Thursday, June 26, 2014

Today's Unexpected

Yesterday the girls discovered—who knows where—water balloons. Clearly begging to be filled with air. Youngest was frustrated with tying knots in the slippery things, and rather furious with me for being so accomplished at it. I told her it just took a lot of practice. Today—glossy pastel balloons all over the place, and I didn’t tie a single one. She’s left a trail all over the house.

If only all the trails we left behind us were this good.

When I straighten up the living room for teaching this afternoon I will leave this one in its place:

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Monday, June 23, 2014


Did you ever come home from the beach with a pocket full of rocks? Each one was chosen for its colors, or how it glistened. It was hard to stop gathering, and on the way home your shorts hung heavy with rock treasure, banged a little against your leg. At home you emptied your pockets and showed them off one by one, spit-polishing the best so you and your fellow rock-admirers could see them just the way they looked when they first caught your eye. Maybe you dreamed of finding a way to string them together, to wear them gleaming around your throat.

My favorite things so far this summerevery summerare the unmeasurables, the things that happen on the edges, the moments that are almost always unplanned: laughter in the wave pool, the smell of fresh basil, being in the woods, read-at-the-table lunches, chance conversations, treasure-hunting at the library/at the bookstore/at antique stores, coming around the corner and discovering the latest art project. I’m carrying these things around with me like a pocketful of pretty stones. It’s good to take them out every once in a while and admire the colors and shiny spots, to dream a little about what you could make with them.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

2300 Miles

Last weekend I had a decent long run. Decent means I ran all the hills and stopped only for a traffic light. That I felt okay afterwards. It was nowhere near a record run for me in terms of speed or distance, but it was my longest run in many, many months. And it was hard-won.

Last weekend, also, I discovered that since I began keeping track of my miles almost three years ago I have run more than 2300 miles. My serious running friends have covered that distance much faster, and probably many times over, but I am quite proud of the number. It, too, was hard-won.

Because 2013—I spent most of the year not getting enough air.

The first half of the year was marked by repeated cases of bronchitis, and me pushing myself—running, working, pushing-through, despite how I felt. I’ve had asthma since I was very young, and this is what I’m used to: you get a cold, it invariably settles in your lungs, makes you cough and wheeze. But life doesn’t stop for a cold, you just deal with it. I was simply never very athletic.

But then, life, and many years. A decision at 39 to make running part of my fight for health. The realization, as I got help for my children’s allergies and asthma, that I could get help for my own, as well.  I discovered what normal lung function felt like. It was beautiful. I had no idea.

So I ran. A friend challenged me to run a half-marathon with her and it sounded so unlike me I had to try. I heard about a trail half-marathon later in the year and it sounded crazy so I wanted to do that, too.

All those miles—there were a lot of difficult ones, but they were so good.

And then that first half of 2013. All the sickness. All of April and May, never a breath that brought quite enough air. I cut back on my running. I tried to get more rest. It was discouraging.

The last race I ran in was June 9th, 2013. A 10 mile race that I almost didn’t do because of my bad cough and because I was so discouraged I didn’t believe I could run 10 miles anymore. The night before, a friend texted me: another anonymous friend had registered me for the race, hoping I would be encouraged. I was. I ran. And it felt horrible, but I finished, and even brought home a medal. (One of the perks of living in a small town and showing up for small races is that you can finish 17th out of 19 but still bring home a silver because there were only three women in your age group. Pretty nice for someone who had never been very athletic.)

I woke up early the next morning sicker than I’ve ever been. Shaking uncontrollably, feverish, hands and feet pale and numb. Never enough air. Somewhere around 6:30 I woke Husband up to tell him I was going to the ER because I didn’t want to wait for a clinic to open in the afternoon. Looking back now, I realize how disconnected I felt from my body. I was surprised to be seen immediately when I told the receptionist at the front desk I was having trouble breathing. I was surprised when the nurse mentioned pneumonia, (“a raging case of pneumonia,” I believe were his exact words) and even more surprised when he asked me how I felt about being hospitalized.

The doctor made it clear he could hospitalize me but allowed me to go home. I spent most of the next 10 days in bed. Even with all the medication I was on, getting up to walk to the next room left me breathless, and when I spoke I had to pause every two or three words for air.

Recovery was long, but I eventually started running again, very slowly and only bits at a time. I let go of all my goals for the year except one: I wanted to run the trail half-marathon in October. It would be slow, less than I’d done the year before in every way, but I wanted to at least finish.

But no. In August, bronchitis. In September, bronchitis again. Followed by bad colds in October and November that held on for 2 or 3 weeks, each.

I spent the second half of 2013 trying to recover. Lungs tight, never a full breath. I monitored my sleep more closely, doled out my energy more carefully. Mostly I tried to find a way to attend to my family, my teaching, and my writing. If I felt a little like I disappeared when I got sick, I also felt like I disappeared while trying to get better. If I’ve spent most of my life dogged by the feeling that I was failing, that feeling has intensified over the last year.

It was months before I felt completely myself inside my body, months before my lungs felt my own again. A year later I cannot run the way I could. I’ve lost count of how many times I started over, because once I stopped getting sick I started hurting myself: a fall—extremely glamorous, really—while rollerskating with my girls, a strained quad, unresolved pain from before I got sick. And allergies have been so bad this spring that again for the last month my lungs have felt constantly tight. But Saturday I ran farther than I’ve run in 9 months. And then that discovery of how many miles I’ve logged in the 3-months-shy-of-3-years that I have been running. Slogging away at something does not feel like anything but slogging, but it still gets you someplace. Maybe I can leave discouragement behind for a while.

So this is what 2300 miles looks like—part of it victorious, part of it halting, labored, slowly accumulated. Half and half, now, in terms of time. I could tell you that’s what I expected, but no—I expected the sweat and long steep hills and the sheer discipline of it to be enough. What matters is that the miles accumulated, and this number I now get to hold on to has some heft to it. It makes me believe in change. It tells me I’m not done with this yet. 

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Family Reunion, Looking Through Old Albums

The albums spread out in front of me span almost one hundred years. They are neatly laid out on a bed, soon to be divided among siblings. For a brief time I am alone with them, paging through. Touching and not-touching all these lives.

My perspective on age has changed, as well as my understanding of time. The vertical threads between generations are more and more visible, as are the horizontal ones—those between brother and sister, sister and sister, cousin and cousin. They are loose, but long. Strong. They allow a great-aunt to ask, “Do you think it would be okay if I gave you a goodnight kiss?” and a child to answer, “Yes, because you are family.” They must account, partly at least, for that special cousin-magic—that adoration, that bond you have with these people you don’t get to see that often and you don't necessarily know that well, living so far apart, but who are more than friends, always.

Glancing through the albums, these pictures that span almost one hundred years, the ways in which we have changed and not-changed stand out. The generations deepen and blur. In one face from twenty years ago—forty years ago—her childhood—I gradually see other faces: a niece, a cousin, a grandchild, a mother.

Glancing through the albums I begin to feel the weight of the photographs. All those memories, and the keeping and losing of them, and trying to walk that path between the two. I know in the end I will leave this place both with treasures and the ache of lost things—photographs, yes (new and old,) but also conversations, connections, time itself. Isn’t this, though, part of what I've been trying to explain to my children recently? That every choice is a loss of something else, every turning-toward also a turning-away? 

Such a hard lesson. But if you focus on what you missed you end up missing it all.

I used to hate the word bittersweet. I used to be annoyed with adults who could come up with nothing more original to greet a child with than, “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown!” I’ve learned to forgive these things. I embrace them frequently, in fact, even while I still consider my own generation to be The Grandchildren. I suppose that too will change, somewhere in the course of just trying to live this life.

The pictures taken this weekend will lengthen the span of years by two. I will return home both with treasures and the ache of things lost.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Watching them watch the magic was the best. The sounds, the maze of track, the perfection of the balls rolling, bouncing, following their improbable path. It was mysterious and satisfying, both, and that's a delectable combination. Because in the end it all works.

It was not a particularly quiet day, our day at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. Actually, it was loud and sort of hectic, but still there was that cocoon of quiet. Wonder, I suppose, mixed with the desire to absorb it all. 

Something worth wrapping yourself in as often as possible.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Walter Scott Jr. Observation Tower

Life is generous, it seems, with chances to face your fears. Today it is the Observation Tower you visit before heading home from the family reunion (full of activities and conversations and time and food together, quieted by goodbyes and memories and the things you still want to know.) The fear is small. It does not keep you up at night, but it shows up on days like today.

You are the last one up, partly because you took a few pictures, but also because the farther up you go the sicker you feel. You have been higher than this, many times, but a mountain under you feels different than this thing that is simply up, that is so transparent, so vulnerable, so naked. It is nerve-wracking like a bridge—too many coulds flowing through the structure, too much swaying, too much noise.

Halfway up you stop yourself for the view. Everyone else is at the top—running, banging around a little, calling down. You could stop right here, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But passing up a chance to go to the top because you are uncomfortable—that’s something you promised yourself you were done with. So you take yourself all the way up to the top. You admit to everyone that you don’t like heights very much and try to leave it at that. This is not the kind of fear to share with people who are enjoying the view.

And the view, yes—the hazy far away, the closer treetops, the green new and mature, shadowed and lit. The air, yes. Even the swaying, yes—all of it yes. You did not turn away.

Coming down is easier. You are still quieted, still full. You still lag behind the others, but now it is not because of fear. Now it really is the beauty that slows you down, so much easier to see.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Different Kind of Found

Sometimes one kind of magic leads to another (like when you become entranced with sunlight on water and end up with a picture like this.)

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