Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leaving. Leafing?

After days of rain and gray and even a day in which four inches of snow fell last week, (it’s all melted now) the sun has made the trees on our street blaze with glory. In a strange letting go the above maple tree often drops all its leaves at once. On a windless day in less than three hours it can cover everything beneath it with a layer of radiant yellow. I marvel every time and Denis and I yell at each other to COME LOOK! Then the tree recedes to gray to dead black for winter. Until one day in March, or maybe April, we will waken and notice what didn’t seem to be there just the day before, the faintest haze of color, a sort of burgundy from thousands of buds that wakened while we slept, and then we realize they were sneaking up on us, resting, growing all the while.

Denis has been in Lake Zurich for a week staying with our daughter and Aunt Ruth. I’m going to them tomorrow, hoping to bring a bit of “home” with me. It’s been a hard week with unwelcome sorrows for them. What am I saying? Is sorrow ever welcome? It’s during such times, even though I reject the prosperity gospel, I’m most tempted to pray that God will bring health, wealth, and personal happiness to our immediate family and everyone I love. But in countless ways I’ve found this to be not the pattern or desire God has in mind for us. Again and again, God comes to us in the wilderness, when things look dead or dying, when we are without hope or a way forward, he comes saying, I am your “hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place.” And as if all this comfort is not enough, and in case we don’t really GET it: He ends with, to you I’ll be “like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.” (Is. 32:2) It fascinates me that each of these scenes represent precarious, uncertain, life-sucking, unwelcoming places. So we turn to Him certain, that in our own sinful and saddened dispositions we will find shelter and hope, and it may not be the kind of shelter or rescue we expect, but we keep reminding ourselves that one day, one day, everything will be restored to the glory God intended for it to have. Just like that maple tree that is fiercely blazing its heart out my window today. Only, it’ll be forever. I like that.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Insect invasion

Thanks everyone for tips on getting rid of fruit flies. We tried the plastic bag with mashed fruit, but the flies didn’t want to get in there. The overturned slightly propped up glass dish with a bit of bait underneath attracted a few, but transferring the flies to a killing field without losing them was too much for me. Obviously, the funnel and jar was a bust. Someone suggested a can of cheap beer mixed with detergent - the soap breaks the surface tension so when their little feet hit the liquid they are just sucked right in and quickly drown. That was the trigger. I’ve seen how they love red wine, the little drunken sots. So instead of beer, I just poured the wine in a glass, added a squirt of detergent, and it worked. I sent dozens and dozens of flies to their graves. It’s over now, anyway. The weather is cold and they have disappeared.

It’s probably some other kind of cosmic justice that made me feel a tickle under the sleeve of my shirt the other day. Thinking my nerve ends were a little jumpy, I scratched. A few seconds later, again, a sensation like tiny feet running up my arm. Then something pinched me hard. That's when I knew it was no nerve end. A bug was crawling around inside my sleeve. Screaming, I threw my shirt off in the living room, not caring about anything except salvation from the creepy thing that was biting me. I know Denis thinks I’m totally crazy, and was glad it was only the two of us. I ran upstairs and shook out my shirt over the bathtub and an EARWIG fell out. It BIT me with its ugly dangerous pincers. I KNEW it. I forced myself to pick it up in a tissue, squeeze it to death and I took it back to show Denis. I made him look because even though he said he believed me, I knew he didn’t. And there it was.

I’m glad I don’t know any state secrets, cuz if threatened with earwigs, cockroaches or centipedes I would tell all and not be sorry.

Friday, October 9, 2009

"The Scent of Slow"

Today this arrived in my inbox. I'd almost forgotten that I'd written it and when it came, I read it again almost as if I didn't know the author or remember that fine quote from C.S. Lewis. Comment is a weekly on-line (and print) magazine aimed at this generation of students, but appreciated by a much wider audience. It is published by Cardus, a Canadian think tank. Go here to figure out why they'd include my voice among artists, scholars, and professionals of one sort or another. Perhaps I fit their desire to "integrate the broad wisdom of the biblical narrative of brokenness and restoration." If so, I'm humbled and honored to be among them and to dialogue with this generation of college and graduate students.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Fall is really here. I know because this week the population of fruit flies in our kitchen has multiplied to desert sandstorm levels. I can’t approach the sink unless I have a kerchief tied around my face to keep from breathing the little devils. Denis is really aroused by them and has been trying to erect little killing stations. Last night he had an inch of red wine (why not since they’ve been diving in and drowning themselves in droves) in a wine glass covered with a piece of press and stick plastic wrap with a tiny hole punched in the top. On my last check before bed I noted they weren’t finding their way in so I set up a trap with an old kitchen funnel. That didn’t work either because the aluminum funnel was dinged and bent from years of banging around in the utensil drawer. Why do I keep it? Well, you never know when you might need to pour a bottle of almond extract into a teeny jar. Okay. I don’t know! I threw away three garlic presses last year. Anyway, the funnel didn’t fit tight to the rim of the jar and they flew in, drank and laid eggs and did whatever fruit flies do and then crawled out. This morning there was only one fly floating in wine. Denis was again, quite agitated and sensing I might be embarrassed if some important person stopped by and choked on flies. He doesn’t seem to be aware that every one I know and respect doesn’t take out the garbage every other second or pour bleach down the disposal ten times a day or keep a toothbrush from air drying in the bathroom (that’s where they hung out last year, and I agree it’s a little sick), well then if you’re like me in October you’re going to have fruit flies. But anyway, Denis was rigging up another system and this time he found a larger funnel made of plastic (no dings, still smooth, kept in case of need to siphon cider vinegar from bathtub to gallon jug) and decided he remembered I used mashed banana bait a long time ago. (I must have 20 frozen bananas in the freezer waiting for inspiration) So, banana mixed with red wine, a funnel, jar, plastic wrap. Last check: two drowned, one swimming, one crawling, one thousand sitting on sink, sill, and stove.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Living with blind spots

It is no longer “OFFICAL.” It’s been fixed and it was so easy. I just let our webmaster know and he changed it. He took the word out. So look at the top of the page. You are reading “The Blog of Notes From Toad Hall.”

My daughter-in-law sent a message the other day. Subject: “call me dumb.” (No, she’s not dumb. Nor am I. I don’t think…)

“So, I was looking at your blog today and something has always looked a little funny to me. I finally figured it out today. In your title the word "official". You have it spelled “offical.” Is that an alternate spelling or intentional? More curious than anything.”

That would be “ah-fickle” rhymes with “ah-pickle.” Why has no one told me til now? For almost two years?! (See how I can make this your fault?) This has to be a case of the brain seeing what it wants to see. I think it’s also called scotoma or blind spots.

I prefer to think it has nothing to do with stupidity, but I can’t be sure of that. I’m uncertain because it is rare when I notice my own impairments and personal flaws. It’s shocking to be told, you are frowning. No I’m not. You are. I don’t feel frowny. I’m not frowning. So I sneak a look at myself when I’m not looking and sure enough. That’s my default pose. But I can explain, it’s just my serious concentrating look, I’m not mad at you.

Every Sunday we are led through confession. During that part of the service, I try to be present – though I can drift off, thinking about who knows what – maybe we should ask Ron if we can borrow his live squirrel trap, or some other weird thing – and suddenly, arrgh, I’ve missed that part of the service altogether. But when I stay present sifting my heart, listening and looking, not only for the OBVIOUS, but for blind spots - I know it’s not quite the same as letting the webmaster know there is a misspelling in the title of your blog, but, okay, there’s some faint connection - that in talking to God about all the stuff I do that I can’t even name cuz I’m not even in touch with it (lurking as it does in my blind spot) God can and DOES have enough mercy to spread over me. I’m relieved that even in my know-nothing condition, I don’t need to completely despair or obsess about it - I have forgiveness and confidence in the mercy of God. I’ve learned it from coming back again and again to this piece of knowing Jesus:

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we

may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16).