Winter Blues

I’ve got a few really fun things to tell you.

FIRST

Look who stopped by yesterday!

bluebird-one

bluebird 3

bluebird 2

 

Turns out there was a little House Hunters scouting going on, which I learned when I saw the couple check out the bluebird house via my downstairs studio window. Spring can’t be far away!

SECOND

Know why I was in the studio?

I was completing the final edits on the first draft of my first novel. WOO HOO HOO HOO HOO!

First draft = DONE

I will share much more about the book in the months to come. But for now let’s just say I celebrated last night with a Sweetwater Ale (or two) in front of a roaring fire. It’s been a thrilling/terrifying 27 months since I started this journey, and come what may with the manuscript, how happy I am to have told a big story of love and justice and redemption–and the many shades therein.

THREE

On to vacation! My sweet husband and I are going on a dream trip to Hawaii (the first time for both of us) so if you don’t hear from me for a few days, you’ll know why. I haven’t decided the level of my digital unplug, so in true Cathy every-day-is-a-surprise style, we’ll just wait to see what happens.

Here’s hoping you have a glorious weekend filled with February joy!

XXOO

 

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Warm Hearts of January

There are many things I love wildly. But these are the two on my mind right now:

  1. My cousin Meg (of the gigantic heart), who inspires me in a hundred million ways, not the least of which is her monthly Smilebox slideshow.
  2. Instagram, and playing along with the Fat Mum Slim photo-a-day prompts.

And so I’ve decided to follow Meg’s lead and share my photo journey the end of each month here on The Daily Grace. I hope you will enjoy–and most of all, I hope you will get in on the fun!

 

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
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This free slideshow design created with Smilebox

 

 

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Free Forming It

It was a comment that made me laugh, then made me wonder, then made me rejoice.

It was Sunday afternoon, you see, and my sweet husband was parked in front of the TV for his weekly dose of NFL football. The stakes were getting higher, this close to the Super Bowl, and as it matters so much to him, I pulled up my own seat and commenced to acting interested. (Ha.) That’s when it occurred to me this thing would stretch long past afternoon into evening and I hadn’t yet written my Tuesday* post for The Daily Grace.

These playoffs are really cutting into my usual routine, I said.

You don’t have a usual routine babe, he said without so much as a glance away from the screen. Who you kidding?

~~~~~~

It’s true. So true. My life is a free-for-all, no matter how robust my attempt to schedule things. I make To Do lists, I identify high priorities so I can attack them first. It’s all for naught, day after day, because I never–never, ever–go by the list. In fact, the moment I’ve written the dern thing I never can find it. (This is doubly true for grocery lists, which never make their way to the store with me.)

I hatch new strategies for organizing my life all the time. (Case in point: the bullet journal reference in last week’s Friday Loves post.) The New Year 2016 effort is a swell new day book I spent hours researching, tracking down and ordering. I love it. Love it. And somehow, here in this last week of the first month of the year, it’s already clear I’m never gonna let this pretty planner do its job.

 

my lovely day book by oneCANOEtwo
Isn’t she a beaut?

 

(If only I got a jolly jolt by marking things off a list. I don’t. And I should like to say to those who are process-oriented, whom I love and admire, don’t you realize the To Do list is endless anyway???)

Oh well. I shall let it go. I shall henceforth celebrate the strange nature following the whims, embracing the distractions, chasing the sparkles and the light. You’re never bored, that’s the upside. Spend your life flying by the seat of your pants and I promise you: Every day will be a glorious surprise!

XXOO (especially to my process-oriented friends and family)

*which I am therefore posting on Thursday

 

The Daily Grace in your inbox? I say yes!

Friday Love 1.22.16

a little roundup of things that inspired me this week

The Bullet Journal. Dubbed “the analog system for the digital age,” it’s a customizable and forgiving organization system that can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary. Developed by designer Ryder Carroll, the Bullet Journal is all over Pinterest and the blogosphere. I can’t wait to give it a whirl. I particularly love this Bullet Journal spread created by blogger Boho Berry. Yay!

photo: Kara Benz, Boho Berry
photo: Kara Benz, Boho Berry

 

Anatomy of Gratitude–This On Being interview with 89-year-old Benedictine Monk Brother David Steindl-Rast. His quiet wisdom broadened and deepened my perspective a hundred ways. Like this commentary on the difference between gratitude, gratefulness and thanksgiving. (hint: “Thanksgiving” is when your cup of joy runs over.) And his observation that you can’t be grateful for every moment (war, disaster, pain) but you can be grateful in every moment. So much to consider. So much to love.

 

Corn Sticks! Thank you April Blake and The Good Life Blog for reminding me of this signature dish from the old Tapp’s Department Store and providing a link to the recipe the scaled-down recipe. (The original was for 448 corn sticks and it was made three times a day!) I own a corn stick cast iron pan (that I never use) but I shall make some this snowy* weekend. Fun!

AprilBlakeCornSticks

Tapp’s Original Corn Sticks (adapted)
Makes about 72 corn sticks

2 cups plain cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening

-Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Mix with cornmeal and sugar.
-Combine milk, eggs and shortening and then mix into dry ingredients.
-Bake in well-greased corn stick mold at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Sending wishes for a very happy weekend filled with things you love! XXOO

*wishful thinking

 

The Daily Grace in your inbox? I say yes!

New York City! Home.

I was in the city for a conference, three days learning from saints who devote their days (and nights) to addressing the very challenging issue of children, poverty and homelessness. More than 600 people from six countries were gathered, and the experience was, in a word, humbling.

Then on Friday my husband joined me. He loves New York as much as I do, and so we jumped at the chance to meet there before making a quick getaway to the outskirt city of Larchmont for a family weekend.

Our first NYC stop? Pizza at John’s, with my friend and cohort Lila Anna. First, we toasted.

LA
to New York City!

Then we ate pizza. Which is worthy of note because it turned out to be the best pizza ever.

pizzaatjohns
Best. Ever.

After lunch, LA left for the airport and Tim and I headed for Central Park. There is nothing more fun than strolling Central Park on a brisk January afternoon.

We tried to take a selfie and I got tickled.

CandT
(Tim made a face I see!)

Then we cruised on around the park chatting about this and that–but mostly about how remarkable it is that this fabulous space exists in the middle of so much city.

centralpark
breathing room

Our meandering circle complete, I suggested we walk over to The PlazaIt was Mom’s favorite spot, I said. And we’re so close.

Of course my sweet husband said yes.

We walked past the uniformed doormen, through the 5th Avenue doors, and immediately I could feel Mom there, her delight at me remembering–and more importantly, appreciating–the beauty of this magnificent hotel. How many years ago had we been here together, an extravagant trip meant to expose us, her small-town children, to something so lovely?

plaza
for you, Mom

 

It was not lost on me, I must say, the contrast between my childhood and that of the children I had just spent the week considering. I was fortunate to grow up in a stable home filled with wonderful opportunities. But I’ve learned from my work with St. Lawrence Place that there are thousands in the Midlands of South Carolina, alone, who struggle mightily for the most basic necessities, including a place to live. This instability removes possibility in ways that are devastating. Children who are homeless lag far behind in school and have lower graduation rates than those who face financial challenge (trailing by a rather wide margin). And these are not people of the street, mind you. They are families who cobble together living arrangements week to week, sometimes night to night, surviving under the radar in ways that make them all but invisible.

We cannot overlook these families.

It’s what I believe, and so it is my honor to work with St. Lawrence Place on their behalf.

~~~~~

I had the immense blessing of a happy, stable childhood, as did my three brothers. Our our home was safe and secure.

I am extremely grateful.

And to Posey and Kent, who gave us stability and a view of the world beyond our beloved Spring Street: Thank you, Mom and Dad. It is my prayer that this important work will honor both of you well.

XXOO

 

A little Daily Grace in your inbox? I say yes!

 

God of grace

IMG_0248 - Version 3

It has come up so many times in recent days, a nugget trying hard to make its way from passing thought to consciousness to heart. It’s looking for a home, that’s what I think, a permanent spot to stay a while, hang out a shingle. And so I have come to understand the little guy will knock knock knock until I open the door, welcoming it in with open arms.

First there was an Ann Voscamp comment that passed through my feed during December. I don’t follow Ann so it was a random retweet of a retweet of a tweet that landed the darn thing in my lap in the first place. There were struggles that day–as there always are during Advent–and I was in a Question God mode. Joy and harmony of the season? They didn’t seem to be manifesting in my holiday, no matter how much work I did to perfect every detail. Instead it felt as if I were peeking out from behind a big pile of chaos and confusion, the case for disappointment building day by day.

And then it came, this tweet, and lay there until I picked it up rather begrudgingly.

 

blessings

There is so much expectation at Christmas, this I recognized, our eyes on the manger, our ears awaiting the herald of angel choruses. There is so much anticipation of joy to be delivered to those who prepare well. (Can I get an Amen, sistas?)

~~~~~~~

Have you been listening to Krista? he asked, my friend Michael, a man who doesn’t pass along recommendations lightly.You gotta check out Martin Sheen. Then he shook his head yes in a most convincing way and I knew that particular episode of the podcast On Being would be my Next Up.

I was enraptured with the interview from the beginning. A “deep and joyful Catholic,” I merely needed hear the actor’s beautiful, soulful laugh to be moved. Then Sheen began to talk about love, and the search for God, and finding God in the place you’re least likely to look.

The love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming.

(It is a remarkable conversation and you can listen to it in its entirety by clicking here.)

~~~~~~~~

God within, God where you least expect Him, God in the darkness. God eternal.

God of grace.

 

XXOO

 

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FRIDAY LOVE 1.8.16

a little roundup of things that inspired me this week

1. A Love Letter to Winter: Adam Gopnik’s Ardent Case for the Cold Season’s Splendor and Significance  I love everything about this Brain Pickings’ peak into Gopnik’s winter writings, including the gorgeous Isabelle Arsenault illustration that accompanies the post.

2a. Valerie’s Home Cooking   You know Valerie Bertinelli, right? One Day At A Time? Hot in Cleveland? Eddie Van Halen??? Well now Valerie has a show on The Food Network and my DVR is set. She’s charming, funny and I love her recipes.

2b. Like this one. Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts. Easy. Healthy. Good. Yum.

 

image: The Food Network

image: The Food Network

3. A Life of Gladness and Responsibility   This post from favorite writer Winn Collier has made a place for itself in my heart. I so appreciate the sentiment, and the writing–well, just look at those sentences. A beautiful read for all of us, particularly those who somehow feel out of step in a world that asks so much.

4. A series of fun little Fat Winter Birds I painted for our church’s holiday Joy Market.

cardinal-painting

I had so much fun doing them I’m thinking of opening my own Etsy store this year. (In fact, it’s on my 2016 Life List.) How fun is that ?

Sending wishes for a very happy weekend filled with things you love! XXOO

 

A little Daily Grace in your inbox? I say yes!

Resolutions and Such

 

morning sky

 

There is the immense possibility of it all.
That is, I suppose, what makes new beginnings so wildly compelling.
So absolutely irresistible.

And then there is the attention we bring to the things, our aim narrowly focused on the act of manifesting something valuable and life affirming on our own clean slate–one barely wiped free of last year’s grime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Just yesterday–the first Sunday of this new year–I opened to the first page of a beautiful new journal, one sent to me by my sister-in-law, Colette. It was many years ago; she brought the book home with her from Florence, Italy, her thoughtful note suggesting I might fill it with “lots of great stories.” Instead I tucked it away in my library for safekeeping, my saver’s heart insisting I hold out, insisting I wait–as if expecting some grand inspiration worthy of such a magnificent volume.

For years the book has rested there, patient. Empty. Silent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have found it to be true that when you noodle around with an idea, when you toss around a thought but don’t do anything to give it actual shape, or form, it will fade–even if your noodling keeps it alive (but barely breathing) for many years. But the moment you write it down it becomes something else entirely, an intention, a force in the universe. Not only that, but the universe will rearrange to accommodate it, to support you, to give mass and momentum to your little creation.

And so I spent a good part of the day Sunday sifting through the things that float around in my head, the hundreds of maybes and what-ifs and I shoulds, many of them new and shiny, others tired and thin but still hanging on. I gave each of them equal weight as I considered their place in my life today. What matters now?  I asked. It was a question that came as if I have moved beyond something, toward something, into something new as I wade deeper into my 57th year. And then for the first time ever I also considered: What good intentions can I bless and release?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I pulled the elegant Florence journal from the bookshelf and opened it to Page One. I began to write.  2016 Life List is what came first. Then I captured 10 thoughts into which I could put my heart.

Some of these are easy:

4. Schedule exercise.

Some require a bit more effort:

10. See the best in people.

Then just as I finished the list something came to me, divine direction that formed of its own, a whisper from God, an addendum.

Live in the space of joy, it said.

I grabbed it, wrote it down, gave it form.

#11. Live in the space of joy.

 

It is the perfect #11 for my 2016 List of Ten, don’t you think? This sweet thought that has come and wrapped itself all around, reminding me joy is a choice to be made.

It’s going to be a very good year, I believe. A very good year, indeed.

XXOO

 

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Bending Time

It was a book I loved, a good read that tugged tugged tugged at me until it pulled me all the way under. I was so caught up in the story, in fact, I abandoned my own writer’s habit of highlighting the superb passages, accepting for once they’d still be there the next time I felt the compulsive need to diagram a well written sentence.

That is to say this little line came at me like an arrow shot straight at my wide open reader’s heart.

She was grateful life could be long.

It pierced, this line, and lodged there.

She was grateful life could be long.

____________________________

There are so many lives inside of us, I believe, different lives to be lived.

Perhaps it is middle age that has me focused so squarely on this notion. We move from one to the next without even noticing, teenager to college student to professional to spouse to parent to—well, you know, because you’ve been there. Not noticing because somehow, in the midst of it, you need every bit of attention to simply make it from morning alarm to bedtime collapse, cramming as much studying and working and feeding and cleaning and carpooling as you can, in between.

____________________________

Pace yourself I tell her, this sweet daughter of mine, this college sophomore. The year is long. But at 20 she gobbles it up, living completely in the moment, never caring that tomorrow is another day. Who can blame her? This life is new, new to all these young people experiencing the surprising colors and textures of an expanding existence. They don’t yet know the virtue of patience—a gift they haven’t yet received—a gift given later in life to enable us to navigate a landscape that changes so dramatically over time.

____________________________

What will you do I asked my friend Debbie, a bright light in this world who was three days into retirement. What life will you live now?

____________________________

I wrote my mother’s obituary, a fact that still surprises me. I look back at those first hours after her death and see our emotions pooling in waves, moving son to son, daughter-in-law to grandchild, grandchild to aunt. We were raw and splintered, all of us were, desperately needing a little time to process, to think through, to absorb the grief at least enough to regain some footing. But there were decisions to make, proper decisions, decisions that needed to be made well.

And so they asked me to do it, my brothers, to write this accounting of her life from an insider’s view. But I struggled mightily, let me tell you, eventually accepting the reality that I couldn’t compose a single decent sentence unless I moved further out, looked at her life from a distance.

And there I saw them all, forming in front of me like acts in a play, an epic novel unfolding chapter by chapter. She had lived not one long life, but a thousand, changing day to day, decade to decade.

______________________

Patience is the greatest of gifts, I believe. Patience makes time malleable. It lengthens days and rewards us with seasons. It allows for love, real and rooted and slow-growing. It accommodates change. It tolerates mistakes. And it makes room for forgiveness, vast and deep, forgiveness that brings healing and calm and peace. Forgiveness that lets us move forward into our next moment, our next day, our next life, filled with excitement and possibility.

She was grateful life could be long, novelist Laura Moriarity writes of Cora Carlisle, an unlikely Jazz Age heroine in The Chaperone.

Oh yes, I say, in thanksgiving. Yes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bending Time first appeared on The Daily Grace in April 10, 2013. Thanks for indulging me as I repost it today. I will be back with original posts in January. That’s a promise!

All Creatures Great and Small

Tiger, at the manger
Tiger, at the manger

A few years ago I made one last sweep through the dining room to turn off the lights and found our cat, Tiger, sitting among the animals at the manger. I didn’t touch a thing before snapping this photo—he had jumped to the table and positioned himself among the animals without knocking a single lamb or camel or Wise Man to the ground.

Christmas is a time of miracles.

Peace, love and joy to you as today, we celebrate the coming of light to the world!