For the past few months I’ve been trying to help my teenage son cope with the sudden death of his father. I’ve also been dealing with my own emotions, along with some changes in our lives. I suspect that nearly all of you have experienced loss or hardships, so you know what it’s like to be knee-deep in challenges.
During this unsettled season, the garden has blossomed like crazy in spite of just the barest efforts from me. After ten years of moving gravel and hacking at clay clods and digging in compost, this is the year the garden chose to reward us with a most glorious display. I know there is a lesson in there somewhere, or maybe not exactly a lesson but a reminder of the startling beauty and hope that can appear at unexpected times.
The other silver lining is that I feel blessed with some of the most incredibly supportive family and friends on the planet. Our family has been so deeply comforted by the people who have lovingly cared for us. Being on the receiving end of their kindness has filled me with gratitude.
The Different Ways We Try to Help
A tragedy can bring out different reactions in people. Some people can’t cope and disappear, and I understand. Some imagine how they would handle a particular situation, and say things or offer advice in an effort to smooth over the pain. I’ve caught myself doing this in trying to comfort my son. The fact is that I can’t exactly understand his pain because my daddy passed away when I was 46 years old, not thirteen.
In times of trouble, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of others’ well-meaning-but-misguided suggestions and comments. My experience is that judgment from others in the midst of our grief adds uncertainty and feelings of guilt that are just too heavy to bear.
So I’ve been especially sensitive recently to the moments when I start to judge the actions of others. This is a habit I’m really working hard to break. I am not in someone else’s situation and I have not experienced their particular pain, so I am wholly unqualified to offer anything but empathy.
When a little righteous thought creeps in, I try to shut it right down and offer up a prayer instead. Or I do what Richard suggested to Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, and send thoughts of light and love.
To get out of my own head, I recently explored some other folks’ difficulties from an empathetic perspective.
Please Don’t Judge Me
A new business owner confides to his friend that he is exhausted from working long hours. “You need to delegate more, and stop trying to do everything yourself,” says the friend, who has never tried to start a business. Please don’t judge me, the entrepreneur thinks. You can’t imagine the responsibility I feel for each employee who’s working overtime, how tight our finances are, and the myriad moving parts I’m juggling that simply can’t be managed by anyone else.
A mother takes her mentally challenged son out for a quick cheeseburger. While they’re waiting to order, the boy starts screaming and knocks over a stack of plastic trays. The other patrons, whose children are not mentally challenged, look at her disapprovingly and shake their heads. Please don’t judge me, she thinks as they leave. You have no idea how isolated we feel. You can’t imagine how much I was hoping to successfully pull off this small outing. You don’t know how fiercely I love this boy, and how desperately I want him to have a good life.
A man learns that he has a cancerous tumor and must have his kidney removed. He is afraid, and asks for prayers about the surgery on a Facebook post. “Your attitude directly affects your health, so stay positive!” writes an acquaintance, who has never had cancer. “Remember that God gave you two kidneys!” writes another. Please don’t judge me, he thinks. You can’t imagine facing surgery and chemotherapy while trying to work and support a family. You don’t know what it’s like to look at your children and fear that your time with them may be cut short.
A woman is trying to work up the courage to leave her verbally abusive, unemployed husband. A long-married friend points out that at least he’s not physically abusive, and suggests that she keep working on her marriage for the sake of their children. Please don’t judge me, the woman thinks. You don’t know what I’ve endured, and how different he is behind closed doors. You can’t begin to imagine how scared I am to set this boundary and advocate for my safety and respect.
A couple loses their precious teenage daughter in an automobile accident. A decade later, they still sometimes feel sad and tear up when talking about her. The husband overhears a friend, who has never lost a child, say, “How long is this going to continue? Isn’t it about time they moved on? It’s been ten years.” Please don’t judge us, he thinks. She was our baby girl, and we never even had a chance to say goodbye. Time has lessened our pain, but we still miss her and think about her every single day.
Love is the Answer
Last week I wrote words of gratitude to a dear friend: “You listened to me, you let me cry, you cheered me up, you sent me a great book, you understood my difficult schedule and still made time to meet me for lunch and come over, and I’ve never felt like you had any judgment or criticism or agenda with me.”
Ahhh, what a blessed gift her support has been–and how it has buoyed me. Think of those who supported you at your darkest hour, and I bet they surrounded you similarly with love. When people are hurting and we don’t know how to respond, sometimes the finest thing we have to offer is gentleness and kindness.
As a result of my recent experiences, I hope to pay it forward and get better at giving simple love and solace when others are hurting.
How About You?
Was someone especially helpful and kind to you when you needed it most? What made you feel supported and loved?
Did you receive unsolicited advice, criticism or judgment during a tough time? How did you feel, and how did you respond?
I always love to hear your thoughts and experiences … and I hope your garden is thriving this summer, too.
Hugs and happy June,
My son’s last day of school was Friday, so we’re officially in Summer mode now. I’ve been thinking of how we might like to spend our 12 precious sunny weeks, because you know how quickly the days and weeks will fly by. So I thought I’d make a bucket list just for summertime. Would you like to make one, too?
Here’s what I hope to do this summer:
Go on a vacation to the beach.
Eat our fill of sweet corn, peaches, tomatoes, blueberries, and watermelon.
Take fun photographs. (For inspiration, I’m currently enjoying Andrea Scher’s wonderful Superhero Photo class.)
Learn something new.
Take the dogs to the dog park.
Make homemade ice cream.
Go to the mountains.
Read some great books. (I’m enjoying the novel Me Before You by Jojo Moyes this week, thanks to my dear friend Laura.)
Go on a road trip.
Play mini golf.
Lie in the grass and look at the stars.
Visit the farmer’s market.
Walk down to the park at dusk and try to spot the neighborhood Great Horned Owls.
Ride a Ferris wheel.
How about you? What’s on your summer bucket list? I’d love to hear your ideas and plans.
P.S. Grateful thanks to ILoveButter for the mouth-watering ice cream photo, and Groman123 for the colorful Ferris wheel photo.
This week, I’m giving away a brand new hardback copy of Barbara Ann Kipfer‘s latest book, 1,001 Ways to Live WILD. Barbara is the author of sixty books, including the mega-bestseller 14,000 Things to Be Happy About.
This 384-page book ($19.95, published by National Geographic) is a feast for the senses, from its pretty cover to the colorful borders to its delicate, nature-inspired illustrations. The pages are filled with a trove of creative ideas to help us experience more adventure in our everyday lives.
I don’t know about you, but I could definitely stand to get a little more WILD.
Some of Barbara’s suggestions are fun and whimsical:
159. Tour an airplane factory.
508. Learn how to spin a basketball on your finger.
766. Hug a tree and a person today.
Some of her ideas might require a little more planning:
234. Take a ride in a vintage biplane.
451. Sleep in a castle for a night.
852. Lounge around a thermal pool under the midnight sun in Iceland.
Some of her tips are challenging and thought-provoking:
315. Leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.
664. Live and act from the understanding that all things change.
930. Watching wildlife can reawaken senses dulled by the man-made world.
Woven among the tips are inspirational quotes (“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” – Scandinavian proverb) and short lists like “Natural Phenomena to Go Wild For” (Aurora borealis and volcanic lightning, for example).
If you open a random page of this book, you can’t help but be inspired to try something new and bring a little adventure into your life. This pretty volume would make a wonderful gift for just about anyone, from a newlywed couple to a recent retiree to a graduating senior.
To enter the drawing to win your own copy of 1,001 Ways to Live WILD, just answer this question in the Comments section of this post:
What’s one wild thing you’ve always wanted to do?
Whether you long to dye your hair purple or yodel from the top of the Swiss Alps or learn how to play the electric guitar, we all want to hear your wild bucket list ideas!
The drawing is open to readers in the U.S. who reply between now and Thursday, May 5 at midnight MST. I’ll do a random drawing and announce the winner the following day.
Grateful thanks to Barbara Ann Kipfer, TLC Book Tours and National Geographic Partners for providing the book for this giveaway.
As for me, I’m going to try practicing Barbara’s tip #394 today:
“Live in a simple, direct way, without cluttering your mind with hatred, judgment, worry, doubt, or want. Choose the experience of genuine happiness.”
Hugs and happy simple living,
Could writing a victory list help you prioritize, focus, and celebrate your accomplishments? Let me explain what I mean by ‘victory list’ and why I started writing one.
As I wrote previously, my son’s father passed away unexpectedly in February. The first couple of weeks after Jose’s death, I was in a fog of grief and trying to manage what felt like a hundred moving parts. Comforting my children. Making funeral plans. Embracing visitors. Writing thank you notes. Integrating a new dog into our family. Helping sort and move things from Jose’s apartment. Going to counseling appointments. Figuring out new routines. Adjusting to 24/7 life as a single parent.
Eventually things settled down, and then we were faced with our new daily reality. If you’ve ever experienced a difficult loss, you may relate to my realization that it didn’t matter if I woke up feeling blue — life relentlessly insisted that we go on.
That’s a good thing. It’s just not always an easy thing.
The counselor told me that I had to make time to care for myself, and while I knew she was right the practical application of how to do that was less clear. In those early, foggy days, I began writing a list of small accomplishments.
“Had a nice bath.”
“Went to church.”
“Enjoyed adult conversation and watched the sun set with Leslie.”
“Finished the taxes.”
“Got my hair trimmed.”
“Turned in my article on time.”
“Took a walk around the neighborhood.”
The list was a touchstone, a way to record the small, simple things that were challenging and important at the time.
At the end of the month, I reviewed the list and felt good and hopeful. So I started a new list the following month, and felt similarly satisfied 30 days later. Now I’m on Victory List #3.
Keeping a list of victories is a way for me to quiet the little voice (the one I try to ignore) that says I don’t do enough.
My list is proof that we’re making progress, and it helps me stay hopeful about the days to come.
How about you?
I know you’re dealing with your own challenges. Could jotting down your small victories help you recognize and celebrate your accomplishments?
Aside from the typical ‘to do’ tasks we all have, what would you like to see on your victory list? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Hugs and happy weekend,
Photo: Zoë Biggs
This Wednesday we had a nice spring blizzard in Colorado. It snowed sideways here from about 4:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon, and the blowing snow caused Denver International Airport to close for the first time in ten years. I shot the picture above from my home office at the height of the storm’s blizzardiness. When it stopped, we had over a foot of heavy snow.
My First Mistake
Yesterday morning, just before I put on my parka and snow boots to begin the task of shoveling the driveway, I happened to read this headline from The Denver Post:
“Denver Won’t Be Plowing Residential Streets After Wednesday’s Blizzard”
The article was accompanied by a dramatic photo of cars buried under snow, and included a partial quote from the Denver Public Works spokesperson Nancy Kuhn that the Post put in quote marks like this:
Kuhn said the decision not to deploy residential plows came after “careful consideration.”
My Second Mistake
I don’t know what possessed me, but for some reason I clicked on the Comments section of the article and began reading the various remarks. (Is this ever a good idea? I read somewhere that you lose a minute of your life for every minute you spend reading online comments – ha!)
Here’s an example, from someone whose forum name is Tony T.:
“You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s going to snow again on Friday night, so they’re just going to shrug their shoulders and hope it gets warm!? This isn’t the first time they’ve tried to pull this crap, and it won’t be the last.”
It bears mentioning that we don’t live in Denver proper, and the main street circling our neighborhood was plowed. However, I was steamed as I tromped out and began shoveling the driveway.
My Third Mistake
I felt increasingly indignant as I shoveled. My mind latched on to this issue and filled my head with angry thoughts. How dare the city not plow and help the residents of Denver? Why don’t we have the budget for proper plowing? What about all the new tax revenue we’re supposedly generating with marijuana sales?
The problem soon escalated to much larger-scale thoughts like: Our government is such a mess. Our infrastructure is crumbling and cities are going bankrupt. In this day and age, why is it so difficult to find good political leadership? And so on, and so on…
Does your brain ever lapse into an endless loop of negativity like this? I hate when that happens!
What Brought Me Back
The snow started melting quickly yesterday (part of the reason Denver Public Works decided not to plow) and a large, wet clump fell off the front locust tree and hit me right in the face. What a blessing! The friendly snowball made me laugh, and it also knocked some sense into me. What was I doing? Why was I in such a huff?
I re-set my mind on the glorious sunshine and glittering white landscape against a blue, blue Colorado sky. I sent thoughts of light and love to the DPW spokesperson Nancy Kuhn, who must need extra grace and a thick skin sometimes to defend the city’s actions. I vowed to stop reading anonymous online comments.
And I decided to save figuring out the world’s problems for another day.
Hugs and happy Easter,
I’m working on a new cookbook this spring that will be all about beautiful BERRIES. I’m having such a good time tasting and testing blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, and of course, luscious strawberries.
This is a simple recipe that combines a crunchy, lightly sweet, shortbread-y crust with a creamy filling and fresh strawberries. Even though it’s very easy to make, it looks spectacular — my kind of recipe! Here’s how to make it:
Springtime Strawberry Tart
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup sugar, divided
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup cold salted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 12 ounces strawberries, hulled and halved
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and cornstarch until combined. Add butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and pulse until fine crumbs form and dough just begins to come together. Press evenly into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable rim.
Bake until edges are golden, about 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then remove tart crust from pan and transfer to a serving plate.
In a bowl with a mixer on high speed, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat until thick. Gently fold the sour cream in the mixture and spread in cooled crust. Arrange strawberries in circles on top. (If you want to create the same effect I did in the photo above, you can alternate the cut sides down and up.) Cover and chill the tart for 3 to 4 hours to firm up the filling. Cut in slices and serve. Makes 8 servings.
My friend and fabulous photographer Alan Hill took the beautiful image of this tart, and I am grateful for his talent.
Hugs and happy Easter,