Thursday, November 30, 2006

Deflatable Christmas

The other day, as we were driving through town, my daughter Sara caught sight of some deflated Christmas lawn ornaments. “Look at those lawn things. They look like they’ve died,” she said.

“Murder!” I cried. (I know, such responses could be dangerous to my children’s health, but, really, we just laughed. The lawn ornaments looked so absurd.)

Anyway, I immediately redeemed myself with a literary suggestion. “That would make a good poem.”

When we got home, Sara actually put her pen to the challenge. Here’s what she came up with. It might not win any contests, but I like it.

Riding in the car,
watching things pass by…
Out of the blue,
lying flat,
Lots of green
and some red.

Maybe they were elves
thinking it was Santa’s shop.
Maybe one was Frosty coming,
looking for the North Pole.

Seeing only someone’s yard,
they fell down to the grass.
Lots of green
and some red.
In their grief
I saw them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Plan B: Land

Let me tell you a story about land.

When we first bought this little house, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to make my grass green and lush— here in Westchester County, lawnliness is next to godliness.

So, I went to the local nursery and had a conversation something like this. “What can I do to make my lawn greener?”

“Well, ma’am, the brown spots are from beetle larvae. You can put this on the lawn and take care of that problem.”

Beetle larvae sounds like a terrible thing. I pick up the bag and get ready to put it in my cart. “Will it kill earthworms, too?” I ask. I wouldn’t want it to kill earthworms. “Can I let my kids play on the lawn?”

The nursery guy gets quiet. Yes, it kills the worms, I see. No, I shouldn’t let my kids play on the lawn.

We talk about dandelions, instead, and my herbicidal possibilities. But something about all these “cides” is getting under my skin.

I think of my sister’s comment, “Pesticide, herbicide, homicide, infanticide, suicide. The ‘cides’ all lead in one direction.” She is right, more than she knows. Herbicides and pesticides are linked to an increase in lymphomas, notes Sandra Steingraber. Dogs (who lounge on our lawns) and farmers (who spray our crops) have the highest rates of these cancers. No one talks much about the earthworms and kids, but I see the connection.

Anyway, in the end I go with Plan B. No pesticides. No herbicides. I buy a 50 pound bag of grass seed which I use to overseed. And I forget about the dream of a false perfection that relies on the insidious “cides.”

“ And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures…'” Genesis 1:24
For more Plan B thoughts and resources, visit my new blog.

Painted Hills, Central Oregon. Photo by Ric Ergenbright. Used with permission.

Monday, November 20, 2006


In the morning, I like to have a cup of green tea. It is my ritual.

According to John M. Gottman, author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, ritual is an important element in marriages that last. So is remembrance and story telling.

Thinking on this, I’ve decided to make a dinner-time ritual of telling stories to my children— stories of their birth and imagined future, stories of my past, stories of the life I’ve made with my husband.

So, last night, I told this tale to my children, over chili bean soup and corn chips…

Once, before you were born, when Daddy and I had first married, I got annoyed with him. He had this habit of leaving things open… drawers, doors, toaster oven. One night I said, ‘You know, it would be good if you could close things when you’re done with them.’ …. Later that night I went into the kitchen to find this… every drawer, every door, anything that could be opened was wide open.

I laughed and laughed and laughed. See, that’s one thing that I’ve always loved about your daddy. He makes me laugh.”

My kids made lovey eyes and giggled. They liked the story. I think I will take a week off from blogging to eat with my kids, laugh with them, and tell more stories.

(See you next week on Tuesday! Oh, and sorry I posted this off-schedule. I know I'm a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday poster, but today starts my "vacation," so I broke with ritual and posted on a Monday.)

Angel on the Tea Tray Photo Gail Nadeau. Used with permission.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Once, when Sara was three years old, and standing in the corner for some naughty behavior, she broke my heart. I heard her whimper, “Mommy…?”

“What, Sara?” I said. “You know we’re not supposed to be talking right now.”

“But I need you.”

I walked over. “What is it?” I said.

“I just want you to stand in the corner for me.”

Three years old, and she was seeking grace.

I wish I’d done something really unusual, like take her place in the corner. But I didn’t. Still, to this day, we use that memory as a way of talking about Messiah’s gift. He stood in the corner, he did. And what a dark corner it was.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth…they made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence…” Isaiah 53:6-7, 9

Photo by Andrew Denny. Granny Buttons

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Writing like Mozart

One of the hardest things about writing a book has been getting the feedback. It's like having someone come up and say things about your kid... Why's she got curly hair? Can't she talk better than that? Gosh, where'd she get those teeth? Sigh.

Right now, I'm particularly trying to work on the poetic aspects of my text— what one Reader critiqued as "purple prose." I'm struggling with how much to keep and how much to put aside.

Still, the other day I read this about Mozart, and I felt much better...

"...[with] Mozart, we are always tempted to dwell on the extraordinary purple passages without noticing that in every case they are followed or preceded by the most conventional devices. They complement and support each other."

This reminded me that "purple" is not bad. It simply needs to be balanced. So, now I'm trying to write like Mozart. A little purple here, a little conventional there. I'm also trying to remember that some people are just going to have their opinions, and I will have to stroll this book through the public square regardless... maybe even with a little Mozart mischief in my step.

Butterfly Bush photo, by Sonia. Quote from Books & Culture, "The Triumph of Genius," November 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Personal Problems

One day, my daughter Sonia made this evaluation of a TV character...

“Hacker has a problem with himself.”

“What’s his problem?” I said.

“Well, he’s always planning things and they don’t work out, and he never has a Plan B!”

I laughed and laughed when she said that. Later, I thought, “Hacker’s personal problem is our societal problem — especially in relation to this cancer question. With one in three Americans getting cancer, and with less than 10% of cases being hereditary, we’re up against a wall. And we seem to lack a viable Plan B.”

It’s not for lack of trying, as Steingraber (Living Downstream) notes in the parable she uses to open her book…

There was a village by a river that noticed an increase in drowning persons floating by. In the villagers’ heroic compassion, they developed more elaborate ways to try to rescue and treat these people. But they neglected to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims into the water.

The villagers needed a Plan B. And so, says Steingraber, do we. More on this in a future post.

"Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask…where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Woman at the wall photo Stefani M. Rossi Used with permission.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Is the sun
still beautiful,
crossed by wires, blackened,
taut and limp;
and my life with you, dear,
is it still beautiful,
crossed with cares, heated,
tense and lax;
and is the church
still beautiful,
crossed, though it stagger,
limp with imperfections
through the streets?

North Devon Sunset Martin Stickland. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How Do I Love Thee?

I always adored that poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. ..”

And now I'd like to offer an extra verse, compliments of one rousing argument.

See, one night, my spouse and I got into it over a bio-friendly sink de-clogger. Afterwards, I stayed downstairs silently cursing. He went upstairs and shut the door to our room.

About ten minutes later, as I looked over to the bio-friendly de-clogger in question, I got this thought, “I love you more than Rid-X.” So I went upstairs, opened the door and quietly said, “I love you more than Rid-X.”

In that moment, when forgiveness flowed in laughter and hugs, it was better than Barrett Browning. "How do I love thee? I love thee more than Rid-X." Ah, the romance…

”Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Come and See

In a Books & Culture essay entitled “Come and See,” I like this from Bruce Herman…

You’ve got to be willing to ‘stand under’ something in order to understand it. (November 2006)

My friends and I are trying to “stand under” important issues by meeting for a social issues reading club. This means we’ll never read Charles Dickens together, or Ernest Hemingway, or my favorite… Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Right now, we’re reading a book called Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.

Wow! Coming from a church of less than 100 members, where we’ve lost three young fathers, a mom, a young grandma, a young grandpa and a dear little girl to cancer, and where we still have four people living in remission, this book seemed like a must-read.

In church, it’s not uncommon for us to think, I don’t know why the Lord brought this on “so-and-so.” But, to read a book like Living Downstream is to see the cancer epidemic as something that plagues both the “wicked and the righteous,” at an alarming rate around the world. (And, one in three Americans now gets cancer.) It is to understand that we are somehow bringing this on ourselves as a society.

So, I find myself saying, “Sure, let’s pray, but let’s make more changes too.” This is what I like about people like Sara J., over at Walk Slowly, Live Wildly. She’s standing under a lot of issues, paddling upstream to make changes at the source...changes that revolve around her own family’s lifestyle.

Paddle, anyone? Shall we go see what we can see?

“...if you say, 'Look, we did not know this'— does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it” Proverbs 24:10-12

Dry Creek & Stone Pile Photo Gail Nadeau. Used with permission.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Inside Communion

Just had to add this for the weekend, as a balance to today's earlier melancholy.

Barbies at Communion

Thanks, Mark. Loved it.


What golden fountain
do you sip from, Mother,
and what angels see,
as you waltz in sleepy dreams,
obscured, eclipsed,
from a trembling me…

Daddy, this one’s for you… I’m so sorry that Grandma is dancing away from us a little more each day.

Golden Fountain collage, from the Notebook Series (chronicle of care-giving experience with Gail’s mother). Gail Nadeau. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Braveheart in Persia

I went to see One Night with the King and enjoyed it immensely— especially the part where Esther risks her life. I always wish I could be so wise and brave.

That aside, a few things in the movie struck me as odd. First, there was this Braveheart-looking king of Persia…I hadn’t realized that the Irish mixed with the Persians! Then, there was a eunuch who talked suspiciously like one of my fellow New Yorkers. The eunuch said he was kidnapped from his country, but who would have guessed he came from America? And, continuing with the America theme, there were odd mumblings about terrorists and democracy and freedom.

I don’t know. The same production company has a Christmas movie coming up. And though I’ll probably go see it, I’m a little concerned about what I’ll find in the manger …maybe a Starbucks cup, under the donkey’s hoof? Still, I’m curious to find out whether Herod was a Republican or a Democrat. I never could figure that out from the biblical accounts.