The Most Important Work of the Day

 

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When do you think your most important work of the day takes place? Maybe it’s in the middle of the day when you are in the thick of creative projects at work? Maybe it’s the volunteer work that you do after your “real” job? Maybe it’s in the evening when you are spending time bonding with your family? Maybe it’s right before bed as you spend time reflecting on the day? This is all important work.

For me the most important work of the day happens right up front, first thing in the morning. I wake up early – always have – a blessing and a curse passed down from my Dad’s side of the family (mostly a blessing, I only say a curse because I’m usually toast by 9:30 pm). I’m on autopilot a little first thing. I put the tea water on, do some yoga while waiting for it to boil, and then fortified with my steaming mug I sit down and get to work.

And by getting to work I mean I sit down and meditate. How can I consider sitting and doing “nothing” as my most important work of the day? Here’s what happens for me when I meditate. I give myself permission to relax with purpose. I can physically feel the calm wash over me as I start. When my mind starts to chatter (which it will inevitably do) I give myself permission to let it go. Have you ever had the experience when you can’t stop thinking about something, or someone, or a certain situation and you go over and over it again in your mind? Meditation is like taking a deep breath and saying “time out”.

Meditation helps me let go of the chatter and opens up space for calm, for creativity, for peace, for gratitude. It helps me to recognize that I already have everything I need in this moment. It makes me feel more positive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished meditating and when I’ve looked up I’ve been struck by just how beautiful the world around me is. And those feelings often stay with me through the whole day. They help me to be a more patient parent, to be a more creative soul, to approach stressful situations in a calmer way, to focus on the positive, to want to connect with the people around me.

I’m certainly not trying to suggest that meditation makes me perfect – just that personally it helps me realize who I want to be and how I want to move through the world. And that for me is the most important work of the day – to set an intention of how I want to see and interact with the world around me.

So how will you set your positive intention for the day? Some people pick a daily mantra, or give themselves a pep talk in the mirror. Some people pray. Some people break a sweat. Some people snuggle with their children. The way we start the day matters. It is important work. It sets the tone for the entire day and that spills over into the rest of our lives. Find whatever it is that makes you feel love, connection, happiness first thing in the morning and do it every day.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.


Here is a little more food for thought for the importance of starting our day in an intentional way:


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5 Ways Spring Cleaning Can Actually Make You Healthier!

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Hello spring! It’s that amazing time of year when the plants start to grow, the birds return and the sun starts to come out. Here in the Pacific Northwest even the shortest stretches of sunshine are enough to make everyone feel a little loopy and start walking around in shorts.

It makes me want to throw open all of the windows, get rid of all the extra clutter that has accumulated through winter nesting and scrub things clean! You know that satisfaction when the house is picked up and you walk around just feeling great? (I admit it’s a rare occasion in my house, but when it happens I thoroughly enjoy it!). Well it turns out there are some actual physiological health benefits to doing your spring cleaning.

Here are a few ways spring cleaning can actually make you healthier:

  1. Research has shown that when people feel their homes are relaxing and restorative there is an actual link to lower cortisol levels (the hormone our body produces when we’re stressed out) and decreased depression!
  2. According to a Cornell University study when your kitchen counters are free of clutter you are likely to eat significantly fewer calories!
  3. Opening your windows wide helps to combat indoor air pollution and lessen allergies and asthma.
  4. Cleaning – especially the bigger chores like scrubbing the tub and mopping -can be a great way to burn calories. Crank the music and work it!
  5. Exposure to sunshine helps the brain release seratonin – a hormone that helps us feel happier and sleep better. So scrub those windows and let the sun shine in!

Want a little reading inspiration to help you get motivated to start your spring cleaning? Check out my book review of The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

Embrace your spring cleaning itch not only for your happiness, but also for your health. (And while you’re at why not toss some of those toxic cleaners lurking at the back of the cleaning closet and try out some of these ideas for natural DIY cleaners?)!

Happy spring! Be happy, be healthy, be well!

For more tips tricks and inspiration for a healthy happy life sign up for my monthly email newsletter. Or join in on the conversation about health and happiness over on my facebook page.

You Are More Than The Sum Of Your To-Do List

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I am a great lover of to-do lists. The satisfaction of crossing something off for me is a high, so much so that (don’t tell anyone) from time to time I may have written a few things on the list that I had already completed just for the pleasure of crossing them off. I keep my to-do list on my counter where I can jot down anything that comes to mind and not forget that I want to do it. Occasionally this has meant that my to-do list is longer at the end of the day than at the beginning, as I’ve kept adding things all day but only been able to get a few of them done.

The problem with this of course is that with a mile-long list we have so many options for things to do that when we go to choose what’s next we might not be choosing the most important thing. Maybe we tackle the little stuff first because it feels easier to get motivated to do those. Maybe we only take on tasks that take a few minutes so that we can cross more things off – the whole quantity over quality game. Even though we feel really busy it can also feel like we’re treading water. As if we’re crossing things off but not really making any substantial progress towards anything.

Here to help is the idea that less is more. We’ve all heard that phrase before and it applies to your to-do list too. Instead of haphazardly jotting down everything on your list that comes to mind (as I so often have in the past!) you write down only the three most important things to get done each day. This helps you to focus on the really important stuff and not feel pulled in so many directions. If you don’t want to loose all of those other great ideas you might keep a separate place for writing them down and you might even get to some of them. But each morning when you are planning your day try to think about what three things will move you in the direction you want to go the most and focus on getting those done first.

To take this even one step further, I think it’s helpful to spend some time identifying not only what’s really important to us in our lives as far as what we want to get done – but also how it is that we really want to feel.  You can cross every last thing off of your list but if you are completely stressed out and unhappy the whole time than what is the point! The majority of this whole life experiment takes place inside our heads. I know that might sound a little silly as we physically move through the day but our mind is always filtering, always analyzing, labeling, interpreting, seeking. It’s also extremely creative. If we give it a task instead of letting it run loose wherever it feels like it will often come up with the solution.

So if at the beginning of each day we can set an intention not just for what we want to get done, but also for how we want to feel – energetic, positive, friendly, loving, confident, calm, present, creative – your mind now has a job to do alongside your physical body. Each time you feel yourself drifting off to another place, maybe feeling frustrated or overwhelmed or upset about something the trick is not to beat yourself up about it but instead to acknowledge it, allow it, and then remind yourself of the intentional feeling that you set for the day. Take a deep breath and reset.

If you can do these two things; 1) Limit your to-do list to only the most important 3 things and 2) Set an intentional feeling for the day, you will be a powerhouse! Getting the most important things done and also feeling the way you want to feel.

On a final note I’d just like to put a plug in for having days that are to-do list free. This is something that does not come naturally to me but my husband has helped me embrace over the years. Make room for things you love, for creativity and wonder. Let there be days that take you on an unexpected adventure without planning it all ahead. Some days are just made for that! It’s like that Greg Brown song, “Love calls like the wild birds — it’s another day. A Spring wind blew my list of things to do away.”

A Day of Wellness CoverIf you would like a little help in setting your day up in an intentional way that will help serve your health and wellness you are welcome to use my free Day of Wellness Worksheet for inspiration – just click on the image to download it. It’s intended to take just a few minutes each morning to help you focus on what’s important.

I hope you have a beautiful intentional day!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

Is It Time to Take a Mental Health Day? (Hint…Yes!)

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Often when we talk about taking care of our health and wellness the first things to pop into our mind is food and exercise. Of course taking care of those things are essential to being healthy, but just as important (and possibly more) and less talked about is making the time to take care of our mental health.

Sometimes talking about mental health can almost hold a stigma – like if we are taking the time to focus on improving our mental health there is something wrong with us or we’re broken in some way. Think about this. You are talking to a friend and ask them what they will be doing today. If they say, “going to the gym” you think, “good for you!” If they say “meeting with my therapist,” you think, “uh oh. Something must be wrong…”

It’s because of this stigma that I believe a lot of us don’t even really pay attention to our mental state until it does feel like we’ve reached some kind of a breaking point. But taking care of our mental well being should be part of our regular health routine just like eating healthy foods and getting moving.

Recently I did a series of interviews with women about their greatest challenges when it comes to their health and wellness. While some challenges relating to food and exercise certainly came up what was fascinating to me was that almost across the board challenges relating to mental health took center stage in our conversations.

Things like wanting to feel more positive and more confident, worries about a lack of focus and direction, wanting to spend less time comparing themselves to others, struggling to feel like they are enough they way they are, feeling overwhelmed and scattered, feeling like they are worth spending time, money, energy on…

Let me just say that all of these women are amazing, whole, intelligent, beautiful, inspiring women and are in no way broken. I think if we are really honest these are real struggles most of us face.

So what are a few simple things that we can do to take care of our mental well being?

  • Meditation – You probably know by now that I will always suggest meditation as an truly effective way to take care of our mental well being. There are lots of resources out there to get started. Look in your community for in person classes or try this great free app that I love.
  • Yoga – Yoga is great because most classes are a blend of exercise and paying attention to our mental state and will incorporate meditation and relaxation techniques. If you are looking for a way to try yoga for free at home check out the YouTube channel for my favorite online Yogi Adriene.
  • Gratitude Journal – I love gratitude journaling because it is such an easy accessible way to shift us into the positive mindset. At the end of each day jot down three things that you are grateful for and make you happy. As you fall asleep your mind will focus on these positive things rather than all of the worries and stresses of the day.
  • Digital Detox – This is one that I personally struggle with at times. But taking time away from our screens to look up and pay attention to the world around us and take a break from being bombarded with all of the information on our news feeds can do wonders for helping us to feel less stressed and more relaxed. It can help us reconnect with what’s important in our lives including the people around us.
  • Write Down Dreams and Goals – Feeling swept up in life or unsure about decisions is very common. The antidote to that is to take time to carefully create a vision of what you want your life to look like. Once you have a vision your creative brain will start coming up with ideas for how to get there – your goals.
  • Creativity for the Sake of Creativity – This one I love because I think it’s one we don’t talk a lot about and can be so wonderful for out mental health and happiness – especially if we can let go of our expectations for the final result. I love watching my preschoolers immerse themselves in their art projects. They aren’t trying to make something to impress the world. They are just truly in the moment enjoying the experience of creating.
  • Exercise and Eat Healthy – Ha! The irony is that it’s all tied in together right? I know for me personally sometimes exactly what I need to get into a good mental state is to break a sweat and eat better.

These are just a few ideas. There might be others that work better for you. I like taking informal surveys when I talk to people to see how they attend to their mental well being. For some it’s making time for a quiet cup of tea. For others listening to their favorite music at full blast in the car with their eyes closed. Try picking just one thing to do a day for your mental health (just like you would for your physical body) and experimenting with it. Tune into your thoughts and notice if you feel happier, more focused, confident, settled afterwards. I’d love to hear your favorite ways to take care of your mental health.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

starting-4_1_17Would you like some help creating a beautiful vision for your life and goals to get you there? My next Crafting A Wellness Vision workshop starts in just a few weeks. Register now to be one of 20 women in this supportive, coach-guided workshop. Each day you will spend 10-15 minutes completing exercises and journaling prompts that will guide you in the creation of an intentional vision for your health and happiness. Check out my workshop page to hear from past participants about the program.

Life in Flow Motion

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Life is busy. Does it ever feel like your to-do list is endless and ever expansive? Like you cross three things off, but add five more? Our days and attentions are fragmented – pulled this way and that between running errands, taking care of children, working, picking up at home, trying desperately to keep up with friends. Monotasking seems like an antiquated, slow moving idea. All the while our monkey minds work overtime in the background giving us a running commentary on how we are doing, what we should be doing, how that last conversation should have gone, what next thing on our to do list needs to be crossed off.

You need a break. Your brain needs a break. You are not a robot. You cannot keep up this pace indefinitely until the kids move out! You will break down at some point.

But how? Well you probably know me by now. I’d recommend starting out by trying meditation. But what if meditation isn’t your thing? I have a dear friend for who the just thought of sitting still for 20 minutes and not doing anything stresses her out even more. But your brain like any other part of your body needs a chance to rest and recharge in order to be able to do it’s best work with positivity and creativity.

Herein enters the idea of flow. Flow is not a new concept. It was coined in the early 1980’s by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihályi. You may of heard of people referring to flow as “being in the zone.”  Flow usually happens when you are doing an activity for which you  have the skills and knowledge but also is slightly challenging for you. Flow is an active process (rather than something like meditation or relaxing in the hot tub). Your brain is engaged and challenged and you seem to know exactly what to without hesitation. People who experience flow often report loosing track of time because they are so immersed in what they are doing. It is also sometimes called “The Deep Now”.

Here’s the part I think is really cool. The idea of flow has been around for awhile now, but more recently they have been able to study brains of people who are in a state of flow. The original hypothesis was that much of the brain would be active while in flow in order to create such a state of optimum engagement. What they found was actually the opposite. When a person is in a state of flow much of their brain actually shuts down leaving just the part that is focused on the activity engaged. The prefrontal cortex – which is the part of our brain that houses our ego, our inner critic, our constant commentary – shuts down. Leaving us with the ability to be more confident, more creative, braver and focused.

At the same time our brainwaves also slow down – going from the fast moving waves we have while moving through our normal busy days to a much slower speed found between daydreaming and REM sleep. We also get a flood of wonderful neurochemicals. A heady mix of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin. And this optimum state of being lasts past just the time we’re doing the activity. Studies have shown that not only are people more creative when they are in a state of flow, they are actually more creative the following day!

What are the times in your life when you have experienced flow? I’ve been in a flow state while running, writing, drumming, reading. I know my husband finds it when he goes mountain biking or skiing. Often people report finding themselves in flow when making art or dancing. Usually flow is great not only for our brains but we enjoy it, it builds our self confidence because we are excelling at something that is slightly challenging. We feel happier. There are so many reasons to find and make time for flow in your life!

It might be possible to take flow to an unhealthy extreme – to get so immersed in what you are doing you loose track of time and forget to take care of your body or pick up the kids from school. If you find you have that tendency I’ve heard the suggestion of setting a timer so you know when to stop. But when used in a productive healthy way flow might be just the thing to helps part of your brain put the endless chatter on hold and finally take a well deserved rest.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

For more tips, tricks and inspiration for living a happy, healthy life sign up for my monthly newsletter.

Bridging The Political Divide One Blueberry Salsa Recipe At A Time

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I know that this is a health and wellness blog and my posts have been trending more towards the political lately. These days as I see so many people I love experiencing extreme amounts of stress and anger and frustration and fear that I have to believe the two are inextricably tied together.  It has been hard to think about much else lately. When I’m scrolling through my social media feed it almost seems a bit jarring to come across a post that doesn’t have to do with politics. Like, “Wait! Don’t you know what’s going on right now? Crazy cat videos are no longer important!”

We are all trying to navigate this new political climate in our own way. For me I’m trying to take at least one positive action a day for the world and also for my sanity and well-being.  I’ve also been trying hard to replace anger with curiosity. The question I’ve been mulling over a lot lately is how did we get to this place? How can we create a culture that invites conversation over argument when there seems to be such a huge gap between our beliefs?

I came across this Ted Talk last night that I thought was fascinating. If we really want to move forward as a nation I think it’s important that we take a closer look at our mindset. That we try to shift from the feelings of “we’ve got to beat them,” to “we’ve got to reach them.” Being angry can certainly fuel action, but it seldom convinces someone to see things from your point of view.

Now I fully admit to having lived my whole life on the left coast. I’m positive my way of looking at the world has been shaped by that. Most of the people I’m surrounded with have a similar world view as I do. But still I have a few aunts and uncles that I’m pretty sure have a very different take on things. I’m pretty sure their environment has shaped their views as well.  I know them to be good people who love their children. I have hobbies in common with them. We’ve known each other our whole lives. We’ve celebrated lots of holidays together over the years.

The idea of calling up these relatives and engaging in a political conversation is overwhelming. It makes my stomach clench. Just the thought of it makes my shoulders tense and my heart beat faster (Wow! Instant physical reaction even without the actual interaction). There are issues I feel so passionately about that I’m not sure at this moment in time I could rationally and calmly have a political conversation with them.  I can however imagine calling up my uncle and asking for that awesome blueberry salsa recipe that he made last time he was visiting. Maybe it’s not a conversation that will be world altering, but at least for me personally it’s a start. A reminder to both of us that there are real people that we know and love behind the political labels and party lines.

I’m not saying I think people should just get over it so that everyone will get along. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel passionately about world issues or that we shouldn’t turn those feelings into phone calls and letters and emails and action. But there is a big difference between action and anger especially when it comes to our health and well-being. One empowers you and the other breaks you down. One reaches out and the other pushes away.

I have another aunt I love on the left side. She is very politically involved. She puts in long hours volunteering for her party. She is up to date on the issues. She reaches out to people to make sure their voices are heard. When we lost the election I was worried she would be hit hard. She had poured so much time and energy into the effort. I tentatively asked my cousin how her mom was doing. “Better than the rest of us!” I was so surprised by the answer. But now thinking about it I wonder if it’s because she is used to having these conversations. She is more aware that there are people out there with different ideas. I need to ask her about it, but I wonder if she like me is excited that even though we may not have the president we hoped for we now have a huge uprising of people who are getting involved, speaking out, learning about the issues.

Yes we can view it as a stressful, scary time. We can focus on the things that might happen (but haven’t yet). But when we do that we cause ourselves to essentially live in a reality we don’t like prematurely – think of me getting stressed out just by the thought of having a conversation with relatives that hasn’t even happened. When I imagine it happening the stress to my physical and mental health is the same whether or not that conversation takes place. I’m the only one who is negatively effected, not my uncle and aunt who don’t even know this is going on in my imagination!

So for my part I’m going to try my hardest to focus on the incredible and exciting positive response we’ve been seeing from people getting involved in the political process in a way that I’ve never known in my lifetime (thank you Mr. Trump!). I’m going to reach out to my friends and relatives on the other side and remember that they are good humans who have been shaped by their environment just like I have. Eventually I’m going to try to have some conversations with them through the lens of curiosity. I’m going to remember that one person doesn’t define a nation, that it’s all of us and our voices that do. I’m going to use mine!

Be happy, be health, be well.

via Daily Prompt: Overwhelming

The World Needs You

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Friends I urge you now more than ever to attend to your health and well-being! There is a lot going on in our world right now, but feelings of anger, frustration, overwhelm or depression experienced over extended periods of time is incredibly damaging to our health.

I have loved this quote from Bansky for a long time. But I used to look at it in a different light. I used to think that his words of encouragement were solely for the people out there who were ready to throw in the towel and give up. I see it in a slightly different light these days. The sort of change we are looking for in this world is not going to happen overnight. We need to be in it for the long haul and in order to do that it’s vital that we are taking care of our bodies, our minds, our souls. These days when I think of Bansky’s words I see them as a reminder that rest is a nonnegotiable part of pushing forward. Rest is just as important to learn for the people who don’t ever want to quit.

Please. Don’t give up! Don’t stop taking action! Don’t quit! But I want you here for the long haul. The world needs you here for the long haul. If we let the stress of the world break us down then essentially it wins.

Learn to rest. Take time to turn off the television, stop scrolling through your news feed, have conversations about something else going on, walk away for a little while. Don’t forget your body when your mind is constantly clamoring for your attention. Eat well, move, sleep, breathe deeply, go outside. All of these things don’t mean that you are being neglectful or lazy or shortsighted. It’s the opposite! Because you and I know that by taking breaks and learning to rest you will be here to show up for a long, long time. And that’s exactly what this world needs.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

Making Peace With Missing Out

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I think one of the most common struggles when it comes to taking care of our health and well-being is the feeling that there is not enough time in the day. It’s so true that we all have the same 24 hours. How is it that we are are supposed to do our work, spend time with our family and friends, take care of household chores, exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, manage our stress, AND find time to do things that fuel our souls and make us feel alive and inspired. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and like we’re being charged with an impossible task!

We want to be good parents, good children, good employees, good friends, good people. We want to make sure we are meeting everyone’s needs. We want to say yes when people ask us to do things.  How do we do it all and still meet our own needs? Have you ever noticed that taking care of ourselves is often the first thing that falls to the wayside when we are stressed and busy?

Here is the thing. There will always be more. There will always be more things vying for your attention, wanting your help, asking for your time, your money, your energy. It’s a big world out there!  As incredible as it would be to be an inexhaustible resource to every person, every cause, every job opportunity it’s just not possible. We need time to rest, recharge, replenish, reflect. It’s critical. The other choice is to become run down, exhausted, broke, stressed, burnt out.

If you are looking for another way here is what I would suggest.

Make peace with missing out.

Here’s how. Take some time to sit down and think about what things in your life that are really important to you. Don’t make that list too long – maybe just 3 or 4 things. Write them down. Read them every day. Think about them. Talk to people you love about them. Then ask yourself every time you are faced with an opportunity or asked to do something, “how does this serve my list?” Get really really clear on how your decisions are serving your top priorities in life.

In a recent blog post I wrote that we make about 35,000 choices every day. Imagine what our lives would feel like if the majority of those decisions moved us in a direction closer to being in alignment with those 3 or 4 things that are most important to us.

When I was a newish mom I used to subscribe to an email list that would send me a weekly email with all of the events going on around town for kids. I wanted to make sure that I was being a super mom so I’d write everything down on our calendar and try to take the kids to as many as possible. I’d feel a little stressed if we were running late or if the kids were dragging their feet to get somewhere. If we missed an event that I had on the calendar I’d feel downright disappointed and frustrated. Like I failed that day.

Right at the top of my list of things that are important to me is Family – so I did some thinking about what that really means for me. For me that means connection, that means time together, that means laughter and mealtime conversations. It does not mean me using my scary mom voice to force all of us to get into the car and rush to some event around town that the kids really don’t care about anyway.

I’ve unsubscribed to that email list. I know where the website is when I need it. These days I’m getting better at making peace with missing out.

So how exactly do you say no?

When I was younger I was a serial people pleaser. I thought that was the best way to get people to like me. I thought saying yes to everything that came my way was the best way of saying yes to the universe. I tried to be open to every opportunity, every exciting new thing, every request for my time and energy. Being open is good right? So why was I feeling so frazzled and overwhelmed?

Then one weekend I was at a weekend-long meditation retreat. The teacher was an older woman. She was so peaceful and calm. Something about just being close to her made you feel more relaxed. One meditation was particularly emotional for me. Afterwards she came and sat next to me. She asked me what was going on and I told her I just felt totally stretched thin and like I was letting people down around me because I couldn’t do it all and do it well. She just rested her hand on my back and said, “You know Brooke, it’s okay to say no to people.”

I don’t think anyone up to that point had ever really told me that.

I want to share a little trick with you that I recently heard on a podcast that for me as a recovering people pleaser has been great. It’s these six little words.

“Let me get back to you.”

When you are face to face with someone who is asking you to do something it can be really hard to say no.  In that moment you might not know if it resonates with your most important things or not. You may need some time to process the request. When that happens you just use these six magic words! They give you time to think about it without closing the door but also without committing. They buy you time to figure it out and make a thoughtful decision. Ultimately if it’s not the right fit for you, it might not feel like it but you will be doing everyone a favor by saying no.

I still sometimes struggle with saying no to people, but I do it a lot more frequently these days because even though I worried for a long time that by saying no I would be restricting my life and missing out on things what I’ve found has been just the opposite. Instead I’ve opened up space and time and resources for the things that really matter to me most. I have more quality time with my family. I find I have more time for taking care of my health and well-being.   If anything my life feels more expansive.

I’d love to hear if there have been times in your life when you’ve been really happy you’ve said no to something. Are there times you wish you would have said yes?

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

For more tips, tricks and inspiration for leading a healthy happy life sign up for my monthly news letter.