Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dance Sesh

Saturday night.
I got home. 
Kids got home.

And I had an itch to dance.
Benj turned the deck lights on.
French doors opened.
We turned the tunes up loud...and danced.
Hard.
For a long time.
Isaiah let loose like I've never seen him and it was totally, absolutely, completely, 100% delightful.
We reeled each other in, came up with goofy moves across the floor.
He was cracking me up.
We sang along.
We danced together, and alone.

Isaiah took this blurry pic of Mia and I, singing along to Walk the Moon's song, right in mid-phrase:
"SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME!"

It was so, so good.
All the feels.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Every Girl Can Dream

Every girl can have a dream, right?

And whether or not that dream will ever be a reality is another thing. Mine may never come true, but I still think about it and it takes me to a happy, peaceful place.
I suppose mine started, unbeknownst to me, as a little girl when I spent lots of time working the dirt. My father taught me how to plant beans and tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. We planted flowers together, and no spring was complete without going to the greenhouse. 

Something happened there that I'm not sure I fully appreciated at the time, but I developed a love for good food and the satisfaction of getting your feet and hands dirty---breathing in fresh air and really smelling it. 
There's just something about it.  

I also developed a love of work. 
I LOVE to work. 

But then. 

I read a book, a memoir, maybe five? years ago, and I fell in love with the concept of land and farming in a way I never had before. And I'm 100% positive it's a bit romanticized (owning it!), but it resonated so deeply with me: land, work, simplicity, and the beauty inherent in that connectedness. 

I absolutely love art and culture and literature and music and learning; I was raised to appreciate those things, but I also think I have a personal bent toward them. I'm frequently in my head, spinning ideas around, and I love books and being enlightened by chewing on other people's thoughts. I knew I had a love affair with words and writing and expression by the time I was in high school. 

I expect that will never change. 

But, at the heart, I think I'm a bit of a country girl. I've never been trendy or much of a shopper. Consumerism and materialism don't satisfy me. I don't need a lot of THINGS to make me happy. Besides...the shoe kinda fits. I mean, I DID choose to homeschool (though that may be coming to a close), and I AM passionate about natural childbirth. I love canning and making food from scratch and lighting fires and I have fond memories of chopping firewood in the woods with my dad and sisters.

When I go to my dream place, I imagine having a piece of land. Maybe a wrap-around porch to watch the sun set. Maybe a horse or two. I imagine country runs and morning quiet. A farm dog, maybe, and chickens. I imagine my family there; my children and grandchildren, and I think about cooking big meals for all of these people that I love and coming together. I imagine a warm home where the porch light calls you in and there's peace there. 

But. Let's just rein in that thought for a sec, peeps. 

That isn't my reality today. 

My current equivalent will make you laugh but I'll share it anyway.

I've never been hunting in my life, but for quite a while now, I've wanted to go. I've wanted to experience that with a man I love, and I've wanted to be more connected to that process because I take it for granted every day. But one day I'd love to go on the hunt and participate in a harvest and do it; like really DO IT. And I want my children in on it, too. I want to get my hands dirty with it. And then know what it is to package it up and store it away and feel gratitude for that animal sustaining me and my family. Just today, on an 8-mile run, I found myself thinking about my shocking indifference, because I don't ever really think about the fact that some animal's life was ended to sustain mine. I mean, sure, I think about it; but how often do I stop and feel gratitude and respect for that animal, for its life?

So. 

A few weeks ago I was thinking about this again: doing the work of getting meat and storing it away. Dinner was done and I still had a mountain to do that night, miles to go before sleep. I put the boys on kitchen cleanup and headed outside to the deck to tackle 40 pounds of chicken under the lights. 
Butcher knife. (Check.)
Cutting board. (Check.)
Get my game on. (Check.)

And as I sat there handling COLD fresh chicken that had never been frozen, cutting off the extra bits and getting the jelly off of it, Mia held the bags open for me and we enjoyed listening to the Weepies.
And I felt righteously industrious. 

(I hope you're laughing now, but it's totes true.)

I LOVE the satisfaction of getting it done and filling my freezer with meat. And, ridiculous though it may sound, invoking my pioneer spirit of taking care of my family and working together on our "piece of land."

Okay, I know. 

(Hardy-har-har and guffaw. Go ahead. Keep laughing.)

It's just my simple two-bum kitchen, my four people and me, my little house, and my yard. And we live in a very non-country neighborhood, although we do have wide streets that I love. 

But. 

My grandparents farmed. 
They worked the land and had respect for it. 
(My dad (left) with his brother Rick and Laddie)

My dad roamed the hills of western Montana on horseback. 
He combed that land with his dog, Laddie. He drove a tractor at 3, and by the time he was 6, he was helping his grandfather with haying and lots of other chores when he spent weeks on their ranch in the summer. 
(Dad in his duds as a little guy)

It all resonates with me, and it has for a long time. 

I find myself yearning for that life without throwing away some of today's modern conveniences. (I love the computer and camera and notepad that is my iPhone, for example, and I heart the crazy access to information that is Google and the internet and modern technology. I certainly appreciate plumbing and electricity and refrigeration and a furnace. Love me a hot shower and some perfume. Yup. Sure do. Super grateful.)

But really. 

Maybe it's why I feel happy when my feet are in the mud, and maybe it's also why I am always running toward quiet: I love country roads and fields, places where my mind can wander and roam, places where I feel free and open and at peace. 

I can find myself there. 
In those quiet places, my life becomes organized again: I can hear my own thoughts, identify what's truly important in my heart, and I come home ready to live my life again. 

Because it's a beautiful life. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Here's to Abe & Atticus

This morning, I found Claire in the act of continuing with this smattering of paint that she was working on last night when the other kids were off playing with friends and I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln and the noble ideals of abolitionism and democracy, honor and courage. 
I had just finished an hour working on writing about the 16th President of our United States, and was thinking about something I'd seen on Instagram this morning---a husband and wife who, together, are sharing their journey to healing. The husband struggled with pornography for over 30 years, and they claim their marriage was unsafe for so long. But they've turned to therapy and healing and openness and honesty, and their marriage is stronger today than it ever was. They are sharing their story and journey with the world. I was (and am!) SO inspired by that. For some reason, we associate mistakes with shame---and the bigger it is, or the more it's against what we truly believe, the more we carry that shame, burying it within us. We hide where we fall short because we don't love it, and we're sure no one else can love us in spite of our struggles, either. 

That makes me so sad, because all of us fall short--in one way or another (and in my case, in several)--and what we all need, more than anything, is love and compassion.

In my life, I've ultimately found healing only insofar as I am willing to look at, and deal, with the truth: about myself, about situations, relationships, my conduct, whatever. And I'm constantly trying to ascertain if I'm being honest with myself about my life, and wondering if I'm seeing things clearly, trying to identify places where I need to (figuratively) clean my glasses. (I often find myself introspective: asking who I really am, if I'm good to others, wondering about my interactions and my motives, wondering whether I'm making any progress toward being a better person than I used to be.)

Do any of you do this?
Or is this just me?
(Insert crying/laughter emoji.)

Just last night I was running, late, and thinking about meekness. I was listening to a man whose words always leave me full: full of thoughts, and full of desire to keep working toward something better. 

Reflecting is good, good medicine for me.

And this morning? When I came upstairs to make breakfast, thinking about and feeling inspired by other people and the ideals of conviction, liberty, honesty and freedom, I started frying eggs. I mixed up some orange juice and spread salted butter and sweet honey on homemade bread when it popped up in the toaster.
My peeps gathered around the table and ate and I read two chapters from To Kill A Mockingbird. And I relished some other words about how to live. The father figure in the book, Atticus, is a lawyer who is defending a black man in the South who has been accused of raping a white girl. Because he accepted the case, he's being called a "nigger-lover." 

He tells his daughter that the case "goes to the essence of a man's conscience" and then adds: "Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man. ...They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions...but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

I love this idea of living true to your convictions, to what you know. That's powerful, and it takes courage.

Later, he's talking with his children about a crotchety old woman down the street who had just passed away, a woman who had battled morphine addiction and was trying to give it up before she died. And she succeeded. She may have been cranky and cantankerous, but Atticus teaches Jem and Scout that real courage is "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."

Fighting the worst that is in us is hard. You have to be brave. But how awesome. And so worth it.

And when they saw their father kill a mad dog with just one shot, Jem and Scout about died. They thought their father hadn't a single notion of what to do with a gun. Only after that shot was taken did they become acquainted with their father's young-man reputation as "One-Shot Finch." And I loved this description their neighbor, Miss Maudie, tells the children about their father:

"If your father's anything, he's civilized in his heart. Marksmanship's a gift of God, a talent--oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin's different from playing the piano or the like. I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things. ...People in their right minds never take pride in their talents."

Humility? Not taking advantage of another? Recognizing where our gifts come from, instead of taking credit?

Ummm, YES.

I stood up from the table, the children scattered, and I began to clean it all up as the sun streamed in through the window. The geranium on my table is about to open another gorgeous bloom, and I opened the back door to let fresh air in. Gratitude, like the air I was breathing, was just hanging there in the kitchen.

And you know, Lincoln once said this about equality:

“The author of the Declaration of Independence and the founding fathers who signed it clearly did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not even mean to assert the obvious untruth that all men in 1776 were equal in rights and opportunities. Rather, they meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.” 

Despite lots of things that are unsavory in the world, this whole thing called life is mysterious and lovely and I'm so grateful: for inspiring people and their lives, and for beautiful thoughts, those maxims that encourage you to stretch higher, to be better, to love others, to scorn self pity, to live with compassion, forgiveness, and understanding, and to reach for what is deeper within each of us.

Like Lincoln said, even if we never perfectly attain those things, the ideals give us a standard, and striving will make us better people. Happier people. More full of love. More peaceful: with ourselves and with the world, and more able to contribute to the greater good.
So, here's to Abe and Atticus today.

And I'm not gonna lie: 60 degrees and sunshine isn't a bad gig, either.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Comfort

There's a Deb Talan song I love called "Comfort."
One of my favorite lyrics from the song goes like this:

"In days to come, when your heart feels undone,
May you always find an open hand---
and take comfort wherever you can."
Life has been kicking my butt the last couple of weeks and there have been lots of tears around here, and not just mine.
I have felt defeated.
Exhausted.
Stressed, worried, and sad.
Sometimes I've felt like I'm failing, and I want so much to do it right - especially for my kids, because I adore them.
I've snapped, and I always hate that version of myself.
And you know what else?
It's hard to watch your people when they're struggling and going through hard things, too.

My shoulders have felt really heavy and weary.

And even though I feel assurance that current worries will work out -- it always does and God is good -- I've had a couple of weeks where I feel like it is all I can do to get through the day with anything left.

I feel so emotionally depleted, and I find myself wishing I could be more and do more, and that I always had the right answer or perpetually responded with patience and love.
I've broken down and sobbed in front of my children, and I always feel bad about that, too.

But this is life, right?
Up and down, round and round.
It's one big mix of everything: good and bad, hard and soft, happy and sad.

I suppose that's what makes it such a ride.

And I'm grateful for the (many!) pieces of comfort I find along the way.

Like on Sunday evening.
My heart had been touched that day.
And when we came out of church, it was partly cloudy and windy.
But, just 4.5 hours later, when I looked out to the street, the wind was blowing hard! and it was snowing.
The deck was fast getting a fresh blanket of white.
New friends had unexpectedly stopped by, and because we talked for a while, I found myself doing the dishes later than usual.
I turned on some music, scraped plates, rinsed dishes, loaded the dishwasher, swept the floor, wiped things down. The kids were hanging out and we were taking note of the storm.
And in the middle of the cleanup, my phone beeped.

It was a text from my sweet neighbor, Ralph.
He's 85 and one of my very favorite people, a blessing I've counted again and again in my life.

And it just said this:

It made me happy that he would text me about that; that we have conversations about the weather or food or ice cream or a gospel snippet or hot peppers or gardening or our mutual love of chocolate or books or poetry or our families or some piece of music. Sometimes we slip in a four-letter word here and there and laugh. I love him. So much.

But what he didn't know was that my dad and I would often talk about the weather---especially snow storms. It wasn't uncommon for him to call me on a snowy morning, early, to see if I'd seen the fresh flakes yet, or for us to talk on the phone about a pending storm.

Somehow getting Ralph's text felt so familiar, and like a sweet, tender mercy from a man who is another father to me. 
Even writing about it now makes me cry.

Or the gift of sunshine today.
I have had several long (and hard!) conversations with my children lately.
And at the end of yet another one, and more tears, 
we spent some time outside.

The sun was shining and I lay down on my back on a blanket in the back of the yard, closed my eyes, and felt the sun on my face. One of my sons was talking to me and this little gal promptly went in the house, grabbed a blanket and pillow, and came and parked herself beside me.
I dished up bowls of ice cream for all of them and we sat there talking. 
And I soaked in that golden peace.

And then?

I started reading To Kill A Mockingbird with the kids last week.
I haven't read it since I was a teenager, and I've pretty much forgotten everything except that I loved it.
Reading it tonight, I was laughing out loud. 
We all were. 
Harper Lee, I love your writing.
And my children are loving your writing.

And as I switched the laundry tonight, I found myself feeling peace then, too.
Even though I don't know how things will sort out, there is a familiarity in these tasks that grounds me and makes me grateful, even if the tears seem to keep coming. These simple things connect me to my heart and what really matters there, and the people I love the most.

And after everyone was tucked in tonight, I came upstairs and heated up water, brown sugar, butter and salt, and mixed it with flour and yeast. Then I added some wheat flour, turned it on to the counter, and began to knead while listening to a favorite tune in the background.
There's something really comforting about predictability:
I know that if I combine flour and yeast and water and salt, a little butter and a little sugar, turn it out and don't add too much flour, something good happens. You get a beautiful-feeling dough that's absolutely right: just sticky enough, but soft and smooth.
And I know that no matter what else is hard, when I open the page of a book and begin to read to my children, we all feel peace.

It's like what Ralph said:
Open the drapes.
Watch.
Keep your eyes open.
There is always beauty to be had.

And I find comfort there.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

I love him so

 After two truly craptastic mothering days (they should fire me!) and some other current stress, I was grateful for the gift of today.

I awoke and texted my sisters, wishing our dad a happy 70th birthday.
I mixed yogurt with chopped fruit and berries and raw oats and nuts as light came in the kitchen windows. That was happy. (And yummy.)

And you know what?
Today, the sun shone. 
Even though it was cold, the sky was blue! (Blessing!)
I took valentine decorations off my mantle and put spring up in its place while listening to the Weepies and Claire requested a Tim McGraw song she loves.
(And yeah, if you're in Utah, I know what you're thinking: there's snow outside. But maybe forsythia and boxwood will encourage the outside world to follow suit.)
Late in the afternoon, the girls and I drove to dad's grave to put some flowers there.
When we got back, they headed out with their dad for a while and I went out on a run as light was slipping from the valley. It was dark by the time I got home.

I mixed cake, lit candles on the mantle, and sat down to do some work.

The kids came home, and while we waited for the cake to come out and then cool off, Claire and I sat on the couch singing "The Wheels on the Bus," and then I whistled various tunes and she'd guess the songs.

We put 4 candles in dad's cake (cuz...70!), sang Happy Birthday, dished it up with ice cream, and read together.
And as I go to sleep tonight, I'll talk with God about how grateful I am for a gentler day: for those bright yellow rays that brought hope and joy, for my children, for the opportunity to learn and try again and apologize, the chance to be humbled and see my faults, and for being able to run and move my body. I'll express gratitude for a warm house and food to eat.

But also, I'll thank God for the blessing of a kind and wise father and friend. 
I love him so.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Grateful

You know...there are always going to be things you can't answer right now.
Inevitably there are problems to solve and stressors that come.
There are times that reduce you to tears --- and to your knees.
But for me, 
life has been a process of feeling increasing gratitude.
It's a thread that permeates through everything and brings peace regardless of circumstance.

This week, despite difficulty, I've felt grateful for:

Thoughtful neighbors, quietly serving.
Blue sky breaking through winter clouds.
Running at night in the quiet and cold.
A warm house and warm food and windows to look out of as the snow falls.
Conversations where you realize you have so much to learn.
Stopping, in the middle of the road, because of the beauty of a winter sunset sky.
A good book.
Prayer --- I honestly can't navigate my life without it.
Feeling reassurance.
A best friend in California who blesses my life with her wisdom, love, and focus.
Sacred communication.
Lingering a few extra minutes one night to hold my baby who had fallen asleep in my bed.
And a pointed reminder that I'm on my way home, and that everything here is just a stop along the way.

Life is such a gift.
And I'm grateful.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Strawberry Dress Girl

Yesterday morning I woke up and saw that on the same day, four years ago -- February 20, 2013 -- I had posted a couple of pics on Facebook.
They took me back to a memory I love.
I was headed to the grocery store with my two girls: one, a two-month-old little bug in a rug that wasn't content unless she was in my arms, and a four-year-old companion who was intent on bringing her baby along to the grocery store, too.
(Because, #twinners.)

First of all: Mia is adorable.
Second: I love her outfit. 
I totally hearted her in this dress, and this is still one of my very favorite pictures of her from that time.

Once I got up and running yesterday, I headed out to run some errands with that girl of mine that was the baby 4 years ago.

Not anymore. 
We went to pick up 40 lbs. of fresh chicken to package, and then to get a treat and drop it off to a friend for his birthday. 
We listened to Jack Johnson and John Meyer as we drove, and having just looked at those photos, I found myself thinking about how it was just like me and Mia. But it was her sister this time, almost the exact same age as that little strawberry-dress girl of 4 years ago.
Kind of a bit tender, but in a happy way.
I've been so lucky to have them.
And?
My days of small-errand-companions are almost over, 
and I can hardly believe it. 

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