The Road, Let’s Travel

by Jennifer on March 24, 2009

To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you – however long, but it stretches and waits for you.

— Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

It’s no secret that I love a good road trip. Or even a bad one, really, since I’m not sure I can remember a road trip that was all bad. And that includes the one where an the kids and I got stuck in an ice storm in Amarillo and came close to spendig the night on the floor of a hotel conference room.

Though the closure of I-40 meant that we missed out on seeing my cousin and her family (and we missed a few nailbiting rounds of Ticket to Ride, a favorite board game) in Albuquerque, the forced detour ended up sending us on a beautiful drive through the mountains in southern New Mexico. A winding U.S. 82 took us to the mountaintop town of Cloudcroft, where I fell hard for its scuffed-up charm and the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

(P.S. Everyone needs a story that starts with “This one time when I got stuck in Amarillo…” You just do.)

To keep a log of favorite roads, I created a page, The Road, Let’s Travel, where you can find a list of routes I’ve explored and loved or that I want to drive. I would love it if you would play along.

If there’s a drive you think is spectacular or even just kind of nice for a Sunday afternoon, drop me a line and I’ll add it to the list. Long road trips or day trips, through mountains or across a northern prairie — all scenic drives are welcome to apply. You can email me through the Contact page, or leave a comment.




by Jennifer on September 23, 2011

{I wrote this just over two years ago and came across it again just now. Sometimes words can come back to haunt you, but sometimes they circle back around just when you need them.}

tunnelThe bedroom. Four o’clock sunlight reaches through the blinds and slants like cursive across the wall. I could see it if I open my eyes.

I lie there, two fists full of blanket tucked under my chin, holding on to these cotton fibers like they’re the only true thing I know. As though what I need is balled up inside, and if I let go I’ll lose it all for good.

As if I haven’t already.

It doesn’t matter what that thing is, not really, or how recent or far off the afternoon. Every one of us has lain there on that bed, alone. Sure that we should have seen it coming. Or worse, we actually did.

At that thought, I hold tighter to the blanket, as though I’m five and scared of the dark, back before I knew that the people in those other  rooms must have held tight to their own covers. Enough disappointment, enough lost things, for everyone.

And the one thing we all know (even if the thought is just a small stone that rolls about in the bottom of the soul) is that  it’s impossible to see the light at the end of a tunnel if that tunnel is curved. If there’s no straight shot from the entrance to the way out.

So you think, just goes to show you. It was always going to end up this way. Should have known better. How do I go toward something I can’t even see?

But, where’s the choice? So you hold your breath and listen. Open your eyes wide and strain to see in the dark. Feel your way onward by inches, only sure of the last step you took. Pinning every hope on the next step.

And so, forward.

But first, there’s that space under the blanket, and thank god for that. Except sooner or later (sometimes much later) you  realize that you’re no safer there than anywhere else. Turns out, a blanket doesn’t make a very good shield. And when the moment comes –  a meal to prepare, or kids to pick up from school – there’s nothing to do but to fold up that blanket  and put it back on the shelf.

To open your hands and let go of whatever you held on to so tightly. To trust the wind that carries away those wishes, and know that you might not get all the things you hope for, or enough of them, but there is something up ahead, waiting. And that you might just find it framed in the arc of the tunnel exit and bathed in sunlight. All the the good things that drew you forward all along, the other souls, the peace,  the version of you that you can finally let yourself see, the way others have all this time.

And you’ll think just goes to show you

Even if you can’t finish the sentence, and you’re not sure how soon you’ll be able to. You know the answer is out there. You realize, in the light, that you can believe that much. Or you will, any day now.

You’ll let yourself believe that one day the answer will come to rest like a leaf inside you, next to the stone. And that each of them (at last) will weigh the same as the other.



by Jennifer on May 5, 2011

Like my friend Emily who writes about her own poignant reasons here (go, read, I’ll wait), I won’t be posting a photo of my mother on Facebook this week, as so many of my friends have done in honor of Mother’s Day.

It’s a complicated holiday for me, as it always, ever was. If you don’t know the story of the women who shaped my early years, you can find some essential parts of it here.

As I watched the photos appear, I couldn’t help noting that some of the mothers whose photos my friends and family have posted are of women who were kind to me when I was a child. A favorite aunt, especially so. (To see her face, though she is gone now and I miss her deeply, is a sweet reminder of that.) So even though there’s an ache, an empty room, in my early years where a good enough mother should have been, it’s not altogether unpleasant to watch as others post their photos. A lovely gesture, where it’s deserved.

And there’s this: I’ve been lucky (so very), since my college years, to have someone in my life who has been a wonderful, loving mother and cheerleader to me. She makes up for that early lack, and I’m so grateful for her (and for her husband, who is another father to me).

But if I posted the face of the mother who gave birth to me, or the stepmother who followed soon after, a picture would be just a picture. A face smiling for the camera, a curtain across the stage. The play going on, unseen, behind it.

And a thousand words, not even close to enough.


The violets

by Jennifer on March 27, 2011

violetsYesterday when I heard there was snowfall in the forecast for the night, I looked out the back door at the mess of daffodils against the back fence, worried that the snow would kill the last of them before I was ready for them to go. Then I noticed a patch of purple flowers in front of the daffodils.

And, as I hoped in the moments it took to cross the yard, they were violets.

I remembered writing this –  three years ago, when I still lived in the desert and didn’t know if I would end up living where violets would grow in my own yard. My soul-deep love for violets goes way back.

In our yard there were two patches of violets, neither of them bigger than an area rug in an average sized room. The green carpet of their leaves sent firm stems upward and out, and their blossoms reached just above the heart-shaped leaves.

I sat on my heels as I worked from one side of the violet patch and across to the other side of it, so that I wouldn’t crush the flowers. I tugged and bent each stem until it snapped, and then added it to the growing bunch of violets in my other hand. I left only leaves behind.

Away from me, the lawn mower droned and sputtered as my father made wide turns around the perimeter of the hill next to the house. I had time. But soon, he would head to this part of the yard that was sheltered by trees. The grass grew in thick patches in a few spots, but was spare across the rest of the yard in front of the house and along one side, defeated by the rocky Missouri soil and the shade of sassafras and oak trees.

Around me, the air held the hum and static of bees and mosquitoes and gnats. Sunlight reached down like an ellipsis. Tentative, mild, filtered by the leaves, leaving enough shade for the violets to grow.

I worked quickly, first picking clean the patch at the edge of the yard, nearest the approaching mower, then moving on to the other patch near the red-handled water pump. I wanted them all. To leave even one or two blossoms to be mowed down and spit out of the side of the mower, ground into nothing, seemed unbearable to me.

It was a ritual, this. A mission of mercy and salvation for the violets. And for me, a small and declarative act of preservation.

If no one collected the violets, they were lost, their loveliness destroyed in less than a minute. I couldn’t stand it. (It wasn’t until years later that I found out that many people consider them to be weeds, a nuisance to be eliminated from their yards.)

We lived out in the country, on two acres that shouldered another two or so acres where my step-grandparents lived. Altogether, four acres of grass and garden and dozens and dozens of trees, all of it open to us. We had a tree house, for hiding. For climbing, an oak tree at the bottom of the hill next to the garden. I liked to climb that tree to the very top and wedge my feet into the crooks of skinny branches. Fearless, I would hold on tight as the tree swayed back and forth. From there, I could see far, to the main road and across the fields that bordered our property. All the way to the dairy farm. If we were expecting company, I could watch the main road and still have time to climb down and run inside the house to report the impending arrival. It was a good tree, and – as far as I know – it still stands.

All of this is to say that there were good things. Wholesome, rough (in the best way), elemental things that shaped me. Hours spent outside, where I was nearly as likely to trap and observe a spider as I am to kill one today. A tire swing for daydreaming or for making myself dizzy. The smell of soil. A clear view of an oncoming thunderstorm to the west. Coyotes that would run past, yelping and playing, in the middle of the night. And patches of violets, bold and unrepentant as they turned their nodding heads upward to the sky, accepting, inviting themselves to the world, saturated in their own vivid color.

Though I suppose four acres isn’t that much to tend to compared with, well, anything bigger, there was always a lot of work to do. I don’t bemoan all of it, and our share of it (my sister’s and mine) is a story for another time. Let’s just say it’s unexpected that I still long for a piece of soil for a garden, a place to grow zinnias and sweet peas, tomatoes and green onions, strawberries and raspberries (nothing tastes better than a raspberry plucked warm and eaten right off the cane). Not a big garden, mind you, just enough to supply the makings of a green salad or a fruit salad. Maybe some herbs.

In the fall, there were leaves to rake and collect and to haul on tarps down to the garden for mulch. In the summer, we all worked to cut and stack wood to burn in the winter. After a storm, we picked up the blown-down branches that littered the whole property.

And, there was the mowing. Ahead of that, there was work to get the yard ready for mowing.

A few times a year, my sister and I had the job of picking rock out of the yard, so that the mower blades wouldn’t hit the rock and throw it in every direction or dull the blade. This job, I hated. That Missouri rock, I hated. My back ached and my legs hurt. We filled wheelbarrows with the rocks and dumped them in a growing pile back in a wooded area. It was an exercise in futility, though, because after a few deep soaking rains, another crop would emerge, ripe for picking.

Sometimes, I would find a rock that appeared small, but when I tugged at it, I would discover that the part under my fingers was just the crest of much larger stone embedded in the ground. It was a challenge to remove those rocks, but it was one part of the job that I liked. Sometimes it would take all of a season, and patience, to remove one of them. And then, finally, enough soil would wash away, or the rocks around it would shift, and – if I used some leverage – the rock would give up and come out of the ground. In its place, over time, the soil would wash back in, soft and porous. I still might twist my ankle in the hole left behind, if I wasn’t careful, but I wouldn’t trip over that rock again, or have to exert another ounce of effort to remove it.

It’s a lifelong task, removing the stones in our way. Digging at the ones that are rooted and large, until at last they pull clear. But there’s satisfaction in that effort, maybe more so than in a wheelbarrow full of small rocks. It’s a necessary effort, if the alternative is to stumble over the same ones, season after season, cursing as we fall. How much better to be free of them.

That lesson is clear now, though it only became so in writing it, just now, as though I’ve carried the small pebble of it in my pocket all these years. That bit of truth could only have come from that yard, full of rocks.

Yet within the same patch of yard, the violets grew. For a few weeks every spring, they bloomed and I picked them. When I had collected them all, I carried them inside where I would lay them out on the counter, sort them into bunches and put them into an array of jelly jar glasses. I would deliver these simple bouquets throughout the house, leaving them on dressers and windowsills, end tables and desks. It made me happy, all of it, beginning to end. It was a job I loved. A duty, as I saw it, but with a beautiful reward that lasted for days.

Years, even. If you asked me right now, that’s what I’d say.

Violets and stones, from the same small piece of ground. If there are miracles in nature, that one is among them.

The violets blooming in the shade. And the stones, holding them up.



February 15, 2011

With a bit of effort, I nudge open the windows. It’s one of those days in February when the air feels more warm than cold, when the same 50 degrees that feels chilly in September feels downright tropical two thirds of the way into a long winter. The sills hold tight to their seal the […]

18 comments Read the full article →


January 10, 2011

So life still has a few surprises. A few months ago, we thought we were moving back to Arizona. We were all ready for that, except that the things that needed to happen first didn’t. Which doesn’t mean I’m not happy with the way things turned out, because (oh, yes) I am. Instead: We’re settling […]

19 comments Read the full article →


November 23, 2010

Silver bowls sit beside each place at the table. They are old – that much I know. Monogrammed, too, and I somehow divine that they’re meant for soup. A detail that makes no sense, but then what do I know about old, fine things? Edith Wharton, I am not. Nothing on the table matches anything else. […]

12 comments Read the full article →

Happiness and a day with rain

November 16, 2010

If you asked what I think about happiness, I would have to say that it’s never been my natural default setting. That’s probably true for most of us, though I can only speak for myself and say that my hard-wiring and experiences have made it hard to cross the room from shadow to light and […]

11 comments Read the full article →

The Lazarus post

November 14, 2010

For fun this weekend, I broke  my blog (making it disappear is no parlor trick and is about as frightening as it sounds), but thanks to the wonderful support staff at my web host, Site5,* it came back to life and everything is up and running again. And they’re all on my list of people to […]

5 comments Read the full article →

Notes on a napkin

November 13, 2010

I love the idea of handwritten posts, mostly for the purity of pen to paper and no backspace key. (If you go to flickr and do a search, there are lots of them.) These are just some lines I scribbled on a napkin at Panera this morning. There’s nothing to them, really, just a seed of something that blew past when I picked up […]

0 comments Read the full article →


November 8, 2010

Friday night. I clutch my driving directions in one hand and refer to them in the glow of my car’s interior light. 16th Street to Florida, right on R, take 23rd at the roundabout, and so on. I’m on my way to meet friends in Arlington and decided to take surface streets rather than looping […]

5 comments Read the full article →