I'm so glad you are here.
Join me in cultivating joy, living with intention and celebrating the everyday miracles all around us.
The peonies burst into bloom this week and they were gorgeous – lovely, full flowers loaded with fragrance and life. I admired them for several days and enjoyed seeing the gathering of ants, bees and bunnies all feasting on the delicious foliage. I was surprised though at how quickly their blooms faded and drooped under their own weight. Their brief beauty reminded me to savor each moment this summer, or much like the peonies, the days will fade away too quickly.
Perhaps it is the fact that my daughter is entering her Senior year of high school (this seems to bring many aspects of life into sharper focus). Or perhaps it is because last summer was so slow due to the many pandemic-related restrictions. Even though I am grateful we are emerging from the fog of isolation into “normal,” my completely packed June schedule is making feel uneasy.
It will require intention and conscious effort to avoid sliding right back into those chaotic days in which you barely catch your breath. If I learned anything this past year, it is that the celebration of busy is overrated. I am focusing on enjoying quiet moments of stillness and gratitude. Of course, I will also be sure to fit in the summer activities I love – bike rides on the beach, exploratory walks on our property searching for the illusive arrowheads left behind long ago.
I will savor summer. Mornings on the screened porch listening to the symphony of birds and frogs as the earth awakes. Going on adventures – to our beloved Hilton Head Island and some local exploration in our new home state. Perhaps most of all I will savor the sunsets – all the glorious sunsets I can soak in.
Wherever you are and whatever your situation, I hope you too can savor summer. Remember the childhood magic of a long summer day – the beauty, the richness and the joy of it all.
“Every act of kindness is a prayer.”
These words of author and illustrator Joan Walsh Anglund epitomize the joy and beauty she shared with the world for 60 years. With a prolific career, she published 120 books and sold over 50 million copies. Her delightful pen-and-ink drawings are beloved around the world, even Queen Elizabeth II is a fan. I have written often of my love of Children’s Literature and it is fair to say that Joan Walsh Anglund was one of my earliest inspirations. She was woven into my childhood so that I cannot remember a time that her work wasn’t part of my life. Her illustrations graced my bedroom walls as a little girl, her books were always by my bedside and we often had a calendar or seasonal decoration with her artwork on display.
When I learned of her passing earlier this month, I was not sad, I was grateful. I can think of no finer example of a life well lived. Her unique style, which she crafted in the 1950’s and 60’s was timeless – referred to by Publisher’s Weekly as, “instantly recognizable delicate images of sweet-faced, dot-eyed children.” I count myself one of the lucky ones to have grown up in the worlds she created. Each time I saw her illustrations or read her words I felt happy. Now, I feel a lovely nostalgia as I revisit them once again. She lived her life sharing wisdom and grace with generations. What a gift.
Somehow, it feels she was “mine.” She was adored by my Great Aunt Vivian and my mother, which, to my young mind, was certainly a stamp of approval. However, it was the dedication of the “Joan Walsh Anglund Story Book” (my favorite JWA book) that solidified that feeling for me. “These were stories I told at bedtime to my granddaughter, Emily…” and then at the bottom of the page was the drawing of a little blonde-haired girl. I was a blonde-haired granddaughter; it was as if she was writing for me too! I felt an instant kinship to Emily. I am ever grateful to her for sharing her grandmother with me all these years.
Joan’s childhood must have been a delight – the daughter of artists, she grew up playing beneath her father’s drawing table. She shared a close relationship to her devout Irish Catholic grandmother who took her to mass and read to her from the book, “The Lives of the Great Saints.” As Tim Jackson so eloquently shares in his remembrance of her, “Her love of drawing and poetic language, of spirituality and family remained central to her life and an inspiration for her art.”
Upon reflecting on my fond memories of Joan Walsh Anglund’s work, I set out to find my childhood books. Having recently moved with boxes left to unpack, it was a bit of a challenge. I quickly found a book of her poems and prayers I read to my own children. After some more digging, last night I found my treasured 1978 copy of the “Joan Walsh Anglund Story Book.” Reading that dedication to Emily brought tears to my eyes. As I reread each story, memories flooded in. I moved often as a little girl – attending a different school for Kindergarten, First, Second and Third grade. I clearly remember my different bedrooms, with this book by my side. Her familiar stories serving as my constant and forever friends.
I must admit, at one point in my childhood, I did question Joan’s lack of facial features on her young characters. For some reason, I was especially bothered that the teddy bear and his young owner in, “A True Teddy Bear,” did not have mouths. So, I did what any young, determined child would do, I drew them in myself. I instantly regretted it and decided that Joan Walsh Anglund did, in fact, know what she was doing. She artfully allowed her characters to express emotion without the need for such details. We all knew the boy and the bear were happy, their smiles unspoken, but they were there – that was her magic. I never questioned her artistic style again, but I kept the smiles as a reminder of my misjudgment. Imagine my delight to find those penciled in smiles staring back at me as I opened the book over thirty years later.
While I have too many favorites to count, I found great comfort in the closing poem from her Story Book, words that saw me to sleep many nights as a young girl.
Good-by to all the stories now,
The sun has set, the shadows fall,
The stars, like candles,
light the blue.
A downy pillow waits for you.
The quilt is tucked about your bed.
And so… to dreams,
Thank you Joan Walsh Anglund, for your beautiful stories. And thank you Emily, for sharing your grandmother with us all.
For the full article by Tim Jackson: https://artsfuse.org/224702/arts-remembrance-poet-and-illustrator-joan-walsh-anglund/
Spring is near and we have been blessed with a few beautiful weather days in which I can open the windows. There is something energizing and renewing about letting in that fresh, cool Spring air. This is one of the few times each year that I actually enjoy cleaning. It allows me to feel the weight of winter lift and a joy return that only fresh air and sunshine can offer.
In this spring cleaning, there is a sense of creating space – in a very literal way, but it also extends to my spiritual self as well. Creating space for myself to think, to simply be. Life can be so overwhelming, that creating space, clearing the clutter in your physical world and in your mind, allows you to take a deep breath. To rest. To recharge and to welcome in the new, the truthful, the authentic.
Clearing the physical clutter can help improve our mood. It offers a sense of control when we clean out unnecessary items, sort through the piles of paper and other chaotic spaces and regain a sense of order. It allows you to breathe a little easier and gives you clarity. By removing the clutter and mess, you can see with fresh eyes – creating a sense of appreciation for the items which are truly important to you. Items that were buried in the clutter before now take on a place of honor. (Such as a beloved photo of my children when they were little and adorably squishy, long-buried, that is now prominently displayed.)
In much the same way, clearing the mental clutter is empowering and freeing.
What is mental clutter?
It can be any number of things. For me, it tends to be all of the worldly expectations – the “shoulds” (“I should be more successful, more disciplined”). It can also be the negative voice in my head. “Why can’t you be more patient?” Or, “Why can’t you get it together? You are always running around at the last minute.” Little, petty attacks that add up – do they sound familiar? It is also the constant mental to-do list. That slow drip of responsibilities appears small on the surface but can overwhelm you to the point of exhaustion.
How do you clear this mental clutter and create space?
First, pause and breathe.
Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to consider what clearing your mind feels like. We are so busy, so preoccupied, that many of us have never even thought about it. What does it look like? Feel like? Put it into words, imagine it fully. There is power in naming it.
I highly recommend carving out quiet moments each day to experience silence – no phone or device, nothing other than perhaps a notebook and pen to record thoughts and observations. Become aware of the noise in your head. I am a big believer in beginning my mornings in quiet reflection. This does require me to wake up early, but it gives me a sense of perspective and connection to begin my day. I often reserve my daily commute for silence. As much as I love a good podcast or phone conversation, my mind benefits from the quiet and being able to sort things out. We take in so much information all the time, that silence offers a reset for our stressed minds.
The benefit of creating space is that by clearing the clutter, you begin to envision new opportunities and possibilities. It can allow you to see the breakthroughs you didn’t even know were there. One of my favorite books growing up was The Secret Garden, in which a young girl discovers a door to a secret garden behind a tangle of overgrown weeds. The clutter and noise of our modern world are like weeds. They will choke out joy and beauty for their own survival until you don’t even realize the door was ever there.
Deep down, I believe we all have a truth, a purpose available to us. That “secret garden” of opportunity. That is why we feel unsettled and though we’re not sure exactly what it means, we sense there is something more. The problem is that it takes space, breathing room, to figure it all out. The break-neck speed at which most of us operate never allows for such a discovery.
This Spring, as you clean and declutter your house, think about the ways in which you can clear the mental clutter as well. Create space for yourself to be silent and to listen. To connect with you who truly are and who you want to be in this world.
Early morning silence – this has been my practice for years. Soaking in the silence, before any external news or clutter enters into my mind. I first sit in silence, it grounds me.
Dog by my side.
Coffee in hand.
Fire dancing in the fireplace.
I sit in gratitude.
Journaling and reading is also part of my morning ritual, but the silence – that’s the golden thread that helps me connect with my highest self and with the Divine.
I write of it often, the overwhelming amount of noise and clutter in our lives. Simply glancing at your phone can send you down a rabbit hole of information you had no intention of seeing or wanting in your head. It takes true intention to steer clear of the negativity that bombards us all.
Sitting in silence gives me strength.
Sitting in silence gives me courage.
Sitting in silence gives me hope.
Sitting in silence anchors me.
I share this as encouragement and a gentle reminder, that silence can often give us the answers we seek. Perhaps you are simply in need of a few moments of peace and quiet. Perhaps you have deep troubles that you are praying can be resolved. Whatever the situation you face, I have found silence is always helpful – if you allow it in.
Not surprisingly, I also wrote about Silence exactly one year ago, as Lent began. There is something about the depths of winter and hope of Lent that reminds me of the importance of silence as a spiritual practice.
May you find peace in the silent moments.
In this world of needing to do and achieve more, we are driven to measure everything. Workouts and health goals are now translated to trackable data – calories in, calories burned, pounds lost. The competitive nature in us wants to set goals and track them. This can be positive; I love my smartwatch and the accountability it offers. The hourly ping reminds me to keep moving throughout my workday and I have been known to walk around the house right up until the moment I climb into bed in order to meet my step goal.
However, in my effort to track every step and chart my health goals, my yoga practice became less of a priority. I love a slow, restorative practice but that doesn’t offer much in the way of steps. I eventually stopped my beloved yoga sessions.
I have come to realize that not everything in life can be measured, but it is important to do it anyway.
With the new year came a new intention. In my search for CLARITY (my guiding theme for the year), I knew I needed to recommit to my yoga practice. Though the benefits don’t necessarily pump up my daily step or calorie count, the reward of this daily practice is much deeper – it is good for my spirit. It is a time to quiet my mind, close my eyes and connect. It allows the outside world to disappear.
Though I had been away from yoga for nearly a year, I was reminded why I love it as soon as I rolled out my mat. Yoga meets you where you are. Somedays it is child’s pose and a few gentle stretches as my entire practice. Other days include more flow and movement. I am learning to listen to my body and trust what it needs that particular day. Whatever I end up doing physically, it always leaves me feeling refreshed spiritually.
Our bodies are miraculously resilient. It is amazing what happens when we treat ourselves well, with kindness and intention. Adding a gentle, daily yoga practice into my hectic, busy days has made an enormous impact on the way I feel in a short amount of time. I am gaining strength and reclaiming my flexibility; I am beginning to feel like myself again.
While I will continue to measure my steps and other physical activity on my smart watch, I will also hold fast to the knowledge of the restorative power yoga offers me. And it doesn’t have to be a formal practice. There are many mornings that I drop down on my kitchen floor and hold child’s pose as I allow my body to wake up for the day. Similarly, after a long time sitting at my desk, a few stretches allow me to ease the tension that has built up during my workday.
Perhaps you can learn from my experience, that it is okay not to measure every possible thing. Life is a rich, complex experience. The movement and accountability towards better health are good; however, they are not everything. Remember to make time for the work that speaks to your soul – whatever that is: reading, painting, walks in nature – anything that allows you to forget the world and tune into your true self.
We are eleven days into the new year. Perhaps, you felt as I did and this didn’t feel like the year for big resolutions, with everything seemingly unsure around us. This year, rather than setting year-long goals, I chose one word as a guide. That word is CLARITY. The past two and half years have been an upheaval; moving from our home of twelve years, living in a rental house for the last two years and experiencing all the changes associated with relocating to a new state. New jobs, new schools, building a home; it has been a busy and chaotic time.
As I begin the new year in my new home, I am grateful beyond measure. I am also in deep need of clarity. When life is unsettled, distraction seems to be everywhere.
But this is not about my quest for clarity. This is about recognizing the importance of the small steps in our lives.
We think it’s the big moments that define our lives – the wedding, the baby, the new house, the dream job. But really, these big moments of happiness are just the punctuation marks of our personal saga. The narrative is written everyday in the small, the simple, and the common. In your tiny choices, in these tiny changes. In the unconsidered. The overlooked. The discarded. The reclaimed.
– Sarah Ban Breathnach, Something More
I find relief in this; we don’t need huge sweeping changes to define us. After a season of such changes, it resonates with me that the small, often overlooked moments are what make us who we are.
Actress and author, Mariel Hemingway wisely points out, “By focusing on the day-to-day choices that you can control, you anchor yourself squarely into your life as it unfolds right now.”
I love the idea of being anchored. In the last few years, I have felt unsettled and adrift. Being anchored is comforting. To know my own choices and actions, while seemingly small and insignificant, can act as an anchor is empowering. This awareness helps me to make better choices for myself.
We are in a bewildering time – uncertain and unsure. I choose to hold onto hope, to be encouraged that the small things matter. Yesterday, one of my small choices was to take a walk in the cold, gray winter landscape. Choosing to breathe in the fresh, crisp air and clear my head for a brief walk outside. Each step, literally, an opportunity to anchor myself in the present moment. I invite you to shift your focus this new year from the expectation of huge change to that of the small steps. Perhaps it is choosing a healthier meal, making time to read in the evening, or claiming a few quiet moments to reconnect with nature.
With gratitude I welcome the new year and each small step, each opportunity to write my story.
I spent this early morning, not by the light of my Christmas Tree, as is my normal December habit; but by the window, watching a meteor shower. Truth be told, I was also up at 2 AM with an unusual, but gratuitous, wakeup call from my dogs. The night sky was ablaze with stars and the meteors were streaking through the crisp, night sky. I watched for nearly thirty minutes before returning to bed. When I awoke later that morning, the meteors were still active, so I quickly woke my children.
We have a pact, I promise to wake them if I am witnessing a meteor shower, but they can’t complain about being tired that day at school. I have been known to wrap blankets around sleepy-eyed children and drag them outside for a glimpse. Thankfully, I had read that this was to last all night, allowing their viewing to not be quite as disruptive. It was nice to watch this show from the comfort of a pile of blankets and pillows on the kitchen floor. (Though there is nothing like standing in the cold of a winter morning and watching the meteors overhead.)
Seeing the wonders of the night sky makes me feel incredibly small and overwhelmingly large all at once. A connectedness to the energy and power of this magnificent universe.
And this year, we get a rare celestial treat on the Winter Solstice. Jupiter and Saturn have been moving in conjunction and will be the closest they have been since 1623, but an occurrence that hasn’t been visible to the naked eye since 1226. It is being called “The Christmas Star” because some astronomers believe the Star of Bethlehem could have been a planetary conjunction similar to what we will see on December 21st, (although two thousand years ago, it would have been Venus and Jupiter converging). The best time to view this event, according to experts, is 45 minutes after sunset on the longest night of the year.
I might be a bit of a geek when it comes to stars and planets in the night sky, but this is something we can all look at with a sense of hope. 2020 has been a difficult year, one that has impacted everyone in some way. There is a heaviness in the sheer chaos and destruction caused by the virus. But this, THIS is a hopeful sign; one not seen in nearly 800 years. The Bethlehem Star, an event associated with wisdom, prophecy and peace on earth, is making an appearance in just a few days.
I believe there are brighter days ahead, but that we still face a difficult winter. Witnessing such events and taking time to stand outside and soak them in; to feel small and huge all at once, is hopeful for me. I don’t believe in coincidences; I choose to believe we are being given the gift of hope this December as 2020 ends. And, I for one, receive it with open arms and a heart full of wonder.
Wishing you hope,
My Christmas Tree is up.
This has never happened. I am a strict “after Thanksgiving only” rule follower when it comes to Christmas trees and Christmas music. But this is not a normal year and those rules do not serve me in our current situation.
My tree is up.
I’m playing a healthy dose of Christmas songs on repeat.
I’m not making any apologies. In fact, I recommend it.
I am enjoying quiet moments with only the lights of the Christmas Tree – its soft glow brings me joy. As the days are shorter and night has set in before I arrive home from work, the warm light is a welcome comfort.
I had some vague idea that Christmas Trees as we know them originated in Germany, but the symbolism of evergreens in winter dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome. Many cultures believed that hanging evergreen boughs in your home protected you from evil spirits and illness. The ability to remain green while all else has gone dormant represents the triumph of life over death. This continuity of life was reassuring then, as it is now.
So maybe I’m not such a genius after all for having my tree and fresh wreaths up early. If we ever needed such symbols of life and wellness, this is the year. I will allow myself the gift of more quiet mornings by the tree. Evenings with a good book by that same light seem to be in order as well. This is not a suggestion to rush right past Thanksgiving, but rather to intentionally create the warmth and joy that comes as we enter into this winter season. Thanksgiving will be a day of gratitude as it always has been, though it will look and feel different this year.
The joy of the tree and all of the wonderful memories associated with it are a comfort as we face winter – one of deep introspection and fewer distractions. The shimmer of the lights takes me back to my Aunt Vivian’s beautiful tree with real candles balanced ever so gently on the branches. Their flickering flames dancing on the Dining Room walls as we joined together for our Christmas meal full of Southern home-cooked food, spirited conversation and laughter. Now almost all of those beloved family members are gone. I am grateful that every so often, the light catches just right and takes me back to that crowded dining table of my childhood.
Other moments I remember the Christmases past when my children were completely enthralled with the lights and the pure excitement of it all – the letters to Santa with a plate of cookies and carrots (for the reindeer) carefully placed beside the tree. A magical time that still fills my heart with gratitude – I said then, and still firmly believe now, that one of the greatest gifts of parenthood is seeing Christmas through your children’s eyes.
Whatever your memories, some joyful, perhaps some tinged with sorrow; may they bring you peace this winter. This extended Christmas season I will soak in the beauty of the tree, the simple pleasure of quiet moments with only its light in the dark and quiet house. And the reminder that there is hope in this world as long as there is light. I decided to bring the twinkling lights of the Christmas Tree in a little earlier this year, I am so glad I did.
I'm so glad you are here.
Join me in cultivating joy, living with intention and celebrating the everyday miracles all around us.