let your cup overflow

Blog post for slow collection

One of the reasons I wanted to write about living and moving at a slower pace is illustrated in the following hour or two in my life. It’s a small passage of time that revealed my impatience, propensity to hurry and pettiness. I could add other adjectives but, you know, I’m trying to be conscious of word count. 

During Christmas break, my son Caleb had dinner plans across the city from our home. The location of the meal was just far enough away it didn’t make sense to divvy the driving between me and Carl or to return home after drop-off only to return in short order for pick up. 

I decided to take a book, find a warm place to read and wait. I remembered a nearby Starbucks from a previous waiting scenario and was delighted to find several open chairs, cushioned just enough for passing time.

The young woman who took my tea order was cheerful and engaging.  It was hard not to notice thin raised lines running the length of her left upper arm in contrast to her right arm, a colorful sleeve of ink.  Each side a visual of pain in different dimensions. I hoped it was a testimony of inner and outer healing.

 There were several tables dotted with men in conversation and every so often another member would step across the door’s threshold, causing an eruption of laughter and welcome.

I staked claim of my seat, set my cup upon the side table situated between me and an adjacent padded chair and opened my book. 

After about 15 minutes, a man sat down with coffee and proceeded to blow his nose more than sip his drink. He stayed for about 10 minutes and was on his way. I was relieved.

Another ten minutes passed and an older man nabbed the vacant seat and spread his bounty of food and drink, covering the table. I am sure there is an associated emoji for how I eyed this action. I am sure I inwardly sighed as he buttered, torn open and crumpled his bags and liberally seasoned his food with salt and pepper. I know I snapped a discreet table photo and sent it to my daughters with a comment about the virtues of sharing space after he pulled the table towards him, almost toppling my stoppered tea. 

I resumed my reading after picking up my phone a few times to read the emoji and gif littered text responses when the man asked me if two giggling brown-faced children sitting at a high table across the cafe were mine. I replied no and pointed to their parents sitting in mirror-imaged chairs to ours. 

I set my gaze upon my book and attempted to locate my last read sentence. He continued to express his worry the children might fall if not watched properly. We conversed back and forth for a few minutes. It was harmless really. But then from what context of our conversation I am not certain, he began telling me about his great-great-grandfather and how Indians tried to take his land while living in Montana. I didn’t have a response and to be honest, I wanted the conversation to end. I picked up my phone hoping for a text to appear, informing me my time was up.

I attempted to direct the conversation to a different subject. He rose to fetch additional napkins from the counter and I took this as my opportunity to assume a forceful reading posture as if I were a superhero of the literary kind. For a small passage of time, my victory was clear as there was not a sound except for the tide of conversation, laughter, and frothing swirling about us.

My phone’s telltale ding alerted me that Caleb was ready for a lift. I told the gentleman I was heading out and the reason why I had tarried.

I gathered my belongings and stood up. 

“…but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You, God, because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.”*

He lifted his face towards mine and asked,

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

In as few words as possible, I answer him by telling him, I did have a nice Christmas, it was simple, quiet and lovely.

I ask him about his Christmas and hoped for an equally quick answer as my foot needed to be attached to an accelerator.

He paused and quietly replied,

“My Christmas wasn’t so good. My wife died 10 days ago.”

My mouth widens and I sit down.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes, Darryl shares about his wife, his sorrow and the pre-existing splinters within his family which would require more than a tweezer or needle to remove the nagging ache. 

My book is in my bag, my phone is in my pocket and my eyes are affixed to him. When I glance down, I reacquaint myself with the remains of his meal. Perhaps this partially consumed spread is considered dinner when a home is suddenly empty. 

I truly need to leave but how can I leave? 

My watch buzzes every so often and I know my messenger’s identity.

When it feels like the right moment, I tell Darryl my need to retrieve my son. I express my sorrow for his huge loss and the grief he must be feeling. I ask if he would like me to pray for him. It is truly all I can even think to offer. I don’t expect him to consent but he slides his hand to an open spot on the table closer to me.

In the midst of hands exchanging cash for nourishment and huddled voices seeking community, I touch the top of his hand and pray words that can only be accomplished by One mightier than me demonstrating my best superhero pose. I whisper words to the One who is always there in the midst of our darkest days, even when the world continues to spin as usual. He’s the One who knows my impatience, hustling, and inward-turning ways and tenderly offers me a seat to grace me with a better, clearer view.

When I arrive at the restaurant, Caleb is unbothered by my tardiness, figuring something important must have come up to delay my arrival. 

Caleb’s friend needs a ride home as well and as we drive the rain-soaked streets, I explain the reason for my lateness and don’t delete any unvarnished parts regarding me.

They listen in silence and I hope it’s not because they are absorbed in scrolling their phones. When I finish, they both agree Darryl had a crummy Christmas and they were glad I listened.

I am glad I listened too.

Eventually. 


*Flannery O’Connor-A Prayer Journal

boxes

wp-1581112688458617850303.jpgI have lived much of my life as if I am being measured by an invisible yardstick.

Or as if someone is looking over my shoulder assessing my days with a hefty grade book in hand.

I am prone to trip over hidden measuring tools or feel these invisible judges crowding my personal space.

Sometimes the critic looks like me.

January seemed long and February will evaporate before I fully settle into the month, I wonder how many checkboxes have already remained unchecked?

If I am honest, it is not only during the first of the year when I feel the weighted stare of my silent hovering critic.

I sense its presence whenever I have skipped a day or many days of a new yoga program, reading plan or any other task beckoning to be checked off. Studies confirm the tiny high received from making checkmarks. I love it when my to-do list is covered with the ink of completion. There’s nothing wrong to feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a task or goal.  Yet I haven’t been able to shake the belief someone is keeping score. The tallies are designed for me as well as those persistently pulsating empty boxes.

What if I could look at the checkmarks and empty boxes as not successes and failures but as evidence of a full life?

What if I didn’t equate an empty checkbox as a lack of discipline or motivation but as the result of different choices or a change in priorities within a given day?

My days can no longer be measured by subtracting unfilled boxes from checked ones.

Or submitting to an imagined taskmaster by stacking today’s unmet expectations and adding it to tomorrow.

What if I could look at the hollow between the box’s four lines and view it not as a prison of judgment but as a swollen square of grace?

More than a week of February has passed and I might only be a few days into a yoga practice started on the 1st, there is no finger-shaking allowed from a bossy judge or myself.

I won’t combine missed sessions into one super-sized one to be proven acceptable and caught up. I will simply begin again because if perfection is the only way, I might never unroll my mat.

How can you make peace with the inevitable empty checkboxes this week?

let your life simmer

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There were two people who found love and married.

They added two daughters and a son to this wedded union.

Now there were five.

They didn’t know what it would be like to be married for 33 years when they entered their first year of marriage.

Now they do.

They didn’t know what it would be like to have a daughter then another and after many years later, a son.

Now they do.

They couldn’t imagine the teen years when those babies were teething. Or any of them reaching adulthood when they were taking their first steps.

Now they do for all but one.

What I know now is I couldn’t have imagined those future ages because they were meant to be a mystery. They were meant to be a fleeting ponderance reminding me to live in the moments placed before my eyes. I wasn’t called to lament over not having a single idea how I would teach a child to drive when they hadn’t learned to roll over. It was futile to worry about college acceptances before they had mastered the alphabet.

What I know is God has equipped me for each and every day of my life as well as my children’s. The hard part is He hasn’t promised endless days to any of us.  But He has promised to deposit what we need. God reminds us to reside in today not tomorrow.

Think of today as a simmering pot and each passing day adding another necessary ingredient. When we examine the length and breadth of our days, how much richer the view of the future when we have given our attention to this gift.

*****

For roughly 14 years, our family was comprised of five people, the Original Five. Whenever I wondered who was coming to a particular gathering, it was easiest to tally the Original Five. However, in the last few years, as the people my children love and are attached to expanded so did the number of expectations, logistics, and complexities when approaching special events and holidays.

Important days carry an added weight of tradition. Traditions can be one of the most emotional aspects of a family. Decision making can feel peppered with booby tracks when some members bank on a heavy dousing of tradition and others are fine with a sprinkling.

Personally, I wait all year for Christmas Eve. I love watching a dark church sanctuary slowly fill with candlelight, a loving embrace that the Light of the world has come, God with us.  I love watching my family open one gift after service and witnessing the power of the right gift for the right person in the right season. But if others in our number were asked, it might be ham or stockings or reading the Advent Book or even an avalanche of socks. Traditions provide an anchor to help connect us to one another’s histories.

The most challenging questions are: when is it time to hold tightly to tradition and when does it make sense to allow these anchor points to be adapted?

Over the last few years, there have been small iterations to our Christmas Eve and Day rhythms. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise after a litany of text messages, that the expanded Original Five would not occupy the same space for the Eve and Day. But as I allowed my mind to wander over so many people who long for even a few moments of face-to-face presence and will not have this access, it helped me exhale. I could either walk through December with an attitude or I could view this as one of the dynamic aspects of life. I had equated the change in our united observance as a diminished holiday instead of being simply different. With this reality check in mind, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to fling the windows wide open by changing our menu.

I will admit there was an audible sigh from the ham lover but I am grateful for her pliable ways.

Maybe because I was set on embracing a slower-paced life with its accompanying spaces for silence and solitude. Instead of being clamped down by constant outer noise which renders me indecisive, my mind was able to easily enlarge and immediately landed on making Beef Bourguignon. I had never made it before but every thought conjured visions from the movie Julie and Julia and filled me with a warm and cozy family feeling.

I researched recipes and found a recipe based on Julia Child’s classic recipe with four options for preparation. The Beef Bourguignon could be made on the stovetop, in the oven, crockpot or InstaPot. Could there be a more accurate illustration of our culture?

We had a lovely Christmas morning together with a casual brunch and exchanged gifts. A few members departed and others remained. We enjoyed telephone conversations with faraway family members we missed and a few naps were had. A day without little clock watching revealed I was later beginning my cooking than anticipated. But there wasn’t a reason to panic as dinner would happen in its own time.

I began cooking bacon and chopping vegetables and meat. The searing of the beef in batches took time but the smell made it enjoyable. Each layered step was important as I added herbs and spices while maintaining a low heat. I placed the covered pot in the oven for the magic of a few hours to occur. Just before taking the pot from the oven,
I would prepare mushrooms sauteed in butter and garlic as a final add-in. Our menu would include mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh fruit, and rolls. This simplicity gave me plenty of time to sit, visit and enjoy the day.

There was a tiny part of my mind that mulled over the thought of this meal turning into a disaster. With every “what if”, I whispered to my mind to obey my nose, as the house began to fill with the aroma of glorious ingredients doing their job in tandem, those fears were subdued.

When I look back on this meal, I will recall glancing at my watch and knowing the intended eating time had passed but the actual time was perfect because no one was in a hurry. I will remember the popping of Christmas crackers and the placing of crowns upon our heads.  I will visualize the star attraction of the meal being ladled over creamy potatoes, the smiles and chorus of sighs upon first tastes. I will never forget our (never understated) son-in-love Adam grabbing me not once, but twice by the shoulders to proclaim it the best Christmas dinner he had ever had, coupled with his desire to have Beef Bourguignon every year. A new tradition, perhaps.

The meal was exceptional not because of the cook. It was delicious because of the ingredients and time. The dish was allowed to simmer and each part was allowed to mingle. Perhaps the experience could have been replicated in an InstaPot but I have my doubts.

The depth and richness of a recipe are often only achieved when the ingredients are allowed to cook slowly for an appointed time.
We would be wise to let our lives and the cast of characters remain at a simmer instead of fretting over why a rapid boil hasn’t occurred.

True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (The Message)

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Top of Post Photo credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

 

the opposite of speed reading

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“Everywhere there are doors leading to new spaces and new stories and new secrets to be discovered and everywhere there are books.”
~from The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There are days when I wonder if Carl knew what he was subjecting himself to when we married.

There are the days when a casual walk through our home is marked by a trail, a gathering of books I am currently reading. Each book blending into the landscape until I scarcely realize the sum.


However, over the last year when my life felt tangled and out of sync from aging, mounting stresses at work and dealing with chronic pain, I reaffirmed my shift to living more simply and slowly. My affection for books didn’t diminish but I grew weary of seeing books scattered everywhere. The physical clutter caused me to feel anxious by the vast quantity of literature surrounding me at all times.


Those who live with me, understand this is a slow process. I am not perfect but I am trying to rein in this habit and retrain my ways. It’s a delicate balance to keep order among the books I own and those retrieved from the library.


Two months ago, I lassoed every stray book and took the weighty assortment to my downstairs workspace. Once assembled, I sorted those books into two piles. One pile represented library books that no longer interested me or were not the right timing and would be returned. The second pile was comprised of books I wanted to read, either my own or library owned. I cleared out a section on one of the shelves above my work table and separated library books from owned books. I attached small post-it notes with due dates along their spines.


Any book entering our home will first be placed on this shelf. From this collection, my reading material will come.


I hadn’t realized the weight I felt from having books, even those I was enjoying, spread throughout my spaces. All these unfinished books seemed akin to feeling indecisive and overwhelmed. My reading attention had become scattered and splintered. I was highly distractible. My digital habit of keeping my computer or phone tabs open morphed into countless bookmark usage. After all, I am surely capable enough to read a book, catch up on Netflix with Carl and text a friend simultaneously.


This year, I am endeavoring to read one book at a time. Well, to be honest, one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time. I have also decided to no longer set goals related to the number of books read in a year. My personality drives me towards speed reading instead of savoring the experience of a great book.

Maybe you haven’t read a book in years and have no concept of my issue.

Have you let magazines spill over the coffee table?


Surely you meant to take out a pen to complete the Sunday crosswords but watching each week’s edition cover the previous one leaves you discouraged.


It could be too many clothes to fit in your closet, so they “decorate” other areas of your home?

Are you afraid to open your inbox because the number of emails, unread or otherwise has reached staggering numbers?

Putting my overflow of books in their place and beyond my line of sight brought freedom. No longer am I letting my books manage me.

A small newly created habit where I scan the shelf, assess which books are due soon, which ones cannot be renewed for extra days and the books which have lost their luster for now. Then weed out books and decide which ones might be next in line. I leave the books in their appointed place unless it is time to bring one upstairs.

Since I am a mood reader with a capital M. My previous routine was to gather an armload of books when deciding on my next read, peruse the first few sentences or pages and whichever one captured my attention was the winner. Now I use the same method, but I don’t sit in my living room chair but before my work table. Nothing comes upstairs unless it is my chosen book, not a hopeful contender.


Like keeping a tidy home, tasks need to be done regularly.

To keep my mind tidy, I must be vigilant to not create piles of any sort.
Tidy up, my friends.

Once you finish, why not take 15 minutes and read a good book?


I am off to practice what I preach as I see a few stray books attempting to create a book stack. But here’s a peek at what I am reading now:

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The Next Right Thing
This book is about making decisions. I preordered it before I knew a big job-related decision was looming. I was completely undone with indecision and didn’t have the attention span to read this book. However, one of the bonuses for preordering was a video and workbook course called Discern and Decide. I spent most of one day and completed the course. A different medium helped connect the dots. Months later I was ready to make the decision to leave my job. There will always be decisions to make, large or small. I am hopeful reading this book will aid me to make my next decisions regarding work. The course is still available for a fee, it was immeasurably helpful to me.

The Starless Sea
I have been waiting for Erin Morgenstern to release a new book after loving The Night Circus more than eight years ago. Her newest book is beautiful inside and out and required restraint to delay reading until I had sufficient time to fully immerse in the richness of her storytelling. I have read the first 25 pages and by the time this post is published, I hope to have spent the weekend between the cover of a captivating book.

*****

I love this quote from James Clear’s most recent 3-2-1 newsletter:

Reading is like a software update for your brain.

Whenever you learn a new concept or idea, the “software” improves. You download new features and fix old bugs.

In this way, reading a good book can give you a new way to view your life experiences. Your past is fixed, but your interpretation of it can change depending on the software you use to analyze it.

This post is a part of the slow collection. Never miss future posts by subscribing to this blog. Email subscribers are always the first to read new posts and updates. Find details on the sidebar. I appreciate your readership.

tend slowly

Today, I shall pause from my love of metaphors and share how living in a slower way has paid dividends in my everyday life .

Several years ago, I decided to buy a few suet holders to hang from  branches in our yard. I chose suet because using loose seed can be messy and attracts squirrels.

I don’t have anything against squirrels but they tend to impede the gathering of birds and are greedy. Squirrels hide food for delayed meals, birds do not. I choose to attend to the birds.

My initial belief was the birds would quickly discover the new bounty, which proved false. Although I didn’t conduct a study with data, I believe it took a year before our feeders had regular visitors and another year before birds of different varieties would frequent our home’s branches. Once we had a regular crowd of the feathered kind, we investigated the best types of suet (hot pepper) to keep them attracted and discourage squirrels. We also bought an additional feeder to allow small birds easy access when larger birds dominated other feeders. 

Bird watching has become a family affair. Our main feeders are outside our dining room window. As I type, it is gently snowing and at least 25 bushtits are partaking in their regular communal style meal. Throughout the day, we stop, watch and identify bird types. It’s necessary to slow our movements when passing the window as larger birds are prone to flight. I remember the days of glancing at our full bird feeders, feeling dismayed by the lack of activity. I could have easily given up. I am grateful to have waited. 

Birds fly past Carl as he washes cars in the spring and summer, unbothered by his presence. They defy gravity and perch at right angles on our brick archway and dive bomb cats who stalk the birds’ hangout. 

Check out the bottom of the post to see the birds who frequent our dining hall.

*****

Last spring, I pressed play on a podcast discussing skincare. If it hadn’t been a favorite podcast, I might have skipped the episode but at the end of my listening, I knew it was time to up my skincare game.

It wasn’t as if I never washed my face. I simply hadn’t paid attention to the needs of my face at this point in time. Although I may still suffer breakouts like in my teens and 20’s, this was no longer my age group.

I started with a few recommendations from the podcast and over the last nine months, taking better care of my face, especially in the evenings, has become one of my most favorite rhythms. I look forward to placing a hot washcloth on my face after oil cleansing. I love adding a couple of drops of serum to my moisturizers. It has developed into the most soothing ritual to take a few minutes to care for my face. As I have slowed down to submit to this step at the beginning and end of my day, I have seen results in texture and appearance of my skin. At this point, even if I didn’t see a difference, I would continue to spend time washing off the remains of the day, it simply feels sacred.

*****

In the middle of August, I had lunch with a friend. For many years, we had the habit of meeting once a month, never ending our time together without pulling out our calendars to schedule the next date. We had gotten out of the habit as both our immediate and extended families had gone through health and other trials during the same passage of time and we were thrown off rhythm. When we tried to remedy this lapse, we struggled to intersect either due to our physical distance from one another, work schedule or the demands of life. 

We had a long meal which was book-ended from start to finish by her sharing about what she was doing to lose and maintain her weight. She wasn’t considering it a plan but how she intended to live for the rest of her life. Sometimes the most precious gifts are when the best people in our lives don’t extend a pointed finger but reflect a mirror onto themselves first, allowing the illumination to spill over to your own face. 

I made the decision later in the evening to begin paying attention to myself and my consumption. I tend to live unconsciously. It doesn’t make sense, I live in a body, know how it moves, feels in clothes and am acquainted with the image in a mirror. But somehow I am completely unaware. I prefer to only gaze at myself in 2-D. 

We have met once since that pivotal meal, I have and will continue to thank her for exposing her life so I could change mine. I had let an aspect of my life get out of hand and I needed a helping hand.

Losing weight is hard. Keeping the weight off is hard as well. It is difficult to make choices which honor the commitment every day and some days I do not. The last few weeks have been a struggle as I left my job at Thanksgiving. My normal out of the house rhythm has been upended and now the kitchen is incredibly close. I am learning choices are neither good or bad, only a choice. When I pause to consider my choices, it has proved to be instructive. But sometimes, it is helpful to remember life is made up of fasting and feasting. 

Make the choice and get on with living.

We have been given a body. Our bodies can grow accustomed to hurry and worry. Oh what we might discover if our bodies practiced slow motion more often. If we don’t take moment by moment opportunities to slow down, we won’t be able to tend to ourselves much less any other living creature.

 

This is the third post in The Slow Collection. You can read past posts here and here.

My favorite skincare line

Welcome to our Bird House:

One   

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen 

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

As with life, I have greater affection for some of these birds than others,
crows and starlings are not my favorites as they tend to be bossy, loud and aggressive. The Stellar’s Jay has made it’s first appearance this winter which thrills me. Once last year, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird land on the wrought iron pole holding the largest feeder. I was startled, turned, saw a large curved beak and as it took flight, knew it was a hawk, the wing span unmistakable, a fellow bird loving neighbor confirmed the identity.