I am an ordinary woman, living an ordinary life. I’m neither rich nor famous, at least by the standards those things are customarily measured: my bank account balance, the number of people who know my name/how readily recognizable I am. To me, those are superficial means of assessing anyone’s worth.

There are things I do well–cooking; writing; photography–that fulfill my passion to create. They don’t support me, although I have hopes for my photography, if not my writing. And I cook for pleasure, not profit, for the contentment derived from nourishing those I love.

Given either choice or opportunity, would you really want to be famous? Mega-rich? I wouldn’t. I can’t think of anything, materially speaking, that’s worth sacrificing my privacy for. Excessive income creates its own problems, or, as my husband puts it, “More money means bigger bills.”

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where we always had enough, in almost all the ways that matter. My mother often said, “I don’t want to be rich; I just want enough, with a little left over for fun.” That seems to me to be a near-perfect philosophy. It lies within each of us how we define enough, as well as what is important and meaningful in our lives. As I’ve grown, I find that non-material things offer the most satisfaction: spending time with my family and close friends; immersing myself in my art; learning to look for the small miracles in each day.

Abundance can be lovely indeed, when it’s an abundance of the right things. My wish for you, as you read this, is that you may have enough in your life, and the wisdom to recognize it for the gift that it is.

The Battle of the Inbox

Technology baffles me. I wasn’t born in a digital age, surrounded by gadgets that did everything but make coffee. I’m struggling to learn how to use a Smart phone while children use them routinely. This morning, there was a news piece about a three-year-old who taught herself Spanish using an iPad. What an amazing era we live in!

Take email, for example. That’s about as basic as it gets. You write, you hit send. If you’re lucky, the person on the other end replies. Communication in the digital age. Here’s my dilemma: I can’t de-clutter my inbox. I’ve tried; I’ve unsubscribed to a number of e-newsletters but they keep cropping up. Art supply vendors; writing newsletters; author newsletters; recipes. All topics of interest and yet…I feel swamped by information overload. When I take the time to whittle it down to a manageable number (25 or less), the next time I log on to my account I find it doubled. Tripled. Out of control.

I have a theory–email mates when I’m not looking, a tendency it shares with dirty laundry (you have to keep a close eye on both). Don’t ask me how; I already admitted I’m technologically challenged. I’m pretty sure this is true, though. If you have an alternate explanation I’d love to hear it. Or maybe I should just ask my two-year-old granddaughter. Ireland probably knows the answer. I suspect she’s going to tell me I’m an email hoarder. Speaking of which, I wonder if she knows why my printer is hoarding copies. (I went to print a copy of this and got a cookie recipe, instead.) But that’s a topic for another day.

Meanwhile, back to the Smart phone…

This Thing Called Love

Candy Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day! As the saying goes, love makes the world go around. It can enrich your life in ways you never dreamed possible and plummet you to the depths of misery. That’s the fascinating paradox of love. Finding the balance between those two is often learned through trial and error, and some of the lessons are more painful than others. I sometimes wish I’d had an honest conversation about love with my mother but even if I had, I suspect I still would have had to chart my own path through love’s murky waters. Because this day celebrates love in all its varied forms, I’d like to share what I’ve learned along the way.

1. Repeat as necessary: Love is not about control.
2. Love doesn’t hurt. If it does, take a couple of steps back and re-evaluate.
3. Love and sex aren’t the same thing. Take a minute to let that one sink in. If all you have going for you is great sex, you won’t last.
4. Don’t keep score. Love doesn’t keep a mental accounting of which partner has done more than the other, gives more than the other, etc. Wise people know that this varies, that the balance continually shifts.
5. If you don’t love yourself it’s impossible to love others. You read that right–I used the ‘i’ word. Love yourself first, and let it all ripple out from there.
6. You are not responsible for your partner’s happiness.
7. Actions speak louder than words. Anyone cay say ‘I love you;’ living your love, every day, is much more difficult.
8. Love doesn’t thrive in a vacuum; if you’re not putting anything into your relationship, don’t be surprised when it fails. Having said that, though, it’s also true that one person can’t hold a relationship together. It takes two.
9. Act like a grown-up. There’s no place for immaturity in a lasting love.
10. Respect your partner.
11. Maintain a healthy perspective. Everything is not about you! Give your partner the gift of ‘alone’ time when he or she needs it.
12. Good communication is essential–don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Talk to each other openly and honestly, and talk often.
13. Leave your family and friends out of your arguments. However tempting it might be, don’t tell a third party anything you wouldn’t say to your partner, face to face.
14. Practice the art of listening.

Above all, don’t wait for a special occasion to tell the people who matter most how you feel. No one is guaranteed tomorrow; say it today. Laugh together often, and enjoy each other’s company.

On this Valentine’s Day, I wish you love–deep, lasting, fulfilling. May your blessings be abundant, and may your heart runneth over!

Parents Are People?

Laughing At The Sky, CropGrowing up, you rarely think of your mother as a person, someone with dreams and hopes of her own. That realization comes later, usually after you’re on your own and have experienced a bit of life without the comforting buffer of parents. I was a mother myself when I hit that particular wall and I remember it clearly. I was struggling to create a very different family dynamic and learning firsthand how hard it can be to break out of an old, damaging pattern.

Looking at childhood pictures like the one above, I can conclude that I was a happy little girl. As I grew, though, I could feel the lack of affection in our home, both physical and verbal. My parents didn’t hug or kiss us, and they weren’t openly affectionate with each other either. My father had definite ideas of ‘proper’ behavior. I don’t remember hearing the words ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m proud of you’ spoken, not until long after I’d left the family home.

It took me many years and the gentle wisdom of my daughter to begin healing the wounded inner child who still looked out at the world through my adult eyes. With her guidance, I came to understand that people can’t give abundance to others from an empty well, and love is defeated by keeping a mental accounting. Knowledge brings wisdom, but also responsibility–that of forgiving others, as well as myself. The act of forgiving is relatively simple; the challenge lies in releasing old hurts.

By the time my mother passed away we had grown into a comfortable relationship, one of honesty and mutual respect. I miss her every day, the sound of her voice, the twinkle in her eyes, the feel of her cheek against mine, soft as old worn linen. I find comfort in sensing her spirit near me; I carry her with me as I focus on her lasting gifts, an appreciation of the beauty of nature (birds and flowers, in particular, which have become the focus of my photography), a love of reading and cooking. These are the things I choose to remember; to do otherwise is to drink daily from a poisoned cup.

The past is exactly that–over, finished, beyond our ability to alter. Turn the page. Better still, burn the book, and give yourself the priceless gift of serenity. My hope in sharing this is that you will find the courage to move forward, your spirit imbued with love and light, to create your future.

It’s waiting for you.

Where The Words Come From

Love of Books

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t entranced with language, the musical flow and rhythm of words. My parents read to me when I was small, and my clearest memory of that time is of the poetry. I was fortunate to be born into a family that not only prized books, they owned them. What riches! In particular, we had a set of volumes called “Child Craft;” the first two, “Poems of Early Childhood” and “Storytelling and Other Poems,” were devoted solely to poetry. Those were my first introduction to the magic carpet ride of words, one of both enchantment and escapism.

Leafing through the pages I hear the familiar siren’s song calling to me, calling to the remembered best of my childhood, pressed between the covers. Here I find familiar names that read like a literary “Who’s Who:” A.A. Milne, William Blake, and three Roberts–Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Browning, Robert Frost. Christina Rosetti; Aileen Fisher; Eugene Field. Here are nursery rhymes (Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, Humpty Dumpty), and poems that tell stories; poems about trains and planes and automobiles, lighthouses and boats. Some of them, like the fairy tales of old, have a dark side (To The Little Girl Who Wiggles; The Potatoes’ Dance; Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors For Fun and Perished Miserably). The illustrations are charmingly old-fashioned, reminiscent of a vintage grade school primer.

My father was a creative reader, often improvising as he went along and using different voices for the different characters. It wasn’t until later, when I was able to read alone, that I discovered this. I can still remember my sharp disappointment, taking the book to my mother and asking, “Where’s the good stuff?” And I remember the sound of his voice, reading The House That Jack Built, (a lengthy and humorous poem where each verse repeats the one before), his pace picking up speed until, by the end, we were breathless and laughing.

Built on that foundation, it’s hardly surprising that some of my first writing efforts were poetry. We had a treehouse on stilts in our backyard, under the old willow tree; the branches hung down around it like living curtains, sheltering and hiding me. Armed with pencil and paper and imagination, I escaped there as often as I could, daydreaming and writing, with the hum of insects and the sound of the wind whispering inspiration. Sometimes I took a book along, and an apple or a chocolate chip cookie filched from the jar when no one was looking. While I was there, the world, and my place in it, ceased to exist. I could be anything, do anything, live in an enchanted realm of my choosing. Nothing mattered but the words.

Throughout my life, I have sought and found solace in words–my own, and those written by others. Reading introduced me to a broader world than the one outside my window, and writing helped me find my way when the road ahead seemed uncertain, shrouded in darkness. Writing is intensely personal, a distillation of who I am, at the core. It is my heart and soul, the accumulation of hard won wisdom and experience. Sharing that with others, people I know and those I haven’t met, is an act of courage. But if by doing so even one person finds comfort or inspiration, or simply the recognition of a shared experience, it will have been well worth the risk.