself are directly proportionate to the quality and integrity of your word.  When you are impeccable with your word, you feel good; you feel happy and at peace. (p48)
Agreement 2: Don't take anything personally.
Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about "me." 
Nothing other people do is because of you.  It is because of themselves.  All people live in their own dreams, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.  When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world. (p54)
Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you.  What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. (p55)
When you make it a strong habit not to take anything personally, you avoid many upsets in your life.  Your anger, jealousy, and envy will disappear, and even your sadness will simple disappear if you don't take things personally. (p64)
Agreement 3: Don't make assumptions
These assumptions are made so fast and unconsciously most of the time because we have agreements to communicate this way.  We have agreed that it is not safe to ask questions; we have agreed that if people love us, they should know what we want or how we feel.  When we believe something, we assume we are right about it to the point that we will destroy relationships in order to defend our position. (p74)
Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation. (p78)
When you transform your whole dream, magic just happens in your life.  What you need comes to you easily because spirit moves freely through you.  This is the mastery of intent, the mastery of the spirit, the mastery of love, the mastery of gratitude, and the mastery of life.  This is the path to personal freedom. (p80)
Agreement 4: Always do your best
Doing our best, you are going to live your life intensely.  You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your family, to your community, to everything.  But it is the action that is going to make you feel intensely happy.  When you always do your best, you take action.  Doing your best is taking the action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward. (p86)
Whatever life takes away from you, let it go.  When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment.  Letting go of the past means you can enjoy the dream that is happening right now. (p91)
Just to be, to take a risk and enjoy your life, is all that matters. (p92)
You don't need the acceptance of others.  You express your own divinity by being alive and by loving yourself and others.
By doing your best, the habits of misusing your word, taking things personally, and making assumptions will become weaker and less frequent with time.  You don't need to judge yourself, feel guilty, or punish yourself if you cannot keep these agreements.  If you're doing your best, you will feel good about yourself even if you still make assumptions, still take things personally and still are not impeccable with your word.  (p93)
You have to stand up and be human.  You have to honor the man or woman that you are. (p94)
We really need to use every bit of power we have to succeed in keeping these agreements. 
So if you fall, do not judge.  Do not give your Judge the satisfaction of turning you into a victim.  No, be tough with yourself.  Stand up and make the agreement again. (p97)
If you break an agreement, begin again tomorrow, and again the next day.  It will be difficult at first, but each day will become easier and easier, until someday you will discover that you are ruling your life with these Four Agreements.  And, you will be surprised at the way your life has been transformed.
Do not be concerned about the future, keep your attention on today, and stay in the present moment. (p98)
May we each follow our own path, with surprise intervals of crossing with one another so that we may gather in friendship & love.  I am wishing you a new year full of life, risk, adventure, happiness, fulfillment! 
~The Divine Mrs M

Monday, December 30, 2013

With Eyes Wide Open

Winding down the old year always entails putting away the Christmas d├ęcor.  But it sure makes things look sparse without all of the holly jolly, doesn't it??  This year, tho, we have rearranged the bedroom and living room furniture.  Of course, we only had the prior arrangements less than 4 months, but it's fun to mix it up!!! 
We'll leave 2013 with a clean home and a workout ... and begin 2014 with a clean home and a workout!  Both should bode well for how we "keep" the rest of the year!!
I'm not making resolutions.  I plan to keep on, keepin on!  I have already been working on peeling away the layers to find my true & authentic self.  I don't intend to stop the process of discovery!  I have no idea where I will find myself in 3 months, 6 months, this time next year and I am not concerned.  I have some interests I may pursue, like that personal training certification.  I am searching for meaningful work.  I will keep working thru my process and enjoy where it leads.
I might have a new job for the new year (I interviewed for an optician position just this morning).  We will only live in Longmont thru August, so I'm hoping this job, which is part-time, works out for the time remaining.
I will keep exercising (5K runs, weight lifting, some at-home stuff thrown in here & there).  I will continue reading my new books, library books and inspirational blogs.  I will keep up my blogging (but I NEED to move to another platform). 
We will visit new places around Colorado (Colorado Springs, Telluride, Pagosa Springs) and make a short drive to Wyoming!!
My mom is going to visit in July!  Her first visit to Colorado and, most likely, our first visitor.  It's going to be fun showing her around and seeing her fall in love with Colorado, like we did!!
And, there are going to be plenty more fun times that spontaneously arise. 
I go forward filled with the possibilities that await me, excited for the adventures we will find and hopeful for new challenges ~ living & loving mindfully...with my eyes and arms wide open.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Trumpet, Trombone, Saxophone!

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue had the entire Ogden Theatre foot-stompin, hand-clappin & hip-shakin to their N'awlins sound!!!  They blew the roof off the joint!
Damn, do I miss NOLA and cannot wait for our next visit!
Oh, and I have decided that our next move, even if it is retirement, is to the Crescent City!!
The food, the culture, the music ~ it's all intoxicating!

Sweet Potato Cupcakes

These cupcakes are perfect as a dessert or individual candied yam servings!!!
1 15 oz can sweet potato puree
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2/3 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12- cup muffin tins with silicone liners, foil liners sprayed with cooking spray or just spray the cups with cooking spray. {Paper liners make it difficult to remove the cupcakes.}
Mix the sweet potato, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and milk. Add the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda to the mixture. Fill each muffin cup with 1/3 cup of the mixture. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and add 5-6 mini marshmallows, return to oven for 5 minutes.  Let cool for 20 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
You can make pumpkin cupcakes by replacing the sweet potato puree with pumpkin puree; cinnamon with pumpkin pie spice; topping with whipped cream and more pumpkin pie spice just before serving!!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Did You Know?

You can take your own travel mug to Starbucks and receive a 10¢ discount on any brewed coffee, hot tea or hand-crafted beverage?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Helpers

This holiday season, I have volunteered for the first time.  Chris & I served meals at the OUR Center the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.  We found it to be more fun than we would have thought.
I rang the Salvation Army bell for the Red Kettle campaign.  I added holiday flair to my outfit by wearing my reindeer antler headband ~ and got plenty of compliments!  It was the coldest day of the week and my time was 4-6PM, when the sun goes down, the temps drop right along with it!  Even with cold fingers and toes, I kept ringing my bell, never taking a break, and thinking how there are people who live outdoors.  I only had to endure for 2 hours!!  My fellow Coloradans were very generous in both their cash and their spirit!
Both were rewarding experiences and I am grateful that we have had made the time to help out in these small ways.  We live rather simply and know we have enough.  Giving our time to these causes costs us nothing, but earns us much.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Making Money the New-Fashioned Way

Many of us know about pinching pennies.  Being frugal.  Maybe even having multiple income streams.
Several times in the past, I worked 2 jobs.  Sometimes 2 part-time jobs, other times a side job to my full-time job.  Usually, it was just for extra money.  Like when we were paying off Chris's college loans. 
Right now, we only have one income, Chris's.  I have been looking for something, but am being more choosy this time around.  I want something that satisfies my need to help people.  I know it may not come to me right away and that I may have to take something in the meantime, which I am happy to do.  We have money in our savings account, but I would rather not tap into it when it can be avoided.  I would like to have multiple sources of income, while only working "outside" of our home on a part-time basis.  {Until I find the job that I cannot wait to get up for each morning and the time simply flies by while I am there and I am amazed when my work day is over.}
Over the years, I have come across some internet opportunities that make money. 
The first is ebates.  Before you do any more online shopping, get yourself an account with ebates!  Then, log in to this site and check for the online store from which you want to shop.  You can get a percentage of your purchase back to you in the form of a check!  I have done it, so I can fully attest to the validity of the site! 
Next, is Swagbucks.  Now, this one won't issue you cash directly; however, you can use your swagbucks to purchase things, like gift cards!!  Make Swagbucks your home page and use it for all of your internet searches to earn swagbucks.  You can also earn swagbucks thru surveys, purchases and a variety of other means.  I earn mine pretty much thru using Swagbucks as my primary search engine.  I have "purchased" many giftcards with my earnings!!!  You can keep them for yourself or give them as gifts!!!
Have you heard of e-rewards?  With this site, you get emails sent to you to take surveys.  They vary in length, and compensation is in direct proportion to the depth of the survey.  I have used my e-rewards money to buy magazine subscriptions, for myself and others.  But you can use them toward loyalty programs (airline & hotel) and discounts for online retailers, like Omaha steaks. 
And, last but not least, do you know of the Kiva micro-loan program?  While it is not a way for us to make money, it is a way to help someone make a living, usually in less fortunate countries, who doesn't have access to traditional banking.  I have blogged about them before, but was recently reminded of them when e-rewards offered a special magazine subscription-Kiva loan combo.  I was able to use my e-rewards earnings to buy myself a magazine subscription and e-rewards then made a $10 loan to a Kiva participant!  (When the loan is repaid, it does not come back to me, as I didn't make the direct transaction.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Welcome Winter

It was a foggy start to our Winter Solstice.  There was frost on every living thing and the mountains were indistinguishable from the horizon. 
We went for an early morning workout, before sunrise.  The gym has a wall of south-facing windows.  In between sets, I look up to see what at first I believed to be the moon.  But remembering I was facing east, I realized it was the rising sun.  The limited visibility of the fog and clouds made the sun appear luminous and white, just like a full moon.  Definitely not what one would typically consider a beautiful sunrise, but certainly one full of awe & magic on this, our first in Colorado, winter solstice morn.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Taking Note

As you well know from previous posts, I LOVE to read!!  It is absolutely and utterly without a doubt one of my favorite pasttimes!  I should have gone into a field where I am paid to read, seriously!
While I love to read, I don't possess a lot of books.
Books are a bit burdensome during moves, so I have sold a few, donated many.  Books are meant to be read and I certainly do not mind passing them along for another's enjoyment and education.  The few I have kept are very special to me for a variety of reasons.  Right now, and until we are again settled, they are in boxes. 
Since I don't like to own too many books, I am a BIG fan of libraries!!  That said, library books must be returned in the condition which you received them.  Meaning, one cannot highlight and write notes in a library book.  Therefore, when I am reading any kind of non-fiction, I scribble plenty of notes on paper.  {I sometimes write things down from fiction, too, if I particularly like a phrase.}
I checked out "The Four Agreements" from the library yesterday.  Started it in the afternoon, finished it this morning!  It's a quick read, I promise.  And, boy, did I take notes!!! 
I am also in the midst of reading "Women Who Run with the Wolves," which I bought for myself recently.  I have done quite a bit of pink highlighting and underlining in that gem.
But I must say that I prefer taking actual notes!  I believe the information sticks with me more when I am spending the time to write down the words that have meaning to me. 
I will type my handwritten notes and, eventually, print them out so I can refer to them in the future.  Just as I will review my highlights in the books that are part of The Divine Mrs M's personal library.  So, both efforts culminate in similar results. 
And, how about you?  Are you a note taker and a highlighter-er?  If so, are you good about going back at some later date to review and refresh?  I did recently with notes I had taken (and typed) from "The Tao of Womanhood," which I read several years ago, and it was a rewarding experience, filled with reminders and encouragement that I needed at the right time. 
Next on my reading list is don Miguel Ruiz's "The Mastery of Love," which appears to be another quick, yet succinct read.  Another couple sessions of reading and feverish note-taking, to be sure!
I am always interested in book recommendations, both fiction and non-fiction, please feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments.  And, if you should want any recommendations, you can check my Books to Read board on Pinterest and/or I am happy to respond in the comments.
Remember, reading is FUNdamental!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lucky Me

I just have to give a big shout-out to my wonderful hubby who is giving me the gift of time!
While I am taking a bit of a sabbatical here in Colorado, he gives me no grief!
While I search for myself, a new direction, something more...he supports me, both financially and psychologically.
While I spend my time at home or the coffee shop reading & writing, he encourages my budding author aspirations.
And, for now, I happily fulfill the housewife duties to pull my share. 
This move has been exactly what we expected, and, yet, not.  The things over which we have had some semblance of control, we are spot-on.  The other things, like the freakish weather, well, those we have ridden out. 
I look forward to the next 2 weeks of Chris being off from work and we get to hang together from sun-up to sun-down!  I've missed him! 
Love you, Wolfie!


So, yesterday, I hopped the bus from Longmont to Denver!  Go, Me! 
My cousin, Kyle, was staying with his friend, Mark, for a few days.  We, along with my other cousin, Matt, his girlfriend, Emily and their daughter, Audrey, were invited for drinks & dinner.
Mark recently returned from studying culinary in Italy!  He was our chef for the evening!  We enjoyed homemade ravioli, the most delicious pork loin, asparagus (with a bacon mustard sauce!!) and pumpkin-cream cheese pie (recipe courtesy of Mark's mom).
Mark and his brother, Eric, just moved to Denver.  Mark is planning to get a food truck going, but it won't be the usual, already-prepared food.  Mark wants it more like a market, wherein customers buy his homemade Italian foods to cook at home.  They can stop on the way home, on the way to the kids' games, on the way to a friend's and buy homemade dinner!! 
Kyle rented the community room in Mark & Eric's apartment complex, so we had this huge room to enjoy cocktails, our dinner and plenty of conversation!  I brought some old pics of the boys (me & Chris, too) to share laughs over!  We took plenty of photos of Audrey Helen, many in her new hats from Uncle Kyle!  We got a fantastic family photo of all of us...coincidentally, we were dressed in blues & blacks as if we planned one of those matchy-matchy holiday photo shoots! 
Kyle & Matt are brothers to me.  I lived with them (& their parents) for 5 years, until Chris & I moved in together.  We have been able to spend most holidays together over the years, even when they have lived away from our home town.  What a joy to be able to spend time with both of them for our first Christmas season in Colorado!!!
I really enjoyed hanging with Mark & Eric, too, and look forward to seeing them again...even sans Kyle!  They are fun guys, who enjoy food, wine & beer!  And if I can work with Mark in the food truck while building his business in the hope of opening a brick & mortar location, all the better!!  In just the few weeks they have been in Denver, they have been eating & drinking their way around the city!  They are living in the Baker section, where we hadn't yet been, and it looks to have a pretty cool vibe with bars, restaurants and coffeeshops within walking distance.  (Tho, it may be too pricey for our needs...much research will be undertaken over the next 6 months!)
Back to my bus ride.  We received 2 free passes as a welcome to Colorado.  RTD-Denver has a great system.  I called customer service to verify the stops in Longmont and Jake was super helpful!  The bus was clean and comfortable.  The ride was a bit longer than scheduled because of construction and rush-hour traffic.  But, I brought a book and was able to zone out & read.  I rode all the way to the final destination, Market Street Station, and then walked a couple blocks along the 16th Street Mall to where Chris was awaiting me in his car!  It worked perfectly, so that we weren't both driving to & from Denver!!! 
It was a late nite; we didn't get home until after 11, but I wouldn't have missed a minute of time with our family and new friends!!
The only thing I would have changed....knowing it was Festivus!  We could have demonstrated feats of strength on the pool table or Ms. Pacman game.  Followed by the airing of grievances and making a Festivus pole.  Ah, well ~ we know how to bring a good time to any gathering!  We Longs are nothing if not party peeps!! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Four Agreements

I receive a variety of emails from blogs.  This morning, I clicked on Oprah's message because the subject read "4 Rules Happy People Live By."  Of course, I want to learn those four "rules," right?  Who wouldn't?  It's only four!!  However, the first link in the email was "Your Guide to Fulfillment."  Immediately, I clicked on it!!! 
There were short video clips, from Oprah's Super Soul Sunday (which I should really make an effort to watch or, at the very least, search the online library) discussing "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz.  I have never heard of him or his book, but the small intro paragraph mentioned two of the four agreements and I felt this was right up my alley. 
What a gift!!!
I strongly encourage you to watch the clips and I will quickly share with you the Four Agreements:
Be impeccable with your word
Don't take things personally
Don't make assumptions
Always do your best
Are you intrigued?  Did you watch, yet?  How about now?  It's only about 10 minutes total...What are you waiting for?
I can assure you that I will be looking for this one at my library and taking copious notes! 
Just from the small video snippets, I learned about myself!  I tend to do 2 & 3 too frequently and I know they are a couple of my weaknesses. 
These four simple agreements with MYSELF will help me to live mindfully.
(And for my fellow fitness aficionados: when Oprah talks about keeping her word to herself about exercise, I knew exactly where she was coming from!!!  And that helped me to get my booty to the gym for my strength training this AM!!)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Have I Had Enough?

I have been very lucky to reconnect with old friends, stay connected with family & friends who live around the country and make new friends with Facebook.  I have been on it for several years now, after an old friend “found” my profile, which I only created at the request of my mom (who never uses it herself)!  Initially, it was pretty exhilarating!!  I loved seeing everyone’s pictures and catching up a bit.  Plus, it was close to our 20-year high school reunion and Facebook was a huge tool for organizing the event.  
I enjoy seeing all the pictures of my nieces & nephews, as well as my sisters and brothers, on Facebook.  I wouldn’t have seen my sister, Kelley’s, wedding pics, otherwise.  When things started in this digital direction, we would share via emails and online photo albums, which required invitations.  I rather liked it that way. 
How about Pinterest?  I enjoy the inspiration for food, crafts, clothes, decorating.  I have boards.  I share Pins.  I “like” Pins.  I comment on Pins.  I have, on occasion, even utilized the Pins I have saved.  For the most part, tho, they sit in my profile….”collecting dust,” like the torn out pages of magazines and the cookbooks of yore.  The difference, much less storage space and no actual dusting required with the digital collections.   
I have a blog page.  I have been writing more than ever recently.  Perhaps because I have more time now that I am on sabbatical or because I think about writing more than before…or, more likely than not, a bit of both.  I read several blogs, too.  I find myself drawn more to blogs which offer topics on simplicity, mindfulness, compassion, generosity over those which are a tad more “fluffy”. 
It’s just where society has been heading.  Everything, primarily, shared via social media sites.   
Lately, tho, I have been struggling with our virtual communities. 
I am again thinking of severely limiting my “visits” to social media.  I need a break from the bragging, the bitching, the whining, the sports play-by-plays and, even, the ignorance.  
I also need the break because I sense myself being judgmental at times.  Like wondering (from what they have shared)   in what reality someone lives when it appears to be incongruous with their roles & responsibilities.   
There is a fakeness to Facebook (maybe we should change the name to FAKEbook) that is in opposition to my values.   
I know that I can “hide” and “unfriend,” which I have done.  But I know I might miss something of importance should I do either and I would like to be able to congratulate or sympathize on the “big” things.  More importantly, I don’t want to miss the photos of my nieces & nephews!!! 
I know that I will have to work a bit harder to find the jewels I desire amid the detritus.  I will need to actively seek out those moments of interaction.   
I have had wonderful phone conversations with my grandma recently and I so appreciate the gift.  I spend time on the phone with my mom, too.  We don’t communicate via social media or emails.  I’ve spoken to a couple of my aunts back in Indiana since our move, too.  I think I am going to get back to the art of conversation.  There are those with whom I want to remain connected and also feel the strong need to hear their voices.  There is nothing like the joy, sorrow, sarcasm, laughter and love that comes with one’s voice ~~ we can choose the right words, but we cannot get the full effect without the inflection.   
I will spend more time reading my books.  Books that are helping me to crack open my shell to further connect with myself and find what stirs my passions.   
I will spend more time being active, rather than passive.  I feel I have been a bit of an ostrich, with my head buried online.    
I need to practice not comparing myself to others.  It is easy to believe that what is shared online is the real story, but I need to remember that so much more is happening “behind the scenes” and it is difficult to come out from the persona.   
I want to write about topics that are meaningful to me and that, hopefully, can help, encourage or inspire others.   
To do so, I need to free myself from the influence & bias that I glean from social media.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Gift of Kindness

This time of year can be very harried and stress-filled.  It is easy to let the tension build.  We sometimes react harshly.  To ourselves and those closest to us.
I propose that, in addition to being generous in your gift-giving, you give the free gift of kindness!!
No negative talk to yourself.  You are a beautiful soul.  You deserve to enjoy this time of year.  You don't have to be over-burdened with self-imposed expectations.  You aren't solely responsible for everyone's holiday happiness.
Don't expect perfection, in you or others.  Ask for or accept help from your family, friends, co-workers.  You don't have to make all of the Christmas cookies alone ~ enlist the kids!  They will love to help!!  You will be laughing, sharing...making memories and, hopefully, traditions!
Be present in your moments throughout the day:
While getting the kids ready for school.  Talk to them.  Smile at them.  Hug them.  Compliment them.
While in line at the store.  Smile at the strangers, the stockers, the cashiers.  Offer a kind word.
While driving to & fro.  Turn off your phone for several minutes.  Think positive thoughts about yourself.  Send affirmations to your loved ones.  Drive mindfully. 
While making dinner.  Think about those for whom you are preparing this meal.  Sprinkle every dish with the secret ingredient: LOVE.
With your spouse or significant other.  Talk, share, compliment, hug.  Just as important as showing our children they are valued, our life partner needs and deserves the same.
I leave you with a few quotes on kindness:
What this world needs is a new kind of army - the army of the kind.  ~Cleveland Amory

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.  ~Mark Twain

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.  ~Seneca

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. ~Henry James

And my favorite, from one of my favorite authors, thanx to my mom sharing him with me oh-so-many years ago:

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  ~Leo Buscaglia


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Throwing Down the Gauntlet...or Rather, the Warm Woolen Mitten

I have friends who are pagan, wiccan, atheist, agnostic, Catholic, Jewish, Christian (my BEST friend, the person with whom I spend my life... surprised, aren't you???).
I love to send holiday cards.  Ask Chris, it was sort of an addiction.  I would scour the stores and hide the cards I liked in order that I could get them at the day-after Christmas sales!!!  There was no rhyme or reason to my selection.  One year it's a winter scene of penguins, another is vintage-inspired, several have had Santas.  Whatever design spoke to me!! 
I (We) no longer participate in the gift-giving extravaganza into which Christmas has fallen.  I won't lie.  We used to give gifts to ourselves, our families, our friends.  Over the years, however, we have made the conscious choice to not be part of the madness. 
We like to buy for the less-fortunate.
We like to donate to food banks.
This year, for the first time, we are spending time in service at a soup kitchen.  (The day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.)
It is presumptuous of me to think I know what you & yours celebrate, isn't it?  Or to assume that what I believe, so do/should you.  I may only see or talk to you once between now and the new year.  If I wish a "Happy Holidays", which I will, why should that offend?  I am offering seasonal greetings that cover any and all observances to transpire between now and the coming of the new year!!! 
I am disappointed by those who harp on and spread the propaganda that they are no longer ALLOWED to say Merry Christmas.  {Will you be jailed?}  Or that Christ has been taken out of Christmas.
To you, I say, let your actions speak louder than your words.  Do you think your God would be complaining about this?  Or do you think, perhaps, he might be practicing the concepts of peace, love, understanding and hope?  Do you think YOU have acted in accordance with your spiritual leader, your religious doctrines?  Don't give lip service ~ that makes you part of the problem, be a part of the solution!   
What have you DONE to share the spirit of the season with your fellow human beings?
Please don't send me a card with religious iconography and then let me see you brag about the endless toys, gadgets, clothes you gave & received for Christmas. 
Please don't tell me that what I believe or what I practice diminishes your holiday observances, traditions or beliefs.  {Why would you give me such power over your life, anyway????}
I am a pagan with strong wiccan influence.
I will extend peace, love & understanding while spreading the message of hope. 
 I will be out ringing the bell for the Salvation Army on Friday, December 20th from 4-6PM outside of the King Soopers on Pace, here in Longmont.  (I can't wait!!!  Antlers and all!)
What about you?  Have you given of your time or your wallet this year to others outside of your immediate circle of family & friends? 
Look at what you have spent on Christmas gifts and donate half that amount to a charity! 
I challenge you to join me!  PLEASE donate to a food bank, a toy drive, a family you know who is struggling!  Lend a hand at a church soup kitchen!  Contact Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army to see if you can help distribute toys or ring the bell for the red kettle drive!
There is no monopoly on the "Reason for the Season".
Unless, of course, you mean a generosity of spirit that is sown by charitable actions done solely out of peace, love and understanding for a fellow human whose needs far outweigh your wants.

Blessed Be.

Monday, December 9, 2013

On this date in 1979

I was 7 1/2 years old.
Late in the nite we received a phone call.
My mom began to hyperventilate.
I had no idea who was on the other end of the phone or what could possibly have my mom in such a state.
I would soon learn...
my mom's youngest brother, Steve, age 15 1/2 was dead.
He and several friends were in a car that the driver lost control of on any icy & hilly street.  The driver, also Steve, and my uncle (who was sitting behind the driver) were the only 2 to die. 
My uncle's neck was broken.
We lived in Indiana, my grandparents & uncle in Ohio.
It was an 8-hour drive.
We quickly packed and were on our way.  My brother and I probably slept; it seemed like we made it in record time.
I remember walking in to my grandparents' house, it was completely dark.  My grandpa was just sitting on the couch.  My grandma was in her bed.  It was so different from all the other visits when we erre greeted with smiles & hugs at our arrival.
The "kids" had been at Grandpa & Grandma's house trimming the Christmas tree before they headed out for a bit.
I adored my Uncle Steve.
I couldn't find any paper, but I did find a small piece of cardboard on which I wrote a short poem.  I wanted it placed in his jacket pocket.
My uncle Steve was a beautiful person, inside and out.  He was destined for a fun and fabulous life!  He would have been a star of stage or screen!!!
Instead, he became a star in the sky for us all.
I know he watches over the family. 
My great nephew, Casey Isaac, now shares his birthday, May 22nd, bringing joy back to that day.
{Years after the accident, a woman found my grandma to tell her that she ran out to the scene, it was in front of her home, and she held my uncle as he passed.  He hadn't been alone.}
Stephen Leslie Sigars
5-22-64 to 12-9-79
Our family's shooting star

Blog Love

Friends have shared some amazing blogs with me recently and I just can't keep them to myself!
Both are inspirational and help keep me focused on living mindfully.
These 2 offer information about sales & savings and, occasionally, a contest or two.  (I won a Target gift card from the Mummy Deals site a couple years ago, so I can attest that these are real!!)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

An Appreciation of Winter

I just did a search for "winter solstice" and came upon the Wikipedia entry which includes, in alphabetical order, a few dozen celebrations around the world!!  Some are historical in significance, while others are still practiced today.  Awesome!!!  The one that speaks most to me is Yule.
The cyclical season of winter is, of course, characterized by cold & snow.  However, it is also a time of hibernation, reflection, rejuvenation.  One can see this in the realms of human, animal and nature.
Animals hibernate.  Energy is reserved.  Food has been stored away in anticipation of the cold & snow.
Plants lay dormant.  No energy is expended, while awaiting the spring sun & rains.
Humans used to have food stores from their bountiful harvests and the "sacrifice" of their animals.  Wood was chopped to keep the home hearth ablaze.  Little time was spent out of doors for fear of freezing to death.
In the 21st century, we have many modern conveniences which preclude the necessity of food storage and large hearth fires.  However, we do have the less fortunate among us and those who live far outside of urbanized areas (say farmers, ranchers, etc.) that need to be vigilant about how to eat and stay warm during this harsh season.
For those of us in the fortunate situation of having warm homes and full (enough) cabinets and refrigerators, this time can be used to work inside ourselves.  We can reflect back over the past year on our successes, failures, accomplishments, weaknesses, achievements.  On our loves, laughs, sorrows.  Any and every aspect of our life and our selves...the good, the bad & the ugly, as they say.
I suspect the idea for New Year's resolutions came about after a reflective practice.  It's important to not only acknowledge the past, but also to create a plan, a framework, a list of what we will do in the new year having learned from the old one. 
Winter is a seasonal metaphor for the last chapter in our lives, as we can look back with all of our years of living and wisdom to see the path we have traveled.  A time when, as elders, we can be looked upon for advice.  A time when expediency is abhorred, and leisurely enjoyment of each day is foremost (perhaps because of a more focused view of one's mortality).   
Winter is the crone aspect of the witch triad.  The final of the three phases.  The elder, the wizened woman.
We can choose to hibernate or lay dormant or we can choose to reflect and learn. 
We can prepare ourselves for spring, a time of renewal and rebirth, by taking a critical look at ourselves, our finances, our marriage, our families, our friendships and carve out what no longer serves us and strengthen what feeds us. 
I'm not saying you have to make a resolution list, as those last about as long as the winter season, at most!  I am saying take each season and use it, both symbolically and literally, for inner work.  A process, which can be marked quarterly, yearly, seasonally, for a lifetime. 
It's never too late to look back, it's never too late to be in the moment and it's never too late to be forward thinking.  The important thing to remember is to take time to assess and learn and grow.
Winter will give way to spring, which will pass to summer that will lead to fall, which returns to winter.
Just like all of nature, we have the capacity to adapt.

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”  Frank Herbert

Financial Fitness

As any of you who have been reading my posts know, I am at a crossroads and am trying to figure some things out.  I have been reading some awesome books and will begin another today!  I have a friend to whom I suggested a book I read several years ago and she has been sharing tidbits of wisdom from her readings, which has helped me for different reasons than it is helping her.  It's sort of our own virtual book club/support group!
In my effort to help my friend, I stumbled upon some notes in an old journal that I made after watching a July 11, 2001 episode of Oprah!!  The theme was finances.  While Chris and I are pretty damn good about frugality and saving (which afforded us the chance to come to Colorado before obtaining jobs!), it was good for me to review.
The first helpful hint list:
Saving - To Be a Millionaire
~Take lunch to work (don't eat out!)
~Eat dinners at home (don't eat out!)
~Make a budget
~Assess needs and wants
~Make one monthly trip to the ATM
~Buy generic
~No cable TV
~Nickel & dime yourself out of debt
~Pay yourself first each month
Now, remember, this was advice from 2001 and while most of it is timeless, I know there are a couple that might not be applicable in 2013. 
We considered no cable/satellite upon moving to Colorado and getting a Netflix and/or HuluPlus account.  However, I want to see local news programming, especially in the mornings for Chris's commute.  We went with the most basic bundle of internet and satellite, but if there is a way to have local TV programming without a digital provider, let me know!  (Chris says we can just get a digital antenna that plugs into our flat screen...anyone????)
Also, most of us probably don't use the ATM since we can get cash in other ways.  Just use your common sense here and get your monthly allotment of spending money only once and use it wisely!
The second helpful hint list:
8 Secrets to Become Wealthy
"Ordinary People/Extraordinary Wealth"
~Carry a mortgage on your home
~Don't diversify in your 401K (also maximize your contribution)
~Wealth came from investments of $1000 or less
~Rarely move from one investment to another
~Don't measure success against the DOW or S&P500
~Devote less than 3 hours per month on personal finances
~Money management is a family affair
~Don't pay attention to the media (they are present-oriented, rather than future)
So, I am guilty of moving investments!  At one time, we started a mutual fund account and later added individual IRAs with a family member.  That person failed to regularly check in with us to let us know how he thought our investments were faring and if we should take more or less risk.  He then left the business altogether without bothering to inform us!!!  We stopped our monthly electronic funds transfer for those investments about a month before our move.  I doubt we will resume contributions, but I hope to find a way to get these accounts moved elsewhere with little, if any, loss.  We also both have investments through former employers.  I don't have any financial acumen (tho I wish I did b/c I do have a head for numbers & the like), but I have tried to direct our monies the best I can, which hasn't always resulted in profits.  Not that anyone can predict the market, I know, but I suspect if we had a financial manager that person might keep a closer eye on what our funds are doing.  I must admit I am grossly behind in checking the quarterly statements for any of our investments!!
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my grandpa:  He told me that anytime an employer offers to match my investment amount I MUST take advantage of it b/c it's free money!!!  I did this when I was employed at Walmart in the early-mid '90s, as they did a matching on stock purchases.  We did this with Valparaiso University, Chris's last employer, as they did a percentage matching, too.  Chris's current employer requires a 4% contribution and I know they have some type of matching, but I am not too versed on it...yet!
I also found another note scribbled sideways in this same journal:
Age 20-60, save $3/day.  You will have $1 million.
Now, I did the math of 365 days times 40 years (14,600 days) which I then multiplied by $3 to get $43,800.  I suspect that the daily investment needs to be placed in an interest bearing account of some sort in order to reach that one million mark!!!  However, I didn't care to write that down, I guess!!! 
When Chris & I were both working back in Indiana, we were super savers!!!  I look forward to working again in order to get back to the "business of saving"!  I guarantee that once you start to see your account grow, you will be far more excited about that than any needless item from a store.
I simply adore the wisdom of both Suze Orman and Jean Chatsky.  These ladies are smart and know how to share financial advice in a way that us ordinary people can understand, appreciate and put into practice!
If you have any tips you are willing to share, please comment.  I welcome all the help I can get in this realm of the adult world!
Wishing you Buon Fortuna in 2014!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Meal Musings

Mulling over what to make for Christmas.  We did a traditional meal for Thanksgiving, so...
I was thinking a Latin theme for this holiday b/c Chris wants to make Puerto Rican rice again. 
But I am now leaning more toward a breakfast extravaganza!!!
Chris's Corn Fritter Casserole
Sweet Potato Hash
Bacon from Lucky's Market
Fried potatoes
Pumpkin or Sweet Potato "cupcakes" (that I didn't make for Thanksgiving)
We can do Latin for New Year's!!  Ole!

Baby, It's Downright Freezing Outside!

So, lucky us!  The week we move to Colorado, our county experiences floods like they haven't seen in 500 years!  Destroying the St. Vrain Greenway, a pathway throughout Longmont for walking, hiking & biking ~ low on the priority list for repairs (we were paying $1 on our electric bills to maintain them...now we will pay $4 for repairs and I doubt we will be living here when they are ready for use again!!)  Damaging major roadways, so that we weren't able to take the shorter route from Longmont to Estes Park, nor were we able to do any mountain hiking.  And this week, the coldest temps on record in 15 years!  When we woke this morning, the actual temp was below zero...before the wind chill factor!!! 
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  Have WE affected the weather?  Is Mama Nature pissed that we moved?  Or is she just testing our fortitude for living in this, usually, beautiful part of the country?
We KNOW this weather from Indiana....and we believed we were leaving it behind!
As I posted on my Facebook page, I want the sunshine, rainbows & unicorns I was promised!!!
When Chris left for work, I went out with him to start my car and clear off yesterday's snow. We only have access to a one-car garage here and since Chris is the only one working, he gets to park in it.  Let me say, I really miss the 2-car garage at the Ogden Dunes rental!!!  (For only one year in my life have I been able to park in a garage and it was a joy!)  We have remote start on our cars, so I started the car, reached in to turn the heat up to high, the rear defrost on and grab the scraper.  There were several inches of accumulation, but it was light and able to be just brushed off.  HOWEVER, it was only minutes before my fingers were tingling and super cold!!!  Yikes!!  During yesterday morning's Denver newscast, an outside reporter said he had purchased new gloves on Tuesday because he hadn't needed them in so long!  So, I don't think I will run out and buy below-zero worthy gloves, especially since we aren't skiers or snow boarders!!  I am remaining hopeful that this arctic blast, like the floods, is an anomaly that we won't see again during our time in SUNNY Colorado!  
The cabinet with our glasses & mugs is also where we store our coffees.  What an intoxicating aroma each & every time I open those doors.  Warming beverages are what keep me going on days like today.
That and the fact that I don't have to go outdoors unless I choose to do so! 
I have realized that I am most creative when I can see, hear and feel the outdoors.  In an effort to stay warm and save on energy costs, we covered our windows (all but one upstairs) and the sliding glass door with plastic on Sunday.  I can now only see the nature that exists outside my door.  I can no longer hear the birds or the neighbor's wind chime or feel the breeze (not that I would be opening the slider the past few days and for several to come, but you know what I mean, right?).  I feel I have to work a little harder to find the words and topics to share here.  I do have some ideas written in a journal and saved in a document on my computer that need some developing.  I know that if I focus I can hash out my thoughts.  I think I will mull them over while doing mundane chores today.  I find that complete sentences come to me when I am in the midst of something, when I don't have pen & paper handy!  Of course!!  When I am letting my unconscious mind have free reign.  At these times, I am always wishing I had a recorder to speak the words as they are forming because I just know I won't get it exactly the same when I get the chance to jot it down. 
I will take the time to enjoy our Christmas tree alight.  I will delight in the knowledge that my Christmas cards are all out (well, all but one for a special family) and that I don't have to shop.  I will do all of my indoor "chores" so that when the weather breaks, even a little, I am free to roam.  I will look thru our holiday DVDs and pick out one or two for us to watch tonite!!  I will plot our weekend to include the light parade in Boulder and a visit to Tattered Cover!!!!

Maybe I should take my own advice and make a snowman or, at least, toss a few snowballs in the air.
I will be thankful that I have a warm home on this bitterly cold day and hope that those who do not have found themselves a safe & warm place to shelter from this week's winter slap in the face. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Reuse & Recycle: Christmas Cards

For years, I have saved the fronts of cards (Christmas, birthday, anniversary, thank you).  Some I have framed (Christmas and Halloween) and others I make into postcards!  I have sent a few birthday postcards and this year, I sent out 33 Christmas postcards from cards I received from our family and friends over the years!!
When I was young, my aunt, Karen, made placemats from her old cards.  Check out this Pinterest!!  They are identical to her handiwork! 

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