A failure begets a lesson

So, I didn't keep up with every day of the Best of '09 Challenge. Obviously, as evidenced by the week-long silence here. Sidetracked by too much contemplation, as usual. Thank goodness Gwen said we could write - or not - as we're inclined! I do feel I've let you and myself down a bit though. And I really don't like that icky guilty feeling.

One thing learned from this Challege was how I stretched big-time in a couple areas this year, while stagnating, perhaps even atrophying, in others. Like the "stretch" was at the expense of all other pursuits, maybe. Has anyone else felt that way this year? If anyone's out there reading this now who's participated in the Best of '09 Challenge, has going back over your year in this way brought about any realizations, that you may not have otherwise had?


I truly believe that some of the things that happen to you in life are a direct result of what you've been ignoring. For example, getting sick when you've been pushing yourself past your limits. A series of clumsiness when you're trying to speed through 40 minutes-worth of activity in just 20. Continually losing things when you're purposely avoiding dealing with an issue. It's life's little way of saying, "Hey! Wake up!"

Therefore I wonder if there's an underlying cause behind my stomachache today, or my disinterest in the upcoming holidays. It's not that I think every illness or bad thing is the result of some superstitious cause & effect. But sometimes, there's this feeling, this intuition, that it's more than an ordinary occurrence. And I do know, that when small things start to feel like yet-another-monumental-obligation in a long string of obligations, it's not a good sign.

I hope to be back here tomorrow, in a better frame of mind. And with some more Best of '09 goodness.



The Year of Getting Back to Basics

Yesterday when I thought over that day's prompt for the Best of 09 Challenge, I was unimpressed by my own choice, at first. It wasn't until I started thinking about today's prompt that I realized why so many of the things I chose over the course of the past year were decidedly un-glamorous. Old stand-bys have a great deal of appeal for me right now, and I'm thinking it might be the same for some of you out there as well. A really bad economy like the one we're going through now makes people rethink some of their choices. Perhaps you'd rather spend your money on something tried and true, rather than risk it on something you potentially won't like.

December 16. Tea of the year. My favorite tea lately has been Lady Gray from Twinings. A perfectly reasonable tea at a reasonable price. It's similar to the familiar and comforting Earl Gray, yet a more delicate variation. Not too strong, nor boring. A tea that you generally can't go wrong with - the kind of dependability that's comforting.

There's been so much written this year about how everyone is worried about their finances this year and how this is ushering in a new era of frugality. Some people have even claimed that the new frugality will last (I don't agree, but that's an opinion for another time). This year I've had to re-learn how to live within my means. This has nothing to do with the economy or job (in)security, this is purely a coincidence... it would have happened regardless of all that. In January I set a target date for getting my own apartment, and it was the only target I hit all year. Nothing was going to get in the way of this target, but, there were some financial compromises that will affect me for a long while.

A bit of advice to anyone who is planning a similar move: if you can stay in your current situation awhile longer, stay & get your debt paid off first. All the way, not just to within a threshold you're comfortable with. Had I waited 5 months and not taken those two short vacations, I'd have paid off my credit card completely and still have some savings. It's pitiful to have to turn down nearly every invitation for dinner, events, drinks, movies, lunch - you name it, if it ain't free I can't afford it.

So about those old stand-bys and living within your means...
December 17. A word or phrase that encapsulates your year. "2009 was about getting back to basics." Because if the first half of the year wasn't about the basics, the second half sure hammered that point home. Be frugal. Plan. Focus. Cut out the excess. Keep, buy, and do only what you absolutely can't be without. Things will get easier someday, but do what you gotta do now, and that will set you up for an even better future.

P.S. Monday I find out my raise for next year (if I even get one). Wish me the best, and I'll be wishing the same for you. I hope everyone out there gets all the prosperity they need and deserve in the next year. Now that would be something worth toasting on Jan. 1!


December 15. Best packaging.

The funny thing about coming from a family that has a tendency to be packrats is that, when you move a lot as we did, you get used to never fully unpacking. Having stuff in boxes in the garage. The things inside are just not essential to your everyday living, and so you leave them boxed to be dealt with later. I had no intention of keeping stuff in boxes after my latest move - I would live as though I planned to stick around for a while.

One of my boxes had some gorgeous porcelain bowls that had never been used. Heck, they'd only left the box they were delivered in once - to be looked at and wrapped right back up in the box for safekeeping through another move. And another. And after this move, I finally unpacked them for good. I remembered exactly what they looked like - delicate turquoise glazing and all - but I'd forgotten that inside their box they'd been wrapped in paper. Not any old packing paper, I'm talking richly textured, seafoam green and flecked with silver, good quality paper. Definitely not the kind of paper you toss aside! The sheets of paper now reside in my collage scrap collection, I know that they will make their way into a piece of artwork someday. One I'll keep for myself, because it matches my bedroom! Now that's a true "gift with purchase".


A rush like flying

December 14. When did you get your best rush of the year?

The best rush - a feeling of total freedom & excitement & a hint of danger - jetskiing! The first time I'd been, and it feels like flying over the water. Ok, maybe we were going really fast :-) We started out by going through the tule grass (tall reeds in the water, there's little channels in the tule that are like mazes out there) and with all the quick twists & turns it was kind of scary for a newbie like me. Then we skied through a bunch of channels, and I had a chance to calm down a bit. By the time we hit the open water of the Delta I was doing just fine!


Playing Catch-up

I've had a busy weekend, helping paint an entire bedroom furniture set in that sort of antiquey-whitewashed look where some of the original wood shows through - you know what I mean, right? I'll try to get a picture when it's finished to show you all. It's been back-breaking work, that's for sure. And I've fallen behind on the Best of '09 Challenge, so trying to play a quick bit of catch-up here.

December 11. The best place.

I wish I had something as poetic as this as a best place. Beautifully done, Gwen Bell.... I think hands-down my best place all year was our Thanksgiving dinner table with my family. With tears of sadness & joy both.

December 12. New food.

Three years ago, once I got over my fear of sushi, I discovered I loved it. Two years ago, I found out how much I liked Thai food. I haven't really gone exploring new food stuff lately. Instead, I've been a little preoccupied with a new intolerance to wheat. It took me a long time to realize that the problem was due to something I was eating, and then a little longer to learn what it was. And it's been months of war: my love for cookies, bread, and pasta vs. my now-sensitive stomach. I'm only just now starting to see these foods differently - seeing the discomfort they'll give me instead of the temporary deliciousness. I have no idea why I've developed this intolerance now, I can only handle the equivalent of 2 pieces of bread in a day, any more than that and I'll be paying for it. So, my "new food" is learning how to adjust my meals to really limit wheat servings.

December 13. What's the best change you made to the place you live?

As I've mentioned before, I moved this year. I'd been living with my parents again to pay off some debt. My brother was living there too, for his own reasons. The four of us living in the same house had become a toxic environment. There's plenty of blame on all sides for us not getting along, and it would take a long time to explain our dysfunctional family dynamics. Suffice it to say that getting into my own place, where my environment is as calm as I can make it, has done me a world of good. (Oh, and my moving had a chain reaction effect on the rest of them too, my brother finally moved out two months later, and my parents are downsizing & moving themselves in a week!)


Best of '09 Challenge - Day 10!

I haven't bought much music this year, even though I really love it. Having very, very little discretionary income to play around with this year, I've been listening to the radio and Pandora a lot more than usual. And I can count the number of singles I bought on two hands! I'm going to have to fudge this one....

December 10 Album of the year. What's rocking your world?

Well, the last album that I bought was The Fame by Lady Gaga. As a digital download, even though I still think CD's have a richer sound than digital... (digital was cheaper). And I bought it just before New Years Eve last year, so that's pretty close to this year, isn't it? It was my favorite album for a little while, until I got sick to death of how much the radio stations overplay her songs on the rotation. But once in a while I'll put the album back on after I hear her on the radio, I've always liked how listening to an album is like listening to a journey.


The year's biggest challenge

Hi there, are any of you feeling as tired as I am right now? Way past time for me to go to bed, even though it's still early - I will never catch up on missed sleep at this rate. Darn you, new neighbors, for slamming doors & being generally noisy every night between midnight & 1 am! To the Challenge, and then I really must retire for the evening.

December 9. Something that really made you grow this year.

Well that of course would be moving out all on my own. Now I have lived with roommates, and my (ex)boyfriend, and a couple of stints of sleeping on my parents living room floor for months at a time when things didn't work out. But I moved just 3 months ago and this is the first time I've lived completely alone. No one else to help out with chores or make sure the fridge is stocked, cook dinner, or get the bills paid. No one to abdicate responsibility to - no, it's a grown-up world and I have to be a grown-up girl now. There is no Prince Charming here, and I have to be strong for myself.



Hmm, my first post in the Best of '09 Challenge was a week ago, and I've managed to post every day so far. Mini-success! I'm glad for such an inspiring Challenge to keep me writing.

December 8 Moment of peace. An hour or a day or a week of solitude. What was the quality of your breath? The state of your mind? How did you get there?

I've had brief moments of peace during attempts to meditate, ones where every care seems to melt away and I feel connected to the source of life & all of existence. These moments are few and far between for me. Probably because I don't try hard or often enough, or when I really need to feel that peace. But I did have a week of near-solitude the very first week of this past January - well, I had a week off from work, ie my day job. Not a vacation, rushing from place to place, more of a "stay-cation". I took the week solely to recoup myself mentally and to have time devoted to working on my artwork.

I got up every day when I was ready, not to rush off to someplace I'd rather not be, but to approach my artwork and meet myself really - to say, what is it that I can do, is this what would make me happy? There answered from within a resounding yes, I could do what means something to me, would be free, would lose the tension I carry with me every day, could be myself. This is when I made the mental switch to thinking of my job as a day job, preparing myself for a time when I can do what I love for a living. The time hasn't come yet, but I relished the taste I got of such a time during that week.


Showing some "blog love"

Would it be totally cheesy if I said the best blog I discovered this year was that of Gwen Bell, originator of this Best of '09 Challenge? If so, I can't help it, it's true!

December 7. That gem of a blog you can't believe you didn't know about until this year.

I only discovered Gwen's blog a few weeks ago, and I can't believe I've been missing out! She has so much wonderful content, and it spans a lot of different subjects. I find each of her posts engaging. She has a feature on the side of her blog, linking to stuff she's read recently online, and if I had more hours in the day I'd follow over to those too, because she has a keen sense of things that are both interesting & informative.

But I really must show a few runners-up. Three to round out the four blogs I now visit on a near-daily basis, time allowing:

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau (I talked about one of his articles here)
White Hot Truth by Danielle LaPorte
& LifeBlazing by Erika Harris

I don't think it's a coincidence that I discovered all of these within a few days of each other... Would that be considered synchronicity, or convergence?

Best Online Class

I almost forgot to post today's part of the Best of '09 Challenge! Tsk tsk... silly me.

December 6. Was there a conference or workshop you attended that was especially beneficial?

I'm not one to attend those kind of things, but I did take a class that I was great. It's called In the Fishbowl: Life As An Artist Online, by Marisa Haedike of Creative Thursday. And yes it was an online course, for artistic types who want to share their creative passion online. Like me! I met a lot of wonderful people and there was a wealth of information shared, and I haven't even had the time to implement a quarter of the knowledge I gained. Which reminds me of how little artwork I've done (let alone shared here) since the class ended. Sigh. I'm looking forward to having the mental energy to do some real work once the craziness known as year-end at my day job is over with.


Wherein I realize I may be getting too old for nightclubs

One of the guidelines of the Best of '09 Challenge is that you can participate or modify at will... If you can't really speak about a "best", you can go with a "worst" for example. I'm going to do that now:

December 5. Did you have a night out with friends or a loved one that rocked your world?

Well, if by "rocked" you mean made me realize that I'm totally over going out, then by all means it was one night out with the girls this summer. The birthday girl wanted to go to a comedy club, and the bar across the street afterwards. Here are some of the highlights of the evening:

- Tequila shots in the parking lot before heading out, easily the best part of the night. It was mostly downhill from there.

- Waiting in line for an hour outside the comedy club because the early show ran over.

- I'm sure you don't want to know this, but the most god-awful stench I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing emanating from the comedy club's restrooms, making the entire upper floor reek. Now think of how long the line can get outside of a ladies' room. I've never seen the line go so quickly.

- The comedian extending the show for us too, a "bad economy special" to thank us all for spending our hard-earned money. The only reason why the night wasn't a total waste.

- Not getting to the bar until an hour before last call, and none of us wanting to get a drink so close to closing time.

- Being sober when surrounded by drunk people totally sucks.

- All the young kids at the bar were weird. I can't believe I consider people in their 20's to be kids now. I only left my 20's behind four years ago!

- Memo to the you, the only cute guy in the place whom I totally ignored after you started to dance with me: Bobbing up & down is not dancing.

I think that about sums it up. I don't remember at which point I realized the bar was lame, but I haven't been back in either a bar or club since then.

P.S. I forgot to mention - you know how girls hate it when someone else wears the same outfit? First time this has happened to me. Picture one of my friends wearing the exact same top as me (in a different color), similar jeans, similar heels, similar jewelry, even similar haircolor because we'd both just dyed it and didn't know the other had too.


I finally got my bookcases!

Which means that I've unpacked a whole lot of books, all that's left to unpack are a few of my crafty items and then I'll be all moved in! (yes, now that I've been here for 3 months). It was nice to see all my old friends that have been boxed up for so long. I love books!

December 4. What book - fiction or non - touched you?

Trying to answer the next Best of '09 question, I got totally stuck. Kept thinking of great books I'd read in the last 2 or 3 years. This year what I've read is either non-fiction books that honestly didn't have much more info than the (much better) ones I'd read the previous year, and my typical sci-fi & vampire paperback fare. Nothing spectacular, I don't even have the Twilight series yet. But then I scanned my bookcase and remembered that I read this one earlier this year:

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It follows the creation of a religious text with paintings inside (a heresy way back in the day) and it's travels throughout hundreds of years. It's a good view into some of the Jewish/Catholic/Muslim tensions through the ages. Long sections of the story are told from the viewpoint of the book's various caretakers at certain points in time. I liked it a lot because of that, and it also reminded me of the movie The Red Violin, which similarly follows the owners of a distinguished violin at various times. That movie's in my top 20 favorites (I always have such a hard time narrowing favorites down to 1 or 2 - why not 10 or 50?).



3 days blogging in a week is far better than I've done in a while. Let's keep on building the momentum with the Best of '09 Challenge, shall we?

December 3 - What's an article that you read that blew you away?

I'd like to preface this with a side-conversation: Does the traditional article mean anything anymore? I mean, the ones published in magazines or newspapers, or other places of "authority". I can't remember any traditional article I've read in the last couple years that stands out for me. Oh, I know I've read them. They just don't strike a chord with me anymore, the way that things I read on the internet do. And by internet of course I mean blogs not the websites of the "establishment". In this day and age anyone who blogs, facebooks, tweets, etc, can consider themselves a "publisher" can't they? After all they are making content available for others to read.

Ok, moving on.

The *best* article I read this year was How To Conduct Your Own Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau. (You can also find him here. I think I will find him there soon. Twitter, I think you will have another convert coming your way before too long - me!) I've read plenty of stuff about setting goals, so you can get to your dreams, blah blah blah... but when I read his article I suddenly got it. Like, it's not all about looking at the list of stuff you're failing to complete with every second of every day and feeling like utterly miserable. I love how he starts the next year's goal-planning by recognizing what went well this year. Kind of like how I feel like 2009 wasn't so great, but participating in the Best of '09 Challenge here is reminding me that there was lots of good stuff along with the bad. Plus, the spreadsheet he gives for tracking goals & projects is right up my alley (I'm an Excel freak, I admit it).

I think the reason this is the article I consider the best is because it touches on so much of what I'm going through in my life right now. What do I really want out of life and how the heck do I get there, because what I'm doing now sure isn't working for me. This article hit me like a flash. I cannot wait to do my own annual review at the end of this year... Thanks, Chris, for reminding us all that it's ok to want want to live unconventional, remarkable lives!


Senses: Sight vs. Taste

I'm back for Day 2 of the Best of '09 Challenge! Go here if you're interested in joining in the fun.

December 2 - Best Restaurant Moment

My most memorable restaurant experience this year happened in a small, pub-type restaurant in San Luis Obispo, CA, that I can't even remember the name of or what the food was like. I was on a trip to the area with my cousin and we just happened in there because, well, it was about lunchtime and we were hungry. But the memory has nothing to do with the restaurant really - I have to start with the college kids we saw hanging out down the block before we decided to stop in. They were carrying on and looked a bit odd from the distance. After we were seated inside and had given our orders, the same kids come into the place. With 70's-era work clothes, funky wigs on, a camera following their every move, and a mixture of rehearsed lines and impromptu antics.

Action! They proceeded to sit at the table next to us for the next 20 minutes, pretending to have conversations with each other - yes, they really were lip-syncing the conversations! - and my cousin & I spent the next half an hour pretending not to stare at them & wondering what their film-in-the-making was supposed to be about.

I guess you could say Sight won that round (nothing unusual to me!)


Best of 2009 Challenge - Day 1

I've recently discovered a few blogs that I absolutely adore for the motivation & positivity they inspire. One of them is by Gwen Bell, and she's got this awesome Best of 2009 Challenge going for the month of December. There's a great prompt for each day, all you've gotta do to join in is post. Whenever you choose, via blog, Twitter, etc. Sounded like lots of fun to play along, so I'll try post each day if I can. (Hey, it's even inspiring me to check out what this whole Twitter thing is about anyways.)

December 1 - What was your best trip of 2009?

Without a doubt, girl's weekend in Arizona in the middle of July. I know, a hot place in the middle of summer? But hey I like the heat, not to mention the excuse to wear very short shorts. And, it was stunningly gorgeous in Sedona where we stayed. Who knew rocks could be so awe-inspiring?

We also took a day-trip over to the Grand Canyon. All I can say is, no picture could ever do it justice. Wow. I couldn't stop staring. I have no idea how some people can hike all the way down to the bottom - let along hike back up! - it's so vast. I would have walked all around the rim trails - the ones safely at the top - if it had been up to me (due to some health issues with other ladies in our group, we took the shuttles around.)

But aside from the beauty of nature, what stood out the most for me was the energy. I'm not known for being an energetic person. For some reason, I felt more alive & energetic there than I can remember feeling in a long time. I just wanted to go, and keep going, and do and see more.

I love that feeling!