Monday, January 16, 2017

More to Learn

I was hanging out with two of my girls the other night trying to figure out what to watch when, after a few lousy starts on Netflix, we all agreed upon Planet Earth. And I’m so glad we did. I’ve seen glimpses of the show before, but not from start to finish and I have to tell you…it’s magnificent. The creative camera angles. The descriptive narrator. Stories unfolding all around us. And we’re mainly unaware.

That’s the part that really got to me—how much exists that we’re generally oblivious to. It struck me that this is true in every category of life. If we adopt this perspective with relationships, to learning as a whole, if we embrace a humble, open-minded approach, then we might be surprised by our findings.

Watching a single episode of Planet Earth stretched the way I think about the term expert. Our planet has been graced with some wonderfully intelligent people, folks who fought for change (nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and individuals who’ve come up with ingenious cures and inventions.

But I’m encouraged to know there is so much more out there to be done. So much more to learn—to fight for. This reality could easily feel daunting, discouraging, or even frightening. (Have you seen some of the creatures that inhabit the bottom of our oceans?) I choose to think of it as exciting. Because I understand I’m a part of this discovery process.

And so are you.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Identifiable



You see this picture and instantly your mind leaps to Starbucks. Perhaps your next thoughts are more than just thoughts, they’re your frequent orders. Or associations. Pumpkin spice. Hope my chair is free. Laughing with a friend. God Bless caffeine. You get my point. You see one partial image and your mind goes places.

This happens with books. Without studying the cover, after reading the first few pages, I can often tell if I’ve read another book by the same author. I should partake in one of those blindfold challenges to test this claim. I’m instantly aware if I have a Jodi Picoult book in my hands or a Gillian Flynn. Author of the bestselling YA novel, SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson has one of the strongest, most identifiable voices in the industry.

How can I identify an author by only reading a few pages or paragraphs even? Because any author who’s spent time on their craft has cultivated their voice. Before you roll your eyes and get wigged out by a word that feels as definable as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, take a deep breath. You get more about voice than you give yourself credit for.

Take the Starbucks logo. It’s green and white. There’s a star on top of some wavy-haired mermaid’s head. Crazy recognizable. Even when it’s partially covered. It doesn’t hurt that Starbucks has slowly been planning world domination. (I laugh because when I lived in Seattle there really was a Starbucks on one corner and another directly across the street.)

Author’s leave these kind of hints—these watermarks—in their novels as well. Their words are colored by a specific manner of punctuation and language pattern. Personal experience seeps through each sentence.

I’ve heard mentoring authors coach aspiring writers by telling them to copy a respected author’s voice until they grow comfortable with their own. I’ve never been a huge fan of this advice. Why not? Because I happen to believe a significant piece of finding your voice has to do with an individual’s unique experience. I also think it’s a way to try to hop on a fast track when the real skill of mastering voice comes with time and years of putting in the work. I’d reword this advice instead to encourage writers to read copiously, to study their favorite authors and pay attention to what defines their voice, then to invest the time and energy into getting words down on the page in order to stir the embers of their own voice. There are fires waiting to be stoked.


Here’s a great article on voice I read recently.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Christmas to Me

You know those ugly dog contests? Two months ago, my kitchen could have won one of those awards—for kitchens. I’d gotten to the point I wasn’t sure I could duct tape the dishwasher closed one more day. So, you bet your bottom dollar I celebrated when the renovations for our kitchen wrapped up late last week.



And now I'm tempted to make a bed on the floor and live there.

More Before pictures...


I hated the cabinet doors so much, one day while my husband was away on a business trip, I ripped them off and painted them. I do things like this. My husband loves me still.




The pulls for the lights hung down so far that you hit your head every time you walked by them. And that lower corner cabinet didn't budge. So many things did nothing to endear me to that old kitchen.

And now more of the After pictures...


I can't stop staring at the backsplash!


And the lights make me smile.


The space has opened up entirely. It feels so much bigger. So much more room to cook &


to dance! 
(Caught my youngest doing just that last night.)

Because...


*Meet you back here in a few weeks. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2016

When a Book Inhabits


I’ve been spoiled by reading some great books lately. I’m reading a particular one slowly. I want it to last. I’m cherishing the messages within.

In WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR, Dr. Paul Kalanithi faces his own mortality, after wrestling with conceptualizing this in his own patients for years. The book description states, “One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.”

I find I gravitate toward books where the main character or memoirist faces a challenge that specifically presses into an area where they’ve grown accustomed to feeling like an expert or somehow contented. Reading a book like this becomes a lesson for me, grasping how people react when their lives are radically stretched, when the comfortable becomes severely uncomfortable. I suppose it cycles back to my fascination with humankind and resilience.

I’ll openly admit I think about life and death matters somewhat frequently. I can’t say if this is a result of my older sister being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in her late teens or if I’m just wired to think deep about such matters.

It’s lines like the following in WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR that burrow beneath the minutiae of buying groceries and crossing off lists. “There is a moment, a cusp when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”

And this: “Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer this question: ‘What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?’”

Some books are quickly forgotten. Then there are those that inhabit us, they stay with us forever, influencing how we think and the way we view the world. WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR has nested inside me.


Have you read a noteworthy book that’s inhabited you lately?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Feeling Festive



We’re all deer souls around here. Finally got our tree up. 

Youngest sprinted the end of a local Santa’s Run this past weekend. She was Blitzen

Sneaking peeks in the backyard, hoping to spy our resident Vixen (we really do have a female fox in the neighborhood). 

Oldest has been rehearsing for a special Christmas performance at a professional hockey game. She’s a solid Dancer

Middle child still crushin’ on Bieber. Ha, what a Prancer

Some Christmas presents have been purchased. I’m all Cupid like that. Some mailed. Dasher on the fly. 

Making lists and checking them twice. Another Prancer in da house. 

And someday . . . someday our kitchen renovation will be complete. Then we’ll go nuts with Comet.

Whew. All Donner.

But do you recall . . . 



Monday, November 28, 2016

Onward. Upward. Through.


One of my mom’s closest friends passed away this past weekend. As I digested this tragic news, I got
to thinking about my time here. And then, without warning, the hard questions infiltrated . . . as they have a habit of doing in moments like this.

I asked myself if I’m living fully.

Am I allowing fear to stop me from pursuing a dream?

Have I grown numb to living life on autopilot?

Am I putting relationships first?

Why do I keep fighting against thoughts that I know aren’t based in truth?

How much time have I wasted clinging to shame, regret, jealousy, and anger?

What’s stopping me?

And that’s where the questions slammed into a roadblock. What isn’t stopping me feels like a more fitting question to ask. Excuses. Past mistakes. Broken relationships. Bruises and scars. Fear of failure. The weight of other’s anger. Distractions. Insecurity and doubt. Mind traps—lies I’ve chosen to believe.

Futile.

There are castles to see, waters to sail, books to be written, girls to raise, a husband to dance with, a dog to walk, family and friends to embrace, people to inspire. There’s a whole world out there for me to engage with.

I have so much more life to live. I’d rather fight through the mire, than sit idly by.

It’s worth it to ask the hard questions in order to squeeze the most out of this short time we’re allotted here.


Onward. Upward. Through.

Monday, November 21, 2016

8 Tips to Help You Thrive through the Holidays


If you’re like me you want to do more than simply survive the holidays. You want to make special
memories and meet the New Year with energy and zeal for life. Most of us know, however, the holidays can suck the life out of us if we’re not mindful and intentional.

I’m offering a few tips that have helped me thrive through this particular busy season in the past. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Identify Your Safe People

Ah. The splendor of family together. Great Uncle Ben with his inappropriate jokes. Or Cousin Sandra who spends the entire Thanksgiving meal talking about how poorly turkeys are treated. Then, of course there are the real doozies. Dad with his hypercritical opinion about your new boyfriend or your sister-in-law with her passive aggressive way of telling you she hates you (eh-hem, your haircut). Ah . . . family. Gotta love ‘em. That may be so, it really helps to know who (whether in the family circle or not) you can consider your “safe” people. Friends or that super close sister you can call up or huddle together with as they remind us we can do this, only twenty-four more hours. Safe people are the ones you trust. They uplift and encourage. You don’t feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them or cringe whenever they open their mouths.

Once you figure out who at least one safe person is in your life, thank them, then let them know you might be reaching out over the holidays.

Move Your Body

Nothing simmers my stress level quite like a long walk (even in the cold). Get outside. Participate in a spontaneous dance party. Get your lungs pumping and your arms flailing. Check out how Cousin Sandra does the whip and ney ney.

How You Treat Others Stays with Them Longer than the Gifts You Give

The Fitbit will break. Those gorgeous dishes you’ve admired for months will all be chipped in three years. The snow blower will be given to a neighbor when you learn you’re moving to Dallas. Gifts are fun to give and get, but no gift will ever compare to consistent and selfless love. Memories of kindness live on forever.

Lower Your Expectations

Whenever I say this I realize it sounds pessimistic. My intention is coming from the exact opposite place. When we go into a situation expecting everything to go perfectly our hope is quickly dashed at the slightest insult or disappointment. However, if we go in knowing there will be moments of awkwardness and pangs of discomfort, we may find we’re pleasantly surprised at the end of the day.

Let Go Quickly

Piggybacking off the last point, those insults and disappointments are likely to come. We’re all flawed humans with a lot on our plates and even more on our minds. We come in to family settings with fears, and secrets, jealousies, and a lot of history dragged behind us in sacks far bigger than Santa’s pack. This is true for all of us. The more we encounter one another with this sense of understanding and grace, the quicker we might be able to let the little things go.

Brainstorm Non-Explosive Topics

I dare you look up after the Thanksgiving prayer and ask everyone who they voted for. Or you could light an explosive in the middle of the table if that’s easier. Be mindful that certain topics are bound to set certain individuals off. Remember those Santa packs of fear and secrets we all dragged in? Think about who you’re with and what’s likely to slit a huge tear down the fabric of those packs. You shouldn’t feel like you need to steer clear of real conversation, only consider refraining from topics that really should come with warning labels.

Shorten Your To-Do List

Some years I’ve sent Christmas cards. Others I haven’t. No apologies or explanations. I get to what I get to. I assume the same for others and try not to get offended easily. We’re all slammed. Fight stress by deciding right now that you’ll cut three or four things off your usual to-do list. You’ll notice it won’t kill anyone and it may even save you a little of your sanity in the process.

Take Time Alone to Reflect

I’m about to tell you something that might shock you. I’m an introvert. Yep, it’s true. I’m also a learned-extrovert. But my real energy and restoration comes from time alone, moments spent in reflection, writing at my computer, and prayer. This is how I come back to myself when I’m peopled out. The holidays are a prime time to get peopled out fast. Safeguard your propensity to stress by stealing a few minutes away by yourself. To think. To plan. To remind yourself there are only twenty-four hours left with these crazy people. ;-) Who knows . . . they might be hiding out in the bathroom saying the exact same thing.


Happy Thanksgiving!