Archive of 'Reflections'

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Un-Related, Related Notes On How To Begin (and Begin Again)

A few thoughts that have been kicking around my head lately.


One: The Yoga Mat

Textured rubber, coiled in the corner; a simple mat, waiting patiently—ready, at the shortest notice, to drop to the floor and help me regain balance.

I am reminded—on this earth we are not just minds but also bodies, and tending to one without the other is to deny our humanity.

Toes dig in, fingertips brush the floor, the others reach to the sky—feel the movement and stillness peel away layer after layer of sitting down, slouching over, stressing out, and giving up.


Two: Pen & Paper

That sound–a tiny, divine sound. The littlest skritch-scratch as tip of pen meets paper. And suddenly black, or blue, or red, or green warbles, loops, dodges and turns across the page.

The invisible made visible–magic.

Three: Courage

Courage is:

Washing the dishes.
Finding purpose.
Being honest.
Seeing beauty in end-of-day makeup and greasy hair.
Realizing that a wall is only built brick by brick.
Finally laying a damn brick on that wall you keep wishing were built.

Four: Beginning

The title promises a secret–a trick. How to begin. But you and I both already know the answer, don’t we?

The only way to begin is… to begin.

We fall off on one side and then the other. We find our way back to the middle only to see it briefly; but it draws us back to itself again and again. By the grace of God, we begin to rest in it more often than we fall. We find balance.

There will be bad days: days when you fight your way out of a web, an entangling, choking maze–days when excuse begets excuse begets… utter nothingness.

But there will also be good days–days of clarity, stillness, excitement, progress. Embrace those days, and remember to thank Him when your pen meets paper and your arms reach for the sky.

And that’s why we begin… and begin again.


Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Drawing a Calendar – My New Year Ritual

I sat down this morning to balance and budget and found that one of my main tools, my home-made calendar, had lost its usefulness yesterday at midnight.

My almighty desk calendar, keeper of bills and birthdays, is simply a big pad of white drawing paper. So I ripped off the page for December 2012, and using a pencil and a ruler I ticked off one and a half inch boxes on twelve pages for January through December 2013–seven across, five down (except for the odd month that has six) on each page–and then drew in the names and dates.

2013-01-01 13.52.15

This process took no small amount of time, and I admit I asked myself why, exactly, I was doing this rather than buying a pre-made desk calendar. My pert answer was that I oughtn’t spend money where it wasn’t necessary, but even as I had that thought I knew it was more than that.

In the same way that I always found writing out my own vocabulary flashcards more helpful than buying them pre-written, the very act of drawing pen and pencil across paper helps me reinforce the width and breadth of the coming days. Not so wide, not so broad, but just so–ready to be lived through, quick to disappear, very definitely themselves.

My holidays were wonderful–with my husband, with a dog, with a nephew, with my parents and brother and sister-in-law… besides the fact that there is more family I wish we could have been with, I could not ask for a more perfect Christmas.

But Christmas is passed, now, and though I’ll keep one eye on it for a bit longer, it’s time to train my other on the horizon–to reorient myself toward what’s behind and what’s ahead, and decide what to do with that precious slice of time in between.

Everyone has their own way of accomplishing this. Today, this was mine. Here’s hoping the new year brings you deep joy and fulfillment, however you choose to greet it.

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

10 Gift Ideas for Turning Over a New Leaf

During the month of December, I have been posting a few gift guides for various individuals in your life. I realize that Christmas is about much, much more than gifts, and I would hate for these posts to emphasize too greatly the place of material things in our lives. However, there can be joy in choosing helpful or beautiful items to give others, and I hope these guides give you some fun ideas. Please note: I am also greatly in favor of supporting small and local businesses. I am linking to products on Amazon because it is convenient, and because if you use any of the links below and then go on to shop on Amazon, I earn a small percentage of your purchase.

For this, probably my final gift guide this year, I want to take a slightly different turn. These books (or, in one case, software) are not necessarily easy to give to people. All but a few of them recommend specific change or action, and that can be tricky to gift unless you are close enough to someone to know that they would appreciate that advice. Instead, if any of these appeal to you, you might consider them as gifts for yourself; maybe something to inspire you in January, if you enjoy taking on new projects in the new year.

1. The Weight of Glory

You could really put any work by C.S. Lewis into this spot and it would be an excellent reminder of what’s important and encouragement to continue on… I picked this one because “The Weight of Glory” is a short essay, and it is one of the best things I have ever read. (This book also contains other works by Lewis which I have not read. But I’m sure they are good.)

2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Stephen King’s thoughts on writing are entertaining, helpful, and inspiring. It would make an excellent gift for yourself, or any writing-inclined person on your list.

3. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Truth be told, I have only read partway through this book (I had borrowed it from a library on vacation and had to leave the next day), but I loved the part I read, and have heard only good things about it. A beautifully written reminder to find happiness right where you are–could be an excellent gift.

4. The Artist’s Way

Part inspiration, part counselor, part journal/workbook… I think there is great value to be had in reading and working through this book, even (or maybe especially) for those who do not consider themselves to be “creative.”

5. The Road Less Traveled

A dear friend gave this to us as a wedding gift, and although I had heard much about it I had never read it myself until then. It is well worth reading–challenging, inspiring, humbling. It may bring out things you did not realize you had pushed deep down inside yourself.

6. Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living

Written by Tsh Oxenreider of Simple Mom, this book is an excellent companion for new year’s re-evaluation. Her simple, practical advice for organizing your life around the things that are most important to you is well worth your time.

7. Organizing from the Inside Out

Along the same lines as Organized Simplicity, but more focused on the nitty-gritty of organizing your space and your time. This book helped me succeed where I had previously failed because it looks at your specific way of working and thinking and builds a system out from there, rather than trying to impose a system over top of what you’re really going to do anyway.

8. It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways

A lot has been said about this book on this blog lately, but I can’t help listing it here. It’s an excellent guide for those interested in improving their health or just learning more about all this “Paleo” and “Real Food” stuff.

9. The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Okay, so now we’re getting very practical and not very exciting. But I have to recommend this book, because Ramsey’s advice (both in this book and on his radio show) have been very helpful to us in learning how to think about and deal with money. It’s an important subject that has to be dealt with, even if we may not want to think about it.

10. YNAB – You Need A Budget

Along those same lines, this software for Mac or PC is an excellent help in implementing a budget like Ramsey recommends.

One final note: I would be loathe to give the impression, by listing out books like this, that I have properly implemented all of this advice and hence perfected my life (Ha!). Not only would that be impossible, but any of you who know me at all know how far this is from the truth. I am listing these books simply because I have found them to be helpful or encouraging and I want other people to know about them in case they are helpful or encouraging to them too.


Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Dirty Dishes: Pied & Beautiful


Dirty dishes, while being cleaned, always seem to speak to me.

Scrape and scrub, swirl and swish, rinse and rinse and watch those bubbles and that filth wash away.

Sometimes they mock me. “We are only going to get dirty again.” they say, “Might as well stop trying.”

But I rinse them and stack them–some in the dishwasher, some in the drying rack–anyway.

My mother has given me the good advice that I ought clean my kitchen every evening before going to bed. I rarely follow this advice–but am much happier when I do.

A daily rhythm–build up the dish pile, take it down again. Clean, dirty, clean, dirty–soap, sponge, scrubbing, cussing–clean.

A rhythm, yes, but there’s the problem–it repeats itself. It’s a switch that won’t stay flipped. It’s a dial that creeps all day around to the wrong side, until it must be turned back again with elbow grease and suds.

And that’s why I hate dishes.

Except, of course, it’s not really dishes that I hate. … It’s actually cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, vacuuming, paying bills, walking the dog…

But wait. I don’t actually hate those things either. What do I hate? Do I?

On a kinder day, the dishes (and I) are in a kinder frame of mind. “This,” they say, while being gently massaged and rinsed, “is simply the way of the world. Everything cycles. Lessons must be learned over and over and over again, and just so often must dishes be cleaned.”

And on that kinder day, in that kinder frame of mind, I realize that they’re right. Everything repeats itself. Everything goes through seasons, cycles, and rhythms. Lessons, seasons, circles, tides–push, pull, in, out, forward, backward–but always onward.

Chores irk me, when they do, because they won’t stay done. I want the good without the bad, the clean, orderly, beautiful, and finished without the dirty, messy, ugly, and incomplete.

But that is not the way of this world. It is variegated–multi-faceted–dappled. No light without dark, no clean without dirty, no growth without pain.

It is the tragedy of this life. But it is also why we revel in each season as it comes–why we celebrate light in the middle of winter, why we rejoice with spring and retreat with fall. It is why we are willing to find joy in repeating our cycles and rituals–because there is beauty in this pulsing, circling, messy, crooked life.

… Even in its dirty dishes.

“I can’t even count,” my Mother says, after giving her advice, “the number of times I’ve cleaned this kitchen.”

Glory be to God for dappled things.

 I pray I am blessed to clean my kitchen just so many times.

(Pied. With a nod–or perhaps apologies–to Gerard Manley Hopkins.)

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Linocut Christmas Cards, A Year Ago

I mentioned on Thursday that I was working on our Christmas cards for this year. The process reminded me of last year, the first year we sent out cards.

I really wasn’t planning to send cards last year, and I certainly wasn’t planning to make them in a somewhat elaborate fashion…  I think this idea was born of an evening at home and a desire to use the linoleum block and linocut tools I had been given the Christmas before.

Several hours and one seriously cramped wrist later, I had managed to carve out the block that allowed me to print this:


A little rustic, but it worked. I figured I ought to take advantage of the fact that we didn’t have kids yet to send a photo-less card. (And then we went and got ourselves a dog this year, so of course that made me feel like we had to have a photo too.)

These were the steps:

1. I made sure I had a linoleum block that was small enough to fit within the margins of my blank cards.

2. I sketched out the design I wanted on paper… this took a while, and went through several iterations.

3. I traced it with tracing paper and a soft-leaded pencil, pressing really hard to make sure lots of lead collected on the tracing paper.

4. I flipped the tracing paper over on the linoleum block and, holding it very still, pressed across the back with a thin plastic knife (a bone folder would have been better).

5. The design was now transferred in lead; but in order to be able to cut it without smudging the design, I redrew it on the linoleum block with a Sharpie. This also allowed me to clean up the design and change it a bit.

6. Then there was the hard work: cutting the bugger. I did not have a great deal of experience with lino-cuts, but even so it cost me a great deal of sweat equity to carve out this simple design.

7. And finally: printing. This is the part I feel least confident in (as you’ll see my prints are somewhat faded), but all I did was put some ink onto a pane of glass, use a rubber roller to transfer the ink onto the linoleum block, and then press the paper carefully onto the block.

Here they all are, this limited run of prints I made on the spur of the moment and laid out on what was then our kitchen table/desk to dry:


It’s so strange to look back at these photos… only a year ago, and yet they feel like they happened in a completely different sphere of existence. Pre-Otis, in our old home… we had been married a year and a half, and now it’s two and a half. How quickly life changes.

Anyway, there’s an idea for you if you’re looking for something crafty to do for Christmas and you don’t have too many cards to make.

What about you? Are you sending cards this year? If so, how have you decided to do them?