Monday, October 31, 2011


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

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

a portfolio put together

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

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

talking to Mom on the phone

friends celebrating our NEWNESS each day

friends with animal crackers and candy

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When Your Work and Your Life Collide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin, Parents!

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

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

Enter the projectile car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 365th Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.  [                                                                                                             ]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Let Me Count the Ways

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Second Question

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

And this is today

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We Made It!

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

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

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

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

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

Be well, everyone.  God loves you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

JOY: Where All the Dark Spaces Bloom

1.  I'm watching my friends lean into it, listening and ready and responding.

2.  Today, I put a taco filling recipe in the crock pot this morning and wanting to go back and eat another 5 pounds of it right now.  Is there anything a crock pot can't make delicious?  Should everything be slow cooked?  Is there a relationship between slowness and memory and taste?  Is this simply what happens when we savor the moment, the moment that took 7 hours on low to get here?  Mmmhmmm.

3.  We found a National Geographic planetarium thing at Et. Cetera and waiting patiently for the sun to go down so Nora and I could turn off all the lights in her room and talk about the stories people made up about the stars.  Nora:  "And that one is Saturn, and like the rings.  And I think that other one might be God.  You know.  You can tell by the size and shape."

4.  I'm encouraging Nora to go to church with me tomorrow.  We've been having a real problem getting there without a struggle and then being there without Nora talking louder than Pastor does.  I remember once taking Nora to ride ponies, and she said after a turn around the yard, "Can I go again?"  And I said, "I don't know.  What does the pony think?"  And the man holding the reigns said, "Usually, we don't consult the pony about those kinds of decisions."  I think every parent struggles with the balance between getting a kid's input on decisions and simply laying it down and saying, "This is how we do it."  I don't think church is optional, but I'm not sure how to keep the morning peaceful.  If you've ever taken a younger person to church with you, you know what I'm talking about.  It's stressful.  I need creative ideas for how to make it easy on both of us.  I can tell you that I need church.  I need to be in a room with people who are singing songs to God, taking time to be present, to occupy that holy space in peace, in love, in forgiveness.

5.  It's already 11 PM, but I think I'm going to watch a movie's all just an empty excuse to eat popcorn, actually.  Or cheese.  Or taco filling.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How He Loves Us

1.  We're cracking open jars of dilly beans and honeyed carrots and pink radish.  There's a bowl with a hunk of cream cheese with her homemade peach jam poured over it, and we dip crackers in one after another.  We are four women sitting around a table eating and talking for four consecutive hours.  There is no stopping our mouths or our hearts or our lives, each of them so unique in their challenges, in their joys, and we, each one of us, loves God.  And it is clear looking and listening and loving these friends that God also loves us.

2.  Nora and I spend a couple of hours practicing our bike riding at Plum Creek, the sun melting into the parts of me that had gone cold and stiff with fear the night before.  We sit on a stone bench, and I close my eyes letting His face shine upon me.

3.  A house so warm and smelling of roses, the hiss of the dishwasher doing my work for me, Billie Holiday telling it like it is:  They can't take that away from me.

4.  The sound of hogs being loaded in the morning, the corn's loud SSSHHHHHHH as it fills the grain bin, the garden black, the sun gold, the kittens fat, baskets of the decorative gourd accident filled and greeting me at the door.  All is abundance in God's hand.

5.  Banjo and ukulele.  Yes.  Dare I say, Rock.

7.  [                                                                                ]

8.  The gift of talking to your mom and your grandma on the phone and both of them telling you that all is well.  "God will take care of you, honey.  He has given you everything you need."

9.  Realizing that some days I am serious and some days I am funny and some days I am better at teaching than others.  No biggie.

9.  Waking this morning to Nora telling me it is another morning for us.  Reading emails that fill my heart with hope, teach me how to love Him better, abandoning and abiding.  If you look, you'll see His love for you in a friend's face, in the words you needed to hear, in the hard part you don't understand, in the golden fall day that just ended perfectly without your even having to try.  This is grace.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Coming home today, suitcase and school bag in hand, Nora in the minivan refusing to get out, I notice the unopened blooms on the morning glory that had wound its way around my porch rails had turned a purple black.  The hard frost is here and before I had time to get the last of the grape tomatoes from the vine.  How many gifts go unseen because we are too busy to accept them?

The trees and bulbs pull themselves back down into the ground, the energy condensing into a tiny core that will keep warm until Spring, somehow.  I don't understand this magic.  But I feel like them.  A little spacey.

I'm hesitating lately to speak because I'm not certain.  This might be a gift, but I have to be willing to enter that strange, not-knowing space that usually means God is working something out for me that I don't understand yet.  This is not always easy work, and I felt it yesterday after breaking down, examining the carpet a little too closely as I waited until I heard the "get up and go" kick back in, and I moved to the first task God gave me:  unloading the dishwasher.  Something simple.  This is good.  I don't have to have all the answers.  I just have to keep my hands wrapped around a good thing from one moment to the next.  And this is how the future unfolds, with us holding its hand as it curls around us, brings us home and back out again.  Calling us in, releasing us again, the blooms turning black while we sleep, then trees on fire as the sun rises and ignites them, and I feel like a surprised guest for some reason.

And then I feel like I should write some letter that would go like:

Hi, everyone!

Well, we sure have been busy here!  Fall semester is over half over, and Nora and I have grown 2 or 3 inches in just the last few months.  The garden is gone and I miss, more than I can articulate or acknowledge, the work out there.  Maybe I'll find time to do some raking and clean-up--something physical because I'm a pretty simple creature who craves silence and leaves and space and manual labor.  I don't think I read enough.  But then I remember that Nora and I read every night for at least a half hour, sometimes more if she can convince me to "read it again!"  I can't tell if she's trying to trick me into staying up later.  What can I say?  I teach literature.  Am I really going to tell her we can't read another book?  Actually, yeah.  I'm pretty tired tonight.  There are many emails that will need to wait until tomorrow because I'm half awake and want to be sure I get it right.  Other than that, I'd like to sew a new curtain for the bathroom, maybe cook a few slow cooked stews over the weekend, organize the deep some PBS.

God's peace,

PS:  Christmas is shining like the star in the sky that Holy night in my mind, and I look toward it with hope and comfort and the clarity of a winter night so still.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hear Her Out

1.  Tonight, you should read this blog instead of my blog.  And then you should always read this blog:

2.  Grandma and I are betting 20 bucks on the baseball game tonight.  Her blood pressure was low, so this is our solution.  Gambling.  She's already a good influence on me!  She also likes to eat dark chocolate, so I'm probably going to do that, too.

3.  Nora leaned over and kissed me on the cheek tonight.  "That's because you were frowning."  It's not that I'm frowning.  I've just been having a hard time not worrying lately.  (See above recommendation about the fluid principle.)  Just let go.

4.  Nora and I met her preschool class out at an orchard today.  The drive took an hour, but it was so worth it to have an excuse to sit in a one place and look at nature rolling by like I was sitting inside of a moving gallery, the windows framing each masterpiece.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mr. Rogers

Sometimes when you are a big person who doesn't have all the answers, listening to Mr. Rogers can help.  I love you, Mr. Rogers.  I always have.  You are joy and gentleness and my neighbor.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are. ” 
 Fred Rogers

“The kingdom of God is for the broken hearted” 
 Fred Rogers

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” 
 Fred Rogers

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” 
 Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Quick List

Newspaper boats tied together with yarn carrying small, felt-covered animals
Dropping Nora off at preschool and heading to the Bronco, fields and gray and cold
Nora and I arguing over tiny things, trying to understand what it means to "not provoke your children"
Nora is hungry for supper at four, so I reheat leftover tuna casserole for her
Around 6:30, I fix a radish and butter sandwich because Grandpa Aanonson liked them.
We read the story of the ant and the grasshopper and I'm wondering if I'll be able to play like the ants do in wintertime.
Grateful for my friends' help in so many different ways
Mom and Mike back in town with Grandma in hand
Very tired and not at all sure if I'm ready for tomorrow but that won't stop it from happening, so I'm climbing aboard in faith

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Grading essays
Playing mountain lion
Watching Heidi
Cooking tuna casserole
Joy, Gentleness, Lack of Anxiety (sorting through anything that doesn't fall in these categories)
Coffee and cookies and praying with friends while Nora attempts to rock out to the Disney channel
Rose-scented candle
Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
A pile of pillows in the middle of the living room
A Bible story book called The Story of God's Love 
Letting myself be as disappointed in myself as I need to be and then letting it go because that's just a mirror you end up staring in while other people need your help
Painting spots on Nora's blue spotted puppy dog Halloween costume
Excited that Grandma Aanonson will be here soon
Broke a string on my guitar.  Rock.
"I'll Fly Away" and praying in the Bandshell (a good memory)
Birds perched on the milo growing out in the flower bed, the milo bending and swaying under their weight
Wishing the night wouldn't end so soon
A message written in the sand

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Theme Songs from Shows I Used to Love

The bar was full of blow up sharks hanging from stained ceiling tiles lit with colored Christmas lights.  It may have even been called the Shark Bar.  I can't remember.  It seems eons ago, but I do remember that they'd have karaoke there every Wednesday night, and once I sang some Prince song on a dare while 20 or 30 people danced around trying to match their shoe size to the number of beers they'd had.  Perhaps they'd watched too many episodes of Cheers, had answered yes to that rhetorical question echoing in the theme song: Wouldn't you like to get away?

Enter Greek Chorus:

Where everybody knows your name, 
and they're always glad you came. 
You wanna be where you can see, 
our troubles are all the same 
You wanna be where everybody knows 
Your name. 

I loved that show when I was a kid.  I couldn't have been more than 11 or 12 years old.  What could I have possibly had in common with a group of disillusioned postal workers, psychologists and bartenders?  I wasn't a heavy drinker.  I didn't understand the kind of 9 to 5 fatigue that saps the spirit of the working person, the person who sweats daily but still can't pay his bills.  Bills?  I mean, the only thing I really had in common with these characters was that they seemed to need each other, and I needed people, too.

I loved Taxi, too, probably for the same reason.  The theme song for that show always got to me in the same way the M*A*S*H theme song got to me.

These are lonely people songs, songs that reflect the unspoken space of our solitude that can only be articulated through the soft tones of a hammond organ and a flute.  I know.  Weird.  The thing is, all the characters in these shows relied on each other.  And that's basically what I wanted to say:  We rely on each other, and this is the love God gave us being passed around, even in youtube clips on a Saturday night.  You can find it everywhere.

There are so many other shows:  The Rockford Files, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, WKRP in Cincinnati, Alice, The Dukes of Hazard, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman...

Friday, October 14, 2011

I'm really lonely tonight.  It's been a busy week, and I miss Nora.

"My true self needs a soundtrack."  That's what the commercial on Pandora just told me.  Maybe he's right.  Maybe my true self DOES need a soundtrack.  But what?  The Bangles?  Sheila E.?

Earlier I watched a documentary about opera singer Barbara Smith.  She talked about owning the person inside your body THROUGH your body, "Stand tall, girl.  No leaning over."

Yard work tonight:  Gas mower = 0.  Push mower = 1.

Today:  1 loaf banana bread, 3 dozen oatmeal cookies, 10 pints of salsa, 2 loads of laundry.  I'm not a mathematician, but when you add all of that together, you get, like, a really big number.

Our play:  mountain lions who live on piles of pillows climbing to the top to ward off stampedes and wild boars.  Barbies who do laundry and care for sick deer while sending Ken to Orsheln's for rock salt for the soft water system and deer cough syrup.

Telling the big tom cat to move along if he thinks he can bully the kittens.  Staring contest commences.  Tom Cat = 0.  Me = 1.  Kittens = 3.

And I'm bushed.  Night folks!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gillian Welch with the Gals--I'm so tired right now, I'm hoping this picture says it all:

I've got so much to say about cowboy hats and security guys and blue moons and hearing songs you sing in your kitchen, but this time it's not a recording.  It's got so much real life in it, you've got to stop to remember to breathe.   I don't even dream nights like this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't Worry: We've Been Doing this for a Really Long Time

I picked up my first guitar when I was 11 months old.  My first concert was in '74 -- Bob Dylan.  I had my first record deal with Columbia House when I was 12.  Apparently, for one penny, I could order as many as 8 cassette tapes and all I had to do was buy at least two more tapes within the next two years at regular club price plus shipping.  I had no idea at the time that it cost almost 75 bucks to ship a tape.

Tomorrow night, some friends and I are heading to the Rococco to see Gillian Welch.  In honor of all those gals out there who have been picking and singing and changing diapers and feeding hungry men and working full time and sneaking softly plucked songs during naptime and packing stadiums:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Songs to Bring the Moon Down into the Palm of Your Eyes

She is singing about her sweet adversary, and there are bells calling her voice out from some wilderness she grew around the base of her life to keep her safe from everything harmless, anything too comfortable, whatever fed the complacency of warmth and languor and safety.

She grows sleepy by the fire, so she walks out to the fields pulling a thin gray sweater around her curved shoulders while the moon slips behind velvet colored clouds.  She frames the moon when it appears again between a screen of alfalfa while she watches from her back.  No girls have been afraid to wander after midnight while the house slept safe just to hear the sound of wind rearranging leaves into secret patterns of night and shade.

You could go whole days without saying, not even chewing gum because it was "too fun."

Strawberries:  too delicious.  Friends:  too dangerous.  Love:  too hopeless.

How you have grown brave, little dear.  I was afraid for you, but you let yourself say what made you angry, what made you hurt, and then all love was possible because you weren't afraid to feel.

And if you can't break, what good are you to fix?  And it is in the fixing that you learn what love is.  Allow yourself to be mended, stood upright and sent out again, a soldier, a song, a sight, a sound, a silent word daring to breathe the white circle, the surprised vowel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Maya

Touched by an Angel
Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Surprise! Sunday!

Just praying from one moment to the next to refrain from "busy-ness" and do the work in my hands from one moment to the next mindfully and meaningfully.

Not making it to church again.  Nora watches Josh and the Big Wall while I study solitary but wanting and needing that community.

Freezing the last of the the gifts of God's garden.  I watch the squirrels gathering beneath the trees, and I'm suddenly imagining their little miniature deep freezes tucked somewhere inside the trees.  That probably explains the bright orange extension cord running from my garage to the pin oak out back.

Taking Nora to Goehner so she can ride around on the blacktop at the park.  We pass the trains at the museum in town, and they're running.  I turn the car around, and before we know it, we're balancing on miniature trains riding around in the gray changing skies with 4 grown men dressed as conductors and feeding the trains coal.  I'll try to get some pictures next Sunday.  You won't believe it.

Getting rained on while at the playground and visiting a friend who offers her abundance of apples.  We laugh about excessive gardening ambition and how hard it is to plant a smaller garden.  Hope lives.

Loving all the friends in my life and all the weird, wonderful, honest, brave adventures they're having.  You.  I'm talking to you.

Barbies out on the living room floor.  Henrietta and Lucky enjoying clean digs.  Nora drawing fat, blue kitties on the bathtub wall with her bath crayons.  A rough draft getting clearer.  Facing my own fear of writing and communication, and grateful for the reminder of what I put my students through several times a semester.  Yes, this does take courage.  Courage.  Courage.  COURAGE!  There.  Got it.

The rain waiting long enough for Mike to get his beans in.  Mom in her studio throwing pots all day long.

And while I regret not seeing so many people in the flesh, I'm thankful for language, so we can touch base here and there and here again.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Easy Rider

You may have seen the picture of Nora tuning up her tricycle yesterday.  She's so tall that her knees hit the handle bars, so I took her to Walmart today, and we picked out a new bike fit with training wheels.  I had one of my favorite parenting moments in history when we put the bike on the floor and Nora climbed on and began riding around the aisles of Walmart.  Associates paused, shoppers smiled that "little girl's first bike" grin, and I was yelling a bit louder than one usually does in a store, "Yes!  That's it, Nora!  You are riding a bike!  You are riding a REAL bike!"

The first time Nora ever said she loved me was in Walmart in the frozen food aisle with her leaning over the bar where she was sitting in that little seat they make for your kids.  I stopped everything and just held her there crying "tears of joy" as she would call them.

We immediately loaded the bike into the back of the minivan (yes, I need a truck) and hit Plum Creek trail with its changing trees, Japanese beetle infestation, corn fields rustling like ladies' gowns in a Jane Austen novel, and we "got our motors running."

Yes, yes that is a unicorn helmet.  I know.  Awesome.  There's even a little plastic Barbie bike attached to the handlebar, so Barbie can ride with her.  My first bike was called "Bluebird," and one of the first thing I did was ride right over the cattle guard, down the dirt hill and straight into a patch of cactus.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a unicorn helmet.  I'm not even sure if I was wearing clothes.  We lived in the country, you know.

The day I had my training wheels taken off, Dad took me out to the main road of Apple Tree Trailer Park, and he gave me the big push from the back of the seat, and I looked behind and he wasn't there.  I thought he was the one holding me up the whole time.  Nope.  It was shear ignorance that allowed me to ride my bike.  I remember one of the kids who had assembled to watch me risk life and limb for the glory of two-wheeled freedom walked up to my dad and asked, "Are you Jesus?"  And Dad said, "No.  Not even close."  Dad had long hair back then.  It was at that moment I realized that my dad was a man trying hard to be a good man.

Nora is also trying hard to be a good human.  I was nearly rolling in "tears of joy" on the side of the trail when an older gentleman passed by, rang the little bell on his bike, and Nora called out after him, "Hello there!  I'm just in training right now!"

Two other bikers passed us and Nora called out, "Lovely day for a bike ride, isn't it?"  The joy she felt becoming part of this new biking community was so tangible.  Man, I love her.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Girl, My Garden, My Pioneer Style Fringed Leather Jacket

My girl knows two essential skills:  1) How to use a can of WD-40 and 2) How to do that trick that, by blowing on your thumb, lifts the baseball cap off the top of your head.  Please, girl of my heart, never forget you can fix things as well as the next fella, that you know magic tricks and how to make yourself laugh beyond yourself.

My Garden knows two essential things:  1)  How to grow and 2) How to die.  I take notes with the shovel, the row, the dirt crusted gloves holding the shape of my hands.  I eat her death and her dreaming while I slept.  Unlike me, she has seen every passing moon and knows what attention means standing still beneath the sky for over 4 months, letting herself unfurl and bloom, leaves unfolding to accept the loving son without a doubt about what she was to be, what she could do, her potential, her worth.  She was born from seeds weighing less than 8 ounces.  She simply became what God intended her to be.  Not once did she brag to me.  Not once did she heave beneath the suffocating weeds, greedy aphid, heavy winds.  Not once did she say to me, "Who are you?"  She let me in each time and accepted whatever time I had to mend and support, to kneel.  And God knew how much we needed each other, so  He brought us together, so sacred symbiosis sing.

My Pioneer Style Fringed Leather Jacket knows two essential things:  1) It is altogether fitting and proper to be found for 10 dollars at Et. Cetera, and the woman with pale blue eyes and white hair will hold it a little too long as she puts it in the plastic bag until she finally looks up and says, "I used to have a jacket just like this."  "You should take it."  "No, that was a long time ago.  This will look nice on you." and 2)  When I wear this jacket I will remember the woman who wore it before, a pioneer of something, her life perhaps.  Digging in, looking wide, dreaming so big it hurt to blink, so she never slept and the flat lands opened like hands that hold an invisible grace.


I put Nora to bed and after what seemed like a few seconds, got up thinking, "Well, time to get to work."  I checked the clock, and some sort of time warp thing must have happened because it's 3:20 AM.  I'm pretty sure I put Nora in bed around 8:30.  I don't want to concern any of you out there, but I think I may have just experienced that missing time phenomena that a lot of people talk about.  I don't remember anything about the hours between 8:30 PM and 3:20 AM.   For some reason though, I feel really well rested.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Name Them

Being trusted with the challenge.  Be courageous.  Do not be easily dismayed.

The way God makes paths for us to find each other.

The way a breeze comes through the screen door, the sound of trees moving, His presence in His creation.

Good news in the lives of those I love.

Songs written.  The ukuleles must be tuning.

All the teachers trying and taking and giving and trying again.  Swimming and swimming.

Moms everywhere giving their days and nights to their children.  Children thriving, learning love.

Simplifying because confusion doesn't come from God.  Walk with the wind.  Walk with the wind.

Cute haircuts.  I need one.  (See, this is why I don't watch TV.  I start thinking I need things.)

Laughing with mom about Betty White and tough kittens.  That's all I'm going to say.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Few Pics from the Farm

We repot the parlor fern and Nora tapes toilet paper bandages around the stems for a faster recovery.  (She's wearing her farm safety T-shirt.  Apparently that symbol on the back means "slow moving vehicle."  If this is supposed to apply to Nora, I beg to differ.)

This is it for the apple harvest this year.  In past years, I've pulled over 30 bags of apples from those trees (once during a snowstorm--it was BEAUTIFUL--the yellow apple glowing in the white snow.)  Storms, cedar rust, larvae and my ignorance about how to prune them have contributed to the lack of apples.  Next year will be different.  I've been doing my research.

There are about five crab apple trees, which serve mostly to entertain the person washing the dishes and dreaming out the kitchen window as the trees put on their exploding pink dresses.  This year I'm going to make them functional, too.  (Not that daydreaming isn't functional.)  Crab apple jelly.

The apples' fate.

These are the cilantro/corriander seeds.  I'll admit; threshing these are a pain.  But not as painful as paying 4 bucks for 4 ounces of them at the store.  Plus, I can plant them, too. 

The Backus boys came over Saturday and helped Nora and me pull carrots and gather decorative gourds.  Here's our haul.  Notice all that dirt?  I'm going to admit something to you:  if I eat a piece of dirt, I throw up.  I know.  Not very tough of me.  Because of an unfortunate potato chip incident when I was 5, I haven't been able to eat anything that crunches grit-like.  Egg shells and dirt.  I completely lose my appetite.  

Carrot tip of the day:  If it's split, don't eat it (see below.)  This is usually a sign that it's gotten too old and big for its britches.  Plus, those cracks are the perfect home for bacteria.  Another interesting thing:  Do you notice how the carrot is kind of twisted?  That's because my soil leans toward the clay side of the spectrum.  Plus all my stomping around compresses the ground, so the root torques itself through the tough spots.  Kind of like us, I guess.  We find a way around it, but we sometimes come out changed somehow.

(A quick aside:  I walked around the dirt roads around Utica today.  For a good half mile, I was walking into the wind, leaning in.  I couldn't hear anything but the hard air forcing sound out of my ears.  I turned around and silence.  Birds.  Trees.  The same spot with two different ways of hearing.  Internally, I smacked my figurative forehead.  I'm trying too hard again.  Walk with the wind, stubborn kid, and you'll hear all of life rather than the silencing struggle of "getting through it.")

Do you see those dark spots at the top of the carrot?  That's not dirt but carrot sunburn--the top parts exposed to the sun.  

And after washing and chopping and peeling, I have 3 pounds of carrot sticks.  Okay.  I know what you're thinking.  Three pounds?  After all that work--the planting and watering and hoeing and washing and...well, I'm not going to argue with you.  It seems like a small payoff, but did you count the time I did something simple with my hands, something that didn't hurt a soul?  Something that allowed me to talk to God for a long stretch out in the sun and here at the sink?  Something that proved the miracle of some small hope turning into something so much larger than the small seed it began as?

And I make a couple different carrot pickles:  honey and dill with white wine vinegar.  Hot peppers flakes, peppercorn, thyme, bay leaf and apple cider vinegar. 

Hi, ya'll!