B’s been having some fussy days. Brand new teeth, a mystery food allergy (I actually think the culprit is grains, which are pretty new to him), and growing pains. This morning, I strapped him into the stroller to watch the world go by together, hoping it would take his mind off of his baby worries. Of course, I brought the baby carrier, too, because, well, often a walk that begins like this:
Ends like this:
Even when he is in a good mood!
He made it about 15 minutes before demanding the baby carrier. I always enjoy an excuse to snuggle that baby boy, so we walked home with his head nestled under my chin and the stroller pushed along, empty, before us.
In complete earnestness, I say: these are the best days of my life. I know in my heart that raising children is the most important thing I will ever do, my biggest contribution to the world. More important than anything I ever publish, than any service I ever provide, than any item I ever sell. I am fascinated by children, by the biology of how they grow, by the process by which they become their own people.
Motherhood feels important to me. Even the parenting tasks that are commonly maligned or belittled — changing diapers, soothing crying jags, washing sticky fingers, reading favorite books again and again — feel important to me, small pieces of the larger puzzle of good parenting, simple factors that, if multiplied deftly, result in the product of a happy family.
I spent years engaged in academic pursuits the world told me should be deeply fulfilling, but, to me, weren’t. Now I spend my days engaged in domestic pursuits the world tells me shouldn’t be deeply fulfilling, but, to me, are. It took becoming a mother to show me that a mother is what I was always meant to be. I am so thankful to Bennett for bringing my heart to this place.
Especially on, and through, his fussy days.
September arrives on a cool breeze under a brilliant blue sky. This month is a breath of fresh autumn air. Summer is winding down, and with the new season comes, for me — and for many of you, too? — a wonderful sense of a fresh start. A clean page. A new opportunity. September is a much finer month to declare the beginning of a New Year than is January, methinks.
This week, treat yourself to a few quiet moments to center yourself and make The List. You know, The List of New Year’s Hopes and Dreams and Plans that — to be quite honest — is far more challenging to face in the worn, gray, early days of January than in these fresh, clear, golden days of September.
One approach to The List that I love isn’t a list at all: it’s a map. I adore it because it is such a simple and lovely way to identify, clarify, and set your intentions for the upcoming year.
To make your map, take a large square of paper and divide it into nine smaller squares (three rows of three squares). Label the rows of squares, from left to right:
- Abundance & Prosperity | Fame & Reputation | Relationships & Love
- Family & Elders | Health & Center of Self | Creativity & Children
- Skills, Knowledge, & Self-Cultivation | Career | Helpful People, Travel, & Guides
When inspiration strikes, take your paper and pen (or pens — colored ones — if you’d like to stay true to the map’s roots and traditional colors) and step outside into the burgeoning autumn. Sit. Ponder.
Reflect on each square and on the goals you have within it. Dream. Listen to your heart. Be specific. Be honest. The only dreams that belong on your map are the ones that are truly yours — not the ones you feel obligated to have, or the ones others expect you to have, or the ones you wish other people would undertake.
Fill your squares with these dreams. Take a long, last, loving look at your map. Then file it away until next September.
When I have made a map this way, I have been floored by the outcome. When the year has passed and I’ve revisited my map, I’ve been so surprised by how many of my mapped intentions were met — even ones I’d forgotten I’d set for myself, until my map reminded me.
It is as though the map’s grid is a fertile garden plot into which we plant the mental seeds of achievement. As the year unfolds, the mind – often unconsciously — searches for every opportunity to water those seeds, to feed them, and help them grow. We follow those nurturing impulses, and throughout the year, we revel in the bounty that comes forth.
So, take a moment, take a chance. Chart your course for the next year. In the glory of autumn, progress is achievable, and anything is possible.
* * *
Without further ado, here are September’s Walking in Season photos, taken by Matt in the late evening of September 13th (a bit late this month due to Little Miss Irene). And, also as always, you can view the entire 1.5-year collection here or watch a slideshow here.
Stop 1. Phragmites everywhere. And, Stop 1.5 has become too overgrown to easily reach, so we have decided to let it go unphotographed from this point forward.
Stop 2. The water is filmy and black.
Stop 3. Trees were downed in the forest, though not as many as one might think. Perhaps trees in the wood experience lower-force winds during hurricanes than trees out in the open, and therefore fall less often?
Stop 3.5. Invasive plants. Lots and lots of invasive plants. And mosquitoes. Lots and lots of mosquitoes.
Stop 4. The water is high.
It’s been a matter of much discussion and thought as of late, this issue of whether I will finish my dissertation.
Every day, all day, it’s on my mind. In my head, I hear the words of those who love me, “It would be such a shame to have done so much work and not be credited for it!” I also hear the words in my heart, “It would be such a shame to stay on this path when the life you want awaits you on another.”
I was 24 when this whole PhD business began. I am 33 now. In the intervening years, a sea change has occurred in me. In what I want for myself, what I value. What I think of academia, what I think of science. Where I want to take my life, and how I want to get there.
I’ve been telling myself: July is it. July is the month. You make a real effort to move on this dissertation, or you hand the data over and let it all go.
Today, I walked the house with Bennett in a sling, his legs folded like the Buddha, facing outward. He watched the house go by; I pondered the choice that lies before me. We passed the wall calendar, a work of beauty by Nikki McClure, each month assigned an action word and an accompanying image: behold, endeavor, expect, and the like. Today, June 30th.
“Tomorrow is July! Let’s change the calendar page!” I said to Bennett. “What will the word be?”
And there it was, like a directive from beyond myself, in capital letters, stark white against a black background:
I stood, looking at that word. Blinking. Stunned.
I kissed the top of Bennett’s head.
July. A good month to make a choice.
How difficult it can be to distinguish good from bad. Fortune from misfortune. The right path from the wrong. So often, to our surprise and consternation, we find these opposites to be entwined. Inseparable.
There’s a parable that surfaces in various forms in various cultures that speaks to this. The version that comes most readily to my mind (because, in our rare free moments, when we’re too tired for anything but TV, we Netflix Northern Exposure, which is quite possibly the most wonderful show ever made) is this one, from the NX episode “Bolt from the Blue,” as related by character Marilyn Whirlwind:
My uncle once told me about a warrior who had a fine stallion. Everybody said how lucky he was to have such a horse.
”Maybe” he said.
One day the stallion ran off. The people said the warrior was unlucky.
”Maybe” he said.
The next day the stallion returned, leading a string of fine ponies. The people said it was very lucky.
”Maybe” the warrior said.
Later, the warrior’s son was thrown from one of the ponies and broke his leg. The people said it was unlucky.
”Maybe” the warrior said.
The next week, the chief lead a war party against another tribe. Many young men were killed. But, because of his broken leg, the warrior’s son was left behind, and so was spared.
* * *
When faced with events that teach us that good and bad are two sides of the same coin, learning to accept their duality but to focus on the good almost always makes for a happier life, I do believe.
Last night, for the first night in a long while, the weather was cool enough for us to throw the windows open wide. So wonderful!
Our first home in this town faced a highway and backed to a neighborhood whose night noises featured passing trains, car engines, motorcycles, barking dogs, chatting (and arguing) people, and house parties into the wee hours. Streetlights shone in, and the air held exhaust.
Now, we live tucked away, and the only sounds that float in on the evening breeze are crickets and cicadas, frogs and toads, the hoots of owls and the rustle of leaves. Moonlight is the only light that falls on us as we slumber, and the air through the open windows is fresh and clear.
When Mother Nature tucks me in and sings me a lullaby, I sleep so very well.
Noise and silence are often on my mind these days… A post on these and their effects on our bodies and minds is coming soon.
Until then, wishing you a cool, comfy weekend and easy slumber adrift on a sea of gentle night noises!
Tonight holds the full moon of August. To Native American tribes of the Great Lakes region, August’s moon was known as the Sturgeon Moon, as this time of year was prime season for catching sturgeon, a large fish species (up to 6 ft!) once common in the Great Lakes, but sadly now quite rare due to overfishing in the late 1800s.
To Colonial Americans, the moon of August was the Dog Days Moon; to the Cherokee, the Fruit Moon. Both apt names, for certain!
If your skies are clear, be sure to step outside and enjoy the view this evening!
I do declare: pattypan squash just may be the most adorable squash in existence. Its name is definitely the most fun to pronounce out loud (say it with me — happiness will follow!): pattypan, pattypan, pattypan! We had some today for lunch, sauteed with white beans, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. I do love it when both Matt and I are working from home — we cook and eat our biggest meal mid-day, and it really suits us.
Summer is easing toward fall. Slowly, tentatively, the heat of midsummer has started to subside. The light is changing — have you noticed it, too? Each year, something within me senses the shift before my mind fully registers that it has begun: a subtle downshift in mood from the buoyancy of high summer, a slight lag of the internal clock.
Annually, surprisingly, the reason for these internal changes does not occur to me until the inevitable late August night when I glance out the window and note with a jolt that the twilight view that had greeted me at 9 PM in June now arrives almost an hour earlier.
In just a month, autumn will officially be here. Enjoy those last trips to the pool and the beach, everyone! And, if back-to-school shopping is in your future, relish that, too. I still get a little giddy at the prospect of buying new pencils and notebooks, markers and folders. The hunt for school supplies is a pleasure I will never outgrow!
Faro and Doris Caudill, homesteaders. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. From The Denver Post.
Matt sent me a link to this wonderful collection of rare color photographs from the late 1930s and early 1940s, taken as color slides by photographers from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information to capture scenes of rural and small town America during the Great Depression.
For those of us born long after the 1940s, it is striking, almost jarring, to see the lives of folks of that time caught in crisp color. Seeing these photos, the people and events suddenly felt real to me in a way they never had when I’d viewed black-and-white images from that era, or films reenacting it.
So take a look. One pattern that particularly struck me was the prevalence of hats on people of all ages, which is a sartorial trend that is deserving of a comeback!
I’m a big advocate of hats, both because they are lovely, and because they (along with lightweight long sleeves and other common-sense measures like seeking shade and avoiding mid-day sun exposure) can offer more consistent and effective (and potentially safer) sun protection than sunscreen, particularly when sunscreen is used as most of us use it: inconsistently and in inadequate amounts.
In that vein, here are links to the Environmental Working Group’s surprising sunscreen facts (so interesting, particularly the recent FDA finding that Vitamin A/retinyl palmitate, a common sunscreen ingredient, applied to the skin in sunlight can speed the formation of skin cancers), their incredibly helpful list of best sunscreens, and their “find your sunscreen” search tool.
Whatever protective measures you choose, have fun out there in these last weeks of summertime! It’s hard to believe that autumn and school are just around the corner…
Not long ago, I read an article in Whole Living (one of my favorite magazines, which went by the moniker Body + Soul until a recent name change) that provided me with a moment of revelation about how to live a contented life, and another moment of revelation about why I blog.
The article, “The Giving Cure” (November 2009), was written by a woman named Cami Walker. In it, Walker tells the story of the anxiety and depression she sunk into after her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis (MS), and the surprising strategy she discovered to pull herself out of it.
MS is a neurodegenerative autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and manifests differently in every MS patient, depending on which nerves are affected. MS can ultimately lead to loss of mobility and independence. There is no known cure.
After her diagnosis, Walker was paralyzed with fear and depression, isolating herself from others and worrying about her future. One day, she had a conversation with a practitioner of integrative medicine. This woman provided a supportive shoulder to cry on as Walker vented her fears and frustrations.
Then she said to Walker, ”Cami, I think you need to stop thinking about yourself… If you spend all your time and energy focusing on your pain, you’re feeding it. You’re making it worse by putting all of your attention there… [Y]ou are falling deeper and deeper into a black hole. I’m going to give you a tool to help you dig yourself out.”
The tool: to give away 29 gifts in 29 days. The gifts need not be of the material sort. Walker’s friend said, ”Healing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but through our interactions with other people. By giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life.”
Walker ignored the advice for awhile. She was skeptical that it would make any difference. But one day, at a desperate point, she decided to give it a try. She called another friend with MS and went for a visit. She felt wonderful afterward — light and calm. So she kept giving. She donated money to charity. She gave a meal to a homeless man. She donated unneeded belongings to the Goodwill. She filled a friend’s parking meter with quarters. She sent positive thoughts to loved ones and to struggling strangers. ”I gave and gave, and and a funny thing happened: I started receiving gifts myself… All in all, I felt buoyed up by my efforts, and happier than I had previously believed I could be.”
She called the woman who had advised her to begin giving a gift daily. Walker told her, “It’s weird. I feel like I’m being supported everywhere I look… The more I give little things, the easier it’s become for me to accept assistance and love from others. Instead of being tied up in knots all the time, I’m much closer to a peaceful state.”
Walker finished her first 29 days of giving, and was so transformed, she has kept on giving ever since. She says, “I wish I could say that sharing gifts cured my MS, but that would be dishonest. I still live with the effects of the disease, but I cope a lot better and feel significantly less pain. I still inject myself daily with a drug that has slowed the progression of MS, according to my latest MRI. Most importantly, the pain no longer controls me.” She has even started a website where others who choose to try her “29-Day Giving Challenge” can share their stories.
Walker’s article outlines these six secrets to giving — all of them important aspects of the practice:
1. Start with gratitude. Write down what you’re most thankful for and make a point to share at least one item on your list.
2. Keep it simple. Small gestures often make the biggest impact. Smile at a stranger, offer a coworker a sincere compliment, or buy someone lunch for no reason.
3. Give up expectations. Let go of judgments about how your gift will be put to use. Once you’ve given it, your gift will take care of itself.
4. Receive graciously. Giving without receiving will deplete your energy. Remember to be receptive to what others are eager to share.
5. Wing it. Resist the urge to plan all 29 gifts in one sitting. Stay open to the gift-giving opportunities that occur naturally throughout any given day.
6. Challenge yourself. What are you hesitant to give? Your time? Unconditional love? Ask yourself why and try to let those hang-ups go.
As I read Walker’s article, I realized that, over the last seven months, through the writing of this blog, I had experienced the very transformation of which she spoke.
I did not know at the time I began A Life in Season that I was following the 29 Gifts path, but in retrospect, I was. I started this blog during a sad time, during which I was very focused on Read the rest of this entry »
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
- E. M. Forster (1879-1970)
I fought this lesson for most of my twenties. Finally, in my early thirties, I have been learning (and accepting) it. It has not been an easy process, but I will tell you: the life that was waiting is proving more wonderful than the life I, for so long, had believed I should be living.
All this is to say: never be afraid to let go of the plans and beliefs and goals that no longer fit, no matter how long you’ve held them. Be willing to close a door. It really is true that others will open.
(And for the parties who may worry that this post signals an abandonment of the thesis: it does not. Don’t fret!)