I find it fascinating when people correct my grammar – especially in response to what I say verbally. I remember someone asking me how I was doing, and I replied, “I am doing good.”
He corrected me: “Don’t you mean to say, ‘I am doing well’?”
Yes, I know he was right. I have spent years studying grammar for my university classes. Even for fun, I still like to have my nose in a grammar book. (I find language and its changing rules so darn interesting.) And while I acknowledge the standards and realize there are a time and place for them, I may choose to just parrot what others commonly say and join in with the “rule breakers” because I realize that “correct” language usage is not the most important part of my life. Especially in my everyday texts, emails, and conversations, I’ve tried to never take my grammar too seriously. There’s a colloquial element that I find charming.
So, what is my point? Tis this: when people think it’s important to call us out for something minor, what should our healthy response be? (And one that doesn’t involve dumping a glass of tea over their head?)
Honestly, I’m still mulling it over, but I wanted to share what has helped me.
Let’s say a person has just adamantly told me I’m wrong and that Brad Pitt is NOT the main character of the movie I’m describing. I like to first hold a quick conversation in my heart and mind: is it truly important that I counter-correct? Or at least make that person understand where I am coming from?
Not always. Sometimes I just keep my mouth shut and let their correction go unchallenged. Because we obviously don’t agree when it comes to the topic, and when a disagreement is not life threatening, I may avoid engaging them in return. I can (pardon my cliché) agree to disagree and not have a lengthy discussion about it.
But what if a disagreement is relationship threatening? I find it helpful to ask myself if someone’s correction, right or wrong, is something I want to continually deal with. And most importantly, I try to discern what is at the heart of it. If the person is not abusive, but genuinely loving and caring, their corrections, even if incorrect, typically don’t bother me. Because I know that they mean no injury. It’s when I suspect even just an ounce of harm, my guard goes up, and my (metaphorical) foot goes down. And that means the friendship may be worth stepping away from, or at the very least, putting up some boundaries.
I then proceed in the relationship with caution.
Again, for me, I’m not just focused on the person’s judgment being right or wrong. It’s the intention that appears along with it. Because I know I’ve wrongly corrected others. It’s one of the joys of being human. But another one of the joys of being human? Being able to wisely question (even just mentally) others’ actions, and then letting a healthy, careful answer be the foundation of our response.
Whether we are right or wrong, we always have that power.
I’ve often heard that nature can be healing, but I think this truth has never been so important to me until now, when many of us are forced to stay local and slow waaaayyyy down. I have more time to check out the clouds, to contemplate those leaves hanging just outside my window, and to notice the hedgehogs that crunch around my neighborhood. I’m thankful I live in a very lush country.
Counselor and author John Eldridge shares how apathetic we can often be about our surrounding splendor: “Too often we just notice and go on, like a pedestrian who steps over a hundred-dollar bill lying on the sidewalk. Stop and pick it up! In these moments you open yourself and receive beauty, the gift, the grace – receive it into your being.” Some days can be downright depressing at times, but I’ve taken Eldridge’s advice and found myself metaphorically picking up the hundred-dollar bills around me.
Here in England during stricter lockdowns, we are allowed out of doors for one physical exercise per day. My husband and I like to take daily walks. I make a point to admire the berries, flowers, odd-shaped leaves, and loud birds. If my neighborhood is an art gallery, they’d be the artwork.
Maybe walks aren’t your thing. Instead, it’s your cat’s paws in the air, bubbles that pop from your dish soap, or the smell of something yummy that is baking in the oven. For me, the key is to intentionally search for beauty beyond my current situation and pain; because even if I am hurting, I admire it when I find it. Thankfulness wells up inside me because beauty still exists, despite the aching in the world; and this is encouraging. I get a burst of energy that keeps me going.
Even when we don’t spend a lot of time outside, natural beauty can lovingly creep in when we look for it. Notice the sky that peeks in your windows. Think of the dancing shadows in your house or the cheerful beams of light that streak through your hallway. Appreciate the way your dog has fuzzy eyebrows or a wrinkly forehead.
Again and again I see that there is something soothing about recognizing beauty around me. Even when my situation is grim, I'm rejuvenated that there is still attractiveness in a world that can be very ugly. What about you? Are you open to beauty in your life, even in the midst of grief and anxiety? Or have you stopped looking?
Please, don’t ever stop looking for it.
While on a run, I almost squished the little guy (see him in the photo above?) with my steady stride, but, thankfully, I saw him in time. Sweating and panting, I stopped, admired, and snapped the photo with my phone. My frog friend was in full camouflage mode.
Blending in is not always a bad thing, but it is when people can’t see you and you are in danger of being flattened by their running shoes.
This holiday season, I keep thinking about that little frog. Because my go-to for this time of year is to do the expected activities, which means blending in with my neighbors and family and friends. I buy the tickets to the Christmas market. I make the appropriate cookies. I play the expected songs. But interestingly enough, I’m learning that some of the most unforgettable moments of the holiday season are the unexpected, unique things that aren’t in our usual repertoire.
One of my more memorable holidays was in 2019. We were in England, a place that doesn’t officially celebrate Thanksgiving, and we had no family visiting us at the time. My husband and I had just returned from a lengthy trip and had come home to an empty fridge. So, we went out to eat with some dear friends. The restaurant was quiet with low lighting, and the most Thanksgiving option on the menu was the mulled wine. The dinner was peaceful, stress free, and one of those moments I wish I could freeze frame: it was our own bubble of holiday spirit. It was unexpected, but it was a night to remember.
Living overseas has helped me to accept the non-traditional and unexpected moments that come barging in. I think this holiday, we will all experience a few non-traditional moments. COVID is, unfortunately, still limiting our activities and just being horribly present, hovering in the back of our minds worse than the sour eggnog in our fridge. But, unlike my frog friend, let’s embrace the non-traditional moments. Let’s not blend in or be trampled by the unexpected.
Socrates reminds us that “[t]he secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” And I think that’s what we have to do, because this year will definitely not be camouflaged among the others. It’s full of change and the unexpected. So, let’s remind ourselves that the unexpected can be refreshing. Let’s remind ourselves that the different can provide a way to move forward and even triumph during a difficult season.
I’m intrigued by the minimalist movement. (If you aren’t, please don’t stop reading yet…I’m not going the direction you might think.) I’ve read multiple books and articles on the topic, checked out the Netflix documentaries, and even joined an online discussion group headed by Joshua Becker. And in my opinion, the best minimalist advice that has stayed with me over the years is this: use EVERYTHING (no matter how much or how little I have), and enjoy it “today.”
Let me explain a little further.
I have items in my home that have not been used and enjoyed, because I’m completely guilty of waiting for some vague, special occasion. And I know I’m not the only one. Why do we save Grandma’s antique china for only extraordinary dinners? Why do we buy the specially illustrated books and just have them sit on the shelf? Why do we keep a pristine sitting area that (ironically) people rarely sit in?
My friend who deals in Moroccan goods picked out a beautiful dish set* for me and had her husband carefully wrap them in his clothing and bring them in this suitcase to Egypt, where I was living at the time. She couldn’t come with him, so he was the courier, and it was such a huge treat! These well-traveled beauties arrived in great condition, and I was in awe of them. So much so that I barely used them. They were “too special.”
But why? Why not make my everyday special? And this is the question many minimalists are asking. And I decided to join in.
As a result, I started using the Moroccan dishes for my usual cereals and salads. I’ve also started wearing my white shirts and blouses (I had always saved them back in case I got spills on them. For what though?) I’ve been wearing my “good” jewelry, even around the house during this year’s lockdown. I’ve been putting my favorite and best towels out in the bathroom. I’ve even indulged in my daily teas. I used to save back my favorite teabags. But for what? A significant morning? Why not make today’s morning significant?
I guess I thought I was being frugal because I was being “careful” with my favorite things. But I was often just being wasteful. I was like a snail just hauling around a heavy shell of stuff. And I wasn’t using my items for the purpose they were created for. Now that I am, I’m happy to report that my life definitely feels richer; and while I’m following minimalist advice, I’m actually maximizing my enjoyment.
*See in photo above.
Simple truth: COVID has severely limited our ability to go on any relaxing vacations this year. But according to writer Karen Trefzger, we don’t need to completely miss out. In her blog article from No Sidebar, titled "Una Bella Vita," she beautifully illustrates how we can bring a holiday to our own home.
First, Trefzger wants us to identify a dream trip that cannot happen:
Maybe a trip to Tuscany is part of your dream. So wherever you are, you’re longing for Tuscany. Maybe you feel cheated by the fact that you can’t go.
Then she urges us to dissect the dream and learn what it is that we are longing for:
What does Tuscany offer that my hometown doesn’t? Perhaps the appeal is the warm climate, the rural vineyards and olive groves, the slower pace of life, the wine and the food, the language, the colors, the art, or the ancient buildings.
She rightfully points out that even if we took a trip to Tuscany, we would eventually have to leave. So, what can we do? And here’s the gem in her article: we can seek to make our home “the environment we yearn to be in.”
Trefzger continues with the Tuscany example, giving a list of things we can do around our house to, in essence, bring what we crave about Tuscany to our own home. And these are doable activities. Maybe for you it's not Tuscany, but Mexico or the UK or Asia. No matter the area, our ideas do not need to be incredibly elaborate or very costly:
Can we watch a foreign opera or documentary on TV?
Have coffee outside on the deck?
Listen to Irish songs?
Make flour tortillas by hand?
Finally learn to use chopsticks?
Light our own Chinese lanterns?
Just. Slow. Down. (Like we would on a vacation, when we are away from work?)
And, once more, I’m discovering the importance of living life intentionally, and therefore, living life richly. Trefgzer wisely urges us to get to the bare bones of what we desire concerning our dream trips and then to purposefully add these elements into our daily lives. No passport required. This beautiful, encouraging article offers such a positive outlook, and I highly recommend reading it if you have the chance.
I really wanted to be a plant lady. I would see these amazing pictures on Pinterest of lush living rooms and kitchens that have an elegant, jungle feel to them. I even loved the minimalist blogs that show a desk with just that one darling succulent. So, somewhat giddy, I finally dove in one day, and I got myself my own posse of plants.
And I slowly watched them die off.
Because as much as I adored my plants (probably smothered them), I wasn’t the best plant mama. I’d overwater and then subsequently underwater them. I repotted one incorrectly. I accidentally closed a window blind on one of them (heart stopping). My affection for plants, as strong as it is, was not helping them thrive.
After giving some of plants away (I think they breathed a sigh of relief) and getting help for my remaining plant family, I now have five plants that seem to be thriving.
Why am I telling you this? Because all this prompted me to whine and ask myself the age-old question: Why can’t I excel at something I love? Especially as an adult capable of researching, learning, and making sound decisions.
Instead, I needed to ask myself a different question: Since I can’t currently get what I want (a blossoming kitchen with little branches that reach out to me as I make pancakes), what can I do, using the resources I have, to get myself closer to my dream? And I didn’t give up. Instead, I looked at what was doable, and I started with that. In my case, that was five plants.
In a culture that loves microwaves, next-day delivery, and instant beverages, it’s beneficial to remind ourselves that our dreams are much more complex and precious. They involve steps, and that’s a good thing. Think of the quality of a hot drink that takes time to morph in the hands of a careful barista. It’s worth the wait.
I think we should work toward our goals gradually and enjoy the process of reaching them; by doing this, we learn it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay for our dreams, no matter how small, to take years to achieve.
We all want to live “the good life”, no matter our types of dreams, but as Carl Rogers wisely reminds us: “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.” So, I enjoy my five plants that represent my attempt to slow down, my attempt to head toward my dream, and my attempt to not stress so much about completing the process. And I am content.
When little, I wrung out a soppy washcloth in front of my grandma. She looked at me and said with a smile, “Good for you! You did it correctly.” Because wringing a washcloth is different than just squeezing it to get the water out. You know… you hold each end and twist the fabric in opposite directions when wringing. As me and my grandma knew, this releases more water.
Can I just tell you that little me puffed up with such pride? OH. YES. I was incredibly pleased with my grandma’s praise. Since I knew the most effective way to get water out of cloth, I felt both knowledgeable and wise. I also felt great affection between me and my grandma.
Let’s just say that to this day, when I wring out my washcloth, my grandma (who has passed away) will often flit back through my mind. It’s such a sweet little memory.
Can you believe that? Words of praise, years ago, about an insignificant washcloth, still give me all the happy feels. Wow. We humans have such incredible power to give timeless encouragement, just by opening our mouth.
Let’s use compliments like we would our favorite ice-cream topping: generously and lovingly. (Oh yes, I put my ice-cream toppings on lovingly…don’t you?) Think of what an impact we will make in the mental well-being of others, no matter their age! And possibly over and over, for years to come. Just like my Grandma did for me.
Creator of Love, Auntie.
About LOVE, AUNTIE
Welcome! My blog is a journal of sorts as I seek what makes "older" worth celebrating in a world that tends to glorify "younger." I hope it's a place you will find encouragement and positive words.