Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I can't even count how many people have said nice things this week everywhere.

Words are units of energy.

Either lifting

or pressing to extinction the heart that gathers them.
We have been listening carefully and speaking even more carefully because there is a heart on the other end of that line.

This week the world found wings in your words because you chose compassion over competition.

Will you join me tomorrow and say nice things to everyone everywhere?


Monday, February 27, 2012

What's Big at the Farm? Yep. Dinosaurs.

"You know you're eating a dinosaur right now?"
I look down at my chicken strip then back up at Nora, incredulous.
"Chickens are dinosaurs."

That's right, folks.  Dinosaur fever has broken loose here at our household.  Saturday we visited the museum at UNL filled with bones and display cases and...

I loved it.  I realized while walking through that I don't get out much.  I could feel entire regions of wonder lighting up in my brain.  This feels good, I thought to myself as I stared up and through the graceful curl of mastodon tusks, wondered at the fossilized trilobites, turned bright inside like the minerals that glowed under the black light.

Today Nora and I played our version of The Dinosaurs Meet the Ice Age.  Here you go.  And, yes, that is a frozen block of ice.  We had to plan ahead for this one.  "Gee, Carl.  What is that?"  "Um, I think it's a giant ice cube, Larry."  "We're doomed!  DOOMED!"

Reminder to self:  Be wondered by life because this is part of knowing God.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Sponges rubber-banded to our feet as we dance clean Nora's bedroom floor

A prayer from a friend, a prayer to shape my week

Missing my sisters and knowing this is love

Schoolwork and laundry and sorting through the hazardous piles of "stuff" that collect when one is too busy to put things away

How much I love steamed broccoli with butter and salt

Not even close to being ready for all that the week holds but knowing He shapes my days and if I keep my eye on Him, all is well and all is well and all is well

Not missing a Bible study in the morning for many, many, many weeks now

Comforting Nora when she can't sleep, how she noticed the plants needed water, how she talk-plays with dinosaurs

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Love and Late Night Laundry

Walking into the mud room tonight, the smell of laundry soap reminds me of Grandma's house on Mondays, how the dryer vent was beside the door, and before you even set foot in her house, you could smell the clean, slightly floral scent of her work.  Grandma always ironed clothing and linens so flat, you could slide them under the door, and sometimes when I use one of the potholders she made, the heat will remind the fabric of that same smell, and there she is.  And there I am.

Tonight I'm sorting through the garbage bags of clothes passed down from Nora's three older girl cousins.  This is how I've dressed her for most of her life, wrapped in fabrics filled with memories and the smell of the different detergents each of my sisters use.

We made a run to Lincoln with Grandma and Grandpa today, picking out eight or so pairs of leggings that will be mixed and matched with the short sleeved shirts she's inherited and a few others bought new today.

When I was a kid, I was asked a lot about when I was expecting the flood--you know, because all of my pants were what we called "high water" pants.  Do you still call them that today?  I've been talking about discourse communities with my comp class, and they'd never heard "gag me with a spoon" before.  The times, they are a' changin'.

What I'm really enjoying right now is the quiet of the house and the sound of the dryer running late into the night, how Nora is sleeping peaceful in her new T. Rex t-shirt, and how everything smells of love.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Robins and Chalkboards

While I've heard reports of robins from others, I had yet to see one until today.  The burning orange chest shuttled clear as day across the field.  And then I remembered the story Grandma Smith would tell us of how the robin got its orange feathers while sitting too close to the fire that glowed in the manger the night Jesus was born.  I want my own heart to burn the same way because I can't do this alone, and I wasn't meant to.  None of us were.  So I will pull myself up to the Light of His love and I will give up my awkard and painful attempts to be perfect, to be good, to be right, to be respected, to make things go the way I think they should.

Because wasn't this the lesson in the classroom Tuesday?  The one that left me stripped down, afraid, heart shaking and suddenly so self-aware I wished for one of those buttons to push, the kind that opens up the trap door below you, and you drop out of sight.  But this is the business of the teacher, too.  The business of opening your hand and asking that they all gather round to see the same miracle you've seen in the story, in the poem, in the lessons that ultimately come down to whether or not we will repond with competition or compassion.  And how important it is to me.

Or, as I was reminded, how important I am to myself, and it was this very thing that allowed me to forget the real lesson, the subject I was teaching and think only of how I was failing them somehow.

Tomorrow, without a doubt, I will enter the room again, and I will do my best to listen, to respond with patience but most importantly, to find a way for all of us to gather with our hearts exposed, not to my "brilliance" or my "insight" or my "humor" but to the Light of Another who owns my words, my joy, my sorrow and my salvation.  Let all wisdom point to Christ.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

She Heaved Silent

Beside the stove in the kitchen, tears erased with a hiss
And her hair fell forward to hide it.  Bread rising still and
Outside the clean, wet apron bent over the wire in the wind
The plains threw like a straight ,cold knife
That named its edge by the divisions it made
between mother and child or father
And daughter or wife and husband
How she needed even this domestic miracle, the bread
Rising, to remind her to lift her head
The apron slaps.  The white sun marking lines on the vinegar scrubbed
Floors where she'd discovered new creaks beside the old ones,
Those she'd memorized so as not to wake them when passing through the hall.
Do you see the soul thin woman in her white bleached night
Gown working her feet silently toe to heal down the worn wood
To the back door where she'd stretch moon-full
And stealing tomorrow's rest for a moment late at night
In the biting snow that seemed to wash her clear inside?
She thought the snow looked like angels' tears
But they might not have been.

She wanted to talk to them about
Doing God's work.  She sometimes
Wasn't sure if she'd gotten it right.

And the apron lifts itself from the line, catches
above in the pin oak still wearing
leaves through the winter that won't be gathered
until she's sure they've fallen undressed.  Only
then will she go to them scratching her name
hard into the bark with the bread knife after she's raked
every crumbling heart she discarded into a pile she can burn
warming herself against another winter like the one
she didn't know she'd live through.
But she probably did, didn't she.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I'll Fly Away

Tonight Star Belle played a set for the volunteer firemen of Beaver Crossing.  The kids sat eating at a fold out table beside us while we played, and I looked over and winked at Nora, and she winked back.  Later when I looked at her again, she was eating the noodles I'd spooned onto her plate, and I told God how much I appreciated that she liked them (she's going through a picky-eater phase).  I was thinking all of this while my mouth was singing other words and my hands were strumming chords.  And later yet, I glanced her way and she was singing along:  "I'll fly away..."   And when we finished, she sat on my lap and told me I had done a great job and asked if I would like her to fix a plate for me from the potluck, so I could eat, too.  But I just held her instead, and we clapped for those receiving awards.  When it was over, she pretended to be a T. Rex stomping in boots through the rain.  I love her.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What My Fortune Cookies Said

Love her until her hurt passes.

Heart singing is the most important thing.

Crocus in February are an early promise of Spring's light.

If you are afraid of the dark, sleep with the light on.

You don't need a saw to use a tree.

Sometimes you don't add enough liquid to the crockpot.  Remember next time.

Tears help you do your emotional laundry but not your actual laundry.  For that you need a deep anger directed toward grime.

Out of cookies?  What about this one?

Instead of paying millions for the scarce, pay for your abundance with thanksgiving.

Worship the abundant rather than the scarce and you will always hear the joysong.

Sometimes your kids will freak out.  Don't join them.

Thinking you aren't smart enough to do your job is a sign of depression.  Thinking you are still learning and young enough to do better in a few years is a sign of health.

Face it.  You like cheese.

Most of the time, the reasons you find for not doing what is right are BS.  Use all of it to compost something fertile in your life and in the lives of others rather than wasting time (after you've made right and asked for forgiveness) counting how many cowpies are out there in your field.  (This was a particularly large fortune cookie.)

There's nothing wrong with the occasional Hallmark movie marathon.  It only takes a little warmth to melt a cold heart.

Your ukulele band is awesome.  Just thought you should know.

Martha.  Martha.  Martha.

Your seeds are in the mail.  Love, God.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just Keeping Track

Waking up to Nora's admission:  "You know, I just don't really like the carnivorous dinosaur programs very much."   Next time I look up a dinosaur movie before I've had my coffee, I'll be sure to check for titles like "The Flesh-Eaters" and "T. Rex Buffet."

Crashing the Valentine's party at Nora's school today.  Singing with Nora.  When we get to the "I love you" part of the whole Skinn-amerink-adink--ee-doo song, she points to me, jumps up and hugs me hard enough to put everything back into the proper alignment.   Call it Emotional Chiropractics.

Watching two straight hours of Downton Abbey.

How the regulars at the Spur always ask me if I've finished grading all my papers yet.  How I never have, and I never will.  Not until May.  "You know what your problem is?"  "What's that, Bill?"  "Well, you keep assigning them."  Laughter around the table, and I just shake my head and push another millimeter of lead out of the mechanical pencil.

Learning how to be myself in front of so many people.  How vulnerable that is.  How I must also do what I ask that they too be brave enough to do.   Being a teacher who is also a human.

Ordering the entire "Love Comes Softly" series for Grandma Smith's birthday.  Being able to do that.

A notebook with pictures of vegetables glue-sticked throughout.  Where it all begins.

Plans for class tomorrow involving Jazz--Charlie Parker and Lois Armstrong and one of my favorite stories--"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin.  And in the other class, a walk outside to gather a "setting" for our writing exercise.  How someone said he sees his classes as a haven.  And I also want to associate these classrooms with a haven. 

Knowing God walks always beside me, within me, before me--even when I'm so busy I forget to think of Him first.  Praying that I don't become so stubborn that I fail to hear His whisper comforting me, encouraging me, loving me on.

Sentence fragments.  Grateful for those, too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Call a Plumber

The speed limit in Utica is 20 MPH.  When the roads are snow packed and the train cuts through the middle of town and the Chevy pickups parked in front of the broken down bowling alley (advertising an "owling leg" beginning in "a gust"), when those trucks extend their long ends into the road, that's when you drive 12 MPH.

So I drop Nora off at school and prepare to make the trip up to my office on campus, go to a meeting, grade my essay quota for the day (11 per day for 7 days), make some copies, and already my mind is running through stop signs and ducking under railroad crossings and from nowhere the road goes foggy and I realize I'm crying.

I'll blame it on Valentine's day (though I am so conscious of the love around me).  I'll blame it on stress (despite the deep peace that continues to grow in me daily).  Shoot.  I'm just going to blame it on some dust that flew into my eye when I turned on the heater.  That's the ticket.

But they keep falling, and I'm starting to worry about my make-up and whether or not I would be able to pass a driving test right now because there's nothing more dangerous than emotional driving.  Well, except for emotional driving with a rabid raccoon in the cab with you.  That would probably top the list.

I think Pastor Jurchen explained it like this to me once.  Every once in awhile, God is going to test the hot water heater by turning up the heat a little and seeing how much pressure it can withstand.  I guess this is why tears are warm, why glasses turn foggy, and a large amount of emotive sighing ensues.

That's the trick of busy-ness.  You don't notice when the heat is going up until you're crying for "no reason."  I've learned enough about sadness to know you have to just let it pass through you.  You acknowledge it:  "Hello, darkness, my old friend."  You make some tea.  You sit and chat.  "Boy, you are sad."  "Yeah, I know.  Thanks for mentioning it."  "But, really, you feel TERRIBLE."  "Um, exactly.  You said that.  Would you like some cheeze whiz and crackers?  I'm thinking of watching reruns of Cheers while I wait for you to leave."  "Oh, yeah, I love cheeze whiz."  And suddenly the two of you are singing along to the theme song, and at the end of a few episodes, Sadness gets up, stretches and says, "Well, I should be going.  Getting pretty late."  And there it goes, blue tail lights glowing in the distance.

Feeling sad isn't a sin.  Crying isn't a sin.  I've learned to stop punishing myself for thinking that I'm messing up by not feeling happy all the time.  Sometimes I get tired.  Sometimes I feel sorry for myself.  Sometimes I can't see the gifts surrounding me.  Sometimes I get lonely for a companion.  Sometimes I mourn my past.  And sometimes there's a piece of dust swimming around out there, and I just happen to lean into it with my eyeball.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'd Like to Introduce You to My Garden

Straight Eight Slicing Cucumber
Italian Parsley
Large-Leaf Basil
Sneaking out the back door to feel the warm breeze at midnight
Red Sails Lettuce
The sound of swingset squeak
Buttercrunch Lettuce
Sweet Bell Pepper Hybrid Mix
Champion Radish
Hoping someone will drive up the dirt road with a hug, a kiss
Spaghetti Squash
Acorn Squash
Perpetually dirty fingernails
Black Magic Zucchini
Tomatoes:  Roma, Bella Rosa, Juliet, Granny Smith, Lemon Boy, Beefsteak
Gurney's Burpless II Hybrid Cucumber
Blue Lake Pole Beans
Perfected Detroit Beet
Talking to myself and cursing at aphids
Tendersweet Carrot
Water: sweat, tears, washing her feet as we run inside, the back door slapping
Gentry Hybrid Yellow Crookneck Squash
Dirty jeans and bare feet
Tyee Hybrid Spinach
Twilight Hybrid Eggplant
Clothes flapping on the line, the flag for a country named Peace
Avalanche Snow Peas
Beneficial Bug Blend
Dumping the slop bucket into the compost bin
Green Magic Hybrid Broccoli
Native Perennial Wildflower
Cats sleeping lazy under the rose bush
Daisy Mix
Morning glories climbing the front step rails
Dancing Spirit Hot Pepper
Yukon Gold Potato
Red and Yellow Onion
Love and a shovel
Butternut Squash
An order of ladybugs
Cosmos and Marigold
Sun tea on the front stoop
Faith and birdsongs
Golden Delicious Apples
Getting up and getting in and not stopping for anything but a love letter or a good song or a bit of sleep

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What's Been Going Down at the Farm These Days

We've been growing cilantro in January.

Drawing pictures of being kissed on the head by giraffes.

Raising a hamster named Henrietta.

Having slumber parties when we're snowed in on the weekend.


More dancing.

And just in case, dancing a little bit more.

We've been growing flowers on our heads, eating sunchips, and building things out of legos.

Things you can live in.

We've been talking to the hand.

Pretending to be elephants.

And looking at stuff.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Let's Talk Seed Catalogs

Last year's garden, like most of us, endured a few challenges.  First there were the aphids that attacked the potatoes and the organic death spray I used to kill the potatoes because I failed to read the label:

"Warning:  This spray effectively kills anything you use it on, including your garden.  But, hey, you don't have aphids anymore, right?"

And then there was the decorative gourd...incident.  I can't even talk about it.  I would be eating zucchini bread right now if  1/3 of the garden hadn't found itself infested with all that "pretty, inedible squash."  If I want to see an inedible squash, I'll watch Veggie Tales.   I don't need it in my garden. 

I feel like I'm right on the verge of being funny, but I'm too tired to break the humor sound barrier.

I guess you'll just have to settle for an informative blog post tonight.

I'm taking a gardening class next week.  (To All Y'all gals who wanted to join, I think it's through Southeast Community College, and happens the evening of the 15th.  I wish it would have been on the 14th.  That would have solved a lot of problems for me...but I digress.)  We'll be learning about raised beds, soil mixes, crop rotation, vertical gardening, and staggered planting.  I have tell you, just writing those words makes me happy.  I need as much happy as I can get because I've been burning the useless "why can't I be better/perfect" oil lately, and this is a sure sign that someone has had too much time indoors.

The seed catalogs speak to me about being lifted from this white expanse into something I can sing about.

In the meantime, I'm going to rearrange these gourds.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Abstractions and other Groovy Things

I like:

John Cage saying there are two things that never need to explain themselves:  music and laughter, and then he busts up on film, and I catch it, too, shoulders shaking with the kind of laughing you do in movie theaters--all movement and no sound.

Driving home and deciding to listen to static because it's better than anything else on the dial.  And I'm just listening to sound, and there's something liberating about not having to "think" something about it.

How clear 34 is today.  I drove back an forth between York and Seward twice today and will do it again tomorrow, and I just want to hug a snowplow.

National Geographic.

And I love:

The Valentine Nora gave me today, made secretly under the craft room table, and she's drawn an eye, a heart and a stick figure.  Loud and clear, honey.  Loud and clear.

Monday, February 6, 2012

1, 2, 3, 4: Count Them So You'll See Some More

1.  They slide black and white codes across my desk, and I file them in separate plastic folders, secret them to the gas station and open them again to relive with them what thoughts and cares surfaced while they moved a pen across their lives, plowing and planting.

2.  My fingers haven't touched strings in many weeks, and this "later...later" I use to pacify the song folds the laundry and keeps the house picked up, cooks some meals, and I pray through all of it, domestic paeans.

3.  We read our stories, and I notice her little body like a furnace, her hand twisting my hair in rings the way she's done since she was a baby.  The thermometer reads 101, and I wait for the clean sun of summer to warm us healthy and golden again.

4.  I read all of Alice Walker's Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.  I listen to Jose Gonzales' "Crosses" and Thomas Newman's "Any Other Name."  I practice vocabulary: inchoate, fulsome, coruscate, disport, importunate.  I am preparing myself for listening, for comprehension.

5.  Did you see the whole world erased, and will you rejoice when God paints it again?  Let's dance then together, you and me.  Let's mudlucious.  Let's seed the world.  Let's waterfall and drive the truck I haven't bought yet to a national monument and when we get there, let's feel monumental, too.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Without Proofreading or Perfection

The low string pulling.  Has been happening
for some time now, the sensation of being tugged
ashore by some rope tied around my middle.

I wonder where I am going but not so much either.
I don't know how to explain it.  Ah.  There is a curiosity
rather than a fear.

Decide between competition and compassion.

This weekend I obsess about two small mistakes.
Have you done this?
Allowed the internal dictator to command the larger portion
of your time worrying about small things like accidentally pronouncing an author's name incorrectly or saying simile when you meant metaphor?

The liar hits me low, at my pride.  When I could be thinking of so many
victories, that I may have helped someone with the same fear of being "not enough" or somehow "not qualified."

These wars parade so ugly between the countries inside (the borders of) myself.

And the hope comes blaring trumpet of

woman sitting cleared and humming
knowing the low string pulling is God
who will always, already love
some girl who is always, already going off to war.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Reading Alice Walker

1.  When I am thinking of Alice Walker, I am feeling closer to peace. 

2.  This hard, cold voice that tells me how much I am lacking begins at the core of me, and when it can't convince me there, moves to the outside and with greedy broom hands sweeps objects and ideas into the house that doesn't belong here as if they would make me whole again, and there is the first lie tucked under the door:  you aren't whole.

3.  There is an anemia of vocabulary, a holding back, a stinginess of shoulders hunched over, the shadow that keeps the heart from blooming.

4.  I began reading Alice Walker when I was 19, and at some point Mom gave me everything she'd written.   And I know this writer with a gardener's heart helps me locate where the ground meets the places we wander even when my feet seem too uncertain to step down.  She tells me how to plant this life for good and with complete acceptance and thanksgiving for what has grown and is growing.

5.  And though I don't know her, I still consider her a friend I've met.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Our hearts are fires.  And the small tinder
I was able to gather now soaks in the basin
in case I would think to start again
that radiant and consuming story
of a light burning for another.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Little Things

Nora and Mom snuggling under a yellow blanket.
Iced tea at the Spur reading the final pages as the fields stretch out like my dreams.
Finding the right words for the assignment after thinking someone else could say it better.
Dancing to the Fresh Beat Band with Nora in the living room, her smile.
Sharing a meal with my family.
Hide and seek and recycling and filling up the gas tank and that sucker they still give you at the bank when you've got a little one in the car.
Downton Abbey making me forget I don't live anywhere else but there.  How much I love believing the "lie" of this work of fiction.
And then hitting the hay for the day.