Father’s Day Tribute

Some of my fondest memories of my father revolve around reading.

Every Sunday morning, he gathered me into his lap and read whichever of the comic strips I pointed to. My father worked out of town a lot and was often home only on weekends, so these stolen moments meant the world to me.

On the nights that he was home, he would read to my younger sister and me from our book The Bedtime Book of 365 Stories. Once we outgrew the book, our younger brother had grown into the magic of these nightly tales. This book consisted of short stories and poems, amusingly illustrated by Richard Scary, that could be read in under five minutes. I  still recall the story about a lion visiting New York City that fell on my birthday, and the poem about kittens that fell on my sister’s.

In the evening after dinner, Dad always reclined in his blue rocking chair reading a detective novel or a western. It was reassuring to see him sitting there with his book. It meant life was as it should be.

I’m sure my relationship with reading, and even writing, was influenced by the relationship I had with books as a result of my Father.  I decided I wanted to be a writer early on. By sixth grade I was already crafting short stories. During my pre-teen and teenage years, I used my allowance to buy books that weren’t available at the library. It was rare that I had less than three going at once.

Years later, when we adopted our daughters, I went on Ebay and found a copy of The Bedtime Book of 365 Stories to share with my little ones. For my hard-to-buy-for brother’s next birthday, I returned to Ebay and found a second copy to give give him to share with his young children.

As he opened the package, tears welled in his eyes. I knew that, in that moment, my brother was five again, and Dad was sitting next to him on the bed reading. Of all the gifts he’s ever received, I think he would count that gift as one of his best, because of the memories that flooded back as he turned each page.

Written as Editor of BeyondtheNest.com and published in the June 15, 2017 newsletter issue.
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Choose to Twinkle

About a year ago, Neil DeGrasse Tyson was a guest on CBS This Morning. This man should be every child’s teacher, because he has a way of making science fascinating.

One of the things he discussed was the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). He shared that this telescope is so much more powerful than the Hubble Telescope, that it will be able to “see earlier in the universe than ever before.”

The JWST website explains that “The longer wavelengths enable JWST to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.”

I guess because I’ve never taken an astronomy course, I never before thought about the fact that, when we look up at the sky in the present, those stars are so many light years away that by the time their light reaches us, we are looking back in time.  Some of those stars and planets may no longer even exist.

I began to think about this concept in relation to people.

When you meet an individual, you’re seeing the person he or she is today. But in reality, that individual is a culmination of all that has come before…all the people he or she has ever known, all his or her past learning and experiences – good and bad – even all of the decisions and actions of his or her ancestors.

The next time you look out across a crowd of people at a festival or a concert, think about how similar it is to gazing up at the stars at night. At first observation, it’s simply a sea of people, or a sea of stars. But think about how that vision holds the key to so many amazing secrets of the past!
Now, think about yourself. It’s easy to see your past when you look in the  mirror each morning. Maybe you have your father’s hair or your mother’s perseverance. I know I have my grandmother’s body type and my grandfather’s creativity. I see persistent resilience and a complexion that burns, inherited from British Isle ancestors who came over on the Mayflower.

The thing about the person you’re seeing today is, tomorrow this person will be someone slightly different, molded by the experiences of today. Recognize that you have some control over what those experiences will be, what you’ll do today and how you’ll enrich your own life and those around you. Today, you can choose whether your light will fade a bit, or shine a bit brighter tomorrow. I recommend you choose to twinkle.

 

Written as Editor of the BeyondtheNest.com newsletter and published in the May 4, 2017 issue of the newsletter.

In Our Mother’s Steps

In our last newsletter, I wrote about how, when you look at a person, you can look into their past. They are a representation of all the events and people that have come before and influenced their looks, their skills and interests, even what country they live in.

Mother’s Day is a wonderful time for each of us to reflect on our own past and think about the women from whom we inherit aspects of who we are, and who we turned out to be.My mom has been gone 15 years now, and while she and I had a fairly contentious relationship, I loved her, and there are many skills and traits she gave me for which I am thankful.

Mom didn’t graduate from high school – she went back years later to get her GED, for which I was always proud of her – yet she was one of the most talented and creative women I knew.

She grew up in the shadow of the recession to which her parents lost the family house. As a result of that devastating blow, she gained a resourcefulness that served her well her entire life, and that she passed on to me.

When my sister and I were little, she earned extra money by sewing dance costumes for some of the girls in our neighborhood who took ballet. As I watched her carefully sewing the delicate beads onto the intricate costumes, I desperately wanted to dance, which finances and distance from the dance school made impossible. I promised myself I would learn both to sew and to dance. That Christmas, she asked what I wanted as a gift, and I revealed my wish. I could barely breathe when I opened the box and found my heart’s desire – a red ballerina costume, complete with little red hat, made lovingly by my mother.

And of course, there are hundreds of other fond memories…of making ornaments and cookies for multiple holidays, of camping trips and watching fireworks, of concerts when I knew she and my father were proudly watching from the audience.

There are also the many questions I wish I had asked her…about her childhood… about our relatives and ancestors… about being a parent and how she managed it, especially after my father passed away.

On this coming Mother’s Day, if your Mother is alive, I invite you to pick one memory or one trait and share with her how she influenced you to walk in her steps. If she is not, why not pick one of those favorite memories and share it with friends or family so her legacy of love lives on.

To all our readers, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

Written as Editor of BeyondtheNest.com and originally published in the May 11, 2017 issue.

What’s on Your Bucket List?

The other week, my friend Karen posted to facebook that she had checked off another item on her bucket list. She and her husband had attended the Bible study class taught by 92-year-old former President Jimmy Carter at a small parish in Plains, Georgia. Other checkmarks? Seeing Nathan Lane in a Broadway show, visiting Ireland, viewing the recent solar eclipse and experiencing a talk by the Dalai Lama in person. Their next bucket list adventure? Going to see the Northern Lights this coming winter.

I started thinking about a bucket list and its importance. The Oxford Dictionary online defines “bucket list as: “a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.”

I realized that, other than my wish to travel to certain places, I’ve never really developed a bucket list. Most of the items I’d put on my list simply happened without it being an actual goal… taking ballroom dance classes, learning to create stained glass, hearing Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble live, producing a TV show…. They occurred by circumstance or a spur of the moment decision, rather than by design.

What I’ve realized about bucket lists is that they keep you motivated. They encourage you to learn new things, to search for new experiences, to ensure your life remains interesting and fulfilling. Writing down goals inspires you to achieve them, just as a ‘to do’ list urge you to accomplish tasks. A written bucket list rewards you, not only through the experience of doing the activity, but also through the zing of reward when you check the item off, knowing it has been achieved.

One of the most robust bucket lists I found was on a blog called Bucket List Journey, written by Annette White. Annette has over 800 items on her bucket list. That’s probably a few too many for most people, unless, of course, you’re writing a blog or book (she wrote Bucket List Adventures). What she’s done, that may offer encouragement if you’re just starting a bucket list, is to break the list into categories such as Creativity, Location Specific Travel, Personal Growth, Food, Animals and Nature, etc. Creating categories may help broaden your horizons to think beyond  the top-of-mind and easily doable. Each item should be challenging enough that it causes you to stretch. Don’t feel you have to add items as adventurous as her listings of eating fire and skydiving. After all, it’s your personal list, so it can be whatever you’d like to do.

So, I’ve just started working on my bucket list. What’s on yours?

P.S. You guessed it! Returning to Paris has already been added to the top of my list. (image courtesy of Ryan Hamrick)

 

Written as Editor of  BeyondtheNest.com and published in the September 7, 2017  issue of the Newsletter

What’s the Highlight of YOUR Day?

Yesterday, I was walking the dog. She was having a glorious romp…chasing squirrels, sniffing something in every yard, happily encountering canine friends…. I thought, “This is the highlight of her day!” and she has it to look forward to every day.

Suddenly the thought occurred to me, “What’s the highlight of MY day?”

I was challenged to think of anything I have planned for every day that I would consider a highlight… something I do each day that brings me great joy. Yes, there are highlights monthly, even weekly, but don’t we deserve joy each day?

Then I wondered whether I couldn’t come up with a daily highlight because I don’t have a sweet spot planned into every day, or because I don’t appreciate the sweet spots that are there. Sometimes we get so busy, it feels as if we’re running from task to task. That makes it easy to overlook the special moments in each day. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

So if I were to ask you — as I did one of my colleagues — what the highlight is of YOUR day, would you have a good answer?  Rashida’s was that she looks forward to cuddling with her one-year-old at his bedtime, and shortly before hers. Great answer! And it happens every day, at least right now. When he’s three or five, she’ll probably need to find a new highlight, because preschoolers seldom hold still for cuddle periods.

That’s the thing about those sweet spots… as life moves on, we have to look for new ones.

So I’ve decided to add twenty minutes of dance or reading into each day, and relish those precious moments of “me” time. I also started savoring those precious moments when my husband and I hold hands right before we fall asleep.  I’ll be looking for more daily moments I’ve taken for granted to add to my cache of daily highlights.

So what’s the highlight of YOUR day?

A Child Named Hope

I  take up “the pen” today because it’s the only way I know to wrestle with disquieting feelings I’ve had recently.

aidAs a marketing person, I post to many social media sites – both my own and to those for which I work. One Thursday, about two weeks ago, I had a most unsettling experience.

Through one of the non-profit facebook sites I run, I received a message where the writer asked whether the organization I posted for is truly community-oriented, or “a liberal propaganda house.” He pointed out that there are conservatives and libertarians in the community.

We had a relatively positive message exchange, where I indicated the organization welcomes everyone, and that, as a public access television station, we broadcast everything submitted, except media that advocates violence.

The individual pointed out that recent posts were “Left of Center.”

I thanked him for pointing this out, and stated that our purpose was not to alienate anyone.

Now I will say that the leanings of most of the people who work at this organization ARE, in fact, “left of center.”  As one of the more diverse organizations in the city of Rochester, attracting people of all ages, socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, political leanings and religions, that is the mindset of those who tend to apply for jobs and work there. It also tends to be the mindset of many of the independent producers whose work is shown on the channel. So, the individual writing is probably accurate in his assessment that the posts I have made have a tendency to be somewhat liberal. Following his comment, I actually thought about the fact that we should, perhaps, reevaluate our social media strategy to make it “more balanced.”

Then, in thinking about this exchange, I was curious what had prompted his note.  I clicked on the story I’d posted. That is when I became unsettled.

togetherIt was a story and photo, originally posted by Malia Obama, about Anja Ringgren Loven, a Danish woman doing social working in Nigeria. The first photo showed her feeding an abandoned and severely malnourished two-year-old Nigerian child. In the second photo, it shows the same young woman holding the child at some later point in time. She has now adopted the child, who she named Hope. He is the picture of health and clearly shines with the love he feels.

When I originally shared this post, I considered it a purely inspirational story…the story of one human coming to the aid of another.

As someone who has adopted children internationally, I know that there are some who would say this child has been robbed of his heritage. To those critics, I would say, “Better robbed of his heritage than robbed of his life,” which is likely what would have happened. Every child should have the chance for love, no matter what.

But to discover that this post could, in any way, be construed as a political message totally flabbergasted me.

I am distressed and disgusted that this election cycle has catalyzed a toxic environment that has become so divisive and so polarizing that politics trump humanity and a story such as this can be construed as anything other than inspirational.

What have we, as a nation, come to when we cannot simply rejoice in the rescue of A Child Named Hope?

Disclaimer: This is the opinion of Carol White Llewellyn and should not be construed as representing the opinions of anyone within any of the organizations with which she works.

 

From a Child: Celebrate Achievements with a Wall of Brilliance

Rishi's wall of greatness
Rishi’s Wall of Brilliance

The other day, my friend Ashweeta posted a photo on facebook that caught my attention. It was of a wall in her home that her young son had decorated, all on his own, with his accomplishments from kindergarten.

Now this was no ordinary wall of accomplishments. This was a wall showing his hard-won victory. You see, Ash had adopted Rishi from India, the country where her parents and older brothers had been born, when the boy was three. As with many adopted children — especially those adopted beyond infancy — Rishi has had to work harder than most children to attain those successes.

Now, the wall virtually blooms with achievements, a daily reminder for both of them of the great possibilities ahead….

When I contacted Ash to ask permission to write about her story, she gladly agreed and told me that the wall had helped her realize something very important.

“I remember crying one night because I was so scared that first grade would be too hard for him. Then I saw that wall he put up, and I realized that it didn’t matter where he was – this is where he is and it’s perfect. I call it the wall of brilliance”

She went on to say, “ I’m going to follow in my boy’s footsteps and create my own wall of greatness – things that I forgot I did. The logo of the first job where I felt that I made it, the lease from my first apt., my Hunter College ID, etc…Funny when I looked at Rishi’s wall, it took me a long time to figure out what my wall would look like. How can we move forward if we forget how brilliant we really are?”

I was touched and inspired by what Ash wrote.

Today, more than ever, we are on a constant treadmill…to make more money, to get the next promotion, to build our business, to get more social media followers, to finish the next project, to create the next technological advance that will corner the market, to write our next novel or create our next major work. Even contemporary expressions such as “You’re only as good as your last …” allude to “the next one.” Apparently, the status quo is not to be celebrated.

And yet….

As Ash says, how can we move forward if we forget how brilliant we really are?

I am not denying the virtue of advancements and progress. They are essential. But it is equally vital to celebrate the now of each success, to carve a notch in your personal totem so that where you have been will keep you on track and buoy your confidence to take you where you are going.

Each person has to find his or her own best way to celebrate achievements. Perhaps it’s with a special activity or an evening of celebration. Or maybe your successes belong written in a journal, or captured in photos in an album. Or why not try Rishi’s method? Create your own wall of brilliance to share with those you love who will help you celebrate your greatness!