Life Lessons

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.

Come to the Garden

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“Colin Firth is in it” buzzed my phone. “And the woman who plays Mrs. Weasley is Mrs. Meadlock.”

On a friend’s recommendation, I watched the new The Secret Garden expecting to be transported back to one of the VHS I once played on repeat.

As the scene opened with vibrant colors and enchanting jewel toned walls, I paused.

“I always confuse this story line with A Little Princess” I texted my friend.

Any time one returns to a Classic, we see the story with new eyes. Perhaps this year’s felt absence during the holidays influenced this viewing. I sank into the couch and watched Mary and Colin (not Firth, that’s the boy character’s name) struggle to connect with one another.

This time, rather than obnoxious playmates, I saw lonely children wander in echoing chambers, banging feet, and wailing to be seen.

Spoiler alert – both characters have lost their mothers. The boy is kept locked in a room as his grieving father does the best he can to keep his son safe. The girl craves attention, and with snobbery and fits, demands others to meet her needs. In their coping, one is told to stay indoors due to poor health. The other longs for connection, fresh air, to be seen.

As I’ve grieved, I’ve longed to been allowed both responses. I had one fit, the day of the funeral, and was promptly told to keep it together.

I’ve spent months in the echoing rooms, wailing, and wondering if anyone will come see.

And this year, I’ve desperately wanted to lock all those I love into dark rooms with heavy blankets and cups of tea.

“Sometimes I’m restrained,” says the boy. “Father says it’s best for me.”

If only I could restrain all of us. To keep us safe from harm.

Upon discovering Colin, Mary says, “You’re pale.”

I am too. From being indoors and trying to prevent pain.

As they attempt to understand each other, stories of love and letters lost help the young children literally support one another to standing. Their healing comes in fields of grass, surrounded by flowers, fresh air and more jewel tones. This space allows the light to come in. Mary’s passion and persistence for connection and what could be helps her use the key.

I wasn’t prepared for my grief gremlin to poke it’s head out when watching that movie. A trigger warning may have been nice.

Grief is ever present. A forever dance of wanting to protect the ones we love from further hurt, a nod to intense isolation, and a loud wail in an echoing room where no one comes to see. It’s also a nap in a garden. A swoosh on a swing. Learning to walk when told instead pain cripples beyond repair.

Come to the garden. Choose the beautiful thing.

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.

 

 

Pivot Forward

Yesterday, I was every bit of a capitalist consumer. I spent the afternoon searching for  key pieces for an upcoming trip and bopped into a few shops, heading straight for the sale rack towards the back of the stores.

Each time I checked out, the cashiers I interacted with said something along the lines of, “Enjoy the sun while it lasts. Snow is coming tomorrow.”

I was ready for big flakes, fluffy blankets, and savory food warming in the oven.

When I checked the weather before bed last night, I was disappointed. Our anticipated snow day had gone from a sure thing to a 30% chance of flurries for just a few hours. When I woke this morning, no snow had fallen. The ground was dry. The light was grey.

In Colorado, this change of weather and threatening inconsistency is nothing new. I’m used to being told to wear layers to prepare for multiple scenarios.

I have been trained to prepare to be flexible.

Like a toddler pushing the limits, I frequently go in to work on blue sky mornings wearing polka-dot flats only to come outside at five wishing I had worn socks as sharp little ice drops bite at the tops of my feet. If I’m going to get cold, I’ll do so on my own terms.

We wounded wonderers are masters at pivoting.

Turn for the needs of others. Turn for the wallops of pain. Turn for the things we didn’t see coming. I’m used to pivoting to protect myself, to mask disappointment, and to forge forward telling my spirit, “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.” when really, the situations are anything but.

Yes, the soft landings of snow flakes are missing today. In the grey sky surrounds I sit and I wonder, “How can I teach myself to pivot differently? What if I moved, not away-from but towards the things I want? Can preservation be channeled into motivation instead?”

This week I walked into the gym and climbed onto the elliptical stationed in front of the big t.v. showing the Food Network. The absurdity of watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives while attempting to burn off calories does not escape me. The choice, however, was better than the ever-present terror unfolding on CNN, NBC, and ABC after work hours.

I spent thirty minutes pedaling backward and the lights on the whirring machine began to flash.

Pedal forward. Pedal forward. Pedal forward. 

The green words blinked at me across the digital keypad.

It was time, again to pivot. To change my legs and my weight and move forward with my movements even though I was going nowhere at all.

March is coming and with it birthdays and anniversaries of death. In my head I’m pivoting between how it was then and where I am now and what it feels like to sit in the grey.  Four years have passed and I’ve found myself forgetting the electricity of shocking loss in my veins. The memories are softer now, still cold and wet and powerful in congregation with their fellow flakes.

I want snow and protection and warm food and calories to cushion me.

Machines are beeping, I am weeping, and conversations with encouraging strangers are telling me, “Now. It’s time. Pedal forward. Pivot towards the places you want to be. Create your work – the world needs you just as you are. ”

March is coming. Maybe this year, pivoting forward can be a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Daaad, can I have one beer?

“Daaaad, can I have one beer?” he squeaked out from the corner of the table.

A little boy wearing a navy winter coat stood a foot behind his father, pulling on the older man’s black puffy jacket.

“Can I please have one beer?”

The dad stopped, put down a bulky baby carrier and turned to address his curly hair child.

“Yes,” he said, “but how will you choose which type to have first?”

“Blue sprinkles,” said the little boy. “That’s the one I want to have here.”

I had heard the young one incorrectly, and perched on my orange bar stool, I started to laugh.

Sitting in a busy donut shop on the morning of Valentine’s Day, I watched families stream in with little children. Grub hub delivery people stood patiently in the corner with their branded red bags. Office managers waited patiently as steaming-hot clumps of dough got dipped in strawberry frosting, rainbow sprinkles, and the good part of Lucky Charms cereal.

One man in his twenties was working hard solo, filling the orders with patience and frosting smears. His eyes opened wider each time another person walked in the door.

It was a simple Friday morning. I was invited for a coffee and a donut with a dear friend. We sat on orange bar-stools, and sipped bad drip coffee, and filled our tummies with sugar and dough fried in lard. I watched the woman scrape mounds of lard into the fryer.

We need not go far to be delighted.

Hard working people. Lines of people on their way to work waiting patiently for fried dough. Sprinkles. Smashed cereal and chunks of chocolate and raspberry glaze.

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Say what you will about donuts, sugar, health food and habits, but for just that one morning, I felt the love.

What a beautiful thing.

Stop Pulling

We took the dog on a walk this weekend. A glorious, Colorado blue sky, 70 degree weather kind of a walk. As we passed by the hidden ponds that are close to our house, I found myself paying more attention to the dog tugging on the leash than the environment we were in. Every few seconds Dylan would reprimand Olive with a strong “No!” and a tug on the leash. We are trying to teach her how to heel.

“Do you think God ever feels this way about us?” I asked Dylan as our footsteps crunched on the gravel path.

“What do you mean?” he responded. Dylan is used to me sharing my thoughts, not yet fully formulated. He is patient in waiting for my explanations.

“You know, as we walk along through life we are tugging at the end of the leash. Wanting to see, explore, smell, and arrive faster than the one who is leading us. Like we are going to miss out on something if we just chill out. Do you think God is sick of us pulling on our leashes?”

“Huh,” he responded, with a few moments of silence. “Yes, I guess. I wish he would hurry up and help us get there though.”

“Me too” I murmured in agreement.

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This year has been one of waiting, of not understanding, of redirection.

I’ve often found myself tugging, hoping, aching, running towards the destination that I’m not yet even sure of. No, I do not think God has on metaphorical leashes, but yes, I think we can pull and tug, and plan and stress ourselves out. If we walked a little slower, had a bit more slack, then the journey may be a bit more enjoyable.

I’m sticking to this metaphor this week and reminding myself not to pull so hard. We will get there when we get there.

I also have a nasty head cold and am thankful for the ability to rest. To give myself some slack and read a few books. I’ve avoided the grocery store and instead am heating up leftover chicken noodle soup. There is beauty in giving yourself permission to rest, in weekend walks, vitamin C. More beauty, perhaps, in learning, or rather being reminded of life lessons from your pup.