Connections

649a567e-893d-44f8-8f92-5a4a726f2d09[1]

I did an author reading from my latest book, Shear Murder (Book 4 in the Melanie Hogan mystery series) this past weekend. While it was fun to participate in an author event and hang with other local authors–one of them dear friend Karen Whalen who did an author reading from her new release, Peaches and Creamed, a dinner club murder mystery series–it also left me feeling a little…melancholy.

The event was held at Welcome to the Bookstore, an independent bookstore that has been extremely supportive of independent authors like myself. Welcome to the Bookstore hosted its last event this past Saturday before closing its doors. Like most physical bookstores. This particular bookstore is where I got my start as an author. It was there that I held my very first book signing, met other independent and traditionally published authors, hosted events solo and organized events with other authors. Sometimes people in the community, upon hearing my name, would say, “Hey, I saw your books in the bookstore!” Music to an author’s ears.

Whether it’s books or friendships, it seems we’re losing the physical connection as technology booms. E-books vs physical books. Online shopping vs in-store shopping–including groceries. Text messages vs telephone calls. An extension of that, we have telephone calls vs meeting in person. Facebook vs in person communication. I’m not convinced, however, that convenience isn’t doing more harm than good. It’s enabling people to hide behind a screen instead of getting “out there” and fully connecting with the world.

Trust me when I say there’s no finger-pointing going on here. I’m right there with the “convenience” crowd. I shop for so much of my needs online–with the exception of groceries. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. I want to SEE the produce and other perishables I’m buying. I find it easier and faster to check in with friends and family via text or Facebook rather than pick up the phone or schedule a coffee date. And yet, I’m never as satisfied after a stint on Facebook or text messaging as I am after a coffee date. Nothing quite compares to connecting with friends and family face-to-face.

The bottom line? It’s worth making the effort to slllooowww down in the rat-race of life to support local businesses and nurture relationships. Each day is purely a gift that we have the luxury to savor if we so choose. We never know what the next day may bring. Circumstances change in the blink of an eye.

Today, may you go out and live completely and without abandon. May you recognize each moment for the miracle it is. I challenge you to pick up the phone and call a loved one without hurrying to get off the phone because of something you need to get done. Better yet, I challenge you to call and schedule a coffee or lunch date with a friend. It’s never wasted time to nurture the important relationships in your life.

friends.2

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
— Carl W. Buechner

Simply enjoy life and the great pleasures that come with it. –Karolina Kurkova

 

Welcoming 2019 with Words

2019

In 2015 I joined the My One Word movement. This movement is an opportunity to choose one word that best determines how you would like your life to grow in the coming year. It’s much more realistic to focus on one word for the year than set New Year’s resolutions, only to break them by the end of week two. I admit I still set goals, but those goals circle around my one word. I write out bible verses that address the chosen word(s), and read them frequently.

In the past I’ve chose the words Grace, Love, Listen, Risk, Silence, and Kindness. Being the rebel that I am, this is the second year I’ve chosen two words because I couldn’t decide between them and both are equally important to me and areas in which I desire to grow. Those two words?

  • Mindful.
  • Enough.

Mindful–Being mindful of each moment, each breath, my thoughts, words, and actions. Being mindful of the relationships I choose to nurture and grow, ending those that are toxic. Being mindful of how I spend my time so it’s not frittered away. Being mindful of making each moment count. Being mindful of what I eat, why I eat, when I eat. Being mindful of the words that come out of my mouth, that they may only build others up. And being mindful to love others rather than judge.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

Enough–In November and December I participated in an online bible study with Proverbs 31 on the book Breathe by Pricilla Shirer. It taught me about the importance of Sabbath, how busyness can hold us hostage if we’re not careful and that it’s critical to take time to cease from all activities, to take time to simply stop and breathe. When we’re rushing through the day to cross off our to-do lists and rushing to the next thing, and the next and the next, we’re missing out on enjoying the life we’ve been given. Peace, tranquility, and serenity cannot be found when we’re in a flurry of constant activity. We have to know when enough is enough. It’s important for me to remember that as I am, I am enough, that there is no need to compare myself to others or allow others’ successes to make me feel less than. What I have, I have enough. I have all I need. More only clutters my life so that I don’t see all that I already have. What I do, I do enough, so long as all that I do is done in love. I can say ‘no’ without eloquent explanations and let that be enough. There is no need to continually continue for the sake of staying busy.

God can give you all you need. He will give you more than enough. You will have everything you need for yourselves. And you will have enough left over to give when there is a need.     2 Corinthians 9:8

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.          Proverbs 30:8-9

                 Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.                       – Mother Teresa

Whether you make resolutions, set goals, or participate in the My One Word movement, I wish you great success. Happy 2019!

mindfulness

 

 

 

Gratitude

I’ve written plenty of posts over the years on gratitude. I’ve even authored a book called Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing From Trauma and Discovering Joy in Every Moment, written under pen name Alexandra Benn.

Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing From Trauma and Discovering Joy in Every Moment by [Benn, Alexandra]It’s in large part because of gratitude that I have the life I have today. It’s gotten me through everything from monumental life events to seemingly infinitesimal daily matters. It’s gratitude that has lifted me from the depths of despair and painful moments I couldn’t see my way thorough. It’s gratitude that has carried me through the death of loved ones and fully appreciating my loved ones still with me. It’s gratitude that makes me focus on all that I have instead of desiring that which I don’t.

Gratitude is a state of mind, a decision, a choice. It’s choosing to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. It’s choosing to look at what you have with appreciation and thanks instead of pining for that which you don’t. It doesn’t mean you have to be grateful for pain that hurts beyond anything you’ve ever felt, but I promise you there’s something in that painful mess that you can be grateful for.

Death of a loved one? You can be grateful for the time you had with him/her. For the experiences you shared. For the memories you can cherish.

Victim of a crime? Help other victims of crime and feel gratitude that you’re able to use it for good. It transforms you from victim to victor.

Passed up for the job promotion you worked so hard for? Reach deep to find gratitude that you have a job and that you have the opportunity to try again. In fact, express your happiness for the person who did get it, and you will feel like the winner.

Chronic illness? There’s always someone who’s worse off. I’m not suggesting your illness/pain isn’t real and I’m not diminishing it in any way. (I, too, had a long run with chronic pain in my past with fibromyalgia.) But if you choose to focus on and be grateful for the health you have in other areas, it makes it so much easier to bear.

Gratitude 12.22.18

So all of this being said, it’s this time of year that I love to reflect on the past year(s) and swell with gratitude for all that I have and all that I have accomplished. Every New Year’s Eve I journal these things as a permanent visual reminder of how blessed I am. On those days life is especially hard, when I’m tired and worn, and when it’s hard to see the blessings, I pull that journal page out and review it. And then I’m so grateful for the practice that I’ve cultivated.

What from this past year are you grateful for? 

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. John Milton

 

 

I Found It!

Woo Hoo!

For years I have searched high and low for the perfect planner, as well as the perfect handbag.  I’ve found the planner, the handbag I’m still on the hunt for. As you can probably tell, I’m huge into organization and these two tools are all about making my life so much easier and, well, organized. Sometimes I’ve gone through several planners in a year, unable to find that perfect fit. This one I’ve invested some time in, making sure it’s what I’m looking for. It is, and so much more than I’d hoped for!

What is it?

The Passion Planner!

One of my writer friends introduced me to it. And let me tell you, this is a writer’s dream for planning, organizing, and even writing. IMG_0493

There are pages to jot down immediate, short-term, and long-term goals and space to explore and expand upon game-changers to make your year the best it can be. At the end of each month are pages to reflect upon the month, in journal format, what you’ve accomplished and several questions to help you make the best of the new month, like:

  • What was the most memorable part of t his past month? Describe it.
  • What or who are you especially grateful for this past month?
  • Name three things you can improve on this upcoming month. What concrete actions can you take to work towards these improvements?

There are questions that make you think about what you want to accomplish, such as:

  • What is the biggest goal you would like to accomplish this year?
  • Who or what motivates you most?
  • Write some words of encouragement for yourself to read during hard times.

IMG_0496

There is space to create your passion roadmap, your passion plan, and tips on how to best make it a success. Each weekly layout contains:

  • This Week’s Focus
  • Good Things That Happened
  • Personal To-Do List
  • Work To-Do List, and
  • Space of Infinite Possibility.

There are motivational quotes throughout. And there are plenty of blank pages in the back for notes, story-ideas, plot planning, or to write whatever your heart desires.

IMG_0494

So I can be reminded of the important things daily, the inside cover of mine includes two special reminders, “Right Here. Right Now,” and “Be Someone You Look Up To.” It also includes my Life Verse (Philippians 4:6-8), and My One Word for 2019 (to be revealed later).

Thrilled with my discovery? I couldn’t be more so! I’ve always enjoyed spending time in December to plan the following year. It gives me time to really think things through instead of making rash, off-the-cuff goals that I can’t (and don’t) follow through with. This planner has just made my planning so much easier and more fun!

Do you spend time planning the upcoming year? What is your best/favorite planning tool?

A goal without a plan is just a wish.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. 
― Benjamin Franklin

 

Black Friday

Black Friday

For every person who loves Black Friday, there’s another that dislikes it equally as much. I’m of the latter camp. Shopping and everything that relates to “stuff” is my least favorite part of the Christmas season. I’ll take the lights, the music, the uncomplicated joy of the season well before Thanksgiving–much to my husband’s dismay–but shopping? If I could completely forego it, I would.

REI, one of my favorite stores to browse (it’s the halfway mark of a 30-mile bike ride my husband and I enjoy in permitting weather) closes all of its retail stores on Black Friday so their employees can have the day off to enjoy the outdoors, sharing experiences. Their initiative started the #OptOutside campaign and encouraged others to do the same.

I love this idea!

REI Chief Customer Officer Ben Steele said, “When we started this four years ago, it was that consumerism was spinning out of control, in a frenzy of consumption–I’ve got to have it, I need it, I’ll leave Thanksgiving dinner early to go get it.”

That’s a powerful statement. We spend Thanksgiving grateful for what we have and then get up early the following morning to go buy more.

“Black Friday: Because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” Author Unknown

Many stores have even intruded into Thanksgiving evening to get the shopping started, using messages with a sense of urgency to get people in:

  • Limited Time!
  • Today Only!
  • Act Now!
  • Final Close-Out!
  • Deadline!
  • Offer Expires!

I’m not saying Black Friday is all bad. For some people, the sales are what allows them to purchase gifts for Christmas presents. And some people genuinely enjoy the shopping experience with family and friends. Though I have to admit I’m not one of those people. But what saddens me the most is when people go into debt buying “stuff” they don’t need or even want, simply because it’s on sale. When we buy what’s on sale because it’s “on sale,” we’re not saving money, we’re spending it. Too many times Black Friday leads to Red Saturday with people going into debt.

That being said, the Black Friday scrooge that I may be, sincerely wish everyone a Christmas season filled with family and friends, good health, peace, and experiences that bring you joy.

PeaceJoy

 

What is Minimalism–Really?

The Things You Own

The past couple of years have brought with it a desire to live fully by minimizing not only my possessions, but other areas of my life as well. With that desire came the discovery of The Minimalists. I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and read articles galore and always come out on the other side with a better, deeper understanding of life, happiness and contentment, these leading to a better life.

I’ve learned that minimalism isn’t about depriving oneself of any “thing” or it’s not about getting rid of everything except one utensil, one pair of pants, one shirt, one book…you get the idea. It’s not even about buying the cheapest of something or spending a minimal amount of money. It’s about only buying–or doing–what adds value to yours or someone else’s life. Minimalism keeps me aware of what I’m buying and why I’m buying it; what I’m doing and why I’m doing it; who I’m spending my time with and why.

For me, minimalism has never been about deprivation. Rather, minimalism is about getting rid of life’s excess in favor of the essential.
― Joshua Fields Millburn, A Day in the Life of a Minimalist

New things are always fun, but will it still be fun and add value to your life once the newness wears off? It’s not wrong to buy that new dress, that new car, or even that ATV, just know why you’re buying it. If the reason for the purchase is because so-and-so has one or because you want to look good, there are deeper questions to ask yourself. Such as:

  • Why does it take a new dress (or whatever the purchase would be for you) to make you feel better about yourself? Maybe some time for self-reflection would be a better option.
  • A week from now, a month, or even a year, whatever length of time it takes for the newness to wear off, will the item still add value to your life or just become another useless item on the shelf?

By cutting out the things that don’t add value to your life, you’re making room for those things that do, whether it’s “things,” people, time, etc.

Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less. Rather, we focus on making room for more, more, more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment—and more freedom. It just so happens that clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.
― Joshua Fields Millburn, Minimalism: Essential Essays

One of the men from The Minimalists team packed up all of his things into boxes and for the next several months only unpacked those items he needed for that day. Only a small percentage of things were unpacked at the end of those months. Take some time to ponder what you really use–what things, friendships, activities, etc, you have/do that truly add to your life rather than take away from that which does add value. Take some time to explore minimalism and see what it looks like for you. I believe it looks different for everyone.

Minimalism

Remembering 9-11

9.11

The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom. —Rudy Giuliani

Go forth in Love.