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?

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?

Finding Truth Close to Home

Last week I had an unexpected afternoon to myself. I ate a solitary lunch and was looking at my to-do list. It was filled with everything from cleaning and household tasks to writing and more creative endeavors. But all of those things made me feel antsy and I knew that I wouldn’t be productive. I needed to get out.

Muslin Concepts

So, I headed to the Denver Art Museum for the Christian Dior exhibit. As I stepped into the first room, my breath caught. The beauty of Dior’s earliest collection literally made me stop. I had forgotten how incredible it is to see haute couture up close. The details, the quality, the way the fabric hangs is absolutely stunning.

After wandering for an hour or so, I felt refreshed and energized. I thought about my to-do list and all the things that would eventually get done. I so often hear that writing is about sitting down and doing the work; That often the muse doesn’t show up and yet we still need to be ready. And while I totally agree with this, I also need to remember that without filling my life with beauty and new experiences, the muse has very little to draw upon.

I recently finished Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion. The book is about Shapiro’s spiritual journey and a lot of it draws on her yoga practice. She writes about attending workshops and retreats around her home base of Connecticut. At one point, she is offered an opportunity to travel to India to study at an ashram there. The chance to go practice in the land of yoga’s origins tempts her. Honestly, even without a serious yoga practice, I’d imagine a trip to a new culture would be tempting to most of us. Shapiro turns down the opportunity and offers a reflection that has stayed with me.

Truths found out there don’t travel well.

Dani Shapiro, Devotion, pg 152

What she means is that if we can’t learn new truths at home, we aren’t ready to learn new truths. Traveling abroad won’t tell you what you can’t hear at home.

She’s not discounting travel or the beauty of learning from cultures outside our own norms. What she is saying is that we can’t depend on leaving home for a life-changing experience. If we are unable to be changed at home, we cannot expect to be changed abroad.

I needed to hear this. I’ve been feeling in a creative slump lately and it’s so easy to think that if only I could fill my world with a trip or an exotic experience then I would have material to spark creativity. I imagine how lovely it would be to walk the streets of Paris or Florence, surrounded by beautiful architecture where the very presence of greatness inspires so many of us. Or maybe a trip somewhere completely new like Peru or Palestine will spark that newness that is so exhilarating.

And while I will always feel invigorated by travel and exploration, I’m learning that the lessons I need to learn are right here. Now, a break in routine is often necessary to help us see those lessons. Shapiro didn’t limit her yoga practice to living room videos – she attended retreats and pushed her limits. When I was feeling overwhelmed by the routines of my small world, a visit to an exhibit twenty minutes away transported me to another place and time.

What I’m trying to remember is that intentionality starts at home. Where can I look to disrupt my routine? Maybe it’s a walk at a new park. Maybe it’s seeking out art exhibits that help me expand my horizons. Maybe it’s reading a challenging book in a different environment, rather than in my own living room. How am I holding both sacred – the need for new and the recognition that I can learn from where I am?

As January comes to a close and we enter February – perhaps the longest month of the year – I hope to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts. All the truths I need are close to home, right where I need them most.

How do you mix up your routine? What are some truths you’ve found right at home?

Are you signed up from my newsletter, The Compost Heap? It’s been a couple months since I’ve sent one out and I’m trying to get back in the practice. It’s a short letter with a thought, a book recommendation, and some other thing or two that has been interesting lately. You can sign up here: The Compost Heap.

Love Flowers Best in Openness and Freedom

Have you ever been to a place where your entire body exhales? Where you wouldn’t necessarily want to live year-round because you need a place to go and reset?

IMG_0021We were talking the other day about investing vacation homes instead of renting for a week and the discussion turned to finding a place that is incredible enough to return to again and again. Because, to invest in a vacation home means to invest time that could be spent exploring a new location.

There is one place I have gone, both when I was single and with my family, where my soul breathes. Where, upon arrival, I know that I can reset and reenergize.

Moab, Utah is about a six hour drive from Denver. It’s close enough to do in a day but as we drive from the city, over the mountains, into the canyons, and finally emerge in the red rock desert, it feels light years from our normal view.

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason I love this part of Utah so much. Maybe it’s the incredible red rock sculptures, so unique and different. Maybe it’s the dry desert air and the brilliant blue sky. Maybe it’s the fact that when we arrive, family time starts and we leave chores and “real life” behind.

Last year, we rented a condo for the week after tax season. We hiked in the mornings and swam in the afternoons. Bea scampered up the sandstone to Delicate Arch, pretending to be a mountain lion and only taking brief breaks to ride on Frank’s shoulders. We watched movies and grilled. The girls napped in the car after hiking Dead Horse Point and we spent that time slowly driving through the red canyons, dreaming about the future.

I’m reminded of what Edward Abbey says in Desert Solitaire,

“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

Perhaps I’ve seen love flower best among those red rock canyons. When we dream about the future and of our family story, I can’t imagine it without repeated visits to Moab. I think I have found the one place I would visit again and again.

As we wound through those roads, girls asleep we added another goal to our ever-growing list: Save for a vacation home one day.

Do you have a place that you return to, where your soul breathes? Do you like the tradition of one place or the adventure of going somewhere new?

This post was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home in the World. It releases today and, while I haven’t yet read it, I am looking forward to her perspective on travel as a family and finding a place to put down roots. She provided this prompt in honor of her book’s birth-day: Share about a place you feel at home in the world.

Living in the Moment

When I was single, I rarely made travel plans. One of my favorite things was showing up at a train station in Paris and either taking the next departing train to a nearby town or asking the ticket agent where they would go for a day trip. I explored some beautiful places that way! There was something so liberating about showing up without a guide book and just wandering for a day. Sometimes this plan didn’t work out so well. I’ve spent nights in rural train stations and porches of abandoned houses, unable to make it back to my destination for lack of planning. But, overall, I loved the freedom and adventure that went without having a plan.

Unplanned weekend in San Sebastien, Spain
Unplanned weekend in San Sebastien, Spain

Looking back, I’m a bit surprised at this travel tendency. I’m actually an organized person who loves having a map of my goals and dreams. Perhaps by not planning a travel itinerary, it was a safe way to dabble in the exotic world of living life in the moment.

In January, a friend asked what my hopes for this year were. How was I going to see things differently? Honestly, I had no plan. Having a toddler, expecting another one, settling into a new house. These all seemed like such boring, midlife accomplishments that didn’t really evoke ideas of excitement or seeing the world differently. I felt that I was falling into a bit of the cliched two-kids-and-a-dog-in-the-suburbs life. Her question made me want to jump on a train without a guidebook, to just end up somewhere new.

I’m realizing that there’s a balance between using a map and living in the moment. Yes, my life feels very planned right now. But, I’m learning to see the small moments in these planned days. I’m living different kinds of adventures and my days with Bea are often just as spontaneous and unplanned as visiting an unknown destination.

What about you? Are you a planner or do you live life with spontaneity?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Taking Time to Remember

One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed was on our early morning game drive in Chobe National Park, Botswana. The sun was rising and we rounded a corner to see an elephant leaning his head against a tree, his posture slumped. A few feet away was the carcass of another elephant.

Our driver told us that the elephant was in mourning. When one of the herd dies, family members return to the spot to stop and remember. The elephant leaning against the tree was creating a memorial.

Elephant in mourning
Elephant in mourning

It was a sacred moment and one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. It reminded me that the entire earth is created in God’s image and that animals aren’t so different from humans.

It also reminded me of the importance in taking time to remember. In the busyness of life, I often forget to stop and remember – big moments, small moments, losses, and celebrations. They are all worthy of acknowledgement.

In her collection of essays, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about stopping to make altars – of taking the time to notice. She cites the ancient idea of building an altar to commemorate an event and challenges the reader to do something similar by stopping, looking, noticing, and remembering.

Especially when I get bogged down in daily routines, when I stop and mark those moments, I am able to step back and see the strands of a bigger picture. Because it’s easy to forget, I’ve started a list in my journal – nothing in detail, just notes jotted down of moments I want to remember. I hope, when I look back, it will help me create an altar to my journey.

How do you remember important events? Do you create altars – through writing, painting, or other creative ways?

Other

When I decided to attend college in Paris, I went with four years of German language classes and absolutely no knowledge of French. I was told not to worry – that I would quickly pick it up through required classes and from interacting with Parisians through daily life. About a month after my arrival, I was sitting in French class, struggling through To Be conjugations when my professor stopped, singled me out, and demanded to know why on earth I would consider moving to France without understanding the language. She questioned my motives, my intelligence, and ended the rant with a surprise conjugation quiz, which I quickly failed.

My French classes were like a scene out of David Sedaris’ memoir, Me Talk Pretty One Day. My teachers were anything but nurturing and I became so paralyzed by failure that even grocery shopping and interacting with Parisians became highly stressful. It wasn’t until the summer between my junior and senior years that I found success by volunteering on a small farm in the Dordogne region in southern France, where only French was spoken.

View of the farm
View of the farm

Growing up white, educated, middle class, I could never consider myself Other. Even now, I fully realize my privilege: I understand how to navigate systems in place here in America; I not only can fluently read but also know where to research items that I don’t understand; I have friends who are experts in their fields and feel comfortable asking for help and advice. The list could go on…

Even though I wasn’t ethnically or physically the other while in France, I did learn a small bit about how language and culture can be an other-ing experience. I learned how difficult daily routines can be when a system is unfamiliar and when a phone call requires hours of practice with a dictionary. I learned how lonely such an experience can be and how easy and necessary it is to find others who are similar. It became a survival for me to have English-speaking friends – people I could relate with immediately and not have to worry about correct vocabulary.

While my experience was still one of great privilege, the lessons I learned have carried me to a place of greater empathy. As a teacher, I understood why some parents had trouble learning English or why, after working several jobs, just needed to speak their native language. I had an inkling of how overwhelming and lonely and frustrating it can be to move to a new country, to try to navigate unknown systems, and to connect with new people. I can’t imagine trying to do that with children – it was difficult enough as a single person!

Now, as we raise Bea, I struggle with how much privilege she has. Our daughter already has the appearance and vocabulary of a child whose parents value independence, inquiry, and education. While I wouldn’t want to deprive her of that privilege, I do hope to pass on the empathy I have gained by living outside my comfort zone. And, I hope as she grows older and creates her own life experiences, that we can encourage her to pursue opportunities of otherness, so that she gains her own empathy.

How are your experiences as the Other? How do you find ways to connect and empathize with people outside your normal circle?

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s We Are The Other synchroblog.