Welcome, fall + the pure pleasure of making cake

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Last week, I did something I’ve wanted to do for twenty-five years: I made Truvy’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cake.

Truvy is the character played by Dolly Parton in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, and there’s a point in the movie where she lists the ingredients for a cake she calls “Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa” — a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, and a cup of fruit cocktail with the juice. (“I serve it over ice cream to cut the sweetness,” says Truvy.)

Ever since I saw this movie in the theater in 1989, I’ve wanted to make Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cake. I don’t know why. It just sounded fun. And I love baking, but I hardly ever do it.

A little bit after I saw the movie, I was a theater major in college and in my acting classes we did scenes from “Steel Magnolias” (which was a play before it was a movie). And again I was reminded of Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa, and again I didn’t make it.

And then one summer a little later I auditioned for a community theater production of “Steel Magnolias” (I really wanted to play kooky Adele, the part Daryl Hannah plays in the movie), but I was not cast. The woman sitting next to me was auditioning for Truvy, and to calm our nerves we kept giggling and reciting the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa recipe. And I thought, after this, whether I am cast in this play or not, I’m going to go home and make Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa. But I didn’t.

And then, over many years, I’d see the movie here and there on TV and I’d think, I really want to make that cake! But I didn’t.

Well, last week, I came across the recipe on Pinterest. I got all excited and said to my boyfriend, “Oh my God, it’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa! I’ve always wanted to make this!”

“Well, you should make it,” my boyfriend said.

“Maybe I will,” I said. But I really had no intention of making it; I just collected it on my Pinterest Cake-O-Rama board, along with many other cakes I will never make.

Then a day or so later we were at the grocery store and I saw the fruit cocktail. I threw it in the cart.

“Are you doing it?” said my boyfriend, grinning.

“I’m doing it,” I said. (This is something I’ve noticed about me and decisions: I often only know I’ve actually made a decision because, suddenly, I’m doing it.)

And I did make it, and I have to tell you, it was an amazing success. It was more delicious than I could have imagined — moist, golden, sugary, and it smelled so much like something my Grandmas would have made (or maybe the smell of fruit cocktail just reminds me of my Grandmas).

But, in truth, I wouldn’t have cared if the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa didn’t turn out well or was even on the disgusting side. The thing is that making it was fun. That was all it was and that was my only reason for doing it.

How often in my life have I put something off, or never really intended to do it at all, because although I loved the idea of it, it didn’t seem “serious” or important enough? Because it didn’t seem like it would yield “long-term results”?

Making the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa produced its own, immediate results. It gave me an experience — stirring the batter as that just-about-fall crisp air came in through the kitchen window, licking the spoon like I did when I was a kid, the fruit-and-sugar scent of the cake filling the house as it baked. Marveling with my boyfriend over how something with only three ingredients could taste so amazing (especially given that I’m really not a fan of fruit cocktail).

And here’s the interesting thing: the fact that I actually went ahead and DID this thing that I wanted to do, this thing purely for fun, gave me the most curious sense of accomplishment. I felt deeply satisfied, just in the doing.

I want to do more things that are just “for fun”. I want to stop saying I’ll do them “some day.” I want to notice when I’m squashing the part of me that wants these simple joys because another part of me thinks I “should” be doing something else.

I’ve also been saying since 1987 that I want to make the eggs-in-bread fried up by Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck” (a.k.a. “Moonstruck Eggs”). I’ll report back.

(Here’s the recipe for Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa Cake that I found on Pinterest.)

Where do you notice yourself saying “maybe” or “someday” to things that strike you as pure joy, pure fun? What if you were to say “yes” and “today” instead?

Also: To welcome fall, my very favorite season, and all the endings and beginnings that fall always brings, I am offering my Mini Unsticky Sessions at half price through Halloween, October 31. That’s because, as all good things must come to an end, I’ll be retiring my Mini Unsticky Sessions after Halloween, so something juicy and new can take their place.

I’ve now done nearly one hundred of these sessions and I daresay I have gotten pretty good at them. If you’re feeling stuck on a creative project or around your creativity in general, you might want to give one a shot. Because speaking of fun, these sessions really are! Find out more, here.

Image is “Autumn in the Forest” © Uschi Hering | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #10

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Saturday Gratitude post and it’s really time for another. The past few weeks have been kind of insane around here, in mostly good ways. But my HSP introvert self has been desperate for a little solid downtime, which, thankfully, I am able to have this weekend.

So here are some things I’ve been grateful for since my last Saturday Gratitude post:

1) My “senior” cat (the vet says he’s a senior, but Sullivan doesn’t agree with this at all) came through his dental surgery just fine, minus three teeth. The couple of days after were no fun for any of us around here, but on the third day he was back to his shelf-climbing, window-gazing, chattering-at-birdies self. Pheewwww. I’m grateful to the folks at Prairie State Animal Hospital for giving him extra love.

(Quite inexplicably, he’s still hanging out in the cat carrier, apparently no longer relating to it as an instrument of doom.)

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2) I participated in Kristin Noelle’s I Choose Authentic Joy Healing Wave, and we had a number of wonderful conversations in the Facebook group, including one about gratitude. I’ve signed up for a number of Kristin’s Healing Waves and they truly inspire me; if you’re not familiar with her terrific artwork, do check her out!

3) Last Sunday, I gave a presentation to Chicago IONS on “Time and Conscious Doing.” We talked a lot about how our thoughts can give us this (false) idea that there isn’t enough time, and how we can choose to create and take action from a feeling of “enough”. I was so grateful for the deep participation in the exercises and insightful questions from the audience, and to those who came up afterward to continue the conversation.

4) Squirrel monkeys! My boyfriend and I rewarded ourselves for work completed by taking a trip to Brookfield Zoo, and there are now squirrel monkeys in Tropic World, swinging like they own the place and have always been there (though what happened to my beloved capuchins?). Monkeys continue to be a kind of power animal for me, reminding me that I am always inspired when I focus on play, curiosity, and hanging out upside down (if only metaphorically).

What about you? What are you grateful for today? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Top image © Dr_harry | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Why I write (the My Writing Process blog tour!)

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My friend Mary Montanye, author of the recently-published memoir Above Tree Line, tagged me in the My Writing Process blog tour and I’m so grateful. I absolutely adore talking to other writers about why, and how, they write. It’s never exactly the same for any two people, and I love that.

So thanks, Mary, for the tag (and I hope you’ll visit her beautiful site and read her post). At the end of this post, I’ll be tagging another writer and the tour will continue! (Do click through and check out the previous writers on this tour — I’ve been having such a great time reading about everyone’s process!)

Just for fun, here’s my first memory of myself writing: I wrote a tiny book (on index cards, with purple Magic Marker) about our dog, Rosie. I drew pictures, too. My dad bound it in a little leather cover. I imagine he still has it somewhere. I was about five, I think. I wrote the book because I could hardly contain the joy our dog created in me. It simply had to be expressed.

So let me launch into the questions for this blog tour and let’s see if I still write for the reasons I did at five!

Why do you write what you do? 

For me, journaling is the hub of all my writing. I am a compulsive journaler and have been since I was about thirteen (one of my earliest journals is pictured above, modeled by kitty. Yes, I still have it!).

I journal to understand, process, and integrate what I’m going through. And my journaling leaps off my notebook into other forms of writing — fiction, essays, blog posts, short stories. No matter what I’m writing, I’m always doing it for the same reason: I want to know and understand myself better.

Even when I write a fictional character, that character is often an aspect of me, perhaps a shadowy part of me that I don’t know very well, and maybe am afraid to know. In that sense, all of my writing is about moving myself toward wholeness.

And, there is always the hope that what I write will reach that person who truly needs to read it.

What are you working on?

In a nutshell, I’m revising a novel draft about a forty-year-old woman who realizes she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up (and her life is not exactly set up to allow her to find out). I’m also working on a short story about a sixteen-year-old girl who’s in that tender and sometimes treacherous transition place between child and adult (ouch!).

My characters are often “seekers” who are idealistic and struggle with the question of what it means to be a “happy adult” in this world. I feel I have a nonfiction book in me, too, but it’s not letting me know exactly what it is yet.

What is your writing process?

I am a “pantser” and an intuitive writer — I don’t do a lot of planning or outlining, I like to jump in and write. I’m a big believer in “spaghetti on the wall” first drafts. I want to get it all out there and see what sticks (which isn’t always easy for me as I have a pretty powerful inner perfectionist).

I almost always start the day with morning pages; I find I’m more grounded and centered throughout the day when I do, and very often an almost-complete blog post or idea for a short story or solution to the issue I’m having with my novel comes out of my morning pages. From morning pages, I jump off into my other writing.

I don’t write for hours at a time — at about 90 minutes max, I usually reach a point where I’ve had enough and it’s time to put away the writing and let my subconscious chew on it for a while before I return to it. Lately, I’m rediscovering how important it is to step away from the writing and come back to it with fresh eyes.

And it’s hard for me to talk about my writing process without mentioning the wonderful creative writing program at Columbia College Chicago. It was there that I learned to trust my writer’s voice and my innate sense of story, and I still picture the semi-circle of open, curious faces in those classes when I write. More recently, I’ve received tremendous daily support for my writing from The Writer’s Circle.

Oh, and coffee! I absolutely must have my coffee before I start writing. And — if there’s time — a good, long walk. And, if I’m writing at home, my cat on my lap.

And now I’d like to tag Michele Alishahi — a memoirist who writes beautiful blog posts. Her story is so compelling — I hope you’ll bookmark her site and visit it on June 23, as the My Writing Process blog tour continues!

I really want to hear about YOUR writing process, if you’re a writer. I’d love it if you’d share in the comments.

Curiosity … and decluttering!

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I’ve been focused on two concepts for the past several weeks and today as I did my morning pages, I found myself writing about what a difference this focus has made.

The first:

Curiosity, not judgment.

I’ve had a longstanding, automatic habit of feeling discomfort or dissatisfaction about some area of my life and immediately jumping to judging myself for feeling that way. Then my mind dives into the past and starts finding evidence for all the ways I’ve made poor choices to get me to where I am today. So not helpful.

Over the past several years (particularly since going through coach training with Martha Beck), I’ve learned more and more how just getting really curious about what’s going on for me is WAY more effective than judging it.

When I judge myself (or some part of my life), I create a war. The judging voice says, “How could you have created this situation? What were you thinking?” And another part of me shouts back, “Hey! Stop judging me! I hate you!

Curiosity shifts that. Curiosity is neutral. Actually — curiosity is playful.

I love the curiosity my cat exhibits on a daily basis. It’s so much a part of him. He’s curious about his surroundings, checking them out literally every day as though they are completely new to him, even though he never leaves the same 900 or so square feet. Hey, what’s in this corner over here? Holy field mouse, it’s a dust bunny! How did this get here? How fun is this? I’m playing with it, now!

I like to take that kind of playful curiosity and apply it to the places I’m feeling stuck. Hmm … what’s going on here? What’s really going on here? Is this situation really like that one ten years ago? Or am I actually a different person than I was then, who has a larger range of choices? Hmm …

And so on. Curiosity takes the charge out of judgment and allows me to breathe, reframe, and see all my options.

The second thing I’m focused on lately is decluttering.

I have a deep, deep fear of loss of any kind. And I tend to get attached to objects, very attached. So for the past few weeks, I’ve committed to putting a bag of stuff together to donate every Sunday. I drop it into a donation box on my way to the grocery on Sunday mornings.

This has felt so good. I started small with this — one or two items — and it felt so amazing to let go of things that I’ve worked my way up to lots and lots of stuff.

My only rule has been that if I’m really hesitant to let go of something, I’m not yet ready to let go of it.

Frequently, what I’m not ready to let go of one week, I’m ready to let go of the next week. Fascinating, right? I can let go more quickly by not forcing myself to let go. Good to know!

And that’s it for today. Hope you’re having a beautiful weekend full of curiosity and play.

Speaking of which, I have a guest blog post on Jenna Avery’s wonderful site this week, about how I’m learning to finish my novel drafts, after years of getting stuck, and how awareness and curiosity figured into that process.  If you struggle to finish any project, I hope you’ll head over and take a look!

Image is “Cat in Grass” © Genarosilva | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #9

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For today’s Saturday Gratitude post, I want to focus on small things, even tiny things, that made a big difference this week.

I notice how, often, when I’m convinced something is lacking in my life, I get fixated on the idea that I need a big change in order to feel better. But most of the time, it’s not a big change I need but a small shift in perspective, energy, or mood. Or maybe just a tiny reminder that I’m doing okay, I’m on a good path.

So here are three tiny things that helped in a big way this week:

1) The hand-written, snail-mailed thank you card from a friend that arrived at the perfect moment.

2) My cat jumping up on the couch and touching my forearm with his paw while I was having a moment of solitude. The coolness of his paw pads as he purred next to me. Somehow, cats never take away from solitude, only add to it.

3) That one line in my novel draft that I know I got right, and the laugh of recognition in my friend’s voice as I read it to her over the phone.

What tiny things helped you in a big way this week? What do you notice when you look back over your week that you really appreciated? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Saturday Gratitude #7

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Here we are at Saturday Gratitude post number seven already. These posts really help me slow down and connect to myself, and I hope they trigger good stuff for you, too. (Please share in the comments if you’d like!)

So, here are three things I’m grateful for this week:

1) The robins have arrived, signaling that it really and truly IS spring.

And they are everywhere. There is something moving to me about the way they are completely absent from the landscape during the winter, but they always return when the weather warms up and claim their territory as if they never left. Seeing them again reminds me of the mama robin who built a nest on our front porch a few years ago. She protected this nest so fiercely that I had to tell the mailman to leave the mail in the back, because the robin would fly at the head of anyone who ventured up on the porch. We left the porch to her until her babies grew up enough to leave the nest. I was tempted to call her mean, but what looked like meanness was actually excellent parenting.

2) Anger. And recognizing I needed to act on it.

Anger and I have not always had a very, shall we say, friendly relationship. My tendency has been to press it down or pretend it’s not there. But actually, anger is a friend — and a good one, if I listen to its message and make a conscious choice about whether or not to act on that message. Karla McLaren calls our healthy anger “the honorable sentry.” She says it helps us protect what needs to be protected, and restore what needs to be restored. Yes. I’m grateful I was able to honor my honorable sentry this week.

3) Four fluffy little dogs moved in across the street.

They move as a chaotic little group, each wearing a different colored harness, pulling their owner all over the sidewalk. It’s a delight to watch and I look forward to seeing it frequently.

What are you grateful for this week? I’d love to hear, and I wish you plenty of moments to be grateful for in the week ahead.

Image is “First Flower” © Tomas Stasiulaitis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #4

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Last week’s Saturday Gratitude didn’t happen due to the fact that I had finally surrendered to sickness (see #2, below). But today, we’re back! Here are three things I’m truly grateful for this week. Play along with me if you’re so inclined.

1) Clarity.

I’ve been struggling for a long time with some issues that just wouldn’t seem to budge, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried to push through them. Once again, I had to come to the realization that pushing through does not always work. In fact, when I’m dealing with a complex tangle of stuff, it almost never does. I had to reach a place of acceptance — at a deep level — and now that I have, clarity is starting to peek through the clouds. Yay for clarity!

2) Health (and self-acceptance!).

Well, relative health — I’m almost feeling like me again. For eight days, I struggled with a bad cold and really could not function in a normal way. Of course — as tends to be my way — I fought the fact that I was sick for about four days and tried to function normally anyway. As above, I defaulted to trying to push through when, in the long run, it would have made things easier and simpler to accept that I was sick and give myself the rest I needed. But it took me four days to get to that place. Letting go does not come easily or automatically for me, even after twenty years of practicing. So, here’s where self-acceptance sweeps in to save the day.

3) Weather and walking!

Today, it feels like winter in Chicago again, but yesterday — oh! For the first time in ages, I was able to take a long walk in the sunshine and enough treacherous ice had melted off that I wasn’t slipping all over the place. I could even feel the onset of spring, and the birds and squirrels chattered wildly everywhere I went.

And I reconnected with how incredibly valuable — vital, even — it is to get out and be in nature. Walking outside solves my problems. Really, it does. Or maybe the more accurate way to put it is, it shows me that what I thought was a problem is actually not a problem. I just get so stuck in looking at it a certain way that I believe it’s a problem.

Walking, connection with the earth beneath my feet, shakes up the stuck. So, gratitude, too, for being healthy enough to walk, to move; for being able to hear the sounds of the birds and squirrels; for the ability to see the sun glinting on the melting snow, the dog trotting by, the smile on the face of the woman walking it.

What are you grateful for this week? I’d love it if you’d share.

Image is “Frozen Sun,” © Sebastian Corneanu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Three ways you can feel more creative — right now

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When people tell me they’re “not creative,” I know they are lying. The truth is, we are profoundly creative — it’s our natural state. We don’t need to “work” at being creative. And I think most of us know that when we’re in a truly creative space, it feels like play, not work.

What we do need to work at is sustaining solid habits that support our creativity (which often isn’t easy). We need to commit to making regular time and space for our creativity to take center stage.

Believing we need to work at being creative is a good way to get stuck. We can’t “lose” our creativity. We can only lose touch with its flow.

But sure, we don’t always feel creative. And that’s okay. While I don’t believe we should force the flow, I do believe there are things we can do to welcome its return, to summon it back to us.

1) Get rid of things that feel unsupportive to you.

These can be small things — I’m not necessarily talking about ending a relationship or quitting a job here (though you may make those choices at some point!). I’m talking about things that consistently drag you down, in small, nagging ways.

For me, recently, that meant unsubscribing to a couple of popular blogs, one for writers and one for entrepreneurs. I’d been telling myself that the authors “knew what they were talking about,” and I needed their information — but I felt slightly depressed every time I read one of their posts. I finally realized that their messages of “This is what you must do to be successful” didn’t apply to me, because I don’t define success the way they do.

We’re all hit with so much information in a given day, it’s vital to get rid of any that doesn’t feel supportive to us.

2) Make your workspace appealing to you.

Whether you write, paint, or bake amazing things, having an uncluttered workspace that you love can make a huge difference.

I am hardly a minimalist when it comes to decorating — I actually feel good having a certain amount of “friendly clutter” in my home; it’s part of how I relate to my environment. But yesterday I took some time to clear piles off the table I work on, to dust its surface, to put away some coats and scarves that were thrown over a chair. And it’s like I’ve been given a fresh slate when I sit down to write. My mind feels clearer — I can even see the characters I’m writing about more clearly.

Decluttering also shifts energy and signals that we are willing to let go. This willingness is crucial to creating, which is a process of birth and death, building up and eventually letting go of — or even destroying — what we’ve built.

3) Briefly revisit what you love.

You can do this immediately. I have a framed Jaws poster in my office, and I only have to glance over at it to be reminded of why it’s one of my favorite movies of all time (characters! editing! Quint’s Indianapolis speech!).

Or, a couple of nights ago I made a Pinterest board dedicated to Beatrix Potter. That woman was an amazing artist and writer, and when I look at one of her pictures — and her accompanying words — I am instantly reconnected with some of my deepest loves: animals, stories, and dark humor. (Yes, Beatrix Potter’s books are full of dark humor. Only in “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers” can you find two mice trying to make a kitten into a pudding).

None of this has to take very long. And for days when you’re feeling overworked and profoundly uncreative, a few minutes of presence can be priceless.

What helps you reconnect with your creativity on a moment’s notice? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Writers: Tomorrow, Feb. 27, is the last day to register for the next session of The Writer’s Circle. This group offers terrific support for writers who are struggling to finish a project or build a daily writing habit. Find out more, here!

Image is “Colorful Bubbles” © Judy Ben Joud | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #3

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It’s already time for another Saturday Gratitude post! How can that be?

Here is my list of what I’m grateful for as this week draws to a close. I’d love it if you’d join me if you’re so inclined!

1) Being reminded that support shows up in many ways, and that true support is not necessarily about having lots of it (quantity support), but the right kind of support — the kind that feels, well, deeply supportive! (Quality support!)

And when I began to focus on the fact that I already have quality support in my life, it actually began to feel like massive quantities of support. (If support is an issue for you right now, you might want to check out my previous posts on support, here and here.)

2) Old things that feel like new things. Like my Oscar the Grouch slippers, which I rediscovered while cleaning out my closet. As soon as I saw them there, I thought, how could I have forgotten about these? And they went on my feet immediately. Not only do they make me happy, but: permission to be grouchy! Which, sometimes, I truly need.

3) Coffee, tea, candles, and sweaters. So many small (and inexpensive) ways to add warmth to a winter that feels terribly long. Oh, and let’s not forget the best one: cats on laps!

What are you grateful for this week? Feel free to share if it feels good to you.

Saturday Gratitude #2

After I wrote my first Saturday Gratitude post last week, I noticed how my attention shifted ever so slightly over the following days from what I was lacking to what is here already. And it’s funny how much more clear my choices and focus become when I am not in that panicky, lack-filled place.

It’s also so interesting to notice that, often, I don’t need nearly as much as I think I do. My needs only seem enormous when I am in that place of lack, and assuming that it is reality.

Then yesterday I happened to run across a Martha Beck piece on Oprah’s website where Martha mentioned that research shows that it is impossible to experience appreciation and fear at the same time. Yes! I noticed that so often this week.

So here is my Saturday Gratitude list for today — three things I am grateful for as this week draws to a close. We’ll see how today’s focus on gratitude shapes the coming week! And I’d love it if you’d join me in my experiment, if that feels good to you!

1) Writing in warmth. After last week’s computer crash, I finally have a new computer up and running, and because it’s a laptop, I can write anywhere in the house instead of sitting in my rather-cold office, which, truth be told, I had been feeling less and less inclined to do. This is kind of perfect, I realize, because I have been needing to approach my writing with warmer energy — more safety, more permission, more “it’s okay to be exactly where you are with this writing. It’s okay to let it be what it is, nothing more, nothing less.”

2) Recognizing when it was time for me to get offline, particularly off Facebook, and following up on that awareness by — getting offline! And how incredibly grounding and replenishing that turned out to be. As wonderful as the online world can be, as I stayed unplugged for a good while yesterday, I felt the remembrance that there is so much here, in the physical world, and in my own inner world. And it is good, and rich, and nourishing. With nothing else added.

3) Noticing old patterns coming up for me, and then noticing the thought that I shouldn’t be still doing this! Not after all these years. And then (here’s the part I’m truly grateful for), recognizing that, yes, the patterns are still here, but the way I interact with them, the way I deal with them, is much, much different than it was ten years ago. Or even five. And that, to me, is some kind of miracle.

Want to share yours? What are you grateful for this week?