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A Trump-Free Day. Kind Of. Not.

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Finally a day where I’ve done what I was supposed to do! Except for the daily blog, that is. But here’s my offering, just under the wire. Day fifteen.

For purposes of mental health, I’ve committed to creating some psychic distance between myself and Mr. Trump, so I won’t be blogging about him. I spent the day in prayer & meditation, reading the Bible, and working on my sermon.

OK, OK, I checked for new political polling a couple of times, and yeah, I read a few articles about the implosion of the Republican party. And yes, I did check Twitter to see what his fans were saying about his latest escapades. (Wow, do they live in la-la land.) At any rate, I did not spend the majority of the day musing about Trump. Only some. A little.

This evening I’ve been making phone calls on behalf of the Democratic Senate candidate up here in New Hampshire, and that feels good. It’s a super-close race and it’s nice to actually be doing something productive.

So as I say, I won’t blog about Trump. I will just share a psalm that particularly struck me this morning, which has nothing to do with Trump. Absolutely not a thing.

It’s Psalm 52: 1-7

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?

    Why do you boast all day long,

    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

You who practice deceit,

    your tongue plots destruction;

    it is like a sharpened razor.

You love evil rather than good,

    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

You love every harmful word,

    you deceitful tongue!

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:

    [S]he will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;

    [S]he will uproot you from the land of the living.

The righteous will see and fear;

    they will laugh at you, saying,

“Here now is the man

    who did not make God his stronghold

but trusted in his great wealth

    and grew strong by destroying others!”

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Day fifteen: daily blogging pursuit

Reasons to Come to New Hampshire

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There are so many reasons to come to New Hampshire in the fall. The subtle rose pink of the hydrangea bush that presides over my grandmother’s flower bed, which is mostly golden rod at present with a few late purple phlox here and there. The smell of browning yellow leaves piled up beneath the towering maples as I rustle through them on the way to the barn. The faintly orange-blushed and scarlet-tipped trees at the bottom of the field, promising to take my breath away in a week or two.

Beedie’s maples. Beedie’s barn. Beedie’s flowerbeds and fields. Funny how I still think of this whole place as belonging to my grandmother, gone lo these thirty years. (Writing in this old house brings out words like lo and lest.)

black and white quiet hills

There are ghosts here, most certainly. Beedie had a friendship of sorts with the one who haunts the attic — our whole family called him Andy, one of the early residents of the house who is now buried in the town graveyard.

Andy’s father Temple Baker bought the farm in 1862 for fifteen hundred dollars and had lived here less than a decade when a cow kicked him in the leg and he died. Andy and his siblings (except Fred, who died as a child) grew up in the house and carried on farming until the mid-twenties. Beedie always swore she heard Andy at night when she was alone, and she spoke to him openly.

I only heard him once, playing one long mournful note on the ancient pipe organ in the attic late at night. I just about peed my pants. That was nearly fifty years ago, and I’m still not entirely at ease in the attic.

I sense family spirits here almost constantly. But I don’t think of them as ghosts in the building, rather as sprits living inside me who become more real when I’m up here, if that makes any sense. My brother’s passing is too recent for me to allow him in — he’s still painfully real to me most of the time — but Beedie, Mom, Aunt Val, Cousin Averil, the uncles — they all belong to this house out of time. I am not alone.

Granite State Voters

Another reason to come to New Hampshire in the fall, especially every four years, is the presidential election. I like volunteering, even though the beleaguered citizens of the Granite State can get pretty grumpy as election day nears, after their phones have been rung and their doors have been knocked and their TVs have been inundated with political ads for weeks and weeks and weeks. 

Tomorrow I am making massive amounts of macaroni salad and marinated zucchini to drop off at the Democratic headquarters in town, where busloads of volunteers will be arriving from Massachusetts for the first of four weekends of door-knocking. I love the energy of election season.

Life Goes On

But I won’t get serious about volunteering for a while. I need downtime, writing time, reading time. This is the best reason for coming to New Hampshire. Tonight I’m joining my neighbors for outdoor pizza night at an organic farm up the road, and tomorrow I’ll be going to a free cello concert at a lovely stone church in town. Sunday I’ll attend the Quaker meeting in Putney Vermont. It’s the first Sunday of the month, so there will be a potluck. And I’ll stop to buy apples and a pumpkin at the farmer’s market on the way home.

Life is simpler here, even during the swirling insanity of the 2016 election.

Day 3 of my attempt at a month of daily blogging

Carefree

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I’m sitting on the weathered wooden deck behind my cottage in rural New Hampshire watching an orange butterfly flit among orange day lilies and admiring my orange toenail polish. Presidential candidates not withstanding, orange can be a nice color. This deck is my “safe place,” the place I bring to mind when I’m working with my therapist and need to get centered and calm.

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon, but let’s be real. I am not. Instead I am in that sought-after but rarely found state of mind referred to as “mindfulness,” “being in the present moment,” or “abiding” in pastor-speak. A human being rather than a human doing. Care-free.

Usually the soundtrack in this safe place is the chiming of the grandfather clock through the open window, the chittering of goldfinch and chickadees at the feeder, and the ssshhhush of leaves being caressed by the wind. Today though, I also hear my nephew’s kids chatting over board games and reading each other comics — at least one is engaging in that fave teenage pastime of rifling through the fridge to see if there might be different snacks than there were five minutes ago.

Choosing to Be Childlike

This week marks the beginning of my annual month of hosting Jeff and his four kids here at Quiet Hills, just as my aunt hosted me all my growing-up years. Being with kids reminds me of how glorious it is to be a child, and I grow younger when I’m with them. I feel carefree.

Budding Archaeologist

Budding Archaeologist

 

Field trip to a local quartz-mica mine

Field trip to a local quartz-mica mine

Of course there are cares I could entertain, such as two un-done sermons, my cluttered home and overgrown yard at home, an upcoming meeting with my new financial planner who thinks I am insane for keeping this old house and would no doubt disapprove of the ice cream budget this month — or even the fact that a narcissistic orange megalomaniac might become president. But today right here, right now, I choose to set aside those grown-up cares and be carefree.

I’ll Save the World Next Month

I have yet to process or write much about the Wild Goose Festival that I attended just before coming here, filling my head and heart with the cares of the world: poverty and hunger, oppression and injustice, racism and white privilege, homophobia. I have pages of notes from workshops and dialogues, and the margins are full of scribbled ideas for next steps I can take to nourish my soul and save the world. There is no shortage of work for those of us trying to bring hope and healing to a hurting world — “plotting goodness” as my friend Brian calls life with Jesus.

But this month is about peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and maple walnut ice cream, day trips to the swimming hole and late-night story times, evening walks to the beaver pond and midnight-marathon board games.

Story Time

Story Time

Thanks for the carefree word prompt, WordPress Gods of the Blogosphere.

Journal Reflections From New Hampshire

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JOURNAL REFLECTIONS FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE

My “journal snippets” are popular hereabouts, though I can’t think why: they are even more rambling than my regular blogs! Still, they couldn’t be easier to write, so here are thoughts from the first days of my autumn retreat to my little house in rural New Hampshire:

black and white quiet hills

Quiet Hills

Oct 2

Welcome, Mel! Welcome to a flooded cellar, no water, no heat, mildew on everything, and a dead mouse in the toilet. Very dead. But that was last night – this morning the cellar has drained, so I got to the water pump and now have water. The oil burner flooded out, though, and it’s not working. One thing at a time – at least I have a fireplace.

Oct 3

I’m feeling a little down and need to connect. Isn’t it funny that I feel as if I’m connecting to something, someone, in these pages? Is it me – my true self? God? The world? A future reader? This book is a friend, a true friend. What if it talked back? Would it give me advice? Would it say, “Now Mel, we’ve been through this before,” or some such thing? No, you feel safe and wise and welcoming, Book, like a dear friend.  You would say, “Are you OK? You look down today,” and I would answer, “I kind of am.”

Oct 5

I’m officially taking the day off, as Biff (my deceased brother) used to say when he was depressed. I will not try, and I will not feel bad about not trying. Read, write, maybe go to town for some food. Early dinner and a fire? Sounds good. I had to laugh – kind of – as I was sorting through stacks of books I got at the used book store last year and left up here. Too many books about grief! I’m enjoying digging through recipe books. Windy today.

Oct 6

Really, God? Really?? {Here I share a friend’s personal tragedy, another seemingly senseless and untimely death.} And another campus shooting – this one killed 9 in Oregon; the U.S. bombed a hospital in Afghanistan ON PURPOSE and doctors describe patients burning in their beds; landslide in Guatemala kills hundreds. Really, God? Really?? I feel like I should not come to NH – is it just because I’m alone here, or do dreadful things always happen when I’m here? My poor little human mind, frantically looking for meaning, patterns, reasons – isn’t there anything I can do? I must do everything in my power to bring love and kindness here. I must not waste what God has given me.

The beauty and the darkness are sometimes one and the same

The beauty and the darkness are sometimes one and the same

Oct 7

I’ve lit a beeswax candle and put on Baroque music. Tea. Filled the birdfeeder, took a hot shower, sat for a sleepy twenty minutes of Centering Prayer, had lentil soup & toast. Today is better. I scrubbed a little mildew, but mostly simply read. I haven’t written anything since I got here, and that will just have to be OK.

Oct 8

Lovely fall day, slept ten hours. I love reading the Bible. Today I will do what is pleasing to God. That is my goal. I love thinking about God, reading about God, writing about God. In the book of James, it says “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” Today I will draw near to God and try to do what pleases Her. Take a walk in her lovely creation. That will help with the funk that’s been lurking in the shadows of the house. Lots of ghosts here.

Oct 9

I’m looking forward to Jeff & the kids getting here (nephew). Jeff doesn’t have to work, so he’ll be on real vacation. Nice drives through the foliage – yay! Plus, he’s up for the climate rally in Manchester, so I will really enjoy that – talking about the issues with the kids, making signs, chanting together. I have to laugh at how carefully I cleaned the house the first time the kids came, on the lookout for every sign of mouse, every speck of paint, every spider web. Now it’s like – OK, this rug was vacuumed 3 months ago, next?

Oct 11

The leaves are peaking here, very pretty. So a drive tomorrow is in order after the family arrives. Putney farmer’s market, Walpole ice cream? We’ll see…

A painting of Quiet Hills done by Great Niece #1

A painting of Quiet Hills done by Great Niece #1

WHERE’S YOUR HAPPY PLACE?

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“Where’s your happy place?” I am asked today.

Of course my answer is, “Right here, right now at my little retreat in New Hampshire.”

It's Real Here

Here, Now

And yet, if you read my journal over the past week since I’ve been here, you’ll see that “happy” does not always apply.

Oh, there are times of unspeakable joy, joy that God has even made such a place — and such colors! And joy that this is my little plot of land and that I can spend time here and write. Happy dance!

Still, it does seem that every time I get here, something dreadful happens. Mass shootings are common, landslides and earthquakes, young black kids being shot dead in the street, Robin Williams ending his life. This week, in addition to yet another mass shooting (thank you, NRA), two dear friends of mine lost their beloved nephew: A cheerful, promising twenty-two year old goes to bed and never wakes up.

Really, God?

I think the impact of such shocks and losses is exacerbated when I’m alone up here. I have friends that I see in town, and wonderful neighbors who welcome me into their families and often ask me to dinner. But mostly I’m alone, and I like it that way. I consider it my reward for being an introvert called to a very extroverted lifestyle. It’s my escape.

I can spend more time praying and meditating and reading spiritual literature when I’m here, and I’m better at living in the present moment than I am at home. Perhaps that’s why I feel more intensely, the happy and the sad. I’m more connected with God and with my true self and my true feelings.

Here, now, me.

But also, there, then, them.

Never Really Alone

As much as I embrace the present moment here, I am also immersed in the past, surrounded by ghosts. I’ve spent summer days here all my life, and the house is full of echoes and spirits, laughter and tears.

Of my grandmother, who bought the house in 1940 after her husband died in a dreadful fire at sea; of my Mom and Aunt Val, who painted and repaired and cherished this old place until they passed on; of tweedy uncles smelling of pipe tobacco and patronizing their sweet-smelling wives all dusty with face powder; of my cousin Averil who grew up in the house, died at fifty, and is buried under the apple tree out back.

And now of my brother Biff, whose active imagination bubbled over in this place, like a fine champagne released from its bottle. So many memories of him decked out in safari hats or top hats, red velvet smoking jackets or army uniforms, brandishing swords or walking sticks or African spears, and spouting Britishisms. One-of-a-kind Biff who could always, always make me laugh.

Laughter

Laughter

Always Room For Laughter

The memories can make me  happy, but there’s an undercurrent of grief in this place. I’ve always felt it. The fellow who lived here in the 1700s was kicked in the head by a cow and died. I think he still roams around, too.

My Mom stopped wanting to come here when she got old. Too sad, she said. But she didn’t like being alone — I do. I just have to take care of myself. When I get depressed or anxious (a remnant of Biff-grief that’s gradually lessening), I go out for a walk, or I light a fire and read one of the dusty antique books shoved into every nook and cranny of this house.

Life is real here; I’m real here. Happy and sad, sometimes both at the same time.

It’s surely a happy place when my nephew arrives with his noisy kids, which is happening this weekend. I expect there will be safari hats and African spears and Britishisms, because life goes on, silliness seems to be genetic, and this old house always has room for laughter.

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So – where is YOUR happy place? Check out some others at this week’s photo challenge.

Images of Life: Journal and Camera

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Sometimes you lucky readers are treated to a glimpse of my inner workings when my nearest and dearest confidante — my journal — opens its pages to you. Not all its pages, mind you, just a few select snippets.

The best time for a peek into the journal is when I’m staying at Quiet Hills, my little writing retreat up in New Hampshire. Otherwise you would be treated to endless pages of I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that- and-I-need-to-do-this-and-then-I-need-to-do-that. Here, I have time to pay attention to life and to think and to not think.

And so, a few snippets:

June 17:

Quiet Hills! I’m sitting on the deck in the morning sun after an uneventful trip up, just traffic and fog.

The shower isn’t working, the side door fell off its hinges just after I arrived, and I can’t air out the house properly because I can’t juggle the storm windows with my broken arm. My neighbor never brush-hogged the fields last fall, so they are becoming forest. Sigh, sigh, and sigh. But I am here and glad of it.

Arrived!

Arrived!

There’s always this strange combination of great happiness but also anxiety when I arrive. Just to be here is pure joy. But so much is left undone at home, and I mistrust myself to get everything taken care of. And money is always a worry — how can I afford to keep this sacred place with the crazy taxes and maintenance?

The white iris by the birdbath are blooming. 

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Lots of chipmunk activity. Quiet bird chitter. Peonies in full bloom and lilies covered with buds.

chipmunk

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Orange Hawkweed, also called Fox-and-cubs — don’t you love that?

Beedie’s (grandmother’s) climbing roses by the front door fill the hall with their fragrance. There are loads of Orange Hawkweed and daisies in the small field, but the big fields are all brushy — few flowers.

Butterflies abound. After dark there should be fireflies – loads!

DSCN4938

My grandmother’s roses

I hadn’t been here more than thirty minutes yesterday before Emily W. arrived and invited me for a pancake supper with the boys, so I abandoned unpacking and bed making and went up the hill. With Bill working late, she really, really has her hands full with the three little guys.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     June 18:

It was overcast today, cool but still t-shirt weather. I stayed low-key yesterday, hanging out on the deck reading Richard Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond and perusing cookbooks for recipes to try when the family arrives.

Emily came by with the boys after work. The twins were playing with my phone and all of a sudden Biff’s voice was filling my head. “Hi, it’s me. I was just thinking . . . ”

I know my eyes got as big as saucers. “Oh my God,” I said.

“Who’s that?” asked Emily.

“My brother,” I answered.

She leapt up, grabbed the phone from the kids, silenced the speaker, and dashed back to put her arm around me.

“It’s OK,” I said, and the weird thing is — it was. His voice sounded hale and hearty and healthy, and I felt glad to have that recording. I might listen to it sometime. I am finally coming out of my serious grieving time.

June 19:

Last night I got back from the Toadstool bookstore just after sunset. The sky was all pinks and gold and there was a hermit thrush serenade going on, at least three of them at the edges of the fields. I walked around the house listening to their divine exchange, fully in heaven except for the mosquitos. So crazy that this is my life! Beginning to settle in. Still a touch of anxiety now and then. The space and time here leave room for worries that are drowned out by busyness at home, but I seem to need to go through them before I get to the peace.

This morning I made gazpacho and a big pitcher of iced tea. Summer.

Then I wandered around taking pictures. It’s a glorious New Hampshire day, just perfect.

Columbine by the barn

Columbine by the barn

DSCN4939

I posted a blog this morning, trying to process — but mostly escape — the latest mass shooting by a mentally unstable kid with a gun. Nine people dead at the historic AME church in Charleston, including their pastor. Kid was a racist, railed about blacks “raping our women.” My escapist blog began with a wish that I were a cat, a cat that knew no racism, mental illness, NRA, terrorism, climate change, or Donald Trump (the moron has announced he’s running for president).

June 20:

Chilly morning, wrapped in a shawl. I’m watching a couple of deer bound across the meadow and listening to dueling woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting on metal and wooden poles along the lane. A chipmunk is fussing at some imagined intrusion, and I can hear a thrush up the road — a lovely, lovely song that deserves a metaphor, except that there are no words.

I’m loving the Rohr book. He can be brilliant at times. Sometimes it’s hard to follow his theology, but it’s not so much the “figuring it all out” or the “grasping it” that I’m after; what I need and desire is a deep knowing, a knowing of the Spirit. I do not need to “have” a philosophical understanding so that my needy little ego can explain it and be right about it, I just need to know — that I am God’s, that I belong, that All is One.

I had some nice prayer time under the stars last night. Prayer realigns me, gets me back on track. What do I pray? That I would be love. A perfect channel for God’s love, get all of my crap out of the way — and that I would desire that more. That God would comfort the families of the Charleston shooting, that God would heal this broken country, that God would guide us as leaders at Cedar Ridge and use our church to bring love to the world. That we would all be more of who God designed us to be.

Fireflies and stars. I love NH in June.

Related posts: Journaling in Space, Journal as Amusement Ride, and A Fourteen Sentence Glimpse into My Journal

Forces of Nature

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“Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands — a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world.”   Sidney Lovett

 

Of all the fierce energy that makes up the natural world — tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis — I believe that the greatest force of nature is her ability to heal our souls and bestow on us the gift of belonging. You belong — are there sweeter words?

Humans may have betrayed nature, scraped and beaten and chopped her until she is raw and bleeding, but she endures and she provides for us. We are a part of her.

I first discovered the divine company of nature among the evergreens, ferns, and moss of a New England forest. That’s where I met God. But here in my little corner of suburbia, if I take the time to pay attention to “something not made with hands,” I am reminded every day: I am not alone. I belong.

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The patterns, balance, and beauty of the natural world — the assurance that sweet, delicate, winsome spring flowers will overtake the icy, harsh, and deadly serious winter — these great forces of nature reassure my soul.

 

This post is in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge: Forces of Nature

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