Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Worm Discernment

Lahum is gorgeous: thick wavy dark hair, yummy olive skin and eye-lashes fat and long. Like a venus fly trap. He is unaware of how gorgeous he is. He is six years old. As a conversationalist he is either on or off. Can go without saying a word for long stretches, but once he decides to engage, the most incredible things fly out of his mouth. This morning he arrived quite late and seemed unusually introspective. He will make a marvelous brooding husband someday. When the kids were lining up to walk to school he was so focused on pulling the skin off the blister on his thumb that he nearly got left behind. I was bringing up the rear in the school walk today, and since Lahum was so very slow and focused elsewhere we walked together. It was chilly, the numbing cold after a rain that was nearly snow, the air and ground wet. I tried a few conversation starters. Nothing. He was looking down and dragging slowly. I was watching his face and found my heart breaking. What could be so bad in this beauty’s life? I had to keep urging him to step it up a little as the rest of the group was getting quite far ahead. Still, he’s looking down. All I can see is his thick lowered eyelashes. I want to scoop this child up and run away with him. Just as we cross the street and get to school grounds he speaks. “There are a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot (I am thinking “Oh dear. Whatever it is, there are certainly a lot”) a lot, a lot of dead worms.” I look down and see what he is talking about. All over the sidewalks are worms that have crawled out of the cold wet ground and have thrown themselves onto the sidewalks for some reason. Lahum continues. “I don’t know if they used swords or guns or knives or if they just wrestled but they had a terrible fight.” “It’s hard to tell whether the good worms or the bad worms died. They are just dead. But I know there was at least one bad worm or else there wouldn’t have been a fight.” (Eureka. He is so very smart) So this is what he has been thinking, looking down at as we walked to school.

Then he says “I can tell though.”

“What?” I ask.

“I can tell which worms are good worms and which worms are bad worms.”

“How?” I am dying to know.

“I just can. It’s something I can do.”

I tell him that he has a special gift. Then we are at school and I have to leave him so I can go to work and he can learn about numbers and letters and such. He doesn’t even miss me. Just keeps walking along the hall, head down. I have no idea what he’s looking for now. I’m hoping some day he can teach me how to tell good worms from bad worms. I’d like that gift too. In the meantime I thank God for this little boy who trusts his gift of discernment. I pray that it will serve him well some day. The circumstances of his young life I’m sure are tough. But he knows he is gifted, special, in at least one way. May he always have at least that.
(Note picture is not of Lahum but it's at least a picture of a kid looking at a sidewalk worm.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Things Fall Apart: a little story of home (and life) repair

This morning the bathroom doorknob came off in my hand. Unfortunately the door was latched. Fortunately I was on the bedroom side of the door and not stuck in the bathroom. This is a really pretty crystal doorknob that fits perfectly with the d├ęcor of my 1928 remodeled lake cottage. As we know “pretty does not make perfect” and this doorknob had been giving me trouble. We’d been limping along, with me having to constantly retighten it. It had fallen clean out once before but that wasn’t problematic because the door was not latched, and I was able to reinstall it into the prior wobbly state of installation. This morning, however, the door was latched when the knob came off in my hand.

First I tried to pop it over the shaft from the knob on the other side but that just pushed the other side out and I heard that knob fall to the inside floor. I got my flashlight and a screwdriver and tried to jiggle the door open sans knob but no such luck. Then I looked for the hinges, in case I had to take off the door. Hinges are on the bathroom side of the door. That plan got tossed. Then I gave thanks that I was not stuck on the inside of the door. My mind wandered to another scenario where I would be stuck on the inside of the door with no tools and no phone to call for help. MacGyver inspired resourcefulness had me daydreaming about eating toothpaste while fashioning some door knocking explosives by creating sparks from razor stubble and explosive gasses from aerosol cans of hairspray. Those scenarios gave way to playing Rapunzzel through the bathroom window, either lowering myself down from the second story to my patio below, shimmying down a rope of tied together towel strips. Or perhaps hanging out until one of my neighbors on the way to their car could be persuaded to work with me in direction to getting the key hidden outside for just such an episode. Then of course they’d be on the other side of the door without a knob and would get to help me puzzle it out.

Back to the problem at hand from the bedroom side of the door…I tried and tried with the screwdriver but there was no progress what so ever. I unscrewed the knob face plate but that didn’t give me access to anything more than I had with the plate on. I thought about calling a handful of men who have helped me with projects in the past. I did not think about calling my wasband (that is what I refer to my ex as) to give him the opportunity to be my knight in shining armor. I thought about calling a lock smith so that I would not have to put anybody out. Then I went to the basement and retrieved my toolbox. This toolbox was a gift from my son, Andy, the first Christmas we had moved out of the family home and on to our own. I love my tool box, if for nothing more than my son gave it to me with the unsaid message that he thought me resourceful enough to take care of him on my own if I had the right set of tools. Bless him for that symbol of faith.

I set up in front of the door and opened my tool box and grabbed the awl first. I took it and poked and pried at the inner mechanisms of the knob and latch. Nothing moved. Then I grabbed the needle nose pliers and stuck them in the hole, opened them up and twirled. The door swung open. Hallelujah! I opened it. All by myself. I didn’t panic…almost, but didn’t.

Previously I replaced the ballcock in the toilet of our rental, where we lived before I bought this cottage. I’ve learned to install molly bolts and securely hung a towel bar in the same bathroom from the scene of my MacGyver daydreams. I single handedly disconnected and reconnected washers and dryers when we moved. I’ve changed light bulbs. (I only mention that as an accomplishment because my ex-mother-in-law used to have my wasband change her bulbs when they burned out. I would hate to need a man every time a light bulb burned out.) It is good to be able to put things back together when things fall apart.

When I think about how pleased it makes me to be able to successfully accomplish some home repair chore I need to pause and feel the same sense of pride and accomplishment in putting my life back in order after my marriage fell apart. There were moments when I did not think I’d make it. I thought the tasks at hand were potentially beyond me: finding a place to live; finding a way to feed and clothe my son on my own; learning to juggle everything needed to run a house without help while working full time; hanging on to a job and clients when I could hardly put two words together in a sentence; learning to get through every day without completely melting down and being carted off to the mental ward. There were days I felt utterly alone and overwhelmed to the point of wanting to throw in the towel. If I had thought there was someone there to catch that towel I probably would have done it. Somehow, despite the despair, we get through. Days march forward, we build our skills, stretch our capacity, test our limits and then one day we find ourselves going for a tool box instead of crawling back into bed. We recognize that it is the toilet or the doorknob that has fallen apart, not us. We stretch beyond a feeling of dependence to the joy of independence and resourcefulness. And then we reach out to those who have grown along side of us and remind them how far they too have come from when things fell apart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Empathy (Andre Dubus)

Today is the twenty-ninth of August 1988, and since the twenty-third of June, the second of two days when I wanted to die, I have not wanted my earthly life to end, have not wanted to confront You with anger and despair. I receive You in the Eucharist at daily Mass, and look at You on the cross, but mostly I watch the priest, and the old deacon, a widower, who brings me the Eucharist; and the people who walk past me to receive; and I know they have all endured their own agony, and prevailed in their own way, though not alone but drawing their hope and strength from those they love, those who love them; and from You, in the sometimes tactile, sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes seemingly lethal way that You give.


I love Andre Dubus' writing. Broken Vessels is one of my favorites, though better known for The House of Sand and Fog. Broken Vessels is a memoir of his experiences of loss and faith, resulting from an accident where he lost a leg and become wheelchair bound, the result of trying to help some accident victims. Then he lost his marriage and custody of his daughters. Through his struggles he asks God the hard questions but never loses faith. A good deep read. I have found lots of good stuff in his work.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Words (by Elizabeth Tarbox)

Let’s keep talking, my love. Words we have to spare: love words and angry words, and beneath them hurting, bleeding, dying words, and beneath them words melted by fire and hardened by ice, words of sadness and truth birthed from the cavern of tears.
And when the words are spent, heaped over the pages and spilled to the floor, let us read each others eyes and see the chapters and places where old bookmarks press the pages apart, so the book opens up to the old story before we can move on.
For you are all the love words I have ever heard and all the hurt words where the love is deepest, stripped back and bleeding.
But lets keep caring, ever so slowly building down the words, one beneath the other, getting closer to the truth and still deeper until you touch your words to my wounds, honor them, and feel the pain. Our wounds may not be healed by the touch of the other’s words but are dignified by our recognition of their existence.
Then and only then will the words mean anything; when we have used them up until the old meanings have been scrubbed off; when the wrong words have been tried and discarded and the right words have been spoken in a whisper, then let us climb down into each other’s souls and rest there in silence and love.

What a wonderful idea. Is this like what they call communication? Isn't it beautiful?


I am a seed,
Over ripe
Bursting with

Keep me up
At night

Pushing out from
Below the surface

My skin
My head
My chest
My heart
My feet
My fingers
Hair even

Only agitate
To spill
My passion

When I worked in Pioneer Square my second floor office window looked out over the corner of 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street. Nearly every day, several times throughout the day, I would look out and see “the Professor” braced against the side of the bank, bending over a notepad, frantically taking notes. Always writing. He had the dress of the homeless, poorly fitting sports jacked, brown/gray tweed, holes in elbows. Skinny. Bearded. Generally dis-shelved, professorial looking. I am on my way to being the professor. Always writing. I would like to compare notes with him someday.

Can Paper Cry?

Can paper cry? Letters rearranged to put voice to a rumbling that starts so far below what can ever be pushed out of the mouth to the receiving ears of another. My fingers tap out the tears that well up but are not allowed to spill. I am silenced and muffled and mute. Except my fingers. And if I write the words that no one can read then does the paper have meaning? It’s the same as the question of the tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear: does it make a sound? Do my words exist if nobody reads them?


Toile Shoes!

What could be more self indulgent than a pair of toile shoes? These I purchased in a small little shop tucked in a back alley in Cannon Beach. They caught my eye in the window. Were more than I should have paid for a pair of shoes that had limited usage, especially at a time when family money was tight. But they spoke to my heart and I bought without much justification. I felt terribly guilty about it for a while too. Mark wasn’t working at the time and we were living carefully. But I knew if I didn’t get them then I probably would never see them again and I really, really wanted them. They were yelling at me “buy me. Take me home.” I walked past the store once and saw but didn’t go in. The second time I went by I went in and inquired about the cost, then left disappointed in what I found out. Finally I told myself “look, they probably don’t have them in your size (there were only a few pairs on the shelf) so when they don’t have them in your size then you can put it to rest.” So the third time I went in and asked if they had them in my size. They did, and so that’s that.

Years later, when I stumbled across my little cottage that was just going on the market I used those shoes. The cottage has wonderful toile curtains on the main floor windows. The owner happened to be in the home one time when I had come back to look more closely and I asked if the curtains came with the cottage. She said yes. I told her how much I loved them. My realtor later told me that the seller told her, as I was looking else where around the home, that she was so relieved I liked the curtains. That she had made them herself but didn’t know if anyone else would think they were as nice as she thought. That her realtor had advised that they might to be too busy.

A few days later I put together my offer letter and included in it a personal note to the sellers. I knew there would be a competition for the home (and there was) and so I wanted to make her aware of the human side of the offer. I wrote a shamelessly groveling letter, including a picture of my toile shoes, no less, with something like “…and when I saw the toile curtains I knew this was my home. You see, I even have a pair of toile shoes to match!” and I included a picture. I did get in a bidding war but they took my offer. Their agent was pushing them to take the other couples but they were at the point where they were getting more than they had listed for and I think they liked me (or at least my toile shoe story) and so it became mine. Funny, hunh? I mean how many people put a picture of a pair of shoes in an offer letter. But you see, somehow, even back when I bought those shoes, I knew they had a special purpose. What purchase have you made that you had second thoughts about but turned out to be a good decision?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Woman's Beautiful (on the beauty of an old woman's shoulder)

I want to write 10,000 words about the space between the end of a woman’s neck to the outer curve of her shoulder. The strength and beauty as evident here as that in a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. As a woman ages, her neck gets longer, the sinewy ridge becomes more pronounced, as does the hollow below. The skin, as a result of her many burdens and hard fraught victories, brandishes the ridges and crinkles of a life fully lived.

Baby girl, chub of love, dimples here, as the angels kissed you and sent you to your mother’s womb. No wrinkles here, only dimples. You laugh and shoulder fat bounces. You cry and it strains. Grandmother raises you over your head, her beautiful hands hooked under your armpits, raising you from overhead to her lips. Your giggles contagious. Above your granny’s strong shoulders you fly, feeling safe in strong arms on your swooping flight. And from the corner of your exalting grin, a drop of milky drool baptizes grandmother’s strong shoulder. The same shoulder which later you will snuggle into and onto which you blot your tears.

Little tomboy. Athletic now, freckle kissed and sunburned, your shoulders sinewy and strong. Defiantly raised in anger as you fight the world head on, only wanting to keep up with the boys and get credit for what is rightly yours. Shirtless when allowed, your shoulder becomes part of your flat, not yet aching, chestwall. You have shed the baby fat, not yet fully girl. You are as strong as the boys. Your shoulder beautiful and strong, shoring up for the disappointment that will be borne, the love that will attach itself.

Lolita, woman/child. Trying to be comfortable in this body. Your perfect shoulders now fight the chafing from your first bra that cuts into your silky shoulder. Shamed by lingering eyes from old men and jealous women into covering up the beauty of your edge. The first tinge of the burden these shoulders will cause and then to carry sparks in your hungry heart. Wondering how these shoulders measure up to the ideals you soak up from magazine ads and beauty queens.

His rough hands and warm breath upon your shoulder ground you. This span between neck and shoulder tease from flowing off the shoulder garments as you become aware of the luring capabilities of flesh and muscle. This shoulder aches as it holds together what your heart has rendered broken. Open, exposed, available for admiration and strength. It betrays you. A nod in the mirror as your eye draws to the fantastic shoulder zone and inspires you to share what is only fully yours.

“I do” surrender this shoulder to one man, to have, to hold, to claim his own. The myth that he will take care and cherish it…always. Those hands that traced the span, from neck to shoulder, were assessing. Assessing not the beauty and power, but the skin and the capacity. His to take for pleasure personal. His to slap with words or fists. His to pout into when his own mother’s are no longer available to him. A woman’s shoulder, they long to possess, the outward handle of the inward devotion and obedience. As easily accessible for a passionate kiss as it is for a loving brush of caring hand or pinch or shove in anger unleashed.

Ah, sweet baby, fruit of her womb, the shoulder as perfect a spot as ever was to cradle love and keep it safe. The shoulder aches in emptiness when babe is away. How must this expanse of strong smooth flesh smell to tiny nostrils? Lotioned with an abundance of snot and tears, the shoulder skin takes on leather qualities. Gladly given up for this period in life to one who needs it more than herself. The muscle qualities build with the weight of lifting this babychild, gradually strengthening, beyond her belief, as child grows in size and emotional span. Even when said child is in his self imposed age limit for public hugging, these shoulders carry him into the world and catch him when he falls. The most remarkable beauty treatment for this shoulder is the baby balm.

And now, with child gone, metabolism slowed, invisible to eyes of her man and men, these shoulders grow and sag with neglect. Cocoon stage in preparation for final blooming. For the first time she takes a breath to assess the toll these shoulders have taken. No longer beautiful, except in moments of honest inspection, the shoulder is covered. Only for her eyes to see. The memory of youthful promise and myth of unlimited capacity falls over these shoulders, a shawl of sorrow and amazement in where they have been, what has touched them, and at least just a little wedge of hope, which settles into that hollow below the edge, above the chest.

And one day, she drops that shawl. Her shoulder radiant in its beauty and story. No longer in need of cover up. She wears her wrinkles proudly, a badge of her life and direction. Her hips have spread, her skin and fat settled. On this shoulder, scars from biopsies and a life of bra straps. And yet this shoulder, this expanse from neck to top of arm, rope of ridge, hollow below yet full in its beauty, each wrinkle a story of amazing strength. More beautiful than a flower, more caress-able than a baby. 10,000 words could never capture the beauty of an old woman’s shoulder.

Photo from Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage, and Beauty by Joyce Tenneson which was the inspiration for this piece

Getting a Sugar Daddy

Can’t my writing stand on its own merit? When I mentioned to a friend that I dreamed of writing a book but wasn’t sure how I could do that financially (I think I said this indirectly by stating it would be good to win the lottery so I could dedicate my time to writing it) he said something like “you probably want a Sugar Daddy.” Blech, yuck, vomit. I was kinda stunned and not sure what to say in return. It was an inappropriate statement. I think I gave him a look like “I can’t believe you said that.” And mumbled something like “no. NO. No way.” He back pedaled as to how then I wasn’t like most women he had met. That they were all looking for someone to keep them. Well that’s not me. Or is it? Hmmm. On one hand I would be lying if I were to say that it wasn’t important for me for a potential life mate to be financially secure and even better if he was well off so that we didn’t have to worry about money and so I wouldn’t have to work until I’m 65. Hell yes. That would be nice. But even so, it would be important for me to come into a relationship financially sound, not dependent on the other to keep me. And for sure I don’t want to be in a position where I am financially taking care of the other: having them financially dependent on me. I’ve done that. Have worn myself out doing that. Lost a lot in retirement and investment (company stock) to get out of that. I do daydream that some editor will discover my writing, will help me get published, my book and subsequent new editions would take off, be a best seller and set me up to write and publish as I can without having to worry about keeping down a full time job. Yes….sigh….that would be nice. But I do not see doing that at the expense of giving up my independence. Don’t want no sugar daddy, that’s for sure.

Jump Rope Rhyme

One to win as one I win
Two alone I have no twin
Evil things you say to me
Bounce they back me to thee
Return to you Three times Three
(times three times three times three times three)
An incantation, a desperate recollection
With Wicca based jump-rope rhymes
Little girls protect themselves
From the unseen evils of a treacherous future
Cinderella Dressed in Yellah
Went upstairs to kiss a fellah
Made a mistake and kissed a snake
How many Doctors did it take?
Four and counting as ropes go spinning faster
And reach the limits of fine found footing
Five to pair and one left over
Red rover red rover send left out one over
Do you have a pick for six?
Will you leave me now I’m sick?
Evil things you say to me
I am gone and there you be
Photo from Victor Friedman Photography

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Awe of Mother Bird

How did you push your little one out of the nest? I realize it was a necessity, for survival, for your baby. But if feels like it’s a necessity for MY survival to keep him here with me. He was my reason for setting out each morning to find and bring home nourishment to help him grow. Each day as I returned he proudly showed me what progress he had made while I was off in the world providing for us. His downy soft features slowly leave as sleek and, unbelievably, more beautiful he becomes each day. His warm fuzzy coat is replacing itself with sharp and prickly pin feathers as he evolves into the form that will assure his survival outside our nest. I am proud and frightened at once. I want to spare him the harsh realities of survival. He is the only one that survived my egg laying season. He is my hope. My pain. My love. Mother bird, how do we give our children wings and survive? I hear your beautiful song. I want my song to be beautiful too. Clearly sounds of pain and pride, of laughter. Of love. That is our song.
(Spring 2006)

Green Mile

He takes his breath and breathes into the hurt
Sparks healing, embers of hope
As ashes of darkness flee from harbor
Miraculously reviving that which was dead or dying

Tall, giant of a gentle man
Simple and pure

But what was given freely from him
Takes his strength and resolve
Tearing down his resistance
To his own dark, defeating demons

Sacrificing his strength
In order to strengthen others

Full of love, he cries
For the pain of others
Becomes his own
And a little of him dies
And a little of him grows

But in balance,
It is killing him

Bird is Hurt

Bird is hurt. Devastated.
I want to mend him
But I am shut out.
Mother bird instincts kick in
Regurgitating my own sustenance
To force into his screaming beak
You will fly again
But come into the nest
Where we can practice singing
And flying
Baby hops,
One baby bird hop at a time
Mending you is mending me
Bird, it hurts. I know.

(May 2006)
Painting by Don Sutherland

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gizzard Pearls

We are gathered around the newspaper spread out on the garage floor. My sister, my brother and two of the Maguire boys from down the street: Rob and Mick. Silvery red blood and shiny organs litter the newspaper as my father, in squatting position, gutting knife in hand, opens another hapless pheasant who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later, this evening, this bird, and others, will be the main course of our Sunday supper, breaded and baked. But for now the dead bird is our biology lesson.

Popping the gizzard out with his thumb, knife still clenched in palm of the same hand, it plops down onto the newspaper, among the slimy remains of the bird previously gutted. The smell of newspaper dampened with blood is overpowering, leaving a metallic coating on the top of the mouth and up the back of the throat into my sinuses. The smell is scary and thrilling at once.

The organ is full and walnut sized and we are excited by the prospect of many treasures in this one. My father’s blood and dirt coated hands are fat and stumpy. The knife pops through the sheath of taut protective tissue and in to the muscle of the organ. Bloody fingers go into the slit and turn the organ inside out where the treasure is expelled in a blob on the already slimed newspaper. I am seeing pictures of Napalm fires and grime covered soldiers in tears at the fringes of the viscera my father is creating. The curved, pointed shaft of the knife pokes through the dark green/red mass and blood coated fingers pluck out a half digested cricket. “Ooh”s and “Ah”s eminate from the gathered crowd. Another newspaper page, also blood splattered, has hippies burning flags and I admire the long wavy hair that is so in contrast to my own thin, blond summer pixie cut.

In the slimy blob, excitement mounts as we are able to discern the bugs: when they have not been broken down much by the digestive juices we know that the bird ate just shortly before being shot from the sky. Another cricket and a wormy looking thing are there among the more digested unidentifiable matter. But what we are really after are the rocks. Little stones, like pearls, buried in the debris. These will be taken out and washed and distributed to the crowd as souvenirs. The rocks vary in size, but like slices of a birthday cake, the bigger ones are better. These rocks are not round like pearls: they are more toothlike. Each bird has two or three of these small toothy stones. They vary in color, though most are a dark gravelly gray, darker still as they emerge damp from the innards. The best ones are a creamy white or yellow in color. These tend to be smoother and more pearl-like than the others. I will put mine, once washed and dried and polished by the hem of my t-shirt, in the Bayer Aspirin pocket tin in my underwear drawer, stashed away until they are needed for wishing on or bartered away to a sibling for performing undesirable house chores.

I am envious of my older brother, who sometimes gets to go hunting with my father and the dog on Sunday when I am stuck in a dress and have to sit in the pew with my mother and sister while the boys get to go out there and shoot things out of the sky. My brother gets first choice of gizzard stones because he was involved in the bird harvest. My little sister gets next pick to quiet her insistent begging. The Maguire boys are next in line because they are guests. I get what is left. If there are any left. It’s rare I get a good white pearly one. But as compensation I do get first claim to a tail feather. That is after my father takes what he wants for tying flies. A dusty bouquet of once brilliantly colored pheasant tail feathers sits on my dresser, above the stashed away tin of gizzard pearls in the underwear drawer below. With these treasures I am a wealthy child. But not as wealthy as my brother or sister. Or the Maguire boys. Or Marsha Whitelsey. I know that lots of kids in my class don’t have a trove of gizzard pearls or a bouquet of feathers. Most don’t care, can’t appreciate the value of stones that have been warn almost to smooth in the insides of a beautiful bird. Marsha Whitelsey said they were gross when I brought them to school but I could tell she was envious of my possession. Especially when the boys gathered round and expressed an interest. Marsha has beautiful long brown wavy hair and is a snob. I want to be one of her sidekicks but things like bird anatomy and a pixie haircut have no place beside Marsha.

Marsha also makes fun of me when we have to share with the class our laboriously prepared pencil smeared essays on what we want to be when we grow up. She wants to be a mother and a wife. The boys want to be pilots and baseball players. I want to be an undertaker as inspired by the latest Nancy Drew mystery. I am reading grades above my level and the others don’t get the Nancy Drew connection. They think of dead people and freak out. I think of dead people and think of the pearls they may have hidden in them. Marsha allows as how this makes me a natural freak and her whispers to her sidekicks about me as I pass on the playground are too soft too hear but I do hear their responding snickers. I imagine Marsha filleted in an undertaker’s basement. Splayed out on a newspaper. There would be no pearls inside.

Rob Maguire is my age and also a middle child, but of five children. We only have the three. The Maguires have five boys. Rob’s mother does not hide the fact that she is bitterly disappointed that none of them are girls. When Tommy, the youngest was born, I went with my mother to take a meal down after they got back from the hospital. I was so excited to see a fresh new baby. Mothering instincts are strong, even in girls with pixie cuts. Mrs. Maguire sobs when she sees us. I sit down and Tommy is placed in my lap. He smells like bread dough and my mouth waters. His little miniature hand instinctively closes around my own finger as I pull it out from the swaddling to examine him. He is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever held. Mrs. Maguire is crying. She tells my mother it isn’t fair. Little Tommy was supposed to be her daughter. When we walk home I ask my mother if we can keep Tommy as Mrs. Maguire seems so unhappy and I would take care of Tommy all by myself since my Mother has already told me that she is done having babies. Mom is not supportive of this plan.

I feel sorry for Rob. He hangs out a lot at our house. His mother gave up on her boys when, probably after Rob was born, the disappointment of not having girls got to her. Rob is my best friend, except around school when we have to pretend not to like each other because he is a boy and I am a girl. Rob thinks it is cool that I want to be an undertaker.

One time when a bunch of us were swimming at the University pool we snuck out early before we were supposed to meet our mothers out front and we played hide and seek around the campus building where the pool was. Rob and I were hiding from my older brother and his next oldest brother, Mick. We ran up the hall, swimsuits dripping, wet footprints left behind. Rob and I ducked around a corner and tried a closed door. It was the weekend and I guess we weren’t worried about bursting in on a class. We had been in many classrooms for these games before. But this time somehow we had ducked into what must have been an anatomy lab classroom. As we slipped in the first thing noticed was the cold. It was shockingly cold. And it smelled funny. Like grandma’s pickled beets. There were about five tables around the middle of the room. The one closest to the door had a BODY on it. Rob and I stopped dead in our tracks. Without saying anything we took each other’s hand and stepped quietly up to the table. This was the body of an old man. His stomach was opened wide and there were a bunch of organs inside. Much larger than those of the birds’ that we have seen. There were pins with tags with very long words written on them stuck into some of the organs. None of the words were “gizzard.” Rob’s grip on my hand tightened. Just then we heard the voices of our older brothers going near the door. Rob dropped my hand and left me at the table as he went to the door and whispered to our brothers “here. Come here.”

They entered the room with lots of noise but then went silent. All three boys came and joined me at the table. My brother said “I think we shouldn’t be in here.” The clock on the wall made a short buzz marking the hour we were to be picked up. My brother looked at me and said “Don’t tell mom.” When we came on the next trip to the pool we spent the time, after our mothers left, trying to find that room again. We never did.

When I tell Rob I want to be an undertaker we talk about the old man’s body. He says dead people smell funny but I can tell he admires my choice of future profession. Not like Marsha Whitelsey. I would give up five Rob’s for one approval from Marsha Whitelsey. This is a safe statement as I know I will never have Marsha’s approval. And Rob is not going anywhere. We have a secret. We have seen a dead body.

Every night on the news they announce how many soldiers died and how many were injured that day. Every day. Even though I mostly don’t like my brother I worry that he will grow up and have to go to Viet Nam and will become a number on the news. My father takes turns with other University staff on patrolling the campus in the evenings. They are supposed to call the National Guard if they see students organizing for a demonstration. Rob’s father is in the National Guard. He has been out of town off and on dealing with student protests in different cities. When he goes on these assignments Rob spends even more time at our house because his mother is stuck at home with the baby and other younger brother. On the nights that my father has to patrol the campus I cannot fall asleep until I hear him come home. While I am waiting in bed to hear his return I talk to God and ask Him to “please don’t let the protestors do anything tonight. Please get Daddy home safely.” Sometimes I take the Bayer tin from my drawer and make the wish on the gizzard pearls, very quietly so Mom will not know I am out of bed, and wish for my father’s safe return, just as insurance in case the prayer doesn’t work. I want him to be safe. I don’t have enough gizzard pearls yet.

Upper Priest

In this peaceful haven I am irritated with myself. Irritated because I have forgotten my camera. My eye sees frame after frame of composition: light, shadow, new life and ancient. How I wish that I could share with you the beauty of a place like this. But even a photograph, though providing a huge clue, could not convey the sounds, the smells, the movement, the beauty that is here.

Here is where I grew through my summers in northernmost Idaho. Priest Lake. Where I ranged topless as long as was acceptable, catching garter snakes and frogs. Where I learned bravery in darkness and how to keep a fire going. How to lay long and still in a meadow and dream of what it would be like to fly like the osprey, catching fish and feeding babies too big for a nest and too weak to fly.

I learned fear and bravery: walking home alone after play was over, through woods where bears had been seen before and limbs cracked in the distance. A walk of one hundred feet can harvest one hundred sounds and twenty scents if you are open to receiving them. Filtered sun, stabbing through trees taller than God’s fingers, spotlight life of flora and fauna which would otherwise be missed. One can be very alone and very alright in God’s magnificence. And I believe that if one wasn’t alright in this situation that there would be much worse places from which to leave the earth.

In between the sounds of boats and airplanes in the distance there is a symphony that everyone should be able to hear at least once. The music differs by influence of the breeze. The stillest breeze is needed for the flying insects to have their moment. Dragonflies can carry a tune if you let them. Horseflies announce their arrival so you may be put on the defensive. The same with the mosquitoes but fortunately I am later with my visit this year and it has been dry and I have yet to see or hear a mosquito. (Other times of year they steal the sound waves.)

This morning my father and I, with my pup in tow, headed up the thoroughfare that runs in front of the cabin up to the upper lake. It was a mid-morning sun that we set off to in his small fishing boat. Do you remember your elementary art class projects where you dappled white and black and yellow and green onto orange construction paper and then folded the paper in half? The result was a mirror reflection that transformed random paint drizzles into geometrically perfect reflective patterns. The thoroughfare and the lake are like this, turned on its side. The big picture, with shoreline as center, gives a mirror image of greens and blacks and sun. In the old days when we printed photos of the reflections, instead of “oohed” and awed over digital images, you would look at these prints and often find it impossible to tell up from down, the reflection so perfect. Other pictures, if there was a breeze, an ever so slight breeze, would blur the edges of the reflective side of the picture and that is the only way you could be sure what was up and what was down.

We head up the river, another boat up front a distance but otherwise we have this moment to ourselves. My father, who lives by himself, can’t help babbling off and on but I am so absorbed in the moment and focused on the beauty of God’s gift here that my “unh hunh” occasionally interjected is enough to satisfy him and I can be here, in this boat, recording the moment, sans camera, for you. There are moments when even my father is quiet and these are only extra treasure.

One of the reasons the quiet and peace is important at this moment is we are rounding the bend in the river where the bulk of my mother’s ashes are scattered. The white, bone shard ashes settled to the bottom, mixing with the white sand, when my sister and I scattered them in the summer of ’93. I am sitting on the front of the boat. The sun glasses are hiding my tear filled eyes. I hang my hand over the side of the boat and send a message to my mother: “I am up here. You are down there. I miss you so much.” The water laps “I know…I know” in response.

As we come to the upper lake, it opens up in front of us. Father turns up the power on the boat and we surge forward, the bottom of the “fold-a-boat” buckling below my feet. Between us and the shore the water boils sporadically as morning fish catch a breakfast of hatchling flies. Father shows me the osprey nest, the creek where he camped with my son and his cousin, the place where he hooked perch. We check out weed beds for future fishing. Something along the far shore catches my eyes and I point and plead him to cross the lake.

He then sees what I see, though neither of us are sure what it is. Only that it is big and brown. And moving.

We approach the cow moose on her territory. We switch to the electric motor so as to be more polite. But she truly does not seem alarmed. She is three-quarters of the way of her chest deep in the water and keeps diving down, sometimes totally submerging as she grabs great quantities of water weeds into her mouth. Father attempts pictures with his digital (we later find out he was on “flower setting” and so even this attempt to show you what I saw is foiled). The young cow moose is quite tolerant of us. She apparently has had many interactions this summer and so is not alarmed. We are the only humans she is entertaining at this moment. The sense of my privilege is immense. “I am not worthy” boils through my psyche. My dog is intrigued and stunned. This is the biggest dog he has ever encountered and he watches with keen interest as do we. Later when I ask my father how close he thinks we were he says “oh, thirty feet.” I say “wow” and in his true fashion, my father says casually “oh, I’ve been closer.” I have unkind thoughts about this man.

I watch in total amazement, unaware of time or place. And just as we are thinking to turn and let her continue her feeding without audience a movement at shore as her dark brown baby, heretofore unseen, ventures out into sunlight. I, with my puppy grasped to my chest watch her communicate silently to her own puppy “it’s OK but stay close.” This baby moose is a miniature replica of the magnificent creature we have been so entertained by. Again, we watch for an unknown length of time. I am not aware of anything else around me. Snorting, chomping, dripping water. The occasional flatulence from my father echoes across the water and I am reminded of our invasive nature. Dad, puhleeze! The noise startles my puppy much more than the snorts from this magnificent beast a few feet away.

The sun is getting high and again we decide to leave the beast(s) to their privacy and head back over the lake towards the river opening. We see another moose on the shores on the way back. Around this one a few power boats have gathered and all are watching this entertainment. I am such a fortunate soul. This will be a very long weekend with my father. But these moments, where God has placed us beside his other wonders has a very equalizing function and I am glad to have shared this glory with my father. As my father’s time is running its course it is these moments I hope to focus on. The time we spent sharing this gift of something much greater than the tension between us is what we should have and remember.
Photos on thoroughfare between Upper and Lower Priest Lake, northern Idaho, summer 2007, on another trip when I actually had my camera!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Coffee and a Lobotomy

I watch the continual ebb and flow of people coming through the door to get their morning caffeine. I note a run of pregnant women coming (and going) on this day. Enjoying their last days of freedom. Ordering a healthy beverage sans caffeine. Probably filled with immense anticipation of this new chapter in their lives. Unaware of the lobotomy that will secretly be performed on them while in the throws of contractions and breathing, so focused they will be on the activity at the other end of their body.

They will think that it is just sleep deprivation that makes them do stupid things that they never did in their “together” life. Their husbands will disappear into the office life and they will lose the ability to speak three syllable words or to stand without rocking back and forth. They will lock their keys in the car, leave the burners on (sometimes leaving the house with things still cooking), spray furniture polish in their hair, leave cash behind at the ATM, try to pay for groceries with the waffle they pull out of their purse and make coffee onto the kitchen floor, forgetting to put the carafe under the filter.

They will fall deeply in love with their little parasite that sucks their identity right out of them. Party conversation will transition from travel and wild adventures to eating eccentricities and inconvenient diaper changes. They will be over-filled with joy when their lifeblood cracks their china face with a toothless full body smile. Their own stomach will cramp, personalizing their child’s pain, with the late night screaming of their little one’s gas pains. They will instantaneously be reduced to a stubborn two (or four or thirteen) year old temperament to match wits and moods with that bundle of dough which is currently snuggly tucked inside their clean, cute perky $300 outfit from the mall’s top maternity shop: gingham blue sundress, tan glowing, radiating off their exposed arms, the only part of their body left un-bloated.

They will be even more shocked than the bag boy when they burst into tears at the grocery checkout when he casually says “you look nice today.” They will struggle with finding the right balance of trust and protection. They will find bravery they didn’t know they had as they fiercely pound the gigantic spider with the closest pair of Stride Rites as if it is no big deal. They will talk calmly and clearly as they fight back nausea cradling their broken bird in their arms, waiting for stitches or splints or ear antibiotics at the pediatrician’s office or emergency room. They will try to teach their offspring the difference between good-natured joking and cruelty when they have barely just learned this themselves.

This wiggly, warm unborn child will someday look at them as if they were never a child themselves and couldn’t ever have experienced the same insecurities, overprotective parents and desire to be untethered and free. But right now, they just can’t wait to fill that Bellini crib with a picture perfect baby: ten fingers, ten toes, one belly button, no hair, trusting eyes and hungry mouth that only they can provide for. Hold on Darling, you are in for quite a ride. Enjoy your coffee. It may be a while, years even, until you are sipping coffee (with caffeine) in quiet reflection, watching the pregnant ladies coming in, ordering coffee before their own lobotomy.
Photo from Firenze, 2005 trip

Walking Naked into Starbucks

As long as I am posting about my lost Starbucks Card I might as well include another Starbucks story or two. So here's one I wrote a good while ago, also about losing something important...

Walking Naked Into Starbucks

He took his ring off first. Which is weird since he was the one that initially didn’t want the marriage to end. It took my breath away, that evening when, in the high school library, at a parent’s meeting for the track team, the team on which our son was running, I looked down at his hand taking notes, and it was naked. No ring. I was stunned as he had been so hard fixed in denial about the divorce. But his ring was off. And then I knew I would remove mine too. In the car ride home I took it off and slipped it into my purse. The ring had been on my hand for over twenty years, counting the engagement, and somehow, over the years it apparently had formed connections to my lungs, because when it came off so did my ability to breathe without effort. The stony silence that had become the way we traveled together was drowned out in my own head by the thumping of my heart and the sound of air being forced in and out of my lungs. Breathing was painful. This pain was becoming familiar, and a constant companion, but it was especially acute that night when my ring finger became naked.

The next morning, I stopped at my usual coffee shop to get my latte for the drive into work. I hesitated in the car, suddenly not sure if I could go into the shop alone. Every fiber of my body, every stitch of clothing I had on, every breath of air I exhaled was permeated with singleness. I was so out of my element in my own body. I told myself “this is ridiculous. You are the same person you were yesterday. You just don’t have a ring on your finger. And it’s not like anyone will notice.” But it was a lie. I was not the same person. Something had changed. I hadn’t a clue who I was. Just knew I was not who I used to be. And the world was watching and labeling. Or so I thought.

I entered the shop. Two men in business conversation at the nearby table. Even though they hardly acknowledged my presence I told myself they are seeing me, seeing my empty hand. Labeling me a loser. I felt compelled to tell them my story. That I wasn’t the loser. That the loser was my husband and I was the strong one; the sane one. Fortunately I fought the urge. For speaking such things to them would only have confirmed my husband’s assessment that I was losing my mind, unstable, unable to be a good wife. I continued across the room. Past an older couple sharing a scone. Getting in line behind a fellow tribe of working zombies in desire of a nice cup of coffee. I hid my empty left hand in my jacket pocket. Vulnerable to assessment of my very being and value based on the emptiness of my hand. Even though, at some level I knew that nobody probably really gave me any notice at all, I felt so naked. So worthless.

It really took me by surprise. We had been headed for this place, the end of the marriage, for quite some time. By the time it came I had no doubts that my only hope for survival was to leave the chaos, the raging, the 24-7 tension that had finally broken me. Leaving no stone unturned through individual therapy, couples therapy, prayer and support from those who cared about me it was inevitable and finally time, I was ready to be done with it. So when I was finally in a place where the ring was off and the end was in sight I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feeling of nakedness and shame. Nakedness had replaced the clothing of fear and despair that living with him had cloaked me with. My naked ring finger now right out there in full view.

It’s been over two years since that day I walked naked into Starbuck’s. I can breathe without pain on most days. My left hand doesn’t automatically float up over my head with unfamiliar lightness, as if to wave at the crowd, drawing unwanted attention to myself. I actually went out with a new group of friends the other night. Perhaps being in a group of singles (as this outing was an extension of the singles fellowship at church) helped me not to label myself negatively. These were good, fun people. And I found that somehow I could hold my own. Tentatively finding my voice again, without too much concern of being judged or dismissed or corrected cruelly. Usually, my hand no longer feels naked (though I do have my moments, given the wrong circumstances and the wrong frame of mind). I am not breathing with pain on most days. When I was naked in that shop over two years ago, clothed only in my shame and fear, I never would have believed that I would feel fully dressed without a ring.

I Left my Heart in City Hall

I am bummed. Really bummed. Three weeks ago I had a project meeting at DPD (Department of Planning and Development). I walked from my office. To travel lightly I had put a few necessities in my coat pocket. That included a few business cards, a few dollars and my Starbucks card since I was meeting my client in the lobby Starbucks before the meeting. It was one of those changeable fall days and so while it was chilly when I walked up there it was warmer when I left and I was nearly all the way back at my office before I realized I had left my coat in the meeting room. I thought hard about turning right back to get it but the shoes I had on were barely good enough for one round trip. My feet were not in to the return trip. So when I got back I called and e-mailed the City project manager we had met with to see if he could check and see if the coat was still there. Alas it was not and he could not locate it at the front desk or anywhere else either. I was bummed because it was a fairly new coat a salesclerk at Nordstrom had talked me into that was more than I should have spent but had convinced myself I deserved. So I was sad but not nearly as sad as I was when I realized that my Starbucks card was missing too. This is a card I've carried for several years now. It was the Valentines day 2005 card and often elicited fond comments from clerks and strangers when I pulled it out. Ironically, 2005 is the year my 20 year marriage was officially ended. There's a lot of heartbreak around that card. But somehow I think it helped me keep my heart intact. Seeing those hearts when I whipped it out was a nice reminder that there is some special beauty in my life. (do you think I sound pathetic...oh my) It's gone and I am now oh-so-sad every time I whip out the ugly generic card I have now. Will somebody please help me find a replacement? As I was searching the net to find a picture of the card I had this brilliant idea. If I am ever reunited with my card, or a replacement I will start taking pictures of it in the interesting places I go. Like the garden gnomes in Amelie (one of my movie faves). This card could go to Sudan with me in January. Tuscany in June? It would be the perfect travel companion: small and light. Oh please, please, please. I think I could be very inspired: a photo journal, writing inspiration about adventures with my card. Perhaps I will make a plea to Starbucks...see if they have a heart (pun intended). The card is registered so maybe there's hope. If they have a stash of the old cards around that is. I'll keep you posted

Mirror Mirror

I need to do some mirror desensitization. At (nearly) 50 I should know what I look like now and be at peace with that. I should accept the image that has always reflected back to me and love it for what it is. But I’m not there yet. I’m holding out hope for being a cute, wrinkly old grandmother, shrunken and spikey. Wrinkles slouching over where the fat puffiness used to be. Feverish weepy eyes that can make young men offer to do all kinds of things for me. Lip puckered creases from too much kissing (why not?) Inspiration for portrait painters who can show a soul from the outside in. A face etched with character: edgy at least. Maybe then I can look in the mirror and tell myself “there. You grew into your looks at last.” I’m waiting. Waiting. Still here.

(As much as I hate looking in mirrors I do like the way this one turned out in my bathroom: took a print from Tuesday Mornings and changed it out for a mirror. The only problem is related to the sloped ceilings in the bathroom: you have to be my height or shorter to align with it OK. Other favorite things in the photo: the toile window shade I made; my red, red wall which was the first thing I did to my home; my painted iron birdie necklace rack; the second story flower box at the window, and; my neighbors accross the road who assure me they cannot see into my bathroom with the shade drawn. God I hope not. A benefit of being single: finding my own style.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Sunday

Satchmo and I hiked up to Starbucks this morning. I brought my camera to capture some of the scenery. Here he is creatively trying to go around a tree!

I did some yard cleanup, planted pansies in the upper window box and ran up to meet Melinda at Costco since I don't have a membership. Took advantage of the Starbucks 5 cards for the price of 4 deal. I'm still recovering from losing my favorite SB card from several years ago which I lost in the pocket of my green coat I lost (boohoo). Treating myself to some king crab this evening since you can buy it by the leg at Costco. Wish Andy were here to enjoy it with me. Here are a few nice shots from my morning walk:

And some not so pretty scenery, anybody need moving boxes?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


One of the good things about hanging out with younger friends is you get to go to pumpkin patches with the kids. Jill invited me to join her and her father, Larry, to take the kids Sam (4) and Natalie (6) to Remlinger Farms Pumpkin Patch. We were a little skeptical: $15 each entrance (even the kids) and Natalie wouldn't even be able to go on most of the rides. She's got CP and is stuck in a wheelchair. But the sun was out and the fall colors were wonderful. We met up with Jill's sister and her family, and a cousin and her two girls. I got to take Natalie around much of the time while Jill could accompany Sam on horseriding, rides and such. It broke my heart that Natalie could only watch from the sidelines. She has a very expressive face. Watching her brother swing around on the merry-go-round brought out a lower lip, trembling, close to tears. But then we figured out that the small train had accommodations for the wheel chair and so Natalie was able to do that. We were able to cut to the front of the line (the only advantage I saw to having a wheelchair at that place). To see Natalie's joy on the ride was worth every cent of the entry fee. When my son Andy was an infant, he'd do what we called a "full body grin" where his smile and joy was so big it took over his body. Natalie was definately in full body grin form. I think it was special for her too because Sam wasn't able to be on that ride was like she was doing something he couldn't which I don't think happens very much in Natlie's life. Later on Natalie's grandpa got her out of the chair and was able to hold her on the flying pumpking ride (like the cup and saucer ride in Disney Land, only much smaller). Anybody who is feeling sorry for themself needs to see how much joy that little ride put on Natalie's face. I felt as if I was witnessing something very special. I looked around the crowd and there were a few people wiping tears from their face as they saw Natalie. Pushing Natalie around that place, that was so not wheelchair friendly, I got a little taste of what it must be for Jill to be in a place such as that. Very difficult to get Natalie around, having to experience her dissapointment in the midst of Sam's uncopromised mobility, the looks of the families that passed by. Natalie is stunningly beautiful and at the same time, so damaged. She's brilliant and expressive. I know that she really brought a moment of pause to so many parents there, reminding them of how fortunate they are to have healthy, mobile kids, for there, but for the Grace of God, are we all. This was a blessed day in so many ways.

His Cracker Crumbs in My Bed

Melinda picked up the “Porn for Women” book off my coffee table and was thumbing through the wonderful pictures it has of attractive men doing housework and saying really romantic things like "Ooh look, the NFL Playoffs are today. I bet we'll have no trouble finding parking at the crafts fair." "Oh that's so interesting. Tell me more." and "Why don't I get a mini-van, hon, so you can drive something fun." She came across an exceptionally yummy looking man and spontaneously shouted out “He could eat crackers in my bed!”

Friday, October 17, 2008

Peanut Buster Parfait...or why not to worry...

Time for a food analogy. My favorite foods are complex and have at least two opposites going on: sweet and salty; smooth and crunchy; hot and cold; etc. Take the Peanut Buster Parfait. In my opinion the most perfect food ever. Sweet ice cream with salty peanuts and earthy chocolate. Hot fudge sauce and cold ice cream. Crunchy peanuts and smooth chocolate sauce and soft ice cream. Could there ever be a better dish? Or Curry. Hot, spicy. Must be cut with mango chutney. Chutney itself: fruit and onions and nuts. You get the point?

And so too am I. Well not a good dish. But complex. Sweet and salty. Hot and cold. Rough and smooth. Happy and sad. I find poetry easier to write from a melancholy, introspective place. The prose, are mostly vignettes of things that happened and I found amusing. The poems, which really write themselves, often end up being sort of an exploration of that internal contrast. That battle inside of good and evil; happy and sad; connected and isolated. Which is all written to say to my friend that worries that my poetry makes her think I am sad not to worry. I have counterbalance... But thanks for worrying. You are a bush to hang onto when there's worrying to be done. For now...nothing to fix!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Am On My Deck With Jasmine (July 2008)

I am on my deck
The smell of jasmine kissing me
The lake through the trees
Provides perfection
It is in this moment
Saturated with the scent
The warmth
The sight
The taste of so much love
I wonder
How is it I am here?

This week was brutal
As they all seem to be lately
When I give up
I crawl home
Overwhelmed and
Open a Stella
Bring my pup into my arms
Wanting to check out
There You are
In my neighbors
Who call me over to their
Spontaneous tailgate celebration
And before I know it
We are all on my deck
Carla, Dick, Hugh, Cynthia, Jenny, Jenny’s husband, Chris, Meaghan, Rod
And me
Celebrating Friday

They have gone on now
And I, with too much alcohol
Into me
Am bittersweet
Like the beer I sip
Unbelieving that I am here
And sad
And feeling sorely messed up
I feel so loved
Yet so separated

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wild Geese (by Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving accross the landscapes,
over the praries and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


I love this poem.

Being Caught by God

This last weekend Jill and I attended a Prayer Retreat at Rosary Heights Dominican Retreat Center in Edmonds. It was a glorious setting and the day offered lots of opportunity for quiet time with God in all his glory in the grounds of the estate and the vista of the Olympic Mountains across the sound. The sessions were led by Rev. Terry Tripp, whom I have been blessed to get to know over these past few years. Her husband, John Tripp, was there too, providing beautiful background music on his acoustic guitar. As a special start to the day, and to prepare our hearts for the raw, uncovered, truth of God in the midst of even the most difficult walks, John and Terry shared some of their recent journey through Johns diagnosis of cancer: the devastation of negative test results; sorrow and worry over how this experience affects their three college age children; accepting the physical losses and long-term pain; how such an experience opens, changes and enriches an otherwise ordinary long-term marriage, and; how God is not only found, but clung to in the midst of the horrors, and shows Himself in the hands and hearts of dear friends and caring strangers. John shared an image of what the experience was by describing something that happened to him when he was younger, about the time he first met Terry. They were with a group on an alpine hike, above the tree line. He had volunteered to step out ahead and test the stability of a cut across a steep slope. The test failed and he found himself sliding down the shrub covered rocky slope, gaining speed as he went down. As he bumped down, he frantically grabbed at anything he could hold on to to stop his ascent, which up above the tree line was really only shrubs, many of them thorny. The shrubs poked and scratched his hands but it didn’t matter. He was grabbing for anything he could to save himself. John told this story, with raw emotion, in his head replacing the fall on the slope with the fall away from his very physically active, healthy life so recently lost to him. I truly appreciated his shared vulnerability and the opportunity it provided to think later, as I was meditating on the estate grounds, to think about my own slides down life’s slippery slope. About the times I too was grasping for anything to hold on to, even at the cost of injuring my hands. About the shrubbery that were my friends and my Church, that God put there for me to hold on to and stop that ascent. And how even when I was resigned to the fall, no longer wanting to catch hold, He caught me on a thorny bush, snagged my defeated body and wouldn’t let go. I think we often equate God with the sound of trumpets and glorious light and overwhelming feelings of well being. And sometimes He comes wrapped in such a package. But more often we find Him on the fall, when we are frantically searching for anything to hold on-to, or even when we decide not to fight the fall any more. I thank John for providing with such openness that compelling image to the group of strangers and friends gathered at Rosary Heights on Saturday. It was beautiful.

Courage (by Anne Sexton)

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake,
the first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love, love as simple as shaving soap.

-Anne Sexton


"The first spanking when your heart went on a journey all alone."

"Your courage was a small coal that you kept swallowing"

"love as simple as shaving soap."

These are why we write!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cottage: Cheese!

When God puts you in a cottage like this, you just have to be a writer. I was just thinking the other day about this small painting I had chosen for us out of the things from Mark's grandparent's house. The painting spoke to me, though I couldn't hear the words back then. It was a painting of a quaint little rose covered cottage. I hung it in our master bathroom. I had a feeling the scene must have been from a place in Europe, England probably. Never dreaming such a place could be found in the northwest. Never dreaming I'd have one of my own some day. But now I do. It is my refuge. My muse. My gathering place. My peace. From my loft bedroom window at night I, with an air of rituality, look out over the lights reflected on the lake below and sigh. It is a sigh of contentment. I planted a climbing rose on the front this spring. Already it has shot thorny arms around the patio door. No blooms yet but this weekend I will snip and fertilize and by next summer I should be firmly planted in my rose covered cottage.

Mo-orea, Polynesia (December 2005)

It did not lay lightly on my mind
The beach, the laughter, the families and lovers
In each other’s company, fragility was silent
My family, my son, my absent mate
With danger unseen in the beauty of the sea
The fragility silent but oh so there

The honeymooners in dazed lazy blissfulness
And sunburned discomfort
Look at our children with hope and dreams
Fragility suspended under the water’s surface
Above the beautiful fishes
While sharks pass just beyond visibility

The flowers whisper of love and beauty
Their fragrance calls
In the breeze
That chases away the bugs and heat
The native music swaying hips in rum punch buzz
Laughter in the tales told a hundred times
Fragility gathers beyond the bay

In collecting waves imminent assault gathers
Paradise’s paradoxical impermanent beauty
Fragility gathering in a sunset
Pink and orange and blood red red

We are not safe but for a moment
Paradise is ours
And fragility stays at bay

Welcome to My World, Toddler Mama

Saturday, after awakening to my own internal clock
After a stop at my coffee shop where I take the time
To treat myself
I duck into the grocery store
To pick up a few items: steak, fennel and a good bottle of wine
For dinner tonight, a few friends over
My adult world, seemingly on-kilter

In front of me,
The young woman, also in the express checkout
With her two important items:
The largest package of disposable diapers I’ve ever seen
And a supersize can of energy drink
She’s wearing a white blouse and black slacks
The uniform of someone serving others for a living

I sidle up beside her and say
“your selection of items sure tells a story”
She looks at the counter and breaks into hearty laugh
“Welcome to my world” she says
I notice the dark circles under her eyes
And I remember
When her world was mine
And wonder how I ever did it

Tonight, the one that once
I bought diapers for
And an energy drink for myself
(coffee in those days)
Is home for the summer
Still sleeping in at this hour on Saturday
Will be out with friends tonight
I will still have circles under my eyes

Samantha Can Read!

The school year is only two weeks underway and Samantha read a book to me today! Samantha is in First Grade. Last year she was one of our kindergartners. A sweet younger sister of another girl in the program, she brought out the little mothers in the other girls. They held her hand, helped her through the ropes, cuddled and coddled her. She was very much the adored dependent. This year, she’s returned for the program but is no longer among the youngest kids. A new group of kindergartners is being taken under wing. As a result, Samantha is given a little breathing space and so I was able to talk to her this morning. She came by as I was sitting at a short table playing cards with some older girls. When I asked if she was in first grade this year, she nodded and told me with wide eyes and scared words “We have to learn letters and numbers. We have to learn to read.” I asked her if she would read a book to me when she learned to read. Something went on inside her head and she excitedly told me she could read me a book right now. So I excused myself from the card table and took Samantha’s hand as she led me to the reading room. There she went to the set of simple new readers and sorted through them. This is the same set that I got when my now grown son, Andy, was first starting to read. Samantha worked her way through a tale of Dot and a hat and a cat and a dog and a rag hat. In the beginning I saw that Samantha, in her hurry, was “telling the story” from memorization instead of reading it, as she referred to “one hat” as opposed to “a hat” as the text was written. So I had her slow down and she actually read the rest of the book, getting all the words right, and sounding out a few just to be sure. It was such a magical moment. I was so proud of her and told her so. I couldn’t help but share with her how much I love reading and love the fact that she’s a reader. Just as we finished, her mom looked through the door, as she was getting ready to leave. Her mother does not speak much English, and I am not sure whether she is able to read, even in her own language. But her Mom did understand how excited I was to be able to share reading with Samantha. Once again, I shake my head in wonderment that I get to participate in the magical moments of these kids. I am reminded of the story of Jesus where he welcomes the little children to come to him and reminds us to receive His love with childlike wonder. (Mark 10:13-31) This is what God gets to show us in our work at Jubilee Reach. We are reminded what it is like to be a child and discover new gifts and skills. And we get to be His hands on these children: showing them our love and joy in their learning, just as he does with us every day.

Found In Translation

Pranee took the four of us (Judy, Joyce, Patty and me) into the Chinese herbal shop as one of the stops on our International District/Little Saigon market tour. This was one of the neatest kept herbal shops I’ve wandered into. Pranee is from Thailand. The dialect is different than the Chinese spoken in this shop, but she manages to communicate that she wants him to “check her health” and concoct a special tea to address her current medical state, which she describes as “tired but can’t sleep.” Understandable. She’s a mom to a teenage son, a wife, and a business entrepreneur, writing a cookbook, teaching classes, consulting menus and organizing things like this market tour we are on. The four of us poke around some of the display cases of neatly arranged roots and herbs and dried animal parts, some quite prehistoric looking. The patriarch of the shop, in his starched white physician’s coat takes Pranee to a counter in the back, and clears away the surface. For a moment it looks like he is about to draw blood and I am concerned. But he merely takes out his stethoscope and listens quite intently to the blood moving through the veins in her wrist. Meanwhile we are looking around for something to purchase, some little memento, more to patronize the shop than to get a meaningful souvenir. It is hard to find something not too frightening to walk out the door with. After a surprisingly long consultation Pranee, with a big grin, says “He says I am good. I don’t need anything special.” She tells him though she wants to buy a mixture for energy and he goes to a large basket with several small baggies loaded with different mixes of barks and berries, twigs and dried organic material. They are like archaic multi-vitamin packs.

A certain silliness takes me over and I ask what he has in there to treat menopause. The ladies laugh and he looks confused and repeats back to me “Menopause?” with a cute little lilt. So I repeat it back to him and he looks confused but wanting to understand. So I pantomime a hot flash with a fluttering wave of my hand, and, as if on queue, I become flushed and embarrassed and wanting to strip off my outer layers right there on the spot. By now the women are laughing at me. I, however, want to drop the line of inquiry but Papa Shop has grabbed my elbow and pulled me with him towards that back table where Pranee’s diagnosis took place. I’m thinking I’ve signed up for my own “blood work” but instead he pulls out a small electronic pocket translator device. He thrusts it into my hands saying “you make what is men-oh-paws please” gesturing a little typing motion. I’m starting to giggle pretty good here, not helped by my friends who are finding this highly entertaining. I’m realizing he might be a bit embarrassed once he gets the translation…I have no idea how the ancient Chinese feel about this time of life. I figure it must be something like my son’s embarrassment who looks like he wants to die on the spot if I so much as hint at the words “hot flash.” But I plow forward as I see there is no way to get gracefully out of this now. So I begin to spell the word and the translator gadget starts to offer words with the same start and when it flashes out “menopausal” I take it. I say yes, yes. I see there are a few lines below what I have typed that are in Chinese letter characters. He pulls the machine from me and peers at it through his reading glasses. And then he laughs. Giggles. Shouts out to his wife who is minding the cash register something apparently hilarious who finds this funny too. He goes back to the “multi-vitamin” basket and rummages through the pre-packaged herbs and finally hands me a baggy full of the right combination of bark and twigs and moss and red berries. He says “Here. You take for the menopausal.” Pranee asks him some questions and he says it is good for the broth to make chicken soup or with tea, which makes me think he doesn’t really understand this hot flash thing. But I plop down $3.50 for my menopausal bag of herbs. It is sitting on my counter now. I’ve picked it up several times to fondle and consider but have yet to brew up the concoction. Maybe I’ll brew it up for the next gathering of Thursday Night Dinner Club since so many of us are needing something “for the menopausal.” Or maybe I’ll just keep it in the baggy to pick up and fondle, eliciting a little giggle when I recall this adventure with my friends and need to consider the lighter side of being menopausal.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Skinny Pic

Choosing the right picture for launching out onto the web is tough. Especially when you hate pictures of yourself. The only pictures I can tolerate out there are those taken during the period of my..ahem..what shall we call "Crash and Burn." And so here is my all time favorite: spinning on thin ice in McCall Idaho (at the ice rink). Taken with a cell phone, which helps explain the quality and cropping (or lack thereof).