I Am a Tree
By Rachel E. Watson

I am a cat, graceful and fluid.
I am a cow, sagging and old.
I am a dog, facing the ground,
hinged in the middle, hung by my limbs.

I am a cobra, cunning and low.
I am a gumby, dangling and free.
I am a cross, I am a prayer, 
I am a swan, diving with flare.

I am a monkey, with a flat back.
I am a gumby, rinse and repeat.
I am unleashing my animal heat.
I am a warrior sparing the room 
my judgment, my glance, 
and my weapon of choice:
the seething sound of my voice.

I am a triangle, tinkling with sweat,
I am a pyramid, poised and pointed.
I am a half-moon dancer, 
held up by toenails 
pinned to the sky.

I am a tree, strong and tall, 
quivering with life, passion
and not quite ready to fall.

I am a dancer, a sideways prancer.
I am a monolith, an unmovable mountain.
I am sinking to the floor, 
rooted by my sit bones,
resting on the ground.

I am a pretzel,
bending and twisting,
releasing all tension.

I am a corpse. 
I am asleep. 
I am at peace.

Rachel E. Watson © 2015.

It's no secret I've been going through a hard time lately. I've blogged about anxiety, depression and mood disorder symptoms, and I've taken blogging breaks here and there to replenish my reserves.

What exactly was I doing during those breaks?

Well, as I mentioned in a July 15 post, one of the main things I was doing was listening to music. Not just any music, but specific types that I knew would do my brain good. I named four of them in the July 15 blog post.

Here are three more:

1. Classical music. On my Pandora station, I've been listening to Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergey Rachmaninov and Claude Debussy. In my car, I listen to Johannes Brahms and a mix of Romantic period composers from a CD I got as a graduation gift from a family friend a long time ago.

Here's my favorite Bach piece:

2. Bards. Singer-songwriters or bands with lyrics that grab hold of my brain and shake all the lies out. That's what good songwriters do. I'm thinking of Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons and Ryan Montbleau.

Here's a Ryan Montbleau song, for those of you who haven't heard his songwriting:

3. Soundtracks. I kid you not, one of the best ways to rise up from a low point is through singing or humming along with Disney soundtracks or other animated film songs. Fantasia is basically all classical music. The Aladdin soundtrack is compulsively singable. And my favorite ... of all time .. is the Anastasia soundtrack, with hits like "Once Upon a December," "Learn to Do It," and "In the Dark of the Night."

Here's the album's first track, "A Rumor in St. Petersburg":

Read more of my blog posts about music here.

The other day, I was minding my own business filling out paperwork in our backyard under a large maple tree. And nutshells rained down on me.

"It must have been a windy day," you might say. It was completely calm.

Not only that, but I was sitting under a maple. If you know your trees, you know maples do not produce nuts.

About 30 shells fell on my head, my shoulders and my lap, but none beyond the quilt rectangle on which I sat. I was suspicious.

So I looked up and saw a gleeful little squirrel perched far above me in the solid upper branches of the maple.

Here is where I sat when the squirrel started chucking nutshells at me

As soon as I looked at him, he looked straight into my eye and chucked another nutshell onto my head.

I couldn't help laughing, even though my shirt was dotted with sticky, half-chewed nut goo.

Later that day, I returned to the memory of the nut-chucking squirrel. Something shifted in my brain.

I've been tempted to view God like He's a squirrel in a maple tree, chucking problems my way.

First depression, then anxiety, then a mood disorder. Treatment. Meds. Avoidance of substances that interact with the meds.

Is any of that God's fault? If I really believe, like I so boldly and publicly declared a few weeks ago on this blog, that God is the Triune Creator of the Universe, why do I fall back on a belief that He is out to get me?

Doesn't it stand to reason He loves me, one of His children, created in His image?

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

What if I start looking at those nuts being chucked my way as opportunities for growth? As a rain of  blessings?

What if each nutshell is an opportunity to help others who are suffering like I am?

[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Looking at the nutshells from that perspective totally brightened my mind that day, and I'm still feeling it.

What about you? How do you view the nutshells of life? What are the problems thrown your way? What are the resulting opportunities for you to bless others?

Bring the Light with You
By Rachel E. Watson

When a pile of paperwork calls your name
on a Friday morning,
if you have the freedom,
take the work outside and let the birds
and summer air provide your deep focus
while your pen stays busy.

When a stack of bills needs paying,
unlock the front door,
ignoring the creatures
who try to get in or out,
and pay the bills on your glider
or folding chair
next to the mailbox,
under the blue-gold sky.

When framed art
in a gallery far away
from home calls your name,
bring the outdoors with you.
Carry every memory of the horizon
you've ever made, and put it in your pocket
while your eyes hop from landscape
to still life to starry midnight vista.

You'll remember each sun-swept plain
each green-light storm
and pink-smooched dusk
as you search each painting
for the beauty you know in nature.

Answer each summons.
And bring the rays
of mid-morning
for illumination
along the midnight way.

Ever heard of jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux? Imagine a modern-day Billie Holiday, except French-American, and you've got a handle on what her voice and music sound like.

I was listening to a Spotify playlist called "Evening Unwind" a few weeks back, and her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Blue Alert" came on. I had never heard her voice, but I was instantly entranced. I was bewitched in a similar way by Rachael Yamagata in 2007, when I stumbled across her cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" on one of my Pandora stations.

After I finally had time to research Peyroux, I realized instantly why her music captivates me. The influences she cites include Bessie Smith, Johnny Mercer, Billie Holiday (no surprise there), Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and Edith Piaf. Some of the great singers and singer-songwriters.

The song I'd like to share today is Peyroux's cover of "Summer Wind," by Johnny Mercer and Heinz Meier. It feels fresh and fragrant, just like a summer wind should be.

    "The Summer Wind" 

    By Leonard Cohen
    Performed by Madeleine Peyroux

    The summer wind
    Came blowing in
    From across the sea
    It lingered there
    So warm and fair
    To walk with me
    All summer long
    We sang a song
    And strolled on golden sand
    Two sweethearts
    And the summer wind
    Like painted kites
    Those days and nights
    Went flyin by
    The world was new
    Beneath a blue
    Umbrella sky
    Then softer than
    A piper man
    One day it called to you
    And I lost you
    To the summer wind
    The autumn wind
    And the winter wind
    Have come and gone
    And still the days
    Those lonely days
    Go on and on
    And guess who sighs her lullabies
    Through nights that never end
    My fickle friend
    The summer wind
    The summer wind

I hope her performance of the song is as enchanting for you as it was for me.

Read more of my blog posts about music here.

This quote is today's call to action: Go have yourself an adventure.

In my particular faith tradition, Sundays are for resting. I always thought that meant taking naps. Not even kidding. I now understand it's a broader concept. It's about resting from work and restoring the soul.

And where does the soul head when it wants restoration? Out into nature.

If you're looking for me the next several Sundays, I'll be out in the wild. Soaking up creation. Embracing play.

Go forth and do likewise!

A wedding party stopped 10 feet from my beach blanket and set up camp to pose for photographs.

The bride and groom seemed a sibling pair, with identical creamy brown skin, chestnut eyes and thick, chocolate-coffee hair.

She wore a flowing A-line mocha-colored silk dress, with a lace netting overlay that rose to a full lace bodice. The bodice cut away into a princess neckline beneath. It was capped by a translucent upper netting edged with white-cream flashing at her throat and across her shoulders.

The groom was tall, broad-shouldered, and sported his three-piece suit with casual aplomb, hands in pockets and shod toes digging into sand.

A flawless couple. My brain knows the "flawless" state has not fully existed since The Garden. But sometimes, I catch glimpses of moments that really could not be more beautiful. This was one such moment.

As the photographers lined up the six pairs of maids and men with the bride and groom front and center, they all gathered their poise and held it in one hand, preparing for The Jump.

The Jump is a years-old trend in wedding photos. It's where everyone lines up in landscape mode and the women hold tightly to errant skirts and bouquets in preparation for liftoff.

Then, the moment comes.

"One, two, three: JUMP!" The photographer yells over the surging Lake Michigan tide.

The party jumps, and the photographer snaps the shutter. One, two, three photographs.

Everyone in the party catches the air and grasps it for a split-second, suspended in time and buoyed by joy.

Then, gravity pulls hard. Instantly, the moment crashes downward.

Each moment is impermanent, breakable, fresh, dying, then dead. And each one holds the joy of a lifespan.

This is why we chase after experiences and document them in pictures: We can only ever live moment by moment, even when we travel forward or backward in worry and regret.

We need to experience all the moments. We need to feel and communicate the emotional responses they bring.

If we just let time pass, or if we actively stifle our feelings, we are robbing ourselves and ignoring the reason for which we were created.

What do you think that reason is? 

I'll leave you in this fragile moment to ponder your life's snapshots. The ones behind you, the ones happening now, and all the ones to come.

Carpe diem! Seize the day.
I colored this drawing recently.

For me, music has always been a superhighway of emotion and beauty. It also has been one of my primary coping skills for tough times. 

I recently read an article by a moods expert who said it's best to listen to "mood-incongruent music" — music that conveys emotions opposite from your own — when you are trying to cope.

I see wisdom in that. There's a bit of mood-incongruent music on my list below. 

Overall, though, I try to notice my senses and pay attention to what soothes and irritates them. 

Maybe sad music is what you need when you're sad, to help you know you're not alone. Or, maybe you've been stuffing your anger, and now you need a productive outlet. Angry music could help.

I don't typically listen to metal or hard rock music when I'm feeling down or anxious, because the dissonance and high-pitched electronic tones grate against my eardrums and aggravate my irritability. But maybe your eardrums like those sounds. If so, mindfully harness that liking to help you process your emotions.

Without further ado, here are the four main types of music that help me through tough times:

1. Hymns and sacred songs 

I was cleaning out my car — another coping skill — and I found a Fernando Ortega CD I thought I'd lost forever: "The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns and Sacred Songs" (2006).

Here's one of my favorites from that album:

It's so simple and beautiful. It's the prayer I imagine God praying over me when I'm feeling anxious. 

2. Brandi Carlile

I've blogged about her music for years. For you longtime readers, it will come as no surprise that she makes one of my lists again.

Here's a Brandi Carlile song that helps me cry when I need to: "Downpour":

3. Johnny Cash

While I don't own any of his music, (I know! Get me some!) I love the darker stuff he wrote later in life, as well as the hymn-like songs and the fun-loving tunes.

Here's "Folsom Prison Blues," which I classify as a happy tune, even though it's about prison:

4. Edith Piaf

Sometimes, when my brain feels like scrambled eggs, but I still need to function/work/do chores, it's good to listen to music that has no lyrics — or lyrics I don't fully understand, because they're in a foreign language.

For this, I turn to Edith Piaf, 1915-1963, who was a French cabaret singer. Her strong, dominant vocals overshadow my moods. Her bold, march-style music helps me focus and gives me a boost of mental energy when I need it.

Here's Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien":

Your turn. What are some songs you'd put on your list of coping tunes?

Read more of my blog posts about music here.

I've been riding through a rough stretch. The difficulty has included a range of normal life stressors + mental health issues + insomnia.

Many of you have experienced similar tough times. Trouble has a way of finding us, doesn't it?

Here are four coping skills I've learned that could help you, too:

1. Cut social media ties for a time. If you are in a battle for sanity, you don't need to be on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc. It's hard to avoid comparing your life's messiness to other people's highlight reels. So don't. Even if you are a writer, artist, business owner, etc., you CAN take a break. Decide how long you need off. Then cut the cord.

This was the "away message" I posted on Facebook before I unplugged.

2. Try your hand at art projects. You might find yourself at a loss for words during a tough time. So don't talk or write. Make art. It helps.

I drew a face, then made a frame. Then I took photos of my shadow looming over the drawing.

3. Spend more time with animals. I love equine animals (horses, ponies and donkeys), cats of all kinds, and the gentler breeds of dogs. Why do I love hanging out with animals? Because they don't judge, they are excellent listeners, and they are So. Fricking. Adorable. If your heart is heavy, animals will take a load off it.

Here I am greeting a sweet pony named Applejack.

4. Hang out with friends old and new. Old friends know you well, and they can speak into your life with honesty, grace and love. New friends know almost nothing, so you're free to talk to them about other things besides The Big Thing, a.k.a. your rough patch. I'm blessed to have old and new friends, and both groups have turned out to be agents of healing in my life. 

Me and a dear friend, Meredith, celebrating our birthdays.

Your turn. What are some of your coping skills for hard times?