Wednesday, June 29, 2011

After the Storm

Lots of large branches down.

Many trees, like our redbud, lost a large part of themselves.

We found treasures in the mess.

We filled this trailer five times,

but what we added to the city brush pile was barely noticeable.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Posting may be sporadic for a while here. We had a strong storm go through early Monday morning, and while everybody came through safely, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. I have pictures to add to this post, but they will have to wait until we have electricity again at our house.

In the meantime, I am

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Coming up safe from the basement
2. Finally falling asleep again
3. Sleeping in, window open to the cool and rain
4. Venturing out to see what happened during the night
5. Finding a leaf the size of your head
6. Comparing stories with neighbors
7. Pitching in to clear each other’s yards
8. The smell of tree sap and sweat on skin
9. Running into friends and neighbors at the city brush pile
10. Going to bed right after sunset

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Friday, June 24, 2011


The red crayon was always one of the shortest crayons in my 64-color box of Crayolas. It was my favorite color in first grade, the one I betrayed when my class voted on popular colors by raising my hand for blue at the last moment. I figured blue must be the best color if everybody else loved it so much.

But red is an old friend. It is passion and strength and life, and these things are staples. It is the shining thing flowing through each of us, without which we could not live.

Red is vision, and dreams—the life blood that sustains us through hard times and hard work. That road you follow that for some reason you are sure was meant for you, even if other travelers think you are crazy. Red is full of the energy you get from doing the things you love. It is also perseverance; the thing you keep doing because you know it is good, even when it hurts or drains all your energy away.

Red is not always pretty, and never trifling. You know those things that you hear about happening to other people—the things you know you are not strong enough to bear? They are often soaked in red. I embraced my third pregnancy as a blessing from God. I took it as a sure sign of grace and hope and promise in the middle of a difficult time for our family. And then I began to bleed. I know how common miscarriages are, but I have rarely heard women speak of them. I was not prepared for how hidden, how quiet, how raw, it would be—all the hope and comfort I had attached to this child ending in a toilet while the rest of my family slept.

Red can be overpowering. I mostly like it in small doses, running through everything the way it runs through my veins, strengthening, nourishing, sustaining. Sometimes it is like that—safe and contained, and sometimes it rises up all around you and throbs. But grace is red, too. The days surrounding my miscarriage were wrapped in grace along with the pain. Have you noticed how often those two need to be attached? I let my older two children play. I got out all the glitter and glue and construction paper, even the Play-Doh, and watched them make a huge mess, and for once I didn’t care about cleaning it up. I only wanted to be with them, and have it last forever. Here was my hope and comfort, even—especially—through the hurt.

Imagine the spectrum without any red at all. There would be very little warmth. No heat, no passion, no blood, no grace. I wonder how we would live.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Real and True

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
                                                                                                    --Albert Einstein
I was once talking to a young girl about favorite things. “My favorite animal for years was the unicorn,” I told her. She looked at me very seriously. “Unicorns aren’t real.”

I can’t remember how I responded. I knew unicorns weren’t real, but I spent a generous portion of fourth and fifth grade drawing them and dreaming about them anyway.

I’m positive my parents didn’t read me fairy tales because they wanted me to believe in fairies. Or unicorns. Or because they thought the stories would give me a good grounding in math, or theology, or science. They read me those books because the stories were good, and because they contained deep truths about life—what it means to be foolish or clever or brave, how important it is to follow good advice and help others in need, and how there is more to life than what you can see and hear and taste.

So I’m curious—what are some of your favorite fairy tales, either as a child or now? I grew up on a lot of Scandinavian folk and fairy tales because of the wonderful books my grandfather, a history professor who specialized in Norwegian-American immigrants, gave as Christmas and birthday gifts. The kids and I have been reading through my old copy of Great Swedish Fairytales, illustrated by John Bauer, recently. I had forgotten just how beautifully-written it is, and I love it now more than ever. Two of my more recent favorites are The Empty Pot, by Demi, and The Wide-Awake Princess, by Katherine Paterson.

How about you?

The Empty PotThe Wide-Awake Princess

Monday, June 20, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

"Please leave us alone 'cause we are studyin'"

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Answering restlessness with a day trip
2. Lunch in the car
3. Goldfinch balanced on a thistle flower
4. Exploring an antique shop like you have all the time in the world
5. Fireflies
6. Great blue heron soaring across the highway
7. Realizing you just learned the whole piece
8. Homemade signs that appear on bedroom doors
9. Getting the back-story
10. Talking about the book you just read (especially over coffee)

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Friday, June 17, 2011


I laughed all the way home from my ultrasound when I was pregnant with Middle. I’m not sure why I thought I would only have boys, but after Oldest was born it just seemed like that was the way things were going. I was fine with that—boys are wonderful, if a little mysterious. So when the ultrasound technician told me I was most certainly carrying a girl, I was surprised. And delighted. I started lingering over impossibly tiny hair bows at the store, and dreaming over racks of frilly dresses. It seemed as if everywhere I turned, I saw pink.

There was a time when I was a girl that I loved pink, although I’m pretty sure that girls’ clothes weren’t so dominated by the color—it was the 70’s, after all. There also came a time that I decided it was way too “girly” a color for me. I stereotyped pink, thought of it as weak, babyish, simpering. But pink is a good color, in all its shades. It can be soft or brash, warm or cool. It makes me happy. I gradually learned that embracing femininity doesn’t make you weak, at all. When I became the mother of a girl, it suddenly became very important to be able to embrace everything that came along with being female. And my life strengthened and flooded with pink.

Pink, it turns out, is full of surprises.

Taekwon-do, for example. It was completely Middle’s idea. All three kids were influenced by way too many viewings of “Kung Fu Panda,” but she was the one who discovered the dojang downtown and convinced her big brother that this was something they needed to do. I am impressed by their interest, and by what all of us have learned since they started classes a year and a half ago. I love watching them do their patterns, I love the discipline the sport requires, and I love the mental aspect of it. Sparring, though, is just plain tough.

At her first tournament, Middle was paired up with a girl who outranked her, and with whom she had made friends while they were waiting their turn. Suddenly this friend was hitting her in the face. The match quickly dissolved into tears, and a forfeit, and more tears. At her second tournament, Middle had decided she was not going to spar. We told her that was fine—we didn’t blame her for a second. Then she changed her mind. Her first match went well and she held her own and won. The second match was a different story. Middle is not an aggressive kid. She is shy, and sensitive, and delicate. I have seen her back down in many situations in order to keep the peace, even when she was in the right. And my beautiful, delicate girl wasn’t keeping her hands up in front of her face and the girl she was sparring with was taking full advantage. I wondered what kind of mother I was, allowing my child to get beat up, whether she was wearing sparring gear or not. When she got hit in the eye, the referee stopped the match and checked her out. “Do you want to keep going?” Her shoulders heaving with sobs, she looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, sir.” And she went back in. At the end of the match, she came straight to me and I gave her a huge hug. I had to remind myself that I hadn’t forced her to come, hadn’t forced her to spar, but I still felt terrible. Then she pulled away from me and grinned. “That was fun!” The tears hadn’t even dried on her cheeks.

Don’t forget where pink comes from. Yes, it is tender—vulnerable even—but the surprise of pink is that it has red running through its veins, and its power isn’t as diluted as one might think. Pink is filled with passion and joy along with all that delicacy. The strength Middle drew on to keep fighting, to go back in and keep at it despite the difficulty—I hope she never forgets how to do that. She is my delicate, sensitive vulnerable girl, and I hope she never forgets how to be that, either. But when I think of the pain of this life, it seems good that she should learn how to fight, how to keep going, how to defend herself and the people around her. I can only hope to be half as strong as she is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. The possibility of hundreds of colors
2. Collecting paint chips
3. Imagining
4. Finding the perfect shade
5. A full can of fresh paint
6. The first brush stroke
7. The sound of a roller laying down color
8. Chatting-while-working
9. Fresh walls, anything but white
10. The power to change your environment, even just a little

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Inspired You?

I fell in love with Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 27, No. 3 (“Ballade”) the first time I heard it. I had heard a lot of violin music up to that point, but nothing quite like this—it was one of those moments where you feel yourself expanding with the newness of it, even while you are sure you always knew something like this was out there. Maybe I can do that, too! I knew then and there that I had to play it, even if it was over my head. It was a challenge, but totally worth it, and I eventually played it on a recital. It is a moment I am still proud of. (This performance is worlds better, and if you haven’t ever heard the piece, I highly recommend taking a listen.)

Sketches of HomeThen there’s the book that made me want to write: Sketches of Home, by Suzanne Clark. I started reading it Christmas Day, 2003. The way it spoke to me, the way she wrote about her life, made me want to write back, or at least join in.

I’m curious about your experiences—was there a piece of music, or artwork, or literature, or anything, that was completely new to you but somehow recognizable? Something that set you on a different course? What was it? How did it affect you? Did it change your life?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


The air is heavy right now. Heavy with humidity that reminds me of August, and heavy with the trilling of cicadas. About two weeks ago a brood of periodical cicadas began crawling out of the earth after a thirteen-year infancy underground to shed their skins, take to the trees, and find mates.

It is noisy. There are some parts of town where you barely notice the sound, but around our house it is cacophonous—like a million tiny beads spilling onto the floor, endless waves of spilling all day long. Above that sound is a higher-pitched whirring, a silvery trill between “e” and “f” that hangs in the air like a humid haze. The effect is surreal, unearthly—until I remind myself that it is exactly earthly. I am entranced.

I understand why people get annoyed. The cicadas are intrusive. The sound doesn’t stop, and can exceed 90 decibels if you are standing under a tree full of them. They fly into me once in a while. They land on my arm or my neck, prompting a little zing of adrenaline before I remember I’m not afraid of them. (They don’t bite or sting, but they are rather large, and if insects creep you out, this is not a particularly happy place to be right now.) Our lawn is littered with empty bronze skins. Remnants cling to flowers, branches, and leaves, and congregate around the roots of trees. Everywhere you look or step it seems there is a cicada flying or crawling or lying dead, its short life span already complete.

These times when the natural world interferes with normal life—I truly enjoy them. I like being forced to see or hear or move differently. Are you paying attention? Look! Do you see? Can you hear? Two weeks saturated with this electric sound is like two weeks edged with silver. How can you not pay attention? This is wonder, and yes, it has an edge to it. It is decidedly not greeting-card wonder; it is the kind of wonder that takes hold of you even while you feel the urge to turn away. But it is wonder-ful, because for a few weeks this summer, the air itself is silver.

Silver is an ornament, a glaze, a lining for something the artist or craftsman wants to highlight. Earrings direct the eyes to a face, a bracelet draws attention to the hand or arm. Tinsel on a Christmas tree, a silver place setting, tremolo violins in a Bruckner symphony. Silver is precious, but the things we adorn with silver, they are more so.

Do you see? Do you hear? These days you are walking through are lined with silver.

Monday, June 6, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Lime popsicles
2. A downpour that lasts exactly as long as the car ride
3. Saying what you meant to say
4. Cool breeze through the window at night
5. Wearing something you made
6. That extra little bit of insight into a person
7. Chocolate that gets too soft in the cupboard
8. Harmonizing
9. Starting a new book, knowing it's going to be good
10. Anonymous old postcard, found in a book

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Just a sampling

Our family gets a little excessive when it comes to the library. Librarians tend to know us by name. I’m terrible at keeping track of when things are due, but I’ve learned to think of my constant fines for overdue books as charitable giving—it helps with the guilt. And as much as I try to keep things under control when we walk into a library, we always check out more books than we can comfortably carry, and overestimate what we can read in a week. I admit it, I indulge my children at the library.

I do have a few guidelines:

1. We are not buying these books. Middle, when she was two, used to follow me through the children’s section, grabbing books and saying, “Can we buy this one? Can we buy this one? Mommy, let’s buy this one!” I really felt that for the sake of her future financial security she would need to learn early that we do not spend money in the same irresponsible, decadent manner that we use a library card.

2. A library card is not a credit card. See above. Youngest is under the impression right now that her brand new library card is a credit card, and while this is an understandable mistake, I’m afraid it’s one that needs to be cleared up quickly.

3. If we are at the library for the second time in one week and there are already 40 or 50 books at home waiting to be read, we’re not bringing home another 40 or 50. Period.

4. Just like I limit how much junk food my kids eat, I limit junk books, too. Movie and television series merchandise masquerading as picture books make me nuts. Considering how much amazing stuff is out there, I’m afraid I’m pretty intolerant of books that don’t even bother to list the author and/or illustrator on the front cover.

This book excess is important. It is vital. It is an enormous factor in my kids’ education, not to mention my own. It’s hard to even quantify the things my kids pick up, just because of our frequent library visits. Our local library’s summer reading program started up this week, and the first big event was a visit from storyteller Bobby Norfolk. He had a whole roomful of kids and adults completely captivated, and besides doing some awesome storytelling, he put in a plug for his favorite section of the library: Call No. 398.2 (fairy tales and folklore). Later that evening, as I was starting in on a new story from our current read-aloud, Youngest just about flew out of bed. “Wait! Wait! IS THAT A FAIRY TALE?” When I told her it was, she laid back in bed happily. “Oh, good! Because Bobby Norfolk says they’re THE BEST!!” I couldn’t have asked for better support.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I thought I was a blond for years. My mom single-handedly contributed to this belief, always commenting on the gold highlights she could see in my hair in the sunlight. And I was blond for a while, as a toddler and through my preschool years. My hair was light enough to draw a lot of attention when my parents were traveling with me in Japan. Who can really say when I passed from blond to brown? It happened gradually, and the moment I accepted it and moved on was probably a quiet one, fueled by my desire to avoid a well-meaning friend telling me (again) that if I was a blond, I was a dirty-dishwater-blond, at best. Brown seemed more appealing.

I learned how to embrace the color. Pale and golden was lovely, but brown had depth. I still find blond strands sometimes, but also black, auburn, caramel, and increasingly these days, white. Nobody ever accused me of being the fun girl, anyway. I was the one who went to the Sting concert and sat and listened. (I had a fabulous time, too.)

And I find I like that quality in brown—it might not reach out and grab you, but if you stop and pay attention, you will always find something there. It is warmth, depth, richness all around. Imagine dessert without the color brown, a world without chocolate, butterscotch, or hazelnut. Consider life without all the brown spices—ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin. Brown is soil and tree bark and sleek forest creatures you almost didn’t see. Hardwood floors. Rembrandt, Stickley, sepia-toned photographs. Every shade of skin imaginable. The stuff of the earth.

Then there’s coffee. I decided to start drinking coffee when I was in college—partly because I wanted to seem more mature, and partly because I really wanted to appreciate the flavor. I loved the smell of coffee, and learning to enjoy it seemed like a good challenge. Did it have something to do with being able to drink bitterness and say it was good? I’m not entirely sure. But I love it now, the darker the roast the better, rich and hot in a generous white porcelain mug, the perfect companion for reading a book, talking with a friend, writing at my desk before anyone else is awake. Perfect for probing the depths of my connection to this world.