Release

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
Paul Valery, French critic & poet (1871 – 1945)

I prefer to think of it as releasing, as opposed to abandoning. And just as with parenting, writing is a series of releases, with the understanding that we’re never completely finished. Where writing is concerned, I love revision–re-seeing–and, being a detail-oriented person, I could fine-tune forever. (This is one of my challenges with blogging–just getting something out there, even–especially–when it isn’t as polished as I would like.)  And I hope that with my parenting, as with any aspect of my life, I will always be fine-tuning myself, adjusting for the better.

Release

Poems, like children, will expose
you, lay you bare
in intimate vulnerability,
and for a few moments
that comprise an eternity
you won’t care
who sees.
Held inside,
gestating for weeks of days
till the body can’t hold them
anymore, and they come
barreling out so perfect-turned
you can’t believe
you had anything at all
to do with it.
You must tend
with intention, but if you try
to control them too much
they rebel or fall
flat. They’ll frustrate, even scare
you sometimes, mirror
and shine you just a little
too vividly for your own
comfort. You can hold them
in your heart, repeat
and turn their names, their words,
over in your mouth,
savoring the growth
and discovery.
But once they are out
there, in the world,
they live their own lives,
a future, you hope, beyond
your own.

Peace

Sea Change

My son is all squall and blast,
howling at the pancakes
on the table, and I am rage
rather than compassion
for his tired state.  I slam
the plate and leave, but
there’s no abandoning
ship when you are the storm.
I thunder the hallway and throw
a defiant demand at the ceiling, God
help me! 
I expect
nothing.
But then, just as sudden
as the gale had rolled in,
Grace.
A change
in the climate,
a softening and calm
as though the swells
surging between
my shoulders just
dropped.
Peace, 
be still, spoken over the torrents
and tangle of waves.
My son sniffs and relaxes,
starts to eat, and I
breathe.

Several weeks ago, we escaped to a nearby lake for a few hours.  It was mostly peaceful, cooler and grayer than we usually get around here, and plenty of fresh air for breathing deep.

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Joy in the Desert

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Rain is always a gift here in the desert.  I hope I will never complain about rain again after having experienced droughts regularly lasting most of a year.  We had four days of rain in row last week–and I don’t mean the kind of sudden dumping of buckets of rain that lasts 15 minutes and is gone, the hallmark of monsoon season in the desert.  These were gray days filled with oceans of clouds and rain lasting most of the day.  It was very strange and wonderful.  My favorite kind of day.

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Where I lived in Michigan, rain smelled of worms–an earthy, fermented, sweet-gone-sour– a warning to anyone thinking of walking barefoot in the rain to watch where you placed your foot.

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Rain in the desert, though?  The epitome of fresh– cleanly sweet, as though the rain were falling for the very first time.  It washes the dust out of the air, pulls the heat from the xeriscaped yard, shimmers down the windows, bounces the rock walls and slicks the streets.  We never think to do a rain dance in all the dry weeks beforehand, only after it comes, as celebration.  I can’t help clapping and exclaiming with the kids, “Look!  Rain!”

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But there’s always a part of me that slips out of the moment, either to lament the inevitable return of arid days or simply to be discontent and wish the rain would last for a week.   I don’t fully inhabit this joy, relaxing into the moment, the way my children know how to.

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They know how to receive, how to let the gift fall into their hands.  They naturally look up, thankful.  They seem to intuit that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and accept such grace with unbounded pleasure and delight.

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Photography as meditation

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The camera has given me a new way to see, even as I close one eye and narrow my vision to that which fits in the viewfinder: an opportunity to focus on the small, the unobtrusive in my life.  My eyes rest on a still life they’ve glanced over a hundred times.  I experiment with holding my breath to steady my hands.  Inhale, click, exhale. Inhale, exhale, click.

As a novice, I have to slow down, observe the light quality and any shadows, focus the lens with attention, consider how I want to frame the image.  This is not second nature, and it’s an opportunity to be patient, first of all with myself.

It’s helping me notice the small graces of the imperfectly folded stack of clean dish cloths my four-year-old offered,  a mother dove nested safely in our palm tree, the sunlight blooming in my baby’s hair, wild curls that mimic mine, their wonder at watching street construction.

The everyday extraordinary.

This is grace: there is no need to perform, just the gift of eyes being opened to see and give thanks.

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Plan B: Lazy Saturday Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rollsThere are Plan A days, and Plan B days.  When my four-year-old came cranky into my bedroom with coughs and sniffles before the light reached my eyelids Saturday morning, I knew it would be a Plan B day.  We curled up on the couch with library books and honey tea.  A couple years ago, I read a tip in a book on organizing to create both the routine you want to keep most of the time–Plan A– as well as the frame of a back-up plan you can default to when life throws you curves (the fact that we keep buying books on organization and simplifying should be the subject of its own post!)

And life with little ones, at least for me, means falling back on Plan B, oh, about every other day.  For us, that means guarding peace in our home by lowering my expectations for how much I’ll get done, staying home and playing in the backyard, reading lots of books, and making naps the Number One Priority.  Come to think of it, my Plan B is not that much different from Plan A, except I get even less done.

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Fortunately, I had put together cinnamon rolls the night before since we had family in town for the weekend (yay for extra people to entertain the kids while I work in the kitchen!)  Just don’t be all eager-beaver like me and not give them time to come to room temperature before sticking them in the oven–they took an extra fifteen minutes to cook that way, and I had to babysit them to make sure they got cooked all the way through without getting overdone.  And be warned: Don’t expect to have a Very Productive Day when you make cinnamon rolls for breakfast.   They make me want to curl up under a blanket and read all day.  Good thing we have Plan B for just that contingency.

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presentation may not be my strong suit, but I didn’t hear any complaints

*I used this recipe, found in Eat with Joy, by Rachel Marie Stone, with about half bread flour and half whole wheat, sifted of most of its bran.  I made the recipe through shaping the rolls and put the pan in the fridge overnight.  I skipped the cream cheese frosting for a small amount of buttercream frosting.

Writer as Paleontologist

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Sometimes I am frustrated with this season of life, when it’s so difficult to carve out time for writing.  I miss being able to spend whole mornings, entire days, working on a poem or essay.  Losing myself in tinkering with a single line, meditating on the merits of this word over that word.

The high of head-down, charging-forward, steady, focused, creative work.

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Life with little ones feels a series of continuous interruptions: broken sleep, spilt-milk meltdowns, fractured conversations, abandoned shopping carts.

In this season of constant interruption, I’m trying to accept that there is little time for the deep digging, extended times of creativity (and as long as I’m still experiencing sleep deprivation, setting my alarm for 5 a.m. to have time to myself is just not going to happen). I want to embrace this time of unexpected discovery.

I’m marking the places I trip

over, the places something rare

and fascinating juts out of the sands

of my life, taking note and aching

for a chance to come back

later and dig.  Then

I will carefully mine

the sediment for more

bones, steady chipping,

brushing,

seeking,

hoping for a frame

to emerge.

Tedious work, sometimes, but once pieced together, it gives me the chance to do the fun, creative part of fleshing it out, really playing what if with the shape, the contours, colors, and textures.

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For now, I’m working on learning to excavate in smaller increments, on viewing a few moments of digging as worthwhile, on enjoying even five minutes of focusing on a line, a word, an image, on abandoning complete for work-in-progress (and isn’t that what we all are, anyway?)  On noticing.

But mostly, I’m working on trust– trust that this daily collecting of shards and bones will one day come together into something that, if not perfectly whole, will be beautiful.

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*Songwriter Sara Groves was the first person I heard liken her writing process to an archaeological dig.

Freedom

I have only learned in the last few years how much the gospel and following Christ is about relationship.  I am embarrassed to think how I let things like politics, lifestyles, and opinions get in the way of pursuing friendships with coworkers and colleagues in the past.  Sure, I was busy with school and all, but I reserved all my relationship energy for other Christians like myself.

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Part of my hesitance was a fear of not having all the answers lined up.  Part of it was a fear of being judged or labeled (which is essentially what I was doing to others internally).  I cared about my colleagues; I prayed for them.  But I failed to love them.  I failed to ask God to help me love them unconditionally, to take genuine interest in their stories, in who they were, without thinking about how I could correct or guide them, or about how I would represent the Christian perspective (as if any one human could do that).

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So I was paralyzed by fear, and then next by guilt when I was too shy to be the kind of outspoken witness so highly prized in evangelical culture, and I failed to simply enjoy relationships with them.  Instead of thinking about how to “be a light,” I should have been praying about how to love better.

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I am experiencing more of the freedom that comes with surrendering to Jesus these days, particularly the freedom of not having to have everything figured out, the answers to every question.  The freedom to just be with people and accept them as they are.

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The freedom to say I don’t know.  The freedom to share about God’s grace in my life.  The freedom to be vulnerable, to admit my flaws and foibles.  The freedom to enjoy being with people without worrying whether I’ve done enough to witness to them.  The freedom to love.  The freedom to be childlike.

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Chocolate cake for breakfast: why I started a Whole30

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The day after my son’s fourth birthday, I woke up way too early even though we’d all stayed up late.  I decided to console myself with a bowlful of leftover birthday cake, and a darn good one, too, if I do say so myself.  I’ll spare my dear reader the details, as the point here is not to induce drooling and increase cravings.  Let’s just say, I was looking forward to my next helping at lunchtime, and perhaps again in case of emergency, which tends to happen every afternoon at approximately 1:44 p.m. when the video I’ve set for the preschooler shuts off for the 5th time, causing him to wail and wake the baby when I’m at my metabolic lowest point in the day and have turned into the bear woken in the middle of hibernation, quiet time is over with a bang, and I need chocolate to cope.  But I digress.

Quint and I were enjoying the rare morning moments before the kids awoke, catching up on the past few days, chatting philosophically about goals, and we returned to the subject of starting a cleansing, whole foods diet challenge called a Whole30.  I’d been researching it on and off for a couple months, ever more convinced I needed to try it because I was consuming increasing amounts of sugar and refined carbs, not sleeping well, and was feeling sluggish a large portion of the day.  The testimonials on the website had me convinced.  But, as tired as I’ve been (due mostly to a teething and still-nursing-at-night baby), I couldn’t bring myself to just do it.  I kept procrastinating, reasoning that I just didn’t have the willpower to resist off-limit foods at social gatherings, special occasions, or on vacation.  I figured I would wait till after E’s birthday.  As Quint carried the dishes to the sink, he said, “So how are you going to handle all this leftover cake?”

“Eat it till it’s gone?” was my only half-joking reply.  My husband, who tends to know when I need a good healthy push, challenged me to start the Whole30 we’d been talking about right then.

“No more cake or other leftover treats?” I pushed back.

“No more,” he grinned.  He had been kind of apathetic about joining me on this program before, but not anymore apparently.  It was exciting, though, like whenever we set out for a challenging hike.  Suddenly, I felt like we were embarking on another adventure together, and I couldn’t wait to start.

A Whole30 is a month-long dietary program that involves sticking to a strict whole-foods diet of meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.  The purpose is to eliminate all processed foods and additives that cause cravings, inflammation, blood sugar issues, and other health problems.  It’s like a reset for the body.  These are some of our reasons to do a Whole30 challenge:

-break free from cravings, reign in self-indulgence

-put food in its proper place (it won’t fill me spiritually, emotionally)

-emphasize nourishment, service, and gratitude with regard to food and shared meals

-to get more energy for my daily work

-use it as a spiritual discipline/ fast (since I can’t do a regular one while breastfeeding)

-reduce my consumption of inflammation-causing foods (to improve my skin and decrease chances of illnesses/diseases)

-regulate blood sugar (ditto for skin, as well as energy and long-term insulin sensitivity)

Start

After listening to the audiobook version of Jon Acuff’s Start (which I highly recommend), I decided to just go ahead and do just that.  So here it is, my first blog post.