I would write a blog post, except…

I’m teaching English to refugees and just bumped the number of days I’m doing that from 2 to 3.

I’m taking an online writing course through TSPoetry about mindfulness, so I have some reading and writing to do for that, and I’m paying attention better (because of the class) and you know that takes time.

I signed up for a half-share CSA (community supported agriculture), so I’m receiving a weekly box of whatever the farm is producing and endeavoring not to waste any of it, so that’s a delicious challenge that calls for some creative kitchen time. I hate to tell you the number of vegetables I’m eating for the first time ever.

And then there’s the morning letter writing still going strong, 5:30-ish to 8. Sometimes 4:30-7. Sometimes 5-8. Sometimes 4. Just depends.

Plus there’s an indicator light that’s come on in my car, so I have to dash out and have that checked this morning.

All normal life.

But I do have a post I hope to pull together and share here shortly.

Hope you are enjoying your summer!

mincing garlic scapes

While I listen to Gordon Hempton talk about the importance of silence,
I mince garlic scapes
and the washing machine runs in the background.

Chop-chop-chop-chop on the cutting board.
Whir-whir-whir-whir of the washer.

I turn Hempton up to make sure I don’t miss what he’s saying.
Ever the good student.

* * *

Gordon Hempton, The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation

Gordon Hempton, The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation

Krista Tippett’s interview with acoustical ecologist Gordon Hempton is one of the recommended resources for the “Mindfulness in Place” workshop currently offered by T.S. Poetry.

at the refugee picnic

HOW do you teach English to someone when the ABCs won’t stick
and no matter what letter you point to, she answers “K?”
because K is the first letter of her name,
though, if asked to spell her name,
she doesn’t know the names of any of the six letters,
even though we’ve been through the alphabet together many times?

She isn’t the first student I’ve had to show how to hold a pencil.

Some come with university degrees.
Some have secondary school diplomas.
Most have at least enough schooling to know the basics.
But some few, still too many,
you can’t help but wonder
if they’ve ever had any schooling at all.

What will I do with this mother
whose preschooler is surpassing her already?
I am near the bottom of my bag of tricks.
More will come to me.
I am not easily turned away from a challenge.

I think of my ancestors
who came at different times
with their Dutch and Irish and Welsh and Russian and Yiddish,
and sat, awkward, and tried.
Who sat and helped them?
Someone. Many someones.

Maybe tomorrow
I’ll find the magic key
and together we’ll open the door.

* * *
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"Nothing beats seeing that light in their faces."

“Nothing beats seeing that light in their faces.”

The Parting


THE TABLE is too big now. I remember my mother’s words when we purchased it all those years ago – 33, to be exact:

“Who are you planning on feeding, the Kennedy’s?”

At the time, we had a big eat-in kitchen and a small table. We were a growing family (#3 was on the way) with a growing circle of friends who loved to gather at each other’s homes. We needed a table that sat more than four.

“If the Kennedy’s wish to come, they are more than welcome,” I said.

Ma shook her head. Daddy warned me, “With a table that size, your house will turn into family headquarters.” He didn’t want me burdened in that way.

It was the largest expenditure of our married life, excluding cars and the house.

But I had a vision.
Vision … but little experience.
Vision … with a hitch. It included breaking out of my shell, daring to invite people.
Vision … but no clue the number of times we’d move household – FIVE! NJ to PA to OH (2 different homes there) to KY. And we aren’t even military or Methodist ministers.

“There’s no room in my address book for any more changes!” someone protested two moves ago.

The table went right along with us.

There have been a lot of faces and a lot of mismatched chairs, pulled up, drawn into the circle.

* * *

NOW, just the two of us and a dog, we have a small kitchen. And the big table? It’s too big.
It’s not cozy.
It’s not attractive.
It’s not a magnet for socializing.

What it is is a catch-all and a launch pad for the dog. He goes from chair to table and, from there, to whichever countertop appeals to him most (only when we’re not home – otherwise, he has company manners).

For the 8 months we’ve been here, I have justified keeping it with plans to invite this one, that one and the entire Sunday School class, our support group, my ESL coworkers, the neighborhood and anyone else I can grab off the streets.

I can do all those things without this table.

* * *

A NEW KITCHEN FLOOR is being installed today. Even as I type this, a polite young man is sawing and piecing the wood in place.

A few nights ago I said, “We need to move that table out of the kitchen so the new floor can be laid, and when we do, I have a feeling I won’t want it back in there.”

It felt a little like pulling a plug. On what exactly? I don’t know.

Last night we moved it. Not out the door, but just one room over to the far end of the family room. I need to call someone to pick it up, but not yet. I’m going to let it sit there a bit. I’m going to think about it.

I’m going to think about
all the youth group kids over the years,
the family gatherings in different houses,
Gram and Pop, now gone.
I think of my folks, too, though they rarely sat.
I think about the children that hid under it, the cousins, giggling, thinking nobody knew they were there.
I think about college decisions made at it, engagements announced, phone calls taken……

There’s the imprint of the crossword puzzle Pop did without anything underneath the page to protect the veneer. I’d rather have the impression made by his hand than a perfect anything.

AND and and…….I see the spot where the icing from the gingerbread house we 4 girls made together one Christmas left a haze on the finish that I never was able to remove. We’re down to 3 girls now. Can I let go of that haze? Is it the haze I’m having the problem with?

Everyone in the family’s been asked.
Nobody wants it.
Nobody has room, and they don’t foresee having room in the future, or else I’d hold onto it for them.
Nobody needs to feel guilty about this.

I need to make room for the life I am living now, I keep telling myself.

Someone at Goodwill is going to see this table and capture a vision. Maybe someone expecting #3, someone with a group of friends who like to gather. OR perhaps an artist needing space to spread things out.

It has a future.
So do I.
But part of carving out a life is letting go of what isn’t needed and making space for what is.

Hey, Ma! The Kennedy’s never came, but a lot of other super people did!


Free to Not

Censored mailTruth is, if someone had asked me that last day in Nebraska what my takeaway from the retreat was, there was one thing clear.

I feel free to stop writing for publication.” Sounds strange, I know. Most people come away from a writer’s retreat inspired about a new project or renewed in their commitment to an ongoing one.

But a stop sign is also direction.

Nobody asked and I was glad. I wasn’t ready to say it aloud. Once I returned home, once I unpacked and settled, once I processed and considered, surely I’d go the other way with it.

I swear, I must have been absent from school the day they covered gut feelings and how to go with them.

* * *

Tammy writes about “Living the Small Creases of Your Life.”

There are times you live in the hidden nooks-n-crannies of your life, as if it were a shrinking back. But that’s not entirely true. It’s really a folding into your life. One that’s necessary and truer.

There it is again. Permission. What seems like shrinking back is really a folding in.

Ideas pop, and against the too-long-blank canvas of my mind, they splash like fireworks. An old voice pitches to me. Write an article. Write a series. Query today. They will love it!

But I have this other investment I’m making, see? My peak creative time is spoken for.

* * *

NEXT MORNING again, before sunrise, I start a letter.

When the sun comes over the roof of the house across the street, I pull the curtain a bit, to keep the blinding ray at bay. Just 5 more minutes. That’s all I need and I’ll be done. Always the same, every day.  Just 5 more minutes, please.

The dog lies tucked in beside me in the upholstered chair, tight. I sometimes imagine he is sending me sentences, but pay no mind to that. It’s the least of my insanities, but I have changed chairs since rescuing him, so he has a place.

He’ll not stir until the printer prints. I get up for coffee or a sweater and he doesn’t lift an eyelid. But he knows when he hears that printer, his breakfast is not far off.

I pick up a pen,
I sign,
I fold the paper into thirds. These are the small creases into which I am tucking my everyday life, a mixed bag of a ramble, all so much nothing that turns out to be something to someone else.

* * *

SHE’S GONE DOWNTOWN and surrendered herself. Five days after I’m back from JT, she goes – just as instructed, just as she needed to do, just as arranged for in her plea agreement. We won’t be meeting at Panera again, not for a very long time.

Today I got a response from her, stamped on the back that it had been seen by the censors first. My postman’s gotten used to this, the regular influx of screened mail.

It’s arrival means my first letter got there okay! I’m happy for that.

“You never told me that story!” she writes. “I’ve read it three times so far.”

It’s crazy math, I know, but one letter read 3 times means more to me than one article seen by thousands.


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When Telling Your Story is a Scary Thing

When Telling Your Story is a Scary Thing

Jacinda's scrollwork

Kathy O, who lived 5 doors down the street, would, when things weren’t going her way, pack up all the dresses she’d brought for dress-ups and head home, leaving the rest of us sitting there. That’s just how she was.

Why am I thinking about her today? Now?

I’ve been picturing Lewis & Clark, looking west,
about to head off to places they’ve never been,
not knowing in advance the full distance,
how long it might take,
what may be required of them.

I would have been dead weight on that expedition, what with bears and mud and weather and needing to lift boats and supplies and carry the whole shebang around waterfalls. Traveling upstream! And not speaking the language of so many they encounter.

I would not have said yes
(not that I would have been invited).

I’m forced to face this truth about myself. I would not have gone. I’d have hunkered down in my cabin, stayed put and let someone else go.

I shiver, just thinking about that journey, and I think I know why.
That same fear is close to me, not far. Not 2 centuries ago.

I, too, stand on a frontier, like most of us do at least once in our lives. We stand, and what lies ahead is a frontier to us. We don’t know what we’re heading into. We might have ideas about it. We may have heard bits and pieces from what others said they thought they saw when they were out there, or what they heard someone else say, but really we don’t know for sure what’s out there, what we’ll face.

We don’t know about it
and we don’t know about ourselves,
whether we have what it takes.

It becomes clear me, when I visit the Lewis & Clark exhibit and I feel the slug in me resisting, saying, “NO WAY I’d sign up for that” that I see where I truly am, standing on my own frontier, weighing the inconvenience of it all and leaning toward staying home by the fire with a cup of tea.

I see this about myself, that I’m all for someone else making the trip and I’ll come to a museum and learn all about it. But blaze the trail, me?
Would I be willing to be that inconvenienced and discomforted?
Am I willing now, on my own frontier?

Or will I, like Kathy O, choose to pack up my story and take it home?

And if I do, who will I be leaving out there all alone, to shiver in the cold?
I keep thinking about that father at the cookout.

In their book “On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts,” Ann  & Charity remind me to stoke the creative fires by getting out and doing something different, something artful perhaps. Something other than writing. On purpose. I am sometimes big on theory and short on follow-through.

Frazier 1
ALL OVER TOWN, I see billboards for the Lewis & Clark exhibit at the Frazier History Museum. “Walk 7,000 miles in their shoes, without the blisters.”

“I’m definitely going to that!” I say.

I set a reminder for Sunday afternoon. “Go to the Frazier this week?” But when Sunday arrives and I hear the alert, the coming week feels too full. I change the alert to the following Sunday, to be reminded again.

The following Sunday, same thing. I move the reminder forward yet another week.

There’s always so much to do.
There’s always dinner to make, the dog to walk, a Lowe’s return, a call to make, a call to take, packing or unpacking, a letter to write, workmen due, a birthday card to buy.

I keep driving around.
I keep seeing billboards.
I keep meaning to go.
I keep resetting the reminder.

And what about the story I promised to write? Just where am I with that?
Stuck. I have no idea where I am. This is no time for wandering museums.

I go to the Frazier.
I’m not there 10 minutes on the frontier with them, facing the enormous challenge, the great distance that must be covered, the dangers that lie ahead, the work, the discomfort, the very real possibility of not surviving, or worse, turning back before reaching the end point,
than I see more clearly than ever
my own frontier,
my own fears.

Now I know where I am, a good thing to know.
But I had to go downtown to learn it.

More details in coming posts.
Frazier 3
Frazier 2


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