Friday, July 13, 2012

A tsk, tsk, a tasket, and an overflowing basket

My youngest son has spent a large part of the last several years backpacking through some of the farthest reaches of our wonderful world.  He's stayed with impoverished families in their huts in not often traveled valleys and hilltops of many countries.  He's shared meager meals of rice and roots that have been unfailingly offered by generous people who have little to share.  He's seen both sadness and joy in the eyes of little children too soon grown old.  He's been warmed by the welcome of men and women who could carry all they own in smaller bags than we use to carry home our weekly groceries. 

He asked me the other day if I ever stopped to think about the things that I have enjoyed that much  of the world has never even imagined....will never have a memory of.  It was one of those "tsk, tsk, shame on me" times that brought me to my knees... literally... as I began to list a few small pleasures that so many will never know.  Here are a few.

How many are there who have never:

toasted a marshmallow over a campfire
owned a pretty pair of earrings or a pin to pass down to their daughter
bent down to breathe in the fragrance of a rose growing in their own garden
wrapped a birthday present for their child
gone to grandma's house for Sunday dinner
beachcombed for sea glass, agates or sand dollars
tasted a fresh strawberry
known the deightful sight of hummingbirds gathered around a feeder
sat on the patio drinking hot cocoa under the stars
whispered secrets and giggled under a blanket with their best friend
held a chubby baby in their arms

My list is much longer than this.  My basket is so bountifully filled, and I am so blessed.  Not because I have a lovely home or leather upholstery in my car... not because I have a large variety of stores neaby filled with an abundance of wares, and the cash in my pocket to buy them.  But, because I have so many small, tender moments filled with such sweetness.  Because I know what a marvel it is to discover a small piece of blue glass washed and polished by the sea. 

I would ask that if anyone reads this, they take a pen in hand and make a list of their own.  It's a good thing for us to remember and reflect on those little, too often unnoticed, things that have been so precious in our lives.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The storyteller

A few years ago I worked for the American Red Cross.  I was the director of the AIDS Education and Information Program in Northern Utah.  It was a job that I loved.  My work week often ran into 60+ hours.  It  could be exhausting, frustrating, always interesting, and often gut wrenching.

I used to tell stories as a part of my living.  They were true stories about the families I worked with. Some of them amusing, many of them inspiring, most of them sad.

It became important to me that my audience didn't remember them as "Caryn's stories", or as "other people's stories",  but that they realized that they were our stories... their's and mine.   Each one of us gathered together any given day could have easiily stepped into one of the roles in every story that I told.  I wanted them to ponder the part they would have played.  Could they have taken a bow for the lines they spoke?  Would their mothers, their spouses, their children have applauded their performance?  Would they have been pleased to have me use their name as I shared their part with an audience? 

It amazes me how many times we're remembered for something we've done that seemed so insignificant to us.  The phone call we did or didn't make.  The helping hand or listening ear we did, or didn't offer.  The times we did or didn't defend a neighbor's reputation when we heard something unkind said about them... The times we did or didn't share a kind thought we had about someone.

I'm not going to say that we need to get wrapped up in how important we are... but, I do wonder if many of us realize the impact we have on the people who move through our lives.  I still remember the way I pranced throughout the remainder of the day when a total stranger, an older gentleman, pulled up next to me at a stop sign and yelled through my open window, "You are one very pretty feminine, young lady".  It was so random, so completely unexpected.  A gift freely given to me by someone who just spontaneously blew a verbal kiss to a girl he never expected to see again.   As the light turned green, he turned left and drove out of my vision and into my memory.  It changed me.  My fear of saying something nice to someone I didn't know magically disappeared along with his yellow convertible. 

My mother had taught me since I was tiny to "Be nice... to everyone... all of the time....twice as nice as you think you ought to be."  "Say something kind to at least three people every day."  She had voiced those words to me thousands of times, and given me a constant and consistant example to follow.  She lived what she taught.  I understood the concept.  What I didn't understand was how important it could be to those that I gave a kind word to.  Not until a sunny, California summer day when someone I didn't know noticed me and told me he thought I was a girly girl, said out loud that he thought I was pretty, then drove away. 

I think if I knew his name, and used it in telling this story... he could feel good about the role he played.  He could take a bow.  I would applaud him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where the Forest Meets the Sea

This summer Wayne and I spent a week at a beach house on the Oregon Coast. We tromped and traipsed through hill and vail, bays and beaches. We climbed forested paths, heavy with ferns and trickling water, to photograph lighthouses. We rummaged through the produce at country fruit stands, and gathered fresh flowers from fields ripe with dahlias and sunflowers. We dined at some of the local pubs and cafes and tasted some mighty savory dishes.

There were days that the shore was lost in the fog. On a day when the drizzle turned to droplets, we spent the afternoon sharing a picnic of cheese, chubby pretzels, and peaches under a canopy in the rain. The weather wasn't always perfect, but it was all delightful.

I am in awe of that lucious land. I love the motto for the Oregon Coast..."Where the Forest Meets the Sea". That is perfectly descriptive. Giant pines and oaks do come to the very edge of the cliffs where the salty ocean sends great sprays of water to mist the feet of the trees.

I was thinking last night as I watched my husband sitting in an overstuffed chair reading the last few chapters of a book, how like the forest and the sea he and I are.

Our lives are not intermingled. They touch nearly everywhere, but each of us has remained individual entities with our own strengths, our own flavors. What beauty can be found in us is our own. But, neither of us would be as complete without the other. I move towards him constantly throughout each and every day, sometimes with a mood of tranquility and peace, sometimes with turbulence and a spirit of unrest. He always accepts me however I come to him. While I seem to be constantly changing, he is always stalwart, standing steady, slowly and continually growing toward the heavens.

Like the time spent on the coastline, my analogy isn't perfect. It is as many faceted as the prisms that gleam from the Heceta Lighthouse. I don't intend to delve into it too deeply here...although I did spend a good deal of time milling over the similarities this morning in that space between sleep and awakening.

Let me just repeat how entranced I became with Oregon, and how I enjoyed the slow motion days spent there. And let me also say, how entranced I am with this giant of a man who shelters my life... and how I gather something from the shores of his soul every time his forest and my sea meet.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


In my next life I want to be a camera.

Cameras are full of memories. Well, so am I, so that can't be the reason. What is it then? I know. It's because cameras only need to focues on one thing at a time.
No need to juggle this flower with that child on a swing, or with the car racing over the finish line, or with the dog chasing a butterfly. A camera takes one picture at a time. If a picture isn't perfect, it's placed on photoshop and worked with until it is exactly photo at a time.

I want to be able to truly focus on ONE thing until the reason for my focus has been caught and completed. I want the time to see the measure of it's character, capture it, be able to hold it in my hands until I'm ready to put it down. I want to work with it until I've accomplished exactly what I wanted to with it, and then move on to the next venture.

As it is I am constantly trying to focus on my husbands desire for dinner or help in the pasture, with a client's need to be called with a counteroffer, with my daughter's need to have me send her a recipe, with my youngest son's need for me to talk via e-mail with him about where he should work next year, with my oldest son wanting help with painting and decorating his bathroom, with my neice needing to cry over her boy's drug related incarceration, with the church wanting me to visit the woman three blocks down the road, with another client wanting to be shown property this afternoon, with yet another client wanting to buy the same home that I just sold, with a good friend needing someone to tend her dog and water her plants. I tend to lose focus and after a while everything becomes blurred.

I know, I know. Prioritize. Take things one at a time. Easy to say... not so easy to do. How do you tell a child, or a friend, or the love of your life...or, yes, even a client who is trying to build foundations under his dreams, to take a number? How do you really focus on and feel the essence of each moment when your mind is spiraling in seventeen directions?

But a camera? It's whole purpose is to concentrate on only one thing at a time. Yeah, I want to be a camera.

(The good news is, I got some of the angst off my chest and I feel much better now)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stumbling Blocks

A lack of confidence is the heaviest anchor we can put on our creativity." I heard this comment made by one of the judges on "So You Think You Can Dance" this season and thought it was flowing over the brim with wisdom. I think it applies to all of living. A lack of confidence is the heaviest anchor to much of what we experience.

There is a trait that I admire so much in others and strive every day to increase the capacity for in myself. Wild abandon. I have a son who laughs with wild inhibitions. I have a husband who plays with wild fear. I have a daughter who loves with wild holding back. I have a son who races toward every goal with wild hesitation. I have a son who jumps into life head first with wild restrictions. I have a son who protects with wild thought of consequence. I love it!

All of this speaks of confidence to me. Confidence that what they believe in is right, who they love will love in return, who they protect is worthy of any sacrifice, that stretching the limits of their capabilities is a worthwhile way to occupy their time and expend their energy, that they can reach the goal and win the race, that life will hold them by the hand or grab them by their hair, fill their memories with bright moments, and fill their minds to the brink of genius.

Me? Where do I fit into all of this? I used to be a lot like that. Somewhere along the path, I took a turn and ended up sitting on the bleachers. Too often I am a happy spectator. I am an easily contented person. And I'm learning that there is a fine line between contentment and complacency, and that it is too easy to believe that a lack of confidence is not hiding behind a veil of contentment.

I so admire my family and others who live with a pinch of recklessness, who let the adrenaline flow freely and step into each day's activities with gusto. I look up to those among us who don't always think through where an adventure will lead them, or stop to consider who will pick up the hat they toss in the relationship ring. I love it when I see my children offer their hearts to friendship without expectation of being given as much as they are willing to give.

I spent too many years being a tad too fearful, being overly concerned with the reactions and opinions of people who were merely passing through my life. Now that I am on the twilight side of the hill... I yearn to feel the excitement that made my heart beat faster when I was younger. I think it's time to toss the restrictive bonds that a lack of confidence has bound me with in the last not so few years, kick off my shoes and run through the wildflowers in my barefeet... without thinking about the spiders that may be lurking in the grass. I want to feel the sun on my face and not worry about what wrinkles it may cause. This fall I will inhale the aroma of burning leaves and not be concerned with how smoky my clothes will smell, or if a spark will sputter out as it bleeds through my shirt sleeve. I will approach strangers with a smile, and an interest in what they have to tell teach me. I will laugh till tears fall, dance in the aisles of the grocery store, and sing to my waiter when he delivers pizza to our table. I will taste more, hear more, see more, be more.

Because of all things we attempt to create while mortals, the creation of lasting relationships should be of highest import, the list of friendships we create should be long...very, very long. And, even as a woman of "artistic" bent who has made heirloom Santa's and nutcrackers and other "artsy, crafty" things for my posterity, I believe that our own characters, our own life stories, not just well written... but well LIVED, should be pre-eminent in those things we create. We will, after all, take only our character and intelligence with us when we step through the veil. And of all that we leave behind as a legacy to those that loved us, our life stories will be held most dear.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's in a word?

What's in a word? What does that mean, anyway? Lots of things are in a word. Words evoke emotions in us and can spur us to action or lull us into inaction. ie: emotions and actions such as love, anger, regret, forgiveness, anxiety, excitement, comfort, sorrow, laughter...

A favorite word of mine is "amae". It's a Japanese word (pronounced ah-mah-ay), which means "the expectation to be sweetly and indulgently loved" Is that beautiful or what? And isn't it really what we all wish for?

I came across this expression and the ideas that accompany it years ago in a magazine article. I wish I could remember what magazine. At any rate, the article discussed the way we in America put such a high premium on "independence", how we're taught to strive for the supreme acheievement of being able to stand on our own. Not that that's an entirely bad thing. But, it does close us off somewhat to the possibility of being "sweetly and INDULGENTLY loved". The way a baby is loved, the way we love our babies. The way nearly every woman on the planet dreams of being loved by her husband. The way women so often express love for one another in time tested and time worn friendship.

What's in a word? In the word "amae" I see hope. A vision. A way of loving to aspire to.

I watched my daughter sweetly and induldgently love her husband last night. It was so touching. He had surgery yesterday and was in such pain... he suffers from anxiety and his pain meds made his heart race to the point that his anxiety, coupled with the side effects of Lortab, kept him up all night. She put a cloth to his face, rubbed his shoulders, helped him take deep breaths, repositioned his newly pinned and wired leg on pillows... she spoke softly, played his favorite music for him, and gave up sleeping herself to see him through the night. When she came dragging out of the bedroom this morning, it was to bring him some juice and fresh fruit, to call his doctor for guidance in how she could bring him more comfort....and to mow the lawns so he wouldn't worry about it not getting done while he was laid up.

I've watched the way he sweetly and indulgently loves her since the day they first met. He has been the answer to a mother and father's prayer that their daughter would be protected and cared for throughout her life. They have come to depend on one another for this exchange of tenderness. They each feel precious and cherished. They experience amae in their lives.

So... what's in a word? In amae there is fulfillment, peace, and contentment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ugh! Whoof! Ouch! Whump!! Ahhhhhh...

I grew up in California...the greater Los Angeles area to be exact. My family was reasonably well to do, lived in the biggest house in an upscale neighborhood, drove fancy new cars, had the first television and garage door opener in our community. You get the picture.

A favorite family activity was going for a Sunday drive. We did this only from time to time, not on a weekly basis. Enough to keep it really special. We'd pack some cheese and sweet pickle or tuna sandwiches, a jar of homemade peaches, a big bag of chips, and mama's decadent brownies or hot baked apple pie. When it was safely tucked into the trunk of the car...we'd hop into daddy's Cadillac, mom's Buick convertible, my aunt and uncle's Pontiac, or my sister's Edsel and hit the road. We'd often drive up "El Camino Real", better known as Pacific Coast Highway, or down the coast to LaJolla. We'd sing songs and play those silly games that you play to keep kids entertained while driving.

I loved going for those drives!! We'd see cows grazing in grassy fields with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. I'm from Los Angeles, remember? Where else would I see a cow? We'd stop to stretch, and submit to nature's call at a Shell Station where daddy would make sure the gas tank was full and treat us all to ice cream. Then we'd be on the road again, looking for the ideal spot to lay out a quilt and enjoy lunch. Yes... he did let us have ice cream before eating our sandwiches. He was a cool dad. These were happy times spent with my family. I hate to repeat myself, but, I truly loved those drives!

In 1972, at the age of... well...older than I care to remember, I moved to Utah...met a small town country boy, and fell head over heels... I was completely bonked on this guy.

I remember how excited I was one Sunday when he asked me if I wanted to go for a drive after church. Perfect! Fond memories welled up as I packed a couple of sandwiches, some cookies and juice, and waited anxiously for him to pick me up.

Little did I know that this would be unlike any drive I'd ever been on before.. anywhere, anytime.

We wound our way up some godforsaken hilltop, through scrub brush and sage dying in the heat. We bounced over rocks and fallen trees... we slogged our way across muddy riverbottoms. If nature called... we looked for something almost large and remote enough to hide behind. When it was time for lunch, we pulled the dust covered blanket from the back seat and opened our dust filled sandwiches. blecchh!!

And that has remained the way we've done it in all our days together since.

"Want to go for a drive?" he says... And I grab oranges, granola bars, wheat thins, water... lots of water...a lil packet of t.p., hiking boots, a jacket, some branch cutters, a small shovel, clean socks for both of us, an extra pair of sunglasses (he always forgets his), some work gloves, chewing gum, hand sanitizer, and a flashlight. And off we go.

We have had to dig our way out of a road to get us out of a ditch...and hike for help. I have had a fourwheeler land on me after a failed attempt at keeping it upright over slippery boulders, and nearly had the jeep tip on us while trying to take it up an incline that was meant only to fly over. We don't really go for drives. We have a four wheeling "experience", or go for a jeeping "adventure". It's exhillarating, scary, infuriating, fun, oddly fulfilling, and ... it has very often been peaceful. We've seen gorgeous views from the tops of mountains that we would have seen no other way. We have stretched our capacity for enjoyment, and honed our "He-man survive in the wilderness skills". Well... I've mostly just peeled an orange, or gathered tree branches to place under the wheels of the jeep to help get us out of muck and slime that threatens to swallow our transportation. Wayne does his "Superman", "Mr. Incredible" schtick and pulls, hoists, or lifts us out of whatever mess we find ourselves in, and gets us on our way again.

Last Sunday we got lost and beat our backsides black and blue exploring some rocky wasteland...I was beginning to mutter, "I'm too dang old for this!! My bones are going to pulverize any second. I'll have to be swept into a dustpan and carried home in a sandwich bag"... and then... omagosh!! We suddenly found ourselves in a lush forest that led us to the tip of the Manti LaSal Mountain Range with views that spread from here to eternity. It was breathtaking! It was a delicius treat for our eyes, and for our souls.

The drives of yesterday were wonderful, but those I take with my hubby today are beyond my wildest imaginings. They are absolutely, completely, memorable ...from wading through ice encrusted water to search for help, to the mosquito bites on our hineys received while lying on a blanket by a secluded, sunlit stream renewing our vows... Our drives may most often make me want to sit in a hot tub for an hour or two to soothe my aching and aging bones... but, my spirit is always refreshed.