Sunday, September 25, 2016

into the woods

It's safe to say that I wasn't an outdoorsy type of child. I guess I played outside an average amount, from the time of splashing in a hard plastic kiddie pool in the backyard to the days of riding my bicycle around town with my elementary school best pal. But I wasn't that much of a nature explorer. I was terrified of bugs, and anything flying at me resulted in a rapid heartbeat, uncontrollable yelping, and ridiculous flailing arms. It was safer to be inside-- no bugs, no dirt, no sunburn (oh the days before sunscreen were fierce for pale people like me!).

At some point, that terror in response to bugs transformed into utter fascination, and as I've aged, I've gained a new appreciation for nature. I may not be in fantastic physical shape, but I do enjoy a nice walk in the woods, even if I'm huffing and puffing on any level of inclination.

The reality of any walk in the woods for me, which we'll be extremely generous in calling a hike, is that my children bring with them a cacophony of mostly excited, sometimes annoyed/cranky/pissy, loud voices that inherently changes the experience. We very rarely encounter wildlife on our hikes, other than the flight of birds out of the area in which we're entering. Last weekend, we disturbed a black vulture from eating something whose decaying stench filled the air, and the whoosh of its enormous wings was a startling but incredible surprise.

beautiful grasshopper who I wanted to take home

Even with their contribution of at least a low level of chaos, our family seems at home in the woods, and there's something always a little grounding for me. A to do list is mostly forgotten when walking along a path, keeping an eye out for interesting insects or hazardous protruding roots. I can breathe more deeply among the trees, and I don't feel as if I'm taking up too much physical space. My thoughts don't race out of anxiety (mostly), but rather work hard to process all the visual stimulation that is the natural world. The children have a knack for seeing things I've missed, and we even had our first encounter with the inspiration for our new state's nickname- a buckeye. (Which we, not being native Ohioans, didn't recognize, instead guessing it was a horse chestnut... we're learning...)

I'd only ever seen the chocolate & peanut butter version...

We've hiked in two area state parks so far, escaping into the lushness of late summer. While I may struggle with the heat or have trouble with the stamina necessary to keep up with everyone else, I always make it. There's a lesson in there for me if I want it, I imagine. Sometimes there are glimmers of encouragement to be found in a sight in the woods...

an invitation to explore

... or some scenes appear that make me wonder if nature has sent me a metaphor that I'd rather not explore...

yes, we did descend, and we came out the other side unscathed

The draw for me to return to the woods is the uniqueness of each experience, even in an environment that is familiar. For now, though, all of the places are new and full of surprises.

chimes? art? super complex dare? all of the above?

With fall in the air, our time in the woods is set for a upcoming shift which brings an entirely different tone to a hike. I'm really hoping for a solo walk this autumn, perhaps allowing for a sighting or two of an interesting creature, and even better, a quietness that is uncommon in my day to day. Going into the woods, going into my head-- those two actions go well together.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I lay in bed last night with a racing mind and a heavy heart. Another day, another devastating news cycle. When I can't sleep, it's often a good idea to start writing down the words that are whipping around in my head like a hurricane. I wanted to share what I wrote last night, in all its imperfection, with the clear understanding that my voice is full of heartfelt empathy, as inexperienced in this topic as it may be.

Charlotte. Tulsa. New York City. Ferguson. ____________. ____________. ____________. My memory and trouble with details doesn't make me the best witness, but how can anyone be expected to even keep up?

As incensed, outraged, and scared as I am, it is still an abstract fear. I have the privilege of that abstraction. I am not raising a child with brown skin. My husband is not a Black man. I do not see dark skin when I look in the mirror.

How can you who are in those realities be going about life right now? How do you deal with the nearly daily news that the freedoms and ideals so proudly held by your country are being deprived of countrymen who look like you? "Land of the free and the home of the brave." Is this a mockery, a rub of salt in the wound that is the state of our current criminal justice system?

This is not my reality, yet with every swipe of my Facebook feed, I feel on the precipice of a breakdown. I read hateful, vile comments and wonder what these people can't see.

Break it down:

  • people of color are dying at the hands of police, unjustly
  • protests are needed, if a damn silent protest is offensive to you, you're not thinking about the REAL ISSUE AT HAND
  • our system calls for a process-- not immediate punishment on site by law enforcement
  • children are children, and brown-skinned children are routinely perceived as older and bigger than they really are

What can we do?

If you're not following Shaun King on social media and any of this made sense to you, or if you heartily disagree with what I'm saying but are the teensiest bit open to hearing a different perspective than your own, you should be reading what he has to say and seeing the stories that he shares from around this country of ours. I'm not well-versed in other platforms, but you can find him on Facebook here. He is a, perhaps, the prominent voice in this current round of the Civil Rights Movement. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

shared history & new chapters

I remember how we met, but I don't remember when it changed. Friendship is funny like that, isn't it? You meet someone, and you don't know much of anything about the other person, but at some point, you know so many of the things. You know who they truly are, and they, you. I can't go back and pinpoint when the shift occurred, but I know that the friends I moved away from were my tribe.

Whether we first were introduced while
you were poring over your wedding planning binder, or
you were nursing your little one amid the wildness of a New Year's Eve party, or 
you and I were both watching our classes on the playground, or 
you were the "cool mom" holding court at playgroup and making everyone laugh, or 
you were pushing the double stroller of which I was jealous and used as a first topic of conversation, or 
you and I were on Facebook because we were both going to have a new kindergartner at the same school, or 
you and I were on Facebook because a mutual friend thought we'd have a lot in common, or 
you were a student intern turned admired colleague, or 
you and I had dinner with a mutual friend, 
we went from that initial moment to many more shared experiences that made you an integral part of my life. And that's just a handful of you.

Talk about good, bad, and ugly? You've seen them all with me, and then some.

You know the me that I am today, but you've known the mes I've been on the way to getting to this point. You've helped influence the me I've become.

And here I stand at the beginning of this new chapter in the story of my life, and a key plot point is the fact that I have to start over in the friendship arena. I'm desperately missing the feeling that comes with spending time with someone who truly knows you, someone with whom you have a shared history. The comfort of knowing it's okay to be you, that might be at the heart of it. In meeting new folks, I think I've been keeping a part of myself on mute, as I am more conscious than ever about how I appear. I feel awkward and insecure again, and the last thing I need now is a return to that exhausting adolescent mentality!

People have been so nice here in our new community, and meeting other parents has been a whirlwind of new names and faces. But I know that life is busy, and most people don't have the time or energy to seek out the new folks and try to bring them into their social fold. I get it, and I know that the onus has to be on me to try to make these connections. I know I should be looking at this time right now as nothing but possibilities, for new beginnings of what could grow into more deep friendships. There have been one or two bright spots, and for that I'm hopeful, but damn if I don't miss the hell out of my old crew.

a (partial) cast of characters, if there ever was one

Thursday, September 01, 2016

time and place

I've been having frequent "is this really my life?" moments lately. The most obvious inspiration would be our move, because I can honestly say that I never imagined that I'd be living in the Midwest. I'd never even been to this state, let alone this funky little city, before February of this year, so there was no predicting that we would be calling it home by mid-year. As I take the dog for walks around the neighborhood, it's easy to get lost in my thoughts of how crazy it is that this place is now where we live. It's so picturesque, like a neighborhood straight out of a 1980s sitcom, with kids on their bikes and families lounging on their front porches.

living in suburbia

But even more than the immediate, I've been thinking a lot about the other places I find myself in at this point in my life. During the packing earlier this summer, I came across all my old journals, and I chuckled over my late-teenage self's hopes about someday having three children. Even though that's been our reality for almost nine years, it's still surprising sometimes. With the oldest only a few years from adulthood, we're essentially in the beginning of the end of his time with us, which is mind-boggling for all that it represents. These children are such unique, incredible human beings, and I had no idea what was in store all those years ago as I wrote about my hopes for future motherhood.

I've also found myself at a place of unemployment, if you want to say it plainly, or perhaps we could go with 'a crossroads, career-wise,' to put it more gently. Almost 20 years after graduating from college, my work history primarily consists of work within the field that I studied. But... I don't think I want to be in that field anymore. So what's a girl to do? The last month has been focused on getting us settled in the new house and the kids settled in the new school, and September was assigned to finding a job. Well, dammit, September is here, and so my attention will now be shifting to this task. I'm not terribly enthused by the thought, to tell the truth. Couldn't someone just pay me to read books, clean my house, and type out my random thoughts at 11 pm at night?

So here I am, right here, right now. I wake up some mornings needing a moment to remember where I am, as I'm still learning to navigate a path around the bedroom to the bathroom in the darkness of the wee early morning, sans contact lenses and full consciousness. But other mornings, I need a little bit longer to really be reminded of where I am, in the bigger scheme of things. This time and place, while totally unforeseeable and a bit shaky and unsure right now, is undeniably kind of cool.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

falling hard (in the literal sense, no metaphors here)

I fell off my bike the other day. As in, I was riding along just fine, tried to scoot up what I thought was a ramp up to the sidewalk but was actually a well-masked-by-weeds curb and totally bit it. My left knee took the brunt of the fall, sliding up the sidewalk as I went down, but the side of my right knee saw some action too, banging down pretty hard at the end of the fall.

What was my very first thought upon registering that I was falling off my bike on a public street as a 40-year-old woman? "Is anyone seeing this?" Of course. Before I had any regard for my physical condition-- spoiler alert, it was bloody!-- I was worried about being embarrassed in front of a stranger.

It's bad enough that I already feel like a fool when I'm on my bike. Fat old lady riding an old lady bicycle complete with actual basket on front, usually looking kind of wobbly up on the wide seat, and likely always in first or second gear, regardless of the terrain... not an image that builds confidence.

Keeping with the feeling good about yourself theme, I walked around with a big ass bandaid on my knee for several days, as the cuts were a little deep and if I didn't keep them gooey with antibiotic ointment, my whole knee was hard to bend without feeling like the cuts were going to rip back open. Delightful image, my apologies.

I'm past the bandaid stage now, but the healing cuts are still a bit itchy, and it looks to me like I'll be sporting some lined scars when this is all said and done. The funny thing to me is that on this same knee, just slightly to the right of this new development, I have similar lined scars from a different fall off my bike. That fall happened about thirty years ago, and though I don't remember all the specifics, I do remember that it was a patch of gravelly sand that did me in as I rode around the curve of a cul-de-sac after exiting a path over a favorite childhood spot of mine.

A little creek ran under a pedestrian bridge that connected two parts of our neighborhood. It was a regular path for me and my bicycle when I was in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, as my best friend lived on the other side. That infamous day, I can't remember if I was riding to her house or back to my own, or even if she was with me at the time or if I was alone, but I do remember that I took a pretty hard fall after my bike slipped in that damn gravelly sand and that my knee was bleeding pretty badly. Someone's mom came out to help me, I think, but I honestly can't even remember how I got home.

I've had these faint little black lines under the skin of my knee for all years since that fall. They've been a part of me, just as a scar on my other knee has been there since I was even younger, maybe kindergarten age. I've pointed them out to many a child in the moments of caring for their newly-skinned knees, as a reassurance that it's okay, we all fall down when we're kids. Don't worry. It will heal, and you will be just fine.

Until you're 40 years old and you fall off your bicycle again. Then you'll add a new scar to the mix, another story to recall decades from now as you examine the skin that you just can't quite believe is really your own, spotted and wrinkly, bearing more marks than you can assign stories to.

Or maybe it's just me.

Hello, sidewalk. We've got to stop meeting like this.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

random musings on moving to college town

One the selling points of our selected new city was that it was the home of a university. Moving to the midwest, to a fairly deep red state, was never in my life plan. Not even close. But when you factor in a university in town, it often shifts that political hue to the blue side, along with a bunch of other benefits, from our perspective.

Back when we visited in February and again in May, we got the whirlwind tour, and there were so many advantages that we could pinpoint right away. We've been in our house for almost a month now, and in that time we've been trying to take advantage of the city's offerings. As I've walked uptown, sat on the front porch, or ridden my bike around the neighborhood, a few things have stood out. As a new resident, here are some of my random thoughts on our new hood.
  • Bookstores! There are bookstores! I might not need to purchase textbooks, but I love browsing bookstore shelves. I know I can buy books cheaper online, but when I saw a new picture book on display at a local independent bookstore, I knew that I was meant to buy it there since I had it right in my hands. 
  • How wonderful is an actual vibrant downtown area, even if it's supposed to be called 'uptown.' There's an art-housey type theater within walking distance, and we've already seen two independent films there. There are unique shops, restaurants of all kinds, and a wonderful art studio where artists with disabilities work with artists without disabilities to create really incredible pieces. Shopping will be interesting, for sure. Oh, and how could I almost forget? There's a cookie shop that is only open in the evening until the wee hours of the morning. (Talk about knowing your main clientele!) We may have sat in our minivan one night eating cookies and drinking overpriced milk while bar patrons streamed by on the adjacent sidewalk. We're old, but we know what we like.
    Not between classes, not late at night, so you can actually see the sidewalk

  • University = opportunities for concerts and live theater. Yay! And this spring just happens to see the 20th anniversary tour of RENT coming to town. Yes, please!
  • Drunkenness on full display, no matter what time of day? Okay, I'm going to chalk it up to the very beginning of the semester, and the craziness that accompanies a bunch of not-quite-adults enjoying an environment of freedom, but it's been wild watching the huge parties on front porches in the afternoon and masses of wobbly walkers on the sidewalks at night. I've heard more than one, "I'm not drunk!" protestation that couldn't have been further from the truth, and I even had an oddly innocent and encouraging version of a catcall as I walked uptown the other morning. Two shirtless young men called down from an apartment balcony, "You guys have a great day! Go get 'em!" in the direction of the sidewalk where I and another woman were walking. Okay, then.
  • When students return to town, the culture shifts a bit, and I've found myself wrestling with how to address some things with the children. Thankfully, they didn't notice the few signs hanging from off-campus houses in this disgusting fashion the other day, so I didn't need to tackle it in that moment, but I was happy to see a response to a local story about the signs that reflected a community that won't stand for these misogynistic displays.
  • As the university seems to employ the vast, vast majority of folks in town, we're definitely the odd ones out having no affiliation whatsoever. We've baffled person after person in saying that neither of us got a job at the university as the reason prompting our move. 
  • Above all else, I'm finding that living in a college town is making me reminisce even more than I'm already prone to do. Since my husband and I met during our freshman year of college, it's a vibrant time in my memory, and seeing college students again on a regular basis is making me think a lot about that time in my own life. So let's just say that I'm feeling pretty old these days, but the recollections are making me smile at least.

We'll see what the coming months bring!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

home is...

Moving is strange. One day, you suddenly say goodbye to one life and hello to another. You are no longer a part of your former community, the one that you knew so well and knew you right back, but instead immediately become a resident of a new town. You show up in a big old truck, haul in a slew of boxes, and suddenly, this is your new home.

Is your heart there?

If that's how the ubiquitous they determine where home is, then it's a pretty tall order to expect your heart to suddenly shift from one place to another, just like that.

How about we say home is where mail arrives in your name. That's an easier one to quantify. In that case, we officially have a new place to call home. I'd love to say that I always feel at home wherever I'm surrounded by the ones I love, but that would be pompously disingenuous, because my emotions are so affected by my environment. And I am a creature of habit who needs a routine and familiarity. I'm the person who, upon arriving at a hotel, needs to create a place for the shoes, a layout for the toiletries, and order for the suitcase contents. Moving into a new house takes that process up a few notches, to say the least.

At this point, 99.9% of the boxes that need to be unpacked have been tackled, and those that have been deemed important enough to keep but not important enough to unpack for this one year lease have been shipped off to storage. (It pains me to say that my entire picture book collection falls under the latter category, as I'll no longer have little ones hanging out with me during the day. Seriously, it's like a punch in the gut.) The list of things to do that remain are mostly the tasks I know I shouldn't try on my own, so I'll be waving that paper around in the husband's face annoyingly until they can all get crossed off. The biggest job left is figuring out where to house all the boxes that we're keeping since we'll be doing this fun all over again in a year, though a move in town will undoubtedly be way easier and require fewer boxes than a 350+ mile trek.

As I placed my beloved novels on shelves (sorry, picture books, they did get to come out, don't be mad), a wee bit of a calmness came over me. If I were living in a cartoon, there would have been a little sprinkling of stars twinkling above my head. Then the kitchen began to get settled, and with mac-and-cheese on the pantry shelves and our 20-year-old Corningware nestled in the cabinets, the calmness grew, and it continued to do so with each box.

For days, it felt like I was simply playing a life-sized version of that little puzzle game you see in birthday party goodie bags. You know the one where there are square tiles in a square box with one empty space, and you have to slide them around one at a time until they find themselves in the correct spaces to form the picture? Very often, you have to make moves that feel like you're going in the wrong direction just to get to the one piece that needs to be in place first. That was me with our moving boxes-- lifting or sliding them from one spot to another, seemingly making a greater mess in the process of trying to get one box out and put away. The entire first week found me looking at the disaster area at the end of each day wondering what I had to show for my 8-10 hours of work. It was exhausting, more so emotionally than physically.

Then, it came to an end. (Mostly. 99.9%, remember?) Furniture was in place. Drawers were filled. Grown-up purchases like rugs and curtains were secured. Lying down on the couch in the evening returned to the daily line-up of activities, and books began to be read again. And with all of that, the home designation was complete. Even better than our own mail arriving at our door is the feeling that we are where we belong. Home.

How about home is where the porch swing is?

There will always be a part of my heart in our old 'hood. I didn't get a memento of it tattooed for nothing. But, it's beginning to feel like there's room for our new town in all that love, too.