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comfort and joy

Holiday Fear… I Meant Cheer…

It is December. It is the season. The season of FamilySpendingStressWorshipandTonsandTonsofFood. I believe that’s the official name of the entire season. But really, I don’t want to talk so much about the holidays. I want to talk about you. And me. And living life in a brilliant way.

I recently read that in order to have successful New Year’s Resolutions, one should start 6 weeks in advance. Technically we’re already past that date, but today is the last day of November and, let’s be honest, if we start working on them today it’s way sooner than we’ve ever done before.

“But it’s FamilySpendingStressWorshipandTonsandTonsofFood season,” you might say to me. “How am I ever going to have the time and energy to focus on anything but that?” (Let’s call it what it is, you whined that part.)

Yeah. I get that. But recently I had an epiphany. It was in mid October when my mind rankled me out of an autumnal bliss and reminded me that the holidays were nearly upon us. “Rude!” I screamed to myself, but then I remembered: Whatever experience I’m having, I am choosing to have it. While circumstances, like holidays and viruses may come and go as they please, the way in which I experience them is all me.

Booyah!

It is nearly December and holiday cheer is sidling up to each and every one of us like a cuddly kitten that may or may not scratch us without provocation. We can ease our holiday anxieties with too much food and an attitude of simply getting through it all, or we can focus on creating goals for the coming year and experiencing the holidays with gratitude and humor.

I’ll take a second helping of the latter if you don’t mind.

selene

What Is Your Essence?

Sitting across from me at my kitchen table is a beautiful, young Latina. Her eyes are dark and round and her hair is shiny and lush. She is struggling to say something to me. I believe I understand what she intends but she remains frustrated. Not long after she excuses herself to go to the pool house where she is currently living.

Throughout the afternoon we sat together at the table, she, a young college student, and me, an incredibly youthful life coach. We had a lot to talk about. The learning and teaching baton passed back and forth between us as the hours passed. I love when that happens.

I cannot help but put on my Life Coach hat. I love what I do. It lights me up and inspires me to make bigger choices when I am teaching others. So when I have a college student in front of me. Poor girl…

It’s not entirely based on ego that I believe I taught Selene a few things. After all, what’s the point of living all these years if I have nothing to show for it? A conversation about daring and stretching and believing in oneself was just the order of the day.

In return, Selene taught me things about the Jewish household where she worked for a time, mixed right along with her observations about life. After all, what’s the point of living any amount of years if you have nothing to show for it?

Selene cleaned out my unkempt refrigerator and I did some work at my computer. The afternoon wore on and we dabbled in philosophy and Spanish and the absurdities that constitute a proper English sentence.

I imagine it was more than 30 minutes later when Selene returned that she looked far less troubled. Almost the moment she walked in the door she enthusiastically explained what she’d been trying to say.

“It’s not the cape you wear or the things you say that make me like you. It’s your essence that draws me to you.”

This is, perhaps, one of the kindest compliments I’ve ever received. Not only does it surpass the superficial, but it makes me wonder about the essence of other people, of circumstances, sentences, neighborhoods and ideas. It reminds me of the quote from the children’s book The Little Prince, “It is only the heart that can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to they eye.”

It is always a pleasant reminder that wisdom has no age and that our lives are simply teaming with all that is essential to joy.

selene

must love dogs

Best Dog/Day Ever ~ Make Yours

Back when things were bad and the IRS was breathing down our throats and reading our mail and intruding even in our dreams, we had a dog. The title, “Best Dog Ever” is thrown around like confetti, I know this, but really, Scout was a gem.

Before things went south for our little family, when I would find evidence that he had been napping on my bed, on my expensive bedding, I would throw a fit and cast him dirty looks, whispering, “Stupid, damn dog,” under my breath.

It was only while my heart was breaking over the things that men and governments will do that the godlike characteristics of canines became evident to me. Scout would come to me as I sat in solitude and bafflement and without intruding simply love me.

There’s not a good way to describe it other than “love”. He would sit and be and take awaylike scout the pain that he could with his presence. It was more than almost anyone else could do. Plus he was silent and that was helpful for me. One woman’s talk is therapy and another’s is silence.

After this revelation, each time I saw the indentation of a large dog on my duvet, I would look at the brindle Boxer and ask him gently if he’d had a good nap. A good dog is worth a million duvets any day of the week.

I now have a very different life and Scout has long since passed on to what I hope are the rolling fields of dog heaven. A very different dog romps through my heart today. Preacher, a mini Australian Shepherd, is now five months old and the easiest puppy I’ve ever trained (Scout was a two-year-old rescue dog, scarred, like people).

As I sat in my kitchen yesterday training the little guy, I wondered if he would be my “Best Dog Ever” and naturally my thoughts went to Scout sitting silently, lovingly by my side as I indulged in a very rare cry. It was more like misty eyes if I’m being honest, but that’s big for me and Scout got that.

It is my hope that Preacher will never need to guide me through another horrible life event. But I’m well past believing each of us is given one and only one. Life is nothing if not an adventure and everyone knows adventures sometimes suck. It’s in the dictionary. You can look it up.

FullSizeRender (1)0505Whatever quests Preacher and I embark upon, I’m sure he will be up for the task. He will reign as my “Best Dog Ever” for this time, in this way.

It’s human nature to look for the patterns and to hope for a repeat of the things and experiences we love, while simultaneously avoiding that which was painful. We can neither recreate the past nor control the future. Deal with it.

What we can do, what will truly serve us, is to take each new day and make it the best it can be. Uniquely so. To wish for the past is to waste the present and hobble the future.

I have had many dogs in my life and each, in their way, was my “Best Dog Ever”. The key to happiness is not to repeat what has been good, but to find out what is good, no, great about today.

Today is my best day ever. Yours too, if you let it be so.

Grateful always grateful

It’s Not What You Think It Is

Months ago I adopted and warped a meditation to my liking, originally of the Dalia Lama’s making. In it, I meditated on life and love and all the richness of living on purpose. So delicious..

However when my meditation came to fruition, I was, at least for a short time, disgruntled and anxious. You know what they say about being careful what you ask for…

The specific part of the meditation to which I refer is, “May I live a life rich in love…” It sounded good on paper, but its arrival was through a back door and I didn’t know my visitor when it landed.

What I saw was an overly taxed schedule as well as a steep learning curve.

zoe and ianIn a very short period of time I played the role of Mother of the bride (also known at our house as, the Maid of Mommer) and the maid of honor to one of my best friends. I shopped for wedding dresses, wedding shoes, threw a Stag-ette party for my friend and a bridal shower for my daughter. There were barbecues, late nights laughing and the chaos that is living and loving and celebration.

For a little while, before I saw the whole thing as it should be seen, what I believed was that I was a bit of a slave to obligation ~ forgive the dramatics. I thought I was over-taxed and under-prepared.

Perhaps in our age of “Business = Importance”, in some way I felt justified by my stress, but busy-ness never was happiness.

My turnabout came one day as I was driving, likely on the way to the party store, when suddenly I connected my meditation with my circumstances.

How lucky I am to have a daughter who wants me involved in her wedding and a friend andrea and michaelwho wants me intimately involved in the most important decision of her life.

Rich in love. I am living a life truly rich in love.

It was a stunning revelation and with its arrival my stress level plummeted and my pleasure meter sang at the red end of the spectrum, instantaneously drenching me in joy.

They say we have everything we need within our reach and I have seen this to be true. Sometimes we don’t even have to reach for it, we just have to see it for what it is. And then be grateful for it. Always grateful.

Like, share, comment, tweet and tell me, do you make this mistake too?

I Have Secrets

I have secrets. Most of them are little baby secrets like my dress size and true cinematic preferences, but a few are quite a lot larger. They’re a little bit heavier to carry. I have secrets.

Once I read that a family is only as healthy as its ugliest secret. This statement rang true for me. It makes sense then that what is true for a tribe is likely true for an individual. A person can only be as healthy as her most painful secret.

Certainly there is a time and place to air one’s secrets. I once listened to a woman at the pulpit discuss her STD. While it may have felt cleansing for her, I felt the need for a shower and therapy afterward.

That said, when the time is right, the audience, a supportive group and the desire to be our full-on selves is in the air, there is no better relief, no better release, than to own who we are full out and without apology.

secretsA naturopath/acupuncturist/therapist once explained to me the destructive nature of lying. She clarified that when we cannot own the truth, it is because we believe it is not a good enough truth. We are not good enough. So we put what we believe to be a more acceptable version out there. And we know we lied.

Every time that lie is referenced, even in a thought, we feel as if we are not enough. We are less known, and because of that we keep ourselves from being fully loved. And we begin to believe we are not fully lovable. Perhaps the greatest lie of all.

When I think about STD woman, I don’t begrudge her the time at the podium. More power to ya, my sister (and maybe some antibiotics as well). It is imperative to be known.

Over the years as I’ve aired my most frightening truths, I cannot think of even one time, not one, when I wasn’t fully embraced, hugged and loved and given a “Me too,” or at the very least a, “That sucks.”

I am enough. You are enough. We are flawed and we fail and we are enough.

My cinematic preferences include, but are not limited to movies with harsh language and a lot of shooting. I’m just putting it out there. I like when the bad guys don’t just go to jail, they’re done in. It’s a nice contrast for a world that is not always fair.

There. I said it. And I feel better. And even if you don’t like what I like, or agree with how I think, at least you’re given the opportunity to accept or reject me based on who I truly am. And this feels good to me.

As for my dress size? Not today. Baby steps. Even transparency requires baby steps.

Like, share, comment, tweet and give people the chance to love you for who you really are.

Best Year Ever ~ 12 Week Program

jackkoerouacGearing up for the New Year seems temptingly simple. We’re past the holiday demands, family is going back to our separate spaces and it feels like there’s nothing standing in the way of a brand new you.

And then the thing happens, where you get diverted and you’ll start on things next week. And there’s a snag in the next week and you’ll put it off one more time and before you know it you’ve lost momentum and it’s September. And you still don’t know French and you haven’t gone on a single hike…

Don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger.

I have full faith in you that this year is different. The sun is shining on your intentions and they’re going to blossom into the successes you desire.

And even so, even if this is how it will be this time, you can always use a bit of help. We can all use a lot of help if we’re being entirely honest with ourselves.

That is what I’m offering you. I’m offering you a chance to make it different this year, have the handholding-accountability-coach-Dreambuilder-life-changing-belly-laughing-friend you need to take what’s already good and build a life for you that is better than you ever allowed yourself to hope.

The Dreambuilder Program is a 12 week course. Our group meets virtually for support, insight and cheering one another on. You’ll receive homework each week, a bit of writing and an opportunity to know yourself in a way you’ve never imagined.

We’re starting next week. Before you lose momentum.

Message me ASAP with questions and reserve your spot.

Michelleatplay@gmail.com
503-957-0821

Money back guarantee.  What have you got to lose?

Airing My Dirty Laundry One Post At A Time

Today I am again reminded of a story that took place many years ago. So many are the years that even my children wouldn’t recall this time. The truth is that I am nearly certain no one actually remembers this particular story and for this reason you will have to simply trust me. Can you do that?

At the time I had only two small children and what appeared to be, by modern standards, an oversized beach ball in my abdominal region. Many months pregnant with our second boy and third child, I was tired and cranky and the size of some of the smaller countries and larger than Rhode Island.

Moving was a challenge and because I had two small children I was doing a lot of it regardless of the wear. I was tired. So very, very tired.

A friend of ours had borrowed a computer screen and when he called to ask if he could return it, I told him to come on over. We will call him “Chester”, because I don’t want to identify him and because it is a name too infrequently used in my opinion.

When Chester came to the door I was in my best hausfrau dress, no make up and about five loads of laundry sitting in our family room awaiting their turn to be folded.

dirty laundryAs he stood in the doorway I felt the enormity of the growing beach ball in my stomach that would eventually turn into a human being. I felt every bit as dowdy as you imagine I was, and I felt ten different kinds of self-conscious.

And so I was stunned to a cherry colored red  when I opened the door and Chester proclaimed, “I can smell your dirty laundry.”

I was horrified. I was near tears. I wanted to shout at him, punch him in the face, hide under the laundry and never, ever show my face outside my home again. In that mortifying moment, what I nearly said was, “It’s not dirty! I just haven’t folded it yet!”

There must have been one, small and lonely sane brain cell remaining to me and instead I followed its command and asked, “Excuse me?”

Chester stated, much clearer this time, “Where do you want me to put this?”

I succeeded in directing him to the basement office and herded him out of my house as fast as I possibly could.

Because I felt so humiliated, I remember that feeling of embarrassment and shame quite vividly to this day. But so much more important than what I felt was what I learned.

Chester was not a bad fellow. I don’t believe he ever would have purposefully shamed me or brought up my lax housekeeping habits. I don’t believe that now and I did not believe it then.

The only reason I heard what I did that day was because I was looking for evidence of judgment. I felt shame and I sought evidence to prove me shameful. The world is not what we perceive it to be, but what we are.

We so often receive not those things that are given us, but what we imagine we deserve. Even the brightest of compliments can be changed into something harsh and painful when we try hard enough.

Reality isn’t the b*tch we say she is.

I am deeply grateful for the one, lonely brain cell that came to my defense that day. I hope she has duplicated herself since then and has a few friends now to keep her company. I hope she is in charge of all the positive messages, or at least the neutral ones and I am better able to recognize the world as the paradise it might someday be.

Like, share, comment, tweet and pull those shoulders back and own the room.

Your Very Own Personal List Of Ten Must See Holiday Movies

With less than two weeks left until Christmas there are some important tasks that need to be attended to. I’ve taken the liberty of making a list. I did not, in all actuality, check it twice. That is for you to do. The following is a good, but far from comprehensive list of movies you must watch for the holiday season. If you find, and I suspect you will, that it is incomplete, I beg of you to add your own, pop some popcorn and snuggle down with your hunny.

Get to it!

1. Elf, because it is sweet and charming and there’s a little bit o’ Buddy in all of us and there’s a touch of curmudgeon too, if we’re being honest. Buddy begs us to toss out cynicism and run to embrace the magic of the season.
2. There is something so charming and delightful about Meet Me In St. Louis. The costumes, the era and oh! the music! Not technically a Christmas movie, you won’t remember that fact when you’re crying with Judy Garland as she sings Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Go. Go now and watch and cry and feel the old fashioned love.
3. I’m putting the cart before the horse, but I started watching Meet Me In St. Louis because of the modern family Christmas movie The Family Stone. There’s a bit of a reverence in the modern movie that made me curious about the classic. I’m convinced they’ll both be classics someday.
4. I still fantasize about being left home alone, maybe not over the holidays, but who amongst us hasn’t dreamed that same dream that the movie depicts? Home Alone is a holiday must.
5. Speaking of the holiday, The Holiday is another recent movie that is about misery and magic. A tasty holiday combo, no calories inherently involved.
6. The classic cartoon, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is short enough to be a mid-afternoon snack and poignant enough to set us on the right track to happiness. “How could it be so? It came without ribbons!… it came without tags!… it came without packages, boxes, or bags!”
7. Harry Potter. Okay, I know they’re not, all eight of them, harry potter christmasChristmas movies, but if you’ve got some time on your hands, you’re going to do it up right and stay in your jammies all day and indulge, Harry’s your guy. Plus, if I remember correctly, there’s at least one Christmas scene in one of the movies.
8. Bill Murray is a man of the ages. While I can’t in good conscience recommend Zombieland for your holiday pleasure (by all means, if you’re inclined, don’t hold back), Scrooged will get you where you want to go if you want to feel good. Wasn’t there a Christmas scene in one of the Ghostbusters movies? You could watch that too. Can ya ever get enough of Bill?
9. A Christmas Story. You love it, I love it and it plays for 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve. Watch it and don’t shoot your eye out.
10. I know it’s not a movie, but enjoy the lights. Sit in your darkened room under the glowing lights of your tree, drive through neighborhoods and look at the Christmas lights. This is the lighting for the movie that is your life. Live it.

Like, share, comment, tweet and have a cookie and pretend you’re Santa all year long.

I Didn’t Think It Would Turn Out Like That

There is an artist I studied for a bit who stated that if a piece of artwork turned out the way he’d imagined it, he knew it wasn’t what it could be. This stuck with me, unlike his name, for a multitude of reasons.

First and foremost is the truth of the matter in regard to making art. Never have I created a piece of artwork that turned out the way I imagined it. Not unlike the proverbial cake in the depressing yet brilliant novel, The Hours, my visions of grandeur and brilliance always outstrip my skill and experience.

This is not the artist of which I speak. But it's amazing, don't you think?
This is not the artist of which I speak. But it’s amazing, don’t you think?

I never want to end my life over this thankfully.

The idea that a superb artist could embrace the distance between what he created and what he imagined and even go so far as to celebrate it, is at the very least comforting. In its finest iteration it is an exciting idea to those of us whose lives look so very different than we once imagined they would.

Every day I arise with an idea in my head of how my day will look, what my interactions might include and the accomplishments I will be able to check off my mental list as I drift off into satisfied sleep.

Besides the fact that I don’t seem to be much of a drifter into Slumberland lately, Invariably my days do not unfold as planned and even the accomplishments named as mine, in the end never look at all the way I imagined they would. And rarely do they mean what I thought they would mean.

On Saturday morning I arose early to go over to a friend’s house to work on a project together. Armed with chai tea and some killer, gluten free, delicious scones I headed over with a specific idea in my head of the way the morning would unfold.

Needless to say it didn’t look the way I thought it would look. It was neither better nor worse. It was simply different.

In years past this would have made me feel vaguely uncomfortable, as if in miscalculating the activity I was somehow foolish or unwise.

The artist I once appreciated now acts as an angel sitting on my shoulder. He keeps me flexible not only when my days twist and turn like a brilliant, changing kaleidoscope, but in preparing for those days I am better able to anticipate there will be those things, which cannot be anticipated.

And best of all, I now know this is when I’ve created something superlative.

Like, share, comment, tweet and throw your hands in the air as the ride makes a sudden drop.

The Tradition Of Shame ~ Michelle Church

The traditions surrounding our Thanksgiving festivities run deep and long. There are specific recipes and particular people to carry out those recipes. The faces that surround the table differ from year to year based on need and rotating schedules, but the holiday looks the same even from decade to decade.

One of the many traditions we follow each year, before the actual meal but after the reading of the Thanksgiving Proclamation, is the sharing of gratitude.

Surely we are not the only family to do this.

Of particular interest to me this year was the final share by my very own Mr Dreamboat.

The turn went around the table clockwise and I began. Mr Dreamboat sitting to my right spoke last and it was his poignant thoughts that surprised and touched me.

tidingsThis year, Mr D shared, he is most grateful that we are each, every single member of the company, living more authentically. Throughout this last year we have all grown in ways that have cast off the shackles of shame and have more fully embraced who we are.

I know my Mr Dreamboat well. And so it doesn’t surprise me that living more fully in the light that would be the thing for which he was feeling deep gratitude. His depth and integrity are beautiful to behold.

As the holiday season is off to a running start, were I to choose the theme for this year, it would be to truly see “tidings of comfort and joy” throughout the world.

I would wish to see less concern about which greeting we use (Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, la la la), and more concern over bringing peace, acceptance and comfort to our fellow human beings.

Whether you are a believer in Jesus Christ, Allah, Buddha, a curious traveler not yet decided on what exactly it is that you believe or any other variety of belief, the holiday season provides the perfect opportunity to stop worrying about what anyone else is doing. It is an open invitation to see the very best in others.

This holiday season, no matter which god you worship, no matter if you worship any god at all, it is my hope, it is my prayer, that we choose to succor the poor, comfort those who mourn and worry less about the choices of others and more about our place in the world as bringers of joy, serial givers and emissaries of “tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O-oh tidings of comfort and joy.”

At the Young Family Ranch & Zombie Apocalypse Sanctuary, we are a family of traditions. And while turkey is nice and orange rolls are yummy, the most important tradition we try to practice in our home is unconditional love.

It’s a tradition for the ages. Let us all practice it liberally.

Like, share, comment, tweet and love your neighbor as yourself and if you can’t love your neighbor, at least take them cookies. Cookies = love.