Be Thankful for Life

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Yesterday was Memorial Day and it was, of course, a day filled with parades, picnics and lots of celebrations all over America. Families coming together to grill out, open pools and herald the coming of Summer. Thankfully, many also remembered the real reason for the day, to remember our fallen soldiers. Yes, that’s the true reason for the day we take to put the world on hiatus.

The bittersweet pictures of the day: wreaths being laid at cemeteries, flags at half-staff, somber bands marching to the quiet echo of a lone drum beat.  Remembering those who gave their life for us. No matter what challenges or struggles we think we have, there is someone out there who has given more to enjoy this day. Remember him or her as you face this pseudo-Monday. They are most grateful for one more day.

Outrageous lives don’t always come in big red bows filled with every hope and dream come true. Sometimes, they are found on the road less taken — or the road not chosen — where challenge, struggle and disappointment await. When the dreams you had get ripped away, unexpectedly, and replaced with ones you could not fathom. That road, where the scenery is foreign and the terrain horribly difficult, brings a renewed hope and spirit. It will help you discover strengths and abilities you otherwise would have never known you possess. It will bring a new, outrageous life that, while completely unplanned and unexpected, is one you can be eternally grateful for each day given.

Remember our fallen. Remember those who struggle. And be thankful for life.

Tears and Stains

Tea Party PicTears fell like raindrops and I don’t cry. Not very often, anyhow. Worse, I really wasn’t sure why I was crying and I knew if I could pinpoint the cause, I could heal the hurt.

It started when my daughter was sharing with me the details of her day at school on the drive home. It was Friday night and the next day, we were hosting an afternoon tea at our home for two of her favorite teachers as a thank you for an awesome year. After weeks of careful planning, days of final preparation, and with the amazing help of another Mother, it was almost time for the big event and the excitement in the air was as thick as the icing on the lemon cupcakes we had just finished baking.

As we drove home, she retold that her classmates were excited about the coming party: what they would wear, what treats we would be eating, rules of “pinkies out” when sipping tea, etc. It sounded like our efforts to make it special were, indeed, paying off. But then the bomb: one child made it clear she would not be coming. Evidently, any event at our home was deemed “too stupid” to waste time on.

With tears in her eyes, my daughter told me how she listened to this no-longer-innocent child prattle on about how she and her mother would never come to anything at our house and that if we were having a party, it would be the last place they would be. How “they didn’t like us” and they wouldn’t come to anything we did. I tried to hide my surprise at the candor of such words from a child.

My shock was replaced by compassion. My daughter, in her ‘wise beyond her years’ innocence, tells me that she “tried to explain that it wasn’t a party for us, but for the teachers and that she should come for them.” Evidently, that didn’t make any impact on their conversation. In wrapping up our discussion, my daughter tells me, “we need to pray for them, Mom. Their hearts have dark spots.”

An event for little girls, all intended to lovingly celebrate friendship, femininity and fantastic role models took a pause for a moment. I cried. Not because someone didn’t want to come to my home, or celebrate these beautiful children and their amazing teachers. I just cried and I honestly didn’t know why.

Planning a tea party was something my daughter and one of her friends talked about early in their school year. They thought it would be fun to get dressed up, invite their classmates, mothers and the teachers to celebrate the end of the school year. I thought it was a great idea and agreed to hold it in our house. It didn’t hurt that I am a hoarder of antique dishes and love to cook; my daughter secretly knew Mommy would handle all of “the details.”

Pulling off such an event with a 10-year-old co-planner was no easy feat! We had many a laugh over what food to serve, what drinks were acceptable and how to set the tables. Chocolate-covered strawberries won out over sugar cookies, the latter declared “too boring”. She removed my flower cut-out PBJ sandwiches at the last minute, citing concerns that “someone might have a peanut allergy” and reinforcing the impact of the modern-day lunchroom to me.

When it was all said and done, we couldn’t have pulled off a more wonderful event. The giggles and laughter of the little girls’ voices rang through the house like a melody. Seeing little ones have ‘a little tea with their sugar’ was by far the highlight! Especially the youngest, who ultimately opted to skip the cup and go straight from sugar bowl to mouth – with sterling sugar tongs – one cube at a time. A ‘Game of Graces’ and an enthralling storyteller recalled some yesteryear fun. I don’t think anyone went through a single moment of PlayStation withdrawal all afternoon!

The conversations with the teachers and other Moms were the relaxed and easy sort that made me wish I had thought to do this at the beginning of the year, rather than at the end. Everyone was simply able to enjoy the moment, without the demands of the day that our rushed schoolyard exchanges bring. Such lovely women – of all ages – to be able to stop and put the world on pause with was just the blessing I needed.

And it wasn’t until late that evening, as I sat pre-treating a mountain of linen napkins – all covered with lipstick, strawberry juice and chocolate stains – that the emotions of the day came flooding back. Working on each napkin, trying to guess who it might have belonged to for the afternoon by the amount of stains and reflecting on the highlights of the day, I found myself in a moment of quiet solitude. Chocolate and strawberry stains from little girls wash away so easily; teaching bitterness and hatred do not.

It saddens me so that there are those in the world who choose not to see beauty and kindness for what they are. Who allow their own issues to poison the innocence of young children and deny them the carefree childhood they deserve to have. My tears were not for the people who may not like me, my child, or chose to be a part of a gathering in my home. No, my tears are for a beautiful little girl who is being shown that a life of mean-spirited and manipulative behavior is acceptable and my heart grieves for the sadness that must fill her tomorrows.

Our little party was a success, but the life lessons it taught will live forever and fill my prayers for many, many nights to come.

Less is More; Taking Cues from Our Past

be5d0657a9823b3f8dc9b77576f21f01I found myself giddy reading this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal. It appears that being conservative might be considered the new radical — at least from a fashion perspective. It seems all my twin-sets, skirt suits, Ferragamo heels and the double-strand of pearls that belonged to my grandmother are a much-desired staple for the fashion-forward set. Silly me, I just thought I was being stubbornly conservative.

I’ve been told time and time again that fashion is, indeed a big carousel; wait long enough and the designs you like will come around again.I’m tickled to see this particular turn-about come round; I’m a big believer in the theory of showing less is more. My mother taught me well, and I am trying to do the same with my own young daughter: teach that the mystery of what you cannot see is an awful lot more intriguing than just putting it all out there on display. The aura of the unknown makes the discovery process worth the challenge to pursue; the subtle learning and knowledge that comes with each step of the reveal is what life is all about. Put it all up for everyone to get right out of the chute and it is really rather anticlimactic.

“Ladylike is the ultimate sexiness.” –Christopher Kane

Of course, it isn’t just fashion that embraces the culture of over sharing; social media is run rampant with horrifying examples of poor judgment and utterly bad discretion. Pictures posted on Twitter and Facebook live forever. Forever. Many a college admission test, job interview or background security check came to a screeching halt thanks to one simple moment of lapsed thinking. Just search the hashtag #overshare on Twitter if you don’t believe me. The world is screaming for restraint!

When I think back to my childhood, the icons of my youth weren’t the flash-in-the-pan celebrities of the time. I am sure, if I thought long and hard, I might come up with a name or two of people who made some sort of impression (good or bad!) in the recesses of my mind. But when I stop and think for even a second, about the names and faces that made an indelible impression on me at a young age, the women who made themselves known for being ladies, first, come to mind: Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Katherine Hepburn, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana of Wales. These women were graceful, well-spoken, fashionable, discrete with their private lives and put others above self. To this day, I find myself pausing when I see photos or articles about any of them, hungry to learn more about their lives and the passions that fueled them. Their modicum of discretion and poise continue to stand the test of time.

I hope our society — and not just our fashion — is taking a turn from this current over-exposed lifestyle that abounds. It would be nice to bring a little restraint back into the way we live, work and play. Toning down our ostentatious ways – especially those who continue to live their lives of excess on other people’s time, money and generosity – is damaging society at large. We all must find a way to appreciate the value of the restrained life that will allow us to all reap rewards for years to come.

In the WSJ article, twenty-six-year-old designer Wes Gordon sums it up well: “It’s good to be a little mysterious in the over-crowded, overexposed world we live in now.” Well said, Wes!

Stop Waiting for Permission!

525898_4022546921516_1299898072_n“Mother, May I” is a game we all played when we are children. Because at a young age, we love to imitate life, the idea of a game where one player is the authority figure and the rest are the willing subjects, waiting for permission to do the most mundane of tasks is fun. But we aren’t children and life isn’t a game. Fulfilling our hopes and dreams doesn’t come at the bequest of another’s permission and if you are still sitting around waiting for someone else to tell you it is ok, to succeed, stop waiting for permission! Go out there and just do it!

Richard Feynman received the Nobel Price in 1965 for his work in Physics. He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb and was a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel who investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. A professor in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, he was a born teacher.

Long after this death in 1988, his daughter, Michelle Feynman published  a collection of letters found in his personal files. In the book , Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, the younger Feynman edits a series of letters between her father and a young scientist, Koichi Mano. The exchange is extraordinary; Mano is discouraged by his work on “humble and down-to-earth” projects and Feynman is a mountain of encouragement and gentle discipline.

“No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.”

He offers Mano examples of his own career, where it took countless tries to work on simple, seemingly trivial projects that others might call humble, but which he enjoyed and felt good about doing. The sense of accomplishment that comes from the little wins can carry you through until you realize the ultimate victory you are working toward. But you have to give yourself permission to keep trying and to keep the goal you have in focus.  Despite his discouragement and feelings of insignificance, Mano and Feynman continued their letter writing back and forth. In his final letter, the Professor offered some amazingly sage advice:

“You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself. – it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly…”

All through life we have people who tells us what we should and shouldn’t do. They set standards for us as to what is and is not acceptable; what success looks like and how we should approach life in some pre-determined order to meet the standards of acceptable society. Teachers, parents, college admissions officers, human resources directors, peer review panels and the like all set these blasted rules in place that we all follow blindly like ants to the nest. I say step out and create your own path!

I’ll bet no one told F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the Great Gatsby in his twenties, or gave I. M. Pei approval to propose the glass pyramid as a part of the grand renovation of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Taking risks and stepping outside of the restrictive box of convention and rules is where the walls of the mundane life fall away and the outrageously wonderful life begins. Stop waiting for permission and go seize your day!

Teach and Model the Skills That Matter Most

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All across America, you can tell it is Spring by the burgeoning population at the local ball fields. It seems everywhere you turn, athletic fields are filled on evenings and weekends with children of all ages learning to pitch, hit, catch and throw. Proud parents and grandparents have come to watch, cheer and encourage their budding athletes as they develop their skills fill the parking lots of overflowing. Spring has sprung, indeed!

I am the daughter of a dedicated athlete. My father played just about any sport – and very well – that you could challenge him with. From the time he was a young man, if he wasn’t playing, he was coaching; when he wasn’t coaching, he worked tirelessly to ensure the youth of my rural community would have access to ballfields and sporting programs that continue today. That was his legacy, to leave behind the opportunity for others to play, learn and grow as young men and women on the ballfield. He helped build a softball complex and seed the youth football program that ultimately became the high school football program of my hometown. He loved sports and said that the character one developed on the field, they would take with them for the rest of their life.

I spent many a night digging in a dirt pile while my Dad helped erect fencing or construct dugouts and concession stands at the local field. Riding on a tractor, dragging an old metal bedspring as a way to groom the outfield to prepare it for seeding and listening to Dad share his vision for what he and his fellow Jaycees could build is a memory forever etched in my mind. Those men knew the value of sports, fellowship and community and they left no stone unturned until they built it for their friends and neighbors. That early facility, primitive as it was in today’s standards, was an important outdoor classroom for many youth.

Sporting programs today shouldn’t need signs like the community of Lee have had to place on their ballfield. It is a shame that so many have forgotten that leading and guiding the young men and women of tomorrow comes in many forms: part skill development and part behavior. The drills, plays and practices are no less important than the respect, language and teamwork behaviors that are honed both on and off the field. How parents and fans interact with the players and the umpires set examples these young men and women will pattern themselves after for the rest of the lives. How coaches motivate and discipline these young minds will set in place future character traits of business leaders, parents and the coaches of tomorrow. How players treat each other: encouraging, assisting, sharing their talents, lifting up those less skilled, etc., all become life lessons of how society will behave in the not-too-distant future.

Few young men and women will leave the ballfields of this season and go on to play in Little League World Series, earn college scholarships or make it to the professional level. But all will leave to go on to lead everyday lives as a part of humankind. Their lives will require them to take risks and go deep in the outfield for the big play; not always coming up with the ball. They will sometimes hit home runs on the way to their destiny but will strike out equally often, if not more. Life will deliver lots of bad calls, foul balls and opponents who grease their bat and cheat to win. How are they being prepped today for those situations?

Make sure the education they are getting on the ballfield prepares them for how to handle life graciously. Ensure they are learning now how to stand up to their fears and be ready for the big play. Give them the passion and hunger for life to ensure that they always have their equipment in good condition and at the ready, so that at any moment they can take the call get in the game to win! Ensure that they don’t encounter every rotten situation with the flailing of arms and the screaming of obscenities; that there are better ways to handle disappointment and the inconsistencies of life that will come.

I love baseball and the opportunities that play brings both on and off the field. Dad always said you could tell the character of a man by how he carried himself on the field. My Dad, he was one heck of a good judge of character!