every night

Every night when we go to bed, we carry our kids to their beds from ours, where they always fall asleep just after reading books. We know they will fall back into our bed with us sometime between 10pm and 7am. But for those two to ten hours, we have that entire Queen all to ourselves. Well, and our dog and one or two cats curled among limbs.

I went to log into my blog over the weekend and couldn’t remember my password. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. But I certainly didn’t think it’d take me a good bit to remember how to login. I changed my password almost a year ago when wordpress told me I had to. I know it was almost a year ago because it was the day after Alice died. And on that gray, cold day I changed my password to include the date of her passing.

At night, after I carry Margot across the hall, I place her feet on the ladder to the top bunk. It has been six months since the last time I would ever carry her with one arm and climb the ladder to place her up there. It was literally one single, warm night when I just couldn’t muscle it any longer. Now, she, half-awake, ascends the ladder with me steadying her from below saying I got you baby. Night. Love you.

Ruby is easier, mostly because she’s on the bottom bunk but also because she has just a bit of baby left in her. No matter how awkward the carry position is, her frame sinks against mine like the stars find their place in a constellation.

We leave our door cracked all night because if we don’t, Sam leans his claws into the wood to voice his disapproval. Sam is our 17-year old cat whom we’ve had since he was a kitten. He chooses to sleep with us every night but likes to know he can get out if he wants to.

We went to a college football game last Saturday with my in-laws. At this game, I was one of 25,000 people who wanted a distraction, who wanted to have fun and focus on the things we love about this life. For me, this had absolutely nothing to do with football. For me, I was lifted by our collective ability to breathe and collective craving for contentment, purpose, fulfillment, love and health. I was thoughtful about our crowd of people. The trust and vulnerability, the blood pumping through our hearts. And, what if.

What if.

Several times I drew in a deep breath and pushed a prayer out to those hurting in Paris and Beirut and all over our planet. I drew in a breath and pushed love at my family and my present moment of frivolity. The contrasting feelings felt uncomfortable and human.

“The moment you replace a memory of love with a memory of terror is the moment you lose hope. Don’t become swallowed up by fear. Don’t let this act of terror redefine your past experiences or your hopes for the future.” I love these words by Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl on instagram). Hope and love. I chose to contribute to this world’s population, the next generation. I sometimes feel concerned, holding my breath against certain realities.

I am hopeful. I am full of love.

Sometime around the football game’s halftime, as the wind howled out of Hellgate Canyon and we all leaned into each other for warmth, a ladybug landed on my chest. She told me to focus on living and loving and the that the beautiful little things are not petty. They are supremely important. She climbed up and down every finger on my hand, so out of place but perfectly placed. She told me to trust people. To believe in goodness, possibility and peace.

Ruby is always the first to rise and shuffle across the hall into our bedroom. She knows that three steps into our room, she can fall forward and our bed will catch her. Andy barely wakes. He lifts the thick down comforter and heavy wool blanket in one stretch and Ruby rolls in. Safe and snug, dedicated to loving and being loved.

She turns six next week. She’s missing two teeth and has two loose teeth. She can scream higher than Mariah, break any record for the wiggliest human, mince garlic as good as any chef and give hugs that melt the world’s hurt. She loves socks that don’t bunch up, books, her sister’s friendship, good bread, piggy backs, tiny containers and playing kittens.

She asked for a nature party. Specifically, she’s dreamed up a scavenger hunt at the river, dancing, spaghetti, salad bar, doggie cake and Santa in attendance.

PS
We left for and returned from our big road trip. It was everything I had hoped: a good mix of planned and spontaneous, with all the real feelings and experiences that naturally surface with travel for a month. I am not yet sure what the sharing of our adventure will look like. I will share some bits and photos here but I have so much in me that I want to write out into many essays. I’d like to write a book about it. I think writing a book is really hard and believe every single author of a book to be so brave and a little bit superhuman. I am currently working on drawing inspiration and courage from them. I did scribble down thoughts in my journal quite often while we traveled. And it felt good. And I’m ok with announcing my idea here even if it takes years or turns into something else entirely. Now I’m rambling and considering deleting this entire paragraph but will leave it. xo

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hump day nuggets: ritual

hump day nuggets: bits of the season in photos and words

Every year, as the leaves ignite into bejeweled, brittle, temporary bits, our family joins friends beside a navy blue river.

I’ve written about this October venture before. Maybe even every year since I’ve been sharing at dig. Andy and I have been joining our friends at this holy riverbend for more than a decade. It’s a sacred location, where brown trout hang in herds, the cottonwood’s gold and sun’s warmth flicker in perfect symbiosis.

Usually, it’s our first cold camping trip of the year. The one where we procrastinate leaving the campfire and then do restricted, horizontal jumping jacks inside our sleeping bags to warm the feathered down. This year, it was warm like early September. This year, like every year, was different than the last.

Nuggets.

:: Last year, here, we were here with Alice. She was healthy and strong. But, and, I did sense her slowing. She stopped – for the first time ever – during our run up the dirt road we’d run for many years. She died, suddenly, in the middle of the night in my arms, one month later. I miss her so much.

Mabel turned one on Saturday, on her first trip to this place. The whole ending of a life and beginning of another was abundant, brilliant and throbbing. Punctuated by the space we occupied.

:: The campground was more crowded than we’ve ever seen it so we poached a spot by the boat launch into the river. The cons: it wasn’t *technically* a camp site, we were a hundred yards from the bulk of our friends. The pros: away from generators, loads of space for loud, early-rising children, the boat launch spot was infrequently used and the kids loved the shoreline, the fence created the perfect perch, fort and horse.

Perch:

Fort:

:: Horse. The “horse” was only understood and appreciated by one very determined cowgirl, Ruby Jane. With the help of our camp clothesline. Side note: the clothesline was taken (right out form under us!) later that day, presumably by a fisherman eager to dry his gear. That line has dried our gear for many years and I trust it will serve him well.

:: Our friend Brad from Earlywood was there and brought his shop scraps for the campfire. All those misshaped spoons and beautiful chunks of broken cutting boards became a imaginary city.

:: I love all four seasons equally. You can’t make me pick one. I really admire the transitions. I love summer for vitamin D, sleeping under the milky way, jumping in rivers, sun-warmed tomatoes, neighborhood lemonade stands, every meal outside. And I am always ready for autumn’s vivid promise: dark morning oatmeal by the stove, thick scarves, visible breath, neon landscape, soup, camping like cocooned caterpillars.

:: Saturday was unseasonably warm and the kids caught minnows and snails, arranged rocks, collected leaves all day. As the sun slipped behind the mountain, they all covered themselves in mud and jumped in the icy cold river fully clothed, forgetting that their shoes would be wet for a long, long time. I appreciated their enthusiasm and spontaneity; I appreciated the raucous force of four kids with an idea that just keeps getting wilder and braver until everyone is under water and feeling the most alive.

I do wish I had a photo but I was too busy laughing and watching and fetching dry things for cold bodies.

:: A little afternoon adventure up a bumpy dirt road led to an old mining camp.

:: I have many crisp memories of specific events of activities or words from when I was a child. But more than remembering that time I climbing into the lifeguard chair with my mom, that time I skipped through the zoo with my dad, my grandmother’s pearls dangling while she leaned over dinner on the stove, that wild horse ride with my grandpa — more than the naming of what happened, I remember the feeling. How people and places and adventures made me feel.

:: Proof that I was there.

:: Our little family is so excited for the big opportunity to partner with our locally owned Honda dealership, University Motors. For the next few years, you will see us putting this car to the test around our great state and beyond. So far, our new adventure rig is just perfect for us.

And this car will have the high charge of carrying our crew across the country soon! Having this last weekend away made me excited to keep going. Our family will have more than three weeks of travel and exploration from Montana to New York City and back. The last time I was in New York my boyfriend proposed to me in a museum…

When we get home, the first snow will have already flown. The garden tucked in, the heat on, the trees bare, the days shorter. I have no idea what the trip will be like. I am excited for the things we have planned. But I am even more excited for the things we don’t have planned. Those little gifts that tuck themselves into the open-ended pockets of a day. Yes, I love those.

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give yourself three minutes

I stand in the kitchen, tired, noticing I forgot to brush my furry teeth the night before. “Girls! It’s time to start our day!” I shout down the short hall to their sleepy bunk beds. I pull two creamy shots of espresso. The aroma awakens my skin. Andy’s art exhibit is in a few days and we are nearing the end of a tightly booked schedule. For months, Andy has been painting between 4 and 6:30am, before his 10 hour work day. And painting again in the evenings and on the weekends. Naturally, I’ve been keeping (attempting to keep) the homestead stuff together, weaving my work around cooking, kids, garden, pets etc. We’ve been in a doable and good rhythm, one that feels doable and good because it is creatively fueling for my husband and because it is finite. I cannot wait to see Andy stand in a white gallery*, surrounded by his art and people who love his art. I look forward to someone else making dinner again. I look forward to breezy, cozy weekday evenings.

I steam coconut milk and accidentally pour the most beautiful heart-leaf design into my mug. I think about taking a photo but I stand and stare instead, noticing how one little beautiful thing can be such a gift.

Last week, during a meeting with Margot’s teacher, I felt a lump in my jeans, on my calf. It was a big lump and I couldn’t believe nobody told me that it looked like I was concealing a small squirrel up my pant leg. I fished my hand up the blasted skinny jean to fetch the item and I pulled out a pair of my underwear. That I then had to hold in my lap for the rest of the meeting.

Our kitchen is deconstructed as we prepare for the last bits of our four-year remodel. I wipe drywall dust off the little stool so I can spread peanut butter on bread for breakfast. Margot has a spelling test today.

BREEZE I say, emphasizing the Z. She wants to spell it with an S like cheese and and EA like please. And really, I wonder how any of us learn to spell when every rule is broken 12 different ways.

Mama, can you please tie this string on my wrist so it’s not too tight but also not too loose? Ruby always has very specific requests regarding fit and tension of accessories and clothing.

One second, baby. I fill lunch containers with sliced tomatoes, cheese and applesauce on the kitchen floor.

Little Dragon plays. The sun cuts light across the dusty floor. Mabel is hungry. I take hold of the fragile string with six gold rings and one diamond in the middle that is held tight to Ruby’s wrist. Except I don’t have a good grip and the beads fall, hop away and vanish into the floor. She screams in horror. I take a gulp of coffee and pick her up. I tell her we’ll make another but immediately regret saying that because that isn’t the point. She grieves over that bracelet on this morning.

She presses her wet cheek into the space between my collarbone and chin. I hold her with my right arm. I wipe the table with my left hand and say SKELETON to Margot.

Despite the sock crisis, the kids make it to school on time and this small victory feels like a big one.

My girls both still push their hands into my bra for warmth. It is always an unfocused instinct, like they don’t even notice they are doing it. It reminds me of them as babies, so I love it.

I went for a run yesterday. It’s one of those runs where I felt as light as a tanker truck and as fast as cold honey. It was quiet and felt like fall. Ribbons of gold and purple, dry earth, slow creek. A bear stepped into the trail, just in front of me. She saw me and kept walking. She rolled on her back in the copper pine needles, bit at a yellowing bush. I watched her for at least a minute. I felt like I could just walk right up to her. My heart beat loudly but I didn’t feel afraid. I felt lucky.

I rerouted my run, turning my head at every forest crackle. The bear gave me a gift: I am lighter and faster now. Awakened.

At home I take the clothes off the line. They’ve been dry for four days now. I live this life and I still can’t understand how I’ve wanted to do this two-minute task for four entire days and been unable to get to it.

I spend my day behind the sewing machine and computer. We leave on our big road trip in just over a week. The girls told me last night that they don’t want to go. Because they’ll miss their friends. And, I realized that 24 days sounds like 17 years to them. We got on my computer and looked at the map, the relaxed schedule and the places we will visit. Margot asked if we can go see Dance TV like on Girls Just Want to Have Fun when we are in Chicago. Ruby still looked worried and said that she just doesn’t know how she feels about it because she just doesn’t know what it will feel like. And I say Amen. That’s life in a nutshell kid. We just gotta go see what it feels like to decide how we will feel about it. She likes that idea.

I sit still with my daughters by the creek. I try to make it happen several times a week. The air moves, massages our skin, lifts gold hair into currents. Trees throb, counting time. Our whole bodies supported by this world. Together, arranging rocks. Talking about jewelry design, glaciers and dinner.

A few nights ago, Ruby climbed into bed with us coughing and declaring she felt sick. This is how it went down:

Andy: What’s up buddy? Do you feel like you might puke?
Ruby: Kindof. But I don’t want to.
Andy: Yeah but are you going to? How about you turn your head away from my head. And if you feel like you have to throw up and you can’t make it to the bathroom, aim for the floor. OK? Do you want to go to the bathroom now?
Ruby: Ok dada. No, I don’t think I will throw upbbbbbbbllllllooouuuuuuuuge

She vomited everywhere, mostly on Andy.

I have been participating in a class that my friend dreamed up and is teaching on Monday nights. It’s movement, loud music, breath, little bit of journaling. During the last class she read poems about transformation in between us following her loose, transformative moves to Janet Jackson, Indigo Girls and Van Morrison. A few times we had a writing prompt like “What are you famous for? What do you want to be famous for?”** Several times we just broke out in dance for two counts of 8. At the end of class she always does just one more something. She said,

Now is the time we all look at the clock and think about how it is time to go home. Pause. Give yourself three minutes.

She packed so much into those three minutes. We danced and smiled, wrote a few sentences and laid on the wood floor feeling our chests rise and fall. Three minutes. In a season of life where I often feel stretched and disheveled, I will remind myself to – every now and then – give myself three minutes exactly like that.

*Andy’s exhibit Stay Right opened October 2 at The Brink Gallery in Missoula, Montana. There, he has 12 new paintings that will be on view (and for sale!) through the end of October.

** That prompt came after this beautiful poem you must read now:

Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

I want to be famous to my daughters’ friends,
stray dogs, worms, panhandlers,
famous as the one who made eye contact.

I want to be famous like a campfire,
a warm place, a conduit for storytelling.
I want to be famous in the way a creek is famous,
equal parts flexible and unyielding,
equal parts new and ancient.

 

Want to participate? Tell us, what do you want to be famous for?

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Ten

Ten years ago today I married Andy in the pouring rain.

As a teenager I would imagine my adult self. She would dive into a series of passionate relationships, having her heart broken easily and often. It would be ok because she felt alive and ready for everything that feeling alive involved. She would feverishly make art and travel the world after college and maybe never settle into one place.

I didn’t imagine that, at 19, I would fall in love with the boy I’d had a crush on since I was 11. And that would be it. Just the one passionate relationship. No broken hearts. We were a meteoric collision where two things awaken and strengthen simply by being together. I was stunned to know love like this existed. Love that made me feel the most alive, the most certain, the most vulnerable.

We went to a concert last night. Our babysitter arrived at 6 when I was in the shower, Andy was vacuuming up tumbleweeds of pet hair and the kids were laying in the driveway with stuffed animals. We weren’t ready for her. Or, actually, we were so ready for her. We were tired. We drank espresso, kissed our kids and left.

I didn’t know Todd Snider‘s music very well. But Andy knows me and booked tickets long ago. We paid a little extra to have seats at a table which we proudly noticed makes us in the “older” bracket of concert goers. I remember a time when the cheapest ticket was the ticket we always booked, when we happily stood for hours smushed in the front beer-splashing quadrant of show. Well, I guess we still do that at Pearl Jam but this show felt more like my favorite poetry reading in a friend’s living room.

Elizabeth Cook opened and the beauty of her voice and her words brought tears to my eyes three times in 45 minutes. She told stories that gripped the room and I thought about that power people have when they are doing their thing – the real thing they are meant to do – and the universe shivers with joy.

I leaned into Andy’s side, his two hands clamshelled around my right hand. He has held my hand that way for almost 19 years. I studied it last night. His hands have aged but they hold the same delicate shape, like a prayer around mine.

Elizabeth Cook sang out about trying to be in a room without taking it on and I sat motionless at the relevancy of everything she spoke. She wrote:

But I do tend to fuse things, confuse things, sometimes with sparks, sometimes like a lava melt, sometimes backed by a tank of compressed air ready to blow, sometimes quiet as a slow leak.

Todd Snider came on stage and continued the singing poetry slam, inspiring the room with his humor and voice and word choice. The difference with this concert and others I’ve been to was the attention. People were so tuned into the frequency set by the performers. We leaned in, listened and learned.

Snider’s words hung in the air.

A little out of place, a little out of tune
Sorta lost in space, racin’ the moon
Climbin’ the walls of this hurricane
Still overall I guess I cant complain

We vowed things to each other 10 years ago. We promised to try, to support, to challenge, to love, to tell the truth. We are doing it. I am proud of us. Last night, we listened to our soundtrack. Making out, messing up, faith, practice, terror, wonder, growth, ache, intention, opening. Trying to do things for all the right reasons.

IMG_5092

 

 

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Perfrect

Wildfire smoke suffocated the last days of August. Our valley an endless, disorienting, gray haze that hid the mountains and the sun. We woke in the mornings with sore throats and headaches. Ash rained from the sky, blanketing tomato leaves and picnic tables with gray layer of burned up tree. We stayed inside a lot, where the air was barely better.

the sun, 6pm

I found the greatest relief in water. The invigorating, cleansing purity. Jumping in electrified my skin with goosebumps, washed the smoke out of my hair and felt like a giant gulp of fresh air. Submerged, I occupied an unpolluted, hopeful suspension.

The day before school started, I felt desperate to be out of the haze, away from homestead duties, having fun with my daughters. We couldn’t escape the smoke so we drove into it, through it to one of our favorite little lakes.

Ruby and Margot were tucked into the back, eating cinnamon rolls the size of their head, Mabel between them.

Ruby: Margot! Smell my feet! I think they smell gross!
Margot: No way sister. Hey, mom do you think the earth is light or heavy?
Ruby: So heavy. Except light, depending. On gravity or something.

The smoke grew thicker, visibility diminishing. We passed a fire crew camp and I thought maybe this was a bad idea. But kept driving thankful for my car’s air filtered air conditioning, thinking – at the very least – we would drive to the lake, jump in and head home.

Turning down the dusty, cracked dirt road toward the lake, Margot was the first to notice the air lighten a bit. Helicopters flew overhead fetching buckets of water from the valley lakes, hauling it into the mountains where the flames thrived.

At the lake, the wind blew just right and we landed in a tiny patch of clean(er) air, letting enough sunlight through to cast shadows. Shadows! We hadn’t seen shadows in over a week.

Oh mama! It’s perfrect!

I smiled at one of Ruby’s very last mispronunciations. Just last week she asked for breakfast and broke my heart. I will forever miss breakfrast. And I hope she forever says Lake Maroony Ann instead of Lake Mary Ronan.


We finished Little Town on the Prairie, had a cartwheel contest (I was a strong contender but decided to give the glory to my kids. ahem. “Mama I think you need to, like, practice more.”), ate melon, swam, found cool stuff like feathers and crawdads, threw rocks and sticks, listened to loons, remembered when I lost my sunglasses in the outhouse and fetched them out, journaled and really had the most fun.

In this new season of motherhood, where both my kids are in school and I have this giant expanse of time, I have some plans for this space and my work. I am happy to report that the change all feels good and right – for all of us – at the moment, which I am so damn thankful for. Thank you for supporting me in the times these last few months when I felt so unsure and sad about the impending change.

The first plan I am excited to announce right this minute is that my daughters and I are embarking on a grand adventure in a little over a month: we are driving from Missoula to Chicago, stopping at several of the Little House sites along the way. These books have profoundly influenced our family and I am thrilled to travel this path with my girls. We will then fly to New York to meet up with Andy for a wedding, followed by a week in the city. Do any of you have ideas or must-see/do things you’d like to share with us? We’d love to know your favorite museums, hikes, food markets (we won’t be eating out much but please tell us restaurants too!), coffee roasters, anything at all! Thank you in advance.

Here is a rough map of our journey there (the route back will look a bit different – open to suggestions – and will involve flying from New York to Chicago and then driving home):

We’ve been dreaming and planning this for a long while now and it isn’t all set in stone just yet (is anything ever?) but I believe saying it out loud is a good step in making it happen. It’ll all be perfrect.

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