Living a Still Life

Our COVID-19 disruptions conveniently began with Spring Break. I spent the week before shopping a bit more – buying an extra bottle of olive oil and making sure we had some veggie soup frozen for later but I really didn’t think to systematically go through my cupboards until an emergency was announced and schools closed a day early.

We went to the mountains for a couple days, a trip already planned and one that seemed to align with the instructions to socially distance from our friends and neighbors. We needed those couple days in the sunshine and fresh air, with blue skies for our hikes and incredible views from our windows.

Now we’re back and still technically on break but a new reality is looming. Our governor has already extended the school closures to the end of April and we’re waiting to hear what online learning will entail. There are a lot of unknowns and I’m thankful that this is coming in this season when I’m used to staying home with the girls and crafting new schedules and rhythms for each season.

I’ve been hesitant to make big goals, for myself or the girls, partly because things are changing so rapidly and partly because I don’t want to add stress to an already stressful situation.

Still Life, Pitcher and Fruit Paul Cezanne 1894

I’ve always loved still life paintings and how they give us a glimpse into what was important at a certain moment in time. In the seventeenth century, Dutch painters would create still life scenes to depict wealth and status – each wheel of cheese and vase of flowers told a story about a family. Later, impressionists like Paul Cezanne reimagined still life scenes to show the everyday moments of everyday people. Vincent Van Gogh painted garden flowers and items anyone would find in nearby fields.

Then I read this from The Art of Life by Joan Chittister, in her March reflections around still life paintings:

I, for one, know how easy it is to get caught up in the dramatic and miss the power of the mundane, the wisdom of the daily, the comfort of regularity, the unexciting exciting dimensions of what it means to be really alive. And yet my life cries out for more and more and more of it always.

Joan Chittister, “The Art of Life”

I needed this reminder as we stay close to home and lean into the still life mentality. What is important for our family in this season? We’ll do the schoolwork our district assigns and we’ll have a rhythm to our days because we need that. But I want to teach my girls to look for the still life – for the mundane, for the wisdom of the daily, and for comfort in regularity.

I want them to look back on these months as a time we connected as a family, a time that we learned to argue and forgive in ways we didn’t need to before, a time in which we were together.

I think one of the things we’ll do to start this new reality is create our own still life drawings. I want us to create a tangible reminder that this is a moment to observe, to mark in time, and to share what is most valuable to our family.

Will you join us? I’d love to hear what your still life looks like in this moment.

Detoxing, Refocusing, and Entering Into Advent

I’m sitting in my living room right now, laptop perched halfway on one knee, halfway on the arm of our old and worn-out chair. The fire is on, snow is covering the branches of the trees outside though the sun has melted it from the sidewalks and streets. My girls are across the street watching a movie with their bestest friend.

Even though it’s cozy and wintery, our house is not yet decorated for Christmas, nor do I have a desire to start early. (No judgement if you’re in the three months of Christmas camp!) I love this week before Thanksgiving. I love easing into the season and being aware. We have our November ritual of thankful leaves each night at dinner, remembering the small and big things we’re grateful for, preparing us for a nightly Advent reading later in the season.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

WordPress recently reminded me that I started this blog about six years ago. Some years were certainly more prolific than others but it’s interesting to think about writing in this space, in this teensy corner of the internet for that long. I’m glad I took the leap and am especially glad for the friends I’ve made because of this space. Of course, I’d do some things differently but I wonder if there’s any experience I’d be completely satisfied with?

One of the hardest parts about the writing world is the idea that you have to keep getting bigger; that there has to be a larger goal that simply blogging. I am so very proud of my friends who have started blogs that have turned into articles that have turned into books. That is pretty impressive! But I find myself comparing their successes to my own goals and dreams. I tried to make things work that didn’t and spent too much time on things that took away from writing.

So, as we enter this Advent season, a time of joy and anticipation, I want to return to the joy of blogging for its own sake. I’m joining my friend, Leslie in a “digital detox” as a way of staying more present in this season. But I’m also joining her because I want to remember why I started writing. I want to blog about the everyday lessons I’m learning and the things I’m into right now. I don’t want to think too much about polish or reach.

I’ve had an idea for an Advent book for preschoolers brewing for a few years now but have been bogged down in the steps I “should” take instead of writing it for me and my family and sharing it with whoever may benefit from a simple guide to the season. Instead of making it into an ebook or trying to sell it, I thought I’d write it here.

So, for Advent, I’ll be quieter on social media. I’ll be using my phone only for communication with people I know. But I may be louder in this space. I want to enter this season thoughtfully, yes, but I also want to reconnect with the small community here. I’m looking forward to using this season to refocus and to spark my own creativity.

What about you? Have you ever done a digital detox? How are you looking to enter this season of Advent?

When the World Feels Big

I’m just dipping my toes into the Enneagram, a personality structure. I’m pretty sure I’m a Type One which means Perfectionist or Reformer. One of the strengths of this type is that I’m always looking for ways to make the world a better place. One of its weaknesses is that I have trouble stopping to notice the beauty in the moment.

IMG_8428There are so many studies and books about the importance of daily gratitude. It makes sense that pausing to be grateful is healthy. It changes our perspective and helps to ground us.

I especially need to remember the small moments when the world feels big and overwhelming. In my head, I know that the small daily things are world-changing but my feelings don’t always match up. When I stop and remember the beauty, I remember this important daily work of loving my girls, loving my family, loving my neighbors is really what does change the world. Calling my congresspeople is essential, but it doesn’t trump loving my neighbors.

So today, as we walked to school in 13-degree temperatures, I’m thankful for the opportunity to walk to school every day. We talk with the crossing guards, have gotten to know other kids and parents, and have formed community, even when it would be more comfortable to drive.

IMG_8376I’m thankful for the opportunity to volunteer every week with other moms as they learn English. They’ve taught me so much and I feel much more connected to our school community because of them. I’ve learned about immigration in ways I never could have by reading articles.

I’ve thankful for the flexibility to be at home with Elle during these little years. It’s tiring and boring but it’s also such a gift to follow her lead if we need a pajama day or a museum day or something in between.

Remembering the beauty around me in these small moments gives me the energy to push back against systems that need reform and gives me hope for the future.

How do you reenergize for the strength to be active in your community? How do you pause and recognize beauty in the everyday moments?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “beauty.”

Embracing Physical Worship

A couple weeks ago, we drove two hours north to the Abbey of St. Walburga. This beautiful Benedictine abbey is surrounded by the wild landscape that reminds me more of Wyoming than Colorado. On the way up, we listened to an NPR story about the nuns and a mountain lion was mentioned. From that point, Bea’s only goal was to spot a mountain lion “up close, not far away.”

The Abbey was celebrating its 80th birthday, so after Mass, we were treated to hamburgers and hotdogs and hayrides into the cloistered areas. After attempting to start a dance party up front, Bea and Frank spent Mass outside playing with the other kids, but I was seated in the front row, right next to the nuns.

Wet hayride
Wet hayride

Something I have always loved about attending Mass is its holistic nature. From feeling the hard tiles under my knees to the smells of incense and chimes of the bells, all my senses are engaged during the service. Singing in Latin, though I don’t understand the words, reminded me of a connection to the greater church across the world.

Even the architecture tells a story. The Abbey just completed a new guest wing modeled after Bernini’s colonnade at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City – the arms of the church embracing the world. Growing up in an auditorium-like worship space, I love this physical embrace of the building as I walk in.

Arms of the Abbey embracing the world
Arms of the Abbey embracing the world

I just finished reading Tara Owens’ book, Embracing the Body. I had been a bit reluctant to pick it up, in spite of rave reviews. While I’m no stranger to insecurities around my body, I’ve never had real body issues. In high school I was always too tall and too thin, now I wonder if I’ll always be a bit squishy. But, my pragmatic self has always remembered that models are tall and thin and that mothers are meant to be soft and snuggly.

While Owens touches on the body issues that affect so many, her book is so much more. It’s about the way we’ve separated ourselves from the physical instead of remembering that our senses and desires are good. She spends time recognizing that, while paying attention to our intellectual and emotional spirituality is good, ignoring our physical spirituality means missing out on a large part of who God created us to be and how we can experience the world.

One of my favorite parts of the book is that Owens ends each chapter with a “Touch Point,” an activity to bring the intellectual reading of the chapter into physical practice. Some touch points are easily done, others require certain levels of vulnerability, both with my own body and with my community. I appreciate this practical aspect to her book – Owens realizes we live in a culture where embracing the physical does not come naturally and she helps the reader discover a level of comfort in the physical experience of God.

Between reading Embracing the Body and experience the physical worship up at St. Walburga, I am trying to be more aware of my physical space. In some ways, it’s easy to notice my body right now. We have about 5 weeks left in this pregnancy and a very active little girl is growing. There aren’t many moments when she doesn’t remind me that she’s here and part of this family! But, with another active kid, it’s easy for me to push aside my own physical needs or to even stop and notice the physical world right in our backyard.

In these next five weeks, as we nest and prepare for this new little girl, I’m trying to cut back on our schedule, on activities and on life in general. My go-to summer mode is relaxing in the hammock, so this season comes naturally, but this year I want to be more intentional. To stop and really feel the fabric of the hammock, to smell Bea’s chlorine-and-dirt filled hair (that quintessential kid-summer smell), to embrace the whir of the fan as I fall asleep. To really notice my physical world in ways that are easy to pass by.

How do you interact with your physical space? Does it come naturally or do you have to be intentional?