Balance and the Dreaded To-Do List

Our To-Do List hovers nearby, unfulfilled and needy. It keeps us off balance.

Balancing personal needs with a to-do list can feel impossible.

Balancing personal needs with a to-do list can feel impossible.

It’s like a black hole, sucking time away from our personal needs. Each morning brings a day packed with hours, yet by bedtime they’ve evaporated through our fingers, and the list remains.

I might check off a few items, but the list never seems shorter. I could spend all day getting the have-to’s done and still end up with a nagging list just as long as when I started.

This list has supernatural properties.

Here’s the proof:

It unrolls like a magic carpet with no end. For every item we check off, two more appear like the mythological heads of the Hydra.

It manipulates time. Each item takes longer to accomplish than expected.

It has an evil invisible twin. It contains all the have-to’s we didn’t account for that suck up the day.

It absorbs your energy. Just looking at it makes you sink into a chair and hide your head in the crook of your arm.

It swallows creativity. You barely have time to stare at a screen after a long day, much less pursue a fulfilling hobby.

How can we meet our personal needs?

Getting rid of the list won’t work. It regenerates. Instead, we must neutralize its gravitational pull on our lives.

The solution: a delicate balancing act (plus a whole lot of determination).

Book 30-60 minutes each day for you – reserve time in your calendar and treat it like an important meeting, catching a plane, going to a doctor’s appointment, you get the idea. Nobody can touch it. This time slot is all yours. First thing in the morning, tucked in at lunch, whatever, but don’t put it so far off in the day that you fall asleep before it happens.

Resist the list.

Thirty minutes of dedicated “you time” a day for a whole week equals 3 ½ hours (a morning or afternoon work shift). 60 minutes equals 7 hours (close to an entire work shift). Not bad.

Still can’t squeeze it in? Consider itemizing your current down time–is it fulfilling? Trade out some of those minutes for a more meaningful activity. In the end, it’s all about taking care of yourself.

Oh, the things you could do. I’d love to hear your plans!

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The Family Diplomat

Family gatherings.Family word

How do those two words make you feel?

Hopefully great. But if you cringe, you’re in good company, so to speak.

Some families are weighted with a history of tension and issues. Gatherings can be fraught with innuendos and verbal nudges that not everybody appreciates. When we arrive at traditional family gatherings like these, we re-enter the familiar waters, hoping we don’t sink.

But often one person seems to skim over the top of the roiling waves as if on a windsurfing board. They laugh easily, they smooth the rough seas, and everybody looks to them to brighten the event. The family diplomat.

If the family diplomat makes an offhand remark, they’re less likely to be construed in a negative way.

Why is that?

Perhaps they forgive and forget. Maybe they aren’t as sensitive as the rest of us. It’s possible they’re really good at covering their feelings.

The end result is that people are more willing to think better of them.

So a great goal we can set for ourselves is to show our positive regard, no matter how we may or may not feel otherwise. This can influence how we’re seen and how our words and actions are interpreted.

A little expense of positive energy can spark a warm return of happy feelings.

If a person feels your message of positive regard, they’re likely to be more accepting of you. This could make family gatherings feel better. And you could join the windsurfing ranks as a family diplomat instead of sinking again into old habits.

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‘Stocking’ Is A Loaded Word

Every child wants to feel safe, and every child wants to live in a magical world.

Santa Closeup

He’s got a great reputation.

As an adult, I still want that.

We love to feel scared or off balance with notions of danger, as long as we know the threat is imaginary. As adults, we can better separate real from fantasy. But what about young children?

Here’s the premise to a scary story: A stranger watches you during the night when you’re deep asleep. He knows your daily routines. He even knows when you’ve had a bad day, and he keeps a record of your life.

This is bone chilling.

He can slip into your secured home in the middle of the night. He can even make your guard dog quietly welcome him.

You are powerless.

At the very least, you’d call this guy a stalker.

The concept in its raw form is scary! Can we blame young children if they’re afraid of sitting on Santa’s lap?

This guy has an unnerving ability to get into our personal space. Whatever happened to ‘stranger danger’?

Picture this: You’re nine years old, you’re staying up late on Christmas Eve night, hiding behind the couch. The house is silent. Your parents and sister went to bed hours ago. The stockings hang limp from the mantle. It’s one minute until midnight.

Do you really want Santa to slide down that chimney?

If Santa had suddenly appeared before you with his burgeoning bag, filling the room with his belly and his laugh, would you have screamed your head off?

Stocking sounds like stalking.

Coincidence?

Shhh…this part isn’t for the young at heart: when you learned that Santa was a clever disguise for *ahem* someone else, were you secretly relieved?

The magic becomes so fun when you know everything is safe.

I believe each day would be magical if I had no reason to fear and had no worries about this world.

I wish peace, joy, and plenty of magic for our world, one that I hope one day will be safe. What a miracle that would be–the Christmas gift I want in my stocking.

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Emotionally Nutritious Brownies

We’re constantly being told what’s the best kind of food to eat. Food pyramids and food plates offer us nice little illustrations about what’s the best nutritional balance for our bodies.

Brownie

These brownies are still warm from the oven.

But we’re more than our bodies. What about our minds? Our hearts? Our souls?

We need a nutritional diagram for our whole selves.

I suggest we consider a diagram in the form of a food cube. It’s uber dark, shiny on the top and gooey-fudgey in the middle.

It’s called an Emotionally Nutritious Brownie.

A dark, fudgey, triple chocolate, warm passport to bliss. My kind of nutritional plate. One bite, and everything in the world just seems a little bit better. Actually, a lot better.

The odometer on my mixer is in the six figures. I’ve clocked so many hours mixing butter, sugar, cocoa, eggs, vanilla, flour, etc, to form the primordial soup from which life springs: Brownie Batter. Add a helping of heat, and any remaining batter that hasn’t already been savored turns into our essential Emotionally Nutritious Brownie.

Since we are what we eat, let’s aim for emotional balance.

Brownies are the B-vitamins for the soul.

Depending on the kind of day you’re having, you might need more or less of them. For example, a B2 Vitamin might be sufficient on a good day, but bad days might require more, like a B5 Vitamin. Sometimes days are so stressful you might need to aim for the B12, which is the equivalent of a whole pan. So the RDA (Recommended Dark Awesomeness) is dependent on your stress level.

I’m sure the FDA will be interested in this essential addition to the food pyramids and plates. After all, we must consider our whole selves!

What do you consider emotionally nutritious?

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Gifting Gratitude

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. -William Arthur Ward

Saying Thank You

I’m holding onto several gifts that I need to give.

Inspired by the quote above, I’ll ‘present’ them now.

Recently I attended a writer’s conference in Boston. It was a one-day event, and I woke up at 4:15 AM to catch the bus with a friend. We’d been anticipating the day for months. I planned to pitch my manuscript to several literary agents, and I’d been scurrying all week getting organized and ready to present. It’s amazing my family didn’t fire me, because I’d let a few domestic duties lag.

Several occurrences leading up to and during that day left me grateful, and I want to acknowledge those who gifted me:

To Jessie: Thank you for your continued friendship. Our bus ride to and from Boston was full of conversation, support and listening. We never did catch that nap! I value your encouragement and your wonderful feedback.

To Lillian: Thank you for surprising me with your presence at the conference! I had only known you as a person who occasionally checked out my groceries. Now I see your brightness, intelligence, and enthusiasm for writing. I’m looking forward to sharing our mutual interest!

To Janet: Thank you for introducing yourself as we waited to pitch to various agents. You listened to the feedback I’d been receiving from agents, and you offered to listen to my pitch and help me improve it. It made a big difference. I wish you well with your novel too, and I’m glad we exchanged email addresses so we can follow each other’s progress.

To the agents: Thank you for giving up your Saturday to listen to us writers dream our big dreams. Your generous feedback and friendly demeanor are greatly appreciated.

To my fellow writers of the Women’s Fiction Writing Association: When I posted questions on how best to pitch to agents, you shared an abundance of advice and encouragement. You asked me how it went afterward too, and that made me feel thankful to be part of such a warm group.

To Jessica: When you saw my post asking for advice, you offered to video conference with me to practice my pitch. You took time out of a busy visit across the country, merely to help a fellow writer. I will always remember your generosity, and I hope to do the same for someone else one day.

To my husband and children: Thank you for always believing I can fly. Thank you to my daughter Grace who helped me last minute with my pitch and tell me to loosen up.

My heart is full, and I’m grateful.

I would love to hear something that has made you grateful today!

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Defining Family

I’ve always considered Thanksgiving to be the American holiday most closely associated with family. Tradition has bound this day so tightly with routines and expectations that for some it promises a cozy family closeness, while others find it difficult to breathe.

Krista Riccioni - Ringing the Doorbell

Who rings, and who just walks in? Does that define family?

Food Is Only Half Of What’s Served At The Holiday Table

The holiday experience can be a mixed bag. Laughter and dysfunction circulate the dinner table as readily as green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Cousin Joey gets more ribbing than the turkey can provide. “Remember when’s” pour out faster than the gravy Uncle Albert just spilled over Grandma’s heirloom tablecloth. Meanwhile, Mrs. Duncan from next door is just happy to be invited, smiling from her folded metal seat.

From their watchful chairs, the kids wire their brains faster than a master electrician. They’re mapping a path of traditions they’ll be expected to follow every time the skies turn gray and cold.

Traditions Feed Us The Routines And Family Connectivity We Crave

Traditions bind families together. It’s the mooring we seek from our hectic lives, something we regularly anticipate, a reminder that we belong.

Remember Mrs. Duncan from next door, smiling from her folded metal seat? She’s not with her traditional family. What’s her story? We automatically wonder.

We probably feel a measure of pity for her. After all, she’s not with her real family.

Or is she?

Nobody Wants To Watch From The Outside

Real families aren’t always bound by DNA and marriage contracts. Maybe Mrs. Duncan can’t afford to go to her family. Maybe she doesn’t want to. Maybe she no longer has one. A sense of loss might be tucked under that smile, the one that shows hope for happiness.

Is there a Mrs. Duncan at your table this holiday season? Maybe it’s you.

Reach out, share your story, learn about those around you. I hope you find the togetherness you seek, and I truly hope your holiday season is as joyful as you wish!

Who comprises your family this holiday season?

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What’s A Muse?

People talk about their muse, waiting for it to appear and spark inspiration. The motor revs up, and away they go, writing, painting, playing music, or whatever expression they choose. How could they have succeeded without it?

Krista Riccioni - Musing Cat

When she’s not on a lap, our cat often enjoys the view of birds at the feeders just outside the window.

What is this muse?

In classical mythology, the muses were nine daughters of Zeus who presided over various forms of art. These days, a muse can be anything you want.

My Definition of A Muse

muse /myooz/

noun: the magic behind the aha! moments in creating and living

verb: actively searching for the magic

My Personal Muse

variation: mews (this is how mine often appears)

noun: a source of inspiration covered in fur, often found on or near keyboard

For me and my mews, there’s something reassuring about that weight plunking down on my lap that makes me think, “Well, if I could get to my keyboard, I’d write…”

Do you feel your creative inspiration is tied to a muse? If so, what form does it take?

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Fix in Six: The Best Healthy Stress Reducer in Six Minutes

Stress is as much a part of our lives as our shadow, sometimes subtle, other times darkening our path. You can’t bat it away. It’ll stick to you like toilet paper beneath your shoe, really messing up the moment.

Krista Riccioni- books on bench

A good book has a remarkably calming effect.

How We Cope With Stress

Our instant (and natural) response to stress is to find a way to reduce it. But if we can’t reduce it fast enough, we often find ways to comfort ourselves. The problem comes when our comfort measures end up leaving us even more stressed.

“I deserve two scoops of chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce.” Oh no, I don’t fit into my pants!

“I’ve earned buying this nice sweater.” I don’t want to look at my credit card statement.

“I’ll answer that email tomorrow.” I let them down, and now they’re mad at me.

“I’ll bite off this one hangnail, and this other one too…” I’m such a loser.

We All Find Ways to Comfort Ourselves

Okay, first of all, you’re not a loser. You’re normal.

Secondly, we’ve all done something that’s left us feeling worse. Say to yourself, “Okay, that made me feel bad. Next time I’ll do this instead to deal with the stress…”

A Healthier Way To Lower Stress

In 2009, the University of Sussex conducted a study to see what healthy activity lowered stress most effectively.

The researchers looked at various ways to relax, including walking, listening to music, and enjoying a cup of tea. Unsurprisingly, all these activities reduced stress. (I personally feel a morning walk helps me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, as well as physically–let me have my moment, world, and then I’m yours!)

But something else reduced stress even more, with significant relief measured in just six minutes.

Reading.

Even for just six minutes, reading a story reduced stress levels (as measured by heart rate and muscle tension) by 68%.

“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” said Dr. David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist who conducted the study.

Life will wait faithfully while you take a break and escape into a story. Stress will always be there like a shadow, but it doesn’t have to be the world.

How do you cope with stress? Is there a good book you recommend?

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Comfort Zoning Restrictions

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Well, that’s a tall order. I can’t say I’ve always done that. Have you?

Hot Air Balloon

This hot air balloon floated over me on my morning walk. For many, it takes loads of courage to ride in one of these!

For me, the idea of starting a website and a blog was daunting. Talk about putting yourself out there. It’s that haunted house kind of feeling–it’s scary going through it, but you know you’ll survive.

I’ve always loved writing. For me, fitting words together is as satisfying as squeezing warm bread dough (in the rare times I actually do this) or chewing a big caramel. And I thought it’d be fun to share ideas with people who, if I ever have the privilege of meeting in person, could be friends.

Here’s what I love: a rainy day, warm soup, comfy clothes, games with my family, cat on my lap, reading and writing.

But I also love this: experience, strength, growth, satisfaction, confidence, friendships.

Note that the last word is ‘friendships.’ It always seems to end there.

A Recipe To Live By

Here’s a recipe for you:

1 part fear (or hesitation)

1 part willingness to share of yourself

1 part courage (or motivation)

1 opportunity (chef’s choice: learn something new, volunteer, start an exercise routine, etc)

Combine all four ingredients and mix until blended.

Yield: experience, strength, satisfaction, confidence, friendships

Renew with comfort habits, but remember that renewal also comes from discovering more of yourself.

Can you think of something you’ve done out of your comfort zone? Did you develop or renew a friendship from it?

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A Ghastly Poem To Celebrate A Ghostly Night

 

The Splendid Horrors of Trick-Or-Treating

Sadie’s a sadist, Ed is undead,

FaceInLeafPile

This is my son buried in a pile of backyard leaves. Rather spooky, don’t you think?

Paul has been mauled, and Fred has been bled.

Jax drops his ax, Kip finds a whip,

Sue slips a shoe, and Laura unzips.

 

Dogs bark at two-legged cats dashing by,

Stephanie trips on a rolling fake eye.

Glen’s glowstick shines from the storm drain,

Kay just gets apples and starts to complain.

 

Taffy and chocolate, stickers and gum,

Bag’s getting full, don’t want to be done.

Ben wolfs his candy, every last one,

His belly will hurt, it won’t be no fun.

 

Witches and mermaids invading the town,

Lambs holding hands with big killer clowns.

Vampires and ghosts, I’m scared at the sight,

I wish I could do it again every night!

 

Happy Haunting to all!

What are your Halloween plans?

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