The Beanstalk

Record of a writer, a family & an adventure.

Once more to the cabin

Once more to the cabin.

It is spring, but only just, and though the sky is blue and there is the sound of birds all around, the trees are still bare, tremendous in height but bare, like the verticle stripes of a neverending barcode, filtering the light in pillars. The driveway, which He has driven thousands of times, is a quarter of a mile with a slight decline and a few very subtle curves. I have only been driving it for ten years, but it feels like an era which expanses a great portion of my life. The pavement, laid long ago, is cracked and shifting from the roots laying there beneath. We let the old dog out the back of the car at the top, and she is running behind us, her ears flopping back, her open mouth like a smile. She is the laziest of beasts when we are at home in town, but when we come to the cabin she is as playful and lithe as a puppy. There is something rejuvenating in the air around the woods, rising up from the ground.

At once, rounding the last curve, the friendly log cabin, the home of my husband’s family, sits at the back of a perfectly manicured lawn. Large and square, flat sides, a long front porch. Still as a stone, plain as the year. This is my final approach. There is no cardboard sign, but realtors have been bringing in couples from down in Pittsburgh, couples from California, couples from Canada. The right one will step from their car and feel the purity of the air, observe the stillness of the land, the sway of the trees. They will look up into that pond of sky overhead and buy this place my father-in-law spent years tenderly growing, perfecting, maintaining. They and their people will build a life here, too.

The first time He brought me here it was spring, but later, and the trees were blanketed with lush green leaves. A deer stood in the center of the driveway when we approached, unafraid, as if we were coming to visit her.

“It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere,” He’d said. “It’s a log cabin.” And I, a city girl, could not have fathomed what he meant. We were so young, falling in love, feigning complete self-assurance when all we really felt was doubt. He was simple and needed a little help to dress well; He was kind and humble. He possessed no airs. I don’t know exactly where I expected him to be from, but I certainly didn’t expect this.

The first time I rode that quarter mile in his old Jetta, when Pittsburgh was miles behind us and we’d passed several real farms with silos and heards of cattle, I was confused by the whole thing. Then cabin grew up before us, and a different reality dawned on me. Like waking up and realizing the dream you had was only a dream, and you didn’t fly to the White House, you merely watched the State of the Union on television. Only the opposite. When I saw his house for the first time is when I believe I truly began to understand him.

There is an old, wooden wagon in the front yard, off to the side, and lovely yellow daffodils grow from beneath the wheels. Behind the fence to the right of the house is a pool, still covered from winter, full of murkey green water which will clarify when the chemicals are administered. The slide is dry, bleached a very pale blue from years of sun.

His mother has planted flowers all along the front walk; red, purple, yellow, orange, white, violet. They accent the cabin, which is all varying shades of brown. Little friends of a great sleeping bear.

The original house was built sometime just after the United States constitution was signed into governance by our country’s founding fathers. I imagine a man, not unlike my husband’s father, laying the logs with the help of his sons and friends, one great tree trunk after another. His wife standing by, specifying she wanted a long common room for a table to fit the whole family; a loft big enough for everyone to sleep upstairs. This portion of the house has not been changed, really, except for a bigger door with a screen, some electrical outlets and air ducts.

At some point, many decades later, someone had the idea that this eastern Pennsylvania cabin would be better suited further west, and took it upon himself to draw up a diagram of the house, numbering the logs on the paper like the legend to a map, tacking small tin numbers to match all over the inside of the house, and dissembling the structure, respectfully undoing the work of the first man. He piled those pieces on a wagon or a train and sent the whole lot to a little spot north of Pittsburgh tucked away in the quiet woods, away from the noise of a deeply disturbed nation, and put the house back together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Inside the cabin, the tin numbers still hang in odd places all over. 57 just above the toilet upstairs. 73 across from the fireplace in the dining room. 15 up the steps. Evidence of one man’s bright idea.

The front of the house is the original architecture, and it is something out of a history book. The rest of the house was added later, after his father bought the place as a summer getaway. He was a doctor, always weary, always pinched for time with the kids. He’d dreamed of having a tennis court right out back, where they wouldn’t have to wait for a turn. He’d always hated to waste time, never knowing when his beeper would sound and he’d be off to the city. He knows better than most that time is precious, so he wanted an open tennis court. When they pulled up to the small cabin in nineteen-ninety it was surrounded by twelve acres of dense woods, but they had a vision.

The backyard is lovely and wide, and the clay court sits at the back, just beside the vegetables his mother collects all summer for fresh salads and kebabs. Woods surround the yard, which his father created, felling trees, carrying away stumps, planting grass. He was young then, working full time, on call. This was hard labor, which felt good in a different way, a respite from a career of theories, images, scans, lawsuits, unknowns. He could touch the dirt and know its color, its density. He could see the grass take, sprout up like a baby’s first hair. There was satisfaction in that. She came behind him and turned it from a practical thing to a beautiful thing, with flowers and trees, benches, feeders and baths for the birds. They spent years, and when they had at last turned it from the cabin in the woods to a practical home in which they could live as well as love, they moved in.

I woke that Saturday morning at the first spreading light through the window of his sister’s bedroom, and spent a moment trying to remember where I was. I tiptoed down the stairs in bare feet looking for coffee. His father was on the front porch, and I brazenly joined him. I was nineteen, it was our first meeting.

His father is the quietest man I’ve ever known, but that morning we sat and talked for an hour as the morning grew brighter. His mother kept coming to check on us, likely to make sure we were getting along, and we were. He told me the history of the cabin, his journey through two specialties in medicine, growing up in the hills outside the city. I kept asking, and he kept answering. It is my favorite memory on the porch.

The study is dark, thousands of books lining the shelves. The bathrooms are small. The bedrooms are lofted. Great wood beams meet below the knotted ceiling paneling. The kitchen smells like real food – bacon, onion, garlic, bread, pie. His mother, a small woman, most often found there behind the half island, her head and shoulders just visible, has spent years demonstrating the latticing of pie crusts, turkey stuffing in a pillow case, gravy, roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts to me. Her footprints are depressed into the ground in front of the stove.

My husbands parents have grown dear to me over the decade I’ve known them, settling into a place inside me it seems was meant for them. In the demonstration of their life I have learned volumes about the value of humble, hard work, the importance of family, and the truth that if you want to see something happen, you have get up and get going.

They say it is the people that make a place, which is true in part, but the concept is incomplete. New cities found on holiday hold the power of magic. Places of work often posess the ability to control and produce fear. Water and mountains are soothing; a park is a reminder of the past; a middle school cafeteria dredges up intense insecurity. These are the powers of a place.

And home. A good home – a place you have loved and been given love, where you have felt safe, where you’ve felt a sense of ownership, even as a child – builds its way into into you so you have not only lived within it, but it has somehow begun to live within you.

 

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To Jack, on your birthday.

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Happy third birthday, my curly-head wonder boy.

Jack, TWO was incredible. And just like that, *poof* , it’s gone.

All day yesterday I thought “he’ll never be two again.” I loved that age, and I think you did too. You went from baby to boy, and now we have essentially the same vocabulary, though your usage and grammar still need a little work (but not much!) This morning when you wake up, you’ll hold up three little fingers when I ask you how old you are, your mess of hair all pushed up on one side, your cheeks red, that little smirk on your face, eyes squinting against the morning sunlight.

Although you’ve changed and grown a lot in the past year, you’ve maintained that sense of humor that surprises me every day and makes me laugh out loud. You still smirk. You still look like me, maybe now more than ever. You still have the roundest little face. You still have the cutest legs in the neighborhood.

You are a pretty good athlete, which gives me such joy because it will be something you can share with daddy. You can sing, and you’re always asking me to “do it again,” to learn the words. I recall your Grandy saying that I used to do the exact same thing to her, so it’s possible there’s music in you as well. I think I’ll probably make you try to learn an instrument, which you’re likely to hate, but it’s one of those things you’d thank me for later. You love to read. You’re kind. You dress well. You like to watch movies. You always offer to get me water or a snack when you’re getting them for yourself. You’re pretty much the ideal guy.

Jack, this wasn’t an easy year for us. When I was pregnant with Mae I wasn’t the mama you were used to. We spent so much time sitting on the couch, and our routines of adventure and being outside in all weather, and playing together at your level were seriously interrupted because I felt so terrible. And then when she was born, your world turned upside down. Buddy, mine did too. We love that little Goose so much, don’t we? But bringing in another treasure to our family has been tough in a lot of ways. I know sometimes it probably feels frustrating that you have to share me with her, and that most of the time she seems like my top priority. Trust me baby, she is not. I love you both the MOST. You are my two favorites.

I want to tell you that this year you taught me, more than any other thing, about forgiveness. For lots of reasons you’ll understand one day, God willing, I’ve been quicker to anger and frustration this year, and it breaks my heart to say I’ve taken it out mostly on you. You’re my wingman in life, and just because you’re always right there, and because you are my most consistent relationship in the day-to-day, you see the very worst of me. I try always to ask for your forgiveness, and Jack, you always give it liberally. And you know, you usually follow “It’s OK mommy” with “I love you.” It’s the most I could ask for. You love me with enormous generosity and grace.

It’s dark out and you are just waking up. Usually I’m working on fiction at this early hour, but today is a special day. Three years ago today you were born, my little leprechaun, and you made me a mother. I have asked God over and over to make the time pass slowly so I can savor it, and you know what? He has.

Happy birthday, my darling love bug. I love you with this strange love that makes my heart feel like it’s going to explode, like the way the Grinch’s heart grows so big in his chest it almost pops through.

I’m the luckiest mom in the world because I’ve got you.

Resolutions, the 2016 edition.

Goodbye, 2015. I am not sorry to put you to bed. While you hosted many incredibly important milestones (Mae’s birth, book publication, new house), you were a bear in the day-to-day.

Hello, 2016. We have nothing monumental planned for you, but we welcome a quieter year with fewer changes and increased simplicity. I know you are fully capable of pitching curve balls, but please be considerate.

Out of four resolutions for 2015, I would say I succeeded at about 60%.

Successes were:

  1. Publish the book. Did it, and in case you haven’t seen my excessively prolific posts about it, it’s called Within the Walled City, and is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle version.
  2. Move outside myself in a new way. I had a big vision for what this one could mean, and fancied becoming involved with local inner-city work or starting a neighborhood dinner co-op or something noble like that. In hindsight, I realize this expectation was a setup for failure because I basically hibernated for 9 months of pregnancy, and then slipped into a vortex for 3 months when Mae was born (9+3=12, an entire year), and I couldn’t even manage to fold my laundry, much less generate a new social program from the ground up. However, transforming from mother-of-Jack to mother-of-two, I can now recognize, was an enormous movement for me. It is ongoing, and it has taken more courage and stamina than I knew I had. I have never been severed so neatly from mySELF, but I also never knew this deep seafloor grit existed at the base of me.
  3. Plan our trip to France. This is the half-success, because we decided on a time, but it’s not until 2017, so the trip planning will happen this year!

 

Failures were:

  1. Plan our trip to France.
  2. Find a healthy rhythm for life. I cannot emphasize what a failure this was, it’s actually like I thought the resolution was some form of the opposite, like Find a way to make life feel like a hurricane in which you’re naked and there’s a strobe light going, heavy metal music playing and tennis balls being fired at you from one of those practice machines constantly for 365 days. So there’s that.

 

I more ready for 2016 than I could have imagined. At the onset of each year I always feel a sense of anticipation, fervor and wanderlust, but this year there is the addition of something like promise. It feels good, it feels like there is an undercurrent around my feet with a capacity to move us in new directions. I have big, gigantic prayers for changes in our lives and in the lives of my friends and family, and it feels like it’s all doused in the whisper of promise.

My three resolutions are:

  1. Read 3o books. I always try to read 20, but this year I was challenged by a friend to up it. He reads 100 books a year and works full time as an attorney, so… I will publish my 2015 book list (25 total) in the next few weeks, but ultimately my year of reading was pretty disappointing! The highlights were nonfiction and one gem which had previously flown under my radar, Girl with a Pearl Earring. The goal of 30 comes with an asterisk, which denotes that these 30 ought to be enjoyable pieces of mostly fiction.
  2. Untether from the cell phone. I don’t like technology. E-readers make me want to cry. Like, when people talk about buying books, and I ask if I can borrow, and they say Oh, sorry, it’s on my Kindle, I feel tears behind my eyes. Pitiful. Apple’s “Cloud” is very suspicious – where exactly are my photos and music? Streaming feels vague, I’d rather own a DVD. Why, oh why, did Blockbuster have to go under? I am inexplicably resistant, but also very much embedded, in it, and one of the ways I despise it most is the bond I have formed with my iPhone. I read an article a year ago about how many times per day the average American checks his phone, and it was some exorbitant number I can’t recall, but I remember thinking, Oh, that’s not me at all. But I’m afraid it is now, and it hit me hard when I was watching Jack perform as a sheep at his preschool Christmas program and at the end I realized I’d watched the entire thing on the screen of my phone, between taking photographs and video footage. It felt so gross to me, so opposite of natural, so robotic. So the goal is to break the chains! We are starting with leaving cell phones out of our bedroom and I’m attempting to leave it in my purse during the day. Interested to see where this goes.
  3. Return to the morning. In the past I’ve been in the habit of waking up very early to read my Bible, pray, and write fiction. In 2015 I fell out of the habit, and have felt so many aspects of my life and passion weaken as a result. The goal is to get back to it.

 

Every year I publish my resolutions not because I need accountability (I am something of a merciless factory foreman in my own life), but because I hope to inspire others to make resolutions as well! How liberating it is (and counterintuitive) to start out on a fresh course, to reset our dials, to believe we are able to be different, to BEGIN!

 

Happy new year to you! May your 2016 be full of wonder, adventure, courage, fortitude, peace, hope and most of all, love.

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Magic in the raw.

I swear I heard you on the roof one year, clomping around in those heavy boots. It surprised me you made as much noise as you did, that you hadn’t figured out how to tip toe, carry your weight like a ballerina. But then of course I was listening for you, anxiously holding my eyes open. I was nervous too, knowing I wasn’t supposed to hear, knowing my mom and dad said you wouldn’t land until I was asleep. What could I do? Staring at the ceiling. A child torn between wonder and responsibility.

What’s the cutoff for asking you for things? I’ll be thirty in June. I need rain boots because every time I take the kids to the park in the rain my feet get wet and cold, so my toes turn that deathly translucent. If they’re stylish, it would be a bonus. Between you and me, I really want someone to detail my car because it’s filthy with crumbs and receipts, books with torn pages, single baby socks, pine straw, dried clay and a fifty pens. When I climb in it makes me feel ashamed! One more thing I can’t keep up with. If I wake up to a detailed car on Christmas I’ll be really impressed, but don’t worry, it’s not a make-or-break. I understand you’re on a tight schedule.

Some people don’t believe you exist. I can understand that. Some people believe you camp out in the chilly arctic all year in a candied-Swiss-Alps kind of village.  I can also understand that. I’ve never seen you so I have no idea, but isn’t it faith to believe when we can’t see? When it seems like an impossibility you could really be what they all say you are?

I’m grown now, and the subject of my belief has changed. As I get older I cherish the things I’ve learned believing in you. You’ve taught me a lot about love, that the glory of life is in friendship, and that there is a great treasure in knowing and being known. It always felt like you knew me, saw me, dropped in on Christmas Eve with joy in your heart because you were proud of me, enchanted by me.

You’ve also taught me about having hope for the whole world, for every boy and girl who become every man and woman.  I’m sure glad you love each one, that there are minutes enough on Christmas Eve to visit the home of all the children. You don’t forget a single one, and your gifts are sometimes so precious they can’t even be seen, like magic dust.

I have to tell you, now that I have these babies entrusted to me, passing on the wonder of Christmas feels like a very large responsibility. I’m afraid of messing it up. But then I think it wasn’t very long ago that I was a child, and maybe the line between child and not is a little hazy with no actual division. Perhaps we’re all dappled on a long spectrum of childhood, and you’re still charmed with each of us even when we’re old and have gnarly toes and gray hairs at our temples. I hope it’s true, because I still need to be visited on Christmas Eve, to wake up the morning after and feel the faint presence of you, smell that lingering scent of hay and winter air, that you came and peeked in on me, smiled at me, touched my forehead. Delighted in me, and left a little something under the tree with my name.

Besides rain boots and a clean car, would you please bring me a little extra magic this year? Just some Christmas magic in the raw. Would you wrap it up for me and leave it where I can’t miss it? I do believe and experience intense joy, and I cling to the memories of my childhood, but sometimes everything feels hard and tiresome and painful, and it seems like so many hearts are breaking. I come face to face with my inadequacy, and I want everything to be just perfect, but it’s not. And it can’t be. I feel the heaviness in my neck and want to hang my head and walk over to the camp of the unbelieving.

A little magic, please, so I don’t.

Have I ever said thank you? For existing, for returning again and again, Christmas after Christmas, day after day, minute after minute, to me. I’m certainly glad you are the way you are, you do the way you do.

Merry Christmas to you, too.  After all, you’ve always wished it to me.

Beginning again.

Can we all take a collective deep breath? Right now, just stop.

Breathe in.

Let it out slowly.

One more time.

Feel better?

 
I started over. It’s been a long time since I started a brand new writing project, stared at an empty notebook with a pen poised for less than sentences. Names, locations, footholds for the beginning of a story that has never been written, though every story is merely a reflection of one that’s been told before. It feels strange to meet these people for the first time, knowing I get to create them in a way, while they simultaneously create themselves, and also me.

All the literature I’ve read on writing fiction in the past few years says you don’t begin with an outline, you simply begin and the story writes itself. I have never written this way. Each of my four manuscripts were outlined in vague detail on pages of notebooks. “Here’s what happens in Chapter four,” etc. It is satisfying work to write an outline, and it is certainly helpful to begin a roadtrip with a map in hand, but the problem with outlines is they confine. Outlines, which can be drawn up without a shred of the beauty of the craft, are ultimately limiting. And it certainly seems counter-creativity to enter a project with scaffolding enclosing it. Perhaps your scaffolding is fit for a country house when your work was meant to become a castle.

I wrote Within the Walled City from an outline, and while I don’t have regrets about the book, I do think it was much more painstaking to bring the story from mediocre to good because the outline had constrained me to a line of plot which I was unable to see past. Does it make sense? A storyline I laid out in an afternoon contained a saga which took me YEARS to write. So when it became clear the the original track was actually wrong, not the destiny of the characters, missing great swaths of information, drama, conflict, romance and passion, making the changes was agony. I didn’t know how, I couldn’t see the people for who they were meant to be. I was like a veteran pressing pieces of shrapnel to the surface of my skin in a gas station bathroom under dim lights.

Now my bulletin board is empty. I have a fresh notebook, even a new computer! Gwyneth! (Moment of silence for Dora, old faithful. RIP)

November is National Novel Writing Month, and I can’t let that sort of opportunity pass me by, so I dedicated myself to writing for 45 minutes a day, which is significantly more difficult now with the added baby in the house. Starting at the beginning is refreshingly exhilerating, but also terrifying. I keep finding myself staring at Gwyneth without a single worthwhile thought. I feel afraid that nothing in my brain is good enough for a story. My mind is encased in plastic or something, non-functioning the way my tongue goes slack after sucking on an ice cube.

But then I remember these things:

Every single life is a good story. Every one.

Writing is a discipline and showing up is the requirement.

There’s nothing I’d rather do.

So I return again to the writing desk. Once every few days I hit my stride, feel the whisper of the muse in my ear, the rush of wind in my fingers, and produce beautiful lines. Very rarely I am in stride with the elite, invigorated. This is rare, however, and usually I am returning for the drudgery of stringing words together to form sentences that will likely be edited at best, cut at worst.

There’s another new beginning around here. Mae Connelly is two months old now, quite literally seeing for the first time. What is it, to see for the first time? I cannot fathom. As I look into those glowing, blue marbles darting around the room I cannot help but wonder that she is a blank slate, a white page. The pen is poised, what will be written? She’s always moving, laughing a little, usually set with an intense stare, a crease in between her eyes. Here is a story over which I have no power and a great deal of influence. Here so much more is at stake. Mae is inspiring me to write, in a way. I believe stories are, right down at the roots, life. This is my contribution.

Returning to the beach.

We went to the beach for a few days this week. We packed up the car with an absurd quantity of clothes, books, DIAPERS, toys, food, entertainment and drove four hours east to stay in a gigantic house right on the ocean with Mark’s entire family. The beach is my heaven on earth, so I was equal parts wary of traveling with a three-week-old baby + two-and-a-half year old and thrilled to be escaping from my land-locked city for a healthy dose of listening to the sea crash into the shore without end for three days.

I wasn’t prepared for what having two kids would be. When Jack was born, I was under-whelmed, if that can be a word, with stress. He was easy all the way around, didn’t keep me up too much at night, never got sick, sort of allowed me to have a pretty nice life while working from home, writing, and keeping him full-time myself.

When Mae came to live with us, I must have assigned that experience to the “would-be” of her. I must have thought it would feel the same. Or maybe, in my brain-dead existence of pregnancy, I simply failed to consider what it would mean. In any case, I.WAS.NOT.PREPARED.

It is insanity in my house at all times, except when Jack is asleep for his nap… and even sometimes then. Mom, I’m awake–can I have a snack–crying infant–feeding infant–strapping infant to my body–cue sweating–mom, can we go outside?to the dinosaur park?to Target?to the book store?I don’t want to go to school!–(tears)–crying infant–walking to the park–feeding infant at the park–telling Jack not to steal toys from other children–forgetting bugspray–slapping mosquitos off his face because he’s allergic–forgetting sunscreen–picking up–putting down–running upstairs–running downstairs–running to the car–the market–the bank–the drugstore–crying (me, Jack or Mae.)

That’s usually before 11:30am. Sometimes I have forgotten to brush my teeth. I usually put mascara on, and I often make time to shower (I don’t know if it’s because I feel gross, or if it’s because I just want to be alone for five minutes), and I usually put down at least a half cup of coffee… it’s holy chaos. I had no idea. I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming.

The irony is that I have many friends and family with multiple kids, and I’ve seen their lives, the way the increase in quantity of children directly correlates to the quantity of mess, alcohol consumption and hours paid out to babysitters, but I just didn’t think it would be true for me. I am an optimistic, prideful little thing, and proud of my optimism on top of it, and I simply thought it wouldn’t happen to me.

Well, I was wrong. It did.

Tim Keller described joy as “buoyancy.” I’ll never forget that. A buoy gets pushed under water, then springs right back up. He said that true joy is having the capacity for that response to life. I keep thinking about that with these kids, because as strange as it sounds, I feel it. I have these moments (hours, sometimes) of crazed madness, frustration, even anger. But any time I take one small step back and survey this life we’ve been dealt, I am joyful! Thankful, joyful. They are beautiful, intelligent, wondrous tiny creatures, and they’re teaching me to learn my older ways, and they’re softening me. We are all refining one another. Is this the definition of family?

The beach came through, as it has a habit of doing. This is the divinity of the beach–its ability to restore. We slept with the door open so we could hear the waves all night, so when I was up nursing Mae it was by the light of the moon and the rhythm of the steady ocean tide. I read there, prayed there, wrote slowly, slept in, drank coffee and wine, and walked on the beach. I stepped back, took a serious audit of what is in front of me, and gave thanks.

A family of four.

August was a banner month. The very last day, just when we thought it was going to roll over into September, Mae Connelly was born. Her birth didn’t pan out quite like I had imagined, but she came fast, and in an instant my heart turned inside out all over again. This wild miracle of new people suddenly appearing, replenishing the earth again in a moment that’s both gentle as a dove and as violent as a storm.

This morning, as Jack is gone for his first day of pre-school, I’ve sat for a long time with Mae in the quiet of my bedroom. In our new house, our room is upstairs and outside the three windows there are great, beautiful Japanese Maples and oak trees. From my bed, it feels like we live in a treehouse. We painted the walls a lovely sea glass color, there is good natural light and the soft glow of a lamp by the bed. When Jack was born, I didn’t feel entitled to sit still, so I tried to keep up with laundry and errands, which ended up making my recovery more difficult. I read an article a few weeks ago about the importance of taking the first few days after having a baby to simply sit around, lounge, be lazy, take advantage of the husband and parents who have set aside a few days off to come be with you and help. I failed at this last time, and I was determined not to do the same thing again. So, here I sit, my new laptop (not yet named) and lukewarm coffee as company.

Before Mae was born I was so tired of pregnancy it felt like my personality was a pool that had been drained so all that’s left was a deep, cement ditch. Smooth, and dry, baking in the heat of the sun. The book was finished, so I was working on getting it shipped out and delivered to people who had ordered, busy, busy. Trying to set up everything for work, to be prepared for my maternity leave. Distracted by everything, anxious to have the baby, trying to be the same mom to Jack, but feeling so depleted there were many afternoons spent in front of television, waiting minute by minute for Mark to get home.

Her arrival was like MAGIC. Like meeting her face to face was a stroke of some great wand that brought me back to life! Mark said in the hospital, the morning after a brutally exhausting night of labor and delivery, “You seem happy again. I think you’re back.”

I was so happy to hold her, and so happy when Jack showed up to meet her in the morning and we all piled into the hospital bed like puppies, sniffing and pawing at the soft, new little bean in our family.

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Mae’s arrival brought me back to life! Again, a miracle.

It has been strange returning home, where my other baby is. He suddenly feels and seems older, bigger, stronger than he ever did, and I’m fighting not to oust him from the “baby” slot. It’s not his fault she was born, and although he will have to adjust and grow in new ways, he is still my little boy. I am always trying, as a mom, to know my child(ren) intimately, and to be sensitive to his (their) specific personality(ies). This is a challenge for me, because I don’t come by that sensitivity easily. I’ve noticed Jack seems emotional in a hidden way, sort of coy and a little jumpy, shockingly tender to Mae, a little wary of me, more attached to dad. “Mommy, your tummy is GONE!” is something he has repeated over and over, which is sweet because it shows me that he sees me.  I know I’m emotional too, feeling protective of the tiny baby moments with my new one, knowing how fast they are gone, feeling guilty that I don’t have all the time for Jack anymore, feeling torn between the two, all the while knowing all of this is for the best for ALL of us. We are learning to stretch and bend, learning each other, becoming a family all over again. It’s the best, and I am tired.

I knew it would be different, and I’m learning just what that means. It’s something like thickening a soup, adding strands to the rope to make it stronger, bolstering. Feeling God’s incredible kindness.

Welcome to our little corner of the world, Maebie.

What it feels like.

Friday, August 7, 2015 was publication day, when my first completed novel Within the Walled City became a published book with a real ISBN number, a real record in the world, a tangible story available to readers on this planet. It was a strange day because the temperature dropped to a tolerable seventy-nine, I was home alone, and Jack was asleep when the finalized proof came in the mail. Sidney was snoring in her bed, disinterested and lethargic, when I found the package at the open front door, tore it open to reveal the awaited contents, and stood barefoot on the porch staring at it. My name in hollyhock. The cover we spent months perfecting. The photo on the back, bottom corner. The dedication page. The whole story.

I looked at out at our street, unmoving at three o’clock, the wind is rustling in the trees. I could hear cars passing by steadily on the busier cross road, the motion of cicadas in the trees. No fanfare. Why should there be? No parade of little people coming to cheer me at the end of the marathon, to whistle as I strove across the finish line.

Every book I’ve ever read on writing has offered the same warning: the day your book arrives in the mail in print will be strangely unremarkable. Dani Shapiro says, “Most published writers will tell you that the moment they hold the book […]—the moment is curiously hollow. It can’t live up to the sweat, the solitude, the bloody battle that it represents.” I feel intensely grateful to have read those words, along with the words of many great writers, which prepared me for this strange paradox of finishing—the glorious end—and finding myself quieted, of all things. Well, here it is, I thought. And really, that was it.

So in truth, this post, this written tribute, this composition dedicated to finishing my project, I realized, ought really be more of a dedication to the process than the end.

“Writing fiction,” Stephen King says, “especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.”

I remember reading those words years ago when I was working on a different project, one that was tabled after six drafts or so, and sitting up straight, feeling an electric current of agreement. The powerful YES, EXACTLY barreling out of the deepest part of me. It is like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. All those mornings before light, every day, dragging my body to my desk, opening the laptop, waiting for the coffee to drip enough into the pot so I could pour a cup. Cold feet on the hardwoods. Sweater wrapped around my body. Welcome pre-dawn. Lonely dark. The tick of the baby grandfather clock. The silence of the boys sleeping, the dog shifting in her crate, knowing I was awake. The returning. Returning. Returning. Returning to the story over and over again, shifting, fixing, deleting (Lord, there has been so much deleting), adding, hating, loving, questioning. The first draft was so long ago I can’t even remember what it felt like the first time the story came out—that was almost seven years ago. All the drafts since, re-working, changing, growing the characters, the scenery, the images, the feelings, the humanity.

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird) This miracle, that what appears so plain, so mundane, so ordinary—small black text on white pages—is really a new universe! This miracle!

Toward the end of the creating process, between drafts, I had editors. The first was done by a dear friend with incisive skills. It cut the story down, pared it, like a gardener with shears at the beginning of spring. And it cut me down to the quick, but without that edit I wouldn’t have ever finished. I couldn’t have grown this story to what it became without her vision for what it could be. She’s the first person I acknowledge with credit as a contributor. The second was a different kind of help, when the story was pretty much set. This editor’s attention to detail and plain old praise of the story pushed me to the end. The final drafts. A copyeditor fixed my errors, and said the story is too sad for me. My answer to that (after a night of a lot of self-doubt!) was that really, isn’t life too sad? But don’t we continue to seek out its promised sweet marrow anyway? And isn’t sadness a key player in every life? And isn’t that why we tell stories? And isn’t hope, the redemption of sadness, at the heart of every good story?

The writing was finished. Friends came around me to illustrate and design the cover, format the text, walk me through the process of self-publication, ask me over and over, When will it be done? When can I read it?

In the past few days, people have asked how it feels. What do I do now?

Isn’t it strange, but as I waited for the proofs to arrive in the mail, I opened a fresh notebook and began jotting down ideas for the next novel. The next universe. In the past few months, pregnant, tired, working on the logistics of Within the Walled City, I have not been writing. Early mornings have found me tossing in unsettled sleep, sore, as big as a whale. That good work of writing, the thing I feel certain I was made for, has been in hibernation, but Mae’s birth is right around the corner and all I can think is I can’t wait to get back to the drawing board. I can’t wait to write a first draft again. I can’t wait to be up in the dark, alone, unfolding the world.

“After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.” (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life)

This is how it feels. It feels like there are millions of unwritten sentences waiting to come together just on the inside of my skull. It feels like I am twenty-nine and I might only have sixty good years of brain power left. It feels like a treasure, a great gift. It feels like I want to narrate the world. It feels like I want my children to experience what it feels like to have passion for something. It feels like taking part in a tradition many thousands of years old. It feels like being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and striving, always, forward.

“And so I dip my toe into the stream. I feel the rush of words there. Words that are like a thousand silvery minnows, below the surface, rushing by. If I don’t capture them they will be lost.” (Dani Shapiro, Still Writing)

Thankfulness, and our tribe.

It’s just that there’s been so much going on these past few months. This is the excuse for this long interlude, once again, between posts. It’s the truth, so much has been happening around here. The other half of the truth is that while I find myself to be a moderately good candidate for motherhood, I am a terrible candidate for pregnancy. I handle it about as well as a home school mom at a motorcycle rally. I blame my body–maybe I have a weak constitution when compromised with a baby? I’m willing to accept that.

We moved.

Moving is a despicable, distressing, exhausting, reduction process in and of itself. Moving from one house you own to another house you own is worse, because you’ve acquired a house-full of stuff. Moving with a toddler is really dumb, albeit sometimes necessary. Moving on a day with a high of ninety-one degrees and ninety-five percent humidity is torture. Moving pregnant is hell. Moving under all of those circumstances, on a Friday when most of your friends are working, without professional help is enough to lay a person to rest permanently. It was nightmarish, truly, between this Middle East climate we’ve had this summer and the nausea. Mark came home for forty nights in a row to an angry Ginny, which is something I do feel bad about. But we did it, on May twenty-ninth, which means we’ve lived in the new house for almost two months! It is starting to feel like home, AKA, I have family photos on the walls, we’ve painted over the ugly colors, my books are on shelves, but we still can’t find extra bed sheets, there are gallon ziplocks full of medicine on the floor in the guest bathroom and I can’t locate the kitchen shears. And now we live in this great, big beautiful house with windows everywhere, and tall ceilings downstairs, and a walk-in pantry, and a wrap-around back deck. It’s dreamy, in a Big Fish kind of way, and I’ve only accidentally driven to the old house one time.

We went on a family trip to the beach.

Mark’s been crazy busy with work.

Our baby is due in five weeks.

I finished my novel. Meaning: it’s in the printing process right.this.very.minute. And that, something that took every extra iota of attention I had for the past several months, is an entirely different story, a post for another day–hopefully one less than two months away.

But the point of all this is that I am sitting here in the living room. My wee babe is asleep in his bed. Mark is spending the night at a homeless shelter. The television is off. The house is astoundingly still. The sound is cicadas and crickets outside. And I am thankful.

For the past two months whenever the thought of blogging occurred to me, there were these thoughts, which fly around like heedless, homeless bats, seeming elusive and too small for an entire article. But when I finally combined everything I’ve been thinking it boiled down to thankfulness, and our tribe.

These people! These members of my family! These friends! We would have combusted by now.

The month of May, when I was pressed to my limit just existing, my sisters. My local sisters. They took Jack from me as often as they possibly could. These sisters that live in the same town as me called me and texted me every day. “Want me to take Jack to the pool?” “Why don’t I take Jack so you can nap?” “I’d love to have Jack spend the night.” I think one of them texted me every day begging for a chance to drive to my house, pick up, care for, feed, nap and bathe my toddler. It wasn’t just when I was at the end of my rope. It was so often, unsolicited, without expectation of repayment.

Moving day, we had friends that took the day off work! One dear couple moved with us from nine in the morning until the last hockey stick came off the truck after ten at night. (We didn’t hear from them the next day).

My in-laws came for three days and painted two rooms, then took us out to dinner. My folks came and in a whirlwind, unpacked about a hundred boxes, helped hang pictures, clean, organize, cook and build train tracks in Jack’s room. My mom painted the new girl nursery.

And then there are these friends. These local people we’ve stumbled upon like stones underfoot. Friends who helped me unpack my kitchen because it was immobilizing. Friends who carried rugs all over the house. Friends who babysat free. Friends who swept my porch and painted flowers for me instead of buying ones that would only disintegrate with time. Friends who threw us a huge taco party to celebrate all of this ABSOLUTE CHAOS, which is also the great beauty of life.

This doesn’t even delve into the emotional thankfulness I have for the friends who have helped me reach the end of the book process—again, another post…

But where I’m going with this is that even though there have been a lot of days this summer when I, regrettably, neglected to realize these gifts, I am looking back and paying my respects to them now.

So thanks, tribe, for helping us through the first half of this year. And thanks, Lord, for carrying us since the beginning.

Goodbye to this sweet, old house.

When we saw this square brick bungalow for the first time, from the window of the Jetta, I couldn’t believe how pretty it was, stuck in between a host of not-as-pretty houses. The two-tiered lawn, divided by the cobblestone wall; the big, covered front porch. We went inside and it was empty, so the rooms felt spacious and tall. There was a dead cockroach in the corner of the living room, which made me nervous, but otherwise it was charming. Old, a little crooked, but lovely. We bought it a month later.  That was five years ago. On Friday, we’ll move out.

I have been tip-toeing around the inevitability of processing this for a month, afraid of the emotional energy it would take. I am a homebody—in the sense that I grow deeply attached to home. Every move as a child unearthed and unsettled me deeply, and though this month has been busy, exhausting, stressful and unpredictable, and though I am an adult now with children of my own, and though we aren’t leaving town, I have avoided mentally confronting the ‘move’ because I know deep down inside myself I will be unearthed and unsettled again, which is a combination of feelings I despise.

Perhaps it would be helpful to think back on the ways this house has let us down. There have been the infestations – rats, black widows, ants, mice, carpenter bees. There was the time the main pipe from the street water to our house cracked like glass and we had to pay to have someone dig a trench through our lawn, break down the wall, destroy the grass. There was the leak in the roof to the living room. The leak in the roof to the attic. The leak in the roof to the dining room. There was the fact that we could set the temperature to sixty-eight all winter, and never see the thermostat rise above sixty-three. There was the tree that dropped limbs weighing hundreds of pounds in the back yard. There was that first neighbor with five junk yard dogs who howled all night long outside our window. There was the fact that we could never seem to grow grass on the west side of the front lawn. There was the day last winter when the high was eight degrees, and the heat went out.

But, glory. How this house has loved us. There was the streaming sunshine through the kitchen window shining on the original, glossy hardwood floors in the morning, the afternoon sun in our bedroom on the duvet, making the whole room a soft, heavenly white. Those hardwoods in every single room, creaky like something from a Victorian romance. The tall ceilings that allowed us to buy a bigger tree in December. The thick, white molding around every window, door, and inch of floor. There was the porch, the two white rocking chairs, where we sat for at least a thousand hours. Mornings with coffee, afternoons with lemonade, evenings with wine. There was the window in the shower, which you could open at the top so the breeze would come down fresh while you got clean. There was the dining room wall full of photographs of people we love. The back room, which was ugly and abused for a few years, but which became a nursery.

There was the way Sidney couldn’t walk on the floors when she was a puppy, so she’d slide around on her belly like a snake, always trying to gain traction. There was the morning we found out – after a sad, sad year of no’s – that we’d have a baby, and I ran in and jumped on top of Mark at 5:30 in the morning, hurling him out of dead sleep, into joy! The afternoon, on the porch, we found out it was a boy. The day we brought Jack to the house – the coldest mid-March I can remember, and he met Sidney. There were hundreds of early mornings at my desk, working on the book, staring out the window searching for vocabulary. There were dinners on dinners with dear friends, and a handful of special parties, when we strung up lights and lit candles, made fancy appetizers and drank bourbon, toasting to birthdays and friendship and family. There were evenings I stood dressed up in front of the full-length mirror, evaluating heels, dangly earrings and dresses; and evenings I stood in that same spot with my hands on my stomach, wondering how big it would get in forty weeks, if my feet would go back to normal, if my profile would ever be the same again. There were mornings we drank coffee quietly together, mornings we woke up to Jack singing in his crib. There was so much happy here.

And there were sad, fearful, lonely, long, trying, angry days, too. A good number of them. It wouldn’t be fair to pretend there weren’t.

It wasn’t just five years, it was these five years, our five years, for which this house was home base, and in leaving, we are saying goodbye to a fabulous era. Oddly, one thing keeps returning to me. The fact that this house was built in 1938, that there were perhaps a dozen families or more who had their five years here, or ten, or twenty. Maybe that’s what has made the house so kind and warm, it had a lot of practice being a home before we got here.

We’re moving on! There is a season for everything, and I guess it’s a fit time for us to leave this house. Time for a new house to make home, for the next years. But I’m taking this time, right now in the midst of the chaos, to make a promise to this sweet, old house – and to myself – that I won’t ever forget the simplicity and joy of our life here.