Friday, December 30, 2011

Snapshots with Actual Pictures This Time

Remember when Jesus told his disciples to gather up the scraps of bread after He'd fed the 5000 with just a few loaves?  Well, I think this must be why.  These are "The Crusts of 2011."  That's right.  I saved every crust I cut off of Nora's p b & j's this year.  And with it, we made stuffing for Christmas dinner.  Julie, if you are reading this, it's true that I probably saved about 7 bucks doing this, but it's not really about the money.  I think it has something to do with not overlooking the little things, that they add up to something useful.  And mighty delicious.  Mom, you know you make the best stuffing in the world, right?

This is my morning:  praying and study and writing.

There was this completely amazing cabinet sitting in the basement, so we moved it upstairs.  Nora got her own sewing machine for Christmas, so I foresee a lot of that in our future.  While most young folks where I grew up raised animals for 4-H, I sewed.  We were called the "Silt Silly Stitchers."  I didn't win any ribbons or anything, but I made a few completely embarrassing outfits to wear in middle school.  I'm sure that helped my popularity a lot.  And I mean A LOT.

While Nora was gone, I cleaned...everything.  Here's some laundry as evidence.  (Girls, you know to never dry your jeans unless you want to mistakenly think you've gained 15 pounds and grew two inches over the course of 5 days, right?  You'll be calling Weight Watchers and laying off the calcium supplements for no good reason.)

The last few days, I played guitar.  I have a cold, so my voice sounded terrible.   Luckily the nearest town is 7 miles away.  And now they know what was "dying" 7 miles east of them.

And in two hours, Nora will be walking in that door, and here's what she'll see.  If you were thinking that I'm just a little excited to see my girl after four days in the Louisiana bayous, you'd be correct.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A List for the Day

1.  Welp.  I'm ready for Nora to be home now.  Tomorrow night.

2.  The wind flattens itself against the brick house, roaring away in defeat.

3.  Laundry.  Sweeping.  Roaming the house.  A hot bath to cure a cold.

4.  When I pull the laundry warm from the dryer, I usually dump it on top of Nora if she's sitting on the couch.  My mom used to do this to us, too.  And when I tipped the basket over today and began to fold, I stopped and crawled under and sat warming there for a good while with my eyes closed like a cat in a diamond of sun.  And I remembered a doctor who passed me once when I was sitting in a wheelchair in the hospital hallway, and he asked if I was cold, and I said I was okay, but he went away not believing me and brought a blanket that had been warmed.  He draped it across my shoulders without saying anything, and the long brick corridor turned human again from this anonymous warmth.

5.  I was writing some poetry today.  Here is a little though I don't understand everything about it yet:

How she needed even this domestic miracle, the bread
Rising, to remind her to lift her head.

6.  [                                                                           ]

7.  Tomorrow:  Slow cooker apple sauce and a Saturday Morning Cake (on Friday).  Grocery shopping and poetry.  I'll have to buy plums...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Books open on the dark, worn wood of the kitchen table                          Light in the kitchen cleaning the air doors open in the front and the back as the winter pretends spring and I research when to prune the apple tree and it isn't yet                         The slowness of a cold in the joints and curling up on the couch under the burnt orange afghan I made traveling over the Colorado plains one Christmas, the yarn looped over the rearview mirror a lifetime ago                             How I unraveled it, ten wound balls and crocheted it again with a tighter stitch last year when I was remaking myself and it took so much courage to undo everything              And she is in Louisiana driving under trees draped with Spanish moss and seeing friends I miss now thinking of it, but this is the season for this story and I don't have to understand everything that seems like a loss or a rebuilding       Plainsong and Little Heathens page turners as I remake the story as pictures in my mind and could it really be two years since I read a book straight through like those days when she was first born on the monitor and I held a book in one hand and her chest rising and falling in the other letting the days and pages turn until we were through it                    In a long time

I didn't see a single person                 So I played some songs and ate when I was hungry and slept when I was tired and at some point God asked me what active, consistent service looks like

And I was thinking that it might look a little like all of us treating the people and things God made the way God treats them               Or at least attempting to with His guidance                           And when I was scared one night, I put my hands together and felt the same presence I did when I gave birth and it was beyond anything I could name                     But it held my life like a rose holds a bloom and will always do so like strong arms unwrapping us safely into the deep water we fought to avoid and suffered because of it until we let go and turned our faces into the air above us still warm from when God breathed it

Monday, December 26, 2011

Q and A Session

Q:  With an evening to herself, what is the first thing a mom will do?

A:  Match the movies towering beside the television to their respective covers/cases.

Q:  After she's done with that, what will she do?

A:  Dust.

Q:  And then?

A:  Talk on the phone to her mom and her sister.

Q:  And how will that go?

A:  Fine, but the last time she engaged in a phone conversation that lasted more than 17 minutes was over 5 years ago, so she'll sound a little awkward at first, like a bird distracted by her own shadow.

Q:  Overall, how are things going?

A:  A text message (a friend sending prayers), a couple of phone calls (one from Nora wishing me a good night), and a matinee tomorrow with Mom and Mike to see War Horse--gifts at the right moment.

And you folks thought I was so tough....  (wink)   Love is my shield.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

After the Kids are in Bed

Tomorrow Nora will be heading to her dad's to begin a four day trip to Louisiana.  I've always had a hard time with separation anxiety.  Yeah, I know...  When I dropped Nora off at preschool the first time, I was the one crying, hanging onto the door refusing to leave.  So this is kind of a big deal for me.  And for her, too.  I'm excited for her, for this adventure, for the time to see so many people who love her.  It's good.

And I've prayed for her safety and thanked God for listening.  And there is nothing more that can be done than to be sure to pack a few snacks and send her with all my love and excitement for her.

As for me, well...

I'm sure many of you can relate to the "scary silence" of a moment to yourself.  Most moms don't get this time unless they stay up until 1 AM reading, watching TV, canning...

And I wonder what makes me more nervous:  Nora traveling or being by myself.  Will I be sad?  Scared?  Anxious?  Will I get anything done?  Will I eat too much?  Sleep?  Not sleep?

I hear one version of motherhood saying, "Hey, no biggie.  Four days.  That's nothing.  Maybe you can finally clean behind the oven, maybe write a book or something.  You'll be fine..."

And the other:  "I can make it.  I can make it."  And this version is pacing and staring at the clock and marking big X's over the days as they go by.

I know it's not healthy to live for someone else.  At the same time, I'm a mom.  If you look in the job description, it states in no uncertain terms that you will be "living for someone else."  This is the "put others before yourself" boot camp.  This is where God teaches you how to be number two in your life for once.

So, maybe I'm a little nervous about what all that time will feel like after five years (and nine months) of being with her everyday.  I guess I'll just do it and find out.  And try to remember to:

Approach this time as a gift and Nora's travel as a gift.
Get some stuff done.
Grapple with that lesson, the one Jesus has to teach me continually.  Don't worry.  Have faith.

I've said it once and I'll say it again:  This mom business is not for wimps.

(And I appreciate any prayers you want to throw this way for Nora's safe travels!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Use My Hands to Use My Heart

Note to Mom:  Please don't read this blog.  One of your Christmas presents is mentioned.  Love, Lisa.

Now that grades are in, I've been busy doing crafty/crochet things.  Here's the latest:

1.  A new scarf for Mom.  I'm really excited about the ruffly effect I was able to get on the edges.  (Yes, it's supposed to look like that.)  Nora and I made a rose by burning polyester silk fabric and layering them together.  While you can't really tell from the picture, they look delicate and lovely.

2.  Homemade goodies for the gals at Nora's preschool.  Felt flowers and gingham gift bags.  I had everything on hand from trips to et. cetera.  We're making do and loving the fact that "limitation equals generation."

3.  I may have shelled out a couple of clams for my new kindle, but I'm not paying 30 bucks for a cover. So, here's the crocheted solution.

Hoping your days are filled with good things for good hands.  Love, Lisa.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Search of the Master Gardener

Mom calls with a suggestion (a challenge?).  "You know, they offer classes through the UNL extension office, so you can become a master gardener."

I'm trying to unload the dishwasher and cook some mac for Nora while rifling through my internal "to-do" list for the day.  "Oh, yeah?  Hmmm."

Now Mom is going to the website and she's reading the information to me--ALL the information, including special notices for people who live in other counties--counties we don't live in.   Mom is VERY thorough when it comes to covering all the details.  It's obvious that she's excited about getting me involved in these classes because she "thinks [I] would really love this."

"Well, if you send me a link, I'll look it up."

"I just can't seem to find when or where the classes are taking place."

Nora starts pulling on my pant leg, the water is boiling and I'm holding all eight of our plates.  I'm imagining what a "master gardener" looks like.  Pretty nerdy, to be honest.  Or maybe I've got the wrong idea.  Maybe once you become a master gardener, purslane and crab grass and bindweed respect you and your "comfort zones."  You don't even need to pull them or spray them with anything.  They just know you're a master gardener and take their party elsewhere.  For some reason in my mind, I'm wearing a tall pointed hat, like a wizard, and I carry a hoe instead of a staff.  When I walk into the garden, I understand what the toads are saying.  Mosquitos respect me.  Grasshoppers stop eating my broccoli.

And I'm kind of liking this idea now...  The power.  I need master gardener power.   And then she says it:  "And who knows who you'll meet there."

"Wait.  What, Mom?"  I honestly wasn't even thinking about that.

"I don't know, Lisa.  I just think you might need to start doing a few things for yourself."

Hmmm...but what is that?  I mean, moms feel like their children are an extension of themselves, so getting up in the middle of the night several times to get a cup of cold water for your kid is like getting yourself a cup of cold 3 AM...when you're sleeping...and not at all thirsty.

Okay.  I'll admit I'm a bit ...fatigued...cranky...lackluster...  I know I'm not living in a state of hope right now.  I understand that.  I understand that I'm simply doing what it takes to make it through the day because the day is full of sufficient worries.  I take Jesus seriously when He says not to worry about tomorrow because if tomorrow is as full as today was, then I'm going back to bed.  Or...getting out of bed.  I don't even know when I'm supposed to be asleep, to be honest.  I am a mom, a woman carrying an invisible, blinking, neon sign that says "Open 24 Hours!"

I am a working mom.

And don't get me wrong.  You know I love this girl and this job.  You know I love this life, these blessings.  But maybe all this work and worry ends with a point like the kind you find at the top of a master gardener's hat.  And maybe I've been picking up all the wrong crap to carry around, the kind you can't fertilize with.  And, folks. that's my sack of (shut your mouth) I'm talking about, the one I carry around because it helps me feel sorry for myself, helps me make excuses for not doing things I'm scared of doing (writing, going out, singing a song I wrote, living in JOY.)

Uh!!!!!!!  I'm so tired of that other lie:  Life is hard.

Get lost, liar.  I've been born into that other life, and I'm not worried because it's not mine to defend.  If it were, I'd be screwed.  I know the real Master Gardener and He knows how my garden grows.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

The packages are literally in brown paper, tied up in string, recycled packing paper cozy beneath the blinking tree.

I read of a mother having tea with her children when one of them has a breakdown (we all break down sometimes).  "It sounds as if you need to talk.  Would you like to have some tea with me?"  Do unto them as we...  I am going to try this with Nora who has lately been saying, "Nobody loves me," and I don't know where this is coming from, and nor do I know how to respond other than to assure her this isn't true.  But simply saying, "That's not true" doesn't change how real the feeling is to her.  Tea with Nora.

I am often overwhelmed by the weight of making each decision for the family and can understand the blessing of having another who might decide every once in awhile what we should have for dinner, who might bundle the coats, who might drive the car, pick up a few things at the store, run the bath, load the dishes.  I think about erasing this paragraph, but maybe there are others who have felt this way, too, and I don't want them to feel as if they are truly alone.  Because I am not either.  And then I wonder, can Nora hear me thinking...nobody loves me...

How easily we believe the lies.  Those dirty tricks.

I am almost done grading and am getting my hair done tomorrow.  And when I sit down at the Spur with an excel spreadsheet and a cup of coffee, I'm going to feel like one of these "new women" everyone makes such a big deal about.  Who knows?  Maybe...just maybe, something brave is hiding underneath all this (bad) hair.  I'm hoping it's good hair and some hutzpah to stomp lies.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why I Need to Write Constantly

In sixth grade, I went early to school, sitting in the classroom during recess voluntarily working through geometry, in tears.

For the first time:  frustration.  I don't get it.  I don't understand how it works.  Not acceptable.

And with disuse, the vocabulary falls away like skin cells and the songs are forgotten.

What is "smart"?

Sometimes I think smart is simply giving yourself enough time to revise.  And all of this seems like such a worldly concern, something tied up in my pride.

Inside the crunched up, scrunched up shoulder girl there is a deep breath that releases her from trying so hard to...

She can't even say it.  The word for forgetting words.


Trying so hard to be right.

So, I'm praying for grace because an awkward girl needs it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Snapshots without the Pictures

This is a picture of three laundry baskets filled with student portfolios, almost 100 of them.  I dumped the real laundry on the floor, and Nora and I minivanned it up to the school to hand out the chocolate chip cookies we'd made this morning and pick up the final projects from my classes.  Apparently each of these laundry baskets holds 16 gallons, so I collected over 48 gallons of student work today.  Grading deadline:  Monday.  Like my students, I may be looking at an all-nighter at some point this weekend.  Luckily, they contain fiction writing, and poems, and reflection essays, and this sounds lovely to me.

Here's a picture of Nora's portfolio cover.  I like how her name is centered and how the blue and pink dots are equally distributed around it.  When she saw me grading today, she wanted to make her own portfolio, so we collected pictures and glue and preschool workbook pages, and she got to business.  "I can't believe I'm making my first portfolio!"

This is a picture of Nora drawing kitty pictures on the board in one of my classrooms.  She calls on me:  "Miss Nora, how do you draw a kitty?"  She starts and winds up with three ears.  "Oops!"  A little laugh.  And my heart leaps, learning, remembering my own nervous laughter at that very same board when I spelled a word incorrectly early in the semester and thought I was doomed.

This one is of Nora sleeping in her room right now.  And another of me typing in bed.  And here's one of the world getting along because it's Christmas, and that's how I want to picture it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small Seeds

My lesson today was to look for tiny things/moments/I don't even know whats that could be "seeds" that grow into astounding crops with the right attention and care.

The only seeds I could see were gigantic ones, pumpkin seed sized gifts...what we refer to as our "blessings."

I must look for even smaller things...

We talk about how big our God is, but there is also the atomic level to consider.

I want to start with something that small...

Something the size of a mustard seed or the hole a needle leaves behind in fabric, the size of a period at the end of a sentence.

Slow me down enough to see that small.  Where I have to stand in one place, lean over, squint my eyes...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Good Things. No. GREAT Things.

1.  A fairly long Bible study yesterday morning brought me finally, after writing three pages the heart of my prayer:  God.  Who are you?   Seeing through a glass darkly has found me stumbling around asking if I've done the right thing here and there and everywhere.  Would Jesus, as The Visual Bible movie portrays Him, come over and mess up my hair and give me a kiss on the forehead like I do with Nora?  Silly kid...all faith...LIGHTen up...

When I think of Christ, I see His suffering.  I imagine Him worrying Himself sick over all those in need of help, nauseated by our consumerism, angry...

Where did this image of God come from?  This angry, judging, disciplining, disappointed God...

Somehow I got confused, thinking that how I see myself...that this must be how He sees me, too...

I don't know what else to say at this point, but these are honest words in search of a loving Him, the All-Loving, All-Giving, All-Taking love of my life.

It is through Him that I know how to treat YOU, and that means everyone.  Let there be peace.  Let us forgive each other.  Let us learn to love our enemies, not as a sort of "gift" we give to them because of our superiority but the Creator's gift shared between us.  Beloved, let us love one another.

Share.  Show mercy.  Define your borders beyond your country, beyond your house, beyond your self.  Do not define your borders at all.

2.  And I will lean on praise, not perfection:

For the slow cooked vegetable beef stew and how Nora ate so well today.
For this warm, Christmas lighted house, the smell of a woman's locally made rose candle in the background.
For my Mom's love and how she read me so many books as a kid.  This basically defined my future for me or allowed me to grow into the kind of animal/vegetable/miracle that I am.  I'd also love to get a bumper sticker that says something like, "Hold each other.  Read to each other."
For dancing in Nora's room and how she throws up her arms and stomps her feet and looks so serious because she is.  She's serious about...not holding back.
For every chance we have to be Christ extending our hands to those who need a word, a hug, a sign, a miracle, a meal, a home, a kiss, a lesson, a suggestion, a cup of cold water, shoes, a job, a bed, a friend, healing, someone to be there as we approach our passing, and bless all of you who have and will do these things.

May I leave this life with messed up hair and a kiss on the forehead and the words that I long to hear:  Well done, good and faithful servant.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why Hanging Out with Preschoolers is Awesome

1.  They're missing all kinds of teeth and they don't care.

2.  They make daring fashion statements without worrying about what everyone else is going to think.  I mean, when is the last time YOU wore a hat that looked like a birthday cake with candles?  That's what I thought.  Now go wear whatever you like.  It's no big deal.  I promise.

3.  They're puffy.  And really, really cute.

4.  They were the first people to land on the moon.  Well, maybe that's bending the truth just a little...but if they could have been the first, they would have been.  I mean, look at them.  Carpe diem, preschoolers.  Carpe diem.

5.  They make art everyday.  They love glue guns.  They believe the things they make are real.  And they are.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Praise not Perfection

Hearing her defend herself during a game of Barrel of Monkeys:  "It's not nice to say no.  You should let me play with you."  Me standing at the door waiting to see if she would need me, but she didn't until later when she came home surly and throwing punches.  And when I thought she needed discipline, she just needed to be held and to holler loud and clear until it ran out.  There will be times in our lives when people won't want us.  How can a mother prepare her girl for this?

And this life of late has such a hold on me that I can't seem to place myself in it at all.  How is that possible?  I watch the Peanuts Christmas special with Nora and cry when Linus tells us what the meaning of Christmas is and I am looking for that Spirit, not the one that keeps whispering "lonely...lonely...lonely..."  All lies.

And Mom calls with good news from Owen's doctor.  My six year old nephew whose dental x-ray showed abnormal growth and we waited days until my sister could bring him in to Children's Hospital to hear the news, and the doctor thinks it is some sort of extra tooth or bone growth...not the other that we feared.

Is there ever a day we don't worry about our children?  This has been one of the most difficult areas I've found in my life to simply let go and trust. 

Nora digs through some styrofoam in the living room and the white pellets stick to everything, and I am cleaning them up for a second time after folding laundry, doing dishes after making supper, and the papers still to be graded and I am taking my pity to God and feeling sorry for myself when I know that what is required of me is thanksgiving.  Lord, thank you for her messes, that I can be here to help her clean them up because one day she will stand before them and have to claim her space and bandage her wounds and I might not see it.  I keep telling her, "Nora, take it to God.  Leave it there.  Pray about it when you get that angry."  If I can just make sure she knows that she is never alone...

And the word "lonely" runs like a thief who can never steal this heart because it weighs too much.

And suddenly what I thought were burdens and weights reveal themselves as the foundation that God used to build me, is using now.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Write it down; Make it happen.

Get right with food because this is a temple.
Write three "morning pages" each day. 
Try harder to understand what I'm reading in the Bible.  (Okay, back up.  Pray for help understanding what I'm reading.)
Pick up the guitar instead of x, y, and z  at least once a day.
Read a novel.  Really.  I promise you'll be able to concentrate.
Hand it over.  Let it be done.
Plan next year's garden.
Write down the recipe for the batch of chicken dumplings I made tonight because that was good food.
Buy something I can pickle.  I've been missing my late night canning quiet time with God.
Finish all the little projects that need doing around here--paint the mud room, put up tile behind the oven...
Now that it's officially winter, I suppose I should try to prune the trees in the orchard.
Did I say exercise yet?  Yeah.  I didn't think so.
Back off and let Nora become the person God made her.  Don't panic when she gets upset.
Clip pictures and articles that inspire me.  Try to remember that there is this thing God gives us and it's called JOY.
Crochet more.  Watch more television.  (I know.  This seems weird, but this is honestly a better alternative than sitting around trying to figure everything out.)
Look for some short stories with happy endings for my Intro to Lit classes.
Make my own soap.
Make my own candles.
Make my own soap candles.  Nothing says "clean" like a fire.
Address the fact that I am not an informed citizen.  I just have a hard time seeing all these arguments as being worth the attention...because what is news but so many people finding it impossible to love each other?   I don't have any answers, so I work on the microcosmic level.  As I said before, I just don't have any answers.  But I'm beginning to feel like this isn't really true either.
Start a poetry group at a women's shelter.  This is one answer.

Thank you for indulging me...sometimes a list is a sign of hope, yes?  I mean, you don't write a grocery list unless you plan on make a few meals.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recent questions:

How did you happen to form a ukulele trio?

It all began when we would wait outside of the preschool classroom coveting each others' corduroy jackets, knowing we should be friends but suffering from the kind of social anxiety that most closet songwriter/poets/moms suffer from.  I mean, we're used to talking to ourselves, to our children, and to the freshest pieces of fruit at the grocery store. 

But somehow, because I was too late to enroll Nora in preschool at St. John's and because I happened to see a notice in my church bulletin about the preschool at St. Paul's in Utica looking for students...because God knew we'd get over our shyness, I went from being a very lonely woman living in the middle of a corn field, isolated and searching for support to finding myself surrounded by friends--golden friends.  Cry at the kitchen table friends.  Leave stuff on your doorstep friends.   Praying for and with you friends. 

(If you'd like to sample some of the songs we played last night at the Sweet Talk Radio gig, check out my facebook wall.)  And just so you know, STR was amazing and funny and nice.  Check them out. 

What's your minivan doing in the ditch?

I believe that before it began to snow, someone moved the driveway and this is why I overshot the entrance by 5 feet.  Actually, it was better than the alternative, which would have been to stay in my lane and let the guy who wanted to ride in my trunk even though I had my turn signal on a good 1/2 mile before the turn find out why you shouldn't ride someone's bumper in the middle of a snowstorm, so I moved over into the other lane when I realized I wasn't going to be able to slow down enough to make the turn without ending up with Mr. Car Behind Me Guy owing me a new bumper, and drove (quite gently and calmly) into the ditch rather than risking a pile up. The guy behind me didn't stop.   Lynn helped me get the car out with the tractor and the kind of driving I usually only see in a demolition derby.  Maybe I've underestimated the power of the minivan.

What do you need right now?

Time to write long letters, read long books, write journal entries and poems, design classes, and take naps.  Time to bake over 50 dozen Christmas cookies with Nora and watch bad movies with my mom.  Time to be still, like today standing in the middle of the orchard with a suitcase in one hand, a ukulele over my shoulder, Nora's hand in mine, ditching the minivan and walking into a warm house.  When you can't move something yourself, it does no good to worry about it.  Just say a prayer, and let it go until it's moved.  And it will be moved.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Glass Fabric

Tucked inside the strong folds
there is dirt under the pillow
where her hands fell asleep
clasped as if around a steering wheel
and asking for our children
to be safe.  She kept this vigil
all night and woke still whispering
across the folds in the bed, a wandering sound
and one that wouldn't arrive
until we found it safe to drive across
this life again.  Until then,
the road is a glass fabric
too vulnerable to even place upon a map.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Paying rent.
Grading at the Spur.
Cream in my coffee.
Nora pulling out four flyers from the "Explore Nebraska" display, talking rapidly about dinosaur digs and wearing gloves before touching the bones.
Steak and mashed potatoes.
The frantic anxiety of Monday dissolving into a mid-week peace.

And Prayers:

For my sister's son Owen.
For my dads.
For my cousins.

The last few weeks have been intense.  God is near.  Lean in.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I've Got this One (Not!) or How to Be Thankful Despite Yourself

Paul reminds us to give thanks in all circumstances.

For mornings with Nora doing our Bible study together.

Making Christmas presents in our pajamas.

Chocolate Oatmeal cookies and the "delightful smell of baking"  (Nora has a way with words...) in preparation for Mom's open house this weekend.

For the IT department at Concordia and their assurance that I didn't ruin everything (and I imagined EVERYTHING including the laptop and possibly every top secret document the FBI has on file) because of the virus that appeared on my school laptop.

For the chance to take my anxiety about the little things to God and His answer.

Understanding that I can't do it all, and that believing that I can creates anxiety.  THIS is the day the Lord has made.  Let us REJOICE and be GLAD in it.  Notice how He doesn't say, Let us WORRY about everything and feel OVERWHELMED by it.

For Nora who responded to my audible sighing and pacing with a hug and a little whisper in my ear:  Hakuna Matata.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I'm contemplating this gift, a bronze cowboy boot on a rust colored chain, white and black beads dangling at the side and embossed lettering spelling the word:  Jolene.  See, Marge remembers back when I was kicking things aside and making some space for myself to live and breathe and get my hands dirty in the garden.  But I had forgotten.  I was plowed under by the worry and activity.  I haven't had this much gray hair in my life.  (And, yes, I'm going to dye it.  My Grandma Aanonson started going gray at 18, and she dyed her hair for years, back to the same jet black color, sporting her red lipstick until she said her eyebrows started to fade.  So, once my eyebrows start to fade, I'll pack in the dye.  I promise.  Until then...)

I was starting to feel soul weary, kneeling in the kitchen and asking why I only feel as if I'm moving objects, giving directions, feeling like I was getting it wrong somehow.  And down on my knees again because He knows I can't live quiet, can't live part way, can't pretend I am alive through the motions of living.  I was calling out to God for some real live living, for Him to show me why He made me so I could get to work.  I don't know how it happens or why it happens so frequently, but when the devil comes to steal, he takes my boots and it's those boots that help me walk with Him kicking aside the lie that I am quiet and good.  But I'm not quiet and good.  I've got too much to say, and I am also a sinner.  The thief can try to convince me that if I just try hard enough to fit into that quiet and good space, I can make God happy.  But that's a lie.  I don't know what God made me yet, but I've been finding out from one day to the next, and Lord, you didn't make me terrified.  You gave me boots.  And I will hang on to You this whole way through knowing I'm not quiet and I'm not good, but You know what You're doing, and I trust You, so stand me up again with a little kick in my stride because You've got a live one here.

Thank you, Marge.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm Counting It Out (Inside)

1.  "Nora, what is your favorite way of knowing how much I love you?"  "Kisses and hugs."  That's an easy one.  I was expecting something impossible, the way showing love to adults sometimes seems impossible.  I still have so much to learn about how to love.  This break, I let my pride, my belief that I am right, storm through the house and out the door.  Even so, I did not let the sun set on this anger.  I'm still feeling the aftershock and praying for home.

2.  A woman cannot live on mac n' cheese and fish sticks alone.  So, I cook family-sized meals (tonight: smothered shredded chicken burritos--too many tomatoes, too spicy, so delicious) and freeze single servings.  Nora tries a single "no thank you bite" and sometimes, like Mikey, she likes it.

3.  I am addicted to a BBC series called "Downton Abbey."  I think about it during the day while I'm cleaning and folding laundry.

4.  With three weeks left of school, I am wondering where the last burst of energy will come from to "finish strong," as they say.  I'm guessing the box of energy bars in my school bag will help.  And how I am praying that I rely on the Holy Spirit to direct my hours and my words.

5.  I love that Sufjan song about "pulling our collars up tight" and walking hand in hand by the lake and "counting it out, working it out inside."  The first time I heard that song I, in my small-mindedness, thought, "Whoa.  Is he really talking about working things out inside?  What kind of man is this who does the kind of complicated internal algebra that I've always thought of as being a 'woman thing?'"  I immediately liked him on facebook.

6.  I am particularly excited about a block of "bleu cheddar" cheese I picked up today.  It's the little things--especially when they are covered in cheese.

Friday, November 25, 2011


For my cousin Chris who lost his 5 month old son Gus today to bacterial meningitis. 
For my cousin Stephi who was beside Chris and grieves for her brother.
For my dad to know the jewel in his heart.
For my sisters to continue strong and steady through the gifts and challenges of motherhood.
For my mom to find the time and energy and strength she needs to do what she needs to do.
For Mike (my other dad) to be safe while in uniform.
For Nora, Lord, you know all that is in my heart.
For both my grandmas and my Aunt Dottie, for their health and Your peace.
For my friends and all they are blessed with and for all they are challenged by.
For my students and colleagues who will be traveling.
For clarity and patience; dispel all the worry that clouds my gratitude.
For a world that needs Your love and Your peace and Your guidance.

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Homing Devices and Other Stories

I missed a call on my cell today from my sister who was checking in to see how we were progressing on our way back to Nebraska.  An hour later, Mom hands me her cell phone.  "It's for you."  "Hey, I tried to call you."  "Sorry.  I was really busy."  We're both laughing because we know that I've been sitting in the back of the truck watching the terrain change:  the Monfort meat packing plants outside of Greeley, the rolling hills of yellow grasses peppered with the occasional herd lucky enough to have found itself under free range ownership, then finally crossing into Nebraska.  I imagine a giant woman in a long skirt ironing out the wrinkles of the land.  We roll across the plains like a marble her boys have set free in a game that so many other travelers are playing today, straight and true and a little tired.  East.

The last few days have been spent in Colorado, the Wild West, home of the bronco and the mountain men and the canyons carved by the white waters of the Colorado river.  I am staring out the window.  I had forgotten how tall the mountains are around my dad's place in Silt.  The two horses have been replaced by a Ural, a motorcycle with a sidecar.  The hillsides glow with oil rigs and big houses.  This is not the town I grew up in.  I drive Nora up to Roy Moore Elementary school only to find a patch of bare dirt, a rectangle, a barren ghost of some seven years of my life where I learned to read and curl my hair with a curling iron.  I have to turn around and drive back down the road again.  "I don't understand, Nora.  It was right here.  It's not here anymore."  I look for the busses turning around, the green lunch trays, the water fountains, the construction paper train that wound around the entire school three times, each car a book we'd read that year.  Gone.

We drive up the winding hill to the mesa, and I take Nora to the dirt road we walked down each morning to meet the bus.  Grandma and Grandpa's house is still the same stormy blue color, but the roof is falling in.  There's a pick up truck out front and a "No Trespassing" sign.  I turn around.  "There are so many houses here now, Nora.  All this land used to be Grandpa's and the fields were green and we played out there all day long."  "Did you bring toys?"  "No, we didn't have many.  We didn't really need any.  We just...roamed.  I can't believe how many people live here now."  "You shouldn't be sad, Mommy.  Maybe you should be happy that all those people who needed a place to live have found their houses."  I stop talking, letting her heart teach mine, but it's still hard to be that generous with my memories and how I think it should be.

And here I am now:  home.  I have told so many people about this farmhouse, how Ila and Merle raised three kids, how it was built in '49, how I am here now and Lynn has to knock on the door to come into the place he called "home" for so many years.  I think of Ila finally telling me after another invitation to come out and see the place, "It's just too hard to go.  There are just too many memories."

And I'm thinking of the disappearing school, the principal it was named after, the one I loved.  I'm thinking of my dad's place and the trees growing up through the deck and in front of the swing set, and I'm thinking of Grandpa's fields sectioned off and occupied, and the roof that covers us all, the renters who wait to be called to the mansion He built.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Thanksgiving

Have you ever noticed that it almost takes as long to pack and get ready for a trip as it does to actually go on the trip?  After

cleaninglaundrytrashshoppingforautomaticfishfeederpackingwrapping and doing a pile of dishes

I'm ready for a vacation.

We're Colorado bound, over the passes with Grandma, Grandpa and Great Grandma for an 11 hour "jaunt" in Mike's Chevy Silverado.  I actually like driving over the passes in a truck.  When I went to college, I had this tin can sized Toyota hatchback that I'd drive back and forth over the continental divide.  I would have been safer holding an umbrella while riding a donkey.  I remember one Thanksgiving getting snowed in at Vail pass (about 8 million miles above sea level), sitting by the indoor pool of the Holiday Inn and studying for my astronomy test.  The roads were so slick cars were sliding back down the mountain, and people were leap frogging out of their cars to push the cars in front of them.  I remember the puddles of water on the Pizza Hut tiled floor, left there from the snow melting off of stranded travelers' shoes.  I remember being glad that after 8 hours in the car creeping along a stretch of road that usually took 2 hours to cover, we were finally given permission to be late to school.

The story takes place miles before you arrive, so be not anxious while covering that ground.  Just pay attention, and take a few notes for the next fella that comes down this way.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Preparing for Thanksgiving

1.  Clay

Her hands take the earth and model a functional beauty--her gift.

The one that keeps her up late at night, turning the kiln up at odd hours--1 AM, 5 AM.

And she sits with her works inside Harvest Hall and there is praising at the gates.  The work of her hands.

At the craft fair in Seward, they serve a sloppy joe and carrot cake and good, strong coffee and chips for 5 bucks, and we eat lunch together.  When she gets up to look around, and I watch her booth for her, people come up, comment on her pottery, and I wish I could take credit, but this isn't my gift.  "My mom, she makes these."

A woman finds a Blessing jar, and Mom explains:  "You write down your blessings during the year and put them in here.  On Thanksgiving, you can read them."

She is an older woman with glasses, fingering the letters: Blessing.  "This is going to sound wrong, but do you have any that are smaller?"  The woman, my mom and I break the space of an implied sadness with laughter.  Suddenly she needs a bigger jar to hold the birds of joy flapping around us everywhere.

2.  Chalk

A letter arrives with a divine calling confirmed.  And my hands are shaking as I read the letter to Nora sitting behind me in her car seat.  "That's great, Mommy.  Does this mean we can get an RV now?"

This means so much, Nora.  This means we can help in ways I don't understand yet.  Whatever it is: Lord, let the work of my hands be worthy of praise at the gates, setting the wild birds free with love for the song and for their flight, which I am blessed to witness.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Way to Rest

I scrape the thick frost blinding the windshield, and the sun turns the lower portion of our hemisphere pink.  I'm in my $9.00 fluffy, black coat trying to reach the middle part of the windshield and already thinking about the fiction writing class that begins in 45 minutes down Highway 34, up the 3 flights of stairs and into the tower where there is sunshine coming through and the stories seem even brighter, so much so that I have trouble speaking about them without shadowing places that need to simply shine on their own terms.

They write notes to my next class of writers about how not to fear fiction, and they will read them slowly out loud, bleeping out the one swear word.  And why didn't I think of this before, this breaking of borders between classes, so they might be an encouragement to each other?  And when they present their fairy tale revision pieces, I think we're all feeling a lot alive and a lot good and a lot like the semester will end soon and it will be missed.

Thanksgiving Break arrives and they pack cars with loads of dirty laundry and piles of homework, and I want to curl up inside a warm, dry place for the next 12 days and collect time like the girl in the red cape bringing an empty basket to her Grandmother's house, so she might gather moments of strong living like a breadcrumb trail that is home:

When you are worried, stop thinking so much.
Listen to the Holy Spirit.

I worry about us, how we race and move and sprint and climb and sleep and rise and run.  And the curious girl within me yearns for the next 12 days to be spent relearning the slowness of a line break, the architecture of a classic novel's sentence, how to draw, how to hear music, how to eat and how to stare.  To turn inward, not to find myself, but to find the instrument He made that knows how to live rich and deep, like the strong soil that prepares itself all winter for the epiphany of spring.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


1. Grandma GiGi:  "Nora, you're amazing."
Nora:  "Sometimes I'm just desperate." 

2.  Nora on the phone with Grandpa, who is currently hunting:  "Grandpa, I just want you to know, someday I'm going to have a baby deer, and you can't kill it."   Was this a scene in The Yearling?  I can't remember...

3.  Getting sucked into another Hallmark movie with Mom and Grandma.  Sometimes I too am just desperate.  I may have to admit to my Intro to Lit class that happy endings are kind of nice.  Naaaahhhh....

And a quick list:
3 part harmonies and ukes
bread dipped into cheddar potato soup
a week of rest
watching Grandma GiGi laugh until she cries
hearing a friend's voice across the telephone lines
a hand-sewn orange apron with my name stitched in it
the thought of Mom as a girl staying up late to watch movies and eat potato chips dipped in green salsa

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'd Like to Be a Morning Person, But My Mornings are Too Busy

One of the disadvantages of writing a blog post at the end of the day is that I'm running on about 15 minutes worth of gas and hoping it will get me to bed after (hopefully) brushing my teeth and washing my face.  But honestly, my skin care regime is shaky at best.

I want to talk to you about hiding your heart in Christ and just a lot of stuff, really.  I'd blog in the morning, but I try to go through some devotions and praying while Nora drinks Ovaltine and watches cartoons.  If I was really good, I'd get up a couple of hours before Nora and exercise for 45-120 minutes, eat granola with bran flakes and wheat germ and some iron--like REAL iron, from a car fender or something.  Then I'd write for an hour, read for another hour, do my lesson plans for the next 4 months, grade 40 essays, and feed a few birds directly from the palm of my hand while singing "It's a Small World, After All."

This isn't what actually happens though.  I wake up to Nora sounding the alarm like a rooster.  I mean, literally.  She actually does the whole "cock-a-doodle-doo" thing.  I'm lucky to have a really thoughtful "past Lisa" who makes the coffee for me at night, so all I have to do is push the button to get the coffee going.  This is good because I'm fairly dysfunctional at this point.  I do my "farm chores" while in this stumbling dream state:  Lucky, one pinch of fish food.  Henrietta, a handful of birdseed and some old grapes.  Farm Cats, dump the slop bucket with a few cups of dry food out the back door.  Try not to shut their tails in the screen door.  Nora, two heaping scoops of Ovaltine in her 2%.  Open the blinds.  I need light right away.  I sit and sip coffee as the cup empties and my eyes fill with more and more of the day.

Who doesn't have this "perfect morning person" who gets everything done before 5AM?  We've all dreamed of becoming her.  I read a 300 page book about the Proverbs 31 woman and how her lamp never goes out, and I'd like to be more like her.  I also don't want to turn into Martha troubled about so many things, I forget to sit at His feet and listen.

Anyway, may your mornings start with the reminder of God's constant presence, the deep desire to hold your hand the whole way through.  And lots and lots of coffee.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Whales, Hallmark Christmas Specials, and Maya Angelou for the Win

1.  Like most folks in similar boats, I may be experiencing that point after you've completed something massive, like having to read Moby Dick in three different languages (one of which is whale), like crossing the ocean in the blue cap you get off the top of a gallon of milk, something like getting 3/4 through the journey and realizing you've had the anchor down this whole time because you forgot to let the Captain call the shots.  At Mom's today, I found myself drifting aimlessly and letting out huge breaths, like I actually had a whale spout.  I know there are seasons not just in our life, but in our weeks, in or days, and I am looking forward to the season of rest coming up, a chance to dock, take stock, walk around the block.  Buy some chalk.  Okay.  I was running out of rhymes.

2.  I rarely sit down during the day to watch a movie, so when I found myself watching a Hallmark Christmas special with Grandma, Mom and Nora today, it felt like some rare treat.  Nora was having trouble watching me sit down, but we eventually worked through it.  (Um, yeah.  I let her play pbskids video games.)  I had to hide the fact that I was really enjoying the Hallmark special by camouflaging my interest with sarcastic comments:  "Mom.  Grandma.  I think I'm in love with this movie."  "Uh oh.  My Hallmark Mystery Sleuth is kicking in.  I'm fairly certain that she is going to eventually find the lottery ticket stuck to her son's shoe, forgive her love interest for lying about stealing her car, AND enjoy a surprise ending where he buys and remodels her dream cafe."  "Uh oh.  I think I'm in love with that guy now, too, but there's so much that's coming between us--he's in love with her and he's a fictional character in a Hallmark movie.  I haven't got a chance with this guy."  This stinks because I could have used a little help with a few remodeling projects myself.

3.  Maya Angelou for the win (everyone is saying this "for the win" thing these days, so I thought I'd get hip, too):  "A woman's heart should be so hidden in Christ that a man should have to seek Him first to find her."

I could write an entire blog post about this.  And, you know what, maybe I will.  Tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11:11 on 11/11/11

Girls' night out:  We hit Walmart and leave with a bubblegum machine.  With 30 minutes before Puss in Boots 3D begins, I realize I have no cash and we still need to eat.  "Hey, Nora.  Do you wanna go eat at the Pac n' Save?"  (This is one classy date.)  "YES!  That's the place that has my very favorite chicken."  She's jumping in and out of her seat after we get our meat and two sides and the 20 bucks I needed to get into the show.  "I love this girls' night out.  I just love it.  We are really having a good time.  Here try this french fry.  It is so delicious."  We park in front of the library and the clock in the courthouse building starts chiming.  "Hurry, Nora!  The clock is striking 6!  The pumpkin!"  We're holding hands and running down the sidewalk, and I'm not sure I could be happier.  Into the door, windswept, out of breath, full of fried chicken, we get our tickets and our popcorn and sit down.  Nora has been wearing her 3D glasses since the ticket man handed them to her.  "So, Nora, is everything in, like, 6D with those on?"  "No.  But this is the best time!  Can I have Nerds?"  I had asked for M & M's.

I'm pretty sure she can't see the whole screen.  I dip down to about her height and test it out.  Hmmm...somehow I don't believe her about being able to see just fine.  Fifteen minutes into the movie, she sits on my lap.  "Who's that guy?"  It's Puss 'n Boots.   I wonder what movie she's been watching.

We drive home.  I bring in groceries while she puts pennies into the gum machine, and the moon and the stars and antenna lights blink and blind anything hopeless so it wanders far from here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Letting Tears Open

My heart is overwhelmed tonight by all those who need, that "poverty begins with a poverty of relationship," as Ann Voskamp says in her recent blog documenting her and "the farmer's" trip to Ecuador to meet several of the children they are sponsoring through Compassion.  A year ago, Nora and I decided to adopt a boy--Juan is his name--from Mexico.  And we put his picture in a frame that says "Love" and there were two frames left empty, one that says "Believe" and another "Home."  And in January, Nora and I will fill those two empty frames with pictures of two more children who need help.  Juan writes letters telling us of his grades, his best friends, how he loves soccer.  He signs these letters love and calls me godmother.  And I begin to build dreams of visiting him one day at his home so I can see beyond this small, blessing-filled world; so I can bring some of these things to his door.

I didn't think we had enough money to do this, but $38 is so easy to find, and clearly God gave me that much each month, and Nora and I have always had everything we could need--more than enough--friends showing up with ground beef and corn, a second hand store that always seems to have what we need.  Mom and Mike always being there to help with childcare and all the projects I couldn't have done alone--a new bathtub, a compost bin, a fenced yard, and a sprinkler system for the garden.

Grandma Aanonson and I were talking at the table tonight, and she mentioned how they ended up living here in a farmhouse just a mile down from where I live now.  The farmhouse has since been torn down to make room for higher yields, but those months they spent here in the late 60's changed everything for more people than we can even know.  And it all began with a conversation in a bar between a chemical salesman and Grandpa Aanonson, one that inspired Grandpa to make a call and move his family to Seward, Nebraska.  They lived here long enough for Mom to meet and fall in love with Mike who was growing up just two miles down from where I live now, and then they had to move--Mom and Aunt Deb and Grandma and Grandpa.  And I can't imagine the nights Mom spent wondering if she'd ever see him again, and they left the farmhouse that is only there in memory and some 27 years later, Mom came back and here I am, too.

And it makes me wonder how our small words have gigantic ramifications--how a random conversation at a bar could eventually lead to this life that calls us out of ourselves, past the Nebraska fields and all the way to Mexico.

Lord, let my words be those that only heal, only love, only say the truth, only inspire, only lift, always in Your presence.  Let my words be those that I would say in Your presence.  Let us only speak words of peace to and about each other.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Plan B

Plan A involved telling you about a lot of the amazing things that happened today:
A visiting author who self-published herself into 100,000 book sales.
Classes working on a production of Susan Glaspell's play Trifles.
Nora praying for all the guys who work at the telephone pole production factory that their "owies" would heal fast.
Mom's hug.
All the cheese and summer sausage and crackers I just ate for supper.
Finding my coffee mug sitting by the trophy cases in the basement of Weller.
The fire of the sky and the trees for a moment while I walked into the building.
Christmas lights and hand shakes and a morning at home.

Instead I'll tell you about Plan B:


Monday, November 7, 2011

Little Things We Saw Today

A loose tooth.

A decorated Christmas tree.  (I'm just ready for this holiday, okay?  No offense, Mr. Turkey.) 

The first Christmas craft.

Nora putting a few hours in at the office.  

A new shawl in the making, soft and green.

Hand-painted in 1965.  Et. Cetera.  $5.00

The only dirty laundry in the house as of 3 PM.

Sea monkeys.

A batch of Grandma's Banana Tea Bread.

Littlest Pet Shop.  We created an applesauce company whose mottos are "Don't be suspicious.  The apples are delicious" and "Don't sit down to rest because the apples are the best."

Ideas unfolding at the Bronco Spur gas station.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Books, Books, and More Books

1.  Due to an accidental purchase on Amazon, I am now the proud owner of a copy of Country Living, a gargantuan encyclopedia of all things country ranging from hatching chickens to candle making, driving a tractor to pinching a penny.  I'm sure there's a recipe for biscuits and gravy in there, too.

2.  I just finished The Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro.  I feel disciplined by this book as a worshipper and a writer.  That's all I'll say for the time being.

3.  I'm also looking at a couple of books I'm planning on digging into next gardening season (sorry for the sad pun):  Vertical Gardening and the Square Foot Gardener.  While cleaning up the garden today, I was going through the kind of inventory most gardeners go through at the end of the season, each item starting with the words, "Next year, I'm going to..."  I had to laugh at myself when I pulled up my drip line, the one I was so proud of and the one that didn't work, only to find that I hadn't attached one of the lines to a water source.  In fact, I'd put end plugs on both ends.  Yeah.  That was a good idea.  I wonder if that Country Living book has an entry for this kind of mistake.  No, wait.  That's in that book Barely Alive in the Country.  There's a big difference.

4.  On Nora's reading list tonight:  Pooh's Scavenger Hunt, Clifford and the Leaf Pile, and Read Me a Bible Story.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Do you love me more than...

Her shyness gives her away; this is something she's partially afraid to ask but needs to know.  "Do you love me the most?  Do you love me more than your books?  More than your Bible?  More than Grandma?  More than..."  "Nora, I love you very, very much, and I also love all of those people and things you mentioned, too."  Her eyes begin to tear.

She must be thinking she doesn't love me.  I'm not important.

"Do you know how you love me?  And how you love Daddy?  And Grandma and Grandpa?  And your cousins and Mrs. Backhus?  You love all of those people, right?"

She knows where this is going.  "Did you know, Nora, that God gives me all of my love, and He gives me so much of it that I can give everyone in my life lots and lots of love?  And my love for you can fill the moon.  It could fly to the moon and back and the moon and back a million times.  I love you so much, I don't even know how much it is.  No one can count that high.  And I love Grandma and Grandpa, too.  You can't run out of love, Nora.  And you are my one and only precious daughter named Nora, and there is no one else in the world like you and I love you.  I will always love you.  No matter what you do or say. No matter how angry you get at me or how sad you get or how happy you feel or how squirmy you feel or itchy.  I love you even when you get really itchy and when you are hungry and full."

I think she's feeling better because she hugs my head in a vice grip.  She looks into my eyes and says, "You look different."  "Oh, like happier or sadder or..."  "You are getting bigger.  Your eyes are really big and you have brown spots on your skin."  This might be her way of saying, "Mom, you're putting on some weight and I think those are age spots appearing."  I don't mind.  Maybe she just hasn't seen me this okay in awhile and this looks different to her.

I wonder what she must think, this girl who skips everywhere she goes and has grown up with a mom who vacillates between crises like a trapeze artist.  But I have never, not once, stopped loving her.  Never will.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Use My Hands to Use My Heart"

Four years ago, I was living in Mom and Mike's basement in York.  Nora was asleep, and I, with my headphones on, was listening to Sufjan Stevens' album "Michigan" for the first time.  I remember how everything in the room was some shade of gray with just enough light coming in from the small, square window to suggest the shapes of the objects but not the colors.  As I listened, I could feel some sleeping part of myself waking, like a person tasting an orange for the first time--the surprised bite of vitamin C and the sweet sun sugars lifting the fog on my tongue.  I was jobless, without a home of my own, the mother of a 10 month old, and wondering...too much, maybe.

All this is to say, I prayed a lot in Georgia and I prayed in that basement in York, Nebraska and even when things didn't go as I thought they should or would, I'm here now living on a farm and teaching at a place that lifts and grows and loves.  And you may know some of the stories from this farm and some of the stories from those classrooms.  You know Nora's heart and you know mine, and tonight it's going to bed early with my hands making the silent "thank you" gesture because this story is good.  Even when it hurts.  And even when it goes better than you could have hoped.  That was today.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tonight is a good night for praying, resting, "relaxing in the word," chatting with my family, watching Nora sleeping, trusting, receiving, giving, loving.

Tomorrow is the day--from 8:30 to 3:00, I will be interviewing for the assistant professor position.

I'm shooting for responses that please God.

This has been an awe-inspiring week in so many ways.  When I am done with it, I will tell you all about it.

See you on the other side of the next 24 hours.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lean on Me

1.  Everyone lean in on everyone.  This is so good to see you here together leaning into this space and holding your hand out to offer your words, your advice, your encouragement.  Because we've forgotten how to listen to our elders, forgotten what we can teach each other, how we need each other to lean one into the other linking arms making this great chain of breath which was the first breath He gave Adam.  Use it to speak love to one another, to lift each other, carry each other, provide for each other--even those we don't know.  I witness this tonight during our class interview date night.  Somehow it feels so large--the entire experience.  Let's lean into it.

2.  A friend posts an Amos Lee tune that I have been listening to on repeat since the first listen 20 minutes ago, and I will probably keep it playing until I crash into the orange sheets on my bed because I love the color orange, all fire and warm and alive and I love this song, too.  And I'm listening and leaning.

3.  I can feel myself moving toward Friday.  Everyone has been here before.  You have a big thing happening, and all the days leading up to it partially belong to the big day ahead.  I am praying that God direct my words because He knows my heart.  I have no clue what my heart is made of sometimes.   And it's easy to believe the lies that cling to me when I'm not giving myself up every moment to the One who made me.  I'm leaning.

4.  I'm home and Nora is asleep at Grandma's--the week's schedule calling for odd hours, and I'm leaning into this writing because I need it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I told her there is a quiet person inside me just screaming to get out.

How a thing opens, your life,
how your life opens to reveal
a deeper life, how that life is
both light and made of a heavier thing.
To the top of the mountain, to the heart
of the forest, under the ocean, covered
in dirt, hiding in grasses:  where we go
to listen and meet Him.  Why I am
an introvert.

Monday, October 31, 2011


the letter from Grandma Smith that took her over 2 1/2 hours to write

the letter from Aunt Dottie and the ways she makes me laugh and how she loves me and encourages me

a portfolio put together

a cold lingering in my sore throat (Why this week of all weeks?  We don't know...)

two intense conversations with my sisters today when we haven't spoken at length in months, and I love
them, pray for their peace

talking to Mom on the phone

friends celebrating our NEWNESS each day

friends with animal crackers and candy

friends willing to step out of their comfort zone and lend a hand for a big project

friends who write recommendation letters that make you feel both proud and shy at the same time

Nora's blue sky doggie costume and how she loves and how she is growing up in ways that I am just catching up to

for fall days like today, the kind I wished for as a kid, so I wouldn't have to wear a coat over my costume
for sleep

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When Your Work and Your Life Collide

After writing that, I realize that I don't really separate my life from my work.  Some might call this a weakness.  I just don't know any other way to go about it.  That's a larger conversation though, and I had something else I wanted to tell you.

So, I'm teaching a resume writing/job search/interviewing class, an extremely useful one credit seminar that prepares students for the "real world."  Back when I went to school, no one ever talked to me about how to market myself as an artist after I had graduated.  Maybe this was a good thing, or perhaps they were simply saving me from a lifetime of heartache.  Anyone who has seen me attempt to draw the dog from "To Build a Fire" during my Jack London lecture probably knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Anyway, part of the class requirement is that the students participate in an "interview date night" (a brilliant learning opportunity created by my friend and hero, Dr. Gernant).  I have rounded up 13 "strangers" from the community to pretend to be hiring for positions they dreamed up.  The students pick three positions, and commence with the job application process as if it were a real job.  They send in resumes and cover letters and on the date night, they practice mock interviews with the three hiring "companies."  Well, my students are pretty stressed out about it.  They're nervous about meeting strangers, nervous about having enough experience, nervous about whether or not they own a tie...

Here's the funny thing.  This week, I will also be participating in my own interviews:  one hour each with the President of the University, the Provost, the Dean, and the hiring committee composed of five people including the Chair of the English department.  Am I a little nervous?  Well, I'd be lying if I said no.

All week, I've been receiving emails from students in the class asking if they should include this in their portfolio or change this in their resume, and I secretly have wanted to write them back and ask their opinion about my own resume and portfolio.  "Do you like this letterhead?  Should I include photographs from when I was in a band and played at the Grand Ole Opry?  Does this tie make me look fat?"  We're in the same boat in so many ways.

I love that these weeks aligned the way they did, though if you don't hear from me Friday night, it's because I'm either celebrating the fact that I did all right or I'm hiding under the bed.  (That's just a joke, folks.  I know that this story is in God's hands.  And I trust His work in my life, whatever happens.)

So, this is just a note to say, Dear CTA 300 students, don't worry, m'dears.  You are going to be great.  You are going to love the people you are about to meet and they are going to love you.  You have so much to offer.  Don't look back.  Don't hold back.  Be strong and do the work.  Enjoy the interview as you would a good conversation with someone who shares similar interests.  Trust God to show you the lesson in the experience.  Be yourself, the person God made you.  When you do this, things seem to flow with ease, with grace.  Don't worry if there's something you don't know yet, some experience you don't have yet--all it takes is asking and being open to learning and change within yourself.  This is a moment like any other--one that God designed for you.  Also, I feel ya.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin, Parents!

When I watch the Peanuts now, I realize their entire oeuvre is punctuated by an intense sense of sadness brought about by a lack of understanding within one's community.  This is deep stuff, this waiting for pumpkins business.  And the sad little Christmas tree?  While the adults are reduced to indecipherable "wahwah" sounds, the children grapple with almost everything on the menu at the "This Human Experience" cafe.

I suppose this explains why Nora was so upset when she kicked a toy car at me.  While I don't think physical displays of anger are okay, and we had a good talk about how it's okay to be angry at me but that there are other ways she can let me know about it, I deserved it.  See, I wasn't really listening.  We were figuring out a way to tape/tie together with yarn a set of strollers and cars to create a Pretty Pony train.  I wanted to make loops of yarn and connect them by looping them under the wheels.  Nora wanted to tape yarn between each car to attach them.  I told her we would try my idea first, and if it didn't work, we would give her idea a shot.

Enter the projectile car.

Why didn't I just jump right in and try her idea first?  Would it have hurt anything?  No.  In fact, setting aside my idea would have been an excellent example of putting others before yourself.  The idea would have worked, and she would have felt proud of her invention.  But, no.  I had to be an adult.  I had to have all the answers.  I wish there were a "wahwah" function when I fall into the know-it-all routine.  Then Nora wouldn't be submitted to my belief that I actually do have all the best ideas and answers simply because I'm older.

I'm not going to learn a dang thing if I keep this up.  There's a reason Jesus said His kingdom is filled with people like those we see everyday in our own homes, the ones who don't know how to blow their noses yet, but can turn around and teach you more about love than you thought possible.

I will say this:  the train worked great.  Using Nora's idea.  And we set up an entire Pretty Pony village on the living room floor, and we were at peace because I stopped being such a jerk about sharing.  My fifteen minute time out worked wonders.

Side note:  To make up for my bad behavior, I'm going to bake Nora some Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.  She loves anything with pumpkin in it.  Here's the recipe for those of you who may decide that you get more out of your harvest when you cook it than you do if you cut it up to look like a scary head.

1 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar (not packed)
1/3 cup pureed pumpkin
1 eg
1 1/3 c. flour
2 c. oatmeal
dried cherries or pecans or raisins
1/2 t. vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 t. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 t. baking soda

Mix it up.  Bake cookies at 350 for 10 or so minutes.  Apologize to your daughter for not building the Pretty Pony train the way she suggested the first time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 365th Post

What I have learned from blogging once a day for a year:

1.  That our memories are held in language, and we honor God by remembering the story we are living because it is a gift.

2.  That writing does not always come easily, but that the act of sitting down around the same time everyday with an open page set like a trap in front of you is the same act whether you catch something or not.  We are not after what is in the trap.  We are after what that gesture means--that we commit to listening even when we think we can't possibly hear the music of our days.

3.  That having friends who return again and again to check in on you through what you've shared about your life can sustain you through many, many hard times.  That I am not alone and have been given such good friends both near and far.  I love you, friends.

4.  That by capturing an entire year of our lives, I will be able to give Nora some gift in the future, one wrapped in a package that says, "This is when you were four.  You won't believe everything we did that year."

5.  That I love pickling things, that capturing moments in language is a kind of bottling of our lives so we might savor them later.  When I was four, I remember trying to contain my breath inside a bottle, blowing it in and quickly plugging the hole.  I would stare into the invisible space inside the jar and wonder that it also contained some part of me I couldn't see.  Faith is not so hard to practice when you think of breath and wind and music and all the other invisible things that are truly there despite how you can't see them.  I can say with all certainty, God is present and fills me with the breath of His love like that bottle I held.

6.  That I like farm life and being a mom and just about everything about my life, this gift of His grace.

7.  [                                                                                                             ]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Let Me Count the Ways

1.  Grandma, Nora and I spent part of the afternoon watching Little House on the Prairie (the movie).  Already the Hallmark channel has begun to hint at Christmas.  I see pictures of my nieces and nephews playing in the snow today in Colorado.  I wear the big, puffy black coat to the Spur to read fiction pieces.  Did I mention that I love Christmas?  And, yes, the tree is going up November 1st.  With blinking lights, the kind I can stare at for a really long time.

2.  Right now Nora is fascinated with mold.'s "Sid the Science Kid" game takes a pile of fruit and walks you through two weeks of it decomposing.  When I tried to feed her a banana that had a few brown spots on the skin today, she recoiled in horror, screaming, "Are you trying to kill me!?" 

3.  Mom is working hard to get her pottery inventory stocked for the Christmas season and craft fairs coming up.  I see the finger lines in her pots and think of the Proverbs 31 woman:  "Give her the fruits of her hands and let her works praise her at the gates..."  (The only sales pitch you'll ever see in my blog:  If you are looking for original, totally unique, locally made gifts, my mom's pottery fits that description.  She has a store in York.  You should check it out.  And then you can meet my mom, too.)

4.  I am promising myself a big, fluffy couch with my burnt orange afghan and pajamas and The Unsinkable Molly Brown on the big screen at some point this weekend.  But I'm not going to think about it yet...not quite yet.  And, you know, maybe some baseball, too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Second Question

And when they ask what I would look forward to most, I know without thinking because it rises out of the place in my heart where I meet them:  the students.  When I was a college student, I never thought of the short time I was there as being short--four years seemed a long time to wait.   I didn't dwell a minute on how I would be missed by my teachers.   And the years passed quickly, and we moved on to jobs and families and other cities--and the teachers stayed in their classrooms and offices watching another year roll in with new faces full of wonder and homesickness and excitement--how those faces would change, so that by the time they left four years later, the teachers would love them and cry when they left despite how they wanted us to go because that was what they had been helping us with the whole time--preparing us to leave holding some new tools that would help us believe strong, love strong, lean strong into the work God had made for us outside of our schooling.

In the fiction writing class, we meet individually to talk about their rough drafts while the rest break off into their groups.  I hear laughter and silence as they think through each piece.  I know they are caring for each other, nurturing each other as writers.  I love how they work together.  I was up at 5 this morning reading the stories, laughing about military dogs who return again and again to conversations about hot dogs, creeped out by the widow who lives within the grandfather's body, the witnessing pear, the boy on the verge of understanding something about his father...

Our Intermediate Writing class climbs out of the basement through the secret stairwell to the "naked man" statue to read our poems.  Naked Man is already in a posture that says, "I am about to convey something beautiful here.  But wait.  Where are my clothes?  Oh, never mind.  Would you like to hear a poem?"  We sit in the grass in the last beautiful days of the year and hear each other as one after another gets up, the wind blowing through pages, whipping hair, voices rising, the blue sky backdrop framing them as the words frame their hearts.  I am so present there with them--those 20 students who agreed to follow me out in the rain to read from the top of the hill what poetry is.

And the two literature classes are lively despite having stayed up all night writing a paper.  Perhaps that's the reason.  They are done with the paper, and now they  are celebrating with me as we discuss symbolism and the accumulation of meaning around object and gestures.  And they start a project they are honestly so excited to try.  And they do an amazing job despite how difficult it is, maybe because of how difficult it is.

In the evening, I meet with one who will be leaving soon, one I will miss when she leaves, and we talk over graduate school applications and faulty alarm clocks and grace in the small gestures of others--the ones that make all the difference.

Monday, October 24, 2011

And this is today

"I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words." -C.S. Lewis, “Till We Have Faces”

And when I think we could not become more vulnerable, more open, need of His strength, He finds another way to bring me back to Him, and while I kneel here, unsure, unsteady, I submit again because I am not strong, but Christ is.

I wear a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows to the phone interview.  There were many ways my friends' prayers covered me.  This is one.

I found out today that the man who taught my mom pottery and taught me art and math in middle school died while biking in a canyon in Colorado.  I thank him for the gifts of his heart and his knowledge in our lives, and I pray that his wife and family seek God's unmoving presence and know His peace.

I love being a teacher.  Maybe this is one reason it feels like so much is at stake.  God knows my heart and will find a place for it to shine.  All is well.  All is well.  All is well.  Because of His grace alone.  The ending of the story is already written, and what happens between now and then will prepare me to meet Him. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We Made It!

1.  That's right!  Church happened this morning!  Thank you for your support and encouragement, folks.

2.  Could I ask a favor?  If you've got the notion, I could use your prayers around 4:30 tomorrow (Monday).  There will be an interview happening then, and I could use the support.

3.  After church, Nora and I played at the park and ate BBQ at Chez Bubba.  That's right.  At 11:30 this morning I was eating chopped brisket, mashed potatoes with gravy, and ranch style beans.  Now that's what I call breakfast.  I was ready to herd cattle, clean the house, write a novel, drill for oil, pick up heavy stuff, dig random holes in various locations, bake 10 loaves of bread, and give birth to a couple of kids after that meal.  Nice work, Chez Bubba.

4.  Nora and I went back to that train place down the road from us.  And they had a museum, and...I'm so excited about this, I can hardly think about grammar--there was a restored log cabin from over 100 years ago inside the museum.  I wish all of you could visualize how wonderful and strange it is to have something like this just four miles from my house, in the middle of nowhere.  I don't know.  I mean, for those of you living in the city, you have cool stuff all over the place.  You want sushi, you go get sushi.  You want opera, you go get opera.  You've got art and museums and...sidewalks.  And, you know what?  I love where I live.  I wouldn't trade these fields for any of those things, but I'm glad to know there's a little county museum just down the road, and it tells just as much about this human story as anything you can find in those other places where people lived stacked on top of each other (which is also kind of beautiful, but something I can't even imagine doing again.)

5.  I'm four days away from reaching the one year mark for the blog challenge.  All I can say is that habit wins over inspiration any day.  You may have noticed that from some of my less than stellar posts.  (Ha!)

Be well, everyone.  God loves you.