The Present Rearranges the Past

October 18, 2017

Photo by SID ZHAO on Unsplash

“Something wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks. Something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe. The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.”
—Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby


A New Season

October 11, 2017

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

“A new season is blowing up the valley, drifting over the hills, rising up from a cooling earth, a new season with its challenges, its changes, its excitements, and its own particular rhythms and miracles.”
—Jean Hersey, The Shape of a Year

What simple pleasures and everyday adventures do you anticipate this fall?

Everyday adventures

Secret Destinations

October 04, 2017

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
—Martin Buber

I’m off to California to visit my parents this week. At least, that’s what my travel documents say. What secret destinations will I discover? I can’t wait to find out.

What secret destinations have you stumbled upon?


What an Orchid Can Teach Us About Blooming

September 29, 2017

I’ve been thinking about growing conditions lately.

Orchids started this train of thought. Mine have always seemed to do fine on our covered lanai without much fuss. However, even though all the plants look healthy, only one or two of them ever actually bloomed. I’d love to have more flowers, so I decided to research each orchid variety I have to see what constituted that plant’s ideal growing conditions. Based on what I learned, I moved several to different positions, providing both more sun and more water than they’d been getting.

Lo and behold, two that hadn’t bloomed since I bought them produced flowers and two more sent up flower spikes that should bloom in the next couple of months.


A simple tweak in growing conditions nudged them from just getting by to thriving.

Shortly thereafter I stumbled on this passage:

“When a tree is tender and young, first making its roots, a gardener knows to fence it from deer, fertilize it with nutrients, pay loving attention as it gets started. The gardener doesn’t grow the tree; she provides the conditions in which it can thrive. We need to do the same with our souls, hearts, spirits, bodies. We need to provide the conditions in which we can thrive, and those conditions involve other people. We need to put ourselves in circumstances in which we can be seen, heard, and loved for who we are and want to become.

“We are so used to battering ourselves around. To toughing it out. To taking care of everyone else and not looking after ourselves. We are used to throwing the seeds of our lives in soil and not paying them one more minute of attention. In fact, we do the opposite. We stamp on our hearts. We attack and punish ourselves. We don’t trust our fundamental desire to move toward the light….” (Geneen Roth in When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair.)

Roth is specifically writing about how we treat ourselves in relation to food and dieting, but her words apply to everything we do (or don’t do) to nurture ourselves.

Most of us are too used to toughing it out, and to seeing our needs as weaknesses. What would happen if instead of trying to get by on a minimum of sleep, nutrition, downtime, and enjoyment, we tried giving ourselves optimal amounts of the things we need to feel great? Things like healthful, delicious food; sleep; movement that feels good rather than punishing; time to do something just for fun? Are we too busy for that? Does that sound like weakness instead of strength?

How much more beautiful and profuse might our own blooming be if we gave ourselves optimal growing conditions? As I learned from moving orchids around, it might not take much to help us thrive.

Taking steps to nurture ourselves doesn’t mean becoming hothouse flowers that wither in every cold draft or scorching heat wave. When we learn our own ideal growing conditions and make efforts to provide them, we grow stronger and healthier. A strong plant can more easily withstand hardships when they come.

Do you want to do more than survive? To bloom abundantly rather than just put out a few leaves? What are your ideal growing conditions? In the comments below, share some things you can do to bloom more often!

Lois Parker Edstrom

One Person's Trash...

September 27, 2017

Photo courtesy congerdesign

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Lois Parker Edstrom, a retired nurse, lives on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington, and her 2016 book Night Beyond Black, from MoonPath Press, has many accessible and moving poems. Here's just one example.

Doing Dishes

She said she had always wanted to do it;
throw away dirty dishes rather than wash them

and she did, after breakfast, toss the blue, green,
orange, and yellow Fiestaware into the trash.

Transferring from New York to Germany
with her husband and children,

the movers coming that day, she chucked the dishes
in among the banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds,

bits of bacon, paper towels and called it good.
What she could not know is that a young mother

in that very town received a much needed set
of tableware when her husband returned

home from work that evening. Bright dishes
that showed up chipped and grubby

like old friends with egg on their faces.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Lois Parker Edstrom, “Doing Dishes,” from Night Beyond Black, (MoonPath Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Lois Parker Edstrom and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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