Thursday, June 13, 2019

Hope in the Gardens: Thursday's Reflection

Years ago when we visited England we bought two mugs at one of the country estates with gorgeous gardens. Printed on one mug was "Head Gardener" and on the other "Undergardener."

In our house my husband is the head gardener, and these days, because our gardening yard space is small, I am not even the undergardener. I had that title when we lived at Sweetwater Farm, and I was the primary weeder. I even enjoyed that ongoing task, for I could see immediate results, and it resembled cleaning, which most of the time I enjoy. 

Now, my main role is to enjoy the fruits of my husband's labor and talents.  Most days now you can find him "playing" in the garden.

              Did you ever meet a gardener, who, however, fair
              his ground was absolutely content and pleased?...
              Is there not always a tree to be felled or a bed to be
              turfed?...Is there not ever some grand mistake to be
              remedied next summer?
                                       The Rev. Samuel Hole (1819-1904)

This quotation from Charles Dickens' Sketches by Boz also describes my husband the gardener.

In fine weather the old gentleman is almost constantly in the garden; and when it is too wet to go into it, he will look out of the window at it by the hour together. He has always something to do there, and you will see him digging, and sweeping, and cutting, and planting, with manifest  
delight...; and in the evening when the sun has gone down, the perseverance with which he lugs a 
great watering-pot about is perfectly astonishing.

The beauty is inspiring and pleasing, but gardens also represent hope at a time when that feels in short supply and we need reminders to lift our hearts.


                Of all human activities, apart from the procreation
                of children, gardening is the most optimistic and
                hopeful. The gardener is by definition one who
                plans for and believes and trusts in a future, whether
                in the short or the longer term. To sow seeds and 
                plant out, to graft and propagate, whether it be
                peas and beans, apples and plums, roses and peonies,
                is to make one's own positive stake in that future, a
                gesture, declaring that there will be weeks, months,
                years ahead. ...

                Those who constantly think of war and dread its
                prospect, who see an end to mankind and his 
                planet, whose spirits are shriveled and hearts bowed
                down by the troubles and threats of the age, who 
                refuse to have any hope, take any comfort, see the
                glimmer of any new dawn, should be gardeners. The
                gardener learns to be by turns daring and adventurous,
                tender and ruthless, meticulous and haphazard, gentle
                and patient. But above all, he learns to revel in today,
                while being ever hopeful of tomorrow.
                                      from Through the Garden Gate
                                               Susan Hill

If you are a gardener, I thank you. If you aren't a gardener, why not thank someone who is and take a cue from the gardens around you and live with a hope filled heart. 

An Invitation
What gives you hope? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Open a Window: Tuesday's Reflection

How good it feels to open the windows in the house. 

We had a couple warm days and too hot to sleep comfortably nights when gratefully we turned on our central air-conditioning. Now, however, the weather is cool again. A summer coolness with fresh breezes filling each room. 

I must admit the first few days of open windows I grumbled a bit Maybe more than a bit. Our block has become quite noisy, as new families with young children have moved in. It seems as if someone is always crying, and one child in particular is a screamer. 

"I love my peace and quiet," says the cranky old lady. (That would be me!) On these lovely spring into summer days, I relish sitting and reading in my Paris garden when I have lunch, but along with the usual birds chirping, the air is filled with squeals of delight and squeals of anguish. The block has become filled with toddler and kindergarten drama! 

With the windows open I hear it all. 

Life, that's what I hear. 

The slamming of car doors when friends arrive. The greetings as neighbors pass each other on the sidewalk. The dog that barks at the sight of another dog. A brief conversation with the letter carrier and the chattering of teenage girls as they flip flop along their way. The thunk of a ball in a catcher's mitt. The splash splash in a wading pool. The tinkle of the ice cream truck and music I don't recognize as cars pass by. The high pitched sounds of a lawn mower or of construction tools at a nearby home. I even hear my husband working his garden magic.

Yes, there are tears, but there is also laughter and happy conversations.  

I open the windows and let it all in. 

Go to a window in your home right now. Take a deep breath and gently, but firmly, open that window. Before moving away, look through the window. What do you see? Look as if you have never looked out that window before. What do you hear? Smell? Feel? 

How does this open window change the inside of your home? Does the room feel more spacious? How is the internal light different with the window open? Is there a window you rarely open? Go open that one right now. What does that feel like? 

Opening the windows I remind myself to open my heart. To be present to all of life. To make compassionate space for it all. 

I suspect each of us has a closed window in our lives. Perhaps today is the day to open it. 

An Invitation
In what way would you like to be more open. I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

An On-The-Road State of Mind: Thursday's Reflection

Recently, I read Gloria Steinem's 2015 memoir, My Life on the Road. I should say I FINALLY read this book, for it has been on my list for a long time. I borrowed it from the library, but I quickly discovered, as early as the introduction, I wanted to underline something on every page. I decided, therefore, to buy a copy with the intention of re-reading it. 

I suggest you read it yourself and then pass it on to your daughters and granddaughters and other young women in your life. This is a woman we must not forget. And while you are at it, read Michelle Obama's Becoming and make sure your loved ones read that, too. 

One of her purposes in this book is to encourage each of us to "spend some time on the road, too."
                   By that I mean traveling--or even living for
                   a few days where you are--in an on-the-road
                   state of mind, not seeking out the familiar
                   but staying open to whatever comes along. 
                   It can begin the moment you leave your door.
                                                              p. xxi

Traveling is a privilege, and I am grateful for the traveling I have been able to do in my life, but traveling to new and exciting places is not a priority for me now. However, I think it is possible to maintain an "on-the-road state of mind, even without walking beyond your threshold.   

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a circle. You can see the perimeter of that circle and maybe you can even see beyond it, but let's start with what you can see within the circle. What do you see?What is in the circle with you? What or who enters the circle routinely or perhaps just occasionally? What do you make time for in the circle of your day? Room for?

Now start rotating so you see other parts of the circle. What is behind you? What is on either side of you? Are there any gaps in the circle? Keep turning, but pay attention to what interests you, surprises you, perhaps even disturbs you. Are you tempted to stop and linger at any point? Would you like to get closer to the circumference and if you do that, how does that change the circle? 

Although certainly metaphorical, I think these are interesting questions, because they challenge our way of receiving information and new perspectives. An on-the-road state of mind is an open state of mind, a curious approach, a state in which one's ears and eyes are bigger than one's mouth. A reflective heart keeps expanding, it seems to me. 

What do I do to encourage an on-the-road state of mind? Well, first of all, I am not always successful doing that. Sometimes I just want comfort and my easy status quo, but if that becomes my normal way of functioning, I will no longer write this blog.

This blog is a key way for me to expand my circle, to keep it alive and vibrant. In order to write posts twice a week, I need to stay alert and awake. I need to be an observer, a listener, a questioner. I need to be in community and to challenge myself to go deeper within myself and to pay attention to the movement of God in my life--and what that means for how I live my life. 

Gloria Steinem says, "More reliably than anything else on earth, the road will force you to live in the present." After all, anything can happen on the road, and I don't want to miss it. 

An Invitation
What does the phrase "on-the-road state of mind" mean to you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Time Out: Tuesday's Reflection

When our children were little, I remember occasionally declaring, "You need a time out," as I sent one or both of them to their rooms. 

It didn't take much for me to understand that I was often the one who needed the time out. Their punishment in that moment was my preservation.

Now that I am in my 70's, however, a time out is totally unconnected to punishment. 

Nor is it necessarily a reward for doing hard work or accomplishing something major or being productive, although that may be the case. I admit I am a slow learner in this department, however, for I have always been someone who rewards herself with a time out when I've completed my list for the day. Not before. I have viewed time outs as a treat, like a cookie or a piece of chocolate. I have not understood that time outs are worthy in themselves. They don't need a reason. Or permission. They don't need to lead to something else, although they often do--like a new perspective or idea or renewed energy or a restored spirit.

My idea of a time out for myself hasn't changed much over the years. Generally it means immersing myself in a book. Or two or three, as was the case over Memorial Day weekend when we spent glorious days on Lake Superior's North Shore. Of course, there are many other things I love to do, other ways I relax, but reading is my favorite form for a time out. More and more I recognize that I can stop whatever I am doing, whenever I want to and pick up a book. 

 A self-directed, self-authorized time out is a choice. 

"Nancy, you need a time out. Go to your reading chair. NOW."

An Invitation
What is your favorite form of a time out? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

An Ordinary Day: Thursday's Reflection

NOTE: Don't be surprised by erratic posting in the next few weeks. I may post. I may not. With the arrival of Memorial Day comes changes in schedules and plans and the need and desire for flexibility and spontaneity. I will post as I can. OK?

I love the Annie Dillard quote, " How we spend our days is how we spend our lives."

Yesterday I started my day with writing time, as I have been doing since returning from my solo writing retreat. I am struggling to start a new chapter. Diving into the first draft is always difficult for me. I jotted some notes, looked through some other notes. Opened a new file on my laptop and wrote a few lines. Deleted them, and repeated the process. To be continued.

I wrote in my journal about my struggle with this new chapter. 

I sat in silence.

I whispered the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:
                              In; out.
                              Deep; slow.
                              Smile; release.

I dressed. I fixed my hair--a lost cause on this rainy day.

I made a grocery list. Our grandson will be here for dinner. Let's have tacos, I decided.

I grocery shopped and had a conversation with one of the men who bags and carries groceries to your car. He has worked there 40 years, but has knee problems and doesn't work as many hours now. He misses his friend who moved to Seattle and after work today will go to his church to be with some other friends. He repeated several times, "Have a good day."

I did another errand and returned home the long way, so I could see all the fluffy flowering trees. The crabapples and lilacs and the freshest fullness of greens. 

I moved laundry from the washer to the dryer. I fixed my lunch--an arugula salad--and sat in the snug to eat and started reading a memoir called The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner. How tempting it was to remain in my Mama Chair all afternoon, I thought. My ongoing temptation.

I returned to my desk in the garret. It was time to check my email. I responded as needed and did a bit more work for a summer writing series I have helped organize at church. In Your Own Words: Writing as a Spiritual Practice.

I worked on this post. I returned to the first draft shuffle and made a bit more headway. Bruce and I check in with each other about our days and talked about plans for an upcoming trip to the North Shore. 

And the day continued with a walk before fixing dinner. While in the kitchen, I listened to Minnesota Public Radio, hoping nothing too awful had happened during the day. Pete arrived for dinner and approved of the menu. We talked about the remaining school days and then he and his Papa watched some episodes of "Flash." That's their thing. Not mine.

I returned to the snug and read not just the current book, but a few pages in Mark Nepo's More Together Than Alone, Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World.
                  The small things we can share and model
                  will make a difference. p. 72

Before turning out the light, I read in bed and then closing my eyes, I reviewed the blessings of the day and sent love and blessings to those in need of hope. 

Not everyday is the same, of course. Some days I meet with clients or go to a meeting or have lunch with a friend. Some days are more scheduled. Some days there is a special event like house guests coming or going to see a play or concert or attending a class or a lecture. Some days are reserved for worshipping with my faith community. Some days, some weeks are quite full, even too full sometimes, and some days are more memorable than others. More and more I understand how the pattern of my days is the picture of my life. 

How grateful I am. 

                    Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater
                    our integrity and awareness, the more original
                    and creative our time will become."
                                                  John O'Donohue

An Invitation
How do you respond to the Annie Dillard and John O'Donohue quotes? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Morning Prayer: Tuesday's Reflection

I have been reading some old journals, as part of research for a new chapter of my memoir, and I found this entry written in May, 2001. My life today has a similar feeling.

I swept the kitchen floor,

opened the porch door,

straightened a rug,

plumped a pillow.

Settling in.
Starting the day.
Feeling my way.
I'll do some good,
Make a difference,
Move closer to wholeness,
Feel your presence.


An Invitation
What is your morning prayer? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

To Be Read: Thursday's Reflection

I guess it is time to make a confession:  Books Are My Addiction. (Or at least my main one). 

I have stashes of books I have not yet read. More than one stash. 

One stash is on a shelf in the snug--mainly books I have found at Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood. 

Another stash is hidden from view--on the back side of a pillar in the garret.

And then there are the miscellaneous books stacked on other shelves throughout the house. I think I have actually read more books currently in the house than there are books waiting to be read, but I am not willing to do a count. 

And still I add more books, although not at the same rate as I did in earlier times of my life. Since January I have acquired eighteen books, and I confess that I purchased most of those. But not all, I hasten to add. 

I know I could go a long time--a VERY long time--just reading what I have at my fingertips, but sometimes my TBR (To Be Read) list tugs, and I yearn to wander the stacks in the library. There is a kind of thrill, a rush, when I find a book that is on my TBR lists. One list in rough alphabetical order is for fiction and the other, which is more random, is nonfiction. Both lists are on my phone--handy when the car stops all on its own by the library entrance. 

Recently, I made quite a haul at the library. Ten books--three nonfiction titles and seven novels. Once home I browsed my booty, both to determine what to read first, but also to make sure I wanted to actually read each one. In the process I realized that I have already read one  of the titles, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and rereading the summary, I remembered enjoying it. Cross that off the TBR list--no one said my lists are foolproof!

I decided the first book I would read from this current treasure chest would be On Beauty by Zadie Smith, a writer I have heard about, but have never read, and I love this book. Now you know what that means--her other books are now on my TBR list! As luck would have it, a few days after I started On Beauty I spotted her book White Noise in a Little Free Library--no question about bringing that home with me. 

Has anyone read books by Maggie O'Farrell? Well, I checked out two novels by her the day I roamed the library--Instructions for a Heatwave and This Must Be The Place. I have no idea how those titles ended up on my TBR lists, but would you believe in the next couple days I heard glowing reviews of her books on a couple podcasts about books? I will read one of those titles next. 

I know there are people who do not keep a backlog of books, who don't worry about having a book for every mood, every reading emergency, and who only bring one book at a time into the house  and then read that one before getting another book, but that clearly is not me. Who are those people anyway? And I know there are people who have a philosophy of one book in/one book out. I do that with pairs of shoes and blouses, but not books. 

I am apologizing ahead of time to my family when it is time to dispose of my books. I have been trying to clear the space of other belongings, but that just is not going to happen with my books. Here's my suggestion: Invite everyone who comes to my memorial service to take a book or two or three. Open the house to everyone on the block and tell them they can't leave without an armload of books. You are smart people, and I know you will figure out what to do. 

In the act of confessing there is the underlying intention to do better, to change one's wayward ways. Well, I have another confession, I am not going to conquer my book addiction. I love having a store of books, read and unread, to remind me of all the beauty in the world, of how much I still need to learn and all the ways I need to grow, and to inspire me to stay awake to the glorious diversity around me. 

I have 20 more pages in On Beauty to read, and I am going to do that right now. 

An Invitation
What addiction do you have no intention of reforming? I would love to know.