Tag Archives: gratitude

Midlife Crisis

17 Oct

sunset-at-carneros

I’ve recently decided that I’m going through my first real midlife crisis. At least I hope that’s what it is—perhaps I have another 54 years ahead of me. Whatever it is though, I’m struggling to find the joy lately.

I could blame my depression on several things:

1) No takers on my novel so far. I do have one agent still looking at it, but no word back yet. I’m savvy enough to know that for new writers trying to get published, this is not uncommon. It’s still hard on the ego, though.

2) The ELECTION. Like a looky-loo at a car accident, I’m sickened but at the same time, strangely captivated. I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the tragedy playing out on television while eagerly waiting for another car (or scandal) to plow into that already huge pile of carnage.

3) My children are growing up and leaving me. I know this is as it should be, but shedding my role as caretaker of four is harder than I thought it would be. Thank goodness I still have six years left with Isa.

4) Getting older sucks. Menopause, wrinkles, aches and pains all remind me that while inside I’m still that sixteen-year-old girl, my body proves that she is long gone. I should have loved her more when she was around.

“White-privileged, first-world problems,” my husband admonishes me. “Get over yourself.” As a person of color, he’s allowed to say this to me. Growing up poor in Mexico, he knows about real poverty, discrimination and suffering. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pain, but fully understand I’ve lead a privileged life. After recently calculating our wealth on Globalrichlist.com. I’m actually embarrassed to admit how far up on the scale we are. I have NO reason whatsoever to complain.

Still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling of “What if?” What if I’d starting writing earlier? What if I’d made exercise a priority throughout my life? What if I’d traveled the world when I was young and had the energy? What if I’d learned to love myself a long time ago?

Hey Jess—do you want some cheese with your whine?

Okay, rant over. No one can fix me but me. I need to look for the good, so I’m off to practice some intentional gratitude.

I’ll start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for following my blog. I truly appreciate your readership.

There. I feel better already.

Just to remind myself of how lucky I am, I’m posting some photos of things I’m grateful for:

yellow-flowers

Black-eyed Susans in the garden

leah-and-isa

Time spent with my beautiful daughters

goleta-mountains

My daily view of the Santa Ynez mountains

isa-leo-and-cody

Isa and our babies, Cody and Leo

pink-hollyhock

The vibrant color of this late autumn hollyhock.

family photo

There are really no words to express my gratitude for my family.

Breathe

12 Feb

I recently read the inspiring book—When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It’s the story of a highly educated man with degrees in English literature and biology who becomes a renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. A lover of literature and philosophy, Kalanithi writes eloquently about his family, his education, and being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at age thirty-six.

Here’s a doctor who treats terminally ill patients suddenly facing his own mortality. Before he dies, he’s able to write this poignant book about the true meaning of life.

I guess what really resonated with me about his story was that for years Kalanithi put life on hold while working diligently to become the best possible neurosurgeon—spending hours and hours studying, researching and performing surgeries to leave his mark on the world. Yet in the end what really mattered was not his career, but his wife, baby daughter and extended family.

Why does it take something so devastating to wake us up to what’s really important? When my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I had learned my lesson. Yet after almost ten years it’s still a struggle for me to consistently take pleasure in the little things. That darn “if only” pattern of thinking seeps into my subconscious, constantly diluting all the precious joy.

Fortunately, I have found a way to break free from these negative thought patterns—by practicing gratitude. Every day as I go about my daily tasks, I try to consciously think about how very lucky I am.

Today was full of the little things: Sleeping in because of a school holiday; breakfast out with Rene and Isa followed by a glorious walk to our local butterfly preserve. Watching the dogs romp happily through the grass, soft and green from the recent rains. Running into neighbors at the local pizza parlor and joining them for lunch and delightful conversation. A trip to the library. Little things, really—but oh, so very big.

Life is short. Be kind and show gratitude. Nurture relationships.

Revel in the beauty around you. LOVE. I will die someday and so will you.

Breathe deeply before that breath becomes air. It’s that simple.

Insignificant Things

28 Dec

IMG_4675For the first time in weeks, I find myself completely alone in the house. No kids, no husband, just me and the dog. As a functional introvert who constantly pines for alone time, I should consider this to be a minor post-Christmas miracle. Oddly though, I find this unexpected quiet to be strangely unnerving. I even feel a bit lonely.

I attribute my current unease to the fact that it’s been so crazy around the Mireles household over the holidays with a steady stream of people coming and going (we had sixteen people for Christmas dinner) that I’ve done nothing but shop, cook, clean, wrap presents, entertain small children and do about six loads of laundry each day. I guess I’ve become so accustomed to the constant noise and commotion that now the silence feels thunderous.

A recent sunset in Santa Barbara.

A recent sunset in Santa Barbara.

But that’s just me—always longing for something I don’t have or not appreciating what I do. Being dissatisfied is a tough habit to break and for much of my adult life I’ve had to work really hard at being grateful. This is really the most ridiculous thing ever because the real truth is that compared to most of the world, I live a privileged and abundant life.

What’s most remarkable is that I’ve discovered when I post something on my blog, my gratitude meter begins to rise. I believe this is because in the process of writing and posting photographs, I’m compelled to think about all the good I have in my life and I become more cognizant of the wondrous beauty that presents itself to me every day. And you, dear readers, are largely responsible for allowing me this chance to become more aware and mindful of my good fortune. For this gift I humbly offer you my thanks.

My best junior high school girlfriends during our annual beach house get together.

My best junior high school girlfriends during our annual beach house get together.

Paper origami cranes in a local church created to honor the many lives lost in mass shootings.

Paper origami cranes in a local church created to honor the many lives lost in mass shootings.

I hope that for all of you the coming year is filled with hope, love and deep gratitude for all of the grand events and milestones that may come to pass, but even more importantly, gratitude for all of the insignificant things that make up the moments of our days—the ones we pay little attention to—but are ultimately responsible for making our lives that much more extraordinary.

I so appreciate your readership.

The amazing sunset at the Santa Barbara Harbor where Rene and I had dinner recently.

The amazing sunset at the Santa Barbara Harbor where Rene and I had dinner recently.

Yours,

Jessica

 

Christmas Eve dinner with my beautiful family.

Christmas Eve dinner with my beautiful family.

Autumn

21 Nov

fall 1Autumn color has arrived and all I want to do is curl up into a cocoon of quiet contemplation. And if I can’t swing that amid the chaos of my life, maybe I’ll make myself a cup of tea and pick out a good book to read. I absolutely love this time of year. How lucky I am to be able to live here.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with many happy moments and much love and laughter!

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Signs

7 Jul

june 5 flowers 8The other morning I was in a deep funk. I hadn’t slept well because I drank a cup of coffee around eight o’clock the night before thinking it was decaf. Big mistake. I’m sure at one point or another everyone has experienced that horrible feeling when you’re lying in bed and your body is tingling and your brain won’t stop analyzing and nitpicking. I didn’t fall asleep until almost dawn.

I woke up exhausted, crabby and shrewish, just to name a few—although I’ve no doubt my family could come up with an enhanced list of unpleasant adjectives that would better illustrate my mood at the time. I yelled at my daughter, glared at my husband and worked myself into a hot mess of resentment and dissatisfaction. Good Lord—I figured I’d better get out of the house before I killed someone. I quickly pulled on my tennis shoes and went for a walk.

For a couple of miles I wallowed in my rage and discontent—everything sucked, nothing was fair and nobody cared. The grievances whirled and foamed in my head until they formed stiff peaks.

Then I ran into an old childhood friend who was visiting her parents for the holiday weekend. Over the past few years she’s been dealing with some serious, life-threatening health issues. I immediately felt ashamed. Here I was, grumbling over nothing, when she had to worry about staying alive. I took a deep breath and decided to change my thinking.

I began to feel a little better on the way back home, finally taking notice of the beautiful summer morning that spread out before me like an overflowing smorgasbord of color. I passed a house with a jumbled yard full of trailing vines, flowering pots and whimsical garden ornaments. And right there in the front yard was this sign:

be grateful

“Whoa,” I thought, stopping in my tracks. The universe had given me a sign. Literally.

Always be Grateful. Such a simple concept, yet one we often have the most trouble understanding.

At that moment I decided to spend more time finding things to be grateful about—to appreciate what I would normally  take for granted. I’ve documented a few of them to remind us that those small, insignificant things are what make our lives meaningful.

From now on, I’m going to pay attention to the signs.

My husband, Rene and daughter,  Isa holding hands while watching a World Cup Soccer match. The blanket covering Rene's legs looks like a smiling face.

A Sign of LOVE. My husband, Rene and daughter, Isa holding hands while watching a World Cup Soccer match. The blanket covering Rene’s legs looks like a smiling face.

Out of the blue, my dear friends Michele and Julie invited me to a Joan Baez/Indigo Girls concert as an early birthday present. It was magical.

A Sign of FRIENDSHIP. Out of the blue, my dear friends Michele and Julie invited me to a Joan Baez/Indigo Girls concert as an early birthday present. It was magical.

A print my son, Nino made in one of his art classes. Profound words.

A Sign of PROFUNDITY. A print my son, Nino made in one of his art classes. I will choose wisely.

My daughter, Isa and my nephew J.J. hanging out on the couch. J.J. would not be here if his older sister Gillian had lived. Isa would not be here if she hadn't survived her leukemia. Take nothing for granted.

A Sign of MIRACLES. My daughter, Isa and my nephew J.J. hanging out on the couch. J.J. would not be here if his older sister Gillian had not died. Isa would not be here if she hadn’t survived her leukemia. Take nothing for granted.

A Sign of detailed complexity. The sun shining on the bench outside my music studio.

A Sign of complexity. The sun shining on the bench outside my music studio.

A sign of continuously changing beauty.

A Sign of BEAUTY. The garden is a constant source of changing beauty.

Now it’s your turn to look for YOUR signs.

Spilling Over

21 Apr

spilling overFor a very long time  I carried a feeling of wanting inside me, like I was a hollowed out tree trunk and if I could just fill up that space with proof of my extraordinary accomplishments, I’d be fulfilled. As a young girl, I chose to spend endless hours practicing the piano thinking that my talent and musical endeavors would be enough to fill that void inside of me. I gave concerts, won competitions and went on to major in piano performance at a prestigious music school, only to find that the accolades from the outside world wasn’t enough—the space inside of me still felt cavernous.

Through my twenties, thirties and most of my forties, I couldn’t see that all I had in my life—my happy marriage, my four beautiful children, my successful piano teaching career—were more than enough to fill up that hollow space, but I’d been in the habit of feeling empty for so long that even having it all wasn’t sufficient to fill that void.

Looking back on all the time I wasted feeling dissatisfied and empty, all I can say now is thank goodness for old age. I finally understand that old adage, “Youth is wasted on the young” is absolutely true. It’s unfortunate that we don’t live in reverse as  I’d like to enjoy a youthful body to go along with the wisdom, patience and understanding I have now that I’m middle aged.

I’m wise enough now to realize that the center of my universe is right there within me, and my reality is only what I create in my mind and what I see through my own eyes. What I choose to think and feel is ultimately what will fill up that empty space inside of me—the approval or admiration I get from others means nothing if I don’t believe it myself.

But old habits always die hard and I realize that finding the joy and goodness in the little things in life is always going to be a struggle for me, but at least I realize that all the accolades in the world are meaningless if I don’t first feel them within me.

Yesterday our extended family came over for a barbecue. We did the usual things—ate delicious food, talked, joked around and shrieked with laughter for most of the afternoon. Years ago I would have thought of it as just another stressful family get-together—I would have fretted and worried and been angry  that I had to do all the work. I would have been too resentful to enjoy myself.

But I’m different now. Now I’m able to see that  it was a perfect chance for me to spend time with the people I love most in the world and all during the afternoon I felt my universe expanding with the love they feel for me.

My once hollow tree trunk spilled over with joy and gratitude and I realized that life couldn’t get any better.

 

Taking a walk with Rene and Isa at dusk on Easter Sunday.

Taking a walk with Rene and Isa after the party.

A Joyous Season

24 Dec

mexican starFrom the bottom of my heart I’d like to wish you all a very joyous holiday season and may the coming year be filled with so many blessings that you won’t be able to count them all.

I would also like to express how thankful I am for your readership; for taking the time to leave a comment to let me know you’ve read my latest blog post; for all of your encouragement with my writing, and for just being a part of my life–cyber or otherwise!

With heartfelt gratitude,

Jessica

Here are a few photographs of what is special to me about this time of year…

Paper snowflakes that my daughter, Leah made for the front window

Paper snowflakes that my daughter, Leah made for the front window

Isa as Mary in the church play

Isa as Mary in the church play

Isa looking through the front window
Isa looking through the front window

The lights in our front yard
The lights in our front yard

Peppermint cupcakes!
Peppermint cupcakes!

Hey, Girl, Hey!

11 Dec

beach viewIn most areas of my life I don’t take good very care of myself. I don’t exercise enough; I eat too many sweets and not enough green vegetables; I don’t spend money on new clothes for myself because deep down I believe I don’t deserve nice things (that, coupled with the fact that I hate the way my body looks in a dressing room mirror.) I spend a lot of time primarily taking care of the people I love while neglecting my own needs or wants.

Then I go and do something HUGE for myself: I agree to spend a couple of days in a rented beach house with ten of my best girlfriends whom I’ve known since our days together in junior high school.  Somehow, against all odds, we’ve managed to remain close friends for almost forty years. Every so often we plan a getaway together without husbands or partners, without children or pets. Just us.

The beach house at Mussel Shoals was stunning—right on the water between Santa Barbara and Ventura with the most spectacular views of the ocean imaginable. Everyone brought a ton of food and we all pitched in together, cooking up gourmet meals and then cleaning up afterward. As the wine flowed and the coconut cake was passed around, we talked for hours and hours about our lives; our families, our joys and sorrows.

We laughed—actually, we hooted, we guffawed—we pretty much shrieked like uninhibited second graders running around on the playground during recess. We were vulgar and crass and stayed up until two a.m. talking trash, (Hey, Girl, Hey!) laughing so hard our stomachs hurt the next morning—or maybe it was just the red wine and chocolate.Hey girl hey

After a brunch which included juevos rancheros and mimosas, we took a long walk on the beach and with the cold December wind whipping at our faces we shared our stories with each other. Some of our tales were joyful, filled with newly found love or excitement over a new creative project in the works. Other stories were filled with sorrow and devastation. And then we cried. We cried because we were in a place where we felt safe to open up and reveal our pain to each other without judgment or criticism—a place where love, concern and support for each other decanted faster than the bottles of red wine on the kitchen counter.beach walk

After spending only two days with these women, I became funnier, prettier, and more talented than I was when I first arrived. These women, who’ve only become more beautiful as they age, allowed my capacity for love to expand like a hot air balloon—and not just the love I feel for them, but more importantly, the love I feel for myself. They brought out my best—that special part inside of me that sometimes gets lost in the messiness of life.

As I drove toward home, I felt lighter and more emotionally buoyant than I have in a very long time. I was full up again, satiated with the unconditional love and acceptance that these women offered up so freely to me. As I headed back to my ordinary life, I realized that what I had just experienced over the past two days was indeed extraordinary and I felt blessed.

Off to my left, as the Pacific Ocean unfurled like a sparkling blue comforter laid down just for me, my spirit soared with gratitude.sunset at mussel shoals

Out of the Darkness

9 May

isa and me in hospitalThis morning, I was interviewed on K-Lite Radio for Santa Barbara’s Cottage Children’s Hospital. To most people, I’m sure it was no big deal, just a mother talking about her young daughter’s cancer experience to encourage listeners to donate to the local hospital where she was treated and cured.

And it really wasn’t a big deal, except that it was. Because, almost six years later, after my life has spun itself into a comfortable pattern of normalcy, I’m compelled to remember those dark days by once again sharing my story with others.

Over the past few years I’ve become quite adept at weaving those painful memories into the back of my mind like a skilled seamstress who has managed to hide that dark strand of yarn underneath the clean white stitches. But by reliving those frightening first days in the hospital, I’m obliged to unravel the memories and bring them back to the surface again.

I’m wise enough now to realize those memories are a gift; the surgeries and the blood transfusions; the unimaginable pain of witnessing a two year old suffer through chemotherapy treatments; watching Isa lose her hair until there was nothing left but a smooth dome of skin; seeing her belly bloat from the steroids; waking up in the middle of the night to touch her puffy cheeks to check for a fever; the overwhelming feeling of fear in my stomach that never went away; and all the while wondering if my baby was going to die.

Because if I don’t remember, I will return to the way I was before Isa got sick, when life was not as miraculous as it is today. These memories remind that I have to let go of what is not important.  I have to be thankful that my little girl is healthy and beautiful and that she is still here with me. I have to remember that what I have right now in this very moment is enough, and that my gratitude has the power to disentangle those little worries that I so expertly knit together into a tangled ball of dissatisfaction.

I have to remember the joy of coming out of the darkness and into the light.

Happy and healthy at eight years old.

Happy and healthy at eight years old.

Because of Daisy

17 Feb

daisy

A bald-headed, freckled-faced girl named Daisy died in her sleep after being sick for a very long time. She was at home, surrounded by her loving family, and she felt no pain. But she died, and I must say that I’m so very weary of hearing of yet another family’s tragedy and loss. I’m sick and tired of children dying from cancer.

Not again, is all I can think. How can it be that another sweet, funny and adorable child has died? Why was there no miracle this time?

I’ve always believed that a positive attitude is beneficial to one’s well-being and that our life experiences are never random or fortuitous. I truly believe that what we experience here on this earth is revealed in order to teach us something essential that we’re meant to learn. I’ve discovered these fundamental lessons are usually about love.

When my own daughter, Isa was diagnosed with leukemia, an incalculable transformation took place in my life.  I saw first-hand the astounding and unquestionable shifts in consciousness that came to pass in our family, friends, and even our community during our struggle with Isa’s cancer. Love was always the main component.

I see these miraculous changes have also occurred in Daisy’s family and in the huge number of people who knew and loved her—even strangers who’ve only heard of her fierce battle through her blog http://prayfordaisy.tumblr.com  or on Facebook.

I know Daisy’s family carries the strong faith that she’s all right now and I believe this, too. But from what I’ve seen over the past five years since I first became a part of the pediatric cancer world, the pain and hurt is only just beginning for them. Every time I think about her mama and daddy not being able to hold their precious Daisy in their arms, my heart breaks a little more.

When I think about what Daisy’s family has faced and what they’ll continue to face in the coming days, months and years, an infinitesimal part of their burden becomes mine and it hurts deeply.

Yet, I am grateful.

I’m grateful because each time a child dies from cancer, I’m reminded that by some small shred of grace that was bestowed upon me and my family, my daughter is still here, and I’m blessed with the chance to watch her grow up.  I will never have enough words to express my extreme gratitude for this miracle. I only wish that Daisy’s parents had been able to experience this miracle, too.

Yes, Daisy suffered and ultimately died, and we all know that this is the worst thing that could ever happen to a family. Yet, because of Daisy, we are changed forever. Because of Daisy, we can appreciate the blessings we have in our lives. Because of Daisy, our love and compassion for others keeps growing and expanding and filling up the universe.  I believe that this understanding of love is one of the greatest lessons we could ever learn. This kind of love is the real miracle.

Bless her little heart,  Daisy taught us well.