Tag Archives: Thriving

Ideal Conditions for Thriving in Winter

January was a bit of a month.

I’m not even sure why it was rough. It could just be that it’s winter. Whatever the reason, I’ve been more emotional than normal (and, to be clear, I’m normally quite emotional) and I’m tired deep down in my bones. I suspect I’m not the only one.

The challenge has been to take good care of myself without completely hibernating… to nest while also continuing to grow.

I love metaphors. Like, I ADORE them. In these first days of February, I imagine myself as a tulip bulb buried eight inches below the surface and even though we’re in the deepest days of wintertime, I need to continue gathering all of my power for my emergence in Spring. I have faith that Spring will arrive and that means that I need to stay aware, curious, and focussed. At the very core of me, I need to stay green. I need to be ready to push when it’s time.

So I asked myself what conditions I could set in place in order to thrive.

Here’s my list for Winter 2018:
* Eight hours of sleep every night
* A cashmere sweater for both warmth and comfort
* Gentle conversations with Damien and as much laughter as possible
* A gentle soundtrack for my days: Kina Grannis, The Band Joseph, Joni Mitchell’s Blue
* Before I open my eyes each morning, I name the things for which I’m grateful
* The heated floor in our living room
* Saying yes to some work with the amazing teenagers at my former school
* Poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye, nayyirah waheed, Rumi and Mary Oliver
* Moving my body every day
* Looking at things from a new perspective
* Making lists of things to do and things NOT to do
* Writing {which is like breathing for me}
* Podcasts: Rob Bell; The Creative Penn; The CREATE Series
* Deep breaths with an emphasis on the exhale
* Leaving myself lots of time to do things well
* Revisiting Edinburgh + the Isle of Skye through memories and photos
* Upgrading tasks like washing the dishes by listening to music or podcasts
* Connecting with friends over coffee, Korean BBQ, Skype, FB and email
* No drama
* Preparing, little by little, for our move to Karuizawa
* Simplifying. Using less of almost everything.
* Yummy television: The Good Place, iZombie, and Orphan Black
* Declaring my priorities
* Eating more fruits and vegetables
* Doing things even though I’m afraid or anxious or not ready
* Putting my devices away at least an hour before bed
* Wearing bright pink lipstick {Really. It helps.}

I’m thinking good thoughts and looking forward to Spring.

What conditions would help you to have the best possible February? What could you say yes to? Or no to? Go ahead!

Note: This was originally shared as a Sunday Reader. To receive these love letters directly in your mailbox, subscribe here. I’d love to send you these letters. xo

And so we grow our insides like gardens


And so we grow our insides like gardens.

Peonies, camellias, lavender.
Fragrant explosions of wild tenderness,
and joyful dances of starting over.

This is the way I’m growing my garden.

I try not to worry about the weeds.
Spikey non-floral things pop up in all
gardens and I choose not to spend too much
sweet time weeding mine into perfection.

The garden I’ve grown on the inside can
accommodate the lush pinks of roses
{and their thorns} and the audacious
yellows of dandelions as lovely
and as complicated as childhood.

On love and the price of admission

{Photograph by the lovely Kyle Hepp}

My partner is a really lovely person. He’s intelligent, funny, and kind and he possesses many other impressive character traits such as being a good speller. We’ve been together for 17 years.

Every once in a while, however, he does something that makes me absolutely crazy. (Perhaps you can relate!)

He leaves his dirty dishes beside the sink instead of in it. He thinks that our gorgeous teak dining room table is an extension of our filing cabinet – just way easier to use.  The idea of hanging his clothes up after he’s taken them off is completely foreign to him.

Listen, there are more of these little annoyances but I’m not going to list them here because:
a) you and I don’t really know each other very well yet
b) you already get the idea and
c) because he is so lovely that anyone who actually knows us is now thinking (or shouting), “Monna… come on!”

And that (item c) is exactly the point. I’m quite confident that some of my habits and preferences drive him to a place of deep distraction. I sleep in the middle of the bed, no matter how large (or small) that bed is and, apparently, I hog the blankets. Sometimes I think I can read his mind so I’ll tell him exactly what he’s thinking… I am often wrong. I want to plan every trip months in advance even though his preference is to wait and see how he feels as that vacation approaches.

I sincerely believe that many couples let these kinds of issues – the dishes and the blanket-hogging – turn their once-lovely relationships into battlefields. When you spend your energy arguing about this stuff, it is easy to lose sight of your partner as the intelligent, funny and kind person whom you chose to love. The bickering and score keeping makes it increasingly difficult to remember who you were as a couple and you may slip into a state of relationship-amnesia.

Honestly, it occurs to me that some people have affairs for reasons that have very little to do with the age or attractiveness of their partner (or new lover), the quality of the sex or even notions of love/in love… but because they want to be intimate with someone who does not lecture them about how to put the roll of toilet paper on the dispenser.

After a while, talking about toilet paper leads to a fall from grace; it’s the kind of thing that gets you booted out of your own personal Garden of Eden. And when you are expelled from Eden, in the dim-light of relationship-purgatory, it’s impossible to recognize that the small things are small because the relationship is now filled with resentment and bitterness. The partners stops talking and laughing and remembering.

We’ve seen it happen and, since we don’t want it for our relationship, my partner and I practice what Dan Savage calls the price of admission. (Thanks to our friend Jenny for sharing this idea with us!) Savage defines the price of admission as “the personal sacrifices, large and small, that make long-term relationships possible.” (I think this idea is the best thing since nutella.)

In our interpretation of the price of admission, the principle begins with the recognition that both partners are flawed. Deeply so. Repeat after me, “We acknowledge that we are flawed creatures with more baggage than the Hilton.”

It’s not just your partner who is flawed… but also you. (Don’t worry, I also find this part difficult.)

The second understanding of the price of admission is that we are both AMAZING. Not me more than him…not him more than me. We are both talented, interesting and unique souls deserving of love and respect. Nowhere is this more true than within this relationship that we created.

The third understanding is that it is perfectly natural for humans to get on each other’s nerves, especially when they live together in a tiny apartment in Japan. (Wait… that’s just us.) Let me start again… it is perfectly natural for people who have become very familiar with one another to be annoyed by traits and habits that once charmed the pants off them.

The fourth and final understanding is that you must learn how to let most of it go. The price of admission – the price that you willingly pay to be with this lovely person who brings so much to your life, with whom you feel utterly safe and heard and at “home” – is that you do not hold on to the toxic little things that are choking the life out of your love and affection for one another.

When I see my partner’s clothes piled up on the sofa bed, I remind myself, gently, about the fact that I woke up on his side of the bed with my arm across his face. I remember that last night, it was this man who went out to get Chinese take-out even though he was tired and working on his thesis. And I recognize that this is the price of admission.

(I sort of love that this idea is both Buddhist and Capitalist.)

When I recognize a POA moment, I just let myself feel the annoyance… yup, there it is. I let it stay for as long as it wants but I try to sit silently with my annoyance. (The truth is that sometimes it is difficult not to let a little sigh slip out.) Then I take a deep breath and release the crap out of whatever had me by the throat.

Now I have a choice:
1. Hang up the clean clothes and place the clothes he has worn in the hamper. (After the ecstasy, the laundry, right?)
2. Decide that a few clothes on the sofa are actually not that big a deal and walk away
3. Acknowledge that I am not that crazy about this particular task as evidenced by the pile of my clothes on top of my own hamper. (Damn!)

Finally, I thank the universe for sending me this person with whom to share my life. Sometimes I’ll find my partner in his office and kiss him on the forehead… or I’ll turn on the lights so that it is easier for him to read and write.

Although he never mentions it (he’s so much better at taking the high road than I am), I know he’s also been paying the price of admission. The truth is that not talking about toilet paper leaves us with more time to discuss other things… like his thesis, our work, loving each other and planning our next vacation. Not fighting about the little stuff leaves lots of space for love.

*I’d like to make it clear that this price of admission approach does not apply to abusive relationships.

Dreaming of the end of debt

Smile! {Christmas Market in Rome, Italy}

What are you dreaming about today?

Mara at The Mother of all Trips encourages her readers to share their big dreams on Mondays.  My dreams are often about travel but, as I revealed here, our focus this year will be turned inward, towards living a richer life in our home-city of Bangkok.

Today I am dreaming about being completely debt-free by June 2011. By the end of this school year I will have eliminated both my grad school student loan and all of my consumer debt. Seriously!

How, exactly, am I going to do this?

1. Rethink our travel-habit
Although travel is one of the greatest perks of teaching abroad, we have decided that, for one year, we will travel less frequently and that when we do travel, we’ll stay closer to home.  (Thailand is a big and beautiful country!) We’ll also be opting to spend some of our vacations at home in Bangkok; we’re becoming full-time tourists in our own city. Speaking of travel, we have already ear-marked the money we received from our final Spanish tax return as vacation money.

2. Rethink our spending habits
We’ve already begun paying greater attention to how much money we spend ordering in and eating out.  Groceries at our local grocery store are very expensive so it’s probably not a reasonable goal to cook all of our meals at home.  We could, however, spend less money on food by making wiser choices.

3. Pay ourselves first
At the beginning of this school year, I added up my total debt and calculated how much I would need to pay, each month, in order to eradicate my loan and credit card debt by June of 2011. The number is manageable and we can live fairly comfortably on the amount that’s left over each month.  What’s even better is that doing so does not deprive us of our favourite treats… like movies.  I am committed to sticking to my repayment plan.

Although these actions do not constitute a revolution, they are small and important steps towards greater financial freedom. Like most people, I take my financial obligations very seriously but this is the first time in my working life that I have been able to see the light at the end of the debt-tunnel. From time to time, here in this blog-space, I’ll be providing updates about my efforts to eradicate my personal debt.

Long have I fantasized about the day that I am utterly debt-free… when all of the stuff I own is, in fact, my own. In fact, I’ll be throwing a party to celebrate this momentous occasion.  You’re all invited!  Details to follow…

Tell us a money story with a happy ending. What good financial decisions have you made? What strategies have you employed to get your financial house in order?

On Belonging


DP just returned from our neighbourhood grocery store “Super Sol” with the news that he broke a 50 Euro note to pay for 7 euros worth of groceries and the cashier did not flip out. This is big news in our household. He said that he felt like Diane Lane must have felt at the end of “The Tuscan Sun” (the film version) when the old man finally smiles at her after leaving flowers in the vase near her home. What he meant, I think, was that this particular peaceful payment with a 50 has been a long time coming.

Super Sol would be considered, by North American standards, a small grocery store but in Barcelona, it is about as large a grocery store gets. There are three cash registers at the front of the store but the third is only open for about an hour a day when it is SUPER busy. All of the women who work at Super Sol suffer from congenital crankiness. (Please note, here, that I would be crankier than I have the power to describe if my job, for any extended period of time, involved ringing up people’s food items so I am making an observation more than a judgment). As I was saying, these women are wicked-unhappy, a fact I noted on my very first visit to the store… and immediately began to work my best Mexican Spanish mo-jo magic on them. This clever estrategia (strategy) was met with a variety of cashier responses; a couple of the women showed some degree of relief that my tiny North American brain had room for at least 12 Spanish words and that I was not one of those foreigners who spoke ENGLISH only … and LOUDLY!

Okay, I am going to confess here that I still do not get this particular language phenomenon. Do we not still assume that when we go to a FOREIGN country (and I think that’s the key right there… foreign) that not everyone will speak English? I get the global village metaphor… but the earth is actually an enormous planet peopled with billions of people who have absolutely no interest in speaking English. When we visit Spain, for example, do we not assume that most Spaniards are going to prefer speaking Spanish or Catalan or Basque? I realize that I am riding a huge rant-wave here but it is so annoying as a North American in Europe to hear other North Americans asking the simplest questions LOUDLY in English. I would like to suggest that when we travel, we should take a Spanish/English (or Italian/English or French/English) dictionary with us for those moments that we are talking with someone who doesn’t speak any English. (We should assume that this will be much of the time if we are not on a cruise or in Australia). We should make an effort. We are not rock stars and we should definitely make an effort. Europeans REALLY do not like North Americans (Americans really… but if you are a Canadian without your little flag sewn on your knapsack, you are assumed to be an American and you will be judged accordingly) and it’s not all about George Bush, either. We need to get out our little dictionaries and learn the word for milk. (It’s leche). It would be helpful, before leaving home, if we learned 10 key phrases for eating in restaurants and booking a room at a hotel. Of course, it means taking a risk… we risk appearing foolish when we mispronounce words… I am forever putting the accent on the wrong part of the word. Trying to speak a foreign language makes us feel as if we are learning to speak all over again… but my experience is that people in Spain are grateful for the attempt and very few will purposely make you feel small.

Back to Super Sol and my attempts to win the love and approval of the staff with my bad Spanish. One of the cashiers in particular looked like she might prefer if i spoke in English… I can only assume that she speaks Catalan as her first language and has strong feelings about not speaking Spanish. (During Franco’s regime, 1936-1975, the people of this region were prohibited from speaking their language and now, 30 years after Franco’s death, Catalan has never been as popular in this part of Spain and in south eastern France). As the weeks following my arrival wore on, the women at the grocery store softened towards me… I had become a regular and, therefore, part of their Super Sol world.

When DP was getting ready to come to Spain, I made him many lists… lists of DVDs I had brought with me, lists of things to pack, lists of things to buy for me. I neglected, however, to warn him about the Super Sol women. He has fought the good fight, always polite and smiling… and today he was accepted by the fierce women of Super Sol. He is officially, like me, a regular.

One of our colleagues at school lives quite close to us but recently confessed that she never goes to our neighbourhood Super Sol because “the cashiers are so MEAN”… it is no coincidence, I think, that she has never learned any Spanish.

Today was a professional development day at our school. DP and I presented a “Write Traits’ session to 21 of our colleagues… this is about a third of the staff. We explained the history of the six traits, read some examples of great writing, shared rubrics and got the teachers (elementary, middle and high school) assessing student writing and discussing their justifications. It went well and we both felt satisfied with the session. But… wait for it… our colleagues were GLAD GLAD GLAD! If I had a Dr. Seuss-type gift, I would write a stanza here describing their gratitude… I would explain how they complimented the content of the session and our presentation skills… how they said we are a great team. A number of teachers told us that they felt inspired and that they were going to start using the traits in class on Monday. At our little community school in Barcelona the teachers said, “Thank you.” They said, “You taught me something I didn’t know.” They said, “You rocked the house today.”

At the end of the day we had a staff meeting where champagne and cake were served. The cafeteria ladies encouraged us to take some cake home… para llevar (to go). Imagine!

Like many grand old dames, Barcelona is not easy. She can be charming but she is also cold, smelly, crowded, loud, and cranky. Today, DP and I were happy to belong to her.