Deb Smouse

A Word About “The Word"

In January 2013, I chose an inspirational word as my guide for life throughout the coming year. It was the first time I had engaged in that practice, and it came about through working with my friend Deb Smouse, who puts together a yearly workbook to help guide you toward the word (or words) most meaningful to you. Working through the exercises in that little workbook was so enlightening to me then, and put me in touch with my feelings in a very surprising way. My word for 2013 (“Settled”) helped me get my new house in order, literally and figuratively. 

I repeated the process again in 2014, and came up with the word that not only helped me complete Life in General, but gave me a new way of thinking about the things I do for my family: Devotion.

 I was eager to discover my “touchstone” word for 2015, so once the holiday hustle was over I spent an afternoon in my comfy chair with a pot of tea and began the process. Part of the exercises involve scanning lists of words and marking those that “speak" to you. This is easier than it sounds, especially if you’re a word person. Reading through those words, I get a definite feeling about them. Most of the time it’s kind of neutral - nothing really happens. Sometimes it’s an averse feeling, like you’ve smelled a unpleasant odor. 

Then there are the words that “pop,” that give you a definite pleasurable sensation. My lists of those usually include lots of words like attentive, calm, disciplined, productive, generous, peaceful, wise, tender. 

This year’s words were so surprising. They were words that generally don’t show up on my lists at all: words like elegant and festive; fearless and feisty. Impact, insightful, luxurious. Proficient, resolute, revitalized. Strength, successful. Unsinkable.

At one point I found myself saying out loud, “Where did that come from?” (I think that was “feisty”).

As I worked my way to the end of the book, and came up with the final words that meant the most, I was enthusiastic. These were magic words that could enable a new way of looking at myself and my life. 

Excited. Confident. Elegant. 


I always think of myself as a very low-key, understated kind person. I like to fly under the radar most of the time. I don’t want to make a big splash or draw attention to myself.

To my mind, those are all antithetical to someone who would be considered Vibrant. That person is outgoing, vivacious, bright, adventurous.

But I think the way I gravitated toward this word indicates a need to bring some elements of vibrancy into my life. Looking back over the past year, I can see myself coming to this point. We’re settled in our home now and I feel like it’s ours. I’ve finished my book, a long time goal and one that I completed successfully and with gratifying results. I feel more confident than I have in a long time, more sure of what it is I need to be happy. And I’m excited about new creative projects and partnerships for the future. I’ve started to feel an urge to get out more, do new things. And while I’ll always be a homebody, I’m feeling ready to see other places once again. I’ve felt a need to take better care of myself, not just on the inside but the outside. Lavish some extra care on my body, get some new clothes, ditch the blacks and greys for brighter colors. 

There is vibrancy in all of that.

Just because I didn’t fit my pre-conceived perceptions of a vibrant self-confident person doesn’t mean I can’t alter my ideas about vibrancy in a way that makes it congruent with my personal nature. By limiting myself to this idea of myself as quiet, self-effacing, and understated, I am limiting my ability to be and do in the world. Just as there are self-fulfilling prophecies, there are self-limiting ones as well.

You are as you think you are. 

This notion of a word (or words) to guide us is, admittedly, sort of self-indulgent. But in a world where the focus is often on injustice, violence, anger, and hopelessness, maybe it’s important to look inward sometimes to make sure we don’t slip into that kind of despair. 

I definitely feel like the world could use more vibrant, confident, excited, and elegant people. 

This year, I hope to be one of them.


(*If you’re interested in choosing your own word, try Deb Smouse’s workbook, Choosing Your 2015 Touchstones. You can get one free by subscribing to her newsletter (which also has some great ideas for creating a life you’ll love.)

The Sunday Salon: Of Wind (and Windbags); Closets; and Special Places

Blustery. That's the best word to describe the general state of our weather this winter, and it seems to be carrying over into this makeshift of a spring season. This morning the wind whipped around the north side of the house like a twister, rattling the very window panes like the angriest of March lions.

But wait - it's APRIL.

I wonder what the climate change experts are making of these prevailing winds?  Perhaps we should be investing in wind turbines after all.

Today's temperatures are somewhat seasonable, but yesterday was winter redux. Thirty-seven blustery degrees for a high, with not a whimper of sunshine in sight. Nevertheless, I took a leap of faith yesterday and flipped my closet, meaning I transferred all the winter clothes to the the winter closet, discarding an entire 30 gallon plastic sackful in the process. Haven't worn it all year? Gone. Worn it but unhappy whilst wearing it? Into the sack.

Then I did the same with my spring clothes.  The remaining pieces are now hanging, color coordinated, in my closet. And if I have a moment's panic that there are only half a dozen t-shirts left instead of three dozen, I remember that for most of the winter I wore the same four shirts over and over again.

I have become ruthless - RUTHLESS, I tell you -  when it comes to paring down. I do believe my husband and dogs are frightened of me when I get into "pitch it" mode. They huddle up together on the couch, trying to disappear as if afraid they too will get tossed into the nearest bin.

Of course they're safe, but I really have completely embraced the concept of less-is-more, especially since moving into this house. We have lived here over six months now, and I figure that anything I haven't missed yet I'm not going to miss. Yes I only have one set of dishes, but that's really all I need. Instead of 30 different coffee mugs stacked precariously in the cupboard, I have six and that has been plenty. I feel lighter all over without so much stuff taking up space in every corner of my house. (Yes, Deb Smouse, you are spot-on again!)

There are two things that I have trouble tossing - one is books (although I give A LOT of books to our local library book sale) and the other is pictures. Even though nearly all of our new photographs are stored digitally, I have hundreds of old printed ones that I can't bring myself to throw away. I know I could have them digitized, but I like having them in their original format. Happily, they've all found a home inside a wicker storage chest in the basement.

As for books..well, even thought I have plenty of empty shelf space in the "library," there are some books I won't have any qualms about consigning to the book sale. I am reading one right now (well, I was reading it until I finally said 'enough') in which the "hero" is such a slimy, self-serving windbag that I can hardly wait to drop it into the big wooden bin for donations at the library. "Pitch it" mode, indeed.

Now I'm cleansing my mind's palate with the latest Peter Robinson mystery, featuring DI Alan Banks. If you've never read this series, I highly recommend. My husband and I both enjoy these books (which is a rare occurrence - usually our reading tastes never intersect). Watching the Dark is the 20th volume, and it's starting out to be just as well-written and compelling as the rest. Robinson masterfully weaves a lot of stories together in his books, and the narrative of Banks, his family, and his colleagues carries through from book to book which I always enjoy. Plus, they're all set in Robinson's native England - another plus for this closet Anglophile.

englandThe thought of England brings me to thoughts of special places, which I've been contemplating this morning at the behest of my friend Bella Cirovic, and her lovely online group 30 Days in April. "Where is the place that you go outside of your home that is your special spot?" Last year that questions was easier to answer - our home in Florida was always a retreat from the world, a place where everything was pretty and clean and new. And even though I couldn't get there every day (or even every week!), just knowing it was waiting for me got me through some rough times.

Bella's right -we need "special spots" to go when the winds get too blustery and life is too cluttered. Spots where the air is calm and clean, and there is space to stretch your arms out wide and breath deeply. I've claimed that kind of space inside my house by clearing away clutter and making room to be still.

But there is value in having a place outside and away to retreat and renew, because those concepts work in tandem. And so I am on a quest now for a new place that fills my spirit with calm and peace and hope. Maybe it will be as close as the pond behind the house, or as far away as the undulating green hills of southern England.

Maybe the wind will take me there.

Be Careful

My 86 year old father always says those words to me when we say goodbye - whether it’s a phone conversation or a personal visit, it always ends with those words, spoken now in his somewhat querulous voice. “You be careful, alright?"

“I will,” I always answer. “Don’t worry."

Truth is, though, I’m not always careful. I usually drive too fast (although since I’m definitely driving an old lady car these days my lead foot is not as much of an issue as it used to be), I don’t always eat three meals a day, I stay up too late and get up too early, I say “yes” to more things than I shouId, I exceed my one-glass-of-wine-per day allowance, I let the world stress me out.

I worry a lot.

And most often, the last person I worry about is myself.

Deb Smouse, my friend (and editor at ATG magazine) writes a lot about taking care of yourself. In fact, she and my Dad would probably get along just great, because she knows just how important it is for each one of us to care for ourselves. Not just the “looking both ways when you cross the street” kind of careful, but the kind that shows you’re aware of your needs and you make time and space in your life to honor them.

In fact, her blog post today reminded me just how often I fail at taking care of the most important person in my life.


And I cringe a little bit when I write those words, because I was brought up to think of myself last, to put the needs of others first - others being my family, friends, dogs, boss, neighbors, the mailman, the plumber...

You get the picture. “Good girls” always sacrifice their needs and desire for the greater good and comfort of others.

But after reading Deb’s post today, I’m about ready to say balderdash to that philosophy.

"Denying yourself necessary time for self-care is detrimental not only to your body, but also to your mind and soul."   

Why should I feel guilty for taking an afternoon to get a facial or a mani/pedi? Or spend a couple of hours at the movies all alone? Or sit quietly on the deck for watching the sunset? Or even blow off a meeting to meet a friend for coffee?

I never do things like that. Instead, you’ll find me rearranging my personal schedule to accomodate some one else’s needs or to cross something else off my ever lengthening to-do list. I can barely allow myself the “luxury” of sitting down with a book for 30 minutes in the afternoon without feeling that all-too-familiar itch to get up and accomplish something worthwhile.

Why? Because I think I have to do all those things in order to please the people that are important to me.

To make sure they love me.

What I’m beginning to realize is that if I don’t love myself, then nobody else will love me either, because I’m not a very lovable person under those circumstances. I get cranky and miserable. I start running in those vicious circles where I don’t feel good so I don’t look good so I feel infinitum.


While I don’t think this is exactly what my father means in his ritual exhortation, “being careful” to take care of myself has to move higher on my priority list than it usually is. My one precious self is all I have, so I do need to be careful to keep it safe, both body and soul.

Or else everyone in my life loses - me, most of all.

How about you? Are you careful with your one precious self? How do you make self-care a priority?