07/14/2014 10:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

The benefit of vacation is that one has the time to read someone else's book. This is how I found myself in a beach chair, toes in the sand, reading my husband's copy of They Call Me Coach by John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches of all time.


I was into chapter 2, when I came across a list that Wooden's father gave him upon graduating from elementary school. One item on the list was, "Make each day your masterpiece." There was something about this declaration that I loved.

As I looked around me at families on vacation, I was stunned by the groups of people under umbrellas, on the beach and in the water creating their own version of a masterpiece. Watching Americans on vacation at the beach is one of my favorite pastimes. We, as a country, do the beach well.


From my vantage point, I could see two children building a drip-sand castle. One child went to the surf with a yellow bucket, scooped up ocean water and carried the bucket back to the castle. The other child gathered rocks and shells and decorated the castle. They were creating a masterpiece.

In the shallow water, 20 children wore matching wetsuits and were participating in a learn-to-surf camp. Several instructors were helping campers catch waves. I watched the campers struggling as they paddled for a wave. Often the wave passed under them. A few caught white water, struggled to stand and fell sideways into the ocean. And then there were the ones who after many falls -- positioned board and body correctly with the incoming wave, paddled, glided, pushed to standing, and at last, stood on top of a wave -- a true lesson in grit and enthusiasm. Their wipeouts and triumphs definitely created masterpiece moments.

Near me, a mother held a naked newborn baby, and to her credit, she was smiling. She offered juice boxes and snacks to three young children while dressing the newborn. Anyone who has ever tried to put clothes on a newborn knows it takes experience to figure out how to hold a head that doesn't hold itself and how to direct arms through sleeves that don't direct themselves. There was a masterpiece of kindness and caring for children that the mother was exhibiting.


Behind me, a group of teenage boys played a game with a Frisbee and plastic bottles. They had two posts and put a plastic bottle on top of each post. There were two teams and each team tried to knock the bottle off the opposing team's post with a Frisbee. There were cheers and chiding and lots of laughter. They were making a masterpiece out of a beach game and friendship.


What I wondered as I sat there watching people around me is how many times in a day do we create a masterpiece moment and not know it. I made a note to self: "Pause and notice masterpiece moments."

And I also wondered what extra things I would add to a day's list of to-do's if I started my day thinking, "I will make a masterpiece out of today." It might mean I would make a new recipe for dinner, or take 15 minutes to call a friend. It could mean taking time to cut flowers and put them in a glass jar on the dining room table. It might mean playing ball with our dog and enjoying it instead of playing ball to check the dog off my list.


I remember when my kids were younger, and a friend of mine and I would laugh when we arrived at preschool with all of our children fed and dressed. The Olympics were on, and we agreed that some mornings we felt we deserved a gold medal. Making it to school with little kids dressed and fed was a masterpiece in itself. Bathing and dressing an elderly parent can feel the same way.


But how often in the middle of life's challenging moments, do we stop for half a second and see the beauty in our own lives? The big picture kindness. I am convinced that there are many actions we do every day that go unnoticed, by others and by ourselves, almost like a wave we don't stand up on.

I want to have that top of a wave view, to take time to stand up and look around. "Cool, it's quite a view." God knows I spend enough time falling sideways off a board or getting slopped around in the surf. But I could take more time to savor and see.


And something about making a masterpiece out of each day seems easier than trying to make a masterpiece out of my life. The pressure to make a life a masterpiece overwhelms me and I end up minimizing tiny things I do every day that matter. Working to make a masterpiece out of each day inspires me to do a little bit extra. It also inspires me to take a double look at what I already do and soak in each day as it is, a masterpiece that's often full of love.


Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of two books that celebrate life and motherhood:Mother Advice To Take With You To College, a collection of hilarious drawings and wise sayings, and The Tiffany Box: A Memoir, an International Best Book Awards Finalist, a true story told through emails and letters about the last two years of Kathleen's mother's life, full of laughter and tears.