Thanks, Man

Here’s my positive experiences journal entry of the day …

Couple holding hand at sun riseKevin.  That’s what my positive experience is for today. The presence of my husband who is perfect, for me. He came home quickly after cross fit to shower and go to work and found me sitting on the floor on the brink of tears, frustrated at the loss of a document that hadn’t been backed up and was lost after four precious hours of work.

That, coupled with the fact that I had experienced opposition from an obstinate child for about 15 minutes, just before he walked in, left me on the brink.

So, that’s when Kevin happened to come home.

Sometimes I worry that I’m too negative when he comes home because he, as my husband, is the one who I most often vent my frustration to. He sees the good, the bad, and the ugly side of me.  But, time after time, he takes me as I am and loves me unconditionally.  He even thinks I’m cute.  I can’t believe it!

Today he tried to help in a practical way, but when he realized the document was truly lost, he sat with me for a moment and then gave me a shoulder rub. This gesture of sympathy was balm to my wounds, even though I was not in a mood to show much appreciation for it at the time.

I love the way that man loves me, even when the day’s not pretty.

When I read negative comments by women who have been hurt by men, my heart goes out to them.  A good man makes a difference for the women in his life.  I will always love and respect my dad.  My dad is a good man.  I love and respect my husband, because he is faithful, kind and true.  These two good men have impacted me and I love them beyond words.  I am grateful.

Our New Soldier

Heaven and earth must sometimes be moved in order for a mom with little kids to get a few days away. Today that happened and for a very compelling reason. I got to see my one and only brother graduate from basic training with the Marine Corps, in San Diego.

IMG_0926A big smile, a broader posture, and a new confidence greeted us in the form of my baby brother. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were dressing him up in our play costumes? Now he is dressed in uniform and looking good.

My dad’s voice broke as he prayed for our lunch. Life is at a crossroads and all of his five children were present for this special day. A thing to be thankful for. When will this happen again?  We won’t think of that today. For now we will simply hold on to this moment, enjoy it completely while it lasts, and then we shall tuck it away deeply into our folder of happy memories.

I’m so glad earth and heaven moved a little, so that I could experience this day with the people I love.

—-

IMG_0949While in San Diego we walked around Old Town in the cool of the evening. Mariachi band music was transported to our ears in the gentle breezes.  The range of colorful Mexican paraphernalia was displayed in small shops and beautifully tiled courtyards. Day of the Dead skeletons were everywhere, whimsically arranged with seeming smiles on their faces.

We were hunting for a snack or small meal IMG_0951
and I was intent on finding something authentically ethnic. Someone suggested a sandwich and my heart fell a little. It’s against my religion to eat sandwiches in the heart of an ethnic experience. Thankfully I talked everyone else into splitting some tamales and empanadas that were artfully displayed in a vendor’s beautiful case. The mariachi music continued to grace us while we spooned hot Mexican food into our hungry bellies.  A time to relish.

—-

My brother David’s graduation was on an overcast Friday morning. It’s nice having a tall brother. He was easy to spot in the sea of white caps.

IMG_0980Now that I have a brother serving our country, it changes me a little. I have always respected or military and I am very patriotic. But now I feel more vested. And when I think of the men and women serving our country I will now think of my brother and his friends whom I met today.

He will leave for Quantico for intelligence training. We are so proud of him. He has done this hard thing. He has been courageous. He has pledged his time and energy to service. In some ways he is changed but, mostly, my good, kind brother is simply a better and more confident version of himself.

—-

After driving back to Long Beach with my parents, youngest sister, and the new Marine, we let the Marine set the agenda. He deserved it. Right?

Well, The Agenda turned out to be mostly about Food.

He wanted to eat food he had craved for three months. For three months all of his foodIMG_0988 (1) fantasies had been denied to him. Since his release, he had already ingested pizza, wings, French fries, a soft pretzel and lemonade, Mexican food, and Oreos. What he really wanted for lunch was “Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles,” a greasy joint and allegedly President Obama’s favorite restaurant in town. Folks, this is the anti-Paleo restaurant, in case you were wondering.

I think I will need to eat only fruits, vegetables, and chicken breast for a week to make up for this transgression.

IMG_0991The good news is that we got to walk off some of this heavy food on the shoreline of beautiful Long Beach. People may wonder why I left this place to live in the Midwest. All I have to say is that every place has its pros and cons. Scenery here is pretty awesome, though …

Inspired by TED: Positive Experiences Journal

It’s not the kind of thing you readily admit at parties. It’s not cool. But here goes: I enjoy watching TED talks on Netflix.

Inspired by Shawn Achor’s TED Talk, which is apparently one of the top twenty most-viewed, I’m going to try to shoot for a short recounting of one positive experience in my day, every day, and will post here from time to time.

Day #1 – I Found My Kids

This positive experience came on the heels of a frantic one. My younger kids were lost for about five minutes. After my shower I couldn’t find them. I panicked and ran out to the pond beyond our backyard. I looked in the front yard, to no avail. I fought back tears and bad images and I prayed hard and fast. Then I saw two blonde heads bobbing up and down in the distance. The kids had decided to explore a new part of the neighborhood. After chewing them out for not telling me first, I hugged them tightly and sat on a bench to watch them play in the driveway. I have my children.  Other arms are empty today.  If this is not a blessing in my life, I don’t know what is.

Day #2 – Leaf-Crunching on the Trail

Forcing myself out of bed, especially after sleep interrupted by kids, is painful. But I have never regretted getting up early. Today I read a scripture meditation and then quietly slipped out of the house to walk for a mile on the nature trail behind our backyard, to contemplate and to pray. I am so lucky to have this trail where I can be surrounded by foliage and forget that I am actually in the middle of Midwestern suburbia. The crunching of fall leaves interrupted my thoughts. A delightful interruption. A rabbit skipped ahead of me for a minute and then darted into the brush. I breathed the crisp and still air. I am blessed. So blessed.

Temp-habitatDay #3 – I Met an Angel

I’m not sure I have ever met an angel here on earth but if I have it was today. He came in the form of a wiry, wrinkled man with snowy white hair. A volunteer for Habitat for Humanity furniture pick-up. I made small talk and noticed his eyes were very soulful and kind. He struggled to help the other volunteer lift our old couch. I wanted to help him but refrained for fear of embarrassing him. He lifted his end of the couch at last and I breathed in relief. Is donating this couch enough? Is it a cast off? Yes. Could I give more? I felt like donating the couch was not enough. I need to do more and give more. I felt very rich at that moment but like I am not doing enough, caught up in my own comfortable world so often. We give but is it enough? Rich is relative. I don’t feel rich on a daily basis. But I know we are compared to so many. We have much to give. Am I giving enough?  Thank you, would-be-angel, for reminding me to give sacrificially and not just out of my excess. This is a positive moment, to me, because it’s one that has opened my eyes, and my heart, a little wider.

A Sniper’s Perspective

american sniperAmerican Sniper (Kyle) is about America’s most lethal sniper, Navy Seal Chris Kyle.  It was gripping to read about Kyle’s perspectives and first-account experiences of his training and fighting in the Middle East as a highly-trained sniper.  He talks about his motivations behind his killing and how each one had to be documented and defended.  He was a skilled warrior and had a true sense of duty to his country.

I read Lone Survivor a few years ago and it made me wonder how many of our top warriors were raised in the south, hunting and shooting guns from an early age.  Both the author of American Sniper and Lone Survivor are from Texas and grew up hunting in the woods.

I thought American Sniper was made more compelling because it incorporated Kyle’s wife’s perspective, being home with their kids, while her husband was in a combat zone, unsure of if or when she would ever see him again. She struggled with his sense of loyalty to country and understood that he often put his country ahead of his family.  This, of course, is necessary for a soldier to do, when in combat.  Kyle’s wife’s perspective gave the book more of a personal touch and made it better-rounded.

I am thankful for our soldiers who feel the call of duty and fight to keep conflicts off of American soil and to keep us safe.  I am thankful to their spouses, who make so many sacrifices as well.  I was glad to read this memoir and gain better perspective.  I am grateful to our boys who fight, and to their families.

A Wild Journey

wildWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Strayed) – I give this book five stars, not because I agree with all the decisions that the author made, but because she wrote with a lot of raw, honest feeling, from a place of deep pain, and she surmounted her pain and forged a way for herself, showing tremendous strength and bravery.  There is much to be admired, so I won’t delve into any tangential criticisms.

Strayed’s account of life on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)—a continuous trail stretching from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington—out in the wilderness with so many dangers and so little protection, was riveting.  Her journey was long and tumultuous, in both the physical and emotional sense.  Her hiking boots were too small, her load too heavy for her, and there were a host of other physical hurdles for Strayed to surmount.  It was also emotional as she had a lot of family baggage to overcome and personal redemption to fight for.

You would think, after a while, with so many miles to cover, her journey would become too repetitive or too lengthy to read with interest.  But that was not the case.  Each segment of Strayed’s trek on the PCT was highly interesting to me.

I enjoyed Strayed’s writing about the things that mattered and the pain and the struggles.  I appreciated her honesty.  Her writing is very vivid and true.  Some parts of this book made me sad and angry and some parts made me laugh and feel triumphant.  When she fantasized about a cold, crisp Snapple Lemonade, I wanted one too. When she described the nights in her tent, alone except for the wild animal noises, I shivered just a little.  When she hiked for days with only two cents in her pocket, and wondering if she had enough water to make it, I worried for her and rooted for her.  When she wrote about her mom dying, I felt like I was a silent observer, in the moment with her.  When she wrote about feeling vulnerable on the trail, as a woman, I felt scared for her and a little vulnerable too.

I highly recommend this book.  I can’t wait to see the movie soon, although when a book is really good I worry that the movie will disappoint.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail has never strongly appealed to me, but after reading about the PCT, maybe especially because I’m a native Californian and understand it’s rugged beauty, I would love the chance to hike the PCT someday.  But definitely not alone!  And definitely with more pocket change to buy those coveted Snapple Lemonades!

Eclectic

booksI almost entitled this post “Duds and Studs” because I’ve read some books that I thought were duds and then I read my first Nicholas Sparks book, about a stud of course (I’ve seen enough movies to know the genre). But then I kept adding more books to this post that didn’t fit into either category.  So, here’s a list of eclectic books that I’ve read in the past month or so.

I’ll start with Nicholas’ stud.

The Longest Ride (Sparks) – This is my first Sparks’ novel.  I read and enjoyed Six Weeks with My Brother, Sparks’ touching personal memoir, many years ago, but that’s it.  The Longest Ride alternates between the story of an older man who is trapped in a car after swerving off an icy road and reminiscing about his past true love, and a budding romance between a sorority girl and a bull-riding, testosterone-laden rancher (the stud).

As I read, I wondered how the stories would end up intertwining.  It seemed obvious that the older man had money and the rancher was in desperate need of money and that’s probably how the two stories would intersect.  About fifty pages before the stories merged, I realized that I had heard this plot line before.  Probably, it’s because Sparks’ stories are famous.  But I think it might have even been a sermon illustration!  It’s a great story.

The ending could have been groan-worthy but it worked. It was actually a great ending.  I haven’t ever tried romance-writing, but I’m sure it’s hard to do without devolving into cheesiness.  So, bravo to Sparks.

Then two duds …

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There (Potts) – I really enjoyed Potts’ other book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel.  I was looking forward to reading about his travelling adventures and short stories he had published.  This book was disappointing.  It just wasn’t that interesting to me. It came across as egotistical and immature.  The book opens with Potts trying to sneak onto a movie set.  It makes for an interesting plot to some extent, but also seemed ultimately like a stupid thing to do.  There’s a lot of other antics in the book that came across as juvenile as well.

Catch-22 (Heller) – I think I’m just not into this genre: slow-moving novels about soldiers who philosophize about life.  Some sections were interesting and I enjoyed the writing to some extent, but the subject matter and slowness of this book assured that it won’t be my favorite.  It reminded me to some degree of Slaughterhouse-Five, which I read earlier this year.  That’s enough hyphenated books about soldiers for me, for a while.

And then some more random books …

We Were Liars (Lockhart) – I saw this novel was “trending” on Goodreads and picked it up.  Yes, I fell for that!!  Anyway, the opening pages of this book whisked me away into another world. I really enjoyed the writing. It’s easy and fun but also rich and evocative.  The kids in the story are spoiled, rich brats. So that was annoying. The teenage love-story angst was hard to bear at times, too.  But overall this book was a fun, quick read.  There is a big plot twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and, to some degree, doesn’t make sense. If you have read this book, I’d love to know what you think.

The Outermost House (Beston) – I grew up near the ocean and I love stories set by the seaside that involve observations of the surrounding nature, and personal discovery. This book had some beautiful observations, but I vacillated between enjoying the descriptions and feeling they were too factual.  Like and engineer was making lists, or something.  Sorry if you’re an engineer!  I think you’re probably great.  Just saying …

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son (LaMott) – Ann LaMott is a great writer. This memoir wasn’t my favorite but she definitely has a knack for describing scenes and emotional situations.  This book is about the turmoil of the first year of her grandson’s life, with her young son dealing with unexpected fatherhood and Ann trying to hold everything together.

Food: A Love Story (Gaffigan) – I really loved reading Dad is Fat by Gaffigan last year.  In fact, because it’s so humorous and because the logistics of having five kids and living in a two-bedroom, four-story walkup in New York City is so intriguing to me, it might have been one of my most-recommended books last year.  So I was happy to pick up Food: A Love Story and add something funny to my reading material.  Gaffigan makes fun of regional food, health food, and mostly himself.  I enjoyed this reading diversion.

Happiness at Home

IMG_8297 (1)In the opening passages of Happier at Home, author Gretchin Rubin indicates that she doesn’t need to go to Paris for a year to find happiness.  [This made me laugh since I’ve been reading about people who have gone to Paris for a year on a self-discovery trip.]  Rather, home can be that rich, rewarding place that we carry with us wherever we go.  If we invest in our home life, we are happier people.

When I look back at pictures of the kids, my favorite ones are not the ones where we are on some faraway trip.  My favorites are the ones where the kids are in their PJs, standing side by side.  Or when they are holding critters they dug up in the yard, their faces full of glee.  Or when they are dressed up in ridiculous costumes they put together in the basement, but are having the time of their life.  These are average, everyday photos. They trigger many other memories of similar times.  They are happy memories I carry with me, because of a happy home life.  Rubin’s book was a great reminder to continue developing happiness at home.   

Rubin delves into various facets of home life, particularly dealing with possessions and relationships.  She challenges the assumption that less is always better.  For certain people, having the least amount possible isn’t always the road to happiness and she backs this up with research.  Since minimalism is so “in” right now, I thought this was interesting to think about.

She explored ways to be positive and encourage your spouse and ways to connect and spend more quality time with your children.  I liked the fun after-school activities and experiences that Rubin was able to make time for, with her daughter.  Sometimes if you don’t put it on the calendar, it will never happen!  So true.

She addressed the issue of negative people.  Sometimes you can’t avoid them but she suggests some ways to insulate yourself from being drawn down by their negativity.

Happiness is contagious but negativity is even more contagious.  

I have been thinking about this a lot and have been trying to make better effort to develop friendships with people who are positive and lift me up, and to distance myself from people who are negative and pull me down.  When I am with happy people, I am happier.  Life is hard enough without having to deal with drama and negativity.  Life is too short for that.

This book made me think about what makes me feel good/hopeful/happy and what makes me feel bad/discouraged.  The author posits that, to be happier, we must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in a spirit of growth.

So, for a few short weeks, I decided to keep track of some things that make me feel happy and some things that make me feel discouraged, just to get an idea.  Whenever either of those feelings crept in, I took time to jot down some notes.  

Some of it was unsurprising and other things were eye opening. Like, being outside really makes me happy, apparently!

I will start with the negative things, so I can end on a positive note.  Thankfully there are a lot less on that list.

 

Anti-happiness—things that suck away my joy

– Dawdling children.  Especially when homework drags on, and on, and on …

– When I feel like I didn’t get “anything” done that day.  Some days, with little kids, it’s just about surviving, and keeping my head above water.  Those days are hard.

– Whiny children.

– People with negative/depressed attitudes.

 

Things that infused me with happiness

– Tea drank slowly in a quiet house, with a loyal, longtime friend.  I think the happiness was due partly to the friend and partly to the luxury of a quiet house.

– A child with a sense of humor and larger-than-life view of the world, telling me about her day at school.

– Bright spring green colors, with a backdrop of dark storm clouds—such great contrast!—and a brisk walk among all that glorious nature, with Kevin.  13 years together, and I still enjoy his conversation the best.

– A hug and a smile from a toddler who really loves me.

– Riding bikes to Kite Day and lying in the grass to watch the colorful, soaring kites, bright blue sky, and white puffy clouds.  Soaking up the sunshine and not being in a hurry to go anyplace or do anything.

– Being outside in nature, with the sun shining.

– Watching Carson overcome his fear at the park and finally go down the tallest slide.

– Discovering baby ducklings at a nearby wetlands, with the kids. We watched them for a long time.

– Selecting colorful, sweet-smelling doughnuts from a brightly lit bakery case, for the slumber-party-girls at home.  A multi-sensory experience and celebration after the last day of school!  Plus, getting to shop sans kids is a treat, by itself!

– A house concert with some loud, off-key singing and mosquitoes. But, yes, I was happy because it was funny and we laughed.  A lot.  And the kids were so cute clapping to the music and enjoying themselves and the people there were great.

– Being with two particular girlfriends who always make me smile and reach out to me, and other people around them.  (Positive people!)  I need to get together with these gals more often.

– Watching the kids run wild in the common area behind our house, teasing and chasing each other, with big smiles plastered on their faces.  Often the neighbors join them out there.  Now that our toddler is older, the four kids are like one cohesive pack.

– Our neighborhood pool, because it’s so peaceful there and I’m an extravert so there’s always someone to talk to.  I love the lazy hours that we spend there.  Summer is here!

 

Rubin addresses the issue of whether the pursuit of happiness is selfish. When a person is happy, those around them are happier.  Happy people contribute more to their families and to society.  So, the pursuit of happiness benefits others, aside from the individual pursing happiness.  I think the whole topic of the pursuit of happiness is interesting.  I have enjoyed Rubin’s books, stories, and happiness research.