Thoughts On: This Surprise

I know it’s hard for people to live in a world that feels so reduced. Trust me, you are not. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s quite the sensation feeling like you’ve got nothing left to lose. Like all your decisions led you here. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I know what it’s like feeling enslaved by a system. Despite losing your freedom to move, you still have the freedom to choose
how to continue living when you’re tied to stillness and a snail’s pace. But even snails get somewhere.

You don’t have money, god knows I never did, but you have a brain, your health, love, hope, dreams, a breath. And if it were only one of these things, I’d venture to call THAT a life,
This a phase,
You, a force,
The world, your oyster,
The virus, a lesson.

Because the best thing I ever learned was that nothingness is a gift, and starting from the bottom means there’s an up. Something to look forward to and make life worth living. Nowadays I choose to live with less, knowing ultimately people can’t tell me what I can’t do, and if you dig deep enough into the recesses no one else is willing to touch, you will find that all you need for a good life is with you in the form of a past that no one can take, a future that only you can destroy, and a present which we are always lamenting but the great thing about having nothing is not having anything to lament.

Is it so bad not being able to know what can happen next? I bet it’s the first time in years that you haven’t tried to plan or control your entire life. In a way, I’ve found myself worrying less. Moving with the tide. Sleeping in without guilt. Forgetting the days.

Isn’t this what living is — Letting things unfold in due time?

I don’t know about y’all, but this was a good surprise.

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Healthy Coping Skills During Times of Stress and Anxiety

To brush over this trying time is to do a disservice to all who are negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am not only speaking of those who are impacted physically, which on its own seems to be the global focus of this pandemic and rightfully so considering the number of deaths that we have seen thus far, but I am also referring to those who have suffered financially, mentally, and emotionally.

Many a small business owner is seeing their life’s hard work dwindling before their eyes with hardly a hope of surviving this stay-at-home movement. Many blue collar workers are forced out of a job, having been laid off about a week ago “for the wellness of the community” but at their expense. Many a woman has seen their education and work opportunity wane as they are forced to stay at home to school children who are now being expected to virtually learn. Many children will struggle to find an equal footing in the current educational system, as the ability to have access to the internet or a computer will greatly determine which children learn and which do not. With all of this impact and more, it is safe to say that these are difficult times which may leave people feeling a bit less-than their normal self. 

In an effort to be of help (somehow), I wanted to take the time to share the following words from my sister-in-law and registered therapist, Alexandra, for those who are currently struggling to maintain their mental health or are experiencing more-than-normal levels of stress and anxiety.

Some great tools to aid with anxiety, stress, and loneliness during this time are:

  1. Being active – going for a walk, run, yoga, at-home workout, and getting some sun, if possible.
  2. Create routine – whether that be a work-from-home routine or a morning routine, creating some sort of consistency for your body and mind are important.
  3. Spend time with someone you care about – Don’t isolate. Even if it’s virtual time together, text someone or call someone, at least one person a day.
  4. Take breaks from the media – Take breaks from your phone, the TV, and the news. This helps us not ruminate or over-think, and reduces stress, anxiety, and worry.
  5. Do something for you! – Mindful activities such as baking, cooking, coloring and art, working out, reading a book, taking an online course, or learning something new can really help carry you through tough times. Schedule at least fifteen minutes a day for this.

Off course, you don’t have to do all of these, especially if you are working from home or are out working and helping others. But these are some healthy coping skills that can reduce depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness.

Alexandra Tillapaugh is a Registered Associate Marriage Family Therapist specialized in counseling adults and children with a variety of challenges, including but not limited to, anxiety, behavioral issues, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems. She is also my wonderful sister-in-law.

During this time, she is offering lower cost online counseling sessions to people in need in our community – especially those who are displaced, anxious, and stressed.

“I know many people are anxious right now and stressed. They may need someone to talk to or need help with learning a few coping skills.” 

She is offering a free consultation on the phone so that people of the community may seek help without the pressure of money. It’s a great way to find out if her services work for your particular situation or lifestyle.

“I want to get an understanding of why they want to talk to a counselor prior to any sessions. It’s the best practice.”

To learn more about her services, schedule an introductory call, or simply chat with someone over any hardships you may be experiencing, you can view her website here. To offer helpful tips for those who are suffering, feel free to comment below.

A Period of Essentialism

Doesn’t it seem sometimes that finding yourself requires rejecting everything that defines you? Like a snake shedding skin. Or a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. The less we have, the more we are whole. I’ve found that after rejecting associations, all that is left behind is the rawness of “me, myself, and I”, and the beauty of what that has to offer.

This entire journey started with getting rid of external associations, such as physical clutter. Then it continued with societal expectations, financial burden, and more recently, digital stimuli. Now, a more difficult task. What I’ve struggled with the most in the past year is ridding myself of aspirational clutter, but I am refocusing to address that struggle.

My aspirations, titles, roles, and expectations dictate my day-to-day actions. This much I know to be true. Most of these things are self-imposed. I choose to identify with these things, and therefore, I can choose to un-identify, as well. I’ve come to this awakening that a lot of my stresses result from these impositions on the self. These are also the sources of the majority of my time-suck. And since my ultimate dream is to achieve waking up each day and doing whatever calls to me, without being tied to money, possession, job, title or expectation, I must face the fact that none of these self-impositions get me closer to that point. In fact, I am being drowned by their current.

In order to get to ultimate freedom, I have to free everything else.

Awakenings are the hardest part,
But also the BEST.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately and I’ve decided to close the bakery. Cancel the course. Stop Rover. Write for myself again.

What brought this on was the husband’s current situation.

This is a really special time for my husband and I. He recently stopped working, having quit a job that he had grown impassionate about, and is going through a growing phase that entails a bit of self-discovery. I’ve found that with all of my titles and roles, I have not had the time to be there for this period of rebirth. The last few weeks, I’ve been telling him to stay out of my way because I have “things to do”. I didn’t want to talk to him because I had to “focus” on creating content for the blog. I couldn’t spend much time with him because I had to bake bread. I hated that the first thing I cut from my life whenever I needed space or time was my relationship, which is arguably most important. And it’s safe to say that over time, perhaps I myself have grown to become impassionate about my own work, too. There is always that line between hobby and work and when we cross it, other things shift with it, too.

So we are re-structuring,

My husband and I haven’t had this freedom since… college? We have an opportunity to come home and be idle. To have nothing due. This is the first time in our lives where we are both at a place where we can create the opportunity to just be. To reject most obligations. To do as little as possible. Or rather, to do only that which is essential.

I decided to commit to only one professional title (dentistry) as I fulfill more important roles of being a wife and friend. Where I was prompting him to find himself, I figure I should listen to my own advice and do much the same.

If I am being completely honest, perhaps taking on these jobs was my way of filling a void, rather than understanding why I felt partial instead of whole … arguably deeper work. I took on the title “baker” with Rye Goods one year ago, and I remember saying to Sara that I was looking for something more. The bakery was my saving grace from a dissatisfaction with where my life was at.

It was also my distraction.

Now it’s time to face fears, and start a new age.

A period of essentialism.


They say it takes courage to hold on when everything around you is falling apart,

When you are falling apart.

But usually we hold on for the sole reason that we are too afraid to let go.

Therefore, it takes equal courage to move on.

Either way,

You are brave,

Whatever you choose to do.

Gratitude In Things You Don’t

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I was sitting in yoga class after a strenuous hour of being berated by a room full of heat, which I was convinced was too high for the particular class that I took, side-swaddling my right arm underneath my cheek bone, facing my husband as he reaps his benefits off of his mat and practice, when our instructor’s calm voice soothingly asks of us one thing before lifting ourselves off of the mat to end class:

Find gratitude in all the things you have in your life…

And gratitude in the things that you don’t.

As the rest of class pushed themselves gently up from their preferred side to continue on with their day, I stayed lying still a heartbeat longer to process what I just heard. I think I was in momentary shock.

If I am being quite honest, I have been lacking, the past few months, a sense of satisfaction with the way life has turned out to be. With the advent of taking on 6 days of dentistry for the first time in my life at the turn of the decade, while trying to manage a bakery, dog sit a few days a month, and partake in an international project to Sustain the Maldives with Bogobrush, my world has been in a state of overwhelm that has been hard to combat. My only saving graces are my husband, Starting From Within’s guidance, a few books, and yoga class.

At times like these, the standard advice of listing all the things you are grateful for in order to keep chins high appear to be good advice … at first glance.

However, the practice of acknowledging all the things one can be grateful for can feel a bit anti-climactic for minimalists, whose lists tend to end soon after it’s begun. Let’s face it, the list of things for minimalists are generally not very long. Which leaves one feeling like there isn’t much to be grateful for.

But what if we take a step back and look at the big picture. The world remains balanced, whether we recognize it or not. In order to have complete understanding, we need to extend our gratefulness to encompass both sides of the coin. After all, a list in gratitude of only the things we own can rob us of our enoughness. In order to grow our appreciation for the life of our choosing, we must compliment this list with all the things we don’t have, in gratitude. Such as…

  • Disease
  • War
  • Poverty
  • Famine
  • Hate
  • Clutter
  • Toxic relationships
  • Insecurity
  • Jealousy
  • Death
  • Isolation
  • Fear
  • Social constructs and norms
  • Peer pressure
  • Societal expectations
  • Addictions
  • Imprisonment
  • And for all minimalists, a long list of things that would otherwise steal our time and attention.

So when you feel life’s gotten away from you a bit, and that nothing seems to be going to plan, re-center and list all the things to be grateful for – whether you have them or not. Your world of positivity will expand, and perhaps you’ll start to notice a change in perception.

I mean, at least you’re not underwhelmed.

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Photographed: A few propagating leaves and East Fork‘s cake plates in Soapstone. 

Thoughts on: Mundane Action

There are times when I think about what people will think once this loan repayment journey is over. The most likely truth is that most of my journey will be forgotten. All of the middle ground where the suffering happened will be overshadowed by the end result. The happy ending will supersede all. As humans, it is natural to only remember the beginning and the end as we take away the life lesson but forget the mundane events of the everyday.

It makes me sad to think that they’ll look at what we’ve done in paying back $575k in student debt and immediately assume that the going was easy.

Explanations will arise, however inaccurate, that dismiss the difficulty of the task, as people say things such as, “Well, she was a dentist and made a lot of money. Of course it was doable.”

Excuses from colleagues about why it wouldn’t work for them will also ensue. “She had a husband who also made decent income”, “She was fortunate enough to have a bakery that took off”, and “She had her writing to help support such a hefty loan repayment.”

It makes me sad because if that were the case, if everyone forgot the effort, then this would be for naught. People will continue to believe that paying back debt is an unreachable goal. People will still avoid pursuing financial freedom, viewing it as attainable only to those who have luck on their side, or to those who have more than.

But none of that is true.

They say that it would be difficult to pay back debt if it is more than twice your income. Well, mine was almost quadruple my income. But I still pushed myself to do it.

I want people to know that my success will not be a result of me making TONS of money relative to my loans.

It will be because of penny-pinching habits, mindfulness, diligence, and hard work.

I want people to know that any success I have will not be because of sheer luck.

It will be because of a constant refining of the self, a vigilant search for the essentials, and a questioning of the status quo.

I hope people remember that it wasn’t easy. I have days I never speak of, spent curled up in a ball on the floor, my hand in fists, my eyes flooding with tears. There were moments full of self-doubt around both my abilities and my choices. Days when I felt lonely because I worked so much. Days my back hurt from doing dentistry and my shoulders hurt lifting cast iron lodge pans. I have burn marks on my arms and bags under my eyes. It isn’t easy, but it’s a meaningful life, and I want people to remember that.

Maybe then, it would help push them through the tough times when they are most ready to quit.

I was ready to quit, too. Hundreds of times.

This story will never be told as widespread as other stories, because it is not an overnight success. The tabloids, the news, the audience … none of them want to hear about mundane action. But it is mundane action that will make ordinary people do extraordinary things. It’s a shame because, well, the non-telling of my story will mean that Regular Joe’s will never reach their potential to be super-heroes. Students will continue to carry debt. Society will continue on with their life-cycle.

But if my story gets shared once or twice, I have hope that it saves a handful of people.

The younger a person hears a story about personal finance, the easier it is to reach financial freedom. In much the same way, the sooner a person with student debt is convinced of their ability to pay it back, the more money they save. Every day that they wait to refinance is a day wasted and a few dollars lost in interest. Every day a person debates about whether they can dig out of debt, they dig themselves a bigger ditch.

I write to empower people in small ways, which over time lead to big results. After two years of writing this post, I still do not believe in the word negligible.

A water carves its way into solid rock, and over-time, forms the rock into an easier pathway.

This is how I want to transform people.

I am no SuperWoman.

I am so very ordinary.

If there is one thing people remember about me and my story, I hope it is that.

 

Living Slow: Season of Becoming

This post is in partnership with East Fork Pottery,  a company slinging hand-thrown, timeless pottery in Oregon using regionally-sourced stoneware clay. Their beautiful food-safe glazes are made in house and lend their pieces character, but in an unfussy and classic manner. The collection is, truly, a treasure trove.

It’s been a bit quiet here for the past week, which should be indicative of the fact that I’ve been restless in real life, struggling with a personal decision that’s difficult to make. Usually that’s how it is. Cyber silence equates to a madness that requires its own space and time. But I wanted to put thought to digital paper for a moment, as an observance of this period of growth.

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Last week, I was presented with an alternative job opportunity that, when on paper, holds better weight than my current position. However, there are some non-practical reasons why I want to keep my current position. Ultimately, it came down to production limited by the number of days, or production limited by fees. I had to consider adding a 1.5 hr  round-trip daily commute to my currently non-existent one in exchange for much easier work. I had to decide whether having newer and better materials that made my job easier was more important than sweeter and easier patients who made my job easier. I was pulled between something new and something familiar. It was a week full of angst, emotion, and pressure to make a decision. I sat by the window sill staring into space, deep in thought, reflection, and sometimes just straight up brooding. Tears were involved.

If I took the easier job that is farther away which has more difficult patients but newer materials, I would only work 2.5-3 days a week, and still make the same amount of production at 4 days a week. But when you add the hours of commute and subtract the amount of money spent on gas, those 3 days really equate to 3.6 days, and is that difference worth it. The physical work will be easier due to newer materials, but demanding patients increase the mental and emotional energy required to work. The gratitude will be centered around the ease of work, rather than meaningful work. Both cups are half-full. Which would you choose?

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The paradox of choice is real. Both options are starkly different, but both are also good. My husband pointed out that I couldn’t go wrong either way. It’s a fantastic position to be in. But the fear of choosing wrong is what cripples. If the opportunity didn’t present itself, it wouldn’t be hard for me to continue what I was doing. There would be a distant nagging of the things I could improve if the practice were my own, but I wouldn’t be restless like I am now. When there is an alternative, it is much harder to ignore what could be.

Equally crippling is the feeling that a choice needs to be made. If I am going to leave  the first office, it would be best to tell them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the office of opportunity is waiting on the sideline, seeing if I would take their job offer. I think it’s hard to be in-between. The pressure prevents any real growth.

In my life, I‘ve tried to reduce choice in order to increase bliss. In general, it has worked very well. While I don’t like choicelessness, I like having reduced options. But I know making choices is the hard part of growth. So choices need to be made.

I have an evasive tactic that I turn to when faced with difficult decisions. I just pick one -the one that intuitively seems most appealing – and then I move on with my life. I do that because I know I can always pivot. I do that because I know that there are worse things to choose from, and that outcomes in general are not bad  in the grand scheme of things. But I also know that I do it to alleviate the guilt, stress, and responsibility of that choice. I am only ever choosing one real thing – to run a way from my own discomfort.

This has led me to even deeper consideration for things beyond the job itself. The job, it’s just a stage in my life. In the end, neither choice is perfect, but neither is also wrong. Both are transient, not one being the end point. But I’ve thought about my tendency to run when things get difficult. My wish to reduce, in order to ease. My need to asphyxiate in hopes of control. My obsession with doing, instead of just being.

I can say I’ve been much better the past two years. Slow living has been a great mentor in that. But this is one of those moments where I need to tell myself, “Wait“. Instead of searching for clarity, wait for the fog of emotions to roll out and clear. Instead of wishing to tell people about it, wait for them to ask you of your thoughts. Instead of trying to get every answer imaginable, wait for that inner knowing to surface from within. Stay to see what happens, instead of going to see where the river runs.

I came across this quote  from @trustandtravel’s Instagram, and it spoke.

“Do not fast-forward into something you are not ready for, or allow  yourself to shrink back into what’s comfortable. Growth lives in the uneasiness. The in-between. The unfinished sentence. You are a season of becoming.”

-Danielle Doby

Becoming is a hard thing. But it’s also necessary. So much of the time, we do, and therefore we are. But we never just “be”. How do we ever expect to become?

The espresso cups in soapstone are perfect for tiny hands, mid-afternoon espresso shots, as well as after dinner green tea. For the bold, sake shots and other libations fit well within this tiny vessel. We are very much in love with this cups and can only speak highly of the quality and the beauty of these products. They are not placed in cabinets with the other dinnerware but are on display on open shelving. Today only, East Fork will be having a Seconds Sale. A discount of 30% will be applied to a handful of clay goods that did not quite make the cut. Although with slight blemishes, these pieces are still functional and beautiful. I urge people who have been hankering for dinnerware to consider salvaging these pieces and including them in your home. I appreciate East Fork for their zero waste attempt. Seconds sale begins at 12pm EST, and pieces will go fast (or so I hope). This post contains affiliate links and TheDebtist may receive a commission if  you so choose to purchase.

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Prepping for a Mindful Holiday Season

It’s mid-November and I’m left wondering where the first half of the month went, let alone the majority of the year. It seems that as we age, our perception of time quickens,  as if a reminder that the time we have left dwindles. Perhaps this is why mindfulness becomes more relevant as we get older. Perhaps it’s why senility exists, as a pungent way to signal the world that we are focusing on the things that don’t really matter. I wonder if this blog brings that same sort of light, without the heartbreaking undertones of senescence. Hopefully, it has brought you something.

Today, I want to take the time, before holiday rush, to instill mindfulness in the home before good cheer takes away all thought in our fervent search for comfort and joy. Let us welcome the holiday season in all the right ways. We will be wishing and receiving all season long, which isn’t wrong per say, but I think it would behoove us to approach it with some serious thought so as to avoid the need to de-clutter and figure ourselves out all over again amidst the noise in 2020.

A few suggestions, nothing unheard of especially in this space, if I may.

  • Take stock. Make a mental note of everything you already own. Figure out ways in which they can do double duty in function. Find what is enough in your life, with an intention to add less.
  • Declutter. Always declutter. It seems my advice runs redundant but it signifies the habitual act of. Get rid of the noise distracting from the important parts of the holiday season. Hone in on what brings you true joy. Strengthen the ability to know what holds value and what does not. This will also help with the selection of which social obligations you commit to, lest you run amok trying to please everybody and not enjoying the season at all.
  • Write your wish list early. And then publish it late. In the meanwhile, edit, edit, edit. Treat your wish list like a draft. It’s similar to pausing prior to purchasing things. Sometimes, it’s even more important to do because of the ease with which we can ask for things. Sleep on it. Search the house for dopplegangers of stuff (are you asking for things you already own?). Prioritize, putting needs at the top and considering making do without the wants. Perhaps you’d like to request consumable giftsFor ideas, a simple holiday gift guide.
  • Focus on the non-material. Not just in gift-giving and wish-making, but also in the doing. Forego the stresses of perfect Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. Rather, revel in the gathering. Spend less time thinking about what to wear in to the holiday party and more time focusing on the conversations you wish to have. Et cetera. If you need a reminder, create an advent calendar for a slow holiday season. If you’d like to take it a step further, write a no-gifting letter or say no to Secret Santa.
  • Simplify. Instead of asking for ten things from one person, ask for one or two thereby lightening their need to make even more decisions. Instead of decking halls this year, maybe go bare to save you from entering 2020 with a large amount of un-decorating to do. Instead of ordering holiday cards, email a digital picture. There are many ways to simplify, some of which I’ve written about here and here.

I am always of the mind that we need to prepare for the holidays in different ways. In doing less and thinking more. It’s worth a try, in hopes that we all enter the new decade with truer joy, and a lot more peace.

 

Words of Affirmation

Some days just don’t turn out right.
The bottom of the bread burned,
You didn’t meet the patient’s expectations,
The oat milk flowed over the latte mug,
It might as well be
The sun didn’t rise.

For a moment you feel all the disappointment,
You worry about the loss,
You apologize for the short coming,
You clean up the mess.
Then the moment passes
You’re standing on your own two feet.

It is here you see the sliver of sun.
How good is life that you can connect with bread,
Help others heal,
Make art in your drink.
How good is life that you had a choice
About how to spend it
And how to react
And who to be.

Rise my darling.
You are the sun.
You make the light.
It’ll be all right.