Following the last of the winter thaw, Wisconsin's spring of 2018 ignited with a bang. In just shy of a week, brown was overtaken by electric shades of green in all directions. Quiet was drowned out by a chorus of crickets, frogs, and wind that carried the scent of all things growing wildly. The gentle pitter patter or thunderous downpour was a sure indication that mowing would soon be a priority on the exponentially growing list of chores. Just one cycle of the seasons ago, spring meant a walk to the neighborhood coffee shop or farmer’s market without a burdensome winter coat. Now coffee is conveniently and solely brewed 10 steps from bed and the market produce is 10 yards from the kitchen door. I’d like to say these conveniences mean life is slower and simpler now...but it’s not really. In fact, rural farm life is busier and more complicated in many ways...even on our humble plot of land. It’s demands are relentless so long as the sun keeps shining and the rain keeps falling...and harvest is nothing to joke about. As swiftly as spring arose, autumn descended along with the beckoning call to pick, dry, boil and can to ensure that not an ounce of the summer’s energies were wasted. Farming on any scale is not for the faint of heart or hand. This is where slow comes in. Each day requires a mindful walk about the land to hear which elements are speaking the loudest. Rushing risks missing the call to be pruned so that more vital sunlight can find its way to vulnerable fruits struggling to hang on...or the call of the cabbage leaves being silently invaded by stealthy slugs. Simple comes in next. Routines need to be paired down. When too many steps are involved the most vital one risks being overlooked and imminent death might be the consequence of such forgetfulness. When too many activities are added to the schedule, essential rejuvenation time is missed out on which creates a painful domino effect and life becomes infinitely more difficult for the human residents of this shared land. As the vital life force withdraws deeper into Mother Earth, we breathe a sigh of relief. The push is coming to an end for a season and the return of brown and decay means our bodies can rest and the creative life force can be harnessed anew. For me, this is evidenced by words emerging more freely and abundantly. For Tim it means breads, pizzas and pastries are making their way into and out of the oven once again...and our home smells divine. For our girls it means a deeper dive into academics and extracurricular pursuits that align with their heart’s budding interests. In what ways do you embrace the gift of death that autumn and winter bring? I dread the thought of disrupting our seasonal cycles in such a way that we one day find ourselves reminiscing about this gift of death with nostalgia.
He extended a weekend invitation to his wife and four daughters, the kind of invitation you might chuckle or cringe at as a young girl. I cannot recall if I did either. I think, like most of our family outings, I fondly looked forward to the hangout time we would have together. Whatever else was icing on the cake. All I knew about this peculiar invite was that it included our pop-up camper, clothing for mixed weather, plenty of food and snacks including our favorite black and red licorice and oodles of card games. We loaded up into our rather lengthy striped brown and tan van that had pull out bench seats. I can distinctly recall its musty vinyl smell and how I felt riding in it. I recall moving about freely unrestrained by cumbersome car seats and seat belts that are now the most basic requirement for good parenting. My eyes were wide as saucers as I took in the scene upon arriving at our weekend destination...a wooded lot full of downed trees and an abundance of open space to cartwheel and roam free in to our heart’s content. I recall chilly autumn air with just a faint touch of warmth kissing my reddened cheeks. I recall the sound of the pull cord on the old chain saw and the revving motor that spewed out smoky clouds while in use. I recall the large open space in our van growing smaller by the second as we filled it with stacks of freshly cut wood. I recall waking up in the middle of the night to the anxious stirring of my parents as they wrestled with the small heater in attempts to get it to bring some much needed warmth into our freezing cold camper...and then again in the early morning to a mound of snow atop our camper and all around us. In my memory the whole scene lives on as fondly as one of Laura’s fictional tales in Little House in the Big Woods...except we were the Little Camper in the Big Wood Lot. In my memory there was no arguing or fighting. Our ages were still pretty spread out so there was a comfortable buffer between us that seemed to eliminate any need for competition that might creep in later on in life. My mom might recall it differently...but that is the beauty of memory and story...I get to recall it and tell it as it lives on in me. This past Saturday I invited my husband to be my date at a fancy ball of sorts. It was a lovely occasion and might have stood out in my younger years as the preferred venue for a ball with the preferred attire. Last night and this evening when I learned that he would be chopping and stacking wood, I eagerly rearranged my schedule so that I could help. I am not sure if it was the familiar roar of the chainsaw, the methodical slicing through the dense wood, the sound the logs make as one gets stacked upon another, the campfire fueled by the brush and plethora of irregular woodcuts, our girls running around in the crisp autumn air with the waxing full moon in the backdrop or the feeling I had toward my spouse that in that moment that things were just right...but it all came back...that invitation to the Woodcutter’s Ball decades ago. I thought to myself that if I had to choose, the Woodcutter's Ball is the one for me. It felt like it was yesterday and my heart swelled with an unexpected gratitude for that moment in time then...and this moment in time now. Thank you dad for all of the ways you included us in the experiences that were meaningful to you then so that they can give meaning, depth and a simple richness to our lives now. I love you to that waxin g moon and back.
Tonight was one of those nights that felt close to perfect...minus the parts that weren’t so perfect. I’m going to focus on the near-perfect for now cuz I’d like our nights to feel this way more often and I have a quiet hunch that focusing on them will help toward that end. I think the weather shift was forcing some old shit out and opening the way for something new to come in. Dinner was yummy, peaceful and fun. We all seemed to have happy moments in our day to highlight...new treads on the truck, an audition that led to a favorable outcome, fantasies about a limo ride to the Dells paid for by the Brownies!, and an invitation to a gala. Red licorice chased dinner followed by dancing to everything from Bruce Springsteen to one of my all time favs, John Denver. Watching our youngest bust her fancy moves while slow dancing with our firstborn to "Rocky Mountain High" while reminiscing about her birth in a Colorado spring snowstorm and all the ups and downs we have experienced since...I felt my heart flutter as tears rolled down my face taking it all in...allowing myself to feel it all...especially the gratitude part for the triumphs over the tribulations. My heart was full and life felt pretty perfect in that moment. The remainder of eve following had its moments of turbulence with the usual resistance to bed time, testing technology boundaries, and an emotional meltdown when the boundary didn’t melt. I pulled away from my usual engagement and gave room for reflection and contemplation. The outcome was better than expected and left us all seemingly wiser. Now I’m going to sign off from this nearly perfect night and go to bed. It’s significantly later than a bedtime I cannot seem to keep. I will work on perfecting that another night. For now, goodnight!
Sometimes I grow weary of my unwillingness to self discipline. Perusing social media makes me feel depressed and lose site of the blessings in my own life and objectifies others as something to be jealous of vs. seeing them as beings who have lived complex lives and overcome a myriad of challenges and obstacles to be where they are today. I want to stop but don’t know how. I have fallen prey to something beyond my ability to comprehend right now. I’m filled with jealousy and envy and it’s toxic to my very well-being. What is the best remedy? Remove the apps? How else will I communicate what is of value to me? Does it matter that I try to communicate such things anyway? I see others living in beautiful homes, adventuring in the coolest of places, along side of the most interesting companions with the world's smartest and most talented offspring, contributing the most valuable things to the world. It’s nearly impossible to measure up. What would happen if I removed them? Who would know me? Who would care? I love to write but I hate the idea of putting things out there that spark the same internal processes that I find to be so toxic. Why do we keep going with this poisonous habit? For the shred of good it offers...the moments of intermittent connection, the nostalgic ties to the past which I might argue are more harmful than good by how these reminders make my poor heart feel. I frequently find it to be detrimental to my psychological and spiritual well-being yet find myself returning to it for the crumbs it gives me in exchange for my vital life force. Images are powerful. They have the power to communicate so much so quickly. It’s equally as interesting to contemplate all that we choose to eliminate from a picture. Words force our minds to slow down, process, digest, own or release depending on their inherent value to us. What would happen if I stopped posting? Who would miss out? Who would gain? Me, my girls, my spouse? Those I would take the time to call or make the time to see instead? My introverted tendencies have found a way to engage when I might otherwise keep to myself. But does this engagement serve any purpose beyond giving me a false sense of connection? We...I...try to freeze a moment in time as if simply living it is somehow not enough. The joy of a moment is ours...and shared is ours multiplied...but somehow when it gets “posted” for the world at large something of it gets lost, cheapened for all that another might deduce of that slice of life we provided for them to make shit up about. It’s the journey leading up to the moment that we truly hold near and dear and that we see in the images we personally snap and freeze in time. When someone else looks they can only see the exact moment in time from the vantage point we have opted to freeze...and make up the rest according to their own world view and whatever fits with their beliefs and patterns of thinking. It’s really a crazy thing that we have grown to value a two dimensional screen and the things it communicates to us more than we value the present moment in time we are actually living in and experiencing...the beating of our heart, the pulsation of blood and vital life force coursing through our veins, life giving oxygen flowing into and out of our lungs, the simple raw feeling of being in our bodies living the lives we have been gifted to live.
I cannot see myself as separate from the natural world that surrounds me. It is not dependent on me as I am on it. I possess tremendous power to create and cultivate or dismantle and destroy by the choices I make. I fall prey to fatigue and laziness causing me to rationalize my decisions. My children and their own will bear the consequences of these rationalizations. This is a hard reality to face and inspires me to hold myself more accountable to living green and motivating and educating others to do the same.
This moment I am in right now is sweet...sweet because I have set a boundary. Life has tossed me to and fro enough that I have finally had enough of certain things to the point of putting my foot down. It’s an inside outside job. I have spent many a year falling prey to comparisons and finding myself coming up short. It’s generally my own self assessment that determines another to be better than me...or another's experience of life to be somehow better than my own. It has been a painful, abusive, devaluing way of treating myself. In this sweet moment I feel acceptance and self-forgiveness for the pain this habit has caused me...and in doing so feel somewhat freed of its possessive hold on me. Simultaneously I feel done with allowing anyone outside of myself to do the same. I have lost my tolerance for it. I feel this new tender but firm “no” inside that time will serve to strengthen provided I persist in vigilance and firmness in my word. I pray for clarity of sight and assertion of voice. Thank you.
Jesus, you gift each of us with a unique journey. My deepest sorrow and greatest joy result from traveling this journey with you. That is the way of the cross. It is the agony and the ecstasy. I spend many a moment contemplating and trying to be faithful to the course while simultaneously wishing desperately I had been gifted with someone else’s travel plans. My current life is a result of hundreds of choices made while trying to be true to your call. My deepest inner conflict comes from the gnawing feeling that I somehow heard you wrong or went off track and did my own thing. I pray to be at peace with the choices I have made thus far and for a deep inner peace to accompany present and future choices.
Taking the time for me is as essential as breathing. When I don’t, life closes in and results in suffocation. I clammer and claw at whoever and whatever is around me gasping to hold on to a bit of myself. Our girls, my spouse, my job, our home all seem to scream out louder for attention...but the quiet voice within me screams the loudest of all when I don’t pay attention to it’s quieter hum. It screams in the dissatisfaction of all the other voices around me cuz apparently they all take notice. At first listen, they seem to be yelling at me to attend to them...but a closer more careful listen reveals they are truly sounding the call that I have ignored within myself...or simply not prioritized. I hear you. I’m listening now. I’m sorry for giving you a deaf ear.
When I was a child, chores made sense to me only in that things needed to be done so I had to do them just as much as anyone else. The extrinsic reward was an allowance. The intrinsic reward was my inherent love for order and beauty...and things returning to their rightful place. The guarantee of a warm smile and equally warm fuzzies from my mom was the icing on the cake. Since we bought our farmhouse my love for this ‘busywork’ (as my daughters call it) has grown as well as the sheer volume of it. I fondly renamed weeding “dirt therapy’. As I dug my hands in the dirt this evening to pull out the relentless weeds, I contemplated the generations of moms before me who spent countless hours faithfully doing the same task. It dawned on me that they ‘got’ the metaphorical value of these activities. In this moment I understood that weeding and other routine chores is a cleansing ritual or spiritual practice of sorts for the common householder. Cleaning windows cleanses our perspective and holds the potential for a whole new outlook on life. Scrubbing floors and baseboards purifies and solidifies our foundation. Digging in the dirt reminds us to dig deeply within ourselves to extricate the growth of things that do not serve our essential purpose. Little did I know back then how wise my mama was and what she was really up to when she religiously returned to her windows and weeds and trained us to do the same. It feels like a rite of passage and an emergence of wisdom to have unearthed the deeper significance of these common earthly practices. Thank you.
"If you know how it feels then why don’t you do it differently?" Ouch. The truth hurts...especially when spoken by your own child. She wanted time with me. She doesn’t want to have to share. I get it. Boy do I get it! Her younger sister screams louder and persists longer in demanding my attention...so she wins. It’s not fair to her and I know that as well as any. Being the oldest of five I totally understand what having to share feels like. Does anyone ever emerge from childhood feeling like they got enough love? I knew my parents loved me...but knowing you are loved and feeling like you are filled up to overflowing are different things altogether. I want to make it a priority to give both of my girls a balanced and rich experience of time with me. I humbly ask for help with this.
I'm Kelly Isabelle.
Full-time workin' mama & spouse aspiring to live a slowly paced, sustainably minded, creatively expressed, clutter-free life shared with kindred folk.