beautiful things

And a Squirt of Whipped Cream

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Losing someone is rarely easy. While their spirits may seem to evaporate into the liminal space, people we love who move on leave a lot behind. I spent much of this weekend amongst my grandmother’s things. Cups and wooden salad bowls, serving platters made of milk glass, worn handmade blankets and quilts, dishes with the farm scenes painted on ceramic.

While they moved her to assisted living weeks ago, they only took the essentials. Her navy blue, floral couch was gone, but the drapes that hung in her house for my whole childhood stayed. The china cabinet may have been picked over, but the sturdy structure still stood, watching us move through half-empty rooms, selecting what we hoped for and reminiscing at the dining room table. We flipped through photo albums and I saw faded pictures of relatives I’d never met nor heard of. Legends of old uncles with problems during prohibition, or ties to old business, were stuck among crinkly cellophane, protecting both stories and their sepia-toned faces.

As I lay on the floor in the basement, I said “You know what I hate about dead people? They never come walking through the door when you want them to.”

I knew my grandmother was going to pass. She lived a long life, close to ninety years. And yet, when I found out her spirit had moved on, it still felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Maybe that’s what they do when they die – take the air with them into wherever comes next. It takes awhile to catch your breath.

This has been a summer of transition and shifting. We moved. We had a baby. We are growing into new roles and letting go of others. If all of your grandparents have passed, are you still a granddaughter? Or does that role now become my new daughter’s?

We’ll say good-bye in formal ways in a few weeks. And in the meantime, I’ll tuck a juice glass of her’s in my cupboard. In the morning, I’ll remember Lender’s bagels with blocks of cream cheese wrapped in foil, served on a small ceramic plate with a farm scene painted on top. I’ll remember Kraft singles, and dessert with Reddi-Wip out of a can. Because, as Grandma would say, life is better with a little squirt of whipped cream.

Being amongst her things, evoking memories, remembering stories, preparing to say good-bye, even when it hurts – all beautiful things.

That’s Life

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The Queen died. 

I had a heads up as a friend told me about her impending medical watch as we sipped iced coffees in the morning on Thursday. Hours later, Dylan texted me the news that she had passed. While I have no connection to the monarchy besides the odd fascination that Americans seem to have with royals, her passing caused me to inhale. Sadness seeped into my space. 

She was Queen when my parents were born. And now she is no longer. 

In the same day a friend welcomed a new baby girl and texts buzzed in with photos and again, my breath stilled. I flashed back to my own moment when my daughter left my body and entered the world with cries from both of us. 

And still, this morning, upon child care drop off, I learned of the passing of my great-aunt. Yes, she was old. Still, her light extinguished. 

“That’s life, Katie” my mom replied, with tears in her eyes. 

I know people die and are born at astounding rates. If we took pause for everyone, we’d be pausing all of the time. Instead, we focus on email and headlines of war and sickness and economic recession. Some of us choose to devote our energy to where we can make a difference. Why care about the British monarch when distress in America is so high? Why care about one person’s new baby when thousands are born every day?

Because in these moments, in our inhales and our exhales, are where beauty lies. 

I’ve been noodling on a post about the joy baby laundry brings me, but expanding on tiny sleeves and button-backed dresses for five hundred words feels like a bit much. While the Queen was greeting the new British Prime Minister, I was folding tiny onesies and burp clothes. Days later, she passed. This morning, while a relative passed, I was driving too and from, on my way to another day, concerned about to-do lists and arriving on time with a small child. 

In our every days we have choices to see and to notice. We have choices to pause to honor life and those that end. And we have choices to find joy as we rush from one place to the next. Baby clothes, good-byes, and hellos. Beautiful things.  

No Sunscreen

Upon reflecting on the end of the summer, I realized over the last four months I never once got out a tube of sunscreen. My arms remain pasty white, not covered from protective goo, but rather drool and spit up and diaper rash cream.  

Sure, I stepped outside, squinting into the sun with glasses on and dark circles under my eyes, but we didn’t spend time outside. Not really. This was a summer spent navigating the challenging demands of welcoming a new human to our family. We passed a baby between our hands, threw burp clothes across the room, and taped boxes with clear tape at our feet. We saw morning light, not dusk. We emerged slowly, wondering if the threat of Covid lingered, and asked how protective we should be for each other while tending to the care and keeping of our own small family unit. 

We hired movers, packed the kleenex, and remembered growing pains are, at times, just that. Painful. 

But like the sunburns I did not receive this year, the pain points of adding to a family left a tingly glow, freckles of her presence sticking with us as we move into the new chapter of being a family of three. We’ve peeled off sheets of skin of who we were, leaving new, fresh, vulnerable layers underneath. 

Adjusting to parenting hasn’t been easy, and the transformation has been beautiful. 

Recently, upon meeting someone new, I was asked what this blog was about. I shared my philosophy of searching for the good and about my dance with grief. I shared about the pandemic, and living as an anxious person, and trying to find gratitude in times of desperation. The new connection asked, “And what’s beautiful about this season?”

I had to pause, but it didn’t take long to name a few things. 

There’s beauty in the shape of my daughter’s mouth, and the way her hair curls on the sides when she gets sweaty from sleeping in our arms. There’s beauty in the routine forming, her exploration, and in my husband and I trying to move our feet to our faces like she does while keeping our backs on the floor. 

There’s beauty in smiles and coos, and messy buns, and at times, even the 6:30 am wakeup calls. How many years until she begins to sleep in again?

Back at work this afternoon, I took a walk around the park for a quick break. As the sun beat down on my pale arms, I was reminded how much things can change with warmth and a bit of vitamin D. I heard the church bells ring in the distance. I’ve been walking that path for five years now, and yet, the afternoon bells had a different tinkle to them in this season. 

While the paths we walk may remain the same, we as humans aren’t meant to remain stagnant. I’m changing and growing and walking forward, still. 

No sunscreen this summer, what a beautiful thing.

Better Than When We Started

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Motherhood has taught me to speed up.

I push the cart at the grocery store a little faster, and walk briskly through Home Depot for fear of tears or fussiness. I gobble down meals because the baby always seems to need to eat right when we sit down.

Tending to my little one’s needs first requires putting my own rhythms on the back burner. Instead, I find pauses in ten minute intervals to eat a banana, respond to an email, wash my hair, or write a blog post before bed.

We moved this last weekend, and boxes are everywhere. Piles of ‘to be put away’, ‘to be hung on the wall’, and ‘to donate’ muddy the new white carpet. We step around gobs of brown, crumbled packing tape and whisper ‘Hey, where’s the toothpaste?’ when attempting a new bedtime routine.

I want to move quickly to find homes for our belongings, but the sense of urgency here is not serving me. I get interrupted with the need for a bottle, a diaper change, or breathing through a fear of what’s coming next. The desire to organize perfectly cripples me.

One of my to-do’s this week was to clean out the old house. I asked a friend to help, and she graciously said yes. When I dropped the baby at my mom’s, I was in a hurry. I wanted to scrub and vacuum, and turn over the keys. I wanted to be ready to leave behind the home we called ours for the last seven years.

However, when I walked in the door to do drop-off with the baby in her carseat, I burst into tears. The emotions from the last three months came bubbling up, no longer tolerating the stuffing down I’ve been attempting. I could no longer speed up this part of the process.

I texted my friend, ‘late again’, and when I was ready, she was in the driveway with her vacuum to help me suck up and wipe away our last marks in the house. I cried as I cleaned, and my friend nodded as witness. Endings are never easy for me. I have a lot of feelings.

However, I chose not to speed up this good-bye.

I inventoried the changes we had made. We painted every wall, built a laundry room, re-did the kitchen, updated the baseboards, landscaped, gardened, planted, and raked, and built bookshelves. In those walls, we lost a parent, trained a puppy, had over seven jobs between us, survived a pandemic, experienced pregnancy, and brought our baby to her first home. We made that house our home.

Walking from empty room to empty room, I vocalized my thanks for my happy memories, and touched my heart for the painful experiences the walls witnessed. I said thank you for housing us, for our growth, for the opportunity for two to become three.

As my friend swept the front porch before we closed the door, I shared the phrase repeating in my head – “Leave things better than when you found them.”

I can proudly say Dylan and I did just that.

Slowing down to say goodbye to our first home and leaving it better than when we started – beautiful things.

Filling Tiny Holes

In the small bathroom upstairs, Dylan removed the letters “G” “R” “A” “C” and “E” that had been hanging our towels. Grace – a simple phrase that accompanied our daily routines of cleansing, brushing, and wiping up gobs of toothpaste and lotion left behind in a hurry. Each letter left three holes to be filled.

When the spackle had dried, I stood in the bathroom, celebrating the time to shower with an infant in the house. Turning to look for a towel, the now blank wall pushed me back to a weekend in the early weeks after Dad died when we covered the walls with Monterey White. Holding the brush in my hand in the tiny room, I had wept. “I miss my Dad” I said, unsure of how the missing would grow as days turned into years.

It has been six years since we painted, and now, we are getting ready to move.

I don’t believe we ever fully heal from grief. We carry our people forward in our hearts and in our stories, and in the tears that come with transition. I’ve woken up every day for the last few weeks wishing I could call my dad for a pep talk, or have him come with us to drive by the new house. I’ve needed his advice and his expertise about insurance coverage, and his hands to hold my baby.

I am still missing him.

I make do with pictures, talking to his friends, and asking for hugs, and extra support from people who know the pain of progress without a parent.

The moving truck comes in a few days. For today, Dylan and I sit, with laptops on our thighs and a baby between us on the bedspread. The artwork is down, boxes sit waiting for tape, and I can’t find my power cords. I’m not sure what words will be witness to the next chapter of life we are walking towards.

But, the tiny holes we left in the walls where we lived are now filled. We are embracing transition and honoring our marks of progress. What beautiful things.

Under Water

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When I was a kid, I loved laying in the bathtub, under water, with my ears plugged. It sounded different under there. With wooshes of water, I was closer to my pounding heart. The world above me was muted. With my head submerged, I was safe.

Temporarily.

I’d have to come up to breathe.

Life with a newborn submerges you. A baby’s demands are all encompassing. This water, while not necessarily safe, did mute the outside world. I was so focused on my own survival and on hers, that I missed a few things. I stopped looking at dashboards, and while I skimmed headlines, I couldn’t take in the immense weight of what our country is going through.

Family members have COVID. Unexpected medical bills arrive in the mail. The Supreme Court appalls me. I’m fearful for transition and lack of quality daycare spots available. I’ve spent hours spiraling, returning in circles to the what-ifs and what-may-bes. It’s a scary time to be alive.

I told my mom last night I feel like I’m sitting up a little bit, my nose right above the water pouring over of our new tiny family. As my eyes look around, less darting, hopefully a bit less baggy from lack of sleep, I remember I can choose what to focus on.

I wrap my arms, growing stronger from the continuous lifting of a small human, around myself for a hug.

Shadows flicker across my kitchen walls as my baby sleeps again, in her basket on the table. It won’t be long before her tiny body outgrows this solution. I folded up newborn clothes last night to give to a friend. I’ve been so fearful for her little body to grow, I forgot it would actually happen. I’m here with her everyday, and still, I’m missing things.

When we get submerged, noise mutes. We must tune in to our beating hearts. I’ve started asking, “Who am I now, in this new space? And when I come to the surface, what will remain of me and of us?”

But I don’t want to live under water.

I want community. I want light, and tiny toes growing, and a writing break during nap time.

I want water wings. I want to swim.

Remember swimming pools?

Lifting your head above water, no matter how deep, is a beautiful thing.

We Keep on Waiting (waiting)

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What a week to be 40 weeks pregnant. With recent news about Roe vs. Wade, and a growing child in my belly, I’m startled by jarring way America continues to treat women and children. We think we’ve come so far, and then we are yanked back to reality. I should stop scrolling headlines.

After a good doom scroll, this morning I googled “waiting song lyrics.” A few hits came up with songs that I knew. A few others had me turning over to Spotify to listen and see if the words resonated with where my spirit is these days.

In his song Waiting on the World to Change, John Mayer offers,
“Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change.”

In my reflections this morning, I recalled an African prayer shared at a recent ceremony I went to.

“Let us take care of our children, for they have a long way to go. Let us take care of our elders, for they have come a long way. Let us take care of those of us in between, for we are doing the work.” – African prayer

In carrying the next generation, I wonder what waiting on the world to change will look like for her. And if she, too, will have to carry signs that say, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” I hope not.

This time last week I was sharing that we were on the slow road to childbirth, trusting and allowing baby to make a choice on when she will come in to the world. This week, I’m feeling a bit more antsy. Not yet annoyed, but instead surrendering to the mystery of waiting on a child. People keep texting me … “Any day now” and “You’re so close.” True, but any day could be two weeks, and close to the end, yes, but also, so close to a new beginning.

In his song The Waiting, Tom Petty offers,

“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part.”

I’m relying on Tom to remember to take this experience on faith – there are greater forces at play than what I have control over when we let nature take over. As if nature needs me to let it do anything at all.

The third song writer to show up in my search results was The Rolling Stones. In their song, I Am Waiting, they share,

“I am waiting, I am waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
I am waiting, I am waiting,
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere

See it come along and
Don’t know where it’s from
Oh, yes you will find out.”

Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere is precisely what we’re waiting for. Spiritually, I have to have a bit of faith. Physically, we know where that somewhere is. And, I wonder who the little someone will be.

It’s odd waking up and wondering could today be the day our lives change forever? And then we go about making coffee and a peanut butter sandwich like any other Thursday. We sit down to work and we wait. This week, I’m seeking the beauty in the wondering, beauty in the mundane, and the beauty in a smudge of protein on a bit of bread. Beauty in waiting as the leaves green up, and rain soaks the ground, and ballads fill in the background noise that occupies this liminal space.

Waiting for someone ….

Like Ingrid Sings

There’s been a Christmas song rolling around in my head this week. In the song “Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter” Ingrid Michaelson sings,

“Looks like a cold, cold winter
Plenty of ice and snow
But we’ll keep the love light in our hearts aglow
Looks like a long, long winter,
Baby what do we care
As long as we have this love of ours to share.”

I want to tap Ingrid on the shoulder and say, “You have no idea.” It has been a long, long winter.

I know everyone is exhausted by the threat of Covid. Masks are coming off and numbers are dropping, and still, situations in my life give me pause. The constant negotiating of assessment and risk wipes me out weekly. Rather than comfort me with numbers and statistics in an attempt to emerge, I wish people would call me and say, “This isolation must be hard. You aren’t alone. You are making good choices for your family.”

I wish I could adopt more of a ‘Baby what do we care’ attitude?’

I still care.

Ingrid goes on to sing,

“It’s gonna be cold outside
It’s gonna be warm inside
So we’ll cuddle up by a cozy fire side by side
Looks like a cold, cold winter
Summer is far away
But until then I’ll love you more and more each day.”

A friend reminded me that we have seventeen days until the start of spring. Between now and then, I’ll celebrate family birthdays and shuffle towards another grief anniversary. Spring feels far away.

Heat, we’ve learned, comes from friction, an ignition, a burning of a source of something. What fuel has sustained these days with cold temperatures, dark nights, and lack of connection?

The old standbys still hold true. A batch of cookies in the oven, a pair of warm socks, a book to read at the end of the day, someone to kiss good-night. While most of the world seems to want to move on, and the next crisis is replacing Covid numbers in the headlines, I’m still here, growing and easing tentatively in to a new season of life. Hope whispers. Fear screams. I’ve always been soft spoken.

For now, nurturing means choosing solitude and all of the friction that comes with it. The hope that this warmth leads to comfort, rather than pain, is a beautiful thing. Say hello to the outside world for me. And until then, I’ll work on loving more and more each day.

Old Linoleum

I received a text with the words “Here we go!” yesterday morning. The photo attached caused my heart to dip.

My mom’s having the downstairs bathroom remodeled in the house I grew up in. Gone are the blue vanity and wood-rimmed mirror I stood at each morning, curling my hair to get ready for high school. The traces of eye glitter from middle school swept away into a dumpster I imagined a contractor put in the driveway.

In the dip, I had the irrational thought, “Hey, Dad used that toilet! Now it’s gone!” Grief, ever present, is a constant saying of good-byes. Even to toilets.

While I wallowed the minimal loss linked to a bathroom remodel, threads started binding together from several recent conversations I’ve had with friends. One is contemplating a job change. The other, preparing to say good-bye to a co-worker who taught them valuable lessons about themselves. In both conversations, we came to a point of agreement – knowing familiar chaos is less scary than saying hello to something new and the accompanied uncertainties. We can handle the worn and tolerate the sloping floors. We’ve learned where to step so the boards don’t squeak and how to jiggle the faucet to make sure the drips stop.

As I look at the aged, patterned linoleum in the photo above, I’m reminded how we hang on to the old and grimy, for fear of what saying good-bye could cause us to feel.

When the pandemic started, I tried encouraging people to share their beautiful experiences with me each day. I probably made it 30 days in a row before the search got repetitive. Motivation to participate waned. Now, here we are, approaching year three, and many of us have been forced to say so many good-byes. To routines, to feelings of comfort, to jobs, and to people we love. But what of the good-byes we have a say in?

Where are you holding on to the grime, the grit, and bits of life that are ready for a refresh? What are you holding onto for fear of what unknowns could come next?

I remind myself, again, to let go of the idea that we have to keep everything, simply because someone we love used to use that toilet.

At the end of the day, Mom sent another photo of orange sub-floor going in. Whether the contractor ripped up the linoleum, or instead covered the old floor, the stage is set for shiny new tile to take its place. Memories of linoleum are better than the real thing.

Sometimes, beauty comes in the removal, the tossing into dumpsters, and the saying good-bye to worn familiarity no longer serving us. And sometimes, beauty comes in the hello; the brave choice to keep moving forward, one design choice at a time.

Wake and Witness

I woke up early this morning to do some extra work before logging on to Zoom. Padding downstairs in the dark, I chose to leave the lights off and pull up the blinds, hoping to watch as darkness turned to light. As I sat with a laptop perched on my thighs, I finished my work and turned toward my regular click-through rotation. Email. New York Times. Facebook.

When I got to Facebook’s homepage, I paused, noticing the light against the wall turning pink. Rather than reflexively log in, I shut my computer and looked out the window instead. Streaks of pink and orange brushed against blue. Winter light reflected off snow yet to melt.

In this stage of the Pandemic it’s really easy to feel exhausted. With constant risk assessment, and chronic fear of the air we breathe, I find myself again hunkering down at home. Computer mornings turn into computer days turn into computer evenings. I miss restaurants, coffee dates, and not wondering how much possible exposure I might have at the grocery store versus the post office, or the library.

Here I sit again, laptop perched on my lap, lights waiting to be turned on. I haven’t been writing much, not because there aren’t beautiful things to see, but rather because I fear I’ve said it all before. Two years of appreciating beauty from my house feels a little repetitive.

Regardless, this morning I woke early, padded downstairs, and chose to watch the sunrise instead. I fear this is going to be another long winter with COVID darkness and continued uncertainty. And still, the sun greets us each day with a paintbrush of color. I have to ask myself, “Are you ready to wake and witness?”

Today, I said yes. And that’s a beautiful thing.