When life becomes unsettled, it can be hard to imagine what the future will look like. Everything feels unpredictable and uncertain. We’re used to making detailed plans and keeping to our routines. Without that familiar structure, we’re left not knowing what way to go.

In such times, rather than burdening ourselves further by struggling to be in control no matter what happens, we might do better to simply follow the wisdom of the soul and put aside those expectations.

Word-art that says "Follow your soul, it knows the way."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

April 28, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

In the “definitely going stir crazy by now” category: Last night, I was looking online for good photos to put on my digital art display. I particularly liked this one, showing Beaver Creek, Alaska, which was posted by the United States Bureau of Land Management.

But I probably shouldn’t have been on the computer so soon before going to bed. Apparently as a result of seeing the photo, I had a wacky dream in which my family played a game of touch football in our backyard—against a team of giant beavers.

Their coach was using hand signals to tell them what plays to run, and they were pretty good at the game. In fact, the beavers were winning. I was getting pretty frustrated when I woke up and was thankfully restored to sanity—such as it is nowadays.

Since December, I’ve been getting exercise every day on a rowing machine in my basement, which came from a Black Friday sale at Best Buy. I hadn’t expected to gain a lot of fitness from it because, for several years, I had been rowing on the river four or five times a week, when the weather was good, so I thought it would be about the same.

Then I started going faster on it, although my workouts didn’t feel more difficult, and my husband said I was looking more fit. There is a weekly online race, which gives me a good opportunity to measure my progress. I definitely have a little more “umph” than I had last year. Putting regular exercise into my daily schedule was more of an improvement than I expected. That is often what results from better habits!

Word-art that says "The difference between try and triumph is a little 'umph.'"

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

Birds chirped in the trees outside the kitchen window on a pleasant summer morning. The two plates laid out on the table for breakfast had a border of pink roses, as did the matching coffee cups. Eggs were frying in the skillet, bread was toasting, and in just a minute her daughter would come in and sit down.

Photo of trees outside a square kitchen window.

(Photo credit: Joanna Bourne)


A particularly loud, harsh cawing jolted Ina out of a sound sleep. She blinked in confusion at the cool whitewashed stone of the walls and ceiling. Where was she? And where had she been just now, while she was dreaming? All of it had looked and felt so real—there was a window, a big square window letting in plenty of light. It wasn’t at all like the high, narrow slits in the otherwise bare wall above the wooden bed where she now found herself. Elaborately carved animal figures decorated the bedposts.

The dream faded as Ina sat up and looked around. Her bed was on the end of a row of five, and it was the farthest from the door. On the other side of the room there were tables, chairs, a freestanding wardrobe, and two dressers. The furniture was a dark and well-polished hardwood, which reflected the gleams of sunlight coming through the high windows. Thick mats made of reeds in geometric patterns lined the central area of the stone floor.

There was a small partitioned area—a changing room—on the wall directly across from Ina’s bed. She had used it last night, by candlelight, to put on a comfortable nightdress that she’d found neatly folded on her bed. At present, a closed curtain showed that the room was occupied, apparently by Daphne, given the fact that Phoenix was still asleep and both Violet and Firefly were already dressed.

A side door next to the changing room opened onto a high-walled courtyard. Ivy covered the walls so thickly that Ina, making her way toward the latrine at the far end of the courtyard, had no idea whether the walls were of stone or another material. Branches of spruce and fir had grown thickly together overhead, letting in a cool, filtered green light. Their cones and needles carpeted the otherwise bare ground.

It occurred to Ina, after she left the latrine and started walking back toward the dormitory, that anyone who happened to pass by would never see the courtyard. Like the rest of the witches’ compound, it was very well hidden from curious eyes. As far as she could tell, the nearby villagers rarely ventured into the Wild Forest anyway; but it was plain that everything here had been designed to avoid chance encounters.

When she went back inside, Daphne had finished changing and now had on a blue-green dress with brown threads scattered throughout. In the morning light, the fabric shimmered like a river’s surface. The other girls also wore clothing that matched their personas. Violet wore a deep blue, shading into purple at the hem, and Firefly was in black with a sparkling multicolored sash. Phoenix was just now walking into the changing room with an armful of something red and orange.

Ina opened the wardrobe and found that the one remaining dress was white, mostly, with jagged vertical streaks of silver and bronze. The fabric was soft and pretty; but as she touched the dress, Ina felt instinctively that something just wasn’t as it should be.

“That’s a beautiful dress. It will look perfect on you!”

She turned around to see Firefly smiling at her. The cheerful look on the girl’s freckled face had Ina returning the smile and saying “Thanks,” before she’d had time to work out what was bothering her.

Everyone else had gotten dressed by now, and they hadn’t come to any harm from it—or at least, any visible harm. Maybe there was nothing wrong with the dress, and she was just nervous about being in a new place. Carrying the dress into the changing room, Ina tried to sort through her feelings, but she couldn’t make much sense of them.

The white dress did indeed fit her slim figure perfectly, as Firefly had said. She found a hand mirror on top of a dresser and inspected the results. The metallic streaks in the fabric seemed well suited to the young face looking back at her, with its hazel eyes, light brown shoulder-length hair, and smooth clear skin that showed some redness from yesterday’s farm work in the sun. What had gone wrong, Ina finally determined, was that the face itself somehow didn’t match the reality of who she was.

How could that be possible? Ina hadn’t come close to reaching an answer when she heard footsteps and turned to face the doorway, putting the mirror back down where she had found it.

“Good morning, everyone!”

A tall woman in a red dress entered the room. She wore a hat of the same color, embroidered with clusters of green leaves, over brown curly hair. Her nose was thin and slightly hooked.

“I am called Rowan, and I’m very pleased to meet all of you! First we’ll go to breakfast, and then it will be time to get started on your studies.”

The words stirred a vague memory in Ina’s mind, but she couldn’t quite place it. Without thinking about it any farther, she found herself asking, “Will we have lesson plans and classrooms?”

Rowan seemed surprised by the question, and the other girls looked as bewildered as if Ina had suddenly begun speaking a foreign language. After a long and awkward moment, Rowan finally replied in a brisk tone that suggested some disdain for the topic.

“Oh, no—that’s not something we would ever do here! Everyone learns differently, after all, and we have different interests and strengths. Forcing every student along the same path would be a sad waste of potential. What they do in the timeline you came from—well, never mind. You’re here now and not there!”

With that oblique fragment of an answer, Rowan promptly turned away and began leading the girls down the corridor to breakfast.

Click here to continue to Part 7.

My workday started with an online meeting in which I had to present information relating to a project. After I joined the meeting, I realized that I had forgotten to put water in a small fountain on top of my file cabinet. It wasn’t gurgling that loudly, and I didn’t think anyone would care if they heard it anyway; but it got me distracted and out of my flow.

Things went downhill from there. I felt like I was stumbling over my words, couldn’t get my thoughts straight, was taking too much time and causing the meeting to run late, and had messed things all up and was a failure in general. I spent the next few hours wondering if everyone saw me as having a big “S” on my chest for “screwup” rather than Superman.

Although I kind of realized that those feelings were way out of proportion to the real situation, I just couldn’t shake them. For lack of any better ideas, I put a load of laundry in the washer during my lunch break and then exercised for a while, which helped to calm me down somewhat.

When I sat back down at my desk, my inbox had a very positive email from the meeting organizer, thanking me for presenting the information and telling me how helpful I had been. He told me that he particularly appreciated my willingness to take enough time to make sure everyone understood.

That was a very welcome reminder to keep small mistakes in perspective—after all, they’re just part of life.

Word-art that says "Mistakes are not failures."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

This week has been cold and blustery here. Even if it had been good weather for rowing, which it definitely was not, the river has been high. So I decided to go on a virtual rowing vacation by putting an image of the Banana River in Melbourne, Florida, on my digital art display. I got the idea from a sculling video showing that river on a beautiful sunny day.

When I looked for photos of the Banana River online, though, I couldn’t find anything with the great sunny weather I was imagining. Instead, I found a lot of high-water photos. Apparently the Melbourne area can be prone to flooding. The author of this photo captioned it “Rainy Florida.”

Photo of dock on river with high water.

(Photo credit: Rusty Clark)

I put it on my art display anyway, as a reminder to be grateful for where I am at the moment. The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence—but sometimes it is underwater.

When we can’t keep to our usual routines, we feel more stressed. Although today’s culture often dismisses such feelings as showing weakness or lack of mental flexibility, I believe it’s fair to say that needing routines is just human nature. Routines serve the useful function of reducing stress by limiting the number of decision points we encounter as we go through the day. Decisions, even small ones made without much conscious thought, increase stress because there is always a risk of making a mistake.

It only makes the situation worse if we judge ourselves harshly for feeling stressed. Instead, we need to take especially good care of ourselves when facing disruptions outside our control. There is nothing wrong or selfish about calming ourselves in times of crisis with small comforting routines. Even if it’s as simple as enjoying a cup of tea, taking time for self-care goes a long way toward staying healthy.

Word-art that says "If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, change your mind." -Ann Richards, former governor of Texas

(Boss Tip image reposted with permission.)

Addendum: I posted this entry on Friday morning because I couldn’t get into my blog Thursday evening due to hosting company maintenance. That suits the topic of dealing with disruptions, I suppose.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

The wide stone hallway leading into the hillside looked warm and inviting. The torches lining the walls burned steadily, without noticeable smoke or flickering. Ina had already taken a step toward it before she realized what she was doing. The other girls moved forward with her.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“Do come in, dear girls,” urged the black-cloaked woman, who was now standing just outside the doorway. “I am delighted to welcome you! My name is Petra, and I am the guardian of this sacred threshold.”

The red-haired girl standing to Ina’s right, who was looking more confident than a minute ago, took another step toward the door in response. “Uh, hello ma’am. I’m Firefly.”

“You are indeed!” Petra declared, looking appreciatively at the swarm of blinking fireflies hovering around the girl. “Your tiny companions have done well, leading you safely through the forest. They have completed their task and are now free to depart with our gratitude.”

At her words, the fireflies immediately began to disperse and soon flew out of sight into the forest’s depths. The red-haired girl entered the doorway as Petra approached the tall girl on Ina’s left.

“Your name will be Violet, my dear,” Petra announced even more cheerfully, extending her arms as if to embrace the glowing purplish moths that surrounded the girl. “To be sure, your little friends are exactly the color of a lovely patch of violets in a meadow on a sunny afternoon. Many thanks to you all, dear moths, and you’re now at liberty to leave.”

The moths began lifting away into the darkness, just as the fireflies had done. Violet, now without escort, took a few steps into the stone hallway and then stopped to wait next to Firefly.

“And you’re Phoenix, of course. Your companion is free to leave with much appreciation for work well done,” Petra informed the dark-haired girl standing next to the fiery bird. Just after Petra spoke, there was a crackling noise like a burning log suddenly falling to the ground in a campfire. Sparks flew up from the bird, and its outline perched on the granite boulder became indistinct, fading into the night air. Petra calmly picked up the flickering orange egg that remained atop the boulder and slipped it into a pocket of her cloak.

“That’s just her way, disappearing like that,” Petra said reassuringly. “No harm done. She’ll hatch again when the time is right.”

The dark-eyed girl in the moss-covered cloak took a deep breath and blinked, but did not speak, as Petra turned to her.

“You’re a dryad, how delightful! Or perhaps a naiad, with this lovely river moss. I shall call you Daphne. We can release the moss now, with our thanks; you won’t have any need for it indoors, and even river moss has a life to which it longs to return, as simple as it is.”

The glowing patches of moss separated from Daphne’s cloak and flowed smoothly to the ground, oozing away in the general direction of the river. Daphne threw back the hood of her cloak, which was now a nondescript fabric of a muddy color. Thick vine-like braids were pinned neatly on top of her head.

Petra then turned to Ina.

“My dear, you have a rare talent. The lightning serves you like a faithful hound. I’ll call you…”

“Ina. My name is Ina.” She knew the interruption sounded surly, but letting herself be renamed without any say in the matter—well, that just wasn’t happening, not tonight.

As if reflecting her sentiments, the hovering ball of witch-fire that Ina had plucked from a lightning flash suddenly burst. It crackled through the air in a bright, arcing bolt, complete with thunderclap, and then dissipated into the night sky. Unlike the other magical guides, it hadn’t waited to be granted leave to depart before it vanished.

Petra looked somewhat taken aback but quickly regained her composure. Turning from Ina toward the girls in the doorway, she clapped her hands briskly. “Come now, my little ducklings, let’s go indoors. You must all be tired after such a long day. A light supper for you, and then it’s off to bed! Tomorrow will be very busy.”

Click here to continue to Part 6.

All those days of rushing around from one thing to another, while wishing that life wouldn’t be as hectic, seem so far away now. The to-do lists feel like ancient history. Life has slowed down to a trickle, a meandering stream—this day, this moment, this breath.

When was it that I needed to keep reminding myself to live in the present? That seems so very long ago.

Word-art that says "This Breath" with other words like "observing" and "noticing."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.