The Gift of Being Present

Mom and Baby Polar Bear Playing at the Columbus Zoo

Hi Readers,

These days I don’t have as much time to blog, as I’m a full-time mama plus writer/illustrator.  But I haven’t forgotten you or your loyalty to this blog. So today I have a special treat. A special gift for you. It’s the gift of being present.

And it’s really all I have to give right now, even to myself. And especially to my daughter. Every day is different, with unexpected challenges and rewards. I’m constantly on my toes. Every moment has become precious. I’ve learned to do things in bite-size increments. In some ways, I feel like I’m living fast and furious. As in, how much can I get done while she’s napping? Do I clean bottles or fit in 30 minutes of writing or go take a nap? I’m sure many of you out there can relate, whether you have kids or not, but especially if you do. And certainly if you’re a first-timer, like me.

But how do we get through it?  And do we even want to? Or should we slow down and savor each moment? After all, everything changes so fast, especially when it comes to small children. So you learn to live by moments. The first time they sit up by themselves. Their joy at eating blueberries for the first time. When they finally call you “mama,” even if they don’t quite understand what it means yet, especially to you.

Schedules go out the window and plans change, sometimes by the hour. Just as you were about to go out for a walk, a dirty diaper sidetracks you. And then laundry. And then bottle washing. And then a nap. Maybe for the both of you 😉 But what a welcome thing a nap can be. And maybe just the thing you really needed. You both wake up refreshed and happy to see each other again.

This is what being present is all about. Open to whatever comes your way. Noticing the small things, that seem so insignificant. The tiny miracles that sometimes go unseen in day-to-day life.

Another upside is you don’t have as much time to focus on the past or future, which alleviates some anxiety. Past mistakes become learning opportunities and you move on. Fewer plans are made, but they’re quickly replaced by the joy of spontaneity. Small adventures. The first flower of spring. A vegan blueberry scone. Your daughter delighting in a bluejay soaring through the air. And maybe the mountain of dishes will get done. Maybe they won’t. And that’s okay. Cuddling trumps all!

I’ve definitely learned to be more efficient, but is that always better? Sometimes you have to embrace being before doing. And because some things just can’t wait, you prioritize what really matters. Like playing pat-a-cake just to see that smile that lights up the whole world.

And at night, rocking my baby to sleep becomes just as relaxing for me as I watch her eyes flutter shut and send her to dreamland. Watching her sleep is what being present in the moment is all about. After all, she won’t stay this tiny forever. I carry her everywhere now, but soon she’ll carry herself through the world. I’m not ready to think about that 😉

Baby Giraffe Standing On Its Own at the Columbus Zoo

I’d like to leave you all with a mantra I learned in my baby yoga class.

“Be present, not perfect.”

Enjoy the gift of moments! And if you have any special ones, please share 🙂

 

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My Word for the Year 2018

Greetings friends,

It’s a whole new year.  A clean slate.  I’ve been away for a while.  Many reasons.  Giving birth to my beautiful daughter. Buying a house. Wow!  Lots of life changes.  I hope to continue blogging about all these new adventures.

But even while I’m in transition, I wanted to make sure to share with you my new word for the year.  This is a word I’ve considered in the past, but this was the first time I was brave enough to choose it.  I thought words like “change” and “confidence” were difficult, but it turns out sometimes even words that sound positive by connotation can be the hardest to attach to ourselves.  Why?  Maybe on some level we don’t think we deserve it.  Maybe we feel selfish for even considering wanting something good for ourselves.  But I’m here to tell you that’s silly.  It’s a mind game.  The inner critic inside of us, otherwise known as fear, that is always trying to protect us, even if that means keeping us from something good.  Something we all deserve.  Something everyone can have.

So my word for the year is ABUNDANCE.  And let me shout it from the rooftops!  Because I deserve abundance, and you deserve abundance.  We can all have abundance, too.  That’s the secret.  It’s available to everyone.  And contrary to popular belief, there’s always enough to go around.

As usual, I’m seeing the effects of choosing my word for the year already.  The photo above is a tarot card I picked out for the day without knowing which one I was choosing.  My husband and I also recently purchased a charm for our daughter with a bunch of hearts on it.  The message behind it?  Abundance of love.  I can’t wait to see where else abundance shows up in my life.  Obviously, my life changes suggest abundance as well.  Don’t forget.  With abundance comes gratitude.  And also the opportunity to share it with others.  In case you’re still in doubt about how abundance works, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite mantras.  It’s fitting for this season.

Life is in a perfect balance of giving and receiving.

If you can keep this in mind, you’ll never be afraid to receive too much.  And it might make it easier to give to others too.  So say it with me.  ABUNDANCE!  Now go live an abundant life.

 

Check out my word for last year.  And here’s a list of my other previous words.

The True Value of Imagination

The City Museum in St. Louis, MO is like a giant playground for the imagination. Both children and the young at heart are welcome!

“She isn’t rich… She’s clever. That means she knows how to use her imagination. When you can do that, you can do anything.” –from The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

I don’t usually start a blog post with a quote, but this one really struck me. In fact, it’s the whole reason for the blog post. It reminds me of my childhood. Like most children, my sisters and I didn’t have every toy we wanted when we were growing up. Some kids might complain about that, and sometimes we probably did. But then something magical happened. We realized we could use our imaginations to create what we wanted.

We had this great big basement playroom, and luckily, our mom would let us do whatever we wanted with it, provided we clean it up every once in a while.  She called this “overhauling,” which usually meant giving some beloved but never used old toys and junk away.  Anyway, we had toys, games, and craft items down there.  Usually I’d convince my younger sister to join me for some fun, as our older sister was often “too cool” for us, doing mysterious older sister things in her room.

Sometimes we’d rearrange our old toys into something new, making castles for our toy figures out of chairs, kitchen stove sets, plastic telephones, toy cash registers, and the like.  Other times, we’d see toys we wanted on TV and decide to create them ourselves. Toilet paper and paper towel roll tubes turned into action figures.  Cut-out watercolor drawings of kids turned into paper dolls.  We even invented things and conducted experiments.

Other times, especially in the summer, we’d make a tent out of tables, chairs, and blankets, sleeping inside it every night.  I also invented something called “the boat game,” where we had 5 minutes to gather everything we could (toys, games, etc.) and get onto the boat (i.e. bed or couch) before it sailed away.  Then we’d play with all our stuff there, which was much more exciting than simply playing with it at the table or on the floor.  We were on an adventure! My favorite part and probably my sister’s least favorite was when I would nudge her off the bed and say, “Oh you fell into the sea!  Now I have to rescue you!”  Then I’d slowly pull her back up to safety 😉

I hope kids these days still find time to use their imagination.  More importantly, I hope they understand what imagination is and that its value far exceeds the worth of any toys, video games, or electronics they might have.  As an adult, your imagination can take you places too.  You learn resourcefulness and how to carefully use your resources.  You come up with creative problem-solving.  You find solutions where you otherwise might not.  And let’s face it, imagination is just plain fun!  It’s what gives us hope and provides a means of entertainment and escape from reality, even if just for a while.

For me, my imagination is what has allowed me to become a children’s writer and illustrator.  I use it when I conduct storytime for the kids at the library.  And it fills me with a sense of wonder whenever I travel, visit a park, or go to an art gallery.  Imagination keeps me young at heart, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world.

Have you used your imagination recently?  What is it worth to you?  Please share!

 

 

My Word for the Year: 2017

Bamboo Forest Illumination in Kyoto, Japan

It’s a new year, My Lovelies, and you know what that means.  Time to pick a new word to represent 2017.  This time, I had a little trouble choosing.  A lot of words hold special meaning for me these days, some of them challenging, others encouraging.  But ultimately, I realized I needed something dynamic and fun.  Something that would get me excited to jump out of bed every morning and start the day.  Something that would give me hope in a very complex world.

So without further ado, my word for the year is…

MAGIC

 

And here are some quotes to express exactly what magic means to me.

“You can’t tame the spirit of someone who has magic in their veins.” –unknown

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” –Roald Dahl

“Magic is believing in yourself.  If you can do that, you can make anything happen.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing and even today words retain much of their magical power.” –Sigmund Freud

“Love is the closest thing we have to magic.” — from Aquamarine (movie)

“It’s important to remember that we all have magic inside us.” — J. K. Rowling

“Magic is something you make.” –unknown

“Look for magic in daily routine.”  –Lou Barlow

“By choosing to be our most authentic and loving self, we leave a trail of magic everywhere we go.”  –Emmanuel Dagher

I hope you will find ways in the coming year to invite magic into your life.  And don’t forget to come up with your own word for the year!

Check out the list of my past words here.

Chaos and Courage


Yokohama

Hi my dear readers,

Sorry to have been away so long.  It’s been a crazy, busy, challenging year.  A roller coaster ride if you will.  I just returned from a trip to Japan.  My sixth visit.  I never imagined ten years ago that I would be saying that!  But my life has changed in amazing, unexpected, and positive ways by embracing this new life of adventure that comes along with marrying someone who is a different background than mine.  I wouldn’t change it for anything.

At the close of this year 2016, there is a lot to think about.  Big changes for this country and the world.  What can we do about it but embrace it?  Dive into the unknown and hope things continue to progress and change for the better.  Continue to stand up and fight for the things we believe in.  Hope in our future.  If there is one constant in life, it’s change.  We can expect it just like taxes.  And when we begin to ride the tide of it, we see some amazing sights and begin to transform in unimaginable ways.

It is hard to let go of all the things we hold dear.  The safe and familiar.  For me, flying halfway across the world, living in a time zone completely opposite of ours, is always an adjustment.  Japan in some ways is the complete polar opposite of the U.S.  Their culture is polite, quiet, and small compared to our freestyle lifestyle, chatter, and super-sizing.  But sometimes there’s a beauty in living a life different from your own.  Like the city mouse and country mouse switching places for a day.  You see the world through new eyes.  You find out the way you always do things is not “The Way” but simply the way you always do things.  You learn to adapt and find new things to treasure.  You also better appreciate the familiarities of home.

On this particular trip, I embraced both flying alone and getting around Yokohama for three days by myself while my husband finished up his business trip.  With the jet lag, feeling under the weather, and not knowing the language very well, I wasn’t sure if I could manage.  But I took up the challenge anyway, even knowing how directionally challenged I am.  I managed to ride the subway a few times, explore the city, shop, and eat out at restaurants.  Sometimes not being able to talk was a welcome blessing.  A quiet I don’t often experience at home.  Other times, especially because I’m a Gemini and love to talk, not being able to communicate was frustrating, lonely, and even a little terrifying.  But luckily, it’s very safe to walk around Japan alone as a foreigner.  And if you’re lost or confused, someone will undoubtedly come to your rescue and try to help, even without knowing much English.  As it turns out, I found many ways to connect with others.  Laugher being one of the best universally shared experiences.

So I challenge each of you dear readers to end the year by stepping out of your comfort zone.  Don’t wait until 2017.  Do it now.  Take that first step toward your dream.  Meet someone new.  Go somewhere foreign.  Experience a different culture.  Learn a new language.  Talk to someone of a different background or faith and really get to know them.  And if things become awkward at any moment, don’t walk away, embrace the moment, and simply LAUGH.  Imagine the kind of world we would live in, if we all laughed just a little bit more.  Feared a little less.  Life is chaos, but we can all join in the dance.

“We live in a rainbow of chaos.”- Paul Cezanne

Paying It Forward with Birthday Acts of Kindness

Greetings,  Dear Readers!  For my birthday this year, I decided to do something special.  Instead of simply focusing on me, I decided to do something nice for others.  I read about this concept of “birthday acts of kindness” on a blog called ScaleSimple last year and couldn’t wait to try it out myself.

After purchasing two bouquets of flowers and ten lottery tickets, I headed to the park.  And oh what a beautiful day it was!  A bit hot, but who is complaining when you live in Michigan.  We’ll take what we can get 😉  My good friend agreed to meet me for the inaugural event.  We set off immediately, with only an hour to spare, since she was on her lunch break from work.

I immediately realized we had no plan, so I just jumped right in and started handing random people either a flower or a ticket.  Often we chose flowers for ladies and lotto tickets for guys, but not always.  We quickly got in the groove, often telling people it was their lucky day as we handed them a ticket or wishing them a nice day with a flower.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as the blogger mentioned getting mixed responses from people.  But truly, about 90% of people were very happy to receive the free gift 🙂  Only a few turned down the offer, mostly because they were in a hurry or had their hands full.  One guy was actually allergic to flowers, but very apologetic.  We even visited a retirement home briefly, which seemed to brighten the mood there.  A mother and her young daughter accepted the flowers like a treasure.

Before we knew it, we’d passed everything out, and by then, we were in such a groove that we wished we had even more to share!  I’d love to do this again and extend it even further.

If you’d like to try your own service project, here are some possible acts of kindness:

  • pass out flowers
  • give away lotto tickets
  • recycle
  • donate old clothing and other used items
  • pay for people’s parking meters
  • pay for someone’s coffee or lunch at the drive-thru
  • pick up litter in the area (We did a bit of that at the end!)

The list goes on and on!  I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, giving to others and seeing their happy faces was the best gift I could give myself on my birthday 🙂

“You may be only one person in this world, but to one person at one time, you are the world.” –Anonymous

 

Notan: Harmonizing Darks and Lights

I’ve been taking some art classes this week.  While studying composition, I came across the Japanese term, “notan” which literally means “dark-light.”  It’s a fascinating design concept centered around the idea of creating harmony in a drawing through value contrast.  When darks and lights are dynamically balanced, the result is a more pleasing work of art.

More specifically, dark shapes are placed against light shapes and light shapes are placed against dark shapes.  Relationships are formed through this interaction of dark and light.  Neither white nor black dominates.  Consider a portrait drawing done in grayscale.  Notice how the effect of the drawing improves when a dark background surrounds the lit part of the face and a light background surrounds the shadowed part of the face.

According to Dorr Bothwell’s book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, the way that positive and negative space interact has meaning.  Both shape and background have equal importance.

This design principle can be used for all types of artwork including painting, pottery, and photography.  One of the simplest and most well-known representations of the concept of notan is the yin-yang symbol, which depicts the dual nature of the world and literally means, “dark-bright.”

Imagine your life in terms of notan.  How might you see the world differently?  Notice how the stars stand out in the night sky or how your shadow stands out on the wall.  The beauty of dark and light is all around us.  As artists, we must have the courage to draw it.  And in life, we must be willing to see it.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”   — Anne Frank

 

To learn more about the Japanese concept of white space, termed “yohaku,” see my post here.

 

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