The Elegance of Splooting ~ squirrels teach how to chill out

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One day this summer when the temperature pushed a hundred, I looked outside and saw a squirrel lying face-down, spread eagle under an umbrella on our patio table. I opened the kitchen door to see if the little guy was okay. He didn’t move but blinked his eyes slowly as if to say, “It’s hot, lady. Leave me alone.” A few days later, I read that squirrels all over the country were reacting to the heat wave with an innate behavior called splooting. 

Splooting is a type of stretch four-legged animals do to rest and cool down. You’ve probably seen a dog or cat do it, but it is surprising to see a squirrel, usually scurrying about like crazy, be so still. I’ve since seen several of the squirrels I feed each morning lie oddly motionless with their bellies flat on a cool, shady surface to help lower their body temperature. 

Leave it to nature to come up with something so wise and elegant as splooting. We could all take notes from the squirrels who instinctively know when it’s time to be still for their own self-preservation. 

In our fired up, sped up world, it seems like most of us could use some splooting to simmer down, rest, and recharge. I suppose that’s why many people turn to meditation, silent retreats, and yoga. Splooting does sound a little like an ancient yoga pose. A few minutes in a sploot, could be as restorative as the child’s pose, corpse pose, or pigeon pose I’ve learned in yoga classes.  

In his book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, Pico Iyer writes, “In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” 

Another book seemingly inspired by the squirrel’s sploot, is called Stillness is the Key: An Ancient Strategy for Modern Life by Ryan Holiday. He writes, “Stillness is the key to the self-mastery, discipline, and focus necessary to succeed in this competitive, noisy world.” 

The art of stillness can have many names. For squirrels, it’s splooting. Stoics called it atarexia. You might call it prayer, meditation, conscious relaxation, or a nap. Throughout history, some of the world’s greatest thinkers were big believers in the art of stillness. Confucius, Seneca, Jesus, Winston Churchill, Emily Dickinson, and Mr. Rogers were all known to embrace the wisdom and elegance of stillness.  

Thanks to the squirrels’ reminder, I’m paying more attention to the art of stillness. I came home from a long walk on a morning when the temperature soared by eight am. Red-faced and tired, I sprawled out on the living room floor. My husband asked if I was okay. “Yes,” I whispered motionlessly, “I’m just splooting.” §

“Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.” 
~ Edmund Burke

Skin Care Meditations

IMG_1842We can live a more elegant life by turning everyday routines into special rituals. You probably do some type of skin care every morning and evening. If you’re like me, you often rush through the process without giving it much thought. Routine skin care can be transformed into a twice-a-day meditation that cares for your face as well as your soul.

Vicky Tsai, founder of the luxury skin care line Tatcha, said, “Skin care is self-care.” She claims her own skin care discoveries came at a time when both her skin and her heart were broken. Our skin can react to stress, worry, and heartache with acne, rosacea, dermatitis, deepening wrinkles, and other unpleasant conditions. It can be a vicious cycle of stress causing skin problems causing more stress.

No matter what products we choose to use, most skin care routines include cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing. Let’s turn each of those steps into a calming and centering meditation morning and night.

Morning Skin Care Meditation:

Cleansing ~ Cleanse your face slowly and gently the way an esthetician might do during a facial. Picture starting the new day with a clean slate. Set intentions for your skin, heart, and mind to stay clear throughout the day. That might mean eating clean foods, shutting down negativity, and sending pure, wholesome thoughts to yourself and others.

Exfoliating ~ Most experts agree skin needs regular exfoliation to help skin cell turnover, which slows down as we age. Regardless of the type of exfoliator you use, the goal is to make skin more luminous and vibrant. In the morning, picture the process giving your skin a healthy bright glow, which you reflect in your attitude throughout the day.

Moisturizing ~ In the morning, take time to pamper your skin with a moisturizer suitable for your skin’s needs. As you massage it into your skin, focus on the product soothing and protecting your skin from the ravages of the day. Make a promise to do all you can to treat yourself and others gently.

Evening Skin Care Meditation:

Cleansing ~ At night, as you wash away make-up, dirt, and oil, imagine stress from the day going right down the drain. As you rid impurities from your skin, breathe deeply and focus on clearing your heart and mind for a good night’s sleep.

Exfoliating ~ Evening exfoliation is a time to meditate on every cell in your body resting and rejuvenating. As your skin lets go of dead skin, consciously let go of old thoughts and ideas that aren’t serving you. Begin to move more slowly and intentionally to let your body know it’s time to wind down and benefit from the healing, restorative properties of sleep.

Moisturizing ~ Use your moisturizer and your fingers or tool to give yourself a relaxing facial massage. Gently smooth away wrinkles and worries. Before turning out the light, take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror with love, gratitude, and compassion. Go to sleep feeling beautiful, because you are. §

“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.”
~Mandy Hale

Featured Art ~ Mary Cassatt, “Woman Bathing (La Toilette)” 1890-1891

The Elegance of Getting Through Thorny Times

IMG_1671“I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime.” Lately I’ve been humming those lyrics from a 1970 country song. As much as this optimistic romantic wishes it to be, life isn’t always a bed of roses.

We all deal with difficult things in life. Personal challenges may involve our health, relationships, work, children, finances, grief, anxiety and a host of other issues that can seem more like a heap of fertilizer than a bouquet of flowers. I’ve learned there are things we can do to help us navigate those inevitable thorny times with elegance.

Seek professional help. First and foremost, realize if your needs require the help of a professional. There is never shame in seeking professional help. Caring people are trained to address our physical and mental wellness. If you don’t know where to start, call your primary care doctor, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or go to MentalHealth.gov.

Nurture yourself with nature. “Mother nature has the power to please, to comfort, to calm, and nurture one’s soul,” wrote Anthony Douglas Williams. The evening of my mother’s death, a friend texted me a picture of an impossibly brilliant sunset with instructions to go look out the window. That memorable sunset provided me deep comfort that I still hold in my heart.

Create beauty where you can. I was recently in the hospital for a few days and did everything I could to make my surroundings prettier. My husband removed the typical hospital clutter from the main shelf in my view and replaced it with some gorgeous flowers and a sweet gift from a friend. A nurse raised the blinds each morning to let in the sunshine. Classical music from my phone filled the room. One afternoon when I felt particularly gloomy, I pulled out a perfume sample from my purse and spritzed it around my bed. No matter where we find ourselves, there are things we can do to make our place a little more beautiful.

Pamper yourself. During that hospital stay, I also did what I could to make myself feel as well as I could under the circumstances. Since I was attached to needles, tubes, and beeping machines, my husband carefully shampooed my hair in the sink. Although it wasn’t cute, I made sure to put on a fresh hospital gown every day. I slathered my feet and legs with rose-scented body lotion. I filed my nails and kept my face and lips well-moisturized. I’m convinced all these little efforts helped me feel better and make a speedier recovery.

Take a break from the news. When we are going through a difficult time, we need to treat ourselves more gently. One way we can do that is by taking a break from the news which is almost always upsetting and depressing. World events will go on without us, and we can always catch up with it when we’re feeling stronger.

Lean into your faith. Times of crisis and uncertainty can be an opportunity for our faith to grow. Passages and parables can offer strength, encouragement, and understanding. A familiar hymn can take on new meaning. Martin Luther King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Lift your own spirits. We all have simple, positive things we can do to brighten our own day. Maybe we enjoy watching a funny movie, reading a mystery, taking a long walk, playing the piano, or baking cupcakes. It’s good to know we always have the ability to lift ourselves up when we’re feeling down.

Help someone. Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” Helping others gives us purpose, gets our mind off our own problems, and makes everybody feel good. Call someone you know is lonely, lend a neighbor a hand, or get plugged-in to volunteer somewhere.

Be grateful. No matter what we’re going through, we must still count our blessings. Remember what French novelist Alphonse Karr wrote in the 1800s, “You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” §

Stop the Violence ~ 10 ways to make it a more beautiful world

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Yesterday afternoon my husband led me around the side of our house happy to show me the round, tight buds on the peony bush had finally burst into a surreal explosion of pink ruffled petals. I joyfully clipped two stems loaded with flowers and held them to ours noses to inhale their sweet intoxicating fragrance. I took the peonies inside and carefully arranged them in a glass vase. Admiring them, I sighed out loud, “How can something so beautiful exist in this world?”

At the same time I celebrated the sheer elegance of those flowers, something unspeakably horrific was happening in an elementary school classroom in Texas.

This isn’t the first time I have felt blindly naive focusing on the simple beauty in the world when there is obviously so much ugliness. For as long as I can remember, I have sought out the beauty in the world. As a literature teacher and writer, it became my life’s work. As we elevate beauty, we must also denounce ugliness.

I am certain you, too, are a lover of beauty and are devastated by hideous events such as this latest school shooting. No one thing is going to change the world, but collectively, it could make a difference. In honor of the children who were murdered yesterday by someone who was not much more than a child himself, please consider these ten simple things we can all do to reduce violence and make it a more beautiful world.

  1. Stop supporting violence in television and movies.
  2. Stop supporting violence in books and magazines.
  3. Stop supporting violence in art and music.
  4. Stop supporting violent video games.
  5. Reconsider the value of social media.
  6. Let your words and actions inspire kindness.
  7. Get involved in your community.
  8. Protect children from violence in every possible way.
  9. Vote for politicians committed to sensible gun legislation.
  10. Fill your daily life with beauty. §

“We can change the world and make it a better place.
It is in your hands to make a difference.”

~Nelson Mandela

Self-Care and Green Smoothies

During stressful times, I always seem to throw self-care out the window. The next thing I know, my sleeping, exercising, and eating habits are out of whack, creating even more stress and dis-ease.

Although I’m honestly in no mood for any of it, I re-established some healthy routines this week including drinking a green smoothie every day. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my sleep, digestion, dark circles, and dry skin. I like the ritual of making the smoothie and knowing I’m taking positive steps to get my mojo back.

You can find plenty of smoothie recipes on Pinterest or Google, adding and subtracting ingredients as you wish. I tinkered with one and came up with this simple recipe that tastes fresh, healthy, and delicious.

Combine and blend until smooth:
1 cup oat milk
a big handful of greens (I use a mix that includes spinach)
1 green apple
1 banana
a dash of cinnamon
1 cup of ice

At the end of the day, we are each responsible for our own self-care. I hope you’re taking the time to take good care of yourself. I’m inspired by this anonymous quote, “An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” Cheers! §

The Elegance of a Prayer Garden

I walked to the prayer garden near my house this morning, recalling the day I discovered it about a year ago when everything in my predictable little life suddenly turned upside down. The details don’t matter. It was just life. Life, with a big Covid cherry on top. 

One blustery afternoon, when I was in the thick of it, I took a walk to clear my head. I left the concrete sidewalk along the busy road and headed a different direction across the frosty ground along the train tracks. As my feet kicked through thick crisp leaves, I heard myself let out a long breath I’d been holding for weeks. I closed my eyes briefly and opened them to find myself wandering into a small, elegant prayer garden.

The garden is situated on the edge of the grounds of a large church that wasn’t there when I was growing up. It’s a small area that’s simply, but well-designed. I sat on the cold stone bench, knowing what I needed to do.

Pray.

There was so much to pray about, but my thoughts blew and swirled around like the dry brown leaves trapped against the garden wall. I settled myself for some serious invocation, but instead focused on inconsequential details in front of me – moss growing on the large center boulder, the patterned brick below my feet, the low curved wall.

Okay, pray.

In the silence, my attention turned to the sound of the wind shaking copper leaves still clinging to their branches, the distant squawk of geese dotting the gray skies, the rhythmic scratching of a squirrel in a nearby tree.

C’mon, just pray.

I shook my head only to notice the abundance of acorns, hickory nuts, and broken shells scattered at my feet. I scoffed at my spiritual ineptitude as my eyes filled with hot tears that stung in the cold air. A train rumbled down the tracks, just feet away. The clattering of iron on iron came closer and closer, roaring louder and louder in my crowded mind.

Suddenly, I remembered the title of a book by Anne Lamott called Help. Thanks. Wow. In it, the author advocates three simple prayers – one of supplication, one of gratitude, and one of sheer awe.

I walked in a slow circle around the center of the garden, picking up acorns and placing them on stones to help me visualize each individual prayer. Instead of a train wreck of messy thoughts, my prayers were laid out in a neat, comprehensible pattern along the garden wall.

Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow.

The title of Lamott’s book reminded me to keep my prayers in specific, grateful, and humble balance. For every prayer asking for help, there’s another for thanks, and yet another for joyful praise of things like serendipitously stumbling upon a private and holy sanctuary just when it’s needed most. 

I walk to the prayer garden nearly every day now. It’s one of my favorite places in the town I call home again. This morning I realized every one of my prayers from last year has been answered.

Thanks.

Wow. §

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.”
~ 1913 Hymn, In the Garden

The Elegance of Resting Like a Fallow Field

Here in America’s Heartland, the farmers’ fields lie fallow now. Barren squares stretch out like a patchwork quilt gently covering the land while it settles in for a well-deserved nap. The scene makes me want to snuggle under a cozy blanket and enjoy the time of year when nature encourages us to elegantly rest like the fallow fields.

Fallow periods are traditionally used by farmers to maintain the natural productivity of the land. Leaving a field inactive for a time allows the soil to recover, restore, and rebalance itself. You see, the land becomes depleted and unproductive if it isn’t given a chance to rest.

Can you relate? What if we took a cue from nature and thought of this season of the year as a natural time to recover, restore, and rebalance ourselves?

I know, the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is the busiest time of the year. Maybe you’re in a season of life when rest seems impossible. A stressful job, child-rearing, caregiving, and other challenges can be exhausting. Keeping up with the daily news is taxing. Even fun-filled celebrations can leave us feeling worn out. All the more reason to rest.

My husband is the most steady and calm, yet efficient and productive person I know. He manages to get everything done and more, yet he’s the first one to suggest we stop and chill. It’s no surprise his favorite Christmas carol is Silent Night. Like my laid-back husband, the elegant song hushes and reminds, “All is calm. All is bright.”

Rather than waiting until the hustle of the holidays is over, let’s give ourselves the gift of rest now, when we really need it. Here are ten ways we can follow the fallow fields, even if just for a few minutes each day.

  1. Be still. Being busy isn’t necessarily being productive. Sit in complete stillness a few minutes every day to let your body and mind recharge.
  2. Stay home. Sometimes we stay on the go out of habit or fear of being bored. Be it ever so humble, home should be the most comforting place in the world.
  3. Renew your spirit. Read, pray, sing, create. Do more of whatever renews your soul.
  4. Turn down the noise. Do what you can to quiet your surroundings. Unplug at least once a day and experience total silence.
  5. Say no. We aren’t obliged to say yes to every invitation or request. Graciously decline an avoidable situation that’s likely to be more draining than fulfilling.
  6. Eat well. When a field lies fallow, the soil regains its nutrients. Be sure to consume healthy foods to replenish your own nutrition.
  7. Talk a walk outdoors. Not only is walking good exercise, the crisp air is a great way to clear your head.
  8. Practice self-care. Schedule a massage, a haircut, a manicure, or try some at at-home spa treatments. Take time to take care of yourself.
  9. Go to bed early. Sleep research shows human beings have a natural circadian rhythm that mimics the sun’s rising and setting. Shorter, darker days are a good excuse to get more sleep.
  10. Observe nature. Take a closer look at nature. Appreciate its beauty. Be inspired by its simplicity. Learn from its wisdom.

This morning at sunrise, a single bright star twinkled in the glowing horizon while the waning moon illuminated a frosty, barren field dotted with several deer. The elegant scene looked like a Christmas card sending sincere wishes for a beautiful, peaceful, and restful holiday season.

“It is precisely those who are busiest who most need to give themselves a break.”
~Pico Iyler

The Elegance of Breaking the Hurry Habit

In one of my favorite poems, My Symphony, William Henry Channing advises us to “hurry never.” As much as I’ve always loved that sentiment, it’s something I’ve been slow to learn. Breaking the hurry habit can be difficult, but it is one of the best things we can do to take better care of ourselves and to capture that elusive everyday elegance.

As a busy mother and teacher, I operated on two speeds for decades ~ a hundred miles an hour and passed out from exhaustion. Most days, I hit the ground running the second I crawled out of bed in the morning until the second I collapsed back in at night. During the five minutes between classes, I flew around like a whirling dervish, squeezing in as many tasks as I could before the next class began.

I don’t say this to boast. It wasn’t healthy or wise, and it was anything but elegant. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency when there was none. I had a hurry habit.

It seems the want to rush isn’t just a symptom of our modern, fast-paced lifestyle. These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

I sympathize with those in the hectic stages of childrearing, caregiving, homemaking, schooling, or career. I know it sometimes seems there’s no choice but to be in a hurry. I also know the toll it can take on our relationships, health, and inner peace.

We all want to be active and efficient, but we can learn to do so at a slower and more deliberate pace. As a reminder to myself, and to you, here are ten ways breaking the hurry habit can help us live with more grace ~

  1. Better Health ~ When I catch myself rushing, I feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Our bodies aren’t meant to be in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. Slowing down can improve our physical and mental health.
  2. More Beauty ~ I wonder how many sunsets or full moons I missed because I was too busy to notice. The more we slow down, the more we notice beautiful things around us.
  3. More Help ~ If our life truly demands us to constantly be in a hurry, it’s time to get some help. It’s smart self-care to ask for help when we need it. No matter what we’ve been taught to believe, nobody can do it all.
  4. Sweeter Memories ~ Have you ever been so busy that you felt you completely missed a child’s important milestone, a holiday, or a special event? Time moves on whether we’re aware of it or not.
  5. More Kindness ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down allows us to be more courteous, patient, and aware of others.
  6. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad choices.
  7. Better Decisions ~ When we set an intention to stop hurrying, we find it easier to make decisions about what we can include in our lives. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something more important to us.
  8. More Peace ~ Think about the difference between frantically driving someplace and leisurely driving to your destination. A calmer, less rushed demeanor can bring more peace to ourselves and those around us.
  9. Better Planning ~ A school secretary I worked with had a sign over her desk that read, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” If we want to stop rushing ourselves and others, planning ahead is crucial.
  10. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. By breaking the hurry habit, we can calmly glide through our days with more elegance and composure.


“Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
~ William Shakespeare

The Elegance of a Daily Walk

I have a penchant for novels and movies set during the 1800s. My favorite scenes feature characters gracefully strolling through the beautiful countryside. Without the invention of the automobile or the luxury of a horse-drawn carriage, walking was the only way most people could visit friends or go to church, school, or shops. These days, walking is primarily done for exercise, but taking a daily stroll has many more benefits that can add elegance to our lives. 

There’s no denying the simplicity of taking a walk. It requires no special equipment, it’s free, and we can do it on our own schedule. Whether walking through a misty moor or around the block, all one needs to do is put on shoes and go. We can even do as they did during the Regency era and “take a turn” around the living room after enjoying tea or a rich meal. 

Nature is the main reason I head out the door for my daily walk. Though my route may stay constant, each walk tells a different story with a unique setting that includes the weather and colors of the sky at that particular hour. One never knows what may appear in the unfolding scenes of a walk ~ a bunny in the neighbor’s yard, a fawn at the edge of the woods, Queen Anne’s Lace growing alongside the road. 

Walks can also provide much-needed solitude. One of my most beloved characters in literature is Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. This complex introvert frequently takes long walks alone to sort her thoughts and clear her head. About Lizzie, Jane Austen wrote, “Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk.” 

On the other hand, walks can provide a connection to our community. I often walk down the sidewalk of the busiest road in town. Hardly a day passes that I don’t run into someone I know who honks, waves, or stops for a quick chat. No one tips their hat or curtsies, as they do in my favorite movies, but walking in my hometown makes me feel grateful to be part of a place I love.  

Finally, taking a long solitary walk feels like a romantic nod to the past. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon strolling across a field of wildflowers, stopping under a large shade tree to read a book of poetry or write a few lines of my own. I usually walk in a baseball cap and sneakers, but I dream of the day that I confidently go for a stroll wearing a flowing dress and carrying a parasol. §

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

The Elegance of a Good Night’s Sleep

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had a lovely wish for us, “Be thy sleep silent as night is, and as deep.” Man has long understood the value of sleep. As one of our most basic biological needs, we know proper sleep is fundamental to our physical and emotional well-being. Maybe we should also consider getting a good night’s sleep a polite thing to do.

All of us have had to muscle through a long day after a bad night’s sleep feeling groggy, grumpy, and gross. It’s difficult to be bright and cheerful when we’re exhausted. We’ve also all been bitten by someone who is dog tired. I’m positive we’d see more dignified, tolerant, and elegant behavior if everyone took a nice long nap.

Poor sleep has many causes including waking children, work demands, care giving, and blasted insomnia. When that’s the case, we may have to ride it out or even seek professional help. Yet many of our sleep problems may have more to do with simply not placing a priority on proper sleep hygiene. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, good sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making our bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene.  

There are many ways to make our bedtime routine an elegant part of our day. It might include a warm bath, luxurious sleep wear, quality sheets, meditation or prayer, a journal, or some peaceful music. It probably doesn’t include watching Netflix until we pass out in our clothes, face unwashed, and unprepared for the next day. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of our most important personal responsibilities, and it’s something we must teach our children. As a teacher, I saw many students suffer from poor sleep habits. It’s no surprise that studies show both behavior and grades improve when children routinely get the nightly sleep they require. 

The National Sleep Foundation advises that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Children and teens need even more to support their growth and development. It’s important to honestly assess how much sleep we need based on our activity level and overall health.

I know I feel, look, and act my best when I get close to nine hours of sleep. If I get much less than that, my husband has every right to say, “Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Other times, I just let her sleep!” §

“We are stuff as dreams are made on. And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
~William Shakespeare