Self care, day 1.

Last week, I started seeing a therapist.  It’s been a decade since I last had therapy as part of my life, and considering my current chronically overscheduled self, not to mention my divorce (among other things), it was high time I started going again.  Yesterday was only session two, but I already have homework: intentional self care.  No screens, no friends, no multi-tasking, no direction.  Just a half hour minimum per day of doing something aimless for myself.

Much easier said than done.  While going on a walk, sitting by the river, or drinking a cup of tea are all things I do with some frequency, they are rarely alone and never aimless.  I go on a walk to a store with a friend, sit by the river or drink a cup of tea while reading a book (that I probably have some mild amount of guilt for reading if it’s fiction, because shouldn’t I always be reading things to expand my mind and better myself?).  Always, always, always multi-tasking.  Which is why the idea of relaxing for the sake of relaxing is unbearably difficult for me.

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And I found these along my walk! The black feathery thing is a hair clip.

So today was day 1 of my new, prescribed, hopefully someday to be a routine, self care.  I went on what ended up being a 40 minute walk around the neighborhood a few moments of which I found myself able to relax, breathe, and be.  Sure I spent the first five minutes talking myself out of needing to plan a route in advance.  Certainly I spent a good portion of the middle of my time planning the photo walk I am leading for work this evening.  But for at least a few moments I lost myself in myself, the sunshine, lovely gardens, and woodpecker drilling on a nearby tree enough to return me to the drifting contemplative revelry I have found on walks in years past.

So here’s to finding new practices that, no matter how difficult despite seeming simplicity, I will commit to in hopes of living a deep life of both joy and peace.

Week of Joy, Day 6: Birds

As I near the end of my list of seven joy-bringers, I appreciate serendipitous discoveries that indicate which item I should write about on a particular day.  Today after browsing The Daily Dabbler and finding a post on birdwatching, I knew birds had to be my Day 6 topic.

Birds are free, grace and joy incarnate.  Their flight, their song, and their seasonality are for me inextricably tied to the thrumming cycles of the natural world that we all firmly inhabit but so frequently neglect.

At times supremely loud (think crows and red winged blackbirds) and others so quiet one must stop breathing and remain perfectly still to event discover them (nearly every earth-hued female protecting its nest in the bush), birds cover the entire aural spread and demand every sort of attention.

I have long been enamored with Stargirl, an exquisite young adult book by Jerry Spinelli.  Among other choice tidbits from the novel, I have long held the practice of noticing, of stopping to look at whatever ordinary detail of the world has captured my attention and spirit and pointing it out with zeal to whomever I am with (often Benjamin these days, who has delightfully taken on this practice himself).  More than any other element of the world, I notice the cheery song and joyful plumage of birds.

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Until the last few months I had always believed the chipper, nonplussed Black Capped Chickadee to be my bird daemon.  A year round resident of the northern Midwest, the chickadee is a tenacious little bird, settling in blue spruce and barren branches alike, singing enthusiastically through even the coldest months when nary another creature dares to venture out.

I still adore the chickadee, and frequently pause to bask in its winsome warble.  But a few choice encounters with a bird of an entirely different sort have led me to reconsider the identity of my bird daemon.

The Great Blue Heron is in many ways the polar opposite of the Black Capped Chickadee.  Large, stately, and nearly silent, the heron stalks the shore, waiting patiently for a meal or merely observing the goings on of its domain.  While the chickadee is who I am- enthusiastic, passionate, and vocal- the heron is who I wish to become- elegant and calm, a watcher of the world who contemplates deeply before acting.  The photo to the right was taken on a walk down where Minnehaha Creek meets the Mississippi River, and I had another similar rendezvous on the shore of Lake Hiawatha just this past Sunday.

Upon sighting a heron I instinctively crouch, slowly dropping to the ground to avoid startling the magnificent bird.  More often than not I spend the next five minutes watching it stand, perhaps turning its head a few times or languidly striding along a log.  To an impatient observer, nothing much happens.  But to my joyful heart these priceless moments with the heron are the epitome of presence.

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Part of what makes birds so lovely and joyful is that every encounter is complete chance.  While there are particular locations that one will likely find birds on any given day, specific species sighting is never guaranteed.  Consequently, my future actions for more bird-joy must be rooted in an embracing of that unknown.

I recently learned that a friend of Ben’s goes birdwatching from time to time, and I hope to join him sometime soon.  Similarly the Audobon Society has a Minnesota chapter that plans bird walks and other events (though I expect one must be a member to attend).  In the same way that my daily personal yoga practice can be bolstered by attending group classes from time to time, so my enjoyment and knowledge of birds that comes from personal observation may be expanded by occasional events with others.

“I hope you love birds too.  It is economical.  It saves going to heaven.”
~Emily Dickinson

Words to Live By: Hope is the thing with feathers

In the often overwhelming a-lot-ness that is life, I can always, always, always be brought back to the joy of the present moment by birds.  Though I wasn’t able to get my own photos of them while bicycling, here are a couple of highlights from my bird sightings this past weekend on my retreat to Belle Plaine with Benjamin.

Prairie Oaks Institute (the wonderful retreat center that hosted our weekend) has built several bluebird houses to rejuvenate the local population of this marvelous songbird.

I’m not quite as adept at identifying water birds or birds of prey, but I was 90% sure we witnessed a great blue heron taking flight just north of the Minnesota River crossing.  What a majestic creature, even when it is struggling against a mighty cross wind.

And, for your reading pleasure and inspiration because it is so very charming, the title poem by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

The many projects of a deep Minnesota winter.

Between the coldest 24 hours we’ve had since 1996, and enough snow already to fill a normal winter’s quota, there has been ample time for projects thus far this season.  I’m still out biking and walking and adventuring to be sure, but much of my time off as of late has been spent creating indoors.  Here’s what I’ve been up to.

Birds!  I have proclaimed my love for them countless times, and finally started making them out of beer and cereal boxes.  Seen here finished are chickadees, cardinals, white breasted nuthatches, and blue jays.  The tannish blobs on the top right will be cedar waxwings.  I’m planning to make little tags to hang off of each bird with the bird’s name on one side and some lovely quote about birds/flying/freedom on the other.  If anyone has suggestions, please do share.  Ultimately I’ll probably put one of each kind together in a mobile of some sort, and might make little ornaments from the rest to leave on strangers’ bikes.

At long last I am progressing on my t-shirt quilt that’s been in the works for years.  The adorable pouch on top with eyes is my sewing kit, a birthday present from Benjamin that originally held my bicycle spoke engagement ring.

Yesterday Benjamin and I embarked on a massive veggie chopping adventure to come up with this delicious veggie hash.  It has carrots, potatoes, squash, turnips, onions and hot peppers, along with thyme, salt and pepper.  So tasty (and healthy!) along with…

bread, which no one can ever have enough of.  This particular loaf is a bit of wheat and rye flour (though mostly white to help with rising) with sunflower and flax seeds.  I’ve done breads all over the board though- a favorite had garlic chunks and fresh thyme in it, and a staple is 1/3 cornmeal rather than white flour.  It is amazing to know precisely what is in my food.

It is amazing how quickly time passes while I’m painting/cooking/sewing, especially if I have a record on (lately it’s been Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Ravi Shankar, and Bruteheart) and can completely meditate on the project at hand.  Being a homesteader/artist full time would be absolutely amazing; I very much enjoy my jobs, but many of my moments of true contentment and joy come when I’m lost in a project.

~Lauren

Beautiful things: January edition.

Inspired by my dear friend Caleb’s recent post on haiku writing and reflecting, I’m going to rein in my verbosity and explore by haiku the beautiful things of the moment.

Birds
Wintry companions
delicate yet tenacious
burst of hope through song.

Girls to the Front
LOUDpunk voicesfound-
my kind of feminism.
Incendiary.

Sweeping
A meditative
cleaning; misguided think it’s
inefficiency.

Contemplating buying a house with Benjamin in the next couple of years
Commitment indeed
yet building community
excites my deep soul.

~Lauren

Beautiful things: November.

BIRDS!  The chickadees have been out in full force, joyously announcing the final days of autumn, and I was lucky enough to discover a pileated woodpecker on an oak snag in the golf course on Larpenteur yesterday.
You can’t really tell from the picture, but the pileated woodpecker is over a foot long, in comparison to the 6-9 inch woodpeckers of other sorts.  Grand indeed.

The new drivetrain on my Bridgestone bicycle.  It is so much more efficient and the gear sizing suits my travels.  With a single cog in the front (and, as a result, no front derailleur to get shifted out of wack and generally be a pain) and seven in the back, I can make good time in the flat bike lane of Minnehaha, and summit the Pelham hill on the way to work with relative ease.

Sour cream raisin pie.  I have promised to make it for Thanksgiving, though I am still intimidated by the prospect of whipping up good meringue.  Stories will certainly ensue, post haste.

Old factories and warehouses that are now artist spaces.  I went to a fantastic Halloween party at the Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, which is housed in an old cookie factory.  They blew glass in the dark, and for $15 one received a handmade glass and unlimited refills of beer.

NaNoWriMo.  I haven’t started writing yet, and it might be a late night in order for me to get my 1,667 words out for the day.  But I’ve committed, and have gone a step further and set up a Tuesday afternoon write-in at the Fireroast Mountain Cafe.  Come join me in writing from 12-3 every Tuesday in November, or just stop by and say hello!

Be well, and enjoy the final vestiges of autumn!

~Lauren