A Proper Fear of Snow.

The thing about living in the south is that we’re kind of…afraid of snow. We don’t handle it well, as I’ve told you many times, and so it’s hard for us to imagine it as a risk-free endeavor. I mean, we LOVE snow, but if we have snow, it’s a “sit at home and enjoy it” event – not a “travel around and do normal stuff” and certainly not a “travel on roads that are already precarious except now they’re covered with snow and ice.” We equate that kind of behavior with such actions as running up to a bear and sticking your head in its mouth just to check out what a bear uvula looks like.

As I returned to North Macedonia in December – my second visit to the country in 2019, I was slightly terrified of snow and ice, but also laughing at myself for being so fully self-aware of the limitations to my southern imagination.

I tried to downplay it to Chris, who wasn’t traveling with me. “I think it’s just snowy in the villages in the mountains, not the cities. I’m sure it will be FINE. We might not even go into the villages. Who knows.”

But when I found out that we would indeed be visiting a village in the mountains on the day we arrived, immediately after a 24 hour flight, and I saw the video of what the village roads currently looked like, I began imagining how very terrifying a bear’s uvula actually was.

I traveled with my friend Christen, and we were headed to visit our friend Kelly, who was in-country for three months. Our flights were exhausting and had very little breathing room. We were not blessed with an extra seat or even half an inch of legroom on our transatlantic flight. We did not sleep a wink, and here we were, in Europe, 24 hours sans sleep, and now it’s morning – it’s gonna be a while until we get to bed. We were exhausted, but we were in EUROPE. One finds a way to trudge on.

We drove from the airport to our friend’s house, had fifteen minutes to turn it around and change out of our day-old Alabama-weather flying clothes and into the bizarrely innumerable garments that would be suitable for a European mountain village jaunt – more clothes than I wear in Alabama all winter long combined.

(One thing I did learn in 2019, from visiting Chicago in January and Macedonia in December, is how to dress when it’s *actually* cold outside. I now know that you can actually dress to stand to be outside if you know about the pieces of clothing we haven’t yet discovered in the south. (When it does get cold down here, we just assume there’s no way to be outdoors unless you’re running and therefore creating your own heat source. Who knew?! There are WAYS to endure the cold.) So I learned the definition of “Parka” this year and found out that you can get scarves warm enough that they serve a purpose other than annoying your neck and complimenting your outfit.)

So we put on our warmest clothes over the top of our long underwear, then came our parkas, our scarves, our hats, our boots, and then we did a few stretches so that we had the strength to lift our feet while wearing 150 pounds of clothing. A few minutes after arriving, we set out for the mountaintop in the large, safe van with our driver who was a resident of the country, thereby making us completely, totally safe.

The roads in Macedonia seem to have been engineered to be approximately 30% too narrow for single car to pass through, yet somehow they Knight Bus their cars skinny and can fit three cars side by side on the road – one going one way, one going the other way, and one stopped in the middle of the road while the driver runs into the hardware store for a minute.

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(One takeaway I’ve had from my two visits to the country is to quit worrying so much about how close I am to other cars in America – based on their ability to get within a booger’s width of each other, I’ve got MILES between me and the rest of the cars.)

So the roads are narrow. They’re also winding, and, when going to a village in the mountains that rise up immediately from the city, are precisely cliff-side – with no barriers other than the skinny cows and horses that free-roam the mountainside.

190421 macedonia IMG_0379 sHere were some horses we passed on one of those narrow, winding, cliffside roads in April – back when there was no snow to complicate things. 

Our driver laughed at our fear as we climbed steeply up the mountain and first hit ice, then snow, then deeper snow. He assured us that the roads were perfectly safe and it could be much worse – when the roads get too bad, the village residents just park their cars in the road and walk into the village. Did we see any abandoned vehicles? No. The weather was fine.

We made it to the village safely,

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enjoyed the spectacular views through our sleep-deprived, grainy eyes,

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We visited the village school and brought American treats and handmade gifts from our kids to give to the precious kids.

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And then it was time to go.

We were STARVING.

We were zombies.

It was time for dinner.

And at some point we’d really like to attempt that thing called sleep again, would-you-please.

So we pulled out of the village, heading out again on the snowy roads. I looked out the windows and ached to call a “hold on a minute” so that I could jump out and get pictures of the sunset/dusky winter wonderland. But I was hungry and I knew everyone else was too and we were cliffside – I didn’t want to slip-slide away off the edge.

THEN we passed a small herd of cows, headed home for the night. (Our driver slowed down, letting the cows rub us with their udders as they scooted past us on the impossibly narrow road, and laughed as he commented “See? The cows DO come home.”)

But as the cows made their way around us and our driver attempted to bring the van back up to speed, the tires slid.

Then we started sliding to the right – of course we would slide toward the cliffside.

THIS WAS ONLY OUR FIRST DAY IN COUNTRY! It’s not time to die yet. We haven’t even gotten to eat a single meal!

The tires slid again.

We fishtailed sideways again.

Our driver was mumbling from the front seat, saying something about how this never happens.

Then he said “Time to get out and push!”

And he meant it.

The passengers all disembarked, carefully stepping between the car and the mountainside. He tried again now that he was free of all our weight – no luck.

So we literally got behind that big old van and we pushed. And we pushed and we pushed.

IMG_2157 2I swear the edge was edgier than it looked. Or at least it certainly felt like the uvula of a bear to my southern sensibilities.

And the van did nothing but slide closer to the edge.

The driver got out and said “We will need the chains!”

I got my camera out and decided it was time to at least get those snowy winter wonderland pictures I wanted. It’s not like know anything about helping with snow chains.

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Just then, another herd of cows came by. It was as if they wanted me to take their picture.

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They were drama cows if there ever were drama cows.

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The men had tire-shaped chains laid out on the snow by now, and were looking at them quizzically with their arms folded. Clearly there was nothing us womenfolk could or would add to the situation, so we began to walk.

Then we did some quick calculations, converting meters to miles, and realized that, if we didn’t mind trudging uphill in the snow, we could actually walk to the delicious dinner that was so loudly calling out our name.

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And maybe, just maybe, our walking to dinner would really light a fire under the men to hurry up and get that van up the mountain – before we ate all the good cheese.

And so we began to walk. On one of those narrow, curving roads where we were now brushing our udders against the oncoming traffic. Somehow, inexplicably, the higher we got, the less snow there was. And the faster the cars careened toward us.

But we were on our way to dinner. And who doesn’t need a brisk hike after being on a plane for 24 hours?

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Just as we walked into the parking lot of the dreamy restaurant, the men pulled up behind us in the van. They had done it – with a little help from their (village) friends.

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And we lived happily ever after, eating all of the amazing cheese. And no southerners fell off the mountain that night due to snow. Even if we did stare into the uvula of a mountain moose.

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The Calamity of Educational Gaps.

Sometimes people ask me how I know what all my kids need to learn in their homeschool education. “How do you make sure there’s not a gap in their learning, or be assured that you didn’t forget anything?”

Since I was homeschooled, and know very little about the pre-college group education scene myself, I suppose I could ask the same thing back – how do you know your kids don’t have gaps? My Dad was sick a lot in the fifth grade and totally missed fractions – but was an absolute genius in the construction, mechanical, and art genres without them. (Fractions are totally redundant, apparently.)

But, if we’re being honest, there were gaps in my education.

For instance, I somehow made it to the ripe age of 17 before I had ever heard the word “turd”. It’s not that I didn’t know much worse stuff, but somehow that particular word had slipped through the cracks. When my boyfriend/future-husband used it for the first time in my presence, I actually had to inquire as to its definition, and it took me more years than you would think to find where it went in the order of profanity – somewhere between “silly” and “butthole”, I think – but I could be wrong. I believe that being able to line up all the words in order of badness is one of those developmental processes that once the age passes that you’re supposed to perform that cognitive task, you can’t get it back. Like learning to skip. Or speaking eight languages.

So yes, sometimes there are gaps.

Thankfully, sometimes other kids fill those gaps in for your kids, and it’s always amusing when you find out, via another kid, where your kid’s gaps were.

Last Wednesday was one of those gap-filling days.

We took one of Noah’s friends, Levi, home with us between events for a little while, and in the car on the way home, Ali, who incidentally was in the process of turning thirteen that very day, was delightfully narrating a made-up choose-your-own-adventure for the two boys. Ali was choosing Day One of Thirteen to prove that teenagers were amazing and she wasn’t done enjoying entertaining her brother and his friends yet.

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So it went something like this.

Ali: “Levi. You just came up to a bridge over a river or a normal path. Do you choose to walk across the bridge, or the plain path?”

Levi: “I choose to walk across the bridge.”

Ali: “You got to the middle of the bridge, but there was a troll under it. He just jumped up onto the bridge and is blocking you. What are you going to do?”

Levi: “Kick ‘im in the nuts!”

Noah. Lost. It.

He started screaming with cackles and repeatedly saying the phrase over and over. Like me at 17, he knows much worse things – he knows all the biggie words and we’ve had The Birds and the Bees talk. But the melodic beauty of “kick ‘im in the nuts” was clearly a first-time experience for him, and I as his mother was nearly as happy to get to witness this developmental milestone as I was his first steps. Except oh yeah – I wasn’t responsible for Noah or Ali’s first steps so I didn’t see either of them. But at least I got kick ‘im in the nuts.

Fifteen minutes later, while in line at Chick-Fil-A, this was the toned down version of his ongoing mirth over this amazing phrase:

(Note A: We were also behind a car with a BUTS sticker on it, which is the name of our local trail running club – Birmingham Ultra Trail Society. Hence the “butt” in front of us.)

(Note B: That was newly thirteen-year-old Ali trying to calm them down. While her much more mature mother was sneakily recording the entire thing.)

I cannot explain to you the level of joy that Levi gifted my son with that day by teaching him such a useful tool, and I will be eternally grateful for his filling in the gaps of my educational system.

And, on the way home, Noah offered in-kind information to Levi, because we in the homeschool community work together to help each other.

Noah: “Do you know about the Wright Brothers?”

Levi: “What were they right about?”

Noah: “No, their name was WRIGHT. With a W.”

Levi: “Oh. No. I haven’t met them yet.”

Noah: “No, they’re dead. You can’t meet them. But they invented the airplane.”

Levi: “Oh! Cool.”

Although I’m sure that Levi would have learned about the Wright Brothers soon enough on his own, I feel like this was a completely even informational gap-filling trade. But in Noah’s mind, Levi definitely brought more to the table.

Epilogue: Kicking the troll in the nuts did not work. The troll told Levi a riddle, which he got wrong, so the troll ate Levi. But thankfully, trolls eat humans whole, and Levi caused a bit of trolly indigestion, and so the troll threw Levi up and Levi was able to make an escape, albeit a bit covered in Troll Bile. The moral of this story is: trolls don’t have nuts. Or it was a girl troll. Or I guess we don’t really know enough about this particular troll situation to accurately draw out the moral.

Meant for Making.

A mind meant for making things never finds peace for long. The ache always comes back. But that’s nothing to worry about. The worry is that one day it will go for good. – “The Left-Handed Fate”, Kate Milford

2019 was a creatively quiet year for me. I started the year still mourning my Dad’s death, finding myself depressed and quiet. Happy and funny times and things made me sadder, because I was painfully aware of the happy and funny that I wasn’t actually feeling. I middled the year being with Chris’ Uncle as he passed away. From July on, I found myself withdrawn from art and from sharing. I stepped back from almost all creating and I dove deeply into finding satisfaction and consolation in my decade-ago former self – in numbers and accounting, spreadsheets and analysis. I shrunk away from who I am now – the person who has been creating through words and pictures, taking joy in nature and beauty, and connecting with other people through those creations.

Death is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. It is easier because life moves on and therefore so must you. It is harder because death doesn’t move on – it sits heavily on your stomach, and your heart, and your soul.

On the outside, I don’t appear as affected by death. I’m a quiet, introverted mourner. I don’t want to talk to hardly anyone face to face about the inner workings of my grief. Instead, it stays quietly in my heart and it eats at my desire to do and see and relate and create.

But, although retreating into numbers and spreadsheets has been temporarily soothing, it didn’t feed my soul, and I found myself longing to create.

Despite not creating, I didn’t quit recording. I’m a recordkeeper at heart and I can’t just lay that down. In July, after being inspired by Chris’ Grandmother’s diaries, of which I pored over her ten years of daily entries with fascination and adoration, I started my own daily journal. Grandma’s life between the years of 1937 and 1946 were infinitely more interesting than mine – but more about her diaries in another post. However, as I began writing, and then periodically thumbing back through my diary, I realized how great my life is, and how much I have to be thankful for. Although it seems less writable than when the kids were young, we still have adventures, random happenings, and ridiculously crazy occurrences.

I wanted to write online again, but after being away for so long, I wondered why exactly I was still doing it. It’s been months since I’ve seen anyone share someone else’s blog post. Are bloggers even a thing anymore? Is there a such thing as a blog anymore? Am I still carving into stone tablets when everyone else has moved on to telepathy? I mean seriously – where DID all the writers go? Where do they create and share? And where did all the readers go? The biggest part of sharing online for me was always the connecting – the feeling of someone else’s heart saying “me too!!” and knowing I wasn’t alone in my weird, quirky way of looking at the world.

But then I finally got the first of my blog books in – three out of the twelve years of posts. I’ve been working with my website manager for a year and a half to get my blog in a state to which it could be printed, so we all were pretty excited. I watched my children as they gleefully flipped through the books, laughing at stories they’d forgotten or never knew, looking at pictures of themselves at earlier ages, and reading back their own toddler quotes to me with hilarity.

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It was beautiful. It was fulfilling to know that I had recorded our life in a way that they could access it, see it, read it, and know it. Since then, Noah has become obsessed with me reading the blog stories to him, and he’s so impatient to know them all that he has started reading them himself, then after laughing heartily and/or being amazed at WHAT AN ABSOLUTE HANDLE he was as a toddler, he’ll go find Ali and read her the story. “Ali. Wait till you hear this one about the time I pooped in the bathtub. Oh! And my potty training was awful!! And do you remember the time I stepped on the grasshopper and made Loulie cry??”

I’m enjoying them also – I’ve forgotten half the things I’ve written over the past 12 years. All of that life would have been lost had it not been for this blog – and for the readers that motivated me to share it. I was, and am, immensely grateful for all of your interaction, all of your words of affirmation and encouragement, all of your Christmas cards, all of your reaching out hands of friendship. I have a folder in my email account titled “Encouraging Blog Emails” where I have filed many of your emails and comments over the years, and occasionally when I’m feeling down or discouraged, I will go back and read them to remind myself of why I do this and the connections I’ve made because of it.

And so, as I start 2020, my main goal this year is to truly create again. I don’t know how often, but it must happen. It might be short snippets of life, or posts that read more like diary entries than well-crafted essays. I want to get back to writing, even if that writing isn’t perfectly polished. I need to create. For my soul, for my family’s history, and for healing.

191208 Village of Jance IMG_4595-H s“Wonder is great and important. And wonder at the visible – at what can be seen and shared, that requires no nationality or belief to experience – that is a special kind of phenomenon…A moment like this can be shared between strangers, as we share it now. It crosses all lines, makes them converge; turns enemies into wide-eyed children in the face of the miraculous. And for a moment, the battlefield stills. – “The Left-Handed Fate”, Kate Milford

Note about the quotes: I also read a lot over the past year, and my favorite author to dive deep with was Kate Milford. She has a series of books with different settings, genres, and time periods that all interact with one another beautifully and intricately. She has a LOT of ideas – sometimes overwhelmingly so, and it was a bit mind-blowing to try to keep up with the threads between the seemingly unrelated books, but I thrived on the challenge. I highly recommend all of her books, but I suggest you start with Greenglass House and go from there. In fact, if it’s cold or raining or snowy where you are, I find it to be the most cozy book I have ever read – it was meant to be read while curled into a quilt, in front of a fire, and/or with a hot beverage.