Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Presence

I remember when I was a child I'd go to bed on Christmas Eve filled with anticipation and excitement. Then I'd get up early the next morning and creep downstairs to find the tree surrounded by presents. I wasn't really the 'dive in and shred the wrapping paper' type of kid. I liked to savor unwrapping each new gift and setting it carefully aside. Each gift was special, and each would be loved.

Over the years, the Christmas holiday became less about presents and more about sharing and family togetherness. And over the years, family celebrations have dwindled as relatives have passed on. Traditional large family gatherings sadly are a thing of the past in my family. No more aunts, uncles and cousins stopping by. No more driveways lined with cars.

Now more than anything at Christmas I want to be surrounded by the love and warmth of family. I love watching my nephews open their presents. I love being the gift giver now; I had my time being the beneficiary of Santa's generosity.

Every Christmas day takes me back, just for a little while, to the days when I'd be opening presents one minute and then joyfully heading off to Grandma's house, or Aunt Jean's or Auntie 'Del's to see my relatives. I couldn't wait to see my cousins, enjoy Aunt Jean's delicious candy cane-shaped butter cookies and watch the grown-ups play cards after dinner. My Grandma and her sisters had the holidays down to a science, and their spreads were enviable. And I can't help but smile when I remember Uncle Dan giving me pennies to play the pinball machine in Aunt Jean's rec room, and how Auntie 'Del's swivel container of poker chips was always a favorite for us kids. (So much for the presents they always had for us under their trees.)

Looking back at those times now, I cherish the memories of the people who came together on those brisk winter days far more than any present. No gift ever would or could be as special as the family that used to be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Year-End Review

So let's review. I started to write this blog a little over a year ago and then hit a bump in the road. My computer broke in late August, and I spent the next three months without one. Living on disability income doesn't exactly lend itself to keeping pace with technology (or even owning a computer), so I finally used some savings to get a new one.

This incident is kind of fitting as the year winds down and the feeling of a lack of accomplishment sets in. That feeling of regret that the year is ending, and I didn't do this or that. This past year didn't go exactly as I would have liked, but as they say, "There's always next year."

Next year. It lies ahead waiting for us, offering new hope and a new chance to get it right. A chance to turn plans into action. And the hope that it's going to be better than last year. A time of change, a fresh start.

Looking back at the past twelve months is a popular thing to do at the end of a year. We recollect the year's events, good and bad. Print media and television shows offer up highlights and countdowns of the year's best songs or moments or whatever. I like to take stock of things at the end of the year, to think about my life and what I would like to do differently in the coming year.

Now is the time for looking forward, and as I look forward, there are many things to contemplate. So many things have happened in previous years that I did not expect; so many things have changed. As I look down the road, I see more changes coming, and I worry that some may not be favorable. I know I need to focus more on things I can control, to take charge of making positive changes in my life.

I have been thinking of going back to school, and I still want to try to work again. As I continue with my MS treatment, I am working on physically being able to continue to handle things as I have been. I know I will keep battling against the fatigue and other symptoms. I do not plan on backing down.

I have been thinking about whether I want to continue writing this blog. I don't know. I have other things I wanted to write about here before the computer broke. I still have a list. Maybe I'll just work my way through those topics and see what happens (probably more ideas will come).

Despite a few minor setbacks, it has been a good year. My life may not be exactly the way I want it to be, but I feel like I am making progress. The year is ending on a positive note - it's no worse than when it began. So that's a good thing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why I Love Eighties Music

Sometimes I hear one of my favorite eighties songs, or maybe even download one (something I could not have imagined doing back then), and it takes me back in time to a whole other era, a time of fun style, youthful exuberance and some of the best songs I have ever heard or will likely ever hear.

I "discovered" alternative (new wave) music while still in high school. I was getting pretty bored with mainstream rock at the time, and all of a sudden turning the tuning knob on my stereo, there it was. First I found the new sound on college radio, and then a new wave commercial radio station came along. It was like a whole new world opened up as I witnessed the birth of a new music style. And the awesome beginnings of a whole new visual medium - the music video. As part of the early MTV generation, I can recall spending hours watching my favorite videos.

Music videos were somewhat of an art form back in those days, the music providing the inspiration for videos that often told a story. The music itself was interesting, sometimes quirky, or full of imagery with distinctive melodies and instrumentation. The songs were captivating, and even now, more than twenty years later, some of them still give me goosebumps.

I spent a few years spinning vinyl as a DJ at my college radio station, an experience I will always treasure. That was one of the most enjoyable times in my life. The music made it special. I remember the thrill of buying a new album, getting it home, tearing off the plastic and slapping the disc on the turntable. Fighting to get those darn CD cases open and dropping the little disc on the floor doesn't begin to compare!

The musicians behind the alternative songs of the eighties (and early nineties, too) broke a lot of new ground in music and many were true artists. Some of the bands are still around today, still sounding as great as ever. Some sadly have gone - split up, some band members leaving this world too soon. They are gone, but the music lives on. Sometimes I'll hear one of their songs and find a tear rolling down my face.

Some eighties songs are being covered by other bands these days, and I wish they weren't. No other band can bring the true richness and flavor to those songs. No other singer can sing those lyrics as well as the original singer.

Eighties music is the music of my youth. It is the music I will always relate to the most. Like that time in my life, it will always be held dear and can never be replicated.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Mystery of What Lies Ahead (optimism revisited)

It's too bad life doesn't come with warning signs: Rough Road, Falling Rocks Ahead, Caution: Hazardous Area. Sometimes it would be nice to know what's ahead as we travel down life's road. The future is a place of uncertainty, and that can be scary.

Don't get me wrong. It's not keeping me awake nights not knowing what will happen next month, next year, or even in ten years. I guess I'd just like to be able to worry about it less. To know that the future holds security and comfort.

What lies ahead down the road could be good. Maybe I'll have less worry, less stress. In the present, it can sometimes be hard to take such an optimistic view. Especially if the present isn't going so well.

We all want to believe things will get better, and that is not always easy. It requires a super-charged positive attitude to look ahead and say, "Everything is going to be great, and my life is gonna be exactly the way I want it to be."

It takes confidence. Confidence in ourselves and in others. Confidence that we can tackle any problem, handle any situation. Feeling assured that things will work out, or that we can find a way to work them out.

I am not the most optimistic person. I generally have a positive attitude, and when it comes to having MS, I rarely have any negative thoughts about my future in that area. But when it comes to unwanted changes, I always go the pessimistic route. I go right to thinking that if and when things change, it will be for the worse. I was thinking the other day of how I could try to be more optimistic.

I decided the best thing I could do was work on trying to effect positive changes in my life, focusing on things I can control, and seeing the future as an opportunity and not something to be feared.

Things are going to happen or not happen - it is uncertain. I could end up having a great career, being more financially secure and having a home I love. The mystery of what lies ahead opens the door for possibilities, and they could be very good ones. (I guess I have more optimist in me than I thought!)

Seeing the good possibilities and devoting more energy to trying to make them happen can make the unknown that lies ahead a little less frightening.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Low Energy Journey

For the past ten years, I have been on a journey that I did not choose to go on - I have been living with MS. These days I think of it as the "low energy journey", as my main symptom is fatigue. I feel like I am running on a quarter tank or less most of the time.

Recently I went to Lowe's for a new hose sprayer nozzle and a few other small things. Though all the items I needed were in the same general area, just walking around in this huge home improvement store sapped up my energy pretty fast. During the long walk to the checkout area, I had to stop and rest for a moment a couple of times.

It's much the same no matter where I go. The more walking I do, the more quickly I run out of gas. But you take a break, and you move on. That's how life is in a lot of ways. You just have to find a way to keep going.

Working with low energy is a challenge. It requires patience, perseverance and often some strategizing. I focus on key things like:

Prioritizing tasks. This is a must these days. I have to stay within my energy budget. I can't do as much as I'd like all in one day, so I have to decide what the most important things to do are for that day. I can only do so much and only go so fast.

Working in some down time. We all do it - try to do more, to squeeze things in. We wear ourselves out sometimes, trying to finish things or to get a jump on things we have to do the next day. I get tempted all the time to try and get more done, but in dealing with fatigue you have to know your limit and try not to push yourself past it. It's important to rest and recharge your battery, then you can get moving again.

Staying positive. I can't change the fact that my body works the way it does now. Sometimes it can be frustrating not being able to do everything I would like when I want to do it, or how fast I would like. All I can do is accept it and work with what I've got. I always remind myself how fortunate I am that I am able to do those things.

It may take me a little longer to get where I want these days, but I know I'll get there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

Love 'em or hate 'em, we're always having to make 'em. Decisions, decisions. Some are easy - cook dinner or go out, what color shirt to wear. Some can be life-changing - whether to go back to school, whether to move to a new city.

Sometimes when we have to make a decision about something, our contentment with life is an issue. We may be unhappy and decide we need to make some changes. So we have to figure out how to go about that. Sometimes we decide just to leave things the way they are. This isn't about how to make decisions, because I don't think there is any guide or how-to article that can help with that. We all know about weighing pros and cons, etc. At the end of the day, making a final decision about something is all on us. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts; sometimes you just have to go for it.

It's not always easy, and sometimes decisions just end up being trying to determine which is the lesser of two evils. I always think of Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds talking to her students about choices and telling them that they always have the ability to choose. One of the students ends up arguing with her that they do not have a choice when it comes to being in class - if they leave class they'll get in trouble, but if they stay they have to put up with her. She tells him that while it may not be one he likes, it is still a choice. He does have the choice of whether to stay in class.

Then of course there are those things in life we don't get to decide because fate does that for us. But we can decide how we react and how we are going to deal with whatever fate has dished out. Fate may hand you an illness, or cause you to lose your job, but you can choose to be angry and bitter, or to have a positive attitude and press on with life.

The worst thing about having to make a decision is the possibility of regrets. We all make bad choices. The important thing is to learn from them and try to keep them from happening again.

Once in a while, we may find ourselves lamenting over a missed opportunity - the "road not taken". Beating yourself up over it is such a waste of time. More opportunities will always come along. It's better to focus on that positive fact than to dwell on the negative regret over the missed opportunity.

Every aspect of our lives is impacted by the decisions we make. While some are stressful, and we may even agonize over them, other decisions can be really easy, and there will always be those decisions we are really glad we made. Another great thing about making decisions is that it shows how many options are available to us, and options are a good thing.

Life is full of choices. It's wonderful that there are so many roads to take, and that we have the freedom to choose them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seizing Those Special Little Moments in Life

Sometimes you can be feeling down and then something really nice happens, or you see something beautiful or funny, and it lifts your spirits. It seems there is always something that jumps out at you and makes you smile. It's as if fate puts it there just when you need it.

You could be having a really bad day, and then maybe you get a phone call or email from an old friend, get a positive message from reading your horoscope, or you notice that the flowers are starting to bloom.

They may not make all your problems go away, but those little moments can, at least for a while, put you in a positive frame of mind. A smile from a baby, an embrace from a loved one. Just some little moment that takes the edge off life's problems.

You can make your own moments, or make someone else's day by just doing simple little things.

Go for a walk, send a funny email, grab the camera and get some pictures of the kids playing, or sit on the beach and let the waves lapping the shore wash over you.

Years after a major happy event occurs in our lives, we can still recall the joys of that day. You may not remember the little ordinary moments that happen, and you may not even remember why you were feeling down before they cheered you up. But they can be just as important, even more so in fact because they can occur anytime.

Sometimes the greatest moments are those that are completely unscripted -those little moments that can make your day, or make you laugh when a moment ago you felt like you may have lost the ability to laugh.

Sometimes you just have to grab onto those little happy moments in life and hold on tight.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things

Julie Andrews said it best (or sang it best) in The Sound of Music, "I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad."

Sometimes just thinking about those little things that make us happy can be a great way to lift ourselves out of a dreary mood.

I have my own personal list book, a pretty cloth-covered journal. I started making lists in it years ago. The other day, I sadly entered the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson in my list book. Then I spent a few moments looking at the very first list I made years ago - a long list of all sorts of different things that make me happy, like writing, traveling, watching my cats or having a chocolate chip cookie with a Diet Coke. I got the idea from a little book called 10,000 Things to be Happy About.

It's been a while since I've added to that list, so I figured I'd make a little list here and then transcribe it into my book later. Making a list like this is something I don't mind doing over.

More things that make me happy: going barefoot in the grass or the creek at my favorite park, nice people, my computer, figuring out the words to a song, making others laugh, doing something nice for someone, biting into a fresh pear, peach or plum, collecting state quarters, reminiscing, and, always worth repeating, chocolate!

As we look at our lives and the world around us, we can see that the things that give us happiness heavily outweigh the things that trouble us. Too bad those other things have to suck up so much of our attention!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Survival of the Not-so-Fit

When you have MS, you can sometimes feel like you are struggling to survive in a world where no one understands what you are going through and negative feelings are lurking around every corner, waiting to strike.

And it is hard enough being slower than you'd like and fighting off fatigue and other symptoms on a daily basis while still doing the same things other, fitter people do - hold down a job, take care of kids, a home, etc.

My best survival strategy has been to keep the positive energy flowing in my life.

One thing I always make sure to do is to keep conversations upbeat. When talking about your condition, focus on your strengths and downplay your weaknesses - those silly falls or butterfingers. And don't let the subject of MS dominate the entire conversation. There are so many better things to talk about.

Sometimes talking about your condition with the people in your life can be like stepping in quicksand - you'll want to get out of it right away. There are the people who think they know what is best for you and try to tell you what to do, there are the people who say the wrong things. Sometimes I have had to minimize contact with certain folks - if they don't understand, are uncomfortable around you or just plain make you upset, they are not helping.

That's not to say they don't have good intentions - sometimes people may want to be supportive, but they don't really know how. And others just don't get it. Educate those you can. Join a support group. Surround yourself with positive people and positive conversation.

Other tools I always have in my survival kit:

Laughter. I say laugh as often as you can. Learn to laugh at yourself and your shortcomings. If you can make others laugh, that's even better. Spread the positive energy around.

Hope. It's always important to try to maintain a hopeful outlook. I mostly focus on the now when it comes to my MS. I just take it day to day, and when it comes to the future, I just hope for the best and that science will find a way to rescue those of us who are affected by illness.

Determination. You hear people say it all the time, "I'm not going to let this thing beat me." If I fall down, I get up. And as things have gotten harder, I keep plugging away. You have to have the will to survive.

"You cannot run away from weakness: you must some time fight it out or perish." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My "Workout" Routine

When it comes to fitness, I am not a devotee. While I am not a big fan of exercise, I have always liked walking and running. Of course I am not very good at those things anymore. Still, I think I get a pretty good amount of exercise these days.

My workout routine:

(Disclaimer: Because I am dealing with MS fatigue and stiffness, this "workout" has a higher level of difficulty for me than for someone who does not have MS - they will have to adjust as needed.)

Stretching and Bending - Get up and feed the cats first thing in the morning. Repeat throughout the day as often as cats wish to eat. One cat has hyperthyroidism and eats about ten times per day. Summer additions - picking up trash in yard and pulling weeds.

Climbing - One word - stairs.

Walking - For the summer, I've added dragging the hose around the yard to water the flowers, and walking to the door to let the cats in and out of the house as often as they wish to this part of my routine.

Walk around house to clean, walk in parking lot of doctor's office, grocery or other store, etc. (distance varies depending on whether or not handicapped parking spot can be obtained), walk through store pushing shopping cart. Occasional walking in yard or at the park. Every step is a journey! (Tee hee.)

Weightlifting - Carry grocery bags into house (usually divided into stuff that needs to come inside right away and stuff I can leave in the car and get later), clean cat litter box (as in dump out old clay litter and replace with fresh), carry cat litter bag or laundry basket up and down basement stairs (combines lifting with climbing), drag heavy trash cans to curb (combines lifting and walking).

Cardio - Um, no. Unless the seasonal tasks like leaf raking and snow shoveling count.

I don't know how many calories I burn with my workout routine, but I can say that at the end of the day, I am wiped out!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Last Summer

A few years ago, I bought a couple of scrawny dianthus flower plants and put them in the good soil right behind my house. The little guys grew big and strong and have bloomed brightly the last few summers. They are a wonderfully colorful and easy to care for perennial that I love.

Today as I was looking at their explosion of bright pink and red flowers, my thoughts drifted, as they have so much of late, to the fact that this will be my last summer at this house.

Not that I want it to be. Like many Americans, I find myself facing the loss of my home to foreclosure.

Needless to say, this is a tough time for me, and I am finding it difficult to keep a positive frame of mind. I love my home. Nine years ago, when I was looking for a house, I drove by this one every day for two weeks. I wrote down the name and phone number of the realtor from the sign on the lawn. When I finally called, I was told a sale was pending.

Well, the sale fell through I guess, because I kept driving by for a few more weeks and the realtor's sign was still there. I got in to see the house and fell in love with it. I submitted an offer through my cousin, who's a realtor, and the next thing I knew, I was a homeowner.

Wherever we live, it becomes a part of us, and we become a part of it. When we leave a home, we leave a part of our life behind.

I know that having to leave here will probably be the hardest thing I will ever have to do. I have a lot of memories here, and this house will always have my heart.

So many things happen in our lives that we don't want to happen. It makes us feel helpless and like we can't control anything. The only thing we can do is get through them and move on. That is our challenge when life deals us these blows.

I will miss the dianthus, and the day lilies I planted. I will miss my trees and shrubs and the birds and squirrels I have fed. I will miss everything about this house. But for now I will try to make the most of these days as much as I can and enjoy this place for as long as I continue to remain here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Friendship Journey

"A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I recently joined Facebook and began getting friend requests. My Facebook "friends" consist mostly of former co-workers I haven't spoken with for a while (and I guess we still aren't), and a couple of people I've known for years. Being added as a Facebook friend may be a flattering way to up your social status, but true friends are of course much better, and much rarer.

My two oldest and dearest friends live out of state, so I haven't seen them in ages. But the bonds are still there - we cherish all the memories we share and still feel the connections we have, even across the miles.

I've lost touch with most of my school friends over the years. It's sad how some friendships don't survive. The nature of friendships is always changing, though. The real friendships endure, through the good times and bad. As the journey of our friendship continues, the passage of time and our memories converge.

One minute, you're meeting for the first time as little girls on your friend's front porch. Fast forward almost thirty years and you're grown women saying goodbye at the airport, still mourning the tragic loss of her younger brother.

Friendship has evolved with the help of the Internet. These days my "best friend" is now my "BFF" and with a click of a mouse we can add Facebook "friends". We can update each other on Twitter and have online get-togethers - social networking via the computer keyboard allowing everyone to share in the goings on and LOL. And we can find old friends and acquaintances right on our computer screen.

Still, the friends who mean the most to us and the time we spend with them in the real world are what truly matters. A hundred Facebook friends cannot take the place of the one true friend you've known for almost your whole life, the one who knows you best and is always there for you.

It is our duty to make sure we never lose contact with our true friends. Even if we aren't always on the same path, we started a journey together that may have seen some rough spots along the way, but has always been filled with love and understanding, and the desire to continue on.

Some friendships come and go, but for some the journey will last a lifetime.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No Cure for the Summertime Blues? What's that?

Memorial Day weekend has come, and that means summer is about to begin. Summer can be a troublesome time of year for me, due to the fact that the heat worsens MS fatigue. But the season brings to mind fond summer memories and also holds many joys.

Growing up, summer vacations were always the best because they meant no school for three whole months! Just lots of hanging out with friends, going for bike rides or to the beach. I can remember trips to the zoo and Sea World with my family and amusement parks with my friends. Lots of good times.

My summer schedule isn't as packed with activities these days, and while I dread the sometimes sweltering heat, around this time I find myself eager for summer's simple pleasures - the Fourth of July fireworks lighting up the sky, cookouts, popsicles, going barefoot outside, planting flowers, squirting friends and siblings with the garden hose.

I remember when I was a kid, the bees seemed to have it in for me. I got stung a few times. But after the stinger was removed, I ran back out to play. A summer day is not to be wasted after all. Even now I find I can't hide indoors for the whole day - the summer beckons me outside. I stay out as long as I can until the heat sends me melting back inside to the comfort of air conditioning.

I'll always love summer, even though there are bees (I haven't been stung since childhood) and even though I was diagnosed with MS in the summer. There are some things you just can't allow to be ruined completely.

And what's not to love about summer? A time of year that takes you back to the fun of being a kid, with its swimming pools, ice cream stands and roller coaster rides, or maybe lets you lie in a hammock and daydream for a while?

And thank goodness for air conditioning!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Creating Your Perfect Retreat

Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. The countless demands of a job, the endless emails and text messages, the invasions of privacy and infringements on what is supposed to be your free time.

Sometimes we need a sanctuary, a retreat from all the pressures and problems we face each day. An everyday place we can escape to and forget about everything, at least for a while.

To maximize our retreat, the first and foremost rule is to turn off the cell phone. Voice mail was invented for a reason. In fact, turning off all the electronic intruders is a good idea. Shut off the computer and give yourself a break from the Twittering and all that. Also:

Keep it simple.

Your retreat could be anywhere, but home is the best one of all, I think. Just turn off the computer and phone and make yourself a quiet, uninterrupted evening curling up with a good book or working on a hobby.

You could go to a luxury spa, or you could go the more simple (and less expensive) route and retreat to your bathtub, just lying back in the warm water, perhaps listening to some relaxing music and surrounded by aromatherapy candles. (The soaking in a warm tub part not being an option for us MS fatigue folks, unfortunately. Oh, how I miss that.)

Find an empty spot.

If you're at home, send the family to a movie or dinner out so you have the whole place to yourself. If you're in a public place like a park or library, try to get the spot that's the most isolated and quiet.

Sometimes you can find the most perfect spot, to contemplate, to daydream.

Choose different locations.

Of course you can have more than one retreat. Mine include my backyard, where I like to sit under the big tree behind my house, my car, when I go for a drive with no particular destination listening to my music and singing along (not well, but I try), and of course any quiet spot I can find at the park, where I can be surrounded by nature.

Some of the most ordinary places can offer us such great relief from a world that can be so demanding.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Remembering my Mother

With this Sunday being Mother's Day, I decided to remember my Mom today. She's been gone for almost ten years, and I really do miss her.

I've realized more and more over the last few years how she really held our family together. I feel like without her, our family has fallen apart, and I don't have the magic touch she had to bring everyone together.

I am very proud of my Mom. She was a struggling single parent who worked hard to become a nurse. She had a great career; she specialized in home health care the last few years of her life. I met some of her patients and could see how much they loved and respected her. She was an awesome nurse, and I can honestly say she was an awesome Mom.

Though we had our differences, as all mothers and daughters do, we were very close. We saw each other through some tough times during our journey together. We shared a bond that couldn't be broken, and I always knew that I was loved.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Wherever you are.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Finding the Right Path

Lately I've been feeling a little lost, like maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere. Things just haven't been going according to plan. I feel like I need to head in a new direction, but I am not sure which way to go.

I've been thinking about what went wrong, and what I might be able to do to get back on the right path. But first I need to figure out which path is the right one for me at this point.

I'm doing a lot of soul searching. I feel my goals have pretty much stayed the same, but I wonder if maybe my timing is off. Or maybe this is the right time, and I just need to step things up.

I find myself thinking:

What is keeping me from getting what I really want?

What do I need to do to achieve what I want?

Sometimes our plans get derailed. I had started out the year wanting to get back to work. For now, my job search is on hold until I can decide whether this is something I really want to do right now and work through some of my concerns about becoming employed again as a person with MS.

I had lunch with a former co-worker the other day, who is now looking for work, and we talked about the fact that I have very specific needs when it comes to a job. Obviously, there are things I cannot do, and my fatigue is going to limit the number of hours I can work. I told her I just don't think I can find the job that is right for me. She encouraged me to stay positive, which is good advice of course. But I am still having doubts about finding a job.

I think sometimes in life it's okay to take time to make sure we are headed in the right direction. Sometimes we need time to reflect on the situation and do some self examination.

In looking over what has made me lose my way, I find there are both external and internal circumstances.

External circumstances - Unfortunately there are those things that happen in our lives that we can't control - we lose a job, we have an illness in the family - sometimes forcing us to put plans on hold or change paths.

Internal circumstances may also play a role. Like uncertainty that keeps us from deciding on a path or fear that keeps us from staying on a path. Sometimes as we start to pursue our goals, we worry about failing and we stop in our tracks, afraid to move forward.

My biggest problem is that I find myself in the above situation. It's frustrating wanting to make changes in your life and at the same time irrationally delaying doing so. In large part I know what is keeping me from pursuing my goals and getting what I want out of life is me. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I do fear failing, and sometimes I question whether my goals are even really reachable. I sabotage myself; I second guess myself constantly. In deciding what path to take, I have to make sure I can overcome my fears and follow it.

The external circumstances are difficult to deal with because they can't be controlled. I can't change the fact that I have MS, but I know it does not have to interfere with my pursuit of the things I want in life. It may not be as easy to get there, though. It may take more time.

It's a struggle to balance our dreams with the things we need to do. Fatigue gets in the way sometimes. Stress gets in the way. Some things were easier when I was working, but I wasn't able to make the time to pursue my goals. Now I have more time, but less energy. I have been trying to balance those two things when it comes to doing the things I need to do, but not in doing the things I want to do.

This blog has been helping me to get my thoughts out and express how I feel about life and being appreciative of it. I find it very therapeutic to let my thoughts kind of ramble. This is something I would like to continue doing.

As for finding the path that is right for me, I think if I take some time to figure things out, try to have a positive outlook, try to see possibilities instead of impossibilities, and try to use more of my energy to pursue my goals that I will find it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Little Help Here, Please

Every summer at least one wasp finds its way into my house. Though it's only April, we're getting a blast of summer weather with temperatures in the eighties today. So this morning, a wasp got in and was flying around the kitchen window, no doubt frantically trying to find his way out.

Being terrified of these things, I went about my business, avoiding the kitchen. I tentatively went back in after a while. The wasp had been silent, and I did not see him when I went in the kitchen. So I fed the cats, and soon after I headed to the store.

When I came back, I saw the poor creature crawling on the kitchen floor. After a while he flew to the back door. He ended up crawling around by the bottom of the door. Holding my breath, I carefully opened the door and watched as he slowly crawled out. I've done this before of course, but it never fails to be a tense and frightening experience. Once he was outside, I breathed a sigh of relief. For myself and for the wasp. I don't know if he made it, but he probably had a much better shot outside than in the house.

I like to be helpful when I can - even to scary insects - yet, I've always been kind of uncomfortable asking for help. I like to do things myself. But, every once in a while, I find myself incapable of handling something on my own (which I still don't like), and I break down and ask for help.

One thing I have had to accept in living with MS is that you can't always do everything yourself. Though it can be difficult, every once in a while you just have to ask for help. I have learned that having to ask for help does not mean you are weak or helpless. And I have learned that there are people out there who are willing to help. I know it gives me a good feeling when I help someone, so it stands to reason that others would want to do so for the same reason.

Though I enjoy the fact that I can still shovel snow, I know I never would have been able to get out a couple of days this past winter if my neighbor had not helped me clear the driveway. I was glad I asked!

I guess we all have those times when we get stuck in a situation we can't quite get out of by ourselves. Like the poor wasp - he couldn't figure out why he could not get through that window!

Sometimes we need a little help - someone to open a door for us so we can get where we need to be.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Everyday Ways to Boost Contentment

A lot of folks may not be very content right now. With all the troubles we're seeing because of the recession, everything seems to be going down the tubes. It's hard to feel good when things are so bad.

To be content these days, you may have to get a little creative, maybe do a little downsizing. What I mean is, find little ways to be content every day. If we can't quite reach the level of contentment that financial security can bring, we can at least try to feel fulfilled in other ways.

Some ways we can add to our contentment:

Cherish and enjoy the things we have. Right now we may not be able to get everything we'd like to have. Taking stock of what we do have and being grateful for it can make us realize just how fortunate we are. For example, folks who still have their job or their home have probably learned to appreciate those things more given these tough times.

Spend time with our loved ones. Just being around the people we love and care for, knowing how much they love and care for us and enjoying quality time together is the most fulfilling thing. Sometimes it's more important who you have than what you have.

Get out and enjoy the simple pleasures. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Just enjoy all the splendor that this world has to offer. You can listen to the birds or your iPod while you get some exercise and get some positive feelings going at the same time.

Share some smiles with a baby, play with the dog. I love to just go to the park and let my feet dangle in the creek (Not quite warm enough for that yet.) Just taking time to enjoy the little things in life can make us more content.

Treat ourselves. Ditch the diet for a bit and indulge in those chocolate chip cookies. Get your hair cut or rent that movie you've been wanting to see. It's okay to splurge once in a while, as long as you don't go overboard.

Until the financial crisis is over, we won't be able to rest easy or stop cutting back. But seeing as we really can't buy contentment anyway, it's something we can always have.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Simple Joys of Sleep

Who doesn't love to sleep? What better feeling is there at the end of a long, stressful day than collapsing into your bed and drifting off to the Land of Nod?

I know after a long day of doing battle with MS fatigue, my bed can be the most welcome place on Earth. Slipping under the covers can be the greatest feeling. And I love how after a while, I hear my little cat come walking into the room, and she jumps up and settles in next to my leg.

Whether you're down for the night or just a quick catnap, getting some shuteye is a must, and sleep is a natural mood lifter.

Think of how great you feel after a really good night's sleep. Especially if it's accompanied by a wonderful dream. You wake up feeling totally refreshed and ready to take on the day.

Dreaming of course is the best part of sleep. It's amazing how our mind can take us on these incredible journeys while we're lying safe in our bed. We can be anything in our dreams, do anything, go anywhere. Sometimes it's like watching a really cool movie.

Even more awesome is how our subconscious thoughts can manifest themselves through our dreams, using vivid images like wild explosions or having us being chased down dark alleys, to represent what is happening in our waking lives.

I love dreams and dream interpretation. It's fun looking up dream meanings to find out what your dreams are trying to tell you, and it can be very insightful.

I remember my mom had a book called 10,000 Dreams Interpreted or What's in a Dream, and I think that's the best dream book I've ever used. It's on my wish list right now since I have no idea what happened to her copy.

Another great thing about sleep - sleeping in. That feeling of relief that comes from knowing there will be no alarm going off to jolt you awake - nothing can beat that. You can stay in bed and dream all morning. It's especially great sleeping in when it's cold or raining outside. And speaking of rain - there is also the calming feeling of lying in bed listening to the rain on the roof and letting it lull you to sleep.

Though we may occasionally have to contend with insomnia, or get startled awake by a nightmare, or have to deal with snoring, sleep gives us so much more than rest. No one can get by without the obvious benefits of sleep. If we don't get enough sleep, we're sluggish and cranky all day.

So, seeing as I've had a long day and it's nearly midnight (yawn), I'm off to bed.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

(Inner) Strength Training and Conditioning

One of the MS symptoms I sometimes experience is weakness in my arms or legs. But while my body may not be as strong as it used to be, I've pumped up my inner strength over the years to help me deal with the disease.

Inner strength - that drive and determination, that fighting spirit, that will to go on, that push that helps you to pick yourself up from the floor, dust yourself off and keep going - how I love it!

We all have to be strong, no matter what odds we may be faced with. We have to be strong for the people who depend on us. We have to be strong for ourselves. We may have times when we feel down, and we just want to crumble, but our inner strength serves to make sure that won't happen.

You won't see me in a gym lifting weights anytime soon, but when it comes to my inner strength, it gets a regular workout.

So, if we take a trip to the inner strength gym, we'll:

Gulp down the positive energy drink. I say it all the time, and I constantly remind myself, "think positive, think positive, think positive." A positive attitude and inner strength can feed off each other and work together to fend off negative thinking. If we let our negative thoughts run the show, where would that leave us? We'd never be able to do anything; we'd give up.

Be motivated. We all have those mornings when we don't even want to get out of bed. We may think, "What's the point? So I can drag myself to that dreary job that I hate?" Our inner strength gives us that push to get out of bed and get to that job or do whatever else we've gotta do. We need to, in spite of how much we don't want to, so we can meet our obligations and responsibilities. It may not be all fun and games, but sometimes you've just gotta tough things out. In the end, something good usually comes out of it.

Practice self-reliance. Because my family has the tendency to be about as reliable as burnt toast (it's okay, I can say it - they know), this is the exercise I do the most. Actually, I think it's always important to flex your self-reliance muscle, even if those around you are Johnny-on-the-spot reliable. There is a certain amount of pride, as well as a huge amount of strength, that comes from not having to depend too heavily on others and instead carrying your own weight and knowing that you've got your back when you need to. If you can do it yourself, then do it. Your friends and family really are just your backup support system.

Fight, fight, fight! Sometimes you just have to put on the emotional boxing gloves when you're dealing with MS, or any other adverse circumstances. While anger is a negative emotion, it's also a great motivator. You just get to a point where you decide you're not going to take it anymore. You can channel your anger into something positive like not bowing down to your MS fatigue, or finding a new, less dreary job. The anger gives you the strength to get in the ring and start swinging.

Inner strength enables you to get through the rough days, keep moving forward despite the odds, do what you have to do and give yourself the push you need to reach your goals. If you use it you'll get guaranteed results!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stone Soup for the Soul

Remember the story, "Stone Soup", where a stranger asks for food but is turned away by the townspeople? He puts a stone into a pot, makes a fire and says he will make himself some stone soup, and soon the curious townsfolk are coming to watch and offering up the ingredients he says he wants to add. When it is done, everyone shares his delicious soup.

There are variations on the story, but the message is the same: that sharing and working together benefits everyone. We can apply this story in our everyday lives simply by being there for the people we hold dear and showing kindness to others.

Sometimes we may feel a little empty inside - a little "hungry." Our emptiness could come from any number of things - loss, being hurt, depression. We may feel the need for something to fill us up, to make us feel better. A little sharing can help make us feel full.

I feel my own personal inner "stone soup" is the positive attitude and good nature that I share with others around me. I find that when I am feeling empty, simple kind gestures from others can serve as the ingredients that help replenish it - things like smiles, polite acts like holding a door open for me, encouraging words.

When my own pot of stone soup is full, I share it by extending kindnesses and positive words to others.

When we do something nice for someone, it is like we are contributing to a big pot of stone soup. It's good for the soul, and we all get to share in the positive energy that it creates.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taking a Life Inventory

Every once in a while it's good to take stock of where we are in life. Maybe we want more out of life, maybe we are perfectly content and don't feel the need to make any changes. Taking time to reflect on our lives and doing a life inventory can help us set a path for ourselves to take in life or determine that we are on the right one.

This kind of inventory of course doesn't include material possessions like your car, clothing or jewelry. It is about more important things like your relationships, work and other things that, even though you can't see them, you can take ownership of them. Things like goals, accomplishments, feelings, memories, dreams - these are all things that you can take ownership of that should be included in your life inventory.

We may spend a lot of time feeling good about things that have gone well for us or wishing we could change this or do that, but how often do we take a detailed, in-depth look at our lives?

When you have some quiet time and can be alone with your thoughts, pull out a piece of paper or open a word document on your PC. Think about different areas of your life, different times, where you are now, and where you want to go in life.

I've done this before, and I love making lists, so I used a list form. It's great to make lists for something like this, that you can get a lot out of. But you can do your inventory any way you want - make charts, write an essay, jot down some notes - whatever you like.

Some things to think about in taking your life inventory :

Make a list of all of your accomplishments, personal and professional. Go back as far as you like. It can be anything, no matter how small.

We all need to be acknowledged for the good things we've done and to celebrate our successes. Sometimes we fail to give ourselves the credit we deserve, so after you've finished your inventory, make sure you do something to reward yourself for your accomplishments.

Think about what is happening in your life right now. Are you doing the things you wanted to do when you were younger? Have you found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with? Have you achieved your goals thus far? What other things would you like to accomplish? Are there any other activities you'd like to be participating in, or do you have too much on your plate?

Have there been major changes in your life, recently? Have they been good or bad? How are you handling them?

Think about how you are feeling. Are you happy? What gives you the most joy in your life? What, if anything, is making you unhappy?

Doing a life inventory can help you determine if there are things you want to change. Maybe you aren't enjoying your work, and you decide you want to go back to school and prepare for a career you'll find more fulfilling. Or maybe you just want to find another job that you like better.

Think about the basics of contentment, like being content with who you are and your relationships with your family and friends. Are your relationships with those around you strong, or are there problems? Do you want to reconnect with someone you have lost touch with?

Keep it positive. See this inventory not as a way of pointing out what's wrong in your life, but as opening a door to coming up with solutions to any problems you may be having and dealing in a positive way with the things that may be making you unhappy.

Your life inventory should include some ideas on how you might make things better and maybe even a list of resources that could possibly help. Focus on things you can control, things you can change.

In thinking of the past, don't dwell on regrets, failures, things you wish you had done differently. Keep that stuff at the back of that high shelf in your mental closet behind the embarrassing moments.

Think about what you want your future to be. Looking ahead, think about that popular job interview question, Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your goals for the future? Do you want to change careers? Get married and start a family? Buy a house?

What are your dreams? Do you want to travel the world? Write a novel and have it published? If a genie gave you a wish, what would you wish for?

Taking your life inventory can make you feel good about how much you've achieved, show how much you have to be grateful for, and give you a place to start in working on your goals and making your future what you want it to be.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

When It's Okay to Waste Time

Most of us are under a good deal of stress for one reason or another, and we all want to make good use of our time. We try to get the most out of it, and sometimes we try to squeeze too much in, adding to our stress. I've written about having to work around my MS fatigue and how valuable time is for me. Too valuable to be wasted. But sometimes we all need some diversion to keep us from pulling our hair out.

I am not talking about planned activities or taking a vacation from work. Yeah, the "vacation" that ends up being catching up on stuff around the house or a project from work that we brought along. I mean little everyday diversions. Maybe we spend half an hour doing a crossword or gabbing on the phone to a friend. Little diversions and time wasters, if used wisely, can be a good thing if it means we can get out from under what is bogging us down for a while.

The other day I spent about fifteen minutes watching some of my favorite commercials online, like the talking baby that buys stock online (he's just too cute) and the one where the guy is stuck in a hostel in Brussels with the 'techno twins' because he didn't get his friend's call on his cell.

Waste of time? Sure. Fun, though? You bet.

Okay, I know that's fifteen minutes I can't get back. I probably should have spent those minutes doing something more constructive. I am a grown-up, the time for such inane activities is over, right? Wrong.

Even as responsible adults we still need to goof off once in a while. We spend so much of our time with our nose to the grindstone at work and meeting all of our obligations at home and with the family. Just taking a few minutes a day and spending them on some mindless activity is not going to rob us of anything. The things on our to-do list will still get done; deadlines will still be met. (Spoken like a true procrastinator, I know.)

Still, taking some time to goof off can help keep our spirits up and keep us young. So crawl around on the floor with the kids or dangle a toy in front of the cat. You'll love spending the time together, they'll love the attention, and you'll get to take your mind off your troubles or whatever else is gnawing at you for a little while. That's not a bad deal.

Time wasted doing something that relieves our stress and makes our day a little brighter is time well spent.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Catching Up with the Past

"Place it in your memory, leave it in your past, but don't forget." - Depeche Mode, In Your Memory

I was looking at some old photographs the other day, deciding which ones to put in a family photo album I've been working on for a while now. It's a project I've been wanting to finish, yet sadly it keeps getting set aside.

It's partly the procrastinator in me that's been keeping the project from moving forward. That, and the fact that there are always other things that get in the way of my being able to spend as much time on it as I would like. I see the photo album in the bookcase every day, a container that I am slowly filling with pieces of my and my family's past.

I believe staying connected to the past is very important. Photos, treasured family keepsakes and heirlooms, having a record of events, commemorating the family, especially the loved ones who are no longer here, are all very important to me. While the photo album isn't finished, I have purchased some beautiful picture frames over the years, filled them with some of my favorite photos, and displayed them in my home.

Photographs can evoke fond memories. Of course, memories can come to us at any time, sometimes brought about by something like hearing an old song on the radio or seeing someone who looks like a person we used to know. Or maybe we just find ourselves waxing nostalgic.

One day, we'll look back on this...

There are some moments we want to hold onto forever. We want to remember them always - every detail and exactly how we felt at the time. We document our experiences in journals and diaries and capture them in pictures and on video recordings. All so we can hold onto those moments and relive them whenever we want.

We share our memories with family and friends, remembering those special times together, to celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed on, or to have a laugh, or just to make sure we keep our memories alive.

Certain memories cheer us up when we're feeling down, and sometimes memories can even inspire us. Maybe we decide to write about our family, to revive a family tradition or start a new one.

Another great thing is, every day we are making new memories. With each new thing that happens in our lives, a new memory is created.

Past Imperfect

The past is not without its flaws. Everyone has bad memories. We've all had things happen in our lives that made us angry or sad. It's important to find a way to make peace with those events. I found talking to a counselor helped me deal with some past issues. And time really does help heal as well.

It's best to focus on remembering the good times and the people, places and things that made you happy and to work on leaving the bad memories where they belong - in the past.

We all have regrets. Maybe we passed up an opportunity we wish we hadn't. Rather than beat ourselves up about it, we should just make sure we seize the opportunities that come our way in the present and future.

Every one of us has made mistakes, said or done something we wish we could go back and change. Mistakes should be viewed as learning opportunities. You make a mistake, you learn from it, you move on. The past is there to teach us, and to remind us that we have the chance to do things differently now. There is no point in holding on to regrets. And sometimes we can find redemption in the present for mistakes we made in the past.

Our past is undeniably important. Look at how history has such an impact on our lives today. Clearly we have learned from it and still have an appreciation for those who came before us who have given us so much.

Taking a trip down memory lane can be a fun diversion and can generate some positive feelings. Whether it's being grateful for the loving family we had or proud that we overcame a troubled past, it's always good to remember where we came from. Sometimes we may find the lane a little rocky here and there, but ultimately, the past has made us who we are today. And as we continue on into the future, the lane behind us will get longer and longer, the passage of time ever showing us how temporary things are.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Laughing Matters

The other day I was in a bad mood all day. I just felt like I had too much to do and everyone was annoying me. By evening I was just exhausted and irritable. Finally having a chance to relax, I played a comedy special I had downloaded on my computer and found myself giggling away within seconds, all my stress melting away.

It's amazing how powerful humor can be.

Laughter is one of the greatest things about life. It has so many benefits: it gets your heart rate up, burns calories, relieves stress, releases those feel good endorphins and helps promote positive thinking. It's just an all-around wonder drug.

Being able to make others laugh is a great gift. I love watching stand-up comics perform. They do such an awesome job of talking about everyday things and making them funny. One thing I think is so important to have is the ability to laugh at ourselves. Comedians are really good at that, and they help us to laugh at ourselves as well.

Sometimes in life, you just have to laugh. Being able to laugh at those little screw-ups we make or the silly things the kids or pets do gives us a break from the dreary and serious routine of work, the pressures at home, the bills piling up and having to deal with whatever problems may jump out at us.

While MS is no laughing matter, I have found not taking some of its effects on me too seriously makes them easier to deal with. Walking a lot slower than I used to is a pain, but when people are waiting for me I just smile and say, "Here I come" or "I'm on my way, just a little slow these days."

Having MS has also turned me into a klutz. No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the occasional clumsy episode. I trip, I fall, I veer to the left. I have fallen in the snow three times this winter just while shoveling or brushing off the car. Picture a tree toppling over in the forest. Timberrrrr! That's me.

I could easily get frustrated by the physical challenges in my life. Falling down and having to struggle to get back up is no picnic to be sure. I have learned to make light of my own lack of coordination, though.

A couple I know came over a while back with their eighteen-month-old boy. We were on the front porch and he started climbing down the steps using his arms and legs and I said, "He goes down the steps like I do."

Sometimes I do feel like a toddler - physically. I mean, I'm not throwing tantrums or grabbing whatever I want and saying it's mine. A grown woman acting like that - now that would be funny.

Recommended reading: Someone I think was really funny was Erma Bombeck. Her humor-filled tale of her life as a suburban mom in The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank is a page-turning laugh riot.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inspiration for a Positive Attitude

Keeping a positive attitude isn't easy. So many things can happen in our lives that bring about negative feelings, and even though we fight off those feelings, they can return at any time. We may feel sorry for ourselves, or we find ourselves getting discouraged. Sometimes a positive attitude needs a little nudge.

Sometimes that nudge can come from being inspired by people who are going through the same troubles we are or who have overcome other adversities. Even people we don't even know can inspire us with their positive attitude.

Recently, three people, one of whom I did not even see, have been an inspiration to me.

I saw a story on the news about an elderly man who lost his life savings in the highly publicized Madoff scandal. This man was given a job at his local grocery, where he serves as a customer greeter. In these tough economic times, this man, who retired years ago, is back in the workforce, the victim of greed, theft and dishonesty.

Still, his positive attitude was apparent. He smiled and said he's got a job to do, summing up his new circumstances. He seemed to enjoy what he's doing, and his boss even called him an inspiration to people going through tough times due to the current economy.

It's hard to imagine losing everything you've worked for your whole life. I was really inspired by someone going through that at his age doing what he's got to do to make ends meet. It certainly reinforced my desire to get back to work!

On VH1's show Sober House (I watch a lot of VH1), Rodney King, the reluctantly famous victim of a beating by LA police back in 1991, paid a visit to the scene of the incident. He said he forgives the police officers who beat him, and pointed out that it takes more energy to be angry than to forgive. He said he feels lucky to be alive these days. It was such a positive way to look at having to deal with what he went through.

I remember seeing Rodney King on the news after the LA riots broke out. He was an inspiration even then asking, "Can we just get along?" Hearing him speak about that time in his life now, I found it inspiring that he has moved on and has no ill feelings about what happened.

At my most recent MS treatment, I spoke with a woman whose daughter has progressive MS. Her daughter is my age and lives in a nursing home. Her mother described her as being strong-willed. She said her daughter handles all her own affairs and is very active in her own care and treatment. She told me about how her daughter had joked about her condition during one of their recent visits.

The woman said her daughter had been through a lot in her life before MS, and that the MS hit her very suddenly and progressed pretty fast. But the daughter sounds like a fighter, and I can't help but think if someone in her situation can have that good of an attitude, there's no reason I can't.

Stories like the ones about these three people, in however small a way, really do help me to keep my own positive attitude going. I also personally know people who've dealt with adversity, and their strength always inspires me as well.

Knowing or hearing about people who've beat the odds, or are dealing with a bad situation the best way they know how gives us hope. Their inspiring stories can help us to put things in perspective and maintain a positive attitude when we experience difficulties in our own lives.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gadget Overload (or Fondly Remembering the Rotary Phone)

In the preview for the new movie He's Just Not That into You, Drew Barrymore's character laments about being rejected via several different technologies. Given today's technology, it's not much of an exaggeration.

Cell phones, PDA's, portable DVD players, Blackberry, Bluetooth, text messaging, iPhone, head is spinning. With all the techno-gadgets out there, I have to wonder, how did we ever survive without all this stuff?

Well, we did. Some of us still do. I have a cell phone, but it's not even a camera phone. It has text messaging, but I've never sent a single text message.

I don't have GPS in my car. I don't do a lot of long distance driving, and I use the old fashioned county road atlas if I'm going to an unfamiliar part of town.

I've always been a little resistant to technology. I guess I'm old-fashioned. I grew up in the age of rotary phones (I always liked the sound the dial made), and when I was a little kid we had a black and white TV. When I was in high school, we got cable TV, an answering machine and a VCR, the hot new technologies of their time. Yet, I remember when CDs came out I refused to buy them for the longest time.

It's amazing how far we've come, how much communication has evolved. But while the function and convenience of all the latest technology is appealing, I think we may be too reliant on some of these gadgets.

Do we really need to pay the cable bill while we're ordering lunch at the drive-thru? People are so into multi-tasking these days they are even conducting business by Bluetooth at the grocery while choosing pasta sauce. I once saw a husband and wife talking on their cell phones at the each other. She had called him from the next aisle, and he was walking toward her. Geez!

While it's great we can receive or send information from anywhere, I worry about what all these gadgets have done to us.

It's like we've become gadget slaves. People who are so addicted to text messaging, we will risk getting into trouble at work or school. Or who laugh in the face of danger by texting while driving. Or who have to have every new gadget that hits the market, we don't care what it does, we just know we have to have it! Or who can't just relax and enjoy our leisure time without allowing ourselves to be repeatedly interrupted by our ringtone. Or who'd rather drive into a tree than have to read a paper map.

Seriously though, sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when we didn't have all this stuff. Things are moving so rapidly these days, and everyone just seems so stressed out, doing more and working faster, that I find myself missing the simpler times.

Still, all the technology we have is pretty neat, and it does make life easier and allow us to get information faster. But it may have the tendency to drive you nuts. Think of poor Drew!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Self-Improvement Journey

One thing that is essential to our contentment in life is feeling good about ourselves.
Sometimes even though we like ourselves, we may decide there is room for improvement. We may want to lose weight, get organized, work on being a better listener. We just realize there is something we'd like to do better or that would help us to feel better.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I've been watching a show on VH1 called Tool Academy, where guys whose girlfriends are fed up with them for being bad boyfriends are trying to work on their relationships by becoming more honest, mature and trustworthy. They are working on improving themselves so they can be better men for their girlfriends.

It's kind of a lame show, but it got me thinking about what kind of self-improvement I need to do.

The first step in any self-improvement plan, of course: identify what you need to work on. Then come up with a plan of action, set some goals, and identify the rewards.

Ditch the bad habits.

Make a list of any bad habits you'd like to shake. Old habits may be hard to break, but I have some I sure need to try and get rid of.

Probably my biggest bad habit is that I procrastinate. I am constantly putting things off until the last minute, and I have a couple of 'ongoing' projects that I haven't even touched lately. I'm also frequently late to appointments (I swear this one is hereditary) and I have a tendency to interrupt people when they're speaking.

Do yourself some good.

Whether it's quitting smoking, exercising more or eating healthier, we all could use more wellness in our lives.

One thing I've been hearing other people with MS say is that they've been eating better - cutting out fat and that sort of thing. I always kind of gulp and think about how bad my diet is. I love sweets, and I've never been able to stay off french fries. I know if I eat healthier I'll feel better, but I need more willpower.

Become more _____ (fill in the blank)

I've always struggled with being shy and unassertive. I've gotten better at being more outgoing and assertive as I've gotten older, but I still need to work on both of these things more.

I think we all battle insecurities and want to develop qualities that could help us in different areas of our lives - on the job, in our relationships, and so on. Perhaps we want to be more dedicated, have a more positive attitude, be more patient.

So how can we go about trying to improve ourselves?

There are lots of self-help books out there and programs to help you break habits, like smoking for instance. It really just comes down to discipline - sticking with something. Sometimes we need to get motivated or we need a push. Get friends and family in on the act. Make them hold you accountable.

It all starts with setting goals. I set a baby-step goal to spend an hour each week working on one of the projects I've started. Hopefully my goal will lead to a finished project and a feeling of accomplishment. (If I can just get that stool in the kitchen fixed...)

I already have started to eat healthier. Honestly, food prices aren't going to make it any easier, but that's no excuse. Even just substituting veggie soup is better than having fries.

I had a couple of early appointments last week, and I'm happy to say I woke up early enough, left early enough, and got there on time. (That's huge for me.)

I've also been finding myself striking up conversations more lately. When I go for my treatments, when I am at the grocery, or just recently at an employment center orientation. I feel very good about the fact that I can talk to people so easily now (and I haven't interrupted anyone lately). I just need to keep it up and not crawl back into my shell.

Being able to see some good results from some of my self-improvement goals has really helped me to feel positive and stay motivated.

You can do things to improve yourself, but it's also important to be yourself, and not try to be someone else. I used to not like myself very much, and I thought I had to act differently in order for people to like me more. I eventually found that people really do like me for who I am.

You don't have to make changes to make people like you. Having a positive attitude and liking yourself more really goes a long way.

Now as for the guys on Tool Academy, they really do need to make some changes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spring: A Time of Renewal

Spring is still weeks away, but we've gotten a nice little preview of it the last couple of days. The snow has almost completely melted (yay!), there has been brilliant sunshine, and there is a freshness in the air.

Even though I know winter isn't over yet, it's so great to have this respite from it. The weather has made me feel so energized. Springtime always renews my spirits and puts me in a positive frame of mind. Just knowing how close we're getting to it has me feeling a sense of excitement.

Springtime is going to be so welcome this year, I think. Being bogged down with two feet of snow in January wore me out.

Spring is the best time for getting positive energy going. No one ever says they have the "springtime blues", right? When winter releases it's frozen grip on the earth and life begins to emerge from it anew, we can't help but feel rejuvenated.

This little preview of spring has inspired me to make a list of things to look forward to about the season to get some positive feelings blooming. (pun intended)

  • The feeling of the sunshine on my face.
  • The leaves on the trees again, finally!
  • How beautifully green everything is!
  • The scent of fresh-cut grass.
  • Seeing the daffodils poking up through the ground.
  • Opening all the windows in the house and letting the fresh air in.
  • Driving with the car window rolled down.
  • The sound of the kids playing outside.
  • Spring cleaning - getting rid of clutter and putting up freshly laundered curtains.
  • Cleaning up the yard & putting away the snow shovel.
  • Hanging my winter coat away in the closet and packing away the boots.
  • Seeing the robins poking at the ground for worms.
  • Walking around in the yard, picking fragrant lilacs and lily of the valley.
  • Getting back to the park and enjoying the sight and sound of the creek flowing.

I just can't wait for spring. I like the changing of the seasons, but spring is definitely my favorite. It's amazing how it can renew your energy and make you feel such a sense of hope and contentment. What a beautiful, simple gift from nature!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Journey Toward Happiness

One of the New Year's resolutions that I made for this year is to be happier. I looked over my list of resolutions again today, and I thought to myself, "Okay - how exactly am I going to accomplish this?"

It's a pretty general statement to say I want to be happier. It sounds like a tall order, too. In thinking about it, I asked myself: What can I do to be happier? What will make me happier?

There are lots of things that can happen in our lives that bring us happiness. But sometimes we have to find happiness on our own.

If my goal this year is to be happier, I figured it probably won't just come my way through a series of fortunate events. I probably won't win the lottery, for instance. That would be wonderful of course, but I thought a plan to create more happiness in my life would be more practical.

I think doing the following would help us all reach a happier place:

Find things to be happy about.

Sometimes we can get pretty bummed out about how things are going in our lives. Maybe we don't like our jobs, or we have problems with a relationship. We may not feel like we have much that makes us happy. But by looking a little more closely, we can see that we do have lots of things to be happy about.

Make a list of the things that make you happy and the things that are going well. I started a list a long time ago that I've added to over the years. I just write down any little thing that I like or that I'm glad about. Like chocolate. Or more recently, the fact that in spite of my love of chocolate, I've dropped a few pounds. (I think it's all the snow shoveling!)

No matter what we may be going through in life, we can always find something to be happy about. Simply counting our blessings or looking around and seeing that there are positive things going on around us can make us happy.

Spend more time doing the things that make you happy.

Whether it's cooking dinner for friends, heading out to the golf course or curling up with a good book, just take time out to enjoy yourself more.

Spend more time with the people in your life who always make you laugh. Try to spread some cheer around to someone else who needs it. Giving to others and making them happy is a great way to make yourself happy, too.

Embark on a new journey of fulfillment.

Everyone has ideas about what would make them happier. A new relationship, a new career. We all have things we want to do, places we want to go. Often though we get stuck in a rut, and we don't go after the things we want, even though we would like to be happier.

We hold ourselves back sometimes in life. Maybe it's because we can't get motivated, or we have a fear of failure. Having a positive outlook and going after what we truly want could get us to that happiness, so why not try?

Trying something new or searching for something meaningful in our lives or just seeking out a more fulfilling career could make us much happier. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'd like to do, but I feel like now is the time to act on it if I really want to try to be happier.

I think it would make me happy to know that I finished something or that I am on my way to where I want to go in life. The happiness would come from the journey.

Focus on the positive.

Banish the negative thoughts and focus on the good things in your life. Keep reminding yourself what a great person you are and that you deserve to be happy.

Certain things that make us happy may be hard to come by these days. But even if we can't have everything we want in life, or things aren't going our way, we can still find ways to be happy. The more time we spend with those we love and doing the things we love, the happier we can be. We can choose to focus on the positive; we can choose to be happy.

The journey toward happiness begins within ourselves.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Seeing the Beauty Around Us

The world can be a very ugly place. War, crime, corruption, disease, the news often bombarding us with reports of horrible events that anger and disgust us.

Fortunately, there is a lot of beauty in the world as well. We can see so much of it in our daily lives when we just look around. It stands out, taking the focus away from the ugliness.

The people around us can add so much beauty to our lives with their kindness and loving support. The love we share with our family and friends is a beautiful thing.

There are a lot of good people in the world, and having good people around us makes our little corner of the world a more beautiful place.

I feel blessed to have people in my life that provide such good care to me in treating my illness. The nurses at the clinic I go to are more like friends. I have wonderful neighbors who help me. Just the other day we got about a foot of snow, and I looked out the window to see one neighbor plowing my driveway, while another was clearing off the front porch. I am very touched by their generosity.

One of the most wonderful things you can see is that rare story in the news that details someone's selfless act or the good work of a person or group whose goal is to help the people who need it the most. When we do something to help others, we are doing something beautiful.

Children, with their innocence and unspoiled view of life, are among the most beautiful people in the world. They give us hope for the future.

Animals are beautiful people, too. They add so much joy to our lives and ask for so little in return.

Every new life that comes into the world is a beautiful thing.

I have seen a lot of beautiful places, but the place that I call home will always be the most beautiful in my eyes. It is the place where I am most content to be.

Freedom is a beautiful thing. Without it, we would have nothing.

All these beautiful things are in our lives for us to appreciate. They are the positive things in a world where there are too many negatives. Sadly, one negative is that there are people who don't appreciate these beautiful things, and that is truly a shame.

You can go to all the beautiful places on earth, see the most beautiful sunset or spend hours in a museum looking at stunning works of art, but we can see beauty most closely when we look at ourselves. Each one of us is a unique and beautiful creation.