Wednesday, February 23, 2011


A couple years ago I learned that the "tulip tree" in my parents' yard is actually called a "saucer magnolia." I'm not sure who started calling it a tulip tree, but I know why: the blooms each February around this time look a lot like tulips...big giant pink blooms with petals that are strong and almost fleshy. Even gangly at times. These are the sort of blooms that a storm can knock off the tree, but once on the ground, it takes a lot to destroy the actual bloom itself. They definitely aren't delicate, that's for sure. They are gorgeous, strong and always seem a bit on the un-tamed, earthy, wild side.

I don't know if I love the tulip tree because it's just beautiful in a unique way that pleases me, or if it's because it always blooms near my birthday, February 26th, or both. Probably both. There's something comforting about it. Every year it blooms. It isn't phased by what's going on in my little life. It blooms, like clock-work, no matter what, every year.

It bloomed the first year we lived in that house, when I was turning 14 and trying to learn to love the United States again after two years of running free in the green hills, snap-shot-fast storms of the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea.
It bloomed the Spring I broke up with my first boyfriend while we sat looking at an impossibly-pink sun set over the little lake.
It bloomed the Spring leading up to my wedding in a small, stone church in the country town we would eventually build our own house in.
It bloomed the February my second daughter was born, only 6 days before my birthday, her eyes huge and calm, even then.
It bloomed the February that my heart broke in two, or felt like I did, the shards mixing with old and new hurt, making a poisonous cocktail I would only be able to drink for six more months before it finally ate away a hole that I had no needle or thread to mend, or even fingers to carry them in.
It bloomed last year, the February that I lived in an apartment as a single mom, oblivious to the hurricane coming mere weeks later that would turn me upside down, shake me like a rag doll and leave me, almost lifeless and barely breathing with only a faint pulse.
And though I haven't been to my parents' house recently, I know, without needing to ask, that it's blooming this February, right now, in the days leading up to my birthday, even as I sit and write in my former-but-now-mine-again house, my husband in the next room, trying not to long too much for redemption but knowing I won't stop wanting it any more than I will stop wanting food.

So much has changed in my life in a space of only two years. There has been tremendous joy. There has been devastating heartbreak. There has been brilliant, shining hope. There has been deep, thick-as-mud depression. There has been startling love I swore I'd never allow myself to feel again. There has been throbbing, aching pain I hoped I could keep at bay by staying in safe, calm waters. Call me a masochist (or a romantic realist) but I find I've wandered off into those dangerous waters in spite of my vows not to and, sure enough, been turned upside down by a wave that wants to steal the bloody, beating, apparently-still-too-delicate heart out of me.

And yet every February, irregardless of what is going on, still water or storm, the tulip tree blooms. The only thing that changes is that the tree gets a bit taller every year and the number of blooms it holds multiplies. Those same blooms fall to the ground, eventually. And every year the gardener comes along and rakes the dying blooms into bags to dispose of. When I lived there still I would beg my parents and the gardener to leave the blooms for as long as possible. After a couple of weeks, a portion of the yard is covered in a blanket of pink that is almost as beautiful as the tree heavy-laden with the blooms weeks before when they were new and still attached to branches.

A few years ago I thought about planting a tulip tree here, in my yard. Maybe more than one. It only makes sense. Then I can enjoy it every day, all February, every year. It never happened.

Then last year I thought I would never live here again and I remember once thinking I was sadly glad I hadn't planted one here, as that would be painful to see when I drove up in the driveway to pick up my kids for my every-other-week with them. One more reminder of a dream that died. One more pang of disappointment that my love story didn't turn out as I planned.

And now, here I am, back in the house. There is still no tulip tree. Not yet. I can't buy a tulip tree for the same reasons I can't look at my wedding photos still, despite the fact that my husband and I are back together and want to be. These are things that rub against the wounds still, I expect for both of us. Sure, we are slowly healing. I have come so far in such a short amount of time, when I think about it.

And yet, that doesn't mean the pain is gone. It's no one's "fault." If I try to look around to find someone to hold responsible for this pain, there is no one face I settle on. Certainly not my husband's.

I look for the tell-tale bloody hands that reached into my chest and ruthlessly yanked my heart out before putting it back on my sleeve; I want to return that still-hemoraging heart back into those guilty hands that deserve to carry it around and listen to its soft-as-silk mewings of weak but still painfully-alive sorrow. I don't see bloody hands except for my own as they helplessly swaddle this heart of mine, its wounds still spitting blood every so often. I anxiously hope that, wrapped up in soft, handmade blankets it will drift into a deep, healing sleep and wake in the morning with bright eyes and a hungry, rooting mouth that I can hastily put on my breast to relieve the aching engorgement in my life. It seems, once again, I'm left to tend to my own heart with the tenderness of a mother. So I have. So I do. So I will.

After all, if we've learned anything this last year, it's to finally, sincerely believe that the other person has done their best, at every point along the way. And in spite of doing our best and in spite of, at each juncture, trying to make choices that will hurt everyone involved the least, we still walked away, wounded. It's like a car wreck; even when it's no one's fault, when all parties are doing their best to drive responsibly, accidents occur. People walk away wounded, or worse. Needing hospital care. Afraid to drive again. Shaken and haunted.

"Sadness is but a wall between two gardens," wrote Kahlil Gibran. That's a bright stone I find myself turning over and over in my hand, rhythmically, until it almost sounds like a prayer. Perhaps where I am today is standing in front of a wall that looks impossible to make a hole in or scale, even with the tallest ladder I can find in the back shed.

When I walk around in this garden, there is a sting when I see hard earth where I fondly remember laying (trustingly...innocently) back in a fairy ring of flowers. There is a twist of whatever that is that twists in our guts when I see a once-green, fruit-bearing tree toppled over, its roots askew the way a dead body's limbs lay in unnatural positions that you have never seen a human in even during dance, love-making or gymnastics. Dry, crunchy leaves still try to climb the garden walls in some last, desperate attempt to escape over and out. There is only the vestiges of what was once vibrant, green, buzzing with bees and fairly humming with the low, almost-indecipherable sounds of  insects walking in orderly lines, the slurping of roots underground as their always-thirsty mouths take what they need for growing, feathered bird wings flap and plump earthworms slowly turn earth over, seventeen pieces of dirt at a time.

Now the wind whips through empty air. Un-used oxygen catches the soonest plane out of town. Birds turn their downy heads away, skipping to some other richer earth in which to drop seeds and build nests and sing. They're not telling this garden's secrets; they're too well-bred for that. But that doesn't mean they are going to raise this year's batch of infants there, either.

There are not tulip trees here. And you know? I wouldn't want there to be. They have no place in this cemetary of dreams. They would find no rich earth with the worms having moved on. They wouldn't grow properly without a nest to weigh one branch down while another branch takes its turn growing. The tulip trees couldn't bloom without the muffled lullaby of fellow growing things escaping through ant tunnels and soothing them into a sweet slumber, dreams of growing teaching it which way to reach and when to stay in the bud and for how long.

Some days I press my ear against the wall of this garden and I swear I can hear life in the low murmurs of voices passing through stone. If I inhale while standing in the far corner of this nearly-lifeless garden, I swear I can almost smell Spring. I know there's life on the other side. A place where my tulip trees can be planted young and naive, properly nursed into adolescense, prompted into the quick adulthood and then endless twilight of tulip trees years.

Is this the year I find the gate that leads into that other garden? Is it finally almost time for me to pull back a dead, hanging vine to reveal the rusty doorhandle I've been looking for...well, nearly all my life, if I'm honest?

I'm reminded of the way things are in this day by the soft moans that come from that swaddled, still-bleeding heart that I so tenderly nurse. Will it ever heal and grow into the babbling, always-in-motion toddler that would run through the doorway and plop right down in the middle of a tulip tree blossom blanket?

There's no guarantee. Not with growing things. You can't get an insurance policy that covers hidden doorknobs or lazy earthworms. You can't numb yourself enough that finding the swaddled babe I'm sweetly suckling for now has died in the night won't level you for another day or month or decade. Growing things must be trusted to read their DNA with aptitude and eagerness. They must be allowed the space that a little blind faith makes for them to fatten in. Green leaves aren't greener because they were told to be. Doorhandles, as well, seem to be rather like growing things in that they present themselves when the time is right, just as surely as a peach becomes ripe and dripping with peach-sugar not a day early nor a day late.

Maybe I will sneak over to my parents' house some night and gather the blooms before the gardener can. Maybe I won't. Maybe I will tearfully ask my mother to pick some from the tree so that I can float them in a bowl of water and candles when no one is watching. Maybe I won't. Maybe I will drive out to a nursery early Saturday morning and buy a baby tulip tree for myself. Maybe I won't.

Each would require various amounts of faith...the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen...because they all say, in different voices, "She still wants a tulip tree."

I pull the still-breathing form at my breast a little closer and whisper into its left ventrical something no one else can hear. It seems to understand and begins beating a little quicker. After all this, it still wants to try again; it still keeps hoping to take its old place in my body...amazing, even after all its been through.

A door. Another garden. A hand-planted garden. A tulip tree. Maybe more. I inhale sharply. Hoping hurts. And yet...I can't help but hope. Maybe that's the piece my friend calls "God." Maybe it's not. I chuckle.

"God, the tulip tree." How silly. And yet that thought causes one tear to slide quickly down my cheek before I can brush it hastily away.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Some photos from our little family birthday party for Rachel...

Happy Birthday, Rachel...

Happy 7th Birthday, Miss Rachel!

How is it possible that you are turning 7?? It seems like just yesterday that we brought a little bundle of sweetness home from the hospital. And now you are a big girl!

You are a delight. I am so very, very thankful you were born and so lucky to be your Mama.

You are one of the sweetest, kindest, most gentle people I know. I love to watch you "big sister" your little brother. You are so loving and no one comes even close to being as cuddly as you!

Your sweet smile lights up our lives.

You are simply enjoyable, Rachel of mine...

You are a good friend, a great student, a sweet sister and a precious, precious daughter.

Your bright eyes and the way you talk just charm the socks off of anyone who meets you.

You are my sweet, sweet angel girl.

I just adore's impossible not to!

You are so much fun.

You are as cute as cute can be and always have been.

So today you're seven. You're learning to ride your brand-new bike. You are growing up, my love, and I'm so, so thankful that I have gotten to watch you turn into the lovely girl that you are. I can't wait to see all the wonderful things you do this year. I hope this year is the happiest and most fun year yet.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Miss Rachel. Mama loves you.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Afternoon

I went running this afternoon. I was tired from not enough sleep, feeling down and even a little lonely, but I pushed myself to put on my running shoes, some running clothes and my hat, which, incidentally, reads, "Sweet Tooth," which is just my own funny little ironic joke. I grabbed my cell phone and pepper spray and headed out.

It was the sort of winter day that, in my book, couldn't be more perfect for running. Big, fluffy clouds floated in a crystalline blue sky with a crisp chill that wasn't too cold, but instead made my skin and my brain wake up. The grass (and weeds) were brilliant green and a few fruit trees were hesitantly beginning to bloom. We live in the country so my route takes me by fields with cows grazing in them, a horse here and there and even a flock of lovely dark grey goats that seem to have more babies among them this year than I remember. The animals all turned to look at me as I ran by and I had to slow down to a walk to savor it all, several times.

My route also takes me through a few neighborhoods, behind the high school, over the main street and past the acres and acres of bare grape vines. I live in the Central Valley of California, a place sometimes referred to as The Breadbasket of the World, so there are orchards, vines and fields everywhere around our little town. In the 110-degree heat of summer when everything that isn't irrigated artificially turns a gross brown color, living here seems dreary. But the end of winter, leading into an always-quick Spring is a lovely time to live here.

Today everything felt right, from the weather to a surprising new strength in my muscles. I've been running 2-3 times most weeks for a couple months now after a long hiatus of almost a full year. Today was the first day when I felt the very familiar "grab" of my abdominal muscles in a way I had totally forgotten about. As soon as I felt it, I remembered it from my running-an-hour-every-day stretch during a big chunk of 2009. It felt...wonderful. I don't feel the need to lose pounds and in fact am trying not to, but the feeling of muscles getting strong enough to engage in a way that haven't in a long time made me feel that much more alive as I ran along.

After my run today, I came back and sat down on the floor of the shower for awhile and just thought. I let the hot water pound on my aching neck and upper-back muscles. I let some tears fall that I'd been holding in. I decided not to shave my legs because I didn't want to. I thought about my life and some of the things I've been grappling with. And I felt really proud of myself.

Now don't get me wrong. I know I'm not perfect. Not even close. I'm screwing up, as usual, as I write this, I'm sure. I'm not going to get today right, or tomorrow, for that matter. I'm going to spread myself too thin. I'm going to stop short of insisting on what I really want. I'm going to swallow some truth that I'm still afraid of speaking, even to myself. I'm going to speak sharply to one of my children. I'm going to say something to a friend that I probably should have left unsaid. I'm going to make a food choice based on fear rather than nutrition or appetite. I'm going to take my loved ones for granted. I'm going to send a child out of my studio that I should instead invite in and fold into a big, lovely hug. I'm going to be selfish. I'm going to think of myself first. I'm going to stay up too late. I'm going to leave the lights on when I leave the room.

All that is true. It means I have a long way to go in the "perfect human being" department. And yet. I'm proud of myself. I'm proud that I went running through a town I was afraid to show my face in a year ago. I'm proud that I was honest with someone close to me last night in a moment when it would have been much easier to gloss over the truth of my feelings. I'm proud that I did the amount of laundry that I did. I'm proud that I'm keeping a couple promises I made myself the other day, even though it's challenging. I'm proud that I am moving forward, one step at a time, into the career of my dreams. I'm proud of the mothering I have done today (mostly). I'm proud of the fear I've overcome and the healthy boundaries I've erected. I'm proud that I've learned to see people (most of the time) as the real people they are underneath, rather than defining them based on their behaviors. I'm proud that I've forgiven people I would have though it impossible to forgive. I'm proud of myself for writing this.

The sun is disappearing and my little studio is getting dark. It's a bit chilly. Dinner-noises are coming from the kitchen and my children are pretending to be playing in a band which consists of the piano, a xylophone and an empty oatmeal container. I am wishing my heating pad would magically float from the other room into this one so that I don't have to drag my tired self out of my comfy blue chair to get it. I'll wrap this up, I guess.

I guess before I go, I just want to say that I really, really hope that, whoever you are, you can walk away with the permission to see the beauty in yourself, even for a moment. You're magnificent. You really are. I hope you can feel the strength that is yours. I really want you to think for a minute about how hard you are trying to do your best at so many, many things. I want you to consider the courage you've demonstrated in this life. Think about all the things you have overcome in your life, the things you rose above and the things you refused to be knocked down by; feel how much those weigh and how that weight would have changed you had you not acted with such courage. Think about the people who depend upon you and the people that you've made life a little better for. Think about how many hugs you've given. Think about how much you have loved every single person you have ever loved. Feel the weight of all that love. That weight is the amount that you have affected those people's lives in a positive way. Think about what you're good at and the way that the people you know would be altered if you didn't throw your muscle in the way you do. You are good. You are strong. You are brave. And I'm proud of you.

That's it.


Whitney and I

This is an old family photo that is one of my favorites. This is me, at age 11, with my little sister, Whitney, at age 2. Whitney and I had a special bond. I am 10 years older than she is and mothered her in some very real ways. She would often want to cuddle like this on the couch and many times fall asleep like that. But the truth was, I sometimes asked her to come cuddle. When I was upset, feeling misunderstood, unhappy, disappointed, or sad, holding Whitney was like balm in a wound. Her sweet little baby self cuddled up against me soothed whatever I was feeling right away.

Today, at almost 34, I am feeling a need for comfort; it's just one of those days. My little Andrew will inevitably end up cuddling up with me at some point in the day, his big brown eyes full of the love that sometimes startles me in its intensity. "I love you so much I can't stand it, Mama," he'll say, and kiss me on the lips. And that will soothe the feelings inside me.

But today I'm also going to be consciously holding others I love in a kind of inner embrace. Even if I don't talk to them out loud or physically wrap my arms around them, I am going to hold them in my loving thoughts all through today. Whitney taught me how much the comfort of others comforts me, all those years ago on an ugly brown couch and I know that reaching out to those I love will make me feel held, as well.

So, dear ones, I'm wrapping my arms around you. I'm pulling you close. I'm whispering that I love you and pulling you even tighter still. I hope you can feel my love.

Friday, February 18, 2011


"Sadness is but a wall between two gardens."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Burlap Inspiration

Going to take an evening for myself. One of the things I'm going to do is use my JoAnn's coupon and buy the vanilla-colored burlap to make my bedroom curtains. I've been putting this off for awhile and really, it couldn't be a simpler project. The edges of the burlap don't need hemming up so there is only the bottom hem (unless I want to fray it, which I may) and making the curtain rod "pocket" on the top edge. I can literally whip up the whole room's worth of curtains in minutes! I'm still entertaining the idea of making white linen or cotton ruffles at the hem. My duvet cover is a light, light tan linen from the Shabby Chic collection at Target. I've got dark furniture, mostly vintage, pure white Rachel Ashwell lamps and huge white Rachel Ashwell "pretty pillows." I have also given up on selling the corset pillow I blogged about HERE awhile ago because it looks so perfect on my bed. I'm going for the really simple, restful taupe and white shades with natural fibers whenever possible.

Here's a photo collage I made using some favorite photos from flickr. It's called, "Burlap Inspiration."
Burlap Inspirations


Love is not silent........
*Photo from ♥ artkat0116 ♥ away on flickr

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wait it Out

I "hear" this song by Imogen Heap on a personal level, but also on a spiritual one. Very poignant reflection of the whole "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" that's always eluded me. I realized I could live an entire lifetime in "the wretched hollow."

There are other "wretched hollows" in my life and over and over again, I see, once more, that putting curtains up in a prison cell doesn't make it "home." Maybe getting fed up with the "wretched hollow" is what finally motivates us to grow, change, move, stop waiting for someone else to engineer our satisfaction, and instead begin making our own happy lives.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You're Fuckin' Perfect

I don't think I've ever seen a more powerful music video in my entire life. I watched this just now for the first time...after writing a hard/real email...felt meant to be. Watch until the last second.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Will the real God please stand up?

I've been thinking about these two passages in the Bible for days now and have begun writing about the contrast.

The Ezekial passage is an "allegory" that God was supposedly relating to Ezekial, comparing the nation of Israel to an adulterous wife. In this allegory God is the husband.

In the John passage Jesus is supposedly relating directly to an adulterous woman. It is told as a literal story, not an allegory.

The fact that the Ezekial passage is an allegory matters when comparing these two passages, but it is also interesting to intentionally juxtapose them with one another in a literal way.

Tell me, what do you make of this?
Ezekial 16: 32-42
"‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.

Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the LORD! ...I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see you stark naked. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring on you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. 
Then I will deliver you into the hands of your lovers...and they will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you stark naked. They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.'"
and then....
John 8:2-11:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

(For a Friend)

Once Upon a Time,

in a little village by the Great River, a little girl was born. She had the brightest eyes anyone had ever seen, from the moment she first opened them, and a spirit very like the Great River itself. She grew up with the Great River a part of her and she part of it. People talked about the hill above the Great River, where people lived in grand houses and had many more luxuries, and just like all the other girls and boys who grew up along the Great River, the girl was as curious as anyone else about such a life.

When the girl grew up she married a man who lived on the hill and together they built a beautiful house on the hill above the river. The girl, now a woman, soon realized that living so far from the Great River was like being separated from part of her own spirit and that no amount of fine things would make this not so. She tried to be at home in the house up on the hill by bringing water to her house. She put buckets of water all around her, embroidered pictures of the Great River on her dresses and painted the Great River on the walls of her house. She named her children after her favorite spots on her beloved river. She told her children stories of the Great River each night when she tucked them into bed. But it was not enough.

She began making trips down to the Great River, sometimes going alone and sometimes taking her children along. On these trips she visited old friends and made new ones; together they danced in the water and she was filled with a joy she realized she'd been missing all those years in the house on the hill. The more she went down the hill, the more she longed to go again, so the trips to the Great River became more and more frequent. She could not help but go as often as she could manage.

Each time she went down to the Great River, she fairly ran down the hill, and as soon as the glistening water was in sight, her whole body seemed to come to life and her spirit lifted. At the end of each visit, when it was time to back to her house on the hill, she felt a deep, heavy sadness. It felt as though her heart was being ripped from her chest, but she knew the house on the hill was her home and she must learn to live there and try her best to be happy there.

Then one day the woman realized that she could no longer go back up the hill to the little house; she couldn't bear it anymore. Every time she made that awful trip up the hill, a piece of her died. She suddenly understood that if too many pieces of her died, the person she really was wouldn't survive. She would become a shell of herself. She must save herself, if for no other reason than that her children needed that real, alive version of their mother. She felt her real self drowning and nothing but air would bring her back to life.

One summer evening as she watched the sun begin its slow descent, she made a hard choice that she'd been avoiding for years. Once she made it, she knew it was the right one. She felt sad; she knew her husband and the rest of the people she knew and loved on the hill would not go with her; they'd made it plain that they expected her to change. So she fetched her children and her belongings from the house up the hill and made the trip down the hill to the River for the last time. With each step it was as though a black-and-white version of her was slowly but surely popping into vivid color.

When she arrived at the Great River's edge, tired from her journey, she sat down and looked around her for a moment. She knew what to do next. She filled her lungs with a big gulp of air and then plunged into the water.

When she stepped out of the river, what she saw was HOME. She was finally home. She laid down and rested for the first time in as long as she could remember and when she awoke she set about making a lovely little home by the River's edge.

She sometimes thought about the house on the hill that she'd left...the people and things she'd left behind. But she knew, deep down inside, that the time she spent on the hill was over and that it had served its purpose: it helped her see who she really was and what she really wanted. Now she knew where Home really was and she would live there all her days.