Be a Swan ~ this simple acronym can help

IMG_1996One day this week I had an ordinary opportunity to practice everyday elegance and remind myself to gracefully glide through life like a swan, not flap about like a chicken with its head cut off.

I was in the middle of cleaning our house when I realized I needed a couple of things from the store before getting on with a long to-do list for the day. I was tired, and the temperature outside was pushing 100 degrees. As I drove into the parking lot, a driver ran a stop sign forcing me to slam on my brakes. My purse flew off the seat, and its contents spilled on the floor.

As I began to pull into a parking spot, I had to swerve to avoid another driver going the wrong direction. My cell phone slid deep under the passenger’s seat. In the blistering heat of the concrete parking lot, I practically stood on my head while moving the seat forward and backwards trying to grab the phone that was just out of reach. By the time I retrieved it (ironically using an ice scraper from the glove compartment) I was hot and bothered.

Muttering to myself and ready to flap into the store feeling anything but graceful, I paused and remembered to be a swan. I walked around my car and got back in the driver’s seat. I started the ignition, turned the radio to classical music, and adjusted the air vents. For a couple of minutes, I sat still and let myself cool down.

Then I briefly closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and thought about the acronym I have used as a personal mantra for years. These four little words are a quick and easy way for me to quickly adjust my attitude and face the world with a modicum of elegance.

SWAN ~ Simple Wise Attractive Nice  

I’ve never written about this acronym for fear of revealing a silly little secret, but I’ve been thinking about how our personal lives, our relationships, and our communities could be improved if we all paid attention to those four simple words.

On this steamy ordinary day, I reminded myself that life is really pretty simple and my problems are relatively few. I was glad I’d wisely taken a few minutes to cool down and recenter myself. Wearing a casual denim dress, I felt reasonably attractive and thought about having good posture and a pleasant countenance. As my irritation melted away, I was more aware of simply being nice to fellow customers and store employees.

Simple. Wise. Attractive. Nice. Such an easy way to remember to be like a swan, gliding through an ordinary day with a little everyday elegance. §

“Grace will take you places hustling can’t.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Featured Art ~ White Swan on White Lake by Melissa Pinner

The Elegance of Steel Magnolias

IMG_1529 (1)

On this first Mother’s Day since our mom’s passing, my sisters and I will spend the day recalling happy memories, many of which were firmly planted on a little street named for the magnolia tree that graced our childhood neighborhood. It was on Magnolia Avenue that we first learned valuable lessons from our mother and other beautiful women who were part of our lives.

That magnolia tree holds a nearly mythical place in our hearts. Every year, we waited for it to announce spring’s arrival by bursting into a profusion of big pink and white blossoms and spritzing the whole neighborhood with its sweet perfume. Six decades later, the tree is still there in all its glory. Rooted at its base are the lessons of our youth.

Our tree is a saucer magnolia, commonly known as a tulip tree. In fact, there are more than 200 species of magnolias. They gracefully adapt to change and can live up to 300 years. The magnolia’s carpels are extremely strong and durable. A carpel, by the way, is the female part of the flower. Not only are these trees the essence of delicate beauty, they are also tough, hence the term steel magnolias. Lessons from our own steel magnolias include grace, dignity, wisdom, and strength.

A beautiful magnolia tree exemplifies grace. In people, grace can be defined as simple elegance, refined movement, and courteous goodwill. The women of our childhood spoke, dressed, moved, and acted with a natural, simple grace. More importantly, they treated others politely and kindly.

Growing up, we loved to climb trees, but it occurs to me now that we never climbed the magnolia. In hindsight, I suppose we respected it the way we respected the women in our lives. They garnered deference by presenting themselves in an honorable manner. These days, virtue can seem under-valued, but the steel magnolias taught us dignity.

They also instructed us in wisdom. A magnolia tree innately knows when and how to grow, bloom, and rest. Our mother and other women we knew not only ran households, but also managed companies, classrooms, and committees. Perhaps its woman’s intuition or sage wisdom, but they were smart chicks who never played dumb.

Finally, a steel magnolia is an admirable combination of femininity and fortitude.  Call her brave, plucky, resilient, intrepid, or one tough cookie, she has the strength of mind and spirit to endure adversity with courage. As hairdresser Annelle Dupuy Desoto resolutely says in the play Steel Magnolias, “I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair!”

Although our mother is no longer with us, my sisters and I celebrate her today. We remember the important lessons she taught us, and we are grateful to all of the women who impacted our young lives. As the years go by, we hope to keep blooming and growing and to pass on to the next generations the strength and elegance of steel magnolias. §

A television icon we will miss – Who is Alex Trebek?

Alex Trebek will be missed at our house. Since 1984, no matter what was going on in the news or our personal lives, we could count on him to lead us in a half hour of cerebral fun. For millions of people like us, who knew him only as a nightly game show host, Trebek was a reassuring and constant role-model of grace, wit, and wisdom.

Jeopardy was on the hospital room television when I was in labor with my first child. It was an easy delivery, and I had just enough pain meds to play along between pushes. I wish I could remember the final Jeopardy question on that July evening in 1990, but I do know my little girl arrived at 7:33 pm. The doctor, who was also a Jeopardy fan, remarked how considerate it was for her to wait until after the final question.

My daughter must have been blessed by Alex Trebek and sprinkled with some Jeopardy fairy dust as she was born, because she grew up with a real love of learning. Recently she and her husband, who are both attorneys, worked from our house for a couple of weeks during the pandemic. As we tuned-in to Jeopardy each evening, they consistently beat the pants off my husband and me.

Mike and I usually have great fun competing against each other for nightly Jeopardy bragging rights. I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched except when a sports or literary category gives one of us a clear advantage. My daughter and son-in-law left us silent, as they gave answer after answer before we could even process the question. For that reason alone, we were glad when they went back home.

Like most people, we knew of Trebek’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We were glad to see him looking so well on the current taped shows and hoped he would get a miracle. In an interview last year, Trebek said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life.” His comment is reminiscent of my father’s positive attitude while facing cancer.

When people we admire die, we are reminded our time on earth is finite, and every era must come to an end. We will all leave behind a legacy, and we will all be remembered for what we did, how we behaved, and how we made people feel. Trebek had a long career as a celebrity who managed to avoid scandal and embarrassing public fall from grace. I will truly miss seeing his genial face and elegant demeanor on our television each night.

We can all learn a few things from Alex Trebek. “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that,” he said. “And that doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” 🙂

Question of the Week: Are you a Jeopardy fan? Do you have any personal memories of the show or of the host, Alex Trebek? Please respond in the comment section. I wish you a week filled with all the right answers!

The Goodness of Snow

Freshly falling snow always takes me back to my first memory of its beauty and inspires me to embrace its goodness.

It was a sunny Easter morning, and I woke up as happy and light as a five-year-old could be. Wearing my bunny nightgown, I stepped into our tiny blue bathroom and gasped. Just outside the window was a bright orange robin perched on a branch covered in white. She chirped excitedly, “Snow! Snow! SnowSnowSnow!” 

Standing on my tip-toes and peering over the window ledge, my whole world glittered. The smell of dad’s shaving cream lingered in the bathroom. The fluffy layer covering every budding tree limb and blade of new grass looked as if it came from a can of Old Spice. I was certain it smelled just as clean and fresh, and I could hardly wait to scoop up a handful and hold it to my nose…

The old memory melted away as I noticed it was snowing harder. Thick snowflakes floated to the ground in slow-motion whispering these magical words.

Soft…

In his poem The Dream Keeper, Langston Hughes spoke of the “too-rough fingers of the world.” A dear friend recently confided that the world was making her hard. I understood her concern, but I know better. My friend has the kind of heart that will allow her to stay soft. The more jagged and edgy the world becomes, the more I want to be a softer presence.

Pure…

Purity is synonymous with virtue, goodness, integrity, honesty and decency. We are never going to be perfect, but aiming to live a life of good character isn’t old-fashioned or unsophisticated. We have a choice about what we listen to, watch, read, say, do and even think. Being aware of what we put into our heads and hearts helps us reflect what we value.

Gentle…

St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength.” My husband is one of the most gentle human beings I know. He inspires me to be more tender in my actions, interactions and reactions. We can learn to be gentle without being a pushover or a doormat.

Quiet…

It’s a noisy world. Restaurants are so loud it’s impossible to converse. Music thumps from the car in the next lane. Shoppers blab into cell phones while roaming store aisles. People interrupt to make their point. It’s useless to shout over the din. It’s said if you want someone’s attention, whisper.

Grace…

The freshly fallen snow makes everything appear perfect and beautiful, not the slushy dirty mess that is real life. Perhaps a beautiful snowfall is nature’s reminder of the grace that falls down on us to cover our imperfections, heal our hurts and return us to the innocence of a child amazed by her first snow. §