Monday, December 22, 2008

Away from you

We leave Toadhall tomorrow for Chattanooga (Please, dear God, don't let us get stuck in the Detroit airport, unless I can eat sushi for lunch.) where our daughter, son-in-law, and five grandchildren wait for us to join them for Christmas. They've been practicing the family tradition of playing hide 'n seek in the dark on Christmas eve and promise we will never, ever find them if we are it. (We used the game as a time killer for that eternity of waiting from supper time and eve-tide services until a decent hour to open gifts. Craven, I know.)

"Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word..." - t.s. elliot

Wishing you unexpected moments of joy and light.
See you at year's end.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Receiving the Offer

Snow is steadily sifting down, inches piling and piling on every branch, auto, and ledge. Now the wind is picking up and the temperature will drop to minus fifteen tonight. Two of our neighbors are already trying to shovel and snow-blow. Yesterday there was a break in storms, a window of cold sunshine allowed roads to be cleared from here to Waterloo, Iowa where the prairie winds drifted snow two feet deep. That window allowed our son and his family to leave around noon as they headed south to Micah’s family in Herman, MO. Having them arrive at 2:30 A.M. and to awaken the next morning to the creak of footsteps sneaking up the stairs, and to make buckwheat pancakes, to have Anson and Paige (no time wasted sleeping) rolling up the rugs, dragging boxes of toys, and redesigning the first floor was chaos and celebration. They left by noon. Later in the day my brother-in-law and youngest sister hurried through Rochester from Cedar Rapids back home to Biwabik, MN in a race to beat the next storm. We gulped a cup of coffee and snarfed a cookie together, talking as fast as we could eating time. The window for travel has now closed again for another day or so.

And now Denis is out snow-blowing, trying to beat the pile-up and the dropping temps.

Today, first thing, I was off to the post office to mail the eBay Bible to girlonajourney who “won.” Getting out before the roads close. This is good. My guilt is half assuaged to think someone will be making good use of this journal Bible. The reading schedule in my old raggedy copy, which I’m now fine with, has taken me to Isaiah where the prophet records the words of “the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel” saying: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..” Trying to think what that means and get it into every day real nights and days, and trying to take myself (get back, Satan) far away from the final phrase of that verse: “but you would have none of it.” I’d like to accept this offer for what most of us need most of the time. Or is it just me?

Monday, December 15, 2008

The base ridge

Five-year-old Anson showed me his thumb as soon as we arrived last Thursday. “Grandma, look at this!” At first I thought it had been painted purple. But he’s too boy to let anyone near him with nail polish. Gender roles are very distinctly defined in his mind. It had been slammed in the bathroom door at preschool and was healed enough so he could lift the nail all the way up like a hinged flap. I shuddered and almost gagged. He smiled and yanked it all the way off. “It’s pokin’ me,” he declared, meaning it was getting hung up in his hockey gloves when he tried to pull them on. He showed the dead nail to his dad hoping for some kind of reward like maybe a thumbnail fairy would show up if he put it under his pillow.

Turning sixty-one is something like getting slammed in the bathroom door. It surprises you, and sometimes it hurts a little. People feel sorry for you. They send sympathy and love. And friends make you supper of easily chewed foods. Thankfully I have no body parts to put under my pillow, but sometimes my brain flaps around, unhinged, searching for right words more often than it used to. I can swing certain body…okay, arm parts that were once taut and hard, especially those triceps. I remember watching my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Griggs, write on the blackboard, her underarms flapping, and I swore mine would never look like that. The young are just that, young. Unknowing. Unable to think past their stomachs hoping to make it to lunch in twenty minutes if the history lesson would only end.

Anson’s thumb is now tender and vulnerable, but from the root a new one is already growing. It’s awfully small, just a ridge at the base. But it’s coming. It’ll be okay. In a few months he’ll have a new one altogether.

As I scope out the years to come, I see I’ve got a ridge at the base, too. I have to cup it in my hands sometimes and blow on it, in order to see it, in order to keep it going. But it’s there. Waiting to spring up. It won’t be going away even if the surface turns a little discolored. I read some of David’s words this morning. “…consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.”

I love the superlatives here: FOEVER AND EVER. Denis and I have an ongoing discussion about the use of superlatives, which I’m not allowed when complaining. Like: They ALWAYS. You NEVER, EVER. Etc. But God gets to make exceptions to the rule. Yes. Against all odds, heaven awaits along with new bodies. My base ridges belong to God forever and ever.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This December Life

Late last night we heard a tapping at our back door and there was Anna D., her hair covered with snow, shivering and cold, she’d just got off work at the hospital and was snowbound, needing a place to stay for the night.

We’ve been getting snow now for the past two weeks and Denis has been out shoveling quite a few times, but yesterday afternoon a storm that began with a few flakes and swirling drifts ended with six to nine inches by this morning. People have been hurrying past on their way to work, breath steaming, walking up the middle of the street. I saw a neighbor wade through the snow to his front door with four Canadian geese by the neck – he’d been out hunting! Others are scraping cars and running their snow blowers.

Seems like long ago when on a hot day last summer I saw these little tutus in a pricey store in the Nashville airport and immediately thought, Christmas for granddaughters! They were alarmingly cute, but not for $85. So I sketched them, avoiding the stares of the clerk who was pretty sure I was going to shoplift. This week I made one for Paige and Isobel. I know little girls dream of being the princess or the dancer. They do.

I don’t know if they’ll like them or not, but making them was almost reward enough. There are a lot of things we pretend to do for others, but really, it is for ourselves. When finished, I admired the layers of tulle, the sequins and silk flower petals floating in the folds. I felt some kind of accomplished, like maybe I’d have worn them myself, tapping my three year old brain parts. Soon enough most of us we learn we can’t become anything we want. When I was a girl one day Dad taught me how to take care of a horse that had a very nasty cut on his fetlock. That was when I abandoned dreams of ballet. I soaked and cleaned his leg every day for ten days. The horse adored me as though he knew the pain I caused would heal him, and I thought, not that I wanted to be a veterinarian, but a people doctor who squirted disinfectant on fetid wounds, sewed cuts, removed tumors.

Only later did I learn I’d no capacity or resolve for that sort of education. Am thankful God’s destiny was a different one. How often do we know what our future holds and how we will manage to live it? Over and over again, we experience God’s care in shepherding us through places that hold both sorrow and deep joy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Margie's eBay?

For sale:
One Slightly used beautifully bound ESV Journal Bible.
Black leather. 7.5 inches by 6.5 inches.
Original price: $52.00
Previous owner opened twice and decided print too small. However, owner also stupidly wrote name on flyleaf and comment in Isaiah 7. Argh!
Will ship free to highest bidder.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Sometimes it’s best to just sit alone in your pajamas and moan after you’ve eaten a turkey meal. Or be a cat. Then you don’t care about sprawling, gaping, or grooming in public. (Scotch is one of Marsena’s cats.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanks Be to God

I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long. Am going to be away for a while longer. We’re leaving in a few minutes for Chicago -- spending Thanksgiving with Marsena, Jeff, and Aunt Ruth. We are taking stuff for an antipasto plate, the best veggie will be the organic jingle bells – sweet little red peppers. Also bringing lemon chess pie – a recipe from a friend from Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve been behind in all areas. My desk is three feet deep. There is some kind of icky thing living in the bathroom grout. I’m adjusting to new chemicals. Have had more manuscript rejections. But. Am thankful. Last weekend good friends put us up for a night in a very swish hotel in Mpls. (The Ivy Tower) Man, what a bed! And the bathroom! Have I ever told you I could live in a bathroom? The sun is shining. We get to drive through rural Wisconsin and I get to drink a CaribouCoffee soy latte. Plus I read three chapters in Job this morning, which had a way of reminding me that suffering is no stranger to human life. Am leaving Mac at home so can't post comments until return. Warm blessings to all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How was your day?

It’s been snowing, sleeting, raining today depending on the hour. I’m having trouble with my neck and every day as I sit down to write the next issue of Notes from Toad Hall I have trouble concentrating. Am trying to be matter-of-fact about this slow-down. Today I thought, no matter the weather, I’ll walk down to Caribou, get a coffee, (as a treat – first time in a week, honest) come back here and get busy. I grabbed a little cash. Left the door unlocked, cell on desk, no key (stupid woman), and out into the sleet. Ran into Darcy, the manager, who told me all about the two new puppies she and her boyfriend are getting. The other barista needed to tell me about how on the way to work today she saw a car spin out and total the car next to her. Stupid drivers! she said. It took longer than I planned. Walked back home in rain and cold. Meanwhile a friend who’s been sleeping at our house left and responsibly locked the door.

Denis is sick. He’d gone back to bed with a noise machine going. I rang the doorbell over and over. Pounded on the door again and again. Stood on the porch watching it snow for twenty minutes. Drank my coffee to keep warm. Banged on the door some more hoping the vibrations would penetrate the bedroom. Useless. I went around to the side yard, thought about throwing a brick up at the window. And (brilliant woman) realized he might hear me call since the window is slightly open so we can sleep in arctic temperatures under polar tech. I bellowed, DENIS! Finally woke him up and he let me in. He said he dreamed that someone was making jewelry with little hammers. He felt bad, I felt sheepish and dispirited.

I won’t be ending this with … and so, I’m grateful for shelter, meaningful work, a husband who loves me despite all, because it’s Veteran’s Day and there is no mail which means the netflix I was hoping for won’t be arriving, and because I’m a petty, fallen, indulgent creature. …maybe tomorrow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Best Hummus

The other day I bought a carton of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus at Trader Joe’s. I should never go into that store because it’s like the third level of hell for seduction. Organic Chocolate bars. (Not that good.) Three Buck Chuck. (Cheap, but worse than David Haase's Dandelion wine.) Chocolate covered blueberries. (They look pretty.) Toasted macadamia nuts. (Stale.) Maple syrup Grade B? Grade A? You’d think the hummus would be okay. But, no. It tasted moldy and had way too much garlic or something. This is the second try for hummus this year. Apparently I forget how good it is when you make it yourself. And doesn’t cost much either. This is really easy but you’ve got to think ahead one day so you can get the beans soaking. You might even want to double it, you'll love yourself if you do.

Begin by soaking one cup of garbanzo beans for 24 hours. Not just overnight. Place in saucepan with 1 t. olive oil, bring to a boil and simmer until beans are tender, about one hour. Stir occasionally. Add more water if necessary to keep them covered. When garbanzos are done, they still have substance and are a little al dente. Drain, reserving the broth. Cool.
Option: Substitute 1 can of garbanzo beans if you must. Drain, reserve broth.

Place beans in blender. Along with:

1 large clove garlic, chopped
3 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. ground cumin
¼ c. tahini (ground sesame seeds)
(Flavor improves if you can wait to eat it.)

Blend, adding broth until you like the consistency. Spoon onto a shallow dish, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle a bit of red chile flakes on the top.
Serve with pita, chips, crackers, what ever sounds good.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Farmers of this kind

The first time I met Joe & Becca I thought they might be brother and sister with their tawny red hair, fair skin, and earth-toned woolen sweaters. They are related, but as husband and wife, not siblings. It’s weird how some people get wired, I mean, just made with certain gifts. Either one of them can do about anything with their hands – music, carpentry, wool-making, raise 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and make killer lasagna.

I am seduced, awed, like maybe if I did life over again, this time I’d be them and get a farm, too. A lot has happened in three years since they married, moved to Stony Kill, New York, where for the first season they lived in a tent at the garden’s edge, and for two more seasons continued to manage an organic vegetable farm, saving every penny to buy land in SE Minnesota. Because they’ve been researching, because Joe’s father is also an organic farmer living in this area, and because they know their calling and have prayed so many times for guidance – when forty acres of land went up for sale at a great price, they bought it.

A couple weeks ago Denis and I drove out to see their land. It’s a property with some good sheds, a barn, and a condemned house. The barn floor was covered with freeze dried horse manure. No one has loved this farm in a long time. It’s overgrown with nettles and brambles. Fences are falling down. There junk piles. But hidden in tall grass we found a ray of red against the curse of thorns – a handful of tomatoes, a green pepper, and parsnip – volunteers from some old garden.

This is where their life will begin in December when they return to Minnesota and see the farm in reality for the first time – their work in NY hasn’t allowed any time away before then. The good price of the land allowed them to buy twice what they’d hoped, so Joe will be able to keep horses to help reclaim the soil and begin a vegetable farm. They plan to build a straw bale home next year. They know better than to think this will all be easy, having suffered in ways themselves. But they also know God is pleased when they make beautiful soil and good food from creation.

Next February I will be interviewing them for a workshop at the 2009 L’Abri conference. Hearing their story, their dreams, witnessing their energy for raising local food is a small, but significant push back against a fallen world. Or perhaps it’s a way of listening more intently to the groans of creation.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our Stories

Katy sent me this song by Brandi Carlisle on a mix. I think I like best this unpolished video version from the studio. So, you probably heard it during Grey’s Anatomy, or the Olympics. I think GM used it. I may be the last person to note it. The lyrics “…all these stories don’t mean a thing if you got no one to tell them to…”
…this weekend as I lead a women’s retreat, I can’t help but think that the art of caring for one another, showing hospitality includes the sweetness and work of hearing one another’s stories in a safe place, even though they may be sad ones. But we have hope in God that even they, may one day prove to be a part of our redemption.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bawling for God-sake

From daughter, Sember:

I too am so looking forward to Christmas. And yes I will probably cry. But it is good to cry. Especially when one is crying for such a lovely reason. It felt good to let myself realize in the moment that this is hard. And do what I needed physically in order to deal with what I was living emotionally in a way that God created me to do. So, in other words crying is Godly. And as such and because of the time I have clocked weeping, sobbing, crying, pouting, and general boo-hooing, I am damn near the most devout, Godly person I know.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Comment Interview

Comment Magazine published an interview with me this week. I fussed and fumed over it. I read interviews they’d previously published with people, like John Seel, who, I said to Denis, probably knocked this off in ten seconds. And Denis said, so? (I would like to thank John for a phrase I pinched from him, but since he has so many, he probably won’t miss it.)
Comment is an on-line publication influencing people to a “Christian view of work and public life. Exploring and upholding the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God.” Each issue features an interview with a person who reflects on their life’s work and calling. It was an honor to be a part of this endeavor.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bloodless Friends of Night

On Tuesday it rained steady all day and about 5 p.m. Denis walked into the house and told me to get my camera and an umbrella and “trust me” you’ll want to see this. In the yard next door he’d found a huge cluster of mushrooms that had come up over night. He knows I love trying to identify them and I always threaten to eat them (just to get a rise from him, he hates mushrooms and says that if God intended for us to eat them they wouldn’t be called fungus – one of those onomatopoeic words).

Anyway, I think this is an oyster mushroom, pleurotus ostreatus, and it was growing from an old rotted elm tree stump, it’s a creamy buff color with white gills running from the cap down to its thick stem. I cut off a portion and placed it on white paper under a glass over night. This morning when I lifted the glass, it had made a delicate fan pattern of pale pink spores.

I would like to eat it, but I don’t dare since I can’t be absolutely certain of this one. In other parts of the world the knowledge of edible mushrooms still exists, but here in our country we lost those connections years ago, preferring the convenience and safety of the supermarket.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The extravagence

Yesterday when Anita was done at the Farmer’s Market she brought home all the unsold dahlias. It was such extravagance when I saw them all sitting on the dining room table I almost fell down. Some flowers are casual and mussed like they got out of bed and didn’t shower or dress, I’m not saying I don’t love them. The dahlia is not so. She is brilliant in perfect tight symmetry with every hair laid exactly, properly, proportionately in place. If she were employed I think it would be as an engineer or maybe a pathologist.

Being not very skilled at pic-taking, at first, I had them on the kitchen counter, but see how the coral counter top distracts. I took them back to the table, and still I can't capture their beauty.

Give me open eyes, O God, eyes quick to discover Thine indwelling in the world, which Thou hast made. Let all Thy lovely things fill me with gladness and let them uplift my mind to Thine everlasting loveliness. Forgive all my past blindness to the grandeur and glory of nature, to the charm of little children, to the sublimities of human story, and to all the intimations of Thy presence which these things contain.

>A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Do you believe what you say?

Sorry, I haven’t been around for awhile. It’s been easy to sit and stare, not thinking about anything at all, as though that were possible. It’s another autoimmune issue and not that serious. Some parts of it are funny. Especially when I get dead man’s fingers. (Great. Just in time for Halloween.) Looking at the yellow cadaver-like ends, (it’s always temporary, muchas gracious) Denis and I wondered if it could be a warning to people who use certain fingers in aggressive, rude gestures. (That wouldn’t be me.) Just like when your mother used to say, don’t stick out your lip like that or it’ll stay that way.

I’ve recalled parts of the Heidleburg Confession -- I’ve always liked that piece of work. It has a beauty to it that other confessions sort of lack.

Q & A 26
Q. What do you believe when you say,
"I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth"?

A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and everything in them,
who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,
is my God and Father
because of Christ his Son.

I trust him so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,
and he will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends me
in this sad world.

He is able to do this because he is almighty God;
he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

So, do I really believe this?
When I take a long view of life, one that extends past death, there’s no doubt; I believe he will provide all I need. It’s more difficult living with what daily life dishes up. You know you’re a little imbalanced when you drop your peanut butter toast face down on the floor and feel like crying. I grab the scruff of my neck and ask: Oh, yes! And what about your brothers and sisters living in Zimbabwe who have no toast at all? That should make you weep.

When I look at tragedy -- large or small, I would rather say God allows adversity. But I can’t argue that’s always the case. I know he does send adversity. It’s the modifier “whatever” that I find comforting. “he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.” Whatever.

The last two lines are sort of a kicker. There is the paradox that gives hope and healing! That someone of such power is both – almighty and tender. Mighty on my behalf. Tender to me. I count on that every day, in every circumstance. Not just for myself, (how self-absorbed!) but for all who groan.

Today, is an achingly, beautiful fall day. The air is cold and still, but the sun warms. The last of the cabbage butterflies and bumble bees loaded with pollen strain the asters with their clumsy weight. Friend, Anita, lovely and unexpectedly strong for someone so small, has a staging ground in our side yard, where pots of grass, bearded iris, and lady’s mantle wait to be set into the front beds. For a while we stood under the fir tree watching the chickadees and gold finches spar and swear at one another for a place the thistle feeder, and we decided we wanted to go back to the Garden and work there. We could help Adam & Eve rearrange the dogwood shrubs and lay stone borders.

Yes I do believe.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Call me, again

It’s a good thing I don’t get that many calls on my cell phone. I only lost it once this trip. (We’re on our way home from Colorado today, and made it to Lincoln, NE.) I’m forever misplacing it and asking Denis to call me so I can trace the ring. I panicked thinking I’d dropped it in one of the many restrooms I visit along the way. Denis called me three times and I could hear it, but couldn’t find it even though I was frantically tearing the car apart. My ringtone is a canyon wren birdcall and after dumping my purse twice, feeling under the seat, and checking my computer bag, the bird was also frantic. Turned out I was sitting on it the whole time.

This was a wonderful trip. Celebratory, restful, reflective. Together we recalled many times throughout the years when God spared us, shed grace on us, despite our bumbling around as husband, wife, parents, in our ministry, with friends, you name it. There are many reasons why it will be good to be back at Toad Hall. One is that I’ll be able to call my cell on our land line and not mention to Denis that I’ve lost it, once again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Farmers of Granby, CO

Last Friday Denis and I wandered into Granby to see if the farmer’s market had fresh vegetables for our supper. It was rainy – unusual for Colorado. The market was small, but there were some vendors with some good-looking produce, a pie maker, an organic baker, and a booth selling homemade tamales and bbq beef brisket. Tucked among them, I was astonished to find a couple of earthy-looking guys selling fresh, roasted green chile. Poblanos. Anaheims. Mild, medium, hot. I reached in the cooler and they weren’t cool at all. They were still warm from having been roasted to a fine charred condition! Unable to believe our good luck. Reminding me of our New Mexico days, I bought a half bushel for twenty dollars. Half a bushel isn’t so much, you know. We took them back to the condo where we are staying and divided them up into zip-lock bags, froze them, and we’ll take them back to Minnesota with us where all you can ever, ever get are little cans of tastless, chopped green chile from Bueno.

All we had for supper each was a huge poblano chile stuffed with farmer’s cheese, laid between two corn tortillas and lightly grilled in olive oil. Oh, and a beer and a fresh pear.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I coulda miscounted

----- Original Message -----
From: Margie Haack
To: Leslie V.

What do you do when you come home from a trip and you still have a bag full, I mean a truckload, of vitamins you were supposed take while gone?

----- Reply -----
From: Leslie V.
To: Margie Haack

Margie, Margie, Margie.

Vitamins are a really good idea but they are not Lifemaking or Lifebreaking. Then again--how MANY? Did you take ANY? John says, either take them all at once (sounds like diarrhea to me) or HIDE THEM.

There. Feel better?

Of course you don't. Because you didn't take your vitamins.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Report on things lost to the TSA

Sunday evening after Denis’ final session in Birmingham, (You know. Speaking about being faithful in our postmodern culture, as Ransom Fellowship has a habit of doing) a little boy ran up and handed him a bag. Denis had a second to peek in and see a pound of Starbucks coffee and what looked like a card. This little guy was too young to drink coffee, so it had to be from his parents, right? Before Denis could follow up, we got in a shute and were spit out at our hotel room late that night. Who gave this? Where’d they go? Did we thank them? The bag spent the night in the car. Next morning as we headed to Chattanooga, I opened it to find not a card tucked in next to the coffee, but a Swiss army knife! With every cool little thing I like about them. And a little bonus: a 1 (ONE) ounce tube of hand cream.

Yesterday I made it safely through airport security in Nashville and home to Toad Hall. They didn’t find my lovely new knife hidden under my skirt (in the suitcase, for heavens sake). When we got home I was only a little bitter that whoever did inspect the luggage dumped all my vitamins. Purposely. (Does calcium look like anything illegal?)

Thank you, Faith Pres, Birmingham. It was an honor be among you, and I owe someone for touching my heart so unexpectedly with this gift.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The things we carry

Yesterday Denis and I were on our way to Birmingham. He’s doing a weekend conference at Faith Presbyterian. I’m along to set up our…nevermind.

I got my favorite Swiss army knife confiscated by airport security. The TSA guy nodded, almost apologetic, (disarming me for the kill) telling me he’d need to look in my purse. First he pulled out my hand cream and said it was way over the ounce limit.

I did point out, “It’s not li-quid. It’s practically sol-id.” I could see that was stupid.

“Liquid, gels, aerosols, three ounces or less,” was all he said.

“So, just pitch it.”I should have made everyone wait until I applied all of it. But it was that oatmeal stuff with no fragrance, no additives, very boring.

I did have my favorite water bottle from a Bloomberg friend, which I pointed out with some hostility, was EMPTY. (I planned to fill it at a fountain.)

He then asked, like they ask criminals on the Cops program, was there anything else in my purse that he should be aware of and suddenly I recognized this very, very unfair question by which he would condemn me. So, I don’t know if he believed my “Oops, I think I forgot I have a knife.”

He raised one eyebrow, reached in my purse and from some secret inner compartment instantly pulled out my Swiss Army Knife, and said, “I thought I saw something."

I’ve owned this for years. It is green and not only has blades and scissors, it has a pick for your teeth. I was about to cry, and he softened a little. He offered to let me take it back to our car, but we were dropped off… then he suggested I could go back to the ticket counter and see if they would let me put it in my checked luggage, but I saw out the window behind him, and the luggage cart was already loaded and the attendant was there getting ready to grand slam our suitcases onto the conveyor belt. (Rochester airport is small.) He then offered I could leave it at the business office and pick it up when I came back, but I knew about that. You think that service is free? Unfortunately, I’d already redeemed it once this summer – in Minneapolis when I was escorting my granddaughter to her gate and remembered just in time and took it to their business office window, signed papers in triplicate, and when I came back a short while later to claim it, they charged me $15.00!

I just was so sad. I stood there until someone nudged me, and then I said to the TSA guy, “Why don’t you keep it? It’s a sweet knife. Feel how nice it sits in your palm?”
I think in his heart he was tempted, but I know my knife is now rusting in some dumpster along with my hand cream and dozens of plastic water bottles.

So this morning we prayed, together, Denis and I. Not about the knife. That’s so little, I know. No, we prayed to see if we could leave behind some of the things we carry, to see if we could be here in Birmingham, and to see if God could use us by his grace, and could we bring some gift of loving God and finding glory in all he’s made for us to be.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


We went on a walk last evening and I said, “Let’s go down the alleys.”

Denis wondered, “Why?”

I say, “Well, so we can raid backyard gardens, tease pit bulls, and climb on little kids playhouses, what do you think? Because it’s more interesting than the street – that’s why.” Of course, I forgot we’d be passing Hollyhocks.

Every time we pass Hollyhocks, I promise you, every, every time, Denis says,
“I love Hollyhocks. I’ve always loved Hollyhocks. I’ve asked you again and again to plant them and you never have.”

I just roll my eyes and remind him ONE more time: “I DID plant them. The bugs ate them every year.” Man, could someone please get him a package of hollyhock seeds for his birthday, and he can plant them himself?

Actually, I don’t REALLY mind. I know he loves them because they remind him of his Grandma Haack who raised them when he was a little boy. She grew enormous hollyhocks, sort of matching her enormous love for her grandchildren. I remember the one time I met her, right after we were engaged, and she crushed me into her large, soft bosom. She smelled like peonies and fresh corn. We didn’t know she wouldn’t live much longer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

God's ill timing

Every so often I find encouragement in this man’s writings. There has been a rash of strange events and unexpected blows in the lives of friends, in our lives. Sometimes we feel bewildered, other times under siege, or even just plain tired. We need wisdom in such times. One of my favorite quotes:

O how ravishing and delectable a sight will it be to behold at one view the whole design of Providence, and the proper place and use of every single act, which we could not understand in this world! What Christ said to Peter is as applicable to some providences in which we are now concerned as it was to that particular action: ‘What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter’ (John 13. 7).

All the dark, intricate, puzzling providences at which we were sometimes amazed, which we could neither reconcile with the promise nor with each other, nay, which we so unjustly censured and bitterly bewailed, as if they had fallen out quite against our happiness, we shall then see to be to us, as the difficult passage through the wilderness was to Israel, ‘the right way to a city of habitation’
(Ps. 107.7).
- John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence

Friday, August 1, 2008

Kitchen Done!

Pretty much. Yesterday Denis installed the track lighting above the sink. It only required one extra trip to the hardware store and only one twelve minute period when I stood on the counter silently holding up the track while he forced one piece to fit another. He was patient, only said one swearword, and I love the sunny, warm light on those old counters. All we have left is painting the cabinets. (We already did the one on the left.) When Kelly walked in the other day looked at the walls and said, Oh! Lilac! I corrected her: “NO. No. Soft gray. I don’t LIKE lilac. Please don’t say that.” Thanks to all for helping me keep the chimney exposed. However, Denis says, when it comes time to sell this house and move into assisted care, and buyers say “WHAT were you thinking?” you, who voted in favor, will need to come buy Toad Hall from us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Food for the week

I love summer when it’s easy to be a locavore. Last Saturday we came home from the market with this. I stare at it cuz it’s so beautiful and so good. We are blessed and bless the farmers who raised it. Thankyou. The first sweet corn showed up and we’ve been eating fresh tomatoes for awhile. Denis has no stop button and eats 2-3 a day.

About this time of year when it’s hot and humid I like something fresh, tangy, and cool. I admit cucumber yogurt soup with a hint of raisins is a little weird (they surprise your mouth with a tiny “closing note” of sweetness – sorry to talk like that, but how else to describe?), but you should try it cuz it’s a keeper. About 75% – though skeptical at first glance – end up loving this. 25% stir it slowly, steel themselves, look at me with pleading eyes -- would I be offended if they dumped it in the toilet? Yes. Let me eat yours.

Cold Yogurt Soup
1 boiled egg, chopped
½ cup raisins, soaked in water for 5 minutes, then drained
2-3 cups lofat plain yogurt
½ cup light cream (non-fat ingreds are ba-ad for this recipe)
1 cup cold water
6 ice cubes
1 cucumber, grated
¼ cup green onion, chopped
2 t. salt
pepper to taste
1 T. chopped parsley
1 T. dill weed, chopped.
Mix all ingredients except last two. Refrigerate 2 or so hours before serving. Garnish with parsley and dill. Optional to garnish with more chopped egg.
Serve with sliced ripe tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and chopped basil, a loaf of crusty bread, and a light wine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dark Knight for The Joker

In the movie, The Dark Knight, The Joker declares, “You know who people are in their last moments,” and I wondered who actor Heath Ledger was in the last moments of his life. When I saw him as the Joker on the set of The Dark Knight I looked with concern and wonder, knowing he was no longer alive, knowing that most think he committed suicide after the movie was filmed, although that can’t be proved – he died of a drug overdose, a toxic cocktail of pain and sleep medication. I watched him, trying to perceive, is this just acting or is this partly witness to the pain and darkness of his true beliefs in the meaninglessness of life as he pursues The Batman across Gotham City detonating everything in his wake?

At the end of the Dark Knight I was left in want of a hero large enough to make life meaningful again, someone who could bring light to the set, who could heal the lives ruined by injustice, crime, ambition, violence. The Batman, the faltering, finite hero we love, disappears into the night still determined to try to fix the world, but everyone, including him, knows how impossible and grievous this calling will be.

The movie underscores how hopeless this task for human heroes – to heal the earth of all its injustices, to offer choice even to The Jokers of the world. We wait for consummation, like Simeon the priest waited for the Consolation of Israel. Dostoevsky describes it perfectly in The Brothers Karamazov:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hazardous waste disposal: $5.00

The rest of the damage? Priceless. I hit a cement column backing out of the bank parking lot this morning. I shoulda walked back in and signed my life over. I was on my way home from Sherwin Williams who said no when I begged to return a gallon of “Mystic Grey.” Too dark. Had to go lighter. That was another money dump. And now I’d wrecked the car. I went home to tell Denis the news and look up auto body shops. After he sucked in his breath he was very kind and said I shouldn’t beat myself up. Dan, the kitchen painter, helpfully suggested maybe I could drive the “coach” while the car was in the shop, referring to the ad I placed to sell our old sofa, having accidentally listed it as an “antique coach” and I wonder why no one has called.Finally, there are fruit flies hanging around my toothbrush. Denis says I’m probably brushing with larva and tiny eggs. This makes me sick. If any one says this is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it, it’s going to take me a minute.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bones of Toad Hall

Every one of you said, “Keep the bricks.” When I thought back on some decisions in life – most of my regrets are of the – I should have taken the risk variety. I know you didn’t say, keep the lath and mortar, but I’m doing that, too. Fortunately, I had three days to stand in the midst of the mess like a refugee (all our stuff is piled in the dining room and I can’t find the French press, but I know where Caribou’s is) eyeing my wall, while Dan, our English teacher, summer-time painter, went to Missouri for the Fourth. He had already measured the drywall and left it leaning against the chimney. When he walked in on Monday morning, I said, “I’ve been thinking…,” and he started laughing and couldn’t stop. He was remembering this old series from the 80s – Murphy Brown, who had a painter as a regular character on the program. I guess Murphy messed up his life regularly. Apparently Dan was sort of picturing himself in that position. I retaliated with: Well, I was thinking of episodes of Fawlty Towers with O’Reilly, the drunken Irish painter. (Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, always hired him when his wife was gone and O’Reilly’s favorite solution to everything, with a wave of his hand, was, “No problem, a lick-a paint here, a lick-a paint there, and she’ll never know.” Of course, the wall always fell down.) Anyway, the vision I had was applying something so the ribs of lathe looked like they were emerging from the plaster, like the bones of the house were showing up. We could clean them up, seal them a little, round out the edge, and… Dan consulted with some contractor type guys standing around at Home Depot just waiting for some dumb idea like this. One guy thought it was nuts. “Drywall it!” Another guy who was a LOT younger thought it’d be cool to go for it. Dan came back with a kind of concrete, and applied it with the finesse of a real artist. I think it looks great. And look at the close-up to see what we found in the vent – a real, vintage California Prune Box! Just kidding. I had it and sacrificed it. It sort of looks like the thing a guy mighta, coulda done in 1923, as in: Oh ya, let’s just cover that hole with this, then. If when we’re done it looks like I hired TGIFriday’s to decorate, I will kill myself. Oh, wait, I’ll just start over. In all this, Denis is, “Whatever, you want, Sweetie, is fine with me.” Ah. The freedom.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Toad Hall showing its ribs

We’re getting the kitchen repainted in our 1916 Sears house. The flowered border and strip-y wallpaper are going far, far away. We need to keep the vintage formica countertops: they’re orangey-apricot with a little gray boomerang pattern. They’ve endured 27 years of Ajax scouring, dropped hammers, and visitors cutting bread, and it still looks pretty decent. The ancient metal cabinets have to stay, too. (why would previous owner opt for metal cabinets? Yuck.) Denis and I are going to prep and paint them the most painless way possible. (budget considerations).

We had to expose the wall behind the range (see pic) and found the chimney beside lathe and plaster wall. I was planning to have it dry-walled when a friend walked in and said, “o, that’s so beautiful, we have many friends who’ve renovated homes in Nashville and left it exposed” causing me to rethink. What if we shaped up the edges and left the house skeleton showing like that? I’m going with a single wall color “Mystical Shade,” (i.e. gray. who names these things anyway?) white trim, and “Teasing Peach” for the cabinets.

At first I thought, that’s ugly. But perhaps there’s a kind of beauty, the house showing what kind of heart it has? No one builds like this anymore. Would I be crazy to clean up the brick and slat and leave it as is on that one wall? Help! I have until Sunday night to decide.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Skybluesky - Either way

Someone asked recently how was the Wilco concert. I been thinkin bout it…

Either Way
Maybe the sun will shine today
The clouds will blow away
Maybe I won’t feel so afraid
I will try to understand
Either way

Maybe you still love me
Maybe you don’t
Either you will or you won’t
Maybe you just need some time alone
I will try to understand
Everything has its plan
Either way
I’m gonna stay
Right for you…

It was the first night of their SkyblueSky tour. We speculated that when Wilco signed the contract for Rochester they might have thought they were going to New York not Minnesota. Fans who drove in from Mpls were galled to leave their sophisticated venues for our wastelands. But it was sold out after all. Wilco pulled songs from some past albums and the band was beautifully tight, all good musicians. Jeff Tweedy has a unique, interesting voice, his lyrics are imaginative, he’s a serious singer/songwriter. I like him a lot. The drummer was a wild man, but then most drummers are fun to watch. The lead guitarist could swivel his knees 380 degrees so as he played one leg was usually in the air pivoting around his body with a long foot dangling off the end which fascinated me for about thirty minutes.

We went with friends and afterwards no one specifically asked how I liked it so I didn’t have to say. Everyone else loved it. And now I feel bad, like I need to come out.

So this is hard to admit? I liked about 25 percent of the concert. I’d like to forget the rest. I guess I love the CD cause I can turn down the volume and forget this is a rock band? In live concert you don’t forget. One song was either a remake of Shock and Awe or Chicago’s O’Hare airport with runway lights full-up and 747s taking off en masse. The guitars and keyboards screamed and screamed and roared and roared and a million watts of white light were aimed directly into our eyeballs. Even with my eyes tight shut I could have read a size five font. For ten minutes they did this even though I got the point after fifteen seconds. While the fans whooped and squealed their e-ow, e-ows, I put on my sunglasses, got out my ear plugs, and felt a little sad for the rest of the concert.

Even carrying our first child I went to friends’ gigs and stood in front of their amps and felt the bass through layers of tissue, baby, and water all the way to my spine. Probably not a good idea for pregnant mothers. I like Wilco. Their Skybluesky album is still a favorite. I even like thunder and lightening and a bit of screaming for a second or two but, for now, live, I guess it’ll be Kimya or Rosie. Apologies to Travis: I love the Avett Brothers, but they might kill me in concert.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What was June 15?

So Sunday, our first day back from a cabin in Wisconsin, we’re in church, our granddaughter, Manessah between us, and Denis passes me a note: “I need to go home now.” I thought it was some kind of joke, then I looked at him. We left in middle of David’s sermon. I drove us home, and he staggered up to bed. Later I found him with unmistakable flu symptoms and possibly some other complication. Who knows. I take his temperature, bring him ice water, and continue playing Monopoly with Manessah. She has an attitude when I refuse to give her $200 after she forgot to pick it up when rounding Go. (I never let a child win because they’re a child. I know some consider this mean.) But her delighted giggle when she bankrupts me after the third time I land on her bristling Pacific Garden sort of justifies my attitude. Monopoly passed the time and made her last day with us not so disappointing with Grandpa sick and all.

It was Father’s Day and I had forgotten. It was also our Fortieth Wedding Anniversary, which we had forgotten. I finally mentioned it to Denis, who sort of moaned, though I don’t know if that was due to regret or delirium. I guess we’re not a family into big parties. Sometimes for a second, I wish we were. Just saying “forty” smacks me. How can that be?! Back in January I said let’s wait until our vacation in September – that will be our big celebration – we’ll go to our friends’ condo in Colorado and we’ll drink red wine and look at each other for a long time and try to fathom the meaning of forty years of wedded-lock. I don’t really know what it means. I used to think of couples married forty years as wizened in body and mind, the undertaker on-call, and living in apartments that smelled of boiled cabbage, but that isn’t exactly our life. Marriage is less and more than I’d imagined.

My first difficult disappointment way back was that he did not make me happy every moment of every day, in fact, I couldn’t believe he called to the worst in me and I gave it. I spent a lot of time, still do, actually, in confession and prayer, confession and prayer, repeat, repeat. I was also shocked that I should feel lonely. Ever. Of course, I was only twenty then and hadn’t read the books. Blame it on that. Over the years after we went to bed, I learned not to mention getting rid of the carpenter ants, which are attacking the back of our house as we lie here. And he’s learned to tolerate my allergic coughing and wheezing with just the slightest rattle of his magazine.

Marriage is more than I imagined. We share a purpose and calling that has made the years both intense and lovely. We’re friends and lovers, but we’re not the same. I’m still learning how healthy it is to be differentiated (he will never like gardening and I will never enjoy list checking) and how good not to be responsible for the mate’s ultimate happiness. In learning a little more of what it means that Jesus is the lover of my soul I find it easier to rest in darkness. He is steadier and more comforting than a man, or a woman. We just aren’t equipped to do what only God can do – love us to redemption. We actually love each other better knowing this.

The thing that caught me on Sunday was that this little illness, this fever, and headache put a constriction in my throat – the what if. What if this is it and he dies. What will I do about our ministry if? Where will I live if? What will I do with myself without him? This is something I don’t want to imagine. The thought of your spouse’s death can be very self-absorbing.

I’ve always believed that in this fallen world marriage is not a given – not for any of us at any time. Statistically, I will likely join my single friends at some point, since women live longer. (I hope they’re around to help teach me to live alone if that should happen.) I’ve been blessed with forty years of God sustaining us through enough to write a book. Who knows, maybe I will.

So to Denis – who is in Baltimore today, having mostly recovered from whatever it was, and is now addressing the General Assembly of the EPC along with our dear friend, Steve Garber – Happy Fortieth Anniversary and may we continue, by God’s grace, with passion for one another for many more years.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The delight of hair

Manessah, our granddaughter, arrived for her annual summer visit with hair down the middle of her back. She wants it cut off. All of it. “Too hot,” she says. At the salon she decides to donate her heavy mane to Locks of Love – an organization that makes wigs for kids with cancer. Her hair is so thick and heavy the stylist said it was enough for three wigs.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oy vey

1. So someone told me something someone else said, and I shunta listened. It was a little remark about something I had done. It wasn't flattering. Not a big deal, mind, but I gnawed it for hours.

2. A guy is working on replacing a flat roof area outside my office. I ordered a construction dumpster and posted no parking signs on boulevard so it and the roofer would have a place to park themselves. Spaces are scarce here. Why does the city allow parking 24-7? I should be privileged.

3. Denis hears an echoy ka-thang early in the morning – the sound of something being dumped in our dumpster when no workmen are on the job yet. It’s a little kid about yay high swinging his backpack by the tail, randomly uprooting our signs, and tossing them in dumpster. Denis leans out window and yells, HEY! And the kid says, WHAT! I ain’t doin nuthin.

4. I pull on shirt, jeans, fetch signs, replace, but not speedily enough. Someone parks, locks, and leaves car. I thought of book title: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. Ha. I have a flat head axe in my hand. (For re-pounding in the signs! What?!) Okay, I did brandish it at person’s disappearing back.

5. Inside with cup of coffee, I settle down to read daily portion of scripture which includes: “Do not take to heart all the things that people say… your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.” (Eccl.7:21)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Key Lime Avocado Oil

If I keep licking the cap on this bottle of Key Lime Avocado Oil every time I pass the kitchen, it’s going to be gone in about a week. Marsena brought it back from Key West. I think it’s expensive so I probably won’t get another for a long time. This oil is the color of green sea glass and bursts like fresh lime and yes, avocado, across your tongue. Beautiful. Sexy. I want to put it in everything. I also have a new mortar and pestle – a lovely wood-fired pottery thing. Which means now I can get rid of the wooden one I’ve had for a hundred years, i.e, for so long it yields vicious splinters not ground spice. So I’ve been getting the urge to crush and pound things into potent little masses. Or messes. So I did a thing, which I share below. Somehow over a period of 24 hours, I don’t know how or why, I’d thawed brats, chicken thighs AND pork chops. Denis sweetly said he’d barbeque all of it. So I spread the paste on the pork chops. They were fabulous.

If anyone wants to pass on a recipe that requires repeated blows and hammering of anything, I should probably pay you as it is also good therapy.

Coriander Pepper Paste
5 cloves fresh garlic
1 small Jalepeno pepper or 1 t. red pepper flakes,
or whatever amount of heat you can take, you whuss
1 ½ T of whole coriander seed
3 T soy sauce
2 T. brown sugar
2 T olive oil plus 2 t. avocado oil
Crush everything together, but add the soy sauce and oil bit by bit after you get it going. I think the avocado oil isn’t necessary, but it certainly adds interest.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It was Mother's Day

The Great Aunt never had children, though we assure her, she’s been like a mother to us and we love her for it. I don’t think this is enough to heal ancient feelings of bereavement – anyway, she rather despises the notion of being “in touch with one’s self.” She just knows it’s Mother’s Day, we’re getting ready for church, and she’s in a bad mood. She looks beautiful in her pink turtle-neck and gray wool jacket. She adds the finishing touch – dangly earrings. She manages to hang the left one. Then she hands me the other and commands, put it in. It’s a crap shoot. Sometimes I can get it through, today I can’t, no matter how I try. She’s giving me orders as she leans her head this way and that and we move toward the light so I get a better view. I push aside her hair and grasp her lobe between my thumb and forefinger for the umpteenth time. She says, just push it through the front hole. Have you? Have you? Now push down, angle it down. DOWN! PUSH! I get it in the front hole, but it refuses to come out the back. I’m wiggling the post, watching it pooch out against the transparent pink flesh, groping for the back hole. The tissue is so tight I’m afraid I’m going to pop another hole in her ear. I think I’m hurting her. You’re NOT! she says. She sighs deeply when I give up.

At church I notice the one earring still swinging from the side of her head – we forgot to remove it, but I won’t embarrass her by taking it out during prayers. She’s still in a temper about Mother’s Day, and has already anticipated that the pastor will make a big to-do over it. He tells us the church is blessed by women, that all of them are our mothers in Christ whether they have children or not and we honor them. But she’s not buying it, even though she is to us. Even when the kids pass out carnations to every human remotely resembling adult female.

We rush out after the service into driving wind and rain, knowing she’ll quickly forget this was a “special” Sunday. We take her to Elly’s Pancake house because, she informs us, she hasn’t had pancakes in years and years. Comforted by coffee and bacon fried crisp, her face softens and she smiles broadly as she watches the bobbing two-year-old at the next table - whose father is forking bits of pancake into her mouth, syrup dribbling down her front, and she, clapping sticky hands. I reach across and briefly hold The Aunt’s hand, thank you. Not for anything in particular, just thank you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


We’ve been in Chicago area the last six days taking care of the Great Aunt, 87, while Marsena & Jeff get away for a vacation. Way away – to the Florida Keys. Jeff was looking forward to driving the Seven Mile Bridge. Marsena – lying on the beach and reading 50 pounds of books which when Jeff questioned amount of while packing she threw in two more.

I’ve been trying to write Notes from Toad Hall between reruns of Law & Order and trips to The Kelsey Road House for fish & chips where when we walk in, the Aunt jauntily swings her cane, which she refused to bring until Denis threatened her, and she is greeted by all the barmaids who recognize her and yell, The Usual? which causes her to blush because of her very fundamentalist background and while it still seems sinful to enjoy a white zinfandel, until the first bracing sip when she reminds us, oh, that’s right I’m a Presbyterian now, ha. After I ate half my meal, which causes her to frown, I order a cappuccino ice cream truffle and ask if she wants to share. NO. I HATE CAPPUCCINO. What is it anyway? Well, I don’t like it and I won’t have one bite. It comes and she tries a bite. You’ve had this before, I say. No, I haven’t. Yes, you have and last time you ate almost all mine and tried to get me to order another so you could snarf that one down, too. I DID NOT, she says. She does the same thing again. Which is just O.K. with me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

There Will Be Blood etc.

“My current project is writing a talk I am to give to the Macon Parish Catholic Women’s Council on the dizzying subject – 'What Is a Wholesome Novel?' I intend to tell them that the reason they find nothing but obscenity in modern fiction is because that is all they know how to recognize.” - Flannery O’Connor.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Watching Last Week

There was a robin huddled near my back doorstep. I think it was sick or depressed cuz I got this close to it.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabee continues to off his own people. Now it includes children and babies.
We’ve been getting updates on little Jace, just a month old, going from hospital to hospice at home, the only home he’ll know in this life because he has Trisomy 18 and isn’t expected to live long.

We live in tension, knowing these exist while we eat broccoli cheese soup with friends (thanks, Kelly) and sleep under polartec while the cold wind howls out there. (And it really did blow this week. Only yesterday another foot of snow fell in northern Minnesota.) There are comforts I love and celebrations that are so fine. But, I often grip the sides of life, asking what it means to be faithful wherever we turn up in life. How to be here or there, and do it well. One thing is sure, some of us need to remember what this little song by Katy Bowser is about -- The Weight of the World. Only Jesus can carry it -- it’s unbearable for us. Thanks to tech, the burden of knowing is heavier than ever. But think of it, while peoples in some other parts of the world had to have been killing one another and sacrificing their children to whatever gods, Jesus went to a wedding and made wine. I need to remember he did this on his way to the cross.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Writers Talk

Some quotes from the Festival of Faith & Writing. I wrote them down as spoken. I hope I got them right, but can’t vouch for every comma.

….most machines were put on earth to hurt me.
- Mary Gordon. From her lecture: “Is Fiction Moral?”

I was raised a pagan, a savage, and I still need to be careful not to convince myself that Jack Daniels and crack are not sacramental.
- Mary Karr. From her lecture: “Writing & Praying Your Way to Truth.

Last night I [Alan Jacobs] met Mary Karr who asked me, ‘What made you write a book about sin?’
I said, ‘Didn’t they teach you to write what you know?’
‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘I thought they said, you reap what you sow.’

After a lecture a young man approached me and said, ‘Mr. Jacobs, I love your work, it has changed my life. I don’t think I have the talent to be a fiction writer or a poet, but I think I could be an essayist.’
- Alan Jacobs in his discussion on personal essay.

As a historian, I ask: which would be more interesting? A memoir by Louis IV or a memoir by the servant who emptied his chamber pot? The farther down the social scale, the more interesting.
- Carlos Eire. From his lecture: “Where Falsehoods Dissolve: Memory as Witness.”

If you lie in a novel – you’re a terrible writer.
If you lie in a memoir – you’re a terrible person.
- Haven Kimmel. From her conversation: “Writing a Life.”

I followed the mosquito.
- David Athey from Moose Lake, MN, on the 18 years it took to bring Danny Gospel to press.

Eternity is written in the hearts of saints and fools. It’s in their movies, too.
Sometimes we learn of glory through its absence.
- Jeffery Overstreet. From his lecture “Through a Screen Darkly.”

The artist who can’t play, can’t create. Go home dancing – to create beauty in your life and in the lives of others.
- Katherine Paterson. From her lecture “Stories of Beauty.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For "that" or "which"

On the eve of the writing conference I’m attending. Staying alone in a hotel room, I made a decision. Because, you see, being here is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing will be to sit with my jaw dropped, listening to so many talented writers, Carlos Eire, Edward P. Jones, Mary Karr, Yann Martel. The wonder of their gift, their determination to write no matter if no one cooks and you eat boiled eggs five days in a row. The curse is that when you meet the writers of the writing who make it hard to breathe, you start to wonder what the -- were you thinking YOU can write? You can’t even remember when to use “that” or “which.” So I made the decision: re-read something you’ve written. Sometimes it comforts. I can see, okay, no Pulitzer Prize here, but not too bad, it flows. And yes, I’ll keep doing this. I give God a lot of credit, you know. He’s helped me delete a lot of adverbs and other things. So I pulled up a chapter I revised just two weeks ago with some of my best, newest insights, written with just the right twist. We even went away for five days so I could fully concentrate. I worked until my eyes ached. The old one was there, but I can’t find the revised work. It’s gone. I don’t know where it went or what I did. It’s just gone. All that work. I suspect I had too many open documents, mis-named one, deleted it later, who knows? And Denis is at a concert tonight so I can’t call him.

Tomorrow I’m supposed to meet with an agent. We’ll pitch each other and try to figure out if either of us are worth it and will we be able to work together and make good business. Or not.

Maybe this post is cathartic and a Starbucks will cheer me in the morning? No. That’s deluded.

So many have passed this way before us.

Evening Prayers on the Sixteenth Day.
O Thou whose eternal love for our weak and struggling race was most perfectly shown forth in the blessed life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, enable me now so to meditate upon my Lord’s passion that, having fellowship with Him in His sorrow, I may also learn the secret of His strength and peace. - John Baillie

Saturday, April 12, 2008

If You Are Moving

Last week the NYT told what $500,000 would get us in housing.

Providence, R.I. 6 Bedrooms. 4 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 5,010.
Happy Valley, OR. 4 Bedrooms. 3.5 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 3,700.
San Diego, CA. 2 Bedrooms. 2.5 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 1,475
Paris, France. 2 Bedrooms. 1 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 740.
Brooklyn, NY. 0 Bedrooms. 1 Bathroom. Sq. ft.: 700.

What this tells me:
You don't sleep in Brooklyn.
Most Americans bathe alone.
We could probably afford a home in Koochiching County, MN. (see above)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Drunken Dandelion

I can’t ever remember my husband dressing me, or brushing my hair. I’ve never really wanted one of those Francine River moments where I let down my hair and my lover tenderly brushes my locks before we have hot sex. I mean, not that’s it’s totally of no interest. I was only towel-drying my hair after I got out of the shower when something happened to my neck. I managed to inch into the bedroom and fall on the bed moaning for Denis. When he arrived he was so concerned I thought of faking a faint to see where that got me. Anyway, he got my shirt on backwards the first try, and he kinda of brushed my hair - gouging my scalp, and scraping my ears. (It’s been a long time since he’s had hair of his own.) By then I was heavily into meds and didn’t care if I looked like a drunken dandelion head, but the occasion wasn’t entirely lost on me – it was a first.

With little ammo dumps going off up and down my right side, I shuffled into the chiropractor who, I think practices a form of chiro-voodoo. He doesn’t chant or anything, but he’s so cheerful about pain, which bothers me a little. “Lie down,” he says, “and we’ll have a look. Oh, you can’t get down there.” Thankfully, his tray table stands on end and if you can walk over, plant your feet in front of it, and lean forward slightly, you can ride the thing to a prone position. After gently tapping my spine, bending my knees, and asking me to look over my right shoulder – which I couldn’t do in any case, he said, “Okay, then. That should calm down, now.” “So what’s WRONG?” I wanted to wail, but I said it quiet, like I was only marginally interested in my ruptured disks and severed nerves; I couldn’t even breath without screaming. Inside. But no, he said I’d just wrenched my neck. I did start to feel better, but my day was shot, and I was discouraged.

Back home, Denis got me settled on the couch so I could watch daytime television. I wanted to see Jack Van Impe talk about End Times even though he makes me want to convert to Islam (temporary feeling). I want an illustration for my next Notes, but no Jack. Only Paula, the blonde with witch-nails. (I’d like some myself, except I don’t think I could afford them.) She’s sitting in a Queen Anne Chair, saying sincerely, “…you wouldn’t miss a doctor’s appointment or an appointment with your hair-dresser, so should you miss an appointment with GOD?” No, ma’am. I move on. An interior designer is re-doing a house so the know-nothing bachelor can sell. Charles Bronson is killing someone. A young lady with a thin waist and gorgeous, fat lips (I’d like them, too) is in a top register pitching notes, “You tore up my heart…” Oklahoma is under a tornado watch and flights out of LaGuardia are 70 minutes late. I shut it off, disappointed.

I was getting ready to nap when Denis brought the mail. I swear I never get packages, but today I got four! Two from Jeremy who sent me a pound of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and a CD mix of Page France and Sigur Ros. Another package is from friends in Ghana – a tote bag, perfect for my computer. From Ann in Turkey, I get a disgusting, sick, beaded, smiley-face coin purse. I’d like to know how God managed to converge these things from across the globe and dump them all in my lap on the same day I wrack my neck and my husband dresses me and brushes my hair.

From evening prayers: Before I sleep, I would for a moment rejoice in the loves and friendships wherewith Thou hast blessed my life. … whom now, with my own soul, I entrust to Thy keeping through the hours of darkness. And for all who this night have not where to lay their heads or who, though lying down, cannot sleep for pain or for anxiety, I crave Thy pity in the name of our Lord Christ. Amen. John Baillie.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What Are You Tapping

I’m in the midst of revising a manuscript I’ve written on coming to faith as a child – much of it reflected upon and seen through the prism of my adult eye. Over a year ago, I thought it was finished and as an afterthought I sent it to a consultant. (If all you want is validation, there are cheaper ways to get it.) He listed many strengths that were in place, and then he let me have it. Boom. I had plenty of wonderful stories, but what was the point? He wanted me to go deeper into my faith, deeper into who is God as father, (and he not a man of faith himself!) but for a year it sat, until I picked it up again last December. I knew he was right. So some of the colorful neighbors may have to leave along with my mother’s Maytag wringer-washer – which caught a hank of her auburn hair and ripped it off her scalp.

Today I read, The greater the depth at which you tap your own personal truth, the greater relevance your writing will have to humanity.Gail Sher. Sometimes Zen Buddhists get it right. I’m afraid of finding an empty, meaningless shell at the core of my being. But that fear is a temptation to believe rot. I know God sits at the center of who I am and rather than making it my goal to be relevant to others, I prefer, I want, I need to write for his pleasure. All the time. And if it’s relevant to anyone else that’s just extra cream in my coffee. You know? Oh. And don’t ask when I’ll be done. I swear, if our income depended on the speed of my writing, we wouldn’t be starving, we’d be dead.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Talent Envy

Today, this is what I see if I look up. Every once in awhile we get to the North Shore of Lake Superior where a friend owns a cabin on the rocky shore. The waves have been high all night, pounding, thumping into caverns, throwing icy spray across the cliffs. It’s quiet. At least to my way of thinking -- no urban sounds. Denis is no distraction, he’s absorbed in writing for the next issue of Critique, and grading papers for a recent class he taught at the seminary. So I have no excuse not to concentrate on my writing. In preparation for this day and the few days to come a portion of a prayer stays with me: “…from thinking lightly of the one talent thou hast given me, because thou hast not given me five or ten: O God, set me free.” A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.

Friday, March 21, 2008

You're Welcome

What’s with toadsdrinkcoffee? Well, we’ve lived in a house named Toad Hall since 1981. Toad Hall was an imaginative designation from our children who thought the old house looked like the mansion from the book, Wind in the Willows. This, in part, because they were little people and used to the low-slung adobes of New Mexico. I’ve been thinking we should’ve named our home something more chic or artful like Cascade Creek Cottage and we’d sound, if not look, a bit more charming. But we’re stuck. The “drinkcoffee” half is no surprise. We love coffee. I don’t like to think of it as a need, but I suppose if you have a nervous breakdown from accidentally drinking decaf, you need it, so I confess: regular, steaming, cold-pressed, iced in summer, laced with cream – just the sound of the grinder or the teakettle heating water for the French press – makes me happy. Coffee is a way of comforting friends and strangers. So, if you came by, I might offer you a cup of my favorite, Ethiopian yergacheffe. And finally, there is this: BLOG is a word a toad would probably like – it would sort of remind her of her damp, marshy home and she’d check it out? Right. It’s ludicrous to pretend toadsdrinkcoffee could replace a latte in real space and time, but we’d still like to think if you stepped into our living room or blog you’d feel safe, a little bit at home, and that we could talk about anything. You’ll probably get more of Margie’s voice here than Denis’. And a final warning: I’m not good with commas and I know how bitter that makes some people feel. I suggest a 20 ounce coffee with a triple depth charge, and you’ll be more apt to overlook a lot of things that upset you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Easter Week

Yesterday morning, I took a plateful of warm buns down to the coffee shop where I keep a sort of second office. The Caribou Crew were so amazed -- like I’d given them a pay raise or something. Then, last night when, by chance, the manager saw us eating hamburgers in a little café, her face lit up, she came over gave us each a hug, and introduced her boyfriend. We were honored. These are far easier to make than one would think. And holy in their own little way.

Hot Cross Buns

4 cups flour
¼ cup candied fruit. (I hate candied fruit. I substitute ¼ cup raisins and ¼ cup snipped dried apricots.)
¼ cup chopped nuts
1 pkg (2 T.) yeast
2 T warm water
1 cup warm milk
¼ melted butter
1 ½ t. salt
¼ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
½ t. vanilla
1 t. (or so) grated lemon zest (I use orange)

In a large bowl, mix warm water and yeast. Add warm milk and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Melt butter in a little dish and mix in the egg to reduce temperature. You don’t want to kill the yeast by adding boiling hot butter. Add to yeast mixture. Add vanilla, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Beat until the batter drools off the whisk. With a wooden spoon, stir in fruit and nuts and another cup of flour. Dust the dough really well with part of the last cup and then turn out on the counter to knead. Knead the dough until it springs back when you punch in your thumb. All the while add bits of flour to keep it from sticking to your hands and the surface. Replace in bowl and smear butter all over the top. Cover and place in a warm spot to rise until double. About an hour. Butter 2 cookie sheets or cake pans. Or something. Punch the dough down. You can be aggressive here. Grab little globs of dough about the size of a golf balls, shape into a ball and place in pans. They should not touch each other. With a sharp knife cut a cross in the center of each bun. Let rise about 45 minutes. Heat oven to 400 degrees and bake about 14-16 minutes. Keep a watch. You want them light brown on outside, but done in the middle. Makes about 2 dozen.

Cool for 5 - 10 minutes. While still warm, glaze with following: 1 ½ cups powdered sugar, a little orange zest, orange juice or ½ & ½ (a mixture will do) add liquid until it’s kinda runny – a little thicker than kid’s cough syrup. Put buns on a round platter and drizzle glaze into the cross marks. Immediately eat four or five to test them. Give the rest away.