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.