Category Archives: family

looking for signs

I’m pregnant, and before I was pregnant, I imagined that I would document the experience thoroughly in writing, since it’s my mode of processing, communicating, and creating. But, I haven’t wanted to write much about the experience, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s because I have no words. I’m impressed with women who can write about pregnancy and the journey to motherhood. However, most of what’s written is more matter of fact or medical or humorous. To me, the experience isn’t entirely any of those things–it certainly isn’t medical and it isn’t funny. It’s a completely physical and spiritual thing. It’s so entirely unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced that, like I said, I have no words. I can say that I love being pregnant. I’m one of the lucky ones who actually feels better pregnant–warmer, stronger, more connected. There’s also a delightful and ongoing sense of celebration between me, my family, friends, and even with smiling strangers out in the world. More than that, though, I am awestruck. Constantly. Every day.

bumps_2-1-1.jpg

a crop of my bump from my maternity photo shoot

Now that I am nearing the end of my pregnancy, I finally (after a busy move, and travel, and prepping a house and nursery, and work) find myself with long days of solitude. These are perhaps the last days I’ll have to myself for a very long time, and certainly they are the final days as my old self–the self before I am a mother and before I am always and forevermore caring for a child on the outside. I am savoring this time. I’m enjoying long quiet days, where I can indulge my whims moment to moment. And in these moments, I find myself looking for signs. First, what day will the baby arrive? Do I inherently know? I find myself looking at the dates on the calendar, each neutral and blank. One of these days will be the day that I experience childbirth for the first time. One of these days will be my son’s birthday. One of these days will be recognized now for the rest of my life.

I try to walk for a few miles on a beautiful trail that skirts the lake each morning before it gets too hot. Each day, I become more familiar with the route. I watch as new wildflowers bud out and bloom. I see new animals: birds, cows, horses, and deer. I notice plants that I think are sunflowers. After a few more days, I confirm that they are sunflowers. Then, I hope I will be able to see them bloom. I wonder if they will bloom before the baby is born. They begin to bloom. I step out of the shower and rub lotion over my belly. I put on a pair of underwear that I like. Will I be wearing these underwear when I go into labor? Will they be ruined?

Each day, there are more signs and questions. If I am to examine my intuition closely, I would say that I still have time, that birth is not exactly imminent. I still have a “to do” list that I’m working through slowly, but steadily. For now, I am satisfied to remain pregnant. I feel big and hot, but good and vital and very alive and still very comforted to have my son growing safely inside me.

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If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende

This is basically Alaska’s version of A Prairie Home Companion (the Garrison Keillor version, not this new stuff). More specifically, it’s like the “News from Lake Wobegon” section of the show, which also happens to be my favorite part. (P.S. I thought Sara Watkins was going to take over the show. I love her speaking voice. I think the replacement needed to be a woman who sounds sort of like a church lady.)

Anyway, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town by Heather Lende is full of that same kind of down homey, good timey accounts of a few births, a lot of deaths (Alaska is a dangerous place, and there many of untimely deaths), and some other stories in between.

For whatever reason, this was a slow read for me, even though the short chapters should make it very readable. I also found some of reflection to be cheesy. There are religious overtones, and, in my opinion, those are always difficult to pull off, and this was no exception. By the end, even though these townspeople are clearly beloved, I had a hard time differentiating one old, dying, charismatic local from the next.

That said, it’s still worth the read, but maybe only if you’re a fan (secretly or otherwise, of A Prairie Home Companion), if you’re from Alaska (I’m not), if you’ve visited Alaska (I have), or if you crave to be immersed in an idyllic, close-knit community that has the kind of face-to-face social interactions that some of us may still remember from before the days of social media (I do).

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

This is not my genre, but if Louise Erdrich writes an dystopic end-of-times novel, I’ll read it. While I haven’t read The Hunger Games, or even The Handmaid’s Tale, Future Home of the Living God seems to borrow from those of these themes and images. While I’m not well versed enough in the apocalypse genre to say for sure, I imagine that Erdrich’s work here does not expand the genre in terms of imagining what that world might look like, how it might function.

What I did love about the novel was that it tackled political issues and questions in ways that were artful and beautifully written. Erdrich seems to instantly and effortlessly create characters that are at once unique and familiar. She’s also just a master story teller, although there seemed to be some long scenes and plot points in the last third of the book that didn’t seem to expand the narrative. I trust Erdrich though, and perhaps on a second read, I would recognize the reasoning behind the plot in the last third of the book.

There were some great moments in the last third too though. For example, I loved how some of the characters evolved. I liked some of the surprises. I appreciated the commentary. I liked the way it ended.

Here were a few lines I liked:
The title, obviously. They don’t get much better than that: Future Home of the Living God

“An Announcement That Brought Incongruous Joy” (45).

“So do I love him at last? Child, I need him. It is hard to tell the two apart” (80).

A long section on how men smell (82).

“Where will you be, my darling, the last time it snows on earth?” (267).

Further reading:
Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton

Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maiden by Evelyn Brown

and possibly, The reason for crows : a story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy

2017: year in review

2017 was one of, if not the, worst years of my life. I got sick (for the first time in my life, really). Weirdly sick, and doctors couldn’t figure it out, until finally some fringe health workers said maybe stress, maybe anxiety, maybe adrenal fatigue, but still nothing certain. So, after all of the scans and doctors appointments that showed nothing, I took lots of supplements, and ate green salads, and was very still and gentle with myself for several months. It was isolating. I was fearful. I laid on the couch a lot. I read books. In fact, I read a lot of books last winter to pass the time, which ultimately helped me heal, I think. (My 2017 reading list is posted here.) Slowly, my strength returned. Slowly I began to exercise again. Slowly, slowly.

Despite that cloud hanging over my head in the first half of the year, lots of good, and beautiful, and life changing things happened in 2017 as well. Just as I was regaining my strength, I traveled to Portland, Oregon in March, to present at an academic conference. Then I took a trip to Spokane, Washington (I love that city), then a trip to Tri-Cities, Washington, then Moab to hike through Arches, then lots of time in Driggs, gardening and working and writing, then back to Oregon for my cousin Valerie’s wedding and good time spent with the kiddos, the Stampede, more gardening with my mom, riding lessons (I hadn’t been on a horse in years), a few trips around the pond on a paddle boat with my dad and nephew, a tiny raspberry harvest from my tiny new raspberry patch, and a conversation that had my heart pounding in my throat and ended with him saying, “Ok,” ejc’s visit (twice), along with Piper, a trip to Teton National Park, and the Table Rock hike, despite horrible smoke from forest fires last summer, a tiny huckleberry harvest (that actually took forever because—huckleberries), a road trip through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas to Missouri, for some art, a train depot, and wandering through Kansas City, MO, and a return to Little Sweden, then the total solar eclipse viewed from an overlook in the Idaho mountains, an experience that completely exceeded my expectations and changed my perspective on what the world was capable of, then on to Mom’s fall visit, and I loved having her here, and then back to Oregon for my cousin Gina’s wedding (where I was maid of honor for the first time!), a little more time with my family in Oregon, and then back to work, and then back to Spokane (I love that city! (even though it was unseasonably cold this time)) to present at another conference, and then teaching my last class of yoga for the foreseeable future, and then on to Florida, where I walked in the warm Atlantic surf in December, and napped my way through a road trip in Alabama and on to Louisiana, where I spent some time with people I will probably know forever, and then back to Oregon for a really charming, idyllic Christmas week, with lots of baking, just the right amount of snow, and good visits with my family, and lots of good news and good cheer to share.

Cheers to a happy new year, everyone.

sherewin

my 2017 “best nine” from Instagram

 

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

August: Osage County by John Wells

Let me start by quoting Cam from Modern Family, who astutely observed the following: “Excuse me, Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.” And I agree.

I watched this during a movie night with my mom. She was working on her art, and I was knitting, and we made the mistake of watching it after Terms of Endearment, which is perfection and nothing else can be said about it.

image from amazon.com

Netflix then suggested we watch August: Osage County directed by John Wells. This film has good acting all over the place. Each member of the stunning ensemble cast absolutely shines–as you would expect. Except there are so many other problems with the film that I started to marvel that the actors could pull off these impossible scenes.

So, first: melodrama. This film is melodrama. Midway through the film, Meryl Streep is running wildly through a hay field, chased by her reticent daughter (Julia Roberts), and the audience is just sort of embarrassed, and tired, and no longer buying in (even though we wanted to! even though we love Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts!). The scene where they’re running through the field and the very long, après funeral dinner scene are so over the top that there’s no recovering. The melodrama might go over better on stage.

That said, the film does deal with compelling emotional content and succeeds at pairing emotional content to characters, but struggles with putting those emotions to plot and story. The film deals with powerful stuff: struggles with addiction, unhealthy boundaries, and loving and withholding. With more subtlety, this film could have been spectacular.

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a very Sundance-y Sundance movie, but it’s good! Sundance loves some great films, and this is one of them. First, this is indeed a movie about a dying girl. Because the title is so straightforward, I somehow thought it wouldn’t be so dark, but it was.

image from imdb.com

image from imdb.com

I also rewatched Mad Max: Fury Road this week (stay with me, it’s relevant!) and have continued to find meaning in the war boys’ concept of a “witness”—this idea of being witnessed in our acts of bravery, our acts of love, our acts of dying—all of it. It’s meaningful to me because I’ve always been so independent and only in the last few years have begun to understand the value of an invested witness.

I mention it because an important aspect of M&E&DG is that a very young man is witness to a dying girl. It’s something they stumble into, they resist, but, of course, it becomes meaningful in ways they couldn’t’ve anticipated or even previously comprehended. That kind of character growth and insight was lovely to watch, but it was also sophisticated enough that I think most audience members come away with deeper insights about what it means to connect more to “their people,” moving beyond assumptions and into really knowing another person.

One of the best moments in the film is when the cool history professor talks about how he lost his father at a young age. He said that even after his father’s death, he’s continues to learn about him. His father’s life continues to reveal itself. It started when his dad’s friends started sharing stories after his death. It continues all the time, in unimaginable ways, even decades later. I think the point here is that learning about our dead loved ones is part of what it means to be alive and self-aware.

As for me, I continue to learn about my own grandmothers. Both my great grandmother and her daughter (my mom’s mom) were a huge part of my early childhood. My great grandma even lived with us sometimes during the winter. She just stayed. She was Swedish. She was very quiet, and she loved me.  My grandma and great grandma died within two years of each other. They were a big part of my childhood, and then, in a relatively short period of time, they were both gone.

For awhile, it was sad, but okay, and this is the natural cycle of life. And then, I got really curious about them and asked my mom and aunties lots of questions about who my grandmothers were. I began to piece together my memories with their stories.  Over time, I can see how much the course of my life has been shaped by their influence. Decades later, I’ll remember idioms and wisdom about how to grow a garden, how to love one man. They suffered and loved for decades, and don’t we all? I am a witness to it all. There is meaning where meaninglessness wants to creep in. It reminds me that I am part of something bigger, family, culture, blood, brains. They are with me in memory and in my story, and that’s what I took away from M&E&DG.

we haven’t winterkilled yet

Tonight my grandfather asked if Z was with us for Christmas. After a weekend of cold, when a piece of metal bound the auger in the pellet stove, and then an emotional phone conversation where it was decided that no, not right now, not Portland, and then my dear mother, and then a windstorm that banged against the walls and woke us before 4am and knocked out the power, and the resulting cold and dark day, we concluded that it had indeed been the worst weekend.

The company couldn’t’ve been better, though. There were lots of hugs and kisses with my nephew, as much to keep warm as for assurance (the only child I can hold like this because he is mine), and violin/piano duets, while Mom and I pick away at our favorite (easiest?) Christmas carols. There are also mice, who usually have the courtesy to die quietly in traps. But one made contact, chewing on something in my bedroom until I awoke, flipped on the light, and saw it on the floor making aggressive eye contact.

The next night it lost a small amount of blood as it died instantly in a snap trap. This is the country, and we haven’t winterkilled yet. We don’t plan to start now.

cold sky

evening sky

on holiday shopping-inspired humiliations

I like to do my Christmas shopping before heading home for the holidays. The selection is pretty limited where I’m from, so I try to get things that are a little different than whatever the local Wal-Mart might have. I also really like to have everything wrapped and ready to go because I love seeing the excitement on my nephew’s face as we unload the presents and put them under the tree. I hope it’s at least a fraction of the thrill I felt each year when Grandma brought out her presents.

This year, I’m not decorating my own home for Christmas. I might just eat some of those Hershey’s candy cane kisses and call it a day. In general, I’m not much of a homemaker. I think that’s mostly because I’ve never had much of a home. In the past two years, I found that I really loved putting up Christmas lights, threading popcorn on a string, and decorating a little tree, but that was because I was sharing it with someone. As it turns out, ritual is better when you have someone to share it with.

Which brings me to my point, which is that for me, sharing rituals is the most intimate and humiliating part of relationships. Nothing feels better than reaching a point where participating in ritual with someone feels safe. But later, when the relationship is over, I always feel deep humiliation about the whole thing.

I think it’s because my rituals are sacred to me. My family home, and returning there throughout the year, is sacred to me. There is land and space and wonderful people who listen when you talk. There is peace and quiet to read books and have long conversations that last all morning. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time there, and it’s something I hold sacred and private. And, it’s all very humiliating when someone sees the ritual and experiences it for a little while, and then chooses something else. Oh, God. Nothing’s worse.

one year ago

one year ago

i do rush home

I rush home to play the piano. (Well, keyboard.) I listen to songs on the radio and try to figure them out while driving. I fill out all of the exercises in my lesson book just for the joy of it.

My mom’s pretty competent at the piano, but has always wanted to play the violin. She started taking lessons this summer and absolutely loved it. I, on the other hand, have always wanted to play the piano. I took lessons when I was very young, but they were short-lived.

This summer, my mom inspired me with her violin lessons. She kept saying things like, “I just love it,” and “It’s so great.” It’s probably the English major in me, but I’m always prompting her to explain what she means. “What’s great about it?” She couldn’t quite explain. Now, neither can I.

I found a teacher who lives nearby and signed up for lessons this fall. I immediately loved it and, like my mom, find myself sort of inarticulate about it: “It’s the best thing ever,” and “It’s just so great.” At first I really loved the forced meditation. Music requires your entire brain, and when I’m concentrating, there is no room for chatter. There is no room for anything else, and it is divine.

One of the things I miss from my last relationship is music. I miss singing (though I am shy!) and I miss hearing the new song and the song that’s dedicated to me. So, I’ve tried to create that for myself. I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve been able to move through the lesson book and how satisfying it is to play.

I’ve always felt drawn the to piano. I have always wanted to be able to play. I love the sound of the piano. I’m also really fast at typing (and I think that actually helps.)

I don’t know what else to say. See how rambling and incoherent I am about it? Other than just “YES! I am doing it! And it is so great!”

morning scene

morning scene