Evening Poetry, April 7

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

I Wake Close to Morning

Why do people keep asking to see God’s identity papers

when the darkness opening into morning is more than enough?

Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.

Think of Sheba approaching the kingdom of Solomon.

Do you think she had to ask, “Is this the place?”

This is from the collection, Felicity.

Eating Frogs, Spring Cleaning, and Other Fun Things

A long time ago, a dear friend of mine had the habit of cleaning her home on Mondays. When I asked her why she chose Monday as her cleaning day, her practical answer was that Mondays are a day that no one looks forward to. So she felt that getting the cleaning out of the way paved the way for a happier outlook for the rest of the week.

This is the mentality found in Mark Twain’s frog quote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

We all have places we want to go in our lives: personal goals and dreams that we are reaching for. But we have to do the hard and tedious stuff first. It’s necessary! Whatever it is you don’t want to do right now (and these are on my list this week): call the insurance company, get a new social security card, find a way to make a wireless printer work with my new 5G connection…just do it. Quit procrastinating! Use Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule if you need to…Make that dentist appointment, finish a sewing project and ship it, declutter the back room, clean the bathroom…just pick one and do it first thing in the morning. I promise you will feel better knowing you did that hard thing first.

In her book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis shares a pretty clear message: you have to do the work and be the hero of your story. No one will do the hard things for you. Dreams are important and you need them, but, as Rachel says, you can’t live on hope. To make those dreams a reality requires a lot of uphill effort. In her podcast episode 72 about the daily practice that changed her life, she tells us we should write out our dreams, like it’s already reality, and then begin to reverse engineer what it will take to get you there.

So make your list and eat a frog first thing tomorrow morning!

And, in case you are doing some cleaning and want to know what cleaning products and tools (and a few books on home organization/care) I use, here’s my list of favorites. In my own life, having a clean and organized environment is necessary for my mental and emotional health. I am with Marie Kondo on this–the more clean and uncluttered your living spaces, the more you will enjoy your life.

Home Comforts

Organized Simplicity

Biokleen All-Purpose Cleaner

7th Generation Glass Cleaner

7th Generation Wood Spray

7th Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Rubbermaid Reveal Spray Mop

Shark Steam Pocket Mop

Microfiber Cloths

Share your frogs and cleaning adventures in comments!

In So Many Words, (or A Roundabout Way To Write About the Last Three Years)

It’s not easy to walk toward authenticity, to pursue that will o’ the wisp

happiness. She’s elusive. You have to come at her from another angle

entirely. You waver for years wondering is she worth it, are you brave

enough. And one day, you get a glimpse of the other side, and you start

walking. Break with false selves and all the pretenses. Strip away the

supports and crutches, raze all the monuments you built to your good

name. You let go the loves you have known, their faces forever in your

soul’s vision. Look deep into the black river of your fear, and plunge in.

Like a stone you sink with your guilt and grief, into bottomless night.

No way to breathe through the pain, nothing to grasp. You fade in and out

of the senseless dark for a lifetime. Maybe you never were alive or

shouldn’t be anymore. Fading, fading, until hands catch at yours and pull

you into sunlight. It’s been so long since the sun kissed you, since you’ve

been held and known. Someone is holding you and calling your name,

singing. You allow yourself to be sheltered, fed, and comforted. Like an

injured bird you are tenderly cared for. Your many wounds begin to heal

and each day you can let in a little more light. One day you feel possibility

playing with your hair, like a breeze from the open window. Someone

stands at the door and calls to you. You smile at him and he comes close.

You are being told how loved you are, how lovely, how much you are

cherished, and what you mean to him. You’re dimly aware of his tears.

He is kneeling before you and you slowly comprehend that you are being

asked to make a home here. To belong. This house is spacious and set on a

hill. The one who saved your life has patient, joy-filled eyes that crinkle as

he laughs. He is gentle, kind, gives you the best rooms in the house, gives

you everything he has. You melt into his love. You are made new.

You think about the people you love across the river and your heart aches.

Months pass, and one day you see two figures coming toward you and it is

your loves. When you look into their eyes you see how they’ve been

marked with the pain of your leaving. You see how they try to understand,

how they’ve forgiven you. Tears come but they embrace you. You

bring them into your new home and feed them and listen to their beloved

voices. They meet this new man and graciously accept him. Your heart is

full, and at last, there she is–happiness– flitting around the table and

shining on every face.

Links I Love

Here is where you will find some of my current sources of inspiration. I’m going to enjoy this windy, wintery weekend, listening to and looking out for the newly returned Redwing Blackbird and Eastern Bluebirds, and keeping busy in my studio making new products for my online shop and Etsy shop.

Music: Alan and I were fortunate to see The Punch Brothers at the State Theatre in Ithaca this past week. Chris Thile is the genius mandolin-playing front man whose voice can soar almost as high and sweet as his instrument. He plays and sings with such fluidity, grace, and energy that the crowd was riveted the entire evening. The rest of the band are all incredible musicians as well, and together they made it a joyful, memorable night for everyone.

Their latest album is called All Ashore.

If you are a fan of English folk singer Kate Rusby (You should be!!!) then you will enjoy Changeable Heart, the newest album by Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly released by Pure Records, Kate’s label. The singing and production styles are similar to Kate’s and made me smile!

Also, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, here are a few of my favorite Celtic albums:

Island Angel by Altan

Roses and Tears by Capercaillie (Scottish, I know, but similar style)

Reunion: A Decade of Solas by Solas (Irish-American band)

Podcasts: I discovered a new podcast this week called Herbs & Oils by Aromaculture.com

I listened to an episode on Flower Essences, which opened my heart up to the possibility that there may actually be something to them. There are so many episodes I plan on listening to, so if you’re into aromatherapy, herbalism, or alternative medicine and want to grow your knowledge, this is a good place to check out.

Rachel Hollis’s Rise podcast: The guest on Episode 87 will clear away plenty of excuses for why you can’t do something. After listening, you’ll feel fortunate and ready to take on the challenges in your life.

Books:

The Gown by Jennifer Robson is a beautifully written story that alternates between post-WWII era and the present day. It centers around women that worked on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown and although I’m only about six chapters into it, I am completely spellbound and committed.

The Heart’s Necessities: a Life in Poetry by Jane Tyson Clement and Becca Stevens tells the story of poet Jane Tyson Clement, with songwriter and musician Becca Stevens commenting on how the poems affected her life and writing style. Several poems are included at the end of each chapter, making this a lovely gift for poetry lovers.

That’s it for this weeks’ links! Enjoy your weekend, friends!

The History of a Mother’s Mealtimes

On a recent weeknight, I listened to a mystery on audio while preparing dinner. I peeled garlic for marinara sauce, breaded tilapia and placed it in the oven, sautéed more garlic with the bok choy, boiled water for gluten free pasta and my stepson, Clay’s, ravioli, washed lettuce and spinach for tossed salad, and chopped shallot and even more garlic for vinaigrette.

“I’ve been so hungry today,” Clay says as he sat down to eat. As I usually do, I put on a jazz playlist and lit a few candles to accompany our meal. Even on an ordinary weeknight, the music and soft light turns the mundane into memorable.

We talk about his school day, how his finger is feeling as it heals after an unfortunate accident in chemistry, and discuss possibilities for meals he could take with him this week for dinner during musical rehearsal.

My daughter, Ella, is in musical rehearsals at her school several nights a week as well. As I washed pots and cleaned the stove and counters and table, I made up a plate for her in case she is hungry when I bring her home. I respond to a text from my husband, Alan, who lets me know he loves me and asks how my day has been. And I think about my adult life in mealtimes.

When my son, Judah, was a newborn, like most mothers, I ate when he slept and meals were not at regular times. At six months and onward, I prepared and fed him whatever I was eating, meals were regularly timed and eaten together. At least I attempted to; he was an extremely fussy eater. We had the love of pasta & sauce, bread, and anything with chocolate in common, so in all his aversions, we always had common ground.

When Ella was born four years later, I carried on with mealtimes at regular times. Their father worked long hours, so it was only the kids and I most nights. The days melted into one another with me thinking they would never end. Well, I knew that wasn’t so, but it felt that way. My kids would always be small, and needy, and I would be the center of their universe.

And suddenly they were high school and middle school ages. They no longer came downstairs when I called them for dinner; I ate on my own many nights. At sixteen, my son got a job at a local grocery store and was away from home several nights a week.

Then another abrupt change came a few years ago, with my divorce. Suddenly I ate alone or with Alan, and only rarely with my kids. I didn’t even have to cook every night, as Alan is a good cook and enjoys it.

Fast forward to today, and I eat with my daughter, now in tenth grade, twice a week, when she’s not rehearsing musicals, with her friends, or with her dad. My son comes over maybe once a month. He works varying hours, almost full-time, and is in a band. Alan and I eat together two to four times per week, on nights he’s not working. So I’m more often on my own or with his son that’s still at home.

Some nights I love the solitude of eating on my own, with a book or my iPad next to my plate. Other nights solitude turns a tad lonely as I mull over my decisions that have separated my mealtimes from my kids’ a few years early.

But more often these days, I think of each mealtime as unique, as one of a fleeting seasonal collection that can change at anytime. Each meal, no matter how ordinary, how unremarkable the food on the plate, or how dull the conversation, is still a gift that should be savored.

What to Tell Yourself When You Feel Like a Failure

Let me be honest: it is a challenge to walk the wellness path I encourage others toward. It takes lots of time and dedication to the dreams I want to manifest. It takes willpower, grit, gumption, tears, motivation from many sources and plenty of failing forward. I have many areas I still want to master. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the things I am working on this year:

I need to be dedicated to daily writing, daily meditation and yoga, daily practice of my instruments. I have an irregular schedule, so I’m thinking that the best way to make these things happen are to make appointments in my calendar app and then follow through. I am not a morning person and do not think clearly enough to write first thing, except morning pages, perhaps. But maybe yoga would work in the morning.

Here is the emotional/mental/spiritual aspect of myself I need help with the most: being grounded in my body enough that I can be calmer, less anxious. I startle easily, am a “Nervous Nellie” as Alan calls me, and am often on the verge of panic. I am taking an herbal blend and use essential oils in the diffuser to help with this, but there are more pieces of this puzzle to be found.

The relational and personal growth-type of area I most need help in: being able to stop what I’m doing and focus on the other person, whom I love, without being preoccupied with work and wishing I wasn’t interrupted. It is really hard for me to change gears, let go of my plan, and be present with someone when I think I really need to get back to whatever I was doing.

I may fake it as well as I can on the outside, but inside, I’m fuming at having to live someone else’s plan for myself. Sometimes I can tell them that now isn’t a good time, but plenty of other times, I need to let this be my life: giving my time, energy, love and attention to the other person.

After all my years serving at church, reading books on selflessness and about being more like Christ, I wonder if I’ve progressed at all? I still like what I like and although I can be a grownup and do all the responsible, giving things on the outside, on the inside I am often willful and rebellious, smart-mouthed and sarcastic. It’s a good thing we can’t hear each other’s thoughts!

So, what do I tell myself? Do your best today! That is my aim everyday, as I’m sure it is yours. We aim to be our best selves, we sometimes miss the mark, but we reassess and keep going after the goal.

How do we treat ourselves after falling on our faces? Plenty of negative, critical self-talk, right? To care for yourself, though, and to promote inner emotional and mental health, you need to be kind to yourself. If you, like me so often, tend to beat yourself up with your thoughts and inner talk, then switch it up! Be encouraging. Find things to compliment about yourself. Remind yourself that mercies are new every morning. Tell yourself “I love you and you deserve to be loved”.

For Lent this year, I gave up negative self-talk about my body and my actions. Every time I catch myself getting ready to unload the mean words gun, I am amazed at how natural it is. It feels weird saying “I love you” to the parts of my body that I’ve never liked much. It feels weird to not criticize the way my jeans fit or my face looks on live video. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s stretching me in the right direction!

So today, assess your life and be honest about where you need to grow, be more consistent, be kinder, let go, create space, or boundaries. But notice the way you talk to yourself and if it tends toward the negative, then begin to sweeten your tone, be encouraging and kind, and tell yourself you are loved and lovable. Because you are!



Lenten Resources


I look forward to Lent each year: to the hours of reflection, to the reading, the candlelight, the poetry, to the length of the season that starts in the cold, darkness of Winter and walks us into the slightly warmer and significantly brighter arms of Spring.

I’ve been on the edge of my faith for the past several years, hanging on to words such as, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and “nothing can separate you from God’s love”.

As often happens in midlife, I have more questions than answers, am regularly upset by the patriarchal tone of the Bible, and I see more parallels in other faiths than perhaps I’d like to see. But the core story I still love for all its extravagant, unbelievable, raw and violent beauty. And that has never left me.

Bread and Wine is a collection for Lent and Easter written by various authors. There are more chapters than days leading to Easter, but as they are written by authors such as C.S.Lewis, Kathleen Norris, Oscar Wilde, Walter Wangerin, Henri Nouwen, and many more, you will want to read each one.

God is on the Cross by Deitrich Bonhoeffer has a short reading each day, followed by a prayer. Many of the selections are from his book, The Cost of Discipleship. I typically prefer longer readings, but each passage contains no fluff–it gets right to the meat of the matter and addresses the deep heart issues.

The Celebration of the Disciplines by Richard Foster is a classic which addresses the need for people to go after God with consistency, and yes, with discipline, in order for spiritual growth to occur. And as Foster says in the introduction, this book is not only for Christians, but for people who are simply seeking spiritual truth. He covers twelve disciplines including meditation, fasting, celebration, study, solitude, and confession. Although this isn’t a Lent book, per se, I think it fits with the spirit of this season. I’ve decided to re-read it.

Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster is again, not necessarily a book for Lent, but it might be just what many of us need. This is another book I’ve decided to re-read during this season. The first section of the book deals with the foundation of simplicity and the second section is divided into inner, outer, and corporate simplicity. 

40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole is a book I purchased only this year. Each day has a reading, a reflection, a suggested fast for the day, a bit of Lenten history, and a blank section where you may write your reflection if you wish.

The Selfless Way of Christ by Henri Nouwen. If you are a Christian believer or a spiritual seeker who asks probing questions and wants to hear the honest thoughts and experiences of an intelligent and devout, yet very human person, you might pick up one of Nouwen’s books. I wish I’d been able to hear him speak in person while he was alive, but am thankful for the writings he left the world. 

Joywares Cradle-to-Cross Wreath: This wreath/labyrinth is unique and I’m so glad I found it! Ann Voskamp’s son makes these. You can use them for Advent, Lent, and then from Easter until Ascension!

Sarah Clarkson’s Vimeo recordings I’ve read Sarah’s blog posts for years now and have recently been enjoying her videos on Instagram and/or Vimeo in which she shares some of her reflections on faith and reads poetry. Some of you might enjoy her too!

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is a must for me, especially for Passion Week, but anytime leading up to Easter. I listen to it in English, but I should make an effort to listen in German this year.

Handel’s Messiah is a must-listen for me, again, in English. If I haven’t heard it through at least once before Easter, then I have it on all afternoon on Easter Sunday.

I will leave you with another poem by Mary Oliver. Lean into love today, friends.

Making the House Ready for the Lord by Mary Oliver.

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.