Tag Archives: self-care

Introvert or Extrovert?

30 Jan

Twice a week, I drive to work. After I park, instead of gathering my belongings and bolting out of the car, making a beeline to the office (as I’ve done – trust me – many times), I now stay in the car for 5 or 10 minutes scrolling through email, Facebook, Instagram, listening to the quiet from within the car, breathing deeply, preparing to begin my day. Allowing my mind to wander, settling into . . . myself.

That, and my morning shower, are the sum total of my weekly solitude.

It hasn’t always been like this.

Before I had kids, when I was single – or dating but not married, responsible for no one’s life but my own – I had alone-time every day. At home. With my cat. I craved this time and if I didn’t get it, it was like my personality got sucked out of the top of my head and I walked around like a quiet, deflated balloon, incapable of creativity. Or humor. Or conversation.

See, I’ve always had ridiculous dips in confidence. On my low confidence days – which used to drag on for weeks on end – I couldn’t make a decision to save my life. I doubted every little choice I made. Red shirt or blue one? Call her or leave her alone?  I always KNEW I was wrong, no matter WHAT I chose. This went on and on and on until at some point, I noticed a pattern. I noticed that when I had the time alone I so desperately craved, my confidence returned. I could wear any shirt at all. I could call the girl OR I could leave her alone. I could laugh, converse, and walk freely about the cabin. The FASTEN SEATBELT sign would turn off and I’d go merrily along my way!

That’s when I started building alone-time into my every day. I even turned off my phone {gasp!} sometimes, pretended I wasn’t home. I became unreachable. More stable. More purposeful.


Does that make me an introvert? I don’t know.

My friend Marj  said that my opting for quiet time at home the night before our wedding, instead of a late night out with family and friends, could be an introvert thing, or it could be a Highly Sensitive Person thing, too. Could be.

In my early twenties, I took the Meyer’s Briggs test and landed in the low extrovert range. But things change.

It could be just a person thing, as Susanne suggested. Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is this: Alone time rocks.

Alone time steadies my soul.


Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you know?




Question #4

18 Jan

I’m curious. Do you blog, ponder, chat with friends, or nudge your family to answer random questions at strange and unexpected times like I do?

So far, I’ve shared three questions here from Kobi Yamada’s book ever wonder and I’m loving the conversations they spark. Now, stepping away from a game of Dominoes, I am opening the book to (Random) Question #4.

On Friday, I’ll blog my own exploration. I hope you’ll join me with a comment or a link to your blog. Here goes . . .


How do you nurture your soul?

See you Friday!

P.S. I’m so sorry I didn’t close Friday’s post with an invitation to link to your own blog if you have one! The offer is ALWAYS OPEN.


26 Apr

Johnny RottenIt’s because I wrote about pen and paper last week, isn’t it? … that today I am starting right here on the screen. Just writing. Whatever it is that comes to mind. Untangling . . .

Like this cat. I want to be this cat.

Today, I am the cat.

Cats don’t premeditate. Cats don’t plan. Cats pounce. Cats hunt. Cats eat and drink and cover their business with a whole lot of sand. Or not. Cats lay in the sunniest spot, licking their fur. Each moment is new. Immediate. Definitive. Hungry? Thirsty? Playful? Bam.

I had a director once who gave me what she called “one freebie” during the run of each show. She gave me a freebie so when I had an off-night, missing cues or failing to connect with my fellow actors once or twice or many times, I wouldn’t spiral through the next few nights wallowing, pondering, willing myself to go back through each choice until I’d fixed it in my mind – as I am prone to do – but rather, I’d shrug it off and say, “Well, there’s my one.” And move on.

I’m prone to ponder. That’s the truth. Why? Too many . . .


Date night or blogging?

Alone or together?

Chocolate or licorice? (Read our LTYM Chicago spotlight posts to learn who chose which.)

Sleep or watch TV?

Comma or semicolon?

Boys or girls?

Install drain tile in the basement, or wait-and-see ’til it rains again?

Domestic or international?

Chocolate espresso beans, or spicy salty pretzel mix?

Pick-up or let it ring?

The chicken or the egg?

Ice cold white wine or mellow red?

Wash first, or wear it straight from the rack?

Ice cream or cake?

Pink or black?

Left or right?

Plastic or paper?

Walk or drive?

Hands on the podium, hands by my side, hands on my hips, or arms outstretched?

Every day, every nano-second, something new to decide.

But not today!

Today, I am the cat, batting dust particles around in this one shard of sunlight.

Unhurried. Immediate. Instinctive.

Slowly closing my eyes. Opening them again.

This is the life. My cat life. Mine.

It is delicious.

Pen and Paper

19 Apr
Pen and Paper

Creative Commons Image courtesy of CPSutcliffe on Flickr

I am a pen-and-paper girl mostly – always have been,  though I am adapting to the modern world.

There’s something about the speed of writing things down, slower maybe, something about the act of committing my thoughts to a page – the permanence, or the familiarity – which keeps me writing in a notebook. On a page. Keeps me writing things down.

And then the typing, that first transfer of my words from paper to screen, structures my editing, too, because as I type my handwritten ideas, they become more flamboyant, more poignant, more descriptive, more . . . real. I edit as I go. I search for what I mean. And I see more than words as I do it.

All because I’ve started with paper and pen.

As I read what I’ve written, I remember – more body memory than conscious thought – what else was in each phrase, which particles of thought never made it into words. This inspires me sometimes, and I tug on the thread of some lost idea.

The act of typing forces me to take another look. I like that.

It is what works for me.

My parents, when I was young, strove to encourage my writing, even before I learned to type. They were forever buying me journals for birthdays, for Christmas, for Valentine’s Day even, I think, one time. They had this idea, and I did, too, that as a serious writer, I would relish a serious, cloth-bound journal. They were showing respect.

I held a lot of guilt about this, as the beautiful journals piled up in my closet, untouched. The trouble was: Cloth-bound journals are too permanent. Writing, for me, was never like that. Writing is meant to flow, find its’ path, start over and stop sometimes, be ripped out and tossed forever away.

If you rip a page from a spiral-bound notebook – because you’re having a cranky day or an uninspired one, for example, and you write nothing but drivel which doesn’t need to be saved, in fact should never be read again by you or by anyone else, you can rip it out and there will be no evidence of the missing page, whereas if you rip a page from one of those fancy cloth-bound journals, you leave a lasting reminder there: In your sacred space.

Spiral-bound only for me, please.

But what about the pen? If I’m so particular about my notebook, you can bet I’m particular about my pen, too.

I’ve taught nearly everyone in my life (and if you didn’t know this already – you do now) NOT to gift me with a pen. My stepdaughter gifted me with pens once, a whole bag of them, and I was so nervous opening them, wanting to love them and have it show and worrying I wouldn’t and my not-poker-face would give me away, but she paid close attention to what I used. Bic ballpoint pens. She hit the mark. She didn’t try to second-guess me, upgrade me, offer me something special and new. She gifted me with the pen I love most. Love. That. Gift.

My pen-love is shifting now, though. I’m beginning to like a fatter pen, a wide one with a good grip, one where my hand is more open, not so clenched. Know what I mean?

Do you have a favorite pen?

Wintry Branches

1 Mar

Wintry BranchesThe snow falls lightly all around me, and the tree above drops melting ice onto the roof of my car, loud against the metal.  Our city feels like winter again. I sit writing in my car while Miss E and her friends bend and stretch and stretch and bend, practicing yoga and patience and calm, feeling their breath in and out, channeling their giggles into movement. Mostly.  Strangely, I am not too cold here.

I give myself this hour weekly, for my blog.  Usually by now, I have an opening line, or a theme, some beginning. I don’t often sit in my car free writing. I find it hard to move forward without purpose.

But this week, I have too many choices, too many topics clamoring for my attention, jamming my brain, wanting to wring free my tears or my rage, my passion or momentum, too many topics that could drive me under the covers of our unmade bed if I go too deep. I skim the top. I consider choosing carefully, slowly, one at a time. Where is the toddler-mom I need for my toddler-brain, the one who invites me warmly to choose this or that, only this or that, nothing more? The one who breaks it down for me and loves me still?

Snow. Slush. Ice. Driving. Walking. Slipping.

Swearing. Oops.

My daughter’s school project.  Frustration. Bursts of insight. Intention.  Scissors and glue. A splash of color. Done.

The chocolate cake we eat to celebrate.

That one conversation. The one that came before the snow, when we used simple words to uncover a mess that now must be cleared. The one sitting on the table now, waiting for us. That one.

Gloomy days.

Rays of sun.

Snow mountains along the edges of the blacktop where our children play. A leaping off point, the beginning of games, glee, ideas. Wet knees.

Never all one thing or another, this precipice.

Two friends are pregnant. No words will convey how wholeheartedly their lives are about to change. The journey that is the joy. The mystery. I wish both families their bubbles of bliss, and a steady hand in those moments when the terrain breaks up and becomes rugged.

I find myself endlessly translating needs and desire into language you or you or you can understand when I would rather make shapes from clay some days and yet what I have is a blog. Words are too angular.

The snow has stopped. I hear only the whoosh of cars behind me on the street, and I am free writing.

As a child on my way home, I used to walk by lit kitchens, lit living rooms, deeply dark houses with one light gleaming in an upstairs window, and sometimes the smells of dinner wafted into the street with the laughter of children and adults. I used to wonder how each family lived.  What happened inside each home?  How I longed to perch invisibly on their windowsills and watch awhile. My friends thought I was nuts when I asked if they weren’t curious, too.

Now I am the one who turns on the lights, opens the shades, and smooths the blanket on each bed, and I wonder if there is a child walking by wondering, too.

Inside our house, we play music. We read books. I want ours to be the bright house on my walk all those years ago. I want us to be that family, where the aroma of dinner and laughter waft into the street. I send a prayer out into the night.

Today, I am the parent steaming up the windows of a car with just my breath, writing of wintry branches dripping snow, and the taste of home.

Across the street, there is a soft bell. I do not hear it from where I sit, but I know it is time.

I have a purpose now. I open the car door and step outside.

What do you write on days like these?

11 Jan

StopWhat do you write when you’re sitting outside your kid’s yoga class, tears streaming down your face because of an impossibly perfect performance by a 15-year-old kid you don’t even know, about a family and a life you can relate to and he’s real and after watching his performance on your smart phone (and really, if you haven’t watched it yet – you should), you reach the last page in your journal twenty minutes before class ends, and you’re out of tissue and toothpaste at home?

What then?

What if you’ve just moved houses, you have family in and out of your new guest room day after day after day and you love them but your closet is right where they sleep and when they leave, your bedroom floors are immediately sanded and polished with semi-toxic chemicals, your home office is off-limits, you’re behind the 8-ball at work with a million tiny little pieces of other people’s projects which, when you add them all up, come to pretty much nothing that’s yours, nothing you can point to and say “I did this” or even “We did this” because most of what you’re doing is invisible? If you’re doing anything at all.

What if all you have sometimes is a blog?

What if your child takes a hiatus from confiding in you (because mommy is a blogger? or because eight is suddenly the new pre-teen? or maybe because you’re sending off “that vibe” and you can’t take a rest to get past it?), and your dogs – who are usually quite entertaining and worthy of a laugh or guffaw – are reduced to lying down and licking and standing and barking and lying down and licking again day after day because they’re confined temporarily to the basement and they’re bored and it’s not funny to you – it’s annoying – and your favorite pen – recently re-discovered inside some long-forgotten drawer where it had been lovingly saved and packed into a cardboard box weeks ago – has now run out of ink?  It doesn’t even matter what you write then because you can’t. Right?

What do you write when you’ve lost your footing?  When your time for quiet reflection is gone? When you no longer walk your kid to school, stopping now and again to really smell the flowers? When you rarely relax on the new train to work, pressed up between so many bodies you can’t even hold a book properly because your arms don’t bend? When lunch breaks dissolve daily with unexpected requests, and half your workday is full of people behind you and over your shoulder training other people to do things that don’t really make sense to you, and you wish they would speak more clearly even as you’re trying desperately not to listen? When mornings before work are full of whining and the dragging of feet? When evenings after work are full of homework and dinner and nagging and rushing towards bed and when, shortly before the sun rises, it starts all over again?

When you make so many mistakes every day that you’ve given up trying to make it right with the people in your life who feel wronged?

What do you write on days like these?

We drove past five crossing guards Wednesday morning on the way to my daughter’s school, each one wearing a bright orange “Look at me!” vest, stepping boldly into the street with a stop sign held high in the air.  All the cars stopped.  All the children hopped, giggled, ambled and dashed across each street.  Every straggler, without fail, was ushered across with a warm smile, a hand at the back, a joke, some gentle flash of attention.  Each stop sign was lowered as the light changed; each crossing guard returned calmly to his or her post. In each neighborhood, near each school, traffic resumed. Children waited again, more children gathering at the corners.

Can you imagine a crossing guard now in a bright orange vest helping you — at your age — cross the busy street? Helping us all to gather at the red-light corners.  Ushering us across. Helping us to see when it’s safe.  Making the cars wait.

Can you imagine?

Where is your happy place?

30 Nov

My daughter told me this week after an argument, “And then I went upstairs and I was happy ‘cause I went to my world.”  The world in her mind, she went on to explain, where she sometimes goes while we’re talking. Her world is full of Laffy Taffy and silly one-eyed monsters made of rubber or felt. Her world runs rampant with hugs and sweets and blue skies, and lately, a full moon. All the time.

She reminded me of myself as a child, and the happy place I built up inside: A spherical room with white carpets and giant fluffy throw-pillows everywhere, a sweet spot for lying back and reading. For writing maybe, if I was inclined. Body-sized pillows everywhere. Round. Books. One perfect lamp. Simple. Mine.

We’re moving houses next month. I may have mentioned it before. I’m sort of obsessed. And I realize suddenly why I can’t stand moving. While growing up, my happy place was an invented imaginary land inside my own mind, private, subject only to my whims, and it has become now over time my own house. Which is lovely. Very mature, based in the real world. Makes me feel special, like a grown-up, a real one, like I’ve finally arrived and become whole.

Until it comes time to move again.

And we embark – jointly – on complete decimation of my happy place, as our living room fills with boxes – old photos and toys, journals I may refer to when I write the Great American Novel in retirement (twenty years from now), summer shorts, books, an iron, band-aids, more books… My living room is Box Heaven.

We’ve sold the couch and moved the coffee table.  The dogs whine.  The cats both leap for the  highest tower, settling themselves into a freshly-made box indentation to purr and primp.  I’m tempted to throw a blanket up there. Someone should be cozy for the next 17 days, right?

So now I need temporary housing for my Happy, and maybe, too, a sweet spot for the dogs.

“I have something to calm you down,” my little girl says.  She begins playing soft music on her Peruvian pipes. She’s right. It helps.

Where is your happy place?

A little nudge ~ A little self-direction

6 Jul

“Tell me a story,” she says kindly, not like a demand but more dreamy and full of hope.  I sit by her bed while her fingers trace my eyes, my cheekbones.  Her legs are bent to make a mountain of her blankets.  The light is soft.  Her face is calm.

“Not tonight, honey.  Mami isn’t feeling very creative.”

Made-up stories are not part of our nightly routine, but I’ve never yet denied her when she’s asked.  Her eyes fly open.  “Then what am I supposed to think about?”

What do I think about before falling asleep? Nothing. Everything. The sound of my breath.

“Think about the best parts of your day,” I suggest, and as she lies with her eyes again closed, I wonder if this is possible.  Can you think about only the best parts, or do the other parts fall into your drifting thoughts, too?  If she remembers that new dance with finger-snapping, head bobbing, and elbow kissing, must she also remember whispered words behind cupped hands when she botches an art project?  If she re-lives the moment on the lake, when she mastered a dive with aunties and moms cheering her on, must she also re-live all the shouting when I told her to take a shower and she refused, or the conversation which followed our attempts at apology, when I told her we’d get past it and she promised me we never would?

When do we begin forming habits about which bits of the day, the month, the year, which parts of life we focus on?  At eight?  At three?  At twenty-five?  How late is too late to re-train ourselves?

“This is when I started losing my mom,” I told a friend. Around eight years old, or nine, or ten.  I’ve been trying to understand why I engage in power struggles with my daughter when she’s only trying to become her own person.  “But you’re not your mom. Your daughter’s not you.  You have an entirely different relationship,” my friend reminded me, and of course she’s right, although rationality escapes me in the heat of a fight.  I suppose it escapes everyone then.

My daughter’s eyes open again and she looks to me for guidance.  “Think about ducks,” I suggest, “Or mushrooms, or Duck Tape creations.  Think about catching frogs by the lake.  Think about itty bitty birds, or howler monkeys.  Making friends with a giant tiger who follows you around all day.”

“Fairies,” she says to me.

“Yeah.”  I smile.

I can see she’s settling in, so I stay quiet, petting her head another minute or so.  She’s still awake as I stand up, but she’s beginning to drift.

She’s beginning to drift along her own silent stream.  A little nudge from me, a little self-direction, a flow we’ll be practicing for years.  Paddling. Drifting. Nudging. Guiding. Both of us here on the river, practicing what’s needed to get us around each bend.

Birthday #43

3 Feb

Some days, I can’t believe I’m someone’s mom.  I’m not old enough yet, am I?

“I had a dream last night that I was cleaning up,” I told my partner yesterday.  I live a truly thrilling life when housecleaning shows up in my dreams, do I not?  “And as I moved some things in the bedroom, I uncovered a pile of wrapped birthday presents. For me.”

“You were dreaming about birthday presents?” she asked.  (You’ll notice she said nothing about my dream of housecleaning.)


“What are you – ten?”  Her eyes twinkled, eyebrows furled with mock incredulity.  Sometimes… yes.  Yes, I am.

My daughter thought it was cute.  “You like birthday presents?” she asked me, jumping down from her breakfast stool and scurrying over to give me a hug.

“I love birthday presents.”

“Me, too,” she said. “I made you a card.”

“Oh, good!”

“It’s really pretty.”

For the last few years, I’ve celebrated my birthday over dinner with friends – usually at a restaurant, where I can hear only the people sitting next to me.  It’s delicious and it’s joyful and the drama queen inside me basks in all the attention, but this year, I decided on a different kind of celebration.

I decided on a day free from plans, free from responsibility, a day on my own – at home, outside, driving, walking or not – a day of coffee, croissants and chocolate cake, a day of writing, reading new books I bought last week specifically for my special day, and then ice cream with my little girl, dinner at home with family, waffles Saturday morning and a trip to the cottage.

My partner was bewildered by this choice, and so (I think) were most of my friends.  They worried I wouldn’t have the day I wanted if I didn’t have anything planned.  Or maybe they didn’t quite believe I’d ducked out of having a party.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love a good party, the energy and fun, the excitement, wine, champagne, sweet treats and occasional dancing.  And of course I love the presents. I do, and I’m not ashamed.  I love it all – but I wanted something different this year.

I was single for a long, long time before I met Kelly, before I fell in love (at first sight) over lava cake, moved in, became an instant stepmom and eventually settled into our suburban home now four blocks from Chicago’s west side.  I went out five nights out of seven – usually to meetings, but out nonetheless – and stayed up until midnight most of the time.  But I also had days and days and days to myself.  I pulled the blinds, laid on the floor listening to music, took walks and long drives north into Lake Forest with all its beautiful homes and trees.  I spent hours on the phone.  I watched TV, and read whole books in one day.

These days, I read books in snippets – fifteen minutes on the train to work (on the days I’m not driving or surfing Facebook for my daily bits of news) and five minutes at night before dropping off to sleep at the end of a full and active day.  It takes me a month now to finish one book, most of the time.

So this year’s birthday was different.  I needed me more than I needed them.  I needed to be.  I needed to be free from the tethers of time.

I had ideas –  coffee at Marion Street Cheese Market next to the roaring fire, a hot lavender bath at home, laundry for our trip to the cottage, moving pictures from phone to computer, adding links to my blog, writing, reading, connecting with old friends – but I had no plans.

The best part?  The whole day long, I wasn’t sorry for one moment.  It was delicious. Happy Birthday to Me!

May your birthday, when it comes, be the perfect day for you.  And may your dreams, as you dream them, come true.

Making the Bed

8 Jul

I read once in my first year of parenting that part of caring for yourself as a mom, whose days involve responding to someone else’s needs, was to make the bed each morning.  Before doing anything else. 

It was a hard concept to grasp.  Once my daughter was awake, she required a fresh diaper, a tickle, a song, a meal, and by the time we had crept through each activity and I’d made the coffee and found a CD to fit my morning mood, cleaned the kitchen from its morning chaos, seen our eldest off to school with a packed lunch, fed the dogs, and developed a plan for leaving the apartment, I didn’t WANT to make the bed.  But here this book, which mostly seemed full of sound advice, made it sound as if failure to make the bed was failure to care for myself properly, so that until I could spare those three minutes — let the baby cry, skip the counter clearing, go barefoot into the day — I was failing myself and by extension, I was failing my family.  I have always been prone to mommy guilt, so I may have read into this advice a slant that wasn’t actually there, but six years later, the advice feels sound.

Now when I walk into the bedroom at the end of each day and see the bed in all its flattened quilt and corner-tucked beauty, I feel a sense of accomplishment, a cleansing peace, because no matter what else happened in the day — power struggles, missed deadlines, slow traffic, writer’s block, tantrums by the young and old, burnt pizza — I had started by taking the time to make things right at home, here in my bedroom, in my own personal space, for myself and for my partner. 

What happened between then and now — six years of growing, three house moves, one girl starting elementary school and the other starting college, both moms beginning new careers — what happened in that mix to shift my perspective remains a mystery.  Then again, perhaps it is not perspective at all, but only the shape of my days which has changed.  Perhaps I was never meant to make the bed until my daughter was seven-years-old and brushing her own teeth.

Whatever the cause of this colossal shift — these days, when I make the bed each morning, I am always happy I did.

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