Friday, January 29, 2010

There I fixed that

No Officer, I Have No Idea How The Fire Started"Officer, I don't know how the fire started."
Denis says this is how he fixes things. I didn't say that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Closer to creation

The power of observation to capture an almost nothing: A seventy-six word sentence neatly followed by one much shorter. Almost perfect.

In the palm of her hand was what looked at first like a shred of whitish dust but on closer inspection turned out to be a little downy feather, no more than an inch long, with a needle-thin white spine out of which grew first a nimbus of fluff and then, for about a third of an inch, neatly tapering white filaments clinging to one another with their minute jellyfish barbules to form a triangular tip. Certainly it looked closely related to dust, and by that branch of the family a cousin of absolute nothingness.

From It’s Beginning to Hurt by James Lasdun

Friday, January 22, 2010

Image of God

I’ve seen this (perhaps you have, too): Two young children, perhaps siblings sitting side by side, engrossed, in their own space and tiny world, coloring, braiding a doll’s hair, rolling a train engine on a track, imitating an adult activity. One of them reaches for something in the other’s space. The sibling who’s space has been invaded moves the thing away – “that is mine.”  The invader is angered because she’s didn’t get what she wanted and clocks or bites her sibling hard, who cries and does a little (not even a big) pay-back, perhaps a neck squeeze or a push. The initial transgressor is completely undone by this and has a complete melt-down – I’ve been wronged. If you go here you can watch these two babies at the beginning of this movie trailer. Isn’t this, in a way, a powerful and charming affirmation of our common humanity across cultures – the universal challenge of getting along in community? These two babies are less than a year old. And look at what they’re playing at! Pounding maize on a metate?! Modeling their mothers! Why am I so delighted? This has made my day and I can’t wait for the film to be released in April.

Note Sufjan Stevens on the sound track. "The Perpetual Self"
Thanks to Shaun LaRose for alerting me to this.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Today Anita and I drove back from St. Louis. We left in dreary fog and heavy damp. Hadn’t seen the sun since we’d left home. As we headed north we began to notice clumps of wild grass thick and luxuriant - their heads floating like feathers above the ditches. We wondered how they had remained so intact, so beautiful this late in the season. I wanted to stop and gather armfuls, but immediately deleted that thought. From northern Missouri on up through Iowa they grew and grew, until finally we noticed the bushes, trees, fences had begun to take on the same light fairy look. It was frost. By northern Iowa the ground was deep in snow with frost fanning out, coating every surface, even the highline wires. I said wouldn’t it be wonderful to drive into sun with all this? And then we did, like God said here you are. For perhaps 40 miles it flared across blue sky making such glory. During those miles with the sun we passed a magnificent bald eagle right beside the highway eating road kill. (Very undignified.) We turned around to try to get a pic and as we rolled down the window it slowly took off looking extremely annoyed. No, that’s not true, eagles always look annoyed. All of this – the beauty of creation. And tonight, the beauty of my own bed. Being home. Magnificent in its own way. Much to be thankful for, including a great board meeting. Though I might be more thankful if Denis were here. He stayed in St. Louis at Covenant Seminary to teach a J-term class: Film and Theology.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Writing Images of Sheep and Eating

When I wrote this column for Comment magazine it was due December 18 although the publication date was January 8 – typical for published pieces as they need an editor’s vigorous scrubbing to rid them of danglers, smiley faces and whatnot. We had been very busy… oh, what am I saying. Everyone is “very busy” nearly all the time. So I take it back. Life was being what it usually is for most of us – overwhelming. Like a lot of other miserable wretches I know, I also put off deadlines. I mean, why do something ahead of time when you can wait until the last moment and then do it accompanied by migraines and large bowel explosions. Actually I just need a little morphine and a body sling to enable me to ignore nasty little errors in our checking account, the male/female gingerbread cookies that want baking, all friends and most of the family in order to remain bent over my keyboard for hours and hours at a time. Then I could blow into full writing mode with all my sails unfurled and words pouring unto my deck. But nothing comes that easy. So I spent those hours and hours, staring at the screen with nothing coming, wishing I’d never heard of such a thing as the alphabet.

I look back now and see I made a journal entry two days before it was due: “I need a miracle. I need God.” Of course he’s there all the time and so often are the words. For as many times as I’ve been through this, I still need the reminder that the creative process is very slow for me. Part of it is simply showing up. Waiting. Then seeing something as it begins to form. This time it was the gracious images of sheep in my life – their meaning and the ridiculous baa-aaing I do when stressed. Let me add that it certainly isn’t God’s fault when I’m not paying attention to deadlines. And whatever the eventual outcome of life – I’m talking about big, bad issues – I know God doesn’t leave his sheep writhing on the delivery table. He will eventually meet us with healing – even if what we’re talking about is death – however violent our exit. (Today I’m thinking of our many brothers and sisters in Haiti who have suffered and died in the horrifying earthquake.)

Anyway, with great relief I finished a final draft late on the morning of the deadline, shut my laptop, went to lunch, came back, called it up and it was gone. I’d forgotten to save the final version. All my clever turns of phrase and the conclusion – gone. No getting it back. I had to ask the editor for an extension (thanks, Dan!). Some of it eventually came back and I eventually punched “Send.” Every day I learn more about God’s provisions (see column). Every day I learn I can never eat too many of them.

So here is the beginning of the essay and if you haven’t come across it or would like to read the whole thing click here:

“Sheep graze at the edge of my imagination, like big fleecy bugs. They appear in my dreams, cookbooks, scripture, and paintings – little metaphors of life. They are endearing and stupid. In another life I might have chosen to be a shepherdess because caring for such creatures appeals, but it’s more likely I would be cast as….”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Winter Day at Toad Hall

It was almost achingly beautiful today. The sky in winter can be brilliant blue - only in New Mexico did we see skies so turquoise. There they were so common we complained. Longing for clouds and rainy days. Why are we never quite altogether happy with the weather? (no response, please, friends from Hawaii.) Is it just me? When it's this cold with temps way below zero we are exhilarated. Although I feel sorry for rabbits, I don't spare feelings for squirrels. The snow glints and dazzles. Each step is a crunchy squeak. Even the car tires squeak over the snow. Thought I'd share the photos Anita took around Toad Hall today. (I don't think I've quite figured out how to properly embed a slideshow. Sorry.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The efficacy of TSA

On December 26, the day after a terrorist attempted to bring down a KLM/Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, forcing security into the stratosphere, we went to the Mpls/St. Paul International Airport to pick up our granddaughter coming from Tennessee via Atlanta on a Delta flight to visit for a week. To meet an unaccompanied minor you have to go to the ticket counter show your last will and testament, pay a hundred dollars and get a pass to get through security.

We had just arrived at the bins and rollers and were undressing when Denis who was ahead of me turns and shows me his pocket knife. His very favorite ever pocket knife with wood and horn handle, a gift from a precious friend (me) and looks at me with dismay. Now he is a very precise organized person, and a continuous shame to my disheveled unfocused ways. Though he kindly doesn’t mention them very often. I confess I had a rush of secret glee because I’ve been through this three times, having the Agents steal pocket knives from me, one of them being a beloved little Swiss army knife. It was green. That day I begged The Agent to not throw it away cuz I loved the little thing and to keep it himself. I give it to you, I said. But he smiled back and shook his head no. Like I would KILL anything! I’m a grandmother. I have WHITE hair. Another time, I sneakily placed the knife in a trash can before I went through the security line and when I came back from fetching Granddaughter, like a homeless person, I filched through tossed sodas and greasy French fry bags reaching deep and pulled it out of its hiding place. I do blush a little to think of this.

Denis looked at me almost like he was going to cry, and then he just tossed it in the plastic tub along with this hat and shoes like, O, well. What he didn’t know is that I had also, ONCE AGAIN, forgotten to take out my own knife. I didn’t want to tell him because, well, it would seem like just one more time when I’d need to eat another bar of chocolate and drink a double grande soy latte with half vanilla to restore my battered self-image. I planned to just let The Agent have it again. So as our tubs bumped along and disappeared behind the plastic curtains we were each waved through the x-ray arch. I wasn’t even looking back, just watching Denis waiting ahead of me and when he grabbed his tub with a triumphant grin, I tried to look as sour as possible. But when my purse also came tumbling through and I dared to look back at The Agent who had his elbow propped on his chin and was looking fatally bored, I almost screamed YESSS! We sauntered out carrying our shoes and casually redressed, walked a way down the concourse and then we yelled, high-fived and hugged. I know that sounds juvenile. But imagine if they’d caught us? And the day after a major incident? I’d probably still be in custody. And think how I might have felt if I’d lost knife number four? Ah, life is sometimes so good.

Friday, January 1, 2010


When the stench from the refrigerator is bad enough to get a whiff of it even when the door is closed and you’re just walking past you don’t really have many options. At least, I don’t. It’s not like I could move out or call the maid or anything. And, although I really hate to discourage Denis from doing anything in the kitchen, I don’t like it when he gets all logical about this odor and says he’s going to find the source. What he really means he’s going to get in there and try to pitch stuff like the apples that feel like Nerf balls – I was going to make apple cake with them someday. Then he starts pulling out containers, opening lids, slipping the trashcan over to the door, exclaiming, WHAT is THIS? And, HERE, SMELL THIS. And WHY are you keeping THIS? I don’t want to get into it with him about why I’ve kept half a jar of capers for eighteen months, or the unopened bottle of angostura bitters for five years. And he may not like four different kinds of mustard, but I do. I just want him out of there. I don’t go into his office and riffle his papers, or rearrange his mountainous stacks of books and cds.

But. Because there was something that was knocking me back when I passed the refrigerator, I knew I didn’t have much time. And it is New Years Day. What better way to say I’m going to be a better person, I’m going to never over-buy or compulsive purchase. We will be eating every leftover, no fruit will rot… the deli meat will not get slick and smelly, and…. Nevermind. Just for today, at least, the fridge smells okay and there’s more room in there than there’s been for about three months.

So, happy New Year, Denis, my love. With very few excuses, this is what’s either freezing (it’s minus 2 degrees right now) out in the trash can by the alley or has been flushed down the toilet:

¼ jar of fermented salsa. - It got pushed to the back. Along with about fifty other jars of jam, pickles, olives.

Canned salmon with cream cheese, lemon, dill. - From the second you made this, Denis, I dropped to my knees retching. 12 days later… there are no words. You were supposed to eat it.

A bowl of greenish-molded boiled potatoes. I was going to make potato salad with these leftovers from a raclette dinner a month ago.

2 rotten apples.

2 limes brown and mushy. – The color of fresh limes make me happy, but I don't eat them much.

A shriveled piece of ginger. - A mystery. I didn’t put it there. Probably Anita.

A small bag of blackened cranberries. They were organic, even. Spoilage proves it. I made something with them in early November, can’t remember what. These were leftover.

4 egg whites growing clouds. Didn’t need them for the Mexican chocolate pots de crème.

1 serving of Mexican chocolate pots de crème with now sour whipped cream on top 3 ½ weeks old. - I thought Anita wanted it. (I know you don’t like chocolate that much.) She thought I did. Now neither of us want it.

A plastic bag of swampy brown and yellow liquid that leaked under the drawer.