Journal and pens

Ever thought of journaling? It’s a great time to start.

I love journaling. Journaling’s my favorite.

It is!

I started journaling in 10th grade and have been doing it off and on since then. I’ve had times of great journaling consistency and times of inconsistency.

But lately, with a few strategies I’ll share with you today, I’m on a journaling roll and believe in its value now more than ever.

My Journal(s)

I’m particular about my journals (I keep a few). For example, I have an simple, plain, black, leather-style notebook that I keep notes about my writing projects and other work-related things.

But my personal journal is different. I like a personal journal that stores little surprises for me, like quotes or drawings, that help me focus and reflect. I’ll give you an example.

My recent journal

My most recent journal has pink flowers and gold flowers on the cover. I picked it out in a rush and wasn’t crazy about the pink flowers or the title on the cover, “Always Be Kind.” (I know. So cynical.) While I believe it’s important to be kind in principle, I wasn’t sure I wanted the daily reminder. Sometimes I journal when I’m angry and not feeling so kind.

But it also has quotes, which I really like and it’s been one of my favorite journals ever.

The quotes are about being kind, like this one,

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love.” JRR Tolkien.

What a great nugget of truth.

Some people like to journal electronically, like in a journal app. I prefer writing longhand in a notebook. It feels more intimate to me. My handwriting is unique, like my fingerprint. 

What’s the purpose of journaling?

Journaling is great for:

  • mind dumps
  • clarifying what’s on your mind
  • chronicaling a journey
  • writing practice
  • venting

Mind Dump

Sometimes when I’m feeling conflicted about something or struggling with an issue, journaling helps me clarify my feelings about it. That sounds strange to say because who doesn’t know what they think about things? But many times, I don’t. I’m a very “Living in the gray” kind of person. Things are rarely absolutely black and white.

Sometimes I can have an opinion about something but something about that opinion still doesn’t feel right. Although, to be truthful, I rarely write about current events or issues. I mostly write about me, my thoughts, my feelings, and my impressions about what’s happening in the world. 

Vent

I don’t expect my journals to be read by anyone else, except maybe when I’m dead. They’re for me. 100%. That frees me up. I don’t have to hold back or think about what I can say without hurting someone else’s feelings.

I think maybe I’ll write a disclaimer at the front of every journal, something like: Please understand that I write in the heat of the moment. If I vented about you, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means I was angry, frustrated, or annoyed with life in general and maybe you in particular.

Purpose?

Journals can be like a “Dear Diary” or can be a chronicle of a trip or journey toward a goal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal in which I wrote specifically who and what I felt grateful for and why.

I keep a notebook of writing ideas, story issues, plot points, and blog ideas.

If you’ve ever thought about journaling but have never gotten past the first page, here are some tips I recommend to get you started. 

Decide how long you will write.

Start by setting your timer for a designated time. Work with what you have. If you only can set aside 5 minutes a day, then 5 minutes it will be. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes. You may be surprised at how quickly you fill the pages by writing just a short time several days a week.

Also, decide how often you will write.

3-5 times a week may be good to start and set the days you’ll journal, like Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Or you can shoot to journal every day for 5 or 10 minutes. No worries if you miss a day. Pick it up the next day.

Remember, it’s for you.

I used to write for hours when I was feeling down or angry and I’d look back on those journals and actually feel bad for that angry, discouraged girl. It may have helped at the time, but I can’t say for sure.

I definitely vent and mind dump all over my journal, but I also use the space to gain perspective for a more positive outlook on whatever’s on my mind.

What do I do with it?

Keep it if you want, but you don’t have to. Put it in a time capsule, in a lockbox, will it to be buried with you. 

But you might be surprised at how interesting your experiences may be to some one in the future. We are, after all, living through a historic event.

I just finished reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Great book and one of the most compelling things about it are the personal accounts of the harrowing Antartic journey as written in a log book, or journal. The details fill in the blanks of their incredible story of survival.

Here’s one historian’s view on the value of journals: Historian: Why We Should All Be Keeping Coronavirus Journals

If you’ve ever thought about keeping a journal, now is a great time to start.

And remember, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Find the way that suits you best and then keep it going!

Read more about keeping a gratitude journal on the blog: Make every day better with an attitude of gratitude

Do you journal? What’s been your experience with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter of journaling in the comments.

be the light

Bias, racism, discrimination, and invisibility

I’ve thought a lot about the current situation regarding protests for racial justice and my thoughts are all over the place:

  • What can I do?
  • Am I racist and have I let race rule my thinking?
  • Is it time for self-examination in general? 
  • What are my biases?
  • What is racism, anyway?
  • No form of racism is good, but there are definitely different degrees of it, aren’t there?

What is it?

Racism is a noun. A thing. Defined by dictionary.com as:

  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Definition #3 is probably what most people think of when they call some one a racist, “hate and intolerance.”

Definition #2 has to do with the idea of systemic racism, such as Jim Crow laws and redlining, as well as “discrimination.”

And according to definition #1, thinking a group or individual is a certain way, positive or negative, because of their race is racist.

But can’t that also be bias? We all have biases we don’t even think about. How can bias always be bad? Except for racial bias, which can lead to stereotypes and discrimination. (For an interesting discussion about racial bias, go to Speaking of Psychology: Understanding your racial biases)

I accept that I have biases, but I’m not aware of racial biases? Do I have those too? And at what point do biases become racism and descrimination?

George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed have sparked serious self-examination and memories of conversations, experiences, and books about racism and discrimination.

One experience stands out in my memory. It has to do with being invisible.

Racism and invisibility

When I was in college forever ago I had the most amazing teacher for an American Lit class. He was a tall, balding, bearded man who wore very thick glasses to aid his low vision. My teacher was legally blind, and used a white cane to help him get around campus. 

He was big on class discussion and literary analysis and I wasn’t the most diligent student, but I loved books and could talk about them all day, every day. I loved that class. 

In the Spring semester he assigned The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The book is about a black man who has been through something that has made him invisible, not because he is a ghost, but because people refuse to see him.

To my 19 year-old sensibilities, the work was deep and I muddled through it thinking I had a decent understanding of the novel. 

But when I got toward the end, the story took a strange turn and I was lost. I couldn’t understand what was going on when the main character took on several different personas all at once. 

I decided to visit my teacher during his office hours for some insight. 

The question that stumped me was,  Who was the main character at the end of the story? 

I went back and forth with my teacher in an attempt to analyze the work. He asked me questions meant to develop my understanding, but I was still confused. 

It doesn’t matter what you think

Then our discussion got personal. He asked about assumptions we make about people. He used himself as an example: Why would people assume that I need help opening a door? I’m able-bodied, I just can’t see. Why would someone see me coming half-way down the hall and stand there holding the door open for me while everyone stands back and watches me pass?

He seemed irritated by the gesture, which surprised me because that’s something I could see myself doing. 

I responded, I think people are just trying to help. 

He said, People assume I can’t open a door for myself because I use a walking cane. They don’t know me, but assume they know what I need.

We must have continued to discuss and I must have continued to make my case in the spirit of, Why wouldn’t you just accept people’s thoughtfulness. 

Then he gave another example

He elaborated on the idea of making assumptions and then drove his point home by saying, It’s the same as someone assuming you’re a certain way because you’re Mexican. 

I hadn’t expected that at all and I must have looked stunned, like he’d just slapped me.

He said: When you came to me wanting to enroll in the class, I really didn’t want to let you enroll. I thought, Who is this Mexican girl thinking she can sign up so far into the semester? This is a 2nd year English class. We’d already read a novel that you totally missed. (Well…you see…what had happened was I wanted to drop an 18th Century British Lit snoozer class and enroll in his American Lit class, but it was so far into the semester I needed special permission to make the switch.)

His first impression of me exemplified his bias, prejudice, and even racism. He had thought of me as a late (true) Mexican (also true) who probably wasn’t very smart (false) and not a very good student (It’s complicated). 

But he came to realize he was wrong about me, just like people who assumed he needed and wanted help were wrong about him.

His racial bias caught me off-guard. I would have never guessed I had made such a negative impression on him, but that example helped me understand Ellison’s character and who he was at the end of the book. 

Class discussion about conclusion of The Invisible Man

In typical form I was late to the final discussion on The Invisible Man and snagged a seat by a window close to the back of the crowded classroom that seated probably 40 students of all different majors. 

He stood behind a podium at the front of the classroom and posed the big question to the class. Who is the main character at this point in the story? Different characters call him by different names and he seems to transform into a different person every time. Is he any of them? Is he all of them?

It was one of those lively class discussions where hands shoot up with students eager to get the right answer. 

But none of them did. I had my hand raised too but he didn’t call on me until the rest of the class was out of ideas. 

Finally he called on me and asked, Who is he? 

I said, It doesn’t matter who he is. 

And a girl with perfect hair said, Well then why are we talking about it? 

The whole class laughed. 

He ignored the outburst and pressed further, Why doesn’t it matter?

I said, Because people didn’t see him. They saw who they wanted him to be. To the people he encountered (not just white people either) he was who and what they thought he was. 

The person he wanted to be, his dreams, abilities, aspirations, family, heritage, or plans for the future didn’t matter a bit. 

That’s what made him invisible. 

Just like my teacher and I were invisible to each other when we first met, it turned out. Our biases caused us to falsely assume things about each other, like character, attitudes, and values.

“Otherness” and me

Not being racist is not enough.

When my biases cause me to assume a person thinks and behaves a certain way because of the color of their skin, heritage, gender, physical difference, language, religion, socio-economic status, level of education, or some other “otherness” they become invisible to me. 

If I think, I’m not racist. I’m not the problem, and continue just as I am without examining my own biases and prejudices, then I’m not doing enough to be part of the solution. I can do better. 

I wonder if future generations will understand any of the current protests and calls for social and racial justice. Will they think it insane that policy based on bias, racism, and discrimination went on for so long? Will they be grateful for the more just and inclusive framework they enjoy?

I hope so.

On a related note, read Words and actions reflect your personal policy on the blog.

Get started

Time to get to work. No excuses.

When I think I have good reasons for not getting stuff done it’s sometimes hard for me to admit I’m really just making excuses.

But no more. Time to get to work. 

No more excuses. 

I’m working on a new book. Non-fiction. It’s part commentary about aging and part memoir about my journey to menopause. 

The thing is, I wrote the first draft 3 years ago. 

I wrote it in hopes that my experience would help other women better navigate what can be a very confusing time. 

But then I put the manuscript on a shelf and left it there. 

For 3 years. (Did I already mention that?)

There are a few reasons I chose to get back to it:

  • I still think my story might help other women or at least give them something to think about. 
  • There’s value in the message. 
  • Re-writing/editing the manuscript is do-able, even if it may be difficult.

So I decided to get back to it and have given myself until April 2021 to publish. 

I made that commitment this past April, thinking, Oh yeah. That’s plenty of time. 

And just like that, 2 months have passed.

I have been working on it, but it’s pretty slow going. Even when I was stuck at home in COVID quarantine with no place to go, no people to see, and not much else going on, I chipped away at it very slowly. 

This has all helped me realize a few things about what I need to do to improve my results and meet my goals.

These realizations may help you, too.

Decide whether you really want to do it.

Projects kept on the “back burner” don’t get done. Of course it’s important to prioritize and you may have to shift things around now and then.

But if you really want to do that thing you’ve left on the back burner, you’re going to have to move it to the front burner eventually. 

I left my manuscript on a shelf in my office without looking at it. For 3 years! If it was ever going to be finished I had to pull it off the shelf, read it, and decide, Yes, I still want to do this. 

But this goes for anything you say you want to do. If you’re waiting for the perfect time to do X, and are just waiting for “someday,” it won’t happen because “Someday never comes.” 

It’s okay to change your mind about stuff you thought you wanted to do. But if there’s truly something you want to do, you have to decide to do it, then get to work.

Which leads me to my next point.

Make a plan. 

Time races by. It’s important to have a plan to do the things you really want to do. Even a loose plan is better than no plan. 

I find I work a lot better when I have a clear idea of what I’m going to be doing and when I’ll be doing it. And I have to write it down in a calendar, planner, journal. Something. 

I came across a journal in which I’d written my New Year’s goals several years ago. In 2015, I wrote that my physical fitness goal was to do 100 double-unders unbroken (double-unders are fast–you jump rope with 2 turns of a rope instead of 1).

That goal is funny to me now because I said I wanted it, even wrote it down. 

But I didn’t make a plan to meet my goal. 

Had I really wanted it, I would have practiced several times a week, gotten coached on the skill, set intermittent milestones throughout the year, so that on December 31, 2015, I had a good shot at setting up and knocking out a hundred double-unders with no problem. 

Didn’t happen. Not even close.

No plan, no good.

Give it time. 

If there’s something you really want to do that you’ve put on the back burner, take a peek at it now and then. Maybe you can’t be all in at the moment, but are there little things you can do here and there to prepare for when you can?

Most things take time and preparation. You may have to take a class, read up on the subject, do some research, start with trial and error. Expect it to take time.  

No more excuses.

Anytime I come up with “reasons” I don’t do what I say I want to do, even though some of those reasons may be pretty significant obstacles, I have to see them for what they are…excuses. 

Jim Rohn said, If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. 

When I make excuses for not sticking to my plan or continuing to put things on the back burner, I have to ask myself, if I really want to do this, then what’s keeping me from doing it?

At that point I can begin to discover what obstacles are keeping me from reaching my goal. Often, it’s some internal obstacle stemming from self-doubt or fear. Or maybe I don’t really want it that bad. 

And that’s okay, too, because it frees me up to do the things I really want to do.

And…begin.

Now it’s time for me to plan my work and then work my plan. No more excuses. 

How about you? Is there something you really want to do but have put it on the back burner for someday? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Read more about setting goals on the blogpost: Create your vision and dare to dream big

Next step

Your goals and dreams and the “new normal”

As the world emerges from this COVID quarantine, slowly in some places, suddenly in others, it can feel a little strange being out and about in our new normal. 

But regardless of what a governor or local municipality deems “safe”, we each must decide our own level of tolerance and comfort with being out and around people again. 

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a commentary that was circling social media about us not being in the same boat. About how this global pandemic affects us all, but how specific health or economic circumstances can make its impact vastly different. (Go to We may be in this together, but we are not in the same boat to read the post.)

Those things are still true. Opening things back up doesn’t change that.

But as we choose to venture out, continue to stay in, throw caution to the wind, or somewhere in between,

Here are some things to consider as you come to terms with your “new normal”:

Your exposure is not yours alone.

For me, it’s important to continue to limit my exposure as much as possible to help protect the people I love, like my family, particularly my grandkids and my mom. I have to remember that my exposure is their exposure so it’s best for me to venture out with caution.

Isolate with care.

Lots has been reported about the mental and emotional drain of isolation. The fact is humans are social creatures. We need each other.

While you may be able to continue to isolate yourself from just about everybody and may not feel safe being around people at all, it’s also important to connect in whatever ways you can.

Maybe the new normal is being around people while keeping social distance standards. That’s hard for me to remember, I admit. When I greet my brother I want to give him a hug and he jumps back. “What are you doing?” Oh right. Sorry. I forget. I’m glad he remembers. I can visit with him and keep my distance. It’s better than not seeing him at all.

It’s not over.

COVID is real. It’s not a hoax or political conspiracy and it’s not gone. To date, more than 89,000 people in the US have died from COVID. We sometimes fall into the attitude that it won’t happen to me, and if it does, I’ll be okay.

But we’d be better off as a community if we could get out of the “Me, me, me” mentality. It’s not all about any one of us alone. One person’s actions can affect a whole lot of other people.

Your goals and dreams await. 

Enough of the warnings and reminders.

As we’ve seen with crystal clarity, nothing is guaranteed.

So whatever you want to do in this life, do it now. Start.

It’s okay to start small, but whatever you’ve held in your heart as a deep desire, maybe so deep and daunting you’ve kept it to yourself and haven’t dared to share it with another soul.

Maybe you’ve come up with dozens of reasons why it won’t work, why you can’t do it, or why it’s just not the right time. Start the work now so when the time is right, you’re ready. 

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

What does the future hold for you? 

Believe in the beauty of your dreams and take action toward your dreams.  

There’s so much that is out of our control. That’s true.

But there’s still a lot we can control, like setting goals, making a plan to work toward them, and working the plan. 

It starts with believing you can.

And….begin.

small acts of kindness

Words and actions reflect your “personal policy”

A recent encounter with a stranger at a Tuesday Morning store in my neighborhood reminded me of how important it is to be mindful of how our words and actions can affect others.

We’re still practicing social distancing where I live, but retail stores are opening up again and I couldn’t wait to stop by one of my favorite stores.

A woman wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, sunglasses, and a light blue face mask that covered her nose and mouth, waited by the door.

“Are they open?” I asked.

She checked her watch. “They open at 10, I think. We got about 10-minutes,” she said through her mask.

Talking amongst ourselves

That’s how I came to be standing on the sidewalk in the shadow of the building on a hazy Friday morning. A few minutes later another woman walked up, she had a black mask pulled down over her chin. 

Standing a safe distance from each other, we got to talking about the current situation–COVID, quarantine, social distancing–and how happy we were that stores were opening again. 

The woman in the straw hat said she had just gotten laid off from her job but had not had any success filing for unemployment. “I’m 68 years old,” she said, “but I still want to work. The president of my company said they planned to recall part of the workforce, but said if you’re over 65…you should just stay home.” 

Even though her former employer’s leadership may not have explicitly said or meant it, the message she heard, loud and clear, was:

  • You, over-65-year-old people, are the problem.
  • We don’t want you back.
  • Go home and stay there.
  • It would be better for everyone if you just disappear. 

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

It would be easy to explain the company policy away and say, “I’m sure that’s not what they meant.” Maybe even assume she was being oversensitive.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

But what struck me is how policy—public, corporate, even personal—sends messages beyond words. It’s through our actions, how we live and treat others, that speaks volumes about what we value. 

What I learned about her in our short conversation that morning was that this woman is active in her church, sings in the choir and has lots of church friends. The quarantine has cut her off from all that. She lives alone and is ready to get back to life and get back to a job she loved.

But now they don’t seem to want her back because she’s over 65 and they seem to think people over 65 should stay out of sight out of mind. 

That impromptu, casual, social-distanced, sidewalk conversation left an impression on me. 

That company president’s words made this woman feel unvalued and irrelevant. He probably didn’t intend to leave that impression, but that was her takeaway.

I felt really bad for her. She loved her job and didn’t want to leave it and now she felt a real sense of loss at yet another thing being taken away from her.

The virus hasn’t changed our need for community and relevance and value. If this whole thing has taught us anything it’s that we need human connection and community.

And especially now, when people are more physically isolated, people need to know that they matter.

You and I may not be able to do a lot to help the current situation, but small acts of kindness can go a long way at this time of social distancing.

Here are a few small things we can do to build connection and community during this time of isolation.

Words matter. Choose them well.

It’s hard to be mindful of the power of our words even in the best of circumstances, but it may be even more important now, especially when it comes to interacting with strangers. It may not seem like a big deal to say “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk, but they’re not robots. Acknowledge them.

Phone a friend.

It happens to me all the time. I have a friend who’s been on my mind and I really want to call them, but every time I think about it, it’s too late, I’m busy, or it’s not the perfect time. When I finally stop putting it off and just make the call already, I’m always glad I did.

Encourage a fellow human.

You may not have many chances to encourage people in the current situation, but don’t be afraid to offer a kind socially distanced gesture of encouragement, like phoning a friend or neighbor, supporting a local eatery, or leaving a positive comment about a service you’re received.

Or go above and beyond to show you care.

One of my family members recently put care packages together for neighbors who live alone. All women. She delivered the packages the day before Mother’s Day with a note saying, We’ve been thinking about you. The gesture surprised them and brought a few to tears of joy.

What a brilliant way to show people they are loved!

The world could use more random acts of kindness right now. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website.

Be mindful of your actions and how they may be perceived.

A friend of mine recently made a run to a grocery store and even though her city leaders strongly encourage people to wear masks, she noticed half the crowd wasn’t. She didn’t feel safe being in that environment.

And when people don’t respect the call for social distancing, it makes me wonder, Do they just not care?

Still, what other people do and say is out of your control. The best each of us can do is to speak and act in ways that reflect our own “personal policy.”

Our individual policies in action

If you’ve ever worked for a company you love, their policies probably made you feel valued, like you mattered. They cared about whether you were there or not.

That’s highly motivating for people. And wouldn’t that be what you want your “personal policy” to reflect?

We can do that every day by acting in a manner that reflects a policy of caring and kindness.

That was true before COVID-19 and will be true when COVID-19 is history. But now it seems even more important to take every opportunity to lift people up even in the small ways you can.

For more about the power of words, read Words Have Power on the blog.

I’d love to hear from you. What are you seeing and feeling as communities open back up?

Boat on the water

We may be in this together, but we are not in the same boat

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that affects us all, so it may be true to say, “We’re all in this together.”

What’s also true is that we each possess unique personalities and particular circumstances which directly impact how we will weather this storm. Individual experiences through this common crisis can be unique.

And even as cities and states begin to reopen, emerging from quarantine life to our “new normal” will be different for each of us. 

A friend of mine shared this “Perspective” about our current Coronavirus/Quearantine situation on Facebook. You may have seen it, but in case you haven’t, I want to share it you. 

Perspective:

WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.

For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.

With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.

Some families of 4 just received $3400 from the stimulus while other families of 4 saw $0.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.

Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.

Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.

So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.

Realize that and be kind.

Unknown author

(Copied from a Facebook post which appeared on my feed from a post published on April 29.)

Different people, different experiences

This perscpective sheds light on the fact that though COVID has affected each of us, our individual experiences may be completely different.

This pandemic has changed every day life for most of us, but it doesn’t change everything. Life goes on.

People still get sick from things other than COVID-19.

Babies are born every day.

Kids continue to grow and must continue to learn even though they can’t go to school.

Family dynamics and struggles go on, sometimes more intensely.

Communicating well with loved ones is still a challenge.

Creators still create.

The very old and very sick still need patient caregivers.

People with anxiety may have more to be anxious about.

And a ton of other scenarios, both wonderful and heartbreaking, happen every day.

We’re still connected in ways we hardly think about. And we need people in our lives.

And my struggle and how I handle it may be very different from your struggle and how you handle yours.

So the least we can do for eachother as we each weather this storm is to be kind and be patient.

If you’d like to donate time and/or money, here are a few links with opportunities and ideas on how you can help:

Want more ideas about how you can help? Do a web search “how to help covid-19” and specify your city.

If you’d like more insight about doing what you can even when it doesn’t feel like much, read What you do matters on the blog.

Complicated bike

Riding this bike is quite complicated

Destin is an full-time engineer who explores the world and shares what he learns on his YouTube channel “Smarter Every Day”

About the video

The brain is amazing. It can perform all manner of intellectual and physical feats without us even noticing what’s happening, without giving much thought to it.

Like riding a bike. 

But watch what happens when this intelligent, skilled bike rider gets on this specially designed backwards bike. It works backwards, so that when he turns the handlebars to the right, the bike goes left. 

I expected he’d get the hang of it in a couple of minutes, because really, if you need to go right, then turn the handlebars to the left. 

As you’ll see in the video, it’s not that simple. 

This video is only about 8 minutes long and it’s a fun and simple experiment with huge, major takeaways. 

My takeaways

  • We come to expect things a certain way and any deviation from that can be unsettling.
  • We have biases we don’t even know we have.
  • Our biases are deeply embedded in our psyche. 
  • “Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change that. Even if you want to.”
  • Children learn faster than adults, as demonstrated by Destin’s 6-year old son learning in 2-weeks what took him (Destin) 8-months. 
  • And the biggie: “Be careful how you interpret things because you’re looking at the world with a bias, whether you think you are or not.”

The “Backwards Brain Bicycle” video is fascinating.

And he’s got links to tons of other videos on his website, Smarter Every Day. And you can find links to some other interesting things he’s done, like interview a president, on his “About” page. 

Does being aware that I see the world through the lens of my biased vision make me smarter? It doesn’t feel like it.

But there is something to be said for being reminded of that biased view. That is a reminder that things aren’t always what they seem to be.

Each of us has to decide what that means for us as we go through life.

For me, it’s a reminder to judge less, love more.

For more recommendations on quality programming to watch or listen to, click here.

crochet lessons

Crochet and life lessons reinforced

I decided to learn to crochet mostly because I liked the idea of making stuff people could wear. I had no idea learning to crochet would reinforce many life lessons for me.

My new hobby came about after I’d finished a few needlepoint projects and wanted to try something different. How hard can it be? I thought.

My mom, who sews beautifully and used to crochet, gave me a quick lesson on how to start a chain using just my fingers because neither of us had a hook.

I went to a yarn store by my house where the sales clerk recommended a bamboo hook and offered a bit of yarn remnants (project leftovers). “You’ll want to get a light colored one so you can see what you’re doing,” she advised.

I decided on a small pastel pink yarn that looked like it could have been used to make a blanket for a baby girl.

With yarn and hook in hand and just enough information to wade into the crochet ocean, I was on my way. 

My fingers cramped as they adjusted to the new movements and I stitched long chains, then pulled them out and chained them again. I was finally ready to try a turn, means hooking the yarn to the original chain and making another row.

My fingers resisted moving as instructed on the Youtube videos. I strangled that first ball of pink yarn into submission. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my stitches were so tight I nearly had them in a chokehold. 

My practice swatches looked like the equivalent of writing with the non-dominant hand. You could tell what it was, kind of, but pretty shabby.

But I kept at it. 

That pink yarn was starting to look a little frayed, so I ventured into a sewing and craft store for more. In the yarn aisle stocked with hundreds of skeins of various brands, colors, material, I had no idea what I wanted or what was best for a beginner to use. 

I met a woman there in the aisle who said she was new to crocheting too. 

She had already made a bag and lots of blankets. And she taught herself. 

I was impressed and envious. 

I felt such a long way from where she was. She said she’d only been at it a few months. I’d been at it a few weeks and my stuff was all crap. 

“You’ll get it,” she encouraged. “It takes practice.”

While watching TV and listening to audiobooks, I practiced my basic single crochet stitch and figured I’d graduate to more complex stitches later. 

I made a coaster with bright-yellow yarn I’d forgotten I had. 

The coaster turned out in more of a rhombus shape not square (due to not counting and turning correctly) and rolled up on the ends (due to stranglehold stitches).

But it was done. 

Curled crocheted coaster (left) and Curled multi-colored, crocheted pot holder (right).

Next project

I thought I was ready to move on to something bigger and decided to make a scarf.

There were tons of instructional YouTube videos, but the problem with those is that experts do them and make everything look so easy. I had to constantly rewind, watch, rewind again, stitch, undo the stitch, watch again, etc. 

That period of learning tested my patience and I’m not sure what kept me going but I did. 

The scarf turned out wearable and functional, not beautiful. The edges were somewhat curvy, not clean, so I decided to put a border on it. Unfortunately, my stitches are so tight I actually broke my bamboo crochet hook trying to add the border. So I added fringe.

Again, not beautiful, but it’s done. 

Since that first project, I have made a blanket for each of my grandkids, several scarves, and a potholder. 

I have a yarn stash like any respectable crocheter and have attempted more complex projects, but find crochet patterns overwhelming. 

I know the basics and enjoy my new hobby. 

It occurred to me recently that I’ve learned a lot from it. Crochet life lessons, so to speak. These are things I know and learning to crochet has reminded me. 

Strive for progress, not perfection. 

I watched Youtube videos following every step as meticulously as I could. My practice swatches never turned out like theirs. So frustrating! Theirs were perfect. Mine weren’t even close to perfect and hardly resembled theirs. 

And while that was frustrating, I had to be okay with my imperfect product because that’s where I was. I had to give myself a chance to get better. 

Needing my swatches to be perfect would have stopped me right at the beginning.

Crochet would have been added to the list of things I always wanted to do but never got the hang of.

Better to strive for progress over perfection.

Comparing myself to others is unproductive. 

That fellow beginning crocheter who said it took her a few months to teach herself and had already made a bag impressed me. Maybe I was a slow learner or not cut out to create anything. I always figured I didn’t have the “creative gene” that runs in my family.

My mom sews beautifully and my sister is an expert at creating beautiful work from garage sale, thrift store, or trash pile odds and ends. 

I never had much success in that area. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. With a little instruction and A LOT of patience, I can. I may never be an expert crocheter and I’m certainly not a prodigy, like this impressive young man, Jonah

And that’s okay. I’d like to get better and I’ve already made huge improvements since that very first wonky swatch.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to start over. 

Crochet patterns overwhelm me, but I found an infinity scarf pattern that seemed pretty simple. It used simple stitches and then connected each round at a starting point. It seemed so simple!

I was using a super soft velvet yarn and the pattern sample was luxurious and I was so excited to make it. And then, about four loops in, I looked at it. Closely. And realized somehow, some way, the yarn had twisted. 

It would never fall right. And no matter how much I wished it hadn’t happened, or wished I would have checked it sooner, there was no salvaging it. It would not work out as it was. If I wanted to make the scarf, I had to completely undo it and start over. 

As upsetting as that was, I had to cut my loss of time and energy and be grateful I hadn’t gone further before realizing my error. 

Still, it bothered me that I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. It all seemed to be going smoothly! I regretted my error, but felt lucky that I could easily pull the yarn and undo every stitch until it’s just a long string of yarn. 

Of course life isn’t that simple, but sometimes we hang on to things that just aren’t going to work out no matter how much you try to force it. Starting over seems impossible and sometimes it may be, but more often it’s the heavy feeling of regret at being left with just a long, frazzled string of yarn instead of the hope of having something amazing. 

I eventually had to abandon the pattern. Could not get the yarn to stop twisting.

Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it. 

So I’ve been doing this for a few months and you’d think I’d be able to crochet square blankets by now, but nope. I got so frustrated with myself when I was halfway through a recent project and realized it was taking on a trapezoid shape when it should have been a square. 

(I resist counting my stitches 😐 )

For a second, I thought. That’s it. I’m terrible at this. But I know that I’m terrible at counting my stitches. It’s math. I don’t like math.

So how do you get better at counting stitches if you hate to count your stitches? You decide to just do it and then practice doing it and figure out a way to count without it crushing your crochet spirit. 

Because if you want to make square blankets, you have to count your stitches. (I tell myself this but at the back of my mind I wonder if there’s another way!)

To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher.

I attempted enough times to know that if I want to explore more complex projects and be able to follow a pattern, I’m going to need instruction. 

My instructor will need to be VERY patient, knowledgeable, and kind. She’ll be able to see what I’m doing, point out where I’m going wrong, and steer me in the right direction. Also, give me incremental goals and skills to develop. My imaginary crochet coach is amazing. 

When you think about it, having a coach makes sense. Every professional basketball team has a shooting coach, professional football teams have a kicking coach, pro golfers have a coach. 

Don’t go it alone

I’ve found a crochet meet up of crocheters and knitters who meet once a week to chat and crochet and knit. I’ve only made the meet up a few times, but they’re always welcoming and helpful. They’re at all different levels, but the majority are very knowledgeable and I would say, expert. The differences in yarn materials, brands, stitches, strategies, etc. 

We talk about books, movies, our families. And we have crochet/knitting in common. 

Crochet and life lessons

I like to crochet, but never thought venturing into this new hobby would reinforce life lessons that have been reinforced again and again over the years.

Is crochet life?

Not exactly.

But for me, it’s like another branch of learning. That I get to create something to keep my neck warm in winter is a bonus.

So when you feel discouraged by some new challenge, remember these things:

  • Strive for progress, not perfection
  • Comparing yourself to others in unproductive
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is start over
  • Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it
  • To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher
  • Don’t go it alone

Have you picked up and hobbies recently? What have you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

For more on being a beginner, read Embrace the beginner’s mindset on the blog.

goals

What you can do now to help you reach your goals

You know things don’t happen by themselves, that your plans, dreams, aspirations, bucket list items, things you’ve always wanted to do…don’t just happen by themselves. 

Action is required. Your action. 

At times of uncertainty, goals may be the furthest thing from your mind.

Like now, when the world seems at a standstill and COVID-19 is affecting communities, families, and individuals directly, it’s easy to think, what I want is not important right now. 

Maybe your dreams and aspirations aren’t a matter of life and death, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. 

And if you take action now, you’ll be in a better position to reach your goals when the Coronavirus crisis is history.

Here are some things you can do now:

Set your goals. 

Time goes and goes. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months and months to years…you get the idea.

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have never developed a plan for how to accomplish it, there’s a good chance it’s a wish and not a goal.

What makes it a goal?

  • First, believe you can do it, even if it seems like it could never happen.
  • Then accept the vulnerability that comes with that big goal.
  • Next, and possibly most important, you must devise a plan to make it happen. 

If you take those first steps toward your goals, you’re on your way. If not, it may be just a wish.

Goal or Wish?

I’ll give you an example of something I used to want to do, but only ever wished it, like a dream, and never made it a goal. 

I used to, in a Walter Mitty kind of way, want to be a backup singer. I dreamed of doing the moves old school, like the Pips did for Gladys Knight. 

Never did it. Probably never will, but OMG that would have been amazing.

Either because I didn’t think I could, didn’t know how I would, or just didn’t have the courage to make it real, without a plan to make it happen, being a backup singer stayed a wish for me, not a goal. 

Now, the only backup singing gigs I have are in my mind as I dance and sing in my living room or on the occasional Karaoke night : ) 

Don’t let this be you!

Set your goals. It’s okay if they seem slightly out of reach, maybe even crazy and unattainable.

Then come up with a plan to make them happen.

If you’re not sure exactly what goals you want to set for yourself, you’re first step may be to dig deep and explore some ideas about what you’d like to do.

And try not to look at it as a test. There are no right or wrong answers and it’s okay if you start something and then find it’s not what you thought it would be. You’ve learned something in the process.

Have a plan to work toward your goals. 

Don’t keep them all in your head. Write them down, post them someplace, come up with a plan to meet them, jot down incremental goals in your calendar.

Find whatever works to help you keep them at the forefront of your mind. Break the steps into small, attainable goals to keep you from being overwhelmed and giving up before you start. 

Do what you can. 

These days of social distancing and sheltering in place are not normal. You may not be able to do everything you normally would, but you can still do a lot.

Reach out to people who you trust and who may be able to help or advise you about how to move forward. You may find there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but even if you can’t do everything you’re used to doing, there’s still a lot you can do. 

Approach with enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

Think about it. Why would you want to work toward something you’re not excited about? When I was working on my first book, I had days when I felt not even an ounce of enthusiasm about what I was doing. Those were long and dark days, perfect for giving up. 

What a different experience to approach with enthusiasm. I felt a greater sense of accomplishment when I met my daily goals, felt greater compassion toward myself and my work, knew I was in it for the long haul, and felt more determined to finish. 

Doing these things:

  • Setting goals
  • Developing a plan
  • Doing what you can
  • Approaching with enthusiasm

are simple first steps you can take now to help you build momentum toward reaching your goals.

I don’t believe it’s End of Days. We’ll get through this uncertain time, but it’s a good reminder that none of us has forever to do what we always thought we would do.

Action is required. Do what you can now to move you closer to your goals.

Need some inspiration to get started on setting your goals? Check out If not now, when? on the blog.

Feeling trapped

What you can do to help stop Coronavirus spread

I’ve had Coronavirus on the brain for a while. Ever since the news of the virus hitting Northern Italy hard, I scour the news sources, sometimes bleary-eyed for some new bit of informtion.

By now we all know we should:

  • Practice social distancing
  • Not gather in large groups
  • Wash hands with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Cough and sneeze in your elbow or a tissue.

With that in mind, the news is bleak.

But here are a few stories that have stayed with me and are a great reminder about what we’re dealing with.

The first is from Dr. Emily Landon from the University of Chicago Medicine.

Her message hits to the heart of our current situation and the frustrating reality that the best most of us can do is to do nothing.

She says healthcare workers around the world are doing their part to help us through the pandemic. Now, we need to do our part.

If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Dr. Landon’s March 21 speech or read the transcript at:

Chicago’s Doctor’s Blunt Speech About COVID-19 Hits Home

And this message from Craig Spencer, MD in New York who (via Twitter) implores people to stay home. He says, “You might hear people say it isn’t bad. It is….I survivied Ebola. I fear COVID-19.”

Read the full account at Doctor Gives Harrowing Account of Life on the Frontline for Clinicians Treating COVID-19 in New York

Get the facts

For information about COVID-19, what it is, and how to protect you and your family go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to help this crisis pass any faster except follow your state and local guidelines.

And be patient.

Take advantage of the downtime to:

Exercise.

Even if it’s a walk around the block, a short workout, or a dance party in your living room.

Get stuff done.

Pick up those projects you’ve been putting off. It can be hard to get motivated, but start small and keep at it. Little by little you can do a lot.

Get outside.

It’s a sunny 88 degrees as I write this. Outside in the shade would be good. And even when outdoors, keep your recommended 6-feet social distance.

Waste nothing.

Freeze food before it goes bad. Be creative with your meals.

Meet virtually.

We’ve resorted to live-video, group workouts and virtual coffee meetings using What’s App. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than going it alone.

Donate time and/or money

If you have the time or money, check with your local Red Cross to find your local chapter about how you can help. They may even have ways to volunteer virtually.

As always, a little gratitude goes a long way.

Reach out to others if you need a word of encouragement, a videochat, a roll of toilet paper, an egg…whatever.

Wishing you patience and health through this crisis.

Need some motivation to kick start your new project? Read What are you waiting for? on the blog.