A man named Sam passed away this week. I didn’t know him, had never met him. But his daughter, Sue Ann, is a friend of mine. And she wrote a beautiful tribute to him on her blog. Through her celebration of him, I got to meet him and I fell in love with his warm and generous spirit.
I fell in love with the way he would chat with strangers in the grocery store. (“You would never send my dad to the grocery store if you needed something quick!”) I fell in love with the way he’d say, “This is a great party, isn’t it?” during any ole family dinner because every meal was a party for him. I fell in love with the fact that in his seventies he reinvented himself as a watercolor painter and began exhibiting his work. I fell in love with the way he would surprise Sue Ann by warming up the car and cleaning off the windshield when it snowed so she could safely drive.
I never met Sam, but he is alive in my heart as I write this. I’m changed because of him. And that wouldn’t have happened if Sue Ann hadn’t taken the time to share a few things about him that make him unique.
This isn’t new stuff for me, but it’s like seeing the sunset. There’s that same “wow” factor every single time. It’s this: there is something profound in sharing and hearing what is good, lovable, wonderful, and unique about someone. In a world of not-enough and jump higher and do more, we all yearn for the simplicity of simply loving the people around us. It is the antidote to “something wrong.”
Just recently, I’ve talked to someone who surprised her son with a collection of Love Lists from dozens of friends and family. And I just received an email from someone else who did something similar for her 80-year-old mother.
I created Graduation Celebration books for a high school woman and a college man. I made a retirement book from a man’s closest colleagues who wanted him to know the legacy he was leaving as a teacher.
I talked to someone whose son wrote her the most beautiful letter for Mother’s Day after she asked him to make a Love List for her instead of buying something. And someone else who took the time to jot down a few things she loved about her friend and send them in a card through the mail.
I got a note from a Celebration Book client who told me that for eight years, every wedding anniversary, she and her husband have pulled out the Wedding Celebration Book I made so they can read all the stories and re-experience all the love written in those pages.
What all of these gifts have in common is that they are tangible expressions of the deep connections between people. They’re gifts that reflect people’s spirit and uniqueness through specific stories, just like Sue Ann did by telling us about her father in the grocery store.
I know we’re all busy. I know that there is a tremendous information overload in the world. I know it can be a little awkward and vulnerable to share how we feel about people.
But I also know this: that there is nothing more important. And that all too often, we wait for a bigger occasion. We wait for a feeling that isn’t so vulnerable. We wait until we have more time.
And that time never comes.
I don’t care if you buy a Celebration Book from me or make a homemade card or create a Love List. The form doesn’t matter. What I care about is that you do it. That you take the time to let people know what it is that you love and appreciate about them. I promise not only will it have a wonderful impact on the person receiving the gift, it will transform you in the process.
And for extra celebration credit, tell someone else. Tell you son what you love about his father. Tell your best friend what you love about your sister. Write and tell me what you love about your daughter, friend, or colleague. The more we express our love and appreciation, the more it anchors in. The deeper it gets. The bigger it grows.
I just wrote to Sue Ann and told her that my heart still feels squishy and tender. Her dad, Sam, whom I never met, has changed me today. Reading about him has helped me align with my own life and priorities. That’s the power of expressing love for people and sharing it. (That's the “sunset factor” right? It is just as powerful every single time!)
How about in honor of Sam, we all vow to strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger in the grocery store this week? Or, just once, when you’re having an “ordinary” dinner, exclaim, “Oh, what a party this is!” Or, how about this— in honor of Sam, we take the time to jot down three things we love about someone and send it off — right now!
Express your love. It changes everything.
Here’s my email address if you want to tell me what you made and for whom! I’d love to hear. (Really! It makes my day when people tell me about great gifts they've given or received!)
Cherry Blossom Soup
I’m not a musical person. I mean I like music. But musical talent —playing instruments or singing— doesn’t come naturally to me.
Until last fall, I’d never even picked up a stringed instrument and tried to strum it. But when a pink ukulele magically came into my life, I really wanted to be the kind of girl who could play. I imagined how fun it would be to whip out my uke at a dinner party or beach bonfire and add that bit of charm, weaving a web of light, lovely tunes reminiscent of an evening in Hawaii on the lanai.
Yeah, I wanted to be that girl.
I took my first uke lesson and was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t read the tablature (Um, I didn’t even know what tablature was!), couldn’t make my fingers curl the right way to create chords, couldn’t strum without getting my thumb tangled up. It was a group lesson and other people seemed to pick it up naturally. By the end of the first class, I was still struggling to play a single chord and they were all playing and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” like pros.
I was discouraged, embarrassed, and ready to quit.
When I was telling the story to my good friend, Laurie, she said, “Honey, listen: all you have to do is learn three chords and you can strum those chords and say some poetic words. Just that. If you do that, you will be a girl who plays the ukulele.
Three chords? I can do that. (I think.) I set out on that mission.
“C” was pretty easy. Just one finger holding down one string. (I stayed with “C” for a long time.) When I went to visit my family in Ohio last December, I took the ukulele, guessing I’d have lots of time to practice and maybe learn a new chord. I walked around my mom’s house plunking out that “C.” My niece, Nikki, and I sat on the couch and strummed crazily, making up goofy songs and pretending we were two ukulele-rocker girls on the road playing gigs. My mom laughed at us and acted as if she was our audience.
She yelled out, “Moon River!” “Play Moon River.” We pretended we knew the song and belted out, “Moooooon River, wider than a mile…” (Audrey Hepburn was probably turning over in her grave!)
A week later I was back in San Francisco and missing my mom. I got in the car one morning to go get groceries and when I turned on the radio “Moon River” poured out. Oh! I immediately called my mom to tell her that I missed her and that “Moon River” just came on and I thought of her. She said, “You really gotta learn that song on the ukulele.” We joked about that because of course there was no way in 1000 years I could learn that song. I was still struggling with my three chords.
And while our family got lots of great talents, we both knew that the musical gene seemed to skip our clan.
But something clicked that morning when I was driving home. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I really did learn to play “Moon River” on the uke? I was going to be back in Ohio for Mother’s Day in May. What if I could surprise my mom? I got really excited. The idea took root.
I listened over and over again to dozens of different people playing “Moon River” on YouTube. I searched all over the Internet for the very simplest tablature for the song. I painstakingly started to learn each of the ten chords in the song. I watched videos on learning how to strum. I practiced over and over and over again.
And you know what? I still stunk.
My fingers still stumbled and tangled and skipped and flopped. My voice was weak and wavering. No matter how many times I practiced, I couldn’t learn the chord sequence by heart. It felt like trying to teach a cat to cook scrambled eggs.
But nevertheless, I just kept trying. Even though I was not very good, I could begin to imagine being that girl who could play the ukulele!
And every once in a while when I would talk to my mom on the phone, she’d joke about me learning how to play “Moon River.” But I knew she never in a million years would guess that I might actually do it. Even though I totally stank at my efforts, the joy of trying to learn it for her was truly great. I got so happy inside whenever I thought about actually showing up on Mother’s Day and playing it for her.
And then, when Mother’s Day weekend came and I was catching a plane from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, PA, it felt pretty darn awesome to tote the uke through the airport, to pull it out of its case while waiting for my flight, and to quietly practice my strumming. (Anyone looking at me would think I was a girl who could play the ukulele!)
I made my mom a card and in it I put a little certificate I’d made with a photo of me holding the ukulele. It said, “Yep, your gift is that I really did learn how to play “Moon River.”
So I wish that the way the story ended is that I could tell you I pulled out the uke in front of my family and started strumming and it was amazing how great it sounded. I wish I could tell you I sang so sweetly that it made my mom cry. I wish I could tell you that I felt exactly like I had hoped I would — confident and fun.
The truth is, even after all that trying, I kinda sounded like a fish with a cold that was trying to strum with his flippy-floppy fins. My fingers missed some of the chords and I was focused so hard on trying to play the darned uke, that I sometimes forgot I was supposed to be singing.
It was bad.
I was gawky and awkward and out of tune.
But you know what? It didn’t matter that I wasn’t that girl who can play the ukulele. Because I was the girl who tried to play the ukulele — for her mom. I was the girl who spent hours and hours attempting something because I wanted to give my mom a special gift. I wanted to make her smile.
And if you’ll check out the photo, you’ll see that my mom did, indeed, smile. I think she understood that I tried my best and put my whole heart into wanting to give her a memorable gift. And just so I wouldn’t feel so bad about my own playing, she gave the ukulele a whirl. She pretended to sing and she strummed like crazy and she even raised the uke over her head and banged out crazy chords like a rock star! We all had a blast.
I’d still love to be the girl who can play the ukulele. And I’ll keep trying. But you know, I realized that what is even more important to me is to be the girl who tries her best to give gifts that hit the right note. And I do feel like that girl.
P.S. My mom says that I keep posting really bad photos of her in these newsletters. But I think they are awesome. She is SO much fun to be around and her spirit shines through. Don’t you agree?
PPS: I’m way too embarrassed to post a link to me singing “Moon River.” But here’s a link to Audrey Hepburn playing ….
PPPS: It's never too late to become the kind of person who gives gifts that hit the right note. Here are some places to begin ...
My good friend and amazing writing teacher, Laurie Wagner, invited me to participate in a Writers' Blog Hop. Since my writer self has been needling me for some more time and attention lately, I immediately said yes. Below are my answers to the four questions, which are traveling from blog to blog. Last week Laurie shared her responses on her blog. Next week, three wonderful writer friends of mine — Christine Mason Miller, Linda Ryan, and Tiffany Dyer Bird —will share their thoughts on writing via their blogs. I'm grateful to Laurie for inviting me because it was really thought-provoking to respond to these questions!
What am I working on/writing?
As I mentioned, my writer self seems to be clamoring for more attention these days. To feed that part of me, I recently participated in Laurie Wagner's online class, Telling True Stories. What I love about that class is the surprise of what wants to be written. For instance, telling the complex stories of my relationships using an old blue couch as the story scaffolding.
I am also excitedly collecting stories of unique gifts so I can launch Present Perfect Story Series, interviews with people who have given or received one-of-a-kind gifts. (Contact me if you have a gift story to share!) I want to eventually update my ebook, Present Perfect, so it includes lots of personal stories and new ideas for gifts with impact and imagination.
I'd also love to collect my favorite blog posts and stories into a collection. That's always lingering in the back of my head. I'll do it someday!
How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
Hmmm. Interesting question. The easy answer is that everyone's writing/work is different from everyone else's because we each have our unique stories + unique voice. But going beyond that, I think my writing differs in that I like to return to singular moments of awareness, insight, compassion, or joy. My life philosophy of seeking and creating pinpricks of light always finds its way into my writing. Our whole life can be contained within a moment. In the same way, we often can tell an entire story with a singular phrase or idea. Or, to put it another way, a whole complicated story can suddenly land itself oh-so-gently with just one insight as a parachute.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do in the same way I live life the way I do: part intention and part inspiration. My friend Laurie, whom I mentioned throughout this post, has a way of describing this: like driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand out the window, feeling for which way the breeze is blowing. Headed somewhere, but open to all suggestions/guidance from life about the path. Sometimes we think we're driving to the bookstore, but suddenly we're led down a tree-lined street that leads us to a small pond where we find a lost little plastic pony.
More and more, I practice listening to life's intuitions, even when they seem nonsensical. (In life + in writing!)
I'd like to say I have a daily writing practice, but it's just not in the cards right now. It could be, of course, but I have so many various practices that I really just try to keep a good balance of them. Each week I start with my Chinese menu of practices — meditation, yoga, recording and listening, writing, dance, audio notes/poetry, walking—and schedule time for each of them. I also schedule additional time for special projects, like the Present Perfect Story Series I want to launch.
Although my son is a teenager now, he's still the central focus of my life/schedule. I imagine that when he goes off to college that my priorities will realign and writing will become a daily practice again. For now, I just try to listen to its call and respond in whatever way I can. Sometimes that might look like adding in a quick five-minute free write in response to Maya Stein's Tuesday Typist or Chris Fraser's Messy Beautiful Pages. It never ceases to amaze me how just five minutes can connect me to my writer self, like when I briefly lived overseas and how that choppy five-minute call to my mom was everything I needed to quell any sign of homesickness.
I guess for me everything comes back to those pinpricks of light. Whatever form, and however long or short, my writing is always that light for me. It points the way. It guides me home. Always. And I am grateful to it.
Please meet my fellow blog hoppers!
Laurie Wagner is a writer and writing teacher. She teaches Wild Writing at her home in Northern California + hosts the 27 Powers Traveling Writers Series, which brings the brightest, grooviest, most unusual writers to Alameda to teach. Her books include, Living Happily Ever After: Couples Learn about Longtime Love, and Expectations: 30 Women Talk about Becoming a Mother, both from Chronicle Books. Her essays have appeared in Salon, Glamour, Brain, Child + The Berkeley Monthly. She blogs at 27 Powers Writing True Life. Read Laurie's Blog Hop post here.
Christine Mason Miller is a Santa Barbara-based author, writer and explorer. Her mission to inspire has provided the foundation for a body of work that has generated seven figures in retail sales through commercial illustration, licensing, gallery exhibits, writing, teaching and speaking since 1995. She has organized and facilitated workshops and retreats at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Villa Ojai, Squam Art Workshops and other venues around the country, and is currently putting the final touches on a new e-course - The Conscious Booksmith: A Mindful Approach to Creating Your Book - a collaboration with Animyst. Learn more about The Conscious Booksmith here and visit her website here.
Linda Ryan is an Intensive Care Nurse turned Life Coach. Her work centers around helping you understand the power your thoughts and emotions have on your results. She is the author of The Law of Attraction is B.S.* (*Basically Simple), and invites to connect with her at CoachLindaRyan.com
Tiffany Dyer Bird is author and illustrator of several books including Happyful, a 52 week whimsically illustrated companion to awaken a more bliss-filled way of living. Through her blog, products, and workshops she emboldens individuals to live passionate (and compassionate) lives that are joy fueled and heart-directed. She speaks internationally on the potency of happiness, of doing good, and the power of love. She is also the founder and CEO of The Do Gooder Guide, a soon to be launched non-profit foundation with a focus on making doing good fun for children.
Earlier this week my sister mentioned a book she was reading called "Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less." At the time, I didn't think twice about it, but this morning the book popped into my mind and I zoomed over to the Amazon website to check it out. There is an audio snippet on the website and I clicked to listen.
First of all, I love the author's English accent. I could listen to pure gibberish if it is in that lovely accent. But beyond that superficial enjoyment, what Greg McKeown is talking about really resonates with me: "The way of the essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. ... Am I investing in the right activities?"
I zipped on over to McKeown's website and this clickable link name jumped out at me: "The unimportance of practically everything." Ha. I love that. Reminds me of Steven Covey's teachings about all the things in daily life that are "Urgent but unimportant."
This all comes at the perfect time for me because I happen to be completely immersed right now in some very essential activities. This morning I got up at six to prep for two StoryCorps interviews that I'm doing later today. If you don't know StoryCorps, you should! StoryCorps is an oral history project that collects and archives interviews. It is an amazing way to connect with people you love and also to preserve the stories that person has to tell.
Today I am interviewing one of my best friends, Laurie Wagner, who has dedicated her life to writing and telling true stories. I also have a second interview with my teenage son. Simply preparing for these two interviews has been an incredibly connecting and enriching experience! I've been immersed in thoughts of what makes these two people so unique and why I love them so much. I've gotten to reflect on who they are and what they bring to life.
Having the chance to sit across from them in a recording studio and fbe with them in such an intimate setting and to listen deeply to the unique stories they have to tell is one of the things that is most important to me in life.
Relationships with people I love ... THAT is what is essential to me. THIS is what feels like true investing.
Those of you who know me and my work know that this is the place that the Celebration Books I create were born from — the desire to connect with people and reflect back to them what makes them so loveable and awesome. The books are a gift to others, but thet are also a gift to me because each one I create — even when I don't know the recipient— helps connect me to the stories and relationships that make up our lives.
I'm such a firm believer that each person's stories deserve to be shared and remembered.
What is it for you? What is essential? And where in your life are you creating space for it?
I was just writing a note to my mom to tell her how awesome she is and how much I appreciate her unique brand of humor, which she is able to access even in hard times.
While I was addressing the envelope, ZING!, an idea dropped in my head.
Would you do it?
(I think I heard a resounding yes! I hope so! C'mon, it'll be fun. I promise!)
Everyone who responds will receive a lil thank you gift from me so be sure to post your email address if you respond online instead of via email. AND, I'll toss everyone's names in a hat and send a special gift to your mom in time for Mother's Day.
(What am I going to send her? Honestly, I'm not sure yet! But I want to make it something fun that all kinds of people might like, since I won't know your mom! I'm still ruminating on it!)
You can respond to this even if your mom has passed away. Keep her memory alive by telling me what you loved about her. If your name gets pulled from the hat, you can send the gift to someone else in honor of your mom!
(P.S. That's my mom in the photos above. She's so much fun! Hi Mom!)
- Create that technicolor feeling in your daily life
- Sometimes we need to celebrate even when we fall flat.
- Is there something in your life that you really want to learn to do, but squirrel-mind is keeping you from it?
- Can you let yourself be fully alive and expressive — whether that looks like joy, confusion, despair, bliss, or grief?
- The secret to living an extraordinary life can be found in tiny, ordinary moments.
- How can we love the one we’re with when either —or both— of us is not quite exemplifying star-quality at the moment?
- Confessions of a packrat
- Do I have a deeper relationship with the person I think I should be than the person I really am?
- Andrea Scher
- Art by Gregory Bracken
- Britt Bravo
- Cheri Huber
- Cassandra Rae
- Christine Mason Miller
- Gregory Bracken
- Jen Gray
- Jillian Todd
- Jill Salahub
- Kelley Walker
- Kelly Rae Roberts
- Keri Nola
- Kind Over Matter
- Laurie Wagner
- Living Compassion
- Mary Jane Ryan
- Maya Stein
- Nancy Lefko
- Pamela Sterling
- Rich German
- Stefanie Renee
- Stacy Morrison
- Superhero Journal
- Tiffany Dyer Bird
- Unforgattable Elegance