The Perfect Holiday Gift – 11 ways to give our presence (even from a distance)

The past three years, my husband and I have lived deep in the woods where cell phone service is spotty at best. There’s only one place in our home where I can reliably get a good signal. No more chatting while I unload the dishwasher, cook dinner, or put away laundry. To avoid the frustration of a dropped call, I must sit down and simply converse. The situation has forced me to experience the joy of being present.

This holiday season, most people need our presence more than our presents. Though it will probably be from a distance, being present offers the gift of our most precious time, energy, and attention.

11 ways to give our presence this holiday season ~

1. Let Go of Expectations. Even without a pandemic, the holiday season can struggle to live up to our commercially-driven expectations and standards. This year, instead of thinking how we wish things were, let’s focus on enjoying life exactly as it is.

2. Reach Out. Because of the virus, many people will spend the holidays alone. While we might be tempted to pull the covers over our head until next year, we need to reach out to people. A cheerful conversation remembering old times and looking ahead can do wonders for everyone’s spirit.

3. Really Listen. Often when someone is talking, we’re waiting to get in our two cents. Conversations require some back and forth, but don’t be afraid of a little silence. Instead of thinking of our response, we can take that time to process what was said and respond by asking questions and clarifying the other person’s words.

4. Pay Close Attention. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world we don’t really see the people we care about. Taking time to notice subtle, non-verbal communication helps us understand other people’s feelings and gives us a chance to offer genuine compassion and empathy.

5. Cut Out Distractions. We all know the feeling of talking to someone who is clearly focused on something more important than your conversation. To really connect with someone, we must eliminate distractions so we can give them the gift of our full attention.

6. Dive Deep. This year we won’t be attending any big holiday parties where small talk is most appropriate. Take advantage of smaller gatherings and phone calls to enjoy some conversation that goes beyond the weather and typical surface exchanges.

7. Make Eye-Contact. At least those annoying masks don’t cover our eyes. Looking at others warmly shows we are engaged and interested. Whether meeting in-person, on Facetime, or a Zoom call, eye contact is a powerful way to demonstrate our care and respect.

8. Choose Mindful Activities. There’s nothing wrong with having a family movie night, but it might not be the best way to spend quality time. Try taking a walk together, playing a game, making a craft, or just talking over some hot chocolate.

9. Tune-In to the Senses. One of the best ways to immediately be more present is to become aware of our senses. Focusing on what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel can get us out of our heads and into the moment. Twinkling lights, holiday music, a glowing fire, and delicious treats are all sure ways to enjoy being present.

10. Lend a Hand. If we listen and pay attention, we often find there is something we can do to help others. When at our home, both of our sons-in-law are wonderful at noticing what needs to be done and quietly doing it. Our presence is always appreciated when we lighten the load for someone else.

11. Give Love. It’s been a long year, and we’re all worn out by such unprecedented events. The gift of our presence is a sincere and thoughtful way to put more love into the world this holiday season, and that’s a gift everybody can use. §

Question of the Week: What tip do you have for being more present with yourself or others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Wishing you a week filled with holiday presence. Merry Christmas!

Please subscribe to The Simple Swan by clicking the Follow button. The Simple Swan is on Twitter at 1SimpleSwan.

The Man in the Moon

The August moon is full and bright on the night of my father’s birthday. I miss him even more than usual, and the gossamer glow both increases and soothes my melancholy.

Gazing at the mysterious moon in the still of the night, I imagine Claude Debussy’s piano classic Claire de Lune quietly playing in the background as a perfect accompaniment to my bittersweet emotions.

Claire de Lune, meaning moonlight, is one of the most well-known and beloved piano pieces of all time. It is the third and most famous movement of Debussy’s 1890 Suite Bergamasque. In a spirit of creative cooperation, Debussy was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem Claire de Lune which was inspired by the moon itself.

Whether or not you speak French, doesn’t this poem sound lovely? Et leur chanson se mele au clair de lune. Au calme clair de lune triste et beau. These lines from Verlaine’s poem are translated to mean, And their song blends with the moonlight. With the sad and beautiful moonlight. 

Triste et beau. Sad and beautiful. Yes, those two words do strike a chord. I’m in awe and appreciation of nature’s ability to inspire masterpieces that express our seemingly inexpressible emotions. Both nature and art make us feel less alone and connect us through a timeless shared humanity.

My mind travels back to a moonlit evening many years ago. My handsome young father is at the piano plucking out chords and humming a tune. He had an ear for music and could find the notes to any song he heard. My sisters and I gather around him in our nightgowns, squeaky clean from evening baths, and sing together for at least an hour before dreamily floating off to bed.

Looking up at the full moon this evening, I wish my dad a happy birthday. Silhouetted against a heavenly circle of light is the man in the moon. He is sitting at a piano elegantly playing Claire de Lune. §

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. §

 

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to The Simple Swan! Just click the “Follow” link on this page and enter your email address. You will receive an email to confirm your subscription; after confirming you’ll get an email with my new posts on Sunday mornings. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel Magnolias

I grew up in a small Midwest town on Magnolia Avenue, named for the tree that graced the entrance to our modest neighborhood. Every year, we waited for our magnolia to announce spring’s arrival by bursting into a profusion of pink and white blossoms and spritzing the whole neighborhood with its delicious perfume. I loved that tree, that neighborhood, and the memories that come flooding back when I catch a whiff of its familiar fragrance.

As an adult, I lived in Tallahassee, Florida where southern magnolias decorated the landscape with bold silky white flowers. The magnolia of my childhood was a saucer magnolia, commonly known as a tulip tree, and it was just as lovely. In fact, there are more than 200 species of magnolias. Not only are they the essence of delicate beauty, they are also tenacious survivors, hence the term steel magnolias.

Fossilized specimens date back to 95 million years ago. Magnolias have adapted to changing geographical regions and climates, and some magnolias are thought to live up to 300 years. To avoid damage from pollination, the magnolia’s carpels are extremely strong and durable. A carpel, by the way, is the female part of the flower.

It was on Magnolia Avenue that I first learned lessons from my mother and her coterie of friends that have stayed with me until this day. They were, and still are, my steel magnolias. I still think of them as youthful middle-aged women, even though I am nearing sixty. They collectively taught me lessons I can only hope I passed on to my daughter and the thousands of young women who sat in my classroom.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown. On a drive through the old neighborhood, I was thrilled to see our magnolia tree was still there and just beginning to bud. Rooted at the base of that tree are lessons of my youth. It’s not too late to revisit them and renew my resolve to cultivate the traits of a steel magnolia.

Grace. Grace is defined as simple elegance, refinement of movement, and courteous goodwill. My mother and her friends are never tacky. They speak, dress, move, and act with a natural and simple elegance. More importantly, they treat others politely and with kindness.

Loyalty. Just as we could depend on our magnolia tree to bloom each spring, my mother and her friends could always count on each other. They’ve seen one another through good times and bad, sickness and health, sadness and celebration.

Dignity. Growing up, the kids in our neighborhood loved to climb trees, but we never climbed the magnolia tree. In hindsight, I suppose we respected it the way we respected the moms and older ladies who lived in our neighborhood. They garnered our deference by consistently behaving in an honorable, dignified manner.

Wisdom. The magnolia innately knows when and how to grow, bloom, and rest without advice from anyone. My mother and her friends not only ran households, but also managed companies, classrooms, committees, and campaigns. Perhaps it’s woman’s intuition or sage wisdom, but they’re smart chicks who never play dumb.

Beauty. Magnolia blossoms come in a myriad of colors and shapes, and each one is a beauty. Since I was a young girl, I’ve admired my mom and her friends’ attractiveness. They took pride in how they presented themselves, their homes, and their work. They had a special way of adding a dash of flair to everything they did.

Strength. A steel magnolia possesses 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 pain and adversity with courage. As Annelle Dupuy Desoto resolutely said in the play, Steel Magnolias, “Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” §

Hurry Never – the joy of slowing down

My hands were full of fall treasures after my morning walk ~ a heart-shaped leaf, a perfect acorn, and a few stems of pretty white wildflowers. I worked through my chores accompanied by soft jazz, stopping frequently to watch hummingbirds dance around our feeder.

I drove to town slowly enough to spy three deer and a chubby groundhog enjoying the afternoon. At the grocery store, I made way for shoppers frantically pushing their carts and invited a mother with a cranky toddler to go ahead of me in line.

I haven’t always moved through my day so leisurely or with such delightful awareness. 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, a habit that isn’t merely a symptom of our fast-paced, modern world. It seems the want to rush has been a problem long before our time.

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.” 

In a similar message, My Symphony, a poem written by William Henry Channing in the late 1800s, reminds us, “Hurry never.” Now that I’m older, I’m discovering breaking the hurry habit can improve life in at least these five ways ~

1. More Beauty ~ The more we slow down, the more we notice nature’s beauty; the more we notice nature’s beauty, the more we slow down. No matter where we live, nature is waiting to help us pause in awe and wonder.

2. More Good-Feels ~ When I catch myself rushing, I can feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Right now, take a deep breath and relax your body from head to toe. Doesn’t that feel better?

3. More Pleasant Interactions ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down makes us better able to be more compassionate, patient, and aware of others.

4. 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 decisions.

5. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. When we slow down, we can glide through our day with more grace and composure ~ like a swan.