Alarm bells sounded high and low, all around the pond. From a distance we heard the persistent screech of the blue jay, then the urgent squawk of a duck, and as we neared the pond, the bong-bong call of the frogs.
What, we wondered, was going on?
Stopping at the edge of the pond, we scanned the water, the trees, and the sky, listening and looking.
And then we saw it. A big owl, a Barred Owl (yes, we had to look that up when we got home), perched in a tree on the edge of the pond.
I'm not sure if the frogs were sounding an alarm, mating, or doing what frogs do, but the duck and the blue jay were visibly agitated. The ducked paddled frantically from one area to the next squawking all the way. The blue jay, in full screech with fanned tail, was swooping down at the owl ... from the left, then right, again and again and again.
But that owl.
Talk about composure. It flicked an ear and spun its head at the bluejay's aggressive fly-by graze, but otherwise it remained still. Focused.
Fascinating stuff ... and the final entry for the day in yesterday's good things journal:
3. the owl in the woods
I started the good things journal last month. A list of three good things I see, experience, do, or feel during the day. Every day.
It's a matter of semantics, really. Like me, you've probably seen the prompts to keep a gratitude journal (and maybe you already do), but somehow that never materialized for me.
Until I read about a "good things list."
It's simple. I keep a small notebook and pencil within ready, on a table in the living room. The idea is to make a list of three different good things you experience every day. Short entries, a few words each.
Here are some of the entries I've made (with the original numbering):
3. clean sheets
4. trip to the library
5. takeout pizza from Otto
2. raking the yard
1. the sun is shining
2. almond flour chocolate chip cookies
4. Wordle in two
1. a good night's sleep
2. got the laundry done
3. the own in the woods
Like the owl, despite the unexpected swoop of outside influences, I've remained focused.
One entry at a time ... on the good.
And yes, it feels good.
Sometimes I write one thing at a time as it comes to me during the day, other times I write my list at the end of the day. And more often than not, once I get started, I'll remember something and add that to the list, coming up with not just three, but four or five, sometimes six or seven good things about my day. Not monumental, over-the-top exciting things, but small pleasures that, in remembering and recognizing them, make it a better day ... today and tomorrow.
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?
Two too many avocados. All ripe with no recipe to go to.
Well, I should say, no recipe I'd made before that I wanted to make again. I wanted something different.
I needed a recipe.
When I saw the name of the recipe: Chocolate Avocado Pudding, I wasn't sure to what to think other than, what an odd combination of ingredients.
But it works. Avocado and chocolate ... and some maple syrup and a splash of milk.
It's so good every time I place a little bowl of pudding on the table, I ask, "Want some puddin, Puddin?"
If avocados don't make it on your grocery list very often, but you like chocolate pudding, you might want to try the recipe. I use dark cocoa powder and add extra maple syrup. And, according to The Pretty Bee where you can find the recipe, it's paleo and vegan. Two more reasons (if you're looking for one) to try it. Yum, yum.
Do you have recipes with odd ingredient pairings? Do tell.
Sundials: fighting time and finding patience
On our morning walk we passed a sundial and the urge to check the time was irresitible. The arrow (or the gnomon as the shadow-casting feature on a sundial is called) indicated it was just after 7:00.
We were confused.
It was, we knew, just after 8:00. It took us a split second(!) to realize sundials, of course, don’t recognize Daylight Savings Time.
The sundial moved more than time
Seeing the sundial made me think more about time. How we spend it, how we fight with it, and how it teases us.
When I got home, I was reminded once again, that I need to be patient. That whatever hobbies, passions, and pastimes we choose, they need time to build and develop.
Just a week after I started my illustrated journal, I decided to go with the sundial for a new page and collage. But I struggled. I sketched the idea and started cutting bits of paper, but it wasn’t working. The proportions were off and even though one of the things I like most about collage is that it’s perfectly imperfect, it still needs to look like something close to what it represents. I wanted to give up and walk away because things weren’t going my way.
But I didn’t.
I stayed with it, and the more I worked on it, things began to shift. The idea of the sun as a background element came, then adding the minute and hour hands seemed like a good idea. It was slow going, but with each idea, my confidence grew and I forgot about the time, and the struggle.
When I was done, I knew there was a lesson somewhere, and it seems, the lesson is: things take time.
When I sat down I was frustrated and wanted my collage to come together quickly. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen. My mind needed time to process the concept and figure things out.
But that’s not all.
The sundial set me on a course of unexpected curiosity, offering a couple of other lessons:
You never know where something may lead
When we got home, we were curious about sundials. We learned that sundials are the “earliest timekeeping device” and the element that casts a shadow is the gnomon.
It gave us renewed appreciation for sculpture, the stars, the sun, and the moon.
Hang in there
When I started the collage I was impatient. Things were taking longer than expected and I wanted to give up. But when I finished, nearly two hours later, I felt better. More relaxed and (really) happy that I stayed with it.
How often do you fight with time? Are there lessons you’ve learned from sticking with something?
Tell me about it.
For the love of books
There is a brick and mortar library in the neighborhood, but still, just five blocks away, there is a Little Free Library, a “take a book, return a book” exchange.
As part of our stay-at-home routine we walk around the neighborhood and every day we pass the Little Free Library box. Two weeks ago we put three books in the box and watched and waited to see how long they'd last.
The day after we put them in the box, one of them was gone. But then it took over a week for the second, and today, two weeks later, the third book was gone.
People love to read
Started in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, the Little Free Library network has spread. In 2020, there are "100,000 registered libraries in more than 100 countries worldwide." People like to read.
Though book exchanges are not a new idea, the Little Free Library keeps a registry of each through a community website.
Build your own
The project has inspired readers and carpenters alike. If you're interested in having a book sharing box in your neighborhood, the Little Free Library site has plans and tips for building and installing your library.
Not sure? There is a delightful gallery of images on their Instagram site.
Wondering if there's a book box in your neighborhood? The Little Free Library website includes a map page where you can look up your location. That’s where I discovered there are three within just a couple of miles of where I live.
Maybe there's one in your neighborhood?
Extraordinary but real
The first time I saw what I would later learn was a bleeding heart plant, I thought it was a fanciful creation. Imaginary flowers created by some skilled craftsperson with an affinity for hearts.
We’d been invited by friends to join them for the weekend at the family “home,” a second home that went back generations. Though no one lived in house, it was occupied regularly by different members of the extended family, often in the way we were using it: a weekend get-away, a few days in the country.
It was a grand old farmhouse with an eclectic mix of antique furniture, professionally painted portraits, pillow-soft sofas, a staircase off the living room and another in the kitchen, threadbare bedspreads, a large lawn, formal garden, and a hand-crafted lamp with bleeding hearts cut from tin.
The bleeding hearts were a life-size decorative element at the base of the lamp. The tin hearts were painted pink, pierced, and threaded with wire to hang and sway like the real thing.
I’d never seen such a plant and the heart shapes seemed too extraordinary to be real. It was only years later when I saw a bleeding heart plant growing in someone’s garden did I learn they were real.
It’s clear the lamp was inspired by nature, but I wonder ... was it created to mirror a passion for gardening? After all, there was that formal garden. Or was it a way to explore the potential of cut metal?
Maybe it was simply a one-and-done hobby project.
It’s spring here in Maine and the bleeding hearts are in bloom. Seeing them always reminds me of that lamp. Of my doubt. How I admired the skill and artistry of the lamp, but scoffed at the idea of heart-shaped flowers.
My ignorance colored my perception of what I was looking at. I realize now the artist must have been inspired by one or all of the elements that made the lamp what it was: the flowers, nature, their craft. And how, by creating a lasting reminder of the plant, they preserved a moment in time.
I’m in the early stages of journaling, but I see that no matter what we create, the materials we use, or the subject we choose to represent, by giving it form, we’re able to share it and touch others in ways we’ll never know. The artist who created that lamp will never know how much I think about it, what I learned from it, what it means to me.
Or how I wish it was in my living room.
So share your art, your craft, your writing. You never know who's looking.
What are you working on?
So many of us are cooking more, and being one of those people who is cooking more, I can say there are days when it's a bit of a chore. The days I don't want to to cook are the days I want to be doing other things. When the time it takes to cook something takes me away from something else.
I like to cook, always have. Baking is one of my hobbies.
But it's good to have a break.
We cooked a lot the day before (different dishes for lunch and dinner). It wasn't planned, but the following day when we did a run-through meal plan, we realized we had leftovers for lunch and dinner.
Lunch and dinner.
Two meals we didn't have to cook. What a welcome break from starting from scratch. From the chopping, sauteing, peeling, measuring, and mixing. The piled up dishes, bowls, and pots and pans.
It meant less time in the kitchen, more time for other things. So easy, it was like having takeout.
It was a small thing, but a good thing. A reminder to notice when things are good. We noticed, and it felt good.
So good we made popcorn. We had the time. And anyway, making popcorn is fun and not so much like cooking. And that was good, too.
How about you? What simple pleasures are you noticing?
We heard the woodpeckers, but couldn’t see them, so I had to do a bit of research to capture them in this collage.
It was late April when we took our woods walk, when the trees were still bare. The woodpeckers were on my mind because we recorded the sound of them drumming ... today I figured out how to extract the sound from the video.
We're not sure if we heard a male and female, but I wanted to represent both in my collage because their coloring is different; the male has a red dot on the head, the female is pure black and white.
The Downy Woodpecker is a small woodpecker:
Length: 5.5” - 6.7” | Wingspan: 9.8” - 11.8”
The Cornell Lab has a great site, AllAboutBirds.com for identifying all sorts of birds.
Are the woodpeckers drumming in your neck of the woods?
This post is part of the May playbook: birds and birding.
An Illustrated Journal
Early evening is when I get restless. I don’t like to read at the end of the day because most days I spend a lot of time on the computer.
Sometimes a movie is a good fit, but more often than not, I find myself watching television or spending more time than I should scrolling Instagram. And that leaves me more restless.
After thinking about what I could manage and what makes sense, I’ve decided to try journaling. It’s new to me and I want to experiment.
I’m not interested in listing what I’ve done during the day. Instead, I want to focus on one thing that caught my attention during the day. One topic, subject, thought, or feeling.
And I want to set some parameters:
This is the first collage.
Last night I cooked a new dish: Roast Chicken with Schmaltzy Cabbage from Smitten Kitchen. It was good, especially the cooked cabbage.
When I was pulling the ingredients, I realized new recipes are what keep me interested in cooking. Sure, I have a few go-to recipes, but I like trying new ones.
And my cast iron pans.
Geez I love those pans. They are like the original non-stick cooking pans. And clean up? So easy. I use them for almost all my cooking.
What about you ... do you journal? Do you set parameters? I’d love to know your process. Got any tips to share?
Do you cook? With cast iron? I'd love to know.