beauty

52 Good Things

Here we are.

In times unprecedented, checking our phones, our screens, the constant news streams.

I know it’s scary right now. Uncertain. Unclear.

I’ve been holding tight and sitting on my fingertips for fear of typing something ignorant. I don’t know how the details of this pandemic are affecting the multitudes of us working from couches, those not working, those wondering how this will rip everything apart.

I do not want to trigger, or isolate, or add to the hurt.

I’ve got my Christian memorization ringing through my ears and think, rather begrudgingly, on Psalm 118:24: This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

How can we be rejoicing when things seem to be locking down at each moment?

I’m called again, in whispers, to remember the choices we make when things seem the bleakest are opportunities for our wondering souls. What we focus on, while not ignoring painful realities, makes or breaks our spirits.

In conversations with friends and co-workers and texts and Instagram conversations, I’m reminded to look for the good.

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be sharing roundups of encouragement, joy, connection, and heartwarming examples of the human spirit. I’m also asking you to pay-it-forward. Please send me an email at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com and I’ll share your examples here too. Let’s start something big – a record of kindness – an inventory of good in these next few weeks. Let’s see how many lists of 52 Good Things we can come up with.

52 Good things

Here are my ideas today:

  1. Write a card to a nurse in your life. Say thank you for their service and sacrifice.

2. Buy an online gift card from a small business. Use it later this summer.

3. This guy is encouraging folks to log on and learn how to Doodle at 1 pm every day.

4.This woman is giving away eggs to those who need it.

5. Share a roll of toilet paper. Throw it over your neighbor’s fence. Make sure to tape the end first.

Whatcha got?

 

I Counted the TP

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Photo by Anna Franques on Unsplash

I just counted our toilet paper rolls.

I never have done that. I always assumed I could hop on out to the store and purchase more.

Or get on Amazon and the delivery gods would bring me whatever I wanted.

Out of curiosity, I went to Big Lots, and Target, and Trader Joes tonight.

All fresh out of toilet paper.

I stared at rows and rows of Bounty paper towels and heard a man come up behind me, swearing under his breath.

“I don’t want to STOCK UP” he said to me. “I just need the stuff.”

And when I typed “T” into Amazon, TP was the first to come up.

All normal brands are out of stock.

You can buy generic, or perhaps this novelty roll that has cartoons having sex on the sheets. Entertainment for while you wipe. Or maybe unicorns are more your style.

Why does toilet paper make us feel safe right now?

This month, I spent seven days in Cuba and during my time there, I got a tiny glimpse of what it feels like to not have everything at my finger tips. I paid to use the bathroom, and crumpled up flimsy squares of recycled paper used when nature calls. I tucked wads in my backpack and was annoyed when public facilities lacked what I considered to be the basics.

And today, under threat of public health concerns, my fellow Americans are stockpiling the rolls. I sit in my well lit kitchen and scroll on an expensive computer about the novelty choices left in stock. Apparently pictures of presidents and rolls of printed dollar bills are still available.

I could also spend over $100 to buy over 50 rolls that could last my small family of two for months.

I fell prey to the fear and I wandered the aisles at the grocery store. I picked frozen veggies left in the cold, white, wire bins. Broccoli seems to be a coveted item and cauliflower was gone. No one wants to eat frozen asparagus.

As if a full freezer will protect me from the unseen virus lurking on airplanes and sneezes and hellos from strangers. I wish I could tell you I wasn’t a little scared.

I am. I counted my toilet paper.

As of right now, I have seven rolls.

Before I left to travel abroad, I received lots of comments about the risks I was taking getting on a plane and going to another country.

I wrote in my journal, I cried, and I created anxiety coping plans with people who loved me.

I chose to get on the plane anyway.

I was met with a richness found in kindness. Open doors and flowing cocktails. Dark coffee, syrupy in strength, served in tiny cups. I wandered dirty streets and got seconds on strawberry soft serve, and looked up to the lights people strung across worn alleys and dark doorways. These people didn’t have toilet paper and they were doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

Their stories, their art work, their hospitality were all immensely beautiful.

I’ll be processing for awhile.

Upon my return in a grand 747 flying metal bird , I saw mansions from the air, scrubbed my hands in airport bathrooms and sank into the abundance the USA has in our aisles and our homes and the stores on the streets.

I kept thinking of the woman farmer we met who is teaching people how to cook and prepare vegetables. Her father’s dream was access to Home Depot.

With the threat of quarantine, fear of germs, and pending isolation, I hope we can learn from the millions of others who live life without toilet paper and so much more every single freaking day.

It’s not about wiping our tushies or stocking our fridges or making our own hand sanitizer.

Can we open our hearts, sit down for a bit, remember to breathe, and still take care of one another?

I’m not the only one worried.

Of course, use common sense, access medical care, and seek expertise if you need it.

For those of us wondering and stocking up, what if it could be different?

What if, instead of isolating ourselves, we tuned in to the strength in shared experience and sent a text or note to those we loved. What if we picked up the phone? What if we donated to causes bigger than ourselves in our worry and panic?

What if you donated just $5 you would have allocated for toilet paper?

Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

 

 

 

Pivot Forward

Yesterday, I was every bit of a capitalist consumer. I spent the afternoon searching for  key pieces for an upcoming trip and bopped into a few shops, heading straight for the sale rack towards the back of the stores.

Each time I checked out, the cashiers I interacted with said something along the lines of, “Enjoy the sun while it lasts. Snow is coming tomorrow.”

I was ready for big flakes, fluffy blankets, and savory food warming in the oven.

When I checked the weather before bed last night, I was disappointed. Our anticipated snow day had gone from a sure thing to a 30% chance of flurries for just a few hours. When I woke this morning, no snow had fallen. The ground was dry. The light was grey.

In Colorado, this change of weather and threatening inconsistency is nothing new. I’m used to being told to wear layers to prepare for multiple scenarios.

I have been trained to prepare to be flexible.

Like a toddler pushing the limits, I frequently go in to work on blue sky mornings wearing polka-dot flats only to come outside at five wishing I had worn socks as sharp little ice drops bite at the tops of my feet. If I’m going to get cold, I’ll do so on my own terms.

We wounded wonderers are masters at pivoting.

Turn for the needs of others. Turn for the wallops of pain. Turn for the things we didn’t see coming. I’m used to pivoting to protect myself, to mask disappointment, and to forge forward telling my spirit, “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.” when really, the situations are anything but.

Yes, the soft landings of snow flakes are missing today. In the grey sky surrounds I sit and I wonder, “How can I teach myself to pivot differently? What if I moved, not away-from but towards the things I want? Can preservation be channeled into motivation instead?”

This week I walked into the gym and climbed onto the elliptical stationed in front of the big t.v. showing the Food Network. The absurdity of watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives while attempting to burn off calories does not escape me. The choice, however, was better than the ever-present terror unfolding on CNN, NBC, and ABC after work hours.

I spent thirty minutes pedaling backward and the lights on the whirring machine began to flash.

Pedal forward. Pedal forward. Pedal forward. 

The green words blinked at me across the digital keypad.

It was time, again to pivot. To change my legs and my weight and move forward with my movements even though I was going nowhere at all.

March is coming and with it birthdays and anniversaries of death. In my head I’m pivoting between how it was then and where I am now and what it feels like to sit in the grey.  Four years have passed and I’ve found myself forgetting the electricity of shocking loss in my veins. The memories are softer now, still cold and wet and powerful in congregation with their fellow flakes.

I want snow and protection and warm food and calories to cushion me.

Machines are beeping, I am weeping, and conversations with encouraging strangers are telling me, “Now. It’s time. Pedal forward. Pivot towards the places you want to be. Create your work – the world needs you just as you are. ”

March is coming. Maybe this year, pivoting forward can be a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Caught an Edge

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Photo by Emma Paillex on Unsplash

“It’s happening!” I heard my brain say to my left leg as it lifted from the slush and jolted painfully, pulling me up and then down.

There was a loud crack and a solid thwack as my back met the iced-over ski slope. I don’t know if my turquoise helmet hit first, or my shoulder, but I was dazed.

I’d caught an edge and ate it. Hard.

I stared up at the blue sky for a moment or two.

Or seven.

I knew I had to sit up. Wincing, I raised my upper body to vertical.

“Skis still on?” I asked myself. Yes, the bindings did their job.

Poles were close by.

I tried to breath deeply and a kind woman stopped and asked if I wanted help standing.

“Yes please,” I said as I tried to make eye contact. “It’s been years since I’ve fallen on skis.”

I haven’t fallen because I haven’t been on skis in years. I haven’t fallen because I’m cautious. I take calculated risks. May I be one with the slope, not one laying on the slope.

As the stranger reached for my arm, she reminded me to turn my skis parallel from where I sat, rather than pointing my tips straight down the hill. If I could lean my body weight into the mountain, I could stand again.

I had to push into the very thing that hurt me.

I stood and eventually swooshed the two hundred yards to where Dylan was waiting for me.

“I hit my head.” I said, “Hard.”

My ski afternoon came to an end after a medical check from Ski Patrol and a gondola ride back down to base.

As the incident replays in my brain this week, I’ve been wondering what it means to be brave. We tell ourselves to muster up the courage and to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Being brave can be an active choice, yes, but what about when we are attempting to enjoy life and plans go otherwise? When our instincts kick in and the hard things require actions we feel we must do – not the ones we are brave enough to do?

This weekend, I didn’t cry when I fell. I said yes to help from a stranger, asked Dylan for water, and thought it would be smart to get more medical help. I chose the safe route down the hill rather than pushing myself to move on two sticks of waxed wood. I wobbled in ski boots and found my mom who was waiting and sat quietly in the car, imagining all the things that could have gone wrong. I didn’t feel brave.

Grief looks very much the same.

I didn’t feel brave when I wrote my dad’s obituary or called the organization in charge of his pension. I wasn’t brave when we spread his ashes or gave away his golf clubs, or each week when I choose to share my experience here. I wasn’t being brave.

I was surviving.

Are they the same, beautiful thing?

Life gives us edges to catch, limbs to flail, and places to fall. We’re lucky if we remember to wear our helmets and rely upon the little, beautiful buffers to help us feel a smidge safer in a scary world. We spread out, stunned, staring at the sky, trying to catch our breath as people swish by. And we remind ourselves to sit up again.

In order to do so, you must lean into the mountain. The majestic destination, the reason we are there out under big blue skies seeking solace and cold crisp air.

Lean into mysterious source of the beauty, of pines, jagged rocks, crisp, hard, sometimes powdery snow, and possible pain.

What a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

February Favorite Things – 2020

It’s snowing again. While February is the shortest month, it’s often a long haul. Here are a few favorites to delight you while the weather is cold and gray and the promise of Spring is still tucked around the corner.

  1. The BFG by Roald Dahl

I’m sure I’m late to the party, and the movie version of Roald Dahl’s classic book warmed my heart. We all need to believe in magic just a teeny bit more.

2. Snake Skin boots

Because we all want to feel sassy. I’ve been told that trend was ‘So last summer’ so if you want to be on the forward edge, I guess leopard print is in.

3. Surface Dry Shampoo

Again, late to the party, but here I am. Perfect that tousled look and avoid wet hair for another day or two more.

4. Salt Lamp Tea Lights

They tell me the benefits of Himalayan Sea Salt are endless. So we put the lamps by our electronics and I light candles at my desk. Warm glows of healing rays. Perfect for gray days.

5. Winter bouquets

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Surround yourself with bright berries, and blue thistles, and tiny, delicate blooms of chamomile. Add some color to your space while we wait for things to think about preparing to bloom. You can buy online, or Trader Joes does a great job with flowers for cheap, cheap, cheap. This florist does floral subscriptions! Get fresh flowers delivered to you once a month.

What do you do to get through the long month of February?

Looking For Beauty Amid the Pain – A Conversation with Non Wells

I have a hate-love with internet. I tend to spend so much time here. I easily get distracted, depressed, or feel stuck in endless comparisons. Hate.

Then, at other times, I realize this vessel is how I can connect with you, share updates, and change the narratives our culture tells about how we must live and operate. Love.

I was so excited to come across Non Wells and his project You, Me, Empathy last year. He’s setting out to tell stories and make connections for what he calls “Feely humans.” He explores topics of mental health, emotional wellness and human connection and I was tickled when he agreed to host me on his podcast.

Our conversation went live this week and you can listen in here.

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We kick off the show talking about my early childhood, wherein my parents valued downtime and play, often using the term (as did Non’s mother), “only the boring get bored.” We explore saying yes to the things we truly want to say yes to, using our time well, and tuning into what we actually want.

As two introverts, we talk about what that means to us, feeling the pressure to be a certain way in life, moving through the world at our own pace and not anyone else’s, having sensitive hearts, and then I share my experience of losing my father. From there, we talk about why grief isn’t contagious, the discomfort many have with death, and the ebbs and flows of life.

We delve into the origin of this blog and explore the highlights of the small joys, the unforeseen beauties perhaps we overlook in life—not as a dismissal of the pain, but a recognition of the overwhelming beauty that exists in our world, and the meditative practice of taking notice.

I hope you take some time to listen. You can learn more about Non and his efforts to support Feely Humans here.

No More Braces

A few weeks ago I found my notebook from January 2016.

In black ink, I had listed the things I was hoping for in the empty pages of a new year.

I had just started a dream job. There were 363 days to fill with goals and books and friends and growth opportunities.

In March of that year, my optimistic self was whacked to the knees with loss.

My world contracted and my goals mixed with tears in a confusing, sloshing slurry.

I threw out my resolutions and sat and stared at walls. 

Recently, I sat in my dark basement reading my old words, my heart ached for my younger self. Ambitious. Hopeful. Unscathed by the flickering cold flames of loss.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my previous positive outlook. Foolish for hoping in a hurting world.

‘Silly girl, you didn’t know what was coming,’ the bad voices said. I knew it was bad out there – it just wasn’t bad for me. Not yet.

I can now see I did, in fact, fill 2016 with books and I learned about my friendships and I grew tremendously – just not in the ways I expected. Grief tore things, and stretched, and re-arranged my definitions of success.

As the sun set and rose on repeat, I’ve welcomed four more January 1sts. At the start of each year, I’ve made lists to direct my efforts, and set goals to move myself into new places. I carried forth optimism and an appreciation for aesthetics. Yet, even with my devotion to hope, I moved with clenched fists and braced myself for more.

For resolutions were my buffers and achievements were my shields. Chinks in armor. If I do enough, then this won’t happen again.


When I was a toddler, I had to wear braces so I could learn to walk. I don’t remember much of the plastic structures that covered my ankles and went up my tiny calves into Keds sized large to accommodate the extra support. I have one blurry memory of blue gymnastic mats and afternoon light as I put heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe across the room towards the voice of a physical therapist.

The braces gave me support, structure, and a permanent bend in my big toes.

They also, eventually, got to come off.

In my grieving, my braces – preservation and structure – have looked and sounded like many things.

… isolation

… no-thank you’s to invitations

… doubts and fears and the I couldn’ts, I shouldn’ts because walking without leaves one wobbling

… I’m not ready, yets

Some were healthy. Others I’ve outgrown. As a result of the spiritual supports, I’ve got a permanent bend in me now – a wound – a wonder – a missing.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – SemiSonic

I sat under bad lighting at an oak kitchen table in a cabin in the woods as December turned to January in one minutes time. A decade slipped from one to the other in a split second.  There was no Ryan Seacrest and my young cousins had never heard of Dick Clark. No confetti. Just falling snow and the flick of a switch and we arrived.

Scrolling with my thumbs, I missed the moment the ball dropped. Two minutes into the new year I turned to kiss my husband on his forehead.

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Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

This year, I’m removing my braces of fear and of worry. I’m kicking aside the lie that accomplishment protects me from all that could be coming round the corner.

There’s a voice calling me to keep at it.

I’ll be seeking the magic and believing in the good.

I won’t be ashamed to hope. I’ve just learned to carry my humanity differently.

I’m moving heel to toe, heel to toe, tentatively in the new year, with my braces kicked to the side of the room. What a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Reach(ed)

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Photo by Slawek K on Unsplash

My word for 2019 was reach.

As the old dictionary says, there are many definitions and just as many applications of those five letters.

  • to make a stretch, as with the hand or arm.
  • to become outstretched, as the hand or arm.
  • to make a movement or effort as if to touch or seize something:to reach for a weapon.
  • to extend in operation or effect:power that reaches throughout the land.
  • to stretch in space; extend in direction, length, distance, etc.

This time last year I was hoping to put myself “out there” again. To stop retreating and re-enter the world in ways that would stretch me and help me touch new things, arrive in new places, and make bigger impacts.

With my word in mind, I started to live differently.

I walked into new networking meetings and said hellos.

I boarded planes to the mid-west and slept on plastic mattresses or in single hotel rooms as a solo traveler.

I led grieving individuals in workshops with words.

I asked for a desk chair.

I learned to put my own words to my needs with trembling hands.

I said yes more and swatted at my fears.

I stretched my stamina and extended my efforts and tried new things.

I had a good year.

What if, however, my reaching was instead grasping and my attempts to stretch were pushes (to press or urge to some action or course)? I was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, pushing myself to take up space, pushing myself to live again when parts of me still feel the pins and needles of coming awake after loss makes your limbs turn to dead weight.

My kind yoga instructor often walks around her studio and places her warm palms on my shoulders, reminding me to relax the shell of protection I’ve created as my muscles inch closer to my ears. As we move our limbs into the next posture, she returns, same palms on the small of my back inching me closer to the floor in a forward fold.

Pushing would suggest success. A clear tick mark in the empty box.

You can’t push past pain to get release. You have to ease into it.

In recovery programs, people repeat “progress, not perfection.”

This year, I made space, I stretched, and I extended.

I made progress. I did not arrive.

I reached.

Our society waits at the end of that sentence and in the pause asks, “For what?”

At the end of this year, I’m still not sure.

Awakening wasn’t found in my accomplishments. Emptiness still lingers in my limbs and my ever-tight hips suggest I still have work to do. Healing isn’t found in over-extension. I’m still easing into my pain.

Deep breaths expand my life force lungs. I learned in my reaching, I’m still here.

Push, grasp, reach.

Move, hope, release.

The journey continues. What a beautiful thing.

December Favorite Things – 2019

I wrote my Christmas card this weekend and thought to myself, “Wasn’t it just August?”

You too?

Welp, here we are at the end of the year and the end of a decade. Hard to believe.

Here are a few of my favorites as I decorate my house, buy gifts for others, and blow my nose continuously because the winter cold has hit me.

Merry Merry to you and yours.

    1. Advent Devotional by Ann Voskamp
      It’s the season of light and I get excited to remember how we can choose to welcome the Holy Spirit back into our lives. I read this one every year
    2. Dried oranges – I followed this simple recipe and used the oranges as ornaments on my tree and tucked them in on a home made wreath. I left the sugar off because I know my dog would eat them …. Another recipe suggested tucking whole cloves in the slices. I didn’t have any and dried allspice instead and wasn’t that impressed.
    3. Simmer Scents to make your house smell great naturally

    4. Pair this shortbread with Scotch and toast to Roy

5. “Eight is a lot of legs David.” – the best line from Love Actually


 

In a completely separate request, I’m gathering answers to the question:

As a reader of 52 Beautiful Things,  what do you like most about the writing?

Send an email to 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com with your response

52 Thankfuls – 2019

“Gratitude is wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.” – Rumi

52 Things to be thankful for this year. In a sorta particular order….allie-smith-h5K9F-gXr5I-unsplash.jpg

1. Family as we choose to call them
2. Flannel Sheets
3. Whats App Face-to-Face Phone Calls
4. The Dinner Party
5. Keyboards
6. Mentors
7. Donuts in Portland
8. Hot-springs
9. Snow shoes
10. Warm winter coats
11. White mugs full of coffee
12. Vanilla syrup
13. Book Club
14. The occasional steak dinner
15. Beaches in Mexico
16. Sunscreen
17. Access to medical care
18. My job
19. My husband’s job
20. Olive-pants
21. Sandy Flip flops
22. Remakes of The Lion King, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland
23. Birthday Tea Parties
24. Moms who sew
25. One Hope Wine
26. Gin and Tonic
27. Moscow Mules
28. Paint and Drywall and Wood
29. My general contractor
30. Summer Camp-like experiences
31. Men who play harps
32. Lake Michigan
33. Hiking Trails
34. A clean hot tub
35. My grandmother’s stories
36. Old friends
37. New friends
38. A leaf blower
39. Whiskey
40. Rental Cars
41. Hot Chicken
42. Improv
43. Teachers
44. Music lessons
45. Side hustles
46. The power of the internet
47. My words printed in ink
48. Good night kisses
49. Airplanes
50. Sunday night dinner
51. Walks to the lake
52. Hope

What are you thankful for this year?