Category Archives: the good things

good things mondays and thoughts on gratitude

Great Things #35: A Saturday Jaunt

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It all started last summer with a Groupon and four women who should’ve always been friends but somehow missed each other. I was friends with two, Kayla was friends with two, and there we were, attempting to join what should have been joined from the start.

It was blistering hot and I was in a terrible mood. I whirled around, changing my outfit over and over (something I never do) and I was honest with them:

I am in a terrible mood.

They agreed with me, kindly of course, and we piled into my convertible and hit the highway.

We drove north, through country I didn’t recognize, and as the wind slapped my hair across my face and I sipped a melting Dunkin’ iced coffee, I felt my mood begin to lift. I listened to their yelling over the wind and I allowed myself to enjoy the company of three young women whose laughter rose up and out of the car.

That was June 2013, and this was Saturday, March 8th, 2014. Another Groupon in tow and a switched-out friend found us on similar roads but a different route.

My New Hampshire friend discovered another vineyard – right in the heart of country I thought too cold to grow – and I found myself nine months older and a whole lot different than I’d been before.

For starters, I was in a fabulous mood, probably due to the sunshine and the delicious dirty chai I’d consumed.

Kate wore her floppy hat and I wore a bright red skirt because there’s something about going wine tasting that calls for elegance. And good smoked gouda.

The air was spring-like, despite the snow on the ground, and my face felt the sun for what felt like the first time. Katie’s yellow dress was “too soon,” according to her, but just right, really.

What did we talk about? Silly things, mostly, and that’s exactly what I needed. Moments of teasing and joking and forgetting the schedule of everything.

The Good Thing this week is by far one of my favorites.

When the string of candids is as perfect as the actual.

When each wine tastes delicious in its own way.

When you get a tour from the owner of the vineyard and fall a little bit in love with his white hair and blue eyes because who doesn’t love someone who loves something deeply?

When you are grateful for your spot in life.

When you remember that there’s more to life than a checklist.

And thank God for that.

photo1[A little flannel makes everything better. Thanks to the kind gentleman who withstood our laughing and occasional flirt.]

Good Things #34

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In February, I woke up every morning thinking: Maybe it’s warmer today.

In March, I wake up every morning not believing that it will ever. be. spring. again.

[This place exists, right now as I sit in a snow flurry. It’s called Capri. And it’s way warmer.]

Dad planted some seeds Sunday and we have plans for flowers this weekend. There’s the skeleton of a greenhouse in the backyard, but it’s crooked because it’s sitting on top of a foot of snow.

I got a phone call asking if I’d teach the chicken class again this spring. I was shocked because a class of two doesn’t sound like a success to me, but why not? I had fun, and I liked showing off our “big red barn” of a chicken house. It’ll give me a reason to keep wanting to have chickens because there’s something about a long winter that removes every desire to keep having them. By May I plan to have a new brood of chicks, anyway, so that’ll be another addition to show whoever might sign up. Last year, we ended up talking about writing as much as we talked about chickens – seems the same kinds of people are interested in the same kinds of things.

I am 3/4 of the way done with my second grad school class and I’m close to rejoicing.

This is a song I loved my junior year of college. Justin McRoberts came to our school and for months I made fun of his silly poster that hung in the dining hall: eyes down, shaggy hair, he looked like the quintessential too-serious musician. We went to his coffee-house-style concert and my opinion completely changed. He made us laugh. He joked about being Mexican and Irish and how short he was. I love this song because it is despair and hope all rolled into one.

The excitement of my grammar school Latin students to see my Italy and Greece slide show is overwhelming. Of course, I’m not dumb, and I know that at least part of them is just excited to get out of some translating. But still. I’m terrible with technology so all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope the slide show works…

Read A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp if you need some encouragement in gratitude. Her style can be a little distracting at times, but it’s beautiful and thought-provoking.

Good Things #33: Things I Missed While Traveling

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Bleary eyed and happy, I went back to work Tuesday. My whirlwind trip to Italy and Greece is over. We swept into school like celebrities, bombarded with hugs and questions and a plea for pictures.

The trip will get its own posts (they’re brewing as I type), but for today, here are some things I missed while I was away:

1. My bed. Yep, that’s right. I missed my bed with its cozy corner, soft fluffy blankets, and the pillow that seems like it was made just for me. Hotels apparently don’t know what I like.

2. Mom’s cooking. Okay, so I was in Italy. The food was good. I had tortellini to die for and enough feta to last most people a lifetime when I was in Greece. (Oh, and all those people were right. The ones I always thought were pretentious when they said, “You haven’t had gelato till you’ve had it in Italy.” I was annoyed because after one lick of nutella gelato con panna I realized they were right and I’d been living a lie). 

That being said…

The first bite of Mama’s homemade chicken pot pie and I was happy to be home. Happy to be an American. It was hot, salty, filled with gravy and homegrown winter squash and there’s nothing better on a cold February night.

3. Music. I didn’t listen to music. I don’t have music on my phone. I didn’t even know what I was missing until I heard a song floating through the streets of Rome and realized I hadn’t heard music in about three days. It was so strange. Maybe it was cleansing to clear my mental music palette. But I’ve got Renee Fleming playing right now because Italy re-invigorated me for classical.

4. My shower and non-travel-size hygiene products. I un-ashamedly missed my Lush shampoo and conditioner. I missed full-size toothpaste and face wash. I missed not being afraid of using the last drop of moisturizer BECAUSE MY FACE WOULD FLAKE OFF. Just kidding. Obviously I could have found a pharmacy before that happened.

5. Gym and Starbucks dates. I missed meeting my sister and cousin every Tuesday for the gym and Starbucks (because who works out without a good reward at the end?). I missed hashing over our teaching lives. I missed the regularity of things.

6. My family. And, there it is, the crown of all things missed. The whole time I was discovering the ruins of Pompeii, the Coliseum, the Oracle of Delphi, I was thinking how much my family would have loved it. Not the huge throngs of people, no, those they could’ve done without, but the history, the richness of humanity’s past, the amazing architecture and ingenuity of such a long-ago time. I missed talking with my mom and playing Jeopardy with my dad. I missed talking about our days and sitting at the table after dinner.

I had an amazing trip. For the first time I saw things I’d only imagined, and they’re real. I came back to school re-energized to teach Latin, and that’s the best reason I can think of to go on this trip.

Stay tuned.

Good Things #32: On Seeing Three-Dimensionally

IMG_1301 There aren’t many times when I feel misunderstood.

Let me clarify.

There aren’t many times when I stay feeling misunderstood.

There’s nothing worse than trying to explain how you feel/think/believe and having someone furrow their brow in confusion.

I try very hard to communicate well, and not just because I love words and sharing ideas. A lot of it has to do with sharing myself; what’s the point of communicating if you don’t do it clearly? And how can you convey your actual self if no one understands what the heck you’re saying?

I feel misunderstood, sometimes, when I speak too passionately, too quickly, and find myself overwhelming my listener. My family has mastered the art of discerning when to take me seriously and when to smile, pat my shoulder, and let me cool down a bit.  Come back to me later, Cath, when you’ve simmered down.

[They’re not always quite so kind, but they don’t rise to my bait as much as they used to…]

It’s not that I care less than I seem to when I’m spouting about a wrong-doing, a wrong-thinking, or what I perceive as wrong-whatevers.

It’s that it’s never the full picture.

I probably care as much as I seem to, but deep down there’s a logical side, too. The side that puts things in perspective, that reminds the other part of me that passion is important, but so is rational thinking, decision-making, and action. They don’t amount to much in isolation – they must be combined to mean anything.

 ~     ~     ~

I wrote earlier about reading my old journals, sifting through page after page of angsty emotion, thought, and concern for the future. This made me a little sad about- and a little terrified at – the image I was projecting.

What will my children think if they ever get their little paws on those journals?

They’ll see only a slice of what it meant to be me growing up, wrestling with tough questions, trying to understand what it meant to be a creation of God but also being terribly insecure in that fact.

It’s kind of like first impressions, really, the one-sidedness of them. The way I decide in a moment if I will like someone, and even if that decision is based on entirely decent observations, I am forgetting the depth of that person. I am cheapening them to a cardboard cutout. I am closing the door to giving them the humanity I so very much desire for myself.

There are few things more frustrating than feeling like you’re misunderstood, like you’re only half-seen.

Don’t half-see people. Let’s both try.

Good Things #31: Rome, Among Other Things

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Italy and Greece. Last night, anticipating a snow day and enjoying a glass of red wine, I skyped with a friend from L’Abri. It’s been five or six months since we’ve seen each other, but  we never considered Skype (probably because I never think of the easy solution to problems), and it was strange to see his face on my computer screen. We were talking because – in joy and excitement – I had messaged him that I would be in Italy and Greece in a few weeks and he should hop on over. Studying in France makes European travel so much easier than living across the pond.

“What?” he said. “You’re just telling me this now?”

I didn’t tell him that I haven’t really been telling anybody. I’ve been holding it close, partly afraid that it isn’t true and partly because I feel I don’t deserve another foray to Europe after my wonderful trip this summer.

My mind has been wrapped up with each new thing that comes, and it’s only now that I’ve been able to think about it.

“I don’t live dates,” I told him, as though this made perfect sense.

“Ummm…?” he said.

I laughed to pause long enough to figure out what I meant.

“I live Mondays and Tuesdays, not January 20th and 21st. So it snuck up on my so fast and now it’s not even two weeks away.”

romeHow is this possible, this trip to Rome and Athens? One of the perks of being a teacher is you get to chaperone school trips. And yes, I mean “get to” because I can’t wait to explore this part of the world, even with students in tow. Maybe, especially with students? There’s a brightness in learning eyes that I love.

I’ll try to take pictures, but I’m terrible at that and I get distracted by everything going on around me.

I’ll try to eat the yummiest foods and buy the prettiest gift for my sister. I’ll try to read Quo Vadis (upon suggestion) to prepare me, but this probably won’t happen. I’ll be swept up on an airplane and whisked across the water.

Airplanes make the world geographically smaller. Skype does the same thing, only from the comfort of your own bed.

Music. Another Joe Purdy song, “Diamond State.” I love his voice. It’s about ice and cold and longing for summer. There are a lot of pauses in this live recording, so find it on Spotify if you want a clear listen.

New dress. I bought a new dress at the mall, and I don’t regret it even a little. It’s simple and chic and I bought it for a YMCA event I’m volunteering at this Friday night. We’re opening our theatre with a performance by a world-renowned opera singer, and in order for me to go, I had to volunteer ($125 tickets, anyone?). I can’t wait to feel slightly glamorous and very volunteery in this new Ann Taylor Loft dress.

[I can even teach in it on those days when I need a little up-lifting. Here’s to versatility!]

Half-truths. In that same Skype conversation, my friend asked me what prompted my last post. He was kind, and I could tell he thought it was a little – how do you say? – angsty, so I told him about watching my middle and high school students, these girls who are so fragile and unsure of who they are. I told him I hate knowing what lies ahead of them (or, maybe for some, what they’ve already been through) and also knowing there is nothing I can do to save them.

[I looked them in the eye once, when they were freaking out about something – clothes or a movie or something a boy had said, I can’t remember – and I said It gets better. Whatever you’re going through right now, I can tell you, it gets better. Because there is no doubt in my mind that what I’m living now is better than (and a product of) those tough years, figuring things out.]

I even told him that I’d recently read through one of my journals from 8th and 9th grades, and that this horror added itself to the mix.

But I didn’t tell him the whole truth. I didn’t tell him the seeds of other things that fed into that letter.

I think that’s okay. This blog thing is kind of strange, anyway, this baring of thoughts and soul online.

Half-truths are the way to go, I think. I’m just trusting that he (and you) won’t feel slighted.

I want to share my thoughts and life, but some things are better left in those journals I’m always talking about. Maybe I’d tell more over coffee or curled up on the couch, but even then, I remember we can only know others so deeply. There’s always a curtain, a half-truth, an incomplete truth.

I like to think this is part of the beauty of human connection. It keeps me guessing. It keeps me interested in other people.

It keeps me wholly known by God and no one else.

[Coliseum photo: Marcel Germain.]

Good Things #30

[A misshapen collection of thoughts and a longing for summer.]

I am sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops (yes, Dad, typing in public), listening to music I don’t know, drinking an Earl Grey latte, wondering how to make myself stop sneezing.

My 7th graders are writing adaptations of Greek myths for me, and it’s all I can think about. I wish I were as creative as they are. It’s so annoying.

I like this song by Penny and Sparrow:

I like that the sky still has a little light in it, even at 5:06pm.

I like realizing that if I get a B in my grad school class, I won’t die. If it’s between getting enough sleep so I don’t want to scream all day at my students and getting that extra point on a paper, which do you think I’ll choose?

I like daydreaming about sunshine and sand and the ocean. It’s still January, but my skin feels ready for sun.

I like writing poetry in my car. I like that I don’t write it down. That way I’ll never know if it were good or not – it can hang in perfection.

I like that this is the thirtieth time I’ve done this.

I like that it’s Thursday and almost the weekend.

Good Things #29

Music. I discovered this band on the radio. I listen to 92.5 The River, and it always makes me think back to middle school. My best friend was cooler than me – she was more eclectic than your average kid – and she was listening to 92.5 and David Gray and other alternative bands way before any of us were. I remember teasing her because I didn’t know how great these different sounds could be. I’m always late to the party.

But here’s the band. Boy and Bear. I know absolutely nothing about them except that I love their sound.

Sherlock. It’s back. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to watch that first episode. I waited until it aired on PBS (I have amazing will-power, apparently. But really? I just wanted to watch it on the big tv…), and I was swept right back up in my love of Sherlock and Benedict and the friendship between Sherlock and Watson and everything. (For those of you who don’t know, I have a slight love affair with this.) Twitter and facebook were things to be avoided before I watched it – some people just can’t help spoiling things.

sherlock_3(That moment when he jumps through the window, flips his collar, tousles his hair, cups Molly’s face and kisses her. Man.)

Eggs. It’s been a long December (haha, Counting Crows, anyone?!) and beginning of January. The temperature has been in the teens and lower, and the girls can’t handle it. We weren’t getting a single egg for a few weeks. I let customers down. I didn’t know if the girls would recover. But this week it’s been a little better – we’re averaging about five eggs a day which, with nearly twenty hens, is quite terrible, still. One step at a time.

Pickles. This might be strange, but I LOVE pickles. Claussens – big, whole cucumbers, cold – dipped in hummus. Homemade mustard pickles for dinner with buttery potatoes and steak. Homemade bread and butter pickles with pork chops. They’re tangy and delicious and add flavor when every other food seems so utterly boring in January.

[Also, I finally watched The Artist after my friend Kate recommended it. It is better than you think it will be. Trust me. Way more thought-provoking than I expected.]

Happy Wednesday! And happy snow day to my fellow teachers!

Good Things #28: Flannel and Coffee

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There are things you think about when you’re sick in your bed. You think about being weak and whiney. You think about how wonderful flannel sheets are and that maybe you’ll buy yourself a new set with a pretty floral pattern. (I once had someone disdainfully describe a man: “Well, he wears flannel.” My first thought was, Yes.) You wonder how long is too long for Christmas lights to be up and you want more coffee but you keep putting it off because you’re too lazy to go downstairs.

This past month and a half has been crammed full with strange. I meet up with friends, and I realize I have story after story of bizarre occurrences, moments of I can’t believe this is happening and So I walked into this strange guy’s apartment because what do you do at night when your car breaks down and your cell phone is broken? (More on that one later, maybe).

You can’t go too long without a good talk. You can’t expect to not see someone for months and have everything line up perfectly in conversation. We sat in our favorite local pub and our stories criss-crossed and overlapped and we found we had way too much to tell each other.

What is it about the holiday season that brings the oddest things out of the woodwork?

Is it up-close familiness?

The realization that you are the same and different as you’ve ever been?

Things always come rolling rapidly at me in the months of November and December.

Now, on January 15th, the good thing is not that I am sick, really, but that I am allowed to be sick. I can light a candle and think about good conversations and wonder what 2014 holds. I can worry and plan my next steps in education, or I can watch Sherlock (IT IS COMING ON JANUARY 19TH). I can read a book of poetry or Percy Jackson or nothing at all.

When I’m allowed to pause, I am grateful. Whirlwinds are fun, but they really only get their punch when they’re interspersed with calm.

Here’s a song that sings to my wintry soul because without sunshine, winter songs are the best.

~25~

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Smell deeply ~ Bake more ~ Plant a yellow rosebush ~ Light candles ~ Journal when I want ~ Not journal when I want ~ Recommend good books ~ Drink hot tea ~ Wear out my sneakers with running ~ Discover the city with fresh eyes ~ Brush my hair more often ~ Knit warmth ~ Say “I love you” when it’s hard ~ Don’t confuse the “now” with the “someday” ~ Take more pictures ~ Pick a favorite wine ~ Sing like I used to ~ Get my ears pierced? ~ Write (and mail) more letters ~ Dance as much as possible ~ Learn a little more about how to love ~ Don’t fear change ~ Don’t fear stagnation ~ Grab whatever it is and go ~ Loose friends to the four corners of the world but remember them ~ Share my hope

 [Today is my twenty-fifth birthday. Today, I will celebrate at a wedding. I will eat cake and dance and marvel at being a quarter-century.]

 

 

 

Good Things #27: 2013 Edition

What were some of the highlights of 2013? Miley Cyrus, of course. Actually, that isn’t true at all. I made it through the year without laying eyes on her infamous performance, and I hope to keep it that way. (This might frustrate Kate, the queen of the internet, merely because it solidifies my old-fashioned and misplaced irritation with modern technology.)

My highlights might not by Hollywood-worthy, but they’re the best of another sort. And there are only six, not five or ten or fourteen, because six is how many I thought of.

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1. Cafe shopping. There’s something about opening new doors for the first time, wondering what you’ll find behind enchanting names like Breaking New Grounds, The Blue Mermaid, or my favorite, Grendel’s Den. This has been a year of finding new digs, partly because – for the first time – I have a steady paycheck and I don’t live in constant fear of “Oh my gosh, do I have five dollars in my account?” anymore. There’s something about dark wood and dim lighting that makes me want to curl up and pay hand over fist for delicious things. Good thinking, restaurant owners.

2. Making music. My friend sent me a recording. It was me and seven college friends singing “An Irish Blessing” at one of our recitals. It’s an eight-part piece and because sopranos are a dime a dozen and I have a little more weight to my voice I’m Alto I, a part I never feel comfortable singing. I listened to it over and over, remembering how the sound filled the hall, what it felt like to make music with people I’d shared so many memories with. This summer, I’ll be singing an eight-part song at my college roommate’s wedding, five years after we made this first recording.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
until we meet again,
may God, may God hold you
in the palm of His hand.

[This is a similar recording of the arrangement we sang by Graeme Langager, only ours was mixed voices.]

3. Friends. I read this quote in Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and I paused because I have felt this intensely this past year:

They say – or maybe I said – that a good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is true also of our bosom friendships. You could almost flush with appreciation. What a great scam, to have gotten people of such extreme quality and loyalty to think you are stuck with them. Oh my God. Thank you.

I am so grateful for friends who understand me. I am also grateful for friends who, when they don’t understand me, love me anyway.

4. Christian Wiman.

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When I first encountered Christian Wiman, I was so overcome with overwhelmed-ness that I emailed an old art professor to share my joy. It was this article that first introduced me to this man of faith and art, and what was it that caught me so immediately? This man who was faced with his own death (cancer) slowly and carefully examined his latent faith and found it there, curled deep inside him, even when he thought (and maybe hoped) it was dead. My Bright Abyss, Wiman’s collection of thoughts on faith, may very well get a post of its own, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

Life is short, we say, in one way or another, but in truth, because we cannot imagine our own death until it is thrust upon us, we live in a land where only other people die.

…it involves allowing the world to stream through you rather than you always reaching out to take hold of it.

Falling in love seems at the same time an intensification of consciousness and the loss of it. Never are the physical facts of existence more apparent and cherished, and never is their impermanence more obvious and painful.

I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers. express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never?

He is currently in remission, and his latest book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is on my list.

5. Boots. This might not seem to fit with the other things in this post, but this year I discovered the beauty and ease of boots.

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They immediately transform any mediocre outfit into a work of, if not art, at least style. Oh, you’re wearing THAT again? Wait, what are those? Oh my gosh, I love them!

Crisis averted.

6. Recommendations. This is a blend of numbers three and four because good friends recommend good things. I get most of my music from other people, from my city-friend to my brother, and a lot of my books are recommendations, too. My friend Bryn who blogs over at All My Roads, recently wrote a post of 14 Books for 2014, and I was struck by how great they are. Not only had I loved the ones I’d already read, but I wanted to rush out to the book shop and grab the ones I hadn’t.

[And miracle of miracles, my city-friend went and bought me Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal – with no prompting from me – and I wonder if my friends who don’t know each other are in cahoots.]

It’s good to have people you trust in your life to tell you what to read. And listen to. And do.

So, there you have it. Enjoy your Wednesday!