May 16, 2023

It recently came about that my modest outdoor seating area got an upgrade in the form of lighting. I’ve never been against such a thing, but I admit it also never occurred to me before now. It wasn’t until the lights were up and running that I realized what a spartan existence I had been living.

Sure, I was more attuned to the natural shift from daylight to darkness. But that darkness gets pretty dark, and I prefer to squeeze as much enjoyment as possible out of summer nights. And when the evening sun is blocked by my building anyway, the whole concept goes out the window (so to speak).

The new addition also classes up the place considerably, to the point that I have to remind myself I live here. Small improvements like this are a way to actively take pride in where I live. I talk and write a lot about how much I love this place, but that doesn’t change how it feels to wake up in it and spend time there. The lights do.

And I am proud: I’ve found a home, in both my physical location and my connections within the community. There have been times in the last few years when I didn’t know how long I’d get to stay in a given place. My possessions are still minimal as a result — which is the biggest reason I never had outdoor lights. I’m looking forward to putting down deeper and deeper roots, and to seeing them at night.

Caffeine Routine

April 10, 2023

While I’m more than happy to frequent my local coffee shops, I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time and money creating my own “coffee station.” Call it a relic of COVID, or an adaptation to working from home. Or maybe I just like to stay in some mornings.

All told, these resources have gone into something that takes five minutes (although I can usually nurse one cup of coffee for half an hour). The process also changes according to the seasons and what I feel like drinking; I don’t have a go-to coffee drink at home. On some levels, at least, it seems silly to go through the trouble for something so inconsequential.

Yet the benefits are many. Having a coffee routine means I know of one thing that will happen every day, which isn’t the case with my work situation. On the darkest winter mornings, it gives me a reason to leave the warm confines of my bed and thereby start the day. It also pairs perfectly with a book or writing project: read a page, sip, write a sentence, sip. And don’t get me started on the joys of a good coffee mug.

I don’t roast my own beans or scientifically measure out the grounds. Instead, I pride myself on my ability to guess how much to use. I’ve learned a thing or two about coffee from drinking it my whole adult life (and some of my childhood). I am proud of this knowledge. It makes me a more well-rounded person and colors my mornings in a way I’d miss if I just went to Starbucks.

There are times when I love having a fancy machine or friendly barista brew the coffee for me. But I also like deliberately making it “by hand” with a pour-over at home. This is true no matter where I live or what I’m up to. It’s how I settle into another day of life in My Place.

Marching On

March 21, 2023

Happy third birthday to this very blog!

I started Driftless Grace in the first week of COVID lockdowns. It was a way of creating something positive from the chaos while also finally making good on my threats to start a blog. Since then, it has developed into a crucial part of my identity: I am Driftless Grace, and I write Driftless Grace. Make sense?

The last three years have been trying at times and magical at others, and often both at once. But it has always helped me to know that the thoughts and experiences collected here were being read by someone on the other end of the Internet. This, more than anything else, is what I was hoping for back then.

I’m surprised at how little I remember from the lockdown days. I can barely believe that we all spent several months at home, with almost everything outside of our homes closed or canceled. It was a difficult adjustment, which might explain the gaps in my memory. Now, I’m not even sure which parts of my routine are left over from the pandemic and which were always there.

This afternoon, while taking my daily walk around town, I noticed what I thought were ashes falling from the sky. Tiny black specks that weren’t there yesterday drifted down around me. I smelled smoke on the air and thought that maybe a burn pile had gotten out of control. After a longer time than I care to admit, I realized I was seeing the year’s first crop of gnats. This winter has lasted so long that I almost forgot the entire concept of insects. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

The world will never see a full return to “normal” after COVID. As we adjust, it will take time to regain our senses and our confidence in what’s coming next. I’m personally hoping for three more years of this blog – and three more of you out there reading it.

As the Snow Flies

March 10, 2023

“The beauty of being warm,” I once wrote in a class assignment, “is that at some point beforehand you were cold.” We were in the midst of a frigid Wisconsin winter. I wanted to capture the idea that experiencing bad weather makes taking refuge in a warm house that much sweeter.

This is also true on a larger scale. Winters are tough for me, both meteorologically and emotionally. I always look forward to taking refuge in the spring. And while spring is gorgeous in itself, some of its beauty lies in acknowledging the four (or five, or six) cold months that came before.

I don’t hate winter, but I’m never sad to see it go. The plastic on my windows comes off earlier than might be practical. I even try to help the process along, kicking snowdrifts apart and wearing spring jackets in hopes the universe will take the hint.

I recently realized that my feelings about winter and spring apply to another kind of “cold.” When I get sick, I can’t stop imagining how amazing I’ll feel when it’s over. I try to speed things up by doing everything I would normally do. Eventually, though, the symptoms rear their head and I have no choice but to be patient – just like when another snowstorm hits.

After the first few spring days, I tend to take the new normal for granted. Yes, I can go out for a walk, but that’s not enough to get me to do it. Maybe warm weather is best appreciated by just existing in it. When I do choose to walk, I can notice the sweetness of not having to bundle up (and getting to leave the Kleenex box at home). This adds a whole new dimension of beauty.

Common Thread

February 8, 2023

While I wish I could sit in an empty room and write beautiful prose on my laptop for eight hours straight, such a thing has never happened. What’s more likely is that I’ll finish work some afternoon and find myself thinking of a few paragraphs I could get down. (Then I’ll edit that section to within an inch of its life, but that’s another story.) At the moment, anyway, writing is something I tinker away at rather than the center around which my day revolves.

This is informed by – and in direct competition with – another activity. I recently bought my first-ever embroidery kit. My walls are decorated with finished embroidery, but until last month I had never taken part in what seems like a mysterious (if not magical) craft. After finishing the kit, I am, in a word, hooked.

I was hoping I wouldn’t like embroidery. Hobbies can be expensive, and I might regret not spending those hours on other projects. But I’m afraid that I really enjoyed my first attempt. I liked the predictability of how the thread behaved and the excitement of slowly seeing a design take shape. The process added some color to a gray January.

It also brought up some thorny questions. Was I still being creative if the pattern was pre-printed on the fabric? Would it be better to do the whole kit in one day, learning a new skill without seeming to take too much time? The answers I reached were yes and no respectively. There might not be a lot of room for creativity, but I was still finding out what talents I could bring to an age-old craft. And tinkering away at the kit, a few stitches at a time, became the highlight of my midwinter evenings.

Like embroidery, writing takes a long time to be fully realized. I might like the stitches or words I add one day but then find out the next day that I need to remove them. I’m just grateful that I have a choice: there’s no deadline, no hurry. I can take comfort in doing a little bit at a time.

Comfort Zone

January 3, 2023

My blog has now existed for three years, and I’m still writing about the pandemic. This wasn’t my intention – although I don’t think I had an intention in those early days. But I’m at peace with it. Countless things have changed for me because of what happened in 2020; I would never claim that life is back to how it was in 2019.

Case in point: two local restaurants that opened in the aftermath of COVID have already closed. Both of them were in spaces that once held well-known establishments, and both were new projects on the part of the owners. It would be tough to start any small business nowadays, let alone one that depends on people staying and socializing.

I made my share of visits to places like these last year. Although I’m a card-carrying introvert (and taking suggestions for what the card would say), I value being out and about in my community. Where once indoor seating wasn’t a guarantee, now I can drop by and claim a table whenever the mood strikes. However, it’s not striking as often as I expected.

My interests haven’t changed, but my comfort zone has shifted. Eating in public quickly became out of the ordinary for me during the pandemic. Staying home became the norm. Over those three years, leaving my house started to take more energy because it was more of an unfamiliar action, a deviation from what I was used to.

Now, as we emerge from our homes in the proverbial daylight, we’re seeing each other differently. In my case, I’m seeing others less. But it’s my hope that I will challenge myself this year and stray out of my comfort zone. I’ll be around people again, working and playing and sharing my perspective on our world. Even if I have to pack my own lunch.

Lights and Display Contest

November 18, 2022

When I was a kid, I thought that my town kept to a rigid schedule – one I could never hope to understand as a mere civilian. The idea that workers put up our Christmas lights whenever they felt like it was blasphemy. That illusion was finally broken for me this week, though not in an unwelcome way.

It was the morning of the first real snow, more than a week before Thanksgiving. At some point between when I set out for the post office and when I left to go back home, the village employees had decided to put up our Christmas decorations. I returned to a scene of snowflakes and stars being hoisted onto light poles.

Of course, I don’t know that this decision was based on the weather. But it’s something I can see myself doing (and have already done with a few of my own decorations). It seems that the factors of wanting to decorate and having a reason to do so converged on this day. In any case, it’s nice that the workers take pride in the town’s appearance.

I’ve been thinking a lot about taking pride in one’s work since my most recent job interview. This was a position that I wouldn’t have considered five years ago, simply because it didn’t match up with my major. But as I’ve worked in more places, I’ve both diversified my skill set and learned that being in my field of study doesn’t automatically make for a good job. In applying for this one, I hoped to play a role that would help other people do their jobs more effectively.

As with the snowflakes, it was a convergence of my desire to be helpful with the opportunity to do so. I wouldn’t expect any job to be perfect, but this one checked a lot of boxes. And like the folks who put up the snowflakes, I felt uniquely suited to make my community a better place. I didn’t get the job — but I showed up with my decorations and winter coat anyway.

Wild Life

October 3, 2022

Thanks for your well-wishes after my last post. I’m happy to report that there are no lingering effects from my unprovoked fight with a window.

There is an alley here in town that makes bird sounds. When I passed it last week, I heard hundreds of house sparrows cheeping their delight at the grapevines lining the walls. As they (presumably) fed on the ripe grapes, they remained invisible, shielded by a curtain of leaves.

To us, the sparrows are a nuisance. To them, however, my snooping around was an interruption to their otherwise steady rhythm of life. What are walls for, if not to grow grapevines?

The same goes for the squirrels that occupy a large oak tree by my window. They have the run of the place. In the squirrels’ world, my patio is merely a large, flat branch. When I use the patio for its actual function, there is shock on their little faces as they scramble away.

My rodent neighbors are so omnipresent that I wouldn’t be surprised if one asked to borrow a cup of sugar. It’s cute to see them up close; it’s less cute to find pieces of walnut husk (or worse) on my patio furniture or in my drying laundry. Squirrels don’t have what we would call manners. But getting to know them on their own terms can be fun.

Living next to an oak and getting to know its squirrels is a little like moving to a small town and getting to know the human neighbors I see every day. Our paths intersect, and we all end up playing a role in one another’s worlds. This is what I hoped would happen when I first arrived here. Sharing part of my life with others – and getting to know their stories in turn – helps me live more fully in my own tree.

Heads Up

August 17, 2022

I’ve had a busy summer, so it wasn’t too surprising last week when I was rushing to get somewhere and sustained another silly injury. I imagined no window where indeed there was one, and came away with a cartoonish – though very real – concussion.

My prescription from the urgent care doctor was “brain rest” (insert joke about how some people engage in brain rest all the time). It can be difficult for me to accept rest of any kind. Tiredness and restfulness can seem more like the symptoms that need to be healed, not the tools for healing. But I recognize that this comes from being too hard on myself. In this case, rest was the only way to heal and become myself again.

I quickly found that all of my normal activities made me tired, even reading and watching TV. Taking it easy was the only option. I had plans for the week, of course, which had to be cancelled. This was difficult but made easier by the kind words of the folks on the other end.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m extremely lucky, in that it was a minor injury and I could take several days to do nothing but heal. Still, it was a learning experience. No matter how strong my will or intentions, and no matter how badly I want the situation to be different, there is simply no getting around some things in life. Including windows.

When Life Gives You…

June 21, 2022

I never carry cash, but I felt guiltier than usual about it the other day when I walked past dueling lemonade stands. The two tables were set up across from each other on a silent back street. If they were relying on foot traffic, I would be their only visitor for a while.

As I pondered what to do, I was approached by the advance guard. A boy rode up to me on his bike from the stand on the south side of the street. He asked if I wanted some lemonade. “How much is it?” I replied, thinking there might be a neglected quarter in my wallet. But a cup of lemonade runs for a dollar these days – inflation, y’know.

When I told him I didn’t have a dollar, the enterprising kid said, “Or it’s 75 cents.” I informed him that I didn’t have that either, but that I would come back later with the money. He returned to the stand and relayed this information to his family. Not wanting to leave anybody out, I said something similar to the girl on the north side of the street.

Now I had a decision to make. Dinnertime was coming on. If I stayed home much longer, I’d be breaking the promise I had made to those kids. This might convey the wrong lesson about adults and honesty. On the other hand, going back might teach them to trust people too willingly. It was a complicated question (the complications, of course, all stemming from within myself).

In the end, I did go back. The northern stand sold me a chocolate chip cookie, but the other family had packed up and gone inside. I guess that’s just how life works sometimes. What I can say, as a former kid myself, is that the young entrepreneurs won’t remember anything their customers did or said. They’ll remember waking up with the need to have a lemonade stand, sitting outside on a beautiful day with their siblings or on their own, and eating and drinking away their profits while just being kids.