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

Getting Past a Funk

“Anyone can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.”– Sarah Dessen

I recently got in what I can only describe as a “funk.” Anxiety, sleepless nights, feeling irritable. It wasn’t difficult to get in this state. Perhaps my winter blahs were triggered by less sunshine in January. Or maybe because I skipped a few runs due to cold days and slippery roads. Was it triggered by the frustration of feeling trapped in a volunteer position? Or by worry about how to deal with some personal situations?

It seemed like one step downward led to another until I had spiraled into this funk. Skipping a run on the bad-weather days meant I’d be even slower next time I went. Since I didn’t want to slow down my running group, I didn’t go even when the weather and roads were OK. Staying home meant sitting at the computer with close proximity to the refrigerator, and I gained a few pounds. Then I stopped going to Weight Watchers meetings because I didn’t want to keep paying. (You have to pay if you are two pounds above your goal weight.) Without the meetings, I had little support or motivation to watch my weight. Less exercise and a little worry led to insomnia. That made me irritable and lethargic during the day—and not in the mood to do much. Do you see what a vicious cycle this is?

As the librarian at my church, I am aware of a lot of funerals. Yesterday, five notices were posted, each regarding a funeral this week. Seeing these and other recent deaths makes me realize how very short life is. I have a feeling that even if we live to 100, we will look back and say, “That was over in the blink of an eye.”

Anne Lamott says this, “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

We only have one life, and I want to make the best of mine. I have started walking outside again, which is literally a step in the right direction. Even short walks lift my mood and make me feel less stressed. But sometimes we need more than exercise.

I decided to seek additional help with handling anxiety and have been seeing a counselor for the past few weeks. Perhaps you wonder why someone who is trying to be a Woman Making Strides would admit this. Actually, I hope I’m setting a good example in reaching out for support. This is a way to take care of my mind, which includes emotions. Talking to the counselor gives me a new perspective, and improving my mental state will improve my physical state. It’s all tied together.

As we take little steps to take care of ourselves, we begin to climb up an upward spiral. Every day, we have the opportunity to make the day what we want it to be.

What is going on in your life? What steps do you need to take for good self-care? Do you need support?

Posted in Bad days, Challenges, self-care, Support | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

When Work is Pleasure

“Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet.” – Sadie Delany

Am I going to change the world, or am I going to change me? Or maybe change the world a little bit, just by changing me? Sadie Delany

Recently I answered a short survey for writers that asked us to categorize our blogs. According to the categories listed, I am an “Up-and-comer” because I have more than 100 subscribers. The rest of the description of the Up-and-comer was, “You’re starting to see some traction but aren’t sure where to go from here.” This doesn’t seem true, but I don’t fit in the next levels, semi-pro and pro, because I’m not paid.

And when I told a friend that my blog has more than 3,000 subscribers, he responded, “But are you paid?”

Maybe I am overly sensitive, but I infer from these two occurrences that some people think I am not a successful blogger, because I am not paid.

I talked about this with a group of friends, who immediately jumped to my defense. “3,000 subscribers? That’s amazing.”

I then made self-deprecating remarks. “Not many people actually read all my posts.”

These friends then went on,

  • “It doesn’t matter if everyone reads your blog consistently. 3,000 subscribers is a lot.”
  • “You inspired me to start my own blog.”
  • “If you get one person thinking about her life, you’ve made a difference.”

After reflecting on this, I looked at the 2015 WordPress report for my blog. Women Making Strides received 3,600 views last year. That is not bad.  Thank you, dear reader, for your support. The report stated, “Some of your most popular posts were written before 2015. Your writing has staying power.” Suddenly I feel successful despite what others may think. Just as important, I enjoy writing the posts and reading your comments.


I also enjoy my work as a church librarian, although I am not paid for that either. I love books, so this ministry is a pleasure. My work has a purpose, and I like helping people. For example, I recently helped a man find resources for talking to a friend who has turned away from God.

However, work may not always be a pleasure. A few years ago, my daughter Katie was on track for being a teacher. She taught preschoolers and then taught English to children in South Korea. Unfortunately, Katie didn’t enjoy teaching because it sapped her energy. She decided to become a graphic designer.

After earning a second degree, Katie is now employed full-time at a small company, where she enjoys doing a variety of design work.

I’m glad Katie changed her career path, and that her work is now a pleasure.

What about you?

Is your work (paid or unpaid) a pleasure? Does your work have a purpose? How do you feel about that?


Posted in Intentional Living, personal leadership, Work | Tagged , , | 8 Comments