Tag Archives: beauty

2015 Revelations Thus Far

DSC_0104 2I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.

I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.

I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in – this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.

So there were two things I wanted to do and not really enough time to do either of them.

I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.

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Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista – the same man who took my order all last year – smiles at me and asks,

“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”

I look quizzically at first.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say.

And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.

“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.

Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.

“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine – she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”

He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.

How could you think I had a baby?!

Oh, wait.

And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.

It would not shock the social structures.

Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.

My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.

Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.

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A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).

I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.

Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes

If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…

…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,

Live life near the bone.

If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.

If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.

[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]

~     ~     ~

2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.

And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.

Be your joy.

Wherever you are.

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Dear Daughter

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There aren’t many things more beautiful than a sun-filled day on the lake. The water — warm and clear to the bottom — lapping on the rocks, the wooden dock swaying, the call of loons echoing off the trees. Catching sunfish and showing me proudly, your hands too tender for the sharp scales.

I hope that you know this. I hope that you have long stretches of summers that feel endless.

Because it won’t be long — maybe seven, eight, nine years — before awareness is awoken in you, and you begin to doubt.

You will feel pressure, daughter. Despite my deepest desires, you will feel pressure from me.

I will want what’s best for you. I’ll encircle you with my arms and sing softly against your cheek. But I will also push you, I know this. I will want you to be bold, to be strong, and even though these are good things, pressure is crippling. Forgive me.

It won’t be only from me, born of love and care so deep I can’t fathom it at twenty-five years old.

You will feel pressure from the world. I still feel it, in my adulthood, but I can tell you honestly, it gets better. It gets lighter. And slowly you find you don’t care quite as much as you used to.

For years, though, be ready to hear those whispers from inside you.

I need to be more beautiful. I need to be smarter. I need him to look at me that way. 

I need to be the best.

And even though I feel extremely inadequate to give this advice, darling, because I battle it daily, I know in the core of me that these words are poison.

You will love a boy with your whole heart, and he will not love you back. Or he will, maybe, but not the way you want him to. The thing is, it isn’t like the movies. He won’t mean to hurt you and not even a little part of him will enjoy knowing he caused your pain. In real life, good people hurt us more often than bad people. You might try to paint him in black, but someday you will know: he is good and you are good, you just aren’t good for each other.

I ache for you even now, years before I’ve met you, and I wish I could spare you the ugliness of this world. There’s no such thing, though, as ‘perfect’ — whether in the world or in one human being — and if I want you to fully experience the cherry-popsicle-licking, day-long swimming, cribbage-playing joy of an August day in Maine, I need to be willing to see you get hurt. I need to be willing to let you battle those voices on your own.

Because it isn’t for the prettiest or smartest or funniest that the moon is lassoed.

He has already called you blessed. He has already named you His own. You dazzle Him with who He created you to be, and if you dazzle in Him, every nick and scrape and bruise will be healed.

True beauty is an overlapping of deepest pain with deepest joy.

The moon’s already yours, baby. You just gotta ask.

Love,

Your Someday-Mama

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.

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One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.

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The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.

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At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.

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We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

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My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.

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I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

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We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.

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I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

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The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.

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The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.

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We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!

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Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

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We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

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Cousin Christmas pic.

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The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

Home Movies

My sister is home for Christmas. She only lives about twenty-five minutes away, but there’s something so wonderful about having her right in the same house. Suddenly it’s all six of us again with a great-grandma thrown in, and now that we’re grown-up, vacations and time together seem a lot more important.

Last night, after Grandma went to bed, we sat in the living room and watched home movies. We re-plugged in the VCR (yes, unbelievable, really, that we still have one) and watched tape after tape. It was the strangest sensation, looking at those little faces I used to know so well, and then seeing those same faces grown and changed in the chair across from me. Not only the faces, though. The voices changed, too.

I never recognize my voice, singing or speaking or laughing or anything. I’m not sure why that is. I think in my head, my voice is lower, more grown-up, and it isn’t until someone points out that, yes, indeed, that is your voice, that I realize that high-pitched person speaking is me. On the opposite note, for some reason my sister’s voice used to be low, husky, and we tease her mercilessly about her little-girl voice. It’s not like that at all now. How in the world do these things happen?

[There is possibly no baby or toddler cuter than my littlest brother. I mean, the rest of us were decently cute, but my goodness, this kid was absolutely adorable.]

We watched the Christmas when I was six and my brother opened socks and was silently bummed out. We watched the day Mom and Dad surprised us with a new Viszla puppy and we all blinked awake to its cuteness running all over the room.

My favorite, though, was the video of us at camp. The sun, shining bright and hot on our blonde heads. Fishing off the dock, hoping to catch a bigger pickerel even than last year. Running down the gravel driveway at breakneck speed, our little plastic bikes giving Mom a near heart attack. Luddy, our dog, the tough hunter, scared of the water. Dad taking us out in the canoe and the kids, feeling grown up and big, waving from maybe a quarter mile away. Swimming all day long, doing jump after terrible jump off the dock.

Back when all we needed was the bunch of us and a long day.

We went there every summer for one week in August and it’s easy to forget who we were.

In a lot of ways, we’ve changed – taller, bigger, more experience, more hurt – but we’re not that much different, really. It was constantly loud in those home videos, and it is consistently so to this day. We screeched, we pushed, we danced, we hollered. My parents were amazingly patient, I realize now, watching their nearly-perfect hands-off parenting, because what is accomplished by helicoptering? It amazes me that from two people grew a whole family. How crazy it must feel to look at your best friend and then over at the four children you are blessed enough (or crazy enough) to have.

My hair’s a little darker, I’m (only a little bit) taller, and at least now I KNOW I have a problem with being bossy. Admitting it is the first step.

[A little part of me would go back there in a heartbeat.]

[This photo is from the ocean, our more recent family spot.]

The World by Alexandria

When I first watched The Fall it was October of 2011 and I was sitting in an upstairs apartment in the dark. My friends had recommended it highly and they sat next to me, across from me, eyes glued to the television. It was beautiful – the red sharp against the desert sand, the ocean a deep tropical blue-green, the feeling of a huge block of ice melting on your tongue.

My reaction to this movie is visceral. I’d rather not try to paraphrase it here – a string of words that means nothing if you haven’t seen it for yourself – but every time I watch the six-year-old Alexandria discover (yet again) that life is not perfect, that evil happens, and that people make the wrong choices every day, I am thrown into a pair of worn-out mary-janes and shocked by the very same things Alexandria cannot accept. The tears pouring down the rounded contours of her cheeks dampen the navy sweatshirt I’m wearing every time.

I watched The Fall again last week. I should’ve warned my friend how I react because I think it was surprising. What strikes me is that I’m not even sure the director or writer intend for me to view their film the way I do. God wasn’t in the picture for them, most likely, but that is what I see.

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As Roy tells Alexandria the fantastical story of bandits and adventure, he manipulates. He twists the story for his needs. He shakes morphine pills out of a plot line and uses a little girl’s devotion to alleviate his suffering. In the end, as he’s realizing the futility of his own life, he begins to destroy the world he’s built, and as each of the beloved characters dies, Alexandria becomes more and more outraged. Deeply angry, deeply sad, she cries out to him in both the story and real-life,

“This is my story too!”

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She weeps for her friends in this false-reality, but I think she is also weeping for herself. For Roy and his brokenness. For her dead father. For all the things that happened but shouldn’t have, and for all the things that should’ve happened but never did.

All I can think as I am re-immersed in this story is that Alexandria is not alone in her sadness, her anger. When God watches what we’ve chosen, He feels something akin to it, I think.

This is not the way the world is supposed to be. I feel this way when I watch movies like The Fall, when I hear about typhoons in the Philippines, when I read about another gunman.

I feel this when I (yet again) choose comfort and ease over helping another. When I watch students I care about spiral down a path that can only lead to more wrong choices. When I try to love and can’t. When I remember the death of a boy I knew, a boy whose grin is still bright in my mind.

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I know that this might not be what the artists had in mind when they made The Fall. That’s the beauty of art, though, the grappling and insight that comes even when you don’t expect it. I’m grateful for the beauty they created, for the suffering they show, and for the reaction of a little girl who speaks for me in ways I’m not always able.

Good Things #21: Pinterest

Pinterest, anyone?

I know I am a little late on the band wagon, but that seems to be my lot in life.

Okay, okay. If you know me, you’ve heard my mini-rant about how Pinterest makes you want things you don’t have and is just promoting the cyber world over the real world (why look at cool ideas instead of doing them?!).

And while I still agree with the above statements, I have come to realize that Pinterest holds a lot of awesomeness.

I’m pretty new to it, so I haven’t exactly plumbed the depths of all Pinterest has to offer, but I have some pretty nice boards if you ask me. My favorite is (of course) “my someday farm”, which is really a conglomeration of dream homes and rustic views and animals.

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farms2 Sometimes when I forget how beautiful the world is (like when it’s raining and I’m annoyed and all I want to do is drink hot tea), I look at this board and I feel happy.farms3

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“secret gardens” is beautiful too. My garden may never look like these, but aim high, I say.

gardenMy most outlandish board? Possibly “i couldn’t help it”, because that’s where I pin things I’m embarrassed of, but like I say, I couldn’t help it.  Sherlock lives on!

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And I feel like every single woman in her twenties needs a “world traveler” board. Not that you can’t travel when you’re hitched, but there’s something about the freedom of singlehood that makes traveling so utterly enticing. I keep pinning the most beautiful places – some I’ve seen but most I haven’t – and this is where Pinterest gets unhealthy for me. Every year or so I get itchy to go somewhere, and Pinterest makes it seem so possible.

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The board that inspires me? That would be “to make”, although “food and other delights” is inspiring in its own fashion…

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I mean, come on. This is the cutest thing since babies.

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Roasted apricots with honey, marscapone, and blackberries? Yes, please.

And as a shout-out to my dear artist friends and my own sense of aesthetics: “artsy”.

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artsy2So, there you have it. There are things in life that I change my mind about. I hear the ability to change your mind is a good thing, at least that’s what I’m going with. Pinterest could without a doubt become a problem for me. Especially when I start to long too deeply for things.

But you know what? Moderation. Like with all Good Things.

[Check me out on Pinterest if you like the outdoors, silly quotes from Sherlock, Latin and teaching ideas, and other not-so-necessary but fun things.]

 

 

 

Athena and Poetry

I bought myself an owl necklace a few days ago. It has a long chain and pearls for eyes. He sits perched on a little swing, his body round and his nose pointy.

I bought it for an Athena costume because the owl is the symbol of wisdom, and Athena is the goddess of all things wise. It’s no coincidence that the goddess of wisdom is also the goddess of the arts: painting, drawing, writing, singing, they all mingle in her power.

I’ve worn it a few times now, always expecting to put on something else – something a little more normal, a little more traditionally me – but each time I reach for this odd gold owl. I like that when I talk, I can hold it, and I like the way it feels in my hand.

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I taught my first poetry class to a room of adults, and I wondered What am I doing? but instead I said, Here, read this Ted Kooser poem about loss and brokenness, and let me define “imagery” and “diction” and “personification”. And please, pretend you’re in eighth grade and this is all new to you. Thanks.

I tried to present poetry like the mysterious gift that it is. What is imagery? You tell me. What do you see, taste, touch, hear, smell? What do you feel, and how does the poet make you feel that? What does Kooser do that other poets do not? Can you create your own images? Can you reshape this to be yours?

This is the work of poetry. This is the distilling of moments.

~     ~     ~

I slipped the long chain over my head as I got dressed in the dark. My first poetry lesson would be in roughly two hours. My first attempt at teaching this thing I have come to love would be over in roughly two hours and twenty-five minutes.

The owl swung down on its perch, its pearly eyes wide.

[Photo: Farid Fleifel.]

Good Things #19

This fall has been a particularly beautiful one.

Morning commute. This is not something I generally consider a Good Thing, but yesterday morning was the most beautiful drive. I looked out and saw fog lying low over the fields, the trees red and orange, the sun shining in that October-morning way. I wanted to stop the car and run through the fog, but imagining it was second-best.

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Books. Writers’ group met this past week, and we talked about John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. “I’ve never read that,” I say, and my friend hopped up, ran to his shelf, and pulled out his copy. I’ve only read the preface, but already I’m in love. Addressing the fears that so many wanna-be-writers have, Gardner says:

Most grown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don’t drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica as well as they would if they had sense. This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn’t everything. But for the serious young writer who wants to get published, it is encouraging to know that most of the professional writers out there are push-overs.

I love this. Partly because I think, “I knew it!”, and partly because I feel like I need to admit, “Yes! It’s true! I DON’T clean my ears as well as I should!” I can’t wait to get into this book.

Music. I first heard this band in my city-friend’s apartment last spring. I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t figure it out till a few weeks ago when another friend said, “Hey, I think you’d like these guys.” I like their lyrics and I love their sound. Good writing meets good music. “When Your Back’s Against the Wall” is encouraging in a not-hoaky way – give it a try.

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Chickens. There was a long while where I was not grateful for chickens. I hated doing them every day, I hated how they acted like they were starving when there was clearly food in the feeder, and I did not like that I had to clean out the henhouse. While not all of that has changed (I still do not rejoice in the early mornings…), I am so thankful that I get to eat farm-fresh eggs and sell them to friends and family. It’s actually been hard to get enough eggs recently – something I’ve never had to deal with before – and I’m considering expanding the flock next spring. There’s nothing more beautiful than an assortment of eggs.

Movies. Okay, this is not so much a recommendation as a plea: I haven’t seen a good movie IN FOREVER. Are there any out there? Please.

What Do You Want Your Story to Be?

I was addicted to stories. I devoured them, one after the other, bending and folding paperbacks with abandon, dog-earring corners, underlining words that were beautiful, words that were true. Young heroines like Emily of New Moon and Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy books taught me how to be spunky and creative. It wasn’t long before I was weaving plots for hours on a 1995 Gateway computer in my bedroom.

I remember wanting other kinds of stories, too. Sitting at the dinner table long after all the food was eaten, we’d beg my father to tell us stories about his childhood. (My mother’d always shake her head when we asked her, saying she didn’t have any stories. I still find this hard to believe.) Dad’s stories often involved fish, foolish things my dad had tried because he was “curious.” The time when he was three and took the goldfish out of the tank “to look at it” is a classic; I can still picture the poor thing gasping on the living room carpet, the victim of an over-active mind and not quite enough supervision.

My mother’s friend from college told us good stories, too. I remember most the one of her throwing cherry tomatoes over the railing and hitting guests. Oh, and the one with blood-engorged ticks (who could erase that memory?!). And the one when the dog ate rising bread dough and its stomach rose with it, waddling proof that dogs do not know what’s best for them.

I grew up on stories.

The voices brought people alive, my great-great-grandfather and his stern Maine-ness. My grandpa whom I’d known but only awhile, breathed again when we talked about his stories of growing up on a fox farm. As I listened and began to craft stories of my own, I realized that one day, I too would have stories to tell my children.

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What do you want your story to be?

[He asks from the pulpit, and I think, I’ve been thinking about this all along.]

When you write your story, think about how it affects others.

When you write your story, make it one you want to tell.

This is the one sentence that rang through the sanctuary, hanging in the air, making the skin on my arms prickle with its truth.

Even though I’ve discovered the repercussions of writing a life before living it, here I was reminded that sometimes we need to shape the life we’re given. Yes, things happen beyond our control, and yes, sometimes we ache from those uncontrollables. But more often than not, we have choice.

I get to choose what story I’m living, and I get to make it one I want to tell.

~     ~     ~

I will tell about early Christmas mornings, all four of us huddling in one bedroom because we wanted to share it that one day. The lights from the tree bouncing off the mirror in the hallway. About waiting for the cousins to come and longing for the day to never end. They will ask where our traditions come from, and I’ll smile and tell them the story.

I will tell about riding horses in the sun and feeling powerful.

I will tell about discovering Laura Ingalls for the first time, about raising chickens and gardening, the plethora of projects done in the name of sustainable living.

I will tell about late-night summer man-hunts when hormones ran rampant and we didn’t know what to do with them so we ran, too.

I will tell about choosing a college and not being sure but doing it anyway. I will tell about loneliness and fear, about trying hard and singing hard and learning. They will ask about friends and making friends, about trying to love. I’ll tell about walks around the pond where so much got twisted around and sorted out.

I will tell about graduating and reeling in my own mind. About disappointments and mis-steps that, while not destroying definitely left me feeling useless. About dark months in winter when I was learning to trust and hating every minute of it.

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And my most recent stories? They’ll include the discovery of joy. The summer we all lived at home again and spent our evenings on the back porch. Riding with the top down in my car, fearing the day when I’ll have to say goodbye to this lovely little bug that’s taken me so many places. Finding a church that allows me to be the silly, too-immature-for-small-group girl I sometimes am. Growing in friendships that have challenged me, shaped me, and made me think deeper than I ever could have thought on my own.

My story isn’t done, but I finally feel like I am choosing it.

Good Things #17

No Ted Talks this week. Just some not-so-related Good Things.

Music. You know a song is good when it makes you nostalgic for something you never had. That’s how I feel when I listen to “Ashokan Farewell,” like I miss deeply my Appalachian home. I found out that it was actually written in 1982, even though it sounds like it’s straight out of the Civil War. (PBS miniseries, anyone?) I listened to this on repeat while I graded Latin tests – there’s nothing like grammar terms to make good music necessary.

Who vs. Whom. Yes, this is one of the good things. I’ve been explaining the difference for about a week now to various levels of Latiners. I’ve watched their eyes glaze over and their cheeks drain of all blood and I’ve fielded their desperate pleas for a bathroom break. Do you know the difference between who and whom? I can honestly admit that I didn’t…until I took my first Latin class as a sophomore and learned about the Accusative Case and Direct Objects and All Other Things Grammatical. Now I can use “whom” with aplomb, but who would choose to?

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Lavender spray. What is that, you ask? My mom bought me this amazing lavender spray from an herbalist at the Farmers’ Market and it’s amazing. Wait, did I already say that? I spray it on my pillow every night and it’s so soothing. I wish my muscles could soak it up.

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Taking risks. I wrote a poem my senior year of college. I remember sitting on my bed, not sure if I should write it, not sure if it was worth anything. It had been a moment – the summer before when I was twenty-one and freaking out about graduating – and I didn’t (and still don’t) trust my ability to recognize moments for what they are. But I wrote it anyway. I sat on it for a year and a half. I pulled it out again, brought it to writers’ group, deleted and added and shifted and shaped. I called it “Almost Family”, submitted it to a poetry contest at Ruminate, and it placed in the top seventeen. It was published in the September issue and there is my name in black and white print. There is the moment in writing that I didn’t trust and almost forgot. My first paid piece of writing. Now how to spend that twelve dollars…

Enjoy your Wednesday!