Grateful for a Summer at Home


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
In the last week, I read a travel memoir, skimmed through an atlas, made a list of cities I would like to visit for weekend trips, and scoured a travel website for tips on my dream journey of a lifetime. However, I have not been outside of my current locale, Albuquerque, in more than three months and I won’t be going anywhere this summer, either. I have a serious case of wanderlust. I was feeling discontented and disappointed that travel is not going to be much of an option for me in the next few months due to budget constraints.

I knew I needed to sit with my disappointment, instead of denying it. After giving myself a little time to deal with this homebound reality, I discovered that mostly I was feeling hemmed in by the seeming lack of adventure in my near future. I was feeling sad, because I had expectations that were different than my reality. I realized that was my problem. When my expectations and my reality align, I am blissfully content and joyful. I was out of alignment. My wanderlust ideals were colliding with my local existence.

Believe me, I am a homebody. I love to stay home and curl up with a good book, my favorite music playing in the background. I love cooking dinner at home and savoring a glass of wine. I love puttering around the house, or enjoying a morning on the patio drinking coffee and watching the sky turn black to pink to blue. I love going to a nearby park with my borrowed telescope and viewing the stars and planets. What usually feels like a cozy option, though, was feeling more like a punishment or a slight curse.  As soon as I voiced my discontent to myself, while making breakfast one lazy weekend morning, I got a little perspective. I realized that I needed to look at my feelings of being chained at home through the lens of gratitude. I made a list of things that I was grateful for, with this idea in mind.

I am grateful that I will have lots of time at home in Albuquerque this summer.

I am grateful that I will get to make a serious attempt at a patio garden this summer.

I am grateful that I won’t be fighting highway traffic or having to share a beautiful vista with countless others.

I am grateful that I have summer employment to fill in the gap of my school-year job.

I am grateful that I live in a beautiful place with lots of hiking trails and biking routes and access nearby.

I am grateful for a summer to concentrate on some spiritual, physical, and mental fitness goals.

I am grateful for health, employment, and contentment with how things are in my life.

I am grateful that I will have extra time to finish a large writing project.

I am grateful that I will have time to complete an online class that I have been postponing.

I am grateful that I have a whole shelf of books that I have been meaning to read over the last couple of years.

I am grateful that I have a few friends who will also be in town this summer.

I am grateful that I will have a chance to put together a budget and plan for a dream trip to possibly take in a couple of years.

I am grateful that I invested in a few books about sightseeing in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

I am grateful that I have a pantry full of ingredients and a shelf full of cookbooks to try new recipes and dishes and share with friends.

I am grateful that I have made a list of some out-of-town-but-still-close places to see and visit this summer.

I am grateful that several museums, that I haven’t visited yet, offer upcoming free and/or discounted entry fees this summer.

I am grateful that I have a good camera to take pictures and find some new angles from which to enjoy my favorite local haunts and landmarks.

I am grateful for a small and cozy home in a gorgeous city.

I am grateful that I am taking initiative to invite friends from nearby towns, who might also be on the same kinds of budget constraints, to come and stay with me.

It only took a few minutes to change my perspective. I usually think that travel does that. However, I realized that the view of home, all of a sudden, looks very lovely indeed. What other parts of life, where there might be discontent, also need a new view through the beautiful lens of gratitude?

 

 

 

Clean


IMG_2109As spring fever fills the air, the deep urge to spring clean fills my heart and head. I have never been known for my housekeeping. While my mother prides herself on a floor that is clean enough to eat off of, I could always find something else to do to fill an afternoon at home, but spring cleaning always harkens at this time of year.

Somehow, though, in the last year and a half, my messy ways have changed. My dishes are washed, my clothes are folded and put away, my clutter is curtailed. Maybe it’s a newfound-yet-late maturity, or maybe it’s that I’m finally seeking clarity amidst the detritus. Hard to say, but maybe because of my ongoing spiritual work and finally striving for peace, I want to have the mental space and the physical calm among my belongings. I am striving for my physical reality to match the spiritual peace that I desire.

There are various theories about messiness. Some say that a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. Perhaps this is so, but some of the most creative and brilliant people I know have cluttered desks and messy houses. Now, there is a difference between messy and dirty. It’s one thing to have a sinkful of dishes, it’s quite another to live in filth. I do believe that when we let it get to the point of filth, we are no longer taking care of ourselves and that this is a sign that something is seriously wrong.

I don’t want this to be a treatise on housecleaning and I have no tips on ways to do chores in 10 seconds, but there is something in the human mind that seeks clean. We like clean slates and fresh starts. We like beginnings and trying again. We desire forgiveness and new ways. In most religious traditions, there is a way to begin again. There is much emphasis on clearing away and letting go.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in the middle, though, rather than the beginning. We can’t forget the past, even if we have forgiven. Is it possible to change? Is it possible to start new patterns? Is it possible to find redemption for mistakes? Can we truly begin again?

Each day, and even each moment is another chance. We can forgive ourselves, even if someone else is not quite ready to forget our transgressions. The spring is the perfect chance and the perfect metaphor. We open the doors, swing wide the windows, and dust out the detritus. We might appear exactly the same, and yet our insides are transforming. Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress, because we are right in the middle of the journey. We need time and distance for perspective, and yet we can celebrate the little steps.

We can clear a shelf, we can let go of a burden. We can write a letter of forgiveness to someone who has harmed or hurt us. We can let go of regret and we can begin to make peace with the past. We can look forward to a clear conscience and a release of old patterns. To truly change, we have to try new.

I clear out the junk drawer in the kitchen. I organize my financial files. I observe the anniversary of my father’s death and celebrate his life. I write a letter, that I will never send, to a family member to release myself from our arguments and to find redemption in an adult relationship. I talk to a friend and hope that our relationship can bloom and grow, despite some mistakes and baggage. I struggle with self-love, but I find small ways to get there. I sweep the porch and I clear my mind. I go for an early morning run, in the darkness just before the sun breaks over the mountains in the east, and I feel clean in the sweat and the effort.

We clear away to make room for new. We let go and look forward. We begin again, each new day, each moment. There is clarity amidst the confusion. There is peace even in the pain. We take a breath. We clean so that we find love and forgiveness right now. We know that this is all there really is:  this moment, love, forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

Take Care


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

It’s the casual salutation in an e-mail. It’s the lovely thought at the end of the phone conversation. It’s what we learn how to do as toddlers. But what does it really mean to take care?

I have been sick with a bad cold, home from work for a couple of days. I sent texts to my boss and the people I supervise, to let them know I wouldn’t be in and to keep track of general tasks for the day, before going back to the couch to watch comforting videos from my DVD collection and to try to get some sleep, which has been quite elusive in the last couple of weeks. That rare sleep probably has something to do with the worn down immune system that has made this cold feel like a permanent state of being, rather than just a brief interlude.

Isn’t it weird that we often don’t appreciate something so important as health? Why is it that we take it for granted, until a cold, or worse, a scary medical diagnosis snaps us into grateful awareness? I am still harboring a fever with loud coughing and noisy sneezing. All of a sudden, I am very aware that health is a beautiful gift and that taking care should be a shouted command, not a whispered afterthought.

Sure, I can talk about eating healthy: fresh fruits and vegetables, less sugar and fewer processed foods. But what about taking care of our whole selves? What do we need for our minds, for our spirits, not just for our bodies? I deeply believe that these are all very much connected. If we are taking care of our bodies, we should also be paying attention to what feeds our souls, our minds, our beings.

A few months ago, I was deep in the midst of loss:  the loss of a dear friendship and the loss of my dad after his death. I read some books on grief, wrote a lot in my journal, and slowly found the way to healing. Almost everywhere I looked, it was recommended that I take care of myself in the midst of the grief, despite the bad instinct to do otherwise.

What does taking care mean? What does it mean to you? What does it look like? What is self-care comprised of? What are the habits and rituals that help us to heal? What helps us to remember to take care of ourselves? Why is that we often lose ourselves in the care for others, when in reality, we aren’t much help to someone without taking care of ourselves?

I realized that while my bout with a cold might have been brought on by a co-worker who came to the office in a fit of sneezing and coughing, I realized that I had lapsed greatly in my own self-care. Regardless, both of these are probably contributing factors in my recent illness. Unlike those with serious health problems, I should be feeling better in a day or two. As I rest and dream of returning to a normal routine, I think about hitting the reset button and coming back to my routine of “taking care.” Some will be the same for all of us, but others will be specific to me. You will have your routines and practices that help you take care of yourself.

Here are some of the things that I need to do to take care of my mind, of my body, of my spirit, of my self, of my soul. Sleep. Eat three meals with lots of vegetables. Spend at least three minutes, no more than it takes time for the tea kettle to boil, in quiet meditation. Go for a run, no matter how slow and plodding, a few times a week. Limit my tv viewing time to a couple hours a week. Read good books for fun, for inspiration, for peace. Reach out to people I love in texts and phone calls. Take a few minutes to quickly clean up the messy routines of daily life: washing the dishes, putting away the clothes, dispersing with the recycling, clearing away the clutter on my work desk, watering the plants. Watch the sunrise and sunset. Keep track of the moon. Walk dogs. Donate a little time, donate a little money. Make good and sustaining meals. Find self-love, even when it feels difficult. Spend a little time in hobbies that I enjoy:  taking pictures, learning to quilt, going on road trips, hiking on local trails. Spend time with loved ones. Say thank you for the magnificent and the mundane. Write a little each day. Lose myself in the magic of teaching. Reach beyond my self. Remind myself of all that I take for granted: health, love, friendship, a beautiful and small and peaceful home, access to good food.

What do you need to take care?

The Many Forms, Shapes, and Types of Ordinary Love


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It’s February and the month of Valentine’s Day and a very commercial time to express one’s love. Oh, the cliches and the candy and the ache. However, it is also a beautiful time to contemplate love and its role in our lives. There is an oft-expressed opinion that we overuse the word love in trivial, everyday moments, and yet do not fully express it in the heavier, more poignant times in life. I am not sure where I fall on that spectrum. As someone who is trying to grow in her writing, I think part of the challenge is that there are not many synonyms for love. Yes, there is affection, like, passion, but the four letter word really does the trick. Instead of worrying about using the word too much, or not respecting its deeper meanings, why not just embrace love in all its forms, from the every day to eternal?

Here are a few ways that I have appreciated love recently, from the mundane to the magnificent.

I loved a hot shower. I appreciated the clean water, the ritual, the metaphor of rebirth, and the heat on a cold morning.

I loved a really good cafe au lait from my favorite coffee shop and a special treat on the way to a packed day at work.

I loved a morning hiking with third graders and getting to share my love for the Rio Grande with those students.

I loved a haircut session with my favorite cosmetology student who is about to graduate. We chatted and caught up and I realized we have become good friends in her year of school. I love that we will keep in touch, even if sporadically.

I loved that an article of mine was recently published. I loved seeing my byline and the experience of a dream coming true, with the help of persistence and follow-through and vision.

I loved a new vintage purse that I purchased through a cool online vintage shop on Instagram. I loved the beauty and functionality and connecting with a new person who also loves fashion and style.

I loved hearing a new pop song on the radio. I sang, even though I didn’t know the words, and released tension in the midst of a fun, catchy tune.

I loved a night looking at the moon and talking with a good friend. I loved the time to just be with someone who understands me well. I love this person deeply and I cherish this person’s love for me.

I loved a session getting some good advice. I realized that I was lucky to have this person to provide perspective, but also loved that I was open to the advice and ready to take steps on something that terrifies me.

I loved the full moon rising over the mountains. I don’t care how many times I see the moon, I love its beauty, its phases, its presence.

I loved a long and meandering conversation with my mother on the phone. We talked about everything and nothing, and I love her so.

I loved an hour on the floor with my two favorite dogs. They aren’t mine, but I know them well and love them so much. I loved the fur, the paws stepping on me, the heads resting on my lap, and time just being quiet.

I loved an hour cleaning and straightening my apartment. I love my home and its cozy feel, the plants, the art on the walls, my books, all of it.

I loved an evening making dinner for myself, the chopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the beautiful sustenance of a good meal.

I loved a funny string of texts with my sisters. I love them and enjoy the giggles, even while we are a few hundred miles from each other.

I loved getting my act together and applying for a new opportunity. It felt good to be brave enough to try instead of procrastinating and making excuses.

I loved the resolution of a financial question. Even though it’s not quite what I hoped for, it feels good to take steps and keep going.

I loved a quiet morning and all that it included.

I loved finding love in all the ordinary moments and facing the extraordinary.

 

 

Shadows


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“To think of shadows is a serious thing.”–Victor Hugo

It was Groundhog Day on February 2, and supposedly if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If you look at the calendar, six weeks from February 2 puts us into mid-March, right before the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. Anyway, many others have written quippy and funny articles about the weird holiday, but it got me to thinking about shadows.

Sometimes, we are scared of our shadows. We think of our shadow selves, our real, honest deep-down selves. For some, we are trying to find our true identities, or getting rid of the labels and digging into what is within. Our shadows might be the places we need to work on, to find what we have missed. Our shadows might be the wounds long ignored that finally need to be healed. Our shadows can be the strong and authentic that need to emerge. For some, the shadow and the self are no different. For some, shadows bring about the side of us that we do not share with just anyone. Maybe our shadows also hide our secret talents, passions, and desires. Perhaps our shadows are sheltering a new direction, a new project, a new relationship. Perhaps our shadows are letting this new thing gain ground, gain strength, gain shape.

Despite our enthusiasm for the approaching spring, I like to think of this last bit of winter as the most crucial of the hibernation time. It is the time to dig deep, literally and figuratively. It is the last of the dormant season before things begin to bud and sprout and grow. The winter time is often mistaken for the dead season, but it is just as important as the growing time. In a false thaw, when trees and plants sprout early, they can be damaged or even killed by the frost. Winter and this time of shadows can be the season for recovery and reflection and reassessment. This time of silence and darkness eventually yields to sound and lightness.

At various points in this blog, I have written about big new directions and goals. Sometimes, those have come to fruition. Other times, I have stumbled and faltered, or found a new direction very different from where I began. Sometimes, it helps to announce the goals, for excitement, for camaraderie, for accountability. Sometimes, though, it helps only to allude to the shadows and instead, shut up and get the work done and see what emerges. This is one of those times.

We can all find our resources, our tools, and our directions. We can find our shadows.

I sit back. I hunker down. I find the margin between the dark and the light. I take refuge in the shadows. I gather my tools. I sit in the right now. I begin.

The Resolution of Gratitude and Thank You Notes


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”–Melody Beattie

When we were little, my mother always made sure we wrote thank you notes to friends and relatives for the gifts we received for birthdays and Christmases. In later years, my grandmother and great-aunt had saved some of those letters and shared them with us. We laughed together, remarking on the childhood cursive and funny phrasing, but I noticed that my grandmother put them away as if they were precious jewels.My great-aunt was a minimalist, before that word was commonly tossed around, and kept very little. When she died a couple of years ago, the things she had saved were albums full of family photographs and our childhood letters, especially those thank you notes.

The summer after high school graduation, I wrote mountains of notes for the gifts propelling me into adulthood. That seems to be the last time that I was consistent about writing thank you letters. I am ashamed to say that I did not keep up with the tradition of writing thank you notes, despite receiving wonderful and thoughtful gifts for many occasions over the years. In fact, I am just now writing thank you notes for the gifts I received at Christmas. It’s for the first time in a long time.

In mid-January, some people’s New Year’s Resolutions have already crashed and burned. I have always loved the tradition of coming up with resolutions and trying to find meaningful ones that will stick. In the last few years, I have tried a different tack, by getting very specific about one or two goals, or going with a larger theme that reflects all aspects of my life. This year, I have decided to focus on gratitude. I want gratitude to become my praxis, my practice. This is less about self-improvement and more about a spiritual shift after some hard-won lessons. This is something I want to become a lifelong practice, not just a quickly-expressed-but-easily-forgotten resolution.

I have read about people keeping gratitude journals, or making lists of things that they are grateful for. I love both of those ideas. So now I plan to jot down things I am grateful for in my all-purpose journal that also serves as a repository for writing ideas, dreams, goals, meditations, and all other things. I think it will be fun to find bits of gratitude sprinkled among the pages. When appropriate, I will also take pictures of things that spark my gratitude, like sunrises, a good meal, and glimpses of a full moon. Taking time to write down my gratitude and to take pictures of my gratitude, I hope, will help me to be more grateful, to more fully realize my gratitude.

I also want to examine gratitude, and not just be grateful for the good things and the beautiful things. I want to find gratitude in all. I want to find gratitude in the dark moments, in the sad times, in the things that might otherwise be difficult to find gratitude.

As well, I realize that these are all internal moments. I also want to share my gratitude for the people whom I love. I have decided to pick up that beautiful, and ancient, art of letter writing and go beyond the traditional thank you note. I plan to write thank you letters to the people I love and really say thank you and express what they mean to me. It might be on a birthday, or when I think of a friend, or when I know someone is having a hard time.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”–John F. Kennedy

The quote from Kennedy makes me realize that gratitude is so much more than saying thank you. It is taking the meaning deep into our hearts, and living it fully. It means saying thank you for the big and small, aloud and in the quiet ways we live. In reality, it means writing the thank you notes for gifts, but also sharing our gifts of talent and time with others. It means being present. It means being open. It means living fully.

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”–Eckhart Tolle

Here’s to a new year and a new practice. Here’s to gratitude. What does gratitude mean to you? How do you express gratitude? What is the practice that you hope will bring more meaning and joy into your life?

 

Unadorn


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The tree unadorned. Photo by Kary Schumpert.

The holidays come careening like a noisy parade, despite their arrival in the midst of the quiet beginning of winter. For a bit, we forget about the silence, while decorating and baking and wrapping and celebrating. It is in the darkest time of the year, that we find the meaning of light and look forward to its arrival.

One of my favorite rituals is taking down the Christmas tree and all the decorations, at the end of the holiday season while the year is still young. Some people I know, as soon as the last present has been unwrapped, swiftly pack up all the ornaments and vacuum the last of the evergreen needles, fake or real, from the floor the day after Christmas. I like to wait until Epiphany or the 12th day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition, Epiphany is the day that the wise men finally reached the birthplace of Jesus. This year, to celebrate Epiphany, I waited for a windy morning in the new year, but not the actual day, which is January 6.

The word epiphany also means “a sudden revelation or insight.” In this case, an epiphany is the proverbial “light bulb moment” when one has a great idea or something becomes clear. Two huge epiphanies occurred to me in November. It’s weird how a moment of clarity can be the point in which everything changes, even if quietly and internally.

I like that Epiphany, also celebrated by taking down the tree and other decorations, is both a celebration of the “light of the world” and a time of removing those lights. Metaphors abound.

A couple of mornings after the new year dawned, I brewed a cup of coffee and shivered into my favorite sweatshirt with the moon’s phases printed on the front. I pulled the two plastic boxes from the closet and then began the undressing, the unadornment, of my apartment.

I unplugged the lights and took down the wreath from the back of the door in the kitchen. I removed the electric chile ristra lights, given to me last year by a good friend, from the wall by the stove. I remembered to pick up the small holy family creche near the entry way. I took the punched tin angel down from the top of the tree and returned it to the shelf for its year-round spot in my living room.

Then I began the routine of plucking the ornaments one-by-one off of the tree. The ornaments are really like specimens in a time capsule of my life. I possess ornaments given to me when I was born, and a felt stocking decoration I made in pre-school. There are souvenir ornaments from travels, including a wooden ornament of Nebraska I bought on a spring road trip to see the sandhill cranes. Each year, my mom gives us an ornament for our trees as a Christmas present and a celebration of the twelve months that have just passed.

This year, I added a pressed tin star ornament, as a memento from a summer trip to a colonial Spanish “living museum” near Santa Fe. My stepmother sent me a small ornament she had made with a picture of my dad at its center. He passed away in March and I appreciate her sweet handiwork and his familiar half smile-half smirk in the photo.

I wrapped the breakable ornaments in much-wrinkled tissue paper and placed the softer ornaments in old holiday cookie tins. I thought about the memories of Christmases past, my sisters and I wearing matching nightgowns as we unwrapped presents. I remembered playing with my cousins on Christmas eve in the warmth of my grandmother’s kitchen while the adults sat and talked around the tree in the living room. I recalled the year in college, when I almost didn’t make it home, stuck in the Duluth and Chicago airports due to a heavy, heavy fog and then a holiday’s helping of snow just as the clouds began to clear.

I thought about making Christmas cookies with my younger sister in our years as roommates in Colorado. I remembered the many holidays hosted by my older sister, the yummy food with the cacophony of family political debates and marathon trivia games. This year and last, I stayed home in Albuquerque and had quiet holidays.

This year brought sadness, with the passing of my dad. There was also a bit of upheaval, that had more to do with growth and some confrontation both with myself and with others. There has been sadness, grief, mistakes, arguments, deep discussions, joyful reunions, silent partings, and wonder. There has been much clearing away of the old:  old stories, old baggage, old untruths. There has been a planting of new seeds:  new truths, new friends, new relationships, new beginnings, and new beginnings within old relationships. There has been forgiveness:  of self, of others. There have been epiphanies.

The new year begins. We pack away the old. We begin in the quiet, sparse winter. We try new. We touch the scars, and we feel the healing. We forge ahead. We find the epiphanies. We want change. We know, though, that change must begin by learning from the past and trying something different. We have to clear away the old growth to make way for new growth. We know that sometimes our noisy proclamations are not the real changes, but instead, the genuine transformation takes place in the quiet moments when we reach out anew.