Category Archives: love

Ladies Lazarus by Piper J. Daniels

I was late in ordering Ladies Lazarus by Piper J. Daniels, so I started reading quickly when it arrived. Then, I slowed way down because it was so good, and I wanted it to last. The book is that rare blend of beautiful language, poetry, insight, feeling, and social commentary. Blending the latter with the former requires a talent that few possess. Daniels does it deftly throughout the book.

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Ladies Lazarus by Piper J. Daniels

Her explanation, experience, and insights into mental illness are unprecedented, and as I read, I thought frequently that this book should be required reading in the academic fields that deal with mental health. Her writing provides insights essential (and seemingly currently lacking) to the field.

The book adds feminist insights to the larger conversation. Her insights on being a woman, coping with assault, shaping one’s entire being around the threat and reality of violence are, again, unprecedented. Acute, accurate, informative.

The book is poetic, emotional, and beautiful. I especially found her depiction of love to be beautiful and true. Society forces an awareness, obsession even, with male to female violence from a young age, and, perhaps as a consequence, the author falls in love with the women who have been harmed, who have been murdered, and who have been taken their own lives. As a result, the reader feels the author’s love for all women–a love that functions authentically, but also as a life philosophy, a social commitment.

The reader does not get a tidy ending. The writer leaves Washington State for the dry, hot climes of Arizona. The last two chapters return more to love and poetry. The last two chapters seem like the next book. But instead, as a reader, I wanted a reconciliation with the dead souls who the reader has been holding in her heart. I also want the next book. I hope she’s doing us all a favor and writing it now.

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

I’ve lived in Utah for nearly a decade combined, and it has always felt “unnatural” to me. First, it seems to me to be a very delicate desert landscape that is being ravaged to sustain far too many people. In my opinion, deserts should be sparsely populated, while lusher, coastal regions should house the majority of the population. Not only did living in Utah feel wrong in an ecological sense, I struggled to belong, to fit in, etc. I had a great job there and loved the beautiful mountains, but something always felt off to me, and I was certain, even as the years passed by, that this place would never truly be home to me.

That feeling of not belonging began to change only in the past few years. My future began to unfold with new love, new direction, new possibility. Of course, those feelings also coincided with spending more time in the nearby state of Idaho, but I began to feel more at ease in Utah. I got pregnant. I finally bought a house. I felt that I could finally put down roots.

Little did I know, a little over a year after this “settling,” I would finally have the opportunity to pack up and leave Utah. The time has come–soon, I will be jetting off to Oregon, back to the Northwest that I love so much, closer to family, and to a job that (from this vantage point) feels very much right for me.

When I began reading Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams, I was a homeowner in Utah. I had recently left city living for a quiet suburb next to Lake Utah. The house was big and lovely and comfortable, with sweeping views of Mount Timpanogos and Lake Utah. I took daily walks along a paved path that skirted the water of the lake. I saw birds I’d never seen before. Cattle grazed in the nearby fields. I grew my son in my belly, and I felt a deep peace and contentedness that I’d hadn’t felt in years–maybe ever. Finally, I could feel at home.

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white ibis in the field behind my house ushering in the birth of my son

Because I am now a mother, reading is slow. So when I began the book, my baby was not sleeping through the night. I read whenever I had a chance, whenever I could keep my eyes open. The short chapters were perfect for this.

It’s a beautiful book. As the author describes the birds of Utah with care and love, my love for the birds I encountered near the shoreline grew. My appreciation for Utah grew. It’s also about her mother’s life and death from cancer, which conjured emotions and experiences I knew too well. I began to savor the book and read it slowly.

Now the book has come to an end, and so has my time in Utah. The book has, perhaps, made it even more bittersweet to leave. She ends with her essay, “The Clan of the One-Breasted Women,” which I’ve read before. It’s precise, powerful, and effective. The book is a blend of Utah’s beauty and of it’s destruction, and it leaves me leaving Utah with gratitude for the time spent here, but also a certainty that this land is meant for visiting, for passing through, and that I (and maybe about a million other people) am not meant to live so permanently in this land.

L’s birth story

39745114_10217350126411587_1642003359181307904_nOn July 8th, 2018, my partner T and I invited my grandpa (L’s Great Grandpa Hunt) out to an early dinner. Since I was 40 weeks pregnant and had felt indulgent in the final weeks of my pregnancy, I decided to keep it going with an all-you-can-eat buffet at Chuck-O-Rama—a nice new one in nearby Lehi. We sat for quite awhile eating and talking. Grandpa and T could eat very little, but I indulged, especially on the mini cinnamon rolls. The conversation was slow and pleasant. In my last weeks of pregnancy, I was incredibly pleasant, and slow, and calm, and docile like a cow.

That evening, I felt a little excitement, but it was indiscernible from other excitement I’d had in previous weeks. That weekend I had the urge to tell my mom to drive to Utah from Oregon, but I brushed it off thinking I was still days or maybe even a week or more away from delivery. My mom had the same impulse that weekend as well.

Earlier in the day, I’d walked my usual, daily walk along the lake path and listened to my childbirth affirmations—which had been my daily routine for weeks. After summer school was over, and I was mostly alone in Utah and keenly aware that this was the last time I would be alone for a very long time. T arrived the week before my due date in anticipation of L’s arrival. The days were hot. I was still happily mowing my new lawn weekly with my new electric mower.

After dinner with Grandpa and T—it was a Sunday night—I went to bed as usual. Relatively quickly, I felt crampy and unsettled in bed. Soon, I realized I was having real contractions. I’d had a few very mild Braxton Hicks and some aches and pains earlier that I’d timed on a childbirth app. So, I began timing these contractions a bit, but also trying to sleep. If this was labor, I wanted to rest up in the early stages. If it wasn’t labor, I still wanted to try to stay rested. The contractions intensified, and, for the next 2-3 hours, I had to breathe and focus to get through them. I let T know that I was in labor, but told him he should still try to sleep. I texted my midwife, my doula, and my mom to let them know. Though it was late, my mom began preparing to drive to Utah. My midwife, Rebecca, told me to contact her when my contractions established a pattern. My doula, Robynne, was attending another birth, but began making arrangements to have a backup take over, so she could be with me.

My water broke a little after 2am on July 9th (L’s “due date”). There was a dark greenish tinge in the amniotic fluid. (While it looked like meconium to me, my care providers weren’t so sure.) Everything intensified, and I immediately woke T for support. We had not yet installed the car seat, so I asked him to install it in case of an emergency. He also brought me towels to put between my legs when resting in bed and a small table to lean against while laboring on the toilet. My contractions were two minutes apart, and sometimes closer, and I began to vomit into the toilet because of the intensity (and I do not throw up easily!). On one hand, I felt calm. I knew what was going on and felt that I was managing the pain effectively. On the other hand, I recognized that I now I needed support, and so I texted my doula and my midwife to let them know. Things did feel a bit chaotic during that time. My contractions were erratic. They’re supposed to establish a pattern. In fact, in all of my time birth education, I’d never heard of them not establishing a pattern. They can speed up, slow down, or stay consistent, but they’re always very measurable. Mine seemed all over the place. I also continued to leak amniotic fluid and vomit. I felt the need to move back and forth between the bed and the toilet, and I also felt the need to sop up my messes with a towel, while crying, but staying calm, and also feeling very excited and ready to meet the person who would be my son.

I labored mostly alone through the early morning hours, and my doula arrived around 7 am or maybe later. It was such a relief to have her there. Her counter pressure was so comforting. My contractions began to ease up. I felt restful. But, I also started to feel some worry. I’d labored pretty intensely all night, but I could feel that my body wasn’t changing very quickly. As a doula, I had supported women, especially first time moms like myself, who had labored for days. I knew that if I was fated for such a labor, I would probably want the support of a hospital and an epidural. That had been my “Plan B” all along. If I my labor progressed steadily and I could deliver in 8-10 hours or so, I wanted to give birth at home. If it extended much beyond that, I knew I wanted more medicalized support. I expressed this concern to both my doula and to T. They both reassured me I was doing great, that I didn’t need to transfer, and that we should stay at home. So, I continued to rest and to labor, with support, and wait for my midwife to arrive.

My midwife Rebecca arrived in the late morning, and began setting up. It was around midday when she checked me, and, after over 12 hours of labor, 10 of those hours were intense after my water had ruptured, I was still only dilated two centimeters. This information did not surprise me necessarily. While my contractions felt very intense, I felt that my body was changing very gradually. After some internal worry, I finally told my doula that I was really considering transferring to the hospital. My doula and T reassured me once again, but I began to feel a certainty. Finally, I told my midwife that I was thinking about transferring to a hospital. She seemed a bit surprised. She told me my options. I could stay, and she could give me something to help get my labor going. Or, I could go to the hospital. This exchange was a bit awkward. My midwife, whom I’d had a somewhat strange relationship with up to this point, was supportive, but she also said, “You’ll pay for it now, or you’ll pay for it later,” regarding my pain in a labor at home vs. my pain and an epidural in a hospital setting. I became increasingly sure of my decision. I felt peaceful. It was an early act of mothering where I was the person in the room who knew the right answer for me, my baby, and my body.

After a bit more deliberation, I finalized my decision to go to the hospital. I had heard good things about the AF hospital—it was nearby, and I knew it was compatible with my insurance. So, I transferred there. The midwife called the hospital to let them know I would be arriving shortly. I stepped into some gray leggings and pulled on a loose dress with the help of my doula. Then, T drove me in my car. The car ride was manageable, although I had to breathe through a contraction every time he hit a bump in the road.

Throughout the morning, T had been in touch with my mom as she drove to Utah from Oregon. Shortly after we arrived at the hospital, my mom arrived at my house to drop off her dog, Jaxn, and a few perishables before coming to meet us at the hospital. She arrived at the hospital not long after we did, and I was so glad she would be there for the birth.

The intake process was fairly fast. T gave them my name, birth date, and insurance card, and we were whisked away to a birthing suite with a bathtub, which I knew I wouldn’t use because at that point I was there for the epidural. I got settled into the room. I was feeling some relief because we had arrived safely, and I could focus my attention back on to my labor. The midwife provided information about my transfer to the nurse on duty and then bid me adieu.

I contemplated whether or not I should get the epidural right away because contractions had slowed again. However, with (very little) encouragement, I went ahead and ordered the epidural. After about over 14 hours of active labor, and 12 hours after my water broke, I got the epidural. It was probably another hour before the process was complete, and the pain relief kicked in. While I was still sitting up from having the epidural placed, and the anesthesiologist was cleaning up my back, I felt a strange suction feeling travel up my spine from the site of the needle to a piercing pain in the back of my neck. It then immediately moved on to my head, where it stayed in the form of the worst headache I’ve ever felt in my life. That pain was still far less than the pain of contractions, which was already decreasing thanks to the epidural. I told the anesthesiologist, and everyone in the room, about the headache, and the anesthesiologist got a little defensive and immediately said that it wasn’t because of the epidural. I found this comical. Of course it was because of the epidural! I said I wasn’t mad at him, and the pain relief was helping with the contractions. At the staff’s instruction, I leaned back in the bed, and, after a time, the headache began to fade and was much more manageable within an hour. I had a dull headache on and off throughout the rest of my labor. The epidural meant I also needed IV fluids and a catheter. That was all set up.

When I was admitted to the hospital, they found that I was still dilated to a two. After a few hours with the epidural in full force, the on call doctor, Dr. H came in to talk about my options. He wanted to start Pitocin, and I agreed. Since I had an epidural, I was less afraid of the intensity of Pitocin contractions. Since my labor was going so slowly, I knew I would be at a risk of an c-section if I labored too long. (Most hospitals won’t let women labor for over 24 hours after the water breaks.) So, we started Pitocin and continued on and off with it until I delivered. When it intensified my contractions, I needed more pain relief from my epidural. Whenever I’d push the button, the pain relief was effective, but it would also cause an uncomfortable numbness that sometimes lasted several hours. When L didn’t handle the Pitocin well, they turned it off, trying again a few hours later. We continued like this through the evening, and all of the following night. I hadn’t eaten since Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t slept since Saturday night. And yet, I was alert. I wasn’t hungry, and I sipped the water that my doula offered like a champ throughout my entire labor.

Some nurses were fine. Some used unnecessary fear mongering. In the early morning, around 4 am, they stopped checking me. I think this is because if I was complete, they didn’t want to bother a doctor at that hour, and they didn’t want to be in delivery during shift change if at all possible. In the early morning hours, L showed some signs of distress, and I would need to shift positions to help him. Eventually, before I started pushing him out, the nurse gave me oxygen to help with L’s signs of distress. I liked having the oxygen and used it throughout the pushing stage delivery.

My backup doula, Ashlie, arrived and took over at around 6 am. After shift change at 7am, I was finally checked an hour later, and they found that I was complete. I think, based on the pressure and way I was feeling, that I had been complete and ready to push since maybe 5 am or so. After it was determined that I was complete, I was allowed to start pushing. Before giving birth, I knew that sometimes women had to wait for a doctor to arrive before they pushed. I thought I might be able to start pushing when I felt ready. However, as it turned out, I absolutely needed coaching to push out my baby.

The nurse instructed me to put my chin to my chest, hold my breath, and push. This is called “purple pushing,” and it felt very counter intuitive to me. I tried to push in other ways, pushing down through my throat and through my core (opposed to curling), and this felt more powerful to me. My mom thought it looked wrong though, and the nurse thought it was strange, so I tried it their way for awhile. But, that continued to feel strange to me, and I felt weak pushing in that way, so I shifted back to the way that felt strong and intuitive to me and continued to push that way until I pushed my baby out.

We started out using the hospital’s birthing bar. The nurse had never used it before, so my doula showed her how. My pushes with the bar were not very productive, but I also wasn’t very supported by the nurse, so we removed it and moved into a traditional lithotomy position, with someone holding each leg, and a nurse sitting between my legs, monitoring the situation, and telling me to push each time I had a contraction.

It did not feel like I’d pushed very long before the nurse said that L’s head was showing and that he said hair! (He had very little hair.) In a few more pushes, T and my mom were able to see L’s head starting to come out as well, but only during a push. Finally, as I neared delivery, the nurse had me stop pushing so that she could get the doctor. So, once again, I had to wait to push. And again I was surprised that I was unable to really push productively without external support.

The doctor arrived, Dr. A, the table was broken down, and the neonatal team arrived. I commenced pushing until my baby’s head was out, and not going back in between contractions. I reached down and felt him with my hand. My mom was able to see him. I became more aware of T’s presence in the room as he saw his son for the first time, and there was a noticeable shift as he instantly transformed into a dad.

Finally, I knew the time had come for my baby to leave my body. I pushed, and before I could catch my breath, was told to push again. I felt pulling and pressure, and, at 10:59 am on Tuesday, July 10th, the doctor pulled out my baby with the turning motion that babies make as they are delivered. The feeling of having my baby leave my body is one I hope I’ll never forget. I could feel his power and his energy and his spirit transfer out into the world. It felt inevitable, essential, and profound. That 9 lbs 7 oz comfort in my belly slipped to the outside world, coughing and sputtering, and them crying softly. I reached for him with outstretched arms and held him to my chest, skin to skin, with tears streaming down my face. Our spirits reunited on the outside.

L gave me so much power and strength throughout my pregnancy. He blessed me with some of that power that I still feel today. It’s the strength I had to lift my heavy baby when I was postpartum and no longer had any abs or a pelvic floor to speak of. It’s the strength I had to endure the ongoing pain and slow recovery from childbirth. It’s the strength I have to lovingly rise again and again and again at 3am to feed my baby. It’s the strength I have every day to show up and be a mother.

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.

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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.

The First Forty Days by Heng Ou

When I first found out I was pregnant (yes, pregnant!), The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou was the first book I ordered. Over the years, as part of my doula training, I’ve read many books about childbirth (my favorite probably being Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding: From the Nation’s Leading Midwife).

So much is written about the pregnancy and childbirth, and rightly so, but relatively little has been written about the postpartum period, now sometimes referred to as the “fourth trimester.” So, I read this book to learn more about that period, and I’m glad I did.

My only criticism of the book is that it is quite repetitive and the content is better than the writing. Through the first half, and then again at the very end, it reads more like a book proposal, like she’s still trying to sell the reader on the idea, than like reading the body of a book.

However, it’s absolutely still worth reading. In fact, I highly recommend it for pregnant people, new parents, and their caretakers. The highlights of the book are in the information provided about the postpartum period in different cultures, how to care for a new mother in the first 40 days or 6 weeks after a baby is born. The novel recipes are inspiring, and I found the thoughtful commentary that goes along with each recipe to be  interesting. The images of the meals and ingredients are also gorgeous. I’ve been craving so much junk food that seeing lovely pictures of “real” food has helped me out a bit.

Even if I don’t end up making or eating any of the meals from this book, I think just reading about this postpartum philosophy would help new mothers recover, heal, and adjust. At the very least, I think I’ll probably drink broths and soups and try to stay cozy and warm during this time. I’m always cold, and so I loved the emphasis on prioritizing warmth. I felt like the book gave me permission to do so in general, and I appreciated that.

My doula just recommended Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, which is another one I haven’t read yet. I think I’ll try it next.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

Honestly, I’ve just about had it with violations, sexual or otherwise, and the powerful perpetrators of those violences. In the past year, there’s been so much more awareness raised around this issue, and I think as a collective conscious we’re just over it. Time’s up, as they say. Full stop.

So, although Gabriel García Márquez is a favorite of mine (at least One Hundred Years of Solitude is a favorite book), when I read Memories of My Melancholy Whores I was not very patient with the premise. Even so, the author shined like he always does. The main character is a skillfully executed antihero, who helps the reader see the delusional, selfish, and, yes, even sometimes beautiful side of the human experience. I can’t say for sure if the aspect of violation was praised (not overtly, no), or criticized (probably, but subtly). Even still, to me it was worth reading.

Gabriel García Márquez is one of the best writers of all time, so the thing was perfectly written. Still, here are just a few lines I liked:

“Then who was it? She shrugged: It could be from somebody who died in the room” (69).

“Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love” (69 (What can I say? It was a good page)).

“…his…glasses of a hopeless myopic” (112).

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

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson is my first book of 2018! I was slogging through another book for several weeks, before picking this up around the New Year and not really putting it down until I was finished.

I thought I’d read Winterson before, but I don’t think I have. I think I had her confused with Jean Rhys or something. Anyway, it’s a great book. It’s obvious, funny, and smart in ways that were accessible to me.

Here were just a few lines I liked:
“[S]he’d got rid of more smells than she’s eaten hot dinners” (33).

Needlepoint: “THE SUMMER IS ENDED AND WE ARE NOT YET SAVED” (40).

“I was not a selfish child and, understanding the nature of genius, would have happily bowed to another’s talent…” (50).

“…no emotion is the final one” (52).

“Time is a great deadener; people forget, get bored, grow old, go away” (176).

Further reading:
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market

Middlemarch by George Eliot

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

 

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho: A Novel by Emily Ruskovich is an absolutely fantastic novel. And that’s coming from someone who’s had a hard time reading fiction for several years now. I’ve been the most critical reader, scouring the first 10, 15, 20 pages for a piece of dialogue to fall flat, for text that tries too hard, or for a lie. Normally, I’ll find a reason to set the book aside within the first few pages. Often in the first paragraph. (I hope my own readers are more generous.) I’ll admit that the first 50 pages of this book were slow for me, but I love Idaho, and I found myself wanting to spend more time in the state and, therefore, more time with the book. Every line, every description, every detail served a purpose. Nothing was wasted. There were endless revelations about the human spirit.

My struggled with fiction has had to do with plots lines that are too predictable (or intentionally unpredictable for no good reason), common tropes are overused, and characters are flat. As a result, if I do read fiction, it tends to be stuff with no discernible plot line. Idaho has a plot line. Very much so. But it is as artful as the text.

If you grew up in the Inland Northwest, if there are old pictures of you as a child standing in the back of a old Ford, a photo taken when you are covered in tamarack dust, stuck to you from the can of Coke you drank, while you are waiting while your parents stacked firewood into the back of the pickup, and smell of honeysuckle and chainsaw oil thick in the air, and then if you went to school in the Palouse, and spent summers high up in the Idaho mountains, a little worried about getting lost among the old Forest Service road, but thankful from the break of intellectual work, while you marked and hauled old logs to the truck to burn through the winter in a fireplace that would melt and permanently scar the skin on your forearm, and if you take every opportunity, every summer and spring break, to drive back to those empty Blue Mountains, and if you knew the boredom and insight of an isolated childhood in the rural Northwest, and if you think you’ve actually met Emily Ruskovich, been introduced in passing by a friend, an acquaintance, in Moscow, Idaho, while you were practicing yoga across the state line, or at the farmer’s market, or in the little shop, where you ate a coffee and bagel after having ridden your bike eight miles along the Chipman Trail. Perhaps she was a student, or maybe you two were alone in a used bookstore and shared a knowing glance, seeing that you are the same, both with freckles, red hair, and dark eyes, but you think you are different, but you are not so different, and you should read this beautiful, beautiful book that she has written.