Still life as meditation. I am this moment. Breathing. Lost in the layering, the filling of frame, the lilt of the light. This space.This delicate movement. This sculpture of light and shadow, form and feeling, vulnerability and hope.This me. Being. Seeking balance. Finding tiny miracles. The curve of a stem. The twist of a leaf. The passion of a petal. Assembled here. In the focus. In the breath. In the now. In the knowing. Still. Happy.
I’m learning peace isn’t something to be found. I know. Because like just like everyone else I meet, I’ve been looking.
Real peace is –I think– peace I must make on my own. I’m learning to make some sort of patchwork peace with the world as it is. Healing a little here, hoping a little there. Making peace with my own side of the street and how I want to live on it. With the past of me and the present of me. With who I hope to be next. I’m making peace with remembrances. And worries. With loss. Grief. And farewells.
This year has offered plenty of time for self-reflection.
Early mornings of late, I sit alone stitching. Quiet. Focused on the knit or the purl or criss-crossing the embroidery thread. Slide the needles. Wrap the yarn. Pull the stitch through. I’m knitting with wooden needles quite likely older than I am. My grandmother’s.
I wonder: Is she here with me? Did she too enjoy the texture of the wool, the taut pull of the yarn, the repetition of pattern? As she worked the needles, did she make peace with herself and within her life as I do, sitting here before sunrise?
And I’ve only just today been able to pick up my mother’s cross-stitch project. I promised I’d finish it for her. A sampler for my brother. I know she worked on it as long as she was able, and it was important to her that he receive it. That it was finished. And all these many months, it’s been tucked away in a basket. In wait. Maybe she knew I’d get to it when and only if I was ready. A trust exchanged between us. A certainty the day would come.
There’s peace-making in the folds of fabric my mother once held. I hold onto it as if holding her hand. The thread, the rise and fall of the needle, the finishing. A release. An exhale. A circle closing.
I wonder: Is she here with me? Are we, mother and daughter, each pulling the same thread? One beginning, the other finishing? It’s been an almost two year goodbye, and maybe it’s time to make peace with that too.
Maybe I’ve spent all these many months in the making of bread and the taking of photographs and now, the knitting of scarves and sewing of samplers … to make my own peace as it seems it can’t be found anywhere else just now. Maybe making peace is being at peace and living in peace.
The weary world needs the hopers, the helpers, the givers and the peace-makers.
Rejoice. And make peace.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
I’ve been baking bread. Loaves. Buns. Rolls. Sourdough mostly. And after many failed attempts.
I am my most patient self while baking bread. I am most patient with myself while baking bread. I allow myself the time. The learning. I forgive failures and put aside worries. The bread won’t be rushed. And neither will I.
There is only the bread. The starter. The flour. The salt. The yeast. Maybe a bit of honey. A pat of butter. Simple ingredients, pleasing to my senses. The combination comes to a kind of miracle. The task offers me some sort of purpose. Satisfaction. A notion I’m doing good work…Is wholesome the word I’m looking for?
Each step, its own place, its own part in the process, a piece of my peace. Of my pleasure. A moving meditation. I am quieted for a time – inside and out. The measuring and mixing. The kneading (needing.) Rising. Waiting. Shaping. Rising. Waiting. Baking. Browning. Smelling. By and by … we break bread and eat. A small blessing.
I clean up. Set the kitchen to rights. Hot water from the tap. Soap and soak bowls and tools. Brush flour from the big, wooden work board – taking care not to dust the floor.
I didn’t know I needed bread making. I did not know my hands needed a simple and satisfying task. I did not know my heart needed another way to love.
(Dedicated to Stephanie)
Did you know spring arrives earlier than usual this year?
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the spring equinox falls on March 19th – earlier than it’s been in over a century! For those of us counting – and here in the northeast, we are many – that’s only 18 days away! Not only that, but we’ll turn the clocks ahead an hour only seven days from today as we spring forward into Daylight Saving Time.
For me, there’s no hope quite like spring hope!
Here’s a few fun ways to enjoy, celebrate, and spend your days in positive ways while you await spring’s arrival:
- Keep a spring flower journal … The arrival of spring flowers is a beautiful progression of blooms to watch and document. I know just where the daffodils bloom next to the foundation at church and spotted a few green shoots this morning. I can’t wait for the forsythia and lilacs to bloom out back, and every year I spend lots of time photographing the neighbor’s iris. Journal your way to spring by keeping a written record, watercolor paintings, sketches, or photographs.
- Keep a birding notebook … In our part of New England, Canada geese are making their way northward. Bird calls are increasing by the day, and I’m ready to research just who’s heralding spring around here. It’s time to learn how to match the call to the bird … a new project for me!
- Visit a sugar house … with the warmer daytime temperatures and still cold evening temperatures, the sap’s been running well here in New Hampshire. There are over 350 maple producers in New Hampshire and you can learn about them here. The 25th annual NH Maple Weekend is scheduled for March 21 – 22 with open sugar houses across the state. Visit the Vermont Sugar Makers’ Association here. If you aren’t able to visit in person, visit either of these sites to order syrup or mix up some maple sweetness in your kitchen with a variety of yummy recipes!
- Bake hot cross buns … a spiced sweet bun with dried fruit and marked with a cross on the top, hot cross buns are a Christian Lenten tradition. I wrote about baking them here and used this recipe, substituting dried cranberries for raisin or currents.
- Plan your summer garden … no matter the dimensions of your yard or size of your containers, the Old Farmer’s Almanac can help you plan what to grow in it. You can explore their free garden planning trial by clicking here. Hope springs eternal in a growing garden, and you’ll harvest a bunch of health benefits too!
- March for Babies … According to the March of Dimes, two babies die every hour in the United States and one woman dies every 12 hours from pregnancy complications. Register here to March for Babies and find a local spring march for healthy moms and their babies.
January’s been … long.
And full. Purposeful. Mindful. Meaningful. Grateful.
I’ve felt powerful: building my physical strength and stamina. Resourceful: planning relevant experiences for my students. Sorrowful: remembering the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. And, of course, hopeful: beginning each and every day this month filling the pages of my journal with gratitude, guidance, goals, and hope for grace.
I’ve lived faithfully: honoring my commitment to #the100dayproject with at least a photograph a day – – showing up at the gym more days in January than not – – devoting time and effort to my health, diet, and overall well being.
There’s been wistful days, joyful days, and stressful days. More ups than downs, thankfully. A few trips and falls, painfully. Many new insights, realizations, and emotional turn-abouts, helpfully.
In other words, life’s been plentiful. And I’m taking one more deep, full breath of January and the fresh, clean air of a new year.
I think it’s true: the more you write, the more you write.
Writer’s write. It’s habit. It’s pen in hand. Laptop open. It’s simply showing up. The words, I’m discovering, will take care of themselves. It’s work, of course. Equal parts determination and devotion. Sometimes, delight. But mostly, it’s a decision.
So, I write.
I’ve been writing every morning. Journaling mostly. Lists. Notes. Phrases. Quotes. Ideas. Seeds.
As a child naturally seeks boundaries in order to feel safe enough to grow beyond them, so does the structure of my morning page first fence me in and then free me to roam beyond.
Ideas arrive, much to my surprise. Pages fill. I think bookish thoughts.
My notebook travels everywhere I do. Sometimes the words arrive in the spaces between. The space between leaving for work and arriving. There’s space too, after writing what I want to say in which I sometimes discover what I need to say.
I am not the sum of my words, but the subtraction of them. I take away what I mean to say from the entirety of what I wrote, so what’s left is what’s necessary, real, and true. Somewhere in all those words is my tiny moment of knowing.
And sometimes, simply sitting with stillness and silence feels just right. There’s faith the words will come, because the habit of writing proves this to be true.
The more you write, the more you write.
Stepped out the back door with my camera yesterday afternoon, seeking a moment or two in the last of the light. Feeding my soul, I’m learning, needn’t wait. If I’ve a bit of opportunity, an open few minutes, that’s exactly the right time to take the time. Life will wait, the light won’t.
Time travel: soul searching, to soul feeding, to soul filling.
In only ten minutes.
Out the back door.
We’ve been saving for a new computer.
As such, I’ve started the tedious but necessary task of sorting through, saving, and deleting literally thousands of photographs.
I have a natural tendency to look back over my shoulder, and I’m often self-reflective all day and into the night. Circular thinking. Around and around. Conversations. Decisions. Plans. Details. Opportunities.
And while it would be far simpler and certainly less time consuming to delete all the photographs en masse, I’m resisting the temptation.
It’s a good idea to look backwards from time to time. I like to see where I’ve walked and how far I’ve traveled. The photographs I’m looking at captured a single frame of my life. What I saw. Who I was. How I felt. What it was like to be me at that very point on my timeline.
All of these photographs. All of these moments and memories. And as I reflect, what’s easiest to see: I’ve grown, and learned, and developed. I am changed.
Looking back. Pausing. Walking forward. And deciding about what’s just ahead …
… a new Etsy shop for my photographs.
I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, you’re viewing my first series: Once Upon a Sunflower.
It was a magical day. Pure blue and vibrant yellow. I’ve sorted, and saved, and remembered every moment.
And now I’m sharing them with all of you.
Here’s to hope.
What do you do when you don’t know if you can … but feel you must?
How do you cope with self-doubt?
How do you push past feeling self-serving to feeling self-deserving?
I’ve been wrestling with these questions all summer long. Delighted with more time and opportunity, I’ve been able to nourish my creative soul more often. I savor each and every moment spent with my keyboard and camera.
But is that enough?
I’m not sure.
Is the creative act itself enough to satisfy, or is it in the sharing of the end result?
Do I dare? Will anyone care?
What role does audience play in any creation? In any creative’s growth?
I’m tiptoeing along this path, thanks in no small part to the encouragement of special friends and a husband who supports my every breath and dream.
And there’s a few other acquaintances whose inspiration and pep talks I keep within arm’s reach — maybe they’ll be of use to you if you’re in the midst of your own creative identity crisis:
Elise Blaha Cripe: fearless creator of Get to Work Book and so much more! Find big bunches of motivation by following her @elisejoy on Instagram or her website here. Her Get to Work Book is a no-nonsense, plain-and-simple, get-it-down and you’ll get-it-done planner I’ve found to be oh-so-helpful. Elise experiments, explores, tries, fails, and tries again — a fun loving and living example of growth mindset. I find her incredibly inspiring.
Elle Luna: artist, co-leader of #The100DayProject, and creative author of The Crossroads of Should and Must.
Elizabeth Gilbert: author of Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear
Brene Brown: author of Daring Greatly
and finally, the classic Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.
How can I possibly live past the hypocrisy of encouraging my children, my students, and family and friends to follow their dreams … if I’m not willing to walk the talk and follow my own?
Dream on, friends.
There’s nothing more simply satisfying, more homey and wholesome, or more basically beautiful than a loaf of freshly-baked bread.
Unless you bake two loaves – and share one.
When I bake bread, my heart fills in direct proportion to the rise of the dough. I love all the steps: the measuring, the mixing, the kneading, the baking. I love the aroma as the crust browns. I love to cradle the warmth of each loaf as I wrap it in a cotton cloth just out from the oven. I especially love feeding my family.
I’ve written before about the joy and grounding I find when baking. (See Warmth.) I’m not much for cakes, although this is a good one, and I’m family-famous for my chocolate chip cookies, but my new fascination is with baking bread. It’s been a long-standing someday thought, only recently realized come an unexpected snow day off from school.
And it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
Time-consuming? Yes. But easy. And so worth the time.
This latest good thing in my life rose even higher, so to speak, this week after an in-school presentation by King Arthur Flour. Based in Norwich, Vermont, King Arthur Flour’s been a baking name to know since 1790 and employee-owned since 2004. With a company focus on connections in the community, the flour company not only maintains a baking school, but several outreach programs designed to “Bake for Good.”
Last week, the students in our school enjoyed King Arthur Flour’s Learn. Bake. Share. program where they learned all the basics of bread baking and the science behind it too. Each student was sent home with a flour-filled canvas tote, a dough scraper, a packet of yeast, a booklet of delicious recipes to try with their families at home … and an invitation: To share what they bake by donating a loaf to a local food bank.
Kids can participate in two ways:
King Arthur representatives visit over 200 schools all over the country every year. In-school presentations can be arranged by visiting here. Self-directed group baking can be arranged by visiting here.
Youth groups of all kinds can participate in Learn. Bake. Share. Anyone can participate and pledge to King Arthur’s Bake for Good. One pledge = one meal donated to Feeding America. So far, King Arthur’s donated over 41,000 meals to date!
Bake. Enjoy. Give. And rise.