When I Don’t Know What Else to Do: Everyday Magic, Day 1025

Since the riots of hatred last Wednesday, it’s hard to get my bearings. Like most of the people I know, the word “unbelievable!” peppers many conversations which are often about despair, fear, insomnia, and especially how little we can do to change this situation at the moment. This is not to say that we-the-people don’t have some power and agency overall, but between now and the inauguration, there’s just a fog of foreboding and uncertainty.

What do when I don’t know what to do? Something/Anything, to riff off the name of one of Todd Rundgren’s old albums. I broke through some of the stagnancy Sunday by cutting colorful things up or out: fabric and vegetables. Finding a quilt pattern involving 128 triangles helped tremendously even if the pre-requisite was searching through my fabric collection, then ironing a whole lot of things. Slicing and dicing cauliflower, pears, potatoes, onions (for a great soup recipe), apples for an apple crisp, and a mess of tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, and zucchini (for a veggie lasagna) helped enormously.

Yesterday, I played with color in designing some memes for upcoming workshops, and later, I immersed myself in the chilly sunset sky by walking the wetlands with Kris. I remember how, in much more dire circumstances depicted in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved (also one of the best books in the universe), Baby Suggs — anything but a baby and dying — could only find meaning in the colors of her quilt. “Took her a long time to finish with blue, then yellow, then green” is a line that stays with me.

Right now though, I look across my room, thankful for the blues and golds in the quilt on the bed and the sky-filled windows. And that’s enough.

A Small Thanksgiving With Too Many Cranberries: Everyday Magic, Day 1021

Like most of us living in the ever-expansive pandemic lands, I’m looking toward a pocket-size gathering of just our household and our sister-in-law (part of our posse and pod) with the windows cracked open, chairs set far apart, and masks on when not eating. Two out of our three kiddos will be Zooming in, and we’ll likely call other family, including my sisters having a bigger outside gathering because they don’t live in a place that hosts winter.

It’s an odd sensation to be planning a meal for so few. While my sister-in-law is doing the heavy lifting of heavy carbs (stuffing, mashed potatoes, dessert, and oh yeah, the turkey and gravy), and my son is baking the rolls, we’re all about the fruit and vegetables here. We seem to be mainly about cranberries though. I bought four bags of them, figuring we might as well have twice what we need for Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish (oh, the wonders of mixing sour cream, onions, horseradish, and cranberries). Then Ken, thinking we had forgotten the cranberries, bought a whole bunch more. In the end, we probably have 32 ounces of cranberries per person, so they’ll likely be cranberries in the carrot salad, cranberry muffins, cranberry stir-fries, and other ways to use these tart little bursts.

Then again, when I think about it, the cranberry might be the perfect fruit for the resilience and adaptability we need for 2020. They usually need to be sweetened to taste good, but they fare well frozen, fresh, dried, or tossed into an infinite amount of recipes. They also call on us to be more imaginative and adventurous while tending the home fires (or stovetop or oven). They also bring together, in one small bite, the sweet, tart, tangy, bitter, and surprising taste of time.

Which leads me back to this time when all these holidays and traditions we do alone or with our laptops at the table, will next year (I hope and pray) seem so outrageously rare. What will it be like to look back on 2020 Passovers, Easters, July Fourths, Thanksgivings, and all those fabled December holidays as the great exception to the rule, the big rock in the river of our lives that we paddled around, the deviation to the norm? At the same time, like biting into an unexpected cranberry, this time is the strange episode that makes us see the story behind and ahead of us with new eyes that can take in a wider vista of gratitude.

Getting Through February (the Longest Month): Everyday Magic, Day 965

A moment yesterday (big round thing is rain barrel we’re repairing). Note approaching deer.

As life has repeatedly, February is the longest month. Maybe it’s the overwrought repetition of cold, ice, and snow after months of winter. Maybe it’s the shy hints of spring to come — often snow drops before they get snowed under, or days like Thursday, when Harriet and I walked unfettered by heavy coats andg ear in 55 degrees — before the heavy hand of the winter storm warmings land again. Maybe it’s more personal because this is the month when my beloved father-in-law died (10 years ago as of the 10th) as well as my dear friends Weedle and Hadassah died during the shortest month that is anything but short.

Yesterday it snowed, enough so that much of my area of the country was closed to all but those intrepid drivers who ventured out while the accident blotters grew.  Tonight, maybe some freezing rain. Tuesday, more snow. Our local school district has now had so many snow days that even the teachers I know are jonesing to get back into the classroom.

But it’s not just snow and ice flying around in single-digit winds. February is often when I see the most winter birds, having tried of thrashing against winter enough to just watch the bird feeders and Cottonwood Mel fill with juncos, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, bluejays, flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, and usually at some point soon, bluebirds. Squirrels stand on the deck railing, ferreting out the leftover black sunflower seeds. The deer bravely slink across the field to surround the bird feeder too while we hold the anxious-to-protect-us-from-them dog by his collar and tell him to chill out. Yesterday, in the middle of the whirling snow, it looked like a scene from Snow White outside our living room window while beef stew made its way to perfection in the crockpot and I whipped up a batch of applesauce muffins.

As the first February in 23 years that I’m not spending half the month at Goddard at a residency (on unpaid leave this semester), my view is uninterrupted (although Vermont does February seriously). When the sun returns, like right now pouring over my typing fingers as I watch a chickadee hop across the snowy deck, I forget the length and weight of February. Instead, I see how much there is to be with right now. Spring will come, but here is the continual flight of winter wrapping us in its surprises and surrenders.

The Hospitality of Writing: Everyday Magic, Day 951

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hospitality in relationship to both writing and self-care. As someone who loves home (and also roaming widely), and making  welcoming spaces in groups, rooms, and my little heart, I realize that there’s an intimate connection between hospitality and the creative process. The more we can invite ourselves onto the page (with grace and tenderness), the more we can show up for our writing. Plus, showing up for our creative sparks is great training for being more present in our ever-shifting lives.

This led me to develop “A Leap Forward Writing Retreat” for Nov., 3, a day I welcome you to my home to write while having someone else (namely me) support you with a  mini coaching sessions, writing materials and resources to peruse, lovely spaces to perch, and all else I see as creativity hospitality, particularly food. We’ll enjoy healthy, and inviting food when we gather at 10 a.m. and get to know each other, share a bit about what writing we’re each planning to do, then head out to the wilds of the work. Of course, there’ll also be lunch, a chance to check back in with each other, and at the end of our day, something like a Kansas version of an English tea to talk discoveries and next steps.

As for ambling into the wilds, I welcome you into the indoor or and outdoor spaces where I can sit quietly, notebook or laptop nearby, and see what shows up on mysterious page or screen. This post includes photos of some perches for writing while you’re here. You’ll have lots of sky to help clear your mind and nearby woods to show you the details of the up-close and always-in-motion world. By early November, there shouldn’t be any annoying critters in the grasses, and weather-permitting we may even go on a little prairie walk with Ken (my husband and a prairie plant expert).

If a “Leap Forward Writing Workshop” speaks to you, more details here. Whether this works for you or not, please consider however you can bring greater hospitality to your writing, even if it’s just to create a lovely space, meal, or walk to support what wants to be created. After all, writing is a way of coming home to ourselves, so let’s come home to our writing in the most welcoming ways possible.

 

From Your Alley to My Kitchen: Everyday Magic, Day 947

The last few days of July are truly Christmas for All in the Alleys. Because this is a college town with a whole lot of students, too-well equipped by their fretting parents with stuff they won’t use, and these students move out in a hurry when much of our rental housing turns over August 1 each year, you can shop the alleys for home and hearth this week. Sometimes I know what I’m looking for and I find it: a new vacuum, easy chair, throw pillows, or various electronic equipment which may or may not work (if broken, I return it to its alley).

Mostly, though, running the alleys means encounters with things I didn’t know I was looking for, such as new stools for our breakfast counter. The old stools, although painted and repaired numerous times, have largely disintegrated after 23 years of heavy use, one so much that we even turned it into a cat climbing tree. So when I saw big, well-made stools in an errant alley, home they went with me. They were peeling paint, dirty, a little wet from one of our only mini rains in months, and covered with spider webs, mud, and dust.

As I was scrubbing them, then after they dried, sanding and scraping them, I wondered if this was a stupid endeavor. After all, there’s Ikea just 40 minutes away with plenty of cool new stools, plus killer coffee and Swedish meatballs required for any shopper on a mission. Ever the optimist, I thought I could prepare them for painting in a jiffy, but that was far from true. There was also a crack in one of the wooden stats, but before I could talk myself out of this project, Ken showed up with wood glue, a drill, and those brace-holder thingies to repair the slat, so I kept scraping and sanding.

With Radio Bob doing my favorite weekly show, Trail Mix, in the background, I just immersed myself in the likes of Irish ballads and piercing folk tunes while whittling away specks of paint, smoothing edges, and trying not to gauge the wood too much. I have a lot of paint in our basement leftover from numerous projects and yearning to be put to use, but what was on my mind the most was the recent periwinkle and whatever color you would call light, bright blue-green delight my friend Pam and I used to paint the greenhouse this month.

Last night as the sun was going down, I painted those stools those colors, eventually needing to hook up a lamp via an extension cord, which didn’t really help me see what I was doing much better but gave me the illusion of not painting in the dark. I relied on hunches and lots of extra paint, figuring I would touch it all up this morning, but when I came out today to check on the chairs, I found them thoroughly painted with such a few drips and some opposing brush strokes.

There’s something immensely satisfying about adopting trash and training it to be something to park our butts on while we catch up on our days in between eating leftover white cherries and guzzling fizz water. These babies, caught fresh from the alley and reformed into pastel perches, will migrate to the kitchen, joining so much other recycled furniture, once hovering on the edge of destruction and now holding our books, tchotchkes, meals, and even us.