First Real Snow

Last night it began to snow and it is still snowing now. Monday morning. Veteran’s day. There are still leaves on the big Norway Maples in the back yard. Still yellow leaves scattered across the back gardens that I didn’t have the energy to deal with after my son and I raked up the elm and ash leaves in the front, the refuse of two doomed trees.

The ash is one of the last standing around here, but the emerald ash borers did finally get to it and it is slowly dying, shrinking back each year so that only the middle of it gets leaves at all while the extremities are dead and brittle and break off in high winds of under heavy snow and ice. It is marked with a big red circle of spray paint, like a bullet wound seeping blood, and will be taken down by the city some time in the next year or so. In the meantime, I wouldn’t park under it if I were you.

The elm was an accidental planting, the result of using free mulch several years back. As far as I can work out, someone else was losing an elm tree to some sort of bacteria or fungus and had it cut down and chipped up and that is what the city brought me to mulch with when I inquired about free wood chips the year after the big ice storm took down so many limbs. I’d been expecting chips from dead trees, but this one still had some life in it (and seeds, apparently). So now it’s progeny grows at the confluence of three property lines and no one took it down when it was a sapling and manageable. So at some point in the next five or ten years, it will start to die and we’ll all have to chip in to remove it. Though I’m pretty sure it’s my fault to begin with.

This spring I planted some trees on purpose. Three varieties of Japanese maple, a Japanese cherry, and one little redbud that was just a weed on the other side of the fence, which I transplanted to my garden and watched carefully all summer (they do not like to be moved). And now all those little baby trees are gathering snow in their bare arms, saving it to drink later when we have a warm-up. Which we will. The ten-day forecast includes several days that reach 40 degrees. Rain is predicted. I may yet get all those yellow maple leaves up, even if they are wet.

There are still a few other chores to do. I must wrap my new sky pencil holly in burlap. I must remove the bamboo fountain and the water pump, which I meant to do this weekend but forgot in my exhaustion and my desire to finish reading a book. I did manage to remember to get the cover on the outdoor furniture.

As we enter the season of cold and snow and ice and clouds I am content. I feel a release of breath. A busy season is ending. A shivering, staying-put-and-reading-and-writing one has begun. I have a few more events this month to support the release of The Words between Us, but nothing scheduled until April of next year (and no intention to put anything on the calendar before that month). I have a book that has steadily made its way from my brain into the tips of my fingers over the past year and is ready to be written. I have cozy slippers and a wood-burning fireplace and a small dog that lives to cuddle.

So yeah, I’m ready for winter. Even if the yard’s not.

These Changeable Days

It is a cloudy morning, but a springish light is in the air. Despite it being January. We’re all discombobulated by the weather, bouncing between thaw and freeze, rain and snow, sun and clouds. In the words of They Might Be Giants, “Everyone’s excited and confused.”

Lonely piles of snow still linger in the cold and sheltered places, but much of my world is a dull wash of brown and faded green. One day I walk our little chihuahua mix with her plaid coat on and worry about her little paws and ears freezing. The next she goes out naked, splashing through puddles of meltwater, going ballistic when she sees a squirrel.

This is January?

There is a tall and slender dead ash tree in the back yard that is listing northwest, aiming for the garage. It looks like a rope and a couple of determined guys could pull it the rest of the way down. Part of me worries about it and part of me is rooting for it. But it’s not big enough to do enough damage so that we’d have to replace the garage and might be able to claim some insurance money to get the job done. 

I worry about the fence as well. Katy is small enough to fit through the spaces between pickets. The fence needs to be replaced — it is rotting in spots, pulling away from the posts. But on one side the neighbors have a new metal fence Katy can get under and through with little effort. A tie-out is one solution, though it’s apt to get tangled up in bushes. A mostly invisible wire fence along the neighbor’s metal fence is another. For now, we take her out on a leash.

There’s a strange, unsettledness to life right now. We have more orphaned socks in our sock bag than ever before. I’ve been washing dishes by hand every day as we figure out a solution to a dishwasher problem. The workroom is clean, yet there’s sawdust being tracked through the house. The outdoor Christmas lights lie in a pile by the door, drying out before we can put them away in the attic. The far end of the dining room table is gathering an assortment of papers and Legos and headphones and items with no home. Desks are almost clean. Laundry is mostly done. Books are all half read.

And I have started writing a new novel. A story about sisters and identity and a hiking trip that will go very bad, but ultimately be good.

I don’t know yet how 2018 feels to me. I do know that eventually the seasons will figure themselves out. Eventually that dead tree will come down, one way or another. Eventually the fencing issue will be resolved.

Ultimately, it will be good.

Spring? What’s this “spring” you speak of?

Spring break is always touch and go in the Midwest. But this year takes the cake when it comes to crappy weather. It snowed at least a little every day, and sometimes it looked like this:

April 8, 2016

Now, I’m normally not one to complain about snow; I consider it part of my mission on this earth to balance out everyone else’s constant whining about it. But everyone has their limit. Thankfully, it is mostly melted now and the forecast for Wednesday through Sunday is phenomenal. This weekend I hope to finally finish clearing away to old leaves from the gardens and get the yard bags out to the street for pick-up.

During the rotten weather this past week I did use my time well, adding about 8,000 new words to my current WIP. This week I’ll have to put that on pause as I go over I Hold the Wind one more time before sending it to my agent. I’ve also been putting together my first newsletter, which should be going out at the end of the week! If you want to get this subscriber-only content, you can sign up here.

I’m cautiously optimistic that spring truly is coming to stay this week, which puts me in a generally hopeful mood, as does the news that, for the first time in a long time, we may actually be getting a tax refund this year. Now, if only the housing market in mid-Michigan would bounce back a little more…

Ah, well. One thing at a time.

This post is not about the Michigan primary.

Nothing quite stirs the Midwestern soul like spring. The prospect of temps in the 50s and 60s and we start taking down the storm windows and dragging all the cardboard boxes from the last six months of deliveries out to the recycling center. We suddenly want to take walks and organize closets and clean out the garage. The sound of water trickling into the storm drain makes us nearly as giddy as the sound of birds looking for mates. Yesterday afternoon as I drove to get my son from school I smiled (and may have audibly sighed with contentment) at a weather report announcing possible thunderstorms in the evening.

Reality check. Don’t get used to this. It’s just for a day or two, then it will get cold again.

But then you look at the extended forecast and see this:

Spring Forecast

Glorious spring! God is merciful! Even at night it’s not supposed to freeze! Within a day or two, even the disgusting mountains of dirty snow and busted shopping carts at the centers of parking lots could be gone!

If the meteorologists are correct (stop laughing) this could turn out to be a marvelous March indeed.

A Poem for the Spring Thaw

Lenten Rose

 

 

 

 

 

The world melts around me
as the sun caresses
the contours of my city.

A robin addresses
blue sky studded by
clouds hurrying past —

Don’t linger here! Fly! Fly! —
Do I spy a blade of grass?
Or is this mere flirtation?

A sly come hither glance?
Who cares? On this temptation
I’ll blithely take a chance.

 

A February First

I’m not sure when I’ve been quite this chipper on the first day of February — especially with no snow on the ground. I’m finally shaking a week long sickness, I’ve hit the ground running with a revision of a work-in-progress, and the birds have been singing their springtime songs. Yesterday afternoon (and into the evening) I cleaned out and cleared off my desk while bingeing on Design on a Dime. (Aside: Do you know that both bingeing and binging are acceptable, yet WordPress claims both are misspellings?)

Perhaps I’m feeling peppy because my own personal new year starts today. All of my overwhelming activities I stepped back from last year are truly done now and I have the delightful feeling of a carnival pony that’s been released from the wheel that kept me going around in circles and I can now follow where my fancy leads me. And this month it is leading me to get my next manuscript in shape, get the house in order, and check off a couple more items on my list of things to do before we possibly put the house on the market later this year.

The January thaw has us delirious with thoughts of spring even though we know better. Still, it was lovely yesterday to wear a light jacket to church and imagine the season to come. It should be in the low 40s the next few days, with wind and rain, but winter should return later this month. And that’s all for the good. I have firewood yet to burn…

Spring Thaw

cardinal05I feel as though I’ve broken with tradition by not posting about the first day of March on the first day of March, which always feels like such a momentous achievement (getting to March, not posting about it). But this year February seemed to go by so quickly and March began with days just as cold as February and I was in no mood to post.

Now, finally, we are experiencing temps above freezing and hearing the meltwater in the gutters and spattering on sidewalks. It’s been sunny and lovely and dry sidewalk has been reported. My bird feeders are full and every day we hear the wooing melodies of songbirds. Male cardinals are chasing each other off. We anticipate the return of the robins soon — and, with somewhat less enthusiasm, the emergence of the dog poop.

It’s been in the 40s the past few days and it should be in the FIFTIES (I can hardly believe I’m writing that) the rest of the week starting tomorrow. Phenomenal.

Less Than 24 Hours Until February Is Over

It is a grand day, everyone. The last day of another February. Tomorrow it will be March. Let that sink in for a moment.

While you shiver on this sunny, 0°F morning; while my arctic dog is rolling around in the snow like an idiot; while we shuffle through yet another day that feels like a science experiment gone awry–all that time we are moving closer, moment by moment, to March.

Yes, it will be largely a symbolic victory. The battle against seasonal affective disorder will continue and we still can’t see the grass, but we shall overcome the snow in the end.

The birds are already starting to sing the victory song. Can you hear them?

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On Cold Mornings, Doomed Goats, and Stories Waiting to Be Told

We woke this morning to the shortest day of the year in the coldest house of the year. The batteries in the thermostat had apparently died in the night, making it a toasty 55 degrees on the main floor and colder yet in the basement. A few space heaters (why do we have so many of these?) and a couple new AA batteries warmed things up fairly quickly, and the cold did allow me to see my five-year-old son looking extra adorable in his robe and slippers.

The fairly warm temperatures we’ve been having continued this morning, hovering above freezing and giving a foggy, ethereal glow to the moisture-laden air. The rooftops, the lawns, the roads, and the sky are all varying shades of white and gray. Much of our beautiful snow has melted under the constant rain we had yesterday and I fear by the time Christmas dawns it will be brown rather than white. That’s how it goes sometimes–our ideals and reality at odds.

As time winds down before Christmas I find that I have a couple more gifts to buy, I’m waiting on a few things to be delivered, I have a number of gifts to wrap. I’ve got bathrooms that need cleaning, sheets that need washing, boxes that need recycling. Probably most of this is true for you as well.

More uniquely, I’ve been invited to attend a goat slaughter and a five-hour worship service and meal (at which the condemned goat will be consumed) to celebrate Christmas with my new Bhutanese-Nepali friends. I’m still deliberating on the goat. On the one hand, I am curious about how it will all go down and I feel intrinsically that a writer should observe those out-of-the-ordinary (to us) things. Certainly I would find something of interest to report to you. But I’ve never actually eaten something I witnessed being killed. Seriously, not even a fish. I guess we’ll see how things pan out on Monday afternoon.

Tonight, however, on the longest night of the year, I will not be thinking about goats. I’ll hopefully be finishing up my last short story for 2013. Once that is done, every item on my 2013 to-do list will be checked off and my mind will be free to turn completely toward writing the novel I’ve been researching and musing upon and planning for the past year. The story has gestated and grown and morphed in my mind to the point where I am more eager to write than I have ever been.

I think about the anticipation of the child who would come to deliver his people, of thousands of years waiting for the Word. I think of the people who converged on Bethlehem–Mary and Joseph traveling to be registered, sages making the treacherous desert journey to see the fulfillment of prophecies, angels coming down from heaven, shepherds leaving their fields and flocks, and soldiers dispatched to murder innocent baby boys. And the most important–God drawing near, so near as to become one of us. To feel pain and sorrow and temptation and anguish. To make meaning from chaos. To be both conclusion and new beginning.

The coming together of God and man. The crux of history. The greatest story, which informs all of our small and secondary stories.

Throughout 2013 I told little stories. Now I am ready for a big story.