songbird

I drove north on a side street, avoiding traffic on the main drags. Even though the main drags were more cleared, they were still slick and banked snow made for one tight lane of traffic, with lots of cars and drivers with places to be. I’d rather be alone and slow. I drive slowly.

I came upon a residential intersection. A truck ambled along, I yielded. Except, I didn’t. Nothing in my seasoned snow-driving could stop or deter my station wagon from sliding toward the truck. I cranked the steering wheel, hoping to spin into a side-swipe, figuring that would be better than a t-bone. I was only moving at about 10 miles per hour. The truck driver didn’t see me. He looked in the opposite direction at the 100 year old ponderosa laying on a crushed teal sedan. I honked, politely once and then obnoxiously. He snapped around and looked at me as I slid sideways toward him. We were both inching toward one another; we slid, no control but beautifully synchronized. He smiled. He was laughing. It seemed like he was next to me in one of those kid tea cup rides at the fair. And I laughed too. We made eye contact the entire time we slid. Nobody would be hurt. We skated sideways, in tandem, together – for many seconds – before he caught an edge and spun out, bumping the nose of my car. We pushed away from each other and stopped. I knew him. We hopped out and laughed some more, hugged and drove on. The only damage was my license plate: the corner dog-eared.

I smiled at the coincidence.

Minutes before I’d been in a doctor’s office watching her dog-ear a piece of paper to describe the state of my angry meniscus. I’ve been blue the last few days and trying to talk myself out of it. One week ago my knee puffed up. I noticed it. I pushed hard into and around my 15 year-old scar on that knee, wondered if something else shook loose since my surgery and recovery way back when. Nothing hurt.

Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle in a deep pool of icy slush while Ruby and I walked home from the city bus stop. I couldn’t stand. “Get up mama! You’re getting all wet and you will be so cold!” she alarmed, as frozen wetness spread across my leggings. I couldn’t get up. She took off her backpack and pressed it into the snow. She encouraged me to move out of the deep puddle. I crawled. I was dizzy. I fought throwing up. Just like when I first did this 10 years ago. But then it was summer and I didn’t have a four year old to assure. I could just writhe on the trail. I could throw up. And swear and clutch my ankle in despair. I knew it’d pass quickly. It always does. I said this out loud with clenched teeth and soaking wet clothes. But usually I can stand. Cars drove by and I felt embarrassed. But I couldn’t move. “Mama, I’m scared.”

I tried to call Andy. No cell service. A white minivan passed. The pain was usually subsiding by then but it was still hot and awful. A woman walked toward me, the woman who had been in the minivan. She was with her son. They carried bags of groceries. “Are you ok?” I told her I was, I would be.

“Can I give you a ride somewhere?” Ruby curled into my torso, pressing her face in my cleavage. I balanced on her backpack, squeezing my ankle. She had really wanted me to sit on her backpack. “No thanks,” I said, acting stronger than I felt. And before I could consider my ridiculous inability to accept help at that moment she smiled, “Nope. I am driving you home. I’ll be right back.”

The week before the ankle, Andy lifted a bag of chicken food and threw his back out. I was working in my studio and he stumbled over a snow pile and slammed the door open with force. He fell onto the couch, holding his breath. He quickly inhaled and exhaled through pressed lips. He was stiff with pain, cursing at the ceiling. it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad he said for more than a minute.

Somewhere in here, we promised each other to do more yoga.

The dog-eared paper in the doctor’s palm made sense to me. I hadn’t fallen or twisted or anything; I was so confused by my gigantic knee. It had become so big and painful. But if I imagined a small piece of bright white paper in my joint with a neatly folded corner, that felt alright. Perhaps the page was curled when I fell and tore my knee into pieces when I was 20. And now, with more skiing than I’ve done in years, that curled page pressed firmly into the page before. A bookmark. Remember that time you were lifted over cliffs in a sled, strapped down? Remember your boyfriend and friends rigging up a pulley system to lower your shaking body off the mountain?

Bookmark.

Dir Mom I hop shat yo ne felz batr (Dear Mom, I hope that your knee feels better).

The snow is heavy now, compressed by warmer temps. This morning Margot burst inside to yell, “RUBY. Get out here. I think it really will be spring! And even summer! Listen!”

We heard birds.

Seasons shift. Snow yields to spinach. People grow and age, learning how to use and admire their body for its strength and also its fragility. When we move toward an undesirable intersection, laughter helps. When we fall, grabbing an outstretched hand feels right. When we feel so much, swearing is wonderful. For all the things that seize, slide, tear and crash: we must patiently sit with ourselves. We must know this thing leads to the next thing. Birds always find a place to sing.

 

 

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snowed in

Snow has been falling here. More fell yesterday and then again last night. We have a blizzard storm warning for the first time in many years and are, quite literally, snowed in today with thick drifts blown tight to our doors.

I woke several times last night to the wind slapping snow against our bedroom window. More than once the growing, moving drifts sounded like a large animal slowly stomping across our deck. The wind is howling, shaking everything, reminding me just how much I love my flannel sheets.

Across the region, schools are closed today. This is rare but even towns with huge capacity to plow and plan can’t take on a storm like this. It wins and we enjoy the feet of snow dropped over our landscape.

I remember Missoula valley being super snowy when I was a kid. My dad tells stories of hiking Mount Sentinel to ski a few turns in the early mornings before high school. He talks about chaining up their ’50 Ford and barely making it up the road to the ski hill. That kind of snow is a story told. And, like good fish stories, the mid-century snow just keeps getting deeper. But this year. This year, the most wintery winter showed up.

Sledding to school, skiing to work. People collectively leaning on slippery feet, palms into bumpers of stuck cars on every corner.

I spent a few days shoveling snow into a big pile and carving out a slide for the kids. It’s a lot smaller after a few days of use. I better get back out there.

Clothes and gear drying over the fire, always. Someone searching for clean socks, always. Snow and then puddles everywhere, always.

Sledding until and then past bedtime, because daddy grabbed helmets and goggles and said let’s go to the very top and see how fast we can go.

Those days where the snow is achingly white and the sky is just so blue and the sun hits every little thing with shocking perfection.

My kids have been playing outside with our neighbors for a while now. I can see them out the window through the whirling, whipping snow in their head-to-toe bright gear. If I squint I can only see white and four dots of pink, blue, red and green. Every few minutes I hear a happy shriek that the wind carries away. Andy shoveled the car out this morning and took off to ski the 18 inches that feel up there last night. He rightly gave me the last of our coffee beans. I am doing a pretty great job ignoring my swollen, achy knee trusting it will snap out it soon. The snow just keeps coming, in thicker and thicker heaves, growing piles of pillows around our home. Kids coming in for hot cocoa now. Gotta go warm cheeks, stack boots and hang snow-soaked mittens.

ps I wrote an essay about play over at You Plus Two Parenting. Click to read I Want In On Their Fun

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the better story

I’ve been a little unsettled lately. About how I want my business to grow. I feel like I am where I hoped I’d be when I quit my job and jumped into self-employment. Things are moving and growing, opportunity rolling out her red carpet. I have been holding back, trying to figure out why.

I am not afraid of failure. I am afraid of a certain kind of success. I know really successful people – in the blogging world, in the writing world, in the art world. And one thing they deal with freaks me out: people say really mean things to them and about them. I am not cut out for heavy disdain, for the gossip and rudeness I see on their websites and social media sites. My famous friends are stronger than me. I think about shutting it all down when I think of myself in that arena. I don’t want to fight that fight. I am not “bigger than that.” I don’t “come back stronger.” My skin doesn’t “thicken.” I am open and vulnerable and I like that about myself. Words can hurt my feelings and deteriorate my drive.

But I don’t make choices out of fear! I mean, that is lame! (right??!!) I shine light on the things I want and they stick around. I don’t engage with things that I don’t like. Remember that Cherokee story about the hungry wolves? Talking about the online world: I don’t have alerts set up to tell me when I am mentioned, I don’t know who says what about me, I don’t look at my analytics, I don’t know about other people’s analytics, I don’t read about online trends, I don’t know about the optimal tweet, share etc. Those things curb my creativity and assign a qualifier to me just being me. By the way, I consider praise to be as troublesome as snark. Do you think I am being a bad business person for not paying attention to this part of my industry? I don’t. I am being the business person I want to be. I do my thing. I do it with integrity. I jump in where it feels good. I do read what inspires me, I do read what challenges me, I do engage in productive conversation, I do enjoy and crave critique, I do listen to the voices that sing peace and momentum, I do self-evaluate all. the. freaking. time.

I got this comment on my last post. It seemed like spam but it might have been from a person. I texted my friend and she wrote back. “Why is it a relief if it is from a robot but it means something if it is from a stranger sitting behind her computer somewhere in the world who obviously doesn’t know you even a little bit?” I loved that question. The answer, of course, is that neither matter. But, again, words stick. I was affected, even if only for 10 minutes.

Last week I was in the library with my kids checking out books about cheetahs, orcas, horses and fairies. I walked down a book-columned aisle and right there laying on a shelf was Steal Like an Artist. I checked it out and read it that night. There are hundreds of sentences I noted and loved and reread. But there was this one paragraph that so succinctly resonated in my bones.

The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best — write the story you want to read. The same principle applies to your life and your career: Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?

I reread that quote when I felt hot and misunderstood by the comment.

WHAT WOULD MAKE A BETTER STORY?

1.
She read the comment and believed she was lame. She sunk into her chair at the computer and read it several times and then wondered if others thought this too. Maybe it was time to hang up her online career if she can’t even handle a little mean jab? She wondered if she had been a fraud all this time. An hour passed and she picked up her kids from school, a sweaty mess of anxiety.

2.
She read the comment and it stung. Maybe it was time to hang up her online career if she can’t even handle a little mean jab? She deleted it, deciding it was neither kind nor true. She texted a good, honest friend who gave her great advice. She joined her co-worker in her studio where she had an invigorating conversation about growth, insecurity, authenticity and art. She got some work done, she practiced waving bye bye with her employee’s baby. An hour passed and she picked up her kids from school, an empowered, content force.

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mood board / winter

We are doing a little website revamp. As with my home and my calendar, I am decluttering my online space. More white space. I’ve never created a mood board before and decided it would be helpful as a point of reference when choosing colors and arrangements online. Here it is:

Clockwise, items shown are my photos and things pinned by me on the world’s most epic mood board, Pinterest (follow along if you’d like!): living room, kitchen, plants.

It has been so helpful! And has me looking around my home and environment at the patterns, textures and colors I choose to live with. I enjoy noticing the object and the negative space (hey! I’ve written about this before); every little thing has its perfect place and I enjoy finding it, inventing it and then moving it again. And so begins a new series here featuring what catches my eye accompanied by a few details.

01. Lavender and oregano hanging in the kitchen. Paint color of our kitchen and living room: Day Spa (it looks nothing like the swatch online).

02. Guest bed, post-company. Thrifted pillows, sheets and wool blanket. Duvet and shams from Ikea.

03. Portrait of the girls by Holly Andres in our kitchen. Next to a giant piece of steel mounted to the wall that displays kid art, wall calendar, photos etc. Click here to see some of the ideas that influenced us. Kitchen timer. Vintage replication star washers, like these.

04. Coat rack by the front door made from a piece of old barn wood with hand-forged hooks. It’s similar to our last home’s entry but better with the added beauty of those hooks, thanks to my friend’s suggestion. She’s brilliant at adding a handmade, thoughtful element to everything. Cocksucker above.

05. + 06. Books and window in the girls’ bedroom. Curtains are vintage fabric.

07. Succulent that nearly died and is making an admirable comeback. Container from a garage sale.

08. Art, L: Diptych by Brad Allen, a piece I commissioned for our 5th wedding anniversary. The circles are arial views of the places in Montana we each come from. Andy and I take turns, each buying art every other year, inspired by the “theme.” Wood is the 5th anniversary idea. Art, R: Painting by Edgar Smith.

09. Well-loved wood floor, leg of one of my favorite chairs that used to belong to Andy’s Great Aunt Dorothy. The same Aunt Dorothy who owed the diamond.

10. Feet of a body warming by the fire upon our new (to us) chair. We also have a matching new (to us) sofa. Both gifts from a generous friend. Wish our raucous family luck with the white wool?!

11. Amaryllis in full bloom. My mother-in-law gave it to us for Christmas and it just keeps sending up shoots and blooms. Shoots and blooms!

12. George on the couch. We secured George from the Humane SocietyPendleton blanket was a gift when Margot was born. Plaid blanket recently thrifted. Plywood cabinet is our food pantry and came with our house.

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locking down, opening up

Montanans don’t usually talk much about cold weather. It is cold here sometimes, every year. Most people I know love winter. My family loves winter. We bundle up and get out there. This last week was different. I mean, it was SO SO cold. We talked about it. Our frozen nostrils, our frozen doors, our frozen cars and other frozen stuff. We were cooped up, on lockdown, unable to play outside. We were stir crazy, our pets were stir crazy. We needed fresh air and exercise.

Thursday morning was the coldest and a young guy robbed a few Missoula businesses at gunpoint. There was a flurry of reporting. He might have been running with a gun toward the University. He didn’t have a coat on. The coat thing really saddened me. I couldn’t stop thinking about this desperate man running in
-35 degree weather without a coat.

The University went into lockdown. And then a handful of schools, including Margot’s elementary school and Ruby’s preschool. I felt a gut punch of fear when I first heard of the lockdown, which I later learned was a lockin. I felt trust and thanks. I so appreciated our schools making the easy, smart choice to lock the doors. Mostly, I felt sad. Sad that my kids will grow up knowing about lockdowns and lockins. Sad that this shit happens. Sad for the stories – you know the ones – etched into my heart. Sad for that cold, running man. Sad for his mom.

Margot, Ruby and their classmates never knew the day was any different than usual because the cold weather had relegated them to the indoors anyway. I picked them up, all bundled up smiles.

This is a huge year of emotional growth for me, with my oldest daughter in kindergarten and lots of conversation about how we want our children to grow, what we hope for them. Among many realizations and affirmations, there is this: we are part of something bigger than just us, our nuclear family. I teach in Margot’s classroom two days a week and it is important work. I have important relationships with these kids, fostered in just 2-3 hours a week. I love them and they love me.

I have cracked open into a whole different kind of mothering — a more whole mothering. I am her mom, his mom, your mom. I am a mom. Without prejudice, without holding back, without rules. I believe that kind of indiscriminate love changes the world. I am learning from it right now in a kindergarten classroom.

Margot is about to lose one of her top teeth. It wobbles around when she talks like a rogue corn kernel. Thursday, when I arrived at her school, she was sitting on a bench with her friend looking at a book about mermaids. Hip-to-hip, puffy coats, ear-flap hats and backpacks. I sent a loving exhale out to anyone out there, cold without a coat. They were born. They were kindergartners with loose teeth, into mermaid books and full of hope.

I turned 36 yesterday. Spent the day with friends and family skiing, returned to our home where it filled with our tribe over soup, an army of small children parading around with tambourines and harmonicas. We made food for more people than we thought could fit into our home. They fit. I cracked a window in the kitchen. A thick, cold wisp of air cut into the smiling warmth.

We had a week of shutting everything in, piling sheepskins around door frames, draping windows with wool, layering up, locking down. It felt claustrophobic and oppressive at times, but we knew it would lift. We knew the days were passing and we’d again feel warm to the core, that we’d experience a brilliant inhale when opening a window.

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