It’s that time of year again. Every quarter, Emily Freeman (one of my faves), hosts a seasonal What We Learned linkup. I like that it gives me a chance to look back over an entire season and notice the themes and the things that are being cultivated in me. (It’s also fun to share a few life hacks that I’ve learned. See below about the piñatas!)
If you have a blog, consider joining the fun! If not, just share what you’re learning in the comments. I’d love to hear!
1. I can live without grains/sugar/wine/dairy/etc…but I don’t really want to.
I did the Whole30 this spring — during Lent — and it ended up being a meaningful spiritual experience for me. (I wrote about it here.) But as for at being a life-changing dietary change? Not so much. It was nice to know that I could do it, but I didn’t feel awesome on the diet and I never got that burst of energy that I was promised. It’s a good reset, but I don’t want to live a life without chocolate and pasta. I just don’t.
2. A new way to make space for my whole complicated, cynical, hopeful self at church.
This spring, I started taking notes at church in a new way — a way that allowed for me to record my questions, triggering phrases, and angst. It was a surprisingly life-giving practice. Learn more about it (and get the free printable!) here.
3. How to eliminate birthday piñata chaos and tears forever!
My mother-in-law told me about this great idea she heard: instead of dumping candy/junk straight into a piñata, first divide it up into bags — one for each kid. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of it before. My kids love piñatas, but my older son in particular gets stressed out by the flurry of grabbing when it breaks open. (I also don’t love that part — the message it communicates that you have to grab what you can as fast as you can because there’s not enough.)
We tried the new method at Dane’s Pokemon-themed 8th birthday party and it worked like gangbusters.
4. Fiction requires research. Lots of research.
I’m not a big podcast person, but I listened to a couple of author interviews on Between the Covers, a podcast out of Portland, Oregon. I particularly loved listening to Jess Walter, who wrote Beautiful Ruins and an old interview with Anthony Doerr before he published All the Light We Cannot See.
I love hearing about the process of writers, and I was amazed at the depth of research that they do in order to capture other characters and cultures with authenticity and empathy. I’ve been tinkering with fiction after a literary education that was super heavy on creative nonfiction…and so it’s nice to see that some of the same rigorous (and super interesting) research work is involved in creating three-dimensional fictional spaces.
5. Iowa is the most ecologically altered state in the nation.
I spent some time in Iowa this spring on a small-town writing retreat by myself. I love small towns. They totally intrigue me, so I went to a few different ones and spent some time walking around, learning their various histories, and listening in to strangers’ conversations. I bought books from tiny local bookstores. I wrote in cafes. At night I went back to my hotel room and spread my notes all over the bed and wrote some more. It was bliss.
I noticed signs a lot of signs as I drove for a Wetlands Restoration project, which led me down a research rabbit hole, where I learned that there was once a U-shaped region in Iowa that was almost entirely wetland. (Legend has it that the region was so wet that you could canoe from Mason City to Fort Dodge.) But the wetlands were drained and the rivers straightened to maximize agricultural land. I think this is so interesting — the way that we alter the land, and the way, in turn, the land alters us.
6. How to use Canva (sort of).
I learned about Canva this spring, and I’m kind of obsessed with it. I like how easy it is to use and how it makes it possible for a non-designer like me to tinker with design concepts. So much fun!
7. I still have a lot of complicated feelings about prayer.
I realized this spring while trying to pray for my husband and my kids and for a direction for our future that I have a lot of resistance to this kind of prayer. We used to call it supplication, and it still feels like fraught territory to me.
I spent a lot of time in my on fire days watching other people receive words from the Lord and promptings and calls. I followed their directions. I drew a circle on the carpet in my bedroom with my finger and resolved not to come out until God showed me which Teen Mania trip to go on. (He never really did. I eventually just closed my eyes and let my finger fall somewhere on the catalogue and pretended that it was some kind of divine answer.)
I have gotten comfortable sitting in company with God. I like reading liturgy and poetry and feeling myself moved by the beauty of those words. But when it comes to praying about specifics, I still feel very guarded.
I’ve been trying to attend to the process of working through this and to allow it to progress and unfold in its own way. “You’re creating a new DNA between you and God,” my spiritual director tells me. “Paradigm shifts take time.”
I’m trying to give it time, to confront the misinformation and the miscommunication I’ve absorbed around prayer, to say to God with all the honesty and frustration and anger and hope my heart can muster — “How are we going to do this thing?”
8. The reason that you sometimes see quilt squares on the sides of barns.
I’ve been noticing these barn quilt squares for a while now. (They’re prominent in the small towns on Highway 8 that lead to one of our favorite day-trip spots, Taylor’s Falls.) Finally I looked it up.
Apparently people have been using folk art to decorate barns for years (the concept came over with the Dutch colonialists), but in 2001, a woman named Donna Sue Groves resurrected it as a way to honor her mother, an avid quilter. Her idea evolved into a kind of “sampler” of 20 quilt squares on barnes throughout her county in Ohio and soon spread throughout the country as a way to encourage tourists to explore the backroads and countrysides.
Apparently there are barn quilt trails in 43 US states and 3 Canadian provinces. Who knew?
9. Editing creative nonfiction and memoir projects is interesting and fulfilling work for me.
I was hired to edit a couple of different manuscripts this spring — one, a spiritual memoir, the other a nonfiction work on the intersection of faith and athletics. I loved working on both of these projects.
I’ve edited before, but this spring I was more intentional about understanding how this process works for me. Mostly, I figured out that it takes me much longer to attentively edit than I thought it did and that I need to quote accordingly.
But I also learned that I love helping to pull out themes and ideas in their work, to study and reimagine the structures, and to call out the hidden beauty a brilliant insights that are hidden beneath piles of prose. I’d like to spend more time doing it. (If that sounds like something that you might be interested in, email me. We’ll chat.)
10. Don’t buy your paint at Walmart.
I’ve never done a painting project on my own, but this spring I got so sick of my kids’ nicked, banged up, taped-on walls that I decided to paint them both. (I don’t even want to tell you how many hours I spent trying to scrape the old tape and stickers off the walls. Horrible.)
Because I am a little bit lazy and because I am always at Walmart, I decided to get my paint mixed there. The guy told us he’d mix it and we should come back in ten minutes. We did. It was sitting there waiting. We took it home.
That night, at 11:00, after everyone had gone to bed, I opened the paint cans to begin. When I dipped the brush in, it felt like there was a rag inside. The rag? I chunk of unmixed paint. I should have called it right then, gone to bed, returned the paint the next day, and tried again. But I didn’t. I painted with that gross, lumpy paint. Dane’s room is okay, but if you look to closely at Liam’s, you’ll see dozens of little bumpy paint chunks on the walls.
What about you? What have you learned this spring?