gratitude

attention

It’s 9:42 pm on the winter solstice. The kids left this morning for a few days away before they come home to me again on Christmas Eve. I washed clothes and prepped holiday food and cleared shelves of things I don’t need any longer. At 5:30, as the sun was beginning to set, I lit a candle in a quiet house and got back to my yoga mat after far too long of an interruption. As I write this, it is dark and cold, and the dog is snoring at my side.

I have been thinking and journaling and reflecting and planning these past few days. There is something about writing things down that makes them real. I want so many things for the new year. This past year has been full of challenge after challenge, and they served me in ways I’d never expect  – always growing and always changing and always opening. But I have been on autopilot for this past three months, it seems. Life can do that to you sometimes. One foot in front of the other: pay the bills, do the laundry, tend to kids, clean the toilets, answer the emails. I’m ready to snap out of it and get back on the road of intention.

I am reading that many people are choosing one word resolutions instead of specific goals, like a theme word for your year. I have thought a bit about what mine would be for 2017 – purposeful, pursue, intention, attentive, persist. They all speak to the same thing, I guess. Pay attention. Do things on purpose. Shed what doesn’t serve me any longer.

I’m reading One Thousand Gifts again as someone passed it on as a present for me this week. I hadn’t looked through that book at all in something like 7 years, but I stumbled on her description today of exactly what has been ailing me lately. “It’s the in between that drives us mad. It’s the life in between, the days of walking lifeless… simply going through the hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking…” It is a constant struggle in the world we live in to not self-protect by self-distracting, to find meaning in the motions. Writing helps me do exactly that, but even that takes time, focus, and discipline. I am ready to get back at it again.

I have also been delving into The Atlantic’s list of this year’s 50 Best Podcasts. I thought I listened to a lot of podcasts, but there are so many on here that are new to me. Number 26 is the Modern Love series spun from the influence of the New York Times’ Modern Love column – which if you haven’t read it before is worth your time, such incredible non-fiction. I was listening to an episode earlier this week about how you should always marry a man who fiercely loves his mother (wholeheartedly agree on that sentiment) and there was a line about sorrow that was mentioned in the interview with the writer, and it is an image I will never forget. She said something along the lines of “if we could see our sorrows hanging like fruit from a tree alongside everyone else’s – all the sorrows in the world hanging together… If we could pick any of them, we’d still pick our own.” As the weeks roll by here at the end of 2016 and I reflect on the year behind me, I am feeling that more and more. Even as I look at others who might hurt less in the face of their own challenges, who feel less and have less skin in the game, so to speak. I would pick my sorrows, my year, above anyone else’s. I wouldn’t trade places, even if it meant less challenge or less pain. These fruits are hard-earned, but there’s sweetness in the center.

You have to pay attention to find the sweetness though, don’t you? You pause and observe and feel it as it stings or warms or glows or washes away the things you never needed to begin with. Now more than ever, I am seeing that my soul has been washed clean this year in that very specific way that hardship and grief can bring, and I think it’s ready for the newness that lies on the other side.

In One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp also reminds us that “Life is so urgent, it necessitates living slow.” I read this, and I think of the most memorable moments that filled my year, the most meaningful ones. They were all so slow and yet urgent with their passing tide that disappears.

Flashes of memory from a year well-spent: kids splashing on the beach at sunset, my Grandmother’s hands on my face in those days when we were counting the hours, Norah lifting chubby preschool fingers to tip a soup bowl to her mouth at the dinner table, driving winding mountain roads alone with the cloudy rumble of an incoming July storm, shelling boiled peanuts in the fall sunshine on a wooden bench, wrapping lights around our little tree. The very best seconds only come when you are going slowly enough to notice them.

 

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gratitude

to pay attention

My February calendar is a scary sight. The entire month does not present one “normal” week that follows our usual routine. Doctor appointments here and there – for me and also for the kids. A work conference that overlaps a couple of weekdays as well as part of a weekend. Not to mention the usual craziness that comes with kids stricken with cabin fever and sniffling in the usual winter fashion. Norah graciously shared her preschool germs with me, and nighttime sounds like a tuberculosis ward in our house. Cough cough, groan, reach for a tissue. On repeat for much of the night.

We are reaching for the smallest signs of spring. The kids and I walked to the playground to soak up some sun a couple of weeks ago when then weather surprised us one afternoon. When I arrived home tonight, neighborhood kids were already in the yard throwing a football to soak up a few last minutes of winter sun.

It’s when you are trudging through the hard stuff that you look intently for any little glimmer that shows you that warmth is around the corner. And it always is. It’s funny how those little seconds can push you through. The littlest break from something hard can encourage you to keep walking.

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I’m beginning a couple of weeks of a poetry study in my Research & Writing class. My throat is scratchy, and I’m tired. The temperature yesterday hardly reached freezing, and the wind was miserable. But as I prepped for class in my drafty office, I steeped some ginger tea and settled in for a minute to remind myself how much I love a good poem. How hard poets work to make it all seem simple, how they express the feelings that have no other name and no real language. I think what I appreciate most about poetry is its ability to boil down a single second, a single moment in time, a single image. It distills it until all that is left is its very essence.

It’s a skill I wish I could do more of in my real life. Only seeing this moment for what it is.

Tomorrow is a holiday for Jude’s school district, so the kids are away from me tonight. It feels strange and wonderful – but mostly just strange – to have a quiet house with no demands on a weeknight. I’m usually running bath water at this hour to get both kids cleaned up. Or cleaning the dinner dishes while checking off a manic to-do list in my head. Or packing Jude’s lunch while waiting on the dryer to buzz with a fresh load of clothing that needs prompt attention.

And tonight, I am here writing instead. Alone. Quiet.

I soaked in a steaming tub at 5:30pm and listened to music. I reheated our favorite soup that is leftover from Tuesday night. I poured a glass of wine and layered my favorite blanket on my lap to sit here and write a minute and see where it goes.

It’s so easy to look ahead at a list or a calendar or a monumental task that is waiting for me. And sometimes you have to look ahead to keep up. But to be here now, to see the immediate moment for what it is and nothing more – that is both a challenge and a comfort.

We were sharing favorite poems in class yesterday, and I read my favorite Mary Oliver – a poem that always reminds me what it means to pay attention.

 

“The Summer Day” 

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 

And really what more is there? To be idle and to pay attention. That’s where the golden light hides. Rumi says, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are 100 ways to kiss the ground.”

Even in the depth of winter, I’m kneeling and kissing. Poetry, homemade soup, music, silence. The beauty I love is what I do.

 

gratitude, single parenthood

snow and quiet

Atlanta was bracing for something more exciting than we we ended up with, but we were left this weekend with a little dusting and some uncharacteristic windy chill. The high is only 30 today, but the sun is bright, and I can hear drops running down my gutters right now as the rooftop thaws.

I went to take the dog out last night before bed, and the neighborhood was quiet. Just the slightest dusting can feel special when you live in Georgia.

southern "snow"

The kids are away this weekend, and it brings more consolation than sadness – if I can be honest. I have been trapped inside with them for days at a time alone more times than I’d care to remember. In 2011 when Jude and I spent 7 days alone in the house unable to conquer the driveway and neighborhood streets. In 2013 when I had two kids under 4, both sick. And again in 2014 when Atlanta was hit with a lot that year and I had a husband working in sunnier climates. I love my kids. I do not love winter and the thought of icy streets and no snow plows. When I remember the frayed nerves that resulted from days on end of no real adult contact in those storms, I’m grateful for the time alone to pause this weekend.

This morning, I wandered down the stairs at 8:30 to brew the coffee, and I already heard the chatter of neighborhood kids outside with hats and mittens. It brought a tinge of sadness and a tangible ache for a minute, but as I’ve settled into the rest of the day busying myself with things around the house, the solitude feels worn and comfortable.

I was told that this would happen eventually, that being alone would get easier. It felt so unnatural in the beginning, but I am there finally.

Winter takes a lot of deliberate focus for me to see the bright side and push through. It can feel long and dark. I’ve been making a conscious effort since the new year began to be still and use the early dark and time at home to tend to what’s close. It’s working well to calm the restlessness or anxiousness or dreary outlook that can sometimes emerge from winter.

Ram Dass so famously said, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” And one good thing about this time of year is that it is so quiet – if you let it be. School and work and activities keep us rushing, but by 6pm it is dark and we are home and glad to be here. The kids are in bed by 8, and I make myself (no matter how much I don’t want to) turn off the distractions and unroll my yoga mat for half an hour. This goes in the category of duh, why didn’t I know that already? but that half hour has brought so much foundation and awareness to the rest of my day. It’s funny how much I’ve paid for occasional classes in a studio in years past, and it’s the home practice that is making such a difference for me. That’s how it always goes though; it always starts at home, all of it.

Looking to something or someone else to get you somewhere has hollow results. You have to see the abundance in your own self. Winter is good to remind me of that. All these little things – baking a bit, getting an extra hour of sleep, lighting candles after dark – they all echo what I already know which is that what you need is all right here.

gratitude, Life and Randomness

breath inside

This was one of those work weeks that somehow felt so much longer than only 5 days. Little stresses here and there that add up to so much, and I was always dashing from one thing to another – both literally and mentally as well. It’s hard to just be still with yourself in those times. It takes a lot of effort on my part, effort to stop frantically moving from one task to another and just slow down.

I’m listening to the latest album by The Oh Hellos lately. There’s a lyric in one song (click here for a listen) that cuts me softly every time I hear it: I’ve learned a lot about the way of things. I learned that everything has breath inside. I forget I have breath inside sometimes and that everything else does to. I forget the power of breath. Yoga and meditation are so good to remind us of this, but outside of those experiences, I forget to listen to my own current. That steady reminder of life’s continuity.

I’ve changed so much in the past year – the past few months even – that it seems strange at times to think that it is the same beating heart in my chest, the same breath moving in and out. Same as it ever was, only maybe not. Because I feel it differently now than I did before. I feel everything differently.

The kids and I spent time today at my grandparents’ place which I’ve written about often as it’s so central to my own memories and my own identity. It feels good to come home to these associations, like the breath inside I mentioned before. A continuity that steadies you. This week was stressful, and yesterday was bitterly cold and rainy. But today we stood in the familiar and the sun made up for yesterday’s chill. Winter sunshine feels like such a gift. We collected eggs from the hens and walked what is left of the fall garden. Jude munched on raw kale that he’d surely push aside if offered on his plate, but somehow it felt like a treat when he plucked it himself.

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In the song that initially got me hooked on The Oh Hellos, they echo Hello my old heart, how have you been? Are you still there inside my chest? I’ve been so worried. You’ve been so still. Barely beating at all. I remember the first time I heard it when it appeared on my Pandora station last summer as I painted a room in the house soon after we moved in. It was late and the kids were sleeping, and I was working to bring something of my own to a place that felt new and foreign. The lyric resonated enough with me in that moment that I teared up a little.

We’ve all felt like that at times, I think. Like you’ve ignored your own voice and you have to press an ear to your own soul and listen hard to see what’s there. It’s easy to listen to the clamor of what’s outside and ignore that whisper that is only heard in stillness.

It’s coming back to me, my old heart. It’s changed shapes in many ways, but I finally feel it beating as it was before. Like that same breath that moves in and out. Those long-forgotten but familiar spaces are coming back. It happens in bits and pieces, but it feels so needed, like winter sun.

I ran across a Facebook post yesterday that featured one of my favorite Rumi passages I’ve quoted before. Elizabeth Gilbert expanded on that passage by suggesting, “Maybe the worst thing you ever endured was a crucible through which you became YOU. Maybe you could not have become YOU through any other means except by going through that trial.” It’s a weird thing, right? To journey so far and in ways feel like you just made your way back to the beginning. The you that you always should have been. The old heart emerging again but softer and braver than it was before, feeling the pulse underneath the noise.

 

Life and Randomness

it happened again

Snow is more exciting the first time around.  Added to the frustration of having to pretty much rewrite my syllabi.  Added to Scott being stuck in Ohio all week.  Added to the threat of power outages.  We are pretty much over it, but we’re making the best of it as well we know how.

what driveway?

When this happened a couple of weeks ago, we saw so many neighborhood kids out playing in it. This time, I’ve hardly seen anyone at all. It was mostly ice the first two days, and then the snow finally came.

the world's tiniest snowman

For the most part, we are hunkering down and waiting for it to pass. We’ve colored and played a lot of hide and seek and baked cookies. They’ve watched a lot of television (or kind of in ten minute increments for Norah who won’t really watch much) and I’ve caught up on a bit on Downton Abbey.  The latest Norah has slept all week is 5:15.  All I want for Valentine’s Day is a shut bathroom door and a lonely, quiet bath.

snow days round two

I’m achy from the laziness. C’mon, spring!

travel

cold

January and February are never really my favorite months.  As I look back and see this,  I am reminded that seasons change and dreary skies turn to sunny ones eventually again.  I do the January doldrums every year, I suppose.  And I eventually recover.

But this year is especially cold in Atlanta.  (And everywhere, I guess.  Thanks, Polar Vortex.)  Single digits this morning and schools were even cancelled a couple of weeks ago due to such severe cold.  The ten-day forecast is not helping me feel better.  This is sticking around for a while.  Ugh.  Do I even have enough sweaters?  I guess I need to keep up on the laundry this winter.

I intend to check in about my January goals soon, but right now I am just going to vacation a moment in my old pictures.  Ahhh, summer sun.  I miss you.

chubby hand
summer 2010
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Costa Rica, 2011
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Costa Rica, 2011
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Vancouver, July 2011
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Aruba, summer 2013
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Aruba, summer 2013

I hope you are staying warm wherever you are.  I am trying to enjoy the winter hibernation as best I can.  Lots of soup on the menu lately.  This one was new to me and I LOVED it earlier this week.  And this old favorite is making some reappearances as well.  Stay cozy, friends.