Photos of the week (v)

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It’s all personal today!

Recently, we drove the 2.5 hours to Monterrey to visit the Aquarium. I love Pacheco Pass. I find the hills breathtaking.

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Preparations began for Miriam’s First Holy Communion. I decided to take out my wedding dress, which I love but had not laid eyes on since my wedding. In true KonMari fashion, I removed the fabric from the skirt (some tears were involved). Once the act was done, the decision sat fine with me. We will use the fabric from my dress to make her First Communion dress.

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Antiquing with my mother I found these beauties! Dessert and serving plates by Currier and Ives, Royal China. They bring me joy. The KonMari method is not about minimalism, so much as it is about surrounding yourself with things that you love. All the discussions about how many books to own are unnecessary for the book lover and, in this case, dishes for the dish collector.

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Valentine’s Day (sorry for the quality), we set out Valentine’s for a morning surprise. Everyone picks one Valentine to cut down on craft-stress out time. We observed the day on Tuesday in order to give Ash Wednesday its due. In the morning we took Celeste the bunnies and hearts.

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I am thinking about writing and photographing my own Stations of the Cross for kids. I took a quick snapshot of one station at St. Dominic’s when I was there prior to Peter’s surgery last week. To stand inside that church, as the procession moves forward and the organ swells, is like being enveloped in beauty. This is called “contemplative architecture” and it lifts our hearts to God. For parents whom little children are constantly distracting, this beauty helps one maintain or regain focus throughout the mass, entering into the kairos of God.

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And here is the little hero, waiting to go in. Everything went well, though recovery has been stressful. It was his 8th surgery in life, and his first outpatient surgery. As such, a triumph!

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Lent: what is it good for?

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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

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It begins with that day of the year when Catholics walk around with soot on their foreheads. The ashes are burned, blessed and distributed with the reminder, “you are dust and unto dust, you shall return.” I can think of more romantic ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year.

And yet…

What does “carpe diem” and living the moment intentionally mean apart from the understanding that we must live today, cherish every moment because our tomorrows are not guaranteed? It is the grip of that reflective reaction which occurs when someone dies. When we think of what he or she accomplished or perhaps how little time there was; we review our own regrets and gratitude.

Lent is meant for that. Although instead of doing it after a death, it does it leading up to a death, the day Christians recall the Crucifixion, a Friday called Good.

I reflect for myself: am I living a life consistent with my convictions? What can I improve?

Along with reflection, it encourages fasting. Catholics and other traditions “give up” something for Lent. Removing the excesses brings into focus what really matters to me and the things that may have become unintentionally central in my life. Chocolate? Perhaps. Snacking? Perhaps. Gossip? Perhaps. Whatever it is, when I make a focused effort to abstain from it, I do not only become free to evaluate what role it played in my life, but like the Whole 30 diet, this intensive approach seeks to break the bad habits in order to make room for the new, the things I want to be central in my life.

Prayer becomes the sustenance to help me endure and inspire me to continue. It facilitates the initial inquiry of what I want to achieve and keeps the goal in mind. Like using a charitable project to inspire marathon training. What do I want my life to look like? Not just what I want but what am I called to? How can I adjust my expectations and beliefs to fit the bigger picture, love of God and love of neighbor? Am I fully embracing the path I walk on? The formation of that vision inspires the sacrifices.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the ingredients to the season of Lent. Because much of human error can be located in the area of what we do for others and financial practices, Christians are invited to give more at this time. Like “Giving Tuesday” after the trio of shopping days: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. When there is a concerted effort in a short span of time, the effort tends to be more effective.

Equivalents exist in small examples throughout our culture. I welcome the quiet of Lent as I welcome the storage containers that come to Target’s shop floor the first of January. It is good to have seasons of focus. It is a bit too much to live life and keep everything in mind. We need seasons.

My plan is to continue with the disciplines (new habits) I have been working on this spring, to give up bread (to encourage healthier options), to do some spiritual reading, to become more consistent in charitable giving, to take more time for silence and remember to keep work days as their own thing rather than let them spill all over my home days. It is not a radical shift, though it could be if that were necessary. Lent provides the opportunity.

I am not sure our culture has an equivalent to this practice as a whole. Advertisers would have us focus on the here-and-now. At Thanksgiving, we practice gratitude. During Christmastime, we oscillate between the desire to acquire and the desire to “count our blessings.” I think we need it. Our tomorrows are not guaranteed, so when the priest will say, “you are dust and unto dust, you shall return,” I will think in my heart, “I know” and I will try to live like it.

Photos of the Week (iv)

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For small-town news, we attended a comedy date night at Connecting Point Church of the Nazarene. While the featured comedian was a little rough on Catholic sensibilities the night was overall enjoyable. Best moments: when the improv group interviewed a couple who had been married for 55 years, then acted out their story.

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There is beauty in pruning. We clear away the unwanted or out-of-control, and then we see the sky.

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It is spring in California and the blossoms are blooming. Anyone with a bit of land can grow their own fruit. It really is amazing.

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Our adventures this year include planting annuals. They look bright against the wasted foliage that died away during winter, much like our blessings. When seen in this light, the blessings look all the more beautiful.

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Little joys this February consist of lattes and bowls of citrus whether they’ll be used for martinis or pie, it makes everyday feel like a celebration.

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This week daffodils sprung up all around my mother’s property. The very first batch went to sweet Celeste at the cemetery. The rest come to us.

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The things that give me joy now remind me ever so much of how they carried me last spring as we anticipated the birth and passing of our daughter. I feel gratitude for these things. It is as though the daffodils are among the friends who supported me along the way. It is good to see them again.

Sunny Days and Switchback Trails

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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

I like sunny days. The way the sunlight illuminates everything, the feel of the heat as it ever so slightly cooks your skin, the way everything feels alive and awake all add to my delight on sunny days. It makes January feel like spring in California; it makes the flower shoots in my garden make sense. Sunny days feel good.

It is easy for me to be cheerful, optimistic and future-oriented on spring sunny days. Farm work is so much less muddy.

In a bit of small talk, the recipient of my comments on beautiful spring weather admitted she liked it, too, then added conscientiously, “I know we need the rain, though.”

“The rain makes these days possible!” I added joyfully.

There is some wisdom there.

During the same week, I discussed life setbacks with a friend. Holding up a square appetizer plate, angled to pretend it is a mountain, I described our experience on a switchback trail. The mountain was Lassen. My husband and I were youngsters in love camping with our best friends and climbing a mountain. We did not expect a monotonous set of switchbacks. The path was long and arduous, one hot step after another. Then, sunny days did not seem so glamorous.

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Photo by Thomas Fields on Unsplash

Still, we were focused on the mountaintop. At one side of the mountain, where the switchback curved around, we looked down to see a verdant meadow with a narrow brook and sprinkles of wildflowers in the valley below. Every time we turned that corner, I cheered internally, “that’s the reward! That is where we’ll go when we’ve accomplished what we set out to do!”

This was a spiritual exercise for me. The mountaintop features heavily in many faith traditions as a place of wisdom, clarity, and closeness to God.

What I learned in the past couple years is that life follows a similar pattern. It can be trying, requiring all the endurance one can muster. We can complain and dwell on our tears. Or we can focus on the future, the goal, the reward.

“The rain makes these days possible.” On the path, we must journey somewhat where it is dry and difficult, but then again, the path will turn and we’ll face the meadow. We will feel the gentle spring sun. The path will turn, the vistas disappear, the cloud cover renew. This is life.

On one hand, we can simply endure the days we do not like, or we can find the good they hold in store so that it is not only the sunny days that matter. The days of promise are not the only times we feel hope. Rather they feed into the rest, not just in memory but the spirit of what we enjoyed so much can be translated to a new setting, applied in a new way.

At one time, it felt like the difficult times were all there was: “here we go again,” “when will it end?” were our slogans. As we curled up in the good times, the difficult times seemed far away, increasing the shock when they did return.

That is the lesson for me. The good times are good, but they will change, and that’s okay. The rough times are rough, but they will change, so let us not lose hope. Indeed, the rain makes it so we can appreciate the light of the springtime sun all the more. It clears the air, brightening the sky. Hard times force us to pause and evaluate priorities, sometimes dropping the things in life we put up with as a matter of convenience. After the work of hard times, the rest of the good times feels all the sweeter, and living it intentionally makes it more restorative than if we never struggled at all.

Even as we endure, be it in good times or in bad, let us keep in mind the mountaintop, our destination, our goals, the reasons we press on.

Photos of the Week (iv)

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The weather warmed up and when I sat outside, all desire to work magically vanished. Though I knew it was Saturday, no ramifications of that emerged in my consciousness.

With Monday comes awareness of the world beyond my home. So without further ado, photos of the week.

Only small town news this week…

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On Friday we took a “field trip” to the Carnegie Art Center in Turlock for two exhibits, (1) Valley Focus highlighting photography inspired by the Central Valley where we live, and the lobby gallery. These relief prints by Monique Wales had me smitten and amazed.

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In my high school Art class, we created small linocut relief prints. The technique plus the graphic, illustrative quality thrilled me.

At the Denair Gaslight Theater, we watched The Odd Couple. While the acting last December at A Christmas Story was a little uneven, the two leads in this performance opening night carried the show for a very enjoyable evening. Still, for the second time in a row, I admit a desire to help with costuming.

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Life Moves Pretty Fast

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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Do you have a routine for every day? I do. Perhaps you read about the joy I take in routine and order last week.

Just like muscle memory, the more we do a certain movement, the more our brain can be freed up from the thinking of how to do this movement, to deeper thoughts or broader thoughts. Routine helps the house know what comes next. It is less work to direct the moving parts and bodies. What is the point of all that freedom?

Sometimes, podcasts.

Other times, togetherness. When my children know what to expect because I am reading off a list for each child under the heading “evening chores” then as they bustle about, I might be able to stop and smile at their antics. It helps me stay cool in an admittedly overwhelming task of directing four noisy kids before dinnertime.

Just when I sigh that sweet sigh of satisfaction common to the Type A-order loving personality, a wrench gets thrown in. Absence, sickness, you name it—things happen, life happens, and order goes out the door.

In this case, I was called away for a few days from house and home. When four days passed, I walked into the door, lugging bags down the hallway, and began to set the house right, back in order. I recover it and reclaim it. I am primarily a homemaker after all. All this happens while the children are still with their grandparents. Completing tasks that would call to me out the corner of my eye in the hour before they come, I am ready for them when they arrive.

Order matters, routine matters, but often, togetherness matters more.

There are the times when we need a better routine, a more predictable rhythm for life. Then there are the times when certain things become so predictable that our minds habituate to their presence and we need to shake it up a little bit. In 1986, Ferris Bueller took a day off from school. When I was in the church youth program, the youth minister talked about the concept of “retreat.” The person retreats, like in battle, from the world we live in day-to-day in order to build up strength, supplies and rest, then go back to the action better equipped.

Hopefully, we can all appreciate our surroundings and the people interjected in those surroundings. Sometimes, however, we need to run away for a bit.

Then, we can walk in the door, get our bearings and see the whole place with a new light, a little more color, a little more clarity. Holding the hand of the child is sweeter. The way another child leans on you rather than stands on his own feet, somehow, fills the heart. Even with a short absence, the saying is true, the heart grows fonder because the heart is reminded of what life was like without these walls, without these little beings, without this small town.

When life feels tiresome, we are not required to run away. A little break can refill an empty soul when the intention is there.

Then the work, the mindfulness, the appreciation, the gratitude must continue though normal life has resumed.

Fewer podcasts, more family movies, more story time on the couch, more hand-holding.

I will be really good at it for a while. Then I grow tired or distracted and I lose my patience, along with my temper, and I forget how good it felt to come home. To remember I call to mind that feeling. There is a memory. Retrieving the memory helps me gain perspective.

This then builds muscle memory. The more we retreat, gain strength, return, recall and grow, the easier it will be in the future to continue the path we want, the one that loves the life well-lived.

Or not. We could just keep going along, day-to-day, never-minding, but then I think, perhaps, a lot will pass us by.

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Photo by Brooke Campbell on Unsplash

Photos from the Week iii

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Not a photograph but still a snapshot from life. Recently published at Mind and Spirit, a more vulnerable piece by me about my struggle with scruples.

Small town Life

Small town life means affordable performances in small settings – Pippi Longstocking come to CSU Stanislaus.

It means police come to community project meetings.

It means community members can come together with the support of the city to “share the love” and, gasp, reference Christian charity.

It means a 4-H Project about dog training makes the front page news.

It means Crab Feeds are wildly successful fundraisers.

So much for small-town life.

The other half of my life consists of going to and from UC San Francisco (at least that is how January was). Little Regina needed anesthesia so the doctor could remove a tree “berry” from her ear.

The Golden State Warriors will descend like wasps on an already congested route across the street from the hospital. I’ve yet to meet anyone who is pleased.

Driving home from the hospital after Peter’s most recent hospitalization did afford some beautiful views.

Finding the Art of Discipline

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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Order. The sweet dream of having a place for everything and everything in its place.

Or discipline. When children are not just punished but have and hold the concept of discipline. Their behavior is disciplined. They show discipline in their actions.

This is a concept. To discipline oneself is to tame the wild side. We discipline ourselves when we seek to limit the pleasurable things in life. It is not punishment. It is an attempt to acquire a good habit with enough strength not to fall back into old habits.

And it takes so much work!

During the holidays, I lose the discipline of healthy eating because we are celebrating. I re-learn it in January. The liturgical season of Lent helps drive home the point.

We lost other disciplines during that season of celebration and vacation. Now with a chore list and a clipboard, I seek to regain management over my wild brood of little ones. They run around like monkeys who come when I call, and quickly disappear after each task, only to be called back again.

I am working on calling them back and not just escaping myself into some more pleasant pursuit than focused parenting.

To acquire discipline there must be a vision. It cannot be merely a list of yeses and nos. I grew an impossible vision for my children by reading “The Little House on the Prairie” books alongside my daughter. I want children who help, who are part of the family, who feel responsible for their tasks, who know they must complete them. In “Farmer Boy,” nine-year-old Almanzo aspires to be useful, good and like his father. Working alongside his father, he develops a vision of the skills he must acquire. His parent’s expectations create an opportunity for him to develop a sense of who he is.

This is tremendously hard now, I think, with so many household shortcuts. It is possible to manage a home with hardly ever being at home. I could wash dishes more quickly by myself because I do not do them by myself; I do them alongside my automatic dishwasher. It will take longer to involve these children. They are younger and there is less they can do.

Then I sat down and made a list of the things we ask of them, adding some new things they want to do to feel grown-up (like washing dishes). Following the language of the “Little House” books, I frame the lists in grounds of “morning chores,” “afternoon chores,” and “evening chores.” Morning chores and evening chores take place before the meal. After the meal, some clean up is expected.

This is not a farm in New York. It is a home in a residential plot of homes. Yet, using the framework, this schedule is giving a new rhythm to the day. The wake-up, dress, complete chores, eat breakfast and begin their school work (we homeschool).

I do not know what happens in the later books. I do not know how Almanzo Wilder and his wife, Laura Ingalls, merge their two very different childhoods together. It does not matter. We are all trying to find a way to make things work. If we find our ideals and work backward from there, applying them to how we want the day to look, we might start to really enjoy this life we’re living.

“How do I want to spend my day?” is a guiding question for me. When I realize how far some things are from the ideal the hard work begins. First the ideal, then the plan and lists. After implementing the lists, I make notes. I might have left something off. An observation is made. Back to the drawing board, I create a new and a better list. The process goes on and on. By the time we master is, some new stage or life development will occur and we start again.

And that is okay. With each new process, we are stronger, smarter and more disciplined, ready to live out our ideals in a new way.

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Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Photos of the Week (with a mini-home tour)

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I spent the week in San Francisco with Peter just sight-seeing (wishful thinking).

Actually, we spent four days in the hospital, his first admission in 5 1/2 months. It was a virus which caused repeated fevers, but for this little guy with a Broviac, it means we must go in to make sure it is nothing more serious.

The reunion was glorious. We set the guy up with a backpack in the morning so he can run around with his TPN pump and TPN bag in his backpack. The kids joined in.

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Coming home, I wrap my mind up in the beauty of my home. A friend asked how long it took me to finish decorating. As life changes, each room must change, but the rooms below bring me a great deal of joy and feel as complete as any room can.

Our living/dining room. This is great room living to the max. We have two roundtables (one for dining and one for working), a baby grand piano and a (new edition) pump organ from the 1800’s, plus seating for many!

 

The great outdoors. Today feels like spring.

 

My Haven

 

The room I rarely photograph but actually really love, our kitchen.

 

Messy Looking Flowers

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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Coming home from the funeral, a wild mass of sweet peas invited me home.

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That statement is not factually correct but it betrays a truth beyond bare facts. The sweet peas bloomed in May. With my Easter decorations, the sweet peas came. Twice a week I drove to my mother’s house and collected armfuls of sweet peas from her free-flowing garden of the fragrant flower.

Sweet peas. “Messy looking flowers,” my grandmother might say. They are the rose’s arch nemesis. With proper training and tying, the gardener is rewarded with a straight stem, but the petals lack a cohesive form. To its glory, its fragrance rivals the rose.

Last year I sought the consolation of flowers. Tulips and ranunculus at the funeral.

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Then the irises bloom. Mine grew five feet this year. We saw pedestrians pause and point them out. They also came from my mother’s garden to my grandmother’s chagrin.

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Remembering her dislike for their temporary bloom and the long-lasting, plain greens they leave behind, I planted them intentionally, using the greens as a border around our patio.

After the irises come the David Austin roses and those beautiful sweet peas.

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Dahlias and sunflowers wait until summer.

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Spring is a strange thing here in California. We have no bluebells or cockle flowers breaking through the snow-covered yard marking the hope that winter will soon end.

Instead, my mother shows me the sweet peas she started to be transplanted to my yard (in sandy, almond-tree loving soil from her home). It is January now, the beginning of the new year. The irises have little-pointed heads popping up from the ground. I know their roots are spreading underneath making them difficult to transplant now.

The ranunculus planted after the funeral are springing up, alongside weeds. My mother’s home was a paradise of flowers in a dry valley. Last year was my first experience investing myself in gardening. The irises we planted when we moved because they are easy. My husband did the digging.

This is so much like life. I grow up and see the witnesses around us of how to invest, how to remain patient, how to adjust expectations and how to make the most of our harvest. I was cheered and consoled by the work of others. Meanwhile, the roots grew.

There were a small number of people in my life I could trust. I relied on them to guide me through my first investment, console me when the impatience to make life work becomes overwhelming, propose solutions when things do not turn out the way I expected and give me flowers.

Then one day, after many years of dreaming, I finally put on the gardening gloves and dug into the dirt. After planning and planting, I did it myself. Beaming up at my husband, whose large green thumb is ever so obvious and said, “aren’t you proud of me?” I bring my mother over and show her lumps of transplanted bulbs and declare, “I gardened!”

The fruit has yet to be seen, though spring is coming. Some may look at the investments and scoff at its messiness, but others know. Others know how badly we need all types of flowers, the showy rose, humble daisy and disorganized sweet pea. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, herself called “The Little Flower,” wrote “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden.”

We may feel like life is governed by chaotic chance, but in truth, there are seeds we can plant, water and protect from the weeds. There are steps to take. Whether we rely on the examples of others or we must go it alone, discovering for ourselves what works and what does not work, each person’s life becomes a work of art unto itself and contributes to the overall beauty of the world they inhabit.

So water, weed, endure the fertilizer that smells awful but gives the nutrients we need to grow and wait in patience for the first sign of spring.