Could This Be Happily?

A little dreamy ode to the simple life, here’s my song for week 33 of #songaweek2016. With Nathan Bloom on harmonica. Would’ve loved to add more instruments and fill it out a bit, but it was an extra busy week with a real live gig and kids going back to school. (That toddly baby in the picture is now a tall, soccer-playing fourth grader!)

There would be raspberries in our little yard
the sun would shine all the time
except when the rain came to help our garden grow
then we’d be snug inside

could every day be like a holiday?
could this be happily? (ever after)

We’d keep some chickens in a little coop
we’d thank them for the eggs
maybe a baby, maybe two
toddling on wobbly legs

some nights there might be tears on our pillows
some dreams just won’t come true
but all these broken parts of our hearts
make spaces for the light and air and rivers to flow through

out on our front porch we’d pass the evening hours
watching the branches sway
We’d smile at neighbors and strangers passing by
until we call it a day

 

Places I’ve Lived, People I’ve Known

Oh I wish you all could have been there last Friday night! Music in the garden at my parents’ house in Minnesota. It was a hot and sticky evening but we had so much fun. My dad used his phone to record Nathan and me and my parents’ neighbor Earl playing the song I wrote for week 29 of #songaweek2016.

Wish we had also recorded a song we did later, with us three plus friend Kirk on accordion and brother-in-love Micah on a second guitar – Purple Rain by Prince. Bet you’ve never heard Purple Rain with accordion before!

Driving down the street with my out-of-state plates
feeling newly out of place
looking at the flowers in my old front yard
and remembering my life lived in that space
home is not a dead-end road
the road home leads you back or leads you on

Places I’ve lived, people I’ve known
everything’s changed, everyone’s grown
how was this ever everything,
how can I ever go home?

Running through the park on my middle-aged legs
going faster than before
stopping for a drink at the Mineral Springs
where the legend says the healing waters pour
home is not a stagnant pool
the river home will take you where it will

Places I’ve lived, people I’ve known
everyone’s changed, everything’s grown
how was this ever everything
how can I ever go home?

the sun still comes up, the dogs still bark
the kids still play in the same old parks
the old men still park themselves out front
but they’re not the same old men

Sleeping tonight in my old bedroom
where the shadows know my name
praying for peace with a jaded tongue
dreaming with the heart of a child I’ll never tame
home is not a prison cell
the doors of home can open either way

Places we’ve lived, people we’ve known
we have all changed, we have all grown
how can anything be everything,
how can we ever go home?

Advice I Must Remember to Give My Daughter

There will come a day

When you view the grocery store circular with anticipation

Its expected suspenseful arrival each week

What will the free item be?

How much will avocados cost?

And isn’t there something you’ve been needing but couldn’t quite name

Imploring your attention from these glossy pages?

In those days

You will find yourself

Sitting across the table from your lover of accumulated years

In the Chinese buffet or the Mexican restaurant

With little to say

That you haven’t said already

In one way or another

And, past the days of longing glances,

You will choose handheld devices

And plans for the next week

To fill the mundane gap between you.

 

When that day comes

Take up running.

You will surprise yourself

With the power and endurance

You’ve already built up.

You’ll go to bed eager for the morning

You’ll wake

Bound out into the dawn

Pound the pavement

Breathe and sweat and move

Everything.

Don’t ask yourself

Whether you are running away

Or running to catch up

Or running towards some forgotten hope.

Just run.

Trust me on this.

One Year in a Minnesota Prairie Town

This is a cycle of poems I wrote while living in my hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota, a few years ago. Today, a snowy gray day in February (my least favorite month, even here in my new town in Colorado), I found myself thinking of the winter poems here, and hoping in the spring and summer – thankful for the continuing growth and change of seasons.

One Year in a Minnesota Prairie Town

Early Winter

George MacDonald said

“Winter is only a spring too weak and feeble for us to see that it is living.”

So where is the end of the year?

The seasons, like space,

Appear to have no boundaries

But, turning and turning,

Move all life along some invisible thread.

Mid Winter

I almost forgot

And nearly remembered

In between sleeps

Late Winter

Hoary white

Frozen forgetting

Pewter-skied afternoon.

A filmy burning eye

Distant low

Blurs unfeelingly

To darkness.

Underground

Embryos stir

Ever so slightly

Unfolding.

Early Spring

Before departure

The snow expands

To jagged chunks of salt and sand.

When it recedes

Instead of seashells

We find

Trash and lost things.

Mid Spring

There’s an afternoon time and a garden place

Where the sun warms me well

Well,

The sun,

And you –

Peeking up at me

Poking through soil

Perennial but new.

Late Spring

Might be the last morning this yellow-haired girl

Pushes this primary-blue baby doll stroller

Might be the last day she calls this woman mommy

Buds and branches

Are opening to flowers.

Blossoms and baby fat

Are ripening to fruit.

Early Summer

Now the serpent was subtle

The woman was stupid

The man was absent

And that’s how the world went to hell

They told me.

Here

In the sunlight

All the colors weave a mothering warmth

I believe I’m being born again

Don’t tell them.

Mid Summer

Barefoot

Pregnant

In the garden

She is not holy,

She is living.

Late Summer

Late summer is ragtime

The ragweed is a woody-stemmed shrub

The flowers sprawl in their raggedy gardens

The air is ragged with rasping cicadas

What was delight in spring

Sweet satisfaction at mid-summer

Now is overkill

A glaring beauty with too much makeup

Overpowering perfume

Gaudy clothes

And weary eyes.

If it didn’t all fall down

And sleep a while

Life would never last.

Early Autumn

Come in, come in.

Time to wash

And undress

Time to fire up the stove

Simmer down slow

Time for your bath.

All summer

You’ve been out in the sun

And the rain and the wind

Now it’s time to come in

Time to snuggle down

In your jar in the pantry.

Mid Autumn

Breathe

Remember

Hope.

Let fading leaves fade

Let dying light die

Embrace this moment

Though it chills and darkens everything.

If you hold the fire of summer’s sun

In the pit of your soul

You’ll survive

Till it warms your face again.

Late Autumn

This is where we have trouble with names.

Beyond the harvest holiday

We sing of jingle bells

Demand snowflakes.

Autumn shrugs, sighs

And leaves the room.

This Town

“It will never be this good again” is a lie we should stop telling ourselves. That’s what Todd Henry says in this article, whose content I first heard on his Accidental Creative podcast.

I’ve been facing down that particular lie with extra determination over the past year, as my husband Nathan and I made plans to move out of our Minnesota prairie hometown, across the country to the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Nathan was born and raised in our hometown. I was born there, moved away at age nine months, moved back at age ten years, moved away at age twenty-two, moved back with my husband and children at age thirty. I joked that this town was like a bad penny that just kept turning up in my life. During the twelve years I spent growing up in this town, like many of my peers I dreamed of leaving it, not always appreciating the goodness and beauty all around me.

I married Nathan and then moved to the big city up the road, got a job, bought a house, birthed a child, conceived another – and then began to dream of moving back to the prairie town, where my parents lived, where I could walk the same park trails I walked as a teenager with my dog, eat at the hometown restaurants I knew so well, relive childhood memories and make new ones with my own children.

And that’s what we did – for seven storybook-perfect years. While I have always enjoyed traveling and even moving (in those years between nine months and ten years old, I moved with my family through four states and about a dozen homes, always excited to pack up and drive to the next place), now that we had two young children and all of their grandparents right in the same town, now that we had a (mortgage-free, rent-free) house and even perfectly scheduled part-time jobs so that neither of us took on the full load of domestic work or a full-time day job – it became difficult to see “it will never be this good again” as a lie. It felt like the inarguable truth.

We had always enjoyed visiting the mountains. Nathan took at least one trip to Colorado every year to do some adventuring. But whenever we had discussed possibly moving there, the call of the mountains was never quite strong enough to overcome the comfort and security of the prairie town.

Until last summer, when our little family was all there together, and for the first time, together, we felt the mountains moving us.

Our prairie town has no glaring deficiencies. Most people will tell you “it’s a great place to raise kids.” It is filled with beautiful parks and a sparkling river, kind people, small-town charm. It is the quintessential Shire, a happy idyllic space of farm fields, fragrant woods, and chatty neighbors. For seven years, our family lived well there, and many families have lived well for generations in this same town.

This song and account of my family’s move is not really about towns and mountains, you know. It’s about knowing when it’s time to step out, time to leave that comfortable thing you’ve always known for that strange and beautiful adventure that is undeniably calling to you. It’s about recognizing when your perfect situation is beginning to choke the life out of you, to smother you with security and lull you to complacency with its comforts.

It’s about embracing the unknown and holding out hope that unprecedented goodness lies ahead, not in the mountains or the prairie town or the shining city to which you are venturing, but in the journey itself.

Speaking of the Shire, I’ll call on J.R.R. Tolkien to close out this post. Here are three fitting quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Out On the Road

It’s April in Minnesota and our green breathing earth is covered with snow. But I still believe . . .

Lyrics:

Everywhere we look it seems that
Everyone has better things
to say to one another than the things we tell each other
Everything feels old and faded
Like those jeans that were your favorite
The ones with patches like the patches we’ve made for each other

but then we go

Out on the road
with the wind in our clothes
the sky overhead
and the green breathing earth
all around us

Every time it rains I tell myself
That somewhere something’s growing
And when I step outside tomorrow the world will be so clean
Every day you look at me like
Everything is new and though
I can’t believe, I still believe, I hold you in my arms

and then we go

Out on the road
with the wind in our clothes
the sky overhead
and the green breathing earth
all around us

Children and Snow

On this first day of spring, my brother’s wife is laboring to birth the last of my parents’ grandchildren. This child will probably get a new name today, but for the last nine months he has been Baby Omega.

On this first day of spring, I am bundled in layers and confronted with a cold snowy world outside my window.

These things have me thinking about how children are like snow.

Both children and snow are a beautiful inconvenience. Both are a gift that comes when it pleases, or when God pleases, or the forces of nature and life, or random blind chance, or some crazy-quilt mix of these, depending on who you ask.

Both start as romantically anticipated events, at least to some of us – those who wish for white Christmases, those who dream of a baby cooing in the cradle in the new house we just bought.

The first snow is magic and mystery, and so is each new baby. The world hushes, slows, becomes one eternal sacred moment.

Then the snow hardens to ice chunks, soils itself with sand and salt and animal droppings, and generally gets in our way. The baby wakes us up every night, spits up on our clothes and our furniture, grows teeth and bites us.

The winter wears on and we settle in to the new reality. We read more books, go skiing, build snowmen, drink hot cocoa. We wake when the baby wakes, which is no longer a shock to the system. The babies grow, and we accept the relentless school-night routine (dinner, clean-up of kids dishes table floor, bath, storytime, prayers, kisses, lights-out, drink of water, lights-out, comfort for nine-year-old’s existential fears, lights-out, comfort for six-year-old’s scary dream, lights-out . . . ) as our basic reality, just like we accept that we can’t run barefoot outside in the snow (though our children don’t always concur).

We dream of summer. We dream of empty-nest years. Middle-aged couples in the child-free restaurant booth near ours (the one with children chattering about Phineas and Ferb and parents droning, “sit down!” and “say ‘excuse me!'”) look as exotic to us as the posters for Jamaica hung in the icicle-bedecked windows of the travel agency downtown.

The snow is going nowhere, though the calendar says it’s spring. The children seem to be in no hurry either.

But every day has moments that catch us off-guard with their goodness. The color of the light on the snow at sunset, the waking adult we glimpse in the graceful stride of our golden-haired daughter.

The days and the years carry on. One day the snow is more absent than present, the child’s life is lived more out of our home than in it. All of us are refreshed by the spring, with its sprouts and sunshine, this new season of our lives ripe with energy and possibilities.

But then winter, with its gifts we never asked for, gifts we never did experience as well as we could have, softens in our memories, and we are just a little sad that we never officially said goodbye to the snow, even as it faded right in front of us.

I Deleted The Doctor

Oh no, not That Doctor.

And not my friendly family practitioner.

The doctor I deleted was a knockoff of Doctor Mario – a free game I downloaded on my iPhone maybe a month ago, one snowy cold Minnesota Sunday when I thought, hey, I wonder if there are any Doctor Mario games I can download for free on my newly acquired iPhone 3gs? (Doctor Mario was my favorite video game back in my college days – it’s something like Tetris.)

And sure enough, there was one.

Thus began my addiction.

I played it to “de-stress.” I played it on Sundays, while the rest of the family played Xbox. I played it in the evenings after the kids went to bed. I played it in the evenings while dinner was cooking. I played it in the evenings after dinner while the kids did their clean-up chores. I played it on Saturdays. I played it while the kids would ask me if I wanted to play with them. Usually I’d put it down then, but not always.

These are the confessions of an addict.

I knew I needed to quit. Heck, I knew I should never have started. When Nathan inherited and fixed a broken Xbox and asked me about my interest level, I said, don’t get me started. I hadn’t played a video game in years, and for good reason. I get addicted.

This past weekend I went on personal retreat. Of course I had my phone with me. No, I did not play – or even feel tempted to play – “my game” during the whole weekend (I would have drained the battery and there was no electricity in my hermitage!). I read some books that renewed my inspiration to live generously, slowly, meaningfully (The Windows of Brimnes by Bill Holm, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren).

I came home truly de-stressed, and eager to live more intentionally, more present to the people around me in each moment.

And I succeeded, for maybe ten minutes! I hugged my family, played a card game with a friend’s daughter who was visiting; and then when the kids went in the other room to play some Xbox together, I went for my fix with the Doctor.

It was my last fix, though. That evening as I reflected over the day, remembering my kids seeing me pull out my phone and saying, “oh, you’re playing your game again aren’t you?” – and not in a joyous, “good-for-you” tone – I decided to delete the Doctor.

Clicking that little “x” felt great.

Now I’ve decided that a “de-stressing” activity should be something that is ultimately good for me – like exercise, or good food, a conversation with a friend, playing music, taking a power nap or curling up with a good book, catching up on the blogs I follow, or even watching an episode of The Doctor – the one I would never delete!

I know, I can always download the other Doctor again. But I’ll have myself, my family, and the expansive life of my dreams to answer to.

A Long Walk, A Thousand Miles From Newtown

On Saturday Silas and I walked downtown to buy a book for his kindergarten class gift exchange.

On Friday our town had been a snow-covered Christmas-fairy-tale village. Then it rained. It rained on Friday night, and all day Saturday. The rain erased the snow and exposed the husks and straw of fall to the numb gray sky.

We bought our book and headed home through the mist. Everything was crying. We moved slowly and silently, my 37-year-old legs newly attuned to his six-year-old pace.

The cheerful Christmas music piped through Central Park’s loudspeakers sounded alien and anachronistic.

We passed the post office and the library, who face one another across Broadway. Their flags waved wearily where they had fallen, halfway to the muddy ground.

We passed my children’s school, whose flag also trailed low, heavy with its load of grief.

We passed three neighbor boys on bicycles. I smiled and said hello. They were painfully beautiful.

That was a very long walk. I am still tired from it.