anything like a story

It is 6:30 pm, and the kids are gone this weekend. The dryer is humming with the week’s laundry and it’s pouring outside. That summer rain that comes down in buckets through the August heat and washes everything away for a while.

Tomorrow marks 8 weeks that my grandmother has been gone. When my phone rang just after 5am that morning, I knew. I didn’t have to hear what was coming next when I answered my mother’s voice. When I drove over to her house, it was a couple hours later. Mid-morning after a Sunday sunrise, and I listened to Patty Griffin sing all the way there. I can never hear that song again without my eyes stinging and my throat tightening. Open your eyes, boy, we made it through the night. Let’s take a walk on the bridge, right over this mess. 

It always feels like you’ve made it through the night. For a minute. But then you see another one on the horizon, another bridge you have to scale. Grief ebbs and flows. I’m missing her today.

One day, I will stop writing about this. But not today. Not on day 55. I can remember years ago, someone I knew lost her brother to a brain tumor, and her friend said to me that she was hard to talk to anymore. It’s like it’s all she wants to talk about, but eventually, you just have to get over it, you know? But do you? What does “get over it” even mean?

In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood says, “When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it to yourself or someone else.” 

I’m in the middle of my story, and I cannot see my way out yet. But I can see the narrative forming already. I know a day is coming when I will look back and think, remember that time when I was alone and writing, writing, writing my way out of some hole like words were a shovel? Loss after loss and unfamiliar terrain everywhere. Remember that time when I spent Saturday mornings alone in bed with books and words in front of me and ate alone and slept alone and ran my hands along the walls of my unfamiliar grief until I found a light switch?

We are still sorting through her things, little bits at a time. I had an empty afternoon today, so I went to see my Grandad and cleaned a few closets of her clothing. I found my wedding dress in the back of a closet left from a time when I was a newlywed in a little house learning to cook from the back of a Campbell’s soup can, and she had more storage than I did, so I left it there. It seems like some unfamiliar relic when I take a close look at it. All I can think as I see it is if I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.

Today I found, among folded sheets and towels, one of the gowns she wore while home on hospice. It is gray with pink flowers and a slit cut straight up the back so that we could easily keep her clean and comfortable. It still smells like her. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.

But we never know now what we will one day see in retrospect, do we? Some days, I still can’t believe that this is my life, that these are my hours. That this place is where it’s led me.

I miss her so much, but as I look through her things and think about the 35 years I spent with her, I also find myself doing that thing humans always do, missing the way it used to be – all of it. I miss childhood and barefoot summers with afternoons spent in front of the oscillating fan on her living room floor. I miss knowing that she was there in the periphery of my life, like a permanent piece, though of course she was never meant to stay. None of us are. Once you break, you can’t go back. But it’s easy to miss what it felt like to be clean and whole.

I’ve seen art made from shattered pieces of glass, and it’s incredible. It glints and shines and takes a new form so much more interesting and beautiful than something solid and flawless and predictable. I think people are the same way. After you break and put it all back together to something new, you glint and shine in an entirely new way. I’m getting pretty good at knowing if someone has broken before and put themselves back together in a more beautiful way. It’s an obvious glimmer like no other when you learn how to recognize it. My grandmother had it. She broke and put herself back together again and again, and now I get it.

In that same Patty Griffin song, she also sings, It’s hard to live. But I still think it’s the best bet. It’s hard to live. It’s okay that it’s hard. It’s okay to not be okay. I know all these things, I do. But I’ll be glad when this becomes a story.

Love Day

Happy Love Day, readers.

So many times in this stretch of the year, I think I will look back and see how far I’ve come.  My “this time last year” reflections are moving from when I was attached to when I was newly single. They are showing how much I’ve changed, no doubt.

Last Valentine’s Day found me at a car dealership trading in what was once the most expensive gift I’ve ever been given but soon became a financial burden I didn’t want anymore. It was also the first time my kids would meet their new step-mom, though my divorce papers were sitting on an attorney’s desk with wet ink.

I can remember flipping the pages of an outdated magazine as I waited on the financing to be approved in the used car dealership, knowing that my kids were out of my control and confused in that moment. I texted a close friend while feeling exhausted and sad, asking when my chance would come – when I would feel some sense of happiness and reward instead of just heartbreak.

I was happy to drive home in my own car, one I’d signed for and chosen myself. But I remember crawling in my big empty bed in the vast house that no longer felt like home, feeling like I might have taken one small step on my own, but it was still a long way from becoming my own life. My future seemed like a distant idea that I couldn’t quite see making shape on the horizon. Something I wanted but didn’t know how to grasp.

Today felt so much stronger, so much better.

Jude picked out a gift for me with my mom recently, but I didn’t know about this at all until he begged me to open it last night – not wanting me to wait until the morning. It was a set of small pots and seeds: parsley, chives, and basil. We planted them this weekend and placed them in the windowsill in the kitchen.

Waiting, watching, knowing something is emerging soon. I feel like this so often in my life lately.

I haven’t given up on love. I am broken and wiser, but I’m not bitter. I know far more about how to judge one’s character. I am not scared to pass on what’s in front of me if it doesn’t feel exactly right or if I think it has had its time and run its course … because I know what’s in my own core. I know much more about my own value.

I ran across an Instagram caption that made me nod today. “I make sure to reflect on how wonderful it feels to live my life on my own terms, and how grateful I am for that time I had sans partnership to figure out what these terms actually meant to me without the influence of someone else. The times we have to ourselves are precious. We have our entire lives to be surrounded by other people in whatever capacity we choose, whether a passing romance or a fleeting fling. .. It’s a liberating feeling when you realize the one constant in your life – yourself – is someone you’ve grown to love more than you thought was possible.”

Jude wished me “Happy Valentime’s Day” at least five times this weekend with his missing front teeth and his excited grin. He made me a picture yesterday that included tiny lettering, drawn as small as he could manage and spelled phonetically, and he handed it to me with a plastic magnifying glass we have. He told me it was a “secret code message” for my eyes only.

I’m grateful for every bit of it – for the time alone, the messages hidden along the way, the space to breathe and experiment and ponder what is next, the love in front of me, and what is yet to be.

 

 

 

Advent

Thanksgiving came and went, and Christmas time is here. I know this is cliche, but how is 2015 nearly over already? I can hardly believe tomorrow begins December.

My mom indulged my kids and all their little cousins with a pretty fun surprise on Thanksgiving night as we celebrated at my grandparents’ house.

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My normally energetic boy got pretty shy when it was his turn to talk to Santa.

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But Norah talked his ear off as expected. Like most siblings, my two are opposite in so many ways.

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We drove home in the dark seeing a few houses already lit up, and they talked a mile a minute – about Christmas and Santa and a million other things. I thought for sure they’d be asleep by the time we got home, but they weren’t. The holidays bring so much wonder and excitement for kids. It brings it all back in the best way.

They spent the next couple of days with their dad, and I got to use the time to wrap up some grading piles and get out the decor. When they arrived home on Sunday morning, we got started on the tree. It’s little and covered with kid-crafted things and nothing is symmetrical, but it’s ours. Our little tree and our little house. And a house never feels as cozy as when it’s twinkling inside with Christmas lights.

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We finished the afternoon with hot chocolate and a movie, and they were content and happy.

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Tonight I’m filling the Advent calendar with our little activities for the month of December, gems we can enjoy everyday for the next few weeks…. make cards for your teachers, eat pancakes for dinner, wrap a present, go driving in pj’s and look at Christmas lights…. The smallest things can make them so happy. And me, too.

I see the value of tradition during the holidays more than ever. These are the moments they will remember as they grow, and that idea of creating memories for your kids is both the heaviest and the most beautiful part of motherhood to me. I’m creating the soundtrack and images that will replay for them in moments of nostalgia decades from now. And truthfully I don’t even know what will stick, what will survive the years and emerge as the things they love the most.

It’s the smallest things that they seem to remember so far – never the gifts under the tree. It’s the moments shared among the three of us that are creating a home and a life for them.

I hope I can calm myself for a few sacred minutes everyday in this last stretch of 2015 to remember that. I look around and see so much comfort and abundance. This is it. Not a year into the future and certainly not my past. This is life as it’s really happening and not a stepping stone to something else. I’m grateful for all of it  – for the two little people I get to share these traditions with and for all the magic that December holds.

2am rambling

It’s 2 am, and I can’t sleep. Norah is next to me, and her little tummy is moving up and down. In and out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

 

So many times these past few weeks, I have relied on my own breath to get me through a moment.

 

My mother always tells me a story about when my dad died in an accident and she had a 5 year old and a 2 year old. She couldn’t sleep or eat or imagine what to do the next day. She would repeat Psalm 46:10. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. It’s all I can do in these nighttime hours lately. I repeat it to myself like a chant and drift back to sleep for a moment.

 

I am not religious in the traditional sense. But I know someone is out there listening to me. I know there is a method to any madness we experience here. I know life is crazy and full of surprises, and something bigger than you carries you through.  I know pain is wasted if you don’t evolve. Become bigger and stronger.

 

Sometimes I feel that presence lately. And sometimes I don’t.  It’s so easy to be blinded by fear, doubt, sadness. It’s so easy to forget that there is a master plan involved.

 

I pray every night that my little life will look just the same in a year as it did two months ago. But I just don’t know. I feel it in my bones that the train is barreling out of the station, and a new destination is there. I don’t want to go, but it’s there for me – whether I choose it or not. But this life? This one has been so perfect in so many ways. It’s hard to see the past few years as anything other than the best of my life.  But life doesn’t always ask our permission before moving to a new chapter.

 

Friends, if you are the praying type, I want to you pray for peace in my heart and in the heart of others. For love to prevail.  And forgiveness and hope. And gratitude for the blessings I have.

 

 

 

 

 

officially holiday’ing!

On Friday, I graded my last exam as I  hurriedly inhaled a sandwich at my desk.  As I began my position in August, it felt like SO MUCH  desk time and many office hours compared to my previous teaching days in a high school setting.  I thought I’d always be caught-up and that grading would never feel like a push.  It hasn’t turned out that way entirely though.  Between Writing Center tasks and other odds and ends that come up, it still feels like a push to get all the grading done at the end of the semester.  And when that last one was finished?  Such a feeling of relief.  I am staring at four full weeks of a break, and I’m excited to slow down and do a little bit of nothing and keep whatever pace we feel up to.  As always, I can’t help but keep a list of goals in my head and consider all the things that need attention right now – specifically house projects that never happened after the move.  But really, they are not essential and whatever gets done will be.  Whatever doesn’t, doesn’t.  I’m just ready to relax and enjoy the last bit of the year with my little family.

We had a great Thanksgiving, and Jude helped – truly helped – with a few kitchen tasks as I prepared a ton of food for family.  He has always loved helping in the kitchen, but recently it really is a true help unlike the “help” a toddler can give.  I’ll give him a bowl and a spoon and he can stir something while I move on to another dish.  Or the other night we made muffins for his teachers, and he actually portioned out all the muffin liners and the batter on his own.  It’s so fun to watch, and he is ridiculously proud when he makes something.  I love his interest in food and his genuine desire to help.

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We also saw a great production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with some friends at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta last weekend. It was awesome, and I definitely suggest it to anyone with kids in Atlanta.  Norah was squirmy as expected, but Jude loved it.  I know next year she’ll follow it more closely, and I’d love to make it an annual tradition.  We got to follow the production with a workshop making puppets.  This snow monster has been played with constantly since, and Jude even wrote “puppets” on his Santa list earlier this week.

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Other than that, the last week has been mostly full of Elf on a Shelf shenanigans (so fun this year!) and time spent at home.

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I’m looking forward to more of that in the days and weeks to come. Cookie baking, present wrapping, Santa planning, and reflecting on the year that’s passed. There’s so much to enjoy in the Advent season – especially with kids these ages. Magic is so real to them, and it’s a joy to watch.

beginner collard greens

This resolution of Sunday and Wednesday posting will have me sharing more recipes, I think.  I sometimes have nothing much to say, so I’ll rely on whatever I’ve been cooking to get me posting and keep me regularly appearing around here.

I don’t have a “real” photo of dinner last night, but I did snap one with my iPhone just before we ate.

Collard greens and chili Mac

I found this homemade hamburger skillet recipe on Once a Month Mom, and I ended up with some fresh collard greens from my grandparents’ garden, so I paired them together and it hit the spot.  It was cold yesterday, especially by Atlanta standards.  When I picked Jude up at school at noon, it was still below freezing and windy.  Nature knew what it was doing when it made greens seasonal in the winter months.  They are packed with nutrition to keep you healthy, and I think they taste perfect against the somewhat bland backdrop of other winter foods and produce.

I grew up eating greens, and Scott loves them.  Selling greens on our toddler has not been that easy, but we asked him to take one bite before finishing dinner last night, and he took a second one, too.  I’ll call that a victory!  I’ve grown up eating them the traditional southern way when they are cooked all day and almost increase in bitterness, and it’s a taste I grew to love.  This recipe is great for someone less inclined to like greens though.  The honey and sesame oil mellow any bitterness, and the result is delicious.  Trust me, if you think you don’t like greens, try them this way and see if you change your mind.

 

Beginner Collard Greens

about 1 pound collard greens

1/2 a yellow onion, diced

3 cloves minced garlic

1 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp honey

dash of red pepper flakes

Melt the butter and oil together, saute onion and add garlic.  Add greens, sesame oil, red pepper, salt, and honey.  Cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

basic granola

It does not feel like January outside at all.  Yesterday was 70 degrees in Atlanta, and I saw people outside in shorts when I did my weekly grocery run in the afternoon.  But even though it doesn’t feel like it out there, it definitely feels like January in my kitchen.  Resolutions have not been left behind yet, and we are knee-deep in green smoothies and whole-grain goodness lately.  I feel like my body has finally recovered from Christmas and all of the overindulgences of the holidays.

And front-and-center here this week is some yummy homemade granola I want to share with you.

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Jude has begun to like cereal.  We don’t eat it often for breakfast, but he’s been snacking on it sometimes lately, and it’s one area that could use some improvement since even the most “natural” variety out there is somewhat processed and high in sugar.  (And so expensive!) This works well as a homemade alternative, and I couldn’t help but snack on some in a mug with a splash of milk when this batch came out of the oven.

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Granola is the perfect snacking food that doesn’t leave you feeling guilty, and while it is delicious as is, the best part is the possibilities in store with this basic recipe.  There are so many add-ins to choose from and many ways to tailor the taste to what you love.  If you feel sort of blah about store-bought granola, try some homemade before you give up on it.  It’s not even in the same league to me.  The taste of the oats toasted in your own kitchen is so much better.

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Basic Granola:

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup nuts (I often use slivered almonds.  Pecan pieces or walnuts are also great.)

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/4 cup sucanat (or brown sugar if you’d like)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup real maple syrup (no Aunt Jemima fake!)

1 tsp salt (For me, I love the sweet/salty combination, but if you are less inclined to that, you can cut the salt to about half a teaspoon instead.)

Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix oil, syrup, and salt and pour liquid over dry ingredients.  Stir well and spread onto cookie sheet.  (You want a shallow layer, so I use a large cookie pan and a smaller one, too.  Just be sure it’s not a deep pile of oats or it won’t get crunchy.) Bake at 250 for about 70 minutes or so and stir it every 20 minutes as it bakes so it all gets evenly toasted.  Done!

As for add-ins…. I add a few chocolate chips sometimes when I eat it with yogurt or milk.  You can add raisins or any dried fruit, but be sure to do it after it bakes and cools so it won’t harden the fruit.  Flax seeds or chia seeds mix in unnoticed for an extra dose of nutrition as well, even making it past a picky toddler!  I store mine plain with no add-ins in a cereal storage container and leave it in the pantry so it’s accessible as an easy snack, and then I just add whatever we are in the mood for when I eat it.  Enjoy!

 

By the way, I’ve added a recipe page to the bar at the header here so that all my recipes are more easily accessible.  I don’t have many on here yet, but I hope to add to them soon.  Happy Sunday!  Hope it’s a good week ahead.