Lessons Learned at Sea

I just returned home from my very first cruise. Other than a few bumps, sways, and waves, I loved it.

Food was prepared, just for me. (Any chef that can cook around my umpteen allergies is a miracle worker.)

There was always entertainment, somewhere on the ship.

But the best part? Staring at the deep blue ocean. A blue that glistens like glitter sprinkled from heaven.

My husband and I sat in a corner of the pool deck, unaware of anything but creation, listening to glaciers crinkle and crack, watching orcas show-off sleek, black bodies, seeing clouds paste themselves between mountain and sea.

Magical. Memorable. Absolutely amazing.

But for others, the world wasn’t so grand. Somewhere on our ship, in an unknown little cabin, a life was lost. When I found out, I was very, very sad.

I didn’t know the person who died, not sure if I’d ever seen or spoken to the family. I didn’t see them get off the ship, ready to return home with their loved one’s body. But the heartache of it all still sits with me.

It makes me realize how short life is, and how important it is to enjoy each moment.

As I prepared for this vacation, I expected to learn a few lessons. Often, I do.

Vacations teach me to be quiet, enjoy my world, live with few belongings. Vacations teach me to be content with less, and relish every moment. But this vacation, it taught me something new.

It began with packing, and repacking, and packing for a third time. Stressing over what to bring, how many pairs of jeans and dressy pants, what shoes and sweaters I would need. In the evening, should I be casual or dress-up?

Stressed, frustrated, confused. Making trips to malls, purchasing clothes, buying larger luggage. Placing too many things in my suitcase. Worried about how I would look.

How shallow I can be.

With all the packing, and wondering what to wear, I had forgotten what this vacation was about. My husband and I were celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. I had turned it into a show about me.

Then something happened.

Death has a way of teaching those of us who are left behind. Reminding us what is important. What life is about. Not possessions. Not suitcases, or how many shoes needed for one week.

A life, gone.

A widow. Lost. Forlorn. No hand to hold, no fingers to intertwine, no arms to wrap around when frigid winds blow.

Someone, somewhere, all alone.

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Lessons from a Two-Year-Old

I’ve been watching little children lately, and got to wondering . . .

Don’t you sometimes wish you were a two-year old? You could scream whenever you want, giggle at anything, and make faces and no one would look at you funny?

Okay, I don’t really want to be a two-year-old (though there are times I have wanted to stand in the middle of a store and scream), but sometimes I’m jealous at how much more together they seem than me, and how they relish in the simple act of living.

These are some lessons I learned from a two-year-old:

Giggle. Two-year-old’s giggle when they are happy. They giggle at simple things. Loud, continuous, contagious giggles. Giggles keep us young and make us happier. When was the last time you laughed like that? Find a funny show, or a two-year-old, and giggle till it hurts.

Scream. They scream when they are sad. Okay, the screaming part might not make you any friends. But you can go in the quiet of your home and scream (into a pillow). The thing here is that their emotions are real. They hide nothing. Hidden emotions cause stress. And stress causes, well, all kinds of disease. If you can’t scream, find a way to release your frustration – like running, or punching a bag.

Eat. They eat when they are hungry . . .no less, no more. And they know when to stop.

Have One Thing. They cling to one simple object. Or two or three. A blanket, a doll, a big old stuffed bear. Give them one thing, and they are content. As adults, we surround ourselves with hundreds of objects, many of which we don’t even like. And why? So we can say we have them, so we can place them on shelves and show off how much money we spent, or where we like to shop? Maybe we should be like the two-year-old who picks his favorites, and keeps only what he loves.

Easy Entertainment.
They are easily entertained. A box, a crayon and paper, a little toy car. They have fun with what they own and aren’t always looking to get something new.

Go Outside. They love the outdoors. Nature mesmerizes them. They explore. Their world is new every day.

Create. They are creative. They see new ways of doing things. (Not always good – like sandwiches shoved into a DVD player, but they are creative.)

Exercise. No one forces them to exercise. It’s just what they do. And it’s all so simple. Run. Jump. Play.

Do What You Want. They know what they want and when they want it. No guessing games. If they want to sleep, they do. If they want to play, they will. They aren’t wishy-washy.

Just Say No. They are never afraid to say ‘no.’ I know, we usually wish most children didn’t say ‘no’ so often. But I wish I had learned that word as a young adult. ‘No’ can save us from being over-worked and over-extended.

Nap. They take a nap. Naps have been shown to help us live longer and be more productive.

Simple Foods. They like simple meals, sandwiches, fruit, or mac-and-cheese. They don’t the need the fancy stuff.

I don’t really want to be a two-year-old again, but I do wonder, what happens when we turn into adults? How do we lose the simplicity of childhood? How do we throw away simple pleasures for such a complicated life?

Just something to think about . . .

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Simple Lessons Learned From the Gilmore Girls

Recently, I was watching an episode of Gilmore Girls. Yes, I am a Gilmore Girl junkie. I love it – the quick wit, banter, literary references, and subtle wisdom. Who knew lessons could be learned while watching a simple television show?

In the last episode I watched, it was Lorelei, the wise-cracking, adorable mom of a teenager, who taught me a few things. I guess I knew them all along. Perhaps I just needed a reminder.

Before I tell you what I learned, here is a rundown of the characters:

The Gilmore Girls are a mother-daughter, and best friends, team that live in a tiny town called Stars Hollow. Lorelei is the mom, Rory is the daughter.

While Lorelei and Rory are a story in themselves, there are many colorful characters in this show, two of which are Lorelei’s parents, Richard and Emily Gilmore.

Richard and Emily are well-to-do snobs (though totally lovable), living in a large home complete with servants.

The Show:

In season 3, episode 10, Richard’s mother, Trix (played by Marion Ross), comes to visit. Trix is snobbier than any of them, uptight, in everyone’s business, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Trix wants to see Lorelei’s house, and whatever Trix wants, she gets.

Emily freaks at the thought of Trix walking into her daughter’s home, an average size house with furniture and knick-knacks that are, shall we say, quirky.

Emily speeds to the house, and as she is in the process of moving a sofa across the floor, Lorelei walks in.
“Hold it right there. Stop,” says Lorelei.

“This couch cannot stay. It’s awful ….we have to do something.”

“What is so horrible about this room?” asks Lorelei.

“You may like it, but your grandmother will not. She will take one look at this junk-store collection of hobo furniture and she’s going to blame me.”

“For what?”

“For letting you live like this…”

Lorelei instructs her mom to sit down. “I’d like to give you some advice….you need a new mindset….there are many things in my life you don’t approve of.”

“Like what?” asks Emily.

“Like this couch.”

“Well, this couch is terrible.”

“You think the couch is terrible. Now at one point in my life you saying that a couch that I carefully picked out and had to pay off for eight months is terrible…. One day, I decided instead of being hurt and upset by your disapproval I was going to be amused. I’m going to find it funny.”

Lorelei goes on to tell Emily how “this idea could set you free.”


Think about it. Freedom from others, their thoughts and disapproval, their judgement and criticism. Freedom to not worry what others think.

We live in a world where we are judged, not by who we are, not by our generosity, kindness, or sincerity, but by what we wear and drive, and what we have, like the sofa in our living room.

Sometimes, we are even judged by what we don’t have.

I’ve told this story before, but it is one worth repeating:

My son was about eight, and had a good friend whose parents owned a lot of ‘stuff.’ Their living room was filled with furniture, and every wall held a picture. Ceiling-to-floor shelving sat between the kitchen and living room, each small shelf holding books, vases, frames, and miscellaneous knick-knacks. I never did see inside their children’s rooms, but I vaguely remember the parent’s bedroom, and the many pieces on the dresser and bedside tables.

I also remember the parents walking into our house, and making comments like, “You need more furniture,” and, “Where are all your pictures?”

My son came home after a visit to his friend’s house, looked around, and innocently asked, “Are we poor?”

What a funny question, I thought. Our children were well-fed, owned plenty of clothes, ate good food, had enough toys to keep them, and the neighbor children, busy for months. We vacationed, camped, dined out, and our children participated in every sport known to mankind. Poor? Hardly. But I wondered why he asked.

I looked around the living room, at the sofa where we sat each evening, reading books and laughing, and at the loveseat next to it, where I curled up on chilly winter days. At the end of the room sat a large piano, one my oldest son played nearly every night. Near the entry were two small chairs where my boys tied their shoes before bounding out the door. Two pictures adorned the walls, one bought while on a family vacation, the other one my husband and I picked out many years ago. Except for one small vase, the room was void of knick-knacks.

“No, we’re not poor,” I said.

Never Change for Others:

I never changed our house, it remained the clean, simple home it always was. I didn’t add more furniture, or place books on the table. Because that day, I learned something. No matter how much others judge, no matter how much they criticized and condemned, my life was mine. I only needed to smile and laugh to set myself free.

Another Reminder Needed:

Life has a funny way of turning around and making us forget the very lessons we were once so passionate about. I’m not sure when it happened, or how, but one day, I realized I was once again trying to please others.

I was shopping to wear what society and the current fad said I should wear. I was wearing my hair in the latest style, and dressing my home in the nicest pieces. And I wasn’t always happy. (It’s a lot of work to try to please others.)

Even when I began minimalism, I think, at times, I was doing it to belong, to feel part of a group that would not judge. The funny thing is, no matter what we do, wear, own, or don’t own, there will always be someone to judge, criticize, condemn.

One More Lesson:

That wasn’t the end of my lesson that day. There was one more: Don’t judge others.

How unfair it is for me to ask others not to judge. How unfair to ask others to accept my possessions, or lack of. How unfair to ask others to accept me as I am if I do not do the same to them.

I can’t say I never make mistakes, and sometimes look for acceptance. I can’t say I’m never judgmental or critical, I am too human for that. But I can say I am trying, to accept others for who they are, and not by what they own. To laugh and be free in the face of criticism.

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