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.

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

We just got back from a camping trip out in the wilderness of Colorado. Our campsite didn’t have many amenities – just a vault toilet and a fire ring. We spent a few days playing in the dirt, using wet wipes the best we could, and letting our kids explore. We unplugged because we wanted to and because there’s no other option in these woods.

IMG_5065My friend and I were laughing at the amount of work that goes into a weekend camping trip. The baking and shopping and organizing beforehand and the unpacking and fifteen loads of laundry when we get home. How does a weekend of fun translate to a week of prep work?

But our girls, though exhausted, had an incredible time. After two nights, Bea wasn’t ready to come home to our ordinary routine.

I have a planner produced by a group called Sacred Ordinary Days. It follows the liturgical year and has helped me be more attuned to the church calendar. I love learning about the seasons – from the well-known Christmas and Lent to the emerging Advent and Epiphany, I’m noticing a new rhythm in my outlook.

Right now, we’re in the season of Ordinary time. This happens twice: Once in the weeks between Advent and Lent, known as Epiphany, and the much longer Pentecost, which stretches from Easter to Advent.

According to Sacred Ordinary Days, ordinary has two meanings: It serves as the contrast between the extraordinary times of feasting and remembering Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth. The second meaning comes from the word ordinal or counted time. This time isn’t about feasting but about remembering the role of the church in this world and our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit.

I get caught in a desire to live an extraordinary life. I don’t want to be ordinary – I want to change the world! To leave my mark! To make a difference! My reality is that our days look very similar to each other. Perhaps the nouns change a bit but the verbs are more or less the same.

I like the idea of viewing ordinary as ordinal. What am I counting? How are my rhythms shaping my days? Those flows and cycles and routines that lay a foundation for feasting and extraordinary celebrations.

If we lived in extraordinary time all the time, I would be exhausted. I’d always be preparing and anticipating and cleaning and busy.

Instead, I’m reminded that I count breaths and sit in the sunshine. We play outside and ride our bikes. Our adventures at home are laying the foundation for bigger adventures later. Our simple meals make the feasts more delectable.

I’m remembering that ordinary time is when we are healthy and ready for the next big thing. As Christians, it means that we are living in these days, preparing for a new Heaven and new Earth. As a mom, it means that I am doing the slow work of building confidence in my kids so they can go out into this world.

Now that we’re bathed and the laundry is finished and our sleep is restored, my girls are happy to be home. We are remembering the beauty of home, of our ordinary life, and of our quiet routine. We are also eagerly anticipating our next adventure, knowing that our ordinary home is here, waiting.

What is something ordinary you are thankful for? How do you recognize ordinary time in your own rhythms?

Ordinary Brilliance

It’s not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things
And people pass you over ’cause you’re
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green’s the color of spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean or important
Like a mountain or tall like a tree

-Joe Raposo

This week, one of my dearest friends came to visit. We don’t get to see each other often anymore, but when we do, time seems to have stood still. She travels and, while she’s settled down a bit since our younger days, is still living a life I envy on my low days of playroom clutter, whininess, and little sleep.

As we were talking, I made a depreciating joke about being a stay at home mom in the suburbs. And she reminded me that there’s a reason people raise their kids in the suburbs. And that the suburbs we chose are not the cookie-cutter suburbs. And that we are in a season that is enviable to others.

Ordinary brilliance from my bathroom skylight
Ordinary brilliance from my bathroom skylight

My other friend, Debby is spending the month of October writing about Ordinary Beauty – noticing these small, daily things that are really beautiful. She’s helped open my eyes to my own ordinary beauty. From a loved chair to the fact that I am able to stay home with my kids to the idea that this small blog, though not fancy or important, is perhaps what someone needs in a moment.

I’m remembering that, though “it’s not easy being green” and it’s not fancy or sparkly, it is part of life. Green is part of nature, of mountains, of the trees that surround our house. It’s in the beauty we talk about and drive to see. I need to remember that these small, ordinary moments are the stuff that makes a bigger, sparklier foundation to our life.

How do you take time to notice the ordinary beauty of your days?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.