A couple nights ago I began reading the book Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier which had been on my shelves for a while waiting for it to be the right time to read it.

As I delved into the novel, the opening paragraph for the third chapter stopped me in my tracks as it seemed to be speaking directly to me. The passage:

“I cannot decide whether it is an illness or a sin, the need to write things down and fix the flowing world in one rigid form. Bear believed that writing dulled the spirit, stilled some holy breath. Smothered it. Words, when they’ve been captured and imprisoned on paper, become a barrier against the world, one best left unerected. Everything that happens is fluid, changeable. After they’ve passed, events are only as your memory makes them, and they shift shape over time. Writing a thing down fixes it in place as surely as a rattlesnake skin stripped from the meat and stretched and tacked to a barn wall. Every bit as stationary, and every bit as false to the original thing. Flat and still and harmless. Bear recognized that all writing memorializes a momentary line of thought as if were final.”

I’ve moved on in the book now, but I’ve come back to that passage several times.

In January when I wrote my last big post, the passage probably would not have registered with me as all that significant, yet now, I find it to be absolutely brilliant. The reason? Everything in the last several months seems to have been as Frazier describes – so fluid and ever changing – that every time I tried to commit my thoughts to keyboard, they seemed irrelevant, old news, no longer applicable before I could hit “publish.”

In the past months I’ve written or thought through dozens of posts that never made it to fruition. Frustration and self-doubt were getting the better of me until finally I realized sometimes you just have to live your life, see where it leads, then talk about it. I’m still on the path to “Better”, but it’s unlike anything I imagined seven months ago.

Recently I was thumbing through an issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine and ran across an article where various authors, celebrities, and readers expressed their reasons for gratitude. Some were interesting, some thought provoking, some of the oh, please variety, but one stood out from the rest. It was written by Maya Angelou, and I quote it here in its entirety:

There was a time when I was in a state of utter despair, immersed in guilt over promises made on which I had not delivered. I went to my vocal coach, Fred Wilkerson, weeping copiously. He asked what was the matter. I responded, “I’m going crazy. I am almost at the brink of suicide.” He offered me a legal-size, lined yellow pad and a pen. He said, “Write down your blessings!” Furious that he didn’t understand my condition, I shouted, “Don’t talk nonsense, I’m telling you I am going crazy.” He said, “Write down that you could hear me say ‘write down’ and think of the millions who cannot hear the cries of their babies, or the sweet words of their beloveds, or the alarm that could help them seek safety. Write down that you can see this yellow pad and think of the millions on this planet who cannot see the smiles of their growing children or the delight in the faces of their beloveds, or the colors of the sunrise and the softness of the twilight. Write down that you know how to write. Write down that you know how to read.” Wilkie, as he was known, gave me that lesson in 1955. Fifty-five years later, I have written 31 books, essays, plays, and lyrics for songs — all on yellow pads. I remain in an attitude of gratitude.

Maya Angelou performer, poet, and author of Great Food, All Day Long  

Even though I consider myself to be very grateful for my life overall, there are times when I get caught up in busyness, frustrations, and the daily grind, and forgot how to express my gratitude.

I found Ms. Angelou’s quote particularly inspiring because it reminds me that even people as talented as she is have dark days, can admit to them, and sometimes require help to get out of them. It’s a lesson to us all that there is always something to be grateful for even when we feel we – or life – is at its worst. 

Some of the many things I am grateful for today:

My husband, my daughter, and my wonderfully large, extended family

Old friends and new acquaintances

A pleasant conversation when and where you least expect it

Resiliency

Freedom

A curious mind

Warm clothing on a cold day

Access to books, movies, music, magazines, the Internet

Cookies, brownies, chocolate

An abundance of good, healthy food to eat

The ability to cook

The ability to read and write

Glasses and contacts that correct my vision deficit

Modern medicine that saves my life on a daily basis

The sun when it shines bright and warm

Nature’s endless variety

The chance of snow

Tomatoes straight from the vine

Love, smiles, and kisses

Laughter

Clean drinking water

A tiny candy cane

Help from someone just when I needed it most

A message from a loved one that says: “I love you,”  “I miss you,” or  “thank you”

Memories

Cindy Bogard did a great guest post over at www.365lesssthings.com on Day 340 about what the “experts” say – via Real Simple Magazine – that we should save for our children.

My thought on the subject is that we should take our cues from our children – find out what they enjoy/value about us, or what holds special memories of us for them, and save those objects.

As I ruminated more on this subject, I couldn’t help but think about my parents and grandparents, and what objects that I would want to have of theirs as a personal memento. Some are still possible others are not. These items stretch beyond photographs or personal papers, which for the budding genealogist in me, goes without saying as desired items.

Here are just a few examples of things I’d love to have…

From my maternal grandfather – he died suddenly in July 1991 of a massive heart attack. I still remember getting the call from my Mom like it was yesterday. Grandpa was a quiet, to himself kind of man, but he always made me feel like I was completely adored. I would love to have any one of the worn Louie L’amour books that he was always reading, or anything from his World War II service. Mostly though, I would love to have the inexpensive little candy dish that was always stocked with Hershey Kisses (my grandparents called them Silver Tips). Whenever I came to visit, he would always open the candy dish and offer them to me by saying, “Sweets for the sweet?” I could recreate this on my own, but it wouldn’t be the same.

From my maternal grandmother – my grandma died in the spring of 1998. When I was a little kid I went every summer and stayed one week with my grandparents. It was a mini vacation from home life for me, and an extra pair of hands around the house for them since my grandparents both still worked full-time in those days. Over the years my grandma did many things for me, but every summer I did one thing for her that is now permanently associated with those summers in my memory. I rolled her change. (This was decades before CoinStar, debit cards, and mindless spending with credit cards, when cash was king and change was still considered spendable money by most people.)  

Grandma kept her change in a giant, plastic peanut and would collect it year round. When I came to visit, I’d dump that peanut out on the bed and would count and roll until I had orderly little stacks of rolled pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. It was one less chore for my hard-working grandma, and looking back, probably soothed my budding obsession with order and organization. Now, all these years later, I want that plastic peanut.

Sidebar: My paternal grandfather was a peanut farmer, so that plastic peanut is meaningful on a variety of levels.

From my Dad – I’m positive that there are a gazillion objects that my Dad owns that would remind me of different aspects of my Dad, his life and personality. But one object that forever shapes my memories of him from when I was a child, and my knowledge of his life throughout the years, and our relationship, has sat in his garage collecting dust since 1978. It is a blue, soft-top, 1968 Super Sport Camaro with white interior. I lust after that car in a way you can’t imagine, and I’ve told my Dad more than once that I would love to have it. His answer has always been, “I’ve got two boys that would probably love to have it too.” Yeah, but I’m the only one old enough to remember riding in it.

From my Mom – Mom has a lot of wonderful things, but the most sentimental of them to me would be her recipe collection – handwritten in little notebooks. My Mom is an incredible cook, from a long line of incredible cooks and those books would be an irreplaceable item of my heritage, our shared love of good food, and a pathway through her life.

There you have it, four eclectic but meaningful objects that remind me of dearly loved individuals and time spent with them. Now there are my paternal grandparents, my step-parents, my siblings, and countless aunts and uncles still to think of…

Yesterday my family came home from vacation. We stayed in a beach house where we lived amongst someone else’s house full of too much stuff, only to return last night to our house full of still (!) too much stuff. The irony did not escape me.

While on vacation I chose to just “chill.” I didn’t take all the projects I had originally intended to take, opting only to work on my genealogy project. I took two books but read only one. I let my mind slowly empty of all the excess stuff. It was refreshing and calming.

I also used the time to reflect on what was clutter in my life (beyond actual belongings), and what was missing. I determined that I was a long way off from where I want to be and that it was time to start editing. Good editing doesn’t just take away, it adds where needed to make the most of what is already there.

Due to a few unforeseen hiccups our vacation “wasn’t the most perfect vacation ever” as my husband so aptly put it, but it was great to get away, and as a bonus, it gave me all the inspiration I needed for the next phase in my life.

Inspiration comes from a variety of different sources – a book, a song, a beautiful vista. This week my inspiration came from my sweet baby girl who reminded me with her effervescent personality, that life should be fun.

Nuggets of wisdom from Little M:

– Just say “Hi!” and people will say it back

– Smile with your whole face

– Anytime is a good time to read a good book

– It’s okay to sing, even if you don’t know all the words

– Water is a toy all by itself

– Sometimes, squealling, being noisy and silly is REALLY fun

– Laughing makes you feel better about everything

– Shoes are not required

– Always say “please” and “thank you”

– Start everyday with hugs and kisses

– End everyday with more hugs and kisses

– Every meal does not have to be fruits, veggies, and protein

– Barney is not such a bad guy after all

Thank you Little M. You are my Sunshine.

Love, Mommy