Some Takeaways from My First 30 Day Haiku Challenge

Truth be told, I really wanted to write about other topics this week. I planned to do a travel blog post once a month, because I miss traveling and want to remember what it’s like to jump on a plane without fear of deadly germs. Then I thought I should switch it up and do a post on imposter syndrome, with some ways I get through it when it sneaks up on me. I started both posts but didn’t finish.

This month I participated in a 30 Day Haiku Challenge hosted by Nicole Gulotta. If you want to find out more, you can check out @nicolegulotta or #30dayhaikuchallenge on Instagram (I’m @cjdubs03). Overall, I found it fun and purposeful, and it definitely stretched me creatively. I reflected back on everything from childhood memories to daily blessings to appreciating more of the chilling beauty of winter. Normally, I can’t wait for winter to be over and done with.

But in all honesty, the challenge took way more time than I gave it credit for. While it may only take 10 minutes a day to write a haiku, then there’s time to find a picture and make it look “nice.” Then I want to see what everyone else came up with for the theme, so I scroll for 15 more minutes before I get back to my “real” to do list. Not that spending some time on myself is a bad thing, but an hour out of each weeknight is, well, a lot. And I noticed after the first two weeks that my zest for the daily activity was fading from a “want to” to a “have to”.

Hence why I’ve abandoned my previous ideas and will keep my weekly post short and sweet. Instead, I’m spending more time this evening with my husband and pup watching who knows what on TV instead of crafting the “perfectly timed” post. As we speak, my 8 year old Weimaraner is blissfully snoozing on my lap.

I’m also really proud of these 5 haikus I’ll share below. I love haikus because they, too, are short and sweet, yet full of beautiful odes to nature in their traditional Japanese form. Haikus also combine two of my most favorite things: writing and math!

Cold air
My heart feels
Morning light
Healing
Bare branches

Three Tips to Help You Face the Fear of Starting Yoga

First things first: I am not a skinny, size 4 (or even size 6) woman trying to get your attention. My BMI has been in the “overweight” category (mid to high 20s) for years now. Thankfully, the 21st century yoga space is becoming more visually diverse with people of all shapes and sizes enjoying it now. This matches what the practice strives to be, ever since it started centuries ago in India: an accepting and welcoming environment to all soul-seeking individuals.

I was first drawn to yoga in college and went to a few classes with my roommates at the time. But after we graduated and parted ways, it took me 10 years to develop a regular practice. The usual culprits gnawed at me: I’m too busy, I’m not good enough, I can’t bend like that, it’s too slow, what if other people look at me weird. Well, guess what? All those things are still true. The difference is that I finally stopped it from stopping me to pick up the practice. And here’s three things I learned along the way that helped me stick with yoga.

  1. Do not compare yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know, like anything in life. But really. Someone will always be more bendy than you. With the lights down low, no one can really see you anyway. And if they came to the space to judge, then they’re in the wrong place and will eventually be found out as the real outsider. You might be the last one to move out of a pose, but it’s not as embarrassing as it sounds–you can enjoy the extra couple seconds you got there (your body may have needed it anyway) and pick right back up with everyone in the next pose. Plus, yoga takes such intense concentration that you won’t have time or energy to look around for longer than a quick glance, just to see what “pigeon pose” means (one of my faves).
  2. You are a yogi simply by showing up on your mat. I know this sounds soo mushy gushy, but I love it. When a yoga teacher calls us all “yogis”, I feel like it silently binds us all together in community in the purest and simplest of moments. Naming what you are helps you become what you are. Calling yourself a yogi gives yourself permission to stick with the practice. Being a “yogi” doesn’t mean bending your body into a pretzel or mastering a Vinyasa Flow 3 class and doing headstands right away. You could be a yogi your whole life and never want to get to that level. Being a yogi lets you do you in a room full of others doing the exact same thing.
  3. Pain means back off. Any yoga instructor will tell you this over and over throughout a class. There should be a “comfortable tension” in each pose, with the overall goal of both stretching and strengthening your beautiful muscles. You should get familiar with what “comfortable tension” means for you, knowing that it will constantly change the more (or less) you practice.

Other pro tips? Find what style works for you. I love Vinyasa because it keeps my mind engaged with a faster pace. I also love Yin, not only because it sneakily loosens up my joints, but it also makes me confront my Type A-ness and (try to) let it go gracefully.

So, if yoga is on your list to try this year, do it. Give yourself permission to be adventurous and messy with it. When you find the right studio, or YouTube channel, that fits you, you’ll know it. Your mind, body, and heart will all feel in sync. Even if it’s fleeting, the feeling will be profound and noticeable. Appreciate how the eloquent, ancient Sanskrit words wash over you, knowing that you’re tapping into a powerful, global practice that transforms lives in the smallest of ways every day.

P.S. My go-to YouTube channel right now for yoga is Erin Wimert – she is down-to-earth, uploads new videos each week, and offers different lengths of classes from 20 minutes to over 1 hour. (I don’t get any kickbacks at all from this, just meeting one of my own goals this year to actively support small businesses!)

What It Means to Stay In My Lane

How much do you pay attention to the lane striping on a roadway? Unfortunately for me, I critique notice it a LOT from working in the transportation industry as a field engineer.

Double yellow, that’s easy: don’t cross into oncoming traffic. Dashed white, also called skips: lane changes are allowed. But I mean the finer details. Like when you’re merging onto an interstate, but there’s a long solid white line that slooowly turns into white skips. Ooh, gray area. I bet at least 90% of us cross that solid line before the skips. I can neither confirm nor deny my choice, given where I’m going and how heavy traffic is. These areas are tricky because the lane next to it looks open. So, can’t I sneak on over and be on my way?

The lane lines serve as boundaries of what we can and cannot cross. We don’t own the roadway, of course (as much as we’d like to, some days). And the more I studied “striping” as we call it in the engineering field, the more I began connecting this concept to everyday life. I’ve also studied quite a bit on boundaries in my personal growth, as the notion of it was completely foreign to me until a few years ago. Back then, aside from some obvious ethical boundaries like don’t cheat, I had very few personal boundaries.

I thought saying yes to everything and everyone was both encouraged and expected. “Be a hand raiser!” “Don’t miss a good opportunity!” “Fake it till you make it!” were the mantras told to us as young college students ready to change the world. Seldom were the phrases, “But do what’s best for you” or “But take the time you need to decide what opportunities fit you” added on to remind us to stay balanced. The main message was: get the degree as fast as possible to start making as much money as possible, and the rest will fall into place. An engineering fairy tale at its finest.

I’ve learned that boundaries give us language to say what works and what doesn’t for us, both in life and at work. I think this is really tough for women in engineering to do consistently, because we naturally want to help people out. Sometimes we put up a white solid line (do not cross temporarily) but find that someone urges us to change it to white skips (passing lane, come on in). Like when a manager moves up a deadline when we just admitted (or wanted to admit) we were burnt out and need a short break. Sometimes we put up a double yellow that gets completely ignored, like when we told our significant other that we need to reschedule dinner with the folks, but they forgot and now “we can’t let them down”.

Boundaries are tough, because often others can see our lines, plain as day, yet decide to cross over anyway. The reverse can be true from us to others as well. It takes commitment, strength, and love for ourselves to not only discover our boundaries, but also to hold them, especially with outside pressure.

One thing that took me a while to understand about boundaries is that love and kindness can break boundaries. My rule follower intuitions are so ingrained that default to seeing boundaries in black and white (or, yellow and white, if you’ve stuck with my roadway metaphor this long). We can set our hard lines, but we can choose to open them up and allow them to be crossed over, too. This choice comes from the desire to preserve our most precious relationships and partnerships.

The other thing I learned about boundaries is that it’s more important that I stay in my lane rather than peek over at someone else’s. It’s easy to do this on a road when cars are traveling so quickly; save for stoplights, there’s little time to really check out what the other person is doing. We can try, but a few seconds in, and we’re easily distracted away from our own destination that day. We can easily miss the green light on our side if we’re too focused on someone else’s green.

My own boundary lines help define my perspective of my life. I can choose how much to invest in a friend or coworker who may be temporarily struggling. I can pull over safely near their lane and help support them, but I don’t have to be “in” their lane, problem solving for them and taking over their car. They can get to their final destination better with me as a passenger, not the driver. Boundaries help me stay detached.

Maybe the next time you’re on the road, the road striping will take on a new meaning and new perspective for you. Maybe you’ll wait to merge before the white-lined gore on an off-ramp. Or if someone sneaks over the white line in front of you when they could’ve waited, you’ll smile and think of love and kindness. But if you honk, that’s OK too, since boundaries are all about owning our power and choosing what works for us.

My Word for 2021: Heal

I wasn’t planning to have a “word” this year. I only learned of the practice a few years ago, and I’ve picked maybe one or two annual words since then. It’s typically hard for me to land on just one thing. I don’t want to be disappointed if this one thing, one thought, one feeling doesn’t come through for me. Also, my FOMO kicks in and says, but don’t forget about X, Y, and Z.

Anyway. I just got a couple’s pedicure with my husband, and “heal” came to mind. I loved the symbolism. Heel on feet reminds me of self-care that’s been a large part of my healing, even if I sometimes question if I’m doing it “right”. Heal: something I’ve been trying to do for over a decade now to actually feel closure from past traumas. As I pondered “heal” in the quiet of the spa room, with music gently playing and essential oils lightly diffusing, it resonated deeply.

Trigger warning: I want to heal from childhood traumas that play out internally for me on a daily basis. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who moved away when I was 13 and passed away in a car accident when I was 16.

To shift gears to a less triggering place, I know that everyone has traumas. The more I see my own trauma without judgment, the more I can face it. Some form of childhood trauma affects all of us: not getting picked for a team, the humanity of parents, falling down when we’re sure we can stand up, etc.

I’ve seen 3 therapists since college. One smiled and nodded after I shared my story, then handed me a pamphlet that said, “What it means to grow up in a dysfunctional family.” I experienced a mini trauma from this because no one in my family had used those words before. But deep in the recesses of my mind, it slowly awoke a new awareness.

I described this experience a few years later to the next therapist, and to my relief, she said, “well, that probably felt awkward.” She explained that what he probably meant was that I was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). She gave me a beautiful quote by Nelson Mandela about being a gift from God. But I still wasn’t ready to fully dive in. After four sessions, I stopped going. I learned more about ACOA, buying several books but finishing few.

I’ve seen my current therapist for over a year. But it took me 8 years to try again. And I’ve done a LOT of work. I’ve learned all about codependency, boundaries, ACOA, feelings, and more. I feel more informed and emotionally stable. But certain memories still haunt me. Certain sounds still trigger me. So, I’m starting EMDR (just Google it). After all the self-work and introspection, trying to rewire my brain to get to my heart feels like the next step.

I believe in God, and He promises healing to those who believe and seek. “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 30:17. I believe in the power of these words. Feeling them is hard. And I know that His promises look very different in real time vs. hindsight.

After all my efforts over the years, I just want to feel peace. I know there is no way to “perfectly” heal, much to my recovering perfectionist’s disapproval. Maybe peace is really my word. But right now, heal is the only way I feel I can get there.

I picked this word on Sunday. After our nation’s utterly tragic, historic events this week, I can’t think of a better time to focus on healing.

Stay Hopeful, My Friends

Life’s little moments

Give us hope when all else seems

Fraught with fear, despair

NAVIGATING COVID

Gratitude for my

Shelter, food, health, it’s all here

Hope in quarantine

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We leave a short note

To say thanks for your service

Hope from frontliners

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Hilarious prints

Germs contained, and coffee breath

Hope from wearing masks

.

Universal Yums

Snacks to learn of great countries

Hope without travel

MY CIRCLE

She asks with concern

How are you really doing

Hope from a girl friend

.

We have a spa night

Just like old times as a kid

Hope with my Madre

.

We send pics, music

Share our creative outlets

Hope from my cousin

.

He embraces my

Wild ambition, big dreams

Hope with my husband

WORK

We laugh at meetings

Instead of arguing, mad

Hope from contractors

.

They give water to

The homeless on the corner

Hope from laborers

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We wave at workers

No matter background, job type

Hope with a smile

.

We discuss kindness

While watching traffic fly by

Hope from a flagger

.

He brings me coffee

When we have a busy day

Hope from a colleague

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GRATITUDE

Warm hands, giant hugs

I’ll have these again one day

Hope is before me

.

Lifelong memories

Of full concerts, planes, gyms, church

Hope is behind me

.

Laughter over Zoom

Strong internet, still have wine

Hope is beside me

.

Sun in December

Bluebird skies, warmed skin, breezes

Hope is around me

.

He promises us

He will overcome the world

Hope is within me

Life’s little moments

Make a difference each day

Stay hopeful, my friends

This message of hope is brought to you by my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find more of our work on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out more messages of hope from these amazing writers below!

hope in the time of 2020. by Eunice Brownlee
Shifting Sands of Hope by Mia Sutton
In It Together by Laci Olivia
Who is your Only Hope? by Amy Rich
The 2020 Storm by Adeola Sheehy
Hope Over Survival by Sarah Hartley
Optimist on Purpose by Megan Dellecese
A Story About a Dog by Jenn Norrell
Both Fragile and Enduring by Danni Brigante

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An Invitation To… Mittenwald, Germany

It’s December and cold in the U.S. right now. As I attempt to get in the holiday spirit, I’m reminiscing about a quaint, Christmas-y place in southern Germany: Mittenwald. This tiny town sits at the base of the Alps on the border between Austria and Germany. It’s one of those hidden, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it places near the end of the famous Romantic Road.

Something I learned…

Some of the artwork on the unique, hand-painted buildings is about 250 years old

Immediately on arrival to Mittenwald, I was confronted with beautiful, life-sized, caricature paintings on almost every building. To say this added to Mittenwald’s charm is an understatement. Then I quickly realized I’d have just a few hours to wander and get lost in stories the buildings wanted to tell. In my haste, I didn’t take great pictures of individual painted scenes, because my fleeting obsession demanded that I get ALL the buildings in ONE perfect photo (hello, idealism). While this quest didn’t pan out, I distinctly remember being captivated by how creative artists really are. I wanted to go back in time and meet the local painters that said, hmm, these buildings look plain… how about we liven them up with some fairytale scenes?

Something I ate…

Good ol’ homemade sandwiches in a gorgeous park

When we visited Mittenwald a few years back, it was a quick pit stop for me and some friends on the way to Munich for Oktoberfest. Since we were particularly weary from our travels that day, rather than post up in a restaurant, we hit the local grocery store and bought supplies for an impromptu lunch in the park. Six of us split a loaf of bread, cured meats, sharp white cheese, and some chips. We also found the most adorable local park where my (very) amateur photography quest turned from the buildings to the flowers. I would gawk and spin around for a few minutes upon each new find, trying to capture each bud from the perfect angle. Luckily my friends are quite gracious with me in these endeavors and waited patiently in the empty park as we wrapped up our sandwiches. Seriously though, the colorful displays added some liveliness to an otherwise overcast, dreary day.

Something I felt…

Sleepy… a good, relaxing kind of sleepy

Of all the German towns we visited, Mittenwald took me closest to imagining how my ancestors would have enjoyed a quiet, sleepy life. Throughout our trip, a couple of us with our short, stocky frames and round faces were sometimes mistaken for German, not American. Sprechen Sie Deutsch? was asked of us at least once a day, but it didn’t bother us a bit. While none of us spoke German, it felt nice to have the fleeting appearance of belonging in a foreign land. My husband and I both have German ancestors–the “great-great” kind that we never met–which is quite evident from many, er, endearing traits we have. Such as… our stubbornness and orderly mannerisms when it comes to quirky things, like how to load our dishwasher or how to walk our dog.

So maybe the memory of this trip came up for me because it’s 2020, and Christmas will be much quieter this year. We never travel out of state for the holidays since our folks live in town, though I greatly missed traveling on an airplane this year (we’d try to vacation to at least one new place annually, pre-COVID). And yet, I’m not down about having my first sleepy Christmas. We may get to putting up a tree and decorating the house, or we may not. We may get around to sending Christmas cards, or we may not. In the mean time, Mittenwald has me remembering it’s OK to be small, quiet, and slow. A big mountain of activity still beckons to be explored ahead, as soon as our new normal can safely emerge from the clouds.

There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

What would give you a full mind, belly, and heart in the next city you explore? Follow more of my “invitations to” adventure at the top right of the page: Home > Travel+Bug.

Your Words are Worthy

Words upon words upon words. From grade school on, women are the classic note takers. Scribbles on sticky notes. Endless to-do lists. College notebooks full of formulas, theories, and literal word-for-word jargon from professors, in hopes it can be deciphered later. Love notes to kids or spouses in lunchboxes. We are the quintessential journal keepers, no matter if it’s once a day or once a year.

Why do we take note of so much? For one, it engages us. It activates our busy minds that run nonstop, even in our sleep. It plants us in the moment and grounds us when nothing else will. The act of writing promises hope that we won’t forget what we feel we need to remember.

Anytime I hear from a fellow woman writer that she doesn’t feel the urge to write, my heart cracks a little. This may be temporary based on the busy day/week/month ensuing, where she’s likely busy taking care of everyone else around her. My suspicion is that deep down, she silently feels her words aren’t worthy. And this makes the crack in my heart even wider, because I am so inspired by the words of other women. It is the very thing that has emboldened and empowered me on my own journey. I can’t stop reading others’ thoughts of desperation and moments of hope that this fragile, historic year has brought.

This is a pep talk I give myself that you can borrow in whole or in part anytime you need: Do not ever let someone poison you, with either a glance or a litany, on whether or not you’re worthy to create. You are the only one that gets to decide that. Let failure be a teacher and a gift once the pain subsides. When you’re ready, have the guts to face your weak areas instead of avoiding them. The lessons of growth when you go through the fire are always, always worth it. You have more grit than you give yourself credit for, so start digging in to get you where you want to go.

Whether you write 50 or 50,000 words, every syllable matters. Let those words of yours, faintly simmering below, start to bubble up and out. It counts if it’s privately in a journal or publicly released to the world. If you needed this reminder, I hope it’s coming to you at the right time.

Today, tomorrow, next month, or next year–there is no deadline on the worthiness of your words.

This post was taken from a bit of the first draft of my memoir as a woman engineer. I started this project on a whim when I learned of NaNoWriMo two weeks before it launched on November 1, 2020. I got to 40,000 words, and I have no idea if I will ever finish and publish it. What propelled me to write was this: “Will there ever be another time in my life where I can dedicate a whole month to writing?” And I didn’t want to wait to find out.

All I know right now is that I have stories of mine to tell. Writing is the therapy I need right now to re-imagine, process, and let go.

PS, the Unpublished Podcast by Amie McNee has been one of many inspirations to my writing journey this year. I encourage you to check it out if you need a boost of encouragement, wherever you are in your creative writing journey right now. As Amie often says, only you can write what you can write, no one else can.

Simple Traditions, Solid Ground

Thanksgiving traditions remind me, like a recurring dream that suddenly reappears

Through patience in prepping and roasting the turkey

Through cheerful pops of cranberries bursting

Through softening of vegetables in the skillet

Through warmth of a freshly baked pumpkin pie

Through those peaceful seconds just after we say grace

That simple traditions ground me when I feel my grip on life slipping

Helping release my sadness at the losses and turmoil that this year brought

Their familiarity keeps me up, gives me hope, that better days are ahead