Paying Myself First

When I was 9 years old, I started mowing lawns to earn money.  My mother used to tell me to “pay myself first.”  It was actually a rule back then, not just advice.  Half of my net earnings had to go into my bank account.

This philosophy works great for financial freedom.  It helped me pay for two degrees without any student loans.  This week, I decided to try applying the same philosophy to other areas of life to see if it works just as well.

Taking the attitude of “pay myself first,” I decided things that make me feel balanced, relaxed, and more at ease with the world work like a savings account–they give me energy and a calm state of mind to draw on when things get tough.  Since things get tough every day, I decided I needed to return to my old habit of getting “me time” in first thing every day–paying myself before I give any of my time or energy to anything else.

My first rule was not to check email until after I’d spent time doing what I wanted to do in the morning.  I got up dark and early most mornings at 5AM to have a few hours to myself before I needed to plug in and get online for work.

I rode my bike, went to the gym, or did yoga each morning.  I also made myself a healthy breakfast.  All of this made me feel cared for, relaxed, and far more ready to tackle work.

I also set some new limits for myself at work.  I decided I needed to limit the number of hours I would spend on work each week in order to make sure I wasn’t sacrificing on sleep.  To get 8 hours of sleep, have my time in the morning, and some time in the evening to write my other blog (, I had to limit my day job to no more than 10 hours a day.

This turned out to be the hardest rule to follow–especially coming back from a week off and knowing that I’m taking another vacation shortly.  I repeated the mantra, “I am enough,” over and over.  Anything I could delegate or let others handle I let go of.  I had to let go of the intense pressure I put on myself to be helpful at all costs.  I had to take a breath and ask myself if it was really important to jump in or if doing so would take time and energy away from more important things and/or deny someone else an opportunity to step up.

I can’t say I executed perfectly.  I was up later than I wanted to be on more than one night trying to get one more thing done.  But I keep telling myself that if I can pay myself first, I will be better at everything else I do and that will make the investment worth it to everyone.


Time Out

This is my last day of a one-week vacation.  Instead of going somewhere, a friend came down for a week of hiking in the area.  I managed to disconnect from my day job completely.

The reality is that work is going on without me.  I may have a few messes to fix when I get back, but those messes probably would have happened whether I was there or not.  And if I weren’t there, someone else would figure out how to clean them up.

I choose to take from this the lesson that if there is time for me to take a week away, there is time for me to take a breath during the day.  There is time for me to stop at a reasonable hour and pick up again the next day.  There is time for me to take care of myself regardless of what messes come up.

I re-learned the truth of how important unplugged time is to me.  Going out into the wilderness where there were no sounds besides the wind blowing through the trees, water tumbling over rocks, and occasional conversation with my friend brought with it a sense of connectedness with the world around me that hours in front of a computer cannot achieve.

The computer, whether for work or just for fun, takes me away from the here and now.  Choosing footholds along a rocky trail puts me intensely in the present moment in a way that’s hard to achieve typing on a keyboard or reading an email.

I also re-learned the power of physical exertion.  The sense of aliveness and appreciation for every bone, muscle, blood cell in my body intensifies as the trail becomes more challenging.  The ability to move myself rhythmically up a steep rocky climb turns into a sense of power and wonder.  The body is a marvelous thing to inhabit when it’s working well.

And, I re-learned the joy of pushing limits just a little.  Hiking with a friend who hasn’t hiked much helped keep me from over-doing.  It kept the soreness to a minimum and allowed me to enjoy what I was capable of without suffering what might otherwise have been the pain of over-exertion.  Happy medium is called “happy” for a really good reason.

Taking time away also gave me the time and energy to consider alternative possibilities.  The freed energy led to imagination and my imagination went wild.  At the end of a week of time “off”, I find myself full of hope.  Hope that I can make time for what is most important to me.  Hope that anything truly is possible.  Hope that life can be joyful on a daily basis.  Hope that I can return to my “normal” life and make it a little less normal and a little more peaceful.  Hope that if I can do that, the world as a whole can be more peaceful, too.

It was a good vacation.

Two Years of Blogging

I started the quest to develop a habit of writing 2 years ago.  I chose to try blogging because I thought it would create a sense of commitment by publicly stating I was going to post every day.  It did.  This is my 731st consecutive daily post.  I’ve written about 435,000 words–about 1740 pages–and posted 4921 images in the midst of life changes, long work days, illness, injuries, business travel, personal commitments, and the general chaos of life.

There’s something to be said for that.  I didn’t prove I’m a great writer, but I did prove I am a prolific one.  🙂  I once read Stephen King’s autobiographical book called “On Writing.”  (Great read if you have any interest in writers or writing.)  As I recall, he writes 8 pages a day, every day.  Of course, he probably writes 8 good pages a day as opposed to random dribble.  But that’s not the point.

The point is that something as large as a book is in reach if you can take it on one small piece at a time.  If you can find the one step that you can take today and take the next step the next day and the next and the next, you will find you can walk across a continent.  It may not be the fastest way, but it’s a heck of a lot faster than never taking any steps at all.

This is not a revelation.  I’m sure we all intuitively know this is true.  But the physical body of work that I have accumulated over the past two years makes the message seems far more tangible to me than it ever has before.  I did this.  I created a habit and realized just how much I can do by setting aside a sustainable amount of time to do one small thing.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as “I don’t have time.”  We have time, but we spend it elsewhere.  Without making conscious choices and commitments to how we will spend one of life’s most limited resources, the time gets spent anyway–just not necessarily on the things we would like to spend it on.

However, choices do have to be made.  Will I sleep or will I write my blog while I’m half awake?  Will I go to the gym, or will I sleep in an extra hour because I stayed up writing my blog?  Now that I have a second blog,, I am finding that I need to make room for the time that new commitment takes.

I’m not quite ready to give up this blog–I love that it keeps me motivated to both write and shoot on a regular basis.  But, I need to downsize my time commitment.  For that reason, I am going to a once-a-week post schedule as of today.

My new goal will be to improve the quality of my posts while keeping to a once a week schedule.  See you next Sunday!


We are conducting an interesting experiment.  It started unintentionally with the sudden demise of our usual elevator.  The elevator is not dead, but it needed a day or two off.  Tisen, it turns out, is a man of routine.

We turn left out of the door.  He gets on the elevator, he gets off the elevator.  We turn left leaving the elevator to go outside.  On the return, we turn right off the elevator and our door is on the right.

Our condo is situated between two elevators.  It’s not really a big deal for us to have to walk a new direction.  But it sure was a big deal to Tisen.  He wanted to turn left when we needed to turn right.  He wanted to turn right when we needed to go left.  Then, when we returned home, he did the opposite.

The funniest part was when he walked up to the door across the hall from us and acted like it was only a matter of time before we opened the door–it’s like the whole world had flipped in his head.

This reminds me of an experiment I once read about where people were asked to wear glasses that inverted what they saw.  After 2 weeks, their brains were re-flipping the images so that what they thought they saw was right-side-up.  Then, when they stopped wearing the glasses, they started seeing everything upside down again.  It took a couple of weeks for them to begin seeing the world right-side-up.

We will see how long it takes for Tisen’s internal map to right itself once the elevator is fixed.

In the meantime, I posted some more of the macro shots of the flowers I took following a rainstorm the other night.  Everything was so dewy.  All I needed was a ray of sunshine to make the reflections in the raindrops really pop.


A Little Passion

Pat joined Tisen and I for a quick stroll around the park the other day.  As we made our way down the path, we spot a strange, tiny alien vessel parked along the sidewalk.  We paused.  We stared.  We tried to decide if we were in any danger.

Eventually, we decided it was, in fact, a flower.  Neither of us could recall having ever seen such a flower before–yet, there certainly wasn’t any evidence of this being a recent addition.

Since I only had a 15 minute break, we double-timed it around the park and I made it to my next conference call.  But the strange, alien-looking flower stuck in my mind.  I watched out the window as the clouds gathered into a charcoal grey mass and suddenly let loose with a series of lightening strikes that were close enough to make all the body hair I didn’t know I had stand on end.  I looked over at Tisen who, even more tired than I am, slept through the first few rumbles of thunder.

I went back to concentrating on work, glad Tisen wasn’t disturbed by the storm.  When I next noticed my surroundings, I moved my foot and discovered Tisen was tightly curled around it on the floor.  I’m not sure how long he was there before I noticed, but he was snoring again, his breath warming my ankle.

The thunder and lightening subsided after some of the craziest strikes I’ve ever seen.  I wished I’d had a chance to set up my camera and shoot a couple of really cool lightening bolts.  But, Tisen was definitely glad I was safe inside and out of harm’s way.  Or, perhaps that he had my feet to keep him safe.

By the time I decided I had to stop working, the sky was lightening as if the sun had decided to reverse direction.  The cloud cover turned brighter gray, the lightening and thunder stopped, and the torrential downpour let up completely.  I decided to not only get out my camera and put the macro lens on, but I also used my extension tubes for really close-up shooting.  I convinced Pat to join me and Tisen so I wouldn’t have to hold the dog while I was shooting.  I even grabbed my tripod, a mini-light reflector, and a plastic garbage bag I stuffed in my back pocket.  I felt like a real photographer.

Then, I went after those aliens.  They were drenched and a bit beaten by the weather, but the occasional rain drop still clung to their innards and petals.

Eventually, I googled until I found out this is the state flower of Tennessee, the Passionflower.  While that seems like the most perfect name for this flower to me, supposedly it’s also called a Maypop.  I didn’t see any in May, but maybe they were late bloomers this year?

Farm Fresh

As I mentioned in a previous post, we managed to go for a hike this weekend.  This indirectly contributed to me being too tired to write a complete post for yesterday.  This is a bit of a string of events that I have managed to piece together through careful detective work.  Here are the relevant facts:  we went for a hike; there was poison ivy along the trail; we took 2 dogs; the dogs laid in our laps that evening; we both broke out with poison ivy reactions, the itching has been keeping me from sleeping well.

The lesson here is that taking dogs hiking leads to sleep deprivation.

Granted, Tisen is also itching like crazy even though he doesn’t react to poison ivy.  His itching is also causing my sleep deprivation.  We finally reached the point of giving him a low dose of steroids.  We’re giving him allergy shots, but it’s too soon to know if they’re going to work or not.  In the meantime, he is covered in sores from scratching and chewing at himself.

We all slept better last night between the steroids seeming to give Tisen some relief (I’m thinking about stealing a couple of doses for myself) and a friend introducing me to a lovely topical treatment that helps with the itch quite a bit, I made it through the night with only a few disruptions.

Now that we’ve cleared up the mystery as to why hiking and sleep deprivation are linked, let me explain where today’s images came from.  We belong to a CSA.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Basically, you buy in at the beginning of the farming season for a set amount and then you get shares of the produce for the rest of that season.

It’s a way of sharing risk with the farmers and, in return, getting more local produce that’s grown using organic and sustainable practices for less money than if you had to buy it at the grocery store.  The down side is if there’s a bad season, you may end up getting less for your money.  So far, we’ve come out way, way ahead.

One of the things I love about our CSA is that we’re friends with the farmers and they let me walk around and take pictures when we pick up our box.  They are currently building a new greenhouse-like structure, so I thought I’d check out their progress.  However, when I walked back to the garden, I discovered all these wonderful flowers growing in an amazing jumble of beauty surrounding the farmed areas.

I was so enchanted by all the flowers, I forgot my husband and dog were waiting in a hot car for me until my husband shouted for me.  I missed having my macro lens with me, but having my 24-70mm lens on my camera forced me to think about new ways to shoot flowers, which was fun.

Sunday Sunset

I was up too late last night, worked too long today, went to too late a meeting tonight, and am now too tired to write a blog post.  I could sit writing half asleep, but I think I will just let my photos communicate, at the literal level, the spectacular sunset we were treated to Sunday evening as well as at the symbolic level of exactly how I feel tonight.

Fire Tower

Inside the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area, along side the gravel road that leads to Snoopers Rock, there is a Ranger Station.  Like many ranger stations, it looks like someone’s home.  Unlike any other ranger station I’ve seen, in the grass-covered yard outside the house sits a tower.

The tower stretches impossibly high for it’s width.  Just looking up at the top from the ground makes me dizzy with the probability that it will topple over in a strong wind.  I am not the only one who thinks so–the national forestry service, or some such official organization, saw fit to tie the tower off to a post on one side, presumably to prevent such toppling.  It’s left to the viewer’s imagination as to why the wind blows from only one direction at least in the minds of the people who added this safety precaution.

There is a sign at the bottom of the tower.  It tells visitors that they may climb to the top of the tower at their own risk.  The first time we stopped to see this tower, I thought I might be brave enough to scale the steep and narrow wooden steps that lead some 70 feet straight into the air.  I was wrong.

Like a giant mouse trap baited with the promise of a spectacular view, the tower felt poised to spring the moment I set foot on the first step. The steps creaked and groaned their surprise at being asked to bear my weight. There was nothing about their rotted appearance that promised they would be strong enough.

I crept up one flight, and then two.  As I got higher, the structure seemed to sway more.  When the wind picked up momentarily, I felt like I was high on a tree branch swaying on a branch.  I have more faith in a tree supporting me than the tower.  By the time I made it up the third flight of steps, I was paralyzed with fear.  The vision of the entire tower imploding with me deep in its belly was too much for me.  I turned and made the even more frightening descent, learning how truly steep the steps are as I reached one foot downward in space, finding the faith that another step would be there as I shifted my weight past the point of no return and gratefully landed on solid wood.

This trip.  I did not attempt to climb more than half of the first flight of steps.  I went up just far enough to sit down on the steps, my back to them, and lay back so I could take some shots of the belly of the beast.  Even then, I could feel the entire tower swaying in the wind.

Dirty Laundry

Every so often it becomes obvious that Tisen isn’t the only critter in the house who needs a bath.  His collection of toys often starts to look a little, well, crusty.  I guess if you were carried around in a slobbery dog’s mouth day after day, you might get a little crusty, too.

Poor Lamb has turned into the black sheep of the family–her once white-as-snow fleece has become charcoal gray.  Skunk shows stains less, but still had quite a coating of dried dog drool.

But what is the appropriate way to clean stuffed squeaky toys?  I opted for the gentle cycle in the washing machine.  I gathered up all the toys that were in the house (who knows how many more are lying abandoned in one of the cars) and tossed them all into the washing machine.

I even found one of Twiggy’s toys Tisen apparently stole from her the last time she stayed with us.  It’s a very clever skunk.  Instead of being stuffed, it has a velcro closure at one end that allows it to be opened so a plastic bottle can be inserted inside the skunk.  I don’t know what is so appealing about a plastic bottle to dogs, but most of them seem to love them.  Tisen loves this toy better than any of his own–I suspect it is because it belongs to Twiggy.

I removed the plastic bottle before adding Twiggy’s skunk to the wash.

The toys all came out of the gentle cycle in tact, but very wet.  We tried drying them on the delicate setting, but they were still wet after.  I then tried a medium heat setting.  Still wet.  Since it was a hot sunny day, I opted to spread them out on the edge of the balcony to see if that would help.

Tisen was a bit nervous about his family being spread out on the balcony.  He felt compelled to guard his flock.  He seems to have a strong herding instinct that becomes apparent whenever a stranger comes into the house.  Watching him sit and watch over his toys made me wonder if he didn’t end up with some Border Collie genes somewhere along the line.

Twiggy was less concerned about the welfare of Tisen’s collection (or even her own skunk).  She just enjoys the view from the balcony.

In the end, Tisen’s flock did dry–I flipped them once after a few hours like a bunch of cute, furry pancakes.  Twiggy’s clever skunk dried the fastest of them all.  They are all fluffy and soft now.  Many look new again.  Lamb, however, has only transitioned from charcoal gray to slightly lighter gray.  Perhaps next time I’ll try the “heavily soiled” cycle.

Snoopers Rock

Having lamented missing most of the summer, I was happy when my husband asked if I wanted to go for a hike today.  As I was reminded yesterday, the summer isn’t over yet.  In spite of it being one of the more hot and humid days we’ve had in a while, I was anxious to get outside and spend some time in motion.

My husband and I have different ideas about hiking, however.  I want to go at least 5 miles and am willing to go much further if there’s something to see.  My husband, who is on his feet all day, prefers to pick very short, easy hikes.  We compromised by choosing a place that had 3 overlooks and parked in the middle so we could bail if it turned out to be longer or more difficult than expected.

We headed out to Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area, which runs along the Tennessee River Gorge.  It’s a beautiful area.  Even the drive to get there is inspiring.  We saw wild turkey and deer along the way.

The down side of the wildlife management area is the popularity of ATVs and hunting.  Fortunately, between the heat and a predicted thunderstorm that never came, there were only a handful of ATVers and we didn’t hear any gunshots.  Both make me nervous when we’re hiking with dogs.

Twiggy, visiting with us for the weekend, and Tisen were very enthusiastic when we got out of the car.  We headed down what was called Snoopers Rock Trail, but it was really a road.  We were passed by a jeep and later a Hyundai sedan, but we weren’t sorry we walked.

The view is fantastic from Snoopers Rock.  Of the views I’ve seen of the river gorge, this was the best–the rock is perched above a bend in the river, providing scenery in both directions.

Unfortunately, when we headed off to the second overlook, it wasn’t clear if we were on the right trail or not.  We hiked through the woods enjoying the shade and the tiny wildflowers along the trail, but the moisture in the air was gathering like a cloud around us as we walked and the mosquitos reminded us why we used to use insect repellant.

When we’d walked about as far as we thought it was supposed to be to the next overlook, we decided it was time to turn around.  The trek back was all uphill.  I was shocked by how hard I felt like I was working–it wasn’t that uphill.

It felt great to be in the woods and moving.  Even sweating felt good.  I feel more alive when I’m pushing my body, even if it’s only a little.  The mosquitos I could have done without.  But, after all, it is still summer.

Tisen and Twiggy were far less enthusiastic on the way back to the car.  I guess I’m not the only one who hasn’t been working out.