This is midsummer

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My in-box is full of back-to-school sales. My freezer is full of popsicles and nobody wants to eat anything except sliced cucumbers, cold cereal, or banana milkshakes. We drink chilled, pink wine or lemonade over crushed ice, and sleep on top of the sheets.

We finally had our huge and sorrowful lawn aerated, sprinklers adjusted, but it seems like a close call. There’s so much thatch, white clover, and lesser trefoil I begin to think we should let it go wild.

We once took the train to California — my mother, my brother, and me. She packed bagel sandwiches in tinfoil (when bagels, in Colorado, were so unknown my schoolmates teased me about bringing donuts in my lunch). As the cars pulled away and down the track, we waved to my father from the window, my heart breaking in the terribly woeful melodrama of a 9-year-old-girl. We made it to my aunt’s, and spent three late-summer weeks eating shaved ice and boogie boarding at Hermosa Beach.

I don’t remember if we took the train home, or flew, or drove? But when we got back to our shabby and magical little stucco house, my father told us to go see the backyard. We ran, expecting perhaps a new swingset or a puppy.

The grass was a foot high, at least, full of seedy stems and huge dandelions, little white moths and bees. He’d let it go wild while we were away, the push mower at rest in the crumbling garage. We walked through this tiny meadow, pushing at the tangled grasses with our knees, laughing at how the clothesline seemed closer to the ground, wondering at how something could change so much when you’re away.

I’m curious now if he ran out of time to mow before my mother came back, or saved it on purpose for us to see, did they argue about it, or laugh? Later, I watched him through the wavy glass of the eating nook window, the whicka-whicka-whicka of the mower and the green falling flat behind the blades.

Love the Place You Live

[Ed: When Design Mom opened up submissions to her Love the Place You Live series, how could I possibly say no? It’s still magic, this new place we call home. Thanks for taking a peek!]

“Life is bendable. Let’s see what shape we can make it.”

We’re nearly two years in. Two years since practically fleeing our beloved Portland for small(er) town life. Two years since setting the intention of “a small 1960s ranch house with a big yard and some chickens.” Two years of eyes-wide-open, chance-taking, risk-accepting days. We try hard to let patience and trust lead the way. The things we expected to be hard … haven’t been. The things we expected to be smooth sailing … not always the case.

Still, this place. It has stolen my heart and returned me to something I didn’t know I’d left behind.

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The wide open skies of the high desert give us room to breathe. I still can’t get over the clouds. How did I, a Colorado girl, almost entirely forget the way clouds can tower over you, smack in the middle of a vibrant blue sky? My jaw doesn’t drop quite as far as it did in the first weeks here, but still, I am smacked with wonder several times a week. I’ve written about this before — instead of feeling lost on the vast horizon, being able to watch an entire weather system move across the land pinpoints me securely in place. I like to know exactly where I am.

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Lake life is the thing, it turns out. As a kid, I was landlocked. Then for a decade, I was sodden under city rain for months at a time. Now, I am still astonished that I can head out my front door and be in a pristine river in 15 minutes, or gliding across the silken surface of a clear alpine lake in 30.

Hosmer Lake

Hosmer Lake

Elk Lake

Elk Lake

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For the fourth, we left town in a flurry of late-night decisiveness. (The “late night” piece of that was daring, for us. The “decisiveness” piece was uncharacteristic. Go toward adventure … I’m working on that, hard.)

The Westy loaded by 10pm, we rumbled up the mountain highway toward a thick crescent moon and a place we’d never been before. We abandoned fireworks for friends under the trees, campfire smoke, stars sprayed thick and glittering … and in the morning, we woke to the clear waters of Little Lava Lake.

The mountain peaks stood sentry. We tested a kayak, SUPed (that’s stand-up-paddle, don’tcha know), and watched the girls wade for treasures and dig crawdads out from under submerged logs. We ate sandwiches and slathered sunscreen and yelled in surprise at the icy water. (It’s an amazing thing to stand in snow-melt waters while looking up at the very snowcapped peaks from which they flow. This, too, is to know exactly where you are.)

The kid and I paddled into an inlet, surrounded by tall reeds, and listened to the slap of water under the board, fish splash, hawk cry. I told her that one day, she would realize how lucky she was to know a place like this as her normal–just up the road from home.

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5/5: no. 16

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I once said, “There will be chickens.” I like it when I keep promises to myself, fruition earned through action and perseverance.

The small flock of hens outside our back door has added a subtle, new tone to our life — there is something sweet, sincere, and steady about opening the coop door, hearing the soft peeps and clucks, checking the galvanized steel feeder and scattering grit.

Each day is bookended with “letting the chickens out” and “putting the girls in.” Beginning and ending with this small and gentle purpose. A humble effort.

She brings a book and sits inside their pen on a small blue milking stool (found just the day before the coop was finished — I hid it in the shed and gave it to her with a smile and a serious gaze, anointing her Chicken Mama, Feeder and Catcher and Petter and, if we do this well, Egg Gatherer).

A week ago, three Tibetan monks sat on my brother’s couch and intoned blessings on his house and family. They scattered rice and “Buddha’s nectar,” urged us to build upon positive love and keep negative forces at bay. I left with a white, gauzy scarf inscribed with prayers. Turns out, blessings can be carried home.

[ED: Technically, The 5×5 Creative Challenge is over. June is over. This has been such a great nudge for me to practice, practice, practice. To show up and make time. I have a few more posts in the draft folder, so I’ll carry on for a bit. Thanks for coming along!]

5/5: no. 15

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The universe is a collection of gestures. Body leaning toward body. Tilting away. Curling in, breathing out, connecting gaze to gaze, negotiating what’s between us.

Once, my father showed me how to draw the spaces between letters. Color in the curves and angles, and shift your eyes just right — meaning rises up from the page. It was magic.

[Note to me:]

Strive for this: stretch into the between-space. Find spark. Make heat, seek light, tilt face to sun, slide into the cool of shadow, remember to be curious. Polish the dull until a shine begins to show. Seek out a quiet place and sit. Make something from nothing much.

5/5: no. 14

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Five minutes: bringing attention to yesterday’s memory.

We stuff snacks into a bag, wrap cold packs around a two-thirds full bottle of Pinot gris. Mason jar of lemonade. Sunscreen slather. Low lawn chairs and leashed dog, kid-scramble let loose into the Eurovan back seat, and we’re off to the river on a Friday afternoon.

The nephew is at first entirely outraged at our chosen site. There will be no crawdads or enough digging, he is certain. He hurtles across the grass in protest, scales a tree to sulk. It’s hard to have expectations dashed, even a little, when you’re seven.

Soon enough, he is back — lured by cousin and hidey holes, a bag of plastic backhoes and monster trucks, lapping river.

A canoe slides by, carrying a young woman with a tiny poodle between her knees and a green parrot on her shoulder. The craft is steered by her likely lover, button suspenders stretched over his naked torso.

We drink the wine from Dixie cups. A crawdad scuttles through the shallows. We can feel the kids exhale into summer and their world of partnership and skirmish.

Tomorrow is the longest day of the year.

5/5: no. 13

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Found: five minutes.

Train whistle wail. Hammer staccato in the backyard (our chicken coop commences). Rushing whisper of passing traffic, someone stayed late at the office, missed dinner, late for happy hour. Overlapping evening birdsong — the triple-coo of mourning doves, shrill single whistles, chirps. Just there, the whine of the tablesaw (see above). Kids playing in the street.

Today was so full. Swallowtail butterflies, a probable fox sighting, kingfisher hovering and then smashing down through the surface of the river, bounty claimed. And two wee, dotted fawns. The girl-child performed her trademark “Duck Dance” in the park. My applause was genuine. We went to the library and got greedy at the shelves.

And then, home. I hinge my hopes for quiet hour on two things: our library card, and hammocks. If I could recommend one single thing to parents of small children, it would be this — do everything you can to teach them to read for pleasure. It is a two-way magical gate. I absolutely roll around in the luxuriousness of an hour of quiet. I would name a milkshake after the delight of time reclaimed with zero guilt, pure confidence. Call it, The Reader’s Delight. Slurp it up through a bendy straw, because it is the saving grace every day. And not just because I get those minutes to do … whatever I want. (Like read.) But because she comes away loving something new, every single time. Thirsty for the world, and gulping it down. Right now, she’s teaching herself to speak Giant. Like, actually learning the language of Giants, as recorded by the author. Today she asked me, “Where is the small sheep?” in Giantese.

And then we get to cuddle in her bed after lights out — legs tangled together, her head cupped under my nose, hair smelling like salt and bergamot — and talk about it all. Books are our delicious dessert. Our voyage across the universe and back in time for supper. Our Favorite Thing Ever.

5/5: no. 12

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Five photos, and I see the thread — grids and squares. Order. Tidy lines. Which is interesting, you know? Because, today I practiced accepting the mess. A rare day without deadlines, every project out the door, milk in the refrigerator, hours stretching ahead with no plan. Facing down four pints of raspberries, we baked. The chickens have learned to fly up and out of their box, and so, now, I really do have chickens in my laundry room. I’ll say it again. I have chickens in my laundry room. I discovered a pile of outgoing mail, cards and letters, that never made it past stamps. Remember my issue with Things That Require Stamps? There is yogurt smeared on the dining room rug. I can’t get the sprinkler system to work. Mess, and grace in the face of it.

Five minutes of quiet. Reaching down into the mental snarl of today’s collected bits and pieces, grazing imagined fingertips across the brain-tangle. Twigs, stones, colorful scraps, an assortment of Interesting Snippets. I gather shiny things throughout the day. Words and ideas with a particular glow. Snagging my attention on their barbs.

The Theology of Rest is something to consider. We glorify busy, productivity is king. But what really happens when we pause, drift, daydream? A lot of good. Two years later, and my hair has mostly stopped falling out. My paid writing is better, my mothering less hypervigilant, my library fines fewer.

“We treat rest like a sin, not like the sanity-elixir and ambrosia of creativity that it is … Rest, instead of being something passive, is actually an act of resistance.”

Tell me. How do you resist? Where do you find rest?