Day 31: What I Learned In October

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Here is a practice that Emily Freeman started on her blog several years ago that has caught on with other bloggers. It’s a great way to reflect and share anything from the super silly and surface to the weighty and profound.

  1. Writing every day is completely doable; I’ve been simply procrastinating all this time. Thanks to the Write31Days challenge and community, I found my writing feet again and it feels so good. It’s so true that doing something daily becomes a habit. It’s also true that the more you do something, the more you want to and the more you do. I’m planning my blog posts a month at a time and writing several at once; I’m working on one book and am about to embark on another; I’m also writing poetry again, which hasn’t happened in many months.
  2. Menu planning never gets easier. I just need to keep myself inspired with food websites, blogs, cookbooks and magazines that contain plenty of delicious recipes to try.
  3. Eating fish a few times a week for dinner (for the sake of upping my protein intake) makes me feel better. I stay satisfied the rest of the evening and am regaining strength I lost after my back injury in August. Last Monday, I purchased four bags of frozen fish from BJs and have been trying them out: Sea bass, mahi-mahi, swordfish and flounder. They’re so easy to prepare. I’ll be sharing recipes soon!
  4. Adding more protein to my morning smoothie or having eggs a few time per week is helping me feel more alert, stronger and stay full longer. I plunked down the money for this pea protein powderand am glad I did. Two scoops does the trick.

5. I still love Stranger Things. Season 2 was no exception. We binged-watched it in two days, wishing there were more episodes and that Netlix would release more than one season per year. The actors can act and portray the characters believably, the plot is interesting, the monsters are scary and effects are well done. Can’t wait for season 3!

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4. Mothers will always miss their children. My mom still misses and wants to see me if it’s been a while; I miss my kids every day I don’t see them and try to stay connected through text and phone on the days I can’t have them with me.

5. Starting a business is an opportunity to learn. This month, I started a craft business selling home decor items, like pillows, ornaments, wreaths and natural body care products. I am getting into as many local craft fairs as I can, trying to keep my costs down, and improving the quality of my products all the time. At each craft fair, I meet people, hear about other fairs, learn what I can do differently, see what works and what doesn’t and go home a little wiser. I still have to set up my etsy store and Facebook business page and market myself. I have a lot of new things I want to make. It’s hard work, but I always love a challenge.

6. Being lactose-intolerant requires vigilance if I don’t want to get sick. On Friday, I purchased a bag of M&M-looking candies from Greenstar, thinking for some reason they were vegan. I got them in the car, ate three and felt a hint of queasiness. Glancing at the ingredients list, I was horrified to discover they contained milk in the candy shell. Ugh! Totally my fault for assuming, but all the same, I wish some more dairy-free options were out there. And while at Barnes and Noble getting a coffee yesterday, I asked the barista taking my order which of three drinks contained dairy. She didn’t know the answer to that. Her employers have clearly not bothered to educate her on the ingredients of the various syrups and mixes. She had to dig out a package and skim through the list so she could find out. It’s nearly 2018 and every establishment selling food and drink in this country should be able to clearly list common food allergens found in their products. Their employees should know what they are and be able to find the list instantly. Why isn’t this a thing?

7. I like working out with someone. After working out solo pretty much my whole life, Alan has joined me at the gym three or four days per week. I love going with another person. Not only do I feel more motivated when I know someone is there, the whole experience is actually enjoyable, even when I’m gasping for air. We usually start out on the treadmills and graduate to the weight machines and end with another round of cardio. But even if we’re doing completely different workouts, it just feels good to know he’s there.

8. I can read Stephen King even though I don’t like horror. I’m eight chapters into 11/22/63. This book is enormous–I guess all his books are. Time travel is definitely something I can get into.

9. Mixed drinks are so much fun! A Margarita once in a while makes the dinner hour like a party. I love mixing drinks and this one is so simple and always satisfying. When I decided learning mixology was on my list for 2017, a friend heard about it and bought me the Libbey Mixology 9-piece Cocktail Set. I enjoy an occasional Margarita or Espresso Martini and am plotting a couple of drinks to try out for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

10. I missed the library! Yesterday, Alan and I took a trip to Ithaca to see what Wizarding Weekend was like. Unfortunately for us, the rain drowned out the bulk of the fun and various activities and vendors were scattered to Hotel Ithaca, Coltivare, Center Ithaca and the public library. As soon as we stepped into the library, I knew I’d have to borrow a few books. So Alan sat on a bench and chatted to a friend and I looked up seven or eight books and checked them out. Oh, how I love it. The smell of books fills the air, it’s relatively quiet and the atmosphere lends itself to learning. I’ll be back.

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What did you learn this month?

Day 29: Soul Sustenance

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I haven’t been “to church” in over a year. Long story, but after my whole life, I needed a break.* Sunday mornings are no longer a mad dash to arrive on time. I get up when I feel rested. Eat gluten free pancakes or French toast with Alan and the boys, go to the gym, plan my menu, make a new “weekly” page in my bullet journal, write, read, and work on projects. Occasionally, I feel heaps of guilt for not being involved and serving the way I was raised to. There was a security in doing the same thing each Sunday, to knowing I was serving God and the church community, and in receiving approval from the circle I was in.

After major life changes in the past two years, including leaving the church I was involved in and getting a divorce, I’ve been finding new ways to relate to God and think about spiritual matters. This can make me feel unsure of myself as a spiritual person, as a believer, as I explore outside of the familiar framework I’ve leaned on since childhood. Will I return to a local expression of faith some day? Perhaps I will. I like to think I will.

For now, I’m looking for God everywhere I am, as I always have. I am retaining my relationships with friends who believe. We share thoughts and ideas, holding real and honest conversations about church and faith. After leaving the community I came from and spending this past year asking myself what I believe and what do I identify with, I sense a close connection with Celtic Spirituality or Celtic Christianity. 

What mattered to the ancient Celtic believers resonates with me: having a hope-filled outlook, caring for our environment, appreciating art and music and using them as an expression of worship, being hospitable and open to change, etc. Like the Celtic Christians, I use imagination as a way to connect to and understand the divine. Although these characteristics can be found in other faiths and indeed, in other forms of Christianity, this is where I feel most at home. It’s interesting, because as a young adult of eighteen or nineteen, I felt drawn to this way, and here I am again. As T.S. Eliot said,

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

As I always have, I enjoy finding resources to enrich and develop my spiritual understanding.

Here is one tool I use to dig deep: it employs the practice of a weekly and one yearly examen, or reflection of my days in these seven areas: spirit, mind, body, work, home, relationships, and resource stewardship. There is also a moving forward or “reset” for the week ahead. Included is spaced to develop something called a “Rule of Life” that one can develop as a way to be intentional about personal priorities for daily living. Check it out:

Sacred Ordinary Days Liturgical Planner

The next three books enrich my spiritual journey. Maybe they would do the same for you.

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donahue would make a lovely gift to another or oneself. I received my copy as a gift. The contents are grouped by “Beginnings”, “Desires”, “Thresholds”, “Homecomings”, “States of Heart”, “Callings”, and “Beyond Endings”. No one wrote quite like him. The grace and musicality of his words, poetry or prose, speak and reach into the dark and confused places, as well as the light and clear ones. Here is an excerpt from the poem “For The Interim Time

You cannot lay claim to anything:                                                                                                    In this place of dusk,                                                                                                                         Your eyes are blurred;                                                                                                                     And there is no mirror.

Everyone else has lost sight of your heart                                                                                  And you can see nowhere to put your trust;                                                                              You know you have to make your own way through.

As far as you can, hold your confidence.                                                                                      Do not allow your confusion to squander                                                                                   This call which is loosening                                                                                                            Your roots in false ground,                                                                                                                That you might come free                                                                                                                From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here is your mind,                                                                            And it is more difficult and slow to become new.                                                                     The more faithfully you can endure here,                                                                                  The more refined your heart can become                                                                                       For your arrival in the new dawn.

The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner. I’ve only just begun reading and savoring the content in this book, exploring the practices and engaging in the artistic reflections. Week Three, for example, “Sacred Tools and Sacred Spaces“, discusses the sacraments of daily life, the sacred art of living and then engages the reader with contemplative practices–lectio divina, reflection questions, visual art exploration, and poetry exploration. It’s deep, but has fun hands-on ways to explore and express.

The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen, I’ve already mentioned this week, but here it is again. This was his personal journal from a very dark, anxious and fearful season in his life–his journey through. A friend of mine gave it to me at the start of a dark, fearful season of my own.

So here is a glimpse into my own story of faith. I’d love to hear from you–what’s encouraging you today?

(Disclaimer: I’m not encouraging anyone to leave their church or local expression of faith. There is plenty of life, growth, encouragement and goodness to be found in thriving faith communities the world over. If you have found such a place, I hope you can stay, call it home and become one of the family.)

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Day 28: Saturday Meanderings

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This hilltop home is being buffeted by the wind AGAIN. If we have one day per week when it’s still, that is something to remark upon. When my son was leaving Wednesday night, we stepped out into the evening and everything was still.

No crickets or frogs. No bird singing itself to sleep. Not even a jet or a truck. Just the lights twinkling across the lake, the stars winking at us overheard and quiet. “You’re in the middle of nowhere,” my son stated as he got into his car.

Yes, and the middle of nowhere has its advantages and disadvantages. On the pro side, we can play music as loud as we want, keep the property as neat or unkempt as we want and no one approves or complains. We can absorb the tranquility and beauty of nature from our windows and certainly from a walk around the yard or down the road. Lake, fields, hills, valley, farms, and big sky everywhere we look.

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On the con side, you have to drive a long while to get anywhere. Like to Ithaca for groceries or a concert or to a restaurant for dinner. And people don’t always want to come out to visit because it’s a bit of a hike. If they do venture this far, I hope they feel the rewards are many: the view, it goes without saying, and good food and conversation.

This is where I wanted to be when I was six years old living with my parents and siblings in a third-story apartment in Brooklyn. I hoped and prayed for this opportunity. So you could say, I’m living my dream.

Every summer which my mother, siblings and I would spend with my grandparents, flew by with a speed that was stunning and sad. I loved every minute of each day we were given here in Interlaken and every aspect of my grandparents’ home and lifestyle. Although, they were far from wealthy, there was a comfort and solace from the cold, tough and dangerous hustle of city life that I couldn’t wait to run to.

The walks with my grandmother down the lane, into and through the woods are some of my favorite memories of my childhood summers. The sound of my grandparents starting their day in the kitchen, making coffee and eggs, the smell of kerosene when the heaters were lit during cold spells, the feeling of gratitude at twilight as I sat on the tree swing and swayed as the wind pushed me–I hold these dear.

I’m thankful I can go back there and relive those good, wholesome moments and that I had them to begin with. And I’m thankful to be telling my story in the place where my happiest moments live.

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Day 27: Stranger Things, Wizarding Weekend and Wagner’s

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Stranger Things Season 2 was released this morning at 12. I’ve been counting down the days. My daughter and her friend have probably finished most of it by now. As soon as this blog post is done, I’ll be watching episode one. I’m neither a sci-fi or horror fan, last September I binge-watched the entire first season one Wednesday when I was home nursing a cold. Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Joyce Byers, a woman on the verge of losing her mind because her son’s gone missing, plus the great cast of child actors and the creepy plot line all fascinated me. And like everyone else who’s fallen in love with the show, we’ve been impatiently waiting for the next season. I’ll let you know what I think.

This morning I wasn’t watching Stranger Things because I worked out at the gym. Alan and I are members of Seneca Fitness in Interlaken and work out there most mornings. My friends Penny and Doug McGill are the owners. Anything the McGills do is top-notch and the gym is no exception. The color scheme is teal, purple, white, magenta, and lime. The bathrooms and shower areas are downright luxurious and there is an ample supply of cardio and weight machines and free weights. On top of all that, it’s always spotlessly clean, you can come and go whenever as it’s a 24 hour facility and the membership fee is very reasonable. So, we had a good sweat session, went home, showered, ate and drove to Ithaca.

We were supposed to be visiting Wizarding Weekend, which Facebook told me started at 10AM. We got there around 12:30. The side streets, Press Bay Alley and The Commons were their normal everyday selves. No vendors. No music. No people in cool costumes. Our whole reason for going was so that we could see who sells what and if Alan or I should consider applying for a vendor space next year. I guess we’ll have to go back down on Sunday afternoon. As we were already downtown, Alan said, “Should we go into Autumn Leaves?”, which is the used bookstore on The Commons. So we spent twenty minutes perusing the shelves, but left empty-handed. Honestly, we both have a boatload of books we need to read.

 

Back at home, we are doing some work and getting ready to go to Wagner’s 20th Anniversary Celebration tonight, where Mutron Warriors, one of Alan’s favorite local bands, will be playing. It should be fun. I’ll take and share pictures.

Happy Friday! What will you be doing this weekend?

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Day 26: The Hurrier I Go

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I’m sure you’ve heard this Lewis Carroll quote,

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

There’s a certain point at which that becomes true. Not that I am encouraging dawdling or procrastination, but hurrying hurts and usually winds up hindering our progress. Oops! I spilled something in my haste. Or, now I need to apologize for snapping at my loved one because I’ve made myself miserable trying to live at this breakneck pace.

We weren’t meant to flit and speed from one place and activity to another with no rest, no time for reflection. Here is a definition of the phrase “hurry sickness” coined by doctors Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman:

“a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

This article on how to overcome hurry sickness takes a good look at the problem. We need help! As a culture, many of us don’t know how to relax or slow down, even if we only have a few pockets of time every day.

We have forgotten how to love stillness and silence, how to sit with ourselves alone and just be, how to fully enjoy a walk, appreciate the preciousness of a loved one’s smile, drink in the exquisiteness of a sunset, how to be silly and laugh long and hard, and how to look for joy in the ordinary. But we can slow down and become full of wonder again.

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This time of year, you’re probably looking ahead at the next two months wondering how you’ll get through all the activities associated with the holidays. I used to just square my shoulders and tell myself to hustle more.

And I would go through it all feeling panicky, breaking down into crying jags, yelling and being sharp with my words. And then apologizing for my unacceptable behavior. I just couldn’t handle the constant go-go-go, combined with baking like mad, lots of entertaining, the purchasing and wrapping of gifts and trying to make it all magical and perfect for my kids and anyone who came to our home.

I wanted the peace I attempted to give everyone else. I craved space, simplicity, and the beauty of delighting in small things.

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After a bunch of years doing it the hard way, with the help of books or articles I read and voices on slowing down, like Ann Voskamp’s, I am learning to change my holiday style.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself before plunging into the season:

If I could arrange my holiday season any way I chose, what would it look like?

If I wasn’t concerned about anyone’s judgement about how I did the holidays, what would I say yes to and what would I say no to?

Who is most important to me and how can I focus on showing them love this season?

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Here is an old book that I love called Unplug the Christmas machine: How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted. It touches on typical roles that women and men take on during the holiday, four things children really want for Christmas, a simple Christmas, Christmas revival, the gift of joy, and it includes a handy resource section with recipes and alternative gift ideas. Of course, it feels dated, but it also feels wise and warm and cozy. Some of the resources may be outdated, but use the internet to find something comparable. This version is out-of-print, but amazon Marketplace has copies available.

And if you’d rather have the in-print version, that’s Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season:

The other book I’ve read over and over is: To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. Although I’m not a Catholic, I incorporated several of the traditions listed in this book to enrich my own and my kids’ holiday season. This book actually takes the reader through the entire church calendar, but I’ve used it for Advent and Christmas, primarily.

And finally, a sweet out-of-print old-fashioned book called The Child’s Christmas. I’m not sure how I stumbled across this one, but it follows a fictional Victorian family from Advent through Epiphany. It tells of all their traditions, what they ate and played and did, what gifts they gave and received, how they celebrated. I read it to my kids when they were seven and three.

I hope we can all find comfort and joy this year!

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Day 25: Dracula and Ukulele Duets

 

The highlight of today was that my kids came over. I saw their faces, heard their voices–what they said or didn’t say. They ate dinner at our table, jumped in surprise at the Halloween bowls that snatched at their hands and laughed at the red-eyed Dracula rising from his coffin, screaming and cackling while scary music blared in the background. After dinner, Ella did homework and Judah and I played Canasta with Alan. Judah won! Then he and I went in the library where he took up residence in my hammock swing while I played “In the Bleak Midwinter” on the ukulele. Then I gave him one ukulele, I picked up the other and we played together. Judah’s so musical I knew he’d pick it up right away and he did. We played “House of Gold” by Twenty-one Pilots and the Brother Iz version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. So much fun!

Do you ever evaluate your day and look for a common theme? Here is a rambling poem-ish for today.

If I held up my hours like precious beads

clear, opaque, shining, rough

unique, ordinary, startling, dull

and wondered what held them together

my heartbeat and breath, here as long as I am

my emotion, hot and quick like lava or cool and dark as a cave

and all the nondescript in betweens, what would it be?

It would be me–all of those facets found

at edges of tears and full blown smiles,

frayed, tense times as well as moments light and tranquil.

My thoughts, feelings and what I do with them

Giving or withholding grace, kindness, help, a listening ear.

Moving with another’s mood, finding where the pauses are and holding the silence

living the uncertainties and sadness, bringing encouragement to a downtrodden soul

being myself and loving out, loving deep, loving into and through

the things I’d rather not remember and what I’m most proud of

there is an art to being alive, to being. So I will keep being me.

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Day 24: All Day Short

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The iPhone woke my sleepy self up at 7 this morning. I’m never a morning person, so knowing the misery of rising before the sun in the dark and cold was affecting most other people in our time zone, especially my kids getting ready for school, made it slightly easier.

I had an 8AM hair appointment with Penny, my dear friend who has done my hair since I was nine years old. That means during the mid-eighties’ perm rocker look, the early nineties’ spiral perm, the drastic short cut when I was eighteen and everything since then.

Penny’s salon is in the Village of Interlaken. When I walk up the steps toward the salon, I feel like I’m home. Almost as if my grandma was nearby–that kind of home feeling. It’s comforting and laid back. We chat about all the important things. We laugh and we even cry once in a while.

No crying today though. Just positive conversation with her and her husband when he stopped in for a minute. I left with my hair feeling silky and smooth. The day’s beauty was in full swing–color exploding everywhere as the trees danced around in the wind, the sky a crisp fall blue, and the sun making everything pop.

The rest of my day was a collection of nothing much. I searched for a certain color of blue fabric that a friend wanted so that I could make her a couple of pillows. And I didn’t find anything. I’ll have to email her a couple of other options. I looked at Etsy for supplies and searched online to find out how we could have mugs and clocks made up of Alan’s images so we could resell them. I texted with a few friends.

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As the sun went down, I ran outside and messed around with my camera, which I’ve never really bothered to learn to use properly. Then I went in, turned on all the Halloween lights, and made dinner: lemon-pepper flounder, baked sweet potatoes and a salad with miso-tahini dressing. (And yes, you got that right. I’m eating fish again. My body just needed a change.)

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I guess I did a lot of what Charlotte Mason called, “Masterly Inactivity”. I felt pretty useless, but my brain and body needed the relative rest and are gearing up for lots of new creative endeavors in the coming days and weeks.

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