Thursday, July 9, 2015

Come See the New Place

In an effort to better serve this purpose, I have launched a new website at www.RitaHerrmann.com. The new site will have all the goodness you have come to expect here, but with a better look and a few surprises.

Please visit the new site and sign up for an email subscription so you don't miss a post. Thank you for being on this journey with me, and I hope you like our new ride.

Vroom, vroom! We're off to the new site!

This page will remain available for viewing, but will effectively be parked. All new posts will be at the new site.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Beauty of the Ozarks at 5,000 Feet

The Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas holds a myriad of beautiful sights and notable locations. One walk along the Buffalo National River will attest to that, and yet so much more is held within the hills of this region. Forests, caverns, creeks, and rivers, all adorned by regal bluff lines towering overhead. Crystal clear waters flow through untouched woodlands where creatures great and small live in protected bliss. A resident of this region for over 30 years, I knew all the beauty this area held at ground level, but nothing could compare to a view I experienced recently.

I luck into things, occasionally.

I have the good fortune of working with someone whose preferred mode of transportation is a small plane, and as this luck of mine would have it, we had a meeting on the west side of the state this week. I've flown with him several times before, but always on clear days with maybe a wispy cloud in the distance. This time, something about the partly cloudy skies changed everything I thought about my Ozark Mountains.

On a clear day, an aerial view shows the vast green forests, with serpentine rivers cutting their paths, and ridges beyond ridges of layered vistas. On a partly cloudy day though, the shadows cast by the clouds on the landscape somehow enhanced the definition of the hills, illustrating the graduated misty colors all the way to the horizon. Through each break in the clouds, the hills put on their best show, but the clouds created their own production right outside my window. The region somehow looked different to me, more beautiful, perhaps because I have never seen it from that view, wearing its best outfit. Until then, I never really knew it.

Flying through clouds on a commercial airliner loses something. The magic is stunted by the sheer size and altitude of it all. Small crafts, however, put you right at eye level to these clouds, close enough to introduce yourself. All the tension I had felt earlier in the day faded away as I watched out my window to see the puff and billow of new clouds forming, while the ever-transforming shapes whooshed past us. This flight was different. This flight showed me the best of Arkansas. This was the day that I saw its truest beauty in all it intoxicating wonder.

Friday, May 22, 2015

100 Days of Purpose

Imagine this:  You are given a chance to have that thing you have always wanted, but it will cost you.  You hem and haw, kick your feet, and finally ask, "How much?" An otherworldly voice says, "Less than $1." Suddenly, you perk up. You stand up straight and yell, "I'm in! Here's my dollar!"

Could it be this easy? Perhaps. Could it be this cheap? Yes. But, you don't pay in cash. You pay in days.

Your mission: Dedicate 100 days to something good for yourself or another.

Here's how: The most valuable commodity you possess is time, so the request to give 100 days to a self-proclaimed purpose might, on the surface, seem like a lot to pay. 100 days? That's, like, all summer! You are right; it is one season of the year, but in the big stash of time the average human has on this earth, it's a slim price to pay. We humans average 80 years walking this planet, or roughly 29,000 days. With all those days to fill, giving 100 days to focus on something of your choosing, something pleasurable, or some improvement - well, what's 100 days out of 29,000? It's way less than 1% of your average time on earth.

Proclaim your mission: Have you wanted to quit a caffeine addiction? Wish you would read more? Want to be more creative? Or train for mini-marathon? Perhaps photography is your passion, so taking photographs of your life for 100 days would enhance your craft. Take a moment to think about that something that has been gnawing at you to do, and do it. Better yet, let's do it together -- all of us.

In America, we are fast approaching Memorial Day (May 25) which serves as a great jumping off point for our 100 day mission. As luck, and the calendar, would have it, American's celebrate Labor Day on September 7. The two holidays fall about 100 days apart on the calendar (105 days this year) and will serve as our official start and finish lines. Other parts of the world are invited to jump in, regardless how we title our holidays, and be part of the project from late May to early September.

Where to start?

State your mission. Here are a few ideas to get your brain cells clicking. I would suggest not making the project so small that you achieve it in a few weeks and lose interest thereafter, while not making the goal so large that the sheer lack of attainability creates frustration and guilt. Select something that is a wee challenge but not a monumental task. (And remember, we are NOT about guilt here.)
Here are a few random ideas to get you thinking:
  • For 100 days, vow to read a few pages everyday in that book that you bought last year and have yet to open.
  • For 100 days, practice the yoga routine you love, just because you know it's good for you.
  • For 100 days, give up sugary snacks (yikes!)
  • For 100 days, dedicate one hour each day to using no technology.
  • For 100 days, write one sentence of gratitude each night.
  • For 100 days, stop some little habit you have.
  • For 100 days, wish on the first star in the night sky.
  • For 100 days, volunteer for a local charity
Last year was the first time I tried this particular project, spanning from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the big picture, 100 days did not seem like much, but about 30 days into it, minor struggles appeared. Doing this as part of a group makes those rough patches so much easier to muster, which is why I'll be using the hashtag #100daysofpurpose on both Twitter and Instagram. When we all meet there, with our hashtags raised, we can encourage one another to see our proclaimed purpose through to the end.

So, are you with me?

Proclaim your 100 Days of Purpose in the comments or using #100daysofpurpose on Twitter or Instagram. Then check back over the next 100 days to see what other are doing, tell of your journey, and (best of all) offer words of applause or encouragement to another.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Secrets of the Everyday Adventure

A road trip across the American West. Exploring Iceland.  Relaxing on Italy's Amalfi Coast. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Each of these are easily classified as adventures, but discovering a lifetime of adventures does not require plane tickets or a passport. The secret to the everyday adventure is to start with your own backyard.

Yes, Dorothy, if you ever go looking for your heart's desire again, you don't have to go further than your own back yard. The Wizard of Oz taught us more than how to escape from vindictive apple trees and flying monkeys. The story shows us that the best things in life are often so close to us we could touch them, if we could only see them.

For as long as I can remember, I have incorporated mini-adventures into my life. I watched people take these grand trips across oceans and continents, while secretly wondering if I would ever be able to live their life. One day, I decided to explore the area close to me rather than envy their explorations of faraway lands. Once I decided that adventure could be found in a local museum or a hike through the woods, adventures showed up in my life every day.

Some of the best days have been spent lost in the wonders of my own backyard. A recent trip to several historic grist mills is a good example. For the cost of a tank of gas and lunch, I gained as much relaxation and inspiration as a week-long vacation. An everyday adventure includes only two things: a willingness to go somewhere new and an open mind to see what it has to offer. Reflecting on that statement for a moment brings many ideas to mind, like:
  1. Perusing the aisles of local junk shops, on the great hunt for a new somethin'-somethin' to add to your home.
  2. A picnic at the local park followed by a walk and a few turns on the swings.
  3. Driving the back roads to work or the market, with eyes wide open to spot unexplored places.
  4. A leisurely afternoon at a museum, reading all the display information at your own pace.
  5. Trying a new restaurant OR going to a familiar restaurant and ordering something other than "your usual."
  6. Finally going to that festival in a nearby town that you have always wanted to attend.
  7. Learn a new skill whether that is at the local college, or an online class, or even by watching YouTube videos!
Most of all, remember to document your adventure so you can refer to it again. That may be by buying a simple souvenir along the way as a memento or taking photos. Perhaps you are one who likes to journal about your adventures or write a blog post (yeah, this is my category). If available, buy a postcard on your adventure and mail it to yourself so days later you can remember how good you felt at that moment.

Document Your Everyday Adventure 

Recently, I discovered a clever tool to motivate, plan, and document those adventures in Sarah Shotts' "Venture Planner." This darling downloadable planner gives the user several options on both size and style, and hell, it's just fun to create!

After purchasing the Venture Planner for $20 US, I was surprised to see all that it included. Honestly, the primary reason I purchased it was to support another's creative endeavor (which is a good habit to cultivate, by the way -- try it!) but was pleasantly surprised by what was included in the package AND the amount of flexibility it offered. Sarah's got it goin' on!

So what's included, you ask? Think of this as an electronically delivered "kit" to build your own personalized planner. Not only does it begin with a lively Welcome Letter and easy instructions, the planner pages themselves are dotted with cheery artwork that bring a smile and streamlined prompts to encourage one to see adventure all around. The package includes four sizes of pages, allowing the user to print their preferred style. Once the size is selected, each size has four different types of pages, including daily, weekly, monthly, and checklist pages. Each of those page types has five themes from which you can choose. See? Flexibility and customization abound! On top of that, Sarah throws in bonuses of printable stickers to embellish your planner, an Adventurer's Handbook to help you find your everyday adventures, and even more inspiration than that.

Several varieties of pages are included -- print one style or print them all!
Several varieties of pages are included -- print one style or print them all!
I chose the Midori size, which has finished measurements of roughly 4.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches long. Other sizes include full page (8.5 x 11), half page (5.5 x 8.5) and personal (3.7 x 6.7). After selecting the size, it's a matter of printing your pages and assembly. This is where your creativity steps into the process. I won't go into great detail with my process, so not to influence your process, but these are just a few photos and tips.

I liked all the themes so I printed several pages of all the themes, utilizing double-sided printing by printing on one side of the page and reloading those pages to print on the other side. Since I chose the Midori size, I trimmed the edges to size, stacked them, and set them aside to work on the cover.

But first, chose your binding and cover style.
But first, chose your binding and cover style.
Booklet covers are easy and fun to make and do not have to be expensive, in fact, they can be made completely out of found materials. Starting with the cardboard of a cereal box, I cut the front and back covers to size and then slathered them with glue, when I adhered pretty scrapbook paper to cover each side (hint: use a scraper to smooth out the paper and prevent bubbles -- an old credit card works great). I cut two pieces, one for the front and one for the back, and connected them with washi tape I had on hand (hint: leave a 1/4 inch gap between the two sides of the cover when connecting them with the washi tape for the binder). No scrapbook paper? Look around the house for wrapping paper, brown paper sacks, newspaper, or magazine pages. OR, cover the cardboard with artist's paper and unleash your inner artist! No washi tape? Use fun duct tape or simple packaging tape.

A pamphlet stitch was just the ticket for binding my planner.
A pamphlet stitch was just the ticket for binding my planner.
Once the cover is ready, position the stacked pages of the planner on top, right where you want them to stay. I used a simple sewn binding, which means the next thing I did was punch five evenly placed holes through all the pages and into the cover. The pointy end of a compass works great, but you can use a large needle, a kitchen skewer, or a nail (just be careful with all pointy things so you don't get blood on your new planner). With a large needle, I chose a heavy string and sewed what is called a pamphlet stitch (I'll let these folks give you the details). Once you do this a time or two, you will make little booklets for everything.
Remember the gap between the front and back cover where we fastened the two side together with washi tape? That became the fold of the cover. The gap between the cardboard, which is covered with the tape, is where the pamphlet stitch will fasten. It's easier to stitch through washi tape than cardboard (trust me on this one).
The gap in the washi tape for the cover allows you to more easily stitch through the pages and secure them to the cover.
The gap in the washi tape for the cover allows
you to more easily stitch through the pages
 and secure them to the cover.
Voila! The clever personalized planner is ready for it's first adventure! Wait, making this planner was an adventure of its own, unleashing the creativity within you and learning along the way.

Where Will You Go?

I would love to hear your ideas about how you incorporate everyday adventures into your life. Whether grand or small, experiencing something new is a great way to enliven the spirit and make your life anything but ordinary. Share your adventures (or ideas for adventures) in the comments or by using the hashtag #myeverydayadventures on Twitter or Instagram.

Let's explore!

.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Please Stop Telling Strangers "Happy Mother's Day"

A lot of women would love to hear three little words that would immediately make her heart skip a beat and a flush come to her cheeks. But when that handsome man smiles and says, "Happy Mother's Day," things can get a bit awkward.

Years ago when I worked in a motel, I generally worked the front desk on Sundays when I would see guests off from their weekend stays. One Sunday a year was the worst day for me, perhaps for any woman without children, to work because the Southern hospitality that dictates well-wishes to strangers just becomes too much. That day is Mother's Day.

Well-wishes of the sort are lovely when spoken to a family member or friend, but when spoken to a stranger, the congenial step into awkwardness, and sometimes emotional pain, is a social faux pas of preventable measure. Several reasons exist to support the reasoning of not saying these springtime holiday words to a stranger, of which the following are a few.

1. You don't know her child choices. An amazing thing has happened in the last few decades: women have realized they have choices on whether or not to have children. Rather than follow the road previous generations set out for them, modern women are deciding early on whether they have a passion to be a mother or whether motherhood is not a personal goal. Wishing someone who does not have, nor wants to have, children a "Happy Mother's Day," can turn into a shaky back and forth of, "I don't have children," followed by "Well, when you do," and the internal dialog in her head of, "But I'm not."

2. She may be trying. Some women who are sure to be glorious mothers, for many reasons may have difficulty getting pregnant. She may have an intense desire to be a mother but is struggling with infertility, and your well-meaning expression might strike her more harshly than intended. While you have walked on with your day, she is left with a twinge of heartbreak at the reminder she is does not have the child she so dreams to have.

3. She may be grieving. No greater pain could exist than to lose a child. A woman I know is a mother to three children, all of whom were lost at separate times before the age of 21. She is indeed a mother, but not with children on this earth. How she manages to get out of bed every day and still be one of the most gracious and kind women I know, is beyond me, but she is also fragile. One who does not know her and wishes her a "Happy Mother's Day," may unknowingly open that terrible wound.

4. She may be longing. Unfortunately, having children is not a guaranty that there will be someone there to share your waning years. The older woman you see may be the age of a grandmother, but hasn't seen her children in 20 years due to some rift long before. Those three little words spoken by a stranger may remind her of what is lost.

5. You just plain don't know her. Polite words spoken to the people we pass in our daily lives is a wonderfully fine gesture of good manners, but a moment of thought before speaking those words is necessary. If you were on vacation in Europe, you wouldn't tell people "Happy Fourth of July," because as an American holiday, it does not apply to them. In that example, it would only result in possibly a confused tilt of the head. Something as personal as motherhood should be treated with more thought and not left as a lighthearted greeting to a perfect stranger.

Please stop telling strangers, "Happy Mother's Day." Say it to your mother, your grandmother, favorite aunts, dear friends, but please stop dishing out these words to women you do not know. So much more lives within these beautiful creatures of womanhood that you just do not know how powerful these three little words could be when landing upon her ears. Instead, keep the greetings more generic and just say, "Have a nice day." That sentiment would apply to all women, whoever they are.

Friday, May 1, 2015

How to Find Happiness

Finding happiness is not as easy as shopping for a new shirt, but with a few key points, one can create a path toward happiness that, in the end, will make you look better than that shirt ever did.

1.  Find your fuel. Identify an activity that does nothing for you but make you smile or fill you with peacefulness. This may likely be a hobby -- hiking, running, painting, singing, traveling, knitting -- but it is important to make sure it is an activity that you can practice alone. Not that you cannot engage in the activity with someone else, but that you can if you wish. Discovering your fuel will be of great benefit when the inevitable bumps in the highway of life occur (and they will).

2.  Learn to enjoy your own company. Humans are social creatures, but we as evolved creatures in the 21st century should know how to entertain ourselves autonomously. This is not to advocate detaching yourself from society, quite the opposite, but the key to finding true happiness is not depending on someone else to bring it to you. Let's face it: people come and go in your life for many reasons, and if the basis for your happiness in life is placed in another person, then your happiness is at the their control.

3. Be creative.  Social scientist Dr. Brene Brown says, "Unused creativity is not benign." She continues by explaining that humans are creative beings, and when creativity is stunted, it manifests itself in rage, grief, sorrow, and judgment. Unlocking your creativity, even if the result is only for yourself (in fact, especially if the result is only for yourself) is important to tapping into your core happiness.


4. Be a friend to yourself. All of us  have those little gremlins in our heads that tell us how we could have done or said something better, and those little creatures need to be given their walking papers. They take up space and offer no resolution, except to be that one catty friend in the group that we wish would just shut up already (and we all secretly dislike that catty friend). Send that gremlin packing; no longer rent space to that negative voice that spends way too much time commenting on your thighs. One moment at time, learn to speak to yourself like a friend, like you would speak to someone you love.

5. Stop pleasing society. This is going to get some backlash, but give me a few moments. Only you can decide what is right for you, what is best for your heart and mind to live contently during your time here on Earth. This may mean bucking the system or going against the wishes of family. For example, if you do not feel a passion to have children, then you should not let your partner or family push (or shame) you into having children. The same can apply to marriage and career choices. When a big part of your life is not in harmony with what fuels your heart, then you have an conflicted situation. Unhappiness breeds in these areas, spreading like mold in a damp basement. Sooner or later, you will burst from this place of conflict, and it won't be pretty.

6.  Give up control. We have all seen them. We call them 'control-freaks,' and we all know them, even when we seem them in the bathroom mirror. People who feel they have lost control in one or more areas of their life will overcompensate in other areas by trying to control every piece of it. The underlying issue is unhappiness. How many control-freaks have you known who have had their lives fall apart anyway, despite their efforts to control every outcome? Come on, let me see those hands. Yep, that's what I thought. Even when a person tries to control everything, $hit will still fall apart. Divorces will happen; cancer will still grow; jobs will be lost; friends will die. Stop trying to control others. Focus on only controlling how you walk through this life, because you are the only one you can control. And let's face it, those controllers are really annoying the hell out of the rest of us.

7. Find your tribe. You may think this is contradictory to #2, but these are two separate and necessary parts which are actually in harmony. Finding your tribe simply means seeking out people who are in balance with your beliefs. These people could be friends you already have or family that you have known since birth. Sometimes, they are respected teachers or new friends discovered in unlikely places. They do not have to do everything together or even live in the same town. These are people with whom you share a mutual respect and support for each other's manner of living, and, through that respect, create mutual inspiration. My tribe is spread across the world and includes people all walks of life. We talk as friends, we support each other's pursuits, and gain inspiration from each other. We are not in competition; we are each other's cheerleaders.

8. Understand your many facets. For American teenagers, much emphasis is placed on choosing a career path that makes one happy. While finding a job that is both emotionally fulfilling and financial sustaining is wonderful when it happens, know that the two points may not always come together, and that is okay. The focus of your happiness should not lie solely on your job. Your employment may be a place that you like and work that you do well, while putting food on the table and a roof over your head. But your fuel (see #1) may be what you do outside of work, and that is okay. Contrary to all the many self-help books out there, sometimes your bliss is not found in your day-job. Sometimes, finding a job that is financially sustaining to your life and 'pleasant-enough' to do each day is all you can expect, while your fuel (again, see #1) can be found outside of your employment. That is okay, and frankly, more common than you think. My own father is a great example, having a day-job in drafting -- at which he was very good -- but his fuel came from his time after work, creating things in his woodworking shop in our garage. By understanding that humans are many faceted creatures, we can understand that happiness may be drawn from the collection of our many areas of interests. Happiness may not come from one interest; it may come from the collection of many interests.

9. Cull the excess. True happiness is not derived from things. It is not dependent on how many shoes you own or how many trips you take a year. It is not determined by your list of friends or the kind of car you drive. It does not have a price tag, and yet it is the most valuable thing in your life. (So, you can stop hanging out with the pompous jerk just because his name on your guest list will somehow impress others.) Learn to live with less because, frankly, stuff happens (see #6) and you really don't want to be the one devastated over the loss of your 50 pair of designer heels. It's just shoes; you'll live.

10. Wipe that goofy smile off your face. Truly happy people don't go around all day grinning like a Cheshire cat or telling people how happy they are. True happiness does not require laughing all day long or skipping to the mailbox. Laughter, smiling, and skipping (if you so choose) are indeed manifestations of happy behavior but should not be forced or expected. You are not advertising for some happiness cult. Truly happy people are content. They do not feel the need to talk about their happiness all the time, but are generally willing to discuss it if someone asks their secret. In my experience, if you have to tell people you are happy, you aren't. True happiness does not need attention.

11. Self-care, self-care, self-care. The airline industry accurately describes what is needed before people can be of service to others. Every pre-flight instruction includes the phrase about oxygen masks, "Secure the mask over your mouth first before helping those traveling with you." This is not heartless to attend to yourself first, in fact, this instruction shows that you can be of no service to others if you are not sufficiently attended. Self-care can manifest itself in many ways, whether that is setting aside time to walk every day or getting a massage every month. It could mean declining that invitation to chair a committee when your schedule is already full. Perhaps it means a long bath or sleeping in on Saturday. Be sure your body and mind have sufficient care so you can then be fully present and fully attentive to those who need you.

Core happiness leans more toward finding the quiet contentment with one's place in the world rather than donning a comedic face and laughing in the face of tragedy. Giddiness is momentary, but true happiness is enduring. Most importantly, remember this is a journey. It is not a race, and it is not a competition. Being mindful of these points during your days will lead you toward being your most contented self, which is right where the happiness lies.