Give Good Gifts

My nephew came to visit and brought me a gift from my sister. She thought I needed some encouragement, so she put together the best care package ever.

Gifts are her love language, not mine. Time and good company are really all I need to feel loved.

But this gift…! She packed a small box with so many individually-chosen-for-me items. Every single item made me laugh. I smiled. I oohed and aahed.

The first thing thing I touched—rainbow metal straw—had me belly laughing. The previous evening I had put iridescent metal straws in my Amazon cart for her! She included cork coasters with cute cartoons/sayings. A notebook to carry in my purse. Floral napkins, because our grandma always gave napkins as gifts. An eye shadow palette (she is a makeup maven) in just the right colors, and a coordinating lipgloss. A coffee mug with a delightful unicorn reminding me to “Stay Magical.”

My sister loved me with every item in that box. She knows my likes and dislikes, my sense of humor, what will tickle me. The gift was so perfect it was as if she’d taken me shopping, shown me each item, watched my expression, and put it in the basket because it was just right.

Looking at the box’s contents, our sons thought we were silly (they’re not wrong). We are so different and still share the same sensibilities. They don’t quite understand that yet.

A long time ago, I remember my sister saying that she dislikes gift cards. If someone wants to give her a gift, they should choose it carefully and specifically for her. I understood what she meant at the time, but now I completely get it.

Coming out of a season where I have felt invisible, I have been sad. Every end is a new beginning. There is freedom in walking away, and there is loss. My sister recognized that. This gift collective tells me that she sees me. I didn’t really need a gift, but then again, maybe I did. Each time I reach for any one of these items, I will know I am seen and loved. Isn’t that what we all want?

 

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

Smell the Roses

It’s rose season!

I take a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures of flowers. Roses especially, but any beautiful flower that captures my attention.

Taking pictures—just on my iPhone, nothing too fancy—is for me a joy-filled discipline of noticing.

I stop. I lean in. I frame the subject. I go for a better angle. I see the flower, its unique bloom. The way the petals curl, the nuances of color, the contrast with its foliage and/or background in the frame. This flower, in this moment, this beauty.

I allow the bloom to give me pause, to be present to the goodness in the world. It is good for my soul.

And then, generally, if the picture captures anywhere near the truth of what I saw, I share it. Because we all need more beauty, more goodness, more joy and peace in our lives.

This may seem an obvious omission, but what I don’t always do? Smell the rose.

I read recently (because I’m always reading) that someone took a breath so deep that it was like inhaling the smell of a rose all the way down to her toes.

Yes!

That phrase captivated my imagination. I could see myself leaning in even closer, phone down, sticking my nose inside a gorgeous, single white rose in full bloom. Inhaling all the way down into my toes. What a way to slow down and become present.

So I’m adding “smell the roses” to my discipline of noticing, whether or not I have my phone in hand.

I discovered this blessing the other day, and it seems appropriate to share here:

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.
May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.
Amen. Let it be so.

(John O’Donohue’s Blessing for Solitude, from The Road Back to You by Cron & Stabile, p230)

Library Love

“A world of reading brings a bounty far beyond us, and we find it creates a legacy to stretch far past us into every next generation.” Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening

Yesterday I made a library pit stop to return two books and pick up another five waiting on hold. I left at home several more books I’m reading or will soon, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these new adventures. I also scanned the “Lucky Day” shelves, the ones that hold high-demand books, and found another contender.

The summer heat blistered our little town and the library felt blissfully cool, so I took my new stack to a corner chair to peruse my new finds. I chuckled as a little one holding his mama’s hand loud-whispered, “Hi, Library! Hi, Library!” When I checked out, I was surprised to discover that I’d whiled away an hour in cool bookish delight.

The Library is one of my favorite places on earth. It doesn’t matter which library, so long as it has stacks upon stacks of books and quiet nooks in which to cozy up between the pages.

My children rejuvenated my library love. Before they arrived, I had come to associate libraries not with the joy of my own childhood reading but with academic research, starting with my third grade research paper about mice. I felt particularly proud of my illustration of two little grey mice nibbling on a juicy red berry.

With my kids, we regularly visited the library. At only two years old, my first child knew his way around: where he’d find his favorite books, where he’d discover new animal documentaries, and where he’d locate Mom or Dad looking for books of their own. And all the librarians knew him (whether they wanted to or not).

One of the best things I did as a parent, I believe, was to teach my children the joy of reading. We read all the time. We read at bedtime, of course, but also throughout the day. We carried books everywhere. We read at the park and the beach, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the car between appointments, and at the dining table. When the big kid had to keep his own reading log for school, he regularly read perched in a tree.

At 20 and 15, these days my kids read mostly for school. I get that: when reading becomes a requirement it may lose its luster. Like PE class takes the fun out of playing games. My hope for them is based on both investment and experience, that someday they won’t “have to” read but will choose it for pleasure; and that someday they will  read with their own children, letting little hands drag them down library aisles in anticipation of new discoveries to share together.

Be Where You Are

For most of the last eighteen years, our family has spent one week each summer vacationing in Pacific Grove, California, a NorCal coastal town nestled between Monterey and Carmel. Many years before our annual vacations began, while we were dating and newly married, Guy and I would drive from his childhood home in Santa Cruz to walk along the rocky coast, to picnic, to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For almost 30 years this place has inspired me with its beauty.

When our boys were little, we had to get up early to exercise them. As they got older and required more sleep, I began to get up early to exercise me. All year long I anticipate with physical longing my morning walk/jogs along the trail paralleling Ocean View Boulevard.

I am not a morning person, so it’s truly something when I can yank myself out of bed, start the coffee while I get dressed, swallow a half cup and be out the door before anyone else stirs. I’m at the beach, I reminded myself. I’m only here for a few days.

Every morning without fail I hit the trail, either walk/jogging toward Monterey or walking the longer, less even trail toward Asilomar. My body felt tired but healthy. Stronger. And my will felt stronger, too, more determined.

I told myself it was the view that pulled me outside. It was, but I wondered: if I lived here, would it motivate me 365 days a year? Would it ever grow old?

I live in a beautiful, walkable neighborhood. I love walking my dogs, walking with Guy or friends, walk/jogging myself around our neighborhood. I can take a slightly different route every day of the week, though by now they are all familiar.

But I live here, so it’s easy to say I’ll get outside later, or tomorrow. That we can take the dogs to the park, or I can go to the gym.

I came home from vacation with a new resolve to stop making excuses and get outside to appreciate the gift of living in this particular neck of the NorCal woods. And so I have put on my shoes, leashed the dogs, and gone outside each day since.

I live here, and I am going to soak it in with gratitude.

Laugh More

Last week our family saw a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CalShakes, my favorite Shakespeare play at one of my favorite theatres.

CalShakes always makes for a great family outing: time together over a picnic in the grove and a good show, and my kids both enjoy live theatre which feels like a parenting win. This wasn’t a perfect production, but it contained some terrific performances. Best of all, I heard myself belly laughing throughout the show.

Laughter is the best medicine, right? But somewhere along the winding path of personal and professional stress, I fear I misplaced my sense of humor. I may have become too serious for my own good. I used to be silly and laugh easily; I need to unearth that version of myself.

Besides, laughter is healthy, and life is too short not to enjoy; there will be plenty of time for being grave, well, in the grave. (Although, I just wrote a ridiculous line because I plan to spend every non-second of the afterlife whoopin’ it up for a grand ol’ eternity).

How about these quotes:

Laughter is an instant vacation. –Milton Berle
I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter; it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong. –WEB DuBois
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. –William Thackeray
A day without laughter is a day wasted. –Charlie Chaplin
Laughter may not add years to your life but adds life to your years.
You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.
Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my leg.

[Are you laughing yet?]

Psychology Today outlines some of laughter’s benefits for body and mind:

Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. They abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience. Of course, laughter also enriches social experience, by strengthening relationships, helping to defuse conflict, and allowing people to successfully operate as a team. The benefits of laughter, for both bodies and minds, show that contagious convulsions are anything but frivolous.

To that end, I am making play my work. I am actively eliminating stress from my life and spending time with my pets and my loves, outdoors and in. I am looking for opportunities to laugh, whether I’m cracking myself up or laughing at funny things outside myself.

Like this clip from The Ellen Show:

And who doesn’t laugh at laughing babies?

So how about you? What makes you laugh?

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Getting Lost

It helps to remember that getting outside can put me in a better mood.

A walk around the block is obviously good for the dogs. It’s good for the body. And it’s good for my soul.

I had been in a funk when Guy and I leashed up the dogs for an hour-long walk. As we strolled we laughed when one or the other would attempt to pounce on a lizard who had already skittered away. We laughed some more when they stuck their noses into Mexican feather grass—something smelled good—and the grass looked like a lion’s mane on a three-bodied monster. We saw a hawk soaring overhead. We admired roses of every hue growing in our neighbor’s gardens. The gray clouds of my mood parted as I noticed the world outside myself.

I felt more rested (rest-full) for having moved my body outside than I did when I sat still in my comfortable chair.

This weekend we had the honor of witnessing the baptism of our friends’ daughter at a beautiful Catholic retreat center. When the service ended and we had congratulated the happy family, we strolled the grounds.

In one lushly planted brick-walled garden, I spotted a little statue of St. Francis holding two birds. I would have missed him entirely if the birds had been painted with more subtlety—the fire engine red glossy paint positively popped against the green foliage.

He delighted me, so I snapped a picture.

He seemed to be hiding, lost among the leaves and yet exactly where he should be. The birds seemed to glow even brighter for being held by Francis.

I want to be “lost” like St. Francis, perfectly content in my natural hiding spot. I like being a little bit lost in my own pursuits, in flow, attentive to the beauty in front of me rather than caught up by distractions. I want to be surrounded by nature, beauty, peace. And I suppose it would be nice if, on occasion, I brought delight to those who happen to notice me hiding in plain sight.

Learning from Babies

Q15 lost his passport coming home from Mexico over spring break. He claims he gave it to Guy, Guy doesn’t remember ever receiving it, neither can find it. We need a replacement since Q leaves on a Scouting canoe trip in Canada next week.

Within a certain window of time and requiring both parents meant we had to go to the Federal Passport Office in San Francisco. We had an 11 am appointment for the first full day of summer (bummer for the kiddo—we made it up to him with lunch of his choosing).

Apparently, you make an appointment to stand in line to gain access to a room where you stand in another line. More than an hour later, you talk for approximately one minute with someone who gives you a number and asks you to be seated (another line). When your number is called, it takes about ten to fifteen minutes of paperwork. By the time you have completed the process (sans passport, which we made another appointment to pick up), you have spent less than 20 minutes interacting with an official and more than 2 hours waiting.

Lots of parents had littles in tow. Poor babies, stuck indoors, waiting (curiously, I saw no parents pull out books or toys). One young mama seated next to me had a daughter of about three and an eight-month-old son. The daughter quietly entertained herself (remarkable, as my boys for sure would have made a scene). Mama dandled the baby in her lap.

Baby made eye contact. I smiled and he cautiously, then fully, smiled back. He looked away, and when he again turned to me and I smiled, he beamed. He extended his little fingers and I gave him my pointer finger to grasp. He gurgled gleefully. We played this game repeatedly.

Later, another mama sat next to me with a slightly older (maybe thirteen to fifteen months?) curly haired little girl. This darling was not afraid to make her voice heard! She squawked for joy as she stared intently into my eyes.

Another baby peeked over her mama’s shoulder at her sisters seated in the row behind her. She quietly cooed at them and squinted her entire face with her smile. She looked distressed when they looked away and delighted when they gave her attention.

While Q stared intently at his phone, I took pleasure in baby-watching. At least they made the inching minutes pass more enjoyably than similarly staring at my phone (let’s be honest: I did some of that, too).

It was easy to “chat” with the babies. I made a little effort to engage with the first mama, but she barely responded. She smiled but didn’t make eye contact. She answered my question without elaboration (hence, I know her son was eight months old).

We should learn from the babies. These healthy and well-loved babies didn’t hesitate to make eye contact, smile, and talk in their way. They trusted in the goodness of those around them. They wanted to see and be seen.

Why do we lose that openness? Why do teens and adults prefer to stare down, or away, engaging with no one and keeping their thoughts to themselves?

How might life be more fun and the world a better place if we looked at one another with the unsuspicious joy of an infant who has just learned to smile?