on making magic

The holidays are officially here. It is snowing outside (!!!) in Georgia as I type this. We occasionally have icy snow in February or so, but these are fluffy flakes that are melting as they hit the roadways but covering branches in white this morning. As a native southerner, I will never think it’s anything less than magical to see snow out my window. I’m drinking coffee to armor up for a long day of grading essays while the kids are at school, but I wanted to take a minute to write first.

I took Norah to a Nutcracker tea party last weekend hosted by her ballet studio. We had treats and tea and watched the “big girls” perform Nutcracker variations. I caught a glimpse of her face watching them, and it is everything I love about ballet condensed to one expression – the awe and the dreaming and the bewilderment at the grace of it all.

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She watches the older girls practice in the studio sometimes and looks at them like they are celebrities. I try to use it as an opportunity to talk about hard work and perseverance, but she mainly just sees it as some kind of magic they have that she hopes to grasp one day.

I see parallels there in my own self. As humans, we tend to look at success in any area – career, health, relationships, anything – as some kind of magic sauce, but when we break anything down to see the smaller pieces, it’s clear that we make our own magic, don’t we? Or at least we make it bloom where the spark began. It starts like some magnetic thing we can’t quite put words to, and it grows when we decide to lean in and make it our own.

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Our elf is not typically very exciting or creative, but he brought a skittle rainbow today. (I can’t take all the credit. I had help on this idea.) Both kids stood enamored this morning with their bed heads and sleepy eyes watching the colors swirl. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of kids is such a reminder that enchantment is there for us if we are just willing to open our eyes to see it. And as a parent pulling all the strings, it also emphasizes my role in creating my life’s magic.

It always requires leaning in a little past where I normally would, laying bare what I usually shy away from showing, and letting that spark ignite without judgement or expectation or cynicism. I think as I get older I am finally understanding that magic does not simply fall from the sky fully formed and ready to bestow itself on the lucky few. It starts with a spark, and it evolves to some kind of fascinating alchemy when we show up for our own lives with a true curiosity, a clear voice, and an open heart.

the hum and rush

Something is brewing in the air here in Georgia, everywhere it seems. Our neighbors to the south and the east are prepping for Hurricane Irma, and we are prepping for whatever is left of her when she makes her way a few miles northwest to us. It’s always hard to know exactly how anxious we should be in situations like this. Truth be told, we never really know what’s coming.

Against this backdrop of potential disaster, we are doing the everyday things required of us. My school year is in full swing. I know many of their names and faces by now, and the first set of essays will come pouring in this week. The kids have settled into their routines as well. Wednesdays have us going straight from school to ballet to the soccer field with no time in between.

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I pack snacks and water and rely on the slow cooker to have dinner ready for us when we walk in at 7pm. It’s so hard to find that balance between being sure they are enriched and active and pursuing what they want yet not overbooking us to the point of exhaustion. I rely on little things to set the pace and give us routine in the chaos – dinner at the table and nightly routines and leisurely walks to the bus stop in the mornings. But I think I need to just accept that some seasons are busy. Late November will slow us back down when soccer games are behind us and chill is in the air with earlier sunsets and soup on the table.

A longtime friend of mine created an online retreat with seven days of journals and meditations, and I have been making my way through it this month in the early morning quiet hours before the rest of the house is up. It’s structured around 7 women who made history turning their own struggles to something beautiful for the rest of us, and day 6 focuses on Anna Julia Cooper. I wasn’t all that familiar with Cooper before, but she published a book in the nineteenth century that characterized her idea of God as a “Singing Something” and a divine spark in each of us. This idea resonated with me so much – that song we can all hear if we are paying attention. I even wrote about this before in the last days with my grandmother, how it can sometimes feel like there are two tracks playing in our lives, the everyday tasks and the real melody that creates the whole dance to begin with.

It’s harder to hear in seasons of relative ease and routine, but disaster of any kind – whether it is personal or global – tends to wake us up to that song. It’s also Anna Julia Cooper who tells us “One needs occasionally to stand aside from the hum and rush of human interests and passions to hear the voice of God.” That hum and rush is loud sometimes isn’t it though? I’m realizing that I need to carve that space of silence in my days somehow or it’s not going to happen. It’s been two weeks since I’ve written here for that very reason.

I’m looking ahead at the season in front of me as a challenge to listen beyond that hum and rush of the everyday, determined to find pockets of silence in my day to write or read or think. Or maybe just listen to that Singing Something that always steadies us with the vastness of the whole perspective over the busy tasks of everyday life. There’s always something bigger when we listen.

Dog Days

I remember when I was a teacher, and June was such a glorious page on the calendar.  The last week of May had its place for decompressing from the haze of exam grading, and then June followed with its warm weather and stretch of days lacking in any structure or responsibilities at all.  Ironically, instead of basking in my opportunity for laziness, I was usually outrageously productive in June.  That house project I’d wanted to tackle since January?  It was done by the tenth.  Those appointments I needed make and cross of the list?  They were completed by the fifteenth.  That stack of books I’d been eyeing all school year?  Read by the end of the month.

Then July rolled around and I essentially became a lazy slob who couldn’t muster the energy to accomplish much of anything at all.  Then came August when I cursed myself for being lazy and crammed my summer reading in the last few remaining days, furiously typing my tests the weekend before students arrived.  And I always thought this was because I craved structure and that July’s coming on the heels of June’s lack of schedule meant that I lost my groove.  I’m starting to think my teacher schedule was not the reason at all because here I am again with a bad case of the July do-nothings.  We are in the midst of the dog days again, and I am in need of some serious motivation.  My house and my life in general have plenty of projects – large and small – that need attention, and I just can’t stay focused or energized long enough to get anything done.

There’s something about this muggy weather that drains me.  My hair is large. Our windows are fogged.  I break a sweat walking from the car to the entrance of the grocery store.  I’m lazy and unproductive, and then I feel guilty and overwhelmed about unfinished tasks resulting from my laziness and lack of productivity.  (I’d like to add, as a side note, that I don’t know how I survived a Georgia summer pregnant.)

So I’ve generally just been feeling lazy and blah and like I am not the mother or housekeeper or general person that I could be / should be, and I haven’t written much here either because that sentence would pretty much sum it up.  Blah.  The End.

I stumbled across this inspirational post this week though, and it made me miss taking photos.  I haven’t in a while, and I’m thinking the camera could cheer me up considerably.  What she says is so true – that there is beauty in the everyday life, and you see it more clearly when you are looking to document it.  I need a break from structured photo projects, but sometimes I do miss my 365.  I love that I can look back and see exactly what I was doing exactly one year ago today.  Which incidentally, it was this.

Tree Canopy - Woodland Park Zoo

Looking at tree canopies at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.  Where temperatures were comfortably in the 70s.  Sigh.  But really, if I think about it long enough, the trip to the zoo had a couple of challenges as well.  I walked around alone with a nine-month-old and got lost a couple of times, and we never did end up finding the penguins.  But of course when I look at photos from that day, I am just left thinking about how perfect the weather was or what a great day we had in a city I love.

Photographs highlight things we miss in real life it seems. And speaking of photographs, I got something beautiful in the mail yesterday.

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We worked with Andrew Thomas Lee again for Jude’s photos this year, and as expected, we are so happy with the results. (If you are in Atlanta and looking for someone who takes extraordinary photos of families or weddings, he’s your man.)  We intended for this to be an 18-month-old session, so we originally met in April.

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The shoot began really well, but it went bad fast as toddlers sometimes do, and as the clock crept closer to evening, Jude became pretty uncooperative. And since Andrew is awesome, he suggested that we give it another shot. So we met again a couple of weeks ago – this time with a 21-month-old, and the results definitely captured someone’s active and curious little personality.

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And much like what I see when I look back on my 365 project, I forget a few pesky details when I look at these photos. I forget that the April date had Jude recovering from a cold with me following him with a tissue the whole time and his becoming absolutely cranky and uncooperative after only a few minutes. I see the later pictures and forget that we chased him around trying to get him to settle long enough for a photo and that the humidity had my hair swelling. I forget all of that and only see that I am so lucky to be in the midst of these happy years with a beautiful boy.  It’s rose-colored glasses, but I love it. And I think we need it sometimes.

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So today I’m working to get myself back in a groove of optimism and productivity, and I’m using every trick in the book.  Maybe playing with my camera a little.  Maybe turning up a favorite album during the naptime cleaning shakedown today.  Perhaps calling a friend I haven’t talked to in far too long.  Or making something fun for dinner this weekend.

What are your favorite tricks to motivate and inspire?