Hope

Poked in the Heart

My muscles were sore from sitting on the floor balancing a plate of Chinese food in my lap. As I ate soggy noodles, three women, tenured family friends, sat perched above me on our worn, blue couch. As we watched an unremarkable movie, I felt safe in the company of people who knew me. People who knew him. People who carried pieces of my dead dad in their life stories too.

We had lost him a few months prior, and when the evening ended, I closed the front door and told Dylan, “I don’t want to go to bed because I feel so good now. I’ve forgotten how to feel good.”

I hadn’t thought of that night in years.

Seven days ago, Dylan called me upstairs with a somber voice. His delivery of a simple ask, “Katie, can you come here?” made my stomach sink.

After a week of addiction addled toggling between CNN and The New York Times websites, my eyes stuck in the red center of the US map as election results slowly ticked in. As the edges of our country turned blue, my heart beat escalated. Again, I sat on the floor, balancing plates on my knees as I watched The Queens Gambit to distract.

“Who died?” I thought. Unfortunately, still my default question.

“Joe Biden won” he said quietly.

Running up the stairs, I demanded he click over to nytimes. com – the news source I’ve been trusting in a sea of false news and fabricated reports.

I wasn’t convinced. Dylan scrawled out the math on an envelope waiting on the nightstand. Electoral votes and percentages and likelihoods of a secured win. Numbers and stats to help with the hope of certainty.

My heart cracked open with a gasp. I watched thousands of strangers dance in the streets with signs and masks and music from my tiny cell phone screen. We toasted gin and tonics as I don’t keep bubbly in my cupboard.

I didn’t want to go to bed last Saturday. I’d forgotten what happy felt like. I’ve been living with dread instead. Grief taught me feelings of elation can pop. Hope dissipates into the sheets as we sleep. It’s likely I’ll wake with big feelings in the morning.

As another week passed, COVID cases jump at alarming rates. People I know receive positive test results and I feel my fingers curling closed in fear. I’ve lectured my mom, and doubled up doses of vitamin D and zinc. Daily, I swallow down words I want to say to people who keep doing whatever the heck they want to do in the name of carpe diem.

As the artist PINK says, “It’s gonna be a long way to happy.”

Last night, with another plate balanced on my knees, we watched the movie 13 Going on 30. After the credits rolled, we turned to YouTube to watch Pat Benatar’s music video for Love is a Battlefield. For thirty minutes, my years of dance classes paid off. I wiggled and pointed my toes and matched the movements of the rock stars with big hair on tv. Dylan laughed and my dog barked. I felt happy. I didn’t want to go to bed.

This year has been scary for all of us. Whether you’re aware of your fears, or are stuffing them down into the fibers of your muscles where your subconscious lives, the reality of living in constant threat is not normal.

Like the first months of grief, I wonder if these intense circumstances will ever pass us by.

But there are moments, in balancing plates, and states turning blue, and dance parties in living rooms, where I am poked in the heart to remember again what it’s like to feel good. What a beautiful thing.

Keep on Bouncing

I saw a meme on Instagram.

Using triggered fingertips I typed, “Unfortunately this is not true for everyone. I want it to be true but it’s not that simple.”

I clicked the send button and waited for the blue dots to pop up. I got scared, in the waiting, because Instagram DMs create a vacuum of silence.

Had I ruined the rapport we had built? If we were sorted by past voting records, I’m pretty sure we’d sit on opposite sides of the aisle.

My friend responded, “Is it not true that we can be happy and love others regardless of who wins tomorrow?”

She stopped me in my own defensiveness. My puffed up chest let out a little of the air I had been holding in my lungs.

I was spinning on who determines who gets to love whom, and the individuals lying alone in hospital beds, and systemic oppression and pepper spray flying. Continuing injustices matter to me.

Haven’t we been working on this since a bunch of white guys wrote down the possibility that we could pursue our own happiness? I’m pretty sure there were no women or people of color in that room. Who gets to determine happiness while others continue to suffer?

At the same time, her response hit a nerve, perhaps in a good way.

Of COURSE I should go on loving others and pursuing happiness regardless of who wins this week.

Remember that Power of Ten video we had to watch in middle school? It starts small and as the focus keeps widening, we get further and further out into the universe.

My friend just brought me back to a smaller power of ten. A place where I have more control. How am I treating the people I love? How much am I giving my energy, my fears, my anxiety, to systems that aren’t serving me and definitely leaving out others?

Friends, I have strong opinions about who should be in office next. I am fearful for this week, and what will unfold in the future. It’s hard to find common ground.

And, I do agree! How absurd it is to think we would allow some orange-tinged force, spewing hatred, to stop me in my search for goodness.

Too far? Perhaps I took it too far.

Or to place all of my power in the opposite outcome? How are our forces of ten coming in to play?

On our walk this weekend, we came across two kids who scribbled out a wobbly hopscotch board on the sidewalk. Standing far apart, we asked the small humans if we could hop through their game. They were wearing masks, so I couldn’t tell for sure, but tiny eyes lit up, making me think they were smiling.

I bounced on one foot, hopping back and forth, from one to ten.

Wobble on through. Don’t let them stop you from loving others. Find your sidewalk chalk. It’s not a clear path from one to ten. Keep on bouncing.

Which one is louder and why?

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve been wondering the same of joy lately. If we take a moment to see the good, and no one is here to nod along, does the bubble burst unnoticed?

So much of this year has been spent in isolation. From behind our screens and windows, from six feet away, many sit longing. Others deny and bravely threaten others with careless acts in the name of freedom.

Can we cultivate joy if we are the only ones to recognize the burbles?

A life-long fan of Winnie the Pooh, I nodded at this quippy meme after clicking send in a private message to another who would surely nod too.

Image may contain: text that says 'Pooh? Yeah Piglet? I'm tired of all this. I am too Piglet. I am too.'

Then I caught myself, gnawing at the chords of dark humor binding my wrists into inaction. I am SO sick of all of this. Of living in a world where humans hurt and politicians lie and I fight with friends on Instagram, triggered by words of others I don’t even know. Shame crept up in the spaces where our values divide us. Maybe it’s always been this way?

I sink my teeth into the quickly tightening reeds of disbelief. I have to keep cutting through the growing thickets to create my own light.

The days are growing shorter, streaming orange beams of afternoon sun onto my kitchen floor.

Sourdough starter still bubbles up, even when recipes are misread and overnight rises become day time activities.

Grey strips grow into place as hair cuts beckon.

Chocolate bars crunch as almonds splinter.

Memories woosh through cyberspace and land with a buzz onto a cell phone screen.

A friend sent me a picture of my senior photo, snapped from a yearbook in halls where she works and I no longer walk.

A girl fills the left of a frame at eighteen with dark, shoulder length hair parted right down the middle. Big eyes surrounded with too much eyeliner, looked up as she fingered the small cross around her neck. In cursive font, was my chosen senior quote.

“When you stand in the present moment, you are timeless.”

Heady right?

I’ve outgrown Abercrombie long-sleeves, and knowing it all and yet, I haven’t outgrown my aching for transcendence.

I’m here – in this pandemic moment – knowing so many are struggling. I’m sick of politics, and fight my addiction to the ticking death toll on the New York Times website.

Does good beget good and light spark more light?

Trees are falling. Beauty is burbling. Do they make a sound? Which one is louder and why?

You can answer. What does beauty sound like to you? I’m here. I’m listening.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

Excavating

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Tearing the pages feels wrong. Marking others words with ink to communicate new things, a little risky yes? But what beauty can be found in the excavating. Not only the job of the editor. After receiving an excess of old books for my little library, I’ve decided to reclaim messages of hope and restoration in the words of others. Send me a page number and I’ll send you a poem from that page in the mail. Send me an email at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or DM on Instagram.

Together, we can help the post office and find some beauty in old stories and traditions.

Donations accepted here.

Not Much to Report

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Photo courtesy of Unsplash

By the end of the week, it’s easy to ignore the nudging whisper my creative spirit sends to my fingers. “You haven’t used your powers,” she echoes, “to use your words for something other than emails.”

My energy gets absorbed into the little keys for things demanding attention all week long. Any extra, left-over effort wonders how to type or draft or craft to contribute during this time.  Many attempts to focus on the good feel aimless – like little helicopters that fall from maple leaves in autumn. I keep throwing the whirls into the air and they spin and spin. No matter how many times I throw them up, they fall and continue to land at my feet, just like last time.

Will the cadence of my pushing fingers stringing words together echo out beyond this tiny home office? Will one whirly-gig plant catch wind and travel beyond my back yard?

I didn’t write last week because I felt I had nothing much to report.

Writer Mari Andrew reminded me, in an Instagram featured interview, how lucky I am for this statement to be true. Nothing to report means my people are healthy, we’re employed, we’re spending our days on Zoom meetings and wondering when we can venture out.

Nothing to report means we’re a little bored.

What a privilege it is to be a little bored.

I take a deep breath and lion’s breath away the urge to type CNN.com into my browser because I know the world isn’t in such a state.

There’s too much to report.

Brave journalists continue to unpack the truth and challenge the lies or contradictions we’re being fed. Asinine politicians keep making horrific decisions leaving us every-day contributors in a constant state of worry.

Once again it feels a bit self-indulgent to be focusing on the small things, when the big things the world reports are so-damn-heavy.

With nothing to report here and lots to report out there, I wonder what chemical reaction can occur when we mix ordinary gratitude with catastrophic loss and the magnitude of complex decision making.

How will the flakes of salt I’ve sprinkled on home-grown tomatoes influence the healing of the sick, or change minds of stubborn folks stuck in their individualistic, out-dated methodologies? I’m not sure.

Can the aromatics of fresh pizza dough encourage billionaires to use their resources to alleviate suffering? Unlikely.

I do believe, however, when we choose to seek the beautiful, we raise the energy within our little spaces. When we lift the watering can once more or lick the chocolate from the spoon, we challenge the darkness with just a little bit of light.

Every decision we make has the ability to influence another; yes, even in this Groundhog Day like existence.

While the essential workers scrub and treat and heal and feed, I’ll muster a bit of battery juice into my tired fingers. We must remember to report the good.

The smell of crisp edges of a homemade waffle.

The crunch of hiking boots on a sandy mountain trail.

The smears of tears left on cheeks when it all feels like too much. THIS IS TOO MUCH.

A handprint left behind on a window wave.

A sunset captured in a smart phone camera.

Episodes of Downton Abbey previously unwatched.

Pages of cookbooks splattered with oil.

Laughter at inside jokes.

If we don’t report the good stuff, the bad stuff wins. If the extraordinary boring things go unnoticed, we give too much weight to the dark.

Go on … start a chemical reaction. Make some wind. Blow your good whirly-gig seeds all over the place.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

At the End of This Chapter

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

This morning I sat in my home office and rolled my shoulders back before clicking ‘join’ on yet another Zoom call. My posture seems to be suffering, as does my spirit.

As the conversation with a new colleague unfolded, we both smiled knowingly when I said, “Five months really isn’t that long in the great scheme of things.”

March. April. May. June. July.

This creeping passing of time feels long enough.

I hope this season is but a chapter in our lives.

In my experience, there are some chapters that shape us more than others.

I keep thinking of all the people dying, and all the people grieving, and wonder how this chapter is forever redirecting their trajectories.

I wonder what my small family of two will remember. I wonder how long we’ll be apart from my mom and grandmother and brother. I’m jumping ahead to December and begin drafts of our Christmas letter not yet formed. Wondering what anecdotes we will have to share as most of our time has been spent in our separate home offices.

I wonder about small business owners not sure of what’s next. Of servers and waiters and delivery drivers who are trying to stay afloat. Of the tired doctors and nurses and physicians working long hours all over the world.

Of the thousands of stories and chapters being written right now.

On Tuesday, I found out a relative’s father passed away from Covid. Waves of my own grief washed over me and a deep ache came right to my heart pocket, as I now know another young woman my age has joined the Dead Dads Club. Just because this is not affecting you personally, does not mean it’s not impacting others profoundly.

Soon after, I kept scrolling and see glimpses of families at gatherings, on road trips, and outdoor excursions I’m not sure enough to take myself.

Grief and frustration and envy mix into a mingling cloud of letters spelling, as if in sky writing in front of the mist I keep walking through, “I don’t think that’s a great idea.”

Some stories are of fear right now.

Others of realistic truth. Of science. Of bravery. Of just doing the best we can.

Please don’t let your story be of carelessness, of insensitivity, of ‘Oh, I wish I hadn’t.’

This chapter is heavy in my hands and combatting the doom takes extra care – and it’s up to all of us to help shorten it’s length.

This pandemic is nowhere near over.

As always, I’m holding the truth in both hands. The world is dark and heavy. And beautiful and light. We get a say in how we want to interact with what we’re given.

I sigh again and adjust my shoulders once more, relying on a tired neck to lift my eyes up from the what-ifs and re-focus on what is.

Across the street, the neighbor boys set up an obstacle course through the sprinklers. Dylan was outside in the driveway and waved hello.

“Want to join?”the young mother asked him. “You get a popsicle when you reach the end.”

Always something to hope for at the end.

What a beautiful thing.

 

 

All Matters of Perspective

An email came through this morning from the public library. Like receiving a note from an old friend, I smiled when the familiar subject line showed up in my inbox.

“Reminder from the Poudre River Library District” – the note sat for just a minute and then I sighed. Remember the library? The travel guide book I had checked out at the beginning of March is due tomorrow. I wanted to get tips about traveling to Canada.

I haven’t gone to the library in months. I won’t be going to Canada – not this year. The time has come to return the book filled with notes on wonderful other places to its shelves.

Instead, last night I sat cross-legged with my laptop nestled in the tiny pocket of skin and carpet and scrolled Overdrive for new Kindle picks. Maybe this static place of scenery – aka my living room – will be where I stay to travel to different places as I read from home this year. I picked out three new titles and clicked download.

The reminders of the life we wish we could live tend to linger. Grief taught me this. The moments where the ache of what could have been needs tending. The holes need breathing into.

I remember, a few months after Dad died, I was texting a friend who also lost her dad and I said, “How do you ever get through this?”

“You don’t.” She said. “For awhile, you walk around the gaping hole, present in everything you do. Then, after a bit, a beautiful rug covers the hole, and the gap changes shape and size, and you walk around it more easily. But you know, no matter what covers it, that hole is still there.”

rug

The pandemic is stealing time from us, it’s stealing people and travel, and places we once loved. We need to honor the gaping.

We also need to nestle in and we get to choose how we tend to the holes presented to us.

Last night, on our walk around the neighborhood, we approached the last two houses on the block and was greeted by one of our youngest neighbors. A little boy with floppy brown hair stood up against the white porch railing. Wearing miniature rain boots, he swirled his legs deep in the grass and kept talking to the older gentleman leaning across his porch, leaving six feet of space.

As we got closer, the little boy looked to the street and exclaimed, “John! They have a dog, just like you!”

The old man raised his eyes to us and winked from behind his spectacles.

“Hi!” waved the little boy. “I like your dog!”

“Thanks!” I replied with a smile. “Our dog kinda looks like the dog on your shirt.”

The little boy paused, looked down, and quickly retorted, “Yeah, well that’s not a dog. That’s a tiger.”

“Oh,” I said, still smiling. “He looked like a dog to me.”

Nothing like being corrected by a three year old.

We kept walking and the two kept their conversation going.

Grief and loss.

Hurting and hope.

Wishing and acceptance.

Travel and exploring from home.

Dog and tiger.

All matters of perspective.

Beautiful things to me.

 

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?

 

Bread of Life

“You and everyone else,” she said through her little square box framing her face on the Zoom call.

“It’s delicious. I have plenty of time to practice the craft.” I said to my friend from college through the computer connecting us.

On Sunday last, I spent an hour talking to six women who walked through college with me. We haven’t connected as a group in four years. A pandemic brought us together as schedules opened and boredom crept in. From screens on kitchen tables in Denver, in Brooklyn, and in Spokane, we spent an hour catching up during the oddest life pause we’ve experienced.

She was making fun of me and the seemingly thousands of others in quarantine who have discovered the joy of making homemade bread kitchens world wide.

Starting bread is simple. Flour, water, salt. Cover in dampness and let the air do its magic.

Mix.

Let it breathe.

Add heat and watch it crisp and bubble and morph into sustenance.

Three weeks ago, I was given a jar of white goo from a friend who had kept her starter alive for decades. The building block has grown and multiplied over the years and by miracles of community and connection, parts of the original landed on my doorstep in small glass mason jar.

In my dark kitchen on an unremarkable week night, I pressed connect to launch another video call. My mom walked me through the steps to make a scraggily dough. I called again after the overnight rise for guidance on amounts of flour, moisture, and time required to make something edible.

I’ve followed the steps on my own four times now. Bread is in the oven as I type.

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This week, a friend received another jar of the same white goo from the same legendary start. On another unremarkable week night, she called me via video chat to walk through the same steps my mom taught me just days prior.

The dough, and the love, are multiplying.

My friend sent pictures of her process. My incorrect direction to add extra flour caused her mason jar to overflow. Excess bubbled over and marking her counters with sticky residue.

In my small community, we’ve been texting recipes and getting on video calls and cheering from our kitchens far away.

This bread is connecting people.


Last night, Jesus ate the Last Supper of bread and wine.

Flour. Salt. Water. Grapes.

Simple ingredients connecting us through history.

They tell me Jesus is the Bread of Life.

While I slept and my dough rose, Jesus knew what was coming. Prophecies of betrayal and sacrifice and death led us here to Good Friday. Things we fear and want to avoid came to fruition.

From my home, I’ll sit down and watch a church service online. Maybe dim the lights to get the theatrical effect mega-churches seem to have mastered so well over the years.

“It is finished,” he’ll scream this afternoon and I’ll break my bread in remembrance of Him. I’ll sip my wine and feel the tannins gloss my throat as I swallow down the pain.

We must wait three days until everything changes.

Things feel finished. I feel sad and broken and scared for the ones I love. I know this is going to take more than three days to resolve.

And yet, what is finished in death rises on Sunday.  Even in quarantine.

I can’t help but thinking there’s something to this powerful resurgence of sourdough.

Dough rises. It’s connecting us.

This mix of simple things give rise to something powerful. New life with a crusty chew.

Beautiful things.

 

Day 17 – 52 Good Things

And the list continues.

104. Mousse made in a blender

105. Old movies

106. Baby photos

107. Melted cheese

108. Jon Krasinski’s Good Things segments

109. Phone calls

110. Offers of help

What simple, beautiful things did you encounter? Let’s keep this list going for as long as we need to.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.