Posted in gifts, mental health, mindset, motivation, physical health

Gratitude for pain

So … I climbed on Tuesday until my hands wouldn’t hold onto the rocks on the wall any more.

My forearms (from gripping) and lats (from pulling) hurt for two days.

On the second of those days, I had a session with my trainer. Leg Day.

My legs were hurtin’ the next day. And, from all of the weights I held and moved in addition to just legs, my lats and forearms were unhappy an extra day.

How glorious!

My body is strong enough that I can try to climb fake rocks until I physically can’t any more. I can train (hard!) with a trainer. I can walk around at work all day, noticing that I’m sore. I can run 5Ks and ride my bike and play on the playground with my kid and move furniture and carry laundry.

Lucky me.

Why do it? Because you can.

A friend’s mom recently completed her first 5K. Except that she has a degenerative disorder, making walking long distances painful. She walked it. With a walker. Took WAY longer than everyone else. But she did it.

There are countless examples of people working through massive obstacles to be able to walk or run or lift or climb. (I’m sure there are examples in other sports, too–those are just the ones on my radar.)

Do it! Because you can!

Posted in differences, gifts, hope, thoughtfulness

A different kind of Christmas

While many of us have families that are less than ideal to spend time with, a couple of things have shown up lately that put some perspective on that.

First, in my On This Day on Facebook, my post about Santa coming to school has shown up multiple times. (Different days for different years.)

I used to work at a school in a very low-income neighborhood.

Our kids were the recipients of toys from a toy drive. Each December, Santa came to our school and gave a bag of gifts to every homeroom teacher (to distribute at the end of the day, and to be opened at home). One gift for every student in the school.

Kids, as you can imagine, were excited.

For some of them, that was it. Their Christmas present.

On behalf of those kids and kids everywhere like them, thank you for your toy donation. Thank you for not grumbling that it has to be new.

Some of them had parents that fit the low-income stereotype. But most of those kids had parents who loved them dearly, who worked two or three or four jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. (Where are the kids who eat free breakfast and lunch at school eating this week? Or over spring break? Or over the summer?) What a gift for them to receive something nice. I have always hoped they got something they wanted.

Also on Facebook the other day, the following story was shared by a woman who had been a tutor for Child Protective Services.

“I had a child once ask me if Santa was real. After much inner debate I told him the truth. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. Why? Because, as he said, ‘That’s why Santa never came to my house!’ He knew his mother was abusive and neglectful, but the thought of Santa neglecting him meant that he really was unlovable. Santa is great for healthy homes but we need to be very mindful of the homes that aren’t.”

And we can rant and rage and wave our tiny fists at the parents all we want. At the end of the day, we want physically and emotionally healthy kids, and we need to be more of a village to help that to happen.

Posted in gifts, mindset, thoughtfulness

Random acts of kindness

I was the recipient of a random act of kindness yesterday. Even though it was “useless,” it made my day. Here’s what happened.

There was A Thing I saw at Costco and debated buying for a friend. Debated a bit, decided with The Climbing Daddy that yes, we should get it. Went back, and it was gone. Checked back a bit later and it was not restocked (and was not going to be).

The thing about Costco is that you can’t call and talk to someone about general stock. Or I couldn’t.

I’m not a phone person AT ALL, but I’m even less a “drive around to all of the local Costcos” person.

So we checked another (also sold out) and then asked them if they could tell us if any locations had it.

Yes, one. About half an hour from here.

So after work before picking up The Kid from school, I drove out there.

As I entered the section where it would be if it were still to be there, a chipper employee asked me if I needed help.

“I’m looking for A Thing and [other location] said you have a bunch.”

“Hm. How many is a bunch?” he asked as we started to walk towards the answer.

“They said you have nine, but I only need one.”

The conversation went on a bit before he clarified, “You came all the way up here from [other location]?”

Yup. No one else has them.

“We have to take care of you!” And he put A Thing in my cart. I thanked him, considered myself “taken care of,” and on we went.

A minute or so later, as I was finally getting out of that area (it was crowded! and Costco carts do not squeeze through anywhere…), he leaned over my cart, put in a roasted chicken with a note on it, and said, “Lunch!”

The note indicated to the cashier that it was free.

It was such a random and nice thing to do.

I don’t eat meat; been vegetarian for almost 11 years. No way he would have known that. Doesn’t diminish his kindness a bit.

(I texted The Climbing Daddy to see if he wanted it. If not, I would have offered it to a friend or given it to one of the panhandlers.)

So if this little kindness made my day, imagine what you could do for someone—whether you know them or not—with something unexpected and nice. Doesn’t have to be a gift.

(And if you know the person, it should be something that reflects them. If someone in my social circle gave me a cooked chicken, the reception would be different…)

I’ve gotten better about complimenting people I see out and about. I’ve been on and off the wagon with regards to sending people nice notes in the mail. (Real mail. Handwritten.)

How can you make someone’s day today?

Posted in ebb & flow, gifts, hope, mindset, podcasts, storytelling, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Podcast quote: creativity (and so much more)

TED has started a new podcast series called TED Interviews, where Chris Anderson interviews people who have give TED talks about their talks, and they get more in depth.

I haven’t quite listened to all of them, but all that I’ve listened to have been captivating. (As of this writing, there are only six of them.)

I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, mostly known for writing Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t read it.)

First, they got into creativity. She talked a short bit about the history of creativity (who knew there was one?!) I loved the imagery in what she had to say:

“The way I describe it is the way I’ve empirically experienced it, which is broken down in my life to this notion: that ideas are living entities. They have consciousness. They don’t have matter. They can’t be seen, they can’t be felt, they can’t be proven, but they have will. And the way I picture it—and it’s sort of whimsical but I have also literally based my life on this—is the universe is sort of swirling with these ideas that wish to be created and they’re constantly looking for human collaborators because for some reason we have this oddly sensitive consciousness that can hear them and find them. And so the way I picture it is they sort of just roam around being like, ‘Are you my mother? Are you my mother? Are you my mother?’ And every single human who is struck by inspiration describes the experience exactly the same way … there’s this distraction where the idea sort of consumes you and in that consuming which can take months, weeks, years, the idea is interviewing you and asking you, ‘Do you wanna do this thing with me or not?’ And that’s the most important conversation that I think human beings can have, is that dialogue between your willingness to cooperate and show up and make something with this idea and manifest it and the idea’s desire to be made and the question of whether you are indeed the right partner.”

Whimsical was a solid word to describe the idea, but I love the imagery. Even more, though, I love the ownership of the work, and how the idea doesn’t just come and magically happen—it’s a partnership. “Your labor is the contribution to the miracle.” (She says that later.)

She talked more about that in other places in the podcast as well.

They also talked about curiosity vs. passion, enchantment vs. empiricism, fear, memes (not the pictures on the internet), secular magic, dark night of the soul, why to do the work if it’s likely to fail, and quite a bit about grieving.

It’s an hour long, and it’s well worth your hour. I listened to it twice, in addition to the bits I listened and paused so I could transcribe.

Posted in about me, cancer, gifts, motivation

In pursuit of avoiding carcinogens

Some of my healthy habits were in place before my ride on the cancer bus; some were a result of it.

Not having cancer again is one of my motivations for many of the choices I make.

“Everything gives you cancer, so why bother?” is common, and I hear you, and I understand your frustration. But that’s exactly the problem. We’re being sold countless goods (food, drinks, personal care products, household cleaners, furniture, clothes, toys, and on and on and on) that contain known and probable carcinogens.

We can’t avoid them all, but that’s not a reason not to bother with any of them. (As we go, I’ll share lots of ways that I “bother with them.”) Remember: better is really good.

One of the ways I have changed in the last decade is in personal care products.

To be honest, this hasn’t been as difficult for me as it would be for some, because I don’t use much in the first place.

One of the products I learned to make—and continue to make—is lip balm. Beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, maybe a little essential oil for scent. It works really well and the little tins last a long time.

(I use little tins instead of tubes, because I avoid plastic as much as possible, both for my health and the health of the planet. Also, each tin is equivalent to about two and a half tubes, so less work! And in Phoenix, lip balm melts. If I leave a tin in the car, it doesn’t leak all over the place. Tubes do.)

The other day, I mentioned to The Climbing Daddy that I need to make more lip balm—my tin is almost empty.

And just like that, somewhat impulsively, I decided to make kits again.

A handful of years ago, I made DIY lip balm kits containing everything someone would need to make four of their own tins, including something to melt and combine the ingredients in (beeswax is a pain). Scent not included, because there was no practical way to include the oils. (They need to be added at the end of the process.) Jar of ingredients, four tins, directions.

If you’re interested in one, they’re $22. (I haven’t looked into the cost of shipping yet.)

If you just want a tin or two of slightly minty lip balm, they’re $5 each.

Neither has any labels or markings, so you could add a sticker or label to make a little personalized gift.

Everything will be ready for pickup or to be shipped on or before December 8. Hit me up at heat.weirdlastname at gmail if you have questions or to order some.

Posted in food, gifts, mindset, parenting

A sweets-free birthday party

My son turned 7 last week, was able to take a birthday snack to school, and had a party with some of his friends over the weekend.

For school, he took what he was calling “fruit cupcakes.” Grapes, strawberries, and apple slices in paper cups. I believe he called them cupcakes because we were going to put the fruit in muffin tins, but I realized that passing out fruit in cupcake wrappers would be much harder than just putting it in small paper cups.

I asked him, his dad (who was there for birthday snack), and his teacher how the other kids liked his birthday snack. All of them said the same thing: most of the kids liked it.

“Almost all of the kids loved having the fruit. Some even asked for more! I think one student said ‘no thank you’ and two others picked out something they didn’t care for.”

This is the fourth year he’s been given the opportunity to choose what he wanted to serve to eat at his party.

I wrote down what he asked for the first year (his third birthday): peanut butter on pita bread, apple chips, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, coconut chips. So that’s what we served.

I know the next two years, we had customized cookies but otherwise no sweets.

This year, he asked for watermelon cake*. There were also grapes, apple chips**, pretzel sticks, and, because we had a giant Costco bag only partially eaten, popcorn. We made popsicles (bananas and blueberries) but forgot to serve them. We had water to drink.

First: serving water was easy. We had activities in the yard planned, starting with an obstacle course, and it turned out to be in the high 80s that afternoon. Water was necessary.

The kids ate without saying anything one way or the other about what was served. Ate, talked, joked, like kids do at kid birthday parties.

I asked parents later if their kids had said anything—positive or negative—because I was writing a blog post about it and wanted it to be as accurate as possible. One said that her daughter loved the watermelon cake. Everyone else said they didn’t say anything.

One of the activities he really wanted was a piñata. Easy enough.

For holidays where he gets a lot of candy (Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter), he keeps a piece or two and trades the rest in for a toy. I didn’t think it would be right to have him trade in his birthday candy, so instead, we stuffed the piñata with LEGO. We bought a couple of boxes of just pieces, and when the piñata broke, kids could grab pieces and start to build. They took home with them whatever they built. It was a big hit!

His birthday party had no added sugar.

He was happy. Other kids were happy.

For his birthday proper, he chose to have pizza and cupcakes, so we had pizza and cupcakes that evening.

For his parties, I’ve had a couple of parents say thank you, and tell me that their kids don’t go to many parties because it’s all junk food and they don’t want their kids eating that much of it. (This is not the majority, for sure, but it’s more than one.)

I’ve had other people (who were not actually involved in any of these events, just knew about them) tell me that I’m depriving my son of his childhood.

Seriously? Childhood is comprised only of out-of-control junk food eating? Methinks maybe some people were projecting. Or defensive. Or both.

It’s possible to celebrate and be happy and have fun without loading up on junk. And, as a result, teach our kids that they can celebrate and be happy and have fun without loading up on junk. Or maybe learn it from them.

Why not?


*I used glasses with different mouth sizes to cut the circles. For the little pieces around the edges, I have a set of tiny cookie cutters.

**With a mandolin and a dehydrator, apple chips are easy to make, and they’re so tasty! We just slice them thin (don’t bother coring or seeding–most of the seeds fall out anyway) and dry for 8 hours. No additions necessary.

Posted in gifts, hope, meandering, thoughtfulness


When I got married the first time, my mom gave me an earful for not registering for towels. “Towels make good gifts,” she said.

But he and I were both adults, combining independent households (we both owned our own places at that point), and we had more than enough towels. And we had received good-quality new towels as a gift for registering.

Towels would not have made a good gift (unless, I suppose, there was something unique about them, something that made them different enough that having more towels wouldn’t simply be a storage issue).

But the issue here isn’t really towels. It’s gifts.

I’m strongly of the opinion that as a general rule, a gift should please the recipient. Giving someone else something that I want is not a good gift—unless they want it, too. The best gifts please both parties—one is happy to give it and the other is happy to receive it.

I’ve given gifts off of registries that were not at all interesting or exciting to buy. But I knew they were the mundane stuff that many of us hate to spend money on, and I knew they’d be welcomed and used. Not an awesome giving experience in some ways, but in other ways, it was perfect, because I knew they wanted and would use it.

Now … I’m going to say that we can’t always know that the recipient will be pleased. Even people I know well don’t always love gifts I’ve given them, and it’s often harder when the people are more removed. There is definitely a thread of “it’s the thought that counts” in gifting. But I do think there should be more to it than social obligation.

Most of the time, I personally would prefer not to receive a gift at all than to receive a “generic” gift. But I don’t like scented things, I don’t use many “luxury” personal care items (bath bombs, lotions, etc.), I don’t enjoy wine, and that eliminates the majority of generic gifts for women. Maybe if I loved smelly lotions and candles, I would feel differently about this. *shrug*

It’s important to me to make my best effort to give gifts that I think people will like. And I have a special affection for people who do the same.

Because of a bunch of factors that I had written out but made this too tangent-y (even for me!), I don’t often receive gifts, so much of this is academic.


For my 42nd birthday, my husband threw a surprise party. Some of the people who came brought gifts. Each gift was different (a bag for dancing shoes, a stainless steel water bottle with a cool saying, earrings, a vegetarian camping cookbook, and others), but every single one—no exceptions—in some way said, “I know you.” The party was amazing without any material extras, but gifts were, on that day, a way for friends to show love in a different way.

“I know you.”

Maybe that’s why I’m not into generic gifts so much. I don’t have a couple of wrapped up scented candles in the closet in case someone brings me a gift and I don’t have one in return. I give without receiving. I receive without giving. Over time, it evens out.

This thread pops up for me many times in September or October. People are talking about how much Christmas shopping they’ve gotten done. I can’t possibly start Christmas shopping this early. I don’t know what the few people I buy for are going to want. My husband might just go out and get it himself between now and then. My son changes his mind every 45 seconds. (Last year, I started planning a big Lego birthday surprise a month ahead of time, and he was marginally still interested in the kits we bought by the time his birthday rolled around.)

I’m sure there are some things I could pick up now that would still be relevant in a few months. But what if I find something better in six weeks? (Oh yeah. I suffer from that disease, too. I’ve saved so much money in my life by not buying something because what if I find something better later?)

What about you? How do you shop? What do you prefer to give and receive?