Gratitude

You’re Still Here

I looked up from my computer as I perched against my tall office chair. As the sun dipped into the trees, I smiled as the delivery man approached.

He opened the door, and interrupted a conversation with co-workers with a cheer.

“You’re all still here!” he said. “Happy post-COVID, or wherever we are.”

We laughed together and I said, “I’m so glad you’re still our guy.”

It was a brief interaction – three minutes or less. With the opening of an office door, and a delivery of a package, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that has been missing in remote offices and isolating fear-spirals.

Yes, we were all wearing masks and trying to stand further apart than we would have before, but with a simple delivery, I was reminded of just how much we need each other.

The arrival of a delayed package, the missing remote for the speakers, the hum of a coffee machine left on overnight, spider webs collecting in places gone untouched for months. Ordinary, beautiful things, often seen as annoyances, that blur into the background of a normal life.

But things haven’t been normal.

Today, I saw my friend Jesse, our UPS man. You’re all still here.

What a beautiful thing.

In the Rush

Sitting down to my grandmother’s kitchen table for dinner always started the same way. We’d hold hands, bow our heads, and someone would start to pray.

“In the rush of a busy day, oh Lord, we pause to give you thanks. For food, for family ….”

There’s a third for something that’s escaping me now. I haven’t sat at her kitchen table for awhile.

This time warp of Covid and constant vigilance has me dancing between a frantic feeling of trying to pack summer and outdoor safety into a container before the weather again gets cold.

It’s time, again, to pause.

I bow my head. I say a prayer of thanks for these beautiful things.

Slices of melted mozarella cheese squished between fresh pesto and late summer peaches.

A friend who picks up the phone after I text, “Can I call you tonight?”

Tomatoes so juicy their insides drip down your chin, begging to be sopped up with fresh bread.

A persistent daisy poking its way through the soil, against the odds, timelines of shoulds forgotten.

Pink nail polish on tanned toes.

I’ve only got five items today – pushing for more feels like squeezing a tube of toothpaste that’s been clogged for awhile. I’m out of practice. What’s happening in the world right now is overwhelming, perplexing and sad.

If you squeeze your container a little harder in an attempt to extrude the good, what beautiful blobs would emerge?

Relying on the 5 Senses

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

A therapist once taught me a grounding exercise. When overwhelm wraps its scratchy arms around me, I have to start to count the things I notice. The practitioner told me to pay attention to my senses.

What’s something you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What’s within reach that you can run your palms across? What noises can you hear? As you make note, repeat the phrase, “I am safe” to yourself in a whisper.

Repeat the process until the anxiety subsides.

I had an epiphany last week while staring at pictures of others gathering with friends and family. If others can gather safely without health consequences, perhaps I am entitled to the same experiences. I tiptoed into my closet to pick out an outfit made of fibers other than spandex and cotton. I used mascara. I blow-dried my hair.

I had a coffee date with a new connection. I flicked through clothing racks at T.J. Maxx. When I hugged my friend, seven months pregnant, for the first time since the first lockdown, I cried. Emotions bubbled up, surprising me as I embarked on the everyday, ordinary routines that I’d skipped for the sake of safety.

All the while I kept whispering to myself, “I am safe” on repeat.

In seasons of darkness, we’re told to look for light. I find myself squinting from the flares of light others have been basking in for awhile longer than me. I’m moving into the world stepping cautiously into ordinary spaces.

While my eyes adjust, I’m also practicing looking for signs of life.

Andy Rooney once said, “For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are that you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”

Curating happiness in a post-pandemic world requires much of the same skills we learned in our hibernation.

What are your senses revealing?

Potatoes are poking their way through the dirt and I witness tiny tomato seedlings in their determination to become something of substance.

Neighbors up and down the street create a symphony of mowers releasing plumes of green grass thanks to all of the rain.

I’ve watched the irises grow their cellulose stalks and unfurl their blousy arms with flare. Bringing the blooms inside, I stuck my nose near the center and inhaled.

I dipped corn chips into hot cheese tasting flavors only a restaurant can concoct.

My clothes are clean. Leggings are worn soft. My toes can be free in flip flops once again.

A cousin said hello to their new baby girl.

When is the last time something wonderful happened to you?

I am safe. Life is here.

Relying on the five senses. A beautiful thing.

You know the old saying …

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Does the same hold true … “If you can’t say anything profound, don’t say anything at all?”

The dreary of February has been clouding up my brain and fogging up my windows. Words aren’t flowing with ease.

As the temperature drops, and I drive from here to there, mini snowflakes kiss my windshield.

Waiting for the light to turn from red to green, I watched the magic of water turned to one-of-a-kind crystal fall from the sky. I received my gift, as one mighty flake fell to rest near J-shaped crack of glass needing repair.

Nothing profound to share in dreary February. But we do have snowflakes.

And that is a beautiful thing.

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

In posts and on threads, on work chats and check-ins people continue to share their disappointment at not being able to gather this year for Thanksgiving. When listening, my stomach would twinge and my empathy drained. I couldn’t figure out why I was triggered.

Sacrifice of time together for the hope of remaining alive doesn’t feel like sacrifice to me. At least it didn’t. Not six months ago, when were were just getting started. Not two weeks ago when we were told, again, to stay safer at home. I know, this is exhausting. We are tired and lonely and sad. Food and connection are supposed to comfort, not kill.

Today when another colleague shared their deep sadness about missing family dinners, I felt my muscles tense.

“What gives?” I asked under my breath. “Why is this bothering me so much?”

I clicked over to the New York Times website and read Nora McInerny’s brilliant articles titled You Don’t Have to Fake It Through Thanksgiving. She reminded me it took her six years for the holiday season to feel festive again after her husband died. Six years.

I’m approaching year five.

Since, Thanksgiving has felt hard, sad, and a complex mix of hoping for bliss while clinging to gratitude. Nora’s words took me back to my own first Thanksgiving without Dad. I had gone with my in-laws to New York while my mom and my brother went to Texas. The guilt of being away and feeling normal split me in two. The distance between feeling good for minuscule moments while knowing people I love were hurting across the country ripped a canyon within me.

I remember sneaking away after to dinner to call my mom. I slouched on a velvet green couch in the bedroom above the garage and I dialed to connect us from across the country. Our families gathered around tables beneath us, smearing Karo syrup on warm plates. We wiped snot off of cell phone covers.

I spend the holiday season still split in two. Between longing and acceptance. Between people pleasing and taking care of myself. Between disappointing others and berating my attempts of trying too hard.

My empathy has dried up, perhaps, because I’ve been adapting to a different kind of Thanksgiving for a very long time. I haven’t given that longing the attention it deserves.

I’ve run out of patience for the ones who are acting like they are the only ones here for the first time, managing a less than ideal holiday because of forces outside of their control.

You may have to be on Zoom this year, but what about the festive name plates that could never grace your table again? For me, the risk isn’t worth it.

I know this is hard. I know being away from your people is sad. And I ask you to think about the millions of people who have been carrying this weight for a very long time.

I’ve learned to carry my grief like a backpack. Sometimes it’s heavy and full of old baggage. Sometimes light and open and airy. Other times full of boombox tunes that make me smile of Him.

This year the backpack is full of relief, of sadness, and tiny, fluttering threads of hope. We’re a little tattered. It’s ok. The backpack will continue to fill and empty as we go.

Nora’s words reminded me about the freedom we have to face these days however feels good. We don’t have to do the dinner, the fixings, or the mounds of pie. This year isn’t normal. These celebrations don’t have to be normal either. Grief and crisis won’t allow it. And neither will I.

As if you need my permission to allow anything at all.

Order sushi. Call Pizza Hut. Get on Zoom. Break the rules. Skip the parade. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Cling to gratitude but you don’t have to hope for bliss. For me, that’s too high a bar. Instead, blow a kiss from a screen, donate money, mail a card. Write a list of the good and the ordinary magic getting you by.

Pick up your backpack and fill it full of beautiful things.

Counting by Sevens

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The sun woke me this morning as cool air blew in through the blinds, pushed with a little help from the rotating blades of the plastic window fan working over time as the days grow hotter. From my bedroom window, I first watched our three-year old neighbor helping her father pick up sticks in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume. Mask secured, she bent over and over again to clean the wreckage from the wind storm in her own backyard. Her squeals and kicks and appreciation for a costume warmed my heart.

Our home has been quiet lately – an unsettling calm in a world disrupted by sickness, racism, hatred, and positive action mixed with a crying call to be better.

This introverted writer hasn’t minded the pause – a time to be working from home and relying on comforts to make sense of things going on outside.

Only this week has the silence rippled in uncomfortable patterns in our home and my heart. I miss seeing my friends. I balance wanting to interact with more than just my husband and my parents via FaceTime with uncertainty of a risky world.

I am amazed by the bravery, determination, and willingness of hundreds of thousands of people standing up against injustice. Black lives matter. The work you are doing to change opinions, open eyes, call for action is inspiring me.

Does writing into cyberspace still hold power when my anxiety prohibits me from protesting in the streets?

Typing cautiously, I hold the heavy weight of pain in one palm, and unfurl my gripping fingers of my other hand with a readiness to accept good and beautiful things.

I tentatively wonder how long it will be for the open palm to fill with the same weight of horrific behavior and heinous tweets.

I have to believe it’s not as crappy as CNN chooses to remind me each morning.

I heard recently a positive thought takes seven times the reinforcement to stick in our brain than a negative thought. Seven times more powerful are the fears, the shames, the things you must protect yourself from.

In my continued silent sanctuary of home, surrounded by privilege- I know, I listen to dogs barking and a neighbor mowing the lawn.

In my aching sense of wondering,  I ponder and ask, “What beautiful things are here in all of this?”

For the world has always been messy – rarely are we all so privy to the pain and suffering we carry on a global scale. A mirror has been raised. The pain in me sees and honors the pain in you.

What would happen to our world if we could whisper those words to one another?

Father’s Day is coming and with it the ads land in my inbox like little paint ball explosions of grief. No one has texted me to see how I’m doing with the approaching marker.

Thousands upon thousands are missing their people.

We’re out of work and afraid to go to the grocery store and wondering when it will be safe to hug our friends.

I start counting and repeating to myself, seven times over.

Classical music plays and children pick up sticks, and protestors flood the streets with messages of peace and justice and the simple desire to be able to continue to breathe.

What privilege it is to start with a fresh, full breath.

You, too, can count and seek beauty. At seven times the rate of the negative we’ve been fed.

Classical music. Children picking up sticks. Cold brew coffee swirling with cream. Instagram messages of solidarity. Protests in the streets. Longing for connection. Feeling unsettled. Searching for someone to see your pain. All beautiful things.

Day 67 – 52 Good Things

As states start to open up, my confidence in being in public waivers. I felt brave and brought cookies to a friend. Panicked when someone I know got tested. Went to the hardware store to buy flowers and wanted to yell at those not wearing masks. I wonder if I’m missing out by staying home and still practicing presence by remembering to take things one moment at a time. I’m still home and still counting. Here are a few more good and beautiful things, even during a pandemic.

What’s on your list? Send me an email and we’ll keep counting together.

190. Irises cut fresh from the front yard

191. Plant starters given freely

192. The promise of tomatoes

193. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

194. Ham and cheese and bread

195. Clean water with slices of lemon

195. The Fitzgerald cocktail 

196. Bike Rides through neighborhoods

197. Waiting for Colorado Strong Pale Ale

198. Big, long, snotty cries

199. Puppy snuggles

200.  Warm nights with the windows open

 

 

In All the Rooms of My House

I grabbed the blue handle and tucked the blades into the red, re-usable grocery bag.

“I’m going to go try” I told Dylan as I put on my sandals.

“Ok, good luck” he shouted up from the basement.

I’d spent the last hour psyching myself up for the task. I was going to do something I’d been thinking about for the five years we’ve lived here.

At the corner of a busy intersection where you can turn into our neighborhood sit three large lilac bushes. Each year they bloom and the blossoms sit and open their fragrance to the cars driving by. Without attention, the plants flicker and fade.

Technically, the bushes sit on public property tucked behind cement sidewalk and rest along a worn wooden fence to the west.

Fewer cars are driving by these days and I wanted to give the blossoms a home. My home.

Technically, it’s stealing right? Cutting blooms off of a plant not my own?

Hence the apprehension and covert attempt at covering my scissors in a silly grocery bag. I don’t like breaking rules, getting yelled at, or being conspicuous.

I slammed the door behind me and breathed in purpose. I walked the winding streets and approached the intersection. The only car near me was driven by a teenage boy clearly not paying attention to the woman dressed in unassuming athletic shorts and Saturday gray t-shirt.

I once again grabbed the blue handles, opened the blade, and snipped, snipped, snipped. I wasn’t greedy and took only three bundles of blooms, tucking them into the bottom of my bag.

I sighed and walked back home. No one said a thing.

Opening the cupboard, I found jam jars, and mason jars, and a wine glass and filled the vessels with cool water. I pulled off the green leaves and snipped branches again to make mini bouquets of flowers knowing their essence will only last so long.

I placed the jars in all the rooms of my house.

And the fragrance of lilac slept next to my pillow, reminding me of the good and simple beauty on my nightstand while I breathed in dreams.

The little blooms are fading today, trying to hold on to their strength when they were removed from their source to live out their own purpose.

The sight of light purple, the smell of spring, small rebellions and gratitude for public plants doing their thing. All beautiful things.

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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?

ABC’s

They tell me to worry about all these things. You could go through the alphabet, much like my mom does with her toddler students at day care.

A is for Airplanes. The 737 seems to be failing.

B is for bacteria. It’s crawling all over you. Wash your hands. Bleach.

C is for cancer. Don’t drink Diet Coke. Put down that cigarette.

D is for Donald… Ugh. Yes I am afraid.

E is for Eggs. Are the ones I just purchased cage-free and do the chickens producing them even have beaks?

F is for Future. Uncertainty looms.

We could go on and on… at least until X. It always gets tricky at X. I’m not afraid of xylophones. Some people are afraid of their eXes I suppose.

I want to stop the worrying. I’ve caught myself tuning in to CNN too much – hoping for good news. Am I crazy? They thrive on my anxious clicking, fine-tuned to hone in on the bad.

So today, here’s a beautiful ABCs – let’s bring it in and focus back to the basics.

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Photo by Jessicah Hast on Unsplash

A is for Apples crunching – honey crisps falling on bending bows of bountiful trees

B is for Babies – brave people keep making them

C is for Cheese – have you had cheese! I bought burrata and more gorgonzola for those gorgeous pears

D is for Dogs – mostly my dog Olive

E is for Eggs – soft boiled with a dash of salt

F is for Family – as messy as we are we keep trying to show up

G is for Grandmothers. Mine makes me smile.

H is for Home. However you define it, may you find comfort in those walls.

I is for Iced coffee – just a few days left to drink your java on the rocks

J is for Juice – spiced apple cider – cinnamon swirling, spice sediment mixing in magic

K is for Koalas –  k is a little tough…

L is for Light streaming in, sun rising slowly, dancing in the golden leaves

M is for Marriage – it’s hard and messy and comforting and wise

N is for Not Yet – I don’t have all the answers – there are things I’m waiting on. Not yet

O is for Octopus. Isn’t it funny God gave animals eight legs?

P is for Pumpkins on porches, in pies, and in breads

Q is for Questions – the big and the small

R is for Remembering – the good times, the vibrant memories of love

S is for Silence. Deep breath. Slow down. Hear the pauses your breathing creates.

T is for Time. We think we have more.

U is for Underwear – a fresh, basic staple

V is for Vacuum lines on the carpet

W is for Walking in the evening before the sun sets

X is for Xylophone – everyone knows this

Y is for You – you have purpose, passion, meaning

Z is Zinnia – flowers linger while seasons wait to change

How can you turn your fears into gratitude today?