Book Report: Phosphorescence

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My husband, Lee, heard some people talking about this book on one of his podcasts, so he ordered it for me as a Christmas present. He said it just sounded like something I’d enjoy, and he was right! I’m so glad to have come across Phosphorescence: A Memoir of Finding Joy When Your World Goes Dark, by Julia Baird (2021). I found myself underlining numerous passages and recommending the book to others after just a couple of chapters.

Julia Baird, an Australian journalist who has had her share of darkness thanks to three bouts with cancer, shares with us the things she has done and the beliefs she holds close that have enabled her to hold joy in her life. They may be things I already knew, but I sure enjoyed the way she put them. I guess there’s a bit of confirmation bias in my enjoyment of this book, because the things that make her happy seem to be, in many cases, the same ones I turn to over and over again.

I’ll have to take her word for it that swimming long distances in the ocean before sunrise makes one happy, so I’m substituting working with horses for that one. I love the idea, though, that we all have an inner glow, sometimes literally, and that there’s a phosphorescence in us all.

The book’s a memoir, so we learn a lot about Baird as we read it, as well as about some of the pretty amazing folks she’s gotten to know in her journalism career. But most important is learning how hard she has worked to find the sources of joy in her life and seeing how gracious she is with sharing her innermost thoughts, including her spirituality.

Now, we all know I’m not fond of institutions, particularly religious institutions, and even of institutions that I have been saddled with by virtue of being born the person I am (political systems, business shit, etc.). I don’t think Baird is very fond of them either, especially patriarchal ones, but I ended up loving her religious chapters toward the end, because she lovingly reminded me that there is a version of Christianity that truly is about love, peace, and caring for the weak and powerless. And she talks about how her beliefs fit in with other religious paths, so I didn’t feel like she was out to convert, only to explain.

That was at the end of the book. The beginning, where Baird talks about how being around trees and other plants heightens our happiness and how being around water makes things even better…that’s the part I underlined a lot. Baird also explains why silence is also important (and by that she means absence of human sounds–nature sounds are good). That is making me laugh since I’ve been listening to a guy drilling a hole in my fire pit all day.

I honestly don’t want to tell you all the ways Baird talks about how we can keep ourselves positive in dark times, to encourage you to read this for yourself, but one thing that was important helped me understand my impulse to write out my thoughts, my feelings, and my mundane experiences in a blog. Women’s stories have been hidden by history, or saved in subtle ways like quilts and embroidery. When letter writing became possible, women wrote and wrote, but how much was saved?

Our history and our stories are important too, even if we don’t rule a country or run a company. Each of us humans has a story, and it is good to share them with others. Sure, all we used to have was verbal storytelling, but now that we have access to other ways to share, Baird encourages us all to do so. So I’m going to share my wild and imperfect life right here, and I hope you, too, find a way to bring joy in your life by noticing the small things and sharing them.

Knittin’ and Readin’ and Regerts

Today it is windy as all heck. All my chairs, all the barrels in the horse area, and everything else that isn’t tied down has blown to new and interesting locations. Lee and I had tried to put together a storage shed yesterday, and placed it against a wall, where we thought it would be safe. It took a little jaunt around the corner of the patio.

Nothing here is where it was yesterday except the lovely water trough.

Even worse, the wind blew the satellite dish around so we can’t even watch something on television. But Lee says it’s a good opportunity to get the dish moved and bring in wiring to let me have a television in my office/den for when I want to cocoon. No complaints about that!

This is the LAST day I wanted to be trapped inside. It is my annual Day of Regrets (or “regerts” as the apocryphal tattoo someone got said), where I mourn the loss of my older son on his birthday. He’s 31. Happy birthday to a person I still love.

Distraction from regrets: These barrels blew about 50 feet. They are not light.

Obviously, I need to have stuff to do to keep my mind busy, but I sure as heck am not going out there to mess with horses. I did go out and stand in the shelter with them and provide some love, even to Mabel, who stood with me for five minutes! And, of course, the chickens are taken care of. I just don’t want to linger.

So, this morning I got out my hair toner stuff to make my white ends more silvery. And you know I was bored, because I took pictures of the entire process using Snap Chat filters. The good news is that the bit of longer hair in front that was somewhat discolored now looks beautiful, and the dark part sparkles.

Well, that wasted a whole half hour or so. I needed more distraction. I decided to find something to knit. What I truly want to work on is some unspun beautiful Icelandic yarn my friend Mike brought me from Iceland (duh). It’s all natural sheep colored and everything. But, I do not need a sweater. So, I spent an hour looking through Ravelry for ideas, then gave up. I think I have an idea now, which I can do next. Stay tuned.

I decided to make something with two beautiful yarns that were hiding in my closet, instead. They are a gorgeous wool/silk hand-painted yarn in coral tones and a natural-colored baby llama yarn. Baby llamas! Crias! They are so cute. And their first haircuts lead to dreamy softness.

So, what to make with those? That was easier, because I am making my favorite plain striped shawl that I have made before using Noro Silk Garden (it’s a hand-painted Japanese silk/wool blend all the knitters will know). I got a slightly different version off Ravelry and started going.

So, far, not so great.

It will look better when it’s farther along and the Freia starts changing colors. Who cares what it looks like, anyway, because it feels so good on my hands, which have been hurting lately. I can look forward to finishing this quickly and sitting by the pool wearing it (keeping it away from dogs). Speaking of whom, of course they are always with me when I’m doing my projects.

The rest of the day of super-confinement will be spent reading my wonderful book, listening to music, and making a nice dinner for my sickly family and Lee. (And not rearranging the holiday closet; sorry, that brings up regerts.) Please continue to keep our ranch residents in your thoughts! The COVID is hard on them.

Celebration, a Little

I haven’t been going on about blogging achievements much (mainly because the blog is mostly for me…more on that soon), BUT, I am happy to see that I now have 800 WordPress followers! That combined with the 1500 or so people who get the blog by email, means somebody’s out there! So, thank you for reading, however you receive the blog, and that goes for you Facebook fans of the Hermits’ Rest, too!

I’m aware some followers aren’t actually people. But I appreciate the real people a lot.

I appreciate your comments more than I can express, whether here, on Facebook, or in person. I am always surprised when someone brings up reading this blog as I’m talking to them. I’d love to follow YOU, too! I need stuff to read when the wind is raging and I’m trying to block out my regrets/regerts!

Today Did Not Go As Planned

It hasn’t been an ideal day for anyone in my house, and I’ll just say that this is not a great time to participate in the health care system. So, no one slept last night.

Of course I had a 7am meeting, which ended up being the highlight of my day. And it was so pleasant outside this morning that I had visions of doing a lot of horse stuff later.

Oh what a beautiful morning

It got darker and darker outside, and I got the idea that maybe I actually wouldn’t get my new horse obstacles set up.

Maybe later.

I was writing a training outlying my head so I got the last Christmas stuff put away and added lively linens to the tables.

Some color for our beige house.

I even set up a little tea party using Lee’s mom’s china with roses on it (I unpacked something!).

The blue stuff was found in a house we renovated.

Yeah. I’d planned to write all day but got stuck. Home decorating helped me get back on track, and I did get my outline done.

This is Lee’s Bruns grandparents’ 50th anniversary china. Two big plates broke, but they were not packed real well.

As I was finishing up and getting up the energy to go mess with horses, Mandi texted from down the road. It was sleeting at her house. Oh, poop. Yes, it was sleeting here, too.

Go ahead, people still digging out of blizzards. Laugh at my tiny ice cube. (That’s it on my shoe,)

No dogs enjoyed the weather, especially the artistic Harvey. By the way, he has no more open wounds, and is shaped more like a dog and less like a burrito.

I’m thinner and have shaved spots. Brr.

Nope, these two aren’t thrilled either, and I can’t even FIND Carlton.

Alfred is fine. He’s happy that shedding season is over so I just pet him instead of pulling clumps of hair out.

I like cold.

I’ll just be flexible and glad my family are taking care of themselves. Y’all do, too. There are lots of germs and allergens roaming around right now! Maybe tomorrow I will be interesting.

Book Report: Atlas of the Heart

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Here’s the review of Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, by Brené Brown (2021) that I promised recently. I think I am growing tired of self-help books or something, because this one didn’t impress me as much as some others I’ve read.

Pretty cover.

There were good parts to this book, which consists mostly of a discussion of a wide range of human emotions, which it turns out there is no agreed-upon number of nor many firm definitions. I enjoyed learning the difference between envy and jealousy, as well as pride versus hubris. Pride can be good. Hubris is not a good thing to have. You think you’re great, people think you’re awful, but you don’t care. Sound familiar?

I was disappointed that some of the emotions didn’t get much discussion. I would have liked more information on many of the complex ones. It felt like Brown just stopped at random points, inconclusively.

I liked this one. P. 244.

Anyway, the last part of the book is about a new grounded theory of meaningful connection. I’m all for meaningful connection. Combined with her concept of “near enemies,” Brown defines how to develop grounded confidence, the courage to walk alongside others, and practice story stewardship. The last is interesting to me, as it has to do with listening, believing and acknowledging, without giving advice, taking over people’s stories, or putting others down.

I think this is useful, but not as earth-shattering as it has been made out to be. A lot is common sense. Oh well, it’s helpful information, but it came across like a PowerPoint presentation not a full-fledged explanation. I’m being nit-picky.

And I’ll be eternally grateful for the concept of foreboding joy.

And one more thing. A whole lot of the book is quotes from her earlier books. It seemed a bit like padding. But hey, it’s on really nice paper and has lots of colors. I like colors.

Feeling a New Feeling

Two things have happened that are a fortuitous coincidence. One is my son and his partner moving nearby. The other is reading Brené Brown’s latest book, Atlas of the Heart.

The book has pretty quotes. This one fit in with my current ambivalence about expectations.

The book seems sorta silly in concept. It’s a list of definitions of human emotions. Apparently many people can only identify three emotions: happy, sad, and angry. So, perhaps at atlas is useful after all.

My son in 2019, by Rollie

I learned some interesting nuances about emotions, such as how jealousy and envy differ. But I also learned a new one that explained how I’ve been feeling about the possibility of having some of my family nearby.

I feel like I can’t be happy and look forward to fun times and what the future might bring. It’s called foreboding joy. Brown says it’s a nearly universal experience, especially for parents. Yeah. What a term. Foreboding joy. You can’t let yourself enjoy good things because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Page 216 of Atlas of the Heart

That’s it. I’ll try to slide some real joy in the next few weeks. I need some goodness, strength, and courage! And I’ll write more about the book later. I’m pleased to have words to describe the weird feeling I’ve had lately. Hmm.

Moving on from the Alottest Year

A Facebook friend named Melissa, who went through so much this year, just summed up 2021 as the “alottest” year, because everything has been a lot. The lowest lows, very high highs. Hope and despair. Sure, every year has good and bad; that’s life. But wow, my head is spinning as I reflect back.

I had to sit and look at water to still my mind.

So, rather than dwell on the losses and setbacks, I’ve decided to look forward and figure out what how to use the learning, strength, and bravery I’ve worked on for the past couple of years to make the best of 2022. And I’ll try to keep my sense of humor.

Humor

Another Facebook friend, Emma G, has inspired my outlook for the immediate future. She said she isn’t going to wish her friends a happy new year. No, she is going to wish them a year of intention. I love this.

Starting my year out with Brené, who will remind me of who I am and that I’m fine.

If we all live our lives putting positive intention into everything we do, we will be able to continue to weather the literal and figurative storms we encounter, and maybe even make the world a little better.

I put good intent toward my homemade Bundt cake, even if it came out poorly.

And keeping our center will at least let us truly savor the beauty and goodness we run into, too.

The equines are enjoying the goodness of their first ever round bale of hay.

I wish you peace and discernment in 2022.

Two Truths: We Need to Learn This

Last weekend, as I was driving home from my Drew lesson, I listened to an episode of Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedantam. I’m so glad I did, because the story he shared, gently and neutrally, made the point that I’ve been slowly and painfully trying to articulate for the past few years:

More than one viewpoint about people and situations can be true at the same time.

Me

I’ve always been deeply aware that circumstances are rarely black and white. No one’s all good or all evil. No form of government is all bad or all good. No religion is perfect or all bad. You get my drift and may even agree.

But what this episode, “Both Things Can Be True,” clarified for me is that while it is much easier to see people only one way, it is entirely possible to hold two completely conflicting views of someone. The woman in the story comes to see an important person in her life as both someone who saved her life and betrayed her. She could be both grateful and angry. And that allowed her to reach peace.

I can understand that professional football is highly flawed and can lead to head injuries with lifelong consequences. I can also enjoy watching it and be a fan. Integrative complexity?

The ability to do this is called integrative complexity, which is not a new concept, but was new to me. That’s what has let me cope a little better with the complexities in my own life (sparing you the details).

Good news: studies have shown that people who grasp integrative complexity are more likely to succeed in life. That makes sense to me. You’re more open to connections and possibilities.

From what I observe, though, not many people are into the complexity thing. It’s easier to over generalize.

I see it so often where someone fucks up and the people around them switch from seeing them as good and label them as evil. It’s happened in my family, both to me and to someone I care deeply about. I see it, too, when people declare all Republicans or Democrats are evil, all Christians or Muslims are extremists, all police officers are corrupt…etc.

No wonder there’s so much divisiveness. Black and white thinking is just easier.

I am so tired of that bullshit.

It’s not easy to let go of ingrained patterns of belief. Don’t I know it! But integrative complexity is, I think, exactly what is needed to create a world where people can work together to solve the real problems of the world…once we accept that solutions, too, are not all black and white.

These are my opinions. Your mileage may vary.

Shiny and Strange Things, for Christi

I started work extra early today, so I got to stop before the pre-solstice sunset caught up with me. It had rained and misted much of the day, but the late-afternoon sun was shyly peeking out from the clouds. It turned the ranch into a jewel box of shining droplets hanging from every fence, blade of grass, and plant.

A twinkling world

I walked along just wishing I had someone to share this with. Lee was up working. Kathleen isn’t here. Mandi was at work, sigh. I know the little things I was enjoying so much weren’t the kind of things a lot of people would even notice. I mean, there was also a lot of holes from hogs or something, animal poop, and normal ranchy things.

For example, I was surprised to see these kernels of corn in the middle of our pasture. Did it come out in deer poop? Did a bird drop it? I have no idea. It has to be deer corn, because no one grew corn around here this year.

It came to me that these were the kinds of things my friend Christi often posted as she looked out on her own ranch. Trees, sunsets, random cactuses, weird mushrooms, corn in the middle of the field. Tears came to my eyes, because I’d just been reading about when her memorial service would be held, fittingly enough, right in the middle of Sara’s and my lessons with her trainer friend. She’d probably get a chuckle out of that.

There were a bunch of these interesting stinkhorn mushrooms in the field today.

Well, then, I said, as my heart literally began to ache, I should share the shiny and quirky things I see around the Hermits’ Rest today, in honor of her memory and her love of this part of Texas.

Willow branches

I hope you enjoy how even the lowliest blades of grass became shimmering waves of diamonds in the sun today. It’s a real tribute to a shining soul. Be sure to look at the pictures up close, so you can see all the droplets.

Book Report: Anything Is Possible

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s one more Elizabeth Strout book. This is not exactly a sequel, but it builds upon the events and actors in My Name Is Lucy Barton. Anything Is Possible impressed me, because it has the same people in it, but is a completely different type of book than the book about Lucy. Here, you hear about all the folks she encountered in her book and insisted she didn’t know anything about or understand.

And it quickly becomes clear that Lucy was right. Each of the people you learned a few facts about from Lucy or her mother before has a complex and interesting story to tell, with their own deep regrets, shame, and accomplishments. I was surprised over and over at how the people I encountered in the first book changed as they aged and had experiences.

There’s a theme of people surviving the loss of their mothers, many by having their mother just up and leave, others by having them pass away young. That made me empathize a lot, since I always felt like my mother was never really all there the whole time I knew her, even though I loved her an all her flaws. The same seemed to be true of almost everyone in Anything Is Possible, too. It warmed my heart to see estranged siblings realize their love for each other and estranged children realizing they love their parents (even the ones who were unacceptably eccentric, bordering on abusive). That gives me hope for my own situations, and that’s a thing that makes me really careful.

My view while reading.

Strout is right, anything IS possible. You also can’t predict what’s going to happen with people. Even the most broken of us can rise above early experiences, but it’s not guaranteed, either. Strout did a masterful job of showing us that “stuff happens” to everyone, but we will all learn, grow, and remain able to love.

Anything is possible. I am happy, content with my life situation, and no longer dwelling on my own shame, doubt, or eccentricities.

I hope you get a chance to read both of these books, and read them in close succession. You’ll experience complex emotions, but in the end, you’ll be realistically optimistic about humans and their resiliency.

Y’all Won’t Believe THIS Coincidence

Do you remember reading about how much fun I had just wandering around Breckenridge, Colorado day before yesterday? And do you remember that I got very excited when I walked through a residential area and saw that a house had a big bird feeder and I hung around there trying to get photos of the pretty birds?

The Steller’s Jay I saw

I remember thinking what a really nice bird feeder those people had, and how much I liked all the stuff they had on their deck. It looked like such a nice, comfortable home, and I wished I could watch birds on that deck. As I walked back to town, I was so grateful to those folks for letting me see a new bird.

Well, today, I was reading Facebook comments about my earlier blog post. You could have knocked me over with an intensely blue feather when I read this!

What??? (I scratched her name out because I, too, care about internet privacy)

At first, I thought she meant that was the same kind of bird feeder she had. But no, out of all the houses in this little town, I had managed to take a bird picture at the home of the ONLY person I know who actually lives here! I knew she’d moved away from Texas, but I forgot where she had gone!

This made me SO happy.

So, I may get my wish and get to look at birds from that lovely deck. Maybe I can get better photos. I’m just tickled to death! This whole “keeping up with folks on the internet” thing is really working out for me!

Speaking of Friends

My friend Kathy and I knitted and talked all morning until the shops opened, at which time we went shopping a bit more and had a wonderful brunch at a place called the Columbine Cafe. I had an omelet with a side of the first Colorado green chili that I’d ever had. If you get a chance, try it. The tequila sunrise was also delicious.

This woman can really knit by the way. That sweater has incredible subtle detailing and fits perfectly. I wove my scarf.

Our shopping was a great success, as I have holiday gifts all under control now. One shop we went into had some of the funniest dang cards, fridge magnets, and t-shirts that we couldn’t stop laughing. What we really liked about this place, and the other one we spent a lot of time in, was that much of the merchandise was unique and not the same old stuff you see everywhere. There must be a lot of creative and funny people in this state.

I think we are trying to blind ourselves. But we wanted a picture with mountains in the background. Note that I got earrings with crows on them that completely match my winter coat. I think they may be my winter go-to earrings. They are enamel on copper.

We both tried very hard to not go into the store with all the rocks, crystals, and jewelry under the one with the funny merchandise. But we went in. There, I discovered a treasure trove of turquoise jewelry, including some Sand Creek stones I had never seen before. It’s beautiful, light blue stuff. They also had a genuinely nice collection of old Navajo jewelry. I totally fell in love with a coral and turquoise piece from the 1960s, unsigned, as many old pieces are. I’m going to end up wearing this one a lot.

After we finished at the jewelry store, where I had heart palpitations from the beauty, we went for a little ride looking for a mine. We didn’t find the mine but did fine some beautiful scenery from the road that runs up into the mountains east of Breck. That was plenty great for me.

Then, Kathy was nice enough to take me to the grocery store to stock up after I ate a lot of my food last week. I’m probably good with food until I leave town.

Meanwhile, Back in Texas

I’m sure you’re craving photos of my animals back at the ranch. Lee has been really nice about sending me dog and chicken pictures. However, this took my breath away. I think Drew is the prettiest horse in the world, at least for me. Thanks to Sara for grabbing me a photo while she was at the trainer’s for her lesson. He is filling out so nicely. Ahh.

Back to knitting, relaxing, and wishing the time didn’t change tonight. I’ve got plenty to do and so much fun to look forward to in the next two weeks. I’m so grateful for kind friends who are willing to spend time with me when I just randomly show up near where they live!

Katie Zapfel

Children's book author. Mom blogger.

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