A Few Favorites


Julie Andrews sang about “My Favorite Things” in The Sound of Music. Those of us on Facebook click on the things we like, from bands and events and products to the tirades of our friends. In High Fidelity, John Cusack’s character stated emphatically that we were the sum of our tastes in music and movies. I’m not quite sure what I think about that, but I do know what I like. With a couple of weeks of bad news, I want to focus on things that inspire me, give me joy, and sing to my heart.

I encourage you to create your own list. Here’s mine, randomly, and in no particular order, except off the top of my head (a phrase I love). While this list is long and unwieldy, there are still many things missing. It’s my attempt at a love letter to life.

I love.

My family. My friends. Dogs. New Mexico. Worms. Blue and green.

I love.

Reading mysteries and essays and short stories and thick historical biographies. Fiction that grabs me. Jane Austen’s novels and finding new things when I reread her. The words of Sigurd Olson and how he can return me to my dream of Northern Wisconsin in no time. Stephanie Barron who writes mysteries with Jane Austen as the protagonist. Francine Mathews and her thrillers and the fact that she can write wonderfully with two names and two identities (she’s also Stephanie Barron). Agatha Christie and Nevada Barr, female writers of mysteries that are very different, but very good. Real solid dictionaries to page through, getting lost in meanings as I search for more. The cantankerousness of Edward Abbey and the cheerful joy of Gilbert White. Historical nature writing, written from a day-to-day perspective. James Baldwin. Louisa May Alcott. Pablo Neruda. Kristin Armstrong’s blog. Discovering something new and how reading something changes me. Love, love, love Henry David Thoreau and long for that deliberation in my own life. Maira Kalman and Maurice Sendak’s books and illustrations. Real magazines and the pictures and paging through them. The heft of the Sunday newspaper and curling up with the ideas and opinions while drinking hot tea. Bookshelves and filling them with well-loved treasures. When I find poetry that knocks my socks off, even when I don’t necessarily understand it. Having a pile of things to read by my bedside. Small, used bookstores and libraries, they are like cathedrals for the mind.

I love.

Dancing a two-step and hearing twang on the radio airwaves. The sound of John Coltrane’s saxophone blaring on my speakers and getting lost in “A Love Supreme.” Big band music. Marching band music, John Philips Sousa makes me swoon. Dixie Chicks pounding on the car stereo as I sing at the top of my lungs. Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin. Singing in the car, in the shower, and while cleaning, sometimes off-key or out-of-tune, making up music and lyrics as I go. Dwight Yoakam and his very special sound. Greg Brown’s deep voice and how I feel part of humanity when I see him in concert. Steve Martin for humor and banjo. Willie Nelson, just because. Beethoven for beauty, and because even when he was deaf, he still made music and he wrote “Ode to Joy” which I can still peck out on the piano. The shrill notes of recorders in an elementary music class. How a bluegrass band fits together on a stage, or how the notes of those instruments meld together in fast, breezy tunes. Going to concerts and sharing in the joy of live performance with other fans.

I love.

The smell of campfire. A fire in the fireplace. Being cold in northern Wisconsin where I went to college. Shivering with goosebumps on my arms. Wilderness. Taking road trips and being the only car on the road. Nights spent sleeping in a tent or under the stars. The smell of rain on a hot summer day and the smell of lightning at dusk. Adventures in backpacking and carrying everything I need on my back. The first frost. The smell of the thaw in spring. How snow squeaks differently at various temperatures. Seeing the mountains on the horizon, but being planted in the prairie. Hiking and turning around to see how far I have come. Long weekend trips. Armchair traveling, with guide books and travel memoirs and the atlas. Learning words in another language, awkward syllables stumbling off my tongue. A suitcase packed and ready for adventures. A backpack with provisions ready to go. Real travels where time and distance and language make the trip beautiful and scary and fulfilling.

I love.

My feet soaking in a small lake or mud puddle. The slap of waves on a canoe, especially on a slow, meandering river. Short, but hot showers. Lingering in hot springs. A sudsy bubble bath and a book with the high-water mark of a bathtub read. Snowshoeing, but not skiing. To wander and take my time. Going off the beaten path, but also discovering popular spots and landmarks. Late night walks in the dark. The crunch of leaves. The smell of compost. The sounds of boots breaking through dirt.

I love.

Cozy sweaters and thick socks. Wearing cowboy boots without irony. My favorite outfit throughout my life, from three into my thirties, a turtleneck and corduroy jeans. Scarves as accessories, for texture, and for keeping out the cold. Silver jewelry and wearing my grandmother’s heirloom junk jewelry. Laying out my clothes the night before. Tugging on wool socks with Birkenstocks. Wearing knee-high rubber boots if I lived in a land of rain. New running shoes. Argyle. Well-worn running shoes. Fashion and the expression that comes with it, even though you would never mistake me for a clotheshorse. Paging through Vogue and scanning the look-of-the-day I receive in e-mail. Shrugging into shawls and wishing I could wear them more. Men’s suit coats and cool finds from thrift stores. Mr. Rogers and his contributions to fashion: Keds sneakers and cozy cardigans for comfortable learning and living wear.

I love.

Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies, ahh. Gwyneth Paltrow and Keri Russell for beauty and fashion sense and because I feel as if I’ve grown up watching them. Dolly Parton, enough said. Watching Steel Magnolias a million times (and I’ve already seen it a million times). My favorite quote from that movie, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Re-watching episodes of The West Wing. Going to the movies to cry or laugh or both. Period pieces and romantic dramas. Anything with Denzel Washington. The memory of Mr. Rogers, who inspires me to be a better person.

I love.

Breakfasts out at restaurants or a late, late breakfast in the middle of the night. Baking cookies and making brownies. The ritual of kneading dough, punching it down, smelling it rise, and finally baking the bread. Blueberry muffins on Sundays. A good greasy spoon diner and the local hole in the wall. Cheese enchiladas with green chile. Chocolate with almonds. Gin and tonic with a twist of lime. Corn bread. Raisins. A bloody mary or just tomato juice on a regular day. Going to the farmers’ markets on Saturday and picking the veggies for the week. Eating strawberries straight from the patch or apples straight from the branch. Peeling and eating oranges and the citrus smell left on my fingers. The smell of onions and garlic cooking, the hints of a meal to begin. The rituals of making coffee in early mornings. Drinking out of wine glasses, and not just wine. Drinking out of sturdy Nalgene bottles, and not just water. The smell of chilies roasting. All types of beverages: water, hot tea, hot chocolate, coffee, Gatorade after a long bout of exercise, lemonade to sip with a friend, iced tea with lemon and no sugar, cold milk. A shared cold beer after a hot-blooded argument shakes my perspective.

I love.

Long phone conversations with old friends and family. Long conversations late in the night. Receiving letters in the mail. Writing names and addresses and licking envelopes and dropping things in the mailbox. When people come to visit, for an hour, an afternoon, a night, or a week. Flickers of candlelight and the glow of a lantern instead of overhead electric light bulbs. Being awake when everyone else is asleep, either late at night or early in the morning. The huff and puff when I’ve exercised hard. Lists and crossing things off of those lists. Shopping at Target (yes, consumptive of me) and shopping at thrift stores. Dirt under my nails and container gardens.

I love.

When my home, office, and car are clean and organized simultaneously. The feeling of bringing a heavy bag for donation. Clearing out and repurposing. The easy-to-clean-up clutter of a busy, well-lived week. Adobe houses. Straw-bale houses. The mess of a kitchen where food has been lovingly prepared. Decorating the tree. Taking photos. Making the bed. Making a home. Quilts. Bandanas. Mexican blankets. The hush of sleeping breaths.

I love.

A day when teaching feels effortless and I have created something new and have fallen in love with my students. A day when teaching feels difficult, but I’ve learned something new and fallen in love with struggle. A child’s squeeze when they say thank you. Singing with three and four-year olds. Environmental education. Watching children create art. Children running and singing and laughing.

I love.

Thinking about next steps, even when I’m still too afraid to take them. Dreaming about a possible career in Washington, D.C. where I imagine high-minded debate and a high-powered job without having to raise money or working 80 hour weeks. Dreaming about an international career, traveling and working in and among many cultures. Dreaming about a classroom where I teach and learn and love. Pondering a massage table as a place for a moonlight career. Dreaming about an old house becoming my little bed and breakfast, off-the-grid and out-of-the-way.

I love.

The sound of cotton-linen-paper Bible pages and the literature of the King James version. Reading other religious books and texts. Sitting in an empty church. Having faith and having doubt. Quiet thoughts and words in prayer. Knowing that many others have different beliefs, but we still reach the same conclusions about treating others with love, respect, and common decency. Discussing politics and religion and having thoughtful deliberation. When debate can lead to contemplation. When conversation does not lead to a change of heart or a change of opinion, but does lead to respect and enlightenment.

I love.

Small towns. City blocks. Knowing people who work with their hands. Composting with worms and how the action takes no infrastructure, but shows what I can do with simple and small tools. Simple, common-sense, one-step-at-a-time solutions to difficult problems. When communities come together in sorrow and in need, ready to help each other. When we want to share and contribute, even when we’re not sure what to do. Clinging to those I love. People volunteering to help others learn to read or whatever needs to be done. Citizen science and knowing that people are monitoring things like the weather, the arrival of birds, the sounds of frogs, and the clarity of water. When a problem or its solution doesn’t necessarily fall to the left or to the right. Politics, but even more I love when we can take the politics out of the solution.

I love.

Puns, especially the unintended ones. Silly jokes that make third graders chuckle and adults groan. That I can’t remember jokes to retell them. That my verbal stories are unwieldy and clumsy, but those worth knowing will listen and wait as I tell. That in writing I can express myself, ignoring the chatter of my inner critic. New journals and the soreness of my fingers when I stay up late writing with the scratch of a pen or pencil on the page.

I love.

The idea of creation. Looking forward to creating many things: quilts, stories, pictures, a book, a knitted scarf, miles ran, miles swam, miles ridden on a bike, adventures in a new-to-me country, new friendships, cultivating old friendships, a life. Loving and being loved.

I hold onto these things I love. I use them as talismans when the world and the news of it can be too much. I think of these things I love as I let go. I think of these things and the many other things I love, not mentioned. I think of these things as I learn to love and share and live.

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Author: Kary Schumpert @runningintolife

I am a composter, an environmental educator, a runner, a writer.

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