November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
It’ll be Thanksgiving Day when this posts, and I hope everyone has a beautiful time of it, with bellies and hearts full.
Some tables will be overflowing, some spare – but wherever we are, the sentiment of gratitude is worth treasuring. It’s good to pause and reflect, and give thanks for our blessings, for the people we love, the gifts we have – as well as for the soil that allows our food to grow; for the sun and rain and wind, for the workers who oversee the crops, the delivery people and stock-the-shelves people and checkout people; the plates we serve our meals upon; the sweaters that keep us warm; the crews that keep our roads safe to travel and the neighbor who lends that last-minute package of spinach you need.
I’d have to add chocolate to my list, and tea, of course. And music and paint and pencils and the magic of creativity. And the coach who pushed me harder; the teacher who encouraged my best work; the stranger who made me smile on an especially bad day. For people who’ve laughed at my jokes, and those who showed me lovely things about myself that I didn’t see, and even those who made me see things I didn’t want to see or feel things I didn’t want to feel, because all of that, it turns out, builds character worth having. And if life is indeed a bowl of cherries (I’m not sure who came up with that one, or why, but we’ll go with it), we’d be well to appreciate the shiny parts as well as the pits, as one would not be so without the other.
Gratitude has no bounds, but today’s a perfect day to be extra thankful – and to send out a wish that yours will be filled with goodness and grace.
November 7, 2016 § 1 Comment
Is it over yet? Man, this has been a doozy. I’m not sure what I want to say or how I want to say it, but something wants to be said. And I’m sure others have had similar thoughts, perhaps already shared out into the world. But we each have a voice, so I might as well use mine too.
The general gist of what I want to say has to do with coming together in the aftermath of what has been, without question in my lifetime, our dirtiest, most contentious presidential race. It’s been torturous. It’s been strange. It’s been mean-spirited. It’s been like watching a no-holds-barred professional wrestling match where the referees have either opted out or taken sides.
I wasn’t sure we could be more divided than we were 4, or even 8 years ago, but I was wrong. There’s a similar – perhaps worse? – level of animosity towards opposing frontrunners (both of whom also happen to be the most generally unpopular choices ever), and all too often towards those who support those candidates. People, largely on social media, can be vicious in their righteousness, with dialogue that’s condescending and non-productive. There’s little genuine conversation – but there is a lot of judgment. Friendships are damaged, families tense. Like-minds share pedestals with like-minds and pat themselves on the back for their better wisdom and condemnation of those they don’t understand.
I’m glad my parents aren’t here to witness this display and I’m really, really sad that this has been my daughter’s first presidential election experience. I’m appalled and embarrassed and can’t wait for the damn thing to be over.
But of course, every election comes with its good, bad and ugly. (This one just seems to have achieved new levels of ugly.) History repeatedly shows that it’s bound to get heated. Passions run high. This is why our mothers told us to never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. And I would tend to agree – although it’s a shame, because, intellectually, it makes for fascinating conversation. The trouble is it usually deteriorates to something accusatory and utterly emotional. Perception rules the day alongside a seeming lack of intent to truly consider another point of view or do the extensive homework required to get a bigger, clearer, more detailed picture. And yet, how could we sift through it all even if we tried? Who has that kind of time? And who knows what’s truth or not? In today’s world we’re fed non-stop not only by the tv news, but by a huge and ever-expanding social media machine made of both organized groups and regular people laying claim to this or that, all shouting to have their voices heard – because, of course, they are right and you are wrong. Or maybe worse than wrong. (“How could they possibly…?”) So we hear what we choose to hear, we process, and some of it becomes belief.
Belief is a powerful thing; and it can take many forms. And once it sinks its hooks, it’s hard to change course or even allow the idea of an alternate course.
After tomorrow, though, it will be over. (Do I hear a Hallelujah?) The aftermath will be a country half glad, half angry. And here we have a chance – there is always a choice – to put aside our disagreements and be respectful to one another again. To not judge people who voted with their heart instead of their head or their head instead of their heart, or however wrong or skewed you think they are – and if there are issues one feels strongly about, find a way to work on them. A new head honcho at Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t mean we put our heads in the sand for four years. If something’s important to you, get involved.
We should also keep in mind that a President is a leader, surrounded by a system of checks and balances. They don’t work in a vacuum. They are not a dictator with total power. Nor are they our parents and we their children. In this country, they’re elected to protect and defend our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Remember that.
And remember that we really are all in this together. So let’s shake hands on November 9 and get back to the business of living side by side, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend. Love in the heart, eyes open. Because this place we call home may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn great, and worth our best efforts.
November 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
The world is mad, life is hard. Color is fun.
And right now, nature’s on full, gorgeous, dynamic display. Bursts of color sing all around, challenging our impulse to be dreary in the face of all that madness and hardness. So – notice. Drink it up. Revel in it. Let your mind splash around in it, your spirit bathe in it. Walk in it. Wear it. Paint it. Have fun with it.
True enough, rainbows don’t last and kaleidoscopes change. Crayons wear down, paints run out. Bright orange leaves turn brown and crumbly. A sky that’s blue can quickly turn gray. But there’s the beauty – everything recycles, refreshes and reboots. It always does. And we can, too.
“If you’re feeling blue try painting yourself a different color.”
– Hannah Cheatem, age 8
How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?
October 7, 2016 § 1 Comment
You should never read the ending of a book in the morning (kind of how you should never go to bed mad, or put sugar in herbal tea) – because what if someone comes to your door, and there you are sobbing.
And if you’re not teary, you at least need some time to sit with it a while, linger a little, say good-bye to the characters you’ve met along the way. You need time to return to reality.
Fortunately, no one rang my doorbell when I finished reading A Man Called Ove this morning.
I didn’t expect to have so many emotions while reading this book. I didn’t expect to break out laughing. (Though I adore humor – who doesn’t? – I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to eliciting an actual “hahahahaha!” from books or movies.) And I didn’t expect to cry. I thought it might be filled with quirky people I didn’t particularly like. Turns out, it was filled with quirky people I somehow did like. I also liked the writer’s often tongue-in-cheek writing style – another happy surprise, and not something everyone can pull off, but something Fredrik Backman did spectacularly well. And in the end, I had to accept the fact that this book touched me deeply. For whatever reason. I loved it. And I think most people will find that they, too, will laugh and cry and feel.
For you book lovers out there who might like to read along virtually, my friends and I gather on the first Friday of each month. Some other Book Club books we’ve read since my last Friday Night Book Club posting (which, I confess, has been quite a while) are – in order of preference, my favorites first: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sender, The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain, The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.
I’m also reading Diana Gabaldon’s entire Outlander Series outside of Book Club, because I’m obsessed with them. Currently on book five, The Fiery Cross. And I have a long list of books on my GoodReads author page if anyone wants to connect over there.
Peace, love, happy reading.
October 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
This morning I came across a wonderfully written, though somewhat sarcastic (if not scathing), article about the apparently very American pursuit of “being happy”. Of course I felt immediately stung, almost guilt-ridden for not only participating in that pursuit but dedicating a whole section on my blog to “Outrageous Happiness”. Indeed, in my sensitivity, I felt the finger pointing. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the piece, filled as it was with sharp wit.
It was written by a Brit, who proudly claims to possess a certain genetic cynicism – which, whether by nature or my own DNA steeped in British realms, I really do “get”. Even as a born optimist, my inner cynic is very much alive at times – except I like to think of it as healthy skepticism rather than gloom (which seems an appropriate opposite of happiness), and it definitely doesn’t include a distaste for happiness, nor for anyone’s interest in attaining that lovely state of being. Because it is lovely.
Have you ever met someone who exudes a kind of contented joy just for being alive? That person who knows how to not take things too seriously, who, without effort, seems to embody an easy, uplifting attitude? In truth, I think these individuals are quite rare, but what a gift they are. They don’t intrude or demand, they just, very simply, brighten life. Whether a stranger or someone you know, that they exist at all is an inspiring thing.
The Dalai Lama is, to me, one of those people. And his mantra – that we’re here to experience joy – is a pretty exciting concept. Impossible and possible. Makes perfect sense and makes no sense. But it feels really, really good to consider, and terribly worthwhile to at least try to infuse joy into our own lives.
And yes, it must be said that there are times when happiness has nothing to do with anything. Your car breaks down, you can get mad all you want but in the end you get under the hood and fix it. Or a baby’s diaper needs changing. Or a light bulb. It’s not whether you’re happy or unhappy about it, it’s just something to be done. There are also people for whom the whole idea of happiness feels completely out reach, and many of us have experienced periods or events in our lives when a heartfelt “look at the bright side!” just. does. not. work (and may raise your shackles quite a bit more than your spirits). Even for those who have been blessed with a happy disposition, it’s not a 24/7 deal. It just isn’t.
Point being – for the record – that no one should feel in any way at fault, less than, or stressed out if they aren’t feeling the glow of positive vibes all day every day. In fact that would be pretty strange, especially when you consider how volatile life can be – from a pot boiling over in your kitchen to, please, any number of things out there in the big wide uncontrollable world. Our equilibrium can shift in an instant through no fault of our own.
And all that said, I can see where the author of the article concluded that our pursuit of happiness was creating more anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. It’s a matter of perspective.
“Happiness” is not, and never should be, a test you pass or fail. It’s something that’s very hard to measure – some days we fly, some days we fall, some days we want to stay in pjs all day, other days we want to conquer a mountain. Sometimes life is just hard. But I hope we never give up, because it sure beats the whole “pay bills and die” outlook, and for that alone, happiness is absolutely worth pursuing.
How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?
September 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
My father blamed our year in Germany for my wanderlust. We lived in Karlsruhe, where each weekday morning I walked a tree-lined, cobblestoned path with my brothers and sister to meet our school bus. I was in kindergarten, which meant I got out early, so my Mom would take me exploring after school, often having me translate (because as a kid you pick up languages really fast, especially if you want Sabina, Helga and Petra to like you), and often involving ice cream or Toblerone bars. Towards the end of our stay, we traveled to I don’t know how many countries (I got a doll in each one, and the collection was fairly substantial), and I relished every minute. At 5 years old, the world was my oyster – and indeed, that whole experience may have set me on an irreversible path of desire to see as much of the world as possible.
Since then, I’ve come eye to eye with an elephant in Kenya, gotten sick on the Nile, slept in hammocks in Mexico’s Yucatan jungle, Greek Island hopped, was reprimanded at St. Peter’s cathedral for my too-short skirt, reveled in Venice’s waterways, swam in pristine natural pools under hidden waterfalls and lots more. Here at home I’ve gotten a taste of the my own country’s north, south, east and west. And there’s SO MUCH more to see. Oh the places I still hope to go…!
That said, just recently I got to visit the great
country state of Texas, where everything is bigger. I loved Austin’s Tuscany-like hills and funky shops, and San Antonio’s rich history housed in limestone architecture. I did not buy new cowboy boots, but did see lots of little lizards, was treated to Texas barbecue ( a “must” I was told), ate lots of fajitas (my favorites were at Austin’s Güero’s on South Congress), enjoyed graffiti walls and art spaces, and had an absolutely fantastic time with my Texan friends.
All of which was in somewhat stark contrast to another recent trip, where I’d gone north to the Finger Lakes region of New York State – where everything gets cold and very snowy in winter – and fell a little in love with a small town on a crystal clear lake, surrounded by farms, vineyards and well-kept, New-England-ish homes. Oh so lush and pretty.
I don’t know what’s next, but for now it’s time to hunker down again at home, where there are designs to be designed and books to be written and paintings to paint. Oh, and bills to pay and rooms to keep clean.
But here’s the best part – I can still go places even when I’m sitting still. Places of the mind, places ignited by ideas and imagination. Places conjured by thought, or a view, a conversation or a moment. A dash of color, the way a leaf is lit by the setting sun. A song, a train whistle, children laughing, crickets chirping. The scent of rain, or a flower, or dinner roasting. Something in a dream, something in a story. The tumbling of ocean waves.
You go don’t have to be someplace grand. Granted, I’ll be the first to say “I want to go there!”– but the places your imagination can take you can be equally grand. Places your mind can take you by learning new things can be equally priceless. Places your feet can take you can be equally inspiring. Just by being present, observant; experiencing the world around you, listening to the world within you, stretching your senses – oh the places you’ll go! And isn’t life richer when you do.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss,
September 18, 2016 § 2 Comments
When life is annoying, it’s good to remember how fabulous you are. You know, like when there’s the guy on the highway who thinks he’s in a bat-mobile, weaving in and out of cars at top speed, or when your laptop freezes, or when people talk during the show in a movie theater.
Or maybe your friends are too busy, it’s rained for ten days straight, the afghan you made is lopsided, and the clerk at the store is rude. And that person who thinks everyone wants to hear the music in their car from 5 blocks away? That neighbor who practices dixieland songs on his trumpet at 10PM? Loud and clear, roger that.
Your car won’t start. Your phone battery dies. Politicians sap your faith in humankind. Your head hurts. You’re out of milk. Your toast burned. Your clients are late to pay. Ketchup spills on your white shirt. You get all the red lights. Your flight is cancelled. You manage to pick the slowest grocery check-out line, and they were out of your favorite ice cream.
But YOU are fabulous. To quote the marvelous Dr. Seuss: “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
Go with it. Embrace your inner fabulousness. Practice some self-love. It’s great revenge for life’s disappointments.
How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?
September 11, 2016 § 2 Comments
At 9:00 a.m. on 9/11/01, I’d just come back from dropping my daughter at kindergarten. The sky was robin-egg blue, the air a perfect September calm. A neighbor screamed to me from her car, and the rest of the day was sheer horror.
Forty minutes away. Too close. Much too close.
That night we all gathered on my front lawn, a circle of candles and hearts and prayers.
You just don’t forget.
If anything good came from that awful day, it was that for at least a brief time we were one United States of America. All Americans. We all felt a pain in the pits of our stomachs, the lurching of our hearts, the constriction in our throats and tears in our eyes. We loved our neighbor, near and far, from cities to remote little towns, black, brown, white, yellow, red, gay, straight, male, female. We were family, wounded, and we grieved as one under our red, white and blue. We were proud, we were strong, we were honoring the brave and the lost and the taken. They were us, we were them. All across the country we were united by a devastation that reminded us that love, life, freedom – and each other – are valued beyond measure.
Our hearts softened towards each other – but I also think how sad that we couldn’t sustain that sense of camaraderie and pride when things calmed down. Routines reestablished. By necessity and will, we carried on. Yet within that carrying on, even while terror continues to loom like a disturbing alternative universe normal, we seemed to shift away from commonality and towards pockets of we are not them, they are not us. As if we can’t sustain loving our neighbor without sweeping tragedy to bring it about. (Weddings and funerals come to mind. Drama brings people together. Human nature?)
We argue on our right and left. We suffer politicians. I hear a lot of talk that doesn’t walk. I hear each news cycle replacing the last – yesterday’s shocking unanswered wrong overrun by today’s, and today’s by tomorrow’s. We numb. We medicate on electronics. Opinions aren’t debated, they’re spewed. We don’t listen. We don’t really see. The world is in shambles. We seem very divided. Something is wrong here.
But for one day, maybe just an hour, maybe only 10 minutes ~ we’ll remember 9/11 and that flood of love and hope and “don’t you dare” will fill us up. We’ll be a united family for 10 minutes. We’ll remember why we love this place and the people in it. And maybe, just maybe, we can nurture that love and hope and integrity a little longer? Might the foundational idea that we are a free people nourish and inspire us just a little longer? That it’s worth fighting for?
Can we recognize that there is goodness here and that yes, there’s also some very ugly, very dark scary shit in the world and it’s up to each one of us to know the difference and take up the torch right where we are with a battle cry to spread a little more light, a little more love, a little more courage?
There are some amazing people in this world, and I’m lucky to know several who take up that torch every day with all their hearts. We all know them. They are sincere. Let’s all be more sincere. Let’s honor the brave, the lost and taken with some blessings. Be the blessing in someone’s day. Be present. Be good.
And I had no idea this piece of writing was going to go the way it did, but I hope we can use this memory to remember that at the end of every day we’re all in this together. At the base of the fallen towers let’s continue to plant hope, and water it well.
September 5, 2016 § 1 Comment
It’s been days. I can’t get this song out of my head. Granted, I haven’t given it a big shove, but thought that by now it’d at least be quieter. But no. Not so. So I’m going with it.
The point could be, after all, that if you want some fun, say o bla di bla da. The point is that life goes on. The point is that when things feel too heavy, you just might need to lighten up. Maybe even veer towards the silly. Maybe, just maybe, head towards outrageous happiness. And there you have it.
But there could even be a little more to it.
I went for a bike ride this morning. It’s been a few years, I will admit – the reason being that each year I found that my tires were flat, and with the best of intentions I’d get the bike a tune-up, but then I’d opt for a swim or a run or a game of tennis. I don’t know why; I used to bike all day long when I was a kid. And sure, I’m not a kid anymore, but the truth is I probably wasn’t as interested as I once was. But this year, I was determined.
You see, I’d fractured my spine a few years ago and it took several months before I even felt ready to get back to my lap swims. Now that it’s summer, I want to run. I see others running and think, “I’ll go for a run, too!” But something tells me that would be a huge mistake… same for tennis. So (mini lightbulb moment) I brought out the bike, got a tune-up and rode it. And I’ll ride again. You can’t keep a good girl down, or something like that.
So I’m pedaling along, enjoying the sun, the summer breeze, feeling the burn (having not ridden in a while!), when all of a sudden, I’m aware of the song playing merrily in my head – yet again. “Happy ever after in the market place, Desmond lets the children lend a hand…” Seriously? You’re still here?
But I thought, you know, this is good. It’s reminding me that you do what you can. I can’t run but I can bike. I can do that swervy thing with the handle bars and wheels, and I can coast down a hill, and go off road. I could even sing at the top of my lungs if I wanted to, all at the same time….la la how the life goes on.
Outrageous? Not quite. But sometimes we all need a little ob-la-di ob-la-da. Some simple. Some silly. A little bit of “hey I can do this, so I will!” That’s all I’m saying. And I hope you enjoy some for yourself, because, well … la la how the life goes on. ♫♪♩
How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?
August 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
As if on cue, life decided to throw some curve balls ~ or, because it’s not uncommon for life to do that, maybe I’m just aware of them in a slightly different way. That doesn’t make them any more fun, but now that I’m consciously armed with an unrelenting turn-lemons-into-lemonade approach, I’m thinking I might be handling them with less angst. And less angst = more happy.
And yet, when staring down a sidetrack that clearly did not feed my happiness quotient, I almost went off course. I felt somehow responsible, put myself down, and got a little stuck there. Life lessons, all that. But I rallied. Because rallying is better than being miserable.
In fact, just this morning, I felt my super powers kicking in. And man, do I love them! (You have them too. It’s where you’re strongest, and truest. Where you’re lifted up.)
Here’s the thing though, before they kicked in, I sat down and had a serious conversation with the Universe. And I made sure to not just talk, but listen.
You might talk to God, you might talk to Divine Intelligence, or to Angels, or your Higher Self, your Spirit Guides, your mother or father, sister or brother, a trusted friend, a counselor. Guidance is available in many forms, and none of us, no matter how wise or experienced or content, is outside the realm of needing some now and then. It might be brief, or it might take a few goes, but in the process it’s key that you listen – you have to hear not only what you’re saying and thinking, but what you’re hearing in reply. Then, listen to your heart and find what’s true.
And then, by all means, gather your super powers and don your cape!
How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?