Monday, February 24, 2014

Week's Work

Over the course of a few days: freezing rain, then snow, then bright sun, warmth and melting. Midnight thunderstorms and water in the basement. Then fog. Then hail. And sun again.

A chance to run outside (twice!) and to feel overly-warm. Puddles to splash through, cool water seeping into my shoes. It felt good. Seeing a robin felt good, too, although hard to believe. The warmth was only a few hours old—did this bird rise up out of the ground?

Sick children. Time together.

Time spent working with my hands. Learning new things, and falling in love with the process.

Antsy students, which translates into chaos mixed with short brilliant moments of learning.

Watching my children respond to others’ deep hurt, and being reminded (again) how very, very fragile it all is.

The chance to take part in the celebration of a life that was full and too short. I did not know her. But now in a way I feel like I do.

More sickness—me this time—twenty hours in bed, and the kindness of my family. Small gifts to treasure: an eleven year-old who was proud to make lunch, a Cadbury creme egg, a read-aloud from the Captain Underpants book of the day. Those hours weren't lost, I've decided.

Monday again, gray sky. New resolve to learn this life as well as I can. Thinking about how sometimes what we're doing looks like staggering, and sometimes it looks like dance.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

From the Heart

In honor of  Valentine's Day this year, I wore a pair of silver heart earrings. I have had them for a very long time. When I was in sixth grade, the boy I liked came up to me after school and gave them to me, along with a single yellow daffodil. I don’t remember what I said to him, only that I stuffed the flower in my backpack before I got on the bus. Because what if someone saw? I had never seen a kid carrying a flower on a school bus. And I might not have known the word for it, but carrying a flower on a school bus seemed like a very ostentatious thing to do.

What strikes me now is that the boy had guts. Especially since my response was less-than-gutsy. I loved the gift but it also made me shake all over, and the idea of having to explain the flower—Where’d you get that? Who gave it to you? Is he your boyfriend?—was completely over the top. But the boy—he was courageous.

I learned from Brené Brown that the word courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor. Like love, courage is from the heart. And I think the two need each other. They seem to be always entwined. Love (and I mean all kinds, all forms,) risks ridicule and rejection and pain and misunderstanding and mistakes and entanglements and messiness. It forces uncomfortable things like realness and honesty and transparency. It is this totally gorgeous and warm and scary thing. It requires courage. And in the end, I suspect that love is also what creates courage.

So I wore the earrings to honor a sixth grade boy and the person I hope he became. But also because I would like to throw out all my cynicism about Valentine’s Day. Because love is way bigger and more complicated and harder and better than I ever imagined. Isn't that why we spend so many years giving valentines to every kid in the class?

To honor the day this year I wore not only the silver heart earrings, but also the bright flower necklace Husband gave me one Christmas because he saw me fall in love with the colors, and the gifts Youngest showered me with during the 2nd grade class party: a paper bracelet, a giant plastic cupcake ring, a puffy green heart-shaped sticker that said Hugs. I wore them all for love and courage and everything else from the heart. 

May my understanding of them increase every year.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I’ve been wondering at myself lately, all the time I’ve been spending inside. The previous two winters I refused to let the cold get to me. I drew the line only at running on ice—although even when the pavement seemed fine there were times I would come around a corner and find myself on new ground entirely, slick and hard and threatening. For two winters I was proud of my no backing down, whether it was cold or snow or rain or my breathing that stood in the way.

This winter I’ve had to be more gentle with myself. Less running, more sleep, more time inside. I realized I really could survive running on a track. I realized being gentle with myself was not the same as giving up or backing down. I also realized I had no choice but to let my body recover. And after months of not-quite-enough-air I am finally starting to feel not only clear lungs but something like strength. This gives me a whole lot of hope for future strength of all kinds.

Even so, it seems like I take a lot of pictures through windows. Why are you hiding inside? That voice in my head knows exactly what to say. Except I know I’m not hiding, just practicing no backing down in a different form. Besides, these windows are what allow me to take shelter and look Out. They let in the light, they let in the view, they let in a fresh sunrise and sunset every day without fail. They let in a fair amount of fresh air, being as old as they are, just stand close to one and feel that gentlest of breezes. And then—frost. And light through frost, and light through rippled old glass. And the play of light and reflection and rippled glass and the view out into the world.  All of it from a place of warmth and shelter.

This morning, Middle called me to the window for a spectacular sunrise, and cheered me on while I dashed around the house looking for my camera. And it was a proud moment, knowing that she saw, and we shared. And then we saw more—how Inside and Outside came together on the window and made something new.

And it was magic.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Inhale, exhale. Tear apart, rebuild.

Snow Day, take three.

I love the virgin windswept stuff as much as I love the clumpy boot-tracks through it, the small horse sculpture on our front porch, the snow cave in the back yard just off the driveway. I am claiming it all as vacation. Yes there have been plenty of arguments, children wishing they had been born an only child and maybe even wishing they had been born without-parents, parents who feel like there is constantly someone wanting something from three rooms away. But also there have been three mornings of sleeping in, three days of reading, movies, elaborate play scenes in the basement, three days of making stuff in all sorts of ways. 

I love that sometimes everything else has to stop for the weather, no matter what was planned. It's so much more fun than when everything stops for illness. To be honest, the weather we've been having here really just qualifies as normal "winter" in my mind, but I live in a place that doesn't quite have the infrastructure for dealing with it. And so normal life stops for a while.

I don't know what it is in me that feels a little giddy when the weather overpowers everyday-normal, but it hasn't disappeared yet, and I hope it never does.

I have been making things. And planning and thinking and puzzling over things (the kind of planning and thinking and puzzling I love.) Writing is a necessity these days, a kind of breathing. So too, though, is using my hands. Making something touchable, hold-able, outside-of-my-head is a different kind of breathing, and I've developed a whole new appreciation in the last few months for good strong breathing. Inhale, exhale. Take in, release. Internalize, create.

I've been thinking about the pomegranate that sat on the kitchen counter forever while my kids asked every day if we were going to have it for dinner. Because, welltime. And laziness. Finally, though, I got myself to coax the seeds from the peel and membrane wrapped tightly around them.

Like always, they were worth the trouble. 

I've been thinking, too, about how much of creating something actually requires a taking-apart. 

How art requires sketching and re-sketching and erasing and setting aside (throwing away? burning?) all the versions that didn't work. 

How many tantrums I had as a child because I didn't understand this, or, once I understood, didn't see how it was at all fair. 

How learning a new piece of music requires tearing it apart and putting it back together bit-by-bit, only to tear it apart and rebuild again. 

How uncomfortable and distasteful a process this can be and how a large part of teaching violin is helping students get past that, helping them to see all the rewards of putting in that kind of work.

How lifeif you want it to truly be a living, breathing thingif you accept your calling to make it a work of artis like that, tooa continual creation, a continual breaking-apart and re-shaping. 

How I know that and embrace it and fight it all at once. How I have to keep discovering it, even though I already know.

How being willing to participate in the whole messy process is a daily act of faith, and how that, too, is part of the Art.

Happy Blue-sky-bitter-cold Snowy Winter Day, friends.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014


My definition of the word keeps changing. For example:

1. Middle is downstairs, pouring melted chocolate into little plastic molds. She found a book at the library earlier today, and the Candy Paints recipe has captured her entirely. The third act of "Madame Butterfly" is playing on the radio. “I like this,” she tells me, when I ask on my way upstairs if I should leave it on. “I can actually tell when she’s sad.” “I like it too,” I say, meaning all of it, the whole scene before me. It is perfection.

2. Earlier today, at the library—Youngest’s excitement. Finding BOOKS! About anything, about everything. About DINOSAURS, and SHARKS, and Encyclopedia Brown, and even though early in the visit she has to remind me, “Mom. I like non-fiction,” by the end there are a number of slim sparkly fairy books included in her towering stack. She is breathless and using her best Owen Meany voice and wants to check out books all by herself, JUST GIVE ME MY CARD MOM. We're trying to help her learn appropriate library behavior, but in this moment her behavior strikes me at the same time as absolutely perfect.

3. Oldest. Having never been one myself, I still think boys are mysterious. And I wish being thirteen did not seem to require such frequent anger with everyone who is not thirteen. But then Oldest and I get to talk about things—life and music and current events and technology and, even more fun I think, technological design (he has exquisite, expensive taste.) And I love liking him so much. I like talking to him. I like how he surprises me. I like his friends.  And I think this is exquisitely good. I think maybe it is its own form of perfect.

4. We are standing around the dining room table, painting chocolates and making a mess, beautiful and colorful. Chatting. In the background, a radio interview about the Super Bowl tomorrow. And suddenly, Youngest pipes up. Apparently she has been listening. “I don’t know why they think Quiz Bowl is dangerous.”

Everything that says about our family—that seems perfect, too.

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