A Word to Guide the New Year

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One word of resolve for the new year

Last year, it was “Simplify.”

Declutter

Clear

Prioritize

This year, it is “Focus.”

On what’s important

On who’s important

On my purpose on this planet

Enjoy discovering your word.

Happy New Year!

(By the way, I only realized the correlation between 2020 and “focus” after I chose the word. And then I had a good laugh!)

 

 

 

 

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On Watch

I got a Fitbit for Christmas. I didn’t ask for one, but my husband thought it would encourage me to exercise. I hear this often from people. “I got a Fitbit because I thought it would motivate me to exercise more.” What comes first? Do you get the device and then get motivated, or do you get motivated and get the device to stay motivated?

I was already inspired. Before I received the Fitbit. I knew I wanted to figure out an exercise plan for the colder months. Something that would work for me. Over the summer, I walked and ran outside. I knew I wouldn’t want to go out in the cold of winter to do that. But I also knew I wanted to learn to embrace each day, and that meant even embracing bitter temperatures. That means I have to walk even though it’s cold. I’d already begun. These are promises I made to myself. I intend to follow through–gadgets or not.

Once I opened the gift, I realized, in some ways, it could help me accomplish my fitness goals. My husband helped me set it up. I looked at all the things it could do and decided which things were useful for me and which weren’t. I went down the checklist out loud. Yes, I want to track my heart rate since my doctor has told me I have high blood pressure. Yes, I want to track my steps when I do walk and run and find out how many calories I’m burning. That would be interesting.

But no, I don’t want to wear it while I’m sleeping to track my sleep. Why not? My husband wanted to know. I just don’t want to wear it while I’m sleeping. I already know if I’m awake or asleep; I don’t care to collect any more sleep data about myself beyond that. He likes to track his sleep, but I’d rather not.

“Well, you can also get text notifications on your Fitbit. That way when I text you, you’ll get it right away.”

“Nope, I’m not doing that either.”

I think I respond in a timely fashion to texts. Most of them aren’t emergencies. I think people are too attuned to notifications on their phones. To me, they can be a real distraction from healthy conversation and human interaction that we need so desperately now more than ever. When I’m talking to someone and they abruptly look down at their wrist to read a text from someone else, I find it very rude. But they had to tell me they had a cheeseburger for dinner. Do we hear ourselves?

I’m also not going to wear it all the time, log my meals or the amount of water I’m drinking, and I most certainly am not going to use it to buy things. That just scares me.

At this point, he must’ve thought he’d made a bad investment in this device if his wife was not going to use half of its capabilities. But I told him if I don’t have the freedom to say no to things–no matter what they are–I am not free. Just because it has all these applications, it doesn’t mean I have to spend my time participating in them. And aren’t these devices meant to improve our lives? If I’m spending time tapping data into it instead of doing the things I really want to do, how is that an improvement? I refuse to be ruled by a glorified pedometer. It’s just another form of bondage. And worse because this is one we actually pay for and submit to voluntarily.

I think he not only respected my opinion, but he’s starting to come around himself. When we went for a walk, we both wore our Fitbits (because that’s one of the things I really want to do with mine), but neither one of us had our phone. I never bring mine. He said he forgot his. But I wonder. . .

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Forever Changed

(I originally published this a few years ago, but wanted to re-post it today, the anniversary.)

My son missed the bus. It was his second year in high school after having been home schooled since fourth grade. I was still homeschooling my two younger children. I would have to wake them up early to drive him to school for 7:23am. My husband had already left for work. It was very cold outside.

My son was apologetic, and his siblings woke up without grumbling. I was the one grumbling, but I tried to keep it to myself. On the ride to school, my nine year old daughter marveled at the ice crystals still on the trees, sparkling in the peachy glow of sunrise.

Later on that morning, my sister contacted me. There had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My pulse raced. I got a lump in my throat. My husband taught at Newtown High School, just down the street from Sandy Hook Elementary. I grabbed my laptop and stayed glued to it all day, horrified by the surreal events unfolding, wanting my husband home safe with me. I gave the kids independent work to do. I couldn’t teach them that day, and I couldn’t tell them about the nightmare that their father may or may not have been involved in.

He texted me later. He said he was safe and he’d be home as soon as he could. I told him there were hugs at home waiting for him. He replied, “And kids.” My heart ached for those families whose kids would not be coming home that day. It was so close to Christmas, too—the season of anticipation of joy and wonder, the expectation of warm family gatherings. It would be so different for those families now. So different for us all.

That night with my husband home safe, he related some of the story to me. His class had been in lock down. He and his students huddled under desks in a corner of his classroom. The doors were locked and black paper covered the windows. He prayed. Over the coming days, weeks, and months he would share more memories of that fateful December 14, 2012, but that night he told me only what he could manage to say and only what I could manage to hear. Then I left him on the couch and tended to my chores in another room.

As I vacuumed I realized how blessed I felt to be able to do even a mundane task. I could process the horrors of the day while I cleaned up crumbs from the floor. So many moms would not have the strength or the desire that night to bother with such petty things. And the fact that my son had missed the bus that morning, well, I saw it for the blessing it was—an opportunity to spend a few more minutes with my kids.

Two days later, we searched for a Christmas tree at a local farm. Again I felt blessed by the sheer act of walking quietly through rows of evergreens with my family. It was peaceful. Although our hearts were broken, we were whole. We were together. Along with the peace, I also felt a little guilt.

When Christmas morning rolled around, my husband worried, as he always does, that the kids would not be happy enough with what he viewed as sparse offerings beneath the tree. I reassured him, as I always do, that the kids would be happy with their gifts. I reminded him that no one in our house should be anything but completely grateful that day. And every day.

Posted in Christmas, Grief, Priorities, Sandy Hook | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Winter Wonderland Woods

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Do the same thing, get the same thing? 

We have lived here for twenty years, and I cannot remember once walking in these woods behind my house in the snow. 

Absurd, right?

Today I did. 

The snow-covered branches were breath-taking, but I thought since I’m also trying not to miss Advent this year, I should wait until after I’d read my devotional. So I started reading. It was around 11am. I knew although the words would remain on the page, the snow wouldn’t stay on the branches once the sun began to warm them. I put the book down and my boots on. 

I decided that, combined with shoveling, this walk would be my exercise for the day. I checked the clock and allotted a certain amount of time for this activity. But when I walked out, I was spellbound. I just marveled at it all. Every step I took was photo-worthy, so I took the shots. After a while I realized this woodland stroll wasn’t really about ambulating. It was about exercising my sense of awe and wonder. 

Certainly a worthy pursuit.

“Not all who wander are lost.”

~J.R.R. Tolkein

 

Posted in brene brown, Priorities, winter, wonder | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Surreptitious Joy

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I can see the beauty in this late November day. This is progress for me. It is not quite Thanksgiving, it is not Christmas, and, in this moment at least, I am not full of anticipation of either; I am simply out for a walk. The pumpkin that was formerly the perfect orange orb in the neighbor’s yard shrunk in on itself and is now deformed. The crimson and gold leaves have all fallen off the trees, leaving branches to pierce the ashen clouds. The flowers have withered and died. They are not yet covered in bright winter white. The landscape is full of grays and browns. It seems the natural world has reverted to a state of decay.

Even so, a smile creeps across my lips. My heart is light. In fall, the truth comes out. Flowers can no longer hide behind showy, fragrant blossoms. Their suitors, the bees and butterflies, have abandoned them to resume their natural course. The flowers’ final act, to drop the seeds of new life, is all that’s left before their winter rest. Autumn’s showcase, the troupe of leaves, have ended their dance to the ground. Now they will be crunched underfoot and nourish the soil, nature’s version of paying it forward.

I am surprised to find myself delighting in the shades of brown, the still-distinct shape of the oak leaves scattered along the roadside. The varying textures of the flowers, shadows of their former selves, yet ready to release the seeds that will ensure next spring will be decked out in all its glory.

It’s easy to find beauty when beauty abounds. It can be a challenge to find it on days like today. On this Thanksgiving eve, I am thankful for a new thing: The discovery of joy–perhaps even holiness–in the in-between.

 

Posted in Gratitude, Learning | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Remembering Veterans Today and Always

My grandfather, William H. Hall. Army Private, 1943-46. European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon, WWII Victory Medal.

Posted in Generosity, Gratitude, Love, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Stone Soup and a Happy Heart

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“We shall never go hungry now that we know how to make soup from stones.”

~from a tale of Stone Soup

Summer presents the perfect opportunity to make a Stone Soup kind of meal. Stone Soup is an old folktale in which hungry strangers enter a town and cleverly convince the fearful townsfolk to share what they have, creating an impromptu feast for everyone. As friends and family offer us their unique gifts of the garden, late summer dinners can be an opportunity to collaborate efforts as well.

Last year our own garden was sparse. By the time school finally got out at the end of June here in the Northeast (thanks a lot, snow days) and family vacation was over, summer was also half over, and we didn’t have a garden. My mother-in-law brought us a handful of plants: beets, kale, chard, lettuce, parsley, tomatoes. I stuck them in the ground more out of a sense of duty than my usual hope, wonder, and anticipation, and that was that. No fanfare. No planning, weeding, or watering. An afterthought, really. 

The result? Well, you reap what you sow. Although there were slim pickings, and the tomatoes were an embarrassment, what we did harvest was delightful. Then an amazing thing happened–friends showed up and filled in the garden gaps. One friend brought us an abundance of tomatoes, large and small, green and purple bell peppers, and even an eggplant. Not only have I never grown eggplant, I’ve never cooked one either. But it was gorgeous, and I was up for the challenge. Surely my Fannie Farmer Cookbook could help.

Another friend, a science teacher, offered us a unique gift–”black trumpet” chanterelle mushrooms he found growing in his yard. (With all the rain we’d had, it would behoove us to learn mushroom identification!) The mushrooms are slightly salty and meaty.

I chopped up those gorgeous greens from my own garden along with the veggies and black trumpets, sautéed them in my trusty cast iron skillet with garlic and onions, added some of Mom’s basil at the last minute, and we had a lovely primavera for pasta. Proving once again that it takes a village to raise the taste buds. Aren’t we better people when we work together? 

This makes sense to me. We need each other. I recall a couple years ago when my parents had a bumper crop of cucumbers, but their beets didn’t produce. I had the opposite scenario. So we shared what we had with each other. I find this is often the case. Maybe that should remind us that we rely on our neighbors, even if it’s only to add variety to our salad. We can share our bounty, too–whatever it is. 

(First published in Plymouth Connection, July, 2019.)

Posted in faith, Friendship, garden, Generosity, Gifts, Gratitude, Kindness | Tagged , , | 1 Comment