Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hundreds of Snow!

We woke up Monday morning to a winter wonderland. My daughter Elly ran from her bed to the window to me and said, "Mom? Did you see? There's hundreds of snow on the ground." I love how she looks at snow—as something to be measured by the number of snowflakes on the ground and not by the number of hassles it causes. On the way to school, I asked Elly what season she liked best. "This one!" she exclaimed. Of course. My daughter lives in the moment, completely grateful for its many gifts. 

I'm grateful for my daughter. She helps me see what's good in life. When I asked Elly why she loves snow, she had lots of reasons: 
  • "It's pretty!" 
  • "I get to wear my new boots." 
  • "We can make snow angels!"
Elly's practice—seeing what's good in life and being thankful for it—is good for her. Actually, it's good for all of us. Positive psychologists who study gratitude have learned that:
  • People who kept gratitude journals, exercised more regularly, complained less about health issues, "felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events" (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • People who kept gratitude journals were more likely to achieve their goals. 
  • People who practiced gratitude were more likely to help other people with problems. 
  • Children who practice gratitude "have more positive attitudes toward school and their families" (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
(For more information on the gratitude research of Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, see Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness.)

Got that? Keep a gratitude journal—or simply be grateful— and you're going to feel better, exercise more, and be more likely to achieve your own goals. (And that's just the beginning!) If gratitude were a pill, people would be lining up for it.

Your assignment this weekend: look for the good in each moment and say thank you. Yup, I'm even talking about those less-than-pleasant moments. Stuck in traffic? Annoyed by your family at Thanksgiving dinner? Cold? Ask yourself, "What's good in this?" Think about how a child would make good from that kind of situation. If that doesn't work, meditate on these words from Van Halen's song, Best of Both Worlds: 

You don't have to die to go to heaven
Or hang around to be born again
Just tune into what this place has got to offer
Cause we may never be here again.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

For more inspiration, check out the amazing poem Gratitude by Mary Oliver, from her book What Do We Know.

To learn more about the science of gratitude, read this book by Robert Emmons.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tis a Gift

Last year, we did not buy oodles of gifts for our children. We find they rarely remember gifts from year to year. What they remember are the experiences we share. So last year we took the kids to Chicago for New Year's Eve. We booked a great hotel room with a kitchen and free meals. Each child chose a fun place to visit. My daughter—as you can see above—chose to visit American Girl. My son chose ESPN Zone. After our outings, we stayed up late, snacked, and watched holiday movies. It was an experience we won't forget. 

As you think about your holidays and assess your gift-giving budget, consider what kinds of gift-giving rituals are meaningful to you. Talk with your family and friends about it. So often we keep doing the same thing because it's what we have always done—even when what we have been doing no longer works.
Choose a ritual that works this year. It doesn't have to work forever—just for now.

Here are some fun, affordable gift ideas I have collected over the years. 

Give the gift of service. One year a friend gave me a loaf of home-baked bread each month. Oh how I loved that monthly delivery! Another friend offered to sit for our kids. Another great gift. What can you do to support friends that costs you time but not money? How about cleaning their house, running errands for them, baking cookies, or working on a home improvement project. Use your imagination!

Give experiences. A few years ago, I gave a friend a beading night at my house. We sat at the dining room table munching on snacks and making bracelets. How fun! In return, she invited my daughter and I over for an art night. I won't try to explain the project we made. Suffice it to say—we had fun and got just the tiniest bit messy. How about teaching a friend how to bake bread or taking them sledding?

Give memories. Create a photo album, a photo collage, a memory box, a journal, or a letter. A few years ago, I gave each of my children their own photo album—stocked with some of my favorite photos. They are the most-read books in our house. I heard about one family who wrote questions in a journal for their grandparents. A year later they received the same journal back from their grandparents—filled with the personal, memorable stories!

Give from your abundance. What do you own that needs a new home or that looks like it belongs with someone else? Give it away! I often give art, gently-used books, scarves, and jewelry to friends. When you give something that you've owned, include a note that explains why you are passing it on. Maybe, "Every time I see this scarf, I think of you."

If you have a great holiday gift tip, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Small, Deliberate Acts of Kindness

Take a good look at the picture—the gorgeous green paper and the LOVE sticker. That small, human touch—plus the handwritten & signed thank you on my receipt and a free gift—made my day. (And it will keep me ordering my beading supplies from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads for years to come.)

You think I'm kidding? I write books. At home. Alone. Some days my only contact with the world is on Twitter or Facebook. Believe me—small, deliberate acts of kindness matter. I take notice when my Barista presents me with a pretty latte. A kind word from the library clerk can put a smile on my face. Yesterday Ms. Emma, the key maven at my Y, asked me how my daughter was doing (my daughter has a feeding tube). Her question meant the world to me.

Readers, think about this: What small acts of kindness mean the world to you?

Now ask yourself this: How can YOU deliberately spread kindness to others?

Start with your immediate circle of family, friends, and neighbors—the people you encounter each day. Broaden your circle to include your business—your colleagues, customers, and those you tweet to online. Finally, consider the acquaintances and strangers you encounter as you move through the day. How can you choose to be kind and gracious to these people?

Some simple ideas:
  • Greet.
  • Say thank you.
  • Compliment.
  • Give out stickers!
See what happens to you and the people in your world when you make an effort to be kind. Let me know what happens. I'm curious!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I spent Monday evening at the library with three new Dream Keepers. What a blessing. Every week I meet at least one young person whose eyes light up at the possibility of writing a poem. They rush into our special room and seem delighted all the way up until they get that blank piece of paper. Then I hear, "No, I can't."  

This week a tween named Isaiah told me he could not write because he hated his own handwriting. He begged me to let him go back on the computer. I could see his fear but also his deep wisdom. I wanted to see what he might say. So, we made a deal. If he wrote one poem, he could go back on the computer. I offered to be the scribe if he'd play the poet. He agreed! So we worked and worked at it until Isaiah got his I AM poem written. (YES YOU CAN!)

In the middle of the writing, we had a deep conversation about who had better-looking eyes (him or me) and how we'd describe each other's skin (caramel brown for him, pastey white for me). Then Isaiah asked, "When you were little, were your people prejudiced?" I almost fell off my chair. No one had ever asked me that. I talked about what it was to grow up in a town without many people of color. He talked about what it is like to live in a neighborhood with no white people. 

I went home amazed and delighted that I had this deep conversation about race and prejudice with an 11-year-old African American boy. I'd gone into the evening feeling sick and tired. I was less-than-hopeful that tweens and teens who didn't even know me would want to write with me—especially boys. Then I met Isaiah. He wrote a poem. We had a conversation. Not one where I did all the talking, and he said, "Yes Ma'am." We had a real conversation—with talking and listening on both sides. It seems that this time I was the one saying, "No, I can't." Isaiah reminded me, "Yes we can!"

This phrase of Obama's—YES WE CAN—has stuck with me throughout this campaign. I am thinking that we'd all accomplish a whole lot more—in our lives, in our communities, and mostly in our relationships—if we believed that we can get along and we can get things done.

Yes we can!

I thank Isaiah for teaching me that. If you want to read Isaiah's poem, check out the Dream Keeper's Web site.

If you need more inspiration, 
watch this video 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day!

Last summer, tired by the political rhetoric, I wrote this poem about my own experience with politics. It's written about and in honor of my daughter. Enjoy! (And vote.)

Debating Domestic Policy
by Rochelle Melander

Independent Voter
If my daughter adores it, I don’t
If I exclaim, “Wear it!” She won’t
If she’s trying to decide between this or that,
and I say pick this—she picks that.

Campaign Finance Reform
If I bought it at full price from a fancy store, in-style and in-season,
forget about it.
If she bought it for ten cents from Goodwill, off-the-shoulder and outdated,
She loves it!

Flip-flop Politics
When it’s hot with a chance of heat exhaustion,
she skips off to school in her leopard print snow boots.
Her spin, “Don’t worry, Mom: I’m not wearing socks.”
When it’s freezing with a chance of frostbite,
she lobbies to wear her Hannah Montana flip-flops.
Outside she takes a u-turn,
heads back in to change, saying, “Why didn’t you tell me it was cold?”

Wedge Politics
If the shorts fit perfectly, but the size is less than her age—she says, “Too small”
If the size matches her age but the pants fall down—“A perfect fit!”
All is well until she forgets to hold on,
and, “I see London I see France, . . .”

Red State, Blue State, Purple State
If I say, “It’s an art day. Let’s pick something that can’t get ruined.”
She chooses fancy, fluffy, dry-clean-only red silk and velvet.
When fancy, fluffy, dry-clean-only red silk and velvet mixes it up with blue finger-painted hands,
I say, “Purple! Perfect!”
She says: “Purple! It’s ruined!”

Battleground States
If I lay out the perfect outfit
It doesn’t matter how much I’ve thought it through—
If she says the sleeves are too short
If she declares the tag scratchy or the fabric wiggly
If she deems it babyish or boyish or just plain bad—
I back away slowly and say, “Mistakes were made.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Right Now! Coach Reads

This was a weekend of counting up losses and mourning the most recent ones. When the time is right, I'll be writing some about that here and in my memoir. For now, let me tell you a bit about what helps me in these times of sadness. 

I walk. Lots of researchers have written about the benefits of walking. Maybe Augustine said it best, "It is solved by walking." Nothing was solved for me on my walk, but I was blessed by the beauty that surrounded me. The picture above comes from my Saturday walk to Lake Park, near Lake Michigan. 

I connect. I tend to isolate when I feel sad. I don't want to burden others. Last night I tried a different tactic—I called a friend. It helped. This morning, after dropping off my daughter in her classroom, I had the opportunity to help a frightened first grader sneak by a scary spider and get safely to her classroom. That helped, too.

I write. This morning I woke up early—3 AM—still sad. As I drank my coffee, I paged through SARK's new book on writing. This quote reminded me that writing can and does mend lives. Maybe not all at once. But, little by little, writing brings healing to our wounds.

And of course, I know to write when everything is awful or feels broken. 
Write when you are in despair or euphoria, write it all! 
—SARK in Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, readers!

My daughter longs to be a witch. She decided we'd dress as witches for Halloween. As we walked to her friend's house, my daughter said, "If your feet hurt, I could fly us over." This girl believes with all her heart that someday she will be able to fly and cast spells. Her desire to be a witch made me think of this quote from E. L. Konigsburg's book,  Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth:

If you really want to be a witch, nothing you have to do will seem like too much. If you don't really want to be a witch, everything will seem like too much.

I've always wanted to be a novelist. When it comes to writing—nothing seems like too much. Get up at five to write? No problem. Skip a party to write. Absolutely. Set aside a whole month to write a book? You bet.

Readers, if you really want something—you do what it takes to get it. If you want to write a novel—or any book—National Novel Writing Month is the perfect time to do it. If you want to do something else with your life—then what are you waiting for?

Readers, what do you desire?