Taking Time to Remember Places

This weekend marked the fifteenth summer my dad has participated in the Denver Chalk Art Festival. What started as a fun experiment – he hadn’t done many chalk murals before this experience – has turned into a marker of summertime for our family.

In the early years, my brother would drive down from Fort Collins and my parents up from Colorado Springs to stay in whatever un-air conditioned apartment I was renting close to downtown. My dad would draw all day in the hot sun while my mom, brother, and I would sit under a shady tree drinking countless Arnold Palmers.

It was at the Chalk Fest that Frank first met my parents, the only person wearing a dress shirt in the middle of a sweltering summer day. As our family grew, a weekend of hanging out turned into a morning visit before naptime. Now, our girls have a longer attention span and Bea even helps grandpa with the background coloring.

Each year has marked a difference in the growth of Denver. Our first summers were spent in the shade at a downtown park. Now, that park has been paved into a parking lot. The crowds have grown, too. Parking is at a premium, even in light rail lots and on these days, you can feel the groan of a small city becoming a big city.

I’ve been thinking about place a lot recently. Maybe it’s because Frank and I just returned from a week in Paris, a city that shaped my college years. Going back was a complex experience. I recognized a place where I had made big changes, transitioning from child to adult but also a city that hasn’t changed all that much in the past five hundred years.

In front of my favorite apartment in Paris

I was reminded of the importance of visiting places that have shaped us, whether for a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. There’s something about grounding my feet on the stones that had a part in shaping my theology, my worldview, and (though unknown to me at the time) my parenting.

Going to downtown Denver reminded me of those post-college years, when I returned to a state I had spent most of my childhood. Suddenly, I went from a world explorer to someone who returned home. Now, fifteen years later, it sometimes feels like I had never left at all. People who I have recently met most likely don’t even know I had lived abroad or traveled much before kids. It’s a weird feeling, having profoundly impacting experiences that were so long ago no one knows.

I wonder if, in fifteen or twenty years, we will leave the suburbs for a new adventure? Will I come back to this neighborhood with a sense of nostalgia, looking for a place to ground my new identity? I wonder how my girls will view this house and this space as they reflect on their childhood?

Mostly, I’m thankful for opportunities to go and remember the impact of a physical space on my journey. Whether it’s a trip to Paris or a morning spent downtown, I’m reminded of the importance of place in my story.

Is there a city or place that had a profound impact on your journey? Have you gone back to visit?

How to Be Idle and Blessed

I remember the first time I heard the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” After contemplating the world of a grasshopper on a summer day, Oliver asks her reader if they know how to really pay attention, how to be still and quiet. The poem ends with an oft-quoted question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

A bunch of green asparagus spears in a brown wooden bowl on a butcher block table.
Photo by Stephanie Studer on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot these days, as we emerge from winter and tax season, as leaves start to spring onto branches and we start thinking about school ending and summer beginning.

When I first heart this question, I felt an urge to think about grand goals, wild dreams, and hopes beyond my imagination. I took it seriously, this call to live into my one and only precious life. I don’t want to waste a thing. What will I do with all these unexpected opportunities, with all that I’ve learned, with all that I hope to accomplish?

Suddenly this question turned into a to-do list. First, I’ll read these books. Next, I’ll take this class. Then, I’ll reflect about those experiences as I make a plan of action to implement my newfound knowledge. Last, I’ll be an expert in this new field, finding opportunities to share and participate in new conversations.

I don’t think those hopes and goals are unrealistic or out of the realm of possibility. But I do think I’ve completely missed the point of Mary Oliver’s question if that is my takeaway.

In the middle of the poem, before this famous question, Oliver notes,

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

As we enter this season of spring cleaning, family recalibration, and these last weeks of the school year, I can let my list for what a One Wild and Precious Life looks like completely overwhelm the call to be idle and blessed.

I’m learning to balance this blessed observation and living in the present with the need to sit down and do the work. Sometimes the work is that playtime idleness my girls crave. Sometimes it’s the mundane chores of cleaning and cooking. And sometimes it’s the actual work of sitting and writing or crafting ideas to the page. Nothing is as set and clear as I’d like it to be.

I’m remembering this poem in this season of life, though. That my call is to deep observation. That learning takes years and often the outcomes aren’t what I was expecting.

This season of quiet and growth has lasted longer than I expected. I know that planting seeds and putting down roots can take years. I love what my friend Tina says about growing in the longterm. After she planted asparagus, which takes three years to produce, she reflected,

 It takes commitment to plant asparagus, and perseverance. More than that, it takes vision. To plant something right now that won’t bear fruit for years to come requires vision. It requires we trust that the good life is not always the immediate life. The beautiful life is not the quick life. Instead, it is the cultivated, grounded life. It is the life that believes in waiting for the fruit, in holding out hope that something good will come, and it is the belief that trusts in the work we cannot see with our eyes.

Tina Osterhouse, On What’s Saving My Life Right Now

So, to mix metaphors and ideas, I’m planting asparagus and fruit trees, I’m taking time to observe the grasshopper and small details, I’m leaning into this space of the quiet and quotidian.

I’m remembering to hold myself to a different standard, one that is more about planting and less about harvest. I’m doing the work, in hopes of a fruitful result but I won’t know for sure until late summer. And that’s the beauty of life and learning and gardening, isn’t it?

What are you planting this spring? Do you like growing quick lettuces, late season tomatoes, or longterm asparagus? How do you balance that waiting?

I Don’t Arrive Until We’ve All Arrived

I just finished a monthlong journey of learning about how to listen to and give space for Indigenous voices in classroom settings. Even though I’m not in the classroom (right now!) I took away so much from the class. The history I don’t know, the posture I can take when learning, and small things I can do in the “first classroom” I have here at home… I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today reflecting on my experience at the Denver March Pow Wow and the small changes we’re making. Here’s an excerpt but I hope you’ll go join the conversation!

Denver March Pow Wow fell at the tail end of a week of sickness in our family. My oldest caught it first and then I spent our spring break in bed. Our three-year-old was just getting over her round when we arrived at the Pow Wow. After exploring the vendors and buying some remembrances for our girls, we settled into the top row of the Denver Coliseum.

As the drum circle entered, followed by the color guard and ambassadors, I felt my daughter snuggle into my arms and slowly get heavier. Soon, she was fast asleep, lulled by the drums and songs.

I’ve been on a journey of learning and unlearning over the past several years. Confronted with my own privilege and role in this system, I’ve turned to books and articles—the most comfortable way I know to dismantle my own misconceptions. While there’s a certain level of discomfort in confronting all the history I didn’t know, it was also done from the safety of my living room chair.

This past year, I’ve been stepping out of that armchair activism. I went on a pilgrimage to dig into the intersectionality of race, faith, and women’s suffrage. I signed up for a class about Indigenous Voices in the Classroom to take my learning from something internal to a place of stretching and accountability.

One part of this journey that I’ve been reminded of more and more is the importance of sitting and listening, especially as a white woman. I want the active experience of learning and doing but sitting back is harder. I can’t check any boxes or see any apparent advancement.

Holding my daughter in the coliseum, I was forced to simply sit and experience the Grand Entrance. I was pinned under the weight of a sleeping three-year-old, unable to move much. The beating drums lulled both of us and I was able to feel the rhythm in ways I wouldn’t have had I needed to be actively parenting my normally energetic and inquisitive daughter. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What are some small changes you’re making in your learning?

The Swirl of New Year’s Resolutions

For the first time in years, I started a new journal at the beginning of January. It just kind of worked out that way but it felt a little odd literally opening a new page at the beginning of a new year.

I absolutely love January and all the hope it brings. I know I’m the same human I was on December 31 but there’s something incredibly communal about society recognizing the value of assessing hopes and dreams and new possibilities.

In the midst of reset and choosing guiding words, I’ve seen more pushback this year than in the past. There are posts and articles about just living life – that we are enough without our resolutions.

On the one hand, I completely agree. Too much emphasis on a goal or hope can be debilitating. For this reason, I use an academic calendar to plan my writing and year, so that I can have a fresh start in August when there’s less pressure. I keep my journals going until the last page or so, rather than starting fresh each year. I reevaluate my goals as we approach summer and again as we end because those offer natural points in our family’s rhythm. I like being reminded that goals can happen at any time, regardless of time or season.

Our girls went back to school on Tuesday and we’re settling back into the rhythm we had established over the fall. In the space of my two free hours, I got the chores that had been hanging over my head during the break finished. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I only have myself to buckle in and out of the car!

While we were ready for a routine, I do love extended breaks. Turning off my alarm, having coffee in my pajamas, and creating space for spontaneity are all refreshing practices. Although I do look at people who take a day of quiet to reflect on the past year and feel a twinge of envy – most of my reflection is in my head while listening to a harmonica concert or a puppet show that would rival a Dada production.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I have a full week between turning a page on a new year, filled with possibilities and hopes and visions and actually having time to reflect and let them sink in. Because that’s how life is – it’s so rare that we get to end one thing neatly and begin a new thing fully attentive. There’s a bleeding of the edges and a natural swirl around any transition. Not being able to cleanly begin the new year is a reminder for me of how these hopes and goals will most likely play out – in a messy, swirly sort of way.

But I do pick One Word to define my year. I also pick a handful of loose goals that I have – writing daily, learning French, practicing calligraphy, working out consistently. I don’t put a timeline or number after these goals – maybe hopes or ideas would be a better term for them. But I love starting each year with these at the back of my mind.

Even though those last few days of the break weren’t as magical as I envisioned (are they ever?) and even though our transition back to school hasn’t been as sweet as I had hoped (is it ever?) I’m hoping to take that lesson with me through the year. That, as I set goals and reevaluate throughout the year, I remember to give each transition and hope time and space. There’s going to be that awkward, messy, often frustrating transition but things often shake out and I’m so thankful for those steps, goals, and dreams that were simmering through the chaos.

As we set goals and visions for the new year, I hope you find space in the natural chaos of life to lean into the transition as well.

One Word: Threshold

Maybe it was early last year when the word threshold first came across my radar. My brother and I were chatting about life and that feeling that, when looking back on this particular season there will be a sense of, Oh! That’s when it all happened! You don’t see it at the moment, only in hindsight.

Months later, a friend and I were talking about all sorts of things – from books to motherhood to writing to teaching to travel and everything in between. She commented that it felt I was on the threshold of something.

I’ve been picking “one word” to guide my year for about five years now. I’m always amazed at how the word really does infuse itself into my perspective. (I think I write that sentence every year…) I’ve never had a word come to me so early, though. Usually it’s as I’m reflecting about the year gone by that a “next step” sort of word jumps to mind. But this year, threshold came early and often.

I think what I love about this word is that it really does feel like I’m the threshold of something. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s activism. Maybe it’s the next phase of mothering and career. Maybe it has nothing to do with ambition but more of the idea of opening our home in new ways – of inviting people across our literal threshold. I suppose that’s the thing about choosing a word – I really don’t know what it will look like.

In a lot of ways, I’m heading into this year with much more openness than I have in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to think about bigger changes in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it’s because I’m finally learning to live in the moment, with less rigidity. Maybe it’s that threshold is an invitation to offer myself more hospitality.

In any case, I’m excited to see what this year holds and how I find this word throughout my days.

What about you? What’s your “one word” for 2019? Or what’s your one hope or one goal? I’d love to hear!

Gathering Fragments of a Mosaic

It’s been quiet around here the past couple of months. I think I haven’t acknowledged the toll on my own emotions, energy levels, and creativity the past two months have taken. It’s easy to say that there are seasons of productivity and seasons of rest but in the midst of dormancy, it’s hard to remember to lean into the quiet.

A friend recently sent me this quote:

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anaïs Nin
Two girls playing in the background; a stack of books on a table in the foreground. The scene is quiet, peaceful.
My view, more often than not.

When I first read this, I thought of the external experiences of the past couple months – of the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, of hearing Dr. Wilda Gafney talk about infusing womanist theology into the narrative, of listening to an “intimate conversation” between Michelle Obama and Reese Witherspoon. Each of these days and evenings is weaving a thread that I can’t quite see. I know it’s there and that it’s important but I don’t have the necessary perspective yet.

I like to intellectualize quotes and seasons. When I read about receiving truth, I think of all that I’ve learned and all the ways that I’ve been changed from these experiences.

But sometimes the truths we receive are small and gritty. My “One Word” for 2018 is lean in. I expected this to mean that I would lean into writing and creativity. And in some very important ways, I have. However, I’ve also been leaning into this season of parenting – of having a little more time and space in my schedule while filling it with things that grow our community. I’ve been leaning into relearning French in preparation for our anniversary trip to Paris next year and learning to redeem some untruths I had internalized about myself in the initial experience of working toward fluency. I’ve been leaning into dreams about the next phase of life – of what my days will look like when, sooner than later, both girls will be in school fulltime.

I don’t like leaning into the mundane. It doesn’t sound as cool as leaning into big ideas and incredible opportunities. But I’m also finding some important truths in those mundane experiences. I’m remembering that redemption so often starts small, often with an hour a day of French or of putting aside plans for creativity in favor of snuggling with a book in front of the fire with my emerging readers.

In these twelve days of Christmas, after the presents have been opened and before we take time to celebrate and remember the Epiphany of the magi, I’m looking around our house. Scraps of wrapping paper and packaging are still out; decorations are still up though I’m starting to make piles of things to put away. We’re between seasons – still celebrating and feasting but also moving toward the quiet of January, when the light of the Epiphany candles seems even more necessary.

As this year comes to a close, I’m trying to approach my internal spaces in a similar way. I’m living with the clutter of celebrations while looking forward to all the new year has to offer. I know so many don’t like New Year’s resolutions and the weight they often carry but I love having a reason to reset and reevaluate in the midst of the dark winter. There’s something so hopeful about remembering that, even though it may not feel like it, the days are getting longer and light is shining.

In these last couple days of the year, I’m holding onto that one word even more closely and leaning into these small, quiet moments.

Did you choose “one word” for 2018? How have you seen it in your year? How are you embracing this last week between Christmas and a fresh year?

Harvest Comes at the End of the Season

Even though we’re back in school and everyone is looking forward to all things autumn and pumkiny, our garden is still in the height of harvest season. We planted our veggies at the end of May and spent most of the summer watering and watching our plants grow. We have volunteer spaghetti squash from last year (or from the compost – who knows?) and we have an abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes. Our squash had an ok year and our green peppers were the best we’ve ever seen.

chad-stembridge-96380-unsplash
Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

I always get antsy for our harvest in mid-July. The plants are big and leafy but we get very few vegetables. Maybe a zucchini or yellow squash, but nothing impressive. Not yet. I always have to remind myself that the harvest really happens in August and into September. In fact, by the end of September, many tomatoes wither on the vine because we’re already moving on to more wintery recipes. (I know this makes us terrible farmers but it’s true every year.)

We’re three full weeks into our second year at our walkable neighborhood school. First graders still need a parent to pick them up and, even though this sometimes conflicts with Elle’s afternoon rest, I don’t mind carrying a sleepy preschooler to pick up her sister each day. These twice-daily treks to school have become a ritual of community that I would miss if we drove or if Bea rode the bus.

The faculty knows us and always say hello. We greet parents who are new friends and wave and connect with those we knew from last year. We walk home with a group of latch-key kids I’m getting to know better and yesterday I sent a note home with one of those girls, asking her mom to text about a play date.

Women from my Family Literacy group who have moved up due to language gains stop me, saying they wish they were in the beginner class so we could still see each other. Bea’s best friend’s mom joined Family Literacy and we got together last Saturday for henna.

IMG_0605If last year was for starting small roots in new soil, this year is seeing the shoots come up from our work. I don’t think we’re even into the leafy stage yet but I’m starting to see the results of our seeds. Last year, I was so excited about our new school and all we experienced that first year. Our kindergarten teacher was incredible! I made friends through Family Literacy! It was feeling like home.

And just shy of a month in, I’m amazed at how much deeper these relationships are growing. Even our new friendships feel deeper somehow, knowing we’ve been here a year and we’re committed for the next seven or so years as our girls progress.

Someone recently said that the word season is an overused term, especially in Christian culture, but as I watch our garden flourish, even when I’m ready to wind down and move into a cozier place, I can’t think of a more apt comparison.

We have planted seeds and are watching them poke out of the soil. I’m remembering that planting takes time, that vegetables don’t ripen until the very end of summer, and that our bounty gets us ready for a new season entirely.

I’m remembering, as we transition and make space with one foot in this new community and one still firmly in our preschool community, that I most likely won’t see the actual fruits of the intentional relationships we’re making for quite some time. Friendships take time and cultivation and community doesn’t happen quickly – no matter how I wish it would.

I’m learning to enjoy this space. To look at my plants with pride and anticipation of the fruits they will bear. I know not to rush things but to walk gently through the process.

What overused metaphor do you love for your life? Are you a gardener? How do you handle waiting for your harvest?