Because SMART is not always Best

I have been pondering how to make goals work in my life. That is to say how can I create meaningful goals that help with healing and happiness rather than adding another layer of stressors?

As someone with perfectionist and overachiever tendencies and some pretty extreme limits on resources available (time, energy, finances, etc.), I need a change doula / midwife for a goal not a drill sergeant. SMART goals can easily become the latter for me. I need goals that are SOFT. By that I mean:

  • S – I am not sure yet if S stands for Sustainable or Supportive (as in supportive of a long-term, wholistic shift).
  • O – Obtainable. At this moment, I don’t need ambitious, stretch goals. I need baby steps and small stackable habits.
  • F – Formative. “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”
  • T – Trackable. This is close to the Measurable of SMART goals but with a bit more flexibility. It allows for multiple ways to make progress. It keeps me from trying to do more and more and lets me focus on “Yes, and” rather than simple “Yes or No.”

I would love to hear how you have created goals that encourage rather than dictate.

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Time for New Patterns

I spent the last two days in first the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital. They have ruled out the scariest problems but from an overarching wellness (body, mind, and spirit) things are far, far from even okay.

My life is dramatically out of balance. While with me the emergency room a friend asked me what life would make me happy. I don’t know the answers anymore; maybe I never have. It is time to find out. I am reclaiming this space to explore and capture the journey that I can’t yet define.

The same things that led to health scares are the things that have led me away from the life I once captured on this blog — a life of loving nature and the passage of seasons, a life of rooted in my corner of the world (wherever that happened to be at the time), a life of celebrating the ordinary miracles and the everyday delights.

I suspect what will follow will be part expedition journal (for both inner and out worlds), part daily journal, part explorations of art, part commonplace book for inspiration and information.

So if you are walking a similar journey to reclaim yourself and your happiness, care about me and want to follow along, or are just curious feel free to follow along or drop in from time to time.

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Day 5: Badlands National Park and Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

I had been unable to find the campground where I planned to stop near Ft. Pierce National Grassland the night before (Day 4 of my adventure), I had  continued on toward the interstate. I stopped for some sleep at the first rest area that I found. Thanks to the double upgrade and having a Ford Escape sleeping in the car was quite comfy if I ignored the bright lights of rest stops.

After some sleep, I began Day 5 (September 20) and headed toward Buffalo Gap National Grasslands… and Badlands National Park.

It was a mostly clear morning through lots of wide open spaces.


I left the Interstate at Exit 131 where you will find the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center. I did not stop at at the Missile Site as it was not yet open and not of interest to me.

The first wildlife spotting for this area was this song sparrow which I saw along Highway 8 just off the interstate.

Version 2

At the Entrance to the Badlands, I purchased an America Beautiful Pass. This is one of several passes available from the National Park Service. The America the Beautiful pass is ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.  The pass is good for one year from the date of purchase and as of September 2015 the cost was $80. The Park Service offers even lower or no cost options for seniors, military members, and those with permanent disabilities. More about the various passes available can be found here.

I recommend stopping at the visitor center and picking up a copy of the Badlands National Park Official Road Guide to better understand the sights you will encounter as your drive through the park. The geography varies through the park. The guide helps explain why as well as pointing out some of the historical features and sights. My personal favorite park was the Yellow Mounds area.

Though the Badlands 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie is home to a variety animal species including bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets it is the land itself that takes center stage (at least for me). Both eastern and western birds can be found in the park with over 206 species having been documented in Badlands and 67 species known to nest there.

In some cases the wildlife was completely unperturbed by humans. For example, the rabbit was sitting less than a yard off the boardwalk to the Big Badlands Overlook. It was there as I walked out to the overlook and still there when I passed by on my way back some 20 minutes or so later despite half a dozen or so folks walking by and stopping to take a photo.

Despite not venturing away from my car and scenic overlooks my wildlife spotting included: song sparrows, turkey vultures, wild turkeys, horned lark, western meadowlarks, rabbits, prairie dogs, bison, and pronghorn.

I was enchanted by the Badlands and was glad that missing Ft. Pierre meant that I had more time to explore. A few of my favorites are here in the posts but many more can be found on here.

Of all the places I visited on my trip, the Badlands scored at the top for being accessible to all people including those with mobility limitations or traveling with small children or others for whom walks and hikes are inconvenient or impossible. There were numerous places to stop and enjoy the views with little or no walking. In addition scenic overlooks were often only  a short walk from parking areas, many had paved pathways and benches at the end. One aspect I liked is that the overlooks were kept as open as possible with only minimal necessary guard rails or other separations from the view.

Another aspect of the part that I loved was that it was, at least in mid-Sept, uncrowded enough to find places to be alone and soak up the silence and listen to the land.

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Be sure to have some snacks and water along with you so that you don’t find yourself needing to rush through your visit. The water would be especially important during hot weather. One final note, the dust from the Badlands is likely to linger long after your trip; it gets into all sorts of nooks and crannies and there is a great deal of it in the dry season.

I will be visiting the Badlands again. It is a place I long to see in many seasons and in a variety of weather and lighting conditions. I only spent a bit of time exploring the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands but will do more of that in the future.

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LIAV Camp Roadtrip: Day 2-4 From Aberdeen toward the Badlands

I spent September 18 through afternoon of September 19 teaching a work related class in Aberdeen. My vacation really kicked off about 5pm on Sept. 19 when I left Aberdeen with a goal of reaching the Missouri River to catch some sunset photos.

There were so many birds about as I drove that I couldn’t decide which way to look. Imagine a kitten with multiple laser dots to follow.  Here are a few of the feathered residents or or visitors to the area:

Sadly, I am not good at identifying hawks, so I don’t know what this is yet though he (she ?) posed quite prettily.


These however, are double-crested cormorants.


As for that sunset, I just made I to the Missouri River in time. It felt like a bit of race at the end but this was my reward.

From that point, my plan had been to make my way to the Okojobo Point Campground just outside the Ft. Pierre National Grassland. There I would grab a few hours of sleep while waiting on sunrise to explore the grassland. Evidently the camp ground I was looking for no longer exists or at least doesn’t exist where I thought it was located so I continued south to I-90. In fact, the website for the campground no longer exists. Thankfully, Ft. Pierre is close enough to home that I can visit there another time.

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LIAV Adventure: Day 1: Waubay National Wildlife Refuge

On the afternoon of September 17, I left St. Cloud for Aberdeen, SD where I wold be teaching a work related class for a couple of days.

Just as the sun was  entering that lovely period of golden light before sunset, I spotted a sign that said Waubay National Wildlife Refuge.   According to the  refuge website, Artist George Catlin described this area as a

“‘blue and boundless ocean of prairie.”

During my visit this boundless ocean was a tapestry of of tawny golds, subtle greens, watery blues, and splashes of crimson.



This refuge is an area that was shaped by passage of glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. The movement of glaciers left numerous depressions – now known as potholes, glacial potholes, kettles, or kettle lakes – which collect water and support wildlife. Sadly many of these features have been converted to agricultural and other uses.

The diversity of this area is amplified by the fact that it home to both eastern and western bird species and includes the southern portion of breeding territory for some northern species such as red-necked grebes and LeConte’s sparrows and is at the northern edge of red-bellied woodpeckers, northern cardinals and yellow-billed cuckoos.

Of course, I made a quick U-turn and headed to see what there might be to see.

 I happily wandered until the light began to fade and I was treated to an amazing sunset.

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Coming attractions

Coming soon tales of life at the Enchanted Enclave where my goal is to experience . . .

  • More moments of breathless awe and wonder.
  • More comfort in my body.
  • More sore stomach muscles from laughing hard and long.
  • More vicarious successes as I help others make their dreams come true.
  • More sighs of contentment as I walk through the door of a home that is a sanctuary and haven.
  • More ah-ha moments of learning and understanding.
  • More dirt beneath my fingernails as I tend a garden of my own.
  • More hugs and kisses.
  • More time with kindred spirits
  • More delight in the mirabilia in my life.
  • More mindfulness and intentionality in spend my time, my energy, and my dollars.
  • More confidence in myself and belief in my power and gifts
  • More time creating and offering my creations to the world
  • More connection to the Divine and my best self

Last time I posted (well over a year ago), I was in the final couple of months of an AmeriCorps year of service and living near South Bend, Indiana. When my service ended I made a leap of faith and moved to Madison, WI which has long felt like my soul’s home. Finding my place here has been a challenge in terms of both work and a place to call home. Here is hoping that the pieces are finally coming together.

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Weaving the threads; cutting the threads

I am feeling the urge to both weave my past, present, and future together more tightly and to let go of baggage from the past and expectations for the future. To that end, I am moving some posts from previous blogs to this one posts from my life in Afghanistan (August 2010 to July 2011) were originally on my blog Pomegranate Veils and my life in Indiana before Kabul (2006-2010) were on my blog Kaleidoscope Living.

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Was that an explosion? I wonder if the meeting will be canceled.

Reading FB and twitter posts from people in Kabul has a surreal quality this morning (morning US time that is). Posts on Facebook from those whom I know personally and tweets from others posting on twitter are a mix of references to the chaos of the start of the spring offensive by the Taliban (or acts of Pakistani agitators or even a plot by the Russians depending on whom you believe) and everyday activities that pass for “normal” in Kabul.  Single comments and threads include references to both rockets/gunfire/explosions/bodies and the ways that “normal” life continues (e.g., students finishing exams; work on projects that continue despite distractions and difficulty concentrating, how meetings might be affected).

These posts are evidence of how different life is here and there. I wasn’t able to explain this pattern to folks back here when I was in Kabul anymore than I can explain it looking back at Kabul from here. I keep hoping that I will eventually be able to pull together a bunch of thoughts I have related to this and what freedom of thinking and security mean. My time first in Kabul and now as an AmeriCorps member has caused me to view security and freedom of thought in an entirely new way.

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My Journey (so far) to Serve

One of the faces that drives my need to serve.

I am not sure exactly when or how my desire to work for the greater good started. I grew up in a small town in the 70s and 80s and the role models for what girl from a poor family could be were pretty limited — even if she was a really good student. I do remember that one of my middle school dream jobs was to be a photojournalist so that I could tell the story of those who needed help. In high school I dreamed of getting a public relations degree so that I could work for nonprofits and educational campaigns. Sadly following those dreams were beyond the resources I had available to me at the time.

I finished high school living in my own apartment. I managed to find the means to enroll in a junior college. I remember very clearly my thoughts when I was asked to declare a major. I mentally ticked off the three things that I thought were options: nursing, teaching, and accounting. Nursing was not an option. Though my family has several health care workers, I do not have the interest, personality, or set of strengths for that work. At that point, teaching was not an option as I was terrified of speaking to groups. That left accounting though I am not sure why it was on the list of possibilities.

After a year, I transferred to a regional university and continued my journey toward a CPA license. I quickly realized this was not the path for me. I looked at my transcripts, the university catalog, and what I saw as possibilities in small towns in western Oklahoma and tried to find the most efficient path forward. Efficiency was important because I was never sure how long I would be able to afford to attend college. I settled on an office management major with a criminal justice minor thinking that I could find work as a legal assistant.  During this time I was also active in the Jaycees and worked either a full-time job or a combination of part-time jobs including one at a battered women’s shelter. Through Jaycees I was battling my fear of public speaking by entering speech competitions and failing miserably. I was dreaming small and focusing mostly on making ends meet each month.

The day I walked into David Wright’s Introductory Sociology class everything changed. The curtain fell away and an amazing world opened to me. A world so much bigger than my experience had ever suggested. I eventually overcame a fear of statistics to change my major to a double degree program in sociology and office management. With Mr. Wright as my advisor and mentor, I learned to dream bigger, to believe in myself more, and to embrace my desire to work for the greater good. One aspect of this journey was participating in a group that he co-led which worked with men serving life prison sentences.  Actually having the means to finish my degrees began to look like a possibility and then a probability. As the first person in my family to go to college, graduate school was not part of my plans . . . yet.

With a great deal of encouragement from my professors at SWOSU, I decided to try and earn a master’s degree. The goal was to find work helping to reform the very broken prison system from the inside.  I kept poking at my public speaking fear until one day I won that battle. I started to dream of living in Oklahoma City and working for the Department of Corrections. Having traveled outside the state of Oklahoma no further than one trip to Dallas, it didn’t yet occur to me that I might go further in life than Oklahoma City.

More gentle prodding from those who saw more in me than I saw in myself and I found myself accepted into graduate school in Louisiana. In graduate school my world kept expanding. I discovered a talent for teaching. I saw the possibility of working for the greater good by giving to others what Mr. Wright and my other professors had given to me – a new view of the world and a new belief in myself.  With this plan I headed off on a path to earn not only a master’s degree but also a doctorate. I am lucky in that I am good at learning, at quantitative research, and thinking theoretically. That led to mentors and others having big plans for me. I embraced those plans even though they pulled me from my true passion of working for the greater good. The goal became the academic holy grail of a tenure track position and then tenure at a research university.

Fast forward 16 years of  trying to fit my heart’s calling into the nooks and crannies of an all encompassing career in higher education as a faculty member and then administrator. I did far more than my share of university service. I tried to work one national disaster relief operation each summer. I served my local Red Cross chapter. I served as faculty advisor to student groups. I tried to convince myself that I was doing enough but it didn’t feel like I was telling myself the truth. The comfortable life that was unfolding felt like a long path to selling myself and my dreams short.

One afternoon in Mid-May, I saw a position announcement for an administrative job at a university in Afghanistan. I joked to friends about applying. I didn’t mean it . . . at least not at first. Then the idea took root and I applied never dreaming they would take me seriously. The beginning of August found me in Kabul which is a very long way from small town Oklahoma.

I spent a year in Afghanistan. During that time, the inner voice that calls me to service grew too loud to ignore. That voice was inspired by the sight of little boys not more than four drinking out of puddles on the street — puddles that were contaminated with animal and human waste, pollution, and all manner of germs and parasites. It grew louder, each time I looked into the faces of the young women in the courses I taught.  I watched the light in their faces grow as they learned and spent time with those who believed they could do great things with their lives. I worry for what the future will hold for them when the international forces leave the region. I saw the strength, the resolve, the courage, and the goodness in a people that many seek to demonize.

The bubble in which I lived and worked in Kabul became too constricting. Though the intentions were good, I worried that we (the collective international we) were doing more harm than good. Higher education continued to feel too constraining.  I could no longer deny my greatest motivation and desire — my soul’s calling to be of service. Not service from a distance, safely conducted from a university campus but a life spent directly dedicating myself to empowering people, to building community, to working for a safer, saner, more just, and more resilient world for the many not the few.  The big question was how to go about making this transition. Applying for jobs from Kabul was not feasible. While back in the US for a vacation, the universe offered me a way to start the transition in the form of an AmeriCorps year of service.

Spring 2012 finds me nearing the completion of my year of service and exploring the next steps on my path. My goal is a position that allows me to use my skills and talents (i.e., strategic, problem solving and analytical thinking; helping those with differing views find common ground and weaving web of cooperation; synthesizing large amounts of information quickly; being really good under pressure and creating calmness in the midst of chaos and crisis; communicating in many forms; turning numbers into actionable information; asking the question that moves the conversation forward and/or gets to the root of the matter; and learning new things quickly and being able to teach others what I have learned) to work for the greater good while still taking care of myself and keeping Sallie Mae happy by making my student loan payments.

I am a product of Head Start, public schools and universities, social security survivor benefits, the student loan program, the AmeriCorps programs, the caring village of my childhood, and a web of friends and allies in my adulthood. My definition of success may not look like those of the majority. My path may be unusual and it may grow more unusual as my journey continues to unfold. Still  I think the tax dollars invested in me have been a pretty good deal for the American public. It is time to start working even harder to be sure that programs that giving others similar opportunities continue to exist and to help those without such access find ways to live their dreams.

It has been a long trip from a small town girl in Oklahoma who wanted safety and security more than anything to a woman who is willing to consider long- and short-term adventures in service pretty much anywhere in the world including those places with State Department warnings. So my answer to Mary Oliver’s question, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” is that I plan to serve; to empower others at every opportunity; to never stop learning; to believe in a safer, more just, and more resilient world, and to never stop doing what I can to help create that world.

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Calling all spiritual nomads

Where do you find spiritual community when even the Unitarian Universalist tent doesn’t feel large enough for your beliefs and practices? While there is nothing wrong with charting your own course,  celebrations are more fun when you have others with whom to celebrate and sometimes it is nice to have community for support and good conversation.

Are you a spiritual nomad? Have you collected a diverse set of spiritual practices that help you connect with the Divine? Does you set of beliefs and personal spiritual practices continue to evolve? Would you like to be inspired by and learn from kindred spirits.

If the answer to these questions is YES!, you should check out Dianne Sylvan’s Spiritual Nomad course. Things don’t officially kick off until next week but fun and good conversation happening in the facebook group for those in the course.

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