Winter Retreat by the Ocean

View from my room

This month I was able to spend the weekend at a private winter retreat at Mercy by the Sea  in Madison, Connecticut. I did this last winter and blogged about my wonderful experience here. Along with my suitcase of clothes, I brought journals, writing workbooks, my prayer shawl knitting project, and books to read, but I tried to clear myself of any expectations so that I would be open to what might present itself. Imagine my awe when I found my room and this beautiful view of the grounds and ocean just outside my window. It was breathtaking!

After briefly walking the grounds in the long, cold shadows of late afternoon light and trying to settle into my peaceful surroundings, I enjoyed a communal meal with new friends in the dining hall. Everyone was so gracious and looked forward to the renewal and hope that a winter retreat in a special place like this can bring.

Sunrise

Waking up early Saturday morning, I got a mug of hot coffee from the dining hall and quietly made my way to the Seaside Room in the silent meditation area. I watched the sky slowly change colors and then the sun crested the horizon. It was glorious! All of my problems seemed unimportant as I witnessed the beauty of God’s creation. The ocean gently rolling over the rocks and beach as the tide comes in and the shore birds flying above the water speak to the ever flowing nature of the serenity of this place. It is as if time stood still for just a moment, letting in hope, faith, and opportunity for renewal.

Ocean sparkles

After breakfast, I went outside and watched the tide come in as I let the feeling of the ocean envelope me. I have gone through a lot of changes since the retreat one year ago. At this point in time, I am trying to figure out my life… where I’ve been, where I’m at now, and where I am going. There has been a coming to terms with things and an acceptance that I have not felt before. There has been a lot of growth, as well as a lot of questioning and discernment. There has been a renewal of faith, of spirituality, and belief in God. There has been hope, even though at times I felt like giving up. There has been a whole lot of seeking and soul searching.

Beach high tide

Sometimes the ocean is loud and pounds the shore, as it did when I walked the beach that morning, and as I was falling asleep the night before. Other times the ocean is quiet and there are barely any waves. The ocean sounds so different at high tide than at low tide. There is a crescendo of sound that builds up as the water approaches high tide and the waves come crashing in. And there is a gentle rolling feeling as low tide comes near. The sounds the ocean makes are rhythmic and calming, leaving footprints in your heart and soul. Time seems suspended in air.

Beach seagrass

Like last year, I did a lot of writing this weekend. But I did not fill as many pages with writing this year, 22 pages instead of 30 pages. It was sunny out and not snowing this year, so I was able to spend more time outdoors. It was truly wonderful to spend so much time outside in February in New England. I felt immersed in the natural world and it was very restorative. At home I try to walk by the lake several times a week even in cold weather, as long as the sun is out, and that has such a calming effect on me.

Rocky shore

It was so moving to be a part of this community that came together here for a weekend of individual prayer, reflection, and contemplation. On Sunday morning, everyone said goodbye and went back home to their own lives, hopefully bringing with them a piece of what we all shared this weekend.

Cairns

Reflections on Fall

Lake reflection

On my way out last week,  I noticed these spectacular fall reflections in the lake, clear as glass that morning. I pulled into the town beach parking area and walked around, looking at the small surrounding hills from different vantage points and noticing how the reflections of the clouds in the sky enhanced the fall colors in the trees. It created a true mirror image and I tried to capture the ephemeral feeling of the lake when it is calm. The water always changes, at different times of day, and throughout the cycle of seasons and weather patterns. 

Sherwood Island

Last weekend I was visiting my sister and I went to Sherwood Island State Park and walked the beach. It was chilly and I had forgotten my knitted hat, but I ignored the stiff offshore breeze and made my way across the sand. I picked up several small shells and added them to the shells I carry in my pocket, a little bit of the beach always with me. I also chose one round flat rock to bring home as a touchstone for the day. There is just something about the water and the beach that I am drawn to, like a magnet. It replenishes my weary spirit inside and brings me renewal. I may feel half broken when I approach the water, but I always come away healed and with my energy restored.

Button jar

Back at home, I decided to go on a foliage drive to Colchester, passing scenic ponds surrounded by colorful trees and several local farms along the way. There is a vintage shop in Colchester here filled with really cool  items in small booths filled by a variety of individual vendors. It is the kind of place you wander around slowly for an hour in amazement, looking at everything, and you eventually find something that you want to bring home. I found this jar of buttons and fell in love with it. I have a button collection, as well as my mother’s button collection acquired last year, but when I downsized from the house to my condo 3 years ago, I gave away many things, including half of my button collection. So this button jar represents a small effort to reclaim a piece of myself that was lost. Buttons are ordinary objects and that gives them a special appeal. The Raggedy Ann doll sitting on the chair came from this same vintage shop on a previous visit.

Leaves collage

On one of my recent walks I gathered fallen leaves and brought them home, unsure about what I was going to do with them. They sat out on the kitchen counter for a few days, and then I decided to trace a few of them onto scrapbook paper in my art to go bag and create a simple collage in my 5” x 8” Canson sketchbook. So I cut out the paper leaves and glued them down. I used Tombow markers to darken the colors in the leaf shapes. I added some jagged lines to the background with a Pigma Micron pen and then I colored the background with a NuPastel stick.

Swirly shapes

I drew some random curved shapes in my sketchbook, added small circles, and colored everything in a simple color scheme using my Tombow markers. I really like these markers because they are double ended with a point tip and a brush tip, they are water based so I don’t have an allergic reaction to them, they last a long while and don’t dry out, and they are reasonably priced.

Hearts on a string

This is a spontaneous heart and circle doodle in my sketchbook. I enjoy drawing things like this and coloring in the shapes with my Tombow markers using random bits of color. This sketch is reminiscent of the plastic party beads you can get at a party store or Mardi Gras celebration.

I am trying to be more spontaneous as a path leading into the things that nourish my heart and soul. I tend to be list driven and goal driven and that often gets in the way of being with myself and hearing what I truly need from the voice inside.  The small things in life are so important and they can go overlooked in that search to be doing important things that are not really important and not the essence of life.  I talked about my reflections on this here 2 years ago in a blog post called Contemplation and Renewal.

 

The Pause Between Breaths

Collage rooted

I decided to pause between breaths and create some collage pages in one of my art journals last week. Sorting through some magazine pages I found these images that expressed exactly what I was feeling, so I cut them out and glued them down with a glue stick, pressing them down firmly with a brayer.  I  have some Art Bin flat storage boxes filled with a collection of assorted papers and ephemera, and magazines are stacked on top of the Art Bin boxes. I always pause to check the sharing bins at the library entrance for magazines with interesting photos to add to my collection of collage materials.  Today I found five gardening magazines filled with beautiful flower and garden photos so I brought them home with me.

Mercy by the Sea

At the beginning of August, I went to Mercy by the Sea to reconnect with myself and to sit quietly in reverence and contemplation. July had been a very busy month. I tried to do too much and I found myself feeling like I was being pulled in too many different directions. I felt very scattered. I had either already joined or contemplated joining eleven different groups in my local area. I had a renewed appetite for group activity after a long absence due to my previous work life, and thought I could do everything. But I was not enjoying myself and needed to hear the still, small voice inside of me and explore things on my own. So I took a hiatus from most of the group activity and I am a lot happier now. My day is now inner directed rather than outer directed and my life seems to flow with ease. Last month (see July blog post) I was meandering and now I am finding my way.

Hammonasset Beach

Last Sunday morning I went to Hammonasset Beach with my wonderful son, his lovely wife, and my baby grandson. There is something very calming about sitting on a blanket stretched out on the sand, feeling the sand beneath your toes, gazing out across the water to see the clouds and the distant sailboats, and listening to the waves as they touch the shore. For me the sea is a magical place and time stands still here. I always come away from a visit to the ocean with a feeling of inner peace and calm.

Chandelier quilt

I have decided to focus on quilting and this is bringing me to center. I still do other creative things, but quilting has become my primary activity. Of course, this was not part of my original plan two months ago, but quilting is calling me and I need to follow that inner voice. I love the way geometric patterns come together. I love fabric, the colors, the textures, the patterns, the shapes, and I love playing with graph paper to develop my own designs and then bring them into Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape on the PC. The quilt above is the Chandelier Quilt found in the book Charm School by Vanessa Goertzen. I saw this quilt on Flickr and fell in love with it so I had to make one of my own.

Tula Pink Quilt Blocks

I have not made a sampler quilt in many years, but I got the book Tula Pink’s City Sampler – 100 Modern Quilt Blocks for my birthday and these little 6 inch blocks are so much fun to make! I am using fabric from my stash (collection) and it is exciting to revisit fabrics that I had forgotten about (fabric has memory) and use them in new combinations. In this quilt I am going with a rainbow of colors and anything goes as far as what colors pair up with others. So far I have completed 30 blocks and I hope to make all 100 blocks and most likely will set them with white sashing and border. It will be exciting to have a fresh modern quilt for my bed!