Looking for Hope

Keep Looking Anyway

What do you do . . .
when you’re That Blogger who regularly blathers on about looking for . . . 

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but you just, well . . . can’t . . . anymore?

I've been trying to figure this out for days now.

I’m usually pretty optimistic and resilient. I have always tended to believe in a better future, that - working together - we can find solutions and make improvements. But these days . . . I’m struggling with how to move forward with even the tiniest bit of optimism. 

It’s hard. 
And I can’t remember ever feeling like this before. 

Things just seem so relentless and unending and impossible right now, generally. And this week has simply overwhelmed me. My usual coping strategy is to do what I can to “self-soothe;” to try to bring my heart some sense of peace and ease: Get out in my garden, for example. Pet my dog. Do some yoga. Listen to music. Check in with my kids. Sit in silence. Move my hands. Read some poetry. 

On Tuesday night I decided that I just . . . couldn’t post the blog post I’d already written for Wednesday. It didn’t feel “right” to me, at that moment, to natter on about my knitting (or my garden or any of the yada-yada-yada of my life) . . . while all those lives had just been shattered in Texas . . . after all those lives had just been shattered in Buffalo . . . [and so on and so on on and so on]. 

I realize that life goes on after a tragedy. As it must. When horrible things happen, we need to bear ourselves up and figure out how to move forward. We still need to do our work. We still need to care for our families. We need to feed ourselves and run our errands and generally continue taking care of business. We need to go on living. Even when things are hard, we still need to find joy in our days; to allow ourselves to laugh and sing and celebrate.

But we also need to allow ourselves time and space for silence, to rest and regroup, too . . . if that’s what we feel like we need to do.

So wherever you happen to BE in this process, it’s where you are. And it’s okay. Some of us will continue moving forward and living life as "normally" as we can. Some of us will need to take a break. How we process is how we process, y’know?

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@alex elle; Instagram

So. In this time that feels hopeless, I’m going to offer you this . . ..

Don’t give up.

Keep looking for hope . . . anyway.
Find some calm.
Fortify your heart. Be gentle with yourself.
Do what you need to do. Take a break whenever you need it.

And then . . . 
Come roaring back when you're ready.

Do something.
Donate. Vote. Write letters. Make phone calls.
Learn more about gun rights and gun safety and potential solutions.
Contact your Senators and your Representatives.
Tell them you’re mad as hell, and that you demand action.

Keep moving. 

I haven't figured out exactly how to keep myself moving forward yet.
These days, it really is a struggle for me.
But I know I’ve got to keep trying.
Hope is out there. 
(Somewhere.)
And I'll keep looking for it.

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I wish you all a peace-filled and restorative weekend. I'll be back on Tuesday. See you then!


Growing Hope . . . From Many Small Kindnesses

Still here, always looking for . . . 

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This month, hope showed up for me . . . unexpectedly . . . in many small kindnesses.

When we lost our pup, Jenny, last week, I wasn't quite expecting the outpouring of love and support I received. All of your lovely and supportive blog comments brought me to tears, for example. Special notes and cards and emails from friends did the same. People inquiring about JoJo and how she was adjusting . . . opened the flood gates . I fell apart completely when a dear friend made a donation in honor of Jenny -- one of the most touching things that has ever happened to me. 

So. Many. Kindnesses.

I "collected" all those kindnesses in my heart, and someday I'll be able to pass them on to someone else who needs one. And that, my friends, is . . . hope.

Collecting kindnesses . . . and then sharing them with others in need . . . is what hope is all about.
It's what keeps us going.
It's what helps us keep others going.
Spread the kindnesses, grow the hope.

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Earlier this week I came across this poem, which seems to say the same thing (only more beautifully):

How It Might Continue
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Wherever we go, the chance for joy,
whole orchards of amazement --

one more reason to always travel
with our pockets full of exclamation marks,

so we might scatter them for others
like apple seeds.

Some will dry out, some will blow away,
but some will take root

and grow exuberant groves
filled with long thin fruits

that resemble one hand clapping --
so much enthusiasm as they flutter back and forth

that although nothing's heard
and though nothing's really changed,

people everywhere for years to come
will swear that the world

is ripe with applause, will fill
their own pockets with new seeds to scatter.

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I thank you all for sharing your kindnesses (your "exclamation marks") with me last week. I may have shed some tears -- but I was also filled with hope!

I wish you all a restful and hope-filled weekend.

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Today's poem is from my copy of How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews, and published by Storey Publishing, 2021. For more information about today's poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, click here.


Hope . . .Right There In My Own Backyard

Still here, always looking for . . . 

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And this month, I found it right in my own backyard!

When I was a kid, I was an expert when it came to looking for signs of spring. Part of it was the anticipation of my late-March birthday, which generally ushered in springtime (along with birthday gifts often linked to springtime outdoor play). But mostly, like everyone else, I was exhausted by winter and ready for the season to change - for the weather to warm up enough to enjoy playing outside again, for flowers to return, for fresh air and "no coats." 

As a kid, I starting waiting for spring . . . starting sometime in February. I didn't really understand all the fuss about the groundhog. I mean . . . I got it, but it made no sense to me because in my corner of the world, spring was always more than 6 weeks away whether the groundhog saw his shadow or not. 

BUT.

I had utter faith in these guys . . . 

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Yes! The robins would lead the way to springtime!
And I watched for them . . . like a hawk.

I still watch for the robins each year.
And I always feel my spirits lift when I finally spot one again in the yard. 

Spring is the bridge between the darkness of winter and the lightness of summer. The days get brighter - and warmer. The air is fresh. We feel more energetic and healthy again.
Spring is the season of renewal.
Which makes it the season of hope.

Spring . . . restores us.
Nature comes back to life.
Humans come back to nature.

Spring is hope . . . in real time.
And, for me, it all starts with robins!

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I wish you a restful weekend . . . with a few robin-sightings of your own.


Hope In the Garden

Some weeks, it's really hard. It seems . . . futile, even. Yet I remain determined to look for . . . 

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Because we need it now, more than ever.

Here we are. End of February. It's snowing here. Again. And, of course, there's the news from Ukraine. Which is incredibly disturbing. Things are just feeling pretty heavy, and there's only so much we can take. Y'know?

So.
How do we find hope . . . right now. In the midst of winter? And in the midst of (yet more) instability?

Well. At times like these, I look to the garden as my (ahem) perennial source of hope. (See what I did there?) Even in February.

Because gardens are all about hope.

Every time we come home with a new plant . . . or move a struggling plant from here to there . . . or start seeds down in our basements, anticipating spring planting . . . we're performing acts of faith for a better future. Our gardens provide bounty -- vegetables, herbs, beautiful flowers, fruit -- but they also provide hope. Food for our bodies, nourishment for our spirits.

In winter, gardeners dream of spring and the coming growing season. In times of stress, people historically turn to their gardens. There's just something therapeutic and fulfilling that comes from being outside, touching the earth, breathing fresh air, growing things. Even just thinking about it, planning for it, is enought to lift your spirits.

"Creating something of beauty and abundance is a profoundly positive act of defiance in the face of all that is wrong."
--- Scott Beuerlein, Horticulture Magazine

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the news right now, or if winter is sapping all of your energy . . . or both . . . I recommend looking for hope in a garden. If you have any kind of botanical garden nearby, go for a visit. It will lighten your heart to spend time wandering the gardens -- inside or outside. If you grow vegetables or flowers from seed, now is the time to get things started. Watching seeds sprouting is a good way to remind you that life goes on. . . and that spring will come again. If you live in a part of the county where it's already spring, enjoy a walk where you can see trees budding and flowers blooming. If you have houseplants, set aside some time for a good re-fresh -- a little fertilizer, some pruning, a good leaf-cleaning, maybe re-potting. Just getting dirt under your fingernails is good for the soul. If you're stuck inside because of the weather, take some time to organize your garden plans for spring. Now is a great opportunity to put together your spring to-do list. Or research plants you might want to add to your garden this spring. Or plan for your patio and porch pots. Imaginary gardening is the next best thing to actual gardening.

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HOPE. . . . You can find it in a garden near you.

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."
  --- Audrey Hepburn

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Find ways to be gentle with yourself this weekend.
Turn off the news for awhile.
Stop with the doomscrolling.
Remember to breathe.

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Sometimes, stories that seem very clear to me . . . end up not being at all clear to other people. And that must have happened with my post about "angels of traffic" yesterday. So. Let me try to clarify! (If you didn't read my post yesterday, feel free to skip the following.) 

A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION:

I am aware that, often, traffic lights are timed and/or controlled by flow-cameras. I do not think that "angels of traffic" are changing the lights for me. My post is not about religion or superstition or other strange powers; it's about psychology. It's about how I nudged myself to NOTICE how often the traffic lights are green, even though it felt to me like they were "always" red. That's what negativity bias does: it makes you aware of the negative things (in this case red lights) while downplaying the postitive things (in this case green lights).

The point of my post was this: Once I became aware of my own negativity bias (in only noticing the red lights), I was able to shift my attitude by intentionally noticing the green lights by saying the silly phrase (which I totally made up on the fly) "thank you angels of traffic." I could easily have chosen the phrase "bippityboppityboo" or "green light." ANY phrase would have had the same effect. I was just triggering my brain to NOTICE that I was hitting a green light.

And . . . that's a powerful thing. Because if I could get myself to notice how I (not literal "angels of traffic") have the power to shift my negativity bias, it helps me imagine that I may be able to tackle some of my other more insidious demons using a similar technique: identification, awareness, and a plan for noticing/countering them. (And I'm not talking about literal "demons," but those negative stories I have told myself on repeat over the years.) (And we all do have them.)

I hope that helps clarify what I was trying to say yesterday.

 


Good Things In a Jar

I'm always looking for . . . 

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. . . and this month, I found it on the treadmill!

So. lets go back to the very first week in January for a minute. I was doing a treadmill workout on my Peloton Tread with one of my favorite instructors, Matty Maggiacomo. Matty was going on (as he does) in his most upbeat and charming way about how happy he was to be "finished" with 2021 . . . explaining that all the hope he'd felt at the beginning of the year had been kicked to the curb by the end of the year. He knew that, despite all the crappy, ugly things that happened in 2021, good things had happened, too. He just . . . couldn't remember them. So he decided to do something about that for the new year.

He started a Jar of Good Things for himself. Each week, he set out to write down one good thing that happened to him (an event, an idea, a person he met, any Good Thing at all) and place it in his jar. He figured that even if the year ended up not meeting his expectations (again), at least he'd have 52 Good Things to help give him some perspective there at the end. (You can click here to read an Instagram post he put together describing his Jar of Good Things concept.)

When I told Tom about it, we decided to start a Jar of Good Things for ourselves.

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Each Friday at dinner, we each take a piece of paper and write down a Good Thing that happened during the week. We include the date, and we drop it into our . . . glass container. (I'm looking for a better jar.) At the end of the year, we'll have . . . 104 Good Things . . . to look back on.

I can actually already feel this exercise having an effect on us. As the week unfolds, we think about which Good Thing we'll write down on our slip of paper come Friday. It makes us think about what's happening around us in a whole new light. Is THIS the Good Thing this week? Or will there be something even better???

You know what I call that?

HOPE.

And I found it right there on the treadmill.

(Maybe you'll want to try this yourself. It's easy and fun and hopeful! All you need is a jar, some slips of paper, and some hope.) (And who cares if you didn't start on the first week of January. So you end up with 48 Good Things instead of 52? I'd say . . . that's just as good!)

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“Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
            —Stephen King.

 


Finding Hope . . . In a Book

It's Friday, and once again, I've been . . . 

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I like it best when hope finds ME, actually. When I'm not really looking for it, y'know?
And that's how it happened this week. 

It all started when I was at the library. I was picking up a book I'd had on hold, and once I had it in my hands, I decided to just peruse the "new releases" shelf to see what else was available.

And this lovely cover caught my eye from the "hot picks" shelf . . . 

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I grabbed it and read the inside flap. Hmmm. Might be kinda interesting? But the schmaltz-factor also felt like it kinda might tilt toward "high"? So I got my phone out and opened the Goodreads app to check out some reviews. Lo and behold . . . Margene had just finished reading it --- and she gave it 5 stars!!! I immediately added it to my book pile and headed over to check them out (because Margene and I have very similar taste in books, and I trust her recommendations above all others).

I started reading it as soon as I got home, and was immediately bathed . . .  in the goodness of people; the goodness of life. The kindness. The respect. The love. (You know that feeling you get when you watch Ted Lasso? It's like that. Only in book form.) 

Still Life is a wonder! It’s engaging and fresh and a little bit magical. The characters are delightful - and almost without exception, they feel like . . . friends, like the best kind of family. It's a talk-y book, and the dialog is clever, snappy, sometimes funny and sometimes deep. And it's mainly set in picture-perfect Florence, which provides a stunning backdrop. There is art and poetry, love and loyalty, kindness and hope -- with just enough introspection to make you sigh now and then.

It's a book that makes you feel like you've got a spot at the table . . . with people you love most.
It's a book that made me feel good about everything.
It's a book filled with the best things about people . . . and that gives me hope.

"Book are a uniquely portable magic."
            -- Stephen King

 

 


Finding Hope . . . In the Candy Aisle

It's Friday, and once again, this week I've been . . . 

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"Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily."
            --- Lemony Snicket

==

I recently found hope in a rather strange place . . .  
At my local Walgreens, when I picked up some Halloween candy after getting my flu shot last week.

Maybe I was still thinking about all the great Halloween stories you shared during my Asking Questions week a couple of weeks ago. Or maybe it was just picking up some candy for my neighborhood trick-or-treaters. But I started thinking about . . . Snickers bars.

When I was a kid, trick-or-treating was a Very Big Deal. I lived in a 1960s newly-built neighborhood of tract homes . . . street after street of nearly identical little ranch houses with a maple tree in the front yard, and sidewalks for miles. We hit the area hard on Halloween, which was easy because the houses were packed in pretty tightly and we could cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Trick-or-treat candy back then was . . . well. It was not what it is today, that's for sure! Mostly, we got little packets of black and orange jelly beans or candy corn, circus peanuts, Smartees, and Dum-Dum suckers. There were a lot of little boxes of Mike-and-Ike or Good-N-Plenty candies, too, which I hated. And scads of stale peanut butter taffy wrapped in orange or black wrappers, which I also hated. A Big Score in your trick-or-treat bag back then . . . was anything chocolate. Little Hershey bars, Whoppers, Tootsie Rolls, or Tootsie Roll Pops. (Miniature candy bars like Snickers and Reeses and Almond Joy . . . hadn't been "invented" yet.)

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So . . . even though the chances of bringing home "good treats" in our trick-or-treat bags was slim (at least in my neighborhood), we all still headed out with the Highest of Hopes. Because . . . you never know! (And besides, ANY free candy was better than NO free candy.)

Which got me thinking about . . . slivers of hope.
Those little things that may - or may not - happen, but we keep trying anyway.

Things like . . . going to the mailbox every day, hoping for "good mail."
Or stopping by T.J. Maxx to see if they have any random pieces of Spode in their housewares section.
Or finding a Snickers bar in your Halloween trick-or-treat bag!

Slivers of hope. . . 

Keep looking. And hold on if you find one!
(Except if it's a Snickers bar. Then . . . enjoy every bite!)

Happy Halloween, everyone.
I'll see you on Monday . . . when it will be . . . NOVEMBER!


Still Looking, Always Looking

Last fall, I blogged quite a bit about how I was looking for hope. And then the new year arrived, and I just sort of . . . stopped. Not the looking. Just the blogging about it. It wasn't because I'd FOUND hope, really. (Although things were beginning to feel a little more hopeful back then, with a new president and vaccines on the horizon, y'know?) It was more that blogging about my search was hard, and I was ready to stop talking about it.

But I'm actually always . . . 

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And I'm feeling like talking about it again. So I'll probably blog about it now and then, going forward. Not on any kind of regular schedule. But every once in a while, I'll share my thoughts.

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History says
Don’t hope on this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
    ---- Seamus Heaney

Lately, I've been feeling a bit . . . off. Not terrible. But also not great. Feeling stuck in an endless loop, and wondering how any of THIS (defined any way you'd like) will End Up. And I know I'm not the only one. Some of you have blogged about feeling this way. My in-real-life friends are talking about it, too. And so is my family.

I think . . . it's These Times.

I mean, we're 18 months into this Covid mess. And the country seems to be . . . well, let's just say . . .  stretched. And it feels like kindness and care and concern have disappeared. And then there's the climate. And . . . ohmygod how can this even BE? 

It's a lot.
Y'know?

Lately, I've been thinking about History.
And my Grandmother.

Even though there has been a lot of History (with a capital H) that has happened since I was born in 1959, it's all seemed kind of distant to me somehow. None of the history-making things of my lifetime have felt all that . . . personal for me. They didn't impact my day-to-day life, for example. They didn't direct what I could or couldn't do or where I could go. Everything kept rolling along . . .  same as it ever was, and I never felt threatened (for lack of a better word) or worried about the future. Even though History was happening all the time, I could still pretty much depend that the future structure of my life would hold.

But now? Well, somehow the future doesn't feel so dependable or seem guaranteed in that same kind of way. And that really does suck the hope right out of the room, doesn't it?

On that cheery note, let's step back and talk about my grandmother for a minute.

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My grandmother was born in 1909, and she died just over 100 years later in 2009. Which means she saw a lot of History in her long life, and she lived through a LOT of crises. I mean, think about it . . .  

  • She was a child during World War I.
  • And during the Spanish Flu outbreak.
  • As a young wife and mother, she experienced the Great Depression. On a dairy farm.
  • And in her 30s, she went through World War II separated from her husband for years -- while raising 2 young children. (On a dairy farm).

My grandmother lived through some SERIOUS history.

And somehow, until recently, it never occurred to me to consider what it might have been like for her to live through SO MANY major crises of history -- ALL of them pretty darn personal. During those crises, she woke up every day not knowing how [fill-in-the-blank: WWI, Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, WWII . . . ] would end. She didn't know how any of these stories would turn out while she was living them -- and they really did impact her on daily basis. Restrictions. Rations. Loss. Personal risk. What kept her moving forward? What gave her hope . . . when all of these things were happening during her early life. It must have felt pretty bleak. 

I never really thought about how significant these events would have been for her. First of all, because she never spoke of them. But I think the big thing was that, of course . . . I already KNEW the outcomes! I knew what happened: that the Spanish Flu ended and the Great Depression ended and World War II ended . . . with Victory. So it was easy for me to minimize the reality of how it must have been for her, living through the uncertainty. But my grandmother didn't know. And she got through all it anyway! She must have felt pretty crappy while any of these things were going on all around her. And yet . . . she managed through it. She must have had some hope, and a lot of resilience.

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Hope and History.

I think it's hard for us to have hope right now . . . because we don't know the ending of this history we're living through. We don't know what will happen or how things will turn out. And we aren't terribly patient about it either. So it's all this . . . unnerving uncertainty. . .  that's sucking the hope from our lives.

But maybe we can look to the past . . . to see how resilient - as a people - we have been. And how we can be now.

Yes. Things ARE bleak at the moment.
It doesn't feel good.
We don't know any of the endings to our current storylines.
It's unsettling, and uncertainty is never easy.

But History - and my grandmother - show me that we are resilient, and that somehow we find ways to get through whatever History we need to get through. It may not feel comfortable, but we can do it. I think, maybe, that hope and history DO rhyme.

And that's where I'm finding hope today.

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(Speaking of rhyming . . . let's have a poem, shall we? Because if this isn't a poem of hope, I don't know what is.)

In Any Event
Dorianne Laux

If we are fractured
we are fractured
like stars
bred to shine
in every direction,
through any dimension,
billions of years
since and hence.

I shall not lament
the human, not yet.
There is something
more to come, our hearts
a gold mine
not yet plumbed,
an uncharted sea.

Nothing is gone forever.
If we came from dust
and will return to dust
then we can find our way
into anything.

What we are capable of
is not yet known,
and I praise us now, 
in advance.

==

Today's poem was selected for inclusion in How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews, Storey Publishing, 2021. Click here for more information about the poet, Dorianne Laux.

 

 

 

 

 


Sometimes Mondays . . . Are Full of Hope

Last year, there were many times when I felt short on . . .

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But you already know this. It was a frequent blog topic for me . . . my search for hope. I'm feeling ever-so-slightly better these days. Things look a little brighter to me, at least. So I haven't felt quite the need to write about it as much lately. 

But I'm still always on the lookout, y'know? 
And I found some to share with you.

It's a book.

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And I think a lot of you might really like it!

When I first started reading this new novel by Jane Smiley, I was skeptical. Talking animals? Really? Although I adored talking animals in books as a child, they just don’t have the same appeal for me now that I’m a grown up. (Besides, there’s always that nagging worry that something bad will happen to the animals. And I can’t bear that.*) But I swallowed hard and plunged in --  suspending my disbelief -- and I quickly fell head over heels for Paras, Frida, Raoul, Kurt, Nancy, and Sid.

Turns out that Perestroika in Paris is actually . . . Charlotte’s Web for grown ups (except it won't make you cry).

This delightful and utterly charming novel is uplifting, lighthearted -- and just plain fun! It was refreshing to read a story where the motivations of all the characters are pure (both animals and humans - because there are humans in it, too) -- just what you’d wish for in the real world. A story of friendship, freedom, love, and loyalty, this book was a balm for my soul -- a bright spot in these dark times.

It gave me hope! 
And maybe it will give you some, too.

== 

Here's to a good week for all of us -- full of lightheared fun, pure motivations, and good books that give us hope!

==

*(Spoiler alert: Nothing bad happens to these animals!)



 

 


Hang On: Hope As Sacrifice

All week long I look for . . . 

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And then on Fridays, I report back.

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"I'll be home for Christmas
    If only in my dreams"
        --- Johnny Mathis

By now, most of us are just sort of . . . resigned . . . to spending the holidays on our own. It's hard, sure. But I think we'll be able to gather again soon. And that gives me hope.

We just need to hang on a little bit longer!
(About three more months, as it turns out.)

As an Atlantic subscriber, I recieve a daily update in my inbox every evening. Last night's Atlantic update brought me Four December Don'ts - to help get us through the last weeks of this crappy year.

  1. Don't underestimate the current Covid surge. It's a nasty one -- and not going away yet. In fact, we're in record-breaking territory every day now. Deaths are currently 24% higher than they were at the peak of the outbreak last spring - and the numbers are not going down. Stay safe.
  2. Don't gather - wait until March. If we - and our loved ones - can stay healthy until spring, things will look much better. Vaccines will be rolling. Hospitals should be less crowded. Perhaps treatment protocols will have improved even more. The goal here should be to avoid contracting Covid entirely. (It's nasty business. It's a crap shoot. And no one knows yet what happens in the long term to those who DO contract it.)
  3. Don't self-isolate emotionally during end-of-year festivities. There are so many tech-tools we can use now to connect with our families and friends. Leverage their power! Set up or join in on Zoom calls. FaceTime with your friends. Use whatever tools you have available to connect!
  4. Don't skimp on holiday cheer. Get out your decorations. Turn on the twinkle lights. Play holiday music. Send cards. Bake cookies. It helps give us "anchor points" to holidays past -- and it triggers nostalgia and feelings of comfort. And that's what we need right now!

Bottom line?
Sometimes hope . . . looks like sacrifice.
(After all, if we had no hope, we wouldn't sacrifice for a future would we?)

"Hang on!
    Help is on its way."
        --- Little River Band

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Best wishes for a weekend filled with peace and hope.

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I've decided to take next week "off" here on the blog. I may pop in to wish you a Merry Christmas next Friday, but I don't plan to post otherwise. Have a great week -- and I'll see you again (I'm pretty sure) before the New Year.