Hope through the Darkest Night

Hope through the Darkest Night

For many months, I have been walking underwater. This has been the toughest part of life I’ve ever imagined. Moving forward has been painful, and days have passed by in slow-motion. But this is how it is, isn’t it? Life isn’t easy. Sometimes life takes our breath away. Privacy is important when it comes to details and terms and situations, but glossing over the tough stuff doesn’t help anyone. The truth is no one is immune from the hardest parts of life. We all share a common bond: life is hard. The big question is how do we hang on through the hardest parts of life? Hope through the Darkest Nights Years ago, I planted Swamp Milkweed in our backyard. I love butterflies, enough to try a plant with an unbecoming name like Swamp Milkweed. It is one of the only plants where Monarch butterflies lay eggs. My boys and I watched closely for butterflies the first year, but didn’t have any success. The second year, though, we found black dots, and a week or two later, half-eaten leaves and striped caterpillars munching their way through the plant. They were like Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar. They ate and ate and ate. One day, five caterpillars dropped to three. Birds, we discovered, were plucking them off. The next morning, we found two, and then only one. We decided to bring him inside, fed him leaves in a gigantic jar, and propped a long stick for him to make his chrysalis. Over the course of the next several weeks, we watched in awe. He first swung his body in wild...
A Year of Yoga

A Year of Yoga

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt Before my family and I moved to Prague, I enjoyed taking group fitness classes at the local gym. A couple of my favorites included Kickboxing (a way to feel tough and strong and upbeat with about 50 others) and Fitness Yoga (a huge change to the bouncing and pounding of running or other aerobic classes). For me, the 4 years in Prague meant no group fitness classes, and no gym. That was okay — we made the most of our time in Prague by traveling and riding mountain bikes or cross country skiing through the national forest near our house. But once we returned to the U.S., one of the first things I did was go to the gym. Only then did I realize how much I’d missed it. I’ve long been a distance goer on the elliptical, but I injured my knee and needed to find a different option. Since last August, I’ve participated in the gym’s free group fitness vinyasa yoga classes between 2 and 4 times a week. I’m still swimming and going to a couple of other fun classes, but yoga has been one of the best things I’ve done in years as far as personal fitness. The 5 best things I think I’ve gained in a year of yoga:...
5 Ways to Survive Busy Times

5 Ways to Survive Busy Times

“If you are too busy to read, you are too busy.” – Richard Foster   Back to school time happens to be a very busy time. There are different sizes and styles of school shoes to buy, and the right color and thickness of highlighters, paper, folders, and binders. The school supply list lengthens every year, as well as the open house times and form filling-out, physicals paperwork, lunch money forms … back-to-school is a busy time. This year, it’s a bit busier at my house — I’m working full-time for the first time in many years, and time is at an extreme shortage. I love the Richard Foster quote, above. I haven’t had too much time to read (for those of you who know me well, this is tough for me), but I’m okay with it. The most important thing is that I’m keeping my eye on the goal and watching for ways to slow life and our schedules down. It’s coming, but I realize I rely on 5 key things to survive busy times. 5 Ways to Survive Busy Times 1) Making time to be with the people you love. This is the most essential thing, I think, to surviving a busy spell. Being with the people we love reminds us that life still moves on, and that our people care about us, and we care about them. 2) Guarding time to exercise and stay active. Exercise is the first thing that could disappear in busy spells in my life, but it’s the most important for maintaining my personal balance. Staying active improves everything. 3) Eating healthy...
Friends Keep Our Lights Going

Friends Keep Our Lights Going

“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.” – Albert Schweitzer   When I arrived at Purdue University to begin my undergraduate degree in engineering, the Dean called a meeting in one of the lecture halls for all of the incoming freshmen. His talk inspired us, but at the end, he asked us to look at our neighbors to our right and left. “When you graduate, neither of those students will still be in engineering.” Not very encouraging. It turned out earning a degree in mechanical engineering was very difficult for me, and involved four years of constant studying, concentrating, pencil-in-hand while one of my friends attempted to teach another concept to me, again. One of the true reasons I made it through is no secret. I owe it to my friends. My first year, a woman with a beaming smile called to me from across a room and asked if I wanted to be part of a mentoring program for female engineering students. She said it would involve making friends, and that there would be food at the monthly meetings. At the mention of food, I was sold. For the next four years, that mentoring program became part of my daily life. I not only participated as a freshman, mentored by a senior who had already made it through hard parts and encouraged me through my own, but I became a leader for the team which led the mentoring program. Meeting with others who shared similar values and struggles became part of my life … it helped...
The Shell Seekers

The Shell Seekers

“This is one of my all-time favorites, for the beauty of the story, and the beauty in the language and writing. A breath-taking story of the pull and tugs of family with those who take and those who give. Loved this one.”   I wrote the lines above on Goodreads soon after I read The Shell Seekers the first time. Last week, I wrote a full recommendation at GreatNewBooks.org, which I’m adding below. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. It’s one of my favorite books, which as of this spring is now out in trade paperback on a fresh release — a perfect time to pick one up to read before summer’s end. The Shell Seekers Every once in a long while, a novel comes out on shelves that stays in the hearts and minds of readers so that they feel, once they’ve turned the final page, as if they MUST recommend it to their friends, their postman, their friends and neighbors – everyone they know. One book like that for me is one I picked up at a used bookstore fifteen years ago on a whim, because the bookseller recommended it. That book is The Shell Seekers. I’ve carried that same copy, an original edition hardback missing the dust jacket, around with me for the past few days. It is an old book, and though our site is called Great NEW Books, sometimes we feature a book that’s a bit different than our other recommendations. Always, though, we share only books that we authentically love. This past spring, when...
The Surprising Beauty of Crane Beach

The Surprising Beauty of Crane Beach

Castle Hill above Crane Beach derives its history from December 29, 1634, when a group of Ipswich town men voted “that the Neck of Land wheareuppon the great Hill standeth, which is known by the name of the Castle Hill, lyeinge on the other side of this River towards the Sea, shall remayne unto the common use of the Towne forever.” – Wikipedia, Castle Hill above Ipswich, Massachusetts     I missed posting here last week, but it was a busy week — two of my sons and I traveled to Boston to be with the closest of friends, ones who-are-like-family who live there now. It was a wonderful time. We had the chance to travel to Crane Beach near Ipswich, Massachusetts for a day. There were so many other things we enjoyed during our week in Boston, including paddleboarding on the Charles River, and a U2 concert (which was out of this world), but my photographs from Crane Beach are ones I have to share. Crane Beach, Massachusetts We drove out on a Tuesday after July 4th weekend, a day which was forecast for rain. The weather turned out to be incredibly clear and sunny, until about the time we left in late afternoon. I’ve spent a day on Crane Beach 15 years ago, and the experience was nice, but the beach was very crowded — probably the most crowded beach I’ve ever seen. This time, however, Crane Beach was empty. And the skies were so blue. The sand, white. The water, warm-ish and clear. It all was unexpected, a surprise. My boys and I enjoyed every minute,...
Inside the O’Briens

Inside the O’Briens

“Walking with her dad is stressful. The whole reason she drives the car to pick him up from physical therapy is to avoid walking with him. But who can resist this day? She wants to be close enough to catch him if he starts to fall, but not close enough to catch a flying fist in the face…he’s frightening to watch. Every joint—his ankles, knees, hips, elbows, wrists, fingers, shoulders—is overly involved in the task. Each step is exaggerated, jerky, wild, almost violent. She finds herself holding her breath …” –Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova Last spring, when I traveled to Boston to attend the Muse writer’s conference, I sat in on a class taught by a panel by four authors, on research for fiction. One of the panelists, Lisa Genova, talked about the research she’d done for her first book, Still Alice, by interviewing hundreds of early-onset Alzheimer’s patients. After the class, I bought Still Alice at the conference bookstore. Once I read it, I knew I’d found one of my favorite contemporary authors. A few months ago, when Genova’s latest book, Inside the O’Briens appeared on bookstore shelves, I bought it and saved it for a time when I could read the compelling story uninterrupted. I’m glad I did, because it was impossible to put down. In Inside the O’Briens, Genova writes about another genetic disorder, Huntington’s disease. In the same manner of Still Alice, Inside the O’Briens introduces us to the affected person before he understands what is happening, as well as to his family. This is the part of Genova’s writing that I enjoy...
Gardens and a Beautiful Life: a Photojournal

Gardens and a Beautiful Life: a Photojournal

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables   During the month of May and the first half of June, the weather blew into Ohio in hot gusts, dry enough to wither the normally green summer grass to a crispy brown. In evenings for weeks at a time, the sound outside on my street was not lawn mowers, but the puffs of rotary sprinklers. We had no rain for weeks. However, that all changed about two weeks ago, when the heavenly faucet turned back on. In a week’s time, the grass is green, and the flowers bloom in profusion. Two years ago, I dug out and planted flowers along the deck in the back of our house — an improvement over the non-landscaped sparse grass (link back to how it looked before — wow, it’s changed!). And now, this third summer, the garden is filling in, lush and vibrant. Paradise, for me. The past couple of days, in splashes of sunshine, I’ve taken my camera out with me into the yard to capture what I see… “Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince “In all things in nature, there is something of the marvelous.” — Aristotle “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” — John Keats “I like light, color, luminosity. I like things full of color and vibrant.” — Oscar de la Renta “A garden must...
Summertime and Big Changes

Summertime and Big Changes

One day she decided to stop letting her fears hold her back, and from that day on, she flew. (I love this phrase, which I first saw on House of Belonging and DeAnn Art instagram)   It’s summer! Last week, I was absent from the blog for the week, but this is what I was up to … Start with a roadtrip, add a car full of loved ones, journey to a place filled with people you love, add a shimmering pool of water, a hot summer sun, goggles and music and lots of fun, and it suddenly feels like summer. Those are the days of life which are the very best.     This summer has been a mix of time doing the fun things with my boys — time at amusement parks, and basketball games, and fishing and cutting grass and gardening — and preparing for other big changes looming on the horizon.     Today, I start a new job, my first in corporate America for more than 17 years. I’ll be wearing dresses and jackets and heels for the first time in a long time, and doing things I enjoy doing in a formal environment. I’m excited to combine my love for words and communication and marketing for a corporation with its cutting edge technology. It is a new adventure. There is something about summertime and blazing blue skies, and storms which roll in on the horizon. There is comfort in the midst of change to see the sun rise and set each day, regardless of what else goes on around us. There is a...
The Million Benefits of Gratitude

The Million Benefits of Gratitude

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Dr. Maya Angelou There must be a million benefits of gratitude. Whenever life takes my breath away, I’m reminded of what I’ve been given and my attitude changes almost instantly and becomes more positive. The list is endless. From some of the biggest — health, family and friends, love and life — to the smallest — a birdsong, a flower unfolding, a star twinkling in the sky, we have been given so much. Gratitude, I think, happens when we become aware that what you’ve been given is far greater than what you can give. Life is crazy these days, with the pace and speed at which we normally operate. But what would happen if we slow down, even for just a moment? How different our lives would be if for one moment each day, we could walk outside, stand in silence and look at the sky, and see how amazing life really is.  The Million Benefits of Gratitude The benefits of gratitude are everywhere. Our spirits are lifted when we remember our life in abundance rather than from the angle of what we don’t have. We can smile, and live authentically. Our health improves, our hearts are lighter, we are empowered. We shine. Life becomes brighter rather than darker. We give to others because we realize we can, and want to, and the benefits multiply endlessly, all because we are centered on gratitude. What a difference our lives would make,...