Tag: Beauty

21Apr

Inventory

Life has felt off lately. It’s not that I’m having trouble adjusting to work but rather that I’m having trouble fitting Everything Else around the shaded blocks on my calendar. Recharge time has auditioned against grocery shopping and lost (hey, we’ve still gotta eat), and I’m always surprised by how quickly my perspective begins to flounder when my schedule fills up. I just get so focused on the task directly in front of my nose that I don’t notice which way I’m walking. Then comes an unhurried morning like this, the opportunity to rendezvous with myself, and I realize I have no idea where I’ve ended up.

I could be anywhere—a plateau overlooking wide horizons, a sinkhole hidden somewhere, a thicket of brambles, a strange new world—and the not-knowing spins my head off its axis. At the risk of outing myself as a control freak, I only feel like I can relax into my life when I’m sitting securely atop it, when I can survey it and take inventory and toggle wrongs into rights with a flick of my wrist. Getting lost inside my own head space seems like the ultimate failure.

I’ve been thinking about gratitude this morning as well. I know people who swear by gratitude journals, by counting blessings, by thank you notes turned into holy liturgy, and it certainly couldn’t hurt my pessimistic nature to stretch its neck to the other side of the fence once in a while. I’m not on top of everything—or possibly even anything—right now, but I’ll take inventory nonetheless…

…Of my wildflower daughter with the honey-kissed hair and freckled nose and my other daughter with the hair like a curtain of sunbeams and the laugh crinkles, both wearing tutus and singing variations on a theme of  “Ring Around the Rosies” in the other room…

…Of this job that asks of me my training but not my life and gives back more than it takes…

…Of the daisy constellations in the spring-green universe of our backyard…

…Of the weekend ahead penciled in for adventure and relaxation and games of hide and seek through lakeside trees…

…Of the gift of choice… and the greater gifts that I wouldn’t have known to choose…

And tallying up the bounty surrounding me, I still may not know exactly where I am, but I discover that I’m glad to be here.

31Mar

Catnip

I’ve written before about how my childhood springtimes in Texas failed to coax any drop of sentimentality out of me. In fact, I couldn’t understand why so many people went into raptures around the end of March. Our primary spring imports were mud and allergies, and the weather’s slow slide from warm to really warm hardly seemed worth rhapsodizing. (It’s entirely possible, of course, that I could have put more effort into noticing the seasonal beauty, but I was always loyal to autumn with its crackling leaf piles and nutty breezes.)

Here in Italy, however, this time of year is like personalized catnip. Only a flimsy fondness for decorum keeps me from rolling around in every patch of wild daisies I see, paws flying and propriety punch-drunk on sunshine. Not only have I stopped minding when others wax poetic about spring, I’ve started my own list of celebratory ballad topics:

  • The sight of freshly washed socks tiptoeing on the line rather than slung over radiators to steam dry. (If any of you knows Journey’s song-writing team, you’re welcome to direct them here.)
  • The scent of my favorite lemon perfume laced with memories of Sorrento and excitement over this Easter’s camping trip.
  • The texture of damp earth, the elemental weight of seeds between finger and thumb, and the whisper-touch of newborn plants.
  • The sound of the girls’ laughter spirited away by the open air, waltzing in windows and back out to whirl under their footsteps.
  • The flavor of 2011’s first strawberries, sorbet for dessert, and cherry blossoms dished up on periwinkle breeze.

Plum blossoms in the backyard

What about you? Does anything about this time of year stir you into a feline frenzy and/or inspire you to poeticize socks?

17Nov

(Un)Excused Absence

Saturday is when I should have clued in.

November had stashed away one last jewel of an afternoon, and it glittered emerald and gold in an unexpected flood of sunlight. Some friends of ours were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to harvest their olives—another regional tradition that I’ve wanted to participate in since we moved to Italy—and they invited us to join them. I couldn’t imagine a lovelier way to spend the afternoon… soaking up the beauty of our friends’ country home, teaching the girls how to climb trees, rolling smooth olives between my fingers, and connecting with nature and laughter again after a stressful week.

However, I could not go. Literally. I had been dragging myself out of bed before dawn for days and scraping out my brain until late at night for any bit of creative residue. My Saturday word quota was filled, but I was beyond exhausted. Over a late lunch, my mind ran frenzied laps around the manymany other things I needed to get done until it simply stopped. Total shutdown. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t respond to simple questions. I couldn’t hold my head up.

While the girls skipped out the door with their dad to enjoy the last perfect fall afternoon, I burrowed under piles of covers where I spent the next few hours shivering uncontrollably and dozing off only to snap back in a panic over everything I needed to do. That’s when I should have clued in that NaNoWriMo was costing us too dearly.

It didn’t sink in though until yesterday when I read this:

“Sometimes I think I can do this and do that and then do this after I do that. But the truth is, motherhood permeates everything. It trumps all. It’s the calling that interrupts this and cancels that and makes this look like it never mattered anyway.”

Her words thudded into my chest and jolted my eyes back into focus. I hadn’t actually played with my girls since, oh… Day 3. The priority of writing a book in thirty days had edged them out, labeled them as threats to my agenda, marginalized their need for a happy, attentive mother. I had told myself we could survive anything for a month, but that simply wasn’t true. The crusty dishes could survive. The unsorted laundry could survive. But we, with our beating hearts and fragile skins, were not surviving my absence from life, no matter how excused.

I parked myself on the girls’ rug yesterday evening to play Legos with them and practically had to glue myself in place. I wanted to be there, to be a mother again, but my mind was lost in a maze of Christmas lists, insurance policies, and an ever-looming storyline while a disembodied voice over the loudspeakers reminded me that I was still 3,000 words behind. I told it to shut up. It boomed an accusation of laziness. I asked it what could be more important than my family. It answered, “NOT FAILING.”

Wrong answer.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that that voice over the loudspeakers, the voice of achievement no matter the cost, didn’t have any more control over me than I gave it… but I would rather clue in late than not at all. Before going to bed, I reset the alarm to give myself an extra hour of dearly-needed sleep, and I woke up smiling for the first morning this month. Throughout today, I’ve worked on extra-bookular activities and spent time with my family without guilt. I worked on the novel too, but I let myself feel proud for adding 500 words rather than despondent over not completing 2,000.

I’m not quitting NaNoWriMo, and I’m certainly not giving up on my strapping kindergartener of a book. However, one month is too long to devote myself to literary abandon. I have a worthier calling that interrupts plots and cancels characters and makes an impressive 50,000-word goal look like it never mattered anyway. My new goal for November is to make sure my girls know that I know this… and if I manage to write a large chunk of book in the process, well, that will just be olive oil on my bruschetta.

22Oct

Enamoranged

I love the spices of October, the layers in her wardrobe, her moonrises and fogbanks, her apple-cheeks and smoky curls. However, my favorite trait of October, the one that endlessly flirts with my imagination and wins me over year after year, is a color.

Orange!

How does October enamor you?

20Oct

Highland Fling – Part 8

(Parts 123456, & 7)

You girls really had been troopers (ha) considering all the hiking we had subjected you to, and your dad and I wanted to surprise you with a trip to an indoor water park in Inverness. Our intentions were noble and all, but we had completely forgotten to take into account how worn out you would be from said hiking. By the time we pulled into the parking lot, you were miles away in Dreamland, so we just kept driving… and an unexpectedly delightful afternoon was born. Overhead, cloudpuffs tumbled over each other like puppies in a vast field of blue while wildflowers dripping with color rushed past our windows. You girls slept, steeping in loveliness, as we rattled down country roads and I snapped illicit photos of Cawdor Castle.

A glimpse of Cawdor Castle 2 I had to hop a fence to get this shot, but I figure Shakespeare, not to mention Lady Macbeth, would approve.

You woke up about the time we hit Nairn, so we followed signs for its main beach and pretended it had been our plan all along. It should have been our plan all along. Turquoise highlights sparkled in the Moray Firth around splashing beachgoers while moms in sundresses hosed down sandy babies and chatted. Children dashed around the pirate-themed playground in their flip-flops sliding, swinging, and dripping strawberry ice cream. It was the perfect summer holiday. Never mind that the sparkling water was two degrees removed from an iceberg and that the sundresses were dancing in a ferocious sub-Arctic wind. Just that morning, we had met a family from the Orkney Islands who couldn’t bear to travel any farther south because of the heat. Meanwhile, we—acclimated as we were to sunny southern Europe—were quickly becoming popsicles.

A juxtaposition This is what we call a juxtaposition.

However, we weren’t going to let a little thing like potential frostbite stop us from enjoying ourselves. If we could survive a hurricane on the Isle of Skye, by golly, we could survive a beautiful summer afternoon at the playground… with the help of extra undershirts and some hot drinks scored from the ice cream shop. (Bear Grylls would be so proud!) Sophie, you parked yourself in a swing and then graciously offered to let us push you for the next infinity. Natalie, you put the fabulous beach slide to good use, commandeered the pirate ship, and tried more than once to speak Italian to children whose accents you couldn’t understand. (You get that from your mother who has to turn on subtitles for British films and would like to take this opportunity to apologize.) We gave the kites some air time (ha) and then ran pell-mell down the grassy dunes together shrieking with laughter.

Daddy and Sophie ready to race down the hill We do not hold ourselves responsible for damage incurred on anyone’s eardrums as a result.

Back at the campground, we watched the World Cup with a Dutch man whose wooden shoes enthralled you, especially when they were running circles in celebration of a goal. We washed the dishes alongside a nice Polish lady, and you socialized at the playground with the Orkney kids who had finally donned long-sleeves over their tank tops. We met an American family in the laundry room, and the owners of the campground offered you some Beatrix Potter books to read before bed. Despite being so far from home, we were part of a little international insta-community, and it was lovely having friends to say goodnight to… even if we couldn’t always understand their replies.

The sky at 11 p.m. Irrelevant anecdote: As you girls were getting ready for bed that night, your dad and I tried to settle a dispute from the previous night in which he had insisted that malted milk tastes like bread (and not in the positive way that Guinness does), while I had maintained that malted milk is reminiscent of Whoppers and thus wonderful. You, Natalie, were the objective arbitrator. I gave you a warm mug of malted milk which you promptly gulped down. Sensing victory, I exclaimed, “Wow, you must really like that!” You wrinkled your nose and replied, “Not really. It just tastes a bit like… hay.” Cue your dad cracking up.

~~~

On to Part 9…

18Oct

Highland Fling – Part 6

(Parts 1234, & 5)

Of course, our version of relaxing might look a little different than some others’. Since we were still supposed to be on the Isle of Skye, we considered the whole next day an impromptu detour and spent it hiking through Glen Affric. This is the part where I’m tempted to toss out this letter format and just pelt you with pictures, so photogenic was our day. However, the pictures don’t show how you, Natalie, skipped at my side singing a superspeed version of “You Are My Sunshine” on repeat… or how you, Sophie, reached up periodically to ask, “Would you holg me, Mommy?”… or how we tickled tadpoles in the “whisky-coloured water” (Scottish information pamphlets make my heart sing) and I failed to adequately correlate tadpoles with frogs in your minds… or how, with three photographers among us and a stunning display of nature on the other side of our lenses, it’s a wonder we managed to get anywhere.

Photographer Natalie snapping some shots Actually, we do have photographic evidence of that last one.

Despite our best efforts, get somewhere we did. We hiked over boulders, past waterfalls, across bridges, through fern glades, and finally up a hill that was approximately twenty times as high as it looked to arrive at a perfect picnic rock overlooking Coire Loch (pronounced “Corry Law[the sound of phlegm dislodging from your throat]”). The scenery was gorgeous—sapphire-toned water set in a lush forest that extended as far as we could see—and we were exhilarated to be at the top. Or rather, your dad and I were. You two had depleted the last of your energy asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How about now? Now?……….Now?” on our way up the hill, and you were tired. Just how tired, I didn’t realize until you put yourselves down for a refreshing afternoon nap. On a log.

The next best thing to a sleeping bag Just to clarify, your dad and I had nothing to do with this.

As comfortable as the tree bark looked, we opted to let you crash in your own sleeping bags that night, and can I just say how glad I am that we live in a day and age where “roughing it” involves you sleeping in pink feather piles in your own private room? Sure, we lack all wilderness survival cred, but it’s so nice having the resources to enjoy sleeping on the ground. Our nighttime routine at campgrounds is hardly different from the one at home. You get your pajamas on, then we snuggle up to read a story or two while you interject frequent questions about the characters’ personal lives, their bathroom habits, and the likelihood of ice cream in our near future. We hug and kiss and sing a song that may or may not be embellished with scatological humor. (“Twinkle, twinkle little fart,” anyone?) Your dad and I tuck you girls in and pray with you. We say goodnight. We zip up the door. We unzip the door and show you that your water bottles are, in fact, in the same spot they are every night. We zip up the door. We unzip the door and wipe noses. We zip up the door. I unzip the door and remind you, “Girls, you’re supposed to be going to sleep; now be quiet.” One of you leans over to whisper to the other one, and I bark, “Sophie! What did I just say?” I can sense your exasperation even through the darkness: “Mommy, I was not talking to you…”

Storytime
Must be all those subversive bedtime stories…

~~~

On to Part 7…

23Sep

Joy Ride

Sunlight is skimming across terra cotta rooftops and bell towers this morning, darting through each daisy petal on our balcony before swooping off to light the cypresses on distant hills. Our palms bathe their faces in it. Dozens of newborn strawberries blink and stretch in our little patch while fresh chilies glow like potted flames. The mint we cut down mere days ago is lush once again. Yesterday’s laundry line-dances to the church bells below our house while sparrows sing backup. This cannot be autumn.

But it is, of course. The girls’ tank tops have been packed away to make room for plaid skirts and jewel-tone hoodies, their flip-flops traded for boots. The watermelon bins at the grocery store are now filled with cabbages. Limoncello perfume for blackberry, scarves for sunblock, Jack Johnson for Sufjan Stevens, mojito nights for school mornings… the evidence is pretty compelling.

I refuse to give in, though, not while summer is still joy-riding through our open windows. There will be plenty of time for cinnamon cappuccinos and crisp, pumpkin-laced daydreams next month.

(Right?).

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