The Snow Train – Surviving March in Michigan

snow trainLast month, The Weather Channel posted a video of a freight train speeding across a snow-drenched Canadian tundra.  I clicked on the link because I thought my nine-year-old son might like it.  Turns out, I was just as mesmerized as we watched a three-stories-high snow cloud barrel through the wilderness like a white sandstorm.  Moments later, a sleek red and white locomotive emerged long enough to decimate a six-foot snowdrift, sending white sprays high.  The beast-machine careened by, leveling the camera man with a giant snow breaker as it carried on its way.

This winter has been rough.  I know, last winter was rough, too, with the Polar Vortex and all, but somehow this one seems both longer and harsher.  We were buried in record-breaking snow.  Sub-zero temperatures seem to be the new normal.  My car doors froze shut.  My front door froze shut.  We are quickly burning through the firewood we so carefully stacked, assuming it would get us through at least 2016.

We Michiganders are tough.  We shovel and salt and don our thickest, bulkiest outerwear and we press on.  We chuckle when Atlanta shuts down for two days at the mere threat of snow.  We dust off our flip-flops in anticipation of that first 45-degree day.  Still, all but the cold-hardiest of us is beat down come March.

I’ll admit it.  I’m there.  The same white fluff that dazzled me pre-Christmas now looks almost sinister.  The days hang gray and the sun, when it bothers to shine, blinds me.  The snow itself is a crusty shell that scrapes up the kids (though that never seems to faze them), and the salt residue clings to every surface.  In fact, I just looked out the window.  It snowed.  Again.  Drat.

So, how do we hope to survive more of this as we face another March, the longest month of the year?  We do what we always do, because we Michiganders are like that sleek red freight train.  We’ll pull on our red hats and decimate snowdrifts with our mighty shovels and we’ll keep pressing on whatever March dares to bring.

Sure, Michigan winters are a proverbial force to be reckoned with – but so are we.

Bring it on, March.

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Learning to be the light

elsaWinter brought her worst this year. From November on, she unleashed blizzard after blizzard and peppered us with sub-zero blasts – and one poignant Polar Vortex that literally froze my hair. I have pictures.

When we realized Winter had no plans of relenting, we battened down the proverbial hatches. We loaded up the wood-burner night after night and counted our blessings that our John Deere neighbor had the horsepower to dig us out. Sure, the first weeks were an adventure – both for us grown-ups and our wide-eyed children who knew this frigid wonderland would usher in the reindeer. Then came January, and things became…less fun. Then February, when the lack of reprieve seeped into my bones, and for the first time I understood the concept of Seasonal Affective Depression. It’s a thing. When the Big Storm hit in March, we began to wonder whether Spring had forsaken us.

I’m learning that each one of us has our own Winter, our own time of cold and darkness, which threatens to choke out the hope of Spring. Just when we think we’ve made it through a blizzard of illness or broken heart or broken home…another threatens to bury us.

I’m slowly learning how to face the threat of an unending winter. I’ve learned that you do your part, and He’ll do His. You stock up the wood-burner. You lift your eyes to the brightest part of the sky and you don’t look away. You believe that Spring will come, even when – especially when – all evidence points to the contrary. Because when you choose to believe, then little by little you will become Spring. You’ll ignite from within and your warmth and your life-giving words and your kindness and your hope…and you begin to realize that Spring was never the thing you really needed.

Let the storm rage on.

A Proverb Backfires

timerMy eight year-old son loves his video games – and I love to limit his game time.  He typically gets an hour a day (which I’m convinced is still too much but haven’t the energy for that battle just yet), and when he sits down to play, I set 30 to 60 minutes on the microwave timer.  His choice.

This morning it occurred to me that he’s tall enough to reach the timer himself, and that I could teach him to monitor his own time.  A win-win.  I told him as much, and was met with some resistance.  “Mo-om!  Can’t you just do it for me?”

I smiled and put on my best sage-mom voice (admittedly, it’s not great), and quoted, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  If you teach him to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

He stared a me.

My sage-mom voice dissolved and I gestured at the microwave.  “Do you think you understand what that means for us right now?”

He stared.  Then, a mischievous twinkle.  “I do.  It means that if you set the timer for me, I’ll play for 30 minutes, but if I set the timer myself, I’ll play for a lifetime.”

I’ve never seen him quite so amused with himself.

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Constants of Christmastime

ChristmasHi everyone.  It’s been a long time.  Too long.  Thought I’d share the piece below, which I wrote for a small local paper a few weeks back.  Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving, and a blessed holiday season…

* * *

They did it.  That radio station, which shall remain nameless, flipped the switch and flooded my minivan with Christmas music.  My son’s ninja costume is still sprawled across his bed.  There’s nary a turkey in sight, and yet everywhere I go I hear jingle bells.

The hustle-and-bustle ramps up, and the premature jolly runs the risk of wearing out its fur-trimmed welcome long before Christmas morning.  That’s the way of things now, isn’t it?  The stores are open on Thanksgiving this year so we can duke it out for the “it” toy.  Because nothing says gratefulness like an elbow-check to the kidney. 

Still, each of us is eventually and inevitably enchanted by the only holiday that still holds magic.  That got me thinking.  What is it about Christmas that continues to cast its reindeer-dust spell?  For all the commercialism we’re plagued with, for the must-have toys and the ever-changing technology that demands to be updated, how is it that that undeniable, unspecified merriness…that je ne sais quoi (pardon my French) never fails to take hold?

I think it’s because, no matter what excess we tack onto the holidays, it’s the Christmastime constants that hold us fast.

It’s the memories.  It’s the sharp pine scent or the rich taste of eggnog that whisks us back and, in that moment, it’s as if we’re reliving every Christmas all at once.  The flash of tinsel or the sound of sleigh bells brings on a heart-swell, and for a breath we’re certain Santa is still creeping down the chimney.

It’s the children.  For us grown-folk, it’s a time of stress and checklists and gift receipts.  But when we watch little ones’ wide-eyed wonder as we recite T’was the Nite Before Christmas, or retell that age-old story of the Star and the Wise Men and the manger, the birth of a single, fate-changing child…we can’t help but feel it, too. 

It’s the spirit of outward focus.  We give.  We pause for a visit with the neighbor and we realize it’s been far too long.  For a time, we forget ourselves, and it feels heavenly.  Why?  Here’s what I think.  When some big-time skeptics tried to trick Jesus into choosing the most important of the ten commandments, He had this to say:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I’ve often wondered, even if you’re a non-Christian, how can you argue with that second part?  If we all got just this one thing right, if we all shunned our respective selfishness gene, imagine how different the world would be. 

It’s the silence.  If you haven’t noticed it before, pay attention this season.  There’s always a silence.  The first snowfall.  The hush that follows the last bow on the last wrapped present.  The moments of shimmering twilight on Christmas Eve, or the quiet of Christmas morning.  It’s a soul-soothing silence of quiet reflection, when you feel all the good in the world, both real and potential.

These things are Christmastime constants.  Never changing, they will always be integral to a life well-lived.  No matter what the media or the government or the Joneses cast our way, we strengthen ourselves with these timeless truths, and our hearts are anchored through the years by the things that matter most.

Merry Christmas

 

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What I learned from a dancer’s heart

ImageMy four-year-old daughter had her little dance recital in late June.  This was new territory for me, so the ferocity with which her dance studio approached the rules of show participation surprised me.  They held no less than five rehearsals, plus two performances.  Miss one, and you’re outta there.

So I spent a week immersed in all levels of dance (though I declined the invite to be a backstage helper-mom – good Lord, one step at a time).  As I sat in the audience watching the dancers give their respective all, I got to thinking about my own creative outlet: writing.

For so many years I believed my writing had to be perfect before other eyes beheld it, that I had to have something Big and Important to say, and I’d better say it in exactly the right way.  I still struggle with this but, as I watched so many sequin-clad dancers move about the stage, two in particular showed me a thing or two about “the right way.”

The first girl performed a ballet solo.  Toe-shoes and all.  She also held the prestigious title of Jr. Miss Dance Michigan.  She glided onstage in a luminous lavender gown and danced to a dreamy version of John Lennon’s Imagine.  Her limbs stretched impossibly and she leaped and flipped and pirouetted until I felt dizzy.  On my lap, my enchanted daughter sat still for the first time in six months.  Mommy, I want to do that.  Indeed, the girl’s hard-earned technique, to my untrained eye, was perfect.  At fourteen, she possessed the poise of Grace Kelly, with her litheness and her proud ribcage and her princess smile.  Her name will be in lights.  I want to write like that, babygirl. 

The theater went dark to awed murmurs and polite applause.

The spotlight flared, and a new girl in black materialized.

This girl was not a ballerina.  Her powerful limbs ended right where human limbs should…and then she began to move.  She pushed into a folksy song about love and broken trust and solace-seeking. At seventeen, she managed to channel emotions she hadn’t lived long enough to feel.  She managed to become the song.  As the music built to a crescendo, she grasped and fell and pounded the floor with the desperation of the danger of loss.  My heart ached for her and yet, all the while, she exuded joy.  The joy of freedom, of a fearlessly displayed heart, of body and soul and music.  She commanded my heart to reach for hers and, gauging from the audience’s response, she commanded theirs, too.

No, I want to write like that.

In the span of ten minutes, two lovely and diverse young ladies reminded me that, when it comes to art, as long as it’s heart-filled, there is no right way.  There is only the way of the artist, and there’s room for us all.

Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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