Author: Amy


Is Christmas about the gifts? Definitely not! Do we, here at Synchronized Swim, love to give and receive gifts? Definitely yes! I’ve been reading blogs consistently for a long time, and if there is anything I have learned from my dutiful readership internet-wide it is that gift guides are both ubiquitous and a huge indicator of taste / kindred-spiritness. I have always secretly loved holiday gift guides, and every time I read one I always secretly want to turn around and make one of my own — mostly because I often don’t find in the gift guides any of the sorts of things I would actually like to give or receive for Christmas.

My favorite kind of Christmas gift is the really lovely thing that you would genuinely love to own but would never buy for yourself. Not the things that might be nice to have, not the things that are just good to have around. No, the things that stick in your heart, the things that could fill a real empty space no matter how narrow. That, for the most part, is what this list is made of. I’ve kept many, many of the things on this list squirreled away in my amazon cart under the “save for label” tab or in a list called “Things I’d Love to Someday Own” in the notes app on my phone. These are the things I think about sometimes with a feeling I’m almost ashamed of, a feeling that is just a little smaller than longing. It’s funny how objects are not that great, really, most of the time, and yet our life is peopled with them. Slowly but surely, I’m enjoying surrounding myself with objects that I love and find to be useful, and I’m getting rid of things that do not fit that bill.

In order for me to want to own an object, three things need to be true of it. I need to feel like the object is beautiful, useful, and true. Beautiful meaning simple and lovely, with visual interest, clean lines, thoughtful construction. Useful meaning I can think immediately of how I would use the object or why it would be worth taking up space in my tiny home. And true meaning full, holding more than just the baseline of what the object is, carrying a little bit of extra meaning, story, care, personhood.

All of the objects on this list are here for a reason, and all of the objects are things that I genuinely would like to own and don’t already. They are not things that I need–now that I am an adult, I buy the things that I need when I need them. No, they are things that I genuinely want but probably will not buy for myself. They are things that you may also genuinely want and probably would not buy for yourself. In favor of full disclosure, this is basically my real-live Christmas list — because what are we doing here at Synchronized Swim if not trying to offer up what we have going on right this second in us as something somehow worth something. These are the things that I, Amy, would love to receive for Christmas or otherwise. These are the things that live in lists, waiting for some sort of someday, little object-dreams, little “maybe-somedays.” It is amazing how precious to me the things I use every day become. It is amazing how ordinary objects become sacred because of their having been touched by my own two hands over and over again. How the books I read become, somehow, more than just books. How the bowls I eat from become more than just bowls. The objects I live with become, in many ways, a part of me. As Isaiah and I packed up to move to the woods, it was so clear to us which things were important and which things weren’t. We knew what we wanted to have near us. Belongings are not nothing. We travel through the world with our bodies and our things. The physical stuff of life is worth paying attention to. It is good to make and keep beautiful things.  It is good to believe in what you own.

So, I suppose, here’s to more belongings that are not nothing. Here’s to gifts that are like real blessings. Here’s to pointing out what we think is beautiful, somehow, and seeing if other people agree. Here’s to offering what we have, and here’s also to not pretending we are experts on things we are not experts on (like what anyone but myself should want for Christmas!) I’m not going to tell you what your gift guide should hold, instead I’ll just show you mine and hope that someday we can dance together to ABBA in my kitchen after a simple/special handmade dinner in the light of a beeswax candle wearing wool leggings and shirts we maybe even made ourselves. Amen.


For dancing (with Jess) in the kitchen/living room/bedroom: ABBA: Gold on Vinyl

For taking your knitting/hand-quilting/embroidery to your pals house to work on while watching a weepy movie: Fringe Supply Co. Field Bag

For feeling like cooking is a real/possible thing to do (Sync-Swim-Snack-Mom Margaret approved): Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark

For taking half-way decent photos of the full moon during particularly spiritual moments that need to be documented right that second, obviously: iPhone X (cheeky, we know, but why not!)

For staying hydrated, which is truly so hard to do adequately: 12 oz Hydroflask

For accidentally weeping on the bus and then again later at the park: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

For when you feel like moving to the middle of nowhere and farming for the rest of your life: The Art of Loading Brush, Wendell Berry

For keeping tools close at hand and debris far away while making stuff: State the Label Smocks

For waking up without your phone in your face: Analog Alarm Clock

For writing your life: Midori Notebook

For making impromptu gatherings at the table feel more legit: taper candle and candlestick.

For keeping legs warm because coats aren’t for legs and maybe they ought to be especially when you live in the middle of the cold snowy woods: Smartwool leggings

For mystics who need someone to tell them, “keep going,”: Magdalene by Marie Howe

For if you want to wear probably the best pants in the world: Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Pants

For eating your corn flakes in the most beautiful way possible: East Fork Pottery Breakfast Bowl

For a recycled / very lovely quilt experiment: Jamie + the Jones raw silk scrap bundle

For feeling encouraged by lovely people doing/making lovely things: Taproot Magazine

For wearing your heart/secrets on your neck: In and Of Silk Scarves

For learning about what is real and true: Chekhov plays

For turning your fabric stash into pouches eventually: Pink zippers

For little moments of measurement: sewing gauge

For snipping what needs to be snipped on-the-go: 5-in Gingher Scissors

For drinking coffee out of something that is (1) not from a thrift store, and (2) just so beautiful that you’ll want to stare at it the whole time you use it and absorb the color of it into your skin somehow: Ocean Mug

For when you’re feeling burnt out or are maybe going to feel burnt out soon: How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace

For sewing into a long-sleeve shirt ASAP: two yards of Cotton + Steel Cheshire Stripe fabric by-the-yard

For everything, forever (VERY IMPORTANT): Blackwing 602 Pencils

For learning about how plants are even more magical than we already knew they were: The Modern Natural Dyer

For keeping warm beautifully (with something that isn’t a quilt for once?!): Hillary Sproat blankets, Swiss Fields

For making your own jacket with your own two hands: Tamarack Jacket Pattern, Grainline Studio 

For first finding out that making your own clothes is easy/possible: Lotta Jansdotter Everyday Style

For REAL TRUE HEAVY-DUTY SELF CARE: Lush Bath Bombs, any/all

For feeling pretty: Marble + Milkweed Rosy Lip Tint

For adulting in style (because why have a million kitchen appliances if you can have one magic appliance that does it all?!?): Instant Pot

For blessing/acknowledging the year to come with something useful and beautiful and true: Sarah Parker Textiles Hand-Printed Calendar Tea Towel


Island of Madness

“A woman carries her inner life–lugs it around or holds it in like fumes that both poison and bless her–while nourishing another’s inner life, many others actually, while never revealing too much madness, or, possibly, never revealing where she stores it: her island of lost mind. Every woman has one. And every woman grins when the question is asked, “what three items would you bring to a desert island?” Because every woman’s been, by this time, half living there.” 

This passage is from a book called Too Much and Not the Mood, by Durga Chew-Bose. I read it first on a Chicago bus on my way to work when I worked at the marketing agency sewing canvas bags. This is from the first essay in the book, which is altogether captivating. This passage grabbed me enough to make me stop reading and pull out my phone right away on the bus to copy it down into my notes app, and then copy and paste and send it swiftly to Jessie, who responded with something like, “YES.”

The island of lost mind. I’ve taken recently to streamlining it to “island of madness,” which is the same but different. I must have misremembered the phrase at some point and let the misremembered version stick. Or I let the “never revealing too much madness” seep in. At any rate, I understood exactly what the author meant. You’ll find me there, on my island of lost mind, of madness, at least half the time. I’m there right now, hormonal me, giant full moon above and menstruating and not afraid to tell you that, here today, because why not since we are all here together talking about my secret island — not so secret anymore or probably ever. It’s always strange when, every four weeks, I have to write an essay on a Sunday night that is right in the midst of a huge hormonal upswing, something vastly out of my control, that is so arresting for my whole body as well as my mind and soul that it sends me packing, riding a dinghy out to the island, relieved once I’ve gotten there where it’s warm and I can stretch out for a bit in the quiet and not be asked any questions except for the ones that lap at the shore like waves without my being able to stop them. Every four weeks I spend my whole Sunday feeling like I have nothing to write about, because I don’t, and then I show up to write and I write something that feels to me like it is so deliciously mad that I have to just impulsively send it out into the ocean like a message in a bottle. I am so delighted in those moments to be so utterly alone on the island in myself. Delighted and bewildered — fully aware that the dinghy won’t come back to pick me up again until the captain brings it back. Good thing I brought snacks: corn flakes.

I think I probably reveal my madness — but I think it is true that I keep it in a remote part of me. The island. I send postcards, but I never invite anyone to join me there, not even Isaiah, though sometimes it seems like he swoops over in a low-flying plane, perhaps to investigate or maybe even to scoop me up. My inner life is mine. I own it. It is precious to me, warm heat at the center, sometimes heavy and sore. On my island, I curl up in my inner life, let it unfold around me. I slip my arms into it, a coat, and walk around. I dance, I twirl, I kick around the sand. I swim for hours, remembering. It beats quicker and harder than my heart. It’s a tremulous and terrible thing, often kept sort of locked up for safe keeping, kept at the center of the crystal castle where God is also, hard to get to, remote. Except when I’m on the island, which is remote too, so all is well. All of me, remote at once. Hard to get to. Far away. Apt to jump up and down or snap or shout or close my eyes and breathe deep.

Hello! Hello from my island! The weather is sometimes stormy and sometimes clear, and I am fine with either since I have fantastic shelters I have built, full of quilts, piles and piles of them, the ones I make in my mind.

How’s the weather where you are?

I’ve been sewing all day, nautical signal flags. I’m tired — exhausted — and I wish I had another whole weekend in which to sleep, mostly, and read and think and spend a while longer on my island. The dinghy is coming back for me, I know it. That’s what Mondays are all about, the long dinghy ride back to wherever. You don’t get to stay on your island when you have to do such pedestrian tasks as going to work or talking to people who expect you to act normal. Sometimes I manage to talk to people while I’m on my island, which I’m sure is stranger for them than for me. For me, it feels like playing telephone, the kind with a tin can pressed to my ear and someone far away on the other end, sort of fantastically garbled. For them, it must feel like talking to someone either very distracted or very boring. I am sure I am both when I am on my island of madness. It’s awkward when I’m on my island and also in public, but I try to handle it gracefully. I keep quiet and watchful, try not to make any waves like the ones I stand in. I make it work, I come back slow, summon the dinghy, sail home without a fuss. Or stubbornly dig my heels into the sand, tie myself to a tree. I can’t really plan ahead or expect what I will do, it all unfolds so smoothly, gut-forward, propelling the fan-boat through the everglades toward the island or back home again.

I can do what I have to do. I can set my inner life aside for a while — lug it around and hold it in, and goodness knows let it bless me. I can leave it on the island, safe, till I come back again, get lost in the jungle, talk on the telephone with my sister and try to tell her what I know, make something to eat, slip on my inner life, silk lining slipping across my skin. Pure silk, dyed with indigo and madder root, painted with root systems and petals.

Hello from my island of madness! This via airmail, carried to you by a bird with much plumage. I’ve done so many things here, thought so many thoughts that I may never tell you about, or maybe I will. I’m productive on my island, and I dream the sorts of dreams that take years to unfold, I worry the sorts of worries that have flaky layers like a croissant, I imagine what I would wear to x, y, z and then wear it a while on the island, feeling so very beautiful. I carry every sort of writing utensil and coloring marker in my bag while I tromp and dance, stopping to mark something down for later. I shout to and at Isaiah in his low-flying plane, shaking my fists and then doing funny dances, singing songs that he might like. I catapult up a piece of toast with jam for him to eat if he wants. He catches it in his fist out the window. I throw a fit, I weep a while, I take long showers where I stand perfectly still. I work, hard. I close my eyes. I smile.

Hello from my island of madness. Thank you for reading what I write. I write a lot on the island, it’s where I keep most of my thoughts, the real ones anyway. Hello. Hello. Do you see me waving my arms!? That tiny speck, it’s me! Hello! I’ll be back soon, don’t worry too much.

Here’s to all the half-crazy women. I know how to live on the island, and by now I have learned, too, how to come back.

{P.S. If you’d like to order a set of hand-made-by-me nautical signal flags like the ones so masterfully spoken of in this essay by Merrit Tierce, and like I wrote about before and have been talking about nonstop pretty much ever since, send me an email ASAP at to ensure pre-Christmas delivery. I’m making them as fast as I can because I want folks to be able to own them and use them and love them like I love them. Signal flags to say how it is from your island to someone else’s, two ships in the night. Trying to say what we mean with what little we have, some flags, our storm-tossed bodies, our hands. When you email me, I’ll send you back a long list of fantastic phrases like “All well,” or “I will carry a light,” or “Weather is good,” or “The whole body is affected,” and you can choose what phrase-set of flags you’d like to wave. Only $20-$30 per set. I’ll be making them after Christmas as well, so no hurry if you’d like some flags for yourself. No better way to communicate how it is on the island today, how far away it feels from everything else, how much you want to say with so few ways to say it. It’s all connected, ourselves and our strange journeys within our own selves and our strange journeys to and away from each other.  Email me and I’ll come back from my island and I can make you some flags and we can talk all about it. “I am dazzled by your searchlight!”}

Clothed with the Sun

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev 12:1)

This, from the most mystical book of the Bible. This, returning to my mind day after day after day. A woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun. 

Earlier this past week, as I was returning to Chicago en route to Thanksgiving in Indiana, Jessie and I together found ourselves at the mall. We were there to fulfill a necessary errand but also we really like the mall sometimes. By and by, we went to Madewell. Oh, our hearts! Oh, our tender hearts! The problem with Madewell, silly silly Madewell, is that it ignites all of the envy and discontent our small bodies can hold. The problem with Madewell is that we like almost everything we see there, and we cannot afford even, really, a pair of socks. We walked through the store fairly briefly, allowing ourselves to touch and consider only a few things, looking at each other with bewildered, crestfallen expressions, basically speechless, retreating before our hearts wept too openly. We left feeling way more off-kilter than when we walked in. Full of hope, perhaps? That’s too generous. The feeling was  much closer to dread. It’s a feeling I’ve felt before, many times, while shopping at shopping malls or window shopping online. That vague, deep, confusing blueness, that dread. Why is it so hard? We laugh off this kind of sadness, this kind of confusion, but it’s a serious thing, I think. What is that melancholy I feel at the mall? That true sorrow? Seeing so many truly beautiful things, clothes that would look good on my body, whole other lives I could live if only, if only. It’s light, yes, just shopping, no big deal. But it’s also heavy. I feel this light thing heavily. Heavy for so many of us. We are young and poor, and yet everything tries to tell us to strive for the life we could buy with more money. We all know that this is a problem. We all, all of us, have this problem. But it eats at our hearts a little bit. We participate in it without even trying to. We go to the mall, even so! 

My clothes affect me deeply. Getting dressed is almost always fraught, almost always involves all of my feelings and senses. I am almost never satisfied with my closet, with what I own. I want my clothes to be as magnificent as my heart, I want my outward appearance to match my inward depths, I want to only be in the world in the fullness of myself. But we are so restricted by what we own, what is possible, what the day holds. I get so stuck in my days, so I get confused about what to wear. Because we talk about most everything, Jessie and I have talked about this before, finding common ground on two fronts: 1. That we almost always hate what we put on in the morning by the middle of the day, and 2. That we often find ourselves in seasons of wearing almost the exact same thing every day. Because nothing else will even remotely do. 

I’ve been having a hard time at my new job for a couple of reasons, and I think I’ve identified one of the biggest problems. I work in an active kitchen; I have to wear t-shirts every day. I get dressed in the morning and I have no space, really, to choose. I have to put on a clean t-shirt in some array of terrible bright cheap-cotton-knit colors and the same food-splattered jeans as the day before. I feel gross before I’ve even walked into work, a shadow of myself, someone else entirely. This wears on me. It shouldn’t affect me so deeply, probably, but it does.  I knew it would be a problem for my heart the minute my boss mentioned a loose dress code, the moment I realized that working in a kitchen restricted my clothing options. I knew it would be a problem, and it has been. 

It feels so silly that I’m troubled by the fact that I have to wear t-shirts to work. That I look at my closet full of clothes and still sigh with discontent. That I even walk into Madewell in the first place and look, outwardly, like I belong there. Such privilege! Such frivolity! I critique myself for my own feelings, I judge the things that catch my heart. I tell myself, “get over it!” But when the funk doesn’t pass, when the feeling comes every day, the shame I wear, for some reason, with the t-shirt, it becomes worth thinking about a little more deeply. This won’t go away, I guess. I have to wear clothes. This is something I have to reckon with and continue to reckon with day after day after day. 

This is something I want to pay attention to. 

Late in my college years, I almost completely stopped buying clothes from normal retail stores because it was too expensive and because I found that I liked thrift shopping much better – the challenge of it appealed to me. Since college, I have made “no new clothes” my standard, with just a few exceptions (#underwear), because shopping at thrift stores and making my own clothes is better for me in every way. Better for the earth, better for other humans, better for my heart, better for my creativity, better for my bank account. I’m proud of myself for keeping this up, and also astonished at how acutely weird I feel at places like Madewell. How deep the want is, how deep the roots of consumerism grow in me. How do I undo these things? How do I rewire my brain to be content with what I have, to wear things because they are beautiful and comfortable and hurt no one and nothing else? I work really hard at thrift shopping, keeping my high standards, searching the racks for natural fibers, paying close attention to fit and quality and wear, mending or altering what is torn or amiss. I am proud of the wardrobe I have created with almost entirely secondhand pieces, and yet. And yet. I still frown at my closet, I still want to change after half a day, I still yearn, I still feel microscopic in a room of beautiful new clothes. 

I don’t want to feel like that anymore. I refuse, or am beginning to refuse, that feeling I felt in Madewell. Extreme as it sounds, I think I need to make some decisions, even more strongly, more intentionally, about what I will and will not wear. If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and I believe that it is, then my clothes should reflect that. My clothes should be clothes of joy, not clothes of confusion or sorrow. Clothes as vestments, as temple garments. Clothed with the sun. 

Keep reading…

From tender stem hath sprung

Advent is swiftly approaching. Ordinary Time is coming to a close – how fantastic that it is called that, truly. I suppose officially there are two more weeks till Advent begins, but I am notoriously a person who needs quite a bit of time to transition, and better to do it now, early, than to miss the first two weeks of a season, trying to wrench my heart into gear.

The irony is that my heart need not be wrenched this year. It’s waiting at the door. I am waiting, anxiously, for Advent, where I will wait some more. I am, thoroughly, the girl who listens to Christmas music well before thanksgiving, who smiles at the store displays and old-fashioned tinsel snowflakes affixed to streetlights in small towns and big cities alike, the first hint of a bough of holly. I love special things, and Christmas is a special thing that everyone seems to agree on. But, beyond all the trappings, Advent is where my heart has been living for some time, without my asking it to, without any sort of tinsel, without the prompting of any sort of liturgy or black friday sale. The truth is that I was living my life in Ordinary Time, not entirely unhappily. But, like angel song, Advent just started happening to me and has gone on happening. I’ve been writing about it, I’ve been thinking about it, can’t stop thinking about it. I could tell you that everything has changed, but I think you already know that. I could tell you that a life, like a calendar year, like a church calendar year, has seasons, each season designed to nourish the soul in a different way, with varying intensities and focuses and sorrows, but you surely already know that too.

I take the church calendar seriously, or try to at least. My blossoming Anglicanism in college taught me to care about these things, to seek to invite them into my consciousness and muscle memory, illuminated the beauty of tradition, of certain colors at certain times, of keeping track, of letting reality be framed by something historical and a little bit impossible. It’s the project of practice, of ritual, of repetition to let something become habit. I’m learning more everyday how to let these rituals become postures for my heart, things to wake and sleep with, to carry around within, more than a thing to think on, words to say, a color to wear, a place to be. I’m learning more every day how to notice which season my soul stands in, both in and out of time. In chronos, chronological time, my soul is on the cusp of Advent, 2017, marveling at Wisconsin snowfall and Chicago store awnings sporting pine boughs, delighting in twinkle lights taking over. In kairos, God’s time, the time that holds everything, all at once, my soul is standing bewildered and strong in Annunciation, my soul is saying, irrationally, “here I am! send me”, my soul is scouring the sky for angels, my soul is carrying an impossible baby, in pain, in wonder, no place to stay, nowhere to go. My soul, wild, following a star. 

All at once, the other day, I remembered a book I picked up a year ago but never finished. Madeleine L’Engle’s 
The Irrational Season, where she, adopted godmother to my soul, writes warmly and honestly about the church calendar, about the very same things my heart keeps turning over and over. So I bought it used on amazon for $5 and it came without the first nine pages. Typical. I was sad about it for a moment, but then I snapped into action, deciding to find the book on Google Books, where the first chapter was completely intact and waiting to be received! (And where you too can read the first chapter, which is about Advent, if you’d like!) I sat and transcribed the first nine pages, typing each word, ingesting it a little differently than I would if I were simply rereading it again, one year later. In a way, it almost felt like I was writing it myself, fingers flying to keys to record a phrase held right at the front of my brain, moving on to the next thought before even considering everything, everything about the thing that came before. 

The next day, as I, for the first time in a long time, read some of the archives of my personal blog (which I’ve been sorely neglecting), I came to an essay I wrote just about this time last year. And, oh my soul. One year, and so much has changed. One year, and so many prayers answered, so many things written and strangely, with mystery, fulfilled. I was astonished to read my own words, so true and tremulous, so different from anything I would write today — and yet still so present, so poignant for me, even still. I am that woman still, astonished at all I must be missing, full of hope and faith for things not seen, desperate to be actually carried with everlasting arms, unaware of the signs and wonders on the way. Strange prophesy, the way I stood right on the edge of a new season without knowing it and lamented all that had come before, all the years waiting, all the knowing but not knowing. And now, what more do I know? Not much. But enough for everything to have changed. Enough that, somehow I’ve gone from feeling left out of the story entirely to standing smack in the middle of it. And that, I suppose, is a change complete. That, I suppose is a new season. The night, half spent, closer, somehow, to dawn. Lo, how a rose e’re blooming, see the bud? From tender stem, mine. Yours.

I am republishing last year’s advent essay in full below. In so many ways, it seems like I’ve hardly moved. I’m still sitting with The Irrational Season beside me on the desk. I’m still finishing up quilted things, still needing to run out to get more thread. Still looking for Jesus, still considering Mary every day, and yet, and yet. Everything is different. I live in the woods instead of the city. My heart has traveled miles on miles. I’ve seen, somehow, the angels — they’ve come for me with messages. I’ve glimpsed just enough, touched just enough of the edge of Jesus’ hem to know that I am right in the center of something unfolding all around me, within and without time and space. Advent, mine entirely. Yours too, with the end of time and the beginning all folded together into an impossible baby placed in our human arms for safekeeping. What has this irrational year taught me? That I am right in the center of God’s good will. That I don’t get to sleep through the night of Jesus’ birth. That the pain will be great but the star shines above. That though I am small, an angel found me still. That Jesus is, somehow, mine to carry. That though nothing makes sense at all, underneath are the everlasting arms. I still know nothing at all, but somehow I know these things, in all their wildness, all their IRRATIONALITY. I can’t question them anymore, I just have to figure out how to carry it all forward. I’m living there, in irrational advent, on my island of madness, a woman bereft and blessed. And somehow, I am so much more myself than I’ve ever been before. 

Keep reading…

From the Notebook: Land Gap

[Amy in the passenger seat of a blue car, with Isaiah driving and three people from their HoneyRock Fellows cohort asleep in the back. The soundtrack from The Big Chill playing on a bluetooth speaker propped up against the dashboard, since the car is borrowed from camp and only has a cd player. Driving away from Wheaton, after a short weekend visit to officially learn more about Wheaton’s grad programs, and unofficially to visit all of the people and feel all of the feelings. Writing with a wobbly cursive in journal because computer is dead, trying, desperately, to figure out what to write about for the blog tonight, getting it all, everything from the weekend, out of head and onto page, realizing half-way through that maybe the writing was already happening. Rain on the dashboard, so cliche, so fitting. Husband beside, nothing necessarily right with the world – in between two places, really just nowhere. Life caught in a land gap, making a home there, making it beautiful, letting even the traveling feel a little like standing still.]


Is it possible to live in two places at once? Still so loved by people in Wheaton, but living, really, in Wisconsin. Where does that put me?


New dansko clog mary janes, thrifted across from apartments I used to live in but don’t anymore?
The rain?
How joyful it is to get to see children grow?
Measure for Measure?
Women and weakness?
Women and weakness in Shakespeare, specifically?
Land gaps? Land Gap Junction? Prof. Samuelson and everything she did for me without even meaning to at all?
All the things Jessie and I talked about in the Jewel Osco parking lot under the moon on Thursday night–things I can’t even remember now?
Walking down Michigan Avenue, feeling the most like a city girl I’ve ever felt?
That perfect cappuccino?
The Rainbow Connection?
Mechtild of Magdeburg?
Lincoln Park?
The land?
An ode to Blackberry Market?!
An ode to Trader Joes?!
How handsome Isaiah looks in his new thrifted red sweatshirt?
“In the middle”?
“Despite my best efforts”?
Female saints – the way they speak / write?
“May what I do flow from me like a river” – that Rilke poem?
How it feels to know how to navigate in a place, though you don’t live there anymore?
The Joan Didion documentary I watched on Netflix?
That tug in my gut I felt when we drove past my old office building?
How The Big Chill has probably the best movie soundtrack ever?
Land gaps – a lot like driving between places and being no where.
Where do we bend?
Seeing people who love me and still feeling loved by them even though I don’t live near?
Competent traveler / helpless traveler?
How my sister and I are so the same and so different?
Vivian Maier’s photographs?
How nice it feels to sit in the passenger seat with Isaiah driving?
How nice it feels to be with people who can take my incoherent answer to the question, “how are you?” and know exactly what I mean amidst my rambling?
Mark’s November marble?
Workout – standing in the window?
The tree, gone?
How much I like knitting?
How very many quilt ideas I have?
Chef’s Table: France?
Watching snatches of The Sound of Music with five-year-old Charlotte, watching her dance like I used to dance in front of the television?
That perfect ochre suit Julie Andrews wears in the film when she and the captain return from their honeymoon?
The confusion I feel about whether I really want to live in Wheaton or if I really don’t or how it doesn’t matter at all right now because I live in Wisconsin and will for a while, probably?
How much I hate “probably”?
How much Charlotte loves “probably”?
How I just dang miss Chicago, like I knew I would?
How we almost slid into a ditch on our way out of Three Lakes Thursday morning?
About angels? Annunciations? Advent?
How I want to try screen printing?
What I want for Christmas?
How much I LOVE Christmas?
Wisdom, feminine / Proverbs 8?
How I inexplicably also miss New York?
How I think I’m going to re-attempt a Tartine sourdough starter, ASAP?
A gift guide? Too silly?
About Mary?
How inter-generational relationships are actually possible?
How sometimes things really are special? How things don’t actually end?
How I’m glad we didn’t go near our old apartment this time?
Jesus, in the present?
How I’m so bad at being in the present?
Something about divine appointments?
Sitting with Jessie in Mark’s office? The rocking chairs?
How I REALLY need to make more clothes for myself but I just don’t have time?
Should I run a church some day?
It’s the greatest story ever told?!
How annoying it is that my phone is ALWAYS out of storage because I take so many pictures?
How I feel like I’m floating in time, moving quickly, never really on the ground?


Write about all of it, forever, right now.

Screenshot Shimmy #3

As a disclaimer, I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens’ “Barcarola (You Must Be a Christmas Tree)” right now and also I have my period, so I have a lot of feelings. A very good reason to write something light-ish and simple-ish tonight, though, nothing ever ends up actually being light or simple for me and my heart and body, and everything is connected, braided, etc. It’s all okay. I’m shimmying! Here! Right now! Do it with me! Let’s do the screenshot shimmy!

I’ve been spending a lot of time yearning lately, and also a lot of time cooking, and not a lot of time, comparatively, making things with fibers. In case I haven’t said it out loud lately, it is one of my deepest dreams at this point to somehow make the making of handmade quilts my living, or some semblance of a living. This is something I have been carrying around for over a year, turning over and over, considering and reconsidering, saying yes to over and over. Yes, followed by wait.

Yes, wait. Yes, wait. Yes, wait.

So I dream. I plan, loosely. I hope, wistfully. I despair briefly sometimes, mostly at night. I work on the things I’m making when I get the chance, but not as often as I’d love. So many projects in mind, so many daydreams, so frustratingly little time. I’m forever trying to reconcile the day job / creative work / relationship health / personal health / leisure balance, mostly doing a bad job of juggling things, ending up feeling resentful and exhausted more than I’d like to admit. I let my Instagram account, a strange journal of a space, be the place where this dream is most fully realized, where I can stand up and say, “THIS IS WHAT IT IS FOR ME, THIS IS WHO I AM AND WHAT I’M PROUD OF.” I don’t really get to do that in real life, so I do it on Instagram, a strange liminal space of incessant creativity and renewal, a rat race of making — at least the Instagram I subscribe to. It is whatever the individual makes it. Mine is full of people doing the thing I want to do, people showing me what they’re making while I’m sitting around, exhausted, wishing to make. Instagram, as always, is a blessing and a curse to the artist. A blessing in that it is a window to community, a chance to see beyond one’s own studio cloister, a look into what is both possible and happening elsewhere. Little lifelines to kindred spirits. But the curse, oh the curse. I think about this a lot. It’s maddening, the possibility, the things that other people have already made that you wish you had thought of, the envy inherent, the ugly angle toward comparison stealing all the joy away. Not sure if this tension is there for you, but it’s certainly there for me. It feels good, important really, to name it. One of the hardest parts of seeing the work of others on Instagram is that it makes me feel like other people somehow just get to make the things they’re making all the time while I’m stuck doing all the other crap for 95% of my time, and then trying to make something beautiful with just 5% of my energy-depleted self. I know it’s all an illusion. I know that if I got to sit down and talk with every person I admire through the tiny keyhole of Instagram, every single person would tell me that it is so hard for them too. Every single person would tell me that they wish, oh how they wish, that things could somehow be different, that there could be more time, more resources, more togetherness, more opportunity, less comparison, less stolen joy.

It’s necessary, I suppose. The hunger at the center of me, the tension inherent within my very own body and soul as well as all around me, is what drives me toward beauty and creation, toward true things, toward heaven, really. I am on fire, perpetually, and it won’t go away. So I scroll Instagram. I let it hurt. I see something beautiful, something that feels recognizable to me, and oh! It makes me ache! The really beautiful things are the things that stop me in my tracks, that hurt the most keenly, that meet me where I am and make me feel that I’m a part of something with all the hunger inside of me. That, that thing amongst all the things, is beautiful. I save them for later. Tuck them away, look at them sometimes when my energy has all been divvied out elsewhere.

The word “inspire” bums me out, but I’ll use it anyway. These folks on Instagram inspire me. These folks are the ones who, I think, are somehow like me. Who also act out of hunger, out of a lunging toward beauty and truth, though the stretching hurts and the body is exhausted. The ones who find something to be compelled by and go after it, though it seems like everyone else is over somewhere else and probably no one cares. Over and over again, the things they make and offer stop me in my tracks, go straight to the hunger at the center of me. The things they make are beautiful and true, somehow, for me. Seeing and saving and returning to these beautiful things encourages me deeply, helps me feel real as I chase some hopeless dream, make some strange idea into a reality so much more slowly than I thought I would. This is why I take so many screenshots. Because the beauty is too much to scroll past. Because I have to remember what is possible. Because I don’t want to do it, any of it, alone. Because we, the hungry people, are making things that feed, somehow. Because this is my community, these are my people, we cloistered, tired hope-rs, we makers of meager things, trying less to look impressive and more to look hopeful and honest. These are the people I’m on Instagram, the strange wilderness of it, for.

A FEELINGS-RIDDEN POST ABOUT INSTAGRAM, bet you didn’t know that was what you were signing up for when you started reading this post!!! My apologies. Again, I’m on my period, so I have no chill. I’m straight up broadcasting from my desert island of madness, waving my arms and signal flags frantically, eating so much chocolate and tortilla chips, crying over nothing, listening to Christmas music because I need Advent to be a full two months long this year, please and thank you.

I feel like the actual collection of screenshots I’m sharing here is not quite as cohesive as I’ve made it sound in this impassioned intro. The reality of it is far more random and far less cohesive and curated than I’ve made it sound.  There are also scraps of many things, a few cookie recipes. That’s how life is. Everything all mixed together, all of it turning into something full and balanced, somehow, delicately. The biggest, strongest beauty is in the way a gorgeous hand-dyed quilt, hours of someone’s life, is casually there on your phone screen, to be either seen or passed over, nestled between a super-fancy super-styled ad from some company and your college acquaintance’s dog. This is the madness of Instagram. This is the madness of life. The stunningly beautiful things come between all the other things. Nothing gets to be pure. Nothing gets to quite take up the amount of space it really needs or deserves. Maybe that makes it all better. Maybe if we were to linger too long in the most beautiful things we would explode. We need some cookie recipes in there to temper the feelings. A season for everything, even on Instagram. Fleeting keyhole looks at beauty, filed away for later, scrolled past, posted by a hopeful hungry person, seen some random people who don’t care, but also by someone equally hopeful and hungry, someone very far away but so very near.

Keep reading…

Topsy-turvy & Avoidance

It’s hard to write when you’re sad and happy at once, and tonight that is the case for me. I’m happy because my three dearest friends (sweet Jess included, hi!) came to visit me in the woods. I’m sad because now they have left again. As we all sat around talking earlier today, as we basically did all weekend long, I told everyone that I almost definitely wouldn’t have anything intelligent to say in my essay tonight, and I was right. I have nothing for you. Empty hands. I’ve been sitting around on my computer on the couch avoiding this essay for more than two hours. Trying not to think too hard. Trying not to remember how much there is to feel about everything around me. This is what I’ve been doing:

  1. Adjusting the refrigerator temperature.
  2. Making, or, actually, editing this playlist.
  3. Also listening to this playlist.
  4. Taking a shower to try to come up with ideas about what to write for this blog post (as I get my best ideas while showering, historically).
  5. Missing my friends, thinking about them and also avoiding thinking about them. Heart full and also heart broken.
  6. Also missing these pancakes, which we ate on Saturday morning. I would love to eat those pancakes every Saturday morning with those people for the rest of my life. With lots of butter and not much else. And the perfect coffee that Margaret brought along with her that is a sort of non-descript roast from Whole Foods and is the best I’ve had in a long while. And a long day ahead in which to do nothing but talk and walk in the woods and work on our various projects and listen to Christmas music early.
  7. Staring at the space heater as it swivels back and forth.
  8. Eating a bowl of corn flakes.
  9. Reading about St. Clare of Assisi in this book.
  10. Ogling this yarn, wishing to touch it, cursing the price tag. Also ogling this sweater pattern.
  11. Eating a second bowl of corn flakes.
  12. Considering a third bowl or corn flakes. (The bowls are small!!)
  13. Reading more Orangette, starting always in random places in the archives, feeling comforted by Molly’s ever-warm voice.
  14. Craving pizza. At all times.
  15. Checking in on my new sewing machine, not yet bought. Waiting for a sale-price to magically appear. Holding out till Cyber Monday, and then all bets are off. It is going to be magic. Have never bought something this expensive before, and I’m ready to take the plunge.
  16. Revisiting this, by Wendell Berry.
  17. Feeling bad about not writing a real essay.
  18. Missing Chicago, thinking, inexplicably, about the beautiful homes nestled in the Gold Coast and how I could never imagine what in the world it would be like to live in one of them.
  19. Checking in on The Wednesday Chef and Lottie and Doof. (Having a real comfy food blog moment, probably because of a weekend spent with Margaret, cooking hip-to-hip in my tiny postage-stamp kitchen.)
  20. Reading the photocopies of two Annie Dillard essays that Annie brought with her and doled out as required reading, feeling deeply and personally encouraged by both Annies at once.
  21. Eating third bowl of corn flakes.
  22. Getting sleepy.
  23. Trying not to think about having to go to work tomorrow.

This weekend was full of all good things. It snowed and genuinely felt like Christmas because we were all warm and together and those women are my family. You know that Christmas feeling where the room sort of glows and your eyes are welling with tears basically every five minutes and you can’t even believe it’s snowing but also you can because no other precipitation or lack-thereof would do? That’s what was going on. A few days before Halloween in Wisconsin. I don’t mind some things a little topsy-turvy these days, because I can’t control much of anything, even when Christmas shows up. It’s the greatest story ever told, and it’s happening to us now and all the time! But, Christmas aside, it was one of the warmest, best weekends I’ve had in a long time. Deeply encouraging to have your friends come find you in the woods. Deeply encouraging to find that nothing has changed even though almost everything has changed. Deeply encouraging to watch them drive away and feel sad but not panicked. Gratefulness – thick and glimmering. That’s what I have for them and this. Now to carry on, though I’m not sure how. Now to lean on my husband, my friend who stays in the woods with me. Now to wait for Advent to come for real. Now to live in the woods, friends far away, knowing friends have walked these paths with me before. It helps to know that.


Small Pilgrim

I’ve tried to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard a nice handful of times but none of the times ever stuck. I’d start and then reach for something else, wanting to find another Annie – the Annie of Holy the Firm or An American Childhood. I knew I should read Pilgrim, but I could tell that the time wasn’t right. Not yet. I was living in the city, feeling a million things, not seeing about me any sort of wilderness anywhere except for the wilderness of sidewalk and stranger, the wilderness of locked doors and storefronts full of things to buy that I did not have money for.

I saved it for later. For when I would need it more. For when I would, inevitably come face to face with real wilderness. For right this minute.

I live in the woods now, which I’ve told you before, of course. I’m telling you again, and I’m telling myself again, and again, and again. Every day, now, I wake up and look out the window and remember that I live here, amongst the pines and beeches, on the edge of a lake, with much moss and deer and sapling. I live in a collection of buildings surrounded by thick forest.

Around the time we decided to move here, I also started yearning for the woods. This is an unprecedented feeling for me. I grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb, perfectly happy to remain indoors most of the time. Aside from well-organized short hikes and 15-minute-spurts sitting serenely on fallen logs, I have never much felt a pull toward wandering the wilds. I’m sort of ashamed to say it, but I wouldn’t say that nature is a primary inspiration of mine. Frustratingly so. Creation’s splendor is all around, and I’m perfectly happy to read a book on a couch, to find splendors therein, to look at the trees through a window. It makes me feel thick, obtuse, that I’m not thrilled by all that is around me, every rock and tree. Only occasionally, particularly. Not all-together. Still, the yearning came, somehow, thin but real, met with perfect timing. We moved to the woods. I live now in a forest of unimaginable wonders, and I’m beginning, maybe, to see them. Or at least to want to see them.

Now is my time to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. If you haven’t read it, this is what you need to know: it’s a book by Annie Dillard in which she reflects on her experiences in nature while living near some creeks and some mountains in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Annie Dillard is an exquisite non-fiction writer who I like to think of as both a mentor and a dear friend, though she is actually neither to me. You should know that I think about her often, whether I’m in the middle of reading one of her works or not. I have not read everything she’s written, but the things of hers I have read I go back to again and again and again. I’m working my way through. I want more than most things to be something, anything, like her.

In a pleasing turn of events, I found a magic volume called The Annie Dillard Reader secondhand at Myopic Bookstore in Wicker Park. It is magic because it holds almost all of her writings all in one place, which makes it easy to carry around and refer to many things at once. I brought it with me to our new home in the woods, of course. It is here that I’ve begun Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Now is, quite clearly, the time.

At the moment, at least from where I stand, the earth seems troubled, with us troubled on it. The earth, that is, in the places where I’m not. In the places where there are hurricanes and wildfires and all manner of other troubling things happening. Here, in the woods, everything seems to be as it always was and will be forever. I know no difference. I see nothing to fear. I am small and I notice little. There is nothing I can do to fix anything involving the earth except try to keep my eyes open and bear witness to its changes and chances.

It is my only wish, really, to keep my eyes open. Or, more truthfully, to start to open them.

Now that I live in the woods, I feel like I can’t ignore the wilderness as I’ve always done. When we drive anywhere we drive on the sorts of roads that are two lanes only with trees thick on both sides, plus the occasional building. All of our drives lately have been “scenic drives” with eyes stuck on the windows trying to grab all the colors of the trees. I owe this place, these living objects in their many specificities and masses, my attention, my thought, my care, don’t I? I would hate to live in the world for as long as I will and not ever really care about the world as it is without me or anyone else messing with it. This will take some re-orienting. Does that make sense? Does any of it?


Hence, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I see to learn from Annie Dillard. To hear how it was for her. To soak up some of her wonder, her fear, her joy. I want to practice what she practiced, to be a pilgrim in the wilderness even for just the littlest of whiles. To at least try. This has everything to do with God, everything to do with myself, with hope, with wonder, with practice and discipline and with just dang trying to learn about joy and where to find it. God is in me and God is in creation and I am in creation and shouldn’t all of it just go together? I think it should. It will just take some waiting and some wondering while I wander out under the sky.

So, today (Sunday, I write on Sunday), I went for a walk. As I set out, I decided that I will walk every Sunday to practice loving creation like God loves it, like God loves me. To hear it groan a little and to groan a little with it while we all wait for God. I’m going to remember the walk here in conversation with bits from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. A transcription! Mostly me feeling clumsy and clunky and asking Annie, “HOW DID YOU DO IT?! HOW DID YOU SEE AND FEEL SO MUCH!? WHAT DO YOU SEE THAT I DON’T?!” (In all caps because I feel like shouting!!!) I read her words with reverence and wonder for things that I know to be true but can’t quite see myself. I read her words and I want to see more with my own two eyes, to be able to articulate the things that I see. I read her words and I want to be a pilgrim at my own tinker creek, my own Long Lake, my own mossy woods. I’m starting just by walking, by dancing, by singing, by wondering. I’m starting every Sunday, I hope. The smallest of pilgrimages, all the while feeling like I’m doing most things wrong, all the while doing them anyway.

(Annie’s words in italics, mine in not-italics, from here forward. I’ve only read the first little bit of the book, so that is where all these bits are found. Everything so in process, always!)

Keep reading…

But with wings.

  1. I’m thinking about angels, and it’s all a-jumble. Fragmented angel thoughts.
  2. A quick inventory of things I know about angels: Organized into categories: cherubim, seraphim, archangels, etc; Can wrestle (or was that God?); Can pass as humans like when Abraham entertained them (or was that God/the trinity?); Sometimes sing; Sometimes terrifying; Can speak, and have conversations; Worship; Bring messages; Can play trumpets
  3. The angel who stirred up the fountain at Bethesda.
  4. It’s probably best that I haven’t seen an angel face to face. In fact, it’s probably best that so much of the most holy things pass right by me, unnoticed till the very last minute, till I turn my head and catch a glimpse of a shimmering robe disappearing into the air. It’s enough to know they exist. It’s more than enough to imagine them.
  5. I am DEFINITELY forgetting so much from “Study of Mary,” which I took my senior year of college. Oh, to take that class again! Oh, to take that class every year for the rest of my life!!! (Note to self: find notes from that class!!!)
  6. I’m in my information-gathering mode, my obsessive research mode, where really nothing becomes more clear, I just stack up more and more things to refer to and consider. Some things stick out.
  7. Like Marie Howe’s “What the Angels Left”. I’ve been reading it over and over, wondering how Marie wrote this poem, what thing in her life became this poem, what she knows about angels that I don’t know. It’s stuck in me. I want more things to happen to me that I can’t explain. I want more things to attribute to angels. Less order, more mystery. Thicker things, deeper things, things to knock the socks off my sense of control. This is a terrifying thing to want, but I want it. I want to be mystified and terrified, to be told, “FEAR NOT!”
  8. Almost all the images I’m gathering are images of the annunciation. Have to narrow it down somehow, and it’s Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel that I can’t get out of my head. Not sure who or what I’m more captivated by, Mary or the angel. It’s the two in combination that get me. It’s the human in relation to the angel, the moment of it, the way time must have stopped, of having a conversation with an utterly spiritual being, one that stands in the space between humans and God. The giantness of the information being exchanged. The very fact of the angel’s presence. Did the air change? Did Mary know instantly that there was something new in the room? A new smell? The sound of bells? A thunderous voice? Heat or chill? The angel in images of the Annunciation is almost always depicted as a woman, and often looks a lot like Mary herself. Could Mary’s angel, Gabriel, really have just been human-ish, almost a mirror?
  9. Fra Angelica, The Annunciation, north corridor, Monastery of San Marco, 1438-45.
    Here, they are like twins, the angel and Mary, and seem to be looking deep into each other’s eyes, gesture matched, mirroring each other. There is a unity here. They both look uncomfortable? Or Mary does at least. Unable to move, perhaps. Unable to look away. Here, this Mary could say, “the angel looked just like me, but with wings.”

    Keep reading…

From the Notebook: Sister Moon

[Tuesday night. Me, twenty-four-year-old woman, full of some grace and some truth, full of fear and trembling too, perpetually, sitting on a footstool before an open sliding door at 11pm, husband asleep three feet away. Scrawling furiously with black pen in a cream gridded journal, unable to look away from the moon. 45 straight minutes on the footstool, interposing writing furiously, incoherently, and sitting motionless, eyes upturned. Cold feet but no time to get socks. Light rain throughout, silence otherwise. 50 degrees, open door.]

The moon on october 3rd. A sign. A wonder. 

Bless us anyway.
Bless us anyway.
Bless us anyway.
We need to be healed and blessed.

How is it so silver bright? 

I’ve never in my life seen a brighter moon. Unimaginable moon. Moon better and brighter than I dreamed. Clouds somehow behind. Pure silver light I CAN LOOK AT!!!

You’re not allowed to look at the sun but you can look at the moon. See the sun in the moon, through the moon, more nuanced and imperfect. 

MAKE ME THE MOON. Full and silver. Or crescent or new. Harvest, winter. Reflected in water — clouds passing over. Make me the moon. Making night real and viable. So steady. Such its own color — SO BRIGHT. I can’t look away. I can’t go to sleep. The moon! La bella luna. I cannot attain unto it. It is high. It goes right through me. It is me — or I am it. Pulling tides, ordering months, affecting my whole body — bright. Full tonight! The clouds move so fast, animating it. A rainbow around it in my eyeglass lenses — such rays! The clouds dive at her, but she is not overtaken. Clear and calm. Sure on this shining night. Night isn’t meant to shine, so. She’s going off script! Running away with the plot. Smart and funny — she makes night bright. Can’t describe the color. Can’t describe the feeling. The whole body is affected. So bright. I’m a student of this moon. Disciple. Friend. This moon is my sister. Myself. 

It’s moving, somehow. My view keeps changing. Behind tree branch. Don’t go away, but do go on your course. Please go on. I have to sleep sometime. 

Crazy things keep happening to me. Crazy things like the moon. This moon. Tonight. 

I can’t see it really from my spot anymore because of the tree. Just as well. There’s no hurry. The moon’s here every night. I have to lean off the balcony and get dripped on to see it now. Just as well. Goodnight!