2015

Slow Moving Smiles – Guest Post by Dean Miller

I am thrilled that I have been contacted by several people who are wanting to contribute to 52 Beautiful Things over the past few weeks. I actually am starting a queue of contributors! If you are interested in sharing your journey in finding a piece of the beauty the world has to offer, send me an email at 52beautifulthings@gmail.com

This week’s post comes to you from Mr. Dean Miller, a writer working in Northern Colorado. Connections through the Northern Colorado Writer’s Group brought us together. Thanks for sharing your work and pursuit of beauty Dean! Read below for his experience with something beautiful this week.

Author: Dean Miller

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The drive across the Continental Divide along I-70 in Colorado is one of the most beautiful journeys one can make by car. Towering mountain peaks pocketed by patches of snow, even in late summer months, remind me that all things endure even when they change. However, the stretch through the Eisenhower Tunnel leading to the Denver can also be of the most frustrating stretches of highway to drive.

Such was the case on this day. I enjoyed the non-stop travel from Grand Junction, cruising along the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon, over Vail Pass and through the tunnel. All of us came to an abrupt stop four miles down the hill on the eastern slopes for the Front Range. Who knew why and that didn’t really matter. What was in front, and now stretching behind me, were cars nose-to-tail, sitting still; a 65 mph highway turned parking lot. To make matters more annoying, this was the fourth time in six trips that I had encountered these conditions.

There was no place to go, save the occasional 20 foot roll downhill every few minutes or so, progress like that of a distracted toddler. I only wanted to get home, not unlike everyone else stuck on the mountainside. Cars jockeyed for the best lane, sometimes stopping those behind, but opening a small portal for those in the lane they vacated. Another roll downhill here; a long pause there. After a while, I found a bit of happiness with each incremental move forward. Yes, that was it! Take in the small pleasure of knowing that no matter how slow I am going, I am moving forward, closer to my goal. The pauses in momentum only fortified the moments of progress.

The line of cars snaked ahead far enough to reach an exit that led to a frontage road leading through the sleeping mountain town of Idaho Springs. Taking a chance, I took the exit and headed down the pavement at nearly 35 mph, a pace which felt NASCAR-fast after crawling along for nearly 30 minutes. All went well until every other driver who shared my same great idea backed up in Idaho Springs.

My progress was again, snail-like slow, but I eased through town at a pace faster than on the Interstate. Looking around I saw the locals and others out enjoying the warm summer evening, filling the several small shops, pizzerias, and restaurants, or relaxing in the park. Near the south end of town, less than a mile from rejoining the freeway (and possibly another 30 minutes of “driving,”) a familiar site caught my attention. Sitting on the porch of a small home was a large painted ceramic pig, one exactly like I had painted for my mother over thirty years ago. Back then, mom collected everything “pig.” My girlfriend and I painted the set, a girl in a flowered dress and a boy pig in overalls and given it to her for Christmas. Nearly two feet tall, the pair sat sentry along the dining room wall of her house.

Behind me a horn honked, stealing me back from my memory and a smile. I hadn’t thought of those handcrafted pigs in decades. Rolling forward for 300 feet traffic stopped again. A busy restaurant was on the left and sitting by the entrance was an even larger hog statue, this one adorned with a chef’s hat. I laughed at the site and decided to call my mom. We talked about the pigs, both those I saw and the ones we had painted. We shared a laugh that stretched across the mountains and over one thousand miles.

Eventually traffic merged back on to I-70. A few stop and go miles later, I took a second, compulsive exit to escape the log jam of cars. Driving along Clear Creek, I meandered through the canyon at dusk, enjoying the “backroad” scenery for the first time. Spotting potential fishing spots, I wondered if I could come back some day to check them out.

As evening sighed into night, I headed north along the pastures and plateaus of the Flatirons, passing a sports stadium where I watched my daughter play her last college soccer game. Another memory brought another smile.

I arrived home after more than six hours of road weary travel, happier than when I left, thanks to a traffic jam that could have ruined a Saturday’s journey through life. After settling in at home I wrote the following, if only to remind myself that it isn’t the pace at which we move through life, but rather, that we take advantage of those times when we do slow down.

It starts today: here, right where you are. You don’t have to accept where you are, though that adds more challenge than is necessary. Yesterday’s journey no longer matters, except in recognizing that it got you where you are now, right here. Tomorrow’s destination (and your next starting point) is unknown. Therein lays the beauty of this voyage. Today you begin fresh, energized by the knowledge that all you have to do is choose and then move forward. Think about that, moving forward; if you are walking in the direction of which you face, you are making progress. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

me

Dean is a freelance writer, author, poet, and professional member of Northern Colorado Writers. He has published two books (essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction) along with one ebook short through Hot Chocolate Press. He is the creator of The Haiku For You Project and is the editor of the upcoming Anthology The Water Holds No Scars: Fly Fishing Stories of Rivers and Rejuvenation. His work has been published in nearly two dozen literature journals and online ezines. He lives in northern Colorado and works as an FAA air traffic controller.

Be Careful with the Parsnips

“You have a beautiful garden!” I yelled over the fence to the gentleman sitting with one hand on his knee, holding a watering hose in the other. His white whiskers were visible from where we stood on the east side of his white picket fence.

“Thank you,” he responded, “do you like beets?”

So started the conversation with my older and wiser neighbor on Friday evening. He has to be at least in his mid 80’s – he told us he retired in 1988. I wasn’t even born then. What started as a comment in passing as Dylan and I tried to wander up to our house from the lake turned into a two hour excursion  with our elderly neighbor. Casual conversation and small talk turned into a delightful adventure, a learning experience, a chance to absorb some wisdom.

Dylan and I were told to go gather some plastic bags that we could fill with our own share of veggies. We were invited into the massive garden and walked the rows of fruits and vegetables following this gentleman through the plants. I felt like such a city girl. I squealed with delight as he unearthed potatoes and carrots, parsnips and squash. I realized just how removed I am from the food I eat every day. I learned about what it takes to successfully grow a peach tree in Colorado (apparently the peach pit has to freeze in the ground for one season before it can take root and sprout fruit in the next season). I learned that the flavor of parsnips overtake the flavor of anything else you may try to cook. Raspberries come in a golden variety. Beets have beautiful leaves and watermelon and squash take tender loving care. We came home with our arms full of vegetables and our hearts full of joy.

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I was reminded in the simple pleasure and reward of connecting with those who are near you. Too many times we walk by others in silence, choosing to remain in our own heads rather than extending a hello or asking with sincerity, “How are you?” I think this applies at work, at home, at the grocery store, with your neighbors. Dylan and I have lived in our house for seven months and I had yet to meet my neighbor. When I had the courage to extend a few words, my kindness was met and matched substantially. This gentleman could have easily ignored us, too. Instead we shared in a man’s passion, gained new wisdom, and came home with our hands full of food. It isn’t every day that you are given a bouquet of roses from a man over the age of 80. I found the candy cane variety of rose particularly delightful.

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This exchange brought me so many beautiful emotions. I missed my grandfather, and hoped that if he had come across two people our age back when he was living in Chicago, that they would have taken the time to learn from him. I felt completely full of life walking that garden. The soil producing so many tangible rewards. The reality of the need for patience  – to trust that things are being cultivated and producing even in the midst of dirt. I was thrilled we took the time to acknowledge those living alongside of us and that Dylan was kind and patient right by my side. This interaction set the tone for my weekend and renewed a sense of responsibility that we have to learn from those who are around us.  So many veggies, so much delight.

 

No biscotti or nail polish this week. It was, however, Star Wars Night at the Rockies’s Game which was bizarre. And I found these wooden clogs at my in-laws house that just made me want to have a fairy garden and prance through the woods.

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We need to take time to delight in the mysterious and pay attention to what makes you say, “oooh I think I like that” no matter how odd it may seem. Find your passion, right?

Still Up?

When I was growing up I would often sneak into my parents’ bed on a Saturday morning. My dad would already be awake, and the sun would be streaming in the half moon window, warming my spot at the foot of the large four poster bed. I’d snuggle in and pull up the sheets and watch the world wake up as my family began our Saturday morning. My dad, after thirty years of marriage or so, would bring my mom tea in bed, just as she liked it. My brother would come bounding down the stairs and hop in to join us. I watched this weekend ritual (judgement of appropriate boundaries aside) and think to myself, “Hmm, I hope someday, when I’m old and married, my husband brings me tea on Saturday mornings.”

I haven’t been married yet a year. This Saturday, my husband did not bring me coffee in bed. I figure I’ve got twenty nine years of Saturdays for this to change. We did, however, have a slow wake up day reading and watching the sun on the lake, and sipping coffee I prepared. Slow wake up days are beautiful. As I was laying in bed scrolling through my Facebook feed I noticed plenty of people were out and about on early morning adventures. Dang! Maybe I should have jumped out of bed to go hiking, or brunch, or raft a river. I do not like early morning adventures. I like sleep in Saturdays with my white down comforter, and pillows, and maybe some biscotti as well. This week, slow rising was beautiful.

We also had the chance to get away to the mountains for an afternoon hike. I can do afternoon adventures. We haven’t had a very outdoorsy summer, and I was craving a mountain experience. It amazes me how often I forget that we are literally thirty minutes away from one of the biggest natural tourist destinations in the world.

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On our hike we encountered a European family.

After smiling and making eye contact on the trail the mother asked, “How much further?”

“Not far,” we responded like the lying Coloradoans we are. “Just around a few more curves.”

The father turned and asked in a European accent, “Still up?”

“Yes, still up,” we said.

“Perfect. More up. I love up,” the gentleman responded.

We laughed as yes the trail was straight up hill with plenty of stairs equating to a lunge workout. Many steps, many breath taking views along the way.

Sometimes life feels like a balance between rest and the challenging moments of “still up huh?” We face unknowns and questions and self doubt and then, every once in awhile, we have the option to stop and take in the view. To watch the world wake up from a window as the sun rises, to drink coffee in bed. I’m thankful for the beauty in both options this week, and in this season of life.

Essie – None

Biscotti – None – CHERRY POPSICLES! That’s my jam!

Relaxation is Who You Are

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Can I get an Ohm please? I saw this quote tonight and just thought, “oh heavens yes!” I am going to dwell on this truth over and over again in the next few days. Two weeks ago, my mother-in-law sent me a link to sign up for a twenty-one day meditation exercise based on gratitude. Yes! I signed up immediately and listened to the first exercise spending twenty minutes trying to center myself on the main mantra of the session. I made plans to wake early, sit outside while sipping coffee and ease into my days with thoughts of acceptance and grace. I then spent the next twenty mornings pressing the snooze button as my alarm forced me into the next day. I continued in those twenty days, ignoring my email reminders rolling into my inbox about the various elements of the practice of gratitude, stressed out that I wasn’t making time for these sessions to dwell on the positive benefits of thankful thinking. I guiltily clicked delete as I could not prioritize my responsibilities to include time to reflect on all the things I was grateful, regardless of the soothing music and Deepak Chopra’s voice. I had to give myself permission to say, thanks, but no thanks. Good intentions aside I do not have the discipline to do this meditation session right now. I think I should meditate, but that stresses me out more than is helpful. Whew. Relaxation is who I am, rather than who I think I should be.

I had a few beautiful moments this week that helped me re-shape my priorities. The first was watching the movie “The Fault in Our Stars.” Nothing like watching a movie with two main characters battling cancer that make you re-think how you are living your life and the priorities you use to make your decisions. How would I live my life differently if I knew my days were limited? This theme may seem trite, but I think it is important to consider the choices we are making and the attitudes we cary as we breathe through the day.

I want to hold hands more, eat more ice cream, tell my brother I love him. Notice the good things that are around me. I went golfing with my husband and my father-in-law. I do not golf, I was uncomfortable, and probably a little whiny. However, on hole four or five I realized what a beautiful spot to spend some time pretending to be good at hitting a small ball over grassy fields with a view of the mountains. My life could be so much worse. I can walk, I can carry clubs, I can laugh at myself and my inability to hit a straight shot. It is fun, my friends, to be able to tee off from the lady’s tees. I now have an excuse to buy new athletic apparel. Tennis skirts, those I have, but golf clothes!

IMG_2804We have lived on a lake for the last seven months. Most of the time, I wake up in the morning as I rush through my hurried routine to get out the door and miss the view. I come home from work and cook dinner, do laundry, focus on my to-do list. I need to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the view. One night last week Dylan invited me to postpone the folding of clothes and he took his guitar out to the dock. We watched the sunset, and I was in awe of the beauty that is one hundred yards from our sliding glass door. Chords from the guitar were calming and I casually swatted at the mosquitos. I was reminded that I am immensely blessed to be in that moment. I need to take time to create these moments to unwind – they can be much more natural than a forced, online meditation session. Mosquito bites be damned – be by the water, watch the natural flow of days in and days out. Be thankful for another day to breathe.  Relaxation is who I am.

Essie Polish: Nail Stickers! I love these things

Biscotti – is now switching to flavor of ice cream. Ice cream is a much better dessert for the summer. This week’s flavor: Espresso Chocolate Chip by Boulder Ice Cream (don’t look at the calorie count)

The Beauty in Change

I’m happy to be bringing to you the second guest blog post here at 52 Beautiful Things. Ms. Stoecker and I quickly bonded as our awkward sixth grade selves found each other in a bible study. We have been friends, working and growing into who we are meant to be, ever since.

Author: Jenny Stoecker  

Twitter: @JennyStoecker   Blog: www.JennyStoecker.com

I have never met a chick flick I didn’t like. It should embarrass me to admit that anything from Hallmark to Lifetime to a downright classic makes my heart happy…but I love them so much it doesn’t matter. My top three favorites are You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and While You Were Sleeping. If you haven’t seen them before, go do so now. I’ll wait…

I’ve learned a lot about love from these movies: that you can find it in an “Over Thirty” chat room, on the top of the Empire State Building, or while pretending to be engaged to someone in a coma. (So far none of these scenarios have panned out well for me, but I’ll keep you posted.) The more realistic aspect of these movies I’ve carried with me has to do with change.

In While You Were Sleeping, the supposed love of Sandra Bullock’s life goes into a coma. How does she handle this earth-shattering change? By creating her own idealistic (um…unrealistic) fairytale scenario. In Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hank’s wife dies and he moves across the country, combating one life change with another. In You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan is forced to close her store and handles it with resentment and a lot of tears.

When facing change in the past, I’ve stood with Meg and shared her sentiments, “People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”

I met upcoming life changes with worry about the future while grasping so tightly to the present that I forgot to really enjoy either one.

Growing up, I was never the kid who wanted to be adult. The never-grow-up mentality was still with me four years ago when I was forced to graduate college. I was thrown into a world I wasn’t ready for—one where I was lonely, under qualified, and ready to quit. Yet looking back, it was in that season of difficult change that I learned patience, independence, and to trust the Lord in a deeper way then ever before.

While Meg was right that I hadn’t wanted the change to happen, it turned out to be the bearer of so much beauty in my world. It was with this realization that my heart slowly (I mean really slowly) began to long for the new growth that only change can bring.

This mindset gave me the freedom to dream without holding back and I started to ask myself, “What would I dive into if I wasn’t afraid of change?”

For me the answer was graduate school. So in less then two months, I’ll be moving to Scotland to pursue a masters. I’ve never been to Scotland (although I hope it’s filled with kilts, bagpipes, and Harry Potter) and I don’t know anyone who lives there. In the past this would have gone one of two ways: I would have been so excited to go that I neglected the present, or so freaked out to go that I clung too tightly to what was already the past.

Instead, without the fear of change, God has given me the ability to soak in every bit of goodness in my life here in the States, while still being healthily excited about what He has for me next. Change is forcing me to recognize the gifts I currently have, and the hopes I so long to see come to fruition.

Like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks ending up together at the end of every rom-com (that’s romantic comedy for any males that have actually made it to the end of this post), change is inevitable. I have come to agree with those Meg criticizes—change is a good thing, because it has become the catalyst that causes me to see beauty in my every day. How do you view change?

JS Bio PicJenny makes her home in her favorite state of Colorado. She loves Jesus, pancakes, traveling, photography, sarcasm, making lists and people. She’s passionate about the work she does, serving people in poverty with VisionTrust International. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @JennyStoecker. Don’t forget to check out her blog www.jennystoecker.com.

Wanna Hear a Joke?

Heard any good jokes lately?

This is my new favorite one.

A dyslexic man walked into a bra.

I have a love for cheesy humor and small things to delight in. I have to admit, my inspiration for the week seems to be less than emotion evoking, so I apologize. I’ve got some things on my mind that are thwarting the deeper thoughts from flowing.

I’m sure you’ve all heard many quotes about the little things, and so as we continue to pursue the big things, here are the little things I have found along the way this week.

Bad jokes – they always make me laugh and I found a list of fifteen I hadn’t previously heard. Here is another.

What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

Cherries – the little orbs are on sale at King Soopers and they are fresh, juicy, bursts of summer

Watching friends get married – it is amazing to be on the other side of the wedding experience, and I have a new appreciation for watching people glow as they walk down the aisle in white and grin like never before as the bride and groom meet in front of the people they love. Weddings are fun – the one this weekend had delicious beer and such a fun band!

Reading a whole book in a weekend – oh the joy of turning the pages! It has been ages since I have had the free time to sit and read a book from cover to cover in one weekend. I went to the library and picked out three books, and read a newer Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus book “Dedication” in less than two days. I have a love for easy to read “Chic Lit” where stories of drama, coming of age, and love are interwoven. The chance to hold some literature, no matter what caliber, will always be a beautiful experience for me.

Cavatappi at Carrabbas – It’s true, my family goes to this restaurant a lot. We had their food at my wedding and I know what is on happy hour at the bar. This restaurant has become a staple in our family’s lives for better or for worse, and so I suppose I am thankful for delicious food shared with my parents and my husband. I tried a new dish – branching out – and well, yum. Who doesn’t love pasta and the comforts carbohydrates bring.

This is a fabulous exercise for grounding and calming you down when life swirls you through your days. Please share with me a few things on your list.  What little things brought beautiful delights for you this week? Maybe next week I’ll have more earth moving things to say. Thanks for continuing to follow along.

No biscotti or nail polish. oops