I Thought It Was Just Me

Singer songwriter Cindy Walker’s Typewriter at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

As I write this blog post, an episode of the long-running British murder mystery show Midsomer Murders is streaming on my iPad. I have seen this one before, probably multiple times. Actually, I have seen all of them but don’t always remember them. This one is familiar although I am not sure I could name the killer.

Meanwhile, I digress. I am only half or maybe a quarter paying attention. It is entertaining the part of my brain that would prefer to be doing anything except writing a blog post. Food TV, the old version where people cooked rather than competed, was a favorite while I wrote my doctoral dissertation. I always felt a little guilty about this practice, as though I wasn’t fully concentrating on the writing, but it worked for me.

So, I felt a little vindicated when Brené Brown, in the section on boredom in Atlas of the Heart, described her writing process:

A big part of my book writing routine is watching super predictable, formulaic mysteries–even ones I’ve seen ten times. These shows would bore me to tears if were in a normal mental space. But when I’m coding data and writing, something weird happens. It’s like the shows lull the easily distracted part of my brain into a rhythmic stupor, setting free the deeper meaning-making part of my brain to engage and start making connections between things that don’t seem connectable. I actually sit on my couch with a notepad next to me because the more bored I get, the more ideas bubble to the surface (p. 40).

Atlas of the Heart: mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience, brené Brown

Early January has had moments of boredom for me as I few commitments compared to the busyness of the fall. Life is a little dull, frankly. And yet, my writing and other creative pursuits seem to be thriving. Ideas, as Brown describes, are bubbling up and I am taking time to pursue them. So, while boredom opens the door to creativity, I am giving myself permission to write about what interests me, in a way that I hope connects with others, sharing larger lessons learned from my experiences.

Who knows? I may even write about Midsomer Murders.

#WIPWednesday

WIP is short for “work in progress,” and is, surprise to me, a supply chain and accounting term. I encounter it in my crochet threads, and today someone referenced #wipwednesday on Instagram. The hashtag takes you to a lovely page of all sorts of WIP from crocheted blankets to hand painted miniatures. There are Lego structures and lots of visual art, all partially completed. Some people post videos as they work, describing the process and offering tips. While it is always fun to see final products, watching the process unfold is far more interesting to me as it is often hidden from view, as though seeing something being created takes away some of the magic. This hashtags celebrates creating, encouraging others to join in and experience the joy of making.

#WIPWednesday is also reassuring for crafters like me. While I tend to read one book at a time, I usually have at least three crochet projects in various stages. Right now, I am trying to finish up the second snow person in a pair before winter ends. There is also a green wool cardigan and a soft purple coverlet waiting their turns.

The snow people came in a kit that sat for a year before coming to the top of the pile. There are more kits in the closet plus more coming as I am part of a monthly crochet club. Kits, of course, do not count as WIP because they have not been started. I can always, as I did this year, gift them to someone who is not yet hooked on crocheting. (See what I did there?) And, kits are a hedge against the future when, presumably, I will finish all my WIP and existing kits and need something new to work on and no longer have access to the outside world. (Zombie apocalypse perhaps?)

I wish for you a WIP in 2024. Give yourself permission to just work on something without worrying too much about the final product. Take your time, sink into the creating, make it a a meditative act, connect with a still place beyond the frenzy of the world. And, yes, I might be talking about crocheting a dishcloth.

Happy #WIPWednesday!

An Apology to Mr. Teale

As I mentioned, I am reading naturalist Edwin Way Teale‘s Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year. I took him to task just a bit for suggesting that winter is a pause in the turning of the wheel, arguing that the life of a gardener and her garden doesn’t stop, neither for that matter does the wheel of life. This time of year, especially, we are treated to birds taking advantage of our feeders and shrubbery. The cardinals are a favorite.

While I still might quibble over the word “pause,” Teale makes my argument for me in the entry for January 7. He writes eloquently about life being everywhere even on the coldest winter day:

Protected by sweaters and a leather jacket against the biting blasts of the north wind, I walk along the hillside this afternoon. Snow lies drifted among the wild cherries. Where the wind has swept bare the ground, the soil is frozen and rocklike. On this day of bleak cold, the earth seems dead. Yet every northern field and hillside, like a child, has the seeds and power of growth locked within. From cocoon to bur, on a winter’s day, there is everywhere life, dormant but waiting (p. 3).

Circle of the seasons, p. 3

He goes on to describe how some seeds and bulbs actually require a period of cold in order to thrive. For instance, tulips and lilacs signalled spring in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. So, when I moved to Virginia and started my own garden, that is what I planted. I quickly discovered, however, that we lived on the very edge of their range and growing them was challenging. It just didn’t get cold enough.

Now, as the climate warms and the plant hardiness zones shift northward, those spring favorites may become less common in Pennsylvania as well. Developed in the early to mid 20th century, the plant hardiness zones attempt to identify the average minimum temperature a zone. Changes to the existing zones were announced in November 2023 making changes to the 2012 maps. While I continue to garden in Zone 7b, my parents’ zone changed from 6b to 7a, making them warmer by 5 degrees, which may be just enough to discourage the tulips and lilacs from blooming. You can check out your zone on the interactive map. It provides your 2012 and 2023 zones for reference.

Part of the reason my lilacs struggled in Virginia was also the heat and humidity we experience in the summer. They survived but certainly did not thrive, already weakened by a too-warm winter. The American Horticultural Society developed a heat zone map that looks at the other end of the thermometer and what the high temperatures for each zone are.

Gardeners were not surprised when the new maps were released last fall. We have been seeing the changes in our own backyards for some time now. Collards, a staple of southern cooking, may be the canaries in the coal mine. The tradition is that you only pick collards after the first frost. It sweetens them up. But, lately, the frost has come later and later, and one recent year, we weren’t sure it would happen by Thanksgiving. There would be a hole on many holiday tables.

I am grateful to be able to live here on the farm, my own bit of nature to observe, my own bit of wilderness to tend. It affords me a golden opportunity to look closely and connect to the turning wheel of the seasons.

Practicing Imperfection

Ten Percent Happier, my go-to meditation app for many years, started the Imperfect Meditation Challenge today. Designed for both novice and veteran meditators, the focus is on dispelling the notion that there is something like perfect meditation. Bad is good, according to this morning’s hosts, Matthew Hepburn and Cara Lai. The latter, by the way, completed a year-long silent meditation retreat. Plenty of time to practice and consider ideas about perfection and imperfection. They challenge us with the Zen koan idea that imperfect is better than perfect. They will be joined by Dawn Mauricio as the challenge progresses.

Lately, my own meditation has not looked at all like the pictures of people sitting peacefully, eyes closed, breath steady, zoned out of the world. I might start a guided meditation with that intention only to find myself rising from my chair and doing stuff while I listen, usually chores like feeding the cat or watering the plants or putting away the laundry. All of these can be meditative if done intentionally, focused on the present action and not telling stories or going down rabbit holes. Of course, those will happen and the moment we recognize those patterns, we begin again.

This morning’s lesson was followed by a five-minute meditation with Pascal Auclair that included a meditative activity I had not encountered before. It’s easy so consider giving it a try:

Start by thinking about rubbing your hands together. Picture it in your mind but do not do it. Spend a few seconds with the image and idea, thinking about what it feels like. Then, physically do it. Stop thinking about it and rub your hands together. So, what does it feel like? And, more importantly, how the action different from the thought? Maybe you thought about the action for a moment before you complete it: my hands are cold, and I am going to rub them together. But then you actually do it. Thinking about it is not going to warm up your hands.

In a similar way, our normal thought patterns can create a disconnect from the present moment and create a veil of negativity around our actions. Perhaps we find ourselves dreading the chores that await us, struggling with the fitted sheets or cleaning out the stinky cat food bowl. We may hurry through them, further frustrating the process, maybe letting our minds wander down other paths and rabbit holes. If we can move into the activity without that veil, put the thoughts aside, and just do the action, we may find a moment of peacefulness. Who knew fitted sheets could provide an object for meditation?

The Imperfect Meditation Challenge is free, and you can sign up at the website. If you find you want to explore the Ten Percent app further, just message me, and I can provide a guest pass for 30 days.

Happy meditating!

The Cold Plateau of January

Naturalist Edwin Way Teale connected with nature throughout the year. I have added Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of the Naturalist’s Year to my daily reading. In the selection for January 4, he describes midwinter as “a pause in the turning wheel of life” while “the whole circle of the seasons stretches away before us as we view the year from the cold plateau of January” (p. 2).

I don’t know if Teale was a gardener or not. While gardening life slows down this time of year, we never stop completely. I planted garlic in a raised bed in December. We ordered onion sets last fall and will be building a raised bed for their arrival in February. The seed catalogs are arriving daily.

Nature doesn’t stop completely either. As I was taking pictures the other day, I discovered Nigella seedlings in a pot. Also known as Love In a Mist, they are one of my favorites, with sweet blue blossoms that turn to balloon like seed pods, self-sowing and sprouting in the fall, surviving through the winter, then blooming with the first warmth of spring.