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May 2020

Listen to John Muir

I'm up north this week.  

Usually, I don't come up to our little cabin this early in the season (although Tom does, regularly, to fish).  Spring comes slowly here in Michigan, generally.  But it comes even s-l-o-w-e-r up north.  It's hard to take a big step backward when it comes to springtime, y'know? So I usually skip these May trips.

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But this year? Things are different. (Oh. So. Different.) And I decided to come along this week.  Bare trees and all!

And even though it WAS kind of shocking to see how far spring is lagging behind up here . . . it's been refreshing, in a way, too.  

Yesterday (a day, mind you, that started with bright blue skies and a temperature of 21 degrees F), I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes: 

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."         
                                                --- John Muir

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When JoJo and I set out for our daily walk, I didn't expect much; I wasn't really seeking anything.  Just some exercise.  And a chance to get outside for both of us.

But I received far more than that!

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Our time in the trees . . . kind of hit a RESET button in my soul.  I enjoyed the gifts of sunshine and cool breezes.  I marveled at the emerging leaves.  I took big breaths of fresh forest air.  I felt myself relax.  I sunk into spring emerging all around me.  And I realized how lucky I am to be able to watch spring unfold for a second time this year! 

These are challenging times.  The world seems a very confused, scary, and incredibly frustrating place right now.  After yesterday, my advice to you . . . is to get outside!  
Spend some time in nature.  
Allow the magic to happen.  
Listen to John Muir!  

You'll receive far more than you seek!


My New (ab)Normal

I haven't picked up my paintbrushes since the pandemic canceled my watercolor classes in early March.

I've wanted to.
I think about painting quite a lot.
I even organized all my painting stuff.

I just . . . haven't.

So I was really excited when my watercolor instructor contacted me two weeks ago and explained she was going to do a "pilot" watercolor class on Zoom . . . and she asked me if I'd like to participate. 

Hell YES!  

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Last night was our first class. (Bonus about Zoom classes: I can even do this from our cabin up north . . . where we are this week.)  It wasn't without its technical glitches, that's for sure.  But I think she'll work things out as we go.  (After all, this is a "pilot" class.)  I don't know that this format would work for a beginning class, but for this group . . . well, we all know each other because we've been painting together for years, and we've got the watercolor basics down already.  So that helps in this new format.

It felt really good to get everything set up before class.

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And to just work through lesson elements in my little sketchbook.

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It felt nice.
Almost (but not quite) . . . normal.
I guess you could say it was my new (ab)normal.

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Reminder:  If you haven't already joined the discussion of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, please do check out the discussion questions posted yesterday here (Bonny's blog), here (Carole's blog), and here (my post yesterday).


Read With Us: Discussion Time

Read With Us

When Bonny and Carole and I were selecting the next Read With Us book, we were interested in finding something about the Mexican immigrant experience written by a Latinx author.  

Several lists pointed us to our eventual pick . . . 

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

But you know what I didn't know when we chose this book?

That it is Young Adult (YA) fiction!  A category I generally . . . don't enjoy.  But.  Here we were.  A YA title . . . that we asked you all to Read With Us!

I decided to keep an open mind about our selection. After all, this book is good YA fiction . . . being a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and all.  So I decided to read it while channeling my 13-year-old self.  Here she is, by the way . . . just to keep things in perspective.  (7th grade.  Is it a good age for anybody???  Just wondering.)

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Before we begin the discussion, though, let's have a little review.  What IS YA fiction anyway?  And how is it different from adult fiction?  

There are 3 main differences:

First, there is the age of the protagonist.  Most YA fiction features a protagonist in the 15-19 year-old age group, while protagonists in adult fiction are typically fully-formed adults (at least in their 20s, but often older).

Next, there is voice.  While most YA fiction is written by adults, the voice still feels authentic to its younger target audience.  The concerns, motivations, and inner thoughts of YA protagonists tend to reflect "teen issues" -- friendships, self-discovery, and separation from parents, for example.  The YA narrative voice will usually be more in-the-moment -- more a play-by-play than the retrospective approach we typically see in adult fiction.

Last, we've got themes.  This can really blur, because the same themes often occur in both YA and adult fiction.  It's just that in YA, those themes (sex, violence, etc.) are not described as explicitly as they might be in adult fiction.

Personally, I tend to find YA kind of dull and predictable.  But 13-year-old Kym?  She really ate it up!  While 13-year-old Kym would have been scandalized by many of the topics and issues in this book (because the 1972 world she lived in was so very different from the modern-day world Julia was navigating), I know that 13-year-old Kym would've loved reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter!

So.

Let's get to discussing, shall we?  Here's my discussion question:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was written to follow Julia’s day to day life. Along the way, the book touches on a multitude of social issues. Which was the most natural to you? Did you enjoy the slice of life nature to Julia’s narrative? Do you think there were too many social issues crammed into this book?  Or did it showcase how these issues permeate society?

Please consider this bonus question as well:

Do you think this book was a good representation of the YA fiction genre?  And did you judge this book differently than you might if it were adult fiction? Would you have liked this book when YOU were part of the target YA audience?

Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments directly IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Please feel free to respond to other commenters as well.  

Be sure to check out the questions posed by Bonny and Carole today, too!  It's our first-ever-three-blog-book-discussion-extravaganza!

Like we did last time, we've got a little bonus for you to participating in the book discussion. We have another “book lovers' surprise package” to be given to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blog posts. Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment — so the more you share, express your opinions, and comment, the more chances you have to win the prize. The winner will be revealed as part of our wrap-up post later this month.

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And one more thing . . . We'd like to try to organize a Zoom book discussion sometime next week.  It's tricky to find the best time, though.  Please let us know in the comments if you'd be interested in taking part in a Zoom discussion, any time preferences (morning, afternoon, evening, for example), and if there are any specific days you CAN'T do (Carole can't do Monday evenings, for example, and I can't do Tuesday evenings).

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As always, thanks for reading with us!

 

 

 

 

 


Sometimes Mondays

. . . are the most Monday kind of Mondays.  (Like when you oversleep and didn't get to most of yesterday's to-do list yesterday and now you're starting the day already feeling scrambled AND you have a zit on your face to boot.)

Time to . . . 

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As usual, on Mondays I share a bit of this and a little of that and things I discovered over the weekend.

(And I always start things off with my quote-for-the-week.)

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"Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before  You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good."
    --- Elizabeth Edwards

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I've been thinking a lot about resilience lately.  Acknowledging what's happening in my life.  Accepting the changes that I see.  Grieving them.  And then . . . moving forward.  This quote seemed to be just what I needed right now.

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This week's advice from CoronaLisa:  Something Worth Reading!  You may have already seen this very useful explanation about COVID transmission and the risks of exposure - and how people can best avoid those risks.  If you haven't read it, though, please take the time (an estimated 12-minute read) to educate - and protect - yourself.  Especially now . . . as so many states are "opening up" again.  The blog post (which is going viral itself) is written by Erin Bromage, a biologist and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.  It's a clear synthesis of other studies and explains in plain, understandable language (with diagrams) how COVID is spread, and how you can minimize your own risk.

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And while we're talking about COVID (because aren't we always talking about COVID these days?), here's another article that might interest you.  It's about COVID-19 "Infowhelm" and explains why our brains are having trouble taking in and processing all the information that's being thrown at us.  Important and interesting.  (But if you're only going to read one of these articles today, read the first one, okay?)

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So many great live music performances have been canceled because of COVID-19.  Which is a true tragedy, and one of the things I'm having the most trouble accepting (see looking for resilience, above).  If there is a silver lining in any of this, it's that so many of those canceled live music performances are now happening virtually.  And that means more people can enjoy them -- even if they can't be there in person.

The New York Guitar Festival is one of the live performance "casualties" of COVID-19.  But . . . the festival has changed gears (resilience!) and is offering many of their favorite performers via their YouTube channel.  You can read more about their revised schedule here or find the New York Guitar Festival YouTube channel here.  

And here's my favorite so far (and it's a real treat) . . . 

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Need a lift today?  Feeling like spring is being just too much of a tease this year?  Well, here's something that will cheer you right up:  The cherry trees at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden are in full bloom right now. But the garden is - of course - closed to the public.  Never fear -- you can take a long walk along their Cherry Esplanade today . . . from the comfort of your own computer.  Take a walk -- and enjoy at full screen for an almost-like-you're-there view.  (I only wish they could include a smell-the-blossoms feature.)

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I've saved the best for last!  Whenever you're feeling low, or you need a quick diversion, just sit back and enjoy this . . .

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That's it for me this Monday morning.
I hope your week is off to a good start -- and that it isn't snowing in your corner of the world today.

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PS - Don't forget to join Bonny, Carole, and I tomorrow for the blog book discussion (part 1) for this quarter's Read With Us selection I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.  We're mixing things up this time around, and you'll find a different question on each of our blogs tomorrow.  We can't wait to hear what you thought of the book.


Fridays Are For Poetry

. . . and poetry is for times of crisis.

Last month, as I posted poems during National Poetry Month, I got a lot of comments about how relevant and meaningful the poems were.  How timely they were.  How the messages were so important right now.  And I got a lot of comments suggesting that maybe I should keep sharing poems.

Poetry was definitely resonating!

So I did a little research about poetry and times of crisis, and it turns out that . . . yes, indeed, people often turn to poetry when they are troubled.  Poetry gives voice to people and inspires the human spirit.  It enhances our communities while provoking and challenging us all to think bigger, to see things differently.  Poetry gives us both language . . . and space . . . to fill in our own words and experiences.

The Amerian Academy of Poets first launched National Poetry Month in 1996, with the simple goal of helping people discover the power of poetry to "find comfort, resilience, and connection."  Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, has stated that more and more people are turning to poetry “because amid fear and uncertainty, poetry can help bring needed strength.” It can render “tranquility” and bears the “power to bring us together.” She compares poetry to hope -- a salve in a time of anxiety, fear, and social isolation.

In a recent Guardian article, poetry critic Mary Jean Chan has this to say about poetry in the time of pandemic:

"Something about the specificity of poetry allows it to crystalise experience, as if one were pausing time. The brevity of a poem and its precision help us tune out the world and its excesses, so we might return, if only momentarily, to ourselves. As more and more people practise social distancing, what we don’t do becomes just as important as what we accomplish, the way the silences and empty spaces in a poem are crucial to allowing the words that appear on the page to reverberate and sing."

And in a blog post, Anna Delamerced, a physician who uses poetry with hospitalized children, adds these words about the power of beauty in these challenging times:

"One final thing I’ve learned about poetry that is particularly relevant in these times, is that poetry accepts ambiguity. Poems have multiple meanings. There is no one, right way to interpret a poet’s words. Whether haiku or sonnet, free-form, or rhyme, there are as many ways to write a poem as there are to read one. I’ve read too many where I still don’t know the meaning, but was able to extract one of my own. Perhaps that’s the beauty of poetry – sitting in the gray, and still making meaning out of it. Still finding beauty amidst mystery and understanding amidst the confusion. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do amidst this crisis."

So, yeah.  There really is something to the power of poetry . . . and especially in times of crisis. I'll keep sharing poetry for now.  Because I'm "sitting in the gray, and still making meaning out of it."  
And I have a feeling you might be, too.

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The Way It Is
William Stafford

There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.

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My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace and things that bring you joy.
And maybe some poetry

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Today's poem was published in Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection, 2019, Green Writers Press, and edited by James Crews.  Information about the poet can be found here.

 

 


Walking In My Neighborhood: A Few Oddities

It's been another week of walking here.  JoJo and I have logged another 25 miles or so.  Same streets (although our routes do vary by mood and distance).  I'm trying to approach my routes with "fresh eyes" every day, which is actually pretty easy right now -- with spring finally unfolding here.  We've got trees blooming and leaves popping and landscape projects going on all over the place.

Last Thursday, I shared three little libraries I see on my neighborhood walks with JoJo.  This week, I decided to share three other things I see on my walks:  Neighborhood Oddities!  You know . . . things you don't really expect to see in a typical, suburban kind of neighborhood.  

Like . . . well.  We have a barn!

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Yep.  We have a big old barn just down the block from my house.  We walk or drive past it every time we leave or return back home.  It's pretty unusual, actually, sitting there among all the neighborhood houses.  But it's also kind of cool.  Apparently, my neighborhood used to be a farm -- I think an orchard of some type.  When the farmer sold the land to developers, he got to keep his barn.  (And now we all have a cool background for family photos and senior pictures, etc.)

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We also have tennis courts!  But not public tennis courts. . . 

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(It is so much harder than I thought it would be to take decent photos of tennis courts. . . )

There are two houses quite nearby that have their own, private tennis courts.  Full size.  Fenced.  Well maintained.  But . . . in the nearly 17 years that we've lived here, I've never seen anyone actually playing on either of these courts.

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(This is the other court, just down the block from the first one.)  (Sadly, with an equally bad photograph.)

Maybe there were tennis-playing kids in these houses at one point?  I don't know.  All I know is that we have two tennis courts that are completely unused just down the street.   (I did notice yesterday that one of the courts has its net up now.  I'll be on the watch for any volleys.)

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And . . . we have a mega church!

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My kids always called this architectural oddity "Fort God."  It used to be a big Episcopal church -- I believe it was a "headquarters" or something.  But the church needed to sell the property and building, and a mega church bought it -- and then built that huge industrial-looking portion of the building to the right of the original "Fort God."  They also paved that giant parking lot.  It's not so bad to have a mega church as a neighbor (especially because they agreed to divert all traffic AWAY from our neighborhood streets -- and they hire local police to manage their traffic every Sunday), but . . . the grounds used to be very beautiful and park-like when the Episcopal church owned the property.  It was like having a neighborhood park, actually, as the Episcopal church shared their grounds (which included a wonderful labyrinth I used to walk).  That all changed with the mega church, though.  It's now a big parking lot -- and it's gated. (As in KEEP OUT.)

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How about you?  Any oddities in YOUR neighborhood?

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Hop on over to Carole's today for more Three on Thursday post.

 


This Is My Message To You

Let's set the mood today . . . 

Yeah.  
These are difficult times.  
Every day it's the crawling out of the hole again.
Fighting that pandemic-gravity.
Finding the energy to move forward.

I don't know what I'd do without meditation and yoga and movement.
And . . . knitting.

It's nothing complicated these days.
Just the basics.
One stitch after another.
With really lovely yarn.
And preferably for someone I love.

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I might not really feel it.
But my knitting says it loud and clear . . . 
Every little thing is gonna be alright.

(This is my message to you.)

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You can find all the details about this knit here, on Ravelry.


A Sisterly Shorthand

Okay.

So . . . I have some serious Pandemic Hair going on over here.  My last haircut?  February 12.  I was due for a cut the day after Michigan's shelter-in-place order shut my hair salon down.  So, yeah.  I'm WAY past due for a good cut-and-style.

I've been working at growing out my hair for about a year now - with no real plan in mind.  Just a controlled grow-out so I can figure out what I want to do with my longer hair at some point in the future.  I'm grateful that I'm not trying to keep up a "style" or anything these days, and I'm extremely happy that I don't need to worry about color or highlights.  Just . . . trying to keep everything under control while it grows a bit.  

I've been trimming away at my bangs every few days, and I do a little "thinning" with my shaver now and again (desperate times call for desperate measures, right?), and I've dug out all the hair bands and banana clips and barrettes I can find.  It . . . works.  And someday?  My stylist will be surprised at how long my hair has gotten . . . and we'll be able to try something new.

For now?  I laugh at myself and remember playing with my hair when I was much (much) younger.  My sister and I did a lot of playing around with our hair back in the day.  And we had developed a sort of . . . shorthand . . . for talking about our hair and the "looks" we were trying to achieve.  

Most of it . . . revolved around the styles we saw on TV or movies or in magazines.

It all started with Jane Banks.

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After seeing the original Mary Poppins movie (which we adored!), my sister and I both wanted "Jane hair."  Our mom styled us á là The Jane every morning before school -- a high, pulled-back ponytail on top, with our long hair streaming down our backs. (We had the bangs, too.)

After that, our styling tastes, along with our shorthand, expanded -- with heavy Brady influence.  

I always wanted my hair to be just like The Marcia -- long and straight, with a center part.  

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I became very practiced at all of The Marcia Variations . . . like The Side-Barrette.  

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"Marcia?" 
"Barrettes crooked."

Sometimes, to really mix things up, one of us might opt for The Jan.  For us, The Jan was any kind of side-part style -- which may even have included a (daring and hard to pull off!) side ponytail.

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"I'm feeling a little Jan today." 
"Hold the phone."

One Brady look we never wanted, though?  The Cindy.

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If either of us ever tried to do double ponytails (just to try something different, for example) (in a weak moment), the other of us would intervene.  
"Cindy."
Enough said. 

When we DID need to go for some sort of pulled-back look, we generally opted for The Paul Revere -- you know, just a single low ponytail.

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We generally avoided The Heidi - two braids, sometimes wrapped on top of the head.  (Generally, just not a look one wanted in the 1970s.)  (Although it did work well under a ski hat.)
"Heidi?" 
"Swiss Miss." 

But on occasion, we'd opt for The Ellie May -- two low ponytails (hold the curly-top), especially effective under a hat.

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Our shared sisterly shorthand kept us from any number of teen-age hair style disasters.

And now, during the Pandemic, it gives us something to laugh about!  
My sister is currently working her own version of The Jane once again.  
And me?  I've reverted to The Ellie May!

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Pandemic Hair.
Gotta love it!

 

 

 


Monday Again

After one of the most beautiful spring weekends I can remember, it's Monday again. 

Time to . . . 

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As usual, on Mondays I share a bit of this and a little of that and things I discovered over the weekend.

(And I always start things off with my quote-of-the-week!)

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"Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm."
    --- John Muir

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If you follow along with me on Instagram, you already know about the finch nest on the top of the forsythia wreath on my front door.  The little nest is in clear view from one of the tiny windows at the top of my front door - so Tom and I have a ringside seat to all the finch-goings-on.  (We also have to be careful -- because if we get too close, Mrs. Finch gets freaked.)  All last week, Mrs. Finch was busy laying her eggs.  Each day, we'd find one more!  (There are at least 5 eggs.)  Now, though, she's in the nest all the time, incubating.  (Mr. Finch visits often to bring her food.)

It's exciting to watch this spring work going on . . . right outside our door.

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It was 100 years ago this year that the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified and passed in the US.  (That would be the one giving women the right to vote.)  2020 was meant to feature big celebrations commemorating this most important event . . . although, like so many other big celebrations, these events, too, are moving into the #together/apart realm.

Here's an interesting thing: The women's suffrage movement 100 years ago ALSO ran into a pandemic!  Yes, my friends.  Our suffragette sisters had to fight through the Spanish Flu to get their message heard!  Strange how things come around, isn't it?  Here's a great article about the women's suffrage movement and the Spanish Flu pandemic if you're interested in learning more.

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A couple of Mondays ago, I shared an invitation to a free Zoom-workshop sponsored by The Makerie that my sister and I were planning to attend.  It was called a Playful Pause, and it was just that!  It was a well-done, little breath-of-fresh-air workshop that made both of us feel a little bit pampered - and a whole lot inspired.

Well.  I'm happy to let you know that Playful Pause 2 is happening this Wednesday, May 6.  (Here are the details.)  This time, the group project involves paper . . . and I think that sounds fascinating and fun.  It's free -- and easy to sign up. Come on along!  Join us!

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And now a word sponsored by CoronaLisa . . . 

I'm sure many of you - like me - are emerging from your "pandemic trances" and settling in (at least a little bit and mostly begrudgingly) to our newly-changed lives.  I know I am finding a little more focus in my days, though I'm still quite surprised by the bizarre nature of time (but oh well, we can't have everything I suppose).  Still.  It's easy for me to end up going down a rabbit hole of despair, thinking about what I've lost and, of course, paying too much attention to the news of the day.

I found this little article from The Atlantic - about two "errors" in our thinking about the pandemic - to be helpful for me in understanding my own despair and rabbit-holing.  Maybe it'll help you, too?  Let me know what you think!

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Stuck at home . . . no travel coming up anytime soon . . . let's have some Armchair Adventures instead!

The New York Times has started a new feature: The World Through a Lens, a new in-depth look at some exotic locations around the world. Their first destination?  Easter Island!  Come along for a great Armchair Adventure with me.

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That's it for me this Monday morning.  
I hope your week is off to a great start!

(Oh . . . and how could I forget?)

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Fridays Are (Still) For Poetry

It's May!  Which means National Poetry Month has wrapped up for another year.  But.  I'm still feeling the need for more poetry in my life, so I'm going to continue sharing some of my favorite poems on Fridays.

I hope you won't mind.

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(Grape hyacinths are my favorite spring bulb, and they are popping up all over my garden right now.)

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The Cure for It All
Julia Fehrenbacher

Go gently today, don't hurry
or think about the next thing. Walk
with the quiet trees. Can you believe
how brave they are -- how kind? Model your life
after theirs. Blow kisses
at yourself in the mirror

especially when
you think you've messed up. Forgive
yourself for not meeting your unreasonable
expectations. You are human, not
God -- don't be so arrogant.

Praise fresh air,
clean water, good dogs. Spin
something from joy. Open
a window, even if
it's cold outside. Sit. Close
your eyes. Breathe. Allow

the river
of it all to pulse
through eyelashes,
fingertips, bare toes. Breathe in,
breath out. Breathe until

you feel
your bigness, until the sun
rises in your veins. Breathe
until you stop needing
anything
to be different.

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My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace and things that bring you joy.
And maybe some poetry

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Today's poem was published in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, 2017, Grayson Books, and edited by Phyllis Cole-Dar and Ruby R. Wilson.  Information about the author can be found here.