When Someone Is Watching


Do you ever wonder if the little things in your life that seem to be so mundane, so insignificant, so repetitive matter much? Reflections make me slowly, thoughtfully nod yes to those questions. And that the answer occurred in such a simple, quiet, fleeting moment in my day – it sped past me at an alarming blip of time. Mere fractions of a second, really. In the amount of time it took me to pass him on the road as he walked to work.

Decades ago I made a new friend. She and I were not very much alike in most ways that new friends are. Most new friendships are built on our similarities – our interests, our talents, our families, our line of work and the like. And none of these things fit us at all. Our backgrounds were polar opposites. Our lives only intersected in one tiny place, yet that was enough to make a life-long friend and one that still breezes through my mind every now and again. You know – a sound, a scent, a flavor, a memory.

I’m a people watcher. Well, I like to be a tad more gracious about myself and use the label observer instead. People are so intriguing when they do not know that you are watching. Sometimes we may cringe at what we put out there. Sometimes we have absolutely no idea what we said or did or shared made the slightest difference to anybody. But I loved watching her. I learned so much about where she came from, how far that truly was, what she had endured, what made her laugh with her whole body. What made her frustrated, what made her cry in that silent, no one knows I am crying kind of way.

I loved watching her with her children. She was single mother who had her work cut out for her. Any single parent does, but when that package comes with special needs that require a mother’s love and nurturing, more especially so. She was an incredibly hard worker, driven to optimism by necessity rather than by choice. As the years ticked by, we bumped lives here and there. Can I just say that I think I loved her with such a deep affection, but I do not even know if I ever told her that. I would have if I could have.

In a quick instant she was gone. Swept away from this life on to the next. I was stunned. I grieved, I worked hard to grasp the why and why now that unsuspecting death often leaves in its wake. And what of her adolescent children? But mostly, how would he manage without his guiding light, his sweet mother, the one who cheered him on, the one who talked him down, the one who talked him through. The voice that said you are enough, you’ve got this?

He is an adult nowadays. I have seen him here and there. Sometimes I say hello and stop to chat, other times I don’t. He doesn’t know me, really. To him I am just a nice stranger. Does everybody treat him with that tenderness that I do when I say hello and ask how he is? Probably not. I wish that they would.

The other day I passed him when I was out scurrying from errand to errand in my overly busy day. He was walking alongside a very busy road. The day was a sunny bright one. He was walking to where he works – a distance of over 5 miles one way, I might add. In that split second of passing him, I saw the contented smile, the cheerful demeanor, an echo of that small troublesome boy that his mother worried so over – how would he manage when he grew up? How would he be safe?

And then it hit me. It hit me hard. All that she had hoped for, had prayed over, had worried so about – it all was right there in beautiful living color walking along with a determination in his step, a swing in his gait, the cheer in his eyes – all when he did not know that someone was watching. Maybe no one really was.

But I was.

And I am certain that she still is.


Burn The Boats

CEH CA Beach

In 1519 Hernán Cortés and 600 men arrived in Mexico, on a mission from Spain to conquer the people and claim the magnificent treasures said to be found there. The Aztec inhabitants were obviously concerned about these invaders, and a battle was imminent. Before his men could comprehend the situation, Cortés gave a rather interesting order:
Obviously, no boats meant no going home, so the men had to commit completely to their mission. The result was a stunningly successful battle, and Aztec empire’s riches soon belonged to Spain, something that armies of thousands had failed to accomplish for centuries prior.
At its heart, “burning boats” represents a point of no return, a psychological commitment where we recognize that we cross a line and move only forward. Every effort is focused only on success.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “There are a thousand excuses for failure, but never a good reason.” Cortés did what no one else had for one primary reason: He and his men were 100% committed to their cause. His small army became unstoppable because they only had one direction to go: forward.
When we want to achieve great things, in business, in our personal lives, or in both, we must approach our decisions with a level of commitment that will drive us definitively forward. When we truly commit to a cause, our perspective changes — and then nothing else needs to change, because we do, and that’s enough. Instead of seeing obstacles, we see opportunities. Rather than look for excuses, we look for solutions.
I don’t pretend that every decision we make will be good, and we obviously shouldn’t commit to bad decisions. But if we want to be wildly successful in life, this formula works:

• Gather as many facts as possible
• Measure the risks
• Use the best judgment and the insights of others to guide us

Once you make your decision, be willing to stick with it, and don’t allow fear and second-guessing to derail you.
It is time to burn your boats and lock arms with what you want to succeed in.


The Art of Being Wise is the Art of…

Solo Nail

The art of being wise is the art of…

…knowing WHAT to overlook.

~ OR ~

…knowing WHEN to overlook.

…knowing WHY to overlook.

…knowing HOW to overlook.

All of these things are so close that it could be misleading. You might ask, “Isn’t it all one and the same”? Well, let’s see what life has to say for the answer.

Laundry. Oh, the bane of my existence. It takes TLC, believe it or not. Maybe I just overthink the task – like waaayyy too much but on the other hand – we all have our own style, right? My delightful husband is all about helping me out – truly. He is a gem, a layer of perfection in my life and a complete and definite keeper. He is also a Marine. Marines seem to run (literally) on the principle that you see a need, hop on it NOW and get it done. Check it off. Keep on moving. And so for Tad, doing laundry falls squarely under these Marine life guidelines. I am not a Marine. I am a Marine’s wife. Therefore, I am a creature of carefulness, dedicated to stain spotting, prone to sort and sort again – details, details, details. But with all this odd information about our life at my house – let’s just shift this little discussion to hair.

WHAT?? That’s right – and the fact that I have massive amounts of the stuff and he has very (and I mean very) little of it. So, in the wide wonderful world of laundry – this is the crux of the matter: To soften or not to soften. For the quick and responder type – fabric softener is superfluous. It is a trendy way that detergent manufacturers have invented to garner more $$ out of you. It may make your stuff smell more flowery, but it makes towels not dry you off as good either. So, for Tad – forgetting to add fabric softener to our laundry day is a way of life. It just makes perfect sense to him. For me? Fabric softener is CRITICAL! I can tell you that static electricity and my massive mane (see the Photo Gallery to your right for physical proof!!) do battle for an entire week on a minute-to-minute basis when that teeny little step is neglected. And I do like that fluffy towel that smells all girly and feminine. And sheets that turn to a buttery smoothness that makes Monday Night Sheets a much-anticipated pleasure for my skin at the end of historically formidable day. So how does all of this apply to laundry day at my house? This art of being wise and overlooking concept – What do I overlook on this one? The battleground lines are definitely drawn, but how can I work through this and still love the help and the helper as much as I do?

The Overlook List:

What – I choose to embrace the beautiful fact that my charming groom wants to and actually does pitch in to help me do our laundry on a regular basis. Our styles are different, but I can pre-sort the baskets to my delight and he is very grateful to have the simple – one basket – one load concept to run with.

When – I try to stay on top of the task so that he doesn’t feel compelled to assist, but when he does, I have helped him to understand the static electricity assault / strife / crusade (note the military terms there?? LOL!) between me and my hair. Since he gets tangled up in the unruly stuff at night due to the close proximity of my pillow to his ~ and can I just say that sparks of static in the dark are quite the point maker(!) – he and I have agreed that one dryer sheet stashed in the waiting dryer resolves a lot of that conflict. So, I make it a point to get out ahead of the fray by making sure that the empty dryer has a softener sheet lying in wait for the next onslaught.

Why – Why do I overlook an errant load of non-softened laundry? Because I love him more than I love smooth sheets and fluffy towels. And if worse came to worse, is there a lot of harm in misting the load with a water bottle for a few squirts, tossing in a softener sheet and running it for 10 more minutes? Not to me. 10 minutes vs a moody wife with wildish hair for the entire week?? I’ll take the 10-minute detour. Every time.

How – This one is the trickiest of them all. This is where the rubber meets to road, where the battle of wills gets real and the sage advice goes through the ring of fire. Remember our initial topic? The ART of being wise is the ART of…

Art isn’t perfect at the first brush stroke. And even then, any artist will tell you that layering new brush strokes over older brush strokes can cover a multitude of artistic sins. So, it is an art form. A practice it over and over until it looks right, feels right, becomes right sort of endeavor. And it isn’t just laundry. It can be anything and everything – raising kids, disciplining the dog, what we eat, what we buy for groceries > you get it.

Isn’t this just a lecture on how to surrender? Not to me. My husband and I are engaged in living in a peaceful and happy way. We are committed to not creating battles for the sheer sport of it. We love the feeling of “I am helping make things better” for each other. And the art that we are co-creating is a masterpiece if I do say so myself.

Being Real ~ Really

HolesI’m a huge believer that you should always bring your whole self to work. You should bring your interests and your passions. You should bring your authenticity. Being real is the only way to be. Otherwise work would be boring, filled with phony stiffs and fake conversations. Can you imagine that – 40 or 50 hours a week? Horrible. Like holding your breath until you get home.

But what about when you DO get home? Should you continue to hold your breath?? Many of us feel like home is where we are safest, where we can truly let our hair down and be who we are, the “me, unplugged” sort of thing. But are you really? Is there a side of you that you keep hidden from your home occupants? Maybe it is your deep-set fears, or your biggest dreams, who you want to be, what you want to become, why you do what you do. Maybe you hide those things, too.

What is so wrong with being real anyway? What are you afraid of? Will someone laugh at your dreams, your goals, how YOU see yourself on the inside?

Perhaps they will.

Is that so crushing, so bad? Will that sting? It absolutely will. Will it kill you – probably not. Will it deaden your relationships? It may, but then again, it may just help them grow stronger, become more purposeful.

So ~ work, home, play ~ take a deep breath, blow it out along with all those doubts, those fears and that stress. Then breathe back in, fill those lungs of yours. And do it. Here’s what I think:

Knotted Wood.jpg

Wood has knots. Lots of them. In fact, it is impossible to make something out of wood without having to deal with the knots. Unless you intend on making toothpicks – then you are probably safe… So where did this come from?? Life has knots, too. And they are hard, and they are awkward, and they don’t fit in well with our plans and they make it really, really tough to get around sometimes. Who gets to live without knots in their life? Certainly not you. Nor your neighbor, or your sister, or that really well put together guy that you know who never seems to struggle guy. Or the homeless gal that waits on a corner with a sign and a hope that you will help. But…

Knots are strength in disguise. They add a richness to the design, a beauty to the soul, those flaws actually make something quite pleasing to the eye. They add color changes and depth, character and personality. They are the trial and the end result is the overcoming personified.

They are Being Real ~ Really.

Rock Solid

I was reading today and came across this sentence that I lingered over for quite a while. It struck a pondering chord deep within my soul actually. It was this: “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones.” It got me to thinking about the reality of that thought. Bricks are an okay building material – they are generally uniform and easy to work with. Another plus? We can alter their appearance at will. They are easy to maneuver, stockpile and apply. They appear to be sturdy at first blush ~ likely, but upon further inspection we note that they are not all that they seem. They are constructed with tiny grains of sand – the tiniest fragments of stone that there is. To a microscope they are majestic ~ but in reality, they can flake apart and weather away bit by bit. Seemingly imperceptible, but erode away they do almost from the very beginning of their lifespan. A far greater building material is a solid piece of stone. Stronger, less flaws, better for foundations, more pleasing to the eye, longer lasting – that is a hewn stone. Stones are built tough Mother Nature style. Durable, purposeful. A masterpiece really. Much more difficult to obtain, to work with. How does this apply to us? Sometimes we settle. We settle for what is easy, what looks good for the onlookers in to our lives. We use the lesser quality things perhaps out of necessity or maybe it is out of trying to pull a fast one in our fast-paced lives. Sure, bricks look good. Tidy. Uniform. Looks like everyone else. But stones are heavier, tougher to wrestle into place. Stones are permanent. Sculptors favor them for their long-lasting works of art. But isn’t that what we hope our lives wind up being? Lasting works of art that inspire others to be better, live better, strive forward despite the daunting odds that face them? What are the stones in your life? Is it your family? Your character? Your habits? Your goals? Which of these life builders ~ bricks or stones ~ which one endures greater stress, has better longevity, is more desired? Stone. Rock solid.Stone Fence 1

Black & White

Black and White

When I think of that particular phrase several things ~ P0P ~

Opposites – A Yin and Yang of sorts. The kind that says there is no gray here. The Chinese considered that all things exist as both inseparable yet contradictory opposites. Male-female, dark-light, old-young. There is no middle ground. There is no average or fair. Yet all things circle one another in one great whole. Peacefully intertwined. The yin is the dark swirl, associated with shadows, an encroaching wave, curiosity, the unknown. The yang is the light swirl that represents brightness, passion, growth, anticipation. And on any given day – where am I in this spectrum of living?

Chessmen on a board – Opposing sides in a contemplative yet philosophical battle of wits. The question always hangs unspoken in the air before the match begins: Am I better? Am I smarter? Am I patient enough? Can I refrain from rash and snap judgements that will lead to my undoing? And what are the answers to those questions regarding my opponent? In my relationships whether they be brief, business, personal or lifelong pursuits – those questions still shroud my inner being like a silent mist. Sometimes, most times, I do not remember that they are there. I do not pay much attention to them. Yet if I am honest with myself, I must admit that they carry more weight than that silken mist that carries them.

Pianos – The instrument that is both a primer to music mastery yet a masterpiece of glory to my ears. I have a friend who I consider to be a master here. I find when I hear her play I cannot help myself but to lean back, let my eyes drift to a peaceful close and absorb the beauty she offers as my ears translate the artful blend of sounds, nuances, cadences, the sheer variety of passion that simply draws me in, wraps around me like a comfort to my soul and I float away until the last note sounds and the stillness fades into living again. Breathless. Time in suspension. A much-appreciated pause button for my often frantic life.

Starkness – Contrasts so vivid and obvious that one cannot help to see and either appreciate or bristle at. Sometimes it is a turn in the conversation. Sometimes it is something I witness as a mere bystander. Sometimes it is an unfair dose of grief that seems cruel, hurtful to my soul as undetached from their reality as I am. Starkness can either be severe or an opulence. It is not always a negative for me. The bright night sky with stars ablaze, the deep hues of a glorious sunset, joy so full it spills over into tears that bathe my face in an internal reverence that escapes out of my soul.

Elegance – Classic formal attire that bespeaks affluence, grace, elegance and a sense of status, importance, stateliness. In our daily travels, elegance in our dress is a rarity at best. Much of our wardrobe choosings revolve around comfort, functionality, ease of care. We often sport a jab at the dress code of Walmart goers. But when we see something out of the ordinary – a well-fitted suit with an impeccable tie, a woman who has a flair for fashion that so stands out from the everyday, the ordinary – we take pause and admire the skill, the courage, the power that that image invokes. Do we somehow crave an elegance to living that has faded from our modern scurrying of life? Are we so accustomed to the hurry up of life that we have allowed an elegance to living to become a bygone era?

Photography – Oh the days of old black and while films, right? Given today’s technology impact on film making complete with CGI options and the fast-moving pace of things, when we watch films from decades gone by with their grainy frames and fake night time shots – it humors us! They sped up the horse, they slowed down the river crossings, they kissed passionately on the cheeks. Some are impatient with old films. Some of us just adore them. And what of still photography? With the absence of the distraction of color, one must carefully consume the details, the drama, the subtle nuances of the subject matter. And if it is crafted with a provoking thoughtfulness it can move you to a higher plane, remain with you and nestle down deep into your soul.

Parting thoughts ~ Is anything simply Black and White anymore? Was it ever? Do we really want it to be? I submit that there is great value in the Black and Whites of our world. And I love them.

JMC BW Pocket Watch

Names Not Initials

2014 Tad weeding


Ever noticed how on Blogs and a lot of social media people like to reference others with initials and not their names? Why is that? Are they protecting someone else’s privacy? Are they skittish about sharing a secret that they know they shouldn’t? Here’s my take on that whole thing – stop it.

Our world is pretty transparent anymore and mentioning only one initial does nothing but distract me from their message. My brain immediately begins cranking through the list of “who could she be talking about?” instead of listening and getting the life’s message I’m supposed to be getting. Women are particularly fond of the initials not names business. Is it because we are sensitive creatures and striving to protect our environments? Who knows? Maybe it assures them in some virtual and powerful way that it’s working. I am disinclined to buy into that.

So, you may ask, why is she harping over this weird little thing that NO ONE has ever noticed but her?? Because I feel like we ought to celebrate people and how they change us. And then say so. Give them the credit for how they treat us, what we learn from them.

What if they are mean and nasty and I just want to vent??

Even nastiness can be a learning experience. Not that I am advocating an all “sunshine and fluffy wonderment” sort of mentality, although more of that wouldn’t hurt anybody, but don’t you agree that we have all learned valuable life lessons from crappy situations?

Case in point: I was having a pretty crappy day a while ago. Junk floating around in my head was getting the best of me. I lamented to my friend David that today was just plain stupid and I was beyond irritable. He replied that it sounded to him like I needed a nap. Yeah, right! I can’t do that – I’ve got stuff to do and lots of it. I would feel terribly guilty even for a quick 20 minute power nap. And he said, “Part of being a creature meant to live in a garden is to allow the natural processes integral to the garden and your place in it to do their work. Taking a nap when that’s what you need is honoring the garden and your place in it.” Wow, I said, you are so smart! Where did you get this from? His reply? It’s the same advice you gave to me and I have been trying to live by it better.

Imagine that.

Tradition vs Intent

Tradition vs Intent

16 January 2016

We are creatures of habit. At least I am. I have foods that I eat all the time, shows I like to watch over and over. A favorite shirt, music that is always on my Go-To Playlist, the path I drive to places I frequent. And on and on. And then there are Traditions.

Some traditions are endearing ~ like Christmas mornings, a favorite clam chowder recipe, the songs we sing at our Birthday events, the way we keep connected to those that we love, our sense of style with the clothes we wear. Other traditions are kinda murky. We do them because, well because we just do them okay?? For me, why do I stringently manage my sock drawer the way I do? Why is it that I own 17 partially filled journals? Do I really have to scrub my entire body in the shower prior to shaving my legs – does clean hair slide down the drain better or something? These traditions of mine are just the silly ones. There are those that bear more weight, that have a deeper pull on my soul. They are things like, why do I go to church every Sunday here? Or I have heard this tradition dozens of times “I really really hate my job, but I cannot leave. I’m not sure what else I would do.” Same goes for relationships we keep. Or not keep.

Do not unwittingly assume that I am anti-tradition. I love them. Even packing for a vacation is a tradition that I warmly embrace (don’t judge me for that). My question is a simple one. A Small and Simple one. Sometimes does the tradition powerfully overwhelm the intent of the tradition? Christmas is a sweet example of this. As a mom, I have always loved the fun of Christmas. With 6 little kids it was such a blast! I love to make each gift just perfect for them. I love to wrap it just so, so that the presentation kind of prepares them for the awesome gift inside that incredible wrapping job! And then there’s the food and the goodies and the decorating and the cards to keep in touch with all these people from next to all over and the stocking fillers and the Christmas events that pop up without warning that we just have to attend. It was exhausting. Every year. Should I have started in May to ease the stressful burden of Christmas? I am sure you could continue my list on the Christmas Machine. And I am not here to tell you when or how or why to Unplug the Christmas Machine. Actually my thoughts are not about ratting out any specific holiday at all. I merely want to understand the ‘why’ part.

Why do I do this certain thing? Why do I go here all the time? Why do I keep getting sucked into this drama over here?  Why do I allow this person to cut me to shreds inside all the time and never say anything or do anything about it? Why do I keep starting this same goal over and over again? If your ‘why’ is flimsy, or needs propping up by fake add-ons to make it sound genuine then it is time to reconsider. My grandfather used to say all of the time, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As I kid, I was more mortified that he used ‘the H word’ in front of me. As a practicing adult, I get it now. Boy do I get it! Intent is good. It means that we are forward moving, forward thinking, embracing a plan and a path that we desire. So if you feel stressed out by stuff this week – stop and ponder the ‘why’ of it. And perhaps you will get up the courage to challenge a tradition that you no longer need. Maybe simply change it to suit who you are now and where you would like to be headed. Change is good. Just make sure you are headed on the right road when you put on your turn signal.Tradition vs Intent

Ripening Apples

Ripening Apples

Ripening Apples

12 January 2016

Have you ever wanted to either know something or be something right now? The “I wish” side of our lives has been a coin flip away for me every single day. I wish I had skin that would tan like hers does. I wish my grades would just keep my head above water like everyone else’s around here. I wish I could make ends meet like every other normal family can. I wish my skill set would just be noticed every once in a while around here. I wish…

I am certain you could keep perpetuating this list from inside the depths of your head for more than a few more examples. So could I. My point today is not to whine about the what may be’s or the what might have been’s in life.

I am a Master Seamstress. Betcha didn’t know those sorts of creatures even existed, did you? Very few people in my life know that I can do this – I used to really put it out there, but there is a time to every season, right? I do not think I have ever run across a fabric related challenge that I could not ace with flying colors. Not to project fanfare out there with blaring trumpets (sorry Laurel, Janelle and Kirsten) but I am good. Really, really good. I was not born with a needle and thread in my hand. It was not a natural born trait that we Carlson women through the ages have gracefully embraced, per se. I guess the bottom line here is that I like math. Well, not actually like – adore is more like it. On warp speed. And sewing is all math. I have been ripping out zippers and cursing my sewing machine like everyone else. I have just been doing it for decades. When I stop and think about it – I add up a grand total of 42 years behind that needle and thread. That’s a lot of zippers and hems, cutting and clipping, basting and biasing. So what does this have to do with the “I wish” stuff?

Lots of people wish for things that others seem to do with the greatest of ease, not hardly aware of how long it took that person to prepare for your moment in time, your snap assessment of their marvelous skills. You probably have something like that in your own life. Cookie Maven. Computer Ninja. Mother Theresa. Road Warrior. [You can insert your chosen title here]. I do not begrudge the Cookie Mavens of the world. I love that they let me sift my paws through their cookie jars and leave crumbs in my wake. I so admire the Computer Ninjas in my world and rely heavily on them for balance and for rebooting my world again and again. And again. Thank you Eddie.

I think sharpening our skills is kinda like watching apples grow. I am surrounded by apple orchards where I live and I love watching them go through their processes of becoming perfect for market. Suppose you had an apple tree in your back yard. And how you LOVE apples. Pies, cobbler, salads, baked, smeared with warm sticky caramel, diced up and tossed about with other fruits in your compote – you get my drift. So you go out and examine your tree. There are apples up in those branches! Well – they are still pretty small. And hard. And green – but you are willing to wait. The next day you trek outside to have another look. Sheesh! Same deal! Question is – do you stomp back into the house and give up on your apples? Of course not. You just keep checking on them day after day. Seeing teeny tiny changes day after day. And one day you find that that they are ripe and ready and beyond delicious! Could not be better!

That is how our talents grow. Day after day, hem after hem, dusty floured kitchens and all. So don’t get discouraged if you are not down those 30 lbs yet or if your savings account is still only $11.68. Work a little longer, try again and just come away knowing that your apples are ripening day after day. I promise.