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After the clearing

"Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." #‎ViktorFrankl‬

We’ve cleaned our closets, cupboards, garage and said no to many of our obligations. We are left with space and time. What now?

Okay, I haven’t actually cleaned the garage yet. It feels so daunting, with heavy awkward items, that are tempting me to pull my back out, just looming in the aisles. Not every closet is cleaned either, but I am significantly less cluttered than I was, even a year ago. Not only my house, but my time. I went down the list this spring and moved myself off every committee and fundraiser I could that was draining me to pulp. I was left with a big empty space that I’m craving to fill.

Space feels so…empty. Lonely, underachiever, slacker, bored, lazy. Lots of judgement words come up in this “free” time.

I saw someone post on Facebook that when they cleared their space and time and had room to breathe, they filled it with enough sleep and healthful cooking. What a concept! Why do we equate “busy” with “successful?” Having just watched “Where to Invade Next” by Michael Moore you can’t help but feel envious of the Italian’s sense of normalcy around leisure. An Italian couple stated how much healthier and happier they feel, as well as engaged in their work, because they have the time needed to relax and enjoy life too.

There is a concept in nutrition called “crowding.” The basic concept is that you crowd out the unhealthy food with healthy food. Instead of focusing on what you have to give up, you crowd healthy food in first so that you care less about the unhealthy food. What if we did this with our time?

When I first started my business I created goals every year of increasing my number of clients and increasing my sales. Until I burned out. I was so focused on “success” that I began to hate my job that began as a passion. It took my dad dying for me to wake up and realize that no one made me work like this. I was my boss. I decided that if I was going to stay in business I had to do it differently. My way. Instead of how I thought it was “supposed” to be done. I created boundaries and valued myself more. When I was focusing on increasing clients and increasing sales I barely had time to go to the bathroom, let alone enjoy raising my kids or being sweet to my husband. So if you talked to me about clearing space for healthy replenishing time I would have thought you were crazy. WHEN would I fit THAT in???

During my initial Year of Me, I made a change that put my health first. I put yoga on my calendar twice a week and never moved or gave it up for a client. Just like a river flows around rocks, appointments easily accommodated around those two points on the schedule. When working from fear I would accommodate those points away and put them last. When working for health, they were top priority. Without the health of my body, I could not do my job. Therefore, yoga comes first. This follows the rule of “crowding.”

What if we take that crowding concept a step further and we create SPACE as part of our priority? We are conditioned to believe that if we are “slacking off” we won’t be as successful in our work. Just look at the Italians every time this thought crosses your mind. I would never judge them as slacking off and envy their attitude of leisure. They also produce products with a reputation for quality and they are respected.

“But what will we DO with our spare time?”

I’ve seen many articles on how it’s healthy for your kids to be bored, because that’s when they get creative. When I look at my own open space I think “what would I do if I could do anything?” I’m now creating photography personal projects and signing up for ukulele lessons. Why should our kids have all the fun?

It all starts with blocking off that space on the calendar, or letting go of an obligation like a balloon. Nudge space or create space, then fill it with nothing until the creativity comes.



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Pam Matchie-Thiede - July 7, 2016 - 2:28 pm

I connect with this message. It has lodged within me.

The balloon that is you.

Life lessons are not always learned and then checked off, not to be repeated. Some lessons become more of a practice, like yoga. You never really arrive, but you are required to keep showing up.

My first son’s birth coincided with the beginning of the dot-com crash. I went back to work when he was four months old, pumping in the small closet-like room at lunch and racing to pick him up at 5pm because he wouldn’t drink from a bottle. At work, our clients were losing their jobs and our livelihood was crumbling beneath us. To save our agency, we also needed to lay people off. So in between pumping in the closet and racing to feed my infant, I was laying off my co-workers and then doing the work they had left. I began crying in my car daily. I was exhausted and all my time was spent with a stressful job and a new baby who needed me. I was crumbling too. I had postpartum depression. My doctor blithely handed me some anti-depressants. It didn’t feel like the answer. She didn’t ask me any questions, just handed me a band-aid. I had two things in my life; a job and a baby and I couldn’t quit my baby.

I picture our energy like a balloon. I picture my balloon as the energy field around me. In my portrait work, when a client is waiting for their order to be done, I feel that energy like pressure on my balloon. At Christmas time, I especially feel this as soon as December first arrives. The pressure on the balloon intensifies and once their portraits are delivered the pressure is off.

In the spring, I do a lot of fundraising work. Although it is immensely gratifying and successful, I’ve been noticing that it not only puts pressure on my balloon, but also now deflates it a bit. I’ve over-extended myself. I have to make choices. A deflated balloon is no good to anyone. On the trajectory of life, kids grow, families change, jobs evolve or change and what was good then isn’t always good now. It’s time to look at my goals, the time I spend with my family, and decide how to spend the remaining time and why. I have a really hard time saying no. I’ve heard that to make change in your life, you have to put down 30% of what you are doing now to make room for it. Something has to go.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”  Anatole France

My balloon is speaking to me. The future looks bright and shiny, but I grieve for what I need to lay down in order to move forward. Everything has it’s season and a new door is opening ahead of me.

It is time to fill my cup…and my balloon again so I’ll be ready.


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Barbara Brady-Smith - March 9, 2016 - 5:39 am

Beautiful post – thank you for sharing your journey.

Why don’t we eat dessert first?


I love a good book. I love a pile of good books and I love to read. The day is ended, the house is winding down and I am teeth-brushed and ready for bed. I sift through my leaning tower of books, carefully select one, and begin to read. But now I’m tired. The words aren’t very clear on the page and the bedside light isn’t at the right angle.

I have a photographer friend, Davina Fear, who starts her day with reading and journaling. No email, no chores, just a few minutes of time for inspiration. I thought more about Davina’s ritual and I wondered, “what if I read my books in the morning?” Why do I make myself wait until my chores list is done before I can have any pleasure? Like Cinderella, we all know our chores list is never done. Set a time for your morning pleasure and give in to the luxury. Even fifteen minutes can make a difference. My yoga teacher says “even a couple of down dogs make a difference!”

What do you enjoy?





Writing your book




I love to walk through my garden after the kids are off to school and touch the dew, the earth smells rising, the morning coolness is magical, a time for fresh beginnings. When I was younger and lived in San Francisco, I would ride my bike to the Golden Gate Bridge and back before work. It only took fifteen minutes but I always started my days refreshed and with a huge smile.

The Year of Me is grounded in putting ourselves first so we can show up strong in the world, ready to give. Bringing ourselves a little light and happiness is a great way to do that. I tried it this week. I started my day by reading a book, not long, but enough to feel weird, a little bit guilty and oh so happy.  Just like a river flows around the rocks and pebbles, your day will flow around your choice of a few minutes in the morning. Not only did my day flow, but I was in a good mood and more focused on my work. Yes, maybe your to-do list won’t ever be finished, but rather than the elusive, “when I’m done,” don’t you want to be happy now?


Oh, and back to the dessert? I will give you a favorite recipe:

Blend Native Forest Organic Classic Coconut Milk in your blender at it’s highest speed. Pour it into a jar with a lid and refrigerate.

Later, wash some fresh berries, and spoon a few dabs of delicious coconut creme whip over the berries. Heaven. And good for you. Love.


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Mary Beth Myers - February 24, 2016 - 5:19 am

Delicious from top to bottom. Stop waiting to enjoy your favorite things. Thank you for the reminder. Love you.

What are you carrying?

When I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office, I was stunned. I did not imagine this number, even though my pants should have clued me in. It wasn’t shame or self-hatred that flew at me next, it was deep sadness that I hadn’t been loving myself enough. To be fair, when your life is in crisis you will reach for any kind of life raft. Some years that’s all there is. We are just challenged. Other years we can recover, but can we love ourselves through the crisis years?

I plead with the doctor for answers to why I was feeling bad. I begged for every blood test there is. When they all came back normal, only one thing came to mind; stepping on that scale in his office. Yes I had gained weight, but rather than the literal interpretation of that weight, bags of sugar came to mind. Yes, much of those pounds are literally from sugar, but what of the symbology of ten pound bags of sugar. All I could think of is “what are you carrying?” How would it be to try to juggle those bags in my daily life? Lugging them everywhere I go? What if it was a small child I carried, but could never put down? What if that small child was me? No wonder I was exhausted.

The word that hovers in front of me now is “shed.” Yes, shed those bags of sugar. Love that small child enough to put her down.

Sometimes you are faced with a black hole of pain and you will look for anything to fill it. Ironically the things we usually find to throw into the hole are not helping. The hole is a bottomless one. There is no filling it.

I recently heard a concept quoted a few times and have realized it is a message for me. “You can’t control everything, but you do have a choice.” So during those hard times when we feel out of control, what can we choose? I know my healing path always includes healthy foods and yoga. Shouldn’t that be first on my list instead of last? Sometimes you just have to get through the eye of the storm to the other side and then love yourself back up. Let judgement fall away and show yourself compassion. My word for this year is self-compassion. It is a year of rebuilding for me. I am feeling the twinkle more often now and I still need to love myself through the hard days. Just like a boomerang I need to loop back to healthy food and yoga.

Now that the scale has awakened me, I am journeying back to myself with loving self-care. I choose the crowding method of cooking a lunch of shredded zucchini with a fried egg on top, garnished with avocado instead of waiting to eat until I’m starving and will grab anything. I think of my body as a bank account. I can deposit or withdraw, depending on my healthy food decisions. The good thing about becoming conscious again is once the decision is made, momentum can be found. I am encouraged by my little progress to keep going.

Awakening and returning to your body can be painful. Living from the neck up let’s you be unconscious to all the signals your body is trying to send. So I think back to what I am carrying and I decide it’s okay to put my troubles down. That will be my choice today.

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Kathi Roberge Kibbe - February 6, 2016 - 6:16 pm

Well said! It is a good reminder that we can all be more patient and compassionate to ourselves. In loving ourselves more we love others more and share happiness in the world!

There is value in the valleys.


After learning my lessons in my Year of Me, I sometimes feel that, now that I know what to do, I should be living the high life all the time. However, I realize in truth that the principles of the Year of Me are like yoga. You have to practice, and there are times when you are not going to be in the advanced class. You are going to be in the therapeutics class. Ten months ago I had a knee replacement. It was the right decision as I am pain free now. However, I am not “bounced back.” You always hear stories of super humans that get a knee replacement and go to Europe the next week.  I’m somehow not in that category.

While I’ve made steady progress, ridden my bike, walk easier, am back to work photographing clients, I’m easily fatigued. I pay for my energy use with a day or two of rest. While this is not all bad, an over-achiever like me wonders why I’m not doing “more.” Now I find Life is like a cake; it comes in layers. As I work steadily towards recovery on my knee, my doctor finds a mole on my foot that needs examined further. Two biopsies and an infection later I am favoring my foot and my replaced knee is now in my “good” leg. I have perspective. I am not a refugee. However, I am here now and I’ve learned so much in the last year about physical limitations and compassion. Seated atop an electric cart at Target at Christmas will show you many deep lessons in compassion in the short amount of time before the cart’s battery runs out.

I look at my shining beacon of health and mobility from 2010 and I want that. How can I push myself to get THERE? How can I not feel disappointment that I’m not? My friend Patti Digh just hosted her third camp called Life is a Verb Camp. In addition to the key words of Courage, Community and Creativity, she added Compassion this year. Compassion for others and Compassion for ourselves. Among her stories of wisdom, is the one of “Lowering the Bar.” What if my goal was not “perfect” health? What if my goal was Compassion? Instead of trying to be more capable, what if my goal was to just help myself feel better? How could I do that?

What if I laid on my yoga mat and just stretched what was calling for relief? What if I didn’t stretch but just lay there and let my spine find it’s center again, relief from the burden of holding me upright?

It’s so hard to remember, but there is value in the valleys too. Compassion for others is something we practice, but what of compassion for ourselves?

I’ve had the privelege to meet many amazing creative people at camp and one of them is the talented Mary Anne Radmacher. Her famous quote speaks volumes to me now.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” –Mary Anne Radmacher


Highly recommending Patti’s books from her Store or on Amazon.
Photo: Sisters on their journey. Photo credit: Carol Andrews Jensen


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Lila Danielle - September 30, 2015 - 8:05 pm

I love this photo, this story and you, Laura.

April Cheri - September 30, 2015 - 10:51 pm

I so get this. I had a different body and different capabilities 4 years ago. Sonya Renee’s talk really got me to thinking about how I’ve resisted acceptngn that Fibromyalgia is part of my body, part of my story, and part of my godness. Time to make friends with it. <3

Pam Matchie-Thiede - September 30, 2015 - 11:29 pm

You are swimming along beside me, and I beside you. I hear what you just said and the words are humming in my body. Let’s hold hands and move forward together as we are grateful for what we now have. Love.

Sandra Kourah - October 1, 2015 - 2:12 pm

Lovely Laura <3 Perfect words as I have loved your concept of The Year of Me which I have been applying this past year. And perfect timing as I am going in for an MRI next week for my knee :( Thank you for sharing :)

Laura Halpin - October 5, 2015 - 6:29 pm

Beautiful, beautiful Laura! Lowering the bar just may be our biggest challenge. Weird, but true. Love you!