Just before my birthday last summer I was out shopping and eating with friends in LA, and I stumbled upon a candle in a little shop that I kept coming back to. The vessel was a bright, shiny gold, with an artful label of all text. The scent was deep and woody, and the name? “Polyamberous.” The quip made me smile, as I always love a good wordplay. It took me a bit to decide between it and another candle I liked as a little gift for myself — I was apprehensive about making it mine, to be honest, in more ways that one. I finally said “yes” to it in my head, and as soon as it found a home on my nightstand, I felt seen. Yes, I was – I am – polyamorous. I wasn’t out to anyone but myself, and I wasn’t seeing anyone yet. But I felt like I had finally embraced this part of me.
The smell of amber and tonka bean is heady and rich, much like my life these days. I’m grateful and scared and learning and growing every day. What I am not doing every day, though, is asking myself, “what’s wrong with me?” Not anymore. And that, more than anything, is the true gift — a gift to myself that was long overdue.
Today, how about you give yourself a little boost? Cell phone affirmations, anyone? I saw this idea on Instagram several weeks ago and thought I would give it a whirl. In the screenshot I saw, the basic folder names on their home screen had been replaced with affirmations — so instead of “Finance,” my money apps folder now reads, “I am rich.” Gone is the “Games” label — now it says “I can play.” Health and medical-type apps proclaim, “I am healthy,” while social apps remind me that “I am connected.” House and home apps remind me, “I am sheltered.”
I’ve been thinking about these little phrases off and on over the last few weeks, curious to see if I noticed any changes to my outlook, and after a month or so, I think I can confirm a change for the better. More and more lately I have been feeling the collective societal clapback against “screen time” and media influence, to the point that Instagram can feel like too-guilty a pleasure, or playing a game on my phone to unwind feels like time I should use to do other things. While there are definite issues with too much time spent online, guilt for me was sometimes pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction. Reminding myself that “I am connected” when I go to open Instagram now reminds me that I am able to connect with a bigger world of inspiration and ideas, people and places. “I can play,” reminds me to approach games with that spirit – not as mind-numbing time wasters, but small opportunities for play amidst a busy day. And even though “I am rich” can feel a little wry when ye olde bank balance is low, it is also a great reminder that I AM rich, regardless of that balance — rich in love, in friends, in joy, and in opportunities.
As far as remembering to do affirmations or other such gratitude practices, this one seemed low-lift and easy. I didn’t have to remind myself to make time for something extra: I swipe my phone open all throughout my day, and there they are waiting. Maybe give it a try, even if it feels a little cheesy? You might just make yourself smile a bit more this week.
For months I have been admiring the beautiful little altars Nichole of California Sister has been making. They are beautiful, and I loved the idea of a spot to gather inspiration, focus my breath, and put forth intentions. I’ve been watching and waiting for juuuuust the right one to come along and resonate with me. Ever a can-doer and also not entirely patient, this week I finally decided to try my had at making my own, and I am so pleased with the results.
For my little altar I scoured FB marketplace and then went thrifting, where I eventually found an inexpensive wood clock I thought I could repurpose for my own ends. I carefully took it apart, peeling away old gobs of glue and disassembling the clock mechanism, and then sanded the whole thing to help my paint adhere. Two coats of spray paint+primer did the trick, and then I hand applied gold leaf to the glass before back-painting it black to make for a decorative background for the top area of my altar. The piece de resistance was the leather-mounted lion’s head I repurposed from a cool old bottle I thrifted. He is my altar figurehead.
For me, the lion represents my fierce loves and fierce protectiveness and loyalty. The way I try to radiate light to the world around me. And the beauty I want to embody, like a big cat’s sensual grace. The items I have placed inside for now include:
a tiny handpainted Chinese bottle, to honor my family and my heritage
a little photo of my two dogs who have passed on, to keep them close
a smooth heart-shaped labradorite stone, for romantic love and also as a reminder to choose myself
a sweet-smelling votive, to be a light in the dark
a baby disco ball given to me by a dear friend many years ago, for friendship and memories
a fairy I’ve had since I was young, to remind me to dream
Thank you, Nichole, for your talent and inspiration. I’m not entirely sure yet what small rituals or practices will grow from this new little space of mine, but for the moment I’m content to focus, breathe, and enjoy. I brought in a single plumeria yesterday, just for the simple tiny joy of it. Right now, that feels like enough.
Yesterday my dad passed away. He was 88 years old. I sat there listening to my half-brother cry on the other end of the line as he delivered the news, stunned and numb for what felt like an eternity. Then I burst into tears.
My dad had the most fascinating, full life anyone could imagine, from growing up in Trinidad and a youthful sojourn in the merchant marines, working as a psychiatric nurse and a double decker bus driver in Scotland, and then emigrating to the U.S. even though he was barred entry here for years due to his Chinese heritage. He worked as a self-employed mechanic, raised two families, and loved his children fiercely. He was generous, loved going to the horse races (where I spent many a happy summer in the infield), was an excellent cook, and entertained us with Charlie-isms like “throosers” for trousers, “DOHg” for dog, and the very British “alumEEnium.” To this day I don’t know how much these quirks of speech were a result of 3 continents’ worth of accents, or how much they were his own little idiosyncrasies. We loved it either way. Most summers he spent a little time “up north” mining for gold with friends, he was a great bowler and miniature golfer, and he left this world on his own terms – independent, living on his own, and old enough see his oldest grandchild start high school, just like he wanted.
I wrote this poem a few years ago for him, when he was having one of his many health scares. I didn’t share it with him at the time, though. He was so very afraid of dying, and I thought the allusions to it in my poem would be troubling for him as he convalesced. I finally gave him a framed copy of it for Father’s Day this year, and I think it may have been his favorite gift I ever gave him. To say he loved it would be an understatement — he held it and read it over and over, mouthing the words and cradling the frame gently in his arthritic hands. He marveled that I had written it “all on my own,” and said I had “brought a tear to his eye,” — but I already knew. I could see the tears shining there. He told me almost shyly that he wanted to try to memorize it, even though his memory had gotten so much worse over the years. I was honored and so, so humbled. That was our last visit, and I am so grateful I was able to convey to him just how loved he was before he died.
so passes the golden autumn of this world into a dark/light place made of lengthening shadows and warm tender moments alike. poignant relief marks the passing of each second and season, pearls on a string slipping away through fingers roughened by time, all the more cherished for that which has gnarled them. fear not, though a shadow passes over your eyes at the thought of things unknown. in the end, you are loved.
— Charla M. DelaCuadra
I love you, Daddy, and I miss you already. I’ll always be grateful for your love. I know you were proud of me. I share your name, and you’ll always be in my heart. Thank you — for everything.
You know how sometimes your brain can be on overdrive? Not for a little while, but for several days or weeks? Lots of things swirling around, lots of opportunities for growth to be had, lots of love and heartbreak, maturing, digging, seeking, pondering, and finding. Sometimes those days or weeks require something small, focused, and a touch mindless, even if just for a little while.
While I am always grateful for times of growth like this, it is hard. And draining. So what did I do today? After I got dressed and walked the dogs, somehow I wound up in our hallway facing my bookshelves. For the next couple hours, I sorted and purged. I organized, alphabetized, puttered, and shifted. The biggest questions I had to face were, “will I want to read this again?” and “if so, can I do it easily online or through the library?” Done and done. A couple books I kept for purely sentimental reasons beyond my read-it-again criteria, but by and large, the sentimental and the read-it-again columns neatly matched. And it was so. very. satisfying. I now have a few stacks of well-loved YA fiction to pass along to my niece and nephew, and still more to donate to the local library book sale, or to sprinkle into the little free libraries in my neighborhood. I now have no recent additions leaning haphazardly here and there for lack of space, and perhaps the best part — I had a couple hours of very Zen focus on a single enjoyable, achievable task.
This afternoon I’m feeling a little less frazzled, a little more calm, and a little more even-keeled than I have in a few weeks. For the anxious overthinker in me, that is a huge win. Big questions are good to grapple with, but sometimes we need small things to give ourselves time to rest in between. What kind of little win can you gift to yourself this weekend? May I suggest a bit of decluttering or organizing? For me, at least, this little thing felt big — in the best way.
This morning I took a long walk around the neighbor with my dogs. I overheard a fellow dog walker across the street ask, “what time’s the party?” and when I rounded the corner, a little girl was twirling around in her front yard with a big bouquet of pink balloons, a shiny pink “5” floating proudly in the middle. Her mother was puttering in the yard as she twirled, and just past her in the driveway was a big inflatable slide, surely huge and and shining with promise to her little birthday girl self.
As I continued past the house, all of a sudden I caught a whiff of kids’ sunscreen, and I was instantly transported. I couldn’t help but grin, a huge ear-to-ear smile that took me totally off-guard. It was one of those olfactory memories that comes out of nowhere and takes your breath away. That smell was pure childhood summer to me — vacations up the CA coast, beach trips and running around the infield at the racetrack. Sunshine and swimming in a lake. Sandwiches, sodas, and giggles. I could practically smell the Italian bread we’d buy on our way to the races, a scent that mingled with sunscreen as my sister and I squirmed away from my mom, much more interested in lunch and the cookies that would follow than whatever hypothetical sunburn might befall us. In my mind’s eye I could see the geese that would honk and hiss at us despite our well-meaning offerings of bread (it was too good for them anyway… oh, that bread!). The grass under our feet as we ran from the far end of the infield to the other, determined to try to get a glimpse of those beautiful horses twice in one race. The feel of a cold can of black cherry Shasta I’d eagerly fish out of the cooler. Or the feel of the warm lake water of Havasu as we splashed outside the houseboat, life vests bright in the sun, and my dad eternally tidying and hanging up soggy towels. The games of Acey Deucey we’d play those evenings, betting with piles of little river stones, our foreheads slightly pink from the day despite repeated applications of sunscreen.
I had a happy childhood. Summers felt like a golden time, and that unexpected waft of sunblock on the breeze this morning made me remember just how beautiful summers can be. This year, as we stretch our wings and rediscover the world outside our front doors, I’d like to try to hold onto that golden, joyful summer spirit. We didn’t care if we were sweaty and tired. It was all about the joy of the moment… and those moments smelled like sunscreen.