One Small Thing (aka: Life-Changing Baby Steps)

Big things start with small steps.

It isn’t a new concept. From the moment we were born, we learned and grew in small increments. Before we could talk, we babbled. Before we could run, we had to crawl. Then stand, Then take our first wobbly steps forward. But at last, we could do it — we could run! After that, we mastered running. Owned it. Our childhood motto was: Why walk, when you can run? Some of us still run.

But first, we had to crawl.

Change requires baby steps. It is astounding how much we berate ourselves for not being able to reach our personal potential. Why can’t my body be fit and toned? Why can’t I lose twenty pounds? Why can’t I save enough money to do the things I really want to do? What’s wrong with me?

We blame it on our lack of willpower. Our genetic inheritance. Our own laziness. Or, we try — really, really try. We follow the latest fad diet and exercise like crazy until we tear a muscle, or gain back the weight. We start hoarding money, only to realize that we’ve forgotten to budget enough cash to pay the bills, or buy enough groceries for the family.

Instead of growing, we grow discouraged.

But we’ve forgotten that every positive change starts with small steps. Teeny tiny movements in the right direction. Like learning the sounds of each letter of the alphabet before we are ready to learn to read.

MSNBC’s news website has a lifestyle segment that I often enjoy reading, called Better. Each day, it features tips for one small change that we can take in order to improve in some area of our lives. Sleep better. Eat better. Have better relationships. Be better in the workplace. Manage our finances better. Each time I read one of the articles posted, there, I walk away with new ideas for one small thing to try. One tiny change that may lead me to better habits, and assist me as I strive for excellence.

Because isn’t that what this is all about? Not just trying to grow for the sake of growth, but to strive for excellence. To live our best life possible. To be all that we can be.

I have had a decades-long goal of becoming a better homemaker. I want for my family’s home to be comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and clean. Even back when I was a full-time SAHM/Homemaker, I was a terrible housekeeper. I could cook well, and sew adorable curtains to hang in the windows. I could paint walls and add special touches to make our house feel like home. But our home was rarely ever clean. I’ve certainly come a long way, as have my kids. But I’m still not where I’d like to be.

I began with baby steps. Start by making your bed. I don’t remember where I once read this advice, but after my ex-husband and I split up, I began to make my bed every day. And know what? I grew to appreciate having a well-made bed to sleep in each night. I also began to keep a very clean bedroom. Uncluttered surfaces, vacuumed floors. Each small change added to my daily happiness, and reduced my stress levels. Soon, I hope that this state of being always tidy spreads to the rest of the house. That’s a little tougher, since those are shared spaces, and my kids, well, they remind me of myself twenty years ago. Some days, I wish that they could just magically become organized teens, with neat bedrooms, and organized school binders.

And know what? Someday, they may get there. They just have to start with one small change. The same is true for you, too.

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The Lady with the Chalk (aka: Heroes All Around Us)

Yesterday, my teens and I watched Unbreakable, a 2000 film by M. Night Shyamalan. It was such a good movie. Super, you might even say. Afterward, I couldn’t help but ask my kids, “How would you feel if you learned that one of your parents was actually a superhero?”

My 13 year-old replies, “If I found out that Dad was a superhero, then I’d be shocked. Like, what the heck? But if I found out that Mom was a superhero, then I’d be like, oh. Okay.” He shrugs. No big revelation there. My daughter nods in agreement.

This has been a long-running theme in our family. You see, no matter how much I try to dissuade them, my teens are convinced that I am either a). A superhero in disguise, b). A CIA operative, just like Sydney Bristow; or c). a super hacker. Or possibly a combination of all three.

“Please,” I say each time the topic comes up. “I am just an ordinary, cookie-baking mom who works in a cubicle at a tax agency.”

“Su-u-ure,” one of my kids will answer. “Perfect cover.”

I’m not sure what led my kids to believe that I am somthing greater than I appear to be. Maybe it’s my hopelessly INTJ prsonality. Maybe it’s my ability to run very fast (though nowhere near the prerequisite superhero speeds displayed by the Flash). Or maybe it’s my steady lack of close friendships. Superheroes know how difficult it can be to form attachments while keeping their true identities a secret.

It is flattering that my kids think so highly of me, I guess. But I would prefer that they look arond them to honor the real heroes that walk among us. No, not cape-wearing comic-book characters with extraordinary superpowers to fight gainst supervillains. I’m talking about the real people who help humankind with their courage, altuism, and sense of duty. Police officers, firefighters, soldiers. Teachers, surgeons, and even regular people, from time to time. The heroes who save lives, offer hope to those who have lost hope, pick up the lost and set them on the right path.

Not long ago, I encoutered one such real-life hero in my own neighborhood. While out for a run one day, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. A large, colorful chalk design had transformed a section of the sidewalk into a work of art. “You are needed here and now,” the message read. My heart soared with the positive impact of those simple words. As I continued to run, that day and in days to come, I came across more of these beautiful, uplifting messages, as did my daughter, as did other people in our neighborhood. They brightened our day each time. They filled our sails with wind.

And then, one day, we happened to spot the woman who was responsible. She wasn’t wearing a cape or a super suit. She was an ordinary human being, anyone’s neighbor from Anywheretown. She probably didn’t even realize that the offerings she had left had such an enormous impact on the people in our neighborhood. In fact, she seemed surprised, and perhaps a little timid as I thanked her for making such a difference.

Can you imagine what our world would look like if each one of us strove to become a hero in our own small way? No, not a superhero. We don’t need X-Ray vision or Iron Man suits or the ability to fly to save lives, or to make someone’s life better. Maybe all we need is to care a little deeper. To show our compassion for those who are less than ourselves, rather than our disdain. To use the gifts we have been given to do good, rather than to do harm. To offer someone a genuine smile and encouraging words to give them a positive boost. Maybe all we need to save each other, to be something greater than we are, is a piece of chalk and the willingness to make the world a better place for the people around us.

 

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Sail away from safe harbors

It was one of my favorite quotes from an author whose literature I greatly admire. Explore. Dream. Discover. And so I did. At least, to an extent. I rappelled down the face of a cliff. I stood at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and watched a real Broadway musical on Broadway. I tasted the salty breezes of two different oceans, watched the eruption of Old Faithful, and threw stones into the Grand Canyon (because, why not?). I explored. I dreamed. I discovered.

I used to live life in fast forward, arms spread wide, mouth open, waiting to taste whatever new adventures the universe had to offer. I sometimes think that is why I rushed through university so quickly and married so young. I wanted to know what it was like to be finished with school. I was eager to experience life as a married woman (and, of course, the great sex and intimacy that was supposed to come with it. Haha – funny joke, universe). I was eager to try new foods and hear new music and travel to interesting places. I was eager to experience every good thing life had to offer – to explore, to dream, to discover.

I lost that hunger. Somewhere in the midst of an unhappy, abusive marriage, and broken friendships, and lonely, gray years of emptiness, that vision slipped away. Explore? But the world, once as vibrant and inviting as the Land of Oz, now seemed cold and hostile. Dream? I lost the ability to dream beyond rewinding the clock and fixing broken things. Discover? What remained to be discovered? I had traveled to the end of the rainbow, but instead of gold, I had found stones. And that fire that once burned bright within my spirit had gone out.

And so, I shifted focus. After all, I am a mother of three terrific kids. And they do not yet know that there are only stones at the end of the rainbow. So I live my life for them. I get out of bed every day for them. I go to school and work for them, so that I can provide for their needs. I plan adventures for them, because they have not yet swum in both oceans, or visited New York City, or climbed actual mountains. I am happy to do these things for them, because it allows me to ignore the gnawing, lonely emptiness inside of me. But I know that it is not sufficient. I know that I will never be content until that fire burns inside of me once again, urging me to really live…to stop standing still like a zombie and start to explore. To dream. To discover.

I mentioned recently that I have been Cheering Sports Fans in a Bartrying new things. Because maybe that is what it takes to re-light a fire that went cold years ago. So far, I have had little success. And in fact, just today, because I had never been to a bar, and had never watched a soccer game with a big group of other soccer-loving fans, I forced myself out of the house and into a large bar downtown to watch the USA vs. Portugal World Cup soccer game. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a huge mistake. The bar was absolutely packed with adoring, cheering fans. I stood among the beer-guzzling crowd, feeling out-of-place and very awkward. Not to mention thirsty. How on earth are you supposed to get something to drink in a bar…shove your way up front and yell “Diet Pepsi please!” over the din? And do they even sell Diet Pepsi? Luckily, I found a (waitress?) to ask, and she very kindly brought me a Pepsi (not Diet, but who cares?) for free. So I quietly sipped my soda and watched the game in silence, while imagining myself with a group of soccer-loving friends, guzzling beers and yelling at the TV screen. Together. (Does that count as dreaming?)

I went home at halftime.

But still, I explored. And I discovered what a bar is like. Sort of. So I don’t have to do that ever again. One teeny-tiny, wobbly baby step into a world that feels so enormous and so scary. Watching a soccer game alone in a crowded bar sucked. Seriously. But now, twenty years from now, I don’t have to look back and be disappointed that I didn’t even try.

A Truly Phenomenal Woman (aka: The Poetry of Maya Angelou)

Maya Angelou African American poetMaya Angelou (1928—2014) was one of the most celebrated poets in American history. Her poems, filled with the universal light and darkness, hope and despair, triumphs and tragedies of the human spirit, are embraced by people around the globe. I first learned of Ms. Angelou, not through her poetry, but through her autobiographical series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I came to “know” her as a young girl who suffered the unimaginable, but rose beyond the pain to become a truly phenomenal woman whose life and words were an inspiration to so many. Her poetry, which is often so honest and raw as to make me gasp aloud, is like a beacon of light to someone like me, and a reminder that one can fall, one can suffer, one can wallow through the worst pits of despair and darkness, but no matter how deep the pain, no matter how low the humiliation, the spirit of a person can overcome. The coldest heart can be restored to love. And we can learn to rise and live again.

Phenomenal Woman

By Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Our Grandmothers

By Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

She lay, skin down in the moist dirt,
the canebrake rustling
with the whispers of leaves, and
loud longing of hounds and
the ransack of hunters crackling the near
branches.
She muttered, lifting her head a nod toward
freedom,

I shall not, I shall not be moved.

She gathered her babies,
their tears slick as oil on black faces,
their young eyes canvassing mornings of madness.
Momma, is Master going to sell you
from us tomorrow?
Yes.
Unless you keep walking more
and talking less.
Yes.
Unless the keeper of our lives
releases me from all commandments.
Yes.
And your lives,
never mine to live,
will be executed upon the killing floor of
innocents.
Unless you match my heart and words,
saying with me,

I shall not be moved.

In Virginia tobacco fields,
leaning into the curve
of Steinway
pianos, along Arkansas roads,
in the red hills of Georgia,
into the palms of her chained hands, she
cried against calamity,
You have tried to destroy me
and though I perish daily,

I shall not be moved.

Her universe, often
summarized into one black body
falling finally from the tree to her feet,
made her cry each time into a new voice.
All my past hastens to defeat,
and strangers claim the glory of my love,
Iniquity has bound me to his bed.

yet, I must not be moved.

She heard the names,
swirling ribbons in the wind of history:
nigger, nigger bitch, heifer,
mammy, property, creature, ape, baboon,
whore, hot tail, thing, it.
She said, But my description cannot
fit your tongue, for
I have a certain way of being in this world,

and I shall not, I shall not be moved.

No angel stretched protecting wings
above the heads of her children,
fluttering and urging the winds of reason
into the confusions of their lives.
The sprouted like young weeds,
but she could not shield their growth
from the grinding blades of ignorance, nor
shape them into symbolic topiaries.
She sent them away,
underground, overland, in coaches and
shoeless.

When you learn, teach.
When you get, give.
As for me,

I shall not be moved.

She stood in midocean, seeking dry land.
She searched God’s face.
Assured,
she placed her fire of service
on the altar, and though
clothed in the finery of faith,
when she appeared at the temple door,
no sign welcomed
Black Grandmother, Enter here.
Into the crashing sound,
into wickedness, she cried,
No one, no, nor no one million
ones dare deny me God, I go forth
along, and stand as ten thousand.

The Divine upon my right
impels me to pull forever
at the latch on Freedom’s gate.

The Holy Spirit upon my left leads my
feet without ceasing into the camp of the
righteous and into the tents of the free.

These momma faces, lemon-yellow, plum-purple,
honey-brown, have grimaced and twisted
down a pyramid for years.
She is Sheba the Sojourner,
Harriet and Zora,
Mary Bethune and Angela,
Annie to Zenobia.

She stands
before the abortion clinic,
confounded by the lack of choices.
In the Welfare line,
reduced to the pity of handouts.
Ordained in the pulpit, shielded
by the mysteries.
In the operating room,
husbanding life.
In the choir loft,
holding God in her throat.
On lonely street corners,
hawking her body.
In the classroom, loving the
children to understanding.

Centered on the world’s stage,
she sings to her loves and beloveds,
to her foes and detractors:
However I am perceived and deceived,
however my ignorance and conceits,
lay aside your fears that I will be undone,

for I shall not be moved.

 

You Are the Garden / Eres el jardín

You Are the Garden

 

Don’t you see

that you are the garden?

It is you who lies in wait

patiently beneath the cool autumn sun

bearing the winter’s cold darkness

absorbing the rains of spring

waiting

until the pale green shoots emerge

from within your depths

growing and curling around you

with leaves unfurled like wings

and the fragrant sigh

of delicate blossoms.

Her beauty springs forth

from the life within you

and because of her

the garden has beauty.

for you the flowers bloom

Eres el jardín

 

¿No ves

que tú eres el jardín?

Eres tú que esperas

pacientemente bajo el sol fresco del otoño

aguantando el frío oscuro del invierno

absorbiendo las lluvias de la primavera

esperando

hasta que los brotes de verde pálido emergen

desde tus profundidades

creciendo y enroscandose alrededor de ti

con hojas desplegadas como alas

y el suspiro fragante

de flores delicadas.

Su belleza brota

de la vida en tu interior

y debido a ella

el jardín tiene belleza.

10 Wonderful Things That Make Me Say “Ahhh!”

It is so easy to come up with things to complain about in life. My house is too small. My hair refuses to grow past my shoulders. I don’t have enough friends. The weather is too hot/too cold/too windy/not rainy enough. Sometimes, I am so overwhelmed by these negative thoughts, it feels as though I am suffocating under all the weight. So how do I turn my thoughts in the opposite direction? Well, Oprah Winfrey was a big advocate of keeping a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be a big thing…just a few minutes per day of jotting down our appreciation for the people and things for whom we our grateful, those things which brighten our days and make life worth living.

“The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now.”~Oprah Winfrey

So I decided to try it. In fact, I gave myself a goal: can I come up with 10 things and people for whom I feel grateful? Can I think of 10 things that add value to my life and joy to my days? This is what I came up with:

1. My Three Kids  Totally cliché, I know, but I don’t care. My kids are healthy, smart, kind, thoughtful, resilient, talented, and creative, and I love the heck out of all three.

My Three Terrific Kids

2. My Small House — Small = cozy rooms and less cleaning to do. Plus, our little house is cute and homey, since I have spent the past 13 years painting walls, hanging pictures, sewing curtains, and doing everything I can to make it so.

3. Birds that wake me in the morning with their birdsong

4. Rainy Weather Unless I am camping. Then again, maybe even while camping.

5. Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, Pablo Neruda, John Steinbeck, Anton Chekov, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Mario Benedetti, and Jane Austen.

6. Avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, red onions, and jalapeños. Especially when combined together.

7. My Job (teaching young children from low-income families)

8. My Muse

9. Perfect cups of tea, chai, and coffee

I just bought myself this gorgeous mug yesterday to cheer myself up. It totally worked, too, especially when I was able to enjoy a perfect cup of chai from it.

10. Twitter  I am fascinated by the glances into the lives and thoughts of millions of people around the world. I love sharing sports and news stories and television shows with total strangers. And whenever I need a quick laugh, I can usually count on some ridiculous and clever trending tweet, like #ReplaceMovieTitlesWithBacon, or #GhettoCrayonColors, to make me laugh and set my thoughts in a positive direction.

The more I focus on the things for which I feel grateful, the easier it becomes to recognize the blessings that life has to offer. Music! Gerbera Daisies! Fuji Apple Pear Sobe Lifewater! Sushi! Maybe next time, I will increase my list to 25. This gratitude journal thing is, so far, pretty positive.

Today Words Fail Me (Hoy Me Faltan Las Palabras)

Oh!
Today words fail me.
Where are the words to describe
this song
or the way it made
my heart skip
lighter than springtime
over fields of lily and gold?
Oh!
There is no name for
these colors
No words for the winds
of hot and cold
that have stirred the wings of
my spirit
and lifted me toward
the bluest sky

20120703-224442.jpg

¡Oh!
Hoy me faltan las palabras.
¿Donde están las palabras para describir
esta canción
o la forma en que hizo saltar mi corazon
mas ligera que la primavera
encima de campos de lirios y oro?
¡Oh!
No hay nombre para estos colores
No palabras para los vientos
cálidos y fríos
que han agitado las alas
de mi alma
y me levantó hacia
los cielos azulísimos