Oh Deer! [Knowing When to Take a Break]

Deer Art

I had the perfect blog theme for the week, but ugh, after work and people and pandemic issues all day long, my energy was too low for even the things I enjoy. I whined (sometimes inwardly) all week about needing time to just cut paper and glue something. I dreamed of quiet evenings for just that, but after hardly seeing people for 17-18 months, my being around people and talking all day long was draining in all caps. My evenings were spent resting (read: sleeping) and completing very few of the daily tasks of home life.

Of course, I took “micro-breaks” when absolutely necessary: I cut pretty artwork out of a book wrapper on its way to the trash bin while speaking with a colleague. I captured trees and flowers with my phone camera while I walked to meetings or lunch. I doodled sunflowers during in-person meetings, phone calls, and work sessions. I worked on photo edits during Zoom meetings.

The micro-breaks were [are] lifesaving, but the reality is my body and soul need more. So, when my friend and colleague Lisa asked me yesterday “What are you doing to take care of yourself?,” I immediately felt the guilt of not practicing what I preach regarding self-care during these Corona times.  

I had convinced myself that “if I can just get through this week,” I’ll be able to get to a place where I can take a “time out” daily. I’ve been saying that for three or four weeks now. I haven’t taken a photo or nature walk in a good while. Even worse, I haven’t picked up my actual camera to take a shot since the end of last month! That’s almost three weeks! Let’s not talk about the unwritten poetry, prose, letters, and postcard designs dancing in my head, or the great books waiting to be read and the movement my body needs!

I mindlessly opened Instagram early this morning and Beth Moore’s words grabbed my attention. The post drove the point of Lisa’s question home for me. 

Know when to take a break, y’all. This world’s a heartbreaking, baffling, demoralizing ball of fire right now. We’re not God. We can pray and give and speak and act. But we can’t carry all of this 24/7. It’s too heavy for us. It’s not going to give us a time out. We have to take it!

This world is “a lot,” and all that negative energy mingling with all the good stuff can create a chaotic stew inside our minds and bodies. Those breaks Moore encourages help shift and purge the energy. So my silly photo edit with the deer poking its tongue at me? That’s me—knowing when to take a break and poking my tongue at all the things that will have to wait. 

Have a safe and happy weekend…

Lessons from the Pandemic

Yellow Flowers in Vase by Sheila D of Sheila’s Corner Studio

I confess. I sometimes feel like a slacker. Sure, I am always doing something, but as I said in an earlier post, I’ve been getting nowhere.

Everywhere I turn, it seems someone has completed a book, started a new venture, traveled the seven seas, or even managed to purge and organize their home during the pandemic. I’ve done zip! I’m usually adept at side-stepping the comparison trap, but lately I have wondered if I’m just plain lazy!

Over the last year we’ve been given many tips on how to thrive, how to stay motivated, and how to do this, that, or the other during the pandemic. It was refreshing to join Pastor Lola Johnston’s Bloom in the Pandemic webinar a few weeks ago and hear her offer, instead of tips for thriving during the pandemic, two reassuring pieces of advice—to simply believe God is who He says He is and practice the principle of Matthew 6:33. She encouraged participants to refrain from practicing belief in our outcome and instead practice belief in the God of the outcome.

Whew!

It was nice to be let off the hook, to release the feelings of failure or guilt for not being completely awesome during the last 15+ months.

Of course, I wasn’t a slacker. I did not reach some of the goals I set for myself, but as I revisit those goals, some of them were way too big and way too much for our present circumstances. But during an actual, maddening pandemic, I held down a full time job, ably managed a leadership position that I was suddenly thrust into, taught overloads each semester, and operated fully in my family without losing my mind. And I actually managed to accomplish a few other things.

It helps to pivot our perspective. Doesn’t it?

If we focus on the gains instead of the unchecked items on our goals list, we’ll find ourselves in a healthier mental space. I realized this while writing a list of lessons learned in response to the final prompt of Love Notes 35. Even though I didn’t achieve some of my biggies, I’ve gained in ways that expanded my soul tremendously and I’ve learned so much.

I’ve learned to listen for the silence.
I’ve learned to find the path to stillness no matter where I am.
I’ve learned to adjust.
I’ve learned to keep moving.
I’ve learned to find time to write and “just be” in small moments because there will never be enough time, otherwise.
I’ve learned to appreciate the questions.
I’ve learned the answers do not always come.
I’ve learned [again] to accept sorrow and grief as necessary parts of life.
I’ve learned to let the deep, aching pain of loss do its work.
I’ve learned that my being vulnerable frees others to drop their masks.
I’ve learned that everyone is indeed fighting a battle.
I’ve learned that there’s very little I can control, but what I can control makes all the difference in my attitude and outlook.
I’ve learned that those who need our compassion most are those for whom compassion is a difficult exercise
I’ve learned to walk in the truth that everyone is made in the image of God.

Even though I sometimes feel like I should be doing so much more, I am learning that continuing to breathe and walk with joy during the pandemic are extraordinary accomplishments.

What have you learned in the last year or so?


About the Image: The bright yellow flowers were sent to me by my blogging pen friend, talented artist, and Love Noter, Sheila D. I actually wrote this blog post more than a week ago, but refused to post it because I wanted this particular piece of art to lead the post. I misplaced my “to be blogged” art file and it took me a whole week to find it! Why this postcard? In the face of difficult challenges over the last year+, Sheila has maintained a beautiful outlook on life. I find that inspiring.

Student Post 1: No [Wo]Man is a Paradise Island

Rhododendron-2

No man is an island entirely of itself. –John Donne

I had many posts planned for this month, and like the many posts planned for the first quarter of the year, they’ve been placed on the back burner until I have time to actually enjoy putting the posts together. For now–this week, at least–I will share posts written by my student bloggers. I planned to share links to their blogs in one post; instead, I decided to highlight specific posts by the students and hopefully boost their readership.

The first post was written by Wanéa, the “small girl with big thoughts.” In “No Man is a Paradise Island” she talks about being an introvert during the pandemic.

Click the link and show Wanéa some blogiverse love. Be sure to follow Unbecoming:

“No Man is a Paradise Island.”


Notes: I’ll be sharing random shots from my brief escapes from the computer screen with the student links. That way I’ll contribute something. Right? Also, I know I can hit the “reblog” button at the bottom the student posts, but is that effective? I wonder how many people actually click the link to continue reading…

Favorite Moments of 2020

My blogging friend, Akilah of The Englishist, recently posted her favorite moments of 2020. I’m “stealing” her idea because I think we all need a reminder that despite the icky, crazy of this year, there is also a lot of good. Plus, as you know, I love making lists.

So here are some of my favorite moments of the year of (mostly) sheltering-in-place and almost running out of toilet paper.

Trip to New Orleans. Along with my dad’s three sisters, the guys and I visited New Orleans and returned to ‘Bama just before the Coronavirus outbreak. It was a desperately needed trip for all of us. I am so glad we were able to see my parents and some of my siblings before the pandemic forced us all to stay put. I am missing them like crazy, so I’d probably be out of my mind if we hadn’t taken that short trip.

Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project. As you read in an earlier post, I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook to Brooklyn Arts Library. Here’s the link to my mini sketchbook of doodles and quotes if you’re interested: #facethesun: Sunflower and Her Friends.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I’m so not a sketch artist. I didn’t realize I should have only doodled on the front of the pages. I’m definitely going to participate again, with a full-size book and my photography—the art medium with which I’m most comfortable.

Book Talk. Literally two days before the University decided to transition to online learning because of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of coordinating a panel discussion on the book, When Saints Sing the Blues for Wednesday night services at the University church. It was well-attended and well-received. I enjoyed listening to the stories of each of the panelists and speaking with attendees afterwards.

Lettering with the Creator of Cuteness.  Thanks to the gift of time due to the pandemic, I joined Creative Hand Lettering and Doodling with Lindsay. For the first couple of months (or so), I watched Lindsay’s informative and humorous live videos, practiced lettering, and downloaded her free Corona coloring pages and other goodies. The photograph to the left features one of my first projects. The assignment was to use “tinker toy” lettering with a line from a song. This was the perfect creative outlet for our “Corona times.” I don’t have much time to view Lindsay live, but a friend gave me a gift of the workbook, Creative Hand Letter with Lindsay, so I practice whenever I get a chance.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff, who coordinates Love Notes, also hosts Write Together, Art Journaling, and other classes. I joined Write Together one evening, and it was such a healing, soul-filling experience that I rode the high for weeks. Life got in the way for a few weeks and when I found time again, I felt a little weird about joining after having missed so much. If Jennifer continues to host next year, I hope to join at least twice a month.

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. My son’s (middle school) teachers assigned a “pandemic-style” scavenger hunt for the students. They had to find a list of items in their own neighborhoods. We had fun running (and driving) up and down the street looking for the items, and of course, I took advantage and captured some roses.

Eighth Grade Graduation. My not-so-little one “graduated” from 8th grade! So many things were canceled for the students, but the school administrators decided to hold a scaled-down graduation program with social distancing measures in place. It was held in July–almost two months after the planned date–but we were all so happy for this moment of celebration and to see other people! 🙂 My son, as class president, delivered an excellent speech. This was a proud Mommy (and Daddy) moment.

Spectrum Publication. One of my blog posts was reprinted in Spectrum Magazine (online).

The Chair. I accepted the role of Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages. This isn’t exactly a moment, but a shift. I’d served as department chair at another university for several years. I’d also served in other administrative capacities, but even though I enjoy administrative work, I’d made a decision not to go down that road again (for many sound reasons). God had other plans and He let me know very clearly in a moment that can only be described as an epiphany. I don’t know [yet] why He called me to this task, but I promised to walk in obedience, so here I am.

Three Sundays with David Whyte. David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, hosts poetry seminars via Zoom, typically three Sundays in a month. I participated in three–The Courage in Poetry (April); Just Beyond Yourself (May); and Half a Shade Braver (September). In each session, he shared poetic wisdom, stories about his travels, anecdotes about his friend John O’Donohue, his own poetry and the poetry of others. The sessions were life-changing, and I wrote so much poetry as a result.

A Moment with Raven. One of my former students, Raven, came into town to visit family, and she took a moment out to visit me! We met just outside campus at the Farmer’s Market. It did my heart good to see her and know she is doing well! Of course, I tried to get her to leave California and come and work with me, but she makes more than we can pay her. :-/

Sunflowers in My Backyard. My guys planted sunflowers right outside my office window. I watched them grow from seedlings to 6-7 feet tall. They brought so much joy to my days. The sunflower pictured here was the first to bloom. I have many, many more to share, but it’s so difficult to choose!

Moulin Rouge. You read about my encounter with the Moulin Rouge sunflower in an earlier post. This might be one of my top ten favorite moments of the decade.

Sunflowers in My Mailbox. Sunflowers in my mailbox always create a “favorite” moment, and my friends have kept me and my mailbox happy with sunflowers. In addition to the lovely cards and postcards, I received a number of sunflower packages–a boxful of sunflower goodies from my bestie, a personalized sunflower Starbucks cup from my “niece,” Christian, sunflower stickers from Raven, a package full of sunflower postcards from Debbie T, and a beautiful sunflower teapot from Christine B, two of my Love Notes friends.

Christmas Card Lane. I shared the Christmas Card Lane experience a couple of days ago. I needed that strong dose of Christmas joy.

When the year started, we had grand plans, but before many of those plans could be executed, without much warning, everything changed. Instantly. For everyone. In the entire world. As the days rolled on, things got stranger and more complicated and more twisted, and here we are at the end of all that crazy. And I am grateful for these favorite moments and for the many, many beautiful, everyday moments of 2020–(almost) nightly movie nights with my guys, Zoom calls with family, long walks, putting up lights and balloons for birthdays, trying new vegan recipes, opening a mailbox full of happy mail, drive-by visits with relatives and friends, singing and praying with my guys, listening to them play various instruments, and church services in pajamas.

I’m not sure what next year will hold, but “I know Who holds the future.” Therefore, I am looking forward to new moments–ordinary, extraordinary, and beautiful.

The Sense of the Beautiful…

A [wo]man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of this life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is my son’s viola. I shot [and edited] this photograph a couple of years ago while he was preparing to participate with the middle school orchestra in his school’s Christmas concert.

When he was about 18 months old, my not-little one was so moved by a classical piece playing in the background that he started crying. He did not understand the music, but it certainly touched something in him. I’ve often wondered if he was responding to “the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

Don’t we–adults–sometimes respond similarly when we encounter something awe-inspiring?  Have you ever been moved to tears by the profound beauty of a thing?

Give Me a Second to…Release…in This Moment

From 2016-2019 I participated in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and wrote a blog post every day in November. Earlier this year, I thought I would do the same this month, but by mid-September, I knew there was no way I could commit to NaBloPoMo while battling pandemic-fatigue. I reminded myself that I “blogged” every day in April, National Poetry Month, so two months of daily posts in one year might be a bit much to ask of myself.

Fall Semester is over, and I am only a few grades away from being able to reclaim some parts of my brain. Now, I can focus on clearing a “backlog” of tasks from my to-do list and sharing pretties with you a little more frequently–for the next 4-6 weeks.

I’ve dedicated this week to cards received from Love Notes partners and friends.

Today’s post features gorgeous artwork and beautiful messages from my latest Love Notes (LN) partner, Zotis K of Sunnyside, New York. Here are the cards and notes she sent  in response to prompts for LN 33 which ended late October.

Art by Zotis K

Prompt 1: Give me just a second…

Give me just a second…to decipher what has happened. We are going through many struggles, struggles that all of us are sharing now. Under this lockdown we’ve been given: time to heal – time to share – time to adjust – time to accept – time to be with loved ones – time to care for one another – time to give thanks for the blessings of being given one more day – time to create – time to call and listen to a friend or neighbor or a family member in need of comfort – time to develop skills we didn’t know we had – time to establish some form of peace and understanding. From now on, let’s just save time for ourselves because “we” are important too.

Art by Zotis K

Prompt 2: Release

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.  –Maya Angelou
Just breathe and release.

Art by Zotis K

Prompt 3: In this moment…

Be thankful for a breath of fresh air to be alive and well. Allow love and happiness to penetrate throughout your mind and soul. Take time to relax and live in the moment, the now, the present. Enjoy today. –Amaka Imani Nkosazana

These cards/messages rescued me from some crazy-busy moments and reminded me to take a second to pause and reset. Maybe, they’ll do the same for you.


Love Notes Postcard Project: In case you haven’t heard, Love Notes is a postcard project coordinated by Jennifer Belthoff that “encourages slowing down, getting back to basics, and connecting through handwritten notes sent through the mail.” Participants sign up for the swap on Jennifer’s website and then she assigns partners who correspond with each other for three weeks based on a prompt she provides each Sunday. The swap is hosted quarterly (four times per year).

NaBloPoMo Note: I didn’t do NaBloPoMo this year, but you can always scroll down to the archives to read my November 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 posts. I can’t remember any of the posts, but I’m sure there’s lots of eye-candy. 😀

Coping with the Madness of 2020: Pray

If I practiced none of the other coping strategies I wrote about in the “coping” series, I might be okay, but the one thing that saves my sanity, my life, and probably the lives of a few others is prayer. In fact, journaling, creating, shutting it down, listingsleeping, and spending time with trees, would have little effect if I did not pray.

So I pray. I pray. I pray. I pray.

I’m not talking about begging and bargaining, though I’m pretty sure I’ve attempted some of that  this year. Instead, I’m talking about being in communion with God, listening for/to His voice, and doing my best to respond to the madness of 2020 and life in general  in ways that honor Him, deepen my trust in Him, and elevate my consciousness.

I am not overstating when I say prayer has kept me sane.

There are few words to describe our collective trauma this year, and I can’t say that I haven’t wondered or asked “why?” from time to time. But God is absolutely sovereign, so I try in all things to yield to His will–no matter how unfair, unreasonable, or impossible circumstances seem to me.

Moving toward prayer during difficult times challenges everything in me. It calls me out of self-centeredness, moves me away from my desires, and pushes me to higher levels of God-consciousness and light. The outcome is beautiful, but the work to get there isn’t pretty.

Moments like the ones 2020 has presented us with are tolerable and livable only when I am in constant contact, when my focus is heavenward and not on this tiny difficult moment. While I may not know the beginning from the end, prayer firms up hope and gives me a glimpse of the beautiful possibilities. For all of us.


Gracias: Thank you for joining me for the seven-part “Coping with the Madness of 2020” series.  If you’re interested, you can find a few more tips in two posts I wrote six years ago–different circumstances, but they still work: Getting Through the Crazies, Part I and Getting Through the Crazies, Part II.

And thanks to my friend Charmaine whose yellow iris is featured at the top of this post. I have difficulty shooting irises and expected little from the shots. This one turned out to be one of the favorites among those I shot from her garden. Who knew?

#ThursdayTreeLove | Coping with the Madness of 2020: Spend Time with Trees

“Autumn Road,” November 2020

In a cool solitude of trees
Where leaves and birds a music spin,
Mind that was weary is at ease,
New rhythms in the soul begin. –William Kean Seymour

I’ve written enough about tree therapy on the blog for you to know that “talking to the trees” is definitely one of the ways I cope with life’s challenges. You’ve probably figured, then, 2020 has driven me to the trees more times than I can count.

I could not find time this week for a full tree therapy session, but I took advantage of drive time for quick doses.

The sight of autumn taking over as I drove to work was thrilling, and the drive through campus was like entering an autumn heaven. The reds, yellows, and oranges vied for my attention.

Some mornings, I parked, stood outside my car in the early morning quiet (before others arrived), and took it all in. I listened to the wind and trees sing in perfect harmony as the crisp leaves danced across the parking lot.

Even such short pauses with the trees shake off the madness.

If you want to read more about how trees help me cope, take a look at some of my older posts or click the #ThursdayTreeLove hashtag below:

Hopefully, the posts will persuade you to try a bit of tree therapy!


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Coping with the Madness of 2020: Sleep…

If 2020 hasn’t driven you to the brink of madness yet, I’m sure [if you live in the US], the last few days tested your sanity. I used practically all my coping strategies between the time I cast my vote Tuesday and when I read earlier today that the Biden/Harris ticket prevailed [Praise the Lord!].

When my stress levels are off the chart, I do the one thing that calms immediately–I sleep. And that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night when I started writing my blog post on sleep as a way to cope with 2020 madness; two sentences in, I fell asleep. :-/

There are times when I struggle with insomnia for days, sometimes weeks, but when I encounter high levels of emotional stress over situations I can’t control, I have no problem escaping through sleep. When I wake up, even if the worst hasn’t passed, my emotions and/or stress are a lot more manageable.

The links between lack of sleep and stress and good sleep and our responses to stress are widely discussed in academic and medical journals, so it’s no surprise that sleep helps me to “wait out” 2020’s madnesses with patience and calm.

And that’s a good thing, because, if nothing else, 2020 is trying to teach us to wait.

Coping with the Madness of 2020: Shut It Down!

Grainy Black and White: Fallen Magnolia Leaves

Plans for my “Coping with 2020” series were slightly derailed because, as one of my former students put it, this week was “ugly.” There’s no other way to put it. I worked 14-19 hour days almost every day this week. COVID-19 numbers rose daily. Zeta knocked down trees and power in NOLA and other places. And it seemed the whole world expressed anxiety about what we might wake up to November 4. By Thursday, I was livid because there was no relief from the noise.

One part of 2020’s madness for me is too much doing, too much noise all the time. Everywhere we turn. Noise. Someone or something telling us what to do, how to do it, how to think. Noise. Piling up our plates. Vying for control of our time and energy. Noise. Noise we seemingly can’t escape because doom and Zoom are everywhere.

Grainy Black and White: Impatiens

So how do I cope? I shut it down. Everything. Computers. Phone. All of it. And I sit, drive, or walk in total silence.

I’ve always loved the early morning and late night quiet and the rare but not impossible moment of respite from the daily noise in the middle of the day. But silence is different. We can always find quiet. Silence, ever-present and always within reach, seeks us, but we have to be intentional about being found.

Silence. When there are too many words and too much doing. Silence. When it’s easy to grab the phone and chat away whatever spare moments we can find. Silence. When we can put in our earbuds and tune out the world through music and podcasts. Silence. When the world is loud and boisterous and simply too much.

Grainy Black and White: Begonias

So this week—in the middle of the umpteenth multitasking Zoom meeting, just after the department’s student assistant knocked with one more issue she couldn’t address—I hit mute, closed my eyes and sat in silence.

I’m sure I was on the brink of screaming, “uncle!” That moment in the midst of the chaos saved my sanity.

When the world feels like too much—get off social media, turn off the tv, turn off all screens, ignore the phone and all the doing, and hit mute.

There is freedom and calm right in the middle of the silence.

Grainy Black and White: Magnolia Pods