Secret to Life: Find the Extra in the Ordinary

June 2nd, 2008 by Monica Scalf

Welcome!  Come along with me as I try to capture daily happiness even when my jeans are too tight, my keys are lost, and my one elusive goal is to take a nap. This site is all about finding the EXTRA in the Ordinary.  You know the laundry overflowing, can’t say no, working on deadline, moving at a mile a minute ordinary life that can be extraordinary with just a little attention.

Monica Scalf, founder of The Playground Group

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An eXtra-ordinary Journey

September 18th, 2013 by Monica Scalf

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and for the last few years I’ve been on the super-sonic, break the sound barrier version of that expression.  I’m amazed when I look back through The Ordinary Matters to see how little I’ve posted since 2010.

When I started this blog in 2008, my kids were 9 and 11.  We were in the thick of carpools, the Disney channel, and weekends spent at grade school gyms.  One or the other would regularly ask me to play a match of ping-pong, a game of wiffle ball, or a videogame on the Wii.  I was in my thirties, my kids still thought I was cool, and I rarely needed more than one Advil to get through the day.

Let’s just say that more than a few things have changed around here (including my eyesight, my coolness level, and the newly noticed phenomenon that I actually pay attention to those commercials on the radio where they sell stuff to relieve joint pain).

My daughter, now 16, can drive me around (although not yet without me grasping my door handle and providing running commentary on the value of staying at least 2 car lengths behind). I’m amazed by how much scarier, curvier, and darker the roads have gotten on Saturday nights since a warm summer morning this past June when she gave me the thumbs up as she returned to the BMV waiting room where I along with a few other parents anxiously waited, tapped our feet, and let out bursts of nervous laughter.

Our son, almost 15, started high school last month.  He does his homework without being asked, rarely needs quizzed (which I was a pro at), and spends a lot of time in his room at his desk studying, something I would have never predicted five years ago.

He’s quickly approaching that moment when he’ll not only be taller than me (which happened a year and a half ago), but also taller than his Dad.  A day my husband is probably loathing and hoping for at the same time.

We’ve been through first boyfriends and girlfriends, first failed tests, and first late curfews.  We’ve also experienced the first parenting heartbreaks when they act as if we don’t exist, walk a safe distance apart so as to not accidentally be associated with us, and occasionally shoot us with looks of pity that simultaneously convey you are so old and I feel so sorry for you in a simple glance.

On the flip side, we’ve also been given some amazing moments where we recognize they’re still our sweet, kind, and amazing kids that will eventually shed their teenage armor and become grown people who will like us again, and when they do, we’ll remember how we never ever fell out of love with them (only temporarily when they kept us waiting at midnight without a text).

I chalk up the absence of recent posts to a variety of things.  In the years since I started this blog I unexpectedly lost my Dad and started a business, both of which took a lot of time away from here, the first because I had no energy while grieving, and the second because I devoted all of my energy in the next years to creating something new, the only proper response I found to comfort myself in the midst of a huge loss.  But mostly, I credit the absence of writing here to my desire not share every detail of my kids’ awkward years on the internet, that cool little tool that keeps things FOREVER.

For now, I’ll keep all those goodies tucked away and maybe once they’re out of the nest some of the funniest stories will resurface somewhere at a time when they’ve finally realized that the whole world isn’t looking at them and seeing their every flaw.

So what does that mean for this blog?  I’m not sure yet.  I have some ideas about how to reinvent doing what I most love to do – observe, process, connect and write.  Writing will always be the way that I make sense of the world, and I can only hope that every now and then something that I’ve written will help somebody else make sense of their world too.

I have some ideas, so stay tuned for what comes next.  I’ll be prepping and writing, getting ready for the next great adventure in 2014.  Until then, remember that the ORDINARY really does matter, and with just a smidge of attention it can be pretty extra-Ordinary.

Thanks for an extra-ordinary journey on this blog!  It won’t be long, I promise, and I’ll be back in your inbox.




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The Loop #196

March 5th, 2013 by Monica Scalf

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

There have been plenty of times when I feel like I’m doing it ALL WRONG.

Yep, I’ve been known to go toe to toe with a little thing that can drive a grown woman crazy … it’s called SELF DOUBT.

Most of us have a self-doubt loop that plays inside our heads pretty much on a regular basis.  And if yours is anything like mine, it isn’t very warm, fuzzy or friendly.

Here are just a few things that my loop has been known to repeat:

* You know that you’re screwing your kids up for life, right?

* You really should have (insert some life decision here) when you had the chance.

* Why can’t you be as organized, pulled together, or as on top of things as (fill in the blank with someone you admire)?

And when it comes to appearance, my loop has all kinds of nasty-grams that it sends my way.

* You should have picked something else to wear today.

* Shouldn’t you look more (insert appealing adjective) youthful, fit, fashionable, etc?

*You really should consider changing your (hair, makeup, body shape, diet, or all of the above).

I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about because one thing I’ve learned in working with a lot of people over the years is that

the majority of us feel like we’re doing it all wrong.

There are a million reasons why we feel this way, but it doesn’t matter much.

The thing that really matters is our ability to recognize how the loop keeps us from being content and can pretty much exhaust us.  The other thing that matters is learning how to shut it down when the volume keeps rising.

As soon as your loop starts butting in, tell it to Go Away. Add in a Leave Me Alone if you need to.

Imagine it this way.  You’re hanging out with a friend when someone suddenly comes up and says to her, “You know you’re screwing your kids up for life, right?”

I’m betting that you’d go to bat for your friend, tell the other person that they’re crazy and to leave your friend alone.  You may even add in some of your own colorful language to really let the offender know how you feel.

But somehow, when we’re the ones bashing ourselves, it’s so much easier to believe.  And we have a hard time telling ourselves to be quiet.  In fact, one little self-doubting thought can ruin your whole day over and over and over again.

The question you have to ask is how often are you going to let that happen?  Are you willing to sacrifice your daily happiness to oblige the faulty thoughts going on in your head?

Stop believing the loop and watch how it changes your world.  Go to bat for yourself next time.

The Extra:

Think It:  “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

What do you think?:  What’s the best way to get over self doubt?  Leave a comment below.

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What Are You Shopping For? #195

February 26th, 2013 by Monica Scalf

One of my favorite things and biggest stress relievers is spending an hour perusing the aisles of TJ Maxx.  It’s a rare place where you can pick up a new whisk, a 24-inch statue of a wildhorse, and a new pair of pajama pants that you feel speak especially to you.  (Plus, each item is usually a bargain, so how much better could it get, right?)

The thing about it is you have to be willing to hunt to find stuff that you love.  Akin to some kind of weird domestic treasure hunt, if you look hard enough, you’re sure to emerge with a few gems.  As I left my local TJ’s with some gold of my own last week, I thought about how the search is worth it.

And I think the same is true in life.  Each day we are presented with aisles and aisles of thoughts, emotions, and actions that we can choose to experience.  Some days it’s easier to pick stuff off of the shelves from the hum-drum, negative, woe is me aisle. (Especially during this gray time of year.)  We forget that we can leave that stuff alone and search for better and brighter things to fill our carts with.  Simply move to another aisle and keep looking.

It takes some work, energy, and sometimes some manufactured motivation, but it’s worth it in the end.  The more I read, learn, and listen I realize that positivity, motivation, and feel good feelings like kindness, happiness, and hope are always ours for the taking.  They might be hiding under some random pair of sweatpants that someone threw in the wrong space, but if you’re tuned in to looking for them, you’ll eventually find them.

And I promise that you’ll never regret checking out with a load full of that kind of good stuff in your cart.

What aisle are you in this week?

Extra-Ordinary Ideas

Read It:  One of the things that can help us find the right attitude this time of year is purging the stuff we don’t need.  This is a book I re-read about once a year: Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke.
Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life

Do It:  Creating some simplicity in your life never hurts, and a good meal can do wonders.  I accomplished both last night with this crock pot recipe that was a hit. (P.S. I subbed Diet Dr. Pepper, cooked for 7.5 hours and then removed, covered in sauce and cooked at 350 for about 15 minutes.) Now you’re really curious, right?

Think It:  “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.” Earl Nightingale

Leave a Comment:  How do you stay motivated during the gray days of winter?

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Two Words for Less Stress During the Holidays #194

November 29th, 2012 by Monica Scalf

The holidays are upon us … hey, how did that happen?  With all of the good cheer, fun, and food comes a pesky little thing known as HOLIDAY STRESS.

I can already feel it creeping up on me, can you?  The pressure to shop, wrap, bake, and produce a magical and meaningful holiday starts even before the month of December begins.

The holidays are filled with things that are meant to be enjoyed, but often times, we forget and stress out anyway.  So what’s the solution … besides winning the Powerball and buying a tropical island on which to celebrate?  Well, for me a simple little holiday mantra works wonders.

It consists of two words:  JUST BE.  A close cousin of Nike’s JUST DO IT, this simple little phrase reminds me that all that is really necessary to enjoy the holidays is to JUST BE in the moment.

In other words, be aware when stress starts to rise and mentally talk yourself off of the stress ledge in your mind.  Even though it might seem easier, don’t jump into the mental stress pit! Challenge yourself to consciously reverse your escalating stress by using that simple little phrase.  It works in all sorts of situations from waiting in a never moving checkout line to listening to an annoying long lost cousin at the punch bowl.

Whenever you’re feeling aggravated whip out your simple and silent mantra: Just Be.  Here are some good words to add to it for an even greater stress reducing impact.

Just Be Patient

Just Be Tolerant

Just Be Here, Right Now

Just Be Grateful

Just Be Loving and Lovable

Just Be Lighthearted

Just Be Non-Judgmental

Just Be Enough

The list can go on and on.  Repeating any of these phrases a few times in your mind will immediately reduce tension and release anxiety.

More than your famous sugar cookies, more than a perfectly tied bow, more than a customized soundtrack of Christmas songs when opening up presents, more than ANYTHING, your family wants you … the stress free, fun loving, and happy version of you that can truly celebrate the joy of the holidays.

They deserve that, but more importantly you deserve that version of you too!

EXTRA-Ordinary Ideas:

Read It: This simple and short book is a perfect gift or read for the holidays. One of my favorite writers, I highly recommend this one!

Do It: Just like a good workout out builds muscle, mental workouts help us build endurance and keep us less stressed too. Mentally prepare yourself before going to holiday gatherings. Do a quick 2 minute visualization imagining how you would like to see yourself interacting at a party. Thinking in this way allows your behavior to match your intentions.

Think It: “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” Aesop

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Get Busy #193

September 19th, 2012 by Monica Scalf

The other day Jesus went through the washing machine.  As I was peeling damp clothes from the side of the washer and lifting them over to the dryer I heard him cling, clang, ting and land with a rattle on the bottom of the washer.  Thinking I was going to pluck out a quarter when I reached down, I was surprised to see Jesus on the cross looking up at me from an oval medal. It had been in my son’s pocket from school.

We put plenty of things through the dryer here (Kleenex, stickers, gum, m&m’s, old movie tickets, lip gloss, and the occasional five dollar bill), but this was the first appearance of His Lord and Savior.

He picked a good day to show up.  I think I was mid curse as I shuffled the laundry between machines.  How did he know at exactly the time he tried to escape the dryer that at the same moment I was wondering, “What the (insert mammoth curse word here) was I thinking planning a day like today”?

But that’s how it is.  God (ok, in this case his only begotten Son, Jesus) just shows up when we least expect him, and sometimes when we most need him.

I’ve never been through an ordinary day where at some point I didn’t need a big thump across the head to remind me how crazy-stupid, wonderful life is.  And this particular day was filled with an unusual amount of domestic activities … shots of a carpool, a volunteering stint at school, writing some marketing copy, and a couple loads of laundry, followed by a grocery store chaser.

This kind of busyness is business as usual for most women.  Throw on a full time job for most, a couple more kids with school projects, and a failing economy, and you begin to understand why most of us are more stressed out and overwhelmed than ever.  It’s never enough; we’re never done.

So what’s a girl to do?  Well of course, find Jesus.  Ok, maybe he won’t be in your washing machine.   And maybe you don’t even call him Jesus, but there is bound to be something in your own life that can remind you what a blessing and a privilege it is to live an ordinary life.

A tattoo across the forearm seems a little extreme, but if that’s what it takes to remind you that the ordinary matters, I’m all for it.  Don’t send me the bill, but I’d love to see a picture.

Here’s the truth: These kind of ordinary days come to an end.  They are an intense period of life that seem like they are going to stretch on forever, especially when you’re up four times with a sick child, or you’re hanging up the last bit of laundry at 12:15 am because you don’t want the no wrinkle pants to wrinkle, or your body is so exhausted when you lay down in bed that you don’t even get in your comfy position before falling dead asleep.

Here’s the truth: You will look back and crave one last carpool, one last school project, and one last midnight run to the store for the bake sale you forgot about (ok, maybe you won’t crave that … I’m pushing it a little far now).

The point is your life is created in everyday moments, even if those moments are jam-packed and beyond busy.

I noticed recently that when people ask me “How was your weekend?” or “How was your summer?” I have a go to answer.  I say “Busy.” And I don’t just say it, I draw it out and dramatize it.  I say, “Biiiiiiii …. zy” in an exasperated sigh sort of way.  I’m not sure when this habit started, but I sure as (curse word here) know that when I get to the pearly gates I should start thinking of a better answer now for when God asks, “How was your life?”  Certainly, I don’t want the answer to be “biiiii –zy”.  Wonderful, amazing, awesome, breathtaking, lovely, delightful … I can think of a million more words that I’d rather use to answer that question than busy.

So if that’s the case, I better get …. busy.  Busy creating a life where even everyday experiences are appreciated even if they aren’t loved.

EXTRA-Ordinary Ideas:

Read It: If you’re feeling frazzled and need a little good advice, this is a quick uplifting read about how to slow things down.

Do It: Find a reminder to cue you to remember what a blessing it is to live an ordinary life. A shiny Jesus who has been through the washing machine, a bracelet, a keychain, whatever works for you.

Think It: “Life becomes precious and more special to us when we look for the little everyday miracles and get excited about the privileges of simply being human” Tim Hansel

Question: How do you remember to enjoy the ordinary? Leave us a comment below.

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