Bend Toward the Light

To start, I’d like to say that if it should ever seem like I’m telling you what to do as I write here in this space, such as maybe with that title up there and maybe towards the end of this, I want you to know that I’m not.  I am not at all telling YOU what to do.  I am, however, telling someone what to do, and that someone is ME!  Writing helps me wrangle and sort through all the thoughts and ideas that swirl around in my mind trying to catch my attention while I’m doing other things. When I put my thinking onto paper or the screen, sometimes I notice that a pep talk pops out.  Now I don’t know if you need a pep talk and I don’t wanna shove an advice column down your throat, but maybe if I tell you a little story and something I write sounds like something you might want to try, well then, best of luck, we’re in this thing together.

So, right before the new year, I went to the grocery store to pick up some, well,  groceries. And as I was walking to the checkout line, I passed the flower department.  There was a table full of little glass jars, and each one had a bulb sitting on top.  Thin white roots were hanging down from each bulb into some water and a few short green leaves had sprouted up out of each one.  I thought to myself that a growing plant might be a nice thing to have around the house as the new year began and the winter season kicked into high gear.  It could be a  little reminder of life and green while the world outside was gray and bleak.  So I bought one and placed it on my nightstand next to my bedroom window. I happily watched the thing grow over the next few days.  It sprouted buds and, as plants do, the little guy began to slowly bend itself toward the window, toward the sunlight, so that its leaves were curved a bit and leaned to one side.

One morning while I was sitting in my chair, the plant on the table next to me, as the sun was rising and beginning to shine through the blinds, I absently turned the jar around so that it’s leaves were now curving away from the window and then I said to the plant, quite out loud, “Go ahead now, bend yourself back to the light.”

Don’t you dare even judge me for talking to a plant!  Because it did exactly what I said.  Now we both know it wasn’t because I told it to, but because, that’s what plants do and it occurred to me that we can do the same thing.  We can turn ourselves toward the light, toward happiness, toward good things, toward joy and love. We can do it whenever we need to, whenever something comes along and spins us in the wrong direction. We can do it every day just for good measure.   And so, even though I wasn’t in dire need of a pep talk that morning, I was quite happy and content, but still, I spent some time making a little list of things that bring me to the good stuff — time with my friends and family, reading, running, cooking, hiking, riding my bike, gazing at the sky, yoga, meditating, doing kindness for another…just to name a few.

I recommend every day.  Every day think of that plant and give yourself a little reminder–YOU can bend yourself toward the light! Now go do it!

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I tried to recreate the bending for my students, however we are blessed with big classroom windows that let in lots of sun and so this plant grew straight and tall and bloomed right where it was.

I tried to recreate the bending for my students, however, we are blessed with big, wide classroom windows that let in lots of sun, and so this plant grew straight and tall and bloomed right where it was.  PS — That ‘You’ rock was from a little school kindness lesson, totally unrelated to this post, but it fits well, doesn’t it?

 

 

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Seeing the Sweet Stuff

“…and he realized that friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world.”

-Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

 

Sometimes I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about things I want to happen in my life, but for one reason or a million, just aren’t happening right now. When I get stuck in one of those times and I find myself focused on wanting and lack, I know I need to do something to shift my perspective. One thing that almost always creates that shift for me is writing a list of things I’m grateful for, things that ARE in my life right now. It might sound corny, but I’m telling you, it really works.

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The author Glennon Doyle Melton once wrote a blog post in which she described putting on her “perspectacles” in order to see all the good things about her kitchen instead of constantly focusing on what needed updating and remodeling. My sweetie here called these things “goculars” which I believe do the same thing as perspectacles –only show the good.

And you know what I see consistently through my goculars and on my gratitude lists? My friends — all the fun times we’ve had together, the funny texts they send me, hugs and laughs in the hallway at work, FaceTime sessions, walks and runs and bike rides together, trips we’ve taken, sharing soup and cookies and festive meatballs, laughter and tears, memories and plans and so much more. I feel incredibly blessed with old friends, new friends, work friends… true friends.

Last weekend I was so happy to visit with one of my best friends from college. We met in our dorm freshman year and later shared a house with 4 of our other best friends for the last two years of school. Those were some fun times! (which I shall not describe in too great of detail here because social media did not exist back then. We are ever so grateful for that and intend to keep it that way.) I can’t quite believe that almost 19 years have gone by since we met, but it’s true. There are careers, kids and gray hair to prove it. We don’t get to see each as often as we’d all like, but as soon as we’re back together, it feels like we’ve never been apart. These girls have seen me through the best of my days and the worst. These girls can make me laugh until I pee my pants and cry tears of joy because I love them so much. Just knowing that they think of me can lift me through a tough time and the good times are a million, trillion times sweeter when shared with these ladies.

The sweetness was in overload last weekend because I got to meet my friend’s brand new baby! I just love, love, love holding a newborn baby! And this guy is the cutest little bundle of baby boy, even when he cried a little bit and even when his dad made me change ALL the dirty diapers. When I looked at his tiny adorable face, I thought about how I knew his mom before he was even a thought in her mind and I sent out a wish to the universe that he would know the same wonderful friendships that his mom and I are blessed with.

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I think his adoring big brother might be the first of those beautiful friendships.

Here’s a bit of what showed up through my goculars last weekend…

We drove out to the tip of Long Island and took a winter walk on the beach at Orient State Park.

We drove out to the tip of Long Island and took a winter walk on the beach at Orient Beach State Park.

We got swallowed up by a giant bluefish!

We got swallowed up by a giant bluefish!

We had a girls only lunch with wine and truffled cheese--truffle anything and you've got yourself a good day!  No matter how loud someone's kid is being in the restaurant.

We had a girls only lunch with wine and truffled cheese– just go ahead and truffle anything and you’ve got yourself a good day! No matter how loud someone’s kid is watching Thomas the Train videos in the restaurant.

This sweetie read books to me.

This sweetie read books to me.

And I was a total baby hog!

And I was a total baby hog!

Thank you for a wonderful visit, friend! I am forever grateful for you and all our girls and I’m so glad I was able to come spend time with you and your beautiful family! Love!

600 miles to…

I’m setting out to pedal my bike for about 600 miles.  Yeah, that’s right, I said 600 miles.  Well, give or take a few, depending on schedules, weather, the phase of the moon and how often I feel like washing my hair.  Wanna guess where I’m going?  There are a few places I might like to visit within about a 600 mile radius of my home.

Maybe I’m heading north.  I could put that passport to use and get myself a little further into Canada than that time I visited Frelighsburg, maybe head to Montreal or Quebec City.  Or maybe I’ll go west-ish.  How about Ann Arbor? I’ve always liked the sound of that place.  Then I could get myself one of those “Smitten with the Mitten” Michigan shirts and swing by a great lake.  Nah, though.  Probably extra cold in both those directions.  I should head south.  Maybe hit Myrtle Beach or somewhere on a Carolina coast. It’s a wee bit warmer there than where I am, and then I could gaze at the sunrise without my arctic tundra coat.  Options…

Montreal?  Ann Arbor?  Myrtle Beach?

Montreal? Ann Arbor? Myrtle Beach?

600 miles could take me to a lot of places.  But here’s where I’m going…

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NOWHERE!!!!  Nowhere at all!  Not moving even one inch. Not leaving my house. Just gonna try to pedal in the same exact spot for 600 miles. Ish.

Two summers ago I started doing a long distance charity bike ride with my dad. We ride 65 miles, with lots of other good people, from the middle of a city right out to the beach. Both summers I’ve had to cram in the training once the weather broke and school let out.  I’m a teacher and so summers give me some more free time for riding.  Both times I’ve made it just fine (Thank you, God!) albeit a little sore, but I’ve been wondering how I’d feel if I was in a little better shape for it.  So my plan this year is to keep my legs moving on a bike trainer through the rest of the winter.  And because I like to torture myself set goals as motivation, I’m aiming to ride approximately 600 miles by the first day of spring.  When I did the initial calculations, my plan was to average about 45 miles a week, riding about 3 days per week.  Here’s where we stand now.

That says 39.51 miles.

That says 39.51 miles. Not all in one ride.

I’ll resist the urge to assign you a math problem and just tell you that I’m a tad behind. Don’t stay up all night worrying about it though.  I’m not.   We have time.  If we get a snow day, I’ll just double up.  Quadruple up.  Whatever.

On a slightly separate yet somewhat related note, here’s a little something to ponder if you should find yourself on a bike trainer for a few days.  And you ARE going to need something to ponder, or listen to or watch, because, I don’t like to use the word boring, but it’s kind of boring.  Anyway, my friend and fellow blogger recently wrote about worrying and likened it to a rocking chair, “…it will give you something to do, but won’t get you anywhere.”  I get her point, and totally agree.  Just the same, I gave her a little raz about it.  “If worrying and rocking chairs are pointless because they don’t get you anywhere,” I said, “then what does that mean for my bike trainer?! I could be to Canada for all that pedaling to nowhere!” I was just teasing.  We laughed about it, but you know what, the more I pedal to nowhere, the less worrying I do.  Rocking chairs don’t have the same caloric-emotional-velocity-ratio.  That’s not a thing.  Just go ride a bike!

PS - You do NOT need a helmet inside!  Pedal happy!

You don’t even need a helmet inside! Pedal happy!

 

 

Try. And try again.

See that list over there on the right?  I’ve been thinking about what to do with it. I already confessed to the reality of it being incomplete and unfinished. And I said I’m fine with that.  Most of the time.  OK, actually, the fact that I dropped it once does have me a little hesitant about making another list.

I originally typed a whole different post about why I should or shouldn’t make another list to go with my blog. And then I deleted it. That post was hard to write.  The fact that it was 2 degrees in “The-Coffee-Shop-With-the-Loudest-Refrigerators-in-the-World” did not help, but it wasn’t that.  The words were just not flowing out of me.  I was trying to write about how the list would give this place a theme and structure and blah, blah, blah. And how when it comes to setting goals, my eyes are bigger than my stomach or the hours in a day or whatever, you know what I mean, right? Then I started ranting about resolutions again, but basically, it all boiled down to this:  What if I publicly make another list on here and then I don’t finish it? Again.  What will you think of me then?  And when I say “you” here, I mostly mean me.

As soon as I typed those questions, I wanted to delete them too.  But then some words popped into my head.  Encouraging words from two of my favorite authors and thinkers. (I read a lot.) The first were these:  “Fail.  Fail again.  Fail better.”  I first heard these words spoken by Pema Chodron, who is a Buddhist nun, during a TV interview.  This was the title of a graduation address she gave recently.  I later read that she was quoting the author Samuel Beckett.  I don’t know who he is, but I looked it up and apparently he wrote these words, “Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

I learned about the second dose of encouragement while reading Brene Brown. She’s an author and a research professor at the University of Houston.  The words actually belong to Theodore Roosevelt.  It’s kind of long, but worth the read in my opinion.  He said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

I’m sure you can think of some quotes that feel encouraging in times of doubt or hesitation.  So many people have written words like these and it reminds me that we’re all in this thing together, and we can’t expect to go very long as human beings, before some things are going to go wrong, get messed up and be left unfinished.  That’s just how it is.  For everyone.  And the failing doesn’t matter.  It’s the trying and trying again that matters.  That’s where the growing and the life happens.

Now, to be clear, I have failed (and succeeded!) at way bigger things than this blog list. I’ve got bigger things than this list going on in my life right now.   It may seem a bit silly even, to be all waxing poetic about it.  I mean, I’m quite sure my world will go on just fine whether I ever plant a terrarium or not. Some of those list items were just little things, really, but really, all those little things add up to big things.  It feels hopeful too and expectant, to set some little goals, try some new things, and see what I can make happen, even if some things don’t.  They might not.  So, I will make another list and try, for sure, to accomplish it,  but I’m also going to keep those encouraging words in mind, because they help me not to be my own loudest critic.  Feel welcome to keep them in mind for yourself, if you should need or like them.

I also like what Pema went on to say in her speech, that, “its a little hard to tell, actually, what’s a failure and what’s something that’s just shifted your life in a new direction.”  I wonder what direction my life will take if I try to do these things…

My winter list:

  • write
  • hike
  • go to a few new (to me) restaurants
  • host some gatherings at my house
  • take a spin class
  • log a few hundred miles on my bike trainer
  • continue learning yoga
  • do something that scares me
  • plant a terrarium
This was not the freezing cold, noisy fridge coffee shop.  The only thing distracting at this place was the delicious scent of pancakes.  Seems like a good place to do some writing.  That's on my list.

This was not the freezing cold, noisy fridge coffee shop. The only thing distracting at this place was the delicious scent of pancakes. Seems like a good place to do some writing–it’s on my list!  I’m gonna go get on my bike now…

 

In the Way of Beauty

So, I stayed in on New Year’s Eve and didn’t do much of anything.  Well, to be honest, I did quite a few things, but not your typical New Year’s Eve agenda. It was relaxing, fun and even a little productive.   I made a really nice dinner–salmon with orange and ginger, roasted on a cedar plank, along with sauteed spinach. I also vacuumed. And I was asleep before the ball dropped. I did other things too, but since I already confessed to vacuuming,  I’ll try to save myself from appearing extra, extra dorky here and not list them all.  Let’s just go with my regular amount of nerdiness, ok?  Along with resolutions, I feel like there’s a lot of hype and expectation surrounding a person’s New Year’s Eve plan.  This wasn’t the first time that I’ve stayed home on New Year’s Eve though, so I knew that I could not go out and still be ok.  Better than ok actually. We all agree that waking up with no hangover is better than ok, right?

Still, I wanted to do something to celebrate and welcome the new year, to begin 2015 in a special way.  So here’s what I did…

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I woke up early,  I went out in the cold, I drove to the beach and I watched the first rays of the sun peek over the horizon and shine light on this new year.  It was beautiful!

I got the idea the day before when I was thinking about a quote I heard recently.  It’s from the movie ‘Wild’ which is based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed.  I wrote about that here. I think this quote is in the book too, but I couldn’t find it when I went back and looked for it.  In the movie, Cheryl recalls her mother telling her, “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day.  You can choose to be there for it, you can choose to put yourself in the way of beauty.” That’s good stuff, right? And what better day to soak up some beauty, than the very first day of the new year?

I’m so glad I went!  I kind of felt like doing some sun salutations right there on the sand, but it was a little chilly for that sort of thing. (22 degrees!) And the Alaskan-grade boots and coat I was wearing don’t quite allow for maximum flexibility.  Then,  I remembered something that Elizabeth Gilbert (of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ fame) has talked and written about – creating your own ceremonies to mark the beginning of a new year.  So I just made up a little new year sacrament.  I thought of some things I’m hoping for in the year ahead, for myself, and for my people.  I found a little piece of a shell and I wrote those things in the sand. Then as the waves came in and washed the words away, I made a little wish and entrusted my hopes to the world, to the universe…

Now, I worried that admitting this little ritual publicly would move me a few notches up on the dork-o-meter, but I don’t care.  Because it made me pretty happy and because I have some big dreams for this year, and I started right there at the very crack of dawn making them come true.  Happy New Year!

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I’m hoping for joy, love, health and beautiful moments for me and mine and that we will be truly awake to really see and feel all of these things this year.

 

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I also went for a little walk…

 

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… and found a heart-shaped rock, not a perfect heart shape, but that’s kind of the point, right?

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Sunrise, January 1, 2015 – “There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day, and you can choose to be there for it.  You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” ~Bobbi Lambrecht, Cheryl Strayed’s mom