Beth Lehman

About Beth Lehman

https://www.instagram.com/yellowhousedays/

Beth Lehman lives in a yellow farmhouse in the middle of a college town in southwest Virginia. She works part-time as a reading specialist with at-risk first graders and full-time as a wife and mama to three kiddos. She is a master procrastinator and over-thinker, who would rather read than do almost anything else, and who seeks to find gratitude in the series of chaotic and busy days that are as messy as they are beautiful.

Posts by Beth Lehman:

Learning to See

Growing up, my family lived quite a distance from the small Christian school I attended. For years, on the trip to and from school, I spent the time gazing out the window of our Volkswagen Rabbit. I was prone to carsickness, and there was nothing I could do on car rides but look at the passing scenery.

Certainly there were times during those years when I slept or daydreamed, but I have distinct memories of what I noticed as we drove.

In early fall, the goldenrod stood out among the fields of late summer grasses; the hickories and sugar maples put on a show at different times. The forests looked different at the bottom of the mountain than they did at the top — some mornings were foggy only at certain elevations or maybe all the way to school. And each day the daylight hours shifted just a little.

In the winter, there was a noticeable difference in the way the landscape felt — dreary and grey on so many days, fields of corn stalks broken off close to the ground. Sometimes, I saw deer, pheasant, or maybe a wild turkey, the evening light almost blue as we drove home.

Later, cold rain gave way to pellets of freezing rain or maybe even snow. Sometimes the snow was piled high on either side of the road, higher and higher each day. Bits of frost formed patterns like stars that would cling to the windows until the car was warm enough for it to melt.

With warmer temperatures, I would look eagerly for signs of spring — for crocuses, forsythia, or clumps of daffodils; for the first bits of green to be visible on the tips of the tree branches. The daylight hours would shift again, and we would be more likely to drive to and from school in full daylight, less likely to witness the sunrise or sunset.

When I think about those long hours in the car, I think of Mary Oliver, who wrote, “Paying attention is our proper and endless work.” As a teenager, I’m not sure I could have articulated what this meant, but even so I was learning. As an adult, I know this to be true.

*****

It’s summertime. The sun is shining, and the air is sticky and hot. I pull over and park alongside the gravel road that meanders next to the creek, our destination. My kids tumble out of the van, and run down the gravel slope toward the water yelling, “Run for the hills!”

I lift the hatch and wrangle a beach chair, a Mexican blanket, and bag full of supplies, and make my way to the edge of water they’ve just jumped into.

As they scream and yell and splash, I shake out the blanket on top of the pebbles by the water’s edge, and set up my camp chair in the sun, making sure that when I sit down my feet will be able to dangle in the water below.

I take a breath and sit down, exhaling as I do. For a few hours I have nothing to do. I close my eyes, the sun warming my face and shoulders. I hear birds and begin to identify them by their call — chickadees, wrens, blue jays.

Blinking, I lean over, noticing the reflections of trees on the surface of the water. As I look closer, my eyes adjust like a camera finding focus — to the stones, leaves, and dirt on the creek bed below. Suddenly, there is movement.

“Kids!” I yell, keeping my head down so I don’t lose track of what’s below me. “Come look at this!”

I warn them to walk slowly once they get to where I am. They gather beside me and I use my finger as a guide, pointing out what I want them to see. Below the surface are several crayfish the size of my pinky fingernail. We squeal in wonder at their size and the fact that we might have missed them.

Minnows dart back and forth near the tiny creatures. We see more crayfish, in various sizes, and what looks like a salamander, one we haven’t identified before, curled around a pebble almost exactly the same shade of dark brown.

“I can’t believe how tiny they are,” says my oldest, turning to me with her eyes full of excitement.

“I can’t believe I almost didn’t see them,” I reply, grasping her arm. “I’m so glad I kept looking.”

*****

Just yesterday, as I drove to pick up my son from soccer practice, I looked up to see a small flock of geese flying low over the road and below a dusty pink sky. I rolled down my window so I could hear them honking overhead as they flew toward the pond where they stay for the night.

The fields near the high school have finally been cleared of corn, and I can see the moon climbing over the horizon. The sunset’s pinks and reds are reflected in streaks of clouds high in the sky. I sigh as I pull into the parking lot, grateful for the lessons that looking out the window have taught me.

So often I say to the kids, “Look at that sky!” or “Did you see the moon?” How else will they learn to pay attention? How else will they learn to look up from whatever they might be doing to marvel at what’s around them? There are times my heart catches in my throat at the beauty of the ordinary world.

This is our proper and endless work.

 

Words and image by Beth Lehman,

A Simple, Extraordinary Monday

hello there, friend

My alarm goes off and for the first time in months, I don’t hit the snooze button. Fumbling in the semi darkness of the bedroom, I find a sweatshirt and pull it over my head, hurry downstairs, and pour myself a hot cup of coffee. Eager to get going, I slap peanut butter and jelly on some bread. I check the time, and wake my oldest, who promises to wake her siblings.

Coffee in hand, I grab my purse and head to my car. It’s still dark, but light is beginning to hover around the horizon. Everything feels muted and soft, quiet and still. As I drive through town, I think about the conversation I had with my husband several days earlier when he asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. What I told him then was that I didn’t know.

I tend to have a go-with-the-flow attitude about a lot of things. I’m a peacemaker; I want everyone to be happy and get along. When someone asks me what I’d like to do or where I’d like to go, I generally shrug my shoulders because, the truth is, I often don’t care that much. I’m happy to be with the people I love and the rest of it isn’t as important.

But my husband’s question got me thinking about what I really wanted. If my birthday was on a Monday, then it would be up to me to figure out how to make it special. My family would be at work or school, and I’d have half the day to myself.

What do I want? became the chief question — but out of that sprang others: What do I love to do? What makes me feel alive? What can I do on an ordinary Monday that will fill me with gratitude? What would an almost perfect day look like?

These are the questions that led me to this moment, driving up the long lane of the golf course — the one place in town where I can see the eastern sky, where I can watch the sunrise on the morning of my 46th birthday.

When I reach the parking lot, I am surprised to find many of the parking spaces full of equipment — bulldozers, backhoes, and gravel — and a crew just getting starting work in the early light of dawn. Their safety vests reflect the light from the headlights of my car as I search for a place to park.

A bit disappointed not to have this space to myself, I park in the only spot I can, and hurry out with my coffee and a blanket. I walk around the gravel and orange cones to the small wooden gazebo that overlooks the valley below, and the Catawba Mountains beyond that. I sit down, arranging my Mexican blanket and cup of coffee beside me, then take a deep breath.

I see pink light as it begins to form along the line between the sky and what lies beneath. Above the pink, the sky appears white, then dark blue. As the light continues to spill over the horizon, I notice how each mountain ridge is defined. Fog is filling in the spaces between the ridges.

I hear the crew behind me speaking in Spanish, and I am reminded of the past two summers when I traveled with my family to Central America. I listen for a few minutes, picking out words here and there that I know, the rhythm and intonation in their voices reminding me of this language I love.

As I watch, the fog slides between the ridges and along the valleys. Moments later, the fog begins to obscure the ridges and starts to fill in the valley directly below me. Instead of watching the sun come up over the ridge below, I am watching something else entirely. Fog has engulfed the entire valley, obscuring the sun and is making its way up toward the golf course. Soon there is nothing but fog.

I gather my blanket and now empty cup of coffee and turn towards the car. As I make my way home, I think about how foggy mornings have their own kind of beauty — sometimes haunting, sometimes revealing the world in a whole new way. Instead of color, there are shades of gray. The silhouettes of trees stand out, graceful and dark against a lighter background.

Pondering the questions I had asked myself just a few days before, it occurs to me that what fills me up has nothing to do with things — not gifts or material possessions. None of the ways I wanted to spend this day anything to do with those. I have come to this conclusion time and time again but marvel at the simplicity of it. What fills me up are experiences; what grounds me are relationships

There are a few other things on my list for the day: a good cup of coffee, lunch alone with a cold beer and a plate of nachos, time to read in the sunshine on a warm day, a walk, a conversation with my sister, greeting my kids as they came home from school, tacos from our local taco truck for dinner on the front porch, a bouquet of zinnias, a round of Bananagrams. These are things that could be done any day, but today they are special.

Just like the sun, which rises every single day. Some days we might choose to bear witness to its beauty. A series of decisions just might lead to an ordinary Monday becoming something extraordinary.

 

Words by Beth Lehman. Photograph by Kathryn Abel.