A Brave New Year

It’s time to return to blogging after my couple of weeks off. They were very good weeks and thank you for letting me take them! Noah (20) and Johannah (18) were home for Christmas. Noah spent a week with us and Johannah a whopping 3 and a half weeks! We played games (lots to share there in the upcoming weeks), we drank hot chocolate, we laughed, we watched TV, we went ice skating, we stayed up late talking. I enjoyed and savored every day.

However, I discovered while enjoying and savoring that my creative energy is utterly depleted. I collapsed many times on the couch loathe to get up again. I avoided the computer and left my desk a mess. In short: I’m in serious need of a recharge.

I feel a little like an out of date cell phone whose charger got lost and now only gets recharged in teaspoon sized bursts while driving in the car. My recharging usually consists of minutes here and there on the run, not a quality pause in the midst of a busy life. That means I can sustain a creative charge for, oh, say, a day and then I’m all out of juice again.

I haven’t had a good long drink of quiet, nurturing or rest in a good long time. As Christmas break unfolded, I unraveled. I sat in front of the fire, I knitted yet another scarf (I only knit scarves because any other pattern becomes stress-filled stitch-counting rather than the soothing, rhythmic, mindless clicking of needles), I watched Top Design and reruns of Friends, I made and ate good food, I put whipped cream on every hot drink, I cuddled kids and took our dog for walks, I fed our birds and ignored the mess in the basement.

Each time I walked by my office, my chest tightened. I know you want me to do taxes and make decisions, to answer email and to plan classes. Just not now. Just a little more time off, please.

One way I seriously recharged was to get out of the house and into nature. Liam and I signed up for the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. On Sunday morning, December 30th, Liam and I got up dark and early. We clunked around the kitchen making tea with milk and pouring it into a thermos. We assembled turkey sandwiches, trail mix bars and clementine oranges into our mini picnic tote. Then with two pair of binoculars and extra layers of clothing, we headed into the still black morning and drove 25 miles to the Cincinnati Nature Center.

We met other binocular clad counters. Liam and I were happily assigned to a group of all novices led by one expert (and I mean expert). This guy not only could replicate the calls of numerous birds, he could recognize them from below, by ear, by flock and wing beats. One time we thought we heard a red-tailed hawk when he changed his mind and stated, “Nope. That’s a blue-jay imitating a red-tailed hawk. They get close, but their pitch is off.” Oh. My. Goodness. Yeah, I’m more the kind of birder that says, “Hey! There’s a cardinal. I can see it right there sitting perfectly still and it’s all red.”

Anyway, we tromped through endless mud and dead leaves already composting into mulch, up hill and over dale. What struck me about the experience was how quiet it was. Bob, trustee expert birder, told us that bird watching is really more “bird listening.” And it was true. We hardly talked at all. Most of the time we stood very still waiting… hoping for some movement, some flutter of leaves or swish of brush.

And I loved it. The quiet reminded me of the library, yet it was outdoors where my lungs filled with yogic breaths of air. Therapeutic. Even after three hours of rubber legs, frozen finger tips and growling stomach, I didn’t want to quit. It felt really good to focus all my energy and attention on one little tiny thing: counting birds in the bush. I wonder if this is how golf feels for executives.

We returned to the center to eat lunch and many cheerful birders welcomed us. It might be difficult to appreciate just how odd it feels for me (who lives in her head of ideas and virtuality) to be in a room of people who enjoy conversations about numbers, biological components, ecology, and international tourism that takes travelers to car camping in Kenya as opposed to pensions in Florence.

Liam and I returned in the evening for the final count which included all the birds of our region. We laughed every time the room gasped when a count was exceptionally high: 3,743 robins or disastrously low: 0 kildeer (the room exhaled a mournful sigh realizing that the kildeer had not survived suburbanization of the farmlands since not one has been sighted for the last six years).

It occurred to me that mothers especially give, give, give until they are all given out. We take mini-breaks (drink a cup of tea, read a novel in the car while waiting for ballet practice to end, stand in the shower for twenty minutes instead of fifteen, watch a TV show while emptying the dishwasher). How often do we really stop the world and get off for several hours, for a week, for a month?

Nature and birds took me away from the world of words that I inhabit and allowed me space to be. Family gave me the hugs, love and validation that comes from connectedness rather than performance. Christmas injected “the special” into what had been an ordinary fall.

I hope you too find a way to recharge as we head into winter. I’m ready to be back. Peace and wonderful birds to you.

4 Responses to “A Brave New Year”

  1. Anna says:

    Julie, thank you for sharing with us about your birding expeditions with Liam, your knitting, relaxing and hot chocolates with cream, as well as your reluctance to return your nose to the grindstone.

    We’ve had a similar thing in our house this year – not with me, but with my husband. He’s also had two weeks off, but as we breakfasted on the deck this last Saturday, I wondered aloud if he felt rejuvenated enough to return to work on Monday. He admitted that no, he still felt exhausted. Miraculously, he not only still had holidays available, but his boss replied to his email request by Sunday night, authorising an extra week of holidays.

    I realised today that there were signs I’d been unconsciously looking for, that he was rested enough to return to work, and that these had been glaringly absent during those first two weeks of his break. At last, today, he has begun to get creative out in his shed, commencing the refurbishment of an old piece of furniture, and that marks the start of his real rejuvenation, I suspect.

    It occurred to me as we ate dinner tonight (which he cooked – yay!), that what he’s experienced is akin to the process our home schooling has undergone. In the last year, with Bravewriter’s encouragement, we have relaxed the “have to” activities, and that in turn has allowed the creative activities to come alive for our daughter. These last two weeks, I’ve been encouraging my husband to let go of the “have to” activities, and at last, with this extra time he’s been blessed with, his innate creativity has at last begun to bubble forth again. I imagine he will find, as our daughter and I have done with home schooling, that once the creativity is flowing freely again, the daily grind doesn’t seem half so draining after all.

    We look forward to another year ahead of learning, especially with our beloved Bravewriter Lady – once you are refreshed and rejuvenated yourself of course.

    With big hugs from Down Under,

  2. Marcy says:

    Welcome back!

    My daughter and I read your entry and had to smile, because we too had a lot of whip cream with our drinks during our time off. We were also fascinated and entertained by the birds in our backyard. You’ve challenged us to get up early and “hear” the birds.

    Thank you so much for sharing – you helped us get back to a good start!


  3. Donna says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your birding experience with Liam. I especially related to what you said at the end about how we moms take our breaks in little snippets. I do have hobbies – mostly art – and it definitely recharges me – but it IS only taken in snippets here and there. Perhaps that is why I cherish the “break” so much – and perhaps those snippets do more to energize us than longer ones…I don’t know…just thinking out loud.

    The boys and I have decided that Monday is “Together Day” (orginal name, huh?). As they have gotten older and one is working and we all have begun living in separate directions, we’ve decided that Mondays are for us to reconnect. Our main plan is to spend it outdoors for the most part, on trails, in the woods, in parks – taking photos, drawing, picnicing…whatever. We also enjoy antiquing and plan to include that, too. And…baking cookies! =)

    I’m so glad you got to spend some special time with your older kids – over the holidays I was able to do that with my 23 year old and my 26 year old and her family – it was wonderful!


  4. Bethany Cincotta says:


    I just wanted to let you know how very much I have been enjoying your blog. I know that you are a very busy woman with your hands in a lot of different projects, yet you still manage to take the time to encourage and inspire us homeschooling moms who are plowing through this often times scary and uncertain adventure. Your words have brought me to tears at times as I have been able to relate to the experiences you so beautifully expressed. Thanks for your honesty about the messes, the exhaustion, and your fears. More importantly, thanks for reminding us of the beauty found in the world around us, in our children, and the beauty in ourselves.
    Bethany Cincotta
    Harrisburg, PA
    homeschooling mom of Enoch (12), Zach (10), Joshua (6) and Alec (3)