Making it a Lovely Day

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In 2017 my friend, Natalie Schultz, and I self-published a book based on posts from the blog we wrote together. Our treasured little book, Lessons in Loveliness ~ Learning to Live a Lovely Life, sits on my shelf and now and then begs to be opened.

A section titled Making It A Lovely Day recently reminded me of the optimistic woman I was when I wrote it several years ago. Since then I’ve gone through many changes and challenges (as we all have) that I admit have dulled my shine a bit. Although I know my words are nothing particularly profound, but I would like to recapture their spirit of simplicity, hope, and joy.

Last week, I had the chapter made into a poster which I framed and hung in my closet as a reminder. Life can be unpredictable, but it really doesn’t have to be quite so complicated as we sometimes make it. I hope this excerpt from our book encourages us all to make every day a lovely day. §

Making It A Lovely Day

When you get right down to it, whether man or woman, young or old, prince or pauper, our days consist of the same basic pursuits throughout our lifetime. I am glad we have all of our days to master these essential human tasks. Like the grumpy and arrogant weatherman Phil Conners learns in the movie Groundhog Day, each morning brings another chance to have a lovely day!

How To Have a Lovely Day ~

Waking ~ Rise and shine! When your first foot touches the ground, say, “Thank…” When your other foot touches the ground, say, “You.” Now, turn around and make your bed.

Loving ~ No matter what the day brings, meet it with loving kindness. Love God, love yourself, love others.

Bathing ~ Grooming and caring for ourselves is a basic necessity. Turn self-care into luxurious and pampering rituals.

Dressing ~ Put on something special. Greet the day looking your best.

Working ~ We all have work to do. Whatever your job, give it your all. Do it with cheerfulness, enthusiasm, and diligence.

Eating ~ Sit down and mindfully fuel your body with delicious and nutritious food. Practice good manners, even if eating alone.

Interacting ~ When you are in the presence of another human being, smile and make eye contact. Take the time to sincerely communicate, “hello, please, and thank you.” When someone behaves ungraciously, forgive them, and carry on.

Playing ~ When work is done, reward yourself with something positive and uplifting. Listen to music, chat with a friend, take a walk, browse the bookstore, go bowling, watch a funny show, or get lost in a hobby.

Learning ~ Do something that expands your mind spiritually, culturally, or intellectually. Read a book, visit a museum, finish the crossword, watch a documentary. Be a life-long learner.

Giving ~ We each have gifts that are uniquely ours to give. Someone is in need of your listening ear, helping hand, time, talent, or wisdom. Share your gifts generously.

Persevering ~ Everyone faces challenges. Big and small, they are a part of this thing called life. Whatever the circumstance, we must do our best to press-on with a tenacious and hopeful spirit.

Sleeping ~ End the day as you began it, with gratitude. Drift into peaceful slumber counting your blessings. Rest in comfort knowing that come tomorrow, you can try again.

“Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful of your life.”
~ Mark Twain

The Elegance of Coloring Books & Ecclesiastes

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It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in our sunroom in front of a bouquet of colored pencils and a coloring book for grown-ups. I open to the first page and press the book down flat in preparation to color for the first time in years.

I choose a green pencil and watch the color slowly fill an empty white space, and then another, and another. While my hand moves delicately and rhythmically, I feel my body and my heart release a long-held sigh.

After several minutes of coloring, I take notice of the quote in the center of the page ~ “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11. As I mindfully color flowers, leaves, and vines, I subconsciously reflect upon the verse.

The words dance across the page over and over with changing emphasis. “He has made everything beautiful in its time…He has made everything beautiful in its time…He has made everything beautiful in its time…He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

As my pencil makes flower petals bloom pink, I think about how desperately I want everything to be beautiful now, in my time, in my way. In a broken world, there is suffering. There is war. People disappoint. Loved ones die. We feel shame. Mama foxes are euthanized. We grieve for that which is lost and for that which never was. Life can be so inelegant.

Looking out the window, a dozen yellow finches match the flowers on my page. The hyacinths are the same shade of purple I hold in my hand. My husband waves as he mows the grass that has finally turned spring green. God colored our world with so much beauty, but it isn’t perfect. By design, it isn’t perfect.

I finish the coloring page and look at it with scrutiny. Oops, that should have been blue. Oh, I went out of the lines there. I close my eyes and reopen them with more faith and acceptance. No, it isn’t perfect, but it sure is beautiful. §

“You can’t be sad when you’re coloring.”
~ a six year old

The Elegance of Impressionism ~ 6 Ways To Live Like an Artist This Spring

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Spring is fickle here in the Midwest. It flirts and teases us with lovely days, but we’re never surprised by its capricious nature. On this cold and rainy April morning, I’m curled in front of the fireplace with a favorite book about Impressionist art. Admiring cheerful works with names like Water Lilies, Afternoon Tea, and The White Orchard, I disappear in the verdant beauty of springtime scenes and dream of these six ways to be inspired by the elegance of Impressionism.

1. Let nature inspire. Nature and Impressionism go hand-in-hand. The movement began with a few Parisian painters who went to the countryside to capture the transient effects of sunlight. The idea of painting en plein air, or outdoors, was a dramatic departure from painting in studios. Claude Monet said, “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.” This spring be sure to enjoy nature with a picnic, a neighborhood stroll, or a good book read under a tree.

2. Appreciate ordinary moments. Impressionists painted candid glimpses of everyday people at work and play ~ a bowl of fruit, friends having lunch, a walk in the garden. Their work is a reminder to appreciate the significance and beauty in everyday rituals and pastimes. How sweet is the ritual of waking to the chirping of birds and taking a few minutes to listen to their springtime song.

3. Color your world. “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” said Vincent Van Gogh. The Impressionists valued pure, brilliant, and saturated pigments. They developed a method of painting that celebrated light, movement, and vibrant color. Nothing says spring like flowers. I love filling our home with colorful blooms and wearing floral blouses and dresses.

4. Loosen up a little. Impressionism was spontaneous and informal in style and subject. The artists broke away from serious historical and mythological themes. Instead, they freely painted contemporary subjects with visible, colorful brush strokes that weren’t carefully blended or shaded. The result was a joyful impression of real life. This season begs us to lighten up and skip, hop, or twirl like a child.

5. Be open to new ideas. The Impressionists, who preferred to be called Independents, faced harsh opposition and criticism from the established art community. They were considered radicals who broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts. Rejected by the Salon de Paris, the annual state-sponsored art show, the artists held their own show in 1874. As it turned out, they were on to something the art world would eventually embrace. Spring is a good time to soften our hearts and reconsider some of our tired, stuffy thinking.

6. Make it pretty. Perhaps what draws me most to Impressionism is an underlying philosophy about creating a beautiful life in the midst of challenges. Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.” This spring, let’s fill our lives with as much simple beauty as possible.

I know springtime will eventually come to stay and quickly melt into summer. The trees will regain their splendor, perennials will magically bloom, and life will imitate art. Until then, I need only escape with a few of my favorite Impressionists, either through a book or a trip to the museum, to paint my life with the elegance of an artist.§

“All of a sudden I had the revelation of how enchanting my little pond was.” ~ Claude Monet

The Nutty Way I Start My Day

Every morning, after I come in from my daily walk, I feed the squirrels. I suppose the routine provides a grounding reminder I’m but a single thread in the elegant web of life. But honestly, I just know those silly squirrels are guaranteed to start my day with a giggle and a smile.

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I feed the squirrels outside the small, square sunroom off our kitchen. The room has a wall of three floor-to-ceiling windows. If it gets much past eight, the squirrels stand on their hind legs on the window ledge, peer in the window, and sometimes even tap at the glass. “Um, excuse me…hello in there…we’re ready for our breakfast,” they seem to say.

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The squirrels no longer scurry away when I open the back door carrying my container of peanuts. I walk out onto the deck and make the same kissing sound I’ve been making for a year now. “Time for breakfast,” I say to a usual crowd of four or five familiar squirrels. (The chipmunks are hibernating for winter, but they’ll be back in the spring.)

The squirrels hop up onto the deck or peer around from the side of a tree and reach their little paws towards me as if to wave hello. They don’t yet eat directly out of my hand, but I think it’s just a matter of time. I’m getting very close with a friendly little one I call Baby.

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I’m able to sit, just inches away, and watch the squirrels eat. I can easily spend fifteen minutes or more studying their tiny ears, shiny black eyes, beautiful coats, and fluffy tails. I often think about trying to draw them. I wish I had even a pinch of Beatrix Potter’s talent for creating whimsical illustrations of the critters.IMG_0604 (1)

If I’m very quiet, I can hear the sweet squeaking noises the squirrels make while eating. They pick up a single peanut in their mouths, transfer it to their front paws, and anxiously nibble it down. They stare at me with cautious intensity, and occasionally say with their blinking eyes, “Nom, nom, nom…so delicious…thank you!”

Some mornings, when my furry friends seem especially impatient, I just open the windows and put the peanuts on the ledges while they anxiously wait with their adorable little faces looking up at me. Mike always stands at the ready in case one decides to come in and make himself at home.

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He is a little worried about my relationship with the squirrels. We had to say goodbye to our 17-year-old dog about a year and a half ago, and he’s not keen on getting another pet right now. So he continues to bring home twenty-pound bags of unshelled peanuts for my friends. I know it’s a little nutty, but life is all the better for starting our days with the simple joy of feeding the squirrels. §

How do you connect with nature? Do you have a relationship with wild critters? How about pets? How does it make your life better?  Please share your thoughts and ideas with our community. Just “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of the post. 

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The Elegance of Leaving the Metaverse

I’ve always been skeptical of Facebook. I was the last of my friends to sign-up, and over the years, a persistent, uneasy feeling led me to deactivate my account several times. My reasons always had to do with creating more simplicity and elegance in my life, but after a few months, I was drawn back like a moth to a flame. It was when Facebook recently changed its name to Meta that I decided to leave for good. 

Meta is short for metaverse. The term was originally coined in a 1992 science fiction novel called Snow Crash by Neal Stephensen. The metaverse is now defined as a combination of multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and video where users live within a digital universe. Ugh.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving my real car down a real road listening to a real person on the radio announce this business news headline: “Nike buys virtual sneaker maker to sell digital shoes in the metaverse.” Huh?

Turns out we can buy virtual shoes, clothing, land, and other digital goods for our avatars in the form of a crypto asset called a non-fungible token or NFT. As if the real sneakers I put on my actual feet each morning aren’t expensive enough.

The restless feeling I got from Facebook, I mean Meta, was replaced with something more disturbing. Maybe my age is showing. Maybe I taught George Orwell’s novel 1984 one too many times. Or maybe I just really enjoy living in this beautiful world where I can interact with real people, hike on real trails, look at real art, and stop to smell the real roses.

Virtual reality aside, here are a dozen simple reasons my days are a little more elegant without Meta, formerly known as Facebook.

1. Fewer Advertisements – Social media platforms, like Facebook, exist to make the owners money. As users, we are constantly bombarded, both consciously and subconsciously, with messages encouraging us to spend our money on everything from diet aids to political campaigns.

2. More Positivity – Facebook can be fertile ground for fear, judgment, anger, sadness, insecurity, and narcissism. Those negative vibes can seep right through the internet and zap us. Not only do I want to protect myself from negative energy, I also want to avoid the very real temptation of adding to it.

3. More Time – This is an obvious one, but not being on Facebook frees up time in my day to do things that add more quality to my life. Time is one thing we can never purchase more of either with real money or crypto currency.

4. More Presence – It’s amazing how much more present I am in my experiences when not thinking about taking a photo, posting it with a clever caption, and constantly checking reactions to it.

5. Better Focus – My mind is much clearer without Facebook. All of that input takes up too much valuable real estate in my head. Without it, I’m better able to concentrate on my own priorities.

6. Less Worry – As a lifelong people-pleaser, I was secretly worried about how my posts were interpreted and who loved, liked, and ignored them. Without Facebook, I’ve completely eliminated that concern.

7. Better Relationships – The average Facebook user has an intimate number of 338 friends. Instead of posting something for hundreds of people to see, I now take time to communicate more personally with individual people I know will be interested or amused by what I have to share.

8. Less Guilt – I often felt guilty I wasn’t closer to Facebook friends with whom I’d once crossed paths. I care about them, but I found it difficult to offer my sincere support and empathy to so many people.

9. More Discretion – Facebook can encourage us to over-share and reveal too much about our personal lives (and that of our loved ones). Personally, I’m more attracted to people who maintain a bit of privacy and an air of mystery.

10. More Self-Confidence – Have you ever felt sure about something, but after hearing from others began to doubt your own mind? Getting rid of the noise on Facebook helps me better trust my own voice.

11. Improved Self-Care – It’s up to each of us to take care of ourselves in the ways that are most nurturing and healthy. The same way I know I need lots of time alone and in nature, I also know I’m better without social media.

12. More Real Joy – If we would all look up from the mesmerizing glow of our screens and step out our doors, we’d see there’s a big wonderful world to explore and enjoy with all of our senses right now, in real time. §

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
~ Opening Line from  George Orwell’s 1984

The Elegance of Feeding the Birds

My husband taught me the elegance of feeding the birds. Initially it was his interest, and I stood back wondering if it was worth the effort. It wasn’t long before I was convinced the time and money we spent caring for our feathered friends was returned many times over.

Whether you live in the city or the country, maintain an elaborate system of bird feeders, or just sprinkle bread crumbs on your window sill, feeding the birds brings simple elegance to life in these six unexpected ways.

1. Kindness – When we do something nice, no matter how simple, it increases the kindness in the world. A single kind act can have a long-reaching ripple effect, sending good vibes throughout the planet. Watching the birds gleefully flock to their freshly filled feeders and bird bath, makes us want to keep spreading good cheer.

2. Connection – Over the years, I’ve watched the birds from kitchen windows and backyard porches with family and friends of all ages. Watching the birds together creates a sweet and common bond over the wonder of our shared world.

3. Learning –  When we watch the birds, we naturally want to know more about them. Is that a bluebird or an indigo bunting? Do orioles prefer oranges or meal worms? Did you know a woodpecker’s tongue is so long it wraps around the inside of its head? There is so much to learn! 

4. Beauty – In our flashy bigger-is-better world, we can easily miss the subtle, natural beauty of life. When we take time to notice a bird’s intricate coloring, delicate shape, and  sweet song, we begin to appreciate the genuine beauty in the world we sometimes take for granted.

5. Simplicity – A few seeds and a little fresh water is all a bird needs. It makes us stop and think about what we really need to live a healthy, happy life. Watching the birds mindfully eat, chirp, nest, and fly encourages us to strip away the pretenses and live a more simple, authentic life.

6. Charity – Remember the bird lady Mary Poppins sang about? “Come feed the little birds. Show them you care and you’ll be glad if you do. The young ones are hungry; their nests are so bare. All it takes is tuppence from you. Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” We all benefit when we share our blessings, not just count them. §

“I wish we had all been born birds instead.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut

The Elegance of Creativity

My husband has rekindled his hobby of making stained glass art. It has been a joy to watch him set up his work space, assemble his supplies, tinker for hours with his designs, and hang the finished products in the window for sunshine to bring them to life. Mike’s creativity had been lying dormant like a seed just below the surface, ready to emerge when the time was right. 

His inspiration was refueled a few weeks ago when we visited a friend’s garage art studio. As Mindy showed us her work area filled with her collection of beautiful handmade jewelry and pottery, my husband’s blue eyes lit up like fire in a kiln. The tipping point was our friend’s casual comment, “I make art as a creative release, and it makes me happy.” And just like that, my husband was an artist again. 

In his book The Courage to Create, Rollo May wrote, “We express our being by creating. Creativity is a necessary sequel to being.” May believed creativity is an essential component of a successful and fulfilling life. We were created to create. 

Our desire to create is seen in the popularity of television programs featuring ordinary people being creative. Watching other people bake cakes, plant gardens, and build tree houses makes for good television, but it doesn’t garner the same positive benefits as rolling up our sleeves and doing it ourselves. Maybe that explains the success of stores like Hobby Lobby.

There’s something innately elegant about being thoroughly engrossed in making something. When we’re creating, our personal problems melt away along with the cares of the world. We fall into a rhythm psychologists refer to as flow, defined as a mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and utter enjoyment.

Minutes flow into happy hours as Mike grinds pieces of glass, as Mindy shapes clay, as my mother-in-law stitches a quilt, as my neighbor decorates sugar cookies. Mihaly Csikszentmihali, a psychologist who died this week at 87, said during intense creativity, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 

Even if you haven’t made anything since that diorama for your seventh grade English class, you are creative. Boldly answer your call to create. Paint. Dance. Weave. Sing. Bake. Carve. Invent. Cook. Design. Sculpt. Fix. Plant. Film. Decorate, Sew. Draw. Write. Act. Quilt. Build. 

So what stops us from exploring our creativity? Here are my top excuses and what I tell myself in response.

  1. I don’t know how. You’re smart; you’ll figure it out. Take advantage of resources at the library, bookstore, and the Internet. Remember, we learn by doing.  
  2. What if I’m not good at it. At first, you probably won’t be. Create for creativity’s sake. If it turns out great, that’s just a bonus. 
  3. I’m not inspired. Go outside. Nature holds all of the inspiration we ever need. Hang out with other creatives. Become a patron of the arts.  
  4. I’m feeling lazy. Life is short. Get up and carpe the heck out of the diem!

Research shows being creative can improve happiness, stress, confidence, focus, problem-solving, authenticity, anxiety, self-expression, sense of freedom, resilience, open-mindedness, risk-taking, decision-making, and clarity. How wonderfully elegant. §

“The creator made us creative. Our creativity is our gift from God. Our use of it is our gift to God.”
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

The Elegance of Going to the Theater

I haven’t been to the theater since the pandemic closed the curtains nearly two years ago, and I miss it like a dear friend. I fondly recall the many times I took my language arts students to see a live production of a play or musical. I’m retired now, but I remember how those field trips to the theater filled an ordinary school day with excitement and elegance. 

Learning a little about a performance before going almost always enhances the experience. I enjoyed preparing my students for a production by familiarizing them with the story, the setting, and the writer. Several years ago, my daughter memorized every note of the soundtrack to Wicked before we saw it, and I was glad I studied up on the life of Alexander Hamilton before seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius musical, Hamilton

Another important part of the educational experience is understanding that appropriate conduct and dress show respect for the performers and the venue. A curious thing happens when teenagers dress up; they behave better. I would say that’s true for most of us. When we’re feeling polished, our best manners tend to shine. Going to the theater is a wonderful chance to learn and practice proper etiquette. The more we frequent the arts, the more comfortable we become. 

Every sight and sound at the theater is punctuated with beauty and anticipation. Theaters are often housed in exquisite buildings that stir a feeling of reverence and awe. I loved watching the faces of my students as they looked around the unfamiliar space, some giddy with excitement, others strangely quiet. Before a show begins, we bask in the ornate architecture, dim lights, heavy velvet curtain, and sounds of an orchestra tuning up. 

Finally, there is the elegance of the production itself. Each element, including lighting, costumes, music, dialogue, and movement, is carefully chosen to transport the audience to another time and place. Together, we experience shared emotions we didn’t even know we had, let alone had in common. We applaud the cast and crew as we learn to understand and appreciate theater as a magnificent form of art.   

I realize many of my students liked going to the theater because they got to ride the bus, sit next to their friends, and get out of a few classes. Still, I hold on to the hope that those trips enriched their education and their lives and that as adults they continue to explore and treasure the elegance of going to the theater. Even if I must don a mask and show my vaccination card, I can hardly wait to go back to the theater. §

“I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
~ Oscar Wilde

The Elegance of Summer’s Bounty

 

There is no finer example of true elegance than that of nature. In summer, it generously bestows miraculous gifts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. How pleased nature must be when we appreciate them. Here are ten ways to graciously accept and celebrate summer’s bounty. 

  1. Be Amazed. Imagine you never laid eyes on a bright yellow sunflower, smelled a bunch of lavender, or bit into a juicy, sweet strawberry. What a happy surprise they would be! Intentionally celebrate the gifts of summer as if for the first time. 
  2. Visit a Farmer’s Market. My husband and I stop by a farmers’ market a couple times each week during the summer. Not only do we go home with a variety of fresh-from-the-farm produce, it’s always a humbling reminder that the good food on our plates depends on experienced, hard-working hands.
  3. Gather Summer Blooms. I bet something pretty is blooming right outside your front door that you could clip, arrange, and slip into a little vase. If not, take a walk or drive and you’re sure to find some wildflowers growing in a road-side ditch. Pick just a few to add a touch of summer to your home. 
  4. Cook with Fresh Herbs. My husband is the chef in our house, and I’m always impressed by how he jazzes up simple meals with fresh herbs from our backyard. Identifying and relishing the distinct flavors of basil, dill, cilantro, mint, and rosemary makes our mealtimes more flavorful and mindful.  
  5. Go to a You-Pick Destination. We recently picked our own lavender from rows and rows of hazy purple flowers. The heavenly scent transported us straight to Provence. Whether you pick your own flowers, fruit, or vegetables, it’s a summertime ritual not to be missed. (If you’re in southern Illinois, be sure to visit Lavender Falls U-Pick Farm in Mt. Vernon.) 
  6. Eat a Rainbow. The practice of eating a rainbow every day simply reminds us to have a diet filled with colorful fruits and veggies. Different colors in produce deliver specific nutrients. For example, red foods like tomatoes and strawberries contain an antioxidant called lycopene. It’s easy to eat a rainbow during the summer months.
  7. Get Creative. Beautiful things in nature inspire creativity. Consider masterpieces like Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers or George Gershwin’s aria from Porgy and Bess called Summertime. Let a big blue hydrangea or a bowl of ripe strawberries inspire you to draw, paint, or write a poem.
  8. Dine Al Fresco. There is no better way to enjoy nature’s bounty than dining outdoors. A warm breeze, the song of birds, and the changing colors of the sky, all add to the ambiance of a memorable summer meal. 
  9. Share the Goodness. A few weeks ago, we found some superb blackberries and knew we needed to get a quart for my father-in-law, too. He later surprised us with some perfect peaches. Whether you have an abundance of cucumbers or prolific rose bushes, sharing the gifts of summer only increases their pleasure. 
  10. Feel Gratitude. This week we bought a small bunch of gorgeous sunflowers at the grocery store for four dollars. I cut their thick fuzzy stems and arranged them in a vase that I keep moving around the house. Each time I scurry by them with a load of laundry, see them from the kitchen sink, or sit near them while I write, they bring a sigh of appreciation.

    As poet Celia Thaxter wrote long ago, “There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” And gratitude is an elegance we can cultivate all year long.§


    “A life without love is like a year without summer.”
    ~Swedish Proverb