Friday, September 30, 2011

Just More of the Life God Gave Me

The peace here, I can touch it, and I can't help but notice that for several weeks now, I've felt a warm hand on the small of my back, holding me up like I only just learned to walk.

I'm going to start hitting the educational videos again.  And I'm going to take notes.  I want so much to return to the love of learning I used to have when I was 15 or 16, like I had as an undergraduate, before knowledge became something I hoarded in fear that someone would find out how little I really knew, before knowledge became something we used to feel bigger and better.  I just want to have a secret notebook full of quotes and ideas, ideas I'm following without purpose, a random walking through thinking beyond myself and into the joy of....what?  The joy of the wonder of the world and what others have made for Him from the gifts He gave them.  I want to see those things, read those things, think about those things, and maybe that will shake my thinking free again, ignite the kind of courage I had when  research was "organized curiosity," as Zora Neale Hurston once said.  This is the prayer I think I'm getting at:  Lord, teach me to be curious again.

The harvest haze extends beyond the headlights of the neighbor pulling out, following the dusty twin lights that take him home.

Nora and I have an entire day with nothing to do tomorrow.  So far I'm thinking train ride at the Goehner museum, lunch at Plum Creek, move the daybed up from the basement into her room and redecorate "big girl" style, pull the carrots (they're starting to go to seed), do a bit of canning (carrots, crabapple jelly), throw something in the crock pot early, pick the few apples we have and make some apple crisp, hang the basil to dry, freeze a bit more pesto, and teach Nora a little bit more of the alphabet.  Oh, and I have about 8 pounds of essays to put up, too.

For tomorrow's blog, I'll be photographing my houseplants' current ailments and diagnosing what might be going on.  Stay tuned for that one.  It sounds fascinating to me, too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'm Fairly Certain I Need an Adventure

My art history professor, Chip, he seemed really alive to me.  He was an ex-surfer turned art historian.  He was funny and brilliant, tall and thin with floppy bangs turned gray.  One day someone brought in a hand carved chainsaw made out of wood, which impressed him immensely, obviously.  He just happened to be wearing a flannel shirt that day, so there were a lot of references to lumberjacks.  I had a pocket full of dead cigarette butts because I hated throwing them out on the ground.  When I'd reached the end of the flame, I'd twirl and pinch it between my fingers until the last of the lit tobacco fell out, deaden it with the bottom of my shoes, and pocket the brownish filter until I found a place to throw it away.  Unfortunately, I always smelled like stale cigarettes back then.  I don't believe I minded because everyone I knew then smelled like that.

On an adventure, I'd probably do some fishing.

I'd visit monuments.  Sure.  Why not?

I'd make the kind of scrambled eggs Grandpa Aanonson made cooking over a camp stove.  Those were the most golden, fluffiest, butter glistening eggs I've ever had--at home or at the RV camp.  I'd sit in the folding chairs with Grandma Aanonson while we fish the pond, admiring her cowboy boots and crossed legs while she drinks a beer from a can.  I've always loved how Grandma would just laugh about things that seemed like such a big deal me.  At my sister's wedding, I walked right up to her and said, "Grandma, I have to tell you something.  I smoke."  I wanted to save her the shock.  She just laughed.  "Oh.  Okay, honey."  And that was that.  I'd love to go fishing with her.  She's actually coming to stay with Mom and Mike for a few months, so we'll have four generations of women under one roof every Wednesday night.  That's an adventure right there.

One thing you should know about my Grandma Aanonson:  she always wears red lipstick.  She has for a long, long time.  She looks fabulous.  She talks with God a lot.  I can't wait to sit with her for long stretches just listening and listening.  She's almost 90 now and as vibrant as her lipstick is red.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There's Always a Good Side (And by implication, a bad side, but nevermind that.)

For example, you go to pick up a cinderblock out back, and you find an entire teeming world of life under there.  That's good.  Life = good.  No life = heavy lifting without the ten minutes you'd spend watching all the little critters scamper for cover while you marvel at the complexity of the thing happening underneath you.  Did you know that a within a single football field sized space, there can be over 1 million earthworms?  Just imagine.  Every step you take on dirt, there are, like, uh, a lot of worms underneath your feet.  (I'll send you a thank you note if you can figure out an equation that will give me the actual number.)

Bad side:  Your cup is empty.  Good side:  You are full of coffee.

Bad side:  You are a tired and cranky mom.  Good side:  Your daughter offers you grace at the end of the day with a hug and a kiss and giggling as you draw pictures on her back.  "This is Henrietta."  Scribbly lines.  "And this is Henrietta's wheel."  Circle.  "And now Henrietta is crawling into her wheel and..."  Making a circle shape over and over on her back as she crumbles into giggling.

Bad side:  You haven't reread the story you are teaching tomorrow.  Good side:  The story is less than one page long and the coffee maker is set to automatic.  Plus, a smarter, more alert version of yourself composed wonderful lecture notes and thinking questions for the story last semester.  Nice work, older self.  I owe you one.  How about the two of us get some coffee sometime and catch-up?  Is that even possible?

Bad side:  At the parent teacher conference, you can't think of anything you'd like Mrs. B to do to help Nora improve.  Good side:  You can't think of anything you'd like Mrs. B to do to help Nora improve.

Bad side:  You miss your friends.  Good side:  Your friends live in your computer, so you can talk to them all the time even when you can't see them.   (I miss you, everyone.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Always Thankyou

-A reading light before the sun rises.  Coffee in bed.
-Driving to school eating a pumpkin muffin as the sun shines in my eyes.
-I cry a lot today while they read their stories.
-Laughing about George Winston.
-A long note left on my desk, and I put it on the shelf inside.
-Two new aprons from Robin.  Love.
-Carrying my funky lamp around campus.  Claiming it was my little light and that I was going to let it shine.  (It was actually a prop for my Lit classes.)
-Two books left on my desk, which I will read.  Thank you, Inglenook.
-Eating nachos and watching the news.  I am almost asleep here in my chair, so I will say goodnight.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Few More

1.  Tomorrow I will need to wake early and re-familiarize myself with "To Build a Fire" and "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."  I can see the cloud of a class discussion in my mind, where I could take it, where it might go.  This is just a note for myself:  Go slowly.  There is no rush.  Read a few passages together.  Talk about the necessity of the imaginative function.  Talk about what it feels like when nothing is lit from within anymore.  Talk about "nada" and how the "nada prayer" is one that mutes the soul.  Talk about hopelessness and hope.  Talk about the clean light and the stars that dance.  Let go and allow.  Listen.  Just listen.

2.  My newly acquired television watching hobby has unearthed some interesting discoveries thanks to NOVA.  I think my hippocampus might be shrinking, resulting in a loss of memory due to prolonged periods of stress.  Just a hypothesis.  Also, PBS kids programming is amazing.

3.  I just ate WAY too many BBQ potato straws.  I think pilates and a daily walk would help increases my hippocampus while decreasing my hippopotamus.   Just another theory.

4.  I know you will say that I am doing a good job as a mom, but I feel like I end up doing so many things that have nothing to do with just watching Nora be Nora.  I am the timekeeper, the regulator, the dietician, the toothbrushing enforcer.  My dear friend Jess came over tonight with pasta, salad, rolls, the best dang jello I've ever had in my life (seriously), and cupcakes made into different farm animals.  She asked how I keep my house so clean, and I wanted to answer, "By not spending enough time with Nora."  And when I fold the laundry after we've taken it off the line, when I scrub the counters, when I unload the dishwasher, put up the pickles, clean up the toys at the end of the day, I hope I'm not completely missing the point.  I pray for balance between the upkeep of a healthy, semi-put together environment for Nora to thrive in and the time we have to play and learn together.

5.  I have been worrying about everything lately, and I feel the dark shadow of doubt around the turns and the unturned.  I am on my knees daily asking that He take it for me, carry me through it, hoist me above it, tell me if I'm making the right choices, tell me what life I'm supposed to be living.   This one.  This one.  This one.  But this one is so lonely sometimes.  I don't understand.  And tomorrow when I talk about hope and hopelessness with my class, I will know what it means because I have eaten from both hands, one cupped and abundant, the other with fingers spread as the grain falls through.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Little Things

1.  The house is still but for the Woodsies posed in mid-action on the living room floor.  We'll pick it up tomorrow where we left with Owl talking to his students (Raccoon, Rabbit, and Beaver) about the benefits of insects.  Already Nora knows so much about pollination and the earthworm's gifts in the garden.  She also believes that I "cursed the worms out" one day for eating all the broccoli.  Believe me.  I don't curse in front of the garden.  I curse in front of the lawn mower, the 40 pound bags of rock salt, and grizzly bears.

2.  I'm learning how to knit.  I've always loved the way the needles sound hitting each other.  That's why I just left the yarn out and just sit here with them playing drums.  So far I can knit "Wipeout" and that Rush song "Tom Sawyer."  I don't like Rush, but if you can play that song on knitting needles, you can probably knit a sweater, too.

3.  The garden is dying, and I have had a cold for over 2 weeks now.  I'll admit I've been a bit down.  Partially it's this cold that won't seem to take a hike, and another part is watching everything turn brown, succumb to grasshopper and my limited time for caring for it.  I've been trying to think too hard about whether or not I'm leaving too many things half done or done poorly.  I've probably been too hard on myself in some ways, too.  That's wasted time.  The Proverbs 31 woman (she's my hero) isn't blessed by the thoughts of her mind.  She's blessed by the gifts of her hands.  So, I keep my hands moving (see number 2.)

4.  Nora and I were both brought to tears, I forget why now.  "Come over here, Nora."  "What."  "Just come here a second."  I take out two spoons, and pour honey in both, the golden sweet slowness amber in the sun coming through the kitchen windows.  I sit on her step stool by the sink.  "Eat this."  "Why?"   "This is how sweet God wants our lives to be."  We both put the spoons in our mouths, flower sweet like life medicine.  She stops crying immediately.  So do I.  We just sit there for a long time eating spoonful after spoonful of this life He made for us, sweet and difficult and sudden and still.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Farm Safety Day Revisted

There's just something kind of funny about a couple of shy FFA students talking about chainsaw safety with a group of preschoolers.  "So, when you use the chainsaw, you want to be sure to wear eye protection, and be sure to watch out for kick-back."  Kick back?  You'll be lucky if one of these 40 pound kids can even pick up a chain saw.  "Are you gonna cut up that watermelon?"  Phew.  They haven't been listening at all.  They just want to see what happens to a watermelon when you take a chainsaw to it.  "Uh, yeah.  This is how easy it would be to cut your leg."  Our fearless, yet shy demonstrator revs the chainsaw and cuts through a watermelon.  Mmm.  Chainsaw watermelon.   The mom chaperones in the group start whispering to each other:  "Do you think that would work on cheese?"  "Pineapple?"  He continues, "So, be sure to be careful when you are using a chainsaw."  Finally, the kindergarten teacher there has to say something:  "But you will never, ever use a chainsaw until you are grown up, right kids?"

At the hand-washing presentation, the kids are asked to yell out "Germs!  Germs!  Germs!" whenever the protagonist of the cautionary tale forgets to wash his hands.  They ask for questions at the end, a polite gesture that ends in about 5 kids confessing that they went to the bathroom once and didn't wash their hands.  "Umm....once.................................................I went to the bathroom and.............................I didn't wash my hands."  Another hand shoots up.  "Is this a story or a question, Jake?"  "Umm.............once..........did you ever....................once I touched a germ.................and....................."

At the tractor and bobcat safety presentation, Nora asks her own "question."  "If my mom was driving in the tractor, I would just run away."  The presenter agrees, "Yeah, you should just run away.  That's right."

The kids take turns climbing into tractors and combines and honking the horns.  Later, when asked how the farm safety day went, 7 out of 10 kids will simply say, "BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!"

Nora has her Jr. Trooper police officer badge tattoo on her arm.  Tonight in her bath she asked if she could keep it forever.  "Sure, Nora, as long as you never take a bath."  "Okay."

Nora drifts off to sleep...."Mom, you'll never get drowned in corn, right?"  "That's right, Nora.  Good night, sweetheart."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things I Think are Neat

1.  I think it's neat that 6 of my students took several hours from their day to be a part of a poetry workshop for high school students.  Thank you for what you gave each of those young writers.   They won't forget it because of you.

2.  So, I've never used Pandora until last night.  If you haven't checked it out, give it a try.  I'm hearing all of these great new bands.  Death Cab for Cutie came up a lot in one of my poetry writing classes last semester, and I'm beginning to see why people kind of like them.  The Weepies?  They're kind of fun, too.  Minus Story?  Chris Garneau?  Is this what all of you kids are listening to these days?  Nice work!

3.  My spelling and grammar is trashed right now.  (It should be ARE!)  See!  What did I tell you!?  I couldn't remember the "i before e" thing today.  I'm not sure if it's a specific kind of amnesia that erases everything you learned in middle school, or if I'm just really, really tired.  Why is this neat?  It's not.  I just forgot what I was writing about.

4.  Tomorrow I get to attend "Farm Safety Day" with Nora's preschool class.  I'm hoping I don't find out I've been living on the edge out here on the hog farm what with all the running with pitchforks and diving in front of tractors I do.

5.  I may be reaching here, but I just noticed that they're releasing a new "Charlie's Angels" on TV.  Yeah. I used to love that show.  Of course I did.  Are you crazy?  And I've been looking for a TV show to follow, so I can feel like a normal human who, you know, sits on a couch and watches TV.  That's a normal thing to do, right?  I don't know if I'll watch "Charlie's Angels" but if they put out a new "ChIPS," I'm there.

6.  I ate lunch at the school cafeteria today with a couple of truly inspiring folks.  I was going to sit alone at a table pretending to read my Lit anthology, but one of them came by and invited me to sit with them. We had such a great talk about all art being useful in one way or another.  I used to hate eating lunch at school--you know, I was kind of a loner, so it was like I'd just walked into the final scene of The Breakfast Club or something.  Triumphant in a Stewart Smally "people like me" kind of way.  Thank you, Dottie and Micah.

7.  God is neat.  I try to tell Him that everyday.

Wow.  I'm tired.  I'd better get some rest before I have to say "no" to danger at Farm Safety Day tomorrow.  I hope they don't tell me we have to stop petting the farm cats because all of them have rabies or that swimming in the lagoon is bad for you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


"Seek those themes which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty--describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory."  --Rainier Maria Rilke

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things To Feel

Melting sun on the soft souls (intended) of my feet in the grass stretched out and breezy and the warmth, my forever remember this.  Even my hair feels shiny.

Cutting loose about Jack-Cat, how it was like watching an episode of Bonanza with all the parts played by felines.

All beautiful hearts who spoke today.

Then to the haven of sound in the headphones I cover the world with swaying and swaying.

She jumps out of herself to kiss me with an I love you thrown in, and mama said there would be days like this when being mama is easy.

Buying 10 notebooks and pens for the high school students who will be in the poetry workshop Thursday. Everyone needs a notebook and a good pen.  Mandatory.

Just counting simple, holding on there.  Sturdy little things.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What A Woman Knows or Doesn't Know She Knows

1.  What (woman) hasn't sat outside like this centering herself around some courage she knows God gave her, asking "why"?   Knowing deep down she doesn't have to be brave.  She just has to do it because the Author of her life has written this part for her and to deny it is to deny His love.  And there isn't a bone in her body that could turn from that kind of love.  Not a single bone.  So she packs, she loves, she leaves her love in several places, one in her home, the other in her guitar, her notebook, her voice, her garden, her dreams with the tears in them.

2.  What woman hasn't cried herself to sleep while the one beside her could have held her then but didn't?

3.  Who told her she couldn't, had no right to, couldn't dare, wouldn't ever be able to, was too loud, too big, too bold, too stupid?  What woman hasn't believed it and spent years with tears trailing behind her, shoulders slumped like a deadly umbrella over the seeds of her footprints, too shy, too shy?

4.  What woman rises alone in the morning and balances the necessity of herself, her children's selves and the care of them between the love and work?  She wants to give herself completely to them, in their hearts and in her heart and in the other hearts she speaks to but the time passing and the amount of space seem limited and, damn, she's getting older, and getting older is making her curse more because.  Just because.

5.  What woman hasn't had days she couldn't drive her kids to school because she was sick but she did laundry, cooked bread, played, bathed, loved, sang to, pulled red tomatoes free, cleaned the mud from shoes, emailed and prepared to speak in public?

6.  And what woman hasn't felt the sin of self-pity creep into the lines around her eyes as she looks in the mirror in the morning and gets dressed because getting dressed means you are prepared to meet people, talk to people, be somebody, not doubt, but live with all her heart and soul and the work of her hands? She gave it all to God because He first gave it to her.

7.  And reading devotions anytime she eats, what woman hasn't asked forgiveness for the days spent just getting by, ignoring that everything is gift?  Everything is worthy of praise.  Even this moment when she thinks so little of herself.

8.  What woman has been afraid to say words like these because she was supposed to be perfect, supposed to have faith, supposed to know, to have it together, living right, aware of blessings, a good mom, good at her job, but still alone, still not sure what the future holds and honestly scared a lot of the time when she thinks she might have to do it like this the rest of her life.

9.  What woman knows that the precarious emotional roller coaster of having only been alive for four years isn't something we should be afraid of?  That we can love them, hold them, guide them, accept them, see the gift in the leg throwing, "I will go out and get another mommy," eyes like deep souls that simply feel too much at one time?  And yes, I have felt that, too, dear one.  Come here and I'll hold you till it passes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Day at an Orchard

Rolling around the Lied lodge on a baggage cart

Face painting brings out a new color in Nora's eyes

Talking to a woman who has grown her own 8 acre homemade soup business into a 30 acre business that supports her family and 3 interns.  Inspired.  And she don't take no sugar.  Talking to her was refreshing.

Seeing Mom and Mike support each other, building a dream Mom has had for a long time, the one that started speaking when she first watched her three girls go to school and thought, "I've always wanted to try pottery."

Having some extra help from Grandma and Grandpa at the end of the day.

Another handmade birdhouse to add to my collection.

A picture that says, "Simplify," and the mystery of the message is enough to make me consider it.

Homemade sage soap.  People making things and selling them to people who will use them.

Following Nora through the corn maze.  For a girl who lives in the middle of corn fields, you can cut a maze through it, but she'll just find a way to walk out down one of the rows.  Our shoes weighed ten pounds each because of the mud.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

So Far Our Weekend at Applejack Days Has Been...


1.  First I cut in line.
We woke up this morning in a hotel somewhere outside of Nebraska City.  I didn't figure I'd run into anyone I knew at the continental breakfast, so Nora and I walked down in our bare feet and pajamas.  I won't even mention my hair.  Naturally the room was packed with people wearing shoes, street clothes, and, you know, they looked good.  I looked up only long enough to identify where the food was, looked down at the floor and began walking, Nora holding my hand and still sucking on her pacifier.   I piled a few muffins on a styrofoam plate and cut in front of a nice lady who was trying to put some milk in her coffee.  She said something like, "Well, that sure is interesting."  I honestly didn't realize she was waiting on the milk.  I don't usually do that kind of thing.

2.  Then Nora stole Grandpa's headphones.
We met up with Mom at the historic barns near the Lied Center where she had set up her pottery booth.  Grandpa wanted to catch the game, so he purchased these space age headphones.  Nora, for obvious reasons, wanted to try them out.

3.  Nora then bought and broke a duck on a dowel.
She handled it pretty well, I thought.  I mean, I'd want to cry too if I broke something I just bought and really liked.  For example, don't you hate it when you break your cell phone?  I do.  Here she is before the accident.  I don't know what kind of parade she's leading here, but sign me up.

4.  For lunch, Nora had a hot dog until it dropped on the floor.

5.  By this time Nora was ready to call it a day, but it was only about 1 PM, so we loaded Mom with about 70 pounds of our things, I carried Nora (who by this point had completely given up and couldn't even find the will to walk), and we hiked the 10 minute trek to the hotel.  Ah.  A room at the Inn.  Nora played video games, and I watched the football game.  I think I forgot to mention that Nora and I are both sick with colds, so this was a particularly lovely haven for the two of us.  I'd like you to make a mental note of the beam in this picture.

6.  Suppertime.
We head to the restaurant here in the hotel.  The food was amazing, a buffet with steak and shrimp and mountains of cheese and apple pie.  Nora picked her own food:  about 1/2 cup of whipped butter, two rolls, a pile of shredded cheese and a couple shrimp she picked up out of a scientific curiosity rather than a culinary one.  She finished the night off with some kind of chocolate mousse cake.  We're on vacation, I thought.  Why not?

7.  Bedtime.
"Mom, my tummy hurts."  And by then it was too late.

8.  The beam.
So, we call for clean sheets and while Mom and I are making the bed, I conk my head on this guy:

I mean, come one.  You call this a ceiling?  That's not a ceiling.  A ceiling is tall and you can't hit your head on it.

I'm expecting Chevy Chase to show up any minute now.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Few Observations about Today

1.  The sun wasn't up yet, so I told her as she shook my shoulder, "The sun hasn't yet come up over the edge of the world, Nora."  I pointed with my hand still limp, not yet feeling itself attached to a real body, toward the east wall of the bedroom.  Her excitement about my mentioning the "edge" confirmed she wouldn't be going back to sleep.  "You mean, there really is an edge and the sun hasn't come over it yet?!!"  Nora has tried to convince me to "please drive us to the edge of the world" and on a few occasions, we almost made it there.

2.  I've started a book by C.S. Lewis called The Problem of Pain:  How Human Suffering Raises Almost Intolerable Intellectual Problems.  We spend a lot of time in my Intro to Lit class talking about suffering because, as all good fiction writers know, you are going to have to let bad things happen to characters you love.   James Baldwin's character Sonny in "Sonny's Blues" says this:  "The tale of how we suffer and how we are delighted must be told.  It's the only light we've got in all this darkness."   Anyway, I find that I am thinking about or talking about or writing about the question of why we must suffer almost 75% of my day.    If I am going to make my students read and write literature that requires that we face suffering in others (and inevitably in ourselves), I want to be sure I can help them through this process.  I was recently told that we are here to suffer in order to become like Christ.  I think this is probably true.  In fact, yes, definitely true.  I think I began this as a way of simply saying how thankful I am that God gave us language to negotiate this terrain.  It has been, for me, a light.

3.  For a long time from the couch, I watched the white trumpet flowers of the morning glories blow in the wind and imagined the invisible song like breath that must have been audible to divine ears alone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What I Know of Ponies

From the flat top of the mesa, you can ride the Shetland down to Jennifer's house and catch toads on your way back more than two hours late, and this will be the first time you're grounded.  You don't say the pony punished you enough riding you under the low branches, you too small to make it mind as the juniper grows its tangle of ancient blue tears.

When I told Grandma that I'd written you about Cherokee, her eyes went worried, and for the first time I understood that you don't write it if you can't be there to hold the person whose heart might break from reading it.  I was too young to understand what to write and what not to write.  I still don't understand.  

Cherokee:  I made almost 35 cents those two weeks, Grandpa pulling out his change pouch to pay me, me an ugly and awkward seven year old girl hauling the hose out to the trough and standing while it filled.  I always needed to pee, doing a dance while the white water foamed the green edges, and then I grew up, but I'm still awkward inside.

You'd assume because they're small that they'll be better for kids, but the one I sat on thinking we were just standing looking out into the field decided he liked me better under his hoof.  In less than a second, he was in the air, I was on the ground, and something told me to roll out of the way, and I did.  I didn't tell mom because then I wouldn't be able to ride anymore.

So, I lead Cherokee up the winding dirt road, my hand lazy on the lead giving him too much play, and he pinches my shoulder between yellow, carrot snapping teeth.  I holler, going down on one knee and come up with a fist like Grandpa taught me.  I don't say, "Son of a b......," but I think of it even if I don't know what those words mean but to say, "You hurt me, and you won't hurt me again."

Cherokee goes down hard, the other horses in the field thinking the same words I did.  And I shouldn't have written the letter repeating what I heard while Grandpa sat at the table smoking and drinking instant coffee:  He died hard.  Sometimes I think I understand that pony's meanness more than I should.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fragments from a Whole Day

- PBS games for kids (Nora, specifically) inspire her to tell me to stop taking showers and doing the dishes because I'm wasting water.  You don't have to tell me twice. 

- Pumpkin muffins and coffee while we sit on the floor pretending that the Woodsies are cleaning house with their deciduous broom

- Hot dogs, strawberries, chips = lunch of champion daughters and moms

- Nora refusing to put her pants on, so I leave them around her knees, and we leave for school, her giggling the whole time, "Mom, didn't you forget something?"

- Praying for help only to find myself singing a Foreigner song during a particularly hairy moment (see bullet point above) and realizing the solution:  Don't stop believing and pretend to go to school with no pants.  Yes, I was surprised by the answer, as well.  I would not survive without humor and deodorant.

- Coffee and a blueberry triangular pastry (technical name) at the Spur reading non-fiction, saying "howdy" to the coffee-talk crowd, falling in love with a horse named Jude, and wondering if I'll ever fall in love with a human again.

-Her presence there warming the place by 15 degrees with her "HiHo!" across the candy aisle while she buys apple juice for her boy scout troop, the troop that will be developing a muscle today while running the 50 yard dash.

- Celebrating at 11:07 AM with a prayer for her as she takes the final step toward the Dr. she can call her own now

- Making tacos at mom's for supper.  Picking the tomatoes for her.  Excited for a weekend in Nebraska City celebrating Nora's 5th Applejack Days.  Did you know they have a giant xylophone made out of trees there? 

-  A call from a friend asking my honest opinion.  The answer is yes.  Do it.  (I changed my mind about being okay one way or the other.)  Always yes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Tuesdays take everything I've got, and even then, I want to find a cave in which to hide my yapping mouth, so I might tune my ears, move my hands in silent work, be still of thought and simply sway in the still, small whisper of breath rising in the fox-tailed grasses.  To say honestly, I don't know.  This is why I'm always asking what you think.

Everything done in front of others terrifies me.  Is this the way with everyone?

I am not afraid of embarrassment.  I used to be but not anymore.  I suppose it is a raw and naked thing that can't hide itself no matter how I've tried to protect her.  There she is in front of a room that would have frozen her shaking of voice, and I watch her sitting in the parking lot of Pac 'n Save with her eyes closed simply waiting until the sound of her own voice has collected, dropped below the swell of tears and she thinks, "Buy a candle.  You have the fire.  The light must not go out."  And the candle is 8 bucks but no matter.  It smells of roses, and this is what your Aunt Dottie said:  "Some people say that when they have seen them, they left the scent of rose behind."  And I need this.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Just Another Manic Monday

1.  Actually, today wasn't that manic.  I mean, I kept moving, but I made sure to take a few breaths between here and there, you know, while I was moving.  There's nothing wrong with praying while you make the bed.  It's not really multitasking.  I just talk to God a lot.  Back to the title of this post, Nora asked while climbing over the back of the couch, "Mom, are you from the 80's" like it was some distant planet.  "Yes, I'm from the 80's."  And then I see the distant planet and Prince is there.  And we're all walking like Egyptians, and I have over 52 Michael J. Fox posters I pulled out of Teen Beat magazine with a single Ralph Macchio poster on the door because Michael has yet to respond to any of my letters, and I might be dumping him despite the 3 years of allowance I've poured into magazines I don't even read.

2.  I had to cut back part of the cedar tree so the propane man will be able to fill our tank come winter weather, so I decided to attempt to build some furniture for the Woodsies that Nora and I have been playing with lately.  I kind of surprised myself.  I mean, yeah, I'm a carpenter's daughter.  I know what a hammer does, but I had no idea how useful I could be on a deserted island.  I'm reading The Road right now (Cormac McCarthy), so I've been thinking a lot about survival.  Anyway, if you're planning on going Gilligan's Island on us, might I suggest the following design for your own custom built furniture?

Cozy, eh?

3.  While out deadheading flowers and collecting seeds, I discovered that we have another pet on the farm.  Yeah, that's my hand.  And, yes, I was afraid to hold it even this close to what appears to be a flesh-eating alien from the planet 80's.  I mean, no.  Just.  No.

4.  Reading nonfiction pieces tonight while the combine makes its way growling through the seed corn in the south field, lights in the night on the inside and the outside, everyone wanting to do the job they've been given no matter what time it finds them.

5.  Reading under a shady tree near the baseball fields, and I lift my eyes from the page and expect a world covered in ash.  Cormac McCarthy, I love you.  I hope my students will also love you tomorrow.

6.  If I make it past that guard bug, that is.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

1.  Somedays when I fret the questions until I'm no longer sure if I'm doing anything how it should be done, I seek the one moment of thanksgiving in the thousand breaking-downs, when I can lift in God's light these hands that He gave for giving and that single action destroys a million destructions.  Somedays it takes 3 or 4 years to finally get that point, and I regret how long it takes to get there.  And then another batch of questions arrives, and I worry the brow again.

2.  Fighting against the quotidian today when I usually find so much solace in the everyday involvement in comfort over chaos.  I just had to remind myself that cleaning the house is also an act of love, like playing Woodsies and putting on animal power suits, so we can sail down from trees like a draco.

3.  In Nebraska, September is still summer.  I need to write this down, so I'll remember to extend the growing season next year.  A mountain girl isn't surprised if it snows in September or May.  But these are the plains where the sun settles down and rolls slow across the land a good, long time.  That sounds sexier than I meant it to.  Oh well.

4.  I "caught" an all right joke the other night in my Placement Seminar class (we write resumes and prepare for the job market.)

"So, if you know that they'll be making a decision before your Thank You note can get there, should you still send one?"

"Yeah.  You never know what might happen.  They could offer the job to someone else and that person turns it down.  Then they'll remember that nice person who sent the thank-you card after the interview.  That would be you.  Basically, never burn any bridges unless you're applying for a bridge burning job."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Watching the Game

1.  "Oh, man.  Those guys keep passing out."  (Nora's explanation for why they keep falling down.)

2.  My farmer landlord Lynn played at halftime in the UNL Alumni marching band.  I guess all those guys talking about football during halftime didn't realize this or they would have paid better attention.  Marching bands are under-appreciated.

3.  At one point, in an attempt to help Nora fall asleep while I held her on the couch, Mike switched the channel to that sci-fi double-view thing with one side playing the "Soundscapes" channel (they play songs with titles like "Celestial Tree Tops" and "Mountain in the Night Vision") and the other with the game in silent mode.  I have to admit, the juxtaposition between the new age music and football was surprisingly moving.

4.  Mom, don't you think we should be shopping online right now?  I'm not great at math, but it looks like we're winning.  Except for that guy who was wearing a hat that looked like a shark eating his head.  I subtracted 2 points from the final score for that.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bringing the Garden In

Classes began and I forgot out of necessity that behind the house there were seeds planted that have grown into something useful.  I have to be honest:  this year's garden was difficult to manage.  My north to south layout made it difficult to get between rows let alone find a way into the garden.  (The only entry point is to the east, the other sides flocked by blackberry, fencing, bushes and trolls.  Yeah.  You read right.  Trolls.)  Nora and I found the one place to enter between the tomato rows and would duck under with baskets in hand and lift our heads to a mess of decorative gourd vines and sloppy rows of green beans.  Here's what went wrong:

1.  I cried too much when the seeds went in and the sadness made the seeds shy.  Okay.  Maybe it was actually the heavy rains that hit the day after the seeds went in, so most of my rows were washed away and if you don't have rows, weeding is a real...bother.

2.  The garden was overtaken by a monster vining plant I thought was summer squash and zucchini that turned out to be decorative gourds.  The vines traveled out of the garden, over the fence, onto the sandbox, over the rhubarb, under the car, around the house, down the drive, all the way to my closest neighbor who shot it.  But it didn't die.

3.  Hail.  I don't even have anything funny to say about this.  Mike said the insurance guy estimated an 18% loss.  (Is that right, Mike?)  I'm 18% sure that I'm right.

4.  And you know what?  I still love that garden.  And tomorrow I'm going to get up and thank God again for it and pull up some carrots, harvest some basil, kick and curse the decorative gourd plant and make some plans for next year, plans that include:

Raised beds!

That's right, folks.  I'm about to buy a mess of 2 x 12's, some corner brackets and build myself an honest to goodness raised bed garden.   This won't take care of the hail, but it's going to solve a lot of the problems I've been seeing.

Thank you, God, for second chances.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dustbowl Guitar Man Blues

The king knows our souls, would speak of our broken lives before we knew how to feel about them.  I have knelt before him strumming tune of parallel strings like some mutant train track made of six silver threads, his hat an eave over eyes where he can duck below should someone come asking for answers he can't think to say aloud.  We make a circle around him, a band of dust-polished warriors guarding their king.

The guitar is polished redwood but for the bald places his hands have been to weave the song.  His fingers move over the worn spots like a lover's face again and again, never knowing her despite the hours they've touched.

You know him?

Just showed up here yesterday on the eastbound.  Hopped off like a ghost with the guitar and nothing else.  Didn't even touch the ground coming off like he'd been lifted down slow and carried away by someone waiting to take him up from below.  Like a baby.

The blind man lit a cigarette, waving the flame and breathing in until he could hear the crack of lit tobacco, feel the burn of the smoke he'd neither seen nor touched.

Have a name?

Who.  Me or him?  Choof they call me because my daddy was named Choof and I looked just like him.  He don't talk but for when he sings like he's got stage fright but only when he has to play his real character.

The two men returned themselves to the space made by the song and heard the last unforgiving sigh of their wives, the pneumonia rattled cough of their runty child, the hours spent waiting for work that never called them to a purpose.

They couldn't tell but the guitar man's mind was blank but for the words he sang and this is why he sang them.  The songs themselves were his mind, taking his own written troubles and replacing them with another's, a gesture both generous and cowardly.

Forgive my sins upon the wind, my hobo soul will rise.
Lie-dee-lie-dee-lie.  I'm not afraid to die.

As the whistle moved us, as the dust cast our shapes, a copper whisper in the shape of a man.  Our shoes, no longer certain if the leather remained, the dirt and oil taking on the shape of what they lay upon and corroded.  As we slept in a location we couldn't know when the day began.  As we picked the trees clean, our own work guaranteeing the absence of that work once the goal of our hands had stripped them, starving our future selves because the present man believed in a job done right.  As we forgot that we were born of two people, the roots of our origins long removed when the clawing winds of poverty and circumstance rolled us eternally across lands we could never own despite the sweat we poured into them like water emptied on a thing that can not grow because of sheer stubbornness or the way it had been made.

He thought but did not say:  She was already gone before she left.  Didn't touch for almost two years and then she just took the one child still nursing and we woke to the same cold house just without her reminding us of it.  I could have loved her if we wouldn't have been so hungry.  It seemed frivolous at the time, like it took too much of us to lift our mouths into words that shaped a promise we didn't believe.  Impossible to still love each other when you argue the last carrot from the root cellar for yourself.  Not her.  Not the children.  I suppose she hated that I did that.  I can't blame either of us for doing what we did.  Once you've taken the food from your own children's mouths, how can you turn again full-bellied and say to them love, filling that same hole that ground down the root with words that mean nothing because what you did doesn't match up with that word that made you a liar.

And she says: I birth.  I die.  I feed it.  It still dies.  Don't matter now and if it don't now, then it never did even when I first come home and told him we have a baby growing and he dropped the cup on the hard-scrubbed floor and picked me up strong only to set me down gentle looking at me like he'd never leave us even in spirit when that was all that was left of the body and his emaciated work.  We didn't see it then but we should have.  Sure as that cup met the fate written for it that day, the dangerous fragments rendering its usefulness in some past life as a facade of a broken cup playing whole.  They never existed.  Not the marriage.  Not the children.  The cup has always been broken.  Our mouths were too full of nothing to say it straight to each other.

*Thank you to my English 327 and 221 classes today for filling that space with writing.  This is what I caught.

*Lyrics by Gillian Welch

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pieces of the Last 24 Hours

1.  Nora and I are at Grandma's house.  She's beside me right now and appears to be suffering from "toddler insomnia."  Luckily I found a bedtime mix on youtube, and we're "mellowing" out to it right now.  "Hello, darkness, my old friend..."  The muzak version of "The Sound of Silence" plays as Nora attempts to breathe through her plugged-up nose.  Why does this song choice seem like a cruel gesture on a bedtime song mix?  Maybe a quick google of the lyrics will help me uncover why I'm intuitively cautious of falling asleep to this song.  Oh, it's because it's about a nightmare.  Right.

2.  I ate nachos and chicken strips for lunch at the Spur today.  They were both awesome and disgusting.

3.   Uh oh.  This sleepytime mix is starting to get to me.  Must...resist...relaxation...still so much to do tonight...

4.  I watched a movie last night called Sweetgrass that followed a sheep ranching operation up in Montana.  I say "up" as if I'm still living in Colorado.  I should say "over yonder."  That's better.  I loved it even when we get to the last few minutes and one of the hands is standing on top of a pile of dead brush trying to get some cell reception and complaining to his mom.  "I can't do it.  I can't do it another night.  They won't stay in place and I've only got one dog and he's been running so long he doesn't have any skin left on his paws and my knee keeps cracking every time I walk.  I go to sleep at 11 and I'm up all night because these bastards won't stay where I put them and I'm starting to hate these mountains and I don't want to hate these mountains..."  He goes on and on like this for about 10 minutes (saying words I'd never speak to my mama), and while you can't hear her voice in the background, I'm sure she's doing exactly what I do when Nora feels like letting off some steam.  She's just listening and being present and waiting for him to run out of things to complain about, and once he can't think of one more thing that stinks about being on top of some of the most beautiful mountains I've ever seen, he'll do just what she thought he'd do:  his dissatisfaction will exhaust itself leaving only that clean, washed out sigh that says, "Well, all right then.  I feel better now."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Something You Might Need to Hear

"Life is hard sometimes--crazy, mixed-up, messed up.  And there you are, in the middle of it all just doing your thing...being strong and brave and beautiful like it's no big deal.  But let me tell you, girl, it is.  Not everyone can do what you can do.  Not everyone can handle things the way you can.  While you wonder sometimes if you're doing ok...the rest of us are just watching in wonder."

This is for you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Counting Them

Taking down the garlic that has long cured hanging from the window, snipping the dry stalk away, rubbing thumb along dirt skin to reveal the skeleton white of the bulbs, one side to eat, the other to replant.

A girl with wings in her heart climbs always.

A scavenger hunt to find the knee-staining dandelion, worm-bitten apple, red cherry tomato, yellowing leaf, purple flower from butterfly garden, seeds as we fill the bird feeders.  This natural adventure worth living always in the clear vision of September air.

Where humor lifts us daily with the reminder to enjoy this life.  "Would you like a hot dog for lunch, Nora?"  "You mean, like this, Mommy?" she asks giggling through an attempted straight face.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wow, so this is what it's like to take a day of rest. Thumbs up.

Slow waking with coffee then dressed for church (a miracle in itself as it would be easier to get a porcupine into a tuxedo than it is to get Nora ready in the morning).

Communion even after I wasn't sure it would happen when Nora starts to panic in the pews and I pick her up explaining she can't talk when pastor is talking.  I see a tray of cookies waiting for everyone post-service and I sneak one with M & M's knowing that what this kid needs is food.  I hold her as she cries and eats her cookie, swaying right outside the doors of the church.  She finishes the last bite, takes a deep breath, and I carry her back in, sitting beside our friends, walking up and kneeling, the purple and yellow light on the floor a sign that I made it.

Coffee in a mug on the road after Sunday School and Bible study directly to Grandma's house we go.

An entire afternoon of sitting on Mom's porch crocheting dishcloths while the cousins play in the sandbox.

Helping Mom dust and refill her pottery store.  Nora picks out a pie bird and I pick out a pie plate, homemade potter's clay in the color of ivory earth.  The peaches, a gift from a friend whose girls picked over 39 pounds at a local orchard, soon to become a pie.  My first.  Unbelievable.

Holding a baby and the slow rock as he drinks his bottle and I see the trees and blue reflecting in his eyes from above and he is seeing heaven and I see heaven in the eyes of a child.

A meal cooked listening to Ella Fitzgerald, slowly as the onions turn golden, the garden tomatoes all red and golden working down to a sauce poured over chicken and noodles and fresh mozzarella.  Eating mindful at the table dreaming of what I'll do with the carrots in the garden--Asian carrot pickles.

Watching Phineas and Ferb with Nora cuddled on the couch. (I rearranged again, making a little corner office space behind the couch.  Everything works perfectly especially with a little jazz playing).

Reading and guffawing at The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head, snuggling to sleep, a bath of lavender and sea salt and candles lit inside antique blue canning jars.  Reading.  And now to curl up on the couch and watch I Dream of Jeannie, naturally.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Living More with Less

As you know, my Grandma Smith saved empty butter paper wrappers and used them to grease her pans.  At the end of a meal, if there was a tablespoon of corn left in the bowl, she would add it to her vegetable soup container in the freezer--a Parkay cup with leftover peas, corn, green beans, each small spoonful eventually adding up until she would brown the ground beef and add her veggies proudly to the pot, a whole meal appearing from something we would have just thrown away.

For a while now, I've been searching for and attempting to live a life that uses every available gift, knowing that God has promised that even in hard times, He will shelter and feed us.  So, this post is simply to share a few of the ways I've found to live more with less.

After Jesus feeds 5000 with 5 barley loaves and two fish, he says, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost."  The only time I ever saw Grandma on the verge of becoming angry was in relation to her pot holders.  My Grandma has probably made over 5 billion potholders, all put together with  layers and layers of leftover cloth from her larger sewing projects.  Once I said to her, "Grandma, do your think you can use all of these pot holders?"  Her voice was almost shaking when she said, "Jesus told us not to waste a single thing, and I won't throw away that fabric."

My life is made of such fragments.  But this is another blog post for another day.  Right now, I simply want to share with you a few ways I've found to "gather the fragments" so nothing goes to waste.  I just want to say these aren't "new" ideas.  They aren't "trendy" or "modern" or anything other than what a lot of people have been doing for a long time, just calling it "common sense."

1.  Compost, recycle, feed your leftovers to the animals you own.  Since I've started doing this, I was able to cancel my trash service, taking a single bag of trash a week to add to mom's pile.  Not only am I saving money, but the farm cats are healthy and happy and the garden is flourishing.  I may add that out here in the country, if it's beyond repair, you just burn it so it doesn't take up space in your life or on the ground you could be using for other things.  I don't recommend this for any of you folks in dorm rooms or apartment complexes.  (There's a reason they're called "complex.")

2.  Mend your clothes and don't be afraid of wearing second-hand or hand-me-downs.  Most of Nora's wardrobe has been worn by at least 4 cousins before actually reaching her closet.  And the secret to why I always look so groovy?  Et. Cetera and not being afraid of wearing clothing made in the 70's.

3.  Grow a garden and save what you grow.  Can it.  Freeze it.  I will be eating all year off of 40 bucks of seeds and a 20 x 30 foot patch of dirt.

4.  Save your seeds.  Next year, I'll only need to spend 10 bucks.

5.  Don't throw out those envelopes that come with your bills.  I haven't had to purchase envelopes in a long time.  (I should mention here, I do pay my bills.  Online.)

6.  Grandma always had a box of paper we'd use for playing "Dictionary" or drawing the pretty princess profiles of girls she loved to draw.  Any paper I get from school that has a blank back, I cut it in four and throw it in the paper box.  I haven't had to buy a notepad in...I can't even remember.

7.  Make your own cleaning supplies.  Buy a box of baking soda, Borax, and a gallon of vinegar.  You can do all your cleaning with these three ingredients, you'll pay about 8 bucks for all of it, and it will last 6 months.  If you're interested in the recipes, let me know.  Oh, and all these cleaning supplies are edible.  Bonus!

8.  Keep a bag in the freezer to save the crusts you cut off of all those sandwiches, and every year you can use them in your Thanksgiving stuffing.  Seriously.  This is symbolic in so many ways.

9.  Shop at Et. Cetera. (or your local second-hand stores) before running to Walmart.   My books, my decorations, furniture, clothing, Nora's books and movies, silverware, VCR--75% of what I own came from Et. Cetera.  Videos start at 50 cents and children's books range from 10-75 cents.

Okay.  This is getting a bit long.  I'll say "good night" for now and invite you to share any "gathering the fragment" ideas with me here.

God's peace is abundant.

Friday, September 2, 2011

When Thankful Showed Up

1.  Being able to articulate what it is I love so much about Nebraska.  We joke about the T-shirt that says, "Nebraska.  Bring Something to Do" and in the process come to understand that Nebraska is like this grand canvas of possibility and potential where your "something" can finally breathe, develop some roots, stretch in all directions.

2.  Breaded green beans and jalapeno poppers.  You know, I guess I'm just thankful for breading.  I'd eat a rolodex if someone breaded it.

3.  Tomato, mozzarella, basil grilled sandwiches with cheese that stretches from the plate to your mouth.

4.  Sharing.  You know.  Stuff.  Sharing stuff.  That's one way to be thankful for it:  give it away.  Share your toys, your food, your home, your love, your heart, your story, your pain, your ideas, your questions.

5.  Sisters.  I have so many in my life stretching hands in a chain that makes this place stronger like that Coke commercial where they teach the world to sing.  Why not?

6.  Thinking someone is breaking into the house and realizing it's just Henrietta the Hamster chewing on a dried banana chip.  I almost had to break out the...uh...karate.  Yeah.  That's the ticket.  I know karate.  And how to break dance, which might be even more intimidating.

7.  Simple things:  a daughter, a place to live, a job that puts more than just food on the table, actual food, water, a church down the road, a good school for Nora, playgrounds, and hamsters with banana chips.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

These are Good Times, Good Times Indeed

 Good Time #1

When I'm in class, Mom comes to our house and does all these super cool projects with Nora.  Here they are doing a study of chicks.  

Good Time #2

I can't even describe the joy that is chili pepper peach jelly.

Good Time #3

Watching the seeds you planted back in April finally bloom.  Morning glory, hello!  Some of the birdseed swept to the side produced a fairly good crop of milo in the flower beds.  I like how it looks, so there it stays.

Good Time #4

Pick a pepper.  Sugar, vinegar, salt.  I was driving home today seriously wondering what I would be forced to eat once the garden folds over.

Good Time #5

Human cannonball with Nora.  Here's a visual of yesterday's shenanigans.

Good Time #6

Playing ball with Nora before preschool.