December marks time like no other month.
Tomorrow the winter solstice brings us the shortest day of the year followed by the longest night ... and days later, the end of one year and the beginning of another.
I’m thinking about how I can add light to my days and mark new beginnings. Not just new beginnings on the calendar, or the light from longer days, but the light and change that comes from doing things differently, seeing things in new light, and being curious.
Last week we had a snow storm ... a big one. Most of us got anywhere from 18 - 24 inches. And as it so often happens, the next day it was glorious. Sunny and bright and fresh.
After the storm, we took a ride ... uptown to State Street, left at Longfellow Square ... and there it was. A rainbow. Shimmering in the windblown snow hanging in the air.
This week's calendar ...
Thursday is Egg Nog Day. Are you a fan?
You'll also see that today is Poet Laureate Day. Because the statue in the rainbow photograph is poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I want to share a post I did a while ago on blackout poetry.
Follow this link to read more about Longfellow and blackout poetry, and give it a try. Use it to create a poem. Stick it to the refrigerator or mail it to someone. It may add new light to your day.
After all, you could be a poet and don't even know it.
Even if you don't want to try the exercise, click through to read Longfellow's poem, Holidays anyway. It's fitting for this holiday season ... one that is so very different from so many others. Read it and let me know what you think.
And if you create a poem, share it with me. I'd love to read it.
p.s. There's also a link in the post to Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. You can read the poem and find out why it's one of my favorites.
Don't miss this special event:
Sunday, December 13th at 2:00 EST
Letters Live celebrates the beauty and wonder of letters in a moving and altogether new way ... live readings.
From their website:
"Letters Live has brought to the stage letters written by people as varied as David Bowie, Marge Simpson, Mohandas Gandhi, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin ... and has seen the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliet Stevenson, Ian McKellen, Kylie Minogue, Russell Brand ... and Sir Ben Kingsley deliver unique and extraordinary performances."
On Sunday, December 13th, they are offering two one-hour screenings of previous performances.
I'm planning to watch (and listen), will you?
Backyard birding - it's easy, free, and just outside your door. If you're looking for something to do that doesn't take too much time (an hour or less), take a walk, look, and listen.
Birds are everywhere ... in trees, on fences, power lines, and porches. Track what kind of birds you see—and how many. In my neighborhood, we’ve got blue jays, seagulls, pigeons, robins, cardinals, chick-a-dee, dee, dees, and sometimes, woodpeckers.
If you find you enjoy it, get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count. It happens every year—and you can take part.
Of course there’s no equipment needed for watching birds ... but if you have them, grab a notebook and the binoculars.
We took a walk this spring and heard the woodpeckers ... listen here!
We went for a walk at the Audubon center this morning. It was an overcast day in an autumn landscape. At first glance, aside from the sweeping views of the field and the river beyond, it seemed there wouldn’t be much to see. At least not when compared to earlier in the season when so many birds flitted one way then another, flowers were blooming, turtles skimmed the pond, and the grasses grew tall and green.
Today the only green offered was harbored in the pine trees on the field’s edge. And it was unusually quiet. We spotted just one crow, another (unidentifiable) small bird, and in the distance by the river, a flock of seagulls. So many of the birds have migrated, the flowers and grasses have gone dormant, and there’s a chill in the air that seeks and settles in the gap of an open collar.
But there is beauty and intrigue to be found. Close up and at a distance if you look for it.
Red berries on bare twigs. The lilt of the marsh grass. And scat deposited on the edge of a well worn path. Yep, we’re talking poop. Pretty sure it didn’t come from a dog because they’re not allowed. And with all the berries in it, it was most likely fox droppings. Two sightings ... of poop, not the fox, unfortunately.
The walk was a bit of forest bathing; immersion in the natural landscape. Even though we weren’t in the forest, we focused on the landscape, the sky, the air, plants (and yes, poop), and nothing else. No worries about what to cook for dinner, the news, or impending chores. In return, we found what we were looking for ... calm in an otherwise hectic world.
We may not be able to visit or travel these days, but if we get out and explore what's close to home, there’s no telling what we might see and share ... in a letter, a phone call, or Zoom event.
Is there a park, walkway, stretch of beach, or field where you can go to get outside? Where you can watch, listen, and let nature wash over you? Go.
It will make you feel better and give you the scoop on new things to talk about.
A while ago I was feeling out of sorts, a bit edgy, and bored with myself. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what to do about it.
All I knew was I wanted to shift my mood and stop the creep ... I’d already spent much of the day feeling off and I didn’t want it to creep into what remained of the day.
So I decided to do something. Something I enjoy. I sat at my desk with my collage materials. I like collage work because it’s easy to pick up and put down without taking up a lot of space or having to do a lot of preparation.
After I got going, I realized, once again, it feels good to do.
Was it because I was working with my hands? That may be part of it, but I think it’s more.
I think the doing activates a shift.
A shift from a passive, unsettled state of mind to a state of being active and engaged. It's why I'm such a fan of having hobbies, passions, and pastimes.
It works when I write letters, when I clean, or cook ... just about any activity, really. The challenge, always, is getting started. For the collage work, I started by sitting at the table. I didn’t know what I would do or create, but knew just pulling out the materials would help. And it did.
It's so simple ... yet so hard sometimes.
Why is it so hard? Sometimes it’s because we’re so busy doing for others we forget to tend to ourselves. To take some time (not a lot of time, just some time) to do what we want, instead of what everyone else wants or needs, or demands. Other times, we're just overwhelmed. By our work, our circumstances, and these days, the pandemic.
When I sat down, I wasn't sure what I'd collage, but felt better just sitting with my materials. It was then I realized, it feels good to do. So I made this collage.
This is not the first time I’ve written about stopping the creep. Read my post about the recipe that saved my life and let me know what you do to stop the creep.
I'm starting in on my next book: Birds & Birding.
As I decide what to cover in the book, it occurred to me a mind map would be a good idea.
I'd love to know what you'd like to see in a book about birds and birding. Send an email, or post a comment and let me know.
And what about you? Do you create bird art, go birding, or have some other bird related activity you might share? I'd love to hear about it.
A different way to connect
We won't be visiting in person this Thanksgiving, so I'm serving up a side of snail mail.
I've decided to make a small batch of handmade collage cards to send and give thanks (there's still plenty to be thankful for, even if we're apart). Now that I have the design figured out, it's a matter of cut and paste.
The process is a meditation of sorts. Cutting and arranging, cutting and arranging some more. It's the mindless act of doing that's relaxing. I sometimes work with no background sound, other times there's the television in the background, or music, and sometimes there's a conversation happening.
These patterns happened by chance. Well, at least the first set. I was trying to keep count of how many pomegranates I'd cut, so I started lining them up. I liked the pattern and took a photo.
The first image was so compelling, I decided to do it with the next batch. The green leaves were all a jumble until I thought to arrange them in a sunburst pattern. Much better.
This is interesting ... creating parallel designs as I work. It's also a good way to visualize my progress.
Are you a pattern maker? Do you have ways to track your progress on projects?
A Nat Geo moment ...
The squirrel was wedged between the branches, munching on berries like it was seated at a buffet table.
We stopped to watch and at first the squirrel didn't seem to notice us. When it did, it took one last nibble and scurried away. We may have interrupted him, but I'm guessing there was a second seating once we were out of sight.
On our walks around the neighborhood, we see fewer people these days.
No wonder. It's colder now and the days are shorter. We have to push ourselves to leave the warmth and comfort of inside. To go outside for the fresh air, sunlight, and the occasional squirrel sighting we so desperately need.
Well, actually, squirrel sightings are not so occasional, there are a lot of squirrels in the neighborhood. Just not so many of them chomping berries.
A Nat Geo moment close to home.
For the next few days, my computer will be in the repair shop.
In the meantime, I'll be outlining my new book: Birds & Birding. There will be a call for entries (for bird related artwork, crafts, photography, and writing).
If you have any ideas to share, I'd love to hear them!
A less intimidating approach to journaling
This is my second hand-made journal. The first was the October journal - 10 pages folded in half to make 40 pages. At least one page for every day of the month.
I decided to create my own journal book because big, blank journal books are intimidating. So many pages to fill compounded with the idea that the pages should look good, my handwriting should be at it's best, and what I write should matter.
But I've discovered those things don't matter. With a small, monthly journal, the pressure is off.
Why have a journal?
My goal is to write once a day. To mull over what I'm trying to get done, how it's going, and what I need to do next. To ask questions of myself. Writing helps me work through the tough stuff, make sense of what's baffling, and record my progress...and success. However small.
And I get to create a new cover design each month.
In the front of last month's journal I wrote two goals for the month. To finish my letter writing book and a book about birds and birding.
I accomplished the first. Still working on the second.
To be honest, I forgot that I wrote my goals in the front of the book. When I flipped through the book at the end of the month, it caught me by surprise. The other thing that caught me by surprise was that I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't completed both.
I'm thrilled that I completed my first goal (I'm waiting for the final proof of A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice to arrive in the mail today(!)), and I'm working on the second.
The second book is underway, but far from complete. I think the reason I felt okay about it all was that I've been working on it. Making steady progress.
It's hard to know exactly how long it will take, but I do want to push myself and try to finish it by the end of the month.
What I'm discovering, though, is that working toward something is just as important as finishing it by a certain date. The work is the reward. It makes me feel productive, engaged, and ... just better.
And that's why I wrote, "Just the beginning..." on the cover of this month's journal. Because after I finish the birds and birding book, I've got another idea, and another. And that means beginning ... all over again.
Every day is the beginning of something. Maybe it's because something ended yesterday, maybe it's because we discover a new approach, trick, or method, and we're starting in a new direction.
The key is to keep going. Plugging away at things. It's amazing what can get done.
Every day we begin. We can toss aside a bad habit or distraction and focus on something we deem more important. Or not.
If it doesn't work today because you're tired, or not feeling well, or someone needs something you can't put off, you can begin again tomorrow.
It's up to us to do what we tell ourselves we're going to do. Because in the end that's what matters most. I don't want to disappoint anyone ... but most of all, I don't want to disappoint myself.
What are you beginning?