It’s Today!

Last week I wrote that the world’s not ending yet, although in anticipation of a scheduled power outage people doomsday prepped as if it might.

The power went off just before 11 pm, almost eleven hours after originally scheduled. And within two hours, a fire broke out in open space about a mile as the birds fly from our house. Though we weren’t in immediate danger, because we back up to open space, every home on our cul-de-sac evacuated.

Imagine this: Guy was out of town. The kids and I went to bed around midnight. The barky dog woke me, a neighbor banged on my door with the news, and we had to lickety-split pack up our (ahem) sixteen pets. It didn’t even occur to me to grab all the things you’re supposed to: documents, photos, laptop. Nope, I had my kids and our pets and let’s go! We need a better emergency plan…

Fortunately, the fire department quickly got things under control and we returned home before dawn.

Days later, not one but two earthquakes shook the Bay Area, magnitude 4.7 and 4.8. Which prompted the question: power outages, fire, and earthquakes? Maybe the world will end sooner than we think.

Truly, that’s the kicker: who knows when “the end” will come, and what it will look like?

Only God.

So we might as well live every day like it’s our last. Carpe diem and all that jazz.

In the midst of that unusual week, I attended a cabaret concert by the delightful Nicolas King. He sang a song from Mame I’d never heard called, “It’s Today!” Apparently, the lyricist’s mother inspired the song. He came downstairs one day to find her all dolled up, setting the table with the good dishes. He asked what was the occasion, to which she replied, “It’s today!”

Light the candles,
Get the ice out,
Roll the rug up,
It’s today.
Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,
And though it’s far from the first of the year,
I know that this very minute has history in it, we’re here!

Later in the song comes the line: There’s a “thank you” you can give life, If you live life all the way.

Yes. So much yes.

Therein lies the challenge. We get caught up in routine, in ruts, in each day is so much like the other, that it can be difficult to know what will be special about this day. And yet, miracles await even in the mundane.

It reminded me of two quotes. St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” The other I learned as a Sunday school song: “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

So what will you do to celebrate being fully alive on this particular day? I took my dogs on a long walk through the park and soaked in October’s golden light warm on my skin. Returning home, I sat my butt in a chair and wrote hard all day. I took my lunch, a reheated bowl of homemade lentil soup, outside on our patio while I read from Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift. Later this evening our family will gather around a meal and catch up on the day.

Simple, yes. And good. It’s today!

Loop-de-Loop

Two weeks ago, I fell while running. Since the only broken skin was on my hand, and the only bruise a purple pin-prick on my chin, I thought I would be fine.

I took a day off, mostly because Guy asked me to. That led to three days off, because ouch my body hurt. Since then, I’ve walked the dogs on average four miles most days. I haven’t run yet.

I didn’t expect to be so sore, that my muscles would seize up first on my left side, where I landed, and then migrate to my right side.

I didn’t expect my heart and soul would hurt, too.

It took me a few days to figure it out: that when I took a literal fall on my face, I metaphorically hit the ground as well. The trauma in my body reignited the grief I have been working through for a while.

I will be fine. I am fine. Some days, however, I don’t feel fine. I’ve had to remind myself: grief isn’t linear.

The well-accepted stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are all part of the process, but they don’t line up one after another. David Kessler, who worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, writes that, rather than acting as yield signs, the stages help us understand grief’s landscape; grief itself is unique to each individual.

Years ago, I attended a seminar in which a woman talked about helping kids deal with grief. She and her daughters witnessed their husband and father’s death. They’d bought him a hot air balloon ride for a big birthday celebration. His best friends joined him. Their families were following along on the ground when the balloon hit a power line and exploded. Everyone on board died.

I’ve sat through thousands of hours of instruction, and this lesson stuck more than others. She drew a messy squiggle on the board and said: “We think grief should be linear, that we move through stages and that’s that. No. Grief isn’t even a roller coaster, with twists and turns that come to an end. It’s this mess, and while sometimes it mellows, it never really ends.”

Recently, Shauna Niequist (@sniequist) posted to Instagram:

A reminder about grief: it isn’t linear, doesn’t honor the calendar or the clock or the weather, doesn’t obey the laws of logic or effort. It’s unpredictable. And sneaky. And it lives right alongside joy & hope & good work, & sometimes it’s so quiet you think it’s gone, & then out of nowhere it knocks the wind out of you on a Sunday morning or a Thursday afternoon. And sometimes it feels tender, like sadness, but other times it feels enormous & powerful, like rage or fire. I have walked through some soul-altering losses in the last several years, and I’ve been very intentional about walking through them privately—wise voices in my life have reminded me over and over that our private real-time, real-life wounds are not supposed to be bared in public, but rather tended to with honesty & love & truth-telling in private. That’s what one whole part of my life has been focused on these last couple years: allowing wise people who love me to tend to my broken heart in private. This part of my life & healing will remain private, but I do want to offer this to any of you who are also grieving something right now, maybe as a handful of comfort or hope: some days a very tiny, brave corner of your heart will burn with the faith that it is, someday, going to be okay…& then other days your chest feels like it’s been blown open by explosives, a ragged open wound. I have absolutely felt both, and quite recently. You’re not alone. Keep going.

Shauna’s last two words are the title of the post I wrote about falling.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Let’s keep going.

 

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Wildfires, Power Outage, & Doomsday Prepping

In October 2017, 250 wildfires ravaged Northern California, including the Tubbs Fire, which burned in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties. At the time, it was the most destructive fire in California. Santa Rosa, in particular, looked like a bomb had gone off as whole neighborhoods burned down to the foundation. Altogether, the fires caused $14.5 billion in damages and an estimated $85 billion in cost to the economy.

In November 2018, the Camp Fire in NorCal’s Butte County surpassed the previous year’s fires to become the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. The fire burned for seventeen days and devastated the densely populated foothill town of Paradise, claiming at least 85 lives and $16.5 billion.

Beginning just after midnight today, October 9, 2019, PG&E began shutting off power to at least 30 NorCal counties due to fire risk. Close to 1 million people will lose power for an estimated one to five days. In emails to customers, PG&E says: “Power will remain off until weather conditions improve and it is safe to restore service. In most cases, we would expect to be able to restore power within 24 to 48 hours after weather has passed.” Previously, they also said that employees would inspect every inch of power lines to ensure public safety.

From local reactions, you’d think the world is ending. People are doomsday prepping like I’ve never seen living in California. Well, okay, maybe like they did for Y2K. The grocery stores are out of ice and bottled water. The hardware stores have run out of flashlights and batteries. I’ve never seen the gas stations so crowded in our small town, and the pumps are mostly empty anyway (I tried, but after pulling up to three pumps, I gave up. I have enough gas to get me where I won’t be going since nothing will be open).

I get it, be prepared, but we all need a giant dose of calm as well.

For my part, I’ve frozen blocks of ice in tupperware that I will transfer to an ice chest with food from the fridge. I brewed coffee to store in water bottles; I can drink it cool, but can’t survive without. I’ve chilled reusable water bottles because people stockpile water in unusual situations, even if clean flowing water does not seem in threat.

We have flashlights and candles in every room. We’ve charged our portable phone chargers and ordered a solar charger that should arrive by Amazon today. I did not raid the grocery store because we have enough PB&J and granola bars to last a week if not a month. Also, apples. And I should be able to use the gas stove to reheat the soup I made yesterday. We’ve got all our camping gear should it become necessary. Oh, and I made banana bread, but mostly because I needed to use the spotted bananas.

Though it does feel like PG&E will be holding the Bay Area hostage for the next several days, and that this may be an extreme reaction, caution is good. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the last two fire seasons. And though many have expressed that this is a sign of things to come, that we should at least expect higher rates in the near future, complaining doesn’t seem like a good use of our personal or collective energy, either. Rather, a few deep breaths and a sense of humor will serve us better.

With potential for school and office closures, I’m looking forward to the possibility of a few days of down-time with my kiddos. Without power for TV, video games, and computers, and with the need to limit power usage on their cell phones, we can instead enjoy each other’s company. Read books. Play board games. Get outside for a hike. Ride bikes. Eat simple meals by candlelight.

We have the opportunity to live lightly on the land, perhaps the best way to live all the time and not just in unusual circumstances.

 

Cover image by David Mark from Pixabay

Keep Going

I fell this morning while running with the dogs. I have no idea what happened, whether I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk or if I bumped the dogs or they bumped me, or maybe I just didn’t pick my foot up high enough. Whatever happened, I soared gracelessly through the air and landed flat. I had the sense to throw the leashes so that I didn’t entangle myself or, worse, land on the pups. I uttered a series of startled yelps as I went down, knees, thighs, thank God for tatas that cushioned the blow, hands scraping across the sidewalk as I tried to shield my face, though my left cheekbone bounced before it was over.

I laid still to collect my breath before picking myself up. Assessing the damage: dogs concerned but fine; no blood, and the only broken skin was on my right palm; no rips in my clothing. I decided I could work out the kinks on my way home. I even ran a little, though the dogs seemed less enthusiastic.

I’m sore already, and I cut the distance shorter than I’d intended, but I kept going. To quote Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’ll decide in the morning whether I need a day off to recuperate, but even if I do, it’ll be one day. I’ll get back to it the next.

Because exercise and art are disciplines. We can have bad days. We can take literal and metaphorical falls. We can feel like we can’t go on. And we can choose to go on anyway.

Yesterday I had an all-around crap day. A family disagreement before I’d finished my coffee started things off poorly. I took myself to the gym and worked my body to distract my spinning mind; I tumbled headlong into a nap (joys of working from home); I took a call from a far-away friend; and I still felt blue.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes the resistance that intends to keep us from creating:

“First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves” (31).

Yes, I’m emotional AF and that paragraph describes me yesterday to a T.

And still, I wrote. I worked on my personal projects because, for the time being, paid freelance writing work evades me (hence, the doubt: will I ever again get paid to do this thing I love? Maybe I suck. I do, I suck. Of course I suck. See how this goes?). Not having paid projects means I have time to work on my own stuff. As Pressfield also encourages: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives” (22). And so I write.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on, winding my steps through our neighborhood streets and my thoughts into words on my computer. Even when I think I can’t, I will.

 

Cover image by Prawny from Pixabay
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Reading: September 2019

Books come to us at a time and for a reason. I often pick up and put down a book  because our time hasn’t yet come. I am willing to jettison a book that offends me, whether because of the writing or the content; I don’t feel I have to finish every book I start (I used to), because life is too short to read bad books.

In this season of life, as fall has arrived and my sabbatical summer has ended, I’m reading mostly non-fiction about creativity and recreating my life. If you’re in a different season, likely we’re reading different things. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrator Chris Riddell took some of Neil Gaiman’s essays and, well, illustrated them. “Make Good Art” was the best essay, with a clarifying image: the goal of my art is like a mountain. So long as I am walking toward the mountain, I’m on the right path. Anything that takes me closer to the mountain, say yes to that. Anything that turns me away from the mountain is a no. Helpful.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DiscoveredShow Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn’t rocket science, but it is encouraging and helpful to those who create and want to be known for their creativity.

The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book for years but pulled it off the shelf to guide me through my summer’s sabbatical, having quit my career and needing to find my way (write my way, more precisely) into a new one. This book was so on point: each time I felt resistance in any area, she addressed it specifically. I plan to keep this book close at hand for regular encouragement.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed my New Year’s Eve 1984 walk with Lillian through her city, Manhattan. Each stop along the way led her to share stories from her life- about history, culture, friendship, women and work and family. Her engagement with strangers, always respectful, always interested, were the highlights of the evening.

I enjoyed it until I didn’t. She took such sideways turns… I limped along with her as she walked to midnight and beyond, but she seemed deflated. I wanted more for her.

“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking” (234).
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested” (238).

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals #1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I read it first when I was a 21-year-old college graduate, when the concepts of “ontology”- being-ness – and “chronology” vs. “kairos” – clock time vs. flow – were new to me and entirely formational. As a young adult, I was seeking how I would be in the world, and especially seeking those experiences that would take me out of time, like dinner parties with friends, reading a captivating book, walking on the beach, and using my expensive education and the skills I had (and would develop) to make a difference in the world.

Reading it again at almost 50 years old, I have a different, renewed, appreciation for what Madeleine wrote when she herself was 51 years old. So much of what she wrote in 1972 still feels relevant, even oddly prophetic.

“Creativity is an act of discovering…. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” (12-13)

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the CubeThe Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book would best be read by women in their 20’s, possibly before college graduation or soon thereafter. Since I’m not in that demographic, the best part of this book for me were the inspiring stories of women who followed their bliss into non-traditional careers.

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal BrandingPlatform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding by Cynthia Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No denying the world has changed. Everyone who spends any time on social media of any form has a platform, whether or not they know it, admit it, or care about it. Johnson is bold, an actor who becomes any character she wants to be to live the life she wants. She has a lot to teach, and this book contains practical advice and real-life illustrations to back it up. I didn’t always enjoy the book, and TBH, I’m more than a little overwhelmed by this new reality, but as they say, that’s life.

“So if everything is constantly changing and evolving, why do we become complacent and accept things as they are in the present? Acceptance…stops us from seeking change and challenging ourselves to grow.” (13)

View all my reviews on Goodreads
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Living Eco-Friendly

Six weeks ago our faithful family minivan blew up coming home from an end-of-summer getaway. After the initial shock, I thought this might be an opportunity for us to live simpler. I suggested we aim for six months of two cars between three drivers. We would coordinate schedules, walk/bike more, and limit expenses on gas and insurance. It also meant we would need to upgrade the older car so that we had two solidly reliable vehicles; the hunt began.

We made it one month. The stress of a busy family going every which way at all hours became too much; one particular day I thought Guy might blow a fuse. We did find an upgrade for the older car; and almost at the same moment another vehicle appeared as a gift from God via a friend—both used cars, together costing one-third the price of a similar new car. We had planned to sell the older car, until we realized that the only potential buyer would be a high school student; we have a high school student a few months from driving age.

So now we have more cars than drivers, and three SUVs. It feels indecent, and necessary.

Then I saw the infographic in an email from the energy company comparing our usage with other households our size. I thought we were pretty good about managing our energy—turning lights off, running appliances at off-peak hours, etc—except for all the heat lamps in the kiddo’s reptile cages. Because of his abundant love for creepy-crawlies, our energy usage crawls off the charts.

Also, recycling is getting harder with foreign countries no longer accepting recyclables from the US. I’m using water to wash items that before I’d just throw in the recycling bin, and I’m tossing items too difficult to clean.

None of this sits easily with a family that likes to consider ourselves environmentalists.

So I’m looking to the little things, the micro changes I can make to take some of the pressure off my footprint. The following suggestions are things I already do, so I’m hoping you’ll offer your suggestions.

  1. Batch errands. Drop by the library, grocery store, and gas station when you pick your kid up from school, for example.
  2. Only wash full loads of dishes (if you have a new-ish appliance, no need to pre-rinse) and laundry. Wash on cold at off-peak hours.
  3. As possible, wear clothing more than once before washing. Wash towels once a week.
  4. Line dry laundry, especially quick drying clothes like workout gear.
  5. Eat mostly plants and unprocessed foods; limit or eliminate meat/animal products from your diet. Also, shop at a farmers’ market.
  6. At the grocery store, buy in bulk and/or choose products with minimal packaging.
  7. Cook at home rather than eating out. Double recipes and freeze. Also, no need to preheat the oven if you set the timer for a few extra minutes.
  8. Use refillable water bottles.
  9. Keep reusable shopping bags in your vehicles so you’re never without one when you need it.
  10. Buy less stuff.
  11. Carry reusable straws. Also flatware if you’re likely to eat out.*
  12. Opt for cloth napkins instead of paper towels or napkins.
  13. Use microfiber makeup removing cloths rather than wipes or remover + cotton pads/tissues. Wet with warm water, wipe, hang to dry: simple. I use one cloth per week, and a different section of the cloth each day.*
  14. Take short, just-warm-enough showers.
  15. Check out your plastic footprint here: https://repurpose.global/ You can see my results below, better than many Americans but still not great. You’ll have an option at the end to make a financial gift to help fund environmental efforts, or you can donate to the charity of your choice, of course.

What do you do to limit your impact on the planet? We’re in this together, for better or for worse. As the situation currently looks dire, let’s work together towards a better future.

 

 
Cover image:Image by stokpic from Pixabay
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Up Late with My Babies

Up late has never been my problem. Up early is always a problem.

A night owl by nature, I could easily do midnight feedings since I was still awake at midnight. Middle of the night wake-ups were hard, but the 6 am feedings were brutal; I sleep best in the early morning hours.

Obviously we’re all older now and my kids rarely, if ever, wake me in the night. And I have learned to go to bed earlier since I have to be awake and alert with the sun.

Last weekend, though. I was in pj’s, in bed, watching a few minutes of a late night TV show monologue before lights out. I’d worked two long days in a row and had another even longer day coming up. I was ready for rest.

So of course my kids decided we needed to watch a movie. “Mom, won’t you please come watch Aladdin with us? Come on, Mom, spend some time with your children…”

What mama says no to that? So what if they started the movie at almost 11 pm? How many more chances will I get to snuggle on the couch and watch movies with my kids, considering they are now 15 and 20 years old?

I paid for it the next day. So tired, I still chuckled when the younger one asked which movie we watched; he fell asleep on the couch. And yet: I spent time with my kids and, though they may not remember the movie, they will remember that I spent time with them. That’s worth a little fatigue around the edges.

 

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay