Wednesday, October 22, 2014

...or you'll catch a chill

Am I too old to catch a chill? I was woefully unprepared for today's constant rain and spent the day in wet socks. I could hear my mama's voice reprimanding me for my wet hair and missing jacket.

I took care of myself, peeling away the cold layers and hunkering down under a warm blanket, because that's what my mama would have done for me.

Sometimes, the grown-up moments sneak in and I don't realize that I've got it covered.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

simplicity in structure || a case for out-of-the-ordinary

Until today, I had never ventured north past Polett Walk. I walk from the train station to my office and back again. My route has been automatic and I know that I like the coffee from a particular food truck along that route. I had no desire to seek out change.

I was content. There was relief in the regularity - no decision to be made, no mistakes possible. By eliminating choice, I rid myself of responsibility - the path of least resistance became the default.

Today, I walked north past Polett Walk with a former student, who suggested Cloud Coffee instead of my usual spots. With my soft spot for alliteration, I agreed, and so we walked on, past the crosswalk where I usually turn toward familiarity.

The latte was divine - nutmeg, cinnamon, and dark brown sugar. It was the taste of whimsy - unexpected and delightful.

I must be careful that sinking into structure - a feather bed of familiarity - does not become settling.

Over the summer, my family hiked in several state parks near Dushore, PA. One particular trail ended at a river. The hike was complete, but I wasn't ready for it to be over. Instead, I clamored over rocks and found a view that has stayed with me - a treasured view of possibility.

hike on

Monday, October 20, 2014

simplicity in structure || 24 points in 2:54

The Steelers scored 24 points in 2 minutes, 54 seconds at the very end of the second quarter.

I decided to watch the game at Planet Fitness, where I am a member as much for the cable television as the treadmills. My sister had run earlier in the evening and although I lacked enthusiasm, I had just finished Laura Vanderkam's book 168 hours: You have more time than you think. Perhaps the most striking lesson that I learned is that 6am is not privileged over 8pm. As an early bird, I would rather go to bed early and start fresh in the morning. Not everything can be completed in those before-sunrise hours, though, and so there is simplicity in structure - to be a runner, run. I went to the gym to watch the second quarter of Monday Night Football.

here we go, Steelers n'at
Lackluster could be a kind word to describe the first 10 minutes that I watched, and I caught myself thinking, "When will it be halftime?".

The Steelers, however, refused to wish away those remaining minutes until they could slink away to the locker room and regroup. They dug in their heels and changed the pace of the game. It didn't matter that the points were scored in minute 13 instead of minute 2 of the second quarter. 

There is certainly grace for those moments when I need a time out. 

Day by day, I'm learning to be judicious in calling that time-out. Sometimes, action - even the smallest of baby steps such as opening the document or putting on my gym clothes- is enough to muster the courage to press on. 

Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose. 
-Friday Night Lights

Sunday, October 19, 2014

simplicity in structure || wide open spaces

Tonight was the first cold night of the season. I bundled up and joined my church on a hayride.

an old tradition, updated

Sometimes it takes wide open spaces to feel grounded.
Merrymead Farm

Saturday, October 18, 2014

these are a few of my favorite things

Saturday afternoons with the windows open and SEC football on TV.

Roll tide
FaceTiming with sister and mama (and sister's boyfriend's cat- Hi, Rascal!). An empty kitchen sink. The smell of coziness in a pumpkin spice candle, thanks to day eighteen of sister's 30 before 30 project for me. The resilience of my plant ivy (named Fern).

Finally hanging up some prints, some framed, others washi-taped to the wall, reminding myself that it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. Changing the wreath on my front door, to match the season. Setting my kitchen table for dinner with a friend, before a night of line dancing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

simplicity in structure || TGIF

Simplicity in structure is knowing that Friday evenings will be a sacred diminuendo. There is peace in the knowing that I worked hard and now I can settle into the quiet.

Years ago, it was Boy meets World and Luciano's pizza. Tonight, I watched an episode of Felicity and folded laundry, unhurriedly.


I wonder if there is a word for peaceful adventures - sunbathing on a dock instead of white water rafting. This weekend, to start Tiffany Han's 100 Rejection Letters program, I will be considering what I hope to accomplish in the next year. I am struggling to balance boldness with my yearning to feel cozy, to embrace the slow life a la Tsh Oxenreider in Notes from a Blue Bike.

Jess Lively describes this as finding meaning in the being instead of the doing.


Purpose feels tied to action - serving and creating and learning and loving.

I am going to give myself the time and space and freedom and grace to think about my intention for the next year. "Nothing happens until you decide." I agree, Oprah. I agree.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

simplicity in structure || etiquette

There were eight of us, 4 pairs of siblings. We grew up together, sharing backyards and cups of hot chocolate on snow days. The cul-de-sac was our soccer field and roller rink. It was an unspoken rule that the cul-de-sac was common ground; we rallied everyone if someone felt like a game of Life (inspired by the board game) or hockey. There was no "who should we invite?".

Growing up, invitations were paper, and if you didn't have enough cupcakes for everyone, then no one could indulge in the frosting-covered treats. My mama started a "you can't say you can't play" campaign at my elementary school, and I addressed valentines to every classmate.

Etiquette is simplicity in structure. I wonder if I am a bit old-fashioned in my expectations nowadays. To get an email saying "here's what we're doing - feel free to join us" makes me feel like I'm on the second-tier of friendship. To find out that everyone's going to the hayride and of course I can tag along isn't the same as being invited. Being welcomed just isn't as same.

There is comfort in the social rituals, the adherence to rules that prioritize others.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

forever in my heart

I remember underwater tea parties, holding my breathe, sinking to the bottom of the pool. That's how today feels - seven years without my dad. I can anticipate the grief that today brings and so I hunker down, holding my breath until the day is over. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

simplicity in structure || someone get me a sippy cup

I spilled coffee all over myself this morning, a day after my breakfast smoothie tumbled all over my car. A very adamant woe is me tantrum followed; tributaries of tears swelled. As much as I wanted to retreat - to crawl back into bed and declare it a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" as Alexander does in Judith Viorst's childhood classic - I didn't.


Instead, my sister and I sang our "party time" song together and I celebrated day fourteen of her thirty before thirty celebration for me. It's hard to be grumpy while wearing a pink headband.

I needed coffee still and so I decided to jog to the local Starbucks and walk home, coffee in hand. That's the beauty of simplicity in structure - I knew what to do in order to step out of that mess. There is forward progress, a freedom to say "what's next?" and then know exactly what to do, no time wasted in wallowing. 



Monday, October 13, 2014

simplicity in structure || a game of fetch

I always want there to be enough time to play fetch. The freedom to go outside and play - if only for a few moments - must complement the structured hour-by-hour accountability in pursuit of simplicity.

sweet Fannie girl

When my days are filled, I don't always feel full. It is the grace in-between that allows me to relish the structure. 

In hopes of becoming more intentional with my time, I have begun to assign tasks to hours. I understand, now, why my to-do list so often taunted me at the end of the day - the tasks far outnumbered the available hours in a day.

I'm in the middle of Laura Vanderkam's book 168 hours: You have more time than you think. When my family and I do jigsaw puzzles, we work on the outside border first, which gives us a place to start. Taking stock of my time and responsibility reminds me of that process, creating boundaries. 

It isn't about penciling in fetch with Fannie. Instead, it's about engaging wholeheartedly in life so that I can make the choice to pause. If I never start, then I can't rest. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dr. Reed's Run 2014

We celebrated our fifth Dr. Reed's Run over the weekend. Here are the words I spoke - - 

2014 marks seven years since our dad passed away unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. We say that we are celebrating his memory but the truth is that the celebration is hollow. There is nothing we shared in those seven years. No memories made that we can laugh about together, no “remember when” to inspire peals of laughter around the kitchen table. I have 23 years of memories of my dad, but I’m almost thirty now.

Instead, I have grief. The aching injustice of birthdays and Christmases and ordinary Tuesdays without him. When I lost my father in 2007, I grieved the loss of his physical presence – the weight of his arms around me in a welcome-home embrace. The sound of his voice. Places and moments were so infused with his physical presence that his absence felt like an assault – a gaping gash in our family’s delicate skin.

Time has not stitched that gash together. Instead, with each breathe in that we inhale, we exhale a bit of space, certainly not an acceptance of his absence but a distance of seconds spent living growing moving loving crying laughing trying failing moving cooking talking hoping without him.

For me – and grief is so incredibly personal that I speak only for myself – the grief is less about what I miss about him. Instead, it is about what he is missing. He wasn't here when my sister passed her boards or when I moved to Philadelphia. These milestones, however, were set in motion years before and so there can be some peace in knowing that he was at least part of the process, if not the outcome.

It’s the daily bread of the past seven years that he has missed. The lunchtime phone calls that are so mundane that the words would dissipate by dinner – and so we call one another while we eat our sandwiches and pretzels. He knew our dog Charlie – not sweet Fannie girl. We have run half marathons and he didn’t have a chance to cheer for us at the finish line. My sister and I went to Harry Potter World – Dad will never have the chance to taste butter beer.

And so the gash of grief has become less deep with time, as promised by the books I read. But it has widened, a chasm that expands with each day that I become more of the person that I am – but that my dad will never have the chance to meet. I am his daughter, but he knew the me of seven years ago and that’s not fair. And it’s not fair that the memories of him must be spread thinner and thinner across the chasm of grief that spans from October 15, 2007 to the present.

Dr. Reed’s Run has become the antithesis of his widening chasm. When you all come out to support the Brain Aneurysm Foundation through us, you are creating memories for us that include my dad, if only in his honor. We have a chance to say his name to new people. There are very few times that I have the opportunity to say the word Dad out loud. By standing before us today, you give me that gift.

And so we gather together for the fifth time, and I am overwhelmed by the swell of support. I see faces that my dad knew and loved – with whom he ate hot dogs in the cul-de-sac and sat beside during school orchestra concerts. And I see faces that he never met – but with whom he is no less connected, the bond forged in hope and loss. Thank you for your love and support.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

simplicity in structure || second grade wisdom

Second grade wisdom today -

Two columns, straight lines. Such truths revealed in their simplicity through structure

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have everything I need and a sister. I wouldn't trade her for a unicorn - pinky promise, sis!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

simplicity through structure || a question

I wonder, sometimes, what I mean by simplicity. Am I seeking an unhurried quiet or fierce devotion to a purpose? Is it freedom or focus? Cozy or clean?


"Minimalism means a lot of things to me. Minimalism is a clear head. Minimalism is the short list of things I need to stay healthy. Minimalism is a home designed with meaning and intention, not praise or applause. Minimalism is not an idea to sell. Minimalism will never be the end result, for it is the process I admire more than the aesthetic."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

simplicity through structure || rise and shine

I make my bed (almost) every morning. 


It isn't written on my to-do list and I don't wake up early to be sure that I'll have time. 

Sometimes I wonder why it means so much to me, particularly when the rest of my space demands more attention. My stubborn refusal to triage pays homage to my need for simplicity through structure. The daily routine has become a cozy respite, a reminder that no matter what else the day may bring, I have already tended to me, cultivating a kind of self-kindness. 

Perhaps it is in anticipation of evening and the simplest pleasure of turning down the quilt. Or perhaps it is a gentle reminder to myself that once my coffee is brewed, the day has begun, no climbing back in bed allowed.

Perhaps it is my way of marking a new day - 
How do you measure, measure a year? 
In daylight, in sunsets,
in midnights, in cups of coffee.


Monday, October 6, 2014

simplicity through structure || discipline

Discipline turns intention into action. 

Jess Lively borrows Steven Covey's idea of three big rocks. I resisted this idea for a while. Three tasks didn't feel like enough - my to-do list is long! 


I'm learning that there is a difference between a to-do list and a should-do list. That's where the discipline comes in. By committing to three big rocks, the tasks can be sifted and sorted. 

Three tasks today and three tasks tomorrow and three more tasks the day after next will create a momentum sustained by discipline. Structure without action is hollow.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

simplicity through structure || moonlight

I seek simplicity in structure - a way to carve meaning into moments so that nothing is wasted.

Tonight I walked out of church, an evening service of song and prayer. Evening had pulled its quilt over us while we were inside, turning the night dark and still. I realized that there already is so much structure around me. Night, day. Rest, work. 

Maybe I complicate structure, knowing that life is hard so simplicity must be, too. 

Maybe it doesn't need to be. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

these are a few of my favorite things

Shirley Temple curls. Borrowed dress (thanks, sis!). Windy wedding. Laughter and love and lots of dancing. Coming home to clean sheets.

Friday, October 3, 2014

simplicity through structure || a moment from today's walk

There is simplicity in structure, a steadfastness. I don't need to anticipate all possibilities and consider all options. Instead of wondering where to roam, structure allows me invest in exploring right where I am.

Rebecca Faires describes it as "the boundary gives freedom."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

simplicity through structure || time

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. 
-Annie Dilliard

When I was looking for a new apartment a few years ago, my litmus test included dishwasher, driveway, and washing machine. Simple then meant automatic, a hands-free approach to daily chores. 

Now, my next home must have space for chickens. Instead of fast-forwarding, I yearn to slow down for the country pace of hard work. 

I want to be a morning person.

To know that my day depends on starting to work now.

Grace Bonney, in an episode of her podcast After the Jump, describes this as "breaking the seal" - that the act of starting is almost always the most difficult part. Despite my intention to wake up before the sun and write, I convince myself that I don't know where to start. There is simplicity in structuring my time. Instead of wrestling with the decision to start, I am already at my desk because it's time to write. As Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird, "I don't think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won't be good enough at it" (page 170). 

Structure simplifies. The task is to write, to write steadily for a period of time. Time boundaries afford a sense of purpose. No one but me can hold me accountable - there are no hungry chickens waiting for me if I simply don't feel like working some mornings. 

The simplicity of structure will hold me accountable, and I must accept the truth that I am enough - I mustn't let me down.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 days of simplicity through structure

Washing dishes. Folding laundry. Figuring out health insurance and remembering to floss. Being a grown-up sometimes feels like busy work, rote practice to ensure that I have the hang of it. In elementary school, "mad minute" drills induced sweaty palms and a racing heart. There wasn't time to show my work, neat columns of numbers. There was no delight in the doing, simply an overwhelming sense to finish one problem so that I could move on to the next. 

As I go through my days now, I am reminded of that "hurry up, move on" feeling. I have work to do, papers to write, all while maintaining my adulthood by writing rent checks and making dinner for myself. I'm treading water instead of swimming, and I'm tired of that. 

There is so much that I want to accomplish - yet until now, the ideas and intentions are overshadowed by expectations. A stack of Sunday Times remains unread, as I haven't had a chance to read them on my front porch with coffee, homemade. I have saved them until I am able to savor them... one day. That which is meant to bring delight has now become an obligation, reminding me of the life that isn't quite mine.  

I  delay the hard work, the digging in and creating, waiting until all the smaller tasks are crossed off, creating space for the larger project. I'm realizing that it's not exactly space that I need, but structure.  There is a difference between busy and full. I crave the pace of purpose, fueled by intention instead of fear.

Today marks the start. For the next thirty days I will be chronicling my progress toward simplicity through structure with Myquillan Smith's October challenge.

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