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Journaling

This is the third post in a three part series of year-end reflections.

Growth (in community)

Our family belongs to several communities. We are part of a homeschool co-op on the West Island of Montreal. For those unfamiliar with the area, this is essentially a different town from us. And for our family to participate in that community we must drive, schedule, make arrangements, leave where we actually live and travel to a different place.

But that community is part of our village, committed to helping each other raise and educate our children. It is such a supportive and talented group of families. What we are able to accomplish as a group, and provide for our children, is much bigger than what each of our families could do on our own. And that is the strength of a collective. But to build such a community takes effort. And when you live in a different town, it takes extra effort.

We belong to our actual neighborhood, and we love this neighborhood. We love the city. We have neighbors who share our walls and fences. Neighbors for whom I am building a backyard garden to bring beauty into all our lives. Neighbors who shop at the same hardware store and grocery store we frequent. These neighbors are predominantly francophone and this is a barrier (for me and the kids especially) to building deeper relationships with these people. But it is a barrier that I desperately want to move past, as my heart's desire is to cultivate friendships across fences, to get to know the people in our building and neighborhood.

And we belong to a church community. Our church community is the people we gather with on Sunday mornings and throughout the week to share our lives together. We've got the Sunday morning thing down, but getting together with people throughout the week is trickier for us with our West Island commitment taking us out of the city and into a different town a couple times a week. We can't do everything and Damien and I are careful that our family builds boundaries in our relationships with each other and our relationships within communities, so we keep healthy: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And yet, we feel the tug for more connection, more shared life with our church community.

This has always been our heart's desire. That we would share life with people, not just a religion, or a way of believing, but the activities of our days. We do this as a family of five and the church, the body of Christ, is a family. And we have always been drawn into growing deeper community in the church.

We live in a tension. The desire for more connection and community and the busyness of our lives. And we are always wanting to integrate these two.

My last post was about words, my word for 2017 is Release and one of things I want to be released into is more hospitality, more community building.

We are five, we are a community unto ourselves, and amongst our five we must balance engagement and rest, giving and receiving. And we five then fit into these other communities and we must balance our engagement as one unit within those communities, while still balancing our engagements with each other!

I (and we) want to be a house of hospitality but this has to unfold in a way that will work for our family and work for me. I don't particularly like cooking these days (these days being the last few years). I feel out-of-sync in that realm. Our family differs on how each of us wants to eat and our values around food have shifted. Feeding other people feels complicated to me. I don't feel freedom, I feel stress. And this is not the emotion from which I want to give. Also, I have very real energy limits in my life. Physical, emotional and spiritual needs for rest. I have a full-time job.

I don't know how this will work itself out in our lives, in our year. But like with calling and vocation, I'm not trying to figure out the big, grand picture I'm following the breadcrumb trail of curiosity, step by step by step. There are barriers: time, language, finances, physical space (our dining room table "comfortably" seats 4, yes, we are 5), I'd rather make soap, organize, or pay bills than cook, etc. etc. but I don't have to have that all figured out. I just need to be willing to take the step that is right in front of me, listen for the Spirit, and give from what has been given to me. (And no, I don't know exactly what that looks like.)

This is an area I am seeking to find release into this coming year.

Bullet Journal (for the journey)

Last spring I started a series on how I manage ideas, and my last, and still unpublished post in that series is about using a bullet journal. This is not that post, it's just a brief overview of how this type of journaling system helps me reflect from day to day and month to month, a tool to help me notice and pay attention to what my life is teaching me.

I started using a Bullet Journal at the beginning of 2016. A bullet journal can be whatever kind of planning, recording system you want it to be. A bullet journal is really just a system of keeping a journal, and what you keep in that journal is completely up to you.

(This time of year there is a ton of buzz on these journals.)

I spent months researching bullet journals trying to figure out if it would work for me, and I had a rough idea going into it how I might set things up. But what I did not anticipate is how many spiritual ideas and personal reflections I would keep in this journal.

In the past I've always kept my day planner separate from personal journals. I'm not sure how it evolved into this but in 2016 the planning and the personal merged together. And I like it. It also means I'd be devastated if I lost this book, as I would lose more than just the to-do list but the written record of my inner life through the year.

What is great about the bullet journal concept is that you can weave these two together really well. There's nothing limiting you in a bullet journal. There is no calendar or weekly template you must follow and fill, preventing you from chronicling personal thoughts right alongside the week's tasks.

For me, it seems that using a bullet journal has allowed me to see with more clarity the connection between my growth (the struggle and triumphs) and my responsibilities, tasks, to-do's that facilitate that growth.

I love looking back through this journal, pages thick with writing, key themes and lessons underlined in my seasonal-colored gel pens; week after week the doings of family, home and community life recorded; lists with boxes checked, and pages of plans gone awry; a record of the kids temperatures during our sick season; mantras and truth underlined and starred: this is not going to take me down, the spirit of God lives in me, the world does not have what you seek, it's an inside job, God's got this, and when you only have the energy for one thing: live like you are loved (and so many more); lists of things I'm grateful for; travel logs from our summer trip; pages of frustrated and angry words, sometimes stained with my tears; sketches to communicate where words fail; Examen notes and thoughts quickly written after morning meditation; sermon notes and schedules; a list of blog posts I didn't write and others that I did, etc.

Keeping this kind of journal (you can call it whatever you like but I first learned how to index and organize such disparate ideas under the bullet journal banner so I call it that) has been a helpful tool for gathering the messy parts of my life into a cohesive whole. It helps me secure the perimeter, to gather everything together and make sense of it. And it breaks down the barriers between sacred and profane, because for me that's a false dichotomy.

Every single part of my life is infused by the Spirit, if I open myself to that possibility. The Spirit carries me, works through me, corrects and admonishes me (when my pride doesn't get in the way, which it often does). The Spirit is always present, always moving, always working. And this journal is record of that movement through this past year.

Where do you see yourself growing this coming year? Do you feel scared or excited about that?

Do you use a bullet journal or something similar? What tools do you use to make connections between the day-to-day details and big picture growth?

This post is the first in a six part series about vocation, marriage, and work.

Here are the follow-up posts;

  • Build up to the Breaking The path we were on started breaking down for us on the trail and completely imploded late fall 2014. I call it The Breaking.
  • Following as a sure thing It was the perfect storm of circumstance, choices we made, personality traits, deeply ingrained beliefs, and unconscious motivations.
  • Glossary of terms I've been working at these definitions because I like clarity and well-defined ideas but also to help me understand where I fit in the world of income-earning jobs, careers, and vocations.
  • Searching for vision in my vocation I didn't have a clear vision but maybe vision is overrated, and it was more important to just "do stuff", or maybe I would find one through bumbling around.
  • Doing the next Big Thing The path for me, in this particular season, is to walk in the confidence of who I am and whose I am, even though I don't have a Big Vision for my post-homeschooling vocation.

In this series I pull in quite a few quotes and I just wanted to say something about those before I begin.

I quote a lot from The Wisdom of The Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. This book has been a foundational tool for me in making sense of myself and the last few years of my life: why I did what I did, why it didn't yield the results I had hoped for, and most importantly, the path to healing.

As I got to the end of writing this series I rediscovered Marge sitting on the shelf. Marge is the name written on the cover of the black journal I started using a few years ago as a Commonplace Book, a place to write quotes from books I was reading (and more recently from podcasts I listen to), and my thoughts in response to the author's writing. I found the journal as a freebie somewhere, I don't remember now, and I assume it once belonged to a woman named Marge. The journal was blank, never used. I like that my book of quotes and responses to my reading has a name. I currently do a lot of digital quote captures and note-taking, but I have yet to find a system that really works for me. I'm open to suggestions.

Finding Marge was serendipitous as she contained words I'd written, very applicable to this series, during some of the storms of the past few years and to find them again was finding forgotten treasure.


Right now I'm reading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. This the fourth time I've borrowed it from the library and I hope to finish it this time around. I don't know why it's taken me so long to finish the book. Theoretically, it's an easy read at 100 pages, but I'm taking my time with the ideas.

I keep coming back to this book because I have a small obsession with understanding the definition of work and vocation and finding clarity around this in my own life.

It's been a solid eight years now (maybe ten, it's hard to nail down exactly when it started) that I've been trying to define and understand (in no particular order): work, vocation, calling, dreams, goals, career, income-earning, values, and mission. I don't want to just name a mission, a career, dreams or vocation for my life. I want to have a clear understanding of how I define that term to begin with. What is a vocation? What is mine? What is a calling? What is mine? What is work? What is mine?

During this time I've been drawn to books and blogs that provide vision and language for our modern wrestling with these ideas. So many catchphrases: "meaningful work", "intentional living", "dream big", etc. have swirled through the zeitgeist of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And my desire for clarity is as much a response to our times as it is to some internal drive.

I want to distill these ideas down to concepts I understand and can apply to my life. This isn't merely academic, this is intensely practical for me, and personal.

How I define these concepts may be different than other people's definitions, and of course how I live them will be a unique, individual expression, so they are personal. But my understanding and application of work, vocation, mission, etc. inform what my marriage looks like and vice versa. My marriage to Damien influences every aspect of my life, every aspect of my being. Our beliefs and behaviors, as a couple, around work, career, and income-earning are foundational principles in our marriage, working in tandem with our values and actions on raising and educating our kids. It's like one of those balls made of rubber bands, it's all wrapped up together.

These are the Big Things in our life and when we got married twenty years ago we had certain assumptions, expectations, dreams and goals around the ideas of work and vocation.

When we married, our goal was to raise and home-educate our kids, to live on one income earned by Damien until the time I was able to enter the work force.

Not all couples want this kind of partnership. Some want a more shared income-earning relationship. However, there are many who have this desire but find it difficult to achieve in our economic times or in their unique situation. And this speaks nothing for the abject poverty in many areas of the world that precludes this option all together.

Our ability to make good on our goal, to achieve the dream of living on one income, was possible in large part because we started from a place of privilege and grace; both of us being raised by parents who modeled the love, sacrifice, and hard work that goes into marriage and raising children, both of us living in a time and place in which we were well fed, well loved, and well educated. We are not wealthy by North American standards but the truth is, we got a good start in life, through no action of our own.

And this good start in life set our feet on a good path for marriage and family life, contributing in huge measure to the success of our goals. Along the way we were spared disabling injuries and other unforeseeable changes that would have necessitated a change of course from our original plan in raising and providing for our family. Shit happens, and in retrospect, I recognize very little of it has happened to us.

We had a plan. We married and created a family. I stayed home to raise the kids. Damien worked to support us. And then life and living took us on paths we couldn't have imagined.

And as much as we like to believe that we independently steer our ship, the work ethics and values of Generation X and the Millennials has greatly influenced our trajectory.

We grew up into adulthood, through our twenties and early thirties, with the boom of the internet and All The Possibilites! The messages of our era and the advances in technology stirred our imaginations in ways we could not have anticipated when we got married (and we didn't even own a computer); and our increasing self-awareness with experience and age shifted our thinking with regards to the work we wanted to do and the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves.

I felt the first stirrings that I might consider working from home, while homeschooling our children, when I discovered the world of mommy bloggers, approximately nine years ago. It was the first work-at-home idea I'd seen that actually appealed to me. Slowly I moved in the direction of working online, via blogging, while at the same time Damien had a strong desire to become self-employed, explore ideas, and build diverse means of income.

We became open to modifications, adaptations, and evolutions of the original plan that my work would be to homeschool the kids and cultivate a home environment that supported our individual and familial wellbeing and Damien's work would be to earn the income that financially provided for this endeavor.

And so we decided to make a leap, to see what we could do with possibilites available to us by virtue of our skill set, experiences, values, and the internet. We moved to a relatively inexpensive and remote place where we could test our income-earning ideas and fulfill our quest to live in a beautiful place. We became self-employed in location-independent work, and were working together to build an online business. (In case you're wondering why we had to move fulfil these goals, read this post.)

By this point I had built a blog, started to identify as a writer, and had ideas for income-earning projects I could launch from that platform.

These were small projects, small ideas, not a grand vision. And I was unsettled that I didn't have a grand vision. The Big Goal. The Big Dream for my work as a writer. We were now living what was once a big goal - to raise our family a certain way; and what was once a big dream - to re-boot our life to align more with our values. It was a time of possibilities but I hadn't yet defined the next big goal for myself.

Damien is a big idea person, he generates many ideas and lots of them seem audacious to me. One of his goals in becoming self-employed was to make some of his ideas reality. He's not afraid of hard work, he just wants to work hard at his own vision, or a vision he identifies with. And we thought "wouldn't it be great if we were both working hard at the same thing?" If our work brought our worlds closer together instead of having separate domains.

When we moved in 2011 we positioned ourselves to both work at home, sharing the domains that had previously been each other's exclusive territory up until that point. And we wanted to build something together. Unfortunately, the "something" was never a well-defined idea in my mind, a working relationship? a business? a product?

We had skills, experience, an online presence; we had interests, dreams and goals and we wanted to integrate this all together. And as we endeavored to "bring it all together" as a means of supporting our family we learned some very important things about ourselves. Which is code for we went through difficulties.

We had successes along the way, I'm very proud of our achievements and projects. And I don't regret the journey or the difficult things we went through because of what we've learned through the process. But we couldn't continue on the path we were because it was hurting our relationship, not helping it, not drawing us closer the way we intended.

The path we were on started breaking down for us on the trail and completely imploded late fall 2014. I call it The Breaking.

To be continued...

PS. if you want to go back and read any of the links I've mentioned in this post, I personally feel the that last one is the most compelling (and the photos are pretty stunning also). And will pretty much set the stage for what's coming next.

Damien and I went backpacking this past weekend in the Adirondacks. This was the first backpacking trip we have taken since the we hiked the Appalachian Trail (for 6 months) and it was our first trip alone, without the children.

I loved it. I loved the trail, the mountains (though the trails straight up the mountains were a bit brutal). I loved waking up on Sunday morning to a frosty wonderland. I loved being with my husband in the outdoors. In all our years and many miles of backpacking, this felt to me like our best outing ever. This was our first trip with our 20th Anniversary fund I mentioned in this post and I am already anticipating November's adventure together.

Our three day trip, you can read my trail journal here, was the perfect way to transition to fall. We had some rainy weather, some frost, but also crisp blue skies and the glory of autumn foliage. It was amazing.

The turning of the season is an important marker for me. During the threshold from one time of year to another I like to think about the coming months and plan accordingly. I function best when I align my daily/weekly/monthly actions and expectations with seasonal rhythms. I feel disingenuous, inconsistent and just "off" when the pace of my life, my cycles of productivity and rest, and the direction of my inner compass doesn't correspond with these rhythms.

I've had seasons in my life where my cycles of productivity and rest did not align with my body's natural seasonal rhythms. Mid-winter seasons that required "high energy", or times when I set myself up to do certain projects without taking into account the limitations and opportunities of the season. "Make hay while the sun shines" is a cliche for a reason, it makes a whole lot of sense. These occasions when I have felt out of sync with the season have been really instructive for me and taught me the importance of honoring my natural rhythms throughout the year.

Sometimes we come to know and recognize what really works for us by bumping up against things that really don't work for us.

There are so many creative ways, big and small, that people celebrate and honor seasons. The home decor, greeting card, and craft industries, not to mention coffee shops with their pumpkin lattes, are kept alive by the natural desire we have to form rituals and routines around seasonal changes.

Over the years I've explored all kinds of decorative, creative, and crafty expressions of the seasons in our home. As a wanna-be-minimalist I don't do much with seasonal decorating anymore, though I love sprays, wreaths, and bouquets of spring pussy willows, summer flowers, autumn pumpkins and winter bittersweet. And I adore seasonal handmade, non-kitschy textiles - quilts, needle felting, stitching. I just don't make any of that myself and have limited space to store and display such beauty.

Photography (and online publishing of those photos) and gardening largely fill the need to creatively and visually express the seasons in a way that is more suited to my overall values and aesthetic than mass-produced, store-bought decor.

But honoring the seasons is so much more than creative and visual expression, it's more than mums and hay bales in autumn and potted pansies in spring. Seasonal living influences the type of outdoor activities I do and the foods I prepare for my family. Seasonal living is about recognizing the changes in my energy levels and changes in productivity, and being ok with that. Over the years I have become better at giving myself permission to go with the flow in this area and to honor my internal compass.

Embracing the seasons is partially a mindset, choosing to view my circumstances through a certain lens or shift in perspective. But it is also action-orientated, becoming conscious and intentional about what I plan for and commit to during different seasons, both life seasons and calendar seasons.

This is one of the chief ways I feel disconnected and out of place in the world-at-large, because so many systems operate on aseasonal rhythms. (I looked it up, it's a real world.) And yet I've come to depend on that for my survival and comfort. I'm complicit in that system, so I can't be all "nose up in the air" about it now, can I?

One of the things I am most drawn to in the modern homesteading movement, and more generally, the simple living philosophy, is the return to and the emphasis on seasons. This is also why I love the Waldorf education philosophy.

My urban Montreal life isn't a homesteading reality. And I don't think the large garden, canning, cheese-making, hunting and raising animals, fill-in-all-the-blanks, is anywhere in my future. I'm inspired by those things, but I don't aspire to do them, and I don't think I need to in order to live seasonally.

Sometimes very simple things, creative projects and intentional actions can help point your inner compass to align with nature and the season.

In a four seasons culture like Canada, people do this all the time as a necessity (regardless of their inner compass). Changing our wardrobe from summer to winter, reorganizing the mudroom and closets to hold boots and parkas, switching out swimsuits and beach towels for sweaters and toques.

This year I've been using a very simple tool to mark the change in seasons. It's something fun and light-hearted, doesn't require a lot of storage space, and is extremely practical for me.

I'm using colored gel pens in my journal.

This is my first year of bullet journaling, and I love it. I've started to write about using a bullet journal, but haven't finished that series.

I use my journal for managing my weekly calendar and daily to-do's, but I also use it as a place for spiritual growth field notes, creative inspiration, and keeper of other good ideas.

I've been using gel pens to draw attention to spiritual insights I've written, to focus my attention on the truths on which I want to meditate. I also like to highlight special days and events, and since March I've been writing brief monthly summaries and I use the gel pens to highlight the dominant words or themes from those summaries.

I've never kept this type of journal before. The Bullet Journal concept gave me an organizing tool that helps me bring together my to-do lists, monthly summaries, planning pages, conversations with God (prayers), spiritual reflections etc. I love the integration of all these.

I'm using seasonally-colored gel pens in my journal and I'm also making "inspiration" pages for each season. This started back in January, when I created my winter wellness plan, as part of Heather's Hibernate course. (I credit Heather with helping me to honor and celebrate my seasonal tendencies. Her blog and her courses, which bring together a community of likeminded women around excellent teaching, have affirmed this aspect of my being, and helped me to grow in my confidence as I set personal boundaries and make plans for each season.)


I don't like the blue tinge to these printed photos

This past winter I printed the photo collages from my winter wellness plan, paired it with a Zentangle I completed last December and ta-da, a inspiration page for the season was created. And having made one for winter I decided to follow-through for each season of the year: winter (January-March), spring (April-June), summer (July-September), fall (October-November) and holidays (December). Yep, five seasons in my year. In my life, in my home, in my internal landscape, late November through December is a season unto itself.

Each seasonal inspiration page in my journal is different but the colors, images, text etc. are inspired by the theme for that season, and the colors I've chosen to represent that theme.

Here are the colors I chose for this year. And the themes I wanted those colors to represent.

Winter:

  • colors: icy blue & sparkling (champagne) orange
  • essence: sparkly, crystalline, warm, golden
  • a time to rest in the warmth and feel invigorated in the brisk air

Spring:

  • colors: lime/celery green & lilac purple
  • essence: fresh, pretty, clean
  • a time for hope, renewal, a fresh start

Summer:

  • colors: raspberry red, sunset/calendula orange, dark purple highlight
  • essence: juicy, vibrant, lush
  • a time of high energy, growth, bold colors, bold living

Fall:

  • colors: goldenrod/sunflower yellow, chestnut brown, blue highlight
  • essence: golden, gathering, readying
  • a time to get ready for winter, to gather in and around

Holiday:

  • red, star-studded midnight blue, candle light yellow
  • essence: contemplative, saturnalia
  • a time for both merry-making and drawing in

I haven't yet created my fall inspiration page, I would like to do a "vining" type drawing. I see orange, pumpkins, goldenrod, brown leaves, a cornucopia of the fall harvest. It's all in my head and I wish I was a better artist to get it onto paper. Maybe I can do something with Zentangle drawing techniques. We'll see. It's a fun creative project to think about and execute.


winter color themed Zentangle

I wasn't able to find the exact color of gel pens I wanted for each season, I've made due with what I've found. I haven't owned any gel pens before this project so it's been fun to buy two new pens at the threshold of each season.

Last Monday I bought my fall pens, I couldn't get the brown I wanted, but the two colors I picked are a nice combination regardless. And my summer pen combination was not what I originally planned for either. I switched out the orange when I realized it would look like repeat of winter, so I went with a strawberry pink (Sakura Metallic) and a gold tinged purple (Sakura Gold Shadow).

My goal with the gel pens was to have different colors for each season even though I feel green could be used to represent all seasons, but then again the same is true for red, yellow and blue.

Anyway, it's not about picking the perfect color, it's about enjoying a creative expression of each season. And recognizing, in simple and pretty ways, that each season has a different energy for me, a different vibe. And sometimes they seem to contradict each other: merry-making and contemplation, for example. But these are true expressions for how I experience the different seasons, for how I experience the change in light, change in temperature, change in energy, change in focus.

My focus this fall is to gather the supplies to support our physical wellbeing through winter, to continue my preparations for cold and flu. To gather in around learning and learning routines, to adjust once again to the co-op schedule. To gather supplies and make body care products, a perfect November activity. And to ready ourselves for winter fun, saving for a ski pass and searching for used skates.

I will have to do things that don't align with my seasonal rhythms, that's life. But having an expectation for the season, an intention based on inner knowing and past experience, points me in the direction I want to go.

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