Thursday, November 29, 2012

The True State of Things

There's my beat-up old kitchen 
in all of its messy glory. Yikes, huh?
I don't think I've ever made such a big mess!
Oh, and a happy little note:
My photo-teacher told me to stop by
her office today, and she handed me the camera
that I turned in yesterday and told me to
enjoy it over the holiday!

In the early days of blogs and internet fun,
the Flylady used to say, “Make your sink shine!”
That was how she got us to jump-start
the domino effect of order
that would theoretically take over the house.
I thought of the Flylady today when I gave my messy kitchen a glance.
Wow! What happened in there?!
I usually keep a tidy place and feel unsettled in a mess,
but when I get super-focused on stuff that must be done,
I go blind to what is around me,
and I hardly notice that chaos is mounting.
But now I can see again,
and remembering Flylady’s nudgings from the past,
if I can find my sink when I return home from my next class,
I will make it shine!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's the Hurry?

Taken yesterday.
You can't tell very well, but the lamp was on
in the middle of the afternoon on that dark part of campus.
(Click and you can tell. And photos are always better when you click ya know!)
I have to turn this camera in tomorrow
(it was given me to use for Geological Photography class).
My old one is broken, so I don't know what I'll do now.
It's no fun blogging without pictures.
So, maybe I'll recycle some or look through files
for photos I haven't yet used. (There are a lot of recent ones.)

I had to do a lot of walking today. A lot.
A mile to here. A mile to there.
Then back over here. Then home.
Then another mile to this place.
Yet another mile to class.
Then home to stay at last.
That’s how it went today.
And all of that walking takes a lot of time.

At one point in the day, I thought,
“I have two finals to study for!
I don’t have time for all of this walking today.”
And I started ripping down the street
with steely-minded focus on my next destination.
Then I decided that this is no way to live my life
(life is made up of its minutes, after all, even if
those minutes take place walking to get somewhere).

So, I slowed down and looked around.
I got thankful, and to steal that old, tired cliché—
I focused on the journey and not the destination.
Like this:

I really do live in a pleasant neighborhood.
I’m getting lots of exercise!
It’s lovely walking across our picturesque campus.
The damp-sharp, crisp air feels lovely, too,
when bundled up warmly and walking briskly.

While walking, I occasionally see
one of those sweet late-autumn trees—
those little trees that are entirely barren
except for just a handful of earnest, colorful leaves
spaced evenly around their branches.
The leaves might cling, and I appreciate them,
but it’s inevitable—their life-season is ending.
And that’s the way it goes, right?
But while we’re in the space God put us,
we really should do our thing with all of our colorful might.
Like those bright little leaves.

Just had to remove something that was here
when I originally posted.
Some of you already read it.
But it just seemed too braggy!
Which is not okay. :-))
But it ended with this:
Encourage someone today. Every day!
You really don’t know how much they might need it.

And now, it's time to study for tomorrow morning's final!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunny, Chilly Day

Here are some pictures I took this afternoon.
I wrote a bit of text down below.
So scroll on down if you want.

It’s almost December, and even when the sun shines, the air is not warm. When I walked to class this morning, the sharp chill penetrated even my down jacket.

After class, lunch with my nephew, lab, a meeting with a student about a presentation, and a visit to a professor’s office, I walked home slowly, enjoying the blue sky, sunshine, and crisp air.

As usual, I walked through the cemetery, and it was so lovely and peaceful there that I decided to drop my books at home and return for a slow stroll.

I grabbed my camera on the way out the door, and I walked back to the cemetery on campus. I didn’t take many pictures. Mostly, I just sauntered around, happy to be outside, and happy to let my brain have a rest from its work.

Except for a few students rushing through on their way to class or back home, I had the place to myself. A lot of people sit there in warm months, but not now.

Many of the trees on campus are bare, leaves disappearing into the ground. Other trees are just beginning to color. But it’s beautiful everywhere, especially when the sun shines.

I’m back at my messy house now, listening to Christmas music as I type. I’m going to do some cleaning and heat up my leftover coconut curry butternut squash and eat it with rice. Yay for leftovers!

And then more studying.

I’m thankful today for sunshine, chocolate, and leftovers. I’m thankful for autumn colors and crisp air. I’m thankful for a warm jacket. I’m thankful for my nephew who is so much fun to visit. I’m thankful for nice people in my classes. I’m thankful for beauty and peace. I’m thankful that God loves me and knows the plans He has for me.

And I'm thankful for every one of you who reads here. Have a lovely rest of your day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Looking for Jesus

There were years when I read The Hundred Dollar Christmas to remind myself to focus on what matters: Less commercialism, more love. Less spending, more making. Less rushing, more time with family. A shorter gift list, a shorter to-do list, a shorter list of activities. More Jesus.

There’s something almost romantic about having much but choosing to spend little so that we can focus on the real meaning of the season and give away our excess. But sometimes, a far-less-than-hundred-dollar-Christmas might be the reality of our current means. Now, a simple Christmas is not something we romantically choose to do, but it is something that is required of us.

I was talking with my son recently about something, and he said, “You just have to do the best you can with what you have, Mom, just like you always say.”

Yes, I do always say that. And yes it is true. “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). What has God given me today? This is what I have to use and to give.

I pull out the two or three small boxes of Christmas things that are stacked in the back of my closet. I’ve only saved a fraction of what I had before, and as I unwrap it all, I’m glad to see that I kept what is most meaningful to me: Some special things the kids made. A couple of ornaments that belonged to my grandmother. A too-big vintage table cloth. And some other things, but not much else.

Nothing I have is beautiful for others to see when they walk in my door. As I set things out and tack things up, I’m struck how ugly the walls are and how harshly the natural winter light falls into my apartment. Everything I’m setting out looks tinny to me, the placement contrived. It’s going to be hard to create “magic,” I think.

Wait. What are you going for, I ask myself? Now is the time to remember that a beautiful life and a beautiful celebration can’t be bought. It is not a matter of decorations; it is a matter of the spirit.

I think of Christmases when I was a young girl. My family was not well-off, but my mother created a special ambience in our home, and the magic was always centered on the gift of Jesus at Christmas. Mom did the decorations well, too, but thinking back, it wasn’t the stuff of magazines. Everything was festive and homey and utterly charming, but Mom created our environment with what was in her hand, and it wasn’t always much.

And not much felt more magical than going to Grammy and Grampy’s house on Christmas morning. The wood stove rumbled heat cozily through the house, women bustled in the kitchen, a small lighted tree sat on a living room side table, decorated with Grammy’s same old ornaments year after year. A dish of hard, old-fashioned Christmas candy was in a dish beside the tree. And there were stockings on the mantle and a few gifts waiting to be opened.

What was wonderful about those Christmases past was the tradition—the family together, the laughter, the games, that sense of wonder that comes so naturally to children. The celebration was the same every single year. The focus was not gifts or decorations. In fact, Grammy was not much of a decorator at all. But there was a spirit of love, welcome, warmth, joy, and anticipation that permeated the house, and to a child, that feels like magic.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Anticipation? Anticipating the birth of our Saviour? The celebration we set up is a tangible reminder of that. The advent readings and calender, the decorations, the waiting, the wonder of the gifts and the giving, and the meal—it can all help us to focus our hearts and minds on how wonderful is the coming of our Savior. 

So, where is my heart? Am I going to be distracted by the ugly natural lighting and walls of my living room and my quirky, decidedly unbeautiful decorations? Or will I let my heart fill with a sense of the anticipation and joy of the season?

I turn on the living room lamps and start the Christmas music. Singing along with Nat King Cole, "Oh night divine, when Christ was born. .  . ," I tidy the room. I hang up a few of the Christmas calenders Lissy made me year after year during her childhood—all open to the December page. I find a little bag of paper snowflakes my children cut to hang in the windows of our high desert home, and I tack a few of them to the mirror. This is not a beautiful decoration, but it is so sweet to my heart. I am eager to resume work on the homemade gift I have in mind for my children. It won’t be impressive, but it will be made with love. I pull out my advent reader and set it with my Bible.

I begin to look for Jesus. And suddenly everything looks different.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Family Thanksgiving!

We're all here at Michelle's house,
except for Melissa (miss you, Lissy!).
And this (the scene in the photo) is the norm for Aaron.
He is a kid-magnet,
and always has been since he was a kid himself.
He sat himself on the floor,
and this happened spontaneously.
So I took a picture.
Aimee is making cornbread-sausage stuffing
in the kitchen, chatting with Michelle
as Michelle putters around keeping order.
It's a happy family day, and I am thankful.
With Josiah and Monty here, too,
there's lots of nice conversation and fun.
We've read stories, read about birds
and watched them off the back deck,
and we're eating lots of really good food!
I hope your day will be special as you acknowledge
God's blessings and His loving care in your life.
Happy Thanksgiving!

"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good,
His love endures forever."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We are so very blessed

It doesn't seem a fitting picture, does it?
But I used this conglomerate-photo in a Spanish project last year, so it was on hand.
And these are some of the things I'm most thankful for.
Me climbing a mountain: my health and strength and enjoyment of nature.
One of our high desert home dinners: blackened salmon tacos. So very thankful for food.
Grandma Me with 2-hour-old Liya and proud big brother: I am so blessed.
(And every baby should be adored and well-fed.)

I cried in class today. I couldn’t help it, and I was the only one, too. We were watching a film called Hungry for Profit, made in 1985, about agri-business. We saw images of the rich of Brazil—their cars, their yachts, their leisure activities—in the cities contrasted with Brazilian babies in hospital beds, some crying, some too weak to cry, all of them malnourished to the point of death. I so badly wanted to be there so that I could, in turn, pick up each baby and let them feel human warmth, touch, love. And do that all day every day. (And I would cry my eyes out all day every day.)

A doctor in the film picked up a baby, very machine-like (I suppose one might have to develop a thick skin? Or maybe she was simply trying to be business-like in front of the camera.) and began to describe the baby’s condition. The skin was hanging on the arms. The face was gaunt, but the baby was precious. And, we were told, the baby died four days later. My son was a newborn baby that year. I watched mothers hold starving babies they couldn’t feed, and my heart hurt. I tried so hard to hold back the tears, but I couldn’t. Silently, they rolled down my contorted face. My young student friends looked at me warmly. Typing this makes me cry again.

More than 20,000 children around the world died today of hunger-related causes. And almost a billion people are hungry, some of them in my community. Whatever you believe about the politics of movies like Hungry for Profit or social justice or anything else, hunger is our problem.

The children are on my mind. If I lived across the street from the hospital where those babies were dying and I didn’t respond or change my behavior in whatever way I could, if I didn’t do what was in my power to do, it would be criminal and shameful. But that is essentially what I am doing as I sit here day after day, too much focus on my own little life, and studying and snacking and eating too much and debating whether or not I should bake cookies—the deciding factor being whether or not I need to eat them. I am not condemning eating and making home and having fun, but I am praying about what God wants from me. No excuses. No explanations.

I’m not trying to pluck at your heartstrings or make you feel guilty, either. Not at all. You know what God has put on your heart. Do that thing. I’m just sharing my own heart today. While I eat my Thanksgiving feast this week, I will rejoice and thank the Lord. I will enjoy my family and count my many blessings! But, inside, I will also be thinking about this. And praying about what I can do now, while I am where I am.

Happy, blessed Thanksgiving, friends!
I'm thankful for each of you who read here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy, Happy

Awhile back, I was out walking with my umbrella.
Fall colors were beautiful, even in the rain.
I had my camera, so I snapped some pictures with one hand
while holding the umbrella with the other.
Hence, the wonky photos
and the visible edge of the umbrella at the top of the photo.

In the spirit of JayJay, my now 5-year-old grandson:

When my one-year-old grandson Jayden enjoys something, however mundane and ordinary, he does a little dance and chants in sing-song, "Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy..." His cheerful enjoyment of the simplest things is an admirable trait, so I will follow suit and make a point to notice and exude "happy, happy, happiness" about simple, daily, easily overlooked things.
(From my High Desert Home Blog, when JayJay was littler.)

1. Blustery, blustery day. Inside out umbrella day. Warm and wet. I love this weather. It reminds me of my childhood, growing up on the coast, with wild winter winds and rains and everything cosy in my family’s home with the woodstove going. I grew up with a mother who loves a raging storm—the more raging, the better—and on the coast there are usually a number of them every winter. If the power went off during one of those storms, my mom made a party of it. With the wood stove we were never cold, and we could always make hot chocolate! And we did. We lived by candlelight when there was no electricity, which is magical to a child. My mother’s exuberance about rainstorms rubbed off on all of her children. To this day, not much seems cosier to me than being inside while the wind howls and rain lashes at the windows. Or even when it’s just grey and blustery and a little bit wet like today.

2. Second cup of coffee. When it’s grey and windy outside, and it’s so dark inside that you need to turn on the lights, and it’s time to sit and study and write, a second cup of coffee is just the thing. Really lovely.

3. The writing of cookbook author Elizabeth David. I’ll take her over MFK Fisher! There’s something warm, clear, good, and unpretentious about David, and the way she writes about Mediterranean cooking inspires me.

Okay, not the greatest photo (!), but oh well.
Elizabeth David and The Olive and the Caper on top.

4. More cuisine. I like basic Greek food. I eat very simply and frugally, but I make sure to eat certain things daily or routinely. Yogurt with applesauce (usually fresh-made raw) or honey and cinnamon, dark greens, yellow/orange vegetables, legumes, etc., and I realized that some of the things I cook are traditional Greek dishes. So I pulled out my old cookbook, The Olive and the Caper, and I’ve really been enjoying reading through it and modifying recipes. Last night I made horta from the book and ate it with my sweet potato puree. It was super delicious together—the edgy dark greens with salty kalamata and tangy lemon juice with garlicky sweet potato puree.

5. This just goes right along with my Mediterranean/Greek kick. I love this article in the New York Times. The diet stuff is really interesting, but it’s the lifestyle I love most. Their values are mine. As much as possible, I avoid being tyrannized by clock time, and I refuse to rush and get busy. See how they value true community (and not simply networks or gathering at scheduled times with groups we are part of) much, much more than any other part of life? This is so very important!

6. Dark chocolate. I don’t always have it around, but today there’s Green & Black’s 85%. If I buy it that dark, I’m not tempted to eat more than I should all at once.

Just a random picture since I mentioned "students" in item #7.
I had to walk through this building the other day
to get to a vantage point to take a photo for a class.
(This was not the photo I took. I just liked the view so snapped it.)
I like this place. It has interesting light and architecture.
It's the physics building.

7. Some of the young students I know. They are just really sweet, quality kids. There’s an awful lot of silliness at the university—students, teachers, courses, homework—but there is the other side, too, with all of those elements. Some students amaze me with their maturity and kindness, their openness and friendliness, and their really fascinating interests and hobbies. I seem to connect with the ones who love nature and the outdoors. I just adore some of these kids.

8. Music coming through my wall. A grad student lives next door, and her boyfriend is a violist. He practices at her apartment sometimes, and his music is soooo beautiful. I just sit here at the table beside our common wall, stop typing, and just listen and enjoy.

Just sticking this in here to show you
what Michelle made for Liya.
Sweet quilt, sweet girl, sweet Mama!

9. My mother. She’s awesome. She never fails to make the cut. November 13th ould have been the 58th wedding anniversary of my mom and dad, but four years ago (at the end of November), my dad died unexpectedly. It’s still hard. I wrote something recently about my mom and dad and their relationship. I think I will post it here soon, but I am trying to get a little video of them (when they were first married) set up to add to the post (they were adorable!) first. Praying for my mom today and during all of these now-bittersweet end of the year celebrations and milestones.

10. Homemade Gravenstein applesauce on plain yogurt. Oh, my goodness. This is so delicious. My really long-time, special friend, Laurie, makes the best applesauce in the world. It is perfection. (Everything she makes is perfection, actually.) I served yogurt with this applesauce to my grandkids last Saturday, and it’s all they wanted to eat for the rest of the day. Roman told me, “Grandma Susy, tell your friend that her applesauce is soooooo good! I love it.”

Liya draws. They all love to draw.

Jayden drew me this lion and tiger when he was here.
they are hanging on my fridge.
Love them!

Jayjay eats. They all love to eat.

Roman in his "Oregon"clothes.
Too bad about Saturday's game.
No longer #1 in the nation.

11. Holidays! Yippee! Last class is over tomorrow at 3:20, and then I’m headed north to Michelle’s and Monty’s, where our family will gather for Thanksgiving. Four or five days with my children and grandchildren, and my wonderful sons-in-law! (Too bad I have to write a paper and study for a big exam, too. . . )

Thankful! God is good!
And now back to writing my paper that is due tomorrow. . . 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Day of Small Things

A recent rainy walk in my neighborhood.
The leaves are starting to really drop now.

I was just looking through my Word files for something that might help me with a paper I have to write, and I stumbled across this little piece of writing. It's a rough draft for something that I ended up not using. Reading this, I was struck by how really foundational and sweet this very situation was in my life in those early years with children and how fundamental it remains even now. It was, and is, the way I aim to live my days and my life.

“Who despises the day of small things?”
Zechariah 4: 10

My eyes were heavy, and I would have loved more sleep, but I couldn’t help but smile when I awoke to Michelle’s usual happy chatter.  She beamed at me as I lifted her from her crib, and I beamed back, kissing her cheek. But I carried her downstairs half-distracted, my heart stirring over middle of the night thoughts that had kept me awake.

A growing awareness of the blessings and profound responsibilities of motherhood had me praying fervently for my girls, and I asked God to give me clear mothering vision. As I prayed that night, my thoughts returned again and again to the importance of small daily acts—those little things that sometimes seem insignificant but eventually make up a life.

I strapped Michelle into her high chair that autumn morning in our English kitchen, and she chatted at me amiably. I returned her chatter while continuing to think and pray. Did my intense middle-of-the-night thoughts really reflect God’s mind for me as a mother? Was it true that the ordinary things I did every day—diaper changing, housekeeping, story-reading—were charged with unrealized meaning and power when they were done with love? Would God really transform my meager efforts into something beautiful in the hearts of my children? Could He use my imperfect offerings of love to reveal His perfect love to my girls? Could the ordinary, mundane work of motherhood really be this eternally profound?

Sunlight streamed through the kitchen window and spilled across the stove. I stirred our breakfast porridge and remembered 16th century monk, Brother Lawrence. His daily work was kitchen work, but he considered it his spiritual work. He said he didn't need big things to do—he turned his little omelet in the pan for the love of God. It was an act of worship.

My own quotidian routines could be worship, too. So, that morning, I cooked porridge for the love of Michelle and for the love of the Lord. I believed that He really would make even this fleeting earthly act something that mattered for eternity in my child’s heart. And also in mine.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Family Day

This morning.
Quiet. Clean. Peaceful. Alone.

This afternoon.
Noisy. Messy. Exuberant. Together.
(Both are a blessing, but guess which I prefer?)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Read This. . .

Because it's excellent and charming.
I stole it from the sidebar of my buddy Elizabeth.

A Reverie About Warmth

Where I sit early.

This post started out as a daybook, but when I got to the "I'm Thinking About. . ." part, I got carried away. So, I decided just to post that part. I'll do a daybook on another day.

If you’ve read my High Desert Home blog, you know that for the 13 years we lived in that house, our only source of heat was the wood stove. So every single morning, when it was cold (and sometimes it was really cold), I built a fire, and I maintained that fire throughout the day.

A comfy green chair sat adjacent to the woodstove, and the dining room table was just a few feet away. That was the gathering place for friends and family. The green chair was the most vied for sitting spot in the house, and throughout the day in winter you would find family members continually congregating and talking beside the woodstove.

When friends came by, or when the families from the Tuesday morning meetings arrived at my house, shoes would come off by the door, and people would beeline for the wood stove to warm their hands and to visit. I don’t know what it is about having a fire in the house, but it draws people.

Again and again, I heard friends say, “It’s so cozy in here!” With snow falling outside, a cup of coffee or tea in the hand, and good friends gathered to visit, there’s already a nice feeling of warmth and camaraderie, but the fire in the woodstove added significantly to any feeling of coziness and warmth (literally and metaphorically) in the house.

I miss my woodstove. I miss the work of collecting and splitting wood and stacking it in the barn to keep us warm for winter. I miss bundling up and going out on frosty nights to fill the wheelbarrow with wood to bring to the back porch. Those clear, frigid nights, as I trundled the wheelbarrow back and forth along the neatly shoveled snow path, were sharp and lovely. Both the stars in the black sky and the icy, white snow sparkled like fields of diamonds.

Aaron was often out there, too, and he helped me with the wood or moved it himself. We both loved the cold, and we both loved the beautiful frosty desert nights.

I miss getting up in the early dark morning and walking outside to grab an armful of wood. The sky was almost always clear in the desert, so in morning, just as in the night, I would stand in the cold and look at the stars and thank God for His beauty and for a home to shelter us. Then I’d go back inside to build a fire so the house would be warm when the kids woke up.

I loved the routines of building that fire. I became quite expert, too, at the nuances and tricks of fire-building. I loved feeling the warmth build and move further and further into the room and the house. I’d brew my coffee, then sit near the stove each morning to have my quiet time—to read my Bible, to write in my journal, to think and to pray. It felt lovely and good, every single day.

Right there--the center of our old home.
The green chair is covered because it was ripping.
The woodstove is just to the right by that red bin, which held pieces of wood.

I miss a fire and a constant source of heat that draws people round it. The fact that we didn’t have central heating or even wall heating units in the far-flung regions of our home in the desert kept us all moving out of our separate rooms toward the woodstove again and again throughout the day. Or we brought our work to the table beside the stove and sat together while we each did our own thing. The wood stove kept us in close proximity, and it, without a doubt, kept us talking even more than we were already inclined to do. Truly, the woodstove was an appreciated part of our home and family atmosphere in those days.

My little apartment does not have a fireplace, a woodstove, or even central heating. It has small cadet heaters on the walls in each room. I turn off the heat at night, as I’ve learned to love sleeping in the cold, and in the morning, I get up, put the kettle on, and turn on the heater in the living room. Then I sit in the rocking chair beside it to read my Bible and sip my coffee. It’s obviously not as cosy as a woodstove, and the heater certainly has none of the charm or even the rhythms of work associated with it (it takes one second to turn that heater dial), but it’s warm in that spot, and that’s nice. I’m immensely grateful that I can be warm.

The woodstove is not necessary for a lovely morning routine and quiet time. That was then. This is now. I don’t want to try to fit that life into this one. I want to live in the life—the current situation—I’m in. What rhythms make sense for this time of my life, for this place where I live? What gifts has God given me here? How can I make this home a place to live well, a place that feels warm and comfortable?  I may no longer be able to enjoy gathering wood in the crisp air while I stare at the starry night, but can I appreciate the cosy sound of pelting rain against the window as I sit and rock, sip coffee and read my Bible, in the dark quiet by the warm heater?

Loveliness is more a matter of the spirit than of the physical situation one is in. Gratitude and joy beget loveliness. An open, warm, caring spirit are the main ingredients of cosiness and conviviality, and that can exist in any home—however humble.

One of my all-time favorite books—a book about architecture and what makes places inviting, and relational—talks about fire. I love the passage. (It's down aways. Sorry. Got distracted by the following.) I’m not sure how practical keeping a fire is in today’s environment. Is burning wood the best source of energy, or do pollution concerns make it an unwise manner of heating?

Whatever the case may be, I’m glad that we had a woodstove in our high desert home. I’m glad for the work the woodstove required and for the rhythms that arose out of that work. I’m thankful for the warmth and cosiness that emanated from the stove, for the closeness that was built round it, and for the friends and family that gathered beside it often.

My mom has one of those little fake heater/fireplace things that can be moved around if a person wants to move it. I would have never guessed that something like that would have any appeal akin to a real fire, but guess where everyone goes when they’re at my mom’s house? Yep. To the chairs near the (fake) fire. We gravitate there by ourselves, and we also sit there together, with our drinks and our books. We warm ourselves by that “fire,” and we talk. It’s not a real fire, but it has flickering, warm light, and it gives heat, and somehow, it works.

But back to that book, A Pattern Language. An excerpt:

“Television often gives a focus to a room, but it is nothing but a feeble substitute for something which is actually alive and flickering within the room. . .”

Then the book quotes Gaston Bachelard about the kind of reverie that takes place before a fire:

“The fire confined to the fireplace was no doubt for man the first object of reverie, the symbol of repose, the invitation to repose. One can hardly conceive of a philosophy of repose that would would not include a reverie before a flaming log fire. Thus, in our opinion, to be deprived of a reverie before a burning fire is to lose the first use and the truly human use of fire. To be sure, a fire warms us and gives us comfort. But one only becomes fully aware of this comforting sensation after quite a long period of contemplation of the flames; one only receives comfort from the fire when one leans his elbows on his knees and holds his head in his hands. . . The child by the fire assumes it naturally. Not for nothing is it the attitude of the Thinker. It leads to a very special kind of attention which has nothing in common with the attention involved in watching or observing.”

Lovely. That kind of reverie matters. It is important, but is it only possible beside a fire? Well, a fire might really help, but surely we can create homes where we aren’t distracted by technology or hindered by a lack of livability (when a home is just too design-focused) and kept from quiet and contemplation.

Fill home with books, flowers, plants, cheery and casual living spaces, a table to gather round, items from the family history and travels, collections, art and music, good food, playing games, rhythms and routines, enough order, leaving margins for each person to do and be and think in his own way, reading together, creating together. . . oh, you know. You'll find your own way.

Just make a life, be grateful and joyful, and bring people into your home. Share your life. Share your Lord. And then if you don’t have a fire, you still have warmth and conviviality.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesdays at Trader Joe's

This post is dedicated to Zane (my nephew),
Alia (the one who invited me to waffles last Saturday,
Hannah (Alia's roommate), and JoAnne (my sister),
the Tuesdays at Trader Joe's Gang.

Almost every Tuesday at 4 p.m. the same old gang
piles into JoAnne's green Prius to head across town to Trader Joe's.
Four of us are in college--
three normal college people and one middle-aged one.
And today, the middle-aged one took her camera
to Trader Joe's.
I didn't intend to shoot pictures of the trip;
it was spontaneous, motivated by the goofy group I was with.
I don't imagine the following will be
of interest to some of you who read here,
but here's a record of today's trip.

 I should start here, after leaving my last class at 3:30 p.m..
I went outside, and it was warm and lovely.
And there were the cutest little clouds in the sky.

And the trees glowed, and the leaves danced about on the breeze.

I came home and was delighted to remember
that I had "spoon truffles" in the fridge.
So, I ate a big one.
Spoon truffles are what you get when you're too lazy
to form the little balls and roll them in cocoa.
You just put the mixture in the fridge and eat it by the spoonful.
I love this stuff!
Maple, coconut, cocoa, vanilla, coconut oil, a pinch of salt.

Then my sister came, and we all piled into the car
and headed across town, talking about the election
and the run from which Alia had just returned.

Here's Zane, his cart filling quickly.
Notice he likes bananas.
I don't know about anyone else,
but when I enter Trader Joe's, I beeline
straight for that place behind Zane to grab
a free mini cup of coffee and whatever sample they're serving.
That's the main reason I go.
(Not really, I go just to be with the Gang.)

Zane and I noticed that the turkeys have landed.
(You heard it here first.)

Oh, and early on in the shopping trip,
I noticed leaves under Zane's applesauce.
I said, "Awww, that's cute. You decorated your cart for autumn!"
"No, it came pre-decorated," he said.
"I picked this cart because it had leaves in it."

Alia saw me and instantly went into model mode:
eyes squinty/almost glaring and legs crossing each other
in front of her as she walked.
She's a natural.

And then Alia thought I might like to take a photo
of her demonstrating her juggling skillz.
Look at her! She can juggle one lemon.
With one hand!
And Hannah, in the background, is totally impressed.

Zane and I are always finished shopping first,
so we do things like look for silly wine names.
Goats in Villages.
That's not very alluring.

JoAnne and Alia checking out before Zane and me.
How did they get ahead of us?

There's Zane bagging his bananas.
Did you know that some Olympic track athletes
eat a whole bunch of bananas in the height of training?
One Jamaican sprinter said he eats
more than 20 a day during track season.

But the bananas on top of the bag are just a cover.
Here's the real health-food diet of a college student.

That blur is Zane, riding his cart to the car.

Oooooh. They're so cute!
(They really are.)
And they have loaded the back of the Prius well.

And now we're driving home.
The sun is setting to our right.
We stopped at ballot box so Alia could drop off her ballot.
(What a good citizen.)
And then we went home.
And I ate my Chicken Tikka Masala,
the only thing I bought at Trader Joe's.

It was a fine adventure with some fine people.
See you guys next Tuesday
(and a whole bunch of times before that, too, 
since two of you live directly above me
and since the other two stop by often!).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Make Poetry

There they are. My two favorite little girls.
Avery (1) reading at the bookstore,
and Liya (newly 3) reading to her kitty after her bath.
What does this have to do with the post? Not much.
Except that my girls definitely "make poetry" of motherhood.
And so we have this.

Last week, my youngest daughter, Melissa, and I were chatting. She is in college, and she said, “The first paper I ever wrote for school was my best. I need to stop learning so I can start thinking again.” I had to laugh at that because I knew what she meant. And then she told me she got that line from a TED talk by a genius kid, and she liked it, so I guess she appropriated it. Me, too. I’ve been saying it ever since. School has its purposes. It’s school. I’ll leave it at that except to say that I’m glad doctors go to school to get an education before they practice medicine.

But school isn’t always good for poetic learning and doing, which requires time and freedom and makes a meaningful life. I believe that God put a poetic, wonder-filled nature in us at birth, but as we grow older, begin school, and get involved in the world, it’s easy to lose some—or maybe all—of that poetic wonder.

I was looking through a box of papers recently, and I ran across something I wrote when I was reading Kathleen Norris’s book Cloister Walk. Norris often visits elementary classrooms to help kids get started writing poetry, and in her book, she describes what that is like. I’ll type part of her text here, along with some of the thoughts I jotted down before and some new ones from today:

“A strange thing happens when I enter an elementary school classroom as a visiting artist, to read some poetry and eventually get the kids to write. It has much less to do with me as an individual than with the power of poetry, and may also be a side effect of the simple fact that I come to the children knowing very little about them. With me, they are suddenly handed a fresh slate. But no matter if the school is rich or poor, in the country, a suburb, a city, I’ve found that the kids that the teacher might have described as “good students” will inevitably write acceptable but unexceptional poems and stories. The breathtaking poems come from left field, as it were, from bad students, the ones that teachers will say don’t usually participate well in classroom activities.”

Norris goes on to share a sweet poem by a 5th grade boy who was not one of those “good students”:

My Very First Dad

I remember him
like God in my heart, I remember him in my heart
like the clouds overhead,
and strawberry ice cream and bananas
when I was a little kid.
But the most I remember
is his love,
as big as Texas
when I was born.

The teacher told Kathleen Norris that the boy never knew his father; he left the day the boy was born.

Norris goes on to say that she encourages children to escape the learned rules of writing: to write in the margins, to misspell rather than looking up a word, to doodle on the page, to scribble things out, to collaborate with other students, to let the poem sit and maybe come back to it, not to finish a poem, to take your time, and to allow yourself to get carried away and keep on going instead of moving on to the next assignment.

“Often by this time,” Norris writes, “the children are looking at me gratefully but a bit warily, wondering if they’ve fallen into the hands of a lunatic.”

Well, I thought in response, our lucky kids who learn at home. For them, this is the way it always is. They don’t have to keep up with a conveyor belt of assignments. They have time to think. Time to create poetry.

Norris shares more from her classroom experience: “We talk about ways this kind of writing differs from learning spelling or math, where there are right and wrong answers. I tell the kids that in what we’ll be doing, there is no one right answer, not even a right or wrong way to do it. . . a way to get beyond paying lip service to children’s creativity and encouraging them to practice it. By now the good students may be feeling lost. They’re often kids who have beaten the system, who have become experts at following the rules to get a good grade. And now, maybe for the first time, they’re experiencing helplessness at school because the boundaries have shifted; without rules to follow, they’re not sure how to proceed.”

“But it’s the other students, the bad students, the little criminals, who often have a form of intelligence that is not much rewarded in school, who are listening most attentively. It’s these kids, for whom helplessness and frustration are the norm at school, and often in life. . . who take to poetry like ducklings to water. And sometimes, as with that fifth-grade boy, they find that adopting a poetic voice can be a revelation. It’s as if they’re free to speak with their true voice for the very first time. It is always a gift—to the teacher, to the class, and to me—to have a child lead us into the heart of poetry.”

As I said earlier, I believe God gave us all a poetic nature. I think we are born seeing the poetry in everything. A child joyfully and freely delights in life. He possesses an eye for beauty and a sense of wonder. But poetry is not always expressed in the form of written verse. Maybe the poetry of one child is his way in nature. Maybe with another, it is his desire to draw. There are those whose poetry is movement—in dance or sport—like Olympian and missionary Eric Liddel, who said, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” For others, it might be in science or math. Great scientists—those with a love and passion for what they do, who have made discoveries big and small—were making poetry in their discipline.

I believe that the way a child is inclined to spend his free time (when he’s not a too-busy or entertained child who suffers from boredom) are clues to where he finds and makes his poetry. It's something really precious to watch a young child happily and busily pursue whatever is calling to him from "out of left field," no matter how mundane or unimportant it may appear to be to a watching adult. It's poetry. Children who are not allowed the freedom to do this begin to lose that poetic gift, that natural gift that God gave them.

What about you? What do you love to do? Do you love to cook, to garden, to write? Do you love to make a home and bring people together round your table or in your living room? Do you love to read and think and make connections? Do you love to correspond with others? Do you love to organize meetings or events? Or hike in beautiful places because it brings you joy and you feel like you’re meeting God out there? It can be any number of things, but if you do it our own way, with joy and enthusiasm, maybe it’s your poetry. Often, our poetry becomes our service or our vocation; it’s what we share with others.

If you’re thinking that you don’t have time for this—Are you a mother at home? Are you so busy with your family that you only dream of having a bit of extra time to do what you love? Well, make poetry out of motherhood—out of even the most mundane things. Motherhood abounds in poetic potential. Creating a home and a family is a fine art. And know how blessed you are to do it—gratitude and loveliness can be your poetry.

The trap to avoid is measuring and comparing what we do against the template of what others do. This is a certain way to be like those good students who wanted to do everything correctly and follow the pattern—and they struggled to make poetry. Be yourself. This is your poem. Write in the margins, doodle on the page. Be who God made you to be, and you will be His poetry.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire."
~Wendell Berry

There's a look (above) at most of my house: two small bedrooms in the back, a small kitchen and space for a tiny table to my right, and the living room stretches only about 12 feet to my left. I always wrote on my old blog about wanting to live simpler, with less stuff, and I got my wish. It didn't happen the way I planned, but every single thing I own (except for two pine antiques from England) is in this apartment. And it's not cluttered, either! There's a sense of freedom and lightness in living with less, and I feel nothing but deep gratitude to the Lord for what He has given me. I am very aware of the fact that compared to almost everyone in the world, I am wealthy.

Did I tell you how I ended up here? For a number of reasons, I wanted and needed to leave the awesome little house I lived in until July, and my niece called me one day to say, "Hey, Aunt Susy, I just found a great little apartment close to campus that I'll be renting, and there's going to be a vacancy in the apartment just below me. You should totally check into it. Wouldn't it be fun to live in the same buildng?" And I'm thinking, "How many 18-year-old college students want their middle-aged aunt to live just below them?!" (What a girl!) I checked into it, loved the location, it worked out, and now we're neighbors. It's fun! We share food with each other. Last night my niece texted to see if I wanted to join her to watch an episode of the BBC Sherlock Holmes, so I grabbed an afghan and ran upstairs in my stocking feet. And this morning, she texted me again and said, I'm making pumpkin waffles. If you want some, come on up." I wasn't about to turn down pumpkin waffles or such a great invitation, so I went on up again.

My niece is just one of many great things about living where I do now. I'm thankful.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Resetting My Routines

A few of you might remember this.
My old morning routine in the high desert.
Day after day.

Awhile back I was reading online somewhere and was surprised to find a link to a post at my old blog, High Desert Home. So, I went on over and started to browse through my posts, something I never do. And I was really struck by several things.

One, how sweet were those simple, slow years in the country with my family (even when the kids grew up and lived away, they came home often). I am just so grateful to the Lord for what He gave us and how He blessed us and for the sweet memories. My kids often voice this same deep appreciation for our family and home life.

Two, how important routines have always been in my life. I wrote about this many times on my blog--it was almost its theme.

Three, that I’m exactly the same person with the same values, hopes, and desires that I was then. Making a home, even for just me (though its never really just for me). Living simply. Keeping margins. Living slowly. Food and health. Paying attention and looking for beauty. Trying to live as locally, non-toxic, and eco-friendly as possible. You know.

Four, how different my life looks day to day now compared to then. For big chunks of the weekdays, I’m not busy at home, puttering in the way I’ve always loved, but I am off at class or in a meeting or lab. And when I come home, there’s always something I could do—work on a paper, do some of my reading, get busy on projects that will be due soon, study for exams, and more. But I do make a point of setting aside time and focusing on things that matter most to me.

Still, for quite a while, I’ve felt just slightly off-kilter mentally and otherwise. I’ve missed my old routines and the focus I could give to home and hospitality and being involved in people's lives, but I’ve also wanted to fully embrace the life I’m in now because I believe that God orders my steps. When I browsed through my blog that day, though, I realized that, in my desire and attempt to adjust to my current life and its demands, I was losing touch with what is sort of fundamentally me—the way God made me.

I think that back in the high desert, the amount of control I had over the way I spent my days and hours, combined with the really amazing group of friends I had, was very affirming to the kind of life I felt called to live—the routines, habits, pace, and a particular type of spiritual focus I had. Now I live in a place that is very different, and the people I know here live very different lives from what I’ve known. I’m not saying that there is anything at all wrong with these people and their lives (in fact, they are wonderful!), but I’m just geared a little differently, and I honestly feel led by the Lord to live a different kind of pace and lifestyle. When I conform to the busyness around me, everything in me starts feeling askew.

So, when I looked at my old blog, I thought, “Huh-uh. No more.” I began to pray about this and work toward the kind of life I can live here (in the place and situation God has me now) that will be in alignment with the same old values and ways that matter deeply to me. So I’ve been re-establishing routines and habits that are comfortable, familiar, and meaningful and yet conform to the new demands of my life.

This blog is something I want to do routinely (which doesn’t mean, necessarily, every day), even if I just stick up something as simple as a photo or the kind of “whats-the-point-of-that?!” post I put up yesterday. But I actually want to write, too, when I can, some of my simple thoughts on what I just wrote about—the spiritual effects and benefits of keeping routines, living slowly when the world tries to make me fast (and why I should), why making a home matters for everyone (even when you’re alone), a relaxed learning lifestyle at home (because I still think about it all the time), and a lot more. It’s a life that cuts directly across the grain of the direction many people are running, but, for me, this is what makes it possible to keep a truly spiritual focus and outlook. It allows me to pray better and love better. 

Now I’m almost to my allotted time for writing this, so I’ll post it and carry on. I pray you’ll have a lovely day.