What Gives Her Away

 

Backyard Brilliance

Elyse was four when she first showed us how brave she was—and what mattered enough to bring that bravery out. We’d moved, pulling into the driveway at a new house after dark on a Sunday night and popping out for a pre-school visit at nine the very next morning. During our tour she cast clandestine glances at the other children and when they invited her to stay for their Valentine’s Day party, she smiled and took a chair at their table.

It was her smile that gave her away.

Elyse is known for her smile. It’s ready and open and real. But not that day. That day it was manufactured and careful and maybe a little bit hopeful.

Thirteen years and another move later, we watched as the landscape of her face gradually flattened from its gentle contours into the hard line of a midwestern highway. Her smile gave her away again. It was gone. I knew why, and that we had to act because when my own smile had faded away a few years before, it was action that saved me.

I’d been lonely. Devastatingly so. We’d moved again, this time to a place where I found myself surrounded by people who called me friend but hadn’t made room for real relationship. Without companionship, I lost hope and withered away spiritually, emotionally, and physically, enduring rather than enjoying my life. So when I stepped out of the shower one morning–already weary and ready for the day to be done–and turned on a random podcast, I expected diversion. What I got was direction: There are friends who need you and friends who you need. If you need a friend, go out and find one. It sounded like a simple solution, but it was new to me. Click here to continue reading. 

Loneliness. It’s painful,  deeply personal, and seemingly pervasive in our culture today. There’s  a conversation underway over at kindredmom.com  this month about combatting loneliness. Join in and read more at Kindred Mom about our family’s experience with loneliness and steps we took to combat it . Click here to read the full essay.

 

A Hiker’s Tale: Unfortunately Not Allegorical

On a lovely day, when our family was driving from one place to another, we detoured though a state park. It was a good day for a hike, so we got out of the car and onto the trail. It began atop a meadowy ridge where we walked together until the trail turned downward. Not far into our descent, I made the unsettling discovery that my feet were moving faster than they should have been. Worse, I was accelerating. My horrified family looked on helplessly as I sped down the hill toward the forest below.

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In an attempt to avert disaster, my son yelled “Mom, grab a tree!” Knowing myself to have poor aim, bad balance, and a bent toward klutziness, I thought, How am I going to manage that, and if I do, how will I keep from crushing my face when I crash into it? I followed his advice and got hold of a tree without damage to wrists or face, but only well enough to increase my peril by transforming it into a trajectory-changing, speed-increasing slingshot.

Gravity exerted itself, forcing me to the ground and rolling me – somehow backwards – down the hill. I somersaulted downward, thinking all the while how unlike this jarring plunge was from Buttercup’s tumble in the The Princess Bride. At long last, I stalled at the bottom of the hill where my panicked family found me, laughing and plucking debris from my hair.

Experience has taught me that every time my boot hits the trail there is potential for me to stumble. I keep my eyes peeled for rocks and roots that I so easily trip over and take cautious steps. My husband, the mountain goat, after years of watching me gingerly pick my way down rock-strewn mountain trails, tries regularly to convince me that gravity is my friend. He tells me that I need to stop fighting it and learn to use it to my advantage. I don’t understand that kind of friendship and prefer to fight it, just as I prefer going out on the trail to staying home, even knowing that it may be a struggle to complete the hike with my dignity intact.

Why, if I have any awareness of dignity, would I voluntarily tell this tale? Image. Consider the one that sits next to this post. There I sit, perched atop a formation in the HooDoos, decked out for a day of hiking: fleece for layering against volatile weather, hiking sandals for a day on the trail, and a boutique kerchief to guard against scalp sunburn. I dress like a hiker. I look a hiker. I am a hiker.

I am a hiker who occasionally falls. Sometimes spectacularly.

I don’t just fall on the trail. Sometimes I fall on the road that is my life. Equally spectacularly. As a wife, a mom, and a sojourner on the earth, the road provides endless opportunities for me to find myself at the bottom of a hill.

So now you know. Image doesn’t equal reality. Sometimes I am sitting somewhere glorious, looking like I belong on the trail and sometimes I’m in a heap at the bottom of a hill with debris in my hair and dirt in my teeth.

On the trail and in life the important things are the same: getting up and grace. Thank God for grace.

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Of Recipes and Risk

 

fishtrap vacation 123 - Version 2My brother and I were just a little finicky when we were young. We didn’t like oatmeal. We hated onions. We loathed sandwiches. And what is typical lunch fare for a family at a national park picnic area between hikes? Sandwiches. Eventually we grew out of it and now we’re both in the kitchen, facing our own family’s food likes and dislikes.

My brother makes better Rice Krispy bars than I. Much better. If it wasn’t for him, my children would not even know that those staples of childhood could originate from someone’s kitchen. The ones they get at my house come wrapped in cellophane.

He’s good in the kitchen. So am I. We’re both adventurous in our way. His involves choosing ingredients from the cupboard and making something delicious. Mine involves recipe books: reading them, discovering interesting recipes and trying them out. His is art and mine, I suppose, is science. He looked at a pile of marshmallows, butter, and Rice Krispies and knew that more marshmallows would make a better bar. I followed the recipe and got dry Rice Krispy Bars.

Both his way and mine carry risks and potential for failure. He trusts his instincts. I do, too, but I also have to hope the cookbook author was worthy of a book deal.

A couple of summers ago I made a batch of Curried Hummus from a delightful little cookbook I found at the library for our family’s summer gathering at Campfire Bay Resort in Minnesota. While I’m not fond of  hummus, I do like curry, and I thought this might bridge the gap. I bought the ingredients my pantry lacked, whirled them together in the food processor and popped it into the waiting mouths of my husband and me. Easy.

Except that my husband didn’t think it was edible.

In an unusual display of drama, he lit around the kitchen, like a scorched cat suddenly overcome with a hairball. “What is that?” he spat, his look communicating that I had lost not only my marbles, but my kitchen rights along with them. I wasn’t certain what his problem was. I had tried it. It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that good, either. Curry had not bridged the gap.

I packed it in the cooler for Campfire Bay, hoping other people would react differently, especially my culinarily adventurous, globe-trotting brother. Because the kitchen is one of the few places I laugh at myself easily, my husband held nothing back as he detailed the awfulness of my hummus. The family knew what they were facing long before it landed on the table. My brother, who said that he didn’t really like curry, bravely, and probably sympathetically, gave it a try. He chewed, swallowed, and with a restrained face said “Nice try,” before patting me on the head as if to say Never do that again, and escaped the cabin to go fishing.

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No one ate the hummus, not even me, but in the words of my daughter’s piano teacher, nobody died. Since then, I’ve found new recipes which have brought triumph as absolute as the hummus failure was complete. I will probably take something new to the lake this summer. If it’s inedible, we’ll have my brother’s Rice Krispy bars to fall back on.