Archive for the ‘Life Balance’ Category.

This is an article I wrote and never posted or published, in July of 2007. I came across it and wanted to share it with you, at the beginning of summer, so we can each picture how we want our summers to unfold.

Finding Flowers

Copyright July, 2007 by Lisa Stroyan

It’s the first day of a new ritual – going out into my garden each morning, before it gets hot, and puttering. Some days, I’ll work on weeding, I decide, and some I’ll pick and enjoy the flowers, and others I might bring out my computer, and just sit and write. I sense that this ritual is a big change for me somehow, yet it is still fresh and new, like the flowers opening around me; it holds that excitement of a new idea, the sparkle of morning dew.

There is green, lush growth everywhere. The first summer raspberries are almost ready to taste. The daylilies have popped into a profusion of blooms. My prized delphiniums are beautiful in their deep indigo purple spears, albeit upside down from toppling themselves over by their own weight. The basil is perfect for pinching; a spicy smell surrounds me as I put them into my basket. The pink yarrow is already scraggly and fading. How have I not seen this and let an entire month of summer go by? Sure, I’ve brought visitors out and we have petted the flowers and plucked bits of herbs. Yet, somehow my eyes, or perhaps my other senses, weren’t fully open. There is something magical about a morning garden. I’m energized to dig in.

I stand back and assess, trying to figure out where to start. The weeds have been just as happy with the weather as the flowers have been. I reassure myself that I don’t have to do it all today; every day I’ll make some progress. Because I love order, I choose the far corner, where the raspberries are surrounded by grass, and figure that over time I’ll work my way across to the main areas. I forget, even this soon, that this ritual was supposed to be for me, not for my garden.

Raspberries don’t mind grass around them, really, but it makes me feel better not to have it there. I realize I need gloves and scissors and a weed bag. Anxious to begin, I collect what I need and start pulling. It’s not long, however, before, I start to panic as I realize how small a corner I’ve cleared compared to the size of my garden.

It hits me. This is what I always do. I always start by trying to get rid of what I don’t want in the back corner where it doesn’t really matter. I tell myself that I’ll feel better when I have control of the edges of my life, so I should start there. This feeling of panic and overwhelm is coming from the knowledge that there will always be more weeds; their job is to fill in the space between the flowers so it doesn’t look empty. What I really want are those delphiniums. I can already picture them in my kitchen. And if I don’t get them soon, they won’t last long. I change gears. The delphiniums dare me to find a way to cross the tangle of growth in front of them. I start weeding, but this has a different feel than before. Rather than focusing on the weeds, I’m focused on the flowers, I’m focused on what will bring me the most joy.

First I need to clear a path through the spent flowers. Sometimes, the line between weed and flower is unclear, and I have to decide whether to add them to my basket. The overgrown foliage of yarrow and bellflower covers the path in a tangled mat. I cut back the entire mat, and gently remove the flowers that I’ll keep, recycling the rest. I taste a perfect raspberry that has raced ahead of the others, held up by the growth of flowers and weeds beneath it so it can reach the sun. I get sidetracked with weeds to the sides of the path now and then, but a deep purple color that must be the color of joy beckons me. Already, I have a huge pile of blooms that I’ve collected along the way, and I carefully add the rescued purple stems to the pile.

On my way in, I decide to tackle one more spot of weedy clover; my cut flowers will last for a bit on this cool early morning. These weeds are directly in the path back to the house, although low-growing so they’ve been allowed to sprawl. As I pull, I discover completely obscured flowering iceplant underneath. Perhaps there is a time for weeding after all, when the weeds smother the flowers. Yet, when I stop uncovering flowers and find myself focusing on “finishing” the weeding, I know it is time to move on. There will always be more weeds, and I have delphiniums to save.

Icy Roads

I’ve been struggling with my health for weeks and it seems to be getting worse; my ability to explain it is slowly leaking away.  I’ve been trying to come up with an analogy of what my brain feels like. Sometimes, the words come out garbled, even reading a line of text, and I’m so distracted that if I don’t watch out I’m off on another topic entirely.

How does one describe having no energy but yet not being tired? Feeling “wrong” but not feeling sick? Especially when one’s brain is the problem in the first place and expected to do that thinking.

What I do know is that the internal feelings seems eerily connected and similar to the external symptoms that my son has struggled with for years. I find myself not wanting to get off the couch and attend to basic things, and wonder if that is what he feels like. I reach for thoughts that are no longer there and try to force out words that slip away like eels or change into the wrong words, and I recall all the times where at his worst, he wouldn’t even speak. A song with static plays while I try to read text, and I want to scream from the chaos.   I recall his reaction to me talking too much – he screams at me to shut up.  I’m 40, though, so I don’t.

The best I have come up with is the feeling of driving on icy roads. At first, the snow fell gently and lightly; it got in the way of my thinking but I could brush it aside, and normal operations of my brain felt like driving on soft snow that fell on dry ground. There is a surreal feeling; things aren’t quite the way I’m used to, but it’s fine, even pretty. In fact I’ve taken substances that make me feel this way, only this time I’ve not had anything to drink and yet feel a bit as if I have. Like driving on snow, everything works, you just take it a bit slower and try to enjoy the scenery. Most of the time, my mental road all feels fine and working. Then I put on the brake and for a second it just doesn’t do anything. I think, “I did put on the brake, right?” and then suddenly I feel myself slowing, back in control, wondering if anything unusual actually happened. When driving on snow, you pay more attention – slowly you realize all the times where the tires slip, just a little, but you don’t know for sure. Maybe it is your imagination…it feels fine right now.

Lately, though the mental roads are getting icy and slick. At times my brain can’t hold a thought from the sink to the fridge. Oh, I’m used to this – but usually it’s because I am driving too fast. I’m thinking of 10 things, and what to put in my tea is lowest of the list and so it takes a while for the gears to click in and bring it to the surface. But when my only task in the moment is making tea, I don’t expect black ice between the sink and the fridge. My coordination is off, and I need a wider road during those times. I reach for something and my hands don’t quite land where I put them. I look at the writing on my three out of four vials of spit for the lab test, and I see the writing decline over the course of the day. Yet, still, I tell myself it’s not a big deal – I probably just rested that one with the pretty handwriting on the table. Until I try that with the fourth, and am shaken when my name comes out stilted and jumpy.

I live in Colorado and the weather here varies not just from month to month, but from day to day and hour to hour. I should be used to this but I’m tired of having Colorado weather in my head. Earlier this week, my mental roads were very snowpacked and icy, and I was starting to panic. I laid down to read, and fell asleep. Though it took me an hour to clear the sleep from my head, I then had 5 hours of perfect clarity – exactly like a typical Colorado winter day once the snow has started to melt because the sun has come out. Then after a stressful situation, I could feel the snow in my head start to fall, like a blanket, obscuring everything I was trying to think about and even making my hands slippery and awkward on the keyboard.

Today has dawned sunny and bright, but with high winds – both literally and figuratively. The clouds on the horizon are fuzzy and tenuous, but the clouds in my head are starting to billow and threaten. It will be interesting to see what weather the future brings.

Managing email…

I read a post today where someone pointed out, the goal is not to just organize your email, but actually act on it. Oh yeah. I have forgotten that!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I manage, or fail to manage, my email. I’m quite good at somethings – I have a high percentage of my email filtered into folders already, and although I’m a bit addicted to reading them instead of doing real work, I do have a system and just need to make myself use it.

However my inbox constantly is overfull and weighs me down. The problem is that I use it as my memory, todo list, a “pile of hugs” (as Merlin Mann would say), and I’m sure other uses that I’m going to notice when I start going through it.

One basic problem is that if I move actions out of the inbox, I know they will get lost. I’ve been on the net hours and haven’t found a solution! Everything says, “just remember them”, or “put a reminder in your todo list”. I have reminders in my todo list to go read the folders that I’ve pushed them into – I still don’t do it.

The bigger picture, though, is training myself not to do as much with email; to let things go, to change my habits. I got a lot of info out of the Inbox Zero series (there is a good video that summarizes it). It says to keep your inbox for stuff you haven’t read (and get it to zero messages each night). As it suggests, I’ve changed my “auto-check” interval to an hour. I’ll see how long I can handle that before I freak out and change it back! But the general idea is the less time you spend scanning, rescanning, re-postponing what you need to do with email, the better.

One of the biggest habits I need to change is “only read email when I am going to deal with email.” I like to read email like getting a connection fix – but it has a high cost. First I don’t always get that connection fix, and second, it leaves several emails un-decided in my inbox.

Another biggie for me is that I tend to use email (mainly the obsessive reading of groups folders) as an avoidance – mainly I’m avoiding thinking hard and making decisions. Instead of expecting myself to be someone I’m not – someone that can focus for a long period of time – I’m thinking I need to start having short, productive “sprints” where I focus on what I really need to do, and then take a real break – instead of a “browse email” break.

What I notice when browsing through my email is that I truly don’t know what to do with many of my emails. I won’t be able to remember them, but there is no clear action right at the moment. Some of them, I want to let “gel” but worry that if I move them elsewhere, they will get lost.

On the other hand, I’m also noticing a lot of timesaving from a trick that the Inbox Zero page pointed it out – using quick responses (less than 5 sentences) or a question for more info to “pass the ball” back instead of holding it in my court.

Another, “well duh”, that has been helping me is – changing subject lines!!! I don’t know why I didn’t think of this. So, for example, I posted a question to a tech support forum and asked for email notifications. The notification sat there – but it has an attached “todo” item. So instead of being titled, “notification of response for topic on such and such a board” I changed the title to the actual todo-item. I kind of wish I had another field to edit…but subject will do OK. (at least until I reply 🙂

Speaking of “duh” moments – one last tip. Music!!! I usually forget to play music when I’m working, but wow, it helps me stay on task!


I just had this realization that I suspect the entire world other than me has already figured out, or known from birth, but I’m hoping for me it will help reduce my stress level significantly.

If you have been following me so far, you know I’m pretty organized (otherwise, with my poor memory, my life would fall apart). And you know that I like to plan ahead. And yet, I always seem to run out of time and not get to the important things that I need to do by a certain time. I’m often changing my underwear and quickly running a brush through my hair when I should have already left (and when I had planned to have enough time to shower, blowdry, and put on a bit of makeup).

So here’s my big realization. Something as old as, well, at least as old as Stephen Covey and he must be getting old by now…”Begin with the end in mind”. I knew this once, but somehow my tired old brain lost it (no surprise there!)

So what if, instead of writing this blog post or checking my email while estimating that — “sure I can get everything ready to go later – I have a whole 80 minutes! Come on! “– I actually did the most important things that have to be done on a deadline, first? What if I was proactive, but proactive working backwards, instead of forwards? Hmmm….I think I’ll go play around with it…what would that look like?

  • Deciding what I need to bring, and getting it ready
  • Feeding the family
  • Getting dressed, eating
  • Thinking about stuff I might want to get started for the week also
  • Actually looking at my todo list
  • NOT reading email
  • NOT blissfully following internet ratholes like updating my LinkedIn contacts…

Well, we’ll see.  Perhaps it is just another one of those fleeting strategies that gets me excited for a while and then falls by the wayside.  But at least I can try to get a few days out of it.


It’s a beautiful morning here on Mother’s Day. I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep; I was so excited to see the newly hatched, almost-invisible, Painted Lady caterpillars that my son and I are raising. My son has been relaxed and patient through the whole process; he knows how to trust, apparently, better than I do.  I have been anxious and impatient 🙂

Sometimes I get so conflicted about how to spend my time, always trying to manage everything and everyone. When I’m focused on tasks it feels like I’m missing the connection and fun of just being; but when I’m just present and in the moment, it feels as if a huge pile of things that need doing starts threatening to fall on top of me. I hate having to choose (being the control freak that I am) between everything running smoothly and having fun with my friends, my family, or just alone. So I tend to see-saw back and forth – resentment at not having fun; panic at not getting enough done.  And onto of all of this is a general unease about the reality that I’m not spending as much time as I would like on the “big” things I want to do in my life, such as writing, coaching, and speaking.

Lately, though, I’ve been finding a bit of a balance and I think I might be onto something.

My friend Amy and I have been starting a radio podcast show, and so many of the concepts seem to apply to other areas of my life. I expected them to apply to my own  parenting – that’s one of the reasons we do it! – but I’m finding more and more parallels with non parenting issues and that has surprised me.

We have been telling parents that if they are on the teeter-totter between permissive and punitive/authoritarian, they can step off – there is a whole new paradigm that is neither. I’m starting to believe that teetering between trying to control everything, and ignoring it while it piles up, cannot be the only way to find balance either.  How can I step off?

Instead, I think the key is trust, just like it is in parenting. I’ve also been telling parents for years that the time to try to solve your big parenting problems is not in the moment of conflict, and the same seems to be true of life in general.  And yet, when do I look at my todo list?  When do I try to make sure to get everything done? When I’m panicked – when it feels like nothing is getting done.  I.e., in the very moment I’m least able to do this, which undoubtedly is part of the feeling of panic. This is the shift I have been starting to make – letting go of the panic about the big picture in that moment, and instead focusing on short term needs. But how do we put this into practice in a way that also gets things done and does consider the big picture?

In parenting, my answer is being proactive: avoiding those situations by finding creative solutions in advance.  I’m getting good at doing this in parenting (the consequences are too high if I don’t, which a change-resistant, sensitive child).  But in life, I need more practice.  Do I look ahead at my todo list and my life challenges when I’m not in that panicked state?   Hmmm…not really.

In parenting, I realized the other day that without being proactive, it’s easy to become permissive and not parent from my values.  I think similarly, without being proactive, I’m not really living to my values.  The key to being able to spend time writing and coaching without my pile of todos falling on my head is to live more proactively.

I’d better go put that on my todo list 🙂


I’m trying to concentrate on writing and finding it very difficult to avoid distractions. I see my email program staring at me…and with resolve I close the program and tell myself I’m not allowed to look at it. I wonder what picture I’ve put on this blog…thankfully the “write” page doesn’t show it (because my mind is so distractable that I could go wander off for hours). I’m like a child stepping from rock to rock in a river, ignoring the current underneath and the lack of a path when the water gets deep. I don’t have the habits in place, and willpower doesn’t work very well at keeping me focused.

My dilemma with focus and distractions is true both at this moment, and in my life in general. I’m trying to focus on being a writer (as one of my roles, anyway), as I hope to someday be an author, and yet, I rarely actually make time in my life to write. In fact, this dilemma pervades my whole day-to-day life – as I jump from task to task, reacting to whatever falls into my path, I have this sense that it’s not where I want to be, and yet, at the time, it seems like I’m taking the only reasonable step I have available to take.

I often say (mostly to myself because no-one else wants to listen to this stuff) that I can never “find” the time to write. Although technically “find” might be the right word, I’m starting to think “make” is much more appropriate.

The writing I’m working on at the moment is my blog post for our Parenting For Humanity blog on “Being Proactive” (in parenting). Perhaps this is ironic, or perhaps it is universal intervention, but I just realized that being proactive is exactly what I am NOT doing with my writing and with my life. I’m applying it in my parenting, but not to myself.

I’m unfortunately doing a lot more waiting around for the right time, the right topic, and the right energy levels to somehow magically line up in the universe and fall in my lap as “the time and space to write”. I know this is not the answer. It only feels like the only choice when I look out and find myself in the middle of the river, and the choice seems to be the previous rock or the next one.

But what if I just sat down on the nearest large rock and took a few deep breaths? What if, before I actually start leaping from stone to stone, I sat on the banks for a while and enjoyed the view? Sometimes to see the path, not only do we have to be able to see the big picture, but we have to relax our vision and let go of any urgency. In doing so, our perspective widens and connections we were unable to see before become clear.

Now, just to find a nice comfy rock.


Earlier today I was congratulating myself on not bringing my laptop down to the hotel pool area (the entire hotel has internet access, for a small fee of course). Apparently, I spoke too soon.

I’m pondering the nature of vacation. Yes, there are the pretty views, the architecture, sounds, smells, and sights that tantalize our senses. But today, it seems to be more about being unable to do our routine, daily tasks; drinking and eating more and differently than we might usually allow ourselves (two words – merlot and amaretto); chairs that force us to recline; and mostly, imposed nothingness. (I should also note that having hubby entertain the child frequently is a welcome bonus).

Mostly, it seems that vacation is a planned-in-advance time to relax and renew. As my son was joking, today our agenda was to eat a snack, swim, relax, eat some more, play, and eat. But I have to ask myself – why did we have to fly 600 miles, over the course of several hours plus a couple days of packing and planning, to be able to do this?

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not regretful – I’m actually very grateful, and we intend to do lots of sightseeing and adventuring that we don’t have locally. I know from past experience that there is something special about vacations that imprint memories into our lives and bring us closer as a family. And we really needed that in our lives right now.

So, no, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have come; rather, that I would like more of this in daily life. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps we should institute “family vacation day” each week – we could go to a local attraction for the day, or even go to our health club and sit by their pool; eat their (actually rather reasonably priced) poolside food; etc.

Unfortunately, I suspect it would go by the wayside in the same manner that family cleaning day and make-dinner-as-a-family night (which lasted a record low of 2 nonconsecutive weeks) did. Somehow, the tasks of daily life always intrude. Perhaps that is a clue as to why we go 600 miles.

I also can’t help but notice that even on vacation we fall into familiar – albeit it annual rather than daily – habits. For example, my wanting to save a buck here and there by cutting corners (while still enjoying an luxurious vacation), my husband getting exasperated at my inconsistent and sometimes (in his mind) immoral shortcuts; my desire to go out and do things when the boys would rather sit and do nothing; etc. On some level, routine is clearly comforting and craved. Perhaps, like going into the hot sun when our own will be hot soon enough, getting away from our lives helps us value it more. Maybe, as I often do, I will get home and be a bit happy to see my regular routine.

Somehow though a part of me always feels that there must be something wrong with me that I can’t just sit back and enjoy this. Maybe I should go work on that now.

15-square fridge

Today I noticed that my refrigerator strongly resembles one of those old 15-square games where you have to repeatedly move pieces into the one empty slot in order to rearrange the other pieces. I was trying to find the leftover breakfast sausage, and there was no room to move things around; forget about actually spotting it from the front. This drives my husband crazy, and I actually hate it too though I don’t seem to be able to stop myself from creating it. I then started to plan dinner, and found that I have the same problem with my pantry cabinet. And my chest freezer. Hmmm, a pattern emerges?

I’m not sure why I do this. No-one who doesn’t eat that many carbs actually needs 5 large packages of different sizes of rice noodles in their cabinet. (Ironically, this is what I was going to purchase when a niggling thought reminded me that there might just be the right size, waaaay in the back, and hence started my 15-square battle with my cabinet). Nor several types of prepackaged asian noodles on top of that, plus 3 different brands of the Nori seaweed that goes around sushi (one is almost gone, I promise), or 4 different kinds of rice. Let’s not even focus on the bulk cous-cous that I never use because I’m not sure if it is too old, but still neglect to throw out.

I don’t know why I continually come home with more food than we can possibly eat and then cram it into every nook and cranny I can find. I wasn’t born during the depression, nor did my family starve me. But I’m beginning to have an idea of what to do about it.

A recently book club discussed, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (an excellent book). The general idea was that their family of four decided to live as locavores – eating almost everything either home-grown or within a few miles of their home and while it was in season.

It’s a radical change in perspective for most Americans to eat what the land provides rather than what is imported at high cost from another country. In more than one sense, it is eating from the ground up rather than from the recipe book down. It involves designing meals around what is available.

Well, let’s just say that’s too ambitious for me. I like the idea, I’m just not ready or even close. But I got to thinking – I could almost feed my family of three for a year (ok, perhaps a month), just on what is in my fridge, cabinet, and freezer. That would assume of course that my child would actually eat any of the things in there, which may be unlikely and downright ludicrous in some cases….ok, well, Barbara Kingsolver’s family did pick a few things they purchased non-locally, so I could do the same – milk, orange juice, a few fresh vegetables (though I have quite the stash of frozen) – I’m sure my list will be much longer than hers. But, looking over my last grocery receipt (which is underneath the receipt for yet more kitchen organizing supplies). there are a lot of things I didn’t really need.

Some people think of April as the perfect month for resolutions as change is easier in the spring than the dead of winter. I am going to resolve to start cooking more from what I have, and bringing less into the house. Beware, family. It might get strange.

Happiness, Meaning, and Prioritization

In a women’s group last night, the facilitator (the wonderful Sharon Greenlee, who will be re-running her series in April) listed one of the components of happiness as meaning.  We asked ourselves, “What would bring more meaning to my life?”

My answer was writing and more coaching.  Both are times I feel very connected to my true purpose.

Yet somehow, I rarely actually do any writing, and I’ve been letting coaching come to me, rather than promoting it.  I realized this morning that it is not lack of desire that is my problem – it’s lack of prioritization.  Yesterday I spent probably an hour researching horse bits for a friend’s daughter.  Mind you, this was joyfully done and was appreciated.  I don’t regret having done it as I learned a lot myself.  However, it certainly wasn’t “on purpose” (pun intended).  (The 1/2 hour or more I spent reading the biography of a friend’s friend who is a now-famous romance novelist really didn’t meet either criteria, unfortunately).

I rarely think, “Oh, I regret having done that” (unless it comes to email); in fact I pride myself on my recently found ability to (usually) stay connected to my feelings and stop doing something if it is not serving me (except reading email).  The problem, rather, is the opposite – I have so many productive, interesting things I would love to do!  So instead of choosing them, I often let them choose me.

This morning I realized that when I don’t consciously choose an activity, it’s still a form of “wasting” time.  This does not mean I will stop all of those activities.  I probably will still choose to sit and relax by watching TV – that is a valid choice when I need to unwind.   But when I intend to watch a few minutes, and instead I watch an hour while cleaning the kitchen, that is an hour I could have spent more purposefully.  Yes, of course, the kitchen needs to get cleaned – but not necessarily several times a day, nor at a “high energy” time when I could be much more productive, or in a rare alone moment when I could be doing something nurturing for myself.

I cleaned out the car today, vacuuming and wiping down some pretty filthy surfaces and windows even though technically, running it through the carwash would have been sufficient.  It did feel good to get it done.  But, it felt even better to stop myself from picking up more of such tasks, and simply to sit down and start writing.

Too much email

I really need to get email under control…I have 250 messages in my inbox alone (and all my group mail is filtered).

A friend just wrote me a message of concern about how curt my email to her was, wondering if she was at fault. So just out of curiosity (I love Eudora’s search capability – super fast) I had Eudora do a count.

I’ve gotten 762 emails in the last 7 days (that may be slow due to the 4th). 397 are not yet “trashed” so I’ve either not read them or plan to do something with them. But that’s not exactly fair because it includes a high-volume list I don’t actually read these days. Taking out that it is only 150. I’ve sent 61 – seems lower than I would have guessed. But I blog some too, so that would raise it a bit…