Category Archives: Huffington Post Blog Pieces

The Smell of Snow

I recently found this piece I wrote over ten years ago…and it reminded me of how Montana has been my best teacher.  May it find you aware and with deep instincts you can trust this holiday season.

First day of hunting season. I awake to a hot crrr-ack in the field at dawn. It is the same hot crack of split wood. In its echo, the same sad promise of winter fuel.

It is not my husband. He won’t shoot anything with eyelashes anymore. I sit up in bed and think about this poacher, so lazy or maybe desperate for his buck that he has to sit illegally in my meadow in the dark, quite possibly in my driveway in the comfort of his truck. Maybe he can’t stand the hunt, not unlike my husband. Just needs to feed his family. I am not angry at this person. It is too complicated to be angry about the reasons for which one creature kills another.

It has been a stunning October, with sapphire skies everyday, like it thinks it’s August. The trees have taken their time, basking in their toward-dormancy-dance. The river birch first, and then the aspen and alder, and now larch needles fall in fair-haired rains. I take my two-year-old son down the stairs every morning, fling open the door and say, “Thank you,” to the day.  And he says, “Tenk yoo,” and we ignore the infestation of stink bugs and cluster flies clinging to our house, betting their lives on the exact reverse of this moment.

This morning I add to our thanks, “It smells like snow.”

“Snow?” He doesn’t remember.

Inside I make coffee and listen to NPR. It’s supposed to be 65 and sunny today. Same tomorrow. I shrug at my lack of sixth sense, and overcompensate by making the best cappuccino this side of the Rocky Mountains. At least I can think so.

Later, I am walking in the woods, despite the hunters. I insist that it smells like snow. I want to burn the reds and golds into my winter mind, which I know will become gray by February. I want to seal into it, the promise of spring; that the cold months might be full of good work. I pick up handfuls of larch needles and throw them over me the way I used to the oak seeds of my Midwestern youth, helicoptering through the air. The needles sift through smoky ozone from burn piles and wood stoves and land in my hair and I leave them there. I have to make friends with winter.

***
It’s the first sauna of the season over in Coon Hollow at my friends’ house. They have them most Sundays once the weather turns. Open house. Potluck. Take off your clothes and walk through the cold night in bathrobes holding lanterns. Go in to the octagonal cedar house with eucalyptus so strong your nose feels singed, take a seat on the top level if you dare, or acclimate on the lower level in the corner. Avoid the huge ticking wood stove with your bare body and greet the dim faces, flickering beards and hippie smiles in the lantern light. Push yourself to sweat it out. Lie slack-legged on a towel and do whatever you want with your eyes.

Modesty has no place here. You’d think it would get political but it rarely does. Mostly it’s talk about a pie auction at the Grange Hall or the back country ski conditions up toward Blacktail, or did you hear about the two women who got lost out for a ski and spent the night in a snow cave until their husbands found them the next morning — sang songs all night to keep their minds off the cold.

These are not people who are trying to prove anything to anyone; not even themselves. Maybe at first. But by now it is who they are, how they do things. These are people who want to keep their heads screwed on straight by keeping their fingers off buttons. They hate buttons. One of their daughters once said to me, “I love our outhouse — you don’t have to flush.” They have no running water, all wood burning heat, no indoor plumbing, no electricity — which means no TV, of course, and most of the time, they don’t eat meat.

Their son has a pet magpie that he rescued from the nest after its mother was killed by a raven, and he can whip your ass at any card game and stymie you with his very practical and somewhat mystical understanding of the way most everything works. Their daughter has read every Harry Potter book three times and loves her room because it has a canopy bed that she made out of birch snags and old tie-dye sheets. The mother makes soft instrument cases and the father is a blacksmith. They hike and bike and canoe all summer and ski and ski and ski all winter. I have never left their home once without a bagful of something they have grown in their garden or made in their oven.There is nothing this family can’t do. And so I figure I might ask them what they think: does it smell like snow to them?

The sauna is hot and most of us go out to the deck to sit steaming and naked in director’s chairs. Some are braver and rinse off in a cold-water-filled claw foot tub a few feet away. We hear whoops from them and I sit back while the rest talk snow.

One says, “It’s a little early, don’t you think.” This is not a question.

Another: “Oh, I remember snow on the ground on Halloween many years. And that’s in what — five days?”

Still another: “I think we still have some time yet.”

And another: “We better. I’m not done with my wood pile.”

“But does it smell like snow to anyone?” I peep. Afraid I am going to expose the side of me that has been pushing buttons all my life. I get a lot of maybe sounds.  Err, mmm, eehh.  It’s like I have asked a hunter where he bagged his buck.

Group consensus: “Doesn’t matter — it’ll come either way. Whether you smell it or not.” They laugh, knowingly. I feel small and controlling — trying to read such a thing as winter.

So it’s back in the sauna for those who can stand it. I take the top level. I want to bake everything out of me. The dying of autumn. The months without roses and soft earth. The trail rides over and the fishing reduced to auger holes in places where I can’t help feeling no human is supposed to stand. No strawberry stains on my children’s fingers. No wash up for dinner and seeing swirling dirt in the kitchen sink from an afternoon spent building fairy houses in the woods. No end-of-the-day dips in any number of lakes, coming up absolutely new. No loons flying over in the morning. No birds waking me up at all. I’ll have to look for the birds.  Feed them my pittance of sunflower seeds that sometimes woo them too far into my window panes so that they drop and freeze before they can become un-stunned.

I can make it through New Years, I think, stalwart in the Bahamian heat. I can probably make it through Valentine’s Day. But I am scared of the rest. Less than 75 days of sun in the Flathead Valley per year. And we have been hogs this October.

***
The next morning, before I open my eyes, I hear a question in my head from a dream child. I do not know her, but she feels like mine.

“When will it snow?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Yes you do,” she says.

“Soon, then,” I say. “Very soon.”

And I open my eyes, and the world is white.

 

 

 

 

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Certainly Uncertain

As published on the Huffington Post, and Relationship Advice Cafe

I know my way around uncertainty. Namely in the form of marital crisis. I wrote an essay and a memoir about a particular season of my life in which my husband wanted out of the marriage. I felt that he was in a deeper crisis of self, brought on by career failure. And rather than “kick him to the curb,” as so many have told me would be their reaction, I chose to hold the space for him to get through it. I had limits. I wasn’t going to go on like that forever. But I loved him and had twenty years invested in the life we’d created together—two wonderful children, a farmhouse in Montana, a life we’d so deliberately built. I privately gave him six months and stood back while he behaved in ways that challenged me to the core. I practiced living in the present moment, focusing on what I could control and what I could create, letting go of the rest and trying not to take his actions personally. My commitment was not to suffer emotionally. This was his issue, not mine, but when you are in a marriage, the actions of your spouse are likely to ultimately affect your emotional and even physical safety, especially the overall climate of the family. It was my job to keep my children’s life as normal and safe as possible, hold down the “fort,” as it were, and communicate with them throughout. We can love and respect someone, but not necessarily love and respect their choices. Life isn’t always black and white. Crisis does not have to be your undoing. These were the concepts I tried to model for them.

It was a fine line I walked…between taking a stand for myself and my own well-being, (as well as that of my children), and giving my husband the space to work through his crisis. Three years later, things are not all tied up in a pink bow. Not at all. I don’t look at marriage like that. Marriage is about ebb and flow. And some marriages are meant to end. Mine has never been a strategy to stay married. Mine has been a philosophy about how to live your life during hard times, especially when you are dealing with rejection—something I know all too well from being a writer and dealing with the publishing world. People like to use my story as an example of how to save a marriage, but to me, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about living in the grey zone and how to cope, moment by moment.

For whatever reason, I have been given the opportunity to learn much about crisis and have often asked myself: How long is too long? When is it time to move on? Even if you still hold hope that your spouse is going to heal and come back as an equal loving partner, at what point is it taking a toll on your well-being and even your health? At what point do you model graceful endings to your children? There is no rule. There is no road map. Each marriage has its complexities and mysteries that cannot be understood from the outside. Or even sometimes from the inside. It’s a fruitless pursuit to judge that which you do not understand, even though people seem to consider it a lusty sport on the internet.
I do know this for sure: life is ever-changing, ever-evolving. Ever-uncertain. When the kids were little, it felt static. My life was measured by nap times and play dates. Now with one in high school and one in middle school, each day brings last minute “surprises”: “Mom, I just remembered, I have a soccer meeting tonight at 7:00.” There goes the roast chicken/dinner around the table fantasy. “Mom, can I spend the night at Ryan’s tonight and then go skiing tomorrow with his family?” There goes the family game night/popcorn fantasy.

It turns out that a lot of what I have built is in fact, a fantasy, or in laymen’s terms: goal-driven. And while those fantasies/goals might have been sustainable when the kids were little, they aren’t now. Everybody has their own needs now and voice them boldly…and we dance together to meet them, not always well. Life has turned into more of a democracy in our home than anything else. And there is always the knowledge that you just might get voted down. What was familiar and felt “safe” not long ago, has been replaced with surprises. Some bittersweet. I have been there for my children every step of the way. Very suddenly, that changed. The last two years I’ve been travelling, promoting my memoir and doing speaking engagements. I’ve worked a long long time for career success and on top of it, we need the money. Because I live in rural Montana, that means I can’t commute into New York City to do a reading at a library while the kids are at school, or pop up to Boston to speak at a fund-raising luncheon. It means that I am on tandem-airplanes, thousands of miles away from home and usually for at least three days. The constructs upon which I co-built this family are different now. We have been through upheaval. We have learned that upheaval is the natural course of life. It doesn’t have to be “bad” or scary or resisted. There is no such thing as the perfect family. But no matter what, we know that we love each other.

Life is ever-changing, ever-evolving. I have learned that when we accept the “groundlessness” of that, as the Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron says, when we breathe into it and find that there is actually comfort in the not-knowing, it’s easy to hold that space. For going slowly and not projecting into the future, worrying about the turns life might take. I read a quote recently: Something to the tune of—“if you worry about something and then it actually happens, then you’ve worried twice. And if it doesn’t happen, you’ve worried in vain.” I want to live my life like that. Not in an ode to what I had envisioned. But to what’s actually happening. Right now. In this moment. Certainly uncertain.

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Mommy’s Got Talent

As seen on the Huffington Post

For 13 years I had one consistent role and I performed it well. It’s been my primary area of expertise and with it I have molded social groups and inspired movers, shakers, and decision makers. I’ve given sustenance to the thirsty, hungry, sick, needy and taught the illiterate to read and write. I’ve served as professor emeritus in the fields of Comparative Religion, English, Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Ethics, Political Science, Economics, Architecture and others. Without me, there are small civilizations that wouldn’t have thrived. Ok, one very small civilization. Comprised of two people, a king, and a queen. The king has spent these years ruling other civilizations by day. The queen has stayed at home, ruling the one of which I write. And the civilization has thrived in every way the queen hoped in health, wealth, and wisdom.

Until she quit her day job and became a businesswoman.

The civilization, as you have surmised, is my family. The queen is me. The king, my husband. While it’s a woman’s liberated “civilization,” it’s fairly traditional. My husband has been the bread-winner. I’ve stayed home with the kids. Both of us happily so. I love creating teaching opportunities with my children, doing art projects, gardening, cooking, playing games, reading. I’ve been that mother at the kitchen counter with her kids on chairs next to her, hulling strawberries for jam to can for Christmas gifts. I’ve spent hours singing them folks songs, their fingers taking rides on mine as we crawl up and down the piano keys. It’s been what you might call, “an enviable life” in the house of my motherhood. I’ve been deeply grateful for the choice to be at home with my children and it’s fed me like nothing else.

I’m also a writer. I’ve been writing since college, and so I entered motherhood knowing my craft, working during their naps, freelancing to help with family costs, and indulging my greatest personal passion: novel writing. I’ve written many novels over the years — not all good ones; many of them exercises in learning. So while my kids learned to walk, talk, eat, cut paper, use glue… I grew as a writer. All-the-while, I had a dream: to get a book published. To have readers. To speak at bookstores and in libraries across America. To write something that would help people in the same spirit of my motherhood. Only this dream was about my journey, not theirs.

I believed this was a healthy thing to teach my children, when they were old enough to wonder what I was doing in my office. “Mommies and daddies have lives of their own and that’s a good thing.” I’d put my hand on their chests and say, “I’m always here in your heart. No matter what.” And put their hands on mine and say, “And you are always in my heart.” Their knowing nods told me they understood.

Still, after a publishing rejection, I’d say, bittersweet, “Thank God I’m not published yet. How could I justify leaving my kids when they’re so young?” But deep down I was conflicted. I wanted that dream to come true with all of that heart that lived in them and lived in me. It was an inner war I fought every day.

And then in 2009, I got a book deal and everything changed. I had to rethink my motherhood. Suddenly deadlines had me seat-belted to my office chair for long hours, breaking only for meals. Homemade sauces percolating on the stove were forgotten for, yes, Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. A who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-mother was in order, and I got it in eyeball rolls, dramatic exits, and out-of-the-blue crying fits. But the truth is that dream or no dream, a change in my husband’s career meant that we desperately needed the money. And this was what presented itself in the way of livelihood. I had his total support and my children’s blessing, so they said.

But then the travel began and I became a second-class citizen in my own home. I’d return, haggard after 12, cross-country, back-to-back events in 10 days, and the kids would ignore me. Suddenly it was “Dad, I need you to sign this for school,” and “Dad, where are my cleats?”

I liked that he was such a presence in their daily lives. I didn’t like that I wasn’t.

So I hired a therapist. “You need to tell them this is what career success looks like for now. Things are different. They’re still safe. You still love them. Children are manipulators. You’ve done nothing wrong.” But it didn’t feel that way. I felt that I had done something very wrong. And maybe it was because of the mother I’d been all those years.

Would they have been better off in day care? More well-adjusted, flexible, less reliant on a mother who eagerly pushed them on the swing of life; answered every why-is-the-sky-blue question. Maybe Legos don’t count as Architecture, and lemonade stands don’t speak much for Economics, nor Chutes and Ladders for Physics, nor bedtime discussions about God for World Religion, nor patching up playground-politics-gone-amuck in the way of Ethics. Maybe those efforts feel like a slap in the face when the creator of them is out the door again with her roller bag and a plane to catch.

In all my career dreams, I never imagined I’d lose my power in this little civilization. Or that I’d fail it. And no matter how many hugs I give, or muffins I make, or soccer games I drive eight hours in both directions to support… I can’t seem to redeem myself. Maybe it’s because they’ve had to swallow a sudden bitter pill: their mother is a human being with dreams and needs and talent. Didn’t they know this? Did I sell them a myth in Band-aids and bedtime stories? Did I omit the fact that dreams-come-true sometimes take you far from home? Why must I be the first to break their hearts?

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Motherhood, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Emotions Are Our Choice!

A year after my book release, I am more and more clear just what my book’s message is and what people appreciate about it.  I wrote an essay for the Divorce section of the Huffington Post today that I think really nails it.  Pass it on if the spirit moves you.  yrs. Laura

Here’s the link!

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New Huffington Post Piece- Books Without Borders

What are your thoughts on the closing of so many Borders Bookstores?

With Penguin sales rep Joe Cain and Bookstall's owner Roberta Rubin

Books Without Borders

Borders is bankrupt. You can read the facts as reported by the Wall Street Journal here.

People are crawling out of the woodwork with opinions. I’m not one of them. I’m not sure what to think.

A recent article in the New York Daily News berated the publishing world for flooding the market, much the way developers flooded Florida and Arizona and California (please, God, not Montana.) Its author believes that Border’s bankruptcy and massive store shutdown is a result of the dummying down of books and America’s ultimate good taste. Low-road books, massively hyped and rushed to the market; undeserving authors garnering ridiculous advances for fluff. I’m not sure if it’s important to agree or disagree.

Click here to read more…

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What Does it Mean to Let Go?

I have a piece in the Huffington Post today which is in response to the question I get asked the most when I’m out on book tour: what does it mean to let go? How do you do it? Well, I don’t profess to have the answer, but I do have some strong thoughts about how to get in touch with our pain and to use it. How to reframe pain and restructure our thinking around it. I’ll include an excerpt here, and would love for you to stop by the Huffington Post today to comment. It is such a vast platform and I’d love to share my work there with its wide audience. Your comments will help drive interest to this piece and future pieces I write on my Huffington Post blog. Thanks and may this day feel new and light. yrs. Laura
Read my essay here

Excerpt:
In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve asked myself a question lately about the human relationship with emotional pain: at what point do we acknowledge the pain in our life and decide to end it?

Is it only when we’ve endured great agony that we see its perils and decide that we don’t want to feel that way anymore? Is it only then that we change our perspective and start to choose happiness?

Or can we arrive at a commitment not to suffer simply by relating with life and its low-grade hardships as part of the whole? As not bad or good. Right or wrong. Just what is.

It saddens me to think that the latter is the exception and not the rule.

For me, it took 14 unpublished books, my father’s death and a near divorce to finally see that happiness is a choice. And one I was hell-bent on making. But it meant that I had to let go of suffering once and for all. And suffering had become my “normal.”

How is this possible — this letting go?

I believe the answer lies in the present moment.

We hear the phrase: live in the moment. But what does this really mean in its practical application? How do we achieve the freedom of choosing to let go of the future and the past and commit to the present moment, when life throws us curveballs and even grenades? How do we not worry or rage or micromanage? (read more)

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Thanksgiving, The TSA, and Two Cabbies

A Thanksgiving story for you. You all are a blessing to me and I am grateful for you. Thank you for your stunning support this year. I hope this finds you loving your moment. yrs. Laura

(Excerpt from my blog on The Huffington Post.)

Talking about your travel debacles is about as appealing as talking about your dreams. So I’ll be brief. I missed my flight the night before last, a late-night flight from Salt Lake City, after two prior flights, en route to Montana where I live. They shut the door in my face. There was crying and swearing involved. One of the lovely things about living in a town with a small airport: they hold the last plane of the evening. They know their passengers have paid their dues in high prices and multiple flights to get to that last leg over the Rockies, which will certainly go bumptey bump in the night. And they’re decent human beings about it. Usually.

This was the day before the busiest travel day in the United States. This was after a week of being gone from my family on a business trip in Miami, which is a great place for a business trip, so I’m not complaining. Put it this way: I’m just glad that the biggest Book Fair in the country isn’t in Fargo. But if it had been, I likely wouldn’t have been wearing sandals to lunch earlier that day, and I wouldn’t have forgotten to change into shoes, which I wouldn’t have packed in my roller bag and checked.

Read more here.

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My Book Hits #4 on Arielle Ford's Huffington Post Blog!

Arielle Ford has inspired so many with her groundbreaking book Soulmate Secret and her trove of professional treasures as a long time publicist and speaker in Everything You Should Know

I am so honored that my book is #4 on her Huffington Post top picks for 2010. Check it out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arielle-ford/my-top-7-great-reads-this_b_754885.html

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Bittersweet Homecomings

Click here to read my latest piece for the Huffington Post,”Bittersweet Homecomings.”  It’s about how you can’t go “home” again and what happens when you try…

I’m establishing a presence on the Huffington Post and would greatly appreciate any comments you’d like to post there!  It’s kinda like high school– if people see you cool cats commenting, they’ll want to read the piece, hopefully love it, and forward it.  Strange that the bulk of our society then is being driven by cyber reality– which is basically modeled after the way we behaved in high school.  Maybe there’s an essay in that!  yrs. Laura

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Back to School– a mother's bemoanings

Check out my Back-to-School piece on my Huffington Post blog.  Maybe you can relate…  A freshman in high school.  Another in Middle school.  Where is it all going? 

Click here to read

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