Posts Tagged ‘strength’

tulips red back bay garden

Give me a garden full of strong, healthy creatures, able to stand roughness and cold without dismally giving in and dying. I never could see that delicacy of constitution is pretty, either in plants or women.

—Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden

I was searching last week for that von Arnim quote on tulips, because it is tulip season in the Public Garden and I agree with von Arnim: they are my favorite. While double-checking that quote, I came across these lines, and was immediately struck by them: yes.

I love looking at the graceful potted orchids at my florist’s shop, but as Anne Shirley has said, I want flowers I can live with. Instead of sensitive hothouse orchids, give me this:

crocuses rock light flowerbed

Give me the crocuses, pushing their purple and golden spears up through the snow at the end of winter. Give me the daffodils, slender but steely, dollops of bright gold against crusted snowbanks and worn-out winter dirt. Give me the lipstick-pink tulip magnolias, petals winging their way off the ends of their branches like butterflies, and the blush-pink apple and cherry blossoms, ruffled and gorgeous even in the rain.

tulip magnolia tree bloom blue sky

Give me the tulips, holding up their vivid cups to sun, rain, brisk spring winds or anything else nature might throw at them. Give me the lilacs, budding even now as the nights persist chilly, and the shock of yellow forsythia, and the shy, trailing hellebores in cream and mauve and green. Give me the blue scilla dotting the ground, the blaze of azaleas and rhododendrons, the wild violets showing their faces here and there along the river trail.

scilla flowers blue

Give me, too, friends of stalwart courage and fighter hearts, those who don’t run away when life gets messy or tough or complicated. Give me a band of strong women who will bolster me up, and accept my help when it’s my turn to do the same. And give me a lion heart so I don’t fail those same friends, a fierce resolve and bold kindness to stand with them and for them, and for myself, when I need it.


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neponset dusk moon

i want stars, strength, and balance in my soul
it’s been a while since they were last
together in me


Unnahar is a Pakistani poet and artist. I picked up her collection, yesterday i was the moon, at Three Lives & Co. in the West Village this summer. (I love to go in there to browse and eavesdrop on the booksellers, and I usually walk out with a poetry collection or a novel.) I’ve been reading it slowly, and this is one of the poems that spoke to me.

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tea journal window cafe

Recently, the lovely and wise Jen Lee wrote about her prescription for strength, sharing a few details of her self-care routine and noting broader principles for tending to your own strength. That post came in the middle of a grey week, where I was feeling stretched thin, trying to do too much and growing frustrated when I ended up tired and frazzled.

I circle back to this theme of self-care every so often, devising recharge programs and lifesavers for myself, musing on the importance of taking care and moving toward balance when life goes off-kilter. My lists tend to include a mix of little treats (new books, chai lattes, hours with favorite movies or good friends) and old-fashioned nourishment (steaming bowls of soup, fresh fruit, hot showers, getting extra sleep). And as arsenals of mood-boosters and sanity restoratives, they play a vital role.

But I like Jen’s idea of operating from a place of strength, of knowing what you need for your physical and emotional health and then making that a consistent practice, even if taking care of yourself feels effortful, or complicated. We all know instinctively what we need to feel well and whole, but we don’t always think about it, or consciously put it into practice. This isn’t self-indulgence (though a little of that is called for every now and again). This is necessary care, especially since most of us are the primary caretakers of our own bodies and souls.

ballet flats yellow leaves fall autumn

The practices that nourish me and shore me up include the following:

1. Come prepared. Check the weather forecast; bring an extra book; pack snacks (or an umbrella or a cardigan – whatever will likely be needed); keep teabags handy. I feel so much less frazzled when I take time to prepare, even just for the day.

2. Wear good shoes. Living, working and walking in a city, I notice a difference when I wear quality shoes that support my feet.

3. Make time for tea. This ritual warms, comforts and relaxes me; clears my head and prepares me to deal with the world; and yes, provides much-needed caffeine on many mornings.

4. Get enough sleep. I am a night owl by nature, and I hold a 9-to-5 job with a commute. This one is tough, but I am making an effort.

5. Spend time in community. Not just the virtual kind (though I love it and am grateful for it), but the real, face-to-face kind.

6. Make time to journal regularly. When I am edgy or off-kilter, J will ask, “Have you been writing?” The answer is usually no, and it means I need to get back to the page, even if it’s just to rant for 10 minutes. I learn this lesson over and over.

7. Cook nourishing meals, and accept the necessity of takeout sometimes. These are different sides of the same coin. But they are both ways of paying attention to my body and accepting the realities of my schedule. J and I cook dinner together and eat at the table whenever possible, which grounds and relaxes us – but we also know the value of a meal out when needed.

8. Surround myself with good words. Books, blogs, a handful of my favorite magazines: wise, thoughtful, witty and engaging words are the air I breathe.

9. Get outside. Even when it’s freezing, fresh air blows the fog out of my soul – especially in the middle of the workday.

How do you nourish yourself and keep your reserves filled? I’d love to hear your prescription for strength.

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