Back to Life after 5 Days of Extreme Self-Care

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I recently took unprecedented action in my life.  It was the opposite of being on one of those reality TV survival shows.  I removed myself, for the first time in the 15 years since becoming a mom, from taking care of anyone but myself.  For 5 days.  Okay, that was kind of a lie.  Honestly, I was cared for.  Well, I still had to brush my teeth and shower.  Does that count?  It ROCKED.  The icing on the cake?  I engaged in this being-cared-for practice in the mountains of Umbria, Italy.

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This was my work.

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I was more relaxed than I’ve been in I-don’t-know-how-long. Ever, perhaps. Seventeen other women and I were sequestered away, freed up to meditate, express, dance, cry, hug, reflect and connect.  We showed up three times a day to savor delicious, fresh food lovingly prepared by a chef as we talked, laughed, and soaked in the views of lavender, rosemary, cyprus tress, surrounding mountains and abandoned, far-off castles. We walked and ate wild blackberries.  We made fresh pasta.  We tasted wines. We even had a day of shopping.  Oh, and we had massages.

Everything was planned and provided.  Really, I’m not sure a girl can be in a more nurturing environment than the one in which our lucky group of women was immersed for almost a week.  Heaven.  Our two lovely leaders, Christine Arylo and Kristine Carlson, teamed up their very different styles to help us identify and surrender those things that deplete us, and to receive more of what buoys us.  They helped foster a safe sisterhood that made us feel supported and connected.  I left that retreat full of energy, love, and optimism.

So, here I am, in the process of re-entry.  My precious family, who cheered and showered me with affection when I walked in the front door after returning, is back to a bit of bickering about chores and critiquing my choice of family meals.  Four days after returning from Italy, I got back on a plane with my 13 year old daughter and her two friends to see One Direction in concert at the Rose Bowl.  It was so fun to watch the girls bursting with joy and melting over these coiffed boys, but really, trust me when I say I probably paid sufficient penance for my time savoring quiet and relaxation. I’m not a great crowd person.  I may have even dropped a few quiet f-bombs in the middle of the pushing and shoving of that teenage estrogen-fueled frenzy.

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Do you feel the contrast in energy from the above pictures?

What’s a girl to do?  I don’t want my spirit to start rolling up into a cocoon amid the rush to get to appointments on time, less than cheery news stories, and the treadmill of busy to-dos of everyday life.  I want to live open and joyfully, despite and, perhaps, especially with the darkness that lurks in our world.

So here’s what I’m thinking might work for me.  As a regular practice, I’ve decided to:

1.  Make space.  Space in time and in environment.  I bought a sparkly watch while in Italy to remind myself that I am allowed to set aside time for ME.  In my life, this looks like waking up before the rest of my household.  It means taking time each afternoon before school’s out to break out my yoga props and drop into a restorative pose.  20 minutes should do just fine.

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It also means to keep the clutter to a minimum.  I don’t know about you, but nothing sucks the happy out of me quicker than a pile of stuff on my desk.  That nagging reminder that I have bills to pay, papers to file, invitations to answer is not ringing with joy.  I aim to clear out for a few minutes each day and make space to live presently without the burden of have-tos.

Another way I make space is to sit in my backyard and commune with our big old oak tree.  Its strength, stability, beauty, and patience soothes my soul in a way that’s hard for me to explain.  If I lived next to a creek, I know the sound of water would do the same for me.  Nature, nature, nature.  Always there to remind us that life goes on, even when an unanswered jury summons remains on the kitchen counter.  Life is bigger than our everyday tasks.  Finding a bench, a walking path, a flowering plant in our surroundings where we can go for just a few minutes each day can provide a gateway into our bliss.

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2.  Connect.  Yes, it would be nice to have our closest, most unconditional-love-filled people available to us at any moment.  Having these people on speed-dial is a great idea, but the reality is that connection can and should happen on so many different levels all the time.  It makes my day to hit the grocery store check-out line and know the name (and kids’ names) of the person helping me.  I love running to the dry cleaner and talking about family, life, and whatever comes to mind.  This week, my acupuncturist/therapist/friend and I laughed so hard during my session that his colleague had to shush us.  This is the stuff that lifts me.   Connection provides such healing energy, even though it’s rarely about baring your soul in a protected space, holding hands, and hugging.  Although, don’t get me wrong, I do love those sacred moments, too.  Especially the hugging.

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My guaranteed sources of unconditional love.

3.  Breathe.  (Does this fall into the space category?)  I always come back to this tool, but it always works.  Pause, breathe, and feel tension melt away.  Slow it down regularly.  It’s hard to feel inspired and joyful when you’re gunning it to your next appointment, fists clenched around the steering wheel.  Slow down and breathe.  Chances are you’ll get where you need to go just as quickly, and you’ll bring way better energy with you when you get there.  Which then helps you to connect.  And, it’s a lot easier to notice beauty in life when you slow down and breathe.  It’s there, at the ready to soothe your soul and dose you with joy.

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So, here’s to occasional get-aways that remind us how peaceful life can be.  And, here’s to creating some of that slowed-down, nurturing feeling in the every day.  Cin cin!

Hey! Let’s go Jolly Catching! 7 Ways to Boost Your Mood.

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Am I wrong in thinking this is what we most need right now?  Really, there’s been a lot to digest over the past week or so.  I’m not going to rehash it all, because we have continuous news stations that will provide examples at any given moment.  What I could use, and I’m guessing, you too, is a big old dose of the JOLLIES!

Guffawing, warmth, peace, hugs, ooey-gooey love, all up and over our everything.  I found myself happily mesmerized by a video of a cat in a shark suit riding a vacuum cleaner this morning.  And, truly, I am a committed dog person.  This signaled to me the need for a spirit cleanse.  STAT.

So, here are the best places I can think of to go on a Sunshine-for-the-Soul Safari.  I have no doubt that you have many other ideas, and I would LOVE to hear them.  Really, there will never be too many sources of jolly for this world.

1.  Your Friends.

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Let me qualify this suggestion, because not all people we consider friends will work here.  I’m talking about the friends who are your true-blues.  The ones who leave you feeling like you’re smart, gorgeous, kind, and loved.  There may be one or two of these precious people in your life.  If you have more, you should be buying lottery tickets regularly.  It may also be that this friend happens to be a dog, a cat, or a bird.  Frenemies, drama-seekers, and energy vacuums need not apply to the Soul-Sunshine Safari.

Once you identify and contact a friend of this rare and precious nature, combine with one of the following options, or just hang out for a talk.  Better yet, have a talk while feeding your body some sort of delicious and healthy food.  A double dose of yummy is always helpful.

2.  Mother.  Mother Nature, that is.

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Get outside and breathe some fresh air.  Contemplate clouds.  Listen to water running.  Look at a body of water, the bigger the better.  Climb a hill.  Sit under a big tree.  Watch grass blow in the breeze.  Let raindrops serenade you.  Dive into the ocean.  Let the sun caress your skin.  Pick ripe fruit and take a big old bite.  Harvest vegetables from a garden and  eat them with a meal.  Lie on the grass.  Walk on the grass barefoot.  Nature is a reliable source of peace and comfort.  I’m not saying you’ll be giggling wildly as you sit in a forest.  I’m pretty sure you’ll feel comforted, though.  You are an important and lovely part of a very big picture.

3.  Work it Out

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The power of exercise to lift a mood is well established.  That doesn’t mean you should go out for a long run if running isn’t your thing.  Or take a Pilates class if it makes you feel uncoordinated and you watch the clock the whole time.  Move joyfully.  What feels like play to you? Do that!  Even better, combine your happy workout of choice with one of the preceding suggestions and your results will be even better.

A good dance class taken with friends works wonders for me, and is my fallback.  I once practiced yoga in the middle of a majestic redwood forest, chanting and all, and felt completely renewed.  I might mention that this was with a group, all clothed, and in Mendocino County, where such an activity is totally acceptable and expected.

If an all-out sprint down the beach or around a track is cathartic to you, do that!  If you need some cheer, get up off the couch and move around.

4.  Laugh!  A Lot!

Hang out with those people who inspire laughter.  With whom you can let go and see the humor in everyday situations.  My favorite is to hang out with friends and start laughing so hard, our laughter becomes a  silent clucking, tears sliding down our cheeks, stomach muscles in a bind.  That kind of laughter must be like medicine for our souls.  Watch funny movies over dramas.  Go out and sing karaoke with your people.  Play Cards Against Humanity.  But, only with people who already love you no matter what comes out of your mouth, please.  This is a game that will get you rolling.

Alone and in need of a chuckle?  Turn on your computer and search the word “funny”.  Look through Netflix and Hulu for movies that make you laugh, or TV shows to make you smile.  My kids and I keep a good supply of Ellen Degeneres on DVR for light comic relief.  Whatever it is that takes you away from your worries for a bit should be kept at your fingertips for easy access.  Important stuff.

5.  Be Positive about Yourself

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You are amazing!  Own it!  Live it!  Self-depracation can be too much, really.  I’m not saying you should go out and have a parade in honor of yourself, but make an effort to gracefully accept compliments and appreciation.  When someone tells you how good you look in a certain color, or that your efforts have really paid off, say, “thank you.”  Let it sink in and swish around until you are a little bit taller with a little more color in your cheeks.  Save a little in your pocket for use at some later date.  If no one is around to notice the excellent action you’ve taken, don’t be afraid to give yourself a little “nicely done!” and a smile.

Also, when you look in the mirror in the morning and your eyes immediately zero in on a percolating pimple, take your focus to your shiny teeth, to the definition in your shoulder, or to your sparkling eyes.  See the good.  There’s so much there.

Are the voices of doom chanting at you as you head off to give a talk or interview for a new job?  Thank them for their concern, but remind them that you are a capable individual ready to succeed, but able to survive a fail.  No need to scare yourself out of reaching farther or trying new things.  Each day is an opportunity to step out a little farther from our limiting comfort zones.

6.  Be Positive about Others Too

Gossip is another joy-kill.  Eliminate any put-downs or criticism for a week and see how it affects you!  I bet you’ll feel better about life.  Remember that none of us are perfect, and we all do the best we are capable of doing at any given time.  Appreciate that you may be having an easier day or life than that person who gunned it to beat you to a coveted parking space.  It can’t be easy going around all day worried that there’s not enough.  Wish that individual happiness and abundance.  Lift others up whenever possible.  Make karma your bestie and not that other “b” word.

7.  Sleep

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I don’t know about you, but when I get less than my 7 hours of sleep, every issue of potential concern becomes a hairy monster breathing down my neck.  I also tend to find everything exceedingly irritating.  My behavior, I’m sure, is charming at these moments (ha!).

Sometimes, sleep is elusive when the world feels hostile or unsafe.  In times like this, I love going to a guided meditation recording (thank you, Deepak and Oprah), or just listening to soothing music.  Don’t forget to practice your slow, deep breaths.  Read a happy book.  Take a few minutes to rest with your legs up the wall before going to bed.   End your screen time an hour before going to sleep.  Make your room dark, and try to keep it cool.

Getting adequate sleep will make the previously discussed Soul Safari steps more accessible for you, and will lighten your load.  What do you do to make your days happier?

 

 

 

 

Aloha, Dad. And Aloha, Self-Compassion.

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Sometimes, the Universe decides it’s time for you to learn or practice skills.  You notice the same lesson or situation repeating itself until you figure it out.  I believe that if you open your eyes to subtle messages, support and solutions, they are usually waiting in the wings at the ready.  Well, apparently, it’s my time to further hone my self-compassion and quiet the droning voice of criticism and not-enoughism.  Universe, I hear you loud and clear, and I am working on it.  Dude.  Uncle.  Whatever.

Let me set the scene.  Last week, I was visiting family on O’ahu.  Yes, I realize the fact that my people are all in Hawai’i is a good thing when I make my yearly visit home.  My kids spend a week hiking trails tourists don’t usually visit, eating shaved ice known by locals to be the best, playing on uncrowded, breathtaking, and a little harder to find beaches and hanging out with other kids.  Not a bad deal.

For me, it was a little more complicated, of course, as visits home often are.  My dad passed away almost a year ago, and his ashes have been waiting to be scattered.  My sister and I had a distant and difficult relationship with our dad.  As an adult, I see that his life was bubbling over with challenges.  I can understand why he wasn’t fully available to anyone.  He drank, he cheated, he fought hard, and sometimes, he didn’t come home.  When he was home, it wasn’t peaceful.  Police showed up.  I went to sleep praying for quiet at home.  He didn’t remember our birthdays.  Not sure he was certain of his grandkids’ names.

When he was given 6 months to live, my father’s communication with us ramped up.  He told us he loved us.  He wasn’t afraid of death.  He donated his body to the medical school, and asked that we scatter his ashes in a bay that just happens to be a wildlife preserve with deadly currents.  Seriously, Dad?

A month before he died, his girlfriend of 20 years evicted him from her apartment.  He rented a room with a bed, a desk and a tv in an apartment with three men he had never met before.  He deteriorated steadily and relied on my sister to deliver groceries and do his laundry.  Hospice nurses checked on him, but there was no bed available for him in the facility.  He died sitting up in his bed, tv blaring, roommates home but unaware.  Not the best death, but somehow fitting.

Last week, my sister and I paddled a canoe out from the beach in our hometown early Saturday morning.  We shared memories, tears, and laughter, and forgave our dad for his dreaded fish stew, among other things. We remembered him singing happily along with the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, and Simon and Garfunkel. We prepped the water with flowers, and together, dropped his ashes, contained in a sea salt urn, into the ocean that he so loved.

My Guilt

Here’s where the self-flagellation comes in.  And trust, I excel at the self-flagellation.  Imagine each of these statements delivered with a pointing finger and head shaking, brows furrowed:

Didn’t Dad deserve to end up where he wanted?  The thought of hiking the rocky ridge to the water’s threatening edge with my kids scared the BeJesus out of me, but, really did he ask for much?  It was yet another disappointment in the picture of his life.

Was he scared and lonely as he left this Earth?  I flew all the way across the Pacific to see him before he passed, only to leave his apartment hours before he died.

Maybe I should have traveled back more while he was dying.  My sister was stuck with so much responsibility.

Should I have taken him into my home?

During our vacation, I brooded, I cried, I snapped at my family.  I wanted someone to take care of me.  I had to cancel a client call that was scheduled on a particularly rough day for me.  That was a first, and I didn’t feel like much of a professional.

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Here’s where I found support in unexpected places. I gratefully received it.

I decided earlier this summer to participate in an online retreat with two inspiring and rocking women, Christine Arylo and Kristine Carlson.  Immediately after I returned from this trip, our group call centered on the topic of Self-Compassion.  One woman shared her experience of choosing to cancel a work meeting so that she could be available to her family amid a collective emotional crisis.  It was an act of self-compassion. Necessary and forgivable.  I could so relate, having just done the same thing.  Thank you, Universe. I so needed that.

Christine spreads the message of self-love to women and girls, and Kristine, who exudes calm and grace, helps others navigate life and its rocky times with greater ease.  I had no idea when I signed up for their program that I would find both of these women so instrumental in helping me recognize and shake off my self-imposed guilt.  On our trip to O’ahu, the book atop the bedside table of our rental house was a collection of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff writings by both Kristine and her late husband, Richard Carlson.  Bedtime doses of kindness, comfort, and inspiration.  Thank you, Universe.

Divine timing.  One of my most intuitive and present friends in Oakland just happened to text me a message of support as I drove to the cemetery to have my father’s ashes transferred into a biodegradable urn.  I was torn about where to scatter him.  I was upset.  Her words healed and lifted me.  The urn available for my dad was hella heavy.  That took the hiking idea out of the picture.  The mortician was a young, warm, and affable woman (another surprise) who assured me that I was doing the right thing.  Salve for the soul. Thank you, Universe.

I got the message.  I was supported. Now it was my turn to treat myself with kindness and compassion.

My dad’s story was his, not mine.  As much as I would have liked to give him the fairy tale ending, it was not to be.  Honestly, I was as present as being a wife and mother of three living across the ocean could be.  I called weekly and flew home as often as possible.   He would have been miserable at our house, having little patience for children and spaces in which he could not smoke, and being displaced from his home of over 50 years.

I thank my father for teaching me, in his own way, how important it is to be present for my kids.  I will do everything in my power to make my family know that they are precious, safe, and my priority.   Many of my childhood experiences have led me to choose to live in love.  I honor him with a legacy of presence and connection I hope he can find in his new journey.

I am at peace now.  I know I gave me as much as I could, without compromising my own family and wellbeing.  I know I did my best.

So, here’s what I suggest if you need to practice self-compassion:

Remember, you do the best you can in any given circumstance.  We are always learning and growing.  Each experience provides new lessons and opportunities to evolve.  You are being the best you at any given time.

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  Are you as generous with yourself as you  are with loved ones? Do you speak to yourself as kindly as you do your friends and family?  If not, what do you expect to gain from punishing yourself?  We learn more when relaxed and open.  You deserve love too.

If you seek guidance, watch for it.  It may appear in your surroundings in a lesson from a mentor, in a feeling you just know to be true, or in an image or message you seem to hear repeatedly.  Practice connecting to your intuition.  You’ll be surprised at how much it reveals.  The wise voice deep inside knows the truth, and if given the floor, will stand up in your favor.

 

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Holding onto Hope While the World Implodes

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An airplane carrying almost 300 passengers shot down over Ukraine. Parents sending their children away, because detention at the US border is more promising than life amid Central American violence and poverty. Palestinian children gunned down while playing on the beach. Eat that with your oatmeal this morning. All this heartbreak and heaviness brought right to our fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

 

So, I am shutting it out and sending love to the victims. I’m instituting a news limitation in my house. Especially around my 7 year old. I spend many evenings soothing her worries. Will we have water to drink? Always? Why are the polar bears and bees dying? Why do some grown-ups hurt kids? I’m afraid someone will break into our house during the night, Mom. I weave a quilt of comforting responses to concerns that also chill me.  I do whatever I can to divert the constant assault on her innocence. Or on both of our optimism.  Both are precious.

 

Vitamin H.  Hope doesn’t just feel good.  It helps keep us healthy.

 

One of my favorite recent reads was a book entitled, “Mind Over Medicine”, by Dr. Lissa Rankin. She has collected data and explored the effect that mindset and beliefs have on health. She eloquently illustrates the importance of optimism to wellbeing by pointing out its association with longer life expectancy, improved immunity, dramatically lower rates of heart disease, less depression, and happier relationships. Who doesn’t want to experience all of these benefits? Let’s keep the hope rolling!

 

But, HOW?

 

How do we keep our attitudes on the upswing in the face of all this global pain? I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to spend my life fearing the next crisis or terrorist attack. I want to wake up excited for opportunity, for improvement, for growth. I subscribe to the belief that focusing on the positive will create even more positive, and that immersion in darkness makes happiness seem elusive. I’m not saying to pretend it’s not out there.  Pain is part of life.  When pain visits, feel it, listen to it, acknowledge it, give it the time it needs, but know that in the end, it will all be okay.  Remember that the difficulties pass.  Life moves on.  Keep the faith.

 

Keeping Hope Afloat:

 

  1. Be very selective in what you feed your absorbent mind. Take a break from the news and downer discussions if you are feeling overwhelmed or sad.  Dose yourself with the positive. Say YES to any depiction of:

–       laughter

–       compassion

–       learning

–       connection

–       love

 

  1. Notice beauty in everyday moments, like:

–       the joy in your dog’s face when you say the word, “walk”

–       the smell of your favorite meal cooking in the kitchen

–       the feel of cool grass on your bare feet

–       sharing raucous laughter with friends

–       lying down in a bed with fresh sheets

 

  1. Set aside time each day for quiet contemplation. Find stillness in your breath, your heartbeat, and your thoughts. Know that no matter what happens around you, you will be fine. It will all be okay. You have an endless reserve of  peace that lies inside of you.

 

  1. Imagine solutions. If we spent more time discussing fixes instead of the problems, we’d be a happier bunch, and we’d get a lot more solved.  Keep moving forward.  Don’t get stuck in the misery or hardship of an event.

 

  1. Exercise in a way that makes you feel free. For some, running is the ultimate cathartic. For others, the solid thuck of a tennis ball smacking against a racket brings satisfaction. For me, nothing is better than dancing the day or night away. Whatever it is that gives you that happy escape, do it. Regularly.  Better yet, have a few activities from which to choose, and mix it up.

 

  1. Help others. Buy someone a few more minutes of metered parking. Help a friend move. Surprise your mom with a letter of appreciation. Give a few hours at the community food bank. Be a positive force in a world hungry for it.

 

  1. Soak in each happy moment and let it absorb completely into every cell of your being. Immerse yourself completely in the time you spend laughing, feeling peace, and loving. Appreciate the many, many positives in life. The more we look for them, the more we realize they surround us.

 

Life is filled with frightening, infuriating, and tragic events. Let them remind you that there are no guarantees in life. Instead of letting the trying times terrify you, use them to motivate you to be and do your best.  To love bigger, hug tighter, laugh harder, and to make the most of the time we have.  Push your limits past your fears and shine more. Take every opportunity to counter the bad with good, and help foster hope in ourselves and in others.

I choose to tuck my daughter in bed at night and share stories of happy times, overcoming challenges, strength, and love. I want her to incorporate these messages into choices she makes and the way she views the world around her.  Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give to others.

How do you stay hopeful?  I’d love to hear!

Really, Einstein? Ditch my People?

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If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”   – Albert Einstein

I’ve never really connected with this quote.  It seems like such a pessimistic point of view.  Like the way to be happy is to create distance from our people and favorite things and attach to achievement.  Goodbye, whiskers on kittens.

Today, I ran into it again and it took on a whole different flavor.  It made sense.  Either I’ve become more Einstein-like (very likely), or perhaps I’ve evolved emotionally another notch (I’ll take this option as well).  You might be thinking that I’ve barricaded myself away from my family and have donated my favorite pillow to a good cause, but I’ve done neither.  I’m actually living quite happily surrounded by both.

The past month has been a bit funky.  Not George Clinton, good funky, but funky in a disturbing way.  My roof surrendered to the rain.  My garbage disposal quit, and my pipes clogged.  Water rerouted to all the wrong places.  A passing ruffian removed my super-cute, berry-colored Kate Spade purse gifted to me by my family from my possession.  He took it from my car through the passenger side door and made a run for it.  I happened to be sitting in the driver’s seat at the time.  One of my children, who shall remain unnamed, created a bit of drama.  Nothing major, but enough to make waves in the household for a couple of days.  There is a chance my husband and I had different ideas about how to manage this disruption.  Funky.  Funky, but fine.

But guess what?  All is well.  Great, even.  We have a shiny new roof on the way.  I’ll be sure to have friends over for a glass of wine and some roof viewing when it’s ready.  What fun!  The water is all running appropriately now.  I’ve pulled an oldie but goodie of a bag out of retirement.  It’s dotted with memories.  A formerly beautiful leather tote spattered with spit-up, spills, and wear to boast a fine patina.  A kind woman discovered my pink purse in the bushes and returned it to me, noting that we ladies need to stick together.  She filled me with soul-felt appreciation.  It was drenched with rainwater, but also contained my keychain from my first day at Barnard College and some photos that miraculously survived the water.

My anonymous child created an opportunity for renewed communication in the family.  “How was your day?” “Good.” “Fine.” “Okay.” was momentarily replaced with talk about expectations, love, emotions, and the stuff of self-help books.  We, too, became shiny for a while.  I’m pretty sure we’ve upgraded and are all a bit closer now, too.

So, Einstein, I see your point.  My most important goal is to appreciate the good in life, to keep happy memories close to my heart, and roll with the adventures we face with grace and to learn the lessons they hurl our way.  Possessions are ruined, stolen, and lost.  People make mistakes and may disappoint.  Life’s funky foibles can serve to expose what really matters and wash away the cluttering debris.  Beneath the stained, aged, and sometimes battered exterior of our lives lies an intricately woven web of memories, connections, feelings, and growth.  My take on this quote?  Stockpile in your memory those experiences that have set your soul aglow, love deeply, ride out the bumps, and you will develop a fine patina of happiness.