Four years in

My mother died four years ago today.

Four years. The length of a presidency. How long it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree. 1/11 of my life, so far. 1/3 of V’s life.

She has missed so much.

The end of my first marriage. Two moves. Dipper. V has lost teeth and gotten braces off and grown a least 8″ in these four years. I’ve lost 20lbs three different times. Had two root canals. Killed at least five houseplants. I met and fell in love with Richard, got engaged. Wrote a handful of blog posts, mostly about her.

Sometimes I see her in my dreams. Her voice is booming (she wasn’t good at an inside voice); her kindness like an aura all around her. I carry her compassion, her ability to laugh at herself, her joy for sunshine everywhere I go. Every day I see things I want to tell her about, or read a book I want to share with her.

She missed the election of Trump, and all the nightmarish vitriol we’ve seen since. She missed the deaths of some of her friends. Four harvests. Four spring plantings. Four hard winters.

My former mother-in-law died last month. A friend’s father died last week. Having buried both my parents, this is a familiar path for me, and I try to reach out with comfort even though I know comfort will be a long time coming, usually, for those of us left behind.   I hate it here. I hate knowing how hard the first year is after losing a parent. And the year after. Hell, at year four, in some ways it’s harder still.

After Dewey died I felt like a butterfly missing a wing. After Myra, I was just a caterpillar again, for a while. Hungry and lonesome and far from metamorphosis.

I tell people the first year is the hardest, and it is, if you were lucky enough to have a good parent, and unlucky enough to lose them too soon. I said “the first year is the hardest” to myself over and over again in 2014-2015, when the gray of grief felt like it would smother me. Like it was a mantra, to pull me through the worst of it. I wish, after the first year, that the gray lifted and never came back, but of course grief doesn’t work like that.

A friend who’s mother died before ours provided an analogy: the loss leaves a big hole, but your life will grow around it. The hole remains, always, but you get used to it, in a way.

Today I miss the sound of her voice, and her hugs, and her hand on my face. I miss the way she laughed, and the faces she made when she was feeling silly. I miss how she soothed me when I cried.

I will miss my mother for the rest of my life.

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Posted in Grief, Love, Mama | 1 Comment

Mushrooms 2018! (part the first)

Gentle readers! I have so many things to tell you, and so little energy to do it. But I’m a sucker for traditions, so here is the first installment of Mushroom posts for 2018.

So all these photos come from my beloved and overpriced iPhone 7, and I’m still getting used to taking pictures with it. My regular camera is still in a box somewhere (moving sucks), and I do want to get it out, or at least spend more time with my phone’s camera. Until then, you’ll have to bear with me and my learning curve.

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Above, a gorgeous little pile of mushrooms. I adore that 8 (or more) of them have sprung up from the exactly same space, and expanded outward, as mushrooms do. I love the pale, slender stems and the bits of dirt on each of the caps. And I love the evening sunlight coming in from the left, which is actually a reflection off Seven’s white fur. But we’ll get to more on him later…

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All of these photos are from the park just west of our new house. The park is full of miles of bike trails, and on this day we all went walking around 8:45 in the evening. I swear there is nothing more fun than a family walk in the woods, before the mosquitoes hatch. As is my way, I kept getting left behind as V and Rich were there to move, and I was there to find mushrooms.

The pictures above and below are of the same tree stump from different angles. In the photo above, I’m looking straight at the stump and the dark, dead wood is striking against the creamy shelf-like mushrooms. The tree fills the photo, and it’s got all the texture and decay you could hope for.

Below, same stump, more from the side: about 2/3 (3/4? fractions are hard for me) of the photo is filled with the texture and decay from above, but this angle makes the mushrooms look almost like ruffles on a dress, somehow. And the upper right quadrant of the picture is sunshine and green grass and leaves, so it feels altogether different.

(for more on my philosophy of photography, go here. Or here.)

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This next photo is an example of me not knowing my camera well enough. Or being lazy. It’s hard to tell. This group of four mushrooms was right next to the clump of 8 in the first photo. But Seven, who I had on leash nearby, came in for a sniff. Oh, how I wish at least something in this frame was in focus! I mean, I guess some of the dirt and wood chips on the forest floor are clear, but you know what I’m saying. I love the blurriness of a curious dog, and we’ve established how I feel about mushrooms. I wish I had taken 80 more shots of this, and found one that really sang. Because this one ALMOST does, and so it’s the one that got away. July seven shroom

Speaking of getting away, check out this photo: first, I love love love the progression of mushrooms, from the bottom of the picture. The lower five or so are fresh and new and just out of the ground, compact and insistent. In the middle, the classic opening umbrella-looking mushroom, sort of late teenager. On top of that, the middle-aged mushroom, cracked in spots with a curling, darkening edge (that’s me, all curled and cracked). And on top, grandmother mushroom, opened almost completely, edges past fresh and curling back, opened as far as she can go.

And then the rest of the photo, Seven’s backside and the rest of him, pulling me via the leash, and V, walking deeper in the woods, her long bare legs (under a blue skirt) moving her forward. Even Dipper is there, on a leash with Rich (who is just out of the frame). Everything is blurry but the mushrooms.

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Oh, dear readers. Go on now and go for a walk. Quick, before the mosquitoes find you. The mushrooms are waiting! And so am I.

(More mushroom posts here and here, with links to more yet. Press on!)

Posted in Daughter, Dipper, Family, Grow, Mushroom, Photography, Richard, Seven, V (potato) | Leave a comment

Engage

I know I just moved to Hendrum a year and four months ago. I know I said I was done moving, now, and everyone should just get used to it.

I was wrong.

See, I fell in love with this amazing, adorable, sexy, hilarious man who, because of low vision, can’t drive. And Google’s dragging their feet on those self-driving cars. And the aforementioned man owns his own business, so he kinda has to be there sometimes. And that business is in Fargo. And Hendrum is not walking distance to Fargo, generally speaking. And a fella likes to feel he has some control over his whereabouts.

So we started looking for a different house.

Mostly it was theoretical. It’s an interesting way to get to know someone, actually: go house shopping with them, and see what makes them shudder and what they take in stride. Fascinating and enlightening and not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

We made an offer on one house, and it didn’t take. We were fine with that. But then this house popped up on Zillow: there were no photos, but an aerial Google shot. It listed the basics: four bedrooms, two baths, 2000+ square feet. These were all things we wanted. It was in the neighborhood we’d agreed on (close enough for Rich to walk to work, on very nice days, or for me to walk to work, if the car breaks down or something crazy happens), and in the state where we wanted V to be educated (Minnesota, hats off to thee). But Rich thought looking at it would be a waste of time, because who tries to sell a house with no photos?

Still, he contacted our realtor, because he believed in my instincts. Suddenly, well, actually, about 5 weeks later, we were homeowners. (Times three, really, because I still have the Hendrum house, and he still has his Fargo apartment, and we are slowly putting all our stuff together in a four bedroom two bath house in Moorhead).

We closed on 22 November, celebrated a last Thanksgiving in the apartment, then had a flurry of moving and painting over the holiday weekend. We decided, after a lot of discussion and thought and hemming and hawing (I’m the hemmer and hawer, so to speak), that we’d be functionally moved in together by the first of the year, and V will transfer to the lovely Moorhead Middle School in time for the first school days of 2018.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a lot of excitement. Plus Rich had the shop’s Black Friday sale, and I’m heading into the last weeks of the semester, which are like two weeks of black Fridays piled on top of each other. And it’s Rich’s birthday tomorrow, so we planned a day of partying yesterday, with board games all afternoon, and dinner for 25 at Famous Dave’s, and ending the evening by listening to our favorite local band, the Cat Sank Trio, at our favorite Hendrum bar, Tank’s. We even got a bunch of folks to make the drive to Hendrum, which was super exciting for us.

And then! And then the sneaky Cat Sank Trio started in on a song that is one of the dearest to my heart, “Jennifer Johnson and Me.” It’s by Shel Silverstein, but I know the Robert Earle Keen version best. I couldn’t really hear, but Rich did and pulled me toward the dance floor.

Now we’ve been dating for nearly 9 months, but never had the opportunity to dance together before. I mean, there’ve been some fancy dance moves while we make dinner sometimes, but an actual slow dance in front of folks had not yet occurred. And here we were, in my hometown, the only ones dancing. Rich sang some of the words in my ear, and talked about how we’ve both known so much loss in our lives, but we’re together now, and we’ll face any thing that comes in the future together. I kept thinking I should be the one saying all the sweet things, because it was his birthday party. But he kept going. He had a picture of me in his pocket (a reference to the song), and it dawned on me then that he had arranged this: he’d gotten the band to sing this song for us. My heart grew three sizes, but I still didn’t understand.

And then he was pulling a ring box out of his pocket, and going down on one knee, and I couldn’t believe it. Like a movie scene, the whole rest of the world fell away, and it was just us for a few seconds, and my brain caught up, finally. He’d asked if I would marry him, and as soon as I could get the words out I said yes.

There, gentle readers, is the abbreviated version of how Rich and I came to be engaged, in my hometown, surrounded by our dear friends and family. I was utterly, completely surprised and overjoyed, which is fitting, since so much of the last nine months I’ve spent utterly, completely surprised and overjoyed.

We don’t have a date picked out, or even a year. We have lots of packing and unpacking to do first, and finals to grade, and Christmas sales to coordinate.

If you know anyone looking for a gorgeous Fargo apartment, or a lovely Hendrum house, please send them our way. And if you need us, we’ll be busy, but you’re always welcome to stop by our Moorhead house.

Maybe give us a heads up so we can stock up on beer.

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Rich and me and the ring, last night at Tank’s.

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This morning, we drove out to the cemetery to tell Myra and Dewey. {Image is of my left hand (with the ruby and diamond engagement ring) resting on the marble bench at my parents’ grave}.

 

 

 

Posted in Hendrum, Love, Nostalgia, Richard, Universe | 4 Comments

“You are my sun, my moon, and all of my stars.” –EECummings

Yeah, last time I wrote, I know I said I didn’t know about happily ever after. But to be honest, I knew even then, after ten weeks. I knew after two, really. Not that I have those pesky, youthful illusions of a Disney-style ending, mind you. But love? Life-changing, bone-melting, holy-shit-this-is-fun love? We’re full on in it, ladies and gentlemen.

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Oh, it’s complicated. We both have, like, separate, complete lives that somehow are going to be stitched together. Somehow we have to figure out how to share space with both lots of comic books and lots of fabric and doll heads. We’re keeping V in the forefront, because she’s important to both of us, and we want especially to do this right, for her as well as for us. Plus, she’s twelve. She didn’t ask for this excitement, but she’s along for the ride just the same.

I have been hesitant to write about it, actually. Not because I don’t think it’s real (because sweet holy moses it’s real). And not because I’m superstitious I might somehow jinx things (we’re way past jinxing, y’all). But I fancy myself a bit of a cynic. Or at least a supporter of cynics. Frankly, I expected to just get more crotchety in time: I didn’t think I’d be all giggling, hand-holding, adorably in love in my mid 40s. But here we are.

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He threw me a surprise party for my birthday. He introduced me to his friends and acquaintances, and I swear he knows 90% of Fargo. He makes me eggs & tells me terrible puns & walks my dogs & holds me when I cry sometimes because that still happens, even in the midst of all this love.

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He likes how I sing, and didn’t flinch much at all when I played “The Edmund Fitzgerald” three times on our summer trip to Duluth. He loves my daughter, and she thinks he’s funny and nice and weird, which, in our family, is a ringing endorsement. He and I don’t agree on politics, in many ways, but we’ve found enough common ground that we both feel comfortable in those disagreements, and he listens and respects my perspective. He thinks I’m smart and beautiful. I think he is too.

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I know dating is scary as hell, and I really believe that we can have lovely, happy lives without romantic love. But damn, I am having so very much fun.

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I’ll probably blog about us more, you know. I’ll try real hard to not turn this into the Jen and Richard Love Blog, but I’m not making any promises. Besides, we are freaking adorable.

Posted in Love, Photography, Richard, Universe, V (potato) | 1 Comment

Ten weeks and two days

Mercy, dear readers. Dating is labor-intensive! So is parenting. And work. And home keeping. And blogging. And, well, you get the idea.

When we last discussed my love life, I was again single after a brief but lovely foray into the dating world. It was exciting and fun until it was painful and awful, and I spent several days trying to decide whether it was worth the potential cost: my life is full and beautiful already, as a single woman: I have a daughter, delightful friends and family, a job I usually love….in short, a good life. Why risk mucking it up again, risk having my heart broken, when I already had so much to enjoy?

To answer that, I have to tell you more of the story. I recounted my most memorable OKCupid encounters in my story about Dan, but I left out an important one. The only other fella who appeared to have read my actual profile first wrote to me a few days after Dan did: he was funny, and kind, and we exchanged a couple of messages before Dan and I decided to date exclusively. I logged in to OKCupid to deactivate my profile, actually, to find another message from this fella (his name is Richard, so I don’t have to keep saying “this fella”). I hadn’t responded to his earlier message, and he was afraid he’d offended me or misstepped in some way. I assured him that was not that case, and wrote “I think you’re charming and funny, but I’m not looking to date anyone right now. Best of luck.” Richard graciously responded, saying “Best of luck to you, too. I find that the universe brings us what we need when we need it.”

I smiled at the sentiment, clicked “deactivate,” and went on to have a four week whirlwind of romance and heartbreak. Y’all remember that part, I hope.

Anyway, after the (considerable) sting of heartbreak wore off, I had to contemplate a lot of things. Dating had been fun, but disruptive. And the cost was very dear. Maybe a quiet, single life raising V and growing peonies was a better fit for me, after all.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Richard. “The universe brings us what we need when we need it.” Maybe, I thought, I should try again. Just one more time. So on 10 March, I reactivated OKCupid, and wrote to Richard, saying “The universe has brought me back here. How’re you?”

We wrote and then texted each other pretty much nonstop for three days. On Tuesday, 14 March, we had our first date. He is funny, kind, and smart. He owns his own business. He met V on 10 April, and the three of us have gone to the movies, played several different games, and even traveled to Sioux Falls for a weekend.

To be honest, we’re pretty adorable. And though I still don’t know about “happily ever after,” I definitely know that the universe has brought me exactly who I needed.

 

Posted in Family, Love, Richard, Universe | Leave a comment

Podcast Bandwagon

I know most of you are already familiar with the wonderful world of podcasts.  Serial, Mark Maron, Welcome to Nightvale…And if you don’t know them personally, you’ve heard talk of such things. I’ve been listening to a variety of them since my divorce, and have been meaning to write a post about them for awhile now. If you DON’T know what they are, or don’t think you can find a way to listen to them, you’re wrong, and should go here. For the rest of you, let’s get up on this bandwagon, shall we?

I was going to organize this list in the order I encountered each podcast, but I found this new one that I think each and every reader of Languishing  needs to listen to. It’s Nora McInerny’s new podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. If I were to be reincarnated as a podcast, this would be it: McInerney and her guests tell the very worst stories of our everyday lives: miscarriage, suicide, cancer, death of a spouse. She pulls it all together with such grace and humor, though, that it’s not nearly as awful as it sounds. I’ve listened to nine episodes so far, and cried at seven of them. I’ve also laughed at all of them. These are the stories, the small comforts, we have to talk about just to make it through this world together. We are not alone in our suffering, and we can endure much more than we think we can. If you only have time in your life for one episode, I suggest you start with number eight, unless you are an unwavering atheist, in which case start with number one. She’s based in Minneapolis, and she is my people. Maybe she’s yours too.

Stuff You Missed in History Class was, I think, the first podcast I ever stumbled upon. This is a calm, largely family-friendly podcast about all kinds of lesser known stories from history. This series goes back several years, with several hosts, but some of my favorite episodes include the Princess who Swallowed a Glass Piano and the recent two part episode on the Japanese Interment Camps of WWII.

In Sawbones, a goofy couple presents information on medical history. She’s a doctor, he’s a doctor’s husband, and they talk about fascinating things like trepanation, bloodletting, and hiccups. They are both smart and funny, and who doesn’t want to know more about trepanation??

My Favorite Murder is a podcast I’ve been following since about episode 7: it’s been fun to watch it grow in popularity. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark will make you feel like you’re just hanging out on a couch, chatting with friends. Yes, the topic is dark, but they handle the darkness with grace and hilarity.

Do you have favorites yourselves, loves? Leave comments, if’n you like.

Posted in Blogland, Grow, Listen | Leave a comment

Sunsets

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On my way to pick V up from her weekend with her father, I pulled over to take some pictures of the sunset. Every time I see an especially lovely sunset, I think of this book, Never Miss a Sunset, which Myra owned throughout my childhood, and which she and Dewey may have actually read to us: I can’t quite remember. I do recall that the book was about a pioneer family, the patriarch of which insisted that, no matter how busy they were, they should always appreciate the beauty of a sunset, preferably together.  (I may have figured all of that out from the cover, though, to be honest). 030

When V got in the car, I told her that I had almost fixed the shower (which was broken when she left on Friday), but in doing so had discovered our hot water heater was kaput. Her response?

“Everything’s breaking! Including your heart.”

Someone should really start writing down the things this girl says.

Posted in Daughter, Grief, Love, Photography, Read, V (potato) | Leave a comment