Wisteria, the South’s Answer to Mid-Western Lilacs.

Just lately, as spring has been awakening all around me, I’ve been missing lilacs. It’s foolish really, because the season of lilacs is still weeks away in my native Upper Midwest.

(I know this for a fact, because my husband’s telecommunication coworkers are bracing for ANOTHER snowstorm over the weekend.)

It’s also paradoxical, because the reason I love lilacs as much as I do is that they have always been, for me, a harbinger of real spring — a spring that will stay. (It never snows after the lilacs bloom in Minnesota.)

Here, in Carolina, it is already full spring. There are flowers everywhere. As I write this, it is 70 °F outside, and the forecast says we’ll see 80 °F by Sunday. It’s gorgeous.

But there will be no lilacs.

~*~

A few nights ago, hubs and I were walking to the Rialto cinema, in the Five Corners neighborhood of Raleigh. I was in a low mood, and lost in thought. My gaze was on the uneven sidewalk under my feet. We weren’t talking. Suddenly, he asked, “What was that?” I stopped. Looked around. “The smell,” he said.

I breathed in and a scent came to me — sweet, floral, lovely. My first thought was that it might be night blooming phlox, a favorite of mine.

I backtracked, sniffing the air. My nose led me to a jumble of botanical life that was crowding the walkway. I poked about. Finally I spotted a cluster of pale purple blooms, down near some gnarled, exposed roots, and half-hidden in a tangle of grasses and vines. I lifted the spray and it came loose into my hand. The flowerette structure was reminiscent of  lilacs, but these blossoms were bluer, and larger, and differently shaped — almost like miniature snapdragons.

I thought I knew what it was, but not certain.

I carried it with me to the theater. It laid on the seat next to me, perfuming the air, while I watched a movie I hated. (I do not recommend Isle of Dogs. It’s weirdly heartless, for an animated film about dogs.) While I waited in queue in the restroom after the show, I noticed a woman looking at the cluster. I held it up. “Do you know what this is?”

She smiled. “Wisteria, of course.”

Of course.

When hubs and I walked back to the car, we stopped and looked for more blooms. At first we couldn’t find any. We didn’t realize they would be far above our heads. When we finally looked up, we were awestruck. So. Many. Clusters. Thousands of them. On vines twined throughout the upper branches of the half-dozen mature trees that lined the boulevard.

All of them out of reach.

~*~

Two days later, my daughter and I were driving to the park near our apartment, taking a route we hadn’t taken before, when I saw the color of wisteria ahead.

 

This time, they were within reach … of my camera at least. (I couldn’t gather an armful of them to bring home as they are on someone’s property.)

 

Yes, these will do nicely as my new harbinger of lasting spring.

~*~

I will link to some other entries for the AWAKENING prompt below. (But right now I have to do a little grocery shopping.)

 

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The Sweetest Smiles Are Inspired By Chickens

This week’s weekly photo challenge theme — SMILE — sent me looking through old photos again. I didn’t know what I was searching for, but these two seemed exactly right when I saw them:

This is my son when he was five years old. He liked to go out to the coop in the evenings to tuck in the chickens. That gap-toothed smile is just killing me right now.

Here’s the same boy, nine years later. This particular hen was his favorite. But you can probably tell that by the love apparent in that soft smile.

My son is in his 20s now. We don’t have chickens at the moment.

After seeing these shots, though, I’m confident there are some in our future
… if not my flock, then his. (Someday.)

Here are some responses to the WPC prompt “smile” that I particularly like:

The Smiling LizardMake Way for Duck TeensBest Furry FriendsShoot Molting Chicken with added decorationsWhy the hell not?Bohemian boy with baby bunnieswild flowersbakingNorthern Lights – … and there may be more, but it’s late and I’ve gotta get some sleep :) When I browse again, I’ll add more links.

A note to any visitors:

Seasonalists is a very new blog. I’m still working out how I want things to be here so, if you click around much, you may run into oddly formatted or empty areas. Please pardon my mess.                                                                                                                            ~ Verity

 

Crockpot Orange Ginger Chicken

This sweet and spicy slow cooker recipe is a favorite of my family of picky eaters. Cubed chicken breast simmers for a couple of hours in a sauce flavored with fresh ginger, garlic, orange juice, soy sauce, and brown sugar. The sauce is reduced and thickened, then the dish is served over rice, along with fresh, tender-crisp broccoli, and sprinkled with orange zest. It’s a bright tasting, colorful looking meal in a bowl.

The following recipe is not just a collection of ingredients. Instead, it is a tutorial that attempts to demonstrate how a few simple techniques and some extra care can help you improve the quality of foods prepared with the help of a crock pot / slow cooker.

(This recipe is designed for a classic Crock Pot, not the newer “Insta-Pot” style cooker.)

If you are a seasoned slow cooker cook, and you are happy with the end result of your usual efforts, you can totally skim all the text and use your own techniques. If you haven’t been impressed by the results you’ve gotten from using a slow cooker in the past, try my suggestions and see what you think.

Orange Ginger Chicken is a forgiving dish as you work with potentially new techniques to improve your Crock Pot game. Whatever you end up with is going to taste good.

WHAT I KNOW ABOUT SLOW COOKERS … NOW

A slow cooker can be a tricky appliance, but only if you approach it with faulty, unrealistic expectations. Common wisdom holds that the beauty of a slow cooker lies in how you can toss a few ingredients into the pot, leave them to cook all day, and come home to a warm, tasty meal.

With few exceptions this doesn’t really work. Food prepared this way tends to be too soft, too wet, and too … homogeneous. This method often just kills the ingredients you put into the crock.

A slow cooker is good at three things:

  1. tenderizing any ingredient you cook in it
  2. creating a flavorful base for a great sauce
  3. keeping cooked food warm (and safe to eat) for long periods of time

That third point is perhaps the most important thing to remember about slow cookers. The REAL beauty of a slow cooker is that you can do all of the real cooking hours before you need to eat … IF you turn the temperature setting to “keep warm” when the food is done.

Understanding these strengths (and the weaknesses) of a slow cooker changed my life. Before I “got it” I tried to use a slow cooker to help me manage the crazy schedules and food preferences I have to deal with in my household.

[The craziness, defined: We are five related adults, who migrated from MN to NC together, all working different shifts, trying to save up money so we can eventually split into separate households. One of us is strictly low-carb for health reasons. Two of us barely eat red meat. A different pair won’t eat fish. Three of us won’t touch pork. None of us like dark-meat chicken. And no one is very open to exotic fruits and vegetables. As the work-at-home-writer in the house, most of the meal planning and preparation falls to me. It is just the practical choice. At first, it was awful. I found myself spending way too much money putting food for three different nightly meals into the fridge. It was a nightmare until I took the time to make a 3-month, repeating menu plan, and befriended my slow cooker.]

When I first looked to slow cooking as a possible path to sanity, I scoured the internet, searching out recipes to try. Most such recipes pretend that you can cook meat, vegetables, and starches (like potatoes, rice, or pasta) all together, and all for the same amount of time … and in most cases a very long time. I assumed the authors of these recipes must be telling the truth, or they wouldn’t be proud to share the recipe. I was wrong. At first, I made a lot of bland, soggy meals.

It was a version of this orange-ginger chicken recipe — which had a wonderful flavor, but terrible texture — that forced me to stop buying into the no-work myth of Crock Pot cooking, and start applying the knowledge I’d gained in my former life, of over 20+ years of stove-top / oven cooking.

(The original recipe I found had me adding broccoli and corn starch directly into the pot with the chicken and sauce ingredients.)

ORANGE GINGER CHICKEN

(Please read entire recipe before beginning.)

Serves 5 hungry adults, with few leftovers. I usually double the recipe so we have lunches.

The ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (Approximately 2 lbs. Not the flash-frozen chicken cutlets, but rather breasts from the meat case.)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups orange juice (see  step 2 & 3 below)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 4 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated or finely minced ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes … make it with this the first time, then increase or decrease to suit your tastes in future meals

Later:

  • 4 tablespoons corn starch to make a slurry (see cornstarch slurry section, below)

Separately:

  • 1 1/2 cups rice cooked in 3 cups water (cooked in rice cooker, see rice note below)
  • 1-2 fresh broccoli crowns, depending on size, prepped, then cooked quickly in boiling water (see broccoli note below)

For serving:

  • zest of 1 orange
  • 3+ tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (optional, see serving note below)

The process:

  1. Wash, dry and zest orange, setting aside zest in a covered container. (You only use this at the very end.)
  2. Juice the orange into a 2 cup measuring cup. Be aggressive. Pulp is fine. Make sure to extract any seeds from the juice.
  3. Add enough purchased orange juice to make 1 1/2 cups total (or squeeze more oranges if you’d prefer to use all fresh. I don’t bother.)
  4. Peel and grate or mince enough fresh ginger to make 3 generous tablespoons, add to measured orange juice. (FYI, I have no luck grating ginger. I prefer to slice it, stack it, and mince it into tiny bits. Because fresh ginger roots vary so much in size and are so oddly shaped, I can’t tell you to “prepare a 3-inch piece” or some such thing. This is a process of prepare some, measure result, and prepare some more if necessary. I imagine the jarred prepared ginger you can buy would also work.)
  5. Peel and mince garlic cloves, add to orange juice. (I use nice, big, fat cloves. If your garlic bulb is on the small side, chop an extra clove. I prefer to use fresh garlic over the jarred kind, but I’m sure it would work.)
  6. Stir remaining sauce ingredients (soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes)  into orange juice. It should all fit into the 2 cup measure. If you can’t stir it well, no worries. Just dump it into the slow cooker and whisk it together in there.
  7. Trim all fat from chicken breasts, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Do not pre-cook. Add raw to slow cooker and stir into sauce.
  8. Cook in slow cooker until chicken is done. I know that’s annoying. We all want a defined time period, but I can’t give you one. Slow cooker cooking times vary. In my pot, I cook my bite-sized chicken  (for all of my slow cooker recipes) on high for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. I check it at about the 90 minute mark. Don’t be afraid to open the slow cooker to check on progress. Pull out a piece and cut it. If it is white, with no tinge of pink, all the way through, you’re good. Note: Cooking lean chicken breast meat too long makes it dry. You could absolutely use boneless, skinless, thighs, if you like dark meat, and allow it to cook longer. In this recipe, it won’t ruin the dish if the chicken does overcook a bit, because the sauce is so luscious.

At this point, everything in the pot tastes good but the sauce is a thin juice, not the glorious, clinging coating we want. This is where we begin to ignore common crock pot wisdom.

  1. Remove the chicken, using a slotted spoon or, better and easier, a kitchen spider. Scoop out all the chicken, and whatever garlic / ginger that clings to it,  and store it off to the side in a bowl or  pot big enough to contain it. (This bowl or pot will wash out easily when you’re done with it.) Now you have a crock full of hot juice in front of you. Do not stir in some corn starch and hope for the best.
  2. Instead, you’re going to reduce and thicken the sauce on the stove top. Set out a pan or pot with a wide surface area — a sauce pan or a dutch oven — that will contain all the juice. (The wide  pan will allow for more surface area, which allows for faster evaporation.) Using pot holders and taking your time, pour the juice from the slow cooker into the pan. Return the crock to its base, turn the temperature control to low, and return the set-aside chicken to the crock, scraping out all the good bits to go with it. Cover to allow the crock and the chicken to reheat.

On the stove top, bring the juice to a low boil. You want to see steam curling up from the juice. In my experience, once you get a hard simmer or a low boil going, the juice will not need much tending for a while. You should stir occasionally to ensure there’s no sticking. The process of reduction will take between 10-20 minutes. While the excess water steams away, you have time to prepare your rice and broccoli.

RICE:

However you make rice is fine. I swear by my rice cooker, which turns out pot after pot of perfectly steamed rice. My rice cooker works beautifully alongside my slow cooker, because once the rice is done, the cooker switches to ‘keep warm’ mode.

BROCCOLI:

You can buy broccoli pre-cut in a bag, but I’ve found that I can improve quality and save money by buying broccoli crowns and cutting them up myself. There are two tricks to perfect broccoli:

  1. Cut the crown into equally sized pieces, even if it means cutting a large floret into 2 or 3 pieces. (I stick to the florets and discard most of the stalk.)
  2. Cook your broccoli briefly in a pot of generously salted boiling water. By briefly I mean, maybe 2-5 minutes, depending on the size of your florets. This is not about boiling all the life out of the broccoli; it’s more of a long blanch. You want bright green broccoli, and you want to be just able to pierce the stem-part with a fork. Once you’re there, you’re done. Don’t overcook it. Drain using a colander.

(This is one of those cases where we’re again ignoring popular wisdom. If you were to put the raw broccoli directly into the slow cooker, it would cook, but it would be almost impossible to control its texture.)

As it sits in the colander, residual heat will cook the broccoli a bit more, then it will cool without sitting in a pool of water, which would make it soggy. Though the broccoli will cool to room temperature quickly, serving it with the hot sauce will warm it right back up.

YOU’LL PROBABLY FORGET THE SESAME SEEDS

…as I did, when I made the batch I photographed for this post, and as I did when I was drafting these directions.

That said, they really do add an extra bit of loveliness to this dish, so take a minute to do it.

To make: simply warm seeds in a dry pan over med to medium high heat, stirring constantly. This only takes a few seconds or a minute. The seeds will brown slightly and give off a nutty aroma when they are done. Under-cooked is better than over-toasted.

These are best-tasting when they are fresh toasted, so you might want to save this step for dinner time if everyone is going to be able to eat together.

BACK TO THE SAUCE

Alright. At this point, your broccoli is cooked and cooling. Your chicken pieces are hot in the crock. Your rice is cooking in its pot. Your juice has been reducing on the stove.

You’re almost done.

Turn your attention back to the juice. Much of the excess water will have turned to vapor and steamed away. Your juice now has an even more concentrated flavor, but it’s still just juice. It’s time to thicken it with a corn starch slurry.

THICKENING THE SAUCE

Many, many recipes suggest that you can measure some amount of corn starch into your crock when you dump all the ingredients in, and it will magically thicken the sauce. Not true. The nature of a slow cooker is that it doesn’t allow for whatever moisture that it draws out of the food to evaporate away. The water content of everything from meat to starches to vegetables and fruit varies from batch to batch. It’s almost impossible to get the ratio right.

But you can have complete control over the consistency of your sauce if you thicken it separately. (To thicken any sauce that you want to be translucent, like the one for Orange Ginger Chicken, you want to use cornstarch. For more gravy-like sauces, like for a beef stew, you want to use a flour and butter roux, and a different method. I’m sure I’ll write a post about that in time.)

TO THICKEN WITH CORNSTARCH SLURRY:

Make no mistake, the use of corn starch slurry is an art, and it requires practice. If you are going to use a slow cooker a lot, you need to master it.

  • Measure 4 tablespoons corn starch into a small bowl.
  • Add 2 tablespoon cold water.
  • Mix together. At first this will be hard to combine, but persist.

You will get a strange mixture that can be compressed to form something that’s too thick to easily stir, but that also freely streams smoothly when poured. This is perfect. If it feels just too weird to you, add 1 teaspoon more of water, no more than that. (You’ll break the slurry if you add too much water, and it won’t give you the near-instant results you want.)

NOTE: I’m deliberately suggesting that you make more slurry than you’ll probably need to make a single recipe of Orange Ginger Chicken. I don’t want you to come up just short of the right amount for your measure of juice, and fail to achieve the desired result. You’ll probably use half of this slurry, maybe a little more. Don’t panic if you have to use it all to get a thick sauce. It just means you could have reduced your juices longer or at higher heat for a more intensely flavored sauce.

Next you will whisk the slurry into the juice. Make sure the juice is at least at a high simmer. If you have enough room in the pan, if can be at a full boil. Start whisking, and slowly pour a thin stream of slurry into the juice where you are whisking. It’s easiest to do this slowly if you hold the small bowl high above the pan with your off hand while you whisk swiftly with your good hand.

Continue whisking and pouring (remember, you’re likely to use half or a little more of the slurry) until you see and feel the juices thicken. This may happen kind of suddenly. The more slurry you add, the thicker the sauce will become. When you think it will do a nice job of clinging to and coating the chicken, you’re done.

Remove the sauce from the heat and pour it over the chicken in the slow cooker. Stir.

TURN THE SLOW COOKER TO KEEP WARM!

That’s it. From this point forward (assuming the rice is done and resting in keep warm mode) anyone can make themselves a bowl of deliciousness over the course of the next 3-4 hours. Maybe longer. (Make sure your slow cooker keeps its contents at a safe temperature of more than 135 degrees F.)

To serve, set the container of zest and a container of toasted sesame seeds out where people can see them.

For the purposes of these photographs, I left the broccoli un-sauced, to ensure good color contrast. Rest assured, I spooned more sauce over the top of this bowl before I ate it!

life-set / life-rise

A note to any visitors:

Seasonalists is a very new blog. I’m still working out how I want things to be here so, if you click around much, you may run into oddly formatted or empty areas. Please pardon my mess.                                                                                                                            ~ Verity

This photograph was taken in late March, 2012, when I had just moved from a rural farmlette to an apartment in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. This was my view from the deck of the apartment. I was transitioning to a new life, because (due to job loss, medical expenses, and the foolishness of youth) we had (literally) lost the farm. At about the same time, I wrote the following in my journal:

I spent the entire day (except for a trip to the dog park and a short practice drive with my boy) sitting on my deck, trying to find my place in my work. Whenever frustration overwhelmed me and I looked up from my keyboard, I could watch the Mallards and Canada geese glide around on the black water of the pond. (Did you know a cloudy sky turns small, still bodies of water black?)

Now that it’s after midnight, I can only listen to the sounds of the creatures that live beyond the deck-rail. Mostly, I’ve been hearing the geese and the easily identified spring peepers, but an unfamiliar frog is calling – actually sort of clicking – from the far bank. An owl – one that is not a barred owl like those that lived near my old house – is hooting in a strange, quavering voice. (Wait … now that I’m paying close attention, I realize there are two.)

Once in a while, the muskrat splashes in the water. I think he chirps to himself as he goes about his business … unless there are two of them here as well.

Last night, I found a quarter-sized painted turtle in the underground garage. When I released him onto a pile of damp leaves near the pond’s edge, I shined the flashlight into the water and saw fat, healthy leeches, quick little water beetles and dozens of silver-swift minnows.

It’s a good pond. One that will help me find my place, I think.

I watched a lot of sunsets over my beloved pond in the next four years, as our family built a new life and a new vision of our future.

Now, six years later (wow!) I’m writing this from my desk, as I sit next to a giant picture window, in a different apartment, which is located in a suburb of Raleigh, NC. We have a northern exposure, so I see neither sunsets nor sunrises from where I am now.

But I looked out the window a few minutes ago and saw a bright green Carolina anole sunning itself on the tree across the parking lot. (It must be a big one, if I can see it from this distance.) My view isn’t as pretty as the one from my old apartment — and I doubt I’ll grow as fond of the greenery beyond the parking lot as I was of my pond — but it’s pretty enough.

It will do as we find our place again.

~*~

Here are some responses to the WPC prompt “Rise/Set” that I particularly like:

French Sunrise / Spanish Sunset – an interesting take on the theme – Shades of the Sunover flowers in a meadowclouds on firea perfect companion for my entryGrand Canyonon a warm summer eveningQuite MagicalNorwegian harborSnowy Spring SunriseStory Bridge in Brisbanecotton candy skythe waters of Hamburgsunset in black and whiteambient sunsetSunrise, Sunset and all the Birds in Betweenthe sun and the moonsunrise with mistMogador SunsetsSunrise on the New Jersey Shoresummers in Greece –  Setthe quality of the light in these two shots is stunning

I may add more, as I browse more responses.

instead of to-do, try to-feel: a better list practice

Determining how I want to FEEL, instead of what I want to DO, has been one of the most game-changing habits I’ve incorporated into my life.

— about the daily to-feel list —

Making a to-feel list is the first part of a four-part mindset practice that I do every morning. (I’ll talk about the other three parts in future posts.)

Early in my day, I take a minute or two to identify my emotional state. At this point, I’m not setting any goals, I’m just checking in with myself to get an honest, accurate reading of how I’m feeling in the moment.

Once I’m clear about where I am as I start my day, I then determine how I want to feel.

Sometimes I simply want to stay where I am. Sometimes I want to raise or lower my energy. Sometimes I want to turn things around for myself, or prepare to go in a new direction. Sometimes I just want to experience something I haven’t felt for a while. (Maybe I’ve been very serious and sober for days, and I want to loosen up and feel lighter, more playful.)

Once I have some ideas in mind, I write out the following sentences in my version of a bullet journal:

  1. Today I will feel _______.
  2. To that end, I will _______.

In the space of #1, I list up to three words that describe how I would like to feel.
(To streamline this process, I review a reference list of words describing feelings I frequently desire. I also go “off-list” whenever another desired feeling presents itself.)

In the space of #2, I list some actions and/or strategies that are likely to to lead me into feeling the way I want to.

Once I’ve completed those two sentences, I review my master task list and choose what I will do with my time during the day. Sometimes I’m lucky, and I can plan a full day of activities that are naturally aligned with my want-to-feel list. When there are incompatible must-do tasks on the day’s agenda, I take a few moments to figure out to change the task, or my attitude toward the task, to better suit my desired way of being.

Making these changes doesn’t involve scolding, or forcing, or tolerating, or pep-talking my way into being okay with a task. Instead, I think about what lies behind and underneath it. I look for aspects of the task that are already in alignment with my desired feelings. And I look for ways to tweak my approach to the task to make it more appealing.

I’ll give you an example.

This morning (a Monday in mid-March), I was coming off a great weekend, one that allowed me to get a lot of outdoor time, plenty of sleep, and some deep quality time with my husband. In order to have all that, however, I had blown off some writing work I intended to accomplish over the weekend. On top of that, my Monday morning date with the scale revealed that I’d over-indulged with a few more treats than I should have when we had run away for an impromptu day trip.

(1. How are you?)

My emotional situation, then, was that I was starting the day feeling rested and recharged … but also like I’d lost some ground.

I know myself pretty well. That flicker of awareness — that “I’m starting from behind!” mindset — told me that I was in danger of rushing, in order to catch up. I know that rushing turns my mood brusque and impatient. I know that when I’m feeling impatient, I end up trying to multitask. And I know that multitasking diminishes my effectiveness, especially in relation to writing.

(2. How do you want to be?)

With this in mind, I wrote this* during my morning routine:

Today I will feel calm, flexible, and creative.

(3. How can you get there?)

Then this:

To that end, I will:

  • remember to breathe
  • stay focused on one task at a time & move through each task one step at a time
  • eat clean food & drink clear water to keep my energy up (and un-do some damage)
  • trust my normal routine to guide me through a productive day
  • take advantage of the being-not-doing windows I’ve built into my normal routine, (to better leave space for creative thoughts to bubble up)
  • look for little opportunities to laugh and connect through the day, to maintain my good mood
  • tackle something challenging, that requires physical energy, because I’m starting from a good place (and the exercise wouldn’t hurt)

Equipped with this set of strategies for the day, I turned to March’s master to-do list.

As I mentioned, I had a lot of writing to do. (Mostly social media / blogging work.) These writing tasks were well-matched to my desired feelings list. If these were the only tasks on my to-do list, it would be easy to stay calm, flexible and creative.

4. What’s in your way?

My master to-do list, however, also told me that I needed to do laundry, make dinner, run some errands, and get started on deep cleaning the bathroom, (which is the area of my home that I concentrate on in the third week of each season.)

To be honest, I didn’t want to spend any time on any of those tasks. (Nor on my smaller, daily home keeping tasks.) If I were trying to make deadline (for example), I might have pushed these non-writing tasks to another day, but postponing such things just because I’m a little behind where I want to be is not a sustainable way to create the life I want.

5. How can you align it with how you want to be?

I took a breath. (Following the advice I’d given myself a moment before.)

It only took a few seconds to remind myself that having these mundane, everyday chores DONE would make it possible for me to feel calm and free me to feel creative. Figuring out how and when to fit these tasks around my priority work (the writing) would allow me to practice being flexible. Almost instantly, I realized I was already in alignment.

In order to better DO said chores, I looked back to to the strategies list I’d already made. (My answers to the prompt, “To that end, I’ll …”) Almost magically, my strategies were especially applicable to the mundane, everyday tasks.

Of course it’s not magic. I chose my strategies for the day knowing that I was was facing some potentially frustrating conflicts. I was setting myself up for success even before I picked up my pencil. In truth, all of this could be done without writing anything down. It’s a natural process. On a good day we all do this kind of thing unconsciously.

But not all days are good days.

Before I started this daily practice, I often found myself paralyzed on bad days. On such days, it felt like everything had gone to hell and there was nothing I could to make it better.

But there is. It may be harder, but it’s possible. And it’s most possible when you have already blazed a path for yourself by consistently and faithfully figuring out how you want to feel, then making it happen.

As always,
~ Verity

P.S. Yes, I did get everything done, though, at the time of this writing, there’s more work to be done in that bathroom.

—————–

*In truth, I did not write exactly what you see above, in the example I’ve shared. What I actually wrote is in my own personal shorthand, which I’ve developed over time. I know what I mean when I make my quick notes, but I feared it would be gibberish to anyone but me. For the purposes of this blog, I wrote each item out in an expanded form, so that it would make sense to a reader.

This is what the practice really looks like in my book of days:

 

~ the weekly to feel list ~

The to-feel note format you see below is a recent expansion of my practice. I designed it for use at my Instagram account, @seasonalists. This #tofeellist is an overview of what I want and expect from the coming week. I post this note once a week, on Sundays or Mondays, whenever I update my book of days for a new week.

This week:

And from weeks past:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~*~

The concept of the to-feel lists is adapted from the “core desired feelings” embedded in the work of Danielle LaPorte, an entrepreneurship expert I adore. (She is one of my favorite virtual mentors.) My introduction to her philosophies came via her book, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Cozy Corners & Hideaways

A note to any visitors:

I’m just getting this blog set up. There isn’t much to see yet, and it’s probably too early to be inviting anyone over, but I couldn’t resist the theme of this weekly photo challenge.
 
Over time, I hope to make Seasonalists into a cozy corner / hideaway / favorite place … for myself and for anyone else who wants to create a life they love. If you want to learn a little more about my plans, pop over to “About Verity Mews“.  There may be some other pieces in place by the time you get here via this post. Feel free to take a peek at anything you see, and forgive me my mess.
                                                   ~ Verity

I realized, just recently, that — even though I’m a grown woman (and then some) — I still indulge myself with a habit I developed when I was a very young girl.

In most every important respect, I was an only child. (My siblings were adults when I was born.) I was also sheltered. For me there was no running the neighborhood, or inviting school friends to our place, or going on sleepovers.

I suppose I should have felt lonely, but the truth is, I was a happy little girl. I had good companions in my animals, my books, and a transistor radio. And — as long as I didn’t cause any trouble, and stayed within shouting distance — I had a lot of freedom to entertain myself however I liked.

What I liked was to make myself hideaways filled with my companions and other things I found beautiful.

My beautiful things were potions I made, trinkets I collected, and little projects I could do. They still are.

Body powder, made with corn starch and mini-poms scented with BPAL perfume oil.
I’m a silver woman. The little goddess is from a swap I made years ago.

In the warm months, these secret spaces were usually outside — behind a curtain of willow whips; under the arching branches of an ancient hedge of bridal veil; in the back corner of a farm yard, where an aspen had fallen to make a bench.

In the never-ending winters, though, I was confined to indoors. Luckily, we lived in a series of old houses, with lots of odd cubbies and nooks for me to explore and to decorate with my little comforts.

The mister contains linen spray made from vodka, water, and more BPAL.

As an adult, I’ve had homes where a spare basement room, or a backyard shed, could be all mine. (I had a “she-shed” back in the 90s, long before they became a thing.) Even when we were young and just starting out,  I had a big closet into which I could retreat.

When we moved to Carolina, though, space got tight. Really tight.

You see, we are resettling as a family — which sounds like no big deal — but our family consists of my husband and me, our adult daughter, our adult son, and his intended bride. (Plus two big dogs.)

My old boy, from his customary spot on the bed, wasn’t sure what to make of me taking these photographs.

None of us know yet where we will settle within the state. (A city? A smaller town? Coast? Mountains? Piedmont?) The “kids” still need to finish college degrees. All of us need some time to familiarize ourselves with an entirely new culture and habitat.

For all these reasons, we are currently renting and sharing an apartment in a central but temporary location near Raleigh. It’s a big apartment, but space is at a premium … particularly because my husband telecommutes from home. His “home office” is also our bedroom.

Until about a month ago, my only cozy corner was the lowest shelf of the bookcase we built into a shallow nook of the living room. I did what I could with a couple of cushions, a votive candle, some flowers and, and a few pretty baubles that didn’t stand out as too feminine for the aesthetic of the rest of the room.

carnations
Carnations and baby’s breath are an economical way to bring fresh, long-lasting blooms into a space.

It was okay, but the space is too open to the communal living area to be considered a hideaway.

I took another look at what was available in the apartment. The only real option was to carve a small corner out of our already overstuffed bedroom. (There’s already a king-size bed, and a massive, L-shaped, work desk, bearing multiple monitors.)

There wasn’t much space to work with. Its availability to me would be limited to non-work hours. Late at night, I knew, I’d have to be quiet, and keep the lights dim.

It wasn’t ideal, but I was desperate for a place to just be.  I decided having a part-time retreat space was better than not having one at all.

After about a month’s worth or puttering, and trying out various arrangements, I came up with this:

It looks more like a vanity area than anything else, but you’d be surprised by how many different things I have packed into those decorative boxes. You can’t see it in this photo, but one key to the usefulness of this space is a lap pad (with its own LCD light) which slides down between the wall and the chair when not needed.

In this corner, sitting near the window, in a low-slung, arm-less chair at the foot of our bed, I can knit; draw zen tangles, dangles, or other doodles; read; compose letters and cards; write sections of my novel longhand; and keep my book of days. I can preen. I can drink coffee or wine, and eat from a secret stash of fine chocolates. I can do my nails. I can watch one of my programs on the small TV we have in the room. I can cuddle a dog. I can meditate. I can daydream. And, at night, when I’m full up with all these other good things, I can just unwind quietly, while listening to my husband breathe.

It’s one of my favorite cozy corners ever.

Here are some responses to the WPC prompt “favorite place” that I particularly like:

Lakeside SwingCoastal GeorgiaWith The Wild ThingsMy GardenCopper PotOsborne HouseGet Lost

I may add more, as I browse more responses.