beauty

Eight Potatoes

Heading out to harvest is a romantic notion. Successful gardner’s pictures of full of baskets with bountiful produce, overflowing bunches of kale, and counters with little space entice and tempt me into trying year after year.

For me, gardening is an ever hopeful experience. We rotate our crops, water, and wait for months to yield something delicious. Last year, there was a bounty of cucumbers. We were swimming in pickles and sauces with dill and giving away extras to the neighbors.

This year, grasshopers munched on my beans, kale turned bitter, and while the basil was plentiful, our tomatoes gifted us with one globe a day, maybe three on a good day. Instead, I turned to the overflow of my in-laws gardens for enough fruit for bruschetta or pasta sauce. Sharing abundance is a beautiful thing.

It’s easy to stand on my stoop, overlooking our small patch of vegetables, and think we failed. When I do price comparisons, the four zucchini we grew probably rang in at over twenty dollars each. But if I focus on output, I miss the magic that grew in our small rectangle of dirt. We grew two handfuls of fairytale eggplant and roasted them up with olive oil. I experienced the joy of popping cherry tomatoes right off the vine and into our mouths. Ate some salads of lettuce before the bugs got to it. Kale chips were toasted once or twice in the air fryer. Two red bell peppers made a nice dinner with hummus and cheese.

On Sunday, I stood in the dirt and moved away the piles we had pulled together in an attempt to protect and nurture potatoes. Using shovels and trowels, I worked to these red potatoes, some as big as tennis balls. I felt like a little kid playing archeologist, wiping dirt on my pants and smooshing grime under my fingernails in pursuit of a starchy treat.

If we were dependent on my garden for sustenance through the winter, we’d be doomed.

Instead, I taught Dylan how to make mirepoix (with store bought carrots and onions) and tossed in our potatoes for stew.

If I was focusing on all we didn’t grow, I’d miss out on the joy of what was in my metaphorical, medium-size basket designed to harvest.

Life still feels like a bit of a waiting game. You know the numbers, the disconnect and the divide we are living through. And still, my garden produced just enough to instill a sense of delight. When supplemented with the gifts and bounty of other’s work, our joy expanded.

This is a lonely, confusing time to be a human. We’re working on screens, and wondering if it is safe to send our kids to school, or go to a baseball game, or even shake a strangers hands. It’s easy to look out and think, wow, what a failure. And when we do, we miss what’s happening under the dirt. No matter our yield, our attempt to grow is a beautiful thing.

In the Rush

Sitting down to my grandmother’s kitchen table for dinner always started the same way. We’d hold hands, bow our heads, and someone would start to pray.

“In the rush of a busy day, oh Lord, we pause to give you thanks. For food, for family ….”

There’s a third for something that’s escaping me now. I haven’t sat at her kitchen table for awhile.

This time warp of Covid and constant vigilance has me dancing between a frantic feeling of trying to pack summer and outdoor safety into a container before the weather again gets cold.

It’s time, again, to pause.

I bow my head. I say a prayer of thanks for these beautiful things.

Slices of melted mozarella cheese squished between fresh pesto and late summer peaches.

A friend who picks up the phone after I text, “Can I call you tonight?”

Tomatoes so juicy their insides drip down your chin, begging to be sopped up with fresh bread.

A persistent daisy poking its way through the soil, against the odds, timelines of shoulds forgotten.

Pink nail polish on tanned toes.

I’ve only got five items today – pushing for more feels like squeezing a tube of toothpaste that’s been clogged for awhile. I’m out of practice. What’s happening in the world right now is overwhelming, perplexing and sad.

If you squeeze your container a little harder in an attempt to extrude the good, what beautiful blobs would emerge?

As Much as Air

“We humans need beauty as much as air. Without it we exist only to survive and procreate (our genes, or our ideas, or our beliefs, or our portfolios). In a world driven to mere efficiency, we are in grave danger of forgetting this. We see the results of our forgetfulness at every turn: addictive behaviors, massive greed, devastating cruelty—the symptoms of soul death.”  – James Flaherty

Needing beauty is a novel idea. For so many of us, beauty feels a luxury, with its many definitions and assumed price tags. When I read James’ words I found so much purpose in this every day pursuit.

How rebellious it is to sit and type, reflecting on the good when we should be out there producing, consuming, or creating opportunities.

What if this effort of looking for good, for holy, for beautiful things could help heal us?

My thesis stands.

And still, I struggle to focus on what could be good rather than be sucked in by what isn’t going great.

I sat in an office with a stranger yesterday, after nervously shaking a new connection’s hand. Is it rude to whip out hand-sanitizer after first greeting someone? Probably. How long will I be anxious from simply sharing air?

As our conversation shifted away from real estate and towards the olympics, my new friend paused, with tears in her eyes, and recounted the stories of kindness, empathy, and connection from athletes over the last two weeks. “People don’t really hate each other as much we are led to believe,” she said.

I vascilate between despair and hope on a daily basis. Photos of children wearing water wings and playing on beaches in front of skies brown with smoke from fires sear their images into my eyeballs. We’ve got work to do.

And then, I read reminders like Mr. Flaherty’s and remember, if we don’t look for beauty, surely we will forget.

The sun came up today and worms wriggled in the puddles on my porch.

Tiny bubbles burst in glasses of carbonated water.

Children visiting our offices stop and stare, in wonder, at the stylized super hero posters hanging on the wall.

The call for compassion is ever present.

We can give money, ride a bike, or call a friend.

All quiet. Not as insistent as the updates on my phone, breaking news, or climbing numbers of cases.

When trying to find a photo of air, I came up short. But its presence is all around us, sustaining life.

Perhaps the same is true of beauty. May its presence be as natural as your body’s next inhale.

Connection and appreciation can be found when we create it. What a beautiful thing.

If you’re needing some support in looking for the good, consider this aesthetic invitation to wonder and awe from The Mindful Leader.

To Toss Into the Flow

I had taken a seat in the plastic-moulded chair, waiting for the meeting to begin. In the center of a room was a circular table covered in grey. In the center of a circle, a candle burned, again surrounded in a small circle of smooth river rocks. Whether they were collected from nearby stream beds, or manufactured and sold on the shelves of craft stores, I was unsure. I simply noticed their existence.

‘Welcome to bereavement for beginners’, the young facilitator said, jumping me out of my wondering.

Curious how the passing of time morphs a memory. I can’t recall the exact name of the support group. I do remember how shocking it felt to belong to a group of people titled ‘bereaved’.

After introductions, and open sharing, we were led through an exercise. I followed directions having been told to choose a small river rock of my own. We were to create a totem of support for when emotions felt too large. I selected my stone and, using a white paint pen, wrote the word hope across its surface. I circled the word and tucked the rock in my pocket. When I left the class, I sat in the parking lot and sobbed.

I left the stone in the center console of my car for years. It’s collected dust and become friends with pens lacking ink and a melted chapstick or two. Its presence serves as a reminder to generate hope as I’ve driven from place to place, moving further away from my early days of grief.

This week, I started a Grief Educator Certificate program with David Kessler. In the first teaching I learned a new label for my bereaved status. He says the term for the grief we experience after the two year mark is ‘mature grief’. I snickered to myself when I heard that name.

Mature? Grief? Wasn’t mature something to aspire to as a young child?

Mature people have it all together. They have arrived. Even the dictionary uses the auspicious claim of being ‘fully developed.’ My grief does not feel complete.

My grief has, however, become a source of motivation to seek wisdom and share what I’ve learned. My longing has brought me to classrooms and support groups I never could have imagined before. Old skins have shed, leaving new layers, still tender to the touch as I figure out what to do with this gift of darkness.

Over the weekend, we drove up the canyon nearby with the goal of simply sitting by the river. I needed to hear the woosh of water colliding with rocks as it carries on to what’s next.

Under hazy skies, I made my way down steep stairs to the riverbed. Stepping over small stones, I placed my toes into the icy water and took a seat.

Fingering the rocks, I made a pile of smooth ones, perfect for skipping.

I placed three in my pocket for keeping. Perhaps I’ll carry this selection forward as I move about, from here to there.

In Colorado, the ripple metaphor is common. Throw a stone, see how far your impact can reach. I hadn’t thought of the stone from my first beginner grief group in quite awhile. The word hope was an anchor that got me from there to here.

And now, as my grief matures, I’ve found a new collection of stones to toss into the flow. I’m learning how to serve others in their pain. I’m applying radical self-compassion to my own wounds and connecting with others who believe the answers to our hurts are found in first saying, “Wow. This is unbearable.”

I’m standing in rivers, with toes icy and lungs full, using what I’ve learned to make new ripples. What a beautiful thing.


PS. There are still spaces open for the July Writing Workshops – As We Carry On: Using Words to Explore Your Grief with a Compassionate Lense. Register here.

To Want to Return

We inched slowly towards the ranger stand, waiting for our turn to be let in. After rolling down the window, we were asked if we had a reservation.

“We only want to head home on Trail Ridge Road,” Dylan explained.

The kind woman explained our options, having had missed the memo that we now needed a time slot to get into the national park thirty minutes from home.

We turned around again, driving back into the small mountain town to wait until they opened the road for the general public who forgot to reserve access.

The delay was an inconvenience, but survivable.

We drove to the nearby lodge, and passed the time on a deck overlooking a lake to the right. Behind us, whole valleys were scorched by the fires from last summer. Remnants of magnificent trees stood stabbing their charred limbs into blue skies. Pine trees turned burnt orange from heat clung to crisped aspens, bending from sheer desperation. I could imagine them gasping for air as flames licked up their homes, their friends, their communities.

I was witness to the damage we have done to the earth, even while sitting in my gas guzzling SUV. There’s something unsettling to see climate change in action. To know that the trees of my youth have burned and my someday children will come see scorched matriarchs nurturing tiny seedlings instead is heartbreaking.

Jaw dropping. Gasp worthy. We took in all that has been taken from us, from the earth, from our stories.

I’ve been in the holy space of standing on ash before. When what was crumbles and what will be remains smudged. Familiar paths now blocked, mixed with melted wires and wood wrecked and warbled from heat.

Eventually, the world calls us to stand, wipe the smears on our pants, and move on.

Our world is at an important crossroads right now. We’re getting on planes and hugging our friends and returning to offices. In other countries, the virus continues to ravage and take, burning connections and ripping up roots as it moves from host to host.

There’s a temptation to push what’s happened into the past. We’ve dealt with our smears. We’ve washed our hands of all of this. What grief has taught me, however, is no matter how far you go, your landscapes stay altered.

We can turn our attention to the saplings and new growth, and say, look at the greens poking through the char. But we must tend to the ache and say, ‘but please, please, remember all that has burned’.

I’ll come back to the park to watch it recover. I’ll stand among pines and listen to water gush and gurggle into streams. I’ll watch the elk and the deer find their sustenance in meadows another valley over. And putting a hand to my heart, I’ll remember picnics and meanders on paths, and all the places he had seen, now too, morphed by the natural cycles of loss.

To stand in a place that has been forever changed and want to return is resilience. What a beautiful thing.

A Sore Tenderness

I went to get a massage yesterday to alleviate the developing hunch in my shoulders. When I walked in the door, the first thing the therapist asked after my name was, “Are you fully vaccinated?”

How bold to put the question I’ve been wondering about others out in front – a precursor to connection, a permission to proceed.

She welcomed me in to the space and I was met with the automated sounds of waves crashing on a noise machine. I completed the paperwork and she asked me what brought me in. What I was hoping to achieve?

I responded to all of the normal questions when one goes to see a new provider.

When asked, “Do you have any traumas?” I paused.

“You want me to list them here? I thought to myself. “Um, how far back do you want me to go? Are there folks who can answer no?”

I’ve met this question before and I’ve learned to be wary of how my answers are received. What does one need to know? When are folks simply curious?

To answer, I narrowed my scope. I ticked off the bus accident I was in in high school, a chronic crunch from hot days on tennis courts, an over heavy backpack from years as an academic overachiever. I spoke of my grief experience and that I carry anxiety in my hips.

She nodded, prodding no further with words. Instead, she turned to her hands to dig in to the story only a tense body can tell.

As I lay on a table covered in cool blue sheets, my masked face fought fabric and layers of protection to breathe. Skilled hands addressed deeply what I’ve been carrying from this pandemic and beyond.

I went home feeling relief.

People keep telling me to read the book “The Body Keeps the Score.” I’m afraid to pick up the title. Afraid of what may be revealed on those pages. That trauma and its adverse affects may be living in me.

You, too, have lived through a very traumatic time in our collective history. This pandemic isn’t over yet. The death rates may be slowing, and our bodies will be learning how to carry this experience for a beyond just a bit.

This morning, hoping for magic, I moved through a series of stretches. Where the therapist had focused her healing left a responsive ache in my muscles. I’ve been adjusted. I’m not free from pain.

Standing in my kitchen, waiting for water to boil, I watched a shimmering spider web descend from the trees out my front window. The strand was waving in the wind, arching from a leafy branch to settle on to the patio furniture waiting to be warmed by the sun. Do the spiders sense this global shift? Or are they simply doing what they know how to do? Reaching out. Webbing a place of belonging. Creating connections to ground oneself in the spaces in between.

Healing work takes practice. Kneading of muscles admits the nature of needing others to help us realign. In the reaching lies a sore tenderness and hope that we will once again connect from here to there. What a beautiful thing.

Relying on the 5 Senses

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

A therapist once taught me a grounding exercise. When overwhelm wraps its scratchy arms around me, I have to start to count the things I notice. The practitioner told me to pay attention to my senses.

What’s something you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What’s within reach that you can run your palms across? What noises can you hear? As you make note, repeat the phrase, “I am safe” to yourself in a whisper.

Repeat the process until the anxiety subsides.

I had an epiphany last week while staring at pictures of others gathering with friends and family. If others can gather safely without health consequences, perhaps I am entitled to the same experiences. I tiptoed into my closet to pick out an outfit made of fibers other than spandex and cotton. I used mascara. I blow-dried my hair.

I had a coffee date with a new connection. I flicked through clothing racks at T.J. Maxx. When I hugged my friend, seven months pregnant, for the first time since the first lockdown, I cried. Emotions bubbled up, surprising me as I embarked on the everyday, ordinary routines that I’d skipped for the sake of safety.

All the while I kept whispering to myself, “I am safe” on repeat.

In seasons of darkness, we’re told to look for light. I find myself squinting from the flares of light others have been basking in for awhile longer than me. I’m moving into the world stepping cautiously into ordinary spaces.

While my eyes adjust, I’m also practicing looking for signs of life.

Andy Rooney once said, “For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are that you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”

Curating happiness in a post-pandemic world requires much of the same skills we learned in our hibernation.

What are your senses revealing?

Potatoes are poking their way through the dirt and I witness tiny tomato seedlings in their determination to become something of substance.

Neighbors up and down the street create a symphony of mowers releasing plumes of green grass thanks to all of the rain.

I’ve watched the irises grow their cellulose stalks and unfurl their blousy arms with flare. Bringing the blooms inside, I stuck my nose near the center and inhaled.

I dipped corn chips into hot cheese tasting flavors only a restaurant can concoct.

My clothes are clean. Leggings are worn soft. My toes can be free in flip flops once again.

A cousin said hello to their new baby girl.

When is the last time something wonderful happened to you?

I am safe. Life is here.

Relying on the five senses. A beautiful thing.

Maybe We Need the Moisture

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve never been so excited to click “schedule.”

After fifteen months with only one professional haircut, my locks are unruly. I’ve taken craft scissors to my bangs. After a few uneven attempts, I have succumbed to the pestering process of letting my fringe blend past my face.

Inches of hair fall past my nose. It gets clipped back, and braided into up-dos trying to be fancy. Clips, bows, and barrettes attach, mediocre in their restraint. It’s time for the professionals to take over.

In just a few weeks I’ll be fully vaccinated. The opening world beckons.

I stand in the back doorway looking out on the lawn, noticing how the spring rains turned everything green. This transformation is quick in Colorado. Rarely does the wetness last. Ask anyone in the Front Range about the last few gloomy days and they will tell you, “Well, we need the moisture.”

I’m accustomed to two days of drizzle, with a quick afternoon storm blowing through at two pm. Not weeks and months of dark clouds, soaking our systems with fear and droplets of uncertainty hanging thick in the air.

I recently read an op-ed written in March of 2020 predicting a long, looming winter season. Reading guesses of how the virus would change the world after the fact confirmed what we hoped wouldn’t be true actually was. They said we were not bracing for a blizzard. This storm was not going to blow over. We were going to be in this space for a long, cold, dark winter.

We hunkered down and learned to work on Zoom. I stayed home in the darkness. I felt the mist on my face in my own tears. The lingering remnants of all that we lost collectively smeared into puddles at our feet. There were no splashing boots. Worms piled, freezing as the seasons changed.

It’s trite to say, ‘but look what we’ve grown over the last fifteen months!’ My hair, certainly. A love of sourdough, yes. Purpose in all of this? Not so much. What comes is still unclear.

Maybe this season of fog and mist will seep into our bones and shoot up and out in new ways. The predictions did not explore the renaissance that would come as we go out into the world again.

As I wipe away the droplets, and sweep up piles of murky muck left behind from flowing downspouts, I wonder how have I grown.

How have you?

I spent Saturday weeding until my thumbs blistered, and the blades of grass cut small hatches into my knees from crouching on their itchy carpet. The marks on my legs have yet to heal. But, the mulched beds in the background are brimming with tulips. I’m excited to trim the flowers that have been waiting in last season’s darkness to bloom. I’ll bring them inside and place the gifts in goblets of water.

Maybe we need the moisture. Maybe we can use it to nurture. To sip. To feed. To grow. What a beautiful thing.

Mush

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

The green orbs sat patiently on my counter over the weekend. As the sun set towards seven, I sank a blade deep into the flesh of the avocado. Pivoting my palm, I split the fruit in two and plunged a spoon next to the pit. With a quick flick, the little nut popped out onto cutting board leaving smooth spittle as it rolled to a stop.

I scooped out the creamy flesh into the bowl, leaving the halves to be mashed and mixed into something delicious.

With the first shot in my arm, I’ve noticed I’m starting to feel like the shell, rather raw and scooped out.

I’m trying to reconnect with those who I haven’t seen in over fourteen months. Funny how we count the passing of time like the aging of a toddler. Only when we pass into the twenty-four month will we round up to years.

I hope we don’t pass that milestone. No one wants the terrible twos of this pandemic.

In cutting my re-entry teeth, I picked up the phone to a friend who I went to kindergarden with. She’s been back for awhile now and when I asked her what was new, she said, ‘Actually, a lot. I’m moving to Seattle next week.”

My stomach dropped and plopped into a bowl, turning to mush. I took a breath and smiled through the phone and said congratulations.

Another long-timer pair is selling their home and moving to California. A best friend is expecting a baby in July. With each update, I try to be thrilled for the change. New places to visit. New adventures to toast with champagne.

But mostly, I just feel scooped out.

The pandemic has carved from me the time and space I had hoped to fill with friendship. In our social distance, we’ve made choices and changed our shapes. My fear of being left behind kicks into overdrive.

Maybe this is where the metaphor fails and sadness takes over. I’m sad what was will no longer be. I recall our core group of family dinner crew and wonder who will fill the seats on our back patio whenever our little bistro backyard re-opens.

They talk about metamorphosis being a magical process. Transformation undergone in cocoons. What really happens in there, though, is an undoing. An unraveling. A mushing effect.

I’ve been cocooned for quite awhile. I’m not sure what will emerge. But in the scooping, I create space for what can be. I’m open to what will fill this next chapter.

And the mush? It waits, knowing life can transform into the delicious with a quick dash of salt. What a beautiful thing.

Vitamin C

Did a new year turn over?

While a fresh start is tempting, it feels more like 2020 is still bleeding onto our blank slates. I’m not willing to throw in the towel just eight days in.

One of my goals for this year is to check the news less. I’ve already failed.

My twitching fingers keep clicking refresh. As texts buzz in and news alerts ping loudly, I can’t help myself.

There’s a thick, bold line between being informed and being consumed. My consumption has reached unhealthy levels. The images of rioters and men barging through spaces seem burned into my consciousness. Anger seeps through screens as we create memes and scroll through poignant personal truths on Twitter, and confusion on CNN.

January typically is full of commitments to better. To healthy lifestyles, to new and improved selves, to less butter, or caffeine. Sugar is damned.

With the hemorrhaging of 2020 continuing, I ask, “What does it mean to be healthy, now?”

We thought cases were soaring in summer. Now spikes seem like mountains. These steep slopes lead to lack of oxygen. No blue skies or crispness in the air.

Searching for beauty from the home office is limited. My surroundings remain the same.

This week, I ordered groceries online and unpacked packages crinkling in cellophane. Butter and sugar are staples for survival. Improvement takes a back seat.

As plastic bags emptied, I turned to the pile on the counter. Five round Cara cara oranges winked hello from their caged netting.

Using a blunt scissor blade, I tore through the mesh to place a globe in my palm. As I dug my thumb nail into the flesh, I was squirted with small gems of juice. Licking my wrist, I kept at the process of ripping peel from fruit. I sank my teeth into the wedges and slurped on repeat.

I can watch, with eyes wide and stomach churning, the constant flow of bad news creep into my brain. Or I can put down my phone, walk away from the screens, and sink into sustenance instead.

Beauty in flesh, in juice, in slurping. In staying away from the news.

Be safe. Be well. Eat an orange. We need the vitamin C.