Lessons from Ducks

What a joy to be back on a college campus. What a privilege to watch a bright and beautiful young lady graduate, with honors from University of Oregon. I may be a bit partial since Taylor and I both have an undergraduate degree in psychology.



There were two ceremonies; all graduates in one humongous stadium in the morning and a more intimate one for specific majors in the evening. As I listened to all the speakers-graduates, keynotes, deans, and the president, two sentiments reoccured.

Two ideas that apply to all of us, not only recent graduates:

  • A tremendous sense of pride
  • Failure leads to greater and deeper learning

Pride: These students have such pride for their university. Every student speaker talked warmly about what it means to be a Duck. Once a Duck always a Duck. Over and over, students and family put their hands together to make the famous capital “O” (see Taylor above). The sense of collegiality made an impression on me. And, I wondered how this sense of “we are all in this together,” could be transferred to the communities where we live, the schools our younger children attend, and the places we work. It’s out there, yes, though I’ve never seen pride run so deep in so many people.

Failure: From graduates to the University of Oregon president, the message of failure and how it’s part of the growing process was mentioned enough times for me to still be thinking about it a week later.  How many times have I (or you) avoided a risk because it might not be a success? I am inspired that these Ducks learned a valuable lesson, outside of a textbook!

JK Rowling was quoted, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you lives so cautiously that you might as well not lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

I don’t have all the answers for creating an amazing sense of camaraderie in my neighborhood, at my job, or even in my classroom. I do have a longing to try.  As for failure, I know I can learn a thing or two from JK Rowling. How about you?

Congrats to all 2016 graduates. The world is already better by having you in it.








Sunshine in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park, in all its splendor, is 83 miles from my front door, and yet I just experienced it for the first time. 

Yosemite 2


I’ve been to Yosemite on one other occasion, to eat lunch. It’s 90 minutes from home, a mere 83 miles, and I’ve not experienced Yosemite until now. I’ve already berated myself for letting this happen. I’ve forgiven myself, and now, moving on.

A week ago, an unlikely group of hikers, in the range of 11 years old to the very young at heart, joined Jerel, our personal tour guide, for an expertly guided hike through this majestic place. Born in Wisconsin, and inspired by a National Geographic article he read as a lad, Jerel volunteers here for a month at a time.  The idea of this trip was born during a run where we were passing the long training mileage with a myriad of topics. Jerel shared his Yosemite experiences with us, and soon a trip was planned.

Yosemite 1


I need to go through the “tour” again to remember all the details Jerel shared! This year, the welcomed wet season allows the falls to create a spectacular show!

While hiking, I had several reoccurring thoughts.

  1. How come I have not experienced this before?
  2. The many falls are so powerful.
  3. Pictures? No way will they show the grandeur.
  4. The word awesome is overused. We use awesome to describe meals, days, books, cars, shoes, and the like. So, what word do we use when something is truly awesome, awe-inspiring, like powerful waterfalls and sunshine that creates multiple rainbows on the water?

I’m guilty of not making time to visit “awesome” places right here in California, all within a day’s drive. Working on this…

Visit Yosemite now! The falls are magnificent. Peak run-off is May and June, and the National Parks are celebrating their 100th birthday.  See more about Yosemite and the National Parks birthday here.

Have an awesome(!) day.

Slainte! Susan

Happiness is always homemade

Once in a while I watch those shows where houses are completely transformed. Everything old is new again. Every room is redecorated in the most creative ways. Each picture is part of the grand theme. Every nook is filled with something beautiful and perfect, and freshly baked scones are on an antique pedestal for the home unveiling, where the lucky teary-eyed owners will ohhhh and ahhhh as they slowly float from kitchen to bedroom to the en suite. I’ve dreamed about what it would be like to have my home completely transformed like this, right down to the perfectly placed vase on a night table.

I look around my home. It wouldn’t meet HGTVs standards.  There’s the obstinate red wine stain on the carpet from a family gathering, and the scratch on the wall from moving the dresser down the hallway, the very one I was bought at a yard sale and painted (not-so-perfectly) myself.

A home is made by its occupants and their stories (for better or worse). Every home has those cherished items and each a story to tell. They weren’t placed expertly at this angle or on this shelf by an interior decorator (though I have had one, on two separate occasions), but they are well-loved, sometimes well-worn,  perhaps transported home from a vacation, or if fortunate enough, handmade by a skilled friend or two.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a craftsman, Jerel. He creates furniture (as a hobby). I wanted a table with specific measurements. I’d had no success finding what I wanted (of course!). After several conversations and emails, I have an expertly crafted table, signed by Jerel in my living room!

Transporting the table involved a trip to the craftsman’s home where we enjoyed “2:30 break time” with Jerel and his lovely wife, Jane along with beer and popcorn. The conversations were interesting ,and the time we spent there went entirely too quickly. We left with the history of IPA, freshly picked snap peas (Jerel insisted I pick them myself), the promise of a Yosemite tour, and a handcrafted piece of furniture. My living room isn’t perfect. The table is! It’s far more valuable to me than any item I could have purchased, even from a place that makes my heart skip a beat, Pottery Barn.


Summer vacation is coming. This is the time of year I consider home projects that won’t get done any other time of the year. Since I’m developing my book, my recent attention has been on my home office. While on the topic of pieces that make a house a home, I must mention another artist I’m fortunate to know. I proudly own several of his unique pieces. I call my office “my nest.” And I’m looking toward making it a cozier space that inspires me to dream and create (and hopefully be productive).  It’s already filled with two  handmade items from this local artist who creates items under the name Lola Bell, his dear mother’s name. Many people know him as Bill. My creations from his collection are the foundation for my nest and hold warm memories as they were created just for me!  The sun and peace symbol are forever pieces filled with so many details that I can get lost looking and always find something I didn’t see before. The creativity of Lola Bell inspires me each time I walk into my nest.

Lola Bell


Not every item in a home can have a special story, and darn. Most of us can’t come home to a fully decorated home courtesy of HGTV and your bank account. I’m not sure I’d want to anyway. We can look around and find creative ways to have pieces that are inspiring and make our houses, warm and inviting homes.





Sunshine in the (real) mailbox

You know those deceiving pieces of U.S mail that appear to be personally handwritten, with your name and address, specifically addressed to you, like from a friend? But soon, you realize it’s another piece of junk mail to be added to your overflowing recycling bin.

Last week, I thought it was one of those. On second glance, it wasn’t. It was an authentic envelope addressed by a friend. Opening it rather quickly, I found a handwritten letter. It was a letter, a real letter, lengthy too. Frankly, at first I just skimmed the letter noting the quantity of words on the pages. What a delight to be updated on my friend’s happenings-the old-fashioned way! My first inclination was to text her, thanking her for taking such time to actually write a real letter, but that would take away from the kind gesture as well as the sentiments expressed. No, a text message wasn’t appropriate.

So, I wrote back, by hand too. Fresh out of beautiful stationery, or any for that matter, I was going to wait to reply. I considered me, and how sometimes my greatest intentions get sidelined, so I found paper a little fancier than binder paper, and started writing. I had two pieces and filled them both.

My surprise about a handwritten letter would not have been the case not so many years ago. However, we know in the world we live it today, email, text messages, and social media is quick, easy, and grammar and punctuation are inconsequential. A quick Google search showed many kids have never received a personal letter, delivered via the postal service (I believe it). While for adults, receiving a handwritten letter happens less than six times per year (that even seems high to me).

My friend was delighted also, to receive my correspondence, and that too made my day. Simple. Simple. Sending and receiving a handwritten letter added a little sunshine to my world. Thanks Clair!

Included in this letter was a quote. “Help keep the art of writing by hand alive.” Wondering if you can help. Can you brighten someone’s day with a letter?

Slainte! Susan



Friends are Sunshine

If you skimmed ahead and saw running  pictures, and you’re thinking as your finger is hovering over the delete key, “I don’t run.” Keep reading…

Three weeks ago, our team crossed a finish line after completing a marathon, 26.2 miles. During our training, we ran over 400 miles together, think Modesto to San Diego, or 844,000 steps. That’s a long time to spend with sweaty people breathing harder than usual. Imagine the ties that develop over this time.

This morning, one of teammates needed to run 10 miles as part of her training. With one email earlier in the week announcing this fact, quite a group showed. Ten rainy miles to help support Jen’s goal. No grumblings about the rain, getting up early, or lack of coffee. Just support. Others would have been here but had prior commitments.


I can tell you with complete certainty, ten miles would not have have happened for me without these friends! It never occurred to me to not go. I actually enjoyed the rain. I had some interesting conversations with these dedicated runners. I am better for it.

This is more about the power of friendships than running, and how we are truly blessed to have some remarkable people in our lives to support and to be supported by! I am not part of a large family, and maybe that makes me more aware of the many times friends have added sunshine to my world.

I’ll bet your world is brighter with some pretty amazing people who support you, always! Furthermore, undoubtly you bring sunshine to many others too.

Slainte! Susan

Optional Reading ***********************************************

Update on My Little Free Library

I attended our monthly neighborhood association meeting last week. These are fine people who make our neighborhood safer, friendlier, and well, more neighborly. They welcomed my Little Free Library idea whole-heartedly, and voted for having two! One at a time though. I garnered support, and we are on our way to “Taking a book and leaving a book.” Another ray of sunshine. More to come as we progress.

The coach, but not exactly


A favorite hat I wear is that of running coach. For six months out of each year (6th year in a row now), I play a part in training people how to successfully cross a marathon finish line. These six months of training are some of the best months of each year. Each team is different. Each year I worry that it won’t be as special as the previous year’s. Each time, I’m mistaken.

While it is my “job” to assist with all that goes into running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, each year I am the one who learns the most. That I’m sure of. Training schedules, track workouts, hydration, running nutrition, form, shoes, clothing, toe nails, rest days, socks, etc. top the list of coaching points. Surely I couldn’t do this without some of the most supportive mentors around!

But, throughout our training season, I’m the student too, acquiring  far greater knowledge than I offer. From each person I learn about  dedication, goal setting, perseverance, determination, schedule juggling, strength-mental and physical, people supporting people they just met, kindness, in essence I witness the power of the human spirit.  These amazing runners allow me to be part of their lives. Each one comes with a life story. Many share these stories, each one always unique, and I’m always honored to listen.

I hear of disappointment, sadness, uncertainty, milestones, and celebrations! I’ve heard disappointment about being too sick to participate in a 20 mile run. Now that’s determination. I’ve witnessed tears from people who are injured and may not be able to achieve a goal. I’ve witnessed time management at its best as people juggle young families and aging parents, active schedules, contract negotiations, work commitments too numerous to name, family gatherings including Thanksgiving and Christmas, all the while trying to be there for everybody  who place demands on their time. Factor in training for a marathon, and it’s clear to see the high level of commitment that is the norm for this team.

Our “scheduled” training culminates with smiles, tears of joy, cheering families, flowers, blisters, sore feet, tired legs, and the greatest sense of satisfaction at the finish line where the coveted medal is finally placed around each person’s neck. But, the training doesn’t usually stop here. I am again full of admiration for each runner as they immediately set new goals.  You see, the training really doesn’t end at the finish line. It’s really the start of more new and great adventures.

Each year my life is enriched with new friendships and knowledge gleaned from the team. Even though I’m the “coach” on record, it is truly me learning and growing from remarkable people, now friends. While I’m the “coach” in reality, I’m the student. Another hat I enjoy wearing.

Slainte! Susan

Optional Reading******************************************************

We refer to our team as geese. Do you know the story of the geese?

When you see geese heading south for the winter, flying in a “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are travelling on the thrust of one another. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. 
If we have the sense of a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are heading the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.
It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
What message do we give when we honk from behind?

Finally – and this is important – when a goose gets sick or is wounded and falls out of the formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies; and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their own group.
If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.






Books on a Street Corner, Maybe in your own Yard


Books on a street corner, right in your own neighborhood!

Reading is one of life’s restorative  moments. Some of the fondest memories I have of my mother involve walking to our public library. She would help me tote home piles and piles of books. Our librarian, Sharon A., knew me by name, and particularly  doted over me when my mother dressed me in the blue and red Raggedy Ann pinafore along with the curly hair I didn’t like, even then. I enjoy talking and sharing books with fellow bibliophiles. Having an abundance of books to read… well it’s just the best feeling. Browsing through books at the book store, the thrift store, the internet, the library, my own shelves at home, and now even “taking and sharing” a book on a street corner near my home is cause for jubilation.

You can have a mini library right in your own front yard. Little Free Library is a movement cropping up. Their mission…

“To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations. There are over 36,000 Little Free Library book exchanges around the world, bringing curbside literacy home and sharing millions of books annually.” See here.

We have a Little Library in my hometown, and I love being a regular “customer.” I’m sure it’s all a mindset, but I seem to thoroughly devour every book I select from this little gem. Both selecting a book and returning a book are simple, restorative pleasures. My general guideline: I can’t take a book unless I leave a book.

Enjoy an article  about one Little Free Library from our local newspaper.

All of this, of course, makes me want to join the Little Free Library movement. Stay tuned for this new and fun endeavor.

By the way, here’s the latest book I borrowed from the Little Library. You just can’t help but be touched by this grandmother’s quest to help her quirky granddaughter. You’ll be rooting for both of them in the end.  It’s on its way back to the corner library, if you’re interested. Remember to take a book to leave too.


Slainte! Susan

Additional Reading Info Below******************************************

More words for people who love books, reading, and words:

  • librocubicultarist: (hasn’t made its way to the dictionary quite yet) someone who reads in bed (indeed!)
  • Bibliophagist:  a devourer of words (me, me, me!)
  • Bibliosmia: the smell or aroma of a book (can’t get this on the iPad)
  • Logophile: a lover of words (see above)
  • Ballycumber:  one of six half read books lying in your bed (or for me, the nightstand) (Also a small village in Ireland, of course!)
  • tsundoku: a Japanese word with no direct English translation, the act of leaving a book after buying it, and piling it up with other unread books (reality!!)
  • Omnilegent: reading or having read everything (impossible!)
  • Book-Bosomed: one who carries a book all the time (or at least has one in the car!)