measuring time

I’ve been measuring time in flowers. Watching spring unfold petal by petal. Open. Warm. (Sometimes.)

After the dormancy of a long, difficult winter, the beauty is there for the noticing in real time. The first unfurl of a leaf, a sudden bright shock of forsythia by the side of a salty, winter sand-covered road, and just now the peonies by the front porch, plump and ready to burst.

Life cycles, of course. Even within a season. Memories attach to events and flowers mark places along a continuum. I wonder if I’ll ever again see an early crocus in bloom without remembering a friend, lost too soon this spring. Or breathe another lilac perfumed breeze without remembering Mother’s Day. In the spaces between, I’m mentally tracking time in tulips and daffodils, following spring’s slow but steady march until summer comes.

Hope follows despair as bloom follows an empty landscape.

Summer’s about ready to take her turn, and just today I discovered wild daisies! Already. Almost before I was ready. The iris in front of that yellow house down the street is in bloom. Those iris always bloom the week before the last day of school. Another flower on the timeline and a consistency I can count on.

The point is, I suppose, is to know where you are at all times. More aware. More present. Equally intentional and spontaneous. There are flowers to count time by and tides rolling in on schedule. Places to go. Things to do. People to meet. I’m always optimistic at the crest of a new season. More ready to begin again, make good on promises to myself I may have broken in seasons past, itchy to explore all my life has to offer.

Lots to do … before the sunflowers rise.

wabi-sabi

Each spring flower lives a temporary, but individually beautiful life. Asian bleeding hearts placed on my mantle lost their vibrant pink days ago, melting into purple, now white.

But are faded petals any less graceful, less photogenic than those in first, full bloom?

Or more so?

Like finally placing a face with a name, today I linked my photography aesthetic with a centuries old art form.

Wabi-sabi originated as a concept and visually appealing ideal from a 16th century Japanese tea master, Sen Rikyu, who revised the Japanese tea ceremony to a new simplicity. In every detail of the ceremony from tea house to tea garden, he honored the pure, the plain, the imperfect, and impermanent.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, wabi is defined as deliberate simplicity in daily living and sabi is an appreciation for the old and faded. Another definition explains wabi-sabi as finding the beauty in imperfection.

For me: it’s inspiration.

mend and make do

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We spent the summer nesting. The kind of nesting, apparently, one does when the last of the children leaves and you’ve suddenly inherited a wealth of space previously occupied. It’s a wistful sort of nesting, at first. But we eventually found our way into a groove of happy home-tending.

As such, we’ve worked on all things home this summer. A little remodeling here. Some new furniture there. Paint. Flooring. All with an eye toward how we really intend to use the rooms in our home at this point in our lives. We’ve also planned ahead for when the children, and later the grandchildren, visit.

We’ve spent some hot, summer days in the attic and in the cooler basement: tossing, sorting, debating, and deciding. Paring down possessions accumulated in our 20 or so years as a family. What’s needed? Relevant? Beautiful? Sentimental? Worth hanging on to? Still useful?

While I wouldn’t classify our final decisions as utterly ruthless, we did take a good hard look at our life with stuff. And quite clearly, we have just about everything we need. And then some, probably.

Most of the time, making do simply involves taking a look around to see what I’ve already got. And I guess, that’s what I’m learning. Mend or make do is less about frugality, exactly, than it is recognizing what’s useful and purposeful and helpful among my possessions and banishing those which aren’t any of those things. It’s about retraining my brain from mindless and somewhat habitual consumerism to consciously evaluating wants, needs, and the altogether unnecessary.

New curtains after painting downstairs? Not necessary. Shift the bedroom curtains and rehang some sheers we found in the basement. New area rug? No need. Do si do the rugs in the entry and family room, and it’ll work just fine.  We removed our old kitchen counter and sat it atop some sawhorses downstairs. Et voila! A new workspace emerged for printing and framing my photography.

Maybe it’s time to find a cobbler for those boots I love, so the worn out heels can be restored. It’s a good idea to remove photgraphs I no longer display from the frames I could use for photographs I intend – one day – to show and sell. That old rattan planter makes a nifty wastebasket in our new office space. And I promise I’m finally going to hem that dress which was always an inch or so too long.

It’s a mind shift. A habit shift. A throwback to the days when folks used it up, repaired it time and again, or just plain wore it out before the thought ever occurred to buy new.

Feels good right about now, and I’m discovering …. less really is more.

summering the alphabet

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We’re summering our way through the alphabet again this year.

Not letter by letter in order, of course, that would be far too constricting. However, the structure the alphabet provides is some sort of reminder to get out, go out, find out, and do something with the lovely (and fleeting) days of a New England summer.

In no particular order, we’ve summered the alphabet so far with:

S: strawberry picking

H: hiking

T: tennis, both at home and away (our racquets travel with us)

P: picnics

Some letters fill up quickly, and others are a bit of a challenge.  Last year’s Y: yard sales will likely be this year’s as well since I’ve got a new classroom come fall and find myself in need of several solid bookshelves. It’s okay. Repeats are fine. I impose no rules or restrictions when summering the alphabet, although I usually only document those people, places, and events we meet, visit, and experience together as a couple.

I’d rather not summer solo.

We add the destinations we reach like some sort of alphabetical post card documenting the places we’ve dreamed about visiting throughout the long winter while waiting for summer to come.

E: Ellacoya State Park, Gilford, NH

C: Calef’s Country Store, Barrington, NH

M: Merck Forest and Farmland Center, Rupert, Vermont

Of course, V is for visiting Vermont in all her fine, full-on summer greenery and the bluest skies I’ve ever seen. We’ve stayed with our favorite Vermont family at I: Inn at Manchester (which incidentally also appears on our fall and winter alphabets,) and for the first time ever, we’re also summering at the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vermont – which of course means W is all set.

The alphabet’s filling up fast this year … it’s not even July, and we’re almost halfway through. Maybe this summer we’ll experience a letter or two more than once.

And won’t that be fun?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

walk with the flowers

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I love a walking road trip.

Or maybe it’s better called a destination walk?

Either way, I enjoy walking the sidewalks in towns not my own.

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I’m partial to parks, of course, but I also enjoy a slow stroll along someone else’s Main Street.

Window shopping’s fun. But I also love flower box browsing.

What combinations of lovely do other folks plant? What’s blooming on the front stoop?

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As a walking tourist, I guess I have a bit of a floral fascination. I already know just about every shrub, perennial, and pot in my own neighborhood, so it’s a little fun to see how they do it in another neck of the woods.

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When I walk new neighborhoods, I discover what summer abundance grows wild by a garden gate or tucks neatly around a mailbox, what burst of summer celebration hangs lush and colorful from a hook on a front porch.

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It’s a little peek – really – into a life I know nothing about except for the beauty they’re willing to share with a stranger, a passer by, a someone like me who very much appreciates the gift.

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A rose by someone else’s gate … still smells as sweet as my own.

So a grateful thank you to those kind strangers whose streets I walk … and an open invitation to amble past our garden anytime.

Just now, the coneflowers are in full bloom.

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life lessons: off grid

DSC_0326 (7)I’ve been living off grid.

Not unplugged, mind you, but off grid in the sense that daily summer adventures are moving me beyond the regularly traveled intersections of my life.

The result?

My spirits: higher. My rest: deeper. My stress: lower.  My eyes, heart, and mind: clear, open, and engaged. In that order.

In short:  I’m happy.

Day trips. Camping. Tennis. Hikes. Beach. Baseball. Friends. Food. Books. Family.

Life feels invigorating.

Research shows multiple benefits to breaking out of your routine. Even taking a different route between work and home is like a refresh for your brain. New surroundings. New focus. Heightened awareness. Brain growth.

Take yourself outside for even more health benefits.  Google it: “health benefits of being outside.” I got 11,600,000 hits. Everyone from the National Wildlife Federation to Harvard University agrees: spending any amount of time outside can improve your mood, your mental cognition,  and just about everything else about the way your body and brain work: from your attention span to your deep sleep cycle.

The good news?

There’s still 52 days left of summer, and summer is one of the easiest times of the year to explore.

How will you spend your 52?

 

 

mistaken identity

I’ve been doing a little digging.

(for a book)

And one thing I’ve learned just lately is the difference between Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota,)

Queen Anne’s Lace

and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).

Poison Hemlock

Quite literally, it’s the difference between life and death.

Unlike Queen Anne’s lace, parts of which are edible, poison hemlock is as its name indicates – a deadly plant and definitely NOT for eating.

But easily confused, apparently, by me.

All this time, I thought I was taking photographs of a prolific and well-loved wildflower – or invasive weed – depending on your point of view. When in reality, I was also sometimes photographing a poisonous imposter.

Poison Hemlock

I even enlarged and framed one of my photographs for our guest room, believing all the while it was lovely Queen Anne’s lace which so nicely complimented the old quilt on the iron bed.

Turns out … I was dead wrong.

Isn’t learning fun?

Queen Anne’s Lace

Named for Queen Anne of England (1665-1714) this lacey flower is frequently found roadside around my New England home. It’s a summer meadow filler too, dainty-looking, but a bit tough to pick.  The flower begins and ends its life pulled in tight on itself in a delicate, little ball – blooming wide open only in the hope of pollination.

Legend has it Queen Anne was quite a lace maker. Once upon a time, she pricked her finger and a single, tiny droplet of royal blood fell upon her lace work – just like the tiny, purple spot found within the central area of her namesake flower.

I just love a story where someone else’s past shows up in my present.

Queen Anne’s Lace

A biennial, Queen Anne’s lace is also known as wild carrot. It’s high in sugar and since Europeans cultivated it, American colonists came to use it as well, boiling the taproot – sometimes in wine.  First year plants are best. Roots work well in soups, stews, and tea. Leaves work well in salad, as do the flowers.

However.

I, for one, plan to continue enjoying both of these flowers, which tend to like the same kinds of space, from behind my camera.

Poison Hemlock

It’s safer there, it doesn’t much matter which elegant flower is which, and my life doesn’t depend on telling them apart.

postcard: mrs. lincoln’s garden

DSC_0356 (5)Jessie Lincoln Beckwith Johnson Randolph loved her mother.

It must be so.

It must be true.

In my imagination, Jessie was a daughter who loved her mother so much … she created a garden just for her. And not just any garden. A garden with thousands of blooms. A garden with borders and pathways. A garden planned and planted by color and symmetry.DSC_0353 (7)Maybe Jessie wanted her mother to have a garden as majestic as her new home.  Maybe she wanted to remind her mother of the years she lived in Europe. Maybe Mary Harlan Lincoln, daughter-in-law of Abraham, was a woman who had everything … except for a formal, parterre garden.DSC_0343 (10)Or maybe, just maybe, Jessie wanted to gift a garden that would bloom and bloom her love forever and ever.

And so far it has.DSC_0350 (8)A garden like this one doesn’t happen by accident and deserves an inspirational setting in which to take root.  This mother-daughter garden grows at Hildene, ancestral home of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, in Manchester, VT.DSC_0334 (6)It’s said Mary Harlan Lincoln could see the whole expanse of her garden blooming before her as she stood at her second floor, center bedroom window.  Now known as the Hoyt formal garden, I prefer to think of it as Mrs. Lincoln’s garden.  Stunning from any view, the garden is most beautiful, perhaps, from that second floor – planned as it was to resemble a cathedral stained glass window. DSC_0348 (9)Hildene, a beautiful 24 -room Georgian Revival style manion, is but one generation away from the single-room log cabin Abraham Lincoln was born in.  Tucked into the beautiful Vermont green mountains, visitors can walk, self-guided, through most of the home with many of its original furnishings and features, including family artifacts and a historical timeline perspective of President Lincoln’s life and death.

You can read about Hildene’s history  here.DSC_0354 (7)It’s the garden, though, which captured my heart.  I’d love to take tea with Mrs. Lincoln out on the porchswing in the early warmth of mid-June. We’d swing, and sip, and marvel at mountains and the never-ending beauty of Vermont.DSC_0344 (6)And the sweet scent of a thousand peony blossoms would remind us both of the ever-blooming love between a mother and her child.