In those boxes under the stairs…

Coming Home: Some things are worth saving
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OK, please tell me everyone has it — that space under the stairs or in the attic or the corner of your bedroom piled up to the ceiling where you put all the things.

All the things you want to save but don’t know what to do with, like the junk drawer every Midwesterner tries and fails to clean out every three years.

Please tell me you know what I mean so I don’t feel alone in the stacks of boxes I’m wading through here to make room for a plumbing project under those stairs.

Because I usually blame my husband for all the clutter, but four hours and 10 tubs full of less-practical things later, I’m admitting I’m guilty of the sentimental version of his shortcoming. And apparently it comes with baggage.

Because does the 35-year-old version of me need the graphic design projects I completed my junior year of college? Or a psychology textbook? Or a stack of blurry and misfired shots from my high school camera or this keychain that probably meant something to me but now I can’t remember what?

At some point in my life I must have thought so. But last weekend, in the name of time and an attempt to declutter my life to make room for the two new little lives that exist in our house now, I tossed them. I tossed them because, while it all served as a reminder of the things I used to do, it was no longer what I needed to remind me of who I used to be.

Some things aren’t worth saving, I decided. But it didn’t take much more digging to find the things that were. A box of random photos I hadn’t seen in years, photos that spanned decades, randomly tossed in a box and buried under things to deal with another day.

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Evidence of Sisterly Love and overly festive jammies

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A reminder of my fashion forward-ness

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That time we puffy painted everything…and babysat the neighbor’s goat over Christmas break

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A picture of me that could be a picture of Rosie (with brown eyes)

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Halloween with the little sister a million years ago

A photo of a 1-year-old me tucked under my grandma’s arm on her old brown couch, both of us worn out and sleeping in her little farmhouse that I can still smell if I close my eyes.

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An image of my little sister, 6 years old, standing outside with a Band-Aid and a tear on her face. She always had a Band-Aid and a little tear.

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A rare photo of my mom and all of her young daughters in our kitchen. Dad sleeping against the piano while we opened presents at Christmas.

Me, 16 with bad hair and a bad sweater, sitting next to my boyfriend in a wrestling T-shirt.

And then piles of carefully folded letters and notes we wrote to each other while we were falling in love with no real grasp on the future or that it might look like a house on the ranch with our babies and a space under the stairs stacked with books and DVDs, paint cans, a witch hat, yearbooks, sports buttons, trophies, a salamander and memories worth digging out sometimes to remind us where it began.

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Which, it turns out, helps in the whole moving forward thing. These things are worth saving.

Distracting things.

If you need me, I’ll be under the steps, trying again.

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Oh, love can come a long way…

Yes to Apple Day

Coming Home: Say “Yes” to Apple Day

Last weekend, my friend up the hill invited us — and the entire contents of my little sister’s apple tree — over to her house for what she refers to as “Apple Day.”

Apple Day sounds like what it is — an entire day dedicated to transforming the fruit of an over-productive tree into delicious treats we will store away for the long winter so that we can pull them out and reminisce about the three minutes of summer and one minute of fall we once had — and that time we all got together and canned 700 quarts of applesauce, assembled 3,000 apple crisps and made 500 from-scratch pies.

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“Mmm, tastes like a perfect autumn day,” we’ll say as we serve it up over ice cream, likely to the very same friends who we made it with, so I won’t be able to take much credit because it’s my friend who’s the brains of the operation.

And my sister and I? Well, we spent most of the day saving our babies’ lives from the big chunks of choking hazards we kept dropping on the floor.

And stirring.

And eating.

Because when my friend does Apple Day, she makes sure she has banana bars, three different soups, bread and a sample of our newly created crisp in the oven. And ice cream. Always the ice cream.

It was a lovely day. Because yes, we got to take home enough treats to fill a freezer, but mostly because it’s always been like this with her, my oldest childhood friend, and it was nice to stir up the memories.

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My mom likes to tell the story of her as the tiny 3-year-old she used to babysit who gave my mother a tutorial on how to properly crack an egg while standing on her tippy toes on a stool in her kitchen.

And when we were growing up, my friend would lead the charge of recipe creations made out of ingredients like Hot Tamales, angel hair pasta and marshmallow cream. If it sounds disgusting, it was.

But so was the green garden pepper smeared with peanut butter she convinced me to eat when I was 10. Turns out that’s actually a thing her family eats.

So now, whenever I taste an out-of-the-garden-pepper, I think of her freckled, sunburned face laughing as I spit it out cartoon-style.

It’s the same way I think of her and I standing in the road ditch north of my place every time I taste a Juneberry pie that is never as good as the one she made from the berries we plopped in that bucket tucked into the sling where my casted arm rested, a result of a summer horse injury that didn’t really stop us.

Nothing really stopped us back then. And now look at us, all grown up with a thousand excuses to say no to the things we think we don’t have time for, like standing side by side rolling out dough and laughing.

And so today, for so many reasons, I thank God for a friend who says yes. Yes to pie and a house full of kids who get to grow up with sweet memories tucked away, too.

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The privilege of growing old

Maybe growing old isn’t what I once thought it was
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When I was a young kid, my grandma Edith would take us to town. I would ride in the back seat on the blue velvety cloth seats of her sedan, my feet dangling above the floor and my eyes reaching just high enough to watch the power lines whiz past the window.

She would run errands. To the drugstore, to the grocery store, to the Chuckwagon Cafe where her brother sat drinking coffee in his seed cap and then to the nursing home to visit her mother.

Great-grandma Gudrun was as close to 100 years old as most people ever get when I was the epitome of a kid, scraped knees and carefree. And when you’re a kid, close to 100 might as well be 100 million.

And there are things I remember about her there — mostly her stark white hair and her cane, the candy she offered and the tiny TV quietly flickering other people’s stories in the built-in shelves among her trinkets…

But I was a kid and all my memories revolve around how I felt and what I saw. Shy and quiet, wanting to escape to visit the birds in the atrium or feed the fish. Hoping she didn’t forget the candy.

It never occurred to me to think about what it meant to her to see her daughter with her great-granddaughters trailing behind. She raised 12 kids, after all. I wonder now if she liked the quiet that came with aging, or did it make her uneasy? I have so many things I want to ask her now that I am not that timid, unaware kid anymore.

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaid

Last weekend, the arts organization I belong to helped host a Harvest Fest at the area nursing home and assisted living facility, the same place Gramma Gudrun used to live. Her son, the same man who used to drink coffee in the Chuckwagon Cafe, lives there now.

He sat outside on the front porch all afternoon and listened to his nephew, my dad, and his band play music while kids and families loaded up on horse-drawn wagons, squealed at the chickens, goats, bunnies and mini horse in our makeshift petting zoo, won apple pies in game after game of bingo, ate dessert and painted wooden pumpkins inside.

This event was a way of welcoming the community to engage and connect with their elders over stories attached to those apple pies, or the fancy chickens my friend brought to town. To tap their toes to the music under a clear, fall sky and remember where we came from. And maybe, help ease the fear that comes with aging. For them.

And for us.

When I was 8 or 10 visiting my great-grandma, I never imagined what it might be like to be an old woman. But I can imagine it now.

And I can see what a privilege it is and how we need to do better at not only celebrating it, but embracing the slowdown. The sit down. The process.

Because at the end of our lives, we only have the memories, and I understand now that it’s up to us to make sure that our elders never stop making them.
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Dear Daughters

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Coming Home: Dear Daughters, From Mom
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Dear daughters,

While I type this, I’m sitting in the living room. Rosie, you’re crawling around the floor, picking up things to put in your mouth and pulling yourself up to stand along the couch. Your big sister is sleeping, but your nap ended early like it usually does, and so the toys are all yours for now.

I’ve been watching the two of you grow over the summer, not just into your selves, but into each other. Rosie, your first year of life is wrapping up quickly as you, Edie, look forward to celebrating your third birthday with a pink mermaid cake.

You think Rosie needs a mermaid party, too. And she wants to be where you are.

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Girls. My daughters. Sisters. You won’t remember this phase in your life, the phase when you were so little together and how it felt to be crawling around on the floor of this house that will forever be the backdrop of your life together, the setting of big and quiet moments that will come to define you.

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And as much as we, your parents, want to do right by you, more than any of that we want you to do right by one another.

Because Edie and Rosie, to have each other is a gift, one that you will take for granted over and over again throughout your life. Rosie, you’ll borrow Edie’s favorite sweater and take it off when the sun gets too hot and leave it on the bleachers or the bus. Edie will be mad. You will be sorry.

And you will fight. And it will be a drop in a bucket of annoyances and disagreements about dishes and who fed the dogs and why Rosie read your diary, Edie.

Yes, if you keep a diary, the other will find it. And yes, you will have secrets. But my hope is that if those secrets need to be kept, they will be kept from the world, but not from each other.

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But in order for that wish to come true, you, my wild girls, will have to be true, too. Because the world can be scary. I know because I’m big. And as much as I want the hardest thing about my life as your mom to be the constant reminder for you, Edie, to stop hugging your little sister so hard, I know harder problems loom ahead. That’s the cost of a life worth living.

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And I will tell you over and over in a hundred different ways in my life as your momma that this world is so much easier to face side by side.

Even though I think you’ve already figured it out.

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You proved it to me yesterday, Edie, in your attempt to save Rosie from the loud and terrifying vacuum cleaner, rushing over to her, wrapping your arms around her tight and demanding me to shut the thing off.

“You’re scaring my sister!” you yelled at me with a glare across the room.

And my laugh released a little knot in my chest I didn’t know I had until that moment.

Dear daughters, you’re going to be all right.

Love,

Mom

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Love and Seasons

October 8, 2010. Late Fall

Coming Home: Love and Seasons
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The window is open in this house tonight, letting the summer out and the cool autumn air in. It’s dark before 10 now and the crickets in the grass are louder than the frogs in the creek.

On the ranch, we mark time by seasons a bit differently. Calving season. Branding season. Haying season. Roundup.

Winter.

The hay is nearly hauled off the fields now and because the leaves on the ash and oak trees are putting on their short and beautiful show, and the tomatoes in my garden are turning red and thriving despite my neglect, I am declaring it my favorite time of year.

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Even though it’s fleeting.

Even though it means 17 months of winter.

Last week, I watched my baby use her tiny fingers to pull up the grass in her great-grandparents’ lawn beside a lake in Minnesota as my grandpa united my cousin in marriage to his bride. Beside me, family gathered from around the country, sitting in crisp white chairs to witness a marriage ceremony performed by a man who knows them all.

And knows about love.

I stood up in front of them then and sang a song I wrote about the promises we keep for the long haul.

“When you were a younger man, you used to laugh and turn your face up, at all the words we’ve made up, there’s only one for love…”

We’re one step into a new season of our life together, my husband and I. We’re raising these children and trying to teach them about love without date nights or Champagne toasts, but with divide-and-conquer chores, suppers on the table too late, Daddy falling asleep rocking the baby while Mommy works way past bedtime…
There are a hundred thousand million ways we show one another devotion and I’m ashamed when I have to be reminded in the middle of this life to stop, take a breath, give a kiss, hold a hand and stop acting like we have forever because we only have today.

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The night before we packed up the kids and our good clothes to head to the lake, my husband had to remind me. To take a breath with him. To remember where it all started.

My grandpa has been married to my grandma for 64 years. I’m certain along the line somewhere they’ve had to remind one another, too.

No love is perfect.

But in the entire world, I can’t think of a better man to stand before two people on the threshold of their marriage and remind us all that at the end of the day, at the end of the season, who did the most dishes or swept the most floors or changed the most diapers won’t matter.

But making each other breakfast will. That will matter. My grandpa knows this.

And on the ranch, we mark the passing of time by the work we have done. And maybe my favorite season is fall — for the roundup, or the harvest — because it reminds us of what cannot be done alone.

And who we need beside us as we face the winter…

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The moon’s named Carlile

The moon’s named Carlile
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If you see my almost 3-year-old daughter bouncing around, following behind me at the grocery store or at an event, playing at the park or with toys in Gramma’s store in town, she will likely ask you for your name.

She’s really into names. And who belongs to whom in this world.

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Like Great-Gramma Ginny is Gramma Beth’s mommy, and Gramma Beth is Mommy’s mommy, and Edie is Mommy’s daughter, and it gets a little blurry to her about how the rest works.

Somehow, the chain collapses there and Papa Gene becomes her granddaughter. Papa Gene almost always becomes her granddaughter by the end of these conversations.

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But it’s fun to hear her try to figure out how the world works in this way and how she understands that the people who love her are connected in some special way.

One day as we were driving home from town, Edie noticed the moon. It was big and bright and hanging in a darkening sky like a lone bulb in an empty room.

“The moon! Mommy! Look at the moon!” She exclaimed from her perch in her seat in the back. I said yes, yes, it’s so beautiful. Look at that. And then, for fun, because just minutes before she was giving the hills and the trees and the deer grazing in the fields names of their own, I asked her what she thought the moon’s name was.

“Carlile,” she responded, almost immediately, as if the two are old familiar friends who talk on a tin-can phone with a long line up to outer space every night before bed. “His name is Carlile.”

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Carlile the Moon. I laughed at the thought of it, picturing what Carlile might look like way up there in the lonely sky, surrounded by quiet, twinkling stars. Maybe he wears a fedora and tiny glasses that sit on the tip of a big, bumpy moon rock nose.

He’d adjust them a bit and clear his throat when he heard the little girl’s voice shouting, “Carlile, Are you there!?” from the tin-can phone, taking a deep breath before tackling the thousand questions about the universe that his tiny Earth friend was about to fire at him.

I imagine they would spend a lot of time discussing the names of the stars.

And then I pulled into our driveway and put the car in park, my little moon story coming quickly to a halt as I tackled the task of unloading my babies and getting them bathed, fed and ready for bed under a moon that suddenly felt a little more like a friend to me.

“Mommy, is your name Jessica Blain?” Edie asked as I finished our lullabies and I went in for a hug.

“Yes, that’s my name!” I agreed.

A hundred times a day, I can’t believe these tiny humans are my children. In quiet moments, the weight of what it means to belong to one another often overwhelms me…

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“Mommy, you are my mommy,” my daughter confirmed with pride.

“Yes, and you’re my baby,” I replied.

“No, I’m your big girl.”

“Good night then, big girl.”

And good night, Carlile.

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In the name of the fair

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Fair season is winding down up here in the great hot north. I hit up my third fair of the year last weekend, this time without the kids, to sing under the watchful eye of the world’s biggest Holstein cow. On the other side of the building 4-H kids stood, shoulders back, showing off the sheep or goat or steer they’d been working to feed up, groom and halter train all summer, unaware of just how many life lessons were packed into that project.

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We took the long, impromptu trek to the state fair a few weekends back with, meeting up with a bunch of family. I bought my two-year-old a wrist band and she fearlessly jumped on every ride she was tall enough to sit in.

I mean, she didn’t even bat an eye at the thought of reaching the top of the Ferris Wheel. She just grabbed her cousin’s hand and off she went growing up and I stood below, watching and wondering if I should start worrying now about her sense of adventure.

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Like, should I be hiding my husband’s dirt bike already?

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I suppose she comes by it honestly when it comes to carnival rides. When I was a kid, the bigger and faster, the better. And so when I had to accompany her on a ride that spun and jerked around a bit, I happily obliged, even though the seats were ripped and like five out of the ten carts were out of order. We squealed and laughed and then squealed and laughed some more as it jerked us around and spun us in circles…for like six hours. Seriously, the ride lasted forever. It gave us our first opportunity at a mother/daughter ESP moment as we looked at each other, wincing, both trying to will it to stop while I seriously questioned my parenting choice of hotdog before spinny ride.

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But we lived and we headed to the livestock barns to check out the pigs, goats, and cattle and grab an ice cream.

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Oh I love a good fair. The county fair was my favorite weekend of the summer growing up, because I was and always will be, a project person. And so I did projects. And showed horses and looked forward to one of the few times in the summer that I got to stay long hours in town and hang out with my friends.

And so I was eager to take my two-year-old to her first county fair this year…and, well, here’s how it went.

In the name of the fair
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It was 175 degrees and 200 percent humidity. I knew because my hair told me soon as I sat up in bed.

The higher the hair, the closer to God, and I got closer to God with each passing, sweltering hour.

It was 175 degrees and 200 percent humidity, so I did what any good and reasonably sane mother would do: I loaded up the kids and went to the county fair in town.

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Because this was our only chance before they packed up the carnival and quilting projects, put the horses away, sold all the 4-H steers and took the show rabbits off of ice and back home to safety.

Plus, they were selling giant glasses of freshly squeezed lemonade, which taste really good after lugging a 30-pound 2-year old across the parking lot because she suddenly wants to “hold you.”

Yeah, if only she could hold me. “One day child, one day,” I said quietly to myself, her sweat melting into my sweat as she began sliding down my legs at the food stand where the two of us had a 175-degree decision to make between pizza or hamburgers while my nephew spun around us in the wheels he strapped to his shoes so he “wouldn’t have to expend so much energy.”

Kid had the right idea. So did the lady who took one look at me as I trudged across the asphalt dragging a wagonful of children as if I was on the last legs of a yearlong trek across the Sahara. She handed me a handful of Popsicles and saved my life.

Ah, the county fair. It’s always hot at the county fair.

Unless it’s hot and windy.

Or windy and raining.

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I stuck one Popsicle down my shirt and handed the melting children the rest and continued our journey past the livestock sale toward the carnival for a flashback to all of the sweat that trickled into my eyes when I was a 4-H kid standing in my long-sleeved white shirt holding on tight to the halter of my clean-enough horse.

Which reminded me of the once-a-year horse-washing ritual I would perform on my mare in the grassy backyard, complete with hose, Mane ‘nTail and a ShowSheen finish only to wake up to an open gate and a horse that escaped to the nearest mudhole. That happened more than once.

But still, we persist. In 175 degrees or 175 mph winds. In the name of the county fair. And big, godly hair.

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Things I used to be…

Things I used to be
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There are things I used to be.

I used to be more careless. I used to be flexible. I used to be able to say “yes” loud and clear without worrying what “yes” would cost me.

I used to be OK in a bikini, stretched out across the front lawn with a magazine and an endless afternoon in front of me. Because I used to be younger.

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I used to be younger, and thinner and less affected by the one margarita I ordered with supper. I used to order two and then sing into a long night without worrying about the morning and the thin thread attaching me to the little bodies breathing in and out, eyes closed tight in their beds without me.

I used to have spare time that I didn’t spend on searching for sippy cup lids or calculating the coupon cost per diaper.

In my other life, I never once uttered the words, “Don’t lick the doorknob!” and I certainly never made 37 negotiations a day that involved two more bites or five more minutes and no, you can’t put the puppy in your purse.

And I certainly didn’t use the phrase “be careful” as often.

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There are things that are buried in me now under these new layers of motherhood. I think about peeling them back only when I’m looking through old photographs of myself toasting to the sky or in the rare quiet moments that last long enough that I’m almost convinced I could be her again, before the creak of the door or the cry out of the lungs of the fresh soul in her crib in the dark calling for her momma.

I am momma.

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Last week, I was driving the ribbon of Interstate 94 that stretched out west for home. My babies were tucked in the back as the landscape zoomed by their windows and my eyes were heavy with the weight of exhaustion my new body holds. It overwhelmed me.

I signaled, parked in a rest stop and found a shady spot to take a break. I used to be unprepared, but this new version of me had blankets to spread out under our bodies and so we all laid down in a big pile under clouds rolling slowly, slowly, slowly across a blue sky.

And I want to say it before it absorbs into my skin and gets lost in the bigger, more urgent stories of a life…

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If I died tomorrow, this 20 minutes at a rest stop along I-94 with the baby navigating the lines of my tired face, my husband lifting the toddler to the sky, her squeals, our laughter, all four of our bodies touching one another, touching the earth, looking up at the trees and the fact that we simply couldn’t be anywhere else in the world if we wanted to, will make the highlight reel when I close my eyes at the end of my life.

Because I used to be so many things, but now I have these layers attached to this wonderfully agonizing winding and unwinding thread, and I will never be who I used to be because now I am a mother.

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Who are we without our memories?

Happy summer everyone. We took as much of a hiatus from real life as we could over the 4th of July week to head to my grandparent’s lake cabin in Minnesota like we do every year over the holiday.

This year was pretty special as more family joined us from across the midwest and my two-year old had a blast following the big kids around the lake.

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Great Grandpa and Grandma with all ten of their great grandchildren

I’m not going to lie, traveling with two young kids and staying in a hotel for night upon night is no joke.

Kids like schedules. But there are so many reasons it’s worth it to spend a week having donut holes for breakfast, skipping naps for more swim time, serving popsicles before supper and wiping the sand and grass off of their little feet before zipping up their jammies and flopping down for bed sunkissed, dirty and exhausted from fun at 10 pm.

My only wish is that my girls could remember every minute of the weekend spent with this family, especially these special moments…

Last week, Edie caught her first fish off of her great-grandparents’ dock on a little lake in Minnesota.

After her daddy helped her pull that bluegill out of the water using the little orange fishing pole with the button reel that has likely caught many grandkids’ first fishes, she inspected its puckered mouth, ran her fingers over its scales, looked toward the shore and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Gramma Ginny, look! I caught a fish!”

Gramma Ginny is Edie’s 80-something great-grandmother who is known to her family as a woman who loves to play bridge, has read thousands of books, is probably magic because she can float in the water for hours without paddling and refuses to look on anything but the bright side in life. This is a quality that is seeing her and her family through the difficult and inevitable process of time that has taken her quick wit and memory, but has not broken her spirit.

Edie calls gramma Ginny her best friend and like any best friend, she was thrilled by her little granddaughter’s first catch. I watched them celebrate with a lump in my throat wishing time would stop for a moment.

Edie, don’t get bigger just yet. Gramma, don’t get older. Warm sun, don’t go down on Lake Melissa today; just hang in the sky a little longer and shine on my mom in her swimsuit as she floats out to the sailboat with her sisters. Don’t set on these cousins getting to know one another and growing up too fast. Don’t stop our laughing and start our worries. Not yet. Hold still now, time.

“It’s a beautiful day. A good day,” said Gramma Ginny over and over as all 10 of her great-grandchildren, from 7 months to 14 years old, navigated their relationships to one another over games of beanbag toss, squirt gun fights and kayak trips to the lily pads.

“Yes, yes it is Gramma,” we would reply, all of us reliving old memories of swim lessons from aunties, rainy day card games and mosquito slapping by the campfire, wishing we didn’t know that our matriarch’s memories slip in and out like waves as she holds on tight to her husband’s hand and wades into the familiar feel of the cool lake water towards her grown daughters with children and grandchildren of their own.

I looked at my grandparents and thought about the 60-some years of a life they’ve lived hand in hand like that and I wondered how it is that I want to stop the very thing that has given them so much adventure and fulfillment and love.

What do we know if we can’t remember it all?

Who are we without our recollections, our stories? Our memories?

We are my 2-year-old daughter, fresh and eager to discover a mysterious new world, and her great-grandmother, two best friends celebrating a catch in a special moment on a good and beautiful day.

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Seeing the garden in spite of the weeds

We’re coming off of one of those long stretches of week that sometimes happens for us in the summer when work and fun sort of collide to create this chaotic swarm of action and stress and fun.

We had a birthday party, cousins visiting from Texas, a children’s theater production, a visit from a PBS film crew, a swing set building project that likely won’t be done until Rosie gets married and it was awesome to have so much to do and so many people around us to love…

But in the middle of it all was this big Art in the Park event I’ve been planning for months as part of my work running an arts foundation in the community.

I put a lot of effort into this event. We had generous sponsors that put hard earned money into it as well. I enlisted the help of all of the family I could round up, plus my husband and board members and volunteers. In my mind, if we could pull it off, it was going to be a fun gathering of local music, artists and hands-on activities.

And after the stress of setting up and making everyone fit in a limited space, for a good three hours or so the sun-shined and the people milled and the music played and the kids got their faces painted and did projects and played in the park and the artists talked with shoppers and it was exactly as I envisioned. And I was thrilled for us all…

And then the thunder clapped and the sky opened up and it rained and rained and rained….

And a part of me wanted to cry, but a bigger part of me said instead, at least the sun shone on us for a while.

Because I was born with something in me that seems to beg me not to be let down…

And that’s what this week’s column is about…seeing the garden in spite of the weeds.

Coming Home: Never mind the weeds

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Last night, I put the girls to bed before the sun set and headed out to the garden.

It had been an entire week since I had a chance to dig in that dirt in an attempt manage my little crop of vegetables, and I could see from my window all the rain gave the weeds permission to set up shop.

But I didn’t mind. When I first moved back to the ranch, I made myself a list of the things I wanted back in my life after spending a few years thinking I didn’t know who I was. At the top of that list was a simple little promise to keep a garden. And because it was quiet last night as I kicked up the smell of damp dirt, I had a moment to remember why.

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When I was a kid, probably close to 10 or 11, I entered my garden into the county fair. Because of the timing of our growing season, I didn’t have any vegetables to present, so I decided I would document the process. I can’t remember every detail of the exhibit or what we grew that summer, but I do remember I put together a picture book with some progress photos.

I recall one photo I was particularly proud of that featured 10-year-old me in a T-shirt, ponytail and jeans standing confidently next to our little corn crop. The idea was to show the height of our stalks to the judge in a book that, between the shiny Kodak photos pasted on construction paper and the sentences spelled out in wavering Sharpie lines, told less of a story of a master gardener and more of a kid who liked a project.

I was pretty certain the judge would be impressed, which made it that much harder to process the sinking feeling when he pointed to that picture and asked, “What’s that there?”

I moved my eyes from my beautiful corn stocks down to the border of the garden where the judge placed his finger.

“Weeds,” I said as my face flushed.

Weeds that the judge suddenly made me notice for the first time in all of the hours I spent digging in that dirt and documenting my progress.

Weeds my dad never pointed out to me. Weeds my mom never mentioned. Weeds that earned me a red ribbon instead of the coveted blue.

Weeds that today remind me of the vulnerability of my optimistic nature. That I could look right past that snarl of crabgrass and creeping Jenny and only see the promise of grilled corn on the cob or the snap of a fresh pea says something about the innocence and wonder of childhood, a person I become again when I’m standing in a garden I made grow.

And I’m thankful for that judge. He did his job and I was better for it. And on days the burdens in my life grow in too close, threatening to steal my rain and choke out the sun, I know I can chop them down if I need to.

But sometimes I like that it’s in me to say never mind the weeds. Better things are coming with a little sunshine and rain.

rainbow