Glory Days

As I walked into the bathroom stall at North Market in Columbus, OH, my friend was talking with someone sharing the same t-shirt, laughing and connecting.  By the time I walked out of the stall, the mood had changed.

My friend looked at me.  “It’s been cancelled.  The concert has been cancelled.” I watched the smiled fade away.  Assuming surely we were looking at another sinister social media prank we scrolled through respectable sites to find the same thing again and again.  Concert postponed.  More information to follow. We were only a few hours away from showtime, and now….

 Lost and brokenhearted, feeling like I’d been hit by a wrecking ball, I had to step away. Springsteen is not only the maker of my favorite music, but he’s the soundtrack of my life.  No other artist takes me back to my starry-eyed 18-year-old self  hearing him live for the first time at Riverfront Stadium.  He was quoted once as saying, “We’re growing up together, me and the audience,” and it has truly always felt that way.

We regrouped.  A Facebook fan page, Spring-Nuts, had organized a quick meet up before the concert.  With no other plan coming to us (we’d traveled by plane, paid for an air BNB, going home was not an option) we decided we might as well head there.  Maybe a few others would still show up as well.

We arrived at Whistle and Keg early to only a smattering of people, everyone sullen and in their own spaces.  It felt almost like a wake.

Slowly, slowly, people came in.  Slowly the music got turned up.  Slowly people sharing their concerns for possible postponement reasons shifted to conversations about where they were from, how far they’d traveled. Slowly connections were being made. 

It started, really, when we did a group photo outside of the bar.  Someone cranked the music, and the dancing began on the front patio, out in the street. We could feel it rising, the energy catching on like a raging fire, and within minutes the whole place was united in song. 

And oh, did we sing!  We sang from our souls.  We sang from our 20-year-old selves hearing Bruce live for the first time.  We sang from our older selves, now with the age and life experience to truly, deeply understand the magic of his poetic lyrics and his gritty street wisdom.

Bruce fans are like no others.  He can take an arena of 30,000 individuals and create one massive organism, for four hours rocking and breathing and singing as one.  He allows us to co-create the experience with him and honors his audience as much as we honor him. 

 So, we took what we’ve learned from the best, and co-created our own night.

The Boss sings to the everyman, and that is who was there.  Blue collar, CEO-types, retired, young.  Whole families.  The guy that couldn’t stay off the chair, leading us all with fist pumps, just like Bruce.  The gorgeous young blond girl who put us to shame by knowing EVERY last lyric, no matter how obscure the song.  The young. The old.

With memories of the “good old days” when we would camp out in line for tickets, camaraderie came fast, the  immediate kinship that only occurs through a shared passion.  We shared favorite concerts attended, first time live, Top 10 lists which are impossible to configure and change dynamically (kind of like this tour’s pricing). 

We shared tall tales of close encounters and bowed to the privileged few who had real ones.

We sang, we danced, we toasted, we laughed, we did Big Man sax imitations.  We knew when to fist pump.  Our choral timing was perfection. Most were brought to tears at least once in the night. We talked about our dreams and tried to make them real.

And it was nothing short of Magic.

Forgotten were the plane tickets from radio nowhere, the hotel expenses that only a few hours ago seemed wasted.

For longer than the marathon concert would have gone on, we sang and drank and shared stories of our Springsteen and E-Street glory days.  We came to town for one kind of concert, but we left having experienced another.  It was organic joy, springing from nothing but common love for a band and it’s music, which made us instant family. 

It was everything that is good and pure and right with the world.

The next time someone asks me to rank-order my favorite Springsteen concerts, this one will make the list.

I’ll gladly let my broken heart stand if that’s the price I had to pay for this night. 

Food for Thought

The feeders hang full, the right amount spilling onto the ground for those who so choose.

I wrap the sweater tight against the frost February morning and head inside to the percolating coffee. Hands firmly around a steaming artisan mug, I stand at the kitchen sink and watch as the diner opens for breakfast.

The red-headed woodpecker is always among the first, brazen in his dominance of the berry suet block.  He’s closely followed by two wrens, happy to snatch their meal before the bigger and bolder diners shoo them away.

Four orange-brown towhees scutter among the dead leaves, preferring to nibble from the ground, seldom if ever from a perch.  The rare Dalmation dove swoops in, and as always I wonder how Nature got her camouflage so wrong.  Finally, the fiery scarlet cardinal roosts high above the feeders seeming to be the queen of our little forest, much like a lioness overlooks the savannahs. 

As I turn to refill my mug, the swooping in of a large blue jay catches my eye.

  I find myself holding my breath. 

I’m suddenly a little girl, standing at the sink watching birds eat from a feeder crafted during my brother’s Boy Scout camp.  Pete the Cowbird was a daily fixture, and we’d gleefully squeal, “He’s here!” when he arrived.  I’m lost in the childlike wonder I used to feel when he’d peck at the window, as if giving us a squeal in return. 

One day our beloved cowbird was joined by a bawdy, boisterous blue jay. 

“Well, this isn’t going to go well,” Mom said, sincerely concerned about Pete’s well-being.  She went on to explain the nature of blue jays as if she was a learned ornithologist. 

They are mean.  They are bossy.  They are bullies and live to scare all the other birds away.  They don’t share.  They are cruel in their selfishness, and they are not to be tolerated.

I have no memories of the the interaction between Pete and the blue jay that day because my 5 year old brain was trying to grasp how a bird could be so mean and nasty, so wicked and unwelcome. 

I drift back to the birdfeeder outside, watching carefully, waiting for some kind of epic showdown the likes of the Sharks and Jets or the Montagues and Capulets. 

I’m gripping as tightly to my childhood perceptions as I am to my java-filled mug.

I lean forward to rap on the window, to shoo him away.  How dare he think he can come and mess with our happy little feeder life?

But I pause with curiosity instead. 

And I wait. And I watch.

He is big also very loud.  The jittery wrens fly away, but they’ve likely had their fill.  The woodpecker is just happy to have the suet to himself.  The cardinal queen remains perched from her throne.  The towhees are unfettered and still scuttle through the leaves for seed left behind. 

None of them fly away.  None of them squabble and fight.  Instead they flit and fly and eat and repeat, just like birds do. 

I’m so confused.  Where’s the bare-knuckle brawl I’d been taught to expect?

Nothing. Just normal bird stuff.

How is this possible?  For 50+ years I’ve held tightly to the kitchen sink teachings about who belonged and who didn’t, who was good and who was bad, who got a seat at the feeder, and who didn’t. 

Is it possible that I’ve been wrong this whole time?  That what my mother had told to her had then been told to me, and on and on the opinions and insights went?

After all, isn’t that the way most fear and prejudice travels?

I feel the chill of my skin in spite of the wooly wrap and the hot black coffee.  What else have I held on to without pausing to observe and discern on my own?  How often are careless bits of “insight” given that the listener will then cling to like truth? 

It’s a blue jay,  It’s “just a bird.”  My mom was far from sinister in the reporting of her beliefs regarding the blue jay’s characteristics, rather just sharing in my joy at the moment. 

But what if it isn’t “just a bird”? 

What if a cherished adult makes a careless comment to a child about someone’s differing abilities or appearance without thinking of how tightly the child will clutch the words? 

What if a co-worker participates in gossip, denigrating a person simply to idley pass the time?

What if a church member holds decades-ingrained beliefs about race, gender or orientation?  The implications are too far reaching to fully embrace.

Words matter.  Certainly we want to be open to the opinions and information of others, especially those we trust and revere.  But words not followed with our own discernment and observation stick like gorilla glue and never budge from the ears of the incurious. 

Nothing is happening at the feeder.   The introduction of a new bird, even with all of the warnings I carried forth about him, brought nothing.  No disruption, no war, no problem. 

The blue jay nibbles away.

The cardinal is fine.  The woodpecker is fine.  The towhees are fine.  Bird life is fine. 

Apparently all can be welcomed at the feeder and the world will not end.

My newly recognized prejudice is crunched and discarded like sunflower seeds on the winter ground.  Assumption is now preempted by opportunity and observation. 

The feeders are near empty, the birds are flitting away, and I, too, turn away, properly humbled and ready to start my day.


Some days the words flow, yet others they bog down, tacky like glue, sticky, not budging from my brain.  Honestly, I’m not sure which days are more challenging.  On the sticky, clogged-brain days, I push through, knowing that writing comes with discipline while taking solace in knowing that those days I’m only writing for myself.   Just write, I tell myself, just practice.

It’s the days when the words ooze and ideas flit like butterflies on the first spring day that I feel most stressed, because those are the days when I’m writing things that might be shared with others. 

And sharing is hard. 

It’s vulnerable. It feels like laying my soul naked on the table for all to see.

The automatic thought, blinking in my brain like a neon sign, is “What if it’s not any good?”

Apparently, this process is known to all of us in one way or another.  Gallivanting around under the moniker Inner Critic, this voice that tells us no, we can’t really do that thing we want to do.  It growls, “Seriously, you think anyone will care?” It chatters incessantly about how funny it is that you think you can be daring and brave and try new things. 

It’s job is to keep us down, to hold us back.

Under the guise of keeping our little egos safe, it’s real job is to keep our souls small.

The Inner Critic tends to lurk in the dark corners of our brains, gaining power from it’s mystery and darkness.  It systematically keeps tabs on the risks we want to take, and knocks us back into the safety lane, cramped and small and stagnant. 

And because it is so consistent, so loud, and so incredibly self-assured in it’s warnings, we listen to it.

If it was a co-worker, a family member, a friend we would stay clear and set strong boundaries, not allowing that kind of negativity and critique to dominate our space.  But this guy, well, this guy we give our full attention, believing all it says.

In Julia Cameron’s seminal work on creativity, The Artist’s Way, she suggests  we name our Inner Critics as a way of interacting with them and bringing them into the light.  The more we personalize and visualize this little bugger of a killjoy, the more we can address the nagging doubts head on. 

So, I named my guy Grogg.  

I couldn’t envision a person, and I love animals too much to put that much sourness onto them.  Grogg is a mishmash of Big Foot, the old Pac Man ghost, and Cousin Itt from the Addams family.  He is short and round and brown and grumpy. Good Lord is he grumpy!!

Grogg is a nay-sayer, nothing positive ever passing his furry, snarly little lips.  Grogg spends his days thinking everything is stupid and not worth the effort.  He’s quick to tell me why things won’t work out, how horribly I will be embarrassed by my failures, why it’s foolish to put time and effort into things, and the big one…why even bother.

And he never stops grouching at me.  With every blog, with every course I develop, with every project I imagine, Grogg is quick to list every “won’t, shouldn’t and can’t.”  He will fill in any empty space in my mind with all the reasons why not.  Why not to even try.

So, for the past week Grogg and I have spent some time getting to know one another.  Now when I hear his nagging little grunt of a voice, I envision him, peppery and pungent like Ebeneezer Scrooge, telling me my ideas aren’t good enough.   That they’re downright foolish.

And a funny thing has happened. 

I’ve come to kind of like him.

Grogg has become some kind of companion who joins me on any creative venture.  He’s a constant tag-along, sour-puss that he is.  He’s always been there anyway, but now he’s out of the dark and standing in the light.  He’s not as big as I imagined before, and certainly not as powerful. Instead of intimidating, he’s almost cartoonish and preposterous.

 Rather than listen to him, letting him fill me with doubt and shame and thinking I’m silly for even trying, I’ve come to feel a bit sorry for him. 

It must be lonely being a non-believer in goodness and creativity.  I imagine it’s a gloomy place to live, this space where failure is expected and courage is seen as weakness.

I wonder, now that I’m getting to know him, why I ever allowed him to speak to me that way, why I believed him.  After all, he’s just a little matted brown-haired critter that is missing out on all the fun.  Why have I given him so much of my time, of my headspace?  Why have I allowed him to talk me out of dreams, opportunities, things I wanted to risk trying?

It’s a bit like pulling the curtain back on the Great Oz, only to find a small, sniveling man posturing, trying to impress. 

When he was a growly voice in the dingy recesses of my brain, he was scary.  He sounded forcefully all-knowing, as if guaranteeing failure if I so much as tried.  And I’d listen.  For some reason I’d listen.

Now that he’s out in the light, almost like a little devil on my shoulder, I see him for his insecurities, and I have both patience and compassion for him.  I’ve come to realize that he is not to be feared and certainly is not a reliable guide.

He doesn’t know what’s best.  He’s just too timid to try.

I see now that the admonishing, the pessimism, the warnings of wasted efforts, are not prophecies, but rather insecurities.

  I see now that his snarly little demeanor is truly just the discomfort that comes whenever we show a part of ourselves to the world. 

I’m fully aware Grogg is a reflection of my own inner self-doubt. Personalizing him has made him not only easier to understand, but also to respectfully thwart.  I see now that the anxiety keeps him back from adventures, the possibility of trying, the thrill of risk, even the peril of potential failure or embarrassment. 

Now as Grogg and I drink coffee in the mornings, pondering the days work ahead, I’m hoping to share a bit of compassionate optimism and tender courage with him, hoping he will grow. 

Because growth might just be worth the risk.

Say “When”

It is the mid-60s and it is appropriately reflected in the cramped kitchen’s yellow formica table, Harvest Gold appliances, and the wallpaper…oh, the wallpaper!

Every night at 5:30 the four of us gather around the table to have dinner. Every night. It’s a ritual I treasure to this day.

My 4-year-old pig-tailed self is enchanted with the familiarity of routines, rituals, and family time. It builds in me a sense of both security and adventure. The dinner rituals begin when Mom says, “It’s time!” and I scurry to the front porch, antsy and breathlessly waiting to spot my dad’s car turn the corner and head toward our house.  Only years later to I sit amazed at my mom’s sixth sense of timing, always knowing when Dad was just about home.  I race to the car, he drops the briefcase and swings me in the air.  Rain, snow, cold or hot, the routine is the same.  There is such comfort and love in the the routine. Every night.

Every night.

As we sit down to eat, another nightly game begins.  Dad holds my empty Flintstone jelly-jar milk glass (a true sign of the 60s), beings pouring frothy white milk, and says,” Say when!” 

It’s our game.  Some days I let him only pour a drop or two before I squeal “WHEN” and he stops.  Other days I test the limits of both the glass and his patience, holding my “when” for the very last second. 

It’s always the same. He let’s me say “when” and I live with the consequences.  Too little and I’m thirsty and must ask for more. Too much and it’s sloshing from the top as I sip. And some magic days we get it just right for my chubby 4-year-old hands. 

Tonight feels just the same as every night before.  We’re all seated, Mom is dishing out a casserole while reminding my brother to wash his hands, and Dad grabs the glass and playfully states “Say when!”

I watch the milk slowly drip into the glass.  He’s playing with me tonight and is going extra slow.  I’m not sure what happens next.  I’m not sure if the extra time is more than my energetic preschool brain can handle, if my brother annoyed me, or if I just missed the mark, but a puddle of silky, slithery white is forming around my plate, coming out of my overflowing glass.

My mom looks at us like we’ve lost our minds, and jumps up for a towel.   “What in the world are you doing?” she asks in her exasperated voice we seldom hear from her gentle soul. But Dad stops her with a steady hand.

“She didn’t say ‘when’.  Let her get the towel and clean it up.  Tomorrow she’ll pay better attention”. 

There is not an iota of anger or irritation in my Dad’s voice, just a matter-of-fact statement that I let a mess occur because I wasn’t paying attention, and it was my job to mop it up. To him it wasn’t a problem, just a natural consequence.  So clean it up, I do. 

And once again he reaches for my glass, laughingly says, “Say ‘when’!” and this time I nail my half-way mark perfectly, wrapping my sticky fingers around the glass, sipping with pride.

One night, over half a century ago.

  One blip in the memory bank of a little girl who’s 4-year-old days were full of little but wonder and adventure. 

But oh, how it stuck.

“Say when.”

It seemed easier at 4 than it does most days now. 

I look at my day planner, the color-coded attempts at organization looking more like tie-dye, overlapping and bumping up against one another in an almost manic overcrowding.

I’m feeling a bit stressed. I have some major project deadlines approaching . I’m not sure how my forward-thinking self didn’t see the traffic jam of commitments piling up.

Head in hands, sighing deeply in a feeble attempt to center, I hear Dad’s calm and steady voice, crystal clear even decades after his death, lovingly yet matter-of-factly saying, “Well, Baby Girl, you didn’t say ‘when’.”

Truth, plain and simple. 

How is it I mastered the art of saying “when” as a preschooler, but am still cleaning up messes as an adult? 

I know so well what it looks like when I don’t pay close enough attention and catch things in time. 

An over-booked schedule.

More commitments than energy or even excitement.

Relationships that go on a bit too long, and turn withered rather than growing under healthier boundaries.

Feeling fatigued, needing space. 

The list goes on.

All results of taking my eye off the glass, letting it overfill, and then needing to take the time to clean up the messes. 

All results of not keeping an eye on limits, on space, on boundaries, and just saying “when” when it got to be enough.

So how did I do it back then?  How did that glass only overflow once? 

Because I learned to stay focused and keep my eye on what mattered.  Never again did my attention drift, did I let it get overfull.  I honored the limits of the Flintstone jelly-jar glass and gave it the reverence and respect it deserved.

When I am focused, when I keep my eye on what’s important, I don’t have milk spills to mop up with a kitchen towel. I don’t have sleepless nights and over-extended social schedules. I have just enough for my family, my work, my self.

So today, sipping chai tea instead of cold milk, my calendar looking like  a box of melted Crayola crayons with all the color coded obligations, I decide to channel my inner little girl, keep my eyes intensely focused on the current moment, and answer the next email with “I’d love to, but I can’t right now. I’m available in a month, but right now my glass is a bit full.”

Learning to say “when” is still in progress, but a certain little girl and her dad will keep reminding me. I promise to pay attention.


Blank Canvas

Attempting to keep the winter blahs away, challenge my comfort zone, and continue on my endless journey of creative outlets I signed up for several online art courses over the Christmas break.  My days are now filled with art journaling, abstract painting, and doodling. So much mess. SO much joy!

I find both thrill and intense peace in playing with the colors, the textures, the different mediums.  I’m showing great preference for art that involves collage, layering and lots of intuitive flow.  It becomes an almost meditative state, listening to where my hands tell me to go next.

The classes I’m taking in bite-sized nibbles are from various teachers, talented and inspiring.  I intentionally chose a variety of styles and mediums so I can experiment and find my groove.

And no matter the teacher or the style of art, once we move out of the early “follow my steps” stage and are encouraged to take art out for a spin on our own, each teacher has some version of the pep talk about Blank Canvas Syndrome.

Apparently, Blank Canvas Syndrome is when creators of any type begin a fresh project and look upon the blank canvas, the blank page, the silenced instrument, knowing they must begin.

And many, if not most, freeze, at least for a bit. 

Sometimes the blank canvas is silent, not a single idea calling our name. Other times it screams to us, with ideas and inspirations overwhelming in their limitlessness.

In either situation, it causes paralysis. No idea where to begin, too many ideas to know how to begin, take your pick. It’s all in there.

Oh, how I get this.  As a course developer, a writer, even a neophyte artist, there is always that moment when there is an idea in my head, and I have to take the leap towards making it happen. 

So off I go to do laundry instead. Anything but begin. Anything but push through.

The remedy seems unanimous throughout all of my art courses…pick up the brush, pick a color, and just put it on the canvas.

Dot it.  Splash it.  Make a sweeping stroke.  Make whisper-thin lines.  Write your name. Do anything.

It doesn’t have to be the right color.  It’s fine if the next thing you do is paint right over it. 

What you do doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you did it.  You did something.  You began.

I am, by nature, both a planner and a visual thinker.  This is a deadly combo because I can see the desired finished task before I even begin.  I have the end in mind.  I know what I want, and in my head it’s perfect. I’m good with “big picture”, it’s the details and steps that bog me down. I become impatient with the “in-betweens” because I often want to rush to the finish line. And so I often don’t even begin. Too much pressure. Too much mess. Too much risk.

But the first stages of creating, or even living, are never perfect.  They are messy, error-filled, and definitely deserving of the name “rough” draft.  It’s rough getting it down.  It’s rough getting it where you want.  It’s roughest if you can’t nail it quite like you envisioned.  Both creating and life require pivot and flow.

I’m amazed at how many areas of life can be invaded by Blank Canvas Syndrome.  Taking the first step to lose the weight, to remodel the kitchen, to find the new career, to walk from what is not healthy for you, to risk in love.  Pretty much anything we venture to do with a beautiful ending takes a little cajoling to get us off the starting block.

And so we go do laundry. Anything but figure out how to begin, when to begin, and how to push through the rough drafts of life changes.

But you can’t win the race if you don’t enter it.

You can’t paint the picture if the paint doesn’t hit the canvas.

You have to pick up the brush and splash it down. 

It’s going to be messy. It’s not going to be what you envisioned. It might be way worse. But there’s a chance it might morph into something who’s immense beauty surprises you.

There are SO many things I envision, adventures and creative outlets, passions I want to pursue. But the more out of the norm it is for me, the more it both intrigues me and makes me freeze. Oh, the possibilities. But where to start? Will it turn out as I hope? Is the payoff of risk greater than the payoff of not trying?

So for now I’m having fun with the canvas, accepting the challenge by beginning with a large red dot.  I don’t know why, it’s not my favorite color, but perhaps I’m encouraged by it’s bold nature.  Usually it’s painted over, sometimes it becomes the center of an idea, but always, always, it is a starting place. 

There it is, messing up the canvas.

Daring me to figure it out.

Because the beauty can’t begin until I’m bold enough to start. 

Learning to Flow

As the new year’s infancy marches forward, I complete my ritual of choosing an “anchor word” for the year. As it’s name implies, an anchor word is designed to keep one connected, or “anchored” to a core concept or intention upon which one wants to remain focused.

This year took me a bit longer than usual. Being the wordy person I am, I typically conjure up countless possibilities and struggle to pare them down to the one that sticks.

But this year was different.

Every time I sat to pray or meditate on my anchor word, I was swept away with imagery. A specific, consistent, persistent image to be exact.

The multi-colored mountains serve as the backdrop to the rambling stream, full and pregnant from a recent rain. The water trips and turns and glides over the river rocks in it’s way. My senses are all heightened in this imagery. The scene is vivid technicolor, the sound of the rushing water is balm to my soul.

Again and again, day after day, the same striking image comes to my mind’s eye. I meditatively close my eyes, watching the water as it dances over the stones. Sometimes the stones provide direction for the stream, rerouting it’s straight forward intention. Other times the water effortlessly glides over stones, without as much as a hydrated hiccup.

Some stones are large, heavy and worn. It is clear they have been there for decades, almost melting together with the water like an old married couple. Lighter stones seem fresh, likely nudged into the water by a hiker, an animal, or a heavy rain.

Somehow, eventually, almost magically, the water makes it to exactly where it should be in the way that it was meant to flow.

It is watching the water’s path, it’s flow sometimes effortless and sometimes strained, that most captivates me. I realize what surprises me most is my observant state.

I am a doer. Often I am an over-doer. I am a worrier. I am a problem solver. My nature is to rush in with solutions, to offer options and opinions, often without invitation. I strive to make things better for those I love in as quick and efficient a manner as I possibly can.

What I am not, by nature, is an observer. I have decades of experience in doing and very little accrued time in simply watching. And here’s the thing…”doing” doesn’t always need to be done. Sometimes allowing for natural flow is the best answer for all.

So I think of my mountain stream. If I wander upon it one day and it’s backing up, I’m more likely to dip toes into the cold water and rearrange some rocks rather than let her figure her flow out for herself. While I do believe it’s usually best to be proactive rather than reactive in life, there is such as thing as jumping in too quickly. In my haste to rearrange the stones and redirect the path, I have indicated to the stream that I don’t think she can do it without me, that my way is better, that my timing is the only timing, rather than deeply trusting in her intuitive nature to figure it out on her own.

Instead, I visualize myself cozily on the banks, watching the river flow in her own way, trusting herself to get where she needs to be. Watching the random leaf or twig float past, I slip into the relaxation of deep observation and respect for the natural order of things.

2023 will be my year without an anchor word, but rather with an anchor visualization, yielding a sense of flow, patience, healthy detachment, acceptance and observation. An trust, so much trust. It is a reminder not to jump into things that aren’t mine and to have faith in the way things are meant to be.

It is a family of intentions I hope to carve as deeply into my soul as the mountain stream has carved her way into the earth.

Inviting Wonder

The fuzzy purple blanket is tucked tightly around my thighs as the peppermint tea steeps in the rustic mug.  From my old denim chair I can still see the leftover sparkles of Christmas lights, though there are fewer and few each night.

I’ve always loved the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  There is an aura of the universe giving itself permission to slow down, exhale fully, and regroup.  I find myself slipping into nostalgia during this liminal field, reflecting on years past and years ahead. Time feels warped, as if stationary, frozen, suspended.  The juncture allows me to think purely, with unfiltered, raw honesty.  I use this time to organize not my work life and productivity, but rather my heart and soul.

In spite of giving in fully to this time of grace and suspension, I actively resist the notion of resolutions.  Somehow the process always seemed like a desperate teenager trying to find a last minute date to a Valentine’s Dance….not about depth, but rather expectation.  They also last about equally long.  Resolutions always made me feel like I needed to do some epic gesture to prove I was a worthy and focused human being, and as the years passed I realized I don’t owe anyone anything, I have nothing to prove, and I don’t mind going to the dance on my own terms. 

What I do, instead, as I sip my tea and journal by the amber glow of candles and Christmas lights, is write myself an invitation to wonder.  This year I welcome in the days with a sense of magic, awe, inspiration, as if it was a clean and primed canvas with unlimited masterpieces waiting to unfold.  Rather than setting the mandatory goals, I invite curiosity.  What would my life look like if I created some kind of art daily?  I wonder what would happen if I intentionally moved my body for 30 days straight?  I am astonished at the impact travel has on my soul, and wait with anticipation to see what adventures will unfold for this year.  On and on the invitations go.

Curiosity and wonder welcome possibility with open arms.  They serve as godparents to creativity and encourage us to flow simply through the magic of every day life.  So, as I savor the last sip of the tea, I place the journal back on the desk, blow out the candles, and wait for what comes my way. Wonder has been invited into 2023.


We sat enjoying our traditional vacation early morning at Cracker Barrel, sipping our coffee and noshing on Grandma’s Pancake breakfast. The older woman behind us was unlike most of this morning’s customers. She sat primly, beautifully coiffed hair, meticulous dress and make up. A frazzled young mother rushed in, hip-toting a baby girl who squealed and reached for the older woman. Both baby and grandmother lit up with remarkable and pure love.

As they ordered, the older woman danced a delicate ballet between occupying the toddler and attending to her mom.

“You’re doing such a good job of juggling it all!”

“Oh! Look at your yummy eggs!”

“She’s such a smart little girl! I can tell you spend so much time reading and playing with her.”

The frazzled young mother and the exuberant baby both fed off of grandmother’s energy, her calm strength, her genuine love.

On and on it went. I watched, mesmerized by how grandmother kept both mom and baby afloat, happy, encouraged.

At first, I felt a wave of sadness for the grandmother. She gave and gave and gave, and I doubt was asked a single question about herself or her own life, even as she gracefully inquired about theirs.

And then I realized this IS her life. Grandmother didn’t need to be asked about her book club, her prayer group, her garden. Her obvious and contagious joy came from actively loving these two in front of her. Her soul was being fed with giggles and syrupy hands and tired smiles. Grandmother surely left every bit as happy and encouraged as those she poured her love upon.

It was a simple breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and yet, it was a joyful, selfless act of showering love.

Grandmother was an epic cheerleader. She came ready to play the game, and to play to win. She watched each move, and adapted her responses and love accordingly. She kept the crowd’s energy positive and and at a peak. And she was victorious, because the baby happily waved bye bye, and her exhausted daughter lingered in her mother’s long, strong hug.

As precious as the baby girl was, it was grandmother who captivated me. Her generous gift of focused attention, flowing encouragement and unconditional love seemed like a stark contrast to the quiet, sleepy, somewhat grouchy vibes of the rest of the room.

Grandmother showed up ready to love and listen. Dressed in her Sunday best, she came to the field fully prepared to cherish the time with her girls. She lit up from her marrow when her beleaguered daughter and squirmy granddaughter entered her sight, She infused joy, love and nurturance into their time together.

Oh, how we could all benefit from some hash brown casserole shared with such light and focused love, to have a cheerleader in our lives who is fully present, every ready for what we bring.

You know who they are. The people in your life we go to when weary, discouraged, celebratory. We need that person who cheers us on, holding pep rallies for our life based only on their sheer and endless love for our existence.

We breathe, grow under the rah rah rah of their unconditional love. Though it may seem that Life sometimes conspires to knock down our carefully balanced pyramid of existence, these people are our “catchers”, the ones waiting below with arms out ready to have our backs if we fall.

Funny how the cheerleaders get a lot of attention, but none of the glory. The glory goes to the players on the field, the ones making the scores. Yet, here’s the thing about cheerleaders…they don’t want the glory, they want you to win. Just like grandmother, your victory is theirs.

So go sit in the stands and cheer on your loved ones, clapping with delight and encouragement. Wear your team colors, let your people know you’re fully present and all the way in. Celebrate both wins and losses, and keep that sense of pride and encouragement rolling.

Cheerleaders rule the world.

Because of the love.

Passing the Chips

The baskets of chips move up and down the table while both the salsa and the margaritas flow easily.  There are enough people gathered that multiple conversations are happening simultaneously, with questions and laughter and excited stories being told.

Over tamales and enchiladas we learn more about each other, get caught up on our lives, and remember why we’re lucky enough to be here. 

An hour earlier we had said our final goodbye to our mother, mother-in-law, grandmother.  It was a modestly simple service in a sleepy town deep in the Ozarks.  Time, distance and advancing Alzheimer’s had whittled those attending to just a precious few. 

The homey service focused on her grittiness, her humor and her deep devotion to her family.  The closing remarks were to her adult children, challenging them to keep her memory strong.   The torch was passed, they are now the tellers of the tales and the keepers of the stories. 

So here we sit, passing the chips, sharing stories, taking in the too-little time when we are all together in one place at one time. 

It’s funny, really, how we spend so many of our years striving to make our lives bigger, brighter, “more important”.  How so many of us measure successful lives through stocks and bonds, toys in the driveway, social connections. 

Yet in this equally tacky and tasty Mexican restaurant in the middle of Missouri, it is clear that those are not things that equate a life well lived. 

What matters most, perhaps, are those who are left sitting, laughing, crying, and passing the chips.  The people that remain when all the rest have gone home, the ones who are telling those tales that keep memories alive. 

I sit back for a moment, taking a long sip of my frozen margarita, and imagine who will be passing the chips when I’m gone.  Instantly, all of life comes into crystal clear focus.  It’s one of those precious moments in life when everything syncs up and you know exactly how things are meant to be.

I reach for the salsa and know with complete certainty that life should be focused on the ones who will remain.  I look up and down the table and imagine my own children laughing, interrupting each other eagerly to add to a story, which likely has become greatly embellished with age.  I think of the bonds they have, how it will remain when I’m no longer there to braid them together. 

How easy it is to make time for obligations and commitments while simultaneously taking time with our closest people for granted. There is a sense that so much else in life is fleeting, “grab it while you can”, but family can wait because family will always be there.

Breaking my own “no phone at the table” rule, I slide my hand into my bag, pull out my cell, and send a family text. “Dinner…next Sunday, who’s in?”   The phone begins pinging with available times and excited suggestions of where to meet.  I smile quietly, knowing that I’ll see them all soon, and we, too, will sit around a long table and speak over each other and laugh and tell stories.  I take a deep breath, overwhelmed a bit with how quickly it all goes. 

This I know: I want to pass the chips with my favorite people as often and for as long as I can.

I take a bite of the cheese enchilada and re-engage with the stories, just so grateful for it all. 

Let’s Be Sue

We recently had the joy of visiting my mother-in-law in her memory care unit.  Alzheimer’s is, undoubtedly, an incidious thief, and yet I find myself fascinated by what remains, what essences sticks around stubbornly because it is so much a part of that person.  For our mom, it’s both her sassy sense of humor, her well known eye roll, and her girlish giggle.

We joined her with her friends in a small common area.  The banter back and forth was fun to listen to, going nowhere in particular but showing how connected these women are to one another in some sense of commonality and community.  It was clear one of the ringleaders in the group was slender, curly haired lady named Sue.  She seemed to have no trouble orchestrating the nonsensical conversations in a way that kept everyone engaged while she remained in control (it did not surprise me to discover she was a retired teacher😊).

Sue juggled her audience through inclusion and tips for good living.  She told me how I could smuggle food out under my shirt, how she used to hide groceries in her bra, milk the cows before breakfast and they won’t be so mad, and that we must all pay attention.  I was charmed and mesmerized as she did her thing.

And then, as sudden as the flap of a butterfly’s wing, she stood up and began shuffling down the hall to her room. 

Sue stopped suddenly, turned around, wagged her finger at us, and left her parting words:

“Here’s what you need to know.  If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.”

And with that, she turned and shuffled the remainder of the way down the hall.

The banter and intermittent napping continued in the common room, but I couldn’t shake both Sue’s words, and the clarity and intensity with which she shared them.

If you know or love someone with Alzheimer’s, you may recognize that in the earlier to middle stages, there is a lucidity that can flash across their face, and for the twinkling of a second they are fully grounded in the moment. They may not fully process where they are or who they’re with, but what they know is that, for a few seconds, they know.

What Sue clearly knew that day was this:

If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.

Over and over, like towels in a dryer, those words tumbled in my head.

If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.

No, not tomorrow.

No, not when our schedule lightens up.

No, I’m sorry, not when you feel like it.

Now.  Period.

Sue says NOW’S the time. 

And Sue strikes me as a woman who saw a lot of need in her day, and spent a lot of her time and obvious leadership ability helping meet those needs while rousing others to do the same.

It doesn’t take 30 seconds to bring to mind several people in my life who currently need help.  It takes less than another 30 seconds to recognize those in my community who need help.  It’s everywhere.

Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious, such as needing items after a fire, or a ride when a car is in the shop.

Perhaps more often needs are private, often attempted to be hidden from others.  The stress of caring for an ailing parent, trying to bravely survive a rotted marriage, praying for a wayward child. These needs may not require money or items. What’s vital in the moment may be a hug, a long talk, someone to simply hold space and time for their hurt.

So here is Sue’s challenge to us.  When we see the need, and let’s be honest, we see them daily as they envelope our lives, the time to help isn’t when we’re ready or available, it’s the moment we recognize it.

Crisis, ongoing hurts and hardships, sudden disasters, they do not respect the calendar.  They are not scheduled conveniently, rather they blast their cannon ball of chaos right into the center of our lives.  Likewise, when the wrecking ball swings, our attempts at help cannot be schedule either. 

Seeing a need, recognizing someone who needs help, is a call to action.  I don’t believe our hearts and minds are drawn in to someone’s pain only for us to keep walking. 

While I am certainly not suggesting that we martyr ourselves and live solely at the service of others, I will challenge myself personally to recognize that the need to help is greater than my need to be comfortable or well-rested.

Seeing a need is a privilege, an honor, a calling.  Let’s be honest, not everyone is looking or caring.  But you are.   So if you’ve been blessed with a heart that sees and cares,  you will also be strengthened with the tools to help. 


It may be inconvenient.  It may not be how you planned to spend your day.  You may not even particularly care for the person who’s need you see. 

But I know wise words when I hear them, and I clearly heard them from Sue: 

If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.

Who do you know?  What do you see?  What can you do?  When can you help?

Our wise friend Sue says now.

Let’s be Sue.