Navigating the Highs and Lows

“I like to go out there looking like a strong woman, because I am strong. But I am also a woman who goes through all kinds of problems and highs and lows.” – Katy Perry

My husband Ken and I were in Italy for two weeks at the end of September. It was an idyllic trip and we enjoyed everything—the food, the art, the history, and the scenery. It was one of our best vacations ever.


The Forum in Rome




Lake Como



Ken and I on an island of Lake Maggiore


David by Michelangelo (Florence)

Unfortunately, things weren’t so great back home. Our dog Dexter had previously had a toe removed due to malignant skin cancer. During our trip, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs. The oncologist said 6-year-old Dexter had up to a few months to live.

When we came home after our trip, Dexter was coughing a great deal. I had jet lag and could not stop crying. The next morning, I took him for a Blessing of the Pets that is held at our church annually in memory of St. Francis. This seemed like perfect timing and gave me some comfort.

But when Ken returned to work on the Monday after our trip, he was told his services were no longer needed, after 37 years of employment. Even though his company has been laying off employees for nearly two decades, this was still a bit of a shock.

Meanwhile, we were doing palliative care with Dexter, trying to make him comfortable as advised by a veterinary oncologist. However, a week after we came home from our trip, he struggled for every breath and could not eat or sleep. His vet recommended we have him euthanized.

Dexter was a very loveable dog. He loved everyone, and most people loved him. When someone came to our house, even a stranger, Dexter ran around excitedly, then flipped on his back so they could rub his tummy. We will grieve Dexter, but are comforted that his suffering is over.



On the same day that we lost Dexter, we went to the wedding of the son of close friends. We’ve been family friends for decades, and this was a high for us. We ate delicious food, we danced, and we enjoyed being with many dear friends. We are close enough to them that I could talk about what had happened to Dexter. A few friends told us of their sorrows with losing their own beloved pets.

My family and I will have to adjust to these changes. Besides what I’ve mentioned, our youngest child is moving out soon, and Ken and I will be empty-nesters.

Things could be worse, and Ken and I are grateful that we and our children are in good health. We hope to make the best of our altered lives. We have received helpful advice. One friend suggested that I “let the good things about your trip reverberate for you. Use that as fuel to move into your next phase.”

Our friend Allison had similar thoughts. We mentioned that we plan to walk more and go for runs. She said, “You have the opportunity to make new habits. This is worth thinking about so you make good new habits. Both of you have this opportunity.”

She has a good point. When our lives are shaken up, it may be a good time to reflect on what we want our future to be. I don’t mean to be Pollyannaish. Positive thinking will not make the bad times less painful. But possibly we appreciate the good times more if we’ve been through some low times. We can’t escape them; they are part of life, and we need to accept them. I will close with these thoughts from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:

 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

     a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
      a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
      a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
       a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
      a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
      a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
       a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What are some of the highs and lows that you’ve been through? How have you navigated them?


Posted in Bad days, Encouragement, personal leadership | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Walking With a Friend in the Dark

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller

A few incidents surprised me recently.

  • I was at an indoor concert, and a neighbor of more than 30 years saw me walk past. Later, she decided to look for me and told another neighbor, “Sue won’t be on the dance floor.” She was shocked to find me dancing. When she told me this, I said, “Why wouldn’t I be on the dance floor?”
  • My sister Mary said that a mutual friend told her I’m hilarious. Mary’s response was, “Sue?!”
  • I went to a concert with one of my best friends, Julie, who I’ve known since 7th grade. Later she said, “I didn’t realize you were a fan of rock ’n roll.”

rock concert

Within a two-week period, three people I’ve known most of my life said that I’m different than they’d thought. I’m not exactly who they thought I am, but they accept me.

These incidents made me wonder what might be true of my friends and family that I don’t realize. Maybe I’ve made assumptions about them, too, based on my history.

There is a lot of polarization in the United States regarding the upcoming presidential elections. Many of us wonder how our friends can support their candidate. People have said they can no longer be friends with another because of their political differences. However, it is not worth losing a friendship over politics. If our friends were identical to us, we’d never learn and grow. We need to respect that the other person has had a different history than we have and has reasons for their views.

I went to another concert with Julie and our husbands. As we were leaving, I hesitated because I have trouble seeing in the dark and I couldn’t get the flashlight on my I-phone to work. Julie linked her arm through mine and said, “It’ll be OK. There’s enough light, and I’ll help you.”

I laughed, because I felt like an old lady with Julie helping me walk. It felt like a foreshadowing of us helping each other as we age, just as we have supported each other for the past 47 years. This is what’s important—helping each other get through our difficult times and being there for each other.

There is not much more valuable than a close friend. Let’s accept our friends as they are and respect our differences as we want them to accept and respect us. Let’s help each other walk in the dark.

How are your friends different from you? How have you supported your friends lately?

Posted in Friendship, Support | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Appreciating What We Have

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.” Amelia Earhart

My brother and his family from Texas recently visited us in the Chicago suburbs. We enjoyed a daytrip to the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park. We also went to a Cubs game and enjoyed a beautiful day at the ball park. After the game, we walked to a Mexican restaurant with a fun atmosphere. We sat outside on the patio with its murals, fountains, and lights, and we drank margaritas while eating chips, salsa, and Mexican food. Another day, we ate at our family-favorite Bohemian restaurant. That evening, we brought a picnic to a concert at a polo club, complete with horses.

mels pic of horses

Photo by Mel Ekins

My nephew Brent stayed for more than a week after the rest of his family went home, and we continued to act like tourists in our own town. My young-adult children and my sisters often joined us. We spent a day at Navy Pier and the lakeshore. In the suburbs, we went to Cantigny Park, visited a distillery, and went swimming at a local beach. At home, we played the card game 500 Rummy, which has been a family favorite since I was a child.

My nephew was amazed at all the options we have for things to do. During his visit, we went to a driving range and played mini-golf. The young people stayed overnight at my son’s apartment in Chicago and went to a couple of bars. Another day, my husband, our son, and Brent played in a charity golf outing.

I didn’t tell him we don’t normally go out that often, nor do we spend that much time together. People went to work at various times, but it still felt like we were taking a staycation. There was a sense of adventure and a feeling of camaraderie. Not every minute was thrilling, of course, but I prefer to focus on the good times, which far outnumbered any tense moments. Our shared history and family bonds added to the feeling of companionship and fun.

randy pic for blog on appreciating where we live

My brother Randy, posing as Napoleon, in front of his “favorite painting” at the Art Institute of Chicago 😉

Brent’s comment, “There’s more to do here,” might have been prompted by the extremely hot summer in Texas. But it made me think about where I live with renewed appreciation. Perhaps we in the Chicago area take things for granted. Our relatives always seek out Italian beef sandwiches and deep-dish pizza when they are in town. Brent had never eaten Greek saganaki and gyros until this visit. During his last visit, we introduced him to dim sum in Chinatown.

Mels picture of chicago

Photo by Mel Ekins

Probably most people take for granted where they live. What is it like where you live? What special foods are available? Restaurants? Sights? Is it a small town, farm, big city? And who are your companions?

We can find something to appreciate no matter where we live.

What is special about your home town? What people are in your life?

Posted in Gratitude | Tagged | 6 Comments

Changing Our Routines

“I recommend that people try new stuff or take new fitness classes all the time. It’s important to mix up your routine, not only for your body, but also for your mental state.” – Alison Sweeney

Routines can be beneficial. When I’m keeping to my exercise routine, I sleep better at night and worry less during the day. But routines can turn into drudgery.

Even though I generally enjoy cooking, I’d recently become bored with it. I thought, “Do I have to do this for the rest of my life? Constantly having to figure out what’s for dinner, go shopping, and cook?” I recognize my attitude was poor. After all, I have the means to buy food, enough time to shop and cook, and the option to eat out now and then.

My recent vacation came at a good time and improved my attitude. My husband Ken and I traveled to the southeast part of the United States. Getting away from my cooking routine for a couple of weeks was refreshing. We mostly stayed at B&Bs and ate dinner at restaurants. We walked every day and enjoyed boat rides, fresh scenery, and fun.

magnolia plantationMagnolia Plantation – pic from

We stayed with friends for two nights, which was most enjoyable. David makes an art of homemaking, bringing his intelligence and other talents to making a delightful home for his wife Autumn, guests, and himself. He designed their house, which has private suites for guests, a screened-in porch, and a lovely view of woods and a river. David is also an awesome cook. He prepared mojitos, Cuban Pork with mole sauce, fried plantains, and peach cobbler for dinner one night. David’s adventurous cooking reignited my own interest in cooking.

During our trip, Ken and I went to a Worldwide Marriage Encounter convention, along with several of our friends. The convention took us out of our daily routine and renewed our marriage. (Conventions are for couples and priests who have already made a WWME weekend.)

All in all, our trip refreshed me and made me anxious to get home. The time away from my usual routines helped me decide to make the following changes:

  • Condense papers I kept to prove I didn’t deserve being laid off a few years ago. I feel ready to let go of that and move on.
  • My attitude about cooking has improved. Currently I am going through my cookbooks and deciding which to keep. (I love cookbooks and have only found two to discard so far.) I plan to pick a “Cookbook of the Week” and make a new recipe every week or so.
  • Why not make old family favorites more often? I will bake “brown bread” soon, which is our name for a date-nut bread my grandmother used to make.
  • At one of the B&Bs, breakfast was served outside on the porch. Back home, sometimes I bring my cup of tea outside and drink it on our patio, or I sit on our bench in front with something to read.

cup-of-tea and a book

  • I always have a stack of books from 2 or 3 libraries. But now I want to return the last couple of library books that I have and instead read the miscellaneous articles I have collected. Then I can clear out those papers, creating space for new things.
  • I want to make the best of what we have. For example, we have an indoor fireplace and a small outdoor fire pit. Why not use them?
  • I am inspired to put aside old negativity and treat cooking and homemaking as more of an art than drudgery. As Susan Branch says in her delightful blog, “Making a home for ourselves and our families does more for our general well-being and happiness than the everydayness of it might suggest; it’s second nature for most of us, because home is the place where love grows.”

Sometimes we live on autopilot and a change can help us see things from a fresh perspective.

Are your routines serving you? Where has drudgery crept in? How can you change your routines or your attitude?


Posted in Attitude, Inspiration, Intentional Living, Leading Ourselves, Renewal | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Slow Down and Savor

“We should learn to savor some moments to let time feel worth existing” Munia Khan

Julia Cameron in The Artist Way teaches us to improve our creativity through the use of tools including Artist Dates. This is simply going somewhere alone and doing something that feels satisfying to your inner artist. When have you last done this? For a recent artist date, I went to a French café, drank a latte, and ate a spinach croissant. I sat by the front window listening to French music and watching people walking past. I felt just a little bit French, nourished in every sense of the word.

I ordered my latte the way the French would—a small size, made with whole milk and, since I like mine sweetened, a bit of real sugar. There was a time, not long ago, when I would order my lattes with skim milk, decaf coffee, and Splenda rather than sugar. Then I wondered why expresso drinks in the United States didn’t compare to those in France and Spain. After reading the book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano, I now order expresso drinks with full-fat milk and real sugar. A small latte made this way is more satisfying than a larger one with substitutions.

Ms. Guiliano tells us that the French savor their food and drink. They eat real food, not packaged food with a long list of chemicals. She encourages us to eat fruits and vegetables, drink lots of water, eat fish–and enjoy a piece of dark chocolate, a glass of wine, or good French bread. She suggests we pick our pleasures and aim for balance. For instance, if I want dessert and a glass of wine, I can skip bread that day and take a brisk walk later. And I don’t need to eat every bite of the dessert—I can share it with someone or leave some on my plate. She tells us that sitting, eating slowly, and savoring our meals can help us feel satisfied without overindulging.

These ideas appeal to me as a way to live a healthy lifestyle without having to eat light bread that tastes like Styrofoam and has a similar texture. Why not eat good food in moderation and savor it?

Summer is upon us, and this is a perfect time to savor the fresh fruits and vegetables from farm stands, farmers markets, and even the grocery store. What else can we do to savor summer?



My summer is already filling up with activities, but it is worth the effort to slow down and savor the moments. Otherwise, the season goes by too fast. My family bought me a recliner lawn chair for Mother’s Day, and my goals include relaxing outside in it and reading. My summer plans include going to outdoor concerts. I also can’t wait to enjoy a fire in our fire pit and enjoy a glass of wine on a cool evening. I will savor my walks, too, noticing all the beautiful flowers and listening to birds chirping. Can you tell I love summer?

What about savoring life? Why not savor nature, our homes, our friends and family? As Ms. Guiliano says, “In France we have a saying, ‘Joie de vivre,’ which actually doesn’t exist in the English language. It means looking at your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoy it.”

I’ll take her advice and try to live with joie de vivre. If you find me at a French café, feel free to call me Suzette.

What will you savor this summer? Do you have joie de vivre?  

Posted in Healthy living, Inspiration | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Thoughts of Lofty Heights

“I would recommend that you keep your feet on the ground and your thoughts at lofty heights, so that you may attract only good.” – Peace Pilgrim

“When you come into this world your jobs in the divine plan are there. They just need to be realized and lived. If you do not yet know where you fit, I suggest that you try seeking it in receptive silence. I used to walk amid the beauties of nature, just receptive and silent, and wonderful insights would come to me.” – Peace Pilgrim

Recently I’ve been taking classes on The Artist Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. The book and classes are intended to help those of us who are creatively blocked to learn to create more freely. Ms. Cameron states, “Spirituality can release blocks, lead you to ideas, and make your life artful. Sometimes when we pray for guidance, we’re guided in unexpected directions.” This emphasis on spirituality is giving me food for thought.

Your religious beliefs may differ from mine, and your spirituality may be different, too. Some people are into crystals, oracle cards, and other tools. That doesn’t appeal to me. My spirituality is fed at Sunday Mass, faith sharing, and weekly prayer service. These might not appeal to you. However, I hope we agree that God exists, and that we are spiritual beings who want to be close to Him. If that is true, do we devote enough time to strengthening our spirituality?

woman praying

Sometimes I get caught up in my daily routines and forget to pray and let God speak to me. However, a retreat can help me get back on track. Last week I went to a one-day retreat at an abbey. The day included prayer, poetry reading, a walk outside to visit the monks’ cemetery, and group sharing regarding Scripture passages. This short retreat nourished my spirit, and I felt that a bonding occurred among those who attended with me. In the past, I’ve taken longer retreats that were life-changing.

Different ways of strengthening our spirituality may fit our lifestyles at certain times, but not others. When I was working full-time, an hour of adoration in chapel wasn’t always the right form of prayer for me. I’d sit in the chapel each week thinking of everything on my Do List. I think it would have been better at that time to say short prayers throughout the day. I took a little time off from adoration but later returned, and now have been going regularly for a few years. If I can shut off that voice in my head for a while and sit in silence, it is a meditative experience. Sometimes I hear words of wisdom from God, but I have to be receptive.

In the post Getting Past a Funk, I said, “Talking to the counselor gives me a new perspective, and improving my mental state will improve my physical state. It’s all tied together.” I think spirituality is, too. At the counselling sessions, I often find myself mentioning God. This surprises me—spirituality is not a topic I often discuss. But perhaps this illustrates that body, mind, and spirit are connected. A dysfunction in one area can affect the others, just as strengthening one area can affect the others.

My frequent visits to our local arboretum are another way to nurture my spirit. Being close to nature makes me feel close to God, especially when I walk on quiet trails, soaking up the sounds, sights, and smells around me. The diversity and beauty of the flowers and birds hint of the master Creator behind it all. I leave feeling peaceful and satisfied.

Purple-throated_carib_hummingbird_feeding - from wikipedia

Purple-throated_carib_hummingbird_feeding – from Wikipedia

Do we also recognize the beauty and value of people who are very different from us? They too were created by God. Like us, they are spiritual beings who long to be close to God.

And if we can see beauty in all of God’s creation, do we see beauty and value in ourselves? God sees our beauty and value and wants to be close to us. Do we make the effort to be close to Him?

Does your lifestyle reflect your spiritual beliefs? What can you do to strengthen your spirituality?

Posted in Body, mind, spirit, Inspiration, Spiritual | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Be Gentle with Yourself

“What do you do when life blindfolds you and spins you around? We think it’s our fault, that we’re to blame, when really we should be focused on being gentle with ourselves.” – Melody Beattie

In my last blog post, Getting Past a Funk, I described recent hard times that led me to see a counselor. In one of the sessions, I told the counselor that I’d been unable to write or go running. She suggested that I say affirmations. I’m familiar with affirmations, and in the past, mine included the following:

  • I love to run! I run several times a week.
  • It is easy for me to run, and I enjoy it.
  • I love to write. I write for pay and publication.
  • I write something beautiful for God every day. (Adapted from a quote by Mother Theresa.)

So when I most needed these affirmations, why wasn’t I saying them? I think sometimes we get preoccupied when we are facing difficulties, and we forget to take care of ourselves.

It would have helped if I’d remembered a list my friend Sarah gave me several years ago, after my father and a family friend passed away on the same day. The list was titled, “Be Gentle with Yourself, Sue.” Sarah’s thoughtfulness and concern were as helpful as the ideas included.

The list includes reminders to say affirmations, along with other ways to pamper and care for ourselves. I offer it to you, with Sarah’s permission. We hope it benefits you someday if you are going through hard times. (Seek professional help for a crisis situation or serious depression.) I have adapted the list somewhat, but most of the ideas are from Sarah.


  1. Curl up in a blanket and have a cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.
  2. Take a nap anytime you need to.
  3. Call a friend.
  4. Take a walk. Fresh air and exercise will help.
  5. Close your eyes, breathe and think of five things to be grateful for.
  6. Do the bare minimum on your list of things to do.
  7. Cross off the things on your list that really aren’t that important.
  8. Sit and do nothing but stare into space and be OK with that.
  9. Cry if you want to.
  10. Read a really good book—guilt free—who cares if the laundry didn’t get done!
  11. Take a long bath or a hot shower.
  12. Read your Bible.
  13. Read your affirmations.
  14. Repeat one of your affirmations over and over even if you aren’t buying into it at the moment.
  15. Write an affirmation on an index card, keep it in your purse or your pocket, pull it out and read it several times a day.
  16. Ask for help—maybe a friend or relative can be your rock for a while.
  17. Make yourself a really great meal or a really great snack.
  18. Light candles at random times during the day.
  19. Light a candle and have a glass of wine while you cook.
  20. Have a glass of water, milk, or a smoothie in one of your favorite wine glasses. That also can feel special.
  21. Write in your journal or art journal.
  22. Go to a pretty spot on a sunny day. Nature can be very healing!

  23. Go to a pretty spot and journal or walk.
  24. Be OK with yourself if you aren’t “up to par” lately.
  25. Dress in cozy clothes like fleece or pajamas and stay home.
  26. Treat yourself to lunch or a specialty coffee.
  27. If you have a fireplace or fire pit, light a fire and enjoy.
  28. Color, make a collage, or do other art or craft work that you enjoy.
  29. Pray!
  30. Have a piece of chocolate.
  31. Cuddle with your dog.
  32. Listen to a guided meditation.
  33. And don’t hesitate to see a counselor.

Do you say affirmations? Do you have other suggestions for being gentle with ourselves during tough times?

Posted in Affirmations, Bad days, self-care | Tagged , , | 14 Comments