Phew!

That about sums it up. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of, well, stress. I did exactly what I told myself I wasn’t going to do–got too caught up in the busyness of the season rather than actually enjoying it. The week before Christmas was spent in very late nights, early mornings, trying to finish everything I was making to give to those I love and cherish.

I remember one night, in particular, being up until 2 a.m. with my office looking like an assembly line with more than a dozen paintings laid out on the floor, or propped up against a wall, in various stages of completion: Okay. We need blue sky on this one, and this one, and this one. And I would mix a healthy dollop of white into the blue to get a good sky blue and slather it over the upper halves of each painting. Then, for those with ocean scenes, that same blue mixed with a drop of black to get that deep-sea blue, then lightened a bit with some contrasting color and a few lines of white to form the crest of waves and the foam in the wake of a sailboat or ship. I need to work on my ships. And my mesas. And almost all of the animals I painted in were either asleep or had their backs to the viewer. Or were silhouetted. I’m not confident enough yet in my painting abilities to tackle contours and facial expressions. We’ll get there. This term with SNHU is “Intro to Drawing”. And, later this year, an illustration class. I may see what Michael’s crafts has to offer on art classes, too.

But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m angry with myself for procrastinating all season long. I told myself this time last year that I would give myself a good, early start with my painting, knitting, or whatever else I was planning to make as gifts, and not give myself this sleep-deprived, stress-laden holiday effect. So much for remembering why we actually celebrate this season. Although I did attend Mass last Sunday, I vaguely remember fighting sleep the first half of the Mass. However, a bit of humor to slip in. It was my week to serve communion. The big Christmas celebration at church had been the evening before so, sadly, the early-morning Mass was nearly empty. Father Elson filled the goblets half-full and sent us to either side of the altar to give it to those parishioners who wanted to drink the blood of the Lamb. Well, because the numbers were so small, I still had half of a goblet full of wine at the end of communion. As Eucharistic ministers, we have to finish whatever is left as it cannot be wasted. That little half glass of wine, coupled with only 4 hours of sleep and an empty stomach came close to laying me out flat in the pew for the second half of the Mass. Sad, but true.

That’ll teach me…

But I’m not complaining. Not really. Dinner at Uncle Ernie’s the week before was a beautiful sharing with family–albeit, due to the recent family rifts, shy some well-loved members–and dinner Christmas Day at my Auntie Debbie’s was also a beautiful sharing of good food, a lot of laughter and love…and everyone seemed to like the sophomore attempts at artistry so those late nights weren’t a total wash. And the holiday season has not been without a good remembrance of why we really celebrate it, even if that remembrance came through a haze of fatigue.

My New Year’s resolution this year? To keep fighting against that eternal procrastinator so that I can enjoy those precious moments a little more. And a few more hours of sleep next holiday season. It may help to find that accountability partner to keep me on track. Any takers?

May god bless you & keep you!

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A Quick Little Note…

“Someday” I will learn not to procrastinate. “Someday” I will have made all of my Christmas presents ahead of schedule and not be cramming to get them finished–plus cramming on end-of-term assignments–and, alternately, goofing off with a good book or a quick game on the new smartphone that leads to several more.

Yup. I’m my own worst enemy. I have been dragging my backside for days now. The overwhelm that comes with last minute holiday ANYTHING has me by the throat. “Someday” I will start early enough that this “push” isn’t happening but I can slow down and savor the holiday moments. But “someday” isn’t today so a quick blog post to let everyone know I’m still in the land of the living. (Chuckle) And I have so missed blogging. There’s a certain peace that steals over me as I’m typing, a peace that we all should be looking for at this time of year–but a peace of a different sort, the ultimate peace that comes with Jesus.

Okay. Breathe. I know you’re all with me on this one. ‘Tis the season…but He is the reason for this season.

May God bless you & keep you!

The Power of Prayer

“Come and hear, all of you who reverence the Lord, and I will tell you what he did for me: For I cried to Him for help, with praises ready on my tongue. He would not have listened if I had not confessed my sins. But He listened! He heard my prayer! He paid attention to it! Blessed be God who did not turn away when I was praying, and did not refuse me his kindness and love.” Psalm 66:16-20

Today, for the first time in weeks, I dialed in to The Prayer Cafe. What is The Prayer Cafe? It is a 20 minute group prayer hosted by The Christian Mompreneur Network. Though I am not a Mom (at least of any human children), I am seeking to build my own home-based business–in plural, actually. And, while, yes, I hope that at least one of these business ventures succeeds well enough to sustain Mom and I and our menagerie of fur and feather babies, I also hope that at least one of these business ventures will succeed well enough that I can also give back to the community.

And therein lies the truth of where I’ve been at fault.

I started this blog post to talk about prayer and how my soul has been thirsting for this 20 minutes each week of prayer and fellowship with these ladies–ladies I have never met face-to-face but whom I have grown to love very much. I have been thirsting, feeling dried up and maybe a little hopeless inside. I posted a prayer request because of all the financial difficulties I’ve been assaulted with of late–November was a rough month all around with 3 major losses of beloved fur and feather babies, and the usual stress of re-applying for emergency mortgage assistance until I can finally get back on my feet financially. The end of that first paragraph was an “Aha!” moment. The host of The Prayer Cafe posted something afterwards to me about the biblical truth of “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of your needs will be met.” He spoke to her heart. And He just spoke to mine.

Did I not just type it the other way around? Did I not just type about giving back to the community AFTER the blurb about my own needs? I’m too focused on my own problems instead of giving them up to God. Instead of letting Him take control of my life. And so, He gave my friend the wisdom to post this reminder of His love, and His command, to seek Him FIRST. It’s not about me. It’s about Him. And always has been.

What does He want for me? (Note: that’s FOR me, not FROM me…) What are His plans for my life? Have I ever stopped to ask…and stayed long enough to listen to my heart, the voice of God speaking within it? Usually I run away from the answer out of fear, out of that lack of trust that I blogged about last week. I’m afraid to “Let go and let God”. Afraid that some part of me is not worthy of such goodness. That’s what comes from growing up with alcoholism and abuse but I can only blame others, perhaps, for the first 18 years of my life; what I’ve done or experienced since is on me. And I am choosing to hand the reins over to the God of my consciousness, a God of love.

Does that mean that hard times are going to miraculously stop happening? No. He doesn’t promise us smooth sailing, just a safe landing at the end of it all. He promises to love us, to see us safely through all of life’s challenges. If only we will place our trust in Him. And praise Him for every minute thing we have–both good and bad, because He can use all things to make our lives richer, better, in the long run.

I needed prayer today. I need prayer everyday. We all do. But, in our modern world, where faith in God is often exploited and derided, we neglect our spiritual life. We don’t have time, we tell ourselves. We don’t have the money to give at church because food is scarce or the bills need paying, etc. We walk around with this scarcity mindset, a mindset that only sets us up to attract more of the same. We start neglecting everyone and everything that matters most to us, pushing aside precious moments–time that we can never get back, pushing aside even our most basic needs, pushing aside God. When He is the answer to all of this. Taking those 20 minutes or so today to indulge in this much-needed rest with Him in fellowship and prayer was just what the doctor ordered. I feel more refreshed and at peace. And, in the end, that’s what we’re all searching for. His peace.

May God bless you & keep you!

Winter Wonderland

The unmistakable smack and part-scrape, part-screech of a metal plow hitting and running along the pavement caught my attention yesterday morning. I had forgotten all about the 1″ of snow Mom advised me of the night before. Eh, how often are the weather people right? I looked out my office window and discovered that, this time, they were. Most of the ground was coated and, looking towards the massive spotlight in the parking lot across the street (even in darkest night, my house is lit up like a Christmas tree), I could see flakes still falling.

The child in me lit up like that Christmas tree. No, it’s not a “No school Foster-Gloucester” kind of morning, as Salty Brine used to say, and was the hero of every school age child in Rhode Island throughout the 1960’s and 70’s–and probably a few decades before. Snow or not, my college studies continue. But the memory of what the first snowfall used to mean clung to me like one of those icicles that form in late-spring after a perpetual cycle of thaw and re-freeze. Forget that I am a 50 year-old woman and that snowfall now equals back pain and muscle aches from endless hours of shoveling. It’s the first snow for Pete’s sake! And only an inch of it; no shoveling required. I couldn’t wait to get outside and experience it.

And neither could Max. Max, the lily-livered Blue Heeler who will hide behind every chair, on the stair well, any place he can squeeze his bologna sausage-shaped body to avoid going out in even a light mist of rain, catapulted himself off of the sofa yesterday morning, all tail wags, to go out in the fluffy white stuff (sorry, S-N-O-W is regarded as a disgusting swear word in the office at the dealership…LOL!). There was no hesitation. He pranced out onto the back deck and immediately put his nose down into it, sniffed, sneezed, snorted and then bounded off the deck, on the deck, and fairly skipped with me to the chicken coop.

That’s the spirit…

While the ground coverage was thin and actually spotty in some places, still, it was like someone magically transformed my backyard into that proverbial winter wonderland. Everywhere I looked, I saw pristine white. And the still-falling flakes made me feel as though someone had stuffed me into one of those snow globes…you know the ones, those kitschy ornaments that you shake and watch “snow” over whatever plastic, painted scene is protected under dome. And I loved every moment in it.

A few trips back and forth with Max to fill the smaller winter duck “pool”, scatter leftovers and birdseed for the chickens under the overhang where the snow didn’t fall, and replenish the outdoor waterers, and then Max went back inside the house so that chickens and ducks could come out to play.

Normally, I open the door of the hen house and take a quick step out of the way as 18 chickens and 3 ducks explode out of the house. Yesterday morning, Duncan, Dweezil and Dixie Ducks–affectionately and collectively known as The Quackers–waddled right outside and straight into their minuscule pool, obviously overjoyed to see this winter wonderland. Eh, snow’s only frosty water after all. However, there was a log jam of chickens at the door of the hen house. Goldie, the barking chicken (yes, she barks; she does NOT cackle or cluck. Whether this is learned “speech”, a mimicry of Max, or just her natural “singing” voice, I don’t know but Goldie barks…most convincingly…like a dog), squealed her brakes at the door jamb. Every hen and rooster in the chicken marathon behind her plowed into the back of her. Amazingly, she kept her footing and stayed just inside the door jamb. You could almost see the cogs turning as she took in this strange yet vaguely-remembered phenomena. Nope. She didn’t like this at all. It wasn’t until Sunset, Tank and a few others grew impatient and flew over her and into the yard that she finally resigned herself to cold feet for the rest of the day. And only Taffy ventured beyond the coop at first. In her usual pell-mell way, she came racing out of the hen house behind everyone else, squawking and cackling at the top of her lungs and racing, well, “normal” would be racing across and back again the yard but, with snow on the ground, her “race” was a wide arc around to the door of the goat barn. Race around in the snow? Maybe not…

A half hour later, goats, chickens and ducks all watered, fed and wandering free, the snow turned to a mix of snow and rain. The pristine whiteness rapidly gave way to the mud and muck of the barnyard again. But, for a few shining moments, I walked through magic, a magic that makes all things new again…just as Jesus makes all things new again.

May God bless you & keep you!

The Minimalist Challenge

An article about the Minimalist Challenge was posted on Treehugger.com last month. My interest piqued right from the get-go but, as I had fallen behind on reading my Treehugger newsletters, we were halfway through the month and, rather than play “catch-up”–which seems to be the story of my life–I decided I’d meet the challenge in December instead of November.

So, what is the Minimalist Challenge? Every day for the month of December, I am purging my home of unwanted or unneeded items based upon the date. In other words, on December 1st, I removed one item. On December 2nd, it was two. Today is the 5th so I will be removing 5 items, and so on, and so forth. By now, you get the picture. By December 31st when I remove 31 items, all total for the month, I will have donated, recycled, re-purposed or, as a last resort, disposed of almost 600 items. Can I do it? You betcha! But why not just pick those 600 items up front? Because that would the most daunting task. By selecting only a certain number each day, it breaks the task into smaller, manageable bites.

Why would I do all of this though? Because, unless we’re talking homeless, unwanted, abandoned, abused and/or neglected animals (within reason, of course…and insert cheeky grin here), my philosophy is “less is best”. While I joke that my dream home is in either Alaska or Maine, the truth is, my dream is simply a much smaller house. I really love the concept of a tiny house and this is just a step in that direction, a step towards living with much, much less. It is a much more inexpensive way to live. The less you have, the less you have to maintain. A larger living space equals bigger repairs, repairs that will almost always require a professional that I can seldom afford to pay. As a single woman on a single income, well, those of you who drive by the black house on Route 6 every day (and I seem to have started a trend as I keep seeing more and more black houses cropping up on Route 6 and many of the surrounding streets, too…lol!) are privy to the unkempt fixer-upper that never seems to get fixed up. Less is also easier on the environment. Less living space means a smaller area to light, to heat in the wintertime or cool in the summer. Lower energy usage is always good for the planet. And good for all of us who share it.

However, I’m not relocating to a tiny house…at least not for the moment. Tiny house living has been relegated to that never-reached point in time called “Someday”. Minimalizing today is simply to remove the clutter that distracts, irritates, stresses me out; clutter that loses important items in a sea of useless or unnecessary “stuff”. This is “stuff” that, oftentimes, could benefit others if I simply took the time to go through it and donate it to the appropriate places. For this purge, many of the items I’m purging are books that I know I will never read again; clothes that no longer fit, or else I never really liked the way they fit in the first place; extra jars that I saved for storing dried herbs in but I have a few too many taking up much-needed kitchen storage. I have old cellphones that could be donated to women’s shelters. And a mountain of knick knacks that always seem to end up in my possession after someone else’s purge. These will go into a box labeled “Yard Sale” for next spring. While I have a few choice what-nots, I prefer a very select few to a mountain of fancy dust collectors. I guess I’m a bit Amish at heart because I like plain, simple living. I’d rather have utilitarian items hanging on my kitchen wall–like measuring cups and pot holders and colanders.

I’m enjoying this challenge. Looking around me, going through items that I haven’t thought of or used in a long time, is proving to be liberating. Not only in the amount of space that is being freed up, but also, I am finding myself wandering down memory lane, remembering people and events in my life tied to some of these items. I confess, that can make some of this purging painful but, anything with a strong sentimental attachment, can stay. The idea isn’t to tear a hole in my heart. But allowing myself these memories is proving a great way to celebrate the yuletide season. I spend most of my year hustling and bustling about so much that, to quote Jewel’s song “Deep Water”, my “standard of living somehow got stuck on survive”. If nothing else, the house is also getting a good cleaning. And I’m remembering a book I read about the art of Feng Shui, about how doing these sort of purges, giving things away to those in need, opens the door for you to receive as well. I sincerely hope that doesn’t mean more knick knacks but I think this philosophy falls in line with the biblical truth of it being “in giving that we receive”.

Either way, I am accepting this challenge. And I am doing so with a smile. It’s actually fun. And I am looking forward to seeing those select few momentos taking center stage on their own little shelves…instead of hidden amidst the “busy”.

Are you ready for the minimalist challenge? Maybe more so than you know.

May God bless you & keep you!