paying attention

More Yellow

 

Lured by a large percentage coupon code in my email, I click through to one of my favorite clothing websites. A certain sweater caught my eye immediately. It was a classic, fair isle, all-wool pullover – something I knew that I would wear again and again. It was stunning and just my style. I hesitated. It wasn’t the price or the fact that I really didn’t need a sweater that had me second guessing the purchase. It was the color. Yellow. A very pretty, golden, almost butterscotch shade of yellow. The problem? I don’t wear yellow. 

I turn my laptop so my husband could see the monitor. “Do you think I can wear this?” I ask. 

He glances at it briefly and then turns back to his newspaper. “You can wear whatever you want,” he replied.  

“But…will it look good on me?” I wonder out loud. 

*** 

In my mid-twenties, I had some medical issues that were not responding to traditional medication. My mother suggested that I see her physician who also practiced acupuncture. On my first visit, Dr. Lo handed me a questionnaire to fill out. I answered questions about my favorite foods, my preferences of temperature and seasons, and my favorite hobbies among other things. When I finished circling answers and filling in blanks, I received my treatment and went home. The following week, before we started, Dr. Lo suggested that I might have better success in alleviating my symptoms if I made some specific dietary changes. As an aside, he added, “You need more yellow in your life.” 

His statement struck me as strange, but I didn’t pay much attention to it at that time. Still, somehow it stayed with me. When contemplating a paint color for our living room, a friend suggested a buttery yellow. Normally, I would have dismissed the idea entirely. Then Dr. Lo’s words immediately popped into my head. Maybe yellow would work. 

With a day off from work ahead of me, I bought two gallons of yellow paint. I taped off the woodwork and poured the paint into the tray. Paintbrush in hand, I hesitated. I worried that this gamble would not pay off and that I would be wasting precious time and money on a color that I would have to repaint. As I rolled the paint onto the walls, the room was slowly transformed before my eyes. No longer gray and drab, the yellow paint was warm and felt like sunshine on a cloudy day. I smiled and kept going. When the paint was dry, I pulled the tape down and stood in the center of the room, thinking about Dr. Lo’s words. Maybe I did need more yellow in my life. 

*** 

Winter arrived late and hard this year. The furnace runs constantly, trying to keep the cold out of our old house. Our sweet dog, Hazel, usually anxious and excited for her daily walks, is slow to cross the threshold into the brisk air.  

I get it, girl, I do. I don’t want to go out there either.  

I pick up my phone to check the weather app: 8 degrees, feels like 0. Looking out the window, I am hoping against the odds. No sun in sight. I sigh. The gray is getting to me, wearing me out one day at a time. I put the kettle on and set about making tea to warm myself up. In the corner of the counters, I find a lemon. I slice it into wedges and squeeze the juice into my mug. The bright citrus packs a punch, leaving a pleasant zing in my mouth.  

Fortified by a small taste of summer, I pull on my boots, wrap myself up in a long down coat, throw on a hat and gloves and walk the dog.  

*** 

It’s snowing and school has been canceled again. I spend the better part of an hour cutting up a fabric color card into little tiles, each one a different hue. My daughter organizes the swatches in a clear divided box, putting them more or less in rainbow order. She comments, “I never knew there were so many shades of pink.” Neither did I.  

I smile and pull out the swatch for “melon,” the perfect grapefruit-y shade for my next quilt. I shuffle through the remaining colors, looking for complimentary hues to round out the palette. Immediately, “ochre” jumps out at me. The deep gold almost glows and is beautiful with the warm pink. I settle on a couple more:  “pesto,” a dark herbaceous green, and “roasted pecan,” a rich, orange-y brown. These are not my typical color choices of bright, clear blues and greens, but, somehow, they feel right today.  

*** 

The three-day weekend has grown to six days. Outside, the snow is falling so slowly that I can count the individual flakes. The house is quiet for a short while before the girls are up, making breakfast and watching Netflix. After my shower, I consider throwing on sweats. But as I glance over the sweater shelf in my closet, I change my mind. I put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and then pull my new wool sweater over my head. I look in the mirror, surprised at how good this sweater makes me feel. I am still not sure that it looks good on me, but I know it is the right color. More yellow, indeed. 

 

Words and image by Erin Harris.

A Winter Prayer

Madelyn snuggles up in her blankets, the glow of the nightlight illuminating the curve of her cheek and her small fist rubbing her eye. 

“Do you want to say anything to God?” I ask as I tuck the blankets around her. 

“Yeah,” she says. I stop in surprise. For weeks I’ve been asking if she wants to pray at night. She’s always told me, “You can do it.” 

“Go ahead,” I say, not wanting to make a big deal of it. Inside, my mommy heart is beating a little faster and my throat is a little tight. 

“God, please, I want you to send snow, because I love snow and I want it to snow and I want to play in the snow.” Her words tumble out, then stop abruptly. She looks at me, uncertain what to say next.  

“Amen,” I say and kiss her forehead as I calculate in my head the odds of her prayer being answered. 

I remember another young girl with dark hair and a voracious capacity for wonder who prayed a similar prayer. I was a little older than my daughter is now and prayed for snow too despite living in the desert, surrounded by prickly cactus, dry, cracked ground and colorless rocks. I called the weedy, anemic patch of green in my backyard “grass” and hoped every year that we would get a snow day. Year after year, my prayers went unanswered. 

But I believe that God has heard my little girl’s prayer. I leave her room that night with a plan to check the weather app. 

The odds don’t look good. It is our first winter living in the Pacific Northwest, a land where green is deep and the water plentiful. A land with seasons and a beauty that leaves this desert girl stunned. But even here, snow in December is uncommon. The weather projections say we will get rain – lots of it – and then the temperature is going to heat up to a balmy forty degrees. Snow isn’t anywhere on the forecast for the next two weeks. 

A week later, the rain is falling late in the afternoon, as it often does, but this time it’s mixed with ice. As I wash the dishes, I notice the small round pebbles of frozen rain accumulating on our porch. 

Scrub, wipe, rinse. I glance out the window – still dreary gray drops. Scrub, wipe, rinse. I watch the soapy bubbles slide off the pan and swirl down the drain. Where is the little girl who could see grass in a patch of weeds? The little girl who offered prayers for snow in the desert? Not here, that’s for sure.  

No matter how hard I try, I can’t see the rainbows in the soap bubbles. 

But I am desperate that day for just a little bit of wonder. So, I close my eyes and I whisper: “God, please let it snow.”  

I feel childish as soon as I utter it. If it snows, it won’t be because one tiny little human asked for it, will it? Surely, it will be because the air temperature dropped a few degrees, or maybe because God has other grand plans for the weather, not because a tired mom prayed while scrubbing dishes. 

I look out the window again as I dry my hands on the dish towel. Perhaps it is a trick of the light, but the icy raindrops did look a little more flaky now. I walk over to the sliding glass door and stick my hand out trying to catch them. One lands in my palm. It looks sort of round and crunchy – not like snow but definitely not rain. 

There is a great deal about winter that I have yet to understand. Before this, I thought there was simply snow and rain. But apparently there is also freezing rain as well sleet that stubbornly refuses to be snow. 

I go to the door one last time, drawn by a weird hope that maybe if I stare hard enough I will see a miracle occur right before my eyes. Pulling the door open, I catch my breath. There, floating in the air, is a very small snowflake.  

I rush for the stairwell where I can hear Madelyn playing with my sister. 

“Sister! You guys need to see this. Get up here!” I can’t help smiling, as I grab pink socks and boots for Madelyn. “It’s snowing – really snowing,” I call. “Hurry!” 

We shimmy into boots and rush out into the cold, forgetting our jackets in our hurry to get out into the snow. 

The porch is getting whiter by the second and off in the distance, I can see the rain slowing and turning into white specks that hang in the air, falling in slow motion, like gravity is momentarily suspended. 

I turn my face up toward the sky and watch large, fat flakes drift lazily toward me. I catch one on my tongue and taste the icy cold of winter. “Needs sugar,” I chortle. 

My daughter giggles and spins in circles. “It’s snow, it’s snow, it’s snow!” she crows, her hands in the air while she twirls. 

My sister and I vacillate between awestruck silence and childish giggling. “It’s snowing!” we say over and over, looking at each other in surprise. Was this really happening? My daughter shows no surprise, only unadulterated delight. 

The white gathers in corners of the yard, and the silent street pulls the snow over itself like a white quilt. I take a deep breath. So, this was real winter. I bask in it like sunshine and drink up every icy drop. 

Madelyn throws a snowball at her unsuspecting aunt, eyes alight with mischief. My sister scoops up a mound of snow herself and launches it in return. Madelyn’s shrieks echo in the snowy silence. Inside our neighbors’ houses, lights glow in windows and the sky darkens as snow continues to fall steadily. It transforms our porch, the trees, the rooftops, and – perhaps the most transformed of all – me. 

I turn my face up toward the sky to watch the flakes falling. At first, I only see the blur of white dots, streaks across the sky. But then I focus on one, just one, a single snowflake formed like a thumbprint, individual like my daughter’s prayer, my prayer, and this miraculous answer. I spin in wonder. 

I catch the flake in my palm. This one is for me, I am certain. 

 

Words by Ashly Hilst.

 

Tending the Fire

The house is chilly when I walk out to the living room, pulling my gray bathrobe over my pajamas and stuffing my hands into its thin pockets. It’s the kind of cold that needs a fire.

I shuffle out onto our deck, still in my slippers, to grab the two buckets I need — one to fill with ash, one already full of kindling. I pull a small stack of newspaper from the closet and grab the lighter from up on the mantle. It’s high enough I have to rise up on tiptoes, the first stretch of the day.

Easing open the glass door to the fireplace (quietly, the baby is still sleeping), I pick up the small metal shovel and begin to lift piles of fluffy ashes out of the firebox and into the waiting bucket. The spent pieces of fuel fall apart at the slightest jarring, sending puffs of white dust into the air and across the hearth. Scrape, scrape, thud. Scoop after scoop goes into the bucket to make way for today’s fire.  

Carefully, I stack kindling, crumpled newspaper, and a couple of thin logs in the center of the firebox, making sure to leave space around and between for the air to circulate and give the fire it’s fuel. Brushing the bark residue off the arm of my robe and into the box, I straighten up to admire my handiwork. Click, the lighter starts and a tiny flame leaps from the end of it onto the newspaper. I move quick to light another spot, and then close the door and throw the vent wide open for air to carry those flames through the box.

Yellow-orange wisps erupt from the pile of newspaper and wood, circling and consuming what I’ve placed there. It’s sudden and big and surprising to me, even though I’m the one who made it. In a few minutes when I look up from pouring my coffee, I do a victory dance, thrilled from the deepest parts of me that I have triumphed.

I have made a fire.

And just below the surface of my triumph is the knowledge that it might not stay lit.

Sometimes the fire takes off on the first try, but other times, it sizzles out, out of fuel too soon, not enough long-burning embers to keep the flames rolling forward. It might need a little more help to consume the near-frozen logs that have been sitting dormant since Scott stacked them on the deck in September. So I’ll try again. I’ll add more newspaper and shift a log forward or backward so the fire can breathe a bit better. I’ll crumple more newspaper and watch the fire again take off.

For now my job is to tend — to add more fuel when it starts to look low, to let it rest if the house gets too toasty. There’s a sacredness to heating your home with a fire, to doing something so elemental with your hands. It takes effort and intent.

I’ll get called away to tuck a baby into bed and stir a pot of soup on the stove. I’ll need to step out of the house and head to the mailbox, making sure to add a log or two before I go so that I don’t come back to a too-cool home. This preparation for time away takes a little practice: a few too many times I’ve gotten absorbed in daily life or online life and let the fire die without ceremony. Coaxing it back to life takes a bit more effort than tossing on another log in plenty of time for it to catch and carry the fire onward. It takes a bit more intention and certainly more time to build it back up to what it was.

This particular morning, I sit in that gray bathrobe on my red couch, a cup of warm coffee in hand, willing my small child to stay asleep just a few more minutes so that I can sit in this silence in front of my fire. And I think: what if I treated myself this way this year? Like a fire that only needs a little tending?

I sit down later that same day to write, crossing my ankles on the edge of our fading coffee table. The beginnings of eight different essays are scratched out in shorthand on paper, snippets of things tucked away as notes on my computer, each of them going somewhere, destinations undetermined. I stare at a mostly blank screen, the cursor blinking at me and my inability to move forward.

I’d been agonizing over what to write about for a week, a total lack of inspiration keeping me from writing at all, a deadline taunting me from the weekly spread of my planner. I have pages to fill, a deadline to meet, and no fire in my soul. I’m out of words, and it’s not even halfway through the first week of January. I glance up at the fire, at the wood stacked neatly out the window on the deck.

My husband likes to work with his hands. He’s good at it, making things. He doesn’t question his ability or ask if it’s the thing he should be doing; he just identifies an idea, a need, a gap, and starts filling it. When something breaks, he fixes it. When the fire dies down, he adds another log.

I wish I had that discipline, the ability to not overthink things.

To my still lifeless essay, I add sentences, delete others. I rearrange and restart, realizing that this phrase will work better here, that this sentence should move up to introduce that one. I coax words across the page like I do flames every morning, willing them to stay lit and keep burning onward. It’s harder to do this when I’ve let that fire die completely, when I’ve ignored it for too long and the entire firebox has grown cold. Then I have to sift through ash again, to build a new foundation rather than just toss on a little more fuel.

As I tend my small fire, I’ll be called away by things that can’t wait and have to work a little harder when our woodpile gets soaked by the rain, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to keep our house warm.

 

Words by Abbigail Kriebs.