11 observations of the actual world

This week I take the last of my finals and officially finish my first year of midwifery school. I have learned one million new things, mostly about myself. For instance...

I don't handle stress as well as I would have guessed.

I'm not a stressor by nature, maybe even the opposite. But I've never been subjected to so many demands for such a prolonged period, and my whole body has been like, whoa. Kind of like when you're mowing the lawn and you suddenly hit a patch of really deep, thick grass and the blades slow way down and make that sound...you know? The one that says tooooo much... tooooooo fast... about...to...cut...the..engine..                                                           (can you guess what I've been doing all summer?)

I've been feeling so distracted. I started to notice it when I started to lose things. My phone, my keys, that paper I swore I left right on the counter that somehow made its way upstairs. Then Stella started in with the, mom watch this! mom, watch! mom, are you watching? mom, don't look away, ok?  And I came-to during one of these episodes and realized, MY FOUR YEAR OLD KID IS BEGGING ME TO KEEP MY EYES ON HER FOR 1 MINUTE. Why do I feel like I don't have time for this? Why do I feel like I need to clean something? Or email someone?  

With so much going on I have somehow lost the ability to pay attention. To live in the actual world. The one where we see things and feel things and are aware of what we are seeing and feeling. I was listening to this interview of Marie Howe on one of my drives to school and was struck by the homework she gives to her creative writing students: every day write down a few observations of the actual world. A tool to get back to your senses. To document things with no metaphor, no abstractions, no interpretations or judgement.

I decided to try it out this month.

A white sun moving in a yellow sky.

A white sun moving in a yellow sky.

Early light coming in through two partially-open barn windows.

Early light coming in through two partially-open barn windows.

Clyde in stall 1, flicking his ears from the sides to the front and back again.

Clyde in stall 1, flicking his ears from the sides to the front and back again.

A whirring tin fan blowing hot air.

A whirring tin fan blowing hot air.

Fading hoof prints in the riding arena after a night of rain.

Fading hoof prints in the riding arena after a night of rain.

Dew dripping off of a stringy, brown mane.

Dew dripping off of a stringy, brown mane.

Maggie at 19 months, sitting in my grandmother's chair, in the tree house, in the rain.

Maggie at 19 months, sitting in my grandmother's chair, in the tree house, in the rain.

Stella standing in the barn window calling out shapes she sees in the clouds. (including "the hot air balloon from the wizard of oz!")

Stella standing in the barn window calling out shapes she sees in the clouds. (including "the hot air balloon from the wizard of oz!")

Fresh eggs. Stinky and warm. 

Fresh eggs. Stinky and warm. 

My girls running with long, black shadows. Shrieking.

My girls running with long, black shadows. Shrieking.

A lone tree in the neighbor's pasture surrounded by mounds of thick, carpeted grass.

A lone tree in the neighbor's pasture surrounded by mounds of thick, carpeted grass.

It's helping, you guys. You should try it. 

This entry is part of an "11 on 11" series I'm participating in with some photographers whose work inspires me: Sara Kaleho (MN)Sanna Lee (MN)Marie Sant (UT)Kelly Sweda (CA), and Brandi Tejeda (CO. We all post 11 photos on the 11th of each month, just for fun. 

We link to each other to create a blog circle. You can follow along by checking out Kelly's post.

Summer

Most of my childhood memories involve summertime. Wet swimsuits piled in our laundry basket along with the once-a-week church outfit. We would all file into mom's suburban in the beach parking lot to wait out the afternoon thunderstorms and emerge 20 minutes later to an empty beach, wet sand, warm water. The perpetual hot, sticky breeze coming off the lake that smelled like boat exhaust and mowed grass. Walking home from my best friend's house in the almost-dark to a deafening symphony of crickets and bullfrogs. 

We're living less than 30 minutes away from the home I grew up in, accidentally. It's been almost 5 years since we moved here and I've felt so ambivalent about it. So hesitant to love it. Your hometown is like family, you know? It can be hard to see past the gaping flaws and appreciate the good.

But lately I watch my kids fling themselves into the water like dried-up fish. With dark tan lines and smelling like sunscreen that never has a chance to fully wash off. We hid in the car during a storm yesterday and ate our soggy sandwiches and scratched our mosquito bites and explained to Stella the logistics of why alligators can't climb into canoes. I kiss their wet little foreheads and spend my evenings sweeping sand out of the kitchen. 

The more time I spend here the more I realize this old town is as good as any other. And I'm thankful for it. The same sort of gratitude you feel towards your parents after you reach adulthood. Suddenly the empathy you were lacking in your younger years catches up to you and you have a hard time remembering what you used to get so mad about. 

Making peace, feeling grateful.

staring down every fallen branch, "is that an alligator? … is THAT an alligator?"

staring down every fallen branch, "is that an alligator? … is THAT an alligator?"

above and below: could be a two year time-lapse photo. little clones of each other in so many ways.

above and below: could be a two year time-lapse photo. little clones of each other in so many ways.

mim at 18 months old has officially cemented her title as the most physically affectionate baby. nathan's daughter, without a doubt. Also, black and white to hide the farmer's tan. :)

mim at 18 months old has officially cemented her title as the most physically affectionate baby. nathan's daughter, without a doubt. Also, black and white to hide the farmer's tan. :)

This entry is part of an "11 on 11" series I'm participating in with some photographers whose work inspires me: Sara Kaleho (MN)Sanna Lee (MN)Marie Sant (UT)Kelly Sweda (CA), and Brandi Tejeda (CO. We all post 11 photos on the 11th of each month, just for fun. 

We link to each other to create a blog circle. You can follow along by checking out Sara's post, three little girls and a field of wildflowers. I love everything this girl does with the camera.

day late, dolla short

I was leaving the house the other day and noticed a little green spider on the outside of the car window. He paused as the car started to roll, bracing himself against the wind. I turned onto the highway and started picking up speed. He lost his grip on the window one scrawny leg at a time. Soon there was just one leg left, holding on for dear life, while the others waved wildly above his body. I drove a while trying not to notice, then trying not to care, and eventually pulled over and flicked him into a nice patch of grass.

It all hit a little too close to home for me. Things have been picking up speed around here in an unprecedented way. School is insane, Nathan's job is insane and our kids are growing up while we're trying to hold it all together. I am spending more time on my knees, praying for help and for peace and for the strength to keep my footing and not fly off into a whirlwind of anxiety and panic. It's working. I'm alive, I'm getting stronger, I'm confronting things that seem impossible and I'm surviving. So much to share, but for now here are some photos from the last month of life.

Stella's ballet recital. Classical music, little girls dancing in a beautifully lit space. 

Stella's ballet recital. Classical music, little girls dancing in a beautifully lit space. 

Morning garden therapy.

Morning garden therapy.

Long walks, bonding time. 

Long walks, bonding time. 

And one of me. I turned 28. It's going to be a good year.

And one of me. I turned 28. It's going to be a good year.

This entry is part of an "11 on 11" series I'm participating in with some photographers whose work inspires me: Sara Kaleho (MN)Sanna Lee (MN)Marie Sant (UT)Kelly Sweda (CA), and Brandi Tejeda (CO. We all post 11 photos on the 11th of each month, just for fun.

We link to each other to create a blog circle. You can follow along by checking out Marie's post. 

This.

I took the girls to the park yesterday. It was empty, except for one little girl about Stella's size who started jogging toward our car as I was parking. She must have figured there would be someone to play with in our group who was more exciting than her grandma. Stella's feet hit the ground and wasting no time on introductions or explanations they ran off together for the swings, then the slides, then under the bridge where they made lunch for everyone with mulch and leaves. 

Is it impressive to anyone else how kids just do this? How they throw themselves into vulnerability with abandon? How they show up in their little lives with no guarantees? How content they are with whatever is in front of them, wasting no energy on the anticipation of change or loss or the arrival of something better?

That little girl in the parking lot, she knows what's up.

This is what you have been waiting for, my brother used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

-Marie Howe

Herbal soup - a Stella specialty.

Herbal soup - a Stella specialty.

Babies checking out babies.

Babies checking out babies.

This entry is part of an "11 on 11" series I'm participating in with some photographers whose work inspires me: Sara Kaleho (MN)Sanna Lee (MN)Marie Sant (UT)Kelly Sweda (CA), and Brandi Tejeda (CO. We all post 11 photos on the 11th of each month, just for fun.

We link to each other to create a blog circle. You can follow along by checking out Marie's post. She does some really pretty things with light. I always really love her photos and edits.

(Is this something that has been on your mind, too? If so, I would love to hear from you. Let's share observations and encouragement. You can email me at brookeschmoe@gmail.com.)

Reporting from the trenches

My weeks are a giant smear of book reports and microbes and long drives and needy little hands and pulling weeds. On Sunday, my one day of rest, I serve in our church congregation's nursery. Nursery as in little people…not little plants. This involves two hours and 10 plus babies and most days I limp out to the car, covered in snot and half-dressed. (This is only a slight exaggeration). It is rocking my world and effectively teasing out all of my crumbs of flawed character. One week I'll feel encouraged by the progress I've made internally--in realizing what a privilege it is to be serving these little kids, of whom the Savior himself said I need to learn to emulate, and with whom he surrounded himself often. And some weeks I'm just not feeling it. I feel instead like I want to run. Like I don't want to be challenged in this particular way, and I want to switch to something….different. Better. Less hard. More important. More spiritual.

But what is more spiritual than confronting weakness in yourself and not running? In choosing to see it in a bright light, to not turn away but to acknowledge it, apologize for it, then hand it over to the Lord? I'm accepting that this is the most spiritual place for me to be serving. It is eating away at my pride and self importance. It has obliterated my false sense of confidence--the kind that comes from everyone telling you that you're wonderful. It is making me dig, week after week, to feel useful, appreciated, like I matter. It has been the incessant crack that is making new space for light to enter. 

Things I want to remember: this learning process, and these moments...

Watching my girls play in the light of the barn window.

Watching my girls play in the light of the barn window.

That frizzy little mullet.

That frizzy little mullet.

The way they love each other, then hate each other, then love each other.

The way they love each other, then hate each other, then love each other.

Little hands always re-arranging / undoing / moving.

Little hands always re-arranging / undoing / moving.

My first batch of home-grown sauerkraut. 

My first batch of home-grown sauerkraut. 

Daily garden candy. 

Daily garden candy. 

Always leading the way, always laughing.

Always leading the way, always laughing.

Morning walks….to spy on the alligator in the pond,

Morning walks….to spy on the alligator in the pond,

to climb our favorite tree, 

to climb our favorite tree, 

to talk about what dreams we had and how silly they were and why the grass makes our feet all wet in the mornings. 

to talk about what dreams we had and how silly they were and why the grass makes our feet all wet in the mornings. 

Holding on to every second of this life. The beautiful and the messy. 

This entry is part of an "11 on 11" series I'm participating in with some photographers whose work inspires me: Sara Kaleho (MN)Sanna Lee (MN)Marie Sant (UT)Kelly Sweda (CA), and Brandi Tejeda (CO).We all post 11 photos on the 11th of each month, just for fun. You can continue the blog circle by checking out Kelly's post....some beautiful West coast scenery and a blonde little dreamboat of a daughter.