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This is a transcript from episode #32 of the Let the Verse Flow Podcast.

I wake up to a sound I’ve known for years, it’s homeward bound. A cooing morning dove who calls a mate. Flocks live just a block away, in the park called Central, it’s home to many a wild and winsome creature. The morning dove has a schedule to keep as he flies over to perch on our sill and calls as I shake off slumber, it reminds me, I’m late. I’m walking in the park now, sidestepping the puddles that have grown so large that they are home to large ducks visiting from the Northern cold winds as they search for a sweet almost summer bath in the Big Apple’s playground. As I walk, I look down not because of my mood, but because it’s not people but nature pursued. I like fungus, I’m not gonna lie. Little clumps of mushrooms as I walk on by. They line the park on the moist edges after spring rain comes. The humps peek out like little brown tents, alive around the edges of trees, all soggy and restful. A peaceful sight, the mushrooms are fuzzy, tonal white and brown and grey, who can say what color really, they fight with each other to take up a small space. All crowded together as if to say “We live in this small corner of a great wise tree, let us be as the rain has beaconed us and we can live on this strange land, odd-looking canopies offering shelter for your roots.” I’m almost where I need to be, heavy boots have given way to springy sandals and light steps can go on and on for miles as green hues transform from deep to light to bright and dusty. How many shades of green are there? Too many to count, so I won’t try. I count the moments one by one, tree by tree, breath by breath, soft step by step. Just before it turns so hot, summertime is near, I take in these fresh, wet mornings when thoughts are clear. Warm breezes calm the edges and offer a moment of deeply rooted pleasures, along a path of cherry blossoms whose soft breath is pleasant beyond all measure.

As summer comes knocking on our door here in NYC tomorrow, let us give thanks to spring. Let us reflect on the beauty it has shown us, transforming cold and snowy nights into lush and ethereal mornings. All that rain in March had us cursing under our breath, but now they’ve given way to the riches of summer, and we are quiet and wistful and full of sunshine. Whether summer is your season now or not, there is always time to contemplate rebirth, rejuvenation, and the cycle of life that nature reminds us to take heed of. Today’s episode is all about celebrating the refreshing potential of a new season.

A sweep of a squeegee on a window being cleaned, revealing blue skies and a tree outside.
A pack rat ponders: How else will be able to see the natural beauty outside if we don't clean our windows?

Reluctant Spring Cleaning

For years I’ve heard other people talk about spring cleaning. Honestly, it seemed odd to me that they were so interested in cleaning the house, refreshing the linens, and organizing the closets. As a member of the Clutter League, card-carrying now for many years, I’d rather go for a walk than clean the cabinets. I’m not that interested in cans of beans, dust in corners, and windows that squeak. And my apartment tells that story. But in this particular spring, I experimented with the spring cleaning idea and devoted a week to cleaning the house. Mind you, my apartment needs more than one week of cleaning to look like those Instagram-ready rooms we see on the pages of “clutterbegone” influencers, but I gave it my best shot. The real task was part two of the organization of my mom’s things that I began two years ago, as I moved her belongings out of her apartment. There were things that I couldn’t give away to Goodwill, personal things, things that held memories, and so I tucked them away in the corner of my dining room. Unsightly boxes and bags and even small figurines were piled up in a corner that I could ignore, and ignore I did.

Grief Gives Way to Calm Acceptance (at least for now)

Anyone dealing with grief will know that there’s sadness in things, and that sadness is never really far away. It lives beneath the surface of the day and peeks or bubbles up from time to time. It was so hard to look in those boxes because they held things that were very dear to my mom, things that she valued before she got sick. But I was finally ready to get in there and sift through it all and make decisions. What I would keep, what I would donate, what I would throw away. And I did that, and slowly the space dissolved back into a dining room’s corner, and something strange happened. The space that now existed where those boxes had once been was like a breath of fresh air. Everything around me felt lighter. My shoulder relaxed, I breathed more deeply, and with presence, my eyes took in the tranquil space and it made the corners of my mouth go up into a deep smile.

An modern empty room with floor to ceiling windows with a view of a park and city.
Spaciousness feels good, allowing the soul room to breathe.

I was ready, you see, to give up some of my mom’s things and to make peace with the sadness that visited me every time I touched them. Now all organized and settled, I feel like I’ve journeyed to a new place, and the reward, the resting place of that journey, is more spaciousness around my apartment. That, and the pleasures of spring in New York City have left me feeling refreshed and ready for summer.

So while I’m not going to praise my new cleaning system or get into some love affair with the new mop I bought, I did get into spring cleaning. More importantly, I journeyed through another nuanced phase of grief and touched my mother’s things without falling apart. Throughout this time what’s held me together are sweet memories, the certainty that I’m loved, and the beauty of the unfolding spring and summer that lay before me.

Spring in Central Park (Forsythia & Cherry Blossom Trees)

I have two favorite springtime flowers – forsythia which comes out in full force around the edges of Central Park as early as March (they are my mom’s favorite) and Cherry Blossom trees. Between their softly sweet scent and the blossoms that float down and rest upon us, there’s nothing more reviving than a Cherry Blossom tree. I can’t be grumpy or grim when I’m around these trees, and they are all around NYC. Whenever I stand under one and watch as the wind blows the petals onto my jacket and hair, I feel as young as a five-year-old on a gleeful Easter morning. Each petal reminds me of the beauty of life itself; each petal revives me and sends weariness packing; each petal suggests weightlessness, a welcome reprieve after a cold winter. Each petal is a gift. This poem is about the charity of Cherry Blossoms. It’s called They Came to Me.

They Came to Me

By Jill Hodge

All I wanted was to look up into the vast blue sky
and watch the cherry blossom petals fly.
But my neck was restricted, my balance not right.
I thought it was over, as pain took over delight.
But it was just beginning, as soft cherry blossom petals fell on my jacket.
They came to me as if to say, “Don’t twist your little neck in our direction.
Don’t strain and wrinkle your face. It’s spring, don’t you know?
We are too happy dancing and you should be too.
For we have gifted you four thousand petals.”
Blowing in the wind, landing on your clothes, perfuming the air.
“It’s spring, don’t you know? We can be kind and come to you.”

Closely related to spring cleaning is the notion of minimalism. A pack rat like me has no business promoting minimalism, so I’ll leave that to the experts. You can Google minimalism and find no end to the tips and tricks that will have you emptying your home to its bones. But I love nuance, so I have found some pro-minimalist tactics that I can co-sign. Here are two ideas from the minimalism trend. 

The first is simply paring down the stuff in your house. Perhaps devoting some time to a small corner as I did in my dining room and asking yourself these questions: What can I get rid of here? What can I release and still be as happy, if not happier as I am right now? If you love it, keep it, but if you don’t, give it away to someone who will, or trash it if it’s junk. It turned out that it was equally satisfying for me to give good things to Goodwill as it was for me to trash broken junk that I’d kept for too long. All this cleaning may have you scratching your head and wondering as I did, Why did I wait so long to do this? How could I have let it get this bad? But those questions don’t need to be answered. Please don’t add any shameful undertones to your cleaning. People with clean houses aren’t any better or worse than you, they just have different priorities or different demands on their time

Family Caregivers: Toss the Self-Judgment While Cleaning

As a family caregiver, I don’t have endless hours to clean the house, and when I do devote time to cleaning, I don’t want to spend that time bad-mouthing myself for letting things go. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say a million times more. Shame over crap like this, and self-judgment are a f**king waste of time. Don’t do that to yourself. You deserve better. But if paring down things sounds like a good idea, I must say that the space it leaves behind is refreshing. I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s like giving your soul some space to move and explore. It’s expanding.

If you are grieving like I am and have a loved one belongings to go through, you may have to work in phases. I wasn’t ready to go through those piles of my mom’s things until I was ready, and there was no time clock on that readiness. The strength and energy it takes to go through their things can be vast, especially when you spend most of your day caregiving. Do some inner listening about when it’s the right time to pare down things, and then try it out. I tried going through my mom’s stuff about 8 months ago, but I couldn’t do it without crying. That was too soon; turns out this spring was just right.

The other way to bring some springtime-inspired minimalism into your life is by making room for simple pleasures. During my spring cleaning, I cleared off my balcony to create a summertime chill zone out there. I have these folding rocking chairs and if I position them just right, I can see a nice chunk of Central Park from my balcony. The rest of my view is other buildings, so I angle my chair carefully. So as not to clutter the balcony – and continue to enjoy the spaciousness I felt while clearing things away inside the apartment – I only have the rocking chairs and a small bench with a few plants on it out there. All I need is the rocking chair, and the feeling of space instantly relaxes me. And I rock out and watch the green tree tops bob up and down. I usually bring a book and a cup of iced coffee, and I often think how grateful I am that this little slice of heaven is enough for me. I don’t need a pool or a hammock or a grill (although those things are nice), I can be satisfied with what I have. I can be calm and gentle with myself while in the rocker. I can take care of myself. That’s the epitome of a summertime refresh

A photo of a small crabapple tree in front of a NYC apartment building.
A crabapple tree (I think) on NYC's Upper Westside.

Journal Prompts for a Summertime Refresh😎

Summertime is the perfect time to ease into journal writing, using just 5 moments of relaxation to let your words flow. So get out your journal and write in response to these prompts as you start the journey of your summertime refresh:

What areas of my home would benefit from a cleaning and a minimalistic refresh? Which corner will I start in and why?
How can I create a safe haven, a summertime sanctuary, in or around my home, for my summertime self-care?
What symbols, experiences, and things signal summer revival and rebirth to me, and how can I incorporate those things into my life?

I love mushrooms, cherry blossoms, loud birds, and shades of green. They signal the start of my summertime renewal. What things come to mind for you as you ready your summertime space for self-care? Give it some thought. As always, I’m hoping your summertime refresh has you humming and jiving to the bright side of the beat.🌞

Podcast Music: My thanks to all the musicians who make incredible music and have the courage to put it out into the world. All music for my podcast is sourced and licensed for use via Soundstripe.

Songs in this podcast episode: Bird Song (Robin) recorded by Jill Hodge; Early Bird by Brian Brown; Hidden Forest by Outside the Sky; Majestic Skies by Strength To Last; Slide by GEMM; Club Banga by Ghost Beatz; Pyaar Kee Seemaen by Cast of Characters

Related Episode:

The Nature Connection: Finding Peace and Perspective (episode 28)

Mindful Living Through Meditation (episode 26)

Grief & Gratitude (It's Bittersweet) (episode 15) 

The Healing Power of Time (and Sense) (episode 8) 

LTVF Season Two Music Playlist: Check out the songs that inspire me, and connect with artists from many genres who add to our collective, human soundtrack.

Listen to Let the Verse Flow on Your Podcast Player of Choice

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Journaling Resources

30-Day Journal Challenge (Writing Prompts to Get Started)
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Journaling 101: An Inspirational Guide to Start (or Revive) a Practice
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