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“The Healing That Chronic Pain Brings: Part 1 ~ Hidden Blessings”

Despite the smile on my face, being laid up is not fun.

Despite the smile on my face, being laid up is not fun.

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Do you know someone who is sick or battling an illness right now? Likely, you do. Everything from the common cold and broken bones to arthritis and cancer takes its toll on everyday lives. Each is difficult to deal with, and everyone reacts differently to pain and suffering. In the medical center where I receive treatment for back pain, a quote hanging on a banner reads, “We don’t value our health until we lose it.”

Once I was vivacious and active, and enjoyed running, hiking, kayaking and lifting weights. I worked with personal trainers and took fitness classes. My husband and I were on the go a lot – and working out was part of every day. We even made sure there was somewhere to run on vacation! I expected I would always be moving in one way or another, but 2 years ago my physical capacities and mental strength disappeared. Or so I thought …

One evening in December 2011, I said to my husband, “I don’t feel right. Something’s wrong.” That was the beginning of countless doctor and specialist visits. Diagnosis and choosing a treatment plan also involved multiple tests, x-rays, and scans. I battled endometriosis first. That disease, although not life-threatening, is extremely painful. Whereas each person’s pain level differs, it is not affected by how much endometriosis you have – rather by what it is doing inside your body.

Endometriosis spreads like wildfire and is very difficult to “stamp out.” Following a laparoscopic procedure to remove what could be seen, I endured a round of treatments to keep it “at bay.” Finally, a hysterectomy became necessary. Laparoscopic or not, that surgery can take up to a full year to recover completely.

Although endometriosis causes a good deal of abdominal pain, it can also have a “wrap around” effect and cause lower back pain. When my back pain did not subside several months following my second surgery, I had a new battle – to find out what was going on now.

Dealing with insurance companies, navigating our health care system, and being proactive about your care is difficult. Doctors are typically narrowly focused, and there can be little to no coordination between practices or sensible dissemination of information. You must research, and push your doctors to give you the care you deserve.

I learned I had a degenerative lower disc, an annular tear, and arthritis. So my battles began anew, and I started treatment programs and healing regiments to recover full use of my back and reduce my pain level. Only now am I beginning to feel a little better. I found out my disc tear will heal some (it can take up to 18 months), yet to what extent remains unknown. This means that my future holds hope for healing, but I don’t know what my lifestyle will be like.

Chronic pain affects many facets of a person’s life, and for us meant significant adjustments. I stopped working part-time and my husband works two jobs. We hired a housecleaner and ordered food through a grocery delivery service. Travel, even a short car ride, became too painful for me. Stress aggravated my condition. My husband rearranged his work schedule to drive me to outpatient procedures. We had no care for my son during these times, so he came too.

I was often exhausted – from battling daily pain, caring for my little boy when my husband was not home to help, and coordinating my healthcare. Even daily life became overwhelming to handle.

back painI felt very alone. It seemed others didn’t understand that my world had turned upside down. If I talked about it, I usually received platitudes or the “at least you don’t have cancer” talk – even judgment about my medication and treatment plans. I was ready to give up, and for a time went to a dark place within that I was not sure I would come back from.

Finally, one specialist convinced me to see a chronic pain therapist. This started my healing process. Over several months, and lots of pushing on her part, I finally emerged from my isolation and began reaching out into the world around me. She taught me how to reconnect with those who could be supportive; to let go of stressful, toxic relationships; and to make new friends and get involved in my community. She showed me how to embrace life again, and slowly my vitality began to return. That awakening also helped my physical healing which evolved to include massage, dance classes, and yoga sessions.

Reaching out and plugging back into life helped me. I am not completely healed, and still have bad days physically and emotionally, yet for the first time in over 2 years I have a glimpse of life on the other side of chronic pain. Hopefully, that will include more pain-free days and an active lifestyle. I am also able to look back at my physical pain and emotional despair, and see that although I experienced a trying time in my life, there were hidden blessings in the midst of my struggles. Ironically, dealing with chronic pain, and finding myself “off the merry-go-round,” has brought healing and clarity to my life:

*I know who my friends are. Unfortunately, there are few people who can handle supporting someone who is sick for a very long time. I am thankful for my best friends, Jen (our blog panel member) and Karen S., who have carried me through this ordeal.

*I can do more than I think I can. My husband says I get more accomplished in a day than women who don’t have chronic pain.

*I was forced to slow my life down and sit on the sidelines as an observer. One good thing this has affected is spending time with my son. Sometimes I worry about him dealing with the family dynamic of chronic pain, yet my husband is quick to point out how caring and empathetic he is at such a young age. I have been able to slow down time and watch him grow – inch by glorious inch!

*I discovered hidden talents. My doctors said no more running. This is hard for me to embrace (what, no more half marathons?!), yet I learned to dance which my doctors encourage to build core muscles and keep joints moving without impact!

*I have grit. It takes great mental fortitude to handle over 2 years of ongoing pain and still function with some normalcy!

Are you or someone you know dealing with chronic pain? Please share any hidden blessings you have found amidst the pain!

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Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Step into your dreams!

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Image: Some rights reserved by Grand Canyon NPS

by Chris Little

In my last few posts I’ve been exploring adapting to the empty(ing) nest, that dicey time when you’re transitioning from being a mother with kids at home to a mother whose kids are off at college or otherwise on their own. I’ve written about the importance of reconnecting with your own dreams and desires, and about how volunteer work can help you engage meaningfully in your community outside your home, about how you might want to consider investing more in your work as your kids are home less and less. Now I’d like to explore the possibility that this transition time can be the time to start a new career entirely!

As your kids have grown older and begun to stretch their wings, of course you’ve grown into an older, wiser woman, too. Over the years you’ve learned some things about yourself, about what you need and what you love. But maybe you’ve had to set some of your dreams on the back burner so you could attend fully to the kids. Sometimes those dreams have evolved and changed over the years, as we’ve grown and matured.

Either way, now is the time to begin thinking about what you might do with your life, if you could do anything. What do you love to do? Can you begin to take steps to make that love your life’s work?

Liz trained to be a biology teacher in college. When she started her family she stayed home with the kids and got involved in volunteering for their schools. In her free time she stayed in shape by taking yoga classes, and she found she loved the way yoga made her body and mind feel. So as her kids have gotten older Liz has taken some teacher training classes and now teaches a few yoga classes each week. It’s not full-time, but it’s something she loves and looks forward to expanding into as the kids leave the house.

Deb did some freelance writing when her kids were at home, and picked up an adjunct position teaching English as a Second Language at the local community college when they were at high school. She found she loved working with her students, so after the kids moved out she went back to school for her master’s degree, and now she’s teaching full-time.

As moms who are “off the merry go round” we can find ourselves in a unique position as our kids leave the nest—we really have the opportunity to start a brand-new chapter in our lives. Sure, we may be a little sad about closing the chapter where we were home with the kids. But we can also be excited about writing this next chapter. Here’s how:

1. Look at your dreams.

Maybe you have a dream for what you’ll do in this next phase of your life. Or maybe the seeds of that dream are in hidden in your life right now. So take some time to think about who you’ve become over the years. What’s important to you? What do you love to do? What activity would you (or do you) do for free?

2. Lay out a plan for making them a reality.

This may take some time and energy, but you owe it to yourself (and your children and your spouse!) to put some thought into making this next phase of your life as rewarding as your child-rearing years have been. Ashley is taking classes so that when the kids leave home she can start a career as a counselor. Susan went back to school to learn massage therapy. Rebecca translated her love for cosmetics into a career as a Mary Kay rep. All are still available to their families. All continue to struggle to maintain good work-life balance. But all are negotiating this sometimes sad, sometimes surprisingly exciting time with optimism toward the future.

3. Step into it!

Remember, our goal is to raise independent kids who can manage their own lives, so if the kids don’t seem to need you any more, congratulate yourself on a job well done. But remain available for the times they stumble and need your help. And take a few steps toward making the rest of your life as rewarding and fulfilling as the last eighteen or so years have been!

So, what are your dreams for your empty(ing) nest years? What are you looking forward to getting into after the kids are out of the house?

 

Marissa Mayer: Feminist Failure?

By Karen Hendricks

Photo Credit: Peter Kramer, Associated Press

Photo Credit: Peter Kramer, Associated Press

My head is spinning from the Marissa Mayer news coverage this week. To those moms who don’t have time to follow the news, I apologize. I’m a news junkie. But I know there are days when it’s hard enough to remember what month it is, let alone find the time to keep up with daily current events. However, in this case you really ought to know what’s going on because there’s a ripple effect touching women everywhere.

So here’s the play-by-play:

  • Marissa Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo who made headlines for announcing her pregnancy the same day she was appointed as CEO in July 2012. (A new female icon is born!)
  • A long-time Google executive, Mayer created anticipation and excitement at Yahoo! Could she turn around the struggling company? (A female CEO who is not only smart-as-a-whip but beautiful and pregnant… awesome!)
  • Leading up to the birth of her son on September 30, Mayer said she would take as little maternity time as possible, only two weeks. (Hmmm… Superwoman? She’ll change her tune once she gives birth!)
  • But return to work in two weeks, she did, with a nursery installed next door to her office for her son, to boot. (Very cool, however this is not something the average working mom can relate to… <understatement>)
  • Then the mother firework of all ear-popping, sky-blasting pyrotechnics: A week ago today, a memo circulated at Yahoo, ordering all employees who worked from home to either quit or begin working in the office full-time by June. (Hello? Does Mayer not understand feminist loyalty and her leadership role as a female CEO?)

There are a multitude of angles to this story, and I’ve compiled a bunch of them from this week’s tops news coverage:

Is Mayer out of touch?

“Many women were appalled at the Yahoo news, noting that Mayer, with her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons, her Oscar de la Rentas and her $117 million five-year contract, seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life,” writes News York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd. She continues, “The dictatorial decree to work ‘side by side’ had some dubbing Mayer not ‘the Steinem of Silicon Valley’ but ‘the Stalin of Silicon Valley.’”

Is Mayer courageous?

Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson quotes a source familiar with the situation at Yahoo as saying, “Yahoo has a huge number of people of who work remotely – people who just never come in.  Many of these people ‘weren’t productive.’… Mayer saw another side-benefit to making this move. She knows that some remote workers won’t want to start coming into the office and so they will quit. That helps Yahoo, which needs to cut costs. It’s a layoff that’s not a layoff… ‘She’s turned out to have a lot of courage. She’s dealing with problems no one wanted to deal with before (according to the source).’”

Off with her head!

“But there really isn’t anything more annoying than an extraordinarily lucky genius with movie star looks and a $127 million contract acting as if what’s easy for her should be easy for everybody else,” writes Margery Eagen in the Boston Herald. She continues, “She’s a mega-celebrity, superstar CEO with a tin ear and a preachy mouth. In a few short months, she’s gone from 21st cent­ury role model to Marie Antoinette.”

Would it have been different coming from a male CEO?

Sheelah Kohlhatkar of Bloomberg Businessweek summarizes, “No one knows whether the decision to require all Yahoo employees to work in an office will prove to be positive or negative for the company; it may be personally disastrous for some of the individuals affected and the best thing that ever happened to others. But if one of the hundreds of men running American companies had made a similar move, it’s unlikely that anyone would have even noticed.”

O, the irony!

Similarly, The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus writes, “How ironic that a technology company, dedicated to enabling connectivity, would enforce such a retrograde, back-to-the-assembly-line edict. It reflect a bricks-and-mortar mindset in an increasingly cyber world. How depressing that this edict comes from a female CEO, albeit a seemingly bionic one. You have to wonder whether this is Mayer demonstrating that she is as tough — or as boneheaded — as any guy.”

A step backwards despite advances in technology?

Gender issues aside, Max Nisen of Business Insider also mentions the growing trend of telecommuting: “What’s pretty clear from details that have emerged is that Yahoo did an exceptionally bad job at managing its remote workers. People who worked from home were apparently unproductive and so disconnected from the company that people forgot that they worked at Yahoo at all… But rather than try to deal with those issues, Yahoo’s chosen just to end remote work completely. That’s understandable. Mayer’s trying to clean house and completely change a company that’s had several CEOs in quick succession. But she may have created a long-term problem. Advances in technology, changes in preferences, and an increasingly globalized workforce mean that the trend towards remote workers and fewer offices will only grow in the future.”

Ok – your turn… What do you think? Was Mayer’s announcement a good business decision? Is she insulting women with her actions? Did she do long-term damage to those who telecommute? Ultimately, is she a role model?

Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Expand your circle of concern

Community_garden_2

Image by Klest, via Wikimedia Commons

by Chris Little

So, in my ongoing exploration of the transition years when the kids are getting older and leaving home, last time I wrote about the importance of looking within, of getting to know yourself again after what so many years of raising the kids, when our own concerns are often placed far into the background.

In this post I’d like to talk about another strategy for coping with this sometimes-painful transition: expanding your nest. When the kids were little, after I had stepped off the merry-go-round of my full-time career to devote my time to raising them, my focus was pretty much entirely on my family and my home—my nest. I stenciled walls, mixed up batches of homemade play-dough, baked bread, made scrapbooks, the works! Sure, I taught some Sunday school and helped out at the kids’ school, but for the most part, my focus was on my young family. Nothing wrong with that!

But I find that as the kids inch their way out of the house—they’re 15 and 18 now—I’m finding that I have a little more space in my life, a little more time and energy, and a little more interest in looking outward and broadening my circle of concern to include more of my community.

In a way, I’ve begun to think of my entire community as my nest. And it strikes me that getting more involved in my community through volunteer work might be a meaningful strategy for transitioning out of the child-rearing years into my life as a mom with children who are out in that world themselves, instead of living at home with me.

Doing meaningful volunteer work doesn’t pay, of course—but it’s work that our communities desperately need. And who is better positioned to do this work than those of us who aren’t tied down to full-time careers? What’s more, in addition to helping make our communities richer, healthier places, we’ll be setting a great example for our kids.

So here are three steps to keep in mind as you think about expanding your nest to include your community:

1. Take stock of your heart.

What do you love? What are you really good at? What excites and motivates you? How do you spend your free time? Focus your energy on these things, and volunteering will feel meaningful and rewarding. I know a mom who always loved to play tennis with her kids, so as they grew up and out of the house, she started a young peoples’ tennis league in town, and now she’s teaching kids of all ages to enjoy her favorite game.

2. Take stock of your community.

What’s going on in your community that interests or excites you? What’s not going on in your community that you would like to see happen? If you’re concerned about funding cuts to your kids’ schools, it might be meaningful for you to volunteer for the high school sports booster club. If you love to exercise, how about teaching a fitness class at the local YWCA?

3. Step into it! But strive for balance.

It might take a little courage to step into volunteering in your community, especially if you haven’t been involved previously. Start small, and be careful not to overcommit. And remember that the work you do, no matter how small it seems to you, makes your community worth living in—and worth coming home from college to visit! And I can only think it will make your own life richer and more rewarding too.

So I wonder, what volunteer work is meaningful to you? How do you find ways to engage meaningfully in your expanded nest?

Next time I’ll write about another strategy for adapting to your empty(ing) nest: Investing in your work.

Write Away! : “How to Journal” Part Two

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Flickr.com, by buechertiger

Photo Credit: Flickr.com, by buechertiger

There are many reasons why people keep journals and it only takes a few moments to “get something off your chest,” reach a decision, record a special time, or capture a moment. You need not be a “good writer;” journaling is a relaxed activity. Our blogger, Karen, even likened blogging to a more modernized approach to writing!

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In Part One of this series (Click here to read Write Away: “How to Journal” Part One), we gathered the materials we need to get jump-started on our way to journaling. Then we looked at where, when, and how to begin recording our thoughts. Finally, we set about starting our writing from lists and “seed phrases.” ‘CCBLITTLE’ shared that she tries to write every morning before the rest of her family wakes up because it helps her start the day feeling more connected than if she just rushes headlong into her to-do list.” She also keeps a stack of favorite books nearby to “seed” her thoughts when she wants to be a bit more introspective.

Now, here is additional inspiration and suggestions for getting your thoughts flowing and down on paper! I pick up with #4 of 5 components to the journaling process.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” H.D. Thoreau, Author/Poet/Philosopher

4) More Inspiration

Looking/staring at a treasured object or an old photograph may bring inspiration. All objects have a story. You can create a ‘structure’ around which to write about them – a time period, details, people present around you. These are your memories … a link between past, present, and future.

*Your Turn: Go on a “treasure hunt” around your home – I guarantee you’ll find something to write about!

Many different stories can come from the same object, experience, or picture. Additionally, just one of those can trigger many memories surrounding it. It can further jump-start our writing on many different topics – all stemming from that one thing or experience.

Looking at objects or pictures is also a useful tool by which to trigger our memories and can even give us a great story idea. By using “clustering,” or story mapping, we can generate a list of ideas that can lead us to individual stories or one story which is a composite of those stories mingled together.

*Your Turn: Take a blank piece of paper and draw a circle in the center. Now draw several connecting lines outward from the perimeter to other circles. Leave room inside each circle to list a few words. In the center circle list the name of the object or picture you chose. In each of the outlying circles, list a word or even a few words that come to mind as you look at it. Be sure to use your 5 senses if you have an object! There it is … the beginnings of your story!

You can also create a timeline as inspiration for writing about a specific time in your life if that is the direction your journaling is taking you. Throughout our lives, we experience events and happenings that shape us. Some are dramatic – a loss, a powerful life lesson. They impact us not only in that moment but over time as well, and change us and our lives permanently, whether for better or for worse. Some are less notable – simply a brief “Ah ha!” moment that we process quickly and take with us on the rest of life’s journey. Often these experiences confront us with a decision to be made – a ‘right or wrong,’ a ‘left or right.’ And these turning points can be major or minor. They can have a big impact on our lives or a small one.

Turning Points can be categorized and broken down into three general life stages:

Childhood (birth to approximately 12 years old)

Adolescence (approximately 13 – 21)

Adult Years (21 to present)

Personal narratives can be generated from any of the ways you get your ideas. As you go through your life, you are always writing “the next chapter.” All of your experiences and interactions (no matter how seemingly small and insignificant) are part of, and have a place in, your story. All of us have a story to tell – one that is important and valuable.  If we leave our stories untold, we may never know what kind of a lasting impact they can have on someone’s life outside of our own.

*Your Turn: Choose one timeline from above to write about. Try to write uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes.

The World is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only a page.” St. Augustine, Scholar/Philosopher

5) Some Final Seeds and Lists for the road!

Seeds:

For once in my life…                           A current obsession

A childhood pleasure …                    Once upon an autumn time

A road not taken…                              A favorite meal

Once I traveled…                                At this very moment

*By taking a Seed and “entering into the scene” we have an opportunity to expand on it. As an example, use one of the following Seeds. Remember to use vivid imagery!

My mother gave me

An old pair of shoes

Waiting

*Nouns preceded by an adjective can also serve as a Seed:

The gold leaves

The empty bowl

Lists:

I delight in…                                     I like most to…

Home is…                                          All things chocolate…

You should be off to a good start now!  

Feel free to share more of your journaling time ideas with us – we’d love to read them!

In one of my previous blogs, “It’s the Little Things That Matter,” I promised I would show you the last page of the journal I kept while at a remote ecumenical retreat center in Wyoming. As you can read, below, this was a time of great upheaval and pain in my life, yet I found that attending a spiritual retreat and journaling about my experience brought a sense of healing and closure so I could move on with the next chapter in my life.

Here it is – enjoy your writing time!

The culmination of a powerful and healing retreat

The culmination of a powerful and healing retreat

 

The Myths About Working from Home (No, I Don’t Wear Fuzzy Slippers)

By Karen Hendricks

It’s always interesting to see the reactions of others when they learn that I work from home. They usually have a picture in their heads that falls into one of the following categories:

  • “Awesome! I’m so happy for you.” (These people truly “get it” and are usually friends who are moms too.)
  • “Really? That’s great. What do you do all day?” (These people think I just own a home office for the fun of it.)
  • Oh, how nice—that sounds comfy.” (These people doubt that I am actually doing WORK. They probably think I wear fuzzy slippers all day. Sigh. I wish…)
Fuzzy Slippers

In the market for fuzzy slippers? These are called “Shagilicious” by Patricia Green. Credit: Zappos.com.

The fact is…

More and more Americans are working from home.  According to the latest numbers from the US Census Bureau, about 13.4 million Americans worked from home at least one day a week in 2010, an increase of about 1.6 million from 2000. That accounts for almost 10% of the entire U.S. workforce.

Home-based benefits

For me, working from home has provided a multitude of benefits. I feel very blessed to do what I love and love what I do. Owning my own business, a communications firm, has its share of challenges but the benefits are plentiful:

  • Zero commuting! No driving, no gas money required, no parking costs or hassles, no wear and tear on the car except for appointments. You have more time to spend on work and there’s no loss of time from commuting.
  • The ability to set your terms and limits. In terms of a workload, I try to stay between 30-40 hours per week. Owning your own business also means you can choose clients and projects. Not that I say “no” that often, but if a project or client doesn’t resonate with me or doesn’t represent something I believe in, I have the ability to “pass” and say “thanks for thinking of me, but no.” I enjoy maintaining a variety of clients who challenge my work skills on several levels, involving a mix of marketing, PR, and freelance writing, with a dash of photography.
  • Being motivated has its rewards. Freelance work, especially freelance writing, relies heavily on skills like creativity and perseverance. Working for yourself can provide a great sense of satisfaction when freelance assignments are accepted by editors and magazines for example.
  • All the comforts of your home office. It’s a wonderful feeling to be “at home” and at ease while you work. And you don’t have the temptation of co-workers bringing calorie-rich doughnuts or muffins into work. (But you can do that all by yourself if you wish!)
  • Few interruptions. I find that my work flows better without the frequent interruptions experienced in a typical office setting. This is most beneficial for writing!
  • Flexibility in scheduling. I try to pace myself in order to power through my work projects Monday through Thursday so that I can give myself every Friday off. It doesn’t work every week, but it’s a great feeling when it does. Friday serves as my “back-up day” to finish projects, make calls, or tie up loose ends. If I can complete my work by noontime on Friday, I still feel a great sense of accomplishment.
  • Family flexibility. Being able to schedule around my children’s sporting events, doctor appointments, etc, is simply invaluable. Being at home when my children arrive home from school is also a bonus.

It’s not all fun and games

Working from home isn’t for everyone, however, and there are some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Maintain a structure to your day. It’s helpful to set “work hours” for yourself and then stick to them. Be disciplined.
  • That being said, build small breaks into your day or else you’ll burn out. Reward yourself with several small breaks, just 5 or 10 minutes to take a short walk outside, make a personal phone call, or grab a healthy snack. These pockets of time can also be very helpful with household chores such as throwing a load of laundry into the washing machine or popping dinner into the oven. Switching gears and taking breaks is reinvigorating, especially when you incorporate physical activity. Make sure you don’t “forget” to return to work.
  • Set goals for yourself. Set daily goals every morning and weekly goals every Monday. Check them frequently to make sure you’re on task.
  • Ask for family support. During your work hours, make sure your family knows your primary focus is on your work. (Would it be wrong to tell your kids to only interrupt in the case of a fire? Hmmmm…)
  • Define your work area. Make is as functional and professional as possible so that it helps you set the tone for productive workdays.
  • This is the big one: casual vs. professional attire. Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean you should wear sweatpants or fuzzy slippers. It’s great to have the option to dress casually, but this might impact your work performance (just as the tip above advises you to create an environment conducive to productive workdays). Be comfortable but not too casual. Now… where did I put my fuzzy slippers…. under my desk? Just kidding. 😉

Are you self-employed? Do you work from home? Please pass along your tips and strategies too!

“Write Away: How to Journal”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  T.S. Eliot, Poet

Have you ever been really upset and wanted to “get something off your chest”–without actually telling somebody? Or been confused about which decision to make or direction to turn in your life? Perhaps you have simply wanted to record a special time, or capture a moment you witnessed, preserving it in your mind forever.

All of these reasons and more are why some people choose to keep a journal. Others may feel they don’t have the time or inclination, or believe they aren’t a “good writer.” However, it really only takes just a few moments to journal and the best part is there is no experience required!

If you have ever considered putting your thoughts to paper, there are many ways to journal. There are also several components to this process – which is not really a process at all; it is indeed an easy-going and relaxed activity.

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About 15 years ago while living in Tallahassee, Florida, I saw a ‘Life Stories’ workshop for women offered. Since I am a writer I was curious, and the description sounded intriguing, so I signed up. To my surprise, I found that women who were not writers or didn’t necessarily find writing interesting had also come!

The workshop was offered by Katya Taylor who had a Master of Education and simply liked to journal and write. She also knew how to inspire and teach others to do it. Her workshop was amazing, as well as remarkably inspirational and healing. She encouraged us to share her methods and spread the word, so to speak, and about 3 years ago I developed a course curriculum for a writing workshop using Katya’s teachings as a beginning point.

The most important thing I learned from these workshops is that everyone’s story is important and worth sharing. At the beginning of the workshop Katya said, “Every time a person dies, a library burns.” I couldn’t agree more, so here are some basic journaling concepts to keep in mind when you think about putting your pen to paper – and preserving your library and life!

Write Away!

We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”  J.K. Rowling, Author

1)In the beginning…

I know this famous author scrawled the beginnings of her Harry Potter series books on napkins. And, I encourage always being ready to jot down a spur-of-the-moment idea. However, you may wish to keep these more “stable” items handy:

+Notebook (for jotting down anything you’d like to remember)

+Writing Journal (make it special – one you will want to open again)

+Pencils and Pens (for writing – and illustrating!)

*Now that I have shared this suggestion, it is your turn to get jumpstarted on your way to journaling. So take a moment to gather at least one writing implement and find one small notebook, notepad, or journal you can stash in your purse or bag.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you truly are.” E.E. Cummings, Poet and Painter

Journals come in a wide variety of forms.

Journals come in a wide variety of forms.

2) Writing tools, spaces, and time

The place where you write generally does not matter but should be somewhere you are comfortable, and where you can focus and write undisturbed. The time of day you choose to write may vary. Sometimes, you will get a brainstorm unexpectedly and want to write wherever you are – hence, the use of a napkin!

Journals come in many forms, as well as shapes and sizes.

*Your Turn: Look around your house to identify the place where you can write without interruption. Also, as much as possible (I’m thinking especially about anyone else who has a 3 year old at home!) determine a general time when you can write. Is that in the evening, when everyone else has gone to sleep as it is for me? Or are you an early riser who sneaks out of bed before everyone else begins stirring? Can you snatch a few moments in the middle of your day? Finally, choose where you will record your writing – now you have a good excuse to visit that cute little book and gift shop in town!

Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats before you and no crowds shout your name.”  Robert Louis Stevenson, Novelist/Poet/Essayist

3) Jump-Starting Your Writing

Most writing comes from memories and experiences. We can “jump-start” our writing by re-connecting with those times through pictures, objects, imagery, our 5 senses, and phrases (what Katya called “Seeds”). Many times Seeds generate writing from a part of our life – our writing is just a ‘tidbit’ from a bigger picture that can eventually become a Narrative.

There are many ways to begin a journal entry. Keeping lists is a good start.

*One running list I keep is of phrases and famous quotations I come across and like. I use them to inspire my writing and thoughts. My latest favorite quote is: “The best way out is always through.”  Robert Frost

*Your Turn: Start a timer for one minute. On any sheet of paper, list as many ideas you can come up with to finish the list phrase I love to

Next, choose one item from your list to expand and write upon for 5 minutes.

If you have something on your mind (and even if you don’t), try writing from a ‘seed phrase.’ It is a little like a sentence starter from which many of us wrote essays in school. These are really just “writing prompts” and brainstorming! A few examples:

  • Once I found…
  • I remember a room…
  • Looking back I…
  • On a sunny day I like to…
  • A favorite garment…

*Your Turn: Pick one Seed from the list above and write for 5 minutes uninterrupted. See what you come up with!

You are now on your way to journaling! In part 2 of this series, I will provide you with several easy ways to get inspired to expand your writing further.

In the meantime, please share your experiences with any of the above activities and I will be happy to incorporate them into the next blog ~ Happy writing!