Cultural Traditions

Recently I kicked off my holiday season by going to Julefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum here in Seattle, Washington. It’s become one of my favorite traditions since I moved out here, because I’m half Danish, and my mother always shared that cultural heritage with us, particularly around Christmastime. I ate my Æbleskiver and I purchased my Juleneg for my yard. If you don’t know what those things are, you aren’t Danish. That’s okay, though. You can learn.

That’s what I love about cultural celebrations. You don’t have to come from that particular culture to enjoy them, but if you do, it adds another layer of pleasure to the experience. The whole day, I felt as though my grandmother were peeking over my shoulder and smiling. I was transported back to childhood and beyond.

I have never even been to Denmark, but all things Danish seem to speak to me. “Here are your roots. Here, you are home.” It’s a warm, comfortable, welcoming feeling that I get nowhere else. The Danish would call that Hygge.

If you have an opportunity to explore your cultural heritage, I highly recommend that you do so. I don’t know how these vibrations get passed down through the generations, but there’s a good chance that you’ll find that things resonate with you. It’s a wonderful feeling. It tells you more about who you are.

This planet is chock full of heritage. That’s what makes travel so exciting. That’s why I welcome immigrants of every stripe. New experiences give us depth and breadth and they open our minds to new possibilities. They broaden our horizons and give us a diverse palette with which to paint our lives.

Experiencing other cultures is not the same as cultural appropriation. That theft comes with mockery and arrogance. Experiencing, on the other hand, is a way to honor our differences. It says, “I don’t know much about you. Please tell me. I want to learn.” I can’t think of anything more valuable than that mindset. Can you?

Æbleskiver
Æbleskiver! Yum!

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Shaping Your Life

Until very recently, I thought of my life as being linear. Birth, growth, death… aren’t we all on that inevitable path? But that makes life sound way too much like a treadmill. (All you’d have to do is look at me once and you’d know that I hate treadmills.)

Now I think of life as being three dimensional. That allows room for a lot more options. It more accurately reflects the diversity of the thousands of lives being lived on this planet. We each shape our lives. We are architects. We are sculptors.

We can be smooth and calm and uniform. We can be rigid and boxy and rough. We can zig and zag and branch off in wild directions. We can embrace. We can repel. We can circle back upon ourselves, or we can shoot forward like an arrow. We can take inspiration from others, or we can set out on our own. We can be steady and solid, or we can wobble unpredictably.

Don’t restrict yourself to a linear life, unless that’s what you truly want in your heart of hearts. Create something beautiful. Only allow others to influence that creation if you can look upon them and see the beauty within. (And don’t forget to thank those who help you shape your life in a positive way.)

When all is said and done, your life will be what you make of it. So make it special.

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Don’t Compare. Contrast!

A lot of women in America (and, I’m sure, in other places as well) are trained from practically birth to compare themselves to others and find themselves wanting. We can’t live up to those photoshopped models in the fashion magazines. How many of us look in the mirror and are unsatisfied with what we see? I know I am. My thighs are bigger than your thighs. Trust me. I know.

This “training” is such a big part of our culture that I suspect many of us don’t realize we’re doing it. I’m sure, for example, my mother didn’t do it intentionally. But those times that she said she wouldn’t “be seen in public” with me “looking like that” sent me a message, loud and clear. There’s some unwritten standard, and I do not meet it. And I got that message at school, on TV, in magazines, in music, from every man and boy who crossed my path, ad nauseum.

If you ask women to name someone they know who is thinner, or smarter, or prettier, or more popular, or taller, or shorter, or better in any way than they are, those women, if typical, will be able to answer you with very little hesitation. It’s sad that we all carry that baggage around with us. It’s tragic. There’s a reason that 90 percent of all people with anorexia or bulimia are female.

There’s also a reason why this culture persists. It’s convenient for retailers. It keeps us buying shoes and clothes and make up and shampoo. And it’s convenient for men. If we weren’t weighed down with all this comparison foolishness, our confidence would soar and we’d rule the world. We can’t have that, now, can we? Oh my goodness, no.

Let’s all concede that no two people are alike. Everyone will be more or less of this or that than the person standing next to them. Personally, I’m thrilled at the diversity in the world. I think we need to start thinking of contrasts instead of comparisons. It would be ever so much healthier if we got into the habit of acknowledging each other’s strengths and capitalizing on them.

For example, I have one friend that I go to for advice on publishing books, and another who is my style guru. A third can tell me everything I need to know about home remodeling and repair, and a fourth is an expert on the environment. And these people, I’m sure, come to me when they need input about matters that are more in my field of expertise. Together we are a formidable, amazing force in this world. And no two of us look alike. No two of us are alike.

As the meme below indicates, we may not all be identical, but we’re all awesome!

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Why I Say Happy Holidays

I like chestnuts at this time of year, but this particular chestnut is getting old. I’m referring to the annual debate about whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Here’s why I think the answer is clear.

When I say Happy Holidays, I am wishing you a Merry Christmas. I’m also wishing your neighbor a Happy Chanukah, a Good Festivus, a Lovely Winter Solstice, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Joyful Yule, etc. I do this because I love all my diverse friends, every single one, and I want them all to be happy. I wish them all well. Is that really so terrible?

By saying Happy Holidays, I’m not disparaging your beliefs or the holiday you choose to celebrate. I’m not saying Christmas is evil or your religion needs to be abolished. If anything, I think Jesus would be all about spreading the love and including as many people in that love as possible. By saying Happy Holidays, I’m showing my dedication to peace on earth, good will toward Men. All of them. Every last one.

I genuinely believe that the majority of people who say Merry Christmas don’t mean any harm. I think their wishes come from a good place and are sincere. Well wishes from an open heart are always welcome by me. In fact, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, that’s the only time I’m perfectly comfortable responding in kind. Because their stance is already established. We are fellow celebrants, so there’s no risk of discomfiture or offense. So, Merry Christmas to you, too!

On the other hand, by insisting everyone say Merry Christmas, you are sending a very different message. You’re saying, “If you’re not Christian, that’s your problem. I don’t have to take you into consideration. My holiday is the only right holiday. You are wrong for not complying.” You are also assuming that every person does, or should, think and behave exactly like you. You are taking the entire month of December hostage, and making it awkward for anyone else to celebrate anything else. You are excluding people.

Why wouldn’t you want to open your arms and your heart wider? Wasn’t that Jesus’ central message, after all? You are turning this into a debate that’s so contrary to the holiday spirit that it makes me want to spit out my egg nog, throw up my hands and forget the whole thing.

So, um… Happy Holidays.

peace

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Become an N! (Trust me. You’ll Want To.)

I must confess that I’m terrible at reading other people’s blogs. I tend to be too overwhelmed by writing my own every day. So every once in a while, I’ll go on a guilty binge read.

A few months ago I was doing just that, with one of my favorite blogs, This Labyrinth I Roam, written by my friend Anju. I love her perspective on life. I also love that her world has been completely different than my own. Even though her labyrinth has only intersected with mine in cyberspace, we have a connection. I hope we get to meet face to face someday.

After reading, oh, a couple years’ worth of her blog entries, several jumped out at me. They had to do with a project called N-N-1. She and a blogger friend of hers, Norm, who writes a blog with the delightful name of Classical Gasbag, thought it would be interesting to see what people all over the world were doing/seeing/experiencing at the same point in time. As Norm explained recently, in N-N-1 the first N stands for the number of participants, the second for the number of photos (they should be the same), and the 1 stands for one time.

The plan was that they’d pick a moment, and each would snap a picture at that time, and then do a 50-100 word write up about it. It could be prose or poetry. Whatever the photo inspired in each photographer. Then they’d send that to the host, who would compile it into a blog entry. Here’s a link to a recent one hosted by Norm.)

It turns out that this project is incredibly revealing. It shows how diverse our lives can be. It shows different landscapes, different activities, and different perspectives. These blog posts always leave me feeling really great about the world. We got this, people. Because we all have our unique ways of existing, that diversity leads to strength.

So far, so good. But since they really did have participants all over the world, picking the same time became a bit problematic. 6 p.m my time would be 2 a.m. for folks in Europe, for example, so it tended to hinder a lot of people who would otherwise be up for the challenge. Eventually, they decided to regulate it to each individual’s time zone.

So, long story short, I’ve volunteered to host the next one. And I’ve chosen 6 p.m. (your time zone) on October 31st to be the pivotal moment. I figured that would yield some interesting Autumn or Halloween pics from those of us who had those experiences and chose to focus on them, and even more absolutely-nothing-to-do-with Autumn or Halloween pictures from people in other parts of the world. Fascinating.

So, would you like to participate? If so, contact me using the form below, and mark your calendar for October 31 at 6 p.m. Then send me the photo and the write up by no later than 6 p.m. your time on November 7th. I’ll compile them all into an interesting blog post and send you the link. Anyone can participate. You don’t have to have a blog. (But if you do, send me a link to it as well, and I’ll give it a plug in the post. It’s a great way to increase your readership!)

Also, feel free to share this invite with other friends who might want to play, too! The more far flung, the better! This is going to be fun! Join us!

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It Takes All Kinds

I used to work with someone whose anxiety came out in the form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). On really bad nights, she’d actually walk up to the bridge on the roadway, on the dotted yellow line, because to her way of thinking, encountering a 4,000 pound vehicle was vastly preferable to walking on the germs of the sidewalk, or stepping on the places where tires had touched the roadway (because, she reasoned, most tires had gone over road kill at some point).

I felt sorry for her. I really did. It must be exhausting to live under the weight of such stress. Her world was full of illogical rules that she absolutely had to follow, or disaster would surely strike. For example, under no circumstances could she wear her glasses into the bathroom. And all her dirty dishes must soak in bleach for at least 12 hours.

I also worked with someone who was a compulsive hoarder, which is also considered by many to be part of the OCD spectrum. To see the way he lived was heartbreaking. I’d say 90 percent of his home was full of garbage and useless junk. And he’d come to work and just take the place over. He wasn’t comfortable unless he was surrounded by possessions. In fairness, though, he’d take all his stuff with him at the end of his shift. That must have been tiring, too.

It was always scary to see him walk into the roadway to retrieve something that had fallen off a passing vehicle. It didn’t have to be anything of value. It just had to exist. If it existed, he had to have it. That bridge had the cleanest roadway on the face of the earth, despite what the OCD lady thought.

Actually, that’s probably not true, because for some reason I’ve worked with quite a few bridgetenders who were OCD and/or hoarders in my career, so there are probably quite a few picked-over bridges out there. I have no idea why these types of individuals are attracted to this job, but it seems to be very much the case.

Maybe it’s because as a bridgetender you tend to have more control over your environment than you do in a lot of other jobs. You work alone. You have your own way of doing things within a narrow field of requirements. And the job is, for the most part, predictable. (Except, of course, when it isn’t. But those are stories for other days.)

And maybe there’s another way of looking at this. You actually want bridgetenders to be all about the rules. The safety of the traveling public depends upon bridgetenders not cutting corners or getting too complacent. And if you have an anxiety disorder and yet still have to earn a living, it’s probably better for all concerned that you work alone.

I’ve never met a bridgetender who wasn’t unique in one way or another. The same could definitely be said about me. As the saying goes, it takes all kinds to make a world.

diversity

Letting People Be

Now that I’m residing in the wild and whacky world that is Seattle, I’m surrounded by diversity the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. I’m not just talking about different races and cultures. I’m talking about different lifestyles. On any given day, I can cross paths with a man with bright purple dreadlocks down to his ankles, a woman wearing a witch hat, cross dressers of every stripe, people who will only eat raw vegetables and call you a murderer if you don’t follow their lead, free love activists, and couples who host cuddle parties.

I love this diversity. I revel in it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I have to be honest. There is a tiny little part of me that feels awkward in these situations. It’s way out of my comfort zone. These are encounters I would never have had in the conservative cultural backwater of ignorance that is Northeast Florida.

I had no idea how sheltered I was until I came to Seattle. Actually, “sheltered” is not the right word. That implies that I was being protected from bad people. It’s more like I was closed off. Shut away. I now totally understand why Florida is such a red state. They don’t know any better. It’s hard to have an open mind when you spend all your time in a tiny little room with no windows, culturally speaking.

Here in Seattle, I seem to be growing up. I’m learning to relax that Florida muscle that instinctively tries to force people into neatly ordered cubby holes. I’m learning to let people be. I have no idea why that should be so hard, but a lot of people have trouble with it.

So, yeah, all this is new to me. And there’s a little squirmy feeling I get inside sometimes because of it. But you know what? Bring it on! I welcome the squirm if it means I get to see the wider world in all its exciting variations.

I feel like I’m seeing the universe in color for the very first time. A little scary. A little unexpected. But oh, how beautiful it is!

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[Image credit: NASA.gov]