Bloom Your Beauty

Between the seasonally-grassy yard and the narrow porch walkway facing our NorCal single-story ranch-style home we have a border of three white floribunda rose bushes, Valentine’s Day gifts from my Guy many years ago, that bloom May through November, spring through fall.

Every summer, as blooms explode among the greenery, I commit to bi-weekly dead-heading; every summer I fail and trim them back only once a week, often less. I believe if I had more discipline I could keep them from getting leggy and they might fill out and produce more.

However, by the time I remember that my sweet roses require attention, often they have grown taller than my head, some of them top the roof line, and many sky-high branches hold handfuls of buds. I’m a sucker for rose buds; no matter how tall and spindly the bush becomes, I will not cannot trim back rose buds. I have to wait for them to bloom, then wither, before I reach for my pruning shears.

The other day I glanced out the kitchen window and gasped: a watermelon pink rose had bloomed on one of the reaching-for-the-(finally blue again)-sky canes, with an equally pink bud next to it. Pinker than pink roses on my white rose bush, standing up tall as if to demand my admiration. Did the Queen of Hearts arrive in the night with a step stool to carefully apply nail polish?

I know it happens sometimes, probably something to do with pollination. And these white roses have had a rebellious pink streak for a while, some of them pinkish-white in bud still bloom snow white while others bloom mostly white with a single pink streak, like a blonde teenager who dyes a neon stripe into her shoulder-length hair. Prettier than that, though, as natural variations outshine our mimicry.

As much as I adore our white roses, I am grateful for these pink surprises. They stand out. They delight me and make me laugh. They remind me to take care of the plants my husband purchased and dug into the ground.

They also remind me to bloom my own beauty, my own Siv-style of watermelon pink on a white rose bush. I don’t have to be like anyone but myself.

Bloom your beauty, friend. Be you, your one-and-only glorious self. The world needs what you have to offer. You don’t have to fit in. Cast off whatever holds you back, including your fear. The spotlight is yours and we’re waiting to cheer you on.

Challenging the Challenge: Why I Passed on the #challengeaccepted

When Instagram began to fill up with black-and-white photos of women tagged #challengeaccepted, I googled it. The lead article mentioned some female country singers promoting natural beauty – no makeup/hair, no special lighting or filters, no glam, just women being themselves. Women supporting women being real women.

But that wasn’t what came across my Instagram feed. Instead, I saw superstars coiffed and posed. Even among friends, I’ve seen very few “just being me” photos. Oh sure, I’ve smiled back at the great smiles on faces of people I know and love. But really, why would anyone risk a natural shot when the # had morphed into something glamorous?

People simply follow suit; my friend posts a B/W selfie and challenges me, I’ll just do the same. Right? Except I didn’t.

When my friend challenged me, I passed. Good friend that she is, she asked why. I am all for women supporting women, but how do B/W selfies support women, exactly?

On the surface, the words sound right. Women should support women. We should challenge each other to grow, to be and do more, at times to do less in order to care for ourselves and others more. On the surface, there is certainly nothing wrong with women posting beautiful pictures of themselves – one of the hallmarks of social media, obviously.

But just as selfies are superficial, I’m digging down below the surface to clarify two things bugging me: inclusion/exclusion and competition/comparison. “Supporting women” means challenging them to post a selfie, and then the selfies themselves become an online beauty pageant? C’mon, ladies, we all know that we do and can do more to support one another in meaningful ways.

Playing tourist with the Strong Girl statue in NYC

Going way back, it reminds me of slam books in elementary school, handmade books with questions like, “Who is the nicest person in our grade?” or “Who is the cutest boy in our class?” You felt a secret thrill if a friend passed you their book and you hurriedly scanned the pages for your name scribbled there. You felt great – or, more likely, not – if you found it.

Our teachers had good reason to confiscate and trash those books: they tended to salute those already on top while confirming for the rest of us that we were as gross as the dried up chewing gum stuck to the bottom of our desks.

Another google search turned up indications that the # might be related to interpretations of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s powerful rant against the sexist comments made to her on the Capitol steps (talk about a strong woman; now she’s inspiring!); or a years-old cancer awareness campaign (that makes no sense); or a Turkish campaign against femicide (more logical if yet ineffective).

The friend who challenged me was herself challenged by someone who is “competition” in her professional field. However, that challenge was intended as encouragement that they are both members in a professional community with a common goal. My friend also recognized that, as it’s not her typical style to post pictures of herself, posting a self-portrait was an actual challenge nudging her beyond her comfort zone (okay, that helps; I relate). And, as photographers, showcasing their skills is also a professional move.

Still, I’d rather see real women being themselves. I’d rather see women doing what they love, being strong, achieving or learning something, engaged in a favorite hobby, taking risks to grow. I’d love to see action shots that will inspire my own action. I’d rather see women truly challenging, supporting, and inspiring women. Wouldn’t you?

In the spirit of women supporting women, please check out the links below:
This may be one of the best #challengeaccepted photos I’ve seen – she’s doing something active, demonstrating her strength and sense of adventure; plus, she writes some stellar words about women supporting women.
And my friend who challenged me and then listened, my favorite creative collaborator has inspired me yet again this summer by redoing her beautiful website to showcase her immense talents.

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Sprinkle Kindness Everywhere

Someone left a rock dead center on the sign-in counter at the gym. Painted white with black letters reading “Sprinkle Kindness Everywhere” amidst colorful polka dots, it’s so out of place it caught my attention.

It reminded me of painted rocks I saw while on vacation in Pacific Grove. Someone(s) had painted stones to resemble little ladybugs and dotted them along the walking trail above the seaside cliffs. Some people must have taken stones but, like me, others chose to leave them to delight other passersby. Another house had a rock garden out front with whimsical painted stones strewn here and there which made me smile each time I passed.

I read: “The Venetians conceived the idea: beauty reinforces the good of society” (from Women in Sunlight, Frances Mayes).

We need beauty. We need whimsy. We need kindness.

The creation of beauty enhances the lives of creator and viewer. Random acts of kindness feel good to give and receive. Beauty and kindness, delightfully unexpected and absolutely necessary, make us better people. Make us a healthier society.

Back at the gym, I caught a headline on the morning news: “Hate in America.” It turns my stomach, so much hate.

Let’s focus on sprinkling kindness instead.

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.

When One Word Won’t Cut It

My One Word for 2015 was a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty. It required action on my part (put) and a goal (beauty).

In 2016, I chose Create, which led to a series of connections and blog posts on creativity from various creative friends, many of whom stretched to embrace the creativity I recognized in them.

In 2017, I decided I wasn’t done with Create, so I circled re:create recess, focusing on the connection between creativity and play. Unintentionally, I happened on the reality that recreation often involves taking things apart, stripping down before putting back together, and that can be (was) painful.

That led me to Connect in 2018, a word I hoped would restore some joy to my life and yet, at the end of 2018 I felt less connected than ever. At least, differently connected.

Two discouraging years in a row had me carefully pondering the word I’d choose to guide me through 2019.

Yes and… has been a helpful motivator to get beyond my comfort zone. This year, along with Connect, it led me to an eye-opening and life-giving retreat I might not otherwise have attended. But boundaries are important, and I suspect I will continue to need to practice saying No this year, so Yes and…//No has been a contender.

Yonder caught my imagination right at the 2018/2019 transition, that I can’t move forward if I keep looking backward. Or Forward, but Yonder holds more appeal as an unusual term.

I’m still drawn to Beauty and Create, and to their interplay. Play could be fun, as could Happiness, but neither hits the right note on their own. Hope and Delight have shown up, too, reminding me of the optimist I have been and would like to rediscover. And Brave. Yesterday I heard myself say, “I braved up and…” I know that’s not correct usage, yet that’s the joy of language; it felt good to make it a verb for something I’d done that felt intimidating but turned out well.

So I’ve decided to take on a few words, to play with as I need them. I suspect Create will be their ringleader as I Create Happiness (January’s focus) or Create Connection (February?), for example. And I’m looking forward to seeing which words crystallize something I haven’t yet discovered. Hmm, come to think of it, Discover or Adventure might need to be on the list as well!

Smile Like You Mean It

In the course of running our weekend errands, Guy and I stopped for Chipotle burritos (yum!). Between bites, he looked at me thoughtfully and asked, “What percentage of women do you think wear makeup every day?”

Huh?

I looked up at the people waiting in line for food. Three women in a row appeared to wear no makeup. Noticing them had prompted his question. But from where I was seated, I observed another three women in line, spread out, who wore makeup. So the makeup to makeup-less took an even split.

Turns out, that might be about right. A Google search turned up a study done at the end of 2011 by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Renfrew Center Foundation. They found that nearly half of U.S. women have negative feelings about their face when they don’t wear makeup. Sixteen percent said they feel “unattractive” when bare-faced; fourteen percent felt self-conscious and another fourteen percent described feeling “naked” without makeup. Of those surveyed, one-quarter began wearing makeup around age thirteen.

I thought about my own approach to makeup. I wear it most days, especially if I’m going to work or out socially. I feel more presentable, put-together, confident. At home or around the neighborhood, I don’t bother. And with age, I’m more inclined to run errands with just some moisturizer and lip gloss. Maybe that’s counter intuitive… As my skin ages, maybe I should feel the need to cover its imperfections. On the other hand, maybe the wisdom of age allows me to care less what the grocery checker thinks of my middle-aged skin.

True to statistics, I began wearing makeup regularly in junior high school, as did most of my friends. Then again, as I told my husband, I recall clear as day a church program when I was in elementary school. A room filled with six to twelve-year-old girls taught by a handful of middle-aged women. The moral of that day’s lesson? “If the barn needs painting, by all means, paint it!”

Can you imagine? Under the guise of raising good, God-fearing young women, these babies were taught that our sweet, young faces were akin to barns. And those barns needed some cover-up, stat.

I am so grateful that, at least to some degree, society has moved on. That body-positivity is a thing, and that we are learning to love and care for our physical selves. Not to neglect the body nor to worship it, but to care for it because it is a good gift.

I carried that conversation throughout the day as I interacted with women and men, young and old, attractive and, honestly, less so. And again I became convinced: a smile does everything for our appearance. I have—and so have you—met many physically beautiful people who wear on their face the discontent of their hearts, and they become less attractive as a result.

Yes, I wear makeup most days. But I also smile. And I have watched as the smile on my face breaks through barriers of discomfort or formality. I have witnessed a smile create a bridge between us. I have felt the warmth shared smiles can create.

Whether or not I happen to be wearing makeup when we meet (likely, I will be), I do hope you’ll find me smiling. And I hope you’ll smile back.

2018 Word: Connect

I first chose a word to guide my year in 2015. More accurately, I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty. It required intention, getting up and going out in pursuit of beautiful occasions with beautiful people. So different from any resolution I’d tried before, it changed the way I moved through my days which changed my weeks, months, year.

In 2016, I chose create as my word, and mostly it led to a lovely guest blog series on how others are involved in acts of creativity. I curated, (lightly) edited, and shared guest posts, while dabbling in my own creativity.

Sensing that I had not done justice to my 2016 word, I vowed to keep at it in 2017 with re:create, a play on words, meaning to continue creating with an eye toward playfulness.

But 2017 wasn’t playing around. Sure, I re-created myself and my relationships in various contexts, with more mess and tenderness than anticipated. I played less and hurt more. I turned inward. When I did reach out I did so with one friend at a time. Fewer parties, more quiet conversations.

Over a pre-holidays lunch, a friend asked: “With all this [fill in the blank with your own yuck] going on, how do you continue to connect?”

There it was: Connect.

We need healthy connection—with families, friends, neighbors, coworkers. But we can also connect with ourselves. With God. With beauty, creativity, play. With our faith and our values. With our bodies. With our neighborhoods, communities, country, and world. With a cause, passion project, volunteer opportunity.

Some might say that to be fully alive is to connect in meaningful ways with ourselves, others, and the world.

How do you connect? Or, with whom and in what ways would you like to grow your connections?

If you would like to write a 2018 guest post, post a comment and I’ll send you an email with the details. Let’s connect, shall we?

Comfort in Creation

Today’s post comes from a beautiful person who creates beautiful art. English is not her first language, but the way she uses the language strikes me as poetic. Here she writes about the healing power of nature, and I feel as if we are meandering together along a path through the woods.

re:create recess #20: Michelle Prinz

re:create recess
A refreshment for the soul by means of relaxation with a sizable dose of enjoyment.
Reenacting memories of a pleasant nature, unwinding to a state of bliss.
Performing an act to comfort the surrounding world.

Again and again in times of weariness and exhaustion, the natural world that created me leads me back to it.

It is a time to rejuvenate and feel acceptance by restoring one’s self-worth in the creation enveloping us.
Ideally this essential endeavor will show us an awareness of his purpose,

namely, to put our universal body into a state of bliss by finding comfort in His creation.

Recreation spruces up mind and soul.
This has always meant to me being in a scape wide open, be it rugged or smooth, where I can joyfully climb or meander and feel the universal self, down to the bone.
In this landscape I always find a smaller or larger oasis offering shelter and protection.

This environment is without limit, filled with opportunities to find caressing solitude and to reflect on life’s gift.
It certainly will lead to a less worrisome load we choose to carry as our yolk.

This feeling of our body and soul against the bare elements—in all their freshness and decay—keeps me growing fonder of the life given to me.
Wouldn’t this force show us how much we are part of his works and feeling the balance of his waves…?

Nature’s gift, no matter how barren it seems, gives us the cup to replenish and recreate ourselves. Our time for recess in comforting solitude seems of the essence.

I can only imagine that everyone under the sun, at least once, gets to grasp the everlasting “lifeline” that beats our hearts and calms our souls.

Retreat
Realign
Replenish
Rejuvenate

Michelle Prinz is a native of Munich and has lived in the SF Bay Area since the early 80s. After her education in Art & Design, she also gained experience in Western Bookbinding and the Restoration of Paintings before earning a BFA in Illustration.

She has worked on logos, posters, spot illustrations and was honored to create images for a documentary about The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.

 

“I am so grateful to my sister in Christ for giving me the chance to recreate time out. I began retracing times spent with family outside of home. I realized how my father had a big role in offering us time to appreciate new environments, to discover our sense of rest and play outdoors. No road was too tiny or too winding for him to eventually find us a new path that gave us a chance to also find ourselves.

This post is dedicated to and in memory of my Papa Kurt. You see him here in his mid-80’s, joyfully stomping on the local redwood trails.”

The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Thankful Thursday – Fall Blooms

About this time six years ago, a few weeks into Tween’s second grade year, his teacher found me admiring bulletin boards in the breezeway.

She said, “Hey, can you give me a tip? Tween doesn’t seem to realize he’s in school.”

I immediately replied, “Oh, give him some time. He’ll realize it’s no longer summer by, let’s say, Thanksgiving.”

I wasn’t joking, but let’s all take a quick moment to imagine her dramatic eye roll…

(In my defense, c’mon, this is California! With the amazing weather, he was in the pool weekends and after school until Halloween…!)

After I’d spoken the words aloud, I realized their truth deep in my being: not only does Tween transition slowly, but our whole family stinks at transitions.

You may see us going through the motions. We may be in the right place at (mostly) the right times, getting things done. But that doesn’t mean we’re organized, on top of things, present to the moment. We may–or may not–be any of those things, depending on the hour, day, week, minute…

Six years and so many transitions post-epiphany, you’d think we’d know to anticipate our bad transitions. You’d think wrong, my friend. Oh no, every time, whatever season, we find ourselves once again thigh-deep in the muck, repeating for the umpteenth time: “Oh, yah, transitions…”

And again, and again, and painful as each one of us has to come to our own conclusions about how we individually and as a family are weathering the current storm.

Locally and globally, we have had a weird-weather fall. In NorCal, we’ve had record-breaking heat (115 should not happen here!), followed by mellow days, then more heat with thunder and lightening storms, now wind and my allergies are threatening to do me in. Still, I’ll take it over the storms that hit Houston, the Caribbean and Florida, or the earthquake in Mexico.

Then, this:

These fantastic flowers burst forth in my front yard. The pink one is the size of a face!

My soul stills in wonder at their beauty, and I remember that all things bloom in their time, in their season.

Including me, us, this family.

Due to date miscommunication-confusion, a friend showed up when I wasn’t at home. She left flowers. Cut flowers from plants I’d purchased for her, that she planted, that continue to thrive. The gift keeps on giving, flowers and friendship keep blooming.

Nine days ago I noticed my gratitude journal, forlornly forgotten in this transition-season; I jotted some thanksgivings, and promptly forgot it again. Today I tucked in a print-out of a poem, shared by a friend and meaningful in this time. I will add more personal items tonight. I need gratitude, especially now when transition makes discipline difficult.

Banksy recently posted on Twitter: “The only thing making you unhappy are your own thoughts. Change them.”

And with our dear St. Anne and the communion of saints we pray: Help, Thanks, Wow!

Any one of us might point to demanding circumstances, taxing days and long hard nights, excuses all–many understandably so!–for being unhappy. Thanks changes our thoughts. It keeps us in the now, present to the moment whatever the feels it holds, and gently/forcefully unfolds in time an as-necessary different perspective.

Let’s give thanks for the season, for its unfolding, its blooming, for the unpredictable beauty here and yet-coming.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin