Author Archive | Molly Totoro

Delilah by Molly Totoro

I am a good girl. I always try to do the right thing. I like to follow the rules rather than treat them as guidelines.

I suppose this legalistic view stems from my elementary parochial school years. Earning gold stars was the primary source of motivation. In kindergarten, we would earn gold stars for counting to 100 or reciting the ABCs. In first grade, we earned them for recognizing sight words and reading a book-a-month.

Second grade was a bit more challenging. We started memorizing scripture verses and liturgical creeds. At this young age, I discovered the mandate to Fear the Lord.

I found this confusing. The Bible urges us to “Fear Not” (365 times in fact… one for each day of the year)… and yet we must Fear the Lord. I am a rule follower and I am literal. So I feared.

This philosophy worked well for me when I was younger. It began to unravel when I entered high school.

Adolescence was a difficult time for all. Hormones wreaked havoc with our emotions and complexion. Cliques determined our social fate, and our ranking changed on a daily basis.

I lost two sets of friends in high school. In tenth grade, I was no longer cool enough to hang out with the popular crowd. In twelfth grade, I refused to drink even though I was of legal age. I was lonely and hurt most of the time.

This marks the time I first took notice of Delilah, and she has become my constant companion ever since. Delilah is the name I gave to my inner critic.

Delilah was born out of necessity. I needed an understanding soul. I needed someone to watch out for me and help me avoid rejection. And Delilah willingly accepted that role.

In the beginning, Delilah’s voice was calm and caring. When I met a new friend, her soothing tone would remind me of past broken relationships. “Now WHY do you think they want to be friends with you?” Delilah wanted me to be aware of any hidden motives. She wanted to protect me from getting hurt.

Over the years her voice became more critical: “Now why do you think they want to be friends with YOU?” And eventually, her question became a declaration: “They don’t want to be friends with you. Run away so you don’t get hurt.”

Even at that time, I accepted Delilah as the voice of truth. She was my true friend. She cared about me. So I followed her advice and retreated into a shell to avoid rejection.

But Delilah now had too much power in my life. Since she no longer needed to protect me from friendships, she decided to protect from the world.

Humility is a character trait I strive to achieve. After all, I learned in elementary school that Pride Goeth before the Fall and Blessed are the Humble. Humility is the ability to accept who we are without boasting or arrogance.

But Delilah took that one step further. To prevent me from becoming prideful or arrogant, she would let me know how I needed to improve.

At first, her guidance was kind and encouraging. She used self-help books to point out my weaknesses. You are too shy – you need to learn to speak in public. You are too rigid, you need to learn to let go. You are too insulated, you need to get out of your comfort zone.

But over time, her voice grew louder and more frequent. I was never good enough. Qualified enough. Friendly enough.

If school administration would compliment one of my lessons, I would respond with, “It wasn’t my idea. I copied from someone else.”

Or if someone would encourage me to write I would wrinkle my nose and say, “I’m not a real writer.”

One evening someone tried to pay me a compliment and I, of course, dismissed it. At which point my daughter said, “Mom, no one likes a self-deprecating character.”

I froze. Self-deprecating? Me? I thought I was being humble.

Turns out there is a fine line between the two, and I had crossed that line.

I set out to prove my daughter wrong by returning to familiar scripture verses. Instead, I realized I had twisted the words.

Instead of reading Love your neighbor as yourself – I read it as Love your neighbor instead of yourself.

When I read Judge not lest ye be judged – I internalized Don’t judge others, but you are fair game.

This realization helped me become more aware of Delilah’s voice, and I couldn’t believe my ears.

The words she said. The tone in which she said them. The venom she spat in my head all day long overpowered me. I would never dream of speaking to any other human being that way.

And yet, I accepted it from her.

She belittled me so much, beating me to such a pulp that I lost my own voice. Almost.

Then I discovered journaling.

While I did not have the confidence to verbally confront her, I could write. And I did. Journals upon journals.

I also began a new method of Bible study: one that focuses on the LOVE of God. I’m learning about God’s love for me, God’s love for others, and God’s desire that we also love ourselves.

I am still on this journey with Delilah. She will be my constant life companion. But I am learning to discern when to listen to her guidance, and when to tell her to take a hike.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

At-Home Weekend Retreat

As a teacher, August always signals the end of summer and the start of a new academic year.

While I relish the relaxed routine of June and July, I am always ready to return to the familiar fall schedule. However, I know once Labor Day is passed, life becomes a blur of activity. It is nice to have a smooth transition from one season to the next.

A spa weekend is the perfect prescription. It offers an opportunity to rejuvenate the mind, energize the body, and restore the soul.

Some may enjoy a retreat to the mountains or lake, surrounding themselves with nature. Others may prefer the pampering of a full body massage and facial. No matter the location, the idea is to escape home, with its myriad distractions and to-do lists, in order to focus on self.

If money is an issue, however, or if you are a homebody like me, travel is not necessary to enjoy this same kind of personal renewal. All that’s needed is a bit of solitude and some advanced planning.

The first step is to set a date. I initially wanted to plan an entire weekend getaway, but 48-hours is a long time to escape life’s demands. So instead, I chose a day when I knew my husband would be out-of-town, and my calendar empty: Tuesday, July 25.

To honor this commitment, I wrote the appointment in my schedule. We need to take our personal time as seriously as we take other relationships.

Next, I blocked out time to brainstorm and plan the retreat. The purpose of this day is to do what energizes, relaxes, and renews our spirit. I began to list activities that would help me achieve this goal. My options included:

  • Journal: While I try to write a bit every day, I would enjoy setting aside a full hour or two to delve more deeply into personal analysis and reflection.
  • Scrapbook: I love the idea of making family scrapbooks, but I never make the time. Scrapbooking for me is practical (I’m finally doing something with all those loose photos), creative (matching colored paper to the photos for eye-catching pages), and purposeful (writing the story behind the photo).
  • Read: Writers are readers, and to that end, I do strive to read at least thirty minutes a day – usually right before bed. However, I long to escape into a novel for an entire afternoon.
  • Take a Walk: A day off does not necessarily translate to a sedentary lifestyle (although it wasn’t too long ago that I would have argued otherwise). Actually, any kind of movement can energize our body and engage our creativity. I’m not advocating a cardiovascular walk or the routine walking of the dog, but rather a long, leisurely stroll to enjoy and connect with nature. I am fortunate to live in an area with a beautiful walking trail around the reservoir – or the town’s Arboretum is filled with possibilities.
  • Visit the Museum: The Nelson-Atkins, my local museum, just recently installed a new gallery of Impressionist art – my favorite! The museum is an easy thirty-minute drive from home. The atrium restaurant, in the style of a Venetian palace, is ideal for a light lunch before visiting the artwork.
  • At-Home Spa Experience: I rarely take the time to pamper myself. Why is that?! It doesn’t take long and it does wonders for my peace of mind and self-acceptance. I could luxuriate in a warm bubble bath, exfoliate my skin with a facial mask, and beautify my nails with a manicure.
  • Massage: I adore a good massage, and my husband is more than willing to accommodate. But I’m also learning that Yoga can achieve the same results. Gentle stretching exercises, coupled with deep intentional breathing, is quickly becoming my go-to relaxation technique.
  • Evening Movie: I rarely go to the movies. And quite frankly, I enjoy the buttered popcorn more than the film. But watching a favorite oldie in the comfort of my own home, munching my decadent movie snack, would be an ideal way to end the day.

Some of these options may not be of interest to you, which is fine. But that is why you need to set aside a planning period before the retreat. Discover what you enjoy doing and then make time to do it. Shopping and a nice lunch out? Quilting or cross-stitching? Painting or lettering? Working on a project that has lain dormant far too long? Whatever it may be, honor your creative side.

Once I made the list of possible activities, I next needed to decide on meals. Since this retreat is to rest and rejuvenate, I wanted to be sure to have all ingredients in-house ahead of time. I considered three full meals plus snacks.

I decided breakfast would remain my typical coffee and yogurt. I like it, and there’s no need to modify routine for the sake of change.

A trip to Costco helped me solidify the other meals. Spinach chicken wrap with fresh fruit for lunch, and Rotisserie chicken with grilled vegetables for dinner. A bag of pre-popped popcorn would be the movie munchies and a small container of gelato for an impromptu treat. Perfect.

Next, I took inventory of any other items I might need. For example, I wanted a new color nail polish, and I needed a clay mask for my facial. I made sure to have enough notebooks and pens for journaling (really… is there such a thing as enough?) and plenty of interesting reading material. I spent a few minutes reviewing Netflix to find suitable movie options.

Another consideration was ambiance. I wanted my common-place home to be something more special. I created a new playlist of inspirational songs I enjoy. I placed scented candles throughout the house. I thought of buying a fresh bouquet of flowers to brighten up the dining room table. Things were coming together.

Advanced preparation was almost complete. Now I just needed to develop an itinerary. While I wanted to leave some room for spontaneity, I knew I had a lot to accomplish. A loose plan would help me manage my time and avoid disappointment.

For some, the perfect retreat may begin with a late morning wake up call, followed by lounging in pajamas until noon. However, I enjoy my typical morning routine and decided to stick to it. I got up at 6:00am, sipped my morning coffee while reviewing correspondence, completed my daily exercises, and took the basset for his walk. I was back home by 9:00 and ready to start my special day.

I planned to journal a bit first and then transition into some scrapbook time. This would bring me to the noon hour when I would take a break and enjoy the chicken wrap and fresh fruit.

I decided to save the museum excursion for another day, and instead, I planned to spend the afternoon at Chez Totoro spa and boutique. I would begin with a luxurious bubble bath and perhaps indulge in a glass of Chardonnay. Next, I would give myself a facial using the clay mask, and then end the session with a mani/pedi.

It would now be mid-afternoon. The perfect time to escape into a good book for a couple of hours before I would begin prepping the vegetables to roast for dinner.

After the evening meal, I might stroll through the neighborhood before returning home, snuggling on the couch with the basset, a good movie, and that buttery popcorn.

That was the plan.

In reality, family obligations prevented me from devoting the entire day to these pursuits. But that’s okay.

Because I had the plan in place, I could easily scrapbook for an hour in the afternoon, and polish my nails the next evening. I used the facial mask one morning after my shower. Popcorn and a movie became date night.

And that luxurious bubble bath? I plan to indulge next week before teacher in-service meetings begin.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

The Year to Nourish by Molly Totoro

2016 was a physically challenging year. In January, I tripped over a doggie gate, one I had successfully traversed hundreds of times before, and broke my left humerus. The next day I underwent surgery to insert a rod and two pins. Two days later the doctor discovered I had also cracked my left hip, which necessitated a second surgery to insert three screws.

I spent the next several weeks in physical therapy. By May I had regained 95% range of motion. The worst was behind me. Or so I thought.

In June, I managed to trip over the basset and break my right humerus. While I did not require surgery or additional hardware, the recovery time was longer. And my spirits were low. When did I become so frail? Was there a lesson I was supposed to learn from this?

Later that fall, I participated in a Bible study that focused on the armor of God. The author pointed out that Roman soldiers needed a strong core for strength as well as balance. This resonated with me. After two falls in five months, I knew I needed help with balance – and my weakened arm muscles definitely needed strength.

I always take time in December to consider a Word of the Year – one word to guide my daily thoughts and actions. In pondering the possibilities, I wanted one that would help me focus on such key issues as gaining strength, developing core balance and learning to slow down.

My search led me to a word association activity – a brainstorm technique that often serves me well. I started with RELEASE: this would help me let go of my constant need for productivity and my impossible pursuit of perfection.

I then pondered the word INTENTIONAL: a reminder to be mindful of actions rather than going through life on automatic pilot.

As I know all too well, negative self-talk is a hindrance to personal growth. It is hard to  love others if we do not love ourselves.

Words such as TRANSFORM or RENEWAL seemed to address these concerns. But then I discovered the word NOURISH.

The definition is spot on for this time in my life: to supply what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to strengthen, build up, and promote.

I even love the sound of the word. The long, lingering vowel reminds me to slow down and rest. The quiet “sh” at the end literally tells me to be still and listen to divine guidance.

Yes, NOURISH would be the perfect prescription to bring this broken body back to wholeness – physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Physical health:

I focus on regular exercise and a nutritional diet. No excuses, no cheating. I want the time I have left on this earth to be quality life, not mere existence.

To help me stay on track, I maintain a weekly tracker system in my bullet journal. I strive to complete arm-and-core exercises five days a week. In addition to walking the basset, I also try to include a thirty-minute cardio walk three times a week.

I’ve discovered that Nourish sometimes means doing things I don’t necessarily want to do in order to achieve desired results. For years – decades really – I’ve viewed exercise as a form of corporal punishment. It’s not so much the workout that deters me, as it is the lingering sweat afterwards. What is supposed to take half an hour inevitably stretches into two hours or more, once I schedule time for a shower, hair style, and make-up application.

However, I know if I want my latter years to be fruitful and productive, to pursue dream adventures and keep up with grandchildren, then daily exercise is a small price to pay.

I also make a conscientious effort to prepare more meals at home and eat out less. I avoid processed foods and instead spend more time shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. I love the colorful rainbow of fruits and vegetables in the cart, and I’ve learned to slow down in the kitchen and actually enjoy the daily slicing, dicing and chopping.

Spiritual and Mental Health:

I focus on accurate thought: God loves and accepts me – just as I am. Self-acceptance is the first step in sharing love with others.

To this end, I take more time to pamper myself.

When I was in my 30s and 40s, there was rarely time for such luxury. When I wasn’t working at school, I was chauffeuring children to various activities; when I wasn’t monitoring homework schedules, I was grading papers. Pampering in those days was an extra cup of coffee in the morning.

But I now have more time to indulge. Something as simple of painting my nails in the evening nourishes my well-being. I feel younger, frivolous, and more daring.

I am also more mindful of my everyday surroundings.

Since all my children have moved away, I have transformed a spare bedroom into my Paris oasis. It is decorated with all things French, including a bistro table and chairs, and a beautiful red sofa. This is often where I escape to journal, read and meditate.

But it isn’t so much the room as the ambiance that makes the difference. I have rekindled my love of music. I prefer instrumental music when working, but I also enjoy creating thematic playlists. My favorite so far is the accordion music of French Cafes.

In addition to music, I also have a fragrant candle burning nearby. I typically prefer scents that are reminiscent of the beach or a warm summer’s day. I try to stay away from the bakery scents, however, or I will find myself hungry for sweets.

I’ve learned it doesn’t take much to transform an ordinary space into something inspirational.

Emotional Health:

I make time to pursue creative endeavors simply because they bring me joy – no productivity goal allowed.

I am a life-long learner and crave knowledge. The world-wide-web is my best friend, and self-help books are my constant companions. But lately I’ve learned to embrace fiction and allow myself to escape into the story world.

While most of my creative energy is spent in crafting words on a page, I also enjoy paper crafts, like card-making and scrapbooking. I love the colorful paper, the whimsical stickers and stamps, and the thought of bringing a smile to someone’s face. My artistic skills are mediocre at best, but the process brings me joy.

I’ve focused on nourish for six months now.

While I haven’t noticed dramatic transformations, I know overall health has improved. Flabby arms are toned and the muffin-top is less pronounced. I’m not as anxious. I’m more confident. I pursue excellence without comparing my efforts to others.

Nourish isn’t a one-time event, it is a lifestyle change. It’s taking one baby step at a time toward a bright and joy-filled future.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook  and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

July is for Journaling by Molly Totoro

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
~Flannery O’Connor

I didn’t really understand Flannery O’Connor’s wisdom until four years ago when the compound stresses of life nearly silenced me.

At that time I was teaching seven English classes (with seven different preps and countless papers to grade). I was the primary caregiver of my aging mother who was eventually put into hospice and died six weeks later. I became a grandmother for the first time (the birth coincided with Mom’s memorial service). And my youngest graduated high school and moved into her own apartment.

I was so busy taking care of others’ business that I failed to care for myself.

And I snapped.

All family members insisted I see a therapist, with the expectation he would prescribe one (or two or three) anti-anxiety medications. Since I loathe taking pills of any kind, I dreaded the appointment.

Imagine my surprise when at the end of the first session the therapist told me to go home and write.

Write?! Telling an English teacher she “must” write isn’t a prescription but a dream come true.

Since that fateful day, I have filled at least thirty notebooks and countless online journal entries.

I have written in good times and bad. I have journaled dreams and aspirations and reflected upon trials and failures. I have brainstormed, written letters (to myself and others), poured out prayers of thanksgiving and petition, and reconnected with forgotten passions and interests.

Journaling not only allowed me to discover what I think, but it also gave me back my voice. See, I am a rule follower, and I always believed if you follow the rules and do your best, life will be good. That is, life will be free of conflict.

But that is not how life works. So in an effort to create peace, I chose to keep differing opinions to myself. I did not want to rock the boat. But my silence did not prevent the waves of life from crashing in. My silence only served to extinguish me.

Over the past four years, I have discovered journaling is good for our physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Journaling, especially when done by hand with a pen and notebook, causes the mind to quiet and focus. It slows down the frenetic pace of life, which in turn, reduces blood pressure.

Journaling is an opportunity to release spinning thoughts in our heads and give them a place to rest. Mental space is then cleared for more creative endeavors.

Journaling by hand is also a way to connect with the right side of our brain — the spontaneous, creative side. Penmanship is an artistic expression: will we write in block letters or loopy cursive? Even if we scribble, there is still a deep connection between our thoughts and how we represent them on the page.

In addition, journaling can afford us the opportunity for distance: to see a specific event or situation from another vantage point. Often this space helps us see a possible solution where before we saw only hopelessness. Or it can show us how to forgive others even when we were the ones who felt wronged. Harboring resentment squelches creativity, but offering forgiveness opens the mind.

While I enjoy journaling throughout the year, summertime is ideal. The warmer weather offers indoor as well as outdoor possibilities to sit and write. I prefer to journal first thing in the morning when temperatures are cooler and the sun not quite so bright. The back porch is the perfect spot, with a cup of coffee and my favorite notebook and pen. The soft chirps of the songbirds and the quiet summer breeze provide idyllic inspiration.

Of course, there are times when I like to end the day with a journaling session. A glass of iced tea – or perhaps chilled Chardonnay – is the perfect refreshment. I retreat to my Paris room, light an aromatic candle, put on some instrumental music, and begin to write. Sometimes I focus on gratitude journaling, other times I recount the events of the day.

There is no ONE right way to journal. We can journal for five minutes and feel satisfied – or we can journal several pages and feel as though I’ve just started. The important thing is to give yourself time to reconnect with your inner self and allow your voice to be heard.

July is the perfect month to begin (or perhaps begin again) a journaling practice – for July is NaJoWriMo: National Journal Writing Month.

The event is held four times a year, with a specific theme for each session. July’s theme is Places and Journeys – a perfect opportunity to reflect on past or future vacation getaways.

Travel journaling is one of my favorite writing activities. I journal before the trip, making lists of possible itineraries, researching a bit of history, and imagining the sights and culture I will see. This kind of preparation builds anticipation, which increases my enjoyment once there.

While on vacation I keep journaling to a minimum. I want to experience the vacation, and live in the moment. However, I do spend a few minutes each evening jotting notes of the day’s events, focusing on specific sensory details such as the taste of an exotic meal or the smell of the open-air market.

Once I return home, I use these notes as well as my photos to document the trip. I reflect on lessons learned and relive the adventure through family stories.

Remember, however, there’s no ONE right way to journal. You do not have to journal about travel this July. Perhaps you can devote the month to gratitude journaling (listing 3-5 things you are grateful for each day) – or Morning Pages (writing 750 words each morning to release discursive thought and make room for creative ideas) – or perhaps you can choose the time to reflect on the past (use the writing prompt: I remember… and see what memories surface).

I find that I do well with these kinds of online events. I feel as though I am a part of a like-minded community. And I am more likely to maintain discipline when I know others are out there who are doing the same. I instinctively feel kinship and support.

NaJoWriMo is a relaxed gathering around the cyber pool. Care to join me for a refreshing dip?

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook  and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

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