Becoming untethered

This is a print I bought from Alexandra Miller, a young artist I met in 2015. I remember her being almost painfully introverted as we completed the transaction, perhaps surprised that I’d taken such an interest in this print. It’s a piece that I imagine most find heavy, almost grotesque.

The second I saw it, I told others that I saw hope. 

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A note of gratitude

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I am so thankful for the life I have right now. No buts. No conditionals. I am simply thankful. In less than an hour, the kid and I will be on the way to spend Thanksgiving with family in Connecticut. In a year where I learned that nothing is guaranteed or permanent, I will disconnect and wade through that imperfectly beautiful chaos that family often is, so that I can cherish those moments of perfection that only family can be.

I encourage each of you to do the same. Put down your phones and be present where you are. We’ll all be here to enjoy your photos and stories on the flip side.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Know that I am thankful for the unique perspective each of you brings into my pretty amazing life.

Thank you, unconditionally

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My son opened our bedroom door this morning, with a “Happy Thanksgiving! Is it okay if I let Gem and Tigerlily in?”

“Of course,” we chimed back.

Within seconds, eight paws, two tails and a preteen turned our bed into a Thanksgiving morning of smiles, purrs, snuggles and laughter.

As I watched my son close his eyes and go nose-to-nose with an equally winky Tigerlily, my heart melted. The compassion that he has shown with our new kittens astounds me as I watch their mutual bond, pure and unconditional, grow each day. Read More

Blessings, rearranged

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I smiled as I walked up to the drug store clerk earlier this week, placing a handful of items on the counter and greeting her with a simple, “Good morning. How are you today?”

She replied, smiling even more broadly than I was, “I’m blessed. Thank you.”

Her simple words have been bouncing around in my head ever since. How many times do I give a neutral or even negative answer when someone asks me how I’m doing? Far too often, a can’t complain or hanging in there slips off my tongue without consideration.

I thought of the store clerk this afternoon as I stood outside watching the sky swirl above me, feeling the energy of the fast-moving storm front that had already left permanent scars on communities to the west and would soon wreak havoc closer to home. She surely had endured her own storms that left her life rearranged, yet somehow full of blessings. Would there be people that will emerge today from tangled homes and among strewn possessions, feeling blessed?

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Violent cells had passed north and south of us, sparing us damage. I walked through the garden after the storm passed, under crystal blue skies filled with amber sunlight, my thoughts with those not as unscathed. I watched as strong wind gusts continuously shuffled leaves across the lawn, simultaneously destroying one but creating another beautiful mosaic of yellow, brown and green at each pause.

I wondered for a moment if that was the secret to the store clerk’s positive outlook — the ability to always see blessings, rearranged.

 

Flipping the turkey. Giving. Thanks. Happy.

There are entire bookstore sections dedicated to the subject of finding happiness. I’ve certainly browsed through a few of these tomes, even consuming some of them in their entirety. Some of them resonated with me; others fell on unresponsive emotions. But none of them gave me the answer. Where is happiness and how do you find it?

I think I’ve answered that question for myself. For me, happiness isn’t a thing to a acquire. It isn’t a place to locate. Happiness is simply an effect, a feeling that happens when I get what I want out of life.

So the question really is: What do I want out of life? It’s taken me a little over 40 years, but I finally answered that question.

I want to make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

This year has been one of great personal and professional change for me, most of which has afforded me the opportunities to make that difference I crave. This Thanksgiving, it feels like I’ve finally discovered the secret to my own happiness. Those days when I give of myself and am thankful for the opportunities I have, I find happiness. It’s that simple.

I call it flipping the turkey — reversing the traditional holiday greeting of Happy Thanksgiving.

Practice giving every day. Expressing thanks with every sunset. Find happy within yourself.

 

Opening your eyes to the masterpiece

When asked what I enjoy most about living in the Midwest, I always include autumn sunsets near the top of the list. I don’t know whether it’s a pure meteorological phenomenon or caused by the large amount of soil and dust in the air from harvest, but we are regularly treated to breathtaking views. It’s easy to get spoiled by these natural spectacles and feel disappointed when the day ends without a masterpiece on the horizon.

Last night as I was coming home from work, the sky looked destined to disappoint. Wispy clouds scattered among the blue had held promise earlier in the day, but by dusk had been replaced by a thickening grey soup that shrouded the sun. I still decided to drive past our subdivision and find my way out west of town. Something in me whispered that I would have to work harder to find the day’s masterpiece.

I stopped along a country road near a small stand of trees and stepped out with my camera. The remaining light was slowly sliding past the horizon. I wasn’t sure any of the photos would be worth keeping, but I kept adjusting my frame and focus trying to capture the moment. When I returned home to process the photos, I was surprised to find a subtle range of color on the horizon — even more than my eyes had seen.

As I sit here on Thanksgiving morning, I am overwhelmed for what I have to be thankful. This past year has been a true gift to me, one of the best years of my life. It was not without tumult and pain, both personal and professional. But it has been a year in which I learned a great deal about myself, and who I am meant to be. It has been a year that taught me the lesson that made me keep driving last night: The essence of life isn’t just about finding inspiration in the breathtaking. It’s about opening your eyes to the subtle masterpiece constantly in view.

A solitary emotion

I sit here in bed at 4 a.m. on Thursday morning, awakened by the familiar sound of the weekday alarm on my iPhone. However, this is no ordinary weekday, and the alarm was not set for me. The alarm signaled the start of Thanksgiving Day, when my wife would drag herself, after just four hours of sleep, to the kitchen to help her mother make the final preparations for the feast around which this entire day orbits.

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Of hope and daffodils

A few weeks ago, we instituted a rule in our house where no one is allowed to use electronics between dinner and the time our son goes to bed. We had slipped into a pattern where the kid would play his Nintendo DS all evening, and my wife and I would cuddle up with our laptops, her on Hulu, me doing some form of social media. All of a sudden it would be bedtime, and we’d barely spoken a word to each other.
The no electronics rule has been a wonderful addition by subtraction. We are playing games together, reading books, and generally interacting more than we have in a long while. Despite the kid’s occasional “I can’t think of anything to do” or the serious temptation to pick up my iPhone just “to check in” with Facebook or Twitter, it has completely changed — for the better — how our family weekday evenings function.

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From one gardener to another

In my mind, there is very little that compares to the generosity of gardeners. Whether it’s the sharing of plant divisions or picking up and extra flat of annuals as a gift for one of our friends of the soil, gardeners seem to be genuinely interested in spreading good will in the form of seeds, roots and blooms.

Yesterday was no exception. A fellow gardener and friend who attended my birthday celebration last night came bearing a gift wrapped in small pot. Inside, I was pleased to find five Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs. This particular Allium displays 4″ round, lilac-colored flower heads on 24-36″ stems. I’ve never grown Allium in my garden, but have always admired it in other locations, so I’m eagerly looking forward to next May when I can enjoy the flowers.

Today, I planted the bulbs along the base of the ‘Fat Albert’ blue spruce (Picea pungens), behind Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) in our front border. The spruce should provide a nice textural backdrop for the Allium flowers and the color will complement the nearby Baptisia australis.

I hope I can return my friend and fellow gardener’s generosity in the near future.