Determined to Enjoy the Breathtaking Beauty of Nature, Despite the Profound Pain of Life


I had an early morning errand to run. The dawn hours were filled with thick fog. As I drove back down the street toward my house, the sun began to rise, peeking through the few remaining leaves on the trees lining the country road. I slowed down to fully embrace the rare merger of gentle sunlight, autumn-rich colors, dewy leaves and the five feet of mist hovering over the green grass.

I stopped the car at the end of the driveway, got out and examined a drop of water hanging from the very tip of a pumpkin-orange leaf. Warm sun touched my face and I looked up to see November clouds vying for sky space, slowly screening the sun. Glancing back at the tree in front of me, I was captivated by the leaf that although had just seemed to bloom, was already retiring to the barren ground. Looking around, my eyes were suddenly too small, my vision too narrow to properly absorb the exquisite beauty all around me. Sun peeked out again, brilliantly illuminating the fog across the landscape. I reached out my right hand, as if I could lay it on top of the thick mist. I smiled and breathed deep and thanked God and tilted my face up again toward the quickly greying sky. I was standing in seasonal change…pristine early morning…my description insufficient to adequately convey the magnificent canvas engulfing me.

As my breath deepened and my spirit appreciated, the moment was crushed as my mind wandered to my brother in law who was presently receiving a miserable cocktail of chemicals dripping into his blue vein. My peace was destroyed as I thought of his upcoming days, fighting the emotional turmoil that accompanies the physical suffering of chemotherapy. My eyes pierced through the fog, staring down at brown leaves, thinking of the woman I brought a meal to last night. She can’t eat, but would enjoy watching her family fill their bellies. Her disease robs her of truly living. My throat tightens as I think of how my courageous friend who lost her battle two summers ago would love this view.

The stunning scene still beckons my attention, but my memory transports me to a time when fall represented joyful anticipation for the future. The breaking out of fuzzy sweaters, Thanksgiving, the first snow, shopping for Christmas… As nature shed its old life, autumn somehow felt like a new beginning.

Thanksgiving will still arrive, along with the first snow. I’ll wear fuzzy sweaters and prepare for Christmas, but my mind and heart are more solemn than they were when I was 20. We grow up exclaiming we’ll never be cynical like our elders. Never become so weary that we fail to embrace life with zest, but the sadness can wear a person out. Abuse, murder, slander and harassment flourish out in society while in our personal spheres, we’ve hurt and we’ve watched our loved ones hurt. The pain steals away a bit of our wonderment.

The wind picks up and hits my face with cold. The sun is now fully concealed behind the ominous clouds that are somehow still beautiful in all their dark rage. I observe one tree on our land that is wholly stripped of leaves, bare branches ready to support the imminent snow. Six inches away, another tree is still hanging on to its leaves-many still green. The fullness and emptiness, co-existing so close to one another.

A few harsh rain drops pelt my cheek, but I refuse to get back in the car. I stand there defiant, emotion welling up in me, fighting to preserve the tranquility and lightness and warmth and sheer present-ness I had experienced only minutes earlier. What choice do we have? We must resolve to stay positive, to enjoy, to hug life. We must refocus again and again and again. We must fight to recover from the hard. Lest we too become hard.

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. Ecclesiastes 3:12

Photo: Family5Power

You’re Middle Age When…

You try something on in a dressing room and don’t bother to look in the mirror until you’ve determined it is comfortable.

I took 10 items into a dressing room a few days ago. Whether I put on pants or a top, I immediately did a few yoga stretches, squatted down, sat on the bench and did a lap around the hallway.  Only when I felt sufficiently comfortable in something did I bother to look in the mirror.

Yes, I do care very much about my appearance…thus, the shopping (and my eldest daughter is in the fashion world)! Like any other gal, I love cute clothes but they need to be practical for real living. In my twenties, thirties and much of my forties, not so much. I was definitely looking first, worrying about how I felt later.

Now days? I’m so over anything even remotely snug, stiff, scratchy, too thin, too bulky, too hot or too cold. And, yes, appropriate yet trendy and comfortable are simultaneously possible! It just takes me a little more time in the dressing room.

No matter what I’m wearing during the day, putting on pajamas at night is the best-feeling outfit ever.

Happy Friday!

 

 

 

The Retail Apocalypse – Can Bath and Body Works Survive? Not If They Keep Bothering Us

The bricks and mortar stores that try to sell an actual experience are still doing relatively well in the era where Amazon and other online retailers threaten store fronts across America. As part of L Brands (home to the ever-profitable Victoria’s Secret), Bath and Body Works is going strong. Yankee Candle is also under a wide corporate umbrella and continues to move forward with some hope of survival.I used to really, really love shopping at Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle. I still like them both so much, largely due to what has kept them thriving: us girls like pretty, glittery, fragrant things, beautiful packaging, gift options and products that change with the seasons and holidays. We love this because every retailer from Walmart to the local grocery store no longer specialize. You can literally purchase shoe polish, clothes, Thanksgiving wreaths and food while picking up your prescription at Rite Aid.

That’s one of the many reasons I love YC and B&BW. I can linger a while and just enjoy the prettiness of it all. It’s also seasonal shopping where my girls and I can purchase items simply to make the nest more festive during holidays.

Well, that was until a couple of years ago when both companies clearly “upped” the sales requirements for their employees.

It’s not the individual employee’s fault, and Yankee Candle isn’t terrible. Sometimes annoying but not terrible. You can also enjoy smelling Yankee Candles at several other harassment-free retailers such as Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.I now approach the Bath and Body Works entrance with great caution. My youngest daughter does not like to shop (while my oldest daughter and myself can shop all day) but the one place she truly loved going to at least twice a year was Bath and Body Works. Years ago, we would walk in anticipating the new, glittery displays of whatever new season it was, tried too many spray fragrances and joyfully ended up at the counter about an hour later with our bag full of products. We walked in with our eyes up, soaking in all the displays.

Now when I walk into Bath and Body Works, there is zero opportunity to initially look up and enjoy. I brace myself for the person (usually two) who will not only say hello but ask me a minimum of three questions. I’m not the rude customer who gives them the curt, “I’m just looking”, but after a recent visit, I might become her.

I went in to pick up something small to add to a birthday gift. I was asked three questions after the hello. I was so friendly, thanked the two different salespeople, then as I was walking further into the store, one walked ahead of me, attempting to stop my stride at a table that I was not interested in shopping at. I smiled as they explained the sales promos.

Then, at the checkout, they no longer ask the customer if they would like to leave their email address. They merely tell them to do it. Of course they do this in a cheerful “the last thing you need to do is….” way. Even though I appreciate the coupons, I’m simply not entering my email every time. These retailers have plenty of ways to track our spending and inundate us with snail mail.

Picking up my bag, the young salesgirl asked loudly, “Why aren’t you leaving your email?” Now, I was irritated. I estimated her around early 20s and just trying to make a living so I was gentle.

“I receive your coupons.”

“But we send more when you leave your email each time.”

“I’m good, I still receive coupons.” I smiled and turned around, walking away.

“There are some good promotions coming up…”

I continued walking.

With at least six feet between us, her voice got louder behind me. “It really is a great way to continue your coupons…”

I stopped and turned. She officially earned my glare, which according to my kids is really unnerving. After a few seconds, I spoke gently. “I understand you are trained to ask the email question. Continuing to nearly demand I not leave the store without providing additional information is inappropriate. You have taken away the joy I have shopping here.”

I felt bad afterward. The whole point of purchasing little extras like these (that we don’t need) is to have fun. I felt bad for the salesgirl and for my girl, because now we hesitate to walk in there. Bath and Body Works (and Yankee Candle) still offer an experience you can’t have online shopping. But, aggressive, continuous sales pitches rob shoppers of the joy.

Women like to shop. Take the fun out of it, and we’ll find an alternative elsewhere :).

Click on images for source.

 

 

 

Ordinary? Nope, it’s Extraordinary – And, it’s National Popcorn Poppin’ Month!

God has given us some really cool things to enjoy. Even though I usually pass right by them because they appear ordinary, I’m trying to pay attention to how they are really quite extraordinary!

Today, it’s popcorn. Or, should I say, the kernel. Who thought to pull that tiny thing off the cob, let it dry, cook it and flavor it? It’s extraordinary.

When my youngest was an infant, she had this habit of waking up every night around 11pm screaming. She was about a year old and the pediatrician said it was normal, and that we should settle her down and let her fall back to sleep.

My baby went to sleep nightly at 7pm, but for a few months, it was literally every night she awoke at 11pm with a piercing cry that demanded our attention (lest we allow her to wake her twin toddler siblings in the next room).

Unable to calm her down by merely holding, rocking or walking, I did what all smart Moms do when they are so tired they can barely see straight: I turned on the television. Back in 1999, there was a popular unit called the VHS player and I inserted a Little People video that showed a farmer harvesting corn on the cob. But, the weather at the farm was so incredibly hot, the farmer watched in amusement as the corn fields began popping kernels by the thousands.My baby would suddenly catch her breath from the sobs, and stared at the popcorn video until it ended. She watched that same Little People popcorn video over and over and over for three months.

As the kids grew up, popcorn was a staple for my girls and me. My husband and son aren’t big fans, but us gals have multiple flavorings, tried a few air poppers over the years and also completely enjoy regular ‘ol butter and salt shaken in a bag – always cooked in a pot, not in a microwave.

Recently, I’ve been missing Saturday nights with my girls, the Hallmark channel and popcorn. Them being at college has ruined my interest in popping corn just for myself (sigh). But, recently I did pull out the kernels and oil to make a batch and stared at one little kernel for a long while. I mean, really, the popping process is extraordinary.I thought of all the popcorn we’ve stuffed ourselves with at the movies…I reminisced about the elementary years when popcorn was part of the Thanksgiving pilgrim skits, harvest season and Christmas decorations.

Ahhhh, but those days are long gone, as are the baby years (double-sigh).

October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month so here a few fun popcorn facts (courtesy of popcorn.org):

  • Americans consume some 13 billion quarts of popcorn annually!
  • There are 4 main types, but only one “pops”!
  • One kernel can pop up to 3 feet in the air! (That’s higher than our pet bunny leaps!)
  • There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop. (I was glad to learn this because I was considering purchasing the latest greatest “hull-less” popcorn options for sale out there.)
  • 2 Tablespoons of kernels = 1 quart popped.

Popcorn.org is a great site for additional information and neat things like free download popcorn coloring sheets!

We are Parenting PIONEERS

“We” would be those of us who were the very first average citizens to log on to the new thing called aol.com back in the late 1990s on our clunky PCs. “We” are largely in our late 40s and early 50s with teenagers or young adult children. “We” are those who were the first parents EVER in world-history to hand our children their first flip phones.We are the pioneers parenting the electronic world. And, people, this has been no easy task.

When we were kids, our parents could lift up the receiver in another room to tell us to get off the phone because grandma was supposed to call. Now, teenagers are often alone, metal square in hand, laptop on the bed, tv screen above the bed, Xbox in the corner and wireless blue tooth speaker on the nightstand with no parental involvement at all. Social media and cell phones alone are two titanic, behemoth elements of parenting that make those of us middle-aged parents the PIONEERS of the world. We were and are expected to teach and manage these issues on top of our traditional parenting and vocational responsibilities.The 1970s-1980s kids we were (not all but most):

We couldn’t wait to get outside every day

Kids of parents who were not at our beck and call

Kids of parents who made us save money for our purchases

The 2000s kids we’re raising (not all but most):

Enjoy being indoors in front of a screen

Have parents at their beck and call…sports, activities, projects

Have parents who pay for their cell phones every monthI’ve previously posted a couple articles about these issues: How Long Can a Mom Monitor Kids’ Media? Is 17 years too long? :), and Teenage Privacy…Is it OK to spy on your teens’ texts? Internet history? Surf their social media? Yep!. There have been humorous moments managing these issues with my kids over the years (as you’ll read in those articles), but It Has Been Exhausting Being The Pioneer. The level of expectations has risen and we’ve fallen right into it.

We are not only pioneers of electronics but pioneers of “talks” that our parents never dreamed of having with us. After-school conversations regarding gender confusion and standing up for your faith yet being respectful of others are draining. All previous parenting generations throughout history had no such thoughts, let alone were forced to engage in ongoing dialogue of explanation and navigation. Add some social media management, and we just want to go take a nap. It all feels so overwhelming, many parents throw in the towel and just say, “it is what it is”.

Never in world-history have there been so many pressures upon parents. There have never been higher rates of teenage depression, street-drug use, pharmaceutical use, health issues related to teenage inactivity and one of the culprits of all of these: never in history has there been such an excessive, profound, uncontainable problem of teenagers comparing themselves with random internet photography. Whether Snapchat, Instagram, internet images of the Hollywood elites or the girl next door, these images are seldom real.Even when you inform kids that the actresses in movies and television have a 6-week prep ahead of body conditioning prior to every single award show and red-carpet event, followed by another week-long last minute prep including hours of hair, spray tanning and makeup, they still want, wish and crave to be the image. Battling this is a whole other article perhaps another time.

The next time you find yourself exhausted or sad or overwhelmed by the work required in raising a moral, responsible, thinking child, remind yourself that you’re not alone. It’s worth the effort to monitor, to question, to require verbal conversation and limit electronics.

There are millions of us out there who are walking the walk alongside you, being very unpopular at home when needed, running the race in faith and keeping our eye on the end result, not seeking the temporary ease of intentional ignorance.  Be strong, fellow pioneers! Someday your kids will be better off because of your involvement.