saturday (ritual)

Once I got rolling on this, I could sense that it was going to be LONG, so I’ve decided to break it into at least two parts for now.

ritual: an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner

A few times over the course of the past year when I’ve mentioned the word ‘ritual’ it always generates comments or follow up emails from friends asking me to write some more on this subject. It’s something that I kept promising to do, but never seemed to get around to it, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the meantime.

It’s one of those seeds that was planted several years ago, as I was working through a lot of different issues, and thinking about stretching goals for myself. If I’m being honest with myself, the idea probably surfaced as we were mired in grief and (what felt to me like) extreme inactivity and indecisiveness. I

It was hard for me to name that during that period, but it became crystal clear as the fog started to lift again. I set two really big stretch goals for myself in that next year. The first was to immediately set up and follow through with an evaluation of my feet issues and schedule surgery and rehabilitation as soon as possible. It was a terrifying proposition to me, but I just forged ahead anyway. It was an incredibly painful surgery, and left me almost completely dependent on others for all driving and daily chores for 8+ weeks, and then I had several months of physical therapy that followed.

The second stretch was equally daunting. I decided to not only move forward with my licensing exams, but to commit to completing all seven of them in just a few months. I outlined this plan in my mind during the weeks I was confined to a chair or my bed post-surgery, and I made it happen by crafting specific rituals for each test. I scheduled the first three at two-week intervals, took a six-week hiatus to travel to Mexico, celebrate M, E, and F’s late summer birthdays, and get everyone back to school in August. Then I scheduled the remaining four every two weeks – allowing one three week exception for the notoriously tough one.

I made this work by doing a few key things: I set aside the time I needed, established clear expectations (for myself and of others), and didn’t permit myself to make changes based on fear or panic. I knew there was the real possibility that I might not pass one or more of the tests, but I also knew that I couldn’t assign blame to the timeframe for that. I know I am capable of giving my absolute best effort in a specific (even aggressive) timeframe. I was just joking this week in a meeting that I think one of my strongest gifts is the ability to stretch time as I need it, when I need it. The ritual of my holiday card making demonstrates this to me each year. There’s that word again – ritual. What could I learn from that and apply to my physical recovery and my tests?

I scheduled each test on a Monday. After completing each test, I drove to the same Starbucks down the street, ordered the same green drink (no longer on the menu, but luckily it stuck it out through my testing period), and spent the rest of the afternoon on a rare treat – like picking up a new book or shopping for a swimsuit for our trip. On Monday evening I boxed up all of the materials for that test, and went to bed early. On Tuesday I did nothing. On Wednesday evening I pulled the next materials out and got to work for ten days, then started all over again with the next one.

I learned a whole lot of things that year, exam material aside. In a household that splits domestic chores pretty evenly on all counts, it meant almost an entire year of doing very little cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. I spent the first half with my feet up (by doctor’s orders) and the second half with my tush in a chair (by my own orders). It felt crappy at the start, but it was good practice for the end. There were a lot of things I wasn’t doing at 100%, but there were a few things I was killing it on, and those buoyed me for future challenges.

I came out of that year HUNGRY. (Maybe that should have been my word for that following January!)

Over the next few years I began to articulate just what it was that I was hungry for, and I used the practice of creating rituals around those things so that they were both fulfilling and non-negotiable. I know that (physical) muscle memory is a thing, but I think it also can apply to the creating or breaking of habits. Ritual creates that muscle memory which then transforms desire into practice.

The most obvious first answer to what I was hungry for was food. I was grateful that my family kept me fed during that year when I couldn’t do it myself, but I was ready to eat more and better, and to really stretch myself in that area. I got serious about menu planning, and I created rituals around the act of thinking about food week by week.Those rituals included a specific set of pre-printed note pads that live on the side of our fridge, a small stack of one or two cookbooks at a time, and (if lucky) a sunny weekend moment at the kitchen table. I make a breakfast from the leftovers of last weeks’ meals, and I make a short list of random ingredients that are still hanging around. I map out our evening obligations so that I get a clearer picture of the nights with more or less time, and when the schedule dictates who’s running the kitchen show that night. If we’re receiving Blue Apron meals that week (I still use and love this service all the time), I plug in those three recipes to get the ball rolling. Already the week sounds delicious, and I haven’t had to do a thing.

Mapping out the week this way takes some work, and a lot of follow-thru. But once the road map is there and the grocery list is ready, I already feel a lot better about it. It used to feel like such an undertaking to me, and I was prone to procrastinate on the task. But ritualizing the process – even down to my favorite teacup for coffee while I work – has made it part of my Saturday routine.

I’ve also made a practice of reading each new cookbook I purchase or receive from start to finish as soon as I receive it. To me they read like a regular book text, and if I know what is inside each cookbook, I’m much more likely to reach for it. And when I do, I’ll pull several recipes at a time from one book. Often there are similar ingredient veins throughout the book, and that also helps to keep my ingredient lists slim and trim.

It’s taken several years of regular practice, but even the way the list is organized and compiled makes the grocery experience better. I used to despise the act of grocery shopping, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’ve slowly folded it into the start of each new week, and I try to use it as a quiet moment of expressing gratitude. Most of that gratitude happens in the produce section. We try to limit sweet treats at home, but always serve fruit with or after dinner. I am frequently grateful when shopping for fruit – in its seasonal abundance, and how it reminds me to savor the moment I’m in right then. I used to lament the last of the peaches, but now I know how good they are when they return again. The ritual of eating peaches for breakfast on the beach might be my favorite one of all.

We’re in the middle of a significant snowstorm this weekend, and many of our regular weekend rituals have been cancelled or postponed. I’m excited for the possibilities of a different sort of weekend – the kind that happens so rarely as to be magical. I’ve learned that rigidity in rituals doesn’t work for me, and leads to disappointment. Sometimes things get busy and overscheduled and we get off track for a week. But that muscle memory is strong, and I can sense when another Saturday aligns again in a way that fills me up again.

So I’m off to make coffee, and warm some pears in the oven, and move at a slower pace for a few more minutes before we head out into the wintry wonderland. I promise to return to this idea more next Saturday.

saturday (intention)

**Quick note. I’ve missed writing here, and so I’ve pledged to myself to back off the all or nothing thinking, and to establish a reasonable schedule of regular writing practice for myself. This year I’ll post something each Saturday that I’ve been thinking about in that past week, starting today.**

I’ve noticed a trend in recent years – and I like it – to select or name a word for the coming year. I’ve written before about preferring the idea of stating intentions rather than creating a list of resolutions each January, and the selection of a word feels like an intentional statement. And I’m telling you the truth as I start typing this post, I don’t have a word selected yet. I’m hoping that by the time that I finish this I will. I like to think out loud as I write.

The first word that comes to mind is ‘yes’. It popped into my head a few times over the long holiday break. I felt like I said ‘no’ to a lot of things in November / December as I did my best to balance an extraordinary workload and my (often extraordinary) expectations for myself and others. And then I found myself defaulting to that ‘no’ mode, even beyond the push. So I checked myself, took a deep breath, and started saying ‘yes’ again.

I can tend towards being a homebody if I don’t watch myself. It takes effort for me to extract myself from thinking that home = tasks = productivity = good. If I’m running around too much, I start to think (worry) about what I’m not getting done at home, and once I start to worry about those other things, I’m not enjoying where I am in that moment.

Because we had to shift some of our holiday traditions around a bit this year to accommodate the travel plans of family members, we found ourselves with a very rare stretch of time off to spend just at home, with no agenda. We were already speaking of this time reverently in early November, repeating it like a mantra as we scrambled from task to task. Knowing that time was coming is what got me through December – that, plus a near-constant practice of productivity and positivity – as silly as that sounds. I knew it would be a challenge, but I treated it like it was the most fun challenge I’ve ever faced, and it wasn’t really that bad. I stayed organized, (mostly) sane, delegated without debate, and practiced being satisfied with each day’s efforts.

It felt really good to be productive and busy, and also really good to relax afterwards. To be honest, the relaxing part takes more work for me than the productivity. I took a few naps, finished a book, took some daytime tub soaks, and went to bed without setting an alarm clock for an entire week. I rarely even do that on vacation. But the rest of the time I stayed busy with year end and year beginning stuff. It was tempting to just stay in my pajamas all day and Get Stuff Done.

But that’s not necessarily the intention I’d like to carry into this new year. I’ve accepted that I’m always going to be running full speed ahead, even in those moments that I intentionally pause. But I’d like to channel more of that energy outwards, and to lean towards ‘yes’ more than the default ‘let me think about it’ (what will I have to give up? how much will I have to stretch or risk?). Maybe this is about bigger things – ownership opportunities, new positions, bigger reaches – but I’m mostly thinking about the smaller things. Those moments that pop up in the middle of homebody tasks – let’s drop what we’re doing and spend the day hiking and exploring – that I’d like to default ‘yes’ to. Moving beyond saying that I’d like to see this or do this, and actually scheduling it in that moment and then following through on it. Continuing to hone my decisiveness, and trusting my gut. I’ve been working on that for awhile now, and I like where it’s taken me.

For several years now, I’ve attended a Saturday morning power yoga class. I’ve come to love the instructor and all the regulars in the class. The room fills up quickly, and when I look around the space before class begins it fills me with such joy and energy. This morning it felt even stronger, as we all engaged in our first class of the new year. At the end of class, during shavasana, our instructor quietly placed small green cards at the foot of each mat. As we left, she invited us to turn them over and read them. Each card had a different word that might represent an intention for the coming year.

Mine said ‘sanctuary – my heart is my home’. I immediately thought of the holiday cards I had just finished, and the way I talked about home in my last post. I thought about how complicated home can be, how it holds all the joys and frustrations in such an intimate way, and can easily slide from a sanctuary to an escape, particularly when I’m nervous about stepping into something new. Maybe the word for me this year is ‘willing’ – being more open to ideas that aren’t mine or that challenge my comfort levels or knowledge or security. I like that word, and it feels as much active verb as passive descriptor. Willing.

But I’m here at the end of these words, and I still like ‘yes’. So ‘yes’ it is. It’s a simple response I can practice in my own head until it becomes muscle memory.

Yes.

holiday card 2018

It’s been a pretty epic “baking” season around here this season!

I’ve had this card idea for a long time – in fact, I think it might be the first card idea that I started mulling over while I was working on another card. You might remember that last year’s card was mostly black and white, save for a pale yellow moon. I loved that card, but when I was in the thick of it I remember craving color. I knew that this year’s card needed to be bright and cheerful.

One of the traditions in our house is to pack our holiday themed books away with our decorations, and so those books get rediscovered every year when we pull out the ornaments and lights. The first book that F always requests to “read” is The Gingerbread Architect – which is really a cookbook that my parents gave me years ago. We’ve studied the pages and directions for years and years, and every year F asks if we could PLEASE make one this year. It’s one of those tasks that feels so daunting to me – not the ease of a house kit you can pick up at the grocery store, but rolling and cutting and baking building components… and then the assembly! So I always defer it to another year, and then another. Reading the book seems so much simpler! But the idea of creating a gingerbread house card stuck with me, and then earlier this fall my sister-in-law texted us a picture of the candy ornaments she had purchased for my niece’s memorial tree.

The sparkly sweet treats sealed the deal for me. I knew that this was the right card idea for the year, and I started sketching out ideas and lists right away.

I started over Thanksgiving, and moved my little cutting mat around with me to wherever the people were. By now they are used to me slicing away while we hang out. I made a quick mock-up, and assessed the numbers required.

There are 110 green Life Savers “dipped” in three toned green sprinkles. I thought I could literally dip them by adding glue and pressing them into a pile of paper sprinkles. I hated the way it looked, so I glued 30-40 individual sprinkles on each wreath. It was the first of many road blocks! There are also 110 extra plain green Life Savers on the card. (Fun fact: it’s hard to get the little hole perfectly centered in the middle – if it’s a little off it doesn’t look like a Life Saver. So the rejects became the wreaths, and that’s why I ended up with extra candy on the side. Basically I was 50% accurate with the middle punch!) Baking twine bows – so tiny! – added the perfect finishing touch. 

Next I moved onto the Twizzler cornices. I ate a lot of Twizzlers as research. I settled on this textured red paper, and then freehand cut wavy strips that I glued on top to create the ridges. Once I got it right, this felt like my finest achievement. There were some really bad prototypes along the way.

But the most epic component is the sparkly candy mansard roof. This came directly from the Second Empire (Victorian Era) house in The Gingerbread Architect. In that example they use candied sour strips – almost like a gum, but with two tones of blue stripes, that they hand cut and overlapped to look like the slate shingles. It’s our favorite thing in the whole book. I thought about scalloped rows of paper, but cutting intricate curves like that wrecks a lot of blades, and seemed time prohibitive and frustrating. So the idea of punching dots out seemed like a good one!

Another fun fact: there are 8,470 dots on these cards – 7 rows of 11 dots times 110 cards. Lots of punching, and a whole lot of gluing, one row at a time. I worked on this every night for over a week. It was soothing and relaxing and really kind of fun. But by the last night I was ready to move on.

I do love how they turned out.

Next, I made 110 cookie sheets by gluing turned edges to two ends. I liked the idea of the cookie sheet because it gave me a base for the card, and it added a little more sparkle.

The most excited I got was when I thought about using actual parchment paper on the cookie sheets under the houses. I really tried to come up with a way to treat the windows of the house to make them look like translucent candy, but never liked any of the results. But the parchment paper made the holes in the house look a little more polished, and I thought the curled up edges would be cool.

Guess what? Parchment paper is designed not to stick to anything! Who knew? So after gluing over 1/3 of them and sandwiching them between cookbooks to dry, I discovered they just slid back off. So I ended up cutting three holes in each one to “sandwich” the parchment between the cookie and the sheet – and filled each hole with a lot of glue and possibly a few prayers. I then promptly forgot that non-stick issue when I glued the gingerbread snowflakes on, so you probably have a loose snowflake floating in your envelope somewhere! Just tack it back on with a dot of glue!

My least favorite part was the gingerbread cornice, but I knew I needed some depth for some snow and icicles. I think it’s one of the best parts of the finished product.

Not the gumdrop buttons!! (Just a favorite family movie reference there!) Gumdrop bushes seemed like a good idea in front of the house, icing snow covered, of course.

Final details were SO MUCH FUN. I used several kind of white pens, plus puffy paint for the dimensional icing snow. I briefly panicked thinking about how I knew they would stick a bit to the envelopes, even after fulling curing. But I think they’ll be fine. Once I send them out they aren’t in my control anymore. There’s a lot of love and care and attention on the inside, and I hope that the recipients know it and feel it when they open them, imperfections and all. I tucked a quick baking tag in, and liked the alliteration of our street name and our house style.

This card celebrates so many things that are on my mind during this season. It incorporates favorite traditions and has so many little nods to family and friends and past projects and future projects that I haven’t even detailed here. It was a busy season in so many ways for our family, but once again I found the time to be creative and connect with others in a way that fills me up for another year. I hope it says that we love you and miss you and think of you often. That home is intricate and complicated and layered, but mostly sweet. This card is best viewed next to twinkly lights, it’s delicious with coffee (let’s grab some together!), and it looks particularly great lined up in rows and rows like a neighborhood / city / region – the community that I know and appreciate and love and desire to work with and strengthen and make better.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes in 2019 from our family to yours. I really hope it’s a sweet one. xo, Kristin