Tag: Personal

An Iowa Primer

You know what kills me? People often feel the need to express their condolences when I tell them that I’m from Iowa. The conversation usually goes a little something like this:

“Iowa? You mean the place with all the potatoes?”

“No, that’s Idaho.”

“Oh. Did you say Ohio?”

“No, Iowa. You know, the heartland. The center of the United States. The home of the bridges of Madison County and the Amana Colonies and the Hawkeyes.”

Blank look. “Wow. You’re a long ways from everything aren’t you?”

Everything. As if what we have is… well, nothing.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed that particular conversation much more when Aaron and I lived in Vancouver. As soon as someone voiced the question, I happily (and not without a bit of pride) announced that we were British Columbians, that trendy set of urban tree-huggers who were equally comfortable in a pair of hiking boots or expensive stilettos, depending on the situation. There was a certain status that seemed to naturally come with claiming such a diverse, international city as my home base — surely I was by extension the embodiment of everything good my geographical location had to offer. Conversely, as a small town Iowa girl, I too, must be bland, narrow-minded, and stodgy. And who knows? Maybe I am those things.

But I’d like to think not.

I’d like to believe that the simple beauty of my home mirrors the uncomplicated deepest desires of my heart: time and space and peace. Iowa offers all of those things to me — time for the things that matter (my family, my friends, the pages of a good book, a blank notebook before me, a fine glass of wine), space to breathe (blue skies and golden prairies, a fresh breeze and the sound of silence), and an unexpected peace (the sense that, to a certain extent, time has forgotten us here, that the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world can be forgotten — if only for a minute).

Iowa is long walks and longer conversations. It’s songbirds in the morning and the sun on your face. It’s the scent of backyard fires and sticky sweet s’mores. The sweep of crimson sumac in the fall. Ditches full of black-eyed susan and golden finches perched on the swaying tips of slender grass. Harvest moons and thunderstorms, white-soft blankets of perfect winter snow and the lightbulb flicker of fireflies on hot July nights.

Sure, I have to drive an hour to get to the nearest Target. But you should see the stars in my backyard. And it’s true, I miss the mountains, the salty-crisp tang of the ocean, and the sound of six different languages being spoken on the streets, but Dorothy was on to something when she said, “There’s no place like home…”

I’ve decided that Iowa is the guy/girl next door. You spend your childhood taking it for granted, believing that it’s nothing special. But then you grow up and you realize that it’s beautiful — and it always has been. You just never had the eyes to see it. It’s the sort of love affair that takes you completely by surprise.

Ask me the question. I dare you. I’ll answer, happily (and not without a bit of pride).

How about you? Do you love where you’re planted?

*I have to throw in a PS… All the photos in this post were taken yesterday during a Labor Day hike/kayaking expedition with my boys and my mom and dad. It was exactly the sort of day for falling in love with Iowa all over again…



My Summer

So I’m trying to get back into blogging by taking baby steps. Little, itty-bitty, shuffles in the right direction. Whew. My brain hasn’t worked this hard in three months. Okay, that’s a total lie. I actually had a crazy-busy summer and finished writing and editing not one but two books. That’s, like, a miracle for me — I always said I’d never work on two books at the same time. Just goes to prove that you should never say never. Like I just did.

But I digress.

Back to baby steps.

In case you didn’t know this about me, I used to be a high school English teacher. (Well, Spanish and ESL, too, but because I’m a novelist it sounds better just to claim the English teacher status and leave it at that.) And though I’d like to think I was a fun, creative teacher, I (like most English teachers I know) couldn’t resist the siren call of the classic back-to-school assignment. What did you do on your summer break? Yes, I was boring once or twice and required an actual essay, but more often than not I allowed my students to recall their legendary summer vacation in more creative ways — that may or may not have employed the use of secondhand dresses and a homemade donkey’s head. Don’t ask.

Anyway, it seems fitting to me that I’d break the blogging ice after such a long hiatus with a similar sort of exercise: What did I do this summer break? But it has to be creative. And thus, My Summer: A photo essay with three word descriptions (since I was gone from blogland for three whole months). Enjoy.

Editing, Canadian style.

Backyard Makover: Beginning

Best City Ever

Chillin’ out max…

Backyard Makeover: Middle

Summer snuggles rock.

Backyard Project: Done!

Okay, your turn. I don’t think you can upload a picture to the comments section (although, I’m technologically inept and could be wrong), but I’d love to hear a couple three word descriptions about your summer. What did you do on your summer break?


Summer Lovin’

I think I’ve forgotten how to use WordPress.

How’s that for a fine how do you do? I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive my awkwardness this morning. It’s been almost three months since I’ve last blogged, and I’m greeting this newly strange experience with (dare I say it?): trepidation. Fear and trembling. I don’t know how to do this anymore.

As I write this, my two older sons are still tucked tight in their beds, sleeping the sleep of summer-exhausted little boys. They’re bleary-eyed these days, nut-brown and sun-blushed from long hours at parks and pools, and the many afternoons we spent chasing each other across the backyard and beyond. It’s been a summer full of catching fireflies and playing kick-the-can with the neighborhood kids, almost nightly street hockey tournaments in our driveway, and lots and lots of Mr. Freeze Pops. We’ve gone on two vacations (one week-long stay at a cabin in Minnesota where my eldest attempted to ski with a determination that still makes me choke up), and two weeks in British Columbia where we soaked up time with the Baart side of our family and came home longing for more. It has been a glorious, magical, sun-wonderful summer, and even when it was 100 degrees with a heat index of 115, I tried to count my many blessings and found I wasn’t quick enough to name them as they flickered by.

Life is beautiful.

And summer is a gift.

Thank you for allowing me to take a hiatus from my online world so I could embrace that gift with arms wide open. As the long, warm weeks wind down and the Baart family loads new backpacks with boxes of sharp crayons and paint shirts that will hang to my boys’ knees, I think I’m ready for a rolling start. It’s cool this morning, and the breeze through my open windows is fresh and just a little sharp. Do I smell autumn in the air? It’s okay if I do. Because after the extravagance of summer, fall is a blessing all its own.

Much, much more coming soon. In the meantime, I’d love it if you’d take just a moment to say hello. I’ve missed our conversations and hearing (even just a little) about your own stories. I’m looking forward to discovering where the coming months will take us.




Busy, busy, busy

I’ve been a bad blogger lately. Actually, it’s not just blogging — I’ve been slouchy and distant in all forms of social media. It seems that I go through a stage like this every few months where I’m just done with the Internet. Emails annoy me, Facebook is a waste of time, and I can think of a dozen things I’d rather do than blog. These seasons invariably align with nice weather or personal issues that require my attention or just plain apathy. Every time I’ve thought to blog this past week I’ve answered myself with a resounding: “Meh. Not in the mood.”

(Photo credit)

See the photo above? This is what I’d rather do. And since I’m in a crazy-busy stretch, I’m indulging myself. Instead of blogging, I’ve been playing Uno with my four-year-old, kissing my baby’s cheeks raw, and getting my booty whipped at soccer with my seven-year-old. Oh, and I’ve jumped on the neighborhood trampoline, cleaned up after hyper playdates, shuttled my kids to and from school and other events, and nearly fainted when my sons recently told me, “Guess what, mom? We love green peppers.” And it only took me two months to convince them of that.

You know, I had this niggling idea right before Ash Wednesday that I should give up social media for Lent. But it seemed like an impossible notion. Don’t I have to be here connecting with readers? Isn’t that part of my job? Well, as life would have it, I’m kind of taking a sabbatical anyway — I’ve just been too busy. Between editing Far From Here, working on a new project (that’s due in June!), and keeping up with the rest of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that something’s gotta give. And it’s going to be this blog.

So, for the next few weeks I’m going to be focusing on my family and on getting my work done. I’ll still be stopping in on my Facebook page from time to time, and I’d love it if you’d connect with me there. In the meantime, blessings to you in the season of anticipation. I love Lent and how it coincides with spring… It’s like the entire world is holding its breath. I’ll be back here after the exhale.

Blessings to you.


Ethiopian Adoption

As the adoptive mother of an Ethiopian-born son, I have to interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post to spread the news about a new development in international adoptions out of Ethiopia. According to the Joint Council Emergency Campaign for Ethiopian children:

*     *     *

Last week the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs announced their intention to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90% beginning March 10, 2011.

The Ministry’s plan for a dramatic reduction is apparently based on two primary issues;

1) the assumption that corruption in intercountry adoption is systemic and rampant and;

2) the Ministry’s resources should be focused on the children for whom intercountry adoption is not an option.

The Ministry’s plan to reduce intercountry adoption by 90% is a tragic, unnecessary and a disproportionate reaction to concerns of isolated abuses in the intercountry adoption process. The Ministry’s plan which calls for the processing of only five adoption cases per work day, will result not only in systemic and lasting damage to a large sector of social services, but will have an immediate impact on the lives and futures of children. Moving from over 4,000 adoptions per year to less than 500 will result in thousands of children languishing in under-regulated and poorly resourced institutions for years. For those children who are currently institutionalized and legally available for adoption, the Ministry’s plan will increase their time languishing in institutions for up to 7-years.

*     *     *

Wow. Believe me, I know that international adoption is a potentially controversial topic, and I know that the system can be abused. But I also know that when we picked up our sweet son from our agency-run foster home, the babies were sleeping three to a crib with 16 infants in one room and two harried nannies. And those were the kids who were waiting for their forever families. We never got a chance to see the government orphanages.

This decision breaks my heart. I’m all for stricter regulations that will work harder to weed out those who would abuse the system, but I can’t help thinking there has to be a better way to deal with this. If you think so, too, please take a moment to sign this petition. And if you are the adoptive parent of an Ethiopian born child, consider sending 3 photos and 50 words or less that communicate what you would like the Ministry to know about your child and your adoption. Email me (nicolebaart@yahoo.com) if you would like the email address and more information.

50 words or less to try and capture what my son means to me? Impossible. But here’s my stab at it:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

As the adoptive mother of an Ethiopian-born son, I plead with you to reconsider your stance on reducing the number of adoptions. I can’t tell you how deeply we love our son, and how empty our lives would be without him.


Mrs. Nicole Baart

I would have added a PS if I could…

PS – See that photo above? That’s our little boy playing football with his daddy. After that picture was taken, our sweet son was tackled on the ten yard line, kissed and cuddled, tickled and hugged until he giggled so hard we feared he’d forget all his potty training. When his big brother and mommy joined the pile, things only got better. See that little boy? He’s the one who prayed last night, “Thank you God, for our special family,” right before he squeezed me tight and said, “I love you to the sun and back, Mommy.” Please don’t rob a child like that of the chance to know what it means to a part of a family. And please don’t rob a family like ours of the chance to know what it means to love such a precious, one in a million child.