Ode to Autumn

There is something magical about the change of seasons. Particularly the change from the oppressive heat of the Summer to the brisk, brightly colored, candle lit feeling of Autumn. The moment the weather turns you feel it. You walk out into the crisp morning air and you know fall has arrived. The multitude and monotony of the many shades of green suddenly transform into every imaginable color of the rainbow – from bright red and orange to yellow, green and plum purple. Temperatures that would have had us excitedly donning shorts at the start of the summer, are suddenly justification for pulling out sweaters and slacks and dreaming of winter coats. It is the start of the season that contains all of the major holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. A time for friends and family and sugar cookies.

Even the labor of raking leaves feels like a labor of love the first time you do it, bringing with it a flood of childhood memories. The very smell of the air – wood burning chimney smoke, dead leaves, evergreen sap, pumpkin and zucchini bread – fills your nose with delight like a fine wine or dark chocolate fills your mouth. This is a time for remembering and a time for creating new memories.

What are some of your favorite Autumn memories?

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Overcoming Fear

Lately I have been contemplating fear. Not as an entity in and of itself, but rather as an opportunity to overcome. There is no bravery without first encountering fear. If there is nothing to overcome, than we have not conquered, we have merely attained. And the level of satisfaction gained from conquering an obstacle against all odds and overcoming our fear of failure is far greater than living with a”better safe than sorry” mentality that lets our fear get the better of us and, in the face of failure or foe, backs down and waits for something more easily attainable to present itself. This choice is ever-present in our daily lives, from the smallest difficulties to the biggest decisions.

My son faces this decision to conquer or retreat multiple times a day as he attempts to overcome his fear of the dark. Sometimes fear gets the better of him . . . sometimes he of it. And his reaction, in the end, is remarkably more exuberant when he succeeds. If he discovers there is something he really wants in his room, but he has to go down the dark hallway to get it, he can either overcome his fear and at least make it to the light switch or he can beg me to come with him all the way down the hall. If he manages to do it himself, get the prize he was after, and make it back to me in one piece, he will inevitably squeal, “Mommy, I did it all myself!” and the object he went to get will hold his attention far longer than if I had gone with him to get it. It’s value was increased by the method in which it was attained. What a simple little picture of the decisions we as adults face on a regular basis.

In discussing with my husband whether or not we should try to have another child, we found many reasons to be afraid. What if we can’t afford it? What if something goes wrong and the baby is not healthy? We have been so lucky with Aiden and our experiences with him have been a remarkable journey of parenting. What if the next one is not the same? What if we can’t love him/her as much? What if our life is too unsettled? We are, after all, trying to sell the house and the car, and are constantly considering career paths . . . and so on. But no time is ever perfect. Life is never settled or ideal. And the benefits can be so wonderful. For Aiden, for us as a family and as parents. Do we let fear make that decision for us or do we overcome our fear of the unknown for the growth and betterment of our family? We chose to overcome, come what may.

We were also faced with a choice this week of whether or not to make an offer on a new house, contingent on the sale of ours. The whole scenario will only work well if we dramatically reduce the price of our house to one that is more comparable with those of our neighborhood so that we can sell it quickly before the house we want sells out from under us. However, if we reduce the price of ours, we can’t reasonable raise it again. So we will be stuck in that price range, and only able to afford houses that are somewhat less than our ideal should this offer fall through. It is a gamble. But do we fold before the flop, and pass on this house that is a great opportunity at a great price because we are afraid we might lose it? Or do we try our best and let the chips fall where they may? We stayed in the game.

If we can approach life mindful of our fears, but not ruled by them, constantly seeking ways to overcome and grow stronger, then we will live a life with few regrets, knowing we tried and that is the best we can do.

Just Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain!

I came across this quote recently that resonated with me in a big way:

In trying to find who the quote was attributed to, I quickly discovered that it is a rather clichéd saying that can be found on such kitschy items as pillows and coffee mugs, calendars and cookie jars. But as I have said before, often times things are clichéd for a reason. Because they express or embody something that rings true for so many of us. This is certainly the case here. Life is full of storms. We cannot avoid them. They come and go and hopefully they make us stronger. And, to quote another cliché, often when it rains it pours. In those times, when we feel completely flooded by the storms life brings, it is all too easy to wallow in a nearby puddle. To spend more time whining to our spouse or coworkers or friends then we spend trying to find a solution. I am as guilty of this as anyone. But this simple little quote is a reminder to stop sitting on the sidelines, safe and dry, waiting for things to get better and start making them better. Get out in the thick of it and turn an affliction to joy. Don’t drag your feet through the water and wish things were different, dance in it. Jump and shout and scream if you have to, but dance!

A Date to Remember

Recently, my husband and I stepped back in time for a few hours on a date that was both nostalgic and present-affirming. Although most of our fellow date patrons, having a median age of about 60, were probably not affirming the present so much as reliving the past. The date consisted of a matinée movie on an old and rather pixellated projector. It was shown at the local planetarium that has most likely not been updated for decades. They were serving locally brewed beer and classic candy in the lobby as they waited on us to take our seats before starting the movie. And to top it all off, the movie itself, ‘Midnight in Paris‘, was directed by none other that Woody Allen. If that doesn’t inspire nostalgia, I don’t know what will. But the irony of the whole experience was that the message of the film was about not living in the past. So many of us tend to view our own generation with the opposite of rose-colored glasses.  We eye each other with a cynicism that loudly exclaims how much worse we have it now than they did back in the day. How many of us have sighed and thought to ourselves that we were just born in the wrong era. If only we could experience the golden age of (fill in the blank). Or perhaps it’s not a time period that you covet so much as a location. If only we could live in Paris!  The air is pink there and music fills every street. Inspiration would flow freely and unabated and life would be so much better than it is here in (fill in the blank). But the truth is, as the film so beautifully illustrated, life is what we make of it. Despite how it seems sometimes, the grass is not always greener elsewhere. Generations prior to us also believed that they had it much more difficult than the generations prior to them . . . and so on and so on. If we are constantly envying people for their position or place, then we fail to see and experience the things that people will envy us for later.  This is the central theme of my blog. Learning to appreciate and really live now the things we’ll reminisce about later.  And then, when we do reminisce, it will not be a wistful longing for what might have been, but a happy remembrance of what actually was.  ‘Midnight in Paris’ was such a beautiful illustration of this idea that, although I could never claim comradery with such a brilliant man as Woody Allen, I felt it was to the world of film what I aspire this blog to be for its genre.  If you haven’t seen it, make every effort to do so.  It will make you smile and appreciate your life for what it is and not for what it might have been or could be. 

Compliments or Criticisms?

There is extraordinary power in the words we speak to one another. Be they negative or affirming, they are capable of completely making or breaking a moment, a day, a relationship. This, of course, is more true of some of us than others. I am a word person. I have never taken any of the “love languages” tests, but if I did, I feel fairly confident that ‘words of affirmation’ would be the primary vocabulary in which I speak. (‘Receiving gifts’ would be second, but that’s an entirely different blog post!) My husband, on the other hand, is an ‘acts of service’ kind of guy. He will do whatever needs doing without blinking an eye. He thrives on taking care of me and our son. Need groceries? He will go, after a long day at work, to get them in order to spare me the hassle of going with a toddler. Is there a huge mess after the elaborate supper I just created? He’ll clean it all up while Aiden and I play so that I don’t have to cook and clean. Getting behind on the laundry? He can do it while listening to a podcast (one of his favorite pastimes), so no biggie! I know that I am extremely lucky. Many women would kill for what I have. I recognize these things are a demonstration of love that I would never trade. Unfortunately, they just don’t speak to me as a gesture of affection. Whereas a note left by my coffee in the morning will make my entire day. Or an offhanded remark about my outfit will make me feel sexy for a week. Why is it that such seemingly frivolous things seem to speak so much more loudly to me than practical things that really matter? I think the answer lies in the availability, or lack thereof, of such affirming words. Not just between husbands and wives but in all types of relationships. We as a society are, unfortunatly, not in the practice of lifting one another up – being generally encouraging or even interested in others. And this lact of verbalizing about things we admire, makes the rare compliment seem so unusual and valuable. I want to change this aspect of society. Every time I think something nice about someone else, I want to have the nerve to speak it, knowing it will probably make their day.

We tend to be so much better about doing this naturally with children. “Good job, sweetheart! What a beautiful picture you drew!” And yet, for some reason, we assume that, as adults, we just don’t need encouragement. We’ve all got this thing called life down pat by now, we shouldn’t need someone telling us what a good job we’re doing at it. But even if we don’t need the encouragement to succeed, it sure makes the path so much more rewarding! My husband recently went on a short business trip and when he returned, he seemed to be buzzing for days. When I asked him where all his positive energy was coming from, he said that he had met someone on his trip who was exceptionally good at being interested in and encouraging everyone that he met. And it was sincere and uplifting and inspiring. Why are people like this so rare? Why do we find it so hard to say nice things about and to one another? Shouldn’t this be the norm rather than the exception? I have a friend who taught me to fly a remote control helicopter. I was a natural, if I do say so myself, but I didn’t have to say so myself because he said it to me. As I was leaving, he kissed me on the head and said I did such a good job and that it was rare for someone so new to flying to do so well. Such a small and insignificant thing, but it made me feel good for days. I hope and pray we are training our son well in this aspect of life and relationships. And lately, he’s been complimenting me at such a rate, that I think we are succeeding. The other day as he was bent over for me to wipe his booty, he said, “Oooh, mama, I yuv your bootiful shoes!” I smiled all day. Later that week as I was trying on some clothes at a thrift store, he repeatedly told me, “I yike dat one! Dat one’s nice mama!” And these are not just the cute nothings of a two year old. They mean something! Perhaps we should all take note and learn to praise with the unreserved honesty of a child. If we complimented half as much as we criticized, we’d probably all feel a lot better about ourselves . . . or at least our footwear.