A tiny carrot found in the garden...where no one planted carrots. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)


(All pictures by Marylin Warner ~ details given below)

(All pictures by Marylin Warner ~ details given below)

christmas cactus house








For several decades, Richard Carlson’s book, DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF, has enjoyed popularity. His lessons and examples for keeping things in perspective have been expanded into editions about not sweating the small stuff in love, at work, for teens, etc.

Years ago, I gave my parents a copy of Carlson’s book. Later I found three cards in my mom’s writing box. Dad had copied three lessons he liked best. The first two are “You are what you practice most,” and “If we would just slow down, happiness would catch up to us.” (Before Alzheimer’s, nothing slowed down my dad.)

My mom had a different take on Carlson’s title. She thought a better book would be this: BE THANKFUL FOR THE SMALL STUFF. In her opinion, moments of gratitude and hopefulness are like dominoes toppling over and creating more good moments in life.

In the spirit of building on my mother’s philosophy, this Thanksgiving I was especially thankful for the small stuff. For the funny little carrot hidden under leaves in the garden (we didn’t plant carrots this year); for the Christmas Cactus plant that bloomed early in the kitchen window; for the shape of a heart on top of a corn muffin at our Thanksgiving dinner where three generations shared food, laughter, love, stories of other Thanksgivings together, and the joy of being together now.   And when Colorado’s previous sunny day turned into a Thanksgiving ice storm, I was especially grateful for the next day’s safe 420 mile drive back to Kansas for our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

My dad’s third card in my mom’s writing box was this message from Carlson’s book: “When you’re in an ill mood, learn to pass it off as simply that: an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time if you leave it alone. A low mood is not the time to analyze your life.”

This penciled message–I think my mother wrote it–is printed beneath it: “And when you’re in a good mood, smiling and joyful, don’t analyze it or brace yourself for it to change. Instead, be grateful for that mood, and be hopeful.”


Kansas kids--especially our grandchildren--love to hike in the Garden of the Gods, warm and sunny on the day before the ice storm.

Kansas kids–especially our grandchildren–love to hike in the Garden of the Gods; it was warm and sunny on the day before the ice storm.

Almost fifty years ago, my mother painted this snow-storm picture for a story she'd written: "Stubby The Stubborn Missouri Mule"

More than fifty years ago, my mother painted this snow-storm picture for a story she’d written: “Stubby The Stubborn Missouri Mule”   

The ice storm passes, leaving a gorgeous white covering on Pikes Peak.

When the ice storm passes, it leaves gorgeous  snow covering Pikes Peak.



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, spending time with kids, Things to be thankful for

53 responses to “THE SMALL STUFF

  1. A beautiful post in remembering to be grateful for what we have.
    (and not to punish ourselves too much for inevitable weak moments).
    Your parents were very wise.

  2. Molly

    It was such a wonderful Thanksgiving. Every minute of the trip was enjoyable, and memorable. We all talked all the way home about our favorite parts: food, movies, shopping, hiking, playing in the park and yard, swimming, fancy hotels, ice cream, and unanimously spending time with Mor Mor and Grandpa. We love you, and thanks for a wonderful holiday.

    • Mookie, we had a wonderful time. Even when Dad scraped off the top of his hand at Garden of the Gods, and then you sliced your thumb while cutting a bagel, I can’t believe things still turned out to be wonderful. This family of ours really holds tight to each other! We love you all so much.

      • Jim

        And thanks to Trevor for getting the family safely to us and back home. We enjoyed time with him too. I’ll always remember how he fearlessly led the kids and me up the 224 stairs to the top of Seven Falls. We all enjoyed the challenge and ‘wow’ what a view!

  3. Wonderful post, Marylin! I read that book years ago and found it inspiring. I love the words your father chose to right down, especially the last quote. And…your mother’s response, perfect! Hold onto the joyful moments and don’t ever question them – one little moment at a time.

  4. A treasury of love, gratitude and wisdom to appreciate it all. I especially like the observation about not analyzing your life when your in a low mood. My husband graciously discounts anything negative spoken after 8 p.m. A wise man . . .

    Lovely post, Marylin!

    • Thank you, Marian. I like your husband’s approach, discounting anything negative spoken after 8pm. That’s a wise decision, I think, since most of us get down or discouraged when we’re tired.

  5. juliabarrett

    A beautiful post and beautiful photos. I love your mother’s painting! She was such a wise woman. And so multi-talented. I’m grateful everyone arrived safely and returned home safely.

    • Thanks, Julia. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and we were so glad when everyone got home safely. But while they were driving back to Kansas, here in Colorado Springs we spent almost 6 hrs. glued to ongoing coverage of a shooter holding hostages in the nearby Planned Parenthood. The area where all the SWAT teams and officers and ambulances were was just a mile from us. It’s so hard to make sense of some of the things that happen, which makes all the good moments even more precious.

      • juliabarrett

        I know, we were paying attention as well. Keep wondering what’s up with the little town of Colorado Springs… I thought about you and your family.

  6. calvin

    i enjoyed this, so I’ll simply bast in the warmth of the message, which has all the aroma of a thanksgiving spread.

    In a nut shell. reminiscent of a Hudson Howl comment, when one sits in the driver seat of life. The fading detail in the review mirror just as important as what lays ahead. The trick is to connect the two and make something of it. You said a lot while saying little or so I think in review.

  7. Nancy Saltzman

    Hi Marylin. I am thankful for your blog! xoxox Nancy

  8. I always loved Richard Carlson´s book. I am learning to slow down and be thankful for the small stuff. Sounds like you had a perfect Thanksgiving and so glad your family got home safely.

    • Despite the ice storm and a few mishaps–Jim’s hand injury on the red rocks in Garden of the Gods, and Molly cutting her thumb while slicing a bagel–we were all together and very thankful for so many things, Darlene. For us, the small stuff was the real stuff. 😉
      I wish you and yours the same blessings.

  9. I had that book years ago and gave it to my son when he left home for college. He referenced it many times.
    What a beautiful post for Thanksgiving week Marylin. I have that same type of Christmas cactus blooming in my window. We had a wonderful gathering of friends and family too. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks as we get closer to Christmas.
    xo Joanne

    • Some of Carlson’s advice struck a nerve with readers, but with many, many more he touched their hearts and gave them hope, Joanne. For me, it was a touching reminder to realize that my dad has favorites from the book, too.
      The early-blooming Christmas cactus–and the ice/snow storm–have gotten me in the holiday mood, too. Blessings for you and your family.

  10. Claudia

    It sounds like you had some lovely days before the storm. Here it has been only rain so far as we are just slightly beyond the reach of the ice. Thanksgiving was quiet but good, Christmas tree up now as I love the lights on these long, dark nights.The lights are one of the small things I enjoy.

    • I know just what you mean, Claudia. We used to put up our Christmas tree the evening after Thanksgiving dinner, and late at night when I still had essays to grade, I would sit next to the tree to work. I think the grades were probably higher on those papers. 😉
      Southeast Kansas often gets ice and snow for one or both of the winter holidays. This year Colorado got blasted; we’re hoping it will be better driving weather at Christmas.

  11. You never fail to inspire me Marylin. Your reminders and life lessons are so valuable. I’m happy your family enjoyed Thanksgiving.

    • Thank you, Andrew. Your photography does the same for me. I have many favorites among your bird and garden pictures, but the most recent, “Diamonds in the Rough,” is stunning in its simple beauty. I know you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way we Americans do, but I hope you had a warm and wonderful time with your family.

  12. So much sense. I love your mother’s wise words. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you all xx

  13. Oh, Jenny, if it weren’t for her dementia, I wonder what special words of down-home wisdom–and water color and pencil drawings–my mom would have created for her own version of BE THANKFUL FOR THE SMALL STUFF. Her life was filled with continual gratitude for the many small things every day. If you have the equivalent of Thanksgiving across the ocean, I wish you a happy weekend, too! 🙂

  14. Lovely message, Marylin.
    “A low mood is not the time to analyze your life.” Gosh, such wise words, yet we often find ourselves doing exactly that.
    Many years ago, my parents gave me a copy of Carlson’s book with a wonderful message written inside. It’s been on display on our foyer table for years.
    I remember Stubby! Love him! ❤

    • I agree, Jill. And when I think of all the times I do exactly the opposite and analyze projects or problems or make decisions during a low mood, you’d think I’d remember not to do that!
      Of all my mom’s illustrations she drew, painted and colored, Stubby is definitely my favorite, too! 🙂

  15. Nancy Parker Brummett

    I like your parents comments best and I wish your mom could still write that book!

    • This is one of the biggest disappointments about her dementia, Nancy. She had the drawings and paintings done for many years, plus a very short children’s story, but even she wasn’t happy with the story and wanted to do more. Other things got in the way–we know how life makes other plans for us, right?–and when I moved them into their assisted living apartment I dug out the story and tried to help her. But she was preoccupied with Dad’s struggles with Alzheimer’s, and then her dementia began. It’s a painful, valuable reminder.

  16. Marylin, your parents offered wise words of wisdom that stand the test of time. Have you considered publishing your mom’s book? 😉

    • Many times I’ve considered it, Tracy. Before the dementia, she was working on other stories (without pictures) and when I asked about the Stubby story she said what she really wanted was for it to be given to her grandchildren, if she ever had any. Three years ago, when Grace and Gannon were old enough to appreciate it, I had color copies bound in a book for them. Beyond that, I hesitate, at least for now.

  17. Both your parents possessed enormous insight into the human condition. Their natural warmth fortunately will never be lost because of the person you are and because of what you preserve of them.
    I may not have said this before but it’s such a privilege and a delight knowing you.
    xxx Ginormous Hugs xxx

    • Aw, thank you, David. I appreciate your kind words. And believe me when I say it’s also a privilege and delight knowing you! (and indirectly, little Reuben, too. 🙂 ) Many, many hugs to you across the ocean.

  18. Gorgeous photos and an excellent philosophy. Now I have to find that book. Something else to be grateful for – your parents’ positive vibes. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

    I love your mother’s painting of “Stubby the Stubborn Missouri Mule.” And, glad you had a safe 420-mile drive back from visiting your family. That is quite a hike. 😉

    • Actually, Judy, this was the first Thanksgiving in four years that our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren came here to Colorado. We had snowy, icy weather, but a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving together, and my brother set up the Christmas tree in Mom’s apartment on Thanksgiving day. I don’t know how much she realized it, but she’ll enjoy the lights, and Jim and I will drive 620 miles each way from here to the southeast corner of Kansas to visit her with presents and goodies.
      Our family does a lot of driving, but it’s what we do to be together…and continue to show my mom how much she’s loved.

  19. Jim

    “Be thankful for the small stuff,” Mary wrote. She would love a report in Sunday”s paper, Marylin. Here is the gist of it: Did you know that the day after “Black Friday” was designated “Small Business Saturday” in 2010 by American Express? It is an effort to get shoppers away from the Black Friday frenzy of the chain-stores by encouraging them to share the financial good-tidings of the season with small businesses, which often provide not only good deals but also personalized service and special charm. 🙂

    • Oh, you’re so right, honey. Mom would applaud Small Business Saturday, and if it weren’t for her dementia, she’d get her coat, scarf, gloves and purse, and say, “Come on, let’s go!”
      The personalized service and special charm of small businesses are a very big deal! 🙂

  20. Beautiful stuff Marylin 🙂

  21. Absolutely love this post and the reminder about how wonderful Carlson’s little books were and still are. I had the pleasure of speaking to him on the phone once as we were creating educational materials for children and wanted to refer to some of his lessons. He couldn’t have been more generous or giving or lovely. Told us to use anything we wanted free and he sent us some more things to read through as well. After his way too untimely death, his wife commented that as sad as she was she knew for sure he had lived his life fully immersed in his philosophy and although his time was way too short, he had lived every moment to its great possibility for happiness. I suspect he’d be so grateful to know how much his words resonated with your family. Perfect.

    • What a great experience, talking to Carlson personally, even over the phone. He made such a difference with his writing, and from everything I’ve heard, his life, too. His wife’s comment was lovely.
      Thanks for sharing this, Debby.

  22. I love the painting. Such a wonderful physical treasure to have to go along with the memories. Beautiful.

    • Thank you, Renee. And my mom’s creation of “Stubby” was painted on butcher paper with a children’s watercolor paint set. But it’s still my favorite of all her illustrations and “art.”

  23. It’s so true about it not being the right time to analyze our life when we’re feeling low. I’ve done that too many times and it never works. What I love so much is this: “And when you’re in a good mood, smiling and joyful, don’t analyze it or brace yourself for it to change. Instead, be grateful for that mood, and be hopeful.” It really is about being grateful in and for that moment isn’t it, just letting it flow over us and enjoying it for every second’s worth. Was that love heart on the muffin random? How wonderful! Oh Marylin, what a beautiful family Thanksgiving, your post resonates love and joy and a heart filled with gratitude. I’m so sorry I didn’t get get to your post before now, I’ve had my plate full – Aspie D not good last week, better now, wonderful weekend away with the boys for middle son’s birthday and then on Wednesday I had a car crash. I’m okay but my brand new car isn’t. Such is life. The small stuff is so important…I’m thankful nobody was injured in the accident, despite all the hassle at such a busy time of year with insurance and repairs, and I’m thankful Aspie D is feeling a bit better and for the family time we had and to come at Christmas. Your dear mom’s life philosophy is one I take to my heart. Bless you Marylin and your family, keep safe and well during this time… xo

  24. Oh, Sherri, bless your heart. You’ve had so much happening, and yet you’re celebrating the small things that charm your life. I’m so glad you weren’t hurt in the car accident. My dad always reminded customers whose cars had been totaled that vehicles can be replaced, people can’t.
    And I’m very happy that your daughter is doing better, and the time you’ve had with your boys. These are the things that really matter, aren’t they?
    Yes, the heart on the corn muffin was just how it came out of the oven, very random and so much fun for all of us. We almost didn’t want to eat it! 😉
    Blessings on you, dear Sherri.

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