Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Start Anew

Just as a blanket of new snow cleans and freshens the landscape, the new year offers a clean slate for you.

Spend some time this week reflecting on all that you experienced and learned over the past year. Express your gratitude for those moments.

Then, think about the new year and look with anticipation on the beginnings that will come with the turning of the calendar.

Be confident in yourself. Don't be afraid to start anew. Opportunities and invitations will lead to satisfying, new adventures if you're open to them. 

Look to the new year with joy. Be present and grateful for all of the good that will come.

Today, this week: Allow for the changing of the calendar to offer fresh starts for you. Look forward to glorious, new adventures in the new year. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is upon us, the beginning of the winter season. 

The darkness, the snow and the hush to the landscape are oddly juxtaposed with the busyness of the holidays, the merriment of the parties and the songs of the season being sung everywhere. 

In the midst of the activities and obligations -- the cookie baking, the parties, the school programs, the concerts, the gift buying, the preparations for the holidays, make time to quiet yourself, to internally reflect the outer world right now: hushed, dark, inviting peace.

Today, this week: Give yourself the gift of quiet in the midst of the busy season.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Friendship Tea: Reflections on the Joy of a Cup of Tea

When I was a young girl barely in junior high school, my late mom received a recipe for something new called Friendship Tea (also known to some as Russian Tea). The easy-to-make tea mix was comprised of instant tea powder, orange-flavored breakfast drink powder, ground cinnamon and ground cloves. Sweet, fruity, tangy and spicy. Even to this child’s taste buds, Friendship Tea was oh, so tasty.

Mom and I would go on to make our fair share of Friendship Tea throughout the years, some to give as gifts—especially at the holidays—and some to enjoy together. There was always a clear apothecary-style jar with a tight-fitting lid filled with the tea mix on Mom’s kitchen counter, scoop in the container, ready for tea making. We’d sit across from each other in our homey country kitchen at the old trestle table that served as dinner table, sewing table, homework table, board games table, even reconciling the checkbook table. There, Mom and I would sit, engrossed in conversation over a cup—be it our own homemade Friendship Tea brew or my mom’s store-bought favorite, Constant Comment. That trestle table could have told its share of stories, especially those involving a cup of tea.

Come to think of it, tea has always been at the heart of my most cherished conversational experiences with important women in my life. To this day, when invited for a cup of coffee, I choose tea. Not only does it appeal more to my taste buds, it appeals to my entire being. I may be the only person on any given day sitting in our popular local coffee shop, delighting in my cup of chamomile.

My preference may have to do with the ritual of tea-making that I admire so much, but rarely follow. There is a time-honored ritual to the act of filling the kettle, hearing its piercing whistle when the water reaches the boiling point, transferring the boiling water to a decorative teapot, and steeping teabags until the water turns just the right shade.

The first swallow brings about a sense of calm as the tea curls around on your tongue, washing over your taste buds, giving you just enough time to discern the commingled flavors before disappearing down your throat.

Drinking tea goes beyond the pleasures of taste, however. There’s nothing that warms body and soul quite like lacing your fingers around a hot mug of tea. The winter chill melts away around that one hot cup underneath your hands.

I have a friend with whom I often drink a cup of Constant Comment tea. Like my mother and me, she has a preference for its taste. We sit companionably, my friend and I, solving the world’s problems as we sip our tea—sometimes with honey, sometimes straight. (The addition of the former makes our world outlook a little sweeter, too.)

And sipping it is. Gulping down one’s tea will never do. The aromatic brew invites you to slow down, stop for a bit and sip, just sip.

My friend is a tea purist. The water must be boiled in its own pot, then poured into the mug or cup. I try not to remind her that I often heat a cup of water in the microwave (Heaven forbid!) and then plunk my teabag into the steaming water, calling it a finished product worthy of sipping. It must be the lazy—or perhaps efficient—tea drinker in me.

Thankfully, I have another dear friend, now sadly on hospice, who shares with me the not-so-refined art of microwave tea-making. She’d have the mug of water in the microwave, ready to press start the minute I walked in the door. I could sit at her sturdy table for hours chatting about this and that over a cup of decaffeinated green tea, sometimes with a slice of homemade bread or a freshly baked cookie on the side. A part of me aches as I miss those tea times with my friend, but I’ll carry their sweet lingering memory with me forever.

But back to Friendship Tea. It’s such a perfect name. From the time I was introduced to that simple tea recipe so many years ago, I have wholeheartedly agreed with its name. What lovelier way is there to share time with people you care about than over a nice cuppa? 

And speaking of a cuppa, here’s a more recent version of the Friendship Tea recipe my mom and I enjoyed so much, this time with the added zest of lemonade mix:

½ cup instant tea powder
1 cup sweetened lemonade powder
1 cup orange-flavored drink mix (e.g. Tang)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves

In a large bowl, combine and mix well all of dry ingredients together. Store in an air-tight container. To serve, scoop 2 to 3 teaspoons of the tea mix into a mug. Add one cup of boiling water. Stir and savor.

Whether you go for chamomile, chai, oolong or Earl Grey, every cup of tea, when shared with a friend, becomes Friendship Tea.

May you enjoy your share of cuppas with those dear to you. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Dry a Tear

As the holidays approach, you have so much to give. Your gift, however, doesn't have to be purchased in a store or wrapped with an elaborate bow. It doesn't have to be the latest fad or break your piggy bank. 

Your gift is invaluable when it is your caring heart.

This season, what if you made it a practice for your gift to be that of kindness? How badly our world needs kindness! Every day, we encounter people who are hurting, who are injured by the circumstances of life, whose way is rough and who could use some compassion. 

Open your heart to others. Offer a word of encouragement. Dry a tear.

This holiday season, give love. Give compassion. Give kindness. Give patience. Give respect. Give your undivided self.

You don't have to buy a present. Instead, be present.

Today, this week, this holiday season: Be a gift to others by being kind and spreading compassion.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Explore!

There is such joy in learning new things. Your understanding expands. Your perspective grows. Your assumptions are challenged. Your self-confidence increases.

Perhaps that learning experience comes from listening to the radio or a podcast. Maybe it's through watching a television program or an online TED Talk. Perhaps it's through reading a newspaper, a book or a resource on the Internet. Or maybe it's through a conversation with someone. 

Learning can happen anywhere and at any time (including at any time in your life), if you're open to receiving and considering new information.

When you are open to such newness, you feed your curious self and, as a bonus, you feed your soul.

That's what lifelong learning is all about: A joyful journey of expanding, growing and becoming!

Today, this week: Explore! Give yourself the joy of learning something new, no matter how small, every day. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Song in Your Heart

Television star and orchestra leader Lawrence Welk used to end his weekly TV programs by reminding the audience to keep a song in their hearts. When I think of the weeks leading up to Christmas, I carry a song -- actually several songs, carols and hymns -- in my heart. For me, the joy of the holidays is synonymous with the joy of singing the music of the season.

My love of holiday music began as a child when my parents bought the latest Christmas vinyl LP albums offered through Firestone tires. I couldn't wait to climb back into our station wagon and get home to listen to the new album on our hi-fi stereo record player, complete with speakers affixed to the sides and a turntable that could tilt back into the equipment's housing when not in use. I looked forward every year to that latest Firestone Christmas record album making its appearance in the store so we could buy one.

Each of those annual record albums featured a wide array of famous singers and groups performing Christmas pop standards and classical orchestral works. By listening to those records over and over, I came to love the smooth silky sounds of Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Vic Damone, Doris Day, Robert Goulet, Carol Lawrence and Rosemary Clooney.  I was introduced to the holiday music of Bert Kaempfert's orchestra, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and the magnificent orchestral arrangements of everything from "O Holy Night" to "Toyland." 

As a six-year-old, I began singing in our church's children's choir, wearing a white "angel" robe with a big black bow tied at the neck. I was also given the wonderful opportunity to sing solos at Christmas Eve church services, beginning as an elementary school girl. "Winds Through the Olive Trees" and "I Wonder As I Wander" were two of my favorite solo pieces from those years. 

Throughout the years, my Christmas performing opportunities expanded to madrigal dinners, as well as vocal duets, trios, choirs, harp-vocal duets and even as a member of an a cappella women's group called The Cheddar Chicks (It's a Wisconsin thing!). I continue to enjoy participating in several of those small ensembles to this day. 

During my growing up years, there were Christmas concerts at school from the time I was an elementary school student all the way through college. In high school, I was a member of a girls' sorority that entertained our community's grade school audiences at Christmastime with skits and songs. One year, I wore our family's green felt Christmas tree skirt as part of my elf costume as I helped lead the children in singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

As a member of other youth organizations and groups, I helped bring music to those who benefited from being uplifted by song as they healed at our local hospital or resided at the local nursing home or at a senior housing facility.

Regardless of the age of our audiences, whether seated cross-legged on a grade school gymnasium floor or in wheelchairs in a nursing home's activity room, there was something about singing Christmas music together that transcended age and promoted joy. And it still does today.

As an adult, I have had the pleasure for many years of singing with a local caroling ensemble called The Village Voices. We wander the downtown retail district, caroling a cappella sacred and secular Christmas songs, in and out of shops and cafes every Saturday during the bustling holiday shopping season. We also sing at the lovely mansion associated with our county's historical society. I look forward to caroling season every fall.

While I have enjoyed singing a wide range of Christmas music over the decades, I consider it to be among the highlights when I have sung with scores of other singers in performances of "The Messiah," filling the hall or church with the moving strains of Handel's great work. Who doesn't get a chill up and down their spine when hearing "The Hallelujah Chorus"?

Some of my Christmas musical performances haven't been ready for "prime time" or any time! For years, a dear friend and I would get together to watch "White Christmas," the popular holiday movie classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and we'd sing along! My friend could sing every single lyric to every single song, where I seemed to only be able to sing the chorus or perhaps a line or two of most pieces, except of course the iconic "White Christmas" after which the movie was named.

Even when I'm not doing the singing myself, I find that I'm drawn to the Christmas music that others perform as they lift their voices or their instruments in jubilant song. It seems that my husband and I attend every Christmas concert available all December long. I even enjoy Christmas music in other more mundane settings, tapping my toe to the beat and humming along while standing in line at stores where Christmas music is playing over the sound system.

Christmas shouldn't have to be the only time of year when we feel the music deep inside of us. Lawrence Welk reminded us of otherwise. 

Whether the tune be merry ("Jingle Bells"), silly ("Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"), reverent ("Silent Night") or celebratory ("Joy to the World"), consider making your own joyful noise this holiday season. 

Keep a song in your heart.

As I close out this year's series of reminiscences, I'm going to take a hiatus from the longer Sunday afternoon blog posts in 2020. Please join me next Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m. central time and again each Sunday morning in the new year for your weekly dose of "Sunday Sunshine" where my goal is to offer you rays of hope, encouragement, joy and gratitude for your day and week. Blessings!

Sunday Sunshine: Fill in the Blank

A small, hand-printed sign appeared on a tiny table in our church's fellowship hall one Sunday morning. Its message read: "One thing that made me happy was...." If you weren't looking, you might have missed the sign. But how important that fill-in-the-blank is.

Every day, we learn of people who are hurting due to losses, illnesses, relationship stress, work stress, financial stress and other difficulties.

Think about one thing that made you happy yesterday and one thing you did to make someone else's yesterday happy. 

Now consider what will make you happy today and how you might spread that sunshine to someone else. Let the good vibe ripples flow. 

You have the power to make your day one of happiness, joy, gratitude and discovery. It's all in what you choose.

Today, this week: Remember that you have the power to make your day a happy one. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Live a Life of Thanksgiving

It's the week of Thanksgiving, that lovely holiday when we reflect on all that is good, all that is blessing. Often on that day we gather with others to share our bounty. Often, we break bread together, sharing a meal of larger-than-normal proportions. 

Perhaps your Thanksgiving table will be laden with turkey, dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, that ubiquitous green bean casserole, and maybe even a pie or two. Perhaps those around your table will hold hands, share laughs, share love. 

Or perhaps your Thanksgiving will be quiet, maybe just you or maybe in an intimate experience with one other person or a small group. Perhaps your meal won't be of feast-like proportions.

In whatever ways you spend the holiday this week, whether quiet or loud, solo or surrounded by family and friends, we all share the same opportunity to enjoy it with a spirit of thanksgiving -- giving thanks for what you have in your life.

As you express your gratitude for your blessings, spread that gratitude, joy and love beyond Thanksgiving to the other days in your life. Being thankful shouldn't be reserved for only one day a year in November. Make the most of every single day by treating it as a gift to be savored and appreciated. 

We each have abundance in our lives. When we spend time reflecting on that abundance, it becomes clearer to us and our opportunities for thanksgiving grow.

Today, this week, this Thanksgiving: Be thankful for the abundance in your life. Spread bountifully your gratitude, joy and love. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Be Grateful for Your Restlessness

Wouldn't life be easier if everything was neat, orderly and clear? Wouldn't it be nice to have a definitive road map where the answers arrived swiftly at our feet so we knew when and where to take the next steps?

Alas, life isn't so clean, neat or clear. It can be a tangle. It can be a fog. It can be a dark night without a flashlight.

Rather than stress about the uncertainty, embrace it! Be grateful for it! Experience fully the restlessness that resides within you. Be okay with not having a clear road map for your every move. Being restless can help you remain open to newness. 

When you're restless, growth potential finds its way into your path as a signal that good things are coming.

Today, this week: Experience your restlessness fully. Be grateful for it. Celebrate all of the potential it holds.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Feel Peace

Life can be rather a stressful experience. There are all kinds of reasons to feel stressed. As a culture, we thrive more and more on conflict -- with others and with ourselves.

It seems these days that people tend to like feeling stressed and conflicted. We surely talk (or tweet or post) a lot about those things that make us feel that way. We zip about quickly, trying to do too much. We don't take good care of ourselves. At the end of the day, we're exhausted and spent and perhaps even a bit lonely as we isolate ourselves from others, hidden behind our electronic devices.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the United States. As those of us who live in America reflect on the men and women who have heroically served our country and continue to do so around the globe, let's also take a few moments to pause and express gratitude to them -- perhaps through your thoughts and prayers, perhaps through your words and actions. Think healing thoughts of peace for them.

Then, think about how you can diffuse the stressful, conflicted moments in your own life so that you feel grateful, connected and at peace. Once you feel that sense of peace, be generous with it. Spread it around so that when others feel stressed or conflicted, they'll feel your peaceful energy and find that they, too, can live in such a wonderful state.

Today, this week: Feel peace. Spread peace. Live peace. Be peace.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Quiet Grace of Gratitude

"What would you do if you woke up tomorrow morning and all you had is what you thanked God for yesterday?" That message, which landed on my Facebook timeline several months ago, made me pause as it reminded me of the quiet grace of gratitude.

Gratitude isn't showy, bossy or bold. Gratitude is a quiet state of knowing, a peaceful place of blessing. 

Gratitude seems to be the perfect theme for November, a month marked by not only the American holiday of Thanksgiving, but also the quieting of nature. After the vibrant colors of summer followed by the crayon box of brilliant hues in October, November arrives appropriately in shades of tan and taupe. With it comes the opportunity to pause, to soak up the silence and to be grateful -- even to be grateful for making time to be grateful.

As human beings, our wants are often greater than our needs. When we pause and reflect on our blessings, both large and small, grand and everyday, immediate and evergreen, everything changes. When we're grateful, we often find that what we have is enough. There is a quiet peace in having that deep knowing that it is all enough, there is no need for more, what we have is already blessing.

As I joined three others from my church at an out-of-state conference last year, our pastor led us in prayer before we embarked on our road trip and before each meal. It didn't matter if we were at a fast-food restaurant or taking our sandwich with us in the car, she made sure that we spent a moment in reflection and prayer that always included the words "thank you."

One of those pre-meal reflections was based on a tradition in her household where those dining together share something aloud for which they are grateful that day. I found, as I always do, that when I am forced to think about my blessings, they seem to bubble up in such abundance that naming one blessing isn't sufficient.

As a child, our family's meal prayer consisted of these lovely words: "Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you, God, for everything."

I haven't said that prayer for a long time, but its words are affixed to my childhood memories and I realize that I should say them more often. As I look at those 26 words now, I see that they say it all. The prayer focuses on the good that surrounds us and is inside of us, the magnificence found in the details of the natural world, the blessing of having food to nourish our bodies, and the realization that everything, everything is blessing.

Everything is blessing. Everything.

As an adult, I often experience overwhelming feelings of gratitude. Those feelings are likely fueled by the daily conditioning I do of naming three things for which I'm grateful upon awakening and then repeating the practice before I fall asleep at night. The act of framing my day in gratitude affects my perspective all day long.

How do you experience the quiet grace of gratitude? Take a cue from the gentle shades of November and sit quietly, if only for a few moments each day, to express your thanks. Everything is blessing. Everything. May you feel blessed today and every day.

Sunday Sunshine: Count Your Blessings

When the alarm clock rings, what are your first thoughts? Do you think about what you're going to wear? Do you worry that you might have overslept? Are you in a hurry? In a fog? Do you feel excited for the new day? Or do you feel a sense of dread? Or, perhaps even worse, a sense of resignation that the day will be the "same old, same old"?

What if you turned your mornings inside out and upside down until they were right side up by expressing your gratitude? That's right! Try being thankful at the start of your new day. How might your day, how might everything look if you chose to view it through the lens of gratitude?

At the end of the day, repeat the process. As you place your head on the pillow and get ready to relax, rest and renew, spend a few moments naming your blessings. Chances are you'll even sleep better. 

It's amazing what a little dose of gratitude can do. Try it! A grateful heart makes all of your hours a gift.

Today, this week: Spend time each morning and each evening counting your blessings. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: YOU Are Sunshine!

During a string of rainy days, I got to the point where I felt as if the sunshine was never going to return again. Although I don't think of myself as being negatively affected by the weather for very long, I have to admit that the day-after-day experience of slate skies and downpours was affecting my happiness.

The rainy days will come--perhaps as just one day of drizzle or perhaps as an extended period of torrents--in your life. But, no matter the weather, no matter the circumstances in your life, you have the ability, you hold the power to rise above the rain to a place of blue skies. 

You hold those blue skies inside of you at all times. You hold a place of sunshine inside of you always. You are light. You can bring that light to yourself at any time. And you can share it with others and be the light for them, too.

Today, this week: Spread sunshine, no matter the weather. Be light.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Let Your Joy Burst Forth

At this time of year, when we often experience an abundance of blue skies and brightly colored landscapes that wear their favorite fall colors, there is a joy in the air. The bright colors bring a loveliness to our days and uplift our spirits.

We can take a cue from nature. We can bring joy--a feeling of blue skies and brightness--to ourselves and others every single day, regardless of the season or the weather.

It's much easier to be joyful than it is to be dispirited. And when we focus on joy, more of it seems to come into our lives, as if our joy attracts even more joy!

Today, this week: Let your joy burst forth, bringing loveliness to your day and to those around you.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Plan, Plan, Plan

Plan, plan, plan. You have daily to-do lists, work goals, projects at home. It seems as if you're always in a state of planning, thinking ahead, preparing for the future.

Sometimes, however, your plans get derailed. 

It’s during those times of derailment when you would benefit from pressing "pause," considering your reality, and then redirecting your thoughts and actions. 

When you flow with the newness that's been thrust upon you (contrary to your best-laid plans!) —and the opportunities that can come from the unexpected, you can find blessing. Those blessings can lead to satisfying, new directions that weren't even on your radar when you were busy keeping your head down planning.

Today, this week: Make your plans, but also leave space for the unexpected that may take you into satisfying, new directions you could never have imagined.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Make a Harvest of Memories

Although I'm a self-proclaimed "spring" person, I have a deep appreciation for all four of the beautiful seasons we experience here in Wisconsin. Each season has its own distinctive characteristics. Autumn in Wisconsin is a treat to all of the senses, from the palette of fall colors splashing the countryside to the taste of crisp apples and acorn squash to the scent of dry leaves as they swish and crackle underfoot. 

As a little girl, I collected brightly colored maple leaves each fall, placing them between sheets of wax paper and then nesting them between the voluminous pages of Sears Roebuck, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward catalogs to flatten and preserve the leaves before they became brittle and curled. 

We lived in the country, so a Sunday drive to take in the fall color was never necessary. All we had to do was look out of our living room or kitchen windows to see breathtaking views of autumn's finery. I got to see that beauty every weekday on the school bus as we rode through valleys and up hills, picking up and dropping off child after child to and from school.

Recess time at our quaint, old elementary school was meant for building forts, homes and castles out of fallen leaves, letting our imaginations soar with the possibilities that piles of leaves could create. 

Fall was the time to walk up the hill behind our dear neighbor, Elsie's, big farm house and pick low-hanging pears off of the trees heavy with fruit. I recall indulging in too many of our pickings one year and getting a belly ache for my efforts. 

And speaking of fruit of the season, it wouldn't be autumn in our neighborhood when I was growing up without several trips to Ski Hi Fruit Farm up the road from where we lived. The orchard is located high on a hill overlooking the Baraboo Bluffs. The owners of the orchard, Art and Olga Bassett and their children, Betty and Phil, were wonderful neighbors and dear friends. The apples they grew were always a treat -- and they still are today. My mom favored Macouns, so our home always had an ample supply of them. When I eat a Macoun apple from Ski Hi these days, I'm immediately transported back in time to when I wore knee socks and dresses to school and my mom and I would make a treat of sliced Macoun apples and popcorn every Sunday night for dinner when my dad was away for his work.

As a child, going trick-or-treating on Halloween was a safe endeavor. We'd drive into town with our neighbors, stopping at the homes of several of their family members and our friends, for the annual adventure. I didn't need to receive lots of candy, only enough to consider it a treat. My Halloween costumes varied from homemade versions of cheerleader uniforms to store-bought versions of Cleopatra. 

October also meant carving pumpkins -- nothing fancy, just triangular eyes and nose and a toothy grin. Jack-o-lanterns with a candle stuck inside of them always created a happy pumpkin-face glow.

Now that October is here, I dedicate a little time to recalling fond memories of Octobers past. I also relish all that October in Wisconsin has to offer today. Autumn is at its peak. So spend some time outdoors savoring the season and this month of harvest and riotous color. Enjoy the many simple pleasures that October has to offer: Swish through dry leaves. Tuck a few of them between the pages of a book to save for later enjoyment. Visit an apple orchard. Try your hand at carving a pumpkin. Delight young trick-or-treaters by wearing a costume when you hand out Halloween candy. 

October is a celebration for children and for the child in each of us whose youth is in the rear-view mirror. Indulge and enjoy! Make a harvest of memories during this glorious, glorious month.

Sunday Sunshine: Where am I Being Called to Serve?

Your days can feel like a blur. You're pulled in a million directions. Everyone seems to need a "piece" of your energies and time. 

Are you really that busy or does it just seem that way?

Although you may feel as if your life is a fast treadmill only increasing speed, I would challenge you to spend some time in the quiet and ask, “Where am I being called to serve?” 

Listen carefully for the answer. 

We all have gifts and talents to give for the betterment of our neighborhood, community and world.

Do you have some time -- just a little bit of time -- to give to a cause greater than yourself, a cause that resonates with your interests and values, a cause that could use your abundant talents? If you say yes, you will feel the richness of the experience and others will benefit from your generosity.

Today, this week: Consider where you are being called to serve. Where can you say yes?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Share Happiness

I read a lovely quote recently, attributed to author John Harrigan: "Happiness held is the seed. Happiness shared is the flower." So true!

When we choose to embrace happiness in our lives, it's as if we invite the sun to shine on us and to warm our souls.

But when we go one step further and share our happiness with others, it's magic! We transfer that sunshine to others and brighten the world.

And as we intentionally choose happiness and then generously share it with others, those recipients have the opportunity to share happiness, too.

Today, this week: Lift your day and that of another. Choose happiness and generously share it.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Fall's Here!

Tomorrow marks the first day of fall.

Just as the landscape changes during this season, moving from green to a brilliant palette of red, yellow, orange and russet, we, too, have an opportunity to make positive changes in our lives. 

What opportunities do the change of seasons bring to you?

Now's a perfect time to look at the circumstances of your life with new eyes and, after careful examination and consideration, change course, if needed.

Autumn will soon show its brilliant colors. Are you living your own true life, honoring your priorities and values so that your "real colors" show through?

Today, tomorrow, this week, this autumn season: Look to the change of seasons to evaluate your life and then make adjustments that honor your "true colors" -- your real, best self.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Kindness is Always in Season

Our day-to-day lives are packed with tasks. Our datebooks are filled with obligations. Every piece of paper found lying around seems to be ripe for a to-do list. 

Sure, you're in a hurry. You have a lot to do. It's easy to just put your head down and keep on keepin' on.

In your busy life, however, how often do you go out of your way to be kind, especially to a stranger?

Being kind doesn't have to be something big. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone else. It can be sharing your smile with others as you walk by. It can be allowing someone behind you in the grocery check-out lane to go ahead of you because they have fewer items. It can be a pat on the back that you give your co-worker for a job well done. It can be a high-five you give your child. It can be making yourself totally present to someone who needs a moment of your time.

You may be busy, but you're never too busy to be kind. When you're kind to others, kindness has a lovely way of coming back to you.

Today, this week: Make room each day to be kind. Kindness is always in season. Kindness matters.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Be Positive

When things go contrary to your plans or when you're given news that you'd rather not hear, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath. Then, try to look for the opportunity amidst the clouds and storms that seem to have entered your life. There's always opportunity during a difficult time.

If you look for the positive aspects in a situation, you increase your chances of seeing the possibilities there. You may have to look a little harder, but they're there.

Embrace the good. Honor the moment in which you are living. As a bonus, your positive energy will attract more positive energy to you.

When your world feels like a rainstorm, lift your face. The sunshine will find you.

Today, this week: Look for the positive. See the possibilities. Lift your face to the sun.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Back to School!

It's the beginning of another school year. Based on all that I hear from those who teach or who have school-age children, the learning experience is far more than the "reading, writing and arithmetic" that dominated my elementary school days. Yet, the joyful anticipation of the new school year is timeless.

All dressed up, loving my kindergarten school year.

I can still recall my excitement in getting a new plastic pencil case, a new box of crayons--perhaps a little bigger with more color choices than the previous year, sharp new pencils and a jar of paste. And speaking of paste, living in the country, I rode the school bus to my elementary school. On the bus was an older boy who had the wonderful first name of Pace. However, from my first-grade perspective, I thought for the longest time that his name was Paste!

The first days of school also meant a new dress. I recall my parents buying me two new dresses for the start of my third-grade school year. They were of an identical sailor design, with a wide collar and bow in front. One was sewn of olive paisley fabric and had a matching little purse, as well as olive green knee socks, while the other was made of light blue and white gingham. 

I can be seen wearing the light blue and white gingham sailor-collar dress in this photo taken during one of the first days of my third-grade school year. (To gain a better understanding as to why I am holding two Eastern Fox Snakes, see my blog post, dated August 21, 2018, My Dad, the Snake Man - Part Two.)

One year, I saved enough of my summer allowance earned from doing daily and weekly chores to help my parents to buy my own skirt and sweater. I'll never forget that outfit or the circumstances behind my buying it. Our downtown business community held an annual event on the last Saturday in July called Old Fashioned Day, when all of the downtown merchants would display discounted merchandise on the sidewalk. There were always huge savings to be had on Old Fashioned Day. With my hard-earned money in hand, we headed to Kiddie Kastle, a popular local children's clothing store on Oak Street next to the First National Bank. There I found a bright turquoise, cream and magenta plaid skirt. Then, lo and behold, on another rack, I found a turquoise turtleneck sweater that perfectly matched the skirt. Although not designed to be a matching outfit, I was able to piece the two discounted items together to create my own matching sweater and skirt set. 

Buying my own school clothing at that time wasn't the only focus of my allowance purchases. When I was 11 years old, I decided to use some of my allowance to buy my mother a new dress for her own back-to-school experience--her 25th year high school reunion in Charles City, Iowa. Once I explained what I wanted to do with some of my allowance, my parents and I headed to Reinking's, a popular store in our downtown that featured women's clothing, lingerie, fabric, sewing patterns and notions. The store had delightfully creaky wood floors, an elaborate black metal grate on the floor that led to the furnace below, dressing rooms in the back, high windows to the north, two side-by-side doors at the front entry, a display window that wrapped around the front and to the side, and an elevated platform where purchases were rung up on an old-fashioned cash register. I loved that store! What Mom ended up selecting there that day was a white linen shift, complete with a brightly colored belt and a matching hot pink, white, bright orange and lime green striped linen jacket--colors that were in vogue at that time. I was so proud to be able to purchase her special outfit for her. I even had enough money left over to buy her one of those big bright daisy pins and matching clip earrings that were popular back then.

My late mother, Barb Naidl, at her class reunion, standing at right.

My mom, second from left, in her new dress at her high school class reunion.

My back-to-school dresses didn't always have to be brand new or from a store. My mother was a wonderful seamstress who made clothes for me all the way through my junior high years, including a favorite sailor dress for my second-grade year. We even had matching mother-and-daughter, red plaid jumpers that we wore with white, long-sleeved blouses that had big loopy bows at the neckline. One year, Mom made me plaid pants with a matching jacket. She transformed her old nursing uniform cape by making a matching cape for my plaid outfit. I also often received lovely hand-me-downs from my older cousin, including dresses for all occasions.

My mom made this sailor dress for my second-grade year.

I attended elementary school in a lovely, old two-story building, called Lyons School. Those enrolled there primarily came from the surrounding neighborhood and were bused in from rural areas. Ours was a small enrollment, with class sizes that averaged no more than 15 students, so we were more like family than schoolmates. Due to the size of the geographical area that the school served and the class sizes, two classes were often housed in the same classroom and taught by the same teacher.

Lyons Elementary School

Lyons School's third and fourth grade classes.
I was in the third grade. I'm seated in the front row, third from the right.
The class sizes were so small that we often paired two classes together in one classroom.
Miss Dorothy Schoonover was our teacher that year. She was busy with two grade levels to teach at once.

Riding the school bus was also a joyful adventure. Our driver, Harold Martin, was a gentle soul who always had a ready smile and kind word. My friend, Chris, and I would often sit together on the bus and sing songs all the way to and from our school day.

Gone might be the simple pleasures and experiences of my school days, but I still feel that same excitement I did more than 50 years ago when a new pencil case, a "new" dress and an apple for the teacher were all I needed to give my school year a report card of straight As.

Wishing you a happy new school year!

Sunday Sunshine: Do Your Best

On this Labor Day weekend, we think about work: our own work and the work of others. Tomorrow, we have an entire day in which to rest, relax and appreciate these 24 hours off from our labors. Perhaps you'll enjoy the day traveling or on a picnic or with family. Perhaps you'll kick back and enjoy the luxury of a good read or a nap.

As you reflect on your work (which can include housework and volunteer work), do you enter into it with enthusiasm and a desire to give your best to the task, to the job?

When we put our whole selves into our labors, we honor the job before us. Each one of us has important work to do, whether it is in the home, in the workplace, in a volunteer setting or elsewhere.

Today, tomorrow, this week: Do your best. Give your work your best effort. Let the fruits of your labors speak for themselves.