Elegant Pursuits ~ A Daily Walk

woman with a parasol

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

Featured Art ~ Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet, 1886

To watch or listen to this blog post in video format, please click this YouTube link ~ https://youtu.be/O2az8D__FBc

Mangoes ~ life-changing words from a child in Africa

The first piece of mail I opened in 2021 was a letter from a 7-year-old boy who lives in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda. Nothing sets you straight faster than the cheerful words of a child who lives in one of the poorest nations in the world.

I was attending my own pity party when I saw the letter on the kitchen counter. It was from Lukas, a child we sponsor through Compassion International. Just seeing the familiar envelope was enough to make me flush with embarrassment. I stopped whining and opened the letter. On one side was a colorful picture drawn by Lukas, and on the other, a letter written in English by a translator.

Lukas was responding to a letter I’d written to him during the summer. Normally our letter cycle takes about three months, but the pandemic made the process twice as long. Lukas asked how we were doing and told us more about himself. We already knew the names of his brothers and sisters, that he likes to play soccer with his friends, and his favorite color is green.

Reading the letter out loud to my husband, my voice cracked when I read, “Lukas also adds that he appreciates so much his birthday gift of 86,350. With that money, he bought a mattress and a piece of candy.”

We’d forgotten his annual birthday gift of $25 had been automatically withdrawn from our bank account. Lukas didn’t replace an old mattress with a new one. He bought the first mattress he’d ever had to go with the mosquito netting he bought with last year’s Christmas gift.

The little boy’s grateful words hung tangibly in the air next to my greedy ones.

I’d just been listing the next bushel of things I needed to happen, needed to do, needed to get in order to sit squarely in the lap of happiness – things Lukas has no idea even exist or would ever believe he was entitled.

Then Lukas told us something neither Mike nor I can get out of our minds – something incredibly simple and utterly life-changing.

The thing that makes him happiest is climbing trees for mangoes.

We love mangoes. We buy them at the grocery store when they’re available. Mike is good at picking a perfectly ripe one. He slices through the yellow-red skin and then makes neat cuts in the bright yellow flesh to release cubes of the tropical treat. Biting into the fruit brings a burst of floral sweetness with a slight hint of pine. If eaten mindfully, it’s heaven.

I imagine our young friend nimbly skitter up a mango tree in his village. His bright brown eyes spy a ripe fruit. His tiny hand picks it off the limb and stuffs it in his pocket. He climbs back down the tree, laughing. He sits on the ground and leans against the base of the tree. Pulling the golden prize from his pocket, he takes a big bite, juice dripping down his smiling face.

When we find ourselves getting caught up in our first world delusions and disillusions, Mike and I need only say one word to remind us of the good life.

Mangoes. §

About Compassion International ~ When you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you become the single sponsor of a specific child. You get updated pictures and profiles of your child, and you can exchange letters. Your donation help your child’s local church provide medical care, education, nutritious meals, and other needs. To find out more about sponsoring a child through Compassion International, go to http://www.compassion.com/Child/Sponsorship.  

Like a Swan ~ inspiration for living with grace, simplicity, and joy

The Swans, 1900 by Joseph Marius Avy

Many times I’ve been asked why I named this blog The Simple Swan. I suppose I’ve always had an affinity for this elegant bird that graces the scenes of art, literature, and ballets.

My earliest encounter with storybook swans was Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Ugly Duckling and its powerful message of transformation, kindness, and love. Who can resist the idea that no matter how awkward and rejected we feel, deep down we are all beautiful swans?

Another favorite novel of mine is E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan. It tells the sweet story of a trumpeter swan, Louis (cleverly named for Louis Armstrong), who learns several lessons in his journey first to self-love and eventually to true love with a beautiful swan named Serena.

My love for swans was sealed when I was a little girl taking dance lessons. My mother took my sisters and me to a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and I was mesmerized. Ever since, a lovely picture book of the ballet has had a place on my shelf.

Seeing swans in nature only increases their fictional dreaminess for me. As I watch swans regally float on the water, I’m inspired by their natural poise, beauty, and simplicity. They might be paddling like crazy just below the surface, but they always appear to serenely glide through life.

When my own children reached the same age as the eighth graders I taught, I had a daily routine of stopping by a park on the way home from school. For fifteen minutes or so, I would sit in my car and watch the swans on the small peaceful lake.

In the midst of hectic days blessed by teenagers at work and home, the swans soothed my soul and reminded me how I wanted to show up in the world as a teacher, parent, and human being.

Especially now, as I near my sixties, swans seem to possess a wise and mature sense of joy. They aren’t showy like peacocks or cute and flighty like chickadees. Swans represent the simple, refined, and deep contentment I seek in my own life.

No matter what life brings, we can at least aim to effortlessly glide through both the seasons of the year and the seasons of life inspired by the serenity, grace, and joy of a simple swan. §

Dogs Don’t Simplify Life – they simply make it better

Princess Grace 2003-2020

You know what doesn’t simplify life?

Dogs. They are expensive. They are messy. They are time consuming.

And they bring immeasurable joy.

This week we said goodbye to our beloved family pet, an American Eskimo we got when she was just a puppy. To say she aged well is an understatement. She was a fluffy, pure white beauty with dark brown eyes. Her cotton-candy tail curled up over her trim 18-pound body. Her sweet face could melt your heart. She lived to be 17 and a half years old.

Like all of God’s creatures, she came to us with her own personality. The day my children and I brought her home, she fit in our cupped hands. She posed regally in the grass, one front leg draped over the other. She needed a name fit for royalty and was dubbed Princess Grace.

It took nearly two years to convince our princess she should use the bathroom outdoors. She was aghast, but finally accepted the situation. From then on, she was a well-mannered, elegant addition to our family.

American Eskimos are extremely intelligent, making them typical circus dogs. Grace learned to perform all kinds of tricks including prancing along the garden wall and jumping back and forth through a hula hoop.

By the time she was five, asking her to do tricks seemed as inappropriate as asking the Queen of England to sit, lie down, and roll over. She was a classy lady who had an air about her that demanded respect.

Grace did not suffer fools. She looked at other dogs with a raised eyebrow. She did not drool on people, jump on furniture, tear through the house, or bark unnecessarily. She enjoyed a restrained pat behind the ears and mature conversation. Loud children were to be avoided.

She was a pedigree with high standards, and she made everyone in our home want to be a better human. The bumper sticker that reads, “Be the person your dog thinks you are” couldn’t be more apt when it came to how we felt under Grace’s watchful eye.

Gracie was set in her ways, as any 119-year-old would be. You could set a watch by her meal times. Breakfast was served at 8 am, and dinner was at 5 pm sharp. If the help deviated from this schedule, she let them know.

Her favorite place was in the garden, where she often rested in the sun among the flowers. She looked so pretty with red and pink impatiens blooming all around her. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she rang for tea.

Every snowfall brought out the child in Grace. It was fitting that an American Eskimo would beg to go outside and stare straight up at the sky to catch snowflakes on her tongue. Rolling on the cold ground in delight, she disappeared against the white snow.

Gracie was a one-in-a-million girl, a dog who witnessed our family go through more than seventeen years of challenges, changes, and growing pains. Through it all, she remained a reliable friend and gentle spirit who simply made all of our lives more beautiful.

No, dogs don’t simplify life.

You will spend a small fortune at the veterinarian’s office. You will endlessly clean nose smudges off glass doors. You will constantly pick white hair off black clothes. You will cry your heart out when it’s time to say goodbye.

But every time you see a fluffy, dog-shaped cloud in the sky you’ll be reminded of the unconditional love and pure happiness your furry friend gave you.

A Dozen Reasons I’m Happier Without Facebook

Imagine a small get-together with a few close friends or family. You share your joys and challenges and offer each other meaningful support and encouragement. Later that evening, you feel grateful for your tribe and drift to sleep with them in your prayers.

Now imagine going to a large cocktail party. You bounce from person to person internalizing snippets of conversation –  a friend’s co-worker is sick, someone’s son is getting married, a neighbor’s dog got hit by a car, an acquaintance’s father has dementia, another got her dream job. There is an uncomfortable debate about politics. Later that evening, you feel completely drained and have trouble sleeping.

Facebook is like a crowded, never-ending cocktail party filled with casual acquaintances and friends of friends of friends. The average number of Facebook friends is an intimate 338. I left Facebook because it didn’t bring me joy to try and process the emotions of so many people on a regular basis.

I don’t know if I’m technically an empath, but Judith Orloff, MD, says empaths are “emotional sponges” who absorb other people’s energies, whether they are good or bad. When overwhelmed by the emotions of others, empaths can experience panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue and insomnia.

I deactivated my Facebook account eight months ago and haven’t looked back. Here are a dozen very honest reasons I’m happier without it. ~

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

2. More Time – This is an obvious one, but not being on Facebook has freed up more time in my day to do things that add more quality to my life.

3. 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 the reactions to it.

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

5. Less Irritation – Let’s face it, people post aggravating stuff on Facebook. Some of it really pushed my buttons and elicited negative emotions that weren’t good for me.

6. Less Worry – As a people pleaser, I was always worried how people interpreted my posts. Without Facebook, I’ve completely eliminated that concern.

7. Better Relationships – Instead of posting something for hundreds of people to see on Facebook, I now take time to communicate more personally with individual people.

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 impossible to offer my sincere support 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 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 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. The same way I know I need lots of time alone and in nature, I also know I’m better without Facebook.

12. More Joy – We are each responsible for creating our own happiness. The bottom line is, for me, Facebook has more negatives than positives, and I’m happier without it in my life. §

The Simple Swan Movie Premier (sort of)

I wanted to share this beautiful short video I wrote for a popular YouTube channel, Inspired by Nikki!

Nikki Moreno, a lovely and talented videographer, filmed this stunning four-minute video at Mount Charleston, Nevada and narrated it with words from my recent essay, “Winter Inspires Simplicity.” Nikki directed and starred in this video which premiered on her YouTube channel today. I’m excited to collaborate with Nikki on more projects in the future.

To receive an email of each new blog post, please subscribe at http://www.thesimpleswan.com. If my writing offers you inspiration, encouragement or joy, please consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month. Go to http://www.patreon.com/thesimpleswan.

Have a wonderful day! I’ll be back with a new essay or story on Sunday. ~Alicia

P.S. If you have trouble seeing the video, try this link instead. https://youtu.be/KlY4yMClEE8

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.