Sunday, July 12, 2020

Small Joys: volume 29

Even my yogurt celebrates small joys (or "the little things")

Maybe you thought I had given up on Small Joys after such a long hiatus. Every time I am back in this space, I think to myself, "I am going to spend more time writing! I am going to get back into it." For reasons unknown, I have not picked up the pen (or laptop) to write in quite some time, until recently, that is. Sometimes when my brain feels overloaded, I find it hard to put words on paper to express how I am feeling. Although, it is also true that I feel like I have always best expressed myself through writing vs. speaking. This is why I will likely never be a public speaker or maybe even the author of a book-- I wouldn't be able to handle the speaking piece that came with it.

I started a new job back in December, and shortly after getting settled there, the pandemic began. I have decided to keep this space free from some of the very weighty things of this world for the time being, so I am not going to spend a lot of time reflecting on what that has brought to our world at this time.  There are important things happening around us at the time that I am writing this, but I don't have the words for them yet. And because I'm out of practice with writing, let's start with a simple first post back, a continuation of the Small Joys series. I am appalled that I have not posted a Small Joys since 2017--that is wild!

Here are the things that are bringing joy to me in this season.

No. 1: Spending time outdoors with friends. A few months ago we had some friends over for the weekend during a time when we probably shouldn't have, but we enjoyed it SO very much and did our best to be respectful of space. Social distancing is now one of the most used terms-- one that I don't believe anyone had ever heard of until several months ago. As spending time indoors with other people has been heavily frowned upon, we have been enjoying as much time outside as possible with friends.  The outdoors have been life-giving to us in this season, and God's beauty in nature has reminded us of both His love for us and how incredible He is as a Maker.

No. 2: Baby birds. It's funny how I just take so much more notice of things around our home recently.  Probably because home is the only place we've really been recently (besides Wal-mart, which has become my new "happy place?" The world is weird. Target seems too far across town to travel to, but Wal-mart is 5 minutes down the road and has become the place I frequent most when I need groceries and a place to wander and browse at random home goods and clothing items). In any case, Doc helped us discover this bird nest in one of our trees which just has the must beautiful robin egg blue eggs inside. They've since hatched, and we were careful to never touch them.  They have now flown the nest and are out in the world!

No. 3: Hand lettering/calligraphy. Many many years ago, I developed an interest in hand lettering and calligraphy.  I took a beginner's calligraphy class with a friend, asked for many books on the matter for Christmas that year, and then my Master's program ramped up, and I just never got back into it. One thing I have learned about this craft, as with many others, is that you have to practice a LOT to become good at it.  I've picked it up a few times over this "stay at home" season and this photo below shows my current "best." This one is hand lettering using Micron pens; I am still working through some troubleshooting issues with calligraphy (just simple things like... how much ink is supposed to go on my nib?? I have not found the happy medium and always have too much or too little). It is fun to do something creative to take my mind off of work and house chores that need to be done. 

No. 4: Tomato pie. Oh, this was a true delight.  The last time I had tomato pie was in the fall when we visited our friends in Beaufort, SC.  I have such lovely memories from that weekend-- we went to a book sale along the waterway, sauntered around the sweet streets dripping with Spanish moss, went to a literary reading in a coffee shop for the SC Writer's Association (what a dream! I need to find one of those up here to join), and stumbled onto tomato pie.  This is apparently a Southern thing, and I do have a memory of one of my dear friends, Shannon, making a tomato pie in college (or shortly thereafter) for our book club.  This is a recipe I will serve over and over again. My first one was unimpressive-- I was low on tomatoes and other ingredients that are important to its composition, but it was still good despite all of that! We now have tomatoes that are ALMOST ready to eat form our garden, anD I have a feeling they will make a tasty tomato pie. 

No. 5: Kayaking.  When we first moved to our neighborhood a few years ago, we had no idea that lake access was included in our HOA dues. We figured you had to become a "member" of the marina or something like that. But when we went to sing the paperwork at closing, the previous owner told us that we would just love the lake and that it was the one thing he would really miss about this neighborhood.  We started off renting kayaks from the marina for $5 an hour; we quickly realized with how much we were using them that we might be better off purchasing our own.  We have come to really love kayaking, and for me, it is the closest connection to water I can get around here. At home, the ocean is my happy place.  In the Midwest, it's lakes.

No. 6: Magazines. Yes, magazines have becomes something that I really look forward to reading these days. Life seems much slower in the midst of the pandemic, and I find that I am carving out needed time for things like resting, reading books, reading magazines, etc.  My brain feels full during the week-- there is way too much to remember and way too much to keep up with tat work.  Changes are happening all the time and by the time I get home in the evenings, my brain has no space for anything more that is heavy.  Magazines give me a nice escape from the world around me. My favorites are Southern Living, Real Simple, and Better Homes & Gardens. 

No. 7: Hot tea. Scott and I have recently started drinking tea together.  I've always enjoyed hot tea, and I remember in an interview once I was asked what I did when I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed-- my response was that I took a moment to step away and make a hot cup of tea. Looking back, I am not sure that they were looking for an answer like that, but it's what I do when I need to reset. We've been enjoying hot tea in a pot Scott made in college with tow mugs that he also made in his ceramics class.  It's nice to have Oolong tea with our dinner or just as an evening drink to relax before bed.  

No. 8: Sunrises by the lake. We went to the lake up north last weekend, and I slept in a trundle bed out on the porch so I could wake up with the sun. I woke up for sunrises and writing, and there's just something so lovely about that time of the morning when the sky is waking up but all the people are still sleeping. I took my notebook out there to write and enjoy this beautiful sunrise.  It was so worth the 5:45AM wakeup call on a weekend. 

No. 9: Plant based life.  I am moving more towards a plant based diet for health reasons and have really enjoyed experimenting with new types of ingredients that I am unfamiliar with. I have learned that you can be a really good cook with one type of food and feel totally lost when trying out new types of cuisine.  Breakfasts and lunches feel easy with prepping for plant based meals, but dinner can sometimes be hard! As a result, I am eating a "normal" dinner with Scott and trying to slowly slip in some plant based dinners.  I don't think I will ever be 100% plant based mostly because I want to be able to enjoy going to gatherings in friends' homes without concern for what I eat there, but at home I would love to adopt a mostly plant based diet. I just finished the book How Not to Die by Michael Greger which was full of information about plant based diets and how they promote health. 

No. 10: Dreams of the future. Scott and I are making plans for some changes ahead for us and are just dreaming a lot about what life could look like-- do we want to live in a tiny house? Do we want to rent? Do we want another dog (5 more please)? It's fun to think and dream together. One of my dreams is a she shed like the one below. We saw this one while on a walk last weekend and I can't think of anything dreamier. 

Hope you're looking for joy in the midst of your ordinary this week.


Saturday, July 11, 2020


Photo: Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre, 2014

Ikigai: "reason to live" 

A few weeks ago I did a post on longevity where I introduced the concept of the Blue Zones and the Power Nine from Dan Buetner.  One of the concepts that I just love is the Okinawan concept of ikigai, translated as "reason to live."  The Costa Rican Blue Zone in the Nicoya Peninsula has a similar concept called plan de vida ("life plan").  In studies of longevity, those who live longest live with a sense of purpose to their lives-- they wake up each day and know their purpose and how that impacts what they will do that day.

I shared this image in my last post on the Blue Zones (A Note on Longevity), but I will share again here as we are speaking about the concept of ikigai

Ikigai is thought to be your reason to live in the sense of where your passion, mission, vocation, and profession meet. Essentially, the outer parts of this diagram ask the questions:

1. What does the world need?
2. What do you love?
3. What are you good at?
4. What can you get paid for?

Your ikigai is postulated to be the junction of all of these things. I think sometimes, I've gotten this all wrong.  I seek after things I am passionate about but can't realistically get paid for. Or I go after what I can get paid for, but I am not passionate about it and thus I feel burnt out and like I am not making a difference. 

I think Americans have tried on different versions of this, and maybe even in other countries, this can look different based on cultural differences.  In the US, I would say many people are seeking their ikigai in their work without considering the four aspects or questions above that help you find your ikigai in work.  And I don't think that's always a bad thing, except when it leads to the workaholic type culture that America feeds into.  

Be curious as you explore your ikigai. I don't think that it's something we all immediately know about ourselves; I think it takes some reflection and exploring. And it may even take stepping outside of what your routine is, stepping outside of what you've been doing for a while.  It might take making a really big change in your career or in how you are living your life at home.  I think I am still finding my ikigai.  I think each day I get a little bit closer to finding it, but at 30, I don't know if I quite know what it is. 

One thing I feel particularly drawn to, which I have talked about before in this space, is my love for hospice and palliative care. I recently told someone at work that my best days were the ones where I helped someone understand their dying process; many people are uncomfortable talking about death and dying, but when I hear someone wants to talk about it, I put my computer down and scoot a little closer, feeling giddy inside as I offer what I know to them.  

What if my ikigai is helping people die? It's kind of a weird one, I suppose.  My purpose in waking up every day is helping people die? I have long considered it an honor to help someone pass from this world to the next. As a believer, I feel honored to help someone transition to the realms of the heavenly. 

Everyone wants to participate in welcoming new life into the world-- when babies are born, people gather around and bring meals and celebrate. But when people are dying, they are often left alone because people are uncomfortable with death and don't know what to say. What if people want to be celebrated in their dying, as well? What if they need someone to open up that conversation for them? Many people want to talk about death with their healthcare providers but don't know how to bring it up; many healthcare providers don't ask. 

In my last job, I was fortunate to work with some of the experts on having this conversation, using a framework called the 4Ms. The 4Ms involve medications, mentation, mobility, and what matters. That last question is the game changer. When you ask someone what matters,  that's when you really get down to what is important to them.  And for some people, what matters is being able to spend time with their families and grandkids and spouses without running to the doctor four times a month for various tests and treatments. Maybe they want to give those things up to spend their last days with loved ones.  

Be curious as you explore your ikigai. You may find that it's something completely unconventional and something you never dreamed of. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020


"The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it." -Ernest Hemingway 

Sometimes I write to tell people something important, and sometimes I write to tell myself something important.  Sometimes I write because I don't know what else to do or how else to say the things I need to say. I'm not a speaker, that's for sure. I can't express myself well with the spoken word, but I find that the best version of myself appears when I write. Writing helps me interpret my world around me in ways I can't by other means.

Sometimes I write when I am navigating difficult feelings, and that's what I am doing tonight.  As I write, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. A lot of people don't want to talk about the pandemic because it's depressing, and I would agree with that. But tonight I'll talk about the pandemic ever so briefly and then we'll move on and talk about other things that are hard.  When this all started, I started to notice that my patients were spiraling from a mental health standpoint. They were anxious and depressed and wanted to hurt themselves or people around them.  I watched it all from afar, not knowing how to possibly help them. I threw them whatever lifelines I could-- a listening ear, a bump in their antidepressant dose, a referral to a counselor or therapist.  I told them to stop watching the news and gave them tips on bedtime routines and told them to limit their screen time before tucking in.  And they are all seeming to have made it; they are here now coming into clinic and still feeling isolated but seeing that there is life on the other side of this thing.

But now, I am the one struggling.  There are pressures at work that are mounting quickly, an expectation to adapt and to be efficient and to work work work.  The burnout is leaking out of my pores; it's seeping into everything I do, invading my home like a disease.  It's crawling into my marriage and my relationships with friends; it's keeping me from doing things that are life giving to me-- reading, writing, playing with my dog.  And so I'm treating myself like one of my patients this week. I'm turning off the TV and putting away my phone; I've ignored e-mails and text messages in favor of just letting my brain rest.  I went to the lake this weekend and woke up at 5:30 for beautiful sunrises and writing morning pages lakeside.  I went on walks and paddled around in my kayak and read encouraging words in books.

This season is hard for all of us in different ways.  Some have lost loved ones unexpectedly, whether due to the virus or other tragedies.  Some are isolated working from home alone-- wishing they had a roommate or a spouse or a dog.  Others are home with young children who are filled with so much energy that you just feel zapped by day end.  Others still are working on frontlines and doing their best to protect you and your loved ones. Some have lost jobs, businesses, opportunities. And many are mourning the loss of normal- the way things once were.

I thought I was immune to all of this; I thought that my patients were the only ones struggling through the difficult thoughts and emotions. Turns out I am there, too. And so I'm trying my best to offer myself grace and to allow myself the space I need for all of my feelings-- the happy ones and the sad ones.  And I'm grabbing on to whatever lifelines are being thrown at me right now-- whether a kind word, a thoughtful prayer, a warm meal, or a hot cup of tea. And I'm remembering to take care of myself so that I can take care of others, because pouring from an empty cup feels like giving away parts of me I don't have right now.

The Holy Spirit sends me soft reminders of God's love through all of this; Scripture reminds me, as I'm reading in the Old Testament right now, to be strong and courageous (Did you know Joshua is told this four times in the first chapter of the book of Joshua?). I am grateful for this space to share the things on my heart and mind, and I'm grateful for those who listen. Sometimes writers can only find their way through putting pen to paper, allowing the ink to flow and their thoughts to wander.

Take care of yourself this week, in whatever ways you need to. We're all finding our way to the other side of this thing.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Letter to my Younger Self

Have you seen the movie 13 Going on 30? Jennifer Garner plays such a fun role in this movie, where her 13 year old self wishes to be "thirty flirty and thriving" on her 13th birthday and wakes up the next day as a 30 year old.  I joked about my pandemic 30th birthday this year being my 13 going on 30th birthday as I spent much of the day doing things I would have loved as a child; we went to Chick-fil-A (where Scott ordered a 30 count nugget tray, appropriate for a 30th birthday) and drove to my favorite coffee shop in town, Lucabe, to get coffee from Sprinkles the unicorn with curbside service.

I was thinking about how much my life at 30 is different from what my 13 year old self would have thought it would be like.  I think 13 year old Cristina who was playing trumpet in band with turquoise braces on and wondering if there was such a thing as happily ever after would be surprised at some of the things I could tell her about her life in 17 years.

If I could tell her about what's ahead, I think this is what I would say.

Dear Younger Me,

Hello, dear girl.  I hope this letter finds you well.  I'm sure right now you are getting up and trying to figure out which jeans to wear today with your blue Etnies.  A few years from now, you'll write off jeans for many years of your life, subjecting yourself to black leggings and flowy tops to hide the curves that you'll develop and hang onto until you get married (the years between college graduation and your 2014 wedding, you will lose these curves for a while due to healthy eating, meal planning, and running. They'll come back a few years later despite your best attempts, so enjoy those few golden years without them).  I know leggings aren't really cool now-- they bring to mind ideas of purple Spandex and Richard Simmons videos, but one day soon, girls will live in leggings and yoga pants (and no, you don't have to do yoga to wear the pants. This will all make sense soon).  There will be an ongoing debate over whether leggings are pants, and you will be in the camp of "of course they are" for life. As you get closer to 25, you'll become a bit more modest and realize that you should definitely wear shirts long enough to cover the back, but it will take longer than it should for you to come to that conclusion.

I know you have band later today, and it's been really hard to play your trumpet ever since you got your braces.  You're tired of putting gobs of wax on to keep your lips from getting torn up, and the sound just isn't the same as it was before you got braces. Believe it or not, as much as you love this instrument, you will walk away from it next year.  You will have some trials your freshman year of high school.  You will not be able to participate in band because of your decision to play volleyball.  During summer volleyball workouts, you quit because Coach K wouldn't let you stop to use your inhaler when running bleachers one day, and so you quit.  You'll quit a lot of other things in your life on the basis of principle.  You will continue to stand up for what you believe in and what you know is right and wrong, and you will quit a lot of other things because of that.  You aren't a quitter by any means, but you will walk away from things that aren't meant for you.

You'll try marching band for a week or two after that but are told that you cannot play the trumpet as there is no room for you in the lineup anymore, and you will be asked to play the triangle instead. So you will quit that, too, by writing a letter to Mr. Reid and sticking it under his door. The next day, you'll join chorus and will love the years that you spend singing in the Hoggard chorus. You dream of becoming a Voyager someday, but before you get the chance to try out, you'll leave Hoggard and go to boarding school. You won't be really sad about it because you never really felt like you belonged there anyways. Your worst fears were walking up to the Quad every morning and never knowing where you really belonged while groups of students were socializing in their cliques. Most days you and Rebecca will go hang out in Ms. Ducharme's room in the morning, because it's safe and she's just so kind. 

Boarding school? Did our family suddenly become rich and move to the Upper East Side? We did not. One day in homeroom, an announcement is made overheard regarding some sort of meeting that is happening in the library for the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics  One of your best friends at the time, Matt, gets up to go to the meeting, and assuming you should be going too, you follow him to the library. There, you'll learn about this specialized school for students specifically interested in the fields of science and mathematics where you can go to live at the age of 16. You'll hear things about living in dorms, getting your college tuition paid for upon graduation, and how the whole experience is free to you, paid for by state taxes. You'll go home and share with your family, who thinks it sounds ok.  You'll submit your application, thinking that you and Matt will go off to boarding school together, but then you'll later learn that Matt decided not to finish the application process.  

An acceptance letter will come, and your whole family will pile in the car to go visit the school with you, your first time on campus.  You decide to try it out; their mascot is a unicorn which seems funny and weird, but it can't be all that weird, right? You'll move in that August to 2nd Bryan, where you'll meet some of your very best friends and finally feel like you belong somewhere. As your mom and sister leave, you sob; so do they.  This is the first time you will feel homesick in your life, but certainly not the last (later in life you will live in Indiana for 7 years and you will oscillate between feeling at home and missing your home all the time).  

I left out some important parts that we should circle back to.  At the age of 13, where you are now, you already know that you have two best friends: Hannah and Alex.  Hannah sat next to you on the first day of 6th grade due to alphabetical seating, and you asked her, "Are you related to Colby Scearce?" She said no, and somehow that was the start of a beautiful friendship. She taught you about Jesus and having a relationship with him, and at Quest Camp 2 years ago you accepted Jesus as your savior and began your journey of getting to know Him and living for Him. You'll struggle a lot on this journey but will continue to grow in your faith through trials. 

Back to Alex-- Alex has been your friend since you moved to Wilmington.  Her mom and Mom were fast friends, and you can't really remember life without Alex anymore.  You were in Girl Scouts for many years together and went to summer camp and just did weird but memorable things. You're lucky to still have these two dear friends in your life at 30, so don't worry about the years where you are far from home and don't see them much. iPhones are coming, and FaceTime, and Skype, and these words mean nothing to you now, but they will help you stay connected when you are far from home.

Another important detail we should discuss is the events that happen in the summer of 2006, right before you left for NCSSM. In April, you meet a boy in your math class. He is a senior. He is funny and cute, and he loves Jesus. He tells you that you have "very user friendly work" when you demonstrate math problems on the white board. He requests to move seats to be closer to the air conditioner where you sit. He then invites the entire class over for a study party at his house. You are the only one who shows up; you were just wearing your normal clothes which he and his dad perceived as you "dressing up." You solved the math problems and left. His dad told him that you seemed like you liked him. Did you? I think you were unaware at this point.

Fast forward a little bit. You start hanging out a lot. You run over his foot in the Arby's parking lot with Caroline, your first car- a blue beetle bug. You meet his church friends. His best friend dates your best friend. He tells Mrs. Holliday that he doesn't have time for a girlfriend, he needs to get into dental school. Then one night, on June 16th, he says, "I know its kind of late, but will you be my girlfriend?" And so it begins. You will hardly ever live in the same town again until you get engaged in 2013. 

Oh yes, he is your husband now. It takes a long time. You are young, he is young. He wants to be a dentist, you... aren't sure what you want to be. I know at 13, you think it's a pediatrician, but at 30, you're now a geriatric nurse practitioner-- funny, isn't it? In your first year of marriage, you will have a lot of trials. You will cry a lot because Grandma passes away from cancer shortly after your wedding, and there are hard things that happen for Scott that you will both want to forget. It will make you love him more, but it will be really hard. You will skip that "honeymoon phase" and hope it will come years later. 

You'll get married at Mama C's house in Rose Hill, under the beautiful oak trees with all of your friends and family surrounding you. You guys now have friends in Indiana who are willing to make the 13 hour drive for your wedding, and that's really special to you both. Grandma won't be there, nor will Grandpa.  The week of your wedding is the last time Grandma is able to get out of bed on her own.  She will later see the video because you hired a videographer last minute for her to be able to see everything.  

And you and Scott will start a life together in Indiana; you'll have such terrible and happy memories of those early years. Life in your little 600 sq. ft apartment seems difficult-- one day you'll look back and realize it was all much simpler than you thought.  You'll buy a little house in southern Broad Ripple that needs so much work; you lovingly refer to it as the Davis Duover. You'll start NP school while still working full time as a nurse; Scott will get a job in Columbus as a dentist and you will move there into a home and neighborhood that you will never want to leave.  There's a lake down the street and you'll learn that lakes can be as calming as the ocean-- it's just something about water.  

You and Scott will continue to lose grandmothers. We already mentioned Grandma who passes away in June 2014. You will spend a lot of time with her once you graduate college, and just when the two of you are talking about taking a trip to Europe together (Grandpa hates Europe and will not go with her), you learn that her breast cancer is back and she has made a brave decision not to treat it this time. Mom essentially moves to Florida to care for her in her last few months of life after your wedding; life for her is never really the same after Grandma passes away. It leaves a big hole in her life even now. 

Grandma Davis passes away in February 2017, and Scott is unable to attend the funeral service because of his boards that are scheduled for that weekend. You attend as you are in town for Bec's wedding, and you are able to stand alongside the people who have become family as you say a final farewell to such a loving, kind woman who left her legacy of peach cobbler to her grandkids.  You'll have such special memories of baking the peach cobbler in Myrtle Beach as she instructs you on what to add next; she's a lot like you, in that she cooks and bakes by taste and smell moreso than by recipes, so that will bring a special challenge to recreating her cobbler.  

Mama C passes away in August of 2019; she was healthy as a horse until the last few months of her life where she bounced between hospitals and nursing homes and home.  You and Scott travel for her funeral and walk under the oak trees at her house after the funeral where all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren gather in her home to say farewell. You'll miss this house so much-- it has so many memories and just a sense of calm that you won't ever find anywhere else in this world, at least not at the age of 30.  

You'll also have a niece and nephew who are just the sweetest by the time you are 30-- Ashley has two beautiful babies who you and Scott love to death and long to be closer to. You won't have children of your own at 30, but you hope that parenthood isn't too far off for you and Scott at this point.  Your nephew, Easton, has your love for reading books and this is beyond your wildest dreams come true! Audrey is a chubby sweet thing with a smile like Mama C's; when she smiles, her whole face lights up and she has a gentle spirit, just like Mama C.

Your sister, Adriana, is a teacher now and is engaged! And she is engaged to Corey, set to be married in October of 2020. Oh yes-- the year you turn 30, there is a pandemic with a virus called COVID-19. It turns everything upside down for everyone, including your sweet sister with her upcoming wedding. At the time of this letter, the wedding is still on, but there are so many questions for everyone about what normal life looks like at this point.  We are all wearing masks wherever we go and there's this new term, "social distancing" that we are all learning to understand. We spend a lot of time in our homes and not a lot of time with other people.

Your brother, Christian, is now a CPA living in Charlotte, NC. His girlfriend, Carly, recently moved there as well, and she seems like she has just become part of the family as well.  Christian works long hours but seems to be happy to be in NC; he lived in Atlanta for a while and I think felt the weight of being far from home in a city where you don't know many people.  

Mom is working for a doctor still doing medical transcription; she loves the beach as much as she ever has.  She has two dogs and has a new place that she rents in town that is decorated just like a beach spot.  Dad lives in Wilmington still, too, and has become very healthy and spends a lot of time cooking and exercising.  They both visit you in Indiana a few times and really get a chance to see what you love about the Midwest.  

There's a lot to look forward to ahead and a lot that will break your heart; that's just life, I suppose.  Your life will be nothing like you imagined it would be-- it will be even better. The most important things I could impress upon you at this age are to spend as much time with family as you can and love them well, and spend time every morning with God, praying and thanking Him for all of the difficult and wonderful things that He has brought to your life.  


Thursday, June 18, 2020


There are a lot of things that have been uncomfortable and hard about 2020 so far; people make jokes about it and have funny memes about what a terrible year 2020 has been. In this space today, I'm not going to go into everything that is going on around us in a deep way.  I'm not avoiding what is going on around us, but trying to find silver linings in it wherever I can.  It's part of my nature with seeking small joys in the midst of the ordinary and the not so ordinary.

One thing that I've learned about myself during the past few months is the importance of creating as a release for me.  I used to create a lot-- writing was a form of creating for me, making things for my home or apartment was a way to create.  But then I got "busy" and didn't leave space for creating anymore. I stopped writing, I put down other hobbies that I had wanted to learn-- handlettering, calligraphy, watercolor.  And instead, I just saturated myself with a life that was busy, but not very enjoyable.

I think that one thing that we've all taken from the pandemic and having to stay home a lot more is that life can be enjoyable when it isn't busy.  I feel like the word "busy" has just fallen out of my vocabulary during this time.  I imagine for those who have had to help their children with e-learning or those with small children at home have a different view on this season; maybe life is busier than ever for you with your littles at home.  We are not in that season of our lives, and so for us, this time has been a pause on all of the things that I used to fill my life with.  Ironically, sometimes I know feel "busy" with virtual things-- Zoom happy hour with friends, Zoom small group, etc. But it's different. It's not the rushing around type of busy that I felt before.

So one thing that I'm giving back to myself with the spare time that I have is the gift of creating.  I think our desire to create is part of us being image bearers of God; God is the ultimate Creator-- he created everything around us, all of the beauty and wonder of our natural world, the oceans, the land, and even us.  I think it's natural, then, that we have the desire to create as we were made in His image.

I've started spending Saturday mornings creating something with my hands, whether it's trialing my hand at calligraphy again, practicing hand lettering (here are actually two very different things, I have learned-- calligraphy is more about nib and ink, whereas hand lettering can be done with other types of writing utensils and involves a different technique), or my new venture into water color. It is such a release for me to be able to make something on these weekend mornings.  I am not good at any of these things yet, and I don't know if I ever will be, just simply the practice of creating is something that I am really enjoying.  Nothing I create will likely ever sell for profit or end up in an art museum, but it's something that I do to feed a part of my soul that needs to make something, to create.

My friend has inspired me to get back into writing again after a really long hiatus, so today's post is part of my morning pages practice that I am starting again.  I am still figuring out what I want this space to be after taking such a long break from writing, but you can expect a mixture of musings on life and things related to my career and passions in that sense on here. Some days I might write a longer post and others might be short thoughts like today.

I hope you find time this week to create something that makes you proud.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Under the Oak Trees

Source: Carrie Spedding Photography

So if you have a minute, why don't we go talk about it somewhere only we know? This could be the end of everything, so why don't we go somewhere only we know? -Keane

Of course, Mama C's isn't a place only we know-- everyone knows about Mama C's.  For those who don't know, before I begin, I should tell you that Mama C was one of my husband's grandmothers, and she was a gentle spirit with a warm heart, with a home that I adored.

Coming off I-40W, you hang a left off the exit and turn by the gas station.  Passing the "World's Largest Frying Pan," you wander further down and turn by the chicken houses. You usually have to brake for the goats crossing the road, and sometimes it's chickens.  And just a little further up, you'll see it. The tree lined driveway that curves around to one of the most beautiful homes I've ever known.   It's best if you get out and walk from the end of the driveway under the oak trees to the house-- it's an experience that I took advantage of as often as I could. If you must drive, you'll pull up and see the pond behind the house, the pathway to it decorated by beautiful trees and flowers all around you.

It's magic here.  I feel myself exhale as I throw my keys in my bag, not bothering to lock the car.  Here, that's just not something you worry about as much.  More often than not, there are other cousins here waiting to greet you, or aunts or uncles, or friends who have become like family.  Sometimes it's just Mama C, or at least, it was until this past August.  There's usually sweet tea in the fridge and always a slower pace; to rush here would do this place dishonor.  My favorite spot is the back porch where you can just overlook the pond while drinking your sweet tea, listening to the sounds around you while feeling completely at peace.

When we'd stay at Mama C's for holidays, the boys would steal away while it was still dark out for early morning hunting, and I'd lay there for just a few minutes longer before sneaking outside to watch the sunrise. It was so beautiful there; there was always a fog hanging over the pond in the morning, clinging to it as if it were scared to let go.  As the sun would start to peek out while God painted the sky, the fog would start to lift; just about that time, the boys would pull back into the driveway from their hunt.  Everyone would start coming downstairs to the kitchen for coffee, a good country breakfast, and the best conversation.  I savored holidays at Mama C's; moving away from our "big family" at a young age, we never had big gatherings like that in my family. We'd have my grandparents come for holidays which was always a treat, but once my grandmother passed away, I really clung to holidays at Mama C's-- they were the closest thing to tradition that I'd find anymore.

Scott and I were married under the oak tree out front; we gathered all of our people on the most beautiful April day and committed our lives to one another under that tree overlooking the pond.  We put up a big tent and twinkly lights and celebrated on her front lawn with all of the people we loved.  By nightfall, we made our exit with sparklers decorating the sidewalk and drove away to begin the rest of our lives together, leaving Mama C's house behind as we glanced in the rearview.

But we always came back here.  Even living 13 hours away, we'd be sure to come back.  We would stop about 40 minutes outside of Wilmington on our drives home to sit with Mama C for a while in her living room or on her back porch.  We'd talk about all of the family-- updates on which of her grandchildren were pregnant now-- which great grandchildren she'd welcome before long.  We'd talk about Indiana and what our life was like there, so foreign to most of our family in NC. We'd listen to her play the piano, something I always treasured being able to enjoy with her. We'd talk about her church; when it caught on fire, we were devastated for her and couldn't figure out how you really move on and process something like that, when the church you've attended most of your life is just gone.

One of the things I cried over when Mama C died in August was that she would never meet our children.  Scott and I, though together for 14 years and married for 6, have not had children of our own yet; I remember talking to my sister in law about how silly I felt crying over children I didn't yet have, but I was so sad that they would never meet Mama C, or any of our other grandmothers who have also met Jesus. Now that Mama C's house will be passed along, too, I'm sad that my children will never get to play football on Mama C's front lawn at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I'm sad that they won't stand under the tree where we were married, experiencing all of the wonder of that beautiful place.  They won't sip sweet tea on the back porch or stand there looking at the boathouse for an early sunrise. They won't stand under the oak trees in her driveway gazing up in wonderment at such beautiful, mesmerizing trees.

But I'll tell them all about it. And I'll tell them all about the sweet Mama C who lived there. And maybe we'll drive by just so I can show them what it is that I loved about that place, about the magic that lives there.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Note on Longevity

Today, I am going to shift gears a little bit with my writing.  While I normally write short essays about interpreting my world around me, I want to try something else for a little bit, as I am struggling lately with writing in that way.  I have been out of practice for so long and really have not put pen to paper in many months.  I want to talk today about some of the things that I am really passionate about as they relate to my career as a geriatric nurse practitioner. I think some of what I will talk about today will apply to you no matter your age, as the whole concept is really related to living well to promote longevity. 

A friend helped me this weekend through some clarity coaching where she helped me figure out what it is that I am super passionate about-- we talked about what I would geek out about over wine with colleagues or friends.  That was easy for me-- longevity/helping older adults live well, and palliative medicine/end-of-life care. Do those seem to be quite opposite to you? I see it as all related in a larger sense, but I can see how death/dying and how to live longer seem to be in opposition.  I think sometimes I have struggled with my work when I am not doing enough of what I love.  My friend helped me imagine what it would look like to do what I love every day-- how could I tailor my work to do this every day?

I don't have all of that figured out yet, but one of the first things that we identified is that I could merge writing with my career passions. Why had I never thought of this? I've always considered these two things separate. I had never even considered writing about things that I am passionate about. Is that silly? I'm not sure, but I was grateful for renewed perspective from my friend this weekend, and this is my project for the next few weeks-- putting pen to paper writing about the things that energize me and excite me about the work I do (or want to do).  

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of places in the world called Blue Zones-- places with a large concentration of the population who live to be much older than in other places of the world, places with a larger population of centenarians (individuals who are 100 years of age or older).  Dan Buetner is credited with coining the term Blue Zone, and there is now a whole movement around the world to live a life modeled after those in the Blue Zones.  I have been fascinated with this movement and often find myself reading about the Blue Zones in my free time.  There are so many articles now about these areas of the world and what their "secrets" are, and I am just so into what is going on in these parts of the world.

This whole movement makes me realize how long the human race has searched for a fountain of youth, so to speak.  Do those living in the Blue Zones have the answer to this? Maybe so, but when I read about the Blue Zones and the things that are important to them, all I can think is, "Why wouldn't we all be living this way anyways?" So many of the concepts that they live out every day just seem like they make sense, like they are part of living a good life even if not to promote longevity.

The current Blue Zones include  Sardinia (Italy), Ikaria (Greece), the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, Okinawa (Japan), and Loma Linda, CA. Buetner, through his studies, identified nine concepts that emerged as patterns throughout the different Blue Zones that contribute to longevity; these concepts are known as the Power Nine. 

Power Nine:

1. Move Naturally: For most of the Blue Zones, prescribed exercise as would occur in a gym setting is not part of every day life. Instead, these individuals have set up their lives in a way where they move naturally through their environment-- walking to their farms to work, working in their gardens outside, not using cars or public transportation, etc.  In Sardinia, it is common to walk 5 miles per day! 

2. Purpose: Perhaps one of my favorite concepts is the Okinawa concept of ikigai-- your reason for jumping out of bed in the morning, or roughly translated, "reason for being." Oh, I just love this.  Your ikigai is proposed to be at the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.  Here is an image that shows this conceptually.

3. Down Shift: Each of the Blue Zones has their own practice for building routines that help shed and manage stress-- whether it's happy hour, prayer, or napping.  Individuals focus on incorporating these practices into their every day life to help manage stress, which is known to cause inflammation. 

4. 80% rule: The Okinawans have a mantra for this that reminds them to stop eating when they are 80% full.  This is quite different from how we typically eat in the United States-- stuffing ourselves full at every meal as if we will not see another meal again.  In many of the Blue Zones, the smallest meal is consumed in late afternoon or early evening, with that being the last thing that they consume for the day.   

5. Plant Slant: Beans are the mainstay of meals in the Blue Zones, and most who live in the Blue Zones only eat meat about five times per month on average.  Their meals are primarily plant-based with some exceptions.  

6. Wine @ 5: In most of the Blue Zones (except Loma Linda, CA with the Adventists), alcohol is consumed regularly in moderate amounts.  It is common for 1-2 glasses of wine to be consumed per day in the company of friends or family.  

*You may have heard that our American Cancer Society just released new guidelines advising against any alcohol consumption whatsoever-- this is something I need to look into more for a better understanding of why there is such a difference in recommendations between the areas of the world where people live the longest and what the US is now being told in regard to alcohol consumption. This is on my list to research in the coming weeks. My initial thoughts are that the type of alcohol in the Blue Zones may be quite different from what we consume in the US. I know much of the wine in these parts of the world is homemade and does not have a lot of added sugar, which may contribute to more health benefits than what we purchase and consume in the US. 

7. Belong: Being part of a faith-based community is important to those who live long lives, and there is research demonstrating that attending faith-based worship services (it does not matter the denomination or type of faith) can extend your life expectancy by several years. 

8. Loved Ones First: Family is a priority in the Blue Zones; older parents and grandparents are valued members of the family and live in the home with their children.  Not only do they live with their children and grandchildren, but they typically have a specific role that they serve in as valued members of the household.  They know their purpose and live it out as loved and valued members of the family. I was reading that in Sardinia, it is offensive to even suggest putting an older family member into a nursing home or institution.  They would never even dream to do this.  

9. Right Tribe: Social networks and groups of friends that many centenarians keep for life are integral parts of Blue Zone living.  In Okinawa, you are born into a social circle of about 5 friends who are your closest friends for the rest of your life; these are called "moias" in Japan.  

In the next few weeks, I'll feature some of the Power Nine and talk about how I am trying to live some of these out.  I think my favorite to talk about is ikigai, so you can expect to hear more about that one sooner rather than later.  

If you want to learn more about the Blue Zones, there are so many resources.  I spend a lot of time on the Blue Zones website, which I will list below.  Much of the information I have shared today comes from the Blue Zones website.  Here are some resources for more reading: