Letting Autumn Guide My Days

The nights are getting cooler and our garden’s harvest is slowing down. We ate tomato and cucumber salads, made tomato cobbler, and I baked two apple pies using the fruit from our backyard tree. It was a flurry of seasonal eating and delicious vine-ripened produce.

IMG_0705Less than a month later, things are slowing down. We’ll pick a few more tomatoes before it gets really cold but not many. Our squash plants are officially done and we’ll soon be turning our compost that’s been churning all summer into the earth as we prepare the ground for a long winter’s sleep.

It’s funny how we wait all season for a big harvest only for that harvest to be over in a matter of weeks.

Last week was a busy one for our family. Usually, I try to create space in the week with no plans or activities but through a variety of planned and unplanned visits and errands, we had a jam-packed week. One of my planned activities was to go for a walk with one of my pastors. We had talked about getting together for coffee but as we confirmed, a walk was suggested and I’m so glad it was!

I know that, especially with deeper or more intense conversations, walking helps my thought process. Sitting across from someone in a crowded space can feel a bit intimidating – not because of our relationship but because of the environment. It’s harder for me to have vulnerable conversations in the intimacy of a shared cafe space. But on a path out in the open, not looking directly at my friend? The conversation winds and meanders and we’re able to touch on big topics, comment on a puppy or flock of birds or beautiful garden, and circle back to those discussions.

As we were starting the second half of our six-mile loop, my pastor returned to a comment I had made earlier in our conversation about time and vocation and the big questions of what’s next? She reminded me that in order to produce, we must plant the seeds and then let them germinate and grow in the soil. She pointed out the books and conversations and groups I’m part of and wondered if I’m in a growing place. That I may not be producing much right now because I’m preparing for the harvest.

The way she phrased this thought fit into what I’ve been pondering and reading on my own but it all clicked as we worked up a sweat on that sunny morning. Recently, I’ve been in a production season. I’m seeing friendships grow at school and writing had come fairly easily. I was reading books that pushed my boundaries and was able to process those ideas quickly.

But the past few months have felt a bit more forced. I assumed it was our summer routine but, now that we’re over a month into school and autumny sorts of things, I’m still struggling through the work.

I just finished Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. This is a book that needs to be read at the right moment. If I had read it earlier this year or last year, I don’t think it would have meant as much as it has at this moment. In his last chapter, all about the seasons of life, he says,

“I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die. My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around. I am drawn down by the prospect of death more than I am lifted by the hope of new life” (pg 98).

I’m watching our own leaves fall to the ground as the weather starts to shift. I love the changing of seasons – the active process of watching leaves turn brilliant before they fall. But the season itself can be quiet and melancholy. After the leaves fall but before the winter snows come, life is brown.

Similarly, in spring Palmer reminds us of the slush and mud that precedes the blooms. That each season has that time of transition and muck before the brilliance.

I’m learning to lean into the burrowing nature of autumn. I’m quieting my soul, reading books that may not emerge in thought or conversation for a while, and putting aside that list of hopes and goals.

Practically, this looks like making lists of thoughts and ideas for writing but not putting pressure on myself to hit “publish.” This looks like starting and abandoning books that may be incredibly interesting but not what I need right now. It looks like really limiting my time reading the news, checking social media, and instead focusing on engaging in the small work of the now.

I was talking with another friend and she reminded me to give my soul space to breathe. I’m learning to do that. To balance breathing with discipline; to let the plants grow and nestle while still tending the garden. I’m leaning into autumn and remembering that, while seasons are predictably three months, my own life’s seasons aren’t so neat and tidy. And there’s something beautiful about that, too.

Life seasons don’t always follow actual seasons. What season are you in right now? How are you finding balance through it all?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

A Time of Possibility and Responsibility

In her retelling of an ancient Potowatomi story about maple syrup, Robin Walls Kimmerer ends the tale with this reminder:

“Today, maple sap flows like a stream of water with only a trace of sweetness to remind the people both of possibility and of responsibility. And so it is that it takes forty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup” (p 63). Braiding Sweetgrass

IMG_0503We are three weeks into Bea’s school year and one week into Elle’s. On Tuesday, I came home to a quiet house and got more writing done in those couple hours than I had all summer long. On Thursday, I had a meeting at 10:30, right in the middle of my morning. I read and checked social media and wasn’t very productive until midmorning. And then the meeting got canceled. I had another hour or so before pickup.

What to do? I thought about calling the morning a waste and finishing my book. (Which I think would have been a totally acceptable option!) Instead, I checked the list I had dreamed up midsummer and picked one thing to do on it. It wasn’t much – just cleaning out outgrown clothes – but it felt like a good accomplishment.

I had to put into practice my head knowledge: I knew my list would take a while and that I’m in this two-morning-to-myself routine for a while. And yet, when confronted with actual practice, I spent an hour flailing and unsure.

This season reminds me of Kimmerer’s description of maple syrup. On one small level, this is a time of possibility and responsibility for me personally. As I transition to some breathing space in my own schedule, I’m reminded that the sap only comes when it’s ready. That this is a process.

I want to keep the enthusiasm and wonder of the possibility of this time. And I want to it to transfer to the time with the girls. Because really, these five hours every week are a small portion of my days. They are still filled with all the wonders and disciplines and moments that filled our days before.

How do I hold this possibility and responsibility together? How do I remember that this time doesn’t need to be stressful but appreciated as the gift it is?

What about you? Does it take you a while to transition to a new schedule or season? What are your best practices? 

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

Books Referenced:
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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Mapping My Hopes With a Foundation of Flexibility

School started last week for Bea and, while we have another week to go until Elle begins her preschool adventure, I’m enjoying the rhythms that the school year has to offer. This summer was pretty unstructured. Outside of a week at zoo camp, we hung out, went swimming, got on each other’s nerves, and played outside a lot. I think that freedom and boredom are incredibly important to a summer schedule, even if I get overwhelmed with the mess and chaos.

IMG_0487Now that school has started, I’m itching to get back into a productive routine. This first weekend of the school year arrived and I found myself out of sorts and frustrated. I looked back on the week and saw all the things I wanted to do that just didn’t get done. Elle and I went to the zoo but I didn’t write as much as I was hoping; we didn’t clean the playroom; we just kind of hung out.

With Elle starting preschool two mornings a week, I’ve been imagining all of the things I’ll get done with those five extra hours each week. I have big plans! I’m going to practice French and work on a project that kept getting shelved over the summer and really go through the closets for a good purge. Frank and I want to have morning-dates and I want to try to find a workout rhythm. I want to volunteer in Bea’s classroom and go to the art museum regularly. I absolutely recognize that I have more planned than I have space for.

Before preschool begins, I’ve started making lists of my hopes for this year. Things I want to accomplish and rhythms I’d like to create. I’m hoping to map out this time so that it’s not wasted away doing things I could do with Elle around.

But I also want to be intentional about this time with Elle. I’m recognizing that these goals and hopes need to be flexible and fluid. I see how quickly the time passed before Bea started full-time school and I want to savor these moments with Elle.

In her reflections on summer routines and the beginning of a fall schedule, author Addie Zierman says,

“And so I’ve come to accept that this summer, for me, was not supposed to be about being productive, or even really functional. It’s been about being grounded.”

Addie Zierman: Field Notes from the End of Summer

As I plan my fall and our new schedule, I need to remember these words. I have hopes of productivity and I know our routine needs to be functional for our family. But above all, I need to find the ways in which we all stay grounded and rooted. How am I building a schedule that leaves me energized and fulfilled for those days I spend with Elle? How can I feel as productive as possible during my alone time so that the after-school flurry feels more energizing rather than draining?

I have a feeling this will take a good amount of trial-and-error and I need to remember that this is part of building rhythms, as well. What is working? What clearly needs to be fixed? How can I read my family and myself through this shift in seasons?

For now, I’ll keep scribbling my lists and goals as I assess what makes the most sense for us, at this moment.

How do you set goals at the beginning of a new season? How do you tweak your plans along the way?

What I’ve Learned By Walking to School

Nearly every school day since mid-August we’ve had the same routine: Get up, eat breakfast around 7:00, head upstairs at 7:30 to get dressed and brush teeth, leave the house no later than 7:50 (but 7:45 is better) to walk and arrive at school by 7:55 as the kindergarten lines up to go inside. It’s a routine that works pretty well for us. If we eat earlier and the girls have time to play a bit before getting dressed, it can throw off our entire routine.

IMG_8633Really, anything can throw off our routine. It can quickly go from a well-run schedule to me nagging and asking sarcastically if Bea has ever seen a pair of pants before and if she knows how to put them on. (Model mothering right there…)

On the mornings that unravel, I’m tempted to buckle the girls in the car and drive. Even with the parking lot chaos, it would increase our chances of arriving on time. But more often than not, we still walk. It might mean we miss the second bell and Bea has to go in through the office. But it also means we have some breathing space between the rushed chaos and the start of school. It means we get some fresh air, a short walk, and time to hold hands and talk about the day.

I have to be intentional about putting aside my frustration on those walks. If I remained upset, they would do no good for a reset. I breathe, too, and remember that starting school excited and calm is much better than starting it with a grumpy attitude. So, I leave my last lecture at the door and as soon as we step onto the sidewalk, we talk about the blossoming trees, which specials Bea will have, and who she’d like to play with at recess. We talk about books and activities and notice our neighborhood.

By the time we reach school, even if we do have to go through the front doors rather than the kindergarten entrance, we are calmer, happier, and ready to give hugs and kisses. Elle and I wave to Bea, play on the slides for a few minutes and walk back home, ready to face the day.

This practice was especially important during those cold winter walks when our five minutes to school was a chance to see the sunlight and get outside. Now that it’s spring, it makes sense and this routine has taken on new life.

It’s reminded me that, even though it may make us late, building in space for pause and recalibration is so important. I know this is nothing new – that pause and rest and breathing all help me make better choices. They give space and perspective – both physical and mental. And yet this is something I forget over and over again.

I love May for many reasons but a big one is that it feels like a walk to school. After tax season and winter and going into head-down, hibernation mode, we’re coming up for air. We have a chance to recalibrate before summer when our schedule changes again. We are still in the school year routine but with all the hope and promise of dinners eaten outdoors and playtime extended after homework is finished.

This is the last week of Eastertide, this season of celebration. We are entering into Ordinary Time soon, which I love as much as any feast day. This year, I’m giving space between these seasons. I’m remembering to celebrate, yes. But I’m also remembering to look forward to a season of rest and recentering.

What ordinary habits have taught you extraordinary lessons? How do you pause and breathe during the changing seasons?

Pausing to Enjoy the Summit

When I moved back to Colorado after college, my dad and I would spend summers hiking the 14,000-foot mountains around Colorado. We’d wake up before dawn so that we could be stepping foot on the trail at sunrise. We’d hike all morning, eat an early lunch at the 10418255_10152599208242938_297764949818653760_nsummit, and then hike down before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. I loved having lunch at the peak. It was a reward for hard work and it gave us time to pause and really enjoy the scenery. What’s the point of “bagging a peak” if you don’t stop to enjoy the view?

We were sitting in a circle at MOPS, talking about having one foot in the toddler world and another toe dipping into The Next Phase. Some of the women are firmly entrenched in the baby and toddler years but a group of us are starting to emerge. We’re not as sleep deprived; our kids are a bit more independent; school is on the horizon. What’s next?

It’s an interesting place to be – on the cusp. I don’t really know how long I’ll be at this summit, overlooking new ideas and opportunities. Part of me wants to just dive in and leave this last season behind. But reality means recognizing that being on the cusp is a slow journey.

I’m watching others take these next steps. They’re starting practices, taking classes, writing books, and pursuing dreams, all with kids the same age as ours. I compare myself and think that I should be ready for this next journey.

I’m remembering to stop at the peak, to eat my lunch, and to enjoy the scenery. I don’t know how long this will take – it could be a shorter pause than I’m anticipating. Or it could be a few more years until this next phase actually happens. I’m remembering to cheer for my friends, to work hard at my own goals, and am learning to savor this particular time in life.

How are you remembering to pause and enjoy the scenery? How do you balance living fully in the moment while pursuing dreams?

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

Being Grateful for All Winter Has Taught

Elle and I met a friend at the Botanic Gardens on Monday. The weather was chilly but warmed up after about an hour. Most of the plants were still dormant and the staff had just conducted a controlled burn in the wild grasslands section so everything was brown and dry. We spotted a few fish in the pond, though nothing like the swarms we see in the

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

warmer months. But as we walked, we saw signs of spring: Crocus and wild iris have started pushing through the brown. A small daffodil bloomed near the cacti and succulents building.

My friend and I talked about how the gardens are lovely to visit, even on these bare almost-spring days. There’s something so peaceful about this space of cultivated nature right in the middle of the city.

It’s a reminder, too, not to wish for spring too quickly. Before we know it, blossoms will be everywhere and we’ll experience the open-window weather followed by a blizzard that springtime in Colorado offers. I love spring, I do. I love having the fountain running and barefoot girls dashing about. I love sipping rosé and eating runny cheese outside.

But I’m also learning not to wish away winter. There’s something so hopeful in the barren landscape. When I walk around our yard on warm days, I imagine the potential that spring and summer bring. We have a lot of perennial plants I’m looking forward to revisiting and I’m thinking about the annuals we’ll put in pots.

I want to savor this anticipation and remember that, without the dry winter weather and brown landscape, spring wouldn’t carry the same magic that it does.

I’m learning to look at my own life for these almost-spring experiences. What needs to be dormant, just a bit longer before it can blossom? What do I need to give time to rest and restore before it bears fruit? How can I appreciate the dry landscape and pause to anticipate before I get my hands dirty with actual planting?

I love looking back in reflection. Connecting the dots over a variety of experiences can be so life-giving. But I’m also learning to pause in the midst. To take time to breathe, reflect, and be still before moving on to greener seasons. I’m hoping that, by practicing a love for almost-spring, I’ll cultivate a pace of recognizing signposts at the moment instead of hindsight.

I’m still looking forward to spring – to open windows and consistently sunny days. To meals outside and daily check-ins with neighbors as we live out front. But I’m also loving these last three weeks of March before spring officially arrives when I can breathe in this change and remember to be grateful for all that winter has taught me.

Are you anticipating spring? How do you prepare for a new season?

Dwelling in the Mysteries of This Journey

We’re in a season of neediness. Bea needs me to walk her to school, to pick her up, to sit beside her as she does homework. Elle needs me to read with her, to get her dressed, to make her lunch, to put her to bed.

IMG_5757These are needy times and it’s easy to imagine life when they can make their own lunches and do their own homework. (Does that ever happen?) But even in the midst of this intense time, the patronizing voice of moms farther along can be grating: Just hang in there. It gets better! Don’t worry moms of littles, this terrible season doesn’t last!

While I’m eagerly anticipating independence, I don’t think this is a terrible season. I know I’ll miss the days of neediness. Of snuggling on the couch and holding hands as we walk home from school. I’ll miss the ease in which secrets are shared and words of comfort are accepted.

I was reading Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women this morning and she offers this blessing:

That you may have
the wisdom to know the story
to which God calls you,
the power to pursue it,
the courage to abide in its mysteries,
and love in every step.

This blessing can be applied to so much of my life right now, but today I’m choosing to frame it in this season of motherhood. That I may be wise to this story of raising small humans and that I may remember to love every step of this mysterious journey.

How does this blessing speak to your particular season? How are you learning to dwell in the mysteries and love every step of this journey?

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