Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Beating Heart

Three months ago, I unintentionally put this blog away. My veins felt empty, bled dry of words and images, and I didn't have the heart or the energy to get the blood flowing again. I folded up this space and tucked it into a drawer, waiting for a perfect writing day that seemed to never come. Since then, it has been a heart beating beneath the floorboards, a Siren call I can no longer ignore. So I'm sitting down to it, setting that heart at ease.

Wisconsin is currently an icebox, a monochromatic landscape of white and brown farm fields dotted with blips of red barns. The sun makes shadow patterns, giving the snow a blue sheen. I drive through it almost every day to and from work, escorted by Cormoran Strike, a private detective in a rainy London. I finished The Cuckoo's Calling and didn't wait long before I moved on to The Silkworm. Noir is getting me through the winter. Thanks, J.K. Rowling.

Nate and I wandered through Farm & Fleet last week, picking out Rubbermaid tubs and Plano shelves, so excited for our new apartment that we actually considered the afternoon a date. There is nothing so romantic as having your spouse pick out a tub for your canning jars. If you think I'm being sarcastic, then you don't know me very well. We have such hopes for this new place. It has a garden in the back and a river in the front. It has two bedrooms and a large kitchen. I almost wept at the counter space. I plan to embrace it as a grand adventure.

This has been the hardest semester yet, mostly because I'm ready to get that degree. I have a list of things I can't wait to do when time is my own again. Playing my tin whistle. Gardening. Baking bread. Reading stacks and stacks of books into the deepest hours of the night. Bike riding.

Sometimes I worry that I'm only living in the future, counting away the precious minutes of the present waiting for someday. Is that normal? Is that healthy? Am I being hard on myself? I never know the answer.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October Thoughts

I drive every day past shorn fields and golden foliage, serenaded by October. I read somewhere that October is like an older woman who has accepted her flaws and gets on with living, even at the end of her life. I love that imagery for this season and this month of wonder. I am awed by how we still instinctively "batten down the hatches" in our own 21st-century way: buying warmer clothes, filling our Crock-Pots with hot batches of soup, setting the tea kettle on the stove to warm. We still respond to the season's rhythm, even though we may be more separated from it than ever before. But October asks us to pause, watch, see it before it's gone. I think that's a good way to live life. Even though we know the end will come eventually, we squeeze every last opportunity from the golden days we have, not in mourning but in celebration. Autumn is full of lessons and perhaps this is one of them.
I read this yesterday, printed in a local newspaper in 1901 and it stopped my breath.

"I tell you at about this time of day, when the dark begins to come and I am here alone with all these records and reports which might be called the index of lives which have passed out, and the life work of men who have crossed over the dark river, and when everything is quiet and I am here alone; at such times when I hear the papers in these cases rustle and sometimes what seems to be the scratch of pens traveling over rough paper, and muffled sounds come from the dark corners of the room, it seems as if men who are gone come back and again go over the old records and examine the old files."
I know how that feels.
Driving south on a blustery afternoon, a family of birds suddenly appeared in the blue sky-meadow above me, dancing in the wind, and I immediately thought, "They can fly because they are light as air." Hollow bones. Feather coats. And I knew I too could fly high if I just empty myself of all heaviness, letting go of worry and judgement and doubt and fear. It sounds cliche to write it out now but in that moment, there was no greater truth.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tape and Glue

Sometimes we just need to say it out loud or hear our beloveds say it to us instead: I am perfect in my imperfections. Or: I am not my body. Or: I am more than how I define myself or how the world defines me. I don't fit inside a box and that is ok.

We struggle. We carry baggage and scars, our souls and hearts riddled with holes we patch with tape and daub with glue. It's hard work to grow up and bumps and bruises are part of the package. Me? I struggle with forgiveness. There is one thing I fear I will never forgive- because maybe I don't want to. The anger about it feels so good sometimes, a drug I can't bring myself to quit though I know it's killing me inside. I'm quietly, slowly, learning to let it go but there are days when I wonder if I can.

I struggle with fears of being left. There are days in my past I wish I couldn't remember- and things said and done that I bitterly regret. There's a particular feeling in my stomach I used to get that only comes every once-in-a-while, but when it does, it sends me reeling backwards to being 9 years old and feeling like I didn't have a home and that I was being split into too many pieces. I lay low. I let it pass.

I struggle with trying to please others too much. Last year, I got so tired of it that I turned my back on it and reacted in a way I never could have imagined. I stopped accepting and started asserting. It was hard and scary and made me cry. But it was liberating. I felt so free and in control, in a way I never had before. I had a voice and I had the right- finally- to use it. That may have been the moment when I decided that I liked who I was, despite my flaws. Despite the tape and the glue and the never-going-to-have-it-completely-figured-out. That I was going to accept her and help her, instead of tamping her down. I am going to let that soul glow out through the scars and the taped-up parts, shine through the holes and onto others.

I'm still struggling. We all are. But I can help carry someone's baggage as I dab on some glue and press down the Band-Aid. We heal each other. We heal ourselves.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer Waning

Water bubbles. I drop ears of yellow corn, fresh from the roadside, into my waiting pot. They boil for only a minute before they are dunked in cold water. We won't eat them yet- instead, they will be added to soups and casseroles throughout the winter. Bags of eggplant and squash, containers of jam and pesto and broth, wait expectantly in the freezer for when they are needed, making room for the bags of yellow corn that join them.

Rain drips on my shoulders as I lean over, reaching for a plump tomato. A splash of red among green stalks. My mother and I chat companionably as we move up and down the rows, picking the first round of bounty. We share stories and memories, we vent our troubles as we bend and stretch and our bags get heavier. We are keepers of a tradition, she and I- mothers and daughters bringing in the harvest.

Later that week, I arrive early at my friend's house, greeted with warm banana bread, a mug of coffee, and a cozy kitchen. We start to work, boiling water and rinsing jars. It is our first experiment with canning and we only feel confident because we are working together.

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After a few hours, tomato juice shimmers in pools on the counter, bowls and jars are scattered on every surface, and tomatoes are slipped into their new glass homes. Amidst all of this, we talk and laugh, bonding over our delight in our work and in the starting of new traditions. The jars of tomatoes glisten and steam.... and seal with a sweet pop.

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It is true that the swan song of summer is upon us, in the form of earlier nights and full gardens. Autumn creeps ever closer but I remain in my season of joy, calming my soul in the ritual of cut-dice-stir, finding pleasure in working with my hands. Alone in the kitchen in the dark of night, my thoughts run wild and smooth as I pull more colorful jars from their hot-water bath and wipe the counter for the last time.

Time ticks on, summer waning. All things come, all things pass. My task right now is merely to mark it.... and to preserve it.

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[All photos by my beautiful friend, Joanna].

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Spontaneous Prayer

I started the month of August nose-deep in a memoir (Found by Micha Boyett) on learning how to pray amid the busy, the chaos, the to-do lists. A birthday present from my husband who understands my seeker soul. I found myself nodding my head with the writer as she learned to shed the guilt that has mixed in with her faith, embracing the idea that we don't choose Jesus and we certainly don't earn Him. I grasped onto her insights of the Benedictine Rule, which fascinates and excites me. And I smiled in recognition as she learned to weave prayer into her everyday moments of running errands and showering and cleaning up the kitchen.

Prayer has only ever worked for me this way. I've tried to regiment it, getting up before dawn to recite Psalms or setting a goal to read certain passages on certain mornings but it has never worked well. Prayer is too spontaneous to be molded into a to-do list. I don't schedule conversations with my husband so I've stopped trying to force myself to do so with God. The notion that prayer is not a performance but an earnest, truthful talk with God and the idea that our everyday work is a form of prayer is something that speaks to every fiber of my being. Sometimes I pray without words, instead communicating my needs or awe with my eyes, my hands, or my breathing. God is outside the language of human beings. I only ever think I hear him when I am outside anyway.

I am encouraged when I remember that faith is not guilt. It is not the opposite of doubts and questions. It is not a single life-affirming moment of conversion but a gathering-home that takes place every new day. And so is prayer. Prayer is one spoken word that can hold a dictionary of meanings. It is listening as well as speaking. It is in the work we do and in our relationships with others. It is the inhale and the exhale.

Monday, July 28, 2014


What to write?

I want to write about our trip, which was another chance to spend a few days with one of the few people in this world who really understands me. We spent the days filling our lungs with dry mountain air, driving around town, laughing loudly at outdoor cafes as we won and lost board games, sharing a bowl of ice cream. It was satisfaction and exhilaration and comfort all rolled into one- vulnerability over a walk and a drink paired with sweet silence while munching cereal and watching 30 Rock.

I want to write about contradictions. That I can hike a glorious mountain path while bombs go off in the mid-East or that I can savor a blueberry lavender cider in one of my best dresses before walking past homeless men on the street are tragic mysteries. I still can't figure life out and it breaks my bones with the weight of it all.

And I want to write about how love and friendship are both beautiful and terrifying- a true contradiction. They are a risk and a gamble that I have lost in the past. Underneath the trust and confidence, I am afraid to lose what I love most. I fear that I won't be enough or that I will somehow break it. Hell, I fear that I'm just plain boring.

But mostly I want to write about how trust wins in the end. Every day I rediscover that what I thought was fragile as gossamer is actually stronger than stone. I trust her.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Raw Beans

I have vivid memories of growing up with two gardens in our backyard. Memories of walking down the rows with my Opa or watering with my Mom or washing produce at the spigot with Oma- memories that are sometimes forgotten, only to be resurrected when I bite into a pea pod or smell wet earth or pull a raspberry off the bush. Back then, I didn't notice the magic of a garden's yield or food straight from the ground, streaked with dirt. It was just part of my life. I relished the taste without recognizing the beauty of it. But that has changed. These days, the sight of a garden row fills me with soul-aching pleasure and snapping beans off the vine is as satisfying as eating them. I may not have a garden of my own yet, but I take what I can get, and this summer that means getting food and picking food from a farm near my home.

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Photo by my talented friend!
Yesterday, I walked down long rows lined with beans on one side and sage on the other, bags in hand to gather dinner. My best friend and her kids were with me and ahead of me, picking beans and then finding the pea patch. One of her little ones, a blond two-year-old boy with a sharp eye and a vocabulary to match, held my bag of beans, watching me select the biggest ones and twist them free. He wanted to help and I showed him how to grip the bean and pull, scootching his hand closer to the top of it, lifting the leaves for him. He dropped a few of the beans he picked in my bag. I plucked another bean and took a bite, the crunch reverberating through my teeth. Raw beans are a weakness of mine. Watching me, he asked for a bite too. I handed him my piece and watched him chew it. "I can't believe he likes that," my friend said as he took another bite. While we picked, I selected a few to eat, sharing with my picking buddy, smiling at his new-found love of raw beans.

As I worked, I thought about my childhood and the moment that had just passed. I don't know who first gave me raw beans from the bean patch, but the love for the taste has stayed with me into my adulthood. My need to walk barefoot on hard dirt, my appreciation of the feel and smell of dirt on my hands are all remnants of the childhood I had and the lessons I was taught by my parents and grandparents. My knowledge of gardening is still rudimentary but my appreciation for the power of soil, sun, and water and the resulting bounty that grows from the earth is something I learned early and learned well.

There was a tightness in my chest as I realized how much I want to pass those experiences on to my children. How desperately I want a child to pass experiences on to. Kneeling in the bean rows, I was overcome with an ache for them, these unknown people that I already love. In my bones, I can feel how much I am ready to meet them- to give them the world and for them to change mine. Yesterday was the day I discovered that all I want in the world, it seems, is to give my children the taste of a raw string bean.


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