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.

Gadgetless Gal. Except…

After years of buying gadgets, I have become a pretty much gadget-less gal. Another way to read that is: I have stored so many gadgets on shelves over the years that I have learned to do without them wherever possible.

Is this sounding somewhat sexual? Let me clear it up.

Raise your hand if you’ve made a yarn pom-pom in your lifetime. Yep – me too. You wrap and wrap and wrap yarn around a book, or a piece of hard plastic, etc. When I originally picked this red and white pom pom garland to do as one of my holiday craft projects, that was my intention – go old school. But thennnnnn…..then I got curious about this pom pom maker I kept seeing here and there. I took the plunge and ordered it and BOY!, do I love these little pieces of magic.

It is somewhat difficult to explain how to use them but the directions on the packaging is very clear and understandable. I don’t know what genius came up with this concept, but I’d like to meet her someday.

I used these Bernat skeins of yarn in White and Wine. For this project, I think the thicker the yarn the better. This size worked perfectly for me.

I used the second to largest size gadget. Now. Anyone who has ever made a pom pom knows that you must check your ADHD at the door. This pom pom maker made it very easy to form these luscious balls of goodness but you do have to do a little bit of trimming at the end. I’m pretty perfectionistic and was completely happy with the result. But just like a hair stylist, you could trim and trim and trim all day if you want. There has to be a time when you decide enough is good enough.

I left their tails on until I decided how I was going to attach them together. In the end, I didn’t need them and cut them off.

Using a yarn needle and a length of the red yarn, I stuck it through each pom pom and adjusted them in between to the width I wanted.

Using small plastic Command Strips hooks on each side of the fireplace (which we never use), I wrapped the ends and boom – a cute red and white pom pom garland.

(The sun was intense the day I took these pictures so the glare is intense – yikes.)

My daughter is so lucky she is 29 years old or I would be adding these pom poms to every outfit she owned. I’m sure I’ll use this pom pom maker for numerous holidays and occasions. Who can resist a fancy cute pom pom?!

Holiday Craft no. 4 of 20 for the #2020s20HolidayCrafts project I totally made up for my own sanity. (wink wink)

Go get one of these pom pom makers!

Meet Me at the Front Door

The anticipation had been building for six hours. We’d sung The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and my personal favorite, Sweet Violets. We’d found things out our car windows that started with an A, anthill. Then a B, bird! Always cheating our way through those pesky letters like Q or X. Our sandwiches had warmed to that perfect car temperature and the cheese slices with apple were beginning to form that delicious oily condensation cheese gets when warmed in the highway-bound backseat. Tolls had been paid and we finally got to open the car package Mom always made for us weeks before a car trip: the newest Seventeen magazine, some word searches, a new deck of Old Maid and a few sweet treats (Bit-O-Honey paper stuck in the corners) promised just to ourselves, no sharing required.

But by Wichita our spirits were starting to wane. Have you traveled across Kansas and Oklahoma with two daughters who believe STRONGLY in the infamous imaginary middle line that forms down the backseat? There are only so many white horses to ‘Snitch!’ before antsyness starts to settle in.

And yet, as we spotted the identifying red dirt of Oklahoma, our eagerness was stirred up anew. We were getting close! We drove through Bethany, listening impatiently as Dad exasperated, “I always miss that turn. We need to turn around and go back.” AAACK!, we sigh. We were so close we could taste it. The car would make the u-turn on one of those perfectly-curbed streets lined with brick-built houses, the wholly unique look of an Oklahoma neighborhood.

The excitement was overwhelming! Edged up on our seats, nervously looking through the front window, ready to see that beautiful white-washed brick home that held all our favorite people. They were all there, waiting for us.

Before cell phones could announce our estimated arrival time, Dad would stop somewhere once we got into town, and Mom used a pay phone to call her older sister, Mary, to say we were just a few minutes away. “Yes, yes”, Aunt Mary assured Mom, “Evelyn got in this morning and Peggy and the boys just got in about an hour ago.” “We’re all here, just waiting for you!”

Pulling up in front of that car-filled driveway held so much excitement I didn’t think I could stand another second of it. I couldn’t wait to see all those cousins. Older cousins who could do no wrong. Aunts and uncles and above all, grandparents.

No chance to knock on the front door before it was slung open to crowds of people standing in the entryway. One by one we fell into hugs and faces that lit up the whole house. The front of the pack would fade back while a new crew would take their place. Soon Pop Pop would appear, arms outstretched, asking for some sugar. It was a few minutes of whole and unadulterated acceptance. No words were fully understood as everyone talked over each other but warmth and love permeated each embrace.

The crowd would instinctively part ways as Mom Mom came into the living room from the kitchen wearing a full smile and wisps of flour dusting her long, manicured fingers. Aunt Mary was behind her as she was assisting the cooking process by taking their completed masterpieces out to the cold garage and placing them in large trash cans dedicated specifically for the purpose of holding our feast until the anticipatory air was filled with ‘Pass me the green beans, please’, quickly followed by an update on disparate lives spread out all over the mid, southern and eastern states.

Thanksgiving weekend was alive and energetic and filled with an unparalleled feeling of completeness as lives who shared a genetic code and who lived so separately all over the country began to slowly fit our edges back together into the puzzle that was Family.

And so I say to you this challenging year, let’s hang on tightly to each other, even if virtually. Let’s celebrate as an act of rebellion in our individual homes. A slower holiday season is precisely what we need, in spite of its surface disappointments. And then, once we’ve separated and bumped elbows and Zoom called our way through the next year, let’s rise up next year, full of grins and flour-tinged aprons. Slaps on the back and long-overdue hugs of love.

I will look forward to your beautiful faces and laughing spirits all year. 2020: quiet and separate. 2021: doors thrown open, crowded cousins, familiar faces and strong handshakes.

This year, cautious safety and health. But next year, with warmth and wide smiles, let’s make up for lost time. We’ve got stories to tell and hugs to share. Not this year, right? But next year – meet me at the front door.

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.’

Happy Hydrangea

Last week I bought my first hydrangea (Nikko Blue).

This week I bought all new sheets and rearranged a bedroom just because of the amazing blooms.

I’m doomed. Let the hydrangea addiction begin!

I even hung one to experiment with drying them…

There are worse addictions, right??? (Famous last words!) 

Do you grow hydrangea? If so, what kind and what zone are you located in? I need to learn!

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote

Illustrator Beth Peck elegantly illuminates the words of Truman Capote as he tells the story of the uniquely loving relationship between seven-year-old, Buddy, and his ‘sixty-something’-year-old distant cousin, living in the same house. ‘We are each other’s best friend.’⠀

They make cakes together every year as the weather turns cold and fly homemade kites when the weather begins to warm. They dance together around the house, laughing and enthralled in all that is happy in life, not like the other more burdened members of their family. She relies on his youth, he on her zest for life. “When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always.⠀

‘“Buddy, the wind is blowing” and nothing will do till we’ve run to a pasture below the house, plunging through the waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel the twitching at the string like a sky fish as they swim into the wind.’⠀

Satisfied and sun-warmed they lie in the grass, happy and filled with adventure. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are…” – her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass – “…just what they’ve always seen, was seeing him. As for me, I could leave the world, with today in my eyes.”

Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.

 

A Work in Progress…

I love a good Before and After shot.

Actually, it’s not necessarily a Before and After but more like a Before and During.

When we first moved here, I took a picture of our little backyard. There were three ratty, over-grown rose bushes behind the house and that was it. The previous owners had a hot tub over in that square cement area in the far corner. The hedges were all over-grown and it was hard to tell what was what.

But there was potential.

The biggest eyesore we couldn’t change was the neighbor’s palm tree with all the dead fronds going up it. (Could CSI tell which direction a fire dart came from?! I’m asking for a friend…)

This is after our spring work. We tried pruning the rose bushes in the fall but they were just so overgrown with dead brush, volunteer trees, etc, so we cut them all the way down to the ground. We figured it would be easier to handle them from a new starting place.

We installed a standing flower box, three planters for grasses and palms (and petunias and ivy.) Scott built all of the above. We put up LED string lights over our patio furniture and added a few more pieces.

The rose bushes are coming back to life in a much more manageable way.

We added a small cactus garden (which just about didn’t make it because this is a low area in the yard so all of the buckets and buckets of rain we’ve gotten, all collected here. *head smack* We’ll see how they do this summer but I might move them over closer to our agave on the other end.

We have pink jasmine started in three different areas of the yard so sitting outside is a very sweet treat. In fact, just raising the windows inside makes for the most fragrant breezes blowing through the house.

Long story, short: Haddie has become an outside cat. She escaped one day and then meowed like crazy to be let back out. (Her eyes were opened to new possibilities!) -ha.

You can see one of the jasmine vines in the background below. Unfortunately, we had one hummingbird but we haven’t seen him for months. We weren’t really prepared when we put up this feeder, but I’ll study up on it and maybe we’ll get a few more. The jasmine are supposed to attract them as well.

We still feel so blessed to have been gifted this beautiful agave plant. Agave Maria. She is a lovely shade of blue-gray and matches the house perfectly.

On the side of the house I started a succulent garden in the fall. It seems to be progressing nicely, although the amount of attention I give it is really pretty embarrassing. If it rains for more than a handful of hours, I go out and cover them with boards Scott made for me. Then I uncover them so they’ll get some sun. All winter long I have babied them. I should be committed…

The gutter in the middle of it all is certainly not eye-appealing, but hopefully they’ll eventually grow up over it and cover it up a bit.

There’s about to be a burst of yellow outside our bedroom windows pretty soon. They gave me so many rose bouquets last fall; I’m excited to see what they produce during the summer.

These Mexican lavender bushes were also a purchase not long after we moved in. They were three little bushes that have grown so beautifully. Each time I walk by them and hear the buzz of the bees that saturate their flowers, makes me feel a little sense of pride and contribution to the planet.

This is our current project. I bought 4 mandevilla vines to crawl up and take over this area of the fence. I only have about 2.7 zillion trellis ideas and need to whittle that down quickly because they’re ready to climb! Our neighbors have a rusted shed next door that sticks up in the corner (and a reason we put Scott’s BBQ tent and grill over there.) I’m hoping to build a trellis up above the fence so they can crawl up nicely and cover a lot of the site of the shed.

This side shade garden is part of Summer 2020. I have been THRILLED these hostas and bleeding hearts came up this year (from bulbs) but I decided to not spend a lot of design time over in this area. Next year I want to have Scott build an arbor over the area that leads to this shade garden. But that’s for another summer. (I do – occasionally – try to temper my enthusiasm!)

We have bags of mulch to be laid down, tiki torches to put up (because Scott insisted we bury PVC pipe and cement them in – all I wanted to do was stick them in the ground when we had people over! -ha.)

We’ve trimmed back the hedges a lot, but we have more to do and need to figure out how to best shape the ones we have. I’d like to see a full year of them (and what they do/bloom/etc) before making too drastic of a change. The grass is a whole other area of improvement needed. But that’s another stage – right?

And that’s the main thing: learning what California weather is like and where the sun shines (and doesn’t shine) in our yard. It’s the best thing about working in nature. You are on IT’S time schedule. You are forced to exercise patience. But in the end, after all your planning, the surprises come in the most beautiful forms. I’m anxiously waiting to experience them all…

I recently read the book Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace by Christie Purifoy. I have always tried to be a Place Maker. Even when it was a temporary home for a short period of time. Filling a space with your things, your designs, your styles…it shapes how you see the rest of your life. When you feel welcomed and comfortable at home, everything else seems manageable. I’ve lived in small, large, really small, and even hotel spaces. The size of your home doesn’t matter. Nor does it’s age. Settle in and make it home. Your home. Invite others in to share it with you. Do NOT be consumed by comparison. It is the killer of joy. Learn how to manage your reactions to social media accounts that seem to show complete perfection. Pinterest is great for ideas and inspiration, but when you feel the drudging feeling that you’ll never have enough or you can’t compete with this or that – get off. You’re on option overload. Spend time imagining your space in your mind. What do YOU want? What resources do you have? What resources do you have to live within? You do not have to have unlimited talent or money in order to make a place cozy and comfortable. Don’t be led into the lie that buying just.this.one.more.thing will make everything better. (I have it on very good authority that it won’t.) Fill you house with friends and family – that’s the best design feature a home can have.

We are making our mark in California – for as long as we’re here. And we are having a lot of fun doing it. Step by step. Stage by stage. No hurries. And most importantly, taking the time to fully enjoy it. Speaking of which, chicken is on the grill and the rains are coming in again tonight so succulents must be properly put to bed…………. 😉

It’s a girl!

(I think.)

I’ve been watching the growth and birth of this ruffled-leaf Philodendron Selloum (Philodendron bipinnatifidum) leaf since I first saw its tiny presence on March 17. It took 22 days from my first video to my last time-lapsed video this evening.

Baby and Mama are doing fine. She’s registered at Bergdorf Goodman…

Now it’s time to fully open up and enjoy her new grand duchess life. I’m so proud!!!

Fun side note: I set up my iPhone on a pile of books I had nearby. It took a couple of hours to record the final progression out of her protective sheath. About halfway in I looked closer at the pile of books and realized (with the exception of a few good men) it was a bunch of strong-hearted women who were helping in this birthing process. Something they were fully used to doing – birthing and nurturing and working together to get the job done. Go, girls, go!!

It won’t take long now for her to look as strong and dark green as her playmates. Sometimes nature is just SO cool…

Calla Lily Ledbetter

I am probably crazy in the head, but I picked up a calla lily yesterday that called out to me from the plant aisle. I’ve never grown one before.

“Try meeeee”, it said.

So I gathered it up – along with a bunch of clearance plants that I couldn’t let just sit there, unadopted and lonely. I think I’ll name her Ledbetter. This is an equal opportunity plant-loving household, after all.

I’m in the process of repotting them all. Giving them fresh new soil (many were SOAKED) and lots of new home loving.

Dirt under my fingernails? Yes, please!

Happy Presidents’ Day to you! I hope you have the day off and are either enjoying a good white sale splurge and/or are blissfully unaware of Presidents’ Day politics or workplace drama.

To calla lily beauty and federal days off.

Rain, rain, go…away?

We are preparing for rain, here in Northern California, not unlike our preparations for snow in Missouri. Bringing in the delicate items, the lamps and tchotchkes that shouldn’t get soaked. We conjured up a lean-to to cover my succulent garden, as @inspirelovely would suggest. ⠀

My friends know how much I do not like rainy days. They mess with me. I so wish I was the person who grabs a book and a comfy spot for reading. I used to have a friend who felt creatively inspired on rainy days and could produce content ten times faster. But my spirit lags in overcast weather. I have to work a little harder to keep my mind and heart buoyed. ⠀

Obviously this is a huge benefit to living in California. Each and every day the sun comes out, the skies are blue and the clouds are fat and fluffy. Every. Single. Day.⠀

I’ve learned a valuable lesson, however, in our two months living here. Everything – sidewalks and porches and cars and plants and highways – everything is dusty. When a bird relieves himself on your sidewalk, it stays there. The smog and dust of living builds up in deep layers. ⠀

There is an importance in rain. A washing away. A starting again. A renewed and fresh shine, left in its wake. Rain serves the purpose of watering and feeding nature, sure. But it also gives our everyday surroundings a much-needed facelift. ⠀

This particular rain is an important one. The wildfires have caused so much damage, even far beyond the point of burn. Our atmosphere needs cleansing so our lungs can breathe fresh clean air.⠀

Rain as rejuvenation. As renewal. Washing away the ugly. The discarded. The build-up. Leaving behind a squeaky clean new beginning. ⠀

So instead, I will lean into this rain with a new understanding. And when low-spirits lurk, I will check on the succulents in their safe tent and know we are all going to be just fine.

Clean(er)

I would venture to bet that the majority of people can’t rid their homes of all toxins immediately and right.this.very.instant. Man, would I love to. Had I only won that last lottery drawing…⠀

It’s hard to make choices for a clean, ethically-centered, toxin-free home. Clean cleaning supplies. Clean beauty products. Slow fashion. Slow living. ⠀

For us, (like many of you) it’s just one step at a time. One less candle; one more essential oil. One less toxic cleaning supply replaced with a more environmentally-friendly brand. With each choice at the point of sale, our home is moving ever-so-slowly toward a healthier space. ⠀

It’s not about chasing fads (and yes, ‘all-natural’ can be a trendy fad for some companies), but it’s about making a healthier choice whenever you can. As Anne Lamott would say – it’s not about dieting, it’s about doing better today than you did yesterday.⠀

I think that’s a perfect motto for just about everything in life, don’t you think? Don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t do. Just take it product by product. And season by season. (Because some seasons are about trying to afford diapers and school supplies and spring soccer. And that’s okay! Taking care of your family is number one. No matter what that looks like for you.)⠀

One of the free things I did recently was detox my Pinterest account. I have been unpinning many of the elaborate, multi-step projects I’ve had pinned on there for years. Instead I’ve been pinning clean products for our home and simple (read: not elaborate) ways to celebrate the holidays as well as the everyday. Detoxing my to do list or my dream lists is one way to add space and time for relationships and (…always…) reading. Hygge, if you will. Pinterest is an enormous resource for just about anything you’re looking for, but it can also be an ever-growing guilt list of things you’re not getting done. I needed to let some of that crap go. I’ve linked to my Pinterest in my profile if you need some jumping off places to declutter your mind and your online Pinterest bulletin board.

What are some ways and products you’re choosing for a healthier home and life? Teach me some of your ways…