Taking Notice

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”~John Lennon

While weeding out a garden, I looked up to find these

wild geraniums going to seed and

the interesting arrow-like shape they made

as the pistils curled to release their seeds.

Glad I caught it.

It was too important to miss.

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We’re getting Weird. . .and it’s Ok

Cleaning out the pantry closet, I found the Whirly Pop. It’s in good condition. It still works. We just prefer to use the old fashioned method of making popcorn on the stovetop in a big stock pot. What to do with the popper now that it has been rendered useless to us and cannot return to the closet from whence it came? (It’s a rule I enforce.)

“Maybe we can sell it on FaceBook tag sale,” was my husband’s suggestion.

So he took a photo and listed it.

“How much should we ask?” His brow furrowed. We don’t do this much.

“Find out how much it’s going for and cut that in half,” was my suggestion. And considering this is Corona time, ya gotta be flexible even with that. I thought it, didn’t say it. We are all in this thing. If a person is online looking for a Whirly Pop to make a healthy snack and can’t swing for retail, not a big deal.

He listed it for $10.

He got a response. The woman wanted to know if the price was negotiable.

It reminded me of a classified ad we had seen years ago in a small town paper while on vacation in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont:

Used Dust Buster, $15. Needs work.

I’m sure the author of the ad did not know how frequently the words he penned would be quoted, but they’ve entertained us for years. Desperate times, desperate measures? it’s all a matter of perspective. Besides not making mountains out of mole hills, a sense of humor is paramount in life in general. Especially in times of crisis.

My response to my husband’s text? “Absolutely! Tell her $5 and you’ll throw in a piano and satellite dish!”

Our goal is not to make money on our old stuff. Our goal is to clean out our house. If we can bless someone else in the process, it’s a beautiful thing.

He sold the Whirly Pop for $6. I made him wash it before he drove the nine miles to meet the buyer.

Anyone looking for a sweet old baby grand? Price is right. . .

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The Gentle Gardener

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

~1 Samuel 16:7b

Every spring, I come out to trim the clematis.

Taking a quick, cursory glance and assuming it was completely dead, in years past, I                                                                        would cut it all down.

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Then one year, studying the vines more closely, I realized that what I thought were dead                                                         stems actually held new buds.

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If I was careful, I could trim off the dead parts and save the new ones, ensuring the plant would have a head start on the season.

This is slow, ginger work, however. The stems are very thin and fragile. They snap easily. Although they may have life in them, they require care. It takes time to sort what’s living from what is not. It is tedious work. But it is well worth it in the end.

~~~

We would do well to consider people with the eye of a gentle gardener. On the outside, they may appear frail and full of despair. But if we look upon these souls as the Lord would, we discover all is not lost. We find a glimmer of hope. With care, we can nurture that life and encourage it to grow. Even in unfortunate circumstances.

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The Work of our Hands

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”~Genesis 1:31

There is something deeply satisfying about making something with your hands.

Since we’ve been a little more intentional about rationing consumables, we’ve been utilizing cloth napkins. I’m pleased about this switch because not only are they gentler on the planet, they’re also softer on the skin and, if you pay attention, you’ll notice they are quieter. But we have five people living in the house and we only owned two cloth napkins. This was an issue I could easily remedy.

One of my projects last week was cleaning out the kitchen drawers. In so doing, I realized I had a surplus of dish towels. How does this happen? Do they multiply in the drawer? It’s more likely that over the 26 years my husband and I have been married, my dear mother-in-law has gifted me more pretty things than I can count. I am thankful, and today a couple of those gifts were repurposed. So I am doubly grateful.

I took two of those dish towels, which, truth be told, although they were attractive, did not do a very good job of wicking water off wet dishes. I cut the towels into quarters. Then I sewed the two sides I had cut so they wouldn’t fray. Of course, even this small sewing job required some ironing and holding my breath hoping the sewing machine would cooperate. (We have an understanding. If she’s in a bad mood and decides to bunch up the thread underfoot or break a needle, I put her in time out and don’t ask her to help me with anything else. Sometimes our separation lasts for months.) Today was a good day with the machine.

I completed the task at hand, and was quite happy about it. In fact, when it was all done, I stood back with arms akimbo and declared, “It is good.” It felt so good to do something creative and constructive with my hands. Now, I realize these are only cloth napkins and not guinea pigs or rain forests I created, but I believe that even when we put our hands to simple tasks to make improvements on the world–no matter how small we might think they are–we tap into the creative character of God.

There is a creative pulse that runs through us. Whether we are painting or sewing; cooking or cabinet-making; team-building or creating lesson plans (That computer monitor in the background? That’s my teacher-husband’s makeshift classroom), we all have it in us to create. Whether we realize it or not. Some of us design gardens. Some arrange words on a page (See that notebook in the back? It wasn’t there when I set out to sew those napkins, but after the first few stitches, this essay idea trickled into my brain.)

My happiest moments are those that I pay attention to that inner creator and see where it leads me. It could be a making a new recipe for dinner, braiding my daughter’s hair, or just composing a day that looks a slightly different from the one before. It keeps things interesting. In a time like this when we may be getting cabin fever–especially if it’s a cold and rainy April day–it’s a welcome change.

I also find that when I’m creative, it helps me know God a little better, too. And, to me, that’s always a good thing.

Have fun!

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Different Voices

I have been blessed to be a part of a massive creative project.

Browsing through Lit Hub Daily last week (LOVE it like chocolate!), I read about “Social Distance, Haiku, and You,” a collage project sound artist Alan Nakagawa was commissioned to do by The Orange County Museum of Art. Folks were invited to submit written and recorded versions of their original haikus with their perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic as the theme. The submission deadline was April 16. Nakagawa would create a written compilation and an audio collage of the haikus and make it available on SoundCloud on April 23. Mission completed! He received and compiled over 500 haikus!

As a writer of personal essays primarily, I was excited by the prospect of trying my hand at haiku and adding my voice (even if it was only 17 syllables) to the audio record of this historic time. Inspired by traditional haikus that hone in on snapshots in nature, I focused my verse on the bird, a phoebe, building a pretty little nest on the drainpipe under the eave in a quiet corner of our house.

I used the phoebe to illustrate how I as a mother (and, at least for the foreseeable future, no longer a substitute teacher) am focusing more on my home and maintaining it as a sanctuary for my family, the people I care about most. I watch as this bird uses what she’s got–her beak and her feet–to carry one twig at a time, one bit of moss or mud at a time and tamp it down to fashion a comfortable abode for her budding family. There is also a nod to my husband and all the other teachers who are working through facilitated distance learning. The bird is teaching me how to lean into this high calling of mothering. Of course, it is distance learning because I watch through glass. (Or it could be through the screen, and then you could liken that to the computer screens our teachers and students have been peering through for weeks. However you want to pursue the metaphor is fine with me!)

After much wrestling with words and at least three drafts (it is so much more difficult to write short!), here is my contribution to the collage project:

As she builds her nest

Phoebe teaches mothercraft

Distantly–through glass

Here is Nakagawa’s finished work. The whole thing is over an hour long, but you can listen to parts at a time. (I wondered if I could find my own little self in the mix, but mine is the third piece in Part E.) It is powerful to hear people’s different perspectives on our current situation. And it’s so beautiful to hear all of these voices together. I am thankful to Nakagawa for his work on this. It is a gift.

(As this was a project on perspective, I thought it fitting to post this link for the Five Minute Friday prompt today on: PERSPECTIVE.)

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Leaning into Faith

(A shortened version of this essay appeared in County Life on April 16, 2020.)

I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to run out of toilet paper.

It seems absurd to read it that way, but that was the conversation I had with a friend three days before they closed the school where we work. The conversation initially started over grocery shopping. It was a Wednesday. I was planning on shopping on Friday after my husband got paid. When another friend mentioned the frenzy in the stores, I asked if she thought I could wait until Friday. She said no. I went to the store that day and bought toilet paper. 

In the conversation with the first friend, she said that she hadn’t been freaking out until the people around her started freaking out. I told her as far as I was concerned, the worst that could happen would be that I die. My faith rests secure in the fact that I know I’m going to heaven when I die. So the worst that can happen is not the worst. After I dismissed my fear of death, the only other fears were the discomfort of getting sick, the grief of a loved one getting sick,  and the inconvenience of not having the usual and not-so-usual supplies at hand. Suddenly, toilet paper didn’t seem like such a big deal. 

We are a few weeks into this unique time of isolationism due to the Covid-19 pandemic. My high school aged daughter has settled into facilitated distance learning well. (She misses our days of homeschooling.) One of my sons is finishing off his freshman year of art college at home. He said he forgot how comfortable his own bed is. My oldest son cut back his hours at the pizza place where he works. He’s helping me clean up the yard. As a high school science teacher responsible for three different classes, my husband is riding the learning curve of teaching from home. And me? As a substitute teacher,  I found myself abruptly out of work.

 Maybe some people find themselves at a loss when their job is no longer their job. When subbing came to a halt, I didn’t suffer an identity crisis. I settled into my roles as wife, mother, writer. Although these have long been my life’s callings, they have been overshadowed by the income-generating job of substitute teacher. Now I can focus on my family and my writing.

Since I knew that the absence of a routine could lead at best to zero productivity and, at worst, to depression, I wrote myself a generic daily schedule right away:

  • Read Scripture/journal/ pray
  • Eat breakfast
  • Exercise
  • Housework and/or yard work
  • Write
  • 5pm Clean up and prep dinner
  • 6pm dinner with family

It seems simple, but it has been a tremendous tool to help me remember my priorities. Of course, I’m also Zooming and Marco Poloing with everyone else. (We may be distant physically, but we are not social distancing, people! Quite the contrary.) The only things I have definite times for are clean up and dinner time. Whatever I am doing in the afternoon, I stop at 5pm so I can get dinner ready. To me, it is a unique blessing at this time to have all five of us home every night for dinner. There’s nowhere else to go! We have this gift every night. I try to make the most of it. No electronics, no talk of the news at the dinner table. Just time together. Love and hopefully some laughter, too.

The main thing for me–especially in our present situation when the media is full of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety– is leaning into faith. I start my day with Scripture. Those are the first words I ingest, and I let them fill my soul. They speak of hope that doesn’t disappoint and peace that passes understanding. Who couldn’t use some of those right now? Through this practice, I begin my day with joy. With the airwaves full of darkness, I sometimes wonder if I’m living in the same world as everyone else. I may have a different perspective if/when my family becomes impacted by the pandemic in a more significant way, but I would hope that this faith I’ve been nurturing would only grow stronger. 

Not everyone leans into the same belief system, but with fear at the opposite end of the faith spectrum, don’t we owe it to ourselves to find–or perhaps rediscover–our faith? At the very least, keep a gratitude journal. Especially now. When you feel anxious, count a blessing. Write it down. Even if it’s something simple like the warmth of the coffee cup in your hand. Make a list. See how high you can go, and then keep going. Gratitude and fear can’t occupy the same space. 

Fear not. Lean in. Give thanks.

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Passing Patience

(Today’s prompt at Five Minute Friday is PATIENT. Here is my free write contribution.)

My husband fails the Marshmallow Test.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Marshmallow Test was designed by psychologists to test kids’ patience. The child is told they can have one marshmallow now or, if they wait a little while, they can have two. Obviously, in this experiment, patience is rewarded. It seems so simple, so childish, and yet, how many of us would pass the Marshmallow Tests in life?

I tease my husband because as soon as there’s a problem, he wants to solve it. As soon as he started learning how to play guitar, he wanted to master it. As soon as he wants to make a banana bread and there’s not enough walnuts, he needs to replenish the supply NOW, NOW, NOW!

(I must interject here and admit that it is this same impatience that has spurred the repair of countless broken things in this house over the past 20 years, and, although he gave up on learning guitar, my dear husband makes a rocking banana bread!)

Although we are grown ups, sometimes we forget we can’t always get what we want when we want it. Some things take time. Look at the way patience rewards us in the world around us. A child in the womb. Enduring love. Even the rising of bread is a lesson in patience.

We don’t want to endure suffering. We don’t want to see those we love suffer. We want to avoid it. And when we can’t avoid it, we want to get through it as quickly as possible. But look to the cross. For our sake, Jesus endured the cross. I don’t know about you, but every year as I remember the Passion of Christ on this day, Good Friday, it seems like the longest day. Reading about and meditating on Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death, although important to me as a Christian, can be draining. But knowing it was the Father’s will and the fulfillment of the Scriptures, Jesus didn’t avoid it. He rose again, but it took three days.

Why did it take him so long?

When Jesus walked the earth healing people, why did he let his friend Lazarus die only to bring him back to life four days later?

Why did it take him so long?

Maybe there’s a bigger lesson here. Maybe God wants us to trust him more and believe that he will do what’s best for us. Maybe it’s about more than satisfying our sweet tooth and passing fancies. Perhaps his goal is to grow our character. And strengthen our hope.

In his time.

“. . .suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love, into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”~Romans 5:3-5

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Where the Heart Is

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Tomorrow we begin Holy Week at home.

Palm Sunday.

Having no palms, I cut leaves from the yucca plant in the front yard.

It’s also Communion Sunday. We’ve never celebrated the Lord’s Supper at home. I made bread. We’ll incorporate the sacrament into our home church time tomorrow after watching an online service.

We are all living in a different time. We’re making due with what we have. I think God the Creator appreciates our creativity. And the fact that we are being intentional about continuing to commune with him and to fellowship with others.

He’s a big God. I’m sure it doesn’t matter so much to him if we are sitting in a pew or on our couch. If we are using grape juice or water. Palms or leaves we cut in the yard.

He looks at the heart.

 

 

 

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Screen Shot

tiny book

(Today’s prompt at Five Minute Friday is NOW. Here is my free write contribution.)

Now I am sitting at my desk, typing, trying to figure out how to compose a snapshot of this moment in words.

Ok, now–at this moment–I am writing. My husband is on a Google Meet with a fellow teacher discussing how seniors will be able to complete their Capstone projects this year with adjustments necessary because they won’t physically be in school this year. My daughter, a sophomore in high school, is finishing up her last class of the day. She misses her friends, but she’s resilient; she’s adjusting to the new norm. My middle child, a freshman in art school, finished his one and only “live” class an hour ago. The rest of his (extended) semester will involve completing assignments and checking in with professors periodically. My oldest son is at the pizza place where he works to provide take-out. It’s probably for his last day for a while, as his boss is furloughing some employees until the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

And me? Well, just like the rest of the substitute teachers in the world, I’m unemployed at the moment. That is not to say I’m not working. Since school began in the fall, I’ve been trying to figure out how to fit in time to write while subbing full-time and caring for a family. It would seem, at least that particular problem is solved. . .Now.

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Identity Crisis during Coronavirus?

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Secret?

I love being home.

I almost feel guilty saying it. 

We are all urged right now to “Stay safe, stay home” during this Coronavirus pandemic. There are people getting sick. There are people dying. There are kids home from school and adults out of work. Everyone, in some way, is affected by this crisis. 

Many, I believe, are teetering a little bit as this ship rights itself in these uncharted waters. Who are we in this? What is our job? How are we to spend our days while at home and physically distant from other people? 

As a substitute teacher for the past six years, although I now find myself unemployed, I do feel a kind of advantage over those who normally hold regular jobs and now find themselves in a very new situation. The advantage I feel is that I am used to not knowing what job I will hold from one day to the next. One day, I may sub for a math teacher, the next day it might be gym, the next day I may work one-on-one as a paraprofessional for a student with special needs. Part of my job description as a substitute teacher is being able to adapt to different circumstances and execute whatever plans the school has for me. 

Many days, while I am getting settled in the teachers’ room at the beginning of my day, hanging my jacket and putting my lunch bag in the fridge, someone will come in and ask, “Who are you today?” What they are asking, of course, is who am I covering for. It used to bother me a little, but, since I’ve gotten to know many of the people I work with and they’ve gotten to know who I am, I don’t take the question personally. 

When school closed a week ago, I knew immediately I would be out of a job for the foreseeable future. I didn’t, however, suffer an identity crisis. I knew right away the role(s) I would assume: wife, mother, writer. Although these have long been my roles, they have been overshadowed by the income-generating job of substitute teacher. Now I can focus on my family and my writing.

I know who I am. I’m not defined by whatever position I hold or job I perform. I’m more than that. I am a child of God. I am who He says I am. Ultimately, I work for His kingdom. Even when I’m not able to work the job I get paid for, I know I am a capable, kind, compassionate individual who can accomplish whatever the day holds, “through Christ who strengthens me.”

(This post was inspired by newly-discovered Five Minute FridayToday’s prompt was: Adjust.)

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