It’s all in how you look at it.

 

You know I do love my South Carolina birds, the bluebirds in particular. They are elegant, tasteful, devoted.

 

 

But let me tell you, up here in these North Carolina mountains the world is quite different. We’re learning a great deal about a lot of new things, a new collection of feathered friends among them.

Take this guy, for instance.

 

 

He’s a house wren, of course, but since we’re more familiar with the gentler Carolina version, I didn’t know much about his…ummm…habits. Then a friend (who happens to be an ornithologist) stopped by. I excitedly pointed to the nest and he was quick to explain these are not great neighbors. They make a mess, are not considerate, and they make a practice of visiting other’s nests and poking holes in their eggs (oh my). As if that were not enough, there are lots of shenanigans that go on between the Papa and the Mama which are generally unbecoming.

 

may not be the brightest bulb in the box?

 

It all just broke my heart.

 

 

We didn’t disturb the birds, of course, and we’ve returned to the mountains to find they’re still right there. But these days the Papa is spending his time hopping hopping hopping all along the top of the nest box, here, then there, belting out a beautiful (albeit insistent) tune.

 

 

He’s fiercely defending his territory, is the truth.

 

 

 

But I’ve decided I will look at it differently.

I’m going to let the sweet song bring me joy.

It’s his heart that’s overflowing, that’s what I think,

and in this happy state he can’t help but share

his own joyful news

 

 

the babies have been born!

 

XXOO

 

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Warts and all.

I WANT TO BE All In.
To jump at the chance.
To go full-tilt, full-bore, full-on.

I want to grab life hard, and fast, and as my inspiring friend Tim Floyd reminds me–yell YIPPIE taking the sharp curves.

YIPPPIIEEEEEE!

 

But I am not that person.

Instead I move slow, questioning reason, searching for nuance in every little thing (then analyzing its role and significance). I want to know options and variables and alternatives.

I want to see the whole picture.

 

 

This is why it’s such a surprise I’m a moth to the flame of any social media community/creative challenge. The idea of pushing and producing and sharing (while NOT perfecting) is terrifying but also wildly exhilarating.

It’s healthy, I know, adding a little wild abandon to my life. It also nourishes a spirit that’s hungry to make.

Plus it’s just so fun to find community in the midst. (Hi, Laurel!)

 

THAT’S A LOT OF PRELUDE to say when this beauty rolled by

I was so in.

The setup is easy.  Choose an art “action” to do each day, then share on Instagram using the #100day project hashtag. I decided to do a small painting a day, my goal to work fast and loose.

 

landscapes

 

and big fat winter birds

 

and flowers

 

Lordy I’ve found it difficult! (I am not fast and loose–see paragraphs 1 through 5 above.)

Still–it has been so much fun.

 

barns and buildings

 

It’s cool to see the collection I am creating, my on-the-fly decision to do twenty series of five paintings each. And I am woefully behind as life and travel and other responsibilities have gotten in the way. (It is much smarter–albeit not on brand at all for me–to make this a more simple exercise one can complete anywhere in just a few minutes.) Still I believe the intention of a challenge like this is to give it a go and do the best you can.

 

How lovely it is to have the option to simply begin again tomorrow.

 

If you’d like to join, you can find the simple instructions for #The100DayProject here. (I hope you will!) Or just start your own creative initiative and do a little something every time you can. I think you’ll find, as Gretchen Rubin said and I, too, believe:

What you do every day matters more
than what you do once in a while.

XXOO

 

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War. And peace.

 

 

I was moved to tears.

I don’t say this lightly. I also don’t say it for dramatic effect.

I say it because as I stood there looking east over the gentle, vast, peaceful fields of Gettysburg–the spot held July 1, 1863, by the Northern Army of Virginia, before 50,000 of our nation’s boys lost their lives in three days of horrific, bloody battles–deep sadness overtook me in a heartbreaking, guttural way.

 

 

Those fields go on forever.

 

 

 

As do the 1,328 memorials, monuments and markers.

 

 

They are there to remind us

 

 

of the unimaginable price our forebears paid,

 

 

and that we should never, ever forget.

 

 

XXOO

 

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Here, and There

It is a fascinating thing to experience spring in South Carolina’s midlands, then to climb high into the mountains of western North Carolina where nature reveals herself in a completely different way.

What I mean is here at Bickley’s Pond–where the land is flat and the days are already scorching hot, the golds are gone and world is lush with every green imaginable. The earth bursts to life with an immediacy and an intensity that demands you sit up and notice, right away.

 

It is different high in the mountains. The changes come not only later, but more slowly, the earth revealing her beauty in tiny, quiet bits, taking her time, giving you the chance to relish every sweet moment.

 

 

There’s something lovely about that pace and the space it allows for dreaming;

 

 

for watching the green climb slowly up the mountains;

 

 

for spotting one wildflower, then two, then three.

 

 

How lucky Tim and I are to get to experience both.

 

 

How lucky we all are (aren’t we?) to live in a world where seasons go,

 

 

and come.

 

 

XXOO

 

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heart to heart

 

Because sometimes we just need a little reminder

love is all around.

 

 

XXOO

 

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Hope, and Joy, and Love!

I love Spring on Bickley’s Pond. Here, from the big window in my studio, I watch the world come back to glorious life. Everywhere you look there’s something magical to see. I am amazed by the grasses and trees and shrubs, the tiny leaves that appear from nowhere.

But I am most captivated by the sweet animals who share their lake with us.

The Canada Goose couple has been here for years, rearing brood after brood after brood. They’re nesting again and although I don’t know exactly where–the sweet Mama is on the eggs while Papa hangs in our cove keeping an eye out for her and any Canada Goose interlopers.

He floats around out there day after day, waiting, watching. And the moment anyone arrives and lands on his lake, anywhere near his beloved, the most awful racket ensues.

How devoted he is.

And the mallards? (See them there in the distance.) They are the sweetest. They swim side by side every moment, combing the pond and its shoreline for the perfect place to build and bring into the world a new paddling* of ducklings.

You may remember the year they nested right in our yard beneath the day lilies, then that big snake came and ate the eggs. (Well, one snake only ate two or three. The next day the mate came and finished off the rest.)

(mallard eggs, circa 2015)
(egg-filled snake, circa 2015)

Good lord I’m still not over it.

And the bluebirds.

My beloved bluebirds.

We’ve raised seven (?) nests together. And now, after all this time (and all my perfecting of their home sweet home), this Spring there is NO NEST.

I am a little heartbroken.

(Now that I am finally supplying mealworms, there is one male/female combo that feeds. But the female looks to be a youngster.)

I feel worried and fretful over Mama and where she might be. Or maybe this isn’t the original couple after all, and maybe after all those babies they’re off in Boca enjoying retirement and the Early Bird Special. (Forgive me.)

Whatever the case, it is a magical time of year. I am reminded April after April after April:

There’s always, always a new chance for joy!

 

XXOO

*A group of baby ducks is actually called a “paddling.” Isn’t that the best?

 

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The Lenten Desert (redux)

I wrote this post two years ago but it all seemed new when the link randomly popped up on my Twitter feed a few days ago. The lesson is one of the most important of my life, and the fact I’d already forgotten is reason enough to share it with you again, here. On this day between the darkness and the light I pray the promise of Easter–and its sunrise fulfillment–will fill your heart and spirit.     ~ cathy

 

IT HAS BEEN my desert during this lenten season, my place of wandering. This is something I didn’t realize until this moment as I write this post, and it’s something that feels strange and awkward to admit, even to myself. But the truth is in these past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time online discovering an unfolding world of seekers who make keen observations about our profound need for grace and love and kindness in a crazy hustle world.

My journey began when, in rather typical and wildly random internet fashion, I came upon this sentence in a blog post last February. Since then it has stuck to me like brittle autumn leaves on a wool coat:

We come not because we must but because we may.

It was a story about an intimate Communion shared by Carolyn Watts and her spiritual director, a sharing of the bread and the cup that so affected the writer she wrote about it on her blog Hearing the Heartbeat. She went on to say:

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must.

Carolyn makes a beautiful point about her God-call to stillness, something that has become more than a practice for her, now a life center.

 

THE COMMUNION PHRASE HAS CLUNG TO ME, TOO, insisting I take it another place in my own world. The thought arises every time the “I must” sentiment enters my head or leaves my mouth: I have to finish this work task; I have to fold that laundry; I have to get that workout in. Ugh.  My day–every single day–is weighted down by a long list of I must tasks that define my attitude and my existence.

But here is my truth. How fortunate I am God has given me the ability to do these things. How blessed I am to be able to walk on the treadmill and participate in a Pilates class, that I have clothes to wash and a machine in which to dry them and a closet in which to hang them. I have a car that drives me to the grocery store where the shelves are stocked, where I simply need put things in my cart and bring them home to peel and chop and roast and eat, foods that nourish my body.

Oh, yes, what a privilege it is in this life that I may, rather than I must.

 

IT IS STILL COMMUNION, this being open to God’s presence in the ten thousand tiny tasks that make up my day, my week, my life. He is there and ready to meet me, this I know–not just on the altar, but at the kitchen sink, in my weed-filled garden, as I fill the car with gas.

Blogger Emily P. Freeman (through whom I found the Carolyn Watts post) encourages “small moment living” through a practice she calls Simply Tuesday. She writes,

Real life happens in the small moments we find on the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday holds secrets we can’t see in a hurry–secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls.

It’s a practice I want to emulate, and so I will join with Emily’s followers in posting “an ordinary moment” each Tuesday on Instagram and tagging it #itssimplytuesday. The point, of course, is neither the photograph nor the Instagram sharing. Instead it is the mindful attention required to notice and celebrate that which is so ordinary in a greatly blessed “I must” day.

 

bubbles
my nieces, in an ordinary moment I love

 

THERE ARE A MILLION other flavorful nuggets I’ve found as I’ve walked through this digital desert, a wonderful community of folks out there looking for grace in the everyday. What a gift it is to find them via the internet where it requires merely a click to connect person to person, heart to heart, soul to soul.

And that in itself is rather miraculous. Wouldn’t you say?

Not because we must but because we may.

Yes.

 

XXOO

 

ps: I adore Emily P. Freeman who, since I wrote this, has launched a sweet, quiet podcast that I promise will rebalance your soul. Find it here:

The Next Right Thing

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THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS.

I was at an event last week during which I had a conversation with a sweet friend who is in the full-on throes of life. She mentioned her intention via The Daily Grace to do a better job taking note of the small things, of noticing the quiet, gentle moments in each day.

 

 

Oh honey, is what I thought.

“Give yourself some grace,” is what I said.

It’s just not possible, is what I know.

 

 

Oh lord, you girls in your 30s and 40s. You are doing so much. You are responsible for so much! You are raising children. Organizing carpool and bringing snacks. Bedazzling costumes. Teaching Sunday School and coaching soccer. Manhandling homework. Cheering on, in game after game (after endless game). Maintaining a home and order and a cross-referenced calendar. Volunteering, for heaven’s sake. And you’re doing it all, so many of you, in the midst of the most demanding, most challenging and most exhausting phase of your work-that-matters careers.

There is so much of everything in the season you’re in. There is too much of everything, except for this:

Time, my sweet friend.

Time itself.

 

 

It’s something I actually prayed for in my own busy days, enough time to get it all done. I look back at the girl I was then with wonder and love and admiration, remembering the stress, feeling the exhaustion, seeing the younger me as if I were one of those street performers keeping all the plates spinning, moving one to the next, whirling, balancing, whirling, whirling, not letting a single one drop.

Oh, how I remember.

It will come around, may I just tell you that? Time will pass and your children will grow and your career will stabilize and you will make your way back, all the way back, to you.

 

 

You will read a book in its entirety. You will cook a full meal from scratch. You will get up in morning dark not to pack lunch but to grind coffee and watch the sun rise (over a mountain or an ocean, I hope).

And there will be time.

You will notice the small moments. And you will savor them with a heart filled to overflowing not in spite of but because of all that came before.

The crazy.

The overwhelming.

The work of life itself.

 

 

XXOO

 

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winter, and spring, and winter

It’s a funny thing to spend time in two locales and to experience a mix of seasons. We left South Carolina two weeks ago in full-on Spring: shorts and tshirts, blooming trees and flowers, birds all a’flutter with loving on their minds.

We arrived in the mountains of North Carolina to full-on winter. In fact, we’ve been completely delighted to achieve our dream of “snowed in” not just once, but twice.

The temperatures have hovered in the teens and twenties (it is seriously cold, y’all) and our response to that has been to bundle up, go for a hike and then huddle before a roaring fire in the big stone fireplace.

It has been dreamy.

Today, the sun is shining and all twelve inches of snow have melted. And right there at the top of the meadow, beside the steps, just about where we spotted the bunny tracks,

was this.

 

Isn’t the earth beautiful?

 

 

Isn’t this life remarkable?

 

 

Isn’t it awesome to always have something to look forward to?

 

sunrise 3.16.18

 

XXOO

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January, February

It’s so fun to look back over these reads and to share them with you here. There are some good ones!

JANUARY
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
Now that we spend a good bit of time in the North Carolina Mountains, Tim and I are a bit obsessed with hiking the Appalachian Trail. Although let me be clear. I will never do this. But listening to this classic travel book on audio was almost as good–(mostly because we kept rejoicing in the fact we were not pitching a tent in a blizzard, etc.). It was a little slow at times but all in all an interesting read/listen.

The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish
I bought this in hardback for one reason: the cover is gorgeous. The premise is also intriguing: the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect in two centuries, one an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city in the 1660s, and an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history in the 21st century in a race to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe. The novel is smart, beautifully written and complex. Read this when you want to dive in deep.

Unlikely Success: How a Guy Without a Clue Built One Hell of a Business, by Marvin Chernoff
Unlikely Success is an engaging, enlightening, and thoroughly entertaining collection of recollections that let us follow Marvin Chernoff from his days playing stickball on the streets of Brooklyn to winning the Shell Oil corporate advertising account away from the Madison Avenue “big boys” for his ad agency in Columbia, South Carolina. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir from Marvin Chernoff, a legend in our community and our industry, a wild, creative spirit who founded a respected ad agency that rose to fame during my own formative years (in the same city and business). I never knew Marvin personally and it is something I regret; I am grateful to have this glimpse into his mind and his world. A fun read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
I LOVE THIS BOOK. Me and Reese Witherspoon, we both do. She’s optioned it for a movie; I’m just telling everybody I know to read it. The publisher says: Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

FEBRUARY (It was a great reading month!)
The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry

I mentioned in the last post I’ve read two books recently that made their ways to my Faves of All Times list. The first was The Snow Child. This is the second. The publisher says: An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love. Heroine Cora Seaborne is a fantastic character, and Perry’s writing is elegant, smart, delicious. Love, love, love.

The Good House, by Ann Leary
I heard about this book via one of my favorite podcasts, What Should I Read Next, and it did not disappoint. Hildy Goode is a longtime resident of an idyllic town in Maine, selling real estate and generally keeping her eye on all the town’s goings-on. She also hides a significant drinking problem. The story is funny, sad, and poignant as Hildy literally hits bottom hiding out in her basement. As Anne mentioned on the podcast, I folded so much laundry just so I could listen for a few more minutes. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.

Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church, by Winn Collier
Winn Collier is a Presbyterian minister who also happens to be one of my favorite writers, so when I saw that he had written a new book, I couldn’t wait to get it in my hands. It did not disappoint. Epistolary fiction, the short volume spans seven years of the ministry of Jonas McAnn and his congregation at Granby Presbyterian. The publisher says: Jonas’s letters ruminate on everything from fly-fishing to the Nicene Creed. They reveal the earthy spirituality woven into the joys and sorrows of the people of Granby, the community of the church, and Jonas’s own unfolding story.Readers will discover what it means for a pastor and a church to do the slow work of ministry in community—anchored by a common place and buoyed by a life of faith that is meaningful, rooted, and true. It is a quiet, beautiful, deeply thoughtful book and I could not underline enough. A gift for your spirit.

Currently in my TBR and library reserve stack (I am jacked!):
The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce
The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
White Houses, by Amy Bloom
A Snow Garden and Other Stories, by Rachel Joyce
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner

XXOO

Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little* financial reward (*in 12 months it amounted to less than $9.00) for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post (obviously) but it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader. 

I also share great book deals on my favorites via Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

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