To Build a Castle: A Cinderella Pumpkin Patch Party and the Good Idea that Should Have Stayed an Idea

cinderellapumpkinpatchbirthdayBefore you go thinking I’m the neighbor with the pumpkins still sitting on her porch come December, let me assure you that in the end this autumn story relates to the season at hand.

My October baby turned five this fall just before the leaves started to get their color. And so, we scooted ourselves over to the pumpkin patch, hiked through a mini forest of evergreen and found a thing of fairy tales, a pumpkin carriage. Continue reading

Curator of the Cape {Gift from the Sea 7: A Few Shells}

I spoon froth into pale brown ripples of coffee and ask for more of the story of this place. Floor-to-ceiling doors wide open bring in a breeze from the bay, and here comes the owner, friend of these friends. He brushes feathery wisps from his brow, tucks some grey behind his ear, and rumbles a bold orange chair across the painted cement floor.

Everything in here is a find, he tells me– a wicker windsor, an antique chandelier, a sturdy wooden table, treasures that surfaced in someone’s attic or in the junk pile at an old school. He repaints this, leaves that distressed, or maybe just throws on a tablecloth. He’s always looking. I wonder at the art and science of how to collect without looking like a hoarder as so often “the acquisitive instinct is incompatible with true appreciation of beauty.”

The answer is that he lets some of it go. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, said “I began to discard from my possessions, to select.” And this man did the same. He singled out a few keepers and opened up the rest for his customers. Sometimes they’d come for a Cuban sandwich and leave with a painted metal chair. Their purchases made room for the owner’s creativity to play out, “for it is only framed in space that beauty blooms.”

This place is a microcosm. Under a leafy light fixture, women of all ages circle a table. Here, a middle aged Afrikaaner couple. There, a family of Indian-descent. On the deck, a group of friends clicking in Xhosa. The owner knows them all, or at least acts like he does. And, so the guests begin to meet each other. Like AML, “I discover here what everyone has experienced on an ocean voyage or a long train ride or a temporary seclusion in a small village. Out of the welter of life, a few people are selected for us by the accident of temporary confinement in the same circle.” And this interaction invigorates, makes us want to stay on the “island”. But in our everyday life, in big continental living, what do we do when there are “too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people” and we don’t think we have the space to seat them?

Nearby, a whole different kind of table rises out of water and lays covered in cloud, ready for conversation. Table Mountain, the centerpiece of Cape Town is up against Devil’s Peak on one side and Lion’s Head on the other. And don’t we sometimes face our own two predators, sometimes take our meals in the presence of enemies, those that seek to devour simplicity and beauty by snatching us into purposeless things? Mrs. Lindbergh wrote, “When I go back will I be submerged again, not only by centrifugal activities, but by too many centripetal ones? Not only by distractions but by too many opportunities?… Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts; in acquisitiveness, not beauty. How shall I resist the onslaught?”

I think Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s ideals, “simplicity of living….space for significance and beauty….life of the spirit, creative life and the life of human relationships,” find themselves in the snapshot of this creative eatery in the Cape. We can take these “island-precepts…signposts toward another way of living.”

We can collect the things that catch our eye. We can beautify them. We can loosen our grip to share them and make room for more gathering of goods. We can set empty chairs around cleared tables and gather people around us, too. We can put a notice on the wall to show maximum occupancy and a sign on the door that tells what time the doors will open and what time the lights will dim, providing ourselves islands of time in the seemingly endless sea of our everyday.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 7, “A Few Shells” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.

The Yarny Yarrow: Vintage Delight in the Garden of Simplicity

What was it about that lanky weed? I had seen it last weekend at the garden shop and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I know it spreads, sowing its seed wild, and stretches its roots wide. But I couldn’t be put off.

Maybe it’s the way the tiny florets circled together like knotted embroidery thread on a vintage blouse. It reminded me of old times, simpler times when the family yard was more like a domesticated meadow.

When we walked the grounds of an outdoor history museum a few weeks ago, my mom pointed to the clover laid out all over the lawn like scraps of fabric sewn into a quilt. When she was growing up, all the yards in the neighborhood looked that way. Simplicity allows room for natural growth, welcomes a bit of wild. Now, many of us douse our grass with newfangled chemicals, always another to-do on the list if we want to keep the lawn presentable.

I see this specimen, the Gold Yarrow, on a vintage botanical print…all the stages of its cycle, the segments of its form, its tough stems, ferny leaves, clustered flowers, all drawn out and labeled. In another era, its silvery foliage was crushed into a salve for healing wounds, or a tea to ward off colds or melancholy. It’s no wonder, the way this peculiar plant makes my dimples show.

I’ve been thinking on the shape of a happy life this week, pondering Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s advice that we should think hard before we add something new to our schedule or home. She speaks of a shell, the channelled whelk, that she will carry back from the beach to remind her of “the ideal of the simplified life.” And she vows “To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say–is it necessary?–when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.”

Many of us need to clear out our schedules and homes and start from the basics, a practice something like dividing the overzealous plants that have taken over the garden. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s question is certainly helpful. But I fear we may deprive ourselves of much beauty if we only ask, “Is it necessary?”

Another idea came to mind this week when I couldn’t get that yarny yarrow out of my mind. Was it necessary that I head all the way back to the garden shop, with the kids in tow, to find again that vintage delight of a plant? No. Yet the endeavor felt simple, somehow. Why? Because it brought me joy. It wasn’t drudgery or another to-do to make me sigh. I was fueled by delight. These two ideas are companion plants in the garden of simplicity: Is it necessary? Does it bring me joy?

Back home, I set the newbies in full sun. The flowery herbs stretched tall, leaned toward light, a thousand little yellow sponges soaking it all in. The simple life makes room for joy.

{How about you? What questions do you ask yourself when deciding what to allow into/around your home and schedule? Share your ideas in the comments section.}

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Write it girl Linking up with “Write it, Girl” today. :)

West Palm Runaway {Gift from the Sea 2: Channelled Whelk}

In the year that I turned two, I bid farewell to both of my grandmothers. Elsie flew away to Heaven. And Mamie bought a one-way bus ticket to West Palm Beach. If you would have asked me as a toddler what made her pack her bags for the Sunshine State, I would have said it was the palm trees, their coconuts bouncing like beach balls, their long arms waving toward the shore. I remember being there and running across the street to them when nobody was looking. Where there were palm trees, there was water. And where there was water, that’s where I wanted to be.

In the comments on the Stars Dancing in the Water post, one friend talked about the “water effect…that sense of clarity and calm that people possess when they’ve been in the presence of water.” Maybe that’s what my grandmother had in mind. Or maybe she was looking for a better fit like “a little hermit crab, who has run away, leaving [her] tracks behind [her] like a delicate vine on the sand.” She and her heartache had seemed to outgrow the Indiana neighborhood she had called home for so long. Had she, like the hermit crab, needed a change of shell? “Did [she] hope to find a better home, a better mode of living?”

She had come with only a suitcase, the perfect beginning for simplicity. But two years later, her tiny apartment was already overstuffed. And when we visited again when I was 18, we had to put our lanky teenage arms at our sides to make it through the narrow passage inside the door. Boxes, books, papers and tins all teetered in precarious stacks that reached to the ceiling.

Outside, a woman whizzed by on a bicycle, calling out to a neighbor in happy Spanish. Inside, my grandmother waddled about, shuffling newspapers and file folders and needlepoint kits, making rooms for us to sit. Grandma was a woman trying to pedal a bike with a wobbly wheel. She had lost a spoke to broken marriage. And she had let her relationship with every one of her four children bust loose.

She had not endeavored to solve Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s question: “how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” Without dealing with the complications of her life head-on, she could never fully change. She hadn’t come to this place to simplify and reflect on her life. She had come to laugh with the bubbly surf and pretend the hurts never happened. She had come to escape her life altogether.

I feel fortunate that I haven’t had to face those shocks and deal with such difficulties, but even “the life I have chosen as wife and mother entrains a whole caravan of complications.” I have to catch my breath from merely reading the author’s summary of a mother’s work…let alone attempting it. How can it ever be done? And that’s not even to mention my desire to find “creative pause.”

Here, we can walk alongside Anne Morrow Lindbergh as she seeks “inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony,” and “inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

This then affects the way we interact with our environment and our responsibilities. I know too little of the “first happy condition” in which “one seems to carry all one’s tasks before one lightly, as if borne along on a great tide…” And I know too much of “the opposite state” in which “one can hardly tie a shoe-string.” Too often, I feel that centrifugal force pulling me off center. Too often, I feel more like I’ve been sucked in by an undertow rather than the sensation of surfing on a great tide.

“It has to do primarily with distractions,” the author wrote, “The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children, the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.” But does it have to be this way? What if we could look at our activities and accumulations and ask “how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say–is it necessary?–when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.” When we endeavor changes in the outward life, we learn about the inward life.

If we can simplify our homes and our schedules, we have more room to invite people in, the friends with whom we “can be completely honest.”  If we can start the day in prayer and de-clutter the inner life, we come at those relationships unencumbered, able to be authentic, to avoid “the most exhausting thing in life…being insincere,” and to shed the mask. If we sit a bit with our Maker and get His take on how our time and talents can best be used, we come with new clarity to the “ever-widening circles of contact and communication….not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals and so on.”

For Anne Morrow Lindbergh, her simple “sea-shell of a house” is the perfect place to consider all these things. But she knows the place is not one for dwelling permanently. After all, “total retirement is not possible” for a woman who wants a life with her family, “to share with friends and community, to carry out…obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.” As she said, peace comes not in “total renunciation…nor in total acceptance. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.”

I think my grandmother only realized this at the end, as my family bridged the waters between us and her, that we needed her to return from retreat in one form or another, to shed her mask and experience authentic relationship. On my last visit, as my husband rolled her wheelchair back into her room at the nursing home in West Palm Beach, my grandmother, normally full of jokes and laughter, began to sob. She pushed herself up onto her feet, shuffled over to a corner and opened the lid to a messy box of stuff, the only remains of her cluttered life.

She pulled out a framed needlepoint rendition of the poem, “Footprints,” and handed it to me as a souvenir. My eyes flowed too. Her spoken words and the work of her hands in that frame were evidence that even if she hadn’t yet figured out how to mend her family relationships, she had found a starting point, a trust in Jesus. In this simple, over-used poem, my grandmother had discovered a metaphor for her need, that when her wheels went wobbly and she grew too old to walk straight and she didn’t know how to return from retreat, she could trust Him to carry her to a place of simplicity…all the while marking out a path with those not-so-lonely footprints in the sand.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 2, “Channelled Whelk” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.

Laundry Dunes, Everyday Vacations…and a Summer Book Club!!!

I can count on one hand the times in my married life I’ve had a perfect closet. In that closet, everything has a place: short sleeves on one rod, long sleeves on another, dresses and skirts on another. Belts and strings are tied up at the waist, never dangling low. Sleeves are smoothed out. Hangers are equidistant. Each rod is an array of color in the order of roygbiv.

Every time I’ve gotten it to that point, I’ve always had plans for keeping it that way, but really it’s like sweeping the the beach. Just as soon as I think I’ve got my spot smoothed out, the winds of busyness keep moving the sand about, and I just can’t keep up. Within a week, the clothes are lingering long in the basket and the dryer steam cycle has to save the day, springing them to life again.

As we are packing for a day trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore this weekend, in my house, laundry is piling like those sand dunes. Do you know how dunes are formed? Sand moves through the air on bursts of wind and stops when it comes upon an obstacle, like the trunk of a tree or a large rock. And then it builds.

For me, that “obstacle” is creativity and the written word. Each day, when nap time comes around and the kids are tucked quietly (well, on a good day, anyway!) in their rooms, I retreat to my notebook and pencil, my keyboard and screen, a little vacation in the middle of my day.

In my last post, I mentioned Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s affirmation that women need solitude in order to “find again the true essence of themselves”. Sometimes that may mean taking some time to get away alone like she did on Captiva Island in the early 1950s. Sometimes it means resting from our work in the middle of our day to day and taking time to find our own contemplative corner.

On vacation, domestic work is cut to a minimum. I make simple meals, dirtying only a few dishes. Clean up is quick and easy. I bring a minimal wardrobe and wear things more than once. I forget about make-up and perfectly-coiffed hair, and instead let the wind give me the tousled look.

Of her own vacation, Anne said, “I find I don’t bustle about with unnecessary sweeping and cleaning here. I am no longer aware of the dust. I have shed my Puritan conscience about absolute tidiness and cleanliness. Is it possible that, too, is a material burden?”

When nap time is over and I return from my mini-vacation, I do have to work a bit at the laundry to keep us from getting lost in it. I simplify and speed up the task by keeping myself from that Puritan perfectionism. If a shirt comes out of the dryer inside out, that is how I hang it. The seconds I save on each item add up into valuable minutes of time working at my real passion. My creative call may be an obstacle to a perfectly clean house, but I’m willing to live in view of the laundry dunes and a few inside out shirts in order to feel the breeze in my hair and sand in my toes on this daily little vacation all my own.

I hope you’ll join me in exploring more of these ideas as we dig into Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic book Gift from the Sea in our brand new Stories Preserved Summer Book Club!  This memoir helps women contemplate how to live a simple life in the midst of a complicated world. Take a virtual vacation with us this summer as we ponder such topics as love, marriage, the work of the mother, friendship, the creative life, simplicity, solitude, generosity, communion, youth, and age, all through the metaphor of beautiful seashells found on a quiet island. This is a short, refreshing read perfect for an easy, breezy summer book club. It’ll be our own little getaway.

I will write on a different chapter each Monday throughout June and July. Make sure to sign up right now by subscribing in the sidebar and commenting below. Then you’ll want to comment on each Monday’s Gift from the Sea post. Each comment will get you one entry in the drawing for a Gift from the Sea prize package at the end of summer. The more Gift from the Sea posts you comment on, the more entries you get!

{Linking up today with Hayley at The Tiny Twig and Jessi at Naptime Diaries for a series on Giving Up on Good (in exchange for something better).}