Pie a la Mode for July: Did We Sweat?

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This month I dared Kristen to sweat (or, more specifically, to get outside despite the increased likelihood of sweating). I theorized that we’d experience beauty, connect with others and ourselves, dream a little, and get some exercise.

How’d we do?

From Kristen:

Oh, I sweated this month.

Twenty days this month were over 80 degrees, and no day was below 75 degrees. And I live in Massachusetts. We have what meteorologists like to call “the Three H’s—Hazy, Hot, and HUMID” So, yeah, I have gotten my sweat on. Literally.

I did my best to get Out There, too, though. There was the hiking up Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire, and the hiking at Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts with Mary. There was a beautiful saunter at the Sachuest National Wildlife Reserve in Middletown, on Aquidneck Island. I even kept up with my garden (mostly, Wild & Unruly is the look I have been going for, okay?!).

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the idea of pilgrimages, and of connecting with the Almighty, and of finding my way. In these few short weeks, I’ve not gotten very far.  It is something that I think I will be sitting with and stewing on for a while, yet.  And, I’m okay with that.

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From Mary:

July in Maryland has been a bit challenging. We’ve had record-breaking rain the last few weeks (my cherry tomatoes actually exploded from the rapid input of water) with thunderstorms forecast almost every day. Despite this, I managed to connect with others more than I anticipated.

Early in the month, before the rains, we had some new neighbors over for s’mores. It was unplanned and delightful to watch our kids chase lightning bugs and smear goopy warm marshmallow on their faces after toasting them in our jack-o-lantern-shaped chiminea. (It’s Halloween somewhere.)

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As we reported already, Kristen and I were able to bond in real life, which included a gorgeous day out seeing the Bridge of Flowers and exploring around the top of Mt. Greylock.

Also before the rains, I camped out several times in the backyard with two of my kids.

Once things got soggy, we started taking short walks anywhere we could grab a relatively dry spell. My oldest and her wife came to visit and re-introduced us to Pokemon Go, giving the younger kids new incentive to get outside. We also spent some time at a local manmade pond admiring the turtles and birds. It was gratifying to see that the actual wildlife still captivated the kids more than the screens (though I myself enjoy both, and refuse to demonize the fun little app—I’m not yet that curmudgeonly).

Because of travel and visitors, I didn’t get out on my own much. I did manage to grab a few morning walks, though, and even a few sunrises over the water.

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The month didn’t include long hikes in state parks like I’d envisioned. I didn’t increase my endurance or shed a bunch of pounds. But I did get to connect with friends and family and expand my heart a bit. It was well worth every drop of sweat.

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Pie a la Mode–May Mindfulness Wrap-up

 

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For May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, I challenged Kristen to join me in practicing mindfulness meditation. It was an odd dare, since Kristen is well-versed in the practice and I didn’t even really know what it was, but that’s never stopped us before.

So how did we do?

From Kristen:

Sometimes I surprise myself. I fully expected to fail at this challenge. I didn’t.

I still battle depression. I still have a family full of folks I love that battle depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar disorder, PTSD… This one month of breathing and paying attention didn’t cure any of us. It DID make me more mindful of what is actually going on in a given moment, though. Paying attention allowed me to recognize that not every moment of every day was dark. It makes getting through the tough days so much easier.

How did I do it? Well, I tried a bunch of things. I will admit that some of that is because I knew I was going to be expected to write about my experiences. Mostly, though, I was curious about the different kinds of meditative practices I’ve been learning about, and wanted to at least attempt some of them for myself.

I reread Jon Kabat-Zinn book Mindfulness for Beginners to remember the science behind the practice, and the practical steps for “breathing and paying attention.” His work at UMASS began back in 1979, so there’s plenty of science. There are not a lot of practical steps. Get comfortable and quiet. Breathe. Pay attention to your breath. Get distracted. Go back to paying attention to your breath. Repeat. It is remarkable how calm I feel from doing something so easy.

 

Years ago, while working my way through Julia Cameron’s course   The Artist’s Way I started a writing meditation she calls “Morning Pages” where you write 3-pages a day in a notebook, first thing in the morning. It is a brain dump kind of meditation. It helps clear the way for the thoughts and work of the day ahead.  I managed to write at least 3-pages a day for 17 days of May—so more than half of the month.

Sometime this month,  this article about the “Hail, Mary,” the devotional prayer to the Blessed Mother, crossed my desk. I have never been a big fan of the Rosary. I have always been put off by the example that has been made of Mary—how can I possibly compete with that level of perfection?! –and I tend to prefer praying conversationally (or beseechingly) to God, than to repeat rote prayers. This article shifted my viewpoint, though. I still haven’t “said a Rosary,” but I did begin a Rosary-linked practice in my classroom. As I am sitting with individual children who need some help calming their bodies for rest time, I would recite the “Hail, Mary” in my head, counting the repetitions on my fingers. If I reached ten repetitions—a decade—I would say a small prayer for my student (or myself as a teacher). Like the mindfulness meditation exercises, where I breathe and pay attention, this exercise has helped me remain patient with the non-napping tinies. That is more of a miracle than I care to admit.

Now that Spring has finally arrived for real, I have spent many happy, contemplative hours engaged in my gardens. There is the daily walk through the yard to see what changes have appeared. (The tulips and daffodils have passed season, but my lupines and bleeding hearts are stunning right now!) There is the watering, the pruning, the weeding… So many small, tedious, daily chores that connect me to the earth and the cycle of birth, growth, and death.

Lastly, on Memorial Day, I finally stopped by the local Universalist Church, because a while back I learned that they have a labyrinth, and I was curious. I met a lovely member of the church who brought me to a pine grove to where the labyrinth was, and then left alone to meditate while I looped through the granite and pine needle lined path. I arrived there a bit muddled. It has been an emotional weekend for me on a number of fronts. Walking this structured, twisting path was unexpectedly moving. I left feeling better.

 

From Mary:

I fully expected to grab May by the horns and meditate the heck out of it.

I failed.

I started out OK. Kristen sent me a copy of Mindfulness for Beginners, so I might have a clue what it was about after issuing the dare. Better late than never? I dug into the book with gusto, and finished it on a packed charter bus full of 5th graders and chaperones on the way back from an extended-day field trip to Philadelphia. The environment was nothing like what Kabat-Zinn suggests for meditating, but I took some deep breaths and focused on my reading. I could not wait to start a life-long practice of mediation.

And then life happened. One of the kids got sick, and another, and another. It was the beginning of over three weeks of several different stomach bugs that marched through our entire family, looping and swerving and hitting several people two or three times over. Although I tried to sample the guided meditation CD that comes with the book, most of my meditating was done while wiping down toilet seats with Clorox wipes, again and again. And again.

Kristen mentioned the Hail Mary. My love/disdain relationship with the rosary is currently in the “love” stage, as I’ve been trying to say one daily for my parents. I found during this past month that the rhythmic repetition of Hail Mary’s involved in this traditional form of prayer was both soothing and contemplative. That’s not quite the same as meditation I realize, but it’s as close as I got some days.

I also discovered that when I’m already feeling stressed and anxious, slowing down to focus on my breathing so I could empty my mind was next to impossible. I would hyper-focus on my breath, and almost hyperventilated a few times. Did I mention I’ve never meditated before? I can see why this is a practice that takes a lifetime. I also had some issues when instructed to shift focus from the breath to the body. It became clear to me very quickly that I am not at peace with my body. The part where you’re supposed to observe your thoughts and then let them pass without judgment had me crying in frustration more than once. I’m trying to count this as a Mental Health Awareness win, since you can’t work on a problem until you know it exists—right?

I also took my practice outside a few times, often to just walk around the neighborhood. Once this week I finally checked out the outdoor Stations of the Cross at a local Catholic Church. There is a short winding path with tall (maybe 7-foot) crosses marking each of the 14 stations, plus a 15th to stand for the Resurrection. Each cross had a plaque on it depicting the station. (For those not familiar, the stations represent the events from the time Jesus is sentenced to death until he is buried in the tomb and are often recited with traditional prayers and spoken meditations, particularly during Lent.)

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My favorite station, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

I did take a good deal of solace in the Encountering Silence podcasts, particularly Episode 6, Our Silence Heroes. I’m looking forward to catching up on more of them, as silence and mindfulness are so closely linked.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/encountering-silence/id1310186933?mt=2&i=1000400033803

 

Overall I’d say it was an eye-opening experience, and I look forward to much more practice—almost as much as I look forward to Kristen’s reveal of her June dare.

Pie A la Mode: A Final Dish on the April Blue Plate Special Dare

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So, how’d we do?

Well, if the goal was to become Eco Farmers (really, Mary?! How hipster of you! <smartass grin>), we failed. Miserably.

 I’ve been a total slacker with the garden. I bought those lovely plants. They’re sitting on the deck-I can see them from here. Two of them still look viable…

Yeah…I was looking forward to clearing out some dead leaves and then my husband found a wasp hiding from the wind in a leaf pile, so I’m feeling wiggy about it now.

Luckily, that wasn’t our goal. In fact, the challenge I truly posed to Mary was to loosen up, try something that she would very possibly fail at, and learn to be content in that.

She’s working on it. She took on a project I shared with my preschoolers—she attempted to root kitchen scraps. My students used potatoes, onions, and horseradish. Mary used a celery butt. It’s working!

The spontaneous celery sprout is still going strong on the windowsill…I also finally looked at the $1 sprout kits I bought from target-snap pea, watermelon, and strawberry. There were no instructions, so I’m winging it.

I mowed the front lawn-does that count?

Of course, me, the seasoned gardener with the impressive raised-bed vegetable garden, the country cottage perennial beds, the wisteria arbor, the window boxes, the water feature… Yeah, well, I failed, too.

Just like I do every year.

I’ve planted nothing new (aside from the potted tulips my beautiful sisterfriends gifted me with at my annual Tie Dyeing of the Easter Eggs Fandango). My window boxes need repairs I haven’t gotten around to, so there are no pansies in them. A family of moles seems to have begun feasting on my tulip bulbs, and I have yet to figure out how to contain them. The compost tumbler is still off its stand after being blown off during one of our late-season storms.  I didn’t start vegetables indoors, so right now all I have is some runaway chives and a bunch of weeds, and no hope of getting peas by July 4th…

Most years, I beat myself up for those failings. A lot. I have the memories of my Pop’s garden (and Pinterest, that soul-sucking #$%&@er ) as an impossibly high bar to measure up against.  And, well, self-recrimination is my jam.

Not this year, though. This must be where the Spiritual Practice bit comes in.

This year, the snow and the sleet did not stop coming until, well, last week. In late-April.  Yeah, yeah, my Maine, Vermont, upstate New York—actual upstate, like Rochester, not Westchester—and Minnesota friends can suck it. I know your winters last until June. I don’t live in any of those places. I live in Massachusetts. Where winter ends in March, the first week in April latest. This winter was almost too much to bear. The late season storms in March were BAD. They were wet, heavy, DESTRUCTIVE. The endless grey and cold and sleet and snow of April was disheartening.

So, when the sun finally came out, I was HAPPY, no, JOY-FILLED to go out and clean up the wreckage of my yard. Somewhere between cleaning out the trash that had blown into the gully between my yard and the neighbors, and hauling branches (so many branches!) to the fire pit, I realized: This is life more abundant.

When spring finally arrives, there is nothing more glorious than the explosion of bright yellow forsythias in bloom, or the flowers that appear like so many tiny, purple stars from the carpet of creeping myrtle, defying the wisdom that “nothing will grow in that spot”. Raking out wet leaves, I uncovered a stand of crocus, extravagantly beautiful because the blossoms were hidden.

One day, at the end of last week, as I was leaving for work, I was stunned by a mass of daffodils. Every fall, I make a ritual of planting bulbs, as a demonstration of hope in my future. I’ve been doing it for a decade or more now, and I guess this is the year that the daffodils and tulips have hit the tipping point, because the effect is magnificent.

This is life more abundant.

This is life more abundant, too: our septic system is going, there are still damaged trees to deal with, and, and, and…

There is always something more to clean up, something to haul off, something to prune, something to repair, something to dig up, something to burn, something to bury.

The dead and dying is always there. The dirt is endless.

It’s not a failing on my part. It is just friggin’ life. Just toss the whole mess into the compost heap to feed the next season’s growth.

Isn’t that beautiful?

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