The Luckiest Girl Alive or Dead

I’ve thought a lot lately about how I’m the most fortunate person on earth. I even feel more fortunate than Angelina Jolie because I can leave my house and go out to dinner without getting harassed. I don’t constantly get asked for money or interviews or to save all the children of the world.

As my friend Aaron and I talked about one day after I had been sea kayaking with the whales in Washington, he said, “Do you realize we are among the most fortunate beings to have ever existed?” “Even more so than most kings and queens throughout history because we have the ability to fly over oceans, to see all the landscapes of the world and meet people they never could’ve met.” We have access to more knowledge than ever, the most sophisticated health care that’s ever existed and comforts and freedoms that most societies couldn’t even dream of.

I am a white, attractive enough, educated, middle class female living in the US in 2015. I have my health. I have a beautiful, safe place to live. I have every material comfort I could need. Other than a new dress or pair of shoes every now and then, there is nothing material that I need or even want that I don’t have.

In this country, I have the freedom to educate myself, to date who I want to date, to do or be anything I can dream of and to express myself as I choose. I often felt discriminated against and judged when I was fat, and at times, I’ve felt objectified as a woman. But other than that, I’ve never known what it’s like to experience racism or even gender discrimination. I’m the least likely person to ever be targeted by police, and I think in the work that I’m in, being a woman actually works in my favor.

Most of my beautiful family is still on this earth, and they love and support me in ways that don’t even seem real. When I hear crazy family stories, it’s something that I can’t wrap my head around. My family has no agenda for my life, other than wanting me to be happy. I don’t get lectured or pressured about religion or having babies or getting married or making more money. I can be totally myself with my family, tell them anything without any fear of being judged or criticized. We have fun together, we support each other in our pain and together we try to heal from our past and understand more about each other and this crazy life. My family and our relationship is probably the most amazing gift I could ever be given.

I have meaningful work that pays me well. I’m self-employed, so I have a lot of control over my own schedule. I have enough structure to keep me busy, but I also have plenty of free time to do other things that I love. I don’t get an insane number of e-mails or phone calls everyday. I’m able to leverage my time and assets, so that I can create income for myself even when I’m not actually working. I’m not super wealthy, but I have plenty of money to keep me out of debt, to invest in retirement and to do all the things that I want to do. For the first time in my life, I can say I have more than enough financially.

When I started this blog over three years ago, my mission was to create a peaceful life for myself. And for the most part, it has actually worked. My life is pretty balanced, and I don’t live in a constant state of anxiety anymore. A few years ago, I realized that feeling anxious was my default state, and even though I still get anxious, it’s not my baseline anymore. Granted all or any of this could be taken away from me overnight, but for now my life is pretty simple and peaceful.

As I write this, I’m thinking, “Why would you tell people this when there are so many people struggling and hurting because they don’t have the things that you have?”

But I wanted to write this for two reasons. One is because I want people to know that it’s possible. I want people to know that if you are drowning in debt, battling with addiction, constantly anxious or in chronic pain, that there is hope.

Fifteeen years ago, my family as I knew it was falling apart. I was caught in the throes of an eating disorder. I was severely depressed and afraid nearly all the time. I wanted desperately to have never been born and was grasping for any ounce of hope that would keep me going one tiny step at a time. During that dark time, I couldn’t have believed that anything else was possible. And I’m SO SO grateful that there were a few people who were willing to believe it for me until I could believe it myself. And now I’ve found a way to have a mostly healthy relationship with food and my body, and I’m really happy that I was born. What I believed to be impossible was possible.

I think that we forget to be grateful. We get so caught up in our misery that we forget how amazingly fortunate we are just to have running water and heat in the winter. Here in America, we forget about all the things that are going right. Like the Dalai Lama said when he was here in Birmingham, “Think about all the people that didn’t get murdered today.”

And yet there’s still so much to do. The amount of suffering and pain and violence that happens everyday is unfathomable. Paralyzed by possibility and the amount of need in this world, an infinite number of options is a blessing and a curse. I know I can do anything that’s humanly possible, so then how in the holy hell do I choose.

A second reason I wanted to write this is because I finally get that having most of your ducks in a row never takes the hard out of life.

Because of some personal struggles that I don’t want to write about publicly right now, I’ve felt kind of raw and lost lately because I’ve lost some of my tethers that kept me grounded and gave me a sense of purpose. So I’m in this scary place that I’ve been many times before of trying to find a new normal as I live with the pain of feeling like there’s a giant hole in my being. It’s hard to sleep, and I feel miserable a lot of the time. Many days I struggle with insecurities and self-doubt. Even though I have enough, I can still feel like I’m painfully not enough. I judge myself for all the things that I’m not and all the talents that I don’t have. And relationships are still hard and terribly confusing. I have hope that it won’t always be that way for me, but I’m not sure.

And I feel guilty for being so fortunate. I feel like I should dedicate my life to helping those who don’t have the fortune that I do but I’m afraid to suffer by totally immersing myself in their pain.

I have worked hard to change many of my beliefs that limited me and to make my life what I want it to be, but nothing makes things easy. It’s a terrible realization, but there is some strange freedom in truly knowing that. I no longer live with the illusion that once I achieve x, y, or z, then my life will magically be better. Nothing can change the fact that life is short and scary and mysterious for everybody, and we lose the things we love the most no matter how fortunate we are.

So I just do what I know to do, I keep going. I feel grateful for all that does work. I see the beautiful green trees through my window, the shapes of the leaves, the chipmunk playing in my backyard. I go to dance practice or the gym and get lost in the moment for just a moment. I try to have fun, forget about myself and hold on to perspective by listening to people who are struggling so much more than me. I remember to be kind, to help in the small ways I can, to treat people well. I write about me as truthfully as I can. It may not be enough but I guess it’s a start.

Broken

“Give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light.” – Mumford and Sons

“If you’re going through hell, keep going” – Winston Churchill

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” – Pema Chodron

“We don’t know what’s possible. Our ideas of what’s possible are based on the past.”- Geneen Roth

These are the some of the quotes that have been circulating through my head these days.

This year has been one of change and loss and gut wrenching decisions. And I’m trying to let myself be annihilated so I can better see the indestructible in me.

In every moment, things are dying as others are born. Death gives way to life in the most unexpected and mysterious ways. In the wise words of Semisonic, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

In September of last year, my granddad died of leukemia. I was with him for a good part of his last month on earth, and it was one of the more meaningful experiences of my life. I would swing back and forth between denial that we were actually losing him and sobbing at the thought of life without someone I’d never known life without.

As he got sicker, I watched an innocence and purity emerge from his often hardened exterior. I felt so close to him in those last weeks of his life and could see so much of who I wanted to be in him. Even after retiring a wealthy man, he lived a very simple life. He was one of the most frugal, yet generous people I’ve ever known. He was genuine, loyal and consistent and inspired me to think creatively about how to save and reuse things in fun and meaningful ways. I’ve wanted to write a post that honors him somehow, but every time I’ve tried, it’s felt so inadequate. Maybe I’m able to best honor him by trying to embody those same values in my own life.

As we sat with him by his hospice bed in the living room of my grandparents’ home, I started to feel less afraid of death. Movement was painful, but overall, it seemed to be a peaceful transition. We were all together as we watched him slowly let go of us and life, and being with him through that process, also helped me be able to let go of him. I felt sad for all the people who didn’t have the chance to say goodbye in the way that we did.

As he was dying, people would ask my grandmother if she was going to be ok, which was my greatest concern. And she would say, “Well, I figure I have two choices: to be ok or not. So I’ve decided I’m going to be ok. “

And she has been. I don’t know how someone manages to be ok after losing someone who has been by their side for over 60 years, but through this, I’ve realized that it’s possible. I know that she misses him terribly, but she still finds meaning in her life. She seems to feel peaceful and has found her own strength in learning to do things for herself that he had always taken care of during their life together. Seeing her live through this has helped me believe that it’s possible for me, too.

Around the same time, my dog, Stevie, of 11 years was also getting older and sicker. So not long after losing my grandfather, it was time to go through the same experience with my dog. It was haunting how similar of an experience it was- I watched Stevie slowly decline over the last few months of his life, and I went through all the same stages of denial and grief. And again seeing the life slowly leave him allowed me to see that it was time to let him go. But he had been the only constant being in my daily life for the past eleven years, and on the day he died, I felt like I wanted to die with him. I felt like part of me was missing.

Through both of these experiences, something changed within me. I felt stronger and more capable of facing things I had been terrified to face. As my friend Chalo wrote when Stevie died: “There will never be another Stevie, nor will there ever be another Lauren that loved Stevie. Everything is temporary and for that reason precious.” I’m trying to not let my fear of losing something trap me because ultimately I will lose everything.

But while I’m here, I want to love so hard that it destroys me, knowing that sometimes love means letting go. I want to know the limits of what I’m capable of. I want to love my life, the people in it, this world and myself with all of me. I want to be raw and vulnerable, to take risks and throw myself out there knowing that I don’t always get to control the outcome.

There have been many days in the last 9 months where I was hurting so much that I wasn’t sure I could take it. The temptation to self-destruct, to escape somehow or to find something to numb the pain has been so great. But most days I don’t let myself go there because I know it will only make things worse.

I know that I can’t be fully alive without feeling pain. I want so bad to believe that at some point I’ll have everything together enough to where I won’t ever have to hurt again. But I guess that’s a luxury we don’t get in this complicated, messy life.

So I’m trying to let myself be broken and to feel my way through the dark, knowing that an immeasurable joy and freedom can be found in not running from the brokenness. And in the midst of it all, I feel so grateful for the support and unconditional love that I feel from the people closest to me. I couldn’t do this without them.

The Story of My Life

This week we’re finishing up a major renovation of a 1940’s home in Avondale. Before I started this project, I was feeling desperate to work on a major construction project that involved creativity and benefitted the community in some way. I had taken about a year and half to rest, work less and think about what I really wanted to spend my time doing.

I felt stuck and frustrated at how difficult it had been to get a Passive House project off the ground.

So when Donna Florio approached me to work on this house, I was thrilled. I also imagined that after having spent more time relaxing and meditating, it would be easier to stay balanced while working on the project. I was wrong!!

I was able to still take some time for myself, but this project has been all consuming. All my obsessive-compulsive tendencies were hanging out right below the surface just waiting for an opportunity to shine!

My obsessive need to finish projects and to have things run smoothly is in part what makes me a good project manager, but it’s also what keeps me up at night and keeps me working ‘til 7 and on weekends without any energy or attention left for anything else.

The good thing is that I can do that for a few months at a time and take a break. I love building so, so much, but it’s a world of intense, perpetual stress. I think that unless I am able to magically uncover some coping strategies that I don’t know I have, I won’t be able to do large projects back -to -back indefinitely. But as long as I can work myself to death for a few months and then take a month or two to have fun and be a little more chill, my brain should have a chance to remember how to exist without the adrenaline of constant chaos.

I have also realized (which is probably pretty obvious to most people) that I can’t have 3 careers at the same time. I love interpreting, translating, postural therapy and building, but I can only focus on two at a time and truly do a good job. And I still have so much to learn about all of my professions, so I also need time to keep educating myself.

At the moment, as we finish this project, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude. I’m thankful for all of the amazing workers that have been a part of this. I can’t do my job without good, reliable subcontractors, and the relationship I develop with them and the quality of work they do, just blows me away. When I’m on the jobsite and we’re all working together, it almost feels like vacation because we laugh and joke and learn from each other. It’s so incredibly rewarding to see how much a whole crew of people can get done in one day!

I’m also incredibly grateful for my work at Children’s. It has provided me with stability and flexibility at the same time. I never have to worry about going hungry, but they are so adaptable to my schedule that I’m able to pursue other things that I love. That’s a rare gift in the business world. My world had become a little too one dimensional when I was at the hospital everyday, but now that I’m there part-time, I’m able to appreciate what a wonderful opportunity it is.

I’m also so, so grateful for the internal peace that I’ve found. Even on the most stressful of days when I’m in tears because of all that’s gone wrong, there’s a general undercurrent of peace in my life. Although my spirit is still restless, I love what I’m doing. The one question that remains in my mind is whether or not I’m playing it too safe. My life is so comfortable that I wonder if I should take a giant leap of faith and travel the world or head to a third world country to do more hands on work, even with all my fears about giving up the illusion of security and a retirement plan. But in the meantime, for the first time in my life, I know that I’m doing what I love and what I’m good at.

I think my work life will continue to fluctuate with some combination of oral interpreting, written translating, building, and postural therapy for the moment. And in my free time I want to dance a WHOLE, WHOLE LOT! I want to spend time exploring the outdoors. I want to spend time with my family and close friends. I want to fall asleep at night reading books that inspire me and to write every now and then when I get a chance.

It brings tears to my eyes when I think about how I’ve changed. I still see the stuck places within me, and I want to be willing to open myself more and more to being vulnerable and available for other people. But I no longer feel aggression towards myself. I don’t hate myself or my body anymore. For the most part, I trust myself and know how to listen to what I need. I don’t have a long list of shoulds or ideas about what I ought to be doing to make other people happy. And the luxury of love, freedom, safety, a comfortable bed, and the trees and the birds outside my window is so much more than enough. It’s a dream come true.

I keep hearing the Dalai Lama’s voice saying, “we all the same, you, me, we all same.” I’ve learned to love and accept my own humanity and that allows me to see the humanity within others.

I hadn’t written in a long time, and I think there are many reasons for that. But one of them is that I often wonder if I have anything worth saying. I wonder if I can say anything important that hasn’t already been said a million times. And for every idea or argument that I can come up with, I also imagine the validity of looking at things from a different vantage point than my own. So it’s hard to say anything with certainty when I know there are a hundred other angles that also express the truth.

I also have just been caught up with the idea of living, just living life without feeling like I have to explain it or make sense of it all.

So as I sat down today to finish this blog post, I realized that this blog isn’t about being right or wrong or having flawless theories on life, love, government or race, but it’s just about documenting my experience- the experience of one tiny human being on this planet.

When my grandparents moved out of the house they had lived in for 50 years, I found my great, great grandmothers diary. She had traveled to China and done some amazing things, but that wasn’t what impressed me about her. I just found myself wanting to know her. And the things she wrote about gave me insight into what her story was, who she was as a person and what mattered to her. That’s what I cared about, and I was so grateful that she had put some of that on paper so that I could know her a little and at the same time, understand a little more about where I’d come from. In every person’s unique story, there are experiences that are universal and validating to other people that read them, and there are things that many other people won’t relate to. But I still believe every story is worth telling, which is what I had to remind myself of today.

Hello, Darkness…

“Hello, Darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again…”

I’m headed home from a retreat where I’ve spent the last 6 days, mostly in silence, with 200 people I didn’t know. The retreat was with one of my favorite authors, Geneen Roth. Geneen writes about our relationship to what it’s like to have enough, be it enough food, money or love, and how our beliefs about being enough affect every detail of our lives and relationships. This was my 5th time to go to one of her retreats, and it’s always pretty much like being in hell. It reminds me of when I was ten years old and used to sit for hours in the blue recliner in my living room by myself and eat a whole box of wheat thins while I watched Saved By the Bell reruns. I was terrified of people and barely spoke to anyone, including my family. It was the most miserable time in my life, and something about being at these retreats with a whole bunch of strangers that I can’t talk to makes me feel like I’m right back in that blue recliner.

So you might be wondering why I even go, which I sometimes wonder myself. Why would I spend money and vacation time to go to a place where I feel miserable?

But it is always amazing how it changes me. After 6 days of no cell phone and “exploring my inner self”, I feel like a different person. I realize how much of my precious time and energy is spent scrolling through facebook or e-mail. How at the first sign of discomfort or fear or impatience, I reach for my phone or obsess about money or my weight or my relationship- anything that can distract me from the messiness of being human, from remembering that life, in all its beauty, is also full of pain and loss.

So something about getting in touch with that misery allows me to come home feeling a little more open, a little more willing to experience what I work so hard to avoid. Today I feel more heartbroken than ever, kind of raw and skinless. It’s a scary and welcome feeling. The retreats remind me that all the distractions in my life only keep me from feeling alive because there’s no avoiding the unavoidable, and any pain I feel is still there whether I try and distract myself from it or not.

So as I readjust to life back at home, I continue to work on my commitment to honor myself and the world around me. To let myself be wildly human. To let myself love what I love and to trust my deepest desires. Believing more than ever that freedom is possible.

I continue with the forever process of learning to live authentically, to have the courage to act with integrity and to make the gut-wrenchingly hard choices of acting in my own best interests, in accordance with my deepest beliefs- something that I fall short of everyday and yet am more in touch with than ever.

I want to remember that misery isn’t what my life is made of anymore, while at the same time being willing to explore the dark, scary, miserable parts of myself. Because ignoring them doesn’t make them go away—and owning them allows my life to be richer, more complete and more fulfilling.

Brené Brown says it beautifully in this passage from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage
with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about things that get in the way-especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.

In Jungian circles, shame is often referred to as the swampland of the soul. I’m not suggesting that we wade out into the swamp and set up camp. I’ve done that, and I can tell you that the swampland of the soul is an important place to visit, but you would not want to live there.

What I’m proposing is that we learn how to wade through it. We need to see that standing on the shore and catastrophisizing about what could happen if we talked honestly about our fears is actually more painful than grabbing the hand of a trusted companion and crossing the swamp. And, most important, we need to learn why constantly trying to maintain our footing on the shifting shore as we gaze across to the other side of the swamp- where our worthiness waits for us- is much harder work than trudging across.

So here’s to walking across the swamp together and maybe having a mud fight or two along the way ☺

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Update

I got the results from my MRI last week, and the doc said my brain looked beautiful. So it doesn’t look like I have MS, which was really great news.

I was euphoric for a day until I realized I still felt bad. But feeling awful when you think it’s something that will pass is really different from feeling horrible because your brain is eating away at itself, knowing it will only get worse. Suddenly things felt much more manageable.

I really, really appreciate everyone’s sweet comments and concern. Overall, I’m doing better, but I still don’t know what’s going on. From all the testing I’ve had so far, it doesn’t look like anything serious. My symptoms seem to change everyday- all things that are difficult to describe and quantify- the numbness comes and goes. Sometimes I feel dizzy, nauseated and lightheaded, like I might pass out, and most of the time there’s just an undercurrent of yuck mixed with exhaustion. (I imagine this is how new mothers must feel!) I’m able to function and act pretty normal, but I don’t feel like myself.

I saw an integrative medicine doctor last week whose doing some more testing, and I’ve also been working with a Chiropractor and a wonderful physical therapist who specializes in a type of therapy called Feldenkrais.

I’m trying to live life as normal and avoid the wallowing. I get out and do stuff even if I don’t feel like it- hoping that if I keep doing normal, I’ll keep feeling better.

My diet right now is pretty amazing. I know more about nutrition than I ever have! Every morning I make a smoothie with 5-6 different colored organic fruits, kale or spinach, flax seed, macha green tea and Vitamin B complex. For lunch and dinner, I usually have a salad with a ton of roasted vegetables, pumpkin seeds and some grass fed beef, salmon or tuna. I take Vitamin D3, probiotics and DHA Omega 3 supplements, which is the deep marine algae that the fish eat, making them high in Omega 3’s. I try to go out in the sun for a few minutes every day, and I’ve cut way back on the amount of alcohol I drink. I’m not restricting myself if I want other foods or a drink, but for the most part, I love eating this way.

I’ve always had the tendency to figure things out on my own- to muscle my way through. But I’m so thankful that I haven’t had to do this alone. My family, friends, and Chris have been there without me asking and have supported me in so many ways during this process. From messages to cards to phone calls and flowers, I’ve felt like they’ve carried me. When I was worried about how this could affect me financially, my mom told me to not even let that thought enter my mind. She said, “there are two generations of people willing to help you if you need it. Focus all of your energy on getting better.” She gave me her oh-so expensive Vitamix so I can make superfood smoothies, she’s researched supplements and natural treatments, come to appointments with me, paid for chiropractor appointments.

My dad has called friends and co-workers to ask for their advice, paid for PT appointments. Chris has been there watching me cry and laugh- happy one minute, falling apart the next. My sister calls every day to check on me.

So thank you again for all your support and concern. It means the world to me, and I hope to be back to normal very soon!

I just re-read this excerpt of what I wrote the night before I got my results:

I’m getting the results from my MRI tomorrow – it’s been a long month of waiting. I’ve managed not to go crazy- although for moments I’ve felt incredibly weak and vulnerable- like a child who was scared to be left alone. I’ve found myself dreading the nights- knowing they would be long and sleepless.

But there’s been a lot of that inevitable clichéd good that comes from anything hard.

It’s been a humbling reminder of how important it is to meet myself and other people exactly where they are in their suffering. A reminder of how we never have all the answers. As soon as we think we do, life will quickly remind us that we don’t. And that I need to come back- to come back to now because that’s all we’ve got. I’d kind of been doing it half way. Scrolling facebook while I’m doing my relaxation exercises.

Suffering creates empathy and that empathy along with all that I’m learning about my own body will help me become a better postural therapist as I start working with people.

I’ve had a million questions along the way. Could it be the toxins in the construction materials from my building jobs, or all the crap I ate for a lot of years, an eating disorder in high school- a minor bout with pain killers in college- a tumultuous marriage and divorce, gaining and losing 60 pounds. Talking on my cell phone too much- breathing formaldehyde from the houses I’ve lived in. The GMO ingredients in my food- the fluoride in my water. All the alcohol I’ve drank over the last 5 years.

We live in a pretty toxic world. We pump chemicals into the ground where our food comes from and into the water that we drink. Our buildings are filled with toxins, while we rarely step outside to breathe fresh air.

MS is linked to low Vitamin D levels- if this is MS, could it have been as simple as spending 10 more minutes a day outdoors this past winter?

Who knows- I’ll never know. As much as I would like to.
I would gladly do whatever would make me better, and though I can try and make educated guesses, I’ll never know if I’m spending a lot of energy in vain while I’m missing something that’s important.

It’s frustrating and fascinating at the same time. The mystery of life is maddeningly beautiful.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. If the doctor tells me it’s not MS, I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief and thank God for another chance to take care of myself. If it is, I’ll have good days and bad days. Days where it feels unfair. Days where it just feels like too much of an uphill battle. It will somewhat reinforce the belief I’ve struggled to escape from- which is one wrong move- or a few years of wrong moves can create irreversible consequences.

And other days, I’ll feel grateful for hope- grateful for all the love, support, and community that I’ve found through this. I know it will show me things I never knew about myself.

I know I’ve still got a lot of growing to do, like a friend of mine once said, “here’s another fucking growth opportunity!”

I think I’ve been hoping for a life that doesn’t feel quite so hard or quite so uphill. And if I have MS, it will be harder to imagine that life.

But I know that I will continue to work on creating a peaceful, meaningful existence for myself. And I will gently do the best that I can, which is really all we can ever do. (We just have to hope that our best doesn’t involve anything horribly hurtful or illegal ☺)

Lofty Ambitions

The peaceful life thing was going ok until last Saturday.

I went on a tour of some beautiful downtown lofts and the obsessive, creative construction bug in me was unleashed. By the end of the tour, I felt totally dissatisfied with my life and went on to spend the entire day obsessing about how I wouldn’t feel complete until I had a building downtown that I could turn into some really cool residential spaces.

My head was spinning with thoughts like: who cares about peaceful! Sitting around stretching, writing, getting enough rest- that‘s so boring! Don’t you want fun and excitement?!? Don’t you want to create these awesome spaces so you can impress everyone with how cool and creative you are? Life is more exciting when you’re exhausted.

I feel so important when I can barely fit everything into a day.

I worked out the strategy in my head about how I could get financing- which family members and friends would be willing to invest in the project.

I was so focused on my plan that I barely heard a word Chris said at dinner.

I came home and started researching properties. I let Chris know that he would be living in one of the units I was building and that it would be our weekend hangout place (whether or not he wanted to live there was totally irrelevant).

I imagined how perfect it would be- during the week, I would have my home in Hoover with the birds and view of the trees. Stevie (my dog) would have his backyard to play in. And on the weekend, we would be the cool urbanites that we are, walking to bars and restaurants, sitting on our balcony and people watching.

I was so convinced that this would truly make me happy, and I wouldn’t rest until it happened.

I fell asleep dreaming about our new downtown life.

The next morning I woke up and grabbed one of the books from my nightstand. I have about 5 books by my bed that I affectionately refer to as my bibles (not to offend anyone)-because they ground me when I get so lost in my own head. I’ve read them all at least five or six times, and every time they remind me of what I’ve forgotten.

The one I grabbed this morning is called Appetites by Geneen Roth and the first paragraph I happened to read said this:

“As long as I keep rejecting what I have now in favor of a fantasy of what I think will make me happy, I will be frustrated and in pain. We can accept the way we are or reject it. Rejection takes many forms: shame, an intense focus on self-improvement; the belief that if we left ourselves alone, we would never work, we would never exercise…
Rejection can feel like determination, willpower, relentlessness to change. Fantasizing about a parallel life is a rejection of ourselves, our present lives. ”

Wow! It hit me like a ton of bricks- that’s exactly what I was doing. I was telling myself that my current life wasn’t good enough. Things aren’t ok- you don’t have enough, and YOU aren’t enough.

We get caught up in the if only syndrome- if only I were thin, if only I had a million dollars, if only my partner were more like this, if only I had a partner, husband, baby, THEN I would be happy. As Geneen writes in another one of her books, “We are waiting for the longing to be stilled. We are waiting to give the burden of ourselves away.”

I’m still scared of this moment. I’m still scared of calm and of being trapped in my own life. I don’t always buy into the idea that I can trust myself. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to escape from the burden that I see myself as.

After I read a few pages in my book, Chris and I watched CBS Sunday morning (my favorite show). They always have a sort of in memoriam for famous people that have passed away. I was reminded of how quickly life passes us by- our lives will be gone in a flash.

So I asked myself once again, how do you want to spend your life? In 50 years, what do you want to say you have done? And the answer to that question is never that I want to have lived a stressful life with lots of material success.

The answer is always that I want to have found peace and contentment. I want to have really shown up for the people that I love in my life. And I want to have helped other people believe that peace is possible.

As Pema Chodron said, it’s often not about right or wrong, but rather about asking ourselves, “given that death is certain, but the time of death is unknown, what choice do I want to make?”

So that’s not to say that we don’t have dreams or creative projects that we’re excited about. I would love to renovate a building downtown. I’m really excited about all the wonderful things that are happening in our city. And I want to be a part of it. I just want to hold onto myself in the process. Because if I’m doing it to prove something to myself or to the world, then it will never work. If I don’t already believe that I’m good enough, there is no success or achievement that could convince me otherwise. So thank you Geneen and CBS Sunday Morning for reminding me that I want these endeavors to be an expression of myself, rather than an obsession or a rejection of my current wonderful life.

What About Yo’ Passive House?

I’ve been trying out a new approach to life lately. Instead of imposing my own agenda on life, I’m really taking the time and space to breathe and see what I truly want.

It’s been kind of like having a son and really, really wanting him to be a football star. But all he wants to do is play dress-up. So after agonizing over it for months, you decide to buy him a chest for all of his dress-up clothes and play dress up with him! Because as disappointed as you may be, you realize there’s NOTHING worse than him not being able to be himself.

I reached a point where I couldn’t pressure myself anymore, and I couldn’t imagine living any longer without making my own well-being a priority. Taking care of myself and living according to my own truth is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever found.

Work, travel, money, making other people happy- those are all things that matter to me, but not at the expense of myself.

I still believe in my Passive House dream, and I really want to build it. But I’m letting it happen in its own time, which if I had to guess would be another year or two. Building a house is really fun, but it’s also one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done (especially when it’s done to this standard). And right now I don’t have the energy to start building or to figure out the financing. We’ve finished the preliminary design phase, but I’ve put the final design phase on hold for a few months.

I feel very comfortable, safe and happy where I am, and to quote Kelly Clarkson, I’m just catching my breath.

I’m also working on growing my postural therapy practice, which I LOVE! It’s so fun to have found something I believe in and can share with other people while hopefully making a living (or part of one!) at the same time! Here’s a link to my last post about postural therapy and the Egoscue Method if you’d like to check it out.

Over the last few months, I’ve sort of redefined my priorities, and I’ve discovered that I have about 4 number 1 priorities:

SLEEP- Without at least 7-8 hours of sleep at night, I don’t feel positive about much else.

MOVEMENT- I’m so kinesthetic, and I need time everyday to do my postural therapy exercises and some other type of movement. Usually two hours a day broken up throughout the course of the day is the minimum, more on the weekends. I know that can sound like a lot, but our bodies were made to move a lot! So if I don’t get at least that amount in, it’s not long before I’m grumpy and in pain. And I love to vary what I do- one day I might go to a pilates class, another day I trail run, then I dance around my room or do handstands in the front yard another day. Swimming, biking, hiking or climbing on rocks are some other things I try and throw in the mix. I try to keep it fun and playful and make sure it doesn’t feel like punishment in any way. A lot of times I’ll pretend that I’m a five year old jumping around outside. I used to get discouraged if I didn’t have a gym to go to or people to exercise with, but a lot of times it’s enough just to turn on some music and hop around in my room for 30 minutes.

CONNECTION- I’m an introvert, and I love spending time by myself. But with too much time to myself, I start feeling disconnected from the people in my life. Especially now, since I’ve been making more time for sleep and exercise, I’ve cut out a lot of social activities. But I try to keep that balance because I know it’s really important for me to have fun and stay connected to my community and the people I care about. And it’s great when things overlap, like hiking or dancing with friends, or taking a walk with my sister or boyfriend.

WORK TO MAKE ENOUGH MONEY – This is something that can be very subjective, but for me it means having enough money to be responsible and cover my monthly expenses with enough left over for a modest travel and going out budget and enough to buy fresh, healthy food. What I eat is just as important to me as movement and sleep, and unless I start growing a lot of my own food, buying fresh, organic produce can get a little pricey! But I also see it as a charitable contribution in some ways because I feel like I’m supporting farmers and helping the planet in tiny ways!

There are other priorities that aren’t too far behind these, such as time for writing and creativity. Time for house cleaning and other necessary logistical things. Time to travel, explore, and learn new things!

There’s not a ton of time left over once all these things are done! But if I start to notice one or more priority being compromised on a regular basis, then I’ve gotten too busy! I know that life happens, and if emergencies arise, sick loved ones need my help, or the apocalypse happens, I’m sure these priorities could greatly change. But for now, as a general rule, these four things are crucial to my well-being. And if I can’t take my well being with me to the rest of my life, there’s not much else that makes sense!

An ADD Kind of Life

A friend of mine posted a quote from the Dalai Lama recently:

“The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with ‘success’ as our culture is the set.”

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to reach a certain level of financial success. When I was 20, I planned on being a millionaire by the time I was 30. I’ve been investing and planning business strategies since I was 19, and it’s not because I’ve wanted more material things. I have everything I need materially. I think it’s because I’ve always associated money with freedom.

I thought that if I had a million dollars then I would be totally free. I would never have to depend on anyone or any job ever again. I’m 33 now, and I’m not a millionaire. But by pursuing this financial freedom and success, I’ve kept myself trapped.

I’ve been a prisoner for the last 12 years to my income and insane schedule. I’ve given myself plenty of time to travel and play, but even while I was playing, I never quit pressuring myself. The feeling of not having enough, whether it’s enough money, enough love or enough freedom, follows me wherever I go.

Another one of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama says:

“Man… sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

I know this quote has made the rounds and may even sound a little cliché, but it has definitely been true for me.

There were several nights while I was working on the basement that I felt like I was slowly killing myself. I loved working on the project, and I love working hard. But as I sanded countertops at 1 am, exhausted with lungs full of sawdust, I thought, ‘this pace isn’t sustainable.’ The pace I’ve kept for the last decade isn’t sustainable, and if I do it for another 2 decades, it will probably kill me. If I’m thinking about sustainable building projects and agriculture, I first need to make sure that I’m able to sustain my own health and well-being!

Since I finished the basement, I’ve decided to take 2 days off a week from my work as an interpreter to rest and maybe spend more time writing. In the meantime, I’ve promised myself that I won’t worry about money. The fear comes and goes. When I start to panic, I just remind myself that I won’t starve. My family will feed me if I run out of money; I can always start working more again if I need to, and I’m trying to have a little faith, faith that something unexpected will emerge if I just calm down and stop running.

It’s funny to watch myself on my days off. I start by stretching or meditating, and then my list gets longer and longer with all the things I “should” be doing. Everything from calling a friend or family member, to doing the dishes, to re-painting my whole house. I’ll sit down and meditate for a few minutes, and then I give in and start researching properties in Roebuck or I look up third world countries or organic farms I could volunteer for. It’s funny how crazy our minds are. They really don’t like to be still.

I know there are plenty of people who don’t have the luxury to take this time for themselves. Every situation is so individual, and many people have kids or elderly parents that depend on them-just health insurance alone can be insanely expensive. And a lot of the world is truly just trying to survive.

But I also believe that we often have more choices than we realize. We get so busy doing what we’ve always done that we forget we have a choice. When I work 50 hours a week, I go on autopilot, and I have no energy left to consider other options.

There are plenty of millionaires who feel broke and unhappy, which tells me it’s probably not about the money. When I look back over the last decade, no matter how much money I was making or not making, I saved and invested about the same amount every month. And I spent the rest. In college, I lived on $500/ month, granted I lived at home and my parents covered my insurance, but even without a mortgage and insurance, it feels impossible to live on that amount now. It’s interesting to see how our lifestyles often adapt to our income, so I’m curious to see if by working less, I might just naturally spend less. Or my ego might decide that it wants to prove to me that it can’t be done, and a peaceful life isn’t possible, in which case I could rebel and spend even more! Either way, it should be an interesting experiment.

Deciding to work part-time was a hard decision, but it feels like an important decision. It feels like I’m taking responsibility for my life. By taking more time to be passive, I’m saying that I refuse to be passive about the life I choose for myself. I’m making a commitment to not just complain about the things in my life that I have the power to change.

To quote Omar Khayyam, “this moment is your life.” This dysfunctional, hyperactive, attention- deficit disordered life of mine, is mine, and I really love it! I hope you love yours too!

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A Basement Thank You

The basement’s finished! The last couple of months have consisted of buying materials, working ‘til 1 am, and having nightmares about falling walls and flooding houses. By the end, I was totally sleep deprived and exhausted. The total cost was nearly three times what I had budgeted, but it’s done and was still worth it!

I had a last minute open house last night because a tenant’s possibly moving in at the end of the week. Only a few people could make it out with about 5 hours notice and such dreadful weather, but it was great little intimate gathering!

Now that the craziness is over, I’m hoping to find some normal again! I was excited to work on a creative construction project, but I also wanted to use all the materials I’d been collecting over the years and create a space that would help cover some monthly expenses with its rental income.

Now, I’m trying to resist the urge to jump right into another project and take some time to look at what I might be running from by staying so busy. I’m going to take a day or two a week off work for a while, which kind of terrifies me financially, but I think it’ll work out.

It’s hard to change, especially when things work pretty well! But I know if I keep going like I have been for the last decade, I’ll miss out on a me that would be less tired, more compassionate, and more connected and giving to the people around me.

Check out the photos below. We finished just in time for my dad’s arrival from Seattle, so he had his own private suite for the week!

This venture was a humbling reminder of how hard it can be to do a truly “green” construction project in an efficient manner. For every zero VOC paint or recycled wood that we used, there was a trailer full of trash or a super toxic floor sealer to counteract it!

Here are some of the recycled things we were able to use:

All the cabinets, shelving, cedar trim, and many of the 2x4s used for framing were from remodeling jobs where they were about to be thrown away. We just primed and painted the cabinets and trim, and they worked great! The countertops are old wooden doors from the Habitat Store. We cut them to size, sanded them down and then I used an all in one Minwax brand Stain/ Polyurethane to stain and seal them. All for a total cost of about $20 bucks! I used a black stain on the main countertop and a golden oak on the island.

The kitchen island is made of some wall cabinets that we turned upside down!

The toilet was nearly new, also from a remodeling job and was about to be smashed to pieces.

I left the ceiling and 2 concrete walls exposed, so it saved on materials and labor and also made for a cool industrial feel.

All of the furniture is second hand, except the barstools, most of it I either used as a kid, or it was passed down from my grandparents. The white church pew came out of my grandparents church in Memphis, TN. The steamer trunk in front of the bed went with my great grandmother on a boat to China in the 20s! And the brass bed was my childhood bed that I used to do gymnastics on!

My mom, aunt, and grandmother took some old brightly colored curtains of mine and used them as fabric to make several beautiful pillows and a bench cushion for the church pew. Chris snatched some burlap coffee sacks from the Red Cat coffeehouse, and my mom turned those into some really cool pillows. And the bathmat is made from recycled t-shirts!

This has been such a group effort, and I’m so grateful for all the people who have helped me. I couldn’t have done this without any one of these people, especially in the timeframe I had to finish.

Christopher Davis has been so awesome, patient and helpful with anything I’ve needed along the way. He’s followed me around for countless outings to thrift stores and Lowe’s and put up with my obsessive question asking and list making. He was there to paint, make coffee for the workers and expertly clean off or organize anything that could be cleaned or organized.

Gabriel Villa Rojas is an amazing carpenter and an incredibly talented and generous human being. I have him to thank for many of the materials he salvaged from other jobs. He patiently stood by while I changed my mind countless times on things he had already nailed in place, and the trim work he did really brought everything together. I would recommend him in a heartbeat, so let me know if you need a good carpenter. (It may take him 6 months to get to it because he’s in such high demand, but he’s worth the wait).

Gabriel’s brother, Abel, helped me with all the plumbing, electrical, framing, HVAC work and hauling away of trash; he did a great job!

Ellis Hopkins is a talented concrete artist, who created the sealer with colorant that I used on the concrete floor.

Asdrubal Cruz, Moises Acuna, and Alexander Cruz along with a few other of their workers, would come to my house at 6:00 at night, after their day jobs to help me with all of the painting.

My mom, Beth, and her boyfriend, Carl Cummins, helped clean off furniture, cabinets, ceilings and stairs.

My roommate, Andy, was incredibly flexible and patient with the constant noise of jackhammers, nailguns and saws and with all the moving around of furniture, a chaotic garage and a house full of dust for two months.

So thank you again to everyone, and I hope you like the photos!

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Finishing the Basement

I haven’t been blogging much like crazy this month, but I have been building a basement like crazy. I love it SO much! I don’t know what’s so exciting about building things, but I get giddy and end up spending hours researching products, picking out materials and working on the project.

I decided to finish my basement because, of all the different strategies I’ve dreamed up to reduce my expenses, so far it’s been the thing that’s worked out. I love it partly because it’s on a small enough scale that I can get creative without being totally overwhelmed by the 9 month commitment to build a whole house. And it’s really rewarding to see such concrete progress. Like Friday morning I don’t have walls, but by the afternoon, I did!

I’m hopeful that the rental income from this cool little basement apartment will take some of the financial stress away. Plus I just like creating spaces that I think other people will enjoy! I have fun imagining who might live down there and how they’ll (hopefully) love having access to the backyard and the garage.

I’ve been using as many recycled things as possible, like collecting 2x4s from different projects over the last few years. Some of them have warped, but we’ve still been able to use several of them. Gabriel Rojas (the most awesomest carpenter who’s worked with me on several projects and without whom I probably wouldn’t be in this business) would call me when they were doing demo work for a remodel job and say “hey, we’re about to tear up and throw away these perfectly good cabinets”, or “here’s a brand new toilet that’s about to get thrown away.” So thanks to him I’ve collected several materials over the last couple years to use in the basement. I’ve also got some old radiators from an old building downtown, that I’m going to try and use as a base for a bathroom vanity.

I’ve gotten some black slate on sale for the basement bathroom. I made a trip to Ikea for some light fixtures. And I’m thinking of using old wooden doors from the Habitat for Humanity store to make countertops out of!

Check out the pics below to see some before pictures and the progress we’re making!

When I built the house, I didn’t stub it in for a bathroom because I wasn’t sure where I would want the bathroom to be. So our first step was to rent a jackhammer, break up the concrete, dig down eight inches or so for the plumbing lines and then dig a 3 foot hole to put the tank with the sewage pump in! We laid the plumbing lines, connected them to the sewage tank, filled them with water to test for leaks, and then used bags of concrete to replace what we tore up!

We were then ready to start framing. We’ve nearly finished with the framing, which didn’t take long since most of the space will remain open. Soon we’ll start working to finish up the electrical and plumbing before we sheetrock. I’m hoping to finish up with the whole project sometime in January!