I arrived at my friend’s house exhausted from a seven hour drive. What feels different from the last trip is the intensity of emotional work in addition to the changes and transitions going on at home.
Mid-winter is also not an active time of year. That first trip was an adventure and foray into the unknown. Now I know a little more about what I am showing up for. It is also spring, a beautiful, yet busy, time of year.
I remember when I was a young girl my Aunt Marilyn came to visit us on Nicholson St. in Maryland. She drove down from Michigan. I’m sure I spent the day eagerly anticipating her arrival and all the fun we would have together.
When she finally reached us, her first words were, What a drive. I need a nap. She lay down on the couch for a rest as we waited nearby for any indication that nap time was over and she was rested. (Meaning, any sort of movement whatever)
That is how I felt when I arrived. I set a timer and went to my room for a rest. After 30 minutes of quiet I was ready for a walk. We walked to get ice cream.
It felt good to move after a day in the car, and the company was wonderful. We walked and talked and chose our ice cream.
When I saw Tin Roof Sundae was an option, I knew I had found my choice. There are several stories there about me and ice cream sundaes and where Tin Roof Sundae ice cream enters my story. I also understand better why Peanut Buster Parfaits are my Dairy Queen weakness.
Now it’s time to rest and write and read and talk and transition into what is coming. I am so grateful for a kind space and for kind people who care for my heart and soul so well.
To all of you who care for, have cared for, are caring for me on this journey, know that I am so grateful and hold you close at heart.
I’m sitting in the car in the rain as husband runs into Food Lion for the last of the groceries after our Saturday Costco trip. On my heart is recovery of teenage self. Literally. My chest keeps tightening and breath catching. That young woman is so lost inside of me.
This week I take one of her stories to certificate 2 training. It’s from the last year she was a teenager, 1990, where she believed her fate was sealed and all hope for choice was gone. It’s where she finally departed herself, shedding any remnants of who she was or might have been for who she was required to be.
I have punished her for that. For years she has borne the brunt of blame for trying to survive. For doing the best she could. For existing.
I’m in a weird space of feeling all of the feelings connected to that part of me as I sort them into their categories. Everything feels way too intense and current. Things that should not be a big deal seem huge. And things that really do loom large, well those feel unbearable.
Today’s 7 stares back from the calendar app on my phone, reminding me that in one month I will be another number away from nineteen. Twenty-eight numbers away, to be exact.
What is this crazy feeling of being so close, yet so far from myself? I hope to find out more this week as I regroup with others as we walk through our stories together.
I am grateful to my family for, once again, holding down the fort and to my friends for cheering me on, as I bravely go where I haven’t before, into another scene from my past.
The ducklings hatched while I was away with a friend last weekend. My husband sent a picture. It was more than I got last year which was a live view of an empty nest with a few broken eggshells. I felt grateful and said as much to him.
Last Sunday evening, I walked Dewey downtown to the water to see what I could see. There were a mama and Mallard wrangling a passel of puffballs. I knew they were mine and kept the dog up on the bridge, away from the activity, watching from a distance.
Late yesterday afternoon, my youngest asked if she and her visiting cousin could walk the dogs. (My firstborn and her husband were in town with the granddog.) I agreed with the caveat that I go with them.
They eagerly leashed the animals and headed outside. I followed close behind.
Can we walk down to check on the ducks?
I allowed them to lead the way downtown. The break in the rainy weather was nice.
From the bridge over the water, we saw a mama and Mallard with three little puffballs. Not far away was a large family of twelve ducklings, tended by their mama and Mallard. Suddenly chaos ensued as one of them wandered too close to the puffballs.
New mama pinned the wanderer to the ground, quacking furiously. With a flurry and flutter of wings, junior’s mama hurried over, giving the protective mama what for for interfering with her offspring. Order restored, new mama returned to her puffballs and the other huffed away with her ducklings in tow.
Following their Mallard, the large family waddled up the hill, leaving behind a straggler, wandering down by the water. When the lone duckling realized he was left behind, a continuous peeping quack escaped his bill as he frantically ran to and fro in the empty space by the water, looking for his family.
It was no use asking new mama for help, though he tried wandering in her direction. She came at him in a fashion that said, I dare you to come closer! Resignedly, he turned back toward the water, still calling for help.
Meanwhile, the large brood had flocked up the hill away from the water towards the parking lot where I was standing,leashes in hand. By this time I had been relegated to dog keeper while the girls sat on a bench watching the duck drama unfold.
Oh no! That duckling is lost! We have to help him!
They proposed the idea of chasing him up the hill, but then the duckling stepped into the water and swam to the rocks on the other side, still peeping and quacking.
I decided to use the dogs to herd the wandering flock back to the water. Leading Dewey and Wren toward the large brood, we watched as they ran back down the hill and stepped into the water. They began to glide toward the duckling, his peeping quacks still out of reach.
Excitedly the girls cheered the family and duckling closer, hoping to witness a reunion. Rain began falling in a light drizzle. I, too, was hoping for reunion and resolution of this duckling drama rather than a lesson in survival of the fittest.
Suddenly there was a burst of speed as the duckling made connection with his family and came flying across the water. Literally. I have never seen a duck swim as fast as this little one who was making a mad dash to reunite with his raft.*
On the shore we cheered, then turned to head home.
I discovered the nest last spring while on a walk downtown. I would have missed it completely, had it not been for the erratic behavior of a male Mallard on a nearby patch of mulch. His frantic quacking and wing flapping engaged my curiosity, inviting me to move towards him.
A low bush stood at the edge of the sidewalk. There’s nothing to see here! quacked the duck, running back and forth. Through an opening in the branches, I noticed a female sitting on her nest. This was the cause of the male’s display. He was trying to divert attention from his mate and her clutch of eggs. Instead, he achieved the opposite.
This discovery brought me joy, as I walked home. Each day following, I made sure to walk past the nest and check on the duck. One day all that remained were empty egg shells. The ducklings had hatched, and were led away by their mama. It happened so fast. I did not even get a peek.
Mama duck is back again.
I noticed her last week on one of my walks. Since then she has been spotted both on and off of her nest. There is a pile of yellow eggs she is incubating, numbering upwards of nine, maybe ten. I am eagerly watching and waiting for the ducklings to hatch.
Maybe I will see them this year. Maybe not. Maybe I will have to pretend, once again, one of the many duck families down by the stream is mine.
The odd thing about this nest location is its distance from the stream. I imagine the mama leading her babies across the street to the grassy patch alongside the Catholic Church and down to the water. I wonder if she has a route planned out already? I wonder if traffic will stop when they cross?
Make Way for Ducklings much? This certainly isn’t Boston!
The rhythm of nature brings comfort to me. When uncertainty abounds, I know I can walk and check on my mama friend, and she will be waiting, just as I wait. She will be there until she is not. One day she will move on to the next thing and lead her ducks to water. I, too, will do the next thing.
Until then I enjoy the gift of another spring with her. I bask in the simplicity of watching Mama Duck feather her urban nest, as I work to feather mine. I lean into believing what I have, an indentation of soft earth, some downy feathers, sheltering branches, simple foods, a break in the twilight hours, is enough.
Spring arrived in a flurry of flakes and in ice crusted to the windshield when I went to pick up the girls from school.
It came to me in a broken off tree branch found and gathered while walking Dewey.
Unexpectedly, catching me off guard, the words Happy First Day of Spring! called to me from my child’s school communication notebook.
The words Due to bad weather schools will be closed tomorrow. flashed on the screen of my phone.
Spring finds me nostalgic and with more space for story. The broken tree branch with its tiny buds brought to mind a memory long forgotten, yet recently stirred. It prompted me to collect, bring home, and place into water not only that branch but two other similar small ones.
I set them in strategic locations around the house to the tune of “BaaaAab!” when Riley noticed.
On the kitchen counter
In my room
Long ago, a little girl received a letter in the mail from her grandpa M. In it she was reminded that spring was on the way, and that it was the perfect time to be watching the tree outside of the living room window for buds. She was encouraged to choose a branch to observe and sketch daily or every few days. This process would help her to slow down and notice Spring’s arrival. The little girl felt special and seen.
The memory remained tucked away in my mind until I was walking and noticed the broken-off branch. I remained curious as to why I would be so interested in the buds opening and why I would want to bring it home to put into water and continue to watch when the memory came flooding back.
It helped me understand why I love the tree in my neighbor’s yard that can be seen from both my bedroom and TV room window where I often sit to think. Lately I have been focusing on the branches and sketching them as I ponder. I understand more why I love it in the fall. The changing branches remind me of the gift of seasons and the passing of time.
Thank you for the gift of a memory, Grandpa. Your words made a big impression on a little girl.
Esther’s knowing eyebrows move up and down rapidly. She says this each time I tell her, or she overhears, that I have eight children. She seems to know what everyone does in their spare time. When a portly man passes us on deck she looks to me and says, I know what HE does in HIS spare time.
Esther is 88 with bright eyes and a foggy mind. Attentive to her appearance, her thin white hair is updone with various clips and combs, topped with a black floppy bow. This gives the appearance of a crown which helps me to remember her name. Queen Esther. The black bow is a fixture of her look each time I cross paths with her.
She introduces herself as Esther the Pester, but I cannot bring myself to call her that as so many passengers do freely. Hey, Esther the Pester! To me she is just Esther.
She is the one who ends up with the heartiest portion of food at our plated dinner each evening. While my plate arrives with a small piece of fish and some steamed vegetables, Esther’s is piled high with pasta, topped with a chicken breast or two.
Oh my, I’ll never be able to eat all of this. Do you want some? This question is rhetorical, as Esther begins cutting into chicken and sliding pasta onto my plate. She comes from a time when it was a sin to waste so much food. I agree that it is wasteful, but how did I end up the starving child that Esther must feed?
I take the food onto my plate graciously, for along with the generous sharing of her food is the generous sharing of the wine she has brought on board. It is not a bad tradeoff. My glass is filled and refilled copiously.
Esther was a beauty in her day, I am told. I believe it. Her eyes still sparkle, and her smile is free. The deep wrinkles on her face give her character and don’t seem dour at all. She, or someone who loves her, is attentive to her appearance. She looks attractive and smart in her dress.
Each night the photostaff takes several pictures of our table. Esther looks lovely in every picture. She really does. This hints that she looked pretty good once upon a time.
I used to live in Hollywood at Hollywood Studios when I was younger. Several other girls who lived there became actresses in movies. I could have, too, but I wouldn’t cooperate. She says this with that up and down eyebrow movement of hers. It’s pretty clear that cooperating would have involved sleeping with someone somewhere along the line.
This conversation took place eight years before its time, back in 2009. The media had not yet exploded with Hollywood (and beyond) sexual harassment allegations. If hashtags were even a thing, they were not yet mainstream. I was just a young woman listening to an old one relate her life experience and a part of her story.
I assure Esther that I’m glad that she didn’t cooperate or we might not be sharing a table on this cruise ship. I have no other words to offer. Only presence. We sit.
If I get ice cream for dessert will you have some? What flavor should I choose?
Something in me senses that Esther is a Butter Pecan kind of girl, which is exactly what I request for her.
A friend recently posted Change is messy as his Facebook status. It quickly became my mantra for this season of transition.
I don’t like change or messy.
A vivid picture of this took place the other evening as I gathered materials to plant the porch planter. It once housed the hibiscus, which has since gone the way of plants who have lived out their time with us. I try not to read too much into its death.
I had an idea in my head of what I would like to try with the pot and began the process of change. Garden gloves on so as not to dirty my hands, I began gingerly scooping soil and piling compost to the side and around the inside edge of the full pot to make room for the new plant.
Oh no, some dirt spilled out onto the porch. I need to find something to scoop the extra soil into. Why can’t I just shove it around in the pot and try to make room for the new plant? I really don’t want to make a mess.
Trying to scoop a deep enough hole for the new plant to fit into the pot properly without spilling any soil out was impossibly frustrating. I didn’t want to make a mess in the midst of potting a plant. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s where I was!
My first attempt at placing the plant revealed the hole to be too shallow. Tempted to just shove it in and make do by heaping soil high around it, I knew that I would regret this decision later. I removed the plant, laid it on its side, and continued to dig deeper.
This is taking too long. I really want to just get it done and enjoy the finished product. Time is ticking!
Often that is how it is with change. We have to wait for it to happen. We have to be in the midst of the messiness. We begin to ache.
Oh, my back! Why does bending and squatting hurt so much more these days?
I stood to stretch and survey the initial result and subsequent mess I had made before beginning the process of sweeping up the remaining soil.
A few days later, the makeshift empty milk jug watering can was replaced by my luvvvah with a new one along with some additional flowers to add to the pot.
Sometimes change is surprising.
Hello, Beautiful Blooms! I am looking forward to watching you grow and change this summer!
This year’s word, Restore, has proven itself surprising in many ways.
One such way happened on Mother’s Day, but not really. Mother’s Day was the culmination of the restoration. It took awhile to process all of the feelings that swirled inside of me that day. After some time and a little bit of quiet, I am able to write.
Last September there was a post titled Seasonal Ritual where I detailed the return to the basement of the porch swing and my feelings about the whole thing. Not long after, I received a message from a dear friend asking about the swing.
She read the post and, having given birth recently and living in the country where there was a porch without a swing and having a baby who needed lots of movement, wondered if she and her husband could pick up mine to borrow for a season if they returned it painted.
I was more than happy to oblige, and my son kindly catered to a request that once again he bring the swing up from the basement to the porch. Soon after, it was gone. I was glad that it was being used and thought no more about it.
Recently, while catching up, my friend noted that her family was moving and that they would no longer need the swing. Sometime it would be returned to my porch. I assured her there was no rush and, again, thought no more about it.
This is what made for quite a surprise when Mother’s Day afternoon found me returning home from planting the planter to finding a painted swing sitting on the porch. There was a thank you note with the swing and the following comment on the blog:
We dropped off your porch swing this afternoon (this is me letting you know, so that in case somehow it isn’t there, we can sort it out!). I noticed the reno, but I also noticed the chair by the door, the beautiful house number plaque, the lantern, and all the pretty flowers growing around the house. I had been having a “wait oh no what if this is the wrong house” moment, until I saw those things–and then I thought, “Nope, this is Julie’s house.” Because of all the beauty in the midst of the mess. Because of all the ways I can see that you intentionally took time to create loveliness, even though it’s not all perfect. Keep up the good work, friend! 🙂 Thanks again for the swing; it provided this new and growing momma with many breathers.
Tears began to flow which morphed into sobs as I read her words affirming all that I was feeling insecure about with regards to my house and all that is unfinished and messy. The fact that the swing returned to me on Mother’s Day was also significant, and my heart opened to the magnitude of that gift.
The following weekend, my luvvah made a trip to Lowes for supplies and hung the swing for me. I love it.
It’s a question asked and replied to the days following Mother’s Day, and now, a week later, I have some space and time to think about it and respond. How was it?
It was a different sort of day this year.
My husband, father of the ones who call me Mother, rose early to drive two hours to Richmond to meet up with a daughter for breakfast. After breakfasting with and seeing her off to work, he met up with another daughter and her husband who had kept our two youngest for the weekend. They went to church together and spent the afternoon before he drove home with the little girls, arriving in the early evening.
I woke to a quiet house and an apple fritter on the table to eat with my coffee before church. There was also a jar of homemade bath salts from my youngest and some lavender bath soak from my husband. Obviously, that is a theme for me and one way that I relax. The donuts left for the three at home with me were a thoughtful touch.
Heading to church with only two children was usual, but good. It’s amazing how the dynamic changes when the mix of people is rearranged. The text from my son’s girlfriend was lovely.
After church, I took my twins to Taco Bell for lunch. Much laughter and silliness and spilling of drinks occurred. Much staring and feeling like I was in the center ring while trying to exercise patience in the moment made for a memorable time with my middle schoolers.
I was thankful to my son for cleaning this spill cheerfully and didn’t feel at all bad that my daughter had gotten a medium, rather than a large, drink.
Moments of laughter and happy children made lunchtime special.
There were kittens at my parents’ house, and since I plant a planter for my mother each year, I decided to go over there and kill two birds. My twins, born two years apart, enjoyed the babies while I enjoyed the soil and sunshine. Win-win.
After quick drive to drop some potted flowers to Steve’s mom, we headed home to rest.
I had high hopes for my quiet time that wasn’t exactly quiet. I tend to build things up in my head and think that there will be SO MUCH TIME to do ALL THE THINGS. I took a quick snooze, and then time was up.
No writing. No finishing reading a book. No soak in the tub or painting of nails. Lots of middle school engagement.
After quiet time my firstborn called and asked if I had seen the gift from her and her husband. They had contributed to my counseling certificate fund. Earlier in the day, I had noticed it shared on Facebook and thought THAT was their gift. A shout out of encouragement. Noticing a financial gift and their words of affirmation made my heart feel full.
Later, another child surprised me with a gift towards my goal, as well. I felt loved that he didn’t just tell me to get a job to earn some extra money, which, by the way, I am also doing in the form of not spending, finding things to sell, and looking for ways to pick up some extra work.
Husband returned with my little girls bearing gifts of chocolate and a gift that my adult daughter gave him for me at breakfast. It was two bottles of purple OPI polish. This was a HUGE surprise and so meaningful. I love having a fun new summer color or two and ALMOST broke down and bought myself a bottle the weekend before. But then I remembered I am saving for my certificate and refrained.
I love being known so well by my kids and appreciated each one’s individual bit of thoughtfulness.
There was one more surprise that came to me on Mother’s Day, but it needs its own post. I am still sorting where it fits in and the magnitude of its meaning to me.
So there’s the long answer to a short question. Mother’s Day was full of love and people and meaning and laughter. All of the good things that it should be enveloped my heart this year, leaving me so very grateful and feeling so very loved.
I seize a moment when the clouds part and sun shines to run outside to the strawberry patch. The ground, softened by days of rain, offers up its weeds with no resistance, though an occasional tiny berry is mixed in and sacrificed to their twisted, choking growth.
Extracting myself from the tasks at hand inside is a challenge, but sunshine, fresh air, and moist soil draw me to the present, and white flowers beckon me to notice them. I stop and breathe, accepting the invitation to a bit of productive stillness.
This is where it started, the inspiration to write for a blog outside of my own, in the strawberry patch. Each year reminds me of that. That, and a number of other things, like the fact that the strawberries were planted by my firstborn when she was still a teenager at home, and the first plants came from my dear friend’s yard before her life took a traumatic turn, exiling her from that home and yard.
There is a fence around the strawberries now. It is a nod to trying to keep the dog from trampling them, but it’s not working very well. Dewey has no problem in leaping with excitement over the low barrier if one of his doggie friends happens to be passing by or if he feels a need to defend his turf.
It is so imperfect, the place that calls me back each year, rising from the ashes, defying proper gardening techniques. Each year I think, I’ll do better at tending this patch and putting it to bed when the season ends. Then I don’t do better. Each year strawberry grace meets me again.
I don’t know what this year’s yield will be or when we will eat our first shortcake or if there will be an attempt at jam. That remains to be seen. What I do know is that today I was met in the strawberry patch with kindness and grace and hope.