beauty for ashes

beauty for ashes

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On the occasion of my birthday in August, I chose the word “slow” to guide my 55th year.

Even for all the reasons I needed to choose the word, I hadn’t anticipated how much it would prove valuable in 2020. As I endeavored to live a slowed down life, previously filled space emerged to allow me to write weekly many months before the pandemic settled into our lives, a gift nestled in ashes. But perhaps one of the most difficult lessons of this time has been that even when life comes to an abrupt halt, it doesn’t build a wall against heartache or pain. However it can’t diminish our ability to celebrate or find joy, if we seek to unbury it like a treasure. This has been a bittersweet season for so many. I am not sure anyone has been immune to its effects.

The county where I live seemed to be the last in the country to move into Phase One. Last week, I had my first appointment and a couple of small in-person hang-outs. Carl mused how quickly we had gotten out of shape at gathering. Our pace has slowed and is quickly exhausted by an out of the house schedule. There is an extra emotional component related to continuing to strive to keep ourselves and others safe.

As we begin to walk towards the return of daily activities try to remember to:

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Go slowly.

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Breathe deeply.

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Pick the pace that is best for you.

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Yes and no can be the right answer for different people.

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Remember the lessons learned during sheltering.
List them to anchor each day.

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Extend grace to yourself.

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Extend grace to others.

tend slowly

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.