The Call of the Bells

The sound of a bell is said to disengage our mind from the onslaught of thoughts and ideas and stimuli that is constantly grabbing our attention and time. The bell is a symbol of peace and freedom. Freedom from all that is twisting our minds, the bell sound ushers us into a place where we can imagine a more peaceful existence for us as well as for others. Bell ringing during prayer is to help snap us back into the present moment, controlling the ever-wandering mind and to focus us on God’s love and presence.

As we march into June, my mind is a riotous place, as I am sure you are also experiencing much dissonance and noise. Just like the riots in the streets, my thoughts frantically race. Burning down old, useless habits while also lifting up values and beliefs that are true and proven. How can I make a change? What do I need to say publicly? Who am I and what can I do in the midst of all this upheaval and needed (although painful) cultural growth?

I don’t have the answer to any of those internal questions yet but my thoughts have started to stumble over themselves in a rush to get out and get active. Seeing various sides of an issue can be an asset and it can be dangerously debilitating. My gut is telling me to slow down. To stop a minute. To gather my incoherent thoughts into a pile to sort through when I am in a clearer state of mind. That first and foremost I need to look at the basics. Go back to the basics.

The Church and all of its varying denominations have gotten things wrong many times. They have committed atrocities (forthrightly and passively) that are horrific in the name of God and their falsely inerrant rules and manuals. And so it is with hesitation that I say to myself, much less publicly, that there is truth and love and forgiveness and grace and humility when living and following God’s message of love and divinity. The one-on-one relationship is what I’m speaking about. Not the relationship through the hallowed halls of denominations or spiritual leaders, but the true experience of knowing and serving the Heavenly Father alone. Back to the basics. I fully believe He is in charge. He is capable of bringing about social and racial unification through the hands and feet of those He has placed on the earth. He is also capable of creating minds so scientifically brilliant that a cure for COVID-19 and other deadly diseases can be amended and eventually eradicated. I believe this. What is my place in your plan, Lord? 

Meanwhile, I hear the bell calling me to stop. To take deep breaths. Breathe in through my nose, expanding my lungs to their fullest. Hold the breath for a few seconds. Then blow out through my mouth with force and purpose, emptying my lungs and detoxifying my body and mind. Did you know that after five deep breaths like this your body will switch out of it’s fight or flight mode? That the oxygen signals to your body that you are no longer in danger? 

There is work to be done, personally and societally. But for myself, I must first quiet down. I must stop aimlessly running and completely stop. In those quiet moments I will find direction and purpose. I will find answers and creative ideas. The rioting in my mind must stop. I must first connect my feeble and stumbling thoughts to a mighty and limitless God. 

I am listening to the bells. Hearing their reminder to stop and listen and breathe. In the Catholic and other liturgical churches, they ring the church bells three times a day to summon the faithful to recite the Lord’s Prayer. 

…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day…

He hears our cries. He sees our handmade signs and our protests and our anguish and our loss. He is equipping an army to serve in innumerable ways. Scientists and activists and peacemakers and writers and historians and neighbors and friends. The pot has been vigorously stirred and we are here, living in these days, for a reason and a purpose. We will do it wrong; say the wrong things. We will trip and perhaps even fall hard at times. But the bells are ringing. We must stop and listen. Get our minds in the right place and our hearts recalibrated before our feet start out in movement again. 

You are loved, my dear reader. Find a moment today…slight as it may be…to experience the quiet. To see unexpected beauty. To breathe deeply. To hear the bells. 

Big Monstera Tip/Advice

Basically, do this before it gets too late and you end up like me.

(Sounds ominous, doesn’t it??)

A quick backstory…

Our monstera deliciosa was large when we lived in Kansas City. When we moved to California, we knew it couldn’t make the trip in our car so I cut a number of stems from it and placed them in water to root. (And gave the mother plant away.)

About a month and a half later they were rooted enough to add to dirt.

It’s grown quite a bit over the past year and accumulated many aerial roots. Aerial roots are funky looking but serve an important purpose in the tropical forest where the monstera originates. Monstera plants climb up trees like a vine so they naturally seek a ‘dark structure’ to attach themselves to with their aerial roots.

In a home environment, however, the roots merely hang down, searching for something to climb.

My biggest advice to new or upcoming monstera owners, plant your monstera with a pole in the middle from the beginning. I kept ‘meaning to get around to it’ – as the plant continued growing and growing.

As a result, the plant has become very “unruly” looking with leaves falling all over the place and no structure.

Another issue with waiting too long is that the plant was now growing up from the middle, leaving no room for inserting a climbing pole.

It was time to take (belated) action before the spring and summer leaves start growing.

Scott used a cedar piece of wood and affixed chicken wire around it with a staple gun and ordered some sphagnum moss online.

The moss comes in a compact brick.

Once it’s placed in water, it begins to expand and unravel.

We inserted the wet moss into the chicken wire then wrapped the whole pole and moss with fishing wire.

The added benefit to a moss pole is that it will raise the humidity level around the plant. Spraying or watering the moss keeps a’tropical’ humidity around the plant.

Taking the monstera outside, we took the plant and root ball out of the pot and thoroughly rinsed as much dirt off as we could.

Relative to the height of the plant, the roots aren’t that deep.

We carefully removed each section of the plant and laid them out to be re-potted later.

This is NOT the easiest way to grow a monstera! I should have started with a moss pole from the very beginning. Heed my warning! Save yourselves!!!

After assembling the pole, we re-planted the pieces of monstera and carefully wrapped any long aerial roots around the moss pole for them to eventually take hold.

It will take a few weeks for it to fully straighten up. But since the growing season is coming up, it will stretch upwards instead out sprawling out. I’ll do an update to this post in a few months.

Lesson? Give your new monstera a pole to start climbing from the beginning and/or when they’re small. It will grow into a better shape and be in an atmosphere more closely related to its origins.

(And it’s a lot less back breaking!)

Crossing my fingers this will help to refresh this plant. New dirt filled with yummy nutrients and a ‘tree’ for its aerial roots to climb.

Ready for growing season!

Loose Leaf Noted

I like the idea of tea.
I like the slow, methodical process of tea-making.
I like the ritual of afternoon tea.

It’s just the tea part I don’t really love about tea.

So I did what any good bookstagrammer would do – I took to Instagram and asked for advice. And man!, did I get responses. You guys are SERIOUS about your tea!

I thought I’d share some of the repeated responses I received in case there’s anyone else out there looking for tea help (and I know there are because many of you commiserated with me about not particularly liking tea.) So maybe some of these hints will help you out too:

  • by far the most common thread was: GET RID OF THOSE TEA BAGS! -ha! I was promised over and over again that loose leaf tea is far superior to any tea bag
  • make sure to use the correct ratio of leaves to water: 1/2 tsp per 8 oz.
  • by high quality tea!
  • if you want to add milk, brew it in water first and then add milk or creamer to it
  • whipping cream is a necessary luxury
  • Earl Grey latte: earl grey tea, honey and frothed cream
  • no need for a fancy frother: brew you tea and cream in a Mason jar, put the lid on and shake it vigorously until frothy
  • (above tip came with the comment that it’s also a great workout at the same time!)
  • use coconut milk in your chai tea
  • advice from the UK (so you know it’s legit!): you can only use milk with black tea and don’t forget to pour boiling water over the tea. Let it stand for 7 minutes before pouring from the teapot.
  • if tea is made in a teapot, pour milk in the cup before pouring in the brewed tea and if brewing in a cup, add the milk into the cup after the tea has brewed.
  • heat your milk but not to a boiling point, stir in the chai powder or syrup – no water used at all.
  • David’s Tea is awesome loose leaf tea
  • loose leaf tea is not as intimidating as it sounds if you have a good tea infuser to make it super easy
  • the best teas to use with milk are ones that contain a nutty, buttery, caramel-like tea which are most black teas and rooibos tea

These are the rules, people! 

I don’t think I’ll ever be beyond the point of adding so much honey and cream to the cup that it really can’t even be called tea anymore. I suppose that’s how young coffee drinkers start out, right?

Do you have any additional tips for us Tea Wannabees? 

BROTHER AND SISTER by Diane Keaton

I am so very honored to have reviewed Diane Keaton’s new book, Brother and Sister. Thank you, Alfred A. Knopf for this gifted book.⠀

Diane Keaton book review from Botany and Bookends

We know her as spunky, eccentric, quirky and free-spirited. We love her fashion sense and decorating expertise and admire her longevity in film.⠀

Her newest book, BROTHER AND SISTER, gives a rare, inside look into the upbringing of Diane and her younger siblings, Randy, Robin and Dorrie. This book focuses on the complicated relationship with her brother, two years her junior. Diane and Randy were born in a typical 1950’s middle-class home to a doting mother and a hard-working father. As their family income increased, so did the size of their homes and their family unit.⠀

Randy is a deeply passionate poet (many of his beautiful works are woven within the book) and an artist with an equally complicated mind. Creative genius is often disguised as ‘disturbed’ or ‘peculiar’ and such was the life that Randy led. Succumbing to alcohol as a task-master, Randy’s familial relationships crumbled. ⠀

What is the responsibility of a family member when another continually pushes you away? This is a common question asked by all matters of families. As Keaton’s career began to rise, she shares of the extreme difficulties and loss she was experiencing in her family home. She wrote of specific movies (movies I have watched and loved) and what was simultaneously going on with her family. I see the movies in a completely different light now, imagining the difficulty she must have had while trying to work PLUS care for extended family members.

As so many of us are want to do, she asks herself if she did enough. Was I too closed-off? Should I have done more? Questions that haunt many of us while dealing with dysfunction of any kind.

I read this book in just a few sittings, but it is not an easy read. Keaton’s voice is heard within each story regaled. Her awkward optimism evident throughout. As a reader it is a bit jolting when we fully realize how ‘everyday’ our on-screen heroes are. This book shines a spotlight on that truth. ⠀

Perhaps this book will help you better understand that you are not alone. That family is not always easy and yet, as the years climb, our desire for understanding and our acceptance of reality reaches a more peaceful coexistence.⠀

I appreciate Keaton’s willingness to lift the veil on such a beautifully entangled area of her life. I am certain many will find a sense of commonality among her words.⠀

(book release in early February.)

WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY by John Larison

UH-OH!! I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just finished reading Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison and it might be the best book I read in 2020 – and it’s only January 13!

This book was storytelling at its lyrical best. WHISKEY was a gripping read – Midwestern true grit with a southern lit style prose. Each description, painted magnificently on the big, open skies of the 1800’s Plains.⠀

Orphaned in 1885, Jessilyn finds herself alone. Having learned sharpshooting from her father on their cattle farm, she sets out to find the only other family member she knows, her older brother, Noah, who left home years before and was now an outlaw on the run. Knowing the limitations and boundaries she would encounter as a female, Jess cut her hair, bound her body and rode into the outside world under the guise of a young man.⠀

The adventures and circumstances that ensue develop Jess’s strong character and resolve but do very little to answer the questions about her past. Her mother died during Jessilyn’s birth and her stoic father died suddenly, just as she was becoming a young woman.

“What started the war, pa?”⠀
“Stories, Jess. Stories. We tell ourselves the wrong stories.”

It was not difficult to make the parallel to much of what we listen to on the nightly news. Or experience in our own relationships. What wrong stories are we repeating? What wrong stories are being passed down, generation to generation? Culture to culture?

Her father taught her many things during her young life, not the least of which was to shoot a gun with precision. There was no way of knowing how well that would serve her in the years to come.

For many years Jess maintained her male identity. She developed friendships with other guys but never revealed her true story. Confiding only one time to an old lady her true past: “It was such a relief to hear this in the air outside, rather than echoing endlessly within.”

This is a coming of age story as well as a story of familial reflection and connection common to us all. Thank you, Anne Bogel, for your recommendation. This expansively beautiful story will ride with me for a while.

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM by Joan Didion

 

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM is the third Joan Didion book I’ve read in as many years. Her relatable voice holds its own unique place in journalism. I am awed at her use of language and her ability to beautifully sculpt a story out of seemingly ordinary beginnings.

The title, taken from a Yeats poem, represents a collection of essays written by Didion during the 1960’s. The essays are mostly about California (adding a personal benefit for me as a new Californian.) She talks about things like having dinner with John Wayne, growing up in the Sacramento Valley, and specifically about her journalism (…we would now say she was ‘embedded’…) during the Haight- Ashbury days in San Francisco. Among the many stoned-out hippies she encounters during her San Francisco travels she meets Susan, a five-year-old on acid. Susan tells Didion she’s in High Kindergarten. She lives with her mother and some other people, just got over the measles, wants a bike for Christmas, and particularly likes Coca-Cola, ice cream, and the beach. For a year now her mother has given her both acid and peyote.⠀

The chapter I connected with the most was: On Keeping a Notebook. She describes the odd and random things she writes in her notebooks. Things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to anyone but her. Quotes that aren’t necessarily about the words, but the feeling evoked when she heard them.⠀

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it… Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed.”⠀

Oh how I understand this sentiment. My children will someday find my notebooks of phrases and desultory thoughts and may very well give up looking through them and simply toss them away. My hope is that they don’t throw them away in youth, pre-50’s let’s say. They’ll find more use for them as they age. So much of what didn’t make sense before will eventually begin to weave together their history. Their shared story.⠀

SLOUCHING has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I am so grateful to have read it for #theunreadshelfproject2020. Grateful that the words have now soaked into my marrow, the way all Didion writings do. This also checks off the #mmdchallenge to read something from the decade you were born (I’ll save you from looking it up: it’s the 60s. -ha!)

The book ended up heavily underlined by the time I was finished; ideas and phrases I want to be able to look back and remember. I’m so sorry I haven’t read this collection sooner. I thoroughly enjoyed it…proving that you don’t have to read the ‘latest’ books. This 1968 publication was just as relevant today. (Hoping this 1965’er can be as well!)

The Best Advice My Mother Gave Me

I always enjoy the week between Christmas and the new year. I love the way it helps us let go slowly and say a proper good-bye.

My mother was a 7th grade English teacher. If you remember 7th grade English, it was saturated with grammatical work. Proper use of commas, dangling participles and conjugating verbs. She was the one we all called when we were stuck with a sentence while writing a college essay. “Mom – tell me again the difference between ‘lay’ and ‘lie’. Was it people lie and objects lay – or the other way around?” She always knew. And if not, she’d go straight to her textbook bibles to double-check. (But she always knew.)

The best advice she gave me, when I struggled through a particular phrase, was to simply change the sentence around.

When you can’t figure out if it’s ‘me and him went to the market’ or ‘he and I went to the market’ – stop trying so hard to figure out the correct grammatical rule and just rearrange the sentence! ‘I went to the market with Scott.’ It’s as simple as that. I’ve used that advice over and over when writing something out and getting stuck mid-way. Take a second. Back up. And rearrange the sentence. There’s always a different way out of the glitch you’ve worked yourself into.

It occured to me this morning that Mom gave me a much deeper piece of advice. The frustration surrounding this unmoored Week-In-Between which is filled with the pressure to make new year’s resolutions, is that too often we can become bogged down in the mire of Making It Important Enough. Looking back over the past year – or in this case, the past decade – we can tend to feel the weight of all the should’ves we shoulda done. This week is not unlike any of the other 51 weeks, but we all fall into the collective trap of Doing Better and Wish I Had… type feelings.

I’m going to take my mother’s advice and try seeing the simple solution: just rearrange the sentence. Can’t figure out how to cultivate a more grateful heart? Stop looking at all the gratitude journals and blessings systems, and simply say to yourself, ‘I am grateful for the sun’s rays this morning.’ Maybe that’s the last moment of recognized gratitude I’ll have all week. I hope not. But I don’t need to be weighed down with all the logistics. I just need to feel and recognize the gratitude and move on. Same with healthy choices and marital relationships and friendships and financial goals. Don’t get pushed under the current of what’s right, what’s acceptable, and what’s expected. Rearrange the sentence…the trajectory…of your life and then you’ll be able to move forward. One sentence after another until the paragraph, the story, the year, the decade begins to take shape.

We all have 24 hours, 52 weeks, and untold years in which to live out our uniquely chosen life. My mind often reels with questions about what is the right way to go about this task? What is the correct thing to do in this situation? Should I have… Could I have… And yet an unfinished sentence is a task not yet completed. An unfinished sentence serves no purpose. No solution.

Sometimes the most grammatically correct thing one can do is the simplest thing.
Simply change the sentence.

 
Here’s to a new year. A new decade! Sure, we have goals in mind and that’s great because that’s what keeps us moving forward and growing stronger. This is just a friendly reminder from a 7th grade English teacher: Don’t drown under the logistics of it all. Go to the gym – even if it’s not the right gym. Have the difficult conversation even though it might entail ugly crying. Reach out, even when you think you’ve done nothing wrong. Save the extra dollar instead of increasing your spending. Don’t get bogged down in the HOW. Live out the WHY.

I’m ready for you 2020. Let’s finish up this sentence so we can go kiss that cute boy waiting for me at my locker (which was always more fun than modifying a clause!) Still is!