Solstice Musings 2007 – The coming year

I’m looking out at one of those winter skies – part crisp and blue, part greyish-white, showing through bare black winter trees. This is a time of year when I try to consciously reflect on the year that has been and the year that is coming. Last year I met some of my goals – financial improvements, starting a mediation business and getting real work from it, and feeling more emotionally stable. Those are all good things. Health and recreation really suffered, due to too much work.

So this year, here are my goals. By the end of 2008, I hope to:

– Have a healthier lifestyle. Walk, walk, both near and far. Learn to Kayak. I did join the Mountaineers, which should help with these goals. Eat right, which I am well on my way toward doing already.

– Have a better balance between work and social life. Take some weekends and evenings (and vacations) off without that nagging constant sense that I need to fit in some work. Spend more time with a certain someone and continue to build that relationship, and stay in touch better with my friends than I was able to do last year.

– Finish some major projects in my technical consulting that I have been working on for 5-10 years. Both of these are due for completion in the June-September timeframe, and if successful, will make a major contribution to giving agencies tools to improve the environment in the Pacific Northwest. Completing these projects will also contribute greatly to my peace of mind and ability to free my time for other things.

– Travel, go birdwatching, enjoy my condo in Puerto Vallarta. I’m very excited about my trip to Guatemala in January – I’ll be all on my own, which for one thing means I can birdwatch to my heart’s content ;)

– Continue building my mediation business and do a couple of really good environmental mediation projects.

– Continue improving my financial situation (but at a slower pace than last year).

– Be open to opportunities to greatly reduce my living cost and footprint, possibly by moving into a smaller, more affordable place.

Stop and ask yourself

I’m on vacation with my family in the Napa Valley, and my Mom is telling a story about a man who suddenly asked himself this question (he was a stressed-out ad executive): “If I could do any one thing before I die, what would I most want it to be?” For him, the answer was wine-growing, and he set out to become a vintner – and succeeded. That question has stuck in my head ever since.

We may go through our whole lives without even asking the question, and if we do ask it, it’s kind of a “what if” game, not anything real. Not anything we intend to follow through on, as this man did. OK, I can hear you with all the objections – “but he had money” “but his wife supported him” etc. All too easy to come up with those “buts,” isn’t it. “But” I say, “we have only one life.” Or so I believe, anyway.

Sometime after reading this, stop and ask yourself this question. Don’t overthink it. If you’re intellectually going through the pros and cons of different options, you’re not really doing it. Listen to the first thing that comes into your head. See the first vision that appears in your mind’s eye. What is it? Share it, if you feel like it.

Next, don’t judge it. Don’t immediately come up with all the reasons you can’t do it. (why do we do that to ourselves?) This is possibly the most important question you could ask yourself for the rest of your life, so give it time to percolate. Months, years, if necessary. Turn your vision over and over. Does it surprise you? Explore various facets of it and see what details are revealed.

Now, take little steps toward your vision. Little steps don’t have to change anything, they can just be research, or learning, or imagining. These little actions may make you feel more in tune with your mind’s eye. Little steps may turn into bigger steps over time, and bigger steps into making it a reality. You have nothing to lose by giving your idea full consideration. Even if all you do is dream about it, your dreams will be pleasant.

When I asked myself this question, I had a visual image, no words or thoughts, just an image. The image was of myself, relaxing outdoors in a house in a peaceful place, working quietly. I just know in that vision I am healthy, relaxed, and calm, living in a place that nurtures me, doing work that is balanced with the rest of my life, somewhere where nature is nearby. A slower, more rational pace of life that is sustainable for me.

What my vision has none of: commuting, cell phones, e-mail insanity, constant meetings and conference calls, massive mortgages, endless work to make ends meet to the point of stress, lack of exercise, poor health, consumerism, SUVs, the politics of war and greed. My whole spirit says no to all this. Someday I will make it happen.

Living in another country – how?

In the post below I wrote about 43 Things – the website that allows you to record your goals and progress toward them. The very first goal I wrote down was “living in another country” – something I’ve always wanted to do, but my husband did not. Now I can – and I’m actively planning for how to get there. Here are the steps as I see them:

Get more of my income streams online – I’m looking for ways to increase my online income streams to the point that they could support some level of lifestyle in another country – preferably a much less expensive country. This would supplement whatever capital I would have from selling my house here in the US. Currently I have some income from writing books, doing online tarot readings, and teaching online classes. I have recently been doing piecework editing and writing on Guru.com, which pays quickly and efficiently through PayPal – another indispensible resource for international living.

I’m looking to supplement these with an online mediation business, and perhaps increasing the amount of editing work I do on Guru.com. I’ve been trying to get a job with SquareTrade, the company that does online mediation for eBay and PayPal – still in the works. I’m also looking into more far-out approaches, such as providing dispute resolution services within virtual worlds such as SecondLife – something I actually have experience doing. If I can maintain a US bank account, no-one will ever have to know where I’m really living or vacationing at the time.

Learn Spanish – The more I travel in Mexico, South America, and Central America, the more I like it. I’ve pretty much settled on this area as where I want to live. I don’t know where yet – but that’s another piece of the puzzle. First, I have to learn Spanish. I have several strategies for doing this. I’ve got one complete set of tapes for listening to and working with in the car, and some interactive CDs. I’ve just joined an online microlending organization that posts a lot of their journal entries in Spanish, so I plan to try to read those, since I’ll be interested in the material. Most effective will simply be to spend a lot of time in Spanish-speaking countries. To that end, I’ve just purchased a timeshare condo in Puerto Vallarta (!) and one of the reasons for that was to give myself more opportunities to learn Spanish and explore other facets of living south of the border.

Research the practicalities – The next step is to begin researching practical issues. How would I purchase health care and can I get the medicines I need? What kinds of climate can my body tolerate long-term? How much money do I need for living expenses and how what does the host country require in terms of assets? What kinds of visa and citizenship options are available? What about living options – purchasing real estate vs. renting? Again, I hope to look into some of these things through spending real time in the countries I’m interested in. Another source of information is International Living, a magazine and website devoted to living abroad. And, I can benefit from the experiences of others on networking sites like 43 Things.

Look for work – As noted above, I could do all my work online, or what I really hope to do is something meaningful locally, like conservation work in Costa Rica. This requires learning Spanish first, but once I’ve done that well enough to start, it might be a really good way to ease into living somewhere – maybe take a 6-month internship at one of the cloud forests or other natural areas that are always looking for researchers. If I could get room and board onsite, it wouldn’t even be that expensive if I had to do it as a volunteer. That would be a good test of living somewhere and I should come out of it with a much better command of the language and some good connections for the future.

I’m pretty dedicated to this goal, so wish me luck!

Making a difference

Recently I’ve found two web sites that seem especially helpful in making a real difference – in one’s own life and in other people’s lives. I just wanted to highlight these in case they can help you too, or you’d like to join in. The first has to do with microlending, and the second with personal goal-setting and achievement.

Microlending is a really cool practice that allows people in developing countries to obtain small loans to grow their farming or business, usually repaid within a year or two. Repayment rates are exceptionally high, typically above 95%. Kiva is a microlending website that allows you to personally view each candidate recipient and choose to whom and what kinds of projects you want to lend money. You can also see who else is lending to them, and combine your donations to fund larger loans. Then you get updates as the loan is repaid, and eventually get your money back to keep or loan to another person.

I’ve been wanting to be part of this for a while, so yesterday I contributed the money I made from tarot readings this week to four entrepreneurs at the site. Among my “portfolio” are:

– A woman farming and selling vegetables in Samoa
– A woman who has been working as a street vendor in Merida, Mexico, and is now working on setting up a little shop for food and household goods
– A woman selling vegetables in Kenya
– A man selling shoes in Kenya

All are supporting families and some are working to pay school fees for their children (a particularly worthy goal for girls in Africa). If we’re lucky we’ll get updates on the businesses from the aid organizations or the recipients, but either way we know people are getting the help they need at 0% overhead (Kiva requests additional voluntary donations to cover rent and overhead).

The second site is one that uses the power of the Internet to help people define and achieve personal goals. It’s very simply called 43 Things. On this site you can define up to 43 goals that you have for life, though most people start with many less and fill them in as they go along – I currently have 6.

Instantly, you are hooked up with others that share your goals, and you can read about their progress, their struggles, and their ideas for succeeding. You can also read journal entries from those who have done what you’re hoping to do, what it was like for them and how they did it. You can even use the geographic features to hook up with others and form local groups for whatever you want to do – go walking, practice Spanish, exercise more, whatever.

As you go along, you can create journal entries for your goals to keep track of how you’re doing. The site sends you reminders “from your past self to your future self” on intervals you pre-determine (or not, if you choose). For those who need or want it, you can even set up specific milestones with timetables and consequences :) Others can read your journal entries and cheer you on if they like what you’re doing. Once you’ve accomplished a goal, you can click on “I’ve Done It” and take it off your list – yay!

All in all, it seems more motivational than anything else I’ve seen. It combines the power of a blog with a networking site and tracking features to make it all work together – it can even link to your external blog if you want to – once I figure that out you may be seeing a new “Goals” category on this site :)

2007 Dreaming…

I hate to call them resolutions :) I’d rather describe my plans and hopes for the New Year, and not make it sound so much like diet and exercise :D So here goes – what I’m hoping for 2007:

More connectedness. Building a network of friends near and far, but especially local – ones that I can drop in on or invite over to dinner, go out to coffee with, and provide mutual support. Spend time with my family, especially my brother and his wife in California.

Emotional stability. Last year was a roller-coaster. This year, I’d like a nice even plateau, and to rebuild the reserves that have been lost these past few years. I want to have a more positive outlook most of the time, and resources to draw on in the difficult times. I want to feel good about myself by myself, and confident enough to date.

A little romance. Yep, yep, I admit it – I want some snuggles! Candlelight, romantic dinners, and more. Someone to go on weekend get-aways with, maybe even a real date for New Year’s Eve :) Doesn’t have to be “the one”, just some nice moments to enjoy.

More outside time. I want to spend more time in nature and less time indoors. I’m looking forward to camping and hiking season, and have at least one walking vacation planned. I’ll look forward to spending more time on my new deck outdoors, enjoying the warmth, sitting by the stream, and entertaining outdoors. Hmm… outdoor yoga might be nice too.

Finish my current book. Another year of inaction on this doesn’t cut it. I need to either finish this and get it to the publisher, or decide once and for all that it’s not going to happen and move onto things I really feel like writing.

Save some money. I sure spent a pile of money getting this house furnished and landscaped, and the deck built. With any luck I can start rebuilding my savings account this year, since it looks like I can count on a similar level of contract support next year.

That’s enough for one year, I think!! I’m pretty happy with everything else and would love for it to continue as it has been. Best wishes to all of you for 2007 and good luck to all of us with our hopes and dreams for the year :)

2006 Retrospective

15-the-hermit.jpg It’s that time of year – nearing winter solstice – when it is time to take stock of the past year, experience the moment and the turning of the year, and look forward to the future. A surge of tarot reading requests is coming in as others evaluate where they stand in their lives and what’s ahead. For myself, I think I will forgo the cards for this looking back and just rely on my memory :)

House and Garden – Well, this was one of the things I did right this year :) Having been in my house for only 6 months in January, there was still a lot of work to do. It’s amazing how much it takes to furnish an entire house when you’re starting with not much. Throughout the year I worked on finding just the right furniture, and with the help of my friend Rick, put it all together and moved it all around to the right places. Which finally enabled me to unpack some things, like all those boxes of books!!! It looks quite nice now. The pond and stream were built in the early winter months, and planted in the spring. Most of the summer and early fall was dedicated to building a multilevel deck with spa, which I am so very much looking forward to making good use of next summer. When I get a chance, I’ll make a page to put up some before and after pictures. The back yard is now a real haven, and I don’t think I’ll be doing much more work to the house.

Social Life – What an up and down year this was for relationships! I spent most of the year involved in a long-distance relationship with someone who was planning a separation and move, only to have it not happen at the last minute. Heart-wrenching and disappointing, but life goes on. Now I am really single, and doing my best to enjoy it. I lost one girlfriend to the aftermath of my divorce, but feel that I’ve become closer to the others – and have made some local friends to have gaming geek nights with :) My online friendships are as strong as ever, and for that I am eternally grateful (you know who you are). I have a new cat, Sophie, who keeps me company when I’m home alone, which is a lot of the time (working from home).

Work – Speaking of work, it’s been a relatively good year. I’ve had some great contracts and made a bit more money than last year, which was good considering all the furniture I had to buy and the cost of deck materials!! The most exciting news is the Governor’s Puget Sound Alliance, aimed at cleaning up pollution and water quality problems in Puget Sound on a grand scale. A good deal of that money has filtered down to the Dept. of Ecology where I used to work, and I was on two of the three winning teams for that 2-yr contract. Lots of work is coming through and I’m honored to be contributing to that effort. Next year already looks good, it’s nice not to have to worry about contracts. I’d really love to make a little extra and get to travel somewhere, but that’s definitely in the wait-and-see category.

Health – Wow, well, I started the year recovering from 2 months sick with pneumonia, so it really could only go up from there. Migraines and associated sleepiness from medication continue to be an ongoing issue, but that’s not likely to change anytime soon and I’m dealing with it as usual. The good news is I am eating much more healthily and have lost about 12 pounds. A farm share with a local organic farm here in Puyallup has really contributed to that. Also I have finally resolved a chronic rotator cuff injury through yoga and nautilus, and am very happy about that. I’m seeing a few signs of middle-age in my skin and hair, so have started a new skin care regime to try to be proactive about it. All in all though, I’m feeling young, and that’s what counts :)

Tarot – My one big failure this year was not finishing my latest book. I got derailed early on, mostly by relationship/emotional issues that were taking a lot out of me to process. I never quite got back into the swing of it. I’m still hoping to continue writing and finish close to the March deadline my publisher set last time we talked, though I realize that could be tough. Otherwise though, things are going great – had a lot of fun at the Reader’s Studio this year in New York, and sometime about mid-year took over management of the online tarot discussion list Comparative Tarot from the former list-owner, a dear friend. That’s been a blast, and I am still doing lots of tarot readings as usual. I have also started teaching on-line classes more regularly, and plan to continue that on into the next year (you can find a list of my current classes on my website, TarotMoon, on the Articles page).

What else?? Well, this blog is new!! Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am :)