Once in a Blue Moon on All-Hallows Eve

I am not one who ruminates much over the past, but once in a blue moon I get nostalgic. Today was a good day for that.

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. There is something about it that echoes in the core of my being. I cannot say precisely what it is, even though I’ve tried. It is something more easily evoked than described. My sister and I used to call it the Fall Feeling. For us, the first day of autumn was not marked by the calendar. It was marked by the day that one or the other of us excitedly announced that we had the Fall Feeling that day. The first hint usually happened in August. Maybe it’s something in the sound. Not just the obvious sounds like the sound of the geese. There is a change in the sound of the wind, a change in the sound of the insects. Maybe it’s something in the angle of the sun and the fading of the leaves. There is a shift in the light, a shift in the color. Autumn dances through memories of my childhood up to the present day.

Maybe it’s something in the angle of the sun and the fading of the leaves. There is a shift in the light, a shift in the color.

The sour-sweet wind, that’s what Dr. Suess called it. The Grinch and all sorts of spookiness came out with the sour-sweet wind. I was genuinely terrified of ghosts when I was young. In fact, I lived in horror of skillets because skillet sounds so much like skeleton. I remember dragging my feet once when my mom told me to get the skillet out of the cupboard. I knew it was an ordinary pan, but who knows what sort of invisible horrors might attach themselves to an object whose name sounds so much like skeleton. I have to laugh at myself looking back on that now. I’ve grown rather fond of skillets.

I’d like to blame my older siblings for my fear of the ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, but the truth is: I’m just as much to blame. As soon as I was old enough to understand that my siblings were intentionally freaking me out, I began retaliating with tricks of my own. But more often we freaked ourselves out simultaneously by mutual consent. I have fond memories of one autumn evening under a full moon. My sister and I had put off doing the chores until after dark. OOO… It was spooky… There were bats… it was almost Halloween… Something was moving in the shadows… It grew nearer and nearer until we could see what it was… We ran away screaming, “THE BLACK CAT!” Our pet had come slinking out of the shadows. We ran away in a delicious fake terror that, nevertheless, made us feel a little spooked. Naturally, we decided it was a good night to go on a walk.

Although I no longer fear the terror of the night, the Fall Feeling has followed me through life. I have sought to understand it and even to understand it academically. I remember the awkward feeling I had going to my English professor and trying to explain that I wanted to write my thesis on The Lord of the Rings because it gave The Fall Feeling. I figured that this master of grammar and footnotes would think I was crazy, but to my delight he knew what I meant and handed me an article on The Idea of Autumn, which C.S. Lewis refers to in Surprised by Joy.

My thesis changed shapes multiple times before I ended up writing on The Lord of the Rings as a fundamentally Catholic work. Writing it crystalized my faith and shaped my spirituality. By the end of writing that thesis, I started to be able to articulate that the Fall Feeling ultimately is a longing for God. The simultaneous feelings of a warm, cheerful home, full squash, nuts, apples, family, and friends and of cry of the migratory birds as they fly on the wind, these are but a foretaste of what it means to be gathered into the home of our Heavenly Father—Creator of the Stars of Night.

About 25 years later under a blue moon on the Eve of All-Hallows, I sit here haunted by the ghost of autumns pasts. Memories of my life flow by, bringing with them more memories. There are so many tales I could tell of my adventures throughout this Middle Earth, and of the people who wove in and out of my tale—a strange tale my life story is, full of multiple there and back again journeys. My journey down a moonlight path has not always been an easy one, yet I’m grateful for it. And I am grateful for the myriads of people who have crossed my path or journeyed down the path with me for a time. Perhaps they walked beside me on the path. Perhaps they walk beside me still. Perhaps a fragment of their thought reached me across decades or centuries or millennia. It is my hope that we shall come together at the end of our journey “to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Happy All Saints Day.

September Is…

…the sound of dry leaves.
… a glorious time to be a weed.
..mums dressing for their debut.
..time to thin the iris bed.
…always abundant, sometimes hot.
…when shadows begin to lengthen.

For me September is always a time of reflection on time. This is especially true now that I am older. Some things wither and fade, while others are just coming into their glory. The strawberries and the cherries are long gone, but the apples and pears are just beginning to bear. The flowers that blossomed in spring have put down their seeds and spread out their roots, already prepared to winter over and grace us again next year. The zinnias and golden rod are dressed in their finest while the mums are just getting ready for their debut.

It is also a time when squirrel gather and geese fly. “A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak” (Eccles 3:6-7) all in a single day.

What do you see when the shadows begin to lengthen?

I see the meeting place of time and eternity. As the Preacher said, “He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccles 3:11). There is no time that I hear the echo of eternity more clearly than in the passing of a brief autumn day.

September has slipped away.

The End of a Dry Summer

It’s been a summer of nothing: No Blog posts. No writing. No artwork. Little photography. Little cooking. Little rain. Little human contact. The garden did poorly. The weeds are wilting. Nothing is in focus. Yet at the end of the evening I am drawn out into the dim splendor of the waning daylight and the waxing moon. All is bathed in mysterious light. I instinctively grab the camera and wander through an enchanted landscape singing praise in my heart.

Will you walk with me through my messy yard as I resume my journey down a moonlit path?

A giant ragweed silhouetted against the evening sky. This photo sums up my life for the past few months. Nothing has been in focus. Everything is weedy and wilting. Yet reality has more depth and beauty than attempts to capture it might imply. In person the sky is stunningly beautiful; the photo only hints at the reality. The ragweed, though wilted is tall and making its seeds. It provides me with inspiration! (… as long as I overlook the fact that I don’t want it to produce seeds.)
Lamb’s ears always find a way to grow. In this light, even the tomato cages I never got put up and an old broken rake look interesting.
I’d never see the beauty of my sleeping hibiscus if I never took a shot in the dark.
Though the moon wears a veil of clouds and only a crescent shines, the whole moon is there. You can see it if you look carefully enough.

The moon is now in the first quarter. The night is a little brighter than it was the night I took the photos, but there has been no rain.

It has been a rough year for all of us. Yet there is always hope.

Take a little time today to look at the good that is there.

Peace be with you.

Gratitude

Today I am grateful for little things:

For shovels full of rich soil and seeds to put in it.

For growing grass and delicate blossoms.

For my two furry friends who console me in my solitude.

For silky, soft yarn that slips through my fingers as I knit.

For fresh cool air and the ability to breathe it in deeply.

For sunshine and clouds.

For the way black beans combine with rice for a hearty simple supper.

For the sound of the windchime dancing on the breeze.

What are you grateful for today?

A Bit of Butter

Sometimes the deliciously simple solution to our problems is right in front of our eyes.

I’m a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan, as much for the nuggets of wisdom and the rich symbolism that are strewn about the books as I am for the story. One of my favorite lines is spoken by Bilbo, “I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that is scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right.” This scene takes place at the beginning of the story. Gandalf the wizard realizes the Bilbo’s magic ring is gaining too much power over him. Bilbo has possessed it so long that he is beginning to get thin. Gandalf urges Bilbo to let go of the ring. The rest of the three novel story revolves around the struggle to destroy this ring—this ring that gives power and extends life without giving life. The ring becomes a powerful symbol of possessiveness and the desire to control.

I often feel like Bilbo—a bit of butter scraped over too much bread. I have said that before and added with a bit of bitterness that I don’t even have a ring of power to show for it. But as I sit and analysis why I feel this way I wonder: do I have a ring of power that I try to hold onto even though I know it hurts me? I feel thin and stretched because I tend to have too many personal goals that I feel I need to accomplish; then on top of that I pile commitment after commitment. I feel that I need to do everything everyone asks me to do.

Why? I often feel powerless when I say yes to too many things. But if I’m honest, this tendency to take on too much is a bit of a power play. When I say yes to too many things it usually comes about because I want people to like me: I want to control how others feel about me. When I have all these goals I want to reach, it’s because I want to feel accomplished; I want to be a type of wonder woman, a super hero who manages all the challenges life throws at me. Of course, I have better, higher motives as well. Those are what I focus on until I realize I’m too thin and stretched. Then I have to ask myself where I’m overreaching.

Maybe it’s time to do a little interior spring cleaning. Maybe it’s time to dust out the corners of my heart. Maybe I need to dig a little to see what I need to let go of.

But that that’s a long term project. I need to feel less thin and stretched today: when I’m pressed for time and need to somehow need to finish writing my blog post, take a relevant photo, get to work on time. Oh yes. And eat. I forgot about eating.

I am really so stupid that I was taking pictures of dense, healthy, substantial bread wondering what I was going to make for breakfast this morning. Then I asked myself if I was try to make everything more complicated than it needs to be. Then I saw my solution right before my eyes. Then I ate my solution without toasting it, with nothing but the butter that was there. And it was delicious. It gave me strength and an idea how to wrap up my thoughts.

Sometimes the deliciously simple solution to our problems is right in front of our eyes.

When I feel too stretched, it is usually because I am trying control every aspect of my existence. I try so hard to cover all the bread with butter that I forget that for the moment all I need to do it cover a slice or two for breakfast. When I’m trying to look in every direction, I forget to focus on what is right in front of me. I wonder how many deliciously simple solutions that were right right in front of me throughout life that I’ve missed because I was trying too hard to control the situation.

Rest

Today I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and take a little break between morning chores. The earth around me lay dormant, though somethings were starting to wake up for their yearly growth spurt. A pair of mourning doves landed on a sleeping maple to take a little rest. My cats stretched out lazily at my feet. It was a moment of quiet content broken only by my slowly and quietly getting my camera to capture a few images of the birds before slipping back into the moment of rest.

I wonder why it is so hard for me to take a rest. Rest is as natural as breathing. It is essential for health and wellbeing. I know this. I am my best self when I observe a day of rest, take times of rest throughout the day. I am not less productive when I do it. I am more productive, especially in terms of quality. Yet I more often than not run around like a hamster on its wheel wearing itself out while getting no where.

We have a culture that is driven by efficiency. I believe that efficiency is a good thing. So is water, but I don’t want to drown. Are we drowning in efficiency today? Would our efficiency produce more of quality and less garbage if we allowed ourselves more dormant time—time to watch a pair of mourning doves preen on branch, time to rejoice and give thanks for the shear wonder of our existence?

Tools for Time Management

Today I want to continue talking about time management tools. Different people have different relationships with time. Time management comes more naturally to some of us. Some of us are going to thrive with a schedule, while others will find following a schedule too limiting. But all of us need to come to grips with our relationship with time. Here are some tools I’ve found helpful.

Have the Right Attitude Towards Time

The most useful time management tool I have ever used is a simple attitude adjustment. When I realize that I am the one who chooses what I do with my time, everything changes.

Too often I feel at the mercy of time: It passes too quickly. There are so many obligations that I have. I have to go to work. I have to write a blog post on a certain day. I have to make supper. I don’t always feel like I have a choice about what I am doing. Somehow life planned my day out for me, and there is nothing I can do but respond.

A family heirloom clock that inspired me to write a fairytale. If only I could find the time to polish it up and get it published!

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I find it useful to remind myself that even my obligations are things that I have chosen. I choose to go to work because I want to be able to pay my bills. I choose to write a blog and post consistently because I have ideas that I want to share with the world. Of course, I need to eat to live, but when and what is my choice and I often make it more complicated than I need to.

Switching around how I think about these things helps me feel empowered to face them. I’m no longer at the mercy of time and a thousand obligations. I am an artist painting my life in the medium of time and obligations. Time has its limitations like any medium, but just as the limitations of oils gives character to the oil painting, the time in which we find ourselves gives character to our lives.

Creating a Schedule

I like making schedules. I don’t always have them, but life seems to go better when I do.

Scheduling works best for me when I jot things down on a piece of paper rather than when I go out and buy a fancy planner. I’m not sure if that is just because I haven’t found a planner I like, or if there is something liberating about writing things down on a scrap. Does it give a sense of order with a sense of flexibility built in? If buying a planner works best for you, go for it. But if you are new to scheduling, don’t wait till you buy a planner. Try it first on a scrap of paper and see if you take to it before you spend money on a planner.

The beauty of a schedule is that it helps me figure out how I can accomplish everything I want to accomplish. It also helps me be realistic. I might want to get 30 things done in a day but only have time for 10. A schedule gives me a visual image on how impossible my ideas are. It helps me adjust my expectations so that I am not constantly feeling inadequate. It encourages me to prioritize and to phase out or defer the things that aren’t as important to me.

Write Down What You Actually Do

In addition to making aschedule ahead of time, it can also be helpful to write down what you actually do. I usually do this on the same paper that I used to make the schedule. I find this at least as useful as having a plan to begin with. It helps me identify time drains. Say I had yard work scheduled but first I wanted to watch a YouTube video about organic weed control. One hour later I realize that I am watching habanero eating contests on YouTube and no yard work has been done and haven’t even watched any weed control videos. Writing it down helps me become more aware of my time drain quirks.

The reverse of that is that writing down what you do also helps you see when you are using your time productively. Some days we get a lot done, but maybe it isn’t what we set out to do. If I go out to do yard work but suddenly feel inspired to write a blog post, making the note on the schedule gives me a sense of accomplishment. It also lets me see how I might fit the yard work into another time slot.

Do It Now

We’ve all heard the adage: “Never put off till tomorrow that which you can do today.” I don’t think that is always good advice, but it has enough wisdom to be useful. Some projects are just going to get larger and larger as you put them off. Some opportunities will be missed if you don’t act immediately. Sometimes waiting to do something only prolongs the agony. You know you have to do that dreaded thing. You put it off because you don’t want to, but the dread hangs over you the whole time. It would be better if you just did it.

Bribe Yourself with a Promise of Free Time

All work and no play make Mary a dull girl. I believe we all need leisure to be our best selves.

One technique I use is to promise myself 15 minutes of leisure to every ____ minutes working on a project. The amount of time on the project depends on the day and the project. Sometimes I go 15 and 15. Other times I go 45 and 15. I wrote the draft of this blog taking a 15-minute break after 15 minutes of cleaning, then 15 minutes of writing.

Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

No single time management tool is going to fit your needs all the time. I started this post on a free day using the promise of a 15-minute break to get myself to write when I didn’t fel like it. I’m finishing it in Do It Now mode because it’s Thursday, and I am choosing to follow my plan of posting on Thursday. Mastering a time management tool does not mean that you will be bound by that tool in the future. It means that you now have another tool that you can pick up and put down at will.

What Works Best for You

What works well for me might not be the best for you. I don’t function well when I am constantly in Do It Now mode. I function best with a general plan. Other people do well in Do It Now mode. If that is how you operate best, fantastic! Just make sure that you aren’t so much in the habit of responding to things as they arise, that you never make time to reflect on what it is you truly want to accomplish in life. Make sure you are giving yourself time to accomplish them.

What works best for you? Do you have favorite time management technique? Is there something that you haven’t tried yet that might make your life run more smoothly?

Richer Than a King

Growing up poor, I learned that my worth comes from something other than economic status.

Sunday morning I awoke to a world encased in crystal and covered in diamonds. It brought me back to a favorite childhood memory.

One evening I decided to venture out sledding by the light of the full moon. I don’t remember much of the sledding. I remember standing on top of a hill looking out over a glittering valley. I was no longer a bumpkin in patched jeans: I was a princess covered in diamonds.

We were richer than kings, my Dad used to say. I rarely felt that way in my out of style, worn out clothing. And we could never afford a saddle for my pony. Funny that it never occurred to me how blessed I was to have a pony in the first place. This moonlit sledding venture was, perhaps, the first time I truly understood what Dad meant.

It’s also funny how I let the fact of being out of style influence my sense of self-worth. I never cared that much about the fashion industry. My own tastes gravitate to folk art. (I was fusion before fusion was cool.) Yet I was painfully aware that I was somehow different. (That’s what happens in high school when you listen to Russian opera instead of pop music.) I always felt like the odd one, like someone in the wrong place and time.

Now when I look back, I see that wasn’t such a bad thing. I learned that my worth comes from something other than economic status. I learned to exist and think independently. I learned to make my own sense of style and develop my own sense of beauty. I feel no need to buy the latest fashion, listen to the latest sound… Perhaps that makes me irrelevant in the eyes of some people. That fact is still somewhat painful to me, though less so than it was when I was young. The opinion of those people, even if it stings a little, is ultimately irrelevant to me.

I learned to see diamonds in the snow. I’d rather have that gift than all the jewels in the world. I’d rather have that gift than to be considered relevant by people who don’t understand where real wealth lies.

Facing Our Brokenness

It’s not easy to face our brokenness. When I look inside, sometimes all I can see is a cracked pot.

But an old, cracked pot, doesn’t need to lie forgotten in the snow. Put it together with some old, dried weeds and you have a bouquet.

Likewise, our brokenness, when we embrace others in their brokenness, takes on a new meaning. Even if the cracks remain visible, we become whole and significant.

An old, cracked pot, doesn’t need to lie forgotten in the snow. Put it together with some old, dried weeds and you have a bouquet.

How to Savor Nature Through Art

One of the best ways I have found to train myself to observe nature is to make a chronical of what I see through writing, photograph, and art. Winter is a good time to practice on houseplants, pets, and whatever you see out of your window. You may gravitate more to writing or visual arts. The nice thing about writing is you can use it to develop your all your senses. I gravitate to writing but enjoy visual arts as well.

I did a study of an orchid through writing, photography, and watercolor. I will use it as an example of how I observe nature through art.

Write about it.

Your writing can be practical or creative. A garden or nature journal is a good way to keep a record of what is or isn’t working for you. A poem is a good way to observe the color, form, and the emotions evoked.

If you go for creative writing, don’t get hung up on form. You don’t have to turn it in to your English teacher. I invite you to post what you write in the comments, but I promise I won’t grade it unless you ask me to.

What are some descriptive words you can use? Can you think of a metaphor? What are some poetic devices you can use?

Here is my orchid poem:

Winged flower flying
Glides over green
On slender stalk.

Roots reaching:
Skyward, Downward

Dance of delight.

My poem doesn’t follow any set structure. I made use of alliteration, metaphor, parallel structure of opposites, and short staccato lines. I didn’t try to fit it into any poetic mold, other than I wanted the lines short. The point was the orchid, not the poem.

The poem and my favorite of the photos with a little help from Photoshop. Unless you want to add a poem to your image, you can get beautiful photos with your phone without any photo editing.

Photograph It

You might not have a camera, but you probably have a phone. Most phones today have good cameras. I developed a love of photography playing with the camera on my phone. I have an expensive camera now, but my phone started me on that path.

Pick a subject for your study or just go outside and look for interesting subjects. If your subject is a houseplant, take pictures in different light and with different backgrounds. Arrange it with other objects. (If your subject is a cat, watch for the way it arranges itself with other objects.) Try different angles. Lie on the floor. Set the plant on the floor. Try different things till you come up with something you really like.

Don’t worry if most of your pictures aren’t that great. I took 34 pictures of the orchid and only liked about 5. The point was the orchid, not the photography.

Draw It or Paint It

I had an amazing art teacher in high school who taught us, among other things, that if you can see, you can draw. The biggest part of learning how to draw is learning how to see. And I believe she was correct. Seeing teaches you to draw and drawing teaches you to see. When you practice drawing you will be better both at the seeing and the drawing.

One way to warm yourself up to really seeing an object is to do a blind contour drawing. Look at the object and draw the outline without looking at your paper. Seriously. No peeking allowed. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but you might be pleasantly surprised. I often find the results strangely appealing. The best thing about the exercise is it gets you to focus on seeing rather than on producing a product.

Beautiful isn’t it? Contour drawings also cure you of the idea that every time you put a pencil to the paper you need to produce something awesome.

Now choose a medium and create your work of art. Water color is my favorite medium, so that’s what I did. If you don’t hoard art supplies like I do, just use what you have. Use a pen and printer paper if that’s all you have. Just enjoy.

It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. I actually like my photo of the painting better than the painting itself.

Your Turn

Pick and activity. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to observe and create.

What did you do? Were you happy with the results?