commonality

In a world of disconnection, it has felt even more comforting to gather with people all over the world as we circle the same scripture on the same day. That is the beauty of the liturgy, for me. Similar thoughts are being mulled over. Time of year is being considered. The great joining together happens at different times throughout the day and probably over different types of coffee or chai or a whiskey sour. We enter God’s presence with our burlap bags of angsty needs, we read through our ancient common prayer, and then leave that space, emboldened to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I find a great sense of connection with the world in those moments. Even in the solitude of my home.

Buffalo? Check.

Buffalo check print. Gingham print. Plaid. I absolutely love them all. So when I saw this holiday project I was on board immediately. It was easier than I originally thought and, once again, I will try to stretch this project out further than just Christmas by swapping out the ribbon and wreath.

I bought a two pack of 16×20 white canvases and Scott made a frame so I could just slide the finished canvas inside.

I painted the stark white canvas a softer antique white to warm it up a bit.

I bought this wallpaper brush on Amazon. To be honest, this was the most difficult part of the project. I couldn’t find wallpaper brushes anywhere – craft stores or hardware stores. People don’t old-school wallpaper much anymore.

Section off your brush with painters tape like so…

Then cut the other bristles shorter. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t find individual bristles in my bra all day long after this. -ha!

The cut sections don’t need to be exact. The idea is that they need to be short enough to not pick up paint, leaving you with two ‘guides’ for your buffalo print.

Dip the brush in black paint and brush on…

I will not do it as heavy the next time I make a background canvas but there are no rules – you can make it as thick or light as you choose.

My canvas fit tightly so all I had to do is cut a length of ribbon to loop through the wreath, then hang the ends off the back of the canvas which slid right into the frame. The wreath is hanging freely, but securely. It’s not attached in any way to the canvas.

I can simply pop out the canvas and hang different ribbon and wreath to completely change the look. Maybe burlap and a grapevine wreath? Or spring-colored gingham and an Easter egg wreath? Many possibilities.

Step awaaaaaay from the Pom Pom maker……

I can’t help it! I have loved using my new pom pom maker but you guys… there is a possibility I may never make a pom pom ever again in my whole entire life. Whew! This was a bigger job than I originally anticipated.

But I’m so happy with the result. It’s a ‘minimalistic’ winter wreath, that took a maximalist amount of effort. -ha.

Thankfully it is so much quicker to make pom poms now. This wreath took four skeins of white yarn (and 3 movies, 14 podcasts and 38 audio books…give or take… AND potentially a future shoulder surgery from all the yarn wrapping-around action!)

I had a green 14” foam wreath on hand, which was fine, but you should actually use a white wreath form. Of course a smaller wreath would require less yarn balls.

I bought these vintage-looking wire trees at Hobby Lobby (50% off) and then hot glued everything on.

I found it helpful to use two different size yarn balls, using the smaller size to fill gaps. It’s not absolutely necessary (all one size would work fine), but I like the variety.

(I ultimately hung it in our hallway, but wanted a picture by the Christmas tree first.)

This is one of those crafting-while-movie-watching activities. I love the end result – but prepare for some time investment with this one.

Sidenote: for any of you who read the Louise Penny series set in Three Pines, this wreath is my ode to that idyllic village.

I bought a thing. I did a thing.

As a plant seller on FB Marketplace, I have not been much of a buyer until recently. I have picked up a couple of cool things during Quarantine. Inexpensive items but nice additions for our home. The added bonus: thrifting is better for the environment!

I saw this cute round table for $25. Low investment = low risk. I feel freer to experiment with stuff when I haven’t invested a lot of money into them.

The original color of the table was gray, I believe. But the bottom had been painted black (which was still in pretty good shape) then the top was spray painted white.

When I picked it up she mentioned there was also a leaf to expand it so that was a nice little surprise bonus.

We have a small kitchen nook area that I enjoy reading in because the natural light is so fantastic. I’ve recently painted the room (…which I’m not sure I ever blogged the results.) I wanted a round table where I could sit and read, journal, etc. I also decided I wanted to do a ‘tone-on-tone’ by painting the top of the table the same color as the walls. Since the room is small, I didn’t want to feel like the table was cluttering the space. Painting it the same color as the walls gave it continuity for the eye.

After a few coats of paint I then topped it with a glossy polyurethane finish.

It’s the perfect size. I’m so happy with it. A cup of chai and the London Book Review magazine and I am in complete relaxation mode.

A room of blue-ish silver-ish plants, walls and now tabletop. A pretty good $25 investment.

Sidenote: the table leaf storage is kind of ingenious. Maybe you have a table like this but I’ve never seen a fold-in leaf. So I made a dorky video for you to see…

What great finds have you fallen into lately?

THE GREEN WITCH by Arin Murphy Hiscock

To be honest, I’ve put off posting about this book wanting to make sure it wasn’t going to be too offensive to anyone – or to myself. I wanted to get far enough into the book to see if it was just too ‘woo-woo’.

⁣Thankfully, it is what I hoped it would be – a celebration of living in partnership with our environment.

There is a craving – similar to pregnancy cravings – that will strike me and I’ll say to Scott, ‘I’ve got to get out in nature.’ When I have been isolated too much, or too busy trying to meet deadlines or too ANYTHING, my therapy is to place myself into nature. Tree bathing. Grounding. Whatever you want to call it, there is a recalibration that happens when I can breath in clean air and notice the magnitude of the natural world around me.

Of course, that’s not always an option, so I try to work with scents and homegrown elements for natural healing and mood enhancement and many many many times, for antioxidants and anti-inflammatory treatments. Whether it’s the sourced food we eat or the natural cleaner made with rosemary from our backyard, I truly believe the further we get from nature, the further we are from the environment in which we were created to live.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I am neither vegan nor a purist, but we can all attempt to make changes in some areas of our lives.

THE GREEN WITCH includes ways in which we can use the natural things around us whether it be wood for cabinetry or gardenias for tranquility. There are recipes for Digestive Tea or a homemade balm for colds and headaches. It even includes celebrations you can have for each of the season changes. (Happy Autumnal Equinox on the 22nd!)

As far out there as it seems, it is all really quite logical and simple. I love combining things together for scrubs or oils or to clean my kitchen counters. It makes me feel part gypsy (don’t we all want that??) and part Native American – working with the seasons and the fruit of the land. Farmers determined our school year based on harvest time. Many churches follow the liturgical cycles that correspond with the seasons. There are ways that you participate in these cycles without even realizing it.

After bashing my leg a few days ago (in a super dumb way), tonight is all about grilled salmon with ginger and spinach – natural ways to reduce swelling. Lemon verbena, lavender and grapefruit are my favorite essential oil combinations to slow my mind and my breath. And of course, caring for houseplants and learning from their rhythm and cycles.

Our environment (of which I believe was created for us by God as a gift) is worth preserving. Living within. And voting for.

Finding Calm

These are a few books that have meant a lot to me personally during this pandemic season. I find reliance on the liturgy comforting when you don’t feel like praying. Leaning into ancient traditions (even rote memorization) gets you through at times when your heart just isn’t in it.

I especially recommend the book, Flee. Be Silent. Pray. by Ed Cyzewski. I’ve found a great deal of comfort (and shame release, to be honest) reading this book. It’s no accident I bought it right before the pandemic.

“Find a space for walking with God”, Cyzewski writes. Thomas Merton wrote about the moment he walked into his monastery to stay for the first time: ‘Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.’”

Has Quarantine 2020 been our own monastery? Has it forced us to slow down, to engage more authentically with each other, to pay closer attention to the blatant injustices that have been hiding in plain sight? I keep using the phrase ‘Quarantine as monastery.’ That’s what it’s felt like to me. I’ve been stir crazy at times, yes. But I also have come face to face with Greta in a way I haven’t taken the time to do before my regular routines were broken apart. I’ve learned some ugly traits and I’ve seen talents I have stepped around too often before. I am processing my own prejudices and I’ve embraced a forced contentment with less. I’ve found, through this pandemic of all things, the newly available space to walk intentionally each day with God. I want to go to movie theaters and hug people and travel, but I don’t want my ‘quarantine monastery’ to disappear too quickly. Or to be forgotten too easily. My mind and my heart still has so much work to do. In time. No hurry. Let’s have just one more chai together as I continue to try to memorize this nightly prayer:

‘Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Attend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest for the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love sake. Amen.’

for this moment.

2020. Dude. We are tired.

Just like you, I have felt overwhelmed and confused and demotivated and quite frankly, just SAD this year.

I lost a college friend today to sudden heart failure. He was 58 years old. To some of you, that may sound logical. To someone nearer that age, you know how young that truly is. He left behind a wife, two girls in college and a 7th grade son.

He has served as mayor of a thriving city for 20 some odd years. He was beloved and effective and will be deeply missed.

My physical world, currently, is immersed in fog and smoke and terrible air quality from the California fires. So not only was I feeling heavy at the loss of Mike today, but I was surrounded by the physical reminder that all around me was the loss of property and animals and memories and ancient trees and breath-taking beauty.

It’s too much, God. It’s too much. I felt listless and directionless.

Then this verse came to mind and a small shift happened in my brain. While I am raising my fists and confusion to the sky thinking WHY do we have to live through this tumultuous time of pandemic and political division and racial injustice and illness and death? WHY do the punches keep piling up? Lord – come ON. Enough!

Esther says that perhaps…THIS is the time that was meant for you. YOU are needed right now. In the midst of all the grief, it is not that you have to live through such difficulty but that the difficulty and injustice and sickness and division needs you.

If you are here right now in 2020, is it because you are needed for a task uniquely suited for your talents? Your intelligence? Your capacity for compassion and empathy? Is that why you’re here today? Is this the moment that is waiting for you?

We were each fearfully and wonderfully and wildly uniquely made. What is the moment you were created to own? To lead? To listen to? To advise or protest or hug or cry or text or smile into?

Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is the second book I’ve read from Acevedo and I listened to both of them on audio. I believe she is an author that should not only be read, but be heard as well. Her reading is thick with a Dominican accent and her placement of words melt together like a cherished recipe, passed down from generation to generation, but mixed with individual style.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is about the fictional character, Emoni Santiago, and takes place during her senior year in high school. During her freshman year, she had a baby girl and is balancing all the important parts of her life: school, being a mom, being a granddaughter, work schedules and navigating outside relationships. Her best friend, Angelica, is an encouraging and supportive friend, but Emoni’s soul belongs to cooking. She can feel the needs of a recipe and blends ingredients together so skillfully many people believe it is laced with magic. The word that kept coming to my mind while reading FIRE was vibrant. Vibrant family. Vibrant food. Vibrant friendships. Vibrant love. Vibrant writing. Surrounded by all this support and love, Emoni still struggles with what to do with her life. How does one plan for the future when the consequences of your past are always with you in the present. At her high school graduation she reflects:

And like a map I’ve been following without knowing the exact destination, I know now, I’ve been equipping myself with tools from the journey to help me survive when I arrive.

No matter your age, that is a sentiment that will resonate. Through struggles and hardship and triumphs and setbacks, we are equipping ourselves with the needed tools for our future selves.

The first book I read from Acevedo was THE POET X. I blogged about it last year and how much I enjoyed it. Especially as an audio. She will transport you with the lilt of her voice and place you firmly into the heart of her story. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is listed as a Young Adult read from Harper Teen, but I wouldn’t shy anyone away from enjoying the deep heritage and stories held within Acevedo’s books. They are strong and descriptive and culturally driven. I can’t wait to read her latest book, CLAP WHEN YOU LAND.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a celebration of young, single mothers and the role models who help shape them as mamas and as independent female leaders. I highly recommend all three of Acevedo’s books. Having read two of the three, I have no doubt her third book is as engaging as the others.

Special kudos also to the amazingly illustrated book cover by Erick Davila and Erin Fitzsimmons. What a beautiful piece of art for my shelves. Artwork equal to the quality of words that reside within.

I don’t know what to do, so I just keep doing what I know…even when it’s not quite right

Every day there’s a new alert that takes hostage of my phone screen. Our county, our state – hitting a new COVID-19 high. And now today, worldwide records being broken, the U.S. topping the list.

I don’t know what to do to help solve this problem. I wear my mask and keep my distance but I am not (nor probably are the majority of you) equipped to help in any medically-significant way in this pandemic. I have no medical training and can barely understand my own weird ailments. I have no political clout (except my vote!) and my caregiving skills are woefully lacking.

I don’t know what to do.

My husband is genuinely gifted at baking bread for our neighbors. He has done things like that everywhere we’ve lived. When someone is sick or going through a difficult time, I am not the person to call for a food circle. Cooking and baking are things I enjoy occasionally but Scott can go into cooking mode on the spot and produce things ten times faster than me.

So what do I offer?

I doubt my prolific cross-stitching skills are going to help much in a pinch. Most of my enate talents are creative-related and who the heck needs a new mixed media piece when death is knocking on our doors?!

I read books about women faithfully ‘tending the wounded’. I’m not even really sure what that means for the non-medically inclined but the women in the books rush to the cause. Whatever it means, I know it’s not my giftedness in the least. I faint easily and have a highly sensitive stomach.

Do you need community organizing for activism and protests? Yeah…I don’t really have that skill set either.

So what does a mildly creative person do in the middle of a worldwide pandemic filled with fear and angst?

I like sending notes. It sounds like the dumbest thing in the world to do while Dr. Fauci is warning us to cover our mouths and stay indoors. I’ve dismissed the thought of note-sending a million times since March. But last month, I dug out my old stationery and I started paying attention. That house at 6825 has the cutest birdbath. 7205 always keeps their lawn so green and trim. How in the world does that house over on Quenton grow their rose bushes so huge??! I sent them each a note. I talked trash with the house on the end of the street with the Yankees flag on their front lawn. I asked advice from a number of hydrangea-growing neighbors. I told them they were doing a good job. I’ve never met one of them.

That’s all I have to offer. No wrapping bandages or bullhorn cheers. No buttery french bread or arm cuff blood pressure monitors. (well actually, I DO have one of those.) All I have is what little dusting God sprinkled on me in the beginning. I cannot change the world. Man oh man do I want to. I want to cure this stupid disease. I want to rally the troops. But I wasn’t created to do that – some of you guys are. Some of you are to sit quietly and listen. Some of you are to speak loudly and change your community.

We are all meant for contribution it just might not look like what your friends are doing or those you follow online. Don’t let that trip you up like it has me. Some people change the world. Others change minds. Still others change a moment with a surprise card or a bouquet of flowers. It all matters. It all helps.

I don’t know what to do. So I turn to the things I’ve done consistently over the years and lean in. Lean in hard. My postal carrier probably thinks I’m on a letter-writing campaign to free hostages or make significant school changes.

Nah. I’m just saying ‘hey’ and ‘I like the way you arranged your landscaping in front of your house.’

Sitting in our living room this afternoon, I was listening to Scott tell me a story about something that had happened the previous day at work. There was a knock on the door. Probably Amazon. With no more than a quick hesitation in his sentence, Scott continued on with his story after the front door rap.

A second knock. Everything froze. We don’t get drop-by guests. What was happening?!

Do you want me to get it”, Scott asked. “No!”, I whispered emphatically from just the other side of the door.

A third – who tries three times?! – attempt but this time it was the doorbell! I snuck to the window and peeked around to look for a car. I saw none. Must be a door to door salesman, I thought with a quick feeling of impertinence.

The knocking (dare I say, incessant knocking) subsided and we went about our conversation with a dog who needs a bath and laundry hanging on a rolling rack in the middle of our dining room, quickly drying in the California heat. Later that day Scott was getting ready for work and I was giving in to the urge for a McFlurry as the temperatures rose and surpassed 100 degrees outside. I yelled over my shoulder for Scott to keep an eye on our puppy and that I’d be back soon. Sunglasses? Check. Wallet? Did I have my wallet? Oh yes – here it is. Check. I was pushing open the door and pulling the straps of my bag over my shoulder as I nearly stumbled into a beautiful hydrangea arrangement just outside the door. The sweet arrangement in these pictures. That neighbor that I’d asked advice from about her enormous hydrangea bush? She brought me some. She probably had advice to offer me. She most likely just wanted to say hi and introduce herself and acknowledge the note I’d sent.

I was hiding behind the curtains as she was trying to fulfill her part. Her talent. Her thing. I was the one that stopped the cycle of friendliness. I was worried about a dog-smelling house with clean but hanging laundry and piles of paperwork and books on the table.

I was poignantly reminded that my job was not just to give but to also allow others to give in their way as well. To receive kindness.

What is that thing you do? How could it help change the trajectory of someone else’s day? Maybe that’s all they need in the midst of the same ol’ scary news alerts and statistics that we’re all hearing. That thing – it might be more significant than you think. In the end, it’s not for you to decide. If you’ve been given the talent or urging, then take the step and act. I hope you’ll be rewarded with a surprise hydrangea arrangement on your front porch, but more likely, you’ll never know the look on their face or the way that they reacted to your step of faith. That’s okay. Offer hope in the midst of fear. Can’t change the world? Then rally the hope in one person’s heart that there are still soft allies in a hard world that seems to be going completely mad.

I don’t know what your thing is to do. My thing was to send a friendly note to a neighbor. Check. My job was also to open the door and receive the gift they were offering me. I’ll check that box in the next few days when I return the glass bottle and thank them profusely for their sweet act of kindness. And then I’ll listen to the hydrangea advice and at a socially distanced space, we’ll close the circle between two people trying to combat the global fear with a small gesture of simple humankindness.

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. 

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

I miss Castle.

I realize this isn’t something I need to hide (anymore.) But you have to understand, I started this secret habit back before it was cool.

I was a full-fledged adult with full-fledged middle school and high school children when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants first came out. I hid in my bedroom and read every book. I was deeply invested in each character.

Hi. My name is Greta. I love to read memoirs and crime and history and fiction and non-fiction and……YA. Yes, I read young adult novels.

(Once a trend becomes acceptable and popular, it’s hard to break the habit of hiding your secrets!)

The main character in this YA book is Castle Cranshawl (aka: ‘Ghost’.) The narrative is from his own perspective as a middle schooler from a low income home. Sort of by accident, he finds himself learning a new sport: running track. What started as a competition between two students ended with an Olympic coach immediately recognizing Castle’s natural talent as a runner. As a reader, you are instantly on Jamal’s side and cheering for his new passion. If I could sit in the bleachers at one of his events, I would!

GHOST, by Jason Reynolds (a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature), draws you in quickly to Castle’s world while also addressing subjects like social inequality, an abusive parent, bullying, a hard-working mom, mentoring and what it’s like to be a Black kid from public housing learning to trust adults and even harder, his fellow track competitors. Sure – he’s got natural talent as a runner. But will his anger trip him up?

I wholeheartedly recommend this for your young reader. It’s uplifting and told from a first person’s perspective. Great conversation starters for your kids or students.

But I warn you, you’ll miss Castle, too, once the book is through. Lucky for us, however, GHOST is the first in a Track Series of 4 books.

Castle loves sunflower seeds. Readers will love Castle.

THE NAME JAR by Yangsook Choi

I remember it clearly. I was in 4th grade, Mrs. Adams’ class at Alton Elementary School and I was up next to give a talk about myself: WHO I AM. I collected the usual data about where I was born and what my birthday was, etc. I don’t remember being overly nervous about standing up and talking to my class, but I remember being very nervous…embarrassed…about my name.

Before there was a Greta Thunberg or a Greta Gerwig, or even a Greta Van Susteren – I was the only ‘Greta’ I had ever heard of. And then there was my middle name – the maiden name of my grandmother…Rains. Greta Rains. It seemed like everyone in my class had names like Susan or Roger or Kellie or Kevin. And their middles names were Sue or Allen or Edward.

Even though I was born and raised in the United States, I still felt a lot of empathy for the main character of our book – Unhei.

Unhei had just moved to the United States from Korea when she found herself a week later, standing in front of her new school classmates being introduced as a new student. When her classmates eagerly asked her what her name was she simply replied, “Um, I haven’t picked one yet. But I’ll let you know by next week.”

Her classmates dove right in to help her pick out her name. They filled a suggestion jar with possible names for Unhei to choose from. Caught between the love for her grandmother in Korea (who helped pick out her name) and the pressure of fitting in at her new school, Unhei had a hard time picking her new American name. She sought advice from her parents and even Mr. Kim at the neighborhood Korean market. But ultimately, it was her new friend, Joey, who helped her decide on the name she would be called.

May has been Asian American month. THE NAME JAR is a wonderful way of celebrating our unique and wonderful differences while also recognizing the ways in which we are all so similar.