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.

just do

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Nike got it right.

Just Do It.

Brilliance in only three, one-syllable words.

I spend so many days busily living the norm. Whatever the time of year, days have a certain flow and rhythm, regular and habitual tasks, and the occasional moment of spontaneity where life feels a little more fun and free.

There’s also an on-going and ever evolving list playing on repeat reel in my mind. To-dos, yes, but also want-to-dos. Should dos. Wish I coulds. And someday whens.

Here’s where Just Do It must’ve been born. Maybe we all have such a list playing like background music in our private thoughts. And instead of just thinking and dreaming and planning and wishing and waiting and … hoping … we should just do it already.

Whatever it is.

As of this morning:

  • write every day
  • open an Etsy shop
  • ride my bike to work
  • morning yoga
  • make a salad
  • make do
  • sit with it
  • invest in photography lighting and a new tripod
  • (see make do)
  • save
  • mend that missing button
  • floss
  • take a pottery lesson
  • experiment with photographing people (kids especially!)
  • experiment with minimalism in photography
  • walk the beach
  • put down my phone
  • finish that book
  • train for another marathon (or half … or 5K)
  • walk after dinner
  • climb a mountain

Whatever shall I do today?

 

bake for good

DSC_0018 (2)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.

 

 

 

 

It Feels So Good … To Be Well

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There’s nothing like a good dose of — I’ve been sick for weeks and I’m not sure what’s wrong with me– to slow, if not stall life on the spot. All the balls in air and mid-juggle, drop to the floor.

The mental rooms I lived in for almost a month felt smaller, more intimate, cleared of superfluous clutter, and I focused only on one thing — getting well. It was a life-shift, honestly. A paring down to the necessary and essential. Rest. Drink. Food. Every day’s decision evaluated by the sole criteria … Is this what’s best for me?

At the time, I found myself wishing for my “old life” back and wanted more than anything to think about something … anything … beyond my symptoms and what caused them. What eased them. What would finally elminate them.

Maybe it takes feeling really, really bad … to decide it’s time to live well.

Because after a week or so back into regular living,  I’ve decided I don’t really want my old life back after all. I want to live a more careful and considered life where the focus question all day, every day is followed by that one and only get-well criteria I lived when I was sick …

Is this what’s best for me?

What choices do I need to make to feel … well?

What should I eat? Drink? When do I need to rest?

Which balls do I pick up? And which do I leave on the floor?

What mental clutter needs clearing?

The very questions that guided me during my illness are guiding me to my wellness too.

And it feels so good … to be well.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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?

 

 

life lessons: begin again

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Life always feels more hopeful when I wake to sunshine.

It’s quiet, but for the birdsong, and I feel ready – to begin again.

Do you ever wonder about the commonalities of human thought? The feelings we share? The need for our self-actualization? I understand differences like culture, life experiences, and opportunities – but what I’m wondering today is: Do other people feel like I feel?

See the thing is, I want more for myself and from myself than I’m currently giving to myself. Mostly,  I want to learn to be as gentle and as kind to myself as I try to be to others.

Because lately I feel off track.  And when I lose my way – for what feels like the umpteenth time –  there’s a feeling of defeat or sense of failure, some internal yardstick I fall short of or inner voice droning on and on in the middle of a sleepless night about my misplaced priorities and the promises – to myself – I’ve made and broken.

Again. And again.

Ideas and inspirations I’ve never followed through with. Details I’ve forgotten. Friendships I’ve left unpursued. The dinners I’ve ordered out and cakes I baked from a box.

On the list are the omissions I’ve made. Things I should’ve said and didn’t. Things I said I wish I hadn’t. Emails I never answered. Some buyer’s remorse and how very much money I’ve spent on retail therapy. Calls I never made.

I remember – every morning – how I chose the night before to endlessly scroll Instagram instead of reading the book I’ve been waiting to read.

I think about the weight I haven’t lost. The pizza and wings I selected over a simple salad and grilled chicken. All those ounces and ounces of water I never drank.

And what I want to know is: Do we all hoist the yardstick? Do we all value what the voice has to say?

Because if we do, if we have this commonality about us, I want you to know: I’m learning not to listen.

And I’m learning to begin again.

Today.

Today the sun shines, the birds sing, and I’m ready.

Whatever goals you’ve let lapse. Whatever dreams you’ve forgotten. Whatever hopes you still hold in your heart.

Today … you can begin again.