An exercise on mindful thinking at the close of the year

An exercise on #mindfulness - www.alliepottswrites.comI decided to go for a jog one morning after feeling a guilty over recent excesses. The air was cool, but not chilly enough to need a jacket or put on gloves. My dog, Her Royal Highness, was happy enough to trot along beside me. The sky was a clear, albeit pale blue and the neighborhood quiet. In short, it was a perfect morning to be outdoors.

Raleigh is home to a greenway system that stretches from one end of the city to another and it is quite easy to forget that you are in the state’s capital when you enter one of the many wooded paths. But that morning, I had a specific destination in mind. If I could jog to a certain point on the trail without stopping, I would consider the run a success.

A slight tension on the leash informed me that Her Royal Highness wouldn’t mind picking up the pace. I ignored her request as I remained focused on my feet. She should understand. A trip or stumble due to a slippery patch of leaves or fallen branch would at a minimum ruin my stride, but could also prevent me from taking her out again for a long, long while. We rounded a corner, passing a walker and another dog on the trail. Her Royal Highness tugged, urging me to stop and say hello. Once again I refused her request.

I am not the fastest on the trail. Nor were there any fans cheering me on from the side of the path. But slow, but steady, I eventually made it to my goal one step at a time. Her Royal Highness wagged her tail and sniffed around as I took in the view.

My muscles in my legs stiffened in the seconds it took me to turn around. That’s when it hit me – the rather large error in my plan. The goal I’d set in mind was the furthest point in my run. I’d forgotten to consider the distance it would take to run back. Dang it.

Her Royal Highness sprung into action, but unfortunately, now that I’d stopped once, keeping up our steady pace was no longer as easy to do. I found myself walking more along the return, but by doing so, I was also able to look around.

The sky had taken on a deeper, richer shade of blue and the sunlight now filtered quite nicely through red and golden leaves. I stopped again at a bridge near the greenway’s exit, only this time instead of focusing on my stiffening muscles, the aching reminder of how far I’d come, or the distance I still had yet to go, I let myself appreciate just being in the place I found myself in now.

I removed my ear buds, and the music that had boomed and pulsed, keeping me inspired to run, was replaced by the sound of a creek flowing over rocks under the bridge. Leaves tumbled down as the trees swayed in the morning’s breeze. I turned and took the scene in more fully.

I might have lingered there longer, but the sound of footfalls on the path of an approaching walker broke the moment and soon we were once again on our way, taking the memory of the moment with us.

At the close of the year, I like to reflect on my accomplishments, and while they aren’t always easy to identify, I know there are always a few. At the same time, I like to plan for the year ahead and set my goals and challenges, just as I suspect many others do too. But moments like this are a good reminder to also be mindful of the present, for there is beauty to be seen in the now if you only take the time to stop and look around.

Autumn creek and #mindfulness - www.alliepottswrites.com

The cranberry sauce has landed. A thanksgiving perspective

At the time this posts, I will, hopefully, be well on my way to a tryptophan-induced turkey coma or at least surrounded by the smells of food cooking, children playing, and the near-deafening noise of my family squeezed together under a single roof attempting to engage in conversation over the sound of the football game on tv.

And sure, some of this vision is idealized thinking. In reality, the children’s play has likely descended into high pitched chaos by now. Cans of cranberry sauce may have fallen to the floor adding to the kitchen’s new color scheme and grandpa might say something, well… grandpa-y.

But even this less than perfect vision is still reason for me to be grateful.

The scent of smoke filled the air outside my home last week, caused by several forest fires burning in North Carolina’s Western mountains, nearly 200 miles away. On the other side of the state, flood waters from Hurricane Matthew only recently receded. Power was out and roads were closed for weeks. Many have lost everything due to the rain, and will more due to its counterpart just as the weather to turns cold.

And so I might roll my eyes as I pass the gravy but will raise my glass when it comes time to give thanks and drink deeply. For my more realistic vision of the day, as flawed is it may be, is still filled with food, family, and a roof over our heads.

I hope that you might consider participating in #GivingTuesday if you are in a position to do so, and wish you all, whether you observe the holiday or not, a Happy Thanksgiving.


And for those of you who prefer a little extra reading to football, here is a repost of another of my less than ideal Thanksgiving stories.


Has anyone's Thanksgiving ever gone like this?

Has anyone’s Thanksgiving ever gone this smoothly? (image from wikipedia.org)

I considered myself fortunate. We were traveling for Thanksgiving, meaning I wasn’t going to have to cook (a good thing for all involved – just ask my hubby sometime about my poultry cooking skills). I didn’t have to clean. All I was expected to do was to enjoy time with my family. Silly me. I forgot that I was traveling with a toddler.

I had barely closed my eyes on Thanksgiving eve when I heard my toddler’s cry in the adjacent room which he was sharing with his brother. I immediately sprang out of bed to see what was the matter worried that might wake up the rest of the household. I was ready to once again hear, “Where Monkey Man?” This time however it wasn’t merely a request to locate his favorite toy, he was sick, and not just with the sniffles.

I rushed him to the bath while the hubby took care of the linens. Eventually, we were forced to turn the lights on while I rummaged through his bag looking for his spare set of pajamas. It turned out I needn’t worry about waking his brother. My eldest didn’t even bother turning over. (Man, I wish I could still sleep like that!)

Cleaned up, my toddler clung to me like a life raft. The hubby passed by carrying our travel toddler cot. (You could smell it from a distance.) Even if we had a spare set of sheets, kiddo wasn’t going to be able to sleep on it again anytime soon. I had resigned myself to a night on the couch or rocking chair when the hubby came by again. This time with a pillow in hand. He volunteered to stay on the couch so that our son and I might sleep more comfortably on a bed.

In hindsight, I think in the end he may have gotten the better end of the deal.

It was still a loooooonnnnng a night. At home, my toddler’s bed is near the ground and has guard rails. My in-law’s guest bed, on the other hand, is very tall and all sides are completely exposed. Each time my kiddo shifted, I worried he might slip over the side and plummet to the ground. I was afraid that the cries we had already heard that night would be whispers in comparison. I tried to pull him back closer to me, but that only served to wake him up enough to remind him that his tummy was still upset.

Several trips back to the bathroom later (progressively less necessary),  I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. Unless I wanted to be completely worthless the following day, I was going to have to find a way for both of us to sleep. I realized I was going to have to give him more freedom of movement. I placed a few pillows near the bed’s edge, just in case, but then I let him go. Soon I heard soft, contented snores and I allowed myself to also fall into a light sleep.

I awoke hours later to the touch of small fingers on my forehead. (Oh no! Dawn is still hours away – please, please try to go back to sleep!) My little boy whispered, “Where mommy go?”

I answered, “Mommy’s here. Are you okay?” (yep, the couch was definitely the better option)

“I better.” Then no more words. Instead, he snuggled next to me, and the soft snores resumed in short order. Even though I knew right then that it was only a matter of time before I came down with whatever illness my toddler turned outbreak monkey possessed (4 days to be exact), I couldn’t help but smile. I’ll take what I can get.

My toddler used to only want to be with me. Then one day he stopped, and now prefers the company of his dad. All too soon, I know this stage will also be over and he’ll only want to be around his friends. I’ll eventually have to let him find his own way in life, but it is good to know that he’ll still look for mommy now and then.

It’s all relative

its relative

Background image courtesy of Unsplash

I was honored to present the following on The North Raleigh Rotary Club’s family day.


In high school, one of my English teachers gave us a creative writing assignment. We were to pick any literary classic and re-write it as a modern retelling. I thought there had been enough adaptations of stories like Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to do something different. Edgy. I picked Dante’s Inferno.

Dante’s Inferno is one of the works that make up the Divine Comedy. In it, the author is given his own personal guided tour of hell encountering various tortured souls along the way. (You know – comedy). However at its heart, it is satire, as those souls are in fact thinly veiled references to various famous people of Dante’s time.

For my retelling, I wanted to be true to the original source material, but at the same time, I didn’t exactly want to send anyone to hell. My teenaged mind got to thinking. Where would be a suitable alternative setting?

At the time of my English project, I had only participated in a handful of family reunions, although we called them something else then. They consisted of a meal with way too many people crammed into a house with too few bathrooms. You were expected to make small talk and to nod politely as someone fussed over how much taller you’d grown. (An observation, that in my case, stopped ringing true quite some time ago.) To make matters worse, there were no friends at these events. Only family.

I thought the setting was perfect.

I got to work, placing stereotypical relatives in various scenes. The end result was completely fictitious, but I thought it was hilarious. After completing the assignment, I decided to show it to my mom and stepdad and waited to hear their laughter.

None came. Instead of being amused, my stepdad almost looked hurt. As he handed me back my pages, he said, “you never put me in your writing.”

I remember thinking, did he not pick up that my characters were in a hell? He should be happy to have been left out of this story.

It took me awhile to realize that he was hurt, not because I had left him out of hell, but because I had left him out of a story about family.

I am grateful to have this opportunity to correct my slight. Not everyone is.

I was in college on September 11th. I’d met Lamont, but most of my family was hours away, including a cousin, living in Brooklyn, who no one could reach. Several hours later, I learned that my cousin had gone into town after hearing about the first crash, never expecting there to be a second crash or that the towers might come down.

My cousin was okay, but as I listened to reporters say how the world would be forever changed, all I could think of was those other people who had gotten on a plane that day or had gone into work thinking September 11th was going to be no different from September 10th and my heart went out to those they left behind. Just as it does to all those affected by any tragedy, even those that play out on a less international stage.

Tragedy teaches us that every day is precious.

The world hasn’t gotten any less scary, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Fred Rodgers, the host of one of my mom’s favorite children’s shows, once said that as a boy, when he would see scary things in the news, his mother would say, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

She was right. For every tragedy, there are stories of regular people who ran into danger instead of away from it in order to save others.

These everyday heroes create hope that good will ultimately prevail. Their stories can rally a community and make it stronger. We just have to remember to look for the right story.

After I told my family that I wanted to try writing professionally, I was given a copy of a book entitled, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. One of the best pieces of advice it offers is that before you started writing a single word, you need to identify one thing that you wholeheartedly believe and develop your story around that premise.

Well, I believe that every day has value. Even the bad ones.

My book was published. Now I didn’t just want to be an author. I wanted to be a successful one too. I once was asked to define success during a job interview. At the time, I gave the cheeky answer, to never eat Ramen Noodles again. However, I now define success as being happy with myself and with what I have.

When I started blogging, I made the conscious decision that I was going to maintain a positive site with the hope that I would attract other positive-minded people and we could grow successful together. But writing for a blog is different from writing a novel. You can’t go a year or two between publications. You are expected to regularly generate content.

I looked for inspiration. I saw my children.

Their world consists of home, school, daycare, and the occasional visit to Nana’s or a cousin’s. Some might consider their world small. And yet, to them, it is something wonderful and worth exploration. I started writing down the lessons about life my children taught me.

I became more aware of the moments. By putting my observations down in writing, I began to recall the lessons my parents, grandparents, and even Lamont had taught me, wittingly or otherwise, and as I did so, I began to develop a deeper appreciation of them. Not just for how they have supported me, but as individuals as well.

This is not to say that since starting my writing journey every day has become rainbows and lollipops. They haven’t. That’s life. Later today, traffic is going to be awful. Inevitably one kid will refuse to eat anything at all on their plate because their food either touched or wasn’t cut to their standards.

I will have plenty to complain about, but more to be grateful for.

It’s all relative.

As luck would have it, we are here

Earth as seen from Mars

Earth as seen from Mars
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

Here’s a fun fact to share at your next social gathering: a Martian year is almost exactly twice as long as an Earth year. This means that unless those intrepid explorers volunteering for a one-way trip get creative with their month names, they will spend two of our Januarys, Julys, and Decembers during their new home’s single orbit around the sun.

What they are setting out to do is fairly inspiring, but if their April was anything like mine, I feel sorry for them already. It wasn’t a month I’d like to repeat.

As much as I was trying to stay upbeat (at least once a week), April did its best to knock me down. LT was suffering and I couldn’t do a thing about it. A number of things at work contributed toward my first undeniable gray hair (no, definitely not a result of my getting older). To cope, I wrote a piece about poop, which even included cussing (my blog’s PG rating be darned).

It wasn’t sure about the piece, but as my deadline approached, I was procrastinating still seeking inspiration for something better. I read a number of my next door neighbor’s status updates on Facebook. Several years ago he had visited Nepal and was superimposing his recollections of the place with news stories about the earthquake. The images of the temples reminded me of my time at the Big Buddha in Hong Kong. The updates, however, made me rethink my problems. I was still going to be able to recover from the day’s stress in the comfort of my bed. I was still able to hold my son and tell him with near certainty that things would get better. Ah, perspective.

I left the poop piece in my drafts folder (you never know when you might be in desperate need of content), and published the Stairway piece instead. As luck would have it, the next week I received word that my blog had been nominated for the Premio Dardos Award.

There are a number of blog awards that float around, awarded from one blogger to another. While they rarely have monetary value or bring you international pop-star status overnight (we really need to work on that), they are a nice way of telling your peers that their work has been noticed and is valued. I immediately looked up what this award was all about.

The Premio Dardos Award is given to bloggers who transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values in the form of creative and original writing.

Premio Dardos Award

Someone likes me! They really like me!

I am honored, I am humbled, I am ever so relieved I left the poop piece in the slush pile. Hmmm, I really should consider giving my blog’s content editor a raise. In fact, I will do just that. Allie, look for an additional 5% in your next paycheck!

Next, I would like to thank Antiqua A La Carte for the nomination. This site, featuring stories of life beyond the beaches of the Caribbean has been my go-to escape for cloudy days (and even some sunny days as well). I now know exactly who to call if I am ever considering trying out island life.

Now onto my nominations. Drum roll, please. They are, in alphabetical order:

Alana Munro – The Author who supports: As advertised, this site is about supporting other writers, but has also helped open my eyes to the underlying reasons behind the Scottish Independence movement.

JT Twissel: A site that has articles spanning from world travel to at-risk foster children, but still finds a way to inject humor into even the heaviest topics.

Mark My Words: Officially this is a site about the Pacific Northwest, but could just as easily be described as a site about treating yourself as you deserve to be treated whether it is diet, relationships or simply better-enjoying life.

Tastehitch: This is a hilarious site by a British ex-patriot with a fondness for food and travel, attempting to survive the early years of parenthood in a foreign land.

Yadadarcyyada – Vague Meanderings of the Broke and Obscure: A site that is very much about being true to one’s self and is filled with amusing images and several articles sharing titles with songs that routinely get stuck in my head.