Saturday, March 31, 2012


Oh, lovely.  All of it.   After Nora fell asleep, I went to check on the pansies outside and was wooed by the stars and breeze and the little toad hopping by, hypnotized by the anntenna lights and the blossoming crabapples.  I wouldn't trade this for any city in the world.'s today's story:

We filled up Nora's kiddy pool, ate a few cheez its and planted pansies in containers for the front porch.  Nora dug up part of the yard looking for dinosaur bones.  I'm sure the grass will be just fine.  In a few weeks.

 We drove out to the Day Lilly farm last week and picked up a tray of pansies.  They're tough little flowers, and I love their sweet little petal faces.

I can not even explain the joy of crawling into bed at the end of the day and smelling all this wind.

What could be better than a roller coster straw?  TWO roller coster straws, naturally.

I mowed the yard this morning, came inside and vacuumed and was suddenly struck with gratitude that carpet doesn't grow.  That would be weird.  Anyway, about the sun tea...I like it.

Mom and Nora made these last week.  I love them, too.

Here are the crabapple trees trying to compete with my red truck.

I read this earlier tonight:

"She stared.  Such beauty; and she there to see it.  Such beauty; and she alive to feel it.  Her face was bathed in light.  Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her.  A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair...How beautiful, how beautiful.  Not to have died before have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this...She stared, her lips parted.  Happy?  Poor, ordinary, everyday word.  But what could one say, how could one describe it?"

-- Elizabeth von Arnim from her novel The Enchanted April

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Moving on Down the Line

Nora woke at 4:45 this morning, and I was tired and cranky.  We still stay at Mom's on Wednesday nights.  We've done this for a few years now as Mom watches Nora on Tuesdays and Thursdays while I'm at school.  Between preschool and Mom's and work, I'm a regular commuter down 34.  For those of you who don't live here, 34 is a two-lane highway that runs east to west and stitches many of the tiny towns (and a few of the bigger ones) together with asphalt fabric held together by the white painted thread of the center line.   The majority of vehicles are called to farm work--semis hauling beans or corn, trucks pulling anhydrous tanks to the fields, the occasional tractor crawling close to the median.

I've come to love this drive, especially in the mornings when the sun is rising and I can talk to God about where I'm headed and where He'd like me to go.

And there was this today:  that beauty of the sun splitting the clouds, driving straight into the dark ground, those silken curtains parting and outlined.  And I'm forgetting myself and this is such a relief.  I have been looking forward to this summer break so I might be still, be quiet, and move closer into this beauty, that tactile, secret place where I forget myself, dissolved and stronger as I become the passageway between God's beautiful, speechless things and myself, the instrument made to receive them, a gift.

Kneeling in the garden or in front of the screen door at night as the wind speaks hush into the house or the stars tell me how small and perfect we are or the bird call or the creaking cedar whose arthritic bark aches in strong winds, the crabapple tree blossoms and bursts so I might look through them as one would the stained glass of a cathedral.  And, oh Lord, how I long to release what I've found to pick up and carry over the last few months in that impossibly strong and silent peace doing something where I am not always hearing myself talk but for what my hands find to say in their doing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Dear fragile thing I found; you found me, too. 

Just put you back up there where I won't be tempted to examine too closely what we are made of and if it will freeze or snow before we do or you become what is required and then when we do whatever that thing is we won't know we were like bumblebees who shouldn't have flown but did anyway because we never stopped long enough to doubt that we couldn't be lifted buzzing toward the nectar of another flower talking sweet life, sweet abundant buzz and heft of each one of us being carried because I believe it has and will happen forever bloom that passes between us the pink echo of something planted and dark below us wanting to speak to birds.

Sweet and sincerely.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Is it too late in the day to start Spring cleaning?

1.  Nora just fell asleep.  It's 9 PM, and I'm wide awake--the kind of awake that says, "If you wanted to, you could wake up tomorrow to a completely clean house, four loaves of banana bread, 36 pumpkin muffins, and a clean refrigerator."  There is another voice that says, "Lisa.  Lisa.  Watch another Hallmark movie.  Crochet.  Eat.  Lounge."

2.  The place is cleaned up except for the garden, which is my dumping ground for dead leaves and branches until Lynn brings the gator around and hauls them to the burn pile.  The asparagus is up already, and the patch I planted three years ago is starting to show some promise.  (It takes two years to get to a harvest--talk about learning patience...)  Nora and I have started transplanting the seedlings into dixie cups (punch holes in the bottom for drainage--I was doing this individually until Nora said, "Mom.  Watch this."  She stacked 5 or 6 cups together and punched through all of them at once.  That's my girl.)  I'm showing a little yellowing in the eggplant and am hoping that by providing some new soil, they can spring back from the nutrients they're lacking.  I'm so happy with the difference between this year and last year's seedlings.  The fluorescent lighting works wonders.

3.  I have a hard time just sitting, so I crochet dishrags while I watch my Hallmark movies.  Aside:  Let me explain something about the Hallmark thing.  These are movies with plots so predictable, you can look at the cover and pretty much know what's going to happen.  I've been shooting a 3 out of 10 when it comes to guessing what the next line is going to be.  These aren't challenging movies--they don't make me think that hard.  They don't challenge any of my assumptions about myself or society.  Sometimes I just need to watch something that reminds me that problems (even imagined, predictable ones) have real solutions.  I need movies right now where love wins every time, and where you have to build the house you live in out of materials readily available in nature.

Watch and repeat:  Love is possible.  You have everything you need.  Also, be sure to add "help at a barn raising" and "tame wild horses" to your bucket list.

Ila's gifts...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Meet Apple, Our New Truck

Blame it on the feeling of contentment after eating at Culvers.  Blame it on red.  Blame it on the low pressure car salesman.  The big tires.  The rhino lining and the tinted windows and the stereo and the safety rating and the mileage and the price.  Blame it on Spring.  Blame it on how we both have Colorado in common.  Blame it on Apple.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

But I'm Not Finished Yet

Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit or bless others' lives

I wonder at the lesson:  a cathedral will often take hundreds of years to build--longer to complete than a lifetime.  And I wonder at the workers lifting stone and paint and glass who dipped their hands momentarily into that work knowing they would not live long enough to see what their work had accomplished.  I put my finger on the lie that says unless we see a thing in its fullness, it is not worth making.  And I step away from that kind of dying that makes us quiet and depressed, stripped of our gifts and the blessing of our work, that which God placed before us and the tools He planted within us to lend a hand. 

I think our lives are a little like these cathedrals and we are like these cathedral builders, the ones who will not see all of our work completed.  But then, if we are doing God's work, would it not make sense that our work would extend beyond the finite, human years we count?

If we can't see a thing finished, how can it be perfect?

My great grandmother baked a cake she didn't know would be served at her own wake.  And I wonder at the family that came before me and tasted the sweetness of her work after she had gone.  And I have seen that same sweetness in my grandma and in my mom.  At times with Nora, I see it shining through me and into her heart.

There have been some endings lately:  a good friend and colleague who will be leaving her work at Concordia after 24 years of building and serving, the news of my ex-husband's engagement, my grandma's diagnosis of breast cancer.  And I find myself asking God if the work in each of these situations is complete, and I wonder at the tears and what seeds they could be watering right now as I type this. 

Sometimes change seems unbearable, so difficult to put into place within the plans we all draw, the designs of our cathedrals.  Was the thing being made in each of these circumstances complete?  When I look back at my marriage, hold it in my hands from start to finish, is that a finished thing?  Can I walk away without grieving for how I wasn't able to love strong enough or hold on, without grieving mostly for Nora who will live with my choices as much as I have had to live with my choices?  Can I look beyond that grief and see, perhaps, a seed planted in his life, one that will grow into something stronger, healthier because of what we have learned?

Can we, as teachers, walk away without knowing without a doubt that, as Oscar Romero writes, "We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities.  We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that...We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker.  We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future that is not our own."

When I saw Grandma over break, we didn't say good bye, Aunt Dottie reminding us as we three stood holding hands, "Just remember, girls, this isn't good bye."  And there was a lightness in my Grandma's face, a joy, a sense of completion even as she had to leave before seeing all the fruits of her love and of her labor.

And I see it is not a matter of letting go at all, but of seeing the seed in each of these circumstances, the one that will bloom into something God's hand is upon as long as I am willing to water what has been planted with these tears willingly. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For more lost teeth and a friend's ultrasound on the big screen projector in her classroom
and ladies playing small guitars this Saturday and health and movement and a new hairdo and a necklace
I'd never choose for myself but I did it anyway and orange and getting up to coffee already brewed by
the cyborg coffee machine and truck shopping and seedlings growing and papers to grade at 5AM and knowing where to put the baggage and letting go and God's hand in all of this.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Fragment of a Poem for My Mom Who is a Potter

This is a segment of an Alice Walker poem called "These Days"

These days I think of the potter,
who makes the most exquisite goblets
--and plates and casseroles.
Her warm hands steady on the cool
and lively clay,
her body attentive and sure, bending over the wheel.
I could watch her work for hours--
but there is never time.  On one visit I see the bags
of clay.  The next visit, I see pale and dusty molds,
odd pieces of hardening handles and lids.  On another,
I see a stacked kiln.  On another, magical objects of use
splashed with blue, streaked with black and red.
She sits quietly beside her creations
at countless fairs
watching without nostalgia
their journeys into the world.
She makes me consider how long
people have been making things.  How wise
and thoughtful people are.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Magnify that Which is Good

Pulling out five bags of random, frozen things, putting them in a crock pot, adding some salt and putting it in the fridge for tomorrow's supper.

Planting all the herb seedlings.

A little bird trusting us enough to stand on a stick we're holding.

A little girl who asks me to tell her something else about God, something else about what I did when I was a girl, so I tell her:

-I made my sisters smear a peach on their faces to be in my club
-I roamed the "side hill" all summer long, finding broken glass and metal left behind by the first settlers and trails left by the horses
-I played the flute in band
-I would spend whole days reading in bed

Kneeling at the screen door at night while the warm breath God sends across this land lifts your hair and lifts your life into something deeply placed and real and speaking without words.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Never the Same Today

1.  A morning spent singing with my Star Belle gals at the local coffee shop.  Kids running wild (and they hadn't even had any coffee) and that wild is inspiring, and I watch my bandmates negotiate between lyrics and warnings about hot chocolate being hot and see their tiny mouths moving along with the songs and know these mamas play in the kitchen while their children are playing, too, and this is a good life with so much singing and cooking and wild loving of these wild, wild creatures.

2.  And speaking of wild creatures, we drove to Grand Island again today and brought home a girl this time:  Tweety Sweety.  She sings.  Nora isn't ready to train her yet, her eyes brimming when she talks of too much love.  And, what do you know?  I just "happened" to check out a book from the library about a hamster who wants to tell her parents how much she loves them, but she's afraid of the power of those words, so she stuffs them down all day long until she becomes sulky and angry.  And finally she shouts, "I LOVE YOU!" and the world stops, so it can be filled back up again with the words that can't be caged.  Nora and I talk for almost two hours about love and God and why loving hurts sometimes, of how everything that passes into our lives was hand-picked for us by God, a gift, even the ones that can only stay a few days.

3.  And then the conversation turns to creation and evolution, and I begin to explain the different takes on the situation.  "Some people believe we were created 'as is' by God and others believe that God created life forms that can and have evolved over time."  She thinks for a minute.  "Well, a chicken starts out as an egg and then turns into a tiny chick and then grows into a chicken, so I think things evolve over time."  And I think we are always changing, too.  From what I can tell from the world God created, everything was made to grow and change, multiply and flower.   And I don't know the how of it at all.  I can only wonder and watch and give thanks for the things I love but don't understand.

4.  "Will you make me laugh some more, Mom?"  When her eyes had filled and she talked of her heart rising inside her, how it was too big, I told her about how I went to the hospital with a heart I could carry in a small purse, and when I left with her in my arms, they had to give me a wagon to carry my heart out because it had grown so much the first time I saw her.  "Do you still have the wagon?"  We giggle at the thought of it.  I tell her about hearts, about the kind that shrink down to something so small, you only need a thimble to carry it with you.  And others have hearts that have grown to such sizes, they need wagons.  "Our hearts are like steering wheels, Nora.  You need to be able to hear what God is telling you there.  Don't be afraid of big feelings.  That's how God made you, and He will whisper to you there."

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Lot of Life Happened Today

We woke to find our new friend Feathers lying on the bottom of his cage.  Nora cried and I held her while we sat on the edge of the bed.   Then we put light jackets on over our pajamas, our boots on our bare feet, and we grabbed shovels, mine from the garage and Nora's from the sandbox.  We buried Feathers in the pine trees and said a prayer thanking him for choosing to spend his last few days on earth with us.  When we came inside, Nora painted a picture of him and told me her favorite memories about him--that he was a good bird and landed straight on the perch.  

Nora is doing okay now, but it was a little rough, as you can imagine.  We're going to drive back to Earl May's tomorrow and adopt one of his siblings.   Spending a couple of days with this little fellow convinced both of us that there is a lot of room in our hearts for a bird.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pretty Boy in the House

1.  Our wild little bird "flew" through the first three steps of training today and will sit on Nora's finger.  He poofs out his feathers as a sign of contentment.  We had to take a short bath time break mid afternoon, so Nora could take a breather.  She has been brought to tears, to laughter, to anger, to frustration, to elation in the course of the day's "work."  She fell asleep almost instantly with a few tears, saying she just loves him too much.  Welcome to parenthood, Nora.  Or should I say parrothood?  Forgive me. 

2.  My membership in the minivan mom club has almost expired.  Gone are the days of hauling hay bales in the backseat, of the driver's window not rolling down, of expecting 8 to 12 kids someday all with sippy cups and personal DVD players.  We need a truck.  Stay tuned.

3.  This week off has been so good, and the weather has accelerated my sense of wellness with the world, too.  The seedlings are sturdy.  The blackberry bush is pruned.  So are the roses, and the pussy willow is in bloom now.  The front and back doors stay open all day, and the house still smells of the breeze.

4.  It's time to eat everything in the deep freeze before the next growing season starts again.  I see lots of sweet corn in my future.  There's enough food left from canning and freezing to last another 3 months.  I should start some lettuce outside now, too.

5.  This peace I've been feeling since the light shifted and the wind turned warm and the seeds started sprouting fills my heart.  And having a bird in the house is such a great excuse to sing to him constantly.  So I fill up the slow cooker with everything God gave us from the earth last year and hum a song to our pretty boy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our New Family Member

"Well, you know what they say, Nora.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."  I'm driving, and she's sitting behind me, and I can see what her face is saying without even looking.

"Yeah, I don't know what that means either.  Anyway, what do you think of Feathers?"

It's  been almost one year since she dressed as a bird, spread birdseed across every windowsill in the living room and called to them from the front stoop.  Almost one year since she set up the incubating contraption.  And now we're driving home from Earl May's with a frightened parakeet in a little box.

Grandma has a cold, but she agreed to drive with us anyway.  I have to admit that "going into town" by myself these days feels so vulnerable.  All that traffic.  All those people.  "You'll have to thank Lynn for letting you keep a bird in the house."
"Okay, Grandma.  MOM!  Quit driving so crazy!  You're going to scare him!"

I'm not really driving crazy (though I did miss the turn and somehow ended up in the Starbuck's drive-thru as my "U-Turn").  We're on 34 taking the back roads back to York, and like most back roads, they have a "few" potholes.

And we're up way past our bedtime, but it's Spring Break, and we set up the cage in the middle of the living room floor and now we're singing to him.  We try a few verses of "Senior Don Gato" and decide it might not be the right time to sing cat songs to a frightened bird.  So I sing the Dumbo song replacing "Baby, mine" with the words "Birdie, mine."  His chest stops heaving, round and wide eyes black as holes begin to blink.  His lids lower slowly, and by golly, we've managed to sing our new bird to sleep.  I love him already.  I feel something good about him.

Last night Nora and I ended the day with a prayer for help finding the right bird.  And when the bearded bird handler at the store blocked the entrance with his wide shoulders, slowly bringing his big hand into the cage, five parakeets flew wild, but the little one, the one Nora had pointed to flew right into his hand.

"That's a good sign," he said.

You're telling me.  A bird in the hand, indeed.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Piles of Joy

"Life is just a matter of moving a lot of things from one place to another."  --  Anonymous Eavesdropping Session

Sure, these were construction workers talking, men used to the process of moving building materials until those random piles of bricks and lumber and nails and paint had coalesced into a place people could move all their things into, box by box.  And from there these people could also begin the process of moving things:  food to mouth, dishes to dishwasher, laundry to drawers, cars to work, small bodies to bed, and eventually, their old bodies from this earth to Heaven.

We all know there are almost countless books on the subject--organizing books (moving stuff), self-help books (moving self), cookbooks, money management guides, travel guides.  Shoot.  Even that book about bird watching is about catching one of them in your binoculars before they head South or up or wherever they go.

If you've ever picked apples or green beans or crocheted or taken a walk, you know the comfort found in the rhythm of movement.  Fingers over guitar strings.  Batter mixed by hand.  Bread kneading.  Writing the alphabet in different order, so you make meaning.  If you've ever loved someone, this is the greatest movement of all.

There's a reason why we say something moved us.  To be called from the shore into the deep water.

Under the weight of all the things in our lives that need moving, it's easy for us to feel overwhelmed.  I mean, take a look at my current "this needs to be moved" list:

Pretty soon, I'll need to move these into the garden.

I need to move a lot of the words in these books into my brain.  I should send that movie to Grandma and move a TV downstairs and hook that converter box to it.  I'll have to move that downstairs, too.

These clothes need to be folded and moved to drawers.  From there they will move to adventures unknown on the day they are worn.

I need to move all this canning stuff that Grandma and Aunt Dottie passed on to me.  First I need all those plants you saw above to grow some vegetables that I can move from the garden to my kitchen.

Here are some of those vegetables from last year.  They still need to be moved into my stomach.

These shoes need to be moved so it doesn't take 15 minutes to find matching footwear.  And just like the clothes, on the days we decide to wear them, they'll move all over tarnation and back.

This is just a random pile.  I don't even know where to move everything in it.

Someone needs to move my coat into the closet.  And that quilt contains another quilt inside of it made of my Great Grandma Smith's old dresses.  Grandma sewed this fabric over the top of it to protect it.  Someday I'll need to move the secret of this fabric into another pair of hands.

All these sticks need to go somewhere else, preferably not in my yard.

These flowers need to grow, so they can move my heart to all things joyful and abundant and beautiful and temporary and precious.

I need to move some comments onto these essays.

And then I need to move the words in these books into Nora's brain.

In conclusion, none of this exhausts me.  In fact, I feel rather like I've been given the gift of good work to fill the days and the time and the prayers.

"The Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete."  --Deuteronomy 16:15

Keep on keeping on, folks.  There is joy in that movement.  And don't you ever think you'll get it all done because you won't.  Thank God.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Counting Them

Laughter in a classroom and how easy it is for us to talk to each other.
Garden designs materializing.
Chickens?  Maybe.
Star Belle shows on the way.
How Nora's hair smells after being outside in the wind.
Pizza and shooting the breeze at the end of the day.
Pottery class with excited students.
A trip to Colorado over the weekend.
Spring break and Spring cleaning and pruning and raking and...

Monday, March 5, 2012

All Things Must Break Open to Grow

In three days, life breaks from the seeds we buried.  Weightless jewels more precious than diamonds carried on the wind, in packets across oceans, prairies, generations, one after another--a chain of triumph over the darkness below.  This is a miracle to me.

And this is the business of allowing our hearts to glow, break free, be carried willingly to the next heartbreak and the next dance and the next song and the next glowing beyond the small shell of this self  breaking open into God's light and way.  And when I looked into my heart, the light I saw there remade me completely into a glowing thing I could learn to love.  This unfurling above the surface is always so surprising to those who are used to so much stillness and quiet peace below.   I wonder that I don't break into more spontaneous song-making.  Do you, too?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Call An Actual Plumber

Gravity doesn't work like you would expect it to here on the farm.  None of the water goes down, and I can only blame it on the calcium deposits in the pipes and the fact no one had even thought of a garbage disposal back when this house was built.  So the kitchen sink has been giving me trouble for a good week now, and I finally decided to give it all I've got today.

And when I did, the pipes under the sink popped out of joint and water flooded everywhere.  Nora came running because, I'm sorry to say, she probably heard one word come out of my mouth that she has never heard before.  Luckily she didn't ask questions.  I grabbed the cat scrap bucket and the compost bucket and yelled for Nora to run grab another bucket.

She was running around the house screaming, "Are we gonna die?!  Are we gonna die?!  Where do you keep the buckets around here?"  I don't know if it was the word I said or the fact that I've scared her so thoroughly about the dangers of mixing water and electricity, but either way she was certain this was the end.

See, the electrical box for the soft water system sits under the sink, and I was trying to avoid mixing the two.  I grabbed some towels and put them down on the floor and attempted to plug the sinks from the top down.  It sort of worked.  

"Mommy, are we going to be okay?  I stepped on the water.  Am I going to be okay?"

"Yes, hun, everything is fine."

"I said a prayer that you wouldn't die because I really need someone I can look up to and then I'd have to go and live with Grandma."

"I think we're going to make it through this one just fine, Nora."

I was able to put everything back together.  Luckily the electrical box was fine, too.  The sink is still clogged, but I'll tackle that problem tomorrow.  For now, I'm just going to enjoy being alive.  That was a close one.

Oh, and remind me to show Nora where I keep all the buckets around here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What We Played Today

Saturday is, to Nora's despair, housekeeping day.  While I wash floors, she plays Dinosaur Train with the chairs lined up in the living room, placing a passenger on each chair.  We make tickets for the carnivores and the herbivores (so they get the right snacks), and she delivers plastic drumsticks and pickles using her handy-dandy grocery cart.  

"You know some kids wear their hats backwards, Mom.  Like this."

Later we transformed the living room into a dinosaur hospital complete with kitchen.  I found the pretend muffins and plastic chocolate cake thrown on the floor.  "Did you need these, Nora?"  "Um, Mom.  Those aren't healthy snacks."  I guess she has been listening...not to me, but, you know, public service announcements.

Friday, March 2, 2012

God Bless Our Garden

With the last frost date set around late April, it was time to put some seeds in the dirt.

Nora recording the temperature under the grow lights.

The seeds. 

"Mommy, if I rest under here, will I grow too?"

"Are you sure this is going to work?"

I'm sure.