Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Road Closed: Tuesday's Reflection

All summer we have joked about how difficult it is to get from one place to another given all the road work in the Twin Cities. "You can't get there from here," has been our mantra in recent months. But when we got home from our road trip in which we encountered an amazingly small amount of road work and detours, even in Chicago, we discovered the truth in "it has to get worse before it gets better." At the end of our street and all the parallel streets in our neighborhood was a big Road Closed to Thru Traffic sign and barrier. Suddenly, our loop of life felt like a non-maneuverable maze. 

Of course, I can't miss the opportunity to view the situation as a spiritual message. Here are a few ways to view life when a Road Closed sign appears in front of us.

#1 Stop! Don't try to go around the barriers, but, instead, use the time when the road is torn up to put your feet up and take a breath. Several breaths. Do you really have to be on the go all the time? Perhaps, staying in your own inner backyard might be just what is needed.

#2 Accept the Challenge. The road appears to be closed, at least temporarily, but is there another way to go? Is there another destination that will be just as rewarding? As you explore alternatives, enjoy the view along the way. What is new and interesting that you haven't noticed before? What is appealing about the new route?

#3 Let go. Yes, this sounds similar to the invitation to Stop!, but I think there is a difference. You may have been on the same road of regret or blame or worry or fear for far too long. You may be stuck in your own story. That road is closed, so stop traveling it. My favorite resource, by the way, for learning how to let go is The Little Book of Letting Go by Hugh Prather. Download here.  and use it. You know who you are!

#4 Do Your Own Repair Work. Take a hint from all the road work around you. What needs work in your own life? Imagine getting all sorts of Federal money tossed your way to do major repair in your life. What needs to be tackled first? What kind of a crew do you need to enlist to get the job done? Set a deadline and get started. Now is the time. 

Dear friends who live in the suburbs now know every possible way to get to our house, and how grateful we are they have not been deterred from coming to be with us. Life is too exciting and interesting to let a little road work get in the way. Besides, won't it be wonderful when it is all done. 

An Invitation
What road work have you encountered recently and how have you responded? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seeing Friends: Thursday's Reflections

Time with son Geof and Daughter-in-Love Cricket
My husband and I recently returned from a two week road trip to the East Coast and back. 3300 miles in our blue Jeep Liberty. Time for another oil change. 

Mileage is only one way to measure the trip, however. Another way might be to list all the things we saw and did while we were gone or how many photographs we took, but this was not a trip about sightseeing or adventure or checking off items on a bucket list. This was a trip to see people we love, to be in their presence and to get a taste for the life they are each living. 

I admit I am a bit of a reluctant traveler, and it is hard for me to tear myself away from home. I had a good writing rhythm this summer, and while a few days away to refresh and restore, to reboot, seemed like a good idea, I was hesitant to interrupt the flow for very long. I love my days in the garret. I love my loop of life. I love the mix in my life of people and activity, alongside the solitude of writing, reading, and praying time. 

Some people eagerly plan their next trip. We have many in our life who are passionate travelers, and when they are on one exciting trip, they plot the next one. Their calendars fill with travel plans, and they move through the seasons as they move through different countries. When talking with these inveterate travelers I wonder sometimes if I am closed to new opportunities or possibilities or if I am merely dull. Sure, there are places I would like to visit or revisit, like Paris or the English countryside, but for the most part I am content. 

Where I am passionate, however, is remaining connected with the people in my life. And that was the reason for this trip. 

We spent an evening with friends who have recently been touched by a major health challenge and are confronting how this changes their life. We spent time with our son and daughter-in-love who love their life in Cleveland, but are at a stage when they wonder if it is time to explore other work possibilities. We spent time with friends in the Boston area who have moved there from Cleveland to live near a daughter and her family. He was in the early stage of recovery from major shoulder surgery. She had similar surgery only months before. After too long a time to sell their home, they are now beautifully settled in a condo and while there are challenges where they live, they are happy with their decision. 

We spent time with friends who have relocated from Wisconsin to the Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland, also to be near a daughter. He is able to continue working for his same firm, which has an office in Washington DC, but now that the house is happily and radiantly settled and they have slipped right into life in a charming and active small town, she is wondering about her next step. 

As I look back on these separate encounters over good food and wine, I realize how these relationships are part of the sacred text in my life, and how important it is to continue adding chapters and verses to the text. 

In Madison we had a chance to see for ourselves how our friends are doing, given the health scare they have experienced. In Cleveland we were part of a backyard party on our children's block and met people who are important to them, including their adorable goddaughter. In Massachusetts our friends' daughter and her husband invited us for dinner, and we gathered around the table with them and four of their five children. We delighted in the banter, the activity of this busy household, and have a better sense of why our friends made the move from the known to the unknown. Thanks to the House Party atmosphere our gracious hosts in Maryland created, we now have four new friends who were also there visiting. We learned about generosity and hospitality and the gift of enlarging one's circle. 

How wonderful it would be if all the people I love lived right here. If that were the case I wouldn't have to face one of my least favorite tasks--packing. Each gathering over the course of the two weeks, however, was a time to strengthen the bonds of friendship and love. And to give thanks for their presence in our lives. Because we have had this face-to-face time, we have a better awareness of their lives, what is important to them, the joys and the gifts, along with their current challenges and questions. We broke bread with each of these dear ones, and their names are forever written in the sacred book of our lives. 

An Invitation
What is currently being written on the sacred text of your life? I would love to know.   

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Home Again! Tuesday's Reflection

After two weeks of being on the road, visiting our son and daughter-in-love in Cleveland, friends near Boston, and friends in Chestertown, Maryland, the vagabonds unlocked their front door and crossed the threshold back to life at home. 

Earlier on our last day on the road my husband asked me if being away had given me any ideas about changes I might want to make in our home decor. He was asking out of experience, for being away seems to give me space to re-imagine and envision. Plus, when we are on the road I always take a stack of home decor magazines barely browsed, and reading those, while glancing frequently at the passing scenery, encourages possible new arrangements and adaptions. I go through in my mind an inventory of what I have waiting for me in cupboards and bins. 

"Yes," I answer, "I am thinking about removing the cream slipcovers from the living room wingback chairs." Doing that would expose the deliberately faded flower look of the fabric underneath. On vacation I had read a new novel Circling the Sun by Paula McClain about the aviator Beryl Markham who was friends with Karen Blixen and whose lover was Denys Finch Hatton, all of "Out of Africa" fame. That movie influenced my fabric choice when I had the chairs and a couch reupholstered over 20 years ago. It is still in good shape, and I wondered if it might be time for that look again. The rugs and other chairs and lamps would look just as good with the busier floral look, I imagined. 

I had other thoughts--moving the chair in the entry to our bedroom and storing for awhile the one currently in there. A new duvet for the bed, and the lamps in there are really too small. Oh, and I want to go through our pictures from our trip from Paris and have a couple printed in black and white and framed for the first floor bathroom. 

None of this is major and after being in other homes the last two weeks, I felt inspired to look at ours with fresh eyes again. I like that part of traveling. 

But then we walked in the front door, and I was overwhelmed by a sense of not just familiarity, but more than that--a feeling of perfect contentment. I love the look we have created. Calm and yet interesting. A place for books and art. Personal with things we love, but not too fussy. It felt fresh to me and not just because I had cleaned before we left. (I love returning to a clean home--at least cleaning is not on my re-entry list!) How quickly I re-bonded to our home, just the way it is.

As I reflect on this, I realize my contentment is not just because the house is perfect or that I am a rock star decorator (I'm not!), but   instead I have made a shift in how I most want to spend my time. It has taken a long time to get here. First, we waited to sell our home in Madison and then we went through the initial stages of downsizing and redecorating this little house for our taste and making some functional changes here as well, such as new windows and air conditioning. 

I have no intention of ignoring the care and tending of this house, but this seems to be my time to rest with what we have and to focus on other creative and spiritual pursuits, writing, leading retreats, and meeting with others in spiritual direction. How lucky I am to be able to do this in the context of a home that feeds my soul. 

I won't be pulling off the slipcovers, but I probably will look for new bedroom lamps whenever I am in the mood. And I am eager to open the bins of fall decorations--velvet pumpkins for the living room and vintage Halloween candles for the window ledge in the kitchen. After all, I don't intend to live in a Miss Havisham kind of house, preserved for posterity. But this is home--just as it is. 

An Invitation
How have your attitudes about your home changed over the years? What gives you most pleasure in your home? What does your home say about you? When you make a change in your house, what internal reflections does that spark? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Rediscovered Treasure: Thursday's Reflection

NOTE: I am going to take some time for personal "rebooting" and will take a vacation from this blog for a couple weeks. I plan to start writing new posts the week of September 21. Please join me then. In the meantime, I invite you to revisit some of my older posts, but first, here's today's post. 

I smile these days each time I walk into the kitchen. 

In spite of its minuscule size, I like my kitchen. We painted the cupboards a crisp white and the walls a deep red and added white backsplash and countertops, and the two windows frankly feel quite luxurious in a space that size. 

I have gradually gotten used to the refrigerator drawers, for without them I would have very little counter space. Yes, the counter space is needed for normal cooking activities, but over the years I have collected green depression glass, and I love having a selection of the green containers full of spices and sugar and flour and other necessities visible and close at hand. 

Something was missing, however, but I didn't know it till it reappeared in my life. 

Recently, we had a major garage sale. So much of what we have collected over the years, especially the years we lived at Sweetwater Farm, was packed away when we made the decision to move from Madison to St Paul. We followed the current "sell your house" rules and decluttered and staged and neutralized etc. We knew when we moved into this much smaller house that most of what we had collected would not be used again. 

Bruce did a great job of marking and displaying everything, and what a great response we had. Along with buying,  people wanted to know our story, and we shared our lives as collectors over the course of our 44 years of marriage. It was gratifying to hear people say this was the "best garage sale ever" and one little girl, perhaps five, said, "This is just like a real store."

A friend wondered, however, how it felt to let go of so much at one time. We have done this before--had a big sale a year ago and have also sold lots piece by piece on Craigslist over the last couple years, but the question is a good one.

My answer is that this feels right. And freeing. I feel lighter. I am totally at peace with this downsizing stage of my life. 

At least I thought I was until I noticed the apple cookie jar displayed in one of the cupboards. My grandmother had one just like it, and I had searched a long time to find one for myself. I loved having it on my counter at the farm and often filled it with homemade cookies. I didn't know I missed it until I saw it in the garage sale.

I promptly reclaimed it, finding a place for it on my kitchen counter. It looks as if it has always been there. 

So what does this mean? Am I really not serious about downsizing? Am I too attached to the material things in my life? Did I take a step backwards by claiming this piece of the past?

I don't think so. Instead, I realized at this time in my life I get to decide what stays and what goes. There is not a big rule book I have to follow. No one is shaking their fingers at me and saying, "Not allowed. Put it back." 

I could have reclaimed the matching salt and pepper shakers and a sweet smaller jar, but I didn't. As people bought many of our loved treasures, I felt no regret. In fact, recalling when I had used a set of hand painted china plates or where a piece of white pottery was located in our 1802 farmhouse, I smiled and said to the buyer, "Enjoy." 

But the cookie jar will stay part of my life, at least for now. Soon I will fill it with cookies, and I will think about my grandmother and I will honor my own life as a grandmother. 

An Invitation
What needs to stay in your life right now? Is there anything you thought you were ready to release, but it just isn't time? What have you missed, but you didn't know it? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Entering a New Month, a New Season: Tuesday's Reflection

Today is September 1. Have you done anything different than what you normally do on a Tuesday? Or has the day gone pretty much the way it generally does? Did you wake up thinking, "Wow, today's the beginning of a new month, the beginning of a new season"? Did you have a little nudge from someplace deep within to perhaps do something different, something new, to treat yourself to a fresh start in some aspect of your life or to return to a familiar, but set aside pattern?

What does your September calendar look like? For many, obviously, September means returning to school as a student or teacher or parents of students. September means the restart of many activities and perhaps a return to routine after lighter, looser days of summer. 

I am quite amazed when I look at my September calendar and see how full it is already. For one thing, we have a road trip planned to see family and friends, but other events dot the calendar. 
      * A lecture by Atul Gawande, the author of Being Mortal 
      * A visit from a friend timed so we hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear                
      * A Saturday workshop about writing memoir by a local author, Elizabeth Andrew, sponsored by Wisdom Ways.
      * Book Club. We will discuss Ian McEwan's The Children Act
      * Monthly appointments with my spiritual directees.
      * The retreat I am co-facilitating, "Growing Older With Grace, Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life"

And, of course, there will be our own version of back-to school duties. Taking or picking up our grandkids Peter and Maren from school and doing some volunteering at the elementary school. I am planning to work in the library one afternoon a week. We love being able to be part of their lives in this way.

Oh, and writing time. I have a long list of writing activities. Writing has been part of my daily routine all summer and I intend to continue that habit. 

With one set of good friends, I am referred to as "Nancy the Cruise Director," for I am usually, but not always, the one who comes up with an idea of something fun or interesting to do or somewhere to visit. This summer, for example, I organized our Donut Day Adventure and also the evening at the ballpark to view the movie Field of Dreams. On the fall docket is Soda Fountain Day and drives to see fall colors. All good fun and not to be missed. 

How easy it is to fill the calendar. How much you fill it is in part related to your energy and interest level, your relationships and social network, your work situation, even your financial status. I wonder, however, how conscious you are about leaving empty space in your calendar. I wonder how you view the empty spaces. Does it feel like you need to fill your weeks or does a day without any notation on the calendar comes as a relief, giving you time to breathe? 

How much do you take charge yourself of what is entered on your calendar? 

I know I must have time to sit in the quiet, to meditate, to read. To sink deeply into spiritual practice. And sometimes that means giving up something else. Sometimes it means staying home from something I have previously agreed to attend. I think of those times as "life happens" times or more accurately, too much life has happened, and I need a time out in order to be in my life more fully. I am quite good, actually, knowing when I need to erase planned time on the calendar.

September seems like a good time to look with new eyes at how you use your time. Your calendar can become a tool for spiritual practice for you, a way to stay awake and aware of how you are moving in the world and how present you are to the movement of the Sacred in your life.

An Invitation
What's on your calendar for September? Is there enough room on the calendar for deepening your spiritual life? I would love to know.