Living a Still Life

Our COVID-19 disruptions conveniently began with Spring Break. I spent the week before shopping a bit more – buying an extra bottle of olive oil and making sure we had some veggie soup frozen for later but I really didn’t think to systematically go through my cupboards until an emergency was announced and schools closed a day early.

We went to the mountains for a couple days, a trip already planned and one that seemed to align with the instructions to socially distance from our friends and neighbors. We needed those couple days in the sunshine and fresh air, with blue skies for our hikes and incredible views from our windows.

Now we’re back and still technically on break but a new reality is looming. Our governor has already extended the school closures to the end of April and we’re waiting to hear what online learning will entail. There are a lot of unknowns and I’m thankful that this is coming in this season when I’m used to staying home with the girls and crafting new schedules and rhythms for each season.

I’ve been hesitant to make big goals, for myself or the girls, partly because things are changing so rapidly and partly because I don’t want to add stress to an already stressful situation.

Still Life, Pitcher and Fruit Paul Cezanne 1894

I’ve always loved still life paintings and how they give us a glimpse into what was important at a certain moment in time. In the seventeenth century, Dutch painters would create still life scenes to depict wealth and status – each wheel of cheese and vase of flowers told a story about a family. Later, impressionists like Paul Cezanne reimagined still life scenes to show the everyday moments of everyday people. Vincent Van Gogh painted garden flowers and items anyone would find in nearby fields.

Then I read this from The Art of Life by Joan Chittister, in her March reflections around still life paintings:

I, for one, know how easy it is to get caught up in the dramatic and miss the power of the mundane, the wisdom of the daily, the comfort of regularity, the unexciting exciting dimensions of what it means to be really alive. And yet my life cries out for more and more and more of it always.

Joan Chittister, “The Art of Life”

I needed this reminder as we stay close to home and lean into the still life mentality. What is important for our family in this season? We’ll do the schoolwork our district assigns and we’ll have a rhythm to our days because we need that. But I want to teach my girls to look for the still life – for the mundane, for the wisdom of the daily, and for comfort in regularity.

I want them to look back on these months as a time we connected as a family, a time that we learned to argue and forgive in ways we didn’t need to before, a time in which we were together.

I think one of the things we’ll do to start this new reality is create our own still life drawings. I want us to create a tangible reminder that this is a moment to observe, to mark in time, and to share what is most valuable to our family.

Will you join us? I’d love to hear what your still life looks like in this moment.

When Redemption Means a New Foundation

I have learned so much from Cara Meredith’s journey toward racial reconciliation. Her book, The Color of Life is a must-read for anyone embarking on the journey of grappling with tough questions. She has generously opened her platform to ask questions around “Listen, Learn and Listen Some More” and I have the honor of sharing some thoughts about my own journey of motherhood and racial justice. Here’s an excerpt – head to Patheos to read more!

In the spring of 2015, I was pregnant with our second daughter and driving to a conference on race, reconciliation, and immigration while listening to the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death on the radio. My normally quiet baby started kicking furiously as I listened and I paused at a stoplight, hand on my belly, to pray for this little girl—that she would have a heart for justice and reconciliation; that she would help form a world of listening and love rather than of fear and hate.

Early in my mothering journey, I learned that I had a choice in how I interacted with these small humans. I could try to learn from and do better than my parents and their parents, which seems like a natural hope. Or I could shift my mindset to redemption. I realized that simply “doing better” meant building a foundation on generational wounds. But to redeem those wounds and shift our family’s narrative meant doing harder work, shedding more tears, and asking forgiveness again and again as I learned from my daughters.

I had already started dismantling my perception of my role in “saving the world” early in my teaching career. After getting a master’s degree with an emphasis in Urban Education, I quickly realized that no amount of reading could replace the real experience of working with families whose children were not represented in our curriculum. Teaching at a charter school founded by white homeschooling families in the aftermath of its transition to a school that reflected the surrounding inner-suburban neighborhood meant asking questions about my own motivation and practices. It made me confront my own role in societal fears around success and color in what should be an educationally leveled playing field.

I was seven months pregnant with our first baby and seven years into my teaching career when I read the news of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Head over to Cara’s to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What are the historic moments that have shifted your thinking?

Creating a Vision in the Midst of a Quiet Season

Last month, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend a vision board party. The day before the event, I went to Target to get a cute board of some sort – maybe a hexagonal corkboard like our hostess used as an example. Or maybe a foam board so I could write phrases in the margins. As is my norm, I walked the aisles, decided crafting is not at all my happy place, and turned to leave the store. I stopped by the dollar section in one last hopeful sweep and found a small chalkboard for $3.00. I figured it was a small investment so I grabbed it and went home to look for dusty crafting supplies.

The next day, armed with my board and a copy of Smithsonian, I joined a group of women to cut, paste, and dream about our year ahead.

I wasn’t just hesitant because of my crafting skills. I had decided that this was the year to embrace the present. No one word, no tangible goals. I was going to truly live in the moment! So, how do you translate that to a board that’s meant to guide your goals? What would I put on it to invigorate my imagination and keep me on track to success?

As I flipped through magazines, an ad to visit Denali National Park in Alaska jumped out. Its campaign read,

It’s been waiting 56 million years.
Consider this your invitation.

Yes. This is what I needed to spark my imagination. I read it as both an invitation to seek adventure and as a reminder that it’s ok to pause and take things slowly. The world is here and ready, and it always has been.

This past year, I had the immense gift of getting to travel internationally twice. Frank and I spent almost a week in Paris to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Walking the streets that shaped my transition to adulthood reminded me of all the both-ands of life. Living abroad was both amazing and life-changing and harder than anything I’ve done since.

Then, in October I got to travel by myself (for the first time since Frank and I met!) to Israel-Palestine where I met a dear friend for the first time face-to-face. Traveling alone stirred memories and feelings of excitement and adventure that I had forgotten. The trip was impacting in so many ways, but even just the reminder of who I once was grounded it as a touchstone experience.

Now, settled back into “normal” life, I wonder, what’s next? In some ways, those trips opened doors to this next stage of life and parenting. We’re able to leave the girls a bit longer, dig into parts of ourselves that were dormant the last handful of years, and start modeling to our girls who we were before we became parents.

I’m remembering, though, that while travel and adventure defined my worldview, it wasn’t my everyday normal. I still went to bed on time, packed my lunch, and went to work before I had children. I still dreamed big dreams and kept my feet planted in a city that is now firmly home.

In this year of quiet and presence, I want to remember the invitation to go and explore. But I also want to remember that things have been around for 56 million years. Even with an urgency that comes with climate change and political strife, I know this world will be ready and waiting for me. I find comfort in the fact that, when God created the cosmos, humans were the last to join the party. This doesn’t diminish our call to care for this earth but it’s a reminder that, maybe, we’re not as important as we think. That time truly is relative.

As hard as I’m trying to live in the present without a plan, I also know myself and I’m thankful for that vision board party. Maybe my board isn’t going to set me on the path to career success or visions of the next best phase. But I did hang it on the wall next to our coat hooks, where I see it daily as we grab backpacks and put on boots. I see it when I walk to the garage and when I’m switching out loads of laundry. It’s less a vision of tangible things and more a reminder of the person I was and am and will be again.

We’ll see how I feel about vision boards in a year or two or five but for now, this simple reminder is giving me hope and, yes, a vision for the future.

Have you ever created a vision board? How do you set intangible goals for yourself?

Notes from the Middle

I celebrated my birthday this last weekend. It wasn’t a big one or a milestone––just a normal, next year sort of birthday. I’ve been in the process of recovering from a terrible cold since Christmas. It goes in waves and I’ve maxed out on all the drugs so was reduced to napping on the couch, sipping an apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper concoction. Fortunately, after a feverish night, I felt well enough on my actual day to enjoy Frank’s boeuf bourguignon an afternoon of hanging out.

I was talking with a friend about this stage in our late thirties. We’re not really in the young parenting years of the “tired thirties,” though we’re not fully out of them yet, either. Nor are we yet in the world-conquering decade of the forties. Our kids are more independent but not fully. My identity is still that of stay-at-home mom, though I’m seeing a new season quickly approaching.

It’s a year that I could easily wish away, in pursuit of what’s next.

I recently got a book by an author I really like about being in her forties but just a few paragraphs in, I knew it was too soon. I’m not there yet. I liked what she had to say and am looking forward to reading it when the time is right but it’s just not yet my season.

I’m learning to be careful about living in the moment. I’m a person who can not only plan for what’s next but also romanticize the next stage. When people say, “Mamas of littles, it gets better!” I suddenly find myself fighting discontentment. I start noticing all the ways it’s not better and looking forward to the ways it will be.

But that’s not reality. Each season has its strengths and struggles and I’m remembering to embrace both. For me, this looks like having endless tea parties with Elle because it’s the last year we’ll have time and space to do whatever we want together. It’s blogging without goals of platform building or book publishing because that’s what I have the capacity for in this moment. It’s remembering the choices I’ve made and the fact that seasons of transition are just as important to embrace as the full-on season itself.

I love dreaming the big dreams and spinning ideas for what life could look like in the next years and decades. It’s fun and energizing. But I never want to take away from this moment. From walking to school and volunteering and having the space to just take a day off to rest or see a movie with the girls. These are unique and precious years, I know.

So just like my one word for the year is not a word at all, I’m starting this next year of life without much of a guide. I’m learning to plant my feet in the space I’m in now, to pursue dreams and ideas while holding them lightly. I’ll both expand on ideas and read more novels. I’ll invest in my community and in my small family. I won’t pick up the half-finished Costco box projects just yet because I’m starting to see the beauty in those games.

There’s something peaceful in sitting with this moment. I’m spinning less, comparing less, and finding more ideas that I hadn’t considered. I’m learning to lean into that freedom and my shoulders are relaxing a bit. Who knows where this year will end––I never do, right?––but for now, I’m thankful for the time and space to stop and enjoy.

What about you? Are you in a season of hustle or pause? Are you pursuing the next right thing or are you breathing in this moment?

Preparing for a Season of Dormancy

This past weekend was one of those gorgeous autumn days with warm weather and blue skies. Because we had early snow and frost, we decided to spend this beautiful day winterizing our garden and yard. I had already pulled our vegetable plants after the first frost but we went through our containers, tilling in the compost we had been turning since last winter. We spread mulched leaves over the tops, tucking our garden into bed until spring. I trimmed our perennials back, cut the vines down, and Frank cut down our sad and struggling peach tree.

To the left: garden beds, trimmed and covered with mulch, ready for winter. To the right: a double barrel compost turner

A couple days later, we woke to an inch of snow and seeing how neat and tidy it looked over our gardens made me happy. This feeling is deeper than my check-box personality, though seeing everything exactly as it should be does give me joy. Really, spending the day working in our yard was redemptive. This time last year, Frank was recovering from losing a third of his blood and spending three days in the ICU due to an ulcer. We were also recovering from the mess and repercussions of a drunk driver running through our backyard fence and into our yard.

Last year, gardening was the last thing on our to-do list. We let everything just kind of die and settle into the winter. But we saw the impact this year. Our vegetables never thrived and even our tried-and-true perennials were a bit lackluster. All spring and summer, I was reminded of the importance of doing the work that leads to rest.

I needed this tangible reminder the planning it takes to enter a season of dormancy and unseen growth. I just returned from a week in Israel-Palestine, listening and learning about the region. It’s an understatement to say all that we experienced was complex. It’s not a two-sided issue or one with easy answers but a constant reminder of the importance of listening to multiple narratives.

I went on this trip expecting it to be a culmination of sorts. A year ago, in the midst of all that home chaos, I left for the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. It was the longest I had left my family and the first time I had done something this big for my own learning. Like any true pilgrimage, I left with more questions than answers, more realization that it was a step along the journey. From there, I enrolled in a class about Indigenous Voices, learning how I can better balance the narrative taught by school and society. Another stepping stone on the way.

I suppose I wanted this trip to Israel-Palestine to bring about all that I had learned. I wanted to walk away with tangible takeaways and next steps. Instead, I entered into the complexity of stories. I traveled with a liberation theologian, who has listened to multiple sides but choses to stand with the oppressed. I met a women who is working in Hebron, one of the most antagonistic areas in the region, listening to her stories of daily aggressions. And I had the privilege of meeting a women whose job is developing curriculum to teach about peace heroes, those men and women who bridged the divides and worked toward mending what seemed impossible.

Again, I left with more questions than answers and wondered what the next steps on this journey would entail.

I like the process and understand its importance but if I’m honest, I often use the journey as a means toward the destination. I like the sound of the journey being the goal in itself but the reality feels so much different. I want to know that all these markers aren’t just for me. But maybe it’s ok if they are. Maybe all that does need to change and deepen is my own perspective.

I was thinking about this past year as I dug our compost into the garden beds. Everything takes so much time. Our compost had been turning and added to all year. We saved our scraps, filled the bins, turned them, and turned them, and turned them. Compost itself takes a long time to make. And then to till them into the soil. To prepare it for six months of quiet and refueling. If you were to visit our home, I doubt you would look at those garden beds in awe. You would see bins of dirt, waiting for spring. All that work for something that looks very similar to what we started with is unseen, unnoticed.

I’m remembering to mark the process on this journey. I don’t know what all of these moments will mean – from our family’s crisis to my own journey to how it impacts the way we parent and raise a new generation. What I do know is that the unseen work of composting and tilling and of getting a garden ready for winter is what reaps benefits in the spring.

Maybe next year we’ll plant a garden that is abundant because of our preparation. Maybe we’ll let the ground lie fallow for a year, letting the nutrients rest and recover. Either way, I feel settled knowing that the work has been done to prepare for that time.

After a year of intense journeying, I’m wondering if I need my own season of lying fallow. Of reading fewer books about these big topics, of staying closer to home, of letting all that I have seen and learned sink it and re-nourish my faith and my outlook.

What are some markers in your own lifelong pilgrimage? What are you learning about the importance of all perspectives and narratives?

Poised on the Horizon

My alarm has started going off at 5:45 after ten blissful weeks of waking up “naturally” at 6:30. (Can a mom of early risers wake up without assistance?) Bea has been back in school for a week and Elle starts preschool next week. We are easing back into schedules and routines after a busy July.

Even though I don’t love rising early, I do love having some minutes to myself before the day truly begins. I sit in my hot pink chair by the window, read a devotional thought from Walter Brueggemann and a chapter in The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. I’m dressed and ready by the time the girls wake up around 6:30.

The other morning, I was peeling hard boiled eggs, stocking up the fridge for breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks. I was hoping to complete the task in the small window between brushing teeth and leaving for school and found myself rushing. The more I hurried, the more trouble I had pulling the shell from the white of the egg. The membrane would stick and I found myself getting frustrated. Looking at the clock on the microwave, I left half a dozen eggs in the ice water bath where they had been cooling and put the container of peeled eggs in the fridge. I decided to finish my task after walking Bea to school.

When we returned just fifteen minutes later, I found my mindset had shifted and I took my time tapping the eggs against the counter and peeling the shell off. When I took my time, the task became so much easier and quicker. Soon, eleven eggs (minus one eaten right away) were stored in the fridge, ready for a healthier option to bunny crackers and popsicles after school.

Cracking those eggs made me pause and take note of how I so often live my days. Bea just started second grade and Elle will be in her last year of preschool. Time seems to be picking up speed. It’s not that I want to stop in this season – we’re just now catching glimpses of more independence and possibly easier adventures – but it does make me recognize the ache of time passing.

Maybe it’s that we’re in a transition year as a family and my last grandparent just passed away. Maybe I’m more attuned to the fact that I’m approaching a season of shift – for my girls and for myself. I’ve been asking the question, “What next?” for a while but it’s feeling more and more real, knowing that this time next year both girls will be in school all day long. What does this mean for me?

I want to rush the process, to have a plan in place by next August. I want to know what I want to be when I grow up. But that is such a misnomer – that we suddenly become something when we are twenty-two year old graduates or thirty-seven year old moms. This takes the journey out of the equation.

Recently, I read a passage about Patience and Longing in In the Sanctuary of Women. Jan L. Richardson reflects on the fact that we are so often wedged between Longing and Patience. In a poem she says,

Patience has not told her
she has some envy
of Longing’s perfect ache
or that she thinks it must be an art
to hold oneself
so perpetually poised
toward the horizon.

For her part,
Longing has not confessed
that there are days
she find Patience restful.
Soothing. A relief.

In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson, pg 177

I’m remembering that neither one nor the other is the place to rest but that leaning into both patience and longing can be a simultaneous act. I can confidently dream and embrace what is on the horizon while also finding rest and relief in the waiting.

I’m slowing my pace, putting aside tasks until I have the time to do them well, and remembering that I may not discover what it is I’m meant to do in the next season right away. And that’s ok. I’m leaning into the journey, saying yes to what I need to lean into and saying no to distractions. I’m planting my feet in the present without feeling guilty or anxious about listening to dreams of the future.

Where are you on the journey? How do you lean on both longing and patience?

The View from My Kitchen Table

When you come to our house for dinner, depending on where you sit at the long farmhouse-style table, you’ll get a certain glimpse into our life and values. Perhaps you’ll sit facing the living room. You’ll see a large photograph taken at Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Our friend took the photo looking up at the sky. Not everyone sees the red rock canyon in the picture. Some see fabric fluttering in the breeze. Others see an abstract swirl of orange, yellow, and red. In front of the photo are black and white photos of our family.

Perhaps you’ll sit facing the library with a view of full and semi-organized bookshelves. You’ll see a collection of favorite cookbooks, a chess table made from reclaimed wine barrels and scattered with craft projects as well as chess pieces. You’ll see two paintings of elephants, bought on a safari in South Africa and a photograph of Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons.

Maybe you’ll sit facing the bank of windows that give you a view of our backyard. You’ll see two swings hanging from trees, places for our girls to play and connect with each other. You might have a view of our large pink poster with a Francis Bacon reproduction of a gorilla. I bought it at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, lugged it across France and Italy, and kept it for over a decade, waiting for the perfect spot to frame and hang it. Behind it hangs a wall of mugs from our favorite museums.

Our home is filled with treasures from our past adventures, our love of art and the stories it tells, and pieces from places we weave into our family story. Our girls know that the world is a small place; that Frank and I love learning from nature and from other cultures, and deep sense of curiosity is infused on our walls.

I just returned from my grandma’s memorial service in California. She was the last of my grandparents and close great-aunts and -uncles to pass away. For me, she closes out a generation that has shaped my values and worldview.

One of my fondest memories of my grandma comes from her own kitchen table. Set in the corner of her green and yellow kitchen, I would sit at a chair and see a knickknack cupboard filled with trinkets from around the world. Some were collected from my grandparent’s travels. Some were gifted from friends. I loved looking at those little objects, imagining the places they represented.

I never really thought about my grandma’s legacy in my own decorating style but I see it everywhere. Our home is a gateway into storytelling and a reminder that our world is smaller than we think. That other cultures shape all of us, both in big and small ways.

I just got home last night from a weekend of remembering an exceptional woman. But this weekend also rounded out an whole month of family––from a triennial reunion with cousins and second cousins and third cousins–– to a week in Philadelphia staying up too late making all the sweet memories with cousins to hosting various family throughout the month. I’ll be sitting with all I’ve learned in July for a while, I think. Mostly, I’m thankful for such a tangible opportunity to appreciate and honor all the ways my family has shaped the woman and mother I’m becoming.

In another week of shocking national news, I’m returning to my kitchen table. I’m remembering to start small, with my own daughters. We’ll look at pictures that represent different cultures; we’ll have conversations about our friends and neighbors who are immigrants and gun owners alike; we’ll bicker over whose turn it is to pray for the food and we’ll do all the small routines that make up our evenings.

Life can feel overwhelming and I’m remembering that, in the midst of it all, the view from our kitchen table will shape and define my girls’ worldview far more than I realize. If you’re feeling a bit lost these days––for whatever reason––take a look at what you see from where you eat. Use that space as a reminder of your values and hopes for this world.

Describe the view from your kitchen table. How does it define you?