Friday, August 22, 2014

What Do You Do When You Feel So Mad You Could Bite?

Dear Friend,

This morning I read Montaigne's essay "How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones."
A local gentleman of ours who is marvelously subject to gout would answer his doctors quite amusingly when asked to give up salted meats entirely. He would say that he liked to have something to blame when tortured by the onslaughts of that illness: the more he yelled out curses against the saveloy or the tongue or the ham, the more relief he felt. Seriously though, when our arm is raised to strike it pains us if the blow lands nowhere and merely beats the air . . .
 . . . it seems that the soul . . . loses itself when shaken and disturbed unless it is given something to grasp on to; and so we must always provide it with an object to butt up against and to act upon.
This passage made me think of Mr. Rogers. I remember watching him as a child and feeling relieved because, in his gentle way, he explained to me that I wasn't bad for feeling angry sometimes. He also gave me some great suggestions for how to handle those angry feelings. (For one thing, I could hit a pillow! Hitting a pillow is totally OK!) I believe this song was part of the episode where he gave the anger talk. It seems like the whole world could use this now --

So, what do you do when you feel so mad you could bite?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Montaigne on How to Toughen Your Skin

Dear Friend,

It's 2:20AM. There's a splendid thunderstorm going on. Inside, my house is deliciously silent. We're tucked into the side of a hill, like a ship run ashore. I'm enjoying the view from my husband's office. His large bay window is the prow.

School starts tomorrow for my oldest three kids. The last several days have been noisy and exciting -- Go! Go! Go! -- back to school preparations and a birthday party to boot. The wonderful pulse of life that comes with a large family has lately felt like a marathon for my nerves.

Waking during the night can be blissful, though I'll likely suffer for it tomorrow, especially if the baby won't take a nap. For now though I feel too refreshed and focused to sleep. Maybe insomnia is not something I should battle. Maybe -- like my unusual heart beat -- it's just me.

If your night's sleep is often broken into segments with a mid-night interval, you will appreciate this article. Some of us heed the sound of an ancient ancestral chime. Or something.

Anyway, when I woke up tonight I decided not to be frustrated with myself.

Carpe noctem!

I recently picked up Montaigne's Essays again. Click here to read a short post I wrote two years ago in which I compare reading Essays to paying a visit to my rich, quirky uncle (who happens to live in a chateau).

File:St Michel de Montaigne Château01.jpg
Château de Montaigne via Wikipedia 
Montaigne is considered the Father of the Essay, so I suppose this also makes him Patron Saint of Bloggers. He's quite an engaging person to know. No topic is off limits.
Our life is part folly, part wisdom. Whoever writes about it only reverently and according to the rules leaves out more than half of it. 
But fair warning: rarely does Montaigne stick to his point. He's all over the place! Reading him feels like partaking in a conversation full of delightful rabbit trails. I love him for this. He likes to go deep, but we can also talk candidly about stuff like bodily functions. We can ramble a bit, then go on with what we were first discussing. Or not.

I'm sure I'd grow weary of other writers for using his method, but it works for him. I expect this randomness out of him, I suppose. And because he's the first true essayist, I feel like this gives me permission to loosen up a little and just blog what's on my mind. As I've mentioned before, I've found if I wait until I have time to make my posts tidy I end up going long stretches without blogging anything.

I also believe reading Essays is good for my depression. Montaigne is so much more rational than me! I tend to experience an exhausting array of peaks and valleys of emotion. In "On Sadness,"  he gives examples of people who are seized by a sadness in a "deaf, speechless stupor." Others "languish for love" or even "die of happiness." As for Montaigne --
Violent emotions . . . have little hold on me. By nature my sense of feeling has a hard skin, which I daily toughen and thicken by arguments. 
In one segment of "On Sadness" I wrote a question mark in the margin:
We cannot display our grief or our convictions during the living searing heat of the attack; the soul is then burdened by deep thought and the body is cast down, languishing for love. That is the source of the occasional impotence which sometimes comes so unseasonably upon men when making love, and of that chill produced, in the very lap of delight by excessive ardour. 
Just a question mark. Because this was new information for me. (No one need comment with personal examples of experiencing untimely impotence due to excessive ardor! But see what I mean?This is one example of territory that is fair game for our host to discuss.) He wraps up his comment on impotence with some level-headed advice for life in general:
For pleasures to be tasted and then digested they must remain moderate: Curae leves lonquuntur, ingentes stupent. [Light cares can talk: huge ones are struck dumb.]

I depart from this visit to the chateau , feeling a little calmer, more steady, and rational. I'm smiling, actually. When calling on Montaigne, I must leave my hysterics at the door.

Moderately yours,

Adriana :-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

When Flowers Fail: Moving Forward When It's Time to Embrace Something New

Dear Friend,

My neighbor owns most of the meadows near my home.  This past spring he leased his property to a local farmer. I was told ahead of time that the land would be turned over for soybeans, but I wasn't prepared for the acrid scent of chemicals in our gentle valley. The day after the fields were sprayed, I viewed the land from my car. No sign of life to be found. All was burnt. Yellow. Destroyed. 

It was weeks before the deer crept back into the fields.  Now they come in droves to nibble at the scrawny crop of beans. Tall black stalks poke up through the rows, unsightly as unwanted hair.

I haven't taken many walks down the old paths this summer. I feel something akin to homesickness for the butterflies, bees, and red winged blackbirds that used to flutter, dive, and hum.

The pictures in my post today are from last year. I took them on one of my long rambles when I thought my lovely meadows (which were, of course, not really mine) would last forever.

How many Flowers fail in Wood—
Or perish from the Hill—
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful—

How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze—
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight—
It bear to Other Eyes— 

Emily Dickinson

I'm glad I have pictures. 

The images I've captured of my long county walks are closely tied in my mind to the great classic books I've read in the last few years.

Sometimes, as I journey through books, I capture them well; I take lots of great notes, ponder insights, and do research.  More often though, life happens. I become absorbed in my primary job of nurturing my lovely family! (And sometimes, to be fully honest, I become absorbed with less noble things like what my friend Anne Bogel calls the "Facebook Rabbit Hole.") Before I know it, I've read another tome without documenting the experience. The moments -- the flashes of insight and awe -- they slip away like a "nameless pod upon the nearest breeze" and I'm left with a sense of loss. 

I have more unfinished drafts of posts in my blog archives than I have published posts. 

Here are some classic books I've read while on my quest that I've written little-to-nothing about:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville 
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster

And here's some modern stuff I've read lately:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
What Makes Olga Run By Bruce Grierson
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years by Matthew Pierce
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle
The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim
How to Read Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

So here's to moving forward! To seeking new places to ramble! To reading more and writing more as time, self-discipline, and energy allows!

Peace & Joy.


P.S. I wonder -- is it time for you to let go of something? Perhaps you need to release something that has more gravitas than a burned up meadow and some forgotten quotes. Is it time to move on? Is it time to make room in your life for a new residence or friendship or job or project or pet or ______________?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Defining the Contemplative Tradition: Quotes by Richard J. Foster

Dear Friend,

I've been listening to Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard J. Foster. If you've followed my blog for any length of time, it won't surprise you that I am drawn to the "Contemplative Stream." The following quotes are Foster's descriptions of what life for the contemplative person is like:

Defining of the Contemplative Tradition
Love. Though time and experience we sense a delicate but deepening love for  God that feels more like a gift than an achievement. In the beginning this love is so quiet and unobtrusive that it is hardly perceptible. John of the Cross calls it a "secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God. This is a great encouragement to us, for early in our prayer life -- try as we might -- we are unable to truly love God. This love comes little by little, and at first we feel a great of fluctuation in its intensity. High and low, hot and cold. In time, however, our love grows deeper, stronger, more steady.
Peace. At the same time, in slips a peace that cannot be analyzed or dissected -- "a peace that passes understanding," as Paul puts it. (Phil.4:7) This quiet rest, this firmness of life orientation, is not due to the absence of conflict or worry. In fact, it is not an absence at all, but rather a Presence. This peace is interrupted often by a multitude of distractions, especially in the beginning. But no matter -- it is still there, and it is still real. And in time its quiet way wins over the chatter and clatter of our noisy hearts.
Delight. Another movement we begin to experience is delight. A very wise woman -- one who had been through great hardship in her life -- captured the essence of this quality for me when on one occasion she declared, "Fun ahead, saith the Lord!" There is pleasure, friendship, joy -- deep joy. And playfulness. God laughs into our soul and our soul laughs back into God. John of the Cross calls it "the sweet and delightful life of love with God . . . that delightful and wondrous vision." But it is not uninterrupted delight. We experience an ebb and flow, an exquisite delight mingled with a painful yearning.
Emptiness. Which brings us to an opposing, almost contradictory movement in the contemplative life: emptiness. At the very moment we are entering a loving delight, we are also pulled into intense longing, yearning, searching -- searching and not finding. Well, there is a finding of sorts, but not a complete finding. Perhaps we could call it a dissatisfied satisfaction. John of the Cross calls it "a living thirst . . . [the] urgent longing of love."

Often the emptiness is a darkness as well. We experience Deus Absonditus, the God who is hidden from us. dryness too -- a Sahara of the heart. Throughout these experiences solitude is our welcome companion, for we are learning to be alone with the Alone. Please understand this emptiness, this darkness, this dryness is itself a prayer. It is a heavenly communion of an ascetic sort. While delight is a feasting, emptiness is a fasting, and both are needed for the growth of the soul.
Fire. Still another reality we experience as we grow in the contemplative life is fire. Not literal fire, of course, but real fire nonetheless -- in some ways more real than literal fire. The initial movement of love now intensifies, becoming a steady, flaming passion. Anything that causes distance or separation from God -- disobedience or perhaps mere neglect -- is painful in the extreme. So we feel, and even welcome, the purifying fire of God's love burning out the dross: all stubbornness, all hate, all grasping need for self-promotion. And as the self-sins are burned away, the seeds of universal love blossom and flower.

Wisdom. This leads to a still deeper movement of the Spirit: Wisdom. No sterile intellectualism or impersonal awareness, this is a knowing and inflowing of God himself. We are filled with "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab 2:14). We know as we are known. We enter that eternal life which is to "know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3b). Prayer turns into the deepening self communication of the Trinity, a self-communication we are privileged to listen in on and even participate in.
Transformation. Though it all, God gradually and slowly "captures the inner faculties: first the heart and the will, then the mind, the imagination, and the passions. The result is the transformation of the entire personality into the likeness of Christ. More and more and more we take on his habits, feelings, hopes, faith, and love.

Hope you've been as blessed and challenged by these quotes as I have felt lately. I tend to experience the first three parts with some degree of regularity: love, peace, delight, emptiness. I long to move forward into the realms of fire, wisdom, and transformation. Pray for me!

Peace & Joy,


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Quest Notes: What I'm Into Link-Up

Dear Friend,

I'm late to the party! Every time I notice a blogger taking part in Leigh Kramer's "What I'm Into" link-up, I think, I should do that!

So here I am. Better late than never, right?

I've listed a bunch of random things I'm into now. ("Random" is my 10yr old daughter's new favorite word.)

1. My green picnic table
My four year old son picked out the color. I couldn't be happier with it! Our entire family has spent a good deal of time around it lately.

2. Fabric mosaics
I've long been into colorful mosaics, quilts, and decoupage -- so when I discovered a way to pull all three crafts together, I was very pleased. I found inspiration for this project here and from my great-grandmother's quilts which I wrote about here.

my latest project: fabric on canvas

a quilt my great-grandmother made in the early 1950s

3. Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms by Meredith and Sophie Jacobs.

My daughter wrote an entry for me before she left for a week long camping adventure with friends in the Adirondacks. She left it on my bed. I read it several times while she was away. I made an entry for her to read when she got home. This journal is a perfect tool for strengthening the bond between moms and their tween daughters.

4. I found Salad Days: Salads for Dinner at the grocery store and bought it on a whim. Lot's of brilliant images. All the salads in this look scrumptious. The first recipe is for a "Classic Melon Salad." I've made a large batch of it twice in the last few weeks. Addictive!

5. Classic Melon Salad
(Adapted from Salad Days) --

Slice watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew into thin pieces. (You could make it without the cantaloupe or honeydew, but you must have the watermelon.)

Toss together with fresh basil.

Combine 1 part light olive oil, 1 part red wine vinegar in a small jar with a lid. Shake well and drizzle over salad. 

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Eat right away or chill and serve the next day. 

Optional Ingredients: shaved pecorino, sliced prosciutto 

6. Protecting my skin from too much sun exposure.
I bought this inexpensive hat at my local supermarket. Most days, I also wear 30 SPF on my arms.

7. Red Curry Lentils. They're tasty, nutritious, and cooking them fills my kitchen with the scent of savory spices. Nice over rice.

8. Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster

"In this book I have tried to name these great Traditions -- streams of spiritual life if you will -- and to note significant figures in each . . . The Contemplative Tradition, or the prayer-filled life; the Holiness Tradition, or the virtuous life; The Charismatic Tradition, or the Spirit-empowered life; The Social Justice Tradition, or the compassionate life; The Evangelical Tradition, or the Word-centered life; The Incarnational Tradition, or the sacramental life."

(Related Post: "Sacred Pathways and Celebrity Diets")

9. What Makes Olga Run?The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives  by Bruce Grierson

"They say she is like Grandma Moses in the sense that she found her calling very late in life. But while Grandma Moses took up painting out of desperation, to make ends meet, Olga took up track, at age 77, for fun. A dozen years retired from her career as an elementary school teacher, she still had lightning in her that needed grounding."

10. The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton & Leila Marie Lawler (LML's blog, Like Mother Like Daughter, is a favorite -- "Because it's important to maintain the collective memory.") Written with a Catholic readership in mind, but could be adapted to suit most faith traditions. Lots of emphasis on the home as a school of beauty. Makes me want to tidy up and spend some time in deep prayer!
"This book is about making a little oratory -- a little sacred space -- in your home and praying there . . . Really, it is just an outward manifestation of the simple truth that God wants to be with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us."

11. Emma by Jane Austen  (audio version) The more I read Austen, the more I'm hooked. I was not familiar with the plot for this one, so it was very amusing, indeed!

12. Our new German Shorthaired puppy, Heidi.

If you're visiting Classical Quest for the first time, I'd be delighted if you would introduce yourself in the comment box. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Bloglovin, and Pinterest. 

Peace & Joy!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Depression: One Year Later

Dear Friend,

It's been one year since I had a breakdown and slid into a near infantile state for a month. Friends and family brought meals and took turns caring for our children while I slept for 15 hours at a time. My face and hands felt numb. At first I needed help to walk to the bathroom. On a good day, I would sit in my rocking chair on the front porch and stare at my flowers. I couldn't read more than a line or two at a time. New information made me feel very tired. I found it difficult to make simple decisions.

Healing from depression doesn't happen overnight. It's been a long, tough climb out of a dark hole these last several months. I feel wiser and stronger now, but I'm aware that I'm still vulnerable in some respects. At the beginning of this summer I struggled a bit. My husband and I were concerned that I was headed back down into the darkness. I felt as though I was standing close to the edge of a crumbling embankment.

We had to regroup and take a close look at what things were stressing me too much. I made some hard choices for the sake of my health, but I can say with confidence: I'm getting better about saying no when I need to say no and I'm caring less about how things appear to bystanders.

I'm living life differently now -- imperfectly -- but differently. I'm more careful with my heart, my time, my friendships, and my health. I'm deliberately making space for a slower, more peaceful lifestyle.

Currently that means that while much of my family is out having exciting adventures in the wide world this summer, I'll be staying close to home.

I'm heeding my doctor's advice.

"What weighs on you most?" she asked. 
"I can't keep up with our lifestyle and I don't want to disappoint my kids."
"Your kids don't need you to do everything with them. They just need you to be there for them. That's all you have to do. Of course you care for their basic needs -- beyond that just be available to listen and encourage them. That is what they need most from you. The rest -- all the extra stuff that people run all over the place for -- isn't necessary. If it stresses you, don't do it. Just be there."

So when I start to feel frustrated with myself for being a tortoise in a world of hares, I try to recall my doctor's words. I'm learning to accept help when it is offered. I'm grateful for the village of support that has been there for my whole family. Our community has blessed all our lives. We've made some wonderful bonds through this!

I had been considering writing about this topic when I came upon this post by Elizabeth Mallory. You can follow the hashtag she created on Twitter: #yesIstruggle

Have you ever struggled with depression? How are you now? Feel free to tell me as much as you feel comfortable sharing in the comments below.

Love & Prayers,


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Photo Journal: Spring Silent Retreat

Dear Friend,

My kids are home for the summer and our days are currently full of summerish delights. I nearly forgot that I promised you some pictures of the silent retreat I took at a local Jesuit center last month. Such a peaceful, refreshing experience for my spirit! On the day of the retreat I was recovering from a minor foot injury; I wasn't able to hike down to the river like I did in the autumn. I did make an attempt, but nearly wiped out on the narrow stone path downhill.  So instead, I propped my feet on my folding chair and cuddled under my blanket with a good book. After a couple hours I hobbled back to the pavilion and ate some homemade peanut butter cookies -- the first since my son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy over two years ago! It was hard to eat those cookies silently without groaning with pleasure. I spent the second half of the event in a swing with my journal. The spring blossoms were lovely. I felt grateful for the allergy pill that made the whole event possible. 

Baby food jar candle holder -- a gift from my daughter. Perfectly portable.

Hope you can find some silent moments of refreshment today!
Peace & Joy,

P.S. Here are the links to my "Silent Retreat Series" from last October:

Part One: Learning the Ropes and Getting Settled

Part Two: How to Use a Labyrinth as a Prayer Tool

Part Three: Pictures for You