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Archive for January, 2013

I have a friend who thinks June is the darkest month. The kids are out of school, tourists crowd her tiny town, and she’d like nothing better than to curl up in bed with the air conditioner on high until September. (This is not me, I swear.) Another friend can’t stand December and all the forced cheer and shopping the holidays bring.

Me? My darkest month is February.

There’s a reason it’s the shortest month of the year — any longer and it would kill us. It’s usually cold and dreary, and if by a miracle it happens to be warm, there’s MUD.  (I’m guessing E.E. Cummings never had to brush out a pastured horse or clean up after a dog and two kids.)  True, there’s a week of vacation, but  if you manage to go away, everyone else is there too. And if you stay home, everyone is bored with snow, the local attractions are insanely crowded, and someone is always sick.

You can see being around me in February is an uplifting experience. (My sweetheart, wise man that he is, plies me with chocolate and champagne on Valentine’s Day, so at least I’m cheerful for a few hours.) So this year, I’m making a list of things that make me happy, activities that refresh my soul and the souls of those who have to put up with me.

Happy List

  • Climbing into bed with clean sheets and a new book. (Any recommendations?)
  • Walking in the woods with the Slobbering Beast.
  • Getting lost for a few pages in the book I’m writing.
  • Waking to find my bird feeder filled with blue birds.
  • Listening to my son laugh.
  • Watching my daughter dance.
  • Seeing my two kids play together happily.
  • Stealing alone time with my husband.
  • Doing something physically challenging that leaves me exhilarated when I’m done.
  • Reading any of the bloggers I’ve linked to in my sidebar. (C’mon, people, update — for me???)
  • Having school cancelled on account of snow.
  • Sledding at our favorite hill.
  • Tulips.
  • Teaching someone to read.
  • Getting real letters in the mail.
  • Surprising someone with a tiny gift or act of kindness.
  • Being warm.

What’s on your list?

In February, we need to be the light.

In February, we need to be the light.

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It snowed here last week — crisp and white and heavy. I’d planned for a snow day and finished  my work early, but the kids wound up having school.  And so I found myself with several whole hours and nothing (besides laundry! writing! dinner!)  to do.  I decided to play hookie and go for a hike.

Near the preschool where my children went is a parcel of conservation land. When the kids were little, I knew it well. The school was just far enough, and the program just short enough, that most days it didn’t make sense to go back home after I’d dropped them off, so I spent many of those two-hour segments wandering the trail.

I still hike there from time to time, but almost always the shorter loop — the longer one requires a time commitment I’m rarely free to give. Last week,  it felt almost sinful to start down the longer path, but I did.

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My, what big footprints!

The trails have changed since my children were little — the conservation organization has added new paths and extended old ones. The snow had covered the way in several places, and I had to backtrack until I found the right direction. And then I found a pair of footprints leading off on their own, through a part of the woods I hadn’t visited before.

I was hiking by myself. Normally I have the Slobbering Beast for company. He’s an ideal companion — an 80-lb missile of muscle with Orca jaws and white shiny teeth, ready to have my back if required but a waggle-bottomed enthusiastic greeter of the toddlers and their parents we sometimes encounter. He’s also my personal GPS.  He can find a trail in any condition, and is a stickler about staying on it. (Unless there are bunnies, in which case deviations are allowed.) But even the most handsome Beast occasionally needs to be bathed, whether he wants to be or not, which is why I was on the trail and he was getting his nails cut.

So when I saw the footsteps, I hesitated. I worried whether I would be able to find my way back. I wondered who I’d encounter on my own, with no Beast by my side. But the woods were lovely, dark and deep, and I had no promises to keep that day. Except to myself, so I stepped off the path and wandered away.

And it was lovely.  Peaceful and quiet, aside from the ice and snow falling from the trees, shattering into a handful of sparkles when they hit the ground. There were deer tracks, raccoon prints, and disturbingly large dog-like tracks that appeared on their own and disappeared down a little gully, but the only human prints were those that I’d followed into the woods. And then they veered up, toward where the trees broke along the meadow, but I continued on, along the hint of the path ahead, which curved and double-backed and eventually met up with the main trail, at the exact spot at which I’d meant to be. But the way I’d gone this time was so fresh and new to me, I was able to see it with clear eyes, and so the journey was completely different than it might have been.

Writing is like that. Sometimes you have to break away from the known, from the carefully constructed outline you’ve made, and follow that hint of inspiration where it takes you. It may get lonely. You may come across something that disturbs you. But the journey will be your own.  It will be unique, and it will be what your reader remembers, even if you end up in the exact same spot you’d intended all along.

The end.

The end.

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Except two article deadlines and a sick child home with me. It’s amazing how quickly the whole idea of ‘balance’ can be thrown out of whack by a bad cough and small fever. I’m grateful it isn’t worse, and until I have the time to post something more profound, I wanted to show you this:

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It’s dirty and wrinkled because it has been hanging in the hallway of our preschool teacher’s art class for years, and it’s been splattered with paint and glitter and who knows what else. But it stays there because it is so profound.  On this day, no matter what else you have to do, make time to play. (And no, my sick child, Angry Birds does not count.)

 

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Writers these days are funny people. (Perhaps they’ve always been.) I spend hours at my computer, creating imaginary people, and then a few hours more interacting with other people who, for all I know, may well be imaginary too. (Have you seen some of the Face Book profiles out there?) It’s a life wholly of the mind, no body required.

Charles Dickens was a writer who knew the importance of getting out and about. According to a book by Jill Lepore, Dickens would write in the morning from 9 till 2, then prowl about the streets for as long as he had written, taking in the streets and sights of the day.

This year, I want to bring a bit more balance to my world. I want to spend more time outdoors, more time shutting down the constant chatter of my mind and shutting off social media, time spent observing what is around me, what I’m doing right this second, right here. For the next four weeks, I’m trying to get out of my mind (my eight-year-old helps me with this daily) and back into my body. I’m going to hike or do yoga as many days as possible, take a walk after dinner with the kids and the dog, stomp through the snow. I’m certain it will improve my  mood, and there’s evidence it might improve my writing as well.

My hiking partner.

My hiking partner.

What are your plans for 2013?

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