How art challenges life

My husband started taking pictures of and picking up empty Newport cartons. Not just once. As in All.The. Time. And not just when he was alone. He would ask me to pull the car over and then spend the next 10 minutes walking back and picking up the few he saw on our drive home from work. They were in our car, in the kitchen, the garage. We started carrying plastic bags to carry them when we would take bike rides. He called it “The Newport Trail” and Gatherhaus covered the story. (Go over and read it real quick. It’s good. Then come back.)

He was convinced that highlighting this one specific item of trash would be a way to bring awareness to our neighborhood’s chronic littering problem. And it is a huge problem. On my street alone, I can fill a tall kitchen trash bag with the garbage I find just on one side. One half of one block fills one trash bag. I would call that a serious problem. More than the littering though are all the large pieces of furniture, toilets, cars, and mattresses that get dumped here. On our neighborhood Facebook page, people take photos of soiled mattresses and claim, “St. Mattress visited us again today!”

It’s out of control.

So out of control that by living here, it becomes apart of the landscape. Something you don’t notice or is so chronic that you fall into the mindset that you can’t really do anything about it anyway. It’s just the way it is. This is exactly the mentality that Paul set out to change.

Recently I went for a run and without even realizing it, halfway through I started scanning the ground. I passed up bags of garbage and a few of the highly noticeable teal Newport's and the awareness kicked in and guilt took over. With Paul highlighting the discarded Newport cartons, I unintentionally started looking for them. The catch is though, by looking for and noticing the Newport's, you became keenly aware of the other trash around. Once I started noticing the amount of trash on the ground, I was faced with a choice. Continue to actively ignore it, or do my part in helping eradicate this social and environmental problem.

Two things weighed heavy on my heart.

  1. Can picking up trash really affect and change a culture?

  2. Can one person really make a difference against such a vast and large issue?

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point” addresses the first issue in a very poignant way. It is the idea of “The broken window” theory where when a neighborhood has a home with broken windows, it lowers the expectation and quality of life for its residence. When windows are broken, people have less respect for the space, so who cares if you break another one?

“Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes, were Tipping points for violent crimes. Address the smaller issue, and you can change of the culture of the larger issue.” pg. 114

In chapter four he address the power of context wherein you start picking up trash and planting community gardens, (cleaning up the broken windows) the atmosphere of the culture shifts for the positive. According to Glawell and New York mayor Giuliani this theory proved to be true. So then the issue becomes, can we start a movement of cleaning up and shifting a violent culture of North Mpls by cleaning up the trash?

This begs the question, can one person create this kind of awareness and change with an art project? To that I am inspired by Tyree Guyton of “The Heidelberg Project”. One man who started an art movement on a street in Detroit by using the trash he found to create art. It started small, but over three decades later, it has become a key player in the culture of art and awareness.

Each movement must start somewhere.

Each movement must start with someone.

If we deeply and inherently believe that one person can make a difference, then it takes the courage of one to start speaking up. It is up to the rest of us to make up our minds and stand with them. When we stand together, then no one is alone. When we stand together, act together, speak up together, then change is possible.

I want a neighborhood that has respect for ourselves, each other and our streets. I want a neighborhood free of needles and condoms and broken glass.  I want a neighborhood safe from violent crimes. I want a neighborhood that believes we are better than what we currently are. I don’t want to be the city dumping ground anymore. I want our children to grow up with compassion for the environment. I want to believe that we can make a difference. I want to believe that art can inspire life and be the catalyst for change. If I want it, then I will stand with Paul and write about it. I will pick up trash. I will teach my children and the other kids on my block to pick up trash. I will carry garbage bags with me to continue picking up garbage wherever I go. I will raise my voice in this fight. I will do my part to raise awareness.

I want in on the movement.

I am inspired by my husband’s effort to call attention to an issue that is often overlooked. While the call to action to change the culture of garbage in North Minneapolis seems almost impossible, a change must start somewhere. It must start with someone, so why not start with Newport's.


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What going to the pool looks like now...

I used to be the mom that would meet other moms at a splash pad.

I used to be the mom that would pack one bag for snacks and juice boxes, one with sunscreen, towels, extra clothes, extra bathing suits (for the kid who always has an accident), a bag with toys, water bottles, wet wipes, water guns, sunglasses, sand toys, garbage bags, and of course sweaters in case it got cold. Don't forget my purse and my other small bag that housed the small first aid kit I needed, and emergency kit of Chapstick, essential oils, lotion, tweezers and other small random things that I never thought I could leave home without. You know library books and sewing supplies that somehow just in case I am gifted with 23 seconds of no one needing me, I can get some "Me time". (Cause that totally happens when you are out at a splash pad with three kids.) Then I would stuff the stroller, piling it high so our need to have everything covered was taken care of. I didn't just plan. I over planned. (I think I just stressed myself out reading this.)

But now?

Now we have traded our half day trip to a special splash pad for our public wading pool at the end of our block. 

We traded our 20 minute car ride for a 3 minute walk.

We traded our one hour of prep time to actually just heading out in our clothes, suits long forgotten and optional at best. (I love how all the kids in the hood just come and swim in whatever they are wearing, no one has towels and empty water bottles are the toy of choice.)

We learned to swim with our mouths closed tight because who know's whats in that inner city pool water.

(Actually I have seen some things in that water I wish I could un-see.)

We don't bring towels with us, choosing instead to drip dry on the cement or on the walk home. Instead of packing sunscreen and googles, we bring trash bags to pick up all the garbage that litters our streets. 

We traded conversations about cartoon characters for big beautiful questions like, "What causes someone to start doing drugs? Do they use these needles or are there other ways to take drugs?" or "Why do people throw their trash on the ground? Don't they want to keep our neighborhood clean?" or "Why are there so many police sirens and shootings here?" 

Right? Big. Hard. Questions about culture, about crime, about hurt and what we do with it and why it's here all the time. Questions that don't have easy answers. Questions that I can either answer with prejudice or judgement, or we can talk it through giving small insights and things to ponder. Mostly I answer with more questions urging my kids to think for themselves. Then at night we pray for what we do not know and ask God in all of his mercy and goodness to reveal himself to those who are hurting and grant us trust to live and love.

We traded planned play dates to walking down the street and kids running out of their houses to join us at the pool. As soon as we say park, it somehow sends a virtual message to other mothers I have never met that send their kids out doors and we all go to the park with the pool together. 

I traded a suburban mindset for the inner city lifestyle.

I traded a host of expectations for the simple act of just living. Not planning, just experiencing.

I love watching the kids at the pool now. I love not being burden down with so much stuff.

I traded my preconceived ideas of necessity for a healthy dose of reality.

I traded mom's regulating everything their kids did with being helicopter parents to being the only parent at the pool and having my kids learn every bad word in the American language.

I traded the simple struggle of stuff with deeper struggles of fairness, culture, neglect, and a different set of rules. Rules that seem to apply to the hood and not in other areas of the city. Rules that shift and change and demand you pay attention so you know how to play the game. Struggles that leave kids that aren't yours in your care. Struggles that have kids stealing from you and playing with your kids and eating your food. Struggles to find a way to respect each other when language stands as a barrier between you. 

I traded a perceived idea of safety with always feeling exposed and vulnerable. 

I traded my false idea that I was in control with the harsh consciousness that my kids are exposed to all sorts of things I don't want for them on a daily basis. Yet, that demands my attention, and our conversations and processing about life means and what respect means and how prayer and faith fit into it all.

I traded what I once knew which was easy with what we understand now which is by far much more complex and tangled and messy. It's harder, but I like it a whole lot. 

So now we swim. I bring my key and my phone and we walk out the door ready to embrace whatever adventure meets us on the way. It's our own inner city neighborhood swim club.

The thing you must realize is that I understand full well the privilege we have as college educated whites. We weren't living in great means and decided to move here. It's all we could afford, and being a one income family keeps us living here. However, we do have privileges and opportunities that many in my community don't have. I understand that we often choose to live simply, but for others, limited means is not a choice. My hood is a really mixed bag of folks. Race, culture, expectations, histories and stories. We are so incredibly diverse and that is the piece I love. Maybe some don't have a towel to bring. Others like our neighbors don't have a mother to bring them to the pool because they were left on the door step over a year ago. But others do have means and still they come to the pool with nothing but the clothes on their back just like us. So I don't sit here and make assumptions and judgements on others and what their story is. I am simply put, just thankful for the constant daily reminder that there is another way than the way I understood things before.


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Non-Pinterest Chore charts and Payouts

I kind of just wish I could just blink my eyes and my kids would know how to do chores, manage their money and never complain about helping. I would have magically somehow found a way to have bread three Mother Theresa's.

Chores and Allowance and Volunteering are all things that I want my children to have a healthy relationship with. Not OCD, or hoarding or laziness or compulsion.  I want them to understand these things, respect them, and give them their right place in their life. 

Unfortunately, this knowledge isn't something they just have. Seriously, out of everything else, I wish I could buy this knowledge for them, or give it to them like a vitamin every morning ensuring they were responsible people who were capable and able of great things. 


In the past we have been really, really bad at following through on chores and paying an allowance. We are sporadic at best, consistent never. As I look at how quickly my children are growing and they currently don't posses skills, in my opinion, they need to be moderately adjusted adults. Heck, I want them to be moderately adjusted people always, even teenagers. So... that means this summer became our responsibility training. For all of us. Me included. 

One of the reason Paul and I haven't jumped on the allowance band wagon is we were really struggling to figure our way through it. I am all about kids learning how to manage money and the easiest way to do that is by giving them a allowance. However, we also strongly believe that if you live in the house, then you are responsible to help out. No financial gain. You eat the food, you help clean up. You make the mess, you clean up. We are a team and it is not the responsibility of the parent to assume all of the chores and cleaning and organizing. This is unfair to the parent and most unfair to the kids who never learn how to take care of their things or themselves and live as a community or team.

Then there is the issue of being a team player, but also having some set chores that are elective in choosing to earn extra money. More than this is the fact that I want my kids to learn about volunteering their time without asking for money if they help weed the community garden.

With all of these issues, and the fact that I have a son who needs to know every little detail about every guideline so he can manipulate himself around it and find the loop hole, I decided to write down all of our chores along with our expectations. Gheezzz. it seems excessive, but there is small part of me that likes having it all spelled out on our door so that there is no question about what we expect. 

We broke it down into three different categories:

Family Chores: These you do because you are a part of this team and we live, work, and love together. Because we each take up space in this house, we each are expected to pull our weight in pitching in.

Allowance Chores: The kids have a daily chore they must accomplish without complaint. If they consistently complain, we can withhold payment. I HATE complaining. (Wait, I think I am complaining..)

Community Involvement: Much like our family chores, we live in this neighborhood and the garden and garbage walks help better our neighborhood. We do this because we have pride in where we live, and we want to do our part to take care of the place we live. We live by example. We do not get paid for volunteering. 

I am hoping this will clear up our confusion and expectations. That my kids can go to the board and know what to do. Starting this in the summer allows us time to teach them how to do these chores properly and allow them time for this schedule to become a habit before school starts. 

I will be honest. I am not super excited about all the time this will take on my end to teach them about saving money, how to manage it, and put some way for donating. Or the time it takes to teach them how to clean a bathroom or vacuum out a car. 


I would really like to send equipped adults into the world. I want my sons and my daughter to show respect for their things, know how to clean, and have some organizational skills under their belt. More than that, I really want my children to have a healthy relationship with money. To learn how to save it for multiple purposed instead of spending it right away. To learn how to wait and save for the toy they really want, and not spend money they don't have.

Again, if there was a pill that I could give them that would this work for me, I would buy it in a second. I would even donate plasma to make sure we could afford it. Alas, it does not exist, and so our current future looks like we are learning how to be responsible.

Paul and I too, since we have to make sure we follow through and they learn these learn. 

Here is what our overall door looks like now. Meal schedule, daily check list to get screen time, and chores. Whew. Who has time to do chores when making all the signs took this long?

Midlife crisis at the ripe age of... 5.

Our Little was born at the stroke of midnight. We tell her she was born at this magical moment that stands in between time. The witching hour. I told her that every year on her birthday at the stroke of midnight, I come in and kiss her on her nose and say a prayer of thanks for her big beautiful life.

When she woke this morning, on her fifth birthday, she was immediately distraught. Her eyes accusing and her words laced with frustration as she yelled at me,

"I missed it! I missed my birthday! You didn't wake me. You were supposed to wake me!" 

In my most calming voice I said, "You didn't miss it. I kissed you and now its your birthday! We get to celebrate all day!"

She was not convinced as her eyes narrowed at me trying to decide if I was telling the truth. 

She left the room and then came back a moment later. The lines still formed on her face, the frustration still in her eyes, she scowled at me,

"I'M NOT FIVE! YOU SAID I WOULD BE FIVE, BUT I'M NOT. I'm still four! I weigh 40 lbs. I am supposed to be 50 but I am still 40. When do I turn five?"

Well, I never saw that loop hole coming, so I explained the difference between time and weight and how she has a whole year to gain her 10lbs. (I left out the part where we don't actually want to accomplish that every year. I figured baby steps were in order here.)

She was still not convinced. 

The weight thing came back to haunt us a few times today. Each time re-explaining that she can be 40lbs and five years old. I'm not sure where stand on that still. Hopefully the doctor tomorrow can explain it with words she will understand since mine clearly aren't working.

At nap time, I laid her down and she burst into tears. She has currently been obsessed with death. We passed a cemetery the other day and she asked about the grave stones and if people were laying in the ground. I told her their bodies were but their spirits weren't. Everything that makes them alive is still alive in heaven (I went for the easy answer, don't judge me) but it didn't work. She started crying her hysterical cry where you can't understand what she's saying because she is sobbing more than talking. So then I have to ask her a couple times to repeat it because I can't help if I can't understand. Then all of a sudden, the tears magically stop and she is calm so she can talk to me and then the out of no where the tears and sobbing are back. It's amazing to watch actually. I am convinced she has already taken acting classes without my knowledge. 

So she is currently terrified of being put in the ground. I mean, downright convinced that they will put her in the ground while she is still alive and the actual act of being buried is what is going to kill her. I understand, she's five, so it's child logic, I am just not really good at these things. Clearly, since in my effort to help her feel better about being buried alive, I actually said, "Well, you can be cremated instead."

I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW! Now you can judge me. 

Ever have that moment where your mouth acts before your brain catches up? And it's like you experience the words for the first time as if they DIDN'T come from your head? Almost as if you were a whole other person in the car and you think, "How stupid are you that you just said that?" 

Yeah. I know. I get it. If there was one wrong move to make in this conversation, I just made it. "Sure little girl, if you don't want to buried alive, they can burn you to ashes instead." 

Way to go mom. There is no way you are winning "mom of the year" now! So much for talking frankly and honestly with our children. Maybe there should be some fine print in this manual that says, "Honest and truthful yes, but age appropriate critical." I think I missed that memo.

So, the wailing got worse. I actually rolled our windows up in the car because I was afraid someone was going to report me for child abuse if they heard her screaming. About an hour later after lots of consoling and trying to back pedal in the most tragic way, I didn't actually convince her that things look good when we die, I just tried to focus on the "Let's live and focus on having a life full of love and fun and family and friends... etc." She either started to listen to me or ran out of steam. I'm not sure which one.

So back to today at nap time.

I laid her down and all of a sudden she started the ugly cry again, (Yes, we all have one and even at age five, it's not pretty. It's actually comical and I have to try really hard not to laugh. One time in the midst of a melt down I excused myself to get her some tissues to help, and even though there were some in the room, I went to another room to get them so I could get my laughter out. I only wish I could secretly record for you. It's RIDICULOUS!) In between her sobs, she tells me,

"I don't want to die and be buried in the ground or burned! (sob) I want to go back to being little. Now that I am five (hiccup) I am big and I don't want to die. I want to be laid on the grass like a flower or be brought back to my bed. (sob) I don't want to be (hiccup) big."


And then at bedtime...

"I wish I was little still. (cry) When I was little, I could go with you everywhere. I have to (sob) go to school now and I am going to (hiccup) miss you. We do everything together and I am going to miss you. We are going to be lonely without each other. I don't want (cry) to die or get big or go to school without you."

So.. we clearly have some issues we need to work on over here. We have some anxiety, obviously, we have a strong fear of death (thanks to me) and we don't like change.

And you know the terrible part? She doesn't even start school for four more months!!! The really selfish and dark hole in my heart wants to scream, "Do I really have to do this all summer?!?!"

My small child thinks her life is over because she turned five today and only death and separation are in her future. Maybe I should make a dream and vision board with her. Find pictures of all the fun things we get to do in the next four months and in then in the next six. You know, give her something to look forward to so she doesn't think it's all down hill from here.

And the next time my child asks me about anything remotely life changing, I'm calling my mom.


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A Birthday Disaster

Let's take a minute, (or 10 since I have lots of words with this being my second cocktail and all tonight) and reflect on my weekend. 

We had a community garden tree planting event and two birthday parties to throw. It didn't sound too difficult.

Friday night Paul was out with a friend. so I did minimal cleaning to prepare for the party. By that I mean I put all the embarrassing things away, but let the vacuuming, sweeping and dishes get the best of me. I claimed I was inspired and wanted to write, so I headed to my room with my laptop in hand, settled into bed. I think I wrote four sentences, got distracted by Facebook and then fell asleep. 

Due to that great responsible move, Saturday morning left me hours behind in prep. While ignoring my kids plea for breakfast, I threw a load of laundry in, put clean dishes away and then realized I was supposed to make a gluten free pastry for our friends who were coming to help plant apple trees in the community garden. I hadn't even made Middle's birthday treat, so there was no way a breakfast pie was happening. At that moment of realization, our neighbors showed up with breakfast in hand to come help plant. I threw on the clothes that were heaped on the floor, because I had worn them yesterday and opened the door with a smile. Having no gluten free option available, I brought forth grapes, and then didn't even end up washing them, but had my neighbor do it. My patheticness took over in that moment. 

Once everyone was assembled, we went outside to plant and that's when we saw a crew of Whole Foods volunteers come to plant the trees that they donated to the garden. With more people than were necessary, we decided to move our effort to cleaning the garden, which turned out to be the smartest move I made all weekend, considering all the x-rated items and glass we pulled from the dirt. Don't want the kids finding those things!

After the cleaning and planting had commenced, it was time for a quick lunch and party prep. Oh yeah, I still hadn't made Middle's birthday treat or decorated. So as the clock struck 1pm and the first friend showed up while Paul and our oldest were putting up streamers. (The only reason we were doing that was because I bought special streamers for Little's birthday party the next day which ironically never went up and I didn't want Middle to think I would decorate for her and not for him. Got to have it fair and even right?) While the streamers went up, I was still mixing the ice cream that was supposed to be frozen over night. But me? Oh no, I was going to be serving it in exactly 1 1/2 hours. Yeah, I was winning over here. No birthday treat, (the ONLY thing we are serving mind you) the bathroom is disgusting, there is garden dirt all over our floors and that is when I realized that we don't have a birthday present for our daughter. Who we are celebrating. The. Very. Next. Day.

So... the first party has started, barely, and I sent my husband away to go buy the bike she was getting from her grandparents who live far away, and a special stuffed animal from us. I am left with the couple of friends who Middle invited, a few of the siblings who decided to stay and the neighborhood kids who joined us. Seriously, it was like I was standing in some weird multiplying machine. I had kids running around the house, running outside the house, and running in our neighbors yard. They were waving sticks and lightsabers and screaming and playing and fake dying all over the ground. I had coffee brewing, the phone started ringing, one kid came in and was bleeding and needed a band-aid, another one was crying, and Paul was texting me about help with what bike to get. I was four stimulations over my max. 

At this point, my dear friend showed up with her son and I clung to her like a life line. We were headed to the park! I had to do something. So for the next 45 min the kids ran and played at the park down the street, and I actually had a conversation with my friend. Once we made it home at the time when the party was ending, we sang Happy Birthday to Middle and we dished up the special ice cream fudge he picked. Izzy drinks were served, and spilled on the ground, presents were torn open, and parents were coming to get their kids, sadly observing the chaotic state in which we were currently existing. 

I am not kidding. At that moment, we had more people show up to the community garden next door to prep the land and get it ready for planting. My son invited those kids into the house because we were having a party, shared the drinks and dessert and we added a few more to the mix. I went outside to talk to Michael who is one of the leaders. His brother joined us and started an inappropriate relationship with my hand, as he wouldn't let it go and continued to bestow kiss after kiss with over indulgent compliments. Paul still isn't home, so I wasn't sure how to get myself out of this awkward conversation. Pulled my hand away, he took it back. Moved myself out of the conversation and he brought me back in. It was then our housemate Chad came home, saw my distress and rescued me. 

When Paul finally made it home to wrapping paper all over the floor, garden dirt smashed into the carpet, the sink full of dishes, the first thing he heard from our oldest was, "SOME GUY KISSED MOM AND I WANTED TO PUNCH HIM." Well, that needed some explaining to say the least. (It wan't kissing... it was my hand... it was was awkward....we handled it...Your the only man for me.) Done. 

While making dinner, I decided to have a cocktail. I don't need a drink to relax, but it sure is nice once in awhile. Right after my vodka and OJ and Cranberry (don't judge, it was all we had) I realized that everyone was contained with a movie, the sun was shining and I was desperate for a run. I got changed, and was heading out at 730 before the sun set. Before I made it to the door, Paul grabbed my face in his hands and said to me, "Please be careful. You are going out at night and I need you to be aware and safe. Make smart choices and come back to us. I love you." 

Yes it sounded as final now as did to me in the moment. But living where we do in Minneapolis, he wasn't off base. His fear is founded and I was actually surprised he let me go. (That sounds bad, but I am hoping you know what I mean by it.) So I headed out and about five blocks into my run, my cocktail caught up to me. More than the extra weight I put on, that cocktail is what slowed me down and made my head fuzzy and giggly all at the same time. I thought to myself, I just left my house slightly buzzed (not being a regular drinker, apparently one cocktail will do that to you) going out for a run in a highly complicated and threatening neighborhood. 

Not. My. Best. Moment. 

I had a lot of revelations during that run. Many pondering's about fear and violence and culture and the ghetto that will end up in my next book, (It's name to be leaked later), but I made it home safe and sound, though albeit still a little foggy and completely exhausted. Paul was doing his workout and the kids were asleep so I laid down in bed to wait for him to be done and catch my breath. Apparently when my head hit the pillow, I was out. The next thing I know is that I woke with a start and it was 1145pm. I came out of the room, cold sweat chilled on my body, me still in my workout clothes, and Paul was sitting on the couch all showered and relaxing. I think what came out of his mouth as he looked at me was, "Nice nap? You are a big hot mess that passed out still in your workout clothes without even waking up." I think I glared at him then hopped in the shower for a quick rinse off and crawled back into bed.

Since for the second night in a row, I was apparently incapable of cleaning or joining the land of the living, I had to clean up from one party and prep for the next one all before church. With legos everywhere, the dishes still piled high, the bathroom still not clean, I figured the one thing I could do right today was getting Little's treat ready on time. (Middle's turned out more like soft fudge and not ice cream which worked just fine for the kids.) With some picking up done, breakfast only consisting of two spills, one of milk and one of cereal, we made it to church on time and back home in time for the party to start. 

We wanted to give Little her new bike before her friends showed up. Paul and I made a big deal about the reveal with our camera in hand and unveiling it with the lift of the garage. We were expecting joy, laughter, a squeal maybe.  We were so ready to capture this amazing moment. Her first real bike. All her own. She has been asking for one for over a year and now she got one. When the garage door lifted, we got nothing of what we expected. We literally got...NOTHING. She looked, she saw, she walked up to her bike and just looked at us. I think the word "cool" came out but I'm not sure. What I can say is she was unenthusiastic, unimpressed and the one thing we hoped for didn't happen. 

So while she starting riding her new bike, her three friends showed up and everyone started to play together. I was able to make the ice cream she requested, but I never got the decorations up, and half way through the party, I realized I never even changed the Happy Birthday banner. It still read Happy Birthday Caleb. At her party! After about 10 minutes in, Little started sobbing that her brothers were more fun than her and that her friends didn't want to play with her. She was the Birthday girl so she was supposed to be the favorite. 

I took my kids aside and had a talk. I thought it was all figured out. We separated out the girls and the boys were going to a park with Paul. We had five peaceful minutes, and then Little was crying again. I have no idea what set her off that time, but she came up to me and said, "Mama (hiccup) I need a moment alone (sob) with you to speak about a problem." How can an almost five year old talk like a refined old lady while in the midst of an epic melt down? This was number 2 of I don't know how many because I lost count of the number of melt downs she had. Her party was 2 hours long and she was actually only apart of it for about, oh, a whole 15 minutes. With Paul being gone now for the second party in a row, and me trying to hang with the 3 girls who were invited to this tragic party, all while Little still cried in my room, I went upstairs to elicit Chad's help in convincing Little to come out. 

While Chad was in the room with Little working his magic, the girls and I were playing with the farm animals. Somehow we got on the subject of "if the White and Black cows only gave milk and the Brown cows were for meat." We did some research and kept talking about cows and milk, and babies and feeding them, and milking them. Then questions were happening about other animals and babies and feedings and milk, and all of a sudden I realized I was sitting in my living room ready to deliver a reproduction speech to little girls that aren't mine! All I kept thinking was, "THIS IS NOT HAPPENING?!?!" My daughter is literally living  the mantra"It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" while I have other people's children asking me about milk and mommies and babies.

For the second time, of this backwards, upside down weekend, I found myself a little lost and completely unprepared. I have no problem talking about sex, or any issue with my kids. However, I kind of have this fear of other kids asking me questions like that, me explaining things in a matter of fact kind of way, and the child going home slightly traumatized as if I just told them Santa wasn't real and their parent coming and yelling me. So I get a little panicky when the topic turns personal with children who are not my own.

So I decided to distract them with ice cream and cookies. I know. Real mature.  

(Those are the two left over streamers from her brothers party, which she later pointed out where not the special colors she picked.  whoops.)

It was at that point we got Little out of the room, we sang happy birthday to her, dished up ice cream, the moms showed up to get their daughters. That was the moment Little noticed I hadn't changed the birthday sign and it didn't have her name on it. "I don't even get a sign with my name on it?" (tear)

Oh, epical hot mess this weekend.

I sat on the porch with my dear friend who's daughter was still here we shared a cocktail while we talked and the girls played nicely AFTER the party was over. 

So all in all, Middle was a screaming mess, Little was a crying mess, Paul got kicked out of both parties, and I clearly couldn't handle myself this weekend. My obvious coping mechanisms are a blinding light as indicators go.

Middle never figured out how to be quieter, Little, well, we are hoping and praying that the emotional tidal wave of today is not an indicator of her teenage years, though we know we are wrong, we are going to try to keep Paul around more, and  I switched to coffee.

If you made it this far, I am impressed. We should share a drink together. 

I mean get a coffee.

Or a glass of water. 




For what it's worth

I told you before I wasn't sure how I got on this trip to Honduras. It is a country I never had any strong feelings for, but here I am, falling for this small Central American country with it's people and it's lovely culture.

I still am under-qualified and undereducated for being on this development team. Yet, here I sit in a small and charming hotel called "The house of Beauty", or you know Casa Bella. 

So for whatever this is worth, here are the things stomping around in my head these days:

1. The more I travel and experience new cultures and places and demographics, the more I am reminded how similar we as humans are. We are the same through and through, and yet somehow, so often, all we can see are the things that make us different. The things that separate us. The things we do not understand. We are not that different, you and I.

2. It is totally possible to not speak the same language and yet find yourself having heartfelt conversations and making true friends. That you could laugh till you cry and share real hurt with one another over the same dinner is of the most beautiful magic. People are warm and open and funny and silly and endearing and warm. I am falling in love with mankind all over again.

3. It is an interesting dynamic to visit a country that overall has more poverty than the US, yet my neighborhood is more dangerous and violent than the sites we visit. For all the religious baggage I carry about serving others and going to the ends of the earth, this has been the strangest paradox to experience here.

4. I like this version of me. I am more laid back, I am easy going, and I love existing without a plan. All I need to focus on is the here and now. What does this moment hold for me and what do I bring to it? This probably has the most to do with the fact that I don't have to cook, I get to eat out a bunch, and someone else makes my bed and cleans my toilette. 

5. I really really really like coffee. Seriously, I didn't think I loved it as much till I came here and I started drinking it black. I think I am doing it wrong in America.

6. I will never grow tired of meeting people who are doing life changing work. That all over the world there are folks that are fighting for the good of humanity. That God is an inspiration to so many that they will go to great lengths to carry out his mission of love. There is both evil and love in this world. It is up to us to choose which we want to see and what path we want to take.

7. I spend too much time worrying about silly and unimportant things. There are big things to throw my heart at. There are people who need me to care less about the pounds I've gained and invest my heart into creating space where people are loved and cherished and God is encountered.

8. In the last year I have taken a more active role in our community. Being here in Honduras as felt more complete than any other international work I have ever done because of it. I believe in the balance of loving people close and far. That our resources would not neglect one to serve the other. Both missions have found a greater purpose because the other exists. My community garden project is reflected in the lives and purpose of those serving here locally while I serve internationally. My time here will directly effect the course of what I do in my neighborhood. Loving people close and far finally feels right.

9. I believe that art is not a luxury but a necessity. I have come to understand that we as people need a way to express what life dishes out. Having the ability to draw, or sculpt, or play music, or write allows you to feel what we are afraid to feel. That we can face those things and take away their power over us. I LOVE that I get to be apart of a program that wants to give these skills to children who are experiencing great pain and poverty and tragedy. That somehow, through learning an artful skill, they can find freedom and peace from their pain and connect them in a unique way to their creator. This feels like a critical skill to help these children become adults that have more compassion than anger, more peace than fight, and more love than hate. We need the next generation to see more beauty, and somehow I get to be apart of that.

10. I came to this trip with absolutely no expectations or assumptions or agenda's. I came as much of a blank slate as possible. This has proven to be a new experience for me. As we live out our days here and big empty slate gets filled in with people and experiences and conversations, I find I love this approach to life. I desire to get my agenda out of the way more often and just take in what life gives me. I can't control it anyway, so I should stop trying so hard. 

11. A woman I met one day ago. 24 brief hours is all we have had together. She looked at me and said, "God is in you. I see it. He wanted you here for a purpose. You bring his heart with you." And then i am sure she saw fear in my eyes as they watered at the heavy measure of which she just gave me. I have never in my life felt like that girl. The girl that looks back at me in the mirror looks broken and tired from the struggles she battles. She looks a little hopeful and a little lost. She looks like most days she is just faking it hoping no one will notice. She wishes she was stronger and trusted easier. That girl just hopes she can get to the end of her life not completely beat up with her clothes torn. 

Or maybe she does.

All I know is that others will always see us differently than we see ourselves. Good or bad. Sweet or sour. Dark or light. Either way, no matter how we feel or who we think we are, if someone says, do you want to go to Honduras? 

Just say yes.

Dusting off my passport

I have this opportunity that feels huge and it holds the potential to change the course of my heart. 

I am undereducated.

I am under experienced.

Under qualified.

Under skilled.

It shouldn't be me. Yet it is.

With the above statements being true, I straighten my shoulders, hold my head high and I crack my heart wide open, praying that God gives me grace to have eyes to see and wisdom to discern. 

I get the huge privilege of heading out to Honduras in less than two weeks for a 7 day development trip. I am honored to be on the ground level of designing and scheming and building relationships that will merge three very incredible organizations together that strive every day to honor kids and bring them out of poverty.

About a month ago I found myself in a conversation with Chad Amour, our housemate and and film maker with Humdinger Pictures, involving Honduras and Compassion International, along with Inverted Arts and Viva Network Talk Honduras. These three different organizations work tirelessly to love and see children. To advocate for them and be their voice when they don't have one. Our contact Tania (with Compassion) told us about the program The Good Treatment Campaign where children fight to be heard by adults in their communities to stop the violence against children. The beauty of that program along with starting an art camp to help give a voice to these students is what compelled me to get involved. 

It's children standing up for children's rights.

It's art education and inspiration to give voice to thoughts and feelings and spirituality. It provides an outlet for children who might not otherwise have one. It provides a way to communicate to those in need and those who have a way to help.

It's building relationships.

It's discovering a new culture and how they live and take care of their own.

I am so incredibly humbled to be on this journey and like all things I do, wanted to bring you along for the ride. I believe in the community we foster and I excited to share this journey with you.

The journey for me has already started as I research the country, organize my sitters and schedule, and start learning some spanish. I am excited to share this week of development with you. Including you in the conversations we have and the people we will meet.

As with all things that relate to community, I can't do this alone. If you feel compelled and want to be apart of this trip in a special way, I crave your support! With this being such short notice, I have a bout a week to raise $2000 to go. Yeah, you read right. By this Monday, April 6 I need my funding finalized, and if you feel so inclined, you can donate a tax free gift to Inverted Arts with "Dani Tietjen Honduras" in the memo line at the Donate page.

If supporting this trip in this way isn't possible for you, please keep Chad, Tania, Compassion, Inverted Arts, Viva Network Talk and myself in your prayers and thoughts. So many conversations and planning meetings will be happening the week we are in Honduras and above everything else, I can't wait to learn about this incredible organizations more and see what a partnership with them looks like.

Keep tuned to the blog where I will be sharing this whirlwind adventure with you.

Remember, we are here to make a difference and respond to the needs we see set before us. Let's do this together friends.

The warmth of sun after the darkness of winter

I went for my first run of the year. I didn’t realize how dead I had been till my feet hit the pavement and the warm sun reached down and touched my skin. I put on my running tank and pants, I reached to the back of my closet to my running partners forgotten in the cold of winter, and grabbed my unused tennis shoes. It was early evening, not a time I normally run, but the ache inside me was growing so restless I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I love running outside. Running outside is 5% for my exercise, 10% for my health, and 85% for my emotional and mental sanity. For all the ways I live like a mild crazy person, one step already committed, winter has a way of bringing the walls closer and tightening the straight jacket just a bit more. Running for me has turned into one the deepest spiritual disciplines I have to keep the voices in my head from shouting at me. But I only run when its nice outside, not really what you would could consider a committed runner. So yeah, I definitely felt a little dead inside and the voices in my head have been blaring heavy metal music and throwing parties and the crazy upstairs has felt mildly out of control for the last few months.

Running is my therapy. And I got it back.

As my feet were hitting the pavement, my body found its rhythm with my hair in its longer than average pony tail hitting my back. The thumping and swatting reverberated through my body with the bass coming from all the cars I was jogging past. I love that about running in the hood. In the springtime, everyone's window down, blaring their music. I don't bring my ears with me to listen to my own music, because at every turn, when the music of one car or house fades, another picks up. The bass blaring, the music the perfect beat to pound the pavement. 

The snow was melting revealing a ground that was muddy and mushy with unraked leaves. Pools of melted snow left me covered in water as I ran right through them. It felt as if the real world was coming back to me. As if with every step I was casting off the dry and damaged skin of winter, and replacing it with breath and warmth and sunshine. 

I need to be a grown up and admit that Seasonal Depression isn't just a real thing, that but it is my thing.  At the beginning of each season I love to hibernate and hunker down with paint and fabric and books. I also try to devise a plan to keep the greyness at bay, but by the end of a long and cold season, I have already spent so much time curled up on my couch, ignoring invitations to go out and not checking email so that I don't have to face all the people I am letting down by not having enough interest to respond. I have real people in my life that care and I love that they care, but they are going to ask, "How are you?" and I know its not a greeting. Its a real question. My choice then is to lie and say I am fine, or be honest where then they will need counseling from the verbal assault I would vomit on them. All scattered and broken and crazy and dark and lost. The sound of so many voices coming unglued in the isolation of our home in the depths of our dark winter. Where my hands aren't in dirt or touching real life, or feeling the wind and sun and grass and breeze. It is the essence of being outside that my body and soul need to survive.

So I hide.

But then spring comes and every breath in that first run quiets the voices and restores my withering spirit. The breaths get deeper and and my footsteps feel lighter. I feel almost giddy again as I run, even though my body is sluggish, my hope has been restored and I know I am going to be OK.

I am always amazed at how my being responds to spring. I am thankful for how it births new life in all the dark places of my spirit. 

So if that is you as well, I am with you. You are not alone. Even though, yes you were most likely very alone this winter, I was with you in that too. In my own solitary castle built in the city and around my heart. I would like to tell you that you aren't crazy, even though maybe that small part of you is a tad on the institution side. It's OK. We all have it. Let's just admit that. I hope that spring can restore you as it does me. That it can give those other voices and expectations a place to run wild and not stayed cooped up with you.

It that isn't you and you stand on the outside not understanding the darkness or the crazy voices that talk to you all the time, that's OK too. Just be patient with us. Love us. Keep calling us. Keep asking if we are OK. We need it. We need to not feel forgotten or that we wrestle with life all the time. We need you more even tempered folks to balance us out.

And let's cheer to spring! To running as free therapy, to BBQ's and loud music. To sloppy streets that resemble the mess of life, and to honesty when life feels hard. I love how God is in those moments and he embraces us in the hope that spring brings. 

We are never alone. Even when we might feel that way, hope is not lost.

"Love me anyways"

I am currently having a flirtatious relationship with the line, "I am yours and you are mine" in the Hillsong United chorus of "Oceans".  I don't know what about that line that gets me so deeply, but it cuts right through all the bull. For all the voices that seem to have taken up residence in my mind, this one is trying to call out louder than the others, "You belong to someone! Someone wants you! And that someone wants to belong to you too!"

There is something carnal in the human condition to belong. To be seen, and to be known by someone. It confirms we are alive. That our soul doesn't wander this place unattached. I need to know that if I die, someone will notice. 

To belong. I am yours. Not in ownership, but in relationship. In a covenant and promise, when I become yours, you also become mine. We belong. To each other. Together.

Last night, on a random cold and snowy Tuesday, Paul and I got a rare and needed date. We found a quaint and quiet little cafe in NE Mpls, where Paul had wine and I ordered a coffee and we split an order of super yummy and crunchy French Fries. We had debated for some time about where to go, him wanting the ease of something familiar and reminiscent of our early dating years,The Olive Garden. I wanted something close in the city and a place we hadn't discovered yet together. I won, I mean... he wanted to make me happy so we chose a local cafe. (I guess by default that means I didn't want to make him happy? I'm never quite sure how that argument ends to be truthful.) The food had odd pairings (which I love and Paul...not so much) and not a lot was of interest to him. So as we sat there with our fries and herb mayo, I said, "I know this wasn't your pick. That the food here is weird to you, but I love it. Thank you for loving me anyways."  His response: 

"You are like the herb mayo. You can't just be mayo, you are unique and different. You are you. I don't love you anyways or in spite of being a little weird. I just love you. The you you are."

And that's what its about for me. It is the idea and belief behind the statement of I love you. Of belonging in spite of our darkness and weakness. This love and belonging that says,  "I don't love you in spite of your weird need for all furniture to be almost 100 years old. I don't love you in spite of the fact that we continue to have the same argument for the last 12 years, and it never gets any better. I know you have control issues, and eating issues, and anxiety and self esteem issues, and you hate being alone but crave it and and need it to be healthy. I know you are flawed and weird and over committed and have a strong need for approval. I know these things and I love you. 

You are my weird control freak."

And no, my husband didn't say all those words. More importantly though, I believe God does. 

This song and chorus is about relationship, not ownership. God has a deep stirring desire for that with me. For you. He doesn't need me to be fixed before he will take me out and let everyone know we are together. I can be his flawed and dark and snarky passionate speaker and writer on all things life and faith. I don't have to be fixed first. 

I can be his neurotic writer. I can be his selfish kid. The one who might never understand or get it. The one who doubts more than she believes. But I can belong with him.

The best part? That He belongs with me. That He is mine to claim and hold on to. To learn from, to trust.  To understand and to laugh with. He is mine to count on. To love. To yell at and question and walk through life wondering if I'm ever going to get it. He is mine to draw hope from. He is mine to learn patience from. I learn what it means to give and love from Him. He is my source of strength and understanding.

He is mine.

And I am His.

Belonging. Relationship. 

Not love because or anyway or in spite of.

Just love.

Because I am me and we belong together in relationship.

If you haven't heard the song, or want another listen, I support that. Here you go... 


With open hearts...

There are lots of blessings and declarations out there right now on social media and blogosphere in regards to 2015. Many wish for it be better than 2014. Some have claimed they know it's going to be their year, that they are going to take it by storm. Some want to forget last year even happened. Many still need time to process all that happened.  Lots of friends had devastating heart break and earth shattering joy. Most of us, lived somewhere in the middle.

As I do most often before I write here, I wonder at the relevance of sharing my heart or life with you all and what good it produces. Assuming that many writers do, especially when we put out words and heart out there in the universe that it should in some way produce something; joy, inspiration, reflection, focus, angst, worry. Who knows what response mine or other bloggers and journalists produce with readers when they write. 

Me personally? I would love to know that by sharing my life with you, together we would know that we aren't alone. That by sharing my heart and journey, mostly my struggle or fascination with the culture of the hood, that we could be bonded by our shared humanity. I desire that this space could be a place where we encourage each other to strive to see each other and our world through God's lens of love and compassion.

So what does that mean for 2015?

For me 2014 left me spinning in the wake of my first book, taking more time than I thought to recover. I felt more publicly exposed than I ever have, and my response was to hide away. Or least it felt like it. I had so many ideas and expectations pushing against who I am, who I thought I was, and what I wanted. 2014 brought a deeper sense of being self aware, slowly letting go of decisions driven by obligation and guilt.

It might sound silly, but at the age of 35 I feel more like myself than I ever have before. Through the course of this crazy two year process of pushing hard toward a dream, I have been able to sort through what is real and what isn't. And somehow in the middle of all my crazy life and dynamic family, I found me. The strength, the weakness, the fun and the irritating. I am not more or less a fan of myself, but I know myself now in a way I did not before because I spent time getting to know myself outside of what others want for me.

So what does that mean for 2015? This is my wish for us together in this thing called life.

I want us to share more. Share more thoughts and the real feelings that scare us into silence. I want us to over share so together we can be crazy and hurt and filled with wonder at how life delivers its magic and low blows. I don't want us to hold anything back because we fear how it might be received. I don't want to filter my thoughts wondering when I do if that means you are done with me.

I want us to read more. Not just romance or mystery or books that don't require us to engage with life.  Let's not escape all the time but instead read a book or two that challenges our thinking and beliefs.  Books that educate us on the real issues facing the world.  Books that inspire us to wants something richer for our lives. Let's read a biography of someone who changed the world and learn about their heart. Let's read poetry. Let's read literature that stirs the rumblings in our soul.

I want us to cook more. Grab a coffee or a glass of wine and mix it up in the kitchen. Grab a spouse or friend or family member and have them share the experience with you. Let's move away from convenience and inch closer towards the gifts we make with our hands that bless others. Let's choose the beauty of cooking real food instead of that quick and easy fix that hurts us in more ways than we can recognize. 

Let's listen to more music. Music is my greatest muse. Someday I want to write a book just on my reflections that stirs in my soul when listening to music. Music speaks to the human heart in a way that words can not alone. You feel more. You dance more. You smile more. Sometimes you feel more. That's a good thing. Let's listen to more music.

Let's feel more. (My husband would most likely wish me to scratch this one off the list. I already have a quiet a few of those. Whoops, too late.) Let's not stuff down our feelings with food. Or hide our feelings by shopping. Let's note cope with distractions, events, responsibilities or addictions. Let's face what we are afraid of and embrace it. See it. Feel it. Say, "Hey, I don't want you anymore, but if you are going to stick around, let's learn to live together."

Let's love more. And I mean the hard doing of putting other people before our own wants and desires. This is a tricky one because frankly we live in a culture that encourages you to put yourself first. We have lost something as a people when we don't know how to lay down ourselves to love others. What does that look like for you? I have to figure out what that looks like for me.

Let's understand each other more and judge less. There is so much we don't know about each other. 

Let's work less in order to experience the richness of our lives.

Let's understand that pain is just a part of the deal. We can't ignore it, and we can't out run it. Depression is going to happen. We feel loneliness and abandonment. We will feel rejected and hurt. How do you cope with that? What helps you heal after those moments? Most important, how can you love the people around you who experience that when you aren't?

Most important, let's be a people after God's heart by keeping ours open. Let's not run away when things are hard. Let's not lock the door against Him when we don't understand. When we are afraid that we aren't enough or we really aren't worth the effort. When we have decided that our pain and our spiritual rejection is too much for God to condone, let us not turn our hearts away but towards the only one who can heal us. Let's remember that there is a God who has been greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted. That there is love in his words and his devotion to his people. We are his beloved and He is ours. Let's keep our hearts open to experience what He has for us, in joy and in pain. In health and in brokenness.

With open hearts we can embrace more. We are open minded. Our spirits are open to the happenings around us. With open hearts we are left with compassion and understanding. With open hearts we are left with the gift of hope. With open hearts...

Let's do life together friends. Encourage each other. See each other. Be kind to one another. Inspire each other. Be open with one another. Let's share our joy and pain this year and see how the story unfolds.

Because it's all about the story... 

(sorry I couldn't resist.)

For those who don't know, that's the name of my book. That's why it's funny. But I was told, if you have to explain the joke, it's not funny anymore. there's that I guess.

Creative Incubation: Privacy is necessary in artistic expression

I've been hiding.

This summer felt so public, so busy.  I felt like I was always exposed.  It's part of my job and I understand that, I really do.  I love people and traveling and exploring new places and creating new ideas, so being more a public figure works for me.  

But, I also love being alone.

As much as I gain energy and ideas from being with people, my spirit finally finds peace when I am alone.

And so after a summer of being over exposed and over indulged with lots and lots of groups of people, I have gone into hiding.

The air has turned cooler here and it is the perfect excuse to curl up on my couch and read a book.  To spend hours browsing recipes and cookbooks for what will be our winter meals.  To explore websites and quilt patterns finding inspiration for Christmas gifts for my children.

For awhile I stopped returning phone call and emails and I stayed safely tucked away being a reclusive.  I was tired of sharing my life.  I was tired of talking.  I was tired of trying.  I was tired of traveling and speaking.  I was tired of cooking and cleaning and laundry and shopping.  I was tired from being so public and I craved simplicity where no one knew what was going on in my head and heart.  A space where I could live within the confines of the four walls of my home and not the open ended doors of the internet. 

When my ministry is inherently sharing who I am with people, I am finding a need to navigate my personal and public selves.  That isn't to say that I don't want to be vulnerable and honest, but when the normal pattern of our behavior has turned into overexposure, I have had to ask myself, 

Where is my line?  How much exposure is too much?

I wasn't sure, but knew I had crossed my imaginary line, and so I went away.

I went away from the public eye to hide in my house, and sometimes just go through the motions.  I went away to gain rest.

I hid my heart to start to understand it again in the privacy of my own thoughts and journals.

I explored my feelings in the privacy of my own home and in the safety of my husbands trust to come to terms with where my current life experience is at.

I ignored my laundry list of a "To Do" list to read and read and read.  I got lost in others finished stories because mine felt to complicated to sort out.

I went through the motions of my life because I was too drained to find joy in them.

I feel like I have been sleep walking for weeks on end.

And then it felt as if I took a deep breath for the first time in months as I stood in the woods in the middle of Wisconsin for a retreat this past weekend.

The dense fog is starting to lift out of my core.  I can tell because for the first time, instead of picking up a book to read, I picked up my journal to write and my spirit came alive again.  More than any other time, words couldn't stop pouring out of me and I was thankful for breathing again.

The time for hiding away was necessary to bring me to this place of pouring out.  I needed time to refresh, to heal, to process, and find my voice again.

I am coming to understand the give and take, the push and pull and the sacrifice of finding my creative rhythm.  It is different for each individual as they explore their unique artistic expression of what lies within them.

I am finding there is value and something beautiful in the incubation stage.  The private space where you can let down and have the safety and freedom of exploration.

Until the time for sharing is upon me, thank you for walking in the space between with me.