A Way to Conquer the Morning (Besides Coffee)

This morning, I wake up so sluggish and crabby that I just can’t imagine walking to school with the children.  As I slump out the door, scowling and overwhelmed, I feel my camera in my coat pocket.

At least it’s a sunny morning.  Maybe I’ll document this grueling walk.

Woods in the Morning

I look out through my lens to follow the light, and immediately, something changes in me.

I see the trees–really see them–and pause for a minute. 

And then I find her:  Some old crabby thing rises up against the morning light.

Letting the Light Find Her

She’s lit up, now beautiful, now conquering the morning, now distinct from the gnarled woods.  Rise and shine.  But she’s not doing it; she’s just letting the light find her.  

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Do you have a way you like to conquer the morning (besides coffee)?

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The Storm Will Come

In this part of the country, it storms at the same time every day.  It’s the strangest and most beautiful thing.  You learn to stay inside at 3:00 PM because a black cloud will inevitably roll over the mountains.  You anticipate the fearful lightening, the wind, and the fat drops of rain.

You train yourself to wait it out.  You adjust your schedule.

And you smile because you know the storm will end in an hour.  You smile because you know you’ll burst out the front door and see a rainbow that seems to stretch all the way back to Kansas.

You smile because you know the storm has a purpose to nourish and cool things down.

I think that’s what I’m learning about the hard parts of life:  they will come, and they serve a purpose.  Knowing the storm will come means I train myself:  I go inward with the Lord, anticipate what I’ll fear, wait it out, adjust and then. . . and then, smile.  I’m cooling off and being nourished by this storm.

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Journal:  Have you found a way to weather life’s storms?

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Moodiness to Marvelous

We’re in a new town for a wedding, and we ask the pastor where we might go for breakfast this morning.

This is the pastor who describes this little town as “ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God.”  He leans over and tells us we can go to all the normal breakfast places, but if we really want the best place, we need to go to Java Jacks.

Java Jacks looks like a run-down house on the side of the road!  This can’t be the place.  A dog named Samson sits by the side door waiting for a sample of sausage.  But the pastor said this was the place, so we enter.

I have one of the best breakfasts (in the quirkiest settings) I can remember in a long time. (By the way, a “Jacks” is a little funnel cake they serve on the side of your blueberry pancakes and crab omelets.)

I love finding people who know the local scene.  You have to leave the beaten path, not judge by appearances, and be willing to go on an adventure. 

I used to detest traveling.  All my anxiety and bad moods would flare up in resistance as soon as I packed the car.  But not anymore.  Living with flair has set me on a journey to find the extraordinary thing–often off the beaten path–that nobody else notices.  When I travel, it’s now anticipation instead of anxiety.  It’s marveling instead of moodiness.

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Journal:  What’s the best kept secret in your town?  A coffee shop?  A bookstore?

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Keep Your Wits About You

When you carefully manage your mental health like I do, a change of routine can get everything out of balance.  An older, wiser mother I know offered her best advice for enjoying the holidays–despite any stress or change of routine.

She said, “Keep your wits about you.” 

In other words, do whatever it takes to keep yourself in balance.  Even in the most rushed of days, I want to take time to exercise, sleep enough, eat healthy foods, and spend time in reflection and prayer.  My doctor says that these activities recalibrate the brain to keep me from being “reactive.”

Venomous Cobra

Imagine a snake that whips her head around and attacks with speed and ferocious power.  When I’m reactive, I snap at family members and let the venom of a bad mood dominate my speech and actions.

Instead of reactive living, I want responsive living.  I want to be at peace in my heart and gentle in my speech.  I want to respond, not react.  I want to be like a butterfly, carrying sweet nectar–not venom–within me. 

So when I excuse myself from the holiday rush for a brisk walk, an early bedtime, or a moment to reflect and write a blog, I’m investing in my own balance. 

I want to enter a room full of friends and family and be a blessing–alighting as a butterfly upon each dear soul.  Let me offer beauty, let me delight you.  But first, let me take a moment to keep my wits about me.  

(Photos, “Indian Cobra,” courtesy of Kamalmv, Wikipedia, and “Monarch in May,” courtesy of Creative Commons)

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My Tantrum in the Parking Lot

Well, let’s just say that I threw a little tantrum in the parking lot yesterday.  But in my defense, I’ll set the scene:

I’m in the minivan with the girls.  I’d been sick for a few days.  It’s a hot, sticky day, and we are circling and circling to find parking so we can go use our coupons for free hot pretzels at the Pretzel Factory.  Everybody is arguing and complaining, especially me.  Not only does a man glare at me and try to claim the spot I was patiently waiting for, but as I finally pull into my rightful spot, I realize I left the coupons at home.  And then I  realize that the girls are already spilling out of the minivan with all my pocket change.  They are generously feeding the meter (they love “feeding” the meter’s “mouth”).

I’m in a bad mood, and all I want to do is go home, take a shower, and forget this hot, sticky day.  So I literally stomp while dragging the girls down the street.  “I am NOT happy!”  I said aloud (please tell me other mothers out there have acted this way!)  And then, God reminds me to go over my flair principles.   I start saying to myself, “Heather, you can find the flair in this.  You need to apologize to your children and start new.” 

It’s not working; everything is annoying me:  the man at the cash register, the incessant ringing of the bell on the shop door, the way my girls are hanging on me.  We get our pretzels and fight a crowd of equally moody parents and children back to our car (the whole world seems to have the same pretzel outing idea).  There’s a line waiting for my spot in the parking lot.

I buckle my seat belt, ready to get out of there, and I glance at my meter.  Apparently, my children used every last dime and purchased tons of time for that spot.  I look over my shoulder at the other minivans waiting for my parking space.

I see another mother who just wanted to be somewhere else.

And then I imagine the simple moment of happiness she might experience when she realizes that somebody else left her ridiculous amounts of time on the meter.  Maybe it would be just the thing to get her out of a funk.

I think this counts as a flair moment–for that other driver!  Finding extra time on the meter always makes me feel good somehow, like the planets aligned for me, like the universe was tilting in my favor.  It always feels like a special nod of love.

I start to giggle.  Some other person was going to have some happiness, although just a tiny bit of it, in the form of dimes in a meter.  Maybe they’d feel a nod of love from a stranger.  I was suddenly happy and out of my funk just because of the thought of surprising some other woman. 

Living with flair means putting extra money in the meter for the next person.  It might just make you feel better.

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What Gets You Out of Balance?

A couple of days ago, everybody complained about the water in the pool.  After a rainstorm, the pH levels of our public pool were “off.”  Our eyes stung, the water felt weird, and some people complained that their bathing suits were changing color.  It was strange. The pool staff adjusted the pH, but it still took time to stabilize.

I learned how sensitive a swimming pool can be.  Did you know the pool levels need to be monitored daily, sometimes several times a day?  Did you know how easily the pH levels change?  I had no idea.  I had no idea the delicate balance of chemicals involved in daily pool maintenance.  It’s a lot of work!  And results don’t come immediately.  Sometimes it takes 24 hours for a pool’s normal pH to be restored after an imbalance.

I liked learning that about my pool.  My pool’s imbalances remind me of my own.  It’s not so strange to monitor my well-being daily, sometimes several times a day, and recalibrate based on what’s out of balance. I’m like a lifeguard holding that chemical kit and pH tester.  I’m armed with tools to get myself back in balance.

If I’m not feeling good, if the family is stressed out, or if we aren’t experiencing peace and joy, we stop and ask:  “What’s out of balance?”

Then we recalibrate.  Sometimes, we recalibrate twice a day.  We make any and all adjustments to find balance again. 

Just as rainwater and outside chemicals and debris radically alter the pool’s functioning, I’ve learned after all these years 10 things that get me “out of balance.”  I wonder if you could add something to my list.

I don’t feel so happy!   I wonder:  

1.  Have I had too much junk food, sugar, or processed food?
2.  Have I had enough sleep?
3.  Have I had time to pray and connect with God?
4.  Have I exercised in the last 48 hours?
5.  Have I deeply connected with my husband and each child recently? 
6.  Have I had enough social time with friends?  Have I had too much? 
7.  Have I had a creative outlet in the last few days?
8.  Have I conversed with too many toxic people (manipulative, guilt-trippers, complainers, gossipers) in my day?
9.  Have I assumed too many responsibilities and not delegated enough?  (Especially when it comes to keeping an organized and clean home. . . I don’t have to do all the housework, ever)
10. Have I let my mind wander and create irrational future scenarios of doom (finances, health, etc.)?

What sort of things get you out of balance?  What brings your mood down most of all?  I’d love to hear what else we could ask ourselves to check our “balance levels.”   Living with flair means learning to monitor myself, ask what’s out of balance, and then, recalibrate.

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Waking Up Happy

Something so small, something that takes only a few minutes, made me immeasurably happy this morning.  It’s a little ridiculous, really, how happy it made me.

I want to wake up happy, not just for me, but for everybody else. I want to be self-aware enough to manage my moods and know what it’s going to take to set the scene for flair.  I know that feelings of happiness and security for everybody else often depend on Mom’s Mood.  I’ve been working on this for 10 years.

And all it was?  Chopped veggies in a bag for an omelet waiting in the refrigerator.  The whole morning seemed to pass so smoothly, like we were all skating on ice, gliding peacefully through the morning routine.  No rush, no yelling.

It started last night.  I do things like put out all the clothes we are going to wear and line up the backpacks by the door–anything I can do to make the morning work better.  But at my Weight Watchers meeting, I learned that you can chop up vegetables, put them in a bag, and dump everything in your pan with eggs for a quick breakfast.  It seemed easy enough.

So in a mere 3 minutes, I found I had flipped the world’s most perfect omelet, complete with three different vegetables.  I paraded that omelet around the kitchen.  I imagined that omelet makers who have gone before me were rejoicing in heaven over this omelet.

When I do these little things–these little preparations the night before–I’m setting the scene for a good mood.  I know what it takes to keep myself pleasant for everybody else.  I know about exercise, about healthy eating, about a good night’s sleep, about spiritual disciplines.  But what I sometimes forget is all the little night before preparations that, although consume time and effort, yield happiness benefits for me.

I think it’s because when I opened the fridge and saw my breakfast nearly ready, I felt cared for and nurtured.  I wasn’t in breakfast panic mode.  Everything was already taken care of.  Even though it was me caring for myself in advance (stay with me…), it still felt like a gesture of love.  It’s how I feel when my husband has the coffee ready before I’m even out of bed (he’s so great). 

Living with flair is being in a good mood for my family and my neighbors.  If it means chopping veggies the night before, I’m adding that to the good mood recipe.   And I’ll do it as a gift to all the other folks around my table who appreciate a peaceful morning.  

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What if I were loyal?

I had a sublime experience last night that carried into my morning so powerfully as to eclipse any other possible flair for the day.

I entertained a woman who owned a service dog. This black lab sat all night at our feet, waiting to take action in case my new friend had a seizure. The dog can predict up to two minutes in advance if the woman will have a seizure, and then he alerts her by tapping his nose on her thigh. Then the dog leads her to a safe location, helps her to the ground, secures a perimeter, and then stretches out on the ground beneath her head until the seizure ends. It gets better. The dog can also go get help by opening doors, retrieving cell phones, and even finding a dominant presence (usually an alpha male) in a room who can call 911.

I looked at that dog lying peacefully at our feet. No way.

Guess how he knows. Smell alone. The dog senses slight variations in the way my friend smells. Before a seizure, a chemical emits from glands on her neck that the dog perceives.

What? I looked again at the dog. I had to know more.

Apparently, the dog is just like other dogs: he plays, he runs, he eats, he poops. But at all times, he’s tuned in to my friend. He senses any variation and takes immediate action.

I felt overcome by awe. I also felt something that surprised me.

As the woman talked about the dog sleeping close beside her, waiting with eagerness for her to emerge from a shower, or just noticing the slightest change in her smell, I considered how thankful I’ve been for people who “tune in” to variations in my moods, my health, or my well-being. I remember difficult times in my life when friends sensed a variation in me, led me to a safe place, tried to make me comfortable, and called for help if I needed it. Am I that loyal to my family, my neighbors, my coworkers and students that I can sense a variation, offer help, secure a perimeter, and provide comfort? What does that look like for me to “tune in” to people in my life?

When I’m not myself, I’ve had a friend say, “You don’t seem right. Can I help?” Am I close enough–tuned in enough–to people in my life that I can observe these things? I want to be.

Living with flair means tuning in to others, providing help and comfort, and getting help for them if I need to. Living with flair means I notice subtle changes in others that might indicate something deeper. I want to be the one who secures a safe spot. Maybe one of my friends needs to rest on me until an episode passes. It’s flair to be that loyal. It’s not just for the dogs.

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