#AtoZChallenge | U is for Uncluttering, organizing and moving my To Do List to the cloud.

We have a deep kitchen sink, but as our family eats meals throughout the day, it starts to get piled up with dishes. Once we add a few of our taller Calphalon® pots into the mix it gets too crowded. The endless supply of dirty dishes starts to encroach onto the surrounding counter. The clean side is no different. Our drying rack is no match for the shear volume so we have to lay drying towels along the back of the counter to hold the overflow of clean dishes and the endless supply of empty seltzer cans that my youngest and I produce in a given day. Between the dirty and the clean, this area of the kitchen is often the messiest and most cluttered. I hate it.

I am physically uncomfortable in a cluttered space. I’m happiest when my house is clean. Fortunately, at least when it comes to the kitchen sink, my husband feels the same so we can usually keep ahead of the onslaught.

The same need for uncluttered spaces applies to my to do list. I like a nice, organized list.

If I searched my hard drive right now, I’d probably find old excel files dating back almost twenty years with titles like “house projects”, “gardening plan” and “renovation”. I use to have Doctor Who sticky notes with barely legible instructions scribbled across them hanging from my computer in multiples. My refrigerator mirrored the messiness of the sink with hand written lists and reminders organized on scrap paper and hung by magnetic clips at eye level helping to remind me of what I needed to do that day or that week.

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#AtoZChallenge | T is for Taking Risks and Saying Goodbye to My Comfort Zone.

On my flight back from a recent business trip, I reached Boston and had to change planes for the final leg up to Portland. I hadn’t paid much attention when making my reservations, so was a little surprised when I saw that the plane we’d be taking for the final leg was a small five-seater and that the open cockpit meant we’d be able to watch the pilots in action. I was definitely guaranteed a window seat. The flight was thankfully uneventful, and what struck me most was that I couldn’t have even gotten on the plane ten years ago. I had too much anxiety about flying.

I had anxiety about a lot of things, but in the last ten years I’ve realized that the more I push myself beyond my comfort zone and challenge myself the more my fears ease.

Comfort zones act like our friend, but they’re really not. They’re the frenemy who holds you back. I’m not saying I’ve swung to the other extreme of becoming an adrenaline junkie and only doing things that make me uncomfortable. It’s about finding the balance. I still love hanging in my comfort zone as much as the next person but now I push myself out on occasion and take more risks. I’ve never been happier.

So how to challenge myself this year?

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#AtoZChallenge | O is for the Ocean and the pull of a lifetime of memories.

The memories of my life are so in step with the rhythm of the ocean that the thought of living anyplace where I couldn’t get to the coast within an hour or two makes me anxious.

My grandparents lived at the beach. My grandmother especially loved the water. It’s one of the reasons my grandfather choose to build their home next to the ocean. The salt air is good for the soul. Maine waters are chilly even in the warmest of summer days but my grandmother was undeterred and continued to swim in the ocean every summer until her health waned. She was happy at the ocean.

My mother spent her school years “in town” and not at the beach. Her grandmother and aunt lived there during those years. They were still living there when I arrived on the scene. My only memories of my visits to the house during those years were of the disturbingly vivid portrait of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns as blood streamed down his face. It hung prominently in their living room. It made an impression on me.

Eventually my grandparents moved back to their home at the beach.

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#AtoZChallenge | J is for Juggling thoughts and calming my monkey mind.

Monkey mind is a real thing. “According to Buddhist principles, the “monkey mind” is a term that refers to being unsettled, restless, or confused.” (Raab, 2017)

I may know shockingly little about Buddhist principles but the monkey mind is something to which I can easily relate, at least the restless part. My mind flutters through to-do-list tasks, random snippets of memories and various unrelated passing thoughts with a disconnected, accelerated pace most of my waking hours.

I’m ready to make peace with it. I’ve handed my monkey mind an olive branch and asked it to pull up a chair and slow down to enjoy a quiet moment with me.

I started practicing meditation every day in an attempt to quiet my mind. Let me be clear: I’ve been practicing quite poorly, but I am practicing.

I am reading “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” and following their well laid out meditation plan. There are many other meditation practices available. It’s definitely a trending topic these days. I’m sure this is in part because of the unprecedented level of distraction we all live with each day.

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#AtoZChallenge | D is for Dogs from the first hello to the last goodbye.

Sitting cross legged on the living room floor as puppies with sporadic control over their limbs climbed all over us, jostling one another for high ground so they could lick our faces, is a treasured memory.

The parents of this rambunctious lot were both black labs with loads of energy, which in hindsight should have been a deterrent. The litter was a Neapolitan mix of three chocolate, three black and three yellow labs. We knew we wanted a smaller dog and as soon as we walked in my daughter, who was only six at the time, found a perfect little chocolate female pup. She probably would have been wonderful, but instead one of the larger yellow labs stole my heart and in a decision I occasionally regretted, I overruled her choice.

Moose, as the owners called him, was friendly, outgoing, and full of personality. During feeding time, he would lay down, covering as much food as possible, as it scattered across the floor while his brothers and sisters raced to the bowls. Then he would simply stand and eat the food he had captured. Turns out that was all for show. Once we got him home, we learned that he was the only lab on the planet who actually was not motivated by food. For the first two years of his life, we could actually see his ribs.

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