Art, Coffee, a Robe, and maybe even World Peace

IMG_3127Sometimes, it really is the little things. I woke up early, an hour before I “needed” to be awake. I lingered in bed and read a few pages of the novel I fell asleep to. I listened for the early chirp of sparrows and pigeons and robins. Then I pulled myself out of bed and slipped into a beautiful peacock kimono robe that I bought a year ago. I savored its soft satin feel and breathed in the peace of the moment.

I tiptoed into the kitchen, even though I was alone and live alone, to honor the quiet of the morning. I took the moka pot from the stove and filled it with water and fine espresso ground coffee. I turned the backburner to medium high and let the coffee pot sizzle and hiss. I walked back into the bedroom and made the bed, fluffing the pillows. I looked up at the beautiful piece of art hanging on the wall, that I had only received in the mail a few days before, and smiled.

IMG_3124I took out my phone and took a picture of the wonderful art and posted it on fb and ig. Yes, call me obnoxious, but I have a friendship with the artist and I never thought I would be able to have beautiful, original art on my walls.

I stretched and read a few more pages of the book and then heard the rumble of the espresso pot. I swooped into the kitchen and poured a cupful of steaming, dark coffee. Immediately, I put the fresh grounds into the earthenware bowl holding a small cactus on the counter behind the sink, and refilled the pot with more water and coffee for a second cup. For just a moment, I marveled at the beauty of my well-used coffee pot. The shiny little Italian pot is my favorite way to make coffee and I love its shape and the burned coffee patina on the steel.

It’s a quiet Friday morning. I have one day of work before a long weekend and then a transition to my summer work. I was brimming with inspiration, but sometimes writing has to be well-timed, like plucking the steaming coffee pot off the stovetop before it goes from percolating to burning. I realized then, that the moment was a perfect homage to beauty, inspiration, and pleasure in the little things, which can lead to large things.

I turned on the laptop and instead of scooting into my desk, I sat cross-legged on my bed, my back leaning against the foot rail, laptop nesting against the turquoise sky blue of my peacock robe, so that I could be in full view of the art on the wall.

I sipped coffee and wondered how to pay tribute to a simple morning taking pleasure in the beauty and functionality of everyday, and yet extraordinary, things.

Considering the state of the world and current news, I might sound like a dilatant or even a more modest and modern version of the oft-told, yet highly inaccurate story of “Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette.

In honor of my friend’s art and her abundant creativity, I decided to let it fly and I am writing this. The acquisition of the beautiful robe, astounding art, and the mighty moka pot are small choices. They are me celebrating an adult life, and finally coming into my own. It’s not so much about buying “stuff” as it is about freedom and, yes, gratitude. For years, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy, that I couldn’t do something, that something beautiful was out of reach, that I didn’t deserve it. I am so grateful that I have come out of that phase, which was really most of my life.

It’s taken years, and perhaps reaching a certain age, and a lot of inner-self work to finally silence those stories I told myself. I have also silenced (at least to myself) the voices of well-intentioned friends and loved ones, who, either directly or indirectly, seemed to reiterate those stories. How many people do you know who will eat a piece of dessert and then express dismay and guilt that they “shouldn’t have!”? They probably didn’t enjoy the pie going down and then it sits in their stomachs like dead weight.

Mostly, it seems that we, or many of us, are fighting battles within ourselves. I understand those battles like fighting addiction, keeping a romantic partnership alive, and making sure kids are cared for and clothed. Those are worthwhile battles. What about our own internal battles, like finding peace and joy and caring for others? There are battles in this world to fight for:  justice, equality, access to good education, safety, environmental preservation, pick your issue. Those are the battles worth suiting up for, but maybe they don’t have to be battles.

What if, all of a sudden, we didn’t have to fight? What if we didn’t have to fight ourselves, each other, our families, our friends? What if the little and big choices could be beautiful and peaceful?

I am not equating buying a coffee pot with being the Pope. I do not think that buying a piece of art that I love from a friend I admire makes me a humanitarian. I do think, though, that saying yes to ourselves in small ways leads to bigger and braver lives.

What if the small and mundane choices, like my peacock robe, could be small ways of saying yes? Buy the damn robe, it’s beautiful and functional, plus, it’s good to have a robe in case someone comes knocking at 7 a.m.! You want a funky espresso pot? Get it and enjoy the small pleasures of a new (now seven years old) way to make and enjoy the morning ritual of coffee! Is that piece of art you have been admiring for sale? Does the artist have prints, or a payment plan, if it is more than you can chew financially? Support a living artist and maybe develop a friendship with a creative person who will inspire you in your own work!

You are worthy. You are important. You are one-of-a-kind. We need you to take down your armor with yourself and find love. We need you to find peace with yourself. The stories you tell yourself will stick around. Make them good ones. Your peace and love will inspire others, even if it’s silent and subtle.

There is freedom and grace in little moments. World peace may not depend on your peacock robe, but your inner peace that tells you that you are worthy may be the first step. If you are brave enough to speak up for yourself, to yourself, imagine what else you can do!



The Many Forms, Shapes, and Types of Ordinary Love


It’s February and the month of Valentine’s Day and a very commercial time to express one’s love. Oh, the cliches and the candy and the ache. However, it is also a beautiful time to contemplate love and its role in our lives. There is an oft-expressed opinion that we overuse the word love in trivial, everyday moments, and yet do not fully express it in the heavier, more poignant times in life. I am not sure where I fall on that spectrum. As someone who is trying to grow in her writing, I think part of the challenge is that there are not many synonyms for love. Yes, there is affection, like, passion, but the four letter word really does the trick. Instead of worrying about using the word too much, or not respecting its deeper meanings, why not just embrace love in all its forms, from the every day to eternal?

Here are a few ways that I have appreciated love recently, from the mundane to the magnificent.

I loved a hot shower. I appreciated the clean water, the ritual, the metaphor of rebirth, and the heat on a cold morning.

I loved a really good cafe au lait from my favorite coffee shop and a special treat on the way to a packed day at work.

I loved a morning hiking with third graders and getting to share my love for the Rio Grande with those students.

I loved a haircut session with my favorite cosmetology student who is about to graduate. We chatted and caught up and I realized we have become good friends in her year of school. I love that we will keep in touch, even if sporadically.

I loved that an article of mine was recently published. I loved seeing my byline and the experience of a dream coming true, with the help of persistence and follow-through and vision.

I loved a new vintage purse that I purchased through a cool online vintage shop on Instagram. I loved the beauty and functionality and connecting with a new person who also loves fashion and style.

I loved hearing a new pop song on the radio. I sang, even though I didn’t know the words, and released tension in the midst of a fun, catchy tune.

I loved a night looking at the moon and talking with a good friend. I loved the time to just be with someone who understands me well. I love this person deeply and I cherish this person’s love for me.

I loved a session getting some good advice. I realized that I was lucky to have this person to provide perspective, but also loved that I was open to the advice and ready to take steps on something that terrifies me.

I loved the full moon rising over the mountains. I don’t care how many times I see the moon, I love its beauty, its phases, its presence.

I loved a long and meandering conversation with my mother on the phone. We talked about everything and nothing, and I love her so.

I loved an hour on the floor with my two favorite dogs. They aren’t mine, but I know them well and love them so much. I loved the fur, the paws stepping on me, the heads resting on my lap, and time just being quiet.

I loved an hour cleaning and straightening my apartment. I love my home and its cozy feel, the plants, the art on the walls, my books, all of it.

I loved an evening making dinner for myself, the chopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the beautiful sustenance of a good meal.

I loved a funny string of texts with my sisters. I love them and enjoy the giggles, even while we are a few hundred miles from each other.

I loved getting my act together and applying for a new opportunity. It felt good to be brave enough to try instead of procrastinating and making excuses.

I loved the resolution of a financial question. Even though it’s not quite what I hoped for, it feels good to take steps and keep going.

I loved a quiet morning and all that it included.

I loved finding love in all the ordinary moments and facing the extraordinary.



A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo by Kary Schumpert.
Photo by Kary Schumpert.

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, February 4, 1968


Photo by Kary Schumpert

(This essay is partly inspired by the July issue of Tribeza Magazine and the theme and emphasis on Makers, and Kristin Armstrong’s column “Our Unique Common Denominator” which is included in this same issue.)

Make. One of the lovely things about being human is our ability to make things. We make tools, love, and messes. It’s our creativity and desire to change and learn and build and dream that makes up our very essence.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes a life. We all live and breathe and eat and sleep, but what is it that we make? What do we create for others? What do we create for ourselves? What choices do we make that leave us breathless in anticipation? What actions do we take that leave us sleepless in remorse? What are the moments that slip through our fingers? What parts of our lives feel just right? What is it that we make that we don’t even realize?

We make moments.

We make decisions.

We make love.

We make mistakes.

We make conversation.

We make memories.

We make messes.

We make appointments.

We make a home.

We make friends.

We make family.

What is it that you make? How do we make it together? In a world that is increasingly reliant on technology, sometimes the line of making something is blurred. We often think that to make something requires tools and talents. I argue that we can all make something, and even do it well, if we just give ourselves the chance.

Making something, even a small, but beautiful life, only requires that you show up, ask, and be brave enough to make mistakes. To live fully means you are fully making your life. You are making the best of your talents and timing. You are supporting your loved ones and asking for that support. You are loving and showing your love. You are trying and failing beautifully. You are the baby making first steps. You are the octogenarian making your millionth joke. You are laughing and crying. You are in the moment. You are falling and flying. You are staring down the moment. You are trying new things. You are comfortable and loving a supportive environment. You are scared and excited. You are holding on and letting go.

What are the things you love to do? What are the things you would like to try? Who could you like to call and talk to for a few minutes or a few hours? What risk would you like to take? Who would you tell that you love them? What new recipe would you like to make? What craft would you like to try? What would you like to build? Who would you like to visit? Who has a career you would like to learn more about? What could you make right now that does not require any new equipment or money spent? What picture have you been meaning to take with the phone that you never put down? What trail or road have you not taken? What do you have that you can share?

If you feel at a loss, make a list. Begin. You are doing great! Clasp your hands. Take heart. Speak up. Show up. Make mistakes. Love. Make your life.


Three Little Actions Make For Big, Big Steps

Photo by Kary Schumpert

Follow your dreams. Live your bliss. The memes fly across Facebook feeds, the inspirational quotes get tweeted and retweeted. With all of these positive thoughts, why are we still staring at our screens?

It is fear. Of change. Of upheaval. Of not knowing. Of growth. Of disappointment. Of work.

I lived with that fear for a long time and then one day I realized I wanted things to be different. Realizing, though, and doing, are different things. There are lots of think tanks, but how many “Do Tanks” are there? We love nouns, but verbs are scary. They mean action. They mean doing. In fits and starts over the last four years, I have slowly, but surely, begun to live my dreams. In the day-to-day realm of things, my life does not look that different. Examine my heart, my mind, my soul and it is as different as night and day.

Here are things I did and do and keep doing. The process is constant, the effort continuous, the results contagious.

1. Write down what you love.
Three years ago, after an especially depressing set of news headlines, I turned off the radio, shut down the computer, and closed the newspaper. I pulled out my journal and instead of reflecting upon the bad news, I made a list. I made a list of everything I love from the small to the substantial. I kept writing and the list grew longer. Eventually my hand cramped and my writer’s bump on my left middle finger swelled. The list included quilts, thunderstorms, Mr. Rogers, Dolly Parton, and road trips. I still come back to that list to remember all the special things on bad news days or just days that I want to savor beauty and love.

If writing an exhaustive list seems intimidating, start with five things you love in that moment. Keep a journal nearby so that you can jot down those special things as you think of them.

2. Make time for creativity.
Some people paint, knit, draw, take pictures, sculpt. Some are intimidated by the process. What creative things do you like to do? What is something new you would like to try? For me, it was writing. I loved to write as a child. As an adult, I loved to read, but was too intimidated to really admit I wanted to be a writer. Finally, I realized the beauty of writing is the writing. Whether or not the results get published is an entirely different thing, but I can write. I started a blog. Eventually, I shared that blog with friends and got brave enough to submit articles for publication. I am far from making my living as a writer, but I love doing it and now I make time for it. Stringing together words is what I love. Typing sentences, finding just the right phrase, is the fun and the beauty.

Give yourself five minutes for your creative pleasure. Let the five minutes grow to a longer session. Keep practicing. What you make will not always be beautiful. Don’t worry about the results. Instead, enjoy the process, the mess, the blessedness of creativity.

3. Applaud your little steps.
Celebrations are all about marking the moments. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. We remember the grand events, but what about the moments that lead to the meaning? Celebrate knitting one row. Celebrate writing one blog post. Celebrate painting one corner of the canvas. Celebrate the day that you started doing. Celebrate that you have dreams that are becoming actions. Realize that little steps lead to marathons, paragraphs lead to books, paint droplets lead to masterpieces.

Changes do not always have to be big and sweeping. Those little things can help us lead more creative lives. Making time for the things we care about can help us become more caring people. Keeping track of the things that we love and excite us can help us to live more loving lives. Giving ourselves grace and freedom help us to live more freely and gracefully.

Life is a big and beautiful journey. Let us celebrate our part of that.

Acts of Optimism

Acts of optimism

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope.”–Noam Chomsky

We take little actions all the time. We take steps. We pause. We fall. We start again. Sometimes optimism leads to actions. Sometimes actions lead to optimism. Where is your optimism? What are your acts? Sometimes they are small, sometimes they are superficial. However, sometimes the small and superficial lead to big and deep, real and substantial.

Here are a few of my recent acts of optimism:

Declaring my entry for a second marathon.

Buying a new swimsuit for swimming more laps.

Going on a first and second date.

Being okay that there will not be a third date.

Painting my toenails red.

Asking a friend to edit a short story of mine.

Realizing that focusing on my outward appearance is not vain, but an act of joy after years of ignoring it.

Taking advice that was difficult to swallow, and hard to accept.

Kissing someone.

Being comfortable with what is.

Changing plans and getting to work.

Packing to move to a different city.

Applying for a new job.

Sending an editor some of my writing for possible publication.

Realizing a friendship changes, ebbs, and flows.

Finding peace in disagreement and discord.

Not caring what others, except the ones I love, think.

Knowing the difference between ego and self-love.

Looking deeply at my finances, instead of ignoring them.

Giving away the last of my coins, when that was all I had.

Taking a pen and turning to a fresh page.

Beginning with yoga.

Saying a prayer.

Not knowing and saying so.

Offering to help and then following through to do so.

Crying in public, and then laughing in public.

Taking a deep breath and moving on.

Signing up for school.

Changing my mind and admitting it.

Being naked (and I don’t necessarily mean without clothes) and in the moment.

Ignoring and eventually losing the doubting voice in my head.

Admitting I was wrong.

Making a genuine, heartfelt apology.

Truly listening to my sister and not saying a word.

Writing down some dreams and goals and listing the many, many steps needed to achieve them.

Diving into the swimming pool after months away.

Keeping a secret.

Signing up to volunteer.

Trying on the black dress from the back of the closet that I have been wanting to wear for quite some time.

Setting up my profile on an online dating site.

Asking a friend to make plans.

Continuing in a new direction, even though there have been some bumps along the way.

Making new friends.

Moving beyond the self.

Telling someone I loved them.

Putting on the black dress, deciding that I look awesome, and wearing it to an event this afternoon.

Realizing that an end is a beginning.

Writing Dreams and the Ability to Fail

Writing dreams start with the blank page.
Writing dreams start with the blank page.

Writing has been a dream of mine since I was little and curled up with my favorite books. Often we don’t know what form or shape our dreams will take as we grow and change. From the age of about 22, when I graduated from college, the dream of writing I pretty much squelched or stuffed into the overflowing suitcase of my life, figuring I did not have enough time or talent or focus to move forward with it. I would write letters to friends or send long e-mail missives, but that was usually the extent of my writing. Often ideas for books and essays and plays and even bad poems flew into my head and then flitted right out again.

As I am constantly reminded by a dear friend, even yesterday he nudged me with this reminder, “A try is failure before even starting.” In other words, doing and failing miserably is better than a half-hearted attempt where you do not really put yourself out on the line. For me, writing makes me vulnerable and I tend to write from a very personal viewpoint. Writing and seeking publication is a way to really commit, to know that I may be flying, even if I am flying into failure. It is making those dreams come true. It’s more about the bravery of the act, than it may be about the end result. I can write. I can submit things for publication. I cannot control what the editor decides, but I can bask in the relative bravery of my attempt. I can scoop myself up after life’s failures and try to make sense of it in words. I can look to a heartbreak and try to find the universal lesson that connects us all.

Finally, one day, I decided to blow out the fire of negative talk and see what dreams remained in the ashes. Now in my 30s, I was a bit more realistic about my dreams, especially after seeing people whom I thought were much more talented writers publish very little. In 2010, I started this blog, but did not really begin to make serious and regular entries until the summer of 2012. I realized that my dream of writing was really about writing, not so much about selling millions of books or having my name become a household one. The blog allowed or provided the space for an audience should they choose to find it and read. I shared with friends on Facebook and then made a couple of blog friends, one in California and one in Norway who regularly read and “like” my stuff. Then I slowly ventured into the world of publishing. Did what I have to say resonate with others? Could I shape my words to fit a publication?

I took a couple of writing classes in college and then a couple of classes at a nonprofit literary center in my early 20s. I picked up some writing books and read enough writing magazines to know that getting published, sometimes, is as much about the hustle as it is the flow of words. You have to send editors your work. You have to know how to sell your words in a pithy query letter. Perhaps, this is why I have yet to be published in any kind of a publication that requires said pithy query letter.

Instead, I looked for the invitations. Which publications (online and in print) were seeking words? Which editors didn’t care as much about the query letter as they did the questions I was asking in my writing? I looked to the familiar and unfamiliar and found a few possibilities.

The spring of 2012 was my first “act of bravery” in writing. The city library was publishing an anthology compiled of essays, short stories, and poetry from local residents. I saw the call for entries and began thinking. The deadline fell on a sunny Friday afternoon in mid-March. The morning of the deadline, I still had not submitted anything, but finished work early, around 1 in the afternoon. I brought my laptop and stationed myself in a study carrel and wrote about creativity. I could hear the library clock tick away as I wrote and then did a quick proofread. With barely five minutes to spare, I saved the hastily-written essay to a CD and nervously wandered downstairs to the front desk to submit my writing. Driving home that late afternoon reminded me of being on the finish line of a track race in high school, I was spent, gasping for air, and trying hard not to vomit. I gave myself a pat on the back for following up and finishing and I gave myself a kick in the butt for thinking I could write for publication in a last-minute effort.

Beginning in December 2012 through today, I have gotten braver. Writing dreams come true in fits and starts. Now, I regularly write for this blog. Occasionally, I will submit a piece of writing to a publication. I applied for and was accepted into a writing retreat (which I have delayed until money and a project are ripe for the time). I am in the midst of work on a book of short stories and writing and pulling this project together has been the scariest and most fun I have had. Whether or not it ever becomes a published book, who knows, but I am excited to work on and complete such a big project. Much like a runner runs a marathon to test boundaries, writing a book-length work is testing my commitment, my imagination, my ability.

A couple of weeks ago, an essay of mine was published in Elephant Journal. In two weeks, I will attend a local reading for the library anthology and read part of an essay. I will find three essays and a short story of mine published in that book. These are dreams and signs of my commitment. I am daring and dreaming and it feels wonderful. Sometimes it helps to take stock, sometimes it helps to look back and remember the beginning. Here are links to a few things of mine that have been published (online) in the last couple of years, because I want to share and remember those attempts at living and failure, when I stopped talking and started doing.
Elephant Journal, “This is How I’m Letting Go of my Crush” March 2015

Upper Room, “Loving Doubting Thomas” December 2014
(This one you will need to create a log-in to be able to read, as it is in the archives.)

Upper Room blog post, “God Is My Solace” December 2014

Community Works Journal, “The Power and Wonder of Names: Where Nature and Language Coincide”, September 2014

Community Works Journal, “A Love Letter to Environmental Educators, My Profession, and My Colleagues”, July 2013

What are your long-held dreams? What are your biggest attempts at failure, or success? When did you really put yourself out there? When did you go from dreaming to doing? What are the little acts that constitute bravery, for you? When did you fail? When were you last comfortable with failure?

Sometimes it helps to look forward and see the possibilities. Always, though, it helps to go beyond dreaming, beyond trying, to doing. Sometimes it’s the little acts of bravery that lead to bigger things and failures. It helps to fail and pick yourself up and start again. For me, writing is only part of it. It is helping me to put my heart out there. It is helping me to give and live with everything I have. It is going out there every day in life and saying, “I’m gonna,” as my dear and wise friend says, no matter the results.