Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Light, 12/24/13: Through a Glass, Darkly

Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent—the end of the waiting. Word made flesh, promise arrived, fulfillment begun. 

I have spent a lot of time looking at this window in the last few months. I cannot explain why it comforts to look at it, but it does. The colors soak, radiate, enfold. 

What the light does with the glass—somehow it is a promise of goodness.

I looked forward to sitting with my family again tonight and looking at these colors, and singing, and praying, and yes crying, because the Christmas Eve service never fails to bring tears. I did not expect to grasp or understand all of what there is to grasp or understand, but I knew it would be enough. 

Tonight, though, the window was darker, lit only by a spotlight on the ground below it outside. The brighter lights were insidewhite lights on strands, and candlelight. I sang maybe half the verses of any carol, and spent the other half choking back tears. The words matter deeply. 

At the end of the service, after communion, each person was given a candle. Beginning with the flame from the Christ candle at the center of the nativity wreath, we passed the light, spread it from person to person until every one of us was holding light in our hands. Youngest was not the only child to hold her flame up high over her head, proud. 

Light, here with us.

There are three words I want to carry with me from here on out: love, mystery, graceI don’t want to forget—I am afraid to forget, actually—how these entwine all of life. No matter what is happening, these things are there, too, and always part of the working-out. They do not fail, even when they are beyond my understanding. I see them always in how God works, signs of goodness and wisdom. I take them, too, as life instructions: love, know and embrace that much is mystery, give and be covered by grace. These words to me are light to live by.

It is late now, on Christmas Eve, and the fact that we are on the cusp is tangible even if it feels less dramatic than when I was a child. This is still my favorite night of the year, this shift from waiting to arrival. And the light, I think, is brighter now.

Life—living in this place—it is part vigil, part celebration. Not just today but always. I want to learn to better take part in both. To remember these things, in the dark and in the light. To hold the brightness in my hands, and even sometimes lift it high above my head.

Merry Christmas, my friends. Peace and light to you always.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, December 20, 2013

Light, 12/20/13: Poetry

It’s messy, all of it—the all-day misty rain that threatens to turn to ice in a few hours, the fact that Middle spent the last day of school before break lying on the couch miserable with strep throat and missing everything she had looked forward to all week. The list of goodies I still want to make before Christmas (sandbakkels, anise kringle, peppermint meltaways, more fudge, more toffee, more rum balls—is there time, though?) the presents to wrap, the presents to buy still!, the cards I haven’t even thought of sending. The fact that I still, after a month, haven’t figured out how to add or remember a 20-minute nebulizer treatment to my morning schedule. The muscle under my left eye that has been twitching since mid-November.

I can step back and look at the big picture and know that it is Good. Really Good. But holy crap is it messy, and yes I have my head in the clouds most of the time, but my feet are still slogging through the mess. And slogging doesn’t lend itself to feeling graceful or light or—I don’t know—successful at walking the path one is on.

So when Youngest asked me at breakfast this morning, “Mom, does poetry matter to you?” her question was light itself. Because yes it matters, and I love that she asked.

She is reading a book called Poetry Matters. “I learned that you can write poems about anything. Even about your life!” she informed me. 

Now she wants a new diary, in order to fill it with poems about whatever she wants.

I can’t decide: sometimes poetry seems to be light itself, other times it seems like a holding up to the light. That I can’t decide makes me think it is both.

What I am sure of is that poetry has a whole lot to do with the messiness of life, and about pulling bits from the mess—whatever bits you choose—in order to  bring them into the light or to shine light onto something else. I like that they do not need to be large, and honestly, I’m not sure they even need to be put into words always. It is the finding, and holding up, and sharing that are the important part, and how personal-but-also-outside-of-yourself that is. It is life-giving.

Look back after a while, and see what accumulates.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Light, 12/18/13: Chiaroscuro

Sometimes you find yourself having conversations with the light. Not out-loud conversations, not prayers, not silent back-and-forth, but conversations nonetheless. Because maybe you are going around the house in the morning, trying to be nice and loving, but the dark mood from yesterday lingers, maybe even grips you hard. And you walk into a room and the sunlight pouring in fresh and new across the room draws your attention to things that matter to you: the tree Middle dug up from the yard two years ago, which she moves from room to room and decorates faithfully at Christmastime; a photograph of your spirited, redheaded grandmother that knocks you over with its stateliness; your ugly-but-faithful warm mittens.

They are lit-up, their shadows dark on the wall.

By the way, she wasn’t perfect, either. The light speaks honestly but gently.

True, but we all loved her anyway.

It helps, in the same way pulling out a toy can sometimes distract a child from her tantrum.

Mood lifted? Not exactly. But if you can shift with the light that is something. Silently you thank the light for sharing this.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, December 16, 2013

Light, 12/16/13: Carrying the Sun

What did you draw on your tummy?

A diamond sun.

Is there something special about the picture?

It makes me feel sunny.

Is it a picture you saw somewhere else?

No, but I made it up.

Why do you want to feel sunny?

So I don’t feel sad or mad.

Do you like to carry the sun?


*     *     *

It makes me think about the different ways we carry light with us. And how we spread it—sometimes intentionally, sometimes without knowing it.

Basking in someone else’s warmth, though—isn’t that something? 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Light, 12/12/13: Big Bright Yes

Sometimes you get into your car and the music on the radio is something you love and haven’t thought of for a while. Not only that, but it matches the day perfectly. And yes, it is cold outside—bitterly so—a cold that makes your hands crack open and bleed, and yes you’ve lost another pair of mittens just in time for this cold snap so that you are once again using the pair you’ve had since high school—the one pair you’ve never managed to lose, which, despite holes and the leather that’s peeling off the palms and the fact that they don’t fit very well, actually keep your hands pretty warm. But these things pale. What matters right now is how the sun is winter-bright against a cold clear sky and how it all just fits.

Sometimes it happens that everything—the x-rays, the CT-scans, the blood tests—everything comes back clear and good and the answer is that you need to just keep doing the things that are making you feel better, slow as that’s been. And the day is bright with that news, and the music in the car is swelling up to a favorite moment, and you know right there that even though your lungs are still tight and there is healing left to do, you have been on the right path. In fact, all around you everything is saying that you have been on the right path all along in a whole lot of ways. That your instincts were no accident. That all that hardness wasn’t wasted.

Sometimes you get a moment like that.

Remember this.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, December 9, 2013

Light, 12/9/13: Transformed

Do you see that? Ugly vinyl blinds. Un-openable. Years ago, whoever put in the ugly vinyl bathtub insert cut away a large portion of the oak window frame in order to make the insert fit. The ugly vinyl insert shoves hard against the ugly blinds, and the blinds do not hang right, and there is not room for them to be twisted open.

A person might wonder what use a window is if it cannot be opened or uncovered and doesn’t even do a very good job of letting the light in.

And yet the light does get in. And the light shines, and makes shadows, and plays with droplets of rain or tree branches or whatever else might be on hand that day. And the ugly vinyl blinds, once in a while, become something else.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Light, 12/7/13: Nightlight

Youngest informed us a few months ago that she would not feel safe unless she could sleep with her nightlight. Recently, she has made sure it is plugged in and charging before we begin our before-bed reading, so that she can bring it to bed with her like a stuffed animal. (It is, in fact, the closest thing to a stuffed animal I can remember her bringing to bed. From an early age she spurned all furry things offered to her at night and demanded a book. Or twelve. But that’s maybe another story.) Her nightlight is a special light—a Christmas gift from Oldest one year. It has personality. It glows red. And you can bring it to bed with you.
The idea grips me—the possibility of taking light to bed with you. I have not forgotten the difference one dim bulb can make in a dark room, the way it softens the edges of night, melts away the threat of the unfamiliar, of danger. How much better if you can hold that light in your hands.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but it has always seemed to me that my children sleep in character. Oldest sleeps calm and wise and sweet. Middle sleeps noble and graceful with a quiet, dramatic streak. Youngest sleeps warm and intense, often with her head thrown back. If we hear footsteps in the hall at night it is usually her, and it’s hard to predict where she will end up. A few nights ago Husband and I were slow to investigate the sounds coming from upstairs, but it didn’t matter, soon she came down to us—charged past us and around the dining room table to the spot where she eats, sat down, laid her head in her arms on the table and closed her eyes.
Sometimes her light travels with her during the night. I woke up one recent morning to evidence of one of her visits.
Many nights she comes to our bed. Sometimes because of a bad dream, although she usually will not talk about it because she does not want to frighten me. It is enough to be held close for a while. We both drift off, and at some point I am awakened by the pain in my arm, stretched immobile under her head. I ease her out of bed. “It’s time to go to your own bed.” I guide her to her room, into her bed, help pull up the covers as she lies down. I pray—thankfulness for her sweet, warm, spirited self, for our family, for the goodness in our lives; I pray for peaceful sleep, for rest in general.
“Good night, sweet girl. I love you.”
“Mommy, give me something to think about.”
When she is alone again in bed the bad dreams threaten to return. I have told her in the past that she needs to fill her head with other things—so wonderful there is no room for the bad dreams. I conjure up something—a chocolate-filled swimming pool, a field full of flowers-that-are-actually-jewels. I don’t always remember, later, the things I come up with. What I do remember is that always, in the middle of the night, I resolve to love better. The resolution comes simply, but I ache with it. It is light around me, around us all. Everything else melts away.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Light, 12/3/13: Illumination

What she can tell you is this:

The fortune tucked inside the cookie was especially good. Not because fortune cookies are to be taken all that seriously, but because the words fit so well.

Seek out the significance of your problem at this time. Try to understand.

This is true. There is no point in seeking out darkness, but understanding where the light was brightest in the dark—that is helpful. What shines? What is revealed? What glows in her head and heart? Somewhere inside those questions are growth, healing, purpose. 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, December 2, 2013

Light, 12/2/13: Day After the First Sunday in Advent

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
Isaiah 9:2

I have given myself the task this year of focusing on light this month, believing Advent at its core is about seeing light, and waiting—trusting—that it is a promise of Light to come. I had family plans for Advent, as well.

But we were traveling home yesterday, and because of how that went there was no formal honoring of the first day of Advent, only conversation about it, and hopes for how we can observe it as a family.

And this is so often how it is.

I love this season, Thanksgiving and then Advent. Grocery shopping is still grocery shopping, but the parking lot is colder, and more often you find yourself bracing against dark brittle air. Along with the brittleness is the sound of bells. And lights. And there is decorating and baking and too many activities, and for most of December that is the background to normal life. Expectation like white noise, but also light—blinking and glitteringacross, against, around everything. Regular life, with all its regular everything, but shot-through with something that is usually not so tangible.

And so, for us. Driving home was usual driving home, but also kind of festive. And grumpy. Nobody was ready for Monday. But I watched for light to share, and twice yesterday looked into the sky and saw what I was looking for. More than I was looking for—it was so beautiful. And there were memories of light from our trip, and new moments in the car, itself.

Even so, last night was long and full of unpacking and getting kids to bed and putting together much-needed couches from Ikea and at the end of the day I could not put words or pictures together to share anything.

The pictures waited. They were not quite what I’d hoped, but they waited. My elaborate plans for Advent stayed mostly in my head, and the general living-of-life took up most of today. But it was good, and there was light, and some of the words working their way through my head waited, as well.

Somehow the expectations, the ways in which I think the light will show itself, never quite meet reality. They brush against it, only. But the light is there, and it pricks and surprises, and there is always something to see, more than you are looking for, maybe, if you keep watching.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful, 11/28/13: Sharing

We traveled today, our family. Shared cross words (and some thrown elbows and one shove,) and also hugs. And snacks. Husband shared the Great Courses CD he’s been listening to—“The Symphonies of Beethoven.” Youngest wanted to borrow my iPod and asked me to choose the music for her. She wanted “classical” and “fast,” and I shared the last movement of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. Twice we heard a quiet Oh! from the back seat while she listened. Oldest shared some of his music with me, as well as things that make him laugh. We will share his asthma medicine while we’re away from home, since mine didn’t make it into the car. Youngest shared the first glimpse of sunset with everybody. Husband and Middle shared goofy haiku, taking turns writing lines (they also share a particular sense of humor.) We all took turns sharing sightings of birds—bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, Canada geese. Middle pointed out how a swath of wind turbines all blinked their lights at exactly the same time, and then she shared with us the non-goofy haiku she wrote about it.

My parents shared their table with us when we arrived, we brought cranberry sauce and toffee and wine. We ate and talked and ate and talked. Over the years we have shared many words, much laughter, many tears, much love—we have each been the cause and the recipient of each of those things. I believe, in the end, the love will be remembered above the rest. I do not believe any of us forgot to be thankful.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful, 11/27/13: Always a Story—

Which means that everything contains some element of mystery. Always something to learn, always something to understand, and always a kind of freedom in knowing that it might not all be known. I see richness in that, and beauty.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thankful, 11/25/13: Easy Toffee

I have this recipe for toffee that is ridiculously easy. Also ridiculously fast and ridiculously delicious.

Cook a stick of butter and ¾ c. packed light brown sugar in the microwave on high for 5 minutes, stirring every minute. Pour out on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and sprinkle with a ½ c. of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Cover with another, overturned cookie sheet or muffin tin for 1 minute to soften the chocolate, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set. Break into pieces.

It does not take much time, but it requires me to stay in the kitchen and not do other things while I make it. It is an excuse to stand next to the microwave and read a book in between stirring sessions. And stirring! Bubbling butter and brown sugar—it is beautiful and rich and fragrant, and captures all five senses. And although the making of it is fast, the scent of toffee lingers in the house and in my hair all day, and I cannot get enough of smelling it.

It’s not completely foolproof—like other candies, you cannot make it on humid days because the texture won’t turn out. Also, it seems that different brands of brown sugar have different moisture contents, which will also affect the texture. (What the texture not turning out means, though, is that while it’s not good enough to give away, it is still good enough to eat. Chewy-soft and gritty, it is just as sweet. Addictive, in fact.)

Texture aside, this is a favorite thing to make, because it is special, sweet, good enough to make a gift of. And easy.

I am resigned to life not being easy. I accept that good things—the things I really want—often require work, effort, sacrifice of some sort. They are worth it. But some good things are, in fact, easy on top of everything else, and those are a wonder. I am so thankful for them: when I look up and notice that the sky has changed from beautiful to beautiful and there seems to be a promise with it that beauty and change never get used up, when relationships flow easily and with love, when my lungs fill deeply and without effort, when life works—these things are a wonder. And on top of all that, there's toffee.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thankful, 11/21/13: Natural Light

A rainy day yesterday. Something about the sound of thunder in November is particularly enjoyable—maybe it’s the surprise of it. Maybe it’s just the comfort of being inside and warm when I hear it.

It was dark inside, but after everybody else left for school and work in the morning I felt little need to turn on lights. Letting the light come in from outside, dim as it was, felt perfect. Enjoyable, seeing things differently. Good, to welcome in what presents itself.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thankful, 11/20/13: Bits of Magic

This was put here with the hope that I would see it—a surprise, a gift:

These weren’t personal, but I got to see them on a morning run:

a sidewalk laced with slug trails, glittering all the way up a tough hill

another patch of sidewalk—bare, but due to some effect of light and wet, bearing the image of many fallen leaves—a tapestry.

I am thankful for how the ordinary is anything but.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thankful, 11/18/13: "Et incarnates est"

From Franz Josef Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (The “Lord Nelson” Mass): “Et incarnates est” (He became incarnate) Please listen. 

God made flesh. Descending to earth, joining us here. The Unreachable, reaching out to us. This is hope and mercy and grace, this is light in the dark.

I am thankful for this, and for the earthly things that, in their own ways, speak of it.

Last week was especially busy, leading up to two performances over the weekend, both out of town. Youngest and Middle were sick, Oldest was preparing for a competition that was also out of town. I’ve been fighting illness, myself—again or still or whatever it is at this point. Our schedule seems on the brink of un-doable. And in general I feel like I am in a semi-constant state of failure, which means I’ve also been sort of a bear to be around.

In the midst of all this, music. Beautiful stuff that meets me wherever I am, stays with me, infuses everything.

The organ music that soaks into my bones, healing something deep within.

The pieces I am teaching my students, that—in the midst of antsy-ness and distraction and crumbs and glitter and runny noses—shift sometimes into glimmering moments of pure, focused music.

My own children’s singing—odd tunes at odd moments, an old song with new words: small windows, bits of levity.

And then the music I got to take part in, this whole last week, myself: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”, Haydn’s “Lord Nelson” Mass, Finzi’s “In Terra Pax.” 

Could I do all the day-to-day stuff without this music that descends, reaches-in, transcends? My lungs have not felt right since April. The degree of not-right has varied greatly and I am actually quite good at ignoring it, but it wears, just the same. The busyness, the ever-present not-measuring-up—they wear, as well. When I am wrapped up in the music, and the music is wrapped around me, I do not even have to ignore—I can be beyond it completely.

I do not believe this is escape. I believe these are whispers of Et incarnates est, of Immanuel, God with us. The words have been mingling with the music all week.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thankful, 11/15/13: Just Right

Each day, for The Violin Project, I carry eight small violins to and from the primary school where we meet. Eight small violins, plus my own, plus—twice a week—either Youngest’s or Middle’s violin. Along with my purse, my teaching bag and my laptop, this is exactly the limit to what I can carry from the car into the school in one trip. It’s maybe a little crazy-looking, but it works.

I admit that I worried I would not have enough students to do this, or enough donations, and I never did recruit volunteers the way I intended to. Turns out, the numbers, size, pacing, and the people all turned out to be what they needed to be in order to get this project off the ground. That is such a comfort, and such an encouragement. And it’s just one example of what I’ve started to see around me over the years.

There is strength in this, I think, to trust the effort, the work, the journey. Strength to trust that what is supposed to happen will happen. Strength to keep showing up and pour into it all I’m able. Strength to maybe even relax a little and enjoy it. 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thankful, 11/11/13: Wonder

Can I say this without sounding sentimental and goofy, that my first impression was that I was looking at something wide-eyed and amazed? That’s what I saw: wonder first, a seed head second. The moment has stayed with me, and I’m glad.

Who’s to say wondrous things don’t look back at you sometimes in awe? 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thankful, 11/10/13: Quiet

I get that these are The Busy Years. I know they will fly by. I try to be as present as possible as all of it overflows, crazy and beautiful and everything else, too.

But the quiet moments—those are especially beautiful. I crave them. Earlier this weekend I found myself staring out the kitchen sink window, completely absorbed in the feel of warm water running over my fingers. Yes it was a stolen moment, and that just added to the deliciousness of it. This is something I’ve done all my life—zone out, daydream, get lost in my own world—and I’ve always enjoyed it. What has changed is that the ability to do it feels a lot more like a gift than a quirk. 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thankful, 11/7/13: Details


and this:

and this:

The light and shadows and colors were extraordinary this morning. Every direction you looked, something beautiful, and yes it’s always like that really, but today was more so. The fact that this beauty goes deep—that you can go closer and closer in and the details never falter—amazes me over and over.

I will stay happily distracted by it all for ever and ever.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thankful, 11/6/13: Honey

“I’m sorry to hear that, Hon.” It took me by surprise, saying that to a child who was not my own. The words, though, came easily. I am thankful for that.

There was a time I couldn’t imagine being comfortable enough to use a term of endearment with anybody. It seemed so natural for some people. Surely it would sound fake, coming from me. And then there was a man who called me Dear. Later on, children, whose breaking-in to my life produced rivers—torrents—of special names. Even when they aren’t so sweet. Maybe especially because of the un-sweetness that marks some days, that laces through all of us.

Breathtaking, how a life can expand and contract, sometimes all at once.

And now, habit, and age, and expansion-and-contraction—and the words slip out, Honey, Sweetie, Love. I never would have believed I was the type, but it sounds different coming out than I thought it would. Not saccharine, not flowery. Simply recognition: You are precious. You are what I love, contained all in one spot. I refuse to forget.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thankful, 11/4/13: Less Lost than I Think

As in: the things I think are lost, or forgotten, or wasted, usually aren’t. Time, effort, whatever it was that slipped through your fingers today—they have this way of showing up later in beautiful-odd forms, never the way you’d expect.

And also as in: the times I think I am lost and turn off the road in a panic in order to find my way. Usually I just haven’t gone far enough. Usually the issue is not that I’m lost but that I am impatient. Or doubting myself. (Still. Again.)

Oh that relief, when I realize I was going the right way all along.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thankful, 11/2: Salt

and everything else savory. The people who draw out your best, the happy surprises, the moments you replay over and over in your mind. All the things that leave you thirsting for more of that, please.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thankful, 11/1: Mask Optional

Yesterday I watched a friend’s three year-old son while she helped out at his older brother's class Halloween party. We laid down wooden train tracks in the living room, colored pictures, emptied jars of crayons onto the floor and sorted them. He presented me with the leaf he found in our yard and had been wearing, hidden, under his hat. I made him a mask, which he wore briefly. It didn’t fit right. Got in the way.

My favorite part about Halloween has always been the costumes. The chance to be anything or anybody for a few hours. All you need is the right disguise.

The problem is that the mask or the make-up, the costume, even the fake nails I put on in seventh grade—they never quite fit. The mask was sweaty, the eye-holes were in the wrong place. The makeup dried out and itched maddeningly. The costume was never warm enough for trick-or-treating. The fake nails made it impossible to pick up or do anything.

The only thing that ever fit right, that didn’t get in the way somehow, was my own face.

Such a relief always, to get back to it at the end of the night.

I’m thankful for the chance to try on different faces. I’m even more thankful for the way my own skin fits.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bowlfuls of Light

It was during the Hard Time. She bought herself a pair of earrings, and to an outsider maybe that seemed like a simple act, but to her it was a symbol of who she wanted to be. She bought them because they were beautiful, but also because of their shape: bowl-like—open, fillable, generous. They were small but also bright, capturers and reflectors of light. Circles, and therefore whole, but imperfect—like all things that have life.

For a long time she wore them almost exclusively. She wore them and fought to embody those things. She fought to stay open most of all, and when she could not stay open she fought to see light, and to cup it in her hands, and reflect it outward.

The time came when she tired. Her resolve was still there, but something inside of her went underground. Had to. She did not wear the earrings every day, partly because she was tired of fighting. Partly because she wanted to be more than the fight. At night, in bed, she wished to die. She knew she couldn’t because of the small ones who needed her, but she could not stop from wishing it. During the day she paid careful attention to where the light came from, and moved toward it whenever and however she could.

And then a week of vacation, at a summer camp with her family. She resolved to sing and play and pray and love, but her outsides felt brittle and cold. The rawness inside threatened either to break through the shell and overwhelm everything within ten feet of her or else to shrink down to a cold, hard pellet. Either possibility was destruction.

So what do you do when you are rawness rattling inside a brittle shell, to occupy yourself during Free Time every day when the kids are happily occupied?

She found her way to the Arts and Crafts building. She would make something. It is some kind of wordless prayer, making something and hiding yourself in the process—in form, in color, in watching your fingers shape something new. 

Just being in that place felt safe. Supplies, and music, and people working. On one wall hung examples of possible projects: picture frames, bracelets, a paper-mache bowl. It was the bowl that caught her eye—colorful, translucent. Nobody had instructions for making it, but there was a coffee can full of bright squares of tissue paper, and newspaper and Mod Podge, and an old aluminum bowl to use as a mold. So she experimented. Each day she worked on it, layering newspaper, then tissue paper. Color upon color, layer upon layer. Sticky fingers. Quiet heart and mind. The bowl solved nothing, but there was healing in making it. Something about the color and the transparency of the paper spoke to her about warmth and light. How good to hold that in your hands, to watch them work steadily in such a medium.

This habit of looking for light—it is powerful, habit-forming. And when you are in the dark and trying to find your way out, even the smallest glint will pull you forward. So glint-by-glint you move, gathering as you go, and one day you realize you have bowlfuls.

To an outsider maybe it seemed like a simple bowl, made at camp. To her it was more. She set it on the mantel when they got home, just to set it down. All around it life shifted, the light increased. Miracles ensued. She did not move the bowl.

It is still there on the mantel, a bowlful of light. She cannot imagine it anywhere else. 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, October 24, 2013

To Share: 10/24/13

A friend shared this with me, and in the off-chance that you haven't already seen it, I am passing it on to you: Collaborating with a 4 year-old 

I loved it for a variety of reasons—the collaboration part, and the 4 year-old part, but also how it spoke to me about my own tendency to want to not share, and the cool-mysterious stuff that happens when I let go. Her take-aways are great, but so is the underlying message about relationship. Hope you enjoy it.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, October 21, 2013

Yours To Do With As You Wish

I bought her a diary at the book fair. It has a jeweled lock, and came with two perfect tiny golden keys. And it’s for writing your dreams. She adores it.

So I can understand why a well-meaning adult would look at it and say, “What did you do to your new diary?” I almost asked the same thing.

“I made the moon blue.”

I don’t know how much she’s heard about blue moons. She’s perceptive, and well-read, and pays attention to all sorts of things you don’t think she’s paying attention to. But clearly blue moons are special.

*     *     *

I loved the idea of a diary, myself. I loved the small book, the perfect tiny golden lock and key, the lined pages waiting to be filled.

I just hated filling it. I could last two or three days, maybe. Over many years I collected journals and notebooks, “All About Me” books that came as gifts, scrapbooks. Ruined them by writing on one or two pages. Abandoned them all.

The one exception was a vinyl-covered notebook, pastel pages climbing with flowers, that I filled with poetry in fifth grade. Filled. But that one never counted.

It turns out I have no patience for trying to recount my day. I do not want to provide a timeline, or a blow-by-blow, I do not want to provide captions. I have never been able to keep up with photo albums or scrapbooks or memory boxes or anything else. The things I want to keep or remember are stuffed in boxes or drawers or stacked in piles in closets I hope you won’t ever get a chance to open. I felt guilty about it for a long time.

Then, maybe because I still wanted to be somebody who kept a journal, I read A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, by Thomas Mallon. I drank this book. It was full of people and life and writing, and that, maybe, is even better than a tiny golden lock and key. The best part was that it introduced me to the idea of a commonplace book. Like a scrapbook, a commonplace book is a collection of the kind of thing I’ve always written down on scraps of paper, the things I carried in the back of my planner, or left sitting on my desk or dresser: quotes, ideas, notes and letters, lists, books I want to read. That could be my journal. That was my journal, unformed and ungathered. All I needed was that definition, and suddenly—freedom—a whole world unlocked.

*     *     *

During graduate school I worked in a small shop that sold handpainted Italian ceramics—dinnerware and serving bowls and dishes. It was an upscale shop, and I was amused by the people who would come in—people who knew how to do things right—who expressed concern over how they could use the dishes they were thinking of buying.

“Now this bowl—which one is this?”

“That’s the salad bowl. The larger one is the pasta bowl.”

“But what if I want to serve pasta in this smaller one?”

“Well, you can do that. It’s your bowl—use it however you like.”

I was aware of a certain freedom I had, not knowing or caring what size bowl I used to serve food in. I still wonder if, after buying both a salad bowl and a pasta bowl, the people who asked ever felt the freedom to use the bowls the way they saw fit: a gnocci with pesto side dish in the salad bowl, maybe, or a colorful pile of fresh fruit in the pasta bowl.

I wonder about all the things that didn’t count because they didn’t fit the definition. I wonder about all the treasures I looked right at but never saw. 

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Monday, October 14, 2013


This morning I saw a lilac blossom, growing right there on a shrub in mid-October. And since seeing it I’ve been wondering about surprise, and timing, and how lilacs are lovely in the spring. This one is lovely, too, and out of place, and it’s hard to say if it strikes me as more lovely because it is rare and kind of goofy and I almost missed it, but now it has my attention more than most of the other lilacs in my life.

Without a doubt it is something I want to learn from today, in an absorb-into-your-soul-and-pour-out-into-your-life sort of way.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Husband and Middle took a bunch of pictures on The Violin Project's first day with violins. I love the moments they captured. My favorites? My first answer is "all of them," but I especially love these, by Middle. (If you want to see more pictures, you can find them here.)

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Eight violins ready to meet their students. Don't they look magical?

Today is Day 38 of The Violin Project at Kirksville Primary School, and the first day the students will hold real violins. To say everybody is excited would be a huge understatement. They've been working hard learning to hold "box" violins and dowel-rod bows, learning rhythms, singing, marching, and yes, we have even drilled "standing still" and "not talking." They seem to especially love playing "Fix the Teacher's Bow Hold."

I've been teaching for a number of years, but the fact that children learn things always, always feels like a miracle to me. Not because I don't believe they are capable of amazing things, but because being witness to amazing things unfolding in front of you is no small thing.

Best kind of magic there is, I think. It is not an easy job. But I love that I get to do this.

Subscribe to Dreamer by Email