Life in Photos, Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

On Moving to Tennessee

Sunset comes in like a whisper, hushing the robin’s monologue, stretching and bending the shadows until, at last, nothing speaks save the skies. They breathe deep navy words — slowly, confidently, and silence settles down. The lamp glows warmly, inside, and I pull my legs up over the pine bench and settle down into the posture of writing as the last remnants of Jasmine rice and watermelon dissipate into the air.

I don’t know what Tennessee smells like, yet. Florida was a cauldron, with thick air pressed closed to the ground, rippling intermittently through the Spanish moss and magnolia. And I miss the sea-salt air of the Atlantic, with its tangled seaweed and glinting jellyfish tossed up in the surf. California, too, brought me scorched pine-resin September skies, rich sweetness of strawberries wilting in the thin dry air, and a whiff of tar along the freeway as I sped toward the windswept Pacific cliffs of Bodega Head, drinking  juniper and cypress into my lungs.

But I don’t know Tennessee’s signature scent.

I walked through the plant nursery last night, ivy tumbling at my feet and ferns bursting from their swinging baskets. I buried my face in the mint and lavender, and ran my fingers through the Irish moss. This one smells like the coast, I said, and that one is pure ocean. But what’s in this new landlocked soil that’ll unfurl its leaves and wind its way around my heart?

Cedar in the air will bring me to the pebbled shores of the Great Lakes, every single time.

And the syrupy incense of wisteria rewinds me all the way to Taborska Cesta, Ljubljana, where I can still see the trail of ants parading up the vine.

But what

years from now

will bring me back here when I close my eyes?

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

Nashville or Bust

Oaxacaborn is moving to Nashville!

We’re moving, friends, in a whirlwind.

Josiah was laid off last fall, and now, suddenly, he’s got a new job in Nashville.

The cloud is moving. [1]

Seven years ago this month, I held a one-way ticket to Orlando, stepped on a plane with a (very!) infant Aveline, and touched down in this subtropical land where palm trees sway and hurricane winds rage.

Eleven years ago, I packed two suitcases, took my last $600 out of the bank, and started my life over in California..again.

Fourteen years ago, I climbed up into a Jeep and drove away from the golden valley, drove away for days and days, until the radio crumbled into static and everything slowed, frozen in time and ice.

Eighteen years ago, we’d all driven that path in reverse.

Twenty-seven years ago, we escaped war.

Exodus and genesis.

My life has been wave after wave after wave of exodus and genesis. Exodus: the departure; and genesis, the rebirth.

The exodus involves a period of parched land, a wandering, a time where it seems you’ll never land again. But after the night, genesis dawns, and all is reborn. The roots begin to make their way down the deep green soil, the leaves unfurl, and everything within creation looks up to the light.

This is the way of Life.

This the way of Redemption, and the golden thread that finds its shining way through all the twisted tapestries.

This moment, too, is part of that tapestry. This set of goodbyes. This set of all the movements one has to go through to complete an exodus. The last one, the next one,  this one.

Every one.

Every era.

Every epoch.

Every color, every twist, every knot, every cut — they’re all necessary. They’re all needed.

Now, we’re needed in Tennessee. The boxes are all stacked around me. I don’t know why yet, just like I didn’t understand why seven, eleven, fourteen, eighteen, and twenty-seven years ago.

But that’s not for me to know, yet. It’s for me to follow my God through the exodus, and await the genesis with open arms.

I’ll be there soon.

And then we’ll all sing, along with Johnny Cash,

“I sure found a place I belong…
Proud as we can be
to live in Tennessee…”

P.S. I took the above #nofilter photo while driving through Nashville during a cross-country move nine years ago (that’s right, the above litany of moves wasn’t a complete list). How wonderful, then, that I should stumble upon this photo again today.  Nashville or bust!

Poetry & Words

What We Lost When Blogging Became a Business

Before page-views were king, before influencers was common jargon, before the time of 5 Reasons my Words are Important Enough for you to Click, I might have opened a tab and written —

you’re impossible to me now
in a sea of lost Novembers.
the periwinkle fog has settled
over Paz, and the velvet chair.


the same black-winged bird who used to announce the dawn
now creeps
in step with time
leaving his tiny-lined footsteps behind.


i never saw beauty
in everything dead
in flattened grass, swollen rivers
and bridges, rusted red —

— when, of course, none of that was true. I saw all the beauty in the world, tumbled up with all the pain, in that breathtaking crumbling bridge.

I’ve been blogging for more than 15 years, and now, times are different. Now, they tell you, you have readers, and your readers don’t come for you. They come for themselves. Your readers are busy. Don’t waste their time. Don’t write unless you have something to offer. Your readers want suggestions, tips, lists. Don’t add to the white noise.

Sometimes, I can do that, you know. Sometimes I can deliver you an orderly Q+A on math or a list of resources for learning Chinese. I can even tidy up the thoughts I’ve collected about morality and epiphanies. I know how to sort my SEO and double-check my keywords and optimize and make it easy for you to pin and share and upvote and print.

But sometimes, I can’t. Sometimes I just write about death.

Sometimes there’s no pinnable image, no list of reasons why, no problem I can solve for you. Sometimes there’s just a tiny glimmer of light I want you to see.

There are two warring worlds here: the world of all the business-savvy ways to make my personal brand soar, and the other world where I quietly scratch my letters in the sand. “Perhaps I write for no one,” Margaret Atwood said. “Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”

Perhaps I, too, write for no one.

Like Elinor Wylie, there are days I have nothing to offer but a set of scrawling words.

I cannot give you the Metropolitan Tower;
I cannot give you heaven;
Nor the nine Visigoth crowns in the Cluny Museum;
Nor happiness, even.
But I can give you a very small purse
Made out of field-mouse skin,
With a painted picture of the universe
And seven blue tears therein.

I cannot give you the Island of Capri;
I cannot give you beauty;
Nor bake you marvellous crusty cherry pies
With love and duty.
But I can give you a very little locket
Made out of wildcat hide:
Put it in your left-hand pocket
And never look inside.

“I think that almost everyone in the world is looking for something”, Lord Derby tells Michele in the award-winning book Red Sails to Capri.  “I had come to Capri in search of beauty….But [the ugly things] — if I have made you see a bit of beauty in them, Michele, I am very happy.”

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) says he’s noticed “unembarrassed joy is getting rarer“. That’s sad to me. Isn’t joy of just as much value — of more value — than all the other things we come to blogs to find? Isn’t beauty and joy in in the middle of the ordinary worth it all?

I’m not crazy enough to think my words matter to the everyone. But maybe, these words matter to you. Maybe you saw a little peek of joy in the mist of the mundane, exhausting ordinary.

And if you saw a little ray of light — shining just for you and for no one else, then my words are enough.

“…tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her, barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.” -Billy Collins

Won’t you take this cup of light?

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

This Whole Land of our Sojourn is my Home

This post contains affiliate links.
This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home
This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

This summer, we whisked ourselves away to the rugged northern wilds of California, Minnesota, and Michigan.  On the West Coast, we ducked into a secret redwood garden awash with Rivendell lights; in Michigan, we built campfires on the edges of a 19th century settlement, and — while reading Amory Blaine’s exploits in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise — drove through both Amery and Blaine.

The sun rose and set, for me, in  four states on three of this country’s borders, over two different oceans, on the edge of one Great Lake, and even — thirty thousand feet aloft — over dozens and dozens of sparkling little towns.

I highlighted as many lines in Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley in Search of America as my digital swipe would allow, then watched them all vanish in a burst of pixels, as the server sucked the virtual book back in after three loaned weeks. I sorted through old family documents, scratched away in fountain ink, faded proof of all the secrets and genes tumbling down through the generations.

It’s temporary glory, to put words in Steinbeck’s mouth.

It’s all a temporary shimmer of the eternal.

“To find not only that this bedlam of color was true but that the pictures were pale and inaccurate translations, was to me startling. I can’t even imagine the…colors when I am not seeing them…. ‘It is a glory,’ she said, ‘and can’t be remembered, so that it always comes as a surprise.'”

It can’t be remembered.

It always comes as a surprise.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

I belong nowhere, and everywhere. I come home through so many different doors, walk with a sigh across so many different thresholds.

Sarah Dessen rattles her way across the keyboard onto the novel’s page to tell us all, “Home [i]sn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It [i]s wherever the people who loved you [a]re, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”

This shell of mine is stained with the red clay of Oaxaca and the Sierra Nevada, gilded in copper patina from the Ljubljanica River, dusted over from the kiln-like heat of the Sacramento Valley,  preserved in the subzero howl of the northern wilds, and sloshing from the perpetual rain of these subtropics.

It’s always with me.

And it always comes as a surprise.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

I don’t know how I would handle having my roots all smashed together and compacted into one tiny plot of earth. I wasn’t made for roots like that. I was made for the kind that stretch and strain and burrow, through clay and sand and heat and rain, putting a little branch down here and other down halfway across the globe.

Steinbeck felt it through and through. “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself….A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

The faded old documents I sorted this summer traced a journey across the Atlantic, on both sides of the family, through Ellis Island. As a child, I flew this route over their ghosts by air; less than a hundred years earlier, great grandparents on both sides of the family took this route by sea.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

Neruda once said it was our destiny to love and say goodbye. I think it’s our destiny to love and say hello, over and over and over again — in all the “places with no weight” as Octavio Paz would say —

in all our many homes, knowing that He’s put eternity in our hearts [1], knowing all the time that we’re heading Home no matter how many different places we land,

in this, the land of our sojourn.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Poetry & Words

I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia

I came to America after the tanks rolled in, just barely before they took Sarajevo. After the helicopter shadows moved across of the fields of buttercups and horseradish and daisies and wisteria, but before the mortars fell. I came to this country when the shelves started to empty of bread, of meat, of corn flakes. I came to this country after the money had already begun to crash, after sunken stacks of rubbery, hollow-eyed gas masks stared back at me at the check-out, but before pensioners had to stand in line to trade bag after bag of devalued coins for stale bread. I came here when the skies had already begun to darken, when the fear had started to slink down the quiet gravel streets.

I said goodbye before dawn. I said goodbye before the perfect pearls of dew on the weeping willow had broken. I said goodbye to the magpies who chattered and tilted their heads down at me, goodbye to the sparrows who hopped off the hedge and scurried after me as I walked away down Taborska Cesta. I held my daddy’s hand and thought it would all be okay and thought I’d come home to Ljubljana again.

America doesn’t remember.

It’s been twenty-five years since Sarajevo. Twenty-five years since the shells started falling and the buildings started crumbling and the cemeteries crept down the mountain, over the valley, into the alleys, the city squares, the hospitals, the banks, the churches, and the blocs. Twenty-five years since the blood flowed.

“Is there a time for keeping your distance?” Bono sang. “A time to turn your eyes away? Is there a time for keeping your head down, for getting on with your day?”

I Came to America After the Tanks Rolled in: Remembering the Former Yugoslavia

I came to America wide-eyed and homesick. There were hundreds of rows of light in every store, shining down in blindingly unaware excess. There were thousands of packets of food, all lined up. There was a whole aisle just for feeding cats and dogs. There were Cocoa Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs and Fruity Pebbles and cheese-colored spread and hot dogs in shrunken plastic and the shelves were deep, deeper than my eight-year-old arm could reach. People just tossed all these things head over heels, heap upon heap, into an enormous rolling wire cart.

There were rows of cars in everyone’s driveway and the houses swallowed us all. There were televisions and advertisements and everywhere, at every turn, America was a kaleidoscope of color and noise.

America forgot her. American forgot the Balkans, the conflict, the siege.

America forgot about the Iron Curtain, the fall of Communism, the rush of freedom and the rush of overload, and the way it felt when the bottom fell out, and millions upon millions of dinar tumbled down, worth less than the paper they were printed on.

Tonight, I remember it all.

I sat down at my desk on this side of the globe, underneath the oversized world map beside the glowing lamp, went to Google Earth, and for the first time, I walked my digital feet all over the streets I used to know.

It was all there, familiar and bruised by the passage of time.

I walked all over, and I cried.

“There’s a house, that’s not on a hill
And the paint’s chipping off
Of the old window sill
There’s a tree in the front yard
That’s older than me
And older than all of you…” *

I remember the yogurt and the brown-crusted bread, the sour cherries, and the apples that would fall on our concrete balcony. I remember how we’d say “Jupi!” when we were excited, and I remember the grey woven chair in the corner, the tapestry on the wall and the garish scalloped wallpaper, a vision in Soviet orange — an ode to egg yolks or perhaps sunrises.

Yupi soda beverage sticker label from Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia

I remember the first books I read, and my first American pencil, yellow, with the most beautiful pink eraser I’d ever seen. I remember how I had to learn about nickels, and didn’t see the point, because I only needed to use dinar and žeton. I remember letters from grandma, and my old green shoes, and laughter and boiled potatoes. I can tell you of bus tokens and ant-covered climbing vines and the way the trail twisted up to the top of Šmarna Gora, and how stubborn chamomile can grow up, dauntless, through even the rockiest gravel.

“But things they fade
Things turn to grey
As much as I try to save them
They turn grey
Just like the house, that’s not on a hill
With all of the rust on the gate
The chips on the sill
But I love it still” *

I remember the magpies, tottering on clay rooftops, calling out the hymns of the morning, and way the grey coal soot would filter down over the city, entangle with the mist, and settle down over every crooked branch, down into my lungs, over every window pane and into the crevices on every leaf.

“I remember her
I remember her
I remember her so well” *

But most of all, I remember the way I never worried, even in the dark.