Thursday, December 30, 2010

Six Ways to Be Happier in the New Year

Every year I make a few New Year's resolutions - typical things like losing weight or getting organized. This year I have made just one: be happier in the new year. It's a big one, and a pretty tall order.

I have broken it down into some different ways I plan to have more happiness in my life this year. I made the following list for myself, and to share with anyone else whose New Year's resolution is the same as mine.

Here are my "Six Ways to be Happier in the New Year":

Pay more attention to what makes you happy - Spend more time with the people in your life who make you the happiest. Avoid the toxic folks as much as possible. Spend more time doing the things that make you happy - playing with the kids, going for walks, gardening. Pick up that enjoyable project you've been neglecting.

Minimize stress - Take the emphasis off of problems. Work on them, but don't let them consume you. Don't take on more than you can handle. Don't worry if you don't have time to get everything done in a day - it will still get done.

Appreciate what you have - Recognize all the good things in your life. Count your blessings. If there are things you need or want, keep a list, but don't worry if you don't have them yet.

Banish negative thinking - Don't let yourself feel bad about things that don't go as planned or get down on yourself because of mistakes you've made. Give yourself a break - remember you are a good person who deserves to be happy. Stop predicting that the outcome of every situation will leave you disappointed.

Treat yourself (and treat yourself better) - Pamper yourself as often as possible. Splurge on a latte, spa or salon visit, or just a night at home alone with a good movie and maybe some takeout. Indulge (within moderation and not in anything unhealthy, of course). In fact, cut back on or give up the stuff that's bad for you. (I personally need to cut back on sweets and reduce my salt intake.) Reward yourself for all your hard work and all the good things you do with little gifts for yourself, or just taking some time to relax.

Pursue your passion - Is there something you really want to do? Write a novel, make clothes, travel? Try to make this the year it happens. Focus on the things you love to do and how you may be able to get a new project, or even a new career, off the ground.
Just keep thinking - "It is going to be a great year."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Looking Down The Road

As the year draws to a close, it is time to do some reflecting. I like to think of this as a time for looking down the road - in both directions.

Looking back at the road behind you - The last days of the year are a good time for looking back over the previous twelve months and reviewing events and accomplishments, what went well, what didn't, and what we've learned from it all. Seeing how far you've come in making progress toward a goal, or just reminiscing about all the good things that have happened.

Looking forward at the road that stretches ahead - It is the time for making New Year's resolutions and setting goals for what we'd like to accomplish in the coming year. The road ahead holds the promise of new opportunities. A new year, a new chance to get it right. To make positive changes, begin new projects. As we look down the road toward a new year, there are limitless possibilities.
It's always good to evaluate things at the end of the year, take stock of where you are, and prepare to go forward. And hopefully, if the previous year was a not-so-good year, the next will be better.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Time and Energy Dilemma

So little time, so much to do. Everyone probably has this problem to some degree. When you have MS, it can be an even bigger dilemma.

Since I have to deal with often feeling fatigued and generally moving slower than I'd like, time is a precious commodity for me. So is energy. I often find myself in a "use it or lose it" situation. I have to take advantage of the energy when I have it, and get things done before it runs out. So if I am suddenly feeling energetic at seven in the evening, that is the time to head off to the store.

Scheduling activities is next to impossible. You never know when fatigue will strike. There are certain times of the day that I tend to feel a little less tired, though, so I make all my appointments for around those times.

In a way, my time and energy dilemma has been a helpful thing. It has helped me to learn how to prioritize. I used to try to do too many things in one day. Now, since my energy is limited, I can only do so much in a day, and everything takes longer when you're slower. It's also helped me to feel less stressed. I used to be late for everything because I wasn't giving myself enough time to get where I needed to be. Now, I'm kind of forced to give myself extra time because of my slow walking. It feels good not to have to be rushing around anymore.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have more hours in the day, and I'd like to move as fast as I used to, but I do welcome the challenge of getting things done in spite of the limitations with which I have to contend.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What to Do If You Run Into a Scary Monster

It's that time of year again. The time of creepy creatures, ghosts and goblins, and things that go bump in the night. Some monsters don't wait for Halloween, though - they come out year round.

They can sneak up on you at any time, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. Scary, right? Not if you know how to handle them.

I ran into a monster called MS, and it's been causing trouble for me for the last eleven years. At first I was frightened, but the longer I had to deal with this monster, the more I came to realize that fear was not my only option.

If you run into a monster:

Stare him down. It's like they say - you have to face your fears. You can't run away.

Be strong. Dealing with this condition made me find strength I never knew I had. Just like the horror movie heroine who battles the monster, I got to a point where I just refused to let fear take over. I didn't want this thing to have that much power over me.

Laugh in his face. MS may have ruined some things for me, but I won't let it keep me from enjoying my life. No matter what happens, we need to keep our spirits lifted, laugh often, and appreciate all the good things we have and that are around us.

Whether you have MS or some other monster problem, sometimes you have to overcome your fears and deal with it on your terms. I still get scared sometimes; it's not completely avoidable. But I always try to stay positive, and not let the monster "get" me.

Luckily, when it comes to all the little scary monsters who come to your front door on All Hallows' Eve (the best kind), you just need to give them some candy, and they'll go away.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Little Lost

Sometimes I wish life came with a road map. It's easy to get lost on the journey through life when circumstances change or plans get derailed. You can find you've taken a wrong turn somewhere, and gotten off the main road on the way to your goals.

Or maybe you just feel lost because you don't know how to get out of a difficult situation.

To find our way again, sometimes we may need to:

Reconfirm our destination - Sometimes we may forget what it is we are after. We stray off the path toward our goals and dreams in favor of something else, or we get sidetracked by circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes we need to think about what it was we wanted, what we want now. Maybe our goals need to be re-evaluated, and our destination needs to change, or we just need to figure out a new way to get there.

Be willing to ask for directions. Asking for help isn't always easy, but sometimes we just can't get through something on our own. Reaching out for the help and support of others often yields very positive and surprising results. Sometimes the right advice from the right person is all we need to get back on the right path.

Explore the possibilities - Though we may feel we've lost our way sometimes, that can turn out to be a good thing. We can go exploring and maybe discover some new path to take. That's one of the great things about life - you can change it. You can always choose a new direction, a new goal.

Sometimes you may find you're not lost after all, instead you're right where you should be.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Obstacle Course

Getting around when you have MS can be challenging at times. I never realized how much I took walking for granted until my walking got slower and, occasionally, a little unsteady. These days, with my troubled gait and bothersome fatigue fighting against me, I often feel like getting around in everyday situations is like making my way through an obstacle course.

To keep the fatigue from walking to a minimum, I try to keep it simple, remembering that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Still, there are those times when I have to change course when I'm walking, resulting in extra steps. There can be people or things that I have to go around when I am out and about. Little unexpected roadblocks. Just the other day, I had to walk around two parked bicycles that were blocking my path to the entrance of my local pharmacy. Sometimes I even have to walk around my cats, or step over them. They like to challenge me. I think it's their way of trying to keep me nimble.

Whenever I go somewhere new, I have to keep an eye out for steps, and scope out the parking situation to see how far I'll have to walk. Sometimes handicapped parking is not available, so I recently obtained a cane, which helps a bit with walking greater distances. I am mindful of curbs, or cracks in the pavement. Trip hazards. If I trip these days, I fall. I can't recover from a trip and regain my balance anymore. Another worry I have to contend with is winter travel. Walking through snow and over potentially slippery surfaces is always a concern. A little patch of ice and one wrong move, and down I'll go!

I try to look at getting around and performing daily tasks with my MS symptoms as an adventure. It isn't easy. Sometimes the obstacles I encounter can be frustrating. Maybe my arms get fatigued, and I find myself fighting with food packaging that's difficult to open, or dropping things repeatedly. Or I'm walking through a store, or wherever, and I feel like I just want to scream, "Everyone get out of my way!" But somehow, I get through it.

Life itself is sometimes an obstacle course. We make our way through it, bumping into this problem, or that dilemma. My own personal physical obstacle course has me dodging low energy here, having to take a longer walk there. Things that were once simple to do now require much more effort and attention to detail. Well, without obstacles, I guess life would be pretty boring.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August and Everything After

I decided to borrow the name of a Counting Crows album for this post because it seemed like a fitting title for it. As the month of August winds down and the end of summer draws near, my thoughts turn to the change that is in the air. The cooler days, the leaves turning color. I can already feel the autumn, the way you can sense that someone is standing behind you. I can recall how, as a child, at this time of year I would be anticipating the start of a new school year with a combination of nervousness and excitement.

Sure, it's a drag to have the summer fun end and to have to hunker down at school again, or to start getting ready for the inevitable onset of winter. Or maybe deal with times of uncertainty and feeling blue. But autumn is still a good time of the year.

While there are things to be missed (for now), the fall brings with it its own set of simple pleasures. The flowers may be gone, but they are replaced with the brilliant, colorful fall foliage unfolding and seeing the leaves drop from the trees, and drift slowly to the ground. Going barefoot outside gives way to hearing the crunch of leaves under your feet. I love that sound, as well as the swishing sound of the leaves being raked. And soon my cat will have a whole new pile of crisp, fragrant leaves in which to curl up and nap.

Things will change. It's inevitable. Maybe they will be good, maybe they will be rough. And then maybe they will get better.

Though sometimes we wish we could, we can't stop time from moving forward. Much as we may want to go back in life, to happier days or better times, we can't. We can try to fight it, we can cling to August with all our might, not wanting the summer to end, not wanting things to change. Grabbing every good moment we can and holding on to it for as long as we can.

But August has to end, and we have to move forward. There will be changes, and hopefully, there will be more good moments and happy days.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Wish List for Life

It's an age-old, thought-provoking question - "If you could have one wish, what would it be?" Some might say a million dollars. A child might say a pony.

Of course, one wish is hard to pin down. Like a child making a list for Santa, one could easily fill a sheet of paper with a list of things one dreams of having.

A wish list should be more than just a list of what shiny new toys we'd like, however. At some point, it becomes more about making a wish list for life - a list of the things we'd like to do with the rest of our lives and the way we would like things to be. A list of "wishes" that, in some cases, we just might be able to make come true, without any help from a genie and a magic lamp, if we work hard enough at it.

A wish list can be more of a list of goals, of hopes and dreams we'd like to see realized, a sort of to-do list or motivational tool. Making a "wish list" for life means looking at what needs changing and what we'd like to work toward. A better job, a new house. A million dollars.

I wish I were debt-free. Financial security tops my wish list right now. Sure it is a practical thing, but it can lead to bigger and better things. That's one of my goals right now - to work on the financial situation. And there are still places I wish I could travel to. (Sigh), someday.

Of course there will always be those wishes we'll need a little help with, circumstances we can't bring about on our own. Such as world peace or a better government. There are things I wish I were physically able to do again - like running- that I can't make happen because of my health, but maybe someday that will change.

For some things, we just have to keep on wishing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finding Good Fortune

It's hard to feel fortunate sometimes. When life hits us with problems, or we are brought down by the state of affairs around us, feelings of hopelessness and "woe is me" can begin to creep in. The only way to stay positive is to focus on the good stuff and the things in life that we're fortunate to have.

Even if money and possessions are lacking (and those aren't the most important things anyway), when you take stock of things, fortune can be found in the form of friends and family, and any positive circumstances in your life, like a good job, an opportunity that comes along when you least expect it, or the helping hand that is there just when you need it.

Sometimes we worry too much about the things we don't have, and we feel less fortunate. Every once in a while I feel that way because I have MS and it slows me down. But I consider myself lucky to still be otherwise healthy and strong, despite not being able to walk as fast as I'd like. I've also been fortunate to have caring people around me who have helped me to deal with the troubles this condition has presented me with.

I am fortunate to have great friends, especially my very best friend, who is always there for me. And when I think of all the good things that have come my way in the past, it makes me feel more positive about the future.

It's true what they say - life is a gift. And no matter how down on your luck you may feel, there is always good fortune to be found in your life if you look for it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Happy Mask and Why Sue Heck is an Inspiration

"Now if there's a smile on my face, it's only there trying to fool the public". - Tears of A Clown, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

And the award for Best Actress goes People think I am happy and upbeat, yet nothing could be further from the truth these days. No matter how I seem when others are around, in private I am dealing with tears and panic attacks. Recent financial setbacks have left me feeling pretty gloomy. It's not always easy to keep my happy face on.

Lately, I am often fighting back tears and can't wait to duck into a ladies' room or get back to my car or home so I can have a cry. The good thing is, even though we all have those times when everything seems like it's going wrong, every so often we get a little pick-me-up that can come from simple things like a good moment, a nice gesture, something funny, or something that inspires us. One thing I have found inspiring recently is a character named Sue Heck, the teenage daughter on the sitcom, The Middle.

Sue is always optimistic and positive. She bounces back easily from disappointment. Despite never making any team or getting into any activity she tries out for at school, she never stops trying. She actually did make the cross country team in the season finale, after her mother convinced the school principal to offer a "no-cut" activity. But Sue's own perseverance in showing up and going around the track as required, even after having been injured and having to use crutches, was what really got her the spot on the team. Even in the face of adversity, she never gave up.

Of course, Sue has youth on her side. And then there's the fact that she is a TV character. But we all know someone like Sue in real life. Someone who doesn't let stuff get them down for too long and always looks on the bright side. I wish I could be more like her.

I wish that my happy exterior was real and not just a show I put on for others. I wish I could be optimistic enough to always believe good things will happen, that I will make the team. Well, that everything will work out anyway.

I just hope that I can get through this rough spot and that I won't need the happy mask anymore, because there will be a real smile on my face. Maybe, a little of that Sue Heck positive spirit will rub off on me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Catching Fireflies and Chasing Dreams

I was sitting outside the other night watching the fireflies, recalling how, when I was a child, I used to catch them and put them in a jar. I'd watch the fireflies put on a light show just for me, then let them go flying back out into the darkness.

It got me thinking about not just the simple pleasures of childhood, but also about dreams, and how they change as we get older.

When you are young, it's easy to dream. It is so much easier to see possibilities when you're not confronted with obstacles and harsh realities. When you're a kid, the world is a blank canvas and the future wide open. Sadly, we grow up, and life becomes about work and responsibilities. Reality settles in, and maybe we get disillusioned. Dreams may be given up or put on hold as we deal with all that we have to do and the unexpected things life throws at us.

My dreams now revolve around things like financial stability and comfort. I think about my 'dream' home - a newer house in the outlying suburbs with a huge yard and lots of trees. I still dream of being a writer, though right now I am focused on finding a practical job that I can do despite my MS and that offers good pay.

I still dream of having children, though not as often as I used to. And there are still places I'd like to travel to.

I dream of having all my current problems be gone. Of having my life get easier. Of sitting at a desk in a sun-splashed room with a beautiful view, writing, while occasionally looking up to gaze out the window before deciding to take a break and venture outside.

And maybe spending a summer evening chasing fireflies and catching a dream.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lazy Summer Afternoon

It's a quiet day today. One of those days when you can sit back and do nothing. Just relax and enjoy. I spent a while sitting in the back yard earlier, had a Popsicle, and took some time to be alone with my thoughts. It was nice just being outdoors, observing the little things going on. I watched one of my cats stalk a squirrel; he seemed unfazed by her as he kept on eating the 'squirrel chow' I bought the other day. Meanwhile, the other cat was curled up in a pile of leaves that were raked but not yet picked up (how can I now, when he is enjoying them so much?)

The weather is perfect - warm, but not muggy. A pleasant surprise, since I had thought it was going be much hotter today. Just the right amount of breeze is blowing, gently rustling the leaves. After a cloudy morning, the sun came out. The day lilies are almost ready to bloom, and my new flowers are growing. Well, the ones in the containers anyway. Not sure about the new dianthus I put in the ground, but they are right next to the already established dianthus, so maybe they'll get some encouragement.

A day like today is a good time to reflect. To think about the way things are going, and life in general, and maybe try to see things in a more positive light. To let the ideal weather work its magic on you, and let go of stress for a while. I have had a lot weighing on my mind lately, and for now I am just glad to be here, at this home that I love so much.

One of life's simple pleasures - enjoying some quiet time in your own back yard. It may not be the beach at an island resort, but today, it feels like paradise to me.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Little List

I make lists all the time - shopping lists, to-do lists. It's a necessity for staying organized and remembering stuff. Sometimes I like to make lists just for fun though.

I've been thinking about it lately, and I decided to make a new list I shall call -

"Things I am tired of hearing about":

  • Going green. I care about the planet, and I try to do my part. I recycle, I do what I can to save energy (love those squiggly light bulbs!) But I am sorry, I will not trade my car for a bike, and I won't hang my clothes out to dry. It was fun helping Grandma do that when I was a kid, but I am just too tired these days to drag wet clothes outside.

  • Being frugal. Times may be tough, but some folks are taking the frugality thing to the extreme - planning grocery trips like they are military missions, refusing to buy even the things they need even when they have the money for them, going out of their way to save a dollar. I refuse to live on oatmeal for a month to save money. We all work too hard to drive ourselves crazy over something as simple as shopping. Make a list, cut a few coupons, use common sense, don't overbuy- no big deal. And it's okay to treat yourself once in a while, as long as you don't go crazy.

  • Social networking sites. I joined Facebook a while back, and I have to say, I am not seeing a lot of socializing going on there. Sure there are occasional comments, maybe some updates from the games my friends are playing. I do think it's nice to see old friends again and keep up with your favorite shows or bands or whatever all in one place. But the hiding behind the keyboard 'point and click' mentality of these sites makes me wonder what will happen if I run into one of my Facebook friends in public - will they actually speak to me?

  • Whatever the latest techno gadget is. Don't want it, don't need it, don't care. I am happy with my current PC, television and cell phone; they suit my needs.

  • Texting. Doesn't anybody talk anymore?

  • Video games. When will this era be over? My nephews are too into these things. Kids need to go back to reading books, playing outside, and just plain watching TV for entertainment.

I am sure there are more, but I can't think of them right now. Oh, political 'hot-button' issues, but that is a whole other list!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Beauty of Simple Little Things

They are often taken for granted. They frequently get tossed aside in the midst of our hectic, stressful lives, our purchases of all the things we really don't need but somehow must have, and our constant need for instant gratification.

They are the simple little things. Moments, sights, small gestures of kindness, simple pleasures. Things like going for a walk in the rain and spotting a rainbow, picking flowers, watching fireworks, spending time with loved ones making dinner and just talking about whatever, or playing a game with the kids. All those things that can give you good feelings, and don't cost a thing.

My appreciation for the little things has grown as I've gotten older. I find myself enjoying simple things more, like getting my hands dirty working in the yard, planting flowers, going barefoot at the creek, taking photos, or curling up for a catnap (including cat) on a cold winter day. There are little things that I miss too, like going for long walks, something I don't do now because of the MS. I miss playing outside with my little nephew and being able to give him piggy-back or "airplane" rides.

The simple things are often so pleasantly surprising and refreshingly welcome. I find I'm more appreciative of things like politeness now. I've noticed that people aren't just holding doors for me these days - they're making sure I get in the door okay because they can see I am having trouble. It means a lot when someone goes out of their way to do something that they don't have to.

Taking time to appreciate and enjoy the little things in life renews the spirit. It is amazing how much happiness the simplest of things can give us.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cleaning Up

I had to laugh when I read my horoscope this morning. It said that I should do some serious cleaning up - clean out the closet, car, etc. and get rid of clutter. It said to make room before adding anything new. It also advised me to clean out my mental clutter, such as any useless or silly ideas or preconceptions I've been carrying around. These are exactly the things that I've been preoccupied with lately.

As to the first part of my horoscope - I am trying! I've been plodding through spring cleaning for the past few weeks, drawing on my limited supply of energy to tackle projects indoors and out. I have made some headway, but not as much as I would have liked or been able to back before MS came into my life. I start out working on a task, and soon my body starts to display a lack of willingness to work with me. As I fight against it to finish what I'm doing, the negative thoughts begin to creep in. That's where the second part of my horoscope comes into play.

I haven't been writing as often as I would like lately, as I have been feeling very overwhelmed, not just by the list of tasks I need to complete, but mentally and emotionally overwhelmed as well. Sometimes I feel ill-equipped to deal with things that are going on in my life, or I feel too weary to deal with them. I start to think negatively about things, and maybe even scare myself a little.

I don't know if they qualify as useless or silly ideas, but the negative thoughts don't help, so they should be tossed out. I would like to move forward and get my life cleaned up - it is a real mess right now. I think sometimes we just need to get out from under all the stuff that is bogging us down, physically and mentally. After that, it is just a matter of keeping the mess from building back up again. Cleaning, cleaning, always cleaning.

Sometimes in the midst of all the cleaning, a little rearranging needs to be done, too. That is something I may have to deal with, and I'm not looking forward to it. I don't like having to make big decisions, and I know I may have to do just that. It has to do with my dislike of change I am sure, though there are some changes I would like to make. And of course, as always, I am hopeful that there will be a positive outcome.

As for adding anything new, I think that would be new ideas, new experiences, new thoughts. I sure could use those. Some new positive thoughts would be nice, to get things going. I've been dragging myself down lately, but I am able to turn it around. I somehow always do. The other day I was thinking how tired I am of pulling myself up off the floor (both literally and figuratively), and then it occurred to me that the good thing is at least I can do that. So I know I will continue to do it - and well, why wouldn't I? No one wants to stay down on the floor - especially in this house!

Time to clean out the old and bring in the new - sounds good to me. And maybe once I get the floors clean - a new living room rug!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We say it all the time - "There's no place like home."

Home is the pinnacle of comfort and contentment. It's the place that feels the best after a long day at work, the place we are always glad to return to. To slip off your shoes and be in your own personal space surrounded by your own personal things feels so good. It's the place where you most want to relax and enjoy, to spend time with loved ones. The place you most want to be when you're tired, or sick, or just having a bad day. It's making memories, building a life. It's the family that will always welcome you back, no matter how long you've been away.

I am a homebody by nature. These days, I find I am much more inclined to stay in than to go out. Staying home and watching a movie versus going to the movie theater makes good sense economically, but it is also much more comfortable to be home instead of at a crowded place. I do like to get out and get away from it from time to time, but I am always relieved to get home.

The joys and comforts of home are always there, no matter where you live. They are easily transferable. The aromas of your favorite meals cooking, your favorite chair, the laughter of family and friends, the togetherness. Any place where there is love, support and understanding, can be home.

Some of the loved ones have passed on, and the locations have changed a few times over the years, but home will always be where my heart is. The happy memories of each of the places I've called home will always be precious to me. Even if you don't live there anymore, a home always lives on inside you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Looking for Rays of Hope

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things." - Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

I love how every once in a while, the landscape looks gray and bleak, and then suddenly, the sun breaks through the clouds, making everything bright and pleasant again. It's like Nature's way of giving us hope. Hope that the storm will pass us by, or be a brief one.

Hope is a pretty powerful thing. In dark times, it sustains us. In so many of the things we do, hope always plays a role. We hope we win the game, or that we get something we really want, or that we made the right choice.

Hope can be tricky, though. Sometimes we may be afraid to be too hopeful, because we don't want to see our hopes dashed when things don't work out. Or maybe something happens that gives us hope, and then things go downhill again. We may start to think a situation is hopeless.

Still, we tell each other not to lose hope, to keep hope alive. Because hope is something that we can always have, if we want it.

There is so much wrong in the world, it is good to know that when we look around, we can find lots of things that can give us hope - seeing people helping each other, the cheerful outlook of children, acts of kindness, achievements. Sometimes you have to grab onto those little glimmers of hope that you see, and hold on tight.

Hope is like a gift that is good for all occasions, for all times. "Hope you have a great day", "Hope you get well soon." And of course, the greatest reward, is having our hopes come to be realized.

Hope is indeed a good thing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Appreciating The Humor, Even When The Joke is on You

I was kind of disappointed this month because St. Patrick's Day came and went so fast, I couldn't get my post about good fortune fleshed out in time to write it here. It occurred to me that April Fool's day is nearly upon us, however, and it seemed like the perfect time to write something about humor and laughter.

April Fool's is a holiday for kids (and kids at heart). I don't remember any of the April first pranks from my childhood, but once in a while I'll recall a funny thing that happened in those days. Like the time I had to chase after my two-year-old little sister as she ran naked down our driveway. Or the time my friend and I were in my mom's car waiting for her to come out of a store, and the car started to roll backward. Just remembering my friend frantically trying to get the car door open still cracks me up! (The car stopped, and no one got hurt.)

Little kids' laughter is the best. It sounds so cute, and they will laugh at pretty much anything. Once when I was outside with my nephew (he was three), my cat ran past us and I said, "Look at her go," and "sang" the theme from Bonanza. The kid broke into peals of hysterical laughter, and I couldn't help but laugh as he kept giggling away.

It's easy to laugh when someone falls victim to a prank or does something funny, intentionally or not, but it's important to be able to laugh at oneself as well. In living with MS, it especially helps to be able to make light of the way this condition can affect you.

MS is full of "I meant to do that" moments. Little stumbles, falling over, dropping things. If you are able to laugh at yourself, it shows the world you have a positive attitude.

At my last MS treatment, two other patients and I got to talking about our symptoms and such. I mentioned my walking troubles, and the male patient joked about how he hopes he never gets pulled over and asked to walk a straight line. We talked about how early symptoms can appear, and I mentioned a bout of double vision I had as a kid. "Tequila has that effect on me," he quipped. "Well, this happened when I was six," I said, laughing. It's good when you can find a little humor in something that isn't particularly pleasant to have to deal with.

While it may not be the cure for what ails you, laughter truly is the best medicine. Sometimes, even when I don't feel like laughing, my cat will do something silly, and I'll crack up. Or I turn on my favorite sitcom, just out of habit, knowing that even the show can't make me laugh, I feel so bad. But I end up being wrong. It's so great that we respond naturally to humor by laughing; it's like self-medicating. And afterward, you feel better.

It's funny how some of the best moments in life can have you laughing so hard it makes your belly hurt, and even makes you cry.

Life sometimes plays some mean jokes on us. If we can't laugh at our own expense, at least being able to laugh about something, to distract ourselves for a while from whatever is going wrong in our lives, is just too good an opportunity to let pass us by.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Little Spring in Your Step

I saw a robin a few days ago, and today I noticed the little green shoots popping out of the ground where the bluebells and daffodils will soon be - both signs that spring has arrived!

As winter makes its slow exit, I find myself looking forward to the wonderful fragrance of the lilacs in bloom and being able to leave the windows open all day. Spring means a new beginning. Our spirits are revitalized as the warmer, longer days find us all coming down with spring fever. It's time to enjoy. To put away the heavy coats, and trade boots for sneakers or just bare feet. Soon the grass will be a lush green and the sound of lawnmowers and kids playing will fill the air.

This is the time of year to recharge, and get things done. I've already started my spring cleaning. It feels good to catch up on some of my little projects and get organized.

Spring also seems like a good time to do a little cleanup in other areas besides the home. It's a good time for cleaning out the mental clutter and dealing with any "messy" areas in your life as well. It's hard not to feel a renewed sense of positive energy this time of year. It makes you ready to tackle problems, start a new project or work on self-improvement goals.

Spring is the time for letting go of negative feelings, the winter "discontent" if you will, a time of moving forward with a positive attitude and making new beginnings.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Leave Me Alone! (Spending Time With Yourself)

With all of the ways we can connect with each other these days, and since we can't seem to live without our "phone", it makes you wonder, how can we ever really get time to ourselves? People can track us down wherever we are via phone, text, tweet. Sometimes we just need to get away from it all.

Spending some time alone is essential for contentment and stress relief. We need time to decompress after a hard week at work or just dealing with all of life's little everyday stresses. Having some time to be alone with your thoughts and relax is a must to improve your mood and re-energize yourself. In order to really be alone for a while, you have to:

Remove all distractions. Push everything and everyone away for a while. Okay, I have my house to myself, I have an advantage. There are no kids or husband to send away, but sometimes I just have to let the cats go play outside for a while! Turn off the cell phone and computer. Don't give in to the demands of your ringtone, email, or that stack of bills waiting to be paid.

Find a quiet spot you can have all to yourself, your own personal retreat. It could be as simple as your deck or your bathtub. Just take some time to relax and enjoy your stress-free oasis. I like to put on my favorite music to help me unwind, maybe light some scented candles or do a crossword puzzle.

Getting out of the house and spending time in a place where you can be surrounded by nature are also great stress relievers. I find the park or my backyard are great places to spend time alone and reflect. I also like to just get in the car and go for a drive around my favorite neighborhoods.

Whether you want to hit the mall and do some shopping, treat yourself to lunch at that new cafe, or spend an afternoon wandering through a museum, just make sure you leave the techno-gadget in the car, so you can truly have time to spend with yourself.

The things we need to do won't go anywhere if we go off by ourselves for a while. And just because we have phone and internet we can take everywhere, that doesn't mean we have to.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Embracing Changes

Some of the changes in my life this past decade have not been good ones - like being diagnosed with MS, losing my mother and having to stop working. I am not a big fan of change.

I tend to be set in my ways - sticking to a routine with little variation. Sometimes the predictable makes us feel safe. But it can get boring, and we can find ourselves feeling like we're stuck in a rut and craving a change.

There are times when changes can be frustrating. It's hard to accept changes we didn't decide on and don't want. Your department at work runs like a well-oiled machine, and then there is an upheaval when the people in charge decide to make changes. Or maybe you lose your job altogether.

Sometimes the change can turn out to be a good thing. Maybe being resistant to it is a natural response, but things can still work out. Maybe things at the office could run smoother after all, or a lost job could lead to your getting a better one.

There are always those changes that we welcome. Winter gives way to Spring. Your favorite sports team makes a good trade. I personally can't wait to break open my new box of hair color and get rid of these gray hairs!

Seriously though, I am learning to embrace change. Part of having a positive attitude is seeing the possibility that changes can be good. I am looking forward to doing something new with my life (now that I think I finally know what it is I'd like to do).

Sometimes they are for the worse, sometimes for the better. Sometimes we don't see them coming, and other times we can't wait for them. We wish things would change, or we dread them changing - either way, change is always bound to happen.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Some Thoughts on Being Thankful

I recently made an impromptu list of reasons to be happy (Twenty Reasons to be Happy Right Now). Some of the things I included on that list are things that I am extremely grateful for.

There are times when, I have to admit, I forget how important it is to be thankful. I have those moments when I'm too busy feeling down about things that aren't going that great. But then I bounce back and remind myself that I really do have a lot to be grateful for.

For instance, I might find myself feeling frustrated that I am moving slowly, and no matter what I do, I can't get my body to go any faster. But I know that I really am grateful that I am still on my feet - at least in the physical sense.

When things aren't going the way we'd like, it's easy to fall into a trap of feeling sorry for ourselves. Bad stuff happens and we're ready to throw on a "Life Sucks" t-shirt.

But we know that it really doesn't. No matter what fresh problem life is serving up, there will always be things we can be thankful for. Sometimes you just have to stop and take stock of the things in your life that are good, maybe make a list of all the things that make you feel grateful, like:

The people in your life. The people closest to us, our family and friends, usually top the list. We all have people for whom we can be thankful - people who have touched our lives, made a positive impact. Anyone we know who enriches our lives in some way. For me, my doctor and the nurses who do my treatments are among the people for whom I am most thankful.

Events and Opportunities. Life is full of events to be thankful for. You get the job, you make the team, you meet "the one". Anything good that has happened for us certainly makes the gratitude list. There are always things we can think of that we've been able to do, opportunities we've been fortunate to have, like traveling to a foreign country or going to college, that we can feel grateful for.

Looking around, you can find lots of little things to be thankful for every day. It finally stopped snowing (I can't use that one right now!), gas prices have dropped. Sometimes we can just feel grateful that something good has happened, or things have worked out, either for ourselves or someone else.

What we have. Belongings aren't the most important thing of course, but we can still be grateful for them. Sometimes we take things for granted, or we get caught up in the competition of who has the most or the best toys, instead of being appreciative of the things we have.

Being grateful for what I have for me now includes my physical abilities. When you have MS, you really learn to appreciate being able to do things, especially when some abilities have been lost.

Just getting in touch with your gratitude for all the good things in life can really help you maintain a positive attitude and see good possibilities for the future.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In Praise of Pets

Recently I had to say goodbye to my fourteen year-old yellow tiger cat, Mon Ami. She had been sick for over a year, and it was just time. Still, it was a very difficult decision.

It is always sad when a pet's journey comes to an end. Losing Ami was doubly sad because she had been my mother's cat first, and she helped me through the loss of my mom ten years ago. Perhaps somewhere they are together again, though.

That thought sustains me, along with my funny memories of Ami. Like the time she got stuck in my car all night. I never saw her get in the car, and that night I wondered where she was hanging out. When I opened the car door in the morning, she emerged sleepy-eyed from under the driver's seat. She had a habit of jumping into open cars. That is after all how my mother first met her. She arrived home from work, opened her car door, and a few-months-old Ami jumped in!

I am so glad Ami chose to spend most of her life with my mother and me. She was a wonderful cat.

Our pets add so much to our lives. I can't even begin to imagine not having a pet. I have two cats now, and they never fail to make me smile, no matter how crummy I am feeling. They keep me very busy too, which is a good thing.

I have fond memories of every pet my family ever had. One pet that stands out is a dog my grandparents had when I was little. Her name was Puppy (very creative name). Puppy had a great trick - she'd howl when you asked her, "How does the rooster crow?" I used to love that trick; I thought Puppy was a genius.

There are so many joys of having a pet. The free entertainment of their tricks and silly behavior, the softness of their fur. The slow, rhythmic purr of a contented cat sleeping at your side. The way your dog is always so excited to see you. That unconditional love that, at the end of the day, is so comforting.

Having a pet makes our lives so much richer and more fulfilling, no matter what obstacles we may be faced with. They are always there for us, and they return the love we give to them tenfold.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Positively Charged

We all know how important having a positive attitude is. But sometimes we may find it difficult to maintain that positive attitude when negative circumstances creep into our lives. Setbacks happen, and our positive energy may start to drop.

Sometimes we just need a little "attitude adjustment". We need some sort of spark to energize us and encourage positive thinking.

A positive attitude can get recharged in a variety of ways. It could be something as simple as getting a compliment from someone, or having a good day at work.

I've found there are a lot of little things that can help put me in a more positive frame of mind, like hearing a song I really like, going to a place I like, having a really good talk with someone, a really good dream, or when someone does something nice for me. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes the little things really do help - and they add up.

Other ways to jump start a positive attitude -

Turn to friends and family. The ones who care for us are our biggest supporters. Spend some time together.

Do something fun. Put responsibilities on hold, kick back and recharge.

Get moving. Exercise releases endorphins that give you a natural mood lift and can get the thoughts turning toward the positive.

Clean out the mental clutter. Being weighed down by worries, regrets, or other bad feelings saps your problem-tackling energy. Get 'em out of the way. Talk to someone. Try to shift the focus back to the good stuff in life.

With a positive attitude, you can handle anything.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Twenty Reasons to be Happy Right Now

I have been feeling kind of down lately, so today I decided to come up with a list of twenty reasons to be happy right now. Big or small (the little things are important too), no matter how trite, I wanted to include as much as I could.

  1. The weather's been nice and most of the snow has melted - for now. (Right after I busted my hump shoveling the driveway - isn't that typical:))

  2. I was able to shovel the driveway all by myself. (accomplishment!)

  3. I have two great cats.

  4. I live in a free country - let's hear it for democracy!

  5. I have lost five pounds.

  6. My new shower curtain is here and ready to be put up.

  7. I just ate a Nestle Crunch heart (may have to cancel #5).

  8. I made a donation for earthquake relief in Haiti, and last month I made a donation to the City Mission. Doing a little good makes you feel good.

  9. I have some really great friends.

  10. Oooh - instant message just doinked - Facebook friend request just confirmed.

  11. I finally got transferring pictures from my digital camera onto my computer to work.

  12. I'm not hating the way my hair looks right now.

  13. I have both feet on the ground.

  14. I have two awesome nephews.

  15. I have many fond memories.

  16. I haven't made a lot of mistakes, and the ones I've made I learned from.

  17. My pantry and fridge are full and the kitties have plenty of food - I am ready if we have a blizzard!

  18. I like myself, and I know that others like me.

  19. The world is a beautiful place, and the news has had some very uplifting stories lately - like the rescue in Haiti. Restores your faith in mankind.

  20. I have hope that this year will be great!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

When You Move at a Snail's Pace, But the Rest of the World Doesn't

I am sure I have probably said before that ever since being slowed down by MS, I have noticed more just how fast the rest of the world is moving. A perfect example occurred in the parking lot of my grocery recently. I came out of the store, dragging myself to my car, laboriously pushing my full shopping cart. After what seemed like several minutes, I got to the car, opened the trunk and started putting the bags of groceries in. Then a woman came barreling toward the car parked next to me, also pushing a full cart.

As I stood at my car, slowly placing the bags into the trunk and moving items around to more evenly distribute the weight of those bags, I noticed the woman tossing her bags into her car as if they weighed nothing. Then she sped past me to put her shopping cart in the cart return, like she was practicing for a new TV show called The Great American Grocery Race. She took off as I finally closed the trunk and headed to the cart return (which I was parked next to - a little strategy I use these days.) I kind of jealously glanced at the now empty parking spot on the other side of my car. These days, it just feels like everyone else is racing past me, leaving me standing in their dust.

Oh, swiftly moving society, how I miss walking among you and being able to keep up!

I recently read a letter by a woman with MS in a magazine. She wrote about how she had found a certain joy in being slowed down by MS, that it had given her time to focus on things she loved to do and a greater appreciation for things.

(Sigh) I guess that's a good way of looking at it. I do agree with that. Still, I can't help but miss the days when I could walk briskly, and get more done in a day.

There are times when moving slowly is a good thing. A quiet walk in the park, a leisurely stroll through an art museum. Taking time to take in one's surroundings and really see the beauty of them.

There isn't much to notice or appreciate about a grocery store parking lot. Except how quickly everyone else is moving. And I've realized that the fact that they are rushing about is probably indicative of having lots to do and being stressed out. And it's also made me realize that I probably was stressed out when I was moving at their speed, too.

So for me the joy of moving slower is that it has afforded me a less stressful lifestyle, which is nice. I still wouldn't mind being able to move a little faster when I have errands to get out of the way. But I have found ways to deal with getting things done. I give myself more time now to do them, and I don't overburden myself with my to-do list.

I know I am always going to be envious of the folks who can move faster than I - to a degree. But I do like knowing that I am not under pressure to get things done, and I like that I don't have to race around and I don't feel compelled to jam more stuff to do into my day. I can see the advantages of a slower pace now, and I do appreciate them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter's Good Side

Winter definitely has a bad reputation. And for good reason. Between the snow, ice and relentless cold, it bullies us, ruins our plans, causes damage and often makes us feel depressed.

Yeah, winter can be downright scary, but it can be an enjoyable time of year though. It is after all the only time one can enjoy tobogganing or skiing, or just a good old snowball fight.

Winter isn't easy on me these days because of the MS. I find myself having to go into major survival mode to get through it. Plodding through the snow, brushing off the car, trying to shovel by myself before finally calling in reinforcements - it all gets to be a bit much. But I like to use the strength and determination I have, even in the frigid cold, just to let Old Man Winter and MS know what I think of them and where they both can go!

Depression definitely does set in when the snow piles up, and keeps piling up. But I find that a steaming cup of hot cocoa helps take the edge off, along with the pretty frost patterns on the windows or the sound of neighborhood kids enjoying their "snow day" off school. And of course I don't let the snow stop me from my year-round task of feeding the birds and squirrels!

Winter can be a very trying time, but it does possess a certain beauty in spite of all the obstacles it creates. It's hard not to see it in a perfect snow-covered landscape, or the way the sunlight makes the snow sparkle.

So when I have to shovel a path to get to the birdfeeder, or when I take off my wet boots after having to trudge through the snow, I find myself feeling grateful - for two different reasons- for the opportunity to do these things.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's Resolution Time Again

"Resolution of happiness. Things have been dark for too long." - INXS

This year I resolve to... When a new year begins, we are always compelled to set out to do things differently or to set goals to accomplish during the year.

We always seem to be a work in progress. Wanting each new year to be better than the last. How will we ever catch up to where we want to be? This year is exceptional because for many of us, recent events have set us back, so now we're just trying to get back to where we were before.

The typical New Year's resolution just doesn't seem adequate right now. Sure I want to lose weight, be more fit, but it's just not really high on my priority list. I know what I would like to see change in my life, and I also know that things are pretty complicated. And right now, more than anything, I just want to be happy. I think we all could use some more of that.

Wouldn't it be great to get to the end of a year and say, "There is nothing I want to change this year. I am happy with the way things are"? To have your only resolution be to maintain things?

I think instead of a New Year's resolution, I need a life resolution. Something that will last beyond the scope of this year. It may be harder to stick to, but I think a life resolution could produce better results.

I want to resolve to be happier by enjoying myself more and finding something meaningful and fulfilling to do with my life. It's a pretty tall order I know, but this is a life resolution after all.

This goes beyond the simple getting organized and de-cluttering resolution. When you want to clean up your life, not just your house, it takes a lot more work. There are problems to be addressed, solutions to be researched. Courses of action to be decided.

It's not going to be easy. A major positive attitude is needed to turn things around. And some hopefulness that things will get better for everyone is definitely needed as well. When we're trying to make things happen, sometimes all we can do is hope for the best.

Maybe next year I can resolve to lose twenty pounds.

Happy New Year!