Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Maybe you are a dreamer, but you get tired sometimes. You fight discouragement. And you dream, yes, and you Do, as well, but your hands feel so busy weaving together dream and reality…

And when they come to you, saying, We want to plant a garden! We want to grow vegetables! you remember when you had this dream of working the ground and pulling nourishment from the earth, plucking goodness from green stems. (They were going to help, but they did not. You were the Little Red Hen, out there alone planting, pulling weeds, and in the end watching your work, your beautiful plants, disappear bit by bit, eaten by deer and rabbits. You enjoyed your bounty alone, not that you didn’t try to share: 7 cherry tomatoes, 3 lemon cucumbers, 2 pumpkins. In the end you decided you had more important dreams to attend to.)

So they come to you with this dream and you remind them of yours and how it turned out. You give them your blessing but tell them they’re on their own for this one. You will focus on other dreams.

And they plant their garden, and not the way you would have done it.

And it grows.

Somehow this crazy, barely-planned, not-how-you-would-do-it garden does beautiful wild things, despite the rabbits. The plants bring forth jewels, and regularly you are called outside to admire their progress. Sometimes you go and check all on your own. You start to dream of all the things you can make with what they’ve grown, of all the goodness you can sit and eat together.

One day they bring in the largest zucchini you have ever seen and ask you to make zucchini bread. You would love to. You might even throw in chocolate chips.

They wait almost patiently when the bread is in the oven, even though it is late for breakfast. The kitchen on this cool summer day grows full and heavy with the scent of it, and you pull out heavy hot loaves, nutty brown flecked with green. It is good. You eat slowly.

It turns out you do not have to do all the dreaming.

Even so there is weaving to do, and now your hands feel rested.

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Monday, July 14, 2014


We followed up our girls’ week at the Chicago Suzuki Institute with a week in Minneapolis—all five of us—while Oldest attended Voice Camp at MacPhail Center for Music. Minneapolis, it is safe to say, remains the city closest to my heart: there are lakes with accompanying parkways and paths that will always be mine; parks, a library, a creek, and food that feel like home; family and friends I miss all but a few days out of each year.

All those things were wonderful and welcoming for this trip, plus Oldest got to sing his heart out. We returned home exhausted but full.

Two extra things I particularly loved about this visit: Little Free Libraries popping up everywhere, and the yarn bombs we discovered while walking, running, driving. Both spoke of community, and beauty, and chance encounters/connection. I want to scatter both all over my adopted city.


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Outdoor Stage, Alone

Cottonwood seeds floating, sun shining. Water rushing in the background.

What do you do with this wide-open space? The twirls feel stiff at first, but they loosen quickly. The stage is all yours, and it does not take long to open your arms to it; it does not take long for the songs to break free from your throat. Anything can happenwhatever you wish. 

Enjoy the sun warming your shoulders, blessing these minutes, these twirls, these songs.

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Monday, July 7, 2014


Some stars disappear when you look at them straight on. Pale glints in your peripheral vision when you look up, they slide into blackness when you turn your eyes toward them. The issue is in our eyes: the cones concentrated in the central part of the cornea—the part we use when we look at something head-on—do not pick up the dim light that the rods around the edges of the cornea do. Regardless of the constancy of what we're looking at, we are stuck with what our eyes can see: stars-like-phantoms. They must be approached sideways, and gently.

It’s not just stars, though.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for months—the sideways-ness of things.

It is ever-present in teaching, especially so for me this past year, working with a small group of children every day. Threaded all through the process of learning violin are other things: how we treat one another, how we handle problems, how we respond to frustration. How we show love and respect and kindness. How we create and respond to beauty. How we learn to discipline our fingers, our ears, our mouths, our minds. How we simply learn one another and build relationships—complicated, real, and gritty.

This is why I find it hard to write about teaching. It is personal, ongoing, complex. It is also universal. The fact that I can focus on one thing—learning to play violin—is very helpful, because I can rule out Everything Else. Except I draw on Everything Else to do it—faith, psychology, physics, storytelling, eating Dorito’s—everything. And then of course it turns out that learning violin touches everything else. Try to nail the whole thing down, narrow it, look at it too directly, and you start to lose sight of certain things. Sometimes you have no choice but to approach sideways, gently.

It’s fair, I think, to start wondering which is the true artthe direct work or the sideways, the music or the people working on the music? It’s both things at once of course, but it’s worth considering what you might see when you shift your focus, and what is most important to you to see in the end. 

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I'm Doing This Week

I’m not sure why I thought I’d get a lot of writing in this week. I am at the Chicago Suzuki Institute with my daughters, filling up on music and technique and new friends and Everything Violin. And—most importantly—reminding myself why we’re doing this in the first place (We are doing this in order to grow, in order to become better human beings. Music, you see, is the medium as much as it is the final product, the art, itself. And our lives—they are the true art.)

Those are noble words. The actual work they describe is awkward and messy and really stinking hard, but it is interspersed with these wonderful moments. Kind of like practicing violin, itself, which when done right is not at all romantic, but instead involves things like practicing the same two notes over and over until they can be played well, and then over and over many times more, until they will never sound ugly again. You don’t necessarily want to be in the room for this process, but the results are worth it. 

There has been music-making this week, and understanding, and beauty. 

We are enjoying ourselves and also bordering on wiped-out. In my characteristic, extremely relationship-oriented/extremely introverted way, I half want to absorb more/connect more/converse more, half want to hide somewhere with a book. One daughter, apparently, talks in her sleep. (“Mom,” a voice just informed me out of the dark of our dorm room, “there are two butterflies in here.”) And to be honest, our moments of beauty and understanding are balanced with healthy doses of snippiness.

Overall though, I feel like we have been able to relax more this year. I prepared myself ahead of time for the comparison game—not that I’m not tempted to play (I am) but I am also (mostly) able to see it for what it is. I resolved early on that frog catching/rescuing (they are tiny and everywhere, crossing the sidewalks like ants,) as well as extra desserts, would be part of our daily schedule along with practicing and brushing teeth. And—luxury of luxuries—I brought an air mattress with me this year. Sleeping on the floor won’t hurt. This is all very good.

This feeling that there’s so much here, that I can’t possibly process it all, that I also don’t want to stop trying to process it all—that must be a good sign. This too, I think, is why we are here.

More about our Suzuki institute and workshop experiences here.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Today's Unexpected

Yesterday the girls discovered—who knows where—water balloons. Clearly begging to be filled with air. Youngest was frustrated with tying knots in the slippery things, and rather furious with me for being so accomplished at it. I told her it just took a lot of practice. Today—glossy pastel balloons all over the place, and I didn’t tie a single one. She’s left a trail all over the house.

If only all the trails we left behind us were this good.

When I straighten up the living room for teaching this afternoon I will leave this one in its place:

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Monday, June 23, 2014


Did you ever come home from the beach with a pocket full of rocks? Each one was chosen for its colors, or how it glistened. It was hard to stop gathering, and on the way home your shorts hung heavy with rock treasure, banged a little against your leg. At home you emptied your pockets and showed them off one by one, spit-polishing the best so you and your fellow rock-admirers could see them just the way they looked when they first caught your eye. Maybe you dreamed of finding a way to string them together, to wear them gleaming around your throat.

My favorite things so far this summerevery summerare the unmeasurables, the things that happen on the edges, the moments that are almost always unplanned: laughter in the wave pool, the smell of fresh basil, being in the woods, read-at-the-table lunches, chance conversations, treasure-hunting at the library/at the bookstore/at antique stores, coming around the corner and discovering the latest art project. I’m carrying these things around with me like a pocketful of pretty stones. It’s good to take them out every once in a while and admire the colors and shiny spots, to dream a little about what you could make with them.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

2300 Miles

Last weekend I had a decent long run. Decent means I ran all the hills and stopped only for a traffic light. That I felt okay afterwards. It was nowhere near a record run for me in terms of speed or distance, but it was my longest run in many, many months. And it was hard-won.

Last weekend, also, I discovered that since I began keeping track of my miles almost three years ago I have run more than 2300 miles. My serious running friends have covered that distance much faster, and probably many times over, but I am quite proud of the number. It, too, was hard-won.

Because 2013—I spent most of the year not getting enough air.

The first half of the year was marked by repeated cases of bronchitis, and me pushing myself—running, working, pushing-through, despite how I felt. I’ve had asthma since I was very young, and this is what I’m used to: you get a cold, it invariably settles in your lungs, makes you cough and wheeze. But life doesn’t stop for a cold, you just deal with it. I was simply never very athletic.

But then, life, and many years. A decision at 39 to make running part of my fight for health. The realization, as I got help for my children’s allergies and asthma, that I could get help for my own, as well.  I discovered what normal lung function felt like. It was beautiful. I had no idea.

So I ran. A friend challenged me to run a half-marathon with her and it sounded so unlike me I had to try. I heard about a trail half-marathon later in the year and it sounded crazy so I wanted to do that, too.

All those miles—there were a lot of difficult ones, but they were so good.

And then that first half of 2013. All the sickness. All of April and May, never a breath that brought quite enough air. I cut back on my running. I tried to get more rest. It was discouraging.

The last race I ran in was June 9th, 2013. A 10 mile race that I almost didn’t do because of my bad cough and because I was so discouraged I didn’t believe I could run 10 miles anymore. The night before, a friend texted me: another anonymous friend had registered me for the race, hoping I would be encouraged. I was. I ran. And it felt horrible, but I finished, and even brought home a medal. (One of the perks of living in a small town and showing up for small races is that you can finish 17th out of 19 but still bring home a silver because there were only three women in your age group. Pretty nice for someone who had never been very athletic.)

I woke up early the next morning sicker than I’ve ever been. Shaking uncontrollably, feverish, hands and feet pale and numb. Never enough air. Somewhere around 6:30 I woke Husband up to tell him I was going to the ER because I didn’t want to wait for a clinic to open in the afternoon. Looking back now, I realize how disconnected I felt from my body. I was surprised to be seen immediately when I told the receptionist at the front desk I was having trouble breathing. I was surprised when the nurse mentioned pneumonia, (“a raging case of pneumonia,” I believe were his exact words) and even more surprised when he asked me how I felt about being hospitalized.

The doctor made it clear he could hospitalize me but allowed me to go home. I spent most of the next 10 days in bed. Even with all the medication I was on, getting up to walk to the next room left me breathless, and when I spoke I had to pause every two or three words for air.

Recovery was long, but I eventually started running again, very slowly and only bits at a time. I let go of all my goals for the year except one: I wanted to run the trail half-marathon in October. It would be slow, less than I’d done the year before in every way, but I wanted to at least finish.

But no. In August, bronchitis. In September, bronchitis again. Followed by bad colds in October and November that held on for 2 or 3 weeks, each.

I spent the second half of 2013 trying to recover. Lungs tight, never a full breath. I monitored my sleep more closely, doled out my energy more carefully. Mostly I tried to find a way to attend to my family, my teaching, and my writing. If I felt a little like I disappeared when I got sick, I also felt like I disappeared while trying to get better. If I’ve spent most of my life dogged by the feeling that I was failing, that feeling has intensified over the last year.

It was months before I felt completely myself inside my body, months before my lungs felt my own again. A year later I cannot run the way I could. I’ve lost count of how many times I started over, because once I stopped getting sick I started hurting myself: a fall—extremely glamorous, really—while rollerskating with my girls, a strained quad, unresolved pain from before I got sick. And allergies have been so bad this spring that again for the last month my lungs have felt constantly tight. But Saturday I ran farther than I’ve run in 9 months. And then that discovery of how many miles I’ve logged in the 3-months-shy-of-3-years that I have been running. Slogging away at something does not feel like anything but slogging, but it still gets you someplace. Maybe I can leave discouragement behind for a while.

So this is what 2300 miles looks like—part of it victorious, part of it halting, labored, slowly accumulated. Half and half, now, in terms of time. I could tell you that’s what I expected, but no—I expected the sweat and long steep hills and the sheer discipline of it to be enough. What matters is that the miles accumulated, and this number I now get to hold on to has some heft to it. It makes me believe in change. It tells me I’m not done with this yet. 

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Family Reunion, Looking Through Old Albums

The albums spread out in front of me span almost one hundred years. They are neatly laid out on a bed, soon to be divided among siblings. For a brief time I am alone with them, paging through. Touching and not-touching all these lives.

My perspective on age has changed, as well as my understanding of time. The vertical threads between generations are more and more visible, as are the horizontal ones—those between brother and sister, sister and sister, cousin and cousin. They are loose, but long. Strong. They allow a great-aunt to ask, “Do you think it would be okay if I gave you a goodnight kiss?” and a child to answer, “Yes, because you are family.” They must account, partly at least, for that special cousin-magic—that adoration, that bond you have with these people you don’t get to see that often and you don't necessarily know that well, living so far apart, but who are more than friends, always.

Glancing through the albums, these pictures that span almost one hundred years, the ways in which we have changed and not-changed stand out. The generations deepen and blur. In one face from twenty years ago—forty years ago—her childhood—I gradually see other faces: a niece, a cousin, a grandchild, a mother.

Glancing through the albums I begin to feel the weight of the photographs. All those memories, and the keeping and losing of them, and trying to walk that path between the two. I know in the end I will leave this place both with treasures and the ache of lost things—photographs, yes (new and old,) but also conversations, connections, time itself. Isn’t this, though, part of what I've been trying to explain to my children recently? That every choice is a loss of something else, every turning-toward also a turning-away? 

Such a hard lesson. But if you focus on what you missed you end up missing it all.

I used to hate the word bittersweet. I used to be annoyed with adults who could come up with nothing more original to greet a child with than, “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown!” I’ve learned to forgive these things. I embrace them frequently, in fact, even while I still consider my own generation to be The Grandchildren. I suppose that too will change, somewhere in the course of just trying to live this life.

The pictures taken this weekend will lengthen the span of years by two. I will return home both with treasures and the ache of things lost.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Watching them watch the magic was the best. The sounds, the maze of track, the perfection of the balls rolling, bouncing, following their improbable path. It was mysterious and satisfying, both, and that's a delectable combination. Because in the end it all works.

It was not a particularly quiet day, our day at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. Actually, it was loud and sort of hectic, but still there was that cocoon of quiet. Wonder, I suppose, mixed with the desire to absorb it all. 

Something worth wrapping yourself in as often as possible.

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