After my last post I thought I’d take a break from blogging for awhile.

Too boring. Too depressing.

But.

Today my youngest made me laugh more than once and it feels like worth documenting, at least to me.

Every week his preschool teacher assigns the kids a job: line leader, meeting leader, in-school cleaner-upper (I like this one), etc.

One of the jobs is called Backpack.

Backpack means you get to take a cheery red backpack home for a week. In the Backpack there is a Snowy Owl. The job is to take care of the Owl and take him with you on your adventures.

This is very exciting.

On the way home, M told me that Snowy Owl would like to have some hot cocoa today.

Really? The Owl wants hot cocoa?

Oh yes, Mama. He really wants some hot cocoa.

Why?

Because he is very, very thirsty.

Well, combine an owl’s thirst with a chilly, darkish cloudy but it just might turn into a sunshiney day, and that’s good reason for hot cocoa in my opinion.

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We proceeded to have an Owl and Hot Cocoa Party.

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Cups were drained.

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Afterwards, the owls decided to take in some sun on the deck.

Unfortunately, M sustained an injury while the owls were resting.

Mama! I have splinters in my butt!

Deep Breath.

Really? What happened?

I don’t know! I was sitting here playing here with these friends when I got splinters in my butt!

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Me, speechless. These garden gnomes were living in the Garden until recently. Evidently they are up to no good this season.

I checked out the so-called splinter area and observed zero splinters. So that was good. We went on to pick up his big brother from school, hang out at the local playground, and came home to read books, grump about dinner options and share the sweetest stories about first grade and trading notes.

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That’s it, readers. Good night.

Care for hot cocoa?

As my long-time readers are well aware, my sister’s death in the year 2005 paralyzed me in many ways. I was deeply sad, but I was also angry. I was angry that clocks kept ticking, and I resented people who kept being normal. They kept shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. They kept on saying good morning and wearing life is good T-shirts. They kept running, practicing yoga and smiling. They kept getting on planes and working and drinking and sleeping and eating. They did all sorts of things which I, in fact, used to do, too.

How dare they?

It was stunningly difficult to move forward, or on, or through it all, so I didn’t for a awhile. It’s been eight years, and I still find myself deeply grieving her, but I keep shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. I keep doing all sorts of stuff.

I wrote those words about a week ago, but I didn’t hit publish.

I’m not sure why loss was on my mind so much last week. It seems like a lot of people are dying unexpectedly, or earlier than they were intended to. When my sister died I crashed into a grief process that didn’t allow me to check back into life for a long time. Many people reached out bravely and warmly to comfort our family, but all I could think was they don’t understand. They don’t know. They can’t know. Others stumbled over their words, intending to offer condolences but instead made a mess of things. Sometimes the best intended words made me just laugh. The belief that my sister was now in a better place seemed (and seems) to me the most preposterous idea of all… you’d be surprised how often I heard those words, despite the truth that she was 28 years old and more alive than most of us.

You know what they say about good intentions. Well, it turns out that intent is often irrelevant. It flies in the face of truth. This is why people say they didn’t “mean” it when they use a vulgar expression or a shameful term… they don’t “intend” to hurt someone or enrage an entire community. But it happens, all too often.

The unreal thing about grief is that most of us do get through it, pretending to be normal while tending to both those who acknowledge our loss as well as those who ignore it. Practical tasks like eating and bathing may save us from drowning in the “sinking sand” of loss, as my youngest calls quicksand, and if we are lucky we are lifted up both by grace and by a profound strength that we never envisioned having or needing.

Death brings to mind the randomness of humanity, because I don’t think every thing happens for a reason. Depending on the circumstances into which we were born, we may eat, bathe, work, move, rest, want or learn – or do none of these things in a healthy way. Emotionally, too, life’s a bit of a crap shoot. Many of us hail from strong and supportive families, but many of us are also born into a dysfunctional mess, a recipe made up of mixed up relatives + complex life stuff. Add in hormones and aids I like to call mood-makers, and you’re bound to have issues.

[Sidenote: mood-makers may include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, running, sugar, caffeine, drugs, music, silence. I like to practice all of them, some more moderately so than others. What are your mood-makers?]

Last week I read about a woman who died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving behind three young children, her husband and countless friends.

Three days ago I was 39.

Now I am 40.

Rather than dreading another birthday, I am absolutely ready to take on another decade. My 30s were tough. And beautiful. And horrible. I was newly married when my sister was killed. My life, upended, changed for the worse. I didn’t know me anymore. I didn’t know my family – our dynamic of five changed abruptly to four, and we weren’t ready. I cried constantly, shook with fear, and doubted my place in the world.

Running helped. As much as I could get myself out the door, I used to go out for five and six and seven miles, meandering through the neighborhood and occasionally on a trail. If I hadn’t gone outside, I might never have left my room, that first year after my sister died.

[Sidenote: we adopted an energetic eight-week-old Lab puppy three months after her death. He was practically a service dog. Puppies don't wait for you to feel better before they get a walk. Eight years later, he is a more mellow version of his puppy self and he brings me this incredible joy - his sweet big eyes are full of love and compassion. I highly recommend puppies as a remedy to sadness.]

To celebrate turning 40, I signed up to run 13.1 miles with a close friend. I hadn’t trained adequately, but the race was flat and scenic. Incredibly, it didn’t start raining until ten minutes after I’d finished. Around mile 10 my body was pretty much done, and my phantom broken toe was burning (stupid faux injury that I can’t seem to get rid of), but I kept going. The final mile hurt, and so I lifted my thoughts to those spirits who could help: my sister, my grandfather, my friend Dominguin. I asked them to be my angel wings.

I ran for my sister, silently, because she is gone and yet not gone.

I also ran for the woman who is lying in a hospital bed right now fighting for her life after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike.  She is a family friend, runner and cyclist. She is broken, but she is healing.

I ran for me.

Within us we all have this enormous power to heal.

Slowly and painfully the final mile ticked by, and it was over. I could stop running. A kind volunteer handed me this medal.

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Angel wings.

I started to cry.

So life goes on. I am 40, and I am ready for another full (and fulfilling) decade, or at least just enjoy today, and I feel good about that. I’ve got much to look forward to, plus an incredible family, a wonderful new job, amazing friends and a home in a beautiful part of the world. I went home after the run to party with my boys. 

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I don’t know exactly where my path will lead over the next ten years (or even tomorrow), but I sure plan to be on the trail.

In gratitude.

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it’s my party, i can cry if i want to

I’m a bad mom. I yell too much and daydream about spending a week (or seven) on a Mexican beach BY MYSELF with alarming frequency. I sleep well in a hammock, enjoy light clothing and speak Spanish, so it’s terribly tempting. The sound of the ocean weakens, or prevents, my anxiety issues from taking over better than prescription medication or running six miles can do, although those are excellent strategies. I used to keep a journal – in writing, private-style, not a blog – and some of my truest thoughts came into view as I sat silently and listened to the crash of the surf, cool and salty, rippling gray to deep green to dark silver blue, and wrote down what I was thinking in front of the ocean, sometimes while chasing the sunrise.

Now I just listen to the crash of two small people as they tumble and roar through our landbound house. This afternoon I asked the older one why, why, WHY for the love of all that is good and holy (to quote a friend) he cannot get along with his brother, when he doesn’t fight with his friends, and in fact, has developed some sweet, respectful, funny and heartwarming friendships over the past few years.

His response was immediate. It went something like, Well, I get along with my friends because MY FRIENDS don’t break my stuff and MY FRIENDS don’t punch me when they get mad and MY FRIENDS don’t say mean words and MY FRIENDS don’t get too much into my space.

Okay. I nodded. I heard him.

Then later in the day there were these moments and even stretches of time when they played together and made each other laugh and think and smile and I was all like yeah I have these awesome kids before one of them started in again causing me to intervene at some point and use my strategies and my words and then finally YELL.

And then one of them — twenty minutes later – looked at me in his room and apologized. Like a real apology. Not one that I encouraged or invited or forced. Taken aback, we enjoyed a real nice hug and a smile. God I love these kids.

Earlier in the day, the same kid was playing with these tiny soccer player guys in the basement. I mentioned that there were a few more players upstairs, and he nodded.

Mom, would you be a dear and go and get them for me?

I could hear his teacher’s words echoing in his mind… and so I said of course, I would be happy to help.

Later, he asked his brother to bring him a toy from their shared room, and the little one accomodated (he likes to be a helper, especially on his own terms).

Big brother smiled and whispered to me: it’s like I have a tiny servant.

Seriously? I thought.

He did thank his brother for the delivery service.

My boys are keeping it real, thanks. All those Christmas letters (that I adore receiving – really) detailing evidence of the joy and dreamlike state in which the new babies and adorable toddlers on Santa’s laps provide for their parents make me cringe a little, tear up a little, and fake holiday cheer a little. It’s so not all adorable when one’s three going on thirteen year old tells you that he doesn’t love you anymore because I made him hold my hand in the parking lot after he took off in a public space. He deliberately did not mind me, and I confess to threatening — in calm, kind voice — to have to put him on a leash like a dog if he continued to run away from me. He burst into tears and said he didn’t want to be on a leash like Coppi (our dog).

You know those kid leashes, right? I’ve seen the occasional child on a leash at a grocery store or the county fair. I’ve thought they were horrible, and now my kid’s almost four and I absolutely get why people use them!

I’m not going to put him on a leash. The threat is already out there, folks. But if he takes off on me one more time I am… I am… I have no idea right now what I’m going to do. I’m sure there are like a thousand books out there like How To Not Get Your Kid To Run Away From You Even Though It’s A Fun Game For Him And Scary And Frustrating For You, but quite frankly I don’t want to use the Google to find them right now. I’d rather vent, and I love this space where I can put words out there and let it go.

Have a great night, especially you parents as we approach this magical time called Bedtime.

P.S. Here’s a glimpse of my non-minding child during swim lessons. He’s cute, because otherwise we’d have serious problems.

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And P.P.S. This is the photo Miles selected to send into the Lego Contest. If he wins, he gets $100 in Legos! He is super excited even though I’ve cautioned that there are likely to be many, many other six-and-seven-and-eight-and-thirty-nine-old-Lego-contenders participating in the competition.

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Tumble and Roar

Dragon Love

Yesterday afternoon my husband and I were trying to have a fairly serious and relevant-to-our-life conversation.  During the attempted ten minutes of meaningful dialog, one or both children interrupted each of us approximately every fifteen seconds.

Frustrated, my husband asked, Why is it impossible for your mother and I to have a conversation without being interrupted every freakin’ minute?

Our oldest son thought for a moment before responding, Because we’re always around? 

Tell him what he wins, friends.

It was one of those more or less typical Saturdays except that it opened with a 9:30 am birthday party at a jumping castle place outside of the city. I brought both boys and appreciated their ability to jump, slide and climb gigantic inflatables for an hour before juice and cake were consumed well before noon. My husband “took the morning off” from all of us while we were out of the house.

Later, my kids stomped around in the backyard for an hour or so while I warned them not to step in poop. It’s been a drizzly week or so and we haven’t tracked our dog’s comings and goings very closely.

Then I took them to the movies (wow, this is a really scintillating post).

This time it wasn’t The Lego Movie. There was no popcorn, a fact that would surface afterward as a negative. We attended a free filming of Khumba, a South African family film in which a deeply insecure half-striped zebra sets out to find a magical water hole in order to find his missing stripes. The movie was part of the 24th Cascade Festival of African Films and took place at the community college down the road. This very sweet Lion King-ish tale was well attended and received. While our oldest son totally got it, our youngest sort of understood the story but really, mostly liked it when I slid him a lollipop an hour into the film. He wasn’t heavy enough to make the folding movie seat sit down so he sat in my lap for the entire duration of the film.

Then we went home.

Yesterday our youngest said something that I swore to myself I’d remember — it had to do with love and turtles — but I can’t remember now. It was very sweet, though, trust me.

This is important because I tried to remember that he had been very sweet every time he crossed me after the movie… his “NO” echoing loudly when I asked him do something… anything… and then I decided to take an hour or so “off” from the family. Fortunately his father was home at the time.

Our conversations with the boys have been varied and entertaining, a saving grace for when I’ve had it up to HERE with one or both of them lately. Our oldest was very excited when an image of Nelson Mandela came across the screen prior the movie. Mr. Mandela came up in conversation later, rather unexpectedly.

Me: You know, Miles, your eyes are very pretty. You have very long eyelashes.

M: Do people ever cut their eyelashes?

Me: No, I don’t believe so. 

M:  No one? 

Me: No, it’s nice to have long eyelashes, actually.

M: Not even Nelson Mandela? Nelson Mandela didn’t cut his eyelashes?

And later:

(riding bikes today) Me: M, you know before you were born your dad and I used to go for a bike ride and we called it a “love ride”. 

M: Really? Can you and I have a love ride? 

Me: Sure.

M: Right now? Like this can be a love ride? 

Me: Ok. 

M: Ok, watch out for this tricky part. I’m super fast. I have a lot of breath in my body, too.

We proceeded to love ride around the park several times. He’s getting so big, and I’m glad for it. I don’t miss the baby days. If I’d been blogging back then I can’t imagine the posts would have been coherent. I do have a special place in my heart for parents of babes, though, babes in arms that humble and adore you 24 hours a day. I remember the way in which my husband could hold our babies, football-style, their big bright eyes calmly looking around the room while resting in his arms. I know well the aches of nursing or sleeping in a particularly uncomfortable position because that’s what made the child eat or sleep, and it was worth it. I no longer research the “best stroller” or “best carseat” or “best baby carrier”… we have moved onto soccer cleats and bicycles and backpacks. I read once about the so-called “latency” period of parenting… ages six through eleven… past unsleeping baby/terrible toddler land and yet not into teenage drama. I get that… we’re in it, at least with one… it’s rather wonderful and funny and definitely keeps me on my toes.

Later, the big guy spent a good hour drawing dragons in a plain old notebook he’d found somewhere.

M: Mom!

Silence.

M: Mom!

Me: Yes? 

M: Come here! Do you want to see Whispering Death? 

Me: What?

M: Whispering Death!

I had no idea what he was talking about, but it seemed like I had no other option but to go see. Turns out that Whispering Death is a dragon. Here he is.

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I also examined this guy:

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Discussing, spelling and drawing dragons was a pretty neat way to spend a few minutes,  in a focused way that perhaps only a six-year-going-on-seven-year-old can do. As we wrap up our more or less normal weekend, I look forward to the week ahead, and perhaps another love ride or two.

Snow Day

Real live snowflakes landed in our backyard gingerly at first, feathery, light. We all watched as they began to swirl, creating a blanket of white before our eyes. Over the weekend the boys and I built a very small snowman, a sad thing really. They learned to roll snowballs and had no trouble pelting each other (below the waist, I pleaded) again and again as the sun fell over the past two nights.  

Youngest child: I’m Hiccup! Battling the Night Fury! No! I’m Toothless! Where is my Daddy? I’m Good! This is the Dark Side! I’m Kai! You’re a Ninja! No, I’m a Ninja! I need a helicopter! and a race car!

Back inside, the older one closed his eyes, sitting criss-cross applesauce, and meditated for approximately 20 seconds.

Youngest child: You are the gun guy! 

Me: She is not a gun guy. This is an Olympic event called the biathlon. Children observed the television. 

Oldest child: How can I get one of those shooters? I need one, Mom. Is that like archery? Awesome.

We discussed the athletes from Sweden and Russia and Italy and the United States. Flags and snow and language and speed. We braved the cold to take public transit to the movies yesterday. Go see The Lego Movie! It was a perfect foil to a morning spent out in the weather. This morning the ice crunched, brittle beneath our boots. Our little snow man stood humbly, rather melancholy and refusing to melt. 

We sang “Everything is Awesome” until the boys started fighting and we made them take turns jumping on a mini trampoline. I taught my oldest to do a plank and made him agree to write Valentine’s for the girls in his first grade classroom — VERY grudgingly, he did so. They are shark Valentines. We’ve worn pajamas and snow gear and little else since Friday morning. The youngest was super happy to wear the tiniest boxer shorts ever made all day. Cold feet don’t bother me, he explained as I asked him to wear socks in our drafty house for the fourth time. 

The snow began to transform into freezing slush on the third day. Icicles are drip-drip-dripping from the eaves. Determined neighbors trudged along the sidewalk carrying grocery bags and six-packs of local brew. One woman cross-country skied down our sidewalk pulling a not-that-small child in a bright red sled. She did not look like she was having fun. We drank hot cocoa and ate too many homemade cookies that I pretended were healthy because of Oatmeal. The oldest begged for more I-pad time, but we managed to keep it to a minimum without too much fuss. He practiced tying his shoes, a skill has turned out to be incredibly challenging for him to master. 

It has been a good weekend. I wasn’t supposed to be in town, but the weather won and I stayed home. Now I just hope that school is open tomorrow!

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Did we kill our furnace?

I wish I could blame it on the Polar Vortex, but we’re not a part of the latest big weather phenom. I’m upstairs waiting for the repair guy to call up and confirm that we’ve killed our furnace.

Brrr.

I’m home with one kid on sick day # 3 watching Toy Story 2 for the second time. I’ve made grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and monitored its intake while noting doses of Tylenol and Ibuprofen given according to the tiny lettering on the bottles. He prefers cherry to orange. Teaspoons of straight up honey for the cough are well received. Interestingly, the sick kid’s big brother called home from the principal’s office claiming that he had a stomach ache mid-morning. He didn’t have a fever, though, so he was sent back to class and I haven’t received another call.

My fingers are crossed for both capital-H Health and capital-H Heat.

Our boys are healthy kids. The eldest in particular rarely goes down for the count, and he hasn’t missed a single day of school this year. I honestly can’t remember the last time he felt ill. The youngest, hit hard this time, is actually easier to handle sick than well. He’s noticeably subdued physically and emotionally. Last night, he fell asleep at 6:00 pm on the sofa. After brief wake up calls for water at 6 am, he’s slept until 9 am for the past two days, and I wonder if this is what it’s like to have a teenager (the sleeping in, I mean).

During the morning he gave pretend shots to Angry Birds on the floor because they were sick, too. When his fever finally dropped to 99 a few hours ago, he sang a quiet song.

99, 99, 99….I am 99…

Then it spiked again, and he grudgingly took some more Tylenol before settling down with Buzz and Woody.

The repair guy had been here for over two hours when I peeked in the furnace room. I’m way out of my element here. I don’t understand the language of forced air and breakers and venting and duct work and atomizing burners.  More than lack of understanding, I don’t even like it. I resent not understanding HVAC terminology, and it’s even more humbling given my husband’s cold sober expertise in energy efficiency.

I nodded solemnly as the guys explained to me what’s wrong with our furnace. He used words like Sludge, Old, and Dirty. I felt guilty. Why did we buy this old house anyway? The guy shook his head as he bent beneath the industrial light and stopped talking.

The whole situation made me mad. He was clearly frustrated with my limited filter inspection and cleaning skills, but hello? This is his job. We are paying him to do this. A lot. I don’t know how much of our check he takes home, but it’s not like I wanted our furnace to overwork itself into nonfunction. Some of us are too busy unintentionally doing that to ourselves.

A few years ago I facilitated a small group talk on overwork, overuse and burnout. We were speaking metaphorically, and within an office environment. But I understand now that overwork and burnout are possible in every area of our lives if we’re not careful.

Careful = full of care. I frequently tell my boys to be careful as they spring and sprint in circles around the playground. They call out yes, Mom! and then proceed to throw themselves down a hill. I instruct my husband to be careful as he leaves to go run errands in the car or on his bike. He always says, I will, and I feel better.

Today I am less worried about crashing and collision than I was several years ago. I know that jumping and running sometimes causes falling and tumbling. I’ve seen my boys bruise and bleed, mend and heal, and tended them with Band-Aids and kisses. But I do try to prevent their burning out on me, melting down in tears in that final hour before bed. If they do so, I understand they’ve done too much, absorbed too much, and need a long quiet break before they do it all over again the next day.

God knows I tend to my kids better than I’ve tended to (very important) things like a furnace. I felt just the teeniest bit irresponsible as I ensured the repair guy that we will schedule annual maintenance from now on (we just missed one year, for heaven’s sake), and he didn’t charge me for overtime. But the visit ended on a positive note when our dog scrambled downstairs to meet him on the way out. Turns out that the repair guy has two large dogs – a Lab-Rottweiler mix and a German Shepard – that collectively weigh over 200 lbs. Our Lab made friends, turned the repair guy’s mood right around, and we all parted amicably.

Sigh. This repair visit went WAY better than the one that resulted in a two thousand dollar toilet. But that’s another story.

Now to tend to my little one, who’s fighting that fever again.

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A book and a spade

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero was a Roman philosopher and writer who lived about one hundred years before the birth of Christ. I came across his words quite by accident and found they were exactly what I needed today. My boys spent time digging in the empty garden beds this afternoon, turning the soil, unknowingly preparing the beds under a bright sun and beneath a gentle breeze. We are several weeks away from putting anything into the earth, but the faux-spring day gave way to dreams of fragile pea shoots, tiny tomato plants and snips of fragile green stretching toward the sun. 

Our past several garden projects have provided the complement to most summer meals rather than grounded them. Perhaps this year we’ll change that by designing the meals to highlight the fruits and vegetables of our labor. While I’m not a naturally adept gardener, the climate here is magic in its capacity to bring seeds to life with minimal effort. Also, I like this: 

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. 

~ May Sarton

Ms. Sarton was speaking of gardening through grief. 

When Cicero was 61 years old, his daughter died shortly after giving birth to his grandson. He wrote, 

I have lost the one thing that bound me to life.

Later, he claimed to have read everything that Greek philosophers had written about overcoming grief, and decided that his sorrow defeats all consolation.

This man, who lived so long ago, knew what one continues to learn through the journey of grief today – that one doesn’t typically overcome grief; instead our heart is modified so that unwelcome loss is tucked inside its strong and hollow fist of muscle. 

As for a library, our house seems rather bare since we tucked hundreds of books into boxes a few months ago in preparation for our non-move. I’ve recreated two shelves of children’s books in the boys’ room, ordering them by age and interest.. superheroes, Dr. Seuss, fairy tales, sea creatures, and ninja tales. 

This week we’ve been reading Max’s Dragon by Kate Banks and Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. Both are finds from our local library. Our youngest likes reading about a “different Max” and is tickled by the images of the naked child floating dreamlike through a magical kitchen in which great cakes are mixed and baked. We are big fans of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and In the Night Kitchen has quickly become a favorite with its strange words and make believe images. I learned recently that this particular book was ranked 25th on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.

This makes me like it even more. 

I am never without a book. I read the good stuff and the not so good. It may not be scholarly literature, and it may occasionally qualify as trash, but even trash has a story. I also believe that writing has healing powers. I write here, and on scraps of paper I find at the bottom of my purse. Sometimes I text myself ideas before I fall asleep. Words, mainly, or a simple phrase. I do this to help me remember. Sometime it works but more often I am puzzled by the piece of a mysterious puzzle. I dream, but I struggle to remember my own version of the Night Kitchen… me, wandering nonsensically through time and space, not quite understanding where or why.

So… a library and a garden. I am in continual awe of the variety and richness of Portland gardens. Created in backyards, strips of earth along the side of homes, and in between the house and the road, they are tangles of green and gold, gifting us with their vivid hues of orange and red. Ripe tomatoes hang ruby-like and full, best tasted warm, unwashed, dirt brushed off by expectant fingers.

Right now our beds sit empty, void of life and yet in my children’s focused turning of the soil today there is something of a future there… we will have our garden.

I have my library.

Sometimes there is so much life in my life.

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