Tag: Breathing

17Dec

All That Glitters

There just isn’t any point to changing out of our pajamas today. After a long night of sickness and storms, none of us is up for much more than lounging around the house anyway, so breakfast is an informal affair—Nutella smeared on toast and adorable bed-heads all around. The girls pick out four colors of nail polish each, and for once, I don’t tell them I’m too busy.

With newly pinked and purpled nails, we cut paper snowflakes for no reason other than whimsy, and then we carry it one step further by adding glitter. I raid the cupboards for soup ingredients—no one expects fancy meals when you can’t make it to the store—and the three of us linger around the kitchen table soaking up our first real dose of Christmas spirit this year. 

Cutting out snowflakes

All of it, even the lost work hours and the circles under my eyes and the glitter, good lord, the glitter, is worth the joy of spending some down time with my girls. We’ve been sorely missing each other lately, and we needed a day off together. And as an extra bonus, we won’t have to change into our pajamas tonight.

Now please excuse me while I proceed to vacuum for the next year and a half.

16Dec

Power Down

(Photo from our misadventurous trip to Milan in October;
wouldn’t you love to just sit on the side and watch the water glimmer by?)

The trick is finding a way to be still. I could push myself beyond sleep, breathe coffee, prioritize like a woman running for her life. I could certainly find a way to do more. But my soul… It starves while I pour myself into other forms of survival, and my heart retreats, scared off by the panicky mess it knows is coming.

You would not believe how frustrating it can be to fall into soggy crumbles when I try to sustain productivity for any significant duration. Those times I am trying the hardest to move mountains are often the times I showcase my incapability, and how the hell did I hold down jobs and a scholarship GPA in college? (Answer: I was a decade younger. Also, unlimited coffee refills at the all-night IHOP.) I can feel the shutdown coming on when I try to power through another late-late night, and that’s when I know it’s time to shut off.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t replied to your emails or responded to your comments or kept up with your blogs or thanked you personally for supporting my book, please know that I’m not ignoring you. On the contrary, I’ve never been so reliant on or so appreciative of this gorgeous online community. However, I’m trying to balance out the runaway rush of life light now with moments of quiet, computer closed and mind unplugged. It’s the only way I can fall asleep these days and the only way I’m going to survive this month with body, heart, and soul intact.

So this is me signing off for the night. See you tomorrow? 

4Nov

Galaxy-Bound

Sometimes I just need to slip outside in the deep breath between day and night.

Dusk is scuttling across a fickle moon, and the wind is a blue-gray cat; I feel her prowling in my bones. The arched conifer that always makes me think of “Starry Night” dances in silhouette while windowpanes flicker and flame across the valley.

This time of day has always held witchery for me. It loosens my grip on reality, tilts wildly under my feet, and turns my eyes giddy and galaxy-bound. It once sent me sprawling in a forest during Capture the Flag, and my clearest memory of that evening is not being able to find my way back up in the whispering half-light. I hated the dusk then (as a freshly face-planted teenager well might), but tonight, it thrills.

I’ve been needing an escape route from the drudgery I’ve wallowed into lately, and a cosmic tilt-a-whirl seems to be just the thing. My bones have needed to prowl. My silhouette has ached to dance. My eyes are long-overdue for a spin up and up, past street lamps and clouds and thought and  into the starry ether beyond.

28Oct

Timestamp

The world is too quiet when I’m the one locking up. Some sense of maternal duty I never asked for moves my hands to check thermostats, unplug coffee machines, and tuck an entire building of offices in for the night. The parking lot is isolated except for my car huddled like an island in the fog, but even in this vacuum of sound and light is the ever-present rush—to pick up the girls from the babysitter’s and carry them sleeping to their own pillows, to redistribute the mounting mess of our house, to hang the laundry already gone stiff, to herd myself into bed far too late and sleep poised on the edge of the next overfull day.

Recharge time is a luxury out of my price range these days, and so I stop counting coffees. Health is not a priority. Relationships are not priorities. Art isn’t, peace isn’t. There is no room for these things in 10-hour work days, no space for them in the file folders crammed with lesson plans. The only portrait of the future visible from here is a whiteboard, but I don’t have time to quantify the stark sense of loss that brings.

This is no way to live, but it feels like the only way for now… so I put the office building to bed, do the same with my family, and conjure back that fog-enveloped quiet to bring sleep if not rest.

3Oct

The Rest Laid Plans

My calendar says I’m at work teaching businessmen the future tense right now, but in actuality, I’m stretched out on our living room couch with a post-cappuccino buzz and a glowing sense of… survival? victory? impending insanity? Whatever it is, it’s much more pleasant than I would have anticipated Friday afternoon when this all started…

Our trip had been going almost too well. The girls and I had pulled out of the driveway a full minute ahead of schedule, ready with our individual lunchboxes and sun-dappled tunes, and the traffic gods had smiled on us. I’d been nervous to do the 4 ½ hour drive solo with the girls, but just past the halfway point, I was finally relaxing into the easy rhythm of the road, daydreaming about my upcoming date night.

That’s when the alarm went off. I didn’t even know our car had an alarm until it was shrieking at me and pulsing bright red letters on the display: “STOP! STOP! STOP!” I stopped. Hoping it was just a glitch or maybe something easily solved with violence, I consulted our car’s manual. “Low oil pressure—Do not turn on the engine!!!” Well poo.

I had never arranged for roadside assistance before, much less in a foreign language, but two hours, twenty-five phone calls, and one entirely justifiable crying jag later, the girls and I found ourselves high atop a car carrier exiting to The Middle of Nowhere, Emilia-Romagna. “We’re having an adventure!” I cheered while secretly wondering if we’d have to spend the night fighting off wild boars and vagabonds in the surrounding forest.

Collage - Atop the car carrier

“All the mechanics are closed for the weekend,” the roadside assister chided as he deposited our car in a parking lot, strongly implying that a more responsible driver would have broken down during normal working hours. “I’ll take it somewhere Monday,” he concluded, taking off his work vest and getting halfway into his own car before pausing. “Want a ride to the train station?” Oh yes, thank goodness, yes.

The train station was tiny and already emptied out for the weekend, but I had enough coins for the automatic ticket machine, and the girls nearly launched themselves onto the tracks for joy. I have to admit, trains are fun. They’re relaxing and exciting all at once, and passengers have no responsibilities apart from reminding their overly delighted daughters to tone down the shrieking and jumping please for the love of all that is holy and sane. We read stories and ate chocolate muffins and weren’t stranded in the forest, and for the entire duration of our ride to Bologna, I felt nothing but optimistic.

I might not have been so glib had I realized that the Bologna train station is basically a mile-long zoo dotted with ticket machines that don’t work and shifty-eyed loiterers and train conductors that slam the door in the face of desperate mothers running up with two young children, four bags, and assorted accessories. Thanks in part to Ms. Conductorzilla, we missed our connecting train by a matter of seconds, and in the process, I mysteriously cut my hand and managed to strew objects all over the platform. It was not the brightest moment of my life to date.

However, I pulled it together, found a bandage, purchased tickets for the 9:45 train to Milan, and took the girls out for a leisurely dinner at McDonald’s. Date night plans were pretty much shot at this point, but at least the girls and I had plenty of time to relax over Happy Meals and maybe do a bit of sightseeing before catching our train. We settled down at the table with our food, and Natalie asked me to check the tickets. I obliged, but they said exactly the same thing that they had every other time I’d checked: “Arrival – 9:45.”

Wait.

Arrival?

Oh no oh no oh no oh no. There on the other side of the ticket, the side I had somehow managed not to see up until that point, was clearly stamped: “Departure – 8:40.” I didn’t breathe as I checked the time on my phone.

8:37.

Well damned if we were going to miss a second train that evening. I dumped everything I could from the table into my purse without bothering to zip it, grabbed every bag and child in sight, and began to run. Mercifully, the restaurant was only a block away from the station, but once we got in, there were crowds of people to navigate (while shouting “Excuse me!” in whatever language came to mind) and then two separate flights of stairs. I was dragging Sophie along at top speed and trying not to cry from desperation when it suddenly registered that the girls were laughing. Not just laughing but guffawing. Sophie was laughing so hard that she doubled over, and that’s when I realized she had lost two rather important items on our dash down the stairs: 1) pants, 2) underwear.

Both girls promptly fell over from laughing so hard, and I couldn’t tell whether I was laughing or crying as I sprawled on the floor trying to get Sophie presentable again, and it felt like an eternity before I had collected both children and luggage (my bearings being long gone), and we lunged onto the closest train without checking, and it hurt to breathe, and I didn’t see how I’d survive if we had gotten on the wrong one after all that.

Miracles were on our side though. Not only were we on the right train—and with a generous thirty seconds to spare—but we were on the right car and standing directly in front of the right seats. The entire way to Milan, the girls and I dissolved into giggling fits while I fished individual fries out of my purse and reminded my brain to stuff the What Ifs. We got plenty of looks from other passengers, but when one has just done the impossible and gotten her hysterical, semi-clothed  children and their dinners from a restaurant onto a train in two minutes and thirty seconds, one doesn’t tend to value dignity quite as highly as she otherwise might.

Collage - Making it to Milan

I dropped the girls off with their beloved Uncle Mike and caught the last train of the night up to Lake Como, arriving at the banquet just after midnight in smudged jeans and who-cares hair. It wasn’t exactly the Cinderella evening I had envisioned.

But then again, I hadn’t envisioned how deliciously relaxing it would feel to hold hands with my husband under the stars with a good glass of wine and the whisper of water over rocks… or how luscious it would feel to sleep the next morning away in a king size bed… or how perfect a simple carpaccio would taste for breakfast lunch on the waterfront… or how complete I would feel the next evening when the four of us were together again, walking hand in hand along Milan’s navigli.

Collage - Loveliness

The only thing that really cast a damper over my weekend was knowing I’d have to get up ridiculously early this morning to take public transportation to work. It felt especially overwhelming last night around 1 a.m., having just arrived home and wanting nothing so much as to put a hold on responsibility. Here too, though, the chaos of upended plans rearranged to reveal miracle, because when an all-day bus strike was announced for our city, being car-less and reliant on public transportation got me exactly what I went to Lake Como to find in the first place: a day of rest.

22Sep

Who’s Ready for Summer Vacation?

The season is in tear-down mode outside our windows with digits collapsing and clouds corroding, jack hammers on the wind. It all falls (ha!) tomorrow, and my daydreams are scrambling for an extension. Nothing sounds as wonderful right now as putting time on hold, loading up the car, and setting off for someplace new. In fact, why don’t we?

Let’s start with Barcelona at sunset. We don’t have much time before an overnight trek across Spain, but there are just enough moments of terracotta sunlight left to illuminate cranes and fruit baskets on the gaudiest cathedral conjured up by a mere mortal. We’ll try and soak up all the details but resign ourselves to head-scratching wonderment in the end.  Even though we don’t mean to linger so late, it’s worth watching shades of sandstone cool to ghostly pewter, lit green from within like a witch’s stronghold. As our footsteps sizzle away on Catalan sidewalks, we erase Barcelona from our penciled-in dream list and rewrite it in pen.

Collage - Sagrada Familia

Let’s drive now into the sunrise over endless fields of scrub brush, wending our way alongside modern-day pilgrims on old paths. Spain is only a means to an end this time, but we pass the miles by plotting future summers in Basque orchards and reminiscing about a nearly-disastrous layover in Madrid two years ago. Mountains suddenly sprout up through the earth, green and dizzying, and just like that, we’re in Portugal. They plunge back into the ground just as suddenly, and we’re finally there, where mountain river flows into ocean deep.

Collage - River and sea

There is only one way we can possibly begin a stay in Porto, of course—set our alarm clock next to the towels and head to the beach on a morning breeze while magic still shimmers in the shallows. We’ll soak it up through the soles of our feet, saltwater packing it into our skin until even our fingertips thrill to its touch. Somehow, this translates into sand being flung like live grenades, but the resultant giggling recalls a long-lost truth: that getting grit under our nails and behind our ears is the purest kind of fun. There is nowhere else we need to go, so let’s run straight into the heart of incoming waves and then dash away again with foam-flecked surf nipping at our heels. If the only thing we do today is remember how to play, our souls will have reimbursed every travel expense a hundred times over.

Collage - Morning at Lavadores Beach

If you care to join me next time, we’ll take a tour through the colorful riverfront and maybe even charm Sandeman into supplying the drinks. What do you say to a few more weeks of vicarious summer?

27Aug

How to Pray [If You’re Me]

Weigh butter and chocolate on the little kitchen scale gifted two years ago by a friend who understands how your heart-language is pooled in the creases of your hands. Double the amount needed. Pause, and triple it.  Swirl the lumps into liquid over simmering anxiety as your future fades in and out on the fringes of heat waves. Swelter wordlessly. Breathe the fragrance deep.

Brownie-making - 1

Sift in sugar and salt with a shaking hand. Unclench fingers along with illusions of control, and pour in a generous freeflow of vanilla steeped long months in an old medicine bottle, its brown pharmacy glass as familiar to you now as the life you ache not to leave. Stir in flour and watch the textures morph and meld, ever shifting toward goodness.

Brownie-making - 5

Slide triple-heavy pans into the oven to swell and stabilize in the pressing heat as you tackle the grand mess left behind, knowing that every last angle will soon come clean. Wipe away sweat and trickling fear.  Sideswipe batter into your mouth. Remember other kitchens you have created in, other spillovers of grace from your own half-written story, and wash your way down to the marble-smooth surface of trust.

Brownie-making - 7

Wait in the front row as baked chocolate offerings cool on the countertop. Imagine the faces of your intended recipients and exhale gratefulness. Whip together butter and sugar and tingling drops of peppermint into frosty decadence, and spread with a hand that has learned lavishness. Top chocolate with chocolate, and catch molecules of hope on your tongue.

Brownie-making - 8

Dissect your labor of thanks and arrange it bite-size on a recycled platter, a shabby but heartfelt gesture for the men who are giving your husband the financial backing to chase his dreams.  Rest assured that they’ll understand the language of brownies. Tear ripples of aluminum foil and seal a wave of joy in with the gift as you dare to believe that the wide miracle fields stretching ahead are as true as the simple ingredients you hold. Feel, earnestly to the brink of bursting, and for once, find no need for words.

Brownie-making - 10

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