Saturday, December 30, 2017

48. (Wo)Man's Search for Meaning

I recently read Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning. In the book, Frankl shares his experience in a WWII concentration camp and how he was able to find meaning in that horrifying time. Approaching his days as a psychiatrist observing behavior in the camps, Frankl survived by focusing on his future, and picturing himself giving lectures on logotherapy.

Logotherapy is a line of psychotherapy developed by Frankl that seeks to uncover the meaning of challenging circumstances. Frankl draws on his experience in the camps to illustrate this and he also shares stories from his mental health practice. He gives the example of a man whose wife died. The man is upset about losing his wife but Frankl helps him re-frame the tragedy: his wife dying saved her the pain of experiencing her husband's death since she died first. This helped the man see purpose in his suffering and made his grief easier to bear.

This encouraged me to really assess my own challenges and re-frame them. So much of my life has been spent "pushing through" challenges in ways that fail to recognize the potential meaningful experience it could be to accept and work within challenges rather than trying to negate them. This fighting against has been such a weight on my shoulders. I've felt that unless I can "overcome" challenges, the challenge is meaningless. Frankl has made me think about how the challenge doesn't define the meaning but what does definite it is how I respond--how I create and find meaning working with the challenges rather than against. I hope this is making sense.

This mostly applies to accepting circumstances outside my control and figuring out how to work within that space. I've had so many "light bulb" moments and I truly feel like this book has changed my life. The most challenging circumstance outside of my control that I've faced my entire life is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). So, while reading Man's Search for Meaning, I tried to think of ways I could learn to work with EDS, rather than constantly trying to do things "in spite of" EDS (working against).

Thoughts on Travel
Because of EDS, I'm not able to do much traveling without putting my health at risk. I have wanted to do international social work most of my life and my PhD program focused on that--responding to international trauma (the PhD is a post for another day). I've been fighting for this so hard, not wanting to let it go, but I realized after Frankl's book that I don't have to travel internationally to help others. I can help others in my local community and that is just as important.

This was huge for me. I had so deeply ingrained this idea that to really make a difference and "live life" I had to be "international". When I finally gave myself the space to accept my limitations and let go of this desire that had started to define my self worth, a huge weight lifted. My body won't let me be international and that's ok because I can make a meaningful impact in other ways, here in Iowa. I'm still working on find out out how and I have some leads but, honestly, I'm ok with the not knowing for now.

Thoughts on Home Ownership and Animal Rescue
I am unable to get out on the town much as I'm often left extremely tired or in pain at the end of my workday. The meaning I'm finding in this is that I'm meant to stay in more often than not and work on creating a warm, nurturing environment in my home that becomes my favorite place to be.

One of the most important ways I make a house a home is by filling it with animals. Since I was a child, I've been involved with animal rescue and in November, I stepped up my rescue game by taking in Dinah, an 11 year old puppy mill rescue. Orlando (my first dog) was also a rescue, but he was much younger and came with far fewer challenges. Dinah has run out of options, so she's joining my family and my home full of love to live out her last years in comfort and care.

Another thought regarding dogs is that EDS makes it dangerous for me to participate in most forms of exercise except for walking, swimming, and physical therapy. Having dogs keeps me walking which is so important. It need to get exercise but being in pain so often makes it very difficult to get up move. Having animals means that I will always take them out, regardless of how I'm feeling, and this will basically force me to get my daily exercise.

Thoughts on Children
Because of EDS, I can't have children of my own. I'm re-framing this to mean that I'm meant to help children in other ways. Right now I'm focused on helping kids in my community by serving on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Iowa. My term of service will last three years at which point I will figure out my next form of service.

Thoughts on Limited Physical Activity

Any job that I have must be one at a desk that does not require standing for long hours or heavy lifting of any kind. This makes teaching online, and freelance writing the perfect work for me. Photography works well too because a photoshoot gets me walking and then the edits can be done at home.

I've always been a writer. I've kept a diary since I was seven years old. I've also known I wanted to be a teacher as young as second grade. I picked up photography when I was 11 and didn't have any livestock to show at 4H (so I did baking and photography--both activities I still love and engage in regularly).

It seems that when it comes to making money, I've already found the work that is meaningful and realistic to me.

In closing, it's fascinating to me how much I knew about myself when I was a child, before layers of societal expectations, and insecurities, piled up. I've spent much of my early adulthood peeling back those layers and remembering who I am at my core, when I'm most honest. Stephen Covey calls this a paradigm shift.

I've spent so much time striving to"overcome" my illness in ways that weren't realistic to me. This caused a lot of grief when I didn't succeed. EDS is called chronic for a reason--there is no overcoming. There is no cure. There is no getting better. There is only preventing further decline.

I no longer feel like my life will be a waste if I can't do the things my illness prevents me from doing. There is still so much I can offer the world in my own way, and as Frankl notes

"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

I'll happily chronicle these small adventures here on the blog.

Until next time,

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

47.October 2017 by the Numbers

I decided to do an experiment to see how much I actually do in a month by quantifying certain activities. This was in part due to curiosity, but once completed, I found it to be a great antidote to imposter syndrome. I think I'll do this every  month!

6,278 words written
This was divided between two projects this month:
--An updated business plan for my freelance business
--Composition course textbook/wiki readings

5 letters written
5 letters received

1,469 assignments graded

1,219 pages read
Including the following books/articles:
--The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
--The John Wood Case by Ruth Suckow (haven't finished this yet)
--The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

3 freelance inquiries
--1 accepted

Miscellaneous October Notes
--Presented at a virtual conference. Presentation title: "Embracing Millennials in Higher Education." Won an award for "Best Learning Outcomes" for this presentation.
--Event planning for a board of directors on which I serve.
--Senior photoshoot
--Event photos for an honor society
--Read names at graduation
--Set up a Little Free Library Charter
--6 nights of market research for a movie studio
--75 trick-or-treaters!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

46. The Most Wonderful Respiratory Infection I've Ever Had

I fell ill this summer and it was wonderful.

For the past ten years or more, my impaired immune system has struggled to fight off the common cold. When contracted, what is typically the common cold virus for the average person, for me becomes something much more sinister and dangerous. In the span of 12 hours, what starts as a head cold can morph into pneumonia or severe bronchitis for me. For the past ten years then, any time I felt that annoying tickle in my throat signalling the oncoming virus, fear set. The fear was then typically reinforced with trips to the hospital and fighting infections that take months to be rid of.

This August, I felt that familiar tickle in my throat. At this point in my life I don't have fear the way I used to, but more just depressing resignation to the medical bills I'm about to rack up. So when, I felt that familiar sore throat, I begrudgingly mentally prepared myself. I gathered my sick supplies (tissues, cough drops, vitamin C, Gatorade, etc) and readied myself to miss work if needed.

And I waited...

I got the sniffles next, follow by a mild cough.

Still I waited for the other shoe to fall. For my lungs to fill overnight. For my bronchi to get so inflamed you could hear me wheeze from the other room....

And it never happened.

For the first time in over a decade, a head cold stayed a head cold and I recovered within a week without missing work or racking up medical debt.

It was the most wonderful, beautiful, respiratory infection I've ever had.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Day one of officially being in a PhD program as I start my prerequisite course. My nerves are high but but I REALLY love the material we're  covering so far.

I'm almost finished with my business degree-just a few terms left. With the two programs overlapping a bit, my summer and fall will be INTENSE. It still hasn't completely sunk in that I'm getting a PhD. It's truly a dream come true.

To deal with some of the stress today, I baked some pumpkin, banana, chocolate chip bread. I grabbed the recipe from Jessica at Together as Family and will be sending it to my pen pals. It's pretty delicious!

Monday, May 8, 2017


Sunday was comprised of marathoning paper grading and homework with a break for a walk down Main Street with a friend. Main Street hosted "Shop and Shine," a car show with participating businesses.

I'm pretty much in love with the Tea Cellar, a new tea room on Main. Photos below!


Saturday, May 6, 2017


A new book review Joe Hill's Locke and Key Volume 1 is posted at my book review blog. (The Write Reader).

The big news I want to share is the I've been accepted into a PhD program. I'll be doing a doctorate in international psychology and trauma services. I'm so excited!

I will keep you all posted as I move through the process.


Monday, May 1, 2017


Today Cherry chewed on the Wisteria Bonsai. Fingers crossed it survives the trauma and I can find a place in the apartment that she can't get to. Le sigh.

Caterpillars are growing!

This was taken this morning.  I'm sure they will form a chrysalis soon and then I can set up their indoor habitat. 

I have other important news to share but I need to wait for a bit yet to do so. It's good news. :) 

Cheers, lovebirds


Sunday, April 30, 2017


I made scones for the first time. They didn't turn out pretty but they tasted great. I see many more scones in my future.

Caterpillars are growing. They will shed their exoskeleton several times before forming a chrysalis.


46. 2017 Butterfly Gardening: Research and Planning

You sometimes hear in stories about people leaping out of bed ready to tackle a goal. That literally happened to me randomly earlier in the year. I woke up with a mad desire to raise and save butterflies. I don't know if I had been having a dream or what was happening but I jumped out of bed, hair sticking out everywhere, and ran into the kitchen where my boyfriend was cooking eggs for breakfast.

"I have to save the butterflies. I don't want to live in a world without butterflies" I said to him.

"Ok, honey," he said and added some eggs to the pan to share with me.

I know very little about butterfly gardening, also known as pollinator gardening. Naturally, I had to start the process with research.

Without further ado....

  • I started by researching butterflies common to Iowa. I found a website called Insects of Iowa to be the most helpful. The provide information on native butterflies and also have PDF fils you can download. One of these files includes maps of Iowa counties so you can see which butterflies are most concentrated in your area. 
  • I also found information on Monarchs. The Monarch butterfly population is considered endangered. In order to survive, they need milkweed. So, I purchased some milkweed seeds. I have been having a difficulty getting the seeds to germinate, though. 
  • There are several notable programs to support butterfly gardening and Monarchs in particular. Monarch Watch is an especially helpful organization. I'll post more as I find them.
  • I want to make sure I am successful raising butterflies that aren't endangered and successful in getting some milkweed grown before attempting to help with Monarch populations. So, I ordered some painted lady caterpillars from Insect Lore. From what I can tell, it is a decent enough company. I have five caterpillars: Harry, Sally, Curly, Mo, and Wiggles. 
So...that is my progress so far! I will post updates as I go along. 



Saturday, April 8, 2017


I started out today supremely cranky. Dangerous allergies won't let me enjoy the beautiful weather, I have a lot of grading to get done by the end of the day Sunday, and finals for the courses I'm taking are this week. Cranky Brain says "grrrr, be unhappy." 

 I managed to turn things around with some Frank Sinatra, baking a double batch of chocolate walnut brownies, and writing some letters to pen pals in France, Finland, Ireland, and Canada. I don't want to live with Cranky Brain in charge anymore. Life is short and I've been feeling that shortness intensely lately. I just wanna enjoy my life...hit it, Blue Eyes! d'Arty's in charge here... 

 (Photo from Pixabay)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

45. Post-Crossing

I love meeting new people and making new friends. Recently, a co-worker told me about a neat program/website called Post-Crossing that connects people with pen pals from all over the world. I had stopped by her cubicle to "oooh" and "ahhh" over some gorgeous postcards she had hanging in her office.

When you go to the website you can set up a free profile. Then, their algorithms will randomly pair you with other users and you are required to mail those users a post card. You can sign up for five at a time and for every five you send, you get five sent to you.

My first five went to people living in Germany, Russia, Taiwan, China, and Japan. The postcard I sent to Germany was "registered" on the post-crossing website so I could then request another card to send to a new person (someone in the U.S.).

You also have the option of doing direct swaps with users once your first postcard is registered. Direct swaps can be anything you want them to be--postcards, letters, etc. I've already nabbed a pen pal from Ireland using the direct swap option.

So far, I am LOVING my experience with this and there are a lot of people who take the project very seriously, sending thousands of postcards in their time since joining. If any of you decide to try it out, my Post-Crossing handle is jdartagnanlove.

Happy snail mail, Lovebirds!


Saturday, February 25, 2017

44. Birthdays Mean Fresh Starts

I woke up this morning on my birthday to the sound of my three cats throwing themselves against my closed bedroom door until it popped open. Strangely enough, it was 8:30am, the exact time I made my debut on planet earth. Usually they let me sleep in on Saturdays and it was like the cats knew today was my day or something. In reality, they probably just wanted their breakfast kibble but their early morning demands did get me out of bed so I could do some writing and reflecting.

This year has been tough in a lot of ways, none of which really merit discussing in a public forum (let's do coffee), but I am feeling really hopeful for the year to come. You know when you hit a certain point and you realize you need to make a change? I'm at a point in my life where that is the case. No, I'm not doing anything drastic so don't go to panic or extremes. I just want to make subtle changes to live a happier life. One of those changes is having more balance and making time for the things that fill my proverbial cup. I've been running on empty for most of the past year, and, well, I can't anymore.

I'm not trying to be a victim when I say that, either. I take full responsibility for overloading myself with responsibilities and roles. It's something I've always done and it always has the same result: complete and total burnout. This behavior started as a defense mechanism--a way to make myself "competitive" in an environment that overwhelmed me. I think I'm finally in a place where I can let go of that compulsion to "do all the things." I'm in a placed where I can "let go and let God."

So this had me asking myself some questions. What "fills my cup?" What helps me feel like my life has meaning and purpose? What makes me feel relaxed, connected, and at peace? My answers aren't anything unique or outside the realm of what most people need. I need to write, read, pray. I need to spend time with the people I love. I need coffee, chocolate, and cheese (my edible trifecta). I need to garden, and nurture the natural world. I need to love my pets and take my dog for long walks. I need to read juicy books. I need to be a good student, and great teacher. I need rest.

So here on my birthday, my plans for the coming year are to trim back my activities so more of my life centers on the activities listed above. Some questions I plan to ask myself before automatically saying "yes" to new projects include:

1. Do I have the time needed to do this project well, or will I be scrambling?
2. Does this project line up with my values and feel meaningful?
3. Will there be an immediate return on investment either for myself or my community that will keep me motivated?
4. Will taking this on negatively affect my health?
5. Am I saying "yes" because the project excites me or am I saying "yes" out of fear?
6. What will I be giving up in order to take on this project? Is giving that up worth it?
7. Is it possible to wait to do this project later on in my life or is it a "once in a lifetime" opportunity?

What other questions should I add to this list? I'm hopeful that things will get better. One day at a time, right?