Monday, February 19, 2018

A New Daily Round

I’m sitting at my daughter’s dining room table once again (third time in a month I’ve traveled up this way for either birthday club or to babysit) watching heavy snow fall from the sky. It’s wet outside, but the snowfall is heavy enough that it’s just starting to stick to the ground. It’s pretty.

I’m sipping a second cup of coffee, something I always enjoy doing on weekends, thinking about this and that. In recent days, I’ve been jotting down some thoughts in an attempt to grasp a good mindset for something I’m working through. There’s nothing intense or heavy going on, but this did take me a little bit by surprise.

I think pretty much everyone who reads this blog has either read my other blogs or has known me personally for a long time, so you probably know my views on home life, work, daily duties, and ordinary routines.

I have often written or spoken about the liturgy of the ordinary, the sacredness of the everyday, the spirituality that can be developed and revealed in the rote nature of our daily tasks at home. I believe that, when it springs from love or devotion to God, it is all spiritual, all meaningful, all the Lord’s work— doing laundry, scrubbing toilets, changing diapers, holding fussy babies, washing dishes, cooking meals, and all of the other endless, daily, repetitive tasks that can seem unimportant, trivial, or even, to some people, mindless.

Our daily work is liturgy,
it is sacrament,
it is worship.
It is all spiritual.

All of our mothering work has a profound imact on the children we are raising. I fully believe that the environment and atmosphere we build in our homes is critical to opening their hearts and leading them to Jesus. Just as it was true for Brother Lawrence when he said, “I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of the Lord,” no work is so small or insignificant that it can’t be honoring to God, that it can’t impact eternity. In fact, it might be in the smallest, most humble acts of love that He is most pleased.

So, while I raised my growing family, I lived by this. And now my children are grown and raising their own children, and I find myself in a role I never imagined playing in life— one I didn’t sign up for. It is a life that was not on my radar when I married and had children and made a commitment to serve both my family and other people from the base of my home.

Now, as you know, I am a “working woman” (as if being at home wasn’t work!), and I’ve loved most aspects of my job in the high school library. I’ve been super-motivated to show up every day, and it has been extremely rewarding to get to know the kids in the way I have. There has been a huge amount of mutual love flowing back and forth. Sometimes I have a sense of an almost supernatural energy lifting me to the top of the swirling rapids of chaotic, angsty teenage life like a well-guided raft. The Lord has absolutely been with me.

So why, recently, have I occasionally struggled with motivation? Nothing has changed about my job. I don’t dislike it at all. I still love the kids. But, somehow, the idea that I’d rather be somewhere else keeps pushing itself into my head, and, if I give it ground, this pushes out motivation. Suddenly, I sometimes find myself thinking, “I can’t bear to catalog yet another book.” Suddenly, the hours seem long— occasionally interminably long— and I’m watching the clock. Suddenly, I’m not especially eager to help that student find book #10 in that fantasy series.

This is definitely not how I feel throughout every work day. I still love most of what I do, and I can recognize that there is no work where everything is super-fun every minute. There’s always discipline involved, always a bit of pressing through the tough bits, and I don’t mind that at all. I’ve always been able to find a way to make things fun to do, to rally those around me and turn it into a game. But I haven’t always felt like bothering lately. It’s strange.

I’m not depressed. I’m not bored. I’m not forcing myself to go to work. I’m not unhappy when I’m there. I just battle thoughts that have never come up for me before. So, it surprised me that I would sometimes feel this way— that after 2 1/2 years in this job, that I would suddenly need to call upon mental discipline to get me through the day.

So, I began to, by faith, press through in the best cheer I could muster, praying as always for the daily miracle of love to inhabit me. Pray for grace to carry me through the daily round. I am no longer a mother raising young children. I am an older woman working with teenagers in a school.

And a new epiphany comes that is really an old, tried and true bit of knowledge for the rest of the world: My current work is my new mundane, my new ordinary, my new daily round. And just as it did with mothering, spiritual life, growth, and depth start right where I am— smack in the everyday, in the repetition, in the over and over again nature of work.

And just as it was with motherhood, the Love we must obtain in order to do this is what makes the work a spiritual work. It is God’s Love in us, not merely us being humanly awesome. 

I realize that a little bit of heart-struggle is good. It keeps me paying attention to the spiritual, to understand that the work I do, by itself, is not enough. But when I turn it around and do the seemingly empty, mundane things “for the love of God,” He fills my heart and allows me to do them also for the “love of man,” and then it becomes good work. Eternal work.

If this is true for a mother with children, it is also true for a working woman. Diapers matter. Laundry matters. Cataloging yet another book matters. Smiling, and saying a few words, to that solitary student, always alone in the corner, matters.

So, when natural motivation and high energy flee, I am left with nothing but dependence on the Lord, and what can be better than this? Because it is not my moods, feelings, natural joy, natural exuberance that can make a spiritual difference, but His love.

This is why morning quiet time before doing my daily work is essential for me. It is not about me being super-disciplined and deeply spiritual. It is about me being empty and knowing it. So, I brew my coffee, sit myself down, and just as it did for Dorothy Day, “My strength returns. . . with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.”

Sometimes, though, even after this, I leave the house saying, “Lord, I’m not feeling it today, but I’m counting on Your miracle.” Because if my daily work is to be a spiritual work, I need a miracle every single day.  If I am to care about going to my work, being there, doing my job as well as I can, I need the quiet time. I need the miracle.

It is because of God’s goodness and love toward me, in allowing me to struggle at times with lack of desire, that my own lack of love—my own empty heart—is revealed, and this leads me to Him. I have to be filled before I can give.

And, for this, I am deeply grateful. God knows our hearts. He knows what we need. And by His grace, He puts us in a position where we will be more inclined to see our need for Him and seek Him. So, I don’t want to view my occasional lack of motivation as a problem but as a gift— a reminder— that has me looking for the only Strength and Love that can change lives. I can thank Him for the grace of my own emptiness!

“His mercies are new every morning.” No matter what we do, or how our days are shaped, or how many lives we touch, we can all count on that!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Shape of Today: Saturday

This beautiful, clear day started with me sipping a cup of coffee in the pre-dawn darkness, staring quietly out the window of my unlit living room at a silver crescent moon. As light dawned, I noticed white frost on the rooftops next door, which made me feel even warmer inside my cosy place. And thankful to the Lord for so many blessings.

Like last evening. After a long day and week of work, I was mentally tired, so it was an easy “yes” when my brother asked me if I’d like to drive out to sit with him and his wife in front of a bonfire in their country yard. You know, there’s nothing quite like just sitting and staring at a crackling fire to provide a sense of warmth and peace, to quiet and unwind the mind. It’s restful and even restorative.

Some places in winter are deeply frigid, beseiged by ice and snow and biting windchill, where bonfires in February may not be an appealing idea. But on a calm, clear winter coastal evening, I can’t think of anything better. I think back to many bonfire-lit winter crabfeeds beside the lake at my mother’s house, where laughing crowds of us circled the fire with pliers in hand, cracking crab, eating the meat, and throwing the shells in the fire. Kids pedaled and rowed boats around the lake on those dark nights, lit by the light of the moon and stars, their happy singing and shouting drifting back to us. Good times, sweet memories. Wherever we live, we all find ways to make our own winter magic, don’t we?

On my way to my brother’s, I picked up my mom so she could join us, and we all sat in my the yard facing the brilliant warmth of the fire, our backs to the cold and the world and everything else. There was no roasting of hot dogs or marshmallows. Nothing but sitting together, talking and listening to the crackling logs and croaking frogs. I stared up at the vivid stars in that clear, black country sky, and since I love the night sky as much as I love a good fire, it doesn’t get much better than it was right then, at that moment, in that yard.

That is, until you add to that the fact that I drove away with a bunch of fresh crab meat! Already cooked, cracked, and ready to eat. The evening began to shape into a collection of some of my favorite things— time with family, simple conversation, a good roaring fire, a starlit country sky, fresh crab meat— so maybe you can understand how I drove home feeling refreshed.

Now I’m on my second cup of coffee this morning, something I happily do every Saturday morning. This is my favorite day because I can throw off the chains of my inflexible work schedule. I’m not a person who loves schedules, much preferring fluid routines and rhythms and forgiving to-do lists. But since on-the-clock, punch-in-and-out work life doesn’t lend itself to this type of motion, I do my best to create good routines and rhythms for the work week, too. And when Saturday comes along (the only day I have with no set obligations), I deeply appreciate the quiet, natural, flexible flow of my morning.

On these Saturday mornings, I often sit here at my little green computer table and type out thoughts like I am right now because I enjoy doing this. I enjoy reflecting and reminiscing and thinking about what everything means. Sometimes I share these thoughts with you, and sometimes I don’t. (I don’t even know if I will post this— it’s always dependent on whether or not I get myself over to the library where I can access wi-fi.)

Today, I have a little list of things I want to do. I need to run an errand or two, pick up some fennel so that I am ready to roll with a recipe that will use those beans I soaked overnight, go watch a bunch of high school swimmers who repeatedly asked me to go to their meet this weekend, and head out to the beach for a walk and for a stop at a little seafood shop in a fishing village. I’m eager to get my feet onn the sand and in the water and to breathe that incomparably fresh sea air.

I need to do some scrubbing in my apartment— floors and the bathroom— and a load or two of laundry. And I need to make progress on my decluttering and simplifying project (steady, relaxed steps add up surely to good progress). I’m eager to (soon, I hope) get my hands on the paint I want so I can, step by step, paint my walls and freshen up my home.

Sunny days like this stir up a desire for spring cleaning! Oh, and speaking of spring, the cherry trees on campus are in full pink bloom, and I found some daffodils hidden at the edges of wild brush around the apartment yard, so I cut some and brought them indoors for some yellow cheer!

I’m going to run along now, but before I go, here’s how I’m doing with some of my February goals or intentions:

I am, so far, walking more for exercise. I’ve been going outside on my work breaks to circle the school campus and breathe in the fresh air. It’s the best kind of break there is! And at noon, when I can, I take a half hour walk along tree-lined streets, up some steep hills, then back around to the school. So far, I’ve taken no walks after work. But days are lengthening, and that time will come.

I ordered a new wall calendar (from Rifle Paper Co.). It’s pretty.

I am looking at books and drawing up plans for what herbs and cut-flowers I want to grow. And planning where I want to do it. I want to keep it simple and as water-wise as possible. I really want to be able to snip fresh herbs for my meals, so I’m thinking about which ones I will use most often: mint (for pots only!), basil, sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, and ??? For cut flowers, I know I want zinnias, bachelor buttons, coreopsis, sweet peas, and some others, but I have a lot of thinking and planning to do. It’s early.

I have a camera! I don’t have it in my possession yet, but I can’t believe how this worked out. I asked my son what model of Canon he has (because I have used it before, and I like it), and he offered it to me for longterm use. He uses his go-pro and his wife’s nice camera and says his own just sits there. I don’t know when I will have it in my possession, but I am super-excited! Hopefully within a month, I can be posting my own photos here. And I didn’t have to spend a dime. So, yay!

What is the shape of your weekend? I hope you make it beautiful.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Dark Chocolate!

(Post 3 for today! I always write these little blurbs, and then I never post them, so I gathered up the last few I wrote and decided to post them all at once!)

In the six days since the Whole 30 ended, I have tried adding three food items back into my diet to see how they affect me. First, I added whole-fat yogurt from grass-fed cows into a berry smoothie. No problem.

Then I made a blue-cheese butter from one of Deborah Madison’s books to mix with chopped walnuts to drizzle over roasted squash. I thought this combo would work for me since blue cheese is aged and fermented, and butter hasn’t seemed to bother me in the past, but something didn’t sit right with me— either the blue cheese or the butter. I’ll test them both again later. If butter bothers me, I can turn it into ghee, which I love. And if the blue cheese bothers me, I will cry because I love blue cheese!

The third (actually, fourth) food item I brought back into my eating life is one I thought I would wait awhile to add. But I decided that I will jump right in and see how it goes. Will I eat the whole thing at once, or will I be able to show some restraint and keep my consumption at a reasonable level?

Dark chocolate!

I love chocolate, and it’s a high-powered healthy food, right? Right? So why wait?! I bought a bar of Green & Black’s 70% cacao dark chocolate bar on my lunch break Monday, and since I’m not snacking or eating at all between meals nowadays, this keeps me from picking away at the chocolate bar throughout the day until it disappears. Instead, I waited. I ate my lunch, and then I broke two rows of chocolate off the bar and sat down to really enjoy it. And it tasted soooo good! I won’t hesitate to do the same thing after dinner.

In case you are skeptical of my claim that dark chocolate is a healthy food, here are some reasons to eat it. All of this has a fair amount of research attached to it, and the research is convincing enough that it is simply accepted by most nutritionists and doctors that dark chocolate is good for you.

Dark chocolate
(it must state on the bar that it’s 70% cacao or higher,
or it’s not dark chocolate,
even if it says “dark” on the wrapper):

lifts your mood
correlates to lower rates of diabetes
decreases your chances of getting cancer
increases energy naturally
reduces your risk of heart disease
improves cholesterol count
increases attention span
can enhance your vision
helps fight depression
is a superfood, full of anti-oxidants
protects skin from harmful ultraviolet rays
has gut-healing prebiotics and probiotics
helps fight cavities
boosts natural skin hydration significantly
lowers blood sugar
reduces cortisol
increases serotonin
stimulates blood flow
energizes your workout and aids muscle repair

After reading this, how can I not add chocolate back into my life without delay?! Chocolate is happy food. Just seeing my two little rows of chocolate, wrapped up in a piece of foil to take to work to eat at the end of my lunch makes me glad, and not because of those great health benefits, but because it tastes so good!

Are you a dark chocolate fan?

Back Into the Cookbooks

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved watching people cook, reading about food, looking at cookbooks, and then cooking. I bought my first two cookbooks during my college years when I was 19 or 20 years old— The Joy of Cooking and The New York Times Cookbook (by Craig Claiborne, I think). I still have that old copy of The Joy of Cooking.

Fast forward 30 years to, and I had accumulated bookcases full of cookbooks. I think people thought having so many books about food and cooking was a little bit silly: “Why in the world do you want all of these cookbooks? You’ll never come close to making all of those recipes!” But if you are like me, and you love cookbooks, you know that it’s not about cooking all of the recipes. It’s about reading the information and acquiring knowledge about food, cuisines and food traditions, various dishes and ingredients, techniques, and on and on. It’s about having a cooking resource library. It’s about educating ourselves.

Sure, I want cookbooks with good recipes, but even more, I want prosey cookbooks that educate me and give me tools to create my own delicious recipes. I don’ t pretend to be an amazing, super-knowledgable cook. Lots of people cook better than I do, but I do love learning about food and cooking, and I also like to cook.

So, it was strange when I went through my recent kitchen and cooking lull, lazily fixing only what was quick, easy, and moderately nutritious. I had never done this before, even when my life was at its most difficult and its most emotionally depleting. I was busy, and sometimes depleted, in those hard days, but I still cooked good food for myself. I still loved being in the kitchen.

And now, thanks to the Whole 30 forcing me to physically spend a good amount time in the kitchen each evening, I’ve made a little turn-around, and I find myself enjoying being there again, cooking nourishing food that takes more than five or ten minutes to prepare. I find it pleasant again to line my spices and ingredients across the counter in order, work my chef’s knife through vegetables on my Boos block, and saute or simmer or braise or roast in my cast iron pans until delicious smells come from the oven and cooktop.

Once again, cooking is relaxing and enjoyable. And, once again, as there always was in the past, there’s a little stack of cookbooks on my table, ready for me to browse. I gather them in my arms when I head to bed for the night, along with whatever other books I am reading, and I usually have a little notebook and pen with me so I can jot down page numbers and notes.

In addition to cooking, there’s another thing I haven’t done for quite awhile— thrifting. But I stopped by the Goodwill in my daughter’s town last Saturday and found two treasures— two excellent cookbooks in new condition, both of them cookbooks I had wanted to read for awhile. So, two neglected hobbies— thrifting and cookbooks— collided serendipitously when I browsed the bookshelves at that Goodwill.

Here’s what I found:

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. I am not in love with the title of this book, but it’s a beauty— readable and extremely informative, with recipes that look and taste delicious (at least the two I’ve already made). Deborah Madison is one of my biggest food and cooking influences. I just love her. I bought her first cookbook, Greens, many years ago, but it was when I bought Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in the mid-1990’s that I began a new journey with food and cooking. I cooked my way through that cookbook like no other cookbook I have ever owned, making recipe after recipe. Many of these dishes became staples in our high desert home. At one point, I owned every Deborah Madison cookbook. I also branched out into other cookbooks and authors she mentioned, and then I sought out the cooks and books that those authors mentioned, and so on. My food adventure took on a life of its own, and I learned so much, but Deborah Madison was my inspiration. She introduced me to the Slow Food movement, and she is the reason I began to buy organic food that was grown as close to home as possible.

Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I am a fan of the River Cottage series; my shelves used to hold almost all of their books, but I got rid of them all in one of my moves (the number of my books was cut in half each time I packed to load the moving truck). Between the two cookbooks I bought at Goodwill yesterday, this one is the flashiest. The recipe photos in Madison’s book are spare, while this book is full of photos of mouthwatering dishes. Both my daughter and I thought Veg looked pretty amazing, and I was sure that it would be more useful to me than Deborah Madison’s more esoteric-seeming book. But today I don’t think that’s the case.

Once I actually spent time reading through Vegetable Literacy, I realized that it is brilliant, full of super helpful information, and that the recipes are simple (not plain) and look delicious. Veg really is pretty (even the cover is super-cheery), and I will try many dishes from this book, but there are also many recipes calling for ingredients I won’t be using: eggs, white flour, cheeses, etc.

Veg will be fun to use, but Vegetable Literacy is one of those books that really will contribute to making me more knowledgable about ingredients and how to use them. It’s more educational. And now that I’m back in the kitchen, that’s a big part of what I’m looking for. (But the “education” is only valuable because Deborah Madison’s way with food is always delicious.)

Fat-Burning vs Sugar/Carb-Burning (for Michele)

I don’t remember your exact question, Michele, since I don’t have internet at home and can’t look it up, but I think you were asking what I meant when I talked about shifting from burning sugar as fuel to burning fat as fuel.

I’ve read about this in lots of places, especially in paleo writings, but it’s becoming common for other diets, too.

The easiest thing to do would be to quote from the Whole 30 guidebook. They attribute the “carb flu”— a period of headaches, fatigue, cravings, light-headedness, and “brain fog”— to the change that happens when you are used to burnng lots of carbs and now you are switching to becoming a fat-burner. You go through a withdawal period of sorts.

Here’s what they have to say:

“It’s an energy issue. Your old diet included lots of carbohydrates from grains, legumes, added sugar, and processed foods. That carbohydrate digests into sugar in the body, and yoru body then used that sugar for energy. In fact, you got so good at using sugar to keep you running that your body became wholly dependent on it. Now you start the Whole30. Your carbohydrate (sugar) intake is naturally lower because you’re eating vegetables and fruit instead of bread and cookies. Your body is no longer getting all that sugar it’s used to running on. So what happens? You run out of gas. Without all that sugar (energy), you get tired, you get headaches, your brain is foggy, and you’re hungry. So. Hungry. Mostly for sugar. . .

“You now have another excellent energy source available to you— fat! Fat from your diet and body fat can also fuel you as you work, play with your kids, study, or run errnads. The trouble is, your body doesn’t know how to use it, because you’ve been giving it so much sugar all the time. If your body has sugar all the time, it’s going to preferentially run on sugar all the time. Only in the relative absence of all that sugar will it start running efficiently on fat as fuel. . .

“So, for a few days (or maybe even a week), you’re stuck in this no man’s land that feels like you’ve got the flu.

“The good news is that this passes fast. The process of “fat adaptation” (being able to use body fat and dietary fat as fuel) begins in just a few days, although it will take a few weeks to fully ramp up. The good news is that you’ll start to feel better really soon (usually by Day 14), and those headaches will be a thing of past.”

I’ve read a lot about this in various places. The idea is that when you burn fat, it fuels you for longer, without highs and lows, so you don’t get hungry. It also gives your pancreas a break instead of slamming it all the time with high-carb/high-sugar foods, so your blood sugar (etc) becomes stable.

Amelia Freer has more to say about carbs and snacking and intermittent fasting. I really like her, so I’ll add some of her thoughts soon. For now, I need to run along, and I might not get back to post something for several days (who knows?).

Oh, wait! Also, I’m reading a book by UCLA researcher who studies aging and cognition. He has developed a lifestyle and diet protocol that is reversing early-stage Alzheimers. (The stories are amazing!) This fascinates me. One of his dietary principles is maintaining very light ketosis (fat-burning instead of carb/sugar burning), with no eating for at least 12 to 14 hours at night (from dinner to breakfast) and not eating within 3 hours of bedtime. There are many other principles in this protocol that are super-interesting. I’ll talk more about the Alzheimer’s book soon.

Making this switch away from snacking and sugar-burning has really made a difference for me (both in the past and now) regarding how I feel.

Does this help answer your question, Michele, or did I miss your meaning?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Looking Forward into February

I left my daughter’s house this morning and made it back just in time for the church service, with no time to stop by my apartment first. Now, I’m finally home, and most of my things are put away. I’m sipping an early afternoon cup of coffee while I survey my kingdom and consider goals, plans, and a good focus for the current month.

January was fun and demanding. It was busier than usual with good times as well as necessary requirements and tasks, and I was also called away from home more than I like to be. I have always been one to pay attention to my limits and to protect healthy margins when they are being threatened (whether by my own choices or by external demands), but, obviously, situations arise in life that take us beyond our limitations and boundaries, and sometimes there is nothing to be done but to surrender to them and trust that God is walking us through a challenge or difficulty by His grace and that He will make a way through it.

Most of the time, though, we are able to set our limits and choose what the shape of our routines and our days will be. I have to say that limits should be healthy, but they shouldn’t be isolating or selfish. Sometimes, it takes wisdom to discern the difference, but God promises wisdom for those who ask. So, if we aren’t sure, we can ask Him! (And, if needed, talk it over someone we respect who is wise.)

As for me, this month I choose to restore my boundaries and margins as far as I am truly able. I need some quiet time at home to refresh and restore and rejuvenate. And I need to care for my living space.

Anyway. I’d already been considering what I want February to look like and what I want to think about, accomplish, and do this month, but coming home after a weekend away gives me an extra burst of motivation.

When I walked in the door this afternoon, I was struck by two things in rapid succession:

1. Ahhhh. . . home sweet home! It feels cheerful and cosy in here.

2. Wow, this place needs some attention, care, and nurture!

Yes, the apartment feels cosy (to me, at least), and, at first glance, it appears fairly orderly and clean, but it doesn’t take long to notice that some aspects of my housekeeping have been slightly neglected. The place feels almost stale and can really use some fluffing, dusting, and refreshing.

Walk along the balcony to my front door, and you’ll be greeted by a dead plant in a pot that has been sitting there since late last autumn. Inside the house, the table could be brightened by a bouquet of flowers or some branches in a vase, and I really should take that stack of books and articles off the table and put them away away. The bathroom needs a good deep-cleaning (actually, everwhere does), the rooms need vacuuming, and there’s a pile of paperwork on my desk waiting to be dealt with, filed, or recycled.

So, this week, I am setting up different tasks for each day (evening after work) to help brighten this place back to its usual cheerfulness.

Ideas and plans for this month include the things I just talked about, but I have other things in mind as well. I love all of the different months and seasons and celebrations of the year, and I like to enjoy them fully.

There’s something about February. Just yesterday, it was sunny and warm outside, so my daughter threw open her windows and said, “It feels like spring is coming.” Yes, it did, and it does again today in this beautiful sunshine, but we all know that there is plenty of winter weather left to come.

Still, there’s a sense of hopeful energy that February can bring. Days are lengthening. Daylight seems to be brightening. Buds start appearing on plants. And we know that as this month moves along, all of this will only increase. While February seems to be the heart of winter in many places, on the temperate coastlines of the PNW it’s an inside/outside month.

This month, I want to:

Re-establish good margins and boundaries. Say yes often, but say no when I need to say no. There are no Birthday Clubs or other family gatherings this month— which I would totally attend if there were (!)— so I will stay home more. I want to invite someone(s) over for a meal or coffee or something else.

Put this apartment back in good working order. Set up a good cleaning routine. Make the effort this month to have flowers on the table, or to bring natural beauty indoors. Give my indoor plants some extra TLC— they need it.

Find a new wall calendar I like. I loved last year’s calendar— retro/vintage art for the National Parks— and it’s still hanging on the wall, waiting to be replaced by a new one. I need to make the effort to look online before they all disappear! My daughter has a very cool Rifle Paper Company wall calendar that would work well for me, but I’ll scout around a bit before I choose. If my house was big with lots of open wall space in the kitchen, I wouldn’t mind having this classic, huge calendar. It’s always appealed to me, but it would look ridiculous in my small space.

Finish my decluttering project. It is not like me to stop in the middle of a job like this and let things sit in a pile (in the spare room), but that’s what’s going on. January got away from me, and now I need to finish the job, which will entail a bit more clearing out and then taking things to donation centers. Finishing this task always makes the house (and me) feel lighter and brighter.

Start painting my walls. I want to do all of the walls in this apartment. This is a project that has been pushed aside for months, and I am beyond ready to get started. I want to perk this place up! I will probably paint the main living areas a warm (not creamy) white, but I am considering other colors for various spaces. I will let you know what I do with this. And maybe I can even show you how it’s coming along because I also want to. . .

Buy a camera. My son-in-law, who is a great photographer and the best deal-finder ever, is keeping an eye out for me. He knows my budget and my minimum demands, and he knows I want a camera by the end of the month. I have really, really missed taking pictures, and, honestly, this blog only feels about half like mine because I haven’t put up a single photo I’ve taken myself. My other blogs were fairly centered around the photos I took, and I think having a camera will add an extra dimension of fun to this for me. Plus I just love using a camera.

Walk more for exercise. Now that days are lengthening, I want to walk outside more often. I wouldn’t mind at all transferring my 4:45 a.m. exercises sessions in my living room to the late afternoon in the great outdoors! Yesterday, I took a long walk with my grand-daughter, enjoying the fresh air and lots of great conversation with her while she poked around with a stick, collected leaves and flowers, and examined everything interesting she found along the way (which was a lot). We climbed a big hill and looked across the way toward her house, the river, and the city beyond. The sun set as we walked home, lighting the western sky with brilliant pink, orange, and purple, so we stopped to enjoy the beauty. It was a fine day, and I loved being outside with her.

Plan for growing herbs and cut-flowers. There’s lots of space in the yard here to grow some things, and in past years, I have. But this year, I want to grow a lot of flowers more for the sake of cutting them for bouquets than for having a designed garden. Also, I miss the large, fenced herb garden I had in the high desert, so I would also like to grow herbs this year. I won’t get extravagant, but I will do more than I’ve done in the last two years when I threw a few herb plants in pots and kept them on my back balcony (though I might do that, too). The past few years, I felt strangely ambivalent and passive about growing things, but something in me seems to be stirring back to life in that regard.

Stick with no-snacking. Hopefully, forever. No eating between meals. No snacking. No indulging my sweet tooth. (Treats should be treats, for celebrations or special times.) No eating for at least 12 hours after dinner. I like how this is affecting me. It’s been good for me to think about addictive eating patterns and what my body really needs. But I already told you this.

Plan for sprucing up the balconies. Both the front and the back. When I find the right one for the right price, I would like a bench (in addition to my chair) on the front balcony. When I can, this is where I sit in the morning with my coffee (and sometimes my Bible). And the tiny back (western) balcony could use something to increase privacy— something to attach to the rails so that I can stand up without being in the line of sight of everyone in the building across the street (also to break the wind). This is a place I sit all the time in the summer. I throw my big beach blanket and puffy cushion on the balcony floor and go out there to read, eat, sip, and even nap.
I’m sure a lot of other things will be done this month, too, many of them already part of my routine. I have my weekly small group Bible study. I go out to visit my mom. I do/make/bake things for the kids at work. Valentine’s Day is coming, so that’s a celebration that will get some attention from me. And there will be beach days. And hunkering inside against the storm days. And lots of other days, both expected and unexpected.

I'm not forgetting that "many are the plans of a mans heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." But that doesn't mean don't plan.

What does February look like where you are?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Looking Back at January

January seemed to fly by. It was extra busy month with unavoidable tasks, situations, and activities— most of them pleasant, many of them part of my daily and weekly routines, some of them simply necessary, and at least one that was sad (the death of my neighbor).

I have never been affected by seasonal depression, and I’ve never been bothered by the short, dark days of winter, so I enjoy the month and the gifts that it brings— warm cosiness indoors when wet and wild storms crash against outer walls and windows, the glow of beeswax candles, the soft warmth of throw blankets, comfortable woolen slippers, piles of books everywhere, extra mugs of steaming coffee, a rainbow of vegetables roasting in the oven, and conversations with occasional pop-in visitors.

Because much of January is centered indoors due to inclement weather, it affords an extra opportunity— if I will use it— to think, to read and study, to evaluate, to consider, to set goals, to plan.

Here’s a look back at some of what took place in January. (Tomorrow I’ll take a brief look forward to my hopes and intentions for February.)

Temperamental weather. It was a month of turbulent grey skies; driving, pounding rainstorms; and huge waves smashing against rocky coastal cliffs. It was also a month scattered with warm, windfree days— typical of the coast in January and February— days that are truly better than summer days when that hard, cold north wind forces one to wear a light jacket and hold on to their hat. These warm days send you straight to the beach.

Taxes filed. This is one of those necessary evils that turns out not to be evil at all when my refund is deposited in my checking account! Not having internet makes filing taxes difficult and more time-consuming than it should be (I like to do it online) because I don’t have easy access to a secure wi-fi. I needed to do the filing in stages because I didn’t have this or that piece of information with me when I did find a way to be online, but I got it done over the course of a week, so, yay! 

Birthday Club. This is always so much fun. It’s like celebrating mini-Christmases (as far as the gift-giving part) throughout the calendar year. The whole family gathers for good food, gift-giving, celebrating, coffee, dessert, and being together. This time there was pie— apple and strawberry-rhubarb— with ice cream, but I resisted. Next Birthday Club (the last week of March, which is my birthday month), I’ll go ahead and have the birthday dessert.

Super Blue Blood Moon. (Wow.) I was up at 4:45 (I’ll explain why in a bit), so I opened the sliding door curtains on the west side of my apartment and stepped out onto the balcony. It was cold outside, and the viewing was actually better from the inside (because, inside, I could sit so the street lights were blocked), so I grabbed my cushy floor pillow, wrapped myself in a cosy grey throw blanket, plopped myself down with a mug of hot coffee, and sat in front of that huge, beautiful moon. I’m just thankful that we had a bright, clear morning on the coast. Some friends of mine got up really early and hiked out across the sand dunes where they could watch the eclipse in the total dark, with no ambient artificial light undermining the view. I’ll admit I was a bit jealous of them. Did you see the moon that early morning?

4:45 a.m. exercise. This sounds pretty nutty, even to me, because I am not the driven type who is not only going to seize the day but win the day by a total knockout. I definitely work through a to-do list, but I don’t do this violently. But, the fact is, I just wasn’t exercising sufficiently. I definitely tried, but during the work (school) year, it is difficult to exercise in the evening, and I miss it too often. Fact is, being a working woman now has changed the way I have to approach my days, and since exercise is absolutely essential to health and well-being, I thought, what’s the big deal about getting up a mere 15 minutes earlier than usual— 4:45 a.m. instead of 5:00 a.m.— in order to exercise for half an hour? So, that’s what I’m doing. I am a bit stiffer in the morning than I am later in the day, but I just turn on a worship mix and start slowly and don’t force rigor. Still, whatever I can do helps, and as the sun sets later and later, I’ll get outside more to walk, as often as possible at the beach. (I try to do some yoga several times a week in the evening as well, but this is not enough to maintain a healthy fitness.)

Bible-only devotions. No more spiritual journaling or reading devotionals or other aids. I started this at the new year because I realized I had begun reading the Bible in tiny bits, stopping when a verse or thought struck me. I’d often turn then to my journal and scribble down my thoughts and insights. This is good, of course, but I was not reading large, contextual chunks of scripture, where the big picture reveals its own truths, and where I could once again be immersed in the whole story and not just little ideas taken from snippets. I had unintentionally begun to focus on Biblical “sound bytes,” and had lost a love for simply reading through the Bible all by itself. This disturbed me, so I made this change, and it has made all the difference— once again, I love to read the Bible at length. I am also working to memorize larger chunks of scripture. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” (I will add that, after my devotional/prayer time is over, I might copy down some verses that struck me and even scribble out a few thoughts, but I don’t do this nearly every day.)

No egg breakfasts. A new favorite breakfast that I devised according to Whole 30 principles and what was in my fridge— smoked salmon (only ingredients are salmon and salt) with mashed lemony sweet potatoes, avocado slices, and arugula tossed with vinaigrette. I like a bit of each (or more than one) item on the fork— it is delicious. It is also really pretty.

Oh, you know, there’s a lot more that happened in January, but that’s a little glimpse of the things that come to mind this morning.