Found: A Love Note to Myself

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So I’m rereading Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. I don’t often read a book more than once, and occasionally when I do I find I’m not as into it the second time around. Sometimes things speak to you in the moment and when that moment passes, the words aren’t as meaningful.

This is one of those books I immersed myself in when it was first published. I’m a fan of Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog momastery.com, and I jumped right on board when she announced her book. I sat with highlighter and pen in hand each night reading her stories.

My friend has been reading Carry On, Warrior in recent weeks and mentioning various parts that are funny or wise. Our conversations made me want to revisit it, so last night I curled up with Glennon’s book once again.

Right from page one her honesty astounds me. She puts all her baggage right out up front. She shares her demons and never makes excuses for them. I wish to live (and write) as bravely as Glennon. In reading her story I wonder what mine is. My struggles are not the same.

That’s what I’m thinking when I stumble across a note I scribbled on the corner of a page: “show up just as you are.”

It’s a love note to myself. A reminder of utmost importance. Forget perfection. Let go of pretenses. Don’t wait until you’re ready (because you may never be). Simply show up now. Just as you are.

I can’t wait to see what other notes I might stumble across as I reread.

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Interview: Christianne Squires

Wonderstruck interviews are back! I love this series. For those of you who may be new to this blog, all guests answer the same five questions. It’s amazing to see how different their answers are from one another. Plus, hearing other people’s stories is a great way to see things from a different perspective and perhaps find something new to apply to our own lives. Watch for new interviews on Wednesdays.

ChristianneSquiresToday I’m delighted to host Christianne Squires of Still Forming. I met Christianne through an online booksmith course and was captivated by her positive, enthusiastic energy. Be sure to visit her website (link is at the end of the post) and consider signing up for her Cup of Sunday Quiet e-newsletter. It’s one of my favorites.

Enjoy this time with Christianne.

What have you been wonderstruck by recently?

In the last year, I’ve become enamored by a personality typing tool called the Enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”). It’s a deep and rich tool that has existed for centuries and centuries and is deeply tied into our spirituality, helping us notice the light and dark we carry in us and how we’re invited to grow deeper into our true selves.

Because it’s such a complex and deep tool, it can sometimes take a bit of time to discover your true Enneagram number of the 9 numbers it offers. For me, this has been true. I spent about six months sitting with the number 5 (the investigator/observer), then spent another five months sitting with the number 1 (the perfectionist/reformer), and in the last few weeks I’ve begun turning my attention to the number 3 (the achiever/performer).

These numbers might sound like gobbledygook to people who don’t know what the numbers mean, but the point is that the process of trying to determine my true number has felt like a bit of a quest, and it’s been unsettling to not be able to land.

I don’t know if my number really and truly is 3, but I can say that in the last few weeks of sitting with that possibility, I’ve noticed a bit of slowing happening for me. I have wrestled with anxiety in work-related contexts the whole of my adult working life, and that has been a source of great pain and trouble for me. But as I sit with the idea that my true essence might be that of achiever/performer, it helps make sense of why the fear of failure in a work context would produce such great anxiety.

It’s also allowed me to notice how often I worry that my work isn’t going to measure up, only to discover on the back side of sharing it that it far exceeded expectations. Noticing this, I’m being invited to trust in my capacity and ability, to rest in my ability to perform well and offer value.

All of this has me a bit wonderstuck, really. That is a truly great word for it, for sure.

What part of your day are you grateful for?

In August, I started a 9-month program at a local church called the Long Retreat, which is a program based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This is a saint who lived in the 1500s and helped people move closer to God through the use of their imagination in prayer. My prayer life in the last 15 years has been greatly aided by the use of my imagination, and so this makes the retreat program a great fit for me.

As part of the retreat, we have daily prayer exercises to complete, and we come together once a week to share how the daily experiences were for us. The leaders emphasize finding a regular time and place to do these daily prayers, and I’m finding that my time and place have become very special for me.

I’m not a morning person, so I usually stumble out of bed around 9 in the morning. Then I pour my mug of coffee and sit on the couch for about 30 minutes and read, letting my brain wake up. After that, it’s time to do my Long Retreat. I light a candle on my little table and settle in on our not-often-used loveseat couch, facing the candle. I stare at the candle for a bit, watching its two flames on the two wicks dancing along, as though it is me and God dancing together. Then I open my exercise book and and begin the time of prayer, which includes some reading, some imaginative prayer work, and then some journaling.

It’s a time in my day that’s become special to me.

What part of your day is tough? How do you move through it?

Getting out of bed! As I mentioned above, I am not a morning person at all. My husband is. He often wakes around 6 in the morning and makes productive use of the quiet space in our home. But I’m lagging behind in bed until around 9 each day.

I often feel a lot of shame around this. I struggle with thoughts like, How privileged am I, that I can’t even get out of bed before 9 in the morning, especially when there are plenty of people who have to wake earlier to tend to their families or get to work on time? I work out of my home and don’t have children, so neither of those aspects are part of my daily life.

I’m finding that I am helped to move through it in two ways. First, by noticing that I am very productive in the wee dark hours of the night. There are many nights I’m up until 1, 2, or 3 in the morning, working on ideas and being creative. The silence of the house and the neighborhood create a kind of cocoon that helps my creativity have space to flow. This is part of acknowledging that my rhythm is more night-oriented than morning-oriented, and that’s OK.

The second way I’m helped forward is by doing what I described above: starting my day with coffee and reading on the couch. By giving myself some space at the beginning of the day for my interior world to think and wake up slowly, getting up begins to feel easier and even pleasant.

I was reading something Leo Babauta from Zen Habits shared recently about habits, and he said we often fail to incorporate new habits into our lives because we have a negative association or experience with the new habit. If we can replace that negative association with a positive one — like, instead of thinking, “I have to wake up early, and I’m not a morning person,” we think, “I get to wake up earlier and enjoy a lovely, slow morning to myself for a little bit” — we will be more successful at it. This is along the lines of what’s helping me with my morning routine these days.

What do you wish you were more conscious of?

I wish I was more conscious of how good I am at what I do, that I bring quality work into the world. Like I mentioned above, I have a tendency toward anxiety and toward doubting my work’s worth, and yet I consistently find that those who receive what I do are very pleased. I want to trust the likelihood of a positive outcome more on the front end of the experience than I presently do. I am in the process of learning this, and it’s already beginning to make a big difference in the quality of my experience of myself and my work while it’s in process.

How do you stay focused on what is truly important to you?

I am a pretty introspective person, and being in alignment and integrity with my values and sense of life purpose and direction is very important to me. I tend to feel internally pretty quickly when I’m getting off course, which prompts questions of what I need to do to get back on course with myself and my purpose and direction. I think the thing that most helps me with this is staying in tune to that sense of alignment. When something’s off, I can feel it. Paying attention to that feeling and addressing it when it happens is essential for me.

About Christianne:
Christianne Squires is a trained spiritual director who lives in Winter Park, Florida with her husband and their two cats. She is the founder of the online contemplative community Still Forming. You are welcome to connect with her on Facebook.

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How to See the World Through the Eyes of a Child

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We were visiting our new farm (if you missed that story, catch up here) and I was snapping pictures as I often do there (I’ve amassed quite a collection already). While poised for some close-ups of little yellow flowers, three-year-old Jonas said he wanted to take pictures of the flowers, too.

My first thought was to say no because it’s a camera and he’s three. Then I realized I had my pocket-sized point-and-shoot which is a good size for him and I was there to supervise, so why not? In this digital age, I don’t have to worry about him using up film. So I let him play.

As I looked back through the photographs, I realized how awesome it was to see the world through his eyes. I got to see what he thought was significant, the things that drew his attention. All by simply handing him a camera.

Because he is so perfectly un-adult, he doesn’t worry about things like composition or lighting or focal point. He says, “Mommy, I’m going to take a picture of yellow flowers!” and then he does. (There’s a lesson there for all of us.) He literally points and shoots.

Here are a few of his shots from that day…

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What do you think? Budding photographer?

 

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Flecks #27

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As in flecks of reflection from the week: what I’m learning and celebrating.

Things I learned this week:

  • What a “somerpepper” is. It’s basically a somersault that you do after doing another somersault if you’re three and proclaim, “I’m going to do a somersault and then a somerpepper.”
  • That putting on a ruffly sundress makes said three-year-old think I’m a princess. Incidentally, putting on tights makes him ask why my pants are “that way.”
  • What a rain garden is and which plants to grow in it.
  • How to take a cutting from a mint plant to start a new one. Whether I actually learned this one will become apparent in a month when my cutting either grows or dies.

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Things I’m celebrating this week:

  • My husband’s birthday! Happy birthday, love! Wishing you many, many more. With me. Obviously.
  • Being featured on BlogHer! The story of our farm purchase appeared in their Work/Life and DIY sections, as well as right on the home page. That’s a first for me. What a great feeling.
  • Finishing an editing project.
  • Receiving a new editing project.
  • Making a client happy with her website design reveal. She actually said, “That’s exactly what I would have created if I knew how.” I love that.
  • Abundance.
  • Progress.
  • I’m still harvesting tomatoes and peppers. My summer crop was weak, but those plants are still trying!

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Things that are resonating with me:

How 15 Minutes Per Day Can Change Your Life from The Gift of Writing – This bit of wisdom applies to more than just writing.

Showing Up at Notes from Farm and Field

Your turn:

What did you learn this week? What are you celebrating? Leave a comment and I’ll share a “Woohoo!”

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We Wanted a Little Space and Maybe a Tractor

About this time last year, my husband and I started discussing the future. What did we want out of life? What did we want to do with our time? Do we want to live where we live now? Do we want to go somewhere else?

I wanted space to garden. My husband wanted enough space to warrant a tractor- maybe 7-10 acres. We live in farm country now and we wanted to be near farms wherever we went. We wanted good schools, local businesses, and that certain feel that you know only when you… well… feel it. Though wonderful, we weren’t sure the town we are in is the town we want to stay in forever.

The more we discussed, the more we realized a change might be in order. And with my stepson graduating from high school next spring, and our toddler not yet in first grade, the time to make a change might be approaching quickly.

Throughout the spring and the summer we drove around. A lot. We looked at listings online during the week and spent our weekends driving by them, exploring different cities. We needed to stay in the vicinity of my husband’s business, but that still opened up a lot of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania as options.

We searched north and south, near the river and away from it. We saw properties that were immediate nos, some maybes, some if-onlys. We said yes to one that was nearly perfect, but at 17 acres was a bit bigger than we planned on. Then we lost it because of a prior promise. We thought we’d never find anything that good again.

Then we found something better and significantly bigger in a slightly scary way at 50 acres. We said yes to that, only to have it whisked out from under us by a higher offer while we were awaiting the contract. We stopped looking for a few weeks thinking maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Surely we’d never find anything that good in our price range again.

Crazy thing… toward the end of the summer we found a better one in south Jersey. And we got it. It’s ours.

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It’s taken me a while to share this on the blog. Part of the reason is I needed to wait until it was a for-sure, locked-in, couldn’t-be-taken-away deal. Part of the reason is I wasn’t sure how to tell this story. Sometimes the bigger the impact something has on us, the harder it is to explain to others. Still another part of the reason is that we still have so much to do there, so in a way, there’s not much to tell yet.

We now own 76 acres (did you notice how those numbers keep getting higher?) of former tree nursery without a single building on it. We’ll need barns, sheds, tractors, organic compost, clean fill dirt, a house… nothing major. Just EVERYTHING.

We are starting from scratch. We are building from nothing. We aren’t just building structures, we are building a life. A whole new lifestyle.

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On weekends we go visit our farm. Sometimes we bring tromping boots to explore (because with 76 acres, we still haven’t seen every nook and cranny yet). Sometimes we bring a pop-up tent and picnic lunch. Sometimes we simply drive around on it with jaws dropped.

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This land is so beautiful. A lot of it is open fields, some of it is wooded, but all of it is magical. It’s tranquil.

From our current home an hour away, we get caught up in the stress of what we need to do to our home before we can sell it and planning our future home and worrying that the ground might freeze before we can get the foundation poured. There are decisions to be made, phone numbers to be called, questions to answer, permits, loans, an endless list of to do’s… .

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But when we get to the farm, I feel peace. Everything it will take to get there doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the ultimate reward of being there.

There is a lot of big, hard work ahead of us. We will have to learn a lot. Luckily, so far all of the people we’ve met down there have been friendly and helpful. I feel supported in this new adventure already.

Who knows whether we will succeed or fail, (hopefully the former), or if we will be able to see even half our ideas to fruition. One thing is certain: We will be able to say we went for it.

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P.S. That is not our tractor. While we work on building our house, we are renting the land to a local farmer.

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Flecks #26

As in flecks of reflection from the week: what I’m learning and celebrating.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a flecks post, especially considering my summer hiatus. Today feels like a good day to reflect. Will you join me?

Things I learned this week:

  • Being present in the moment is a continual practice. Just because I learned to embrace my surroundings yesterday, doesn’t mean it will come naturally to me today. I have to keep pulling myself back to what’s important right now.
  • If you order a Kindle Voyage now, it is estimated to arrive a full month after it’s release date. So that’s a bummer after all the work I did to trade in movies and video games for cash to purchase it. I guess it gives me time to get through a few more actual books from my to read pile.
  • If you think you successfully swatted away a mosquito but your elbow still itches like crazy, check again because the bastard may still be biting you. Repeatedly. Maybe even seven times in that elbow, five times on your arm, four on your hand, and summoning friends to add a dozen or so more to your legs.
  • Cooling spray calamine lotion may be the best invention ever.

Things I’m celebrating this week:

  • Mums. I never used to like them, but they’ve grown on me in the last few years.
  • Productivity.
  • Awareness.
  • Mindful changes based on that awareness.
  • Eye contact.
  • Hugs.
  • NOT mosquitoes. Those little buggers may rot in hell.

Things that are resonating with me:

Because it’s been a while since I’ve written a flecks post, these are bits of wonderful I’ve been collecting over the last few months. Enjoy!

Do Your Habits Bring You Happiness? by Ginny Lennox

You Don’t Need More Talent or Time by Glennon Doyle Melton

On Saying What I Want to Say by Victoria Brouhard

Ending the “I can’t, so I’m going to quit” epidemic by Jennifer Louden

Your turn:

What did you learn this week? What are you celebrating? Leave a comment and I’ll share a “Woohoo!”

 

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My Biggest Lesson from Painting (which is surprisingly universal to life)

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Is there something you have thought about trying, but never did because you thought you didn’t have time, or you didn’t know how to start, or you didn’t have anyone to teach you, or you think you won’t be able to do it anyway, or… whatever millions of reasons you’ve convinced yourself are true?

For me, one of those things was painting. I always liked the idea of painting. I like looking at other people’s painted artwork and seeing how they do it. It was one of those things that I thought I might like to try one day, except I’m not really an artist. I don’t know anything about paints, or drawing for that matter.

Then one day this spring, I found out about a watercolor class being offered to adults in my small town. It was three nights, no experience necessary, supplies included, $30. It was just the opening I needed. It would let me try out this whole painting thing without committing to a long-term class and without spending tons of money.

I talked to my husband and he was willing to take charge of the kids those nights, so on alternating Wednesdays in April and May, armed with a photograph I had taken of cone flowers, I went to the middle school art room.

I went in with a beginner’s mindset, allowing myself to feel whatever I needed to feel – intimidated, overwhelmed, silly – all of it. I didn’t worry about perfection because I knew that would be an impossible goal. If my flowers looked more like flying saucers, then I would just pretend that was what they were. My purpose wasn’t to create a masterpiece, it was simply to try out painting with watercolors.

But a miraculous thing happened. My flowers didn’t look like flying saucers. They looked like flowers.

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That is my first painting. Seriously. Not too shabby, right?

Sure if you look closely, you’ll see tons of blurred, bleeding edges. You’ll see inconsistent colors. But I’m pretty sure you’ll also see flowers and leaves and be able to identify them as such.

When the class was finished and we all parted ways for the last time, I wondered if painting was something I could continue on my own. I bought myself a simple set of watercolor paints, a cheap set of brushes (now that I know, I advise not skimping on brushes- go for the more expensive ones), and a beautiful leather-bound watercolor journal which just happened to be on clearance for $9 (down from $32!).

And for a couple months those materials sat unused.

Toward the end of this summer, I realized fear was holding me back. I didn’t know what I would paint or how I would draw it, so I didn’t bother. I experience the same resistance with writing and I have to consciously decide to write anyway. Eventually I realized I would have to do the same here – paint anyway.

So I pulled up a few online videos about beginner’s watercolor to learn about technique. I drew a few squares in my art journal and practiced blending colors, using more water, using less water, and using different brushes. Along the way I scribbled notes below each one to remind myself what particular combination created each effect.

It was a really good exercise, but at a certain point I needed to try painting a scene again. Since then, I’ve made a few more paintings and I’m really proud of them.

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I’m still holding on to my beginner’s mindset and focusing on enjoying the process of playing with color. I’m still embracing the imperfections because they are a sign that I tried. The fact that they exist means I showed up for painting.

I showed up. I tried. And I keep showing up and keep trying. Because if I show up I might have fun. I might learn something. I might progress. I might also make crap, and so what if I do? I might make something that makes me smile. But I won’t do anything – good or bad – until I show up.

It’s the first (and often biggest) step for anything, don’t you think? What might you show up for this week?

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One of My Favorite Introspective Practices

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Well, I’ve talked about it in passing before, but I’ve decided to finally make the leap: I am now offering card readings.

For more than 15 years I’ve used medicine cards, oracle cards, wisdom cards, and the like to learn more about myself. If I’m feeling confused, lost, or even curious or excited, I often pull a few cards as a way of pulling myself out of my own head and thinking about life in a different way.

It’s a practice that has been calming, enlightening, and sometimes clarifying (especially when I pair it with journaling).

Outside of myself, I have read cards for a few close friends, but haven’t talked about it much outside of what you might call my inner circle.

This summer that changed when I offered a reading to someone I met in an online writing group, someone who lived in a different hemisphere, someone I may never get to meet in real life (though I hope I do!).

Then she told a friend in a completely different country, so I did one for her, too. Then I did a reading for a fellow mom, followed by one for my own mom. And so on.

So now the timing feels right. I’m offering this card reading practice to you.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you are familiar with my card of the day. If that resonates with you, then you might like a personal reading.

Check out the Card Readings page (found in the top menu and also the right sidebar) to see how it works. I hope you will enjoy this as much as I do.

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I’m a Thing Doer… or something

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Last weekend I did a job I’ve never done before. My father-in-law was producing the annual Doo-Wop concert in Bristol, Pennsylvania. I’ve worked this show in years past as his photographer, but haven’t been to the show in the last few years.

This year one of his usual helpers was unable to attend, so he asked me to fill in. My job, he explained, would be to drive the stars from the hospitality building to the stage and back again. So over the course of the day I drove them back and forth a few blocks for soundchecks, then showtime. I was outfitted with a two-way radio and a flashing red light for my truck.

The talent, as my father-in-law calls them, were the Street Corner 5, The Excellents, Charles Thomas and The Drifters (in the photo above with me and my stepson’s friend), Shirley Alston Reeves of The Shirelles, and The Happenings. All are comprised of marvelous people. We talked, we joked, we laughed.

Charlie Thomas greeted me with a hug. Ms. Reeves said, “Thank you, baby.” The Street Corner 5 (an accappella group) sang me two songs while riding in my truck. The Excellents gave me a CD and a signed photo. The Happenings looked for me in the crowd while singing “Sherry Baby” (because, you know, I’m Sherri). See what I mean? Really stellar people.

When all was said and done my father-in-law praised my professionalism and joked that I could add this to my resume.

Which got me thinking.

For all the time I’ve spent over the years trying to affix myself with a nice, neat title – something that tells the world what I do – maybe I’ve been missing the point. Because I don’t do just one thing.

While working with the awesome creative living coach Jamie Ridler several years ago she said, “What if your thing is not a thing, but things… plural?” It felt so messy, so ugh-how-am-I-supposed-to-explain-that-to-anyone.

But here I am…

  • New farm owner (Oh, I haven’t really mentioned this yet, but I will soon. Surprise!)
  • Wife/mother/stepmother
  • Writer
  • Editor
  • Web coach
  • Oracle card reader (I’m adding this offering to the site as soon as I get my Paypal buttons worked out. If you want a reading sooner, send me a message.)
  • Functionality curmudgeon (I like things to work in a way that is useful and simple.)
  • Amateur photographer
  • Home and community gardener
  • Fast typist
  • Watercolor newbie
  • Introspective explorer
  • Self-improvement reader
  • Driver to the stars

That’s probably not a comprehensive list either. It doesn’t take into account that I get all giddy when I see a butterfly, that I used to have a conversational level of sign language that sometimes comes back to me in little bursts, that I can write one heck of an instructional document, that I can make hot chocolate at a perfectly drinkable temperature, or that I most definitely cannot be trusted with glue.

I don’t do just one thing. I do things. I do them well (except glue). So maybe my title could be “thing doer.” Hmmm… still needs work. The problem is that social media almost demands a short and snappy role. LinkedIn wouldn’t accommodate my list above. It’s definitely over the 140-character Twitter limit. Facebook provides just one line to say who you are.

So who am I?

I just don’t know how to label myself on these platforms. I purposely left a title off my business card. “Oh, you need help with a website? Here’s my card.” Or “you want a card reading? Absolutely. Here’s how to reach me.” Or “sure I’ll look over that document. Send it here… .”

How do you put a title on things… plural? Can we have a brainstorm session? What would you suggest? Also, I’m curious how you explain yourself to others. What is your title or elevator pitch or 10-second overview?

By the way, if you want to work with me in any of the ways above, email me at smhutchinswriter at gmail dot com. I’m sure we could work something out. I’m a doer of things, you know.

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Summer Magic

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Hi. One little word. Two letters. The easiest of words to begin with and the only place I can think to start after my long pause from blogging.

As you may recall, toward the end of May I announced that I was taking a short hiatus. Definitely through the end of May. Perhaps into June depending on what felt right. It turns out what felt right was most of the summer.

For a while I pulled away from most social media and websites. During that time I began to remember what it was like to live untethered. Free from checking my phone mindlessly every five minutes. Free from the time-suck that is Pinterest. Ignorant to the mutterings of Facebook, the chatter of Twitter, and all the noise that I previously allowed into my days.

The break was just what I needed. And as I slowly returned to certain platforms, I did so mindfully. Careful not to allow it to take over. I found where my interests and my limits were. I learned that I love Instagram for its simple visual stories. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

As for real life, it’s been busy as it often is. Baseball tournaments, visits from friends, my best friend’s wedding, and significant progress on potential next steps.

Summer has been full. Sometimes I think too full. Often in the moment when things feel unnecessarily troublesome or time consuming. But when I look back I feel happy about it. Something about memory hides the stress and puts a shiny glow on everything.

When I sat down at my computer this morning, I had no idea I would write a blog post. In fact, I thought I’d probably wait until September to jump back in. In this moment, however, the time feels right.

And as I’ve written this from my kitchen table, I’ve watched a family of deer meander through my backyard and a hummingbird hover above a feeder that needs to be filled. Everyday magic is all around.

Below is a glimpse of just some of the magic I experienced this summer. How has your summer been? What magic have you found?

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Sara's wedding - Sherri and Sara
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