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And Spring Slips into Summer

Foamflower, hostas, and a stunted Japanese maple frame an angel bought years and years ago and then forgotten in the garden behind the garage. Now she has center stage in the main shade garden.
Foamflower, hostas, and a stunted Japanese maple frame an angel bought years and years ago and then forgotten in the garden behind the garage. Now she has center stage in the main shade garden.

Have you ever told yourself you’d change and then actually done it? This weekend I really lived my new “to-be list” philosophy. I did do a lot, but I never made a list of things to accomplish and then checked it off, item by item. With everything I did, I felt no rush, no pressing need to do it now, no guilt in the doing or the not doing.

I spent time with my son at Van Atta’s Greenhouse and Nursery, I mowed and transplanted and weeded, I filled a dozen or more pots with annuals, I managed to keep the kitchen pretty clean. Saturday morning, Zach and I were talking about finally putting in a new fire pit sometime this summer. By afternoon, it was there! Suddenly we were roasting hot dogs and marshmallows in the backyard.

On Monday, the boy and I went downtown to visit the various war memorials and monuments and statues, and to check out the “fuzzy” Capitol building (the dome is currently covered with scaffolding as they do maintenance of some sort). We were practically the only ones downtown. We talked of war and sacrifice and men and women who served. We talked about how our state became the Arsenal of Democracy, turning auto factories into factories that made munitions and tanks and Army vehicles; how women built the machinery and the ammunition that finally subjugated the axis powers in WWII; how some wars must be fought and some do not make a lot of sense; how some people come home heroes, some come home to sneers and derision, and some never come home at all. We talked about men in our family who fought and those whose number never came up.

The wind was gusting and it started to rain on us. By the time we were home again the sun was out. We watched Charlotte’s Web for the second time in two days, and now the boy is a spider (with just four legs) who gives spider hugs and spider kisses and makes his webs out of the pile of dirty laundry his father gathered at the bottom of the stairs.

In the coming days we will celebrate the boy’s seventh birthday, his class will take a field trip to the zoo, we’ll take him to his first Brandi Carlile concert (shh–it’s a surprise), he’ll have a birthday party at the park with his friends, and we’ll celebrate with some family the next day.

May is always a big month here.

But I’m not sweating it. I’m loving every minute of it.

Trading “To-Do” for “To-Be” in this Busy Life

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Lately I’ve felt there is simply too much input streaming into my life. Too many emails (even though I signed up for updates on these blogs and already weeded out the ones I just don’t care that much about). Too much junk mail in my mailbox (I’ve considered whether I should simply replace the mailbox with our recycling bin). Too many newsletters and flyers from my son’s school each week (can I unsubscribe, please?). Too many posts in too many groups on too many social media platforms (although, again, I choose to participate and I’m not planning on quitting).

Beyond school ending in a few weeks . . . oh, I’m back. I passed out there for a minute. Beyond that, there’s no end in sight. And for someone who enjoys silence, requires a certain amount of unstructured solitude, and gets a cheap thrill out of eliminating expired condiments from the fridge, I’m not really sure how to deal with it all. I have too much to read and do and it is crowding out what I really want to read and do. What I really want is a sabbatical. What I’ve really got is a normal life like everyone else.

So, what to do? It’s time again to take stock of how I’m spending my time and make conscious decisions about whether I’m really using my time wisely and purposefully. I want to enjoy time with family, to spend time tending my garden, to read for pleasure and read for research, to finish revising one novel so I can begin to write another, to eat delicious home-prepared food, to be still and commune with my Creator, to do my work with enthusiasm and passion, to keep my house clean enough so that it doesn’t clutter my mind.

I’m really good at making to-do lists. I have to recover that chair, weed the south flowerbed, make that ninja costume for my son, water those plants, sew a red skirt, vacuum that floor, sow those bean seeds, write that copy, finish that chapter, sweep up those maple seeds, sort that laundry, get that dead bird out of the garage…I could continue ad nauseam.

But somehow I feel that I might be better served by making a to-be list at this point in life…

To Be:

A loving wife and mother
An obedient child of God
An exemplary worker
A thoughtful writer
A collector of ideas and impressions
A decent housekeeper
A reader of good books
A passable guitarist
A lover of nature
A protector of creative time

All of those sound pretty doable to me. And reading them doesn’t stress me out. I can do those, whether they happen in increments or in concentrated bursts or slowly over time or whatever.

What would you have on your to-be list?

The One Who Leaves and the One Left Behind

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The summer after my freshman year in high school, my best friend Tina announced to me that she was moving to a boarding school. We were fifteen. I was crushed.

All of my fondest memories starred me and Tina. Against varied backdrops — her bedroom, her cottage, a stretch of sand along Lake Huron, the auditorium at the Bay City Players, the Wheel at First Presbyterian Church, the back of their ’80s-fabulous van — we shared secrets and music and thoughts and dreams. We laughed uncontrollably at inane inside jokes, the basis of which I can no longer pull from memory. We weathered the hell that is middle school together, walking the long stretch of road from Cramer Junior High to Lesperance Court, where I dropped out, followed closely thereafter by our friend Andrew. Then Tina would continue on alone.

She was the trailblazer, always traveling, always going somewhere and doing something and sending me a postcard written in her huge, lefthanded script with the strange M’s that looked like a hammock strung between two trees — like the one in her backyard that I would never lounge in again. When she left, I began to scheme about a way to leave as well, not because I wanted to get out of my hometown or get away from my parents, but because I wanted to be the one who leaves instead of the one left behind, the one who was embarking on a new adventure instead of the one standing on the porch and watching taillights fade away in the distance. The one who leaves and the one left behind are both parted from one another, but it is far from the same experience.

I had the distinct joy of keeping in touch with Tina. After she graduated from her boarding school, she went on to Boston then Boca Raton then Colorado then Argentina and then back to Colorado with occasional trips to Cambodia and Thailand and Scotland. Whenever she was back in Michigan I tried to make it back to Bay City to visit. She was a better letter writer than I, and so occasionally I would get a card or note in the mail. I never felt like I had much to report back to her; my life was so tied to routine and the everyday tasks of the student, the worker, the wife. In 2002 or 2003 I sat with her in the cafe at Schuler Books in the Meridian Mall in Okemos, overjoyed to hear of an important change in her life. When I drove out of that parking lot to head back to Grand Rapids where I was living at the time, I could hardly see the road for the tears — tears of joy, yes, but also tears of loss. And every time I have thought very long about her since she left me on my porch in 1995 — my God, twenty years ago — I have cried.

Five years ago I flew to Denver to attend her wedding to a wonderful man I have recently had the pleasure of getting to know a little better. A few weeks ago, I flew out again to visit for a few days and meet their little baby boy. We rambled about in the mountains, shared meals at their table, talked of our parents and our friends and our families. And like all true friendships, we picked up where we had left off like no time had passed between us. But even now, as I type this, tears are in my eyes. Because I’m still the one who was left behind, and the ache never quite goes away.

Last night, my husband and I got the heartbreaking news that our closest friends in town are moving three states and ten hours away. It’s wonderful news for them — an answer to years of fervent prayer for a teaching position. And I am truly happy for them. Yet here we find ourselves again, standing on the porch while the ones who know you most deeply, for whom you put up no front of having-it-all-togetherness, drive away to a new life. We feel emptied of something that made us us. And it sucks.

My sophomore year of high school started without my best friend. I wasn’t sure if I would make another close friend — everyone else already had their best friends. They’d been best friends, most of them, since elementary school, just as Tina and I had. But then, a few weeks into the school year, I met a senior named Zach.

And five years later, I married my new best friend.

Welcoming Back the Shade Garden

Spring has truly sprung over the past week in mid-Michigan, and the shade garden I expanded in the back yard last year is beginning to bloom…

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart

I’ve been busy outside destroying and covering up my neighbor’s sidelot (with his permission) because I’m tired of looking at the mess of English ivy, poison ivy, weeds, dead leaves, weed trees, and trash out my dining room window.

Red Epimedium
Red Epimedium

Now it has been mowed, poisoned, shrouded in black plastic, and covered over with mulch.

Daffodil
Daffodil

Over the next year or so it should suffocate.

Poesy Daffodil
Poesy Daffodil

Then the mulch can be raked back, the plastic can be removed, and the remaining mulch and dead matter underneath can be worked into the soil.

Yellow Epimedium
Yellow Epimedium

At that point, it should be ready to sustain something beautiful and/or useful.

Emerging Ferns
Emerging Ferns

In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for some cheap or free pots and will try to stage a nice array of containers full of flowers on top of the mulch.

Pulmonaria
Pulmonaria

Two days after that big project I am still sore from moving edgers, swinging an ax, and shoveling and dumping and spreading mulch.

Fading Hellebores
Fading Hellebores

But the view is much improved.