Tell Scott I said hi!

It didn’t matter if we had been chatting for quite a while or if it was a quick exchange of pleasantries, Jerry always ended each conversation with me with a quick, “Tell Scott I said hi!” And eeeeeeverytime I assured him I would.

I think Jerry really liked Scott. They had different backgrounds but were both ‘boots on the ground’ workers. A mutual respect was established early in our California days.

Jerry was an airplane pilot for the Air Force. At one time he was based out of Dover AFB so we talked about that area often. We’ve known about his flying career for the entirety of our friendship with Gisela and Jerry, our across-the-street neighbors. Pre-COVID, he was a docent for the Aerospace Museum of California. It was only recently that we found out his actual job was to fly the planes that did in-air refueling of the fighter planes.

This tidbit of information was particularly interesting to me because inflight fueling of planes always makes me think of my mother. She loved a sermon she’d heard (and referred to often) about the intricacies of this unique military maneuver. Hovering over the other plane at 20,000 feet, the refueling team pumps thousands of gallons of gas into the jet at 300+ miles an hour – all without interrupting the flight at hand.

The pastor presenting the sermon used this analogy to speak about the times in life when things are happening around us too quickly to simply stop everything and rejuvenate. Pressures and stresses are coming at us too rapidly and yet our resources are waning. Many (if not all) of us can relate to this feeling the past few years. In an attempt to keep all the balls in the air, our fuel tanks have neared empty far too many times.

Thankfully, God is able to surround and sustain us even while we are still maintaining 300+ miles per hour. He is able to refuel us within the trial, not simply before or after it occurs – just like the Air Force jets do so far above our heads.

Gisela texted me this morning, a very simple sentence: ‘Jerry just passed away’. Having fought cancer for the past two years, it was time for him to land the plane. I spent the morning with Gisela while she waited for him to be transported. There is a year’s wait for Arlington Cemetery, but that will be where he is finally buried. The majestic and hallowed Arlington Cemetery in D.C. While she took a shower, I stayed with Jerry. He had on a white AIR FORCE tshirt and I once again thought about Mom’s favorite sermon. I could hear Gisela’s blow dryer upstairs while I leaned in a little closer to Jerry’s ear. ‘You provided a marriage of exciting hikes and biking trails. You impressed us all with your intellect and travel stories. No more inflight biopsies or invasive procedures. Rest well now. And hey Jerry, tell God I said hi.

I felt sure that he would.

The Seductive Proximity of January 1

Our affable goldendoodle, Tilly, soon to be two years old, has become enthralled in the world of squirrels. I feel confident that she does not mean them harm. I believe her understanding is that they are merely more creatures with which to romp and play. They sit on our back fence, eating the specialty bird feed we buy at the specialty feed store and put out for the specialty fancy birds. Birds of stately yellows and regal reds. Birds that will not tolerate unhusked sunflower seeds nor rub shoulder wings with common underlinings like crows or blue jays. The squirrels, however, give not a second thought to scraping leftovers off the ground, possessing neither dignity nor self-restraint. Squirrels are not too proud to pick among the weeds and filth at the feet of God’s more majestic creatures of flight.

We have a large window in our dining room that is low enough for Tilly to sit for hours watching the squirrels in action, or (more humiliatingly), she simply stares at the spot where the squirrel disappeared over the edge of the fence. Tilly is nothing if not hopeful that the furry creatures will return at any minute, this time to ask her to play. Her innocent enthusiasm is infectious.

The week between Christmas and New Years is an odd wormhole of time where many of us are not quite sure what to do with ourselves. We carefully wrap and box away Christmas ornaments while we simultaneously pack away the previous year: our high hopes, our realized disappointments, our many questions about the virginal new year that lies ahead.

What resolutions shall I make for this next year? Are they reasonable goals? Are they reachable? Are they lofty enough to challenge me to new growth? I have plenty of anecdotal proof that resolutions are often broken. I regularly chastise myself for the perennial goals I have yet to achieve. At what point am I too old to set to paper, goals I want to achieve in the new year? At what point do I allow life to simply unfurl before me without pre-determined resolve or intentional orchestration?

Each year we are reminded that there is nothing magical about the first day of a new year. And yet the secret places in my heart believe that there, in fact, is something special about an empty tablet lain open in front of me, words yet to be written, experiences yet to be had. A renewed opportunity to change, grow, evolve. Become the kind of person I’ve always aspired to be. My better angels win out over my cynical tendencies and I tell myself, yet again, there are new vistas to climb. There are character flaws to hone. There is service to give. There are people to love.

May we always be enticed by the seductive proximity of a new year hanging over our to do lists, calendars, values, life goals. May we always resolve to resolve for a better tomorrow. A stronger self. A more binding community. An ever-expanding understanding. We are not too old. We are not too failed. We are not too ‘too’. We have survived and thrived and met the challenges of each past year. We are capable. We are over-comers.

Make the New Year’s list of resolutions. Hold them with grace and forgiveness when you fall short but also know that you were brave enough to commit them to paper and therefore, strong enough to try again.

From our home to yours, we wish you the happiest and healthiest of new days ahead. We hold a warm and tender space for you in our hearts and in our home this new year.

– g

in the in-between

I read an interesting description of Advent this morning in Common Prayer. While describing Advent as a time of waiting and expectation, the author wrote that ‘we are the midwives of another world.’

That sent me into a quick Google search of what a midwife’s responsibilities are: educating the parents before labor, nurturing the mother in preparation for labor, assisting her during labor, and caring for the parents and the child after the child was born. 

A midwife has their feet in the before, during and the after. Some of those stages are sanguine and reflective. Some are stressful and highly charged. And yet throughout, a midwife must remain consistent and always at the ready. 

Days like yesterday seem like the stressful and highly charged times. Senseless death. Another pre-adult’s life ruined by a violent act. Many more traumatized for a lifetime. We wept. God wept. When will the new creation come? 

Giving Tuesday was also yesterday. A time to pour resources of money and time into charities doing important work. Midwives, themselves. 

We stand, firmly planted, in two worlds. Each promising new and exciting things. We cannot abandon one for the other. We must hold them both with great expectation. We cannot forsake our fellow earth traveler in lieu of mansions of gold. We must walk with them, feeling their deep pain when needed, keeping each other healthy and whole. And we cannot ignore our Heavenly Father’s directives for the enticement of momentary earthly gain. 

A midwife exists in the in-between space, filling it with reassurance and direction and a calm confidence. 

‘Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav’lers on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.’
– The Servant Song

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.