beauty

Just a little more sparkly …

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about my experience with my mountain top metaphor. I’m a Colorado girl so the physical overcoming of rocks and stones makes a lot of sense when we connect the image to our challenges in life.

For snobby, Colorado me, the metaphor feels a bit, well, overdone. I get it. The smell of the pines, the crunching stones on a dirt trail – idyllic – but I’ve lived the mountain ups and downs for a long time. I haven’t lived the ‘shouting from rooftops’ metaphor or the ‘view from the top of church staircases’ or ‘tripping on cobblestone’ or ‘lessons found when getting lost in London’s alleys’ metaphors.

I’m not a very big risk taker and the hills and valleys in my backyard were spiritually working for a long time. Until they weren’t.

Deep breath – here it is – I’m tired of mountains. I needed a change of scenery.

This year, the bravest thing I’ve done was plan a two week vacation to places I’ve wanted to go since I was a teenager. I knew I needed respite and took baby steps to see if maybe, magically, we could make a dream come true. I made lists and price comparisons, read blogs about places to see and interviewed seasoned traveler friends for their advice.

I asked my boss for two weeks out of the office. He agreed.

Then, I bought plane tickets.

Then, I waited for weeks.

Dare I take another courageous step? Did I believe I could invest in me and the universe wouldn’t retaliate?

With each planning step my palms would sweat. Every time I clicked purchase on a hotel reservation, or a show I wanted to attend, my heart beat loudly in my nervous chest. I wrote about my fears and my doubts and all the reasons why chasing this dream could be halted. I was sure, if I left, someone else would die or need me back at home. An unhealthy pattern, yes. A pattern that my friends in grief group nod along to when I voice – ‘I’m just scared of who is going to go next.’

Time passed. I prayed. I planned. I clicked purchase. I made an itinerary on Google and copies of our passports. We bought luggage, we packed, and eventually we boarded a plane.

Nine hours later, a conversation with a nice lady at Passport control, and we walked out the airport doors and into the English air.

A dream came true and we made it happen. A beautiful thing.

I have lots of stories about our trip and much like Dylan is editing the 700 photos he took on his DSLR, I’m still processing the lessons I learned over there. I’ve waited to share here because one little post seemed inadequate to capture the joy found in exploring museums, churches, magical places with cones of rose-shaped gelato in our hands.

So here goes.

There are a lot of stairs in Paris. Stairs in the subway stations, in the art galleries, in the lines of the tourist destinations. They seemed to be everywhere. Just like the stairs of life. Sometimes, we fall down them. Then we get back up and keep asking, ‘what can I see at the top?’

On a Thursday night, Dylan and I climbed stairs to the 6th floor of a big building hoping to see some modern art. We went to late night hours and found ourselves gazing out at this view instead. A little different the tops of mountains I’m used to.

The things we’ve overcome to stand on this rooftop! I was moved to tears.

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Beautiful tears for the past, for the new memories made we won’t share with my dad as we debrief at home, for the pure joy that comes from believing my own dreams are worth pursuing. Beauty found in the power of listening to the little voice inside my heart that said, ‘you are worth it, go explore. These people you love will be ok.’

The people I love, they were ok. We were too. More than ok.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

– 1 Peter 5:10

From under the lights of the Paris skyline, to the sides of the Thames river my heart soared in places unfamiliar. I kept saying to Dylan, “I feel so ALIVE here.”

Every time we walked in a plaza, sat in a beautiful garden, slurped onion soup at a sidewalk cafe, I would whisper thanks. In Europe, 7,000 miles from home, I couldn’t believe how far we had come in our restoration journey. God brought us there, at the steps of these famous, picturesque places. With my ability to trust and release my paranoid control of the lives of my loved ones, I stood at the foot of Notre Dame, saw the London Eye, visited Queen Elizabeth’s home, and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle up from the top of a building, dazzling in glow of Parisian light.

Travel was balm to big wounds, the scabby heart ones still grazing my grasping fingers each day. I’ve been home two weeks and continue to integrate these new experiences. I’m realizing all over again I can heal and hurt and delight all at once.

Perspective from any kind of higher ground is a beautiful thing. The metaphor is just a little more sparkly in Paris.

Last Call

I received one more submission this morning – better late than never I always say – that brings this little adventure to a total count of 475 Beautiful Things. Things good, and right, and holy, and ordinary that are happening right now, in this mess of a world. While a bit far off from my lofty goal, this list is nothing to sneeze at. Thank you, thank you to all that contributed. Here’s a few more batches.

#456 Weekends “off” from school that give space & time to read a book
#457 My cat, Pippa, – she reminds me to never stop being curious
#458 A quiet snowfall while sitting in a warm cabin by the fire
#459 Wine and dance parties to old music
#450 warm sheets fresh from the dryer

#456 – #460 Contributed by Madeline Huey

#461 A cool, calm, fall morning on the golf course
#462 changing into sweatpants and a hoodie after a long day
#463 Lord of the Rings marathon while snow is falling
#464 hot tea on the porch
#465 When your pup is little spoon & falls asleep

#461 – #465 Contributed by Rachel McClintock

#466 drinking a 15 year Tullamore Dew with your dog Tulla
#467 playing footy on freshly cut pitch
#468 hot Chinese food on a cold winter’s night
#469 watching any movie from the ’80s
#470 celebrating a goal at White Hart Lane

#465 – #470 Contributed by Travis McClintock

# 471 I was given enough time to rest and refresh myself 🙂
#472 I started my own blog
#473 got nice books to read
#474 I got a new job
#475 I have great people surrounding me

#471 – #475 Contributed by Naz Garcia

#476 Being able to go to the university of my choice
#477 The warm sun
#478 My Spotify Premium
#479 My amazing family
#480 The dutch education system
#481 Fall fashion
#476 – #481 Contributed by Amber Cornelissen

So, when you’re feeling down, return to this list, or make your own. There is magic to be found.

 

Grueling Hike with a Wonderful View: Trolltunga – Guest Post by Chee Zhiquan

At this point, two people have shared beautiful posts with me about visiting Norway. I think the Universe is sending subtle hints. This week’s lovely post follows Chee and his hike at Trolltunga. Another magical place challenging hearts and minds while it taunts us to explore its beauty. Read his full account below.

Author: Chee Zhiquan
Website: TakeOutdoors

Favorite Quote: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

This trail is filled with many breathtaking spots that blew my mind away. When the sun shines at the blue fjord, it sparkles like quartz, stones that shimmer like iron and steel. The water is as clear as diamonds. These scenes were so brilliantly and astonishingly stunning, and all made by the patient hands of nature. And thousands of tourists in the summer months ultimately come for this view alone:

 

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This is Trolltunga.

The word translates to “Troll’s Tongue” and is a cliff rock more than 700 meters above a lake that sticks out like, as the name suggests, a tongue. I was blessed to complete the hike and took an insta-worthy photo of myself in the tongues very tip, one that soon became my Facebook cover photo.

Guess my friends’ reactions when I put that picture up? There were plenty of likes, wows and hearts. I felt so good when I started receiving notifications of positive reactions to my cover photo.

Validation: check!

That’s not all though. I failed miserably on the first attempt and that failure gave me a stronger desire to complete it on the second try. The first hike was a few years ago and ever since I kept thinking about going back and finish the walk.

So, this summer I decided to go back to Norway and complete this hike with my partner. We made a lot of preparations, bought the right gear and did a little of physical training.

You may be asking, why did we prepare so much?

Well the answer is – the trail to Trolltunga is the most challenging trail in Norway. It’s a 27km round trip from the start point to the tongue of the rock itself and it takes about 8 – 12 hours to complete. And the terrain is far from flat, being filled with many uphills and downhills.

I was especially keen not to fail this time.

Another problem was posed by the fact that my partner and I come from Singapore, a country that has no mountains at all. The tallest hill sits at a modest 163 meters. Even if we could easily reach the peak of our tallest hill, Trolltunga was a whole new ball game.

So let’s begin with our experience from the start…

Our moods were high because we were already looking forward to seeing the cliff rock. We were happily walking until we saw our first uphill, which immediately filled us with a sense of doom.

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Not sure if this looks tough to you but it sure was to us. We climbed for about half an hour wondering if the slope would ever end. Eventually it did, thankfully. But it would not be the last of such slopes that we would encounter in the coming
hours.

At every kilometer of the trail, there was a sign stating how far away we were from the cliff rock. I found this sign pretty motivating, especially when nearing the end. However, it was demoralizing when walking back and the sign was saying “12km” before we would get some well deserved rest.

The trail seemed to get more difficult the further we progressed, going uphill was tiring while going downhill on slabs of rocks was hurting our knees. Our minds started to tell us to throw in the towel. I think we might have given up if the weather had been bad.

Along the trail, we were greeted with magnificent views of the fjords and this was one of them.

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I was fascinated, took a deep breath and started to appreciate the surroundings. The water was so clear it had reflections of the clouds. The rocks on the mountains were shimmering.

I was tired, thirsty, sweaty and my legs were aching yet this breathtaking view took all that pain away. This view also helped me to find my purpose in life. That purpose is to uncover as many landscapes on Earth as I can before I go and meet my makers.

I knew that this wouldn’t be the only amazing scenery I’ll come across as there’s plenty more in the world yet to discover and enjoy.

Continuing with such good weather and good views, we pushed on and finally reached the cliff rock.

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Stunning, isn’t it?

After that, we sat down for a while and ate some eggs, sandwiches and bananas to replenish our energy. This energy was totally necessary to fuel us up for the rest of the journey. There was an eagle that soared pass the mountain, as though a significant sign of being a conqueror to this enormous mountain.

There was an interesting scene where everyone was queuing for a photo by Trolltunga. Well, who doesn’t want a photo right? After walking for 5 – 6 hours, you totally deserve an awesome photo.

So, we queued for an hour plus. When it reached our turn, we were contemplating whether to go near the edge. In the back of our minds, we remembered seeing news of a tourist who fell to her death. We told ourselves that there probably won’t be a second time so we overcame our paranoia and went to the edge.

It was all worth it. The image taken was spectacular. We had help from a total stranger to take the photo for us. I guessed everyone became friends at this point.

After snapping photos for our Facebook and Instagram profiles, we rested a little more
before continuing the journey back to the start point. The thought of going back was painful, especially seeing as we know that we would have to negotiate all that tough terrain once more.

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But luckily, we made it, and I’m still alive to tell this story.

Things that amazed us were not just the views but the people we saw. Along the way, we saw a mountain biker, dogs taken for stroll on the mountain, a couple of hikers walking barefoot and even a pregnant lady (I think that was her last trimester!). Their determination was beyond admirable.

After this hike, I felt there was a greater meaning to life. In Singapore, most people rush to work in the morning and rush back home in the evening. That is the same case for me before the trip, my mind was constantly thinking about work. I didn’t have moments to slow my pace, look around my environment and appreciate beautiful things nature has to offer.

I’m glad I went on this adventure though and for the way it sparked a change in my mindset.

But if you ask me if I want to do it again, I would answer no. Not because the hike was tough, but because there are still so many other mountains, rivers, forests and landscapes to explore.

And I think I’ve just got started.

That’s all folks! Thanks for reading my experience. If you’re heading to Norway for any hiking adventures, let me know so I can share some tips!


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Chee Zhiquan is the man behind TakeOutdoors.com, a blog for anyone who simply loves the outdoors. He considers himself as an outdoor geek who loves fiddling with computer and exploring the nature.

 

#1 – #45

 

“I am going to make everything around me beautiful - that will be my life.”― Elsie de Wolfe (2)

It’s Friday!

As you, hopefully, know I started a little challenge for us to create a list of 1,000 beautiful things in an effort to combat the nasty swirling around us. Not sure what I’m alluding to – read this post first.

I’m thrilled people are responding. Here’s the list so far. Think on these things at work, in the carpool lane, when gritting your teeth at the customer who can’t seem to stop yelling at you.  It’s out there – the good, the beautiful, the bold. May I suggest reading while listening to this song by The Fray?

#1 Peanut butter M&Ms
#2 Long, handwritten letters
#3 Nostalgia
#4 Carousels
#5 Bohemian Rhapsody
#6 Wendy’s frosties
#7 Honeysuckle
#8 Punch with Sherbet in it
#9 Summertime
#10 New beginnings

#1 – 10 Contributed by Lindsay Song

#11 – A dog curled up next to me keeping me warm
#12 – There are free apple trees all over the city, we’re picking them this weekend so they don’t go to waste, and they’ll provide snacks and syrup for us all year long
#13 – The leaves are starting to change
#14 – Dylan’s dad is making serious progress on Nathan’s house
#15 When the cream is swirling in your morning coffee
#16 – Fresh baked bread – specifically this recipe

#11 – 16 Contributed by Tegan Plock

#17 literature
#18 a spiritual path
#19 chocolate
#20 art
#21 music
#22 cookbooks

#17 – 22 Contributed by Christine Christman

#23 Friends with different political beliefs but still being able to get along
#24 crisp autumn days
#25 new lipstick
#26 holding hands with someone you love
#27 traveling to new places

#23 – 27 Contributed by Brittany Larsen

#28 The heavy breathing of sleeping babies
#29 Coffee shops with great decor
#30 The feeling when the song you’ve been wanting to hear comes on the radio
#31 Amazon Prime wardrobe instead of clothes shopping with two small children
#32 Highwaisted jeans are in style
#33 It never fails to make me smile – the way my two-year-old son says toot/tooted/tooting #34 I married across the aisle, and if we can continue to believe the best of each other, there is hope for the rest of us yet
#35 Gyms with childcare
#36 yoga
#37 that there is just so much possibility

#28 – 37 Contributed by Emily Alman

#38 There’s food in my fridge
#39 Grocery stores and corner markets sell bouquets of fresh flowers all over the world #40 Candy corn
#41 text messages with loved ones
#42 acoustic guitars
#43 writers
#44 creatives
#45 believers in beautiful things

#38 – 45 Contributed by me on the launch

Let’s keep resisting the notion that bad is all there is.  Ready to add your contribution to the list? Jot down 5-10 things that are going right in your world RIGHT now. Send me an email or leave a comment on the blog. If you prefer to be anonymous, that’s fine!

To resisting together!

 

 

Resistance of a Different Kind

We live in crazy times. Each time I open CNN (which I KNOW I should not type that into my browser.. but I can’t help it) my stomach drops.

Oh, you too?

Yeah, I know I’m not alone.

Maybe you’re reading important Op-Ed pieces.

Maybe you are cleaning out your closets and burning your shoes.

Maybe you are showing up for protests and teaching your kids how to make homemade signs.

Maybe you are sharing viral videos with the hopes of likes and comments and conversation.

Maybe you are angry, hurt, scared and turning hateful instead of hopeful.

My spinning head can not keep up with headlines, hurting hearts, and heavy reminders of the work we have yet to do.

A friend of a friend wrote this article drawing upon the lessons from Harry Potter in this era of Trump. I, too, was eleven when Harry meekly came onto the scene, gaining power in his own abilities, his skills, and his uniqueness.

His voice taught my generation to resist opression, darkness and death eaters, much like Malia says, with our own ordinary abilities.

I’m not shouting on streets and I’m not making signs. I am clicking on articles and watching disheartening videos, and I’m swirling with how do I, a perfectly ordinary person, resist this?

With whispers of beautiful things.

I’ve decided for the month of September to invite you, my readers, to join me in making lists of things going well in your life right now. Yes, it may feel a total shit show out there, but in my house, my world is calm. Imperfect, but calm.

 I believe we can create peace if we start in our hearts, refusing to believe the doom and gloom and crazy chaos of an aching world is all there is. 

No, I’m not discounting the craziness, nor am I naively saying that making lists of good and beautiful things makes things better. It can, however, make things bearable.

Interested in joining the resistance?

 

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Send me a list of five to ten things going right in your world and I’ll share it on the blog. You can scratch it down on paper, shoot me an email at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or leave a comment here.

Think a gratitude list mixed with a light saber to fight off the darkness.

I’ll go through the month of September. I’m hoping for 1000 total beautiful things. That means 100 people have to send me a list of 10 items.

For tonight?

  • There’s food in my fridge
  • Grocery stores and corner stands and open-air markets all over the world sell bouquets of fresh flowers
  • Candy corn
  • Text messages with loved ones
  • Acoustic guitar
  • Writers
  • Creatives
  • Believers in beautiful things

Send me an email, let’s get resisting.

 

 

 

September Favorite Things

Hold the phone.

Starbucks launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte three days ago! I’ve got a hard rule (self-imposed and regulated) that the famed PSL can not be consumed until October. By then it will have been out for like six weeks! Old news. The weather should be colder, leaves changing, sweaters bursting forth from wardrobes saying, ‘pick me, pick me.’

No! We are ahead of ourselves. None of those things happen in September!

Never you mind that the leaves are sorta, kinda, changing in my back yard. Or the fact that I wore short boots and long sleeves to work this week, even though the temperature reached 90 degrees.

Marketing is confusing me!

Stop, breathe. Be grounded in this new month and enjoy these new favorite things. Because before you know it, it will be time for candy corn (also self-imposed rule that only allows for consumption in October). Ooooo Candy Corn!

Staying in September. Here are this month’s favs.

  1. Stationary by Emily Howell 

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I’ve mentioned her before and I’ll mention her again. Emily creates beautiful things. I knew I wanted some personal stationary and she captured my vision so well! Now I have the perfect cards for snail mail that remind me just how beautiful it is to send people love through the mail. In the form of notes written with ballpoint pens.

2. Moon River by Carla Bruni

We’re heading to Paris soon and I keep swooning every single time I hear Carla sing this song. I’m going to be that drifting world traveler! I’ve got her voice on repeat. She also sings lovely songs in French and you can get her full album here.  Or wait months for me to successfully learn this song on the ukulele. I printed out these chords to give it a go.

3. Duolingo

Speaking of French … if you’re interested in learning a new language in a fun way download the Duolingo app. Each night, Dylan and I log in and have our ten minute French lesson. I’m doomed when I arrive in Paris because right now all I’ve got is Tu manges un orange.  And Je suis une femme. 

Hopefully my list of words and phrases will expand beyond croissant, pizza, cafe au lait si’l vous plait. If you’re not interested in French, you can try learning Klingon or High Valerian.

4. These SmartWool Running Socks

I’m kinda picky about socks for working out. My brother gave me a pair of these and I’m obsessed. They hit the ankle just right, don’t rub, and there are no seams inside that bother my toes. Lots of fun colors too.

5.  What Happened by Hillary Clinton

Say what you will about Hillary Clinton but I found her latest book pretty fascinating. I believe at her core she is trying to make the world a better place. Her call for radical empathy at the end of this book made me cry and truly appreciate the many shoulders of women I stand on today. The ones who show up, love, do the hard work, speak their truths. It’s a start to changing our world!

Now I have to go and assess how I feel about caramel apple cider before October. I don’t have a rule about that and it sounds lip-smackingly delicious. Like with this syrup.

Mmmmm…. the apples are calling!

How do you measure?

I’ve always loved the musical RENT. I saw the show on Broadway on a high school trip to New York. I remember feeling slightly scandalous because my mormon and catholic friends chose to see Phantom of the Opera instead. I sat in the dark theatre and trembled in my seat as social justice soared through air. These anthems taught me about Alphabet City, rent control, AIDS, and drag queens. The lessons stirred my heart and steered me towards sociology, social work, and the importance of advocacy.

Later that year our choir practiced Seasons of Love for months. At graduation, I proudly belted out the song wearing my bright blue robe, tassels brushing my face as my head bobbed along proudly to the now familiar tune.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?


Dylan celebrated another birthday this past weekend – another five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes of his life passed. And mine too, walking along side him.

Minutes filled with tears. Minutes blowing my nose. Minutes coughing up crud.

Minutes filled laughing.

Minutes of This is Us, and Chopped, and Gilmore Girls.

Minutes drinking beer. Minutes trying to figure out how to use a wine bottle opener.

Minutes giving up.

Minutes brushing my teeth.

Minutes whispering help.

Minutes of pitting cherries, chopping onions, planting tomatoes.

Minutes on Facetime and Instagram and Facebook.

Minutes staring at a computer, fingers typing, thoughts swirling.

Minutes at work.

Minutes frustrated that the trash isn’t taken out, and the dog peed on the carpet (holy hell, yes, again) and that your career isn’t unfolding as quickly as you thought it would.

Minutes on your knees, praying, making gratitude lists, blessing food and family and appreciating a peach.

Minutes trying something new.

How about when its 4:58 pm and you look at the clock at 4:58:01 and 4:58:15 and 4:58:42 and 4:59:01. Those slow, desperate minutes – those matter too.

Time goes so quickly.

And yet, try holding your breath for a full minute.

.

.

.

I’ll wait.

.

.

.

Stopping for that long is hard!

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my minutes – all the ones we have left – and what I want to do with them. How I want to use my time to serve others and dream bigger and dip my toes into uncharted territory.

Because when you lose someone at an early age, you’re always wondering how many minutes will I have left? And what about all the minutes of people I love? 

I turn 30 in 4 months. That’s 175, 200 minutes.

I’ll be filling time with:

Minutes reading books.

Minutes worrying about my husband, my mom, my brother, my grandma. They’ll sit and say like Anne Lamott – “quit getting your help all over me”

Minutes on airplanes.

Minutes abroad.

Minutes at work.

Minutes frustrated at the dog, at the dishes, at cooking dinner yet again.

Minutes swapping kisses.

Minutes learning to drive stick shift.

Minutes chasing dreams.

Minutes singing karaoke.

Minutes baking bread.

Minutes with tears, I’m sure, and minutes looking for beautiful things.


This past May I was invited back to high school graduation to sing with my choir because my teacher was retiring. She’d spent over twenty five years teaching kids to sing their hearts out at graduation. While waiting in the hallway in the basement of the stadium the band director organizing the event waved his hands to get us to quiet down.

“After they sing Seasons of Love it will be your turn to file out. And yes, we still sing that god-awful song.”

I chuckled to myself, because you see, some beautiful minutes last forever.