Tag Archives: love

ResoYOUtions

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The time is upon us. It’s the first day of a new year and one feels compelled to broadcast a list of impressive goals and improvements to accomplish in the next 365 days. I feel like I give progressively less and less thought to my “resolutions” each year as I get older. It’s not because I don’t want to change or improve myself, and certainly not because I don’t intend to stick to the goals I make. I think it’s because during the past few years I’ve been in mindset where I’m constantly making promises to myself.

This is me, not apologizing for taking a bad picture. Just being myself. 🙂

Work out more. Be better at menu planning. Clean house on a regular basis. Go to bed earlier. Eat more vegetables. Develop patience. No really, go to bed earlier. Exfoliate often. Do more volunteering. Read. Vacuum your car. Menu plan. Don’t go to bed with a dirty kitchen, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO TO BED EARLIER. It becomes a vicious cycle of self-improvement, but more realistically, self-loathing.

I have spent far too much time mentally telling myself what to do, how to do it better, and when to do it. All this does is set me up to feel like a failure. This year I’m making resoYOUtions, or, I guess, resoMEtions…which sounds odd, so let’s keep it in second person.

This year, I am committing to myself. I am going to make decisions in my best interest; not in a selfish way, but in a self-care sort of way. Oh sure, I still have a list of things I want to change about myself and my lifestyle, who doesn’t? But I’m not going to feel guilty when I don’t accomplish them. The only standard I will strive for is being the best version of myself, one day at a time. I won’t apologize for voicing my opinions, won’t feel pressured to do things I don’t want to simply to make others happy, won’t feel ashamed for writing cheesy blogposts with titles like “ResoYOUtions,” and I won’t hate on myself. If I make a mistake, or fall off the proverbial wagon, I will recognize my fallibility as a human, and move on.

Because I know you want to know my secret list of regular resolutions, here they are:

  1. Respect my body’s needs and go to bed earlier so that I can have the energy I need to live each day to the best of my ability.
  2. Try to do at least 15 minutes of yoga each day, with the yoga specific goal of working on the splits (it’ll be my party trick for 2014…maybe).

And that’s it…really. On the days when I don’t succeed in these two goals, I will shrug, laugh at myself, and vow to try harder the next day. I think the only path toward self-improvement is through self-acceptance for who you are at any given moment. So that’s my ResoYOUtion. To be me, all the time. Maybe you should focus on being, you, too, and we’ll both be happier for it.

Happy 2013. Namaste.

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Oh Christmas Tree…

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Our tree this year. A magnificent specimen.

When I was little, maybe seven or eight, I remember sitting by the Christmas tree in our house with a book to read. I tried to get as close to the tree as I possibly could. I think ideally I would have been inside the tree, reading in a cozy cove of needles, ornaments, and lights. I remember thinking that if I could shrink like Alice in Wonderland, I could hide in the tree’s glowing limbs to read in a safe, warm, and magical place. Last week I asked my husband if we could sleep on the couch in front of the Christmas tree for awhile. He laughed at me but obliged. There’s something magical for me about Christmas trees. I love just sitting near them to read, or nap, or sit and reflect. Every ornament holds a memory, and the lights remind me of the excitement I felt each Christmas as a child, my eyes twinkling with anticipation of grandparents, turkey, decorations, music at Christmas Eve church, and of course, presents. Christmas is much less about presents for me now, and more about enjoying the company of all those I hold dear. But my perspective on Christmas trees hasn’t seemed to change. Below is an essay I wrote about Christmas trees a few years back. My friend Chad published it on his blog when I first wrote it, but I figured I’d put it on my own page as well for good measure.

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During the first Christmas season that my husband and I were dating, he invited me to help decorate his family’s Christmas tree. In my home, decorating the Christmas tree was a very personal event, full of reminiscing about the origins of ornaments and lots of jocularity, often involving maracas and a rendition of “Felíz Navidad.” Therefore, I viewed this invitation as a gesture of acceptance into his family.

My expectations of tree-decorating stem from the meticulous process my family acts out every year. First, my Dad balances on a ladder and carefully winds the lights around the tree, making sure all branches are evenly lit. Then we gently add strings of red glass beads, which belonged to my great-grandmother. Each family member has a box of their own ornaments they have inherited or received as gifts, and we all hang them simultaneously, making sure no area of the tree is overpowered. Everything is evenly balanced, and as symmetrical as possible. As a finishing touch, my Dad meticulously ties glass icicles to the tips of various branches with string while we all watch in awe as if he’s performing brain surgery. Once it’s finished, we step back and take in our masterpiece.

Upon arriving at Nathan’s home, I expected his family’s tree-decorating rituals to match my family’s meticulous holiday habits. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nathan’s dad uncoiled a string of colored Christmas lights and began hanging them on the tree. But he wasn’t hanging them; he was strangling them.He violently pushed the lights into the tree so that they would stick between the slender, upturned needles, and rather than winding the lights around the tree horizontally, he zigzagged them up and down. To someone who was observing his shadow through the living room curtains, it would have looked as though he were in a fistfight, and the tree, unfortunately, was winning.

After the massacre ended, I thought things might proceed normally. We opened a plastic storage box full of ornaments, which I might add, were not separated by family member, or in their original boxes, or wrapped in protective tissue paper. To my chagrin, members of Nathan’s family began to hang these ornaments in whatever way seemed to suit them, resulting in clumps of overlapping decorations and sections of bare branches. I ran around the tree, frantically rearranging things, until I realized Nathan was laughing at me. Embarrassed, I sat on the couch and used every ounce of restraint I had to keep from screaming at them: “What is wrong with you people? Can’t you see you’re ruining everything?!”

That night I lay awake in bed fretting that I might marry into a family of unorganized, ornament-clumping, tree-punchers. But the more I thought, the more I began to realize that our families’ differences in decorating seemed to symbolize their different dynamics.

I come from a family of high-strung perfectionists. When we throw a party, utensils and napkins will match, decorations are themed, and we run around like crazy people making sure everyone is having a good time, often forgetting to relax and enjoy the atmosphere ourselves. For us, our Christmas tree is a prideful symbol of perfectly placed memories to display for holidays guests.

In contrast, Nathan’s family is laid-back and spontaneous. They might run a few minutes late to the party or use mismatched plates, but their love and camaraderie make any gathering seem like a family picnic, and no one is stressed out. Their Christmas tree symbolizes the ease with which they go about their daily lives, and the seemingly thoughtless ornament placement reflects their focus on the big picture, rather than the details. Regardless of the appearance, both trees provide each family with joy and holiday spirit.

When I reflect on all of this, I realized how lucky I was to be able to experience two wonderfully different families and appreciate and embrace their holiday traditions. Each Christmas season I cherish decorating trees with both families, although I still have to sit on my hands when watching my in-laws in action.

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My Aunt Debbie had been battling brain cancer for 18 months, and in the winter of 2007 she went into 24-hour care in a nursing home. Preparing for a Christmas overshadowed by her illness, my family began to pack for the trip down to Oklahoma. We would be staying with my mom’s parents, who were both in their 80s. My grandma had long forgone putting up her fake Christmas tree when we weren’t visiting, and this year she had purchased a conveniently-sized plywood “tree” that had various shiny bobbles attached to it. My mom informed me before we left Kansas that I shouldn’t bother my grandma about decorating the fake tree, but just appreciate her new wooden “decoration.” For some reason, this infuriated me. Mom and I went back and forth, arguing about my desire for a genuine Christmas tree and her wish to keep her mother as calm as possible during our visit.

Selfishly I stormed off to my room, where I sat and contemplated why I had become so enraged. It was just a Christmas tree, and a fake one at that. I thought back to all the childhood Christmases at my grandparents’ home; my grandma getting out the boxes of ornaments that dated back to the 1920s from her hall closet, and me and my brother spending hours placing them each in exactly the right spot. This was something special, different from our tree at home. In my mind, I connected that tree with all my gleeful, holiday memories of Christmases in Oklahoma. Somehow, I felt that without the tree, and given my aunt’s condition, we wouldn’t stand a chance of being happy this Christmas.

After an apology, I told my mother about my sentimental attachment to the tree, and how I thought it could be a source of cheer for us all. Of course she understood, so we created a plan that would make everyone happy.

My brother and I waited until my mom had taken my grandma grocery shopping, and then we went to the attic to retrieve the fake tree and the ornaments. We decorated it like always, hanging each frost-covered songbird, glittery fairy, and shiny glass ball with painstaking care. When they returned from their trip, my grandma gasped in surprise and smiled, her eyes bright.

“It’s a beautiful tree,” she said.

We visited my aunt several times during that trip, and it was almost impossible to remain composed, seeing her lay there, so frail and disoriented. Every time we returned to my grandparents’ house the tree was there to greet us. It twinkled with outstretched branches as if to say “It’s OK. I know you don’t have a lot of holiday spirit right now, so I’ll create it for you.”

My aunt passed away five days after Christmas that year. I miss her every holiday season, but now I smile whenever I see a Christmas tree, remembering the comfort my grandma’s tree brought us.

***

December 2009 marked the first Christmas Nathan and I celebrated as a married couple. Generally, people perceive winter as a romantic time of year that involves snuggling with hot cocoa by the fire, exchanging gifts with your special someone, and locking lips beneath the mistletoe. This idea leaves out the fact that many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, not to mention the financial strain the holiday season tends to cause.

So there we were, living paycheck to paycheck and spending most of our money on the heating bill and comfort food. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can, in fact, buy a Christmas tree, which we both knew would cheer up our home. So we set out on a mission: to find the best tree we could for the lowest price. Turns out, this was mission impossible. After visiting three tree lots and picking through overpriced and sickly looking pines, the sun had gone down, our hands were numb with cold, and our stomachs were growling. We decided to try again the next day, but on the way home we happened to drive by the Optimist tree lot. Maybe it was the organization’s name that gave us hope, but we felt renewed enthusiasm. Perhaps, we thought, we could make one last stop.

We walked through the rows of trees that were sprinkled with lights, rubbing our hands together. There were many exceptional specimens, but we still weren’t sure we could afford any of them. Finally, a salesman approached and gave us the pricing spiel.

“This here is your Douglas Fir. It’s the Cadillac of Christmas trees.” Nathan and I looked at the tree longingly; this was definitely not in our price range.

“We’re more in the market for the Dodge Neon of trees,” I explained. He laughed and took us down to the opposite end of the lot, where I expected to find a pile of pathetic Charlie Brown trees.

But there it was: the Scotch Pine. For only $35, plus $2 for tree food and a disposal bag, we could have the perfect Christmas tree. One problem: We were both pretty sure we only had about $30 in our checking account. But we hadn’t come this far to go home treeless.

We took our Scotch Pine home, where we battled with the tree-stand for a good 20 minutes before realizing the tree itself was actually crooked, and would therefore stand at about 86° instead of 90°. But, to us, it was the most perfect Christmas tree we had ever seen. We sat on the couch and snuggled, staring at our crooked, undecorated, wonderful tree. We were happy.

Looking back, this was easily one of the happiest moments of our first year of marriage. We didn’t have enough money, we were still figuring out how to split up housework without arguing constantly, and we weren’t entirely sure where the next year would lead us. But we had our first Christmas tree, and for a moment, nothing else seemed to matter.

Thankful

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First of all, let’s not get into the genocide, pilgrims taking the land from the natives argument. I’m not going there. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge what happened, or that I’m not thankful every day. It’s that Thanksgiving allows me more “breathing room” than a typical workday or weekend day when I’m trying to finish my to-do list that never seems to end. Holidays are generally a time when I allow myself permission to just…be. And so on Thanksgiving, I choose to be thankful. Here is a brief list:

photo courtesy of rustiqueart

I am thankful…

For the limitless love of family.

For shared memories with life-long friends and new-found friends.

For waking up late on Sundays just in time to attend the church of NPR and drink coffee with my husband.

For countless opportunities that I’ve had in education, work, and travel.

For the determination, ambition, intelligence, and humor I gained from my parents.

For affordable health insurance, and for my health.

For friendships that pick up where they left off no matter how much time has passed.

For a job where I am appreciated, trusted, well-paid, and get to use my talents.

For a husband who constantly pushes me to be a better person, teaches me things, and reminds me to have fun and relax.

For my puppy who loves to cuddle and never judges me.

For living in a city I love, in a country that keeps me safe and free.

For a President who believes in the same values that I do.

For relationships that provide opportunities to practice compassion, patience, and forgiveness.

For learning how to listen to what my heart really wants instead of being influenced by the opinions of others.

For moments that reassure me  that I’m on the right life path.

Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama

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Conservative friends, or anyone who is considering voting for Mitt Romney, please read this. Those of you who know me well know that I am not generally a judgmental or hateful person. I enjoy making people happy and helping others in need. Keep your knowledge of my personality in mind while you read this. I’m writing out of significant concern that has been resting on my heart and mind the past few weeks. I don’t want to knock anybody’s political opinions or belittle anyone’s religious views. My purpose is simply to express how I feel about our presidential candidates in a moral and ethical context.

“Young people, you are the people who belong to the twenty-first century. You should think how to bring this century into a more peaceful century, a more compassionate century.” ~ Dalai Lama

This statement above sums up conceptually why I am voting for Barack Obama to continue his role as President of the United States. Here is my reasoning:

Take a moment, if you will, to think of someone you admire who has given up their ENTIRE life, SELFLESSLY to promoting what he or she believes is morally right. I say ENTIRE and SELFLESSLY in all caps because I don’t mean a politician, your first grade teacher, or your parish priest. These people have chosen a way of life specifically to influence a group of people, and they are usually paid for their work. My two examples would be Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. They did not choose to be religious and spiritual leaders. They simply committed themselves to live a devout and selfless life, living the core values that they believe are vital with their actions, thoughts, and words. They did not choose to be influential. They are because we have experience their wisdom and chosen to follow them.

Public service, which includes the office of President, should be a very similar way of life. Our candidates are FAR from the status Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama, but we should consider them within the same selfless and moral context. Which one will serve people more consistently without considering their own personal gain? Which one will view the people of the United States as individuals who all have the same rights and needs?

Friends, division of our country morally will continue to set us up for failure. If we try to separate the gay from the straight, the rich from the poor, the old from the young, the Christian from the atheist, the legal citizen from the illegal immigrant, the black from the white, no one will win.

Mitt Romney’s policies are divisive and lack compassion and tolerance. The decisions he would make for the United States and our country’s interaction with the rest of the world would attempt to move us toward a more homogenous society that resists the very nature of humanity, which is diversity.

I am no economic expert, so my examples are based on moral issues. I find these issues the most troubling because people voting for Mitt Romney based on what they feel matches their religious and ethical views should reconsider what values his policies really enforce.

Mitt Romney’s lifestyle does not suggest an attitude of selflessness. He has led a privileged life, which is not a fault, but he lives far outside the boundaries of what is necessary. What is the moral purpose of having multiple cars and houses? There is no purpose other than material wealth.

Consider Mitt Romney’s views on gay marriage and the rights of gay parents:

“Some gays are actually having children born to them. It’s not right on paper. It’s not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and father.’’

What is his motive in this statement? Is it the well-being of the child? Many children have grown up with grandparents, an aunt and uncle, a single parent, or in foster homes and turned out just fine. I think Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama would argue that what is important is not the presence of one man and one woman in a child’s life, but the presence of love and compassion in that child’s life.

Consider this paired with Romney’s views on government funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does much more for our country than provide abortions. It provides educational materials to help teach people about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It provides free and reduced-cost contraception to help people avoid babies they are not ready for. Many women and men cannot afford doctor appointments, or prescriptions to treat STDs or to acquire birth control. Cheaper methods of birth control are more accessible to these populations but not as effective. Mitt Romney’s policy focuses on stopping abortions from occurring, but it does not focus on how to support those who might turn to an abortion when they feel there isn’t another option, or give them resources they need to prevent pregnancy in the first place. Shouldn’t his policy be concerned with the health and well-being of all citizens, rather than the moral views of some?

Mitt Romney focuses on the market and competition to provide people with health care options. Health is not a competition; it is a necessity for life. Our country should not be survival of the fittest, it should be a country where those with more help those with less so that everyone has what they need to live with a high quality of life. Not a life of excess, a life of necessities: affordable healthcare and medication, control over his or her body, access to resources that will help them when times are hard, the ability to legally bind themselves to someone they love and raise children with that person.

Obama’s policies on marriage, abortion, and health care offer SUPPORT and PROTECTION for those who need it, regardless of what his personal beliefs might be. He offers men and women the choice to marry whomever they choose, because love is stronger than hate. He offers women the resources they need to stay healthy and control their bodies, because the views of many should not control the needs of all. He offers everyone the chance of affordable health care to ensure quality of life. These are the actions of a selfless, compassionate leader. These are the beliefs of a man who values the well-being, freedom, and individuality of everyone in America.

What would your moral role model say about Mitt Romney’s policies? Would they agree that satisfying the religious and moral beliefs of some Americans is more important than allowing everyone the right to choose what is right for them in their life path with their family? Would they turn away those who make it to this country seeking help and a better life? Would they value profit and competition over health and quality of life?

The answers of my role models are crystal clear. I will vote for Barack Obama because I choose compassion, I choose to aid my neighbor, I choose to honor the experience of love no matter who experiences it with whom, I choose the soul over the material, and I choose unity and peace over division and war.