Your First Time Here?

Welcome to My Pleasant Places! Not sure where to get started? You might want to visit the About page to learn the premise of the blog and a little about the author. After that, you might enjoy the Start Here page to check out some of the most popular posts and get a feel for what is written about and valued at MPP. Finally, if you’re looking for help and encouragement in changing some aspect of your life, you’ll definitely want to read the posts on the 30-Day Challenge page.

If you like what you see, subscribe to receive new posts in your email inbox and click the Facebook “like” button to read the MPP daily tips for personal development on Facebook (see sidebar to the right).

Again, welcome to My Pleasant Places. I’m glad you’re here! :)

Posted in Announcement | Leave a comment

Reviewing Your Month

Reviewing Your Month On the last day of 2012, I wrote a post that capsulized my year (A Look Back). Something about writing that post was motivational for me. It gave me a “big picture” look at my year and revealed some of the true values in my life (values that I had actually lived and not just talked about), and it helped reinforce in my mind what is really important. It was therapeutic. (And if you’ve read My Pleasant Places very much, you know that I simply must add here, “…or as Barney Fife would say, it was therapedic.” Don’t know who Barney Fife is? I’m sorry to hear that. Please visit this link, watch the first video I have posted there [there are a total of three videos in that post]. You’ll never be the same. )

I wanted to write the same kind of post for 2013, and that’s when I discovered something: I could only remember emotion-laden situations and major events–and that only by reviewing a calendar. I knew there was more to my life than just “events,” and I was  disappointed that I couldn’t recall them and record the personal impact they had on me. I suppose I could have re-read my journal for the entire year, but that kind of defeats the idea of “capsulizing.” It would have taken far too long.

This regret must have lain silent–but not dormant–in my brain throughout the month of January of this year, because on the last day of the month, I did something unusual. Rather than tell you about it, I will instead show it to you–a snippet from my journal. I will ‘fess up that I have been very thorough about purging names and very personal information from this journal post. But that’s OK. The point is to share my  brainstorm with you and possibly pass on a  template that you, too, can use as a tool to track the course of your life, learn from mistakes and successes, and stay on course with your own goals and ambitions.

So here goes. Straight from my journal (though edited for public consumption). Some explanatory notes are added in brackets.

Monthly Highlights – January

At the end of last year, I started thinking back over 2013 and revisiting the highlights of the year. The things that stood out were the obvious highlights such as the trip with Hudson to the Redwoods, the birth of a new grandbaby and some negative “family drama” that darkly colored the latter part of my year. But I knew there were other “highlights” that were not coming to mind simply because they weren’t of the same emotional magnitude as those events.

This year, I would like to help jar my memory by looking back at the end of each month and recap the highlights of that particular month. At the end of the year, it should be easy enough to compile those monthly highlights into an overview of the entire year.

Why would I want to do this? I don’t know. Maybe just to be sure that there are meaningful things going on in my life all the time. Maybe to remember things of importance that slip the fragile memory. Maybe to give more weight to the events, highlights, emphases and people that are really the most important but have a tendency to take a back seat to the more “glamorous” memories (like vacations, beautiful sights and expensive events) or more emotional  memories (like “drama”).

So, without further ado, following are some of my “highlights” from January 2014 (good and bad):

  • The weather – This month has been characterized by seriously cold weather, especially for a southern gal like myself. There were numerous mornings I got up to single-digit temps, and some negative temps! We have had snow on several occasions and ice–but thankfully, we never lost power.
  • The people – As I wrote in an early-January entry, my focus for this season is people. I want to be more people-centered, more others-focused. I want to be very conscious not to isolate myself at my desk just working on the computer all day. I found myself feeling sad–even depressed–regarding the family drama going on, and I realized that I needed to get amongst people more. I needed to “get out of myself” more! So, with that goal in mind, I actually started recording on a calendar the interactions (social and ministry-related) I had with others. Out of the 31 days in January, there were only 7 days that I did not have some qualifying interaction [I created my own qualifiers]. On a social level, we (or maybe just me) had meals with [and here I listed 14 different people/couples/groups that we either had to our home or went out to eat with]. I had “ministry/counseling” meetings with [here I named six different individuals or groups]. I attended an office party with my realtor colleagues. We took Willow [granddaughter] on a special “date” to see The Book Thief (movie), went to Elliott’s [grandson] birthday party, went to both Bearsey’s and Sheppy’s first ballgames [grandsons], and as of tonight, I will be helping to coach Sheppy’s team.
  • Personal Drama – This is obviously not a “happy highlight” in my month. But it is a major life event for me. It pains me to even write about this. My heart gets heavy just thinking about it. I’ll move on. [I'm sure it is obvious to you that I have seriously edited this portion, but I wanted to include a sentence or two to show you how I have included the negative along with the positive. I think it is necessary to do this to present a true picture of life. Otherwise, our journals start to look like the happily-ever-after facades people post on Facebook!]
  • Community Celebration Night – This is an annual TC event [my church], and it is wonderful every year, but this year seemed particularly special. We were entertained by various TCers (and were quite surprised by some of the talent), and at the end, we joined together in awesome worship. It was an incredible evening. My words cannot capture what was imparted. All I can say was it was definitely a highlight of the entire year, and I want to record it here so that when I am mentally reviewing my year later on, I will remember how beautiful it was when we brothers and sisters met together in unity that night.
  • Anonymous Couple [name withheld for obvious reasons] – I mention this here, not because I already feel the “highlightness” of this relationship, but because I am certain that this will be a highlight this year. This is a relationship that has been ordained; we have been “sent” into their lives, and they have been “sent” to us. This is going to be a fruitful relationship for all of us.
  • Arc of Empires – I read this book before the new year, and then I read it again this month, taking copious notes. The book has deeply impacted me, and I will be teaching from it in Chayil [monthly women's meeting]. It has given me greater sight of the Finish and great hope and faith. I do not want to forget this impact.
  • Anonymous Real Estate Client – I have worked for seven or eight months on this real estate deal that will finally close today. There have been ups and downs. I have learned much about commercial real estate and much about myself. [Again, for obvious reasons, I have edited this point. However, I wanted to include a little to show how I included business-related items in the monthly summary.]
  • Food – I will end on this “frivolous” point. Besides the people emphasis, another focus in my life this season is food–eating the right foods and cooking. I didn’t realize this would turn out to be such a big thing when I began. I simply planned to eat better (fresher) to try to lower my cholesterol naturally. In the process, I found that I enjoyed all that chopping and mincing and taking pictures of my colorful salads [for GymPact; see An Amazing Tool for Lifestyle-Change Goals]. As I have progressed throughout the month, I see my food choices devolving a little (with all the entertaining, I am cooking–and eating–richer foods). However, I feel that I have still made progress, and I trust that this correct emphasis will now carry on into February. A testament to my new “hobby” is the fact that I splurged on a nice set of kitchen knives this month. Who woulda thunk?! [See Confessions of a Lazy Cook for the back story on the kitchen knives. Be sure to read the comments, too.]

Can you see that this single journal entry gives a true “slice of life” summary for me personally for that month? It touches on current goals (not being isolated and eating healthily), my business, the joys, the sorrows, key interactions, and even the weather and what I read.

On a practical level, the real value of this post for me was to ensure that I was staying on course with my goals. It’s one thing to say I want to be more people-centered, less isolated; it’s another to actually do it. Taking the steps to, first of all, record my interactions (see Record Your Progress) and then, secondly, to follow up with this simple monthly review helped me to step back and gain clearer focus of how I was doing—and to make sure I was actually doing it! Was my strategy working? Was I still feeling sad consistently? Did I feel more connected to others and less isolated? Was intentionally being around people more often making a difference? If not, then this review was the perfect opportunity to tweak my strategy–or to seek input from someone more objective.

I also expect that at the end of the year I will find these monthly summaries to be very helpful in seeing life from an even broader perspective. And they will help me chart the course for the upcoming new year.

I am sharing this concept with you now–well into the year–so that if the idea appeals to you, you can get started right away. As you journal your thoughts throughout the month, you will have fodder for a good summary at the end of the month. And don’t forget to include pictures!

Have you ever written a monthly summary or an end-of-the-year summary? If so, did you find it beneficial? Please share your experience in the comments.

Photo compliments of athena. via Compfight

Posted in Journaling, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Another Life Lesson from Running

My Running StoryIt has been COLD in my part of the world for the past few months. Record-breaking cold. Not fun. I’m tired of it.

I set a goal at the first of the year to run/move 1000 miles this year. (Last year, my goal was 780 miles, and I reached that without any stress or strain. I thought I would push myself a little more this year. Though my exercise of choice is running, I also count any walking, elliptical or hiking miles towards my goal. The point is to MOVE.) This ambitious goal has been greatly hampered by polar vortices and such.

I’m no wimp–at least from a southern gal’s point of view. I can deal with the cold, but only to a point. When the temperature drops down into the single digits–or even the teens–I choose to stay inside. More importantly, when there is snow and ice on the ground, I opt to preserve my limbs and wait till the road thaws.

Such were the conditions of most of January. February followed suit up until the second half, and then there was a brief, glorious break in the weather pattern, and I got in several consecutive days of outdoor running again. I was so inspired and energized! I found myself smiling while I ran–in between the gasping for air, of course.

It is in these inspiring moments that my mind often goes to spiritual things. For me, that’s one of the beauties of aerobic exercise done outdoors. It seems to help my brain fire on all cylinders. Even though I’m fully engrossed in the physical task at hand, I can simultaneously be in deep thought about spiritual matters.

Read My Running Story, and you’ll see that I have been impacted by the parallels that I have observed between life and running since my very modest running beginnings. I continue to see new parallels all the time. In fact, I often contrive pithy sayings based on some of these  parallels. For instance:

Every uphill has a downhill. Keep running. Relief is coming.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I must make a disclaimer here. I ‘created’ this pithy saying in my early days of running before I had had much experience with serious hills. I almost always walk up the big ones. But it was a nice thought at the time.)

But I digress. Back to my deep spiritual thoughts while running happily in the sunshine a couple of weeks ago.

I usually run with a subconscious goal of improving—or at least maintaining–my former “best pace.” I have friends who say that such goals suck the fun right out of the activity, adding an element of stress for them. For me, though, goals–even tiny ones–add a little ‘spice’ to my running. And in case you’re wondering how I know what pace I am trying to beat, yes, I do record my mileage and my pace after every run. I know my total mileage at any given point in the year, my best pace for the month (and the year) and my average pace. I know this may seem like a lot of record-keeping for someone who has no intention to race competitively, but if that is what you think, then you are missing the point completely. I am competing–with myself!

I recently got a comment from My Pleasant Places reader, Emma, about My Running Story:

I’m so encouraged to read your running story… I have just started running and am a complete novice. I have set myself a goal of running a 10k race in 14 weeks time!

I love how you have intertwined the spiritual development alongside the physical; it certainly gives you something to think about whilst out running! I’m in a dilemma though, when I told my children I’d entered a race, their first question was, “Are you going to win?”

“It’s not about winning,” I told them, “It’s about taking part!” This, however is hardly running to win the prize as Paul instructs us to do!!

Unbeknownst to Emma, I had been thinking along the same lines (remember my “deep spiritual thoughts” while running?). As I was running in the welcomed sunshine, feeling warm on the outside, thinking warm, fuzzy thoughts on the inside, the thought about increasing my pace kicked in. If you pick it up just a little bit, you can improve your average pace, my competitive self said to my lazy self.

From that challenge, my mind wandered to a couple of scriptures that I had just recently read (my typical morning routine begins with Bible reading, followed by running, so it’s pretty common for my mind to return to biblical truths while I run).

If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth [in other words, it's not something to be proud of]. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:14-15, NIV).

It’s clear to me that what James refers to as “selfish ambition” and “bitter envy” include the traits of competitiveness and comparing myself with others. James’ words are strong: earthly, unspiritual, demonic! Obviously, there’s no place for these mentalities in the kingdom of God.

I rolled that around in my mind for a bit before my thoughts went to the verses that Emma referenced in her comment.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).

And another one:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:26, NIV).

From these three scriptures (and others that I have not listed), we can see that everyone should run to win. However, in God’s economy, “winning”  is not about outdoing your brother, your sister (competition); it’s more akin to the ‘competition’ I described–competing with yourself! The prize is for for achieving the goal of your high calling in Christ, for giving it your all, for straining for God’s purpose in your life, for pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, for making your body the servant (rather than the master) of your spirit, for finishing!

For those of a competitive nature, this may be a hard metaphor to relate to. If so, I could only wish for you the experience that I have as a 50-something woman who has no aspirations or delusions of winning races, but passionately enjoys the thrill of the race with myself. The ultimate goal, of course, is that one day, like the Apostle Paul, I will be able to say with confidence, “I finished my race” and will be rewarded with the prize of hearing “Well done.”

What do you think about this? Are you competitive by nature? Do you “compete” with yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts; please leave a comment!

Posted in Running, Spirituality, The Living Word | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shopping Smarter: 5 Tips for Enjoying Shopping While Saving Money

Smart ShopperI had a fun shopping experience recently which ended so well that I thought I would share a few insights I gleaned from it (five to be exact!).

The shopping excursion was a by-product of my current emphasis on eating well which, quite surprisingly, has led to an emphasis on cooking. In Confessions of a Lazy Cook, I wrote about this emphasis-transition, and I asked for comments and suggestions from readers regarding their favorite cooking gadget or utensil, something that makes the job easier and more pleasant. The responses were almost unanimous: Continue reading

Posted in Saving Money, Shopping | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Documenting Your Life Journey

Journal “At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey…” Numbers 33:2

I journaled regularly when I was a teenager, but I dropped the practice when I got married–just about the same time I actually began to have something of substance to journal about!  That was a mistake. I missed out on the joy of writing (and later, reading) my motherly dreams as I carried each of my children, of recording their entrances into this world and my transition into motherhood, of documenting the funny, precious, priceless things they said and did as they grew up. I missed out on the opportunity to document my 17-year journey of criss-crossing America on a motorcycle, my impressions of the vast and varied landscapes that I traveled through, and the beautiful array of people I met during all those travels. I missed my chance  to record my initiation into air travel (I took my first flight at the age of 30) and after that my baptism into cultures outside the U.S. as I began traveling regularly to other countries.

I have had a rich, rich life—but, sadly, there is a huge gap in the written version. This is one of my greatest regrets. Continue reading

Posted in Journaling, Mindfulness, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Getting Over the Hump in Building Lifechanging Habits

uphill I’ve learned since writing The Magic in Just Getting Started that there is a scientific term for “the magic”: the Zeigarnik Effect. In short, the idea is that once we start something, we are more inclined to finish it. In The Magic of Just Getting Started,  I suggested “making a deal” with yourself to start a project, but to give yourself permission to work on it for only 5 minutes (or 10 minutes or 15; it’s your call). The majority of time, you will discover that you will continue the chore beyond the brief minimum time-frame that you committed to–sometimes even completing it. Continue reading

Posted in Habits, MITs, Values | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Confessions of a Lazy Cook

eating fresh I am a lazy cook, but an ambitious eater.

Like most Americans, I eat on the run a lot, which means that I often eat whatever is convenient rather than what is good for me. It’s just more trouble to cook good-for-you food than it is to open up a bag of chips or to grab a hamburger at a fast food joint.

Furthermore, I don’t particularly like to cook. I suppose there are times that I enjoy cooking–when I’m trying my hand at a new recipe or when my kids or grandchildren are coming over–but I am definitely not one of those people who cooks for the joy of it. It’s all about the end goal–eating.

As I wrote in Strategies for Making and Achieving Goals This Year, I am on a mission the first three months of this year Continue reading

Posted in Cooking, Habits, Health | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Creativity, Habits, Hacks for Successful Resolutions

small things that matterSmatterings is a regular “column” here at My Pleasant Places in which I comment on a selection of my favorite and/or most-informative or inspiring articles read on the web during the past week. I like to pass on to my readers good posts/articles that have helped me in some way, and I also enjoy the opportunity to “put in my two bits” on a given subject. Even though I may have read these posts within the past week (or so) does not mean that it was posted in the past week. I’m not trying to be “cutting edge” here, but helpful.

60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 DaysLifehack

I love lists! Lists like the one in this post get my own creative juices flowing. Continue reading

Posted in Habits, Smatterings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment