Posted in Growing Up, Home, Lessons

i remember the seasons

Iowa has been kind to me this year.

She’s a vicious sort of state. She knows no moderation.

It’s not just cold come winter. The humidity clings to every cell that dares to not be covered. Bone-chilling is far from an exaggeration as the rain invariably falls and freezes overnight, ensuring heart-stopping slick ground for the next six months. The snow rushes in as though it will never again have a chance to fall. It piles and piles from November to April, the ice storms capturing each layer in a clear memorial.

Spring is hardly better. There’s no such thing as a gentle spring rain to refresh the earth. Three days of downpour in a week, with each interspersed with miserable gray clouds threatening to release in a heartbeat. The thunderstorms are long and fearsome, downing power lines to prove their strength. The few days that the sun breaks through she shines furiously trying to convince the grass to release its winter brown and return to the vivid greens.

Summer. Oh, dear summer. Around 2 o’clock in the morning the heat finally breaks enough to sleep, even with the air conditioner wheezing along trying desperately to cool more than just the three feet directly in front of it. Don’t you dare bother showering before stepping outside. The beads of sweat – or is that simply the moisture in the air? – will coat you by the time you burn your hand on the car you foolishly parked in the driveway while you emptied your garage for the sale.

Autumn tries so hard to slip by unnoticed. Summer heat is occasionally pushed back by the too-chilled rains, a reminder that winter is closer than desired. For two glorious weeks in October, she’s the perfect season. The leaves burst into deep shades of reds and yellows and orange, contrasted brilliantly against the still-green grass covered in the dust from the harvest. At noon, the high sky shimmers in its deep blue, a light sweater warding off the slight chill on the breeze. And just like that, it’s gone.

And every. damn. moment. The wind. There is so much wind. It’s a miracle cars aren’t blown off the interstate every day.

I remember it. I remember these seasons. I grew up with the snow days, being trapped on my farm and building snow forts, climbing on drifts as high as the young evergreens in the front yard. I remember the worms all over the sidewalk, trying to escape the saturated lawns. I grew up with the tornado drills, and my hair always a knotty mess as the wind teased it. I grew up with far more sunburns than my pale skin should have ever been subjected to.

But Iowa has been generous to me this year. She’s been gentle in my return. She gave me a winter much like Colorado – the blizzards interspersed with remarkably tolerable days. The ice melted and turned the gravel into a slushy path rather than a slick one. She’s given me quiet days with a gentle breeze. She’s forced the sun to peek through the gray.

This wild, full-throttle state is holding her breath. She’s easing me into her arms again. She’s waiting for me. I’m gathering seeds, gloves, and trowels, preparing the earth for a butterfly garden for my mother. Touching the earth to bring joy to my mother and to honor my father. And Iowa waits for me, holding back her energy as I gather mine.

She’s been compassionate with a fragile soul, as much as she can while not losing her fire.

The Iowa of my childhood was a vicious sort of state who knew no moderation.

But Iowa has been kind to me this year.

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Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, People, Stories

back in a small town

I was crossing the street to go into the office and a car beeped its horn at me. Instead of cringing from a catcall, I waved back at my childhood neighbor.

I never thought I’d be back in a small town.

I thrive on adventure. I want to eat sushi, try Ethiopian again, satisfy my curry craving. I want to leave work and be on an airplane two hours later, the wind carrying me halfway across the country to spend a weekend with a friend. I want a half hour drive to bring me to a cultural center for a festival or a theatrical performance. I want to disappear into a national park for days at a time or wake up at a trailhead hours before dawn in hopes of summitting a peak for the sunrise.

Instead, a half hour drive gets me to the closest McDonalds. I need to drive yet another 15 minutes to get to a town where there’s a Walmart. It’s a two hour drive to the nearest airport that will get me out of the midwest, at least three to get to one that has a breath’s chance of a direct flight abroad. I now live in a town where checks are accepted and often Visa is not. The library doesn’t allow you to renew or reserve books online. I may not have been catcalled, but there’s already been a marriage proposal.

And on Sunday morning? I walk down main street and hear my footsteps ricochet back at me. Not a store is open, even the coffee shop. A pizza joint will open for lunch, a gas station has a few tables out for the farmers to sip their dark roast. But surrounding the main square, there’s silence.

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It’s the same world I left when I was 17. It’s the same world I was born into. And while so much has allowed time to pass it by, time has a way of catching up.

Mom used to read to my sister and me. I’d strain to listen in the car as she turned to the back seat to transport our minds into the world of Little Women or the Castle In The Attic.

Now it’s my turn.

As the day winds down and we tuck away check books and tax forms, it’s my time to pull my mother’s mind away from the mounds of estate paperwork. It’s my turn to read The Princess Bride and Jacob, Have I Loved. Sometimes she falls asleep, and I later recap what she missed. Sometimes I only finish a few pages, as we interrupt the world in the chapter to discuss the world in which we live. We talk about Dad. We talk about our relationships with our sisters. We talk about the Cramer clan, and how much I take after that side of the family.

Mom used to take care of me when I got sick. She’d tuck me in and bring me sprite and toast.

Now it’s my turn.

I bring her bowls and water, I rummage through the cupboards to find the appropriate medicine. I worry over her and beg her to rearrange her doctor’s appointment so I can accompany her.

Mom homeschooled me for a few years, teaching me that early foundation of reading ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. She and my dad explained the way the world works.

Now it’s my turn.

I sit with her in estate meetings and phone calls with businesses, taking notes, interrupting when needed and afterward explain to her any concepts she didn’t understand.

My world of adventure came grinding to a halt on November 19. My fast-paced city life of stories and people and passport stamps intertwined with high end coffee has been put on a backshelf while I try to help my family rebuild. In this time, I fiercely defend my mother, my sister, living life in a small town and tracking the sun around our big red barn.

Here is where I grew up, here is where I fled in search of my tribe, the people who spoke my language. My heart wants to vagabond, to explore the world with fervor. But I have a deeper purpose these days.

My first tribe was here. My parents always took care of me, my community always cheered me on.

Now it’s my turn.

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Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Love, Time, Wishes

simply

My blog is named “Simply Eliska”.

These days, it feels like nothing is quite so simple.

Several months ago, I told a friend Eliska represented my new identity after a very intense growing period, but that I felt like anything painful that I’d felt since I’d pushed beneath the surface to Allison. I then confided that it felt like Allison was becoming unburied, and I was going to have to deal with all that dolor at once.

Then my dad died.

Two weeks ago, I was moving away from Colorado. I called my dad to tell him I was at his sister’s place for the night. It was so brief, maybe 15 seconds. “Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

Two hours later, he was gone.

My dad lived for 22,725 days. I was alive for 9458 of them.

People keep telling me that we’re handling his death well.

I don’t really know why.

Sometimes I’m sitting still and realize that tears are slipping beneath my chin, unbidden. Sometimes I’m laughing. Sometimes I feel nothing but absence. Sometimes I swear I hear Dad walking up the stairs.

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My Dad slipped from this earth without warning.

I’m at the first place I called home. And suddenly, I’m not “simply Eliska” anymore. There’s no one in this county who calls me by that name.

I’m not even “simply Allison” these days.

I’m a grieving daughter. I’m a sister. I’m part of 130 years of history on this farmstead. I’m pulling my family into the world I had crafted independently for myself – here, Mom, let me add you to my AAA. Here, everyone, let me put you on my cellphone plan instead. I’m the answer to “Where are you these days?” and one of the rare times where people are 100% genuine in asking “How are you doing?”

I am not a barista. I am not a nomad.

Not these days.

These days I’m the scribbler.

I scribble thank you notes. I scribble the dates and notes from meetings as we take note of how to settle the estate. I scribble text messages to friends who have gone through similar situations, asking, “Did you feel… Did you do… Why?” I scribbled my Dad’s eulogy. And now I scribble here. I scribble because right now, it feels like the only thing I actually know how to do. It feels like the only place that still makes sense. I scribble because in my words I can begin to process this new version of normal that I wasn’t prepared to enter.

There’s very little simple in my life right now.

I got into the tractor a few days ago, and when I turned it on, I heard music playing softly in the background. I turned it up.

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

I wept, as I listened to a song that felt like my Dad was reaching across eternity to talk to me one more time. I wept for all the conversations I wanted to have while I was home. I wept for all the things my Dad will never be a part of as my life continues forward, and all the things I wanted him to be there for. I wept for my Mom, that her other half who looked at her with such adoration and cared for her so gently, was gone. I wept. I weep.

I was so lucky.

I had a father for almost 26 years who loved his family, and whose kindness and intelligence spread throughout the community.

Yes.

I’m selfish.

I want my Dad back.

I want my parents to continue to live the American Dream.

I want to be a whole, complete family.

So today I scribble.

Today I write, and remember those 9000 days with my dad, and the stories of the years before I was born.

Life isn’t simple right now.

But I’m going to be simply Allison, the farmer’s daughter.

“Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

 

 

Posted in Home, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, Travel, Wishes

you let go

I didn’t think I owned much. After I’d left my apartment in Iowa, giving away my table and chairs, my dresser and couch, I’d moved to Denver by myself in a minivan. That was my standard: I can’t have much if that’s how I started, can I?

I’m falling into a point of my life where I want own nothing but what I can fit in my Sentra. A few changes of clothes, a few dishes, a book or two. As I’ve started pushing my earthly possessions into the storage closet in my parent’s basement (sorry, Mom) I’ve realized how even with moving frequently and often from one bedroom into another basement room, I’ve managed to accumulate quite the collection of useless items.

There’s so much stuff. A pair of pants I never wear because they fit me funny. Mismatched socks, some with holes in them I keep meaning to throw out. Mugs with chips in them because I’m too sentimental about where they came from to throw them out. A mini ironing board that I use once a year when I’m in a hurry and forgot to pull my shirt out of the dryer right away. An old college textbook that I thought might be useful someday. A stack of papers from a volunteer program I did three years ago.

Somehow I keep carting them around, address to address, state to state.

I now have in my possession less than a dozen outfits, a few blankets, and my computer. That’s about it.

I now have the ability to pack up my life in a heartbeat. Ten minutes, and I can be on the road with no trace that I even existed. I don’t own pets, merely adopting my roommates’ or friends’ animals for the brief moments we share space.

I think I expected owning next to nothing to be more freeing than it actually feels.

I’m a nomad, so my heart has always been ready to go. While I had more of a physical attachment than I was aware of, the emotional connection has always been held with loose fingers. It’s something I’ve encountered with many travelers: we’re quick to befriend, but just as quick to move on. People will ask you how long you’ve been traveling together, and you’ll admit that you just met twelve hours before when you joined in the same walking tour.

You become accustomed to living out of a suitcase for a few weeks or months at a time. Your four shirts are quickly melded to the exact contours of your body, no matter how often you’re able to find a washing machine and soap. But it doesn’t matter, because those four shirts see so many sights and absorb so many smells of so many cultures. The more you absorb, the less rigid you become.

You learn that you’re not always right. You hear how other countries, other religions, other families operate. You adopt some of their world, and they adopt some of yours. Or you toast each other and your differences, knowing some things won’t change. But it doesn’t matter, because you realize on the other side of the table is a human being, not the enemy.

You start holding on to less.

You hold on to fewer strict opinions, more open to discussion and ability to change.

You hold on to fewer languages, realizing the fluidity body language and how your brain won’t recall the right word at the right time.

You loosen your grip on time, allowing for change and fluctuation, last minute ideas and new companions.

You let go of the determination that something you know is the best or the worst, as you come to appreciate the nuances of home and away.

You start demanding that others speak with respect and facts before making blanket statements.

You let go of the concept of home, because there are people and places that hold your heart all across the globe, scattered like dust in the wind.

I own so little. I hold on to so little.

Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is it just fine in this precise moment?

It is so easy to accumulate. It is so easy to continue to carry things around that have no worth, whether it’s a broken lamp (I just need to find a new pull string!) or a relationship (we’re not that bad for each other), a job (but what would I do if I left?), an apartment (yeah, everything’s gross and it’s really expensive, but it takes so much work!).

I’m so young, but I’m learning the weight of value. Who do I value? What do I value? When I live in a six foot by four foot space, what is worth so much that I am willing to sacrifice those inches? When friends are a dime a dozen, which relationships do I value enough to fight to maintain when I’m “out of sight, out of mind” and have to make an intentional effort?

My external environment now matches my inner self. Perhaps now my inner self will do some spring cleaning as well. Perhaps I can let go of the past, both the good parts and bad. Perhaps I can begin each day in peace and fresh beginnings. Perhaps I can empty myself and go in to each morning in each city with eyes wide open. Perhaps the past can remain there, and only the lessons follow me into the future.

I have no possessions.

I have nothing holding me down.

Defying gravity.

It’s time to find color in the earth instead of my wardrobe, vibrancy in real relationships instead of the fleeting. Hold on to what has value, release what holds you back, create beauty in each moment.

I didn’t think I owned much. But now I want to own even less.

Now I just want to own myself, to take accountability for my words and actions, and then to move on in freedom.

Live simply.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Changes, Family, Home, Travel

there’s no place like home

“Are you sure you don’t need another cup of coffee?” Nick asked as we hugged goodbye.

I shook my head with embarrassment. “I’m actually gonna grab something at Casey’s. I really want to get some breakfast pizza.”

My friend stared at me in astonishment. “Wait,” he asked me from his Omaha front stoop, “You don’t have Casey’s in Colorado?”

I laughed at my friend, and crossed the border into culture shock.

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I’m from Iowa. I’ve spent 22 of my almost 26 years in this state. Yet for the first time, I felt like a stranger.

I haven’t used a GPS in Des Moines in years, but I found my heart skipping a beat as 235 weaved. Is this how I get to my sister’s place? I thought the road split here… maybe not?

Feeling disoriented, I called my mom to ask her if she needed me to pick anything up before heading back to our farm. List in hand, I stepped into Hy-Vee and gasped at how high the ceilings soared and far the grocery aisles sprawled. I next went into Walmart – good, old, familiar Walmart, just like in Colorado – and nearly toppled over a beer display. It took me several seconds to remember that alcohol can be sold outside of liquor stores in this state.

The longest that I’d been away from home prior to this stretch was the 10 months I lived in Slovakia. This time, it’s been 17 months. Much can change, much can stay the same.

I’m now curled up in the farmhouse where I grew up – the farmhouse that I haven’t lived in for a decade. My parents are out in the fields, and I’ll join my dad in the combine soon. Right now, I’m just enjoying the silence.

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When I left Iowa almost two years ago, I was heartbroken. My dream job had been ripped from my fingers by city politics, and I was fleeing to the mountains. Perhaps my unrequited love affair with Denver was my rebound – I fell head over heels for the city in the blink of an eye. So now it’s time to leave Colorado, to seek my fortune in the great, wide world.

While my deepest self is a nomad, a city-dweller, a wanderer, I can never shake those deep roots: I am a farmer’s daughter.

It’s funny now. Wherever I travel, this is home. Brands that I grew up with that I can’t find anywhere else in the world. Endless, uninterrupted horizons for incredible sunrises and sunsets. The refreshing scent of corn husks being harvested, sometimes interspersed with the not-nearly-as-pleasant scent of manure from the chicken and hog confinements. The furniture has changed, but my mom still lines the walls with cards and pictures from the friends she writes on every birthday. It’s several generations of kittens later, but they still mew on the front stoop, begging for attention – and I can guarantee our family’s four-note whistle will still bring them running for food.

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It’s a much slower pace than I’m used to. Driving through Des Moines felt like going through a one-stoplight town – I became the Texas driver that we grumble about in Denver. But it’s refreshing, clean, and beautiful.

I know it’s not forever, being back.

But right now, as confusing, as wild, as different as it is? There’s no place like home.

 

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Beer, Current Events, Growing Up, Home, Musing, Stories, Time, Travel

the millennial experience

I am a millennial.

 

I am the border of two realities, nostalgic for a childhood from a quickly bygone era.

I own a smart phone, but remember spending hours curling the cord of my parents’ landline around my fingers while talking behind a closed door.

I can access data in my pocket, but remember when my dad got our first computer and hearing the sounds of dial up internet.

 

I share photos instantly, but remember going to the pharmacy to develop film and how angry my mom got that I wasted some of those negatives on pictures of clouds.

 

They once thought the future would be all about transportation.

Hoverboards and flying cars, jet packs and teleportation. But instead, we became the generation of communication. I wake up to a Facebook message from my friend in Slovakia and can shoot a text to one in South Korea. I can Skype for free with someone in Brazil, and read an email from someone in Morocco.

 

Computers which once took up an entire room now sit on our wrist and we can talk to our watch to keep up with the world.

 

Global travel is no longer exotic and unpredictable, but easily replicated because the stories and photos don’t hide in our memories and sock drawers but are shared with the world in real time.

 

Hobbies are at our fingertips. Instead of spending hours pouring over a book in a library, I simply google “how to” and play until I get bored. Need to make friends with similar interests? There’s a MeetUp for that. Need to see a new city but don’t want to be in a hotel? No biggie: AirBnB and Couchsurfing have you covered!

We strove so hard to be different, and in that way we all became the same.

I drink wine with my best friends and visit breweries with strangers.

I drink my direct-trade coffee black and have never bought cable.

I buy my clothing in thrift stores (before Macklemore made it cool) and love getting produce from the farmer’s market.

I live with roommates so I can afford to live in a big city, and most of my friends aren’t yet married.

I change my profile picture to support a cause, and donate ten bucks to another I deem worthy of my measly income.

I laugh, I cry, I argue, I make peace. I talk to a therapist, and vent to my friends. I move away from home and build a network to serve as a surrogate family when the days get too long and the nights get too lonely.

I ask questions and argue politics, I question the status quo and argue for a truth I’ve discovered.

 

No, I’m not any different than you.

 

I’m a middle class white girl with first world problems, but sometimes through the gentrification can see the real world issues. I strive to meet people who challenge me and my beliefs, and find myself hurting as a way to feel alive.

 

Is that the point of being a millennial? Generations before us made the way so smooth that we have to roughen the course to not become one of a million faces?

 

Merry Christmas, everybody.
And I drew the line at wasting away or waiting to be saved.
Posted in Changes, College, Growing Up, Home

On turning 24, and then some.

December is often a time for reflection – it’s the end of the year.

For me it’s always been doubly so – with my birthday at the end of the month it’s the end of my personal year as well.

This year is even more – I graduated in December a year ago. Hashtag baccalaureate, k?

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Since before I can remember, the my hometown church has ended its Christmas Eve service with Mannheim Steamroller’s rendition of Silent Night while everyone stands in a circle around the darkened sanctuary with candles flickering. As I stood there tonight, I pondered the shifting of generations. Girls I went to high school with now stand with fidgeting munchkins, stepping into the role of wife and mother. Meanwhile the children we babysat are now the high school leaders, singing boldly, volunteering often, and carrying the community on their shoulders.

It’s been a ridiculous year.

Traveling the world, traveling the United States. Getting promoted, my work shutting down. Independent to dependent to independent. Painting and crocheting. Writing and reading and being on three different phone plans. Everybody moving. Also, Reddit. It’s a thing.

Claire makes me laugh.

I move to Denver, CO in a week. A new year, a new state, a new bout of trying to figure out this life after college. I’m on the cusp of something big, the edge of growing up as I leave my college town.

For once, I don’t have much to say. My ponderings have all been written in journals, or discussed with friends. I’m at peace.

’twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

Posted in Changes, College, Family, From old blog, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Musing, People

The Mask and the Martyr

September 23, 2012


When does a girl become a woman? I’m wondering if I am going through that process right now. All my life, I have tried to keep up the beautiful mask. That my life is put together. That I don’t struggle with anything or have any issues. That I am never lonely, angry, confused, bitter. That I always have the answers. That I have a lovely, pure heart.

It’s a weary mask. It is a heavy burden. To always be put together. To always have my life appearing whole and unbroken, when inside I have always been dying.

Overwhelmed by myself, I threw my story at someone the other day, too weak to care. Tired of being called authentic, tired of being called genuine when my soul and heart were so dirty and tattered. As I shattered the pedestal I had been placed on, I waited bitterly for the shock, the disappointment, and the separation. I waited to be left alone, as I no longer matched up to the ideal.

But you know what happened?

She said, “I love you, anyway.”

She touched my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “If anything, I love you more now that I know the truth about you.”

“This is being genuine,” she told me. “Nothing you can say or do will make me love you less.”

And I began to cry.

“This can’t be real. She’s crazy,” I thought to myself. So I sought out another woman, and another, and another. And these four women surprised me so much.

“I love you even more now than I did before,” they all said.

Instead of being thrown away, shunned for not living up to the perfection, I was cherished. Stunned, I wept. As my weakness and struggles, lies and liabilities came to light, I was loved any way. Not because of what I’d done, but simply because I was me. Broken, imperfect, and loved anyway.

I held my scarlet letter to the light: pains from the past and present, wounds that had never healed, struggles that had never been faced, and emotions that had never been confronted. Broken. Confused. And somehow, through it all, I am beginning to release the shell that has bound me, the cage that has kept me, the mask that has shielded me.

I am on a journey, discovering who I really am. How to be genuine. How to be authentic. How to be alive. It is scary, and I have cried more in the last month than I have in the last 3 years combined. But with every tear I cry, I feel as though I am releasing the façade. I am beginning to breathe. My soul is awakening. Who I was is not who I am. I do not yet know what I will look like at the end of this, but I know that she is going to be more alive than I have ever dared to dream of. It looks like this broken girl is finally letting go enough to start to grow into the woman God is preparing me to be.