Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Chores as meditation

Otherwise known as the blog post in which folding laundry gets a little "woo-woo".

Like you, I've got a lot on my mind.  Mixed in with the never-ending to-do list, grocery items and errands are some big challenges, heavy emotions, and a few dreams too.  Yesterday afternoon, I found myself feeling flustered and pressed for time, annoyed with using what little time I felt I had to do the things that needed doing, like folding laundry.  Somewhere from the swirling sea of my thoughts surfaced a memory of "chores as meditation".  I needed to fold the laundry, so instead of using that repetitive, relatively mindless activity to let my thoughts spiral out of control, I brought all of my attention to simply folding the laundry, exploring my senses and remembering to breathe deeply and evenly.

Chores as meditation takes practice (practice I am only just beginning), so I worked through it out loud.  It went something like this:

I am feeling the warmth in the fabric, fresh from the dryer.
It's a pleasant sensation. (deep breath in, deep breath out--ahhh)
Socks, match, fold together.
I smell the freshness of the air coming in through the open window.
This shirt is his.  Lift. Little shake. Fold.  Place on his pile.
This shirt is hers.  Lift. Little shake. Fold.  Place on her pile.
I feel gratitude that my family has everything they need, that they have so much more than just need.
I need to donate some stuff.
What size is this?
I've got to deal with the donation pile of books.
This room is a mess.
I have too many emails.
I'm folding laundry now, and that's all I'm doing.
Socks, match, fold together.

See what happened there?  My brain and my body relaxed into the meditation.  Gratitude and joy welled up...which somehow released my thought spiral all over again.  The good news is I could spot it and stop it, if only for the remaining couple of minutes of that chore.  And do you know what?  That counts.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Talking through the process

If there's any title more fitting for a blogpost by me, this might be it: "sloooooooow blogging".  Once upon a time, I bought a shiny new domain name and had big shiny dreams about how my very own website would look.  A few years later (eep!), I forced myself to admit that setting up a new site from scratch is simply not for me anytime soon...so I chose a shiny new template on a gorgeous platform and logged in.  It too has sat (mostly) empty.  Apparently, The Blank Page isn't only threatening to traditional authors but can readily apply to online writers as well.  Experiment conclusion: acknowledge that new blogging habits can happen in old blogging spaces.  Voila!  This site is due for a spruce-up.  I'm actually taking a blogging class to get the creative juices flowing, and it's time I start actually attempting the assignments in the space I already have rather than stressing about how to create a new space to fit the assignments I haven't done.

In addition to my blogging course, I've begun a year-long training program in women's wellness education.  This has me thinking about self-care and the ways in which we deny ourselves what we need to thrive.  We all do that, don't we?  We develop big goals that we're excited about, and when life gets in the way, we let all the intentions and plans shift to the sidelines, even if it makes us sad to see them there.  Perhaps it's simply the perfectionist tendency to aim for "all or nothing", though writing it down in those words makes even that seem inexcusable.  It doesn't have to be everything to be something valuable.  If we stray from the path toward our goals, we can simply push through the underbrush and find the path again.  We might find ourselves in a different place than where we stepped off.  We might be further back toward the beginning (ugh).  Or we might be in a new, more interesting section of the path.  There is triumph in simply regaining one's footing and resuming the challenge, no?

No matter how big or small, are there any personal goals you have been setting to the side, waiting for the opportune moment?  What if that moment was now?  What if you could just decide that moment was now?  How would it feel to step your feet back onto the path?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Playing with ideas and the sense of community

In this new year, I'm embarking on a new learning adventure.  In addition to my language lessons, I've started a year-long training program in women's wellness with Lisa Grace Byrne.  So curious to see where this experience will lead!  Right now, the training is in week one.  I'm already a bit behind due to a minor sinus infection that moved into my chest and knocked me down, but I feel recovery in progress (thank you, feisty immune system!).  My enrolment was prompted in a few different ways.  I have participated in other courses with Lisa, and her words resonate with me; however, I'm remiss on implementation.  I feel ready to change that, and I wanted to buckle down for a year and really focus on the details.  I also really enjoy teaching and sharing.  I see women in my current community facing a lot of the same self-care needs, and I believe we could all benefit from wellness training face-to-face rather than online or from a book (which as I can attest are too easily discarded when needed).

In the meantime, I've been trying to figure out just how I want to go about blogging.  I miss it too much when I'm not blogging to just stop completely as I had done in recent months, but I know the modern concept of blogging -- creation of fully functional, picture-perfect website and branding -- is simply not me.  It's not what I enjoy creating.  I blog to write, share, and connect.  As a person who moves every two to four years, I find it fulfilling to be a part of an online community that thankfully does not have to be reinvented with such frequency as my physical community.  Yet so many of the blogs I have enjoyed for years have also dropped off in the past months.  It's like the old-school web-loggers all collectively threw in the towel, surrendering to those who grew tremendously and became successful brands.  I don't say this bitterly (hats off to them! so wonderful to find success doing what they love!), but it has been disappointing to watch my online community dwindle and fade.

Lately, I find myself very inspired by the blog style by Erin of Design for Mankind.  The site is clean and fresh, and the posts are in the format of personal essays.  She includes pictures, but only a few per post.  While we haven't met so I can't really say for certain, her posts come across to me as personal and purposeful, written with intention that is hers.  Even if the posts are sponsored, I still feel as though I've visited a friend who is sharing a find and a why.  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope she won't mind if I experiment with her style, if I try it on and see how it fits.  I really want a new site too.  It's like buying new school supplies at the beginning of the year (I always love that!).  For a truly fresh start, it feels so good to get everything new and shiny.

So…just some ideas I'm playing with these days.
Are you pondering any shifts or changes in your year to come?
Hooray for doing what we love!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A visit to Provence and learning about Santons

For the last week of December, we took a train down to Provence to visit with friends through the New Year's celebrations.  Provence is every bit as beautiful as you've heard…and possibly even more beautiful than that.  I knew Provence was famous for the lavender fields, but there is so much more to it.  The countryside, villages and homes gave an impression of Italy or Spain (or both) blended together with France.  The landscapes are varied, marvellous and breath-taking.  We wandered the town of St-Remy-de-Provence, played on the seashore and climbed onto the church roof in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, explored the Pope's Palace in Avignon (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and climbed the fantastic ruins of Chateau des Baux.  Almost daily, I asked Hubby when we can move there.

In the church in St-Remy-de-Provence was the most unusual Nativity I have ever seen.  The scene was forested with a windmill on a hill.  No stable in sight, the Holy Family were placed in a rocky cave.  This was no separate story with only shepherds and the Three Kings to witness.  All around, there were peasants in brightly coloured clothing looking on at the scene.

I began to notice similar Nativity scenes in other churches and shop windows.  Often, the peasants did not seem to notice the Holy Family at all.  Women would be posed for gossiping.  A man had fallen asleep on sacks of grain.  Many shops sold these figures in stunning variety, and I was charmed and captivated by them.  Thankfully, my dear friend read up on them in (far-better-than-mine) French and taught me all about them.  These brightly-colored peasant figures for Provencal nativities are called "santons."

During the French Revolution, traditional religious nativities were banned; decorating your home, however, was not.  Artisans began creating hand painted terracotta figures depicting typical local life.  Scenes would be created mimicking local landscapes with village people, animals, and yes, a baby.  In this way, people retained their nativities during this time of enforced secularism.  The tradition survives to this day, with the only real change being a definite Holy Family and Three Kings added in.  We saw santons for sale ranging in size from tiny (4 cm) to that of typical dolls (around 30cm or so).  The doll size santons were typically dressed in clothing and carried tactile accessories (baskets with flowers, straw hats, etc.).  There was a shop in Baux that sold paint kits with plain terracotta santons.  On our last day, I could resist no longer and purchased seven 4cm santons for our home.  Being after New Year, the Holy Family figures had all been sold, but there were the Three Wise Men/Three Kings.  This morning, we set them out in honour of the Epiphany and will finish the day with a Galette du Roi, another French tradition we are excited to embrace.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year 2016

Happy New Year 2016!

I love the enthusiasm for fresh starts and change that comes with New Year's Day, but I am the only one who feels like you are meant to have it all sussed out before the ball drops on December 31?  Well, I say boo to that!  Here's a new year's resolution we can keep: permission to grow, adapt and change whenever.

While I'm not one for resolutions, I do have some ideas big and small (daily meditation, return to photography, focus on wellness) that I'm excited to implement.  Before I do, I'm going to take this week to hit the reset button.  I don't know about you, but the past year felt really intense!  It was a year in which "I can't remember the last time I felt on top of things" felt like a mantra, and I am not a person who buys into the culture of busy.  I don't like feeling overrun by daily life, yet that's where I quite often found myself all year long.  2016 does not have to be a repeat of that, and it won't be if I can help it!

During the holidays, I started listening to some of the many fantastic podcasts out there.  One in particular resonated with right where I am now: The Good Life Project episode called "Close the Books".  The nutshell version is you make the time to thoroughly examine the past year--the positives, the negatives and the neutrals.  What worked?  What didn't?  How can you learn from your experiences?  What is the take-away?  Then, once you've gone through the whole year with mindfulness and care, you "close the books" on it, allowing a fresh start for the year ahead, applying what you have learned and feeling ready to continue to move forward and grow in new ways.  Have you heard of this before?  Have you applied it yourself?  Who's with me?

Warmest wishes to you, wherever you may be!  Happy New Year!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Le Tour de France

July has been a strange month for weather.  We've suffered through two heatwaves in a city that cannot handle heat, and yesterday we were hit with a cold spell just as strong on the other end of the temperature spectrum (from 100°F a week ago to 50°F in the wet wind).  The grey skies didn't give us pause about finding a spot to watch the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris yesterday...but then those grey skies opened up, a strong, cold wind kicked in and the weather became completely miserable...just in time for the Tour de France to begin its final day in Paris.

Yesterday afternoon, we tried three different viewing spots over the course of two hours before waiting it out between Porte Maillot and the Arc de Triomphe.  We were soaked and shivering, but we didn't give up.  When the moment came, it was so exhilarating, watching the pack fly past us as they geared up for the lap portion of the race.

The moment they passed us, we bustled to the metro and hurried home for hot showers and dry clothes, hoping we all don't catch colds in the name of Le Tour.  Hubby turned on the TV so we could watch the rest, but after about 10 minutes of watching, I couldn't stand being so close but not actually being there.  I bundled up to fight the autumnal weather and rushed out again to catch whatever I could on the Champs Elysees.  I made it in time for the final two laps.  The sun even came out for the end of the race.  Watching the Tour de France in person--what an incredible experience!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Well, hello there!

In case you've been wondering about my lengthy absence from this space, I've been out testing the hypothesis that one needs at least six months to recover from a major transition like an international move.  I ran a controlled experiment, tested on myself and my little family of four.  We repeat and compare results every 2 to 3 years.  We observe multiple factors, and I have once again reached that conclusion that yes, living a nomadic life abroad requires at least 6 months of adjustment time when settling into a new country before one begins to feel "normal" again.  If it's a place where you don't speak the language and the locals don't speak yours, bless you for trying.

Almost six months to the day, my crafting mojo returned (if you don't craft, just skip this paragraph entirely).  I hadn't wanted to knit for longer than I could remember.  I tried a few times to knit by rote, to feel the wool in my hands and to create something lovely…but my heart wasn't in it and each project was quickly returned to its bag.  A few months ago, I found and started to regularly attend a knitting group at a wonderful yarn shop here in Paris, but I only knit when I was there and even then, I knitted only a row or two while I listened and chatted.  Then, just a couple of weeks ago, boom!  It was back!  I finished two projects in three days.  Tempted to add to my stash (Aimee, why do you stock so much pretty?), I started to dig in my closet and discovered even more UFOs (that's unfinished objects for you sane non-knitters), and I wanted to finish those too!  I carted a half-finished child's sweater along to the knitting group last week, only to have everyone question my sanity, knitting with chunky thick wool during another hideous heatwave (oh Paris, you don't do heat well).  They were right, of course, so I bought a new skein of thick chunky wool to knit a cowl for my big girl and cast on for that over the weekend.  Hey, I never said knitters make logical decisions.

As soon as my crafting mojo returned, I became hyper-aware of my lag in communications across the board.  Normally, I try not to miss sending birthday and anniversary cards, but I realised I haven't done so in many months--including, I'm ashamed to say, close family.  Oh dear.  I'm not sure many of our friends and family even have our new address.  I don't actually know our landline phone number.  Remedy, remedy, remedy.  I'm considering sending out Christmas in July cards to get everyone in one fell swoop.

Which brings me to this blog.  Hello!  I've missed you too!  Over the past months, I've been taking pictures on my phone and sharing many of them on Instagram if you'd like to see.  I would like to return to this space and resurrect the joy of the big camera too.  In the meantime, we'll be soaking up summer and enjoying the freedom from scheduling that I'm sure helped make my return to normalcy possible.  I hope you've been well!  Thanks for checking in!