Word to 2021

Normally I would have rolled my eyes at such a word, thinking it too trite, like a home decor sign that says, “Dance like nobody is watching.” Such a saying was clever enough to begin with, but now it’s just cliche. I looked at the word in front of me and considered rejecting it outright. I was using Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year generator. For those unfamiliar, it is a simple website that randomly picks a word of the year for its users, a word that is to serve as a theme or focal point for one’s year. In 2020 I chose my own word: detachment. It was kind of a hardcore word that ended up being very appropriate for 2020. This year though, I didn’t really have a strong pull to any word or theme, so I used the word generator. My word? Blossom. It sounded like the kind of word a middle-aged woman who is deeply unhappy about her life would choose at the start of her mid-life crisis. But then I considered that ‘Blossom’ seemed to be a great word to follow ‘Detachment’. After all, we do not seek detachment for itself, but in order to clear space for new growth.

I also thought about how I recently bought an online course on herbalism that I plan to start soon, and I’ve been imagining my 2021 living like St. Hildegard of Bingen, nearly cloistered in my home studying plants and making my own herbal remedies for common ailments. The word also seemed to support my desire to immerse myself in the real, as opposed to being immersed in the virtual. I want to make more time to nurture in-real-life friendships, spend more time praying, baking, reading books — both fiction and non — and also reading poetry, playing board games, spending time in nature, and puttering in my house. If anything will save our world, I’m sure it is real-life connections and being rooted in the Divine stream, not media consumption, doomscrolling, and internet fights. I don’t know what joys and challenges 2021 has in store for me, but I figure a flower can bloom in a pristine forest as well as from a crack in a field of concrete.

Do you have any plans, goals, or a word for 2021? What will you be doing to nurture yourself?

“They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)

Work Cited:

St Joseph edition ofthe New American Bible Revised Edition. (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1970).

Days With Kids and Toad

The toad was in the window well when my children found it. Thinking that it was stuck down there, they rescued it by letting it loose in the backyard. I watched my four year old chase it around for a while before he grabbed a stick. Worried for the safety of the toad I inquired why he had the stick. “Because I want it to fetch!” he replied. To M’s disappointment, the toad did not fetch.

The next day the toad was back in the window well. The kids rescued it again. The next day it was back. So we decided the toad lives in our window well and likes it down there. The kids named it Greg, and they check on it every day and play with it a while. I’ve begun to think the toad likes their visits because he’s stopped trying to jump out of their hands, and he doesn’t find a home in a different location.

Greg’s house, complete with toadstool sculpture, a couch, and a tent with a big leaf “tarp”.

Life has been more or less quiet in our house, but the toad seems to be providing some wholesome entertainment for all the children. As the news, the pandemic, and, ahem, presidential debates seem to be getting uglier every day, I find myself relishing the simple joys of home and family life ever the more, and, I must say, I’m enjoying the children’s daily reports on the toad much more than the news reports.

The children report on whether the toad is home or not, and they’ve all begun embellishing the toad’s window-well home. The fourteen year old added a sculpted toadstool and a small, homemade felt tent. She also dug a toad-sized hole in the dirt. The children must have filled the hole with water because later in the day eight-year-old N came running into the house to excitedly report that Greg was in his “pool”. Another day I noticed the children added a fresh pile of leaves to the well for Greg to sit under. N added a large black stone to the well. I think it is a little warmer than the other rocks down there and I see the toad warming himself on it sometimes.

One day eleven-year-old E was slowly walking her scooter around the driveway. I asked her to help me with the lunch dishes, and she replied she would just as soon as Greg was finished with his scooter ride! I looked down and sure enough, there sat Greg on the scooter being driven around the driveway. I’m not an expert on toad behavior, but the toad didn’t jump off, so I concluded he didn’t mind the ride.

We’ve also begun doing some research on toads. We found out that Greg is an American Toad, which is the only toad found in our area. Then we watched some videos and looked up a few sites to figure out Greg’s sex. We determined that Greg is female. Oops. The children now call the toad Greggy as they think that sounds a little more feminine.

N with Greggy

We’ve also learned that American Toads are slightly venomous. Their skin can secrete a substance that is harmful if swallowed, so the children know to wash their hands well if they’ve been touching Greggy.  We’ve also researched about what she likes to eat (prompting F to give her a worm to eat), and we’ve learned about what the toad will do in the winter. It turns out toads are facinating creatures. Greggy will dig beneath some loose soil and bury herself. As it gets colder, she will hibernate the winter away having buried herself below the freeze line. Cold climate toads and frogs basically make their own antifreeze to keep their blood and organs from freezing. Some ice will form on the skin of frogs and toads. Partially frozen, their heart and breathing will stop, but once spring comes and the ice melts, they “spring” to life again, and eat and hop and mate for another season. Frogs and toads do have a limit to the amount of cold they can survive, for some it is as low as 8° F. So I am not sure if Greggy will decide to winter in our window well or not,  but if so, we’ll probably add a thick layer of leaves to help insulate her against getting too cold.

I’m hoping Greggy will hibernate right next to our window so we can see her through the winter, but I’ll trust her to find the best spot. Until then, I’ll be enjoying watching the children lavish kindness on a toad, and I’ll continue hoping that more adults could show such kindness to one another, toadish or not.