Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fiction Is Both True and Not True

To contain, to hold a word loud enough to overpower the memory if both placed in the killing jar that had become his present, knowing desperately that the word would win.  We wanted something nice, something decorative, something he could give an aunt for her birthday, but this wasn't it.  He knew it, but he went ahead and wrapped it between two heavy pieces of butcher paper tied with baling twine.  The card read:

Happy birthday.  The truth is there were times my suffering overpowered me, pressed me between what had happened, how I had not been able to stop it, between how I remember it inch by inch and the single, life altering blow that changed me at both 16 and at 30, the sharpened damage puncturing each year much like a nail driven through a deck of cards makes the same hole in the jack of clubs and the joker, the deuce and the ace.

The only difference between a hero and a victim is that one goes willingly to his suffering.

But I am willing to be wrong about that.  I am willing to be wrong about a lot of things, he thought, if only you'll show me the ways in which I've been damaged gently, like a mother who washes the same thin hair again and again and again because it never will stay clean and there's no reason to hold this against anything or anyone.  And her hand knows to not make a point of the healing or the harm it's doing in the same way there's no reason to continue staring through the hole when you are at least holding some kind of hand.  It is what it is.  Let's just accept that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Supper Tonight

I love eating with Mom and Mike on Wednesday nights.  Mom made meatloaf and baked potatoes.  Asparagus.  I love asparagus (steamed, never boiled, or snapped straight from the ground, crispy spring green to chew while weed-whacking--I am desperate for Spring, folks.)  Oh!  And strawberry shortcake--homemade.  I mean, this is love.  Mom love.

So, tonight Nora was reading her Bible during supper, which consisted of her opening her hands and looking down into them whispering because "I am distracted when I talk loud."

And she talked about Adam and Eve, that they didn't have dishes because there was no one to "spin pottery" yet, so they used leaves.

"Who did the dishes?" Grandpa asks.

"No one.  They just threw out the leaves and got new ones, Grandpa.  And this is the part where Adam turns into an alligator."

"And what did Eve turn into?" asks Grandpa.

"A hippopotamus."

And mom and I start laughing and before we know it we're replaying the scene in Madagascar:

"Girl, you HUGE."

"I like 'em chunky.  I like 'em round."

And Grandpa was a little concerned.  And Nora went on with a serious look on her face, reading her hands and talking about Noah and the boat he made that was over 40 inches long.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When I Can't Remember the Words, Rilke Reminds Me

"He starts so deep in misery and, in a strict sense, reaches to eternal bliss; he is a heart that strikes a whole octave:  after him all songs are possible."

(from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)

Monday, March 28, 2011


"Not knowing when the dawn will come,
I open every door..."  -E.D.

After the sun sets, I shut the drapes--we have this picture window that opens onto the day's end and sends it straight across the field, under my pin oak, into my living room and down through my throat, a sudden inhalation of wonder.  "Today was good.  Let me show you how good."

Seven miles down, I can see the grain elevators in Utica, the same flashing red and white antennas my mom saw at 16 in a farmhouse that has since been torn down just a mile down from where I live now.  This is a sacred spot for me, I think.   And for her.  One day I will write about the dust storm that spread itself across every inch of mom's house and Grandma wanted to move, but mom was in love with a farmboy down the road (Mike, who she is now married to)--so she didn't sleep that night, cleaning every surface so they could stay just a little longer in this strange, flat land where she walked barefoot down the road to meet him.

And right now, this song is saving my heart.  "Forget about the past, and I will try to make things right..."   Open the door.   The wind whips clean through, taking the dust with her.

After I have read and written and prayed, I turn out the lights and open the drapes again, inviting the white fluorescence of the shop lights to spread their shadows that will confuse Nora in the night if she wakes.  And when the light comes slow in the morning, I feel the soft nudge of someone calling me into the world to work and play and suffer and lean.   There is nothing as hopeless to me, other than a room that remains unlit after the sun has set, than a room that remains dark after the sun has risen.

I open every door, all the doors, and the light comes slowly back to my fingers digging through the dust.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Wrinkle In Time (And on my forehead)

Do you folks remember/know Madeline L'Engle, the woman who made your trip to the book fair in elementary school the highlight of the year (along with the stamp collecting packages and choose your own adventure books)?

I am reading two of her books right now--actually, I'm looking at the stack of books on my bedside table, and I'm thankful for the visual reminder that this is what I love--this is what I have lived for--the searching soul putting heart to page to mouth to ear to soul to heart.  To copy down the quotes that become the invisible tattoos that define my affections and their holiness (thank you, Keats).  I love what I love for a reason.  And I will continue to love these searching words until I understand fully why God put them in my heart to care for.  But this is a tangent...

In Madeline's Reflections on Faith and Art, she shares the soulfood of quotes found in her own stack of bedside books, and now I pass them on to you in the hopes that they ring bells that continue sounding in your own work (as writers, artists, songsmiths, growers, newlyweds, missionaries, teachers, mothers, worshippers, searchers):

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."  -- Cardinal Suhard

"You should utter words as though heaven were opened within them and as though you did not put the words into your mouth, but as though you had entered the word."
-- Martin Buber

"You must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures.  Don't let that concern you.  It's your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures."
-- Tchekov

"You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now.  Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody.  There is only one single way.  Go into yourself.  Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.  This above all -- ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night:  Must I write?  Delve into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple "I must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it."
-- Rilke

The affections of the heart are holy...

The big questions I'm thinking about tonight:  Why did God make me to love what it is that I love?  And how do I love these things properly, as He would will, not as the preferences and passing fancies of this "self" but as the signs of a God who loves me so much that He would give me, in abundance, this beautiful and particular life?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"My List has 'Make a List' on It"

1.  Up early and the Word first thing with coffee after slipping out of the bed and before the legs could even decide, the knees were on the carpet asking, "Father, bless me before I leave for the work of the day."

2.  Hours on Blackboard.  I know I prefer the paper better, with remnants of our human life (coffee stain, crossed out typo) proof of our work and our bodies in time.  I love "good pens" drawing comments on good words written on good paper.  But these electronic "papers"--I can't seem to connect to them the same way.  Next semester--more paper.  I need to be mobile with my work anyway.  My office IS at a gas station, after all.

3.  Working through discipline with Nora.  Ugh.  I am pushed to my limit (and my head resting on the refrigerator door, breathing), leaning completely on God to guide me in the work of patience, gentleness, firmness because of love.

4.  Laundry today, so I don't have to work as much on Sunday.

5.  Tomorrow Nora and I will be making seed tape strips, getting our starter plants growing, and plotting the garden.  I can't stand to let this winter weather threaten my sense of an impending warmth and blossom.

6.  Excited about the prospect of installing a shelf at the midpoint of the mudroom window for even more plants to perch, eating sunlight, filling my eyeheart.

7.  [                                               ]

8.  Play-doh with Nora.  She has been trying to recreate the digestive system in her animal sculptures.  Wanting to be encouraging I said, "Maybe one day you'll be a doctor who helps people with their digestive problems."  This statement had to replace the "I just don't think we should be focussing so much on poo, Nora" one that seemed to be another "No" in a day filled with so many of those already.  So, yes.  Yes to proctology.

9.  Deciding I would love, that I must, that God says, "Yes" to my being involved in Unfading Beauty next semester.  Yes.

10.  Tonight I will watch a movie about Keats that I hope isn't too terrible while eating 4 servings of popcorn.   Mmmm, yes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Little Things: Don't forget to eat the flowers!

1.  Me:  So how many tomato plants are you going to grow this year, Nora.
Nora:  Oh, a few and a half.
Me:  Beans?
Nora:  Probably two or four.

2.  She is also an amazing simile generator.  I told her getting ready in the morning was like herding cats.  She "saw" my cliche and raised me a "or like stapling feathers together."  She walked away from that table a much richer lady.

3.  Mrs. B and her patience.  Also her willingness to examine strange rashes that appear on other children's necks.  (Nora looks just fine now.  I think it was probably the "all natural" cleaner we used to clean the tub yesterday.  She likes to help.  And we all know that helping sometimes gives us a rash.)

4.   A "Mom" date with Jess and a speaker who brings me to tears when I don't want to be brought to tears, dangit.   (Believe me, I asked for this "cracking up" so I won't complain.)  So excited to think about a farmgirl chapter to keep each other company through the planting season and the single season.  Did you know that within a 14 mile radius, there are at least three moms with ukuleles who are strumming their hearts out?  Watch out for a band.  That's all I'm saying.

5.  A surprise visit from Mom and Mike bearing fancy pizza, a hoe and a rake for Nora and some Rosemary, Lavender, and Chives to plant.  Mike even carried down all my salt for me.  And I got to prove that I have amazing self-defense strategies on Mom, who is quite honestly my biggest threat next to rash inducing work.  (I'm just kidding, Mom.  You don't scare me.)

6.  A surprise snow that put me in the worst mood.  But then I watched the robins with their glowing, orange chests leaping inside the black and white world, and I was healed.

7.  Tom Waits saying, "I learned everything I know from my children.  And I learned everything they know, too.  Basically, I've learned a lot."

8.  [                                                                                              ]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Love Lists

1.  Hearing my students laugh.  I love poems that challenge us to make the "story" fit.

2.  I love Nora telling me how to play:  "Step One:  Get out the Polly Pockets.  Step Two:  Put them in magic water.  Step Three:  Change their hair with a color that won't wash off.  Step Three, or Four:  Play with them.  Okay, now go."

3.  I love something forever all at once.

4.  That the answers to every question are written on our heart, waiting in our mouth to become the sound of one alive and speaking life even when it is to cry and to scream.

5.  I love Baptism.

6.  I love modal chord progressions under repeating banjo refrains.

7.  I love that I have been so sad and don't feel that sad now.  Interesting and glorious.  (The poem is just a moment passing through us.)

8.  [                                                                ]

9.  It is good to say what one loves because it leads toward the simple answer that lifts a heavy, complicated burden.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Sudden Appearance of Miracles

Something amazing is happening.

Friends, I love you.

I hear you.

I am giddy and exhausted.  Hopeful and overwhelmed with relief.  The fatigue of one who has finally stopped to rest.

You lift me with your words, with your prayers, with you love, with your own vulnerable declarations.

I am hearing of so much courage, so much willingness to change, to let go, to hold on.


So be it.  God is with you, fighting for each of you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Weightless Embrace of a Day

We listed the weight we carried in pounds until the burden was clear.  Then each one of us picked up books, a hat, purse, backpack, a ring and hung them, placed them on his outstretched arms, in his palm.  We released our burdens to a single person in the room, and he buckled under the weight--patient and pressed to the edge of what he could hold.  And we were free.

"Have you ever unloaded on a person?"


And tell me, what is the weight of an embrace?  When you hold the whole person in your arms.  How much does that weigh?

"Nothing.  You actually feel lighter."  What is the light burden?  The easy yoke?

It is the obvious, simplest, best answer:  Love.

Will you hold me?   Can I hold you?  Because all of life is a letting go, but this, this I must keep.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Put that down! It's dead!

So, I left you last night with the promise that I would try to name whatever "dead" things I might be clinging to, and after I said that, I realized that the dead things we cling to are things we usually don't want to talk about, things we're ashamed of claiming even though we hold on to them like life rafts in a sea of salt water.  "But this is who I was, and this is my story, and this is what I can't change about myself."  You won't sink if you let it go.  In fact, you'll float all the better.  Even so, we cling, afraid to let the dead thing in us die.  And like most dead things, it has a particular weight--one that we even refer to as "dead weight."  Heavier.  Harder to manage.  A struggle to lift.  Awkward.   A dismembered limb.  A suitcase of sand.

In short, to hold it is to proclaim, "I can not be who I am becoming.  I can only be what I was."

God says, "Be still and I will fight for you."

Stop lifting.  Stop struggling.  Stop choosing.  Stop.  Just stop.  Open hands.  Open heart.  What is placed there from His will?  What does He ask you to carry?

Your love for your neighbor.  And your love for Him.

But I know this weight, you say.  It's heavy, but it is at least familiar.  It's Who I Am.  I must carry myself.  What a horrible lie...

This is familiar, says the lie:
(And already I can feel my face rising crimson--ashamed to say it.  This self I have protected from the light of letting it go.)
I can not teach or speak in public.  (The Dead Weight of Doubt)
I am awkward and have hated my body to the point of torture.  (The Dead Weight of the Body Despised)
I have been married twice and both ended in divorce. (The Dead Weight of Failure)
I used to drink too much.  (The Dead Weight of Addiction)
I can't write or sing or paint. (The Dead Weight of Immobilization)

And who can forgive me for the dead things I have lifted, chosen?  For the dead self who is/was a part of me?

I was talking to another poet today as we joked about poetry being made from self-loathing.  And this is partially true, but only because of this:  poetry is also, completely, undoubtably about understanding that we have been given the gift of naming so that we might redefine ourselves as free from that hatred.  To allow ourselves to be loved--to be a space for that love.  To open to it.  Let it wash us completely clean and living.  Through a word...through water.

That these dead things have been pulled away from me as I sat still and allowed Him to fight for me, as surely as He has said, "You are forgiven."

And listen:  you'll hear the song of yourself unfolding as naturally as the first flower raised  from the dead leaves it left behind from last year.  What is it that God has made you, dear life?

Lift your heads, bright people.  Open your empty, clean hands.  Unlock your heaving heart.  God makes you again and again and again.  I know because it has happened to me and I wouldn't lie to you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


To fling oneself out the front door, a winter prisoner released on good behavior, weather, whatever.

Pulling the dead things away, my hands cramp.  Has it really been that long since I did something physically demanding?

I danced last night while holding a 55 pound sack of potatoes dressed in fancy pale yellow and didn't notice it...

Is it possible for your fingers to be out of shape?  I guess so.  I should have played more rubics cube this winter or used one of those fancy hand-squeezy thingies.

Just when the green hits the surface, I shy away from the mystery beneath.  I don't want to talk about "deep stuff."  I just, for now, want to marvel at the fact that after all that, something was still living.

I attempted to explain to my class the other day that you've got to clear away the dead stuff for the new growth to happen.  And, yes, this is often terrifying, and perhaps one reason we hit a sort of Spring depression--life demands life, but we're still dragging tail.  God tells us to choose life.  I don't believe He would have bothered to mention this had He not seen us in some weaker moment, inclined to do the opposite: to cling to that which prohibits us from experiencing the vulnerable moment when we pull ourselves out of the dead-life into the open air, one out of shape hand after the other.

What am I clinging to?  Mmmmm.......I thought you'd ask that.

Tune in tomorrow, and I might just have an answer.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Most Amazing Eyebrows I've Ever Seen

"Mommy, I'm going to put on my make-up for Teagan's wedding."

[While ironing in kitchen] "Okay, that sounds good.  Remember, less is more."

15 minutes later:

"[walking into room holding ironed flower girl dress] Okay, honey, here's your dress.  You should probably...Uh, whoa.  Wow.  That's, uh..."

"Mommy, I look handsome.  Why do I look handsome?  I'm supposed to have girl make-up."

"Well, Nora, I think it might be your eyebrows.  Somehow they seem kinda...masculine.  You know, like a man.  I don't know which man, but..."

"Okay, back to the drawing board."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Girls' Night Out (Honey, there ain't no doubt...)

I love Nebraska.  I love where I live.  I love the people who live here.

Today:  Preschool with an amazing and loving teacher, the Bronco Spur gas station with a surprise "visitor" whose honesty and laughter I needed, and a 2 hour nap after lunch.

Tonight:  A mother, daughter and grandma movie at Nora's school (Bolt, pizza, popcorn), then off to the wedding rehearsal where Nora is a flower girl (running up and down the aisle), then to a Contra dance birthday party (old school stomp and romp and fiddle on a hardwood floor as the kids played in the basement of the community center).

Good thing Nora and I took a nap.

I would write more, but this girl has danced every dance she can manage today.  'Night, folks!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

List of Little: Epiphany means "A Showing Forth"

1.  "Between the click of the light and the start of the dream..."  I'm in an Arcade Fire mood tonight.  I suppose this means I will need to abandon my hopes and fears to some strange jumping dance in the middle of the kitchen and I'll avoid the creaky parts of the floor, which I've memorized like an invisible dance chart.  It will be late, and I'll have my headphones on, and Nora will be sleeping, so to the outside observer, I will simply look like a woman at midnight jumping around in silence on flaming tacks.  But sometimes this is what it takes, and I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere, so whatever.  And the women will mourn and the women will dance.

2.  I was suddenly (the lightening of epiphany) aware that the story God is telling through me is one of the best I've ever read.  I have been taken down, built up, removed, replaced, shattered and mended, loved and treated cruelly.  This is such a simple statement, but I'll make it.  I love what God made me (to) love:  this daughter, this music, these students, the paints, the words, the plants, the breeze that blows the hair on the back of my neck.  This is REALLY some story.  It feels good to be in love with my life, even the sad parts.  And I'm asking Him:  What is it you're building in this heart?  Can I see it?  Can I feel it?  Will you really make it mine?  Because I think I kind of like it, if it's something you could love.

3.  I trust a classroom that cries.

4.  I trust a daughter who spins.

5.  I trust a song that has electric guitar turned up to the breaking point.

6.  I trust this story.

7.  I trust [                                                                                     ].

8.  I trust you, whatever you are going through, whatever you need to do.  I know you're doing the best you can, which is always exactly what you can do.  And the best you can is good enough.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Springing Forward is Hard on a Kid

From the backseat today, I hear Nora getting ready to break something to me:

"You know, Mommy?"


"I've decided to be nocturnal."

"Oh, yeah?  When do you plan to start?"

"When is it night time again?"

"Oh, about 7 hours or so."

"Okay.  That's when."

Around 9:00 tonight, she decided to look around the house, something nocturnal creatures do.  I wanted to tell her that nocturnal creatures also grade papers, write blogs, eat ice cream and listen to loud music on their headphones, but I didn't want her to get any ideas.

Around 9:30 she asked if it was almost daytime yet, so she could go ahead and get some rest.  "Not yet.  Have you developed your night-vision yet?"  "No, I will just need to wear contacts."

She made it to 10:42 tonight.  Not too shabby for a bat, the nocturnal creature of her choice.  Around 10:30 she said, "You know, maybe I could just be a bunny."

And that's the last thing I heard from her.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Take Me Home

I found a nearly dead plant at the Pac n' Save today sitting on an abandoned metal pedestal as I played modern day hunter/gatherer in the dairy section.  (Why did I never notice there were giant cut out cows above the milk?  I am a shoe-gazer after all).

Brown-tipped, depressed.

Because we must consciously raise ourselves above the lie of obligation and duty into that hard joy we love in the smile flung far from our hearts into the story of YES.  I can change.  I can change.

I think it's probably none of my business if someone isn't watering his or her plants, but there may be an exception to the rule if it's a grocery store.  I dig my finger in the dirt, on the sly.  Bone dry.  Like a life drained dead of the wish-making impulse.  I don't really care what happens.  Oh, sweetheart, you'd better care.  I consider notifying the pharmacy.

Fix it.  Don't let it suffer.  I can change.  I can change.

I consider buying some bottled water.  I know--none of my business.  I can't help it.  My hand naturally goes to the dead leaves at the doctor's office, restaurants, classroom before I can stop myself, I am tending.  And it's none of my business.

I look down and immediately notice that below the pedestal is a green plastic watering jug.  Oasis.  Answer.  Why hasn't anyone given you a drink?  Did you fade so gradually that no one noticed until it was too late?  Is it some cruel experiment in neglect?  I consider what people might think.  Me, obviously another hunter/gatherer with her wire pack mule filled with her haul.  Why am I watering the plants at the grocery store?

I can't help it.  I fill the water to the edge, the Bridal Veil (as the tag says) drinks long, in one steady draw.  Good luck, I say.  And I begin to push the mule toward aisle 2.

I know it's my own heart calling:  don't leave me here alone.  I can change.  I can change.   I abandon my goods, go back to the plant, run hands over long vines of leaves, turning them over, delicate V and purple belly, small hope of white bloom if it lives.

And I take it home.

Monday, March 14, 2011

She Is Mine but She is Not Mine


by Kathleen Norris

Why do you stand looking up at the sky?  --Act 1:11

It wasn't just wind chasing
thin, gunmetal clouds
across a loud sky.
And it wasn't the feeling that one might ascend
on that excited air,
rising like a trumpet note,

and it wasn't just my sister's water breaking,
her crying out,
the downward draw of blood and bone...

It was all of that,
mud and new grass
pushing up through melting snow,
the lilac in bud by my front door
bent low
by last week's ice storm.

Now the new mother, that leaky vessel,
begins to nurse her child,
beginning the long good-bye.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let Us Be Glad in It

Two chapters of Numbers and coffee
Two loads of laundry
Wash floors and vacuum and dust and hope
Install hooks for towels in bathroom
Retexture walls around new tub
Dishes and wishes
Constant prayer 
Build fort
Take out trash
Guitar in the kitchen and the voice seems sharp
Make paper beads
Feed cats left-over scraps from yesterday's I-hop
Get ready to put up bird feeders 
Play sea creatures with crab and penguin and sea horses as they review seaweed diet
A dream of losing Nora in a mill, waking panic and relief
Construct teepee support for Nora's pole beans 
"You were thinking that you were stolen."
Clean two more drawers out
Hem 5 pairs of pajamas for Nora
Pumpkin muffin breakfast, mac n' cheese lunch, chicken sandwich and fries supper and countless clementines
Commend Lucky for surviving another day
Bedtime stories, gummy vitamins, and I (points to eye) Love (points to chest) You (points to her chest.)

And this is not the list of one who must feel her importance by the weight of her duty, simply someone who must keep moving because it is, as St. Gregory of Nyssa said, "a way to remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is daily life. … Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The First Time I Stepped into this Country

I wanted hungry fiddle, banjo's loose teeth.  I wanted the hair on the back of the land to stand up when called.  I wanted steel string fingers and a calling heart.  I wanted a book with pages so thin I could breathe through them.  I wanted an answer, an answer, an answer.

The scandal of my great-grandmother sitting proper, hands finger-caged to her lap on my great grandfather's bed as he drove the team round.  She'd be warmer there, he said, and it was practical advice lifted rational above the gossip.  She stayed there in the single room that served as kitchen, dreaming bed, and study, and she saw herself moving there through his spaces in a sudden instant.  Her hands flew to her face in that future recognition, birds freed and new to the wing landing on the red blushing cheek.

I heard the robin warm her lungs as she sang the sun song and the worm, dirt-drunk and dazed, met that song when it died there as the two met for the last time.

That he'd been hassled for his last name, an Irish one that no one in my family knows but in some deep blood memory that won't tell on him.  He'd changed it to Smith after fighting a few good fights, a few bad ones, and realizing after fighting himself over his thinking on courage, that some new name would stand stronger:  Smith means "one who makes" and their great granddaughter's three names mean "One who makes a joyous song consecrated to God."

Listen here, Birds.  There were never any accidents.

And the last time I stepped out of this country, I was holding the air in my lungs until it no longer mattered because the song was as invisible as hands flying to their home clasped around the careful choice made by the two strong people who came before her.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Don't Forget to Write This Stuff Down

1.  The easy joy of meeting a sister in Christ and sitting with her like you've been sitting with her for a long, long time on a farm 14 miles away, which makes you close neighbors in these parts.  The girls make birdseed out of sand and the boy sleeps in his mother's arms not knowing yet what strength it took to get him here.

2.  Hearing that others believe in the work you're doing, that you're doing it well.  And you need this encouragement right now when you aren't sure how to put words together the right way, feeling for them in the dark room of "I can't answer that yet."

3.  Feeling God's hand of peace placed across your forehead while Miss N screams and cries and doesn't want to leave and sometimes you feel the same way and again, God's hand cools and calms and the water is good.  And you float along knowing that you can't go wrong with more love.

4.  Realizing what a different life one can have after the therapeutic heat of a bath unwinds the knots you've worked into your shoulders carrying the good weight of a life blessed with so much to lift up with Him on the other end asking, "You got it?"  "Yes, Lord.  As long as you've got the heavy end and you don't mind being the one walking backwards."

5.  The green shoots appearing, shy green head of spring: crocus, daffodil, iris.  And a daylight savings time on the way, which means more time in the dirt and the green stuff.  Pulling into the drive and already the dead stuff is packing its bag as you imagine the wheelbarrow and the rake and the sweatshirt that will eventually be too warm to wear.

6.  Coming down hard on yourself for so many things and being able to identify where it's coming from instantly, like shooting pickles in a barrel.  Those same old tricks no longer work on me.  Besides I don't address you directly anymore.  You'll have to talk to my Agent.  

7.  [                                                                                                 ]

8.  Why would anyone shoot a pickle?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Listen Here, Lisa

And after my meltdown of doubt, the one that thought I could actually "accomplish life" without the help of the One who gave it to me, without the strength of arms and friends and family.  The "poor me" of "all alone"--yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Lisa.  Listen up.

First of all, you've got a good horse and the author of your life watches over you.  (I don't have a horse, but if I did, he'd definitely be a good one.)

Listen to this woman who understands what a blessing work is:  "Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.  Serve God alone –spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives — and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him…"  --A.V.

Listen to the offer of chocolate and an hour here or there from a nearby friend who has her own brood to care for, her own home and work.

Listen to your daughter as she takes your hand and eyes light when you say, "I love being around you."  And you know she will remember this in her bones when she faces the other voice that says the opposite.  

Listen to the word:  “put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!” (Luke 12:37)

Listen to a sister in Christ:  "Kind of makes me think of Peter, stepping out of the boat, not keeping eyes on Jesus, falling, 'immediately' Jesus pulling out, saving, loving..." 

From some random blog I clicked on today:  ...Don't just sit around complaining about how dark it is.  Get up and light a candle... 

The mustard seed and the trumpet.  (Inside joke between God and me.)  I heard this today, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Scramble to Complete Life Without Letting Anyone Down

In odd hours, in corners, in pockets I stretch myself into my work and know that this season of grasping and straining beyond my capacity will not last forever--my daughter growing too quickly, a house to keep, a mouth to feed, a job done in the early morning or the late night between cooking and placing bandaids and coloring and Littlest Pet Shops and the work of over 100 different voices handed to me with so much weight placed within the searching mind on the page.  The stretch between a preschool vocabulary and a university vocabulary leads to a sort of word amnesia (there is a word for that, and I can't think of it).

What is it that I have to say?  How can I say it?  I simplify things as much as possible because my life is made up mostly of communication, and I am someone who values the functional over the decorative.  And my dark secret is that I'm not sure that I understand anything.  I, too, am just growing up.  I am practicing with a permanent marker in my hand.

Even so.  I am not naturally a brave person, but I will go to the door and yell at the neighbor dogs even when they yell back because I have a mouth to protect and a heart to live.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simply Random: Socks Don't Have to Match to Make a Pair

1.  I'm beginning to understand how listening to the soundtrack from a movie (orchestral is best) during the course of a day can make your  life seem a little bit complicated at first, and then you'll start to figure things out and gain a bit of momentum (you may feel like you are learning leaps and bounds during a sort of "growth montage") when suddenly you have to face your greatest fear, and you do and then you run around the kitchen in slow motion, triumphant, inspirational even.  I've been listening to Gladiator.  Yes, I hope this is as hilarious to you as it is to me.

2.  I am taking back my life one closet at a time.

3.  I let Nora take care of me tonight after mentioning I felt like a cold/flu was coming round the bed.  She ran and got her doctor bag and a long strip of toilet paper, which she proceeded to scotch tape to my head, hair, glasses and all.  I read her bedtime stories with my bandage on, realizing that you CAN actually see through scotch tape.  Transparent, indeed.

4.  Nora set a "trap" for me on the kitchen floor today that consisted of a pillow and blanket.  When she came to see if she'd caught anything, she found me curled up there taking a quick nap.  It's so easy to catch moms that way for those of you in the trapping business.

5.  God bless you, fine folks.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A First Draft

I have no idea what I'm about to write--the magician hoping she remembered to stuff the rabbit in the hat before walking onstage.  But there is a call for poetry, and poetry must happen when called.

I don't know if this is a poem.  It is just brand new.

And this is like running down the hill
marked by rectangular bales in orange twine.
The one behind Grandpa's blue house,
that curves, your feet hopping between
the duel tire tracks leading to the apple
tree in your green coat and glad it's raining,
that you have a wind chime in hand,
that you will hang there for the summer
because it is beautiful.  It is going to be
beautiful and you are going to LET it be
beautiful even when you aren't sure
where you are, who you are, if you are doing it
RIGHT, if it pleases him.  How you are hanging
the sound of it, present when you couldn't be:
a prayer, a thank you for this field, this tree,
this storm, this secret summer

So crawl from the night window after pulling
the screen loose and run toward the sound
of the wind moving silence through the trees
at the end of the field, the silhouette of blood
vessels and branches against the storm behind,
the same one the heart beats against: love's fist
pounds the hidden, impossible opening
of the seed you forgot to place and nurture.
I did it for you.  And if I am afraid
these awkward feet would trample the fruit,
isn't it better that they were here, meaning
no harm but to express some painful and suppressed
joy that matches the steps already placed there
by the rain and its electric epiphany?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gems from The Divine Miss N

1.  She believed me when I told her there were also "Sad Meals" at McDonald's containing an old tennis shoe and a piece of concrete.

2.  So we had the Happy Meals instead.  And I sat in the booth with her and started to devise a road trip involving lots and lots of Happy Meals--not so much for the nutritional content--mainly the emotional one.

3.  "I feel better when you feel better, Mommy."  She understands so well what I mean about emotions passing between us like a virus and she reminds me of my own part in this.

4.  Bedtime stories on the fly:  Laughing about "Jeremy Hat" (a hat with legs) who went to Hat Day at preschool only to be blown into the sky while Mrs. B chased after him with a butterfly net and the rest of the kids ran around with their arms in the sky screaming, "Jeremy Hat!  Jeremy Hat!  Don't get blown away like that!"

5.  "I made up a song about making sure the tag goes in the back:  Tag in the back.  Sit on your back.  Put it in the back.  And that's how it goes in the time when you are dressed.  Oh YEAH!"

6.  She still picks up a rock from the ground when we go somewhere, hands it to me and says, "Here's your Special Day rock."  I don't know where she got this, but I have a lot of rocks now.  And I love each one of them.

7.  And we are trying, both of us, to show each other how much we love the other through this daily cooperation.  To understand the other's will.

8.  Watching her problem solve the way I do--like McGeyver with a surplus of scotch tape and yarn.

9.  How she leads us in prayer before each meal (she loves the shark prayer) and her secret conversation with Jesus overheard while I make pumpkin muffins.  The animation and love in her voice so clear, so uncluttered.

10.  [                                                                    ]

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Chicken that Died Twice

My mom has suggested that I find something fun to do until it's garden time.  I told her the only fun thing I do right now is eat too much.  Yes.  I know this isn't healthy.  So, the last couple of nights, I've been trying to find something "leisurely and entertaining" to do--something completely pointless that doesn't involve calories.

I tried.  I really did.  And this is what I found:

Video clips of Julia Child from her show The French Chef.  Oh, Julia.  There is so much about you that I admire:  your 6'2" frame and deep voice make Betty Crocker seem so flimsy, so dainty--like a piece of lace next to a a good yard of gingham.   Watching you handle a live lobster bigger than most newborns makes me wish you would have been in that scene in Annie Hall.   You would have cut right through the BS and gone straight to the cooking--something Betty Crocker doesn't really address.  And neither does Woody Allen, for that matter.

I found another amazing clip where Julia takes a huge bone she just freed from some portion of pig and tosses it behind her onto the counter like someone tossing her keys.  The way it clunked.  Oh, I was dying.  There is absolutely no nonsense about this woman.  She is beyond embarrassing herself.  She just glows with the light of someone who is doing exactly what she was made to do.  She has that confidence about her.

OH!  And her appearance on the Letterman show!   Here:

I like a woman who is willing to cook with a blow torch if her stove won't work (and on live TV!  She is so calm, so funny, so resourceful!  I just love Julia.)

So, my stepdad Mike came across someone who sells free-range chicken direct from the farm.  He hooked me up with about 8 of these babies, and they've been sitting in my deep freeze waiting for me to deal with the fact that they are WHOLE chickens.  I have to admit something to you:  I've never cooked a whole chicken.  I've never, like, dissected one before.  Today because of Julia and this beautiful new dutch oven I just purchased, I decided to face the chicken.  I should have read the instructions first because this poor 4 pound fryer died twice, once before it got to my house and again when I tried to cut it up into recognizable chicken parts.

The sad thing is that I worked at KFC for a whole summer.  I know my chicken parts.  The trouble I had was finding them on a whole chicken.  I mean, I'm pretty sure I ended up with two wings, but beyond that, I can't say.  I was so inspired by Julia--the way she lifted the cleaver above her head and brought it down on the hunk of meat like someone trying to win a stuffed bear at the state fair.  Surely I could do this.

Nora was playing on the kitchen floor while I butchered the poultry, and I kept trying to create a sort of barricade between her and what I was doing to that poor chicken.  I definitely didn't want to have the "where do chicken nuggets come from" talk yet, so in my haste I eventually ended up with the right number of pieces (still unidentifiable) and hurried them into the frying pan while disposing of all the other evidence like Betty Crocker after a night of bingeing on 5 boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes.

After it was all said and done, the chicken cacciatore was amazing.  I guess it doesn't matter if your chicken ends up with three thighs, four breasts, and a tail.  All I know is that it has to be chicken, and it has to be dead.  I made sure of both.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Just got off the phone with my little sister

And she's been sick with the flu with 2 kids and trying to manage and she called to tell me she was feeling angry about the fact that we don't talk to each other anymore.  And I agree with her.

This is mad-ness.

There are sisters making phone calls today, and I'm going to listen.

That gentle tug that's been growing for the last couple of weeks:  call them.

I am done with the busylifenolife sickness.  It's not that I plan to do less.  I plan to do more.  A lot more than I've been doing with my selfabsorbed task minded somnambulistic approach to avoiding the things that really hurt like sometimes I am alone, and sometimes I don't want to be.  And that's when a sister calls. And sometimes she's alone and she doesn't want to be.

This is my sister support-slowing down-pressing in-growing up-promise.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Love's Little List

1.  Grandma back home and resting.  Her heart up from 20 beats per minute to a steady 50.  Your prayers bring healing.

2.  A class in which I am myself.  We are answering the big questions:  Who am I?  Where am I going?  What can I give?  

3.  The space of 11 days to rest, recover, rearrange.  Connect with Nora.

4.  Walking by dried flowers and wanting to put them in my pocket and paint them later.  Glad for the impulse, a sign of wanting more life.

5.  Tired.  But hopeful.  It's the tired of working hard.

6.  [                                                                     ]

7.   Gonna pretty it up around here soon.  Flowers dressing fancy in the sun.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


1.  Tonight I'm going to finish reading the last 150 pages of Ordinary People for tomorrow's class.  My mom is worried about how long it's taking me to read the book.  (This is the 4th or 5th time I've read it for my Lit class.   She just thinks I'm a slow reader.)

2.  Crocuses are up.  Ground is wavy in the fields.  Warming dirt.  Vulnerable heart.

3.  Tickling.  What a great idea, God!

4.  I made some wheat bread dough this morning.  It didn't rise.  I tried to turn it into crackers.  They were too sharp to eat (though Teagan did manage to gnaw on a couple of them--brave girl.  She must have better dental work than I do.)  Eventually Nora used the dough to build a little wheat city with roads lined with split peas.  Whatever works.

5.  Rainbows.  On my wrist.  Under my eyelid.  In the coffee cup.

6.  Spring Break = Spring Back  (I'm sure this has been said before.  I'm okay with that.)

7.  [                                                           ]

8.  I made Grandma's vegetable beef soup today.  It was a way to cover lots of miles in a single kitchen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Heart

that broke when Grandpa died, the softpack in pocket, cigarette moving in his lips as he called the horses, as he maneuvered the bailer this way and back.  The smoke he blew into his daughter's ear, warm and soft as he carried her sick and with ear ache in his big coat to the doctor.  Now 12 years later the woman he loved with the proof of 4 children (one, my dad), a daughter still living with her, loving her, caring for her as if her own daughter--now she sleeps with the pulse of the electric heart keeping time where time had stopped itself briefly this morning.

Dad called this afternoon with this news.  Grandma is in the hospital and has had a pacemaker installed.  It only happened this morning, unplanned--though when do we ever plan for heartbreak?  And she is resting and 90 years old.  The woman who taught me piano, embroidery, granny squares.  The woman whose quart and pint jars hold my own harvest now.  My pen pal for 19 years, each letter saved in batches and Lord, let me write more.

And if you would, a prayer for my grandma?  Her name is Laura Pansy Smith.  God will know who you are talking about.