Georgia Love, gratitude, summer

soundtrack

I saw the Indigo Girls last night at the botanical gardens close to home. The amphitheater was fairly small, and listeners brought blankets and chairs to set up in the grass. It was warm, even after the Georgia July sun went down. The moon was bright, and the stars were out.

It was the seventh time I’ve seen them live. And as they began with a song that instantly took me back to 2004, I was telling my friend how crazy it is that it only takes a few opening chords on some of their songs to take me back to very specific moments in my life. “Galileo” and I’m in the back seat of a high school friend’s car while we sing with the windows down and eat Cherry Garcia ice cream we bought at a gas station on the way home from their concert the very first time I saw them. “Fill It Up Again” has me in my little grad school apartment writing papers I feared weren’t good enough and reading all day long on a Sunday afternoon. “Second Time Around” brings memories of a wiggly two-year-old and a big belly with another on the way and the quiet loneliness of a big house in the woods and a husband who was never home. It’s funny how music can do that, right? One chord or one line can take you right back and bring it all up again.

Their music has influenced me like no other, and it’s truly the soundtrack of the past 19 years of my life. They have one liners that work like mantras for me. We are better off for all the we let in.– Truth of the matter comes around one day. It’s alright. — The hardest to learn was the least complicated. — That’s the thing about compromise. Don’t do it if it hurts inside.  The list goes on and on. It swells within me in that place where good art resonates, and their words have woven their way into my own inner landscape and my life story.

As I listened last night, I was struck so much by the ways my life has changed. The long list of things I’ve had to let go. The ways I am still changing. But it feels so good sometimes to exhale and lean back in the arms of something constant.

In her Dear Sugar column, Cheryl Strayed claims, “Eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself at the age of twenty will, over time, prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true you will look back in twenty years and howl.” I have changed in immeasurable ways, but as I look back at my life in the grand rearview, I see that really all I am doing is returning. Those things I knew in my core to be true, they are still true. There are a million other things I believed that I now understand are false, but my core?  It’s the same. I’m just coming home.

Music feels like prophecy sometimes. They sang “Love’s Recovery” last night, a song I’ve sung along with too many times to count. I’ve always loved it, but last night she sang, “There I am in younger days, star gazing, painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be. Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection, my compass, faith in love’s perfection, I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen … Though it’s storming out I feel safe within the arms of love’s discovery.” And I heard the story of my recent life in exact proportions. It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? It’s that strange sense of deja vu that I’ve written about before. Those moments when I feel in my deepest places that I somehow both knew and did not know what would manifest in my life.

I came home alone to my quiet house and climbed in the empty bed with my dog snoring at my feet. I fell asleep to that familiar noise of crickets so loud that you can hear them through the window panes. Summer in the deep south is sweltering and miserable for some; it’s comfort to me.

I’m grateful for love’s recovery and the new discoveries. And the re-discoveries most of all. It feels good to be home.

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Georgia Love

familiar landscape

I went to bed last night exhausted and deflated in that perfect way that a full weekend can leave you. I wish I had another day to recover from this past week, but Monday waits for no one, and my alarm felt even earlier than usual today.

I took half a day off last week to chaperone a kindergarten field trip with Jude. Apparently there’s a small wildlife preserve and zoo nearby that I hadn’t even heard of until the permission slip made its way home. I couldn’t believe a few northbound, winding roads lead me to lions and alligators and white tigers and all sorts of unique creatures to look at.

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It was far smaller and less crowded than a city zoo, and the walking trails were leisurely – even with the madness of a group of school kids. It was so rewarding to watch him play and interact with his classmates as they laughed in disbelief at how close they came to some of the animals. The unusual cool snap was weird for Georgia May, but its short-lived timing made for a fun day.

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It was close to 9pm when I got home from our graduation ceremony on Friday night. That event usually brings relief as it always signifies the end of the academic year, but somehow I’m not really slowing down yet. Assessment tasks lie ahead and a few committee meetings, and I’m realizing that my calendar doesn’t really slow down until the kids’ lives reach a slower pace. To be honest, I am counting down the days (18 to be exact) until we are officially on break.

Saturday morning brought a birthday party for Norah’s classmate at what is unarguably her favorite place on earth. She was in heaven.

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I’d already promised her a trip there and a new doll for her own birthday before this invitation came, so this made for a lucky chance to celebrate a little friend and also get Norah’s gift as we left. She wanted a boy baby this time, and she named him Daniel.

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It makes me laugh to see how much she loves this place, but I admit there is something so weirdly charming about it. Maybe it’s the memories from my own childhood summer trips there with my sister and cousins. Or that very particular powdery smell on a Cabbage Patch Doll. Maybe it’s the feel of the space on the side of the road growing wider and wider as you drive northward toward the mountains and find it perched on a hill around absolutely nothing else.
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Whatever the case, it might as well be Disney World to her. It’s just as special seeing it through her eyes as it was to me as a child. We drove home tired and happy, and I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon planting flowers and herbs in containers on my back patio. Summer is almost here.

Sunday brought Mother’s Day which – as all the holidays go – was not so hard this year at all. The “firsts” are over, and here we go again. I don’t care in the least about the gifts or lack thereof, especially at this stage of life with such young kids. (I’m certain gifts were never at the top of my love languages anyhow.) We settled in for a picnic at the lake which is exactly what I wanted. Just time with the three of us doing something that felt special.

This spot never feels ordinary, but we haven’t been since last July, so it felt especially good to spend a few hours there yesterday. An inauguration of long summer days to come.

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I feel incredibly lucky about so many things in my life, and where I live is pretty close to the top of the list. We are an hour’s drive from the mountains and minutes from the lake, and the longer we are here, the more we discover sweet spots hidden here and there.

 

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I have a lot of love for my home state, and we are fairly close to where I grew up, but this particular space is all ours with sights that are becoming more comfortable and familiar with every passing month. I’m watching the two of them develop roots here and know places by name, and it feels good to see their budding familiarity. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with belonging.

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We left the lake sandy and sleepy and stopped for boiled peanuts on the way home. A couple hours later, we headed to my grandparents’ place to celebrate Mother’s Day with family. You can create a sense of home anywhere in the world; I’m sure of that. But there is something to be said for watching your own kids grow up among the same familiar landscape you did. They played outside with their cousins for hours, and we got home just in time for bed.

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Jude awoke with a night terror last night around 11. He’s done this three or four times in the past few weeks, and it’s scary to witness. He shakes all over and cries and mumbles nonsense, and though his eyes are open, he’s not really awake. The shaking was so terrible last night that I turned on a light and got him water to drink, hoping he’d snap out of it and settle back down. (And of course now I’m reading today that you aren’t really supposed to do that, but it’s better to just be there so they don’t get hurt and try to guide them back to bed.)

He has no idea where he is when this is happening – mostly because he is not awake at all but still in a state of deep sleep. I know I’ve felt that panic on a much lesser scale at moments in my past when I felt like I wasn’t quite sure where I was, figuratively speaking. But our feet are on solid ground now with familiar spaces and sights but also familiar routines that belong to the three of us. There’s so much space to be found in belonging somewhere.  The circle we know can somehow give us the strength and permission to reach outside of it to something bigger and brighter.

 

 

 

 

Georgia Love, gratitude

Open. Alive. Here. So far. Now.

We spent part of our day at the small strawberry farm that we visit every year. It is close to home and familiar, and by now, the kids know its hilly landscape and gravel drive. We arrived around 11:00am today, and Georgia springtime showed up for us in her very best way.

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It’s the beginning of the growing season here, so many of the berries are still firm and green, and it took some hunting to find red ones. They were there though, shining like jewels under the wide green leaves. The kids would spot one far away and take off running to get it. It took us a while to fill two large buckets, but eventually we did.

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We followed berry picking with a little time in the farm’s petting zoo and playground, and we ended up on a wagon ride where we ran into neighbor friends. I can hardly believe the community that emerged for us in the past year or so. It’s a natural thing, nothing spectacular. But this house and these sweet spots so close to home and these friends we’ve made — they’ve all worked together to build roots when I didn’t even see it happening. And now here we are, settled in our lives as a family of three. Watching seasons come with familiar sights and faces. It’s all so ordinary, but it feels miraculous sometimes.

Simple things fascinate kids at these ages. I know this is a limited window in the grand scheme of things. I’m glad that — despite the chaos and demands of life with two little ones — the joy is easy to come by. Any little trip to see something new can feel like such a treat to them.

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We arrived home three hours later with pink cheeks and more strawberries than I know what to do with. My two shared berries with neighborhood kids on the back patio while playing with sidewalk chalk all afternoon. I could hear them scheming elaborate ideas with friends just as I remember doing the same with my cousins when I was younger. They made their own bird feeders from ice cream cones with peanut butter and birdseed while we were at the farm, and this afternoon, we hung them on the tree I can see from our kitchen window.

Today wasn’t all perfection. Their sibling bickering this morning almost killed me. I’m bone tired and was relieved to get them in bed asleep tonight. I’m listening to the dryer hum right now as I’ve settled in to write a bit, and I’m thinking of the mountains of laundry still left to do this weekend. The sticky floors I need to deal with tomorrow. I’ve got stacks of essays to grade and more coming in on Monday, and the final deadlines of the semester are looming over me and feeling impossible. I’ve got bills and worries and so many unanswered questions as I look at the stretch of weeks in front of me.

But the universe just delivers sometimes when you’re paying attention enough to see it. The sunshine, the spring breeze outside all day, the berries, their intent little faces as they hunted for the ripest ones. It pierces in the best way when I let it. As for the never-ending stress amidst the rest of my life, I don’t know. But spring Saturdays don’t happen often, and today we honored what was here for us.

In her poem “Landscape,” Mary Oliver writes, “Every morning I walk like this around / the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart / ever close, I am as good as dead. / Every morning, so far, I’m alive.” That’s all I can say sometimes, but I’m finding that it’s all that matters, too. Open. Alive. Here. So far. Now.

Summer is coming. It’s about to bust wide open in that way it always does in the deep south. Produce stands are popping up along roadsides already, and soon enough the days will stretch long and hot. Here we go again. Like every year before but like something completely new.

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia Love, gratitude, Norah

truth and beauty

I’m slowly reading Anne Patchett’s Truth and Beauty right now. There’s a line when she explains, “Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.” It made me smile as that’s pretty much a summary of this space for me – all of those things – a job, a talent, and a diary that works like an imaginary friend with a cup of tea. It’s cold and rainy here today, and I am dumping some thoughts in this space to shed a little warmth.

Jude stayed with his father last Thursday and Friday night because of a student holiday on Friday, so I only had Norah for part of this weekend. I decided to indulge us in a visit to a spot that resides deep in my childhood memories.

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UntitledIt’s sometimes disappointing to head back to a place you remember as magical – only to see it as less shimmery as an adult. But to watch your daughter experience it and be enthralled makes up for it. Babyland General is a Georgia staple, but without the nostalgia and place in my own personal history, it might feel more like an overblown gift shop. But last Friday, as we drove northward toward the mountains and found it perched at the end of a long driveway in the Georgia fall sun, it seemed pretty magical.  We crossed the big covered porch to step into the foyer and sign the guest book. Within ten minutes, Norah had locked eyes with one particular doll she chose to name “Molly Lou.” An hour or two later, we left with Molly Lou, her adoption certificate, and one very happy three-year-old.
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On the way back, we stopped at Mountain Fresh Creamery for an ice cream and a place to stretch our legs.  These moments – these little seconds – why do kids give them their proper praise and we neglect to see the magic? Fall air and mountains in the distance and homemade ice cream. For just a minute, I took it all in. We are fools for not seeing the extraordinary sometimes. I’m working hard at this lately, letting my jaded nature fall away a bit to stop thinking ahead to the next thing and just breathe in these simple magic seconds. Tiny pieces of paradise given to me in the real world.

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I’ve babbled on and on before about my love of John Keats, and the Keats poem that Anne Patchett’s title references ends with the famous line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Keats, of course, was dying of tuberculosis at only 24 and is said to have grown up knowing he’d die young. So much of his poetry is about the role of art and beauty and how they are the only link to immortality, the only real things in this temporary existence.

I think about this a lot lately. What is truth and how my version of “truth” in my story is different from others’ perceptions of me perhaps. We all see the world in our own ways, and none of us wear the same lenses. My kids will see these years with their own eyes, too.

Being human is a weird thing. On the one hand, we are not the same – no two of us alike. In this way, it seems there is no universal truth when it comes to seeing the world around us and living in our own skin. I’m getting better at leaving room for this and exhaling my need for control, knowing that I cannot determine someone else’s perceptions, and they cannot control mine. It’s my own skin I’m living in, my own story I’m writing. And you have yours.

But yet there are some truths that emerge for all of us, I think. The awareness felt in moments of stillness if you’re willing to sit with yourself without distraction. The soft response of your own heart that you sometimes have to strain really hard to hear. The tangible strings between a mother and her kids. The persistent effort life makes to reward you when you embrace the real and the authentic and stop clutching so hard at your identity. It’s all there when I take the time to see it.

Georgia Love, gratitude, travel

mountain weekend

I spent the weekend in the north Georgia mountains with my closest friends. Fall is just beginning here in Georgia, and it still reaches close to 80 degrees on some days. But it’s close, and you can feel it. A chill in the mornings, and when the sun is dimmed by clouds, it feels like October. We are just on the cusp of something new.

 

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It was almost dark by the time we got to the cabin on Friday. We arrived to turn on the oven and bake the dinner I’d prepped. We lit candles and opened wine and settled into the cozy space that was ours for the weekend. I never miss a beat with these few. It can be days or weeks or months between get-togethers, and it feels like it always ever did. After dinner, we explored the outside of the cabin a bit. Jittery like a little kid with all the darkness and isolation around us. I live in a fairly roomy area of the Atlanta suburbs, but even so, I can forget what it really feels like to be removed from lights and houses and shopping centers and restaurants until I venture somewhere like this.
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We talked a lot on Friday about changes and thresholds in life. I read once that we have rituals for all kinds of experiences – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc. You use those rituals to remind yourself that a chapter is done and another is beginning, and sometimes if a ritual doesn’t exist for something you are encountering, you just have to invent one. We decided to create some rituals of our own this weekend as each of us, in her own way, is moving forward to something new and burning away the old. The landscape of fog and barely tinged leaves was a perfect backdrop for that idea. A moment to settle in to the reality of what is left behind and what is to come.

 

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Saturday was drizzly and gray all day, but it didn’t bother us in the least. We ventured to a couple of local wineries and enjoyed back country roads.
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The second winery we stopped at was tiny and quaint, and they had a small fridge of cheeses and a fireplace when you walked in. After a little tasting, the woman who worked there suggested we buy a bottle and head around the back to the small “grotto” they have with live music. We followed her suggestion, and the rain scared away much of a crowd, so it was almost empty. We talked and laughed and just lingered in that way that wine and music and gray skies inspires. It was perfect.

After staying there for a while, we drove a bit more to find funky roadside pottery and fun spaces.

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The very best parts of the weekend were those little nondescript moments though. Huddled in a cabin with rain outside and space to breathe. Space to talk and laugh and share without judgment or expectation.

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A friend sent me a text last January with that Cynthia Occelli quote that reads, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the rhythm of seasons and the metaphor of growth in my own life. You go through periods, I think, when all you can do is the next right thing. One after the other. And you do the best you can, but it is painful and you feel buried, so to speak. Your shell cracks and it’s rough there for a while. It feels like complete destruction for certain. But the growth emerges eventually. Seasons change. Life moves forward. You find yourself different and bigger and stronger.

 

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I’m still so uncertain. But I know I’m bigger and stronger, and I know love exists in so many forms. Joy exists in so many places.  And nothing feels better than a new season.