take my umbrella

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As much as I love literature and poetry, I’ve never been a girl to swoon or sway over the spoken word. Thing is, I’m more interested in things that are expressed almost as if by accident. Words can be practiced and manipulated and teased to convey a particular point, but actions and events that happen without thought or preparation seem to hold some lasting truth.
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I’m about to get a bit romantic on you. Warning.
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Last night, Jon skipped his softball manager meeting so that we could ride bikes and have a sunset picnic. He texted me in an excited frenzy to let me know that he’d be home early and that we should get our baseball gloves out of storage. The next morning (today), he texted at 10am to see if I wanted to meet for lunch.
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Why am I recounting these mundane and seemingly ordinary events? To me, cheesy as it is, these little occurrences (canceling meetings and scheduling lunches) are just as much examples of love as any verbal proclamation.   I then quickly thought of more ways to act out love:

Enjoy their hobbies together (especially if you have different interests)
Help them with chores or work
Go out of your way to see them
Surprise them with something thoughtful
Plan an adventure for them
Make their favorite food
Let them pick the movie or restaurant
Magnify their strengths
Make them laugh

I thought about this throughout the day, and it occurred to me that there are also dozens of ways to speak from the heart without using the famous ‘three little words.’ When we inquire about others and their well-being, letting them know they’re on our mind and we care, our casual words carry a great deal of love. Here’s a list of examples:

“how did you sleep?”
“are you feeling better?”
“drive safe”
“bring an umbrella”
“take my coat”
“can I see you tonight?”
“do you need anything?”
“how are you feeling?”
“tell me about your day”
“let’ stay inside together”

I meant to post about the massive mud pie that we shared for Easter, but then I sat down and started writing about love.  Funny how that happens, right?  In the middle of my writing, I got a little graphic and made that image you see above.  I guess I’ve only got one thing on my mind.

Download the graphic here: love

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gazillion zinnias

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You know that expression about letting a guy/girl eat crackers in bed if you really like them?  It makes little sense to me.  Shouldn’t the expression change to cookies or cake or ice cream or Pringles?  I mean, who eats crackers in bed?  Same thing when it comes the popular green thumb – not even the best gardener has a green thumb.  But you know what a garden does have?  Black fingers.
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I’m the opposite of a gardener, and I already know that green thumbs have nothing to do with soil and seeds and vegetation.  I mean, if anything, the plant will sprout green.  But my thumb?  That remains black:
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Can you believe I’ve lived 27 years without ever planting a thing?  Sometimes I sit and think about all the action packed years behind me, and I marvel at how there are still 100 million gazillion things left on my bucket list.  And plant something? I mean, c’mon, that’s almost too natural of a process to leave undone, right?
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Long before I could run a mile, I used to daydream about being the type of person that put on earbuds and run run run.  Guess what? Now I do 5ks on the regular (not a biggie for you marathoners, but hey!), and my earbud goal has changed.  The new plan is to become a gardener.  Should I be concerned that I don’t own a plot of land?
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Not when I have everything I need: a coffee mug, some soil, and a couple of seeds.  I’m a little skeptical that this Zinnia of mine will flower, but I’m watering with care and providing lots of sunlight.  Kind of exciting hoping that something will sprout, right?  And if worst comes to worst and nothing blossoms, well, I’ll just have to get my fingers black again.
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guilty pleasures

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I hid it on the top shelf behind two dirty rags and a box marked ‘weights & stuff.’ Tonight, nothing was coming between me and Property Brothers.  Before long, however, my guilty conscious started screaming and I turned myself in: I stopped the treadmill and handed Jon the remote.

We’re that sickly-sweet couple that runs side-by-side on the treadmill and yells things like ‘race you’ and ‘keep going’ while offering up high-fives.  The gym routine is all cake-and-cream, but it becomes complicated when we’re sharing a TV screen.  
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Jon wants to watch baseball or the news, and I want to watch Property Brothers or Top Chef.  Most times we debate back-and-forth until one of us gives in (I’ll let you shower first if …..) but Jon was late to the gym tonight and it occurred to me that we could skip the debate if the remote went missing….

Sweet Jon checked all the bikes and treadmills and stair-masters when he arrived at the gym.  Defeated, he told me that the remote was missing and we’d have to watch whatever was already on (Rehab Addict).  His whole search took about 10 seconds, but I felt guilty and told him to look on top of the bookcase behind the rags.  Jon grabbed the remote, smiled, and put on the Brewers vs. Pirates game.
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Before he started running, Jon did Zoolander-type stretches that made me laugh so hard I almost fell off my treadmill.  No one else makes me laugh that way — the ‘lose control and grab your side and hope you don’t snort’ kinda way — and I realized that he could have the remote forever.  I like him that much.  

mirror mirror

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I hear perfect and think fulfillment.  When everything is just right, nothing needs to be added or taken away, and you can delight in the goodness of the present moment.  Does that mean a perfect present would be the perfect present? Hehe:)
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But in all seriousness, I cover my ears and look at my toes whenever someone says that the best is yet to come.  It seems to me that we must learn to find joy in the ‘here and now’ if we expect to find it in the ‘there and later.’
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If you’re sick or worried or anxious or overtired then you might be squinting and doubting and eager to disagree.  But life isn’t meant for all things to come together perfectly at any one time in our lives – we will always be struggling with this, that, or the other.  We will feel pain in the midst of our joy and we will find hope in our deepest struggle.

A heavy reflection for a casual Thursday, perhaps, but I toured Give More Than You Take with Kaitlyn, and the show provided a reminder of just how much our thinking influences our reality.
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That mirror painting above?  The artist, Jim Hodges, explained the work, “There is a synchronicity: you start thinking about something and all of a sudden it’s everywhere.  It happened to me with the mirrors.”  In my experience, it’s true that our thoughts become our reality.
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Despite hardship, we need to look at our lives and try to find happiness in every moment.  Look for small joys, practice gratitude, spread love, and try to make today, with all its pain and sorrow, the best you can.
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milk and honey

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Jon’s dad has told me the story of how he got engaged not once, not twice, but perhaps five or six times.  I know his wife took 24 hours to say yes and that he borrowed money from his brother for her ring.  
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Lately, Jon keeps telling me that his softball team begins playing on Friday, April 25th — he reminded me last Monday, last Friday, and just before he fell asleep tonight.  His face lights up with 7 different kinds of joy each time he talks about his team’s inevitable victory.
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I’ve never told Jon’s dad that I already know how he got engaged, and I never remind Jon that the softball information is on the calendar. Thing is, I like seeing their faces light up when they talk about something that gets them 7 kinds of excited.
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You know what gets me excited?  Are the pictures giving it away?  Spring.  It’s probably not necessary to tell everyone that my favorite season has arrived, but I’m busying enjoying walks and bike-rides and blooming flowers and feeling the plain-old-goodness of 50 and sunny.
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Do you have a story that never gets old?  Something that makes you smile every time you tell the tale?

name in lights

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NBC, ABC and Fox need to schedule a champagne lunch to chat about my 1, 2, 3, 4, (possibly more) ideas for a sitcom.  I have a couple ideas ready to go, all of them involve Anna Kendrick as a leading actress, and my daily activities ensure that the list keeps growing, growing, growing… (did you hear that E!?)
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This weekend, for example, I taught a cooking class for Big Brothers/Big Sisters on how to make simple and healthy meals with as little as 5 ingredients.  Kids in The Kitchen provided a curriculum, and my job was simply to read and demonstrate the material.

Here is where the sitcom comes into play:  As I was teaching, I kept discovering new and interesting information, and I realized that I was learning just as much as my students.  So now I’m thinking it’d be funny to make a TV show where the teacher learns more than her students?  What do you think?
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The sitcom concept came to me when I realized that there are only 5 food groups.  I read that fact out-loud and then had an enormous “WHAT?” moment.  Last time I checked there were definitely 6 food groups — did they combine fruits and veggies?  Is dairy no longer a category?  And then I realized the worst had happened: sugar has gone missing. Can you imagine?  How do we justify those chocolate chips and brownies and fro-yo?  Any ideas?
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Do you have any ideas for a sitcom? Who would play *your* in the movie of your life?

kindred spring

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I used to marvel at the likelihood of meeting a kindred spirit in a world that spins round with nearly 7 billion people.  Lately, however, the experience of meeting someone new and quickly feeling like I’ve known them forever and always is becoming… dare I say, normal?  There seems to be many more kindred spirits than I ever imagined – perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right places before?

Or maybe we get better at identifying similar souls as we grow older?  Our personalities solidify and then we attract people that recognize shared interests and values?  What do you think?  Does finding kindred spirits become easier as we age?
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Perhaps it’s something unconnected to age?  When I think about bonds that formed quickly, I can usually find a shared experience or unique interest that helped to solidify the friendship.  I’ve met close friends while traveling abroad and starting new ‘life-stages’ and moving to foreign places.  Sometimes its been as simple as happening upon a ‘you too!?’ moment in the middle of an otherwise ordinary conversation.
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And now, having pondered the connection between kindred spirits, age, and shared experience, I wonder what role location plays in the equation?  Do kindred spirits gravitate toward similar places where running into one another is not only possible, but likely?
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Kindred spirits were on my mind yesterday as I cut and stitched and sewed fabric of navy and pink into a new spring outfit.  You see my bucket list picture just above?  It’s the top of a suitcase that Jon and I used as a guestbook at our wedding.  We each listed 3 things that we wanted to do as individuals, and then we asked people to help us build our ‘married bucket-list.’  
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The third item on my individual bucket list was to sew a dress.  My mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine for Christmas, and ever since I’ve been doing little projects to prepare myself for the project.  I’m not gifted enough just yet, but I am getting pretty close: today I sewed a scarf and shorts.  

What do you think?  Should I try a dress next, or should I continue the baby steps and do a skirt?

find the silly

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She’s beautiful and he’s nice and I think you’re funny and how’d you get so smart? Kind words get tossed around in daily conversations intended to encourage and inspire and celebrate others. I trust the compliments have sincere origins, but the ubiquitous words are beginning to feel like sweet nothings.

Thing is, beautiful and nice and funny don’t provide much indicator of heart or personality. She’s beautiful? Okay, great, what else? And nice? How so? Smart? In what areas? I need details and descriptors and some sort of personal touch to make the whole thing seem sincere.
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My friend Sarah is a case in point: she is truly gorgeous, but people miss the mark when they say she’s beautiful. It’s true that she’s a stage-10 stunner, but what’s more important is invisible to the eye: think a kind heart, an adventurous spirit, and an ability to ‘find the silly’ in just about everything.

I would describe Sarah as the kind of person that would share her Netflix password and bake you cookies for no reason at all. She lights up a room, and she’s more fun than a comedy festival at Mardi Gras. Her best feature, however, might just be the way she provides wisdom and shelter to others.

Thinking about Sarah got me journaling descriptions for other friends, and before long I created a graphic of ‘creative compliments’:
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Have you ever received a compliment that made you smile for a week? How do you highlight the qualities of others?

literary magic

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Confession: I’m a jealous person.  It’s not something we generally go around admitting, is it?  But if I think about it, dig deep and stay honest, I would bet everyone gets a case of green envy every now and again.

We’re told that comparison is the thief of joy, and jealousy is.. well.. evil.  But I tend to think about it differently, and I might even go so far as to say I like being jealous.   Today, for instance, I was reading Tell The Wolves I’m Home when I came across this passage:

“I felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there.”
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I closed the book and thought about the beauty and poignancy in that transcendent sentence – about how lyricism and thought combined into some kind of literary magic.  Sure as luck, I found myself wishing I could write like that – I was jealous.
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But you know what the jealousy did?  It made me want to put down the book and grab my journal and write write write until I came up with something original and true and inspiring.  I might not ever write anything worth publishing, but I’m inspired to try.  If jealousy motivates me to dream and work and strive, can it really be that bad?
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What are your thoughts on the rock  garden I made?  I wanted to take pictures of flowers, but since they aren’t blooming yet, I had to get a little creative.  My idea?  Join the ranks of Love Rocks!  Love Rocks is an organization that encourages people to paint rocks and then leave them around their community for strangers to find.   Bet you aren’t jealous of my rocks… :)

create with me

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My husband’s CEO was reading the Sunday paper when he found a generous article written about my happiness projects. The CEO sent the article around the office as a kind gesture to my husband.

A couple days later, the Director of Marketing asked me to speak to her team about community involvement. The leap between my silly projects and marketing seemed vast, but I agreed to chat when she promised coffee and donuts.

Y’all, I was nervous. The nerves started pop-pop-popping up when I realized I didn’t own business attire or understand how I could help push a corporate agenda forward. Would I waste their time entirely? Should I cancel? I silenced my worries, grabbed a flowery top, and followed my husband to work.
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The meeting felt like a conversation between friends: I talked about my background in art and social work, and then they asked for tips on connecting with the community. The hour flew by and closing remarks soon replaced the daunting questions. Success – I was feeling pretty good about my first stint in corporate America.

And then.

The marketing director asked me to conclude by discussing ways to increase creativity. I’m usually garrulous and quick, but this question brought great pause and then silence and finally a look of confusion. She noticed my discomfort and elaborated further, “Just tell us where you get ideas from.”

Where do I get ideas from? Goodness gracious, her attempt to save me from a potentially awkward situation only heighted my confusion, and I said the first thing that came to mind: “I seek inspiration everywhere.”

The group clapped and I drove home wondering why why why did I answer the question like that? It’s true that I’m always seeking inspiration, but the question to ‘how am I creative’ is so much more complicated than that. Creativity oftentimes seems like a messenger that stops by with an idea or two or three. Other times, however, I’m wondering if that inspiring messenger will ever choose to visit me again.  Does my creative messenger have a phone number? An email? How do I get in touch with him?

And so, I got to the serious business of thinking about creativity and its causes. I hope my thoughts will inspire a dialogue that generates lots of ideas for finding inspiration. Will you help me?
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Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. Never wait till your ready. If you want to do something, go for it, and figure out the details as you go. Some of my best ideas come from making mistakes, thinking about how to do better, and then setting forth for a 2nd or 3rd or, to be honest, 7th try.
  2. Open your heart and your mind to new experiences, people and ideas. It’s when we are exposed to difference and novelty that we can compare and contrast and grow and consider. Make a new friend, try a new coffee shop, take a trip.
  3. As life changes this means evaluating new situations, accepting new things into your life and letting others go. This way we can develop our best ideas and devote time to the projects that inspire us the most.
  4. Challenge yourself, but try not to get in ‘over your head’ – somewhere between hard and easy we find our sweet spot. With any luck, working in that ‘sweet spot’ will inspire creativity and, best of all, flow.
  5. Journal is out, write it down, and type it quick. I’ve always got a pen&pad in my pocket because I never know when inspiration will strike. Some of my best ideas come while sitting in church or driving in the car or taking a hike.
  6. Give all ideas equal weight. You know the feeling of thinking an idea is great until you a) think about it further b) start to write about it or c) try to explain it to someone else? It’s not that the idea isn’t any good, but perhaps you need to think about it differently. What do you not like about it? Could you change the project/idea/plan so that it works a little better?
  7. Live an inspired life. I tell myself to write the book I want to read and paint the picture I want to see and bake the cake I want to eat. I’m not always accomplishing these lofty goals, but it gives me a high bar and encourages me to keep trying.
  8. Be the solution. Ah, okay, it’s really not as lofty as all that, but when I hear complaints, I start jotting down possible solutions. My ‘ideas’ might not be any good, but it usually inspires some suggestions for creatively solving problems.
  9. Get emotional. I try to let my feelings guide me on creative projects. If I feel passionately about an idea or project or person, I think about the reasons I’m ignited, and then I try to express myself with words or art or other creative outlets.
  10. Take your mind off the task at hand. For me, consciously trying to generate ideas oftentimes leads to voids and blanks and daydreams. It’s when I’m doing something else – running or cleaning or showering – that the ideas seem to fizzle and pop and appear from some mysterious place.
  11. Have a heart to heart. A good conversation is one of my favorite ways to connect with others, and it’s also a pretty solid way to inspire creativity. When I discuss plans and dreams and hopes, my friends usually inquire and prod and relate, and I’m usually inspired by the twists and turns the conversation takes.
  12. Eavesdrop. If your own thoughts and conversations aren’t inspiring enough, you can always keep listen to the person next to you :)That top photo is from my spring photo challenge, and the 12 creativity ideas clip art is from The Ink Nest.