A Preliminary Attempt at Making New Year’s Resolution(s)

It’s almost that time again, time to make a list of goals both fantastically unattainable and laughably simple, and attempt to make some or all of them stick. I do this every year, along with about 100 million other Americans. Sometimes my ideas work out, like the year I made it my goal to make a different goal every month and stick to it. That was awesome, actually. I took a month to be more feminine (some of which rubbed off in the long term), among other goals that I know I kept but honestly can’t remember right now. I kept track of those goals in a blog, but sadly I accidentally erased it in a technical mishap at some point last year. So much for the memories.

Along with Compass & Quill, I’m also keeping a blog right now (Twenty by Thirty) about one goal I’ve been slowly and not so effectively working on since last summer – losing weight. I’m always halfheartedly working on losing weight, though, so guess it’s nothing new. I started out needing to lose about 20 lbs, and so far I’ve kept 5 lbs off, though at one point I only had about 8 lbs left to go. Hopefully I’ll be back to that spot soon.

But since weight loss is always on the docket, I’m not making it a proper New Year’s Resolution. So what to choose for my big potentially life-changing list of efforts for the year? Well, there’s the obvious, like:

Rajan the Elephant Swimming

Courtesy of National Geographic Magazine.

1) Learn to Swim. I started swimming lessons back in November, and now I can float on my stomach (easily) and my back (kinda – still need help getting relaxed enough in the position), and I can kick and use my arms. I can swim the entire way across the pool; unfortunately, I’m still not coordinated enough to get my head up to breathe during this process. So I’m going back to my lessons in January, with the goal of being able to swim well by the time I go to my friend’s wedding in Croatia in June.

Tortoise & Hare

2) Start Running 5K Races Again. I’ve run a few 5K races, and a marathon, and lots of training runs leading up to the marathon, of course, but nothing in between. I can still run 2 miles with no problem, which leads me to believe that I can work my way up to 3.1 miles (which is 5K) with just a little effort. If I can get back into running races on a regular basis, it will force me to run at least 3 to 4 miles every day or so. This will not only help me get fit, but will also give me something to be proud of, and that forces me to keep to some sort of schedule. Schedules and lists are good for me, since once on schedule with at least one plan, other plans just sort of pop into place. Telling myself that I’m training for a 5K will put me on some sort of schedule, making it that much easier to pretend I’m a grownup.

Arranged Vegetables Creating a Face

Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Health.

3) Budget Food Expenditures. It’s funny, really, given my affinity for material goods, but I don’t spend that much money on stuff. I don’t own a car (never even thought about being able to afford one, actually), don’t own a house (or plan to any time soon, though that’s on The Man’s resolution list this year, I believe), don’t buy movies or music (unless you count a $8/month Netflix subscription – no discs by mail, only online viewing). In addition, I haven’t bought a stitch of new clothing since September, when I bought a dress that cost $15. Before that, my last major expenditure for clothing was for a t-shirt about a month before, and two pairs of jeans sometime last winter when my last nice pair wore out at the seams. I love dressing well, but haven’t done so in years, much to The Man’s dismay. I just can’t afford it. There is some credit card debt still lingering from tough times when my paycheck was slashed in half for about a year during the last recession, so I try not to buy too many pointless things, in hope that I’ll get out of debt before I die of old age.

That’s not happening quickly enough, however, and after going over my budget yesterday I came to a striking conclusion. There are a few major expenditures that are holding me back, but the biggest problem is the amount of money I’m spending on food. I simply have no control when I’m in the grocery store. I don’t buy soda or chips, and I don’t like candy, so that’s no biggie. I don’t buy freezer goods or crap food like ice cream or snack cakes or boxed cereal. My weak points are wedges of brie, dabs of blue cheese, smoked salmon, imported dried meats from Italy, and decent bottles of wine for pairing. I’ll go out to get groceries and pick up everything I need for two weeks for around $70, then spend another $40 on one night’s nibbles. But no more.  Neither my pocketbook nor my tummy can afford this kind of excess, especially given that both meat and dairy do tremendously awful things to my digestion (though I adore them so!). From now on, I’m on a more reserved bi-weekly budget, with a goal of going underbudget and saving the excess. Also, no ordering take out, getting fast food, or eating bar food. And NO PO-BOYS!!!

I’m going to have to come up with a bi-weekly menu, do some online shopping to find deals, and budget out by the penny. It will be boring, but by the end of the year I anticipate that it will have saved me around $1,800, if not more. I’ve also been looking around for a way to save even more money by eating simply and trying to live on less than $3 a day. Not sure if I’ll put this into action or not, but I’ll let you know.

4) Put Money in my Savings Account. I do this anyway, but it never stays there long, and this year it’s more important. Two friends are getting married, which gives me a bachelorette party and two weddings to attend, both of which require travel out of state (luckily the bachelorette party is in New Orleans, which will be helpful). One of the weddings will require a pretty nice chunk of change, since it’s in Croatia, and I’d like to make the trip a bit of a vacation as well as a social call. If I’m saving money on food and keeping track of every spare penny, I should be able to put a bit of money away for the trips. In addition, I’ll need to make some other changes, like finding cheaper prices for the one prescription medication I take, getting a couples’ deal on my gym membership when The Man joins this month, and riding my bike instead of driving The Man’s car whenever possible, to save on gas money. Since I’ve been paying The Man back since September for the money I borrowed from him to pay for our move to New Orleans, I haven’t been able to put much money away. However, I’ll be done paying him back with my next paycheck, and now I see that with that extra bit per month, as well as the amount I’ll be able to scrape together by making more cuts, I’ll also be able to…

5) Pay Off my Credit Cards. Finally. After which, I plan to have a massive party to celebrate and toss them in a bonfire. After they’re paid off, I am allowed to buy new clothes with my next paycheck. Again, finally. I’ll be 31 by then, and will be thoroughly deserving of new clothes and maybe even the luxury of thinking of perhaps even buying a new (to me) car. That’s still a long way away, though I intend it to be within this next year, and no longer.

Courtesy of Aubrey London. Click through to read a great article on flapper culture of the 1920s.

6) Be Happy and Have Fun. Find ways to enjoy my life, even on a budget. So yeah, I might not have money for new clothes from the mall, but what about building a vintage wardrobe? Maybe I can’t afford to go out on the town, but I can definitely afford to go to trivia nights on Wednesdays with my friends, sip a beer, and enjoy kicking the other team’s butts! And how easy has it been to laugh, smile, and make new friends when I’m singing with a band? Easy peasy. Time with the girls is a given now that my girlfriends have put together a craft night where we all get together to gossip and make things, too. I can even learn to knit or start quilting by hand, which I’ve been interested in for quite some time. All great ways to be happy, have fun, and stay young at heart and strong in mind.

Writer's Block by Tom Gauld

Courtesy of Tom Gauld.

7) Finish Writing at Least One of my Books. I’ve got three mapped out. It’s not like I don’t know what I want to write. What’s the hold up?

8) Create a Schedule & STICK TO IT! I’m awful in that I write lists, make plans, have great intentions, then while my days away, wasting opportunities. I could get so much accomplished if I just stuck to some basic ground rules, like waking up at 6am, going to bed at 12am, taking vitamins, drinking only water, avoiding meat and dairy, running 3 miles a day, going to the gym every day to work out or dance or something, having a set writing/work schedule. These are all very basic ideas! I can do this!

I still have a week to get everything sorted out and planned more properly. I intend to make this stunningly easy on myself. For instance, I spent all last night mapping out an Excel document that explains every expenditure over the coming year, by month, with each month broken into planned and actual expenditures to allow for comparison and improvement at the end of each month. In order to keep myself honest, I’ll post each month’s budget on the fridge so that The Man can act as a referee if necessary.

Also, I suppose in order to get my grocery budget back into some semblance of affordability, I’ll need to create a plan for creating foods to freeze and eat later, like the vegan burritos I used to make that cost less than $1 each and are perfect to microwave for lunch time. Breakfast can be oatmeal and an egg, or yogurt and fruit, and dinner can be soups and salads, or I can mix and match at any point. I’ll need to collect prices on everything first, then get back to you. Maybe I’ll become a coupon shopper – who knows?

I’ve got to get going. There’s a lot to take care of today, starting with doing some writing for my boss, then to the gym, then to do some price checking on prescriptions. Catch you later.

In the mean time, what are your New Year’s Resolutions?

Lumos!

Lumosity.com

Image via Lumosity.com

It occurred to me today that something I take for granted in my everyday schedule might be interesting to some of you folks, as well. I wanted to share.

I’ve always had some troubles with word association, especially when it comes to speaking out loud. I’m fine when writing, since writing requires a certain amount of forethought, and then another round of editing (at least my writing does). But when I’m speaking, I often have trouble remembering words, especially proper nouns and the names of gadgets and technical equipment. I’m lucky that most of my friends and family are great guessers, since I end up saying stuff like, “You know, that THING that does the other thing, with the handle – it’s multipurpose! I bought it at Walmart last June on a rainy day. I was wearing a purple t-shirt. You were with me, we were talking about pigeons.”

It doesn’t help that my short-term memory has never been that strong, but my long-term is excellent. If I’m endeavoring to remember what I’ve done in the recent past, I can, but most of the time I’m daydreaming or thinking about other (read: much more important) things, so it seems useless for me to remember which shelf I put the mayonnaise on in the fridge, etc. The Man and I frequently have very interesting conversations where he tries to figure out what I meant when I just said “I don’t know where I put that thing thing we were talking about. Maybe it’s in that place where it always goes, under the stuff.” After knowing me for 6 years, dating me for 5, he usually doesn’t have to ask what I meant anymore. It says a lot about his innate awesomeness that my incredible ability to remain vague doesn’t throw him off of his game in the least. He also knows that though I love to make lists, it’s always best not to hand me one for safe keeping, because it WILL disappear. I frequently lose loose scraps of paper with important information FOREVER, and since I never throw things like that away, I still haven’t figured out where they go. One of life’s little mysteries.

Anyway, I know that I don’t remember things because I just don’t pay attention. What can I say? I’m a million miles away on a much more interesting plane, and I’ll always be the one who prefers thinking about universal Truth to remembering to buy trash bags on my next trip to the grocery store. I am also cognizant of the fact that the insane gaps in my spoken conversations have to do with being an introvert (According to Marti Olsen Laney, introverts tend to use word association more than extroverts, which is why if I’m trying to say something like ‘pie’, my mind first goes ‘grandma’ then ‘grandma’s oven’ then ‘grandma pulling something out of the oven’ then ‘pie’. This all happens much faster than it took to type it, but if you’re one of those people who has trouble pulling a word from the ether, try to take note of what’s actually happening in your mind next time you’re drawing a blank).

What I really didn’t like was that my attention span had started to shrink, pretty drastically. I had read about constant computer use and its effect on our ability to focus, and was pretty sure that my love of the internet in its many amazing guises had something to do with the problem. Although my first two problems bother other people a lot more than me, coupled together the three problems were impacting my life. I’m a pretty intelligent woman; my snarky sense of humor, great judge of character, and attraction to truthfulness always draw in other like-minded folks in a crowd. I wanted to expand on this, grow as a person, and not let diminishing mental faculties affect me at such a young age. I should be becoming more powerful now, hitting my stride, not petering out.

So what to do? Around the time this all started to bother me, I was doing some research for my company into computer labs for continued care retirement communities (basically retirement homes with nursing home components), and looking into what kinds of programs were available to help keep aging minds going on full throttle. I was intrigued by the idea of specific training to help keep the brain from basically atrophying as we get older. During my research, I ran across an advertisement for a website that has brain games for keeping your mind sharp. It sounded interesting, and I decided to try it out to see what the fuss was about. I ended up signing up for 2 years of training as a result.

The site is called Luminosity, and its effect on my life has been pretty profound. You can try the site out with a free trial, and a two year membership puts the full experience at under $60 per year, which is so worth it. Once you’re a member, you can sign up to take any course or combination of courses that you’d like. The games on the site have been advised and tested by some of the leading neuroscientists in the country, including experts from Stanford, Berkeley and UCSF, and are constantly being added to and updated. There are general courses that focus on improving your reaction time, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving abilities, or you can delve into just one of these areas at a time. The training consists of short, entertaining games with tasks like remembering the order of squares that light up, or making a cute little penguin race around a rotating maze, or playing a ‘Memory’-esque game that matches faces to name tags. Every day I play five short games that take me about 20 minutes in all to finish (they could take much less, but I like to repeat some of the games to work on my scoring).

Lumosity.com

This is a screenshot of my Brain Performance history, basically a chart of how my scores have been improving over time on testing. As you can see, I started out pretty low (although some of that can be attributed to being new at the games), and have been steadily increasing over time.

The site also includes graphs and charts that allow you to see where you stack up next to other users in your age range, as well as keep track of your own improvement. There’s a social media aspect where you can make friends and share accomplishments, and you can also play any game you’d like at any time. There are a few games that I tend to return and play quite often, including a word association game that has greatly improved my ability to speak intelligently in front of other people. I still have problems remembering the name of gadgetry, but my attention span has improved dramatically, as has my ability to put a name to a face, and weirdly, to do math problems in my head, which is a definite bonus.

It’s a great website, and if you’ve worried about keeping your brain going strong, I’d encourage you to check it out.

Being Sneaky

While Murphy prefers a warm lap or at least a spot very near to said lap, preferably somewhere within a belly-rub’s distance, Izzy is all about solitude for most of the first half of the day. Most days she beds down somewhere quiet and secluded until around 2pm, then comes out to say hi, play for a while, then nap next to me until I’m done with work. Sometimes her quiet spot is right out in the open, at the end of the bed or in a laundry pile if one is convenient. Other times she hunkers down under the bed. Lately, though, I’ve had no clue where she was hiding during her ‘me’ time. Until today.

I should have known she’d take her towel obsession to the next level (literally), and get up into the linen closet.

Isabel Cat Hiding in Linen Closet

Isabel Cat Gets Dramatic

The Ferris Wheel

The Original Ferris Wheel

On my dresser is a photograph. It is the only photograph in my bedroom, and it is one of my most treasured possessions. The photo is an original, taken in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, of the Ferris Wheel. In case you’re not completely obsessed with this fair, as I have been in the past, you’ll want to know that the ferris wheel as we know it was built for the very first time for this event. Constructed by an engineer named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., this first version was a monstrous affair at 264 feet tall, with 36 cars each fitted to hold 60 people.

Ferris had faith in his design, and the fair desperately wanted to include modern marvels that would outshine previous World’s Fairs and put Chicago at the top of the map. However, as you might imagine, people were scared. It was new technology, and potentially dangerous technology, at that. There were rumors that the wheel might slip its housing and roll away, crushing its passengers and fair goers below. However, the dreamer and his invention prevailed and now geeks like me get to travel the world in search of new ferris wheels to ride. I’ve only been on a handful so far, but look forward to going to as many as possible in my life. I love them, especially this first wonder.

Along the Plaisance

"Along the Plaisance", a cabinet card image of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL.

For me, though, the story is not about Ferris, but about his wife, who stuck with him through his seeming folly. It was she who fearlessly volunteered to be one of the first to ride the wheel before it’s grand opening, trusting her husband’s brilliance and putting faith in their love instead of others’ doubts. The story is that George, Margaret Ann and a local journalist went up in the wheel to give the journalist a good story. It was a very windy day, and the journalist was absolutely terrified throughout the 9 minute trip. Margaret Ann remained entirely composed beside her husband (I like to imagine that her eyes shone with mischief at the journalist’s discomfort).

In the end, their story was a sad one. George spent the rest of his life in litigation after the fair refused to pay him his share of the profits, then other people began using his design without permission at fairs across the country. Margaret Ann eventually left him, and he died of typhoid, lonely, bankrupt and defeated. But time is flat, and moments continue happening. Somewhere out there, Margaret Ann and George are riding the Ferris Wheel for the first time, frightened, triumphant, trusting in each other and providence, in love. That moment, for me, is what life should be about.

Holding Hands

Exhaustion

Exhaustion

I’ve been running myself ragged, and I’m not really sure how to fix it. Maybe it’s the holiday season, and the amount of money I feel forced to spend to make my loved ones happy with me (obviously, I know this isn’t true, but sometimes it does feel that way). Maybe it’s the fact that Murphy the linebacker cat keeps climbing the Christmas tree and knocking off my favorite ornaments. Maybe it’s that I’m not even Christian, so the fact that we even HAVE a Christmas tree is off-putting to me this season. Of course, a Christmas tree is just a Yule log in disguise, and I do love glitter and glass decorations, so it’s not that big of a deal. It just feels like I’m being smooshed by the holidays, you know?

There’s a lot going on at work. Everyone’s working long hours, and I just don’t have the time to work 12 hour days without getting paid for it, but I can’t tell my boss that, so I just keep trying to fit everything in somehow. I’m trying to start my own little freelancing business so I can make a little more money, and hopefully that can happen soon. I already have a couple of people who have asked for proposals on small jobs, so crossing my fingers, though I know that will then have me never sleeping again. But I really need the dollars, especially now.

School is also taking its toll. The class I’m in right now in grad school is kicking my butt. I don’t understand it, and the readings aren’t helpful, and it’s really freaking me out because it’s all about budgeting for a marketing campaign – stuff I REALLY need to get a handle on.  In addition, though I love the non-credit pagan classes I’ve been taking, I think I’ll have to only do one a semester from now on to avoid burning out. I’m not giving it as much of my time as I’d like, and that’s not fair to my spirit.

As for music, the band is going well; I love singing, and my voice is returning to full strength, even though I dislike a couple of the songs we do, and I sometimes feel a little lame doing the few covers we do. But people love covers, so it’s really just my own perception of the problem. One of the covers is “Baby It’s You” as sung by Smith, and it’s awesome. I can totally pull off about 90% and sound just like her, but then there are some parts that I crack on so bad that it makes me ashamed to be on stage. Weirdly enough, other people love it, and think I do a great job. Sometimes I have a hard time reconciling my reality with everyone else’s.

I guess that’s what makes it easier for me to live these many lives, though. I know I can be doing more. I’m just so tired. A break is desperately needed. Maybe soon.

Until then – coffee.

I’m naming my new business The Marketing Witch. I’ll have my new website put together soon. The domain is mine, and I’ve set up a FB page, even though there’s nothing on either of them. Working at it, though. Hopefully I’ll be able to share it by the end of the week.

Kisses, luvs. Tell me how YOU’RE doing. I’d really love to know – I’m serious. I’m genuinely interested in all of you. If you’ve written something you really care about lately and I haven’t commented, feel free to post a link here in the comments, to make sure I see what you’ve said. I cherish all of you, even if I’m caught up in offline life at the moment.

Thought Provoking Questions

A friend of mine shared a beautiful blog post on her Facebook page earlier. I was so touched by the stunning images and simple but impactful questions that I wanted to share some of the ideas with you, too. The full post is from the blog Random Stuff From My Daily Life, and this particular entry is called 25 Beautifully Illustrated Thought-Provoking Questions. These are a few of my favorite questions…

Adventure!

Living vs. Existing

How Old Are You, Really?

Ignore Judgement - Go for Happiness

These photos aren’t the only big life questioning moments I had today so far – I also had a little chat with my cousin about life and stress and finding out where you’re supposed to be. She’s in college and starting to be scared that she’s not figuring things out quickly enough. From where I’m sitting now, 30 isn’t all that old or wise, but I realize that when you’re in your early 20’s, 30 looks like a lightyear away. I’m not extremely old and wise, but I’ve been around enough times to realize that no one has it all figured out, and it’s pointless to put yourself through the wringer about it. I was trying to write this to her and ended up writing something that I’m so proud of, something I think really does define who I am.

I wrote: “I just figured out what I HOPE to do professionally with my life, provided I can make it happen. Other than that, I’m still utterly lost. But I’ve always liked not being constrained by expectations (mine or anyone else’s), so other than the money woes, everything else can suck it. This is my life, and my time. I’m under no obligation to cut a clear path anywhere.

It’s funny when you’re trying hard to give someone a snippet of helpfulness, and you end up teaching yourself a lesson about you. I’ll come back to this spot when I’m not feeling as driven as I do today, and remember that I’m under no obligation to anyone but myself, and I’m pretty darn happy with me. Sure, improvements can be made – they always can, no matter who you are – but I’m doing a great job at opening my mind and my heart, boldly going where no Anna has gone before in this particular lifetime. That’s the point. I’m getting somewhere.

Hope you’re all feeling at home at your own personal level of success and enlightenment.

Another Day, Another Laundry Pile

Everyday isn’t laundry day in my house, though sometimes it sure does feel like it. I don’t mind doing the laundry, though. This is my first apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer, and they’re both brand new and awesome. For the first time in my adult life, I don’t have to hunt for quarters any time I need clean underwear, and the dryer actually DRIES my clothes. It’s revolutionary, I tell you.

Of course, we all know who absolutely adores laundry day – the gorgeous Miss Isabel. She’s always happiest when towels are part of the mix, but earlier today I was on a roll, and thoughtlessly unloaded and folded a dryer’s worth of towels quicker than she could make it to the bedroom to come play. Realizing my mistake a few minutes later, I threw a couple of the clean towels in with the next load of things to dry, so she could still enjoy a good snuggle. I’m such a sucker, but as you can see, it was totally worth it.

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile

"Mmm...so toasty warm!"

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 2

"Seriously Mum, this is the best ever..."

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 3

"I'd invite you to share, but you see, it's such a small pile. It's really only big enough for one of us."

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 4

"Seriously - you're not going to fit. Especially not with that black box thing strapped to your head."

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 5

"Oh, all right, you can come play too!"

And much cuddling and purring ensued.

The End.

A Frustrating Day

Maybe not excruciatingly frustrating, but rather one of those days that makes you wish you had just stayed in bed. Except – here’s the punchline – I’ve been in bed all day.

Since I work from home, and my home is a rather small apartment, my work day is conducted from either the couch or the bed. I could sit at the dining table or desk, but neither allows me ability to sprawl out in comfort, surrounded by warm blankets and snoozing cats. It’s finally starting to get cold here in Louisiana, and the house was a humid 61 degrees all day today, which means that along with staying under the blankets, I also stayed in my pajamas.

That’s nothing new, either, though. I rarely get out of my pj’s anymore if I plan to stay in the house. Today I’m wearing what The Man calls my Owl Pants, purple pajama pants with a colorful owl design that my cousin sent me last year for my birthday. I love them, and wear them often. To go with these, I’m also wearing a purple hoodie & black cozy slippers. I’ve worn this ensemble throughout this long and frustrating day, and it’s probably one of the reasons I’ve managed to maintain my sanity.

You see, today was all about putting together an acronym. Well, no, that’s not right. Today I had to force 7 primary concepts to become 10 primary concepts, starting with letters of a pre-arranged slogan. Basically, what I was doing was taking a slogan, for example “We Love You!”, and taking a pre-existing set of concepts (Kittens, Monkeys, Stationery, Motorbikes, etc.) and making each letter of the slogan = the first letter of the pre-existing concepts. Damn luckily, most of the letters match up in my business’ slogan. However, we’re missing a few, which is where things get hairy. In order to make up those extra letters, I either have to cut concepts down into pieces and rename them, or else invent new concepts to join the existing bunch.

Since my boss has already been selling these 7 concepts to our clients for a year and a half now, and even when you align the 7 concepts up with the acronym, it’s still a lot to remember, I believe making up 3 more concepts for people to remember is a foolhardy venture. The point of an acronym is to help people remember a few things – not two hands-full. There’s a reason why acronyms are typically kept to between 3 and 5 letters. It’s not that people can’t remember – it’s that the modern consumer just doesn’t care to be bothered with that much work.

But that doesn’t really matter. It’s my job to do what the boss asks, and in this case, it’s to create an acronym that consumers will find confusing, bulky, and ultimately ignorable. It will be a learning exercise either way, and who knows, maybe it will be a huge, awesome concept that everyone on earth can’t possibly get enough of. Probably not, though. I just don’t see it working.

Hence, a very long day of sorting out words, wearing owl pajamas, and wishing it was Friday again. How was your Monday?

Made of Stars

Sorry that the last post was private. There are two reasons for that:

1) I needed to vent about a problem I’ve been holding inside for the last year or two, a problem that has become more intense since my move. I wanted to share without making my musings public, something I have tried to do in my private journal in the past, but found unsatisfying. I’m a fast typist, and it’s nice to be able to see many full thoughts come out of my head and start to live and work themselves out on the electronic page. Maybe in the future I’ll share my thoughts with the world. For now, however, if you really wanted to read, I wouldn’t mind, I think. The post is password protected, and I’ll share if you’d like to write me for it.

2) Since the problem concerns another person, I didn’t want to air something I really should be able to talk to them about in person. Since this person’s demeanor makes it virtually impossible for me to share real thoughts without getting laughed at for “thinking too much,” and this in itself seems to lead to a much darker future path in our friendship, I didn’t think it good to air grievances quite as publicly as I would like. My few readers know me well enough by now, I think, to know that I really don’t mind telling all about myself. There’s not much about my life that I don’t find is made richer by sharing, but this is one of those rare times when I believe the problem might come back to bite me in the proverbial ass if I let it live outside of my head and one protected blog page. I haven’t even been able to tell my best friends. Another interesting way the internet has changed relationships forever.

But enough with that. I’ve already written a major post on it today, and now I’m tired of letting negativity into my borders. From now on this afternoon, only positive thoughts. The most positive? I’m back with my band again! I have some photos I’d like to share with you of the band’s practice space, so I’ll save more musings on that precious topic for another post, but let it be known that I’m insanely happy about getting to sing again, and also to hang out with dear old friends that I haven’t seen in years, and love, love, love collaborating with.

Also in my personal news? I’m taking two free online courses in pagan studies at The Pagan Campus. I know I told you about these before, but I’m having so much fun that I had to mention them again. One class is in Numerology, and the other is in Sabbats and Esbats. I’m learning a lot, but also learning how much there is to learn, and that I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg. I love it. I’m so excited to spend the rest of my life honing my craft, and following the right path for me. Having grown up in super heavy-duty Christian country, where people believe that the devil ‘planted’ dinosaur bones in the earth to fool the weak-minded (lol, btw) into believing that the earth is older than a few thousand years, among lots of other weird, backward-ass thoughts that make very little sense, it’s so nice to get to meet people who believe in something that makes all the sense in the world, and find a religion where appreciating and honoring Mother Nature is the common thread. I don’t care to separate the Universe into multiple gods and goddesses, as many pagans do, but I also love the fact that for once I’m being given the right of way to practice what the Universe keeps proving to me every day is real and right and logical, and to finally see and embrace the abundance of love and energy we have at our fingertips, just by opening our eyes to the possibility of being proactive healers instead of sheep. Like Moby says, “We Are All Made of Stars“.

What else? Well, I made 100 overall in my last marketing class, which is good. I think that this next class is going to really kick my butt, so I should probably actually be doing homework right now instead of writing a blog post or two. But that leads me to the next interesting bit…

I dreamed a book last night. Not a short story, not part of a storyline, but an entire book. It’s not an earthshaking novel or anything, something more like a Harlequin romance, but hey, a book’s a book, and now I’m going to start putting it together. In all, I have three books in my head now that need to be written. One’s about an old haunted house in NC, one’s about ghosts and voodoo in New Orleans, and this last one is about a centuries-old curse on a New England family. I have got to get a routine developed. This is just getting silly. Think of the money I could be making, or at least the ways that I could be so much freer in my life if I just got some kind of order mapped out. With three books and the idea for a very strong small business in mind, I believe the only thing that’s truly holding me back right now is not procrastination, but rather fear. And for the life of me, I have no clue why I should be afraid of success. After all, I want so much to be self-sufficient.

So I’m sitting in bed on a rainy Saturday afternoon, listening to The Man curse at the pieces of a bench he’s been trying to build from scratch all day, my beloved Miss Isabel cat curled up beside me, thinking of this new book, the many paths of my life stretched out before me in my mind’s eye, trying to choose the right one, trying not to hurt anyone too much, or disappoint anyone too much, but trying most of all to be true to myself.

Esse Quam Videre.

I’m trying.

 

My New Smudge Stick

I bought a smudge stick while The Man and I were in Salem. I’ve seen them before in lots of other places, and have wanted one for years but always balked at the cost. Yes, I know they’re not that expensive, but for some reason I can always think of something else I’d rather spend the money on. But when we were in Salem, after doing a few hokey Halloween-y things and visiting a few historic spots, I dragged The Man into a couple of magick supply shops. I didn’t know exactly what I needed, just that something should be going home with me. I glanced over the smudge sticks in one shop, gently handling one, wondering if that was what I had come for. Instantly, a man called out “You don’t want that type – you’re looking for something with juniper!” I glanced up, startled, and he smiled. “You’ll prefer the juniper, it’s what you came for.” How could I refuse such a direct command? I quickly picked one of the other types of smudge sticks he was talking about, one with shasta sage and juniper, and sure enough, I loved the smell.

I’ve never smudged my own home before, though my roommate once cleansed our apartment, or tried to. It was a very negative space, and the cleansing didn’t work well, perhaps because neither of us really believed it would. My current home is a pleasant, safe place, and the only negativity in it belongs to the two humans who make it home. The Man and I are both realistic, with a slight dip in the negative direction. I wouldn’t call us pessimists, but neither of us is an optimist, that’s for sure! I’m slightly empathic, and I used to be much more positive before meeting The Man, but feel that I’ve picked up some of his emotional grey-ness over the five years we’ve been together. Today I woke up with this overwhelming thought that I needed to start over, to hit the reset button, and part of doing that would be expelling all of the left over negative energy that we have brought into this house since we moved in. It’s going to take a lot more than that, of course; it’s going to take changes in the way I encounter life, and let it encounter me, and it’s going to take meditation and prayer with intent, which is really a way to constantly hit the reset button, every day.

But first, smudging. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that the most important part of the process was to believe in it, and throw all of my good energy into making it work. I prepared by lighting a candle, after reading that it’s easiest to light a smudge stick from a candle rather than a lighter or match (or series of matches). I also found a bowl and put a little water in it. Traditionally, the parts of a smudging ceremony have to represent the elements, with the herbs of the smudge stick representing earth, the burning end representing fire, the smoke representing air, and the bowl representing water. I didn’t have a shell (which new-age sources say to use, but some Native American sources say definitely not to use), but I had a large, beautiful brass bowl carved with rippling waves, into which I put a little water just to solidify my intentions. I lit the smudge stick, and first used it to cleanse my energy, passing it over every part of my body and envisioning the smoke touching the energy field around me and carrying away the negativity and sickness that I’m currently feeling. I thought of healing, and light, positivity and focus for my writing career and personal life. Pretty much instantly, I began to feel physically lighter and mentally sharper. I felt relaxed and loose in a way I normally don’t. It was a great way to feel, kind of the way I feel after an intense jam session, after I’ve sung my heart out for an hour or so.

After cleansing myself, I then worked my way around the house, holding the smudge stick at every corner, door, window, and around the perimeter of every room, then to the center. I didn’t know what to say at first, but a vague prayer popped into my head: “Bless this house. Take away all negativity. Allow only beauty and light within these walls.” I said it over and over as I walked through the house, letting the smoke work its way around and through, carrying away all traces of negativity. I spent some extra time in a particular corner that my cats always spend hours looking at, where I’ve never seen a bug or even a shadow of movement. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

A few hours later and I’m still feeling good, relaxed, mellow. I wonder what the medicinal properties of the sage and juniper might be, and if that also has an effect on mental wellbeing. If so, it’s a welcome addition to my normally addled brain. The smoke smell is still around the house, and it’s lovely. Like I said, I’ve never felt ill at ease here, but if I’m going to start to make our life together more positive, I’ll need all the outside help I can get. Plus I suppose it’s good for me to get into practice with making my home spiritually safe, given the fact that I know when we buy a permanent home, it will be historic and most likely in need of a good cleansing.

Other than that, I’m also pretty excited. On a whim yesterday, I searched for classes in magickal topics, and ended up finding an online college for pagans. I’ve been pagan for years, but have had a hard time trying to incorporate magick into my everyday life just through reading books. Finally I’ll have a chance to learn with other people in an open-minded setting that doesn’t just cater to Wiccans (which I’m not). I’m really looking forward to this semester’s classes, “Intro to Numerology” and “Intro to Sabbats & Esbats”. Best of all, the school is free! I’m really looking forward to learning more about this kind of life. My belief in magick is very firmly rooted in my belief in science, and the fact that everything we know and see is composed of energy. Magick, like Reiki or more basically, like a defibrillator, is just collecting, optimizing and releasing the Universe’s energy for a specific purpose…in this case, to beautify and simplify life and help me bring health and happiness to those around me.