A Spork Is a Spork, of Course, of Course (with apologies to Mr. Ed) | Karmic Recycling

I spent the past weekend with my daughter and another girl from her Girl Scout troop at a very popular horse camp in the area. We got rained on, we slept in bunk beds, we tried to get Very Large Animals to do what we wanted them to do, we petted baby goats, walked in the mud, and generally had a great time. All in all it was a very fun weekend.

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Read the latest post at Karmic Recycling for the Adventure of the Spork. 

What is Karmic Recycling? | Karmic Recycling

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The wait is over! The new blog I've been working on, Karmic Recycling, has launched. I hope you'll check it out and let me know what you think as it evolves and takes on its own life. Thank you for being a reader of Thoughts Happen; I hope you will enjoy Karmic Recycling and find it thought-provoking and interesting as well. 

If you're used to getting Thoughts Happen via an email subscription, I am still working out the kinks on how to get that going with Karmic Recycling, as I'm moving to a new blog hosting site. However, until I get that completely ironed out I will continue to post updates to the this page to let you know how to access the new posts. Thanks for sticking with me as I explore this new avenue and I hope to see you at Karmic Recycling!  

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For Every Blog There Is a Season: The Evolution of Thoughts Happen

When I started Thoughts Happen in September of 2008, I had no idea where it would take me, but I knew I needed to write, and write often — for an audience. Magazine articles, my first love, are wonderful, and it’s great to see those bylines, but I had too many things I wanted to get into words and not enough places to publish them. 

Path-In-Winter And writing in what I lovingly refer to as my Notebooks Full of Crap wasn’t quite fulfilling enough. Because I am no Emily Dickinson, squirreling my best work away to be discovered after I’m dead — I need an audience to keep me honest.

 Lucky for me I live in the Blog Age. Under the wide umbrella of Kindness, Curiosity and Humor, I claimed my domain and started writing. Everything from Star Trek to colonoscopies were fair game for my posts, with a smattering of Shambhala Meditation, Girl Scouts and tennis thrown in for good measure (not to mention my turtle Littlefoot, who's a muse of sorts). 

 But along the way I found that the lack of a clear focus, instead of being freeing, was becoming a burden. More often than not I woke up on Wednesday mornings — my designated posting day — thinking, “Oh God, what am I going to write about today?” 

 Wasn’t I doing this for fun? 

 Ironically, something from my latest post, about Lionel Poilane, the baker who created a bread sculpture of a bird in a cage, came back to me. "The bird is inside the cage. He is trapped and he can feed himself with his own barrier. … After you are nourished with your own limits, you can fly to freedom." 

I needed a boundary to push against to feed my creativity again, to get me excited about blogging. But the whole reason I started Thoughts Happen as a generalist was because there wasn’t any one topic I felt I could sustain with the necessary enthusiasm or authority. There are plenty of good creativity blogs and Buddhist meditation blogs, the most likely candidates.

 But I came to realize that I’ve had a life-long curiosity about our relationship to Stuff. Recycling, garbage, finding novel ways to use things that are commonly discarded — these things fascinate me. How do we interact with the objects of daily life, particularly with things that are normally thrown away? And how are the ways we interact with our Stuff informed by our spiritual and community values?

 The spark of an idea for a new blog was born, and immediately a flood of new post topics rushed to my mind. 

 So Thoughts Happen will go into semi-retirement, and a new blog with a refined focus will take its place as soon as its design and functionality are fleshed out enough for public consumption. 

 When I started Thoughts Happen three years ago, writing was something I did, but I did not yet identify myself as a writer. Three years later, I’ve got 144 posts under my belt (wow), and my commercial writing business has grown alongside it as well. I’ve developed a small but loyal readership and met some interesting, thoughtful people through the blog’s Facebook page and my Twitter followers. 

 Thoughts Happen has served me well. I hope as readers of mine you will join me in the next leg of the creative journey ahead. Watch this space for what’s go come. 

Photo of Path In Winter courtesy Jennifer R. Graevell PhotographySome rights reserved  

How Limits Foster Creativity: Lessons from a Baker

I'm convinced that I would have no creative output at all if it weren't for limits. 

What? Limits are supposed to be a bad thing, right? How often do we wish to be unfettered, free, open to limitless possibilities? Yet in truth, my best efforts usually come when I'm constrained by limitations, forced to push up against boundaries that push back on me. 

The first time I really thought about this concept was when I read about French baker Lionel Poilane, in a book of short profiles entitled, "The Virtuoso: Face to Face with 40 extraordinary talents."

Poilane Poilane did not want to be a baker as his father was, but felt he had no choice, so when he was still a teenager he went into the family business. "But I was very, very unhappy, because my wish was to be in contact with all of society, not locked into a cellar," he says. 

But at the age of 20 he had an epiphany. "I found the major discovery that lit the rest of my life: whatever business you do, it's like a vehicle. The key was to put the world in my business!"

Poilane set out to become a "diplomat about bread," producing artisinal breads of the finest ingredients, teaching about the relationship between bread and civilization, and producing fanciful bread sculptures that attracted the attention of the likes of Salvador Dali. 

Today Poilane's breads are flown daily all over the world, and he relishes his work, all within the limits of being a baker. 

As I write this post, a steady ticking in the background comes from my phone, which is running the Pomodoro Time Management app, one of many ways to implement the Pomodoro Technique of productivity. I'm trying it out to see if timing myself in 25-minute increments can help keep me focused and on track for the things I want to do.

Every time my mind wanders to think maybe there is something else I might want to do besides finish this blog post, I am reminded of my self-imposed boundary that I said I would focus on doing only this for the next 25 minutes. If I told myself I had all day to do it, it would probably never get done!

Apparently one of Poilane's many bread sculptures is a birdcage made out of laquered bread. "The bird is inside the cage," Poilane says. "He is trapped and he can feed himself with his own barrier. … After you are nourished with your own limits, you can fly to freedom."

Photo of Poilane bread courtesy edgeward via Flickr. Some rights reserved

How Do You *Really* Spend Your Time? Only one way to find out

I spend a hell of a lot of time on things I consider Maintenance. Maintaining my body, my home, my car, my business, my family's well-being and my personal and professional relationships takes a huge percentage of my waking hours. 

Watch-Face It was quite eye-opening to discover this. And I found it out the only way you really can: by keeping a time log. Luckily I'm a little anal-retentive, so I actually enjoy this kind of thing. 

It started when I attended a talk on Organizing Your Time by my Professional Organizer friend and networking parter-in-crime Denise Levine earlier this month. Denise stressed the value of doing a Time Audit for a week, marking down everything you do during a day, broken down into 30-minute increments. 

I'd done this once or twice before and found it useful, but the last time was three years ago, when I was spending a lot more time volunteering at Daughter's school, had just barely started blogging, my professional writing gigs were sporadic, and I'd never heard of Social Networking. Things have changed a lot since then.

Though mostly they're changes I've wanted, I feel more and more squeezed. I'm often stressed and rushed, and I don't like it. Even though I'm adopting David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, which I'm completely sold on, I still have the sneaky feeling that I've made too many promises to myself that I can't keep.

Enter the time log (this one courtesy of the University of Minnesota), and the answer to the question, "So what am I really spending all my time on, anyway?" 

Next to sleep, the largest category by far is what I lumped together as Personal Maintenance, consisting of:

  • Preparing and cleaning up from meals, and eating breakfast and lunch (dinner counts as Family time)
  • Driving Daughter to and from school, appointments and activities
  • Errands, including grocery shopping and farmer's market
  • Cleaning and laundry (not a large percentage of the Maintenance category I assure you)
  • Personal grooming routines
  • Medical and other routine appointments (but not haircuts, personal training, exercise or meditation, which I count as Personal time)
  • Tending to pets
  • Processing mail, routine emails and random stuff that comes into the house

Turns out I spend over one-third of my day doing this stuff. That's enough for a full-time job! No wonder I have a hard time fitting in everything else, including Personal time, Family time, reading for enjoyment, professional networking, business development and oh yeah, actually writing. Especially when Twitter and LinkedIn are always right there to entice me away.

I was actually astonished at how little Family time happens during the week, and for the first time started to think that maybe I have added myself to one too many networking rosters and mailing lists, said "yes" to too many committments that I feel obligated to keep. What would it look like if I dropped some of them? Would the world get along without me? 

I think I'm about to find out.

Photo of watch face courtesy Pikaluk via Flickr. Some rights reserved 

A Bee, Compassion, and Me

The bee was wriggling erratically on the concrete just outside the front gate of the school. It caught my eye the way things do that are not right somehow.  

I wore khaki pants, and was heading home after volunteering that morning, back when I did such things, when the PTA reached out its wanting hands for warm bodies to read to kids and teach art and plan the Jog-A-Thon to raise money for the music program. Before I had a Middle Schooler whose years spent at home outnumber the years left. 

Dying bee I’d been leading a 4th grade Literature Circle group — a volunteer gig I enjoyed more than most others; the half-dozen advanced readers I met with weekly were a good bunch.  

We read Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting that year, and instead of letting them choose their end-of-book project, I made them illustrate a list of vocabulary words I culled from its pages — “indomitable,” “bovine,” “plaintive,” and the like — words I didn’t see in our other Lit. Circle readings.  

At the end of the book, in Related Readings, was a poem, “Remember,”  by Christina Rosetti.

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you plann’d:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray. …

 In previous years I might not have noticed the bee. Or I could have ignored him, or taken one swift step in my slip-ons and put him out of both his misery and my mind with one decisive motion.   

But this day his frantic movement caught my eye. I stopped and bent down to one knee, watching him struggle. The bee’s presence penetrated my own, and I felt stung with a barb of unexpected compassion.

I see your end of days, I thought to the bee, and I couldn’t bring myself to impose my concept of “what was best.” And maybe, just maybe, a concept was all it was anyway, designed only to make me feel better. 

So instead I said goodbye to the bee, and thanked him for being, before I stood up and headed home. I don’t know if anyone saw me kneeling down on the walkway, and wondered what I was doing there.  


Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad. 


Photo of bee courtesy abbyladybugSome rights reserved

Getting Into the Zone by Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Yours truly is now a bona-fide, Girl Scout-trained tent camper. I spent 27 hot, sticky hours this past weekend with about two dozen other women learning how to use a hatchet to cut up kindling and make tinder, tie a clove hitch and tautline for hanging up dunk bags full of cleaned and sanitized dishes, make an "A"-style cooking fire with the kindling we made and bake in a cardboard box covered with tinfoil. It's true. 

I also set up my own tent all by myself for the first time, and survived the muggy, buggy night camping out in the grassy area behind the Girl Scout lodge, even though I did forget to bring my fancy-schmancy pillow

This probably does not seem like a big deal to many people, but it was a good-sized step outside my comfort zone. Not to say I haven't camped before; we camped plenty when I was a kid, but in a trailer, with an oven, stove and refrigerator, and a shower and flush toilet. And Mom did all the planning and cooking.

Outdoor cooking
To complete the Girl Scout training, each of three teams had to prepare a multi-course, balanced meal using two different types of fuel and four different cooking methods. Our team prepared chicken and vegetable skewers on a charcoal grill, 8-can soup over a wood fire, cornbread baked in a box oven, fruit salad, banana boats (a split banana stuffed with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips) baked in foil packets over charcoal, and for good measure, a dessert called "One Gooey Mess" baked in a Dutch oven over coals.

It was delicious, and everyone did their part to prep and clean up afterwards. A little later we set up our tents, learned about some activities to do with our Scouts, participated in a "flashlight fire" (the fire dept. had not given the go-ahead for an open campfire that night) complete with goofy songs and skits, and crashed about 9:30. 

The next morning as the sun blazed through my tent at 7:30 a.m. I raised my head off the mini throw pillow I found in the trunk of my car and realized that my neck didn't hurt. My neck always hurts. I was sticky with a mixture of dried sweat and sunscreen, sporting a disturbing case of hat hair, and moved in a cloud of "eau du DEET," but my neck did not hurt.

I guess I was enjoying getting out of my comfort zone so much that I forgot to be uncomfortable. Go figure.

Photo of potatoes on campfire courtesy of Ironchefbalara via flickr, Some rights reserved 

(I wish I had taken some of my own pictures from the weekend, but I: a) forgot my camera, and b) was too dang busy to stop and take pictures!)

Life at 3 Miles Per Hour. Or 300.

Two weeks ago I was on vacation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, reveling in the sheer quantity of foliage, eating fudge and diner food, and staring mesmerized at the backside of a horse. 

Rob the Horse

We clocked Rob, the big draft horse we rented along with a buggy for two hours on Mackinac Island, at 3 miles per hour on the semicircular route we took around the western shore of the island and back through the middle. Bicyclists, of which there are many, since Mackinack does not allow "horseless carriages," easily passed us. Anyone out for a brisk walk would have easily passed us. Clopping past a meadow we engaged in a back-and-forth conversation with some cyclists who had stopped for a rest while we slowly plodded on. The pace was, shall we say — leisurely. 

"What a great idea for a blog post," I thought. We should all allow some time to cultivate our inner Amish and really slow down to experience life at this pace every so often. 

Problem is, when I got back from vacation I didn't even have time to write the friggin' blog post about slowing down, much less actually follow my own advice. So now I am composing at 10:30 at night because I'll be damned if I let another Wednesday (my self-imposed blog deadline) go by without posting something

Right about now is the place where, if I had planned this all out, I would be neatly wrapping up the post with some great insight about how we can tap into that 3 mile per hour ideal and really make it work. But I haven't planned it all out, because I didn't sit down to write until 10 o'clock. Of course it would have been earlier if I hadn't spent an hour and a half at a group meditation and book discussion that I try to make every week. It's a bit like jamming on the brakes from 300 miles per hour for just that hour and a half before putting the pedal to the metal again.

I guess it's all about fiercely guarding what is important in the right now. And compromises — always with the compromises.

When the Sh*t Hits the Page

I adore notebooks. Writing longhand bypasses my inner critic in a way that really gets me going, so I not only collect them, but fill them with what I lovingly call Crap. Notebooks full of crap might be the key to my (moderate) success so far as a writer — maybe I should trademark that and call it the Notebooks Full of Crap Method to Semi-Successful Life as a Writer. But I digress. 

As part of my longhand obsession, I've been faithfully doing my Morning Pages, one of the main pillars of Julia Cameron's The Artist’s Way, filling custom-decorated composition books I receive as gifts from Daughter or comission from my uber-talented friend Carla. But when I saw notebooks made from Elephant poo at the gift store in the San Diego Zoo on a recent trip, I had to get one.

Yes, it's true; notebooks made out of poo. The product information sheet that came with it states, "Elephants eat 300-600 lbs of food per day — 60% of that food leaves the elephant's body undigested."

Apparently the manufacturers of PoopooPaper collect naturally dried elephant dung from conservation parks (not from our own San Diego Zoo, unfortunately), rinse it, boil it, and dry it, adding some pineapple fiber and banana tree fiber to the mix to make it thicker and stronger. 

The utter appropriateness of writing my Crap in a notebook made of poo warms my heart. After all, Anne Lamott has advised millions of aspiring writers to write Shitty First Drafts in her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, so why shouldn't I take it the extra step and write in a notebook made out of shit? 

I can't wait to see what comes out of it.


Even Billie Jean King needs help getting motivated: Fixing Bad Habits

I ran across an article a few weeks ago by Scott Young on the99percent about replacing bad habits, and I keep thinking about it. 

"We all have lousy habits. Things we’d like to do, or know we should, but just don’t seem to happen: exercise, diet, productivity or flossing longer than a week after the visit to the dentist.In that sense, I’m like most people – still a work in progress.But, unlike most people, I’ve had on ongoing obsession with figuring out how to fix those lousy habits. I've spent thousands of hours being an experimental guinea pig, uncovering surprising findings, such as:

  • Implementing a daily exercise plan is easier than exercising 3 times per week
  • Changing 10 meals will change 90% of your eating habits
  • Learning a new skill or language can be accomplished with 5 minutes a day"

See the full article at the99percent.com

Billie Jean King

I particularly like the last step in his process, "Begin with the start in mind," focusing on committing to only the first 5-15 minutes of your habit. Even the great Billie Jean King does this. She was quoted recently regarding her exercise routine:

"On days I'm not motivated, I will say, 'OK, just get on the bike or walk for 5 minutes, and if you want to stop, fine.' I give myself permission. I've only once in my whole lifetime stopped, when I realized I was sick. Every other time I end up doing at least 25-30 minutes. So then it's done for the day, it's great. I would go without exercising if I wasn't careful."

Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/ap/lifestyles/article_f772d8d3-8ecb-5b51-aecf-986dda3884b0.html#ixzz1TMGvlTgW

This made me feel a little better about the cheats and tricks I need to break my own bad habits. I mean, if Billie Jean King needs a cheat to get her motivation going, I don't have to feel so bad. 

What's your experience with replacing bad habits?

Photo of Billie Jean King with Sheryl Crow and Wendell Crow courtesy smays on flickr.Some rights reserved