Weeds are Growing in our Woods

woods“You know what’s growing in your woods, don’t you,” our affable neighbor said quietly as he stood paused at his bird feeder that sits in a cleared area of the land between us.

I had ventured over to that side of our yard to do some cleanup in the unusually warm weather.

He and I had already exchanged pleasantries and I was somewhat nervous he would bring up the rather large tree that had fallen from our side of the woods onto downed trees on his side of the woods. I was certain our tree had taken out a bunch of his trees during the hidden summer months and we were going to have a talk about that.

“No,” I looked up from the bag of leaves I was filling, “but I’m guessing it’s not good?” I smiled genuinely, hoping I didn’t appear anxious.

He walked gently over to the edge of the woods on our property. The property  I had been meticulously manicuring for the past several weeks right up to the line of woods where he now stood. I had been leaf blowing, mowing, raking, leaf blowing some more, mowing again, and admittedly pushing some of what seemed like leaf litter into said woods.

He waved his hand pointing over a swath of ground and said, “All of that green foliage…that’s buckthorn.” I looked in the direction he was pointing and all I saw was green foliage. “It’s invasive and you don’t want that.”

For what I had considered about the woods, I had admittedly paid little to no attention to what was actually growing there. All I knew was that the woods could blanket the “lawn” part of our yard with more leaves in one day than I think I saw in my entire childhood in Colorado. The woods provide great shade in the summer, fun hiking days all year long and, no matter the day, they seem the perfect haven for the birds, squirrels, deer and turkey I love watching.

“Oh my gosh! I had no idea. ALL of that green is bad?” I looked deeper into the woods realizing that there were a lot of shrubs still clothed in vibrant green and a stark contrast to the dulled and muted autumn hue of browns and maroons.

“Yep, it gets just about everywhere, and it is tough to fight. I’m not really an ecologist, but I know it screws up the wildlife.”

I was immediately saddened that I hadn’t been fighting the fight I should have been.

I apologized profusely, got advice about battling the botanical beast and continued to survey with my eyes the war I was going to need to wage for the rest of the time my husband and I live in this house. War with something, up to that point at least, I had no idea was even growing in our yard.



yuccaThe very first home my husband and I owned was situated at the top of a hill in the arid, high desert of Monument, Colorado. Spectacular views of the mountains, but not much in the way of plants. A pair of small pine trees grew on that lot and practically nothing else. It was a familiar landscape for me, but unfamiliar and boring for my Midwest husband who had been accustomed to blossoming plants by the lakes and vibrant northwoods.

“You mowed the yucca plants?” I yelled at him as he rolled our battered lawn mower into the garage.

“Those things will not mow down,” he said as the mower hummed to a stop and he and I stood looking at the frayed and mangled remnants of the yucca plants in our backyard xeriscape.

“They’re not meant to be mowed down.” I said with resignation, “They are plants that grow here.”

“Oh,” he shrugged, “I didn’t know that.”

Yucca plants are spiky and resilient, but admittedly not the prettiest plant on the planet. My husband’s tendency is to cut ugly to the quick and start over. I like to sit with ugly a bit longer and determine what I’m meant to learn.

At that point in our marriage we were trying to figure out how to let even unattractive truths flourish. We had to acknowledge the naturally occurring plants, before we could create fertile ground for anything else.

It was in Colorado I had to choose to grow: through our marriage. It was on the backdrop of sandy hills covered with spiky plants that I desperately needed something to grow…or at least to learn how to let things grow the way they were meant to.

With a number of fits and starts, we started a conversation about how we would both grow best and our transition to the Midwest began.


Our yards here in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been home to plenty of naturally occurring plants as well as the purposeful landscaping of the families who lived in those spaces before us. I learn about a new plant every year.

Our Woodbury house needed major dandelion maintenance, yet we were at the point in our marriage when children required more time and care than I could possibly devote to deweeding my front yard.

I was tempted to craft a sign to post in the front yard: “Don’t mind the weeds…we are growing children” but I didn’t have time for that either.


This new phase in our marriage is a tricky one. We seem to have the yard in order. We’ve learned to maintain the landscaping, our children are of age where child labor is considered appropriate, and I am proud of our lawn. It’s manicured and it looks like we care about it as much as we do.

On the surface I suppose our marriage is similar. We’ve got the children toting and schedule coordinating down. We have worked out the rhythm as we move in and around each other through a year. It’s very easy to let the marriage run on cruise control and ride out the remaining years of our children being home. The problem is, if we ignore the buckthorn growing in the woods, we will soon be overrun. It chokes out other plants and an inattention to marriage maintenance does the same thing.

woods 2

Maybe it’s age issues. Maybe it’s battling through self-worth or lifelong goals. Maybe it’s tackling fears or pursuing joy. Without intention, I’m not sure we really ever know the truth about ugly things that have a chance to grow when they go unchecked. Ignoring the maintenance we need to keep doing at this point in our marriage is easier than pulling out buckthorn that only he and I (and an observant birder next door) knows is there. It’s not a quick fix, and I’m fairly certain there will always be buckthorn. Making a decision to continue to pull it out is our best chance to encourage anything beautiful to grow and flourish. It’s in our best interest to start now.

We’ll have enough time to sit with this ugly and work through cutting it down to the quick together. What an advancement in our marriage!

Copyright 2015  Meagan Frank                           Choosing to Grow



For All the Houses My Husband Built…

We’re finally building a Home.


The five of us congregated to the family room and found sitting spaces on the floor, the futon and the fireplace. We had successfully moved the bulk of our furniture to storage and my husband was preparing for his return trip to Colorado.

Middle Sprout asked her dad, “What do you remember most about living here, dad? You do know it’s your last night here…ever.”

My husband sat quietly with her question and I could tell he was struggling for a meaningful response.

“Christmas,” he quietly reflected. “I loved Christmases here.”

What a surprising answer, I thought. We didn’t spend one single Christmas Eve in this house.

I’m sure he meant the time leading up to Christmas with the sledding, snowball fights, ice skating, tree decorating and the singing of Christmas carols. Christmas season is the time of year when our schedules slow and we are able to spend our most quality time together as a family. It’s traditionally been the only block of time in the year when my husband doesn’t work himself to the bone.

I’m glad those are the memories he cherishes.

I’m glad he didn’t pick the projects and renovations, or the times he was away from the house for work and hockey (which were numerous) or the hours he worked at his home office in order to provide for this family. I’ve come to appreciate his compulsion to construct, improve and provide.

For not one second of our marriage have I gone without provision and I am genuinely grateful for that. I do, however, look forward to relishing more time together in our new home.

We’ve lived in seven places and renovated five houses…it’s time for us to come home.

We are setting ourselves up for a radical lifestyle change, and there are parts of it that make me anxious. We have gotten very good at seeing the potential in a pre-loved home. He fixed, repaired and together we prepped all of those properties for eventual sale. We have gotten good at the business of house ownership.

I have no idea how we’ll be at the art of home-making. Picture1

I’ve just recently become comfortable with the frenetic, working energy of my husband. He loves by acts of service and I’ve taught myself to love him for it.

It takes time to get used to the rhythm of a person and we’ve just started to perfect the movement around and away from one another.

I hope we can find comfort in being still.

It will be a strange adventure for all of us to build a home from scratch. I’ve never put much color on our walls (or hung art, or bought rugs). I’ve only picked out the improvement that would make the most sense as an investment.

We’ll be busy during the build…of that I have no doubt. I’m simply preparing myself for when the dust finally settles.

Our house ownership mimics our marriage in many ways. We have noticed and worked to repair and improve the places that needed some love. I hope we are never comfortable sitting still long enough that the house simply erodes around us.

I’d like to say I know for sure it won’t…but we’ve never done this before, and we have no practice at this sort of home ownership.

I’d love to hear what it is about your house that makes it a home. (I’m looking for ideas and inspiration)



Copyright 2013    Meagan Frank                           Choosing to Grow                                 www.meaganfrank.com


Washing off Dust with Water



Let’s pretend that this is new. Better yet, let’s pretend I’m young.

I was okay in the dust when I was younger because I didn’t know about water.

We lived in Monument, Colorado, with a surprisingly arid landscape full of cacti. I had never seen a natural lake.

Dust felt natural.

You and I stood at the indoor balcony of our first house and watched the water pour as a paint bubble down the front, two-story wall. It wasn’t supposed to rain for four straight days. We didn’t believe the compromised roof was going to fail so soon. We tried to call for help, but learned your energy to work was going to fix things faster than any delayed contractor could.

Water started our path through dust.

We renovated that house.  I trod off proudly to my teaching job with signs of your labor carried in lines of dust on my skirts. It was a declaration of home ownership.

It didn’t bother me then.

It didn’t even bother me the other three houses we’ve renovated. It was all part of our young adventure.

I am done with dust.

It has been so messy around here the last few days. Sanding drywall drops a layer of dust that doesn’t really ever go away. I’m certain I have dust from every house we’ve renovated imbedded in my skin… or buried in my ears. Part of me is so ready for the mess to be cleaned, while another part of me knows this phase of our lives is coming to an end.

I have to admit I’m a little sad to see it go.

This last project mimics this past winter and maybe with a new perspective I can avoid bitterness about both. Let’s imagine the story has just begun and the dust settling at our feet is magical instead of maddening.


Remember the way snow felt at the start of December? Yeah, me too. Now, let’s forget the snow that fell today has come in late March. Instead, let’s relish its freshness.

We’re at the last house renovation. This is the last time you’ll be covered in soot of your own work. From the very first house we’ve owned together, we have raised the dust to bring life to what was dying in some way.  I should embrace gratitude for our dusty story.

That’s why I need to stop myself from cringing with each footprint we leave as we walk through the dusty part we’re mending onto the wood floor we’ve already replaced.

This is it.

This is the layer of dust that, once blown away, will reveal the calming center of where we’ve been aiming to be.

A house on a lake…imbedded into a shoreline with humid leaves for blankets.  It’s not the dust-filled, wide open potential of a Pike’s Peak view, but it is the calmest place we’ve been able to imagine together that will let the dust of our crazy lives finally settle.


Copyright 2013    Meagan Frank                          Choosing to Grow

Calmly Standing on the Precipice…

I’m afraid of heights. I’m not sure I always have been, but there have been a number of times when the adrenaline that rushed in, with my awareness that I was in a really high place, was more than I could handle. The heights that have scared me have been both literal and figurative.

I have often been afraid to take jumps. Jumps to different phases of life…jumps into the arms of people begging me to trust them..jumps into uncertainty. Anyone who has watched my life for any amount of time may be surprised to hear how reluctant I have been to make the leaps I have.

To an outside observer it may seem like I have had no issue diving into marriage, into motherhood, into moving houses too many times, and into any of the job choices I have made. But don’t let appearances fool you.

The weekend before I got married, I went hiking with my younger brother in Colorado.  We had decided to scale two fourteeners in one day.  For those of you not familiar with the mountain term, it refers to mountains that are over 14,000 feet tall. The mountains we chose were Grays and Torreys Peaks. They are heavily traveled trails and good for beginners like me.

The day was beautiful, the company fantastic, and staying on a groomed trail was not much of an issue for me.  We summited the first peak, traversed the trail between the two and summited the second peak just before the afternoon thunderstorms started to roll in.

Standing on the top of the second peak, my brother and I realized that we were going to have to make a decision. It was unlikely we would have time to get back up the first peak and down safely before the lightning threatened, and as every Colorado hiker knows, when you are on the top of those mountains you have nowhere to hide from the electricity buzzing above you.

So we made a choice to take the shortcut between the two peaks and across a narrow, snowy path. We could see hikers ahead of us, and from a distance it did not look like something that was going to be that difficult.  It was only when I got to the middle of that section of the path that I made the mistake of glancing down the mountain to my left.

Panic rose in my throat when I became keenly aware of how dangerously steep this section of the mountain was. There was maybe ten feet of snow between me and a quick and fatal ride to the bottom.

I froze. My breathing shortened and I could not coax my legs to move me anymore.

My brother tried to console me. He is an avid mountain-climber and he had more confidence in me than I did. I was not very reassured, and my brother and I stood paralyzed by my fear.

A couple of the hikers who were further along this section of the shortcut heard my panic. They came back toward us, and one calmly put out his hands for me to walk with him the rest of the way.  He walked backwards and I clung to him walking forward.  I did everything I could to ignore my weak and wobbly legs.

It has been a while since I thought about that day. I think I’ve just figured something out. I think, maybe, I wasn’t just afraid of my physical surroundings as we hiked. I was afraid of the leap I was getting ready to take into the next phase of my life.

I think a part of me knew that uncertainty, the threat of storms, dangerous drop-offs, slippery slopes, spontaneous decisions,  paralyzing fear, and exhilirating triumph were all a part of the adventure of marriage.

If I didn’t subconciously know that then…I do know that now.

Marriage is a lot like the hike I took nearly thirteen years ago. There are peaks, there are valleys and there are snow fields we sometimes have to cross that may not have been a part of the plan.

My husband and I are standing on that second peak.  We’ve been there for some time now. The thing is, we can see a storm coming, and we can no longer stay where we are.  It’s time to get down, to move on to something else, but I can really only see one way out. We are going to have to cross that figurative snowfield, and we are going to have to do it with faith that it will all turn out okay on the other side.

This time I know there is help out ahead of us. I believe it is God who is gently coaxing us onto the snow. I’m not panicked, just intrigued, and my knees have stopped shaking. I am calmer as I look out on the next leap I have to take…and this time, my husband and I will be taking it together.

Marriage: Sacred or Secular

My recent blogpost about contracted infidelity has been a bit controversial. Why wouldn’t it be? I pointed out a new trend for couples who agree to a marriage where affairs are part of the contract.  This is bothersome to the traditional marriage defenders, including me, and it makes people very uncomfortable just to discuss it.   There is a lot of energy spent on defining and defending opinions about what marriage is, so I thought I would offer yet another challenging way to think about marriage.

There are two kinds of marriage, in my opinion.  There is the “sacred” marriage and the “secular” marriage.  Sacred marriages are bound by God  and tied to faith, ritual, religion and spirituality.

Secular marriages are not dependent upon a church and they are simply a contract between two people agreeing to remain committed to one another.

Is there a place in the world for both kinds?

Actually…there IS a place in the world with both kinds.  Since 1999, France has had both marriages and civil unions as a way for couples to commit to one another.  Initially created as a way for homosexual couples to acknowldege lifelong commitments to one another, civil unions have now become primarily heterosexual arrangements.

In December of last year, the New York Times reported on how the popularity of the civil union has exponentially grown over the last ten years.  It is an easy way to create a legally-recognized couple, without the weight of marriage.

I know it would likely be a rather unpopular idea, but I propose to categorize marriage into degrees of commitment. On one end of the scale would be the sacred, lifelong marriage.  On the other end would be a civil union or secular marriage contract.  Somewhere in the middle of that scale would be the marriage with the clause for infidelity (and any other type of contractual marriage that is not in line with biblical principles).

Because I’ve spent so much time, in the last eight years, figuring out how to make our sacred marriage work well, I do not plan to move, even slightly, on the scale, but I feel it is a modern trend to want to redefine and restructure what marriage is.  

I’m simply offering, in place of a singular definition upon which no one seems to agree,  a multi-leveled categorization that addresses the complex reality of modern marriage.

Husband Appreciation Year

One of my friends celebrated Husband Week last week. I didn’t know how widespread the celebration is for husband week, or if it is really a recognized week, so of course I had to investigate. This was the Facebook post that started the wheels turning for me:

HUSBAND WEEK: If you have a husband who is your best friend, who works hard for you, who has been with you through thick and thin, who loves you even when you’re at your worst, and whom you are PROUD to be married to, copy and paste this with the date you were married.

I do have a husband who is my best friend, he works TOO hard for me, he has absolutley been with me through thick and thin and he loves me even when I am at my worst. I am SO proud to be married to him and I can hardly believe we have been married since 8/15/98.

Yesterday, I told my husband it was Husband Appreciation Week, and he sat a little taller with the news. He squeaked out a foot massage because of it, and it was fun to tell him all the reasons I do so fully appreciate him.

I had to break his heart this morning, however, when I told him I could not verify that Husband Appreciation Week really existed, and if it does, I couldn’t find the actual week we are supposed to honor them.

“There is a Husband Appreciation Day though…on April 16th,” I consoled him. (http://www.brownielocks.com/)

“So no more foot rubs this week?” he sighed.

“I can probably muster up a couple more…if you are worthy of appreciating,” I joked.

It is important to have special days to recognize those things that matter to us, and I think it’s great to add another day of appreciation.

We have World Marriage Day, perfectly coordinated with Valentine’s Day on February 14th.

The April 16th Husband Day is shared with the birthday of the Air Force, National Attention Deficit Disorder Awareness Day, Chiropractic Founders Day, Hug a Greeting Card Writer Day and National Respect Day.

I will think about appreciating my husband that day, on Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and our anniversary, but our marriage would be in real trouble if those were the only days I told him how much I appreciate him.

To set out for an entire year of appreciation seems daunting initially, so I will still just take it one Husband Appreciation Day at a time.

Family Reunion…A Celebration of Marriage

There was a migration of hundreds of McGuires last weekend, and all because of Richard P. McGuire and his wife Margaret.  Every five years, the family descends upon the small farming community of Wisner, Nebraska.  The weekend is spent  connecting with immediate and extended family, relearning or being introduced to the history that defines us, and feeling genuinely connected to something much bigger than any of us.

At the Sunday Mass, a couple from another branch of our family celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  We were all witness to the renewal of their vows, and for me, it was one of the more touching moments of the day.  Sixty years!!  Are you kidding?  It reminded me that no one in that room would have been sitting there had it not been for the decision by Richard P. McGuire to marry Margaret McMahon.  In six short generations, there are enough people to fill an auditorium every five years.

The family operates on a constantly changing bell curve.  The older generations are smaller each time while the younger generations often grow with marriages and children.  The generation pictured below is the fourth generation.  This is the group that should include my dad, but he was not there and, barring a miracle,  he will likely never be able to attend another one of the McGuire reunions.  For me, my closer connections are my dad’s four brothers.  It is through them I feel woven into this group.  It is through them that my son learned about who his grandfather used to be, and it is though them that I will forever have pride in my Irish family.

I don’t imagine that R.P. and Margaret were perfect, nor that their children led lives free of mistake, but I took several minutes over the weekend to look around at the room they had created, and I couldn’t help but to think that they had done something right.  They loved well enough, they passed down a strong pride in heritage and the people in that room had an air of open generosity that is well-worth celebrating.

My brother, (pictured below) and his wife are expecting their first child, and he/she will be the only “McGuire” baby in my immediate family.  As my brother stood and contemplated the headstone of his great-great grandfather, I said a short prayer in thanks for all that marriage can do.

The marriage of my great-great- grandparents is ultimately responsible for my children.  How could I ignore what that means?  I am so grateful for the willingness of this family to continue to gather.  How else could I foster in my kids the kind of pride that encourages Big Sprout to sport an “I’m proud to be Irish” button while embracing his second-cousin-once-removed (or however he’s related to the son of my dad’s first cousin)?

It was a wonderful reunion and I think we all feel a bit more grounded after the McGuire reunion weekends.  I recognize the miracle of those who remain and continue to want to organize, but I celebrate the power of marriage to do wondrously miraculous things too.