Gratitude

This has been a challenging week on a number of levels. When things turn difficult, I try to be mindful of the good in my life. After all, negativity breeds more negativity and it’s easy to become so focused on the bad that you can see nothing else. Gratitude is a key to happiness.

Here are some things I’m grateful for today:

1. It’s Friday and it’s a long weekend for some of us here in the US.

2. I have plans to see my cousin this weekend. Before starting my No Spend Challenge, I decided to give myself a budget for a movie and lunch out because I have been that excited to see the new Tom Hanks movie. We will walk in the sunshine, see the movie and have a bite somewhere.

3. I’m reading a really good book right now. A Man Called Ove is actually the basis for the movie I’m going to see. The curmudgeonly hero is quite relatable.

4. I spent last night doing fun chores including some decluttering and styling shelves with things I already owned. Decluttering doesn’t equate drudgery and can actually be fun!

5. Season three of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS began Sunday night. It’s a short season of just seven episodes but for those seven weeks I have a reason to look forward to Sunday night. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend starting with season one. It’s the best thing on tv right now.

6. I have a roof over my head and can afford to buy groceries. Many people are not so fortunate right now.

7. Adventure season is just around the corner and I think there will be some good ones this year.

8. Pictures are a return ticket to places and people we want to remember. The above picture is from a rainy Saturday in NYC. The below picture was sent to me by a cousin this week. That’s me with my parents in 1977. What an angry baby! Looks like I could have benefited from some gratitude way back then!

9. My cat likes me and has spent as much time with me as possible this week. He is a sweetheart.

This is not the full list but these are the highlights. What are you grateful for today?

Make A List

Lists are a great way to keep track of the things that are important to you. They help you know what to pick up at the store, which chores to do when, and what to pack for that trip.

Lists are also powerful tools for getting your life on the right track. If you’re struggling to declutter life, here’s one way lists can help you. It’s a three step process.

1. Make a list of the things that matter to you.

2. Make a list of the ways you spend your time.

3. Compare the two lists and adjust accordingly.

Keep repeating this process until the two match.

This sounds simple but can be a surprisingly difficult thing to navigate. I began working on this years ago when my volunteer activities began to feel like a full time job that cut into my mental peace.

You can use this strategy for helping to know what to keep when decluttering, how to spend your money, how to use your time, and what’s next in life.

Give it a whirl and see what you think. You may be surprised at how the values you live by stack up to the values you say you have.

It’s worth a shot, wouldn’t you agree?

People, Flowers And The Flaws We Share

Most of the spring flowers at Franklin Park are spent but there remain a few patches here and there. I scurried across the way to get a closer look at this cluster.

It looks nice enough from a distance. The colors remain vibrant and the flowers stand up straight.

But look a little closer. Most are starting to wilt and look a little rough around the edges. They will be gone in a matter of days.

It’s a natural process, the fading of spring bulbs. The petals will drop and the leaves will brown before dying back. These bulbs will lie dormant beneath the ground for the next three seasons before they begin to push through the earth into the sunshine where they will bloom, starting the process again.

Their lifecycle is ruled by the seasons. It’s an elegant, complex process that we take for granted.

I walked away a little disappointed but thinking about how much these flowers have in common with the average human.

The average person looks fine from a distance. They appear to move through their day, doing what they need to do and to be ok. It’s when you take a closer look and get to know them better that you notice the cracks in the veneer, the flaws.

Stick around very long and you’ll notice that almost every person has insecurities, quirks, anxieties and annoying habits they have developed through the seasons of their life.

We all are changed by what happens around us and by what happens to us. Sometimes we are made stronger, smarter, more resilient. Sometimes we are irreversibly damaged or broken.

These flaws are often harmless but can be destructive both internally and to other people around. We become tired, impatient, scared and vulnerable. We lash out, shut down or simply walk away.

While humans experience seasons of life the same as those spring flowers, we don’t have the luxury of receding into the ground to rest and recharge. We can recede into the darkness – both the literal of our homes and the figurative of our minds. Tragically, we tend to judge or worry when we see someone doing that.

If only we were more forgiving of ourselves and others as we cycle through difficult seasons or find ourselves stuck in a place that is unhealthy. I hate to say it but the flaws are often what make us interesting. Many have hard earned emotional scars, remnants of trauma that have helped shape us into who we are. As I grow older, I’m more conscious of my own and am more likely to own them now than ten years ago. I am proud of my resilience and that I have chosen this path.

If you are struggling for some reason, give yourself some grace. Don’t deny yourself something you want or a future you deserve because of your weaknesses. Weather this season, no matter how long it may be, allow your mind to rest, and trust that you’ll have the opportunity to grow again if you want to try.

Let’s face it. Life would be easier if we were flowers.

All You Have To Do

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Use yours wisely. Tomorrow is a gift, not presented to everyone.

Get out of your house. Do what makes you happy. Smile. Spend time with people who matter. Ignore the ones who don’t. Put down your phone. Look at clouds. Take deep breaths. Take a road trip. Relax in a hammock. Read the book. Eat the ice cream. Buy the dress. Do the thing. Whatever it is.

Just use your time well.

Notes From The Field

A walk in nature is good for your physical health but it’s equally important for your mental health. I especially like walking alone when I can allow the stream of my consciousness to flow at will.

Yesterday morning took me to my favorite local bike path. It starts in a state park, hugging the shore of a lake before veering off into a nearby town. It’s about six miles round trip.

I walked four but my mind wandered a million miles off path.

It was 73 degrees with a swift breeze that rustled the leaves and created waves across the lake. The path was sun dappled through the canopy in places while it positively beat down in others where no trees provide shelter. It made me sad to think of all the people who live in places with no trees.

Can you truly be happy without the magnificence of nature nearby? My friend Johnna lives in Wyoming and often sounds emotional when talking about how green Ohio is and how rare it is to see trees in the high plains where she has made her home.

That made me think about Johnna, how I miss my friend and how we need to get busy planning our fall western adventure. If I intend to visit all fifty states in this lifetime, I also need to get busy with those plans. There’s a huge swath of this country that I have not seen.

This reminded me of a recent conversation with a man who claimed to be an avid international traveler but who doesn’t believe there’s anything worth seeing in the United States. Maybe he would like to see Yellowstone but the rest is a boring waste.

I didn’t even have a response to that. Our nation is huge, the geography varied and the people who make it home have created magnificent places worthy of our time and attention. This is probably where I began humming “America the Beautiful” and reliving my first desert sunrise.

Most of all, I felt sorry for him. What a boring life it would be to find your own country passé and dull. Maybe I’m easily entertained but I have walked this same bike path for twenty years and continue to find wonderful changes in nature each day. I’m grateful for these small gifts.

This person clearly is not part of my tribe.

It was here that I found myself somewhere between summer and fall. It was only August 1 but cool in the shade and the locusts were noisily buzzing as leaves of all varieties swirled and drifted lazily in the breeze.

I couldn’t help but wonder what our fall will look like. It’s been a little lackluster the last few years as the high temperatures have caused the leaves to just dry up and fall before they can even change colors.

A world without fall seems unimaginable to me. What a glorious season where a bright blue sky provides a vibrant backdrop for the brilliant reds, yellows, oranges and browns along the hills. A light jacket will suffice and a cute scarf and hat will pull together any outfit. Accessories make the season, after all.

Cider and donuts will give you a sugar high and bonfire smoke drifts through the air most nights. It’s my favorite season and one that’s far too brief.

There’s a downed tree in the edge of the lake where you will often see a number of turtles sunning themselves. There were none yesterday but I recalled a story from earlier this week. It was about some boys who have devoted their summer to helping turtles cross a busy road. If you’re like me, your faith in humanity could use a little boost. This tale of kids volunteering to help these small creatures that can offer no payment in return is just what I needed. Click here to read it now.

Sadly, sometime in the last few days someone defaced my favorite rock at the park. Yes, I have a favorite rock and now it is covered in idiotic graffiti.

There were two family reunions underway by the time I left. A handful of people were cooking out, gliding along the lake in boats and standing along the shore with their fishing poles. There were shockingly few people on the bike path and I was glad for the solace.

I helped my parents prepare for a family reunion on Saturday. I am what they call an empath, meaning that I recognize people’s emotions better than most and have a bad habit of absorbing them as well. This makes many situations, particularly crowded ones, anxiety inducing.

So I needed this walk to help me recharge. By the time I got back to the car my mind felt much calmer and I was pleased that I had prioritized my own wellness with this walk.

We all need to do that sometimes. We deserve the break. After all, if we don’t make time to be healthy, we’ll be forced to make time to be sick later.

How This Story Ends

Last month I wrote about listening and comprehension. Telling that story reminded me of something I witnessed on vacation last year that could have turned deadly but seemed to end well.

It was listening and understanding that saved the day.

My adventure pal and I were enjoying breakfast at a Denver diner when I noticed her watching something over my shoulder and then suddenly heard raised voices.

There were two men arguing and a waitress trying to calm the situation.

To be more accurate, one man was refusing to wear a mask and the waitress was handling it when another man decided to step in and take charge. The dispute escalated quickly and the cops were called.

I hate to say it this way but these are relevant details to the story. One man was black. He refused to put on a mask while he waited inside for a carry-out order. I’m convinced that his issue wasn’t just about the mask.

The other man was white. After hearing some of the names he called the other guy, I’m convinced his issue wasn’t the mask either.

At one point, they both started taking off their shirts and yelling about taking it outside. The waitress was doing her best but she was small and these two large men were not listening to her words of reason.

We were finishing up our meal but felt trapped as the scuffle was happening near the door.

I didn’t think that it would get out of control but you never can tell these days. You don’t know what’s on the hearts and minds of the people around you and you certainly don’t know about strangers.

The waitress somehow took charge. She got the white guy to back off. She convinced the other man to sit at a table and began talking to him in a calm tone, explaining the mask rule.

The cops came. One black and one white. Both calm and respectful. The aggressor left. The other man maintained his seat at the table. He had some choice words to say to one of the cops about being a sell out.

They listened. They asked questions. They were respectful while remaining alert. These guys were clearly trained, well trained on how to deescalate a bad situation without using force.

They used those skills and brought the temperature back down to a manageable level.

Paramedics came and so did a clipboard toting woman who looked like a social worker.

I don’t know what this man’s real problem was or why it was manifesting itself in a petty argument over a mask. I hope that he got the help he needed and is doing better now.

I have turned this event over and over in my head. This all came in November, on the heels of a turbulent summer that informed us just how far we have not come in the realm of race relations.

In another city, with another person leading the response, this very bad situation could have turned lethal.

We paid our waitress and snuck out the door when it seemed safe to do so. There were adventures to be had and they didn’t need us rubbernecking when there was a man clearly under duress.

We stopped to snap a couple of pictures outside and then we saw it. Across the street, the most beautiful mural of all that we saw in a city that is known for incredible public art.

This stunning mural depicts George Floyd. This is the man whose violent death, whose desperate call for his mama, sparked protests, conversations, and we can hope – reform.

It was a magnificent moment of clarity on that cool November morning. I am grateful to those officers and to the others who responded to help this guy.

I am grateful to be telling you a story of success and potential rather than one of tragedy.

Listening. Communication. Respect. It made all the difference in how this story ends.