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Fleeting Moments

Our life passes like sand in an hourglass…

My day, this 12-hour span of time, has been bracketed by death; both morning and afternoon brought news of a passing. This morning, I learned that one of my favorite statesmen, General Colin Powell, had died. This afternoon I learned that a young friend suddenly passed away.  I have been feeling off-center all day as a result of these two events.

Colin Powell was 84 years old; he was often described as the most popular American general since World War II. General Powell was the first Black U. S. Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

My young friend was an immigrant. She was 22 years old and had lived in the United States since she was two years old. She was funny, out-spoken, and fearless. 

These two people were so different. 

  • One was male and the other female,
  • One was young and just starting to live, while the other had lived a full life, 
  • One was a well-known and respected public servant and the other was struggling to earn enough money to pay for school,  
  • One was African American and the other was Asian, and
  • One was well-known; flags will fly at half-staff for General Powell, while very few people beyond immediate family know of the passing of my young friend. 

In spite of their differences, there were similarities. Both of them had family and friends who loved them. They both had more life to live and a desire to do so. They both learned, loved, laughed. 

All of us have been forced to deal with loss during our lives. Yet, no matter how many times we are faced with a loss, it is never, ever easy. So, what can we take away from this?  How can we grow through pain?

For me, these two losses have reminded me that in life I don’t get a dress rehearsal, and I am not guaranteed even one more moment. Death forces me to stop in my tracks. It makes me realize that in life, self-care is critical; it is the gift I can give myself everyday. Self-care is a way that I can make each day count by giving myself health, well-being, energy, and self-acceptance. 

Death reminds us that, for all living beings, life is a series of fleeting moments. It is our responsibility to make each of those moments matter…so, for today and everyday, I wish you joy-filled moments and memories.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Creating a Self-Care Sanctuary

Part of my self-care journey has revolved around “unplugging”.  I spend a lot of time playing on my iPad, talking on my iPhone, working on my laptop, viewing the television.  I bet you do too.  So there, right in front of me, is my reason for creating a sanctuary, that quiet retreat where I can unwind, relax, reflect.  

When I conjure up a mental image of my perfect sanctuary, I see a space that exudes quiet, subdued minimalism. In a perfect life, my sanctuary would be painted in soft gray tones with white furniture, dark woods, and a few plants. The space would be lit by filtered sunlight during the day and candle light at night. There would be soothing music playing and essential oils scenting the air. 

I see myself snuggled up in a comfortable chair with sparking water bubbling in a glass on the table next to me. I am writing in my soft, leather-bound journal with my favorite fountain pen. I am wearing comfortable clothes and the expression on my face says that I am at peace. Aaahhh. Can you picture it with me? 

Well, that is a lovely daydream!  Let’s talk about reality. The first challenge that comes to mind is that most people I know don’t have the money or the space to create a dedicated sanctuary for themselves.  Another challenge is that families are busy, noisy, and demanding.  How does a sanctuary moment even fit into a busy day of work and/or parenting?  My thinking is that “sanctuary” is as much a state of mind as it is an actual place. 

The purpose of a sanctuary is to have a quiet moment to unwind. Solitude can be found in so many different places and at so many different times. Peace of mind is behind a closed door in the bathtub with some bubbles. It can be found in a ten minute walk with the dog. It can be a few moments of precious time rocking a baby before nap time. Sanctuary can be five minutes curled up in a comfortable chair in a corner of the living room once the children are settled in bed for the night. A friend of mine uses her time in the car driving twenty minutes each way to and from work to unwind and clear her mind. I have a male friend who escapes to the garage to putter about with woodworking tools; this is his quiet time.

My sanctuary is a big, comfortable lounge chair in the corner of my bedroom. I have a small table next to the chair with my journal, a pen, and a coaster for my water glass.  Is it spectacular? No. It is simple and small, but it serves the purpose.

I believe all of us need time in our day when we can be authentic, reflective, prayerful, calm, and at peace. Do you have a sanctuary in your life? If not, think about tucking one away somewhere in your busy life. 

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

The Simple Walking Stick

Photo by Krisjanis Mezulis on Unsplash

Stop a moment and think with me about a simple walking stick.  A walking stick can be an elaborate wand of polished wood with a gold tip, a slim, carved body, and a lovely custom handle carved for comfort. Or, a walking stick can be a small limb picked up  off the ground while on the trail. Either way, beautiful or plain, a walking stick is a utilitarian item that must serve its purpose. 

When we grab onto a walking stick, it is because we need support, to find better balance on the path. A walking stick must stay right by our side, can’t judge the journey, and must silently lend confidence as we navigate rocky terrain. 

We all need walking sticks in our lives; walking sticks are those people who are there for us when we need them. These are the people who lend a hand without question, who love us without condition, and support us without judgement. 

There are times in each of our lives when we need to reach for a walking stick, so think about those people in your life who will steady you when you hit the rough patches that we inevitably face. Give yourself permission to reach for them when you need balance and support.

Now, look in the mirror.  Whether you see plain or fancy, the other side of this coin is that we each must be willing to serve as a walking stick for those in our lives that we love. 

So, may you always have the strength to be a walking stick when needed, and may you always find a walking stick within easy reach when you stumble on the path of life… 

Seeking Joy

For the past 18 months, my husband and I have been quarantined. I joke that I am old, over-weight, and asthmatic…a perfect candidate for a really horrific struggle with whatever is the current variant of the virus. But the reality is that I have been genuinely scared. In some way, I think I have “folded in” on myself, if that makes any sense. For the first 70 years of my life I was out-going, friendly, and fun-loving. I was a “hugger”. Today, I am fearful, and that makes me sad.

While home, I have stayed busy with projects, chores, and curbside pickup, but my focus has been on the world outside my bubble. Like you, I have been bombarded with news of the pandemic, racial tension, wild fires, war, global warming, and hate-filled politics. I have relied on social media to keep me in touch with family and friends, but social media platforms have become political battle grounds and, well, there is a lot of anger and hate out there. Pretty depressing, right?

I hate feeling depressed, so in light of all this, I have decided that this is the perfect time for me to shift my focus inward. I want to indulge in self care, and the September Self Care Challenge is a perfect fit; I was sooooo excited to join all of you. Self-care will most likely mean something different for each of us, depending upon our specific needs. For me, this will include being mindful of the food I eat, beginning a gentle exercise routine, and practicing gratitude.

In my excitement for our Self Care Challenge to begin, I put together a packet to help me stay organized and focused on this journey. This includes things I will use to set goals, organize my tasks, and set myself up for success. I am happy to share it with you. You are welcome to use it or modify it in any way so that works for you. I look forward to taking this journey with you. Stay happy and healthy.

Christmas Considerations

dec10_button1This is a letter to parents of young children who are so excited that Santa is coming to visit.  Santa is just amazing, isn’t he?.  He allows us to focus on the spirit of Christmas: kindness, giving, and some old fashioned magic.  But, this is a letter to parents asking that we look at Santa through different eyes.

This is such a busy time of year, I hate to even suggest that you think of one more thing. However, this is important to me and has been weighing on my heart.  I just want to join my teacher friends in raising awareness and sensitivity.  Every community and every school, no matter how affluent or how poor, has children living in homes from a variety of financial levels.

I live and work in a community where about 75% of children live in poverty.  However, that leaves 25% who are not living in poverty.  Now, I want you to think about this scenario: Johnny, Luis, and Latricia are in the same class.  They all celebrate Christmas and Santa visits each of their homes.

Luis is an only child; his family has a lovely, decorated tree. Under the tree, there are lots of presents from family and extended family.  Santa will come to the house, and as is their tradition, Santa will leave just one gift.  Santa has an iPadPro and an Apple Pencil (cost = around $1000) for Luis this year.

Latricia is one of three children. Her mom and dad both work, but money is always tight.  Nevertheless, there are presents under the tree for all of the children. Under the tree, there are lots of little presents for the children from mom and dad (pajamas, books, dolls, crayons, action figures).  This year, the three children will have a visit from Santa and he will leave an expensive gaming system for them to share along with some games (cost = $550.00).

Johnny is our third student. He is one of four children living with a single mom who is out of work and depends on welfare and occasional part-time work to make ends meet.  They have a small tree and a few presents.  Santa is coming to Johnny’s house too. However, Johnny will find a new pair of much-needed sneakers from Santa (cost = $20.00).

Now, travel forward with me to January 6, 2020.  The children are back at school and excited to share what they got from Santa. There is a big difference between what Luis got and what Johnny got.  My fear is that Johnny is left wondering why Santa likes Luis so much more than he likes him.  He worries that he was not a good boy or that he is not smart enough or didn’t do a good enough job helping his mom around the house. How sad!  We know that Santa loves all children equally.

So, here is my request.  Please think about all the Johnnys in your child’s school.  When it is time to put out the cookies and milk for Santa, please leave a note asking him to leave small gifts for your child.  This will not diminish your Christmas morning at all since you can proudly put your name on the big-ticket items for your child. I promise that Santa will appreciate how you are helping him look out for the happiness of all his boys and girls.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours!

 

Turkey Leftovers

I hate wasting food, don’t you?  To me, throwing away food is just awful.  To start with, I might as well just take my hard-earned paycheck and put it in the garbage disposal along with the shriveled tomato, wilted lettuce, or moldy cucumbers.

I remember hearing my mother say that I had to eat everything on my plate because there were children in the world who were starving.  This typically invoked a response from me that included some well-known preteen eyeball rolling.  But, like so many other things in my life, as an adult, I view things differently and have to admit that I agree. How dare I waste food when there are mothers all over the world watching their children waste away from starvation?

If I lived alone, I would live life as a vegetarian; it really bothers me that animals have to perish in order for me to eat a meal.  I resolve my emotional conflict over this issue by making absolutely certain that I never waste meat. Before I purchase meat, I have a plan in place for how I will use it all.

Thanksgiving turkey is a perfect example. Like everyone, we eat leftovers. I always have a menu planner on my iPad and once the turkey is consumed my planner has a

img_0353lot of turkey items lined up. We make hot leftover turkey plates, hot or cold turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, and finally turkey soup. The turkey soup is important to me because I eke out every bit of nourishment from the turkey.

Today is turkey soup day and it makes me happy to make this big pot of comfort food for my family.  Paired with a fresh, warm loaf of homemade bread, nothing seems better.  This afternoon as I simmered the turkey with carrots, onions, celery, and a bundle of fresh herbs, I took a moment to feel thankfulness and gratitude for my ability to provide nourishing food for my family.

So, for me and my family, the true message of Thanksgiving is not wasted, nor is any turkey.  And so, I say, “For the creatures of this Earth, I give thanks.”

Kindness Doesn’t Cost

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Tomorrow, November 13th, is World Kindness Day. The person associated with this concept is Mr. Fred Rogers, and so we are being asked to wear a cardigan to celebrate kindness and to honor the gentle soul of Mr. Rogers.

My son grew up watching Mr. Rogers with me and I loved his show for a couple of reasons. First, it was calm. There were no loud noises to startle us, people spoke to one another in a pleasant tone, and there was a simplicity to it that I found comforting. Mr. Rogers taught values, decency and understanding. I suspect that Fred Rogers would be pretty disheartened were he to spend about an our on any one of our social media platforms.

Promoting kindness is not a new idea. Buddha is quoted as saying, “When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” Sadly, the lack of civility has run so rampant in our world today that we have to declare a day for kindness. Really? We need to put a day in our calendar to remind us to be kind? That in itself is concerning.

I am a strong believer that the Universe gives back to us what we focus upon; I try to keep my focus on gratitude and the goodness in the world. So, here’s my bottom line. I will wear a cardigan tomorrow to honor my respect for Fred Rogers. I will NOT wear it to remind myself to be kind. Tomorrow and every day I try to practice kindness.

Now, kindness isn’t just a social thing, kindness is a physical thing too! Researchers have determined that acts of kindness release hormones that make us feel good, reduce anxiety, and lower stress. People report that being kind increases happiness and the doctors tell us that increased happiness can actually lead to a healthier heart. Apparently, people who are consistently kind age more slowly, have better relationships, and stronger connections with friends and family.

My father used to tell me that people can’t help the face they are born with, but they earn the face they die with. Have you noticed that the face of a person who lives angry and bitter is noticeably different from the face of a person who spends life smiling, loving, and laughing? Look around…I promise, it’s true!

As Mr. Rogers said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” Think about it, kindness doesn’t cost a thing and it is a lot less painful than a facelift!

Gentle November

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allows us to glory in the colors of Autumn, the Earth’s brightest smile. I love November! 

November is when we take a breath; we relax and focus on gratitude and the blessings we enjoy. As a child, I loved this time of year. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and we enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November isn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday. It is such an unassuming and gentle holiday; Thanksgiving is when I focus on the things I cherish…on gratitude for good food, wonderful friends, precious family, and yummy food. 

I bask in my “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving memories. Thanksgiving reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to do for others…to be the good in someone else’s life.  

During November, the Earth slows down and settles into the coming of Winter. Days are shorter, trees drop their leaves, animals hibernate or migrate. Nature knows it is time to settle in.  

November is a chance for us all to step back, take a deep breath, and focus on how we fit into the world. Everything calms down; there is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I bake loaves of bread for the stuffing, I simmer autumn spices in the potpourri pot, I fill my house with pumpkins and gourds, and I relax. I spend time focusing on my gratitude…and I have so much to be thankful for.

Many of my friends already have their homes decorated for Christmas. I respect everyone’s right to do what feels right for them, but I refuse to sacrifice this time that allows me to just be still.  December will come and I will put up a tree, wrap gifts, and enjoy the twinkle.  For now, I am content to be fully present in my November. 

Winter Fest!

I have been so fortunate in my life to have lived in many places around the world! Moving so often was challenging, but on the other hand, it afforded me the opportunity to experience different cultures and traditions. No matter where I lived, Christmas was always a big deal. Like any child, I was fascinated by the twinkling candles, strings of sparkling lights, colorful wrapping paper. I loved singing the traditional carols, getting all dressed up for midnight mass, and coming home to await the arrival of Santa. I always tried to stay awake, but never was successful.

As a child, I spent several years living in Europe. This allowed me to experience the different holiday traditions in Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, England, and France. What I discovered was that it was a joyful, exciting time of year no matter where I found myself waking up on Christmas morning.

I have lived in two predominantly Jewish communities during my lifetime; one in New York and one in St. Louis. Living among my Jewish friends allowed me to experience the wonderful holiday of Hanukkah. I remember wondering whether it would be more fun to get gifts for eight days rather than getting all the gifts at once on Christmas morning.

Today I live in South Georgia and have also enjoyed experiencing Kwanzaa with my local friends. I love the intention behind the seven principles of Kwanzaa. They encourage us to be the best we can be and in turn to give our best to our community. These are principles we should all live by.

Having these wonderful experiences prompted me to share them with my students over the years. I called it “Winter Fest” and it was an opportunity for students to read, think, write, and expand their world a bit. It has always been one of my favorite units to teach. It allows me to focus on the true meaning of these holidays: kindness, giving, and self-improvement. But the best thing is that the actual learning is tucked away behind the fun. It is a great way to tap into the students’ holiday excitement.

So, here is the resource that celebrates my travels and my holiday joy!

Happy Teaching! Happy Memories! Happy Holidays!