girl from the north country

Hello, it’s me…

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Hi friends! It’s been a long time since I’ve connected with you–so sorry about the radio silence over here! Last spring, I launched a website to host all of my writing an editing work, and also moved my blog over to that URL, so that all of my writing was under one roof.

However, I was so exhausted after launching it, that a couple things slipped through the cracks–including letting all of you, my faithful blog followers, know that I had a new address.

So, at long last, I want to direct you to my new home! You can continue to get email alerts when I post something new, you’ll just have to re-subscribe since it’s on a different platform. Click HERE to subscribe, then scroll up to check out some of the posts I wrote in the past year that you may have missed! (I may even have a new post coming up later this week…)

Looking forward to having you visit my new little corner of the internet. I hope you’ll stay a while!

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Small joys.

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“I firmly believe in small gestures: pay for their coffee, hold the door for strangers, over-tip, smile or try to be kind even when you don’t feel like it, pay compliments, chase the kid’s runaway ball down the sidewalk and throw it back to him, try to be larger than you are— particularly when it’s difficult. People do notice, people appreciate. I appreciate it when it’s done to me. Small gestures can be an effort, or actually go against our grain, but the irony is that almost every time you make them, you feel better about yourself. For a moment life suddenly feels lighter, a bit more Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.” — Jonathan Carroll

In times when life feels slow, mundane, perhaps a bit uncertain, it’s easy to start seeing the things that are not-quite-perfect, the things you’d rather change, the disappointments. It’s when you’re in that average middle, when you’re on the lookout for that big change or fresh start, that it’s all too easy to see what you don’t like, what didn’t go right, before you see anything good. But you know what? I think it’s all about attitude.

Last month I experienced a big disappointment, and for two weeks after that I felt continually let down. The smallest change of plans, an un-returned email, boring work—all seemed to be letting me down in monumental ways. I sat there thinking to myself, life hasn’t been horrible lately, but it hasn’t been great, and I’m sick of feeling disappointed. And then it hit me. In that not-horrible-not-great zone of life, that mundane average, we get to choose which things are our signposts and which are just bumps in the road. We can choose to see the bad things, the negatives, the let-downs and let those color everything around us. Or we can choose to find small joys, be on the lookout to give and receive a tiny kindness that can have a big impact.

So, I’m done counting up my disappointments. Because when you’re on high alert for them, you will certainly see them anywhere. Things get blown out of proportion and you find yourself on the verge of tears because no one wants to go to trivia night with you. No, instead I’m choosing my small joys. I’m choosing to see the sweetness in a slow morning, listening to the wind blow and watching the steam rise up from my hot coffee. I’m reveling in the beauty of a walk to my favorite park where I can read a good book. I’m laughing over a spontaneous, post-work dance party with my co-workers and touched by a late-night chat with my roommate. Just like disappointments, when you start keeping your eyes peeled for small joys, you’ll start seeing them wherever you turn. And you’ll be a lot more apt to hand them out, offering small gestures to those you encounter and making their day brighter. And for a moment life suddenly feels lighter, a bit more Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.

Photo via Pinterest. Quote via Little Reminders of Love.

On showing up and being present.

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The other month I started watching The West Wing. (I know, I’m only like 15 years late to the game.) I absolutely love it. The characters are so sweet and interesting, and the storyline is incredibly compelling. Even being someone not highly involved in politics, I can’t get enough—it actually makes me want to learn more about government and the democratic process. And it also just makes me think. In one of the episodes I watched recently, President Bartlet said something that I’ve been contemplating a lot since then: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

This statement, so simple, has been sitting with me since I heard it, and it’s developed two big thoughts for me:

1. Show up. If decisions are made by those who show up, then I better show up. President Bartlet meant that politically, of course, but it goes far beyond that realm. If you want to move forward in your career, in your relationships, in your personal goals, you have to show up. You have to arrive and engage. And politically—well, I live in this city, this state and this country, so I really ought to pay more attention to the decisions made politically that affect me and take a stronger stance.

2. Be present. I don’t think that showing up is the final step, however. I think real discussions, decisions and changes necessitate the intentional act of being present. This can be as simple as putting your phone away during a conversation and actively listening, or it can mean focusing on one task at a time while you work, only having one tab open at any given time. In our constant busyness and rushing around, we lose the ability to focus, we forget to look people in the eye, to listen without also scrolling through Instagram, to let an evening pass without posting a status or photo. And we lose the simple enjoyment of the places we are and the people we’re with when we do this.

Last week, Joanna posted about single-tasking, about giving yourself space to rest. She posted a link to a sermon from Forefront Church about the Theology of Rest. In it, Rhesa Storms said, “We’re picking up cues from our culture about the way we live our lives and the pace at which we live our lives. Rest isn’t a priority, because so often rest is confused with laziness . . . Sometimes, rest isn’t a priority because we’ve incorrectly measured success . . . It is easier to live our lives busy, rushing from one thing to the next, than it is for us to sit alone with ourselves. Because if we allow space in our lives, we may not like what we see. We may be faced with thoughts like, ‘I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing at my job. I feel like a fraud, so I just better put in a lot of hours so that nobody can tell.’ Or we may be faced with something like, ‘I really feel like I’m lonely so much of the time.'”

Slowing down means that we have to face the things in our lives that we don’t like very much—it possibly means admitting that you’re scared of the future, that you won’t get your dreams and that you will, because you don’t know what to do with either outcome; perhaps it means acknowledging that you haven’t been actively investing in friendships and that something needs to change for you to feel part of a community again; or maybe it means facing the fact that you don’t like being still, that the idea of going on a walk without a destination or sitting in the park without a task is uncomfortable, because it makes you feel lazy. And while we may not like to look these ugly things in the eye, imagine the fruit that will grown from challenging ourselves to step outside of our boxes of busyness and distraction and truly show up and be present. Because with presence comes renewed relationships, clarity of goals and, ultimately, a greater sense of peace. It’s finding balance. These things will take work and intentionality—they don’t just show up when you slow down—but that’s the kind of work that changes the course of your life in the best possible way.

So, are you showing up and being present? Are you resting well?

 

Photo via Pinterest.

“All of us who …

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

– Bill Bernbach

Gracious Uncertainty

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“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” – Gilda Radner

Isn’t it funny, the way we have to learn the same lessons over and over again? It seems that for the past many years, I’ve been circling around the issue of uncertainty and the future, and the moment I feel I’ve finally come to terms with it (usually when things are going smoothly and I’m feeling comfortable), it seems to shatter, and suddenly I’m drowning in the uncertainty.

In pursuing the life of a freelance writer + editor, I knew there would be ebbs and flows, some weeks and months would be busier than others. But I didn’t anticipate there being weeks with no work at all. I didn’t expect the panic of my dwindling bank account to hit me daily. I didn’t expect it to be quite so uncertain. Which is funny, since that is the very nature of freelance. But things just worked out for me so well for so many months, I just thought that the steady, fun work I had were products of me being exactly where I was supposed to be. And perhaps they were, for those months, but I’ve been learning a different lesson lately.

I have this fierce independence that burns inside of me, this belief that I can be self-sufficient, that I don’t need to lean on others for strength. And that arrogance has been torn apart as of late. God has been teaching me the graciousness of uncertainty, the reliance on Him for my daily bread, the humility of surrendering my plans and dreams as well as my fears and doubts, and laying them down, trusting that God will guide me. It’s the humility of saying, maybe my plans aren’t as good as yours, maybe you have more in store for me than I could dream up myself, some grand adventure that I wouldn’t dare to hope for. God is faithful. If I call for help, He will provide it.

 

In this time of uncertainty (or, rather, greater uncertainty than every other day of ordinary uncertainty), there are words that I keep returning to for comfort and strength. It helps to know others have fought through this struggle too, doesn’t it? There’s grace in knowing you aren’t alone. One is a passage from Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest,” called, Gracious Uncertainty. It reads:

“Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We imagine that we have to reach some end, but that is not the nature of spiritual life. The nature of spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty; consequently, we do not make our nests anywhere . . . Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways; we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God and do the duty that lies nearest. He packs our life with surprises all the time . . . We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain of our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.”

Also, this passage from “Mollusk Makes a Comeback,” one of the stories in the collection “I Knew You’d Be Lovely“:

“She walked all the way to the Bronx. The snow was stiff and crusty, but she was wearing sturdy boots, and was able to make steady progress. The air seemed to have gotten warmer, too. She was not a Dodo bird, complacent unto extinction. She was a mollusk, barnacled and determined. She would survive. She would survive and multiply, until one day entire wings of museums would be filled with her kind. Mollusk makes a comeback, she thought. Her cheeks were pink with the cold, which her mother always said brought out her good looks, and her lips were rosy with her new favorite lipstick. It was officially called ‘Brick,’ but Katie had conceived of a better name: ‘I’m not really a waitress.’ She marched to the Unlimited Tow Company, and on the way, she made a plan. On the cross streets, she asked her feet questions: ‘What are you so afraid of? What is it you’re running from?’ And on the avenues, she made them reply: ‘We’re afraid of failure, and afraid of success. We’re afraid of being loved, and afraid of being alone. The world is full of pain, and this is scary. And the world is crazy-beautiful, and that’s daunting too. Worst of all, so little is under our control.’ When she heard this last answer, she stopped and struck a deal. ‘All you have to do is try,’ she said. ‘Okay?’ Her feet resumed their motion. That was their way of nodding . . . Somewhere there would be a good part, waiting to begin.”

So little is under our control. I can’t guarantee that I’ll have work next week. I can’t pull work out of thin air, and I certainly can’t make bills disappear. But I can try. I can do my best with the work I do have, so that it is excellent and speaks to my skill and work ethic. I can be proactive and seek to find more work, and when I’ve exhausted that, I can use this time to intentionally learn, gain a fuller understanding of the world around me so that I have an arsenal of knowledge in my back pocket. I can use times that are slower in work to pour into relationships, acknowledging that I am not an island but that I do need support and wisdom, and that perhaps I have some to offer those around me.

There’s a lot of fear in the unknown, and even more fear when you feel isolated in that uncertainty. I’m learning to lay down my pride and acknowledge that I don’t have it all together, that sometimes life is harder than I thought it would be. It’s ok to ask for help, for support. Because, being surrounded by love and encouragement is a million times better than being independent. So, I’m learning to cling to the graciousness of uncertainty found in Christ, to work hard and ask for help, to remember that my fears and doubts are not the end of me, do not mean I’m failing. And I must say, I am always pleasantly surprised when, feeling that I am at the very end of myself, someone or something unexpected brings me a glimmer of hope. Life–in its fullest, most joyful sweetness–is found in these moments.

 

Photo via Pinterest.

Book Club: Little Women

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Last week I finished re-reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the millionth time. I revisit this beautiful piece of literature every couple of years; it is altogether too beautiful to just read once. I find that a good book is like an old friend, one who you can visit at any time, and they always have an uplifting word and a familiar, warm embrace. And even if this dear old friend makes you sob and weep over the beauty and heartbreak of the story every time you visit it, at the exact same passages every single time, the lessons you are left with in the end are well worth the tears you’ve shed.

I love the way that dear Louisa so beautifully creates the story of the four lovely March sisters while managing to weave in invaluable life advice and encouragement. She teaches her readers to face the heartbreaking parts of life head-on, but always points to the beauty and hope in life. Little Women is one of those books where, upon reading it, you’re challenged to work harder, forgive faster, be more graceful, and trust God more deeply. When a book can do that, I can’t help but come back to it over and over!

Being one of my very favorite books, here are a couple of my favorite passages, the ones that inspire and challenge me, and the ones to which I most relate:

“I like good strong words, that mean something.” – Jo

“I suspect that the real attraction was a large library of fine books, which was left to dust and spiders since Uncle March died. The dim, dusty room, with the busts staring down from the tall bookcases, the cosey chairs, the globes, and, best of all, the wilderness of books, in which she could wander where she liked, made the library a region of bliss to her. The moment Aunt March took her nap, or was busy with company, Jo hurried to this quiet place, and, curling herself up in the easy-chair, devoured poetry, romance, history, travels, and pictures, like a regular bookworm.”

“You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.” – Marmee

“Watch and pray, dear; never get tired of trying; and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault…My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength.” – Marmee

“I’d have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled with books, and I’d write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be as famous as Laurie’s music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle–something heroic or wonderful, that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day.” – Jo

“She did not think herself a genius by any means; but when the writing fit cam on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh.”

“You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how. I can’t explain exactly, but I want to be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women. I’m far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to be what mother is.” – Amy

“I want something new; I feel restless, and anxious to e seeing, doing, and learning more than I am. I brood too much over my own small affairs, and need stirring up.” – Jo

“I don’t pretend to be wise, but I am observing, and I see a great deal more than you’d imagine. I”m interested in other people’s experiences and inconsistencies; and, though I can’t explain, I remember and use them for my own benefit.” – Amy

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Amy

I’ve always liked to compare myself to my favorite literary characters, to see in what ways we are the same and draw lessons and advice from their struggles. I will never be as good or sweet as little Beth or as calm and tender as Meg, but rather, I find I’m a funny, strange mix of Jo and Amy, the two March sisters who are probably the least alike. But I always was a jumble of contradictions. They both have quite a bit to teach about character, however. Which March sister do you most relate to? Or any other literary character, for that matter? Jane Eyre is another top contender of mine. What are all of you reading these days?

Waves of change.

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People change, places change, I change. I’m learning to not be so afraid of it these days. Because I’m realizing that, no matter how much I fight it, things are going to change anyway. So, I can either cling to what I know and fight the change with all my might, or I can open up my fists, hold things more loosely, let the waves of change wash over me instead of knocking me down.

It’s a hard lesson to learn for someone who is so naturally averse to it. But it’s so much sweeter when I stop fighting change itself, and instead learn to fight for the good in change. That’s what I’m trying these days: to have a difficult conversation so that a friendship grows stronger rather than crumpling, to choose grace rather than bitterness in the midst of heartbreak, to be intentional with friendships far away so the distance doesn’t mean an end. It’s saying: I don’t have control over this situation or its outcome, but I will fight my hardest for the change to result in good things–a stronger sense of self, stronger relationships, a deeper understanding of life. It’s letting my heart swell with hope for the future rather than breaking apart in the disappointment of things not staying the same or turning out as I had hoped.

I’m learning that change doesn’t have to be difficult and heartbreaking. It can be full of sweetness–new jobs, new apartments, new friends. But even when it is challenging, all hope is not lost. Streams of life can sprout up from the desert. Beautiful things can grow from the broken. Change is inevitable, but it’s not the end of things. What sweet comfort!

 

Photo by Yan Yan Zhang via Pinterest.

“It was November…

“It was November — the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.”

– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

Enjoy the quiet moments when you can.

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“I said to myself, ‘This is my job now, I’m a writer, and that means I have to write regularly and not just when I feel like it, and I have to come up with projects.'”
– Emmanuel Carrère

In these weeks of adjusting to a new schedule and new expectations, it can feel a bit as if the world is spinning all around me. So much change happening all at once, even if it’s good change. So, on the days that I have felt overwhelmed or uncertain, I’m hanging on to words of wisdom and encouragement that I’ve received from colleagues and friends along the way.

This summer when I was in New York, I was able to meet with an editor from Dwell Magazine. We had a lovely chat over coffee, and one statement she made really stuck out: “If you aren’t writing all the time, it becomes this sort of precious activity. If you’re going to do journalism, you have to be able to push out articles quickly, and do it well.”

This goes with Carrère’s statement, that I must write regularly, even when I don’t feel like it. In that realm, I’ve been thinking a lot about work-life balance, and what that looks like when I’m doing freelance work — when any old room is my office and any hour in the day could be work-time. How do you balance  pushing out work to become a better, more efficient writer, with still living beyond work?

When I was in college, and taking on way more that I could possibly handle (as I am apt to do), a friend sent me an encouraging note, simply saying, “Enjoy the quiet moments when you can.” That statement was so unassuming, but it took me aback. It’s stuck with me, as it wasn’t something I took the time to do back then, and it’s something I come back to, remind myself regularly.

These two bits of advice are quite different, but something about them strikes the same chord in my heart. I think it comes back to the idea of balance. It’s an allowing of myself to work hard at my craft, to make sacrifices for what I love, to become extraordinary. And yet, it’s allowing myself moments to pause, to take a breath, to celebrate little achievements and make an ordinary day special. It’s a pouring out and a filling up, things rooted in the same place — a place of love, of passion, of necessity.

And I think that’s a bit of consistency to hold onto in a time of changing. There will always be a tendency for me to take on too much, and balance is required; there has to be a give and take. And it’s good. It’s good for each of us to take the time to figure out what that looks like in our own lives. It’s good to be bold and brave and forge down new paths, but it’s also good to pause, take in our surroundings, and find beauty in small, quiet moments.

I’m excited for this new season. Finally, it feels as if big things are happening, as if the horizon is opening up. And it will take a great deal of self-discipline, of long hours and tight deadlines, of coming up with projects and writing even when I don’t feel like it. But it’s so worth it, because I love it. Love, love, love it.

 

(I honestly have no idea where I got this photo. I’ve had it saved on my computer for years. I’m sure it’s from a blog, but I couldn’t tell you which one. Sorry Internet.)

Where the brook and river meet.

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Well, my oh my, it has been quite a while! This summer was a bit of a whirlwind. What started as a Harry Potter-induced blogging break turned into a much longer hiatus than I ever intended. And now here we are, in the middle of fall (my favorite season), and my life is changing as quickly as the leaves on the trees! So, here’s a little catch-up on my life in the past several months before resuming (hopefully) regular posts! Highlights of the summer:

  • Reading the entire Harry Potter series. I had never read the books or watched the movies before, so this was my very first foray into the great world of Harry Potter. Long story short, my life will never be the same. I love, love, loved it. Basically, I got nothing productive done while I read through the series (hence the no blogging), but it was totally worth it. I’m in love.
  • I took a spur-of-the-moment, four-day trip to New York City the first week of July. It was such a nice getaway, and my Great Aunt and Uncle were kind enough to host me at their Upper West Side apartment. My days were filled with walking, museum visits, and one very incredible Broadway play, Lucky Guy. It was Nora Ephron’s last work before she died last summer, starring Tom Hanks as a NYC journalist. So if you know me, this was basically a tear-inducing dream come true. Such a lovely trip!
  • Two of my friends and I had an Anne of Green Gables tea party, full of straw hats, “raspberry cordial”, cucumber sandwiches, apple pie and the Lily Maid. It was my very favorite day of the summer. There’s nothing better than gathering with kindred spirits!
  • I went camping a couple of times and worked on perfecting my fire-making skills. Among my accomplishments was starting a fire, on my own, with nothing but warm coals from an earlier fire. Let me tell you, that offers quite a feeling of independence and accomplishment.
  • Finally, after a five-year quest, I found the best breakfast sandwich in the Twin Cities at Our Family Kitchen Diner. A South Minneapolis gem, this place makes a killer sausage, egg and cheese while being a in a perfectly charming building. Pure deliciousness.
  • I spent the summer meeting with editors, interviewing for a real, big-girl magazine job, and increasing my freelance writing workload. Some things panned out, others didn’t, but all of it made me a more confident writer and person.
  • On that note, last week I worked my last shift at Dunn Bros, and I am now officially a full-time freelance writer + editor! I have been building up freelance work on the side, and last month I decided to take the risk and pursue it full time! I’ll write more on my new ventures later!

So, it’s been quite a defining couple of months in my life. I’m learning so much, and I’m so excited to be able to dedicate more of my time to writing. No longer am I in the post-college, what am I doing with my life, phase. I’m taking defining, definitive steps toward what I want, and feeling more clarity on the direction I’d like to move. It’s scary and exciting and so fraught with possibilities! I’m looking forward to processing through all of that in this space, giving a glimpse at my journey. I’m so glad you’re here to join me!

Photo from my Instagram.