leaving a trail

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East Inlet, Pittsburg, NH

My husband tells me I leave a trail behind me wherever I go. Bags. Books. Projects. Clothing. The deeper I get in the work week, the longer the trail. Our bedroom gets looking like a locker room, and the kitchen counter’s in piles of disarray.

Life goes on, hence the trail.

Life stacks up too. I could tell you about the laundry pile, the work pile, the bill pile, and the to-be-read pile. I’m sure you have some such versions of your own, so you probably don’t need to hear about mine.

Make no mistake: I’m all about order, but there’s only so many hours in a day (and I probably need to note that I’m none too perky during some of them.) Scheduling life helps. (I wrote about it here.) When push comes to shove, or I’m pulled in one way or pushed in another, order’s a little low on the priority list.

If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, however,  I’m pretty knee-deep in self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential, including creativity,) which is a step higher on the pyramid than esteem needs (prestige and feelings of accomplishment.)

So it’s all good. But back to the trail.

Here’s a little trail I’m leaving behind here, so you know what I’ve been up to:

  • exploring in northernmost New Hampshire … all the wilderness a girl could want, and then some.  We stayed here where you have your choice of accomodations from the lodge to your own lakeside log cabin. The food at both the Rainbow Grille and Tavern is just this side of scrumptious with a shot of tranquility all around.
  • shooting photography here, there, and everywhere … according to my husband, I spent 45 minutes taking photographs of frost-covered grass in Pittsburg, but that’s an unsubstantiated claim.  Meanwhile … I’m back at studying my favorite creative outlet at our local evening adult education program.  (See above link to Hierarchy of Needs and Self-Actualization.) I’m also using this book for reference.
  • reading this, this, and this
  • writing about childhood memories with my Nana … picture book?
  • decorating for fall, and eventually Thanksgiving with pumpkins large and small, orange and white, dried Chinese lanterns, gourds, burgundy-colored eucalyptus .. and of course, candles … Did you know Walmart sells these in a 12-pack?

I hope you’re all well and pursuing your own trails! I’ll be around and about as I have time or something to say.

 

a tisket, a task-et … or why I’m done with planning

DSC_0400 (1)One of my favorite pairs of pants has been missing a button since last April.  Every week, I plan to write and exercise for several hours each and never quite get around to either. Hundreds and hundreds of photographs need to be deleted from our computer, and another few hundred need to be organized somehow.

I’ve been cleaning out our basement for months and I haven’t even started on the attic. One of these days, I’ll bake that bread I bought yeast for in June. Several yards of fabric sits washed and ready on my sewing table waiting for me to get around to making placemats and napkins.

A plan from last fall.

Clearly there’s a difference between what I say I want to do – and what I actually do.

Which is why I’m done with planning.

Planning, apparently, doesn’t work for me. It’s too loosey-goosey, too vague, too lacking in structure. Each morning’s get up and go energy and best-laid plans seem forgotten as day evolves into night, and I’m more likely to sit down and take the day off from whatever it was I orignally planned to do.

I’ve tried listing. Gave bullet journaling a whirl. I’ve got a desk calendar, an academic planner, and a lovely, rose-colored week-at-a-glance. Nothing I’ve tried works.

So I’m turning to scheduling.

I’ve always thought scheduling is for doctors, dentists, and hairdressers.  People on a tight – well, schedule. People who account for and detail the minutes and hours of a day. Of course, some parts of my day are accounted for too … but many minutes aren’t. They’re unbooked. I’m free.  Wide open and available.

So what have I been doing with all that unscheduled time? What have I achieved? Finished? Or even started at all?

Truth is, not much.

I think I’ve approached this planning thing all wrong, and I’m ready to follow a whole new format.  Waking to sleeping, what hours and minutes are already spoken for? When I plug in the working hours, the meeting minutes, and weekly appointments – what’s left?

Because that’s the time I’m interested in.

And maybe I need to see it to do something with it.  If my meeting ends at four and I start dinner at six, what’s on the schedule for those two free hours?  Now that I can see it’s open and available, how will I spend it?

It’s a very visual and a whole new way of thinking for me because I’ve always imagined myself to be spontaneous. Turns out, spontaneity works for a quick trip to the beach, but not that book I’ve been meaning to write.

What I’ve really just needed is a wee bit more structure to make time for what I value and what I say is important to me. I need to pencil in equal parts responsibility and possibility.

And schedule time for both.

 

life lessons: the next best thing

DSC_0365 (3)I’ve got plans.  I’ve got daydreams. And as my father used to say, “I’ve got places to go, things to do, and people to see.”

Thing is, sometimes I can’t.  I can’t follow through with the plans. Can’t go, see, or do.

Maybe that’s true for you too?DSC_0375 (2)Factor in time, opportunity, or shifting priorities – and sometimes what we want to do is better left for what we can do.

Otherwise known as the next best thing.

All summer long I planned to visit this farm come September. The farm’s beautiful sunflower field is legendary – literally a New England celebrity – filling the photographic feeds of Instagram on a daily basis. Sunflowers at sunrise. Sunflowers at sunset. And just about every hour in between.DSC_0340 (4)But September’s starting to wane, as are the sunflowers – and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make it to the famously photogenic sunflower farm.  Not this year.

And it’s okay.

Because I’ve discovered that going and doing the next best thing is just as good.

I grabbed my camera yesterday morning and drove to a sunflower field at a farm about five minutes from home. (Six minutes if there’s turkeys in the road.)  The morning fog framed the flowers softly, and I took my time walking through the tangled path right smack dab in the middle of all that sunflower vibrance.

It was lovely.  DSC_0348 (2)Pretty much just me, my camera, and the sunflowers hanging out in a quiet field on a damp, foggy September morning.

And somewhere out there in the middle of all those towering flowers, I learned the next best thing is good enough.DSC_0347 (3)And sometimes … even better.

 

in september

 

DSC_0329 (3)As surely as April brings thoughts of throwing open the windows to the warmer, fresh air, September starts me layering, feathering, and gathering. Yes, I’m sad to see summer go … but I’m determined to welcome fall and find a bit of time for some fun before the snow flies!

Although it’s not formally fall, it feels like it, and it’s starting to look like it too. Yellow and orange mums sit on the stoop where it seems only days ago were daisies. We kick acorns down the road when we go for a walk and hickory nuts too. We’re gathering the last of our luscious tomatoes and saying so long to our flowers.  I’m thinking less about burgers on the grill and more about soups in the crockpot. Suddenly, I’ve a hankering to bake bread!

Just now, apples simmer on the stove on their way to becoming apple sauce. It’s the season of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. We’ve been to the orchard once already and will probably return today. Later, and by request, I’ll make the first pumpkin recipe of the season: pumpkin whoopie pies.  We’ve got neighbors to thank … and those pies are a whole heaping handful of fall gratitude.

Just as we did this summer, we’ll be living out a (fun-seeking) fall alphabet:

A- apple and peach picking (of course!) — B- bonfire in the fire pit out back — C- cider and crisps and cornstalks on the porch — D-  E- F- festivals and fairs and foliage — G- H- I- J- K- L- M- mums from the garden center N- O- P- pumpkins on the steps and in the oven! — Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y- Z-

We fill it in as we go along and somehow, the alphabet inspires us to keep looking for all the fun we know is out there … but we’re sometimes too busy or tired or overwhelmed to think about. It’s a fun kind of fill-in-the-blank we look forward to.

I can’t wait to leaf kick (L) and discover what face emerges on our Jack o’ Lantern (J). It’s time to pack up the beach towels, layer on the sweaters and boots, and feather the bed with our winter quilt (Q).

I’m hoping for a few more walks on the beach and a couple more tosses of the tennis ball, but mostly, I’m headed toward autumn – full steam ahead!

For those of you local … We’re planning for this Equinox Festival and hopefully headed to this fair for the first time.  This slow-cooker soup is on the menu this week.

And if you’re looking for an easy fall side or transitional topping for the last of summer’s ice cream, you’ll find my go-to applesauce recipe below:

APPLESAUCE

from my mother-in-law’s Betty Crocker cookbook
  • 4 medium cooking apples, each cut into fourths
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat apples and water to boiling over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally* to break up apples, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling; boil and sitr 1 minute. Makes about 4 cups.

*I used a potato masher!

 

 

 

humanity

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I’ve got a batch of granola in the oven. Tomorrow, when I return to school for my first teacher in-service day,  I’ll bring a glass jar full of it to my teaching partner. A little something from me to her.  A small sharing of something good.  The tiniest of reminders: we’re in this together.

And we are. All of us. Strangers and friends and colleagues alike. Men, women, children. Races and religions. Military and civilian. Haves and have nots. This community and the one across the border. I am human … and so are you. We are human and we’re all in this together.

Maybe it’s time to spread a little more of that humanity around. Probably it’s even past time. It’s never too late for a kindness, though, and now’s as good a time as any to bring such thoughts right smack to the forefront of my consciousness.

As the only humans living here, it’s our responsibility to make the world a better place. Each of us. Your world. My world. Our world. The world we all live in. The world we raise our children in.

The world I’m about to teach my students in.

What do I want those children to know about being human? How do I live humanity out in my own life? In what ways can I be more giving? Who needs my help?

And how?

It is human to help: There are as many ways to help as there are people who need help. Think about family, friends, neighbors. New moms and dads. The elderly. Is there a meal you could cook? Laundry to be washed? A resume you could write? A lawn to be mowed? Who could use a babysitter? A ride? A quick trip to the grocery store? A smile?

It is human to give: When I think about the most giving people I know, it’s easy to see what they all have in common. For starters, they’re good listeners.  They’re quick to recognize need when they see it, and they’re first in line to help. And there’s so much to give! As humans, we have so much to offer! Our time. Our respect. Our attention. Friendship. Love. Guidance. Gratitude.

Of course there are many more ways to be human.  I’ve written about the verbs of kindness before and reaching out in humanity is sort of similar – it’s just that humanity is also understanding the commonalities we share, the hand-to-hand-to-hand connections between us, and the knowledge that I see you and honor you … and I hope you see and honor me too.

So I’ll be looking around more consciously human than ever before.  I’ll be more consciously looking to see, honor, help, and give.

And maybe that’s what I want my students to know first: I see you and honor you.  I will help you. From one human to another … I will give you my best.

And we’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

zucchini bread

DSC_0337 (4)Good news!

It’s harvest time in New England!

We’re just past picking green beans and starting to celebrate luscious tomatoes around here. We watch our pumpkins grow by the day, and I love to watch their shape emerge: tall and sophisticated … squat and rotund… and this year, a white pumpkin! Surprise!

Probably the most prolific vegetable in the New England garden is the zucchini – folks around here harvest so much of the stuff, they literally give it away. It’s not uncommon to see a pig-pile of zucchini for the taking on the staff room table at work or roadside with a hand-lettered invitation: FREE.

Zucchini is one of the most flexible, hardworking veggies around, and this time of year, it makes an appearance in so many of our meals. In our house, it’s a salad and stir-fry staple. It shows up on many a vegetable platter because it’s so chop-able, slice-able, and dip-able. Zuchinni roasts up nicely in a grilled veggie pouch or sautees well with it’s pal, summer squash, served with a dusting of freshly shredded parm.

And now – I’m baking with it too! Zucchini, you’re pretty much an all-around, all-star!

This recipe, from my newest and most favorite cookbook, the Vermont Farm Table Cookbook, makes two loaves of moist zuchinni bread – one to enjoy and another to share. We’ve enjoyed our bread for breakfast with coffee and for an afternoon snack with milk. The recipe calls for a cool serving – but we loved it warm, right from the oven.

Zucchini Bread 

from Two Black Sheep Farm in Hero, Vermont

  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups pureed unpeeled zucchini
  • 1 cup raisins, chopped walnuts, or chocolate chips (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9×5-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray and lightly dust with flour. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, oils, and vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the we ingredients and stir until smooth. Stir in the zucchini and raisins, nuts, or chocolate chips, if using. Pour into the prepared loaf pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  4. Let the bread cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before serving.

 

finding hope

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Right about now, it’s hard to find hope.

And it’s difficult to feel hopeful.

But there must be as many ways to find what’s lost as there are ways to lose something in the first place. So, now that hope feels a little lost, I’ve been searching.

I found a kind of hope I’ll call awe.

The awe of standing so small alongside the towering magnificence of a mountain fills my heart with hope and exhilarates my imagination.  I felt awe several times this summer and each time, I was interacting with a view, a place, a piece of the world so much bigger than I. The mountains. The ocean. A big and bustling city.

Maybe being filled with awe is like in kind to feeling centered and prayerful.

Maybe as I stood top-side on a boat scanning an ocean as far and wide as my eye could see, maybe I somehow felt like the only silent and still entity for miles around. Maybe surrounded by the vastness of all that water, I felt more like an anchor and less adrift and at the whim of the waves.

Maybe climbing a mountain to its peak is some sort of symbol of life’s hike to the heavens. And maybe up there in all that open air of the summit, it’s easier to breathe. Easier to believe. Easier to understand I am but one person in a very big, very confusing world. Maybe it takes some of the pressure off.

I found a kind of hope I’ll call beauty.

I keep looking for the beauty all around me and find it with a bit of conscious effort. A few internal reminders help me understand the fact that the world’s ugliness must in some way, however large or small, be counteracted by its beauty. Its complexity opposed by its simplicity. Its violence, contrasted by moments – however brief – of peace.

Many times it’s nature offering up all that counterintelligence – the perfect, pink curl of a zinnia petal. The softest summer light at sunset on the river. The quiet call of a barred owl after midnight.

There’s beauty too in the smile of a friend, or my son, or the stranger behind me in line at the grocery store. There’s a simple kind of knowing we trade in a smile. There’s a peaceful ease and delight to be had in the sharing of music, a meal, or a book I think you simply must read. There’s happiness to be found in the hugs we exchange, the return of a long-gone someone special, and the hand I hold walking across a busy street.

I found a kind of hope I’ll call comfort.

Amidst all the daily confusion and unpredictability of the world, I find comfort in the regular and routine. The washing of dishes. My time at the gym.  Or the smell of the black ink from my favorite Bic pen.

There’s comfort in the rhythm of chopping vegetables for dinner. There’s routine in the patterns and schedules of a work day. There’s the regularity and a kind of grounding to be had in the habits of a day’s end … the brushing of teeth, the pages turned in a bedtime read, and one last I love you before turning out the light.

There’s more hope to be had, I’m sure of it. And while hope changes nothing about today’s worries, it does perhaps brighten tomorrow with anticipation and the power of possibility.

So I’ll keep looking for and finding hope … in the innocent eyes of a child, the happy wag of a dog’s tail, and in the gentle, morning breeze through my open kitchen window.

And as long as I keep looking …  I know hope will be found.