Stillness

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re embracing stillness in life, but if it’s always stillness in front of a screen, it doesn’t really count. In the spirit of Lent (and the weekly theme from @astillsmallpoint ) I’ve been trying to embrace the more refreshing type of stillness by devoting more time to screen-less activities, such as trying to give more care to the living things I share a home with: replanting and propagating house plants, and spending more time with my pet bunny. I think they appreciate the extra attention.

My priest said in his sermon last Sunday that we would all benefit more if we focused on fasting from screens and guarding our hearts as much as we worry about fasting from various foods. He makes a valid point…food isn’t necessarily the biggest distraction from our spiritual lives for most of us in this age. I’m still pretty bad at picking up a real bible or prayer book instead of the ease of an app on my phone, but I’d like to try harder to separate those kind of soulful, important activities from the glow of a screen.

I’m thinking I might try an occasional “instagram blog” like this instead of always just linking away to an article on my blog. I know some people never really read blogs anymore, and prefer a long instagram caption, or maybe don’t even read the long captions, but I’m going to try this here and there anyway. I’ll still post this “mini blog” on my actual blog if you prefer to read it here, it will just originate as an instagram caption instead of the other way around. 🙂 Also, @elsielarson just released a new filter pack for #acolorstory and Moon Stone might be my favorite filter of all time.

(P.S. I haven’t used categories or tags on my blog at all yet…I sort of decided at the beginning to delay until I had posted for a while so that I could see what kind of categorizations would actually be useful and not overly specific, and then apply them retroactively. I think it’s about time I come up with those and get a bit more organized around here…)

Serving

1 Peter 4: 8-10: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

I have been doing some daily devotionals with a couple family members recently, and one touched on the fact that we are called to serve others, and through this we can find true feelings of purpose and security. Serving others has been a big topic on my mind lately. Giving of ourselves–using our time and talents to benefit and help others–is so important in life. Lent has just begun, and I’ve been a lot more of a homebody lately outside of general obligations, so I’ve started to feel that itch to do more for other people.

One thing I’ve always struggled with is finding bigger ways to serve others. I know that the little ways add up, but they also require a lot less effort and therefore are fulfilling in a smaller way. I love making a homemade card to send someone as a surprise to brighten their day, or to do a small chore for my parents that I know will help them, or to just give out compliments or encouragement on social media to friends and strangers. But, these are easy things, so I am trying to be better at seeking out more challenging ways to serve others if I can, or at least to be more open to going out of my way to help with a larger task or project where needed.

I know that I am not exactly in a position to serve people in very big ways at this point in my life, so I’m not exactly disappointed in myself for not being able to build a school in a third world country or donate large sums of money, but I do feel that keeping this topic in mind is important in challenging myself, and I don’t think those types of goals are all that unrealistic. One of my first blog posts was about stepping out of your comfort zone more often in order to grow as a person. I am very comfortable with doing small things for people on a daily basis, and that is wonderful, but that means that I can probably be doing more. When you become comfortable, it is time to move forward to the next level, and I want to keep that in mind for Lent. Whether it is using my talents to help my church or community,  making more time to connect with others to offer support, or just trying to do a bit more of the daily small things, serving others is an important habit to keep.

I am very excited to participate in a new community on instagram that was just established with the goal of bringing together creative Orthodox Christian women: #astillsmallpoint. This is another way to serve, by bringing people together, fostering connections and a space to encourage/be encouraged. On Sunday evening, I attended the Forgiveness Sunday vespers service that I had not been to for several years, and it reminded me of the beauty and necessity of having a community of like-minded people to hold you accountable and to pray for you as you navigate life and all its challenges. I believe that someone praying for another person genuinely is the most beautiful, loving thing, so that is another way that I try to remember to serve others–by including them in my prayers. I think it is an even more profound, pure expression of love for someone when you pray for them without them asking; just because you care about them so much that you interrupt asking for your own help to make sure to ask God to help them also.

It’s funny to make this connection, but I have been watching Marvel’s Daredevil and the Defenders on Netflix with my parents lately, and that also kind of brings serving to mind. It helps that Daredevil/Matt Murdock is a Catholic, but when you think about it, superhero-type stories kind of center on the most extreme level of serving others–devoting your life to protecting (and potentially dying for) the lives of civilians. “Superheroes” have been given extraordinary gifts, and so they use those gifts in extraordinary ways to keep innocent people safe. That is pretty much the essence of the bible verse I quoted above: we are each given certain gifts, and the level of your gifts equals the level that you are expected to serve others.

Thank goodness I’m not a superhero…they don’t seem to get much sleep. 😉

Consistency

Did you notice the sneaky mini re-design? The logo I’ve had up for these last six months was decent, but I have to be honest: it was more like a draft than a finished product. The filename even had the word “temp” in it because it really was meant to be temporary. It was not my best craftsmanship, and it’s really quite amazing how much my digital art skills have grown just in the months since I made it. Where the last header had too little going on, this new one might have a little too much going on, but the difference here is that I now have so many ideas popping up (like little mushrooms in the grassy meadow of my brain–to tie in the photo above lol), I can hardly keep up. I’m going to throw out a quote here that again, I’m sure I saw on pinterest at some point:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

Can I just take a second to say: this is THE TRUTH.

I have never really had a shortage of ideas for projects, usually I’m in a constant state of more ideas than time. As a person who enjoys all manner of creative expression, my brain is just used to finding inspiration for all sorts of projects in everyday life and continually filing ideas away, although I’m also kind of lazy when it comes to actually committing to pulling out supplies and making things, so most of that inspiration gathers dust for a while before finally being used in an occasional burst of energy, sometimes all combined into one experiment, or I get tired of an idea before even getting around to trying it.

Since starting this blog and having a more regular habit of creating (drawing/digital illustration/graphic design), I find that I have more ideas than ever, but I’m also way better at executing them and improving them. When I used to create more rarely, every effort felt more significant, so the results were usually worse than expected because my expectations were too high, or I tried to do too many things all at once. Now, the nature of my creations is more ephemeral, it’s about the practice rather than aiming to create something great. As a result, I find it much easier to call something finished and move on rather than giving in to perfectionism, and honestly my creations seem to be better as a result. I also find that all the inspiration in my brain is finally translating more smoothly. Because I’m more consistent with my practice, my own style is starting to come through, whereas when I used to make something once in a blue moon, I would get caught up trying too hard to achieve a specific thing and it would look forced or copied.

I’ve noticed similar results in my yoga practice. Last semester when I was in a bit of a rut, I wasn’t consistent and I wasn’t making much progress. Since I have some more time this semester, I have been making sure to show up to classes consistently and the progress is kind of crazy. I can feel my strength building week to week, and I am suddenly making breakthroughs on little things I was never able to fully get before. I’ve also made surprising progress in a short time since going back to ballet class. Last week, Miss Jill said that I had great energy in my dégagés, and Miss Abbey complimented my jumps–and we laughed about it because those were not my strengths in the past! Funny what comes out when you return to something after some time off.

It all makes sense, but it’s still kind of mind blowing how fast progress can build when you strive for establishing habits instead of specific goals. Consistency really is the key, but it can also be the hardest thing to start and maintain. Looking back on the resolutions I’ve made for this year, they all basically involve building consistency in various areas of my life. I’m doing pretty well with that so far, but it definitely involves daily intention.

Luckily, that’s what this blog is all about. 😉

Home

Homes bring me so much joy. I love old doorknobs, nooks and crannies, third floors, sloped ceilings, built-ins. I get so attached to interior spaces that I spend any length of time in and every time I drive past a house that has some kind of intriguing detail I wish I could knock on the door and ask for a full tour. I love having grown up in a house nearing 100 years old, with drafty, wavy-glass windows that shift in the frames when the wind blows, a bedroom door with a skeleton key lock that now only unlocks from the outside (I’ve tested this and accidentally imprisoned myself twice), such creaky wood floors that I am completely desensitized to bumps in the night, laundry chutes to the basement (so convenient) and an old door upstairs that leads out onto a flat section of the roof for optimal sunset viewing.

I loved my maternal grandparents’ sprawling split-level mid-century ranch in a rural small town, with room after room after room (having housed ten people once upon a time) of special custom-built details including a dumbwaiter, a furnace, and a fireplace. Garage, carport, side paths, looping driveway, a rock garden extending in tiers off the back enclosed porch stocked with gardening supplies. Large windows overlooking an expansive backyard dotted with islands of greenery, an old metal swingset and slide, and a stone shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Bird feeders and birdbaths in front, a purple martin house high above the pond in the back at the end of the sloping yard where you could find patches of bluets, mushrooms, a few lost feathers, the occasional fallen robin’s egg, and a certain Mr. Toad. A mulch pile, a woodpile, flower gardens throughout. Indoors, lots of pastel paint colors and a few instances of shag carpeting. Stowed in every room were artifacts of 100 years lived: books, love letters, tools and supplies, table settings, records and well-loved toys. A time capsule of a 20th century immigrant doctor’s family, most idyllic in the spring and fall, the property covered in blooms or blanketed in leaves with family gathering for Easter egg hunts and Thanksgiving feasts.

My paternal grandparents’ home was much smaller in contrast though it housed almost as many people and details: a simple two-story home in a large suburb of a Midwestern city with a small attic and basement, some furnishings updated/some old. The mantle above the fireplace covered year-round in layers of framed photos and birthday cards and spare keys and bowling trophies. Stacks of books and photos of family on every surface, art on almost every wall: a few oil paintings by my grandmother and a couple pieces by her oldest son (my dad). A stone path leading around the house past various flowering bushes and the side door to a front stoop painted brick red and shaded by a few trees and rhododendrons. Opposite, a narrow driveway curving to an end at a double garage and an aging basketball hoop, the tiny backyard framed with seasoned apple and pear trees and a well-tended vegetable garden, grapevines and berry bushes wrapping around the garage, and a couple of chairs and benches for warm-weather seating. A perfect image of the family of high school sweethearts, at peak magic when overstuffed with visitors, decade-spanning decorations, homemade gingerbread, conversation and piano-playing as snow fell outside the bay window on Christmas Eve.

As I’m sure you could surmise, I immediately love any story with immersive descriptions of interior spaces, gardens or grounds. I remember The Little White Horse as having especially magical descriptions of the properties and interiors in the story, it’s one of my favorites, though I haven’t reread it in some years. Mostly when I think of art I’d like to make or stories I’d like to write, they either revolve around idyllic nature settings (the home of animals or fairies), or magic interiors full of character and specific detail. I think it’s a large part of why people love Harry Potter or Wes Anderson films…there’s something about a castle full of nooks and secret passageways or a stunningly detailed bedroom that feels like magic, whether magic is literally involved or not.

On a darker note, I think my obsession with homes is also why I (and most others, I’m sure) find stories of haunted houses, home invasions, living in war-torn countries, or even hurricanes and natural disasters especially disturbing; the home is supposed to be the ultimate place of refuge, and to feel vulnerable and unsafe in your own home is a terrifying thing. I count my blessings that my home experiences have been so ideal and comforting my whole life so far.

I love thinking about the living spaces I’ve experienced, and writing out my favorite details of my families’ homes was quite therapeutic seeing as one is long ago emptied and sold and the other is beginning the same process. I could write forever on my love of interiors, gathering spaces, sacred spaces; such a distinctly human thing. I know I often throw around generalizations in these essays I write, saying “most others” “many people” “we” “humans” etc. Those are the kind of the topics I like exploring: human nature, things that seem so broadly relatable once I step back. I mean, if I’m being honest, I guess I feel that every topic is broadly relatable in some way. As much as I often have felt like a weirdo or an outsider in my life, I know that we all come from the same place. Your life is yours alone and you are the only you that will ever exist, but the heart of your experiences are universal. Emotions are universal.

If you made it all the way through this, I hope you enjoyed as I got carried away in nostalgia paying homage to the homes I grew up in.

Rest

“If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit.”

I’m not really sure whether this quote has a confirmed origin, but you can find it all over the internet, pinterest and the like. It’s one of those simple ones that takes a second glance to sink in. Learn to rest, not quit. Hmm.

We all get tired. That’s one of the biggest hurdles of being an adult sometimes. Everything is so much more tiring. Responsibilities are bigger, and energy is lower. You can’t eat sugar and junk and go running off to play for hours like a kid. You have to eat right and fit some exercise into an already busy schedule in order to keep up the energy you need to get through the day. And you have to make sure you stay on top of everything so you can also get enough sleep. It’s tiring to keep from being tired.

I’m definitely guilty of being an all-or-nothing type of person sometimes. I don’t consider all the options. It’s either do it or don’t do it. Get it done in one sitting or put it off until I can devote that much time at once. Go to the difficult yoga class and work till my muscles are dead or don’t go at all. For some reason, I forget that there are other ways; better ways. Break a large project down into smaller tasks. Go to the therapeutic yoga class instead, or just rest a minute in the middle if I need to. I’m getting better at recognizing these options, but sometimes I still get so caught up in the do it or don’t mindset that I forget the options until it’s too late.

It’s kind of funny, because I’m very much not a black-or-white minded person in other areas of life. I’m usually pretty good at looking at situations from different angles, realizing that most things are a big gray scale spectrum and not one end or the other. It’s just when it comes to the everyday tasks and boring responsibilities that I let myself get stuck and overwhelmed. I mentioned on this blog several times about struggling this past semester. I was very physically organized, more so than ever, so I thought I was golden. But mentally, I was still getting a bit jumbled. I still had that mindset that prevented me from doing things bit by bit instead of all at once, and I learned that that’s the real killer of productivity. The key to is to approach things little by little, because all at once is a gamble. You might run out of time, energy, or ideas. I think I definitely hit a burnout because of that. I did not want to get out of bed most mornings. So going into this semester, when things weren’t coming together and I really wanted to just quit, I took it as a sign that I needed to rest. And I really felt a lot of peace with that decision.

When talking with my friend last week, we both were reflecting on how much we’ve learned about navigating college that we wish we had known ahead of time. All the little things that people try to tell you in high school that don’t really sink in, or weren’t articulated well enough. All the things we wish we could go back and change. But hindsight is 20/20, and some people seem to find those answers earlier than others. With all that said, we are each on our own path with our own timing, and while I feel like my college experience has really altered my life plans, I’m making peace with that. I’ve learned to leave a lot in God’s hands and let myself be guided rather than giving up and getting frustrated when something doesn’t go as expected. I know I have to keep improving and doing my part to work smarter and move forward, but I also know that I can’t control everything, and I sure as heck can’t go back and change anything.

So when it felt like everything was becoming extra tedious, things kept going wrong and I just wanted to give up, I realized that it was ridiculous to get so worked up over school and things in the past. Sure, school is very important, and I’m lucky I have a support system so that I can afford to mess up a little and learn from those mistakes. But if I was so ready to give up on everything just because of some setbacks and frustration, I realized that was a sign to chill out a little. Sometimes every setback feels like the end of the world, and it’s important not to be tricked by the American (and social media/comparison-influenced) go-go-go culture, thinking that your life is over because it slowed down a bit or took a detour. My cousin and I had a great conversation recently about a podcast she sent me that emphasized having an “eternal mindset.” The here and now isn’t everything. You have to look at the big picture, and realize that where you are is a tiny part of it. And from the Christian viewpoint, even our whole life on earth is just the beginning, the preparation for eternity. So why am I so stressed now when there are going to be so many bigger things to conquer in my life?

I hope this is somewhat encouraging. I want to do so many different things, and I already have done so many things, so I’m making a promise to myself not to get too bogged down by setbacks. If I keep learning, working harder and smarter, and resting instead of quitting, I think anything is possible. That’s the mindset I strive to keep, anyway. When you’re no longer excited to wake up in the morning, it’s time to change something, reevaluate, or just rest for once if you can. Whatever you do, don’t quit.

Weird

As a kid, the things that worried me were pretty funny. I was terrified of being dragged away by possums or murdered by katydids, and refused to set foot on the driveway after it had rained and all the worms had crawled out and dried up on the pavement, which was exasperating to my mother but that’s all pretty rational, I think. My favorite animals were crocodiles, then snails, then ducks and otters. I thought maybe if I looked around all the tiny bluet patches dotting my grandparents’ yard, or hung out long enough behind the rhododendron bush at my home, that maybe, just maybe, I’d run into a real fairy. Again, rational enough. I like to write down these random details sometimes so that I can hold onto that childhood magic, because it’s really something I never want to forget. There are millions of details in even just a couple decades of life, and it’s so magical to remember tiny ones you had lost for a while.

On the occasions when I journal, I feel like a weird private songwriter, expanding on the most minute experiences. Sometimes it’s fun to write out detailed accounts of very specific memories to give them a more concrete quality, but sometimes the raw feelings just stick better in your brain when you don’t try to translate them from abstract thought-language. That’s kind of why I feel a little out of place writing on this blog sometimes; if you were to analyze my private journal/blog it started out very straightforward and journal-y and quickly devolved into mostly vague poetry over the years, but it’s funny that I can remember exactly what I was feeling and referencing in even the most seemingly random lines while I feel more detached from the literal accounts.

Just some thoughts. Can anyone relate? I feel so emo saying I journal better in poetry but I feel like if you’re the creative writing/diary-keeping type and you’ve tried it, you can probably relate 100%. I really think abstract creative writing is closer to how our thoughts work, because somehow things tend to get lost in translation when I try to put deep emotions or experiences on paper in plain language. Maybe that’s why music is such a powerful thing for most people; pithy lyrics can hit home harder than long, explicit essays because you tend to automatically read between the lines in the way that you best connect, filtering them through your own context. I think poetry tends to get a bad rap as a weird or overly dramatic outlet, but if you consider the fact that mostly everyone likes to listen to music, I think poetry is the opposite of weird. It’s completely normal.

Once again I’m not overly sure where I was going with this little post, aside from more personal encouragement: be creative. Express yourself in a variety of outlets just for fun. You don’t have to share what you create, or you can if you want to. But don’t let the potential opinions and reactions or non-reactions of others stifle you. And maybe rethink your own reaction the next time you find yourself rolling your eyes at another person’s personal creative expression. Remember the little details about who you were as a kid, when you weren’t concerned about what the world thought.  It’s very freeing when you make the decision to not worry about likes or views, to just make things that make you happy. Easier said than done, I know.

Happy Thursday, wherever you are, and remember: you create your reality, for better or for worse.

Resolutions

We’re a couple weeks into the new year and I’m already plotting all the things I want to accomplish and trying to find ways to manage my time better going forward. Adjusting to a new year always feels a bit odd…it doesn’t really feel weird that it’s 2018, but it feels weird that 2016 is now not last year, but the year before, and 2015 is now three years ago…does that make sense? It seems like it’s not as hard to adjust to a new year so much as it is to adjust to being farther removed from years past.

I usually don’t make specific resolutions; the past few years I’ve found it more helpful to focus on a specific word for the year such as “simplify” or “unplug” to motivate me to cut down on distractions and be more mindful of how I live in general. This year however, I was pretty quick to write down some resolutions that came to me without really thinking, so I figured having these more concrete goals would be helpful for a change.

1. Read more books/be online less

I am the type of person who loves to learn…often to a detrimental point. It is very easy for me to spend hours on the internet reading blogs, articles, watching youtube videos…and because I mostly read and consume information that is actually sort of informative and helpful and inspiring (not just random clickbait) sometimes I get a false sense of productivity. In reality, the internet makes information so easy to access that it’s easy to forget that we don’t need all this information. I don’t need to read about why tardigrades can survive uninhabitable conditions or watch a video on how algorithms learn. These things are interesting, and I think learning about a variety of things is extremely beneficial, but ultimately those things have nothing to do with my current career path and I could be focusing my time better on things that do. Plus, we have a lot of books assigned for yoga teacher training that I had better get a move on… 🙂

2. Become (sort of) conversational in French

Okay, so I didn’t want to just say “improve my French” because that’s not a very concrete or challenging goal, but I must put a heavy asterisk on this resolution and clarify that I probably won’t be anywhere near fluent by the end of the year. I just want to be able to read/write and speak/understand at a solid elementary level, and I know that will involve various methods of intentional practice. I took three years of French in high school and while my ability to conjugate all those irregular verbs kind of went out the window in the years following, I have kept enough exposure to French in my life that I haven’t lost everything. Plus, I dusted off my duolingo app and have kept up daily practice for the last two months, so I can finally at least understand the instagram captions of the few french-speaking accounts I follow without hitting the “translate” button 9 times out of 10. That’s something!

3. Go back to ballet class!

I’ve been focused on yoga lately, but my yoga teacher has also resumed teaching ballet, and I haven’t attended a ballet class in probably over a year now. I definitely miss it, so there’s no more excuses, time to get back to class!

4. Declutter my digital life

I’ve basically run out of physical things to organize after my minimalism kick these past few years, but now I’m starting to feel the weight of all those years of photos on my hard drive…it’s not going to be fun, but this year I need to really purge a lot of unnecessary files and reorganize my digital photos into a system that can work for years to come. (and improve how I backup everything as well!)

5. Illustrate a book

I’m anticipating this one to be the hardest and take the longest of all my goals. If you missed it, the main reason I started this blog was for creative practice toward my future goal of writing/illustrating children’s books. I actually have already written a few things in recent years, but I want to experiment with different illustration styles to pair with my writing. This goal is more about the doing than the end product, but it’s time to really start to bring those images in my head to life. (Keep in mind, by book here I mean a basic picture book, nothing long or complicated.)

Bonus/tentative goals:

I have a few more things that I’d love to work on but aren’t priorities for this year:

-improve my ukulele skills: I got a ukulele for Christmas 2014 and I really have not made much progress since. My limited skills on the ukulele make it much less fun to play than the piano (which I practice almost daily) so I’d like to try to practice more this year.

-have a go-to lunch or dinner recipe that is simple and healthy: I do plenty of baking here and there but not any real cooking, so in an effort to stop eating the same canned vegetable soup every other day, I’d like to settle on an easy recipe or two to diversify my options.

-buy only 12 or less new clothing items this year: This is probably going to be more of a challenge than it seems, but I think just making the extra effort to be mindful of my unnecessary purchases will be great. I definitely have enough clothes, so trying to limit my purchases to an average of one new item a month will be a good exercise in gratitude.

Sorry that got a bit wordy, I’m excited to make some progress on these things this year in addition to completing yoga teacher training in the summer and getting closer to graduating college! What are your priorities this year?

Reflection

Wow, what a year 2017 has been. I have honestly had some of the best and worst experiences of my life this year, but one of the things I remember from our many discussions in yoga teacher training is that it’s beneficial to not jump to label experiences “good,” or “bad,” because truly, everything is an opportunity to learn. Failures and hardships are often much better teachers and motivation than successes and good times, and I have certainly had that reinforced this year. I had some major personal successes and took some leaps, reformed some bad habits and overcame some obstacles. My family experienced a major loss together, but also has quite a few happy things to look forward to in the coming year. My faith has strengthened and my confidence in my value as a person has grown. I started this blog, and by quietly showing up here again and again to put my creations out into the world, I’m accepting that improvement comes through doing, perfection doesn’t exist, and everyone needs to start somewhere.

This year I cemented some new goals and plans and learned to be especially patient when I’m feeling especially impatient (because instant gratification is not actually gratifying). I learned a lot of similarly contrary-seeming things, actually. Less really is more. Owning less makes me happier and frees up a surprising amount of my time, focusing on less allows me to accomplish more (still working on that one), and less perfectionism in my individual work allows me to improve more. I’m a quiet person by nature, and I’ve learned to appreciate the power of listening, but also to not hesitate to speak up a little more sometimes. Plus, I’ve learned to embrace that there will always be light and dark, (literally and figuratively) and to appreciate both for what they are. I’ve always been drawn to a little darkness and I used to think I was destined to be a night owl forever, but now I’ve learned to appreciate the mornings and try to get as much daylight as I can, because too much darkness and solitude can weigh on you. It’s all about balance.

Also, after diving into self-improvement this year, I have become a lot more comfortable with being myself. I still have plenty to work on, but I’m definitely not the insecure teenager I was just a few years ago. I don’t overthink as much. I “like” things on social media that I like. I give people compliments when I mean it. I’m more open to opportunities and experiences, and I say yes as much as possible, but I recognize the importance of saying “no” as well. I’ve also gotten better at letting go of what I can’t control or change. My personal values are firm and well-considered, and I know that I am capable of functioning as an adult, even when everything feels overwhelming, because everyone has to get through life and figure things out the same and no one has all the answers.

So, 2017 is definitely a year that will be clear in my memories, but I’m praying that 2018 will bring more goodness and growth and challenges, because I’ve finally learned that praying for an easy life doesn’t work. It’s never easy for anyone; it’s better to pray for strength to handle the things that come your way, and learn to roll with the punches. I even came down with the flu these last 3 days of 2017, and since I’m not one to get sick very often, it was sort of a last, humbling reminder that I’m not in control. It’s important to learn how to take care of yourself even during the times when you just want to give up.

Hi 2018, cheers to a new year full of new surprises!

P.S. I made a phone background as a little present for anyone reading! You can use it by clicking here and saving it to your photos, then set it as your background if you like 🙂

Comfort & Joy

The last few weeks of the year tend to be pretty hectic, but I love them. People are returning home, meeting up with old friends and family, exchanging gifts, enjoying treats, watching movies, talking the night away and slowing down a bit to prepare for the start of a new year. It’s a bit of a reset button where you can wrap up the year’s projects, catch up with your loved ones, and savor all the Christmas cheer. I know my last post addressed the more melancholy, stressed feelings that can surface at this time, and those are valid feelings. Everyone has something different that might be weighing on them especially during this season, but I am still so excited for the Christmas holiday and the fast-approaching start of a new year. I think it’s always a good reminder to try to find the joy.

My family has a nice pattern of gathering with my dad’s side of the family on Christmas Eve for a traditional Eastern Orthodox Christian fasting meal, then my mom’s side of the family on Christmas Day, and the reverse on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. This year certainly will be different as it’s the first where people have moved and we have no one able to pick up hosting duties for Christmas Eve, but we are embracing the break in tradition and just planning a more low-key, different way to celebrate. I must say, I never thought I would miss that sour mushroom soup until suddenly, pretending to like it alongside my cousins wasn’t part of the plans for the year…haha!

At any rate, I really enjoy these last days before Christmas. I have been really lucky, my Christmas wishlist is more like a list of people to see, and it looks like I’m going to be able to cross off quite a few! I had a great, super chill two-night sleepover with my cousin over the weekend, my mom and I had a wonderful catch up with a family friend for brunch this morning, I hope to spend some time with my best friend (and maybe bake some cookies!) on Friday as well as see some old ballet & yoga friends at the annual candlelight yoga, and then have a nice gathering with some other great friends on Saturday. Hopefully I’ll also get to see most of both sides of my family for Christmas and New Year’s to round it all off.

Today I’m planning on a lot of handmade gift-making, so wish me luck that I don’t get in over my head with that, I’m pretty last-minute as usual! Plus a yoga teacher training deep hangout/meeting later tonight. Is it odd that I don’t feel “busy” when I have lots of hangouts with close friends and family planned? I definitely consider myself an introvert but when it comes to people I love, socializing fills me up till I’m bursting with joy.

I hope whatever your plans are, you can be filled up to bursting this holiday season as well.

Gratitude

This can be a stressful time of year. Usually I get kind of internally frustrated with people who are unreasonably negative during the holiday season, because c’mon, it’s such a beautiful time, celebrate!! Be happy!! But this year I’m one of those feeling a little more down and stressed. My typical unrelenting optimism and general excitement is a bit dampened at the moment. I feel a little odd looking back at the serious tone of my blog posts the past few months, but then again, maybe I only ever want to write when I’m feeling more serious. It does tend to be the pattern in my personal journal, but it is quite a contrast from my off-paper(-screen?) self, where I’m constantly laughing and joking around and never taking anything too seriously, whether by myself or with others. So I guess with that said, I feel more comfortable talking seriously in writing than in speaking, and it feels good to write it out so I can keep laughing and joking elsewhere. 🙂 Anyone who can’t be serious sometimes and silly sometimes is a robot, I tell you.

So yeah, I’m just not feeling that great lately; my semester hasn’t gone too well. My last one went really well despite a lot of things that could have derailed it, so this one in contrast feels pretty defeating. It “should” have gone fine, but I just had a hard time keeping up with everything for no good reason, only myself to blame. I don’t feel super stressed, I’m not one to carry much tension, but I was just looking through some pictures from the past summer and I can see a difference in my face. I looked so fresh and happy compared to looking in the mirror today. I notice a subtle, tired shift in my features when I’m weighed down. Right now, I’m ready to move on but I can’t fast forward, I just have to keep going, even though at the moment everything feels impossible (and I know I’m just being irrational). I’ve heard from a few others lately who are feeling similarly stuck, so I know I’m not alone in this…when it gets to this time of year where it gets dark so early, it’s no joke that it just gets harder to function.

All that said, though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I think the season of extra focus on gratitude should linger well into the new year. Christ is almost born. We need to remember to glorify Him and be so grateful that we can live our beautiful lives knowing that He humbled himself enough to be born on earth, to our beautiful mother Mary, (Theotokos, what a wonderful title, the mother of God!) to eventually die for our sins so that we may receive God’s mercy and have an opportunity of eternal life to look forward to even after our life on earth ends. I look back on especially defeating weeks I’ve had, where everything seemed to go wrong, and see that there were still so many blessings in every day.

A season where things don’t go as you planned is never the end of the world. It’s just even more of an opportunity to pick out all the things that still go right, all the small beauties. Even if you just smile at the fact that if you hadn’t been running late, you wouldn’t have seen that bubblegum pink Volkswagen Beetle pull up behind you at the red light. Or that plane gliding through the sky low enough to make out the detail of its wings. The little, funny things are worth appreciating even when you just want to cry. Gratitude makes all the difference. It really does turn what we have into enough. And in first world countries like America, most of us really do have enough, more than enough. The older I get, the less I want material things for Christmas. The more I just want quality time with people I love, and the chance to sit in silence and be grateful for everything, even the challenging seasons.