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.

Books: May-June 2019

Notes on the recent round-up…

100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self by Annie F. Downs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book in December on Aarti Sequiera’s IG feed (one of my fav Food Network Stars) but couldn’t get it in time to start on Jan 1. Still, it was the right book at the right time. Simple writing and not always applicable (I’ve been married for a long time, while Downs is still hopeful she’ll meet the right guy), but still, the challenge to be brave is the same no matter what individuals face on any given day. I heard myself using brave as a verb: “I braved up today and…” and God used it to help me make a courageous decision I’d put off for too long. On to new adventures which will require even more bravery!

“…hold on until the Lord makes it really clear that you’re supposed to let go. Ask God. Ask people you trust. Ask your own heart. But while you are listening, persevere, and lean toward holding on until God and other people make it really clear that you’re supposed to go” p130.

“I hope you’ve already taken that first step because I am sure, like I’ve rarely been so sure of anything before, that your people are waiting and your God is watching with expectancy for you to see where your map is going to take you” p231.

Outer Order, Inner CalmOuter Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Happiness Project and thought this would be similar. Not. It’s a ton of short practical tips for decluttering, creating order, and achieving inner calm. She admits throughout that some tips will work for some people and not others since we all have different triggers and tolerance levels. For my taste, it was almost too much. Her Top Ten Tips were helpful, but I encountered most of those in her first book.

UnshelteredUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is that the last few words of each chapter also serve as the title for the following chapter, a neat literary trick.

Such a smart writer, Kingsolver took on so much in this book that at times it felt tedious. The house falling down around the characters stands as metaphor for our world cracking from the havoc we’ve wreaked on it as well as our country under the dubious leadership of a Pied Piper’s false promises. Evolution requires conflict, as do ideological debates, and evolution and debate both play central roles in this book. Shocking how, in some cases, characters can hold staunchly to their false beliefs despite truth like the nose on their face, while in other cases two seemingly opposite views can be equally accurate depending on perspective.

In these last few years I have despaired for the house crumbling around us. I have felt fear and loneliness, anger and frustration for the division in our country that lies in people with whom we at least occasionally share a roof. In the end, I think Kingsolver means to leave us with hope. The walls are, indeed, crumbling. We may very well soon find ourselves unsheltered. We feel ourselves likely to die, yet we might yet discover the warmth of the sun.

“‘No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.’
“‘Without shelter, we stand in daylight.’
“‘Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.'” (90)

“‘My mother used to say when God slams a door on you, he opens a window.’
“Tig gave this two seconds of respectful consideration before rejecting it. ‘No, that’s not the same. I’m saying when God slams a door on you it’s probably a shitstorm. You’ve going to end up in rubble. But it’s okay because without all that crap overhead, you’re standing in the daylight.’
“‘Without a roof over your head, it kind of feels like you might die.’
“‘Yeah, but you might not. For sure you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.'” (415)

“Unsheltered, I live in daylight. And like the wandering bird I rest in thee.” (453)

The EditorThe Editor by Steven Rowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved Lily & the Octopus, I was excited to discover this on our library shelves and even more so to dive headlong into its pages. Rowley has an entertaining voice as a writer, original, creative, page-turning. In this novel, he presents us with a loving portrait of Jacqueline Onassis as an editor for a discouraged and lost first-time novelist. This is a beautiful book about self-discovery and the people who participate in shaping us to become better versions of ourselves.

“‘Saudade. It’s a word my grandmother used to say when she was missing home.’ Daniel’s grandmother was born in Brazil, and so every now and again some Portuguese pops up in conversation.
“‘What does it mean?’
“‘Oh. It doesn’t have an English translation….Not a direct translation, anyhow….It’s like a nostalgia or melancholy, but more than that. With a recognition that the something we’re longing for hasn’t happened, or isn’t returning. Or maybe never was.'” (199)

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book for the title, having no idea that it’s the story of how Harris learned to meditate. As a Christian, I call meditation “prayer” and the practice is a little different. I stuck with the book because all truth is God’s truth and I can always learn to be more compassionate, gentler with myself and the world, and–to the title–happier.

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a magical tale, set in a Thames-side pub frequented by storytellers and story-lovers who become players and tellers both in another magical tale.

“They were collectors of words the same way so many of the gravel diggers were collectors of fossils. They kept an ear constantly alert for them, the rare, the unusual, the unique.” 31

“‘I saw her myself, I did. She ran down to the boathouse quick as could be, and when she come out in her rowing boat, the little old one of hers, off she went, haring up the river…I never seen a boat move like it.’
“‘Haring up the river?’ asked a farmhand.
“‘Aye, and just a little slip of a girl too! You wouldn’t think a woman could row so fast.’
“‘But…”haring,” you say?’
“‘That’s right. Quick as a hare, it means.’
“‘I know what it means, all right. But you can’t say she was “haring up the river.”‘
“‘Whyever not?’
“‘Have you ever seen a hare rowing a boat?’
“There was a burst of laughter that bewildered the gardener and made him flustered. ‘A hare in a boat? Don’t be daft!’
“‘That’s why you can’t say “she went haring up the river.” If a hare can’t hare up a river, how can Mrs. Vaughan?'” 202-203

You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation UnstoppableYou Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable by Jen Sincero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! It’s not rocket science, but it gave me little shots of enthusiasm for my own life.

“…the excellent thing about success is that it always comes down to one simple thing: the decision to keep going until you’ve reached your goal.” 2

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as important to know exactly what you want to do with your life as it is to know what makes you feel good.” 39

“What comes out of your mouth comes into your life, so choose your words wisely.” 76

“Procrastination is just fear in the form of brakes, and fear is not the boss of you.” 125

“The Moment of Truth or Poof: when all our no-nonsense dedication to achieving our goals and all our excitement about the brand-new life we’re creating for ourselves either stays strong or goes poof…” 151

“Overwhelm is a mindset; it’s the choice to focus on everything all at once and stress yourself out. Instead, choose to take your life moment by moment and savor it…” 167

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' ClubJust the Funny Parts: … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scovell has made a consistent and interesting career in writing mostly for TV. This book was funny at times, but not as funny as I wanted it to be. She drops a lot of names because they mean something to her, and probably to others in the industry, but meant mostly nothing to me as a reader. I hung in there mainly because she occasionally drops some gems about how to hang in with the hard work of being a writer. It got better towards the end as she lives into her identity both as a woman and a writer and takes a stand on behalf of other women in male-dominated fields.

“Writing is not what you start. It’s not even what you finish. It’s what you start, finish, and put out there for the world to see. Sometimes we’re afraid to share our work because we know those twin jerks–criticism and rejection–are out there waiting to beat us up. Once the assault begins, there are three possible responses: (1) run away from the jerks; (2) defend yourself against the jerks; (3) assume the position and say, ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another.’ The third choice hurts like hell, but the jerks often have useful feedback.” 22

“It’s always better to like doing something that to be instantly good at it. If you’re successful but hate the process, you’ll stop doing it. If you suck, but the work intrigues you, you’ll keep at it and get better.” 45

“An episode, article, or book doesn’t flow out of a pen or keyboard fully formed. Each work is built concept by concept, beat by beat, word by word. It’s a process of discovery. You head down a path which leads to another and another and another until you hit a dead end. Then you backtrack to where you made a wrong turn and look for a better way through.
“When I write, I feel like an optometrist, constantly flipping between lenses and asking, “Is this better? Is this?’ Slowly, the work comes into focus.” 87

“…while work expands to fill the time, time expands to fill a mission.” 255

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.

Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

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?

 

Stay Human

Cautious of the time-sucking danger of social media, my Guy has intentionally cut back. A few months ago, though, he saw a post from a friend selling two three-day VIP tickets to BottleRock, a music festival in Napa. He immediately expressed interest, except the cost was a sad-but-immediate deal-breaker.

Someone who cares for us all witnessed the interaction and arranged to anonymously buy the tickets for us. I overheard Guy echoing our friend’s giddy enthusiasm when she called to share the news. Wide-eyed, I felt loved, plus a wee drop of trepidation–an extrovert and an introvert head to a huge venue with thousands-upon-thousands of people, and the introvert handles it…how?

On the arm of her Guy, of course. I love him, and he thrives on energetic crowds. This was a too-good-to-pass-opportunity. We said yes, with gratitude.

I spent the entire Memorial Day-after the concert weekend in my pj’s, tired and happy. We found friends we haven’t seen in too long. We made new friends. People shared drink tickets and food. We helped one another to good seating/standing, especially the shorter folks, and exchanged numbers to share pictures and, maybe, keep in touch.

We saw incredible artists, some whose music we knew, others we’d only heard about. Names became faces, and acts on a stage became artists to follow. It’s one thing to hear a song or several on the radio; it’s another thing altogether to see an artist at their craft. BottleRock was all about the artist, and we were there for it, in all meanings of that phrase.

Have you ever been to a silent disco? You put on headphones, tune to your DJ’s channel, and dance. Take off the headphones, and you witness a crowd jamming in relative silence. When more than one DJ spins on the same stage, you flip between stations–especially when you see, say, the red headphoned folks go crazy while you’re on a mellow blue jam… I feel hip in new ways (so. not. hip. Hah!).

Meandering through the masses–some of the best people-watching imaginable–we discovered art at every turn (including the art of delicious food/drink–yum!). Even better, we witnessed kindness, starting with our Good Samaritans who provided the tickets.

Our friend raved about Michael Franti: “He’s So Fun! Don’t miss him!” As we waited I casually chatted with a young woman next to me, incidentally the age of our older son, who confessed that she’d probably heard Franti “like, about 500 times? He’s the soundtrack of my childhood.” Which intrigued me: I must have heard his music, since her childhood and my son’s surely shared music?

Our friend was right–he’s so feel good, so positive. We made sure to see him twice! And of course we recognized his music. I bet you have, too, even if you don’t know his name.

A couple songs in to his VIP set, a boy about 10-years-old with Down Syndrome came on stage. Welcomed, amidst smiles and high fives and dance moves. They gave him the mic: he spoke, sang, danced. He took pictures with the crowd. I cried. I suspect Guy did, too.

Franti’s ethos: Stay Human. He stands for equality, all-abilities, kindness. Over and over, he invited children of different ages, abilities and colors to the stage and to the mic, to dance, to be themselves.

Before he introduced her, we noticed a female vocalist who had only half of her right arm. Franti had seen one of Victoria Canal’s Instagram stories, playing piano and singing with her angel voice, and invited her to Nashville to compose a song together. They spoke of being unlike anyone else they knew, bullied, and yet able to create space to be the heroes they and others need.

The things we think might keep us out of contention might be the very things that put us in the race. What we–or others–consider weakness might be exactly what we and others need.

Let’s stay human, friends. Let’s be kind. Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt. Let’s stop competing and start promoting others, rejoicing when anyone does well, knowing that as we come together, we can make the world a better place.