Like the sea itself…

Photo taken that time that I walked out into the ocean wearing my wedding dress and returned wearing rags...

Photo taken that time I walked out into the ocean wearing my old wedding dress…

I’ve been reading a lot of Rachel Carson lately, for a project that I’m working on.  Her writing is beautiful to me, as someone who comes more alive when I am on the ocean, feeling the wind in my hair.  I get the sense that Rachel is also of a like mind when it comes to the spiritual power of being close to the ocean and its “surge of beating life.”  An excerpt from The Rocky Coast:

Like the sea itself, the shore fascinates us when we return to it, the place of our dim ancestral beginnings.  In the recurrent rhythms of tides and surf and in the varied life of tide lines there is the obvious attraction of movement and change and beauty.  There is also, I am convinced, a deeper fascination born of inner meaning and significance.

When we go down to the low tide line, we enter a world that is as old as the earth itself–the primeval meeting place of the elements of earth and water, a place of compromise and conflict and eternal change.  For us as living creatures it has special meaning as an area in or near which some entity that could be distinguished as Life first drifted in shallow waters–reproducing, evolving, yielding that endlessly varied stream of living things that has surged through time and space to occupy the earth.

To understand the shore, it is not enough to catalog its life.  Understanding comes only when, standing on a beach, we can sense the long rhythms of earth and sea that sculptured its land forms and produced the rock and sand of which it is composed; when we can sense with the eye and ear of the mind the surge of life beating always at its shores…

Today’s Most Important Thing

Because some days, the most important thing is taking some time for coffee with Stijn.

Because some days, the most important thing is taking some time for a spiced latte with Stijn.

I often feel a bit at odds with “productivity” articles.  Perhaps this resistance began last year when I realized that most of my goals were actually about slowing down and reducing the frantic, seemingly “productive,” pace that I’d been maintaining and that probably led to some of the significant health problems that I was grappling with.

So lately, to combat the tendency to fritter away much of my time at time-consuming tasks that aren’t actually all that productive, I’ve started each day with a question for myself:

What’s the most important thing that I could accomplish today?

Leading with that question, rather than beginning with whatever is screaming on my To-Do list, is not only giving me more peace of mind, but is also helping me to better-prioritize my daily work schedule.

Note: This excellent article at ProfHacker is what inspired my thoughts about productivity this morning…

it’s all about the cheese

a cheese plate, my typical way to finish a meal

a cheese plate, my typical way to finish a meal

About four months ago, after trying to make sense of various mysterious health symptoms, my physician suggested that I go on an elimination diet for awhile, specifically to eliminate dairy at first, but she also suggested that eliminating eggs or gluten might be in order if my symptoms weren’t alleviated.  At the time my primary symptom was nausea, but I also often felt a sort of unspecified abdominal ache in the evenings, too.

Within a few weeks of the no-dairy, the symptoms became minimal.  Because I noticed them when I ate eggs, I also eliminated those.  And since then I’ve felt remarkably nausea and gut-pain free.  A few times since I started the elimination I’ve tried a bit of cheese and I still cook with butter and I seem to be fine with that, as long as dairy is not a major category in my diet.

And somehow I made it through the holidays while sticking to a mostly dairy-free and egg-free diet, with very few temptations or frustrations (it helps, I suppose, that I love veggies and that I bought a Vitamix blender).  It seems that as long as I don’t think too much about lasagna and souffles and rigatoni gorgonzola, well, I am pretty okay with my various eating options.

But then there are those days (today is one of them), when I am longing for a bit of comfort and it seems that that comfort has very creamy contours…



confessions of a sort-of-organized-minimalist

my vintage lingerie, folded and organized into my drawer

my vintage lingerie, folded and organized into my drawer

At a recent work party I had to offer one detail about my life that none of my coworkers already knew.  My “secret” was that I have moved my household 14 times in the past 20 years.  Ugh.  And have I mentioned just how much I hate moving? (maybe once or twice)

One of my coping mechanisms for having relocated so many times is to live a fairly bare-bones existence.  Just about every time I am tempted to buy something I imagine myself exhausted and packing boxes and ask myself if that new widget is really worth the effort that it will take to relocate it when the time comes (as it inevitably will).  Though I’m no Miss Minimalist, I’m not too far off from that end of the extreme, either.

Despite the fact that I’ve already internalized a fairly simple lifestyle, when a friend recommended The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing, I downloaded a copy of the book despite an earlier decision to avoid decluttering self-help books.  I found that it affirmed a few of the habits that I’ve already incorporated into my life.  For example, I only keep things that I love (or as Kondo says, “items that bring delight”).  So if an item has a bad memory associated with it, or if it brings up negative feelings rather than pleasure, then off it goes to the Goodwill.  Ditto for items that are redundant or broken or threadbare.  Then for those delightful items that make the cut and stay in my home, I find a permanent place for them so I can put them away and keep the house tidy.

One element of Kondo’s book that rang especially true for me is that she recommends folding one’s clothing and linens into tidy squares and stowing it upright, in drawers.  A favorite time of the week is Sunday afternoon when I’m doing laundry and I take the warm clothes out of the dryer and fold them into tidy piles based on who they belong to and/or where they are stored in the house.  I have particular folding patterns for cloth napkins and bathowels and tshirts and sweaters and skivvies.  For me there’s a lot of comfort in the ritual of folding the same dishtowels and tank tops and pajamas every week, and I especially love how the fabrics of such things become softer with age (and as I touch each item, in my mind I rehearse the story of how I acquired it–that crazy pair of socks from Portland or that blouse from Brussels or the tidy stack of matching washcloths that I bought to mark my move from my student apartment to my first real house).

The satisfaction that I feel from folding my laundry is certainly heightened by the fact that such rituals are how I have made “home” in so many places so quickly over the years.  Because home has not been a precise location, but a set of comfortable behaviors that I brought along with all of those packing boxes, to each new space.


resolved #2, 2015

This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry.  It's a snap of the kids sitting on the back porch in the sunshine over the holidays.

This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry. It’s a snap of the kids sitting on the back porch in the sunshine over the holidays.   🙂

For those of you who are longtime readers of my blog, you know that I have a certain fascination with poetry.  At times I’ve penned a bit of poetry for this space and have often linked to, or included poetry in my posts.

Why poetry?  I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with the chewiness and brevity of a poem.  It does so much work in so little space.  This appeals to the minimalist in me.

So as a way to include my poetry in my year, I resolved to listen to The Writer’s Almanac podcast each morning as I sit down to breakfast.  I must say that it’s great to start the day with beautiful words.

resolved, 2015

another living room

This second living room, this morning.

Our house has two small living rooms that are divided by built-in bookcases.  Ostensibly the front room is the formal living room and the back room is the more casual living area.  Simply because we don’t have much furniture, the back living room has been mostly-empty since we moved in.  Several times we’ve talked about buying something for the space, but it just hasn’t been a priority (and as you can see, we still have the artwork for our walls piled up in the corner…)

So recently we decided that maybe we wouldn’t furnish the room in any typical way, but would leave it open and empty-ish as a meditation and exercise space.  And this fits in well with my most important resolution of 2015, which is a carry-over from last year.  And that is to practice yoga each morning.  The second living room is the perfect yoga space: wood floors, morning light, and french doors facing the back garden.

I begin my practice with a headstand, aligning my spine and stoking the energy that I carry through to the rest of my stretching, which these days is mostly aimed at easing the tension in my hips and shoulders.  And then I move to stretching with my nemesis, the foam roller, and then I do some strengthening exercises with some small dumbbells.

It makes a huge difference on my outlook for the day if I take the time for stretching before turning my attention to my work.

Rhythms & Restlessness (or, my response to Kate Kelly’s excommunication)

I wrote this post on June 24th, but never published it. Now that others seem to be facing extreme church discipline and restrictions like Kate Kelly, it seems worth resuscitating this piece from the drafts folder…

All history attests that man has subjected woman to his will, used her as a means to promote his selfish gratification, to minister to his sensual pleasures, to be instrumental in promoting his comfort; but never has he desired to elevate her to that rank she was created to fill. He has done all he could to debase and enslave her mind; and now he looks triumphantly on the ruin he has wrought, and say, the being he has thus deeply injured is his inferior. – Sarah Grimke

When I was in college and could set my own rhythms, I fell naturally into a pattern of staying up until 2 or 3 am to read/study, arising at about 8am, and taking a long after-lunch nap to compensate for the missing nighttime hours of sleep. I followed a somewhat similar pattern during summers when I was a kid, staying up late into the night reading books instead of sleeping. I realized yesterday that I’ve quite naturally fallen into that pattern again, now that for the first time in two decades that caregiving and work responsibilities do not dictate my waking/sleeping hours.

Last night, for example, I stayed up late reading a novel (this one, about The Quaker-abolitionist Grimke sisters) and following the Facebook commentaries about Mormon feminist Kate Kelly’s excommunication. It was well after 2am when I turned out the light. When I did finally snuggle into the covers for sleep, I thought a lot about who I was when I was I college and even way back to my younger years when book-reading about people and places that were far away was such a voracious pleasure, one that compelled me to stay awake to finish a story rather than put the book down for another day. Many of my feelings from those years echoed the sentiments of Sarah Grimke, who I was reading about last night. When I was young I had such strong feelings about the injustices of the world and how I might make a difference by writing and speaking about them. I felt called to that, deep in my soul, so much so that many times I promised my Heavenly Father that I would work hard and pursue every option at my disposal to do good and to promote equality and charity.

Thus, as I was falling asleep it was my younger, idealistic, self that I was soothing as I re-visited the moments after John Remy’s church court five years ago, when I had realized that his excommunication for apostasy also cut me off from the eternities (lone women have no place in the highest levels of heaven, according to LDS doctrine). With one blow to him, I was also removed from God, as were our children, and this action was done without even the slightest apology (or even any acknowledgement of my sorrow, for that matter) from the priesthood leaders.

And it was then that I knew for sure that I was not wanted, or valued, in the LDS church, a feeling that had been brewing for many years. That was the hardest blow of all–all of my devotion and sacrifices for that institution and for my marriage and for my family were moot because I was female and because the loss of the tie to the priesthood (i.e. the patriarchal order) left me estranged from heaven. I scheduled a meeting with my stake president to clarify this issue and he made it quite clear that I had become single (a lone woman in the garden, so to speak) in the eyes of the church when John was ex’d. Knowing that cemented my resolve to find other places besides the Mormon church to devote my energies.

Now, despite my being light years away from caring about Mormon doctrine, the ache of being unwanted and left alone by my church still rears its head occasionally as it did last night. Of course I knew that what happened to Kate was not about me, nor have I been at all involved in the actions or Ordain Women other than submitting a profile for the site when it first launched. But I’d been following the events of OW fairly closely, knowing that if the women organizing the effort had influence and were embraced for their efforts, that the church could right so many wrongs and create a welcoming space for my feminist sisters who still care so much about maintaining their activity in the organization.

Instead, that door of opportunity closed (again), and Kate’s leaders acted without understanding or compassion (and I agree with Kate’s statement that their saying that their discipline was out of love for her, is abusive and cruel). While I will continue to watch the happenings of OW, it will continue to be from a distance, as I move onwards with the rhythm that feels more natural to me now.

Thus far woman has struggled through life with bandaged eyes, accepting the dogma of her weakness and inability to take care of herself not only physically but intellectually. She has held out a trembling hand and received gratefully the proffered aid. She has foregone her right to study, to know the laws and purposes of government to which she is subject. But there is now awakened in her a consciousness that she is defrauded of her legitimate Rights and that she never can fulfill her mission until she is placed in that position to which she feels herself called by the divinity within. Hitherto she has surrendered her person and her individuality to man, but she can no longer do this and not feel that she is outraging her nature and her God.