Lessons from the Fog
This morning I walked the lake as I've been doing consistently two days a week since the new year. I suppose that is my resolution. I'm not sure if I knew it was at the time, but apparently that's how resolutions are made and kept at my age: make it small, tangible and achievable.
Today the fog seemed to tell me something similar.
Usually while walking the lake, I have a clear view of the opposite shoreline. It's only about 3 miles around, so it's not difficult to see the whole thing at a glance, but not today.
This morning the fog was so thick--like pea soup, as they say--I couldn't see the water, let alone the other side. It was very striking, beautiful, unusual--other worldly. At certain points it seemed as if I was staring off into the ends of the Earth.
As I walked I wondered what the lesson was because it felt like the fog was telling me something. The Universe was whispering in my ear and it struck me: focus. Focus on what is right in front of you and don't think or worry about the other stuff in the background. Fog forces this to happen.
On a clear day the branch of a tree can be so easily lost among the colors of the water, the distant trees, the bird flying by at that moment, etc, etc. Fog erases all of that from your vision and the branch that never caught your eye before, stands boldly against the backdrop of the muffled grey mist. An ordinary blade of grass pops. The empty boat has never looked so desperately alone.
The Universe pleads, "Slow down. Focus on what is right in front of you."
Don't waste time thinking of the stuff off in the distance. There may come a time when you are there, but currently you are here. Forget "over there" for now.
Appreciate, worry about, tend to, take pleasure in, suffer through, deal with, savor--what is right here right now.
Let everything else fade off behind the fog.
I can't say I'm sorry to see the year 2022 bid adieu. Goodbye!
"Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord . . . well, you know the rest."
This year has been skipping to the same beat all year and it sounded like this, "What! A new month? Which one?! (Insert current month here) already!! No way." Even on the lead-up to Christmas week the song I remember hearing most was any Christmas song by Trans-Siberian Orchestra with its electric guitar and spastic musical climax. That could have easily been the theme of the entire year: hurried, admittedly painful, too much and yet not enough.
So, there it is: my year in review. Uninspired perhaps. Soggy and a bit stodgy, as they say on the Great British Baking Show when they bite into a piece of cake that is supposed to be yummy, looks promising, but just isn't--at all.
Let's hope that 2023 is all that 2022 wasn't.
I did not dress up for this evening's ringing in of the new year.
Wearing my favorite pair of sweatpants (with pockets of course), a well-worn t-shirt that has an image of Cape Cod's Sagamore Bridge and reads "Cross that bridge when you come to it!" beneath a long, cozy sweater (also, pockets:) and fuzzy, purple polka-dotted socks is how I will enter the new year:
Hopefully 2023 will skip to more of a Nat King Cole beat: slower, steady and soothing.
It's the little things, right?
I had a great Thanksgiving! Love that holiday. It's my favorite, filled with eating and the ability to nap spontaneously, and the long weekend didn't hurt either. More time, guilt-free naps, and longer weekends are something I'd love to see more of in my future. Until that's possible I will celebrate the discovery of a reasonably simple dinner roll recipe that I found in my attempt to relax. Relaxing is something that needs to be eased into for me, so finding myself unable to just sit still and veg out, I thought I'd try my hand at making some dinner rolls.
I googled "dinner rolls recipe" and the second recipe I found was a winner. I did a test run and THEY WORKED!!
It is amazing that people have made bread and bread-like items since the dawn of time and here I am in modern civilization celebrating my ability to made dinner rolls. But, you see, I'm not a baker as much as I am a cook and I bake only when required by the need for a birthday cake, a big zucchini that is only good for zucchini bread, overripe bananas that must not be wasted, or a school bake sale assignment. Baking is a bit too slow-paced for me and I just don't have time. So, I found myself with some time.
It was so exciting to make hot, pull apart and slather with butter rolls that my family devoured in short order. I watch British Baking Show and it always looks so complicated and takes so much time: the measuring, the water temperature requirements, the kneading, the proofing, the actual baking with the threat of something being "undah-baked"--the science of it all
I'm not a big dinner roll person at Thanksgiving. I'd rather dig into all the other stuff, but my brother likes them and I thought his wife might enjoy a fresh-baked roll. The recipe I found, which you can find HERE, didn't require the greasing of bowls and it only made 12 rolls, which is a reasonable amount. I don't need the 24 rolls that many recipes yield.
I did have a couple of tweaks: I had to use regular yeast I had in a jar (so activated it before mixing it by combining it with the very warm water and then a teaspoon of sugar and waited ten minutes), I used a wooden spoon and elbow grease to mix instead of the electric mixer in the recipe, and then just followed the recipe and let it "rise" for more than the 30 minutes in the recipe, but still they were really fast as far as homemade bread goes. I didn't brush them with anything before baking and they came out golden brown.
A success! These days with so much going wrong all around us, it's nice to have a humble success to celebrate--and eat:)
I just did something for myself. Well--not counting the KitKat bar I just asked my second born for. She obliged willingly taking it out of her sibling's bag. I shouldn't have accepted or condoned or whatever crime it was to allow my second born to take a chocolate from one of the other born's bag for my own craving--but it's Friday, so I did.
Anyway, that was not what I did for myself. What I just did was participate in a poetry workshop. On Zoom, which I'm a bit sick of . . . but it was free, and I needed something. Like the KitKat, but for my creative spirit. I needed somebody to feed me creatively and force me to produce something creative. The workshop was sponsored by International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) and facilitated by Warrior Poet Kai Coggin. She'll be offering a poetry intensive workshop if you are looking to get creative. Find out about that here.
Here is the poem the workshop helped me produce. It's a draft--as everything is:)
She sat there
in our ordinary kitchen.
My cup of tea, still hot,
perfectly sweet and splash of milk.
Ordinary black. Stringless bag. Sinking. Steeping.
She sat there
knowing she wouldn't stay.
She couldn't --
-- wear out her welcome
-- be taken for granted.
Sitting there--as if always.
In our kitchen
every ordinary, sleepy Saturday.
Tea and talk, dancing.
So simple until she slipped away
to another kitchen,
somebody else's unassuming moment.
I've kept a journal since I was a teenager. However, writing in a journal was like one of those on-again, off-again relationships. I can't say I ever really wrote with any reliable level of consistency over a long period of time and often, when I was younger, the entries were more centered on "what I did" than "what I thought."
But, when the pandemic started in March 2020, that changed. I started filling up a whole journal every three months, so I'd say I probably filled about six journals since then, alone.
It was as if writing in my journal was my moment to take a deep breath at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. Today, the third page I wrote in my journal was my attempt to figure out why writing in my journal is something I have begun looking forward to as much as my morning cup of tea. I'm transcribing my thoughts here--in this online "Diary," to encourage others to find solace and sanity in the safe confines of a journal, diary, notebook or whatever you term it. (Warning, part of the perk of journal writing is no grammar, run-on sentence, spelling mistakes exist or matter--so I'm copying it in here as it was written in all its carefree format.:)
Here's what I wrote:
Anyway, I'm enjoying the pocket of time right now when I don't have to be anywhere and the kids are watching cartoons downstairs and I'm in this chair in the living room with a cup of tea and this journal. I can't quite understand why writing in this journal is so attractive to me, why it feels like such an "escape" but I almost crave it at times. Maybe it's because I'm safe here--as cheesy as that sounds. I'm able to say what I want whether I'm right or wrong or politically incorrect. I am able to sort out my thoughts, maybe make sense of them, perhaps vent my frustrations with anyone and everyone without worry of offense or disagreement, and also I am able to let out the leash to allow my ideas and imagination to run wild. To dream on paper and quietly out loud:) Silently out loud. Without fears of contradiction or being talked sense into. It's a vision board sans images. Sans color! A vision board of black and white that leaves the imagination of the reader to fill in the vivid greens and bright blues. Time and space and freedom. There are so many means available these days that allow people to escape, to breathe a little, loosen the collar--so to speak--and here is perhaps one of the healthier, most accessible, cost efficient and convenient of them all:
Writing in this here humble Journal . . .
Thank the Lord for paper and pen :)
Every now and then the universe sends in something that tells me to "slow down!" The world has been moving at warp speed lately and this morning I took some time out to go into my garden and do some deadheading. Snipping or snapping off spent blooms can seem like an onerous task, but often that is the magic of the garden--many of the things you need to do in the garden are not exciting and take time. But, that's sometimes just what we need.
This morning, while looking closely at the various Cosmos scattered in patches within my front and side garden, I saw something move. First it freaked me out and then I looked closer. Yes--nature is wild! A Praying Mantis was sitting on the plant and since their advantage is camouflage, I hadn't noticed it until it moved, perhaps in an effort not to also get snapped off by me.
I once watched a Praying Mantis crawl on the outside of a screen door and they are extremely (painfully!) slow moving creatures. Watching paint dry pales in comparison to watching a Praying Mantis move. From that first sighting onward, I took the sighting of a Praying Mantis as an indication to me that I need to slow down. I hope to do some slowing down this weekend, but until then--it's full speed ahead.
If you find life is moving too fast--go outside, into a garden and try to find a Praying Mantis.
Sometimes weekends away are relaxing. Some are more along the lines of work. Other times they are a hybrid of the two and you come away exhausted but content. But, definitely exhausted:)
Two weekends ago I went on a "retreat" that I had no business going on because life was rather ramped up at the moment with four kids back to school and sports exploding all over the calendar in addition to those not-so-savory things a person has to do--like clean the house, do the laundry, break into the fall wardrobe while still floating the summer shorts.
Don't even get me started on the socks!
Socks. On the floor. A basket of matchless singles growing and growing. Smelly socks stuffed in shoes. Inside out socks in the middle of the stairs. Even socks OUTSIDE! Enough about the socks. On this retreat there wasn't a sock in sight. :)
There I was, on a writer's retreat to Squam Lake. What a beautiful location! So beautiful that it was a challenge to not spend the whole time walking around exploring or jumping in the lake. I was there to focus on my writing, so I soaked all the nature in from a comfortable and semi-productive distance.
What was so exhausting about that?
Well, it was a bit like a mini-conference and anybody who has ever been to a conference knows there's a lot of talking, meeting people, introducing yourself, figuring out what it is you might tell them, wondering more about them, and sharing a room with a stranger. Sure, she'll feel like a friend by the end of the weekend, but there's a process and so sharing a room can add to the lethargy. Throw in a wonderful old cabin that doesn't muffle anything and only amplifies every footstep and shift of weight. A toilet flushing? Sounds like Niagra Falls has just dumped down the walls and onto the floor.
It's all part of the charm, but also the process of allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, a little awkward, and eventually feel a bit like family when it's all said and done. It was a great experience and it felt so good to meet so many wonderful, creative, nerdy minds like myself. People who wrote, researched, animated, edited, agented, revised, read, made dolls and were all interested in each other. It's a great feeling to be surrounded by people committed to creativity!
The weather was perfect. Everything was photogenic, as you'll see below, and the whole experience helped me to grow a little bit more as a writer, a reader, and a member of the big wide creative community I love being a part of.
Wild Kingdom or Unexpected Sanctuary
This has been a hot summer to say the least. My kids have been in the pool a lot and so have plenty of frogs! Wow, who knew there were that many frogs in the area? It seems unnatural--there are that many! I just took two out of the skimmer.
They were among the lucky ones, still kicking and when I put them down they hopped off. How long before they are back in the pool?
Yesterday there were baby turkeys. I didn't see those but my family and my neighbor did. Last week a skunk waddled out from the bushes mid-morning as if it was the most ordinary thing to do.
Maybe it was--for him. Later he hung a right around the back of the shed and then faced off with a bunny. The skunk rolled on its back and the bunny hopped perhaps to appear more threatening than he really was. It was like nothing I've ever seen.
The week before that my children were running a wild petting zoo with four baby bunnies having been born after the mother made a den (nest?) in my raised vegetable garden. I went out to water one morning to hear thumping every so often. Finally after some investigating I realized it was a baby bunny running from the water and into the sides of my raised bed. The next day there were two little sets of ears huddled together hiding beneath the cucumber vine and among the marigolds. In the evening there were three bunnies where there had been two. Within a day there were four bunnies total. I couldn't believe my eyes.
(Side note: My vegetable garden beds are raised to keep bunnies out. Now they serve as a maternity ward for them.) Later I came out to see my girls and a neighborhood girl each holding a baby bunny lovingly, patting them and telling me their names: Squirmy, Gucci, Chubs and Lily.
Two evenings ago, I found what looked like another bunny nest in the same place and we all watched as the mother bunny circled and finally jumped in to feed her babies. We watched goldfinches visit our feeder and what we think is a wren flying and perching on my vegetable gardens, then swooping under our deck to where we think she may have a nest of her own. This afternoon one of my daughters came across three baby birds in the pool.
Two died. One sat in the grass at her mercy while she sat patting it wondering what to do. Four more kids gathered around the bird wanting to help. Finally, I scooped it up with my shirt and put it into my raised vegetable bed so nothing could get at it. While my son bent over to see the baby bird, he spied a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar that must have been feeding on the dill growing in abundance. Perhaps the baby bird or its mother will be feeding on that catepillar before long or it will be left to grow into a beautiful butterfly.
Who knew my raised beds would serve as a functioning animal hospital for animals of every sort?
The walls I thought would be a barrier for my vegetables has become those of a sanctuary of sorts.
Gardens are definitely sanctuaries--for animals and humans alike:)
Coming Across Acrostic Poetry
The world is opening up slowly but surely. Hopefully it follows spring's lead and petal by petal it stretches into a bloom so that we can enjoy life more fully. Imagine if flowers stayed buds forever?
What a tease.
The Massachusetts State Poetry Society had a meeting this past weekend. It was in-person at the Beverly Public Library, and it has been a while since I have attended any workshop or gathering in-person for the sake of being creative--even if only in bite-sized pieces. Poetry is sort of famous for being bite-sized, so this was a good start.
Poetry also has a habit of being famously impenetrable or snobbish. But, like so many things in life, if you can push past your own preconceived notions about poetry you'll see it's just words like everything else.
It's a magnifying glass for emotion and feeling.
It tries to get right to the point.
Its love for the heart of the matter can be seen as obstinate at times.
This is where this weekend's workshop on Acrostic Poetry comes in. Acrostic Poetry is quite possibly the perfect ambassador between people and poetry. It provides the suggestion of structure but does not slap you across the knuckles with its rules as some forms have a habit of doing. It simply provides a very entry-level chain link fence where you can see outside, but you are asked to play within its boundaries. What you play is up to you.
Some may see the fence and find it, well--offensive (pardon the wordplay:). It seems too elementary. In fact, you may remember writing an acrostic poem in elementary school. What an insult to your intelligence, because while you may not be up for the snobbery of a Shakespearean Sonnet, you will not be subjected to the ABCs of an Acrostic! Pfft!!
Well, I must admit to you, my attitude was quite the same. It had been years--decades--since I'd laid eyes, let alone my own pen, onto an acrostic poem. And yet, I played along.
I was brought over to the fenced in area.
The rules were simple and clear--refreshingly so.
So, I played.
And . . .
I absolutely loved it. Simple enough for my overwhelmed mind to participate and yet once I allowed myself to forget about the world beyond the fence, I felt safe and had some fun with words. I didn't drone on as I tend to do with prose. I picked and plucked and tried to put together a bouquet. Rearranging, crossing out, rewriting. It has been so long since I'd allowed myself to work at a poem that wasn't simply "freestyle." The "rules" offered just enough challenge without making the exercise daunting or frustrating.
So, I encourage you. I implore you: write an Acrostic Poem. Here's a link to get you started: Acrostic Poem
Many thanks to Jeanette Maes, President of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society, who facilitated the workshop this past weekend. The poem I wrote is titled "Gardening" and it could do with some reworking, but I'll include it as it stands currently.
It felt good to take a snapshot of thought and force it onto paper. There is a satisfaction in creating that we cannot, as humans, dismiss or constantly defer. I'm glad I shook myself from default to get my hot mess of a self into the car and to that meeting so I could start to remember why I love poetry and words as a medium, so very much.
Lingering Essence of Loss
It's been a while. Since, the writing--in here.
With a blog titled, "Dear Diary" I wanted to write, "Dear Diary, my mother passed away less than a month ago and I'm finding it hard to write. Why does grief take up so much room in my head? Why does it feel like such a relief to write what I'm thinking in my paper journal with my pen, but when it comes to typing in this Diary---I just don't want to?"
And that's a problem, for a writer. "Writer's block" seems to take on a whole new, debilitating strength after the loss of a loved one. It makes me think of the children's book I used to read to my children called, Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill & Charles Fuge. For some reason, when I'm sad or overwhelmed, I want to get as small as I can. And, in an effort to get as small as I can I pull in my arms and legs and tuck my chin down.
It's hard to write when you're in a ball.
Writing is an extension of who I am and I suppose stretching myself out so publicly on a page is simply unappealing. It's the last thing I want to do because, well--when you lose someone you love you really don't want to do much at all. But I'm still a mother, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, citizen and, still, I am a daughter--with all that continues to come with such a role even without the mother to show for anymore.
Loss happens and then--weeks, months, years later the essence of it still lingers. In sentimental human ways and in demandingly impersonal, bureaucratic ways. It suddenly shows up when you least expect it and seems to have abated only to soon make it clear it has not.
And so this blog post is me putting the key in the ignition, turning with a sigh and knowing I need to turn the engine over every now and then to be sure the car will run in the future even if my heart just isn't in it today. But it will be. I have to believe that.
I need to try to not look too long into the void or it will swallow me. We humans have a habit of steering into what we're staring into. That's dangerous. So, I need to know the void is there in order not to fall into it and then avert my eyes, focus on the living, put one foot in front of the other and walk towards the light no matter how far off it appears at this moment.
Easier said than done. I know.
But, it's a start:)