Tag Archives: slowing down

When a Break Turns Into a Sabbatical

I’m back. I took a little break from writing and blogging this summer thinking I would be back at the keyboard by late-August or early September…it is now October 13. I suppose that is more of a sabbatical than a break. I didn’t expect that I needed or could even tolerate this much time away from writing. I guess I was wrong.

I stepped away from my laptop in June for family and for personal reasons. I will be writing more about both of these in future posts. In short, I wanted to spend as much time with my daughter before she started her senior year and I needed some time to process some things privately. I was concerned that if I continued to blog I would process publicly–and prematurely. Given these few months, I know I made the right decision in both of these cases.

The time away also allowed me time to get started on some much-needed and long-overdue projects around our house. I will be posting regularly about our “Take Back Our House Project.” I have some great before and after photographs, will share some of our dirty, little secrets and the solutions we have found. We are still very much in the process of this project and will be continuing to work on it throughout the year.For a sneak preview, check out my Instagram posts.

I’d love to hear from you about your own projects: how do you get started, what keeps you motivated, how you juggle the long process with living life, etc.

So…I am glad to be back. I am determined to keep writing and to continue to share my journey and struggles, battles and blessings.

God’s peace, my friends.

Amy

 

Bicycles

The Magic of Summer

There is just something wonderful about the beginning of summer. Maybe it is the freedom that we–even as adults–feel once school has ended. Or maybe it is the lengthening of days and the vegetable stands and sunburned skin.

field

I was reminded of the magic of a summer evening as I drove along a rural portion of a South Carolina interstate earlier this week. Mesmerized by the way the trees filtered the late afternoon/early evening sun, I watched as dust particles danced like fairies in the space between the trees and grass. My mind slipped easily back to a day in my childhood–summer 1974–in the small, mid-Western town of my youth…

 

SUMMER 1974–PARKVILLE

A chair pushes back, side door opens and the screen door slams shut. The mother’s voice yells unheard to the girl bare feet, bed-messed hair, eyes minutes from sleep. The girl pauses on the steps and surveys the yard feeling the warmth of the sun on her cheeks and shoulders.

Screen door

Her head snaps to the right, hair flying as the dog runs barking towards her. Slobbers and paws and too much fur greet her. Laughing she pushes the part-collie, part-cocker spaniel, part-dachshund aside and races down the stairs jump-stepping onto the stones with grass creeping around the edges. Finally—bare feet already hardened sink into cool, soft, blue-green blades. The day stretches out before her for miles.

Grass

The phone has already rung. Secret plans have already been whispered. The girl moves to the back of the old house picking her way across the sharp gravel to the dark, cool basement dug into the hill. Quickly, to avoid the spiders and bugs and musty smell, she retrieves her bike: purple frame, glitter banana seat, name plate, tall fluorescent flag to catch the wind.

Sidewalk

Scrambling up the slope, she makes her way to the street and hops on. She pedals the flat stretch of road passing one, two, three, four Victorian houses. Then there is the hill. The hill where the car slammed into one of Dr. Donnelly’s Saint Bernards laying in the street smashing the front of the car while the huge monster lumbered across to its home. The hill that she flies down but dreads pushing the bike back up. The hill that the girl’s father walks daily down into the town and up onto the college campus.

Pedaling faster and faster to gain speed, she sails down the hill, trees and leaves and grass and houses all swooshing past. Finally hill turns flat and she pedals on to the house with white picket fence—the manse for the Presbyterian preacher and his family. The house with the quiet, serious, best friend. The house tidy and smelling of cooking and mother always home. The backyard a long slow slope covered in vinca vines sprinkled with purple flowers. The large bedroom on the second floor with two beds for sisters who read and play piano and study.

Picket fence

Slowly the group gathers at this house—white haired fairy-like girl, tough tom boy from two blocks away, smiling little sister of best friend, street-wise blond with the bad mouth and the parents divorced. An odd crew—best friends on street, strangers at school.

Alliances form. Negotiations begin. A decision made. Whatever the outcome—riding bikes to the creek, picnic under the trees at the college’s playing fields, roller skating in the freshly paved parking lot of the church, walking down the next hill into town to Ernie’s pharmacy for candy or escaping the heat or rain in the basement of the house playing school or acting out plays—we are all in. No complaining, no do-overs, no crybabies.

Pharmacy

As the day draws to a close the group disperses and heads to their respective homes and dinner. The girl walks her bike up the hill with the white-haired girl whose house is in the middle of the incline. Bikes dropping on the sidewalk, the two run up the driveway to the back yard, through a hole in the fence, across the neighbor’s yard into the dainty garden next door.

Strawberries

Crouching, crawling across still hot paving stones to the mounds of variegated, scalloped leaves with fingers gingerly reaching trying to grasp the small, sweet, dark red strawberries. Popping as many in their mouths as possible, they stuff pockets while always looking and watching for the old woman. One day, a few summers later, the girls were caught but the old woman invited them to take as many strawberries as they wanted. That was last summer of sneaking the berries. Now mouths and pockets full, the girls race back across the neighbor’s lawn with hearts pounding, down the driveway back to their tangle of bikes.

image

Waving goodbye to the friend, the girl pushes her bike up the steep hill past the house where she picked out her kitten-now-cat—a bribe from her parents to go to first grade without a fuss. To her right the narrow island of grass and trees calls to her to step inside its secrets. The woods with so many lost balls and the old woman who kept them.

1338 Main Street, Parkville MO

The gray clapboard house peeks over the hill and the girl picks up speed ready for dinner and questions about the day. The father stands in the garden—a small plot of land carved from the lawn—amidst the asparagus going to seed and squash and tomatoes. The girl joins him half-listening to the lessons of gardening and mulching, skimming her hands over the tops of the riotous zinnias.

Riotous zinnias

Armed with their bounty, the girl and her father enter the kitchen to smells of chicken and rice and butter beans cooking. With the tomatoes sliced and the table set, the girl, her parents and brother settle in for the meal and talk. Later, plates cleared, the girl and her father load the dishwasher. Again the lessons half-heard on the proper way to rinse and load.

After the bath, the girl pulls a clean cotton gown over her head. Hair still wet and feet clean and prunish, the girl follows the voices of her parents out into the side yard. Fireflies flicker across the grass. Chasing a few, the girl finds herself at the hammock—the one purchased two summers ago on the island in South Carolina white ropes crisscrossing. Climbing in she pushes off from the ground gliding slowly back and forth, back and forth. Arms supporting her head, the girl looks into the dark sky that peeks between the two huge oak trees counting the stars. A breeze rustles the cotton gown body underneath all clean and scrubbed. Parents’ voices trail off, the girl closes her eyes.

Good night moon

Photographs by Amy Watson Smith, 2013 and 2014

This was originally posted in May 2013 as Summer 1974-Parkville.

 

How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I am running in circles–darting from one “emergency” to the next. When a friend asks me what I have been up to lately–or even what I did yesterday–I find myself at a complete loss to remember anything that I have done.

What have I been doing? I often ask myself.

Movement not action

I know that I don’t lounge about eating bon-bons and watching television all day. I also know that I spend much too much time in my car running errands. And no matter how many loads of clothes I launder, there are always more to do.

Every single day I am surprised by how quickly time has passed.

I admit that I am a listmaker. I love to cross things off and check boxes. Yes, I am the kind of person who even puts things on a list that I have already done just so I can check them off.

Grocery store. Check.

Dry cleaning. Check.

Prescriptions refilled. Check.

Library books returned. Check.

I often wonder about the things I put on my lists though. Do these things really matter in the long run? Is this how I want to be remembered?

I realize that these tasks are all part of running a household, being part of a family, living in a community. I am not suggesting that they don’t need to be done or that they aren’t important.

I just wonder if there are other things that I might need to add to my list.

Listen.

Love.

Pay attention.

Be thankful.

Would I be able to cross these off my list each day? And if I did add these to my list, how might my day be different? How might my life be different?

I suspect that if I added these to my list and actually did them, my other list of tasks might not get accomplished.

How do I want to be remembered? As someone who was a listmaker and a list-checker? Or as a woman who listened, loved, was attentive and thankful?

I will let you guess which one I choose. What about you?

Moving Ahead While Looking Back

Amy Watson Smith

This is the time of year that most people look ahead, plan, make resolutions. But it is also a time for reflection, a time of looking back, assessing and reassessing. This is a time to learn from your mistakes.

Believe me when I say that I love to move on. I fully appreciate the value of a clean slate. I am a planner so the start of a new year is welcome and full of possibilities.

At the same time I am an historian, a writer, an observer. I have known for many years how important it is for me to learn from the past–my past.

I try to reflect during the Christmas holidays but it seems it is just too busy and full of activity even if the activity is basically non-activity (e.g., reading books, taking naps, eating, talking with family, eating,…). Every New Year’s Day I am shocked that I haven’t really done the thoughtful preparation that I meant to do and instead scribble a few generic resolutions on my [symbolic] list.

And every year a week or two into January I realize that I have not followed through on any of these resolutions. I might feel a twinge of guilt or disappointment in myself for a few seconds but I wasn’t really invested in those things anyway, I tell myself.

This year I am trying something a bit different. I am using the month of January as a time to look back and reflect as well as a time to begin crafting some thoughtful goals. I am focusing on learning some things about myself, asking myself some difficult questions and looking around for resources that might help me.

I want to know why I am doing what I am doing (or why I am not doing something I should be doing). I want to be invested in my future. I want to live intentionally, to be authentic and to love wholly. I want to learn from others and to share my experiences.

I have invested in several tools that I believe will be useful and I will share these resources and some of the results on my blog. I will continue to document my journey both verbally and visually though I have not decided yet how my editorial calendar will be affected by this period of reflection, learning and planning. Once I have figured this out, I will post about it here.

I hope that you will continue to check in on my blog and to share with me your thoughts about my posts as well your own experiences in looking back and moving forward.

Blessings for 2014!

Amy

 

When Christmas Knocks on the Door

Boxwood Wreath and Tartan Bow

During the Christmas holidays, I cannot help but think about my Aunt Carol and Uncle Bob—two people who have had a tremendous impact on my personal and spiritual life. This family provided a stable, comfortable and Christian home during a very tumultuous time in my life. They shared their faith with me in so many ways. Most importantly they lived it.

Christmas at the Massengill’s home in Brookhaven, Mississippi, was my very favorite time and remains to be some of my fondest memories. I was always invited to stay the week before Christmas as my mother worked up until Christmas Eve. I looked forward to spending time with my cousins, Karen and Robb, and to being a part of this family.

The days leading up to December 25th were full of busyness but what I remember most was delivering presents to friends and neighbors. It seemed to me as though there were hundreds of houses to visit and gifts to exchange.

Gifts

We never left the house to run an errand that we didn’t include a stop or two along the way to drop off “a little something.” And the back doorbell to their house never stopped ringing as neighbor after neighbor brought over treats or gifts.

goodies to deliver

This community-wide gift giving was what I really looked forward to perhaps even more than the gifts I would receive on Christmas morning. I was blessed to be a part of this special family.

This tradition of delivering gifts to friends and neighbors in the few days before Christmas has become one of my favorite parts of Christmas as an adult. I remember several years ago that I decided to make a meal rather than sweet treats for each of my friends and deliver it during those last few hectic days before Christmas.

Delivering goodies

I loved driving around Charleston dropping off these gifts. I often caught the recipient off-guard. There is such an intimacy experienced when you step into someone’s home especially when you have surprised them with your visit and disarmed them with a gift.

These unexpected visits resulted in slowing down and breathing…capturing a moment of peace and joy…showing love to and receiving it from others….

It was an opportunity to experience the real meaning of Christmas.

Have you had an opportunity to slow down and experience the real meaning of Christmas?

Today's activity

How to Prepare for Christmas

How is it possible that even though it is only December 3rd, I am already behind on Christmas? Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I certainly feel that way.

Joy tartan banner by Elisabeth Hunter $15

Just to be clear, this is the only decoration I have up yet!

Maybe it’s because Christmas decorations began arriving in stores before Halloween. Maybe it has something to do with my favorite radio station playing only Christmas songs by the second week in November. Maybe it’s because half of my neighborhood had Christmas decorations up by Thanksgiving day.

Whatever the cause, I am beginning to panic.

December is a big month for my family as my daughter and husband both have birthdays on either side of Jesus’. It’s hard to compete with that…

In my sane moments, I try to remind myself that we aren’t actually even in the Christmas season. This is Advent. The time for preparation: preparing our hearts for the birth of our Savior.

If I allow myself to slow down, breath and think about this–Advent–the panic fades and peace returns.

This pre-Christmas season is not really about decorating my house like never before or buying presents I can’t really afford or going to as many parties as possible. When I focus on these things, that is when I feel overwhelmed, anxious and, frankly, sad.

I can never, on my own, create (or recreate) what I imagine to be the perfect Christmas.

Will I, this year, be able to resist the urge to scurry and buy and do and make merry? Will I be able to slow down long enough to prepare my heart for Jesus? I pray this for myself and I pray this for you, my friend.

Blessings and peace to you during this season of Advent.

Handmade Advent stockings up close

Handmade Advent stockings made for my daughter c. 1998

Handmade Advent stockings hanging

Handmade Advent stockings hanging Christmas 2012. I have not gotten them up yet this year!

 

When Everything Has Gone to the Dogs

I know that summer break is a time to slow down, break routine, relax the rules a bit. I have to admit that I am very good at this. I really know how to take it easy. In fact I am practically a professional at relaxing the rules and breaking routine.

I guess I hadn’t realized just how good I was at this until the summer break ended and I realized that everything had gone to the dogs.

  twins

Literally.

Trio of dogs

Chester, Hattie and Charlotte

We have three dogs–two English springer spaniels (litter mates) and a chocolate lab mix–and as I’m sure you can imagine, things can get a bit wild around our house at times. It is particularly rough going letting them out into the backyard and at feeding time.

Let’s just say there is a reason they are called springer spaniels.

Hattie and Michael

Hattie–with her feline playmate, Curry–hoping that more food will magically appear on Michael’s plate.

The dynamics within this trio are quite interesting (actually it’s a quartet if you include the cat). The “twins” as we call them (Hattie and Chester) couldn’t be more different in temperament.

Chester and Charlotte

Chester and Charlotte hang out together

Chester is very cool. He clearly understands his place in the pack–“top dog” but is submissive to the human boss. He has great social skills, follows instructions, enjoys playing but also loves to chill out with a bone on the floor.

Chester

Chester

Chester and Cameron

Chester is the best snuggler

Hattie, on the other hand, is a very anxious dog. She is easily distracted, barks constantly, won’t follow commands unless food is involved and her only animal playmate is the cat.

Hattie

Hattie

stuck

Hattie. Enough said.

Charlotte, the chocolate lab mix, is a classic rescue dog–a little fearful at first but smart, protective, attentive and friendly.

Charlotte

Charlotte

We spent a good deal of time and money last year training them and they definitely became more manageable. But like any good habit, it is a slippery slope into bedlam.

At first it might just be a nudge of the hand with their nose. Come on. Pet me. You know I look cute. You give in without giving it a second thought.

twins again

Then they jump up “to greet you” at the front door. Oh look how excited they are to see me, you say to yourself.

The barking and circling as you put dog food in their bowls you simply chalk up to hunger. I shouldn’t have made them wait so long for dinner, the poor pups. They are starving!

The next thing you know you have three very large and smelly canines laying across you on the sofa. Isn’t this sweet. They just love me so much and they want to cuddle with their mama!

Dogs in control

Dogs in control

When left to their own devices, this pack is a mess.

Yep. This is where I was last week. I had hit bottom. I had ignored the warnings from my husband, the pleas from my daughter. I just couldn’t admit that I needed help.

Somehow I found the strength–no, the courage–to reach out for help.

I called the dog trainer. Help was on its way!

She paid us a visit yesterday and after a little more than an hour of time working with me, reminding me of the techniques and tools and encouraging me, I began to feel empowered again.

No more chaos around meal time. No more jumping six feet in the air to get outside. No more shoving me off of the sofa.

I am the top dog around here! Grrrrrr….

Top dog?

Top dog?