A Rally Cry for the New Year

dsc_0348-5

I’ve been thinking about and looking for ways to overcome and move past the year 2016. It wasn’t my best year, or maybe even our collective best year. Health issues. Family trouble. A country and world full of violence, discontent, anger, grief, and controversy. It’s been an emotional year – for all of us – and I feel a strong need to regroup, to energize, and evaluate what’s important to me, identify what’s worth some struggle, and find the hope that so clearly fell by the wayside over the last 365 days.

In 2017, God-willing and the creek don’t rise (as my Nana used to say,) I will turn 55. Navigating my fifties was not something I planned for. I’m not sure anyone does. When you’re young, aging is not something you think about until suddenly, almost without noticing, you’re older. As for me, I’ve spent the first half of my fifth decade trying to figure out how I got here so quickly and wrestling with ideas about whatever-in-the-world comes next.

I can’t just sit out the back half of this decade in my life shaking my head in disbelief and wishing for time gone by. So I’m making 55 my lucky number, my theme, my rally cry for the New Year.

There’s symmetry in 55.  A certain balance. And balance is one thing my life seems to want for on a regular basis. Just a bit more than half of 100 percent, 55 feels totally doable. A happy number. A figurative and statistical way to better my life and the world around me by half … plus a little more.

2017 can be the year I read 55 new books, try 55 new recipes, and embark on 55 new adventures.

What if I write 55 minutes a day? Or 55 words, if time’s tight? Would that book get written?

Maybe there’s 55 occasions in the next 12 months when I should keep my thoughts to myself, and 55 others I should speak out. What about finding 55 ways to champion someone else’s efforts? I can pursue an intentional, planned, and anonymous kind act every week of the New Year … technically only 52, but I’m sure I can find time for a few extra. I’m sure I can find 55 ways to help others in my local, country, and world communities.

Are there 55 new friends yet to be met?

What about percentages? What would living and working with me look like if I smiled 55% more and complained 55% less? Could I increase my listening skills by 55%? What if faith were my go-to 55% more of the time than worry was? What if I were 55% more likely to apologize than defend? I know I can consume 55% less sugar and drink 55% more water.

Simple statistical changes. Not measurable, probably , but still attainable.

The point I’m trying to make – mostly to myself – is I’m not done. I’m thirty years older than twenty-something, but I’m still growing, becoming, dreaming … and doing.  As I’ve been reminded a few times this year, the unexpected is more likely than whatever I expect.

The world is changing and so must I.

Let me count the ways.

In the Company of Strangers

dsc_0353-5

I live my life day to day to day – some days more consciously than others – but mostly by habit. Some habits work. Others, not as much. Sometimes I need an adjustment. A refresh. A new perspective. A priority shift.

Can you name ten people who nudge you awake?

I can. And they’re all absolute strangers.

These ten women tilt my head just so. They elevate my thinking, invite me to question, and energize my motivation. I’ve visited with all of them this year in the pages of their books and blogs.

How I love and linger over the artistry and passion in their words. Their photographs.

I’ve read their prayers and admissions, seen into their imaginations, felt their doubts, and witnessed their celebrations. I’ve sat many a morning or deep into the night nodding my head in appreciation of their compassion and humor, the ways they love, and how they parent. Of each, I admire their bravery, talent, and how very boldly they question what is now and what has gone before. And gently, kindly ask us all: What is next?

I’ve been inspired as a writer, photographer, mother, dreamer, doer … and human.

When I was in graduate school, I read The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter. This quote stays within me:

“… when you come on something that is good, first thing to do is share it with whoever you can find; that way, the good spreads out to where no telling it will go.”

So here’s some good … spread it out wide as you can … no telling where it (or you) will go.

  1. Erin Boyle, author of Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More – Erin also blogs at Reading My Tea Leaves.
  2. Erin Loechner, blogs at Design for Mankind. Erin’s new book, Chasing Slow, launches in January.
  3. Shannan Martin, author of Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted. Shannan blogs at Shannan Martin Writes, formerly Flower Patch Farmgirl.
  4. Kelle Hampton, blogs at Enjoying the Small Things, author of Bloom.
  5. Elle Luna, author of The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
  6. Beth at Local Milk.
  7. Linda at Linda Stoll.
  8. Kendra at The Lazy Genius Collective.
  9. Joanna Goddard at Cup of Jo.
  10. Grace Bonney at Design Sponge, author of In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

Writing Desk

dsc_0351-2A few weeks ago, we moved the old, oak writing desk upstairs to our bedroom. It’s been a migrating piece of furniture since we moved here three years ago. We’ve got 1800 square feet, occupied by five adults, and I’m always fidgeting around with the space – trying to make better use of it, yes, but also trying to find a place of my own.

To write.

Do all writers have a vision of their writing space? Some sort of ideal?

Mine’s a little rustic and romantic, the floor piled high with towers of books, a desk with an oldish swing arm lamp, and maybe a chair to sink in.

Moving the desk to our bedroom is a step toward some privacy, some quiet, a place to retreat when the downstairs living gets loud or the space too close.

In truth, there’s only been a wee bit of writing done here so far. As a large, flat surface, it’s been ideal for stacking piles of clean laundry, craft projects, and wrapping Christmas presents.

It takes time for a space – or a dream – to evolve. So I am patient.

I coax myself into believing and doing. It’s a private conversation I’ve had often. Still, Christmas has now come and gone and this morning is silent. The desk is clear and newly dusted.

If I’m lucky, some sun will dapple my pages each morning. The light, I suspect, will help me find the right words.

I’ve even cleaned out each of the three drawers, reclaiming these small pieces of real estate for my pens. Paper. Journals. Bits and scraps of memory too small to keep anywhere else.

Moving the bills, the checkbook, stamps, and envelopes downstairs and out of the desk changed its vibe from work-a-day responsibility to some sort of curved and claw-footed work of art.

dsc_0358-2

There’s creativity waiting in this desk.

It’s as clearly mine as if I’d carved my name in the smooth oak wood.

Well then, no more excuses.

Time to write.

Gifts

dsc_0347-2

Wrapping gifts is my slow living metaphor this season.

I will not be hurried.

I appreciate every crease of the paper. Every fluff of tissue. Every knot in the twine.

You deserve my best effort.

Believe me when I tell you I am loving deeply with every slide of the scissors and yank of tape. Smooth. Tuck. Fold. Trim when necessary. Match the stripes.

Never one for flashy, the wraps have been simple – my pace, deliberate.

George Winston on the piano. Candles. Some sparkle from the tree and a cup of tea.

Mood wrapping.

I tie the soft, white, cotton string or twist the red and white baker’s twine round and round to bundle my love, all my very best intentions and maybe a few regrets.

But my hands reach, outstretched to you – – a big box full of hope. And my heart.

Christmas comes tomorrow.

You … you are my gift, all year.

 

 

 

Holiday Simmer Pot

dsc_0328

There are between two and six scented candles lit every night in our home.

A sort of visual prayer.

In our current rotation you’ll smell seasonal Christmas pine, cinnamon stick, gingerbread, and some sort of white linen set of four I picked for the size and color, not the scent, because they were destined for our Advent wreath on the table.

I’m a wee bit addicted.

Ask anyone.

Well, yesterday afternoon we took a candle intermission and tried the simmer pot instead.

Like any of my homemade soups, my simmer pot concoction is never the same recipe – or smell – twice. As with the soups I make, what’s in the pot depends on what I have around.

I knew the pomanders from last week’s project were aging, so they were ingredient number one with all their orange clovey juicy goodness. Cheery too, floating there in the black cast-iron pot. I also added:

  • cranberries
  • star anise
  • a sprinkling of cloves
  • chopped cinnamon stick
  • rose hips
  • about a cup of apple cider
  • water

A simmer pot is a warm scented free-for-all. I’ve also been known to add chopped apples, maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg, lemons, and honey.

Seriously, any good smelling combination goes in the pot. Turn the stove to low and simmer away the day … all your troubles float away in the sweet-smelling steam.

(Add more water as necessary throughout the day.)

Home. Sweet. Home.

I think the candles were jealous.

 

25 Reasons I’ll Miss You at Christmas

dsc_0337-2

In no particular order …

And excepting the obvious and unconditional love for you, my first-born …

1- Your general wealth of knowledge.

2- Your integrity and the pride I feel for who you are when I’m in your presence.

3- Your mechanical and technical expertise.

4- Your patience with my lack of mechanical and technical expertise.

5- Taking photographs with you.

6- The family traditions we share.

7- Watching you accurately guess every single gift in your stocking.

8- Knowing we’re once again sleeping under the same roof.

9- Listening to your stories.

10- The unmistakable sound of you  blowing your nose.

11- Your advice – cheerfully given – about almost any topic.

12- Reading The Night Before Christmas with you.

13- Watching The Santa Clause and happily anticipating all the best lines.

14- A full table on Christmas Day.

15- The anticipation of seeing your face at our door.

16- Trying (again) to blow up the air mattress so it doesn’t deflate (see #4.)

17- Enjoying the full effect of four boy banter.

18- Listening to George Winston, Carole of the Bells.

19- Speculating about what our next car purchase/lease should be.

20- Hearing about your dream car and all the reasons it was okay for you to lease such an      expensive vehicle.

21- Remember when-ing about baseball at the field, camping, and the year you didn’t go to sleep until 4 AM Christmas morning. (Santa was exhausted that year.)

22- Leaving for church an hour early so we get seats for the Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve.

23- Following the luminaria lit from downtown to home on Christmas Eve after church.

24- Holding your hand during the Lord’s Prayer.

25- Coloring on Christmas morning.

I love you and I hope you can feel it … all the way from far, far away.

Thank you for your service.

Pomander Balls

Every year, we put holiday candles in our windows. Most of them hand-me-downs my husband’s mother no longer wanted. The cords are too short to reach outlets and the plastic bases topple easily, but still we place them year after year in our windows – one part tradition, one part pretty, one part a need for light.

Of the eight candles lighting roadside windows, it’s likely any combination will actually be lit. The options are some, none, or all – depending on which children are home and who remembers -or not- to light them.

It’s all sort of random.

Which is a little like how I’ve been feeling these days.

Clearly there’s too much for any one human being to accomplish.

So in the spirit of slow … orange and clove pomander balls seemed the perfect random project this morning. Originating in Europe during the Middle Ages, the tradition of pomander balls has a past. From the French word pomme d’ambre, apple of amber, a pomander is literally a ball of perfumes – in this case, whole cloves.

dsc_0333-1

I’ve been leaning toward  more natural decorating for awhile now. Simple. Satisfying. Homemade.

All you need are oranges, whole cloves, and a little bit of time.

Sweet and spicy.

Style as you’d like.

And oh the smell …

dsc_0338-2

Leftovers work well in a simmer pot, too.  Another totally random concoction I’ll post about soon.

Enjoy!