Summer Break

It’s summer break! Here’s a list of some fun things you can do to treat yourself better and create more fun and joy to fill your memory banks. Summertime isn’t just about kids having fun. So often we get jealous of people who go on vacation or children making their way to camp. What if you gave yourself the gift of fun too? Making time for fun and pleasure is not just for kids. Finding joy in your daily life keeps things exciting, gives us something to look forward to, and brings us closer to our purpose of being alive. We aren’t here to suffer or make amends, we’re here to thrive and enjoy every morsel. 

There’s a wonderful line in the Talumud which reads, “A person will be called to account on Judgement Day for every permissible thing they might have enjoyed but did not.” Embrace happiness and let your highlight reel be a joyful expression of your love for life and for yourself. These ideas aren’t super expensive or tricky, you only have to give yourself permission to partake in the delights.

  1. Watch the sunset
  2. Eat an ice cream or frozen popsicle on the stoop or in the grass.
  3. Swing at your local park – you can do this in the morning before it gets too hot!
  4. Take yourself to the beach – or turn your backyard into your own beach oasis with a towel, some sunscreen, and a shallow pool of cool water.
  5. Read a book under the shade of a tree.
  6. Take a hike or go on a walk in the evening with friends.
  7. Turn on the sprinkler and run through it!
  8. Take a nap.
  9. Draw with sidewalk chalk or blow bubbles
  10. Pick some flowers and put them in a cup of water

Invite a friend or loved one to join you in any of these endeavors for an added boost of connection and memory making. Joy is always doubled when shared. Happy Summer break!

How to Have a Happier Life

Usually I write about the keys to bringing our best selves to our lives. One of the tools I don’t talk about as much but want to address now is relationships and how they help us to have a happier life. I recently watched this TED talk on the impact our relationships have on our lives. Research shows the highest indicator of our happiness throughout our lives is not whether we achieve fame, wealth, or renown. It is not if we are productive or compete well. In fact the highest indicator of wellness and longevity is the health of our relationships. 

As someone who loves her alone time I want to focus on this point. Because taking care of myself with exercise, creativity, meditation, etc. will enhance my wellbeing but it will not determine the duration or the quality of my life. The research shows that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

Wow, that’s a lot. As someone who curates her relationships, I want this to sink in not just for you but for me too. Having relationships with people we know we can depend upon actually enables us to live longer, healthier lives. And not only that – it decreases the pain we will feel when we do face health issues. Less physical pain – due simply to having dependable family, friends, and relationships with others! And how do we do that? How do we make friends? What if we live in a new place? Or are not familiar with our community? 

Family

Here’s what I know. We recently relocated to a new home – which I talk more about here. We moved to a location much closer to family. We now live in this town with my family super close and it has been one of the best choices we have made. We wave when we drive by each other. We have guaranteed help whenever we make too much spaghetti or have more desserts than any one family can consume. And more than that, family makes this new place feel like home.

Friends

I have found getting involved in the things that interest you help you find your people. For example, I attended a free writing course at the library and ran into an acquaintance. We’re now attending a writing conference together. I even gave a recommendation for her in a job interview. I don’t know that if I needed a kidney she’d be my girl but I sure know that when there’s a writing program, she’s going to make sure I know about it! These small things make a difference in helping all of us feel supported. 

Community

If you want to get involved in your local community I would recommend joining your community and neighborhood facebook groups, attend the block party, even if you only stop by for a short visit. It really is lovely to see a friend you met briefly on the drive home. Even if you don’t like the pressure of a large event you can always attend your community’s annual parades, fireworks displays, home and garden tours, or street market. These are fun, low pressure, ways you can see and meet the people who live around you out and about. 

The larger community can sometimes feel daunting. And the thing is if this isn’t for you it’s ok to stick with a small group. We don’t need a ton of friends we just need a few real ones.

Building relationships really makes a difference in our quality of life. I hope these ideas enrich your life too – and helps all of us all to live a little longer, a little happier, and with less pain and suffering. Sending you lots of love and my deepest thanks because this little community is one of the places where I feel deep joy to be surrounded by loving and likeminded people. So thank you – M.

I am always after ideas and strategies for how to live a happier life. Drop a note in the comments if you have some tips and ideas for creating community and building deeper relationships. 

Christmas Reflections

In preparing for Christmas and this New Year – I have been so focused on where I want to be, my goals and aspirations, that I haven’t appreciated that where I am is pretty amazing. This time of year always inspires Christmas reflections and gratitude. Everything I have this year was once a dream, everything from writing this note, to where I am physically. I feel a debt of gratitude and recognition of what we have been able to build in the last twelve months. We have accomplished a lot this year. But before rushing to list those things I want to be present. Being here in whatever this suspended time of the year is for all of us.

The time and space after the build up to Christmas, the lull, and almost comatose vegging out of the week between Christmas and New Years. There is no need to purchase anything, we are dining on left-overs. We are hungover from all of the traditional social interactions and family gossip. Thinking about the year to come or not thinking at all. Watching too many Hallmark movies and just being still. What an absolute gift to ourselves. It is a joy to be able to rest and to feel no obligation to instruct, guide, or lead. We are simply present and maybe only vaguely aware – the days blend together and all of it melds peacefully into one restive blob. 

This year I am grateful for our first year in our new home, I’m grateful for health, and I’m grateful for rest. I’m grateful that my family is here around me. I’m grateful we have each other and that we are able to celebrate the holidays together. Grateful for quiet afternoons, naps, and ease. I am grateful to myself for taking this time and not pressuring myself to be productive. 

I am so grateful for relaxing family nights and the joy of sharing a family meal. I am glad for what we have and what we share. Every night this week we have prepared a meal from scratch. Some meals are more ornate and involved than others. But most are simple family recipes that are our own traditions. “Oh Christmas Bahn Mi,” and Grandma’s Chicken Parmesan.

These are delicious and filling meals that not only satisfy our need for dinner but will also make enough to freeze. This is a gift we give ourselves. Before we are in that zone of too much presents, food, and dessert we cook. That way when all we are seeking is a Christmas carrot – there will still be food prepared that requires no effort. We simply warm it up and we are nourished and satisfied. What a gift this time is to rest, relax and deeply nourish ourselves and our families. 

We often spoil each other with gifts and treats. When really, the gift we all want is to watch an old movie, to rest and relax together. We want to be our honest and unguarded selves. Our only goal is to luxuriate in the slower pace and feel no obligation to rush, attend to, or show up for anyone or anything else. Just to simply be peaceful, easy, and home. 

And maybe that’s what I’m writing about after all. These Christmas reflections are about finding home where ever we are and with whomever we choose. The creation of safety, peace, and security. The gift of protection, honesty, new traditions and old melding into the creation of home. We are grateful for building a life and space where everyone is loved and accepted exactly as they are and loved.

We are all so deeply loved and I don’t know what to call it. This may not even have a name but it feels safe, cozy, hygge, health, love, warmth, ease, peace, and tenderness. Whatever the German word for this is, I feel it deep in my soul. I am content and I am happy. This is all I’ve been looking for all my life, and here I have it. More than anything I hope you do too. Here in this virtual living room I hope you feel it. You are all so welcome here, I love you, I’m glad you came, let’s watch another movie.

Friendsgiving

Our friends are packing up and making their ways to our home as I type. We started cooking last night and prepared all of the dishes in advance. I am about to pop downstairs to put out the appetizers. Everything else is warmed, the house is clean, and it’s time to get dressed. I am feeling this urge to wear clothes that are not for going out but for staying cozy at home. I suspect that I feel this way because I am finally spending time with people who feel like true friends. This Friendsgiving I am eager and excited but I am also calm and comfortable. 

Sharing my space with people who I like and admire feels good. We’re setting the tone for days to come – intentionally choosing our company, our relationships, and to honor ourselves before we honor obligations. It can be tricky this time of year!

The day has been wonderful and fulfilling. To be surrounded by those that mean the most to me and to share this time with them is invaluable. And I am grateful. It is a gift to have time for meditation that puts me in the exact right frame of mind and I am grateful for my partner who helps, leads, and loves with the purest and most beautiful heart. Although my children are full of excited and frenetic energy this afternoon they are also full of thoughtful gestures like reading together. If you’re wondering it’s, “The boy, the Mole, the Horse, and the Fox,” it is a perfect day for that book. If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll read it!

It snowed this morning, my eldest put Christmas music on for the first time this season and we are about to have company over – I cannot wait. What a gift to be here and now, present and imperfect in this moment. I am sending my hugs and hopes that this season lands gently. That you enjoy everything as you wish and you honor yourself first. Celebrating the season however you see fit and in whatever way brings you contentment and joy.

Honest Critique

In every conversation there is an opportunity for change. Our friends help us transform through their perspectives. People we admire demonstrate how we may polish and improve ourselves through their example. Another great tool of friendship is constructive criticism. It’s part of healthy sharing that fills a mutually respectful bond. However, there are times when the universe, or other people, may use criticism for harm. This can look like offering unsolicited opinions, treating another person as less than yourself, or ignoring your shared humanity. When this happens what is most important is how you choose to respond. Here are some simple steps to help you interpret and evaluate constructive criticism.

Consider the Source

I make a point to never accept criticism from someone I would not go to for advice. If you would not go to them for guidance, do not accept their criticism. It is irrelevant and invalid. Move on.

Consider the Context

If you were asking for critique from someone you respect and they offer constructive criticism you may choose to accept it. However, if the comment is unprompted, uninvited, or unwelcome – Move on.

Consider the Intent

If a critique is from a source you respect and was invited, consider if it is within the context of care. If a comment is given in love you may choose to let it change your perspective and your heart. In this way you may grow and learn to be the best version of yourself possible. If a comment is not offered in love, and let us remember that even those we love may offer criticism from a place of defense or fear, do not accept it. Move on.

Sit with It

If a comment checks the first three boxes and you feel ready to accept and consider the critique sit with it. Let yourself feel your feelings. Consider if you agree or if there’s something you have missed and determine how you want to proceed. Discern if there is a problem you could fix. Is there a strategy you might apply in the future to do things differently?

Apologize if Necessary

If an apology is required, offer it. Bearing in mind that apologies include not only a promise, “not to do it again,” but also a commitment, “this is how I will behave differently in the future.” It is also important to share, “I am taking X steps to improve.” We don’t need to bear the burden of every comment or judgement sent our way. How exhausting and what a waste of time and energy!

It is a lot of responsibility to ask for for conscientious criticism. However, trusting someone to tell us when we need to modify our behavior or feel we may have been in the wrong is a big responsibility. Using the guideposts above should help us to move forward more authentically and with healthy boundaries. We do well by ourselves, and our relationships, to consider the simple points above to help us move forward on our own path, toward our own goals and grounded in our personal truths. 

“What’s the point in having a mind if you never change it?” Allowing ourselves to be molded and shaped by the people we love can help us all become better people. When has someone else’s critique helped you to improve or grow?

Sharing Our Peace

My first time meditating after a couple weeks of traveling and I feel melty. The comfortable embrace of the duvet. The soothing tones of the guided meditation. I am not feeling wrapped up with some new idea or concept that I must talk to you about. Even though there are a million thoughts and ideas I want to share and savor by writing them out for you. Right now I am thinking of my own inner peace and my true desire to be of help to others. 

Perhaps today’s message is not so much about helping others but about how we choose to engage. Our role is not to be the solution but to be a port in the storm. A temporary life preserver or raft that helps someone take a break so that they may find their own way. We all need a friendly port from time to time, somewhere to rest and recover. Someone who sees that we are in trouble and reaches out to help.

In order to reach others we need to come from our own place of calm. Peacefulness can stem from calm seas and also personal choice. We are responsible for our own actions, attitude, and mood. It is when we are in our own comfort or peacefulness that we are able to be attentive to what is happening outside ourselves. And perhaps that too is a way to give ourselves peace by asking after a friend, reaching out to someone we love.

I’d like to make a distinction here between reaching out from a sense of comfort to share our bounty. As opposed to reaching out as an attempt to control or out of a codependency habit. We are not enmeshing ourselves in someone else business or their problems. Not solving their problems for them but making ourselves available to listen. Offering only support, not guidance or direction.

Offer a helping hand but not at risk of falling into the abyss yourself. Brenee Brown talks about being a supportive friend or partner when someone is in a pit of despair (Princess Bride, anyone?). We do not help others if we crawl into the hole with them just to suffer by their side. It is not supportive to sacrifice ourselves so that someone else my climb out of the hole and escape. Our role is to be there with our friends as they figure out their own escape. We call down what we see from our position or reach out a helping hand when they are ready for it. Think of this like handing a racer water as they run past – you’re not in the race but your are facilitating its completion.

These metaphors can sometimes cloud the issue but they drive home the same point, we are not above, beyond, or better than our friends and neighbors that are suffering. We are simply in a different position. If you look around and find yourself in a place of abundance and from that position you’d like to help someone else, reach out. Let people know that you see them. To know that we are not alone has its own healing power.

Even while writing this I took a break to reach out to a friend. She is transitioning between businesses, closing down a brand she built and creating something new. I have no doubt in her abilities or her timing. But when we are in the thick of change it can be overwhelming, so I sent a supportive note to let her know I’m on her side. To tell someone we see their strength helps to fuel their progress. I know that she will weather this storm and come away stronger. And incase she forgot it herself, I offered her my peace with no agenda. Helping others feels good.

These tiny actions help others to feel seen, us to feel generous, and anyone who witnesses our kindness benefits feels good too. This reciprocity is what keeps our relationship thriving. And bonus, long after this interaction when we find ourselves in a sea of change, we will know that other’s did it, and we can too. 

How do share your peace with others? How do you reach out without getting pulled down? 

And if you’re looking for more calm in your life – here are some tips to help get you there.

Surround Yourself with Support

I am sharing the news of our home purchase with my close and dear friends – it feels so good to share with this news with the people I like and admire. I’m grateful to be living in this place and to be sharing my joy with people I genuinely like. It feels so good to share my happiness and to not feel as if I have to temper it or play it down in order to make someone else feel better. I can rejoice openly with friends who honestly want what is best for me and I am noticing those friends with whom I am second guessing my choices to share this happy news. 

The people who can only offer half-hearted support. The people who are going through their own trials may not be able to give support and that is ok. I am not going to weed these people out of my life but I am paying attention to which friends are going through something themselves and those who perhaps view our relationship as a competition. It is a gift to share this joy and being deliberate in who I share joy with is just as important as the choice to share pain or sorrow.

I am realizing that sharing joy is much like sharing pain – we must be selective with whom we share opportunities and our woes. Not everyone is able to give unquestioning support. Not everyone has enough to give to others. We are all on different journeys in this life. We are all sharing the path for but a short while, we must be as good to one another as we can manage, give what we can and go on. I am not lingering. I am open right now only to those people with whom I can celebrate and share both the highs and lows of life without reservation. I am opening the windows to let in the light and only the light. 

I am becoming selfish. Selfish with my time, my energy, my resources. I am only sharing what limited energies I have that are extra. I simply do not have energy for those people that are not my people. We all know those dementors and vampires that wish to suck the life or joy out of the room or others. The people with deep wells of need that long to absorb whatever light or grace you have to give. I simply do not have room for that sort of person in my life anymore. I am moving on, I am moving forward, I am walking with grace and only taking with me those that share my calling. 

Each of us travels a difficult path, I cannot walk my path and yours. I can only walk this journey the best way I know how and that includes being kind to myself first, loving myself first, and in order to do that to the best of my abilities I need to distance myself from that which drains me. When I do this I can give time and space to all the things that fill me up.

For me it is meditation, hot tea, reading good books, painting, writing, and petting my dog. I love walks in the evening and I have rediscovered my love for playing basketball in the driveway. I love friendships that enrich my life and sustain me – I love quality time with the people who love and support me. I am grateful. Truly deeply, grateful that I have learned so much and now know that I do not have to waste my time in relationships I’m not so sure about or people who make me question what I already know. I only have time for friends that feel like cool water, people who refresh and revive me. 

Those dear souls that reawaken my interest in life and guide me to new discoveries. Those sacred and wonderful people who give me life and do not take what they are not willing to give back in return. How lucky am I to have survived the false and feeling friendships of my twenties to come away with some real, true gems that I plan to carry with me for many years to come. 

It takes a lot of work to sift through the sand to find those good people that not only make life bright and beautiful, but to know how to invest in them and in yourself enough to keep those friendships going for the long haul. What a blessing experience is, it teaches us so much that we finally reach a place where we know the lesson. How wonderful it is to be in this place in life – I’m proud to have made it this far. And I’m grateful to overcome all that I have to reach this place. The view is grand and I am grateful to be here to see it – not everyone who starts the journey gets to reach this peak. We are the lucky ones.

What do you do that fills you up best? How do you take care of yourself by nurturing healthy and mutually supportive relationships?

Monthly Agenda Ideas

I’d like to share an aspirational guide for how to show up in the world with intention and create opportunities for deeper connection with those we love. 

Therefore, in hopes that this agenda might inspire you, as it does me, I have included below a list of monthly options to enrich your life and the world. I read it somewhere and copied it down. If you know where this came from, or if it is yours, please let me know so that I may give credit where credit is due! – Update this list originally came from Jared Sawyer Jr. (@JaredSawyerJr) a minister, musician, and author. Thank you Jared!

  1. One day date with a friend
  2. 24 hours with NO social media
  3. One day outdoors
  4. One evening out with friends
  5. One date night (Even just by yourself)
  6. One breakfast with friends
  7. One movie night
  8. One day serving others
  9. One day completely to myself
  10. One date night with each child

This agenda is not intense and in fact it creates space and ease in life to know what is coming next. I am sincerely going to attempt to apply these steps to make my life more splendid and well rounded. Though in all sincerity I will need to adopt the strategy of the Danes, wherein they plan their agendas weeks ahead. I find that as I get older it becomes harder and harder to gather with friends and even when we do plan in advance it seems we aren’t always able to connect – throw in covid and it is practically impossible to make a plan. That said, efforts will be made and hopefully these little steps will come together to make all our lives fuller and more authentically connected. I hope they make your life a little more lovely too. 

What strategies have you employed to stay connected to loved ones? How do you make time for connection in your daily life?

Planning Your Joy: A Roadmap

I want talk about the wisdom of Michelle Obama. “You have to plan you joy,” these words spoke to my soul and I hope it does to yours too. My time is often eaten up by obligations, duties, and expectations. Weekends falling victim to “to-do” lists and events. And before I can blink the year is done and I have done so many things for other people, groups, and associations but I haven’t spared a second for myself. I have failed to give myself time to nurture, nourish, and grow my own passion projects, interests or even my own self-care.

This year I tried something new, I scheduled monthly meetings with my long-distance friends. Those circles and people that I don’t see often but miss and want in my life. Here we are in December and I have rarely missed or re-scheduled these events simply because in January they were the first things I put onto my calendar. Seeing success with these endeavors I am going to apply this strategy to some other areas of my life. I am going to take this experience and Michelle Obama’s wisdom and use them both to enhance and improve my own life. I’m sharing my roadmap so you can too!


Planning my joy – I’m going to break this down into smaller bites.

Time for myself – These are what Julia Cameron calls “Artist Dates.” Dates that you don’t share with anyone else. You don’t take your kids or partner, you don’t turn it into errand running or a task. It is simply time just for yourself to have fun. The time is designed to spark your creativity and feed your inner artist. Naturally I am going to start by scheduling a couple hours at least once a week to do something that I am excited about and that interests me and this is just for me, a special treat, an experience that feeds my soul and fuels my creativity. I am starting with a class, open studio, something structured otherwise I procrastinate!

Partner Quality Time – Date-night is Thursdays at our house. I’m on the hunt for a babysitter to make these nights more special and meaningful for my partner and myself. We each need a night off dinner duty and a break from the monotony of routine. I have these dates on our calendar and they are refueling our relationship. Making time to get out and try something new together breathes new life into our union.

Kiddos – Once a week dates with each kid. This may be as simple as completing a craft together. But I often find that when I am in the midst of chaos my children will come to me with a fairly large request – “Will you help me make a quilt?” And while I would love to do this if I had the time, I am often in the middle of preparing a family meal or about to hop in the shower when this request comes in. So I’m carving out time for each child where we can read, go on a walk, or have a picnic lunch and go to the park. Now I can enjoy making beautiful memories with my children while they still want to spend time with me. And hopefully we’ll make it a habit that they never out-grow.

Family time – I’m starting with a once a month family adventure. I find that the memories I enjoy most are when we go somewhere new as a family and try something different. Just a day trip to somewhere nearby is all it takes to inspire us and bring us closer together. We play and learn together and because the experience is new to all of us, no one is bored, and no one is in charge. We are all on this adventure together and that’s the part that is most thrilling. My goal is also to share responsibility for this time – each person gets a month to choose what our activity will be. This will hopefully democratize the process so we don’t end up only going where one person wants and everyone gets an opportunity to pitch in and share a topic, place, or adventure that they want to try. I will let you know how this goes!

Time with Friends – I always love time with friends but I rarely plan it into my schedule. Therefore, I am adding a night out with friends monthly. Perhaps one date a month is a double date night. Or meeting a friend on their back porch for cocktails and we exchange spouses for the evening so each partner gets an adventure. There’s a lot of good that comes of time with friends. 

I’m also planning a dinner party a month. In the midst of COVID I have forgotten how to host. I have missed leisurely all day brunches, sporting event parties, and potlucks. I’m excited to stretch my hosting muscles again and get back into the kitchen and eating appetizers with friends while dinner cooks. I’m excited to make dining an adventure that we undertake together. I’m excited to get back to living.

What are you most excited about? What other tips do you have for making fun a part of your regularly scheduled activities and daily life? How do you make time for yourself and the relationships that really matter?

Vulnerability: Getting Behind the Mask

I recently had brunch with girl friends. We drank mimosas, sat outside under the trees, laughed, and celebrated just being in each other’s presence again. It was deeply nourishing and satisfying. And more than that there were some refreshing and honest conversations. One began, “I don’t know how you women with children are still married because if I have to clean up cat vomit off our new carpet one more time while I listen to my partner snore, so help me!” Another began, “I’m just going to say that it was awful because I find that if I don’t we’ll just have these conversations about how brilliant and lovely our children are and we’ll start by lying to others and end up lying to ourselves.” And let me just say that statements were so freeing. They were the balm my weary soul required. 

The bold honesty of my fellow women just opened me up, cracked and jostled the persona just enough so that we could really talk. We could have those deep dark conversations about what it has been like to be human and alive throughout this pandemic. It has not been good. And it has been hard and there is a lot of bitterness that we feel guilty expressing or sharing because everyone else seems to be living this idyllic existence. We presume others caught up on their reading lists, home schooled their children, and reconnected with their spouses throughout this global pandemic. 

We know that reality is shaped differently. We know know this because we see it in our own homes, and yet, for some reason we suspect that this pandemic has been easier for others. Easier for those without children. Easier for those with more resources or those who planned ahead and booked vacations, or those who hired nanny’s, or sent their children to private schools where in-person classes never stopped. Easier for parents who were both working throughout the pandemic. Easier for those who’s parents did not live with them. Easier for those who had groceries delivered. The thing of it is that none of this pandemic was easy for any of us. We collectively have suffered, endured, and lost a lot. And just taking a minute at a table surrounded by compatriots and battle weary gladiators, it felt good to see and be seen. 

It felt good to admit our shortcomings and confess our fears and challenges. It felt good to embrace the chaos and own the reality instead of pretending that the illusion is real. We got to take off our masks and reveal our weaknesses to one another and we all felt better for it because then we could laugh. We shared what we could, we kept it light. But we also kept it honest. We gave of ourselves, our hearts, and our humor. We laughed big and hard and the women brunching at tables near ours commented on how jealous they were not to be included in the conversation. 

What a gift to be at the table. What an honor to be surrounded by brave and proud warriors. What a joy to know that I am not alone in my failings. Each of those women gave me hope and comfort and a shelter from the storm of reality. We could admit our weaknesses and we could build each other up. We could forge new bonds and rekindle connections. We could be our most authentic selves and be celebrated for it, not ridiculed or shamed for not portraying the perfect image the world wants. What I celebrate is an act of tyranny. A rejection of the illusion that we are all perfect, that we are taking all of the garbage the world throws at us and making it into homemade dinners and family game nights. We are parking our children in front of screens and baking frozen pizzas so that we can sit silently in the same rooms as our partners scrolling on our phones because that is all we can manage and that is enough. We are all just doing our best and we are enough.