Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter Survival Tips

My latest quilt top--an Irish Chain.

Every winter is the same--two days in a row of gloomy weather, and I'm in a funk. This winter I'm trying to be proactive and practice the habits that keep me from getting too down. In the name of the sisterhood, I'm going to share some of them with you in hopes we'll all make it to spring with smiles on our faces.

1. A walk a day will cure what ails you. I start most of my mornings by taking Travis for a turn around the neighborhood. No matter how cold or overcast it is, there are always birds singing in the trees and plenty of beauty to go around. I've decided if I ever start a New Age Celtic band, I'm going to call it Wintervine. Branches make me happy, as does watching Travis in all his canine aliveness.

2. I'm not a Buddhist, but sometimes I play one on TV. When I'm in a funk, I try to do as my buddhist friends do:  Practice awareness. Find the source of distress. Chop wood, carry water. If my mind is going down a neurotic rabbit hole, which happens a lot this time of year, I make myself stop and sit down, preferably with a cup of tea. I say the Lovingkindness meditation ("May I be filled with lovingkindness/May I be safe from inner and outer dangers/May I be well in body and in mind/May I be happy and at ease), first for myself, and then for the Man and the boys and whoever else comes to mind. I breathe in deeply through my mouth and let the breath out through my nose.

After I'm done with that, I've usually calmed down enough to pinpoint what's really bothering me and come up with ways of dealing with the problem. After that, I go chop wood and carry water--which is to say I do the dishes and pay attention to how the warm water feels as it washes over my hands in their yellow gloves, or I practice being aware of the feeling of the stairs on the bottom of my feet as I carry up the laundry. There is something about paying attention to your own life as you're actually living it that's amazingly therapeutic.

3. If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful. I got this notion from Sam Wells, who was Dean of the Chapel at Duke before he left us to go to St. Martin's in the Fields in London last summer. "If you can't make it happy, make it beautiful" was the theme of the sermon he preached on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He was talking about large tragedies, but I apply this to smaller sadnesses as well. Some days will simply be gloomy and sad, and there's not much you can do about them ... except do your best to make them beautiful. Clean the house, move the art around so you can appreciate it anew, make bread, work on a quilt ... And straighten out your altars. I wrote about this last year here, and it's still one of the best ways I know to settle my mind. There is something about uncluttered table tops that is a balm for the soul.

4. Remember: God is your co-pilot. Now, for those of you who aren't religious, or at the very least aren't Christians, you may think me quite mad when I tell you that one thing that lifts my spirit is pretending Jesus is in the car with me. There's a prayer I wrote down once (and now can't find anywhere) that begins, "Jesus, my good brother." So that's what I call Jesus in the car. "Jesus, my good brother," I say, and Jesus raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Hmm? How can I help you?" Then I ask him to keep us all safe and to keep me from despair and to make this a day where no children are harmed, and, while he's at it, if he could keep me from overdoing it with sugar, well, that would be nice, too.

It's very cheering to have Jesus in the car with you. If that's too much of a stretch for your spiritual (or nonspiritual) sensibilities, may I suggest imagining the Dalai Lama riding shotgun? I think he would be a boon companion as well.

5. Write notes to yourself and carry them in your pockets. Last week when I was feeling gloomy, I remembered Sam's story about making all your tables into altars, so I wrote the word "altar" on a tiny piece of paper and put it in my pocket. I don't know why it made me happy to carry around the word "altar" with me all day, but it did. I also write down bits of poems and Bible verses and songs and shove those in my pockets, too.

Those are the main steps I take to shake the winter blues. I also work on quilts and knit socks and dream big dreams of sunny days. And drink a lot of tea. It all helps, and when it doesn't, I go to bed early and remember that tomorrow is another day.

So what do you do to keep from feeling blue?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Report

Travis, a delicate flower in his own right

It's Friday afternoon, or, more to the point, early evening (5:25). Outside the trees and the roads and the sidewalks are slick with ice after a lovely afternoon storm that sent down sheets of sleet. Fortunately, the storm seems to have passed, and with any luck it will warm up enough tomorrow to melt the mess away. Nonetheless, I rescheduled my 10 a.m. hair appointment, because who are we kidding? I am a southern weenie who spent four years in Massachusetts refusing to drive in snow. I do not get in my car if there's the chance I might skid four or five inches on a slick spot. I refuse.


My efforts to purge continue ... and I have found the most wonderful way to get rid of stuff! Have you ever heard of freecycling? This is where you offer stuff you don't need anymore to an online group (to find one near you, go here), and if someone wants it, they email you and you arrange to leave it out for them to pick up. All sorts of things are offered on the Freecycle Durham listserv, including, today, an opened box of Celestial Seasons herbal tea. Which, by the way, got claimed almost immediately!

The great thing about freecycling is you can say, "Listen, I've got a big box of Legos and Duplos and what-have-you-o's, and they're all in a big jumble and I don't have any sort of instructions for putting them together and at some point my then-four year old drew on most of them with magic markers; do you want 'em?" And as far as I can tell, someone always wants them.

Yesterday, I decided to put my toe in. I'd joined our local freecycle group a couple of weeks ago and had been standing on the sidelines, seeing how it all worked. And then yesterday, vacuuming the Man's study, I noticed the bag of fancy deluxe gourmet dog treats my mother-in-law gave Travis for Christmas. Now, it was lovely of her to think of him, but the fact is, Travis does best on a simple diet. If you get too fancy on him, his stomach rebels and then there you are, googling "how to keep dog vomit from staining your carpet."

So I decided to freecycle the doggie treats--and, Reader, it worked! I posted my offer around 4 p.m., and by 7 p.m. I had two takers. I emailed the first responder and we made arrangements for the pick-up. Then I put the treats in a Target bag and hung them from the rosemary bush by my mailbox. This afternoon I received an email that the responder had in fact picked them (I haven't ventured outside since the ice started falling at 2, so I had no idea). Done deal!

Freecycling, my friends, is going to be the answer to my attic prayers. All those doods and dads I would never take to Good Will because what on earth would Good Will do with them? Freecycle! The box of craft supplies (including four HUGE jars of glitter) from when I used to teach Sunday school? Freecycle!

It makes me happy that someone came up with this great idea--Freecycle!--and that it works and that we can find new homes for our old stuff. And it reminds me that stuff I might not find valuable (HUGE jars of glitter) might come in very handy to someone else. It's good to ask, right?

Have a great weekend! Stay warm! Or cool!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday's Just as Bad

It's another gloomy morning here in Winterland. I need to go invest in special "happy" lights to keep the blues away, or else go to the gym every single day for the bump in endorphins. Actually, this time of day, post-breakfast, my daily cup of coffee sitting to one side, my loyal canine companion snoozing on the other, is not so bad. The afternoon is when I need some relief from the overcast skies. Mostly I just wander around like an ancient Bette Davis in some haunted Southern manse ... there's a movie where she does that, right? I can't seem to settle on one task--work on a quilt, fold the laundry, make lunches. No, I just float around as though I'm searching for something I lost years ago, but I just can't remember what it is.


Last week I had my colors done. As it turns out, I'm a Summer. For the last thirty years, I've been under the impression that I was a Winter (if you're not familiar with the Color Me Beautiful system, you can check it out here). The Winter message says: Your coloring is crisp and distinctive. Winters are rich and intense in hair and eye color. You receive compliments in bold shades, black white, red and jewel tones. 

Summer? A whole 'nother country: Your overall coloring is the most delicate and understated of all the seasons. 

Summer is the serenity palette, so you should always avoid harsh contrasts by keeping the entire look calm and in complete harmony. 

You receive compliments in pastel shades of rose, periwinkle, sage.

Who knew? I'm delicate and understated. I can wear pale yellow. The stylist who did my color chart held up a light, light brown swatch to my face, and it looked fabulous. All that black I've been wearing for the last thirty years? Totally wrong (although it worked for the punk rock look I was cultivating back in the day).

So now I have to completely revise not only my entire wardrobe, but my self-image as well. All my life I've thought of myself as a brightly-colored bull in a china shop, and it turns out I'm a delicate flower. Lovely.


I went out to lunch with an old friend last week. She's someone I used to work with before Jack was born, and we've stayed in touch over the years, but haven't actually socialized much. She was definitely my favorite coworker back in the day, but as I was driving to meet her I couldn't remember if she was someone I'd just liked an awful lot--and I did like her an awful lot--or if she was someone I loved to talk to. You'd think I'd remember something like that, but I'm old and my memory's not what it used to be.

Here's the thing: there are people in my life I think are fabulous, but I don't actually have that much to say to. There's a woman I used to go to church with whom I adore--she's bright and feisty, the sort of person who actually lives out her values instead of just yapping on about them the way I do. I admire her and like her immensely. But the few times we tried to get together socially, it just didn't work. She's brightly optimistic, I'm darkly somewhat hopeful but also pretty pessimistic. She doesn't read much; I panic if I have to wait somewhere for five minutes without a book. She's an extrovert, I'm an introvert. You get the picture.

So, driving to meet Anne, I worried that all my fond feelings for her wouldn't actually translate into good conversation. Anne's very creative, but her background is in business. She comes from money, I come from the U.S. Army (my dad was career military). Maybe we would discuss the old days at work and then lapse into silence.

Well, I'm pleased as punch to report that we had a grand time. We talked about our children of course, and we talked about work. But we also talked about quantum physics and our wasted college years and the best recipes for deviled eggs. When it came time to go, I hated to say goodbye. It was one of the best conversations I had in years. And we didn't mention the old days once.

The best thing of all? I felt like I'd made a new friend. Who happens to be an old friend. Who happens to be as obsessed with deviled eggs as I am. Life is sweet.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The quilt I made for my SIL this Christmas. She liked it.

How's the attic purge going, you wonder? Well, admittedly, I've lost the teeniest bit of steam, but I have accomplished two things on my list: I organized the big plastic bin of DVDS (which probably shouldn't be stored in the attic, but so far they've survived) , and even more importantly, organized my wrapping paper bins.

Why is it important to have a neat stash of wrapping paper? Why does it feel so good to walk into my attic and see the wrapping paper rolls standing upright, all the gift bags nested together, the ribbons and bows tucked away in plastic bags? This is why people make fun of Martha Stewart, isn't it? For caring about neatly ordered gift wrapping supplies?

But, my dears, I can't help myself--I feel better having done these two small tasks, organizing the DVDs and the gift wrap. I feel like my life makes sense in this one tiny corner, if only there.

Anyway, if you open the attic door and look straight ahead, the attic looks neat and orderly. Just please don't look to your left. Please, no---arrrggggghhhh! 


I've mentioned that I'm volunteering the the N.C. Folklife Institute. Yesterday, I proofread a document that profiles traditional artists, musicians and crafts people from three of our northeastern counties. Interestingly enough, the profiles included a beekeeper and two cantaloupe farmers, expanding one's notion of arts and crafts in a way that I like. I learned that there's a cantaloupe festival every July in Warren County, and I could not be more excited. I would like to spend my summer trekking around to various fruit and vegetable festivals, wouldn't you?

Do you have interesting festivals or pageants where you live? Tell me about them! I love the idea of getting everyone together for a parade or a festival or the Miss Halifax County Hog Queen Pageant. At the New Year's Brunch I went to last week, I suggested we should have an annual neighborhood parade. We could all just walk around in a big group chatting, or else we could make the parade about something. The First Tomato of Summer parade, or a Winter's Finally Over, Thank Goodness parade.


Okay, I'm going to the gym. I don't want to go to the gym, but it's time to get back on that pony. Wish me luck! More soon, if I survive.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Yes, it's me again

See, I told you I'd post more often this year! Aren't I good?

I'm sitting in my study, which for the last month has been ground zero for Operation Christmas Madness. Today I spent several hours putting it to rights while the boys were as lazy as they could possibly be, tomorrow being the first day of the spring term. None of us is ready to go back--or at the very least, none of us is ready to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning. It won't be pretty.

My study is a small, upstairs bedroom that for the most part serves as a storage area for my books and papers, though I'm thinking about making it my actual work space. Normally I write on the living room couch, Travis by my side, but after a very serious effort at finishing a draft in November, many hours a day spent hunched over my MacBook, my back protests at the very thought of sitting anywhere other than a proper chair at a proper desk. As it happens, my study has one of each--a chair and a desk--plus a comfy club chair on loan from my friend Danielle if I need to kick back.

I should take a picture of my desk, which I'm quite fond of, even if I don't ever work there. It has cubby holes where I put my mail--such as it is--and other bits of paper that I collect. Today I went through all the cubbies and sorted and recycled and generally made my desk look like the place where a girl could sit each morning and peck happily away at her computer. Sadly, I did not get to the drawers, which are filled to the brim with decisions to be made--should this paper be saved? Recycled?  Shredded? I try to be ruthless, but it's so hard.

Next up is the study closet, which is jammed with all sorts of nonsense, including several half-finished sweaters and lots of yarn ("wool" to you UK gals) that I will never actually use but don't know what to do with. I feel like my whole house if filled to the brim with things that we don't use but I don't actually know what to do with. That would describe 95% of the stuff in my attic. It's the figuring out the proper disposal which puts the kink in the system. I wish I felt okay about just dumping all of Will's Star Wars figurines and all the plastic flotsam and jetsam he's collected over the past five or six years. But I feel I should re-purpose it somehow. In fact, one idea I've had is to systematically box up every bit of junk--here's a box of Star Wars figures, here's a box of plastic building blocks--and then sell the boxes at a yard sale, cheap. One buck a box of fun stuff your kid will love. My guess is there are lots of families with little kids who would eat this stuff up. Food for thought ...

I know, I know, I've mentioned my attic, and now you're all snickering. "Oh, here she goes again, like she's ever going to get that attic cleaned out." But I proclaim that 2013 will be The Year of the Attic. My friend Amy has offered to help me with it in exchange for quilting lessons, and I might just take her up on it. I need to purge! I want to get rid of stuff and then--and here's the big thing--not replace it. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I say, Watch this space. It will happen, ladies. It's only a matter of time.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Well. I had not meant to be gone so long, but Christmas took me in its glittery teeth and chewed me to bits, the way it does every year. I'm happy to report that a fine Christmas was had by all, in spite of a bug that knocked us down like dominoes, starting with Will. Jack didn't even open presents on Christmas day, which was a sadness, as he is Christmas's biggest fan. But my parents came and made it feel like a party, even when the Man spent most of Christmas Eve upstairs taking a long winter's nap. It's surprising what fine feelings I have about this Christmas, given our collective, icky state, but really, it was lovely.

Right now I'm taking a break from breaking up Christmas. The tree has been de-ornamented and hauled outside, the ornament boxes have been brought down from the attic. We're about two-thirds done and might even finish up tonight, if we can only muster the energy.

Today: a waffle and champagne brunch at the neighbors' house down the street. I saw many of my neighbors who I haven't seen since the last waffle and champagne brunch. Mostly I talked with my friend Katherine, who agrees with me that something must be done with all the plastic bags in our lives and 2013 is the year we're going to learn how to knit totes out of them.

My New Year's Resolutions are the same as always--improve my posture and lose ten pounds. I lost eight pounds in 2012, but I still slouch. If I lose ten pounds in 2013, I will be five pounds away from my lifetime goal (which is not all that low).

If this year has any sort of focus, I am hoping it will be on living frugally. At the brunch today, Katherine and I were talking about wanting to buy more of our clothes secondhand, and later the Man said he wants to try that too. This surprised me, as the Man, while not a fashion plate, is a spiffy dresser. No frayed collars or droopy hems for him. He's all crisp lines and good fit. Me, I'm sort of droopy, but I'm trying to get better.


I got braces three weeks ago today. Here's how they look:

They are quite goofy, although my friends are being sweet and saying, no, no, why they're not goofy at all. But they are. And they make eating much less fun. The good news is, I've lost two pounds since I've had them.


I got plenty of neat things for Christmas, but one of my favorites is a box of old community cookbooks from around the state. I will be especially interested in trying out recipes for deviled eggs and pimento cheese, two of my favorite food groups. Do you have a deviled egg recipe? Send it to me if you do! Right now mine is quite simple: mayo, a dab of mustard, cider vinegar and salt. But I'm looking to expand.


One of my goals for 2013: to post more often! Life has been crowded these past few months, but I'm always so happy to have a record of my days, and more importantly, it makes me happy to be among my friends out here in the Interwebs. I hope this is a marvelous year for you and yours, filled with joy and blessings. Happy New Year!