Saturday, October 11, 2014

Time to Move.

Despite years of faithful blogging service through, I have come to the conclusion that it's time to move and spruce up the ol' write spot a bit. To that end, lifelong fling is making a move across town (after 7 years!) to

Please hop over to and also update your bookmarks and shortcuts accordingly. Thank you for your patience and thank you to the good people at blogger. It's been a good run.

P.S. You will still be able to access most of the previous archived posts (if you should so desire) at the new location.

See you soon!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Seasons of (Re)Turning

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." 

The end of summer. A hot breath that brings most of us creatures to a standstill. Except for the grasshoppers whose wings click and whir in the blanched crabgrass that grows tall and unruly along the roads that lead to my school from the bus stop. There are crickets too, who bleat rhythmically in the protective shade in the cooler early mornings. Wine-dark bunches of wild grapes appear out of nowhere while their leaves gradually, gravely change their green coats for pale yellow. There are hints of fiery protest appearing along the edges of maples, but they are still stubbornly verdant for the most part. It's not their time - not quite yet.

In this particular season of seeming stasis, schoolteachers and squirrels alike must again pick up speed, scurry, and prepare for what it coming. Lines of migratory birds form patterns across the sky just as my email inbox receives a flurry of black and white schedule grids. Prairies are reddened with changing grasses even as I don my professional dress and welcome a new crowd of uniformed and bright-faced students. The abrupt change is always something of a shock to the system, like the first really brisk day we get somewhere near the beginning of September. But I love it. I relish the change. It whips color back into my cheeks, energy into my limbs, and the mind is cleared for all it must do ahead.

One unfortunate aspect of the upheaval is that whatever I happened to have been in the middle of doing in mid-August- well, those projects are mostly still sitting where they were last touched. One of those has been this blog. However, I would like to signal its return. And come to think of it, this is a logical next step in the change of seasons. It is a fact of life (at least where I live) that when the weather begins to turn chilly, we tend to hunker down, stay in, and turn to our favorite radio programs, books, blogs, and newspapers. I encourage you to join me in this next season of the Lifelong Fling, which will appear about every two weeks and updated mostly on Thursdays. Grab a cup of coffee or a fine autumnal ale this coming weekend, sit down in a cosy spot, and let's relish this many-toned season together.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Lost in the Parisian Woods

Another popular post from the archives this week, and I'll be back to the regularly scheduled program next week. This recounts my experiences while trying to train for the marathon in the city of Paris. Enjoy!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Ceci est une pipe.

I dug through the Lifelong Fling archives to find this little post from several years ago in Paris. It was one of the most popular posts and continues to be an enjoyable memory for me.

I hope you like it.

Stop and Smell the Pipe Smoke [link fixed]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Miraculous Summer

When it begins, summertime is always a long stretch of haze with perhaps a few peaks barely discernible in the distance, but otherwise undefined. It is the catch-all of the year, where I toss all of the catch-ups, check-offs, check-ins, send-offs. I estimate to read a lifetime of books, write innumerable stories, and finish all of the projects. How does reality hash out, with expectations like these?

It is nothing short of the miraculous, but it is rarely what I planned to happen. Like most real-life miracles, it does not come about when and how I anticipate. There was the week pinpointed in advance by friends for mutual cabin days, for example, when we would come together under the banner of friendship and food a few hours north of the Twin Cities. But instead-

Instead, I spend a week of mornings running around with children in woods closer to home. We stain our tongue with wild black raspberries and try nibbling on sticky milkweed. Yes, you can bring your pocketknife tomorrow. Did you really just put that toad in a bird's nest? Have you ever read My Side of the Mountain? Let's imagine what it would be like to take on a bear with nothing more than your ingenuity and a hatchet. Let's try building a fire on a windy day. Let's try to remember a world before your Xbox and my iPhone. In that world, I am struck by how the lives of all the creatures intertwine in our magnificent universe, and I am one of those threads.

A boy stands in a village in the deserted plains of Gaoua City. His life of survival is no game, no summer camp activity. Today, an airplane flies right over him. He pauses on his way to an errand for his grandmother to admire the huge body of the MD-83, its shining wings. He wants to be a pilot someday. That's what he wrote to his American "godparents" last time. The boy does not know it (no one on the plane does yet), but on July 23, 2014, that mighty machine will crash less than an hour later in neighboring Mali to the north. It will be the third major plane disaster in a week, the second in an area of civil unrest. The boy will continue on his way to the market, wondering if the Americans ever have the luck to go aboard an airplane, whether they will return his letter from February, and if they'll remember his birthday gift.

In a post office somewhere in the United States sits a package with numbers and letters scrawled on the outside that will eventually carry its contents to the eager hands of that same little boy halfway across the world. An airplane will fly it to Ouagadougou - where the failed passenger plane had departed from - and then by truck over bumpy roads to a remote, dusty area with little agricultural promise. And yes, there is a letter inside. It is in French, which means that he'll understand it without the need of translation. And yes, the Americans are going to climb into a magnificent flying contraption very soon. It will take them to a different desert, in Nevada and California - to celebrate ten years of marriage. (Speaking of miracles.)

After the cabin days that I missed came to a close, the entire party moved south en masse to settle upon our little homestead for an afternoon. I counted seven children who chased seven chickens around our overgrown backyard. Their parents just might need a glass of wine. The yard's a bit ragged, but if you look across it, the yellow primroses are lovely. We also have a goldenrod on its way toward the sky. Primroses close so quickly at nightfall, you can almost watch it happen, like those time-lapse photos strung together on public television. Otherwise, the ground is blanketed thick with broadleaf plantain, creeping charlie, wood sorrel and white clover - so-called "weeds." We shrug. Good food for the chickens. Our table is strewn haphazard with good food for humans, too - beans from the garden, huge cherries, cold cuts, wine, local cider. Babies roll on the floor while cabin plans are hotly contested for the next year. I plan to be there.

The run to Cub Foods for ham and turkey was unusual; we actually haven't been to the supermarket much recently. There was over 80 pounds of fruits and vegetables crammed into my refrigerator by the end of last week, with more pouring out of the garden each day. These are the green days, when we must either devour with juice-dripping chins or frantically freeze, can, and save for colder days ahead. Abundance, spontaneity, and always more tomorrow. That should strike me as strange. When it starts seeming commonplace and take-for-granted easy, would you please slap me across the face? Thanks. I might need the wake up call. Something like a fellow traveler in this wonder-filled world describes in the experience of driving a car home through rush hour.

"There are times when it is easy to go numb, when it is easy to forget that you sit in a box of metal, dug from the earth and alloyed, shaped by the men and robots of Detroit. I don't care that I sit three feet above the ground in a machine with the soul and strength of (muffled) explosions. Horses are for recreation; my harnesses are hitched to pounding bursts of fire, and they pull me (gently, please) without complaint, while I collect invisible waves from the air with a magic metal wand and turn them into orchestras, pop stars, and indignant voices complaining about the war...It is easy to be numb to the world's marvels when you've missed lunch and the light is still red." (92, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, N.D. Wilson).

Thing #46 that makes me less numb: when my summer doesn't turn out the way I plan.

Thing #47: Well-arranged words that make things strange again (e.g., aforementioned Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl).

Thing #47: Statistics. But only when effectively linked to real people's faces.

The little card about the boy from Burkina Faso that we received when we first agreed to sponsor him tells us that it is one of the poorest countries in the world and that most adults are unemployed. The children are largely malnourished. Literacy rate: 22%. But Bienvenu is learning how to read. I wonder. Will this mean he'll have a better diet? Will his children have jobs? He told us that besides being a pilot, he'd like to raise animals. I picture what it will be like for him to open his package, with photos tumbling out - images of a couple of Americans and a flock of chickens from halfway around the world. I hope that it is the beginning of something marvelous for him and for us. Miraculous, even.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Inconveniences...I mean, Adventures!

This week was so jam-packed with adventures 
that I am going to have to simply post a few pictures. 
By adventure, I'm thinking along the lines of G.K. Chesterton's wise words: 
"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."
There will be more words next week, as usual.

Toad in Bird's Nest.

Lighting a Fire.

Wild Black Raspberries.

Rosé and Willie Meet at the Wine Bar. 

Jazz in a Café.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Leave the Edges Wild

There is a band whose songs and open-hearted life have consistently sustained me with good soul-food: Over the Rhine. I may have mentioned them before. They have faithfully described and inscribed reality onto my mind and heart for some time now. Their song "Lifelong Fling," for example, has flown over this little writing space like a banner from the beginning. Now, another thought from their creative universe comes to fruition in my life, that of "leaving the edges wild." The idea surfaces in their most recent album, Meet Me at the Edge of the World. Linford Detweiler, who heads up the group with his wife Karin Bergquist, explains the significance of this phrase in a delightful conversation with the good people at Image Journal. He explains that when they first bought their farm in rural Ohio, his father heard birdsongs and saw flora and fauna he hadn't seen in years, and so urged them to "leave the edges wild." The image is a fruitful one and they return to it multiple times on the record.

As do I when I spin the vinyl and hear it again making deep grooves in me, in the quiet summer night, accompanied by ice clinking in my glass. Let go. You don't need to hem in every minute of every day. Leave the edges wild. Or, to use an Old Testament metaphor, don't gather every last bit of grain behind you when you harvest - leave some for the widows and orphans. This is good news to my harried heart, as I tend to the exacting. I sigh deeply, wish I were different, and then hope to learn a new approach to my brief hours and weeks.

Put another way, I am being schooled in spontaneity. A late-night hankering for scotch and live music leads us to gathering around the T Collective. The musicians (usually a grouping of different artists every time) throw out sounds and craft them on the fly. "Did you plan any of this?" I inquire during the set break, gesturing toward the stage. No, she answers, it is improvisation tonight. There are wild edges to the creations - screams and drones and pops streaming out continually, making something new out of nothing. When I try to describe the listening experience, it comes out again in terms of food. It is like eating a good meal made out of raw art: nutritive, homegrown, and satisfying. Like snipping greens out of the garden for breakfast.

Speaking of our little "urban farm," it is "loosely-tended" this year. Plant, uproot, let it go crazy. Wild edibles are a new favorite- purslane, dandelion, wild sorrel, and the like - and my man slyly suggested that maybe it would be better that he not mow the backyard. You know, just in case he destroyed something important. Sure, our chickens decimate everything with their tearing little beaks anyway. Like the hosta. (Oh well. I guess our hens are widows and orphans in their own way.) Plus, after a steady diet of healthy greens, they give back, prodigiously turning out eggs with yolks the color of Valencia orange peel.

Maybe a balance can be struck between the planned and unplanned, the structured and the spontaneous. For me, summer is a lesson in letting things grow outside the boxes in our calendar days and measuring them otherwise. Not in minutes or hours, nor even in coffee spoons. Rather, in thanks for surprise feasts of all kinds found in the margins of need and in the present moment unmeasurable that swells to satisfied fulness. Lord, remind me to leave the edges wild.