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! :)

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Pushing Forward

Hudson-Running-edited_thumb.jpgThis is Day 2 of my 30-day challenge. It is 10:24 p.m. as I type this. There’s nothing like coming right down to the wire, huh?

Well, I allowed for days like this. I just didn’t think it would happen on Day 2! So this is going to be one of those short “token posts” which may not be very substantial but nevertheless accomplishes the purpose of my 30-day challenge which is to help me re-build a habit of posting regularly.

My friends, Chanly and Carla, have joined me in 30-day challenges of their own. Chanly’s challenge is to drink at least 40 ounces of water every day and to limit herself to less than five minutes of social networking per day for the next 30 days. Carla’s challenge is to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes per day for the next 30 days.

Will any others of you out there in my blogosphere join us? If so, please leave a comment and let me know how you are challenging yourself. Come on! It’ll be fun!

Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes, and one that is so applicable to a 30-day challenge:

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson 

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Time for a Challenge

30 Day ChallengeA couple of years ago, I started a 30-day challenge that created some real momentum for me in blogging. I thought it would last forever. And then “life” happened. Slowly, my regular posting fell by the wayside. I continued to write on a regular basis, but not stuff that was blog-worthy (or maybe I should say not “public”-worthy). Nevertheless, I have missed my blogosphere friends, and I have been getting the itch lately to get back into the routine.

I read an inspiring article today Continue reading

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Fun Friday: Laughing at Ourselves

It’s been over two months since I’ve posted to My Pleasant Places (I’m a terrible person). I feel a new 30-day challenge coming on to give myself a kick in the pants, but until then, I thought a Fun Friday post would be in order. Someone posted the following video on Facebook this past week, and I watched it REPEATEDLY and laughed each and every time. Click below and watch at least the first 20 seconds and then read my comments following.

I realized after watching this video for the umpteenth time that the reason I get such a kick out of it Continue reading

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Increasing Leisure Time, Building Your Creative Genius, and Asking THE Important Question

small things that matterSmatterings is a 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 or so. I like to pass on to my readers good posts and 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 they were published in the past week. I’m not trying to be “cutting edge,” just helpful. I welcome your comments.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a “Smatterings” post, but I’ve read some thought-provoking articles lately, so I simply must share. But before I get into my Smatterings, first  I’d like to mention that I often share a smattering  of info in an even more abbreviated form on MyPleasantPlaces Facebook page throughout the week. If you do not follow MyPleasantPlaces on Facebook, please consider this my invitation to you to be my Facebook friend by visiting this page and liking it. When you click the link, you should see the page below. Click the “Like” button (which is circled in red; do you like my artwork?).

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Now, before you leave the page, please go one step further (and this suggestion is also for those of you who are already MyPleasantPlaces Facebook friends and followers). After you have liked the page, hover over the “Liked” button. You should then see a list of options like those pictured below. Click the option, “Get Notifications” (again, indicated by my fancy artwork). Unless you take that small step, you’ll not see MyPleasantPlaces posts on a consistent basis. I think this is Facebook’s way of coercing businesses and people with “business” pages (though I don’t consider my blog a business) to pay for getting their posts into followers Facebook feeds. I’m not up for that at this point in time. I’d rather just suggest you take that extra step. Will you?

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Now that we’re friends, please comment now and then both here on the blog and on the Facebook page. I love hearing from you. Truly!

Now, on to a smattering of interesting articles that I have read recently.

7 Ways to Increase Leisure Time According to ScienceBarking Up the Wrong Tree

There were several things about this article that intrigued me. For one thing, there were some interesting statements that were more than a little startling. For example, “…the average high school kid today experiences the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient of the 1950s.” Really?

The premise of this article is that, though we are busy people these days, we actually have more time than we think. But there are circumstances that have become our “normal” in modern life that deceive us into thinking we are busier than we really are. I was convinced of this truth back when I read 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam and immediately was inspired to make better use of my time (What Would You Do If You Had More Time?).

From that premise, the rest of the article is about reclaiming the time that you have and capitalizing on it. The suggestions in the article appear to be an outline of a whole book on the subject, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (you could say that the article is a smattering of the book, and this post is a smattering of that smattering). (And, by the way, because I got so much out of this article, I have checked out the book at my local library and am now in the process of reading it. This is one of the ways that I build my reading list. See So Much to Read, So Little Time.)

I’ll list “the 7 Ways” mentioned in the article with a comment or two of my own, and then you can check out the article and see if you, too, might want to look into the book that it references.

     1. Write it all down. This is also a principle from organization guru David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. Writing things down makes perfect sense. Part of what stresses us out is an unconscious fear of forgetting something important. If we create systems for remembering everything–as in recording it somewhere–then much of the stress diminishes. (Three Principles of Time Management)

     2. Prioritize. We can’t do everything, so we must decide in advance what’s non-negotiable, what must get done, and do that first. Too often, we sacrifice the important for that which makes us “feel” more productive. I got a smile from the way the author summed it up: “So you need to prioritize or you will have a clean garage but get fired from your job. (Moving from “Urgent” to “Important”)

     3. Make things automatic. Ah, yes; habits. One of my favorite subjects. If we remove the personal debate that we often have with ourselves regarding whether or not to do the things that are the most important to us, then the battle is more than halfway won. (Building Values into Habits)

     4. Work like an athlete (sprint, rest, sprint…). There is a rhythm to how we work best. Learn it, and we’ll get more done in less time.

     5. Switch to single-tasking instead of multi-tasking, which, by the way, is a myth! (Multitasking Mayhem).

     6. Only handle it once (OHIO).

     7. Have leisure goals. I just recently wrote about how “I compete with myself” in my running, and it enriches my running experience. (Another Life Lesson from Running). I totally buy into the idea of “leisure goals.” It doesn’t make the leisure more like work, it makes it more meaningful–and fun!

Do one of these 7 ways of increasing your time stand out to you? Do you already practice some of them? If so, please share in the comments how it has added time to your day or at least how it has made your time more enjoyable and less stressful.

How to Unleash Your Inner Creative GeniusDaily Worth

At one time or another, we all need to be creative geniuses. Right? But how do you turn it on? That’s what this article is about. It suggests six different routes to creativity–and they’re not what you might expect.

I can say that I have experienced at least three of these methods on a small scale, but since I don’t consider myself a creative genius by any means, I’d say that I could use a little inspiration. Therefore, I chose one of the suggestions, combined it with something else I saw on TV this past week, and went out and bought myself a hula hoop!

Read the article and you’ll figure out which suggestion I am going to deliberately implement into my office and see if I can’t create some more creativity! :)

The Most Important Question You Can AskThe Energy Project

I was moved by this article. It speaks to my core values. The question the author refers to in the title is, “in the service of what?” He writes about people that our world considers very successful–Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc–and the accomplishments they have accrued. And then he asks–and I paraphrase–”But what’s it all for?” Or, as he puts it, “In service of what?” I would add: What does it matter? What difference does it honestly make in the grand scheme of things?

We celebrate and envy people’s extraordinary individual accomplishments and successes, but the pleasure they derive from their efforts is often surprisingly fleeting. And there is a reason for that. What generates an enduring experience of meaning and satisfaction in our work is the sense that what we’re doing really matters — that we’re truly adding value in the world.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author on this point. I believe we are only truly fulfilled–over the long haul–when we add value to our world, to our sphere, to the people in our lives. I take his premise even further, though–further than ‘how does it serve others’–and look at my work (and life) from an even larger perspective: What does He think about what I do? What does my Heavenly Father have to say about it? Did He mandate it?

Yes, I want to make a difference in this life, but I don’t only want to live for the difference I can make in the here and now. I have much grander aspirations. I’d like to exponentially multiply my investment of time, energy, money, etc. and know that what I do will matter even after I have crossed over from mortality to immortality?

Does this seem a little lofty or far-fetched? The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col 3:23-24; underlining is mine). The end result of that kind of living will eventually result in a “well done” on the other side.

This slant–what does He think?–on the way we work and on the way we spend our time, in general, dignifies even the most mundane tasks. So the most important question for me is not “In service to what?” but more aptly, “In service to Who?” Does He approve? Does He mandate it? If so, then I can unreservedly throw my whole heart into it! Not only will it benefit the others that I will doubtless serve in the process, but I will reap the benefits forever!

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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

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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