100 Ways to Lighten Up

It’s summertime, and the living is easy. We feel lighter, brighter and a little more relaxed than the rest of the year. Beautiful weather lures us outdoors. Day trips and vacations offer rest and reconnection. Butterflies, flowers, hummingbirds and lightning bugs decorate life with color and joy. While we do our best to squeeze out every drop of summer, here are 100 easy ideas to help us keep a sunny vibe long after the season fades away.

Lighten Up in Nature ~ 1. Spend time outdoors every day.  2. Watch a squirrel’s funny antics. 3. Listen to birds sing.  4. Watch the sunrise or sunset.  5. Dine alfresco.  6. Feel the wind in your hair.  7. Take a hike.  8. Wish upon the first evening star.  9. Pet an animal.  10. Stay in awe of our wonderful world.

Lighten Up Your Home ~ 11. Arrange a vase of fresh flowers.  12. Clean so it sparkles.  13. Let the sun shine in.  14. Give away 10 (or 100) things.  15. Light a candle.  16. Add a pop of color.  17. Play cheerful music. 18. Put everything in its place.  19. Make sure it smells fresh.  20. Fill your home with positive energy and love.

Lighten Up in Mind & Spirit ~ 21. Take several deep, slow breaths. 22. Limit news and social media.  23. Practice yoga.  24. Stop trying to figure it all out.  25. Spend some time alone.  26. Meditate and pray.  27. Read something uplifting.  28. Avoid negativity.  29. Write down the problem and list some solutions.  30. Have faith.

Lighten Up Your Relationships ~ 31. Be fully present.  32. Be responsible for your own happiness.  33. Put down your phone.  34. Give good hugs.  35. Agree to disagree sometimes. 36. Have fun together. 37. Forgive.  38. Accept each others’ quirks.  39. Don’t gossip.  40. Be a fountain, not a drain.

Lighten Up Your Wardrobe ~ 41. Be comfortable.  42. Add a jaunty accessory.  43. Develop a personal style.  44. Have a small wardrobe you love.  45. If it’s shabby or drab, get rid of it.  46. If you don’t wear it, pass it on. 47. Forget about trends.  48. Have a signature color.  49. Choose easy-care clothing.  50. Feel radiant in everything you wear.

Lighten Up with Healthy Habits ~ 51. Eat for energy.  52. Drink plenty of water.  53. Bend and stretch.  54. Go to bed early.  55. Move with a spring in your step. 56. Get a massage.  57. Go for yearly check-ups.  58. Quit unhealthy behavior.  59. Unplug. 60. Be grateful for what your body can do.

Lighten Up Your Beauty Routine ~  61. Wake up with a cool shower. 62. Wind down with a warm bubble bath. 63. Decide to age gracefully. 64. Find an easy hair-do. 65. Follow a simple skin care regimen.  66. Keep makeup and perfume light and fresh.  67. Don’t over-do anything. 68. Be skeptical of advertising. 69. Remember, beauty is an inside job. 70. And hope doesn’t come in a jar.

Lighten Up with Good, Clean Fun ~ 71. Dance.  72. Tell a silly joke.  73. Re-read a favorite children’s novel.  74. Go bowling or rollerskating.  75. Play a board game.  76. Bake cookies for the neighbors.  77. Sing your heart out.  78. Draw, paint or color a picture.  79. Watch a G-rated movie.  80. Put up your feet and do nothing.

Lighten Up in Your Community ~  81. Do your job with a cheerful heart.  82. Smile at everyone.  83. Be nice.  84. Be a courteous driver. 85. Keep a sense of humor.  86. Be a good role model.  87. Don’t take it personally.  88. Lend a hand.  89. Remember your manners, even if everyone else forgets. 90. Quietly adopt one cause you believe in.

Lighten Up with Words of Wisdom ~  91. Life’s too mysterious to take too serious. ~Mary Englebreit 92. Think happy thoughts. ~Peter Pan  93. The Serenity Prayer ~Reinhold Niebuhr  94. Nothing can dim the light that shines from within. ~Maya Angelou 95. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. ~Gospel Hymn 96. Leave everything you do, every place you go, everything you touch a little better for your having been there. ~Julie Andrews 97. Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. ~J.M. Barrie  98. Let your light shine before others. ~Matthew 5:16  99. Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow. ~Helen Keller 100. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. ~Martin Luther King, Jr. §

 

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Parking Lot Rainbows

Most of us have had the chance to visit a place of magnificent beauty. Maybe you stood in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon, watched dolphins frolic in ocean waves, hiked to a waterfall on a snowcapped mountain, or gazed at the northern lights. Those experiences become etched in our memory and remind us of the grandeur of our world, but natural beauty can be found almost anywhere. The wise and wonderful Maya Angelou wrote, “Open your eyes to the beauty around you. Open your mind to the wonders of life.”

I recently ran into the grocery store in a cold, driving rain. I struggled to control my umbrella as the wind blew it inside out. Sloshing and shivering through the aisles, the shoppers’ expressions looked as worn and tired as their winter coats. When I left the store, I was stunned to see the sky awash in a surreal post-storm glow and a full rainbow stretch over rows and rows of dirty cars. The parking lot was filled with people who stopped their carts and smiled heavenward.

Just this week, a surprise gift from nature brought comfort and joy to my mom and me. After 24-hours in the emergency room, she was taken by ambulance to a hospital an hour away. I followed in my car, accompanied by an immense orange sun that transformed the sky into an entertaining show of vibrant color until dramatically sinking into a cornfield. When I met my mom in her hospital room she quietly said, “Did you see the sunset? I watched it all the way here through the ambulance window.” In a time of distress, my mother chose to open her eyes to the beauty around her. I feel sure such a positive attitude will help her heal after unexpected surgeries.

There are natural wonders of the world that you and I may never see. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Africa’s Victoria Falls, and the Himalaya’s Mount Everest probably won’t become entries in my travel journal, but there are still amazing everyday sights to be seen.

In her book Open Your Eyes, Alexandra Stoddard wrote, “I’ve found most people go through life half blind. Few really know how to see and as a result are unaware of the majesty and beauty around them. But seeing can be learned, and to those who learn to see well, the world becomes an entirely different place. ”

As we make our way through our days, we can look for natural wonders wherever we may find ourselves. Daisies pushing through sidewalk cracks, chickadees singing on porch railings, clouds in the shape of a heart, and parking lot rainbows seem to show up when most needed to bring happiness, encouragement, and hope to those who open their eyes. §

Making Tracks

From the window, I watched a squirrel leave tracks in the falling snow. She came out of the woods, darted though the yard, climbed over the retaining wall, hopped across the driveway, shimmied up and down a tree trunk, skated across the frozen bird bath, and danced in circles in the snow. Finally, she stopped frolicking to eat a nut from her hidden cache at the base of a tree.

I was reminded of The Family Circus comic strip following the tracks of Billy, a curious little boy full of imagination and adventure. What was meant to be a quick trip to borrow sugar from the next door neighbor turned into a trek through backyards, alleys, up trees, over fences, and stops to examine a bug, pick a flower, and skip a stone before returning home with the cup of sugar.

The squirrel’s energetic footprints in the snow got me searching for other tracks. I saw those of birds and deer, foxes and raccoons, pets and people. All of them headed somewhere to do something with their day.

Imagine if our footprints were always so easily visible. Do they lead to places we are happy and proud to go? Are they filled with spirit and enthusiasm? Do they stop and smell the roses along the way?

In his last published book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss cheered, “Today is your day! You’re off to great places. You’re off and away. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”

The book encourages big, mountain-moving dreams, but I think Dr. Seuss would agree that while we keep an eye on our destination, we should remember the joy is in the journey.

My hard-working, easy-going husband often quotes Ferris Bueller from his favorite movie, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”

Watch the sun rise on the commute to work. Stroll through the produce aisle and appreciate an artichoke. Make a baby laugh. Inhale the aroma of soup simmering on the stove. Oh, we have places to go, but while we’re making tracks, let’s not forget to dance in the snow.

5 Ways to Make Most of Your Time

 

Most of the trees in our yard are bare now, yet it seems just yesterday they were full of spring buds. The trees are a tangible reminder of the passage of time and the importance of living life intentionally.

In elementary school, it was always exciting when our class was led single-file to a basement corridor to watch an educational movie. We sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor facing a concrete block wall where the reel-to-reel film was projected.

When I was in third grade, a full-color nature film featured the seasonal progression of an ordinary tree. Classical music played softly in the background and a woman’s soothing voice narrated. Through the magic of time-lapsed photography, tiny spring buds transformed into lush green leaves, morphed into autumn-colored foliage, and fell away leaving stark bare branches against a smoky gray sky.

I was captivated by the beauty, rhythm, and order of nature. Wearing my favorite plaid dress and ponytails, I fought back tears of wonder and joy. In an unforgettable moment of clarity, I became stunningly aware of time and its inevitable and precious passage.

The eight-year-old who held that memory now qualifies for senior citizen discounts. I hope I’ve made good use of my time so far. When I find myself drifting from one day to the next, nature reminds me time is passing whether or not I am living purposefully.

In her book Time Alive, contemporary author Alexandra Stoddard writes, “Our time alive is brief by any standard. Now is the only opportunity we’ll have to give life meaning and find satisfaction. Our entire life depends on the wise use of our moments.”

Certainly, our individual responsibilities and stage of life determine how we spend our days, but here are five suggestions to help you make the most of your precious time.

1. Evaluate How You’re Spending It ~ You might be surprised how much time you rack up watching television, looking at social media, or frittering away at things that don’t bring you real meaning or happiness.

2. Identify Your Priorities ~ Decide what’s most important to you and dedicate your time to those things. Making the best use of our time often means deciding what we choose not to do.

3. Picture Your Ideal Day ~ Considering the realities of your life, what does a well-spent day look like? Map out your morning, afternoon, and evening to create a general schedule that leads to living your best life.

4. Simplify Your Possessions ~ There’s no point in wasting your time acquiring, cleaning, organizing, and storing things you don’t really need or want. Imagine the time (and space) you could create.

5. Take Care of Yourself ~ You can’t make the best use of your time if you don’t feel your best. In that memorable film from my childhood, the tree that bloomed and grew through the seasons was a healthy one, rooted in purpose and simplicity.

 

 

 

 

Embracing Change

 

A tall birch tree hugs the right side of our cove. Throughout summer, its lush green foliage partially blocked our view of the lake. Since fall’s arrival, the tree’s leaves have disappeared, and we can now see through bare branches clear to the other side.

Our improved view of the lake is like a parting gift from summer. Warm sunny days spent boating and swimming have come to an end, but from inside our cozy home, we will watch the water’s golden mist turn to silver frost.

I am reminded of this evocative thought written by Mizuta Masahide, a 17th century Japanese poet and samurai ~ Barn burned down. Now I can see the moon!

Now that’s a glass-half-full perspective.

Nature’s seasons are an apt metaphor and teacher for embracing life’s big changes ~ graduations, jobs, relationships, moves, parenthood, empty-nest, retirement, and a myriad of unexpected transitions.

As we move in and out of life’s seasons, it’s not always easy to hold Mr. Masahide’s outlook. My heart aches for evenings when my children begged for one more bedtime story or lullaby. I dearly miss decorating my classroom and discussing poetry with my students. You know I would be fibbing if I said I welcomed every crease and ache that come with growing older.

Yet, I need only observe the weather, the moon, a caterpillar, or corn field to understand that change is a natural state. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Whether the change is expected or hits us out of the blue, we usually have no control over the situation, only over our response.

We can lament the barn, or celebrate the moon. The choice is up to us.

I’m inspired by people who bravely face devastating changes brought by illness, poverty, disaster, and injustice. I saw my father accept a cruel death with logic and reason. I saw my mother accept widowhood with courage and grace. They both allowed faith and optimism to guide them through.

The falling leaves encourage us to embrace change, let go of what was, and enjoy a new perspective. Though we may reminisce our summer, youth, and yesteryear, we can choose to see the beauty of our life exactly as it is at this very moment.

 

Soft as a Feather

 

We were taking a sunset ride on the lake, but I was distracted, barely noticing the painterly clouds and sky. Suddenly my husband shut off the boat, jumped out of his chair, laid on his stomach, and grabbed something in the water. He stood up and handed me a fluffy white feather with a perfect black circle at the top. Whatever I was fretting about faded away, and I felt myself relax and soften into the moment.

Feathers are one of nature’s most beautiful and magical gifts. Mike and I have given them to each other for years. In many cultures, feathers represent a connection to the spiritual realm, and people often believe they are a sign from angels or a loved one. Isn’t it curious how feathers appear at the oddest of moments and in the strangest of places?

Imagine picking up a feather that has fallen in your path. Hold it in your hand. Look closely at its anatomy. How marvelous!

Native Americans thought of the feather’s hollow quill as a way to send prayers and receive blessings from the creator. The quill divides the feather into two parts, perhaps representing two sides of ourselves. The downy fluff at the base of a feather symbolizes our continuous growth. The many vanes of the feather are our individual days and the choices we make.

With those amazing parts of a feather, birds can fly. Let that soak in for a second. They fly! They soar with nothing more than simple feathers like the one Mike gave me, the one I took home and put in a glass bowl with the others as a reminder.

Because for all their symbolism and scientific wonder, for me, feathers are a reminder to stay soft.

The world can make us hard and bitter. It can cause us to view life as a struggle and a competition. We can begin to see the dark instead of the light, fear instead of hope. It can make us clench our minds like a tight and angry fist.

But, a feather ~ a feather stays beautifully soft and powerfully gentle, no matter where the wind takes it. With that frame of mind, we all could soar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elegant Universe

The Perseid meteor shower nudged me outside at three in the morning to gaze at the black sky dotted with twinkling constellations. I gasped each time I saw a star shoot across the sky. I wasn’t thinking about science; I was there for the beauty.

The celestial spectacle must have sprinkled down a little magic stardust to lift me far above my personal and planetary desires. My mind became empty, and I was transported. I floated above my Earth-bound concerns, completely aware of the vastness of the universe and the smallness of little ol’ me.

Only one thought pulsed through my being ~ the universe was created with such elegance.

The Elegant Universe is the title of the book that inspired the popular Nova series by the same name. It explores superstrings, hidden dimensions, and parallel worlds beyond my understanding. I am more poetess than physicist, but I do adore the title.

Elegance can be defined as that which is exceptionally beautiful and simple, modest and at the same time bright. There is elegance in a snowflake, a spider’s web, a mourning dove, the big dipper. Wikipedia adds, “Elegant things exhibit refined grace and suggest maturity.”

There’s no need to point out the lack of elegance littering on our planet. Politics, pop culture, and nightly news make that easy, but these are things over which I have little influence. I’m but a single star in the infinite cosmos.

Am I shining “like a diamond in the sky” as the nursery song encouraged?

We were created to be brilliant. We have a responsibility to add goodness to the universe. Imagine if each of us blazed through our days, leaving our own trail of light and love in an otherwise dark world.

Under the spell of the Perseid meteor shower, I stopped wishing and set an intention ~ to use my thoughts, words, actions, gifts, and blessings to add to the elegance of the universe. 

I will often fall short. As Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Accepting the Nature of Things

Nature invited us to move to the boonies of southern Indiana on a snowy winter day. As we drove the hilly, winding roads, a captivating mist rose over the frozen water, a deer’s marble brown eyes stared into our own, and the first bluebird we’d ever seen sang us a cheerful song. It was nature that brought us here, and it is nature that offers us daily inspiration and wisdom.

About The Nature of Things~ 

Seasons come and go, and no amount of wishing will speed them up or slow them down. As much as we longed for spring to arrive, the bare trees took an extra long time this year to fill with tiny, promising buds. Day after day, we dipped our toes in chilly lake water, anxious for it to be warm enough to jump in. Now, as we bob around on rafts in the hot summer sun, it’s difficult to imagine the lake covered in ice, or the trees without their vast green canopy. Much the same, it’s hard to fathom we’ve reached the season of having adult children and retirement plans.

Houses are built with a certain nature that should be honored. When I pictured my dream home on a lake, it was a quaint cottage much like the one Snow White stumbled upon. It took me a little while to accept that our home is a funky, contemporary design with straight lines and sharp angles. This house isn’t cute and charming. It’s bold and earthy, and I love it.

Like houses, people are built with a certain nature that should be honored. Nature reminds us that a rose doesn’t try to be a daisy, an oak tree doesn’t try to be an evergreen, and a woodpecker doesn’t try to be a hummingbird. Why do we so often try to be something we’re not? I own that I’m a friendly introvert who wears my heart on my sleeve, and I’m fully aware I do quirky and annoying things in search of peace, beauty, and simplicity. As we learn to accept and honor our own nature, we have an easier time doing the same for others.

Nature can be messy, wild, and unpredictable. When Mike sees me picking up sticks or pulling weeds on our property, he shakes his head and teases, “It’s the woods!” I’m slowly learning that trying to control mother nature is futile. As cute as forest animals are, they can present problems. Cold, heat, sun, rain, and wind can ruin our possessions and our plans. That’s just the way it is. Nature can bring magnificent beauty one minute and utter chaos the next. Isn’t that just like life?

We live closer to nature here in our house in the woods. Cohabitating with trees, water, and wildlife has convinced me that everything in life expresses a certain undeniable nature. I’m grateful to be reminded of the wisdom in accepting, appreciating, and honoring the nature of things.