Today…Together

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Today…Together

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about people making one right choice at a time today. There’s a quote from Frozen 2 that says, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

The next right thing. As I am keeping my social distance from everyone as we all face this pandemic together, I am staying informed by following a variety of news sites. There are so many governors and mayors and CEOs and school boards and nonprofit leaders that are having to decide each day what the next right thing is. A Colorado educator summed up our choices well when he discussed closing schools: “It is important for our community to remember that these measures were enacted out of an abundance of caution and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard added. “We did not enter into this decision lightly. In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much, but it will be quite apparent if we under reacted or did too little.”

We are left without a road map in these times and are having to learn from each other and from others around the world facing this challenge. We are looking to doctors and scientists and researchers to guide us. We are even turning to history to see what we can learn from past pandemics. I read an article about Philadelphia leaders choosing not to cancel a parade in 1918 when the Spanish flu was making its way through the country. Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled and eventually 2,600 people died in the city from flu complications. This was much higher than the death rates in other cities who canceled large public events and put restrictions in place for gathering. 

So, I’m thankful that we have so many people trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. Another thing I am thankful for: I keep seeing social media posts that are so uplifting. In these hard times, people are trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. It’s so easy to only think of ourselves…think of what our immediate needs are. We make our lists and head out to stores before everything is gone. We plan ahead for what could be weeks of staying in. 

Don’t get me wrong. Self-care is important. We have to stay strong and healthy so we can help care for our families and for others who may need us. If we become weak because we haven’t eaten, then we certainly can’t help anyone else. But there’s something beautiful about only taking enough and not taking so much that you take away from someone else. 

And there’s something beautiful about the people who look up from their own lists…who look past their current worries and fears…who look into the eyes of others and see their needs and their worries. In this podcast, I’m going to talk about today…I’m going to talk about what each of us can do in the moment we are in to not only help others but to also bring joy to ourselves as we do it. I’m part of a Mama Bear group, and we always remind ourselves that we are better together. We are stronger when we work together and stand together and get through a crisis together. 

There are some organizations making wonderful choices to give people options for entertainment. 

  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • Drive-in theaters are opening for people to watch movies from their cars with their families. 

In this podcast, I want to talk about some wonderful things that individuals and communities are doing to think outside of their own worries and work to help others. 

*According to the EdinburghLive Daily News, a convenience store in Edinburgh has been giving away “coronavirus packs” to the elderly for free. The packs contain a roll of toilet paper, handwash, a package of pocket tissues, and a packet of Acetaminophen. Local residents over the age of 65 could pick up a packet. Some staff members even delivered packages to those residents who couldn’t get to the store. Their kindness has been appreciated and is hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

*When an older couple in Oregon needed groceries, they decided that they would drive to the local Safeway and pick up a few items. When they arrived, however, they were worried about being exposed to coronavirus. They waited in their car for 45 minutes until they spotted a young woman, professional runner Rebecca Mehra. They cracked their window and asked her for assistance. The couple, in their 80s, explained that they had no family in town to assist, but they needed a few essentials. They handed Mehra a 100-dollar bill and asked her to shop for them. She agreed and came back to the car with their groceries and their change. When Mehra’s story went viral, she commented that helping was the right thing to do. 

*When the NBA suspended its season, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love donated $100,000 to help support the team arena’s hourly arena employees after NBA games were suspended. He knew that people losing work because of shutdowns would be vulnerable during this time. He inspires all of us to think of others who may be struggling financially. 

*Elementary students at St. Anthony’s in Columbus, Nebraska, made cards for people in quarantine in their area. The teachers and students understood that isolation is lonely and can increase anxiety and worries for some people. We all need to know that we are remembered. 

*When coronavirus concerns cancelled their daughter’s bat mitzvah party, the Shmidman family turned the food into meal deliveries for people in quarantine in their New York area.The food for the event was already prepared, so the Shmidman family told the caterers to package it up for delivery. Volunteers safely delivered it to those in need. We can all find ways to avoid contact, but still do what is right. They delivered about 150 boxes of food. 

*Local Jewish communities in New York sent care packages to Yeshiva University students in quarantine after a student tested positive for coronavirus. The packages contained snacks and challah and grape juice for use on the Sabbath for students stuck in the dorms.

*People around the world are making personal phone calls. Seems easy enough, but we often forget how comforting it can be to be remembered and to hear a voice. The calls don’t have to be long to be meaningful. Call an elderly person who may not have seen anyone in days. Call someone who is a caregiver and touch base. Read a book over the phone or Facetime to kids to give the parents a break for a few minutes. Small deeds can have a great effect. 

*Order groceries to be sent to someone who may be struggling financially or who may just need treats to brighten their day. Many local stores are delivering to homes for a small fee to cover their expenses. People are picking up on the idea of sending food to others to make a difference in their communities. It helps keep the stores open, and it keeps people out of large groups at the same time. 

*Know someone who lost paychecks? Call their local utility company and make a payment on their account. Pay their phone or light bill. Many local congregations are using this as an outreach tool as a way to keep serving others while social distancing. 

*Give away what you have stored as extra. Jennifer Le gave out face masks to people who had to be out in Singapore. A woman in a grocery store gave an elderly woman some of the toilet paper she just bought. 

There are many things we can do to get through this pandemic together. We can make our communities healthier and stronger by serving others as we also care for ourselves. We can do both well. Your challenge: find the next right thing for you to do. 

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Stay-at-Home Activities For Adults and Kids

This post will be a little outside of the norm for me. However, I wanted to share some fun websites that we used when I homeschooled my kids. I will also add a couple of podcast links. I hope some of these will help us all stay positive while we are in our homes waiting for the pandemic to pass. Remember what I always say in my podcast: be a lifelong learner. Find some ways to learn something new, read something you may not have normally read, or explore a subject you don’t remember much about from school.

Websites for All Ages

  • The PBS Learning Media site has a lot of pages to explore. They offer something for a variety of ages.  Click here to explore their site.
  • I love the Smithsonian site. Click here to explore their pages. The Smithsonian Learning Lab is also a fun site to explore.
  • STEM Rising, created by the Department of Energy, has sections for students, teachers, and the general public. “STEM Rising is our initiative to inspire, educate, and spark an upwards trajectory to lifelong success in STEM through sharing the Department’s National Labs, National Nuclear Security Administration, and program office’s programs, resources, competitions, events, internship opportunities and more.” Click here to view their site.
  • The US Patent and Trademark Office also has a fun site that contains information for a variety of ages, including adults. Begin here to learn about what they have to offer.
  • Want to take your thoughts even higher? Explore Space.com and skywatch or catch up with NASA through some new videos.
  • National Geographics educational pages bring excitement into a classroom or home.
  • I also enjoy the Biokids website. This site, run by the University of Michigan, lets you explore many species and have fun at the same time.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) also has information and games to help us learn and have fun. This site is geared toward children, but it is fun to explore with them.
  • Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states.
  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • NASA offers several online image galleries.
  • Digital History is a fascinating site that contains primary sources on United States, Mexican American, and Native American history, and slavery; and essays on the history of ethnicity and immigration, film, private life, and science and technology. These are just a few of the options for you to explore.
  • Do History is a site that helps you piece together the past by looking at fragments that have survived. The site was created by the Film Study Center at Harvard University.
  • The San Diego Zoo has a really fun website to explore. It’s great for young kids and for older ones.
  • You can take a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park.
  • You can also take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China.
  • Chrome Music Lab is a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments.
  • Cleveland Inner City Ballet is launching a free Virtual Online Ballet Instruction Program.

Websites for Younger Children

  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • PBS Kids has a variety of games and learning activities.
  • Starfall has a variety of activities for kindergarten through third grade.
  • Squiggle Park has a section for 3 to eight-year-olds and a section for ages nine to 15.
  • Prodigy motivates 1st to 8th grade students to learn and practice math.

Museums with Online Galleries

(not a complete list)

Fun Podcasts for Lifelong Learners

(And All Who Like a Good Story)

Look to See Me

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Wow in the World

Stuff You Should Know

Brains On

Storynory (Stories for kids, but fun for anyone)

Some Interesting Book Lists to Consider

Have fun, lifelong learners! Stay calm and stay positive.

Today’s Historians

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the role historians play in whose stories we are hearing and which people we are seeing.

I love to study history. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. As I look back now, though, on the things about history I was taught in school, I see that my education was missing quite a bit of information. Now, I know it’s true that teachers only have a certain amount of time each year to teach each subject. There’s no way to cover any era in history with much depth at all. History teachers are wonderful, and they do a great job writing out lesson plans and bringing those lessons to life for their students.

There’s so much the rest of us can do outside of the classroom, though, to make sure that we are still being life-long learners and reading about our past…uncovering truths that may have been buried for generations. Gerda Lerner, the historian who pioneered the field of women’s history, had a valid point when she said, “In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist.”  It’s time to look to see the people from the past that still have something to teach us about the present.

I am thankful that we are in a time of reclaiming more stories from the past and correcting some of that stories that were based more on myth than on truth. I know that there are so many more stories I need to hear. This podcast talks about hearing the stories of those around us. The past two seasons have discussed leaders and organizations that are telling the stories of people whose voices aren’t always heard. We need community leaders and nonprofit groups to walk with people who are journeying on a path that others of us may not have walked along. We need to take a closer look at the work being done to bring hope and healing and love to all people in our communities.

Today I’m focusing on historians, however, because they are working to help us remember the people who walked these paths before we did. They are uncovering stories of people that have brought hope and healing and innovative ideas to our communities in the past and paved the way for us to do so today. Historians are reminding us that people can make a difference and bring about so much good in the world. These stories being brought to light by today’s historians help me better understand the stories of the people around me…the diverse people who make up my community—my local community and my global community. They weave all of us together through a foundation of hope and courage and perseverance that we may have never known we shared.

So, who are some of today’s historians that are teaching us so much through the stories they are unearthing and reviving for us? First, I want to talk about two of my favorite podcasters: Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Some of you may recognize these names; they are the cohosts of the popular podcast titled Stuff You Missed in History Class. This is a twice-weekly podcast that takes a look at historical figures with new perspectives. The co-hosts don’t just give us a quick glance at the life of a politician, inventor, writer, or other known personality. They dig much deeper to let us know what happened behind the scenes and often out of the public eye. They share old family letters and memoirs written by known friends. They dig deep into the works of other historians and researchers. They do a good job of telling us what information is probably just a gossipy rumor and what might be a fact. We get past the myths and find out what motivated people and what hurts they overcame to achieve their goals. We also find out who really should get credit for work that we attributed to another person. Their podcasts make history fun for me. They cover every topic from fashion design to medicine to shipwrecks. Listen and find out what you missed in history class.

I’ve also recently found a website that has been fun to explore. Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states. He has written several books on the topic and has served on the board of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research. Through Schmal’s research, we come to understand the stories that form the foundation for each Mexican state. When we understand the past, we can see the present with new eyes.

Why am I interested in all of this history? Well, can you imagine if a person who knew nothing about you or your past tried to understand your life and make decisions that affected you without knowing anything at all? A doctor needs your medical history to treat you. A counselor needs your history to help find a healing path for you if you are struggling with grief or stress. A psychologist or psychiatrist needs to know in-depth details about your life to properly diagnosis you. A spiritual mentor understands you better once you have talked about your past spiritual journey. Our past has helped shape us and has brought us to our present place on our journey. Our past doesn’t define us or limit our possibilities. We can all overcome quite a lot from our past once we acknowledge it and learn from it. That’s no different from a nation or a cultural group. Past challenges have altered the journey for some people. If we understand that, we can come to see the strengths that people have leaned on to face those challenges. We can see the courage and determination in people. We can see the gifts that all people bring to the table.

Here’s another historian’s name that I’m going to toss out: Clara Sue Kidwell. Kidwell is an academic scholar, historian, and Native American author who is of White Earth Chippewa and Choctaw descent. Kidwell has been instrumental in developing American Indian historical studies programs. She has taught at Haskell Indian Nations University, University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and University of Oklahoma. In 2007, she started the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina. She is credited with increasing the visibility of Native American history on college campuses and across our nation. Historians like Kidwell fill in the gaps of our understanding and dispel myths that we often taught as truths.

I could toss out many other names in this podcast. Elizabeth Fenn researches the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. Allan Berube, an American activist and historian, is best remembered for his groundbreaking work of gay history. He published an award-winning book in 1990 titled Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. Marie-Josèphe Bonnet is a French specialist in the history of women, history of art, and history of lesbians. Bonnet has written several books and articles about the theme of art, women artists, and the representation of women in art. Vincent Gordon Harding, who passed away in 2014, was a social activist, historian, and a scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. He was one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement and was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Harding knew personally.

These historians, and many others who work in their field, know that we all still have so much to learn from the people who lived before us…people who dreamed and toiled and hoped and loved and fought. Historians bring the hopes and the visions of all who walked this earth before us back into the light so we can learn from their work and build on their dreams.

Your challenge for the week: learn about two people who are no longer living. Choose these two people from sources that you have never used before and choose from a group of people that are outside of your own identity. Be a life-long learner and expand who you have been learning about.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

When Pencils Move: A Short Story for Mothers

I found an older short story of mine and thought I would share it here: 

While Pencils Move

               It’s that time of day again. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. The laundry smells fresh from the scent of my fabric softener I used this morning. A warm spinach and feta cheese aroma lingers in the kitchen from our pizza we completely devoured. The cats have settled into their comfy spots for an afternoon siesta. My children are stretched out in the floor in front of me. One has an open math book. The other one has her history book opened to a section on World War II. She is reading and taking notes.

               These moments are times I cherish. I look over my computer screen and watch my children learning and growing. I remember when their legs didn’t stretch out this far. I also remember when their homework involved mostly coloring or cutting and gluing. Now they think intensely as the wrinkle their brows over historical facts and mathematical fractions.

               I close my eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds of their pencils moving across their papers. I wait for this sound every weekday afternoon. To me it is a sound of togetherness and stillness. The sound of pencils moving across paper ties me to the memories of their earliest days of learning. I picture myself writing a letter on lined paper and asking them to copy my work. With wiggly lines, they began the assignment. We clapped when they completed the task.

               Now they don’t need me as much. They start and complete most tasks on their own. I am more of an observer and a motivator these days. Occasionally my children get stuck on a problem and call my name. I can tell when that is about to happen. First, one of the pencils stops moving across the paper. I glance in that direction, careful not to jump in too quickly. I watch the eyes and brows to see if tension rises or clarity pops in. If tension rises, soon I will hear, “Mom, can you help me for a minute.”  I move over and look at the problem. We chat for a minute about the question at hand. Then I hear, “OK, I’ve got it now.” That’s my cue to move back to my seat so the pencil can move freely across the paper again.

These moments never last long enough for me. I want to sit next to them for hours as they conquer the challenges before them. But all too soon I must move from the scene to start dinner or pay bills or take a phone call from a client. The mail waits to be opened. The flowers need watering. I need to check in with a friend and a few relatives who need a call. Sometimes the moment ends when one child gets restless and can’t sit any longer. They usually don’t admit that. Instead they provoke the other child into an argument so they can claim to be the victim and get a break.

But when I hear the sound of pencils moving across paper, I feel a sense of peace and hope. I feel secure about their futures for a moment. I can set aside my worries that arise each time I hear a news report about another mass shooting or teen who died while texting and driving. I can stop worrying about how I will pay for their college tuition. I relax and soak up the moment as we all sit in one room with our minds exploring new thoughts or new approaches to the past.

I hope when I am older, they return home for a visit and sit next to me with pencils in hand. I will ask them to jot down to-do lists or items I need from the store. They may need to write dates of appointments on my calendar for me. They will think I am old-fashioned for not putting it all on a computer. They may also think that the tasks are mundane. But as they write, I know that I will close my eyes and pictures all of our moments together when they were younger and I heard pencils moving across the paper.        

©Chris Pepple 2013 (This story may be forwarded or reproduced with credit given to Chris Pepple as author. This story may not be sold or edited by any other person other than the original author.)             

Cultivating…new opportunities

I can’t believe how quickly the month of February has gone by. I’ve been working on being my best self for two months now. It’s a journey that has many twists and turns. It’s a journey with both humbling moments and much joy. In processing who I am outside of who others have told me I was and outside of “the boxes” society tries to put us in, I have found that I can open myself up to new opportunities that I had never considered before.  These opportunities have come in the form of what I teach, where I speak, what I read, and what I write. They have come in the form of where I choose to shop or what I choose to eat.

Thanks to a friend’s advice, I’ve eaten raw honey. I’ve hiked new paths. I’ve learned that I like to cook fresh veggies. I’ve discovered flavors of hot tea that I like. I’ve found aromatherapy lotion that makes my hands feel so much better. They are usually so dry all winter. I’ve found new neighborhoods to explore. Last month, I picked up a used book by an author that I had never read before. I’m even starting season three of my podcast soon with a new approach to familiar topics and found new freelance opportunities for writing.

Sometimes in life we have to look for the “newness.” We have to open up to new ways and new possibilities. It’s not that we have to get rid of the old. Many things and many people are worth hanging on to. But we can’t stop growing and learning. We shouldn’t stop exploring and hoping and dreaming. It’s when I explore and grow that I find new joys and new aspects of myself that I had never known before. I rediscover interests and talents that I had packed away years before.

This poem was in my first poetry book and addresses both my personal growth and my spirituality that I explore as I grow. I hope you are “awakening” this year to new opportunities.

In Celebration of Our Awakening

We awaken from our deep slumbers
arising from long winters
which buried us in sorrows and burdens
that froze our soul
and in this season our spirit hibernated
out of the instinct for survival
but now we awaken
and rediscover ourselves—
we find in us a child
celebrating dawn as if it were the first…
we find in us a lover
embracing all things beloved in us and around us…
we find in us a warrior
charging forth with courage
as if no one could stand in our way…
and we discover our roots
which seek out sustenance
as they are caressed by the rich soil
through which they move
and we celebrate our new growth
as we reach up to you, Holy Mother,
and we feel your warming powers
which have awakened us this day.

–Chris Pepple ©2019

Cultivating…new thoughts

So, it’s February, and I’m still hanging in there with my process of cultivating new things in my life in 2020. I wrote about cultivating new relationships in my last post. I want to share with you something I’m working on along with that: cultivating new thoughts.

I’ve carried a lot of thoughts with me through the years that I have had to learn how to toss out. Most of these thoughts were handed to me by toxic people in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t just dismiss those thoughts. I allowed them to become part of my daily journeys…part of what I thought about myself and the world around me. As I have grown through the years, I found found a place of strength and healing where I have learned to let go of those words. If someone judges me or places their own negativity on my path, I can now recognize their words as toxic and know to leave them there on the path to be washed away by the next rains.

But if I am getting rid of thoughts that I don’t need to carry with me, what am I replacing them with? When I’m waking every morning or walking or meditating with my dog beside me, what thoughts do I allow to settle into my mind? Where do I look for new thoughts that will offer me hope and will carry me instead of pulling me down into their treacherous waters?

There’s not one place alone that I search. For me, I often turn to the words of Scripture, not to the toxic interpretations handed out by people seeking their own comfort and wanting to control others, but to the words as they were written…words of love and hope and a call for peace and true community.

I also turn to poetry and music. Today, I have read through several poems written by Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Mary Oliver. These words fill me with hope and sense of being a part of a larger community and a world full of beauty. I can relate to their struggles and find comfort in their understanding. I am given a new glimpse of the beauty of the world around me.

I also seek out the words of encouragers in my community. There are people who can say such kind things and offer words that make me laugh and make me feel such hope and joy. Sometimes I just listen in on conversations in restaurants or as I walk along a busy sidewalk. People can be inspiring as they help others along the way. The kindness doesn’t have be directed toward me to appreciate it.

The more I cultivate new thoughts, the more I find that I can be an encourager as well. When I was with these new thoughts in my mind and in my soul, I find it easier to share them with others. I can spread hope and love when I am walking with both of them.

What thoughts are weighing you down? Can you find a way to leave them on the path and walk with new thoughts? Don’t let others pull you down with their harsh judgments or their negativity or desire to control or harm.

Cultivate thoughts that will bring you hope and healing, that will make you strong and help you see your own worth and your own gifts and talents. You are loved and have much love to offer. Let that thought soak in. Share that thought with others.

Cultivating…new relationships

My goal for 2020 has been to cultivate new opportunities for my life. What a challenge! I thought I would choose a word (cultivating) for the year instead of setting a resolution. It sounded challenging, yet doable. How can I fail at living out a word, right? Well, I’m not failing at it, but I am learning how hard changing some of my thoughts and ways can be.

What have I worked on so far? First, I have worked on cultivating new and healthy relationships. I moved away from many toxic relationships in 2019. I had stayed connected to some people out of guilt or out of family or social expectations. No more…if I am going to be healthy, I have to be around people who are healthy for me. People who are encouragers. People who are honest and loving when I ask for feedback. People who want me to be whole and healthy. People who are in my corner and want me to be in theirs.

Forming new friendships can be challenging. It means I have to grow and stretch. I have to reach out to others. That doesn’t come naturally to me. How have I done it? I’ve joined new groups, found book clubs and study groups and volunteer groups. Not only did I find them, but I also actually showed up to places. I introduced myself. I listened to others and got involved. I did this with careful thought, however. I didn’t “over promise.” I agreed to show up when I am available…no long-term commitments or weekly promises that I can’t keep or will feel guilty over. I got social media contacts for a few people so we can stay in touch without a deep commitment at first. I also planned and actually went to dinner with a new friend.

Cultivating new relationships doesn’t come naturally to many of us. I am quite happy with a good book most days. But I need to be part of a larger community to grow and to find new joys in life. I can do that on my own terms, though. I can do that in ways that allow me to have my down time, my alone time to regroup and be quiet.

I have found new joys. I have laughed and chatted with new people that I would not have known had I not been intentionally cultivating new relationships. I am learning because I am reaching out to new people who have something to teach me through their life experiences that are different from me. I am finding strength because I am also reaching out to people who share some of my own life experiences and can understand where I am coming from and offer encouragement out of their own stories.

So, on to more cultivating new relationships in life!

My Word for 2020

For the last couple of years, I have been in survival mode more than I have been planning ahead. Both of my children and my parents were going through major changes in life. I also still had court dates dealing with an abusive ex-spouse. My health wasn’t wonderful, so I narrowed my thinking and just “got by.” Sometimes we all have to do that. The problem is that I got stuck in that mode. I didn’t take time to see what changes I needed to make to better plan ahead and to practice some self-care that was needed.

I’m changing the way I think for 2020. As part of that change, I’ve decided to follow the example of some of my mentors and choose a word for the year. My word for 2020 is cultivating. Cultivating means to acquire or develop a quality, sentiment, or skill. That’s what I’m going to spend the year doing.

I’m going to cultivate better cooking skills so I can eat healthier than I have this year and learn to enjoy the meals I eat. I’m going to eat with people more often as well. Cultivating new friendships and renewing old ones tie into this goal.

I’m also going to cultivate authenticity and allow those around me to do the same. Who am I? What do I really know about myself outside of the things I have been taught to think about myself by others? I want to take the time to learn new things about my likes and dislikes, my hopes, and my strengths. I also want to learn new things  about those close to me. As part of that goal, I want to cultivate new relationships in my community and allow people to be authentic in those new relationships. I want to learn more about the people I share this planet with…I want to know who they love, what brings them joy, and what their hopes are for the new year.

I also want to continue to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life and find ways to bring joy to others. Joy is not dependent on my circumstances…I can choose joy even when life is hard.

I know I will still face challenges in 2020. I hope that when I do I cultivate new responses. I hope the same for you as well. What’s your word for 2020?

A Sensory Sensitive Christmas

Christmas tree

Both of my children have always struggled with sensory issues. It’s a hard topic to talk about, even with people who care about you. It seems that our culture values the norm and wants everyone to fit into an easily understood category. When you don’t fit into the boxes created by others, however, life can be more stressful than it has to be. We often ignore our own needs to try to please others. We try to fit into the boxes so others are comfortable. But in doing so, we often neglect our own needs.

I often struggled with how to help my children “fit in” with the expectations of others. I tried to teach them how to handle the stresses that come with holidays and social events and expectations and busy schedules. Until recently, I didn’t realize that I was taking the wrong approach. I tried to help them fit into the preconstructed boxes that I thought we all had to fit into. I was raised to conform and please others. I’ve come a long way in unlearning that, however. Now I’m a box builder.

This year for Christmas, my children and I designed our own holiday. So far it has been the best Christmas we have ever had together. What was different? We left all expectations behind and sought out peace and joy. We packed our bags and headed to a quiet cabin with our dogs. We brought along a few Christmas gifts and some craft projects. I brought my writing pads and pens.

We have given ourselves the gift of quiet and the gift of taking care of our own needs. We came to a place where our senses wouldn’t be overwhelmed with noise and rushing and pressure to eat what others asked us to taste and laugh at what others considered funny. We haven’t had to smile and pretend to be happy. We are happy. This fits us. It heals us. It grounds us so we can go back and face our jobs and school schedules.

It’s so quiet here. I can see the sun glistening off of the ripples in the lake. I hear squirrels  playing in the trees near the cabin. This morning I watched deer watch me as I stepped out front to greet the day. I watched them parading through the woods for their own Christmas celebration. We dined on casseroles we created when we got hungry. We ate on our own schedule. The best part of day has been choosing our own activities–choosing what felt right for us. One child has napped and built with Legos. Another is trying to learn to needlepoint and has journaled a bit. I’ve enjoyed just watching them…reading some…writing some…being lazy with my dogs nearby. We strung popcorn and cranberries last night. We watched part of Christmas in Connecticut (an old movie that makes me laugh every time). We have honored our need for quiet and for stillness and for a time to let our senses rest.

This may sound like a horrible to Christmas to some of you. You may love your traditions and busy schedules and large gatherings. But for us, this has been a healing year, and we are ending it with our own path to Christmas peace and joy.