Finding Calm In the Chaos
In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order (Carl Gustav Jung)
I woke up this morning with literally no idea what I was going to write about today. So I plodded along, struggling to find the words, writing stuff and deleting it almost immediately. It was frustrating, and confusing, as my mind wandered, unable to focus or connect.
None of it made any sense…
Then a friend posted an 1817 painting by Benjamin West called “Death on a Pale Horse” on Facebook. It was grizzly, tragic and crazy in that dark and ethereal way that paintings of that era often were. My first thought and comment was “that looks exactly like the chaos in my mind at the moment….”.
And then it came to me, the very thing that had been bothering me all week and all day today as I tried to sit down and write. So many things seem to be moving out of control these days, with each week bringing chaos in ways that we couldn’t even imagine the week before. Uncertainty has been layering upon uncertainty, running cracks into the foundation of our lives and weakening our base. So we struggle to make sense of it all, and find the rock upon which we can ground ourselves.
It’s the broken record of 2020, playing on repeat.
But that’s also why I write. To share these things, the minutiae that may not really make sense or matter that much, but that somehow manage (hopefully) to bring us together. It’s these little things, the basics of love, nature’s beauty and….well…food that bind us. Perhaps if we can share these, we can find something that connects and grounds us all.
Yeah…today I’m feeling it deep….
Chaos In the Air
It’s seems crazy what’s happening “out there” at the moment, don’t you think?
In the US wildfires are still roaring out West, COVID-19 is still a battleground (and has made it to the White House no less), facts are fluid and real news is hard to find. It’s unsettling & scary.
In France a freak storm hit the NW of the country this week, inundating coastal towns and causing loss of property and life. And of course COVID-19 cases continue to rise, while no-one can agree what to do about it. So new restrictions are starting to be implemented, especially in the larger cities and rumors of shut-downs are stating to swirl. But how far do we go? How do you sensibly draw the line between protecting your people, yet also allowing your economy to continue? In this never-ending pandemic year it’s a heated debate that is being argued the world over.
So we sit, and we wait, and we watch all this from our little enclave in the SW of France.
When I think about it, and dig through the details (I’ve got time on my hand ya know) I have to admit I think the answer is easy. Just wear masks, implement social distancing (in shops/restaurants/cinemas etc.) and make testing easily available to all. Then you can basically continue life more-or-less-normally until we have better treatments & knowledge in hand. It’s a simple method, and IMO the numbers prove that it works. In France we are still maintaining low death and ICU rates, despite a rapid rise in cases, and I think the policies that are already in place (e.g. mandatory mask wearing) are making that happen.
But what do I know?
The government wants more, and is now shutting down restaurants & bars in the bigger cities, with who-knows-what coming next. It makes the people restless and puts stress on already stressed-out businesses. In other words, chaos in the air. I can’t imagine it will end well.
So We Focus On the Small Stuff
Paul and I have been pizza making, or rather Neapolitan pizza geeking. It’s a small pleasure, that is fascinating yet unimportant. In other words, the perfect antidote to all the craziness in the world.
We started 2 months ago, experimenting with various flours and bases, rises and oven temps. Each week was a progression, moving from all-purpose flour to Italian flour (type 00 Caputo Flour is da bomb!!), increasing salt (a good salt base is key), moving from machine-kneading to hand-kneading, making our own tomato sauce, and finally maxing out our oven temp and deciding we may need even more (those Ooni pizza ovens are looking mighty tempting right now).
It’s become a Sunday tradition, and right now we are close, very close to our perfect pizza, which is a small victory in an otherwise out-of-control world.
Unimportant? Perhaps yes….But it’s fun and wonderfully therapeutic for our mental health.
Our next challenge is perfect pasta. We’ve already brought the hand-cranked pasta-machine and now just need to finesse the method. These are the small things that keep us sane.
Tip of the Week: If you want to watch some good, light, heart-warming videos, check out the YouTube channel called Pasta Grannies. It’s dedicated to Italian nonnas and their traditional cooking and (trust me on this), will warm you up with happiness from the inside out 🙂
And The Constancy of Change
The weather is keeping us on our toes, and stationary at home. We are cozy here, yet restless at the same time, enjoying the warmth and safety, yet yearning for change.
At the moment, nature seems to reflect that.
This week the crazy storm that pummeled the NW of the country passed through our area,. It was much decreased in strength, yet still wild enough to take us for a ride. So we had days of sideways rain and afternoons of crazy wind, interlaced with pockets of sun that lasted just long enough for us to relax and think “wow, this is nice” before yanking us back into stormy misery.
So we reveled in those moments of pause, clicking away with the camera to catch the way the mist curled into the morning light, or how colors shifted to gold in the afternoon. The breaks were small and brief, and in some ways the rarity of them was exactly what made them so special, their fleeting nature their very allure. I guess that’s the key to it all; capturing and enjoying these moments when you can. After all, in life change is the true constant, rather than the norm.
It’s a good lesson, if we can manage to learn it….
And That’s How We Find Our Ground
As chaos reigns outside, the only calm we can find is within.
It’s a simple concept, yet I can’t always say that I master it. There are moments when I feel the flow, where I manage to connect to the things that truly matter. And there are others where I lose it and wonder how I will make it through.
One of my constants, my “petits plaisirs” (small pleasures) is this blog, my photography, Polly, food, walks and nature. Simple things that ground me, that make sense when nothing else does. Perhaps by sharing these struggles, these things that many of us feel right now, I can help you find your ground too?
Small victories, small successes, small joys. Isn’t that what makes a life?
So that’s my gift and my challenge to you this week. Go find that little thing that brings you joy, that connects you and helps you find the calm. Perhaps if we all do this, we will all make it through the chaos this week, and the next, and the next after that. It’s a plan worth trying, don’t you agree?
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Bob Martel says
Ah, well written as always. A lot of the chaos is manufactured (or hyped if you prefer) by the media and political class.
One thing which has started to occur to me as I give it more thought is how resilient people and institutions are to the demands and limitations placed on them by the pandemic. At the beginning of this experience I did not foresee this and I am pleased by this realization.
Absolutely true Bob…and it really is a heart-warming thing to see. Businesses, people, communities have all adapted and ARE constantly adapting to the pressures that are being applied to them. It’s one of the things that make me believe we will come out of this, stronger than before.
Pauline Conn says
Yes, finding our grounding is a good, true, strong message for right now. I’m finding it hard. I loved this post and your deep thoughts. Thank you.
I think many, many people are struggling with this right now, on top of their other struggles (daily life, work, money etc.). I don’t know how to solve it, but I do feel it’s important to share it. You are not alone.
Deb Spencer says
We’ve found a lot of solace in nature this summer…the Colorado Trail,
Imogene Pass, Zion and in 2 days we will be hiking down to the river of the Grand Canyon. Nothing to think about but taking in the beautiful scenery and staying upright. I love the simplicity of the trail! There are no riots there. There is no virus or politicians there either. Just you and the dirt. Inhale deeply aaaaand exhale.
THAT is true grounding, and truly soul-healing. I do need to get out and hike more.
My peace, my calm come every Sunday afternoon when I read your blog. Thank you, Nina
Awwww Fran thank you for that. I’m superbly honored and happy if I can help bring a bit of peace to others in these times.
Suzanne in Maine says
I think the uncertainty in the early going, March, April, May, was the worst. But, as Bob Martel noted above, people, businesses and institutions are finding their resilience. The virus really didn’t change much for us in terms of how we live our daily lives, though it did result in a couple of canceled vacations, and several canceled family events, which was disappointing but understandable. So, I make out a weekly shopping list and make only one trip to the grocery store (wearing a mask, of course), instead of popping in at will for that one item I forgot. We humans are pretty adaptable when we don’t sink into the mire of “how things used to be.” This is our reality right now, and we just need to figure out how to soldier through it. On we go. Best to you and Paul, and Polly, and your dad. That pizza looks ah-mazing!
I do the same with shopping now. I used to shop maybe once every few days, but now I go once every 2 weeks or so, with weekly visits to the open-air market in the next village. We are an adaptable lot, aren’t we? But we do need to let go about “how things used to be”. Look forwards, believe good will happen.
Kris Sullivan says
You so captured the ups and downs of the Covid world! Everyone I know has mentioned something akin to what you’re talking about. It is good to know others have the same issues and how they’re dealing with them. I agree that finding the small joys is key. Thanks for reminding me!
So many people are struggling right now, mentally, as well as in other ways. Small joys are everything.
Jil Mohr says
I keep grounded by my quilting and my gardening…by keeping to routines..small day trips, weekly quilting with a friend (socially distant)… by staying in contact with friends…but most of all being able to share all of this with Tom…who is always grounded…
This is one of my favorite of your posts…thanks for sharing..
You do a wonderful job of keeping busy and engaged. A true inspiration to my lazy bones 🙂
I read your blog to my husband who has been struggling the past few weeks with the chaos in his mind. He asked me to tell you your words helped him cope with his meandering thoughts. Like you and Paul we are grounded by our pets (3 dogs and 2 cats) and their need for consistency and by the beauty of the nature surrounding us. We are in the beginning stages of leaf changing here is SE Pennsylvania. Have a good week, Nina. Thank you for your thoughts.
I think we’re in the midst of a global mental health crisis, or at least many, many people are struggling with these same thoughts and issues. Your husband is not alone! I also know humanity has fared through worse (World Wars, Civil Wars, bigger pandemics) so we’ll all do OK in the end, but the in-between times are going to be tough. Hang in there, both of you, and enjoy that leaf change.
Thank you, Nina so very much for this blog and your amazing writings. We’re in the planning stages of European retirement and really enjoy your blog! I haven’t had much to contribute, but I thought I would share a small pizza hack I discovered by accident. You can use a gas grill to bake pizza — we use our Weber, and it can easily get to 600 or 700F. I admit i would never have thought of that unless it was suggested by a Costco pizza kit!
Thank you again!! 🙂
WHOAH….that is an awesome little pizza hack. Going to give it a try. Thank you!
john stein says
Truth , beauty and Justice = The Good
Retired Vagabond says
Inspiring words, along with the wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing your wise thoughts!
Jon in LA says
Nina, your photos are always stunning. I host two Zoom sessions weekly for (very) old high school friends and our R V owners group (average 8 or 9 attendees each). I’d like to use a couple of your shots as virtual background when I host, with attribution, of course. Is that permissible? Thanks so much for sharing your French saga.
Sure…no problem. Attribution is fine (and thanks for asking).
Cynthia Huff of Taos says
Your photos here are stunning and uplifting and living in TAos, NM where light is spectacular, I have to say France still has us beat. As a lifelong artist/painter/potter, I have found a new daily learning experience watching Streamline Video with publisher Eric Rhoads and guest artists instructing and painting. It is such an amazing gift to learn from all of these experts. I also have found a recipe for bagels that equals any New York City bagel… amazing! And I waste partial days just being sad, as you have indicated, it can be difficult with the media and fear bombarding us daily. Thank you for keeping us posted about your France.
Taos has such amazing colors. And so many great artists end up there. I’ll have to look into Eric Rhoads….I’ve been fiddling with the idea of maybe picking up painting or pottery, or something with my hands. I think it would do my mind good.
Hang in there, and try not to read too much news. I think social media & news sometimes does us more harm than good. Finding the balance is key. Sending JOY your way!
It has been a chaotic week Nina–the news from the White House is so mixed up–who do you believe?? Our numbers in Montana are rising at a ridiculous rate due in large part to so many people refusing to wear masks (in my humble opinion). Our hospitals are very concerned about their ability to care for very many more ill people. But then on the other hand there is my knitting, cooking, sharing life with Emmi and Michael. Your blog is always a joy to read, your photos tonight are stunning and by the way–are you guys not gluten free any longer? And if you find a good pizza sauce recipe, would you share–I can’t seem to find the right combination.
We’ve reintroduced a bunch of gluten into our lives (I am guilty as charged!). I don’t know if it’s the flour that is different over here, or just my many years gluten-free, but my stomach seems to be able to handle it now. Or at least I can handle it a few days a week. It’s been a nice bonus!
For pizza sauce, or rather specifically Neopolitan pizza sauce, Paul has been the lead on that one. He says the secrets are really good tomatoes (we used canned Italian tomatoes, as they are sweet in a way other tomatoes are not), salt, a little sugar (also key), a touch of basil and…get this…he doesn’t cook the sauce as the oven does that for you. At least that is what is working for us at the moment. I’m sure more sauce-experimenting will be done.
That’s about the same pizza sauce as the one we’ve tried and liked the best–I don’t cook it. Have you seen this book–https://www.amazon.com/American-Pie-Search-Perfect-Pizza/dp/1580084222/ref=sr_1_4?crid=DQPF4958H8I9&dchild=1&keywords=peter+rinehart&qid=1601903379&sprefix=peter+rin%2Caps%2C183&sr=8-4
Bonnie Moser says
Question about the beautiful red sunsets. Are they the norm for your area?
I live in the Colorado Front range and we’ve been having red sunrises and sunsets due to haze from wildfires. Nothing like California, I’m sure, but nonetheless not the norm for our area.
BTW I got hooked on your blog by the photos.
P.S. the writing ain’t too shabby either. Especially today.
We do get quite a lot of red sunrises here, particularly when mornings are misty (the mist often rises from the mountain valley in the early morning, as the sun rises and bakes off the AM moisture). But sometimes I do enhance the colors a bit with my camera settings too (using white balance/color temp). It’s a mix…
And thanks for following along 🙂
I have a hand pasta maker given to me by a 90 year old cousin and whose mother originally Owned it. Both women used it almost every day and it looks like new and is still in the box, almost as new. A testament to the care things were given. I must start using it,, what better time than now.
What a GEM that pasta maker is! You should definitely use it, and channel your extended family history. Pasta is such a joy to make…a slow, beautiful process. Check out the Pasta Grannies YouTube I linked to above. You’ll definitely be inspired.
We believe that our exit from RVing was perfectly timed. We find solace in our neck of the woods away from chaos and away from people. Our simple pleasures are the birds that come and visit us. I don’t have to drive into the desert to find them, they come and entertain us, that ‘s our simple pleasures.
I think we all picked a good time to exit RVing, or at least put it on pause. I miss the lifestyle terribly, but I cannot deny that being in a house in the countryside, especially this year has been a huge blessing.
Margaret Arthur says
Nina, Thanks for this post! You are Spot-on and tapped into everyone’s feelings!
Seems everyone is coping in similar ways and just trying to maintain sanity.
I am staying away from TV news. Connecting with neighbors and friends, and of course social distancing. ( I don’t like even saying that as I feel everyone does this).
And who knew keeping in touch with family & Friends would be such a full time job!
However it is good for our sanity and theirs too!
Also, I love your pizza ideas..
And lastly your Photos are phonminal!
There is so much in our lives that we really have no control over, worrying about those things about drove me crazy until I realized it. But that’s me.
Those pizza ovens look like a great thing! Not super spendy, portable & table top so you don’t have to build anything permanent to support it, one of the modern miracles of the world today! (Right up there with the technology that allows me to be saying this from my kitchen table in Tahuya Washington to you at your home in France and all the people reading this blog in between).
Have a great October!!
David Michael says
Nina…I so enjoy your glimpses of life in France, really not too different from America except we have a craziness in our politics these four years that accentuate the ups and downs of Covid 19. You are in Europe at a good time.
We replaced our RVing with a van and apt living back in Oregon. Seven years on the road were enough for my wife, although I could have gone on forever. Because we are active into our eighties, the Covid has not affected us too much as we kayak, camp, hike and bike in beautiful Oregon. We head out to Eastern Oregon next week for pheasant hunting and bass fishing and kayaking so life is not so bad. Besides the fires and smoke, the homeless population is sadly exploding. Indeed, our rent was increased 10% this year which is huge since wages for so many are headed down. It feels like the days of another Great Economic Depression are closing in on us. Hard to predict the future. Stay healthy.
As always your writings give me pleasure and much to think about. I agree that the chaos is definitely worldwide as my cousin in the Netherlands is also noticing the same things happening there. I also don’t know the answers and will patiently wait and see. We have been traveling around the southeast US a bit and see differences with mask wearing all over regardless of mandates. We always wear them when out where there are people around. Still able to enjoy the occasional meal out in the small towns. It’s definitely been a challenging year. I will also continue to take joy from the little things in life with my husband. We are healthy and so lucky to be together in our life on the road. You were in the US and full time when I first started following you. Your blog was one of the reasons I knew we could do this. You’re calming musings are always wonderful.
Betsy Johnston says
Thank you for your wonderful perspective during these tumultuous times! I agree embracing the simple things life has to offer brings comfort and calm. Thank you for sharing!
Your insight is on point every week, and as down as I am at times you raise me up. Your pictures, challenges and just letting it all out is so up lifting to me, we’re all human it seems .
Here in the Ohio countryside it isn’t all that different from months ago, old timers and the young masks ? What dang masks ? I just carry on as best as I can. The not traveling is REALLY getting to me, with a husband who has celiac disease and lots of allergies it’s been no travel this year. BUT….. we’re thinking of trading this big RV for a small NuCamp Tab, a small nimble little thing to sneak out of town, my sanity needs some open spaces to just be.
Wishing the world peace, health and happiness.
I think a small, nimble Tab could be perfect. I’m also really struggling with not traveling (it’s so much a part of my core), but we’ve also been very isolated this year. We have to make more of an effort to get out, even if it’s just small trips. I think we could all use this. Hope you find a balance that can work for you.
Jamie Feinberg says
Another wonderful post, thank you. I relate to this so much right now. I’ve done so much work on my mindset, but it feels like every week and every day of late I am even more challenged to stay calm and grounded. Walks help. Reading helps. Time off social media is key. And of course enjoying my family and other hobbies as much as possible.
I totally agree Jamie. I’ve had the same feeling, and trying to work on calming & centering myself. It has become more difficult, especially as COVID, natural disasters and of course all the political turmoil continues. Not easy times, 2020. More time in nature is needed IMO.
Nancy and Bill says
Thanks so much for this post…it is very timely and the photos are wonderful!!! I believe you have found the way to get through this strange and unusual time….FOCUS!!! Yes we need something positive to focus on and “PERFECT PIZZA” certainly fits the bill
Stay Safe and Be Well & Healthy
Sometimes Pizza is all you need…..and perfection can take months (speaking from experience) 🙂
We got an Ooni pizza oven this year, and it’s great! It makes the best pizza. Each one is small, but it only takes 60-90 seconds to bake with a few rotations to make sure it cooks evenly.
Thanks for all your beautiful pics! I love those mountains 🙂 I started following your blog a few years back when we were exploring the rv life after retirement.
I grew up in Germany where the mentality of the day was to stay within a 1 hour driving range of one’s home. Our yearly 7 hour trip into the alps felt momentous! Luckily, I grew up in a nice area 😉 But I must say, the area you are in is absolutely stunning!
In my life, the rock upon which to ground myself is Jesus Christ.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Smiles from Michigan,