Posts Tagged ‘time’


From the ground up and the sky down, then, that set of school weeks stands in my memory as one of the strangest of seasons. Long, indeterminate days, as though each one was stretched by the wind blowing through it, yet not nearly enough time to follow everything.

—Ivan Doig, The Whistling Season

I came across this passage in Doig’s wry, witty novel of life on the Montana prairie, which I read and loved recently. His narrator, Paul, is talking about an odd winter/spring season, but I thought it could apply to quarantine just as well. Time seems to be moving differently these days; some hours and days feel very long, yet I look up and it’s Wednesday or (insert day here) again.

Does it feel to you like time is moving differently, in this strange season?


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crocuses rock light flowerbed

It begins with the snowdrops: shy and white, pushing their way through the frozen ground when the snow melts just enough to let them through. Then the crocuses – those tiny, fierce fighters, deep purple and lavender and sometimes bright gold.

yellow crocuses open

The forsythia come next – “fountains of pale gold,” as L.M. Montgomery wrote – then the daffodils, slender green stems lit like candles at the ends. The hellebores arrive around the same time, creamy white petals giving way to earthy green. Then the hyacinths and scilla, carpeting the still-bare ground with blue and pink and white.

scilla flowers blue

The green stems of tulips start to uncurl, and they bob their vivid heads in flowerbeds and gardens. At nearly the same time, the magnolias unfurl their lipstick-pink buds, and the lilacs appear, filling the air with their delicate scent. The lilies of the valley hide under their broad green leaves, till suddenly – seemingly all at once – the tiny bells burst forth.

lily of the valley flowers

For several years now, I’ve been marking time by flowers here in Cambridge.

It’s both a reliable pleasure and an unexpected delight: every winter I start watching, paying particular attention to a few spots I know well. The air smells like snow and then damp earth and, eventually, the tang of mulch; the trees fuzz over with buds and then leaf out seemingly overnight. Every year I wonder if it will really happen again. And every year, somehow, it does.

red white striped tulips

The season unfolds in a slightly different rhythm at my beloved florist’s shop: amaryllis and anemones, daffodils and ranunculus, buckets of vivid tulips and early peonies. The lilies and sunflowers have already appeared there, though they’re not blooming in the flowerbeds yet. And this year, I’ve been growing flowers in my kitchen: first paperwhites, then geraniums.

wisteria light

Outside, right now, there are wisteria and columbines, the last of the cherry blossoms and dogwoods, the first spikes of tall purple iris. I’ve spotted a couple of budding yellow roses. And all my friends who garden seem to be on peony watch, according to Instagram.

There are many ways to mark time, of course: the alarm clock, the calendar with its dates and boxes, the annual rhythm of the academic year. We are heading into summer, which means the slow season for classes and events, though some things never stop entirely. But as we wrap up another semester, the outdoors is bursting into glorious green life: bellflowers and dandelions, azaleas and wild geraniums, rhododendrons and violets and so many others I can’t name.


It’s almost too much, this abundance, after months of barren brown earth and bare branches. My eyes can hardly take it in; my soul feels sated, full of color, and at the same time it craves more. It is both ephemeral and lasting, this pageant of color and light: it changes daily, weekly, but it makes a living tapestry that endures.

pink azalea flowers

By now it’s a rhythm that lives deep in my body, my fingers thrumming with the awareness of new life, new growth. It is at once a universal and a particular kind of glory: it happens every spring, but it’s still a wonder.

Soon the calendar will flip to June, and the lilacs will go over, to be replaced by roses and peonies, rhododendron and mountain laurel. I’ll be watching for columbines in every color, for iris in purple and white and gold, for poppies and jasmine and honeysuckle, for other delights I don’t know about yet.

You can’t schedule meetings by flowers, maybe, but I’ll be happily marking time by them, all summer long.

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Last week, my dad sent a group text to my mom, my sister and me, reminding us that it was my grandfather’s birthday. “He loved the three of you very much,” Dad wrote. “I do too.”

I read it and thought about Papaw, a quiet man with kind eyes (pictured above with some of his grandkids in the late ’80s). It seems unbelievable, but he has been gone 16 years now. He died of cancer in the summertime, when I was a high school student, and we drove up to the family farm in southwest Missouri as we did every summer – but this time it was for the funeral.

We gathered with family on a June day at the old farmhouse outside of town where my grandparents raised their three boys. My dad spoke at the funeral and made everyone laugh, telling stories about his childhood and honoring the man who taught his boys to work hard, respect their elders and love one another.

Afterward, we all went back to the farmhouse and I helped my Aunt Carmen, my grandmother’s best friend, clean out the crowded kitchen fridge so we could find room for a dozen deli trays. (I remember us laughing helplessly at outdated jars of mayonnaise and so much sliced cheese, grateful for a moment of lightness amid our grief.)

Even without that text, I would have remembered Papaw this month: he was born on June 2 and later died on June 19, and so this month always reminds me of him.

There are dates that loom large in every life: birthdays, anniversaries, deaths. The births or the funerals of those we love; the days we receive the news that will change our lives, for a moment or forever. As I recently passed the one-year anniversary of my layoff, I’ve been thinking about the smaller anniversaries that also mark us.

I got laid off on the day before my husband’s birthday, which also happens to be the same day he proposed, nine years ago now (we’ve been married for nearly eight). There are other dates I don’t have to mark on a calendar to remember: the August night I got the phone call about my friend Cheryl’s death; the long-ago spring evening I got baptized in the little Baptist church in Coppell. And the night we arrived in Boston, grubby and tired from four days of driving cross-country but still eager to begin a new adventure.

I’ve written before about how my body also seems to remember certain places at certain times of year: the mountains of New Mexico in mid-May, windswept Whitby in February, Oxford at many times and seasons. Time and calendars may be relatively recent human inventions, but I believe our bodies and souls hold these memories, nudge us to remember these anniversaries. It is part of being human, this bittersweet ribbon of memory, the way we are marked by both grief and joy.

I miss Papaw even though he’s been gone a long time: I wish he could have met my husband and my sister’s husband, attended our weddings and our graduations, gotten down on the floor to play with his great-grandsons. He would have loved it, all of it. But I am grateful for him and his memory, and for the quiet reminder in my soul (and, okay, from my dad) every June: a nudge to remember.

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Marking time

winter trees boston pink sunset

Last week, as I do every year, I bought two wall calendars: an artsy, colorful one for my office, and a cute Peanuts one for our kitchen. My search bypassed dozens of chic, expensively letterpressed calendars, whose designs shunted the number grid to the side, or relegated it to a single line of numerals. Charming, perhaps, but only half-functional. I need a calendar I can write on.

For most of my childhood, my mom bought a wall calendar each year, often waiting until after Christmas when the calendars went on sale. She hung it on the inside of the pantry door, marking birthdays, appointments, school events, upcoming trips in her neat cursive. Anyone needing to know what day it was, or what was coming up, could open the door and see it: the hidden, but vital, nucleus of the way our family kept time.

When my sister and I were old enough, we got to pick out our own calendars every year. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, non-smudgy ballpoint pen in hand, flipping through the year and writing down birthdays. Mom first, in the last week of January. My sister, ten days after Mom. A grandmother, an aunt, a cousin or two. Dad’s birthday in August, and mine in the middle of September, followed by my grandfather, nine days later.

Imitating Mom, we thumbtacked our calendars to the inside of our closet doors, scribbling down our own reminders. As the years went on, I added the birthdays of my best friends: Jon, Adam, Mike, Shannon. Brittany, Lina, Stephen, Kate. I still remember all their birthdays.

I’m not much good at keeping up a planner, though every few months I try again in a burst of organizational intention. And I know life isn’t a calendar, as Jenna recently remarked. Some progress is measured in cycles, some in fits and starts, some in steps like a dance, which don’t “take” you anywhere but which mark time nevertheless. I usually choose a word for the year and I often make some resolutions, but it doesn’t mean the days are entirely linear, nor would I want them to be.

But I do rely on my two wall calendars. They hang quietly above my desk and above my kitchen counter, twin steady heartbeats, marking the progression of days and weeks and months, which somehow add up to years much faster than they used to. They give me a visual glance at the whole month, glimpses of what’s behind, what is here now, what’s ahead.

I mark time with my wristwatch, the clock on my computer, the progress of the sun in the sliver of sky outside my office window. My church observes seasons with still-new names: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost. My senses take in the progress of sunshine and dusk, fallen leaves and snow crunching underfoot, tender new grass and full-blown summer flowers. I mark time with my closet, my meals, in the pages of my journal.

These stacks of paper, printed with numbers, are only one way of keeping time. And yet the old ritual anchors me, turning over a new page each month. A grid of fresh white space, vibrating with possibilities, sprinkled with a few reminders or events to look forward to. I don’t try to write everything down; I know I can’t. Most of what happens will fill itself in.

Do you keep a calendar or a planner? How do you mark time?

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For many years, it seemed to me that my favorite literary heroines inhabited their own universes, hardly ever running into real (read: historical) people, and only touching actual events peripherally. The American Girls books were carefully set in decades that didn’t quite touch each other (I always found it amusing that they all began in years ending with “4”), and though I adored Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, Molly and Addy, it was highly unlikely that they’d ever cross paths, or even have been alive at the same time.

Some of the heroines I loved, like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne Shirley, were such sacred figures to me – such larger-than-life girls who were the center of their own universes – that I could never think of them together (though Laura and Anne were born around the same time and lived through many of the same world events). They simply lived in different worlds, bounded by different families, life stories and writing styles. And some characters’ place in history is rather vague – Nancy Drew, for example, has shifted back and forth in time over the years, and the Baby-Sitters Club girls, though resolutely contemporary, seemed to live in a sort of bubble in small-town Connecticut.

More recently, I’ve tried to mentally piece together a sort of timeline of heroines’ lives – and it blows my mind, frankly. Even if the stories are similar, it’s still difficult to think of Rilla Blythe as being just seven years younger than Betsy Ray – they were both young women at the time of the First World War, though Betsy was already married and Rilla was just a teenager. And across the ocean, Maisie Dobbs was serving as a nurse in France at the same time, while the women of Downton Abbey (I’m loving season 2 so far!) were learning that the war would change their lives forever.

I’ve read rather a lot of World War II fiction, since it looms large in the American consciousness, and it’s a little easier for me to connect Annemarie of Number the Stars to Patty Bergen of Summer of My German Soldier to Frankie Bard of The Postmistress and even Juliet of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But still it seems that they all inhabit their own universes – touched, perhaps, by the same earthshaking events (which in turn have affected my own life, decades later). But mostly they still seem to live on parallel tracks, with no knowledge of one another.

Do you ever try to piece together a timeline of heroines, or think about how some characters lived differently (or similarly!) in the same period or decade? Does your reading of a book from a certain time period inform your understanding of other books from that era? Or does this just happen to me?

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I’m taking a writing class at Grub Street right now – each Monday night, a group of us gather around a table, to talk shop about writing and share bits of our projects in progress with each other. During this week’s pre-class chitchat, I happened to mention this blog, and one of my classmates asked, “How do you find the time to blog?”

I get this a lot, actually. “How do you find the time to knit?” “How do you find the time to journal?” “How do you find the time to do freelance work, in addition to a full-time job?” “How do you find the time to cook?” And most frequently, “How do you find the time to read so many books?”

I think the answer is simpler than it first appears. Yes, we all have constraints on our time: we need sleep and food; we have day jobs and commutes and spouses/children/friends; other commitments request or demand our attention. But we all find the time to do what we love.

My dad finds the time to play golf at least twice a week, though no one could accuse him of neglecting his family or his work. My husband finds the time to play guitar, and has even begun bringing it along to some of his therapy sessions with musically inclined teenagers. Val finds the time to run a movie club. Annie finds the time to write songs. Amanda finds the time to run an orphanage. Julie finds the time to take photos and sketch. Melynda finds the time to knit and design new patterns.

Being busy is a common excuse in our overscheduled world – and I know a lot of people have more on their plates than I do. But often “I don’t have time” is a false way of saying “I don’t want to make the time.” Because if it’s vital to the well-being of your body or your soul, chances are you’ll find the time. Or make the time.

So there’s my answer: I make the time to blog. I do it because it provides discipline, a kick-in-the-pants deadline, a community of wonderful readers, a place for me to try out new ideas. And as for finding/making the time? I do it whenever, and however, I can.

What do you find the time to do?

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My husband and I aren’t big TV- or movie-watchers. We do love our Friends DVDs – they’re a great antidote to a bad day – and we enjoyed watching The Muppet Show last fall and a little Friday Night Lights this winter. And I love me a good chick flick when I’m feeling low. But since we activated the Netflix gift subscription my sister sent for Christmas, we have watched a total of one streamed movie and a few episodes of FNL. So I canceled it last week.

The thing is, when I get home (usually before J does) after a day of screen time, I tend to putter around, cleaning and tidying, or I curl up on the couch with a book. Then, we love to eat dinner at the table together, instead of spaced out in front of a movie (though we’ll do that once in a while). And after dinner, J often gets out his guitar (or the brand-spanking-new djembe he got for his birthday), and spends a while making music, while I read, write, bake or sing along with him.

Of course, some nights we zone out in front of our computers, or we both get home late and we’re just frazzled. But by and large, I like our quiet evenings. And I’m trying to spend part of my evenings doing what Felicity mentioned in her post about small changes a while back: producing instead of consuming. Even if it’s just knitting a few rows, or scribbling some notes in a journal, or drafting a blog post or two, it feels good to make something. And, well, not much gets made if I’m watching TV (or surfing the Internet).

So, for now, at least, we are a Netflix-free family. And it feels good.

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-that I can wake up at 7:22 and still be at work by just after 8:00 (it wasn’t intentional, but it happened).

-that I like red M&Ms best – I just do.

-that I can put my creative writing flair to good use in the TONS of reminder emails I send to the Bible department faculty.

-that a lack of coffee in the break room constitutes, in Jack Walker’s words, “a petite crisis” in the DBMM.

-that cardigans ARE sexy. Amen, Julie. 🙂

-that sometimes rebooting a computer really WILL solve all your problems.

-that cut flowers can survive for two weeks. (Betsy’s orange daisies are still perking along nicely.)

-that I NEED alone time, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t had any.

-that the Conference on Christianity and Literature is being held at ACU in three weeks. Now, how can I swing it to go…?

-that sunrises through the Danleys’ front windows are among the most breathtaking sights in the world.

-that new haircuts, even drastic ones, are fun.

-that Glenn, bless his kind, loyal, slightly pessimistic heart, actually does resemble the hound dogs he loves so much. 🙂

-that Fridays of 40-hour weeks are an even greater blessing than Fridays of 32-hour weeks.

-that reading friends’ blogs is good for the soul. (I think I knew that already.)

-that I love my life. And my job. And my Jeremiah. And my friends. And the God who has made all this possible…and so much more.

Blessed be His Name…

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