Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.

 

Can I tell you about something kind of cool that happened to me?…

Let me first say that I’m not posting any of this for sympathy or trumped-up praise. Please know that from my heart.

There are areas in all of our lives where we feel confident and strong – and other areas in which we lack inner strength.

I’m not sure if it’s my personality or the fact that I am a person with a bent toward creativity. Whatever the case, my confidence in my ability to write is always low. I enjoy it. I get the buzz, not unlike the endorphin rush of a runner (I’m told.) People have periodically encouraged me to write. But there are soooo many really great writers in the world. And I don’t just mean famous ones. I am lucky enough to know some extremely talented wordsmiths that work other jobs and fit it in when they can. I truly respect and admire their talent.

So every time I sit down to write, I face two paths:

  1. Be overwhelmed with all the immense talent already out in the world – and sit back and hide, or
  2. Try to be brave, sit down, and write anyway. Just for the discipline of writing.

Again, I don’t mean to sound pathetic. But it is a real and immense struggle for anyone faced with creating something from nothing. And especially when it involves personal reflection.

Yesterday I wrote a book review post on this blog. I posted a condensed version of it on my Instagram. I wrote it the day before, posted it early in the morning, and then went on with my day.

A few hours later I popped back on Instagram while waiting on a load of laundry to finish drying and found a message from Jon Cohen, one of the authors I mentioned in my blog post regarding his endearing book, Harry’s Trees. In his message he pointed out a section of text I wrote:

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.

He commented:

I like the cogency and rhythm of your words, particularly, in the paragraph that starts, “This book celebrated . . .”

It’s just a little line. A line that instantly brought fat tears to my eyes. (Not a usual reaction for me.) My throat clenched shut and I sunk back into myself.

I reread the line. (And in 2019 style, I did a quick screenshot of it on my phone as if it could disappear into the ethers at any given moment. Like perhaps I was imagining it.)

It wasn’t a spouse or a parent or a friend online saying it. It was a published author I respect, commenting positively on my writing. I cannot find the words at the moment to convey the significant importance I felt while reading it. I had a small, but brief, moment of feeling like Sally Fields at the Oscar’s. Or more recently, Kalen Allen’s reaction when Oprah commented on his Instagram post.

He could have said, ‘Thanks for the great review’ and I would have been impressed he even found my post and glad he commented on it. But after thanking me for the review, he took it a step further and returned a small amount of praise to me as well. It was a quick comment that left a big footprint on my squishy, self-effacing heart.

I have so much to learn about writing as well as finding the confidence enough to push ‘publish’. We are so accustomed to seeing articles and reading online posts nowadays that it is easy to dismiss the immense amount of bravery it takes for the writer to go public with their words. It can be a suffocating and stifling fear.

—–

What an amazing moment of pure, unadulterated joy. Especially because when writing, I particularly like the flow of words. I edit when a sentence seems to lack a particular rhythm and musical cadence. That’s something that’s very important to me.

And yesterday, a published writer commented specifically on that trait. 

I must tell you. It felt really, really good…

If you get the chance today – encourage the Creatives in your life. They need it more than you’ll ever know. It’s not easy being them. Their mind is always at battle with their ability. They need your affirming words.

♥️

“Save me a seat!”

“We all bring something unique to the table. And when we women sit at it, there is no doubt in my mind that it becomes a more compassionate, caring, and collaborative table. If you are a woman, never doubt that you belong at the table. Never doubt that you bring something to it. And never forget to save a seat for someone else.” – Maria Shriver

Clean(er)

I would venture to bet that the majority of people can’t rid their homes of all toxins immediately and right.this.very.instant. Man, would I love to. Had I only won that last lottery drawing…⠀

It’s hard to make choices for a clean, ethically-centered, toxin-free home. Clean cleaning supplies. Clean beauty products. Slow fashion. Slow living. ⠀

For us, (like many of you) it’s just one step at a time. One less candle; one more essential oil. One less toxic cleaning supply replaced with a more environmentally-friendly brand. With each choice at the point of sale, our home is moving ever-so-slowly toward a healthier space. ⠀

It’s not about chasing fads (and yes, ‘all-natural’ can be a trendy fad for some companies), but it’s about making a healthier choice whenever you can. As Anne Lamott would say – it’s not about dieting, it’s about doing better today than you did yesterday.⠀

I think that’s a perfect motto for just about everything in life, don’t you think? Don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t do. Just take it product by product. And season by season. (Because some seasons are about trying to afford diapers and school supplies and spring soccer. And that’s okay! Taking care of your family is number one. No matter what that looks like for you.)⠀

One of the free things I did recently was detox my Pinterest account. I have been unpinning many of the elaborate, multi-step projects I’ve had pinned on there for years. Instead I’ve been pinning clean products for our home and simple (read: not elaborate) ways to celebrate the holidays as well as the everyday. Detoxing my to do list or my dream lists is one way to add space and time for relationships and (…always…) reading. Hygge, if you will. Pinterest is an enormous resource for just about anything you’re looking for, but it can also be an ever-growing guilt list of things you’re not getting done. I needed to let some of that crap go. I’ve linked to my Pinterest in my profile if you need some jumping off places to declutter your mind and your online Pinterest bulletin board.

What are some ways and products you’re choosing for a healthier home and life? Teach me some of your ways…

A Slow Corner

I recently read an article about creating A Slow Corner in your home. I loved that idea.

This little space was intended to be a dining room, I believe. We recently moved to a little 70s ranch home that we’ve been filling with our things and tweaking what’s here. This space wouldn’t hold our dining table and chairs comfortably so I claimed it for a reading nook. Or better yet, a slow corner.

It’s just off the living room area before you turn to go into the kitchen. The door leads into the laundry room. (I have dreams of putting my Dutch door there someday.)

Longer term, I would like to make some faux wooden beams to wrap around the white ‘pillars’ that are there now. I’d also like to plant morning glories on the fence outside the window to add to the hygge vibe of the room.

This dark green velvet chair is the perfect spot to get lost in a book. Or even my own thoughts.

I found this print of Steve McQueen online. It screamed mid-century to me.

I put our little record player in there along with our ever-growing record collection that spans anywhere from Sinatra’s greatest hits to the Village People to Nat King Cole’s Christmas Favorites. Ha! It’s fun to find new albums wherever we go. The scratchy sounds instantly transport me back to a time before cellphones and a break-neck pace of life. A few of you have asked about my bar cart. I found it in my favorite junk store in Omaha. It was pale yellow (a little rusty) with darkened silver side poles. I taped off the shelves and spray painted the silver a brushed gold. Then I taped them off and spray painted the shelves with a Rustoleum bright white. It was an easy redo that’s made a big impact wherever it lands.

The disco ball lights up in the late afternoon when the setting sun hits it just right through the window. It’s an afternoon delight for sure.

I wanted a bookshelf to run the length of this half wall but didn’t have one that size. So we installed shelves, side by side, in two layers. I’m already running out of space but I’m hoping it will motivate me to NOT buy anymore books until I get these read down a bit more. The books are categorized into history, fiction, non-fiction, faith, memoir/biography, gardening and cookbooks.

The rule I try to adhere to the most in this room is to leave my cellphone somewhere else in the house. This is for slow thinking and slow activities. A time to myself to regroup and just plain ol’ chill.

We all have many responsibilities under the roofs of our homes. What a wonderful concept to create a corner where everything can slow down for a few minutes and reconnection with our true selves can occur.

So. What do you think of this space?

Holding on and letting go

I’m beginning to find my groove here in California.

My home colors are very neutral but my office and workspace? Color invades. My colored glass collection. Crafts of all shapes and sizes. Yummy yarns and hard-to-resist notebooks holding ideas and budgets and books read. I admit to feeling a bit like a superhero lately, releasing them from their boxes and letting them ‘breathe free’.

Minimalism is often confused with taking things down to the bare minimum. When actually, it’s about surrounding yourself with things that serve a purpose – be that utilitarian or simply making you smile. When the sun streaks through each color of glass, it’s a rainbow of happy in the late afternoon.

I wouldn’t be content with a striped down home. I need a little tchotchke and a little zing. Sometimes holding on is an act of self-care. I am, however, releasing something I’ve held onto for far too long. Facebook. Instead of telling myself it’s forever, I’m saying it’s for November through the end of the year. By the new year, I’m hoping it has become obsolete in my world. In reality, I don’t spend a lot of time on it anyway. But when I start scrolling down my feed, I don’t know…I don’t usually feel joy.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed: Even though I share part of my life here online, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the way people feel as if they are keeping in touch with me because they’ve read all about me online. It’s a false sense of connection. It’s an epidemic we are all experiencing these days. We *feel* like we know people we’ve never met and we *feel* as if we are staying connected to those we do know and love, simply because we read their updates regularly. Face to face and voice to voice is falling by the wayside completely.

I’m no Luddite. I luuuuuuuv my mobile phone and social media. Don’t get my wrong. But I love real relationships even more. Hanging up the phone after a conversation or walking out of a coffee shop after a sit down with a friend, feels exhilarating and renewing. I don’t want to lose that feeling. I want to hang on to the belief that those relationships still exist.

Sometimes moving forward, is reaching back into the past and holding on to what is essential and important. Authentic relationships develop in many ways. (And meeting many of you through social media has been such a joy to me.)

Following my gut tells me Facebook is not feeding into my world in a positive and rejuvenating way. And I want to honor that gut instinct.

How do you self-protect while also enjoying the thrill of the online world?

——————–

Amendment:

As I was editing this post, I read a comment on my last Instagram picture. It is from someone who I’ve met through social media and consider a trusted and heart-filled friend. She commented about a recent podcast she’d listened to that encouraged their listeners to daily ‘show ourselves kindness and grace’. Showing ourselves kindness sounds much more lyrical and lovely than my phrase above, ‘self-protect’. I am permanently replacing it in my mind and vocabulary.

(And isn’t it doubly apropos that my Instagram’s friend’s name is Grace??) 🙂

Faster and faster!

She climbed the stairs two at a time, racing against the clock. Her breath was labored and her heart was beating far too fast. She paused for only a second on the landing but knew she must keep going. Red-faced and exhausted, muscles screaming and pulse racing, she pushed herself further. There was a goal at the end. A pleasant experience that would make up for all of this heart-pounding climb. She must. She can! She WILL!

She…….stops.

That’s the way I have felt for the past two months. They have FLOWN by. Our move was a whirlwind filled with waiting and hurry-ups. It was inevitable that the true me, the Greta who knows better, would eventually stand up tall and yell, ‘Enough!’

I do not sustain on a fast-paced tempo for very long . I need downtime. I need time to think. To consider. To pause. The mottos I have adapted over the past few years began rising to the top of the hurried heap.

Do one thing at a time. Do it slowly, deliberately, and completely.

We had just a few weeks to wrap things up in Kansas City before making a quick cross-country drive to our new home in northern California – a concept we hadn’t even considered just a few short weeks before. Then we needed to hurry up and find a place to live. There were the inevitable snags and close-calls and more than a few late-night panics. After finding a place to live we then needed to organize the moving of our belongings – from 7 states away.

It was all for a good ending – the prize at the top of the stairs. But my mind and soul were growing more and more weary.

I fell back into the trap of ‘needing inspiration’. I regularly (read: compulsively) checked Pinterest. Made new Pinterest boards based on our new housing specifics. I scoured Instagram for ideas and launching pads of home style creativity.

But one day recently…….I stopped.

This isn’t me. This isn’t the life I have tried to cultivate and edit these past few years. The racing mind was keeping pace with the racing life. It was too much. I needed to stop and RE-re-evaluate.

If it feels overwhelming, simplify it.

For two months I have ignored my gut instincts. Those internal signals that try to point you to who you really are, not who the world is telling you to be. Not unlike a child lost in a busy shopping center, I eventually heard a familiar voice and knew I would be safe and that I was nearing home.

My days have looked a lot differently lately. I went back to my familiar routine (with a few modifications for our new location.) I wrote down the basics on a piece of paper and determined that those things came first. If I got the rest of the moving to do list done, then great. If not, it would be there tomorrow.

And it feels so good. Like taking a deep breath and letting the oxygen penetrate your muscles and joints and expand your lungs to full capacity, I am finding my footing again.

_______________________________

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the word that has made its way into our social media vernacular: ‘influencer’. It seems there isn’t a post that is not talking about the benefits of buying this or the benefits of buying that. These are sincere people that I enjoy following, but have had to step away from because of the internal nudge I feel to ‘buy this’ or ‘buy that’. (aka: they’re doing a good job at their job!)

As hokie as it might seem, I wondered what it would be like to be an ‘influencer’ of something intangible. Like slow living (my particular passion) or encouraging words. Maybe I am just bitter, some would say. I am not in the SWIPE UP category of social media. But I don’t really think that’s what it is. I want to surround myself with slow eating, slow fashion, and slow thinking. And I want to help you find a corner of respite from all the BUY HERE NOW pressures that you experience as well. Let’s slow down a minute, okay? Will life be just as chaotic? Most likely. Will pressures and deadlines still need to be met? Absolutely. But maybe we can navigate those time crunches with a little more grace (to ourselves and others) if we learn how to take some precious time for ourselves every day.

I recently re-read something I wrote in the front page of my Bible years ago but this time I wondered if there are moments in our everyday lives that could use a little Sabbath time as well:

God didn’t need to rest but He rested because He wanted to enjoy His masterpiece and He wanted to give us permission to do that as well.

The Sabbath: a day to refocus your heart, quiet your mind, and to be aware of God’s warm embrace.

The Sabbath is no longer a set of laws needed to be governed, but a condition of the heart that needs to be guarded.

I would encourage you (as I am resetting my own thinking as well) to find a moment of Sabbath in your Tuesday. And your Thursday. And your Saturday. Find moments of Sabbath to slow down, take a breath, and refocus your mind on what is important – not what is pressing.

We’ll get this right yet. How do you find time to slow down and gain your footing? I’d love to hear your ideas – both logistical and metaphorical.

Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
~ Mary Oliver, Westwind