Truly Alive In My HOME

My recent post, Willingness… To Do What?, was about how I am choosing to be “willing” this year.  Willing to do what?  Well, many things actually.  My list of big things I am “willing” to do include to practice more patience, be more focused and a super biggy – finish my book.  Heck I’m even willing to cuss less when playing Spades on my IPad (my imaginary partner, Megan really makes D.U.M.B. moves over and over!)  Most importantly, I am willing to be me in all the areas of my life, no longer afraid to completely expose myself.

As a young girl I “felt” there was something I was supposed to do.  Perhaps many of you knew as kids or teenagers what your vocation in life would be.  I had no clue, only that there was something.  At the same time while growing up, I was a good Catholic.  I used my Rosary, went to Confession and Communion regularly and devoutly prayed daily.  It must have been weird because I’ll never forget one time I overheard my mother telling my grandmother (my dear Nana) that she was afraid I might become a Nun.  In my child’s mind I deduced that I was too religious.  Well, I’m here to tell you my mother worried for naught – I love physical intimacy way too much to be celibate (sorry kids but it’s the truth)!  Through the years I did stay for want of a better word “religious”.  In college I joined Campus Crusade.  As a married adult I was always active in church.  But for all the years and the various stages of my life my faith participation was in mainstream ways that kept me “safe”.  Even my “then” husband kept me in check.  To this day I can still remember him parking at church with our three kids in the back seat each Sunday.  More often than not after turning off the car engine he would turn and look at me.  He would then gently pat my leg and say, “ Now baby, you know you learn a lot more when you listen so please don’t speak up in Sunday school.”  Not speaking up kept me safe from potential criticism (at home and everywhere else) so I would stifle myself, certain that he was lovingly telling me I was too opinionated, particularly when it came to my faith.  Call it poor self-esteem if you want but I somehow saw my devoutness as a negative and wished I could be looser and more fun.  (Silly me!)

Understand that I’m not looking for sympathy here.  I don’t for a second blame either one of them for making me feel like whom I really was needed some toning down.  I’m the one who chose to take their words and let them affect me in a negative way to the point that I kept my deeply spiritual nature at bay.

Beginning at the age of 40 serious trauma-drama began to creep into my life over and over again.  Each new challenge strengthened my faith only I still kept my spirituality somewhat to myself.  So, I guess I had to get a huge roadside flare to get my attention.  That flare came on December 6, 2006 in the form of a woman from my past suddenly there to expose stuff.  To this day I am grateful for her and the far-reaching tentacles of consequences her talk with me created.  Many things in my life changed at that point and I truly, truly began to open up and express my spiritual side.  I started a Blog.  However, even with my Blog I was gingerly showing my true self trying to be ever so subtle with expressing my views.

All that changed when I received the email from Lori.  Lori’s word for me, “WILLINGNESS” reinforced the voice I had been hearing in my head for several months telling me to put myself out there once and for all.  I call it coming out of the closet because to me, I am choosing to tell the truth about myself much like others do when they have something important to say about themselves that they are afraid to share but can’t hold in any longer.  So here’s what I’m willing to say…

I am a deeply spiritual human being. I believe that my body is a vessel for my Soul.  I believe that this vessel should be as free of negative things like anger, hostility, jealousy and fear as possible to honor my Soul.  I believe that my Soul is more important than my Ego.  I passionately believe in God, the Universe and yes, even Angels.  I believe in goodness and want to be an active participant in spreading it.  Though I view myself as a simple Soul, I am an “Old Soul” with a deep understanding of things.  I believe that I have a purpose in life that is meant to be for the greater good of mankind.  I believe that I am a healer and have the gift of healing with my words.  I also believe I have the ability to heal through creating beauty spatially and when I work in people’s homes as a Decorator I feel the energy and know where it needs to be balanced.  I have no desire to attach myself to any specific denomination or creed, as I believe my purpose is to include rather than exclude.  While I will not hold tight to religious rules and regulations, I spend much of my time in prayer and would put on my Bucket List a chance to go on a pilgrimage journey.  (By the way I have no real clue what I mean by that – just that my heart and Soul yearn for it.)  I believe that our world is a changing and people like me want to show a better way through love and care.  I believe that Peace is attainable.  I believe that Love is attainable.  I believe that Harmony is attainable.  It is all a matter of choice.  Most of all my spirituality is part of every moment of every day and at the end of each day my hope is that it has shown in all my actions and yes, reactions to my life’s journey that day – including what I write on my Blog.

I read something the other day that really spoke to me.  “Many of us are struggling to stay true to what we know is the right way for us to be.”  That’s how I was for over 56 years.  I struggled with who I am because I thought I was weird.  No longer.  The rest of the time I have here on this earth I’ll be truly alive in my Home, my vessel for my Soul.  I’m finally free to be me.  Oh and after all these years I’ve figured out what I’m supposed to do as my vocation in life – encourage and promote Peace, Love and Harmony.

To being alive…

Ten Things To Remember About Your Home

For more than a year now I’ve been blogging about the importance of home.  And, throughout my articles I have written about home in terms of décor, color and design as well as how to truly live well in your home.  I’m grateful for all the readers that have supported me by taking the time to read my posts but my guess is that not everyone reads each and every post.  (Ya think?!?)  With that in mind, as another year begins in my world of blogging and because today is my birthday and I can do what I want to, I thought I would give you a quick list of my top ten beliefs about home that I think each and every person that dwells in some form of shelter should know.

I’ll make it simple and concise and leave it up to you dear readers to digest each of my top ten things to remember about home and interpret them for yourselves how best they fit your way of life.

My Top Ten

  1. When you decorate your home you decorate your life.
  2. Your home is an outward expression of yourself.
  3. A beautiful home impacts your mood and behavior.
  4. Elements of Nature radiate calming energy when used in your home.
  5. Much like the Russian Nesting Dolls (Matryoshka), your home should be beautiful layer after layer beginning with the streetscape.
  6. The décor of your home should be designed with a sense of “studied indifference” with things arranged in a way as if by mere happenstance.
  7. A beautiful home is not the result of material consumerism.
  8. Creating peace and harmony in your home will create harmony within.
  9. Living Beautifully + Living Peacefully = Living Well.
  10. Everything begins in the home.

My birthday wish today is that each of you have or aspire to have a home filled with peace and harmony!

And one more thing…

Here’s a very special shout-out to my dear twin brother, Craig Balzer.  What tremendous joy I have in my life to have been so blessed to share life with you.  It’s been a wonderful ride with you ~ from childhood having two cakes on the dining table for our birthday (year after year yours was all chocolate and mine was white with chocolate frosting) to spending Beach Week together with our friends when we graduated from high school to sharing the breakfast table each morning during our college years in our townhouse at VA. Tech (and on occasion watching you literally fall asleep with a spoon of cereal in mid-air from being up all night in the Architectural building) to watching our children grow up together and to now at the awesome age of 56 realize how truly alike we are (as I wrote in my post, Design From An Architect’s View).   Without a shadow of a doubt we have a wonderful bond between us.  Happy birthday, I love you!

The twins with Mom

The twins with Mom

Wellness Begins In The Home

For years I habitually dreamed of redecorating my home at 2831 Giverny Drive and by the way, I’m talking about even long after I moved on to another place.  Some dreams were about putting up new window treatments, others about rearranging furniture in the different rooms and still others focused on redoing the landscaping in my yard.  My dreams, teeming with brilliant colors and detail on occasion had to do with smells in my house and actual events like entertaining – all with a new décor as the backdrop of course.  These dreams came almost every single night and invariably left me fraught with anxiety upon waking each morning.  You see, night after night these dreams reminded me each morning that my house was out of kilter.  Why you wonder?  It’s because these dreams began soon after my marriage split up and believe you me they plagued me for years.  What I was “working” on in my dream state was clearly symbolic of the work I was doing on my interior self.  Feverishly each night as I slept I was trying to work through a renovation of my house in order to get back on track and feel balanced and well.  Funny thing though – a dear friend and counselor I know, Joyce Hennessy and I have had conversations about having dreams about houses.  She said that she has had many clients going through traumatic events such as divorce that have recurring dreams of cleaning their houses over and over again.  (Symbolic for cleaning up the mess or messes in life.)  But, my nightly dreams of redecorating were new to her.  Which obviously means that the “redecorating” in my dreams had other meaning- like maybe my home décor needed changing for other psychological reasons?!?

I am happy to say that for the last two or three years I have been free of these dreams.  I no longer have a single itty-bitty dream of 2831 Giverny Drive and hallelujah, what a blessing.  But, I had a conversation the other day with someone that brought all this back to me.  One of our projects for B&A Interiors was recently selected for a magazine article and so the writer interviewed me about my design philosophy.  I found myself explaining the principles of what I call “Psychology of the Home” and how important it is to create space for yourself that is not only peaceful and beautiful but is also the outward expression of who you are.  After I got off the phone it hit me like a ton of bricks.  That’s really what I was doing in my dreams.  In my dreams I was desperately trying to tell my psyche that my house didn’t match who I was and that it needed to become the true outward expression of myself.

Mind you, within a few days of becoming separated I began to change things in my house.  For example, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Our Homes Must Express Our True Essence, I had the landscapers remove a huge River Birch that was overtaking the front of my house completely obscuring the view outside.  Simply removing that tree changed the look of my house and said, “Hello world, here I am”.  Talk about liberating!  But for the most part it took a few years for me to fully express myself in my sanctuary and feel balanced through and through.  Along the way, I began to understand part of what I was doing in my clients’ homes.  I realized I was harmonizing their space with their personalities much like I did my own house.  Really, really cool!

Which takes me back to my interview with the writer of the magazine article.  I gave her some of the back-story of my clients, Katie and Seth, two young and very busy professionals who had a desire to create a beautiful space to live in that reflected who they are.  While talking to her I told her how happy they are now with their newly rehabbed uptown condo and that they can’t wait to come home to it every night after work.

Living Beautifully + Living Peacefully = Living Well

I happen to believe there are no coincidences in life.  This means that the dreams that plagued me for years were meant to teach me something about myself.  And, to take it a step further, I believe that the wisdom I gleaned from the dreams was to be shared with others in their own personal spaces.  That’s why I came up with the model I call “Homespace Coaching”.  Think of it as a formula for successful wellness.  Living beautifully (through choosing décor to fit your unique personality) plus living peacefully (through simple changes in how you live in your space) equals living well.

I live an incredibly blissful life.  I am well and whole.  I believe that my road to wellness truly began when I realized that everything begins in the home.  Sure, all the other things I do for myself like exercise, meditating and prayer enhance my life.  But the truth is, feeling alive and complete in my house created a home for me to thrive in and be well.

Through my dreams during a very painful and traumatic time in my life I was given a gift.  I was given the gift of awareness of the need to create for myself space that honors my true essence.  And now I am paying it forward by sharing this awareness with others.

Do yourself a favor – make sure you house is a home that gives you beauty and peace.  It’s the best wellness plan out there.

To wellness…

Hope Springs Eternal

As I mentioned in my recent post, Spring: A Season For New Beginnings, springtime is a season that fills us with a sense of renewal.  I believe it also fills us with a sense of hope – for some there’s hope for glorious weather, productive gardening and the end of the school year.  I love all these hopeful possibilities that come with the feeling of spring as well.  However, my biggest hope this year is that the season will spring forth in me the eternal desire to spread peace.

Peace Pilgrim, Hawaii 1980

Peace Pilgrim. Photo credit Benick at en.wikipedia.

In my blog post, Love In Your HOME, I discussed how I was using the word “Love” as a verb for the month of February and so I was actively participating in the giving of affection to others.  As part of the exercise I put a “Love Quote” on LIPH’s Facebook Fanpage each day to visually cue others to actively participate in spreading love.  While researching enough Love Quotes to last me the 29 days of February, I happened upon a woman that called herself “Peace Pilgrim”.  Intrigued with her, I began to research everything I could about her that was available on the web.  Over a month later, I still think of her every day – she was that inspiring.  This woman, Mildred Lisette Norman began a walk for peace on January 1, 1953.  She walked for 28 years throughout the United States.  One of her quotes that really hit home with me was,

“In order for the world to become peaceful, people must first become peaceful.” 

I get that loud and clear.  In order for peace to reign we must first have peace within ourselves.  And Hallelujah, I know absolutely, positively I have it after my own long and arduous walk down the road to reclaiming my essence after a chance encounter in 2006.  Now like never before, I’m ready to spread the word and the hope for Peace.

With that said, I can’t even begin to commit to the life she chose in 1953.  I couldn’t leave my David.  I would have to beg him to travel with me in a Gypsy Wagon of goods that are on my “must have” list like my Ipod, my Ipad, my scented candles, my lotions and potions, my blow dryer, my dental floss, my tweezers and most importantly, my Maybelline mascara.  Then there’s my Chocolate Lab, Moe, my kids and grandkids and of course, God’s Littlest Angel – Ansley.  Gosh, I’d need an entire caravan!  Peace Pilgrim carried nothing, needed nothing and wanted nothing.  Nothing at all.  All she had and all she needed was what she was wearing.  She walked until someone offered her food and/or shelter speaking to whoever would listen about peace.  Wow is all I can say whenever I think of her quest, her commitment and her hope for peace that continued until her untimely death in 1981.

Although I don’t have the gumption to do what she did, her message of hope for peace has resonated with me in a way that stays with me every single day.  I even find myself constantly listening to a song by The Rascals popular in the late 1960’s called, A Ray of Hope.  Working out every day at the gym I listen to it over and over and over allowing the words to fill my body, my heart and my soul to the point that my body pulses with the desire to shout out the words I’m listening to.  Doesn’t everyone need to hear them?!?

“I know a lot of people who think like me

That this world can be a place that’s filled with harmony

First there’s a lot of things we’ve got to rearrange

Put an end to hate and lies

So peace can come and truth shall reign”  A Ray of Hope

Adding to all this, several weeks ago I had a “religion” discussion with my daughter-in-law, Kathleen.  Besides working fulltime she has gone back to school at night.  (You go girl!)  One of the courses she’s taking is a World Religion class taught by a Methodist Minister.  One of her assignments was to take an online test (Belief-O-Matic on beliefnet.com).  She took the test and scored exactly where she thought she would.  Her husband, (my son) Ben also took the test.  He scored in a “religion” I had never heard of that once I researched did accurately fit his belief system.  So  – curiosity got the better of me and I took the test.  Good golly Miss Molly- I scored totally differently that I though I would.  What the heck’s Jainism I wondered?  I had to look it up…

After looking it up and reflecting on it and discussing it with Kathleen, I realized it did fit me well as I really do love all creatures great and small and I abhor violence.  Then my stepson, Danny and his wife visited a couple of weeks later.  Both Orthodox Jews, I told them about the test and so they took it themselves.  They both scored just where they expected to. Interestingly enough, all of us that have taken the test have scored differently and this just proves my point about living in perfect harmony.  We can all choose to live peacefully.  And, regardless of our religious persuasions, we can all do our part in making the world a better place where people can live in peace and harmony as a collective humanity.  That’s why for me I strive for inclusivity rather than exclusivity – I believe there’s room for all of us so long as we agree to get along.

“We’ll pray for a day when all men are free

And people can live like they’re meant to be

Meanwhile it’s up to you and me

Start working together towards this dream”  A Ray of Hope

My mission, my calling and my hope might be tiny compared to what others like Peace Pilgrim have done.  But, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that I understand the need to live peacefully – within myself and with each and every person I encounter.  After all, just like the song, “Let there be Peace on Earth” it just flat needs to begin with me…

To Peace and the hope that it springs eternal…

Please take the time to check out Peace Pilgrim by going to www.peacepilgrim.org.  Give peace a chance ~ within you and to all those you encounter.

Post-Holiday Confessions From A Decorator

For the entire month of December – in fact, from Thanksgiving on I spent my time on both the Blog and my Facebook Fanpage writing about Christmas Traditions (mine and other guest authors), giving “Helpful Holiday Hints” and showcasing beautiful examples of holiday décor.  Who would ever guess that I, a decorator, a believer in all things magical for Christmas time and one who professes to know and expect décor detail would not decorate, bake, send cards or do anything traditional for the holidays?  (Well, I did do Advent gifts though.) Seriously – even I wonder at this all.  My entire life I have expressed the importance of traditions – particularly holiday traditions.  I even sing the song, “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” throughout the year unaware that I am even doing it.  Christmas and all its pageantry means that much to me.

Because of some necessary travel to Charlotte, NC next week and all it entails, travel there for the holidays was just flat not an option.  So, there went being with my kids, grandchildren and God’s Littlest Angel.  That’s one tradition down the tubes.  Decorating for Christmas?  I must confess I decided not to do that either.  I left my entire collection of Nutcrackers, my collection of Santa’s and all my sentimental Christmas tree ornaments in their boxes in the basement.   All I did was put a simple wreath on the front door and a Menorah  (yes, my darling David is Jewish) on the antique side table in our kitchen.

Front door wreath

Our front door décor

Why did I ignore all the trappings of Christmas this year?   Not even listen to any Christmas music either at home or in my car?  Funny thing – in mentally and emotionally preparing for next week I knew I needed to be still.  I needed to be quiet.  I needed no distractions.  So I decided not to indulge in any part of the traditional preparations for Christmas and instead use the time to reflect on the true meaning of the season.

Joy of all joys, I absolutely, positively celebrated Christmas and what it truly means.

I focused on PEACE.  PEACE for myself and PEACE for people everywhere.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The Friday before Christmas Eve I embarked on a very long morning of sitting on my pity pot.  It didn’t help to talk to my sister-in-law, Becky and hear her excitement at this being the first year in a long while that all three of her boys, wives, fiancés and their dogs would be home for the holiday.  Or hearing my sister, Mary Ann shout with glee on the phone that every single Christmas present was wrapped and ready and family was already arriving to start the holiday weekend.  Or hearing that God’s Littlest Angel was walking and here I was in Chicago missing it all.  Or, most of all, that my very own baby, my youngest son, Jimmy had become engaged to a wonderful woman (Lailuma) and I wouldn’t get to celebrate quite yet with them live and in person.  Text pictures of her engagement ring didn’t do the ring justice I’m sure!  Ugh… the pity pot sure got worn out that morning!

Second night of Hanukkah

Second night of Hanukkah

I tired of sitting on the pity pot though.  So, I picked myself up, chilled a bottle of Veuve Cliequot for the evening and did what my heart, mind and body always craves – I went to nature.  While walking in nature I reflected on the real side of things.   The real side was this – I realized that I was thankful to have had the wherewithal to use the entire month of December for total quiet and stillness.  With so much free time on my hands not devoted to the hustle-bustle of Christmas preparations, I gained so much insight.  I want to share with you what I pondered, reflected on and learned over this last holiday season I chose to celebrate without all the glitter.  And in the words of what many hosts say when announcing the winner on TV Shows like X Factor; I list the lessons learned and/or reflected on “in no particular order”:

  • Like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz I have found that HOME has been here for me all along.  I don’t have to be “home” in Charlotte with my kids and grandkids to have them at home in my heart.  My heart home is always there ready to embrace them unconditionally wherever I be, wherever they be.
  • I can really focus on the essence of Christmas without all the fluff, commercialism and festivities and wonder of wonders; it is awesome to do this.
  • In loving and living with a Jewish man I can appreciate that mankind benefits most with an attitude of inclusivity and not exclusivity.
  • The true meaning of the Christmas season is PEACE.  No true peace can come without forgiveness of oneself, of others and of humanity as well.
  • As much as I love music and in particular, Christmas music – Silence is Golden for it is in the moments of silence that we hear what we really, truly need to hear.
  • I have learned on a whole new level what it means to live simply.
  • Traditions won’t go away if you choose not to observe them on occasion.
  • Memories never fade.
  • Feeling lonely is a choice.
  • Life is to be lived actively loving oneself, others and all mankind.
  • PEACE requires action.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • The truth, ohhhh the sweet, wonderful truth will absolutely, positively set you free.

Happy New Year everyone!  May 2012 bring you wisdom.  Oh, and may it also bring you the courage to use it!

Favorite Christmas Traditions

For the month of December I purposefully chose not to publish many posts on my Blog.  Quite frankly, I figured most everyone had enough to do preparing for Christmas.  With making lists, checking them twice and doing all the multitude of items on these lists before Christmas, who would have time to squeeze in something I wrote?  (By the way, whatever you were thinking as you read that last sentence keep your comments to yourself- I want to think you have missed my weekly posts!)  Anyway, with all the extra time on my hands not devoted to writing I reminisced about Christmases past.  Well, that got me to thinking and wondering about what other people’s favorite childhood traditions of the season were and what they are today as grown-ups.  So, I promptly sent out an email to all the guest authors on the Blog and posed these questions to them with the intention of sharing their responses on the Blog.  For those that had the time to respond, I want to share their answers with you.  Some even sent me pictures as well.

I have to admit I thought this would be a fun thing to do for the Blog.  But, as with most things that happen, I got so much more than interesting info from each person.  I got a wonderful glimpse into their personal lives that not only told me much more about who they are and what makes them tick but, I also got laughs at visualizing some of what they wrote, much to ponder from some of their thought provoking responses and to sum it up – I got a real sense of peace and joy reading their words.  Read for yourself and I hope your heart is filled with joy and laughter as well.

Susan Muehl

Susan and Jane visit Santa

1954, Jane and Susan visit Santa Claus at Santa Claus Land

My favorite childhood holiday memories and what the season now means to me as an adult seem to have blurred lines!  As a child, I thought it was magic!  It was all about our Christmas traditions.  Before Christmas, our mother would take my twin sister and me to Santa Claus Land in Santa Claus, Indiana.  That’s where we got to speak to Santa about what we’d like for Christmas and ride the rides at the park.  Also before Christmas we would get dressed up and go Christmas shopping in downtown Louisville with our mother and while there, we would view the department store windows decorated for the holidays.  The days leading up to Christmas and the few days after were all about going out to visit friends and family, or they came to see us.  My mother shared cookies and fudge she made.  This is also when we would drive around looking at Christmas lights.  Santa had a surprise he always left at our house ~ he would put a special gift on the beds of my sister and me.  We shared a bedroom so whoever woke up first would wake the other and we’d feel around our beds in the dark for the gift which we could unwrap right then.  Now as an adult many of the same traditions remain.  When my daughter was little, Santa also left her a special gift in her bed each Christmas and it thrilled her as much as it did me when I was young.  We established a new tradition in our family and it was choosing a name from the “giving tree” at a local department store and purchasing gifts for that child.  My daughter enjoyed doing that each year ~ she loved trying to find a little girl who seemed a lot like her based on the gift requests.  Nowadays, I still love to look at Christmas lights ~ the more lights the better!  As a photographer, I’ve enjoyed photographing some of my favorite houses over the years and have a special photo album of “the best of the best” which comes out each Christmas.  Spending time with my family and friends at Christmas time is still important to me.  Everybody seems so much busier these days, but when we can take the time to visit, it’s always special.  I enjoy seeing everyone’s homes decorated for the holidays and sharing mine, as well as sharing fudge (from my mother’s recipe) and cookies I have made.  The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning gift opening with my husband, daughter and son-in-law is a special time each year which I always look forward to.  I have never outgrown the magic of Christmas!

Patti Baron Schreiber

Wow!  It’s hard to pick just one favorite holiday memory from my childhood because my family was so steeped in traditions and they all centered on home.  First came the decorating – it was the same decorations every year and they went in the same location but there was such comfort and joy in pulling the little elf out and setting him on the table or seeing the same ornaments nestled in their boxes, waiting to be hung on the tree.  Christmas Eve began with me setting out a plate of homemade cookies and a glass of milk for Santa.  Then came a visit to my Grandma Martha’s house, where all of my Dad’s brothers, sisters (7!), their spouses and children gathered in a very small space with the men drinking Blackberry Brandy and all of us eating Grandma’s homemade bread.  Magically, when we returned home, Santa had arrived!  Piles of presents were under the tree – quickly placed there by Mom before we left for grandma’s house while Dad and I impatiently waited in the car wondering what she could be doing in there.  After the present opening, we were off to Midnight Mass followed by an open house for anyone who wanted to stop by for ham sandwiches, salads and a dessert buffet.

I have continued many of these same traditions with my own children when they were young and now that they are teenagers; it’s fun to see which traditions are important to them.  Decorating and cookie making are at the top of the list.  This year we can hardly wait to make our special frosted cutout cookies, as we didn’t get to eat any of the time and labor intensive treats last year.  After making the dough, cutting them out, baking and decorating them (a two day affair), my oldest child decided her siblings were hogging the cookies so she hid the plastic bin in the oven.  A short time later, flames erupted in the oven, smoke poured from the vents and the plastic had melted all over the oven and the cookies.  I’m still missing the bottom oven rack which is covered in molded plastic but there’s no doubt in my mind the memory of THAT moment will live on in our minds and give us some good laughs in the coming years.

Jennie Stockslager

When I think of Christmas as a child, I keenly remember making gifts (cigar boxes encrusted with elbow macaroni sprayed gold), wrapping gifts (proud that my mom trusted me) and making millions of cookies – all fun, all exciting.  But I remember, too that at some point during my high school years, I was grateful that the fun and excitement were sustained much longer than usual in our home, all because two little brothers, Rich and Bill, were born when I was 11 and 14, respectively.  The tinsel would have lost its shine for the three older siblings- myself, Chuck and Connie – but because we had two little ones in the house, we were swept into their vortex of believing, which was the best gift ever – and not to be repeated until I had children of my own.

As an adult, I can find myself so overwhelmed with the holidays that if I’m not careful, I start to think of all the decorating, buying, wrapping and addressing cards as a “part-time” job.  At times like this, I recognize that I need to get “real”.  “Real” means getting quiet with myself for as little as five minutes – meditating, journaling, listening to Christmas music, sipping on a cup of chai tea, looking at the snow falling on the twinkle-lighted trees in our yard – anything that helps me remember the truth: I don’t “have” to do anything; I “get” to do the things I choose.  This reality brings me back to the present moment; it slows my mind down…and helps me once again see life as a child.  All possibility.  All magic.  All a gift.

Lindsay Torry

Awaiting His Birth

Awaiting His Birth

Having been given the task of sharing my favorite holiday memory, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks racking my brain, going through them all mentally and changing my mind over and over again about which to share. I mean, there are just SO MANY! However, the answer came to me today as I was watching my children decorate gingerbread houses at my grandparents. My youngest daughter is only two years old, so we are in the really fun stage of exploring every aspect of the holiday season: introducing her to the decorations, lights, music, and that odd, robust old man in the red suit. Today at my grandparents’ house I made a point of showing her one of my favorite Christmas decorations, an antique ceramic nativity set. Now I realize that just about every Christian household has at least one nativity set of some sort, but this one was special. Even as a small child I recognized its delicate beauty, with its soft warm colors and fragile elegance. But the thing that made this nativity unique was the baby Jesus. He wasn’t fixed in the manger like in most modern nativities. No, this baby Jesus didn’t make his presence known until Christmas morning! Every time we went to visit, I would go almost immediately to check his status, anxiously awaiting him in his absence, and always making sure he was there if Christmas had come already. I truly anticipated his arrival! Now, even as an adult, every year I go to admire the nativity and note his absence or presence.

He is born

He is born

Today was no different as I pointed out all of the figures of the set to my daughter. It occurred to me just how very cool this idea is: withholding the baby Jesus from the manger until the morning of his birthday celebration. What a fun way to anticipate his arrival and keep the focus on the true reason for the holiday season! As an adult, each year it has disgusted me a little more how ridiculously commercialized and really off base our society has allowed Christmas to become. It’s more than a little ironic that a season originally about the spirit of giving has become more about getting the best deal and the biggest gifts. Today I was listening to a local radio station that plays all Christmas music during this time of year, and it dawned on me that of the 10 or so songs I had heard, not a single one mentioned Jesus. Sometimes it feels as though he’s been lost in the hustle bustle, that so many people like to take advantage of the decorating, partying, and gift getting, yet don’t ever get to the heart of the matter. Needless to say, after today’s realization I will be searching out a nativity set with a removable baby Jesus for my own home! And I will look forward to sharing in the excitement of Jesus’ arrival year after year with my own children and hopefully, one day, grandchildren!

Sammi Blake

After having thought about this for several weeks, it is still hard to zero in on what my favorite holiday memory is of when I was a child.  And, as an adult thinking back, I realize that my favorite holiday traditions as a child are the same ones I have now.  I still hold near and dear to my heart the traditions I had as a child.  Four of them stick out in my mind though.  I loved baking Christmas cookies, the annual punch-out chocolate Advent calendar, decorating the tree and riding around on Christmas Eve to see the luminaries.

Each year growing up we spent two solid days making and baking cookies.  We made at least eight- dozen.  I remember my mom and I both wearing our aprons.  Every single year my mom would say the same thing to me and I learned to look forward to it.  She would say, “You are the messiest baker I have ever known”.  Once we baked all the cookies we would wrap them up and give them as gifts to our neighbors and friends.

Our yearly Advent calendar took careful planning to figure out the days each of us kids got to pop a chocolate.  As an adult, I still like getting one for my stepchildren to enjoy.

And, oh the Christmas tree!  Every year our Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments we had made ourselves.  The rest of the ornaments were from my mom’s childhood.  It was the most wonderful feeling pulling all the ornaments out of their boxes one by one.  Each one we would stop and talk about.  I can still hear the tingle of the old rusty bell that was my mother’s when she was a child.  Decorating the tree was wonderful and I remember we took such time and care into placing the ornaments on the tree.  Now as an adult, I take the same joy, love and care in decorating our tree.

The luminaries were lit in neighborhoods near where we lived every Christmas Eve.  After church and dinner we used to ride around as a family to see the lights.  We would always turn Christmas music on the radio and we usually drove around in silence so that we could each reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  I especially loved going up and down the hills, as the brilliance from all the luminaries was truly majestic.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year and I look forward to all that it brings.

Crystal Balzer

Ryleigh and Blake with Buddy Rudolph

Ryleigh and Blake with Buddy Rudolph

The Christmas Season as a child and even now as an adult brings me much joy!  I love the smells, the decorations and even the shopping!  Although now as a mother I must admit- my favorite part is creating memories and traditions for my children.  Some of my favorite Christmas memories from my childhood would have to be spending Christmas Eve with my dad (my parents are divorced so this was a special time) and always opening my stocking last (I have carried this tradition on with my own children, after all, the stocking is the best part with each treasure wrapped- it is amazing what you can stuff inside a stocking).  Now with a family of my own we have added a couple more traditions.  We make reindeer food and spread it across the lawn on Christmas Eve so the reindeer know what house to stop at.  We also have an Elf on the Shelf.  The children named our elf, “Buddy Rudolph”.  He arrives each year on December 1st.  He flies to Santa each night telling him how the kids have behaved and when he returns he hides in a different location.  The children rush around in the morning to see who can find him first.  I also have each child pick a gift and we donate it to the Toys For Tots Program.  It is a joy to watch them choose a gift so carefully, each considering what another child their age would like.  It is my hope that when they grow up they will remember the fun, simple traditions we have as a family and even carry them on in their own.

Making reindeer food

Making reindeer food

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have enjoyed these glimpses into Christmas memories and traditions.  Now I wish for all of you the true peace and joy that comes with Christmas.  See you next year!

Strive to Thrive

As I have expressed time and again through my work as a homespace coach, how you live in your homespace must reflect who you are.  Without your physical space in which you dwell aligning with your most inner space (your soul) you forever are out of sync.  You may not know it but, on a subconscious level things just aren’t cohesive.

When I moved to the Chicago area a little over two years ago I left more than my dear family and friends behind.  I left all my business and professional contacts as well.  I had to start over and get into the groove of finding new doctors, new industry colleagues and yes, a new business coach.

I found Patti Baron Schreiber of The Spirited Path.

Now, some of you might say, “A business coach at this stage of your life and career?”

Yep.

The Spirited Path

As with anyone I choose to work with, Patti fit the criteria of being what I call a “conscious” professional.  By that I mean that she has integrated into her work the most important aspect of life~ the spirit.

Working with Patti proved to be beneficial for me for several reasons.

First, she helped me to get back on course with my career path in my new digs- Chicago.  I don’t care what anyone else says, the mid-west is far different than the south from which I hail.  Patti has helped me venture out so to speak in this new culture.

Second, Patti has helped me to continue my journey of truth of whom I am, what I want to do and how I want to live.  Without the crucial connection of my spiritual self in the equation, I would have been missing the real continuation of my journey.  In other words, while working with Patti I have not had to leave the spiritual side of me on the sidelines.

Bridge over stream

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Third, and most importantly, Patti has the unique gift of helping her clients heal wounds they have in their personal lives.  And, I have certainly had my share.  Patti has helped me along this process of healing in ways I am grateful for.

Finally, in both working with Patti and also getting to know her, I have opened a window of opportunity for my blog.  What a wonderful added and surprise benefit of working with her.  Patti has agreed to be a guest author on my blog and give to you readers some of what I have learned myself!

Unconscious to conscious

As a way for readers to get to know Patti, I recently sat down with her in an interview.  Here’s our Q&A.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her and become interested in her future posts.

How did you become a life coach?

“This field actually chose me.  As a result of my own painful journey over ten years ago, I went from unconscious to conscious in a matter of seconds.  It was as if the universe picked me up from one path (the mainstream business world) and plopped me on another (personal and business coaching with an emphasis on aligning yourself with your spirit).”

What have you learned on this new path?

“Once you get past the place of nakedness you can begin the work of embracing who you are.  In other words, once you begin to embrace pain, you can begin to return to your true spirit.“

How do you help your clients?

“There are many ways I help move clients on their own journey of both personal and career growth.  For example, I help my clients understand and confront the multitude of distractions they find to veer away from their true spirit.  Over half of my clients have forgotten “how to play”.  So, I bring “playfulness” back into their lives so that they can get back to the basics of who they are.  Mostly, I help my clients create what I call their “spiritual toolbox” to use on their own as I believe they don’t need to be perpetual students of my coaching (or any other for that matter) but instead, take ownership of their path.  These tools in their toolbox will give them the ability to maintain a life of joy and peace on their own.“

How does your coaching integrate home?

“What I do is help people become aligned with their spirit.  Home starts in the heart and so in healing the heart, they can understand how to connect and be nurtured in their structural home.  The structural home thereby becomes the sanctuary for their soul if you will.”

What best sums up your vantage point of life?

“I read this quote recently in the Chicago Tribune, ‘When your greatest fear comes to pass and you survive, you discover who you really are’ (Mary Schmich, mschmich@tribune.com).”

What topics will you address on this blog?

“There are several that I plan to write about.  One is about how home is the space in which we can do the personal growth work in order to thrive.  Said another way, a calm place to give you the courage to strive to thrive.  We all deserve to thrive!  Another post will be about how to shift energy in your home in order to create a peaceful sanctuary for your soul.“  

Any final thoughts?

“All of us have the ability to create a life we love.  Go out there and do it!“

Look for Patti’s upcoming posts this fall.  Until then, check out her website (www.thespiritedpath.com) and also her Webinar Series that you can find information for on her site.  There is a lot you can learn from her!

Happy thriving…

Thriving flower

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

An Asian Inspired Relaxation Garden

When my wife and I were house hunting, for myself, it was not the great neighborhood, yard or even the house itself that had me sold.  They were all wonderful, but it was the courtyard in the center of the home that sealed the deal.  When we bought the house the courtyard held a fish pond, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before the pond became a garden.  It was the perfect space to bring the outdoors in and was destined to become a place to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  In fact, I am enjoying the courtyard as I write this.

Koi in pond

Japanese koi in pond

The most important point to take away from this article is not how to create a garden with an Asian theme, but rather to inspire you to build your own relaxation space.  Japanese gardens speak to me the most, so our space would incorporate those aesthetics.  Your relaxation garden should also be personal and may be completely different – a shady spot in the backyard, an ivy covered alcove between buildings or a rustic bench by a lazy river.  What matters most is that it is a space where you can get away to enjoy some personal time.  We all need to recharge and what better place than in your own garden.

Designing Your Relaxation Garden

Since our goal is to create a space to relax in, the following are suggestions to keep it that way.

Create a Simple Garden

Regardless of the type of garden you design, my first suggestion is to keep it simple.  The Asian garden would draw from nature and use subtle tones for a calming feel.  Incorporate a natural color palette and pay attention to the textures you plan to include.  You do not want it to be too busy.  For example, I love variegated plants, but an entire garden of them would be distracting.  Instead, use them sparingly as accent plantings.

Keep it Low Maintenance

Cat on mossy stepping stones

Pets need quiet space too!

While I find gardening therapeutic, this space is meant for relaxation.  Select plants that are hardy, easy to grow and that do not require a lot of special attention.  Our garden is shady, so we included hosta, ferns and Solomon’s Seal.  You may prefer grasses for sunny spots or cacti for areas where water is an issue.  I recommend perennials that return year after year, but it helps to “grow what you know.”  You do not want to be worrying about whether your plants will do well.  Plan the garden and consult a nursery if you have questions.

Since this article touches on Asian gardens, I feel compelled to steer you away from planting bamboo.  And that is coming from a self-confessed bamboo addict!  Unless you keep it in pots or really understand what you are planting, it is best to use the canes as decoration or to stay away from it entirely.   Other potentially invasive plants to avoid would include aggressive vines and groundcovers like Vinca.

Mulch and rocks are useful in low maintenance gardens.  Mulch helps control weeds, keeps the soil moist and adds nutrients.  This means you will be spending less time weeding, watering, and your plants will be healthier.  Rocks are virtually maintenance-free, so think about incorporating a nice specimen or decorative gravel.

Develop the Mood

Consider all your senses to help enhance the mood of your garden.  Ours has a stone lantern that is nice during the day, but adds something special to the garden at night when lit.  We also have a moss-covered pathway in our courtyard that we use to get from our living room to the kitchen.  Moss between rocks feels great on bare feet, or substitute with Corsican mint that gives off a minty fragrance when you walk on it.  Flowering plants offer an unlimited variety of smells to work with.  Plant something that only blooms during a particular time of the day, like a Moonflower, for a special treat during your time off.  Water features are great as well.  Even a simple fountain, like a boulder or pot that recirculates water, can add a very soothing touch.  If you want something really unique, build a suikinkutsu.   Choose bells or chimes if you prefer those sounds.

Think Seasonally

Snow in Japanese garden

Our courtyard in winter

My final suggestion is to remember that your garden will change throughout the seasons, so keep that in mind when you are planning it.  Pay attention to which plants will be seen during each season and their colors, as they may change.  Use evergreens for consistent color and texture.  Flowers, trees and shrubs can all be used for seasonal color.  Select plants that bloom at different intervals to have something blooming throughout the season.  Also, try to think past blooms and foliage – specimens with interesting bark can add color and interest even in the dead of winter.

Under the Asian Influence

If you are truly interested in designing an Asian garden, I suggest starting your research with the image search on Google.  Save images you like in a folder to refer to later.  Keep an eye out for features that make a garden distinctly Asian and learn more about them.  A few of my favorites include:

  • Asymmetry – Asymmetrical balance is a core tenet of Japanese art and culture.
  • Shakkei – Concept of “borrowing” scenery to make your garden appear larger than it really is.
  • Wabi-sabi – Incorporate weathered objects to give your garden an ancient feel.  Paint moss on lanterns and rocks to simulate aging.
  • Yūgen – Partially obscuring objects to suggest their beauty. This leaves something for the imagination.

Regardless of the type of relaxation garden you design, keep it simple and personal.  The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it.  Visit your garden often and experience the changes throughout the year.

Happy gardening relaxing!

Everything Begins in the Home

Everything does begin in the home.

What you experience as a child makes you much of what you become.  Whether it is the moral code you are taught in your home, the core beliefs that become ingrained in your subconscious, the attitudes you develop, the family habits and traditions you learn or the décor style you are exposed to – what you learn from all this affects you forever more.

Our homes mold us.

Our homes shape us.

Our homes define who we are.

That is why the homespace is so crucial.  It is that simple.  And yet, it is that complex.  Every subtle nuance that goes on in your home of origin weaves history through your psyche.

Do not take the art of living in your homespace for granted.  Make it fit you.  Make it fit that which your family is and what they will become in the future.

A little bit of psychology, a dose of design, a lot of common sense and an abundance of spirituality goes into the making of a homespace that truly honors you, your family, and the earth.

“Living in Perfect Harmony” blends knowledge and information from each of these disciplines to teach you how to live in peace and harmony.   Learn to live as nature intended us to – at one with each other.

Oh, and don’t forget humor.  Life is too serious to be taken too seriously!

One thought…

Everything begins in the home.

Start your bliss!

Photo credit: Susan Muehl