Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

In my religion, this is the day we eat chocolate for breakfast!  But I know that this is a special and sacred day for many folks out there.  I hope you have a blessed Easter and have a glorious time celebrating your own holiday tradition. Let us all look to the bright and hopeful light of the future.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Project 333

Are you ready? I'm about to reveal a secret.  For the past 6 weeks, I have been using and wearing only 33 items of clothing, jewelry and accessories.  That's right, just 33 things.

Why, you may be wondering, would I undertake such a seemingly difficult and bizarre challenge?  I am actually one of many crazy people committed to Project 333.

Throughout my personal journey toward a happier life, the themes of simplification and de-cluttering have appeared repeatedly as obstacles on the road to higher consciousness.  I am continually reminded that material things that we don't need, use, or love (our "stuff") takes time and energy to purchase and maintain.  This is time that takes away from more valuable, meaningful, or enjoyable pursuits such as spending time with friends or family or helping in the community.

With this idea in mind, I decided to try Project 333, which focuses specifically on simplifying and managing your clothing and wardrobe.  33 items, 3 months.   Some call this a minimalist approach, but the idea is not austerity or martyrdom.  The goal is to minimize the time you spend on shopping and caring for clothing, as well as time spent deciding what to wear each day.

The basics of the project, started by blogger Courtney Carver, are simple:

  • When: Every three months (It’s never too late to start so join in anytime!)
  • What: 33 items including clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes.
  • What not: these items are not counted as part of the 33 items – wedding ring or another sentimental piece of jewelry that you never take off, underwear, sleep wear, in-home lounge wear,  and workout clothing (you can only wear your workout clothing to workout)
  • How: Choose your 33 items, box up the remainder of your fashion statement, seal it with tape and put it out of site.
  • What else: consider that you are creating a wardrobe that you can live, work and play in for three months. Remember that this is not a project in suffering. If your clothes don’t fit or are in poor condition, replace them.
I started the project in mid-February, so I have only done the last 6 weeks of the first phase of the challenge for 2013.  Still, I have found incredible benefit to doing the project and am excited to continue into the next phase: choosing 33 items to wear April-June.

Here are my 33 things for the first phase:
  1. Short sleeve flower tee
  2. Navy short sleeve embellished tee
  3. Coral cardigan
  4. Navy cardigan
  5. Stripe sweater
  6. Turquoise long sleeve tee
  7. Red ls tee
  8. Grey ls tee
  9. Light grey crewneck sweater
  10. Tan loose knit sweater
  11. Cream cowl neck sweater
  12. Levi jeans
  13. Tan cords
  14. Skinny blue jeans
  15. Skinny black jeans
  16. Denim skirt
  17. Green short sleeve H&M dress
  18. Brown long sleeve dress
  19. Black wool sweater coat
  20. Sessions all-weather jacket
  21. Grey wool pea coat
  22. Coral ombre' scarf
  23. Turquoise scarf/wrap
  24. Onyx earrings
  25. Silver hoops
  26. Shell flower necklace
  27. Purse
  28. Sunglasses
  29. Navy mary jane shoes
  30. Black mary janes
  31. Grey Converse sneakers
  32. Black Doc Martens boots
  33. Brown boots
If you know me in real life, now that you know what I've been wearing, you probably recognize all the pieces!  I has a bit nervous that I wouldn't have enough to wear or that it would be obvious that I was recycling the same pieces repeatedly.  Instead, I felt like I had just enough to provide variety without being overwhelming.  The time I spent thinking about clothes and how I looked suddenly dropped to a minimum   Take choosing a shirt to wear, for example.  I have two short sleeved shirts.  On a warm spring day, it's either one or the other, or else I have to wear my short sleeved dress.  Pretty simple choice!

I have gained many insights from this first round of the project:
  • I like dresses.  Two pieces in one!
  • I might want more jewelry next round, since I missed having choices in that area.
  • I may not need as many shoes.
  • Scarves are awesome... fashion and function together.  I want to get a nice belt for this same reason.
  • Quality is more important than quantity in choosing clothing.
  • I must keep up with the laundry!!!
  • Choosing the right color palette is key.
  • Creativity and willingness to take a risk is also key.
  • I am shocked at how little time I spend thinking (or worrying) about clothes and appearance now as compared to six weeks ago.  
  • It is easy to see which items I don't love, since I found myself avoiding them even with limited choices available (I'm looking at you, black skinny jeans!  You just don't fit right!)
  • I got just as many, if not more, compliments on my appearance during this last 6 weeks than usual.
The biggest overall lesson I learned is that 33 items is plenty.  It's easier than I expected to choose an appropriate outfit for any occasion. Over the last 6 weeks, in addition to work, I attended a baby shower, had an informal follow-up job interview, and spent the day on a cattle ranch.  While I had to go a bit out of my comfort zone for some of the outfits, each one turned out to be appropriate for the occasion.  One event, however, on which I was not willing to take a risk was a formal job interview.  For this I went outside of my chosen 33 items and even bought a few new pieces.  I still stayed with the spirit of the project, though, and plan to use the items I bought in the next phase, April-June.

Another lesson I take away from this process is that simplifying your clothing leads to simplifying other areas of your life.   Living with less is a change in attitude and perspective as much as it is a change in the amount of things you possess.  Minimizing my wardrobe has allowed me to see excess consumption in other parts of my life, from my diet (I need to work on portion control.) to money management (I am really spending a lot on coffee!) to entertainment (why am I watching the Idol results show, anyway?).  

I am excited to start the next phase of the project, since this time I only did 6 weeks and the real challenge is a full 12 weeks.  I am more confident this time around that I can choose the correct pieces and that I can face any wardrobe challenge.  If the need arises, like it this this during this phase, I'll pull from my "boxed up" reserve or just buy something new.  Now that I've "gone public" with the project, I will probably post my choices for the next phase here, and talk a little bit about what I decided to keep, toss, or donate, and why.

If you are interested in starting the project yourself, even for one phase, now is a great time because the second cycle starts on Monday.  At Courtney's Project333 website, you can find much more information about getting started.  There is also a Project333 community on facebook.  The project has been going since 2010, so there are many more followers than one might expect.  I love that one person's experiment with living with less has turned into a larger movement and community of like minded people.  I am having fun with the challenge.  It was a big risk and WAY outside my comfort zone, but the benefits are more than I expected.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Week #12: Something Beginning With "M"

I am doing a weekly themed photo project on flickr.  Here are my photos so far.

This week's theme was "I spy with my little eye something that begins with... M".  There are a lot of "M" things in the world, but I have been enchanted with the little green shoots and sprouts that are popping up all over my garden.  Carnations are almost blooming, and there are bulbs popping and blossoms on trees all around.  Spring has sprung.  One of my favorite "M" things is mint.  There are a few fresh leaves appearing on my potted plant.  I love the color and the fresh taste of this hardy herb. Mmmmmm... Mint!

Mmmm Mint!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Field Trip!

Elkhorn Ranch Trip

On Friday, my class had the pleasure of going on a field trip to Elkhorn Ranch in Paicines, CA.  This is a working cattle ranch, as well as the family home of one of my instructional aides, Averi.  She was kind enough to invite us out to see what ranch life is like, and it turned out to be one of the best field trips we have taken so far.

Elkhorn Ranch Trip

We took 6 boys ranging in age from 14 to 18.  We weren't sure if they would get bored or not, so we planned a few activities and also some "free time".  That was a great idea, because the boys ended up being engaged with learning about the ranch, but ecstatic about exploring the open spaces around them.  I think they felt very free, and I know they were happy.

First, Averi brought out her horse, saddled him up and let us brush him while she showed us the tack room and explained all the different halters and saddles they use in activities like roping, branding, and herding.  Her saddle is amazing, with tooling, silver and gorgeous details.

ranch trip

Averi showed us how to rope using a little roping dummy.  We also got cowboy hats to wear, yee haw!  I tried my hand at roping but it is harder than it looks.  The guys spent a good half hour on this before taking a snack break.  Again, it  is very difficult to engage teenage boys for more than 60 seconds, so this was clearly an all-consuming activity for them.

Then it was time to watch Averi do it for real.  She brought out her horse and roped cattle for us.  I didn't get any pictures of the actual roping because I was enraptured (and I was holding her little teacup Aussie dog) but this was one of the coolest things to see my co-worker do, especially after trying it standing on the ground and know how hard it is.  Watching some one actually ride full speed in a little corral with no hands and throw a rope at the same time is incredible.  To top is off, the boys got to climb on the side of the corral and help keep the cows off the fence.  They learned an important lesson about teamwork, because they saw how much easier it was for Averi to rope the cattle once they jumped up to help her.

ranch trip

After the roping it was time to explore.  Averi took us across the street and the boys pretty much ran free.  They climbed a giant ridge and then came back down.  We went down to a little creek and swimming hole on the property.  Here we saw a herd of the family's horses grazing nearby as we crossed the creek.  We ate lunch and relaxed while the boys did, well, boy stuff.  Stuff they rarely get to do at all, let alone with a group of other guys.  They caught frogs and minnows in the creek and "noodled" for catfish.  They climbed another ridge... twice.  They saw a snake and a found some kind of dead rodent head.  Most importantly, they had fun and bonded as classmates. This bonding will carry on into the classroom and help create a more caring a supportive learning environment.

ranch trip

I had a wonderful time.  I had never been on a working cattle ranch and, as a vegan, it was very interesting to learn first hand about all the things Averi and her family do to take the best possible care of their animals.  Of course they must send the cattle off to be slaughtered but that's a whole different conversation. This ranch, in a beautiful part of California, felt very sacred.  I felt that these animals are living the best life possible and are completely honored and respected during their lives there.  It was a privilege to visit.

I also realized, watching my students completely engaged in physical activity for the entire trip, how much they could benefit from actual physical labor... from purposeful work.  For these young men, for whom picking up a pencil and paper and sitting for 100 minutes in a desk can be torture, the idea of working as a laborer on a ranch may be paradise.  It made me rethink my approach to developing transition goals for my students.  What kind of work opportunities are out there for my students who aren't college bound?  If they know that living and working on the land is a viable lifestyle choice, will they be more excited about the future?  These are just some of the questions I have begun to consider after this amazing day.  So thank you Ms. Averi for an amazing opportunity.  In addition to being an excellent classroom aide and an accomplished cowgirl, Averi is a skilled photographer.  Check out her work, and see some more gorgeous views of her ranch and the surrounding area at her facebook page, Reins and Roses Photography.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Inspiration Points

I got a second interview!  Hopefully I'll get good news while I'm there.  Here are some things fueling my spirit today...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Big Day

Dove in Apricot Tree

Today is a big day for me... I have a job interview!  It's been almost a decade since I interviewed for anything, but I feel as though this job is a good fit for me, so hopefully my confidence and passion will shine through.  Wish me luck, and hopefully I will have news to post soon!  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Week #11: Texture

I am doing a weekly themed photo project on flickr.  Here's my photos so far.

Our striped, furry cat Tue, sleeping on the unmade bed, made a perfect capture for this week's photo theme of texture.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Sparkle Like the Dew

It's been a busy weekend so I haven't had time to post much, but I hope everyone has a safe and happy St. Patty's Day!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nisene Marks Hike

Last weekend I hosted my second "family hiking group" outing, this time to the beautiful Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.  There were six of us this time, plus one cute puppy!  We parked at George's Picnic Area and walked up the fire road to the second gate at the Porter Family Picnic Area.  We had planned to keep going another mile or so and do the Loma Prieta Grade Loop but since there are no dogs allowed past the second gate we decided to try the Porter Trail which loops back down and meets up with the fire road.  My parents decided to skip the trail hike and return on Aptos Creek Road, because Porter Trail has two unbridged creek crossings and steep grades leading in and out of the creek bed.

Overall it was another fun adventure.  it reinforced for me the importance of a key elements in my own happiness.  First, spending time with friends and family is crucial to my well being, and if we can spend time outdoors it is even better!  Second, the more I learn to "go with the flow" the happier I am.  I have always been a planner and a worrier, wanting to make sure everything is perfect and that everyone has a good time. Well, that need to be perfect has kept me from doing a lot of actual things in life because I was worried that I wouldn't do them right or that people wouldn't like them.  The more I actually host social events, however, the more I realize that no one cares that things aren't perfect.  In fact, it is the unexpected twists that often make events in life (both big and small) much more memorable and enjoyable.

My first trail run, for example, was memorable not because of the run itself but because it was pouring rain the entire time.  I have a vivid memory of my wedding day, with my bridesmaids trying frantically to get my dress straps to stay up perfectly with double-sided tape, only to feel the straps slowly sliding down during the ceremony in a distinctly inelegant (yet endearing) way.  Or how about the first real "recipe" I ever cooked for Jason: chicken in a basil cream sauce.  It was delicious, except that with my limited skills I had selected mint instead of basil at the store...

The list goes on and on.  Perfect is boring.  Life is messy, and it is in the unexpected and unplanned moments that joy can so often be found.

starting out
Aptos Creek Road
unbridged creek crossing... we did not use the log!
headed up the ridge

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Inspiration Points

This week inspirational messages around trying new things caught my eye.  We all have to start somewhere.  Being a beginner is hard, but it's the only way to learn new things...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Week # 10: Reflections

I am doing a weekly themed photo project on flickr.  Here's my photos so far.

This week's theme is reflections, and while I though about being clever I ended up going with my first idea, sunlight on the water.

3/10/13 Sunrise

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 Resolutions: February Update and March Goals

This year, I am working on new resolutions each month and am using Gretchen Rubin's monthly resolution system to create and track behaviors that I hope will increase my overall happiness.

March came on so fast that I am just now getting time to reflect on my February resolutions and share what I am working on for this month.

A Bit of RainFebruary Update
For February, I had four resolutions in the area of relationships. The first two resolutions targeted my interactions with Jason: have more positive greetings and goodbyes (kiss in the morning, kiss at night and Give warm greetings and farewells) and make the positive argument about my spouse.  This month, I did not use the chart to track my resolutions, but I found that simply being mindful of my goals enabled me to define my intentions in my marriage and act accordingly.

Jason and I worked together on the first resolution to have better greetings and we agree that it has brought a positive change, starting each day on a more pleasant and harmonious note and also ensuring that the first thing that happens when I get home from work is not me griping about something relatively unimportant.  Instead, I focus on how grateful I am to be home with my loving spouse and pets.  Also, oddly, Jason and I have never really said or kissed good night as part of our bedtime routine and adding that little step did bring us closer by giving another opportunity to show gratitude toward each other.  Overall this resolution was a small change with lasting impact.

The second resolution, to make the positive argument when I am mad at Jason, well, let's just say I'm still working on that and will be probably forever.  It is hard not to assume the worst when you are angry or frustrated and just let the frustration carry you away on a satisfying gripefest.  But anger is not a productive emotion; As Stuart Smalley would say, "that's just stinkin' thinkin!" and it is much better to instead focus on the many positive things your partner does for you.  Although I am not directly focusing on this goal any longer, I will still keep it in mind as my intention.  Managing anger is an ongoing challenge, I think, for many people.

I feel very successful in my goal to spend more time with family and friends.  In February I started my hiking group, and we have had two awesome outings so far.  In February we hiked in Wilder Ranch, and just yesterday we had an amazing adventure in Nisene Marks, which I will post about soon.  Additionally, I did meet my goal of seeing my parents each week, either on our monthly hike or another outing.  And Erin and I managed to keep our Saturday running date; yesterday was our sixth week in a row and we are getting ready to sign up for some Spring races!

Without my resolutions, I don't think any of this would have happened.  Both commitments are WAY outside of my traditional comfort zone.  I have felt for years that I needed to connect more with the loved ones in my life.  Now that I am actively working on that goal, I find myself convinced that relationships are the key to happiness.  I feel so much better after spending time with friends and family.  I now know what I was missing in my life by putting up self-imposed barriers such as fear, anxiety, and self-criticism that prohibited me from taking risks with my personal relationships.  Without risk, there can be no reward.  My social calendar is fuller than ever before, and I have never been more excited about it!

CloverMarch Resolutions
For March, my focus area is work.  It is no secret to those who know me that, while I adore my current job, it involves a 2 hour (total) daily commute.  I am currently looking for a teaching job for next year in the town where I live, in hopes of eliminating my commute and more deeply integrating my work and community life.  All of my resolutions for this month focus on the tasks necessary for such a change.  The best window of opportunity for teaching jobs is from the beginning of March to the beginning of June, so the race is on!  I will offer more details as it is appropriate to do so, and maybe by April when it is time to reflect on March resolutions I will have some concrete news about the transition to share!

In closing let me point out that, while I am focusing on these areas of my life in apparent isolation from other hopes, goals, and dreams, that is not the case.  I have discovered that by examining how each element of my life is functioning an focusing on improving it, I more clearly see how it relates to everything else.  Each goal connects with and fuels another.  My February resolutions, for example, allowed me to strengthen my relationships with my spouse, parents, and friends.  In turn, these connections, this network of support, has given me the encouragement the take the necessary risk involved in my March resolution... changing jobs.  I have been at my current site for 8 years, and changing is terrifying.  I could not do it without the help and support of others.  So as one area of my life grows and blossoms, the positive energy flows and allows the next transformation to occur.

I can't wait to see what Spring will bring!

Friday, March 8, 2013


Apricot Blossoms

It has been a busy week and I can feel the overwhelming pressure of stress building and threatening to overtake me.  Yoga, meditation, and exercise help keep it at bay but I have missed two workouts this week due to other commitments.  

I am in another time of flux and transition in life.  While these changes are for the better, and I will write about them when the time is right, it still takes a massive amount of energy and mental clarity to break out of old habits and patterns and create change.  I feel excited and exhausted.

At work, my students appear to be preparing for the Ides of March by preemptively creating chaos. Pretty much every one of my 11 students is having a challenging time right now.  Work with teenagers with emotional disabilities is like that.  One step forward, two steps back.  We can have weeks where everyone is making excellent progress, and then all of a sudden they all go down like dominoes.  Some of my students may be reading this... if so, then here's my TGIF message... come on folks!  Remember, our actions dictate our feelings, not the other way around.  Let's have some fun today and think about positive growth and not dwell on negative thoughts!

OK, I feel better now.  This is Suzy Sunshine, signing off.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Poem

Here's my second poem generated from the poetry workshop book I've been using.  Like my last entry, this assignment also draws from a list of childhood memories, but this poem is an exercise in form.  I had to choose an ongoing or recurring life event that spread over a period of time.   The poem had to include four stanzas of four lines each, with the first stanza repeated at the end.  To meet the required form, I had to edit mercilessly.  It ended up giving the poem a much different theme and meaning than I had intended when I first chose the target memory.  That is the beauty of poetry.  It is a creative process that uncovers surprising results.

Camp Joe Scherman

Walking two by two
our flashlights dot the dirt trail.
Cricket songs and crunching feet;
the air smells of butterscotch pine.

We huddle close on logs
singing campfire songs.
The smoke shifts
stinging my eyes.

Shadowy canoes line the dock.
We lay gazing up
at brilliant patterns
in the velvet forest sky.

At bedtime,
counselors walk cabin to cabin
singing lullabies
like falling stars.

Walking two by two
our flashlights dot the dirt trail.
Cricket songs and crunching feet;
the air smells of butterscotch pine.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Week #9: Interpretation of an Album Cover

Some of the weekly themes in my flickr photo group are challenging for me.  This week's theme was interpretation of an album cover and despite (or maybe because of) looking at literally hundreds of albums this weekend at our yard sale I had trouble coming up with a decent idea for the shot.  This one turned out all right, but it is a complete fail from my original concept.  Still, I completed the weekly challenge in a category that I do not like, and that is successful in itself!

Album Cover

Here is the original album cover image:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Yard Sale!

Yard Sale

I spent much of my February break de-cluttering the house, so we had a yard sale yesterday to get rid of junk and make extra cash!  I also decided to "go digital" with my CD collection, so I put hundreds of CDs up for sale.  Jason inherited many valuable items from his father Steve after his passing, including a lifetime collection of vinyl records and museum-quality Grateful Dead paraphernalia, and we put some of this out as well.  I also put out a bunch of my clothes and jewelry and some of my grandmother's vintage gloves, scarves, and hankies.

Yard Sale

We live 2 blocks from the beach and it was a sunny Saturday so there was a lot of foot traffic.  I enjoyed talking with the many people who stopped by to buy or browse.  My CDs and Steve's records and Grateful Dead books were by far the greatest hits.  There were two men in particular who were very excited by the records and had interesting stories to tell about their experiences in the 60's.  One bought a book about Woodstock that he had never seen before, hoping that maybe his picture would be somewhere in this one, in the crowd.  You can bet I took that opportunity to ask him what that experience was like.  I haven't met too many people who really were there.

Watching another gentleman go through every single record, exclaiming in excitement about each album's quality or rarity I could feel Steve's presence, blessing the day.  As this man made his selections from among the hundreds of records, pulling out album after album, he talked about touring with a few of the bands and hanging with members of the band or with the cover art photographer.  I couldn't help but wonder if he and Steve knew each other in that former life.

When a hard core collector finds a treasure trove of his or her target item at a yard sale it's magic.  I may have liked the stuff we sold, but it was united with folks who love it.  We may have made good money yesterday, but it was the pleasure of watching people's eyes light up with joy at discovering amazing books and music that was the real payoff for me.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Poem

I am trying to write poems again and have been doing some of the exercises in poetry writing lesson book I used back in college.  This assignment was to brainstorm a list of different childhood memories and then work one of them into a poem of 35 lines or less.

I am generally a very positive person, but poetry allows me to explore the darker sides of my personality and also explore painful or challenging memories and experiences that inform my current writing practice.  I have always loved poetry because of the impact a few carefully chosen words can have on the reader.  I'm not sure if this one is "good" or not, but that's not the point.  I need to write and share my writing as part of my creative process.  Sharing my poetry is terrifying and risky but I love it.  Enjoy.


You were so tiny in my hand;
pea-sized paws curled tight in agony,
ribs like brittle twigs pressed against
your soft brown fur.

Beads of panic and hands shaking,
I called for my mother.

You were just a science experiment;
I wanted you to run a maze.
You never wanted to be touched,
and strange nocturnal habits
banished you to the humid laundry room.

Many times forgotten in my adolescent haze
of boys and shaving my legs,
I'd glance at your cage
while grabbing my favorite jeans from the dryer
(acid washed, with a zipper on each ankle).
You slept in a tight ball,
up in your skybox,
food stashed away,

When I finally found you
barely breathing
curled desperately among
stored mounds of empty husks from seeds
and your own pellet-shaped waste,
the horror of neglect,
still so much a child I wanted to take you to the vet.
"Wait until morning," my mom said.

When the sun rose you were cold, small.
We buried you in the spot
where my swing set used to be.